Organizing

8
Apr

Youth rebellion in the ‘banlieues’ of Paris

Contemporary Politics and the Crisis of the Negative

Interview by Filippo Del Lucchese and Jason Smith

FILIPPO DEL LUCCHESE and JASON SMITH: We would like to begin by asking you to clarify the relation between philosophy and politics. What do you mean when you speak, for example, of a militant philosophy?

ALAIN BADIOU: Since its beginnings, philosophy’s relationship to the political has been fundamental. It’s not something invented by modernity. Plato’s central work is called The Republic, and it is entirely devoted to questions of the city or polis. This link has remained fundamental throughout the history of philosophy. But I think there are two basic ways of structuring this relationship.

The first way assigns philosophy the responsibility for finding a foundation for the political. Philosophy is called upon to reconstruct the political on the basis of this foundation. This current argues that it is possible to locate, for every politics, an ethical norm and that philosophy should first have the task of reconstructing or naming this norm and then of judging the relation between this norm and the multiplicity of political practices. In this sense, then, what opens the relation between philosophy and politics is the idea of a foundation as well as an ethical conception of the political. But there is a second orientation that is completely different. This current maintains that in a certain sense politics is primary and that the political exists without, before, and differently from philosophy. The political would be what I call a condition of philosophy. In this case, the relation between philosophy and politics would be, in a certain sense, retroactive. That is, it would be a relation in which philosophy would situate itself within political conflicts in order to clarify them. Today, in the extremely obscure situation that is the general system of contemporary politics, philosophy can attempt to clarify the situation without having any pretense to creating it. Philosophy has as its condition and horizon the concrete situation of different political practices, and it will try, within these conditions, to find instruments of clarification, legitimation, and so on. This current takes seriously the idea that politics is itself an autonomy of thought, that it is a collective practice with an intelligence all its own.

It is quite clear that today the question is particularly difficult because we are no longer in a situation in which there is a clear distinction between two opposed political orientations—as was the case in the twentieth century. Not everyone agreed on what the exact nature of these opposed politics was, but everyone agreed there was an opposition between a classical democratic bourgeois politics and another, revolutionary, option. Among the revolutionaries, we debated spiritedly and even violently what, exactly, the true way was but not the existence itself of this global opposition. Today there is no agreement concerning the existence of a fundamental opposition of this sort, and as a result the link between philosophy and politics has become more complex and more obscure. But, fundamentally, it’s the same task. Philosophy tries to clarify what I call the multiple situation of concrete politics and to legitimate the choices made in this space.

DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: So you see your own philosophical interventions as taking place within this new situation that you describe as “more complex and more obscure” than the classical confrontation between two opposed political orientations?

BADIOU: Definitely. As a result, I see my philosophy as an inheritor of the great contestatory movements of the sixties. In fact, my philosophy emerged out of these movements. It is a philosophy of commitment, of engagement, with a certain fidelity to Sartre, if you like, or to Marxism.

What counts is that the intellectual is engaged in politics and commits to or takes the side of the people and the workers. I move in that tradition. My philosophy tries to keep alive, as best it can (it is not always easy), the idea that there is a real alternative to the dominant politics and that we are not obliged to rally around the consensus that ultimately consists in the unity of global capitalism and the representative, democratic state. I would say, then, that I work under the condition of the situation of political actuality, with the goal of keeping alive, philosophically, the idea of the possibility or opening of a politics I would call a politics of emancipation—but that could also be called a radical or revolutionary politics, terms that today are debatable but that represent all the same a possibility other than the dominant one.

DEL LUCCHESE and SMITH: You mention Sartre in this context where the name Althusser might have been expected. What is your relation to the Althusserian tradition?

BADIOU: The Althusserian tradition is extremely important, and I’ve devoted several texts to Althusser. If I mention Sartre it is simply because my philosophical youth was Sartrean before my encounter with Althusser. I think the Althusserian current was a particularly important one because it gave a new life and force to the link between philosophy and politics and in a less idealist mode—that is, a relation that no longer passed through the form of consciousness. In Sartre, of course, we still find the classical model of the intellectual understood primarily in terms of consciousness—an intellectual must make contact with the struggle and the workers’ organizations, be they the unions or the communist parties. Althusser’s greatness is found in the fact that he proposed a new schema in which the relation between philosophy and politics no longer passed through the psychology of the form of consciousness as it still did with Sartre. Althusser begins with the conviction that philosophy intervenes in the intellectual space of politics. When he proposes the formula “philosophy is the organization of class struggle in theory,” what does he mean? That class struggle exists and that philosophy certainly didn’t invent it. It exists and cuts across intellectual choices. Within the struggle between these choices, philosophy has a special role. It is to intervene and therefore to name, norm, classify, and finally choose in the field of intellectual or theoretical class struggle. Sartre and Althusser are very different, even opposed. But you can reconcile them on one point, namely, that philosophy is nothing if it is not linked to political commitment.

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Category : Intellectuals | Marxism | Organizing | Philosophy | Blog
2
Jan

By Gavin Mendel-Gleason & James O’Brien

TheNorthStar.info

January 1, 2014

(Part I of II, for Part II see: ‘The Strategy of Attrition:
Conquest or Destruction of the State?’ further down)

Introduction

Right from its beginnings in early 19th century, socialism has been bedevilled by debates over strategy in a way that right-wing ideologies have not. Would salvation come, as Fourier dreamed, from wealthy benefactors funding new communist colonies or maybe, as Proudhon envisaged, through workers founding their own mutualist enterprises and bypassing politics altogether? Or perhaps a more aggressive stance was necessary, as advocated by the proto-syndicalist wing of the British Chartist movement in the 1830s, who even then were cognisant of workers’ leverage at the point of production and supported the use of a Grand National Holiday — aka a general strike. Or was the mainstream Chartist emphasis on political action, i.e. taking control of state-power after having won universal suffrage be the centre of socialist activity the best way forward.

These strands and more were already manifest in England, then the most advanced capitalist country, in the 1830s — a long time ago. And they remain with us to this day because the problem to which they attempted to solve, namely minority rule, remains very much with us. The various tendencies correspond to available oppositional niches in a society dominated by capitalist production and therefore elite influence.

It seems obvious that an adroit mixture of the strategies, one which combined the strength of labour, the potential wealth of co-ops and the leverage of mass parties, is the goldilocks of political strategies and indeed that is the position we advocate. However, once we get into the details the obvious quickly becomes very blurry indeed. It’s hardly surprising that socialists have lacked the clarity of the right-wing since they, unlike us, are in driving seat and don’t need to change a whole lot while we are searching for a way to achieve our goals.

And it turns out that a combined arms strategy of unions, co-ops, and political party is not, in fact, the dominant orientation on the radical left, and has not been since 1917, at least in the English speaking world. There are, for example, proponents of an exclusively non-state orientation and there are supporters of political means, but who both deny that co-operatives can play a meaningful role before the working class has seized power and that tightly knit revolutionary groups are the key to success.

In this essay we are going to focus on the political arena and make case for a robust mass party strategy that aims to win political power via democratic elections, and only touch upon the role of trade unions and co-ops.

The Democratic Road

The case for choosing the democratic road is best teased out in comparison with alternative approaches, which for our purposes is going to mostly be the strategy of insurrection pursued by Anarchists and Trotskyists that is common amongst the revolutionary groups in the Anglo-phone world.

If the basic strategic choices first emerged in the 1830s, they became permanent features of the political landscape in the era of the First International (1864 – 1873) when the Anarchists and the Marxists parted ways replete with their own theoretical justifications. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, which saw the emergence of workers’ councils, moved the debate from being one that separated Anarchists and Marxists and landed it into the heart of Marxism itself.

Let us lay our cards on the table at the outset: the political strategy advocated here involves attempting to win state power in the advanced capitalist countries through legal means, taking the democratic road if you will. In practice, this involves winning a majority through competition in elections which are broadly considered free and fair.

However, a simple description of this approach isn’t sufficient. In order to evaluate its worth, we need to compare it to alternatives, of which there is no shortage, from anti-consumerism, to back to nature primitivism, NGO lobbying, Third Worldism, and Occupyesque protesting to name some of the lesser lights. For reasons of space, we’re going to limit the alternative to the principal one offered by revolutionary socialists since 1917: the smashing of the existing state and its replacement by participatory workers councils, i.e. the primary strategy offered by both the Trotskyists and the Anarchists. Moreover, we need a way of choosing between the alternatives. As the debate between them has gone on since the days of the First International, it seems likely that both sides have valid points to make. For instance, James Bierly, in a recent article on the North Star catalogued the many practical advantages of electoralism, such as the opportunities to engage with regular people that simply aren’t there when you are hawking the Socialist Worker at a demonstration. On the other hand, the anti-parliamentary left highlights the limitations of parliament in being able to bring capital under control given the strength of the unelected bureaucracy.

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Category : Capitalism | Fascism | Organizing | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
21
Sep

Immigration Struggle: Interview with David Bacon

By Mark Karlin

Truthout

Sept 20, 2013 – The Right to Stay Home.(Photo: Beacon Press) Noam Chomsky succinctly articulates the importance of David’s Bacon new book on Mexican (and Central American) migration to the United States for economic survival: “Combining evocative personal narratives with penetrating geopolitical analysis, this compelling study vividly reveals the devastating effects on Mexico of the global class war of the past decades, and their impact on the United States. Perhaps the most striking demand of the victims is “the right to not migrate,” the right to live with dignity and hope, bitterly attacked under the neoliberal version of globalization.”

Truthout talked with David Bacon, author of The Right to Stay Home, about how much of the Mexican migration to the United States comes about in dire response to profiteering economic and nation-state strategies.

Mark Karlin: When people become economic pawns instead of looked upon as human beings with dignity, they often lose their “right to stay home,” you argue.  Given the massive government, corporate and global trade forces that create dire economic circumstances in Mexico and Central America – particularly with indigenous populations – where does resistance begin as you discuss in your last chapter?

David Bacon: It begins in the home communities of migrants themselves.  The book describes one of the most important organizations that is calling for resistance and the right to stay home – the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations. They were able to get the first non-PRI [dominant political party] governor of Oaxaca to make a commitment to development that could give people some alternative to forced migration.  But this demand is also now being put forward by migrant, especially indigenous migrant organizations throughout Latin America, in the Philippines, and we’re now hearing it in the alternative People’s Global Agenda on Migration gathering that will take place in New York next month during the UN’s high-level dialogue on migration.

MK: You are masterful and indefatigable in detailing how various neoliberal economic policies have devastated particularly those poor in Mexico who relied on a subsistence agrarian existence.  How did NAFTA wound the impoverished but livable rural indigenous economies, forcing efforts to migrate to the US?

DB: NAFTA allowed the dumping of corn, meat and other agricultural products in Mexico at low prices by huge corporations whose costs in the US are subsidized by the US farm bill.  They did this in order to take over the market, and today one company, for instance, Smithfield Foods, sells 25 percent of all the pork in Mexico. That made it very difficult for Mexican farmers to grow crops or raise animals and sell them at a price that would pay the cost of producing them. When they couldn’t survive as farmers, they had to leave home looking for work.

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Category : immigration | Organizing | Blog
22
Jun

 

Bob Simpson looks at how the ability for arts and culture to thrive relies upon working people’s fight for a space of their own.

Picture

“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.” — David Harvey , The Right to the City

By Bob Simpson

Red Wedge

June 17, 2013 – The 1968 French student-worker uprising popularized the phrase “The Right to the City” from philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s book Le Droit à la ville. According to Lefebvre the right to transform the urban environment cannot be restricted to people who own substantial property, hold citizenship papers or are otherwise deemed to have a higher social status. It means all of us, regardless of race, gender, age, economic status or any narrowly defined category. The city is a place of possibilities and we have a basic human right to make those possibilities realities.

Lefebrve’s subsequent book, The Urban Revolution helped to expand on his Right to the City ideas. Written in 1970, the book speculates rather accurately how urban society would evolve. There is a now a World Charter for the Right to the City which came out of the Social Forum of the Americas held in Ecuador during July 2004. The Right to the City is a global movement as the urban dispossessed around the planet struggle to humanize their own cities.

I was reading Lefebvre’s The Urban Revolution while riding the CTA Red Line on an April morning earlier this year. I was headed to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. The economically and racially diverse Uptown community was fighting school closings and the forced exile of working class people to benefit wealthy real estate interests and corporate school privatizers.

 

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View of Uptown from the Wilson CTA stop.

Led by a new organization called Uptown Uprising, Uptown’s embattled residents had called for a rally and march to show how the power of concentrated wealth was destroying a community. With blue skies overhead, I arrived at the Stewart Elementary School playground where Uptown Uprising was gathering. Stewart Elementary, along with Stockton Elementary in Uptown, was scheduled for closing. In Chicago, school closings are often closely linked with financial speculation and gentrification.
Reggie Spears, the Stewart music teacher, was leading his band students in a lively display of musical talent, while parents and students were making colorful signs on the playground’s artificial turf — for the city is a place of creation.

 

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Category : Capitalism | Culture | Organizing | Working Class | Blog
7
Mar

Historian Mark Solomon looks at the prospects for a new socialist left

By Mark Solomon

Published by Portside March 6, 2013

On February 4, 2010 The Gallop Poll released its latest data on the public’s political attitudes. The headline read: “Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans.” While the poll did not attempt the daunting task of exploring what a diverse public understood socialism to mean, it nevertheless revealed an unmistakably sympathetic image of a system that had been pilloried for generations by all of capitalism’s dominant instruments of learning and information as well as by its power to suppress and slander socialist ideas and organization.

In sheer numbers, that means a population at the teen- age level and above of tens of millions with a favorable view of socialism.

Why then is the organized socialist movement in the United States so small and so clearly wanting in light of the potential for building its numbers and influence?

That is a crucial question. At every major juncture in the history of the country, radical individuals and organizations in advance of the mainstream have played essential roles in influencing, guiding and consolidating broad currents for social change. In the revolution that birthed this country, radical activists articulated demands from the grass roots for an uncompromising and transforming revolution to crush colonial oppression. Black and white abolitionists fought to make the erasure of slavery the core objective of the Civil War while also linking that struggle to women’s suffrage and trade unionism. A mass Socialist Party in the early 20th century fought for state intervention to combat the ravages of an increasingly exploitative economic system while advancing the vision of a socialist commonwealth. In the Great Depression, the Communist Party and its allies fought the devastations of the crisis – helping to build popular movements to expand democracy, grow industrial unions and defend protections for labor embodied in the historic New Deal.

Small left and socialist organizations in the sixties supported a range of progressive struggles from peace to civil rights to women’s liberation to gay rights and beyond. The limited resources of those groups were effective in galvanizing massive peace demonstrations and in campaigns against racist and sexist oppression. But the Cold War and McCarthyism had eviscerated any hope for a major influential socialist current. Consequently, no large and impacting force existed to extend to the peace movement a coherent anti-imperial analysis that might have contributed to its continuity and readiness to confront the wars of the nineties and the new century. Nor was there a strong socialist organization to contribute to the civil rights struggle by advocating for reform joined to a commitment to deeper social transformation. Had such a current existed, it might have contributed to building a broad protective barrier against the devastating FBI and local police violence against sectors of the movement like the Black Panthers.

There should be little debate today on the left over the need for a strong socialist voice and movement in light of festering economic stagnation, war on the working class, looming environmental catastrophe, a widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us, massive joblessness and incarceration savaging African Americans and other oppressed nationalities, crises in health care, housing and education. Such a strong socialist presence could offer a searching analysis of the present situation, help stimulate a broad public debate on short term solutions and formulate a vision of a socialist future that could begin to reach the minds and hearts of the 36 percent who claim to be sympathetic to that vision.

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Category : Organizing | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog