“There is nothing is more important than to declare that our time is not Capital’s time.”*
Alain Badiou offered this principle as a benediction to the conference called “Communism: A New Beginning,” held at the Cooper Union in New York on October 14-16, 2011. The immediate historical provocation was the apparent failure of 2011’s uprisings and popular mobilizations (the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, etc.).
In the text of this talk published last year, Badiou continues by insisting that at the root of any radical politics is the project of constructing a new political time: a time during which a new collective configuration might come into being. He elaborates on this proposition with characteristic Maoist lyricism:
The main lesson learned from last century’s revolutions can be expressed as follows: the political time of the communist Idea must never compete with the established time of domination and its urgencies… For the communist Idea is not in competition with capitalism; it is an absolute asymmetric relationship with it…There is a necessary slowness, both democratic and popular in nature, which is particularly the time of the correct handling of contradictions among the people.
One need not share the precise coordinates of Badiou’s ideological moorings to find a good deal of wisdom in these sentiments. I have been thinking about Badiou’s text in light of the ongoing, nightly struggles for justice in Ferguson, MO and the continuing campaign for justice in the case of Steven Salaita.
What we see in the work of extraordinarily diligent activists and protestors, in both instances, is the insistence on a new temporal envelope: durational parameters incommensurable with the schedules of cable news, quarterly earnings reports, and campaign cycles.
The heroic persistence in Ferguson––and on the part of activists engaged on behalf of Salaita’s cause––cuts against conservative laments about the decline of political investiture. It renders inert reactionary romances with the theme of the inevitability of collective subjective collapse under late capitalism.
We see, in these instances, not affective withdrawal, but sentimental abundance. We see not disordered attention deficits, but a surplus of principled concern for detail, accuracy, and accountability in regard to the machinations of the powerful: “a necessary slowness, both democratic and popular in nature…” A new time of politics, if we are lucky.
*Alain Badiou, “The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror” in Slavoj Žižek, ed. The Idea of Communism. Volume 2. London: Verso, 2013, modified slightly. I have excised from this comment the word that is probably most important to Badiou: “communists.” The original quote goes: “Nothing is more important for communists than to declare that our time is not Capital’s time.” I have less hope than Badiou, and the other participants at a series of conferences on “The Idea of Communism” over the past few years, that the word “communist” can be rehabilitated. If the intention is to index the value of “things held in common,” we need a new word.
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