Badiou On Negri and the Uniqueness of the Event

 

This essay by Alain Badiou is one of the places where he speak directly on political issues. We post this to encourage exploration and debate. Kasama includes earlier discussion of Badiou's work.

Embedded within this essay are Badiou's comments on Negri's book empire -- on questions of whether revolutionary change emerges from the evolution of longstanding structural conflicts or the eruption of conjunctural events.

In the process, Badiou suggests that revolutionaries must reconceive the question of how social forces serve as vehicles for change -- touching on both the Marxist view of the proletariat and the Leninist view of the party.

Alain Badiou gave this interview when he attended the "Is a History of the Cultural Revolution Possible?" conference at University of Washington, in February, 2006.

Q: I'd like to ask you about your political and intellectual trajectory from the mid 60s until today. How have your views about revolutionary politics, Marxism, and Maoism changed since then?

Badiou: During the first years of my political activity, there were two fundamental events. The first was the fight against the colonial war in Algeria at the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s. I learned during this fight that political conviction is not a question of numbers, of majority. Because at the beginning of the Algerian war, we were really very few against the war. It was a lesson for me; you have to do something when you think it's a necessity, when it's right, without caring about the numbers.

The second event was May 68. During May 68, I learned that we have to organize direct relations between intellectuals and workers. We cannot do that only by the mediation of parties, associations, and so on. We have to directly experience the relation with the political. My interest in Maoism and the Cultural Revolution during the end of 60s and the beginning of the 70s, was this: a political conviction that organizes something like direct relations between intellectuals and workers.

I'll recapitulate, if you like. There were two great lessons: It's my conviction today that political action has to be a process which is a process of principles, convictions, and not of a majority. So there is a practical dimension. And secondly, there is the necessity of direct relations between intellectuals and workers.

That was the beginning, the subjective beginning. In the political field, the correlation with ideologies --Marxism, Cultural Revolution, Maoism and so on -- is subordinate to the subjective conviction that you have to do politics directly, to organize, to be with others, to find a way for principles to exist practically.

Q: What is your idea of fidelity?

Badiou: That's already contained in the first answer. For me, fidelity is fidelity to great events which are constitutive of my political subjectivity. And perhaps there is also something much older, because during the war my father was in the Resistance against the Nazis. Naturally, during the war, he did not say anything about it to me; it was a matter of life and death. But just after the war, I learned that he had been a resistant, that he was really in that experience of resistance against the Nazis. So my fidelity is also a fidelity to my father. At the beginning of that war, very few were in the resistance; after two or three years, there were more. It is the same lesson, if you like, this lesson from my father.

Generally speaking, my fidelity is to two great events: the engagement against the colonial war, and to May 68 and its consequences. Not only the event of May 68 as such, but also its consequences. Fidelity is a practical matter; you have to organize something, to do something. This is the reality of fidelity.

Q: You've said that there has been a rupture, that the entire question of politics is currently in great obscurity. Also, you have written that we must think a politics without party. After the saturation of the class-party experiment, what next?

Badiou: I think a fidelity does not really finish, but sometimes it is saturated; that is my term for it. There is a saturation; you cannot find anything new in the field of your first fidelity. Many people, when this is the case, just say, "It's finished." And really, a political sequence has a beginning and an end, too, an end in the form of saturation. Saturation is not a brutal rupture, but it becomes progressively more difficult to find something new in the field of the fidelity.

Since the mid-80s, more and more, there has been something like a saturation of revolutionary politics in its conventional framework: class struggle, party, dictatorship of the proletariat, and so on. So we have to find something like a fidelity to the fidelity. Not a simple fidelity.

For my generation, it's a choice between saying, on the one hand, "Nothing is possible today in the political field; the reactionary tendency is too strong." That's the position of many people in France today; it's the negative interpretation of saturation.

When the fidelity is saturated, you have a choice. The first possibility is to say it's finished. The second possibility is this: With the help of certain events-- like the events in South America today-- you find what I name a fidelity to the fidelity. Fidelity to the fidelity is not a continuation, strictly speaking, and not a pure rupture, either. We have to find something new. When I was saying yesterday that "from outside, you can see something you don't see from inside," that's merely a rule by which to find something new.

Q: If I can press you further about the something new: After the saturation of party politics, what now?

Badiou: If the answer to that were clear, the discussion would be finished, too. You have to find that out; it's not so clear. Today we have an experimental sequence from the point of view of political practice. We have to accept the multiplicity of experiences. We lack a unified field -- not only in something like the Third International, but also in concepts there is no unified field. So you have to accept something like local experiments; we have to do collective work about all that. We have to find -- with help of philosophical concepts, economic concepts, historical concepts -- the new synthesis.

I think our situation is much more similar to that of the 19th century than to that of the 20th. Nearer Marx than Lenin, if you like, metaphorically speaking. Lenin was really the thinker of the new concept of revolutionary politics, with the idea that we could be victorious, that the revolution was a possibility. That's not exactly the situation today; the idea of revolution is obscure in itself today. But we can do as Marx did--it's a metaphor, an image. You have to think the multiplicity of popular experiences, philosophical directions, new studies, and so on. You must do these things as Marx himself did.

The situation today is also similar to 19th century in the brutality of capitalism today. It's not absolutely new; capitalism was of a terrible brutality in the 19th century in England, with the laws against the poor and so on. Today, there's something violent and cynical in capitalism, very much like the capitalism of the 19th century. In the 20th century, capitalism was limited by revolutionary action.

Today, the capitalists have no fear of anything. They are in the stage of primitive accumulation, and there is a real brutality to the situation. That's why I think the work today is to find a new synthesis, a new form of organization, like our predecessors of the 19th century. Our grandfathers, if you will, rather than our fathers in the political field.

Q: I'd like to ask about the current global situation and of the relationship of the US to that situation. Is the US simply a privileged node in a network of global sovereignty (as Hardt and Negri argue) or is the US playing the role of a traditional imperialist power in Lenin's sense?

Badiou: I don't completely agree with Negri. It's a very complex theoretical discussion, but, in a few words, I think Negri's perception is too systemic. Empire is a system, finally. Negri's conviction is always that within the system there are also resources for something new on the side of revolutionary politics, or politics of emancipation. There is always in Negri the conviction that the strength of capitalism is also the creativity of the multitude. Two faces of the same phenomenon: the oppressive face and, on the other side, the emancipatory, in something like a unity. Not exactly a dialectical unity in the Hegelian sense, but still a unity. So there is no necessity of an event in Negri, because there's something structural in the movement of emancipation.

I don't see the situation that way; it's not my conviction. It's not possible to discuss this precisely here and now, because it's too technical. But one consequence for Negri is that the great question in the political field is the question of the movement. Movements are certainly of great importance. But the real question today is not the relation between the movement and the state. The real question is, what is the new form of organization after the party? More generally, what is a new political discipline?

People who have nothing--no power, no money, no media--have only their discipline as a possibility of strength. Marxism and Leninism defined a first form of popular discipline, which was trade unions and party. There were many differences, but finally that was the form of popular discipline, and the possibility of real action. And today we cannot hope that this form will continue. The real situation is that we have no discipline in the popular camp, and so we have a great weakness. In fact the best situations today are ones where the state is not really in the hands of the reactionaries, for example, the situation of Chavez in Venezuela. But that's not a complete change of the situation; it's a chance, a local chance, nothing more. It's something, but it's not the solution. The solution of the problem in the long term will be the invention of a new form of immanent discipline in the popular camp. That will be the end of the long weakness of the popular camp after the success-- but also the failure-- of the form of the party.

Q: Philosophy has a long history of alternately including and then excluding mathematics. You, almost alone among your contemporaries, include it. You have also stated that your aim is a new articulation of politics and mathematics. Apart from any biographical, contingent factors that might explain your own relationship to mathematics, what's mathematics got to do with politics today? Why do you see a hope today for, as you've said, "a new articulation of politics and mathematics"?

