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Selections from Thorie du sujet on the Cultural Revolution Alain Badiou

From Subjective and Objective (April 15, 1975)

May 1968

A definition: We will call subjective those processes relative to the qualitative concentration of force. Let me emphasize that these are practices, real phenomena. The party is something subjective, taken in its historical emergence, the network of its actions, the novelty it concentrates. The institution is nothing but a husk. Correlatively, we will call objective the process whereby force is placed and is thus impure. Inasmuch as it concentrates and purifies itself qua affirmative scission, every force is therefore a subjective force, and inasmuch as it is assigned to its place, structured, splaced,1 it is an objective force.

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More exactly, we will say: the being of force is to divide itself according to the objective and the subjective. If you take a birds-eye view of May 68, you will see in it a new and qualitatively irreducible breath or aspiration; you will see in it this exceptional and radically new point of concentration which is the establishment of thousands of young intellectuals in the factories, together with the minimal apparatus for this concentration (the Maoist organizations). You will also see in it the remarkable weakness of this concentration and this apparatus, the insurmountable dilution of the rebellion into peaceful, vindicating, infrapolitical figures. You will see in it the defensive maneuver, for the sake of the fixity of the splace, comfortably agreed by the representatives of the government and the representatives of the unions, between Pompidou and Sguy. May 68 is really only a beginning, and continuing the combat is a directive for the long run. You can thus observe, at one and the same time, the objective force of force and its subjective weakness. Everyone in the strike and in the street for a precious and, in its own way, immortal commencement. But seven years later, the subjective future and concentrated restricted action of all this is held up by very few, in the midst of the sepulchral atmosphere of the programme commun and the prayers of Mitterrand, that morticians assistant. This amounts to saying that the subjective aspect of our adversarys force is itself still in a very good state. This is something the revolutionaries never managed to learn. Most of them think they are the only subject and represent the antagonistic class to themselves as an objective mechanism of oppression led by a handful of profiteers. The bourgeoisie is in no way reducible to the control of the state or to economic profit. The Cultural Revolution also enlightens us on this point when it designates the bourgeoisie in conditions where industry has been entirely nationalized and the party of the proletariat dominates the state. The bourgeoisie makes politics, it is engaged in the class struggle. This engagement does not take place only from the angle of exploitation, or from that of coercion, whether it be legal or terroristic. The bourgeoisie makes a subject. Where then does it do this? Exactly like the proletariat: among the people, working class included, and I would even say, since we are dealing with the new state-bureaucratic bourgeoisie, the working class especially included.

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Figure 1

The imperialist bourgeois are a handful, of course, but the subjective effect of their force lies in a divided people. There is not just the law of Capital, or the cops. To miss this is to stop seeing the unity of the splace, its consistency. It is to fall back into objectivism, whose inverted ransom, by the way, is to make the state into the only subjectwhence the antirepressive logorrhea. We must conceive imperialist society not only as substance but also as subject. Thus far, however, we have dealt only with the subjective, which is not the subject, but rather its element or its genre. The objective and the subjective divide the dialectic. If you take the two antagonistic forces (without forgetting their underlying articulation into splace and outplace), you can isolate within them an objective dialectic and a subjective dialectic, whose ensemble constitutes the dialectic of force. See the schema in figure 1, applied to the canonical example of the bourgeoisie/proletariat contradiction. The common objectivity subtends the life of the massesoppressed and rebellingin accordance with the axiom: Where there is oppression, there

