Home » Articles » Alain Badiou’s “Communist Hypothesis”: ‘Beating the Luminous Wings in the Void’

Alain Badiou’s “Communist Hypothesis”: ‘Beating the Luminous Wings in the Void’

Nilotpal Majumdar


This book under review, “Communist Hypothesis” by Alain Badiou is basically a book of philosophy. In the preamble of the book, the author avers, “This book is, I insist, a book of philosophy. Appearances notwithstanding, it does not deal directly with either politics (though it does refer to politics) or Political Philosophy (even though it suggests a sort of link between the political condition and philosophy).” This statement by the author at the very outset could have been sufficient ground for me to set the book aside. But I could not, for in the preamble itself I found that the author with a courage of conviction – very rare in to-day’s Marxist political milieu – comes up with a definition and explanation of the notion of “failure” which is not only unique in character but extremely thought-provoking. And relevant too, in the context of deep frustration that the communists, after the fall of socialist camp is afflicted with. At the present moment the emerging trend in the world Communist movement is to undertake a thorough investigation into the causes of the massive set-back of the socialist movement. A full length review of the very concept of “failure” and the conclusion that Badiou drew from it – “…any failure is a lesson which, ultimately, can be incorporated into the positive universality of the construction of a truth.” seemed to me very freshening. Being inspired with this prologue, when a reader starts leafing through the pages, a very mixed feeling, at times one of puzzlement and resistance and some times one of inspiration and vigour will overtake him/her. But this is what makes Badiou – a great champion of politics of emancipation and at the same time a dignified opponent of Marxist Theory and practice on various counts. Sheer poetry of his writing (even in translation) and the philosophical height from which he analyses, investigates, even crticises Marxism make this book gripping and pleasant reading. This is a book which should be recommended for reading, for at this critical juncture of the crisis of theory and practice of Marxism, we need to address the theoretical problems from multifarious angles, broaden our outlook, widen our source of knowledge and understanding with a clear and definitive view to defend and develop Marxism. The study of a most recognized ‘Communist’ philosopher of the West, therefore, is absolutely in line with the need of the hour.

Apart from the preamble entitled “What is called Failure? and an Appendix, which consists of a “Letter from Alain Badiou to Slavoj Zizek: ‘On the Works of Mao Zedong’ ’’, the book contains four chapters. The first three deal with three momentous events in the history of the Communist and Proletarian movement of the world, viz, the students’ and workers’ movement of France in 1968, designated May ’68, The Cultural Revolution of China and the Paris Commune. The fourth chapter is called the Idea of Communism. But Badiou’s whole contention and the entire edifice of his theoretical understanding revolve round his study of the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune is the fountain-head and all other historical instances of revolutions and insurrections that took place before or after it are analysed in the light of this epoch-making event. Therefore, although the study of the Paris Commune comes somewhat latter, for the sake of our own convenience, we shall try and understand the author’s analysis of the Paris Commune first. A few words on Badiou’s view on the concept of ‘failure’, since it occurs at the Preamble and also because it is a connecting thread all throughout the book, should precede the discussion on Paris Commune.

What is Failure?

After the ‘Red Decade’ of the 1970s came to an end, all the arguments of the American anti-communism came back with a vengeance, throughout the world. Votaries of ‘’the new philosophy’’ cried hoarse against totalitarianism of the socialist states and called for representative democracy. Values of the “free world’’ were upheld as against the ‘‘Communist Hypothesis’’ branded as a ‘‘criminal utopia’’. The world was flooded by the culture of ‘human rights’ and ‘The cult of Freedom’ including the freedom of enterprise, freedom to own property and to grow rich. The huge ideological machinery of freedom, human rights, the West and its values comes down to a simple negative statement, which is in Badiou’s words: ‘‘Socialisms, which were the Communist Idea’s only concrete forms, failed completely in the twentieth century….which means that we have to think about the notion of failure.’’ Badiou seriously intervenes at this juncture with his absolutely different set of arguments. Utterly provoked, Badiou asks, ‘what exactly do we mean by ‘failure’ when we refer to a historical sequence that experimented with one or another form of the “Communist Hypothesis?” Badiou raises serious objection when it is said that socialist experiments that took place under the banner of ‘‘Communist Hypothesis’’ ended in failure. He asks if the nature of the so called failure is such as would require us to abandon the hypothesis itself and to renounce the whole problem of emancipation. He has serious doubt about the way the hypothesis is put to question. To shed light on his conviction, Badiou draws a comparison. He says that a scientific problem takes the form of a hypothesis until such a time it is resolved. As one example, he puts forward ‘Ferment’s Theorem’ which was conceived of as a hypothesis. Countless attempts, Badiou says, were made to prove the hypothesis until Wiles, an English mathematician really could prove it a few years ago. Many of those attempts became the starting point for mathematical developments of great significance, although they did not succeed in solving the problem itself. It was of vital importance not to abandon the hypothesis, for the lessons of all the failures and the process of examining them and their implications were the lifeblood of mathematics. From this, Badiou concludes that failure is nothing more than the history of the proof of the hypothesis, only if the hypothesis is not abandoned. Badiou the philosopher then goes much beyond an analogy and tries to expatiate on the theoretical foundation of his examination of the notion of failure. He claims that his notion of failure in politics ‘‘represents an attempt to define the generic form taken by all truth processes when they come up against obstacles that are inherent in the world in which they operate.’’ He explains his position by his concept of ‘‘point’’. For him, a ‘‘point’’ is a moment within a truth procedure when a binary choice (do this or that) decides the future of the entire process. If the ‘‘point’’ is mishandled, failure follows. Thus failure can be located in a ‘‘point’’. After locating and finding the point over which the choice proved disastrous, it should be reconstructed. Thus, according to Badiou ‘‘any failure is a lesson which ultimately can be incorporated into the positive universality of the construction of a truth.’’ Badiou deduces the universality from the following position: the points of a world form a topological space in which the difficulties are caught in a network. It is possible to know the places of difficulty in the network and also how to appreciate them. Thus we find a space of possible failures. Within this space failures invite us to seek and to theorize the point to avoid further failures. Thus difficulties in politics are never universal. Lessons drawn from the failures are universal. For they lead to the construction of truth.

This much for Badiou’s perception of ‘‘failure’’. Badiou’s philosophical positions may appear somewhat alien to the readers schooled in Marxism-Leninism, for his philosophy is more a curious mix of mathematics and ontology than the generally accepted Marxian philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism. Still it must be admitted that in the backdrop of all-encompassing gloom and frustration surrounding us because of the ‘‘failures’’ within the socialist camp, Badiou’s irrepressible optimism will leave a positive effect on the readers.

The Paris Commune: Badiou’s Ontology and Logic

Now we are skipping the next two chapters to reach straightaway to Badiou’s study of the Paris Commune which constitutes his philosophical construction by which he evaluates the politics of emancipation in general.

Badiou starts his discourse on the Paris Commune by a selection of important dated examples and as he himself asserts that these examples will be followed by reordering those accounts to new categories, eg, situation, appearing, site, singularities, event, inexistent aspect etc. This latter part constitutes Badiou’s philosophical approach to the study of great historical events. The kernel of this philosophy lies in his study of ‘‘Ontology of Site’’. Badiou’s ‘ontology’ is all his own, far from the Marxian concept of this branch of philosophy. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality. It deals also with the basic categories of being and their relations. In the broadest sense ontology investigates what makes a human – human. Marxist ontological studies are related with dialectical and historical materialism. It recognizes labour as the centre of the ontology of society, for, the Marxist ontology asserts, all other human activities depend on the capacity of human being’s providing its sustenance in less than 24 hours a day. This capacity is determined by the development of productive forces and the extent of social needs to be satisfied at the given stage of development of the society. This is in full conformity with the Marxist statement that labour is the basis of all social development. But as we shall see later on, Badiou’s ontology is far removed from the Marxian concept of ontology.

For Badiou, the most momentous day of Paris Commune is 18th March, 1871 when some military detachments try to seize cannons held by the National Guard. As we know, the troops are forced to withdraw, the government flees to Versailles; but what impresses Badiou most is the spontaneous mobilization in the workers’ quarters by the Parisian people and notably the Parisian women. The following day, i.e., 19th March also is equally important to him because on the day the Central Committee of the National Guard, elected by the units of the Guard, makes a political declaration, which to Badiou is a fundamental document. To the author 18th March signals the beginning of ‘‘appearing of a worker being’’, of a social symptom characterized by the brute force of uprising and a theoretical threat – in the space of governmental and political capacity. These two vital days of the history of the Paris Commune, we shall see later, constitute the lever on which the whole structure of Badiou’s philosophy operates.

First of all, Badiou reminds us that before the Paris Commune there had been a number of popular and workers’ armed uprisings in 1830, 1848 and 1870 as well as some after the Commune – the Resistance movements between 1940 and 1945 and the students’ movements of May 1968. All these movements share a common fundamental trait – i.e., the final result of all these movements involves the coming to power of some cliques, with Republican or Orleanist or some other leftists. But to all this, claims Badiou, the Commune stands as an exception. ‘‘For’’ to quote Badiou himself, ‘‘the Commune is what, for the first and to this day only time, broke with the parliamentary destiny of popular and workers’ political movements.’’ On 18th March there could have been an appeal to return to order, to negotiate with the government and to have taken over the reins of rule. But this time that was not to happen. Instead 18th March was followed by 19th — the day of declaration by the Central Committee of the National Guard:

‘‘The proletarians of Paris, amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of public affairs.’’

