Category Archives: Radical Philosophy

BarackenbewohnerInnen in Durban im Aufbruch

http://akkrise.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/barackenbewohnerinnen-in-durban-im-aufbruch/

BarackenbewohnerInnen in Durban im Aufbruch

Richard Pithouse

In der südafrikanischen Hafenstadt Durban begann der Bau von Barackensiedlungen mit dem Landverlust und der Auferlegung verschiedener Steuern nach der Zerstörung des Zulu-Königreiches durch den englischen Kolonialismus 1883 und dem gleichzeitigen Zuzug indischer ArbeiterInnen, die ihren Arbeitsvertrag auf den Zuckerplantagen erfüllt hatten, in die Stadt. Bald versuchten die Kolonialbehörden, gegen die Siedlungen vorzugehen, aber diese wurden mit einer Serie von Rebellionen verteidigt. Eine Zeitlang blühte Cato Manor, die größte Siedlung, auf und ihr städtischer kosmopolitischer Ansatz schuf alles, von ihren berühmten homosexuellen communities, deren homosexuelle Ehen bahnbrechend für Südafrika waren, bis hin zu allen Arten von Synthesen von Musicals und Tänzen, die bis in die Gegenwart wirken. Aber im März 1958, als die Bevölkerungsanzahl in Cato Manor bereits 120.000 betrug und der Apartheidstaat seine stärkste Macht erlangte, begann der Stadtrat von Durban, der innerhalb einer kolonialistischen akademischen und politischen Übereinstimmung mit globaler Tragweite arbeitete, ein „Slumbereinigungs“-Projekt, das darauf abzielte, BarackenbewohnerInnen zwangsweise in rassisch getrennte moderne townships am Stadtrat zu übersiedeln.

Zwangsumsiedlungen wurden militant bekämpft, vor allem deshalb, weil die Transportkosten von den neuen townships zu den Arbeitsplätzen nicht leistbar waren. Demonstrationen im Jahr 1959 stoppten die Räumungen drei Mal. Es gab Augenblicke, in denen der Widerstand eindeutig als ein Frauenprojekt organisiert war und sich dementsprechend artikulierte. Als der Konflikt eskalierte, kamen Menschen ums Leben. Im Jänner 1960 marschierten 6.000 Menschen in die Stadt. Die Proteste in und um die Siedlung waren bis zu einem gewissen Grad toleriert worden, aber in dem Moment, da die BarackenbewohnerInnen in die Stadt marschierten, war es vorbei mit der Toleranz. Die Armee wurde eingesetzt und der Widerstand brach zusammen. Die Massenräumungen wurden bis August 1965 weitgehend abgeschlossen und gelten immer noch als ein großes Verbrechen der Apartheid.

Aber Anfang der 80er Jahre verlor der Apartheidstaat, der Namibia besetzt hielt, in Angola mit den Kubanern und der MPLA im Krieg lag und aufständische township-Rebellionen im ganzen Land bekämpfte, die Kapazität, die Bewegung der AfrikanerInnen völlig zu regulieren. Es gelang den Menschen, in die Städte zu strömen, unter Mißachtung des Staates Land zu besetzen und vom Staat autonome communities zu gründen. Diese Bewegung in die Stadt wurde in den weißen und indischen communities mit gewaltiger rassistischer Panik aufgenommen, während sie vom ANC im Untergrund und im Exil gefeiert wurde. In den Außenbezirken entwickelten sich die Siedlungen üblicherweise als sorgfältig versteckte Strukturen, im dichten Busch auf steilem Terrain nächtens errichtet. Offener Widerstand gegenüber Räumungsbedrohungen wurde möglich, als die Siedlungen groß genug wurden.

Es gab eine herbe Pattsituation. Aber gegen Ende der 80er Jahre lautete der Konsens der von der Weltbank unterstützten Eliten, dass Barackensiedlungen, nunmehr „informelle Siedlungen“ anstatt „BesetzerInnencamps“ genannt, eher Möglichkeiten zur Selbsthilfe mittels öffentlicher Unternehmungen denn eine Bedrohung der weißen Modernität, des Staates und des Kapitals seien. Es wurden NGOs geschaffen, die in die imperialistischen Machtstrukturen eingebettet waren, um die Armen dahingehend zu beeinflussen, dass sie nur auf Selbsthilfe mittels kleiner Geschäfte hoffen könnten, während die Reichen mit dem großen Geschäft in geschützten Büroanlagen fortfuhren.

Mit der Legalisierung des ANC 1990 wurde von den Komitees in den Siedlungen erwartet, dass sie sich der South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO) anschlossen und in jedem Wahlbezirk erhielt jedes Komitee einen Sitz im Branch Executive Committee des lokalen ANC, dem der lokale Rat vorstand. So sollte der bottom-up-Ansatz in der Volksmeinung gefödert werden. Anfänglich schien das zu funktionieren.

In den 90er Jahren versprach der ANC, dass er sich zu allererst “gemeinsam mit unseren Leuten die Anliegen der Ärmsten der Armen, die in den besetzten Lagern wie Kennedy Road, Lusaka und Mbambayi leben, kümmern“ werde.1 Ihre Macht, und damit ihre Macht, die Militanz der Massen zu demobilisieren und für ihre Traditionen zu sprechen, wurde zuerst und vor allem im Namen der Ärmsten gerechtfertigt – der Leute in den „BesetzerInnenlagern“ wie Kennedy Road.

2001 wurde für ein Pilotprojekt des UN-Habitat-Projektes Städte ohne Slums ausgewählt. Das wurde anfangs als der Beginn der Einlösung der Versprechen des ANC gefeiert. Aber nun, da Barackensiedlungen mehr als Slums galten, die zu säubern seien, denn als informelle Siedlungen, die entwickelt gehörten, wurde sofort die Lieferung von Strom und anderen Dienstleistungen an die Siedlungen gestoppt. Das Slumbereinigungsprojekt plant, eine Minderheit der BarackenbewohnerInnen zwangsweise in schlecht gebaute Häuser in der Größe von Baracken in neuen townships in der ländlichen Peripherie der Stadt umzusiedeln. Die Mehrheit wird als kriminell, dreckig und als Träger von Krankheiten betrachtet, und ihre Häuser werden einfach zerstört werden. Die Siedlungen werden in einer Reihenfolge zerstört, die sich daraus ergibt, in welchem Ausmaß sie von der bürgerlichen Welt aus wahrgenommen werden. Umsiedlung in die ländliche Peripherie der Stadt schafft die Menschen weg von ihrer Arbeit, den Schulen, der Gesundheitsversorgung und allem, was die Stadt sonst noch zu bieten hat, und ist ausnahmslos katastrophal. Diese Rückkehr der brutalen Logik der Apartheid wird von einer technokratischen Rationalität übertüncht, die sich selbst zum Transportmittel erklärt, das an die Armen „liefern“ wird. Tatsächlich liefert sie die Armen den Händen der Reichen aus. Aber weil „Lieferung“ unerbittlich als technokratisches und nicht als politisches Projekt präsentiert wird, wird die Opposition dagegen in der öffentlichen Meinung der Eliten als zwangsläufig kriminell betrachtet.

Als das klar wurde, wurde die Parteistruktur, die bis in die Intimität des täglichen Lebens reicht, dazu verwendet, Meinungsverschiedenheiten einzudämmen. Oft hat das die Form offener und manchmal bewaffneter Einschüchterung angenommen. Aber letztes Jahr registrierte die Polizei an die 6.000 illegale Proteste im ganzen Land, von denen die meisten aus den Barackensiedlungen kamen. Sowohl Thabo Mbeki als auch die linken Intellektuellen, die mehr an einer Politik für die Armen als einer Politik der Armen arbeiten, bezeichnen diesen Aufschwung von Massenmilitanz als „Dienstleistungsproteste“. Mit anderen Worten, der ANC und viele seiner elitären linken KritikerInnen teilen die Sichtweise, dass die Armen eine effektivere technokratische „Lieferung“ fordern. Würden sie mit den Armen sprechen, anstatt für sie zu sprechen, sie würden der Staat und die Linken rasch eines Besseren belehrt.

Der erste große Bruch mit der Kontrolle der Partei über die Siedlungen in Durban geschah am 19. März letzten Jahres. Am Vortag hatten Bulldozer damit begonnen, ein Stück Land, das an die Siedlung Kennedy Road angrenzt und schon seit langem als Bauplatz für Wohnraum versprochen war, aufzugraben. Die Menschen erfuhren von den Arbeitern auf der Baustelle, dass es sich hier nicht um den Beginn der lange erwarteten Entwicklung von Wohnraum handelte, sondern dass hier eine Ziegelfabrik gebaut würde. Sie ersuchten den lokalen Stadtrat, zu kommen und zu erklären, was hier geschah. Er kam mit der Polizei an und verlangte die Verhaftung seiner WählerInnen. Er bezeichnete sie als Kriminelle. In dieser Nacht gab es in der Siedlung ein Massentreffen. Das SANCO-Komitee geriet unter starken Druck, und nach langen und sorgfältigen Diskussionen wurde eine neue Form von Aktion beschlossen. Früh am nächsten Morgen verbarrikadierten einige hundert Menschen eine wichtige Straße mit brennenden Autoreifen und hielten die Barrikade gegen die Aufstandsbekämpfungspolizei 4 Stunden lang aufrecht; es kam zu 14 Verhaftungen. Alfred Mdletshe erklärte Fred Kockott, dem ersten Journalisten vor Ort, dass „wir es leid sind, im Dreck zu leben und gehen. Der Rat muss uns Land für Wohnraum zur Verfügung stellen. Stattdessen geben sie es Eigentumsentwicklern, um Geld daraus zu machen.“2 Mit diesem spektakulären Akt kündigten die Siedlung und ihr regierendes Komitee ihre Unabhängigkeit von Parteikontrolle an.

Am Montag nach den 14 Verhaftungen führten 1.200 Leute einen illegalen Marsch zur Polizeistation durch, wo die 14 festgehalten wurden. Ihre Forderung lautete, entweder werden die Kennedy Road 14 freigelassen oder die gesamte community wird verhaftet, weil „wenn sie kriminell sind, sind wir alle kriminell“. Der Marsch wurde mit noch mehr Schlägen, Hunden und Tränengas zerschlagen. Damals gab es keine Verhaftungen, denn die Polizei suchte nach einer bestimmten Person – S’bu Zikode, den jungen Vorsitzenden des Kennedy Road Komitees. Er entkam, als Frau verkleidet, im Schutz der Menge. Danach, zurück in der Siedlung, wurde die Reihe junger Männer, die die Gasgranaten auf die Polizisten, die gegen ihre gepanzerten Fahrzeuge gelehnt waren, zurück warfen, von betrunkenen, sarkastischen Rufen „Viva Mandela!“ und „Viva makhomanisi!“ (Kommunisten) gefolgt von hämischem Lachen unterhalten. Bei einem dichtgedrängten Treffen im Gemeindesaal an diesem Abend gab es keine leeren Parolen, pompösen Reden oder ritualisierten Aufrufe autoritärer Führer, die nationale Befreiungsbewegungen an oder nahe der Macht charakterisieren. Es gab nur kurze und intensive debattierte praktische Vorschläge. Sie hatten den Tunnel der Entdeckung ihres Betrugs betreten und ihre Fähigkeit zu offenem Widerstand entdeckt. In diesem Moment gab es eine überwältigende Stimmung völliger kollektiver Isolierung von den Strukturen und den Kuchenstücken verfassungsmäßiger Macht. Der Deckel des Gehorsams war geöffnet worden. Zikode erklärte „nun sind wir auf uns gestellt”. Das eine hatte zu dem anderen geführt. Nichts war gleich geblieben seit der kollektiven Auseinandersetzung mit den beiden Wahrheiten, die aus der Straßenblockade zutage getreten waren.

Alain Badiou besteht darauf, dass politische Courage nur eine Definition kennt: “Exil ohne Wiederkehr”.3 Viele Menschen fürchteten, dass sie für ihre Exilierung von der Unterordnung unter äußere Autoritäten einen hohen Preis zahlen würden. Aber sie unternahmen sie, obwohl sie in einen offenen Abgrund starrten und sie erhielten ihr Exil aufrecht, als sich immer deutlicher zeigte, dass es das Anfreunden mit Verstecken im Busch, Schlägen, Verhaftungen, verängstigten Familien, kreisenden Hubschraubern, Alpträumen und für einige Todesdrohungen forderte. Die Idee des Exils funktioniert oft als pathologische, narzisstische Form der Machtlegitimierung einer kleinen Avantgarde. Aber Zikode hat oft darauf bestanden, dass „unsere hausgemachte Politik“ derart beschaffen sein muss, dass „jede alte gogo (Großmutter) sie verstehen kann“. Es gibt eine eindeutige und oft öffentlich wiederholte Selbstverpflichtung, mehr gemeinsam denn für die Masse zu denken. Wir kamen drauf, dass kollektives Exil seine guten Seiten hat. Erstens ist es eine Voraussetzung für Massenmilitanz. Wie Peter Hallward erklärt, indem er Baliou zitiert:

Politik ist erst und vor allem um eine radikale Bruderschaft organisiert, ehe sie sich auf das imaginäre Streben nach Gleichheit oder die symbolische Annahme von Freiheit bezieht. Echte Politik beginnt mit einer Aufdeckung der „wahren Gewalt von Bruderschaft“ und wird aufrecht erhalten in der praktischen Anwesenheit ihrer „Demonstration“ [Manifestation]. Politik existiert nur im Medium ihrer aktiven Manifestation: Bruderschaft ist weniger darstellbar und weniger eine Funktion soziologischen Wissens oder gesetzlich Abläufe als eine Demonstration oder ein Aufstand.4

Zweitens ist die Reflexion vom Exil aus eine Vorbedingungen dafür, Philosophie zu betreiben. Wieder Badiou: „Für den Philosophen ist jeder Konsens suspekt“.5 Pierre Hadot argumentiert, dass „philosophischer Diskurs nun dazu tendiert, als Objekt nichts anderes zu haben als weiteren philosophischen Diskurs“6 und er schlägt dagegen Philosophie als eine Lebensweise vor – „eine Konversation, eine Transformation einer Lebensweise und ein Streben nach Weisheit.“7 Das Exil, und die Courage, dort zu bleiben, machten das möglich. Das ist einer der Gründe, warum das oft wiederholte Mantra von S’bu Zikode, dass „wir sind im Leben arm, nicht aber im Geist“ so rasch Teil des gemeinsamen Selbstverständnisses dieses Kampfes wurde.

Nach zehn Tagen im Gefängnis, verschiedenen Vorführungen vor Gericht und schließlich der maßgeblichen kostenlosen Intervention von AnwältInnen, die den Magistrat kannten, wurden die Kennedy Road 14 entlassen. Das Kennedy Road Development Komitee organisierte ein heroisches Willkommen für die vierzehn. Jeder der Angeklagten sprach, und jeder beteuerte seine Bereitschaft, noch einmal Gefängnis zu riskieren. Dann, ehe die Musik lauter gedreht wurde, begeisterte Zikode die Menge mit einer sanften Rede über Leiden als eine Quelle und Legitimation von Revolte. Das Leiden der Beherrschten als eine Basis für die Theoretisierung von Widerstand durch die Beherrschten ist in der aktuellen metropolitanen Theorie nicht modern. Das überrascht nicht. Aber es ist sehr wichtig, die Realität des Leidens ernst zu nehmen, denn radikale Politik muss verstehen, dass es eine Wahrheit dieser Welt ist, muss sich darauf beziehen, indem sie es anerkennt und teilt, und davon lernen. In den folgenden Treffen sprachen Menschen oft darüber, „im Leiden erwachsen geworden“ zu sein. Lewis Gordon hat die Tatsache hervorgehoben, dass Fanons Rebellion gegen „eine Abfolge von Negationen der Menschheit“ mit Weinen begann. Fanon berichtete, dass:

Gestern, als ich gegenüber der Welt erwachte, sah ich den Himmel, der sich vollkommen entfaltete. Ich wollte hinauf, aber die ausgeweidete Stille kam über mich, ihre Flügel waren paralysiert. Ohne Verantwortung, in einer Grätsche aus Nichts und Endlosigkeit, begann ich zu ewinen.8

Dieses Weinen war das Akzeptieren eines hohen Grades an Entfremdung von den gegenwärtigen Kuchenstücken – Unwahrheiten. Es war nicht ein kathartisches Öffnen in eine Politik der Freude. Es war der Beginn von etwas insgesamt Drastischerem – das Ende des falschen Glaubens. Die Idee, dass dieser Kampf um die Wahrheit geführt wurde – entschieden die Wahrheit und ihre Konsequenzen hochhalten und entschieden die Wahrheit gegen die Lügen zu stellen war von Beginn an zentral in den Diskussionen. Jetzt wird oft gesagt, dass diese Offenheit für die Wahrheit, eine Offenheit, die jede und jeden und alles zu Subjekten kritischer kollektiver Reflexion macht, eine notwendige Vorbedingung für politische Projekte, die Legitimität haben sollen, ist.