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is rebellion. This is the objective dialectic, the way of the worldhistory, which is made by the masses, as we all know. The subjective is politics, made by the classes in the masses. Let it be said in passing: to understand the distinction between history and politics, masses and classes, is exactly the same thing as understanding the distinction between the Whole and the One. This is no trifling matter. It is clear that the point of application of the bourgeois subjective force as splace is intended to hinder the constitution out of place of the proletarian subjective force. The fundamental target of subjective activity here is to block the process of concentration (purification) of the antagonistic force. It is a matter of maintaining at any cost the maximal dilution of antagonistic force, even if this dilution is made up of innumerable rebellions. Here we must condemn the makeshift philosophy of the advocates of the convergence of struggles. This geometric conception remains entirely within the objective assignation of force. A sum of rebellions does not make a subject, regardless of how much you may want to coordinate them. The geometric character of convergence must be replaced with the qualitative character of concentration. A minimal and purified political heterogeneity is a hundred times more combative than a parliamentary armada of represented struggles. Convergence is the typical objectivist deviation, in which, once the work of subjective purification is spirited away, antagonism finds itself ill-advisedly dissolved. Frankly, convergence does the work of the adverse subjective force. Basically, it is always in the interests of the powerful that history is mistaken for politicsthat is, that the objective is taken for the subjective. This is the natural element for the maintenance of their own subjective activity, which is applied with the aim that no nonaligned quality may concentrate itself and confront the powerful. There is no shortage of people under their thumb among the Marxists: all of those who embroider their dispiriting fripperies around a Marxism reduced to the morose virtue of a science of history. Science of history? Marxism is the discourse that the proletariat as subject uses to sustain itself. We shall never let go of this idea.

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Periodization

Let us return to this trait whereby the materialist dialectic sets itself apart from the Hegelian dialectic: it periodizes, while the other one makes circles. We now have two tools in our possession to ground periodization, which is, after all, the making of history. Finding the right period could even be said to be historys exclusive task. a. The terms of the contradiction are doubly determined: as to their place (splace/outplace) and as to their force. b. Force is doubly determined: objective and subjective. You will say to me: what does this have to do with periodization? Well, it does to the extent that we can formulate the twofold dialectical criterion of periodization: that splace be caught up in the destructive flagrance of the outplace; that the subjective aspect of force attain a threshold of its qualitative concentration. This is the double precondition for the advent of a subject-process. Taking a step back, let us return to the Paris Commune, about which historians have always quarreled, wanting to know if it is the last of the archaic workers insurrections of the nineteenth century or the first of the modern revolutionsprime evidence of their deficient criteria. As may be expected, given the existence of a double criterion, there are two assessments of the Commune in the Marxist tradition (though a third is in preparation, via the Cultural Revolution: which is to say that there will be four). Marxs assessment (The Civil War in France) is in actual fact purely objective. It designates the Parisian action as the clarification of the immediate political objectives of the class with regard to the state. It is necessary to break the military and police machinery and their administrative appendix, without trying to occupy them. It is necessary to put in place organs of power of a new type, and not merely to lead, by substitution, the old ones. Marx registers in the Commune the heterogeneous quality of force as such, together with the limitation of a political dialectic articulated through the sole logic of the dominant place, the place of power. Marx divides the expression taking power according to place (it is necessary to dominate the adversary) and

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force (one must above all deploy in a different way, and in accordance with a new quality, the occupation of the dominant place). Thus we pass from the structural side of the dialectic to its historical side: the proletariat is not only the outplace of a place, it is the other force of a force. Nevertheless, we still remain within the objectivity of force, or rather within the undivided unity of the objective and the subjective. Concerning the process of the concentration of force, whose weakness he evidently perceives (it is the weakness of the communard leadership, which is parliamentary and reactive), Marx does not propose any particular analysis that would be capable of helping us move beyond such weakness. Marx abides with the first criterion of periodization (place and force). It is Lenins partisan activity, up to the victory of October, and even more up to the crushing of the counterrevolution and its foreign support in the civil waran activity in which, ever since What Is to Be Done? the subjective question plays a central partwhich sets out the second assessment. Concentrating force is the very essence of Leninist work, which bases itself on the weaknesses and failures of the Commune, while Marx instead armed himself with the Communes victories in order to modify, on a crucial point, the Manifesto. Lenin draws a fourfold lesson from the crushing of the Commune: 1 It is necessary to make Marxist politics, not a local romantic rebellion, whether workerist or populist. The profound meaning of What Is to Be Done? is entirely contained in this difficult and original call: let us be absolutely, irrevocably, politicians (meaning professionals, that goes without saying: who has ever seen amateur political leaders?). 2 It is necessary to have an overall view of things, in the national framework at least, and not be fragmented into the federalism of struggles. 3 It is necessary to ally oneself with the rural masses. 4 It is necessary to break the counterrevolution through an uninterrupted, militarily offensive, centralized process. And what of the party, the famous Leninist party, in the midst of all this? The party as the core of steel, an army moving with the rhythmic step of seasoned professionals? For Lenin, the party is nothing but the operator of concentration of these four requirements, the mandatory focal point for a

