An A to Z of Theory | Alain Badiou: On Badiou Versus Deleuze

In the tenth and final instalment of his series on the French thinker, Andrew Robinson compares and contrasts Badiou's work with one of Robinson's favourite theorists, and Badiou's béte noire: Gilles Deleuze.

In Theory, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, April 17, 2015 18:45 - 1 Comment


Badiou - Deleuze - Ceasefire Magazine

“For Badiou, there is a meaningful distinction between being and nothingness, whereas for Deleuze, nothingness is an erroneous conception of differences in types of being.”

In previous columns, I have explored the ontology, theory of the state, theory of the Event, and political views of Alain Badiou. In this final essay, I compare and contrast Badiou’s work with one of my favourite theorists, and Badiou’s béte noire: Gilles Deleuze.

Badiou accuses Deleuze of being covertly “transcendentalist” or authoritarian, but I suggest that this is a misreading of Deleuze’s position. I also argue that the relationship to the qualitative is the most important political difference between the two theorists.

Badiou versus Deleuze

Badiou has worked hard to produce a philosophical schism between his own approach and that of Deleuze. He seems to take Deleuze as a favoured adversary, though his treatment of Deleuze in his most recent works is less dismissive. He wrote several early pieces, such as “The Flux and the Party”, attacking Deleuze’s thought, followed by a book, “Deleuze: The Clamour of Being”, which attacked Deleuze as a transcendentalist.

Philosophical dispute is a strange matter here. In Badiousian theory, the choice of a philosophy is a decision. There is no real basis for choosing one option over another. One can only pick a side and then follow through its effects. This makes it very hard for Badiou to argue against other theorists. But that doesn’t stop him doing so! Actually, Badiou seems to be caught in a constant contradiction between his claim that Truths, Events, and alignments have no ground, and his provision of definite criteria to select between them.

Badiou’s critiques of Deleuze, and even his framing of where the dispute between himself and Deleuze lies, are largely rejected by Deleuzians. Badiou tends to read Deleuze both as if the latter uses Badiou’s method – deriving his entire theory from first principles on which he decides – and by applying Badiou’s categories as if they are immanent to Deleuze’s own theory.

Most importantly, Badiou accuses Deleuze of transcendentalism (or ‘Platonism’). Badiou accuses Deleuze of having a “philosophy of the One”. Such a philosophy defies the structure of set theory, and its break with mathematical theology. In other words, Badiou accuses Deleuze of establishing a ‘trunk’ (termed a ‘One’ in Badiou’s work). Of course, this runs against the grain of Deleuze’s work, which in its own terms is resolutely immanentist and opposed to ‘arborescence’. The fact that Deleuze’s theory has a secret trunk is only visible through Badiou’s philosophy.

Most Deleuzians do not recognise this critique. Rejection of trunks and transcendence is central to Deleuze’s project. Badiou’s accusation relies on a misreading of certain passages of Deleuze’s work on Spinoza (referring to the ‘univocity of being’). Deleuze endorses Spinoza’s view that differences are all expressions of various kinds of an underlying process of becoming or differenciation (production of difference). For Badiou, this means that Deleuze treats the underlying process – becoming or ‘life’ – as a ‘One’ or trunk. Having decided that Deleuze treats ‘life’ as a transcendent value, Badiou suggests that we are judged externally by how well we conform to this ideal.

The mistake Badiou makes is clear. Basically, it involves identifying the field of becoming, as a continuous process, as a ‘trunk’ or ‘One’. In Deleuzian theory, life is not seen as a principle of judgement, but as something internal. Each is ‘judged’ by their own becoming. As Todd May argues, each difference expresses but does not resemble the general field of difference. Badiou is mistaken in treating the molecular field of becoming in Deleuze’s work as if it is a unitary being.

Similarly, Jon Roffe argues that Deleuze rejects the One-Many dichotomy, instead using a concept of substantive multiplicity. Furthermore, particular beings are never reduced to the univocity of being in general. ‘Beings’ express ‘being’ in the same way (and is equally valid as an expression of Being), but they don’t have a common substance. In another account, David Smith, who works on Deleuze, Badiou and maths, has suggested that, since Badiou believes that only a set-theory approach can avoid the One, he declares any other approach to involve the One in advance.

Hence, Badiou’s framing of the disagreement is misleading. Nevertheless, there is a real dispute here. Badiou believes that being ‘as such’ exists, whereas Deleuze believes that being is an effect of becoming. For Deleuze, Events are part of a continual field, whereas for Badiou, they are not. For Badiou, there is a meaningful distinction between being and nothingness, whereas for Deleuze, nothingness is an erroneous conception of differences in types of being.

From a Deleuzian point of view, Badiou is ‘transcendent’ (or arborescent). Badiou constantly re-establishes the state and the count-for-one by unfolding each Event into a new situation. This is a way of ‘saving’ transcendence from the subversive power of immanence, by channelling immanence into a widened field which remains transcendent. Indeed, Badiou sometimes uses explicitly transcendental terms – the Event is the ‘transcendentally discontinuous’, for example.

Badiou criticises Spinoza’s view that the underlying force of becoming expresses itself in infinite modes. He claims that there is no evidence for the existence of such modes. If they exist, they are necessarily a void for humans. A Deleuzian response might be that infinite modes cannot be thought, but they can be felt. According to Hallward, Badiou’s view of infinity is much less inclusive than Spinoza’s. This arguably leads to a situation where the Event is exceptional for Badiou.

Another major difference occurs on the question of negativity or lack. Badiou believes in an ontological primacy of the void. Deleuze refuses any such primacy. For Badiou, this makes Deleuze unable to think about radical transformation and change. For instance, Badiou takes Deleuze’s concept of univocity as evidence that he represses the reality of social antagonism. And he argues that the unsensed or unknown can only interact with language by punching holes in it.

Badiou insists on negativity, against what he sees as pure positivity in Deleuze. He accuses Spinoza (and by extension Deleuze) of failing to distinguish between belonging (to a situation) and being included (in its subsets). This takes away the possibility of negativity in Badiou’s sense. It makes it impossible to theorise the excluded part, or to carry out an Event.

Badiou believes that being and nothingness exist. Distinct things also exist. For Deleuze, in contrast, nothingness is a subjective misperception of difference. What exists is a kind of chaotic continuity. Deleuzian Events happen in this field of continuity, not in a void.

Deleuze and Badiou adopt very different strategies – one might even say different psychological orientations – as to how to handle the excess of life over systematisation. Badiou handles this excess by declaring it unthinkable, and mapping its structural place. Deleuze handles it by treating life as thinkable, but only in a non-representative, expressive way.

For Badiou, the underlying reality is a void. We have seen this in his presentation of inconsistent multiplicity. Because inconsistent multiplicity is a void in maths, Badiou assumes it is a void in being. Deleuze, in contrast, believes that multiplicity is simply unrepresentable in maths. Its actual nature is a kind of processual becoming which cannot be represented. It only appears as a void within maths because maths is a representational system.

One incisive critique of Badiou is launched by Ėric Alliez, a co-author of Guattari. Alliez basically argues that what is wrong with Badiou’s work is its orientation to scarcity and negativity. Alliez alleges that Badiou’s conception of the multiple is set up so as to assert the universality of the signifier (or trunk) against a multiplicity of lines of flight. Badiou seeks to abolish or ignore difference so as to produce a One, or trunk.

Alliez suggests that, politically, Badiou’s approach is construction without expression – the building of assemblages without the channelling of living forces to provide the assemblages with life. For Alliez, Badiou requires a scission/decision in order to guarantee the transcendental status of the Signifier (or the master-signifier or trunk). It is needed to separate oneself from the ‘living autonomy of desire’. A truth defined as arising from nothing is used to substitute for the reality of becoming. Badiou’s opposition to the ‘party of desire’ suggests that he is part of a party of lack, the One, knowledge, and war (or scarcity).

