The universal reach of popular uprisings
by Alain Badiou
The wind of the east carries away the wind of the west
Until when the idle and crepuscular West, the “international community” of those who still believe themselves to be the rulers of the world, will continue to give lesson in good management and good behavior to the rest of the world? 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?”
What pathetic persistence of colonial arrogance! In the situation of political misery that we’ve been living for the last three decades, is not evident to surmise that it is us who have everything to learn from the popular uprisings of the moment?
Don’t we have the urgency to give a close look to 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 try to convince us of their obsoleteness. 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 upraising. 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 to the horizon over which any collective action unencumbered by the authority of the Law outlines itself: 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 has 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 epidemics 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 new plain that will come after that that 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 holding of new tasks. Between the shout of a young Tunisian: “We, children of workers and of peasants, are stronger than the criminals;” and what said a young Egyptian: “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 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 world will be witness of 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 in the place where it all happens, the place that is the symbol, is kept for the 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, to 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 us, in a very pure form, undoubtedly the purest since the Paris Commune, 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 sort 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 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 from their heads. One witnesses, just as well, an 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 in the powers of 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 takes on the State.
We don’t want war, but are not scared of it
Everywhere was mentioned the peaceful calm of the gigantic demonstrations, 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 there 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 did pay 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 it happens in France where we pitifully surrender our will in choosing between Sarkozy 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 Jorge Jauregui
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