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politics. The party is the active purification of politics, the system of possibility practiced through the assessment of the Commune. It is inferred from politics (from the subjective aspect of force). By no means does it come first. To read What Is to Be Done? as a theory of the party amounts to an utter misunderstanding. What Is to Be Done? is a handbook of Marxist politics. What is inferred within it on the party as apparatus is mixed and secondary. What Is to Be Done? is a theory of the subjective aspect of force, in the guise of a general call to political confidence. It is not in its institutional preoccupations, but because of the requirements of Marxist political ambition, that What Is to Be Done? suggests a silent assessment of the Paris Commune. Besides, it is curious to see that the explicit examination of the Commune carried out by Lenin in The State and Revolution follows an entirely different thread, which originates in Marx and is relative to the problem of the state: despite appearances, in that text we are dealing, through the return to objectivity, with a far less novel undertaking. Every periodization must encompass its double dialectical time, and thusto stay with our examplecontain October 1917 as the second and provisionally final scansion of the assessment. Whence the embarrassment of historians: according to the force/place relation, the Commune is new (Marx). According to the subjective/objective relation, it is October that is new and the Commune is this edge of the old whose practical perception, by purifying force, partakes in the engendering of its novelty. It is highly probable that the Chinese Cultural Revolution has the same profile and that the question of the second moment of its periodizing function is now open. The subjective question (how did the Cultural Revolution, that mass uprising against the bureaucratic state bourgeoisie, come across the problem of the reshaping of the party) remains suspended, as the key question of any Marxist politics today.
From The Black Sheep of Materialism (November 7, 1977)

The materialist thesis is not simple. It is less so, despite appearances, than the dialectical thesis.

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Marxists have argued that ever since its Greek origin, the contradiction that sets philosophy apart is the one that opposes materialism and idealism. This is the axiom of the combat among scholars: The philosophers split into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature and, therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or other . . . comprised the camp of idealism. The others, who regarded nature as primary, belong to the various schools of materialism. (Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886, chapter 2) What is the source of this structural invariance, according to which philosophy seems to perform on its stage a skeletal quarrel on whether A precedes B, or B, A? What supports it in the real is that the ruling classes are invariably led to claim that thought precedes being (nature). Thats a rather curious fact, is it not, and Engels does not fully explain himself on that point. Let us give two provisional motives for this idealist compulsion. A ruling class is the guardian of the place, the mandatory functionary of the splace. Its aim, both violent and hidden, is to guarantee repetition and to prohibit the political subject, through the blockage of interruption. To dominate is to interrupt interruption. In the politics of the state, one calls this reestablishing order. Order is what is reestablished, keeping silent about what establishes it. Like the subject it denies, order declares that it comes in second place. The conservative posture demands that law be named as indivisible: it may only be unestablished, never divided. From subversion to conspiracy through destabilization, the lexicon of the state swarms with words to speak the unestablishment of the law, but does not have a single word for its division. The indivisibility of the law of the place exempts it from the real. To bind this exception in the domain of theory comes down to stipulating the radical anteriority of the rule, which, in fact, is only defined (i.e., established) retroactively, through the torsion in which its coherence appears as disjoined from the new coherence.

