The US establishment thinks Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is too radical – with an impending climate disaster, the worry is she isn't radical enough

We should of course fully support democratic socialists: we have to begin with where we are. But my fear is that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. In the long term, is this enough?

Slavoj Zizek
Saturday 11 August 2018 11:34
Comments
Democratic Ocasio-Cortez won her primary in New York's 14th district

Now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined Bernie Sanders as the public face of the left wing of the Democratic Party, with others waiting in the shadows to explode on the US national scene, there is no surprise in the wide scope of reactions to the fact the term “democratic socialism” has gained (limited) acceptability in one of the two US main parties. Republican media predictably spread fear: democratic socialists plan to abolish capitalism, introduce Venezuelan-style state terror and bring poverty, etc. In a more restrained way, centrist Democrats warn about the non-intended catastrophic economic consequences of democratic socialist proposals: how to raise money for universal healthcare, etc? (Incidentally, one should recall here how even the most daring proposals of today’s democratic socialists do not come even close to moderate European social democracy half a century ago – a sign of how the centre of gravity of the entire political field shifted to the right.)

Even on the liberal left side of the Democratic Party, there are bad surprises. In the long list of Obama’s endorsements of the Democratic candidates for the mid-term elections (over 80 names), one looks in vain for Ocasio-Cortez. Echoing Nancy Pelosi who stated “I have to say, we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is”, even the “leftist” Elizabeth Warren declared herself “capitalist to my bones”…

The latest – and morally most problematic – fad in this series is the charge of antisemitism addressed at anyone who deviates to the left from the acceptable left-liberal establishment. Till recently, the label “antisemitism” was used against any critique of the State of Israel and the way it deals with Palestinians; now, it is more and more mobilised to disqualify the left perceived as “too radical”, from Corbyn in the UK to Ocasio-Cortez in the US. Antisemites in one’s own country (Poland, Hungary, Baltic states) are tolerated insofar as they turn into Zionist supporters of the Israeli politics in the West Bank, while leftists who sympathise with the West Bank Palestinians but also warn against the resurgent antisemitism in Europe are denounced at the same time. This rise of the weird figure of antisemitic Zionists is one of the most worrying signs of our decay.

However, while these external enemies and attacks can only bolster the democratic socialists’ readiness to fight, much more fatal limitations lurk in the very heart of their project. Today’s democratic socialism is infinitely superior to the academic radicals who flourished in the last decades, for the simple reason that it stands for an actual political movement which mobilises hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, registering and articulating their dissatisfaction.

Problems begin when we raise the simple question: what do democratic socialists effectively want? The rightist reproach against them is that, beneath their innocent-sounding concrete proposals to raise taxes, make healthcare better, etc, there is a dark project to destroy capitalism and its freedoms. My fear is exactly the opposite one: that beneath their concrete welfare state proposals there is nothing, no great project, just a vague idea of more social justice. The idea is simply that, through electoral pressure, the centre of gravity will move back to the left.

But is, in the (not so) long term, this enough? Do the challenges that we face, from global warming to refugees, from digital control to biogenetic manipulations, not require nothing less than a global reorganisation of our societies? Whichever way this will happen, two things are sure: it will not be enacted by some new version of a Leninist Communist party, but it will also not happen as part of our parliamentary democracy. It will not be just a political party winning more votes and enacting social democratic measures.

This brings us to the fatal limitation of democratic socialists. Back in 1985, Felix Guattari and Toni Negri published a short book in French Les nouveaux espaces de liberte whose title was changed for the English translation into Communists Like Us – the implicit message of this change was the same as that of democratic socialists: “Don’t be afraid, we are ordinary guys like you, we don’t pose any threat, life will just go on when we will win...” This, unfortunately, is not the option. Radical changes are needed for our survival, and life will NOT go on as usual; we will have to change even in our innermost life.

So we should of course fully support democratic socialists; if we just wait for the right moment to enact a radical change, this moment will never arrive, we have to begin with where we are. But we should do this without illusions, fully aware that our future will demand much more than electoral games and social democratic measures. We are at the beginning of a dangerous voyage on which our survival depends.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in