13 theses and some comments on politics today

Dora Longo Bahia, Revoluções (calendar project), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces) - 23 x 30.5 cm each
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By ALAIN BADIOU*

The ultimate ambition of the political work to come: that for the first time in history, it is the first hypothesis – the revolution will prevent the war – which takes place, and not the second – the war will cause the revolution

Thesis 1

The world situation is one of territorial and ideological hegemony of liberal capitalism.

Comment. The obviousness, the banality of this thesis exempts me from any comment.

Thesis 2

This hegemony is by no means in crisis, much less in an irreversible coma, but in a particularly intense sequence of its development..

Comment. There are, with regard to capitalist globalization, today totally hegemonic, two theses that are both opposed and false. The first is the conservative thesis: capitalism, especially combined with parliamentary “democracy”, is the ultimate form of economic and social organization for humanity. This is really the end of the story, in the Fukuyama sense. The second is the thesis according to which capitalism has entered its final crisis, or even the one according to which it is already dead.

The first thesis is just the repetition of the ideological process initiated in the late 1970s by the renegade intellectuals of the “red years” (1965-1975), which consisted of purely and simply eliminating the communist hypothesis from the field of the possible. It made it possible to simplify the dominant propaganda: there is no longer any need to praise the (dubious …) merits of capitalism, but only to assert that the facts (USSR, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, China, Khmer Rouge, the western communist parties …) have shown that nothing else was possible but a criminal “totalitarianism”.

Faced with this verdict of impossibility, the only action required of us is to restore, on balance and beyond the fragmentary experiences of the last century, the communist hypothesis in its possibility, in its strength and in its liberating capacity. That is what will inevitably happen, and in this very text I do just that.

The two forms of the second thesis, bloodless capitalism or dead capitalism, are often based on the 2008 financial crisis and the countless episodes of corruption revealed daily. They conclude either that the moment is revolutionary, that all it takes is a strong push for the “system” to collapse, or even that it is enough to take a step to the side, to retire, for example to the countryside, and then realize that we can organize our new “forms of life” there, the capitalist machine turning empty in its final nothingness.

All this has nothing to do with reality.

First of all, the 2008 crisis is a classic crisis of overproduction (many houses were built in the United States, sold on credit to insolvent people), whose propagation allows, with the necessary time, a new impetus of capitalism, put in order and driven by a strong sequence of Capital concentration, the weak being washed away, the strong increased and, incidentally, very important gain, the “social laws” resulting from the end of the world war largely liquidated. The “recovery” is now in sight, once this painful tidying has been done.

Second, the extension of capitalist rule over vast territories, the intensive and extensive diversification of the world market, is far from complete. Almost all of Africa, much of Latin America, Eastern Europe, India: so many places “in transition”, whether zones of looting, or countries “taking off”, where large-scale market entry can and should follow the example of Japan or from China.

Third, corruption is of the essence of capitalism. How can a collective logic whose only standards are “profit above all else” and universal competition of all against all avoid widespread corruption? Corruption “cases” are just side operations, whether a purge of local propagandists or the result of a settling of scores between rival cliques.

In fact, modern capitalism, that of the world market, with its few centuries of existence, is historically a very recent social formation, it just started to conquer the planet, after a colonial sequence (from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century) where the conquered territories were subjugated by the limited and protectionist market of a single country. Today, looting is globalized, like the proletariat, now from every country in the world.

Thesis 3

Three active contradictions operate in this hegemony. 1) The extremely developed oligarchic dimension of Capital property leaves less and less room for integration into this oligarchy of new owners. Hence the possibility of authoritarian sclerosis. 2) The integration of financial and commercial circuits into a single world market opposes the maintenance, at the level of mass policing, of national figures that inevitably enter into rivalry. Hence the possibility of a planetary war for the emergence of a clearly hegemonic State, including in the world market. 3) Today there is doubt that Capital, in its current line of development, can put the workforce of the entire world population to work. Hence the risk of a mass of totally destitute and therefore politically dangerous people developing on a global scale.

Comment.

On point 1) We are – and the concentration continues – at a point where 264 people have the equivalent of three billion others. Right here in France: 10% of the population own well over 50% of the total wealth. These are concentrations of ownership unparalleled in human history. And they are not finished, far from it. They have a monstrous side, which obviously does not guarantee them an eternal duration, but which is inherent to capitalist development and is even its main engine.

