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Palinurus: Engaging Political Philosophy

Peter Hallward: Badiou's Politics: Equality and Justice

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A struggle prevails when its principles are clear.


La Distance politique (1998: 12)

As Badiou conceives it, ‘politics can only think as the thought of all’ (AM: 56-7). Politics is organised first and foremost around the Real of a radical fraternity, before it is drawn to the Imaginary pursuit of equality or the Symbolic presumption of liberty. True politics begins with an exposure to ‘the real violence of fraternity’ and is sustained in the practical present of its ‘demonstration [manifestation]’ (LS: 83) [1]. Politics exists only in the medium of this active manifestation: fraternity is no more representable and no more a function of sociological knowledge or legal procedure than is a demonstration or an insurrection. 

Badiou’s conception of political truth has nothing to do, then, with bland speculations concerning civic responsibility or liberal ‘communication’. Badiou knows that only a ‘militant conception of politics ... can link politics and thought’ (AM: 22); in particular, only such a conception can avoid recourse to the false dichotomy of theory and practice. ‘There is certainly a "doing" ["faire"] of politics, but it is immediately the pure and simple experience of a thought, its localisation. It cannot be distinguished from it’ (AM: 56). The philosophical or meta-political problem is simply one of understanding how politics thinks, according to what mode of thought and through what categories – the categories of Virtue and Corruption for Saint-Just, for instance, or revolutionary consciousness for Lenin. True political thought is neither a matter of judicious deliberation (Arendt) nor of anguished choice (Sartre), and still less of expert social engineering (Rorty) or procedural notions of justice (Rawls). Badiou, like Lenin, like Fanon, like all great revolutionary thinkers, maintains a strictly classical form of political logic: either p or not p, with no possible compromise in between. Badiou conceives of politics precisely as a matter of what Rimbaud called ‘logical revolt’, a matter of clearly stated principle – the sort of principle incarnated by the great intellectual résistants, Jean Cavaillès and Albert Lautman (AM: 12) [2]. The political subject acts or resists as a matter of course, and not thanks to a reasoned affiliation with a particular group, class, or opinion. He resists, not as a result of communication or consensus, but all at once, to the exclusion of any ‘third way’ (AM: 15) [3].

The sole criterion of true political engagement is an unqualified equality (EE: 447; cf. DO: 15). It is a rudimentary principle of Badiou’s ontology, that all elements which belong to a situation belong (or are presented in, or exist, or count) in exactly the same way, with exactly the same weight. Politics is the process whereby this simple belonging is actively and effectively abstracted from all differentiating conditions or re-presentations. The criteria of equality establish a radical but fully abstract logic of the Same, whose precise tactical ‘advantage is its abstraction. Equality neither supposes closure nor qualifies the terms it embraces, nor prescribes a territory for its exercise.’ Equality is both ‘immediately prescriptive’ yet ‘free of any programme’ (C: 247-8). Like any criterion of truth in Badiou’s sense of the word this equality is necessarily a purely subjective quality [4]. In the absence of any one transcendent Truth and in the suspension of objective criteria, political subjects are simply equal ‘co-workers’ in truth, caught up in the ‘equality of a common sharing in work’ (SP: 63-4) [5].

True politics is exceptional, an exception to the contemporary cliché that ‘everything is political’ (LDP, 1991: 6). Politics proceeds as indifferent to ‘dialectic of the objective and the subjective…; the deployment of subjective thought should take place from within the subjective itself, through the hypothesis of the foundation of the subjective in the subjective and not in the confrontation of the subjective to the objective’, let alone in ‘reference to the economy, the state, alienation, etc.’ (LDP, 1991: 7). The kind of subject-object co-ordination proposed by Habermas’ increasingly state-centred conception of politics, for instance, serves only to block the necessary violence of political presentation within the legal norms of re-presentation (cf. Habermas, 1996; LS: 140 n.  37). As far as Badiou is concerned, socio-economic ‘analysis and politics are absolutely disconnected’ [6]: the former is a matter for ‘expertise’ and implies hierarchy, the latter is not. A generic or axiomatic politics asserts affirms the ‘political capacity of all people’, the principle that ‘everyone can occupy the space of politics, if they decide to do so’ (LDP, 1998: 3). Whereas the sort of sociology practised by Badiou’s contemporaries Balibar and Bourdieu can only ‘discuss’ political issues, true political sequences transform the ‘objects’ of such discussion into militant subjects on their own right [7].

That everyone can join in a political process means that the dichotomy (or division into two) of political antagonism is not to be thought in terms of a purely destructive competition. A political process does not pit two well-defined antagonists against each other in a life and death struggle for supremacy. There is, strictly speaking, only one political actor, namely the we that comes out or demonstrates in the real of fraternity (i.e. in the element of pure presentation as such). What resists the organised political we is not an alternative political subject so much as the brute inertia of re-presentation, which is nothing other than the inertia of the status quo itself. Politics thus proceeds through the invention of new subtractive mechanisms of formalisation that can confront and transform this formless resistance to change (LS: 89).

A true political sequence can only begin when business as usual breaks down for one reason or another. This is because what ensures submission to the status quo is ‘submission to the indetermination of power, and not to power itself’ (TA, 8.04.98). Under normal circumstances, we know only that the excess of the static re-presentation over elementary presentation is wildly immeasurable (corresponding, in the terms of Badiou’s ontology, to the infinite excess of 2N over N). Today’s prevailing economic regime indeed dominates its inhabitants absolutely, precisely because we can hardly imagine how we might limit or measure this regime. The first achievement of a true political intervention is thus the effective, ‘distanced’ measurement of this excess. Intervention forces the state to show its hand, to use its full powers of coercion so as to try to restore things to their proper place. Every political sequence worthy of the name proceeds in keeping with the combative principle maintained, in Badiou’s native France, by the leaders of the chômeurs [unemployed] movement of 1997-1998: ‘we act according to what is right, not what is legal’ [8]. Political truth always begins in ‘trial and trouble’, in social ‘rupture and disorder’ (AM: 114). This is a price that those who seek after justice must be prepared to pay:

We have too often wanted justice to establish the consistency of social bonds, whereas it can only name the most extreme moments of inconsistency. For the effect of the egalitarian axiom is to undo the bonds, to desocialise thought, to affirm the rights of the infinite and the immortal against the calculation of interests. Justice is a wager on the immortal over finitude, against ‘being-for-death’. For in the subjective dimension of the equality we declare, nothing now is of any interest other than the universality of this declaration, and the active consequences which follow from it (AM: 118).


