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Post-Maoism, Badiou

Post-Maoism, Badiou

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Published by Vasiliki Petsa
Post-Maoism, Badiou
Post-Maoism, Badiou

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Published by: Vasiliki Petsa on Feb 01, 2013
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Even from this quick survey of some of the existing literature on French
Maoism, two recurrent issues stand out that are directly relevant for our
understanding of the role of Maoism in Badiou’s work. I am referring to
the autonomy of politics and to the status of the party. As for the frst issue,
few commentators fail to recognize the astonishing expansion to which the
political playing feld is subject in the late sixties and early seventies, with the
result that “cultural revolution” becomes a generic term to a large extent cut
loose from its concrete moorings in the sequence of events in China. “Now
it is a question of investing culture as much as politics,” Bourseiller observes:
“Maoism, then, becomes more and more fuid, less and less ideological, more
and more ‘everyday-ist’: it is a question of struggling on a day-by-day basis
and of opening up new fronts everywhere, even in everyday life.”29


positions 13:3 Winter 2005


however, has always been unwavering in his insistence on the autonomy of
politics as a practice that would be irreducible to purely cultural questions.
Thus, in his lecture “Politics and Philosophy” from Conditions, he concludes:
“The thing itself, in politics, is a-cultural, as are all thinking and all truth.
Comical, purely comical, is the idea of a cultural politics, as much as that
of a political culture.”30

Nothing could of course seem more contradictory,
coming from someone with such openly declared loyalty to the events of the
Cultural Revolution!
In fact, the UCFML insists in the fnal pages of its founding document:
“One of the great lessons of the revolutionary storm of May is that the class
struggle is not limited to the factory. Capitalist oppression touches on all
domains of social life,” and the same text goes on to conclude: “The front of
culture and art is also very important. The historical experience of the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution teaches us that, in certain circumstances,
it can even become a decisive front of the class struggle.”31

even formed a special section, the Groupe Foudre starting in 1974 and led
primarily by Natacha Michel, to intervene precisely in art and culture at
the level of what were to be specifc contradictions in propaganda—that
is, contradictions in forms of consciousness between the old and the new.
Ultimately, then, Badiou and his comrades were not so far removed from
the idea of a “revolution of everyday life,” as the UCFML’s founding docu-
ment had already suggested: “The revolution is in life and transforms life.”32
In fact, in a retrospective assessment, the organization’s central journal, Le
, openly rejects the opposition between politics and every-
day life that constitutes such a common assumption in most readings of the
post-1968 period: “Our politics is new because it refers to the everyday. After
1968, the will to change everyday life is seen in opposition to spectacular and
politicist politics. But what the noyaux express through everyday politics in
the factory is the affrmation that there is no outcome other than political.”33
Understood in this way, no culture is ever truly apolitical, just as there can
be no political truth that somehow would not touch on culture as well.
Even at the start of the Cultural Revolution, as Badiou is quick to point
out in his talk, the “Sixteen Points” were exceedingly vague, even waxing
metaphysical, when it came to explaining the signifcance of the concept
translated as “cultural.”34

On the other hand, following Mao’s notion that

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“there can be no art above the class struggle,” the UCFML’s Groupe Foudre
also by no means accepted “art” or “culture” as sociologically defned spheres
or domains that would somehow be separate from politics, even while
upholding its confdence in the specifcity of art.35

Badiou himself, fnally,
in recent years has come to admit that a full understanding of the sequence
of events from the late sixties and early seventies of course cannot leave the
conditions of politics, art, science, and love utterly and completely disjoined
according to a typically modernist bias of their self-declared autonomy.
Thus, after seeing how the four conditions of truth are to be separated as
clear and distinct ideas, most notably in Manifesto for Philosophy, he invites
us to reconsider how historically they are most often intertwined, forming
mixed combinations such as “proletarian art” or “courtly love.”
When pressured on this topic in the interview already quoted above,
Badiou even went so far as to accept the notion that “culture,” rather than
merely being a version of “art” emptied out of all truth, as he claims in the
introduction to his Saint Paul, might actually be an appropriate name for
the “networking” (réseau) or “knotting” (nouage) among the various truth
conditions that could be newly theorized as “culture,” if “we can consider
culture to be the network of various forcings, that is, at a given moment
in time, the manner in which the encyclopedic knowledge of the situation
is modifed under the constraints of various operations of forcing which
depend on procedures that are different from one another.”36

In my eyes,
what matters in this proposal is the suggestion that once again, with the
different operations that “force” the available knowledge of a given situation
after its “investigation” from the point of view of the event, we are sent back
to a dialectic between knowledge and truth—now including a “network”
among multiple truths that eventually might serve to formalize the con-
cept of “culture” itself—through a notion taken from the Maoist legacy and
inspired by the Cultural Revolution.
The second issue, on the role of the party, is potentially even more polem-
ical. We know that for the openly Maoist Badiou, as late as in his Théorie du
, “subject” means political subject and that the party is the only mate-
rial embodiment of such a subject. “Every subject is political. Which is why
there are few subjects, and little politics,” Badiou writes, and further on:
“The party is the body of politics, in the strict sense.”37

From this point

positions 13:3 Winter 2005


of view, very little seems to have changed since the concept of the party
was frst reformulated by the UCFML’s founding document to adapt to our
times. And yet, we would be wrong to ignore the distance that separates the
UCFML itself from the party of the new type. The opening text is quick
to remark:

The UCFML is not, in turn, the party. It does not pretend to know in
advance and to propagate what will be the living reality of the party. It
is the noyau that promotes and carries the question of the party into the
midst of the masses, it centralizes experiences in light of this project, it
formulates directives, it verifes them, and it rectifes them, in the practice
of the masses.38

