The failure of communism in Eastern Europe, and the failure of Western Europe to become communist, left Marxists disillusioned and resentful. They turned, increasingly, to internationalism, projecting their ambitions onto peoples in the third world, with, in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and Venezuala, almost uniformly atrocious results. Such third worldist attitudes inspire at least some of their support for multiculturalism.
Alain Badiou, a French philosopher, and one of the most influential and renowned Marxists writing today, has published an absolutely bonkers essay on immigration. I respect a lot of my ideological opponents, and Badiou’s writings on the other subjects might be respectable, but this essay is completely, mind-blowingly bonkers.
Badiou’s argument is universalist: “there is only one world”; “one sole world of living women and men”. He thinks this idea is more profound that it seems to me. To him, we face a choice between “one world in which we all exist in equality” and two worlds with “separations, walls, controls, hatred, deaths, fascism, and ultimately war”. Why it is impossible for us to maintain different regions in single world without descending into hatred, fascism and war is never mentioned, let alone explained.
Multiculturalism, Badiou argues, struggling to apply his concept to the real world, should entail an affirmative process of interaction, not a hostile demand to integrate. Sometimes, of course, this can be valuable. We have all enjoyed sharing ideas with different people. How, though, it prepares us for dealing with, for example, female genital mutilation, honour crimes and religiously sanctioned domestic abuse is beyond me. I despair of theorists offering prescriptions that are totally abstracted from actual lives. Nice as Badiou’s idea might sound extremely limited precedents for success.
But wait! He argues that “persecution will not reinforce the process of creation, but the process of purification”. Attempts to force people to integrate will reinforce their attachment to malign aspects of their identity. There is some truth to this, no doubt (I am no advocate for “persecution”) but Badiou’s argument is terribly incomplete. We know that “young islamists ready to martyr themselves for the purity of their faith” respond not just to persecution but to difference, disagreement and derision. The novels of Salman Rushdie or the art of Charlie Hebdo persecuted no one yet ended in bonfires and bullets. It is morbidly ironic that Badiou sings the praises of ” creative identity” while ignoring this.
Badiou goes from being disingenuous to bonkers later; exposing his bitterness towards his culture and compatriots by saying that it is with migrants that “a new politics to come is to be invented” to save us from “nihilist consumption and policed order”. “Let the foreigners teach us at least to become foreign to ourselves,” he writes, fervently, “To project ourselves out of ourselves, enough to no longer be captives of this long occidental, white history that is finished, and of which we can no longer expect anything but sterility and war.” It is as presumptuous to be so dismissive of the culture that one’s countrymen still value, in their different ways, as it is to cast migrants, with their humble thoughts of jobs, wages and benefits, as one’s ideological saviours. One also observes the same vague yet impassioned optimism that drove communists in the twentieth century. Some things never change.