The instances or ‘modes’ of so exalted an understanding of politics are rare by definition. Badiou’s friend Sylvain Lazarus has devoted much of his energy to their formulation and classification [9]. Four stand out. First the revolutionary or Jacobin mode, operative from 1792-94 and conceived in particular by Saint-Just. The Jacobins understand the revolution in purely political terms, and not as a historical category or moment of transition. The revolution is an instance of collective decision and struggle that pits Virtue against Corruption. Second, the Marxist or classist mode, mainly operative from 1848-1871. The subjective orientation of class struggle here serves to guide a ‘naive’ international revolutionary movement; the defeat of the Commune demonstrates its failure and the need for more disciplined means. The third, Bolshevik, mode (1902-1917) is organised as a response to this need, as a campaign against opportunism, spontaneity, reformism and trade-unionism. It insists upon the integrity of the party and its prescriptions. Lenin recognises that the mere existence of a popular movement is no guarantee of victory. Radical political change must be channelled through ‘militant figures of consciousness, or more precisely, through thought, and not through the movement of History nor the representation of social groups’ (LDP, 1992: 9). The fourth mode is Maoist (dated either from the struggle to liberate China in the 1920’s, or from the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s): its characteristic feature is popular mobilisation on a scale never attempted by Lenin, the direct empowerment of the people in an ongoing, permanent revolution (AM: 49-51). Each mode presents a certain version of political truth, as constrained by the circumstances of the time. They are all subjective, all egalitarian, but they do not add up to a single narrative. They do not culminate in One apocalyptic Truth. They represent so many efforts to do what can be done in the situation at hand. What they have long had in common is a revolutionary commitment to the dissolution of the state. 


Today, however, now that the ‘age of revolutions is over’, Badiou admits that ‘I have been obliged to change my position as regards the state. The guiding principle can no longer be, in a unilateral way, "de-statification". It is a matter more of prescribing the state, often in a logic of reinforcement. The problem is to know from where politics prescribes the state’ (Badiou, letters to the author, 17.06.96; 13.10.97; cf. ‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 114-115; TA, 26.11.97). Recent political sequences – the Palestinian Intifada, the uprisings in East Timor and Chiapas, the student mobilisation in Burma in 1988 – have proceeded in large part as attempts to answer this question, in terms most appropriate to the particular constraints of the situation. Among the most consequential ongoing efforts is the massive Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil: rather than persist in the futile pursuit of land reform through established re-presentative channels, the MST has organised the direct occupation of farmland by the landless poor themselves, allowing some 250,000 families to win titles to over 15 million acres since 1985. What the MST has understood with particular clarity is that legal recognition can only be won as the result of a subjective mobilisation which is itself indifferent to the logic of recognition and re-presentation as such. The remarkable gains of the MST have been won at what Badiou would call a ‘political distance’ from the state, and depend upon its own ability to maintain a successful organising structure, develop viable forms of non-exploitative economic cooperation, and resist violent intimidation from landowners and the state police [10].


Badiou’s own Organisation Politique (OP) was conceived as part of an answer to much the same question: from which precise points is it possible, in today’s ‘democracies’, to force change upon the state of our situation? [11]. How is it possible to organise an effective political force without reliance upon the institutional re-presentation of a party (liable to corruption) on the one hand or the pseudo-spontaneity of a mass-movement (liable to fatigue) on the other. Though it remains something of an organisational experiment, the OP is testimony to what even a handful of committed militants are able to achieve. The OP intervenes only on particular questions, raised by specific confrontations or events, always guided by the strict, axiomatic assertion of subjective equality: political equality for everyone living in the national community, residence papers for the sans-papiers, political empowerment of all workers as workers, equal universal access to health and education, and so on. Badiou insists that these interventions don’t add up to form a general programme or party line. ‘God protect us from "socio-political programmes"! The essence of modern politics is to be non-programmatic. Politics, as we conceive it in the OP, promises nothing. It is both without party and without programme. It is a prescriptive form of thought, discerning possibilities entirely inaccessible to parliamentarism, and one that works entirely independently for their realisation’ (‘Réponses écrites’, 1992: 70). If politics has taken up a position distant from rather than simply antithetical to the state, it remains committed to a homogeneously subjective orientation [12].

I. Axiomatic politics


The OP is conditioned by four distinctive principles: the first two are essentially formal, concerning the nature of politics as prescription and as justice; the other two are more emphatically concrete, concerning the subjective status of workers and immigrants under conditions that have become increasingly hostile since the late 1970’s.


(a) The status of universal political principles, like the status of all forms of truth, is necessarily axiomatic (or non-definitional). Because equality is subjective, so therefore justice – the political principle par excellence - can only be prescriptive. Justice cannot be defined, it is a pure ‘affirmation without guarantee or proof’. Rather than ideal state that any given situation can only approximate, ‘justice indicates a subjective figure that is effective, axiomatic, immediate ...; [it] necessarily refers back to an entirely disinterested subjectivity.’ We are either subjectively disinterested, or objectively interested, with nothing in between; we either think (in justice), or avoid thought (in interest) (AM: 112-13). That politics is thus axiomatic or ‘thought’ means that it is not a representation or a reflection of something else (the economy, the state, society...) (LDP, 1992: 4). When the enslaved call for freedom, for instance, or the colonised for liberation, or women for equality, the declaration of freedom and equality is itself primary or unconditioned, and not a matter of investigation or confirmation. Equality is not something to be researched or verified but a principle to be upheld. The only genuinely political question is: what can be done, in the name of this principle, in our militant fidelity to its proclamation? This question can only be answered through a direct mobilisation or empowerment that has nothing to do with the condescendingly ‘compassionate’ valorisation of certain people as marginal, excluded or misérables (LDP, 1996: 9; 1996: 13).


The prescriptions of the OP are invariably simple, minimally ‘theoretical’ principles – for example: that every individual counts as one individual, that all students must be treated in the same way (LDP, 1997: 4), that ‘everyone who is here is from here’, that factories are places of work before they are places of profit, and so on. A political situation exists only under the prescription of such transparent statements whose universality is as clear as it is distinct (LDP, 1993: 8; see LDP issue 13). Pressure, resistance or outrage, even mobilised or organised outrage, is not enough. The OP is adamant that only political organisations, not movements, can sustain prescriptions (which may then be presented or carried by movements) (LDP, 1996: 3-4). In this respect, the OP remains true to its Leninist roots: the formulation of a true consciousness is a quite separate operation from the spontaneous development of a movement itself (LDP, 1992: 9; cf. LDP, 1996: 4).


(b) All genuine politics seeks to change the situation as a whole, in the interest of the universal interest. But this change is always sparked by a particular event, one located in a particular site and carried by a particular interest (the sans culottes, the soviets, the workers, the sans-papiers...). 1792 in France, 1917 in Russia, 1959 in Cuba, 1988 in Burma: each time, the event opposes those with a vested interest in the established state of the situation to those who support a revolutionary movement or perspective from which the situation is seen as for all. Other, more narrow principles and demands, however worthy their beneficiaries might be, are merely a matter of ‘syndicalism’ or trade union style negotiation, i.e. negotiation for an improved, more integrated place within the established situation. Clearly, what goes under the label of ‘politics’ in the ordinary day to day sense amounts only to ‘revindication and resentment ..., electoral nihilism and the blind confrontation of communities’ (AM: 110). 