Badiou: The political question of the new discipline is also, philosophically, the question of a new logic. The question of a new logic is always also the question of the relationship between philosophy and mathematics. Because mathematics is the paradigm of deduction, of formal rationality; not of empirical rationality, not of concrete rationality, but the paradigm of formal rationality. During the phase of party politics, the logical paradigm was the Hegelian dialectic; it was the theory of contradiction. During the entire development of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism, the theory of contradiction was the heart of the logical framework. In my conviction, that is also finished. For the same reason as for the party, dialectical logic in the Hegelian sense is saturated today. We can no longer simply use the paradigm of contradiction. Naturally, there are contradictions; it's not a question of fact. But for the definition of a new discipline, we cannot directly use the logic of contradiction; we have to find another paradigm.

Mathematics is not the paradigm itself for me, but it's the possibility of finding a new logical paradigm in the political field, and finally in all fields of new human experiences.

(As you may know, Marx himself was very interested in mathematics. There are long manuscripts by Marx about the differential calculus and so on; it was something he studied for himself.)

In the search for the new logical paradigm, we have something to learn from mathematics. So my use of mathematics is not only a family obligation or a Platonist imitation; it's a real necessity.

Q: In a recent issue of the journal Positions, in an essay on your post-Maoism, Bruno Bosteels quotes you as having written, "Maoism, in the end, has been the proof for me that in the actual space of effective politics, and not just in political philosophy, a close knot could be tied between the most uncompromising formalism and the most radical subjectivism." But in your own philosophy, this knot seems to be looser. It is the uncompromising formalism that comes through in your philosophy.

Badiou: I think the discussion with Bruno Bosteels is about the distinction between philosophy and politics. Radical subjectivity is a matter of politics; when I speak of Maoism, I speak of politics. Philosophy is not politics, which may not be clear to Bosteels, or to some others. Naturally, philosophical formalism--to use that word-- can help to open some possibilities in the political field. But it is not the political solution; the political solution is never found inside the philosophical framework. So I agree, in the philosophical field, we can find a formalism adequate to radical subjectivity. But we cannot find radical subjectivity itself there, because radical subjectivity is a matter of action, of engagement; it's a matter of politics, finally.

The question of Maoism, of radicality, is a political one. In the philosophical field, we have to find the conceptual framework--the formalism, if you like--which is a disposition of thinking that is adequate to the possibility of a radical subjectivity. So philosophy is more or less in the situation of compatibility with politics, but it is never a substitute for politics. There is no unity between philosophy and politics; instead, there is something like compatibility between philosophical formalism and radical subjectivity. I think that in Bosteels' interpretation there is something like a circulation between politics and philosophy, which is not exactly my vision of the correlation of the two.

A word on the expression "post-Maoism": My interpretation of post-Maoism is that Maoism is the name of the last experience within the framework of classical Leninism. Maoism is not the same as Leninism; it's a creative development, but it's the last form of revolutionary politics, the last attempt in the field of revolutionary politics. After that, the framework itself is saturated. If we have something like post-Maoism, it's because Maoism itself is the saturation of the field. We can interpret the work of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, that's all very interesting, but we cannot forget that it's also the end of something, much more than a beginning. But an end is also something new. It's the beginning of the end, the newness of the end. After that, though, the field is saturated. And so post-Maoism is something very important. We are in something like post-Marxism, post-Leninism.

Q: Some people on the left argue for direct democracy as a response to global neoliberalism, sometimes under the heading of a Spinozist concept of 'multitude' and sometimes under the heading of anarchism. But you seem quite critical of democracy. Can you explain your critique of democracy?

Badiou: The question of democracy has two parts. The first one is the question of the form of the state. That's the classical, contemporary definition. There are governments, and you have to say which ones are democratic, which ones despotic, and so on. That is the common definition, the definition of Bush, and also of the majority today, finally. Democracy in this first sense is a form of the state, with elections and so on.

The second possible definition of democracy is what is really democracy within politics, in action. Hardt and Negri's concept on this point is that democracy is the creativity of the movement. It's a vitalist concept: democracy is the spontaneity and the creative capacity of the movement. Ultimately, Negri's concept remains inside the classical opposition of movement and state.

We have on the one side the definition of democracy as a form of the state, and on the other, democracy as an immanent determination of the collective movement. But I think the classical opposition of state and movement is saturated. We cannot simply oppose state oppression or the oppressive system, with, on the other side, the creativity of the movement. That's an old concept, not a new one. We have to find a new concept of democracy, one that is outside the opposition of formal democracy (which is democracy as form of state) and concrete democracy (which is the democracy of the popular movement). Negri remains inside this classical opposition, while using other names: Empire for state, multitude for movement. But new names are not new things.

Q: I'd like to ask about the politics of identity, which can be summed up in the thesis that for every oppression there must be a resistance by the group which is being oppressed--otherwise the oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc...) will remain unaddressed--this politics of identity is something you are quite critical of.

Badiou: The question of the political process is always a question that goes beyond identities. It's the question of finding something that is, paradoxically, a generic identity, the identity of no-identity, the identity which is beyond all identities. For Marx, "proletariat" was the name of something like that. In the Manuscripts of 1844, Marx writes that the very nature of the proletariat is to be generic. It's not an identity. It's something like an identity which is non-identity; it's humanity as such. That's why for Marx the liberation of the working class is liberation of humanity as such, because the working class is something generic and not a pure identity. Probably that function of the working class is saturated. We cannot substitute a mere collection of identities for the saturated generic identity of the working class. I think we have to find the political determination that integrates the identities, the principles of which are beyond identity. The great difficulty is to do that without something like the working class. Without something that was a connection between particularity and universality, because that's what the working class was. The particularity of the working class was its location in a singular place; the working class was generic. The solution of the problem for Marxism was the human group which is not really an identity, which is beyond identity.

We have to do the same thing, but probably without that sort of solution. We cannot say that today this group is the generic group and that the emancipation of this group is also the emancipation of us all. So we have to find something more formal. Why formal? Because it's less inscribed in the singularity of a group. It's a relation between principles, between the formalism of the new discipline and all identities in the social field. It's a problem now for which we don't yet have the solution.

Marx's solution a sort of miracle: you find the group which is also the generic group. It was an extraordinary invention. The history of this Marxist invention, in its concrete political determination, was not so much the history of the generic group, of the working class as such, but rather history of the representation of this generic group in a political organization: it was the history of the party. The crisis now is the crisis of representation, and also the crisis of the idea of the generic group.

When you see that a sequence of politics of emancipation is finished, you have a choice: you can continue in the same political field, or you can find the fidelity to the fidelity. It's the same thing here: If the idea of the working class as a generic group is saturated, you have the choice of saying that there are only identities, and that the best hope is the revolt of some particular identity. Or you can say that we have to find something much more universal, much more generic. But probably without the representative generic group.

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  • Guest - Linda D.

    Am I the only one who really didn't understand this article/interview? Am trying, really. Kept thinking that maybe it was because up until the first post about/by Badiou, was totally unfamiliar with his theories. Think I mostly got the part about post-Maoism (although then was confused again because he ended by saying: "And so post-Maoism is something very important. We are in something like post-Marxism, post-Leninism.")

    Thought the part about identity politics was interesting--especially in light of the mini-debate in another post, "Sexism, the Left and Me." But when Badiou said, "That’s why for Marx the liberation of the working class is liberation of humanity as such, because the working class is something generic and not a pure identity." I thought--whoa, that smacks of de profundis, but then thought--do I really understand what he's talking about? Is the w.c. really generic and if so why would Marx think they were the revolutionary class because of their relation to the means of production, etc. And why would they be distinguished as a class, within class society if this was just generic. Do I even get the way Badiou uses the term generic? Probably not.

    Is there somebody in and around Kasama who could explain some of Badiou's ideas in a less obtuse way than he explains it himself? Auxilio.

  • Guest - JJM+

    Linda, I will try, to the best of my abilities, to comprehend what Badiou means when he speaks of "post-Marxism, Leninism, Maoism".

    Recall that he says that Maoism

    "...is the name of the last experience within the framework of classical Leninism. Maoism is not the same as Leninism; it’s a creative development, but it’s the last form of revolutionary politics, the last attempt in the field of revolutionary politics. After that, the framework itself is saturated. If we have something like post-Maoism, it’s because Maoism itself is the saturation of the field. We can interpret the work of Mao, the Cultural Revolution, that’s all very interesting, but we cannot forget that it’s also the end of something, much more than a beginning. But an end is also something new. It’s the beginning of the end, the newness of the end. After that, though, the field is saturated. And so post-Maoism is something very important."

