Following Trump’s victory, on the eve of the final vote in France, and with a snap election on the way for the UK, Badiou answers critics who have attacked his radical rejection of the democratic vote. First published on Urbanomic, translated by Robin Mackay.
I understand the bitterness of those protesting against the election results in France—in particular those disappointed by Mélenchon following the first round of voting. Having said this, however, they have said and done what they could: there was no fraud in this election, no particular aberration.
In fact, there were only two party-political anomalies, which have unfortunately (for the real powers that be) resulted in the decomposition of the central parliamentary bloc, made up of the classic Right and Left. For forty years, for two centuries even, it is this bloc that has supported the development of local capitalism. Now, the local incumbent of the supposed left, Hollande, did not run, which split up his party. On the other hand, the classic Right, because of the disastrous primaries, did not bet on its best old horse, Juppé, but on the sad figure of a provincial bourgeois, too distanced from the ‘societal’ delicacies of modern capitalism.
‘Normally’, the second round would have been Hollande/Juppé, or at worst Le Pen/Juppé—in both cases an easy win for Juppé. In the absence of the two government parties, as they fell apart, our true masters for two centuries—namely, the owners and managers of capital, were a little lost. But happily (for them) with their usual personal politics, the old veterans of reaction, along with (of course) the help of the social-democratic residue (Valls, Le Drian, Ségolène Royal et al), have cobbled together a presentable substitute for the decohering central parliamentary bloc. That’s what Macron is. What they also did—something very useful, and which will have great importance going forward—is to rally Bayrou, the old experienced centrist sage, a man of many electoral battles, even the most difficult. All of this was done with great brio, in record time. Success in the end is practically guaranteed.
In these conditions, entirely understandably, the vote confirms, more clearly than usual, that pro-capitalist rightist subjectivity, including in its somewhat fascistoid forms, is absolutely in the majority in France.
Some of the country’s intellectuals, and some of its youth, refuse to see it, or bitterly complain about it. What then? Do they, these lovers of democratic elections, want to change the electorate as one changes a dirty shirt? Whoever votes must consent to the will of the majority, after all! In truth, these two groups see the world according to their own situation and their own dreams, without drawing the inevitable conclusion: we can expect absolutely nothing from the ‘democratic’ vote.
Already in 1850, Napoleon III could see that universal suffrage was not the horror that the right-thinking bourgeoisie imagined it was, but a veritable blessing, an unexpected and precious legitimation for reactionary powers. And this is still true today, throughout the world. ‘Napoleon the Little’ discovered that, in anything like normal, stable historical conditions, the numerical majority is always fundamentally conservative.
Let’s draw the conclusion calmly. Getting hysterical about the results of an election leads to nothing but pointless depression. We need to get used to it: we will never put an end to our servitude without—above and beyond electoral rituals—the historical coming-together of four factors:
- An unstable historical situation, which strongly shakes up conservative subjectivities. Alas, this probably means a war—as for the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the Chinese Revolution between 1937 and 1947.
- A strongly established ideological division, naturally first of all amongst intellectuals, but ultimately amongst the masses themselves, a conviction that there are two ways and not just one, that the whole space of political thought must be structured around the antagonistic contradiction capitalism/communism, or some equivalent of these. Let me recall in passing the principles of the second way: the establishment, against private property, of collective forms of the control of the means of production, of credit and exchanges; a polymorphy of labour, something that in particular is undermined by the opposition between manual and intellectual labour; internationalism as a consequence; and forms of popular control working toward the end of the separate State.
- A popular uprising—certainly, as always, the uprising of a minority, but one which at least suspends the power of the State, an uprising often connected to point (1) above.
- A solid organisation capable of proposing an active synthesis of the three first points, in the direction of a quashing of the enemy and the putting into place, as quickly as possible, of the constitutive elements of the second way, the communist way—those elements enumerated above.
Two of these four points, (1) and (3), depend on the conjuncture. But from this point on, we must work actively on point (2), which is absolutely crucial. And we can also work on point (4), in particular, in the light shed by point (2), by holding common meetings and actions between some of the intellectuals on one hand, and on the other hand the proletariat in three of its current forms: active workers and staff, working families stricken and demoralised by the frenetic de-industrialisation of France over the past thirty years, and the nomad proletariat, whether from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.
To get hysterical about the election results, in an at once declamatory and depressed fashion, is not only futile—it is positively harmful. It amounts to placing oneself squarely upon the terrain of the adversary, with no recourse. We must become indifferent to elections, which, at most, involve a purely tactical choice between: abstaining from participation in this ‘democratic’ fiction, or supporting this or that competitor for circumstantial reasons—which, precisely, we must define according to the context of a communist politics, a context which has nothing to do with State rituals of power. Our time, which is always precious, must be dedicated to the true hard work of politics, which can only be pursued through the four points set out above.