The very notion of identity-politics is thus an explicit contradiction in terms. The OP regularly condemns the articulation of a ‘"French" identity which authorises discrimination or persecution’ of any kind; the only legitimate national unit is one which counts all of its elements as one, regardless of ethno-cultural particularity (‘Le pays comme principe’, 1992: 135). The left-liberal insistence on the vacuous ‘right to remain "the same as ourselves" has no chance against the abstract universality’ of contemporary capital, and does nothing more than ‘organise an inclusion in what it pretends to oppose’ (Badiou, letter to the author, 11.06.96). Of course, it has often been argued that if we are oppressed as Arab, as women, as black, as homosexual, and so on, then this oppression will not end until these particular categories have been revalued [13]. Badiou’s response to this line of attack is worth quoting at length:


When I hear people say ‘we are oppressed as blacks, as women’, I have only one problem: what exactly is meant by ‘black’ or ‘women’? ... Can this identity, in itself, function in a progressive fashion, that is, other than as a property invented by the oppressors themselves? ... I understand very well what ‘black’ means for those who use that predicate in a logic of differenciation, oppression, and separation, just as I understand very well what ‘French’ means when Le Pen uses the word, when he champions national preference, France for the French, exclusion of Arabs, etc. ... Negritude, for example, as incarnated by Césaire and Senghor, consisted essentially of reworking exactly those traditional predicates once used to designate black people: as intuitive, as natural, as primitive, as living by rhythm rather than by concepts, etc. ... I understand why this kind of movement took place, why it was necessary. It was a very strong, very beautiful, and very necessary movement. But having said that, it is not something that can be inscribed as such in politics. I think it is a matter of poetics, of culture, of turning the subjective situation upside down. It doesn’t provide a possible framework for political initiative.

The progressive formulation of a cause which engages cultural or communal predicates, linked to incontestable situations of oppression and humiliation, presumes that we propose these predicates, these particularities, these singularities, these communal qualities, in such a way that they be situated in another space and become heterogeneous to their ordinary oppressive operation. I never know in advance what quality, what particularity, is capable of becoming political or not; I have no preconceptions on that score. What I do know is that there must be a progressive meaning to these particularities, a meaning that is intelligible to all. Otherwise, we have something which has its raison d’être, but which is necessarily of the order of a demand for integration, that is, of a demand that one’s particularity be valued in the existing state of things.... 

That there is a remnant or a support of irreducible particularity, is something I would acknowledge for any kind of reality…. But in the end, between this particularity present in the practical, concrete support of any political process, and the statements in the name of which the political process unfolds, I think there is only a relation of support, but not a relation of transitivity. You can’t go from the one to the other, even if one seems to be ‘carried’ by the other… . It is not because a term is a communal predicate, nor even because there is a victim in a particular situation, that it is automatically, or even easily, transformed into a political category (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998:118-19) [14].

In a situation like that of the former Yugoslavia, for instance, Badiou maintains that a lasting peace will come not through external intervention and still less through a carving up of territory according to ethnic states, but instead through a concerted, popular movement against all ethnic, linguistic, and religious essentialisms, in a common state that counts all people as one (LDP, 1993: 8). Likewise, there can be peace in the Middle East only with the end of an Israel specified as a Jewish state, and the establishment, in keeping with the original demands of the PLO, of a single, ecumenical Palestine, open to all without discrimination (LDP, 1992: 6, ‘Le pays comme principe’, 1992:135). In short, an egalitarian state can only exist when its universality is prescribed by those who make up the ‘country [pays]’ itself. And any such country, Badiou goes on to argue, can only exist when its workers exist, as empowered political subjects confronting and prescribing the objective inertia of capital. ‘Without its workers, there can be no country’ (LDP, 1992: 7). At this point, the abstract principle of equality becomes insistently concrete.


(c) Perhaps the most contested of all contemporary political prescriptions thus concerns the simple existence of what Badiou and the OP call a ‘figure of the worker [figure ouvrière]’.


By ‘figure of the worker’ we mean a political subjectivity constituted in the factory, in an ability to make declarations about the factory and the worker that are different from those of management, the unions, ... and the state. This intrication between the figure of the worker and the capacity to make declarations concerning the factories and the workers is essential. It alone puts an end to the classist figure which founded trade unionism, and alone allows ‘worker’ to be something other than an expressive, circulating figure (LDP, 1998: 8). 


A figure ouvrière is worker become subject; the phrase, awkward to translate in English, connotes the militant empowerment of the workers. It is not a matter of asking employers for respectful appreciation, or for a more or less condescending acknowledgement of their importance in the productive process. It is a matter of truth and power, the power to keep managerial supervisors at a distance (LDP, 1998: 15). To acknowledge the statement that ‘at the factory there are workers’ means that ‘at the factory the worker exists as subjectivity, as political capacity’, that the factory is not simply a place of production; conversely, ‘to destroy the figure of the worker is to destroy people, to reduce workers, subjectively, to nothing’ (LDP, 1998: 8-9). 


By ‘workers’ Badiou means something almost as broad as ‘people’, insofar as they cannot be reduced to units of capital. In the subjective absence of the worker, there persists only the values of capital (production, competition, consumption). Clearly, work here includes intellectual as much as physical work. If physical work, above all factory work, nevertheless remains pre-eminent in Badiou’s account, it is because it is obviously the least counted, the most vulnerable to exclusion from the criteria of our prevailing social count. Because the factory (and its analogs) is thus on the edge of the void or in the least protected part of our political-economic situation, so ‘all contemporary politics has the factory as its place’ (AM: 59). By not counting its workers, a factory becomes nothing more than a place of industrial production regulated by managerial decisions. By not counting its workers, a country is nothing more than a balance sheet writ large, a set of capital flows and statistics, a purely objectified (i.e. thought-less) realm. In this sense, ‘the word "workers" is a condition of the freedom of thought. Look at how political thought has become inert, unified, in short totalitarian, since the term disappeared’ (LDP, 1991: 3) [15].


The void left by its disappearance, of course, has been filled by the obscure category of ‘immigrants’. Badiou has little trouble showing that ‘the hatred of immigrants was established massively, consensually, at the level of the state, from the moment when we began, in our representations of the world, to omit the workers, the figure of the workers’ (LDP, 1991: 3). It is obvious that ‘the immense majority of immigrants are workers or people looking for work’ (LDP, 1991: 3) – hence the absurdity of current distinctions between ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘economic migrants’. It is no less obvious that the invention, as pseudo-political labels, of the terms ‘immigrant’, ‘foreigner’ ‘étranger’, ‘clandestin’, and so on, coincides with the swing in global political economy over the 1980’s against organised labour and popular movements generally [16]. In France, Badiou points out, this movement can be dated quite precisely. One of Mittérand’s first prime ministers, Pierre Mauroy, justified the repression of a strike at Renault-Flins in 1983 on the basis that the striking workers were ‘foreign to the social reality of France’ (LDP, 1992: 12). The violent repression of another strike at Talbot later in the same year confirmed the trend (LDP, 1998: 18). Two years later, the socialist Laurent Fabius confessed that it is ‘Le Pen [who] is posing the real questions’ (LDP, 1996: 2), an admission effectively confirmed by Michel Rocard (‘France cannot open its doors to the misery of the world’) and Mittérand himself (‘we must struggle firmly against illegal immigration’) (LDP, 1993: 6). The resulting consensus is indeed consistent, as the OP is at pains to stress, with the general approach of the Front National. On the issues of economic liberalism, immigration, crime, drugs, the banlieues, the FN is ‘internal to the consensus’ established over two decades of Mittérandisme (LDP, 1997: 3) [17]. Hence the conclusion: ‘strengthen the workers, and thus limit Lepenism’ (LDP,1991: 3). Without a strong figure of the worker there can be no effective response to the so-called ‘immigrant question’.


