Alberto Toscano , A Spectre is Not Haunting Europe in:

Dominik Finkelde (Ed.)

Badiou and the State, page 213 - 222

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8487-3224-1, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-7584-0,

Series: Staatsverständnisse, vol. 101

Bibliographic information
Alberto Toscano A Spectre is Not Haunting Europe What does it mean to talk of communism today? In Europe? A quick survey of our dispiriting political landscape might suggest that communism is only a horizon in the sense of an infinitely receding orientation, unable even to cohere into a determinate regulative idea. Taking the writings of Badiou as occasion, provocation and prism, I want to suggest that, theoretically speaking, our predicament owes much to the aporia of the state within communist thought. To that end, I want to approach Badiou’s concept of the state by way of a twofold detour, taking up, first, what I would like to call the desire for the state in contemporary movements for systemic reform in Europe, and second, the effort to think communism outside the state in the midst of the last period of concerted and consequential discussion of the “idea of communism” in Europe, the late 1970s debate over the “crisis of Marxism” orbiting around the interventions of Louis Althusser. The desire for the state What do I mean then by the desire for the state? When Badiou – along with many others, albeit with different vocabularies and positions – greeted the surge of “historical riots” around 2011, he noted a significant pattern: the tendency of these mass occupations of “public” space to establish themselves at a distance from the representational apparatuses of the state (notably in the ban on party presence within the assemblies) and to prefigure or embody alternative ways of organizing everyday life. With commendable “Leninist” sobriety, he also indicated that the limit of this “movement communism” lay in its unpreparedness for tackling “the day after” or in its misprision about the relation between the uprising and the future of politics. As he writes in The Rebirth of History: “riots do not possess all the keys – far from it – to the nature and extent of the change to which they expose the state. What is going to happen in the state is in no wise prefigured by a riot. … a historical riot does not by itself offer any alternative to the power it intends to overthrow.”1 This, for Badiou, is also the source for the Marxian articulation between internal egalitarian 1. 1 Badiou 2012, pp. 45-6. 213 democracy and external popular dictatorship thrown up by communist movements, as well as for the entire problematic of the withering away of the state. In Europe, or rather in the two main fulcrums of political agitation over the recent phase (Greece and Spain), the seeds of movement of communism were replanted, so to speak, on the terrain of the state, with at best ambivalent results (in the shape of Syriza and Podemos). Now, we could present this, in Badiou’s wake, as the inevitable product of the incapacity to produce a political practice of a new type, extrinsic to the state, a deficit of courage, capacity and invention. While not discounting this line of inquiry, I would suggest a different tack, one that demands we confront our collective desire for the state. To do so requires not only thinking of the state as an agency of representation (in a quotidian but also a philosophical sense, to which I’ll return presently) but as a material apparatus of social reproduction. In its bare coordinates, social mobilization after the 2007-8 crisis articulated the idea that “they do not represent us” with the quotidian experience of a crisis of social reproduction (especially in health, housing and education), whose cause was to be sought in the collusion between financial oligarchies and state-party elites (whence the fortune of the theme of corruption). Now, while the practical forms of mobilisation (direct democracy, collective organization of everyday life, generic indifferentiation of social differences) may have been tendentially communist, it seems evident that this moment was marked by the ideology of “public service” that Althusser anatomised in his critique of eurocommunism in “Marx in His Limits.”2 This is so much the case that the political translation of the 15M mobilisation in Spain, Podemos, has explicitly resignified patriotism and sovereignty, so that its entire content is drawn from the notion of the state as guarantor of an egalitarian access to public goods and institutions. In the words of its secretary general, Pablo Iglesias, “being a patriot is defending the [collective] right to decide about everything and defending public services.”3 Thus, rather than laying bare – except in a kind of symbolic performance – the superfluity of the state, I would argue that recent movements ultimately reveal the extent to which the state permeates everyday life and is experienced as a vital presupposition of material existence, while degradation or collapse looms up as a catalyst for social anxiety and, at its worst, for “a flight forward into the imaginary of the absolute community.”4 In this regard, I think Balibar’s suggestion that Marxism has not grasped the ambivalence of mass ideology during conjunctures of crisis has considerable merit, especially as it stresses the effect, on both emancipatory resistance and reactionary modalities, of neo-racism of the form of the state as a “national and social state” in which racism operates in “a conflictual relationship to the state, 2 Althusser 2006. 3, accessed April 1st, 2016. 4 Balibar 1992, p. 235. 