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