Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism:
A Note from Žižek

There’s been some tweets flying around this evening following a Cambridge Union debate on the current turmoil in the Labour Party. Apparently — I haven’t watched it for myself — Margaret Hodge made the comment that the anti-Semitism of Corbynites is innate because they equate Jews and capitalists. Therefore, their anti-capitalism is “inherently racist”, as well as “anti-Western” and “pro-Russian.”

It is certainly a change on the usual “anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism” take, but I think @malaiseforever’s perspective above is one that warrants further attention.

The issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party being inflamed by opponents for political reasons — i.e., the performative hand-wringing from columnists and talk show hosts who have a more shameful history of racist outbursts than most but somehow get away with taking the moral high ground with regards to the Labour Party — has not come, as many assumed, from the pro-Israel lobby. It is instead embedded within capitalist realism itself.

It was Slavoj Žižek who made this argument best, I think, in his recent appearance on the Red Scare podcast. Asked about the ejection of Corbyn from the Labour Party for apparent anti-Semitism, which supposedly happened on the day of recording, Žižek says:

Keir Starmer … said after reading [the EHRC report] on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party that it is a day of shame for the Labour Party. I think it’s a day of shame, indeed, but … if you ask me, Corbyn was right.

I link this to another ominous thing. I wrote a short text — it didn’t get very popular, I think. You know what happened about a month ago exactly, at the end of September, in the United Kingdom? Their Department of Education gave to all schools — universities, high schools, and so on — it’s a horrible text — a clear, unambiguous order that prohibits them to use, as part of the curriculum or literature, any documents that criticise or are negative towards capitalism. And then they go a step further and say … anti-capitalism implies, in these terms, the limiting of human freedoms, advocacy of violence, and anti-Semitism. I find this horrible.

I think that — although when I see anti-Semitism I am ready to attack it brutally — but at the same time — I’ve already written about it — I think anti-Semitism is today used to discredit, for the establishment, a little-bit-too-radical critique of capitalism.

You know what’s the irony? The usual leftist sense was that anti-Semitism is anti-capitalism of the primitive people. This figure of the Jew, who grabs money and so on, is a primitive representation of the capitalist… Now, today, it is anti-capitalism that is the primitive mask of anti-Semitism. Again, the moment you are too anti-capitalist, you are suspected of being too anti-Semitic.

You know why I find this line of argumentation horrible? Because it itself — this line of argumentation — mobilises an old anti-Semitic cliché, which is that Jews are essentially capitalists — which is, incidentally, a crazy thing, historically. Look at Lenin’s Politburo: it was the only case in Christian history where the majority of the leading body — those who really held power — were Jews. So to say that communism is purely anti-Semitic is crazy. But what I want to say is that I think, if you remember, is that they already used this against Assange, they used this against Bernie Sanders at the end when they tried to discredit him, they use it now in Europe against … Yanis Varoufakis, and they already used it a year or two ago against Corbyn.

Corbyn is a wonderful, gentle guy. The problem is that I’m almost tempted to say he is too good for this world. He is absolutely not anti-Semitic. He just follows the line that I tried to formulate once, a year ago, when I said that, for me, the struggle against anti-Semitism, and the struggle for Palestinian rights, are part of the same struggle. That’s what all my good friends from Israel claim. They said that, today, to be really faithful to what is the greatest thing in the Jewish legacy, is to try to understand Palestinians.

Again, this is what explains this throwing out of Corbyn. It’s an attempt to purge out of the political space a little bit too radical left, and it is happening all around the world.

Žižek publishing his recent short text on the UK’s anti-anti-capitalist push on RT probably won’t help change Margaret Hodge’s mind here, but I think his argument is an insightful one nonetheless.

It is clear what the right-wing establishment in the UK is opposing, and it has been clear for decades, but no-one has yet managed to articulate just what a self-own it is like Žižek.

The lines of argumentation have become so convoluted it is now increasingly difficult to see the politics for all the outrage, but the left has always had this same problem — in the UK specifically since the Blair years. It is refreshing to listen to someone cut through the chaff.

I’m as surprised as anyone in 2020 that that person would be Žižek.

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