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While we wait for communism

Un parcours grec Circonstances, 8
Forfatter: Alain Badiou
Forlag: Éditions Lignes
We are in the final phase of a reactionary period that has lasted for 40 years, says Alain Badiou: Soon the Communist idea will resurrect.


The French philosopher Alain Badiou is not only one of the most important and influential present-day philosophers – only Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler and Jürgen Habermas are equally great – he is also a committed philosopher who has since his early youth analyzed ongoing historical developments and commented on political events. The latest opus from Badious's hand is such a situational analysis, based on Greece and the violent course of the country in the wake of the financial crisis – with austerity programs, rebellions, government formation and the rise of fascist parties and groups. Badiou zooms into Greece, but more than a narrow political-historical analysis of Greece's recent history, the country acts as a prism for Badiou, through which he can critically map the situation in the world today.

Greece in solution. Greece is, of course, chosen as a case, because Badiou can thus accentuate the dissolution trends. The scene is set for chaos and crisis. "We are living in a disoriented time," Badiou writes: a time that does not offer the youth any principles it can orient itself to. There are no ideas or narratives that can provide the framework for political action. And this, of course, is a problem for the philosopher, for whom revolutionary action is precisely a subjective implementation of the communist idea of ​​equality, the decline of the state, and the abolition of the separation between the work of the hand and the spirit. But it also means that if this idea is lacking, as is the case today, then the premise of revolutionary trade is missing. That is why it is so important for Badiou to try to think of the communist idea and participate in the formulation of such.

Greece is, of course, an obvious object for a critical contemporary diagnosis. After the financial crisis hit Europe in late 2008, the country was quickly identified by politicians and the mainstream press as the broken vessel in the EU, where the state had not collected taxes but lived above borrowed funds. The discourse was that Greece had an inefficient public sector and a lazy population. However, the truth is that the EU and the various leaders of the European countries knew so well that Greece did not meet the Maastricht Treaty budgetary criteria at all, but it was important geopolitically to get Greece into the EU internal market. The context was the civil war in former Yugoslavia and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Therefore, it was seen through fingers that the country did not live up to the formulated requirements; the geopolitical conditions were more important.

Today, democracy only serves as a cover for the oligarchic structures of the economy.

Unstable capitalism. But when the neoliberal bubble economy hit the air in 2008, Greece faced a huge debt and could not raise new loans without committing to a quite violent savings program, where public service was cut and privatized, where wages were reduced and many were fired. The consequences were dramatic and the country was thrown into a social and politically chaotic era of elections and ongoing government formation. As most may remember, it began in November 2011 with Merkel and Sarkozy's public resignation of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou because the latter had allowed himself to propose a referendum on the first loan package. Merkel and Sarkozy found the idea that the Greek people should have something to say, meaningless, and forced Papandreou to cancel the referendum. Two days later, he resigned and was replaced by former Deputy President of the European Central Bank, Lucas Papademos. Then came a chaotic time with one referendum after another, a process that ended with a major electoral victory for the leftist Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras. This was chosen on a mandate to renegotiate the terms of the loan packages with the IMF and the European Central Bank. The latter, however, refused to change anything, and today Syriza appears mostly as evidence of the impossibility of governing a capitalist nation-state in a more humane and socialist way.

Due to the Balkan wars and the fall of the USSR, EU leaders are at their fingertips with Greece's economy; geopolitical conditions were more important.

Missing an idea. Badiou does not make much of the actual course of events in Greece, but he does see it as an expression of a runaway capitalism that does not care about the human costs of the economy. The market reigns unrestricted, and we are confronted with a return to a 'pure' capitalism, as Marx knew it in the 1850s, writes Badiou, a capitalism who is not subject to any restrictions or knows any boundaries. Money controls the world today. "It is as if nothing can stop the total dominion of capitalism," the philosopher writes. And not democracy at all. Badiou is very critical of what he calls "capital parliamentarism". It denotes that democracy is fused with capitalism and therefore in no way manages to rein it. Today, democracy is an expression of "a political powerlessness". Today, democratic ideology merely serves as a cover for the oligarchic structures of the economy.

For Badiou, the answer to this misery, the total domination of capitalism, is to try to develop a strategy. The space occupation movements and other protest movements of the day, which Badiou is obviously sympathetic to, are left hanging in purely tactical gestures: they occupy places they mobilize against savings plans – but they cannot reach and act strategically. They don't because they lack an idea. Hence the importance of getting the communist idea presented, finding out what it consists of today.

Personalizedorientering. According to Badiou, the communist idea has developed in phases since the beginning of the 19th century. In the time before 1848, the idea was still in its infancy. But in the period from 1848 to 1871, it broke through and became a real idea that oriented political action. In this phase, it was especially ideas of uprising and movement that were important. After the defeat of the Paris Commune, the communist idea was pushed into the background and then reappeared in the early 20th century, where we get the next big stage, which goes from 1905 to 1976. During this period, of course, it is the party and the state that are the central categories, and the major revolutionary projects were the Soviet Union and China, both of which sought to implement the communist idea. As you know, those projects ran into the sand, and have since been endowed with totalitarian connotations. The emancipatory perspective that, according to Badiou, was in both Soviet communism and in Mao's communism, has been attempted to conceal. The dominance of capitalism is, in fact, to a large extent an attempt to make it impossible to read and relaunch the previous attempts to be true to the communist idea. Desorienteringone thus takes the form of a destruction of the former strategic positions, they are transformed into «opake [obscure, ed. note] pathologies ».

Communism reformed. Today communism is Stalin's squealing processes, Gulag and Pol Pot. That is why the space occupation movements are stuck in ideas of direct democracy and immediacy, or reject the political. They cannot activate the historical realizations of the communist idea. But we need to move on, according to Badiou, who argues that we are in the final phase of a reactionary period that has lasted for little 40 years. We are about to reinvent the Communist idea in a new edition, but we are not there yet. Instead of rejecting the political as it happens in the space occupation movements because a depoliticization has taken place in society in general, there has to be repoliticization. Here Badiou places himself somewhere other than, for example, Agamben and Comité Invisible, both seeking a position beyond political and ethical. Badiou will re-politicize in response to the primacy of the economy, back to communism as idea and commitment.

Also read: Otherwise Donate about Alain Baidous The youth nowadays

Mikkel Bolt
Mikkel Bolt
Professor of political aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen.

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