    In other words, today we have post-Marxism and Leninism because those fields are saturated. In the field of Maoism, since it is a creative development and the latest development of ML, it cannot be saturated and there cannot be a "post" before it - yet. Mao led that last socialist revolution and seizure of power and within that process established new theoretical developments to Marxism-Leninism.

    I think he says that "post-Maoism" is important because we need a creative development to Maoism as it stands today. It is the end to revolutionary politics but that also means that it is a beginning. That is why I think Badiou has some very important things to contribute in terms of our organization and project in Kasama. That is, the need to break with what exists today and truly "reconcieve."

    His words about the proletariat liberating humanity have been around since Marx's time. The historic purpose of the proletariat is not to liberate itself (whatever that means), but lead humanity ti its final liberation with the goals of the "Four Alls" in mind. Its the only class in history that has the ability to achieve those "Alls." Avakian talks a lot about this in his talks, and I think it is very important to understand.

    But beyond that, I do not know what he means in terms of "generic."

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Thanks JJM...will try and reread the post with what you said in mind.

    As far as "generic" goes...I'm thinking he means "inclusive."

    Think your point about "re-conceive" should be our jumping off place in trying to grasp "some" of this. I'd say "all of this" except I'm finding that impossible. Poco a poco.

    Have been trying to read B.A.'s "new" synthesis--piece by piece and I have to say, I haven't found anything all that new. And with Badiou am having to learn a whole new terminology.

    But I'd like to ask--does Badiou have a real following? Who is he talking to (with)? My take in say comparing B.A.'s "latest" to Badiou is--I think in most cases, B.A. states the obvious -- with the "newer" added twist "There is no one doing anything like the work that Bob Avakian is doing." Of course one has to wade through reams of verbiage (and rhetoric) to try and get to some profound kernel.

    With Badiou -- for me anyway -- it's almost like you have to learn a whole new language. I mean, I know the dictionary definition of say, "saturation" but what exactly is Badiou referring to in a more political or philosophical sense? In a strange kind of way almost feel like I'm reading, comparing and contrasting say Camus (or de Beauvoir) to Sartre.

    Would also like to ask: does Badiou see himself as an internationalist? His examples of May '68 and his father and the French Resistance in WW II made me think about this a little more--even though it's nice to have some concrete examples of a very complex theory.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    "But I’d like to ask–does Badiou have a real following?"

    It depends on what you mean by this. As a philosopher most certainly, my understanding is he, along with Zizek and one other are the most well respected Marxist intellectuals in the world at this time. But if you mean as a leader of a political organization, I'm not so sure.

  • Guest - JJM+

    I was speaking to Zerohour about what Badiou means when he says "generic" in terms of the proletariat.

    Zero said that he means that the proletariat liberates all of humanity because it encompasses all identities, whether it be color, gender, orientation, etc. Its position within society today and in production give it its historical role. That is why there can be no real liberation if its done within one identity group.

    It is true, there is ultimately nothing new to Avakian's synthesis, or, if they seem new, are not attributable to him. Where the RCP is correct is that we do need a break and a new summation (post-Maoism as Badiou says), but the way they do it is not correct.

    Zerohour also commented that Badiou does not consider himself a Maoist (or Marxist) any longer, or that he simply is not one anymore, but Zero said he was not so sure. I wonder what comrades have to say on this.

  • Guest - JS

    Maybe I can help.

    I've studied Badiou some, read a few of his books and articles, and had some conversations with him at different times. He's had tea at my house. None of that makes me an expert, but I hope it makes me a little bit helpful.

    Badiou's thinking is rooted in mathematics, specifically, in Set Theory, and around this he's build up a whole philosophical system. At one time Badiou was a Maoist, the founder of the UCFML in France. Now he is a leader of the post-Maoist "Political Organization" which has long been involved in the struggle of undocumented workers in France, particularly West Africans.

    Here's a link to one of his articles from his Maoist days: http://comradezero.blogspot.com/2008/03/maoism-of-alain-badiou.html

    All of this stuff about "saturation" and "the generic" are technical philosophical terms that are rooted in his system. By generic, he means something like universality. By saturation, he means a process (based on the fidelity to an event) has reached its end, it has no more truth to tell, like a saturated rag has no more room in it to soak up water, and a new process must begin. When he says the Maoist process is saturated, what he means is that the Cultural Revolution demonstrated the limit of that process in terms of the "Party-State". So post-Maoism means taking those lessons forward, which for him means "politics-without-party" and emancipatory or revolutionary poltics without taking State power.

    I personally think its just a justification for the Right-liquidationism that was common in the 1980's that effected the movement in the U.S. (consider the CPML or the LRS) and his own organization, the UCFML.

  • Guest - Anon

    Linda, no you aren't. I understood maybe a bit of it.

  • Guest - JJM+

    "When he says the Maoist process is saturated, what he means is that the Cultural Revolution demonstrated the limit of that process in terms of the “Party-State”. So post-Maoism means taking those lessons forward, which for him means “politics-without-party” and emancipatory or revolutionary poltics without taking State power."

    Oh, so I see that he IS no longer a Marxist (or Maoist).

    I also don't understand how Badiou deduces how because the GPCR went to "the limit" of the Party-State, that we need politics or a movement without a Party or that anything radical can be done without state power.

  • Guest - JS

    I'm having a hard time getting the response to publish.

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Hey JS...hope you can get your response to JJM to publish...because he asked exactly what I wanted to ask, with the exception of "without a Party"--but definitely in terms of State Power. (I'm no longer sure about a "Party" in the sense that we have thought of it historically.)

    JJM said: "I also don’t understand how Badiou deduces how because the GPCR went to “the limit” of the Party-State, that we need politics or a movement without a Party or that anything radical can be done without state power."

    I always thought that the GPCR/China went as far as they could go, but still obviously the revisionists maintained their "sway" (and I guess "swagger"), and that the DOP wasn't completed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that things are saturated. What does his theory mean for today say with Nepal--even though clearly the Nepalis are breaking with old ideas?

  • Guest - rosa harris

    So far I've seen nothing in Badiou that says that change can be made without taking state power but rather that a leap in understanding at this point is necessary - how to actually move forward is itself an open question, however he has contributed new analysis and thinking on the philosophical questions.

    more later

    Rosa

  • Guest - Linda D.

    So Rosa and others...besides Badiou, what do people think of Negri?

  • Guest - JS

    "Oh, so I see that he IS no longer a Marxist (or Maoist)."

    Yeah. You got it. As to how he comes to that conclusion, its all in "The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution" and it is available here:

    http://positions.dukejournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/13/3/481

    Basically he argues the experience of the Shanghai Commune, the 3-in-1 committees and so on are attempts to move past the limit, to move closer to "generic" communism and form political organizations outside of the context of the "Party-State". But because the whole experiment was already situated within that framework it was impossible and Mao pulled the plug on that part of the GPCR, sent the Red Guards to the countryside and all that. That's basically the way Badiou sees it.

    I think his early Maoist stuff is more intersting than this later liquidationist writings. It is also interesting to note the similarity between this view and that put forward by the CPN-Maoist and their multiparty socialism line.

  • Guest - JS

    "Oh, so I see that he IS no longer a Marxist (or Maoist)."

    Yeah. You got it. As to how he comes to that conclusion, its all in "The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution" and it is available here:

    http://positions.dukejournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/13/3/481

  • Guest - JS

    I don't know what I'm saying that makes it so it won't work.

  • Guest - JS

    Basically he argues the experience of the Shanghai Commune, the 3-in-1 committees and so on are attempts to move past the limit, to move closer to "generic" communism and form political organizations outside of the context of the "Party-State". But because the whole experiment was already situated within that framework it was impossible and Mao pulled the plug on that part of the GPCR, sent the Red Guards to the countryside and all that. That's basically the way Badiou sees it. I think his early Maoist stuff is more intersting than this later liquidationist writings.

