Sadly, there is a sinister tradition of left-wing intellectuals justifying or even celebrating “revolutionary” or “anti-imperialist” violence. On September 5, 1972, the Palestinian terrorist organization “Black September” took athletes hostage who were participating in the Munich Olympics for Israel; all eleven were killed. Jean-Paul Sartre, playwright, philosopher and main representative of existentialism, is considered the leading figure of French intellectuals of the 20th century. In an article entitled “About Munich”, published a few weeks after the terrorist attack, he writing : “In this war, the only weapon of the Palestinians is terrorism. It is a terrible weapon but the oppressed have no other, and the French who approved the terrorism of the FLN against French people must also approve the “terrorist action of the Palestinians. This abandoned, betrayed and exiled people can only show their courage and the strength of their hatred by organizing deadly attacks.”
This statement is no exception: Sartre and his companion Simone de Beauvoir, whose feminist work The Second Sex made her France’s best-known intellectual, were fervent admirers of Mao Zedong and praised the “revolutionary violence” he practiced as an expression of superior morality. Sartre said : “A revolutionary regime must get rid of a certain number of individuals who threaten it and I see no other means for this than death; it is always possible to escape from a prison; the revolutionaries of 1793 n “probably didn’t kill enough people.”
Sartre admired or defended the actions of everyone who in one way or another opposed capitalism, from the standard-bearer of the Cuban revolution Che Guevara to the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who had two million people killed. his compatriots, or 20% of his own population.
Žižek and the “new communism”
Among the leading intellectuals of the 20th century, dictators such as Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong had more admirers than capitalism and its main supporters. Their hatred of capitalism was so great that many of them became reverential admirers of the greatest mass murderers of the time. I am not talking here about a few marginals or eccentrics, but about the main intellectuals of the 20th century. This is the case of the French writer Henri Barbusse, who became world famous thanks to his war diary Fire, published in 1916. This journal has been translated into more than 60 languages and Barbusse received the Goncourt prize. He later became one of the most ardent admirers of Soviet dictator Stalin, of whom he wrote: “His history is a series of victories over a series of enormous difficulties. Since 1917, not a single only year of his career without him doing something that would have made any other man famous. He is a man of iron. The name by which he is known describes him: the word Stalin means “steel” in Russian.”
French philosopher Michel Foucault, a leading proponent of poststructuralism and the founder of discourse analysis, expressed his own rage against the capitalist elite in a televised debate with Noam Chomsky in 1971: “The proletariat does not does not wage war on the ruling class because it considers that such a war is just. The proletariat wages war on the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. When the proletariat takes power, it is entirely possible that it exercises violent, dictatorial and even bloody power over the classes over which it has triumphed. I do not see what one could object to that.
And the justification of violence and terror, as long as it is directed against capitalism, continues today. Slavoj Žižek, one of the most prominent left-wing intellectuals of our time, argues for a “new communism” in his book A Left That Dares Speak Its Name, published in 2021: “What we need today,” he writes, “is a left that dares to speak its name, and not a left that shamefully covers its heart with a cultural fig leaf . And that name is communism.” According to him, the left should finally abandon the socialist dream of a fairer and more “just” capitalism and adopt more radical “communist measures”. As a clearly formulated objective, he proposes that “the opposing class be destroyed.”
According to Žižek, Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s – the greatest socialist experiment in human history – was an opportunity to “bypass socialism and move directly into communism” . Unfortunately, many people know nothing about Mao’s Great Leap Forward: historian Frank Dikötter offers the following assessment: at least 45 million people died needlessly as a result of this great socialist experiment between 1958 and 1962. Most died of starvation, while 2.5 million others were tortured or beaten to death – deliberately deprived of food and starved to death. “People were selectively killed because they were rich, because they dragged their feet, because they talked, or simply because they were not liked, for whatever reason, by the man who handled the ladle in the canteen”, explains Dikötter. And it is precisely this “great leap forward” that Žižek praises with such euphoria.
In an article from the New York Review entitled “The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek”, we can see the photo hanging above Žižek’s bed: that of the mass murderer Josef Stalin.
Rainer Zitelmann is a German historian and sociologist. His book In Defense of Capitalism was recently published in English.