214 which is ‘lived’ in a diffracted way, ‘projected’ as a relationship to the Other.”5 Some of Balibar’s writings from the 1980s and 1990s can help us further in grasping the place of “Europe” in contemporary movements and their limits, especially with regard to the problem of the state. Given the hegemonic form of the state as “national and social,” which is to say a state that is both identitarian in its creation of “fictive ethnicities” undergirding the “privileges” of citizenship and reproductive, the “European construction,” especially in its current “austerian” figure, is a powerful contributor to a conjuncture of crisis – something that does not require revisiting for Southern Europe today. In a powerful 1991 essay significantly entitled “Es gibt keinen Staat in Europa: Racism and Politics in Europe Today,” Balibar noted how the European “state” is neither national nor supranational, marked as it is by redundancy and competition between multiple institutions with overlapping jurisdictions, contributing to a decomposition or deficit of state capacities, and fundamentally enacting a “privatisation of the state” – in which the latter’s function, as per long-lived liberal utopias, was to institute a market. “The upshot that we see all around us,” Balibar concludes, “is what might be called the reign of statism without a true state. If we understand by statism a combination of administrative/repressive practices and contingent arbitration of particular interests, including those of each nation or the dominant classes of each nation, then that is what is taking the place of the state, while giving the impression of a proliferation of the state.”6 Following the more recent work of German social theorist Wolfgang Streeck, this statism without the state could be further specified in terms of a secular implosion of capitalist democracy, giving way to a “Hayekian” international consolidation state aimed at fiscal discipline, in which the European Union and the Economic and Monetary Union represent a liberalizing machine whose purpose is to bind national politics to the dictatorship of economic reason.7 This is the array of institutional powers against which the likes of Syriza and Podemos have tried (and to a large extent failed) to erect a bulwark whose affective and symbolic component, crystallized around a left renascence of the syntagm “national sovereignty,” can be linked to a desire for the state. Imperium Some critical theorists, such as Frédéric Lordon, in his recent Imperium, have even tried to counter the prescriptive “Europeanism” that still clouds the thinking of much of the European left, by trying provisionally to recuperate the “stato-national 2. 5 Ibid., p. 184. 6 Balibar 1991, p. 17. 7 Cf. Streeck 2014. 215 paradigm” for emancipatory uses, identifying the prohibitions on left articulations of “nation,” “identity,” and “sovereignty” as reasons for the weakness of the contemporary discourse on communism.8 The constructive complement to Lordon’s polemic against the political and anthropological wishful thinking of today’s “communists” involves enlisting Spinoza’s political theory of affects, as developed in the Ethics and the Political Treatise, to produce a general theory of the “state” (or a theory of the general state) grounded in a sociologically and economically informed political anthropology. Building on Lordon’s prior efforts to generate Spinozist theories of capital and the social, Imperium proposes that a critical anthropological realism concerning the state can instruct left-wing thought in the weakness of a “rationalist” (Badiou) or “vitalist” (Invisible Committee) optimism which would ignore the lessons of Spinozism in its effort to envisage a communism beyond our “passionate servitude.” For Lordon, such a servitude to our affects, and their contingent worldly causes, is what subtends the inescapable production of state-like institutions, which are both immanent (there are no other-worldly or immaterial sources for them beyond the multitude itself) and transcendent (they exceed, capture and alienate the powers of that multitude) – in keeping with the definition of imperium as the “right that defines the power of the multitude,” and as an ineluctable dimension of verticality that no anarchism, communism or insurrectionalism can ultimately circumvent. Imperium is an “extremely general mechanism, at work in all finite human groups, the mechanism of immanent transcendence … the power that the multitude has to auto-affect;” the “matrix of all powers in the social world.”9 The antagonistic potential of our conatus and the affects that guide it also dictates that any belonging, any identity, will always comprise an exclusion. To ignore these minimal and general traits of political anthropology is to succumb to political illusion. A Spinozist materialism, on the contrary, in a definition from Louis Althusser that Lordon likes to recall, means at the very least “not telling ourselves stories.” It is at times uncanny, if perhaps misleading, to note how much in the current debate echoes the conjuncture of the late 1970s – not least in the spectre of euro-communism that seems to be haunting contemporary left movements, with their talk of “the sense of the state.” Balibar’s trajectory since is largely a product of a break with a French Communist Party (PCF) whose claims that the crisis was above all national embodied an incapacity to think critically about what communist action in a “national and social state” meant, ultimately colluding in the racism of “national preference.” This was also the period of Louis Althusser’s final political interventions on the “crisis of Marxism” – which also triggered Balibar’s first marked distancing from Althusser’s positions, precisely around the question of the state. Of course, these debates only appear analogous to our present concerns, since they were de- 8 Cf. Lordon 2015. See also Toscano 2016. 9 Lordon 2015, p. 117. 216 bates about mass communist parties. And yet, Althusser’s demand that Marxism required a critique of politics to match its critique of political economy, a manner of thinking itself out of the bourgeois forms of politics towards another practice of proletarian politics, still remains suggestive. As he declared in an important article on “Marxism as a ‘Finite’ Theory,” which triggered an entire debate on the Left in Italy: “the fact that (bourgeois or proletarian) class struggle has as its stakes (hic et nunc) the state does not actually mean it must define itself in relation to the state.”10 This statist circumscription of the political was linked by Althusser to what he called the “juridical illusion of politics” (an illusion which, we should note, is alive and healthy today). The party-form had to be disarticulated from the state-form, but also entirely rethought in its relation to communist movements of liberation outside the workers’ movement sensu stricto. As a “matter of principle,” the communist party had