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The Resolute Subject: Daniel Bensaïd, Voluntarism and Strategy

 

Daniel Bensaïd

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 



To my brother, Daniel, who also made me see the possibilities contained in a moment.

 


April 4. 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, it has been fashionable to say that the time for communist politics has passed. One commentator went so far as to claim that “history had ended,” which meant capitalism was the only game in town. For many leftists, politics shifted from Marxist theory, revolutionary strategy and fighting to win, to begging the ruling class for “realistic” reforms. Yet there remained a stubborn few who refused to accept that capitalism was the sole vision on the horizon, but maintained a stubborn fidelity to Marxism and revolution. One of these was the French Trotskyist, Daniel Bensaïd (1946-2010), a key figure of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, a leading participant in the May 1968 general strike and a militant Marxist intellectual. Bensaïd practiced a critical and creative Marxism throughout his life that fruitfully engaged with other radical political thinkers, such as Blanqui and Benjamin, and he refused to believe that the last word on our future had been said. Rather, he argued that resistance to capitalism was not only possible, but he gave serious thought about what it would take to win. Daniel Bensaïd remains a powerful voice to argue for strategic thinking and developing a “resolute subject” that could overcome the crushing weight of the “objective situation.”

 



Daniel Bensaïd's political activism extended back to the early 1960s with his involvement in the youth wing of the French Communist Party (PCF). However, Bensaïd, like so many of his generation was repulsed by the Party's dogmatism, conservatism and lack of revolutionary initiative during the Algerian War of 1954-1962. Bensaïd was attracted to the revolutionary ideas of Che Guevara and Leon Trotsky, and joined the growing opposition to the Vietnam War. Bensaïd and other dissidents were expelled from the PCF in 1966. During the events of May 1968, when ten million workers and students launched a general strike that brought French capitalism to the brink of ruin, Daniel Bensaïd was one of the most prominent leaders in the Mouvement du 22 Mars. The PCF had done everything to hold back the May Movement, so Bensaïd and his comrades began forming a new organization, which they believed could provide the necessary political leadership for a future revolution. This organization, the Jeunesses communistes révolutionnaires (JCR), was banned by the French government after the May strike, was later reformed into the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR), and by the mid-1970s was one of the largest “gauchist” groups with 5,000 members.

 



For Daniel Bensaïd, the days of 1968 and after were a time of “hasty Leninism” when it was

 

the duty of each person was to contribute his or her little strength, as best they could, to settle this alternative between socialism and barbarism. It was in part up to them, therefore, whether the human species sank into a twilight future or blossomed into a society of abundance. This vision of history charged our frail shoulders with a crushing responsibility. In the face of this implacable logic, impoverished emotional life or professional ambition did not weigh very heavy. Each became personally responsible for the fate of humanity.[1]

 


It was easy for Bensaïd and his comrades to believe that revolution was coming, as struggles from Vietnam to Latin America to Europe demonstrated with their worker strikes, armed guerrillas, and students hungry for radical ideas. However, the hopes of those revolutionary years were not crowned with victory, but instead met with defeat, catastrophe, and (for some) disillusionment as neo-liberalism reigned triumphant across the world. Yet Bensaïd stayed true to his ideals – he maintained a perspective for strategic thinking over the long haul, the need to be resolute and to seize upon unexpected revolutionary openings. In short, Bensaïd was a dialectical voluntarist, who had not only sustained his fidelity to revolution, but thought seriously and sincerely about how to win. Bensaïd's revolutionary world view that could be found throughout his work, and not very popular when history was supposed to have “ended,” but he was determined to “brush against the grain of history.”

 



I. The Collective Will

 



Dialectical voluntarism was what the radical philosopher Peter Hallward calls “the will of the people” which is a “deliberate, emancipatory and inclusive process of collective self-determination. Like any kind of will, its exercise is voluntary and autonomous, a matter of practical freedom; like any form of collective action, it involves assembly and organisation.”[2] For Bensaïd, the subject needed to carry out collective revolutionary action was the working class.

