Friday, November 28, 2008

badiou on the financial crisis

Of Which Real is this Crisis the Spectacle? Alain Badiou, Le Monde, 17/10/08.

As it is presented to us, the planetary financial crisis resembles one of those bad films concocted by that factory for the production of pre-packaged blockbusters that today we call the "cinema". Nothing is missing, the spectacle of mounting disaster, the feeling of being suspended from enormous puppet-strings, the exoticism of the identical – the Bourse of Jakarta placed under the same spectacular rubric as New York, the diagonal from Moscow to Sao Paulo, everywhere the same fire ravaging the same banks – not to mention terrifying plotlines: it is impossible to avert Black Friday, everything is collapsing, everything will collapse...

But hope abides. In the foreground, wild-eyed and focussed, like in a disaster movie, we see the small gang of the powerful – Sarkozy, Paulson, Merkel, Brown, Trichet and others – trying to extinguish the monetary flames, stuffing tens of billions into the central Hole. We will have time later to wonder (the saga will surely continue) where these billions come from, given that for some years, at the least demand from the poor, the same characters responded by turning their pockets inside out, saying they hadn't a cent. For the time being, it doesn't matter. "Save the banks!" This noble, humanist and democratic cry surges forth from the mouths of every journalist and politician. Save them at any price! It's worth pointing this out, since the price is not insignificant.

I have to confess: given the numbers that are being bandied about, whose meaning, like almost everyone else, I am incapable of representing to myself (what exactly is one thousand four hundred billion euros?), I too am confident. I put my full trust in our firemen. All together, I am sure, I can feel it, they will succeed. The banks will be even greater than before, while some of the smaller or medium-sized ones, having only been able to survive through the benevolence of states, will be sold to the bigger ones for a pittance. The collapse of capitalism? You must be kidding. Who wants it, after all? Who even knows what it would mean? Let's save the banks, I tell you, and the rest will follow.
For the film's immediate protagonists – the rich, their servants, their parasites, those who envy them and those who acclaim them – a happy ending, perhaps a slightly melancholy one, is inevitable, bearing in mind the current state of the world, and the kinds of politics that take place within it.

Let us turn instead to the spectators of this show, the dumbstruck crowd who - vaguely unsettled, understanding little, totally disconnected from any active engagement in the situation - hears, like a far-off noise, the mort* of the cornered banks. This crowd can only guess at the exhausting weekends of our heroic small team of heads of government. It sees, passing before it, numbers as enormous as they are obscure, automatically comparing them to its own resources, or even, for a very considerable part of humanity, to the pure and simple non-resource which is the bitter and courageous basis of its very life. That's where the real is, and we will only be able to access it if we turn away from the screen of the spectacle in order to consider the invisible mass of those for whom this disaster movie, its saccharine ending included (Sarkozy kisses Merkel, and the whole world weeps for joy), was only ever a shadow-play.

In these past few weeks we have heard a lot about the "real economy" (the production and circulation of goods) and the – how should we call it? unreal? – economy which is the source of all evils, in that its agents had become "irresponsible", "irrational" and "predatory" – fuelling, first rapaciously, then in a panic, the now formless mass of stocks, securities and currencies. This distinction is obviously absurd, and is generally immediately contradicted, when, by way of an opposite metaphor, financial circulation and speculation are presented as the 'circulatory system' of capitalism. Are heart and blood perhaps subtracted from the living reality of a body? Is a financial stroke indifferent to the health of the economy as a whole? As we know, financial capitalism has always – which is to say for the past five centuries – been a major, central component of capitalism in general. As for the owners and managers of this system, by definition they are only "responsible" for profits, their "rationality" is to be measured by their earnings, and it is not just that they are predators, but that they have to be.

Accordingly, we do not find anything more "real" in the engine-room of capitalist production than on its commercial decks or in its speculative cabins. The last two in any case corrupt the first: in their crushing majority, the objects produced by this type of machinery – being aimed solely at profit, and at the derivative speculations which form the fastest and most considerable part of this profit – are ugly, cumbersome, inconvenient, useless, and it is necessary to spend billions to persuade people otherwise. This presupposes that people be transformed into spoiled children, eternal adolescents, whose existence merely consists in changing toys.

