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Book Review The symptom of a ‘bad situation’

Alain Badiou's book on Trump is an insightful analysis of the contradictions simmering below the surface of the presidency, says PAUL SIMON

Trump
by Alain Badiou
(Polity, £9.99)

ALAIN BADIOU’S is a book of “instant” philosophy – and it is all the better for that.

Trump comprises two very short lectures delivered immediately after the election of the eponymous subject as US president. It’s the work of a longstanding Marxist theoretician, who uses a lifetime’s analytical experience to cut through the nonsense and ephemera of other commentaries.

In so doing, he provides incisive discourses on the increasing contradictions of global capitalism and, while the second is more detailed, the first is of value in its appreciation of the rawness of bourgeois reaction to the election of Trump.

Badiou uses that specific event to elucidate some key points that go beyond the immediate. He contextualises Trump’s electoral college victory as a synthesis of the four current dialectics being worked out in the neoliberal world now — the complete unbridled violence of contemporary capitalism, the collapse of the traditional capitalist oligarchy, the general sense of popular frustration and the lack of an alternative political strategy.

Badiou persuasively demonstrates how the last of these four has been the most corrosive. The middle-term defeat of real existing socialism has meant that the main contradictions of contemporary society are those within the capitalist system itself and not between it and its antithesis.

The alacrity of his analysis demonstrates how Trump is a symptom of the contradiction between a globalised economic system on the one hand and a political system that can only operate within a national context.

“This is the heart of the crisis,” he declares, “and this is why the political situation progressively becomes dangerous and unstable, because in reality political power has no means to control….the effects of globalised capitalism.”

Badiou acknowledges the personal repulsiveness of Trump’s racism, sexism and contempt for the lives of the vast majority of humanity. But he also repudiates the equation of Trump with real fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler, if for no better reason than the latter represented “proper” parties, while Trump reflects conflicts within the US republicans.

He recognises that the response to Trump must not be one of windy and unfocused liberal outrage. Rather it needs to be a revivification of a communist movement with a guiding structure — possibly analogous to the Leninist model —that analyses the system that created a Trump presidency, the better to destroy it.

In summary, Badiou’s thesis is: “I take Trump himself not for a very, very dangerous guy but as the symptom of a bad situation.”

 

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