 



Yet Bensaïd's view of the working class was not the crude class reductionist workerism of the PCF who saw exploitation existing only at the point of production. For Bensaïd, this view of the class struggle was a crippled and deformed Marxism that had left the PCF's Marxism with a stale theory which produced a reformist practice that did not challenge the system. Rather, he argued that Marxism was not a

 

reductive, normative or classificatory definition of classes, but a dynamic conception of their structural antagonism, at the level of production, circulation and reproduction of capital: classes are never defined only at the level of the production process (the face off between workers and employers in the enterprise), but determined by the reproduction of the whole when the struggle for wages, the division of labour, relations with the state apparatuses and the world market enter into play.[3]

 

This was a dynamic view of how the working class was shaped and reshaped by social contradictions and the continued development of capitalism. And if there were retreats as well as advances, then the vulgar Marxist idea that the continued march of capitalism which brings forth an ever more united and concentrated working class needed to be dismissed. Rather, the deep divisions of the proletariat would not be overcome on their own, but according to Bensaïd “the unity of the exploited classes is not a natural given, but something that is fought for and built.”[4] And to do this required the conscious creation of a collective political will.

 



The intervention by a political will, according to Bensaïd, was needed because capitalism would not disappear on its own. Without being stopped, capitalism was liable to destroy the planet, either through war or ecocide. This meant that history's outcome remained undecided. In his view, Marxism must banish “a determinist or teleological philosophy of history”.[5] This left Bensaïd skeptical of the whole idea of progress. And while Bensaïd acknowledged the rapid advances of industry and science, he linked this with environmental crises which threatened the very survival of the planet.

 



Bensaïd upheld the Jewish Marxist intellectual Walter Benjamin's dialectical view of progress that was outlined in his 1940 Theses on the Philosophy of History. According to Benjamin, progress was a storm threatening the future. The so-called progress and enlightenment of modern society was built upon immense suffering and exploitation that occurred throughout history. “There has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another.”[6] And one look at Bensaïd's home country of France makes this clear. Modern France grew wealthy from the sugarcane of Haiti through brutal enslavement. The glorious slogan of the 1789 Revolution “liberte, equalite, fraternity” was championed by the French colonialists and soldiers who ravaged Algeria for a hundred years. Benjamin argued that it was not the task of a Marxist to perpetuate this “storm of progress”, but to finally break the cycle.

 



Closely connected to Bensaïd's rejection of progress and determinism was his defense (along with Benjamin) of Louis-Auguste Blanqui's voluntarism. Blanqui (1805-1881) was the consummate professional revolutionary and man of action. He was one of the loudest and uncompromising voices in nineteenth century France calling for class war and the violent overthrow of capitalism. And he meant it. From 1830 to 1870, he organized innumerable secret societies and participated in at least five revolutions to bring about the advent of communism. The only method of action open to Blanqui was an elite and tight-knit conspiracy which would strike capital at the appointed time to bring about communism. Each time he failed. And he paid the price by spending more than three decades in prison. His eagerness to rush into revolutionary battle caused him to act before the time was right.[7] While Bensaïd was aware of the great weaknesses of Blanqui's voluntarism, he highlighted one of his key strengths: “it nevertheless saved him from the straitjacket [marais gluant] of scientific’ determinism.”[8]

 



Blanqui, like Benjamin and Bensaïd, remains skeptical of philosophies built upon progress and determinism, highlighting their cost: “History is sketched out with broad strokes in the most beautiful cold blood and with piles of corpses and ruins. No butchery can raise an eyebrow on these emotionless faces. The massacre of a people, evolution of humanity. The invasion of the barbarians? Infusion of young and new blood in the old veins of the Roman Empire. … As for the populations and the cities that the cataclysm flattened on its path … necessity … inevitable march of progress.”[9] Yet if socialism is not guaranteed by the onward march of historical progress, what justifies it? Drawing on Blanqui's insights, Bensaïd argues that capitalism needs be opposed because it is unjust and exploitative. And that the “ethical dimension of socialism as a struggle against injustice is also crucial in Blanqui’s eyes.”[10] For Blanqui, according to Benjamin was not motivated by progress, but with “a determination to do away with present injustice. The firm resolve to snatch humanity at the last moment from the catastrophe looming at every turn…”[11] Thus, if the danger of societal destruction was to be overcome, it was up to revolutionaries to force a decision by creating a collective will to overthrow the old order and halting the march of “progress.”

 



II. Crisis

 



How was this rupture with “progress” going to be achieved? For Bensaïd, the answer revealed itself with the emergence of a revolution crisis. Bensaïd's view of a revolutionary crisis came from Lenin, who said:

 

(1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.[12]

 


However, a revolutionary crisis did not automatically happen when the economy flounders during the business cycle. A revolution crisis, Bensaïd argues, is profoundly political, “it involves a crisis of the power structure with a political dimension from the start.”[13] Major revolutionary crises have occurred throughout history: the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, Cuba, and so many others. It is in these moments that the seemingly impenetrable power and legitimacy of the ruling class and their state apparatus is weakened and can be toppled. It is during a crisis that all the cracks, fault-lines and gaps of society become fully-revealed with all their ugliness: “it acts to lay bare the battle lines, which have been obscured by the mystical phantasmagoria of the commodity.”[14] And Bensaïd argues that for masses of workers and oppressed, who are suddenly awakened to political life “the relationship of forces can be radically altered, creating the possibility of changing the world or at least changing society.”[15] In other words: the “impossible” of a revolution has has abruptly become possible during a crisis.

 



A crisis gives rise to “an exceptional moment” which is perhaps a few hours, a day, a week, six months, or maybe longer, when there is an opening for radically different outcomes: either socialism or more murderous capitalism. As we have seen, Bensaïd does not argue that there is a preordained outcome where revolutionaries are guaranteed to win: “The crisis can be resolved only by defeat, at the hands of a reaction which will often be murderous, or by the intervention of a resolute subject.”[16] The instrument needed for the “resolute subject” to succeed is a vanguard communist party.

 



III. Art of Strategy

 



For a left that has washed its hands of “Leninist authoritarianism,” Bensaïd's advocacy of a revolutionary party may appear quaint at best or a relapse into “totalitarian excesses” at worst. Rather, in the minds of the “good leftists” such as John Holloway (whom Bensaïd sharply criticized), we should change the world “without taking power,” perhaps by growing our own garden or changing our lifestyle or what not. Or if we are a little more bold, maybe letting the powers that be know our “moral outrage.” Then after fighting the good fight, we can go home and pat ourselves on the back without having changed anything in the process. While Bensaïd had a soft spot for libertarian left currents, he understood that anarchism, syndicalism, and any politics that denied a party is bound to lose. If you want to win, you have to develop the means to win. And ultimately without developing a party, according to Bensaïd, we don't even possess politics:

 

A politics without parties (whatever name – movement, organisation, league, party – that they are given) ends up in most cases with a politics without politics: either an aimless tailism towards the spontaneity of social movements, or the worst form of elitist individualist vanguardism, or finally a repression of the political in favour of the aesthetic or the ethical.[17]

 


And at the center of the Bensaïd's strategy to win was the need for a communist party. For him, the way to break the grip of the fetishism of commodities was via crisis and the struggle between parties. As he put it, “this is indeed the Leninist answer to the unsolved puzzle of Marx.”[18] The party's goal is the conquest of power and the establishment of revolutionary rule with a republic of councils (on the model of the Paris Commune). This meant that revolutionaries could not ignore state power because

 

it will not ignore you. You can act superior by refusing to take it, but from Catalonia 1937 to Chiapas, via Chile, experience shows right up to this very day that it will not hesitate to take you in the most brutal fashion. In a word, a strategy of counter-power only has any meaning in the perspective of dual power and its resolution. Who will come out on top?[19]

 


The type of party envisioned by Bensaïd is not the caricature of the paper sellers found at every protest or those locked in arcane debates that resemble medieval theologians discussing with great fervor how many “angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Rather, this one begins with a belief that victory is actually possible. For if one accepts in advance, that the enemy cannot be defeated, then you can never win. Without this perspective, Bensaïd says, we risk backsliding towards reformism and giving up our revolutionary vision:

 

In the best of cases, this something else will be a resistance organization useful for day-today problems. More likely though, renouncing the final goal will lead either to pseudo-realistic adaptations in the day-to-day struggle itself or to an organization focused on the distant future, posing as the best fighter against potential bureaucratic degenerations for lack of anything to propose for the present.[20]

 

Thus without our eyes on the revolutionary horizon and working patiently towards it, communists risk either giving up on the goal and sinking into “practical” politics, which is the old social democratic reformist error, or to remain so fixated on the communist end, that we remain a sect aloof from the suffering and struggles that the masses endure. This gap needs to be bridged by developing a Leninist politics.