Den ersten beiden illegalen Protesten der Siedlung Kennedy Road folgte eine Serie von legalen Märschen zu den örtlichen GemeinderätInnen, an einigen nahmen an die 5.000 Menschen teil. Der Staat versuchte die übliche Mischung einer Strategie von Lock- und Zwangsmitteln, um die Märsche zu stoppen, wobei zu letzteren zählte, die Siedlung mittels einer spektakulären Zurschaustellung staatlicher Macht von der Armee besetzen zu lassen. Aber die Demonstrationen gingen weiter und es beteiligten sich Menschen aus mehr und mehr Siedlungen. Bei jedem dieser Märsche trugen die DemonstrantInnen einen Sarg mit und hielten dann eine Begräbnisperformance ab, bei der der Stadtrat vor seinem Büro begraben wurde. Sie begruben den Stadtrat nicht nur als unzulängliche Instanz eines Gemeinderats, sondern sie begruben die ganze Idee einer von oben organisierten Kontrolle durch die Partei. Kennedy Road hatte mit SANCO brechen müssen, wenn sie politisches Exil akzeptierten. Aber nun begannen andere Siedlungen sich außerhalb der SANCO-Komitees zu artikulieren, die sie als dem lokalen ANC gegenüber verpflichtet betrachteten, und autonome Komitees zu wählen, die als den Menschen in den Siedlungen gegenüber rechenschaftspflichtig betrachtet wurden. Das wurde nicht zwangsläufig als anti-ANC empfunden. In der Siedlung Foreman Road argumentierte Mnikelo Ndabankulu, dass das neue autonome Komitee nicht gegen den ANC war, sondern dass SANCO „wie Christen war, die den Bischof anbeten, anstatt dass sie zu Gott beten“. Er legte ein mächtiges Zeugnis ab, wie er die Geschichte des Kampfes und des ANC von seinem Großvater in seinem ländlichen Dorf in der Transkei gelernt hatte, und blieb den Ideen des ANC verbunden, nicht aber dessen Führung. In einigen Siedlungen führte diese Position zu ernsthaften und wiederholten bewaffneten Einschüchterungen durch Mitglieder und Verbündete früherer SANCO-Komitees. Aber am 6. Oktober trafen sich 17 Männer und 15 Frauen, die in 12 Siedlungen, die nun autonome Komitees hatten, als VertreterInnen gewählt worden waren, um sich selbst formal als Bewegung zu konstituieren, Abahlali baseMjondolo, und um sich gegenseitig zu versichern, dass sie zusammenstehen und zusammen um Land und um Wohnraum in der Stadt kämpfen würden.

Von Anfang an waren die Treffen der Motor des Kampfes von Abahlali. Musik, Tanz, ökumenische Gedenken für Menschen, die in den unbarmherzigen Barackenbränden gestorben waren, einfach rumhängen und eine neue Fußball-Liga mit 16 Vereinen, all das dient dazu, die Courage zu erhalten und Solidarität zu weben. Aber die Treffen, die immer für alle offen sind, sind der Ort, an dem die intellektuelle Arbeit getan wird. Viele AktivistInnen haben guten Grund, die Treffen als langsame, enervierende Alpträume zu scheuen. Aber Fanon, ein Mann mit einer zweifellos engen Bindung an Aktion, feiert sie als liturgische Akte. Die religiöse Sprache ist nicht nur deshalb angebracht, weil die Treffen dazu dienen können, die Verleumdeten zu verbinden und zu legitimieren und um Hoffnung zu schaffen. Sie ist auch angemessen, weil die Treffen, wenn sie wirklich gegenüber dem breiteren Leben, wie es in allgemeinen gelebt wird, offen sind, ein Ort für Menschen und communities sind, um etwas Neues zu werden – in diesem Fall historische AgentInnen in der materiellen Welt.

Wie Fanon empfiehlt auch Alain Badiou einen Bruch mit der Vertretungspolitik, betrachtet lokale Politik als Ort dafür und preist die Treffen als zentral für einen radikalen Prozess. Denn Badiou:

Zu sagen, dass Politik “von den Massen” gemacht wird bedeutet schlichtweg, dass anders als bürgerliche Verwaltung diese sich selbst die Aufgabe stellt, das Bewußtsein der Menschen in ihren Prozess mit einzubeziehen, und das tatsächliche Leben der Beherrschten direkt zu berücksichtigen. … Politik ist von den Massen, nicht weil sie die „Interessen der großen Mehrheit“ berücksichtigt, sondern weil sie auf der wahrhaftigen Annahme beruht, dass niemand versklavt ist, ob in Gedanken oder in der Tat, von der Bindung die aus den Interessen kommt, die eine reine Funktion von jemandes Ort ist.9

Die Diskussion auf Abahlali-Treffen ist nicht eine Aufführung von Einschließung, um einen anderswo bestimmten Ausgang zu legitimieren. Gewählte FührerInnen und Individuen mit unterschiedlichen Formen relativer Privilegien tendieren üblicherweise zu Positionen, die sie nicht hatten, als sie angekommen waren. Wenn die Treffen zu einem Ergebnis führen, sind wir alle diesem verpflichtet. Das beruht auf sehr geschätzten ethischen Verfplichtungen. Aber ebenso auf Notwendigkeit. Es gibt keinen anderen Weg, eine gemeinsame Übereinstimmung für ein riskantes politisches Projekt innerhalb einer äußerst unterschiedlichen Gruppe von verletzbaren Menschen mit schwerwiegenden Erfahrungen von Marginalisierung und Ausbeutung in vielen Sphären des Lebens, darunter politischen Projekten, die in ihrem Namen durchgeführt wurden, zu schaffen und aufrecht zu erhalten. Es gibt keine Patronage zu verwalten. Wenn Demokratie jemals zu einer Aufführung wird, statt dass sie Realität ist, dann wird die kollektive Bewegung aus den Orten, an denen BarackenbewohnerInnen sich aufhalten, enden. Das wissen alle.

Die lokalen Wahlen standen an. Viele Leute wollten ursprünglich, dass Abahlali unabhängige KandidatInnen aufstellt. Aber schlußendlich wurde beschlossen, einen kollektiven Boykott zu organisieren. Der Boykott wurde in einer Serie von Diskussionen, die zum Schluß kamen, dass es einen Unterschied zwischen „Parteipolitik“ und „Volkspolitik“ gibt, und dass erstere, die als Mechanismus der Kontrolle durch die Eliten identifiziert wurde, immer zum Einfangen der letzteren, die als Raum für Volksdemokratie identifiziert wurde, führt, genau theoretisiert. Die Entscheidung, sich für Volkspolitik zu entscheiden, ist keine Verpflichtung, die Autonomie vom Staat zu betreiben. Auf der anderen Seite gibt es einen harten, täglich geführten Kampf, die lokalen Manifestationen des Staates der Gesellschaft unterzuordnen und, auf Grundlage der Bedingungen jeder Siedlung, Zugang zu staatlichen Dienstleistungen wie Wasser, Strom, Toiletten, Müllentsorgung, Bildung und Gesundheitsversorgung zu gewinnen. Jedenfalls ist es eine Entscheidung, die politische Autonomie der Siedlung zu verfolgen. Die prinzipielle Entscheidung, eine Distanz zu dem zu schaffen, was allgemein als Form von Politik betrachtet wird, die einen unvermeidlichen, korrumpierenden Einfluss auf jeden Versuch, einen auf Wahrheit beruhenden Kampf zu führen, hat, war der Schlüssel für den raschen Aufbau einer Massenbewegung. Menschen in anderen Siedlungen waren im allgemeinen begierig darauf, mit Menschen zu sprechen, die sich öffentlich darauf festgelegt hatten, politisch gegenüber der konstitutionellen Macht autonom zu bleiben und permanent die konstitutionelle Macht zu hinterfragen. Die Festlegung darauf, die Volkspolitik autonom gegenüber dem korrumpierenden Einfluss der Staatsmacht zu halten beinhaltete eine Verfplichtung einer/eines jeden, die/der ein gewähltes Amt in der Bewegung annahm, sich selbst an die letzte Stelle zu setzen auf der Liste0, wenn der Wohnraum gewonnen sein würde. Das war ein dramatischer Bruch mit der Politik der lokalen Patronage, die so typisch für den ANC und SANCO war.

“Volkspolitik” wurde auch als ein anhaltendes Projekt des sich entwickelnden Selbstbewußtseins theoretisiert, S’bu Zikode, Chef von Abahlali baseMjondolo nannte es erstmals „eine Politik der Armen – eine hausgemachte Politik, die jedeR verstehen und in der jedeR seinen Platz finden kann“. Die Tendenz der Mittelklasse, das Recht auf Führung anzumassen, drückt sich üblicherweise in offenen und verdeckten, in bewussten und unbewussten Versuchen aus, die Macht aus den Orten, an denen die Armen stark sind, wegzuziehen. Aber in Wirklichkeit werden die Menschen, die eine Bewegung ausmachen, wissen, was die dringendsten Punkte sind, wo die Herrschaft am meisten behindert, wo der Widerstand effektiv Druck machen kann und wie am besten mobilisiert wird. Eine Politik, die nicht von jeder und jedem verstanden und besessen werden kann, ist Gift – sie wird immer demobilisieren und entmachten, sogar wenn sie mehr weiß über die Weltbank, das Weltsozialforum, Empire, Trotzky oder einige moderne Theorien als die Leute, die etwas über das Leben und den Kampf in den Siedlungen wissen. Die Formen, Sprachen, Jargons, Interessen, Zeiten und Orte einer genuin radikalen Politik müssen die sein, in denen die Armen stark sind und nicht die, in denen sie still sind, weil sie von außen geführt werden. JedeR, die/der Solidarität anbieten möchte, muss zu den Orten kommen, an denen die Menschen stark sind und in den sozialen Formen arbeiten, in denen die Armen stark sind. Menschen, die die Bewegung gegenüber den Medien, in Verhandlungen und in verschiedenen Foren vertreten, müssen gewählt werden, sie müsen ein Mandat bekommen und verantwortlich sein und sie müssen rotieren. Das politische Projekt darf nicht „privatisiert“ werden und der Staat, die Parteien, NGOs und die Mittelklasselinke muss mit einer Hydra, nicht mit einem Kopf konfrontiert werden.

Elitären SozialistInnen und radikalen NationalistInnen muss begegnet werden, wenn sie BarackenbewohnerInnen “ignorant” nennen, weil sie ihren Kampf damit beginnen wollen, die Beziehungen der Herrschaft zu bekämpfen, die ihren Bestrebungen am unmittelbarsten schaden, und die innerhalb ihrer Möglichkeiten, effektiv zurück zu schlagen, sind. Demokratischer Volkskampf ist eine Schule und wird seinen Bereich ausdehnen, während er Fortschritte macht. Aber damit Widerstand möglich ist, braucht es eine permanente kollektive Reflexion der lebendigen Erfahrungen des Kampfes, um in der Lage zu sein, den Massencharakter aufrecht zu erhalten, während der Widerstand wächst und sich entwickelt. Notwendig ist es, Möglichkeiten für so viel Menschen wie möglich zu schaffen, in einem Rahmen von zusammenhängenden intellektuellen Räumen innerhalb der Siedlungen zu sprechen und zu denken. Deshalb hat Abahlali erklärt, eine Universität schaffen zu wollen. Der Fortschritt kommt aus der Qualität der Arbeit, die in den Siedlungen geleistet wird, und in Zulu und Xhosa, nicht von einigen Leuten, die in von NGOs in englisch gehaltenen Workshops den Jargon der Mittelklasselinken lernen, auf der anderen Seite des Stacheldrahtzauns. Dieser Jargon wird dazu tendieren, völlig zu entmachten, wegen seines völligen Desinteresses an den lokalen Herrschaftsbeziehungen, die oft eine Bewegung sowohl mit ihren unmittelbaren Bedrohungen als auch ihren Möglichkeiten für einen Kampf gegen dieselben zeigen. Für die meisten BarackenbewohnerInnen beginnt der Kampf mit diesen Toiletten, diesem Land, diesen Räumungen, diesen Bränden, diesen Abflusshähnen, diesen Slumlords, diesen PolitikerInnen, diesen gebrochenen Versprechen, diesen Entwicklern11, diesen Schulen, diesen Kinderkrippen, diesen Polizisten, diesen Morden. Weil der Kampf mit einem militanten Engagement bei diesem Konkreten beginnt, legt sein Denken sofort materielle Kräfte gegen materielle Kräfte frei – Körper und Lieder und Steine gegen Gewehrkugeln. Er ist von Anfang an real. Und wenn er ein massendemokratisches Projekt bleibt, immer offen gegenüber Neuerungen von unten, wird er real bleiben, während er sich entwickelt. Die Theoretisierung einer Politik der Armen bei den Treffen der Bewegung ist ähnelt oft dem Denken Fanons über Volksmilitanz. Wie Nigel Gibson erklärt, verweigert sich Fanon gegenüber der restiktiven Politik der Eliten aus Parteien, Führern, Soldaten, Technokraten und so weiter und sucht stattdessen danach, Möglichkeiten für die Subaltern zu schaffen.

[EinE] ProtagonistIn betritt nicht nur die Geschichte, sondern wird deren AutorIn. Alle können bei der Wiederherstellung und Entdeckung der Nation mitmachen, indem sie ein soziales Kollektiv schaffen, in dem Wahrheit zur Subjektivität wird und Subjektivität eine Dimension von Objektivität erwirbt … Fanon betrachtete es als die „Praxis der Freiheit“, die in „der Struktur des Volkes“ stattfindet.12

Es wurde beschlossen, den Wahlboykott mit einem Marsch in die Stadt und zum Bürgermeister unter der Parole „Kein Land, Kein Wohnraum, Keine Stimme“13 anzukündigen. Wie 1960 war das ein etwas zu großer Schritt. Einige Tage vor dem Marsch untersagte Mike Sutcliffe, der Stadtmanager und ein ehemaliger marxistischer Akademiker illegalerweise die Demonstration mittels Fax. Zwei Tage später verzichteten über 3.000 Menschen für einen Tag auf Arbeit und versammelten sich, um zum Bürgermeister zu marschieren. Aufstandsbekämpfungspolizei war geschickt worden, um das illegale Verbot der Demonstration durchzusetzen. Das Komitee der Foreman Road erklärte, dass eine Demonstration unter diesen Umständen sehr gefährlich wäre. SprecherIn um SprecherIn aus der Menge antworteten, dass das Leben in den Siedlungen ebenso gefährlich sei und machten sich daran, den dreckigen Weg, der aus der Siedlung führt, loszumarschieren; sie sangen Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela (Überall ist der Kampf willkommen). Auf den Fronttransparenten stand „Univerisität von Abahlali baseMjondolo“ und „Kein Land, Kein Wohnraum, Keine Stimme“. Als sie auf die geteerte Straße kamen, die den Anfang der bürgerlichen Welt markiert, wurden sie angegriffen, mit Pistolen und Gummigeschosen beschossen und schwer geschlagen. Es gab eine Anzahl von ernsthaft Verletzten, viele davon mit Dauerfolgen, und 45 Verhaftungen. Aber die Polizeigewalt konnte die Entschlossenheit der DemonstrantInnen nicht brechen. Die Protestierenden, angeführt von Fikile Nkosi, einer jungen HeimarbeiterIn, hielten mit Barrikaden aus Steinen die Polizei erfolgreich davon ab, in die Siedlung einzudringen. Während die Siedlung unter Belagerung stand, wurde das Bild des Bürgermeisters verbrannt. Obwohl die Stadt, mit all ihren Obsessionen, eine „Weltstadt“ zu sein, entsetzt war, als dieses Detail es in die New York Times schaffte, blieb die illegale Untersagung politischer Aktivitäten außerhalb der Siedlung aufrecht. Sie gingen sogar so weit, die Polizei einzusetzen, um Abahlali gewaltsam daran zu hindern, der Einladung einer Fernsehstation, eineN VertreterIn zu einer talk-show zu schicken, Folge zu leisten.

