Badiou: On Different Streams Within French Maoism

his interview starts by discussing the emergence of several prominent former leftists (of the '68 generation) who endorsed the campaign of Frances new President Sarkozy -- a rightwing candidate known for his brutal racism during the youth uprisings in the French working class suburbs. Badiou digs into the various currents within French Maoism -- differentiating his trend (the UCFML) from the Gauche Prolétarienne, in both line and political tone. Here on Kasama we have held several initial discussions of Badiou's writings, starting with the intro essay, Badiou: Another Take on Revolutionary Theory. The original title given to the following interview was: "Roads To Renegacy."

* * * * * *

Badiou says:

"There were three essential points of Maoist provenance that we practised:

  • The first was that you always had to link up with the people, that politics for intellectuals was a journey into society and not a discussion in a closed room. Political work was defined as work in factories, housing estates, hostels. It was always a matter of setting up political organizations in the midst of people’s actual life.
  • The second was that you should not take part in the institutions of the bourgeois state: we were against the traditional trade unions and the electoral mechanism. No infiltration of the so-called workers’ bureaucracies, no participation in elections; that distinguished us radically from the Trotskyists.
  • The third point was that we should be in no hurry to call ourselves a party, to take up old forms of organization; we had to remain very close to actual political processes."

 

* * * * *

An Interview with Alain Badiou, conducted by Eric Hazan

Eric Hazan: One of the most striking aspects of Sarkozy's rise to power was the support he attracted from Left renegades—from turncoats such as André Glucksmann. As someone who still wears his coat very much the same way round, how would you explain this strange phenomenon?

 

Alain Badiou: I think you have to put this in perspective, or rather look at it more closely. First of all, it would be better to ask: why so many Maoists from the Gauche Prolétarienne? [GP was one of the ain Maoist groups, whose name meant Proletarian Left in French] Because it is among them that you find those who 'went wrong' in this way. Secondly, as far as I am aware, only a few rank-and-file activists in the GP made this about-turn. So, to give your question a slightly more technical character, I would say: why did so many people in the GP leadership take such a bad turn?

There were other Maoist organizations—for example the UCFML, which I was involved in establishing, along with Sylvain Lazarus, Natacha Michel and others, in 1970. [1] In fact, Lazarus and Michel came from the GP, in the wake of a split of sorts, whereas my own background was completely different: I came from the PSU, the social democrats. I'm not aware of a single leader or activist in our organization who took a wrong turn, in the sense we are speaking of here. People from other organizations, such as the GOP and VLR, often went back to the PCF, and there was a sprinkling of other groups, in particular the PCMLF, whose idea was more to rebuild the good old Communist Party, which was already in pretty poor shape. [2] On the whole, these people are still somewhere or other 'on the left' today.

But those who 'went wrong' in public and spectacular fashion—some of them, like Glucksmann, becoming official supporters of Sarkozy—did come from the GP, which was broadly hegemonic in this milieu, particularly among intellectuals. We could mention Serge July, founder of Libération, Benny Lévy, who was the GP's leading figure, Jacques-Alain Miller, Jean-Claude Milner, Olivier Rolin, head of the military wing, or indeed Glucksmann himself, who joined rather late in the day, but joined all the same. There were also less well-known intellectuals such as Jean-Marc Salmon, who played a major role at Vincennes and later became a die-hard pro-American. [3]

There are a number of ways to understand this turncoat phenomenon. The first is that many of these people had a mistaken analysis of the situation at that time, in the years 1966–73; they thought that it was actually revolutionary, in an immediate sense. The Miller brothers gave me the tersest formulations on this point. A few years later, around 1978, I asked them: 'Why did you just quit like that?' Because they dropped out very suddenly—even today there are elderly workers, Malians in the hostels, Moroccans in the factories, who ask us: 'How is it that, overnight, we never saw those guys again?' Jacques-Alain Miller said to me: 'Because I realized one day that the country was quiet.' And Gérard: 'Because we understood we were not going to take power.' It was a very revealing response, that of people who saw their undertaking not as the start of a long journey with a great deal of ebb and flow, but as an avenue towards power. Gérard said as much in all innocence, and he later joined the Socialist party, which is something else again.

