About the current situation

Dora Longo Bahia. Escalpo Paulista, 2005 Acrylic on fiber cement 210 x 240 cm
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By ALAIN BADIOU*

It would be better to go back to the heart of the matter: ownership. The general watchword should be “collectivization of the entire production process”

The subject on which I would like to intervene this evening, but which personal difficulties prevent me from doing so, is an answer to the following question, concerning the word that, in principle, unites us: the word “fights” and the expression “after two years of struggle”.

To be brief, I will say the following: on an almost worldwide scale, for some years now, since undoubtedly what has been called “the Arab spring”, we have been in a world where struggles abound. More precisely: mass mobilizations and demonstrations. I propose the claim that the general conjuncture is marked, subjectively, by what I will call “movementism”, that is, the widely shared conviction that major popular demonstrations will, without the slightest doubt, lead to a change in the situation. We see it from Hong Kong to Algiers, from Iran to France, from Egypt to California, from Mali to Brazil, from India to Poland, and in many other places and countries.

All these movements, without exception, seem to me to have three characteristics:

(1) They are heterogeneous in their social composition, in the origin of their revolt and in their spontaneous political convictions. And this multiform aspect also clarifies their number. These are not workers' ensembles, or student demonstrations, or tax-crushed shopkeepers' revolts, or feminist protests, or ecological prophecies, or regional or national dissent, or protests of what is commonly called os migrants and what I call nomadic proletarians. It is a bit of all of that, under the purely tactical domination of a dominant tendency, or of several, depending on the places and circumstances.

(2) It follows from this state of affairs that the unity of these movements is, and could not be otherwise in the current state of ideologies and organizations, strictly negative. This denial, it is true, carries different realities. One can revolt against the action of the Chinese government towards Hong Kong, against the appropriation of power by military gangs in Algiers, against the dominance of the religious hierarchy in Iran, against despotism in Egypt, against the onslaught of nationalist and racial reaction in California, against the action of the French army in Mali, against neo-fascism in Brazil, against the persecution of Muslims in India, against the retrograde ban on abortion and sexual care in Poland, and so on. But nothing more than that, in particular nothing that would be a counterproposal of general scope, is present in these movements. Ultimately, for lack of a common political proposal that is clearly drawn from the conditions of contemporary capitalism, the movement ends up exercising its negative unity against a proper name, usually that of the head of state. We will go from the cry of “Mubarak out” to “Bolsonaro fascist”, passing through “Racist Modi, go!”, “Trump out”, “Bouteflika, retire!”. Without forgetting, of course, the insults, the resignation announcements, and the personal stigmatizations of our natural target, who, here, is none other than little Macron. I propose, then, to say that all these movements, all these fights, are definitely “foristas”. The leader is expected to leave, without having the slightest idea of ​​who will replace him or the procedure by which, assuming he actually leaves, the situation will change. In summary, the negation, which unifies, does not carry in itself any affirmation, any creative will, any active conception of the analysis of situations and of what could be, or should be, a new policy. Without them, we arrive – this is the sign of the end of the movements – at this ultimate form of unity: standing up against the police repression of which we were victims, the police violence we had to face. In short, the denial of its denial by the authorities. I already saw this in May 68, when, in the absence of common affirmations, at least at the beginning of the movement, “CRS, SS!” was shouted through the streets. Fortunately, soon after, the primacy of the revolted negative passed, more interesting ideas emerged. At the cost, however, of a confrontation between opposing political conceptions, between different affirmations.

(3) Today, with the passage of time, all planetary movement ends up keeping the powers in force reinforced, or producing facade changes, which may prove to be worse than what it revolted against. Mubarak is gone, but Al Sisi, who replaces him, is another, perhaps worse, version of military power. Chinese rule over Hong Kong was ultimately reinforced, with laws closer to those operating in Beijing and mass arrests of the insurgents. A camarilla religion in Iran is intact. The most active reactionaries, like Modi or Bolsonaro, or the Polish clerical gang, find themselves very well obliged. And little Macron is in much better electoral health, with 43% favorable opinions. Not only better than at the beginning of our struggles and movements, but also better than their predecessors, who, be it the very reactionary Sarkozy, or the socialist in sheep's clothing Hollande, after the same term of office that Macron has today, around 20% of good opinions were found.

A historical comparison is imposed on me. In the years between 1847 and 1850, there were, in a good part of Europe, great workers' and students' movements, great mass uprisings, against the despotic order established by the Restoration of 1815 and subtly consolidated after the French Revolution of 1830. clear idea of ​​what could be, beyond an ardent denial, the representation of an essentially different policy, all the effervescence of the 1848 revolutions served for nothing more than opening up a new regressive sequence. In France especially, the result was the endless reign of a representation of the power of nascent capitalism, Napoleon III, also known, according to Victor Hugo, as Napoleon the Little.

However, in 1848, Marx and Engels, who had participated in the uprisings in Germany, set out the lessons of this whole situation, both in historical analysis texts, such as the fascicle entitled “Class Struggles in France”, and in this manual, finally affirmative, describing, somewhat forever, what should be an entirely new policy, which is entitled “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”. It is around this affirmative construction, relative to the “manifesto” of a party that does not exist, but that must exist, which begins, in the long term, another history of policies. Marx will repeat himself, extracting, twenty-three years later, the lessons of an admirable attempt, which once again lacks, beyond its heroic defensiveness, the effective organization of an affirmative unit – the Paris Commune.

Evidently, our circumstances are quite different! But I believe that today everything revolves around the need for our negative slogans and our defensive actions to finally be subordinated to a clear and synthetic vision of our own objectives. And I am convinced that to get there, it is necessary, in any case, to remember what Marx declared to be the summary of all his thinking. Summary, of course, also negative, but on such a scale that it cannot stand without a grandiose statement. This is the watchword “abolition of private property”.

When observed closely, slogans like “in defense of freedoms” or “against police violence” are strictly conservative. The first implies that we have, in the established order, real freedoms to defend, whereas our central problem should be that, without equality, freedom is pure lure: like the nomadic proletarian deprived of his papers, whose coming to us is a true epic, he could claim to be 'free' in the same sense as the billionaire holding real power, owner of a private plane and its pilot, and protected by the electoral facade of his political representative in the State. And how could we imagine, if we are consistent revolutionaries, if we affirmatively and rationally desire a world different from the one we contest, that the police of power in force would always be kind, gentle and peaceful? That she tell the rebels, including some hooded and armed, which is the way to the Elisha? The big grate, down the street on the right?

It would be better to go back to the heart of the matter: ownership. The general, unifying watchword can immediately be, in the affirmative: “collectivization of the entire production process”. Its intermediate negative correlate, of immediate use, can be “the abolition of all privatizations decided by the State since 1986”. As for a good purely tactical watchword, serving those who are dominated by the desire to deny it, it could be: let's take over the site of a very important service of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, called: Commission on shareholdings and transfers . Let's do it knowing that this esoteric name, "participations and transfers" is nothing more than the transparent mask of the privatization committee, created in 1986. And let it be known that we will occupy this privatization commission until the disappearance of all forms of private property that concern what, from near or far, starts from a common good.

Only with the popularization of these objectives, as strategic as they are tactical, we will already open, believe me, a new epoch, subsequent to that of “struggles” and “movements” and “protests”, whose negative dialectic is running out, and to wear us out. We would be the pioneers of a new mass communism whose “spectre”, to use Marx's phrase, would come back to haunt not only France and Europe, but the whole world.

* 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 Daniel Pavan.

Originally published in Headquarter.

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