Sometimes, Badiou portrays the difference between his theory and Deleuze’s in terms of the role of structure. In his early work, Badiou portrays Deleuze as theorising force alone – an instance of the ‘leftist deviation’ (obscurantism in Badiou’s current terminology).

In The Flux and the Party, Badiou suggests that the politics of desire stems from a misunderstanding of the May 1968 uprising as simply unforeseeable and therefore an irruption of desire. He calls Deleuze’s theory ‘Kantian’ and ‘moralist’ because of the belief in something within the self which escapes social causality by the dominant system. Against Deleuze and Stirner, he argues that, without separating primary and secondary contradictions, all domination is treated as equivalent, reduced to something abstract, and revolution is replaced by subjective withdrawal.

He also objects to the resistance which the politics of desire puts in the way of any post-revolutionary dictatorship, claiming that this resistance entails refusing to deal with the question of the state. (Of course, refusal to seize state power does not really entail refusal to theorise or destroy the state). In earlier Maoist pieces, Badiou even accuses Deleuze of being a ‘proto-fascist’ and an ‘enemy of the people’.

The two approaches also involve very different uses of the term Event. Deleuze’s use of the term ‘event’ refers to a singularity. This is a point at which something different happens, as distinct from ordinary points. The singular term ‘Event’ is also used to refer to the general field of difference in which individual events occur.

In his theory of becoming, Deleuze treats truth as an unfolding of something which is already present in the existing field. A Deleuzian reality is continuous. An event or revolution in Deleuze emerges continuously from some aspect of the present field. Since Deleuze does not believe in a constitutive gap, he does not need a concept of an Event to fill the gap.

There are ‘singularities’ – points where things come to a head, spill over, or split in two – in Deleuze’s work. These include points where an affect suddenly erupts after steadily increasing. It involves moments when something which has an existence in the actual returns to the field of the virtual and of becoming, and changes into something else.

A Deleuzian event does not involve subjective ruptures and interventions in Badiou’s sense. For Badiou, this means that Events and revolutions are impossible for Deleuze. Badiou sees Deleuze’s ‘micro-revolutions’, which happen within individuals and small groups, as occurring at the level of the parts of the situation. Such revolutions cannot alter a situation, but only the place of a part within it. For Badiou, a true Event is always a break with the becoming of an existing object. This reading seems to ignore the role of differenciation, or difference-production, in Deleuze’s thought.

As Hallward argues, for Badiou the ordinary and the unique are inseparable, whereas for Deleuze, everything is at once ordinary and unique. For Deleuze, something new comes from the actualisation of something virtual. For Badiou, an Event is actual without being virtual. In fact, in Badiou’s ontology, things are defined by their actual ontological position. There is no underlying virtual. Temporality in Deleuze’s sense is absent from Badiou’s theory. Badiou handles time in terms of Events and periodisations. Arguably, he retains a spatial view of time, supplemented by the Event as occasional eruption of the temporal.

In Deleuze, the virtual actualises itself in the world. Events come from the order of time (the virtual), but are actualised in space. In a Deleuzian approach, Events are the moments when someone becomes passionately attached to something, or alters their deep attachments, or gives existential meaning to their world. The absence of definite and distinct Events in Deleuze’s work means that a ‘subject’ or ‘militant’ in Badiou’s sense is not necessary. (Williams suggests that this is why the quarrel with Deleuze is so sensitive for Badiou).

For Badiou, in contrast, the world is rearranged by an Event. The Event never merely alters an existing world. Badiou seems to think that we need a particular, traumatic reason to enter the field of becoming. We only enter the field of becoming when we are radically excluded.

In Deleuze, all Events connect into a single great Event, which is the process of becoming and differenciation of all existence. However, this does not make them into a transcendental One. Each specific differenciation expresses a general process of differenciation, not a unity. Deleuzian Events occur within the ‘multiple’ as a non-denumerable field, whereas Badiousian Events occur outside the ‘multiple’ as theorised by Badiou (i.e. within a count-for-one).