So, a mistaken understanding of the conjuncture, leading either to a blocked ambition, or to the realization that it was going to take a great deal of trouble and hard work in a situation that was not all that promising. You could see them in Balzacian terms as ambitious young men who imagined they were going to take Paris by dint of revolutionary enthusiasm, but then came to understand that things were a bit more complicated. The proof of this is that a large number of these people have found positions of power elsewhere, in psychoanalysis, in the media, as philosophical commentators, and so on. Their renunciation did not take place along the lines of: 'I'll go back to being anonymous', but rather: 'That wasn't the right card, so I'll play a different one.'

There was a second principle involved in this reversal, less Balzacian and more ideological. This was embodied by the 'nouveaux philosophes'—themselves part of a long history—and by those who followed them, often with a certain honesty and not necessarily for personal ends. What happened at that point was a transition from the alternatives of 'bourgeois world or revolutionary world' to those of 'totalitarianism or democracy'. The shift can be given a precise date: it was articulated starting from 1976, and a certain number of former GP activists were involved in presenting it. Not just them, but them along with others. This was particularly the case with Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau, when they wrote their book L'Ange, a kind of philosophical balance sheet of their involvement with the GP. [4]

Here you can see the reversal at work. It revolves around the idea that, at a certain point, absolute commitment becomes indistinguishable from absolute slavery, and the figure of emancipation indistinguishable from that of barbarism. Grafted onto this was the question of the Soviet camps as depicted by Solzhenitsyn. Above all there was the matter of Cambodia and Pol Pot, which played a very major role for those who had been actively involved in supporting the Khmer Rouge cause, and then learned what an appalling story that was. All this gave rise to a kind of standard discourse of repentance: 'I learned how absolute radicalism can have terrifying consequences. As a result, I know that above all else we must ensure the preservation of humanist democracy as a barrier against revolutionary enthusiasm.'

I can certainly accept that many people sincerely believed this, and not just because they wanted a place in the media spotlight. A number of them remained honest people—like Rony Brauman, like Jambet and Lardreau, who went quite far in this direction but then stopped: they saw that this was no reason to become pro-American and cosy up to the likes of Sarkozy. [5] By and large, these people, whom you can call honest renegades, resigned themselves to the politics of the lesser evil, which in one form or another always leads to the Socialist party. But others, like Glucksmann, instrumentalized this fear of totalitarianism and rode the wave it created.

They saw that the figure of the renegade from the Communist project, who steps onto the media stage to stigmatize its horror and is able to say that he experienced it in the flesh, and tell how he made a narrow escape, how he almost became a Polpotist, could fill a gap in the market. They weren't wrong—they were orchestrated, all doors were opened to them, you hardly saw anyone else on television; they built up a whole intellectual media empire on the basis of this business.

Eric Hazan: What about Bernard-Henri Lévy?

Alain Badiou: Bernard-Henri Lévy, as you can imagine, was never a very convinced Maoist, more of a sympathizer. But there was Olivier Rolin, who went on to make quite a name in the literary world. And others, who were activists or sympathizers of the GP, such as Jean-Claude Milner—who, in the 1980s, starting with his book Les Noms indistincts, declared that formal freedoms were not something to be trifled with, and that the Cambodian business should be called 'genocide'. But Milner is a transition to a third point of entry.

This involves the long history of Palestine–Israel, the question of the name 'Jew', etc. This aspect was all the more important, in the case of the GP, in that its central character was Benny Lévy, alias Pierre Victor. He was the GP's charismatic leader, and on top of that had been anointed by Sartre. He had a great capacity for intellectual seduction, as well as being very forceful, and the combination captivated a number of activists before seducing Sartre. This third aspect cannot be seen like the others, as a visible political U-turn, a renegacy; it was rather the idea that there was something higher than politics. Benny Lévy could maintain, in substance, that in the end he had only ever been interested in one thing, the absolute, and that his involvement in the GP was a misguided approach to this absolute. In the event, he converted in a very precise sense: from progressive politics to Jewish studies. To his convert's eyes, revolutionary political commitment seemed not just secondary and limited, but a wrong turning. All of this adds up to a sophisticated kind of renegacy.