(d) The fourth and most currently pressing axiom, connecting the universality of the state with the subjective presence of the workers, thus concerns the status of the sans-papiers. That ‘everyone who is here is from here [tous les gens qui sont ici sont d’ici]’ is no doubt the most frequently printed slogan of La Distance politique. Nothing could be simpler, yet nothing is more contentious in today’s political situation. The state campaign against immigrants is already two decades old (in 1977, the end to family re-unification; in 1982, a freeze on work permits and immigrant visas). Its contemporary strategy, however, dates from the notorious Pasqua laws of 1993, which established a ‘special status’ for ‘clandestine’ foreigners living in France. Among other things they oblige a mayor to refuse to marry an undocumented couple; they authorise Social Security to refuse health care and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants; they allow the police to expel foreign parents of French children if they commit drug related offences. All in all, it amounts to what the OP calls a general ‘law of persecution’ (LDP, 1994: 2), the first step in the official ‘Lepenisation of the state’ (LDP, 1993: 5-6). The Pasqua laws were quickly confirmed, in the face of vocal protest and a massive petition campaign, by the Debré laws (LDP, 1996: 1-4) [18] and their essential purpose has survived Jospin’s recent (1997-98) reformulations, known as the Weil-Chevènement laws [19]. All of these laws are peculiar in that they concern only particular sectors of the population. Their very purpose is to divide the political community into re-presented parts rather than apply the same formal criteria to all its members. Confronted with this legislative onslaught, the OP’s prescriptions are unequivocal: they call for the immediate restoration of the droit du sol (i.e. automatic citizenship for all children born in France), the legalisation of all sans papiers, an end to the expulsions and detention centres, and explicit protection for workers and their families (LDP, 1997: 3, 7). In short, the OP calls for an end to the entire ‘immigrant’ lexicon, and with it an end to the emphasis put on integration via a particular set of privileged cultural norms (LDP, 1997: 6) [20].


Concretely, this has meant lending significant organisational assistance to a growing mobilisation of the sans papiers since the summer of 1996, when hundreds of African immigrants occupied the Saint Bernard church for several months, thereby refuting their official characterisation as ‘clandestine’ in the most convincing terms. After being expelled from the church by force in August 1996, and again evicted from the town hall of the 18th arrondissement in Paris in June 1997, the Saint Bernard campaign has organised, with the help of the OP, a series of major Paris rallies (15 and 22 November 1997, 6 December 1997, and February 7 1998...). Throughout this campaign, the emphasis has been on the militant subjective presence of the sans-papiers themselves – that they are not somehow alien or invisible, but simply here as ordinary workers under extraordinary pressure. ‘Saint Bernard is proof of a strong principle of auto-constitution, in the sense that people decided one day to come out from their homes and to constitute themselves collectively in their demand for residence papers’ (LDP, 1997: 7).


II. Practical politics


As the Saint Bernard campaign suggests, the work of the OP is anything but abstract or academic, and if there is no space here for anything like a proper history of the organisation, it is important, in any study of Badiou’s philosophy, to give some idea of the day to day activism of this the most pressing of its conditions. Here I can at least mention their two most intensive campaigns of recent years: the campaign for workers’ compensation during the closure of the Renault factory at Billancourt in 1992, and the campaign against the demolition of the foyers ouvriers [workers’ hostels] in the Paris suburb of Montreuil (1996 through 1998). If these issues seem far removed from the lofty plane of philosophical speculation, we must remember that for Badiou – the sole contemporary philosopher of truth – truth has nothing at all to do with speculation. If truth exists, it is en acte, in the detail of an ongoing commitment or campaign. Philosophy as such always comes after the act.


(a) Billancourt


The history of the OP has always been tied up with factory politics. In part, this reflects their continuation of the tradition established by May ‘68 – the tradition of discussion and mobilisation outside factory doors that for many soixante-huitards received a fatal blow with the murder of Pierre Overney in front of the Renault factory at Billancourt in 1972. Among groups claiming a fidelity to May 68, the OP is unique in its persistence. The OP divides factory politics into three sectors or modes (LDP, 1994: 7-10). (i) The state or managerial mode, oriented to the pressures of economic competition, encourages, with the occasional support of the conservative trade union the CFDT, the familiar package of lay-offs, down-sizing, early-retirement, and other forms of ‘flexibility’ that strip the workers of any security or autonomy. The result: a working factory ‘without workers’ (LDP, 1993: 10). (ii) The old communist or classist mode, preserved by what is left of the more militant unions, is of course hostile to the layoffs and retirement plans, but is unable to do anything about it. La Distance politique is consistent in its denunciation of the CGT’s ‘impotence and passive complicity’, their ‘discours misérabiliste de victimes’. (iii) On something closer to the old anarchist model, reminiscent of Catalonia’s POUM, the OP itself supports the direct mobilisation of the workers in their own name, organised into small, close-knit groups or Noyaux


When Renault decided to close their massive plant at Billancourt in March 1992, it was heralded in the press as the end of an era, the surrender of the workers’ ‘fortress’, a break with the legacy of industrial confrontation rooted in 1968. After some initial negotiations, the Renault management agreed to a paltry FF80,000 (c. £8,000) compensation package for the workers left jobless, many of whom had worked at the plant for twenty or thirty years. What was peculiar about this arrangement was that the workers would only receive this money if they signed an agreement to early retirement. The actual, confrontational situation – mass firings and layoffs – was to be turned into a situation of apparently voluntary redundancy, in which the workers were literally to write themselves out of existence. The money was paid not to acknowledge decades of toil on the assembly line, but as a reward for accepting managerial priorities. As far as the OP was concerned, what was at issue were two incompatible conceptions of the factory, two incompatible prescriptions: 


There is here a merciless conflict between two notions of politics. The pressure put on the workers to sign this paper in which they declare themselves to be ‘leaving’, when they are actually being kicked out, has no economic significance. It aims to destroy the subjective rapport of the workers to themselves, as workers, and to count for nothing the years spent on the assembly line ('Réponses écrites’, 1992: 70; cf. LDP, 1991: 13-16).


When 130 workers were fired in March 1991 after refusing to sign the retirement agreement, tensions became acute and conflict persisted for more than a year. The OP held rallies at the Place Nationale in Billancourt every Wednesday afternoon over the first six months of 1992, both before and after the closure in March. While ‘the unions did all they could so that everything ended quietly at Billancourt’, the OP published militant bulletins and tracts and had them distributed through the Noyaux in the factory (LDP, 1997: 14; cf. LDP, 1992: 10). The Noyaux encouraged random work stoppages, constant confrontations with the supervisors, and maintained consistent pressure on the Régie. In the end only a minority of workers signed the retirement plan, and most received their 80,000 one way or another.


