Online Symposium

Hosted by
ViZ Laboratory for Visual Culture

Friday 20/11, 18:00

Steven Corcoran


On Egalitarian Politics Today: Thinking Outside a ‘Desire for the West’

Monday, November 2nd, 18:00, ASFA Athens School of Fine Arts, Pireos 256, Ag. Ioannis Rentis 182 33
The lecture and the discussion will take place in the yard of ASFA(garden of the new library) and on Zoom

In collaboration with Avtonomi Akadimia

  • Monday 02/11/2020, 18.00
    Physical meeting respecting social distancing:
    ASFA yard, Pireos 256 str.
    *The lecture will be held in English

On Egalitarian Politics Today: Thinking Outside a ‘Desire for the West’

Today there is a sort of ‘desire for the West’ that sets pro-West identitarian and anti-Western Islamist narratives against each other in a deadly spiral; crucially, however, a similar ‘desire for the West’ often informs leftist struggles against the imperialist and exploitative drives of the capitalist system. As the purpose of a hegemonic desire is to maintain people’s adhesion to the system, it accordingly functions to make past alternatives to it obscure or undesirable. For leftist movements today, the price of this desire is thus a dislocation from the radicalism of the past and the principles that informed its internationalist and alternative political vision. 

From this viewpoint, we can look for inspiration to the work of Frantz Fanon – the black psychiatrist from Martinique who in the 1960s joined the Algerian front in the struggle for liberation from French colonialism. His work is a sustained effort to ask two key and interrelated questions. First, under what conditions do popular mass movements and revolts come together to constitute a political force of liberation (in his case from colonialism)? This is the question of political organization and strategic vision and it very much remains ours. However, there is a clear shift in the political conjuncture. For after over fifty years of disintegrating defeats of emancipatory politics, after the very exhaustion of an alternative (communist!) vision, everything has to be reinvented. That there is a desire for radical egalitarian politics is clear. Recent uprisings – from the Arab Spring to the Indignados in Spain and Syntagma Square in Athens – briefly jolted us from our western sleep. Greece is a particular case in point: the Greek people recently gave Europe a valuable lesson in how to create islands of humanity to welcome the wretched of the earth fleeing dire poverty and war. Yet the episode also makes flagrant the lack of strategic unity on the left in Europe and beyond today. 

Second is the question of the specificity of all struggle. Fanon grasped that participating in internationalist politics paradoxically meant breaking with any prescribed vision of the form of internationalist struggle. He indeed observed a similar ‘desire for the West’ in the communist and socialist organizations in France at the time, insofar as they failed to grasp recognize how they held fast to European colonialism by not taking Algeria’s side in this war. Fanon understood that constitution of a people was organized, principled and singular. He understood that the internationalist dimension of anti-colonial struggle did not mean that it should remain subordinate to prescriptions for struggle determined by hegemonic communist parties elsewhere (Western or Eastern). It meant detaching Algeria’s, and indeed Africa’s, ‘occupied breathing’ from any Western ‘aspiration’. 

In the last part, I therefore ask how we can move forward, in these disorienting times, by going beyond displays of a desire for egalitarianism? If we still lack the strategic vision to constitute an alternative internationalist politics, by which past principles can today’s movements nonetheless orient themselves and seek to clearly dissociate themselves from the western ‘democratic’ norm?