On point 2) The hegemony of the United States is increasingly impaired. China and India alone have 40% of the world's working mass. Which points to a devastating de-industrialization in the West. In fact, American workers now make up only 7% of the total working mass, and Europe even less. As a result of these contrasts, the world order, still dominated for military and financial reasons by the United States, sees the emergence of rivals who want their share of sovereignty in the world market. Confrontations have already begun in the Middle East, Africa and the China Sea. They will continue. War is the horizon of this situation, as the killings of the previous century demonstrated.

On point 3) Already today there are probably between two and three billion people who are neither landowners, nor landless peasants, nor wage earners belonging to a petty bourgeoisie, nor workers. They travel the world in search of a place to live and constitute a nomadic proletariat that, if politicized, would become a considerable threat to the established order.

Thesis 4

In the last ten years, movements of revolt against this or that aspect of the hegemony of liberal capitalism have been numerous and, at times, vigorous. But they too were assimilated without significant difficulty.

Comment. These movements were of four types.

1- Brief and localized riots. There have been strong savage riots in the suburbs of large cities, for example in London or Paris, usually after the killing of young people by the police. These riots did not receive widespread support from frightened public opinion and were ruthlessly repressed, or were followed by large “humanitarian” mobilizations, focused on police violence and largely depoliticized.

2- Lasting uprisings, but without organizational creation. Other movements, especially in the Arab world, were much broader socially and lasted for long weeks. They took the canonical form of occupations of places. They have generally been reduced by electoral temptation. The most typical case is that of Egypt: large-scale movement, apparent success of the negative and unifying slogan of “Mubarak out” – Mubarak leaves power and is even arrested -, long impossibility for the police to regain control of the place, explicit unity of Coptic Christians and Muslims, apparent neutrality of the army… But of course, in the elections, it is the party present among the popular masses – and little present in the movement – ​​that wins, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. The most active part of the movement opposes this new government, and thus opens the way for an intervention by the army, which returns to power a general, Al-Sisi. This ruthlessly suppresses all opposition, first the Muslim Brotherhood, then the young revolutionaries, and indeed re-establishes the old regime, in somewhat worse shape than before. The circular nature of this episode is particularly impressive.

3 – Movements that give rise to the creation of a new political force. In some cases, the movement managed to create the conditions for the emergence of a new political force, different from those accustomed to parliamentarism. This is the case in Greece, where riots were particularly numerous and violent, with Syriza, and in Spain with Podemos. These forces dissolved in parliamentary consensus. In Greece, the new power, under Tsipras, gave in without noticeable resistance to the European Commission's injunctions and is relaunching the country on the path of endless austerity. In Spain, Podemos also got bogged down in the game of combinations, whether majority or opposition. No trace of true politics could emerge from these organizational creations.

4 – Movements of reasonably long duration, but without noticeable positive effects. In some cases, in addition to some classic tactical episodes (such as the “overtaking” of classic demonstrations by groups equipped to confront the police for a few minutes), the lack of political innovation meant that, on a global scale, the figure of conservative reaction was the one that renews itself. This is the case, for example, in the United States, where the dominant opposite effect of “Occupy Wall Street” is the coming to power of Trump, or even in France, where the balance of “Nuit debout” is Macron.

Thesis 5

The cause of this impotence is, in these movements of the last decade, the absence of politics, even hostility to politics, in various forms, and recognizable by many symptoms.

Comment. Let us note, in particular, as signs of an extremely weak political subjectivity:

1 – Exclusively negative unifying slogans: “against” this or that, “Out with Mubarak”, “Down with the 1% oligarchy”, “Refuse the labor law”, “Nobody likes the police”, etc.

2 – The absence of ample temporality: both with regard to knowledge of the past, practically absent from the movements except for a few caricatures, and for which no inventive evaluation is proposed, as in the projection into the future, limited to abstract considerations about liberation or emancipation.

3 – A lexicon heavily borrowed from the opponent. This is mainly the case for a particularly ambiguous category such as “democracy”, or even the use of the category of “life”, “our lives”, which is just an ineffective investment of existential categories in collective action.

4- A blind cult of “newness” and a disregard for established truths. This point stems directly from the market's cult of product “newness” and the constant belief that we are “starting” something that has happened repeatedly. At the same time, it prohibits drawing lessons from the past, understanding the mechanism of structural repetitions and not falling into the trap of artificial “modernities”.