James Williams lists six differences between Badiou and Deleuze on the nature of Events:

1. Events as rare or ubiquitous
2. Why can’t Events be given a clear spatial location? For Badiou it is because they come from the excluded part, for Deleuze because they are processes of becoming
3. Events are related to or else prior to Truths
4. Logical unfolding of an Event, vs Events as non-logical
5. Events as organising and ordering moments, or as experimental, creative moments
6. Events as unfolding and decision, versus Events interrelated in complex ways

Badiousian Events are either-or. In politics, art and science, they are always macro-scale. In Deleuze, Events can be small, micro-scale. They involve changes in connections or intensity. What seems to be a cumulative alteration causes a rupture, beginning in the domain of affect.

In Badiou there are fixed objective states which Events transform. In Deleuze, there is never really a fixed objective state to begin with. Such a state is an illusion, concealing real processes of becoming. Since everything is always in becoming, Events cannot be specified at a particular time or place, but unfold unevenly. Any representation always misrepresents an Event. Indeed, Deleuze would probably see Badiou’s current theory of the Event as reifying Events, treating an ongoing process as a fixed moment. For Deleuze, change is constant and ongoing.

Williams analyses these differences through a discussion of a John Cheever novel, which involves an affair and a relationship break-up which are connected to a female character’s dissatisfaction with patriarchal family relations.

From a Badiousian viewpoint, the story amounts to the effects of an excluded part, the Evental statement of which would be gender equality. The micro-dynamics of the relationships of the novel are localised effects of this social torsion. However, the Event cannot be achieved within the novel, because the existing structure resists it, and none of the characters are true subjects. From a Deleuzian viewpoint, there are a series of changes in the affective states of characters in the novel, each of which are Events. On this view, the main character undergoes changes which amount to micro-level Events.

On a related note, Deleuze treats newness as ontologically fundamental. Badiou argues that mathematical ontology cannot handle inconsistent multiplicity – and so excludes it from ontology, strictly speaking. It returns in the form of the Event. But this shows that Badiou does not treat newness as ontologically fundamental. He treats it as a limit to ontology. In Deleuze, the force of transformation emerges from repressed forces of becoming which are trapped beneath, or captured by, the dominant system. In Badiou, the force of transformation comes from a site which is both present and yet unrecognised.

Badiou believes there is a choice between an ‘organicist’ or ‘vitalist’ field of animals and life-flows, or a mathematical field of abstract, decisive forces. He takes Deleuze to choose the ‘animal’ field, failing to distinguish humans from animals. Deleuze pursues a kind of general contemplation of the chaotic diversity of the universe which Badiou rejects. The claim that everything is interrelated and in flux is true in set theory of ordinal (countable) sets. However, Badiou maintains that this is true only for ‘natural’ sets, and not ‘historical’ sets (which are not countable). A theory like Deleuze’s therefore speaks only of natural sets.

Badiou accuses Deleuze of being a ‘sophist’. This is Badiou’s label for constructivists and deconstructionists. Of course, Deleuze’s theory does not reduce everything to language. In many ways, Badiou is more of a sophist than Deleuze or even Derrida. He frequently uses redefinitions and polemical wordplay to misrepresent his opponents. Part of the reason he calls Deleuze a sophist is that he misunderstands the word ‘sense’ in one of Deleuze’s works. He takes it to mean language, when it mainly means affect.

Badiou seems to believe that an Event needs to be recuperated, or brought into a system of representation, in order to survive. There can be no absolute deterritorialisation. In other words, a permanently Evental situation cannot be created. Deleuze, in contrast, believes that a constantly Evental world of ‘absolute deterritorialisation’ is possible.

