"Forget about North Korean nuclear weapons, the big thing is biogenetics."
TheQuestion interviewed Slavoj Zizek. Here's his take on posthumanism, the future of the working class, and the most groundbreaking social movements of our time.
6 questions
1. When is the world revolution going to start?2. Why aren't young people rebelling like they did in 1968?3. Working classes are oppressed and poor today, just like before. Why aren't they rebelling?4. How can an ordinary person actively fight against capitalism?5. Should I vote in elections?6. Is gender identity or class identity more important in the world today?

I am a pessimist here, in the sense that I am a pessimist communist, but still a communist. 

If I were to try and explain this to my son, for example, I would say: of course, with all the sabotage of any real progressive hope, we might think "why don't we simply resign? Let’s be good leftist Fukuyamaists, let’s fight for gay rights here, better healthcare there - these modest measures." 

One big problem, I think, is biogenetics, so-called posthumanism. There is a real prospect of controlling people in new, unimaginable ways. China is leading here. I once had a contact, I met him at a conference, the boss of the Chinese biogenetic branch of their academy of sciences, and he gave me a small brochure with a program, you know? The first item, programmatic item, was the aim of biogenetics in China is to control the material and psychic mental welfare of the Chinese people. So they openly opt for this, and they are already making it, trying to - it’s like a bad science fiction. 

But we are already doing it in the West in a more refined way. The Chinese idea is that they are already beginning to practice this, since our data are digitised. For example, if you are active in some prohibited domains, reading too much dissident literature... And in China this doesn’t mean so much Western ideology, as ecology and especially free trade unions. In China, if you say “free trade unions”, it’s the worst thing you can say. You can be for capitalism, nobody cares. If you are for free trade unions, it’s bad. So the idea is some central computing system identifies, notices this, that you are involved in any criminal activity, if you broke the law in any way, and then each person will get a certain grade or estimation of your “social trust”. They call it they call it in a very nice way, social trust. And this will have fateful consequences. If your social trust is low, you will not get a passport, you will not get a permit to travel, you will not get sensitive jobs and so on and so on.

But they discovered that in England and in the United States, the do it in a more discreet way. It’s like that in China they do it it more openly. When this happens in China, North Korea, we say “oh, horrible, horrible”. But in a discreet way, maybe even more efficiently, we are already doing this here. I spoke with somebody whose brother works in these genetic departments - forget about these North Korean nuclear weapons, the big thing is biogenetics, biochemical weapons and so on. For example, they already have this thing (I read it, it’s just not so emphasised in the public), it’s so simple, it’s like a small piece of luggage which emits radiation, you press a button and the group of people, one kilometre in perimeter, for a certain time, they lose their will to act and ability to think and so on. 

I think it’s one of the biggest questions of social control: who will control these different ways to regulate our mind? Will it be big companies, will it be states? And I think big companies can in some sense even be worse than the state and so on. So we have all these problems, plus migrations and so on. I don’t think that capitalism, the way we have it today, as a global capitalism, can survive this in the long term. I believe that in Hollywood, big blockbusters, these post-apocalyptic films - in a sense, they are right. Either something like a big emancipatory whatever - I call it communism - will come, or we will face a new apartheid, like in old fantasy movies. society like all those old fantasy movies, that are nicely made, at least visually... That one with Jennifer Lawrence, “Hunger Games”, where you have basically a class division that is even stronger than classical Marxist class divisions. Because in classical Marxist class division, okay, say if you are a capitalist and I am a worker or vice versa, we still somehow are supposed to participate in the same legal system, at some formal level - which is a lie, but it still means we share some basic rights. I think a much stronger apartheid is coming now, where the working class will not only be directly politically dispriviledged, but even in the long term (it’s already quite realistic), it will become a biologically different race.

2/6 Why aren't young people rebelling like they did in 1968?

I think we should not just blame the young people. This is the fundamental problem. We can play this game, how the global capitalistic ideology is manipulating us and so on and so on, but people simply - by "people" I mean the majority of ordinary people in the developed West - they simply don’t think that the left has an actual offer or alternative model. 

You may have some friends groups with more radical propositions, but that's the limit. I’ll put it this way: you remember Fukuyama. Even the majority of the left today, at least the big established left, what they offer is leftist fukuyamaism. You accept the system of capitalism and liberal democracy as it is, and you say, "let's just do this a little bit to the left: more ecology, more social openness towards feminism, different sexual identities and so on", but there are absolutely no serious plans - serious in the sense of viable - people cannot even imagine an actual alternative to capitalism. In their experience, and this is the legacy of the 20th century, the left in power, the radical left, led to 3 results: 

1) Either totalitarian terror, or other forms of catastrophe like Venezuela now.  

2) Second, simple social democratic betrayal - you join the system, you just want to make it a little bit better. 

