This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Red Years
In “So Near! So Far!” the first section in his polemical Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, Alain Badiou briefly recalls the tense ideological situation in the late sixties and early seventies in which he once went so far as to boycott his older colleague’s course at the recently created University of Paris VIII at Vincennes: Then came the red years, 1968, the University of Vincennes. For the Maoist that I was, Deleuze, as the philosophical inspiration for what we called the “anarcho-desirers,” was an enemy all the more formidable for being internal to the “movement” and for the fact that his course was one of the focal points of the university.1 In the original French version, published in 1997, this passage—like the remainder of the brief introduction in which it appears—is actually written
positions 13:3 © 2005 by Duke University Press.
in the present tense. Pour le maoïste que je suis, Badiou thus writes, literally, “For the Maoist that I am.”2 Of course, the French usage merely represents a sudden shift to the narrative present; technically speaking, we are still in the past, and, in this sense, the English translation is by no means incorrect. Nevertheless, something of the heightened ambiguity attached to the use of the narrative present is lost in the passage from one language to the other, as the overall image of a potentially discomforting past replaces the suggestion of an ongoing loyalty, or at the very least a lingering debt, to Maoism. By way of framing my translation of Badiou’s talk “The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution?” I want to argue that Badiou’s relation to Maoism, which amounts to a form of post-Maoism, can in fact be summarized in the ambiguous use of the narrative present. If we were to spell out this ambiguity, we could say that Badiou was and still is a Maoist, even though he no longer is the same Maoist that he once was. Badiou himself says at the beginning of his talk, quoting Rimbaud to refer to his red years: ”J’y suis, j’y suis toujours” (“I am there, I am still there,” sometimes translated as “I am here, I am still here”). And yet we also sense that an impression of pastness undeniably overshadows the past’s continuing presence in the present. What seems so near is also exceedingly far; and what is there is perhaps not quite here. By the same token, we should not overlook the possibility that a certain inner distancing may already define the original rapport to Maoism itself. In fact, Mao’s own role for Badiou will largely have consisted in introducing an interior divide into the legacy of Marxism-Leninism. “From the Jinggang Mountains to the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s thought is formulated against the current, as the work of division,” Badiou summarizes in his Théorie de la contradiction (1975), before identifying Mao’s logic of scission as a prime example of dialectical thinking: “Rebel thinking if there ever was one, revolted thinking of the revolt: dialectical thinking.”3 Maoism, then, in more strictly philosophical terms will come to mark an understanding of the dialectic as precisely such a thinking through inner splits and divided recompositions. As Badiou would write several years later in an article for Le Perroquet, one of the periodicals of his Maoist group: “At stake are the criteria of dialectical thinking—general thinking of scission, of rupture, of the event and of recomposition.”4
Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism
We could begin by pondering some of the more unfortunate consequences of the fact that Badiou’s vast body of work, standing nearly as tall as its author, has only recently begun to attract serious critical attention. This is true not only in English-speaking parts of the world, where several books have now been translated or are being translated, but even in his home country of France. In fact, to find a long-standing tradition of critical commentary and concrete analysis informed by this thinker’s work, I often insist that we should turn to Latin America, especially to Argentina, where the journal Acontecimiento: Revista para pensar la política for over a decade has made specific interventions inspired by Badiou about such situations as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina or the Zapatistas in Mexico. Most of Badiou’s publications, together with a considerable number of documents still unedited even in French, have also long been available in Spanish and Portuguese. By contrast, not even the two major texts, Théorie du sujet (1982) and L’Etre et l’événement (1988), are published as of today in English. Many Anglo-American readers thus almost by default limit themselves to the later and shorter books, starting with the 1999 edition of Manifesto for Philosophy (1989) all the way to the deceptively simple 2002 edition of Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (1993), while others have come to Badiou’s philosophy only from neighboring traditions, by focusing on his Deleuze or on the “event” of Christianity as addressed in Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (1997). What is often lost along the way in these readings are precisely Badiou’s long-standing debts to Maoism and to the political sequence officially known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Badiou explains in his Ethics that this Maoist period actually involved a double allegiance, a fidelity not to one but to two events, referring to “the politics of the French Maoists between 1966 and 1976, which tried to think and practise a fidelity to two entangled events: the Cultural Revolution in China, and May ’68 in France.”5 Many readers are of course aware that during those tumultuous years, while never being strictly speaking “pro-China,” the author was a staunch defender of the ideas of Chairman Mao. Badiou himself makes sufficient references throughout his work to suggest how formative this expe-
for his thinking. As Badiou writes in L’Etre et l’événement: “In the end. At least Peter Hallward has the virtue of outlining the possibility of a much more painstaking investigation into the continuing legacy of Badiou’s Maoism. involve a sustained “inquiry” or “investigation” into the possible connection or disconnection between the various aspects of a given situation and that which will have taken place in this situation under the sign of an event. But knowledge of this fact rarely leads to a sustained inquiry into the substance of Badiou’s Maoism. This legacy involves not just an unflinching fidelity to forms of political commitment but also a whole series of theoretical and philosophical invariants. therefore. as the truly basic unity of the procedure of fidelity” and. all procedures of truth. from the thought of Mao Zedong. by the mid. despite the apparent self-criticisms. therefore. we can legitimately treat the inquiry.6 If this is indeed the case. the commonly accepted wisdom among Badiou’s readers now holds that. Furthermore. though. A whole chapter in The Little Red Book is dedicated to this very question under the title “Investigation and Study. thus. should we not at the very least be wary of drawing too quick a line in the sand between the “early” and the “later” Badiou? The Maoist Investigation Even today Badiou’s concept of politics as a procedure of truth remains to a large extent inseparable.to late eighties. To give but one symptomatic indication of this continuity. from the theory and practice of his vision of Maoism. we are witness to a clean break away from all dialectical forms of thinking—including a break away. and not just the political one.”7 Badiou certainly must not have forgotten that the task of undertaking such “inquiries” or “investigations” (enquêtes) in many parts of the world was one of the most important lessons drawn from Maoism. through “the subtle dialectic between knowledges and postevental fidelity” that is at stake in such procedures. as part of “the very kernel of the dialectic between knowledge and truth. finite series of minimal observations [constats].positions 13:3 Winter 2005 578 rience was. and still continues to be.”8 And one of the earliest concrete examples of this method of study can be found in Mao’s own 1927 .
for otherwise they will not be able to link theory with practice. we read: “The Maoist investigation is not a simple observation of facts [un simple constat]. Mao reiterates the principle of the investigation as a form of concrete analysis of a concrete situation. It solves a problem. Such investigation is especially necessary for those who know theory but do not know the actual conditions. it must propose the putting into place of .”10 In fact. Which problem? That of the takeover of the effects of the intervention by the workers. in the French editions. a leading member of the soon-to-become ex–Gauche Prolétarienne. no right to speak. “No investigation. the principle of the investigation. was a fundamental feature of Badiou’s own Maoist organization. is used to translate the concepts that appear as “investigation” and “survey” in English). Although my assertion. by far the most famous French Maoist group. together with the so-called assessment of experience. or bilan d’expérience. would later go on to observe that “the investigation is the theoretical key to French Maoism. so to speak. far from regretting it. The investigation is precisely that which enables any given militant process to continue moving along in the spiral between the various political experiences and their effective theoretical concentration. or enquête.9 Serge July.” to this day I do not regret having made it. going against the abstraction of pure and unconditioned theory: Everyone engaged in practical work must investigate conditions at the lower levels. or Union of Communists of France Marxist-Leninist. In the preface to this last text. in another document: “The investigation must not only bear on the search for a new objective in the struggle. not even the enthusiastic observation of the consequences of our interventions. the main topic of which—the revolutionary role of the peasantry that already sounded a strong note of dissonance in comparison with orthodox Marxism and Leninism—he would later revisit among other places in his 1941 Rural Surveys (again. in a collection of texts summarizing the achievements of the UCFML’s first year of existence. the same term. Thus. enquête.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 579 Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan.” has been ridiculed as “narrow empiricism. the UCFML. and a subsequent cofounder of the daily Libération. I still insist that without investigation there cannot be any right to speak.” and later on.
in March and April 1989. by Badiou’s close friend and collaborator Sylvain Lazarus together with his Italian comrades Sandro Russo. I would argue that they tend to come into the picture precisely where truth and knowledge are articulated in what is still called a dialectic—even though the book’s introduction seems to suppose that we are to leave behind the “stillborn” tradition of dialectical materialism with the decisive turn to mathematics. part of whose joint follow-up discussion was subsequently published in the UCFML’s newsletter Le Perroquet. However. This means to think the rapport—which is rather a disrapport—between a postevental fidelity. Valerio Romitelli. The key of the problem lies in the way in which a procedure of fidelity traverses the existing knowledge. As Badiou explains: This is to say that everything revolves around thinking the couple truth/ knowledge.”11 Following Mao. this last task is taken up in the UCFML’s Le livre des paysans pauvres. a fixed state of knowledge. we must know how to make this live on. set off the ideological struggle. and. a collective and local equivalent to Mao’s Rural Surveys. Before and after the struggle. especially in West and Central France. where. on the other. moreover. In L’Etre et l’événement. on the one hand. or what I will call the encyclopedia of a situation. we may also mention the even more recent survey performed in China. starting from the supernumerary point that is the name of the event.13 If I have gone into this much detail on the question of the investigation. it is of prime importance to lead militant investigations on the great revolts of poor peasants. raised anew in the context of L’Etre et l’événement.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 580 lasting practices.14 .”12 To a large extent. the point is not just to underscore the mere fact that these concepts and principles persist but also and above all to grasp how. that sums up the organization’s militant activity in the countryside in the seventies in France. the UCFML sees an urgent task in carrying out investigations not just in the urban working class but also among the poor peasants: “In particular. something has changed. my reason for doing so is merely to showcase the pivotal role of certain Maoist concepts and principles including in the so-called later works by Badiou. and to what purpose they are put to work. and Claudia Pozzana. Finally.
a miraculous and antidialectical understanding of the relation between truth and knowledge is often the result of a failure to come to terms with the Mao in his work. almost psychoanalytic meaning of the prefix so as to signal a critical attempt to work through the lasting truths as well as the no less undeniable blind spots of Maoism. This can be said to be the case. namely. even for Badiou’s later work the investigation is that which ensures the possible connection of certain elements in the existing situation to the break introduced by a rare event. At the same time. so as to change the old into the new. conversely.” in other words. quasi-mystical or miraculous duality of the kind that so many critics seem to want to stick on Badiou’s own work. this configuration is largely international. but as the name for a peculiar historical configuration in which critical thought returns.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 581 We can see at which point in the overall theory concepts such as the investigation are operative: there where a truth “traverses” knowledge and subsequently opens the way to “force” the available encyclopedia of a given situation. or even more simplistically after the death of Mao Zedong. to retain the active. Without any explicit mention of its Chinese sources. Thus the dialectical rapport between truth and knowledge is precisely the place of inscription of most of Badiou’s debts to Maoism. with contemporary varieties of post-Maoism existing not only in France but . “Post-Maoism. the trial of the Gang of Four. Rather than having become a self-confessed post-Marxist. even if subreptitiously so. only if we are able. Badiou is indeed better described as a post-Maoist. following a career path parallel to that of authors such as Ernesto Laclau. that only an understanding of Badiou’s ongoing debts to Maoism can give us insight into his proposed renewal of the materialist dialectic while. to the half-forgotten and half-repressed lessons of Maoism. however. the process of fidelity and the sequence of investigations in which such fidelity finds its most basic organized expression also keep the dialectic of truth and knowledge from turning into an inoperative. despite so much backlash in the wake of the postmodernism debate. This would seem to confirm the fundamental hypothesis that I wish to lay out in the following pages. not as that which comes simply after the end of Maoism. and the coming into power of Deng Xiaoping. Needless to say.
in a more recent version: “My unique philosophical question. Finally. rather than working through the peculiar nature of antagonistic contradictions. the Basque country. what is not new. is the following: Can we think that there is something new in the situation. I would say. in some ways the current conjuncture in political philosophy can be said to suffer the consequences of a failed or incomplete passage through Maoism. as the effect of lasting contradictions among . or even the United States—to name but a few cases beyond the more obvious instances of Peru. however. some of the best-known political thinkers of our time. and thus we have to think what is repetition. Nepal. which they otherwise wield with surprising ease. and after that we have to think the new. Chile. I am thinking.”15 As a result. including those who otherwise consider themselves loyal to a certain Marx. of course. or the Philippines.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 582 also in Argentina. of the pivotal role attributed to “antagonism” in the writings on radical democracy by Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. we also have to think the situation. or their blurring. or even in the collaborative work by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt—with the latter duo swearing off any pretense to a dialectical interpretation of the concept. what is the old. these political thinkers may very well give themselves an irrefutable air of radicalism while foreclosing the possibility of actually changing a particular situation—of changing the old into the new. Indeed. is that in so doing. to think the new in the situation. The painful irony. “The true dialectical question is never in the first place: what happens that is important?” he writes in Théorie de la contradiction: “The true question is always: what happens that is new?”16 Or. these political philosophers seem to call for a recognition of the structural or even ontological fact of antagonism in general as being constitutive of the social field. and the former more generally showing little or no theoretical appreciation at all for the author of “On Contradiction.”17 This struggle between the old and the new. in the global situation today. which is precisely what always was to have been thought according to Badiou. not the new outside the situation nor the new somewhere else. but can we really think through novelty and treat it in the situation?” Badiou says in an interview: “But. for instance. become caught in the trappings of a conceptual framework that might have benefited from a more sustained confrontation with some of the Maoist lessons taken up by Badiou.
both in conferences from Conditions (1994) and in his Ethics (1993). as can be gleaned from his brief remarks. about the “disaster” provoked by the Red Guards. of Marxism and certainly of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism? A second question regards the extent to which Badiou’s logical and ontological inquiries. which was still strongly overdetermined by his Maoist experience.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 583 the people. Finally. was precisely one of the more famous universal lessons of the Cultural Revolution. Between these two moments. declares the historical end. if not also the utter doctrinal demise. whether euphoric or melancholy. offer a systematic account of Mao’s thought inflected by French theory and philosophy. the Organisation Politique (OP). between May 1966 and September 1967) to his own concept of “politics without a party” as practiced by an offshoot of the UCFML.18 The different steps in this evaluation of Maoism immediately raise a series of questions. especially over the formal distinction between antagonistic and nonantagonistic contradictions. Serving Truths Even a quick survey of Badiou’s work supports the thesis of an ongoing and sustained debt to Maoism. at the height of the Cultural Revolution. has he perhaps fallen in line with the contemporary trend that. but his recently published lecture series. in an attempt to think through their possible relevance today. Not only do his first publications. the short books Théorie de la contradiction (1975) and De l’idéologie (1976). would obliterate the . After his seminar on Théorie du sujet. also includes a long lecture. Le Siècle (2005). ”One Divides into Two. in its most reduced version. principally in L’Etre et l’événement and in the new book Logiques des mondes. together with his running commentary on Zhang Shiying’s interpretation of Hegel in Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne (1978). this time by linking the sequence of events in China between 1966 and 1976 (or. Badiou’s relation to Maoism may seem to have been mostly critical.” in which Badiou returns to some of the most violent events and debates of the late sixties. A first question obviously concerns the precise extent to which Badiou would have abandoned the principles of his youthful Maoism. in his lecture on the Cultural Revolution. Badiou once more confronts Mao’s legacy.
