What is your relation to democracy as such? Your group maintains that ‘the principle of democracy [is] that every-one counts as one’. But you don’t vote, you don’t participate.
Democracy doesn’t exactly mean that all individuals are counted as one in their own right. It’s a matter of knowing how we are counted by the state. […] This question of democracy is profoundly linked to the state in general. Lenin used to say that ultimately, democracy is a kind of state. The question is how people are counted by the state. Are they counted equally? Are some counted less than others, or hardly counted at all? […] It is a matter of asking how things in society are counted, or go uncounted. It is through this kind of question that, in our opinion, democracy exists as a real and active figure, and not merely as a judicial, constitutional mechanism.
To avoid this article turning into the Russell Brand/Alain Badiou equivalent of the popular online game Who said it, James Joyce or Kool Keith?, the above – to clarify – is a quotation from an interview with Badiou conducted by Peter Hallward in 1998. There are remarkable similarities in its tenets to those recently espoused by Brand in his editorial for New Statesman and his interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, which have been doing the mediatic rounds recently.
The main question Brand has come under fire for is the question of electoral voting; like Badiou, Brand doesn’t vote, and defends this position as a politically-engaged response to the current system, which carries with it radical potential for change… indeed, revolutionary change.
Robin Lustig misses this point completely in his woeful response to Brand’s pronouncements, in which he suggests that ‘apathy is cowardice’ (of course Brand premonitorily dismisses charges of apathy in stressing non-voting’s engagement, which passes Lustig obliviously by), and that it is only voting that has ever effected change – look at the minimum wage introduced after the Labour landslide, he says. Fellow comedian Robert Webb, in his open letter to Brand, takes a similar tack, suggesting that although Labour didn’t do enough, they effected change for the better after being voted in… But these panderingly moderate positions only pledge an allegiance to the hegemony that Brand seeks to deconstruct, even if only in terms of political ‘consciousness’ (to use his term); they both tend to only see a bright future in a past manifestation, whose flame was flickering at best then, and is now extinguished. To use any Tory’s favourite words: it is as a result of the last Labour government that we are where we are now…
In his philosophy, Badiou stresses the importance of fidelity to an event (and, for him, an event can occur in the fields of love, science, art and politics). In politics, in the run-up to the election in 2010 the Liberal Democrat Party seemed like an event. In the unprecedented televised debates Nick Clegg cut a fresh shape, made some remarkable promises, and ultimately garnered a lot of votes. But as a great swathe of Lib Dem voters will no doubt agree, it has been impossible to keep fidelity to those votes, the reason for which being that just because the Conservatives stuck the word ‘moral’ before the word ‘majority’ (as the rhetoric was) and with that somehow convinced Clegg and co. that they actually had a majority, the major changes the Lib Dems promised have gone completely by the wayside: ‘scrapped tuition fees’ became tripled tuition fees; ‘changing the voting system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation’ became the ‘compromise’ referendum on the engineered-to-be-too-confusing alternative vote (AV) system…
This is what voting led to last time… Clegg betrayed every student in the country, the majority of his voters, and a sizable potion of his party, by swinging right (his latent rightist tendencies blooming in his ostensible ‘power’-grabbing goes only to prove that it wasn’t defection to the right). What the outcome of voting announced after the UK’s last election was this: ‘the country has spoken, and it has said it’s undecided’; this clear message was simply annexed by the conniving Conservative party, parading under the populist banner of the bankrupted word ‘morality’ (with no empirical, or numerical, evidence to back it up). It is through this move that we see in fact how votes have been counted, as Badiou insists is what’s really at stake here.
In the balance of the hung parliament of 2010 hung the way in which votes would be counted, and a violence was done to their counting through how they were. Instead of this abeyance being read as an indicator of the deep dissatisfaction of the public with electoral options and subsequently being addressed by those in positions of responsibility, it was capitalised upon by opportunists, and through spin.
So, what would be the consequence of Brand’s non-participatory call? It would perhaps be to revolutionarily prove democracy to its own abusers… As Slavoj Žižek writes in Violence:
What happens is that, by abstaining from vote, people effectively dissolve this government – not only in the limited sense of overthrowing the existing government, but more radically. Why is the government thrown into such a panic by the voters’ abstention? It is compelled to confront the fact that it exists, that it exerts its power, only insofar as it accepted as such by its subjects – accepted even in the mode of rejection.