(b) Montreuil


La Distance politique first began reporting on the campaign to block demolition of the foyers ouvriers (worker’s residences) in Montreuil in July 1995 (issue 14). Montreuil is a mainly working class suburb of Paris. Many of its current residents came from Mali, often two or three decades ago. The foyers provide collective, inexpensive housing, mostly to single men who sleep as many as six to a small room. They are organised on a semi-communal basis, preserve some of their old village-related customs, and generally help their members to survive on their ever more inadequate wages. In March 1995 the left-wing, integrationist mayor of Montreuil, Jean Pierre Brard, with the support of the prefect of Bobigny, began the destruction of the Nouvelle France foyer, and completed its demolition by force in July 1996 – before finding suitable substitute housing for its occupants. The CRS simply threw the 336 foyer inhabitants into the street. African families were simultaneously blocked from renting a home previously occupied by a ‘French’ family through a policy of residential apartheid aimed at a systematic expulsion of the ‘nomads’ (LDP, 1995: 13-14). Offered only dubious proposals of relocation scattered across the general Parisian area, the former residents of the Nouvelle France began a campaign, with the OP, to have their foyer rebuilt in Montreuil. The campaign has been running since March 95 (LDP, 1996: 16-17; LDP, 1997: 10-13) [21].


Like the Saint Bernard movement with which it is now connected, the mobilisation of Montreuil is proof of what the OP discerns as a new political mode after the major public sector and student strikes of December 1995. These widely supported ‘popular strikes’ made explicit, for the first time in recent memory, a link between an actively democratic prescription upon the state, and a popular mobilisation in the workplace (LDP, 1998: 13) [22]. Today, in the aftermath of December 95, the OP looks to the Saint Bernard movement, the foyers campaign, and the recent mouvement des chômeurs as so many examples of (still partial and fragmentary) political subjectification. In each case, ‘people are gathering together, demonstrating that they have their own political capacity, which the state must take into account’ (LDP, 1998: 19). 


III. Political implications


Where does all this leave Badiou on the broader, more theoretical questions of the economy, the state, and the status of a contemporary Marxism? 


(a) Politics against economics 


Badiou and the OP have long maintained that ‘the only kind of economy is capitalist’, which is to say that ‘there is no socialist economy’ as such (LDP, 1992: 2). What is known in France as la pensée unique adopts this economy as its sole principle, a principle of apparent ‘necessity’ driven by global competition and European monetary union (LDP, 1996: 5). The OP seeks to articulate a viable refutation of this ‘politique unique whose present form is the declaration that the economy decides everything.’ True politics can only begin at a distance from the economy, and policies supposedly justified by economic necessity are for the OP simply synonymous with reactionary politics.


On the other hand, there can be no political retreat from the challenge posed by an ever more global, ever more triumphant capitalist economy:


Emancipatory politics must be at least equal to the challenge of capital. That is Marx’s idea. When Marx says that capital destroys all the old ties, all the ancient sacred figures, that it dissolves everything in the frozen waters of selfish calculation, he says it with a certain admiration [quoting Marx and Engels, 1967: 82]. Marx had already distinguished himself from those who dreamed nostalgically of a resistance to capital rooted in the ancient customs and territories. He called this reactive phenomenon ‘feudal socialism’. Marx was radically critical of this idea, and it’s because he accepted that there were formal similarities between the ambitions of emancipatory politics and the workings of capital. Because we can never go back on universalism. There is no earlier territoriality calling for protection or recovery (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 120-1).


Progressive politics as Badiou understands it must both operate at a level of universality that can rival that of capital itself and ensure that this rivalry unfold on a plane other than that dominated by capital. ‘I think what is Marxist, and also Leninist, and in any case true, is the idea that any viable campaign against capitalism can only be political. There can be no economical battle against the economy’ (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 117) [23]. Should politics try to confront capitalism on its own economic terrain, the eventual result will be capitalist every time. Any political subject must constitute itself, out of itself, in the inviolable sufficiency of a distance politique


(b) Politics and the State


We know that Badiou’s early and unequivocally hostile attitude to the state has considerably evolved. Just how far it has evolved remains a little unclear. His conception of politics remains resolutely anti-consensual, anti-‘re-presentative’, and thus anti-democratic (in the ordinary sense of the word). ‘A philosophy today is above all something that enables people to have done with the "democratic" submission to the world as it is’ (‘Entretien avec Alain Badiou’, 1999: 2). But he seems more willing, now, to engage with this submission on its own terms. La Distance politique again offers the most precise points de repère. On the one hand, the OP remains suspicious of any political campaign – for instance, electoral contests or petition movements – that operates as a ‘prisoner of the parliamentary space’ (LDP, 1996: 2). It remains ‘an absolute necessity [of politics] not to have the state as norm. The separation of politics and state is foundational of politics.’ On the other hand, however, it is now equally clear that ‘their separation need not lead to the banishment of the state from the field of political thought’ (LDP, 1993: 1) [24]. The OP now conceives itself in a tense, non-dialectical ‘vis-à-vis’ with the state, a stance that rejects an intimate cooperation (in the interests of capital) as much as it refuses ‘any antagonistic conception of their operation, any conception that smacks of classism.’ There is to no more choice to be made between the state or revolution; the ‘vis-à-vis demands the presence of the two terms and not the annihilation of one of the two’ (LDP, 1995: 3-4). Indeed, at the height of the December ‘95 strikes, the OP recognised that the only contemporary movement of ‘désétatisation’ with any real power was the corporate-driven movement of partial de-statification in the interests of commercial flexibility and financial mobility. Unsurprisingly, ‘we are against this withdrawal of the state to the profit of capital, through general, systematic and brutal privatisation. The state is what can sometimes take account of people and their situations in other registers and by other modalities than those of profit. The state assures from this point of view the public space and the general interest. And capital does not incarnate the general interest’ (LDP, 1996: 11). Coming from the author of Théorie de la contradiction, these are remarkable words.


The next question is whether the very possibility of such prescription according to the general interest does not itself presuppose that same liberal-parliamentary realm upon whose systematic vilification its own critical distance depends. What kind of state can respond ‘responsibly’ to political prescriptions, if not one closely responsible to electoral pressure? Badiou maintains that the old socialist states, as states, were ‘more sensitive’ to workers’ strikes than are today’s parliamentary states – the great example being the Solidarity campaign in Poland (Letter to the author, 9.12.98) [25]. But when the OP ventures into the vexing domain of constitutional reform, it is to propose very explicitly parliamentary procedures: an end to a separately elected president (and so an end to the possibility of cohabitation); a purely cosmetic head of state; only one major forum for elections (a legislative chamber of deputies); assurance that the head of government is always the head of the dominant party; and finally, a guarantee ‘that there is always a dominant party’, thanks to some kind of first-past-the-post electoral system. The whole package is to be softened with calls for more open government and the rule of law (‘Proposition de réforme de la Constitution’, LDP, 1995: 5-6). The once Maoist Organisation Politique now recommends something almost exactly like the British Constitution!


