Monday, June 28, 2010

Alain Badiou, "Polemics"

(Verso, 2006)

Unsurprisingly, Canadian mainstream media is near unanimous in its reading of this weekend's G20 protests. The basic picture is that certain "anarchists" have created - you guessed it! - "anarchy" in Toronto, and are now in the process of being duly rounded up and punished. Democracy [sic] is saved! The Ottawa Sun, not fit to line an animal's cage, has even gone so far as to paint the clashes solely in terms of poor, defenceless riot cops harrassed by rocks, molotovs and bottles of urine. No mention of police wading into the supposedly safe "free speech zone", clubbing and pepper-spraying peaceful protesters.

To be clear: there has been violence on both sides. What I take issue with is that whereas property destruction by certain militant factions is almost universally denounced as "violence" or "terrorism" (including from the mouths of certain yellow labour representatives), actual violence against the bodies of those exercising their democratic rights has proven almost unthinkable as such. The headline of a local daily newspaper sums it up nicely: "Law and disorder". You can guess that the "law" has had no part in fomenting the disorder.

In the wake of the protests, the task ahead of the radical Left is legal defence, solidarity actions, community organization, and the dissemination of accurate information contra the mainstream media consensus. But additionally, some of us may also take solace in and gather strength from theory. I've had this argument too many times to repeat here, but I can personally attest to the bewildering and psychologically damaging effects of being at odds with and shut down by the armed wing of the dominant "democratic" situation. Theory is not exactly therapy, but it can be a means of getting one's bearings when this is desperately needed. It is of course not its own end. But in a situation of general police action, there is, I suggest, perhaps no better well at which to quench one's thirst than the writings of Alain Badiou.

Badiou's Polemics reminds us that representative "democratic" politics is not a cuddly affair. It is underpinned by violence and abject fear. His entire philosophical project is, in effect, an attempt to think the coming-to-be of that which is unthinkable within the representative-democratic situation - precisely, a properly communist politics from below - and to delineate an ethics of militancy which defines the human being in positive terms. Badiou promotes such virtues as courage, fidelity and endurance, leaving off with the dominant ethics of eternal guilt in face of the Other. I would suggest that a reading of Polemics will help those in North America to think their situation, despite the fact that there's much in the book that is slightly dated and mostly pertinent to French politics. One finds painstaking dissections of the Paris Commune and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a philosophical engagement with zionism and anti-semitism, and perhaps most importantly for the present, an attempt to think a radical subject-position relative to the dominant consensus.

Organize your communities; but read and think deeply, and as if your lives depended on it.

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