In particular. so as to investigate what would be needed. which was the starting point of his work with. Louis Althusser? Third. once he seems to abandon the Maoist vocabulary. upholds the truths of love). in the actual conditions of art or politics or science. of science. the aim is to learn from truths produced outside philosophy. strongly party-oriented. . insofar as it strives to be at the service of truths. that which conditions thought from the outside. and of politics. Philosophy is thus at the service of art. we might want to ask ourselves how innovative and far-reaching Badiou’s recent criticisms of the Cultural Revolution and of the disastrous role of the Red Guards really are.” Mao had said. and in thinking ultimately serves. would really undermine his earlier. Has he all but abandoned this last tradition. do these criticisms actually amount to an attempt at self-criticism of the excesses in his earlier works? Finally. and more famously: “Serve the people. the question also remains to what extent the idea of a politics without a party. Painful though it may be to admit that philosophy itself does not produce any truth. In other words. and soon afterward against. Badiou concludes: A philosophy worthy of this name—that which begins with Parmenides—is nonetheless antinomical to the service of goods. which Badiou now finds to be already partially at work in the Cultural Revolution. how much change has really taken place in his concept—not to mention his actual practice—of the organization of politics? “Learn from the masses” and “investigate conditions at the lower levels. a materialist philosopher is one who begins by listening to.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 584 role of dialectical materialism.”19 For Badiou. as a mixed procedure. Whether it is also capable of being at the service of love is more doubtful (art. on the other hand. the philosopher’s task thus consists in serving the truths that are occasionally produced elsewhere.20 From “serving the people” to “serving the truths” thus could sum up the trajectory behind Badiou’s post-Maoism. accounts of Maoism. In both cases. to register and concentrate the effects of certain events within philosophy. because it is always possible to strive to be at the service of that which one does not constitute oneself. in terms of conceptual tools.
among a few others. This proposal eventually would be rejected by the end of the same year. Ménétrey. Badiou joined with his fellow militants Natacha Michel and Sylvain Lazarus. Badiou’s openly Maoist years are specifically tied up with a group of militants gathered under the banner of the UCFML. is thus already a post-Leninism: both a step away from and a renewed inquiry into the party-form of emancipatory politics. It is rooted in the experience. in this sense.”21 The ambiguity lies in the fact that the party of a new type is also already a type of organization that no longer seems to be much of a formal party at all: for example. with the form of the party as the vanguard of class-consciousness in the strict Leninist sense: “What is called Maoism has developed for our time a deepening of the Leninist conception of the party. Maoism.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 585 Maoism as Post-Leninism As I mentioned before. no membership cards. or UJC(ML). to give birth to the UCFML. that is. namely. and no party secretaries. or (Group for the Foundation of) the Union of Communists of France Marxist-Leninist. this group should not be confused with the UJCML. despite its apparent synonymy with Marxism-Leninism.”23 In 1969 Badiou had attempted an innovation from within as a dissident founding member of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU). the universal bearing and the assessment of the Cultural Revolution. however. to found a “party of a new type. and D. sometimes referred to simply as the UCF. which likewise drew many . published in 1981: “Our conviction that Maoism is a stage of Marxism—its post-Leninist stage—dates back to our foundation. In the meantime. The futurity of this small organization. not to mention an almost identical name. there are no strict rules of affiliation. Despite sharing many ideological interests. oriented toward a unification of communists yet to come. This is summed up in a retrospective statement of the UCFML. as well as their loyalty to a Mallarméan principle of restricted action. is foremost an effort to come to terms with the party-form. Harry Jancovici.”22 Badiou’s Maoism. at the PSU’s national convention held in Dijon. the Union of the Communist Youths (Marxist-Leninist). is perhaps not foreign to the ambiguity that surrounds the main political objective of its participants. by coauthoring the pamphlet Contribution au problème de la construction d’un parti marxisteléniniste de type nouveau together with Emmanuel Terray.
and all this while history continues to run its course under the darkest of banners. “To defend Marxism today means to defend a weakness. and on the same page he continues: “That which we name ‘Maoism’ is less a final result than a task. by contrast.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 586 members from the student body of the École Normale Supérieure at rue d’Ulm—including many fellow Althusserians such as Jacques Rancière and Jacques-Alain Miller.”25 If there is a shift in this regard in Badiou’s ongoing work. it is the slight but significant displacement from the idea of politicizing history. rather than as a lost cause or a past accomplishment to be savored with historiographical nostalgia. a historical guideline. the latter of whom would soon move over to Lacan’s camp. To measure the old. to clarify the destruction. there is only one vital question: “What is. For Badiou. at the exact time when barricades were everywhere going up in the streets of Paris. which remits a purely sequential understanding of politics to its own intrinsic history. to recompose politics from the scarcity of its independent anchorings. while openly acknowledging the crisis of Marxism. We have to do Marxism. The UCFML. the road to follow so that Marxism and the real workers’ movement fuse?”24 Even several years later. the UJC(ML) was officially dissolved in the wake of the May 1968 uprising and as a result of the perceived failure to establish any lasting alliance between the student movement and the struggles of the working class. Formed in February 1966 and led most famously by Robert Linhart until the latter’s total personal breakdown two years later. to that of historicizing politics. which still assumes a relatively external anchoring of politics in history understood at the level of social and economical being. in terms of both their unintended backlash and their belated consequences for the political situation in France. here and now. It is a question of thinking and practicing post-Leninism. As Badiou and Lazarus indicate in the editorial comment included in almost each volume of their Yénan series. Badiou continues to view Maoism as an unfinished task. reaches the peak of its activism in the early to mid-seventies precisely as a result of the self-imposed task to continue interrogating the events of May–June 1968. it is precisely the Maoist experience that runs up . published in the seventies by the same editing house owned by François Maspero that also supported Althusser’s famous Théories series.” Badiou proposes in his Théorie du sujet.
also constitute key events themselves in the shifting articulation between politics and history that calls for such readings or investigations in the first place. But Maoism and the Cultural Revolution. or between culture and politics. the Russian Revolution. the Cultural Revolution.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 587 against the impossibility of fully accomplishing the first idea. together with the talk on the Paris Commune from the same cycle. we will examine various fundamental episodes in the historicity of politics. with the events of May 1968 and their aftermath. Christophe Bourseiller.”26 In other words. and that of . the UCFML appears as little more than a “sect” caught somewhere in between the spaces of culture. typically draw a clear distinction between ideology and politics. forever oscillating between authoritarianism and anarchy in terms of their own internal organization. Politics. is meant to clarify the links between history and politics at the start of the new century. caught up as they are in an effort to explain the contradictory alignment. In Bourseiller’s eyes. to which the UCFML pledges half of its allegiance in the aftermath of May 1968 in France. For example. May ’68. Ideology Accounts of French Maoism. happens to serve as a backdrop against which we can hear or read Badiou’s talk on the Cultural Revolution. and bound to disappear for good with the death of Chairman Mao. whereas his recent talk on the Cultural Revolution. where they indeed played the role of an important trigger for feminist and gay rights struggles in France. proposed by the Organisation Politique. or lack thereof. Culture. the many French Maoist groups would have entailed little more than a poorly thought-out combination of left-wing populism and kneejerk third worldism. it is not just by chance that this debate. finally. Politically. Here. completely limits the impact of his subjects to the realm of culture. and so on. the Resistance. in Les maoïstes: La folle histoire des gardes rouges français (1996). however. whereby the perceived ineffectiveness of the overall movement as a political phenomenon paradoxically receives a positive twist insofar as it would open up a much wider space for cultural and ideological freedom. over the historicity of politics. which would be a fantasy screen worthy of further projections. in light of this question. offers a good example of the second: “This cycle of talks.
in his much more scholarly analysis in Trotskyism and Maoism: Theory and Practice in France and the United States (1988). who in an explicit attempt at sociological self-reflexivity explains how he first became interested in Maoism in 1966–67 thanks to Badiou’s philosophy course “Marx. Hess. In Fields’s account. Thus the group continues to rely on random and seemingly absurd acts of violence. with flexible tactics and initiatives comparable to those much more publicized ones used by GP members and sympathizers. . the UCFML appears as a group that somehow sits astride the opposition between “hierarchical” and “antihierarchical” Maoism—two adjectives that in the end are little more than code words to describe two opposing attitudes toward the Leninist party. Les maoïstes français: Une dérive institutionnelle (1974). albeit a future one. Like the PCMLF. or Gauche Prolétarienne. while intervening in the situation of illegal immigrants. division proposed by Rémi Hess in his much earlier work. such as the raiding of supermarkets or the interruption of movie screenings perceived to be reactionary or fascist. with the groups on each side of the cleavage having virtually nothing to do with one another. Badiou’s organization thus continues to stress the need for an organized form of politics. Fields in part derives the split in his account of French Maoism from a comparable. too. would later become active in the same city in a Maoist splinter group inspired by Badiou’s thought. French Maoism likewise can be divided into two tendencies. only to become the most renowned and media oriented of all groups of French Maoism. Nietzsche. which according to him ends up having been completely misguided. For A. this time tripartite. while at the other extreme a much more favorable light is shed on the spontaneous and slightly anarchistic acts undertaken by the GP. Freud” in Reims.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 588 politics. Eventually. which he calls not so much “political” and “cultural” but rather “hierarchical” and “antihierarchical”: “At least from 1968 to the mid-1970s the major characteristic of French Maoism was indeed a clear-cut dualistic cleavage. aside from suffering from the cult of personality surrounding a small number of university intellectuals. for example. which arose sphinxlike out of the ashes of the UJC(ML) in October 1968. foremost among them Badiou himself. the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of France. Belden Fields.”27 At one extreme of the divide we thus find the strict discipline and austerity of the PCMLF.
“Now it is a question of investing culture as much as politics. As for the first issue. In this overview. . two recurrent issues stand out that are directly relevant for our understanding of the role of Maoism in Badiou’s work. then. he comes to favor a kind of Maoist cultural politics. on the level of ideological struggles outside the framework of strict party bureaucracy. groups that effectively were among the driving forces behind the MLF. Hess clearly prefers the libertarian spirit of the third. is that it occurs in a chronological order that seems to be the exact opposite of the intuitive ABC of Leninist party-organization. what is particularly interesting and even uncanny about this development of French Maoism. when he draws a line of demarcation between three moments in French Maoism that he calls “organizational. as an intermediate group between the organizational and the libidinal. The Party and Political Autonomy Even from this quick survey of some of the existing literature on French Maoism. embodied by groups such as those gathered around the journals Tout and Vive la Révolution. closely related to the critique of everyday life that was being formulated around the same time by Henri Lefebvre and by the Situationist International.” it should come as no surprise that to the blind discipline and bureaucratic dogmatism of the first. or Movement for the Liberation of Women. and the FHAR.” “ideological. less and less ideological. epitomized by the PCMLF. from hard-line party discipline through open ideological struggle to libidinal drift.”29 Badiou. the UCFML appears.28 For Hess. 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. few commentators fail to recognize the astonishing expansion to which the political playing field is subject in the late sixties and early seventies.” and “libinidal.” Bourseiller observes: “Maoism. together with the UJC(ML) and its successor the (ex-)GP of La Cause du Peuple. Thus. 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.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 589 however. becomes more and more fluid. or Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action. I am referring to the autonomy of politics and to the status of the party.
openly rejects the opposition between politics and everyday 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.”33 Understood in this way.” and the same text goes on to conclude: “The front of culture and art is also very important. is the idea of a cultural politics.” as the UCFML’s founding document had already suggested: “The revolution is in life and transforms life. Even at the start of the Cultural Revolution. purely comical. Capitalist oppression touches on all domains of social life. coming from someone with such openly declared loyalty to the events of the Cultural Revolution! In fact. it can even become a decisive front of the class struggle. following Mao’s notion that . in a retrospective assessment. to intervene precisely in art and culture at the level of what were to be specific contradictions in propaganda—that is. Comical. as Badiou is quick to point out in his talk. just as there can be no political truth that somehow would not touch on culture as well.”34 On the other hand. has always been unwavering in his insistence on the autonomy of politics as a practice that would be irreducible to purely cultural questions. then. Ultimately. when it came to explaining the significance of the concept translated as “cultural. is a-cultural. as are all thinking and all truth. no culture is ever truly apolitical. in his lecture “Politics and Philosophy” from Conditions. the UCFML insists in the final 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. After 1968.”31 The UCFML even formed a special section. the “Sixteen Points” were exceedingly vague. the will to change everyday life is seen in opposition to spectacular and politicist politics. Thus. he concludes: “The thing itself. But what the noyaux express through everyday politics in the factory is the affirmation that there is no outcome other than political.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 590 however. the organization’s central journal. as much as that of a political culture. the Groupe Foudre starting in 1974 and led primarily by Natacha Michel.”30 Nothing could of course seem more contradictory. Badiou and his comrades were not so far removed from the idea of a “revolution of everyday life. even waxing metaphysical.”32 In fact. in certain circumstances. contradictions in forms of consciousness between the old and the new. Le Marxiste-Léniniste. in politics. The historical experience of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution teaches us that.
he invites us to reconsider how historically they are most often intertwined. 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. 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 concept of “culture” itself—through a notion taken from the Maoist legacy and inspired by the Cultural Revolution. even while upholding its confidence in the specificity of art. science.” When pressured on this topic in the interview already quoted above. forming mixed combinations such as “proletarian art” or “courtly love. as late as in his Théorie du sujet. after seeing how the four conditions of truth are to be separated as clear and distinct ideas. “Every subject is political. finally.” Badiou writes. We know that for the openly Maoist Badiou. as he claims in the introduction to his Saint Paul.”37 From this point . Thus. 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.” the UCFML’s Groupe Foudre also by no means accepted “art” or “culture” as sociologically defined spheres or domains that would somehow be separate from politics. “subject” means political subject and that the party is the only material embodiment of such a subject. in the strict sense. Which is why there are few subjects. on the role of the party.35 Badiou himself. most notably in Manifesto for Philosophy. 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.” if “we can consider culture to be the network of various forcings. and further on: “The party is the body of politics. and little politics. art. that is. at a given moment in time. is potentially even more polemical.”36 In my eyes.” rather than merely being a version of “art” emptied out of all truth.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 591 “there can be no art above the class struggle. and love utterly and completely disjoined according to a typically modernist bias of their self-declared autonomy. Badiou even went so far as to accept the notion that “culture. the manner in which the encyclopedic knowledge of the situation is modified under the constraints of various operations of forcing which depend on procedures that are different from one another. The second issue.