3) Or the worst version for me - this politically correct moralisation. You are not able to propose a project of global change, so you go into moralising you know, like oh my god, that expression is racist. 

You know, I know this third point from my personal experience when there was this Occupy Wall Street. It was incredible how it was just some general idea of being against corruption, irrationality of the system, I spent time on Wall Street and in Frankfurt, all the places, and I was asking people a simple question: what do you want? Nothing. Just some vague ideas about a more just order, and so on and so on. 

So I don’t blame the ordinary people, because I don’t see any idea which would really appear socialist, so maybe this is ideological manipulation. The left - that’s why you have all this - it’s a very sad phenomenon with political correctness and so on, this radical moralisation of the left. Moralisation of politics is for me always a sign that you don’t really have an idea about how to change it, so you moralise. So again, I don’t blame ordinary people.

3/6 Working classes are oppressed and poor today, just like before. Why aren't they rebelling?

What can you offer them? You know? First, if you look at  the past, okay - there are exceptions, but many revolutions don’t happen when things are at their worst. They happen when the powers already made some concessions, but then don’t go far enough and so on. Like the French Revolution happened when the French monarch was already retreating and giving more and more and more freedom.

You need an ideology. You need an idea that attracts the people. Now tell me, apart from this abstract idea of revolt and so on, what is offered to the people? What is offered? They are wise enough to see that just this pro-Western propaganda which played maybe a certain role in the 1990s obliteration of communism, but people don’t buy this. This is depoliticisation of the people. We have now some very good protest movements, strikes, in the West - but still when you say working class, isn’t it an extremely sad phenomenon that their only serious (in political sense, with political strength) political orientation are right-wing anti-immigrant populists? They play the working class against what they perceive as threat. Not big capital, but immigrants and so on, refugees, and so on and so on. This is, I would say, very sad.

The predominant workers’ politics today in France - it’s not as simple as that - but its true that most of Marine Le Pen’s voters are ex-communist voters. I mean, today’s social democrats are so obsessed with the idea that they don’t want to appear out of time, that they totally adopted this postmodern terminology, you know, "we must be nice to small creative digital capitalists" and so on, and they are absolutely afraid to appear as still dominated by trade unions and traditional worker’s organisations, so that the only power politically still referring to working class interests in France is Marine Le Pen.

Or in Poland it’s the same tragedy - Kaczynski - okay, he is not nominally head of state, but he is the secret master in Poland - he openly speaks the language of working class rights, of workers, he even did something. So again, I understand the idea of "workers rebelling" - okay, but what is offered to them? When you say “revolution”, you need a plan for revolution, like to do what?

Although there is some nostalgia for communism, I wouldn’t take that nostalgia too seriously. It’s not that they are satisfied simply, the workers, and that’s why they don’t revolt, but they are disoriented in total cynicism. And I even claim that this is the predominant ideology today - neoliberalism is not just neoliberal rules, and you will all be rich or whatever, no! It’s more cynical. The message of neoliberalism is much more cynical: the 20th century shows us that every large-scale attempt to change society for the better ends in Gulag necessarily. So it’s very ironic how today’s ideology is basically in some perverted sense anti-ideology. They try to destroy any vision of alternatives. They claim this is old ideological thinking. That’s the neoliberal vision, although they are themselves ideology at its purest. But every vision of a different future is decried as totalitarian. 

Incidentally, even with this term “neoliberalism” I have great problems, because, you know, neoliberalism is not a reality. If you look for example at the United States today, it’s not exactly a neoliberal country, the state is really getting stronger and stronger. Today’s capitalism needs a stronger and stronger state which manipulates, regulates market conditions, which is why ex-communists are so successful in running the wildest capitalist countries. The future, I think, is what they do in China, in Singapore and so on - the terrifying combination of capitalism with nonetheless a very strong state which regulates it and so on and so on.

4/6 How can an ordinary person actively fight against capitalism?

This will be very modest advice, I don’t pretend to have a big answer. The first thing (although it’s not that positive yet, but would still be a great thing) would be for people to become aware, to lose this protective attitude where they say “let’s keep a little bit of happiness the way we are, let’s keep the system the way it is". And it can be done gradually, we can gradually show that the fault is in the system itself. And this is the biggest strategy of today’s ideology, to divide this. 

Remember the financial crackdown of 2008. This is why I was deeply suspicious of this false anti-capitalism of you know, attacking those corrupted rich men. No, the problem is in the system. You know, individuals - I am an anthropological pessimist here - they were all the time corrupted and so on, but why is it that they are able to do it in the way they do it today? And then, the second thing - I am not such a big pessimist here - you know, all modest measures are not equal. There are some measures, political proposals and demands, which may appear modest, can really be too dramatic for the system. In the United States (though I am not naive when it comes to Obama), it was clear that his universal healthcare proposal, for the United States it was too much. Although it was possible in other countries (Canada has it, and most of Europe), but there it’s too much for their ideology.