This was, Badiou exclaims, unique – for the destiny of the proletariat was not put back in the hands of ‘‘competent politicians’’ – unique, for the betrayal on the part of so-called competent politicians was avoided, unique, for it was decided that the situation would be dealt with solely on the basis of the resources of the Proletarian movement. To Badiou what is of particular emphasis is that the declaration of 19th March, 1871 was one of ‘‘breaking with the left’’. The Communards, Badiou contemplates, had to pay for this with their own blood, but doing so it had broken the party-state paradigm, thereby having exercised a far greater influence on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and on May ’68 movement of France than the October revolution would have done. Badiou is suffused with deep conviction that the Commune’s extra-ordinariness lies in its paradigmatic contribution to the politics of the emancipation in the form of break with all subjection to that fundamental emblem, the ‘‘left’’ – an emblem that the Communist Parties had turned into.

Badiou first analyses the classical accounts of the Commune given by Marx and later on by the Chinese Communist Party (cpc) during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (gpcr) and shows how those accounts inscribed with the Party-State conceptual model fall victim to ambiguity time and again. To Badiou this ambiguity is inevitable until we replace this approach by another – a process of dis-incorporation born of rupture with the left. But this operation, Badiou admits, is not easy. He asks for our patience and then sets about unfolding ontology and logic for the Commune that is the crux of his whole discourse. We shall come to that later.

For now we will see how Badiou ‘exposes’the ambivalence of Marx and Engels in respect to their analysis of the Commune. For Marx, Badiou says, the Commune is the first historical case in which the proletariat assumes its transitory function of the direction, or administration of the entire society. The most important lesson that Marx drew from the initiative and obstacle that the Commune had to experience was that the State machine must not be occupied but crushed. The chief fault of Marx in this analysis, Badiou points out to us, lies in the notion that between March and May 1871 the question of power was of prime importance. Badiou feels that various critiques have become very commonplace amongst us, eg what the Commune lacked was decision-making capacity, or if it had immediately marched on Versailles, or if it had seized the Bank of France etc. Badiou very strongly feels that the Commune had neither the means to address those options, nor in all likelihood the means to arrive at them. Marx’s account, to Badiou, was ambiguous. On the one hand, he praises everything that appears to lead to dissolution of the State and he deplores incapacities that are actually statist incapacities, eg, its weak military centralization, its inability to define financial priorities, its shortcomings concerning the national questions etc. To Badiou what is more important between 18th March and the May massacre is how the people of Paris pursue their lives inventively and peacefully. All kinds of social measures concerning work, education, women and the arts are debated and decided upon. Badiou points out an idea of the Commune’s prioritization of issues by citing an example. On 18th May, just on the eve of government army’s entering Paris en masse a vote is held on the number of classes to create in Primary Schools. To bring home to the readers the political ambience inside the Commune characterized by the combination of peace and political vivacity, Badiou quotes at length from the chronicle attributed to one Villiers de l’Isle Adam. To resist the temptation of quoting at least a part of it is very difficult:

‘‘One enters, one leaves, one circulates, one gathers. The laughter of the Parisian children interrupts political discussion. Approach to the groups, listen. For the first time workers can be heard exchanging their appreciation on things that hitherto only philosophers had tackled. There is no trace of supervisors; no police agents obstruct the street hindering passers-by. The security is perfect.’’

Engels, too, Badiou contends, while writing the Preface to a new edition of Marx’s ‘‘Civil War in France’’ in 1891, twenty years after the publication, shows the same inclination to formalizing the Commune’s contradictions. He shows how the two dominant political forces operating in the Commune, i.e., Proudhonians and Blanquists ended up doing exactly the opposite of their declared ideology. Engels concludes from this that this faltering ideology was not appropriate for making decisions of the state. But Badiou once again raises the question how the current that Marx and Engels represented in 1871, or later, could have been more adequate to face the situation. Badiou finds that the ambiguity of Marx’s account was to be carried in ‘‘the fundamental motif of the party’’ for over a century. During this entire course of history of the communist movement, the ‘‘Communist’’ party is simultaneously free in relation to the state and in a position to exercise power. The self-contradiction immanent in the existence of the party lies in the absolutely contradictory tasks that the party has to perform: On the one hand it is a purely political organ constituted by subjective support – by ideological rupture and as such exterior to the state and bearing the thematic of revolution; it is also the organizer of the centralized power that is bent on taking state power – the state of dictatorship of the proletariat, on the other. Realizing the ambiguity inherent in the account of the Commune, the Party embodies in itself the political site of a fundamental tension between the non-state, even anti-state character of the politics of emancipation and the Statist character of the victory and duration of that politics. Badiou, however, does not forget to remind us that his scheme of things applies irrespective of whether the victory is insurrectional or electoral; hence the erection of the figure of Party-State (particularly from Stalin onwards). According to Badiou, this party-state started resolving problems the Commune had left unresolved: a centralization of the police and the military defence, the complete destruction of bourgeois economic decisions; rallying and submission of the peasants to workers’ hegemony, etc. But through the process, Badiou avers, it suppressed a number of political problems that to its merit the Commune had been able to discern. If the party-state paradigm had been operative in the functioning of the Commune, it would have been reduced to two parameters, first to its social determination, ie, workers and secondly to exercise of power. In that case, it would have been emptied of properly political content.

Badiou’s disillusionment with the gpcr is far more agonizing, for unlike the accounts of the Paris Commune which could not have held out any consolation for him, the gpcr in its initial years fascinated Badiou as it had given the impression of the reactivated Paris Commune. So the reversion of the gpcr to the party-state paradigm was to Badiou a great hope nipped in the bud. At the outset it appeared to Badiou that during the Cultural Revolution especially during 1966-1972, the Paris Commune is invoked and repeatedly mentioned by the Chinese Maoists as if caught in the grip of the ossified and rigid hierarchy of the party-state, they sought new references outside the October Revolution and official Leninism. The sixteen-point Decision of August 1966, mostly written by Mao and considered the most cardinal document of the gpcr exhorts the rank and file to seek inspiration in the Paris Commune. It clearly mentioned that as it was the decision of the Commune concerning electing and recalling of the leaders of the new organizations emerging from the mass movements, likewise the same decision had been taken by the Chinese counterparts. A few months after this decision had been taken the Chinese revolutionary workers and students went in for putting the decisions to practice by over-throwing the Municipality of Shanghai and creating the Shanghai Commune, a new organ of Power, in January 1967.The naming itself of this new organ was highly significant, for it indicated that Mao’s followers who had created it were trying to deal with the question of power and state in a mode outside the framework of the current party-state model. But this glorious attempt was followed by serious vacillations on the part of the Maoists including Mao himself. True, seizure of power and the subsequent installation of the new organ was precarious, even potentially dangerous. What was needed at that critical hour was unflinching revolutionary audacity (that would, of course, have been befitting for Mao). Instead, the Commune was disbanded and replaced by what was called Revolutionary Committee – a very indistinct formation. The same shifting of position could be noticed in the centenary commemoration of the Paris Commune in China in 1971. It all started with the elements of reactivation of the spirit of the Paris Commune in China. The magnitude of the demonstrations all throughout the country enthralled whoever was following the course of events. Millions of people marched across the country with revolutionary zeal. But to great anguish of those observers including the most ardent observers like Badiou, little by little, to use Badiou’s own expression, ‘‘the revolutionary parenthesis was closed.’’ This was evident in the official text published for the occasion: ‘‘Long Live the Victory of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat! in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Paris Commune’’. The text is full of contradictoriness, ‘‘totally ambivalent’’ in Badiou’s language. On the one hand, very significantly, it contains in the epigraph a formula written by Marx at the time of the Commune itself.

‘‘If the Commune should be destroyed, the struggle would only be postponed. The principles of the Commune are eternal and indestructible; they will present themselves again and again until the working class is liberated’’ – indicating that those are the principles that are to be reactivated – extending a thread that is linked more to the Commune than to the October Revolution. On the other hand, the same article is dominated by the tutelary figure of the party, clearly shown in the passage of the Commune’s shortcomings.

“Historical experience shows that where a very revolutionary situation and revolutionary enthusiasm on the part of the masses exist, it is still necessary to have a strong core of leadership of the proletariat that is ‘a revolutionary party…built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style”.

Badiou comments that this final citation though written by Mao could well have been by Stalin, too. Badiou regrets that in spite of its activism and its militancy, the Maoist vision of the Commune ultimately remained prisoner of the party-state frame-work.

As we have stated earlier, Badiou very strongly feels that to get at the proper understanding of the Paris Commune, we must rid ourselves by party-state paradigm and have recourse to ontology and logic pertaining to the Commune. If we evaluate the Commune from the specific philosophical angle that Badiou insists on, we will see how a ‘‘singularity’’ with its intensity of existence (the Paris Commune) however much instantaneous or ‘‘evanescent’’ it may be takes on a ‘‘positive value of existence’’. Like every veritable event, Badiou asserts, the Commune had not realized a possible, but it had created a possible – this possible is simply that of an independent proletarian politics. Any critique of the Commune in terms of its durability and judging its success only by it is subordinated to the constraints of the party-state frame-work that Badiou is thoroughly opposed to. We shall try in brief to understand Badiou’s first, ontological and then logical exposition of the Paris Commune.

The term ‘‘site’’ is the fundamental basis of the whole of Badiou’s ontological studies, the Paris Commune in this case. In Badiou’s own words ‘‘… a site is a multiple that happens to behave in a situation in regard to itself as with regard to its elements, in such a way as to support the being of its own appearing.’’