Many people who came out of the GP took this route. Not to the extent that Benny Lévy pushed it, making religion and Jewish identity the organizing centre of their existence. But they did—whether they were Jewish or not, that is not the significant factor—turn the extermination of the European Jews and the name 'Jew' into the emblems around which all should rally, against any political radicalism that was bound to end up totalitarian. All those who had long been bothered by the question of Israel, and those who at a certain moment, often for personal reasons (being anti-Islamic today is always very close to a 'fear of the masses', a fear of the banlieues and the poor), became anti-Arab—they all plunged into this symbolism. A far from negligible role in this sorry affair was played by a certain professorial republicanism, made up of a secularism that was as pugnacious as it was corrupted, and a low-grade feminism. All ingredients from which first Le Pen and then Sarkozy were the only ones to benefit politically.

In conclusion, I would say that the GP was marked by three characteristics: first, a kind of impatient megalomania with regard to the course of history, a conviction that the Maoists were in a position to take power or at least to overturn the situation very rapidly. Second, they were extremely ideologized: what they took from the Cultural Revolution was that ideology and personal re-education were in command—which led them to launch a series of absurd campaigns, completely detached from reality, out of pure ideologism, with a radicalism that was vehement and imaginary in equal measure. I remember how, out of this over-estimation of ideology, they created 'apolitical' committees of struggle at Renault Billancourt. That already anticipated Milner's hatred for the 'political view of the world'. They went to the brink of armed struggle, and at the moment when they pulled back in fear there were also a number of U-turns, always couched in a rhetoric of compassion and repentance: 'Look how far I almost went.' Thirdly, they were always communitarians. One of our many run-ins with them—our relations were always dreadful—was when they decided to establish a 'movement of Arab workers' in the factories. We opposed this communitarian separatism with the idea of the 'international proletariat of France'. It was a decisive struggle with long-term implications: those who set up a movement of Arab workers can one day make a U-turn and become apologists for any other communitarian signifier. A good number of those who today are hitmen for the Israeli army were rabidly pro-Palestinian at the time of the GP—in an adventurist and very precarious fashion, far too unreal relative to the actual situation.

Once again—and I'm not speaking just for my own crowd—the combination of these three characteristics is only applicable, as far as Maoism is concerned, to the GP, and still more precisely to the GP after 1969. You might say that this GP was the heir, in France, of all that was worst in the Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Certain Red Guard groups, in the years 1967–69, developed the idea that you can overturn a situation by means of all-powerful ideology and spectacular violent actions. I always thought that Kuai Dafu, the leading figure of the Beijing Red Guards, was a lot like the GP leadership; they adored Lin Biao, their favourite Chinese leader, who said that you had to 'change man at the deepest level'. They liked that activist metaphysics.

Eric Hazan: It's strange. As I recall, the organization you were with was known for being highly sectarian, whereas the GP attracted the decent types. I wasn't alone in thinking this. The UCFML used to march carrying banners with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, chanting their names in that order.

Alain Badiou: No, that's not how it was at all, what a muddle! The people you're talking about were the PCMLF—a closed bunch, Stalinists in fact. They were attached to the Chinese state from the time of the Sino-Soviet conflict. You could say that, seen from today, the difference between the PCMLF and the UCFML. . . But in revolutionary politics, as you well know, such 'nuances' are of major importance. The PCMLF and the UCFML were like night and day.

I believe there have been three different interpretations of Maoism in France. The first, and the oldest, was that, contrary to the USSR under Khrushchev, China held on to an original hardline Stalinism—and that the abandonment of Stalinism would lead sooner or later to a general dissolution (in which regard they weren't mistaken). These people started the PCMLF believing they would rebuild a genuine Communist party of class struggle, against the revisionism of the official PCF and the USSR. It was both a dogmatic and a nostalgic interpretation. But it was also the only place where you found old working-class activists—there were young people in all the Maoist groups, but not older ones, nostalgic for the great era of Thorez, the 1950s, when the Party ruled in the factories and housing estates. It was really a conservative interpretation. At the other extreme there was the ultra-left interpretation of the GP, which was almost anarchist: you launched bold attacks, set up stunts, made 'revolution in the head', 'melted into the masses', always with a very keen eye to the media. The organization was highly centralized—in secret; in public it dissolved itself every five minutes in order to 'liberate' the energy of the masses.

As for us, the UCFML, I would say that we were a centre-left organization, in the sense always advocated by Mao, who described himself as a 'centrist'.