So my idea is that we must be aware that the system as such is doomed, and we have to be ready for some big ecological, social crisis. But it doesn’t mean that you should just sit and watch pornography and masturbate till that point. The art is to pick up on specific struggles, and they are not the same in all countries. Like in the United States it was universal healthcare. We can be innocent about it and say that most developed capitalist countries have it, so what’s the problem? But really, the system cannot integrated it. Because the trick of democratic capitalism is crucial: apparently formally it gives you all the choices, but many choices are de-facto prohibited. You cannot do it. So with capitalist democracy it’s always that paradox. I give you the freedom to choose if you make the right choice. If we explore this space, many things can be done.

5/6 Should I vote in elections?

There is a novel by Jose Saramago, it's called “Vision”, in it in a country like Portugal all of a sudden people decided not to vote. The election participation is like 2-3 percent. And the powers go into an entire total panic, they see a dark plot in this and whatever, and so on and so on.

I am not elevating this into a universal rule. First, there are sometimes votes which potentially can mean something. For example, before they made the betrayal (it’s very naive what I will say now), in Greece I would have voted for Syriza before, now it’s over. In the United States, if Sanders were to be the candidate - but again, he is not even a social democrat really. The important thing for me is how to mobilise people. Sanders mobilised people with a certain project which clearly went a little bit further than the consensus. That's important for me: we should look for these miracles where you can mobilise. In Spain, I would vote for Podemos, but they are too much part of the system. You know?

What can you do with your anarchism other than building these isolated, autonomous communities? This is nice, but what I am afraid of is that if they don’t get too strong, they just help the system in the sense that you know - you get rid of potential trouble-makers. I can imagine a leading capitalist telling his workers, “you are not satisfied? Okay, spend some time in that fucking anarchist community and leave us alone here.”

The most precious thing that happened here, with all the limitations ideologically, it doesn’t matter that again, things like Syriza (although they ruined it then), and Bernie Sanders. 

My pessimism is this one, as I developed it: traditionally in the West, but also in other countries, the post-World War II system was what? It was moderate left versus moderate right. Two big parties. But then you have all those fringe parties from neo-Nazis to greens and so on. Now, another duality is emerging: the big party of capital, liberal capital, which is purely capitalist but at the same time for homosexuality, gay rights, whatever, LGBT, freedom of religion, abortion, and opposed to them are anti-immigrant populist nationalists. The danger of this is that the only one who is at least nominally referring to ordinary people and their troubles are usually right-wing populists, and if this will become the predominant form, we who still want to be leftists, we will be blackmailed all the time. Like in France, many of my friends, they shouldn’t even be my friends, nonetheless said that Macron is - okay, he is in some formal sense better than Marine Le Pen, but basically his politics opened up the space for Marine Le Pen. We should say: go there and vote for Macron to save us from fascism, but you should be aware that Macron is part of the powers which enabled Marine Le Pen, for this I was already criticised. The big danger today is not directly neofascism, it is also the blackmail of liberals who claim that today we fight fascism.

It is absolutely crucial to break out of this reality where you are forced somehow ultimately to say “okay okay, we can dream about more radical measures, but in this situation of the fascist threat…” I don’t even accept the designation that the new right-wingers are simply a fascist threat. It is true, but you can also read this from the liberal position, you know: where the actual content of this focusing on anti-fascism is that liberalism is our only choice. It’s crucial to break out of this.

6/6 Is gender identity or class identity more important in the world today?

I am pretty much a pessimist here. For example, all these politically correct movements - of course I support their goals, but they are nonetheless perfectly integrated into existing global capitalism. Maybe in some countries it’s different. But in the United States and Western Europe, I think that the ultimate ideological function even of feminism, gay movements, is to deflect attention from class struggle and to give you these other goals which can be again perfectly integrated into the system.

I was attacked in the United States for noting this single fact that all the big capital, literally all this - whatever you want - Apple, Microsoft, Amazon - they are all extremely for this Ersatz-liberation movements. On the other hand, I am also a little bit skeptical with the tendency to build liberated territories, where you say “capitalism is out here, we have our freedoms here”. If you allow these types of islands outside your control, they can bring a lot to the stability of the overall system. The model is Mexico’s Zapatista. At the beginning, they were felt as a threat, now everybody - I mean everybody in the establishment - says "oh, they are our moral consciousness, we should support them", and so on.

So again, the problem is not that people are stupid, the problem is us, the leftists. What can we really offer them? In the United States they knew very well how these small intellectually radical groups were the perfect way to neutralise an actual social movement. Which is why, much more than all these small communist groups, but the importance of Bernie Sanders (though I am not taking him too seriously) was that for the first time  something a little bit more radical emerged. He even rehabilitated the word “socialism”, and words are important - the word literally grabbed, mobilised millions of the people. You know, we shouldn’t be theoretical purists here. The question is, how can you mobilise the people?