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The position of this antecedence is elaborated in philosophy as idealism. It is necessary to ground in the absolute the place of repetitive series. Idealism is the nominal Parousia of the splace as such. Plato, as behooves a founder, designates it as topos. Idealism necessarily dominates, being the mandatory language of conservation. On the other hand, it is true that to this very day every ruling class has organized on its own account the maintenance of the social division of labor. Transversal to class conflicts, we find these great millenarian structural invariants, these three great differencesof town and country, industry and agriculture, intellectual and manualwhose abolishment is the very aim of communism. That is the sense in which communism is concrete. Specified with exactness in relation to the most tenacious social differentiations, it deals with the political question only as the angle required for its access to the real. Naming as it does, in popular violence, the need to measure the steps taken with regard to the resorption of the three differences (thus of students brought into the process of production, towns stopped from growing, the small industrialization of popular communes, workers technical innovation, etc.), the Chinese Cultural Revolution deserves in turn to be named the first communist revolution in history. What fails keeps its name. Otherwise, what exactly is it that failed? For those classes for which communism is a specter, it is important to consolidate the distinctions. Albeit in variable formulas, whose extension is almost devoid of common measure, they all monopolize intellectual labor and systematize its superiority over manual labor. It will be recognized that idealism is transitive to this social axiom. In the final analysis, it subordinates nature to the concept, like the specialized worker of the assembly line is subordinated to the foreman, or the slave, that animated tool, is subordinated to his mathematician master. Do not be fooled, the vulgarity of this argument is no obstacle to its truth. In philosophy textbooks, you will see that like the epithet of a two-bit Homer, the adjective vulgar almost invariably accompanies the noun mate-

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rialism. Yes indeed! There is something trivial about reading the abject secret of a speculative permanence into the densest of social hierarchies. But so it is. Whence the materialism of the bourgeois revolutionaries of the eighteenth centuryagainst the clerical-feudal establishmentand the proletarians of the nineteenthagainst the barons of finance converted to spiritualism. Equally, one comfortably forgets the irascible materialism of ones political youth with the onset of the established age of conservation. The same ones who devoured priests and academicians end up subsidizing the good fathers mission in Africa or distributing at the central committee the icons of a Soviet humanism through which we can glimpse the well-heeled dachas and the black Mercedes.
From Answeringto the SphinxDemands from the Subject Not to Have to Answerfor the Sphinx (December 4, 1977)

The revolution of October 17, you will agree, opens onto a new stage in the history of Marxism. This stage is supported by the adequate solution, the solution-reflection, of a problem bequeathed by the failure of the previous revolutions, specifically by the Parisian insurrections of June 1848 and March 1871. This problem can be formulated as follows: what type of organization does the proletariat need to really and enduringly break the enemy state machine? What becomes of a victorious insurrection? The Leninist party resolves this problem. The field of possibilities prescribed by this organizational form is called Third International. Pretty much everywhere, political class organizations in conformity with the Bolshevik model are set up. One reflects Bolshevism, universally practicing the bolshevization of parties. There are successes. The Chinese party seizes power; the Korean, Yugoslav, and Albanian parties do, too. Soon it is notedwithin the Leninist investigation by the scission of the international communist movement in the sixtiesthat the Leninist parties have been capable of becoming, de facto, bourgeois parties that oppress the working class and peoples in an almost fascist manner.

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What can we say about this demonstration? Without resorting to the doctrine of the remainder, one will be content with little, that is with affirminglike a right-wing Pythagorean summarily expelling the diagonal into nothingnessthat these degenerate parties are not Leninist parties, that they inexist for that domain. This conservative posture amounts to speaking the closed language of orthodoxy. The task is one of restoration: to redo (repeat) the lost Leninist parties. But if one is an audacious Pythagorean (or Bolshevik), one will instead pose the blasphemous question: what then was the asymptote of Bolshevik knowledge? Where then is its remainder? The Leninist party is the historical response to a problem that is wholly inscribed in the state/revolution contradiction. It treats of the victorious destruction. What happens then to this party with regard to the state/communism contradiction, that is, in relation to the process whereby the state (and classes) must no longer be destroyed but must wither, through an effect of transition? The history of the USSR is by and large the historical demonstration of this point: the Leninist party is incommensurable to the tasks of the transition to communism, despite the fact that it is appropriate to those of the victorious insurrection. But what testifies by way of forcing to the necessary extension of the partifiablelike the denumerable in Eudoxusis the Cultural Revolution in China, which, having stumbled on the party in the fire of a communist uprising, puts on the agenda the fact that the Leninist party is over. The domain of Leninism makes no real place, when it comes to the party, for the problem of communism as such. Its business is the state, antagonistic victory. The Cultural Revolution begins the forcing of this uninhabitable place. It invites us to name the post-Leninist party as the party of the new type, the party for communism, on the basis of which to recast the entire field of Marxist practice. Thus it is retroactively proven that the problems of Leninismthe questions of Leninism, as Stalin put itleave as a remainder the problem of these problems, the problematic of communism, only reflecting, as they do, the previously prescribed task, that of the taking of power. The asymptote of the Bolshevik reflection is nothing other than communism.