5 – An absurd time scale. This scale, modeled on the Marxist “money, commodity, currency” circuit, assumes that we will address, or even resolve, in a few weeks of “movement”, problems such as private property, or the pathological concentration of wealth, which have been pending for millennia. . The refusal to consider that a good part of capitalist modernity is only woven from a modern version of the triad implanted a few thousand years ago, from the Neolithic “revolution”, namely: Family, Private Property, State. And that, therefore, the communist logic, regarding the central problems that constitute it, is situated on the scale of centuries.

6 – A weak relationship with the State. What is at issue here is a constant underestimation of state resources compared to those available to a given “movement”, both in terms of armed force and capacity for corruption. In particular, the effectiveness of “democratic” corruption, symbolized by electoral parliamentarism, is underestimated, as is the extent of this corruption's ideological dominance over the overwhelming majority of the population.

7 – A combination of disparate means, without any balance of its distant or close past. No conclusion can be reached that can be widely popularized based on the methods implemented since at least the “red years” (1965-1975), or even for two centuries, such as: factory occupations, union strikes, legal demonstrations , the formation of groups whose objective is to make possible local confrontation with the police, invasion of buildings, the kidnapping of bosses in factories... where everyone is summoned, whatever their ideas and language resources, to speak for three minutes, and whose bet is, ultimately, just to plan the repetition of this exercise.

Thesis 6

We must remember the most important experiences of the near past and meditate on their failures.

Comment. From the red years to today.

The commentary on thesis 5 no doubt seems rather polemical, even pessimistic and depressing, especially for young people who may legitimately animate, for a time, all the forms of action I call for a critical reexamination of. We will understand these criticisms if we remember that personally, in May '68 and its aftermath, I knew about and enthusiastically participated in things of the same order, and that I was able to follow them long enough to measure the weak points. So I have the feeling that the recent movements are running out of repetition, under the seal of the new and well-known episodes of what can be called the “law” of the movement of May 68, whether this law is the result of the classical left or the anarchist one of ultra-left, which in its own way already spoke of “forms of life”, and whose militants we called “anarcho-desirers”.

There were actually four distinct movements in '68:

1- A student youth revolt.

2 – A revolt of young workers in large factories.

3 – A general union strike to try to control the two previous revolts.

4 – The appearance, often under the name of “Maoism”, and with many rival organizations, of an attempt at a new policy, whose principle was to draw a unifying diagonal between the first two revolts, endowing them with an ideological force and combative that seemed able to guarantee them a true political future. In fact, it lasted at least ten years. The fact that this has not stabilized on a historical scale, which I readily admit, must not result in a repetition of what happened there, without even knowing it is being repeated.

Let us simply remember that in the June 1968 elections a majority so reactionary was established that we could say that we have rediscovered the “blue horizon” majority at the end of the 14-18 war. The final result of the May-June 2017 elections, with the overwhelming victory of Macron, a servant of big globalized capital, should make us wonder what is repetitive about all of this.

Thesis 7

An internal policy of a movement should have five characteristics, concerning slogans, strategy, vocabulary, the existence of a principle and a clear tactical vision.

Comment.

1 – The main watchwords must be affirmative. This even at the expense of internal division, once we go beyond negative unity.

2 – The watchwords must be strategically justified. That means: fueled by knowledge of the previous stages of the problem put on the agenda by the movement.

3 – The lexicon used must be controlled and consistent. For example: “communism” is now incompatible with “democracy”; “equality” is incompatible with “freedom”; any positive use of an identity term such as “French” or “international community” or “Islamic” or “Europe” must be outlawed, as well as words of a psychological nature such as “desire”, “life”, “person” , as well as any term linked to established state provisions, such as “citizen”, “voter”, etc.

4 – A principle, what I call an Idea, must be constantly confronted with the situation, as it locally carries a non-capitalist systemic possibility.

Here we must quote Marx, defining the singular militant in his mode of presence in the movements: “The communists support in all countries any revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order. In all of these movements, they pose the question of ownership – in whatever degree of evolution it may have taken place – as the fundamental question of the movement.”

5 – Tactically, one should always approximate as much as possible the movement of a body capable of uniting to effectively discuss its own perspective, from which it illuminates and judges the situation. The political militant, as Marx says, is part of the general movement, he does not separate from it. However, it is only distinguished by its ability to register the movement from a general point of view, to predict from there what the next step should be, but also to not make concessions regarding these two points, under the pretext of unity. , for conservative conceptions that can perfectly dominate, subjectively, even an important movement. The experience of revolutions shows that crucial political moments are found in the closest form of grouping, that is, the meeting, where the decision to be taken is informed by the speakers, who can also collide.