At this point, the reader has to wonder if the OP’s policy of strict non-participation in the state really stands up. The OP declares with some pride that ‘we never vote’, just as ‘in the factories, we keep our distance from trade unionism’ (LDP, 1995: 1) [26]. The OP consistently maintains that its politics of prescription requires a politics of ‘non-vote’. But why, now, this either/or? Once the state has been acknowledged as a possible figure of the general interest, then surely it matters who governs that figure. Regarding the central public issues of health and education, the OP maintains, like most mainstream socialists, that the ‘positive tasks on behalf of all are incumbent upon the state’ (LDP, 1994: 1) [27]. That participation in the state should not replace a prescriptive externality to the state is obvious enough, but the stern either/or so often proclaimed in the pages of La Distance politique reads today like a displaced trace of the days when the choice of ‘state or revolution’ still figured as a genuine alternative.


(c) Marxist or post-Marxist? 


If Badiou both rejects any direct articulation of politics with economics and tolerates a certain degree of reliance on the state, in what sense does his project still merit the Marxist label? Badiou recognises no single subject of History, no global historical movement, no priority of the mode of production – not even the ultimate political primacy of class struggle per se. Judged by the relatively orthodox criteria of an Aijaz Ahmad, for instance, there is little doubt that Badiou’s work must figure as part of the ‘eclectic’, anti-systemic trend characteristic of much Western social and cultural theory since the early 1970’s (Ahmad, 1992: 5, 70-71). The dominant feature of Ahmad’s Marxism is precisely its perception of a systematic coherence governing historical change, and its consequent presumption of the ‘universal’ as an effect of ‘the global operation of a single mode of production’ (Ahmad, 1992: 103; cf. Jameson, 1991: 380; Lazarus, 1999: 16-19). Badiou, by contrast, is certainly ‘not a historicist, in that I don’t think events are linked in a global system. That would deny their essentially random character, which I absolutely maintain’ (‘Being by Numbers’, 1994: 118).


The OP has itself adopted at various times the adjectives ‘post-Leninist’ (LDP, 1992: 9; cf. EE: 443) and ‘post-classist’ (LDP, 1996: 2). It certainly accepts that the strict Marxist-Leninism of the Khmers Rouges and the Shining Path is ‘historically dead’ (LDP, 1992: 5; cf. PP: 52; EE: 368), just as it renounces as ‘classist’ a historical materialism that presumes some kind of dialectical relation between political subjectivity and the objectivity of class relations. Equally classist and ‘trade-unionist’ is the ‘obsolete’ idea that the state is the creation, effect, and tool of the ruling class. Badiou ‘think[s], to put it quite abruptly, that Marxism doesn’t exist’ (AM: 67). Badiou’s ramified conception of praxis certainly subtracts it from every ‘vulgar’ Marxist instance of the one -- the one of the party and its theoretical authority as much as the one of the historical or social totality (cf. Feltham, 2000: 7, 150). But he firmly refuses the term ‘post-Marxist’ (in Laclau’s sense) as a description of his work (Conversation with the author, 12.03.98). The OP’s practice and priorities are proof of how far Badiou is from joining Laclau, along with André Gorz and Alain Touraine, as they bid ‘farewell to the working class’. 


In camouflaged form, the abandon promoted by Gorz and others in fact shows that they have been won over, politically, to the established order. It leaves the properly political sphere untouched. It represents a kind of idealisation of a self-regulating social movement of capital itself. It is a vision of the affluent. The rich societies’ dream of a maximum possible comfort. And so we are to busy ourselves with the environment, with development, with the reduction of the working week, with recreation, with training for all (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 121).


Against this post-political vision, Badiou stresses the continuing relevance and accuracy of Marx’s general diagnosis of the capitalist economy: 


I think that global trends have essentially confirmed some of Marx’s fundamental intuitions. There is no going back on this; there is no need for a revision of Marxism itself. It is a matter of going beyond the idea that politics represents objective groups that can be designated as classes. This idea has had its power and importance. But in our opinion, we cannot today begin from or set out from this idea. We can begin from political processes, from political oppositions, from conflicts and contradictions, obviously. But it is no longer possible to code these phenomena in terms of representations of classes. In other words, there may exist emancipatory politics or reactionary politics, but these cannot be rendered immediately transitive to a scientific, objective study of how class functions in society ... . The realisation of the world as global market, the undivided reign of great financial conglomerates, etc., all this is an indisputable reality and one that conforms, essentially, to Marx’s analysis. The question is, where does politics fit in with all this? (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 117)


It is not yet clear that the Organisation Politique provides a fully convincing answer to this question. Nor is it clear in what sense their answer to this question can still be called ‘Marxist’, if politics is not articulated in some kind of relation with changes in the mode of production and attendant class antagonisms. In what sense can a politics that defines itself as a prescription upon the state afford to remain indifferent to global economic trends whose direct effect is to undercut and limit the functions of a prescribable state? Can Badiou affirm both the fully ‘random’ distribution of events and the structural regularity of ‘global trends’ – without, at least, relating the one to the other?


Badiou’s politics have always been about ‘collective emancipation, or the problem of the reign of liberty in infinite situations’ (DO: 54; cf. TC: 60). Badiou’s political goals have remained consistent over the years, since


every historical event is communist, to the degree that ‘communist’ designates the trans-temporal subjectivity of emancipation, the egalitarian passion, the Idea of justice, the will to break with the compromises of the service des biens, the deposition of egoism, an intolerance of oppression, the wish to impose a withering away of the state. The absolute pre-eminence of multiple-presentation over representation (DO: 12-14; cf. DI: 55-6, 61, 67).


What has changed is communism’s mode of existence. In Badiou’s earlier work, the practical (if ultimately unattainable) goal was always to effect the actual, historical achievement of state-less community. Today, in order to preserve politics’ ‘intrinsic relation to truth’ (DO: 48), Badiou has had to let go of almost any sort of political engagement with the economic and the social. Badiou continues to declare a wholly egalitarian politics, but as reserved for a strictly subjective plane. The unqualified justice of a generic communism, first proposed in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts and conceived in Badiou’s own terms as the advent of ‘pure presentation’, as the ‘undivided authority of the infinite, or the advent of the collective as such’ (AM: 91), remains the only valid subjective norm for Badiou’s political thought. This subjective norm has become ever more distant, however, from the day-to-day business of ‘objective’ politics: the programmatic pursuit of the generic ideal is itself dismissed now as a ‘Romantic’ dream leading to ‘fraternity-terror’ (AM: 101). It’s as if Badiou’s recent work positively embraces a version of what Hegel dubbed the unhappy consciousness – the stoical affirmation of a worthy ideal or subjective principle, but as divorced from any substantial relation to the material organisation of the situation. It seems the Maoists’ mistake was not their emphasis on the generic, nor even their understanding of what was required to make it an historical reality, but simply their determination to apply this understanding to the world (cf. E: 75).