He further explains that a site is different from an ordinary situation because it is a singularity, in that it evokes its being in the appearing of its own multiple compositions. This means that a site gives itself an intensity of existence. A site is a being that happens to exist by itself. The whole point, Badiou says, will be to argue that 18th March 1871 is a site. Then he proceeds to describe the political situation of Paris at the end of Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In the month of March 1871 there is an interim government of bourgeois ‘‘Republicans’’ which capitulates to Bismarck’s Prussians, has an Assembly with a royalist majority, with its headquarters at Bordeaux and led by Thiers poised to annihilate the political capacity of the workers. On the other hand, on the Parisian front, in the form of a National Guard, the proletariat is armed with hundreds of cannons which they got during the siege of Paris. Thus in the philosophical sense, we have a divided world that reconciles the intensities of political existence according to these two sets of antagonistic criteria. So far as the representative, electoral and legal existence is concerned, Thiers’ capitulator government, Assembly of the traditional Rurals, officers of the regular army etc are pre-eminent. This is the only power recognized by the occupier. On the other side is the Parisian worker organizations – quite disorderly and for the vast majority of the people, including the workers themselves, although politicized, are simply incomprehensible. In the uncertain world of the spring of 1871, the workers are non-existent aspect of the term ‘‘political capacity’’. To the bourgeoisie they are existent only physically. Therefore, when the government is provoked by the financial institutions and other establishments to disarm the rebels, it set about to carry out the seemingly easy task. The decision was taken on the part of the Thiers government to retrieve the cannons distributed throughout working class parties by the military committees of the National Guard. At this juncture emerged 18th March – a single day, exposed in the situation in Paris in spring 1871. To Badiou, it is a site, presenting itself in the appearing of a situation. 18th March appears as the first day of the event calling itself the Paris Commune, which is the exercise of power by Socialist or Republican political militants and armed workers of Paris from 18th March to 28th May 1871. True, the balance sheet of this sequence is the massacring of thousands of rebels by the troops of Thiers, but it signalled a great beginning – the beginning called March which in terms of its manifest contentis the appearing of a worker-being. Even to this day it is a social symptom, the brute force of uprising and a theoretical threat – in the space of governmental and political capacity.

To prove his point, Badiou elaborates on the happenings of 18th March. Thiers orders General Paladine to retrieve the cannons held by the National Guard. Early in the morning (at 3 am) a coup is carried out by some detachments. It was initially successful, but by eleven in the morning the coup totally failed, the soldiers having been encircled by thousands of ordinary women, anonymous workers and the members of National Guard – all acting on their own behalf. Without any veritable leadership, the rebellion extends, occupies the whole city, including its barracks, public buildings and finally the Hotel-de-Ville which under a red flag becomes the site and symbol of the new power. Badiou theorizes the momentous 18th March: from the point of view of well-ordered appearing the possibility of a popular and worker governmental power purely and simply does not exist. Even the most militant of the workers also did not dream of it. In the evening of 18th March the Central Committee of the National Guard was still convinced they should not sit at the Hotel-de-Ville, considering they do not have a mandate for the government. It was only in the morning of 19th March, in Badiou’s words, ‘‘sword of circumstances hanging over their head that they (the Communards) end up deciding as Eduard Moreau – a perfect nobody – will dictate to them to proceed to elections, to provide for public services and to protect the town from a surprise.’’ Thus, to Badiou, the fortuities of 18th March have brought about an immanent overturning of the laws of appearing.

This is, in its essence, what constitutes Badiou’s notion of a site. It appears as the striking and totally unforeseeable beginning of a rupture with the very thing that had established the norm of its appearing. The site 18th March, in which the impossible possibility of worker existence has been dealt with, is a subversion of the rule of political appearing (of the logic of power) by means of its own active support.

Badiou is not content with only ontological particularity of a site. He wants to focus on the logical unfolding of its consequences, too. According to him, the site is a figure that appears only to disappear. Its veritable duration, ie, the time a site opens or founds depends on its consequences. It is related to value of consequences. We have to fix a value for the relation of consequence between two terms in a situation by the mediation of their degree of existence. Value of the site’s existence cannot be prescribed from anything in its ontology. A sudden appearance can have the value of a local apparition and its disappearance can leave no trace behind. Still it is a site, but not much different from a simple continuation of the situation. The logic of the site involves the distributions of intensities around the vanishing point, in which the site consists. For example Badiou cites the 10th May’s proclamation of the Central Committee as a contrast to 18th March. There, by means of distribution and enveloping of political intensities, it betrays everything that had appeared on 18th March. Again to demonstrate another degree of intensity, he cites the proclamation of a thinned out Central Committee of 23rd May calling for conjoint dissolution of the Assembly of Versailles and the Commune. This Manifesto, Badiou feels, still expresses the Commune’s self-certitude and a conviction of having begun a new politics containing the site’s elements. But in the backdrop of ‘‘the savage dawn of worker insurrection’’, to quote Badiou, “the value of its existence is very weak”. From these comparisons Badiou infers: the appearing of a site must have a force of appearing that compensates for its evanescence. Nothing has the potential for an event but a site whose value of existence is maximal. A site whose intensity of existence is not maximal is called by Badiou – a fact and whose intensity of existence is maximal – a singularity. In the appearing of a situation, strategic and tactical choices oscillate between fact and singularity. The question that arises now is how to relate to a logical order of circumstances.

Then Badiou goes on to differentiate between weak and strong singularities. Badiou feels it necessary to establish the consequences woven by an evanescent site with the elements of the situation that represented it in the world. Badiou reserves the name event for a strong singularity – Paris Commune, crushed in blood in two months, an instruction that establishes nothing of duration will inspire a century of revolutionary thought and struggle. 4th September 1870, on the other hand is a date when the political regime of the Second Empire collapsed and the Third Republic – which lasted for seventy years – began. There are many striking similarities between 4th September 1870 and 18 March 1871. On 4th September the working people of France under a red flag invaded the square of the Hotel-de-Ville. It, too, caused the officials to go to the pieces. The most important thing that we should notice is that it is a day that changes the State. Despite all this 4th September remains a weak singularity, for it was confiscated by the bourgeois politicians to re-establish the order of property. It was thus aligned on the general development of European State, converging on parliamentary form. Whereas the Commune is a strong singularity because, to quote Badiou himself, ‘‘it proposes to thought a rule of emancipation and is relayed – perhaps against the grain – by October 1917, and more specifically, by the summer of 1967 in China and May 1968 in France’. What counts is not only the intensity of its sudden appearance, but over time, what such evanescent emergences set up by way of uncertain and glorious consequences.

Another aspect of the evaluation of a site, that Badiou makes, is that a site is a strong singularity, ie, an event, if in consequence of the maximal intensity of the site, something whose value of existence was nil in the situation, takes on a positive value of existence. This implies a violent paradox. An event has as a maximally true consequence of its (maximal) intensity of existence, the existence of an inexistent. Under the effect of an event, the inexistent aspect of a site comes to exist absolutely. This was the case on 18 March. A collection of unknown workers, unknown event to the specialists of revolution represent the non-existent aspect of the situation. This non-existent when thrust violently on the political scene of Paris, comes to exist absolutely the same day of its appearing. This paradox is explained by Badiou in three headings. (1) The principle of this overturning of worldly appearing from non-existent to absolute existence is a vanishing principle, for all the event’s power is consumed in the existential transfiguration. 18th March, therefore, has the least stability. (2) The ‘eternal’ existence of non-existence consists in the trace of statement of the evanescent event, the proclamation of the Commune, the first worker power in the universal world being the example in this case. (3) Every situation has at least one proper inexistent aspect and if this aspect is sublimated into absolute existence, another element of the situation, site in this case, must cease to exist, and thereby keeping the law intact. In the Commune event, the existent part that was destroyed was not the dominant group and its politicians. But something more important was destroyed: the political subordination of workers and the people, in other words, the order of subjective incapacity. Badiou quotes from Lissagaray’s seminal work on this momentous event ‘‘History of the Commune of 1871’’ to drive at this point: ‘‘three times (in 1792, in 1848 and in 1870) the French proletariat made the Republic for others; now it is ripe for its own’’.

To Badiou, the notion that the consequences of a political capacity must relate to the order of power and state administration belongs to those who are victims of party-state paradigm. His problem is rather to return – prior to the first account – to what was alive but defeated in the Commune. We must not forget for a moment that those who are nothing can only stick to a wager on the consequences of their appearing in the element of a new discipline — a practical discipline of thought. Lenin’s party certainly comprised the creation of such a discipline. But, alas! It was ultimately subordinated to the constraints of state. Today’s task, however, Badiou concludes is the creation of such a discipline subtracted from the grip of the state.

If we keep Badiou’s concept of failure and his notion of site and its consequences in mind, his evaluation of students’ and workers’ movements in France of May 1968 and the gpcr of China will become easy to comprehend.

May ’68 of France

The section dealing with the students’ and workers’ movement in France in 1968 is named very significantly, ‘‘We Are still the Contemporaries of May, ‘68’’. The naming itself sets the tune of his whole approach to the world-shaking movement of the French students and workers. One chapter of this section written in the heat of the moment in July 1968 gives a graphic picture of this movement in great detail. To us it is important mainly because it helps us understand the evolution of Badiou’s idea of communism. In that article we find again and again how he till then clung to the idea of a Marxist-Leninist party, serving as the key to everything, how he felt that the revolutionary overthrow of the Bonapartist form of state power., an objective possibility in May, could not have taken place in the absence of a true Marxist-Leninist party and how without a Marxist-Leninist party, the proletariat fail to lay claim to the ideological and political leadership of the struggle. Right now we are more interested in grasping Badiou’s Communist Hypothesis as of to-day. For this purpose, Badiou’s brief note of introduction to the aforementioned article written in 2008 as well as his first article in this section ‘‘May ’68 Revisited, 40 Years On’’ also written in 2008 are of greater interest to us.