Am 27. Februar wurde ein weiterer Versuch unternommen, in die Stadt zu marschieren. Wieder waren alle notwendigen Schritte unternommen worden, um eine legale Demonstration in die Stadt zu ermöglichen. Aber diesmal war die Bewegung so weit angewachsen, dass 20.000 Leute erwartet wurden. Sutcliffe gab eine weitere illegale Untersagung heraus, und früh am Morgen des 27. bewegte sich die Polizei in einer militärisch aufgezogenen Operation, bei der sie Panzerfahrzeuge und Hubschrauber einsetzte, auf die drei größten Siedlungen zu Sie verhafteten und verletzten die Schlüsselpersonen und blockierten alle Ausgänge aus den Siedlungen. Aber diesmal hatte Abahlali die Verbindungen geknüpft, um Sutcliffe vor Gericht zu bringen. Sie gewannen rasch und mit der Untersagung14 in ihren Händen marschierten sie triumphal in die Stadt. Sutcliffe versah sein erbostes Pressestatement mit Wörtern wie „kriminell“ und „Anarchie“.

Als er erkannte, dass er Abahlali mit direkter Kooptierung15 oder Repression nicht einfach brechen konnte, kam der Staat mit einem neuen Plan daher. Die aktuelle Linie ist, wenn Abahlali mit der Regierung zu tun haben möchte, dann müssen sie „professionell“ und „ernsthaft“ sein und der transnationalen NGO Shack Dwellers’ International beitreten, die sie wie viele Regierungen dazu einsetzt, allgemeine Zustimmung zu ihrer Politik anzuregen. Interessanterweise verlangt ein großer Teil der verbliebenen Mittelklasse ebenfalls eine Unterwerfung einer gegenwärtig existierenden Massenbewegung unter ein Scheinbild von Volksmacht. Mnikelo Ndabankulu nannte diese Leute als erster „die Konferenzspezialisten“, die, darauf besteht er, „für uns sprechen wollen, aber nicht dahin kommen wollen, wo die Menschen ums Leben kämpfen müssen, nicht mit uns leben, nicht einmal mit uns sprechen wollen“. Eine Zeitlang sah es so aus, als würde die Existenz einer militanten Massenbewegung der Armen es schaffen, einige Orte und Netzwerke, durch die die Mittelklasse uns Geld zukommen lässst, um ihre verschiedenen Formen von Avantgarde zu üben, zu demokratisieren und zu de-rassistifizieren. Aber inzwischen ist klar geworden, dass diese Orte nicht reformierbar sind. In vielen Fällen war die Antwort auf die Eruption einer selbstbewußten Massenbewegung der Armen in diese Räume mehr paranoid als feierlich. Es gab erstaunlich autoritäre Antworten. Von Abahlali wurde regelmäßig erwartet, sich passiv an Treffen zu beteiligen und damit gleichzeitig diese zu legitimieren, bei denen in einer Sprache gesprochen wurde, die die meisten nicht verstanden, und Themen behandelt wurden, bei deren Auswahl sie keinerlei Einfluss hatten. Die Mittelklasseleute in der Bewegung wurden üblicherweise als hinter der Bewegung stehend begriffen. Nachdem sie eine ausreichende Redlichkeit gegenüber den Grundlagen der Bewegung gezeigt hatten, wie „sprecht mit uns, nicht für uns“, „sprecht in einer Sprache, die jedeR versteht“ oder „nicht einzelne werden im Treffen entscheiden“, haben sie immer wieder auf institutioneller Disziplin bestanden, mit Beschimpfungskampagnen und sogar Gewaltandrohungen gearbeitet.

Durch ihren andauernden Prozeß der Befragung entwickelt Abahlali eine Lehre des Wissens vom Exil, einen kollektiven Prozeß, die Härte der anhaltenden Konfrontation mit der Wahrheit auf sich zu nehmen. Es ist eine Lehre, die eine öffentliche De-Legitimation der Behauptungen des Staates, dass „Lieferungen“ eine Entwicklung für die Armen bringen werden, indem diese aus der Stadt entfernt werden und der Staat dazu dient, die Reichen reicher zu machen, ermöglicht. Sie ermöglicht auch die Entwicklung des direkten Antagonismus gegen lokale und mikro-lokale Eliten, die beim Nachschub von „Lieferungen“ mitarbeiten, um ihre eigenen Interessen zu befriedigen. Und sie ermöglicht es, verschiedene lokale und transnationale Linke16, die davon ausgehen, dass die Armen eine denkunfähige Masse sind, die Direktiven von oben benötigen, herauszufordern oder loszuwerden. Die De-Legitimation von technokratischen und Parteiautoritäten, und die Legitimation einer offenen Opposition, die als wachsende Flüsse von Gedanken in materieller Bewegung ausgedrückt wird, macht das möglich, wie es in den Kämpfen früherer Generationen möglich wurde, den Molochen konstitutioneller Macht und schließlich seiner ungenügend sichtbaren Lenker Widerstand zu leisten, mit andauernden und vielfachen Aufständen der sich konstituierenden Volksmacht. Abahlali hat die Regierung der Siedlungen demokratisiert, Räumungen gestoppt, eine Zugeständnisse bezüglich Dienstleistungen gewonnen, Kinderkrippen errichtet, Gemüsegärten und alle Arten von kooperativen Projekten eingerichtet und die kollektive Verhandlung mit dem Staat und dem Kapital ermöglicht. Wie der Staat, mit seiner Unterordnung unter das Kapital, die sich hinter einem zunehmenden ängstlichen Nationalismus versteckt, seine eigenen Erkenntnistheorien und Entwicklungstechnologien umgestaltet, wird sich erst zeigen. Aber bisher hat Abahlali genug Innovation produziert, um dem Staat voraus zu sein und die demokratische Praxis, mit der ihr Kampf begann, und mit dem es sich von dem, das es bekämpft, unterscheidet, aufrecht zu erhalten.

Fussnoten:

1) African National Congress ANC KwaZulu-Natal Victory Statement, Durban 1999

2) Fred Kockott, ‘Shack Dwellers’ Fury Erupts’ Sunday Tribune, 29 March 2005

3) Cited in Peter Hallward, Badiou a Subject to Truth, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2003, p.77.

4) Peter Hallward, ‘Badiou’s Politics: Equality and Justice’, Culture Machine 26/06/2006 http://culturemachinetees.ac.uk/Cmach/Backissues/joo4/Articles/Hallward.htm

5) Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, Verso, London, 2005, p. 48.

6) Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, Verso, London, 2005, p. 48.

7) Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p.275.

8) Frantz Fanon Black Skin, White Masks Grove Press, New York, 1967, p. 40.

9) Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 73.

10) … derjenigen, die neuen Wohnraum erhalten würden, … (AdÜ)

11) Gemeint sind die Planer und Entwickler neuen Wohnraums der Gemeinden

12) Nigel Gibson, Fanon and the Postcolonial Imagination, Polity, Cambridge, 2003, p.151.

13) No Land, No House, No Vote

14) … der Untersagung (AdÜ)

15) d.h. Korrumpierung (AdÜ)

16) … Ansätze (leftisms)

The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism

http://stefandav.blogspot.com/2009/09/peter-hallward-will-of-people-notes.html

The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism

by Peter Hallward

By ‘will of the people’ I mean a deliberate, emancipatory and inclusive process of collective selfdetermination. 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 organization. Recent examples of the sort of popular will that I have in mind include the determination, assembled by South Africa’s United Democratic Front, to overthrow an apartheid based on culture and race, or the mobilization of Haiti’s Lavalas to confront an apartheid based on privilege and class. Conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure a particular situation, such mobilizations test the truth expressed in the old cliché, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. Or, to adapt Antonio Machado’s less prosaic phrase, taken up as a motto by Paulo Freire, they assume that ‘there is no way, we make the way by walking it.’[1]

To say that we make the way by walking it is to resist the power of the historical, cultural or socioeconomic terrain to determine our way. It is to insist that in an emancipatory political sequence what is ‘determinant in the first instance’ is the will of the people to prescribe, through the terrain that confronts them, the course of their own history. It is to privilege, over the complexity of the terrain and the forms of knowledge and authority that govern behaviour ‘adapted’ to it, the purposeful will of the people to take and retain their place as the ‘authors and actors of their own drama’.[2]

To say that we make our way by walking it is not to pretend, however, that we invent the ground we traverse. It is not to suppose that a will creates itself and the conditions of its exercise abruptly or ex nihilo. It is not to assume that the ‘real movement which abolishes the existing state of things’ proceeds through empty or indeterminate space. It is not to disregard the obstacles or opportunities that characterize a particular terrain, or to deny their ability to influence the forging of a way. Instead it is to remember, after Sartre, that obstacles appear as such in the light of a project to climb past them. It is to remember, after Marx, that we make our own history, without choosing the conditions of its making. It is to conceive of terrain and way through a dialectic which, connecting both objective and subjective forms of determination, is oriented by the primacy of the latter.

Affirmation of such relational primacy informs what might be called a ‘dialectical voluntarism’. A dialectical voluntarist assumes that collective self-determination – more than an assessment of what seems feasible or appropriate – is the animating principle of political action. Dialectical voluntarists have confidence in the will of the people to the degree that they think each term through the other: ‘will’ in terms of assembly, deliberation and determination, and ‘people’ in terms of an exercise of collective volition.

I

The arrival of the will of the people as an actor on the political stage over the course of the eighteenth century was itself a revolutionary development, and it was experienced as such by the people themselves. To assert the rational and collective will of the people as the source of political authority and power was to reject alternative conceptions of politics premissed on either the mutual exclusion of society and will (a politics determined by natural, historical or economic necessity), or the primacy of another sort of will (the will of God, of God’s representative on earth, or of his semi-secular equivalent: the will of an elite entitled to govern on account of their accumulated privileges and qualifications).

If the French and Haitian revolutions of the late eighteenth century remain two of the most decisive political events of modern times it’s not because they affirmed the liberal freedoms that are so easily (because unevenly) commemorated today. What was and remains revolutionary about France 1789–94 and Haiti 1791–1803 is the direct mobilization of the people to claim these universal rights and freedoms, in direct confrontation with the most powerful vested interests of the day.[3] The taking of the Bastille, the march upon Versailles, the invasion of the Tuileries, the September Massacres, the expulsion of the Girondins, the innumerable confrontations with ‘enemies of the people’ up and down the country: these are the deliberate interventions that defined both the course of the French Revolution, and the immense, unending counter-revolution that it provoked. The Haitian revolutionaries went one step further and forced, for the first time, immediate and unconditional application of the principle that inspired the whole of the radical enlightenment: affirmation of the natural, inalienable rights of all human beings.[4] The campaign to re-pacify the people has been running, in different ways in different places, ever since.

The events of 1789–94, and the popular mobilization that enabled them, continue to frame our most basic political choice – between empowerment or disempowerment of the will of the people. In Robespierre’s France ‘there are only two parties: the people and its enemies’, and ‘whoever is not for the people is against the people.’ Despite the well-known limits of his own populism, Thomas Jefferson found a similar distinction at work in every political configuration: there are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes’, and there are ‘those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them’ and consider them the ‘safest depository of their own rights’.[5] In spite of all that has changed over the past two hundred years, the alternative remains much the same: either an insistence on the primacy of popular self-determination, or a presumption that the people are too crude, barbaric or childlike to be capable of exercising a rational and deliberate will.

Different versions of this choice have come to the fore every time there is an opportunity to confront the system of domination that structures a specific situation. The will, as Badiou notes, is an essentially ‘combative’ process.[6] Haiti, Bolivia, Palestine and Ecuador are some of the places where in recent years the people have managed, in the face of considerable opposition, to formulate and to some extent impose their will to transform the situation that oppresses them. Responses to such imposition have tended to follow the Thermidorian model. The mix of old and new counter-revolutionary strategies for criminalizing, dividing, and then dissolving the will of the people – for restoring the people to their ‘normal’ condition as a dispersed and passive flock – is likely to define the terrain of emancipatory struggle for the foreseeable future.

II

In a European context, philosophical expression of a confidence in the will of the people dates back to Rousseau, and develops in different directions via Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Marx.[7] Over the course of this trajectory the category of the people expands from the anachronistic idealization of a small homogeneous community towards an anticipation of humanity as a whole. The more it approaches a global universality the more difficult it becomes, of course, to conceive of the people in terms of a naively immediate or self-actualizing conception of will. Kant’s abstract universalization makes too sharp a distinction between determination of the will and its realization; Hegel goes too far in the other direction.

I will assume here that the most fruitful way to begin thinking a dialectical voluntarism that might eventually draw on aspects of both Kant and Hegel is to start with a return to Rousseau and his Jacobin followers, notably Robespierre and Saint-Just, supplemented by reference to more recent interventions that might be described in roughly neo-Jacobin terms. Rousseau’s conception of a general will remains the single most important contribution to the logic at work in a dialectical voluntarism. Unlike Rousseau or Hegel, however, my concern here is not with a people conceived as a socially or ethically integrated unit, one that finds its natural horizon in the nation-state, so much as with the people who participate in the active willing of a general will as such. Such a will is at work in the mobilization of any emancipatory collective force – a national liberation struggle, a movement for social justice, an empowering political or economic association, and so on. ‘The people’ at issue here are simply those who, in any given situation, formulate, assert and sustain a fully common (and thus fully inclusive and egalitarian) interest, over and above any divisive or exclusive interest.

The gulf that separates Marxist from Jacobin conceptions of political action is obvious enough, and in the first instance a dialectical voluntarism has more to learn from the latter than the former. Nevertheless, what is most fundamental in Marx is not the ‘inevitable’ or involuntary process whereby capitalism might seem to dig its own grave, but rather the way in which it prepares the ground upon which the determined diggers might appear. ‘The emancipation of the working classes’, stipulates the wellknown opening sentence of the rules Marx drafted for the First International, ‘must be conquered by the working classes themselves’.[8] Even Marx’s most non-voluntarist work is best described as an effort to show ‘how the will to change capitalism can develop into successful transformative (revolutionary) activity’, or as an effort ‘not only to make History but to get a grip on it, practically and theoretically’.[9] (A similar argument, as Adrian Johnston, Tracy McNulty and several others point out, might be made in relation to Freud and Lacan.[10]) The concentration of capital and the intensification of exploitation and misery which accompanies it lead not to the automatic collapse of capitalism but to a growth in the size, frequency and intensity of ‘the revolt of the working-class’. It is this class which, as anticipated by the Paris Communards, will carry out the deliberate work of ‘expropriating the expropriators’.[11] Once victorious, this same class will preside over the establishment of a mode of production marked above all by the predominance of autonomy, mastery and freedom. The newly ‘associated producers [will] regulate their interchange with nature rationally and bring it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power.’ They will thereby enable affirmation of human creativity and ‘energy [as] an end in itself’.[12] Understood as the real movement which abolishes the existing state of things, communism, we might say, forces the conversion of work into will.