Deleuze, like Badiou, uses a lot of concepts borrowed from maths. For example, the idea of singularity – a point where something changes, distinct from regular points – comes from maths. However, Deleuze is more interested in calculus than in set theory. This makes a lot of difference. Calculus was the transformation in practical maths which set theory later systematised, or ‘axiomatised’. For Deleuze, the practical shift was the real revolution. Calculus has far more of a relationship to practical scientific questions than set theory does. Badiou accuses Deleuze of taking an “intuitionist” position on maths.

For Deleuze, the problematic is primary over the axiomatic. Axiomatics are treated with suspicion in Deleuze’s work. Capitalism is an axiomatic. It expands by adding axioms, and orders itself by subtracting axioms. In maths, axiomatics are seen as a type of ‘royal science’. This is Deleuze’s term for types of knowledge which have trunks and serve power. The ‘minor’ or ‘nomadic science’ within maths is problematic. Axiomatics constantly tries to incorporate and repress problematics. But problematics are actually constitutive. They are the force of becoming within maths. Events are always ‘problematic’, rather than being derived from axioms or theorems.

Often, problematics come from practical sciences associated with movement – masonry, metallurgy and so on. These are fields which refuse “maths for maths’ sake” and which have some kind of contact with time. They involve notions, such as movement and flow, which are banned from maths theory. David Smith suggests that problematics are the point at which maths has contact with existence. Badiou’s exclusion of this zone corresponds to his refusal to consider existence in his austere ontology.

Even in maths, things have to be tested to see what happens. Calculus, for instance, had its origins in geometrical problems. It arose as a kind of intuition which could not be theorised within the maths theories of its day. It was only later that set theory separated calculus from its origins and presented it as if it was derived from its axioms. One might even say that set theory captured the calculus by axiomatising maths theory. The invention of the impossible number “i” – which for Badiou is the Event of set theory – is from a Deleuzian point of view, the inscription or capture of the Event.

In Deleuze’s work, axiomatics are seen as a kind of imposition of order within maths. It is a stopping point rather than a cutting edge. And it is always running up against undecidable propositions – the trace of its suppression of problematics.

From Deleuze’s point of view, Badiou adopts the position of ‘royal science’. Badiou talks about discrete sets instead of continuous multiplicities. When he admits the problematic field at all, he admits it only as the ‘void’ from which Events emerge – a position which sees the problematic only from within the realm of the discrete. In other words, Badiou does not see the problematic field itself. He only sees its impact on the axiomatic field. His entire theory of the Event is an attempt to get around this blockage. Badiou’s theory of the subjective source of Truth is unnecessary if truth is seen as arising from problematics. In effect, Badiou sees the Event from the system’s point of view.

Badiou’s dismissals of Deleuze as lacking robustness and severity echo the position of axiomatics towards problematics. If Deleuze is right, then the axiomatic as a mode of social life is one of several modes. There are at least four in Deleuze’s thought: indigenous ‘coding’, statist-despotic ‘overcoding’, the capitalist ‘axiomatic’ and the schizorevolutionary or autonomist ‘decoding’ (which involves ‘connections’ instead of axiomatic ‘conjugations’). If this is the case, Badiou cannot deal adequately with forms of life in either ‘coded’ or ‘overcoded’ social groups. Worse still, he is unable to pass beyond the capitalist way of arranging social life. A post-Evental world is necessarily restored as axiomatic – which is to say, as a variant of the capitalist way of organising social life. Every Badiousian revolution restores capitalism. Perhaps such revolutions even aid capitalism in bringing more and more spheres of life into the field of the axiomatisable and denumerable.

In What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari argue that all science arrests the flow of becoming rather than giving it consistency. Even Cantor’s set theory arrests the flow of becoming. They argue that Badiou confuses the task of philosophy – creating concepts – with the task of science – creating functions.