As for the introductory note to his article of 1968, Badiou rues the use of dated categories in it. They include, according to him, fairly conventional class divisions, and somewhat vague use of the word ‘‘ideology’’, a dated evocation of Marxist-Leninist science etc. By now, we are in a position to understand why these critiques are quite consistent with Badiou’s present-day point of view as regards classical Marxism. Secondly, the article written by himself forty years ago is important to Badiou for it very powerfully demonstrates the extent of the subjective regression that organized between the end of the period ushered in by May ’68 and to-day. He regrets rather ironically that there were few people in the summer of ’68 who were bold enough to go on saying that the West was freedom’s bulwark, which is the refrain of many outstanding intellectuals to-day. The third striking feature of the article, Badiou observes, is that it takes no account of one thing that proves crucial nowadays : the obsolescence of a strict Leninism centred upon the question of the party, which continues to subordinate politics to its Statist deviation. Because of this inclination to Party-State formula, Badiou believes, the ‘movement’ itself resolves none of the problems it helps to raise in a historical sense. But in that article of 1968, he regrets that the Marxist-Leninist Party serves as the key to everything.

Of the three articles in this section, the first one ‘‘May ’68 Revisited, 40 years On’’ a post-mortem, as it were, of the great French movement in which as a young lecturer of Reims University he participated, is the most important in our present study, because it relates very vividly to his contemporary political position. The article begins with a note of optimism emphasizing why we should go back to May ’68 again and again. In his own words, ‘‘… we appear to be looking back at May ’68, because it is a potential source of inspiration, a sort of historical poem that gives us new courage and that allows us really to react now that we are in the depths of despair.’’

To the author, the strength and distinctive features of May ’68 movement is that it entwined, combined and superimposed four processes. If anyone fails to understand the heterogeneity of these processes and grasp them in their totality, he/she will miss the complexity as well as the grandeur of the movement. Now Badiou sets out to enumerate these processes of which we can but give very brief account. First, it was primarily an uprising, a revolt by the young university and school students characterized by the mass demonstrations, the barricades and battles with police. Badiou reminds us that such uprisings were then a world-wide phenomenon, not particularly a French one. Another feature of the movement was that these students represented a minority of young people, cut off from the broad masses of working class youth. The movement drew its particular flavour from two features, namely the extra-ordinary strength of ideology and the symbols and acceptance of violence. The second process is very different. It is the working-class movement that can boast of the biggest general strike in the history of France, comparable only with the last great strike of this type, namely the Popular Front. But these working-class movements were characterized by new features, such as (1) they had little to do with official working class institutions, with strong elements of revolt resulting very often in ‘‘wild cat strikes’’, (2) there was systematic use of factory occupations, by which almost all the factories were occupied and adorned with red flags (3) kidnapping of bosses and peripheral battles with ‘‘security’’. The third heterogeneity was expressed in ‘‘libertarian’’ character of the movement, with a changing moral climate, changing perception of sexual relation and individual freedom. The question of women’s movement, movement for homo-sexual rights and emancipations, new theatre, new forms of political expression and new style of collective action were freely discussed and debated. In Sorbonne, Billancourt and Odeon theatre these three components of the movement found their own symbolic sites. Lastly, the fourth element is the most crucial to Badiou, for from the summing up of this element he reaches where he has reached today – his new interpretations of Communist Hypothesis. This element (which Badiou prefers to call 4 May ‘68) unfolded over time. It came after ‘‘the merry month of May’’ and produced some intense political years spanning from 1968 to 1978 until it was repressed and absorbed by the victory of the union of the left and Mitterrand years.

4 May ’68 signalled the end of an old conception of politics, followed by a whole decade (1971-80) of searching for a new one. It was obsessed with the question ‘‘what is politics?’’ Many immediate experiments to which people committed themselves gave birth to this difficult question. Badiou says he and his contemporaries were trying to break away with the prevailing dominant idea that there must have been a historical agent offering a possibility of emancipation – call it working class or, proletariat, or people. It followed from this that this objective agent had to be transformed into a subjective power. This power had to be represented by a specific organization – the party. There were various debates regarding the form or character of a party. But there was no debate on the existence of a historical agent and that it had to be organized. This organized agent would strike roots into an immediate social reality by forming trade unions etc. This meant that there would be two sides to emancipatory political movement – social (unions being their natural organisations) and the party – present in all possible sites of power. In May ’68 all the participants shared this classic conception. The symbol was the red flag. But a secret truth gradually started revealing, focusing on the basic ambiguity in May ‘68, and that is that a common language that was spoken by all was beginning to die. The distinction between what was beginning and what was coming to an end blurred. This phenomenon gave May ’68 its ambivalence, its mystery as well as its intensity.

May ’68, to be more specific, the years that followed posed a huge challenge to the organisations of the ‘‘Left’’, of the unions, parties and established leaders. Popular actions broke out of their normal frame-work turning into anarchic or wild cat initiative. More importantly, there was a radical critique of representative democracy. All these actions and great critiques conveyed a new vision – a vision of new politics that was trying to wrench away from the old vision. This, to Badiou, is May ’68 – trying to explore the truth beyond the confines of classical revolutionism. But, initially the language through which the exploration was carried on was the same as the old language. Traditional organisations, to use the Chinese slogan, were ‘‘raising the red flag to fight the red flag’’. What, Badiou asserts, they failed to see at that time was that it was the language itself that was to be changed. 4th May ’68 played the role of a link with other three elements. Unity of the workers and the students was forged during the strike at the Chausson factory, a very significant development to Badiou, for the traditional parties would never allow different sections of people to come together. This fusion was a stunning spectacle. In Badiou’s language: ‘‘… we were both immediate actors and bewildered spectators.’’ Badiou calls this an event in the philosophical sense of the term: something was happening but its consequences were incalculable. What were those consequences? Thousands of students, high school students, workers, women from the estates and the proletarians from Africa went in search of a new politics. A new political practice set about, that accepted ‘‘new trajectories, impossible encounters and meeting between people who did not usually talk to each other’’. It was the moment that Badiou and his comrades realized that a new emancipatory politics would turn social classification upside down, in organizing ‘‘lightning displacements, both material and mental’’. Herein dawns on Badiou his new interpretation of ‘‘communism’’: ‘‘an egalitarian society which acting under its own impetus, brings down all walls and barriers, a polyvalent society, with variable trajectories, both at work and in our lives.’’ As for the political organization, Badiou has to say that the concept of ‘‘communism’’ rules out forms of political organization modelled on spatial hierarchies.

10 years later, the union of the left and election of Mitterrand partly repressed whatever was left of the May ’68 and seemed to impose a return to the classical model. But Badiou feels the struggle is going on – the struggle to find answers to the difficult questions raised by May ’68. He strongly feels the world has changed and categories like ‘‘workers’’, ‘‘peasants’’ have different meanings now. But the problems posed by May ’68 remain the same. Meanwhile countless new things have been experimented with. A handful of activists, intellectuals and workers are silently carrying on the struggle, who according to Badiou are the ‘‘guardians of the future and they are inventing the future’’. The decisive issue is to cling to the historical hypothesis of a world that has been freed from the law of profit and private interest. This is what Badiou proposes to call Communist Hypothesis. At the ideological and historical level, Badiou stresses, the task is to draw the balance sheet for the twentieth century, so that we can reformulate the emancipation hypothesis in contemporary term. To evolve new forms of political organization capable of handling the complex ideological and historical work and theoretical and practical data is the defining feature of our times. Badiou concludes, ‘‘I would readily describe this as the era of reformulation of the Communist Hypothesis” (emphasis is ours).

Badiou’s Analysis of the GPCR

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (gpcr) that rocked not only China, but the communist movements of almost all the countries of the world between 1965 and 1976 holds out for Badiou a well-nigh consummation of his idea of Communism, free from party-state frame-work and therefore takes a very special position in his discourse. To him it is the only true political creation of the sixties and seventies and so strong is his sense of belongingness to this event that he unhesitatingly calls it a part of ‘‘our’’ political history. Badiou believes that in the untiring inventiveness of the Chinese revolutionaries, all sorts of ‘‘subjective and practical trajectories have found their justification – to change subjectively to live otherwise, to think otherwise.’’ But at the same time, Badiou observes, the gpcr is the typical example of a political experience that saturates the form of the Party-State. It is the last significant political sequence that is still internal to the Party-State and fails as such. But this failure, too, according to Badiou, yielded great results of historical significance, for without the saturation of the sixties (even of seventies) none could think anything outside the spectre of Party-State. He illustrates his point by citing May ’68 movement which he says is slightly different from the political sequence internal to the Party-State. But as examples of the movements free from Party-State model he refers to the Polish movement or Chiapas, that makes us feel somewhat uneasy, about which we shall discuss later.

Badiou formulates a hypothesis and experiments on several levels of the sequence of events particularly from November 1965 to July 1968, with a view to making the gpcr a source of thought that may relate to to-day’s political thinking. The hypothesis that he puts forward is, in his own language: ‘‘we are in the condition of an essential division of the Party-State.’’ In other words, Badiou explains this phenomenon as non-coincidence between the historicity of the party characterized by a long period of wars and the present state of its activities as a framework of state power. This dichotomy is demonstrated during the gpcr by the regular invocation of the Yenan period, particularly by the army as a model of Communist political ethos. As its direct consequence, new methods had to be invented to address the confrontations between positions. Unlike the Stalinist method of bureaucratic formalism or violent purgings, Mao and his followers invented a method of political mass mobilization to break with the majority trend in the party and the state, leading to uncontrolled forms of protests and organisations. But at the same time, in a contradictory move, none other than Mao and his group tried to contain all innovations both as regards forms of the movement and organization, in the general space of the Party-State. To sum up: the gpcr is the historical development of a contradiction. On the one hand, there is the clarion call to arouse mass revolutionary action in the margins of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and on the other hand maintaining the relation between the party and the state so far as the use of repressive forces is concerned. The civil war had to be precluded; destruction of the party also had to be avoided.