to reinvent itself on the margins of the state. Shortly after Althusser made these pronouncements, Balibar, who would later summarize his own criticisms in terms of his opposition to the “theoretical anarchism” plaguing Marxist theories of the state (whence their blindspot especially on citizenship and the politics of human rights), argued against this “communism outside the state” that neither the masses nor the workers’ movement had ever been truly outside the state, that the latter’s separation was always at best partial and qualified, and that rather than a topology of outside and inside, communism should be thought through the internal, immanent contradictions of a system of state relations.11 The irony of this criticism – for all of its applicability to other forms of communist thought – is that Althusser himself had strongly stressed how deeply the state penetrated into “civil society,” and indeed how one of the limits of Marxism (in the sense, as he ironically put it, of those signs indicating “your ticket is not valid beyond this limit”) was thinking that communism could mean an overcoming of ideology and social relations.12 His critique of the (eurocommunist) ideology of “public service” in “Marx in His Limits” (roughly contemporaneous with “Marxism as a ‘Finite’ Theory”) puts the question in terms that remain extremely suggestive. I would like to quote it at some length, so as then to turn to the question of a “communism outside the state” in the work of Badiou: “there is no breaking out of the circle of the state, which has nothing of a vicious circle about it, because it simply reflects the fact that the reproduction of the material and social conditions encompasses, and implies the reproduction of, the state and its forms as well, while the state and its forms contribute, but in a ‘special’ war, to ensuring the reproduction of existing class society. [It is] the circle of the reproduction of the state in its functions as an instrument for the reproduction of the conditions of production, hence of 10 Althusser 1978, p. 10. 11 Cf. Balibar 1979. 12 Cf. Althusser 1978. 217 exploitation, hence of the conditions of existence of the domination of the exploiting class which constitutes, in and of itself, the supreme objective mystification.”13 Or, in the striking expression that Althusser uses to encapsulate this state-fetishism, ça ment tout seul (it lies on its own). Badiou’s metapolitics: Thinking communism outside the state Alain Badiou's metapolitics is arguably the most concerted contemporary philosophical effort to think communism outside the state. What is its concept of the state, and how might this antagonistic nexus of communism and state speak to our current European conjuncture? The state, or more specifically the state of the situation, is a central concept or operator in Being and Event. I will not attempt here to revisit the articulation of Badiou’s meta-ontology and of his socio-historical exemplification, but rather home in on the way in which his theory is oriented toward the issue of “communism outside the state.” The theory of the state put forth in Meditation 9 of Being and Event is perhaps above all a theory of the state’s separation and of its excessive or superpower over the situation it is re-presenting. Its replication of a classical Marxism is evident in its rejection of a theory of the state as expressive of the social bond, in favour of the notion that the state is to be related to unbinding (la déliaison), to an effort to fix the void that threatens its underlying structure. In this regard, the state is fundamentally Hobbesian, a machine to prevent stásis, tumult, chaos, plague, to snuff out the rioting crowd invariably viewed as an “emblem of inconsistency.” Illegitimately compressing a meticulous deduction, we can note that as the pre-emption of the void, the state is concerned for Badiou not with terms, individuals, or multiples as such but with collective subsets, striving to stabilise the relation between inclusion and belonging. What the State does is to re-present what has already been presented. This requires structuring the structure of presentation, counting the count. The state makes a One out of the parts of the situation (note that Badiou will argue that one-ness in the “immediacy” of the social is provided by non-state structures, hinting at the social reproduction underlying political representation). The result of this is that the state will generate “excrescent” multiples, which are re-presented or included but not presented (do not “belong” to the situation), and will only deal with individuals as “singletons,” not as multiples but as sub-sets (the voter, for instance). Hence its indifference to the lives of the putatively “represented.” The state’s identification and homogeneisation of multiples is for Badiou its “elementary coercion,” its “atom of constraint.” In Rebirth of History this elementary coercion of “inclu- 3. 13 Althusser 2006, p. 125. 218 sive” or “representational” identity will be redoubled by the exclusivity of an identitarian operation that manufactures the inexistence of certain multiples, or terroristically stigmatises them, by creating fictions of identity – like the incoherent but dominating normative or average conception of the French citizen, “F,” an identitarian operation that functions through “separating names” (immigrant, Muslim, etc.). As Badiou observes: “The fictional F, measure of normality and matrix of suspicion, or its stand-in in any state structure, is always identitarian.”14 But Being and Event, like Althusser’s writings of the late 1970s, also indicates the “limits” of Marxism in its theorising of the state. For Badiou, these limits have to do with the notion that the state itself (rather than the multiples it produces) is an excrescence, which could thus wither away, and in the related axiom that politics is first and foremost an assault on the state. For Badiou, such a horizon of the abolition of the state ignores its meta-ontological ineluctability: while the unpresentable errancy of the void and the excess of inclusion over belonging, may, in the rarity of evental truth procedures, give rise to dysfunctions, transformations and subtractions from the state, this cannot abolish the state meta-ontologically (which is to