The return to the real cannot be a movement leading from bad "irrational" speculation back to healthy production. It is the return to the immediate and reflective life of all those who inhabit this world. It is from that vantage-point that one can observe capitalism without flinching, including the disaster movie that it is currently inflicting upon us. The real is not this movie, but its audience.

So what do we see, if we turn things around in this way? We see, and this is what it means to see, simple things that we've known for a long time: capitalism is nothing but robbery, irrational in its essence and devastating in its development. Its few short decades of savagely unequal prosperity have always been at the cost of crises in which astronomical quantities of value disappear, bloody punitive expeditions into every zone that capitalism judges either strategically important or threatening, and world wars that brought it back to health.

Here lies the didactic force in looking at this crisis-film. Faced with the life of the people watching it, do we still dare to pride ourselves in a system which delegates the organisation of collective life to the basest of drives – greed, rivalry, unthinking selfishness? Can we sing the praises of a "democracy" whose leaders do the bidding of private financial appropriation with such impunity that they would shock Marx himself, who nevertheless already defined governments, a hundred and sixty years ago, as "the agents of capital"? The ordinary citizen must ‘understand’ that it is impossible to make up the shortfall in social security, but that it is imperative to stuff untold billions into the banks’ financial hole? We must sombrely accept that no one imagines any longer that it’s possible to nationalise a factory hounded by competition, a factory employing thousands of workers, but that it is obvious to do so for a bank made penniless by speculation?

In this business, the real is to be found on the hither side of the crisis.
For where does this entire financial phantasmagoria come from? Simply from the fact that, by dangling miraculous credits before their eyes, people devoid of the means to afford them were browbeaten into buying flashy houses. These people’s IOUs were then sold on, mixing them, as one does with sophisticated drugs, with financial securities whose composition was rendered as scientific as it is opaque by battalions of mathematicians. All of this then circulated, from sale to sale, its value increasing, in ever more distant banks. Yes, the material measure for this circulation was to be found in the houses. But it was enough for the real estate market to go bust and, as this measure became less valuable and the creditors demanded more, for the buyers to be less and less able to pay their debts. And when finally they couldn’t pay them at all, the drug injected into the financial securities poisoned them all: they were no longer worth anything. But this only seems to be a zero-sum game: the speculator loses his wager and the buyers their homes, from which they are politely evicted. But the real of this zero-sum game is as always on the side of the collective, of ordinary life: in the end, everything stems from the fact that there exist millions of people whose wages, or absence thereof, means that they are absolutely unable to house themselves. The real essence of the financial crisis is a housing crisis. And those who can’t find a home are by no means the bankers. It is always necessary to go back to ordinary existence.

The only thing that we can hope for in this affair is that this didactic power may be found in the lessons drawn from this grim drama by people, and not by the bankers, the governments who serve them, and the newspapers who serve these governments. This return to the real has two related aspects. The first is clearly political. As the film has shown, the "democratic" fetish is merely the zealous servant of the banks. Its real name, its technical name, as I have argued for some time, is capitalist-parliamentarianism. It is advisable, as several political experiments have begun to do in the past twenty years, to organise a politics of a different nature.

Such a politics is, and no doubt will be for a long time, at a great distance from state power, but no matter. It begins level with the real, through the practical alliance between those who are most immediately available to invent such a politics: the newly-arrived proletarians from Africa and elsewhere, and the intellectuals who have inherited the political battles of the last few decades. This alliance will grow on the basis of what it will be capable of doing, point by point. It will not entertain any kind of organic relationship with the existing parties and with the electoral and institutional system that keeps them alive. It will invent the new discipline of those who have nothing, their political capacity, the new idea of what their victory will look like.

The second aspect is ideological. We must overthrow the old verdict according to which ours would be the time of "the end of ideologies". Today we can clearly see that the only reality of this supposed end lies in the slogan "save the banks". Nothing is more important than recovering the passion of ideas and countering the world such as it is with a general hypothesis, the anticipated certainty of an entirely different state of affairs. To the nefarious spectacle of capitalism, we oppose the real of peoples, of the existence of all in the proper movement of ideas. The theme of an emancipation of humanity has lost none of its power. Undoubtedly, the word "communism", which for a long time served to name this power, has been debased and prostituted.