After framing this hypothesis, Badiou proceeds to test it according to the sequence of events and this leads ultimately to prove Badiou’s point of the saturation of the Party-State in the gpcrthat ushered in, in his view, the era of a new politics of emancipation at a distance from Party-State paradigm. This sequence under the experimental fields of Badiou includes the Sixteen Points decision of August 1966, the emergence of the Red Guards, the Shanghai Commune, formation of revolutionary committees, the Wuhan incident, the workers’ entry into the universities and lastly the phenomenon of Mao’s cult of personality. Let us have a glance at the important areas of the sequence.

The ‘‘Sixteen Points’’ decision of August 1966, said to be written by Mao, is a cardinal document of the entire course of the gpcr. On the one hand it breaks most abruptly with the bureaucratic formation of Party-State and presages a period of non-existence both of the Central Committee and the Party’s secretariat, on the other. Certain parts of the circular are virulent in that they are unhesitant in expressing the immediate revolutionary requirements and the need to oppose the Party with new forms of organizations. Notable among them are two points entitled: ‘‘Put Daring Above Everything else and boldly arouse the masses’’ and ‘‘Let the masses educate themselves in the movement’’. A most significant declaration made here is ‘‘Don’t be afraid of disturbances’’. It is in this very document that the Maoist Group visualizes the destruction of the political monopoly of the party, by appreciating the emergence of new organizations that ‘‘should not be temporary organizations but permanent standing mass-organizations.’’ This clearly indicates that Mao and his followers are contemplating the destruction of the political monopoly of the Party – adumbrating the forthcoming slogan ‘‘Bombard the Headquarters’’. The reference to the Paris Commune in the end clearly indicates that what was in Mao’s mind was not the party authority, but organizations subject to mass democracy, with their system of general election like that of the Paris Commune.

Badiou then further explores the text of ‘‘The Sixteen Points’’ to find out the co-existence in the same text of restrictions on the freedom of criticism that purports to rein in revolutionary impulse that the text mainly appeals to. Point 8 of the document that proclaims that the majority of the cadres are good is meant, according to Badiou, to vindicate that the Party and State leadership are essentially at good hands. This certificate of goodness given to the cadres amounts to a subjugation to the Party-State, which Badiou feels, does not match with the large-scale revolutionary method that the Sixteen Points recommends. In point 15, the document once again upholds the centralized authority of the party when it proclaims that in the armed forces the Cultural Revolution and the socialist education movement should be carried out in accordance with the instructions of the Military Commission of the Party. Badiou concludes that the combination of such heterogeneous approaches leads to impasses of the movement in its relation to the Party-State.

The immediate off-shoot of the Sixteen Points is the launching of the ‘‘Red Guards’’, organizations comprising mainly the school-students that very quickly turned out to be the strike force behind the movements’ extension to the whole China. Within this Red Guard movement there was amazing freedom – groups openly confronting one another, plethora of journals, banners, posters upholding struggle against old ideas and old customs, arrogance expressed in the process, excesses committed resulting in revulsion in ordinary people. The history of the Red Guard movement is rooted in the 16 May 1966 Communique which was the product of Mao’s first public act of rebellion against the majority of the Central Committee. This Communique bluntly declared that ‘‘Without destruction, there is no construction’’. Once this call for destruction catches the imagination of the young minds, the balance between the destruction and the construction becomes very hard to strike, with the result that negative tendencies very common in a revolution, eg, persecution of the people for petty reasons, showing off iconoclastic turn of mind, assumed barbarism etc begin to spread. Tied to the power-struggle at the top of the party, these criticisms and acts of destruction remained confined to the hurling of abuses to the opponents, became end in themselves and therefore divorced from a global political space, for the creation of the new.

Badiou’s analysis of the Shanghai Commune is the most focused study of his hypothesis: the gpcris the historical development of a contradiction. At the end of 1966 and the beginning of 1967 factory workers appeared on the scene in a massive and decisive way. Shanghai naturally plays the pivotal role. The first paradox of the movement in Shanghai is that the ‘‘Rightist’’ section of the ‘‘leading class’’ primarily set about launching the agitation on sectoral demands of a purely economic nature. The rightist party bosses initiated this movement to create a chaos in the factories only to appear on the scene as ‘‘saviours’’ later on. Maoist workers’ group comprising not more than 4000 workers and having only a small field of action (machine tools industries) at the outset, are forced to intervene against ‘‘economism’’ with an austere campaign in favour of communist work and primacy of political consciousness spanning across the globe. Pitted against a very powerful party bureaucracy, the workers take to direct action and begin to deploy themselves on the scale of an urban power. Aided by a section of Maoists in the party and a fraction of the army, they purge the party and municipality of the rightists and embark on what may be called ‘‘seizure of power’’. This is called ‘‘Shanghai Commune’’ – a turning point in the Cultural Revolution.

But right here, Badiou regrets, we are entangled in a paradox. On the one hand, like the Sixteen Points, this new-formed proletarian power centre finds inspiration in a complete counter-model of the Party-State, almost like the Paris Commune, comprising the most disparate organizations. On the other hand, its possibility of developing into a national scale is hindered by an all-embracing figure of the party, despite the fact that the latter is riddled with very many problems. Throughout the tumultuous ups and downs of the revolution, Zhou Enlie, the guarantee of the unity of the state and never disapproved by Mao, kept navigating to the right-wing elements of the party. Zhou, backed by the support of Mao made it clear to the Shanghai workers as well as to the Red Guards that no revolutionary organization of national importance will be allowed. In the ultimate analysis, the Shanghai Commune holds out before us both and at the same time, a spectacle of broadening of the revolutionary mass base and a new expression of workers’ initiative to build a new power centre being throttled by the Party and the State.

Following and inspired by the Shanghai Commune during the early months of 1967, a series of ‘‘power seizure’’ takes place throughout the country. This phase is characterized by violence and destruction. Rightist party bosses and bureaucrats were heckled, booed, at times kicked and beaten. Reminiscent of the post-liberation (1949) ceremony in China when ‘‘local despots and evil tyrants’’ were put to shame and disgraced by peasants who counted for nothing for centuries, the rightists were given over public humiliation. But from February onwards after the Commune was disbanded, Badiou, to his great consternation notices the emergence of what was called ‘‘the revolutionary committees’’. This change, Badiou thinks, is great, for the name itself smacks of the party organs. One can hardly understand, if these committees reduplicate or simply replace the old ‘’Party Committees’’, generally considered the symbol of bureaucratic power. The ambiguity inherent in the name itself indicates that it is a hybrid born of a political conflict. To the local revolutionaries it is a substitute for the old type party-committee while for the conservatives it is a matter of putting back in place the local cadres after ‘‘a mere fiction of a critique.’’ The slogan of ‘‘great alliance’’ is raised which means that confrontation has to be stopped (including the armed one) and unity has to be achieved. A growing amount of coercion starts, free discussions are restricted and severe limitations are put on the right to organize freely around new ideas and new convictions.

The Wuhan incident presents all the contradictions of a revolutionary situation at its peak. In July 1967, with the support of the army, the conservatives start to dominate the big industrial city of Wuhan, with worker strength of 5 lakh. Two workers’ organizations, “One Million Heroes” backed by the conservatives in the army and the party and a very small organization named Steel are locked in confrontation during May and June, resulting in many casualties. The central leadership sends its minister for Public Security and a very important member of the Cultural Revolutionary group, Wang Li carrying a message from Zhou Enlie to support the “Steel” rebel group. Zhou Enlie was entrusted with the most difficult task of forging unity among the warring groups and at the same time of locating the revolutionary left which is becoming utterly violent and confused. On 20thJuly the shock troops of “One Million Heroes” attack and catch hold of Wang Li and others and severely beat them. However, when the news of the central delegates being attacked spreads, various units of the army mobilize themselves to rescue them. But outnumbered, the revolutionary committee is put under arrest. Wang Li somehow flees the city. Wu Han is now on the verge of a civil war.

But significantly enough, only a few days later Wang Li, till then highly adored as a revolutionary leader, is arrested. The army is not purged. Zhou grew more and more important and a return to order begins to make itself felt. The army emerged as the pillar of the whole party. It is given the stabilizing role. In September 1967, Mao after returning from the inspection tour launches the slogan, “Nothing divides the working class” which is actually a call for returning the monopoly of violence to the repressive apparatus.

Mao’s two comments at this juncture are very important, one stigmatizing leftism by calling it “in fact is a form of rightism” and secondly when he says that since the takeover of power in Shanghai “the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology that was rampant among the intellectuals and the young students has ruined the situation”. It begins to be clear that after the Wuhan incident, the tussle between revolutionary fervour with its excesses, and order and that between politics at a distance from Party-State and submission to Party-State tilts heavily towards the latter.

After this involution of the movement following Wuhan, in February 1968, the conservatives mount a severe counter-attack on the revolutionaries. Mao and his group become alert and once again renew their support for the revolutionaries. But this offensive on the part of the Maoists is short-lived because by then the preparations for the upcoming 9th Party Congress charged with drawing up a balance sheet of the gpcr are afoot. And lacklustre too, in the general atmosphere of a return to order. The universities have to be rid of the skirmishes between rivalling factions, without, however, crushing the Red Guards to nothingness. To achieve this end, a unique method is adopted: unarmed workers are mobilized in the university campuses to disarm the factories and to establish their authority. Thus a violent and anarchic youth force is made to recognize a “mass-based” authority higher than itself. Mao thus avoids the intervention of the army to take control of the situation and gives a sort of protection to his initial allies, the revolutionary students and the youth. But the ambivalence of Mao gets accentuated by the fact and ultimately he is a man of the party-state. He wants its renovation, but not destruction.

