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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Anonymous

"Honestly I think situationist writings/ideology are the best tools for forging a way forward."

Badiou was involved with May 68 in France.

Anonymous

"Honestly I think situationist writings/ideology are the best tools for forging a way forward."

Badiou was involved with May 68 in France.

Wit

I'm not at all sure I like the concept of an “eternal Idea” of revolutionary politics. How can an abstract theory prescribe the character of revolutionary practice? Well, I haven't read Badiou and have only a passing familiarity with Žižek, so I can't judge them on their own terms. But, from this article it seems that this genuine problem is "resolved" simply by resorting to platitudinous generalities. Thus, it's almost humourous when Micah writes:

"What we gain from these four revolutionary elements is a clear strategic statement for attaining our movement’s victory."

I don't mean to just come in with abuse, but, there is a serious problem that (unfortunately) cannot merely be ascribed to either Micah or AdBusters:
why should anyone, let alone "the masses", engage with a Left that can only mouth vacuous and barely coherent rhetoric?

This is a problem we need to address immediately. I am certain that the Left has the best analytical tools at its disposal. Unfortunately I see little evidence that these are being put to good use.

(That we seem to see Žižek as some sort of hero, rather than as a slightly mediocre academic, is perhaps symptomatic).

----

Also, what is this crap from DTDW (in comments)? Has this person ever read anything written by the Situationists? This is the sort of moronism AdBusters fosters.

Wit

Wit

I'm not at all sure I like the concept of an “eternal Idea” of revolutionary politics. How can an abstract theory prescribe the character of revolutionary practice? Well, I haven't read Badiou and have only a passing familiarity with Žižek, so I can't judge them on their own terms. But, from this article it seems that this genuine problem is "resolved" simply by resorting to platitudinous generalities. Thus, it's almost humourous when Micah writes:

"What we gain from these four revolutionary elements is a clear strategic statement for attaining our movement’s victory."

I don't mean to just come in with abuse, but, there is a serious problem that (unfortunately) cannot merely be ascribed to either Micah or AdBusters:
why should anyone, let alone "the masses", engage with a Left that can only mouth vacuous and barely coherent rhetoric?

This is a problem we need to address immediately. I am certain that the Left has the best analytical tools at its disposal. Unfortunately I see little evidence that these are being put to good use.

(That we seem to see Žižek as some sort of hero, rather than as a slightly mediocre academic, is perhaps symptomatic).

----

Also, what is this crap from DTDW (in comments)? Has this person ever read anything written by the Situationists? This is the sort of moronism AdBusters fosters.

Wit

Anonymous

That was well said.
Though I support Adbusters' conviction and principles, I don't believe the writings of those academics are good models.

(For one, Zizek has said numerous crackpot things in his day, and has a reputation for lack of philosophical clarity.)

It seems to me that systematizing any form of large protest into an arithmetical formula (i.e. the fourfold eternal principles of revolution) is bound to collapse under the test of phenomenal reality. Academics like those try to materialize a simulacrum of history in their imaginations, and they play with this simulated world, taking it to be the reality. So if they can solve their simulated world, they take it that their model can solve the problems of the real world, additionally.

If you want to learn how to conduct a revolution, read Trotsky, because the man was integral in one of the largest and had his boots in the mud. Even if you don't agree with his ideas, he was aware of the inherent tendency towards chaos and animality that comes with revolution. Principles get delayed or forgotten in the heady tumult, and egos become the directive force, not arithmetic.

Anonymous

That was well said.
Though I support Adbusters' conviction and principles, I don't believe the writings of those academics are good models.

(For one, Zizek has said numerous crackpot things in his day, and has a reputation for lack of philosophical clarity.)

It seems to me that systematizing any form of large protest into an arithmetical formula (i.e. the fourfold eternal principles of revolution) is bound to collapse under the test of phenomenal reality. Academics like those try to materialize a simulacrum of history in their imaginations, and they play with this simulated world, taking it to be the reality. So if they can solve their simulated world, they take it that their model can solve the problems of the real world, additionally.

If you want to learn how to conduct a revolution, read Trotsky, because the man was integral in one of the largest and had his boots in the mud. Even if you don't agree with his ideas, he was aware of the inherent tendency towards chaos and animality that comes with revolution. Principles get delayed or forgotten in the heady tumult, and egos become the directive force, not arithmetic.

anonymous

if you want to learn how to not succeed in the Social Revolution read Trotsky. An then do the opposite.

anonymous

if you want to learn how to not succeed in the Social Revolution read Trotsky. An then do the opposite.

Gregory A. Butler

Lev D. Bronstein ["Leon Trotsky"] was just as much of a mass murderer as any other communist leader.

The only difference between him and Iosif V. Djugashvilli ["Josef Stalin"] was that Stalin won the power struggle after the death of Vladimir I. Ulanov ["Nikolai Lenin" or "V. I. Lenin"] and Trotsky lost it.

Had Trotsky defeated Stalin, he would have had to go on pretty much the same murder spree that Stalin had to do to tame the Russian working class and the non Russian minorities so as to make the USSR a viable ally for the imperialist countries.

On the real side, I think it's about time that communists stop being apologists for long dead Russian murderers - it would give a lot more credibility to your movement if you did.

Gregory A. Butler

Lev D. Bronstein ["Leon Trotsky"] was just as much of a mass murderer as any other communist leader.

The only difference between him and Iosif V. Djugashvilli ["Josef Stalin"] was that Stalin won the power struggle after the death of Vladimir I. Ulanov ["Nikolai Lenin" or "V. I. Lenin"] and Trotsky lost it.

Had Trotsky defeated Stalin, he would have had to go on pretty much the same murder spree that Stalin had to do to tame the Russian working class and the non Russian minorities so as to make the USSR a viable ally for the imperialist countries.

On the real side, I think it's about time that communists stop being apologists for long dead Russian murderers - it would give a lot more credibility to your movement if you did.

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