. .Tunisia, Egypt
. .The Universal Reach of Popular Uprisings

. . .Alain Badiou

The Wind of the East Carries Away the Wind of the West

Until when will the idle and crepuscular West, the “international community” of those who still believe themselves to be the rulers of the world, continue to give lessons in good management and good behavior to the rest of the world? Is it not laughable to see well-paid and well-fed intellectuals, retreating soldiers of the capital-parliamentarism that serves us as a moth-eaten Paradise, offering their services to the awe-inspiring Tunisian and Egyptian people, in order to teach these savages the ABC of “democracy?” What pathetic persistence of colonial arrogance! In the situation of political misery that we’ve been living in for the last three decades, is it not evident to surmise that it is us who have everything to learn from the popular uprisings of the moment? Don’t we sense the urgency of giving a close look at everything, that, over there, made possible, by collective action the overthrow of oligarchic and corrupt governments, who — or maybe especially — stood in a humiliating position of servitude to the Western world? Yes, we should be the students of these movements, and not their stupid professors. For they give life, with the genius of their own inventions, to those same political principles that for some time now the dominant powers tried to convince us were obsolete. And in particular the principle that Marat never stopped recalling: when it is a matter of liberty, equality, emancipation, we all have to join the popular upheavals.

We Are Right To Revolt

Just as in politics, our states and those that benefit from them (political parties, unions and complaisant intellectuals) prefer management to revolt, they prefer peaceful demands and “orderly transition” to the breach of law. What the Egyptian and Tunisian people remind us is that the only action appropriate to the sentiment of scandalous takeover by state power is the mass uprising. In this case, the only rallying cry capable of linking together the disparate aspirations of those making a crowd is: “you there, go away!” The exceptional significance of the revolt, namely its critical power, lies in the fact that its rallying cry, which is repeated by millions of beings, gives the measure of what will be, undoubtedly, irreversibly, its first victory: the flight of the designated man. And whatever happens next, this triumph, illegal by nature, of popular action, will be forever victorious. Now, that a revolt against the power of the state can be absolutely successful is an example of universal reach. This victory points out the horizon over which any collective action, unencumbered by the authority of the law, itself outlines: what Marx called “the deterioration of the state.” The knowledge that someday the people, freely associated and resorting to their creative power, will be able to throw away the funereal coercion of the state. That’s the reason why this idea arouses boundless enthusiasm in the entire world and will trigger the revolution that ultimately will overthrow the authority in residence.

A Spark Can Set The Plain on Fire…

It began with the suicide, a self-immolation by fire, of a man who had been downgraded to unemployment, and to whom was forbidden the miserable commerce that allowed him to survive; and because a female police officer slapped him in the face for not understanding what in this world is real. In a few days this gesture becomes wider and in a few weeks millions of people scream their joy on a distant square, and this entails the beginning of the catastrophe for the powerful potentates. What is at the root of this fabulous expansion? Are we dealing with a new sort of epidemic of freedom? No. As Jean-Marie Gleize poetically said: “The dissemination of a revolutionary movement is not carried by contamination. But by resonance. Something that surfaces here resounds with the shock wave emitted by something that happened over there.” Let’s name this resonance “event.” The event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities. None of them is the repetition of what is already known. This is the reason why it’s obscurantist to say “this movement claims democracy” (implying the one that we enjoy in the West), or that “this movement pursues social improvement” (implying the average prosperity for the petit bourgeois de chez nous). Starting with almost nothing, resonating everywhere, the popular uprising creates unknown possibilities for the entire world. The word “democracy” is hardly uttered in Egypt. There is talk about “a new Egypt,” about the “true Egyptian people,” about a constituent assembly, about complete changes in everyday life, of unheard-of and previously unknown possibilities. There is a new plain that will come after that which no longer exists, the one that was set on fire by the spark of the uprising. This plain to be stands between the declaration of an alteration in the balance of forces and the grasping of new tasks. Between the shout of a young Tunisian: “We, children of workers and of peasants, are stronger than the criminals;” and what a young Egyptian said: “As from today, January 25, I take in my own hands the matters of my country.”

