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                           Alain Badiou

This piece is a comment on the French presidential farce earlier this year — whereby the ageing Jacques Chirac managed to strengthen his grip on power — by L’Organization Politique, comprising modern marxists Alain Badiou, Natasha Michel and Sylvain Lazarus. In France it seems there are certain parallels with the expedient narcissism of New Labour. One line struck is relevant to every western ‘democracy’: "We do not believe that the principles for a real democratic politics can be consistently implemented by any party or parliamentary group." So complicit have every major political party been (with the possible exception of the Greens in Germany but they’ll soon be described as terrorists if they continue to sit outside Shell garages) with the short-term objectives of; unelected and unaccountable members from the ‘business community’ that, to both the discerning and apolitical voter, they no longer provide objective democratic representation, because their principles are negotiable. In France as in England, the political establishment cannot be trusted with our future because it plays no major part in immediate negotiations. That is part of the reason why Palestine cannot be supported by such profiteering spunkers — the benefits will be neither immediate nor lucrative for ‘international statesmen’

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POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY


What is to be thought? What is to be done?

© L’Organization Politique
(Alain Badiou, Natasha Michel, Sylvain Lazarus)

First and foremost, what we witnessed was a crushing electoral defeat for Jospin and a very weak performance by Chirac. That’s the point from which to begin, because Le Pen’s score is merely its consequence.

Some might still be tempted to say that this was a shocking event (‘seismic upheaval’, ‘shameful’, etc.). Unexpected, yes. But not that extraordinary. Le Pen has been an experienced participant in major elections for twenty years, and did not get many more votes than usual.

Those ravaged by astonishment, by fears and tears, ought to consider this: parliamentarianism involves a conception of politics in which a quarter of the electorate consider a vote for Le Pen to be as legitimate as a vote for any other candidate. Proof that Le Pen is perfectly consistent with the others on any number of points, and not particularly eccentric. The truth is that Le Pen is an important man in French parliamentarianism. The only new development is that this time round he’s made it into the run-off vote for a presidential election. It is this, and this alone, whose causes need to be examined.

First of all, the parties. The RPR (Rassemblement Pour la Republique), the PS (Parti Socialiste), the ‘pluralist left’ . Chirac and Jospin. Should they be absolved? Should we forget? Should we be rallying behind their split ticket as though it had suddenly been whitewashed by the success of Le Pen, the old collaborator, the old racist, the old anti-Semite?

As for us, faced with the debasement of minds, the suffocating effects of fear, communitarianism, and cowardice, we know the only thing to do in politics is to maintain a firm resolve on matters of principle.

What do we mean by a ‘political principle’? That it is necessary to hold to certain maxims concerning the fundamental points of the situation being imposed on people; to hold to them come what may, without faltering. That these maxims be turned into the strict rule for organized thought and action. That one engage in a struggle —which means a collective process determined to change the situation—on behalf of what they stand for.

It has to be said that we see no sign whatsoever of any kind of firm resolve on matters of principles among any members of the ‘pluralist left’, let alone the RPR.

What we’ve seen over the past 15 years is that the absence of principles paves the way for the debasement of minds, and that Le Pen is merely harvesting, within the official framework of elections and parliamentarianism, what has invariably been sown by successive governments.

 

Let’s give a few specific examples.

 

1

Under Mitterand, Mauroy (Prime Minister: 1981-1984), Fabius (PM: 1984-1986), and with the complicity of the PCF (French Communist Party), any political reference to the word ‘worker’ has been deliberately eradicated. It has been explicitly replaced by the word ‘immigrant’. Le Pen is said to have ‘addressed the right problems’. Any utterance coming from the working-classes, any consideration of factories, has been rejected and the opinion of the ‘modern’ bourgeoisie has become the alpha and omega for every variety of political discourse. Bérégovoy (PM: 1992-1993) did more to liberalize the financial system than any of his rightwing predecessors. Jospin has privatized more companies than Juppé (PM: 1995-1997). They have all cut the public sector to pieces. They have all engaged in relentless ‘modernisation’. None have given one whit for people’s lives, and still less for what those people might think about it all. So it’s pretty silly to whimper about the ‘populist’ backlash. When did you ever care, dear downcast rulers, about the people and their backbone, the worker? Let’s oppose this bourgeois indifference, this worship of finance masquerading as ‘modernisation’, with this principle: there can be no modern progressive politics without redefining and rethinking the reference to the figure of the worker. It’s as a result of having liquidated this principle ever since May 1968 that the PCF has disappeared. We’ve got to buckle down to the practical reinvention of the figure of the worker.