 



Some may argue that a Leninist politics with its discipline and organization is foreign to dialectical voluntarism. Yet Peter Hallward argues to the contrary that “it's one thing to dream that another world is possible; it's quite another to organize a practical political project, one that has a chance of of winning the battles that confront it. That's the whole issue - how to get to that point."[21] Since the forces arrayed against us are powerful and united, while those the working masses are often disunited and disorganized, this needs to be overcome by creating a collective will in the shape of a communist party. An instrument is needed to bring the masses together in the shape of a fist. Hallward goes on:

 

Anyone involved in a popular struggle knows that if we are to continue to fight, and to fight to win, then we need to maintain solidarity and unity, to resist fragmentation and dispersal, to invent forms of discipline and organisation, and to encourage means of leadership that are both responsive and decisive. A popular mobilisation prevails when its sense of purpose is strong and its principles are clear, and when it is prepared to take the steps needed to apply them.[22]

 


So if we are serious about building the capacity of a communist party that can win: what do we have to do? For one, majority support is necessary from all the oppressed and exploited classes throughout society. As we saw, Bensaïd believes that the working class needs to be at the center of the revolutionary project, but the struggle cannot be reduced to just those between capital and labor. Rather, Bensaïd took up Gramsci's notion of hegemony and the united front and argues that workers need to have its own vision and need to “demonstrate that another society is possible, with the proletariat itself as the driving force behind that endeavour. This must be demonstrated to some degree before the seizure of power lest this be a leap into the unknown, a half-hearted running jump, a smash-and-grab or a putsch. So the notion of transitional demands and that of the united front are tools for winning over a majority.”[23] And this implies the necessity of a party that is deeply immersion in the popular struggles, but also looking beyond them as well towards a more distant goal.

 



Considering that Bensaïd views of society and social classes are far more complex than that of vulgar Marxism, this perspective is reflected in how he envisions a party needs to operate internally. For one, a party needs to be democratic and pluralist, so it can not only combat the past abuses of socialist and communist movements, but in order to dialectically learn and teach its own cadre:

 

Pluralism within the organization means that we do not hold any definitive truths and that there is a constant exchange between the party that we wish to build and the experiences of the mass movement. Since these experiences are quite diverse, this diversity may be reflected from time to time as currents within our own ranks.[24]

 

This practice is reflected in the interaction of the party with the mass movements where it is immersed. A dialectic of learning and teaching occurs, whereby the party is able to record and synthesize the experiences of the masses in order to better participate in the revolutionary struggle.

 



And more importantly, a party that is not only flexible, democratic, but also centralized so it can correct a mistaken course in time, to ensure that it will enter a revolutionary situation with a correct line: “With a party built on solid foundations it is possible to correct tactical errors, and even more fundamentally wrong orientations. The party is the mediation between theory and practice.”[25] Indeed without that ability, true strategy can not be developed. as the Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke once said, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”[26] That means you can plan to the best of your abilities beforehand, but reality will likely take you by surprise. And if a revolutionary organization is unable to shift its strategy in time, then it will wind up shipwrecked on the shores of history.

 

The example of Lenin is instructive here. Before 1917, Lenin believed that the Russian Revolution would undergo a prolonged bourgeois period as outlined in his 1905 work, The Two Tactics on Social Democracy. However, reality intervened in 1917 with the downfall of the Tsar placed a socialist revolution on the agenda. Lenin recognized this and threw out his old plans, writing the April Theses that the revolution needed to transfer all power to the Soviets (workers' councils). Initially most of the Bolshevik Party were bound to old formulas and schemas, Lenin was able to convince them to recognize the new possibilities and openings created in 1917 and to change course. Since the Bolsheviks already were an open democratic party who were used to careful planning, they were able to change course as new possibilities emerged, enabling them to lead the revolution to victory. Bensaïd would no doubt agree with Zizek, who said we need to repeat Lenin's act once again in our time: ““Lenin” stands for the compelling FREEDOM to suspend the stale existing (post)ideological coordinates...it simply means that we are allowed to think again.” [27] Bensaïd does not fall into the trap of envisioning a party that refuses leadership of the struggle for fear of “vanguardism” (as some autonomists are prone to do). Rather, he says a party needs to build up a majority movement by becoming a pole that is able to attract disparate classes, political forces and movements. A pole “should be able at once to promote unity in a powerful way, and fertilize this unity with revolutionary content....The key will be the questions and forces which arise from experiences and struggles; these will bring out the potential elements for a new revolutionary party.”[28] Historically, in every revolutionary movement there is a pole of attraction for separate movements moving towards the same goal. In Cuba, the July 26th Movement of Fidel Castro did not operate alone, but was part of a large constellation of student, worker, and other political groups. Yet it was the July 26th Movement who served as a pole by attracting and uniting these other movements by providing ideological and political leadership.

