In the uprisings of the Arab world, Alain Badiou discerns echoes of the European revolutions of 1848. In both cases, the object was to overthrow despotic regimes maintained by the great powers—regimes designed to impose the will of financial oligarchies. Both events occurred after what was commonly thought to be the end of a revolutionary epoch: in 1815, the final defeat of Napoleon; and in 1989, the fall of the Soviet Union. But the revolutions of 1848 proclaimed for a century and a half the return of revolutionary thought and action. Likewise, the uprisings underway today herald a worldwide resurgence in the liberating force of the masses—despite the attempts of the ‘international community’ to neutralize its power.
Badiou’s book salutes this reawakening of history, weaving examples from the Arab Spring and elsewhere into a global analysis of the return of emancipatory universalism.
In late January the philosopher Alain Badiou was in Athens, where he gave three talks. The theme of the first of these was Plato, the second was on Lacan, while the third – the text of which appears below – was the most ‘political’. Each of the three talks had a packed-out audience. For this third talk, indeed, even the amphitheatre of the Law School did not suffice to contain the great number of attendees, with many of the large crowd of young people present filling out the stairs and floor. It took place on 25 January, and was jointly organised by the psychoanalysis review Alithia, the municipal elections movement Open City, and the SYRIZA youth organisation ‘Left Union’. It was supported by the Nikos Poulantzas Institute.
The principle that there is a single world does not contradict the infinite play of identities and differences
I would like to thank, and to salute, all our Greek friends, and beyond that all those who are today struggling against the terrible situation inflicted on the Greek people by the financial oligarchy that today holds power in Europe, in service of globalised capitalism.
Alain Badiou: From ‘Spring’ to Revolutions
Invited to speak by the Institut du monde arabe, the philosopher Alain Badiou developed a lively and accessible exposition of his reasoning on the ‘promise’ of the ‘uprisings’ in the Arab world, which have (still?) not turned into revolutions.
How ought we interpret the events that have played out in many Arab countries over the last couple of years? Popular uprisings, the overthrow of autocratic régimes, unsteady electoral processes, the return of Islamism to the political arena, and unexpected coups d’état, have posed the whole world questions as to the meaning of these movements and their likely outcome. Can we term them ‘revolutions’? Do they open the way to a new politics, or, on the contrary, are they a vehicle for old schemas?
What is that this is the issue of utmost urgency? What is this subject matter which requires not the suggestion nor participation of an impetuous alternative, but the brake pedal to the metal by the foot of a most sincere contemplation? As Zizek stressed, it is projecting the tomorrow of global capitalism that governs our today. The cause of systemic substitution lies in hostile relations which are unsolvable by old criteria.
While Zizek's fatal four threats – ecological catastrophe, the inappropriateness of the concept of private property in the discourse of intellectual property, the socio-ethical implications of contemporary scientific development, and newly generated apartheids and slums – to the sustainability of global capitalism, "the commons" meets the eyes of insight: the ecosystem as a common human habitat, knowledge as a common, scientific aspects as a common, and humanity as a common. A global resistance to prevent the privatization of these commons is in action, with the proliferation of a trans-strata collective comprehension that disregard means dispossession in the plot of this dramatic demonstration.