2

There are hundreds of thousands of people of foreign origin working and living here in France, most of them working-class. Under Mitterand, Mauroy, Fabius, Rocard (PM: 1988-1991), Bérégovoy, Balladur (PM: 1993-1995), Chirac, Juppé, Jospin, and with the consent of the entire ‘pluralist left’, the question of the State’s legalization of these workers has been turned into a question of ‘security’, a matter for the police. They’ve been referred to as ‘stowaways’. Detention camps have been set up. The right to asylum has been cancelled. The re-uniting of families has been severely restricted. The ‘Chevènement law’ was passed: it demands official ‘proof’ — obviously impossible to find — of 10 years (ten years!) of continual presence on French soil just to obtain a simple piece of paper allowing you to come and go freely! And you moan about the success of the National Front? Well let’s start by not imposing their policies, then! We must oppose all this with principles which, for the last five years, have been those of the Organization Politique and the Assembly of illegal immigrant worker’s collectives living in hostels: anyone who lives and works here, belongs here. Worker’s hostels are fine. But what we need is an unconditional legalization of all illegal immigrant workers.

3

Why did Juppé fall in 1997? Who brought Jospin to power? On the one hand, it was the major popular strike movement of December 1995; on the other, the vigorous action by illegal immigrant workers at the Saint Bernard Church sit-in combined with the decision by intellectuals to take a stand (all too brief, alas) against the Pasqua laws. But the idea that such movements can successfully gain access to parliament remains fallacious. Jospin has no principles.

He did not legalize the illegal immigrants workers. But neither did he bear in mind the vague and powerful watchword — ‘all together!’— that drew millions of people out onto the streets in 1995. Did he protect the public sector? Did he reform the education system? Did he give the city back to the mass of those who are trying to live there, by re-industrializing and re-urbanizing the so-called ‘suburbs’?

Not in the slightest. All he did was pass a law on the 35-hour working week, which certainly improved the leisure time of white-collar employees, but subjects workers to the ‘flexible’ good-will of bosses, wreaks havoc with their lives, and, on the whole, lowers their actual wage. And Jospin also played the ‘security’ card, as did all the official candidates.

We must oppose this with the following principles: the city is for everyone. One child=one student. Fixed, explicitly stated work hours. People should be able to earn enough to live with some dignity.

4

Every successive government since Mitterand has invariably supported the Americans in their increasingly violent, imperialist and cruel ventures. The war against Iraq, the war against Serbia, the war against Afghanistan... We ask: what about the basic principle of national independence and international justice? We’re thrilled to see so many fiercely devoted defenders of freedom rallying against the old collaborationist. But we’d like them to extend their concern to a slightly wider horizon. How is it that the same people who cry out in indignation against Le Pen see nothing wrong in approving the wars being waged by Bush (who is in every respect just as reactionary as the National Front), or Sharon (who is just as brutal in his colonialist war as paratrooper Le Pen was in Algeria)?

Are we to understand that precious, delicate freedoms are fine here (except for illegal immigrant workers, naturally), but that militarist enslavement is to be the norm everywhere else? Let’s oppose all this by proclaiming the following principles: complete independence with respect to American ventures. Dissolution of NATO. Attentive sympathy for the political process currently underway in Chiapas. A land and a state for the Palestinians.

There’s no mystery. Without respecting these basic principles, without major political struggles organized in complete independence and according to these principles, political life is ominous and the decline will continue. Abjection is never far away. It’s only become a little more noticeable today. And its ties to parliamentarianism and the electoral system are becoming more and more obvious.

We do not believe that the principles for a real democratic politics can be consistently implemented by any party or parliamentary group.

These democratic principles regulate our own action, which is completely independent. This is a politics without parties. This is what we mean by a politics that comes from people, rather than from positions of power.

To strengthen such a politics in the troubled times now dawning — times which Chirac and Jospin have brought about — is the only lasting and effective means of taking a stand against the worst. Sobbing, crying out ‘I’m ashamed!’, ‘Le Pen, you’re fucked!’, republican whimpers, are all useless. What matters is to give a life, a life of thought, of action, of organisation, to a completely different kind of politics.

Is it possible? No problem. Right now.


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