 



The ultimate goal orienting the myriad struggles and strategies of a communist party is the seizure of power. Bensaïd views the class struggle not as a linear process, but one that possesses its own ruptures, breaks, and speeds, which he captures in this poignant passage:

 

Revolutions have their own tempo, marked by accelerations and slowing down. They also have their own geometry, where the straight line is broken in bifurcation and sudden turns. The party thus appears in a new light.….It becomes a strategic operator, a sort of gearbox and pointsman of the class struggle. As Walter Benjamin very clearly recognised, the strategic time of politics is not the homogeneous and empty time of classical mechanics, but a broken time, full of knots and wombs pregnant with events.[29]

 

When a revolution erupts, it suspends the old way of doing things, making new openings possible and a Party needs to be ready for these sudden turns.

 



While Mao was not someone Bensaïd agreed with politically, an example from his career proves this point. When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, the Communist Party formed an alliance with the Nationalists, whom they had been at war with for more than ten years. Yet this sharp turn was done with the Communists maintaining both their political independence from the Nationalists and keeping a hold of their weapons. As the war dragged on, the Nationalists proved both unwilling and unable to fight the Japanese for fear of the Communists gaining the advantage. Mao's forces were thus able to prove, in practice, that they were not only committed to fighting the Japanese, but the age old abuses and oppression which afflicted China. When World War II ended in 1945, the Communist Party had gained immense prestige and popularity based on both their program and their struggles against the invader, while the Nationalists were isolated and discredited. A mere four years later the Communist Party managed to take power by toppling the Nationalist regime.

 



A communist party must be able to face the sharp turns, breaks in order to seize the opportunities which present themselves, for they can appear in unexpected corners. And due to the nature of history and struggle, which was composed of breaks and zig-zags, a Party needs to be “a strategizing party – a party that organizes struggles based on suggested goals, that can also organize and limit defeats by preparing a retreat when necessary.”[30] There are examples from Bensaïd's experience of Trotskyist and revolutionary organizations who did not learn this lesson and were either unable to develop a viable politics or limit defeats, such as the Argentine PRT or the Chilean MIR.[31] In the end, both these parties met with utter disaster and defeat. By contrast, the Bolsheviks under Lenin managed to prevent a premature attempt at power in July 1917, realizing that the time was unripe. And because the Bolsheviks learned those lessons, they were able to navigate the rocky waters of 1917 and strike when the time did prove ripe.

 



Throughout this essay, we have used many historical examples to make Bensaïd's points. While he believed that each situation was unique and that the past shouldn't be mechanically repeated, Bensaïd never denied the importance of history for strategy and the party:

 

You can throw history out the door, but it will kick over the traces and come back in through the window...But the historical dialectic of old and new is subtler than any binary or Manichean opposition between old and new, including in the methodological sense. Yes, let the new flourish; do not give in to routine and habit; stay open to surprise and astonishment. This is all useful advice. But how, by what standard, can we evaluate the new if we lose all memory of the old? [32]

When we formulate our strategies and plans for action today, we need to learn from what worked and what went wrong and to study closely the lessons of the past. If communists ultimately reject one strategy or plan of action, we still need to know exactly what it is we are rejecting and why. And Bensaïd's embrace of dialectical voluntarism and strategy is based as much upon his reading of history as upon his openness to the possibilities of the future.





IV. Badiou



 

Bensaïd's insistence on the importance of history to the revolutionary project is at the heart of his polemic with the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou. Badiou, a former Maoist militant upholds a politics of fidelity to the Event in opposition to the reigning tyranny of opinion that there are no emancipatory Truths. According to Bensaïd, “a truth is sparked by an event and spreads like a flame fanned by the breath of a subjective effort that remains forever incomplete. For truth is not a matter of theory but is a ‘practical question’ first and foremost: it is something that occurs, a point of excess, an evental exception, ‘a process from which something new emerges…”[33] An example of a political Truth is the October Revolution, the Storming of the Bastille, or the slave revolt of Spartacus that produce their own faith subjects: Communist party militants, sans culottes, or the liberated slave proclaiming the universal Truth of equality.

 



Badiou, according to Bensaïd, believes that the emergence of a Truth is something that happens from the void and is beyond history. “What exactly is an event? Aleatory by nature, the event cannot be predicted outside a singular situation, nor even deduced from that situation without some unpredictable chance operation.”[34] So how do communists take advantage of an event? How do we develop strategy? How can we recognize the conditions and history that lead to an event? Bensaïd says that,

 

Badiou remains silent on this score. By refusing to venture into the dense thickets of real history, into the social and historical determination of events, Badiou’s notion of the political tips over into a wholly imaginary dimension: this is politics made tantamount to an act of levitation, reduced to a series of unconditioned events and ‘sequences’ whose exhaustion or end remain forever mysterious.[35]

 

Bensaïd argues that Badiou's subject remain outside of history (following the worst of Althusser), but rather a revolutionary subject is no longer the working class struggling to proclaim its own politics and this amounts to an “autonomous politics of the oppressed....[and] this divorce between event and history (between the event and its historically determined conditions) tends to render politics if not unthinkable then at least impracticable.”[36] This means that Badiou's politics is just a grand refusal, a 'Platonic Gesture” of pure 'free decision' that ignores the necessity of a party capable of intervening and producing a collective will. Fidelity, in Badiou's sense, is the refusal to surrender or to submit, but is unable to think on strategy or how to develop organizations.

 



Bensaïd traces the problems of Badiou's understanding Marx and history to his inability to come to terms with the legacy of Stalin and Mao. Bensaïd reproaches Badiou for being unable to envision a communist or Marxist politics outside of a Maoist milieu. In fact, Badiou says that the old Marxist-Leninist party is now exhausted and believes revolutionary politics in the future will be “post-party.” While it could justly be argued that the alternative of Trotskyism that Bensaïd implies is not much more viable, but that aside, what does Badiou offer as an alternative? The political practice of Badiou's own L'Organization Politique (OP) is done at a distance from the state, intervening in a few local struggles, but without a political program and divorcing politics from economics (but in practice accepting some reliance upon the state). According to Hallward, the political practice of the OP and Badiou is not an practical revolutionary alternative, but a “stoical affirmation of a worthy ideal or subjective principle, but as divorced from any substantial relation to the material organization of the situation.”[37]

 



By Bensaïd's standard, this shows the weaknesses of translating Badiou's ideas into political action. This is not the end of his polemic with Badiou, seemingly defeated at the hands of Bensaïd. Recently, Badiou has affirmed the need for a political organization which curiously resembles that of a communist party (without using that name), in his The Rebirth of History:

 

A politics regards as eternal what the riot has unearthed in the form of the existence of an inexistent, and which is the sole content of a rebirth of History. To do this , it is necessary that in the light of the Idea, which abstractly unites militants , the organization retains traces within itself of what made for the creative power of the historical riot: contraction, intensification and localisation.

 

Classically, contraction (whereby a small minority is the genuine existence of the whole of the riot) is guarded by strict rules of membership of the organization. A formal demarcation is created between those who are of it and those who are not, which is as powerful as the demarcation during a riot between those who are there and those who stay at home. Intensification is preserved by militant activism, a life devoted to the demands of action, a subjectivity that is keener and more sensitive to circumstances than one which has reverted to routine existence . Localization will be guarded by firm rules of conquest of the sites where one is present (a particular popular market, an African workers ' hostel , a factory, a tower block on some housing estate, and so on) . This set constitutes the militant dimension of a particular type of organization, which was called ' communist party ' for some decades in the twentieth century, but which must doubtless seek a different name today.[38]

 


It remains to be seen how Badiou's recent, and cautious, advocacy of political advocacy will impact his overall political and philosophical project. Is he breaking with the limitations of the organizational form of OP and the “post-party” and returning (or repeating?) a Leninist gesture that Bensaïd would wink at in approval? Maybe. Maybe not. But it would appear that Bensaïd's assessment of Badiou's philosophy - as rendering revolutionary politics impossible - is not be the last word.

