January 13, 2016
Prominent French philosopher Alain Badiou, in his new book about the terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris, recalls the pressing need of offering the world’s youth, who are highly frustrated by capitalism that does not honour its promises, an ideological alternative. He tries to shed light upon the enigmatic death impulse that drives the jihadists to kill people indiscriminately. It is popularly argued that a type of radicalisation, which builds upon the social and religious causes, yields unprecedented violence. Badiou, however, sees these attacks through different lenses; for him, they are symptomatic carnages of our time where there is no limit to global capitalism. Released on January 11 by Fayard, Badiou’s new book Notre mal vient de plus loin: penser la tuerie du 13 Novembre is a groundbreaking analysis of terrorism in the context of global capitalism and the loss of alternatives.
Uisio has translated Badiou’s recent interview with the French daily Libération on his new book.
What differences do you see between the attacks of January and November?
In both cases, we have the same historical and geopolitical context; the same killers, the same murderous and suicidal determination; and from the state’s part, the same response, police, and vengeful nationalism. However, both from the side of mass murderers and the side of state response, there are significant differences. Firstly, in January, the killings were targeted; the chosen victims were the blasphemers of Charlie Hebdo, Jews, and police officers. The ideological, religious, and anti-semitic character of murder is obvious. On the other hand, the response, which takes the form of a vast mass-deployment, wanted to symbolise the unity of the nation behind its government and its international allies through an ideological slogan, “Nous sommes tous Charlie.” It claims a specific point: the secular freedom, the right to blasphemy.
In November, the murder is indistinct, very evidently nihilistic. And the answer does not entail popular deployment, its motto is jingoistic and brutal “war on barbarians.” The ideology is reduced to its bare minimum and abstract portion, such as “our values.” The real is the extreme tightening of police mobilisation, with an arsenal of laws and draconian decrees, totally useless, and aiming at nothing less than making an eternal state of emergency. Hence the result of a rational and comprehensive intervention is even more urgent and necessary. We must convince the public that it should neither give in to the ferocity of the assassins nor in to the police state.
You analyse November 13 as an “evil” whose cause is the historical failure of communism. Why? It is a reading that seems nostalgic and outdated…
I tried to provide a protocol of explanation as clearly as possible, departing from the structures of our world: the weakening of states in the face of the private oligarchy, the desire of the West, and the expansion of global capitalism, against which no alternative is proposed today. I have no nostalgic longing. I have never been communist, in the electoral sense of the word. I call “communism” the possibility of proposing to the global youth anything but the wrong choice between a resigned inclusion in the existing consumer device and wild nihilistic breakaways. It is not, to my part, a stubbornness or tradition. I only affirm that if there is no political framework, including a political device for the youth to think that anything else is possible than the world as currently is, we will have the pathological symptoms such as November 13.
By giving all the responsibility to the tentacular grip of global capitalism, do you not ignore the responsibility of thought, intellectuals who wanted specifically to promote a different model?
From the 80s, a certain number of intellectuals, who withdrew frustrated and bitter for the lack of immediate success of the leftism in the 60s and 70s, have rallied to the established order. To settle in the world, they became the champions of Western serenity. Evidently their responsibility is palpable. But we must also take into account the delay on the side of a radical critique of capitalist expansion and alternative proposals to renew and strengthen the communist hypothesis. This weakness came from the magnitude of the disaster. There was some sort of collapse not only of the socialist states, which had long been criticised, but also of the dominance of progressive and revolutionary ideas amongst the intelligentsia, particularly in the post-war France. This collapse showed a deep crisis, which required a conceptual and ideological renewal, especially philosophical. With others, I am engaged in this task, but we are still far short. Lenin said that intellectuals are the sensitive badge of the history. In the history of the early 70s and mid-80s, we imposed an ideological reversal of extraordinary violence, an almost unprecedented triumph of the reactionary ideas of all sorts.
In the world you describe, there is the weakening of states. Why don’t they face the actors regulating global capitalism?
We see that the states, which had been described by Marx as the foundation of the capital’s power, are today on a scale that Marx himself had not expected. The interweaving of states within the hegemonic system of global capitalism is extremely powerful. For decades, regardless of the ruling parties, regardless of announcements such as “my opponent is finance,” the same policy continues. And I think it is wrong to accuse particular individuals. It is more rational to think that there is an extremely strong systemic chain, a striking degree of determination of the state function by the capitalist oligarchy. The recent Greek case is a striking example. Here was a country where there were mass movements, political renewal, which all created a new left-wing organisation. Yet when Syriza came to power, it has constituted no force capable of resisting the financial imperatives, the demands of creditors.
How to explain this discrepancy between the will to change and its non-possibility?
There was an objective victory of the hegemonic capitalist forces, but also a great subjective victory of the reaction in all its forms, which practically eliminates the idea that another economic and social organisation of the world is possible in the entire world. People who want to “change” are many, but I am not sure if they convinced themselves in the order of thought and the real action that anything else is possible. We still have to resurrect that possibility.
Jürgen Habermas speaks of economics as the theology of our times. One has the impression that this systemic machinery is theological. But how do you explain what happened in France?
I would remind that France has no monopoly of the attacks. These phenomena have to do with the general context in which people live today, as they occur under different conditions. I was in Los Angeles when, in California, after the French event, there was a terrible mass murder. That said, beyond the objective analyses, we must enter into the subjectivity of the murderers as much as possible. It is evident that these young assassins are the effects of West’s oppressed or impossible desire. This fundamental passion, found everywhere, is the key of things: given that another world is not possible, then why do we have no place in this world? If we represent any other world as impossible, it is intolerable to have no place in this one, a place with the criteria of this world: money, comfort, consumerism… This frustration opens a space to the death instinct: what we desire is what we will hate as we cannot have it.
Beyond the “desire of the West”, France seems to be marked by its colonial past …
There is indeed a colonial unconscious that is not yet eliminated. The connection with the Arab world has been structured by a long sequence of direct and extended administration across Maghreb. Since this unconscious is not recognised, to the day, it introduced ambiguities, including in the opinion of so-called “left.” We should not forget that, in 1956, it was a socialist government that relaunched the war in Algeria, and it was a socialist prime minister who, in the mid-80s, about the population coming from Africa, said, “Le Pen poses right questions.” There is a history of corruption in left in regard to colonialism, which is as important as concealed. In addition, between the 50s and 80s, capital had a pressing need for proletariat masses from the ex-colonial Africa. But with the rapid de-industrialisation of the late 70s, the same capital did nothing for the old workers or for their children and grandchildren, while, at the same time, conducting loud campaigns against their existence in our country. All this is disastrous, and it has also produced this French specificity: the Islamophobic intellectual.
In your analysis, you avoid the question of religion and Islam in particular…
This is a question of method. If you consider that religion is the point of departure for the analysis, you cannot pass it, you are caught in a hollow and reactionary scheme of “war of civilisations.” I propose neutral political categories, universal in scope, which may apply to different situations. The potential fascisation of a part of the youth, who give themselves both in the absurd glory of the assassination for “idealogical motifs” and in the suicidal nihilism, is coloured and formalised within Islam to some degree, I do not deny it. But religion as such does not produce these behaviours. Even if they are not numerous, they are never very rare exceptions, particularly in the French Islam, which is massively conservative. We shall come to the question of religion, to Islam, only when we know that conditions of this ultimate Islamisation were first constituted in the subjectivity of assassins. This is why I propose to say that it is the fascisation that Islamises, not Islamisation that fascises. And against the fascisation, a new communist proposal can rally the popular youth, regardless of their origins.