Thesis 8

Politics is charged with a specific duration of the spirit of the movements that is proportional to the temporality of the States, and not a simple negative episode of their domination. Its general definition is the organization between the different components of the people and, on the greatest possible scale, a discussion around the watchwords that should be both permanent propaganda and future movements. Politics provides the general framework for these discussions: it is the assertion that there are today two forms of general organization of humanity, the capitalist form and the communist form. The first is just the contemporary form of what has existed since the Neolithic Revolution a few thousand years ago. The second proposes a second global and systemic revolution in the future of humanity. She proposes to leave the Neolithic Age.

Comment. In this sense, the policy consists of locating, through broad discussions, the watchword that crystallizes the existence of these two paths in the situation. This watchword, since it is local, can only come from the experience of the masses involved. It is here that politics learns what can make the struggle effective locally, whatever the means, along the communist path. From this point of view, the spring of politics is not immediately the antagonistic confrontation, but the continuous investigation, in the situation, regarding the ideas, slogans and initiatives capable of giving life locally to the existence of two ways, one of which is the conservation of what exists, the other its complete transformation according to egalitarian principles which the new watchword will crystallize. The name of this activity is: “mass work”. The essence of politics, outside the movement, is mass work.

Thesis 9

Politics is made with people everywhere. It cannot accept submitting to the various forms of social segregation organized by capitalism.

Comment. This means, especially for intellectual youth, who have always played a crucial role in the birth of new policies, the need for a continuous journey towards other social strata, particularly the most impoverished, where the impact of capitalism is most devastating. Under present conditions, priority must be given, both in our countries and on a global scale, to the vast nomadic proletariat, which, like the peasants of Auvergne or Britons in the past, arrives in whole waves, at the cost of the worst risks, to try to survive as worker here, since he can no longer do it as a landless peasant there. The method, in this case as in all others, is patient research in places: markets, cities, homes, factories... of the work base, the confrontation with the various local conservative forces, etc. It's exciting work, once you know that active stubbornness is the key. An important step is to organize schools to disseminate knowledge of the world history of the struggle between the two ways, its successes and its current impasses.

What was done by the organizations that emerged for this purpose after May 68 can and must be redone. We need to rebuild the political diagonal I spoke of, which today remains a diagonal between the youth movement, some intellectuals and the nomadic proletariat. We are already working on it, here and there. This is the only truly political task at the moment.

What has changed is the deindustrialization of the suburbs of large cities. Therein lies the reserve of extreme right-wing workers. We must fight against it in these places, explaining why and how we sacrificed two generations of workers in a few years, and simultaneously investigating, as much as possible, the opposite process, namely the industrialization of extreme violence in Asia. Working with workers from the past and now is immediately international, even here. In this sense, it would be extremely interesting to produce and distribute a newspaper of the workers of the world.

Thesis 10

There is no longer any real political organization. The task is therefore to secure the means to rebuild it.

Comment. An organization is responsible for conducting the investigations, for synthesizing the mass work and the local slogans that result from them, in order to include them in a global point of view, to enrich the movements and guarantee a long-term control of its consequences. An organization is judged not by its form and procedures, as one judges a state, but by its controllable ability to do what it is charged with. We can use Mao's formula here: organization is what we can say that "gives back to the masses in a precise way what it received from them in a still confused way".

Thesis 11

The classic form of the Party is condemned today because it was defined, not by its ability to do what thesis 10 says, that is, mass work, but by its claim to “represent” the working class or the proletariat.

Comment. We must break with the logic of representation in all its forms.

The political organization must have an instrumental and not a representative definition. Furthermore, whoever says “representation” means “identity of what is represented”. However, we must exclude identities from the political field.

Thesis 12

The relationship with the State is not, as we have just seen, what defines politics. In this sense, politics takes place “at a distance” from the State. However, strategically, the State must be broken, because it is the universal guardian of the capitalist path, especially because it is the police of the right to private ownership of the means of production and exchange. As the Chinese revolutionaries said during the Cultural Revolution, we must “break with bourgeois law”. Therefore, political action towards the state is a mixture of distance and negativity. The aim is, in reality, that the State should gradually be surrounded by hostile opinions and political places which have become alien to it.