And yet. in turn. very little seems to have changed since the concept of the party was first reformulated by the UCFML’s founding document to adapt to our times. Rather. and Mao appear in the periodization of this book as three stages—three episodes according to the intrinsic historicity of politics—in the progressive putting into question of the party as an open task. or noyau promoteur. 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. come up . in the practice of the masses. as something that is not solved. The opening text is quick to remark: The UCFML is not. what is at stake is already to some extent the form of the party itself. we would be wrong to ignore the distance that separates the UCFML itself from the party of the new type. the party. Lenin. of a future organization that is yet to come.”39 These statements should not be brushed aside as being superficial cautionary tales that would hide an unshakeable confidence in the vanguard party.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. supposedly dominated by a classical Marxist-Leninist type of politics. it is groupuscular and un-proletarian to want to create. in the two senses of the expression: first. purely and simply.”40 Badiou’s Théorie du sujet. as well as the repeated insistence on merely being the harbinger. could not be clearer in this regard. “The subjective question (how did the Cultural Revolution. 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. Marx. therefore. in fact. It is the noyau that promotes and carries the question of the party into the midst of the masses. It does not pretend to know in advance and to propagate what will be the living reality of the party. the momentary postponement of the party’s actual foundation. it centralizes experiences in light of this project. as something of which the masses must take hold. and second.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 592 of view. mass uprising against the new bourgeoisie of the state bureaucracy. and it rectifies them. the party. highlights a crisis in the traditional party-form. it formulates directives. it verifies them. Clearly.
No hope of fusion is ever present. 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 to the Maoist mode of politics itself. and Lenin would propose the party to absorb the widening gap between history and politics. making it at the same time a form of post-Maoism. or a dialectical scission. If dialectical thinking still involves a third term. and Mao: “The working class is not able ever to resorb the scission. not even that it makes history.” we read. then. politics can no longer be transitive to an overarching sense of history. In other words. between its social immediacy and its political project. which gives it its being. and further on: “The dialectical mode dehistoricizes. to be confronted with a similar definition of the dialectic in the preface to Badiou’s Logiques des mondes: . Whereas Marx would have subordinated politics to the course of history as class struggle.”42 After Mao. or between masses and classes.”43 Clearly. The opposite almost seems to be true: only when the rapport between history and politics is definitively broken. Badiou and Lazarus claim that with Mao the concept of history (or History) as an external referent is absented altogether. We should not be totally surprised. only then do Badiou and Lazarus in these texts speak of a “dialectical” mode of politics. To use Badiou’s words from Théorie du sujet that apply to the third stage of his periodization of Marx. and not even the party can overcome this gap. with the party as vanishing mediator or third term.”41 I would argue that this kind of critical suspension of the party-form of political organization introduces an irreducible inner distance. Lenin. it is only the process of the scission of the first two that constitutes the tenuous unity of the third. into the latter.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 593 against the rebuilding of the party?) remains in suspense as the key question for all Marxist politics today. or gives way to the rapport of a nonrapport. in favor of a strictly conjunctural grasp of the laws of politics and their changing situations. a body made up of an opaque and multiple soul—we will never say that it constitutes history. “Thinking no longer takes the form of thinking the adequation between politics and History. between social being and consciousness. we are several steps removed from an orthodox understanding of the dialectic between history and politics. Of such a political subject—finally restricted to the action of its placeholder. the party.
but the need for politics to be organized at all—in noyaux. the organization leaves open the point where the suture of the One fails to seal the Two. “Without organized application. what the idea of the party is meant to add.” as we already read in Théorie de la contradiction: “ ‘Theory’ can then engender only idealist absurdities. that is. Indeed.”47 . even if its name disappears.”46 Or. one calling for a “party of a new type” and the other for a “politics without a party.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 594 “Let us agree that by ‘dialectic. Finally. there is no testing ground. about point 9 from the Sixteen Points decision. the UCFML and the OP. no truth. if politics is to be more than a short-lived mass uprising or manifestation. as a stacked-up series of interventions by way of wagers. no verification. if we compare the two political organizations in which Badiou has been active.” even if no organized practice will ever be able completely to close the gap torn open by the event in the first place: “In its propagating fidelity. the fact of the matter is that the organizational form of politics remains fairly constant for Badiou. we should understand that the essence of all difference is the third term that marks the gap between the two others.’ following Hegel. as Badiou concludes in Peut-on penser la politique? (1985). 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 adventurist response of jettisoning all forms of organization. communes. in his talk on the Cultural Revolution. or a generically called “political organization.”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. is precisely the question of material consistency and durability. the question of organization.”45 It is also in this regard that we should consider Badiou’s commentary. on a more empirical note. committees.” should we not conclude by saying that they propose forms of militantism 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. a book written after the supposed break away from his earlier Maoism: “Political organization is necessary in order for the intervention’s wager to make a process out of the distance that reaches from an interruption to a fidelity.
are comparable in function and style to La Distance Politique (1991–today). what should immediately strike the reader is the overwhelming abundance of materials available. the theory and philosophy of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.”48 Theodor W. that is. these materials in terms of quantity of course far exceed the individual production of Badiou’s entire oeuvre as a philosopher. By this I mean to draw attention to an often-calumniated principle of the dialectical method. or not signed at all. close to two dozen pamphlets totaling over six hundred pages. behind Hegel’s most abstract logical formalism: “Hegel has to be read against the . would reiterate this basic principle in his own Hegel: Three Studies by arguing painstakingly for the need to recapture the concrete experiential content. particularly in terms of human labor.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 595 Maoism and the Logic of Deviations If now. Nine books. Adorno. the group’s two periodicals: Le Marxiste-Léniniste (1974–82) and Le Perroquet (1981–89). between the logical (or onto-logical) and the historical (or phenomenological). tracts. Against common textbook variations on the theme of the real and the rational. the Organisation Politique. many years later. the identity or at the very least the cobelonging between concept and experience. in the dialectic of notions. Broadly speaking. even though they are rarely ever taken into account. writing in shorthand notation in his Philosophical Notebooks: “Hegel as a genius guessed the dialectics of things. and international proletarianism. and countless flyers. phenomena. and circulars: many of them signed collectively. which constitutes the newsletter of the UCFML’s successor. criticized as a revisionist notion in light of the Marxian critique of political economy. under a pseudonym. we take a closer look at how the UCFML positions itself in the particular context of French Maoism. the world (nature). these publications cover four major areas: the group’s own history and assessment of its militant activity. Lenin was after all fond of underscoring the importance of this principle for his own reading of Hegel’s Science of Logic. two periodicals running for over a decade. the concept and crisis of so-called monopoly state capitalism. before interrogating the consequences of Badiou’s Maoism for his overall philosophy. Far more important than the sheer quantity of Badiou’s contributions to this mass of information is the question of conceptual rigor in relation to actual experience. In addition.
the only alternative is between practices that are either dogmatic and opportunistic on the right. books to which a third volume. In his short didactic books on Maoism. however.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 596 grain. the measure of success for avoiding these two extremes depends on the specific links that in any situation tie a given political organization not just to the masses in general but to their most advanced sectors: “Without a mass alliance. Théorie de la contradiction and De l’idéologie.” about the alternating risks of left-wing adventurism and right-wing dogmatism. however formal it seems to be. Every logical and ontological operation. the UCFML’s argument about twin ideological deviations begins to function as a means to formalize a certain logic of revolt at a distance from the specific cases of both the (ex-)GP’s antirevisionist violence and the exPCMLF’s blind defense of established doctrines. planned under the title Antagonisme et nonantagonisme: Les différents types de contradiction. and in such a way that every logical operation.”51 Time and again. must thus be related against the grain to the experiential core that conditions it. most notably in “On Practice” and “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People.”49 This is also how we should strain to read Badiou. I cannot recount in detail every twist and turn to which the logic of “leftist” and “rightist” ideological deviations becomes subject both in the many publications of the UCFML and in Badiou’s own work. this is how the argument over deviations from the just line will be reiterated.50 Ultimately. Badiou concentrates his critique of ideological deviations . and vice versa. Beyond strictly organizational matters. the important point not to be missed in this context is how this argument at the same time can help us better understand the place and force of Maoism in Badiou’s philosophy as a whole. In the following pages. Without a mass line. Suffice it to track a few representative steps in the forceful conceptual elaboration that turns this logic from a primarily tactical and political question into an issue with profound philosophical consequences. or else putschist and adventurist. there is no mass line. as they are typically being redefined under the influence of Chairman Mao. is reduced to its experiential core. however formal it may well seem to be. One particularly useful way of doing so involves an analysis of the exact content behind the notion of “leftist” and “rightist” ideological deviations. In keeping with some of Mao’s own assertions. unfortunately would never come to be added.
seems willing to admit. There are certainly elements in the concepts of over. which was famously said to be critical and revolutionary in principle. except for a few occasions. But what should be clear is the fact that this former student seeks to take the work of his old teacher still one step further in the direction of articulating structure and history. if not in structural causality itself.and underdetermination. to a conservative and even metaphysical articulation of instances and hierarchies. now turned New Philosopher and anti-Marxist critic of the gulag. Badiou first of all reproaches his former teacher for reducing the logic of Marx’s Capital to a combinatory of places and instances in the mode of production. but its existence. it is only all too easy to give a purely combinatory version of it and to expulse from it the dialectic of forces in favor of the articulation of places. Even if the dominant role is allowed to shift from one structural instance to another. undialectically combining both extremes in living proof of their deep-seated complicity. Althusser’s later theory of ideology likewise defines an invariant mechanism by which individuals come to be interpellated and function in any given social system. from the point of view of loss and destruction that unhinges the structure from within: “The structure has its being in a hierarchical combination.”52 This risk of a metaphysical outlook is especially poignant in the use made out of the concept of the mode of production. Whether this is a fair assessment of Althusser’s writings in For Marx and Reading Capital should not concern us here. that would bring Althusser much closer to Badiou than the latter in general. as well as being and existence.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 597 on the alternative between Deleuzian anarchism and Althusserian structuralism—with the (ex-)GP enthusiast André Glucksmann.”53 Althusser’s scientificist deviation would thus have consisted in limiting the dialectic. Taken in isolation. the radical scientificity of which lies at the core of the original Althusserian project: “The concept of ‘mode of production’ is an inexhaustible goldmine for deviations of the structuralist type. The mobility of appearances refers to a closed system. that is to say its his- . The essential conservatism of all structural thinking risks on this point to change dialectics into its opposite: metaphysics. whether class based or not. there is no place in this overall picture for a contradictory transformation of the structure itself: “The displacement of the terms from one place to another leaves intact the underlying structure of exchange.
”57 This combination cannot take rest in a quiet complementarity between two . anarchism is merely the flipside of conservative structuralism. within the present state of affairs: “In order to envisage things from the point of view of the future within the present itself.”56 Most important. it is a question of grasping the tendency.”55 The difficult task of a properly materialist dialectical mode of thinking would thus consist in thinking a split correlation of structure and history. of combinatories and differentials—without allowing either side of the articulation to deviate and lapse back into a unilateral hypostasis.” Badiou asserts: “Structuralism and the ideologies of desire are profoundly coupled to one another. and dissolution inherent in the structure—this dialectic of lack and excess between a structure and its impossible metastructure—will come to mark the site of the immanent break within the structure that is then called an event. of states and tendencies. however.”54 In Badiou’s later work. and not only as state. If an overemphasis on the structural logic of places marks a “right-wing” deviation. impasse. in their common contradiction of the dialectic. then conversely an exclusive emphasis on the logic of forces will quickly push us into the wide-open arms of “left-wing” anarchists. as rupture. we must seize hold of this present as tendency. of the combinatory and the differential evaluation of forces. whether toward blockage and loss or toward transformation and change. as accumulation of forces. is the fact that anarchism and structuralism make for surprisingly good bedfellows. “The dialectic brings to life the contradiction of the structural and the qualitative.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 598 tory. or as figure. The drift is the shadow of the combinatory. “In truth. as increase or decrease. they are confused. fuses with that of its destruction. What becomes evident in this harsh response. this tendency toward loss.” Badiou proposes in a series of variations on the same theme: “The complete dialectical intelligibility of what is principal must thus apprehend not only the state of things but their tendency. as Marx already hinted when he spoke of the essentially revolutionary nature of dialectical reason. The structure has no other existence besides the movement of its own loss. Or at least this is how Badiou in his Maoist years responds to the “anarcho-desirers” who flock to Deleuze’s courses in Vincennes. Far from being opposed. and each term of the contradiction reflects this transitory mode of existence by its division in its being-for-thestructure and its being-for-the-dissolution-of-the-structure.
which reflect reality.”61 Everything then is made to depend on the pure state of the existing situation. are all equally split. finally. is itself dialectical. whether by precipitously jumping over one’s own shadow or .”60 Everything then fuses into the being of pure becoming. one neglects the structural element.”58 Such is. Badiou unsurprisingly mentions the economism of the Second International: “If one neglects the tendential element. as a typical example. or place and force. if I can say so.” it is the structural element inherent in every tendency that is neglected in favor of a viewpoint of pure. or between figure and tendency. is itself torn apart between its qualitative subordination to the scission taken as process. Here. in other words. the resulting articulation should give way to the divided unity of a process of scission. insofar as its conceptual operators.”59 In their mirroring relationship.” it is the possibility of radical change that is foreclosed in the name of a purely objective analysis of the structure. one takes the tendency for an accomplished state of affairs. precisely because it has no existence except as part of a process of scission. that is. In the case of “rightism. one inevitably represses the new in the name of the old. unlimited. must be articulated through the scission of each one of the two terms. In each case.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 599 symmetrical poles. between being and existence. neglect the extent to which structure and tendency. we can now resummarize how Badiou’s Maoist recasting of the materialist dialectic also allows us to define the problem of ideological deviations. and affirmative becoming. the two types of ideological deviation. one supports the established order. Badiou mentions the adventurist tendencies fostered by May 1968: “If. the logic of scission that would define the complete trajectory behind the proposal for a renewed understanding of the materialist dialectic as the torn articulation between structure and history. Instead. One becomes installed in an opportunistic attitude of waiting. All such deviations ultimately slip into a form of idealism insofar as they disavow what Badiou describes as the dialecticity of the dialectic: “The dialectic. the source of which is the uninterrupted struggle between the two terms and the incessant modification of their rapport. and the movement of transformation of this very quality itself. indeed. which is to be applied to every term in the analysis: “Each term. Using the terms put forth in Théorie de la contradiction and De l’idéologie. In the case of “leftism. as unity. Here.
