TRANSLATED AND CONDUCTED BY THOMAS NAIL
The Centrality of the Migrant
Thomas Nail: The sans-papiers are perhaps the single most cited example of a contemporary political event in all of your work. You say in De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom? that their struggle “defines what is most important in politics today.” Why do the sans-papiers occupy such a privileged position in your work—and in contemporary politics?
Alain Badiou: My position is classical: Marx already considered the “late-arriving” proletarians who came from the countryside and who were not yet integrated into the logic of wages to be the “hard core” of the workers’ revolts in the big cities. It must also be remembered that these proletarians were also migrants (from the countryside to the cities) and that they were also undocumented migrants [sans-papiers]. Indeed, the right to remain in the city was subordinated to a document, the “worker’s booklet,” without which you could be sent home. Imperialist logic has only served to extend this attitude of police control, precarity, and permanent suspicion to proletarians coming from more remote countrysides of Africa, Asia, and others.This has in fact only internationalized the status of the proletariat in imperialist metropolises. Hence, the firm support for undocumented migrants [sans-papiers] is a natural and fundamental factor in the large-scale organization of the entire “nomadic” proletariat today.
TN: According to La Distance Politique, L’Organisation politique was created in 1983 and published its political writings from 1983 to 1991 in the journal Le Per- roquet. From 1992 to 1999 their writings were published in La Distance Politique.Where were the group’s writings published from 1999 to 2007? How would you characterize the group’s activity and writings during this time?
AB: The Organisation politique followed the more openly Maoist organization created in 1970 called the “UCFml” [Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste], Marxist-Leninist Union of Communists of France.The general inspiration that required the change of name was that the reference to Maoism and Marxism-Leninism was undoubtedly too classical on the one hand, too shared with dogmatic groups, and on the other, it did not place enough emphasis on our own properly political novelty, in particular the fact that our aim was no longer to quickly build a Party to“represent”the working class. But as far as I am concerned, I have always considered there to be a continuity of political practice between the two and believe that the change of name was not essential.
TN: Why did the group break up in 2007?
AB: In 2007 there was no longer sufficient unity and centralized political
labor on a scale large enough to maintain a national organization. Personally, as far as I am concerned, I would say that the action of the Organisation politique, in any case since the 2000s, had gradually become more and more limited: In fact, it existed practically only in the workers’ hostels of undocumented African workers. The living organization was in fact the one that had the name “the organization of the undocumented workers of the hostels and the political organization.” But “political organization” in this case no longer meant much. There have been four attempts to remedy this state of affairs. The first was to extend the organization to all hostels, perhaps on a national scale, which would have been a considerable extension. The second was to open political schools in the hostels. The third, to actively take over mass production in the factories. The fourth, and in my opinion the most important,was to create a“Council”of the Organisation politique and the militant workers who had demonstrated their great qualities as organizers and bearers of new ideas, and together create a new political direction truly anchored in the nomadic proletariat. I participated very actively in these attempts. But I also had to admit, against their success, some doubts about a certain inertia that I was not in a position to overcome. Eventually, I felt like the Organisation politique had become a specialized association of hostels and undocumented workers, and as such it was no longer “political.” This is because a political organization is an organization that is capable of holding, simultaneously, multiple processes among very different political situations.
TN: What has changed in your analysis of the sans-papiers since your work with them from 1996 to 1999? How would you compare those events to what is hap- pening today with other non-status migrant justice movements in North America and Europe more broadly?
Philosophy Today published whole special issue on Alain Badiou’s work, edited by Elisabeth Paquette, Amrit Mandzak-Heer, Dhruv Jain, “Critical Engagements With Alain Badiou” here.