Badiou’s organization considers it unilateral and premature to pretend that
there could be an authentic communist party of a new type at this time in
France and, in fact, rejected the claims of the ex-PCMLF to be this party
even after it was forced to become clandestine: the UCFML insists that “at
the present moment, it is groupuscular and un-proletarian to want to cre-
ate, purely and simply, the party.”39

These statements should not be brushed
aside as being superfcial cautionary tales that would hide an unshakeable
confdence in the vanguard party. Rather, what is at stake is already to some
extent the form of the party itself.
Clearly, the momentary postponement of the party’s actual foundation,
as well as the repeated insistence on merely being the harbinger, or noyau
, of a future organization that is yet to come, highlights a crisis in
the traditional party-form. They are the signs of an unsolved problem—of
a question that becomes a problem and an open task precisely as a result of
the Cultural Revolution: “An open problem, therefore, in the two senses of
the expression: frst, as something that is not solved, and second, as some-
thing of which the masses must take hold.”40

Badiou’s Théorie du sujet, sup-
posedly dominated by a classical Marxist-Leninist type of politics, could not
be clearer in this regard. Marx, Lenin, and Mao appear in the periodization
of this book as three stages—three episodes according to the intrinsic his-
toricity of politics—in the progressive putting into question of the party as
an open task. “The subjective question (how did the Cultural Revolution,
mass uprising against the new bourgeoisie of the state bureaucracy, come up

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against the rebuilding of the party?) remains in suspense as the key question
for all Marxist politics today.”41

I would argue that this kind of critical sus-
pension of the party-form of political organization introduces an irreducible
inner distance, or a dialectical scission, into the latter, making it at the same
time a form of post-Maoism.
Whereas Marx would have subordinated politics to the course of history
as class struggle, and Lenin would propose the party to absorb the widen-
ing gap between history and politics, Badiou and Lazarus claim that with
Mao the concept of history (or History) as an external referent is absented
altogether, in favor of a strictly conjunctural grasp of the laws of politics and
their changing situations. “Thinking no longer takes the form of thinking
the adequation between politics and History. No hope of fusion is ever pres-
ent,” we read, and further on: “The dialectical mode dehistoricizes.”42

Mao, politics can no longer be transitive to an overarching sense of history,
and not even the party can overcome this gap. In other words, the break
with the transitivity of politics is not a break away from the tradition of
Marxism-Leninism that would include Maoism as well but a break internal
the Maoist mode of politics itself.
To use Badiou’s words from Théorie du sujet that apply to the third stage
of his periodization of Marx, Lenin, and Mao: “The working class is not
able ever to resorb the scission, which gives it its being, between its social
immediacy and its political project. Of such a political subject—fnally
restricted to the action of its placeholder, the party, a body made up of an
opaque and multiple soul—we will never say that it constitutes history, not
even that it makes history.”43

Clearly, we are several steps removed from
an orthodox understanding of the dialectic between history and politics,
between social being and consciousness, or between masses and classes, with
the party as vanishing mediator or third term. The opposite almost seems
to be true: only when the rapport between history and politics is defnitively
broken, or gives way to the rapport of a nonrapport, only then do Badiou
and Lazarus in these texts speak of a “dialectical” mode of politics.
If dialectical thinking still involves a third term, it is only the process of
the scission of the frst two that constitutes the tenuous unity of the third.
We should not be totally surprised, then, to be confronted with a similar
defnition of the dialectic in the preface to Badiou’s Logiques des mondes:

positions 13:3 Winter 2005


“Let us agree that by ‘dialectic,’ following Hegel, we should understand that
the essence of all difference is the third term that marks the gap between the
two others.”44

Badiou’s vacillations in this regard—now calling for a renewal
of the dialectic and then arguing that the age of the dialectic is over—are
no doubt symptomatic of precisely the type of problems left unsolved by the
Cultural Revolution.
Finally, on a more empirical note, if we compare the two political orga-
nizations in which Badiou has been active, the UCFML and the OP, one
calling for a “party of a new type” and the other for a “politics without a
party,” should we not conclude by saying that they propose forms of militan-
tism that on the whole and in actual practice are nearly identical? Whether
this is then seen as a practical shortcoming of the earlier organization or as
a theoretical inconsistency of the later one, the fact of the matter is that the
organizational form of politics remains fairly constant for Badiou. This may
very well be a key lesson to be drawn from the suspension of the party-form
accomplished during the Cultural Revolution: not the anarchist or adventur-
ist response of jettisoning all forms of organization, but the need for politics
to be organized at all—in noyaux, committees, communes, or a generically
called “political organization.”45
It is also in this regard that we should consider Badiou’s commentary, in
his talk on the Cultural Revolution, about point 9 from the Sixteen Points
decision. Indeed, if politics is to be more than a short-lived mass uprising or
manifestation, what the idea of the party is meant to add, even if its name
disappears, is precisely the question of material consistency and durability,
that is, the question of organization. “Without organized application, there
is no testing ground, no verifcation, no truth,” as we already read in Théorie
de la contradiction
: “ ‘Theory’ can then engender only idealist absurdities.”46
Or, as Badiou concludes in Peut-on penser la politique? (1985), a book written
after the supposed break away from his earlier Maoism: “Political organiza-
tion is necessary in order for the intervention’s wager to make a process out
of the distance that reaches from an interruption to a fdelity,” even if no
organized practice will ever be able completely to close the gap torn open by
the event in the frst place: “In its propagating fdelity, as a stacked-up series
of interventions by way of wagers, the organization leaves open the point
where the suture of the One fails to seal the Two.”47

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