Before summing up his experimentations with the hypothesis, Badiou has to speak a few words on the cult of personality that has taken extraordinary forms in case of Mao during the gpcr. The party according to Badiou is projected as the representative of the working class – “the mandatory guardian of the correct line”. “The party is always right” has been the recurrent slogan since the thirties of the last century. But no representation can be a guarantee of such a certainty. A substitute has to be sought and it is found in the representation of the representation: a singularity that is legitimated precisely by its singularity alone. Badiou further explains: “…it is easier to believe in the rectitude and the intellectual force of a distant and solitary man than in the truth and the purity of an apparatus whose local party-chiefs are well-known”. In China during the gpcr this incarnation is felt to be of acute necessity because the struggle is against the threatening “revisionism” within the party itself. Mao alone can assume the role of someone who can say “it is right to revolt” and at the same time canonized as the party’s Chairman. To revolutionary masses he is less the representative of the existing party than the one of a proletarian party of the future.

To come back to Badiou’s point, the study of his hypothesis: the gpcr is the historical development of a contradiction that culminates in the name of Mao himself: the name that is intrinsically contradictory in the field of revolutionary politics. On the one hand, it is the supreme name of the party-state (the Chairman), and on the other hand it is the name that cannot be reduced to State’s bureaucracy. Mao is the name of a paradox – a rebel in power, the emblem of party-state in search of its overcoming, the military Chief preaching disobedience to the authorities. Mao is the name for construction of socialism, but also for its destruction.

After a thorough investigation into the gpcr, Badiou concludes that this great movement bears witness to the impossibility truly and globally to free politics from the frame-work of Party-State. It signals an ultimate mark of saturation, for the gpcr shows how a violent will to find new political path and new forms of workers’ struggles and organisations under the condition of socialism ended up in failure when confronted with the compulsion of maintaining order and avoiding a civil war–in a general frame of the Party-State. So all emancipatory politics must put an end to the model of the party. Only then the affirmation of politics ‘without party’ (yet not lapsing into anarchism) will be possible. We shall ever remain indebted to gpcr, because, the author observes, it appears to be the last revolution attached to the motif of classes and class-struggles. The gpcr marks a great transition in politics–from a politics confined to the bounds of the party-state to a politics at a distance from the party-state.

Badiou’s Idea of Communism

Badiou’s idea of Communism is unique, all his own and different from what we generally understand by the term. A brief recapitulation of his concept of Communism is necessary to comprehend his whole approach to understanding history and his method of drawing lessons from there.

By “Idea” Badiou means “an abstract totalization of the three basic elements: a truth procedure, a belonging to history and an individual subjectivation”. Truth procedure pertains to the political element in Badiou’s formulation, embodied in a political truth, which is “a concrete time-specific sequence in which a new thought and a new practice of collective emancipation arise, exist and eventually disappear”. The historical element is closely woven with the political sequence in that a truth procedure is inscribed in the general becoming of Humanity, in a local form. The subjective element is the possibility for an individual to become a part of a political truth-procedure, ie, to become a militant (activist) of this truth. Taking of this decision to become a militant is, in Badiou’s opinion, an incorporation: the individual body becomes one of the elements of another body, the body-of-truth. It then becomes the material existence of a truth in the making in a given world. An Idea, therefore, is the subjectivation of an interplay between the singularity of a truth procedure and a representation of History. The word “Communism” has been, long since, the most important name of an Idea located into the field of emancipatory, or revolutionary politics. From Badiou’s formulation, therefore, it follows that in the idea of Communism, subjectivation becomes the link between local belonging to a political procedure characterized by Humanity’s forward march towards its collective emancipation. Since communism is a synthesis of politics, history, and ideology — it should better be understood as an operation than as a concept.

Let us now touch upon the features of some of Badiou’s concepts which are important to his Idea of Communism; (1) History: As the totality of human becoming, History has no world that can locate it in an actual existence. It exists only symbolically. In effect it cannot appear, for in order to appear, belonging to a world is necessary. (2) “Communist Party” or a “Communist State”: The concept of party or state ill-goes with the term “Communist”. The practice of combining these two opposite terms is the result of latent subordination of truths to their historical meaning. But to Badiou, there is no real of History and it is, therefore, true, transcendentally true, that it cannot exist. What does exist is the communist idea, an operation tied to intellectual subjectivation and that integrates the real symbolic and the ideological at the level of the individual. (3) Event: A rupture in the normal order of bodies and languages as it exists in a particular situation. An event is not the realization of a possibility; it is the creation of new possibilities, located not merely at the level of objective possibilities, but at the level of possibility of possibilities. (4) State: The system of constraints that limits the possibility of possibilities. The state is always the finitude of possibility and an event is its infinitization. The role of idea vis-à-vis the state is to support the individual’s incorporation into the discipline of the truth procedure to authorize the individual, in his or her own eyes to go beyond the Statist constraints of mere survival by becoming a part of the body-of-truth.

From all the preceding propositions Badiou lastly comes to the following conclusion: The creation of new political truths will always shift the dividing line between the statist, hence historical, facts and eternal consequences of an event. The function of the word “communism” can no longer be that of an adjective as in “Communist Party” or “Communist State”. The party-form like that of the socialist state is no longer suitable for providing real support for the Idea. It is very well-demonstrated by the negative experiences of the gpcr and “May ‘68” in France. That is why post-gpcr, new political forms all of which are of the order of politics without a party, is being tried out. In the foot-note Badiou mentions some “fascinating experiments” over the past three decades – the solidarity movement in Poland, first sequence of Iranian Revolution, Organisation Politique in France, and the Zapatista movement in Mexico etc. Badiou is very optimistic about the future of Humanity. There are, says he, many signs suggesting that the reactionary period is coming to an end. By combining intellectual constructs which are always global, with creative experiments with truths, which are local, but universally transmittable, we can give new life to the Communist hypothesis in individual consciousness.

Our Opinion about Badiou’s Views

We are grateful to Badiou for his vigorous optimism for the future of humanity, a genuine passion for the great revolutionary events the world has witnessed since Spartacus, his unquestionable hatred for capitalism-imperialism, his absolute disillusionment with parliamentary politics and above all, the way he analyses failure as a lesson for the construction of truth. Most striking is his fervour for the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, much maligned not only by the band-wagon of motley crowd of “intellectuals” both in the west and eastern parts of the world, but also by the revisionists of all hues. He together with a very few friends of his stands apart with the deep conviction of triumph of “Communism”, in a world teeming with fortune-hunters. Reading of his books leaves a salutary effect on mind, for it helps extricate ourselves from the mundane and reach a sphere of profound thinking and deep intellectual exercise. As we have seen earlier in this article, Badiou in his studies of revolutions very often explores and locates paradoxes. Interestingly, to us Badiou himself is a grand paradox. We will examine how such an ardent champion of the aforementioned revolutions scuttles the paradigm of revolution and how his undiluted adoration for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao co-exists with his ruthless undermining of their teachings.

The most recurrent theme of Badiou in his evaluation of the experience of the Communist movements is its falling victim to Party-State paradigm, right from the October revolution to thegpcr. In his famous letter to his friend Slavoj Žižeck he very meticulously builds up his logic to prove his points. Marx formulated the political problem raised by the Paris Commune, ie, how can the seizure of power be extended in spatial and temporal terms. Marx’s answer was – we cannot be content with seizing power but must destroy the bourgeois state-machine. Lenin gave the answer to the problem in the form of a centralized party with iron discipline. Lenin’s model, according to Badiou, though apparently political, is essentially a military machine – that could destroy as Marx wanted. It could as well replace the bourgeois state with a new kind of state exercising “popular despotism”.

According to Badiou, “the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat merges with the insurrectional party, and which, to a large extent, militarizes the whole society”. The Stalinist terror was, to Badiou, a post-insurrectional way of using a tool designed to ensure the victory of the insurrection. Mao had a long stride forward. The gpcr was described by him as the final realization of principles of the Paris Commune, ie, to embark upon a political process – leading to communism, therefore, to the dictatorship of the proletariat – that rediscovers its sources and its actors in popular mass uprising. Those actors plunged China into a chaos, but launched varied ideas, organizational forms and theoretical schemas whose power is astonishing. But the movement could not dialectically interact at the national level with forms of organisations that could have modified the Party-State. Even the most advanced effort in this direction, that is Shanghai Commune could not be a national paradigm and finally collapsed. The problem how to take political process of communism beyond state action and into the life of the people could not be solved and this failure means we must abandon once for all the militarized paradigm of the Party and move towards a “politics without party”. (emphasis ours) Badiou concludes with these words: “The Cultural Revolution is the Commune of the age of Communist parties and socialist states: a terrible failure that teaches us some essential lessons” (Emphasis in the original).

The most essential lesson, if not the only, is that the modern day communists have to disentangle themselves from the party-state frame of politics. Our question is: is Badiou ever forthright in articulating what next? When Badiou thoroughly scans and analyses the past political events, he displays a sort of clarity. When he diagnoses the past maladies of applied socialism (whether one agrees with him or not) he is equally candid, but as regards the visualization of the post-capitalist society and concrete steps to be taken by Humanity to reach it, he is all obfuscation. Here, in spite of his brilliant analytical power, Badiou fails and shows that he is far from putting up a veritable challenge to Marxism in the classical sense of the term.

