Forward to the Rear

The irony not to be missed is that 99.99% of the thousands who feel offended and demonstrate had never even SEEN the Danish caricatures - Slavoj Žižek

Yesterday along with my wife, I met up with two long term friends from the British Left. We all went out for a few pints together. The drink flowed. I stuck to the cider, my wife preferred something with a greater blend of flavours – Malibu and Coke – but being visitors to Ireland our two friends made the statutory reach for the dark stuff. Guinness, it hardly needs to be pulled, having a pulling power of its own. Over the years I have been in their company in English cities like Manchester, London, Liverpool and Southampton sampling the booze and attending political events or soccer games. They are political people with a long history of activism and brushes with authority. They emphasise the interpretive over the descriptive. Not being Trots they are given to analysing rather than sloganising. They have long been associated with the progressive Left as distinct from its regressive counterpart.

These pub gatherings, although social, because of their composition can never escape politics for long. Both our friends have doctorates and are accomplished academics and authors. Their breadth of knowledge is impressive and their take on events in Ireland and abroad is always thought provoking. When they are around talk about the chances of getting tickets for a Liverpool game soon makes way for a more heavy duty discussion.

During the course of the afternoon our conversation veered to the state of the British Left. I asked if the Socialist Workers Party had torn itself apart yet. I don’t follow its fortunes any way closely but there had been reports that the body was on the verge of a split, its central committee had been caught lying to and manipulating the membership for the umpteenth time. Malachi O Doherty had recently been writing on the split at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle and it crossed my mind that it might just be the season for the sects to engage in the time honoured practice of routing out heresy amidst screams of ‘deviationist.’

One of our friends volunteered that while he didn’t know much about the internal goings-on within the SWP he had been at Marxism 2009, a yearly event organised by the party. One of the main attractions was a debate about what it means to be a revolutionary. On the panel was the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. On hearing that, a wry grin must have crossed my face. Three years ago when religious zealots decided to feel offended at12 Danish artists each sketching an anti-theocratic cartoon, the imans and mullahs found themselves backed by the SWP. Žižek had taken an interesting stand that, if the SWP were serious, would have enraged them: "Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them."

I asked if Žižek was subject to any criticism from the audience because of his stance. Nothing at all. A few sisters had a go because of an allegory he related to convey the irrelevance of the types he was speaking to. Their umbrage – he was belittling rape. Nonsense of course but it was instructive that it alone constituted what the criticism of the philosopher amounted to.

I had long suspected that the SWP had abandoned a secular and humanist position merely to facilitate an alliance with people – a united front of a special type - who the late SWP stalwart Tony Cliff described as clerical fascists. Now that George Galloway has not proven susceptible to SWP manipulation opponents of the theocrats no longer seem to be accused of racism but are rehabilitated and are guest speakers at showcase SWP events.

What next – a burka ban at SWP conferences?


  1. I came to Zizek unbiased, never having read him before, only about him. On Amazon US, this is my review and you can place it in the context of other reviewers who fawn over him, and others who commented on my own attempt to be less sycophantic, and very objective. Review of Zizek's 'Violence'.

  2. Fionnchú, thanks for this review. I will get to it shortly