 

V. Conclusion

 



Daniel Bensaïd's thought and practice was directed toward thinking through how to maintain a revolutionary fidelity, the necessity of organization, strategy, and the importance of history. Yet he always insisted, following Benjamin and Blanqui, that history remained radically open with no guarantee of victory. So in that sense, Bensaïd should not be seen as a new messiah who offers us the “correct path” to inevitable triumph. That would be a betrayal of what he stood for. Rather, Bensaïd remained committed to the revolutionary cause while others fell away and he was still envisioning how to do the “impossible” when others had surrendered to being “realistic.” The questions he asked of revolutionaries remain with us. All that more than anything justifies the importance of Daniel Bensaïd and we ignore him at our peril.

 

Endnotes

 

[1] Daniel Bensaïd, An Impatient Life: A Memoir (New York: Verso, 2013), 109.

 

[2] Peter Hallward, “The Will of the People,” Radical Philosophy 155 (May/June 2009): 17.

 

[3] Daniel Bensaïd, “Theses of Resistance,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Bensaïd/2004/12/resist.htm

 

[4] Daniel Bensaïd, “Marxisms, theory, yesterday and today,” International Viewpoint. http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1929

 

[5] Daniel Bensaïd, “Stalinism and Bolshevism,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Bensaïd/2005/12/stal-bolsh.htm

 

[6] Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm

 

[7] For more on Blanqui, see my forthcoming book, Specters of Communism; "The will to act: The life and thought of Louis-Auguste Blanqui,” LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal. http://links.org.au/node/4115 ; “Despite It All: Blanqui’s Eternity By the Stars,” Counterpunch. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/12/13/blanquis-eternity-by-the-stars/ (Most of this paragraph is a direct quote from the article)

 

[8] Daniel Bensaïd and Michael Lowy, “Auguste Blanqui, heretical communist,” Radical Philosophy 185 (May/Jun 2014): 27.

 

[9] Quoted in ibid. 27.

 

[10] Ibid. 30.

 

[11] Quoted in Michael Lowy, Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin's 'On the Concept of History' (New York: Verso, 2005), 84.

 

[12] V. I. Lenin, “Collapse of the Second International,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/csi/ii.htm

 

[13] Daniel Bensaïd, “Revolutionary Strategy Today,” International Institute for Research and Education 4 (1987): 9. fileserver.iire.org/nsr/NSR4.pdf

 

[14] Daniel Bensaïd, ““Leaps, Leaps, Leaps”: Lenin and Politics,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Bensaïd/2002/07/leaps.htm

 

[15] Daniel Bensaïd, “Strategy and Party,” International Viewpoint. http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2198

 

[16]““Leaps, Leaps, Leaps”: Lenin and Politics” (note 14).

 

[17] Ibid.

 

[18] Ibid.

 

[19] Ibid.

 

[20] Bensaïd 1987, 4.

 

[21] Peter Hallward, “What Is Political Will? Peter Hallward Interviewed by Samuel Grove,” MRZine. http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2013/hallward231213.html

 

[22] Peter Hallward, “From Prescription to Volition,” Politics and Culture. http://politicsandculture.org/2014/09/01/from-prescription-to-volition-by-peter-hallward/

 

[23] “Strategy and Party” (note 14).

 

[24] Ibid.

 

[25] Bensaïd 1987, 26.

 

[26] Helmuth Graf von Moltke, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, ed. Daniel J. Hughes (Novato: Presido Press, 1995), 45.

 

[27] Slavoj Zizek, “Repeating Lenin,” The European Graduate School. http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/articles/repeating-lenin/

 

[28] Bensaïd 1987, 25.

 

[29] ““Leaps, Leaps, Leaps”: Lenin and Politics” (note 14).

 

[30] “Strategy and Party” (note 14).

 

[31] For Bensaïd on the RPT and MIR see 1987, 14-16 and my “Chile's Movement of the Revolutionary Left,” Kasama Project. http://www.kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/chile-s-movement-of-the-revolutionary-left

 

[32] Daniel Bensaïd, “On a Recent Book by John Holloway,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Bensaïd/2005/xx/holloway.htm

 

[33] Daniel Bensaïd, “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event,” Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/Bensaïd/2004/xx/badiou.htm

 

[34] Ibid.

 

[35] Ibid.

 

[36] Ibid.

 

[37] See Peter Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 242. For more on Badiou and the political practice of OP see ibid. 223-242

 

[38] Alain Badiou, Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings (New York: Verso, 2012), 64-5.

 






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