The People, Only the People, Are the Creators of Universal History

It’s amazing that in our West, the governments and the media consider that the insurgents in a Cairo square are “the Egyptian people.” How can that be? Aren’t the people for them, the only reasonable and legal people, the one usually reduced to the majority of a poll, or the majority of an election? How did it happen that suddenly, hundreds of rebels are representative of a population of eighty million? It’s a lesson that should not be forgotten, and that we will not forget. After a certain threshold of determination, of stubbornness and of courage, the people, in fact, can concentrate their existence in a square, an avenue, some factories or a university… The whole world will witness the courage, and especially the wondrous creations that go with it. These creations prove that there, there is a People. As an Egyptian rebel strongly put it: “before I watched television, now television is watching me.” In the stride of an event, the People is made of those who know how to solve the problems brought about by the event. Thus, in the takeover of a square: food, sleeping arrangements, watchmen, banners, prayers, defensive actions, so that the place where it all happens, the place that is the symbol, is kept and safeguarded for the people, at any price. Problems that, at the level of the hundreds of thousands of risen people mobilized from everywhere, seemed insoluble, all the more that in this place the state has virtually disappeared. To solve insoluble problems without the assistance of the state becomes the destiny of an event. And this is what makes a People, suddenly, and for an indeterminate time, exist where they have decided to assemble themselves.

Without a Communist Movement, There Is No Communism

The popular uprising we speak about is obviously without a Party, without an hegemonic organization, without a recognized leader. In time, we can assess whether this characteristic is a strength or a weakness. In any case, this is what makes it have, in a very pure form, undoubtedly the purest since the Paris Commune, all the necessary characteristics for us to call it a communism of movement. “Communism” here means: a common creation of a collective destiny. This “common” has two specific traits. First, it is generic, representing, in a place, humanity as a whole. There we find all sorts of people who make up a People, every word is heard, every suggestion examined, any difficulty treated for what it is. Next, it overcomes all the substantial contradictions that the state claims to be its exclusive province since it alone is able to manage them, without ever surpassing them: between intellectuals and manual workers, between men and women, between poor and rich, between Muslims and Copts, between peasants and Cairo residents. Thousands of new possibilities, concerning these contradictions, arise at any given moment, to which the state — any state— remains completely blind. One witnesses young female doctors from the provinces taking care of the injured, sleeping in the middle of a circle of fierce young men, and they are calmer than they have ever been, knowing that no one will dare to touch a single hair of their heads. One witnesses, just as well, a group of engineers entreating young suburbanites to hold the place and protect the movement with their energy in battle. One witnesses a row of Christians doing the watch, standing, guarding over bent Muslims in prayer. One witnesses merchants of every kind nourishing the unemployed and the poor. One witnesses anonymous bystanders chatting with each other. One can read thousands of signs where individual lives mix without hiatus in the big cauldron of history. All these situations, these inventions, constitute the communism of movement. For two centuries the only political problem has been how to set up in the long run the inventions of the communism of movement? The only reactionary assertion affirms that “This is impossible, verily harmful. Let’s trust the state.” Glory to the Tunisian and Egyptian people because they conjure the true and only political duty: the organized faithfulness to the communism of movement taking on the state.

We Don’t Want War, But Are Not Scared of It

The peaceful calm of the gigantic demonstrations was mentioned everywhere, and this calm was associated with the ideal of elective democracy that was attached to the movement. Let’s point out nevertheless that insurgents were killed, hundreds of them, and that they are still being killed every day. In more than one instance, those killed were fighters and martyrs of the event; they died for the protection of the movement. The political and symbolic places of the uprising had to be defended by means of ferocious fighting against the militiamen and the police forces of the threatened regimes. And who paid with their lives but the youth from the poorest communities? The “middle class” — of which our preposterous Michèle Alliot-Marie said that on them, and only on them, depended the democratic outcome of the events — should remember that, at the crucial moment, the persistence of the uprising was guaranteed only by the unrestricted engagement of popular contingents. Defensive violence is inevitable. It still continues, in difficult conditions, in Tunisia after the young provincial activists were sent back to their misery. Can anyone seriously think that these innumerable initiatives and these cruel sacrifices have as their main objective to prompt people “to choose” between Souleiman and El Baradei, as happens in France where we pitifully surrender our will in choosing between Sarkovzky and Strauss-Kahn? Is this the only lesson of this majestic episode?