breaks. from the molar versus the molecular . he holds. the case of Deleuze furthermore may give us an idea of how place and force can even become combined—as in fact they usually are—within a “leftist” deviation.” Badiou sums up in Théorie de la contradiction: “In this sense the dialectic is a logic of places. complete with its finally determining instance.”62 On the other hand. this traditionally comes down to the presupposition of a stark dualism of necessity and freedom. however.”63 Even if both these views have reason partially on their side. it is no less true that every structure of assigned places is constantly being transformed as a result of inner splits. reason is also on the side of Deleuze. a place which is itself defined by its relation to the place of the other term. everything comes down to the following: seized in a given state of things. “In fact. It is of course true that every instance or contradiction in society must be seen as part of a structure in dominance. every contradiction assigns a determinate place to its terms. In this regard. In this regard. each one taken in isolation is clearly insufficient. the real difficulty lies rather in finding a way to overcome the apparent complementarity between the two. by contrast.” a contribution to La situation actuelle sur le front philosophique (1977) published by the Yénan-Philosophy Group of the UCFML. Badiou thus cites an extensive passage from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia in which all the book’s well-known dualisms. without having recourse to the mediation of a synthesis: “The central dialectical problem is thus the following: how can the logic of places and the logic of forces be articulated—without fusion?”64 In Badiou’s reading. In “The Party and the Flux. “Seized in its uninterrupted movement in stages. the unilateral hypostasis of one side of the divided articulation to the exclusion of the other is what prevents the unfolding of a properly dialectical investigation. In moral terms.” Badiou continues: “In its tendential or properly historical aspect.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 600 by pusillanimously staying put until the crisis has matured. the dialectic is a logic of forces. For Badiou. every contradiction confronts forces whose nature is differential: what matters in the evaluation of force from the viewpoint of the movement of the contradiction is no longer its transitory state of subordination or domination but its increase or decrease. or all along a particular sequence in its development. Badiou argues that reason is certainly on the side of Althusser. and changes.
”65 Over and against the sheer energy of this unconditional freedom. here is what they came up with to exorcise the Hegelian ghost. Power and resistance then perennially seem to oppose the same vitally creative masses to the same deadly repressive system.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 601 all the way to subjugated-groups versus subject-groups. energy as such. more than a century ago.” Badiou charges: “It is pure. The old freedom of autonomy.”67 But. which is then but another name for life itself. the invariable system. generic energy. or absence of law. the ‘massist’ ideology that came out of 1968 excels in flattening out the dialectical analysis. That which is law unto itself. in the eyes of Marx and Engels: That the “movement” would be a desiring push. or between the plebes and the state—dualities to which today I would add the explicitly undialectical or even antidialectical antagonism between the multitude and Empire. that nothing is done against the existing order but only . unbound.’ nor the ‘movement’ that as a whole carry the principle of engenderment of the new.” Badiou remarks: “Always the same exalted masses against the identical power. but that which in them divides itself from the old. against all expectations seem to find their driving principle in a thinly disguised version of Kant’s autonomy versus determinism argument. “In this regard. there is only the blind necessity of a paranoid order that like a vampire feeds on the sheer energy and creativity of freedom. in addition to the moral one. what is more. far from signaling a radically new and untimely discovery. This typically comes in the guise of a direct and unmediated opposition between the masses and the state. that every institution would be paranoid and in principle heterogeneous to the “movement”. hastily repainted in the colors of what the youth in revolt legitimately demands: some spit on the bourgeois family. all this fascination with “massism” or “movementism”—and again today I would add “multitudinism”—was already a prime target of urgent attacks. a flowing flux. “Deleuze and Guattari do not hide this much: return to Kant. Of this radical dualism of pure force and pure place within “leftism” we can also formulate a political variant.”66 Not only does this view of politics fail to take into account how concretely no movement proceeds as a whole except by the inner splits that dislocate and revoke the totality: “It is never ‘the masses.
there are quarrels going on about this in certain cottages—of pure movement: All these daring revisions. movement and organization. that therefore it is necessary to replace all organization.68 Cutting diagonally across the inoperative dualisms of masses and power. inoperative and repetitive.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 602 according to the affirmative schizze that withdraws from this order. a principle of bitter resentment against the entire history of the twentieth century: ‘In order for the revolt of the masses . especially today. “Everywhere to substitute the couple masses/state for the class struggle: that’s all there is to it. or dissidence and totalitarianism. which is but the facade of a sinister dictatorship. with self-management—or with association. which is still most succinctly encapsulated in the Maoist formula: “One divides into two. not only in the trend of New Philosophers such as Glucksmann but also among Deleuzians.” Badiou explains: We are in favor of “one divides into two. which are supposed to raise the striking novelty of the marginal and dissident masses up against “totalitarian” Marxism-Leninism— are word for word that which Marx and Engels. as presupposing categorical oppositions that seek to stamp out any possible diagonal term—whether class.” We are in favor of the increase by scission of the new. What is proletarian. party. all hideous militantism. Althusserians. one should thus think politics through the complete arsenal of concepts implied in the logic of scission. or organization—between the masses and the state.” the introduction reads: “The political essence of these ‘philosophies’ is captured in the following principle. politically speaking. ultraleftist masses nor the revisionist union.69 The collectively signed introduction to La situation actuelle sur le front philosophique actually charges that all revisionist tendencies in French thought of the seventies. can be seen. divides and combats the smallest fractures that are internal to the “movement” and makes them grow to the point where they become what is principal. in The German Ideology. had to tear to pieces—around 1845!—in order to clear the terrain for a finally coherent systematization of the revolutionary practices of their time. We want neither the sanctified and obscure. and Lacanians.
Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 603 against the state to be good. including the Maoists.”72 In the compact series of footnotes to Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne Badiou makes explicit the need to develop a full-blown philosophical concept of deviation. including the concept of Being—is the utmost abstraction of the subject-matter that is not identical with thinking. is after all called upon today. and in a footnote of his own he adds: “Yet even the minimal . “ ‘Something’—as a cogitatively indispensable substrate of any concept. which is the real transformation of the world in its historical particularity. “Everyone. of a world broken in two. after the Cultural Revolution and May ’68. to stamp out Marxism. and state. Badiou.”71 One urgent task for the authors of this polemic therefore involves precisely the need to struggle against such revisionist tendencies on the philosophical front. its constitutive trilogy: mass movement. to take a stance.”73 Hegel’s Science of Logic in fact remains caught in the false problematic of an absolute beginning. with no sword other than ideology. Significantly. such a concept cannot be found in Hegel’s idealist dialectical system: “Hegel’s idealism also manifests itself by the absence of all positive theory of deviation. or to be more precise—but this is already symptomatic of a disavowed split that hints at a rational core within the idealist dialectic—in the searching alternative between two absolute beginnings: Being and Nothing. an abstraction not to be abolished by any further thought process. “They dream of a formal antagonism. but they are secondary in terms of politics. to hate the very idea of the class party.” Adorno tells us. class perspective. to discern the new with regard to the meaning of politics in its complex articulation. proclaimed in its universality.’ ”70 The result of such arguments is then either the complete denial of antagonistic contradictions altogether or else the jubilatory recognition of a mere semblance of antagonism. by contrast. it is necessary to reject the class direction of the proletariat.” whereas a complete understanding of emancipatory politics would involve not just the joy and passion of short-lived revolt but the disciplined labor of a lasting transformation of the particular situation at hand: “They love revolt. wherein we can read the primacy of politics (of antagonism) in its actuality.” the introduction continues: “Such is clearly the question of any possible philosophy today. may seem to be in tacit agreement with Adorno when the latter argues that a truly materialist dialectic must always start from something rather than from either Being or Nothing.
Constitution. is necessarily determined by a space of assigned places. if not already in Althusser and Deleuze as well. and Limit. “The deviations. for instance in Lacanian psychoanalysis. is unbearable to Hegel. Thus we must . by which a force is placed. namely. While the logic of scission borrows heavily from other early segments in the Science of Logic. that is to say.” whereas “the second.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 604 trace of nonidentity in the approach to logic. of which the word ‘something’ reminds us. vocabulary.”75 Already during his Maoist years. however. every something must always be split—split between itself and something else. now familiar. will assign to itself the task of finding the other. by which a place is exceeded by a force capable of acting back on its own determination. and limit. and so on. Every force. are fully thinkable only in dialectical correlation with the determination and the limit of a movement. are the fundamental operators that in their absence or disavowal allow us to grasp the logic of deviations as well. cannot be reduced to the slight caricatures of “structuralist” and “leftist” deviations. Badiou is acutely aware of the fact that the most advanced theoretical and philosophical developments in the late sixties and seventies. but conversely no system of places is complete without some force being excluded out at the limit. then. especially from “Something and Other” and “Determination. Determination. “the first one only repeats the dominant term. but to push forward in the search for a divided correlation between the two as split—each one being determined and exceeded from within by the other. The whole aim of this detailed and sometimes hermetic discussion is not to put forces and places in an orderly rapport of complementarity that would leave each pole unaffected in its purity.”74 For the Maoist in Badiou. the backlashes. the system in which something stands as this something rather than as an other. by arguing from a state of original purity prior to all determination.” Badiou systematically reformulates the basic principles of this logic in his own. insisting that every entity be split between that part of it that can be understood according to the logic of places and that part that cannot be accounted for without resorting to a logic of forces. however.” insofar as both “right-wing opportunism” and “left-wing opportunism” merely reconvoke one of the terms of the original contradiction in its isolated purity.
in this sense. like Mallarmé before him. Badiou argues. Mallarmé and Lacan’s work would nonetheless give us . However. and so on. Badiou still seems to reproach structuralism as much as “leftism” precisely for ignoring the topology of the constitutive outside: The root of the failure of all Marxist structuralism. Mallarmé and Lacan. I might add. Lacan. as well as of the “leftist” current. of exteriority. is anticipated in Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 605 trace the line of demarcation elsewhere. this doctrine also entails a complete reworking of the topology of inside and outside—with every idealist or humanist inside being defined in the paradoxical terms of its constitutive outside. which by no means implies an insurmountable constraint of the interior (“recuperation”). In Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne. can be found not only in Althusser’s canonical writings but also in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. ultimately reduces the topology of the constitutive outside to the mere recognition of a structural given. because there is no interior either. there is no exterior. or in the same place but with greater precision. lies in claiming to organize thought and action from an absolute understanding of oppressive society as System. nevertheless remains bound by the constraint of an overarching order of places. especially in his later seminars. was to become a veritable master of these inside/outside topologies. and then to launch the guideline of dissidence. One way to do so is by recognizing the extent to which an accomplished form of structuralism not only posits the divided nature of both structure and subject but also reconceives of their relationship in the uncanny terms of an internal exclusion. based on the notion of an absent cause. such as an ocean or a field. which will not be fully developed until Théorie du sujet. certainly can be considered dialecticians. of the drive. a comparable logic of internal exclusion. But insofar as all their virtuosity in displaying the vanishing cause of the real. As we have come to expect in more recent years thanks to the work of Laclau or Slavoj ŽiŽek. And.76 Badiou knows of course that Lacan. no doubt his most structuralist book. Would this not satisfy the requirements for a materialist dialectic according to Badiou’s own strongly Maoist version? One answer to this last question. or of a sunken ship.
must in turn be divided into a structural and a tendential understanding: The historical fate of this topology is its inevitable division. which is the culminating point of the articulation between place and force as well as between structure and subject. . What is thus blocked or denied is either the power of determination or the process of its torsion in which there occurs a conjunctural change: “But the true terms of all historicity are rather the determination and the limit.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 606 the clues only for a structural. while the second. both inside and outside. in fact. drawn to the “right” of the political spectrum. such as the Möbius ring. pulling to the “left” instead. or Rück fall in Hegel’s own terms: the first. whereby the fact that the real is simultaneously at its place and in excess over this place. But. then. . He thus confirms how the dialectical process in a typical backlash risks to provoke two extreme types of fallout. what is proposed is a symptomatic torsion that cannot remain merely on the structural level of recognizing an outside within. remits us to the established order and thus obscures the torsion in which something new actually takes place. but that must pass over into the destruction or disqualification of the old inside the new. We can indeed conceive of this topology in a purely structural fashion: exterior and interior then are discernible on every point. as opposed to a properly materialist. is due to its unfolding as a qualitative force. vindicates the untouched purity of the original force and thus denies the persistence of the old in the new. Badiou’s Théorie du sujet can then once again lay out the logic of twin ideological deviations. This is the path followed by Lacan (but already by Mallarmé) in the way he uses nonorientable surfaces. This is why the topology of the constitutive outside. Based on this more precise demarcation from structuralism. . dialectic. both the provocative accusations . we can and we must conceive of the split exterior/interior correlation as a process. as in a traumatic kernel of the real.77 In the end. which is supposed as given. but indiscernible in the Whole. In fact.”78 The complete deployment of this dialectic also provides us with a key to understand the perceptions of failure and success that put such a heavy stamp on the aftermath of May ’68. and the element is included without abolishing itself. terms by which the whole affirms itself without closure.
