On the importance of local victories for social change

From Jonathan Gordon-Farleigh, in the new commons-oriented, and strongly recommended, political magazine called “Stir To Action”:

“After Alain Badiou, one of the most important recent philosophers, we acknowledge that everybody has an “immediate intelligence” of inequality and this means that we can avoid one of the Left’s main preoccupations: explaining exploitation to the exploited! It’s no secret!

Our task, then, is not a quasi-religious attempt to ‘enlighten’ the ‘masses’ and add to the already overloaded descriptions of the brutal inefficiencies and defects of capitalism (no shortage there!), but rather to share the same recognition as Immanuel Kant who argued in What is Enlightenment? that political inaction is not a result of a “defect of the intellect” but a “weakness of will” – the surrendering and ‘giving up’ of the will and agency that is required for the introduction and application of a new kind of politics: a real alternative. This is to say that there needs to be a shift from only calling state power and the market into question – the need for an alternative, to actually embodying the alternative.

It is on this point, that Badiou’s important intervention against Simon Critchley’s claim that “all philosophy, political or religious, commences in disappointment” is very instructive. Badiou challenges the claim that political practice finds its origins in crisis by saying: “I think that we can have negative feelings, negative experience concerning injustice, the horrors of the world, terrible wars and so on. But all great movements in the political and historical field have been created, have been provoked not by that sort of negative feeling but always by a local victory. If we appreciate, for example, why we have during two years the great revolt of the slaves in the Roman Empire, under the leadership of Spartacus, it is not because slaves have the feeling of injustice…Because they always have that, it is their experience day after day. It is rather because in one small place, a small group of slaves finds new means, finally to create a victory. A small victory, a local victory.”

Well then, what does a local victory look like? It is when academics publish their works in open access journals, it is when airport expansion is resisted and the threatened area is transformed into a community garden, it is when thousands of collaborators build a free software operating system, it is when those maintaining the commons from the intense privatization of our woods and forests defend them, as Edward Abbey always insisted, by using and enjoying it – cycling, walking, foraging. It is when medical researchers make their findings freely available by publishing under a creative commons license (Public Library of Science) that permits any company to manufacture generic reproductions of lifesaving drugs, it is when students find they cannot rely on suppliers to guarantee their food is ethically and locally grown so they teach themselves to set up member-owned and user-driven cooperative cafes that enables them to reclaim control over their food production, and when resident groups who are resisting energy monopolies find that the current legal system is inadequate to their problems and decide to create their own ordinance – a new Bill of Rights.

It is encountering these inspiring and encouraging examples where people and communities have built, as Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons asserts, their “own open, commons-friendly infrastructure”, that we are roused into action.”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.