No, a thousand times no! The Tunisian and the Egyptian people are telling us: raise up, build up a public space for the communism of movement, protect it by all means while inventing the sequential course of action; such is the real of the politics of popular emancipation. Certainly, the Arabic states are not the only countries that are against the people and, notwithstanding elections, are illegitimate. Whatever will happen, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have a universal meaning. They prescribe new possibilities and thus their value is international.

translated by Antonio Cuccu – revised by Mark Joseph

14 Comments

  1. Chittibabu Padavala
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Great. Inspiring. Unlike overcautious contribution by Hardt and Negri or even the one by Zizek, who largely confined to mock double-standards of the West, Badiou clearly notes that the protest gatherings are important in themselves. Other major thinkers seem to think of these mobilisations only as a step to some later and deeper changes. What is more, Badiou grants the status of Event to these uprisings!
    However, it is not entirely clear to me-due to my ignorance of Badiou’s work-what is the difference between the communism of movement and communism. A word or two explaining the differnce Badiou in mind would surely be of great help.

  2. Posted February 28, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Is it possible the the United States of America has instilled such a potent and ominous fear that if we were to rebel at any given time, (just thinking about but it, writing it down is dangerous, look toward France and Tiqqun) for any given reason, that we would be individualistically, collectively, and perhaps even very personally subjected to horrors that would pale all other nations civic atrocities? At least that is the spirit from Plato to The 3rd Reich, Lusitania, to 911 the Fear procedure ensures, as a technique that it endures, a time worn coin that still spends true. But as more and more of us in the Bloom assume the final position(s), a black vaporous gorilla plume–with everywhere to go and nothing to lose, what they call tunneling in quantum mechanics, we break through… that today is the day that we join, we enjoin and say, we are not afraid of freedom.

  3. Mark
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Is this a real Revolution or just another form of “Give us what you have.” Badiou writes, “Is it not laughable to see some well-paid and well-fed intellectuals, retreating soldiers of the capital-parliamentarism that serves us as a moth-eaten Paradise, offering their services to the awe-inspiring Tunisian and Egyptian people, in order teach these savages the ABC of “democracy?” My reply, yes Badiou, your analysis of what is happening in terms of the communism of movement is laughable, especially when you are a well-fed Western intellectual.

  4. Roberto Baldino
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Of course not!
    It will be just another May 68.
    Capital will restructure its exploitation very soon.
    There is still a long way to go towards the end.

  5. Charm
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Besides, I think that as dangerous as Gaddafi is, it is the protesters who are even more dangerous with their totalizing vision of a world without problems as soon as Gaddafi is ousted. The flags in Libya pose a classic “us” vs. “them” scenario, whereby the elimination of “the other” constitutes a Utopian fantasy, which cannot but end badly.

  6. Kevin Kaelin
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    It is obvious to me that Badiou understands the politics of the middle east about as well as an industrial capitalist understands wealth that is not material, obama has not engaged because he does not want to rock the oil boat, it is true that the spirit of this movement is just the beginning but of what we cannot know and while every authority in the middle east is trying be its ambassador we must look at the highly industrialized trappings in which this movement is happening as Event.

  7. Eben
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Mark writes, “Is this a real revolution or just another form of ‘Give me what you have’?”

    Who is the “you” you are referring to here? Is it the ruling elites of the demonstrators’ respective countries, who enjoy the privileges of immense wealth and the rights that can be bought with wealth?

    Or does it mean “you”, as in you, Mark? (And perhaps by extension, whoever you might mean by “us”)

    If you mean the former, I don’t see why it cannot be both of what you say; a revolution demanding what is being denied–their rights as people. And as Badiou suggests, the right to commonly create for themselves a collective destiny. What would be dishonorable in this?