Comment. The historical record of this case is very complex. For example, the Russian Revolution of 1917 certainly combined widespread hostility to the tsarist regime, including among the peasantry because of the war, intense and long-standing ideological preparation, above all in the intellectual strata, workers' revolts leading to veritable mass organizations, called soviets, military revolts and the existence, with the Bolsheviks, of a solid and diversified organization, capable of sustaining meetings with outstanding speakers for their conviction and their didactic talent. All this was tied into victorious insurgencies and a terrible civil war finally won by the revolutionary camp, despite massive foreign intervention. The Chinese revolution followed an entirely different course: a long march in the countryside, the formation of popular assemblies, a veritable Red Army, the lasting occupation of a remote area in the north of the country, where agrarian and productive reform could be experienced at the same time. that the army was being consolidated, this whole process lasted about thirty years. Furthermore, in place of the Stalinist terror of the 1930s, there was a mass uprising in China, students and workers, against the aristocracy of the Communist Party. This unprecedented movement, called the Proletarian Cultural Revolution, is for us the most recent example of a policy of direct confrontation with the figures of state power. None of this can be transposed to our situation. But a lesson runs throughout this adventure: the State cannot in any way, whatever its form, represent or define the politics of emancipation.

The complete dialectic of all true politics has four terms:

1 – The strategic idea of ​​the struggle between the two paths, the communist and the capitalist. This is what Mao called the "ideological preparation of opinion", without which, he said, revolutionary politics is impossible.

2 – Local investment of this Idea or principle by the organization, in the form of mass work. The decentralized circulation of everything that emerges from this work in terms of watchwords and victorious practical experiences.

3 – Popular movements, in the form of historical events, in which the political organization works both for its negative unity and for the refinement of its affirmative determination.

4 – The State, whose power must be broken, by confrontation or siege, if it belongs to the authorized representatives of capitalism. And if it came from the communist path, wither away, if necessary through the revolutionary means outlined in fatal disarray by the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

To invent in the situation the contemporary arrangement of these four terms is the problem, at the same time practical and theoretical, of our conjuncture.

Thesis 13

The situation of contemporary capitalism involves a kind of separation between market globalization and the still largely national character of police and military control of populations. In other words: there is a gap between the economic arrangement of things, which is global, and their necessary state protection, which remains national. The second aspect resurrects imperialist rivalries, but in other forms. Despite this change in form, the risk of war increases. Furthermore, war is already present in large parts of the world. Politics to come will also have the task, if it can, of preventing the outbreak of all-out war, which this time may endanger the existence of humanity. We can also say that the historical choice is: either humanity breaks with the contemporary Neolithic that is capitalism and opens its communist phase on a global scale; or else it remains in its Neolithic phase, and will be strongly exposed to perish in an atomic war.

Comment. Today, the great powers, on the one hand, seek to collaborate for the stability of business at a global level, namely by fighting against protectionism, but on the other hand, they are silently fighting for their hegemony. The result is the end of directly colonial practices, like those of France or England in the 19th century, that is, the military and administrative occupation of entire countries. The new practice, I propose to call it zoning: in entire areas (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Mali, Central Africa, Congo …), States are mined, destroyed and the area becomes a looting zone , open to armed bands and also to all capitalist predators on the planet. Or else the State is made up of businessmen who have a thousand links with the big companies on the world market. Rivalries are intertwined across vast territories, with ever-changing power relations. Under these conditions, an uncontrolled military incident would be enough to bring us suddenly to the brink of war. The blocs are already drawn: the United States and its “Western-Japanese” clique on one side, China and Russia on the other, atomic weapons everywhere. One can only remember Lenin's phrase: "Either the revolution will prevent the war, or the war will provoke the revolution."

One could thus define the maximum ambition of the political work to come: that for the first time in history, it is the first hypothesis – the revolution will prevent the war – that takes place, and not the second – the war will cause the revolution. . In fact, it is this second hypothesis that materialized in Russia in the context of the First World War and in China in the context of the Second World War. But at what cost! And with what long-term consequences!

With hope, we will act. Anyone, anywhere, can start doing real politics, as understood in this text. And talk, in turn, around you about what was done. This is how it all starts.

* Alain Badiou is a retired professor at the University of Paris-VIII. Author, among other books, of The adventure of French philosophy in the XNUMXth century (Authentic).

Translation: Diogo Fagundes to the website PlowingWord.

Originally published in the book Je vous sais si nombreux (Paris, Fayard, 2017)

 

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