A while ago, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek stated that when someone says Eurocentrism “every self-respecting postmodern leftist intellectual has as violent a reaction as Joseph Goebbels had to culture: to reach for a gun, hurling accusations of proto-fascist Eurocentrist cultural imperialism.” However, he asked himself, “is it possible to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy.” That is an interesting and difficult question . What for?, a self-respecting de-colonial intellectual would ask. Would leftist European presidents (Like José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) instead of postmodern leftist intellectuals ask themselves if a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy is possible or desirable? And what about non-European leftist presidents (like Hugo Chávez) or non-postmodern leftist but de-colonial intellectuals? How relevant would be for self-respecting but not postmodern leftist intellectuals, to imagine a leftist appropriation of the European political legacy?
However, the road followed by José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defending José María Aznar from the accusations launched by Venezuelan President (and promoter of “Socialism 21st Century”) Hugo Chávez are not very encouraging. I am not of course assuming that Zizek will agree with Zapatero. I am just putting flags on the many faces of the left: leftist appropriation of European legacy, proposed by a Slovenian philosopher; a defense of the extreme Spanish right by the leftist president of Spain and a non-European version of the left enacted and promoted by Hugo Chávez. Needles to say, I am not suggesting here that Chávez’s leftist version is the one to follow. I am just drawing the scenario in which Eurocentrism is well and alive and a “flor de piel”as we say in Spanish. It cannot be otherwise for a King and a President of a European country to jump the way they did against a dark skinned President of a South American country, once a colony of Spain.
What is remarkable in the King’s reaction and Zapatero’s follow up is the passion accentuating their interventions–they lost their cool, so to speak, and went beyond expected diplomatic and political dialogue. Theirs was simply a racist reaction against a President that the King doesn’t accept as President (otherwise the King would not have erupted as he did, as a Patron addressing his Slave; or a superior addressing an inferior human and social being) and Zapatero doesn’t see as a companion with whom to build a socialist future. Think about it: there are centuries of imperial history, although in decay, behind Zapatero; and there are five centuries of colonial histories in Venezuela, behind Chávez, and Spanish legacies at its foundation. Good enough reasons for Zapatero to jump in defense of the King and José María Aznar. Good enough reasons for Chávez to denounce Aznar as an agent or a puppet of imperial forces.
All of us remember when José María Aznar sat at the table next to Tony Blair and George W. Bush to support the invasion of Iraq; in front of them, at the negotiation table, were Jacques Chirac, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin. And Zapatero could not have remembered at the moment of defending Aznar, that his “compatriota”not to long ago defended the opinion of the Pope against the Muslims under the rationale that the Pope has the right to express his opinion.
Perfect! Now then why does the Pope have the right to express his outrageous opinion against the Muslim and Chávez has no right to express his outrageous opinions against Aznar? Think of it. And tell me if this is not Eurocentrism racism at is best? Mind you: you do not have to defend Chávez to understand the underlining forces of fundamental racism permeating modern/imperial (like the King, Zapatero and Asnar) subjects reacting against modern/colonial subjects (Chávez, Muslims).
Now we have a dilemma here. If we take Chávez’s side, we expose ourselves to be defending a populist dictator that used oil money to entice Venezuelan people in supporting him against Venezuelan elites opposing him. (1) If we take the King of Spain’s or Zapatero’s side we expose ourselves of defending the supreme right of a Monarch to order a Venezuelan Mulato President to shut up; and to defend a socialist President that stood up to defend the Monarch and a racist ex-president, Aznar, insulted by the mulato Venezuelan President.
And this is what is at stake in the dilemma. You have the choice, now, of enlisting yourself with Mario Vargas-Llosa who accused Hugo Chávez of being racist in the same paragraph that he praises Lula da Silva for “adopting a modern socialism, European style”, instead of “socialism 21st century”following the teaching of Fidel Castro .Now this is a cheap shot: if you are seriously concerned with democracy, you do not use Lula da Silva to critique Hugo Chávez. However, if your goal is to defend a set of values and ideals known as Eurocentrism, then you do. And you then take sides with Zapatero, Aznar and the King against Hugo Chávez. You see, the dilemma “you are with me or with my enemies”is a false one. A de-colonial intellectual would say “I am neither with you nor with your enemies.”
See? The issue is complicated. What kind of “modern socialism, European style”is Vargas-Llosa referring too? And how do we decide who should be identified as racist: the King and Zapatero or Chávez?. It is difficult indeed. But we should remember that “racism”is an imperial construction, that is, imperial subjects controlling knowledge decide who is an inferior human being. That decision could be explained theologically or scientifically as it happened from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Or could be enacted subjectively, as did the King and Zapatero, the president of Spain. Certainly, there is always the possibility of a racist reaction, from the colonial subject, to the racist construction of the imperial subject. That is, someone who feels himself or herself racialized react also in a racist way. In that regard, Vargas Llosa may have a point in saying the Chávez is racist. However, Vargas Llosa is telling half of the story: he hides the fact that if Chávez is racist, he is responding to imperial racism (which is embedded in Eurocentrism as a structure of knowledge and feelings); Eurocentric imperial racism that came to the foreground and at its best, in the King’s and Zapatero’s reaction. As well, of course, as the Pope’s infamous pronunciation against the Muslims and against the Indians in his visit to Latin America
The irreverence of Pope Benedict XVI against Muslims and Indians showed that racism has been naturalized within imperial institutions, like the Church. The irreverence of President Hugo Chávez against the ex-president of Spain provoked a naturalized racist reaction within imperial institutions, like the Spanish monarchy and the Spanish government. Hugo Chávez may be a racist president as Vargas Llosa’s contends. But let’s be frank and accept that the Pope, the King, the President of Spain are racists as well. And if we recognize that “we are all racists”well then, let’s take racism seriously and not anecdotally or as arguments ad-hominem to justify imperial violence.
It will be then and only then that a “leftist appropriation of European political theory”could do for Europe what “de-colonial appropriation of European and non-European political theories (such as the one advanced by Waman Puma de Ayala, Ottobah Cugoano, Mahatma Gandhi, Frantz Fanon, etc)”could do beyond Europe (and in reverse, for Europe itself). It may take us beyond Eurocentered manifestations of racism either theoretically oriented, politically engineered or subjectively explosive (a “flor de piel”). Depending on what side of the imperial/colonial divide you are (and not whether you are for the King, Zapatero or Chávez; or whether you agreed or not with Vargas Llosa), you will get a gun or not when Eurocentrism is pronounced. Depending on whether you consider yourself a “self-respecting postmodern leftist intellectual”or a “self-respecting de-colonial intellectual” you would or would not react as Goebbels did. And if you are a de-colonial intellectual you would have other choices than appropriating the European political legacy because if you go that way you will reproduce Eurocentrism, from the left or from the right.
1) I personally do not think that Chávez is a dictator. But since one reader of this piece thought i do, i should clarify that i am using free-indirect style in order to reproduce the main-stream and right-wing opinion (like Vargas Llosa’s for example). Did not think that this clarification was necessary, but to make sure, here it is!!