A certain self-restraint is thus the condition politics must fulfil if it is to respect its own ‘unnameable’ limit. Since ‘true politics is the collective brought to its immanent truth’, the ‘collective as commensurable with thought’ (‘Philosophie et poésie’, 1993: 88), so politics must never try to define or institutionalise what this collectivity might be. The ‘community, the collective, are the unnameables of politics: every effort to name ‘politically’ a community induces a disastrous Evil’, on the model of Nazism or the National Front (E: 77). A political or generic community is a community that exists for as long as it is able to resist naming itself, making itself into an identity. Every  subject persists insofar as it resists its conversion into an object.  




1. As Badiou argues in dialogue with Brecht’s didactic play The Decision (1930), ‘as soon as it’s a matter of creative action, the real is only accessible through the subsumption of an "I" by a "we"’ (LS: 99).


2. Cf. Canguilhem, Vie et mort de Jean Cavaillès, 39. The executions of Cavaillès and Lautman, founders of a ‘modern Platonism’ and the inspiration for a contemporary conjunction of mathematics and philosophy, left the field of French philosophy open, Badiou suggests, to German Romanticism and the linguistic turn (AM: 13). Badiou’s own project, in politics as much as in philosophy, takes up largely where they left off.


3. Those who chose not to resist, Badiou concludes, quite simply chose not to think: ‘they didn’t think according to the real of the situation of the moment …. Not to resist is not to think’ (AM: 17).


4. ‘It is very important to notice that here, "equality" signifies nothing objective. It is not at all a matter of the equality of status, of earnings, or functions ... . Political equality is not what we want nor what we project [for the future], it is what we declare in the heat of the moment, here and now, as what is, and not what should be’ (AM: 111-12). Badiou cites Breton with approval: ‘rebellion carries its justification in itself, altogether independently of the chances it has of changing, or not, the state of affairs that provokes it’, since what matters is ‘living as intensely as possible’ (André Breton, Arcane 17, in LS: 114).


5. In Théorie du sujet, Badiou picks out of French history ‘three figures of a possible universality’: the Commune, the Resistance, and May 1968 (TS: 13).


6. ‘The great novelty and the great power of the Organisation Politique is to maintain absolutely the separation’ of science and politics, of analytic description and political prescription (LDP, 1998: 2).


7. ‘The "social sciences", in my view, are not sciences at all, and have no place in the distribution of truth procedures.’ While left-leaning social scientists like Balibar and Bourdieu may certainly analyse important themes (the sans-papiers, feminism, the labour movement, poverty...), they are ‘politically very weak, for the simple reason that they do not break with parliamentarism, with "democratic" consensus.’ They can only contribute to an ‘oppositional’ stance, i.e. a position of protest from within the state-sanctioned structures and rules (parties, elections, trade unions, constitutional amendments...). But ‘unfortunately, the category of "opposition" is precisely a central category of parliamentarism, of "democracy". No genuine break can be made from within this category. The social sciences thus remain dependent upon the state, and are consequently without truth’ (‘Entretien avec Alain Badiou’, 1999: 6).


8. Charles Hoareau, in ‘Chômeurs rebelles: chef-lieu Marseilles’, Le Nouvel Observateur, 8.01.98: 26-27.


9. As regards the analysis and identification of political sequences, Badiou freely admits that ‘my thinking on this point is sustained, purely and simply, by that of Lazarus’ (AM: 62-63). Badiou’s glowing review of his friend’s L’Anthropologie du nom (1996) makes up one of the most important chapters of his Abrégé de métapolitique. In equal measures post-’historicist, classist, dialectical, or positivist’, Lazarus’ book ‘eliminates the category of the object’ altogether, so as to privilege the purely subjective naming of a political sequence as that which can never be defined, only thought (AM: 36; cf. L’Anthropologie: 52). Badiou’s sole reservation concerns the limited status left to philosophy per se in Lazarus’ configuration.


10. For more information see <>.


11. Along with Badiou, the major figures of the OP are his long-standing friends and fellow soixante-huitards Sylvain Lazarus and Natacha Michel. The operation of the OP in its current form and under its current name dates from 1984 (cf. ‘Histoire de l’Organisation politique’, LDP, 1999: 17-19). Between 1983 and 1992, the OP published their first journal d’opinion, called Le Perroquet. Since 1991, they make their positions known through La Distance politique (later referred to as LDP). La Distance politique is a relatively short bulletin (usually between 6 and 15 pages), published on average four times a year, printing articles and editorials detailing particular demonstrations and rallies, interviews with workers or immigrant groups, discussions of electoral campaigns and results, and general analyses of ‘what is to be done’. The first three issues included brief analyses of major works by Marx, Lenin and Mao, in that order; issue 5 carried an article on Althusser. Since then the emphasis has been almost exclusively practical, and La Distance politique has remained much more of an organising tool than a contribution to ‘political theory’. In addition to the issues and cahiers published by La Distance politique, the OP has published three books written by the Noyaux of workers they help organise in various factories: one on the relation between workers and their supervisors, another on the Bourogne strike of 1994, and another on the history of Billancourt from 1968 to 1992. Finally, from July 1995, following the racist murder of Brahim Bouarram in May by members of the National Front, the OP began to help organise ‘Associations pour la paix civile et l’amitié entre les familles’ (see LDP, 1995: 7-16); as of September 1997, such Associations were up and running in Montreuil, Lille, Reims, and Toulouse. It should be stressed that the articles in La Distance politique, although sometimes written in the first person, are always anonymous and should be treated as such. Although it would be fairly easy to pick out at least some of the pieces by Badiou himself, there is little to be gained in doing so. The OP operates through strict collective responsibility, and as a rule the positions expressed by La Distance politique can be taken as fully consistent with Badiou’s own. Badiou is categorical on this point: the OP is, with all the rigorous implications of the term, a ‘subjective condition of my philosophy’ (AM: 117).


12. Any political mode, Badiou concedes, will have its objective ‘places’ as well as its purely subjective categories (for example, in the Revolutionary mode, the places indicated by the Convention, the sans-culottes clubs, the revolutionary army...). But the point is not to relate, in a dialectic of ‘heterogeneous multiplicities’, the institutional materiality of a place to the subjective reality of their actors. By 

thinking-together the mental (the ideas and convictions of the revolutionaries) and the material (the Convention, the sans-culottes clubs, etc. ...), you sacrifice the name of the mode (which disappears, as a singularity, within the dialectical totality), and in the end you make politics as thought disappear as well: the thought becomes unthinkable. If on the contrary you consider the Convention, etc., as places of the name, as processes that are themselves prescriptive, and which are made of the same stuff as subjective politics, then you keep the name and, preserving the investigation within a homogeneous multiplicity, you can, from the inside, think the thought [en intériorité penser la pensée] (AM: 42-3).


13. Consider Terry Eagleton’s version by way of illustration: ‘to wish class or nation away, to seek to live in sheer irreducible difference now in the manner of some contemporary post-structuralist theory, is to play straight into the hands of the oppressor ... [Genuine] sexual politics, like class or nationalist struggle, will thus necessarily be caught up in the very metaphysical categories it hopes finally to abolish ...; all oppositional politics thus move under the sign of irony, knowing themselves ineluctably parasitic on their antagonist’ (Eagleton, 1990: 23-26; cf. Moi, 1985: 13).