    If however you meant the latter–i.e., a narcissistic delusion that somehow these people are demonstrating for/at you, this only makes your maladroitly cynical stab at the author’s profession seem the more suspect. Do you have a problem with intellectuals who are well-fed? Perhaps you prefer them malnourished?

    Your post sounds like you have extra calories for movement but would prefer not to go anywhere.

  8. Posted March 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that the French Revolution eventually led to Napoleon become an “emperor” (and in between sent so many people to the guilotine).

    Masses can be exploited by cunny people and led to great wrong doings, esp. when there’s the concept that everything is justified by some “cause”.

    I prefer a democratic state, as long as there’s respect for the law in the society (same and enforced rules for all) and the law is made to be simple enough to understand and just enough to inspire respect.

  9. Faith Done Away
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Badiou is as right as a rebel flag. Well fed or not! What matters is that he feeds us well.

  10. David Brancaleone
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    Alain Badiou comes up trumps. Roberto Baldino’s fatalism is what plagues the non-politics of Italian politics, ever since the Riflusso and Repression years. We lost contact Roberto, don’t sit on the fence.
    Why has the US stood and watched? while the innocent die in their thousands? Because democracy is not democracy, because Mouffe and Laclau who represent the turncoated left since 1985, provide all the reasons why we should stick to agonism and drop dialectics, but egypt etc shows you cannot. read badiou’s ethics, if you want to see how the discourse of the other is just a SHAM. He puts forward a discourse of the SAME. Then you can let go of the fetish of pluralism and related agonisms (ok provided within system).
    In haste, david

  11. aporias
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    what a wonderful term is “communism of movement” the event in its pure form

  12. violet
    Posted March 26, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I loved Alain’s piece about the Arab world and its lessons that you linked us to

    did you see this poster i found by NYU ?

    kisses from London

  13. navi blue
    Posted March 29, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    it is interesting finding this little congregation gravitating around Badiou’s thoughts on current events in the middle east.

    @Chittibabu – ‘communism in movement / communism’ I think he is trying to maintain separation of Event, as an ahistoric (almost transconceptual) phenomena, from an idea (or pre-concept delimited by history/knowledge).

    i was hoping for a more critical stance from Badiou. his romantic fervor seems to have made him turn a blind eye to the original force of this ‘synchronous’ event. William Engdhal, for example, pointed to similarities with orange revolution in eastern europe (Self-Liberation by Gene Sharp @ http://www.aeinstein.org/).

    but Badiou is undoubtedly right that ‘the popular uprising creates unknown possibilities for the entire world.’

    just a few quick thoughts….

  14. David Brancaleone
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Communism of movement and communism. From memory and experience, Badiou is drawing the distinction between the shared exhilarating reality of the common in the movement as it unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s (might have been like that in earlier events, 1967 Cultural Revolution, 1917 Moscow, 1871 Paris Commune) and the idea of comunism, the comunist hypothesis, which titles one of his recent books. In that sense, I guess one is the contingent embodiment of the idea (as he explains in that text), the other an idea which the fidelity of the militant or activist. So, a sequence, following the lieu evenemental, to put it in the terms of Theory of THe Subject, the outplace versus the splace. Or, in the terms of Being and Event site of the event as opposed to the state of the situation.
    I want to retract on one thing I wrote in a hurry in my first contribution to this article. I suggested that the West was sitting on the fence. What I really meant was that it took a long time for the mainstream media and politicians to say anything positive about the radical changes going on in the Middle East. yes, of course, it stands to reason, given the vested interests of neo-colonialism (when did it ever become post-colonialism, folks?).
    I did not realise that the no-fly zone meant western military intervention, disguised by humanitarian sentiment for the people. As if! Don’t forget that the West continues to refer to citizines uprising against brutality, intimidation, and decades of fascism as “Rebels”, indicating that they are in the wrong. Meantime, the Western politicians, US included, recommend that “both sides” should exercise “restraint”.

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