There were three essential points of Maoist provenance that we practised: the first was that you always had to link up with the people, that politics for intellectuals was a journey into society and not a discussion in a closed room. Political work was defined as work in factories, housing estates, hostels. It was always a matter of setting up political organizations in the midst of people's actual life. The second was that you should not take part in the institutions of the bourgeois state: we were against the traditional trade unions and the electoral mechanism. No infiltration of the so-called workers' bureaucracies, no participation in elections; that distinguished us radically from the Trotskyists. The third point was that we should be in no hurry to call ourselves a party, to take up old forms of organization; we had to remain very close to actual political processes. As a result of all this, we found ourselves sharply opposed to the two other main currents. Our founding pamphlet attacked both the PCMLF on the right and the GP 'on the left'. A struggle on two fronts . . .

Eric Hazan: And Tel Quel?

Alain Badiou: They were latter-day Maoists. [6] The first lesson that the Tel Quel people drew from May 68 was that they should join the PCF—an entryism which rather repeated the Surrealists' stance in the 1920s and 30s, with the idea of revolutionizing the Communists from within, by the innovatory power of the word. They went on to adopt a more Maoist posture, which in my view remained a superficial crust. But they did, it must be said, pass through Maoism, and Philippe Sollers was one of several who had a strange itinerary between the 70s and today—from Waldeck Rochet to Balladur and Royal, via the Great Helmsman. [7]

It is important to note that Maoism of the GP type was very marked by having been fashionable among intellectuals for five years or so, say from 1969 to 1974, and many people gravitated to it for that reason—as well as Sollers and Sartre, there was Jean-Luc Godard, for example. What attracted these intellectuals and artists was an aura of activism and radicalism, and they didn't look too closely at the actual politics the GP was conducting, which often involved trickery and throwing dust in people's eyes. Almost everything put out by GP propaganda was half untrue—where there was a kitten, they described a Bengal tiger.

Eric Hazan: in terms of milieu, was there a difference in social origins?

Alain Badiou: I haven't studied this point in any detail, but in my personal perception of things, it is clear that there were a lot of young grands bourgeois in the GP, which made it reminiscent of the Russian anarchist movement. There were also many young women from the same milieu, who had broken with their families. It is well known that the GP would hold meetings in enormous apartments—I sometimes attended these and took part. When the GP sent a big contingent out to the Renault works at Flins in June 1968—we should remember that one of them, Gilles Tautin, was killed by the riot police—they organized an emergency network to bring back the guys who had scattered into the surrounding countryside; and a large part of the Paris intellectual bourgeoisie, including myself, went out in their cars to rescue these activists.

Godard's film Tout va bien gives a good picture of this kind of sympathy—simultaneously bourgeois, activist, distant and fashionable. The fascination of Yves Montand's character with events in the factory is totally characteristic of the attraction the GP exercised on the intellectuals of the time. But remember that the GP, like the UCFML, also contained workers, young people, Algerians, all kinds of people.

Eric Hazan: I think that if my experience with the Communists hadn't made me rather wary, I might have gone in that direction myself.

Alain Badiou: Yes, and me too, if I hadn't been put off early on by the element of flagrant posturing—boasting of things that didn't really exist—and a kind of hystericization of activism, which I sensed very quickly would not stay the course. For my part, I made a permanent commitment, it wasn't a youthful prank. Theirs was an adventurist and fallacious style of action, but one that was exciting at the same time, a politics that was also a fashion, its personal roots in actual fact not very deep—all this, in the GP, made possible those spectacular reversals that we have now seen. Politics as excitement is not a good thing. The canonical example in France was Jacques Doriot, the great hope of the 1930s when he was Communist mayor of Saint-Denis. He was the Dionysian leader who set off for battle at the head of his proletarian troops. That kind of visionary can make a total about-turn, because the moment comes when, to remain in the spotlight, to maintain your own excited self-image, you have to be able to pull off a complete change of course. Doriot became a notorious fascist, an extremist collaborator with the Nazis.

The phenomenon of Doriotism was aggravated by a French characteristic: the link between intellectuals and politics—an excellent thing in many respects, but which has its specific pathologies. This was how, around 1969, a kind of hegemony of the most superficial form of 'Maoism' established itself in the trendy intellectual milieu, and how we are now seeing an equally bizarre phenomenon, that of ex-Maoist intellectuals who made a complete about-turn and whom you hear on television railing against any kind of progressive politics. When Doriot was killed in his car by machine-gun fire, he was wearing an SS uniform. As far as our 'Maoist' renegades are concerned, we should really speak of Doriotism as farce.