One disagreement comes to the question: What do we do with things we can’t count? Badiou thinks that non-denumerable sets are still sets. This is consistent with set theory. So Badiou still sees uncountable things as inside maths. This is crucial to his claim that “mathematics is ontology”. Deleuze, in contrast, thinks of uncountable things as outside maths – the same way unspeakable things are outside language. He sees maths as an incomplete system which is ultimately dependent on a deeper level of unrepresentable becoming.

Part of the disagreement here is that Badiou thinks that maths is not representing and, therefore, doesn’t have a One. Deleuze thinks that maths is representing, and that it usually has a One (the number one). Saying that things are a non-denumerable set implies that they are units in the set (i.e. ones), even if we can’t actually count them. It reduces them to a particular order of representation. In line with Bergson, this order of representation is seen as similar to language. It reduces time to space, or becoming to being, in the same way.

Badiou sees this argument as an ‘intuitionist’ misunderstanding of set theory. He thinks this criticism treats set theory as an abstraction from applied maths (i.e. from counting things), when really it’s more ontologically basic. However, if things are constantly in becoming, and the boundaries between different “elements” are blurred and undefinable, it is hard to see how they could be countable objects at all. Set theory attempts to present inconsistent multiplicity in a consistent way. But Deleuze would probably question the value of such consistency, at least in the socio-political sphere.

So, suppose we have a social situation where we can’t count something. We don’t know how many people live in a shanty-town, because the people evade censuses to avoid control, or register multiple identities to receive benefits. Or we can’t count the economic importance of subsistence economies and informal social support networks, because these networks are never commodified. For Badiou this just means that they are uncountable sets. They can still be analysed as sets and, ultimately, the aim seems to be to recognise them – to bring them inside a numerical order.

For Deleuze, in contrast, they fall outside the dominant order of ontology. The shanty-town residents gain a certain power – of becoming against being – by being over- or under-recorded. The subsistence or informal economy has qualitative importance because it isn’t counted – it’s less alienated, more immediate. Deleuze wishes to both preserve the uncountability of certain phenomena, and to use their uncountability as a source of social counter-power.

Deleuze is far more interested in a multiplication of accounts of empirical particularities than is Badiou. For Deleuze, the comprehension of particular beings or becomings is continuous with appreciation of the continuity of the entire field of becoming. Hence, Deleuze’s philosophy is very inclusive. It passes across different areas of being very easily. In contrast, Badiou’s approach depends on subtracting the particularity of being. Even Badiou’s followers, such as Hallward, suggest that he has too little to say about empirical situations.

Badiou’s philosophy subtracts from the qualitative. According to Hallward, both Deleuze and Badiou separate terms and relations. Badiou studies only terms. Deleuze studies only relations. The difficulty with using maths in philosophy is that maths distances itself from direct experience. It has to do so in order to achieve its own kind of abstract thought. However, this raises problems when maths is applied to reality. It means that maths abstracts from realities in which direct experience is central.

This is a matter of persistent debate within the social sciences, with many progressive theorists, particularly in sociology, objecting to mathematical representations as such. Theorists such as Garfinkel, Mead, Weber and Schutz, who draw on the phenomenological philosophies of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, argue that social reality is mainly composed of meanings held by social actors. These meanings cannot be reached through maths, but only through qualitative methods. They and their followers have repeatedly debated with sociologists committed to maths, such as Durkheim and the functionalists.

Badiou is not, to be sure, a quantitative sociologist. In fact, he seems uninterested in empirical investigations of this type. Nevertheless, the qualitative sociological objection to mathematising sociology largely applies to Badiou’s work. In this debate, Deleuze would be decidedly on the qualitative side. One might say in this regard that, while Badiou believes there are no significant barriers to the mathematisation of sociopolitical realities, in fact the qualitative nature of such realities poses an insuperable hurdle to their mathematisation. Deleuze insists on including experience and existence within the field of philosophy, whereas Badiou excludes it (at least from ontology).

Whereas Badiou unfolds the actual from the formal, Deleuze assumes that the formal is an incomplete representation of the actual and the virtual. The abstract also exists as a generative force in Deleuze, in the form of “assemblages” or “machines” which are realised in the actual. But these machines are not mathematical in type.