According to Badiou, all the great revolutions of the 20th century were doomed to failure because all of them were “imprisoned” in the framework of Party-State. To him the theory and practice of seizure of the bourgeois state-power (all state-powers for that matter) through insurrection and building a new one and all these under the leadership of a vanguard communist party is the root cause of those failures. For Badiou, state in any form (including the “socialist”) is intrinsically oppressive and the party which also is innately authoritarian, merging with state, militarizes the whole society. True the socialist states and communist parties of the last century, including those that successfully led revolutions were affected with great limitation, severe shortcomings, grave deviations, manifested both in theory and practice. All this clearly indicates that unbiased and free investigations have to be undertaken to find out the faults. Taking lesson from the past mistakes, the entire course of the communist movement has to be re-evaluated and political positions have to be re-formulated including those that had been till date unquestionably accepted as being, as it were, axioms. But there are some fundamental propositions in Marxist theory. To abandon those will be tantamount to abandoning Marxism itself. The questions of dictatorship of the proletariat and that of a vanguard communist party are two of those fundamentals. Not that even those cannot be questioned. Marxism never forbids anybody to question anything under the sun. But such questions are to be logical and cogent, bolstered up by the historical analysis and powerful arguments to counter the points to the contrary. Strangely enough, Badiou does not care about addressing the questions in this manner. He obviates them with a blissful alacrity and builds up his castle, if not in the air, but obviously to the exclusion of surrounding counter-points that are extremely necessary for him to address, to give credence to his arguments. This lapse on his part becomes acute when he deals with the question of dictatorship of the proletariat.

Remember Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme” where he speaks of a political transit period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (emphasis in the original). Add to this Marx’s most famous observation in his letter to Wydemeyer: “This dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”(emphasis in the original). How can we do away with such a “socialist state” which is a transit point to a classless society?. So far as the Marxist politics is concerned, no study is more meticulous, more thoroughgoing and more convincing as its investigation and analysis of the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. Development of the idea of dictatorship by Marx, bit by bit, to its culmination in the Paris Commune is one of the most fascinating studies offered by Marxism to the posterity. Before the experience of the revolution of 1848-51, Marx had only the general exposition of the idea of the state disappearing after the abolition of classes. In “The Poverty of Philosophy” written in 1847 he could only say “The working class, in the course of its development will substitute for the old bourgeois society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism…” After a few months later, just on the eve of the revolution, in “The Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels further developed the idea “… the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class…” The basic idea expressed in the Communist Manifesto, ie, “the proletariat organized as the ruling class” is essentially the concept of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” – the most important idea of the Marxian concept of the state. But still, it was not clear how the replacement of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is to take place. Great years of revolution of 1848-51 provided Marx with the answer: “all revolutions of the past perfected the state-machine, but it must be broken up and smashed”. But to find an answer to the question what was to take place of the state machine that was smashed, Marx had to wait till 1871. The Paris Commune, with its short-lived experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat, ending in a blood-bath, was the answer. It was the replacement of the smashed state-machine only by fuller democracy: abolition of the standing army; all officials to be elected and subject to recall, a transformation from the state that was a special force for the suppression into something which is according to Lenin, “no longer, properly speaking, the state”, a state in a process of dying out, of the abolition of all classes.

Marx and Engels, enriched with the great historical experience of successive revolutions of Europe, especially of France, exerted all their energy and genius on developing the concept of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, abolition of classes and creation of a classless society. All their analyses are most scientific, concrete and utterly penetrating. But unfortunately, Badiou dismisses all this, completely disillusioned and embittered with the fall of socialism. There is no denying that “the Marxist-Leninist concept of dictatorship of proletariat” has been much abused in the international communist movement. At times it took demonic proportions and at times there were great experimentations with it, opening up brilliant possibilities that verged on an ideal experimentation. This shows that the problem is not intrinsic to socialism with Party-State paradigm; it can be tried out, developed and improved. Even Badiou’s critical analyses may be of immense help to get at the bottom of the problem. But we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. As for the shattering of the bourgeois state, it can firmly be said that without the conquest of the old state power – that is without a real revolution that smashes the economic, political and military power of the exploiting class, there can be no revolutionary transformation of society. Equally disturbing is Badiou’s stout refusal to admit to the decisive role of the vanguard party in bringing about and leading a revolution. Many wrong decisions made by the communist parties during the first wave of the communist revolutions in the 20th century and the resultant miseries caused by them do not necessarily mean that making such decisions was inevitable or intrinsic to the very nature of the party. Badiou believes that a party must needs to be authoritarian and that it is bound to stand opposed to the mass initiative. He fails to grasp the truth that given a correct line, a party may unleash tremendous mass initiative, too. But this is not all. Badiou is absolutely reluctant to admit that it is only the Party, and none other than the Party that can raise the consciousness of the people, can guide their consciousness towards a correct orientation and lead it to the ultimate destination of Communism. He fails to appreciate the dialectical relation between the party and the masses, and centralism and democracy in a party. In a socialist society, the people may initially have to exercise power through their representatives. But given a correct line of the party, they will increasingly gain the capability to assume greater responsibility for the direction of society and for administering the state. Why this process of expanding democracy was hindered in the Soviet Union and China has been discussed by us in our previous issues of this magazine. We think that the world-historic task that has fallen on the communists of our time is to discover the errors committed by our predecessors and evolve the means to rectify them. But unfortunately for us, Badiou is loath to enter into this complex area. He gets rid of all these tortuous problems at the one stroke – “Marxism, the workers’ movements, mass democracy, Leninism, the proletarian party, the socialist state – all these remarkable inventions of the 20th century – are no longer of practical use.” (“Meaning of Sarkozy”– quoted by R. Lotta in “Alain Badiou’s Politics of Emancipation”).

“The Event” constitutes the most cardinal aspect of Badiou’s politics of emancipation. The Paris Commune is the most favourite illustration of his concept of the event. Badiou sums up his understanding of the event in the following words: “I believe this other world resides for us in the Commune, yet altogether elsewhere than in its subsequent existence, which I have called its firstexistence, that is, in the party-state and its social worker referent. Instead, it exists in the observation that a political rupture is always a combination of a subjective capacity and an organization – totally independent of state – of the consequence of that capacity.” (The Communist Hypothesis) Elsewhere, in “Being and Event”, he describes event as “Pure chance, which cannot be inferred from situation.” The event is a rupture of maximal social intensity that is wholly unexpected. “This was the case on 18th March 1871, when a collection of unknown workers were thrust to the centre of the political scene, workers unknown even to the specialists of the revolution…” (The Communist Hypothesis). Two of the special features of event as envisioned by Badiou deserve our particular attention. One is that of theory of “Pure Chance” and the other is his understanding that the subjective factor including the organization follows the event, ie, the role of consciousness (new “subject” and new “truth”) trail in the wake of the event. As to the theory of “Pure Chance”, we can say that Badiou, in his passion for focusing on the suddenness, abruptness and jerkiness, almost completely obliterates one aspect of the dynamics of objective situation, ie, causality. The communist world and the communist movement has long since been a victim of the linear projection of the future events basing its inference on only the set of contradictions obtaining at a given period of time. It failed to take the possibility of leaps and ruptures in the process of development. As if in an urge to protest against this long-standing deterministic trend in the communist movement, Badiou takes to the opposite pole. But society cannot be the result of only unfolding of cause and effect, nor one of randomness alone. Lenin has very brilliantly summed up the dynamics of history on the eve of the February revolution – “There are no miracles in nature or history, but every abrupt turn in history, and this applies to every revolution, presents such a wealth of content, unfolds such unexpected and specific combination of forms of struggle and alignment of forces of the contestants, that to the lay mind there is much that must appear miraculous.” (Letters from Afar) Secondly, Badiou’s new “truth” and a new “subject” are constituted after the event, giving rise to a “truth-procedure”. It is heartening to note that in this formulation, Badiou stands in contrast to “deterministic” trends that were so prevalent in the international communist movement, particularly in the domain of the Third International. Badiou’s formulation of “event-subject-truth” seems to revive the role of consciousness in its pristine glory. But in his entire discourse he hardly touches upon the role of consciousness, ie, of the subjective factor leading up to the event. The votary of event-subject-truth, in his impulse to categorize event as pure chance, attributes little or no role of the Subject prior to the event. But there is a rich history of Paris Commune before 18thMarch, which we must recapitulate to properly appreciate this great revolutionary endeavour by the Communards.

As early as 9th August, 1870, the Paris branch of the International organized a big rally and agitation. It was the day of inauguration of Corps Legislatif. The demand for the establishment of the Republic and arming the people was raised in that rally, led by the representatives of the International. The workers’ uprising on 1st September 1870, was led by the Blanquists and small petty-bourgeois groups. On 4th September, the slogan of Red Republic was raised by the leadership of the Paris branch of the International, Varlin, Dupont, Aubry together with the Blanquists and Proudhonists. On the 5th, the members of the Paris branch of the International together with the members of Chambers Syndicals decided to launch Vigilance Committees in all the 20 districts of Paris. Constant, the member of the General Council of the International was elected the permanent secretary of the Central Committee that was elected by the electorate of those twenty districts. On 15th September, posters were stuck up demanding the abolition of the police and arming of the people. There was another uprising on 31st October that was easily suppressed. In January 1871, a leading committee of 22 members was formed with the objective of seizure of power – most of whom were Blanquists, eg, Corbon, Sepia, Tridon, Villiant, Leverday etc. Another attempt at uprising was made on 22nd January. The Federal Council of the International supported it. On 12th February Thiers came to power and sent his General with the mission of retrieving the cannons still at the disposal of the National Guard. There was conscious effort on the part of the Blanquists, Proudhonists and Neo-Jacobinists to enlist more and more proletarians into the National Guard that was to play the decisive role in the 18th March uprising.