    It is also interesting to note the similarity between this view and that put forward by the CPN-Maoist and their multiparty socialism line.

  • Guest - JS

    The article is here: <a href="/http://positions.dukejournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/13/3/481" rel="nofollow">The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution</a>

  • Guest - JS

    The article where he talks about all of this is called "The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?" and it is in english in the journal "Positions", Winter 2005; 13: pp. 481-514. For some reason I can't post the link. Actually that issue is a survey of his writings on Maoism, and that text represents his current position.

    Regarding the question of state power, that's been the understanding I've had of his work for some time, and when I asked him about it that's how he explained it to me. Emancipatory politics, to be faithful to the infinity of the event (to use his jargon), cannot seek a new State. This goes back to his ontology, set theory, and what he calls the "multiple-without-oneness" (which corresponds neatly to his "politics-without-party").

  • Guest - Linda D.

    JS said something pretty provocative:

    "Basically he argues the experience of the Shanghai Commune, the 3-in-1 committees and so on are attempts to move past the limit, to move closer to “generic” communism and form political organizations outside of the context of the “Party-State”. But because the whole experiment was already situated within that framework it was impossible and Mao pulled the plug on that part of the GPCR, sent the Red Guards to the countryside and all that. That’s basically the way Badiou sees it. I think his early Maoist stuff is more intersting than this later liquidationist writings.

    It is also interesting to note the similarity between this view and that put forward by the CPN-Maoist and their multiparty socialism line."

    I'd like to know what people think of that. For one thing, I always thought that say the 3-1 combo, was part of "the context" of the new Party-State, at least the State, and not an outside experiment. To put it very simply, a new way of looking at and operating the factories and means of production--and "socialist" production. I don't understand how Badiou sees getting from A-Z. And in my limited knowledge, don't think there is a contradiction bet. say the 3-1 combo, and sending the Red Guards to the countryside. Wasn't aware that Mao pulled the plug on the former.

    (Ironically the other night watched a long documentary on the Cultural Rev. and Mao. Trying to be "objective" with tons of footage--Liu Shao Chi, Lin Biao, the Red Guards, Chiang Ching, etc., but obviously somewhat slanted. My take on the "excesses" was tainted by how the "running dogs" were handled...not the Red Guards going to the countryside.)

    Am also not sure what JS actually means in terms of all this and Nepal??? Perhaps he'd like to elaborate.

    But I also raised something I thought somewhat provocative--"(I’m no longer sure about a “Party” in the sense that we have thought of it historically.)" Am still pondering this but unfortunately am questioning the "Party" because for one thing I don't think historically, or even more recently, that the chasm bet. leadership and led has ever been dealt with satisfactorily, although I think Mao tried to do so in a big way. (As far as I'm concerned, the worship of Bob A. only exacerbates this contradiction, but the RCP is hardly the only communist org. or party to fall into this trap.)

  • Guest - TellNoLies

    This isn't a particularly deep observation, but one I think is worth making. Organizational forms (the commune, the party, the party-state, etc...) are social technologies that interface with the other technological capacities of a society, in particular the technologies of communications, surveillance, and violence. The party model developed by the Bolsheviks, which served as the model for revolutionary organization through most of the 20th century, coincided with a complex of other technological capacities. Over the course of the 20th century it was adapted to deal with certain technological changes, but in its essential features reflected a configuration appropriate to the time and place of its birth. By the last quarter of the century its viability was limited to the most peripheral areas of of the world capitalist system (Central America, Peru, Nepal), while many places where it had once been appropriate ceased to be so as they became more urbanized and industrialized.

    We live in a radically different world than the Bolsheviks did. It is world where most people can now read, where roughly half of humanity now lives in cities, where most people have some experience of living under elected governments, and where the denisity of human connectivity as a result of communications technologies has increased dramatically. It is a world where we are just beginning to re-engineer ourselves biologically with consequences beyond our imaginations. All of this needs to inform the neccesarily new political forms that we must develop. Whether those forms will include something that we will choose to continue to call a party is, to my thinking, very much an open (and perhaps not even so important) question.

  • Guest - John Steele

    Speaking of Badiou's "politics without party," JS says: "I personally think its just a justification for the Right-liquidationism that was common in the 1980’s that effected the movement in the U.S. (consider the CPML or the LRS) and his own organization, the UCFML."

    What would be the line of argument, JS, that leads to this conclusion? You say that "right-liquidationism was common in the 1980s." Why was that?

    In the 1980s Marxism, Maoism, the revolutionary project generally, ran into problems and obstacles, both conceptually, theoretically, and practically. (That's a broad generalization, to be sure, but I think it's generally true.) Why was that? I think we have to look deeply for historical reasons -- by which I mean not only or principally particular events, but the dynamics of class struggle broadly speaking, as that played out in both theory and practice. Simply talking about "right-liquidationism" doesn't solve this problem.

    On the question of Badiou, likewise, I don't think it helps much to presume that he began making a theoretical turn in new directions in the 1980s because he was part of a "right-liquidationist" trend or the like. Wouldn't it be much more fruitful to explore the possibility that Badiou was making a strong attempt to solve real problems which he perceived in both revolutionary theory and in philosophy?

    Just one more thing in this series of objections. JS, you speak of 'his ontology, set theory, and what he calls the “multiple-without-oneness” (which corresponds neatly to his “politics-without-party”).' None of what you say here is strictly speaking accurate, but especially I think it's a mistake to make this sort of direct correlation between the realms of ontology (which is a theory of being or reality at the most basic and abstract level), and politics -- a mistake both generally or philosophically, as well as in terms of Badiou's set-up. It's sort of like trying to make a direct jump from a religious ontology ("God is the final reality," say) to some contemporary political position (Democratic Party politics, say).

    I've written on Badiou before on this site http://mikeely.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/badiou-another-take-on-revolutionary-theory/
    and I think his thinking is very valuable in relation to Kasama's project of "reconceive as we regroup." I'm still exploring his thought, which is very rich. (Just now reading Being and Event, the book (written 20 years ago) in which he lays out his ontology. I find him valuable because I too think that we are living in a time of theoretical crisis -- revolutionary theory and more generally too. For those of us in quest of a revolutionary or emancipatory politics, "your Daddy's Marxism" (or Maoism, or anarchism....) is not adequate to the needs of today.

    One of the things this entails, I believe, is that we need new revolutionary forms -- new forms of struggle, new forms of organizing, new forms of organization. So I agree, Linda, "the Party" as traditionally conceived is at the very least highly questionable.

    In fact I think this question goes very deep. Badiou, in the interview above, says: "But the real question today is not the relation between the movement and the state. The real question is, what is the new form of organization after the party? More generally, what is a new political discipline?....People who have nothing–no power, no money, no media–have only their discipline as a possibility of strength. Marxism and Leninism defined a first form of popular discipline, which was trade unions and party. There were many differences, but finally that was the form of popular discipline, and the possibility of real action. And today we cannot hope that this form will continue. The real situation is that we have no discipline in the popular camp, and so we have a great weakness....The solution of the problem in the long term will be the invention of a new form of immanent discipline in the popular camp."

    I've been thinking about this ever since I first read this interview a year and a half ago. I think it's profound, and true. What do others think?

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Well this is crazy...I thought JS was John Steele, and because John Steele wrote the original article on Badiou, was more or less directing some of my questions to him. Now both JS's are responding...how nice.

    Besides some of the reasons TellNoLies pointed out as need for reconception, as well as John Steele in a more general way, (BTW, frankly was blown away that you agreed about the party (parties as we know them)here's something I'd like to throw into the hopper. Global warming. (And as we speak, Bush is trying to blame the Dems. for not chucking the ban on oil exploration "in and around" the U.S. Think in the short run, Obama is gonna score on this one, especially since he was recently endorsed by Al G.) But with all our machinations around line struggle, breaking with old ideas, etc. in a very bittersweet way, and what I hear a lot is, that a lot of this might be moot considering that our planet is going to be and is being completely devastated. How does this issue unite people around the globe? How do we further expose the workings of the capitalists / imperialists around this? and that it's unfortunately not just the U.S. or European nations contributing to global warming, so how do we expose the governments outside of the most powerful, and their role in all this? I don't know if global warming would be considered a "social technology" but I don't think it is an issue, that we should ignore; nor can we ignore the potential forces that can be and are being amassed around this all to real threat.