Indeed.” equivalent to what in his youthful days he would have called “left-wing” adventurism and “right-wing” dogmatism. the human animal and the immortal subject. “There is not only the law of Capital. Badiou’s most systematic work to date in fact includes a staunch critique of “leftism” and “statism. without acknowledging the true torsion of that which possibly takes place in between the two.”79 Lacan’s accusation that the students in revolt are but a hysteric bunch in search of a master thus merely reproduces a face-off between the extreme outcomes of the dialectical process. Finally. Althusser’s much-discussed example of the police officer hailing a passerby in the street remains bound to this dual structure. knowledge and truth. To miss this point means not to see the unity of the order of assigned places. It means falling back into objectivism. if not miraculous. in L’Etre et l’événement. Thus. in a pivotal meditation from L’Etre et l’événement on “The Interven- . or only the cops. Badiou almost seems to preempt those criticisms that will find in his work only a rigid. its consistency. For Badiou. however. The world-famous picture of Daniel Cohn-Bendit during one of the protests of May ’68. the contagious appeal of this image depends entirely on a limited structural scheme in which there appears no scission in the camp of the ironic and free-spirited students or any torsion of the existing order of things beyond a necessary yet one-sided protest against the repressive state. whence the antirepressive logorrhea. long after the author is supposed to have outgrown his Maoist fury.” Badiou warns in Théorie du sujet: “It is the idea that the world knows only the necessary rightist backlash and the powerless suicidal leftism. as might likewise be the case of the definition of politics in opposition to the police in the later work of Rancière. opposition between being and event.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 607 by outside observers such as Lacan and the contrite turnabouts by ex-Maoists such as Glucksmann remain caught as if spellbound in the inert duel between the established order of places and the radical force of untainted adventurism. this view hardly captures any specific political sequence in its actual process. the inverted ransom of which consists by the way in making the state into the only subject. with the student leader smiling defiantly in the face of an anonymous member of the French riot police who remains hidden behind his helmet—a picture that Miller eventually will pick for the cover of Lacan’s seminar L’envers de la psychanalyse given during the following year—might serve to illustrate this point.
”81 If Badiou’s philosophy indeed falls prey to either or both of these two positions. Mao as Vanishing Mediator The role of Maoism for Badiou’s overall philosophy. or being and event. of foreign agitators. with the result that both are merely juxtaposed as being essentially unrelated in their duality. “The terms that are registered by the state. we do not fare much better at the other end of the ideological spectrum when the event. and a multiple put into one).” Badiou claims: “This is certainly a Two (the site as such counted as one. are finally the site and the putting-into-one of the name of the event. as I have tried to show through the logic of twin ideological deviations. in every range of thought. is hypostasized into a radical beginning. then the least his critics should recognize is the fact that his entire work seems to have included a prolonged struggle against such deviations.” Badiou concludes: “Speculative leftism is fascinated by the ultra-one of the event. to the rabble-rousing discontent of the mob. Such would be the temptation of what he now proposes to call “speculative leftism. and so on. but the problem is that between these two terms there is no relation whatsoever. to a Manichaean hypostasis. Of course. structure and subject.”80 The connections between an event and its site remain an enigma from the point of view of the state. As Badiou writes in one . “Speculative leftism imagines that the intervention is authorized only by itself. state and tendency. as a singleton utterly disjoined from the situation at hand. and breaks with the situation with no other support than its own negative will. the way in which the state systematically tries to reduce the erratic novelty of a political event. and thinks it is possible in its name to deny all immanence to the structured regime of the count-for-one.” that is.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 608 tion. However. And since the ultra-one has the structure of the Two. the imaginary of a radical beginning inevitably leads. ultimately consists in allowing him without separation or fusion to articulate place and force.” Badiou warns against the temptation to put the event in a set all by itself.” which is still nothing but a mirror image of “statism. the diagonal crossing of dualisms that operate in a metaphysical system can be seen as a constant throughout the history of philosophy. rather than being foreclosed by the state. for instance. guarantee of the count-for-one of the parts.
as founding reflective transparency. But then this suggestion also has profound consequences for Badiou’s personal genealogy in relation to the principal philosophical schools or trends in existence at the time in France.”82 Maoism is certainly one such resource. we have to see what specifies the conceptual recourse to one diagonal as opposed to another: “The whole question consists in knowing what value to ascribe to the operators of this diagonal trajectory.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 609 of his most recent texts: “The notion that thought should always establish itself beyond categorical oppositions.” Badiou sums up with a reference to Hegel by way of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks: “For Lenin. is constitutive of philosophy itself. whether one separates them (metaphysical operation) or one annuls one of them (absolute idealism or mechanicist materialism). to capture the singularity of this or that philosophy. the Cause against the cause. as prescription of a regime of causality. the polemic between Sartre and Althusser: “When the mediations of politics are clear. . the opposites of subject and object.”83 What Badiou adds to Lenin’s argument then in a way consists in suggesting that Mao is the spitting image of this materialist Hegel whose praise is so loudly sung on every page of the notebooks by Lenin. which even today is still fairly unknown or underappreciated. The last debate in this matter opposed the defenders of liberty. Sartre against Althusser: this meant. in this case. and in identifying the unknown resource to which they summon thought. in Badiou’s own trajectory as a philosopher. it is a question of finding support in Hegel so as to put an end to the unilateralism of the categories of subject and object. without excluding that the subjective factor may be the key to this movement. Badiou’s Théorie de la contradiction could not be clearer about the philosophical implications of the materialist dialectic as a traversing of opposites—above all. In Peut-on penser la politique? Badiou remembers how fiercely the French philosophical scene was divided in the sixties and seventies by the last battle of the giants. “The problem is to reflect both and at the same time the scission and the reciprocal action of the two categories (subject and object) in the general movement of a process. at bottom.” so that. whose shadow hangs over this debate at least as much as Marx’s. to the defenders of the structure. thereby delineating an unprecedented diagonal. it is the philosopher’s imperative to subsume them in the direction of a foundation.”84 Hegel.
found inspiration for his critique of Stalinist dogma by turning to the arch-Hegelian topics of alienation and the struggle for self-consciousness whose influence can be felt so strongly in the Marx of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. . though heroic in many regards. even though in opposite terms. . and the second for being separated from that part of himself that precisely cleared the path for the first: the Great Logic. and the Des- . on the other hand. by stripping it of all Hegelian elements: “Althusser restituted a kind of brutal cutting edge to Marxism. Sartre. all the while remaining loyal to the two major referents of his Maoism: “What the Cultural Revolution and May 1968 made clear on a massive scale was the need for something entirely different from an oscillation of national intellectual traditions (between the Descartes of the cogito.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 610 is often little more than a code name in this context to denounce the persistence of humanist and idealist elements in the early Marx. . the first for being reduced to the second. Sartre in a single movement greeted Marxism as the insurmountable horizon of our culture and undertook to dismantle this Marxism by forcing it to realign itself with the original idea that is most foreign to it: the transparency of the cogito. Both this Marx and this Hegel are equally false. provided that we abandon the Phenomenology of the Spirit in favor of the Science of Logic. At the same time. however. found themselves as much foreclosed as in the previous moment: the materialist Hegel of the Great Logic is equally mute for Althusser and for Sartre. isolating it from the subjectivist tradition and putting it back in the saddle as positive knowledge. in the end betrays both Hegel and Marx: In the Critique of Dialectical Reason (but after the young Lukács. as the basis for a new dialectic already implied in the analysis of Capital. even if the antihumanist trend is not wholly incompatible with a return to Hegel of its own. Sartre. For Badiou.85 Althusser. on one hand. Sartre’s effort.”86 It is this grandiose but also debilitating alternative between Sartre and Althusser that Badiou seeks to cross by way of a divided recomposition. wanted to reclaim Marx’s radical discovery of an unheard-of type of structural causality. Marx and Hegel. after Korsch).
has been the proof for me that in the actual space of effective politics. the protocols by which a subject is constituted. Otherwise we miss the singularity of the diagonal operators (site. and so on) that link a purely mathematical ontology to the theory of an intervening subject. a close knot could be tied between the most uncompromising formalism and the most radical subjectivism. finally. In Maoism. investigation. . the hatred pure and simple of Marxism. fidelity.90 . in the end. But then. because the belabored understanding of his division alone is what prohibits. as well as. That was the whole point. and on the other. and not just in political philosophy. perhaps we should add that their works also unmistakably contain many of the elements necessary for their division. Althusser). determination. In all fairness to Sartre and Althusser. I found something that made it possible for there to be no antinomy between whatever mathematics is capable of transmitting in terms of formal and structural transparency.89 One never ceases to divide itself into two. both on a philosophical level and on a political level. according to Badiou: Thus. with this avoidance. I would insist.”87 But Maoism. This diagonal is the one that Maoism makes effectively possible. and limit. . Maoism. The Maoist aim was to break with this alternation. on the one hand. . as the primary resource to trace a diagonal across the Sartre/Althusser debate. both the idealist-romantic deviation and the scientist-academic deviation. we are not bound solely by the need to return to the rational kernel in Hegel’s Logic. though. which for Badiou seems possible only on the prior condition of passing through the matrix of Maoism. understood as a logic of scission. in thinking the relationship Marx/Hegel. These two questions were no longer incompatible.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 611 cartes of the machines.”88 Perhaps. also means a return to the conflict of interpretations surrounding Hegel. in order to reinvest Marxism in the real revolutionary movement. Hegel’s division seems to Badiou to be the only remedy against the temptation to submit his work to either a positivist or an idealist reductionism: “Hegel remains the stake of an endless conflict. the logic of scission and divided recomposition must likewise be applied to the notions of being and event in Badiou’s later work. forcing.
if it were not for the fact that it is a similar question that many readers raise anew in the conclusions to their critical analysis of Badiou’s philosophy. though. Of course. but also without forgetting to what extent his reading of Hegel via Mao is profoundly Lacanian. Althusser. through self-criticism and reeducation and so on. the Maoist-inspired critique of ideological deviations. the masses. onto the inner subject itself—whether this subject is called the people. wittingly or unwittingly allowed the widespread flourishing of so many “beautiful souls”? What if the Cultural Revolution contained the scenario for a melodrama of gigantic proportions? Such is. can also be read as a critique of the melodramatic scenarios enacted by the “beautiful soul” in the famous analysis passed on from Hegel to Lacan. roughly put. in sum. allows Badiou to be an Althusserian without ceasing to be a Sartrean. But the Borromean knot between all three. The Beautiful Soul In many ways.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 612 The unity of opposites at this point reaches the climax of complexity. or the intelligentsia? What if Mao and Lin Biao. to use a category that was dear to the last. it would then seem. Sartre. the first volume of a projected Ontologie de la révolution that would never be completed. would not have been possible without the unifying thread of the experience of Maoism. the proletariat. particularly of the “ultraleftist” variety. one of the guiding questions with which two former militants of the Gauche Prolétarienne in France. Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet. ought in principle to put an end to the notion of a good moral conscience whose inner beauty is merely inversely proportionate to the sordidness that it projects onto the outside world. the three master thinkers behind Badiou’s philosophical apprenticeship. was not the whole aim in formalizing the logic of so-called contradictions among the people precisely to avoid opposing the “good” communist subject to the “bad” totalitarian system. Lardreau and Jambet explicitly compare the . In L’ange. genealogically speaking. In the aftermath of the official Sino-Soviet split. Lacan: these are. Maoism. this would be only modestly relevant for our purpose. seek to address and come to terms with their Maoist past. so as to displace the split. Maoism. the party bureaucracy.
Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism
generic notion of a cultural revolution, which they contrast with an ideological revolution, to the figure of the beautiful soul: “The soul of the cultural revolution is the ‘beautiful soul’ in the way in which Lacan describes it after Hegel; insofar as, by assuming what it knows to be its madness in the eyes of this world, it also knows that this is the wisdom of the other world, and that it is this one, in truth, that is mad.”91 Lardreau and Jambet openly seem to want to embrace this melodramatic figure. Any true cultural revolution in its purity thus would mark a radical break with the entire corrupt system of work, family, sexuality, and egoism, whereas its ideological perversion always consists in recuperating and subordinating the revolutionary spirit in the name of those very same corrupt values. Like Nietzsche, Lardreau and Jambet too want to be dynamite: they want to break the history of the world in two. Or rather, and this literally makes all the difference, they dream of a revolution that would produce two worlds, by making a clear break with the existing one. But then, of course, from the perspective of the existing world, the purity of this break cannot fail to disappoint, as no slate can ever prove to be clean enough and no grand exit can sufficiently leave behind the world from which it seeks to escape—whence the openly angelic appearance of a true cultural revolution, which can never be a kingdom of this world but must rather open the gates to a radically other one. Disappointment and corruption once more seem to be not merely accidental but structural components in the constitution of a cultural revolution’s beautiful soul. Particularly in the chapter “Lin Biao as Will and as Representation,” Lardreau reveals how he has become painfully aware of the law of history by which every rebellion seems to revert to the search for a new master. “Should we admit then that the indisputable maxim: where there is oppression, there is resistance, should be doubled with this one so as to say, is it not?, the truth of the first: where there is revolt, there is submission?” 92 Every cultural revolution thus is bound, as if by an unforgiving inner necessity, to be co-opted by an ideological one. For Lardreau and Jambet, however, the way out of this blight conundrum paradoxically lies in aggravating the underlying opposition with an even fuller embrace of the latter’s Manichaeanism. What they posit is thus not a weaker messianic force but an ever stronger will for absolute purity in the struggle between the Master and the Rebel, so as to prepare the return of the latter in the form of the Angel.
