Saturday, January 29, 2011
Cairo, Cairo, Mi Amour: Notes on the Probable Failure of the Egyptian Revolution
Like many of you, I've been watching the events in Cairo unfold with great enthusiasm, and given the usual negative tone to these blog posts, I thought the uprising in Egypt would provide an excellent opportunity to affirm something for a change. So, in an attempt at optimism, let's admit to ourselves the high probability that what's happening in Egypt will fail!
Let's admit that the remarkable courage of the Egyptian people, many of whom have staked their bodies and their lives upon reclaiming the Commons, will most likely not shatter the order of global capitalism. But, let us also, and in the same breath, celebrate this glorious failure. Let us recognize that each failure - the UC protests, the London protests, the Egyptian uprising, the Tunisian revolt and so on and so forth - contains a kernel of the possible. In each of these instances, we glimpse a possible body which is almost visible amidst the dazzling spectacle of the hypervisible.
The greatest mistake with respect to this almost inevitable failure is to fall into a Thermidorean pattern of thought. That is to say, the greatest error, and the error which neoliberalism demands that we make, is to equate the final result of Egypt (which could very well be disappointing for any communist aspirations) with the spirit of the revolt as such. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of this spirit, which has been noted numerous times, is that it wasn't fueled by any single group. This movement of the youth seems to have erupted spontaneously. And, in this sense, this movement lacks a telos; in fact, this lack of a telos seems to propel this movement to generate their extraordinary demands and refusals in the face of hegemony machine consisting of the Mubarak regime, the Western media, the Obama administration and Israel -i.e. the usual suspects.
A couple of notes on these suspects. 1) Note how often even the otherwise commendable Aljazeera was asking "who will replace Mubarak?" 2) Note the insistence of Press Secretary Gibbs and Secretary of State Clinton that Egypt "not slide into chaos" and 3) that the Mubarak regime should "address the legitimate grievances" of the people. 4) Note the preoccupation with whether or not the freedom fighters of Egypt are "looting." This is all precisely the Thermindorean discourse of neoliberalism.
1) The demand to know "who will replace Mubarak" attempts to contain the movement in the streets by quite literally capping this rupture with another figurehead, and almost certainly one supported by U.S. led Empire.
2) The "concern" that the country will "slide into chaos" implies that "order" should be restored, and the only order that now exists and can thus be restored is that of neoliberalism. (But of course, the people of Egypt have announced a new order. This order has formed upon the street; this body-of-truth appears in its disappearance as fragments of the army coalesce with fragments of protesters, as the Muslim Brotherhood is enveloped in the movement, as the poor and the students stand together. . . this body-of-truth only appears to be a slide toward chaos when viewed through the lens of the restorative or rather reactionary order of neoliberalism.)
3) The grievances that we see issued from the people of Egypt are precisely illegitimate; they cannot be legitimated by the current Mubarak government because they are first and foremost based upon the dissolution of this government.
4) Finally, in Egypt, something like 50% of the population lives below the poverty line and wealth is anything but evenly distributed. In the context of global capitalist domination, can anyone imagine a revolution that would not feature some attack upon private property and commodities. I would say no, and when this economic offensive happens, it will almost surely be called "looting" by the mainstream media again as a way to demonize revolutionary forces and champion liberal values.
One final point. As has been noted on Aljazeera, prior to this almost certainly unsuccessful revolution, the subjective orientation of the Egyptian people was apparently quite apathetic. That a seemingly spontaneous revolt sprang from an otherwise quite apathetic population is remarkable. We might say that, in this respect, Egypt provides the most hopeful evidence for what Badiou calls an "active nihilism." Unlike the steadfastly Thermidorean "passive nihilists" who "wish to convey to the young the idea that the essence of discordance consists in the defeat of beliefs, the crisis of ideologies, the crash of Marxism" the "active nihilist" "has never believed" but is nevertheless "in search of a form of confidence." For the active nihilist, the "only future is courage, and it is toward this courage that his anxiety guides him by the sureness of the real" (Theory of the Subject 329). If it is indeed possible for the great nihilism of postmodernity to be swept up in confidence and courage, then it must look something like the streets of Egypt do at this hour. And if it is possible in Egypt, then it is possible in all the other outposts of nihilism around the globe. In the end, what Egypt will have not failed to do is give us a glimpse of this Subject of courage and confidence, and it is our duty to not fail in our recognition of this Subject, this incredible body-of-truth.
This is indeed our duty now for the future spuds.