The optimism that characterizes such an approach is still emphatic in Gramsci (who seeks ‘to put the “will”, which in the last analysis equals practical or political activity, at the base of philosophy’[13]) and in the early writings of Lukács (for whom ‘decision’, ‘subjective will’ and ‘free action’ have strategic precedence over the apparent ‘facts’ of a situation [14]). Comparable priorities also orient the political writings of a few more recent philosophers, like Sartre, Beauvoir and Badiou. Obvious differences aside, what these thinkers have in common is an emphasis on the practical primacy of self-determination and self-emancipation. However constrained your situation you are always free, as Sartre liked to say, ‘to make something of what is made of you’.[15]

Overall, however, it is difficult to think of a canonical notion more roundly condemned, in recent ‘Western’ philosophy, than the notion of will, to say nothing of that general will so widely condemned as a precursor of tyranny and totalitarian terror. In philosophical circles voluntarism has become little more than a term of abuse, and an impressively versatile one at that: depending on the context, it can evoke idealism, obscurantism, vitalism, infantile leftism, fascism, petty-bourgeois narcissism, neocon aggression, folk-psychological delusion … Of all the faculties or capacities of that human subject who was displaced from the centre of post-Sartrean concerns, none was more firmly proscribed than its conscious volition. Structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers, by and large, relegated volition and intention to the domain of deluded, imaginary or humanist-ideological miscognition. Rather than explore the ways in which political determination might depend on a collective subject’s self-determination, recent philosophy and cultural theory have tended to privilege various forms of either indetermination (the interstitial, the hybrid, the ambivalent, the simulated, the undecidable, the chaotic…) or hyper-determination (‘infinite’ ethical obligation, divine transcendence, unconscious drive, traumatic repression, machinic automation…). The allegedly obsolete notion of a pueblo unido has been displaced by a more differentiated and more deferential plurality of actors – flexible identities, negotiable histories, improvised organizations, dispersed networks, ‘vital’ multitudes, polyvalent assemblages, and so on. Even the most cursory overview of recent European philosophy is enough to evoke its general tendency to distrust, suspend or overcome the will – a tendency anticipated, in an extreme form, by Schopenhauer. Consider a few names from a list that could be easily expanded. Nietzsche’s whole project presumes that ‘there is no such thing as will’ in the usual (voluntary, deliberate, purposeful…) sense of the word.[16] Heidegger, over the course of his own lectures on Nietzsche, comes to condemn the will as a force of subjective domination and nihilist closure, before urging his readers ‘willingly to renounce willing’.[17] Arendt finds, in the affirmation of a popular political will (‘the most dangerous of modern concepts and misconceptions’), the temptation that turns modern revolutionaries into tyrants.[18] For Adorno, rational will is an aspect of that Enlightenment pursuit of mastery and control which has left the earth ‘radiant with triumphant calamity’. Althusser devalues the will as an aspect of ideology, in favour of the scientific analysis of historical processes that proceed without a subject. Negri and Virno associate a will of the people with authoritarian state power. After Nietzsche, Deleuze privileges transformative sequences that require the suspension, shattering or paralysis of voluntary action. After Heidegger, Derrida associates the will with selfpresence and self-coincidence, a forever futile effort to appropriate the inappropriable (the unpresentable, the equivocal, the undecidable, the differential, the deferred, the discordant, the transcendent, the other). After these and others, Agamben summarizes much recent European thinking on political will when he effectively equates it with fascism pure and simple. [

Even those thinkers who, against the grain of the times, have insisted on the primacy of selfdetermination and self-emancipation have tended to do so in ways that devalue political will. Take Foucault, Sartre and Badiou. Much of Foucault’s work might be read as an extended analysis, after Canguilhem, of the ways in which people are ‘de-voluntarized’ by the ‘permanent coercions’ at work in disciplinary power, coercions designed to establish ‘not the general will but automatic docility’.[19] Foucault never compromised on his affirmation of ‘voluntary insubordination’ in the face of newly stifling forms of government and power, and in crucial lectures from the early 1970s he demonstrated how the development of modern psychiatric and carceral power, in the immediate wake of the French Revolution, was designed first and foremost to ‘over-power’ and break the will of people who had the folly literally to ‘take themselves for a king’;[20] nevertheless, in his published work Foucault tends to see the will as complicit in forms of self-supervision, self-regulation and self-subjection. Sartre probably did more than any other philosopher of his generation to emphasize the ways in which an emancipatory project or group depends upon the determination of a ‘concrete will’, but his philosophy offers a problematic basis for any sort of voluntarism. He accepts as ‘irreducible’ the ‘intention’ and goals which orient an individual’s fundamental project, but makes a sharp distinction between such intention and merely ‘voluntary deliberation’ or motivation: since for Sartre the latter is always secondary and ‘deceptive’, the result is to render the primary intention opaque and beyond ‘interpretation’.[21] Sartre’s later work subsequently fails to conceive of a collective will in other than exceptionalist and ephemeral terms. Badiou’s powerful revival of a militant theory of the subject is more easily reconciled with a voluntarist agenda (or at least with what Badiou calls a volonté impure[22]), but suffers from some similar limitations. It’s no accident that, like Agamben and Žižek, when Badiou looks to the Christian tradition for a point of anticipation he turns not to Matthew (with his prescriptions of how to act in the world: spurn the rich, affirm the poor, ‘sell all thou hast’…) but to Paul (with his contempt for the weakness of human will and his valorization of the abrupt and infinite transcendence of grace).

Pending a more robust philosophical defence, contemporary critical theorists tend to dismiss the notion of will as a matter of delusion or deviation. But since it amounts to little more than a perverse appropriation of more fundamental forms of revolutionary determination, there is no reason to accept fascist exaltation of an ‘awakening’ or ‘triumph of the will’ as the last word on the subject. The true innovators in the modern development of a voluntarist philosophy are Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, and the general principles of such a philosophy are most easily recognized in the praxis of people like Robespierre, John Brown, Fanon, Che Guevara… It is to such people that we need to turn in order to remember or reconceive the true meaning of popular political will.

III

On this basis we might enumerate, along broadly neo- Jacobin lines, some of the characteristic features of a will of the people:

1. The will of the people commands, by definition, voluntary and autonomous action. Unlike involuntary or reflex-like responses, if it exists then will initiates action through free, rational deliberation. As Rousseau puts it, the fundamental ‘principle of any action lies in the will of a free being; there is no higher or deeper source …. Without will there is no freedom, no selfdetermination, no “moral causality”.’[23] Robespierre soon drew the most basic political implication when he realized that when people will or ‘want to be free they will be’. Sieyès anticipated the point, on the eve of 1789: ‘every man has an inherent right to deliberate and will for himself’, and ‘either one wills freely or one is forced to will, there cannot be any middle position’. Outside voluntary self-legislation ‘there cannot be anything other than the empire of the strong over the weak and its odious consequences.’[24] An intentional freedom is not reducible to the mere faculty of free choice or liberum arbitrium.[25] If we are to speak of the ‘will of the people’ we cannot restrict it (as Machiavelli and his successors do) to the passive expression of approval or consent.[26] It is the process of actively willing or choosing that renders a particular course of action preferable to another. ‘Always engaged’, argues Sartre, freedom never ‘pre-exists its choice: we shall never apprehend ourselves except as a choice in the making.’[27] Augustine and then Duns Scotus already understood that ‘our will would not be will unless it were in our power.’[28] Descartes likewise recognized that ‘voluntary and free are the same thing’, and finds in the ‘indivisible’ and immeasurable freedom of the will our most fundamental resemblance to divinity.[29] Kant (followed by Fichte) then radicalizes this voluntarist approach when he defines the activity of willing as ‘causality through reason’ or ‘causality through freedom’.[30] Will achieves the practical liberation of reason from the constraints of experience and objective knowledge. As Kant understood more clearly than anyone before him, mere familiarity with what is or has been the case, when it comes to ethics and politics, is ‘the mother of illusion’.[31] It is the active willing which determines what is possible and what is right, and makes it so. As the French Revolution will confirm, it is as willing or practical beings that ‘people have the quality or power of being the cause and … author of their own improvement’.[32]

From a voluntarist perspective, the prescription of ends and principles precedes the calculation, according to the established criteria that serve to evaluate action within a situation, of what is possible, feasible, or legitimate. To affirm the primacy of a prescriptive will is to insist that in politics all external (natural, sociological, historical, unconscious, technical…) forms of determination, however significant, are nonetheless secondary, as are all forms of regulation and representation. ‘To will’, as Badiou puts it, is ‘to force a point of impossibility, so as to make it possible.’[33] The guiding strategic maxim here, adopted in situations ranging from Lenin’s Russia in 1917 to Aristide’s Haiti in 1990, was most succinctly stated by Napoleon: on s’engage puis on voit. Those sceptical of political will, by contrast, assume that apparently voluntary commitments mask a more profound ignorance or devaluation of appetite (Hobbes), causality (Spinoza), context (Montesquieu), habit (Hume), tradition (Burke), history (Tocqueville), power (Nietzsche), the unconscious (Freud), convention (Wittgenstein), writing (Derrida), desire (Deleuze), drive (Žižek)…

2. The will of the people involves collective action and direct participation. A democratic political will depends on the power and practice of inclusive assembly, the power to sustain a common commitment. As many of his readers have pointed out, what distinguishes Rousseau from other thinkers who (like Plato or Montesquieu) likewise privilege the general over the particular is his insistence that only active willing can enable an inclusive association, an association with an actively ‘common interest’.[34] What ‘generalises the public will is not the quantity of voters but the common interest which unites them’,[35] and what sustains this interest is the common will to identify and accomplish it. The assertion of a general will, needless to say, is a matter of collective volition at every stage of its development. The inaugural ‘association is the most voluntary act in the world’, and to remain an active participant of the association ‘is to will what is in the common or general interest’. In so far (and only in so far) as they pursue this interest, each person ‘puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme control of the general will’.[36] Rousseau’s analogy is familiar: ‘As nature gives each man an absolute power over his limbs, the social pact gives the body politic an absolute power over all of its members; and it is this same power which, when directed by the general will, bears the name of sovereignty.’ Defined in this way, ‘the general will is always on the side most favourable to the public interest, that is to say, the most equitable, so that it is necessary merely to be just to be assured of following the general will.’[37]

As a matter of course, such a will can only remain sovereign in so far as its willing remains general, rather than particular. The general interest will prevail only if the will to pursue it is stronger than the distraction of particular interests; reflection on how best to strengthen it, how best to ‘carry the self into the common unity’, is Rousseau’s most obsessive concern. The legislator who aspires to assist the ‘founding of a people … must, in a word, take away man’s own forces in order to give him new ones which are alien to him, and which he cannot use without the help of others’.[38]

To say that a general will is ‘strong’ doesn’t mean that it stifles dissent or imposes uniformity. It means that in the process of negotiating differences between particular wills, the willing of the general interest eventually finds a way to prevail. There is an inclusive general will in so far as those who initially oppose it correct their mistake and realize that ‘if my private opinion had prevailed I would have done something other than what I had willed’ – that is, something inconsistent with my ongoing participation in the general will.[39] So long as it lasts, participation in a general will, be it that of a national movement, a political organization, a social or economic association, a trade union, and so on, always involves a resolve to abide by its eventual judgement, not as an immediate arbiter of right and wrong but as the process of collectively deliberating and willing what is right. Participation in a general will involves acceptance of the risk of finding yourself being, at any given moment, ‘wrong with the people rather than right without them.’[40] By the same token, it’s precisely in so far as it remains actively capable of seeking and willing the collective right that we can agree with Rousseau and Sieyès when they insist that, in the long run, a general will can neither err nor betray. The ‘sovereign, by the mere fact that it exists, is always what it ought to be’.[41] The most pressing question, as the Jacobins would discover in 1792–94, is less that of a general will’s legitimacy than that of its continued existence. Without ‘unity of will’, Sieyès understood, a nation cannot exist as an ‘acting whole’; ‘however a nation may will, it is enough for it to will, [and] for its will to be made known for all positive law to fall silent in its presence, because it is the source and supreme master of all positive law.’[42] After Robespierre, Saint-Just summarizes the whole Jacobin political project when he rejects ‘purely speculative’ or ‘intellectual’ conceptions of justice, as if ‘laws were the expression of taste rather than of the general will’. The only legitimate definition of the general will is ‘the material will of the people, its simultaneous will; its goal is to consecrate the active and not the passive interest of the greatest number of people.’[43]

Mobilization of the general will of the people must not be confused, then, with a merely putschist vanguardism. An abrupt appropriation of the instruments of government by a few ‘alchemists of revolution’ is no substitute for the deployment of popular power.[44] In spite of obvious strategic differences, Lenin is no more tempted than Luxemburg to substitute a Blanquist conspiracy for ‘the people’s struggle for power’, via mobilization of the ‘vast masses of the proletariat’.[45] It’s not a matter of imposing an external will or awareness upon an inert people, but of people working to clarify, concentrate and organize their own will. Fanon makes much the same point, when he equates a national liberation movement with the inclusive and deliberate work of ‘the whole of the people’.[46] Such work serves to distinguish political will from any merely passive opinion or preference, however preponderant. The actively general will distinguishes itself from the mere ‘will of all’ (which is ‘nothing but a sum of particular wills’) on account of its mediation through the collective mobilization of the people.[47] The people who sustain the ‘will of the people’ are not defined by a particular social status or place, but by their active identification of and with the emergent general interest. Sovereignty is an attribute of such action. Conceived in these terms as a general willing, the power of the people transcends the powers of privilege or government, and entitles the people to overpower the powers that oppose or neglect them. If such powers resist, the Jacobins argue, the only solution is to ‘arm the people’, in whatever way is required to overcome this resistance.

3. The will of the people is thus a matter of material power and active empowerment, before it is a matter of representation, authority or legitimacy. What divides society is its response to popular self-empowerment. Jefferson goes so far as to privilege insurgency even when it might seem misguided or deluded: ‘the people cannot be all, and always, well-informed’, he concedes with reference to Shays’ Rebellion, but they are entitled if not obliged to ‘preserve the spirit of resistance’ in the face of all obstacles.[48] This is as much a Marxist as it is a Jacobin insight. Any social ‘transformation can only come about as the product of the – free – action of the proletariat’, notes Lukács, and ‘only the practical class consciousness of the proletariat possesses this ability to transform things.’ Such a praxis-oriented philosophy did not die out after the political setbacks of the 1920s. Sartre took up the same theme in the early 1950s (before Badiou in the 1970s): as far as politics is concerned a ‘class is never separable from the concrete will which animates it nor from the ends it pursues. The proletariat forms itself by its day-to-day action. It exists only by action. It is action. If it ceases to act, it decomposes.’[49]

Of all the concerns that link Rousseau and Marx, few run as deep as the critique of conventional parli23 amentary representation. Since ‘a will cannot be represented’, so then ‘sovereignty, being nothing more than the exercise of the general will, can never be alienated [and] can only be represented by itself; power can indeed be transferred but not will.’ The people can (and must) delegate ‘agents’ to execute their will, but they cannot delegate their willing as such.[50] Marx follows Rousseau, against Hobbes, when he criticizes modern bourgeois politics as essentially representative – that is, as an expropriation of popular power by the state.[51] The bourgeois ‘state enmeshes, controls, regulates, superintends and tutors civil society from its most comprehensive manifestations of life down to its most insignificant stirrings’. Popular emancipation will require the interruption of such a state, and its replacement, through ‘the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class’, of a political form capable of overseeing ‘the economic emancipation of labour’.[52] In the wake of Marx’s critique of the Commune, Lenin’s State and Revolution takes this argument to its logical conclusion.

Will commands the initiation of action, not representation. An exercise in political will involves taking power, not receiving it, on the assumption that (as a matter of ‘reason’ or ‘natural right’) the people are always already entitled to take it. ‘The oppressed cannot enter the struggle as objects’, Freire notes, ‘in order later to become human beings.’[53] It makes no sense, as John Brown argued during his trial in 1859, to treat the imperatives of justice merely as recommendations that must bide their time: ‘I am yet too young’, Brown said on the eve of his execution, ‘to understand that God is any respecter of persons.’[54] A similar impatience informs the strategic voluntarism of Che Guevara, who knew that it is pointless to wait ‘with folded arms’ for objective conditions to mature. Whoever waits for ‘power to fall into the people’s hands like a ripe fruit’ will never stop waiting.[55] As one of today’s more eloquent proponents of a ‘living communism’ suggests, an inclusive popular politics must start with an unconditional assertion of the ‘humanity of every human being’. Our politics, says S’bu Zikode, chairperson of the Durban shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, is rooted in the ‘places that we have taken’ and kept: We will no longer quietly wait for our humanity to be finally recognized one day. We have already taken our place on the land in the cities and we have held that ground. We have also decided to take our place in all [political] discussions and to take it right now. We take our place humbly, but firmly. We do not allow the state to keep us quiet in the name of a future revolution that does not come. We do not allow the NGOs to keep us quiet in the name of a future socialism that they can’t build. We take our place as people who count the same as everyone else.[56]

Those who lack confidence in the people, by contrast, recommend the virtues of patience. Such lack of confidence takes the general form of an insistence on socially mediated time, the time of ongoing ‘development’. The people are in too much of a rush; it is too soon for them to prescribe demands of their own.[57] It is always too early, from this perspective, for equality and participation. Only when they ‘grow up’ or ‘progress’ might today’s people become worthy of the rights that a prudent society withholds. Between confidence in the people and confidence in historical progress, as Rousseau anticipated, there is a stark choice.