It is fascinating to observe how Daniel Bensaïd, in “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event,” seems to replay the scenario staged by Lardreau and Jambet in order this time to attribute its angelic and near-mystical features to Badiou’s philosophy. This proximity is all the more telling in that Bensaïd’s criticisms sum up a viewpoint that over the last few years seems to have become a commonplace among a growing number of critics, and even a few admirers, of Badiou’s work—with the latter including among other less prominent readers, Slavoj Žižek and Peter Hallward. Bensaïd opens with a fairly typical summary of the entire trajectory followed by Badiou’s thinking: Initially, Badiou’s thought remained subordinated to the movement of history. But truth has become more fragmentary and discontinuous under the brunt of historical disasters, as though history no longer constituted its basic framework but merely its occasional condition. Truth is no longer a subterranean path manifesting itself in the irruption of the event. Instead, it becomes a post-evental consequence. As “wholly subjective” and a matter of “pure conviction,” truth henceforth pertains to the realm of declarations that have neither precedents nor consequences. Although similar to revelation, it still remains a process but one which is entirely contained in the absolute beginning of the event which it faithfully continues.93 Leftism is now a charge leveled against the form of politics that can be thought in the terms of Badiou’s philosophy. Because of our constant temptation as mere mortals to give in to the status quo, this philosophy is constantly upset by the guilt of its own sinful impurity. Not unlike in the case of the beautiful soul, any instance of free decision would be threatened by this corruption: “Holy purification is never more than a short step away from voluptuous sin,” Bensaïd declares and, again, with reference to some of the more pedestrian proposals of the Organisation Politique: “This sudden conversion to realism is the profane converse of the heroic thirst for purity.”94 Now what is particularly striking in Bensaïd’s reading, though perhaps not surprising, is the place attributed to Badiou’s Maoism—to be more precise, to Badiou’s failure to come to terms with his Maoist past, which is quickly equated with Stalinism.95 What I have argued in the previous
Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism
pages, however, leads to a quite different conclusion, perhaps even one that is the radical opposite of Bensaïd’s. Maoism, for Badiou, precisely involves an ongoing settling of accounts with the kinds of leftist, mystical, or otherwise miraculous definition of the event as an absolute beginning—especially, I might add, when such leftism is used to pretend that one has thereby avoided the wide-open traps of Stalinism. That this settling of accounts in turns involves “the still unresolved difficulty of holding together event and history, act and process, instant and duration” is true enough, but then this is also very much the difficulty tackled by all of Badiou’s work. Plainly put, what happens in Bensaïd’s as in many other critical readings of Badiou consists in setting up a dogmatic divide between being and event, or between history and event, only then to plead in favor of a more dialectical articulation between the two—one that would be capable of taking into account where and when an event takes place in a specific situation, to what effect, and so on. On closer consideration, Badiou nowadays actually seems to stand accused of being not so much a Maoist but rather a Linbiaoist. Lardreau, from this point of view, still had the virtue of admitting his undying loyalty, which he confessed was without concern for historicity, to Lin Biao. But our contemporary critics can no longer ignore the fact that Badiou wrote a stunning critique of precisely the kind of mystical politics that, before being attributed to him, was openly embraced in Lardreau and Jambet’s L’ange. Indeed, in “Un ange est passé,” published under the pseudonym of Georges Peyrol, Badiou had in fact taken issue with the whole idea of the cultural revolution as the invariant form of an absolute beginning, or an inviolable break. This criticism at the same time offers us another perception of the complete debacle not only of the Red Guards but also of the Gauche Prolétarienne in the aftermath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, particularly because of the encounter of many of its French ex-enthusiasts with Lacan: “The turning trick with the Angel consists in the following: to interrogate the Cultural Revolution from the point of its (Lacanian) impossibility, and thus as that which, by raising the question of its existence, leads one to establish this existence in inexistence: another world, a beyond, the kingdom of Angels.”96 The notion of a radical two, despite the appearance of fidelity to the principle of antagonistic scission, is actually the exact opposite of Mao’s lesson—at least according to Badiou.
of starting anew from scratch. except that nothing. fascist in its sectarian ambition of absolute purity. Lin Biao’s “ultraleftist” will of absolute purity and genius. the becoming of its own scission. Badiou writes: “Their maxim.”100 Critics who claim that Badiou in recent years has become increasingly vulnerable to the charge of speculative leftism might also want to consider those numerous passages in the recent work in which an exceedingly bivalent logic is rejected in the name of a certain Mao! In the end. against ‘one divides into two. we are sent back to a diagonal crossing of “leftism” and “rightism” alike: Mao himself—and God knows there was a great deal of violence in the Chinese Revolution—developed a fairly complicated doctrine regarding .” Badiou charges: “It means ‘breaking the history of the world in two.’ It is the ideologism of the remaking of oneself. “This is because the idea of the simple beginning is a typically metaphysical.’ ”99 From his earliest accounts of the logic of scission. on postulating the inevitable nature of the One. are obliged to affirm. as decided Linbiaoists. by presenting a hyperbolic. merely reproduces. especially not the revolt. and further on he continues: “The speculative concept of the Beginning—of which Hegel himself gave an unfinished and divided criticism—serves to suture the dialectic to idealism. according to Badiou’s critique. but the One dividing into Two and thus revealing what the One has always been. that is to say. call ‘cultural revolution’ is the absolute and imaginary irruption of the outside-world. another One. the definitive eradication of egoism. of absolute simplicity. or an absolute beginning. Badiou has always warned against the perils of seeking a complete break.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 616 L’ange. “What Lardreau and Jambet. outside and beyond the first. the whole picture remains metaphysical—yet another example of speculative leftism in which the scission of the one is replaced by an eternally Manichaean Two. authorizes the pure Two of metaphysics? The revolt in an exemplary way is that which splits—so not the Two.”98 Lardreau and Jambet. As Badiou concludes: “What to say.”97 Even when the desire for purification is applied with much rhetorical pomp and violence to the spectacle of the intellectual’s imaginary self-annihilation. a total reeducation. properly metaphysical version of two worlds.’ is ‘two times one. In sum. a conservative presupposition.” he writes in Théorie de la contradiction.
have I not forced my interpretation of this philosophy beyond recognition. From Destruction to Subtraction? At this point some readers may wonder whether there is any hyphen or break at all left in Badiou’s work.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 617 the difference between contradictions among the people and antagonistic contradictions. marked by the supposed abandonment of the dialectic. But the least we can say is that Badiou’s work. the strictly ontological framework of L’Etre et l’événement by definition is insufficient to account for this plurality of nuances by which the process of an event is linked to the situation. from the logic of scission all the way to the still-unfinished logic of the site. organizes his talk on the Cultural Revolution around the hypothesis that its series of events marks the end of an era— precisely. but we need to ask in each case how this bivalence was linked to the singularity of the sequence. after all. the end of the revolutionary era. It is true that some political sequences did adopt as the internal rule of their development a very severe bivalent logic. more generally speaking. Perhaps even the logical framework of Logiques des mondes will be unable to give a complete answer to this question. and that if we don’t grant some space to this plurality. this time in the direction of a blind continuism? Is there then no need at all to add the slight distance of a prefix to Badiou’s Maoism? Or else. By resisting the stark opposition between an “early” and a “late” stage. centre. He never stopped insisting that in the movement of a process there is always a considerable plurality of nuances. how should we interpret the gap that warrants the invocation of a postMaoism? Badiou. and right wings. and the existence in any process of left. has tried to open up a contradictory space for the articulation—the scission and the reciprocal action without fusion or deviation—between a given situation and its truthful transformation. What are we to make of this hypothesis in light of Badiou’s lasting debts to Maoism and. more than anything else. we are finally driven back to the breakup of the process. to Marxism? .101 Since it is not a general problem of truth-processes but in each case a local and specific one. It is not a general problem of truth-processes.
particularly in Peut-on penser la politique? through a peremptory deconstruction of the metaphysical and classist understanding of politics.”103 By abandoning the transitivity of political subjectivity to the structure of antagonism. no matter how tenuous and aleatory the latter is made out to be. Badiou would have definitely abdicated the basic underlying principle of all Marxism-Leninism. while being foreclosed.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 618 In “Communism as Separation. whether this be the appropriation of production or the limitation and destruction of place.” Alberto Toscano provides us with what is no doubt one of the most lucid and sophisticated readings of the immanent break with Marxism-Leninism that would seem to occur in Badiou’s work. destruction. distance). that the political subject which emerges out of the labor of the positive. which is to say. For Toscano. economical. driven by the motor of antagonism between the dominant structure of representation and the unrepresentable subject who. nevertheless can be expected to be an antecedent to itself. to a logic of subtraction wholly intransitive to any prior social. Prior to this point. or otherwise obscurely consistent substance: “What is certain.102 After Peut-on penser la politique? which in militant terms means after the recomposition of UCFML in the guise of the OP. purification). the idea of communism would have involved a politics of transitivity. and those that presuppose a certain deconstruction of the metaphysics of transitivity (subtraction. above all. this break becomes definitive around 1985. Toscano’s careful analysis nonetheless seems to waver somewhat in the attempt to draw a neat conceptual boundary between the operations typical of the transitive mode of politics (reappropriation. avoidance. On several points of the . that what is foreclosed by domination is nevertheless endowed with a latent political force. As Toscano writes: What is deserving of the epithet “metaphysical” in these doctrines is the idea that politics is somehow inscribed in representation. is that the abandonment of class antagonism as the dialectical support of communist subjectivity affects it with a radical intransitivity to representation as well as with a discontinuity in its manifestations. Badiou’s understanding of politics would have shifted from a class-based logic of antagonism. including in its most vehement and terminal version as destruction and terrorizing self-purification. is its own obscure precursor.
these operations from before and after the break come to resemble one another much more so than the notion of a definitive linear break would seem to justify.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 619 description. or of . Badiou’s Maoism. which is supposedly unique to Badiou’s early works. would at the same time bring about a subtraction of being and a destruction of a regime of appearing. In fact. many of the operations that were pivotal actually do continue to be important today. which only recently has become a reality for Badiou. In fact. Toscano’s hesitation would bear witness to the possibility of such a combination. in other words. in his more recent statements. of inclusion over belonging: this notion too strikes me as an odd reduplication. in mathematical form. An event. by arguing for a strictly immanent localization of the event in terms of the excess of representation over presentation. thus. the energy of the masses. On the other hand. albeit in a different way or with a different emphasis. all too often seem to want to infer that what he says of “classical” or “orthodox” Marxism. Badiou’s supposedly linear shift from destruction to subtraction. what the notion of a deconstruction of the “fiction” of transitivity between the political and the social in Marxism-Leninism seems to forget is the extent to which such a deconstruction was already a lesson learned from Maoism. or the antagonistic system of production—always already constitutes the dark precursor of the subject who will subsequently come to overdetermine its own structure of representation: this supposition. of the antinomies of representation that are central to the early theory of ideology in Badiou. Thus. the notion that only a completely mathematized ontology takes away the ground from under the temptation of transitivity. such resonances do not necessarily signal an inaccuracy in Toscano’s account of Badiou’s overall philosophy. in fact could be rephrased in terms that are consistent with the later ontological meditations as well. In fact. seems to have a symptomatic function in this context. the idea of a wild being of pure presentation that would precede its capture in the order and deadlock of representation is one of the reproaches by means of which Žižek accuses Badiou of being more profoundly Deleuzian than Badiou himself would like to admit. or from purification to the play of minimal difference. gives way to the complex reordering of a simultaneity. Badiou’s readers.104 Conversely. At the same time. once again. I should add. the supposition that something—an unrepresentable force.
but also of the critique of so-called workerism. by way of an immanent self-critique. lies in conflating the social being of the working class with its political capacity. despite the “left-wing” air that they may try to put on. “Workerism” (ouvriérisme). But for the UCFML. on the part of Badiou and his Maoist comrades in the UCFML. Nor can the workers be seen. not even if they are eventually inserted into a chain of equivalences. are in reality from the right.” another special issue of Le Marxiste-Léniniste also reads: “Workerism and unionism. as being endowed with an innate or automatic political capacity. the cult of the worker. the result of this conflation often entails a limitation of the militant struggle to purely economical demands and their possible convergence. They indeed reject the mass alliance and the materialist analysis. proletarian. that means the refusal of proletarian political independence. occasionally intensified in a violent upping of the ante as a way to provoke the existing authorities.”106 . as a prime example of the politics of transitivity. But this means to downplay the significance not only of Mao’s own critical notes between 1958 and 1960 on Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR and on the official Soviet Manual of Political Economy. In fact. politics cannot be reduced to a series of economical demands or revindications. only a clear distinction between the socioeconomical substance of the category of the workers and its organized subjective capacity is capable of preserving the autonomy of politics. from the point of view of politics this means the inability really to handle the question of the party as the leading noyau of the people as a whole. to his own Maoism as well. In practice.”105 This also means that the moment of politics cannot be subordinated to purely economical demands along the lines of typical trade unionist revindications. automatically applies. “It is completely false to think that any social practice of any worker. much more so than leftism.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 620 Marxism-Leninism. as ideologies. for instance in Peut-on penser la politique? and in L’Etre et l’événement.” the UCFML insists in an early circular letter: “We must firmly combat these orientations which. no matter which one. the first among certain militants and the second among certain workers. in a falsely populist but otherwise typically moralizing and paternalistic fashion. which did so much damage and which was. which the UCFML sees as a constitutive ideological defect of the Gauche Prolétarienne. “Workerism. our infantile disorder. is revolutionary.
”107 For Badiou the real break. the different stages of which. is indissociable from a series of referents that give it the power of its effectivity and without which it would be a dead body of academic knowledge and dust-gathering dissertations. by the early eighties. there exist no classes prior to their demarcation in the struggle. to describe the long historical sequence that goes from the Cultural Revolution in China all the way to Solidarity in Poland. The existence of a term is entirely given in its contradictory correlation with the other term of the scission. but then this principle must also be applied to the study of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism: “We have to study contemporary history and practice historical materialism with regard to Marxism itself. Marxism. according to a history that is internal to them. Another way to describe the break in Badiou’s work revolves around the notion of the effective and intrinsic historicity of politics itself. because of a general lack of conceptual tools to think through their political historicity. it is a politics. to use Badiou’s more concentrated philosophical expression of the same principle. would have exhausted their effective power to sustain the political historicity of Marxism. Or. All three of these overarching referents. Badiou borrows an untranslatable expression from Lazarus and speaks of “événementialités obscures” to suggest that these are only possible events the nature of which as events is still relatively obscure. the politics of communism. and even less a worldview. We know that in Peut-on penser la politique? Badiou enumerates three such historical referents: the workers’ movement. whether economical or philosophical. Thus he concludes: “All the political referents endowed with a real work- . but it is also not an ideology. To exist means to be opposed. and Mao. in Théorie de la contradiction: “A class does not preexist before the class struggle. a sequence to which we might add later moments such as the Zapatista uprising from the nineties in Chiapas. and the anticolonialist national liberation movements. ultimately. happens within Marxism-Leninism as a result of Maoism. in terms of the transitivity of politics.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 621 From a Maoist perspective. “To be a Marxist means to be schooled by history. the successful formation of socialist state regimes. Indeed. can at most be said to be concentrated in the theories of Marx and Engels.” the UCFML posits in a brochure distributed after Mao’s death. instead. Lenin. in other words.”108 Marxism is not a doctrine or a theory.
