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Alain Badiou: We Must Find a Way Out of the Neolithic Order



At the Verso blog, Alain Badiou excoriates the simplistic notion that pervasive digital technology is responsible for our dystopian present. The problem, writes Badiou, is not technology as such, but rather technology as it is shaped by the exigencies of capitalism. Escaping this dystopia, then, is not a matter of returning to nature. We must instead find a way out of the “Neolithic order,” which for millennia “has valu[ed] only competition and hierarchy and tolerat[ed] the poverty of billions of human beings.” Here’s an excerpt:

Today we need neither a return to primitivism, or fear of the “ravages” the advent of technology might bring. Nor is there any use in morbid fascination for the science-fiction of all-conquering robots. The urgent task we face is the methodical search for a way out of the Neolithic order. This latter has lasted for millennia, valuing only competition and hierarchy and tolerating the poverty of billions of human beings. It must be surpassed at all cost. Except, that is, the cost of the high-tech wars so well known to the Neolithic age, in the lineage of the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, with their tens of millions of dead. And this time it could be a lot more.

The problem is not technology, or nature. The problem is how to organise societies at a global scale. We need to posit that a non-Neolithic way of organising society is possible. This means no private ownership of that which ought to be held in common, namely the production of all the necessities of human life. It means no inherited power or concentration of wealth. No separate state to protect oligarchies. No hierarchical division of labour. No nations, and no closed and hostile identities. A collective organisation of everything that is in the collective interest.

All this has a name, indeed a fine one: communism. Capitalism is but the final phase of the restrictions that the Neolithic form of society has imposed on human life. It is the final stage of the Neolithic. Humanity, that fine animal, must make one last push to break out of a condition in which 5,000 years of inventions served a handful of people. For almost two centuries — since Marx, anyway — we have known that we have to begin the new age. An age of technologies incredible for all of us, of tasks distributed equally among all of us, of the sharing of everything, and education that affirms the genius of all. May this new communism everywhere and on every question stand up against the morbid survival of capitalism. This capitalism, this seeming “modernity,” represents a Neolithic world that has in fact been going on for five millennia. And that means that it is old — far too old.

Image of Alain Badiou via Monthly Review.


Well said. But what has bedevilled all such fine-thinking is that the capitalist ruling class won’t stop dominating the world voluntarily and there is no “reformist” way of “asking it to go”.
The monopoly-capitalist ruling class enjoy their power and wealth far, far too much. They are actually getting richer all the time now, while most of the masses of the planet sink deeper into poverty (and poverty is relative anyway).
The ruling class are not necessarily “bloodthirsty” as individuals. But as a class they stop at nothing to stay in power: coups, counter-revolution, assassinations of progressive leaders, war, colonial war, diversionary war, war to seize markets, world war to destroy surplus capital, war to enslave colonies, war to prevent uprisings, bribery of trade union leaders, fascist violence, racist divisiveness, man-woman divisiveness, subversion of socialist states, feeding money to fascist boot boys across Europe right now, etc, etc.
But the working class are drenched in propaganda from cradle to grave saying that the US Empire and the West are the “free world” and that the Soviet-led socialist camp of countries “failed”. In reality, the parliamentary democracies of the metropolitan countries are as much under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie as the benighted Third World, which is mainly kept under open or near open military dictatorship.
It’s this real nature of the class struggle that dominates human affairs: workers get befuddled and confused by endless anti-communist propaganda and tend to stick to reformist, trade union ideology because they cannot spontaneously recreate Marxism. For its part, the middle class cannot help dreaming up a thousand different ideologies to somehow try to maintain the status quo, ranging from religious cultism to fascism to anti-Soviet Trotskyism to revisionist communism that gives a pink colouration to parliamentary reformism. All are philistine delusions and totally for class collaboration.
The real battle for communist leadership in the working class is marked by a non-stop concentration on the Leninist battle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and a similarly endless focus on the historic crisis that capitalism is in, on a renewed path to world war because, once again, the system is in “over-production” crisis and needs to destroy surplus capital.
It is fairly easy to spot Leninist understanding: all other forms of ideology seek class collaboration with parliamentary reformism and are hostile to putting the question of dictatorship of the proletariat front and centre. Even the essence of fascism is class collaboration, seeking a national, racist “reformist” solution to a given country’s or region’s problems. Middle-class Trotskyism talks about r-r-r-revolution occasionally but is so hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat that it spews out hatred of the USSR and socialist states, and typically says they were “worse than fascism” (doing the CIA’s work for it).
Where the soft-headed museum-Stalinists fall down is that they are so blockheadedly for class collaborating popular frontism that they fail to push for revolution at all, and just keep looking for “progressive” bourgeois they can butter up.
Most of all, Leninism is Marxist science and has proven its value in the October revolution and the civil war and the building of socialism. It was only the revisionism of the Stalin leadership that eventually saw all understanding in the leadership and all socialist enthusiasm in the Soviet working class dwindle away to end in liquidation under Gorbachev.
And, just as the global capitalist slump gets more obvious, so the US Empire’s confusion-mongering gets far more devious and rises to fever pitch.
If Alain Badiou and his fellow thinkers sincerely want communism will they help me and the Economic & Philosophic Science Review expose the fraud of the “war on terror” and all the lies that are told about the need to “condemn terror”, since “evil terrorism” is just what the US Empire calls the fightback, sometimes using terrorist methods, carried out by the brutalised and massacred peoples of the Middle East (and elsewhere)?
Reformists, Trots and revisionists run a mile from this fight because they are in thrall to Western “democracy”.
Only Leninism will constantly denounce the West’s hypocrisy, and explain that the “war on terror” is totally bogus because it stems from capitalism’s need for diversionary warmongering, need to subjugate peoples, and need to get a fascist warmongering steamroller going on the path towards WW3.
If intellectuals such as Badiou want to help the struggle for communism, then these are the political fights they have to get involved in - and get RIGHT. Leninist science is needed.