The Revolution Issue

The Eternal Idea of Revolutionary Justice

A road map for insurrectionary anticonsumerism.
The Eternal Idea of Revolutionary Justice

Photo by Janine Gordon

Resurgence is in the wind. The cynicism that has dogged every gesture of our resistance is giving way as the disappointment of 20th century communism is eclipsed by the rebellious will to try again. Guiding this radical revival are two philosophers whose political theories breathe new life into the revolutionary project. We speak of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, a neo-Platonist-Maoist and a post-Lacanian-Leninist, whose carefully considered political philosophy revives the ideals of egalitarian-communism and heralds revolution in our lifetime.

Their project is philosophically grounded in Badiou’s two-part magnum opus Being and Event and Logics of Worlds. In the preface to the latter work, Badiou hypothesizes that there are four elements of the “eternal Idea” of revolutionary politics: egalitarian justice; revolutionary terror; voluntarism; and trust in the people. And Žižek takes up with gusto the task of applying these elements to contemporary politics. Together, their roadmap for insurrectionary anticonsumerism is invigorating in its breadth and intensity.

It begins with an egalitarian justice that irrevocably overturns the “established hierarchies of power or wealth” by stripping the rich of their supposed right to consume a greater percentage of the world’s resources. This entails “worldwide norms of per capita energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, etc.” that limit and equalize global development.

The second stage is revolutionary terror, the “will to crush the enemy of the people.” Žižek argues persuasively that we cannot have equality and sustainability without disciplined terror against the hyper-rich. In practical terms this requires the courage to impose a limitation on the “freedom” of wanton consumption that has brought humanity to the precipice along with the willingness to support “ruthless punishment of all those who violate the imposed protective [ecological] measures.”

The third phase responds to the question of how these changes will be accomplished. Badiou and Žižek propose voluntarism or “the belief that one can ‘move mountains,’ ignoring ‘objective’ laws and obstacles.” For too long has our emancipatory project been dismissed because it violates the so-called “laws” of neoclassical economics and the limitations of the capitalist imagery. Voluntarism acknowledges that where there is a will there is a way and that the “only way to confront the threat of the ecological catastrophe is by means of large-scale collective decisions” that pull the brake on the runaway train of capitalism.

Finally, what ties these elements together is trust in the people, the demos of democracy. In rejecting reactionary politics that harbors “antipopular suspicion or the fear of the masses,” we uphold the conviction that “the large majority of the people support these severe measures, see them as their own, and are ready to participate in their enforcement.” This fourth element is the linchpin of them all, a crucial ethical foundation that keeps us from repeating the tragic failures of the past.

What we gain from these four revolutionary elements is a clear strategic statement for attaining our movement’s victory. But as Badiou makes clear, at each step a dangerous perversion of ideals is possible, and a seemingly slight distortion, such as the one that trusts “the People” abstractly but loathes the people concretely, can turn our revolutionary project into another army of oppression. To ward off this evil requires a firm, unwavering commitment to the egalitarian nature of our movement. Further, it demands fidelity to the mental environmentalist’s founding intuition: That our overconsumption is the tool of others’ oppression, that the occupation of our minds builds the sweatshops on their land.

That is why we dream of nothing less than a global emancipation, a spiritual insurrection that sets this false world ablaze.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He lives in Berkeley and is writing a book about the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org

64 comments on the article “The Eternal Idea of Revolutionary Justice”

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DTDW

Honestly I think situationist writings/ideology are the best tools for forging a way forward. I think we all need to understand that at this point in history many aspects of the current global financial system are unchangeable as well as the nation-state political structure. It is impossible to not participate. It is how we participate that matters and what our lives look like on a day to day basis. If every day i can spend long amounts of time chilling with my friends, talking shit, laughing enjoying ourselves, blazing, making music, going to the river/beach drinking, rafting ect. I am happy. Now all we need a bit of money to enjoy a reasonable standard of life, housing, food, car ect. The answer is to find a way to get this money without fucking people over and without making yourself miserable as assistant manager of safeway. Become independent financially and do your own business, whether it is owning a corner market, growing medical marijuana, opening a coffee shop, then make it partially collective, 20% profits to employees (who can be friends and family members). Create communities where everyone can make a decent $$ and then spend the rest of the time chilling and letting the good times roll with your friends. Success.

DTDW

Honestly I think situationist writings/ideology are the best tools for forging a way forward. I think we all need to understand that at this point in history many aspects of the current global financial system are unchangeable as well as the nation-state political structure. It is impossible to not participate. It is how we participate that matters and what our lives look like on a day to day basis. If every day i can spend long amounts of time chilling with my friends, talking shit, laughing enjoying ourselves, blazing, making music, going to the river/beach drinking, rafting ect. I am happy. Now all we need a bit of money to enjoy a reasonable standard of life, housing, food, car ect. The answer is to find a way to get this money without fucking people over and without making yourself miserable as assistant manager of safeway. Become independent financially and do your own business, whether it is owning a corner market, growing medical marijuana, opening a coffee shop, then make it partially collective, 20% profits to employees (who can be friends and family members). Create communities where everyone can make a decent $$ and then spend the rest of the time chilling and letting the good times roll with your friends. Success.

Anonymous

yeah... revolution. just as long as it doesn't dramatically interfere with the quality of life you've grown accustomed to?

Anonymous

yeah... revolution. just as long as it doesn't dramatically interfere with the quality of life you've grown accustomed to?

DTDW

so i assume you have been handing out leaflets and storming government buildings lately? Anyone who is talking about 'revolution' and 'insurrection' in the U.S has their head up their ass.

DTDW

so i assume you have been handing out leaflets and storming government buildings lately? Anyone who is talking about 'revolution' and 'insurrection' in the U.S has their head up their ass.

Anonymous

Work to live
Not
Live to work

There is nothing wrong with working. Man is made to work. It is when making money takes precedence over living life that things go wrong.

Anonymous

Work to live
Not
Live to work

There is nothing wrong with working. Man is made to work. It is when making money takes precedence over living life that things go wrong.

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