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Alain Badiou - The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror

Alain Badiou - The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror

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Published by chris_manor
Alain Badiou addresses the question of revolutionary violence in the form of State Terror and it's implications for Communist politics.
Alain Badiou addresses the question of revolutionary violence in the form of State Terror and it's implications for Communist politics.

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Published by: chris_manor on Jan 23, 2013
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04/26/2013

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ALAIN
BADIOU
The Communist Idea
and
theQuestion
of
Terror
translated by
SusAN
SPITZER
In the 19th century, the communist Idea was linked to violence infour different ways.First
of
all, it went hand in hand with the fundamentalissue
of
revolution. Revolution was conceived
of-at
least sincethe French Revolution in any
case-as
the violent act wherebyone social group, one class, overthrows the domination
of
anothergroup or class. All revolutionary imagery was, and to a great extentstill is, focused on the legitimateviolence by means
of
which thepeople in arms seize the seats
of
power. The word "communism"thus implied the word "revolution" in the sense
of
an ideological and political legitimation
of
insurrection or people's war, andtherefore
of
collective violence directed at the exploiters as well
as
their police and military apparatuses.Second, the communist Idea also went hand in hand with therepression leveled by the
new
popular power against the attempts atcounter-revolution led by the former ruling classes. These
att~mpts
 
I
l
I
t
1
.l
1.
l
1
The Communist Idea and the Question
of
Terror 33were based on what remained
of
the old State apparatus. Marxhimself thus considered that a transitional period was necessaryduring which the new, popular, working-class power would reallydestroy everything that remained
of
the apparatuses that constitutedthe State
of
the oppressors. He called this period the "dictatorship
of
the proletariat." He conceived
of
it as a short period,
of
course,but an indubitably violent one,
as
indicated by the word "dictatorship." Thus, the word "communism" also implied the legitimation
of
destructive violence perpetrated by the new power. -Third, the communist Idea went hand in hand, in this caseover a long period
of
time, with different types
of
violence linkedto the radical transformation not
of
the State but now
of
society asa whole. The collectivization
of
land in the domain
of
agriculture,centralized industrial development, the formation
of
a new militaryapparatus, the struggle against religious obscurantism, and
the
creation
of
new cultural and artistic
forms-in
short, the wholetransition to a collective "new world"
-created
powerful conflictsat every level. A great deal
of
violence-
in the form
of
constraintsexerted on a mass scale, often resembling real civil wars, particularly in the
countryside-had
to be accepted. "Communism" wasoften the name
of
something for the construction
of
which thisviolence was unavoidable.Fourth, and last
of
all, the conflicts and uncertainties aboutthe birth
of
an entirely new society without precedent in Historywere formalized
as
the "struggle between two ways oflife," the way
of
life
of
the proletariat and the way oflife
of
the bourgeoisie, or thecommunist way
of~ife
and the capitalist way
of
life. This struggledoubtless cut across every sector
of
society, but it also raged withinthe communist parties themselves. As such, there was much settling
of
scores within the new forms
of
power. The word "communism"thus implied violence linked to a stable, united group's hold onpower and therefore the chronic liquidation, known as purges,
of
real or imagined adversaries.Thus,
it
can be said that the word "communism" has four
 
34
lacanian ink
· different meanings related to violence: revolutionary violence,linked to the taking
of
power; dictatorial violence, linked to thedestruction
of
the remnants
of
the old regime; transformative violence, linked to the
forced-to
a greater or lesser
degree-
birth
of
new social relationships; and political violence, linked to conflictswithin the Party apparatus and the State.In the real history
of
revolutions
in
the 19th and 20thcenturies, these four figures
of
violence are
of
course completely
interwoven, overlapping, and
almost
indistinguishable from
one another, something that has been the case from the FrenchRevolution on. ConSider, for example, the grisly episode known
as
the "September Massacres." A mob, led
by
radicals,
slaughtered~
half
of
the Paris prison population.
In
a sense, this terrifying episodewas like an episode in a bloody civil war. However, since the peoplewho were massacred were prisoners, the revolutionary regime, therevolutionary State was to blame. Furthermore, in order to preventthese "spontaneous" tragic incidents from happening again, theregime itself would assume responsibility for an unprecedentedintensification
of
repressive police and judicial measures.
And
that intensification would bring about typical, genuinely political violence, such as the execution
of
Hebert, Danton, and theirrespective parties. Thus, the September Massacres were no doubt aviolent reaction dominated by the fear
of
treason,
but
the State wasinvolved
in
both their causes and consequences.
It
can therefore besaid that, in this case, dictatorial violence and bloody mob violencewere interwoven
but
that the revolutionary regime, revolutionarypolitics, attempted to have the last word.On the other hand, the revolutionary State's violence mayat first
be
selective, dominated by internal conflicts within thereigning parties and factions, and then later turn into uncontrolledmass violence. This is the impression we
get
from the history
of
the great Stalinist Terror that took place between 1936 and 1939.In the form
of
public show trials, this Terror staged the settling
of
scores between Stalin's group and well-known Bolshevik leaders

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