14. Cf. ‘Le pays comme principe,’ 1992: 135. ‘The existence of victims cannot by itself found a political process – this is a principle I firmly maintain’ (Letter to the author, 9.12.98).


15. The OP adds a certain moralising flavour to its campaign: ‘the question of knowing whether there are factories in our cities (factories, and not supermarkets) is decisive. Because if it isn’t the figure of work that socialises people, that guides their exchange, that leads them out of their homes, then it will be another figure: that of drug-trafficking, theft, gangs and mafias’ (LDP, 1997: 2).


16. The obscene ‘debate’ on asylum-seekers that so clearly demonstrates the prevailing re-presentation of the British situation would provide Badiou with perhaps the most telling contemporary illustration of his point. The very name (the characterisation as passive ‘applicants’ and the consequent distinctions between justified and unjustified applicants, between political victims and economic swindlers, between desirable migrants and undesirable parasites – and on the part of the asylum-granter, between noble generosity or ‘humanitarian’ guilt, between ‘benign’ indifference and ‘realistic’ pragmatism…) is testimony to the fact that the belligerent preservation of first world privilege has become, in denial of precisely that economic aggression which creates it, the perfectly explicit rather than merely effective goal of state policy.


17. Mittérandisme connotes ‘the denial of all free and critical thought’. Mittérand’s political career demonstrates, as its sole working principle, maximum approximation with the prevailing opinion of the day, successively Pétainiste, résistant, colonialist, conciliator, socialist, free-marketeer – each time because c’est comme ça (LDP, 194: 3-4; LDP, 1995: 1-3). 


18. Outrage against the Debré laws – sparked by an appeal made by film-makers and intellectuals and culminating in major demonstrations in February 1997 – was an important factor in the defeat of the Juppé government and Chirac’s surprise parliamentary dissolution of May 1997.


19. The Weil-Chevènement project only differs from Pasqua-Debré in that it divides the category of ‘foreigner’ in two: on the one hand admissible professionals and students, on the other, inadmissible poor and working people (LDP, 1997: 6).


20. The very concept of integration, of course, works against all possible external prescription (LDP, 1997: 7). In this sense, the OP’s position is quite distinct from that taken by the once-significant lobby SOS-Racisme and like-minded beurs movements. La Distance politique presents these groups as part and parcel of Mittérandisme and its anti-worker campaign, as part of a new generation’s ‘denial of working fathers’ (LDP, 1995: 2-3). SOS-Racisme and other anti-racist groups, says the OP, preoccupy themselves with youth and youth culture, celebrating an ‘ethnicity of the young’ in the belief that ‘integration’ is to be achieved through ‘rap and fashion’, in the absence of any political principle (LDP, 1996: 12; cf. LDP, 1997: 8-9).


21. The OP helped organise major demonstrations in June and September 1996, and more than a thousand people turned out to meetings held in and around Paris on 15 November and 6 December 1997, and 7 February 1998. Mass delegations were sent to the police stations of Bobigny and Nanterre in March 1998, and of Créteil in April 1998.


22. Under the new slogan ‘tous ensemble’, this was a ‘strikers’ strike’ that nevertheless exceeded mere trade union manoeuvrings. ‘The December strikes put forward demands, but nevertheless, the demands were subordinated to the subjectivity of the strikers, and not the reverse’ (LDP, 1998: 4).


23. ‘All the efforts to construct an alternative economy strike me as pure and simple abstractions, if not driven by the unconscious vector of capital’s own reorganisation. We can see for example, and will see more and more, how so many environmentalist demands simply provide capital with new fields of investment, new inflections and new deployments. Why? Because every proposition that directly concerns the economy can be assimilated by capital. This is so by definition, since capital is indifferent to the qualitative configuration of things’ (‘Politics and Philosophy’, 1998: 117).


24. By 1996, the OP was ready to admit that their previous ‘indifference to the state remained classist’ (LDP, 1996: 14).


25. Comparable examples in the capitalist bloc would include those episodes famously analysed by Piven and Cloward as Poor People’s Movements (1977).


26. ‘[A] vote is an anti-declaration organised by the State’ (LDP, 1994: 3).


27. As Daniel Bensaïd asks, ‘isn’t a politics without party simply a politics without politics?’ (Bensaïd, 2001: 157-158).



Abbreviations of works by Alain Badiou:


TC (1975) Théorie de la contradiction. Paris: Maspéro.


DI (1976) De l’Idéologie. Paris: Maspéro.


TS (1982) Théorie du sujet. Paris: Seuil.


PP (1985) Peut-on penser la politique? Paris: Seuil.


EE (1988) L’Etre et l’événement. Paris: Seuil.


DO (1991) D’un Désastre obscur (Droit, Etat, Politique). Paris: L’Aube.


C (1992) Conditions. Paris: Seuil.


E (1993) L’Ethique: Essai sur la conscience du mal. Paris: Hatier.


SP (1997) Saint-Paul et la fondation de l’universalisme. Paris: PUF.


AM (1998) Abrégé de métapolitique. Paris: Seuil.


TA Théorie axiomatique du sujet. Notes du cours 1996-1998. Unpublished typescript, 121 pgs. 


LS (2002) Le Siècle. Paris: Seuil, 2002 [my references are to the manuscript].


LDP La Distance politique


Other works by Badiou:


(1992) ‘Le pays comme principe.’ Le Monde. Bilan économique et social: 134-5.


(1992) ‘Réponses écrites d’Alain Badiou.’ Interview with student group at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes/Saint-Denis). Philosophie, philosophie 4: 66-71.


(1993) ‘Philosophie et poésie au point de l’innommable’. Po&sie 64: 88-96.


(1994) ‘Being by Numbers.’ Interview with Lauren Sedofsky. Artforum 33.2 (Oct): 84-87, 118, 123-124.


(1998) ‘Politics and Philosophy.’ Interview with Peter Hallward. Angelaki, 3/3: 113-133.


(1999) ‘Entretien avec Alain Badiou.’ Interview with N. Poirier. Le Philosophoire 9: 14-32.


Other works:


Ahmad, A. (1992) In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso.


Bensaïd, D. (2001) ‘Alain Badiou et le miracle de l’événement’, in Bensaïd, D. Résistances: Essai de taupologie générale. Paris: Fayard. 143-170.


Canguilhem, G. (1976) Vie et mort de Jean Cavaillès. Ville-franche: Pierre Laleur, Les Carnets de Baudasser.


Eagleton, T. (1990) ‘Nationalism: Irony and Commitment’. In T. Eagleton  et al. (eds), Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Feltham, O. (2000) As Fire Burns: Of Ontology, Praxis and Functional Work. Unpublished PhD thesis. Deakin University, Australia.


Habermas, J. (1996) Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


Jameson, F. (1991) Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.


Lazarus, N. (1999) Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Postcolonial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Lazarus, S. (1996) L’Anthropologie du nom. Paris: Seuil.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1967) The Communist Manifesto. Trans. S. Moore. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Moi, T. (1985) Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London: Methuen.


Piven, F. F. & Cloward, R. A. (1977) Poor People’s Movements. NY: Pantheon.



Originally published in Culture Machine, (4) 2002.