Translated by David Fernbach. This interview originally appeared in Eric Hazan, Changement de propriétaire, Paris 2007.

[1] ucfml: Union des Communistes de France Marxiste-Léniniste. [Footnotes by nlr]

[2] gop: Gauche Ouvrière et Paysanne, formed in 1968, dissolved in 1972; pcmlf: Parti Communiste Marxiste-Léniniste de France (1967–1970); vlr: Vive la Révolution (1969–1971).

[3] Benny Lévy (1946–2003): nom de guerre Pierre Victor, co-founder in 1966 of the Union des Jeunesses Communistes (Marxiste-Leniniste); set up the GP in 1968; Sartre's private secretary after GP disbanded in 1973. Jacques-Alain Miller (b. 1944): Lacan's son-in-law, dominated the Vincennes psychoanalysis department with his brother Gérard (b. 1948). Jean-Claude Milner (b. 1941): linguist and philosopher, author of works including Constats (1992) and Le Juif du savoir (2007). Olivier Rolin (b. 1947): novelist, journalist at Libération and Le Nouvel Observateur; member of pro-American think-tank, Le Cercle de l'Oratoire. Jean-Marc Salmon: sociologist.

[4] Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau, L'Ange: Ontologie de la révolution, Paris 1976.

[5] Rony Brauman (b. 1950): physician, co-founder and president of Médecins Sans Frontières from 1982 to 1994.

[6]Tel Quel: set up in 1960 by anthropologist and former surrealist Philippe Sollers (b. 1936) as an alternative to the littérature engagée promoted by Les Temps Modernes; politicized as of 1966.

[7] Waldeck Rochet (1905–1983): PCF General Secretary from 1964 to 1972.

 

People in this conversation

  • Guest - entdinglichung

    a number of documents of the UCFML and other french "Maos" here: http://archivescommunistes.chez-alice.fr/ ... personally, I prefer the JCR: http://asmsfqi.org/spip.php?rubrique94

  • Where Badiou discusses what distinguished his particular trend within the larger milieu of French Maoism, I feel not only sympathy – but a strong belief that these are some of the main parameters for our own project:

    <i>There were three essential points of Maoist provenance that we practised: the first was that you always had to link up with the people, that politics for intellectuals was a journey into society and not a discussion in a closed room. Political work was defined as work in factories, housing estates, hostels. It was always a matter of setting up political organizations in the midst of people’s actual life. The second was that you should not take part in the institutions of the bourgeois state: we were against the traditional trade unions and the electoral mechanism. No infiltration of the so-called workers’ bureaucracies, no participation in elections; that distinguished us radically from the Trotskyists. The third point was that we should be in no hurry to call ourselves a party, to take up old forms of organization; we had to remain very close to actual political processes.</i>

  • I turned that quote into a callout for this thread, Redflags.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Now that is some inspiring shi-ii-it (to paraphrase Clay Davis on "The Wire." Righteous!

  • Guest - NSPF

    "Where Badiou discusses what distinguished his particular trend within the larger milieu of French Maoism, I feel not only sympathy – but a strong belief that these are some of the main parameters for our own project."

    Given the experience of people involved with Kasama it is understandable why the first and the third point seem atractive.
    But I don't see why these should be treated as some golden rules or key to solving certain problems.
    The first point was highly specific to them in France. They were academics with a history in that country and hence a tendency to form discussion-and-study circles among intelectuals without any practical organising and action.
    This would of course have value as a cautionary point as in having come from the opposite experience, one should be careful not to fall for this problem. Same goes for the second point; at least for some.

    The third point is of much more importance and has to be discussed carefully and much further.
    To put it provocatively, if this were such a correct point of view, then why they were even less successful than the RCP, to put it mildly? It should also be noted that not only they were not in hurry to form a party, which is never correct, but this point has always played a negative role, in France and elsewhere, as a way of not shouldering responsibility at best, and a cover for liquidationsim at worst.

    It should also be noted that Badiou is calling party form as an old form even fourty years ago. If that were the case then Badiou and others have had at least fourty years to come up with a new form and it is no where to be seen. Was this an excuse to be liquidationist? The result of their experiment was far worst than anything the rcp has or hasn't done.
    If Badiou were to come come up fourty years later and claim that his view were more correct than, say, Avakian or Mike, because at least he managed to pursue a fruitful academic career, then that is something else to discuss. But let us not forget that that is all he had achieved in the past fourty years by this formulation.

