The title of this post recalls Žižek’s own 2008 work In Defense of Lost Causes. Not one of his better books, in my opinion. Žižek remains one of the few redeemable intellectuals of our time. Despite, or perhaps because of, his zany antics and constant clowning, he manages to be consistently insightful. Or at least compared to most. Marxism, like Žižek, might today be a lost cause. But I’ll defend it nonetheless.
Molly Klein and friends have leveled a number of accusations against the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Among other things, they have alleged that he is a “psyop” in the employ of the US government. Supposedly he is working to undermine the rebirth of any genuinely anti-imperialist Left. (Recently Molly suggested that the Jacobin editor and founder Bhaskar Sunkara is also a paid propagandist). Klein’s online clique — a couple drones and devotees, but mainly sock puppets run by Klein herself — takes great exception to the term “tankie,” yet calls anyone who disagrees with them a fascist.
They have also implied that Žižek and his Ljubljana school colleagues Alena Zupančič and Mladen Dolar published a translation of the apocryphal Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1989, the first to appear in Slovenia. Certainly a serious charge, not to be taken lightly. It is however baseless, as can be proved without much difficulty. Perhaps Klein’s other arguments against Žižek are accurate (not bloody likely). But this is the claim under investigation here, so I’ll confine my remarks to it.
Most are probably aware that the Protocols were widely disseminated in the first few decades of the twentieth century, providing “indisputable proof” of an international Jewish conspiracy. Anti-Semites in multiple countries across Europe and North America promoted the text as an authentic document, as part of their vicious smear campaign against the Jews. So its translation would seem especially incendiary in a place like former Yugoslavia, where memories of the Holocaust were still fresh in the 1980s.
Perhaps it is a waste of time to debunk Klein’s defamatory claim. Nobody really believed this ridiculous libel to begin with. Readers of Žižek will no doubt be surprised to hear that he endorses the view that the Protocols are genuine, as this runs counter to everything he has said on the subject in his writings. For example, in Welcome to the Desert of the Real he wrote:
When we consider [the Palestinian-Israeli] conflict we should stick to cold, ruthless standards, suspending the urge to try to “understand” the situation: we should unconditionally resist the temptation to “understand” Arab anti-Semitism (where we really encounter it) as a “natural” reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians; or to “understand” the Israeli measures as a “natural” reaction against the background of the memory of the Holocaust. There should be no “understanding” for the fact that, in many — if not most — Arab countries, Hitler is still considered a hero; the fact that in primary-school textbooks all the traditional anti-Semitic myths — from the notorious forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion to claims that the Jews use the blood of Christian (or Arab) children for sacrificial purposes — are perpetrated. To claim that this anti-Semitism articulates resistance against capitalism in a displaced mode does not in any way justify it (the same goes for Nazi anti-Semitism: it, too, drew its energy from anticapitalist resistance): here displacement is not a secondary operation, but the fundamental gesture of ideological mystification. What this claim does involve is the idea that, in the long term, the only way to fight anti-Semitism is not to preach liberal tolerance, and so on, but to express the underlying anticapitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced way.
Žižek’s understanding of anti-Semitism as a misrecognized form of anticapitalism mirrors that of Moishe Postone and Werner Bonefeld, as well as other Marxist theorists of antisemitism. But the pertinent point here is that the Slovenian philosopher explicitly denounces the Protocols as a forgery, which they are. Why would he maintain the Protocols were the Real deal if he clearly believes them to be a hoax? Klein takes this a step further, of course, “betting that [Žižek] translated the Protocols into Slovenian and wrote Sublime Object side by side.”
Let’s examine the accusation in detail, however, point by point.
- First, it is pointed out that Žižek, Dolar, and Zupančič edited and wrote essays for the Ljubljana-based student journal Tribuna. In 1971, Dolar became editor of “the student newspaper Tribuna,” as he relates in a recent interview. More info can be found in Žizek and His Contemporaries: On the Emergence of the Slovenian Lacan, an intellectual history put out by. Perfectly true.
- Next, Klein et al. refer to an obscure report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1990, discussing a scandal that had broken out the previous year. “A prominent member of the tiny Jewish community in Slovenia has sued the youth magazine Tribuna for publishing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that originated in Czarist Russia at the turn of the century.” Perfectly true.
- Third, a paper by Laslo Sekelj on “Antisemitism and Jewish Identity in Serbia after the 1991 Collapse of the Yugoslav State” from 1997 is invoked. “Ljubljana’s University magazine Tribuna (financed from the republic’s budget) between August 1988 to March 1989 published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the very first time in the Slovenian language, and there was no way to have its publication suspended,” writes Sekelj. “This was the first open publication of the Protocols in Yugoslavia since 1945.” Perfectly true.
Indeed, this is the same publication Dolar edited in the early- to mid-1970s, to which Žižek and Zupančič contributed articles. Case closed! Turns out they were right. Right?