But today, its disappearance only benefits the advocates of order, the feverish actors of the disaster movie. But we will resuscitate communism, in its new-found clarity. This clarity is also its oldest virtue, as when Marx said of communism that it "breaks in the most radical fashion with traditional ideas" and that it will bring forth "an association in which the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all".

Total break with capitalist-parliamentarianism, the invention of a politics on a level with the popular real, sovereignty of the idea: it's all there, everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and to give ourselves over to the fusion between live thought and organised action (everything we need to turn away from the film of the crisis and rise up).

*In French: hallali. In English, the nearest equivalent is 'mort', the note sounded on a hunting horn to announce the death of a deer.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Appeal for imposition of ban on BT cotton

Here is the petition sent to the President of India.

Kind attention: Hon’ble President of India, Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi-1

Subject: Appeal for imposition of ban on BT cotton all over India and President Rule in Haryana State due to death of lakhs of animals due to BT cotton and disastrous ill effects of BT cotton on health of lakhs of humans and animals

Hon’ble President Madam,

I the undersigned hereby bring to your kind notice that in the state of Haryana genetically modified BT cotton is being cultivated for past about 5-7 years now. Our recent state-wide survey conducted during the year 2007-2008 shows that lakhs of animals including buffaloes and sheep have died due to consumption of the following:

1. BT cotton seeds fed to animals as feed.

2. BT cotton seed based oilcake fed to animals as feed.

3. Fresh Leaves and other plant parts of BT cotton plants.

Government of Andhra Pradesh (Animal Husbandry Department) has confirmed presence of Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) in the BT cotton plants vide its letters dated 12 May 2006 Number Lr. Roc. No. 13 TFAL/2006 and 12 March 2007 Number Lr. Roc. No. 117 /TFAL/2007 (copies of the letters attached as Annexure 1a and 1b). As your goodself might be aware HCN is a deadly toxin which can kill the animals and humans instantly. Inspite of this vital information on acute toxicity of BT cotton available since 12 May 2006, and the warning of Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh for not grazing animals in BT cotton fields (copy attached as Annexure 2) Government of Haryana has failed in protecting the farmers and their animals from proven deadly BT cotton.

According to our survey in Haryana state, animals are dying at a large scale every year and lakhs of animals have died in last 5-7 years and even greater number of animals are affected by various ailments caused by BT cotton toxicity like abortion, premature delivery, skin problems, reduction in milk yield up to 90 per cent, prolapse of uterus, remaining off feed for long periods, etc. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10)

Humans are also affected by toxicity of BT cotton and farming families and labor families particularly working in BT cotton fields/factories have to spend huge amount of money on skin and allergy ailments due to BT cotton. Many of them have to abandon their work in BT cotton fields/factories. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10)

Farmers have lost billions of rupees due to death of their valuable animals including buffaloes and sheep, loss of man days due to loss in health, expenditure on ill animals and humans, loss due to failed crops of BT cotton, loss due to reduction in reproductive and milk yielding capacity of animals, loss in crop yields due to significant loss in soil fertility due to toxic effect of BT cotton on soil and micro-organisms of soil including earthworms and other vital organisms. (Media reports attached as Annexure 3 to 10).

It is also worth noting that due to huge losses caused due to BT cotton lakhs of farmers have become bankrupt.

When governments, administration and scientists have ignored the problem of farmers, farm and cotton factory labors your good office can save the farmers and labors by banning BT cotton and other genetically modified crops in India.

I appeal to your kind office to ban the BT cotton and other such genetically modified crop plants all over India and impose president rule in Haryana state for failure of government in protecting the human rights and livelihood of majority of people involved in farming, animal husbandry and cotton processing activities. Farmers and labors affected by BT cotton toxicity should also be given due compensation for loss of animals, health, mandays and other expenditure.

Yours faithfully,

(Sudhir Kumar Kaura) Dated: 15 November, 2008

PhD Enclosure: as above

Coordinator, Kisan Bachao Andolan (Save Farmer Movement)

10 C Friends Colony, Hisar-125004 Phone: 00 91 1662 229163

Web-site: E-mail:


1. Copy to The Chief Justice of India for consideration of this memorandum as Public Interest Litigation for considering immediate stay / ban on BT cotton in India and other desired action as appropriate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to myself

A poem by Jean Wahl which almost, haiku-like, explicates electracy avant la


It's time to pack your suitcases again:

Your four ideas, your eight feelings.