  • Personally I believe that what has been ‘party’ or ‘organization’ has to be reconceived as a ‘process’ that proceeds not from historically defined forms or models but rather from the specific conditions in which it finds itself and constantly in relation to the problematic of revolution (which itself needs to be defined).

    By process I mean that it is not viewed as a thing or even necessarily as a whole but rather something that is changing and therefore changed and transformed by the very processes that it undertakes in relation to the emerging events. Therefore, it will be able to adapt by being able to shift and change with the emergence of events.

    Gosh, I didn’t mean for that to come out like a ‘mouthful’ sentence… lol.

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Dear Rosa--

    (For one thing--guess this post has spurred discussion. Good.)

    Personally, I am not coming from a place that has a specific view in mind that says a party should look like this or that. I am really questioning the whole notion at least in terms of a revolutionary or communist party as we have known it so far. But spontaneously my reaction to what you said -- and I of course want to give you the benefit of the doubt because perhaps I didn't quite understand what you said--however, seems like what you are proposing is a party that would tail after events, or come up with "brainstorms" (as Mike has somewhat characterized the RCP and BA), and in trying to avoid the pitfalls that other parties have fallen into, fall into new pitfalls. The way I am looking at this question these days is--a real radical rupture with past parties and communist orgs., but one that still applies the science of ML(M) but is not dogmatic in their application. I don't think it is enough to just analyze the events (which often times are spontaneous), but to also be more flexible about the subjective forces and not so damn sectarian. To really apply mass line, understand the various classes in class society, etc. (This is a monumental task, but one that I think has to be part of the process in making revolution. I hope something emerges that is both contra-posed to both determinist and voluntarist thinking.)

    But these analyses should be based on both the objective situation and subjective forces, and the subjective forces should have some collective experience, be it direct or indirect, under their belts, as well as gaining experience in the process. Otherwise, we all get stuck, smug and static. That is what appeals to me about say the CPN(M). They made an assessment after years of revolutionary armed struggle of their objective situation, as well as their forces. And in what I have only read so far--hey I'm not in Kathmandu--I think while some think the CPN(M) are retrograde, revisionist or reversing correct decisions, I find their flexibility to be a good thing with flexibility based on some real analysis. (We are not talking about the reversal in China--which seems to me had more to do with the bourgeoisie within the CCP itself than anything else.) And the verdict isn't in on Nepal either. Am sure that the line struggle will continue over the CPN(M)'s path and way forward.

    Sorry to sound a little touchy-feely, but I truly believe that for revolutionary-, communists and progressive-minded people we have to adopt some humility when either criticizing parties such as the CPN(M) or in trying to re-conceive our own parties and/or organizations. I like to think that together we can apply historical and dialectical materialism. And the other thing is, to put it simplistically, what I sure don't want to see (although I'm getting so old probably won't see any of this) is a party or organization that ends up being one that is concerned with only perpetuating itself. Among lots of things that Badiou said (and believe me am still struggling to understand what he's talking about) that struck a chord was: "So there is no necessity of an event in Negri, because there’s something structural in the movement of emancipation."

    Badiou and lots of others (not to mention the various struggles internationally) have come a long way since "The Battle of Algiers", but seems to me that Lenin was right--"One Step Forward, Two Steps Back." Also while I am not sure if Badiou is, in the main, correct or not, he has earned my respect...if for no other reason than because I'm not sure of the way forward, nor am I wedded to some sort of dogma. At the same time, I don't think we can simply toss aside our predecessors' historical experience in our efforts to regroup. If I understand his notion of "saturation" correctly, I can't say I completely agree. On the surface seems undialectical to me.

  • "The solution of the problem in the long term will be the invention of a new form of immanent discipline in the popular camp."

    What struck me was his emphasis on discipline. It seems that he feels the need to jettison the party-form, but not the unifying power that parties have always claimed a monopoly of.

    Why do we still revere the party-form? Inertia? Nostalgia? What are its strengths and drawbacks? Can we conceive an alternative that retains the strengths of a party while minimizing its problems?

  • Linda,

    I apologize for the obscurity in my last post. I'm quite new to Badiou actually - just on the 3rd chapter of a book about him. So, I'm coming from a couple different places with this.

    I do not think it is correct to follow after events (tailing) in the terms of political events - such as Jena or this or that situation. In fact I think that we need to be looking for truth and struggling to understand new concepts as they emerge. I think that Badiou brings a lot to this - especially in terms of understanding how truth emerges. He also talks about 'forcing' but I have not really gotten to that concept yet.

    I do think that the old conception of the party is rigid and based on structure - as it has been practiced since Lenin perhaps with the exception of the party in Nepal. The party, in the past has been viewed too much as a thing thats structure is set rather than as a process (matter in motion) - individual humans are also processes that are constantly changing and changing in relation to the situations that they find themselves in. This process has to be constantly in relation to objective reality or it does become rigid and divorced from reality - thus dogmatic. Because of this tendency toward rigidity arising out of the structure of the Leninist party I think that I agree with Badiou that this is saturated.


    We do have to be focused in the present - nothing is as radical as reality itself- while learning from the past and keeping set on our goals as revolutionaries.

  • Guest - John Steele

    Here are a couple of paragraphs from a fairly recent piece by Badiou, "The Communist Hypothesis" (New Left Review 49, January-February 2008) http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2705

    He gives a sketch here of his view of the trajectory of the party-form:

    "The second sequence of the communist hypothesis runs from 1917 to 1976: from the Bolshevik Revolution to the end of the Cultural Revolution and the militant upsurge throughout the world during the years 1966–75. It was dominated by the question: how to win? How to hold out—unlike the Paris Commune—against the armed reaction of the possessing classes; how to organize the new power so as to protect it against the onslaught of its enemies? It was no longer a question of formulating and testing the communist hypothesis, but of realizing it: what the 19th century had dreamt, the 20th would accomplish. The obsession with victory, centred around questions of organization, found its principal expression in the ‘iron discipline’ of the communist party—the characteristic construction of the second sequence of the hypothesis. The party effectively solved the question inherited from the first sequence: the revolution prevailed, either through insurrection or prolonged popular war, in Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and succeeded in establishing a new order.

    "But the second sequence in turn created a further problem, which it could not solve using the methods it had developed in response to the problems of the first. The party had been an appropriate tool for the overthrow of weakened reactionary regimes, but it proved ill-adapted for the construction of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the sense that Marx had intended—that is, a temporary state, organizing the transition to the non-state: its dialectical ‘withering away’. Instead, the party-state developed into a new form of authoritarianism. Some of these regimes made real strides in education, public health, the valorization of labour, and so on; and they provided an international constraint on the arrogance of the imperialist powers. However, the statist principle in itself proved corrupt and, in the long run, ineffective. Police coercion could not save the ‘socialist’ state from internal bureaucratic inertia; and within fifty years it was clear that it would never prevail in the ferocious competition imposed by its capitalist adversaries. The last great convulsions of the second sequence—the Cultural Revolution and May 68, in its broadest sense—can be understood as attempts to deal with the inadequacy of the party."

  • I think there are objective reasons why parties, revolutions and states are needed.

    There is a particular set of concepts that have been previously assigned to "a communist party," -- democratic centralism, specific forms of leadership, standards of membership, a particular "bar" raised to determine admission to membership, concepts of cadre vs mass organization, levels of secrecy and so on.

    In practice, there is far wider variation in all of this than many people may assume -- and what passes for democratic centralism in one party, or movement or country or time has been radically different from what democratic centralism meant in another time.

    However i think we need to distinguish between the concept and the objective basis on which things arises.

    There is an objective need for a discipline, organized revolutionary core in order to carry out revolutionary organizing, leading and training people in order to make a revolution possible. You can't either overthrow an old order, or congeal a new order without a very developed and powerful form of organization -- and one that has very deep roots among sections of people. For formerly oppressed people to invent-and-then-run a new society requires a great deal of training, planning, flexibility, creative discovery, discipline and sacrifice.

    And so to me, "the vanguard party" is not just an idea something that resides in the head -- but it is a set of concepts that arose in response to objective conditions.

    Now, having said that, I don't think that the PARTICULAR concept of vanguard party held by any particular movement or leader is the only correct one. and there has been a great deal of exaggeration done over the relationship of concept and necessity.

    In the 1920s, the soviet party codified a view of "democratic centralism" that they claimed was universal. In fact, they claimed everything they said about parties (then, in the 1920s) was universal -- and so communists formed parties with the same name, the same structure, the same standards of membership, the same ideology, the same political program etc in every country on earth.

    Here is what I think:
    1) I think that we need to understand the objective need for an organized core that emerges as a revolutionary movement and becomes the leading center of a new society.

    2) I think we need to rediscover a vivid sense of particularity -- understanding time and place in a way often downplayed in communist theory and practice.

    3) I think we need to realize that the world changes in huge leaps -- and that these things have an impact on how people think and organize themselves. You can't make revolution in our century with the assumptions of the 19th century. Some communist parties rely on concepts of security drawn on the police methods of the 1960s. Some communist parties assume that Lenin's What Is To Be Done? means "you have to have a central newspaper" -- even though (rather obviously if you look around) newspapers are in steep decline in this society, and information is circulated in radically new ways.

    4) We don't need to cling to the WORDS in order to appreciate the CONCEPT. I don't think the concept of a party is exhausted -- i think it arises from objective conditions. But I do think that much of the formulaic terminology of the old communist movement (democratic centralism, vanguard party, calling people "the masses," etc.) is exhausted -- it has been drained of both meaning and freshness. It is more like the incantations of Latin a century after the fall of Rome -- even though it is described rather grandiosely as "scientific terminology" (implying that you can't actually have the necessary precision of expression unless you use THOSE familiar terms.)

    In fact, the repetition of inherited phrases and forms is not a matter of science -- it is a matter of nostalgia, self-comforting, invocation of past glories, and (unfortunately) sometimes an attempt to avoid a fresh analysis of how objective contradictions and needs present themselves.

    Badiou seems to imply something different: I find his analysis of things very sketchy on objective necessities and contradictions. It is as if "party state" (or even revolution itself!) is just a concept or practice that arose from a particular event, and then ran its course. But I don't see him grappling with the objective contradictions that gave rise to the need for party, state and revolution -- many of which have NOT gone away (even if they pose themselves with new feature and forms.)

    I (for one) think we need party, and state and revolution. I don't think those things are saturated (in the sense that they have no more role to play) -- and I'm impressed by the poverty of alternative presented by those who say they are exhausted.


    communist parties have taken particular forms (though they are much more different than many people assume). But the need for an organized core with leadership and discipline is inherent in the process of

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Hey Mike...please finish your comment; you're clarifying things!

    You said: "Badiou seems to imply something different: I find his analysis of things very sketchy on objective necessities and contradictions. It is as if “party state” (or even revolution itself!) is just a concept or practice that arose from a particular event, and then ran its course. But I don’t see him grappling with the objective contradictions that gave rise to the need for party, state and revolution — many of which have NOT gone away (even if they pose themselves with new feature and forms.)"

    While reading through this post, comments and also read (most of) Steele's suggested piece by Badiou was thinking the same thing as you pointed out.

    Will say that while I agree: "I think we need to rediscover a vivid sense of particularity — understanding time and place in a way often downplayed in communist theory and practice."

    I also think we need to rediscover a vivid sense of who the subjective forces and core group are, and not use the same old yardsticks to determine who can be part of that core. In other words, a more inclusive view. Otherwise I think we fall into the negatives from our historical experience, e.g. warping the concept of democratic centralism, etc. (An example: I know a hell of a lot of people who are more revolutionary-minded but at this point, while they understand the nature of the U.S. electoral and imperialist system, abhor the U.S. imperialists' wars, etc., and also understand Obama's role within that, they're voting for him because they don't see an alternative.)

    On the other hand, if this is on the other hand (?), while you say:

    "In fact, the repetition of inherited phrases and forms is not a matter of science — it is a matter of nostalgia, self-comforting, invocation of past glories, and (unfortunately) sometimes an attempt to avoid a fresh analysis of how objective contradictions and needs present themselves."

    I don't see this as nostalgia or resting on the laurels of the past, I see it as turning a living, vital, science into dogma. Maybe we're thinking along the same lines but saying it a little differently. I'd like to understand better how someone like Badiou (or even people like us) sees the relationship between theory and practice.

    JS said: "Badiou’s thinking is rooted in mathematics, specifically, in Set Theory, and around this he’s build up a whole philosophical system."

    What are we talking about? "Set Theory", "rooted in mathematics"? I readily admit that as I try to read further my understanding of Badiou--whether positive or negative is extremely superficial. But since some of you obviously have a better handle on this, would appreciate more explanation, like Steele has tried to do, especially if JS thinks that Badiou has "built up a whole philosophical system" around his Set Theory, etc.

    And Rosa is certainly free to correct me if I'm wrong, but my take on why this interview was posted in the first place was to initiate some struggle over the CONCEPT of a vanguard party, how we and others conceive of this concept both historically and in the present situation; and not as some intellectual exercise or calisthenics.

  • Guest - Linda D.

    Mike says:

    "In practice, there is far wider variation in all of this than many people may assume — and what passes for democratic centralism in one party, or movement or country or time has been radically different from what democratic centralism meant in another time."

    Think you've made an important point. Mainly that it is important to look at and study different parties, movements and countries, and not just within the U.S., as to how d.c. is/was carried out, or what it even means or meant.

    At the same time I have a question for you coming off of some of our (and am not talking "our" meaning you and moi) experience within the c. movement/parties in the U.S. And not just the RCP but other orgs., etc. However, in terms of the RCP as example, when you criticize them for lack of theoretical and ideological struggle within their ranks, don't you think that d.c. is used as a cover for this flagrant lack of struggle in the theoretical sphere? Seems to me there is an inherent contradiction in the concept of democratic centralism--but it is very important to note what is principle at different junctures. In my experience, say in the way of the RCP, their practice (for years) in the main is that centralism is key and they only pay lip service to the democratic part of the equation. (This has certainly culminated in the grossest way around the cult of the personality and Bob Avakian.) But if you study the CPUSA, or other parties and organizations, they did a lot of the same in terms of d.c. I think this also has to do with a "warped" analysis (more like a view with a lack of analysis) of the objective situation in the U.S., and the situation not being a revolutionary one, although according to the RCP and like-minded parties, you're led to believe revolution is around the corner. "A war communism footing" is another reason for emphasis on centralism. What do you think?

  • 9 Letters to Our comrades (letter 9):

    <blockquote>"Something important is being said if our movement in the U.S. can (at long last) develop an ability to even hear the voices of others. We have to learn to look past the text, the glib phrase, the comforting myth — and look deeply into the living thing and our living practice of engagement. We have to actually know this shimmering, dancing world in the course of actually fighting to end its many horrors."</blockquote>

    To me the point is getting past the tired, misused phrase (like "proletarian vanguard party") and see the living thing -- the living contradictions we have to deal with.

    There is a mass of training that gives people phrases like that, and acts as if the questions are answered. (Often because it is assumed, or said, that there is a single universal answer to the problems -- so you identify "the answer" and you have solved the problem. And (since the solution is supposedly universal) you don't even have to look closely at the actual contradictions around you -- at their particularity.

    For example, the Kasama project is not organized on a democratic centralist basis. it is not a mini-party.

    this does not mean that a revolutionary organization doesn't need discipline, secrecy, cadre, unified views, internal debate etc. But how will the organization we need emerge?

    I am convinced that it will not work like this: We unite on the basis of MLM -- while critiquing the existing MLM parties. Based on MLM we assume the key link is forming a party based on democratic centralism. We form a mini-party today, a small grouping of cadre. We develop a mini-newspaper, a mini-central committee, a developed line on all imaginable questions, we declare we are correct and therefore the vanguard (perhaps an embryonic center for the vanguard) , and then we grow (eventually) "in a telescoped way" -- once the masses realize it is "all there for the taking."

    I call this "the chip off the old block." Where we would criticize the RCP and then rush to reproduce them (with a few differences).

    I don't think that is the way to go. And no revlution in history has been done that way. and if anyone thinks they have, they aren't paying attention.

    We need a process, which includes theory and practice OUT OF WHICH a revolutionary organization will (hopefully) emerge -- which will have sorted through many questions, and developed itself based on the time and place.

    Something else on democratic centralism: i think it is a mistake to insist that party members must say a specific and details script on any and all questions "outside the party's ranks as a matter of discipline."

    First of all, class struggle requires disciplined unity -- but nothing but dogmatism requires a party where all members say exactly the same things. And it is bizarre for people to meet a party where everyone repeats a unified view -- how can you have brainstorming or give-and-take? You never feel like you know what the person from the party is ACTUALLY thinking -- because there is never development in the discussion, never contradictions and grown in evidence... because all change of views happens in some distant place (some higher body).

    We can have a revolutionary movement with disciplined unity, with developed common positions on the key matters of line and strategy (both present and future), and where (nonetheless) people can actually discuss their views. ("I have been thinking this and that, but the party generally is moving toward this position now.")

    In the RCP such views would be seen as heretical (and a very basic violation of MLM and democratic centralism) -- but that is only because of the info diet, and because those same RCP members don't actually know how the Bolsheviks (or many other communist parties) actually worked. (The Bolsheviks even had for example organized oppositional groupings until 1921, and it was itself an organized grouping within a larger party for most of the time before 1917.)

  • LindaD writes:

    <blockquote>"I don’t see this as nostalgia or resting on the laurels of the past, I see it as turning a living, vital, science into dogma."</blockquote>

    I have never seen Marxism as "a science." While i have held an open mind on this question, my inclination has always been to think that this misunderstands both what Marxism is and what "a science" is.

    bourgeois academics divides the sciences into micro-spheres. Like spoons in a drawer: this is biology, this is physics, this is chemistry. and so on. And Marxism is declared another "science" of this kind -- a science of revolution.

    But i think Marxism is more than just "a science" of revolution.

    I tend to agree with Althusser that human knowledge has become continents. And over time biology and chemistry and physics have merged and overlapped in inextricable ways. To treat them as discrete "sciences" in that way is very nineteenth century -- and misses the changes over time. (Example: once genetics and dna, and bio chemistry flourished, then biology became part of a common continent with chemistry.)

    And i think that the Marxist method (materialist dialectics) is not the same thing as historical materialism. and they don't (together) belong in a single "science."

    and then there is a whole problem that (in many ways) Marxism as we have known it has not been "scientific" at all! It has been state religion in some places, and escstatic self-deception in others. Much of Marxism has been resistant to self-critical examination and fresh thinking in many very unscientific ways -- for a long time.

    And so, when comrades influenced by THOSE forms of marxism declare their ideology to be "a science" it is wrong on several levels: because their view of science itself is very religious (and is tied to a very mechanical view of "truth") -- all of which is very unscientific.

    My view is that we should not talk of communist theory as "a science," and that we should not pin our theory on only "three milesstones" associated with three men (marx, lenin and Mao). We should uphold communist theory and stand on its shoulders, and identify what is correct and scientific about it. And on that basis (and on the basis of comparing to reality itself -- past and present) we should be pretty ruthless about shedding the remnants of state religion.

    Marxism was transformed when people held power -- it was codified, it was taught as doctrine, it became a form for justifying whatever was now being done ("whateverism").... and living Marxism had to fight for its life against that. And still does.

    this is part of what we meant when we wrote in Letter 9:

    <blockquote>"When Mao’s Red Army abandoned their early base area, they carried with them all the hard-won apparatus of rebel state power: they brought archives, printing presses, factory equipment, rolls of telephone wire, furniture and more. That baggage cost them dearly in lives, when the heavily burdened column faced its first tests of fire. They then simply left off the boxes and machinery of their old apparatus. What they kept was that material that made sense when integrated into their new mode of existence. They were traveling light. They were ready to improvise, live off the land, and fight.

    "The analogy to our theoretical moment: We need to discard ruthlessly, but cunningly, in order to fight under difficult conditions. We will be traveling light, without baggage and clutter from earlier modes of existence. We need to preserve precisely those implements that serve the advance, against fierce opposition, toward our end goal. We need to integrate them into a vibrant new communist coherency — as we thrive on the run."</blockquote>

    we are on a ideological long march, but our ideology and outlook still have many trappings of state religion. And all this has no justification.

    On the question of "what do we call it": I think we should say that communist theory at its best is a partisan world outlook and set of verdicts that are rooted in a scientific method.

    and in that case, what we mean by scientific method is an approach rooted in a ongoing, self-critical, analytical engagement with reality (in its dynamic changingness and leaps)-- that tests its hypotheses against that reality and against relentless criticism of others.

  • Guest - stefandav

    Hi! Quite exciting dialog here. I started with the article and wanted to speak to it on my blog and perhaps expand interest - this is my net-activism. Of course I wanted to hear what was going on in the comments on this article too. I very much appreciate the thoughts found here. At one point John Steele referred us to <i>The New Left Review</i> article published by Badiou. There I found his <i>The Communist Hypothesis</i>. I ended up spending a lot of time with this and generating a post based on that which you can get to from my name link at the top - this will lead you also to several other posts on Badiou articles and my bookmarking system which has some 70 articles by or about Badiou. Anyway, since it all started here I have returned to say thanks and offer my contribution.

    Below I have pasted the posting for your scan - but in this I don't think any of the links will work, maybe I don't know - the title is

    <i>McBama? No, the Communist Hypothesis</i>

    __________________________________________________

    I am a communist. We who assert this identity need to think what this means given the communist hypothesis. If we are a communist in today's world our context is the current coordinates of power - what Alain Badiou calls that of capitalo-parliamentarianism. If an "American", the main story at the moment is the election: the formal choice between McCain and Obama. Lenin made the important distinction between a formal choice and an actual choice (see the quote at this blog's header). So the question is, McBama?

    Stated, communists everywhere are situated legally someplace, experiencing the formal choices available. Still, we have actual choices based on the communist hypothesis. This is the idea I want to offer for your consideration. I have developed this blog posting using the key ideas of Alain Badiou as expressed in his article about the 2007 election of Sarkozy in France, The Communist Hypothesis, published in February by The New Left Review. It is still being discussed there by communists.

    The analysis by Badiou does, I believe you will find, anticipate the truth revealed by the event of Sarkozy's election is being repeated in the election of McBama. But the article is only nominally about elections. What is being clearly signified is the communist hypothesis. This is by definition always global or universal, and what strikes me deepest is what Badiou says about the present task before communists: this I interpret as the allegiance or fidelity to the communist hypothesis now being a revolution of the mind, as such the emerging Neo-MLM.

    I wish to introduce the key ideas of the article as they are developed by Badiou and reference them to the nominal topic of this post, the McBama election. But I will begin from quoting from his concluding paragraph, which says it all, before partially unpacking its squeezed content. Or if you prefer, please go directly to the total article (I don't overestimate myself the value of the flavoring I add here). Excerpts from the final paragraph:

    "In many respects we are closer today to the questions of the 19th century than to the revolutionary history of the 20th. A wide variety of 19th-century phenomena are reappearing: vast zones of poverty, widening inequalities, politics dissolved into the ‘service of wealth’, the nihilism of large sections of the young, the servility of much of the intelligentsia; the cramped, besieged experimentalism of a few groups seeking ways to express the communist hypothesis . . . Which is no doubt why, as in the 19th century, it is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today, but the conditions of its existence. This is our task, during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes—always global, or universal, in character—and political experience, always local or singular, yet transmissible, to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our consciousness and on the ground."