    I will say more later about why point three should not be taken as a golden rule and why it should not be confused or conflated with mass line.

  • Guest - TellNoLies

    On Badiou's three points, I strongly agree with points one and three, but am less convinced by two: "that you should not take part in the institutions of the bourgeois state: we were against the traditional trade unions and the electoral mechanism."

    We just experienced a major event in the democratic struggle for Black equality in which this posture, where it was embraced, produced paralysis. On Nov.4 millions of people poured into the streets, in many places it was a veritable festival of the oppressed, to celebrate a blow to 400 years of white supremacy and the revolutionary movement was completely incapable of any sort of meaningful intervention, thereby effectively ceding the ground to, in the best cases, militant reformists, and in the worst, patriotic centrists. This should be scandalous to us.

    There is something important in Badiou's impulse here, a recognition of the central task of building forms of organization that are genuinely independent of the bourgeois state, but to raise it to a question of principle is, I think, dangerously dogmatic.

    It is also not clear to me how this stance has made Badiou's group particulalrly effective in France either.

  • <i>On Nov.4 millions of people poured into the streets, in many places it was a veritable festival of the oppressed, to celebrate a blow to 400 years of white supremacy and the revolutionary movement was completely incapable of any sort of meaningful intervention, thereby effectively ceding the ground to, in the best cases, militant reformists, and in the worst, patriotic centrists. This should be scandalous to us.</i>

    Indeed it is. I would just add the caveat that this is <i>overwhelmingly</i> because of exactly the "participation" that you are here advocating.

    To even mention Obama's program in New York City for months has meant being denounced as a racist, a nut, caught up in minor issues (Wall street bailout, FISA, the humanity of Palestinians, imperialism, etc.) and a whipping horse for imperial liberals and people who think access to <i>whiteness</i> is the key issue in the world.

    The enforces of this have been exactly those former radicals who have "found their sense" and now work more or less permanently under the wing of the Democratic Party – including in (tacit) support of the war in Afghanistan, the war on terror, de facto torture (instead of du jour) and all the rest of their bloody program.

    It is exactly the acceptance of the existing state of affairs that we must move against. If individuals vote, who care TNL? That's not the issue and it never was. It is about whether we have ANY form of collective action that doesn't end up as mere constituency hustles on the way to the next election (and a legitimate job in a NGO until...)

  • Guest - zerohour

    "But I don’t see why these should be treated as some golden rules or key to solving certain problems."

    "It should also be noted that not only they were not in hurry to form a party, which is never correct"

    Badiou said "call ourselves" not "form" - it is an important difference. At the event in New York City last night, he was asked about this exact quote and one of his answers was "We maintained the general idea of the party." Rather than liquidate the party, he was more concerned, at the time, with how one establishes the conditions of possibility for such a party. Gathering a group of people together around a program and designating themselves the revolutionary vanguard party of the proletariat was a strong temptation in that period. But the questions are: what is such a party? What justifies its claims? What is the relationship between mass participation and revolutionary line that pertains in any given context? Any organization can <i>call</i> itself whatever it wants. Whether it <i>is</i> that is a question that must always be raised.

    Also, it seems that you want to replace his supposed "golden rule" with one of your own. Is it really "never" correct to avoid a hasty formation or designation of a party?

  • TNL: What do you mean by effective?

  • Guest - NSPF

    I meant it is not correct to hastily form a Party.

  • Guest - Kalovski Itim

    This is nice to know. I see a petty bourgeois trend in his thinking unable to grasp basic contradictions. Badiou assumes subjectivist and statist thinking. Sad.

  • Guest - todd

    I'm not a Maoist, and have no interest in finding out who is more orthodox, but I find the rejection of the 2nd point in the US strange. Does this happen with Maoists outside the US? I say that because in most places its as Badiou says, non-participation in bourgeois democracy and institutions is characteristic of maoists against other currents (though in common with some tendencies of anarchists and council communists). With the exception of Nepal as well, the Maoist movement gives little examples to follow in the footsteps of electoralism, union reform, and NGO building enterprises.

    I know Freedom Road is particularly excited by experiments with electoralism and reformist politics. I can only speculate that perhaps its the disassociation of the left in the US, which made US maoists decide to jettison this feature of traditional Maoism. Or maybe it's the heavy NGO/union staff/academia demographics of the maoist movement here? Was Nepal the gateway drug to reformist electoralism? Any insights into this phenomenon?

  • Todd -

    It's not at all true that Maoism in the US was characterized by a rejection of Badiou's second point -- quite the contrary. (Unfortunately (imo) US Maoism <i>was</i> characterized by a rejection of Badiou's third point ("The third point was that we should be in no hurry to call ourselves a party, to take up old forms of organization; we had to remain very close to actual political processes.")

    I use the past tense because I don't think there is a real existent (live, vibrant) Maoism in the US today. Some of the remnants of what was once a live political current may uphold an electorally-oriented politics, but that's not characteristic of Maoism.

  • Guest - Nate

    Thanks for posting this interview. I think Badiou is an interesting figure both philosophically and politically, and like RedFlags I like those three points. Bracketing all that, though, I'm uneasy with Badiou's treatment of GP. I know little about this stuff, because I don't speak French and to the best of my knowledge there's no decent in depth study of all this. From what I've read of the minimal amount of material that does exist on this in English, Badiou's account of GP seems at least one sided. Here's a chapter from Belden-Fields book comparing Trotskyism and Maoism in the US and France - http://www.isioma.net/sds00500.html

    One thing that's in there that's not in Badiou's account is the repression of some GP members, going to prison and all that. My understanding is that people like Godard and Sarte and Foucault and Deleuze got involved around GP with the result of helping them/their imprisoned members handle the crackdown. It may well be that the politics were bad and the academics didn't understand or care, but to call it just fashion and leave out the response to imprisonment, that strikes me as a one-sided account. (In general I always try to add a dash of salt when taking in an account of a critical account of some sect written by a former member of a competing sect.)

    In case anyone's interested, this bit of marxists.org include a leaflet from the time of the death of Gilles Tautin ("A Comrade is Dead") and some other ephemera - http://www.marxists.org/history/france/may-1968/index.htm

  • Guest - REN

    I would like to use here the first of Badiou's "three essential points" as an opportunity to put to Kasama both a question and a criticism that, as an occasional follower of the discussions here, have for myself often arisen.

    Badiou writes:

    "the first was that you always had to link up with the people, that politics for intellectuals was a journey into society and not a discussion in a closed room. Political work was defined as work in factories, housing estates, hostels. It was always a matter of setting up political organizations in the midst of people’s actual life."

    Now, there are at least two senses in which this might be practicable. The first - and the more difficult by far - is actual organization ("from scratch") among worker's, immigrants, et cetera. But the second, which I would like to focus on here, is to "link up with the people" where they are already mobilizing.

    It is the absence at Kasama of this latter activity that I would like to call attention to.

    Simply put, why is it that there is so infrequently calls to action for - or at least announcements of - specific acts of resistance or opposition?

    Why, for example, has all of the coverage of student occupations in California and New York been retrospective summaries or analysis?

    Why is there a discussion of the efficacy of pop-musicians playing to audiences in Gaza, but no mention of mobilizations by groups like Al-Awawda NY in support of the Viva Palestina convoys?

    There is too little effort here to make the minimum gestures of "linking up" with other movements and too much of a focus on preserving the sanctity of what "our" movement "should" be.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Thank you, REN, for your recent post.

    It raises a topic that has often been on my mind as well. And I am certain that we are not alone.

    For starters I think that your post deserves to be foregrounded as a thread of its own.

    Mike, can we do that?

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Secondly, I too would like to see Kasama posting the announcements of actions, and events that are worth supporting and/or "checking out," both in the spirit of establishing links with the people, and in the spirit of conducting on the ground research so as to gauge the present situation in the best way possible.

    Why after all, could we not have the same policy on posting actions and events that we have when it comes to posting polemics, news stories, and analyses? Namely, that "Kasama's posting does not constitute necessarily constitute endorsement or agreement on points of political line, but merely suggests that we think that such events and actions may help to broaden, deepen, and sharpen the discussion of issues of concern to revolutionary communists."

    I think that in Year Three, this is something we should be doing more of. Maybe even a separated list of posted actions on the right column of the page?

    Consciously and collectively getting involved in these events and actions and campaigns ourselves in an organized way as members of Kasama, of course, is another topic worth attending to. But it seems to me that what I have described above would be at least a step in the right (left!) direction.

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