Alain Badiou, 2017. Source: https://www.urbanomic.com/document/forget-about-elections/
I have been fascinated for a
I have been fascinated for a while by the convergence of Maoism, particularly by Badiou, and communization theory, and the above 'four factors' put it fairly well.
Badiou and Zizek, from 2008, have jointly been trying to reformulate the idea of communism in the light of the failure of Leninism and the Party. They have attacked this problem from a Leninist (Zizek) and a Maoist (Badiou) perspective.
Badiou, in fact, began this re-evaluation at least as early as 1982 in his book The Theory of the Subject, long before the recent communizing current established itself, but perhaps contemporaneously with Gilles Dauve.
Alain Badiou defines the reconceptualisation of communism in these terms:
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri summarize the significance of the Cultural Revolution for leftist ideology in the West:
This Maoist turn from the State and Jacobinism is described by Badiou in terms that first make a break with Lenin:
But Badiou also warns about associating this change of heart too closely with anarchism:
Slavoj Zizek, who maintains a
Slavoj Zizek, who maintains a more Leninist or Jacobinist perspective has commented interestingly on Badiou and how Marxists should approach their role as ‘revolutionaries’.
All of this text here http://www.lacan.com/zizbadman.htm is worth reading, but I have picked out a couple or so passages that may be of interest here.
Zizek explores the Deluezian idea of repetition to establish 'the new'. Zizek argues that the repetition of revolts will establish the new – therefore we must seize the opportunity for revolt and revolution whenever we can. We must, in his Shelley-ian perspective, not shy away from the prospect of terror in future revolutions, like liberals do, but embrace it as a repetition that could break out into something new (could even bypass itself?).
My own thoughts on all this
My own thoughts on all this begin from the obvious fact that that all of us are operating within a state society. What characterises a state is that the numbers of people are too large for social organisation to proceed on a ‘face-to-face’ basis – and therefore people, 'the people', have to be managed. This is the reason that philosophy (and accounting, and writing, and history) began at the time that states began. Philosophers tried to work out the best way to live in a society that was not ideal – that is, it had too many people and it, or rather the people, therefore had to be managed.
The ideal kind of society for philosophers appears to be one in which people manage themselves for the greater good of the power that dominates them. It could be argued that we are effectively, or almost, at that point now. More profoundly, it could be argued that our ancestors got to that point the day after the first state established itself over them in whatever part of the world they lived.
We have 'fallen' from the Garden of Eden (this has always been ever and only a story of the rise of the state, as historian Christopher Hill, for example, has observed) and now we have to work out the best way to live. But it seems that all efforts so far to achieve a new and more equal way to live have ended in disaster. Zizek, of course, if one reads the article above, would argue that this (to call it a disaster) is simply a liberal response, he would say that we need to keep making the ‘mistake’ until we get it right.
My view is that 'we' (I mean us and those who make revolutions) have no option but to keep ‘making the mistake,’ if that is what it is. Our revolt is conditioned and determined by our existence as subjects of a state and our position within that state.
Whether we agree with revolution and promote it, or whether we don’t, others will and it will happen, or not. We are reproduced by society. All the different types of revolutionary are pre-written into the narrative of the state, and they attain particular percentage numbers depending on the particular conditions. Obviously, those who profess themselves to be revolutionaries can attach a moral high-ground to themselves, but all they/we are doing is fulfilling a function of state society: the resistance to inequality and the desire to live in a garden of Eden. This garden is what we presume is either irrevocably lost in the past (Rousseau), in which case we should, following Rousseau's advice, make do as best as we can, or it is possible in the future (Marx). These impulses are hard-wired into the social fabric, or culture, of every state society.
The ‘debate between' Rousseau and Hobbes over the nature of humans is irrelevant because they both agreed that humans had to be managed once they were in state society (a form of society required once the population becomes too large). The externalised, or othered, enemy of the state (the revolutionary) belongs to the state, just as the externalised, or othered, state belongs to the enemy of the state. We will do what we will do.
This is why, if we look at the debates on anti-fascism for example, there are certain opposing positions taken by the anti-fascists and the anti-anti-fascists, though both, more importantly, share the presumption of anti-reformism. Neither tendency, historically and theoretically, has any effect beyond allowing fascism. Thus, the function of the revolutionaries in this instance is fulfilled. If fascism is to be halted, or not allowed to emerge, it is always halted, or prevented, by other means, at other levels.
Which is why I argued on the ‘Chomsky on Antifa’ thread for a different course: a suspension of ‘revolutionism’ in its entirety in the context of anti-fascism.
Of course, with reference to
Of course, with reference to Zizek, Badiou, Dauve, and communization theory, it is Bordiga who expressed much of it first. In reality, present day anti-partyism is stuck at the hermeneutical mysticism of Bordiga.
Camatte went further than Bordiga in the end. But few have followed him.