Deleuze’s refusal to separate politics, as a sphere, from philosophy, art or science is another point of concern for Badiou. Deleuze treats reality as a continuous field, whereas Badiou divides it into distinct fields with their own logics and projects.

For Deleuze, time is a field of creativity. In contrast, Badiou’s view of time is discontinuous. Time is restarted with each Event, and the Event itself is outside time. Deleuze uses a Bergsonian view of time as qualitative. The “past” is a field of virtual formations which can be searched and tapped to actualise something new. In contrast, Badiou works mainly with the futur antérieur, and treats time as radically ruptural.

Badiou maintains that, because Deleuze sees everything as part of the field of becoming, there is no room in his theory for anything radically new. Something can’t come out of nothing in Deleuze’s theory. It always comes from the already-existing field of becoming. It is true that Deleuze rejects the idea of nothingness. But he also has an account of the emergence of novelty. Basically, Deleuze believes that becoming is a process of difference-production or ‘differenciation’. Novelty comes from the emergence of new differences in this process. There’s an excess of effects over causes which is due to the input of the qualitative.

In contrast, Deleuze would question whether Badiou’s approach really produces newness. Firstly, the emergence of anything new can only happen from a structurally predefined site. Secondly, it affects only the presentation of elements, not their nature. And thirdly, the basic ontological structure of a Badiousian “world” is not changed by any possible Event. The denial of radical deterritorialisation, and of the possibility of a world which is not arranged axiomatically, would seem to Deleuze a denial of radical newness.

I would suggest that, from a political point of view, Deleuze’s approach is more relevant to actual Events than Badiou’s. Rebellion against a dominant situation does not necessarily take the form Badiou assumes it does. It can also involve rebellion by a repressed substance, against a dominant representation or inscription.

There are Deleuzian processes of becoming in operation beneath what appear to be Badiousian Events. The Russian Revolution or the Paris Commune or the Cultural Revolution are not sudden, one-off occurrences out of nothing. They build on pre-existing processes in which new world-views are articulated, dissident subjects emerge, and latent problems build-up towards a point of explosion. The Russian Revolution, for instance, makes little sense aside from existing forms of labour and peasant radicalism in Russia, the demands for land, food and peace, the history of peasant rebellions, the rise – and failure – of democratic movements, and the history of narodism. Lenin’s break with Kautsky did not in itself make the revolution. Furthermore, this break itself came from cumulative processes of differential evolution within the socialist movement. Is there really an “Event” of the Russian Revolution which is distinct from these various processes?

Badiou would find such an objection to be reactionary, reducing the Event to the previous situation. But a recognition of underlying processes of becoming, which produce a real differenciation, does not require a refusal to recognise novelty. It simply suggests that the ‘Event’ is an ongoing process, a series of micro-events in which newness and difference are constantly emerging. This process sometimes produces macro-Events, but these Events do not have the ex nihilo creative force which Badiou ascribes to them. They are more like the point where a quantitative pressure turns into a qualitative break – like the point when there is enough water to burst a dam. This is what is argued in the third of Barrett’s responses to objections to anarchism. These shifts can occur in the balance of social forces, but also psychologically – for instance, in the balance of “anxiety” and “courage”.

For the rest of the essays in this series please visit the In Theory page.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a political theorist and activist based in the UK. His book Power, Resistance and Conflict in the Contemporary World: Social Movements, Networks and Hierarchies (co-authored with Athina Karatzogianni) was published in Sep 2009 by Routledge. His 'In Theory' column appears every other Friday.

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Jim Ryan
Aug 30, 2016 4:17

Just came across your articles on Deleuze and Agamben. Very helpful to a non-academic. I’ve been an isolated ‘Deleuzian’ ever since I read Anti-Oedipus in the 90’s. Felt a natural affinity to him. Badiou not so much. Thank you for your work. Jim Ryan

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