say metahistorically and meta-politically) conceived. Recognition of this, combined with a steadfast commitment to the separation of egalitarian political capacities from the operations of the state – in other words the conviction that political truths are never, as such, a matter of representation – requires a very different image of “communism outside the state” than the one provided by “classical” communism. Abolition is accordingly rethought as distance, separation, subtraction, and, more affirmatively speaking, prescription. The militant can no longer be, in Badiou’s poetic gloss, a watchman beneath the walls of the State but needs to transform herself into a patient tracker and stalker of the void and its irruptions. Accordingly, “even if the route of political change – […] the route of the radical dispensation of justice – is always bordered by the State, it cannot in any way let itself be guided by the latter, for the State is precisely non-political, insofar as it cannot change, save hands, and it is well known that there is little strategic signification in such a change.”15 The persistence of this perspective on the state is evident in the positions of The Rebirth of History, where we read that since “the radicalized generic is incompatible with the state, which lives exclusively off identitarian fictions, any political truth presents itself as a restriction of the power of the State,” meaning that the communist militants of the generic “decide what the state must do and find means of forcing it to,” from the outside.16 Returning to Balibar’s objections to the kind of “theoretical anarchism” that would all-too-easily dispense with the state, it is evident that Badiou, meta-ontologi- 14 Badiou 2012, p. 76. 15 Badiou 2006, p. 110. 16 Ibid., p. 81. 219 cally speaking, is not a thinker of the abolition of the state (whether his communism envisages state forms that are not bourgeois, national, or identitarian, is a different matter, requiring us to think the difference between the withering away of the state as such, versus, in Althusser’s terms, the “reorganization, restructuring and revolutionization of an existing apparatus.”17) Yet he remains a thinker of “communism outside the state.” But is the model of distance and prescription an adequate one to reinvigorate the communist hypothesis? There’s little doubt that classic reformist and revolutionary hypotheses, viewing the state as the object and element of political action, are deeply damaged, and that attempts at countering “statism without a state” through an expansive conception of national and popular sovereignty in Southern Europe are uncertain at best. That said, two reasons militate against communism at a distance. The first is already evident in Balibar’s characterisation of the European non-state (which is the very opposite of the communising “barred state” of which Badiou tantalisingly speaks in “Our Contemporary Impotence”18), but also in Badiou’s understanding of contemporary imperialist power as a practice of zoning that practically deconstructs states.19 Such zoning suggests that some of the characteristics of the meta-ontological and meta-political conception of the State from Being and Event no longer map so neatly onto our own present. Contemporary state or para-state power, including the agencies of a predatory capital, is an active producer and not just preemptor of “unbinding.” Hence the “conservative” or “defensive” character of a contemporary politics objectively lead to the reaffirmation of the national and social state with all of its aporias and ideologies (not least that of Public Service). Hence our desire for the state, our “statism without a state,” to twist Balibar’s formulation. But a communism of distance is also complicated by the fact that the state – in its materiality – is not a mere matter of representation, but, perhaps above all, one of reproduction. That, as Althusser suggested, is the objective mystification, the circle of the state, that any “communism outside the state” still needs to confront. Distance implies too much innocence, and any communist must be first and foremost his or her own enemy, realising that the transcendence of the state is materially, affectively permeated with immanence, with our needs and desires. La Boétie’s questions still haunts us: “Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you your- 17 Althusser 1977, p. 17. 18 Cf. Badiou 2013. 19 Cf. Badiou 2004 and 2014. 220 selves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves?”20 Pace Nietzsche, perhaps we should start reckoning with the fact that the State is the warmest of all monsters. Bibliography Althusser, Louis, 1977: On the Twenty-Second Congress Of The French Communist Party. In: New Left Review I/104, July-August 1977, pp. 3-22. Althusser, Louis, 1978: Il marxismo come teoria “finita.” In: Discutere lo Stato. Posizioni a confronto su una tesi. Bari: pp. 7-21. Althusser, Louis, 2006: Marx in His Limits. In: Corpet Oliver and Matheron François (Editors), 2006: Philosophy of the Encounter. Later Writings, 1978-1987. London 2006, pp. 7-162. Badiou, Alain, 2004: Fragments of a Public Diary on the American War Against Iraq. In: Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, 8, 3, pp. 223-38. Badiou, Alain, 2006: Being and Event. London / New York. Badiou, Alain, 2012: The Rebirth of History. Times of Riots and Uprisings. London / New York. Badiou, Alian, 2013: Our contemporary impotence. Radical philosophy, 181, pp.43-7. Badiou, Alain, 2014: Images du temps présent, 2001-2004. Paris. Balibar, Étienne, 1979: État, parti, transition. In: Dialectiques, No. 27, pp. 81-92. Balibar, Étienne, 1991: Es Gibt Keinen Staat in Europa: Racism and Politics in Europe Today. In: New Left Review, No. 186, March-April 1991, pp. 5-19. Balibar, Étienne, 1992: Les Frontières de la Démocratie. Paris. La Boétie, Étienne de, 2015: The Politics of Obedience. The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. Auburn. Lordon, Frédéric, 2015: Imperium. Structures et affects des corps politiques. Paris. Streeck, Wolfgang, 2014: Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism. London. Toscano, Alberto, 2016: A Structuralism of Feeling? In: New Left Review, Vol. 97, January- February 2016, pp. 73-93. 20 La Boétie 2015, p. 48. 221