Dolar and Žižek were long gone by the time chief editor Tomaž Drozg decided to serialize the controversial translation of the Protocols in August 1988. From around 1980 onward, Žižek and his pals worked primarily on the psychoanalytic publication Problemi. (Incidentally, Klein & co. fail to notice that Sekelj approvingly alludes to an article Žižek wrote in 1983 lambasting antisemitism in Slovenia). The reason for this is simple: it’s a fucking student publication. Žižek wrote for it when he was still a student, and likewise with Dolar.
But surely the fact that Žižek wrote for a publication that went on to publish the Protocols is indicative of deep some intellectual affinity, right? Not really. “Through the decades of publishing Tribuna has been facing a constant change in editorial policy, political affiliation, genre, format, design,” one site explains. How can one hold an individual or group of individuals accountable for editorial choices they didn’t make, in a journal whose political perspective had been dramatically overhauled — not once, but multiple times — since they left?
None of this, it should be said, is a groundbreaking discovery on my part. It is not impressive. A child could have done it. The entire run of Tribuna from 1951 to 1998 and 2009 to the present is available in toto for free online, scanned and uploaded to the Digital Library of Slovenia. So anyone who would like to verify Klein’s claim is free do so without much bother; it’s no great effort. Why, then, did no one bother to double-check?
Glancing at just one of the issues from the series that printed the Protocols translation, a note from editor Tomi Drozg can be read. I don’t know Slovenian, but am fluent enough in Russian that I can sort of fake reading other Slavic languages. Plus, there’s always Google translate. From what I can make out, Drozg addresses some of the outrage that came from their initial publication (which featured only sparse commentary). He explains that while they were fabricated, the Protocols are historically important enough to reprint in the magazine. Whether Drozg is being mendacious here by playing dumb is hard to tell, but either way it has nothing to do with Žižek and his cohort. Anyone reading this who is fluent in Slovenian is welcome to offer a translation.
Klein and her Stalinist cronies are practically illiterate even in English, however, so maybe I should cut them some slack. Some of them I like to think are merely misguided, or else too polite to tell Molly to stfu. Emma Quangel, for example, though by she’s probably too far gone. John Steppling actually writes very thoughtful essays over at his blog, so I don’t know why he associates with these knuckleheads.
Quangel came through big a couple days ago by tracking Dylann Roof’s racist manifesto. Good on her for that, even if I disagree with her politics. A little over a year ago, however, she wrote something on this subject that deserves to be addressed:
Why are we giggling when there is a panel at Left Forum called “Žižek must be destroyed”? The facts are clear. Molly Klein invites us to consider the possibility that the Left is being targeted for infiltration and destruction. Is that so much to ask? I heard someone walk out of the panel huffing, “Well, I know Žižek is a racist, but that’s just crazy.” Are you kidding me? If Žižek is a racist, if he supports ethnic cleansing, if he sides 100% of the time with an imperialist agenda, if he spends much of his efforts presenting a grotesque caricature of a “Marxist” and misattributing Goebbels quotes to actual revolutionary Marxists, shouldn’t we be concerned? Apparently, a time of dark reaction such as this is the wrong time to consider the possibility.
Why are we giggling? Because it’s fucking stupid, that’s why.
UPDATE: Simon Gros, who is from Slovenia, has been kind enough to translate the editorial note in full. It reads as follows:
About the Protocols
Admitting to mistakes is not my favorite pastime. This time, however, I feel obliged to apologize for something which had the opposite effect of what was desired: namely, the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion without any explanation. One had being arranged, but the author commissioned to write it wasn’t able to finish in time, making it my problem. In this sense the outrage felt by many Jews was justified, even though the text was already recognized as a falsification in court. But the intention behind publishing it was in no way antisemitic, or anything still darker, as the person who reported me to the Ljubljana prosecutor would like to claim. I am sure the Slovene public is mature enough to read this sort of text without becoming antisemitic. The destiny of the Slovenian nation is in many ways similar to the Jewish one. So in this context antisemitism would be absurd, as should ultimately be clear even to the person who informed on me. Yet to the Jews a sincere apology for misunderstanding the intent of the translation. I pledge to correct my mistake.
P.S. The “introductory text” to The Protocols in the sixteenth issue of Tribuna is an integral part of the book, and not an editorial foreword (as was mistaken by a lot of people).
Gros adds: “In my opinion this is a terrible excuse for publishing something like this, since it raises the question of what their purpose for translating it might have been (if not to promote antisemitism). Especially because no qualification or explanation of intent seems to have been published, like this ‘apology’ claims.” I agree with Gros’ assessment. An awful justification.
He continues: “It should be noted that this is not the first time an attack on Žižek has been based on some occurrence in Slovenia which was later unjustly applied to him, as if it had been done by him and not some other Slovene. In a similar case I found accusations of anti-Roma racism directed at him, based on the racist way in which our former (now deceased) president Drnovšek dealt with the issue of one particular Roma family. This was heavily reported in the media. So something in Slovenia is picked up and later applied to him personally. Quite a strange logic, primarily stemming from foreigners’ inability to understand the language.”