the anonymous authors of the UCFML even go so far as to posit that to be a Marxist one must in a sense become a post-Maoist. Armed with the historical knowledge that the failure . A process whose material and stakes are the party of the new type. Those who know the period and the risk of their history have the consistency of that which can win and last. and the certitude that communism is a process rather than a result. the party. we know that it has failed. We who began at the crossover between May ’68 and the GPCR.” but this does not bespeak the sense of an ending so much as the need for a renewed beginning: “If Marxism today is indefensible.”109 Similarly. the Cultural Revolution and May 1968: “These referents are today without power of their own. the break.111 In other brochures from the same period. and that the working class as political reality is a task rather than a given. On the contrary. the party of the post-Leninist era.”110 The failure of referentiality does not mean that we are done with the double legacy of Maoism. Our fidelity to our origin enjoins us to hold a second beginning. which barely begins. or the complete depletion of historical power. and that the center of Maoism is this failure rather than that which took place. and erratic with regard to Marxism. delocalized.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 622 ing and popular life are today atypical. the questions that are left unresolved in its wake now constitute the stakes for a bold rebeginning of Marxism: Against May ’68. we know that what is needed is politics. they too begin by acknowledging the ultimate failure. With regard to the Cultural Revolution. We carry their questions rather than their outcomes. of what from the start were their two main points of reference. and which is itself caught in the general beginning of this enormous civilization that bears the name of Marxism. when UCFML militants write up a balance sheet of their group’s trajectory in a 1981 special issue of Le Marxiste-Léniniste titled 10 ans de maoïsme. it is because we must give it a beginning. we are conscious that we lasted for other reasons: the political tenacity.
in positive mass conditions. As we read in a brochure of the UCFML published after Mao’s death: The Cultural Revolution did not radically transform the political thought of the leaders of the Maoist Left on questions of organization. to resolve this problem at the same time means to devise the means to constitute a party of a new type. since the fundamental problem left unsolved by the Cultural Revolution is the one of the party.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 623 of a revolutionary project such as the Paris Commune was perhaps no less instructive for Marx or Lenin than a victory would have been. Indeed. The Cultural Revolution would have been unable to resolve the tension between the framework of a single party-state and the massive mobilizations called on to unhinge this whole framework from within. the Maoism that is contemporary to the Cultural Revolution. It is largely within the context of the party that. within the framework of an organized politics. it seems that a contradiction has subsisted between an overall political orientation that was widely renovated by the Cultural Revolution and an organizational frame the reality and theory of which remained essentially unchanged. the Maoism of Mao Zedong. makes an effort to resolve for him or herself the PROBLEMS left hanging by the initial Maoism.” we read in Questions du maoïsme: De la Chine de la Révolution Culturelle à la Chine des Procès de Pékin: “Today a Marxist is someone who.113 . from reaching its principal conscious goals. “The failure of a revolution universally sets the task of specifying what it has stumbled up against.”112 But. they call for a sustained inquiry into the obstacles and contradictions that ultimately would explain the failure of the Cultural Revolution—a failure symptomatically exposed in the trial against the Gang of Four. It is this problem that represents the stumbling block hit upon early on during the Cultural Revolution. the party of postLeninism. from 1969 until today . Badiou’s central hypothesis in his talk on the Cultural Revolution thus reiterates several of the arguments adopted by the UCFML during the late seventies and early eighties. what internal political question kept it. when the group was producing a renewed assessment of its militancy in terms of the concept and practice of postLeninism. political battles have raged over the fundamental orientations in the construction of socialism. There is no other Marxism except this one.
it opens the necessity of a break.114 In other words. We can thus begin to see why Badiou.”115 For Badiou. nor even the immoderate praise for Raymond Aron. then the task after the failure of the Cultural Revolution is with the aid of a series of militant investigations to prepare a new Maoism. but not on proletarian politics. Rather. even while acknowledging the closing of an era. Mao and the GPCR open the era of post-Leninism by clearing new paths on questions of the masses. even including the “cult of Mao” in which he also participated: “I buy neither the posthumous revenge of Camus over Sartre. or post-Maoism. but for the moment we cannot say that the principle of unity between mass politics and class (party) politics has been found. Maoism and the Cultural Revolution continue to pose problems for which only a bold and painstaking investigation can begin to formulate possible answers.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 624 Or. Mao opens postLeninism in terms of mass politics. would feel neither remorse nor embarrassment before using a narrative present to talk of “the Maoist that I am. There is a relative silence in the Cultural Revolution and from Mao himself on the question of what would be the profile of the party of the new stage. without constituting the conceptual arrangement for this break. to use the excellent summary by Paul Sandevince (pseudonym for Sylvain Lazarus). in his Notes de travail sur le post-léninisme: Maoism marks a break with regard to Leninism. on the proletariat. if the Maoism of the Cultural Revolution was a heroic but failed effort to give new organizational shape to a post-Leninist mode of politics. . on the grounds that he would have been ‘less mistaken.” or why he admits to feeling an “incoercible nostalgia” for those years marked by the Cultural Revolution. by contrast.’ which indeed is something that is easily achieved when one takes no risks other than to follow the pedagogy of the world as it goes. or on the politics of the party.
even while recognizing the persistence of Maoist themes in Badiou’s more recent ontological inquiries. 1976). all translations in the following pages are my own. However. 1972). Unless otherwise indicated. L’Etre et l’événement (Paris: Seuil. Much of this text. trans. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. this double allegiance brings up the problem of how two events can become entangled in the first place. ‘post-Cantorian’ variety of what Badiou names ‘subtractive ontology’ ” (84). but later on he adds: “Badiou’s avowed aim in Being and the Event is to leave behind the ‘stillborn’ legacy of dialectical materialism. when Badiou does not even entertain this as a possibility in L’Etre et l’événement (Being and the Event).” Hallward writes. despite the introduction of this radical. here and there. 8. 1997). 2. See also “Les deux sources du maoïsme en France. Marxism of Our Time) (Marseille: Potemkine. Lacan. It seems to me that “il y a des critères” should read “il y va des critères. Peter Hallward (London: Verso. Louise Burchill (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. 42. Rousseau. is integrated in Alain Badiou. in stark contrast with the more miraculous and absolutist interpretations of Badiou’s major concepts. 230–36. 2000). 2002).” in Le maoïsme. for every disclaimer of ‘early excesses’ there have been many suggestive symptoms of a global continuity. 7 Alain Badiou. 8 Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.” Barker writes. 2 Alain Badiou. 7–8. and the generic—are themselves at least relatively constant. 365. at least from May ’68 to the present” (30). but not the passage quoted here. 25. Théorie de la contradiction (Theory of Contradiction) (Paris: Maspero. 6 Peter Hallward. 2003). Deleuze: “La clameur de l’Etre” (Paris: Hachette. 2001). seems to reduce the lasting impact of Maoism to little more than a form of “militant vitality. 3 Alain Badiou. . Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. “Généalogie de la dialectique. “What should be stressed is that Badiou’s properly decisive concepts—concepts of the pure. An English translation of this pamphlet published originally by the Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxiste-Léniniste is included in this special issue. marxisme de notre temps (Maoism. 1985). the singular.” See his Alain Badiou: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 625 Notes 1 Alain Badiou. trans. and he continues: “Certainly. 1975). Mallarmé. but the first option of course would only confirm my thesis further.” Le Perroquet: Quinzomadaire d’opinion 22 (March–April 1983): 11. 4 Alain Badiou. Mao’s legacy thus time and again will bring us face to face with problems of articulation as entanglement or mixture. “Les 4 dialecticiens français: Pascal. 84–91. 50–51.” which is how I have translated the French original. Incidentally. Jason Barker. 1988). the traces of Marxism—and Maoism— arguably persist. 5 Alain Badiou.” in Peut-on penser la politique? (Can Politics Be Thought?) (Paris: Seuil. “Today the legacy of Maoism has all but disappeared.
161. l’économie. 1970). For a more detailed commentary. see L’Etre et l’événement. 1992). 150–64. 47–51. 1996]. Peter Hallward (London: Continuum. 1976). “Les livres et les enquêtes: Pour un ‘marxisme concret. 230. one must proceed with a systematic and objective investigation by going on location. l’effondrement du socialisme (Looking Elsewhere and Differently: On the Doctrine of Places. 2004). La révolution prolétarienne en France et comment construire le Parti de l’époque de la pensée de Mao Tsé-toung (The Proletarian Revolution in France and How to Build the Party of the Era of Mao Zedong) (Paris: Maspero.. Its concept is luminous: in order to know the working class and peasantry well. no right to speak. 1972). Première année d’existence d’une organisation maoïste. explains: “The investigation is another idea from the Chinese. Christophe Bourseiller. 80). Chercher ailleurs et autrement: Sur la doctrine des lieux.” first made in a 1930 text by Mao. .” For Badiou’s own definition of the concept. L’anthropologie du nom (Anthropology of the Name) (Paris: Seuil. 1996). Parts of the survey in Guanzhou have also been published in Sylvain Lazarus. On the “still-born” legacy of dialectical materialism.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 626 9 Ibid. 14 Badiou. a special issue of Le Perroquet: Quinzomadaire d’opinion 86–87 (March 1990). printemps 1970/printemps 1971 (First Year of Existence of a Maoist Organization. in his anecdotal history of French Maoists. the word used for “investigation” is precisely enquête. the Collapse of Socialism) (Paris: Les Conférences du Perroquet. Les maoïstes: La folle histoire des gardes rouges français [The Maoists: The Mad History of the French Red Guards] [Paris: Plon. 13 See Dialogue autour de Tien An Men (Dialogue on Tienanmen). publishes its fifth issue with a cover that reproduces the original assertion. 100. See also François Marmor. ed. the central journal of the Maoist UJC(ML). and in Lazarus. This foregrounding of the investigation will be one of the principal features of the Maoist movement” (Christophe Bourseiller. It is a matter of leaving behind the universities in order to go there where exploitation is most ravaging. 169. 233–49. Les Maoïstes. “No investigation. In April 1967 Garde Rouge. Among French Maoists. 12 Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes Français (marxiste-léniniste). 11 Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes Français (marxiste-léniniste). “Against the Cult of the Book”: Qui n’a pas fait d’enquête n’a pas droit à la parole.” in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. see the introduction (10). 10 Quoted in Bourseiller. or Union of Communist Youths (MarxistLeninist). the Economy. see my contribution “On the Subject of the Dialectic. 363–72. 361. 46.’ ” in Le maoïsme: Philosophie et politique (Maoism: Philosophy and Politics) (Paris: PUF. Of practicing concrete analysis. L’Etre et l’événement. In French. Jason Barker translates the term as “inquest” and Peter Hallward as “investigation. Spring 1970/Spring 1971) (Paris: Maspero. interest in the investigation was to become both systematic and widespread.
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London: Verso. special double issue of Le Marxiste-Léniniste: Journal Central du Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxistes Léninistes 50–51 (spring 1981): 7. Empire (Cambridge. Notes de travail sur le post-léninisme (Working Notes on PostLeninism) (Paris: Potemkine. 27 A. 107–28. 1988). 20 Badiou. 126.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 627 15 See. See also Paul Sandevince [Sylvain Lazarus]. Conditions (Paris: Seuil. chap. This fusion requires that Mao Zedong’s thought really be considered a guide for action” (9–10). Les Maoïstes.org. 23 “Le maoïsme: Une étape du marxisme” (“Maoism: A Stage of Marxism”). 63–64. une politique (Ten Years of Maoism: A History. 21 La révolution prolétarienne en France. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. 130. 2002). 252–53. 1985). 29 Bourseiller. The complete text of this article is translated in this special issue. Gabriel Riera (Albany: State University of New York Press. 150. 250. A Balance Sheet. 1974). 1982). Trotskyism and Maoism: Theory and Practice in France and the United States (New York: Praeger. 95. The interested reader can find an excellent discussion of these activities in Hallward’s Badiou. special issue of Le Marxiste-Léniniste: Journal Central du Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxistes Léninistes 12 (fall 1976): 20. available online at www. 19 Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung. 16 Badiou. MA: Harvard University Press. 2000). 22 “Maoïsme et question du Parti. 26 Alain Badiou.” in Le Maoïsme. 1980). Les maoïstes français: Une dérive institutionnelle (The French Maoists: An Institutional Drift) (Paris: Anthropos. I will not deal in detail with the later activities of the Organisation Politique. Théorie de la contradiction. 10. 24 See also the introduction to La révolution prolétarienne en France: “If we commit ourselves to fusing the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism. Belden Fields.” in Alain Badiou: Philosophy and Its Conditions. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. 17 See Bruno Bosteels. Théorie du sujet (Paris: Seuil. 28 Rémi Hess. un bilan. 30 Alain Badiou. As in the case of Mao on determination by the . 25 Alain Badiou. A Politics). in 10 ans de maoïsme: Une histoire. ed. 170–74. La Révolution Culturelle: La dernière révolution? (Paris: Les Conférences du Rouge-Gorge. 109–10. L’Etre et l’événement. 2005). the highest and entirely new stage of which is Mao Zedong’s thought. 207–12. for example. 31. 18 Because of my focus on Badiou’s Maoist years. 198. into the concrete practice of the revolution in France. 31 La révolution prolétarienne en France. the latter will for sure be victorious. “Can Change Be Thought? A Dialogue with Alain Badiou. 1992). 375–76.maoism.
Théorie du sujet. including French and English. A complete English translation of this text is also included in this special issue. as have the other two organizations [Parti Communiste Marxiste-Léniniste de France (PCMLF) and Parti Communiste Révolutionnaire (marxisteléniniste) (PCR[m-l])]. “Ce que veut dire ‘Révolution culturelle. 1978). or ideology. Révolution Culturelle.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 628 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 infrastructure. Ibid. 4–6. Alain Badiou. Le Marxiste-Léniniste 50–51 (spring 1981): 17. 306. For the full periodization. 205. piliers de l’édification du Parti de type nouveau (The Communist Workers’ Cells: Current Form of the Vanguard.. which was originally meant for inclusion in L’Etre et l’événement but appeared only in Le Perroquet 62–63 (April 22–May 10.” Le Marxiste-Léniniste 50–51 (1981): 20–21. It also questions the legitimacy of the PCMLF and the PCR(m-l) for so doing. Badiou.” UCFML.. 11. 4. A. The noyaux. it has not even claimed to be a ‘union’ yet.” La Distance Politique 3 (1992): 5. “Commentaire préliminaire. see Guy Brossollet.’ It has readily admitted that it does not yet have a mass base which would entitle it legitimately to refer to itself as a party. 1986): 1. see Les noyaux communistes ouvriers: Forme actuelle de l’avant-garde. 65. “Le mode dialectique. Théorie du sujet. or noyaux communistes ouvriers. 65. Though without absolute priority. Bosteels. “Can Change Be Thought?” 259–60. theory. Notes de travail sur le post-léninisme. 3): “The UCFML has made no claim to be a party. but a ‘group’ for the formation of a ‘union. For an excellent philological interpretation of the four Chinese characters that are translated as “Cultural Revolution” in most Western languages. nevertheless in modern historical circumstances the factory retains a symptomatic function with regard to other sites. Badiou. see the fragments from Théorie du sujet translated in this special issue.’ ” in “Mao: Culture et révolution. “L’art et la culture: Un groupe maoïste. Magazine Littéraire 30 (1969): 7–13. “L’usine comme site événementiel” (“The Factory as EventSite”). here too this question is a conjunctural one: “There is no absolute priority of the struggle in the factories over the struggle in the housing projects. were “kernels” or “cells” of communist workers and militants that for some time constituted the model of the “party of the new type” according to the UCFML. Those comrades who would consider this argument too a leftover of Badiou’s bygone dialectical period would do well to consider an extraordinary text. practice. le groupe FOUDRE. Théorie du sujet.” in Sandevince.” special issue. or politics over the superstructure. In fact. For a discussion.” trans. Alberto . in his Trotskyism and Maoism (chap. 46. Pillars of the Construction of a New Type of Party) (Marseille: Potemkine. 119. La révolution prolétarienne en France. “Democratic Materialism and the Materialist Dialectic. but the inverse is not true either” (126). Badiou. Badiou. 5. Ibid. Belden Fields observes.