This is all history and although there was no consolidated centralized leadership of the uprising of 18th March, it is obvious at the same time that it was not at all a spontaneous outburst unexpected, unexplainable. This feature Badiou can ill-afford to forget.

May ’68 also, though in a lesser scale, offers to Badiou an “impossible upheaval”. To an extent it was a politics at a distance from the party-state framework, having an evental dimension. None of the calculations internal to the situation can account for its irruption. Even the actors are stupefied wondering if they are the actors or the spectators. Badiou asserts that this upheaval inspired them to break away from the old conceptions they were labouring under – the dominant idea that there is such a thing as a historical agent offering a possibility of emancipation – (proletariat) and an “objective” agent inscribed in social reality that had to be transformed into a subjective power, ie, a social entity had to become a subjective actor. For that to happen it had to be represented by a “party”. Badiou believes that this classical concept began receiving jolts after jolts under the impact of May ’68. A political practice appeared that refused to keep everyone in their place. Instead it organized lightning displacement, both material and mental. Doing away with places now means “Communism” – an egalitarian society that brings down walls and barriers.

However, scintillating the evental phenomenon might sound, different classes and social forces, too, did not sit idle. The revisionist PCF and subservient union CGT played a crucial role in bringing the movement to a halt. De Gaulle and Pompidou rallied to bring it to a close, by offering parliamentary election. Public order was restored. The question now arises: how could this destiny of the May ’68 be averted? It has been proven that the evental “flash” of Badiou could not desist the leadership from submitting to what Badiou would have called the “party-state” snare. Is it better to bask in the glory of evental consequences than a more effective, if not successful, endeavour to demolish the bourgeois bulwark of the French society? Had it not been so short –lived, would we not be enriched with a more vibrating and enduring experience? Would not “possibility of possibilities” of May ’68 have been qualitatively greater, had there been a vanguard party to correctly assess the situation and carry the revolution forward?

In May ’68 France was in a vortex. The masses were restless and in a rebellious mood. The ruling class also was in a confused state. The permanence and stability of the system was in question – a fine moment to strike hard. Badiou, concentrating on his idea of “pure chance” and iridescence of the event, fails to realize what a brilliant chance to shake the bourgeois edifice to its foundation was missed. As a champion of “pure chance” he is reluctant to diagnose the prime maladies of the movement – sheer spontaneity, and petty-bourgeois leadership. The workers participated in large numbers in the movement, but there was no conscious working class leadership. The working class is the only class that can carry on persistent struggle against spontaneity and the vanguard of the working class alone can, under a given condition, carry a movement through to the end. If we keep our eyes fixed on the glorious aspect of May ’68 alone, as Badiou does, we shall fail to take lessons from its “failure” – lessons that are so important to our posterity for carrying forward the flag of revolution.

We get very close to Badiou and can elicit very positive lessons from his analysis when we come to dealing with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. But once again we are confronted with a paradox. We see eye to eye with Badiou when we identify the party as playing a negative role in the forward march of the revolution. But our objectives are absolutely opposed to each other. This paradox can be illustrated with a great intensity in case of the analysis of the Shanghai Commune and its aftermath when the seizure of power was proliferating throughout the country. While Badiou reacts against the intervention of the party to disband the Shanghai Commune as well as many proletarian power-centres that emerged throughout China following it as tightening the vise-grip of party-state paradigm, we object to this measure as it would hamper the development of the state – the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We are opposed to the absolute negation of the party as Badiou advocates, but at the same time, we, too, are opposed to constant interference of the party in each and every matter of administration and workers’ independent experimentations with the various forms of struggles and organisations. We should never forget that the Soviets in Russia and the Communes in China were the product of workers’ own creativity and initiative, which the Communist Parties of those countries wasted no time to fully appreciate and recognize as great revolutionary formations to carry their socialist movements forward. We sharply differ with Badiou in so far as the decisive role of the Communist Party as the sole guide of the working class is concerned. It is the Communist Party and the Communist Party alone that can play the leading role in developing the consciousness of the working class in its historic mission of building up a classless society, in unleashing the course of development of its independent initiative and in determining the inter-relation of the present and the future of class-conflicts. Unless the relation of the party with the class builds up in a proper manner right from the inception of the party, and unless the actual task of the party vis-à-vis the class is properly determined from the beginning, some serious problems of fundamental nature will get stuck to the party’s very structure which will be difficult to overcome after the seizure of state-power, particularly because a post-revolutionary society is generally tormented by internal complexities and threats from foreign hostile powers right from its birth. The authoritarian character of the party that kept developing in the international Communist movement right from the days of the Third International was dangerously instrumental in crippling the independent assertion of the working class in erstwhile socialist societies. The only guarantee of a developing dictatorship of the proletariat is the constant revolutionizing of the production relations at the base of the society, with the aim of constant increase of the producers’ control over production, and distribution and administration of the state power. This freedom of the proletariat from the stranglehold of the party in each and every matter gives birth to various experimentations carried on by the workers in respect of various forms of struggles and organisations. Shanghai Commune without any instruction, from above embarked upon a course of creating power-centres by the producers themselves. It was a brilliant effort at endowing the working class with the state-power. If these processes were not stopped by the party, it could have gone a long way to resolving the long standing problem of ‘alienation’ that has been plaguing the world communist movement long since. Even a great revolutionary like Mao could not get rid of the heritage of vesting an ubiquitous power on the party at the cost of the independent development of the working class. Badiou has discarded the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. But so far as the throttling role of the party vis-à-vis the working class is concerned, Badiou’s views in a way touch the core of the problem.

After all Badiou is a wonder. Such a complex mix of opposing ideas is rarely to be found in the great intellectuals. Badiou is professedly a communist. He is highly respectful of the international communist leaders, particularly of Marx and Mao. But at the same time, strictly from the Marxist point of view, he frequently falls victim to idealism. He is for the pure idea of equality. “As a pure of idea of equality, the Communist Hypothesis has no doubt existed since the beginning of the state. As soon as mass action opposes the state coercion in the name of egalitarian justice, rudiments or fragments of the hypothesis start to appear.” (Communist Hypothesis) When the pure idea of “equality” is so brilliantly exposed by Marx in his famous work “The Critique of the Gotha Programme”, one cannot but wonder how Badiou could uphold this very idea as a key to his politics of emancipation. In his “Being and Event” he clarifies his stand on equality basing his idea on the constructs of Rousseau: “Rousseau’s acuity extends to his perception that the norm of the general will is equality. This is a fundamental point….The most remarkable thing about the social contractis that it establishes an intimate connection between politics and equality by an articulated recourse to an eventual foundation and a procedure of the discernible.” (Quoted by R Lotta in Alain Badiou’s “Politics of Emancipation”) Everybody schooled in Marxist political economy knows very well that “equality” as a concept has a class character, linked with bourgeois epoch. If anyone considers it as an end in itself, he/she will get bogged into the morass of an exploitative politics, for equality is typically a bourgeois concept premised on commodity production, governed by the exchange of equivalents. “This equal right” says Marx, “is an unequal right for unequal labour”. Rousseau was circumscribed by his times of the rise and early development of capitalism – confined naturally to the frame-work of capitalist relations. His equality is formal equality before the law in bourgeois democratic society, which we are so accustomed to. It is strange that Badiou, a great scholar of Marxism, could have invoked Rousseau’s “equality” as “the philosophical embrace of emancipatory politics”.

Badiou offers a political project of “Pure Equality” to be applied in a society divided by classes and co-existing with bourgeois state-power. He is for a “generic humanity”, transcending classes. This being his general approach to emancipatory politics, he could unhesitatingly refer to Solidarity Movement, Iranian Revolution, Hezbollah and Zapatista movement as examples of new forms of politics of emancipation. Although these movements are of immensely different character, none of them is an emancipatory struggle. Solidarity was a West-influenced reformist movement. Iranian Revolution against Shah capitulated to U.S. imperialism, Hezbollah was essentially feudal in its outlook and supported by the reactionary regimes of Iran and Syria. Zapatista, on the other hand, belonged to a different category, initially holding out hope of a radical change, it also struck a deal with the state.

Badiou’s outlook ultimately appears to be rather puzzling and fraught with contradictions. At times he deviates into idealistic thinking while some times he appears a materialist, so far as he tries to base his philosophy on ontology and mathematics. He declares with a great conviction: “…the world’s function can no longer be that of an adjective, as in ‘Communist Party or Communist regimes’. The party-form, like that of the socialist state, is no longer suitable for providing real support for the Idea”. (Communist Hypothesis) He goes to the extent of proclaiming that “the age of revolution is over.” At a time when imperialist globalization has bared its fangs to devour the toiling people of the world to the finish, and the need for making revolutions throughout the world is the highest, Badiou recoils from embarking upon a revolutionary course. Although Badiou expresses sincere longing for a different collective organization…one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour” (The Communist Hypothesis), he fails to show us the path and the concrete steps to be taken to realize a world free from all types of exploitation and oppression. A veritable optimist that Badiou is, he is against discarding the hypothesis and for taking lessons from the errors that have been committed during the attempts to prove it. But when confronting the failure of socialism as it has been practised in the 20th century, he readily discards the fundamentals of Marxism while proclaiming himself a Marxist. He hardly helps us to take lessons from the past mistakes that have been committed in practising socialism. He unburdens himself from all the complexities encountered during the struggles for socialism, dismisses all the experience that applied socialism had acquired as an exercise in Party-State paradigm and instead creates his own construct divorced from reality. In the end, despite his brilliant flashes of logic and philosophy, he remains “an ineffectual angel”. nnn




COPYRIGHT © marxist-intellection.org. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *