...... Interview with Alain Badiou •
............The Ashville Global Review - April 20/2005

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AGR: You said that in order to create alternatives to Western hegemony that we need to create a space in order to experiment. Could you elaborate on that and talk about what that looks like?

AB: Yes. The question of the elaboration of a new way in the field of politics is, in fact, two questions. First, we have a very general question, which is in the theoretical field properly. We have to find something like a new philosophy of action, of political intervention, and so on. And so it's a philosophical and theoretical question. It's not only the question of how we can analyze the situation, but the question is probably: What is today the subjective possibility of political engagement?

The question of revolution was the most important notion before, as an alternative to the world as it is. To change the world-the name of that was revolution. But revolution is today an obscure word. And so maybe we have to keep the word revolution, I don't know, but the content of the word is not clear today. What exactly is a complete transformation of the world? What is a new totality? For me, in my philosophical orientation, it is a question of what is for us a political truth. The whole framework about the question of what is a political truth was dialectics, theory of contradiction, Marx, and so on. The concept of revolution was to be understood like a dialectical concept. It was the moment when the fundamental contradictions were concentrated. The great difficulty today is that we cannot completely understand or propose a new way in politics in that sort of philosophy of contradiction. I don't think that I have a solution, but I have an orientation which is my proper philosophy and a discussion between other philosophies in the contemporary field of politics.

But, there is another question, which is a practical one. It is not reducible to a theoretical or philosophical question. It deals with experimentation in the social and collective field, new forms of organization, new forms of fighting, new forms of relationships between movements, new movements, and so on. As you know, even for Marx, before the theoretical determination, before the construction of a new thinking of politics and of society, we have some facts. We have the revolt of the workers in France, we have some great movements, and we have also the French Revolution. So, in every situation the political question is always a mixture of theoretical problems and practical experimentations, and so we have also to be clear about what are today the new political experiences, in what fields, with what people. And in this way the creation of new possibilities is not only the question of the creation of a new theoretical space.

The great question is how to have some experimentations which are really popular, really with ordinary people, which are not only in the field of intellectuals and students and so on. In the precedent period, the moment of Marxism, there is a concept of working class, there is a ruling class, and there is a direction which is significative. Maybe it is an illusion, maybe it is a construction, and maybe it's not true. That is another discussion, but you really have a concept which is finally something like complete organization of the practical field. So, you know for example, that you have to organize workers in factories, you have to construct something like trade unions, and you have to organize circles of revolutionary intellectuals with workers. But, today is much more obscure, and so we probably have to create new experimentation of relation with ordinary people, workers and so on, not under a big concept like the concept of proletariat, but under some precise notions and for some definite sequences.

AGR: You said that the majority of the people in the world have nothing, in the sense that all they have is their discipline, and this discipline is the potential for collective political action. Could you talk about, first of all, the anti-globalization movement and then what you see as the role of those activists in the affluent West who express solidarity with the challenges that people are facing directly in the global South?

AB: The question is to find the relationship between the anti-globalization movement and the large masses of people in the South because politics is today, by necessity, an international one. We cannot really have a hope only in one nation, in one space, because capitalism is the complete movement of globalization and so the organization of something like a new way in politics will certainly be at the international level. But, it is the same question, finally, in a smaller space. In France, it is certainly a necessity if you have to do some real politics, to organize, for example, a relation between some revolutionary intellectuals and some workers without papers. Without something like that there is no possibility of new experimentation in the social field.

In the great scale it is the same thing because you have to organize a relation between intellectual protestation, intellectual revolt against globalization, and the situation of poor people and weak people in the South. In any case, to find a new a way, we have to create new relations between people that are separated in fact. A student in the Western world and a peasant in Africa are very separated. They are not in the same world. That sort of division is fundamental for the development of capitalism itself. The question of discipline is also the question of unity, but what sort of unity? In the old time, it was certainly the unity between some intellectuals, a fraction of the intellectuals and the workers. During one century and much more that was the case. What is the question today? In the international field we have to find something new which is a relation with the large masses of people in the South. And so for some time, the question will be: what is the new form of internationalism? Affirmative internationalism, new organization, not only protestation against globalization, but affirmation of a common political will. There is practically nothing. We are really in the very beginning of the question.

AGR: Could you describe the relationship between spontaneous creative action and organization? Talk about achieving success in political action without reifying institutions.

AB: The question of the relation between organization and spontaneity, between organization and movement, is really the question of the transformation of the two, and not only of organization. I think we can hope to have new movements, and not only organizations that are not like parties. The classical parties are something like a monopoly of political knowledge, and monopoly of political direction. You have to transform that, certainly. The creation of new organization is the creation of an organization which is very near the people, not a monopoly of political direction of the movement, and so on. We have some experiences about that. We have some experiences of organizations which are not a monopoly of knowledge.

The more difficult point, probably, is the question of new movements, that is, movements which accept to be something with different steps, something which is not like a beautiful moment and after that dissemination. A new way to be passionate in politics, if you will, not only on the side of organization, but on the side of movement, too. And so, for that, it is very important that movements are not solely negative, not solely a movement against something, not solely a revolt against a bad state of affairs. The movement, not only organization, but directly the movement, must be able to propose something, to be affirmative - affirmative action, if you will. I think there is a possibility today for experimentation in movements which are not only a revolt of the poor against their horrible situation, but directly something which says: we have to live in a different way, we have to propose a new form of the world, we have to experiment with something else. There is a big difference between affirmative movements and purely reactive movements.

In the old world, the question was not exactly this one. Why? Because the movement can be negative, the party is the affirmation. So, the party is the positive direction of the negative movement. You can have revolt and after that the party takes the revolt as a means, something like a new force to affirm something. We cannot go on that sort of separation today. There is something like an affirmation; we have to be in common between movement and organization. I take an example in my own country. In the movement of workers without papers in France, the real sequence of the movement, and the possibility of a real relation between organization and movement is when the workers themselves, not only have said, "My situation is really bad. I want papers..." and so on, but, "We are workers of this country, and when you work in a country, you are, in fact, a citizen of this country." They are not only saying, "I want something." But, they declare about themselves, they affirm that they are really people of France, they are really French men and women. And, why? Because they work here, and if somebody works here, they are of here. That is the possibility of a new relation between movement and organization because we have to organize not the direction of the negative movement, but collective action for something which is positive.

AGR: Could you share some reflections on the Paris uprisings of May 1968?

AB: The great singularity of May 1968 was the conjunction between two movements. First, the great movement of students, which was a movement for a new style of studying, a new life for students, and so on. And also a reaction against something archaic in society about relations between men and women, sexuality, art, creativity and so on. And another completely different movement, which is the great strike of millions of workers. And so, you have a completely new situation because generally these two sorts of movements are completely separated. The absolute singularity of May was the partial conjunction between the two movements. Really, it was the possibility of the creation of something completely new, which was a direct relation between young students and young workers.

Why was it completely new? Because before May, the political representation of the workers was monopolized by the French Communist Party. And the French Communist Party was organizing a strict separation between the political organization of the workers, which was itself the party, and some intellectuals, who were intellectuals of the party, but they have no direct relation with anything of the world of the workers. And so it was really absolutely the period of the party. The party was strictly speaking the organization of the movement of the workers; the movement was completely under the direction of the party. And there was something like an explosion of all that during May, something completely new with the possibility of the creation of small groups with young students and young workers who were together in the same determination against the French Communist Party. And so it was a new political fact, a new space. It really was the creation of a new space.

Probably, all the consequences of this event are not yet explored today. We are in the sequence. Certainly, two, three or four years after it was more pronounced, and we have the classical effect that movements are not forever. But, the idea of new conceptions of what a political movement is and the possibility of direct relation between some intellectuals and some workers, and creation of the possibility of a new movement was certainly beginning with this event.

I insist upon the fact that there is a false picture of May 1968, which is that it was something like a revolt about the social question in general, a revolt of the youth against an archaic world, for sexual emancipation and so on, something like a big party. Certainly, there is something like that, but that is not the real political contents of May. The real content of May is the hand of the French Communist Party in the determination to monopolize completely the political signification of the common people and the creation of new possibilities of organization of the movements.

AGR: Talk a little bit about your thoughts on the war in Iraq, the "war on terror," and the general thrust of US imperialism under the direction of the Bush administration.

AB: First of all, we have to propose an interpretation of the war itself. What exactly is this war? Why this war? As always, the most important question is to propose a complete understanding of this concrete situation, and not only general implications of imperialism. Naturally, it is not the first imperialist war of the United States. The great question is: What is new? What is new in this war? I think that the novelty of the war is that it is completely cynical. It is an imperialist war really without any justification, not only justification about weapons of mass destruction and so on, where Bush and Blair were lying as pigs, but, without any classical imperialist justification. Classical imperialist justifications are: I have to take this piece because there is another imperialist and it's me and not the other imperialist, or there is something like a revolt that is against my direct interest and I have to crush my enemy. It is not at all something like that. Saddam Hussein was for a long time a great friend of the United States. During the war against Iran it was really armed and greatly sustained by all of the Western world, not only the United States, but also France, for instance, gave a lot of weapons to Saddam Hussein. We can say that Saddam Hussein is really a constitutive enemy of imperialism.

So, the newness of this war is that it is really a pure affirmation of the will, to affirm that the Middle East is really a place where the United States has to decide things. It's a war to say to all the world that the Middle East is something that cannot be free, that the Middle East is a singular place where, finally, the political decisions are political decisions of the United States. We have to decide and we have to decide all things.

The most difficult situation today is that there is a complex relation to Iran about this point. Is finally the real objective of the war Iran? This is probable and clear today, because Iran is a much more important place than Iraq, and Iran is much more independent than Iraq was under Saddam Hussein.

The ideological justification is very interesting too. The ideological justification of the war today is democracy. But, it is very interesting to see that democracy is finally war, that democracy is a surprise of war. Objectively, we have a pure affirmation of dependency of a place in the world by the United States in a very cynical way and without much contest. And, in the ideological field we have a strange justification of bloody war by democratic ideals, and the composition of the two is something clearly imperialist, but in this form it is something new.

So, it is very important for the world to develop, if it is possible, to really develop something against this war everywhere. Not only here, but also in Europe and everywhere. I think it's very important. It can be as important as the fight against the Vietnam war. We have to be in faithfulness to the great fight against the Vietnam war. It is probably difficult, but we have to do that.

AGR: Since we were just talking about the resistance to the Vietnam war and resistance to this current war, and you have talked about discipline as being the relation to others in collective political action, working towards an end in the absence of violence, do you think that violence is sometimes necessary to effect political ends?

AB: The question of violence is a very complex one. But, why? Because it is impossible to say, "Never violence." We cannot say that because we know that there are situations in which violence, for example defensive violence, is a necessity. But, we know also that violence has real destructive power against politics as such. For example, the use of violence during the Bolshevik Revolution, in my conviction, progressively destroyed the signification of revolution itself. It is not only the question of Stalin, but it is before, during the civil war. During the civil war after the revolution, for years, there was horrible violence on the two sides. When you have so much violence you have a transformation of the subjectivity. That is a very important point. It is not only a question about violence being not good, and so on. But, the constant use of violence transforms the subjectivity. The subjectivity, finally, becomes too simple and too brutal with the idea that when you have a problem you can kill people and then there is no problem. It was really in that sort of context that the terrorist state of Stalin had its birth. It was a result of the civil war. Certainly, the Bolsheviks had to win the civil war, but the means were really terrible.

My problem is not principally the use of violence or not the use of violence. It is dependent on circumstances. You cannot say anything about that. In some cases violence is a necessity; everyone knows that. That is not the problem. The problem is that violence is also a subjective corruption. That is the great political problem. The constant use of violence is a subjective corruption and so we have to measure violence, something like moderation of violence as much as possible. Certainly, the rule is: when we can solve a problem without violence, it is better. This was not the conviction during the Bolshevik revolution. The conviction was: if we can solve the problem with violence, that is better, the true solution.

Very often, if you examine the problem of the situation very carefully with all means of investigation, we can find a way to solve the problem without violence, or with less violence. We have to clearly say that it is better.

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