In the UCFML’s founding document. we should add the notion of an asymptotic approach. limited to mere “agit-prop. See also Badiou. The noisy vindication of anti-authoritarianism as sheer cop bashing (“casser du flic”). Shierry Weber Nicholson (Cambridge. 20.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 629 45 46 47 48 49 50 Toscano. the undeniable . thus become poor substitutes for the patient work of actual political organization. and the GP. vol. or How to Read Hegel. 112. It is worth considering the tactics used in this polemical self-positioning because they consistently follow a logic of twin deviations. on the one hand. The militants and sympathizers of La Cause du Peuple. I am thankful to Peter Hallward for reminding me of this definition. 1993). 4). Theodor W. Clemence Dutt (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 1961). overcome by the just middle. “Skoteinos. 38 of Collected Works. or Gauche Prolétarienne. endless approximation of thought to the object. insofar as they combine an overly narrow concept of politics. To the theory of reflection or of the mirroring relationship between notions and things. forced into semi-clandestine existence around the journal L’Humanité Rouge. Badiou.’ not devoid of movement. the arising of contradictions and their solution” (195). trans. which will serve us further to understand the persistent role of the Maoist dialectic in the overall philosophy of Badiou. not without contradictions. Philosophical Notebooks.” in Hegel: Three Studies. 40.” with an almost terrorist appeal to spectacular violence. without the assessment of experience. 180. Théorie de la contradiction. Peut-on penser la politique? (Paris: Seuil. Théorie de la contradiction. The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not ‘lifelessly.’ not ‘abstractly. which is precisely why Hegel’s genius can never be more than a guess: “Cognition is the eternal. 206–16. Alain Badiou. led by Benny Lévy (pseudonym Pierre Victor) and most famously organized around La Cause du Peuple. are said to fall prey to a “leftist” deviation. see Le Marxiste-Léniniste 50–51 (1981). Théorie du sujet. 1985). and Badiou. trans. From the moment of its foundation onward. For an overview of the different forms of organization associated with the UCFML. Radical Philosophy 130 (2005): 21.” or the mediatic kidnapping of famous CEOs. however. Adorno. together with the journal’s purely descriptive retelling of isolated and shortlived episodes in the history of the workers’ movement. but in the eternal process of movement. Without concrete directives. the physical confrontation with the factory “bosses. and without a systematic practice of investigations. we see the logic of twin ideological deviations appear from the start: ”The national organizations that vindicate Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong’s thought are irreparably engaged either in a rightist-opportunistic and neorevisionist political line or in a leftist-opportunistic and putschist line” (La révolution prolétarienne en France. the UCFML situates itself polemically in opposition to the two major Maoist organizations still in existence in the early seventies in France: the ex-PCMLF. 196. Lenin. This text reproduces the first half of the preface to Badiou’s Logiques des mondes. 139. MA: MIT Press.
to redefine its own stance in opposition to the GP after the latter’s autodissolution in November 1973: “When the emphasis was put on the masses. 68). Just as Lin Biao unilaterally exalted the self-liberation of the masses. 20. The ex-PCMLF and the various circles around L’Humanité Rouge. 71. and their semi-paralysis” (La révolution prolétarienne en France. this leads to a general absence of positive guidelines and directives—all matters of organization that in this case are replaced by an unconfessed and purely nostalgic yearning for a return to the long-lost grandeur of the 1920s and 1930s PCF. .. too. 80. that is. 1976). the ex-GP’s thinking was purely democratic. the militants of this organization are also sometimes described in the writings of the UCFML in terms of a “rightist” deviation. 29 n. La révolution prolétarienne en France. 56). all the while referring the events of the Cultural Revolution to a distant historical “stage” in the edification of socialism. of the systematization. 108. 1977). But when the ex-GP put the emphasis on organization. their lack of initiative. Once again. and pretended to dissolve itself in spontaneous movement. An adventurist call to pure activism for its own sake would thus form the “leftist” extreme of the ideological spectrum. the internal ideological struggle that can only follow the takeover of power.” See Groupe pour la Fondation de l’Union des Communistes de France Marxistes-Léninistes. represented by the GP. De l’idéologie (Of Ideology) (Paris: Maspero. subtracted from all political control by the people. Théorie de la contradiction. on the other hand. it was the complete opposite: the armed. the circles that emerge from the ex-PCMLF end up becoming paralyzed by a fearful overestimation of the new repressive apparatuses of the state: “This spirit is particularly evident in their analysis of the alleged ‘ fascization’ of the power of the state after May. similar to that of the ex-PCMLF.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 630 51 52 53 54 air of radicalism exuded by La Cause du Peuple is often little more than an abstract call to revolt. consistent with their denial of the novelty of the Cultural Revolution. This analysis has led the militants of L’Humanité Rouge to their semi-clandestine existence. insofar as they proclaim to be already the authentic communist party in France. Just as Lin Biao had wanted to an excess to militarize the Revolutionary Committees. At the same time. finally. I should add that. Badiou. UCFML. quickly tilting over into a militarized plea for violence as an end in itself: “Putschism comes in the place of the investigation. Alain Badiou and François Balmès. and of the directive” (ibid. In a later study published in 1977. Théorie de la contradiction. appear as a “rightist” ideological deviation. will increasingly become obsessed with the “fascist” turn of the state apparatus in France. the UCFML would take advantage of the lessons learned from the criticisms against Lin Biao during the latter days of the Cultural Revolution. insofar as the GP. 9. clandestine. and finally attempted a coup. and purely putschist nucleus. Badiou. Une étude maoïste: La situation en Chine et le mouvement dit de “critique de la bande des Quatre” (A Maoist Study: The Situation in China and the Movement of the “Critique of the Gang of Four”) (Marseille: Potemkine.
79. was swiftly taken by most of the New Philosophers.” in La situation actuelle sur le front philosophique. based on the false opposition between masses and the state. Ibid. Glucksmann indeed posits a principle worthy of his youthful Maoist years: “In the beginning there was resistance. Alain Badiou. And this step. we know. From this radical. together with Les maîtres penseurs (The Master Thinkers). I have tried to extend this argument to include the work of Hardt. and Althusser. 12.” in La situation actuelle sur le front philosophique (The Current Situation on the Philosophical Front) (Paris: Maspero. Ibid. then someone like André Glucksmann might well seem to lead the way. At the outset of La cuisinière et le mangeur d’hommes (The Cook and the Man Eater). Polygraph: An International Journal of Culture and Politics 15/16 (2004): 75–92. 31–32. 69.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 631 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 Ibid.. For an English translation of this text. Ibid. 82. 78–79. “Le flux et le parti (dans les marges de l’Anti-Oedipe). Negri. even if only by default. Now. if all this were to come down to recovering the notion there can be no power without the constituent force of resistance.. 1975). Théorie de la contradiction. 80. 1977). almost ontological priority of resistance. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. made infamous by the gulag. In fact. Badiou. Ibid. 72. all the attention quickly turns in awe to the overwhelming power of repression displayed by the state. 69. as we can hear from Mao to Negri today. one of the books. see “The Flux and the Party: In the Margins of Anti-Oedipus. this being the only remedy to avoid the totalitarian excesses of the latter. Ibid. “Etat de front. 75. with which he first achieved nationwide fame as a former editor of La Cause du Peuple turned New Philosopher... the antirepressive obsession ultimately contradicts the initial pledge of allegiance to the wildly creative force of popular resistance. Ibid. however. Ibid.” trans.. Ibid. Lacan. 76. La cuisinière et le mangeur d’hommes (Paris: Le Seuil. and Žižek in my contribution “Logics of Antagonism: In the Margins of Alain Badiou’s ‘The Flux and the Party.. Groupe Yénan-Philosophie.. 81.’ ” included in the same special issue of Polygraph (93–107). 81–82.” See André Glucksmann. Laura Balladur and Simon Krysl.. a fourth interlocutor—Michel Foucault— . Only a short step is then needed. In addition to Deleuze. Ibid. to go on to applaud the intrinsically democratic tendencies of the former. 21..
39. 2004). and Louis Mossot. Adorno. particularly with Foucault’s final seminars at the Collège de France. just as Sartre’s Cause echoes La Cause du Peuple. 10. introductions et commentaires autour d’un texte de Zhang Shiying. 1972) (Paris: Maspero. Ibid. Theoretical Writings. is not an obstacle but a precondition for the identity between being and thinking. Casser en deux l’histoire du monde? (Paris: Les Conférences du Perroquet. Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne. 30. then.” 12–13. B. 232–33. and Commentaries on a Text by Zhang Shiying. in which Badiou will once again reject the radical-anarchic figure of antagonism. deeply ˇ ˇ inspired by Badiou’s views. 230. Groupe Yénan-Philosophie. 1978).. Introduction. Beijing. Théorie de la contradiction. Théorie du sujet. L’Etre et l’événement. Badiou. see note “(k) Le concept philosophique de déviation. 2003). The mention of Nietzsche’s archpolitical attempt “to break the history of the world in two” anticipates a future version of this same polemic.. Peut-on penser la politique? 10. “Etat de front. Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne: Traductions. or the presupposition that something must precede the process of pure thought. 60.. Pékin. between logic and history. Incidentally. Badiou. . Ibid. Le noyau rationnel de la dialectique hégélienne. Paradoxically. 1990). Badiou. we might also add Lacan to the polemic between Sartre and Althusser.. Alain Badiou. Alberto Toscano and Ray Brassier (London: Continuum. Insofar as Lacan’s psychoanalysis now prospers officially in the Ecole de la Cause. MA: MIT Press. ed. as part of Nietzsche’s problematic legacy. 69. Ibid.” Theodor W. nonidentity. trans. 40.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 632 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 is mentioned in a footnote as the subject of a future discussion. 135. Joël Bellassen. The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two (Cambridge. this lacuna can still be felt in Badiou’s current work. Badiou. 73. Badiou. E. of course: on which side? Or perhaps we should ask ourselves whether a Lacanian logic of the Cause (as Chose) does not interrupt the possibility of being loyal to a political Cause. 1992). Negative Dialectics. Ashton (New York: Continuum. 73–74. See Alain Badiou. or the two as such. in which certain readers might want to see a more sustained confrontation. Compare also with Alenka Zupancic’s recent book. but this polemic never actually was to take place. 56. The question being. 13–14. and trans. 1972 (The Rational Kernel of the Hegelian Dialectic: Translations. just as Althusser’s structural causality may have kept him from joining Sartre’s Cause on the side of the Maoists. Ibid. Ibid. 30..
103–4.” in La situation actuelle sur le front philosophique. L’ange (The Angel). 95. leads to a practical impasse. “Badiou without Žižek. “Can Change Be Thought?” 243. Ibid. which he himself also calls events. Think Again. Ibid. See Bosteels. or what Sartre calls elements of the practico-inert.. whose decision seems to be founded upon a nothing that commands a whole. Badiou. In Bensaïd’s eyes.” in Hallward. 105).. The refusal to work within the equivocal contradiction and tension which bind them together ultimately leads to a pure voluntarism. Ethics. the systematic study of overdetermination under certain formal conditions. “Communism as Separation. the price to pay for this radical distancing from history would be exorbitant. 72. Badiou.. The result in fact is “a philosophy of majestic sovereignty.. Ibid. 17.” ed. the effect of which would be politically deadening: “The absolute incompatibility between truth and opinion. see Bosteels. Georges Peyrol [Alain Badiou]. 73.” in Hallward. Polygraph: An International Journal of Culture and Politics 17 (2005): 221–44. the presence of which already seems to presuppose the inscription of a subject in a nonideological sense. in the midst of the subject’s ongoing efforts at reaching the transparency of self-consciousness. 143. . 118–19. between philosopher and sophist.” a philosophy haunted by the epistemological cut between event and history. while conversely we can always expect to find remnants of the opacity and counterfinality of the structure. between event and history. 167.” in “The Philosophy of Alain Badiou. 1976). Ibid. special issue. or incompleteness. “Un ange est passé. Thus we could show how in some of Althusser’s formulations. pinpoints a symptomatic blindness. 53. Ibid. 55. Daniel Bensaïd.. Alberto Toscano.. vol. Matthew Wilkens. Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet. 103. 69. Ibid. For a more detailed discussion. 145. Ibid. 15.. Ibid. 96. 1 of Ontologie de la revolution: Pour une cynégétique du semblant (Ontology of Revolution: For a Cynegetics of Semblance) (Paris: Grasset. “Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event.. Théorie de la contradiction. Ibid. which oscillates between a broadly leftist form of politics and its philosophical circumvention” (101. Think Again.Bosteels ❘ Post-Maoism 633 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 Ibid.
” Le Marxiste-Léniniste 50–51 (spring 1981): 1. Sur le maoïsme et la situation en Chine après la mort de Mao Tsé-Toung. 16–17. Notes de travail sur le post-léninisme. 109 Badiou. Questions du maoïsme: De la Chine de la Révolution Culturelle à la Chine des Procès de Pékin. 9. Théorie du sujet. 10. Peut-on penser la politique? 56. 110 “Introduction. 112 UCFML. 70. 20. 1–2. 108 UCFML. 114 Sandevince. Théorie de la contradiction.positions 13:3 Winter 2005 634 105 “Circulaire sur quelques problèmes idéologiques” (September 1970). 115 Badiou. 113 UCFML. republished in Première année d’existence. 111 Ibid. . 106 Le Marxiste-Léniniste 12 (fall 1976): 21. Sur le maoisme et la situation en Chine. 107 Badiou. 318.