Blog Archives

Badiou on the Arab Spring

Hello everyone, apologies for the recent dry spell on here. I’ve just started a new job and it’s taking up a significant portion of my time. I intend to get on with the two Autonomia sessions I’ve missed at some point very soon.

I’ve just read a fairly bad translation of an Alain Badiou article on the Arab spring here. Thanks to Joe for pointing me towards that. Keep an eye out on his blog as when it gets going I’m sure it’s going to have some great content on it.

Badiou’s piece as Joe comments is certainly an interesting one. The critique of the patronising position of Western commentators is an important one. What we are witnessing shouldn’t be interpreted as a movement towards modernity, or a ‘catching up’ of a backwards and oppressed polity but what Badiou calls an event. A previously unthinkable moment which opens up all kinds of opportunities and new problematics. Perhaps new dictators will emerge, or new islamist movements (which have become the spectre haunting liberal Europe it seems) but other possibilities also co-exist in the chaotic present.

If we reject the patronising perspective on the Arab Spring which attempts to understand these struggles as part of a modernising framework, or a sort of ‘Berlin Wall’ moment then something much more uncertain yet potentially inspiring remains. Negri and Hardt draw parallels between the inspirational and educational affects of the Arab Spring and previous uprising in Latin America which served to inform global struggles during the anti-global period. Some of the lessons which were drawn from the Latin American struggles, adapted to different contexts, were important in helping other movements gain traction and subsequently helped amplify the common frequency which mobilised them (if we wish to continue using the useful aural metaphors of resonance and sound waves). Indeed the Arab Spring is clearly inspiring groups and peoples here in the UK, for example calls to turn Hyde Park into Tahir Square for the evening of the 26th. However we must be careful to learn what we can and bring this back to a UK context not merely emulate what has already happened. In a hyper-mediatised sphere in which we face disciplinary forces which seek to regulate and make our protest legible within a liberal capitalist framework (the police, political parties) we need to constantly innovate.

So, what can we take from these protests?

1)    That state power can be challenged.

2)    That oppositional movements can emerge in very small periods of time. Though this recent  movement has emerged from a long period of grinding poverty and oppressive state power.

3)    That decentralised movements can be successful, though perhaps not so much when it comes to the business of waging a military campaign a la Libya.

Ultimately we don’t know the outcome of the Arab Spring but we shouldn’t see it as a discrete event, and certainly not as a living artefact, a catching up of the Arab world which some smug Western liberals see it as. Instead the Arab Spring is one moment, or an event as Badiou would put it, within the broader sweep of a radical moment whose contours are only just coming into focus. The speed with which we get to grips with this moment, our ability to find inspiration elsewhere and translate it into our situation here will be key to how this social movement (in its truest sense) plays out. As the picture I chose suggests, the question is how do we stop the Arab spring turning into a European Winter as it heads North?

More Badiou links

Have been digging around a little more to try and get to grips with Badiou.

Found this great interview with him over at Infinite Thought, done just before the Communist conference at Birkbeck.  Two great excerpts which perhaps speak  for themselves.

On the Communist idea

Communism is an old name but it is the name of the historical possibility of a world which is not under the rule of private property and so on. This idea is today different from any form of concrete realisation We are at the opening of a new sequence where there is a great interest for new ideas and old words. I think for the moment, this is at the conceptual level. I don’t think that communism is something which can be an immediate political programme. Communism is not the name of a programme. It has been the name of a programme, for Lenin or Mao. But nobody today thinks we can go immediately from the idea of communism – of a society which is collective, not under the law of private property – to a political programme tomorrow. The idea is that we are instead at the beginning of a new subjective sequence of the understanding of what is politics, what is new politics. It is why it is possible to discuss the old words without any precise political community.

On the Subjective Experience of Capitalism

We can say simply that global capitalism is not a vision of the future. It’s only a sort of continuity of itself. Capitalism is only a repetition. A repetition of the same world, the same necessity with many features of the repetition, the circulation of money, the generalities of communications, and so on. So there is something in that world which is also new and always the same. And I think it’s the profound experience of all people today. There are new objects, new cars, new phones, and so on. But in fact the experience of the world is the same. Is it possible to live in that sort of world for a long time? During a short time it’s always possible, we have some objects, some merchandise, we have the market, and so on. But in the long-run there is no vision of the future. There is the feeling of pure repetition. My philosophical conviction is that people cannot accept that sort of world for a long sequence. The subjective sequence which is accepting all that – there is no other possibility, the collapse of communism, there is no other possibility. It is why today we have a curiosity, a feeling concerning other possibilities. Not only communism, but religious possibilities, nihilistic possibilities too – no future – and pure immediate existence. But new forms of politics. The world today all that, especially young people, have a new interest have a new interest in this old word.

And from this perhaps less interesting, short interview comes a delightfully sharp reponse to a rather aggressive question.

Q)Don’t you think that there is a proper compromise between the unabashed capitalism of Sarkozy and your antiquated radical line?
A)Having begun its journey four centuries ago, capitalism, even unbridled, is much older and archaic that all the radical lines that one opposes to it. Let us cease considering that liberalism, fashionable in the 1840s, embodies modernity and reform. It is Communism which is a new idea in Europe.

Amazon tells me his new book “The Communist Hypothesis” will be out this Summer. Looking forward to it.