4. Like any form of free or voluntary action, the will of the people is grounded in the practical sufficiency of its exercise. Will is no more a ‘substance’ or object of knowledge than the cogito variously reworked and affirmed by Kant, Fichte and Sartre. A ‘fundamental freedom’ or ‘practical exercise of reason’ proves itself through what it does and makes, rather than through what it is, has or knows. Freedom demonstrates and justifies itself through willing and acting, or else not at all.58 We are free, writes Beauvoir, but freedom ‘is only by making itself be’. We are free in so far as ‘we will ourselves free’,[59] and we will ourselves free by crossing the threshold that separates passivity and ‘minority’ from volition and activity. We will ourselves free across the distance that our freedom puts between itself and a previous unfreedom. We are free as self-freeing.

In order to rouse themselves from the nightmare of history, the people thus need to anticipate the power of their will. The people are condemned, Robespierre accepts, to ‘raise the temple of liberty with hands still scarred by the chains of despotism’. A will, individual or collective, cannot begin in full possession of its purpose or power; it precisely wills rather than receives its clarification.[60] A voluntarist prescription must anticipate effects which enable their cause. Rousseau recognizes this necessity: ‘In order for a nascent people to appreciate sound political maxims and follow the fundamental rules of statecraft, the effect would have to become the cause …; before the creation of the laws, people would have to be what they should become by means of those same laws.’61 The pressure of events would push Robespierre and Saint-Just to similar conclusions. Marx gave much the same problem its most productive formulation when he framed it in terms of the process that might educate the educators.[62]

The process of transition from submission to participation, notes Michael Hardt with reference to both Lenin and Jefferson, always involves a ‘self-training in the capacities of self-rule.… People only learn democracy by doing it.’ Much of Jacques Rancière’s work is organized around a parallel question: given the social differentiation of rulers and ruled, or teachers and taught, how can initially passive, subordinate or ‘brutalized’ people come to emancipate themselves in an anticipation of equality, an assertion whose verification will retrospectively invalidate any basis for the initial differentiation of functions or intelligences?63 By contrast the already-educated tend to worry that, if left unchecked, popular self-education will lead only to the forever-imminent tyranny of the majority. ‘Since the beginning of society’, notes Draper, ‘there has been no end of theories “proving” that tyranny is inevitable and that freedom-in-democracy is impossible; there is no more convenient ideology for a ruling class and its intellectual flunkies’, and ‘the only way of proving them false is in the struggle itself’.[64]

5. If it is to persist, a political association must be disciplined and ‘indivisible’ as a matter of course.[65] Internal difference and debate within an organized association is one thing, factional divisions or schisms are another. Popular freedom persists as long as the people assert it. ‘In order that the social pact may not be an empty formula,’ as Rousseau’s notorious argument runs, ‘it tacitly includes the commitment, which alone can give force to the others, that anyone who refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the entire body; this means nothing else than that he will be forced to be free.’ Preservation of public freedom, in Robespierre’s arresting phrase, requires acknowledgement of the ‘despotism of truth’. Collective freedom will endure, in short, only so long as the people can defend themselves against division and deception. ‘The general will is always in the right and always tends toward the public utility, but it does not follow that the decisions of the people are always equally correct.… The people is never corrupted but it is often deceived, and it is only then that it appears to will what is bad.’[66] ‘Virtue’ is the name that Rousseau and the Jacobins gave to the practices required to defend a general will against deception and division. To practise virtue is to privilege collective over particular interests, and to ensure that society is governed ‘solely on the basis of the common interest.… Each person is virtuous when his private will conforms totally to the general will.’ If then ‘we wish the general will to be accomplished’ we need simply to ‘make all the private wills agree with it, or in other words …: make virtue reign.’[67]

The French revolutionaries took Rousseau’s advice to heart. If Robespierre prevailed over the course of 1793 it’s because he understood most clearly why (as he put it in a private notebook) ‘we need a single will, ONE will [une volonté UNE]’. If this will is to be republican rather than royalist then ‘we need republican Ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican constitution.’ And since domestic resistance to such republicanization of the public space ‘comes from the bourgeois’ so then ‘TO DEFEAT THE BOURGEOIS we must RALLY THE PEOPLE.’[68] Across the distance that links and separates Marx from Robespierre we move from popular insurgency to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. But what does recourse to such dictatorship imply, other than ‘the truism that a cohesive popular will would be overwhelming in a truly democratic state’?[69] The basic strategic principle was once again anticipated at the limits of Jacobin practice. The ‘first and crucial step’ towards a more equal distribution of resources and opportunities, Babeuf knew, was ‘the achievement of a truly effective democracy through which the people’s will could be expressed.’ Having witnessed the fate of Robespierre and Saint-Just, however, in the autumn of 1794 Babeuf takes the initial steps down a path that Communist militants would explore for the next century and a half. Since ‘the undifferentiated mass of the people’ could not be relied upon on its own to sustain the revolution in the face of their enemies, so then the partisans who seek to continue the revolution must first consolidate, through the mediation of popular societies and associations, more disciplined and coherent forms of political organization.[70]

6. The practical exercise of will only proceeds, as a matter of course, in the face of resistance. To will is always to continue to will, in the face of difficulty or constraint. To continue or not to continue – this is the essential choice at stake in any militant ethics.[71] Either you will and do something, or you do not. Even as it discovers the variety of ways of doing or not-doing, these are the alternatives a political will must confront: yes or no, for or against, continue or stop, where ‘to stop before the end is to perish’.[72] A (temporary) survivor of Thermidor, Babeuf knew all too well that ‘the organization of real equality will not at first please everyone.’ In so far as ‘the aim of the Revolution is to destroy inequality and re-establish the common welfare’, so then ‘the Revolution is not finished’ so long as the rich dominate the poor.[73] Then as now, the revolution divides those who seek to terminate it from those who resolve to continue it.

As usual, Sieyès anticipates the essential logic of the antagonism that would inform the Jacobin political sequence: ‘a privileged class is harmful … simply because it exists.’[74] And, as usual, Robespierre ups the ante: since the rich and the tyrants who protect them are by nature ‘the lash of the people’, so then the people who dare to overthrow tyranny ‘have only one way to escape the vengeance of kings: victory. Vanquish them or perish; these are your only choices.’ In the speeches that decided the fate of his own king, Saint-Just relied on the same logic. The king qua king is an ‘enemy stranger in our midst’, who ‘must reign or die’; if the ‘king is innocent the people are guilty’.[75] If for the Jacobins of 1793 ‘terror’ comes to figure as the complement to ‘virtue’, it is above all as a consequence of their determination to overcome the resistance of kings and the rich. ‘One leads the people by reason’, as Robespierre explained in February 1794, and the enemies of the people by terror…. If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is baneful; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe, and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.[76] The reasons why the Jacobin terror continues to terrify our political establishment, in a way that the far more bloody repression of the 1871 Commune does not, has nothing to do with the actual amount of violence involved. From the perspective of what is already established, notes Saint-Just, ‘that which produces the general good is always terrible’. Terror in the Jacobin (as opposed to Thermidorian) sense is the deployment of whatever force is required to overcome those particular interests that seek to undermine or disempower the collective interest. The Jacobin terror was more defensive than aggressive, more a matter of restraining than of unleashing popular violence. ‘Let us be terrible’, Danton said, ‘so that the people need not be.’[77] The need for more limited but no less resilient forms of self-defence has been experienced more recently, in different ways but with similar outcomes, by political militants in the shanty towns of Port-au-Prince and Johannesburg, in the villages of the Altiplano, and in the refugee camps of Gaza and Lebanon.

7. By the same token, the practical exercise of will distinguishes itself from mere wish or fantasy through its capacity to initiate a process of genuine ‘realization’. [78] ‘The will always wills to do something’, notes Arendt, and ‘thus holds in contempt sheer thinking, whose whole activity depends on “doing nothing.”’[79] As the polysemy of its English usage suggests, a will orients itself in line with the future it pursues. Even Kant could see that in so far as we will its achievement, the ‘mere yet practical idea’ of a moral world ‘really can and should have its influence on the sensible world, in order to make it agree as far as possible with this idea’.[80] Kant’s Jacobin contemporaries anticipated, in their own practice, the implication that post-Kantian philosophy would soon develop in theory. Only suitable republican institutions and educational practices, wrote Saint-Just, can serve to ‘guarantee public liberty’ and enhance public virtue. ‘We have turned into imposing realities’, Robespierre proudly declared, ‘the laws of eternal justice that were contemptuously called the dreams of humanitarians. Morality was once confined to the books of philosophers; we have put it into the government of nations.’[81]

Political will persists, then, to the degree that it perseveres in its material realization or actualization. After Fichte, Hegel complements the voluntarist trajectory initiated by Rousseau and Kant, and opens the door to Marx, when he identifies a free collective will – a will that wills and realizes its own emancipation – as the animating principle of a concrete political association. Thus conceived, the will is nothing other than ‘thinking translating itself into existence…. The activity of the will consists in cancelling and over coming [aufzuheben] the contradiction between subjectivity and objectivity and in translating its ends from their subjective determination into an objective one.’[82] After Hegel, Marx will expand the material dimension of such concrete determination, without ever abandoning the idea that what is ultimately determinant is not given economic or historical constraints but free human action – the ability of ‘each single individual’ to prescribe their own ends and make their own history.[83] Along the same lines, after Lenin and Gramsci, the partisans of ‘dual power’ seek to build, step by step, the grassroots institutions of ‘a social framework responsive to the actual will of the people’.[84]

8. Realization of the will of (the) people is oriented towards the universalization of its consequences. As Beauvoir understood better than Sartre, I can only will my own freedom by willing the freedom of all; the only subject that can sustain the work of unending self-emancipation is the people as such, humanity as a whole. Kant, Hegel and Marx take some of the steps required to move from Rousseau’s parochial conception of a people to its universal affirmation, but the outcome was again anticipated by Jacobin practice: ‘the country of a free people is open to all the people on earth’, and the only ‘legitimate sovereign of the earth is the human race.… The interest, the will of the people, is that of humanity.’[85]

9. The will of the people, however, is not an absolute. The process of ‘thinking translating itself into existence’ cannot be understood in a literally Fichtean or Hegelian sense. To absolutize the will is also to ‘de-voluntarize’ it. Self-determination operates within the constraints of its situation, and the freeing that is a free will is a relative and relational process.[86] To move in this context from thought to existence is simply to determine, step by step, the consequences of a popular will. Participation in the process which empowers a collective capacity is a practical and political rather than an ontological process. It prescribes what people may choose to do, not what they are.

10. A final consequence follows from this insistence on the primacy of political will: voluntary servitude, from this perspective, is more damaging than external domination. If the will is ‘determinant in the first instance’ then the most far-reaching forms of oppression involve the collusion of the oppressed. This is the point anticipated by Etienne La Boétie, and then radicalized in different ways by DuBois, Fanon and Aristide (and also Foucault, Deleuze and Žižek): in the end it is the people who empower their oppressors, who can harm them ‘only to the extent to which they are willing to put up with them’.p[87] It wouldn’t be hard to write a history of the twentieth century, of course, in such a way as to illustrate the apparent futility of political will. The failure of German communism in the 1920s, the failure of ‘Soviet man’ in the 1930s, the failure of anti-colonial liberation movements in the 1950s and 1960s, the failure of Maoism, the failure of 1968, the failure of anti-war and anti-globalization protests – all these seeming failures might seem to demonstrate one and the same basic point: the diffuse, systemic and hence insurmountable nature of contemporary capitalism, and of the forms of state and disciplinary power which accompany it.

Such a distorted history, in my opinion, would amount to little more than a rationalization of the defeats suffered in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In the late 1940s Beauvoir already bemoaned our tendency to ‘think that we are not the master of our destiny; we no longer hope to help make history, we are resigned to submitting to it.’[88] By the late 1970s such complaint, revalorized as celebration, had become the stuff of a growing consensus. This consensus has now been dominant, in both politics and philosophy, for more than thirty disastrous years. It’s time to leave it behind.

Notes

This article is a preliminary overview of an ongoing project. Fragments of the material presented here were first discussed in lectures at the universities of York (October 2006), Nottingham (February 2007), Cornell (April 2007), California at Irvine (November 2007), Kent (March 2008) and London (March 2009). I am grateful, for detailed comments on a rough draft, to Bruno Bosteels, Alberto Toscano, Adrian Johnston, Peter Kapos, Christian Kerslake, Nathan Brown, Tracy McNulty, Frank Ruda, Alex Williams and Richard Pithouse.

Notes

This article is a preliminary overview of an ongoing project. Fragments of the material presented here were first discussed in lectures at the universities of York (October 2006), Nottingham (February 2007), Cornell (April 2007), California at Irvine (November 2007), Kent (March 2008) and London (March 2009). I am grateful, for detailed comments on a rough draft, to Bruno Bosteels, Alberto Toscano, Adrian Johnston, Peter Kapos, Christian Kerslake, Nathan Brown, Tracy McNulty, Frank Ruda, Alex Williams and Richard Pithouse.

1. Antonio Machado, ‘Proverbios y Cantares – XXIX’, 1912, in Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, trans. Betty Jean Craige, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1978.

2. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1966, p. 109; cf. Peter Hallward, ‘What’s the Point: First Notes Towards a Philosophy of Determination’, in Rachel Moffat and Eugene de Klerk, eds, Material Worlds, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 148–58.

3. See in particular Sophie Wahnich, La Liberté ou la mort: Essai sur la terreur et le terrorisme, La Fabrique, Paris, 2003; Wahnich, La Longue Patience du peuple: 1792, la naissance de la République, Payot, Paris, 2008; Florence Gauthier, ‘The French Revolution: Revolution and the Rights of Man and the Citizen’, in 27 Michael Haynes and Jim Wolfreys, eds, History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism, Verso, London, 2007. As for the American revolution, Robespierre was quick to see that it was ‘founded on the aristocracy of riches’ (Maximilien Robespierre, OEuvres complètes, ed. Eugène Déprez et al., Société des Études Robespierristes, Paris, 1910–1967, V, p. 17).

4. Cf. Nick Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2008; Peter Hallward, ‘Haitian Inspiration: Notes on the Bicentenary of Independence’, Radical Philosophy 123, January 2004, pp. 2–7.

5. Robespierre, OEuvres, IX, pp. 487–8; Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee 1824, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Bergh, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, Washington DC, 1903–04, XVI, p. 73; Jefferson, letter to John Taylor 1816, ibid., XV, p. 23.

6. ‘There can be no pacified conception of the voluntary act’ (Badiou, ‘La Volonté: Cours d’agrégation’, 17 October 2002, notes taken by François Nicolas, www. entretemps.asso.fr/Badiou/02–03.2.htm; I’m grateful to Adrian Johnston for drawing my attention to these lecture notes).

7. More substantial studies which cover some of this ground include Patrick Riley, Will and Political Legitimacy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1982; Patrick Riley, The General Will before Rousseau, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1986; Andrew Levine, The General Will, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993; John H. Smith, Dialectics of the Will, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2000.

8. Marx, ‘Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Workingmen’s Association’ (1867), in Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1975–2005, XX, p. 441; cf. Hal Draper, ‘The Two Souls of Socialism’, 1966, §1, www.marxists.org/ archive/draper/1966/twosouls/index.htm; Draper, ‘The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels’, 1971, www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1971/xx/emancipation. html.

9. Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho, Marx’s Capital, Pluto, London, pp. 11–12; Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method, trans. Hazel Barnes, Vintage, New York, 1968, p. 89.

10. Adrian Johnston, Tracy McNulty, Alenka Zupan?i?, Ken Reinhard, letters to the author, 2007–09; Slavoj Žižek, ‘To Begin from the Beginning Over and Over Again’, paper delivered at ‘The Idea of Communism’ conference, Birkbeck, University of London, 15 March 2009; cf. Johnston, Žižek’s Ontology, Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL, 2008, p. 102.

11. Karl Marx, Capital Volume I, trans. David Fernbach, Penguin, London, 1976, p. 929; cf. Karl Marx, Civil War in France, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1977, pp. 75–6.

12. Marx, Capital Volume III, ch. 48, www.marxists.org/ archive/marx/works/1894–c3/ch48.htm; cf. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus, Penguin, London, 1973, pp. 611, 705–6.

13. Antonio Gramsci, ‘Study of Philosophy’, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1971, p. 345; cf. Gramsci, ‘The Modern Prince’, in Selections from Prison Notebooks, pp. 125–33, 171–2.

14. Georg Lukács, ‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’, Political Writings 1919–1929, ed. Rodney Livingstone, trans. Michael McColgan, NLB, London, 1972, pp. 26–7; cf. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone, Merlin Press, London, 1971, pp. 23, 145, 181.