    Nothing really need be said in comment about Badiou's concluding words, so let's move on to looking at the sequence of earlier development of the conclusions with selected excerpts; where we get at his precise ideas of the communist hypothesis and the present task of its renewal through the combination of thought processes. In the McBama question as in the election of Sarkozy is evidenced the truth that the electoral system effectively excludes dissent:

    "An initial factor was the way in which the outcome affirmed the manifest powerlessness of any genuinely emancipatory programme within the electoral system: preferences are duly recorded, in the passive manner of a seismograph, but the process is one that by its nature excludes any embodiments of dissenting political will."

    At a subsequent point it seems transferable in the description of the initial fear of the privileged French, the fear mainly that of Republicans: we substitute the American counterparts - the "Mexicans", the "terrorists", the Iranians et al; and substitute for the description of the French socialist, the more "leftward" contingency, the Democrats, with their fear of the fear - the continuing of Bush-ness by McCain and even the frightening cop-ness of Ms. Palin:

    "... the fear felt by the privileged, alarmed that their position may be assailable. In France this manifests itself as fear of foreigners, workers, youth from the banlieue, Muslims, black Africans. Essentially conservative, it creates a longing for a protective master, even one who oppresses and impoverishes you further.. the fear of this fear: a fear, too, of the cop figure, whom the petit-bourgeois socialist voter neither knows nor likes.."

    I tend to think that in America there is less reading of the press going on, except by the net-savvy, rather there is more talk radio and the likes of Fox, CNN and major networks informing the bulk of the populace about their formal choice of McBama - but is there not the same weakening of the real?:

    "We should not underestimate the role of what Althusser called the ‘ideological state apparatus’—increasingly through the media, with the press now playing a more sophisticated part than tv and radio—in formulating and mobilizing such collective sentiments. Within the electoral process there has, it seems, been a weakening of the real; a process even further advanced with regard to the secondary ‘fear of the fear’ than with the primitive, reactionary one. We react, after all, to a real situation, whereas the ‘fear of the fear’ merely takes fright at the scale of that reaction, and is thus at a still further remove from reality."

    Should one think that somehow it is still of paramount importance to exercise ones formal choice in McBama, sadly it may be seen of more pathetic dimension if one seeks the much touted "change" being bandied if one considers if indeed any new possibility is on the table:

    "If we posit a definition of politics as ‘collective action, organized by certain principles, that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility which is currently repressed by the dominant order’, then we would have to conclude that the electoral mechanism is an essentially apolitical procedure. This can be seen in the gulf between the massive formal imperative to vote and the free-floating, if not non-existent nature of political or ideological convictions."

    Will you yet trudge to your voting station, hopeful or hopeless in your McBama determination when you consider that:

    ".. capitalo-parliamentarianism, [is] ..appropriate for the maintenance of the established order, and consequently serves a conservative function. This creates a further feeling of powerlessness: if ordinary citizens have no handle on state decision-making save the vote, it is hard to see what way forward there could be for an emancipatory politics."

    Today in "America the Beautiful" the bailout of banks, rooted in the basic need for housing, is the focus ("its the economy stupid"). It vies even with security concerns at this point, though in fact the predominant use of tax dollars is the drain from war. Yet, despite the unpopularity of the war itself, bilaterally recognized by McBama, the threat of terrorism leaves unquestioned in the U.S. as in France that:

    "the maintenance of the existing order with its gigantic disparities has an irreducible military component; the duality of the worlds of rich and poor can only be sustained by force."

    What is signified by Badiou in his article is far more important than simply the truth revealed by the formal choices sustained by capitalo-parliamentarianism described above with reference to Sarkozy's election, or what may be seen its likely repetition in the McBama election. We now come to the actual choices possible in fidelity to the communist hypothesis:

    "What is the communist hypothesis? In its generic sense, given in its canonic Manifesto, ‘communist’ means, first, that the logic of class—the fundamental subordination of labour to a dominant class, the arrangement that has persisted since Antiquity—is not inevitable; it can be overcome. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away."

    Badiou turns to what it means to be a communist in revolt, in rejection of its formal coordinates of freedom. This begins with analysis of communist history - the following are excerpts from this much longer discussion :

    "What remains is to determine the point at which we now find ourselves in the history of the communist hypothesis... The first sequence runs from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune; let us say, 1792 to 1871. It links the popular mass movement to the seizure of power, through the insurrectional overthrow of the existing order... The second sequence of the communist hypothesis runs from 1917 to 1976: from the Bolshevik Revolution to the end of the Cultural Revolution and the militant upsurge throughout the world during the years 1966–75. It was dominated by the question: how to win? How to hold out—unlike the Paris Commune—against the armed reaction of the possessing classes... the revolution prevailed, either through insurrection or prolonged popular war.. but it proved ill-adapted for the construction of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the sense that Marx had intended—that is, a temporary state, organizing the transition to the non-state.. the Cultural Revolution and May 68, in its broadest sense—can be understood as attempts to deal with the inadequacy of the party... 1871 to 1914 saw imperialism triumphant across the globe. Since the second sequence came to an end in the 1970s we have been in another such interval, with the adversary in the ascendant once more.. The second sequence is over and it is pointless to try to restore it."

    A new third sequence is at hand - Badiou appears to have defined for us both the existing coordinates of power as well as the exhausted history of two phases of fidelity to the communist hypothesis. Yet he affirms there remains an excess of creative power in that hypothesis available outside the coordinates of capitalo-parliamentarianism and all its particular manifestations such as the Sarkozy election or the formal choice in McBama:

    "it is not possible to say with certainty what the character of the third sequence will be. But the general direction seems discernible: it will involve a new relation between the political movement and the level of the ideological—one that was prefigured in the expression ‘cultural revolution’ or in the May 68 notion of a ‘revolution of the mind’.. our task is to bring the communist hypothesis into existence in another mode, to help it emerge within new forms of political experience. This is why our work is so complicated, so experimental. We must focus on its conditions of existence, rather than just improving its methods. We need to re-install the communist hypothesis—the proposition that the subordination of labour to the dominant class is not inevitable—within the ideological sphere."

    So Badiou has now introduced the general direction of the new task for communists. He then proposes a specific modality for the revolution of the mind, a performative requirement for, not merely an assertion of an objective conclusion, that "there is only one world" - again excerpts from his detailed proposal:

    "What might this involve?... might be the declaration: ‘There is only one world’. What would this imply? Contemporary capitalism boasts, of course, that it has created a global order;.. The ‘one world’ of globalization is solely one of things—objects for sale—and monetary signs: the world market as foreseen by Marx. The overwhelming majority of the population have at best restricted access to this world. They are locked out, often literally so... The price of the supposedly unified world of capital is the brutal division of human existence into regions separated by police dogs, bureaucratic controls, naval patrols, barbed wire and expulsions. The ‘problem of immigration’ is, in reality, the fact that the conditions faced by workers from other countries provide living proof that—in human terms—the ‘unified world’ of globalization is a sham... The simple phrase, ‘there is only one world’, is not an objective conclusion. It is performative: we are deciding that this is how it is for us. Faithful to this point, it is then a question of elucidating the consequences that follow from this simple declaration... A first consequence is the recognition that all belong to the same world as myself.. we can agree and disagree about things. But on the precondition that they and I exist in the same world."

    Badiou anticipates a problematic: yes, there may be "one world" but this cannot exclude personal identity, the fact that we are individually, locally, culturally different from other people too. How is it that this would not engender continued divisions and inevitable conflict? Excerpts from Badiou's answer:

    "The question then arises whether anything governs.. unlimited differences.. identity is the ensemble of properties that support an invariance.. Defined in this way, by invariants, identity is doubly related to difference: on the one hand, identity is that which is different from the rest; on the other, it is that which does not become different, which is invariant...The affirmation of identity has two further aspects. The first form is negative. It consists of desperately maintaining that I am not the other... The second involves the immanent development of identity within a new situation... not through any internal rupture, but by an expansion of identity."

    Badiou addresses the possibility of both maintaining personal identity while expanding from that core to an experience of human unity using a wide range of examples from invariant individuality - racial, religious, sexual, cultural and so forth. Also he provides living actual events that have and are demonstrating fidelity to the egalitarian maxim of the communist hypothesis. As I said in the beginning, the message also applies to those of us who assert our personal identity as communists - the new phase, the revolution of the mind means not a struggle against the world, but being open to the insight that we are the world.