Ernesto Laclau's passing away has caused a great stir in the international Left. It has lost one of its most insightful political thinkers. We publish here Íñigo Errejón's tribute to Laclau, a very timely reminder of the urgent actuality of Laclau's life-long reflections on hegemony, left-wing strategies, and the knotty question of populism.
Although I had a few of his books on the shelves of my childhood home, it was not until the last year of my degree that I read Ernesto Laclau, together with his personal and intellectual compañera Chantal Mouffe, for a 2005-6 seminar by Professor Javier Franzé. I remember how dense and complex the fragment of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy struck me as, and I would later return to it pencil in hand. But certainly already it shook up some of my certainties and opened up a field of intellectual curiosity to which I would subsequently devote myself. Some time later, passing through Buenos Aires after a year of living and researching in Bolivia, I bought On Populist Reason, as I was already obsessed with understanding the national-popular in Latin America and passionate about working through some of its ambivalences. This was in 2009. In May 2011, three days after the 15 May protests, I defended my doctoral thesis at the Universidad Complutense, its title being ‘The MAS’s struggle for hegemony in Bolivia (2006-2009): a discursive analysis’. The work of Ernesto Laclau (to repeat: and also Chantal Mouffe) and their neo-Gramscian school of thought played a central theoretical role in my thesis.
Earlier this month the international Left lost one of its most astute political thinkers. Ernesto Laclau, the political theorist who had the ear of the Kirchners, was interviewed by La Nación journalist Diego Sehinkman last November for the ‘Politicians on the sofa’ series.
My ‘meeting’ with Ernesto Laclau – the political theorist whom the Kirchner governments listened to perhaps more than any other – took the form of a telephone call to England, where he lived since 1969.
You have achieved the dream of almost any intellectual, that is, being consulted by a president…
Yes, I have indeed been consulted. I have had an open, cordial relationship with Argentina’s recent presidents.
Philosopher and professor in rhetoric at the University of California (Berkeley), Judith Butler, born in 1956, made her name in the English-speaking academic world a quarter of a century ago with the publication of her Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. This complex work, which has now become a classic, has nothing in common with the ‘gender theory’ recently invented by the opponents of gay marriage.
Far from having invented gender studies, which have been taught in American universities since the early 1960s and which sought to distinguish anatomical sex from socially or psychically constructed gender identities, Judith Butler was rather more of an iconoclastic heir to them. Basing herself on the French thought of the 1970s – from Simone de Beauvoir to Jacques Lacan – in her 1990 work she gave due focus to life on the ‘border lines’, arguing that sexual difference is always fluid and that transsexuality (the conviction that one belongs to another sex), for example, could be a way of subverting the established order and refusing the biological norm. Butler had herself very early in life found herself in a situation outside the norm, lacking in borders, on account of her identity as a Jewish woman raised as a Jew but critical of the policies of the State of Israel.
It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Ernesto Laclau, the outstanding Argentinean political philosopher, at the age of 78. Ernesto had a heart attack in Seville where he was giving a lecture. He was the author of landmark studies of Marxist theory and of populism as a political category and social movement. In his highly original essays and books he demonstrated the far reaching implications of the thought of Antonio Gramsci, probed the assumptions of Marxism and illuminated the modern history of Latin America, rejecting simplistic schemas linked to notions of dependency and populism.
Judith Butler, author of Frames of War and Precarious Life, visited Occupy Wall Street to lend her support to the protesters there. In a rallying speech, amplified through the human microphone, she gave her thoughts on the reception of the movement and its demands.
I came here to lend my support to you today, to offer my solidarity, for this unprecedented display of democracy and popular will. People have asked, 'So what are the demands? What are the demands all these people are making?' Either they say there are no demands and that leaves your critics confused - or they say that the demands for social equality and economic justice are impossible demands. And impossible demands, they say, are just not practical.
If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible. If the right to shelter, food and employment are impossible demands, then we demand the impossible. If it is impossible to demand that those who profit from the recession redistribute their wealth and cease their greed then yes, we demand the impossible.
But it is true that there are no demands that you can submit to arbitration here because we are not just demanding economic justice and social equality, we are assembling in public, we are coming together as bodies in alliance, in the street and in the square. We're standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase 'We the people!'
A video of Butler delivering her speech at Occupy Wall Street is available below.