15. Sartre, Search for a Method, p. 91; Sartre, ‘Itinerary of a Thought’, New Left Review 58, November 1969, p. 45.

16. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, Vintage, New York, 1968, §488, cf. §666; cf. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals I §13, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, Modern Library, New York, 2000, p. 481; Twilight of the Idols, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, London, 1968, p. 53.

17. Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, Harper & Row, New York, 1969, p. 59; cf. John Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought, New York, Fordham University Press, 1986, p. 177; Bret Davis, Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit, Northwestern University Press, Chicago, 2007.

18. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, Penguin, London, 1990, p. 225; cf. pp. 156–157, 291 n24.

19. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan, Pantheon Books, New York, 1977, p. 169.

20. Michel Foucault, ‘What is Critique?’, in The Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvère Lotringer and Lysa Hochroth, Semiotext(e), New York, 1997, p. 32; Foucault, Michel Foucault, Psychiatric Power, trans. Graham Burchell, Palgrave, New York, 2006, pp. 11, 27–8, 339; cf. Foucault, Abnormal, trans. Graham Burchell, New York, Picador, 2003, pp. 120, 157–8; Foucault, ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’, Essential Works III: Power, ed. James D. Faubion, New York, New Press, 2000, p. 25.

21. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943), trans. Hazel Barnes, Routledge Classics, London, 2003, pp. 585–6; pp. 472, 479.

22. Alain Badiou, ‘La Volonté’, 13 March 2003.

23. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, ou De l’éducation, Institute for Learning Technologies online edition, http:// projects.ilt.columbia.edu/pedagogies/rousseau/contents2. html, §1008; Rousseau, Première version du Contrat social, in Political Writings, ed. Charles Vaughan, Wiley, New York, 1962, I, p. 499.

24. Robespierre, OEuvres, IX, p. 310; Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, Views of the Executive Means Available to the Representatives of France in 1789 [1789], in Sieyès, Political Writings, ed. and trans. Michael Sonenscher, Hackett, Indianapolis, 2003, p. 10.

25. Cf. Hannah Arendt, Willing, in The Life of the Mind, Harcourt, New York, 1978, II, pp. 6–7.

26. Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, Penguin, London, 1983, 2:24, 3:5; cf. 1:16, 1:32; Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. George Bull, Penguin, London, 2004, ch. 9.

27. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 501.

28. Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, trans. Thomas Williams, Hackett, Indianapolis, 1993, pp. 76–7; cf. Duns Scotus, ‘The Existence of God’, in Philosophical Writings, trans. Allan Wolter, Hackett, Indianapolis, 1987, 54–6.

29. René Descartes, Letter to Père Mesland, 9 February 1645, in John Cottingham et al., eds, Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, III, 246; Descartes, Meditations IV, ibid., II, 39–40; Sixth Set of Replies, ibid., II, 291; Principles of Philosophy, ibid., I, §35, §37. 28

30. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in his Practical Philosophy, ed. and trans. Mary Mc- Gregor, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996 (references to Kant use the standard German pagination), pp. 4:461, 4:446; cf. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in Practical Philosophy, p. 5:15; Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, in Practical Philosophy, p. 6:392. In his 1930 lectures on Kant’s practical philosophy, Heidegger emphasizes this point – ‘to give this priority in everything, to will the ought of pure willing’ (Heidegger, Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Ted Sadler, Continuum, London, 2002, p. 201).

31. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, pp. A318–9/B375.

32. Immanuel Kant, ‘The Contest of the Faculties’, in Kant’s Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 181; cf. Kant, ‘Toward Perpetual Peace’, in Practical Philosophy, p. 8:351.

33. Alan Badiou, ‘La Volonté’, bilan de septembre 2003.

34. Cf. Patrick Riley, ‘Rousseau’s General Will’, in Riley, ed., Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, pp. 124, 127; Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1969, p. 184.

35. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Première Version, in Political Writings, ed. Vaughan, I, p. 472.

36. Rousseau, Social Contract 4:2, 1:6. In Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, which in many ways might be read as an extended consideration of the process whereby a general will takes shape and dissolves, this moment of association is confirmed by a collective ‘pledge’ (Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, trans. Alan Sheridan-Smith, Verso, London, 2004, p. 417).

37. Rousseau, Social Contract 2:4; Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Political Economy’, in Rousseau’s Political Writings, p. 66.

38. Rousseau, Émile, §24; Social Contract 2:7; cf. Riley, The General Will before Rousseau, pp. 182–97, 257.

39. Rousseau, Social Contract 4:2; cf. Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, Views of the Executive Means Available to the Representatives of France in 1789, in Sieyès, Political Writings, p. 11; Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, OEuvres complètes, ed. Anne Kupiec and Miguel Abensour, Gallimard, Paris, 2004, p. 482.

40. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, cited in J.P. Slavin, ‘Haiti: The Elite’s Revenge’, NACLA Report on the Americas, vol. 25, no. 3, December 1991, p. 6.

41. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Political Economy’, p. 66; Social Contract 2:3; Rousseau, Social Contract 1:7, translation modified.

42. Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, What is the Third Estate? [1789], in Sieyès, Political Writings, pp. 134, 136–8. As Thomas Paine would argue, against Burke, ‘the right of a Parliament is only a right in trust, a right by delegation, and that but from a very small part of the Nation, … but the right of the Nation is an original right …, and everything must conform to its general will’ (Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, in Paine, Political Writings, ed. Bruce Kuklick, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 131).

43. Saint-Just, OEuvres complètes, p. 547.

44. See Marx and Engels, ‘Les Conspirateurs, par A. Chenu’ (1850), online at www.marxists.org/archive/ marx/works/1850/03/chenu.htm; Marx, ‘Meeting of the Central Authority, September 15, 1850’, in Collected Works of Marx and Engels, X, pp. 625–9; Engels, ‘Introduction,’ in Marx, Civil War in France, p. 14.

45. Lenin, ‘The Conference Summed Up’ (7 May 1906), www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/may/07. htm; cf. Draper, ‘The Myth of Lenin’s “Concept of The Party”’, 1990, www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/ myth/myth.htm.

46. ‘Experience proves,’ adds Fanon, ‘that the important thing is not that three hundred people form a plan and decide upon carrying it out, but that the whole people plan and decide even if takes them twice or three times as long’ (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1968, pp. 155–6; cf. pp. 198, 204–5; cf. Jane Anna Gordon, ‘Of Legitimation and the General Will: Creolizing Rousseau through Frantz Fanon’, The C.L.R. James Journal: A Review of Caribbean Ideas, vol. 14, no. 1, forthcoming).

47. Rousseau, Social Contract 2:3. Here is the crux of the difference, often noted, between Rousseau’s volonté général and Montesquieu’s esprit général. Occasions for the self-determination of the former arise when the collapse or exhaustion of existing social relations give the people an opportunity to assert a new and deliberate beginning. The latter, by contrast, emerges through the combination of the ‘many things that govern people: climate, religion, the laws, the maxims of the government, examples of past things, mores, and manners’ (Charles Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, trans. Anne M. Cohler et al., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, 19:4). Since a general spirit is largely the product of its environment and the ‘organically’ established order of things, Montesquieu’s philosophy recommends, in anticipation of Burke and de Maistre, that ‘we should accommodate ourselves to this life and not try to force it into patterns of our own devising’ (Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, 1:2; Norman Hampson, Will and Circumstance: Montesquieu, Rousseau, and the French Revolution, Duckworth, London, 1983, p. 9).

48. Jefferson, letter to William Smith, 13 November 1787, in Michael Hardt, ed., Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, Verso, London, 2007, p. 35. 49. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, p. 205; Jean- Paul Sartre, The Communists and Peace, trans. Martha Fletcher, Braziller, New York, 1968, p. 89.

50. Rousseau, Social Contract 2.1; cf. 3:15.

51. ‘The State does not presuppose the “people” of which it would be the product or the serving delegate, on the contrary it is the state which institutes the represented as political subject, through the permanent dispossession of its capacity to act politically in the first person’ (André Tosel, Études sur Marx, et Engels, Kimé, Paris, 1996, p. 71). Hence the limitation of Laclau’s recent reconceptualization of populism. Since Laclau conceives of the ‘construction of a people’ not in terms of power, unity and will but in terms of heterogeneity, difference and language, he conceives of any popular ‘articulation of a chain of equivalences’ first and foremost in terms of representation. For Laclau, arguing against Rousseau, ‘the main difficulty with classical theories of political representation is that most of them conceived the will of the “people” as something that was constituted before representation’, rather than through it (Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, Verso, London, 2005, pp. 163–4).

52. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1978, p. 59; 29 Marx, The Civil War in France, p. 74.

53. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Ramos, Penguin, London, 1996, p. 50.

54. Cited in Arthur Jordan, ‘John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry’, International Socialist Review, vol 21, no. 1, 1960, www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isr/vol 21/no01/jordan.htm. ‘The general will, to be truly so, must be general in its object as well as in its essence; it must come from all to be applied to all’ (Rousseau, Social Contract 2:4).

55. Che Guevara, ‘The Marxist-Leninist Party’, in Che: Selected Works of Ernesto Guevara, ed. Rolando E. Bonachea and Nelson P. Valdes, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1969, pp. 104–6.

56. S’bu Zikode, ‘The Burning Issue of Land and Housing’, 28 August 2008, www.diakonia.org.za/index. php?option=com_content&task=view&id=129&Itemid =54.

57. A version of this assumption informs Simon Critchley’s recent work. Since we cannot prescribe our own ends, in order to overcome our ‘motivational deficit’ we must accept a ‘heteronomous’ motivation imposed from the other or the outside, an other that is infinitely ‘higher’, i.e. holier, than us. Responsibility to such a transcendent or infinite demand exceeds all merely autonomous freedom (Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, Verso, London, 2007, pp. 56–7). The tactical corollary of such piety is a deflating, ‘self-undermining’ frivolity: the sacred majesty of the other demands of the self ‘not Promethean authenticity but laughable inauthenticity’ (pp. 124, 82).

58. How far we are actually or ‘objectively’ free, Kant insists, ‘is a merely speculative question, which we can leave aside so long as we are considering what ought or ought not to be done’ (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A801–4/B829–32; cf. Groundwork, 447–50). Rousseau again anticipates the point: ‘I will to act, and I act …. The will is known to me by its acts, not by its nature’ (Émile, §983).

59. Simone de Beauvoir, Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman, Citadel Press, New York, 1976, pp. 24–5, 130–31.

60. Robespierre, quoted in David Jordan, The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre, Free Press, New York, 1985, p. 231. Psychoanalysis allows us to recognize, Badiou notes, that the will ‘isn’t necessarily transparent to itself’ (Badiou, ‘La Volonté’, 13 March 2003).

61. Rousseau, Social Contract 2:7.

62. Robespierre, OEuvres, V, pp. 19–20; Marx, Theses on Feuerbach §3, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/ 1845/theses/index.htm.

63. Hardt, ‘Introduction’, in Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, xix–xx; cf. Hallward, ‘Rancière and the Subversion of Mastery’, Paragraph, vol. 28, no. 1, 2005, pp. 26–45.

64. Draper, ‘Two Souls’, §10.

65. ‘For the same reason that sovereignty is inalienable, it is indivisible, for the will is general, or it is not’ (Rousseau, Social Contract 2:2; cf. Robespierre, OEuvres, VII, p. 268).

66. Rousseau, Social Contract 1:7; Robespierre, OEuvres, IX, 83–84; Rousseau, Social Contract 2.3.

67. Rousseau, Social Contract 2.1; ‘Discourse on Political Economy’, pp. 69, 67, translation modified.

68. Robespierre, notes written in early June 1793, in J.M. Thompson, Robespierre, Blackwell, Oxford, 1935, II, pp. 33–4.

69. Thomas Sowell, ‘Karl Marx and the Freedom of the Individual’, Ethics, vol. 73, no. 2, 1963, p. 119; cf. Draper, The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ from Marx to Lenin, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1987, ch. 1.

70. R.B. Rose, Gracchus Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1978, p. 104, pp. 167–9.

71. Cf. Beauvoir, Ethics of Ambiguity, pp. 27–8; Alain Badiou, Ethics, trans. Peter Hallward, Verso, London, 2001, pp. 52, 91.

72. Robespierre, OEuvres, X, p. 572.

73. Babeuf, Manifesto of the Equals, 1796, www.marxists. org/history/france/revolution/conspiracy-equals/1796/ manifesto.htm; ‘Analysis of the Doctrine of Babeuf’, 1796, article 10, www.marxists.org/history/france/revolution/ conspiracy-equals/1797/placard.htm; ‘Babeuf’s Defense’, February-May 1797, www.historyguide.org/ intellect/defense.html.

74. Sieyès, What is the Third Estate?, in Sieyès, Political Writings, p. 157; cf. Fanon, Wretched, p. 200.

75. Robespierre, OEuvres, VI, p. 625; V, p. 61; Saint-Just, OEuvres, pp. 479, 512.

76. Robespierre, OEuvres, X, pp. 356–7.

77. Saint-Just, ‘Institutions républicaines’ (1794), in OEuvres, p. 1141; cf. Saint-Just, OEuvres, 659–60; Danton, 10 March 1793, cited in Wahnich, Liberté ou la mort, p. 62. In his notorious ‘Adam and Eve letter’, Jefferson defended the initial phase of the Jacobin terror for the same reason. ‘The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest [ … , and] rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated’ (Jefferson, letter to William Short, 3 January 1793, in Hardt, ed., Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, pp. 46–7).

78. Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 505; Gramsci, ‘The Modern Prince’, in Selections from Prison Notebooks, p. 175 n75.

79. Arendt, Willing, p. 37.

80. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. A808/B836; cf. Frederick Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism 1781–1801, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2002, pp. 279–80.

81. Saint-Just, ‘Institutions républicaines’, in OEuvres, pp. 1088–89, 1135; Robespierre, OEuvres, X, p. 229.

82. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Philosophy of Right, trans. H.B. Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, §4A, §28, translation modified.

83. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology 1A, www. marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/germanideology/ ch01a.htm#a3; cf. Marx, Capital, Volume I, p. 739.

84. Brian A. Dominick, ‘An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy’, 1998, http://sandiego.indymedia.org/en/ 2002/09/2403.shtml; cf. Alberto Toscano, ‘Dual Power Revisited’, Soft Targets, vol. 2, no. 1, 2007, www.softtargetsjournal. com/v21/alberto_toscano.php.

85. Saint-Just, OEuvres, p. 551; Robespierre, OEuvres, IX, p. 469; VII, p. 268.

86. Badiou, ‘La Volonté’, 13 March 2003.

87. Étienne La Boétie, The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz, Columbia University Press, New York, 1942, www.constitution.org/la_boetie/serv_vol. htm, translation modified.

88. Beauvoir, Ethics of Ambiguity, p. 139.

Haitian inspiration: On the bicentenary of Haiti’s independence

Haitian inspiration: On the bicentenary of Haiti’s independence

by Peter Hallward in Radical Philosophy

Two hundred years ago this month (January 2004), the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola became the independent nation of Haiti. Few transformations in world history have been more momentous, few required more sacrifice or promised more hope. And few have been more thoroughly forgotten by those who would have us believe that this history has since come to a desirable end with the eclipse of struggles for socialism, national liberation and meaningful independence in the developing world.

Of the three great revolutions that began in the final decades of the eighteenth century – American, French and Haitian – only the third forced the unconditional application of the principle that inspired each one: affirmation of the natural, inalienable rights of all human beings. Only in Haiti was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day. Only in Haiti were the consequences of this declaration – the end of slavery, of colonialism, of racial inequality – upheld in terms that directly embraced the world as a whole. And of these three revolutions, it is Haiti’s that has the most to teach those seeking to uphold these consequences in the world today.