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Badiou’s philosophy of the event stands at the centre of his influential theory of revolutionary politics. It has received both much acclaim for the way it rigorously and systematically unfolds as well as heavy criticism because of the philosopher’s theoretical and personal radicalism as an outspoken critic of modern western democracies. Does Badiou’s oeuvre not undermine the value of political representation via the state? What is left of the state in Badiou’s thinking if political and universal “events” by definition bear validity through their illegitimacy, while the state only represents legality?

The essays presented in the volume “Badiou and the State”, written by internationally outstanding scholars in the field of contemporary political philosophy, are dedicated to these questions, which Badiou’s unique philosophy provokes.

With contributions byAlain Badiou, Lorenzo Chiesa, Oliver Feltham, Dominik Finkelde, Gernot Kamecke, Paul Livingston, Rado Riha, Frank Ruda, Arno Schubbach, Alberto Toscano, Yannis Stavrakakis and Jan Völker.


Badious Philosophie des Ereignisses steht im Mittelpunkt seiner einflussreichen Theorie revolutionärer Politik. Dabei hat er viel Zustimmung für die rigorose und systematische Entfaltung seiner Theorie erfahren, aber aufgrund seines theoretischen und persönlichen Radikalismus auch viel Ablehnung. Gerade seine Kritik an der diskursethischen Grundlegung der modernen Demokratie wie auch seine Verteidigung von Militanz marginalisieren ihn. Untergräbt Badious Werk nicht den Wert der politischen Repräsentation durch den Staat? Was bleibt von diesem, wenn politisch-universelle „Ereignisse“ per definitionem Wahrheit durch die Bedingung ihrer strukturellen Illegalität verkörpern, während der Staat nur zu Repräsentation des Legalen fähig erscheint?

Der Band „Badiou und der Staat“ versammelt Aufsätze von international herausragenden Experten auf dem Gebiet der zeitgenössischen politischen Philosophie. Sie widmen sich diesen Fragen bzw. Anfragen, die Badious einzigartige Philosophie provoziert.

Mit Beiträgen von

Alain Badiou, Lorenzo Chiesa, Oliver Feltham, Dominik Finkelde, Gernot Kamecke, Paul Livingston, Rado Riha, Frank Ruda, Arno Schubbach, Alberto Toscano, Yannis Stavrakakis und Jan Völker.