Recognized as a French territory from the late seventeenth century, by the 1780s Saint-Domingue had become far and away the most profitable colony in the world, the jewel in the French imperial crown and the basis for much of the new prosperity of its growing commercial bourgeoisie. ‘On the eve of the American Revolution’, Paul Farmer notes, ‘Saint-Domingue – roughly the size of the modern state of Maryland – generated more revenue than all thirteen North American colonies combined’; on the eve of the French Revolution it had become the world’s single largest producer of coffee and the source for around 75 percent of its sugar.1 This exceptional productivity was the result of an exceptionally cruel plantation economy, one built on the labour of slaves who were worked to death so quickly that even rapid expansion of the slave trade over these same years was unable to keep up with demand. Mortality levels were such that during the 1780s the colony absorbed around 40,000 new slaves a year. By 1789, Eric Williams suggests, this ‘pearl of the Caribbean’ had become, for the vast majority of its inhabitants, ‘the worst hell on earth’.2

Rapid growth put significant strains on the colony’s social structure. Coercive power was divided between three increasingly antagonistic groups – the white plantation-owning elite, the representatives of French imperial power on the island, and an ever more prosperous but politically powerless group of mulattos and former slaves. With the outbreak of the French Revolution tensions between these factions of the colonial ruling class broke out in open conflict, and when a massive slave rebellion began in August 1791 the regime was unable to cope. Sent to restore order, the French commissioner Sonthonax was soon confronted by a rebellion of the white planters seeking greater independence from republican France and withdrawal of the civic rights recently granted to the island’s mulattos. Sonthonax only managed to suppress this rebellion by offering permanent freedom to the slave armies who still controlled the countryside, in exchange for their support. Over the next few years, the army of emancipated slaves led by Toussaint L’Ouverture slowly gained control of the colony. In a series of brilliant military campaigns, Toussaint defeated the planters, the Spanish, the British and his own rivals among the black and mulatto armies. By the turn of the century he had become the effective ruler of Saint-Domingue. Unwilling to break with France itself, however, Toussaint allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the expeditionary force that Napoleon sent in 1801 to restore colonial slavery. Napoleon’s troops were successful in Guadeloupe but failed in Saint-Domingue. Toussaint’s army reassembled under Jean-Jacques Dessalines and by the time the war of independence was over Napoleon, like Pitt before him, had lost 50,000 troops. The last of the French were expelled in November 1803.

Apart from the extraordinary impact of the historical sequence itself, why should anyone with an interest in radical philosophy take an interest, today, in the making of Haitian independence? Haiti is invariably described as the ‘poorest country in the Western hemisphere’. It routinely features as an object lesson in failed economic development and unfinished ‘modernization’, as deprived of the benefits associated with representative democracy, modern civil society and stable foreign investment. Almost as regularly, it is presented as the referent of explicitly racist hogwash about Voodoo or AIDS. Why take an interest in the revolution which led to the creation of such a country? Here are some of the more obvious reasons.

1. If the French Revolution stands as the great political event of modern times, the Haitian revolution must figure as the single most decisive sequence of this event. The French colonies were the one place in which the ‘universal’ principles of liberty and equality affirmed by 1789 were truly tested: they were that exceptional place in which these principles might fail to apply. No question served to clarify political differences within the Revolutionary Assemblies as sharply as the colonial question, and, as Florence Gauthier has shown, no question played a more important role in the reactionary transition from the Jacobin prescription of natural rights to the Thermidorian affirmation of social rights – the prescriptions of order, property and prosperity. The Haitian revolution continued, moreover, where the French Revolution left off: just before Napoleon tried to restore slavery in the western half of Hispaniola, Toussaint abolished it in the eastern half. And in so far as our political present retains an essentially Thermidorian configuration, the logic used by the French colonial lobby to justify the preservation of slavery says something about the logic at issue in today’s global division of labour as well. Pierre Victor Malouet, speaking on behalf of the planters in the Assembly’s 1791 debate, knew that the universal declaration of human rights was incompatible with the existence of colonies, and so urged his patriotic countrymen to preserve the exceptional status of their colonies. ‘It’s not a matter of pondering whether the institution of slavery can be defended in terms of principle and right’, said Malouet; ‘no man endowed with sense and morality would profess such a doctrine. It’s a matter, instead, of knowing whether it is possible to change this institution in our colonies, without a terrifying accumulation of crimes and calamities.’3 The basic principle persists to this day. The rules that apply to ‘us’ cannot reasonably be made to apply to ‘them’ without jeopardizing the stability of our investments, without risking global recession, terror or worse.

2. The achievement of Haitian independence reminds us that politics need not always proceed as ‘the art of the possible’. Haitian independence brought to an end one of the most profoundly improbable sequences in all of world history. Contemporary observers were uniformly astounded. As Robin Blackburn observes, Toussaint’s forces broke the chain of colonial slavery at ‘what had been, in 1789, its strongest link’.4 They overcame the most crushing form of ideological prejudice ever faced by a resistance movement and defeated in turn the armies of the most powerful imperialist nations on earth. Their example further provided perhaps the single greatest inspiration for subsequent African and Latin American liberation movements: Haiti provided crucial support to (a notably ungrateful) Simón Bolívar in his struggle against Spain, and in the first decades of the nineteenth century helped motivate rebellions against slavery in Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil and the USA, just as it would later inspire those working for an end to colonialism in Africa.

3. The Haitian revolution is a particularly dramatic example of the way in which historical ‘necessity’ emerges only retrospectively. Those who refrain from action until the full strategic import of the moment becomes clear will never act. With hindsight, it is obvious that in the circumstances of the late eighteenth century only the achievement of national independence could ever guarantee the lasting abolition of slavery in Haiti. Nevertheless, it took Dessalines ten years to reach this conclusion, and it is one that Toussaint himself was apparently never willing to accept. Toussaint’s eventual determination to placate the French, to preserve the essential structure of the plantation economy, to accommodate the white planters, cost him much of his popular support in the final campaign against France: the man who did most to achieve liberation of the slaves was unable to do what was required to preserve this achievement. Similarly, although the slave uprising that sparked the whole sequence was carefully planned and thoroughly prepared by the structural conditions of the plantation economy itself, its full consequences remained obscure long after the event. None of the leaders involved in the uprising deliberately set out to achieve the abolition of slavery. Pursuit of abolition was virtually imposed upon them by the planters’ refusal to accept anything other than the quasi-suicidal surrender of their armies. The actual decision to abolish slavery was then forced on a reluctant Sonthonax as a result of intractable divisions among the Saint-Domingue elite.

4. Although the process was contingent and unpredictable, the achievement of Haitian freedom and independence was forced through direct action, without mediation of ‘recognition’, ‘negotiation’ or ‘communication’. Enlightened arguments against slavery were hardly uncommon in the eighteenth century. Montesquieu poured scorn on its racial and religious ‘justifications’, the Encyclopédie labelled the colonial slave trade a crime against humanity, Rousseau identified slavery with a denial of humanity pure and simple. The mostly Girondin Société des Amis des Noirs supported a ‘carefully prepared freedom for the slaves’ within a reformed colonial system. There’s a world of difference, however, between the assertion of such fine principles and active solidarity with an actual slave uprising. Brissot, founder of the Société, called for the repression of the slaves’ uprising as soon as it began. As C.L.R. James points out, impassioned moral outbursts about the evils of exploitation ‘neither then nor now have carried weight’, for when the basis of their authority is in question those in power yield only to irresistible pressure.5 The moderates who worked to improve conditions in Saint-Domingue through offcial legislative channels achieved virtually nothing during three years of indecisive wrangling, and the Jacobins’ eventual acceptance of an end to slavery came a full two and a half years after the 1791 revolt. Unlike the slaves, who lacked any official representation, the island’s mulattos were weakened as much by their futile efforts to solicit recognition from France as they were by their reckless determination to pursue their claims in isolation, without black support. (As for Tocqueville, the darling of those reactionary historians of the French Revolution who have recently gone to some trouble to erase the question of slavery and the colonies from this history altogether6 – for all his well-known aversion to slavery, he was to echo the colonial lobby almost to the letter when in the 1830s and 1840s he came to advocate the ‘total domination’ of Algeria through ‘devastation of the country’ and the enforcement of apartheid-style forms of social control.) Among the French philosophes, only Diderot and Raynal, after Mercier, were willing to tell the nations of Europe, in words that may have inspired Toussaint himself, that ‘your slaves are not in need of your generosity or of your councils, in order to break the sacrilegious yoke which oppresses them.… A courageous chief only is wanted [who] will come forth and raise the sacred standard of liberty.’

5. The Haitian revolution is a powerful illustration of the way in which any actively universal prescription is simultaneously an exceptional and divisive revaluation of a hitherto unrepresentable or ‘untouchable’ aspect of its situation. Every truly universal principle, as Alain Badiou suggests, ‘appears at first as the decision of an undecidable or the valorization of something without value’ and its consequent application will ensure that the group or capacity that has so far been ‘minimally existent’ in the situation comes to acquire a maximal intensity.7 On the eve of 1791, what virtually all the participants in the debate over slavery accepted, including the future slave leaders themselves, was the impossibility of an independent nation peopled by free citizens of African descent. The achievement of this independence must stand as one of the most categorical blows against racism that has ever been struck. Rarely has race been so clearly understood for what it is – in no sense a source of conflict or difference, but merely an empty signifier harnessed to an economy of plunder and exploitation. Early Haitian writers understood perfectly well the point made more recently by Wallerstein and Balibar, among others, that theories of racial inequality were concocted by white colonists so as to legitimate slavery and the pursuit of European interests. The first constitution of Haiti (1805) broke abruptly with the whole question of race by identifying all Haitians, regardless of the colour of their skin, as black – a characterization that included, among others, a substantial number of German and Polish troops who had joined in the fight against Napoleon. David Nicholls demonstrates that throughout the nineteenth century, though they showed little interest in the contemporary state of African culture per se, ‘Haitian writers, mulatto and black, conservative and Marxist, were practically unanimous in portraying Haiti as a symbol of African regeneration and of racial equality. Mulatto intellectuals from the elite, who in appearance could well have been taken for Europeans, proudly regarded themselves as Africans, as members of the black race.’8 And, as Nicholls goes on to show, nothing has undercut Haitian independence in the post-revolutionary period more than the resurgence of colour prejudice and the re-differentiation of Haitians in terms of either coloured or black.

6. Haiti’s revolution is a reminder that such divisive universality can only be sustained by a revolutionary subject. Haitian independence was the conclusion of the only successful slave uprising that has ever taken place. It isn’t difficult to list the various conjunctural reasons for this success, including the large numbers and concentration of slaves in the colony, the economic and cultural factors which tied them together, the brutality with which most of them were treated, the relative freedom of movement enjoyed by the slaves’ ‘managerial’ elite, the intensity of economic and political divisions among the ruling class, rivalries among the imperialist powers, the inspiration provided by the revolutions in America and France, the quality of Toussaint’s leadership, and so on. One factor above all, however, accounts for the outcome of what became one of the first modern instances of total war: the people’s determination to resist a return to slavery under any circumstances. This is the great constant of the entire revolutionary sequence, and it is this that lends an overall direction to the otherwise convoluted series of its leaders’ tactical manoeuvrings. As Carolyn Fick has established, when Dessalines, Christophe and the other black generals finally broke with the French in 1802, it was the constancy of their troops that enabled their eventual decision. ‘The masses had resisted the French from the very beginning, in spite of, and not because of, their leadership. They had shouldered the whole burden and paid the price of resistance all along, and it was they who had now made possible the political and military reintegration of the leaders in the collective struggle.’9 Haiti’s revolutionaries thereby refused today’s logic of ‘democratic intervention’ avant la lettre. The recent introduction of democracy to Iraq is only the latest of a long sequence of international attempts to impose self-serving political arrangements upon a people whose participation in the process is only tolerable if it remains utterly passive and obedient; the people of Haiti, by contrast, were determined to remain the subjects rather than the objects of their own liberation. And by doing so, they likewise challenged that category of absolute passivity, that quasi-human ‘remainder’ revived, in a certain sense, by Giorgio Agamben’s recent work on bare life and the Muselmänner. Whereas ‘before the revolution many a slave had to be whipped before he could be got to move from where he sat’, James notes, these same ‘subhumans’ then went on to fight ‘one of the greatest revolutionary battles in history’.10

7. In stark contrast to today’s democratic consensus, Haitian history from Toussaint and Dessalines to Préval and Aristide features the consistent articulation of popular political mobilization and authoritarian leadership. Needless to say, the fortunes of the former have often suffered from the excesses of the latter. It is no less obvious, however, that arguments in favour of ‘democratic reform’ and a judicious ‘separation of powers’ have very largely been made by members of Haiti’s tiny propertied elite, along with their international sponsors. Precisely these kinds of argument have served to paralyse Aristide’s presidency from the moment he first took office. The basic pattern was already set with the reaction to Dessalines’ own brief rule: in his several years as (an undeniably bloodthirsty and autocratic) emperor, Dessalines introduced taxes on trade that were unpopular with the elite, took steps to dissolve prejudice between coloureds and blacks, and began to move towards a more equitable distribution of land. ‘Negroes and mulattos’, he announced, ‘we have all fought against the whites; the properties which we have conquered by the spilling of our blood belong to us all; I intend that they be divided with equity.’11 Soon afterwards, in October 1806, the mulatto elite had Dessalines assassinated, and were subsequently careful to protect their commercial privileges by imposing strict limits on presidential power. Dessalines’ true successor, as James implies, is Fidel Castro. On the other hand, repeated attempts (begun by Toussaint himself) to restore the old plantation economy by authoritarian means foundered on the resolve of the emancipated slaves never to return to their former life. The main goal of most participants in the war of independence was direct control over their own livelihood and land. Haiti’s first constitution was careful to block foreign ownership of Haitian property, and by the 1820s many of Haiti’s ex-slaves had succeeded in becoming peasant proprietors. The ongoing effort to retain at least some degree of economic autonomy is one of several factors that help explain the exceptionally aggressive economic policies subsequently imposed on the island, first by American occupation (1915–34) and later by the IMF-brokered structural adjustment plans which have effectively continued that occupation by other means.Much of the power of James’s celebrated account of the Haitian revolution stems from the fact that it is oriented squarely towards what were, for him, the ongoing struggles for African liberation and global socialism. Today, things may not seem quite so clear-cut. Today’s variants on slavery are somewhat less stark than those of 1788, and their justification usually involves arguments more subtle than reference to the colour of one’s skin. Some things haven’t changed, however. Haiti’s revolution proceeded in direct opposition to the great colonial powers of the day, and when after Thermidor even revolutionary France returned to the colonial fold, Haiti alone carried on the struggle to affirm the rights of universal humanity against the predatory imperatives of property. Aristide’s greatest crime in the eyes of the ‘international community’ was surely to have continued this struggle. Thermidorians of every age have tried to present an orderly, pacified picture of historical change as the consolidation of property, prosperity and security. Haiti’s revolution testifies to the power of another conception of history and the possibility of a different political future.

Notes

1. Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti, Common Courage Press, Monroe ME, 1994, p. 63.
2. Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492–1969, André Deutsch, London, 1970, p. 245. The standard account of the Haitian revolution remains, with good reason, C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Penguin, London, 2001; originally published 1938.
3. Florence Gauthier, Triomphe et mort du droit naturel en Révolution 1789–1795–1802, PUF, Paris, 2000, pp. 174–7.
4. Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, Verso, London, 1989, p. 258.
5. James, The Black Jacobins, p. 19.
6. Saint-Domingue isn’t even mentioned in Simon Schama’s bestselling Citizens (Knopf, 1989) or Keith Baker’s Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990), while François Furet and Mona Ozouf were unable to find room in their 1,100-page Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1989) for an entry on Toussaint L’Ouverture; the entry on ‘Slavery’ in their index refers only to America’s revolution, not Haiti’s.
7. Alain Badiou, ‘Huit Thèses sur l’universel’, in Jelica Sumic, ed., Universel, singulier, sujet, Kimé, Paris, 2000, pp. 14–15; Badiou, La Commune de Paris: Une déclaration politique sur la politique, Les Conférences du Rouge-Gorge, Paris, 2003, pp. 27–8.
8. Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1996, p. 5. As Nicholls points out, the term blanc in Haitian creole connotes a foreigner of any colour, and can be applied to black Haitians themselves if they look and sound like people from France.
9. Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1990, p. 228.
10. James, ‘Revolution and the Negro’ (1939), in Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc, eds, C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C.L.R. James 1939–1949, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands NJ, 1994, p. 79.
11. Dessalines, quoted in Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, p. 38.I am grateful to Bob Corbett for his trenchant response to an earlier version of this article.

Attachments


Peter Hallward: Haitian Inspiration

Shack Dwellers on the Move in Durban

Radical Philosophy #141 January 2007 (written September 2006)

Home

Shack Dwellers on the Move in Durban

Shack settlements began to be constructed in the South African port city of Durban following the loss of land and the imposition of various taxes after the destruction of the Zulu Kingdom by English colonialism in 1883 and the simultaneous movement into the city of Indian workers who had completed their indenture on sugar plantations. Colonial authorities soon tried to act against the settlements but they were defended by a series of rebellions. For a while Umkumbane, the largest settlement, flourished and its urban cosmopolitanism produced all kinds of social innovation including its famous gay community where institutionalised homosexual marriage was pioneered in South Africa. But in March 1958, with the population of Umkumbane at 120 000, and the apartheid state achieving its full power, the Durban City Council, working within a colonial academic and policy consensus with a global reach, began a ‘slum clearance’ project that forcibly removed shack dwellers to racially segregated modern townships on the periphery of the city.

Forced removals were militantly opposed, primarily on the grounds that transport costs from the new townships to work were unaffordable. In 1959 demonstrations stopped the evictions 3 times. There were moments when the resistances were clearly organised and articulated as a women’s project. As the conflict escalated lives were lost. In January 1960 6 000 people marched into the city. Protest in and around the settlement had been tolerated to a degree but when shack dwellers went into the city that toleration was withdrawn. The army was bought in and resistance crushed. The mass evictions were largely completed by August 1965 and are remembered as a great crime of apartheid.

But by the early 1980s the apartheid state, occupying Namibia, at war with the Cubans and the MPLA in Angola and battling insurrectionary township rebellions across the county, lost the capacity to completely regulate the movement of Africans. People were able to flood into the city, seize land, and found communities autonomous from the state. This movement into the city was greeted with tremendous racialised panic in white and Indian suburbs but was celebrated by the ANC underground and in exile.

There was a bitter stand off. But by the late 1980s the World Bank backed elite consensus was that shack settlements, now called ‘informal settlements’ rather than ‘squatter camps’, were opportunities for self help via popular entrepreneurship rather than a threat to white modernity, state and capital. NGOs embedded in imperial power structures were deployed to teach the poor that they could only hope to help themselves via small businesses while the rich got on with big business in gated office parks.

With the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 settlement committees were expected to affiliate themselves to the ANC aligned South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO). After the ANC took state power SANCO was tied to the state via a system in which each SANCO settlement committee got one seat on the Branch Executive Committee of the local ANC branch which was chaired by the local councillor. This was supposed to facilitate the bottom up expression of popular views. In the beginning it seemed to work.

Throughout the 90s the ANC promised that, as their first priority, they would ‘together with our people address the concerns of the poorest of the poor living in squatter camps like Kennedy Road, Lusaka and Mbambayi.’ Their power, including their power to demobilise popular militancy and to speak for its traditions, was justified first and foremost in the name of the poorest – people in ‘squatter camps’ like Kennedy Road.

Things began to change in 2001 when Durban was selected as a pilot for the United Nations Habitat Cities Without Slums project. This was initially celebrated as the beginning of the redemption of the ANC’s promises. But now that shack settlements were ‘slums’ to be ‘cleared’ rather than ‘informal settlements’ to be ‘developed’ the provision of electricity and other services to settlements was immediately halted. It slowly became clear that the Slum Clearance project plans to subject the minority of shack dwellers to forced removals to badly constructed shack size homes in new townships on the rural periphery of the city. The majority are being cast as criminal, dirty and carriers of disease and will simply have their homes destroyed. The city has promised to ‘clear the slums’ in time for the 2010 football World Cup and the settlements are being destroyed in an order determined by the degree to which they are visible from the bourgeois world. Relocation to the rural periphery of the city moves people away from work, schools, health care and everything else that the city has to offer and is invariably catastrophic. This return to the brutal logic of apartheid is masked by a technocratic rationality which declares itself the vehicle that will ‘deliver’ to the poor. Because ‘delivery’ is relentlessly presented as a technocratic rather than a political project opposition can easily be presented as criminal or anti-national in elite publics.

As all of this has become clear the party structure reaching down into the intimacy of daily life has been used to contain dissent. This has often taken the form of outright and at times armed intimidation. But in 2005 the police registered just under 6 000 illegal protests across the country, most of them issuing from shack settlements. Both the ANC elite and the left intellectuals who work on policies for the poor, rather than in the politics of the poor, share the view that the poor are demanding a more effective technocratic ‘delivery’ and refer to this upsurge in popular militancy as ‘service delivery protests’. Speaking to the poor rather than for the poor would quickly disabuse them of this assumption.

In Durban the first major break with party control of the settlements happened on 19 March 2005. The day before bulldozers had started digging up a piece of land adjacent to the Kennedy Road settlement which had long been promised for housing. People had discovered from the workers on the site that this wasn’t the beginning of the long promised housing development but that a brick factory was being built. They gathered on the promised land, stopped the construction and asked the local councillor to come and explain what was happening. He arrived with the police and demanded the arrest of his constituents. They are, he said, criminal. That night there was a mass meeting in the settlement. The SANCO committee came under serious pressure and after long and careful discussion a new course of action was decided on. Early the next morning a few hundred people barricaded a nearby 6 lane road with burning tyres and held it against the riot police for 4 hours suffering 14 arrests. Alfred Mdletshe told Fred Kockott, the first journalist on the scene, that ‘We are tired of living and walking in shit. The council must allocate land for housing us. Instead they are giving it to property developers to make money’. With this spectacular act the settlement announced its independence from party control.

On the Monday after the road blockade 1 200 people staged an illegal march on the police station where the 14 were being held. Their demand was that either the 14 be released or else the entire community be arrested because ‘If they are criminal then we are all criminal’. The march was dispersed with more beatings, dogs and tear gas. There were no arrests this time because the police were looking for one person in particular – S’bu Zikode, the young chair of the Kennedy Road Committee. He escaped by dressing in women’s clothes amidst the protection of the throng. Back at the settlement the line of young men returning the gaze of the riot police lounging against their armoured vehicles were entertained by a drunk sarcastically shouting ‘Viva Mandela!’ and ‘Viva ’makhomanisi!’ (communists) to derisive laughter. At a packed meeting that afternoon there were none of the empty slogans, pompous speeches or ritualised invocations of the authority of leaders that characterise national liberation movements in, or close to power. There were just short and intensely debated practical suggestions. They had entered the tunnel of the discovery of their betrayal and discovered their capacity for open resistance. There was, in that moment, an overwhelming sense of profound collective isolation from the structures and pieties of constituted power. The shroud of obedience had been torn open. Zikode declared that ‘We are on our own now’.

People feared that they would pay a high price for their exile from subordination to external authority. But they undertook this exile although they were staring into an open abyss and they sustained it as it steadily revealed itself to require accommodation with hiding in the bushes, beatings, arrests, anxious families, circling helicopters, nightmares and, for some, death threats. The idea of exile often functions as a pathologically narcissistic form of legitimation for the power of a self selecting vanguard. But Zikode has often taken care to insist that ‘our homemade politics’ must be ‘made by everyone together so that every old gogo (grandmother) can understand it’. There is a clear and often publicly restated commitment to think in common rather than for the mass.

The first two illegal protests from Kennedy Road were followed by a series of legal marches on the nearby local councillors, some involving as many as 5 000 people. The state was not impressed and went so far as to have the army occupy Kennedy Road in a spectacular display of state power. But the marches continued and included people from more and more settlements. In each of these marches the protestors carried a mock coffin and then staged a performance of a funeral for the councillor outside his office. They were not just burying the councillors as deficient instances of councillorhood but were burying the whole idea of top down party control. Kennedy Road had had to break with SANCO when they accepted political exile. But now other settlements began to vote out SANCO committees, seen as accountable to the local councillors and to elect autonomous committees, seen as accountable to the people in the settlements. In some settlements this resulted in serious and often armed intimidation from members and associates of former SANCO committees. But on 6 October 2005 17 men and 15 women elected as representatives from 12 settlements that now had autonomous committees met to formally constitute themselves into a movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (people who stay in shacks), and to commit themselves to stand together and to fight together for popular democracy and land and housing in the city. A year later 34 settlements would be affiliated to the movement.

In this time the Abahlali have democratised the governance of settlements, stopped evictions, won access to local schools, won some concessions around services like water, toilets and refuse removal; won sustained access by men and women to voice in elite publics; set up crèches, a sewing co-operative and vegetable gardens; enabled collective bargaining with the state and capital and forced the city’s slum clearance project into a serious and popular legitimation crisis.

From the beginning the meeting was the engine of struggle for the Abahlali. Music, dance, ecumenical memorials for people who have died in the relentless shack fires, just hanging out and a now a 16 team football league all work to sustain courage and weave solidarity. But the meeting, which is always open to all, is where the intellectual work is done. The discussion at Abahlali meetings is not a performance of inclusion to legitimate an outcome determined elsewhere. Elected leaders and individuals with various forms of relative privilege are routinely subject to positions that they did not arrive with. When the meeting produces a result everyone is committed to it. This is due to deeply valued ethical commitments. But it is also due to necessity. There is no other way to build and sustain popular consent for a risky political project amongst a hugely diverse group of vulnerable people with profound experiences of marginalisation and exploitation in multiple spheres of life, including political projects waged in their name. There is no patronage to dispense. If democracy ever does become a performance rather than the reality the collective movement out of the places to which shack dwellers are supposed to keep will stop. Everyone knows this.

At the beginning of the new year the elections for ward councillors were looming. It was decided to stage a collective boycott. The boycott was carefully theorised in a series of discussions that concluded that there is a difference between ‘party politics’ and ‘people’s politics’ and that the former, identified as a mechanism of elite control, will always seek to capture the latter, identified as a space for popular democracy. The decision to commit to people’s politics was not a commitment to pursue autonomy from the state. On the contrary there is a hard fought day to day struggle to subordinate the local manifestations of the state to society and to win, on the terms of each settlement, access to state services like water, electricity, toilets, refuse removal, education and health care. However it was a decision to pursue the political autonomy of the settlements. The principled decision to keep a distance from what is widely seen as a mode of politics that has an inevitably corrupting influence on any attempt to keep a struggle grounded in truth was key to the rapid building of a mass movement. People in other settlements were generally very keen to talk to people who had publicly committed themselves to remain politically autonomous from constituted power and permanently subject to the questioning of constituent power.

It was decided to announce the election boycott with a march from the Foreman Road settlement into the city and on the mayor under the slogan ‘No Land, No House, No Vote’. As in 1960 this was a step too far. Mike Sutcliffe, the city manager and a former Marxist academic, illegally banned the march by fax. Two days later more than 3 000 people missed a day’s work and gathered in the Foreman Road settlement which had been surrounded by riot police. The Foreman Road committee explained that marching would be very dangerous under these conditions. Speaker after speaker from the assembly replied that living in the settlements was just as dangerous and the 3 000 set off up the steep dirt track that leads out of the settlement singing Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela (Everywhere struggle is welcome). The banners in the front read ‘University of Abahlali baseMjondolo’ and ‘No land, No House, No Vote’. As they stepped onto the tarred road that marks the beginning of the bourgeois world they were attacked, shot at with pistols and rubber bullets and severely beaten. There were a number of serious injuries, many with permanent consequences, and 45 arrests. But the police violence could not break the resolve of the marchers. Protestors, led from the front by Fikile Nkosi, a young domestic worker, successfully kept the police from entering the settlement with barrages of stones. While the settlement was under siege a suited effigy of the mayor was burnt. Although the city managers, with all their obsessions about being ‘world class’, were horrified when this detail made it into the New York Times the illegal ban on conducting political action outside of the settlements remained in place. They even went so far as to use the police to violently prevent Abahlali from taking up an invitation to send a representative to debate the mayor on a popular television talk show.

Another attempt was made to march into the city on 27th February. Once again all of the necessary steps had been taken to stage a legal march into the city. By this time the movement had grown to the point where 20 000 people were expected. Sutcliffe issued another illegal ban and early on the morning of the 27th the police moved in on the three largest settlements in a military style operation using armoured vehicles and helicopters. They arrested and assaulted key people and blocked off all the exits from the settlements. But this time the Abahlali had garnered the connections to be able to take Sutcliffe to the High Court. They won a quick victory and with the interdict in their hands marched into the city in triumph. Sutcliffe loaded his furious press statement with words like ‘criminal’ and ‘anarchy’. Two days later the election boycott held across all the Abahlali settlements.

After the failure of more than a year spent trying to break Abahlali with direct repression the state came up with another plan. In July they informed Abahlali that if they wanted to be able to ‘engage with government’ they must ‘be professional’ and ‘serious’ and join the transnational NGO Shack Dwellers’ International which is often used by governments to simulate popular consent for repressive policies. Tellingly sections of the professionalized NGO linked left have been equally keen to subordinate this actually existing mass movement of the militant poor to various docile simulacrums of people’s power. The 19 year old Abahlali militant Mnikelo Ndabankulu first called these people ‘the conference specialists’ who, he insisted, ‘want to talk for us but don’t want to come where the people are to fight live with us, or even to talk to us’. For a while it looked as though the emergence of an actually existing militant mass movement of the poor would be able to democratise and deracialise some of the spaces and networks through which the professionalized left use donor money to exercise their various modes of authoritarian vanguardism. But it has now become clear that these spaces are not reformable. In many instances the response to the eruption of an actually existing mass movement of the militant poor into these spaces has been paranoid and startlingly authoritarian rather than celebratory. Abahlali have routinely been instructed to passively attend, and thereby legitimate, meetings planned by email, held in a language and jargon most don’t understand, with agendas over which they have no influence and in places which are difficult for the poor to access. The standard division of labour in these meetings, a division that is often racialised, is that the poor get a few minutes to report on their experiences while professional activists do the thinking and decision making. In many instances the real function of the meetings is to simulate the appearance of legitimacy for local and transnational networks of professional NGO based or linked activists. When middle class people in the movement have sustained a reasoned fidelity to it’s basic axioms, like ‘talk to us not for us’, ‘speak in a language that everyone can understand’ or ‘the meeting not an individual will decide’ they have endured sustained attempts at institutional discipline, organised campaigns of slander, threats of violence and even the hostile attention of open alliances between the left and state power.

After the failure of the state’s attempt to co-opt the movement via Shack Dwellers’ International there has been a return to open repression. On the 11th of September, following a series of successful actions, Abahlali were invited to an interview on iGagasi FM. S’bu Zikode, Philani Zungu and Mnikelo Ndabanakulu were just about to leave for the interview from Kennedy Road when officers from the Sydenham police station, notorious in the settlements for its corruption, brutality and anti-African racism, pounced thrusting guns into the faces of the Bahlali and subjecting them to racialised verbal abuse. When they saw that Ndabankulu was wearing one of the famous red Abahlali T-shirts they pulled it off him, insulted him, pushed him around, threw the shirt into the mud, made a great show of standing and spitting on it and announced that ‘there will be no more red shirts here’.

Philani Zungu politely but firmly told them that they had no right to act like this in a democracy. He was assaulted and, together with Zikode, thrown into the police van. As they left the police picked up Ndabankulu’s red shirt saying they were taking it ‘to use as a mop in the station’.

Someone sent a text message to the radio station explaining that their guests were under arrest. This was announced on air. Bahlali began arriving at the police station from all over Durban. In nearby Kennedy Road hundreds of people were at an emergency mass meeting. A group of women in the front decided to march on the police station. Within minutes of people getting onto the road the police arrived. They gave no warnings to disperse and began shooting with rubber bullets and live ammunition. Anyone on the road or even moving between the shacks was shot at.

Back at the police station there was a glimpse of Zikode and Zungu lying face down on the floor handcuffed and bound at the feet. Ndabankulu’s red shirt was lying on the floor next to them. Suddenly a group of men in camouflage arrived at the police station armed with machine guns and pumped up with adrenalin. They declared the gathering outside the police station to be illegal and began herding people off using their guns like cattle prods and threatening to shoot.

The next morning there were hundreds of Bahlali in red shirts in the Durban Magistrates’ court. The state, bizarrely, charged Zikode and Zungu with assaulting a police officer but the Magistrate released them without asking for bail. They were joyously carried out of the court on the shoulders of their comrades. Both men had visible wounds and explained that they had been personally assaulted by Superintendent Glen Nayager who had hurled political abuse on them as he bashed their heads against the wall. A group of policemen had enthusiastically photographed Nayager’s assault which only ended when Zungu was knocked unconscious and could not be revived. The City Manager responded with dark insinuations about foreign funded red t-shirts.

Mnikelo Ndabankulu has a new red shirt. It was made, with hundreds of others, on a rented pedal power sewing machine by the Abahlali Sewing Collective in an all night song filled sewing session in a candlelit shack. Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela.

***************************
(longer version attached)