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What turns the state/revolution contradiction into a constraint must be destroyed and recomposed by the historical nomination of its remainder, which is relative to the state/communism contradiction. Whence a revolution in Marxism, the Maoist revolution.
From Ethics as the Dissipation of the Paradoxes of the Party Spirit (May 25, 1979)

The string of official adjectives pinned on Liu Shaoqi during the Cultural Revolution, emblematic target of the storm, to wit: Agent of the enemy and traitor to the working class, valet of imperialism, of modern revisionism and Kuomintang reaction, author of innumerable crimes and accomplished representative of those engaged in the capitalist path (La grande rvolution culturelle proltarienne, 1516) weave with precision what counts for politics in the thinkable framework of the struggle between the two paths (modern revisionism, capitalist pathstrictly speaking, treason against the working class), and what vigorously expresses the purely ethical remainder (agent, imperialism, spy of Formosa, crimes). In any case, it is not enough to overwhelm the adversary with the sole accusation that he was what needed to be fought. It is also necessary to evoke, on this side of the division of the party, the treason of what serves as its soul, the unnameable ethical shortcoming. And if that does not exist, there is place for creating one. What these flatand, as their future showed, entirely futilehorrors alert us to is that the formal recognition of ethics as the only possible principle of self-condemnation (which is why the sinister Moscow theater demands confession and abjection) changes into its opposite if the political content, whose remainder ethics is supposed to stand for, finds itself reduced to the objectivity of the party-state. To really attain ethics, one must at the very least not give up on politics as a subjective process; that is, one must not give up on communist politics. This is impossible if, in every sense of the word, ones party is mistaken for the wrong party. The spirit of the party may well be abnegation and obedience or, as Stalin put it, conscious submission and unity of will. Ethical courage comes

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down to the force of traversing anxiety, since there is nothing there but the capacity to regard oneself as worthless, null. Who will say that one can continually dispense with this kind of nullifying subjectivation? But the spirit of the party is also the inverse. Subordinated to politics, and not to organization, it demands absolute participation in the movement of the real, detecting the breach where one may plunge into avant-gardist destruction. Consider the directives of the Cultural Revolution aimed at cadres: We must hold to the line that consists in coming from the masses and returning to the masses. To be the student of the masses before becoming their teacher. We must dare to make the revolution, and know how to do it well. We must not fear disorder. We must oppose those who, remaining on the positions of the bourgeoisie, protect the rightists, strike the Left, and stifle the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. We must oppose the imposition on the masses of multiple restrictions that tend to bind their hands and feet. We must oppose those who play at being great lords, standing above the masses so as to lead them blindly. (Communiqu of the eleventh plenary session of the Central Committee issued from the eighth congress of the Chinese Communist Party) In similar circumstances, no corporeal hierarchy can allow you to dispense with the test of courage. If the party claims to protect you from it, it is a good idea to become yourself the party. One must know how to hold the party itself to be worthless, null, with the sole purpose that it may continue to exist as the body of a subject. This is the whole meaning of the maxim: Dare to go against the current, regarding which, during the tenth congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Wang Hongwen (today in prison . . .), in the purest style of Antigone, indicates to what point it must be taken, against the grain of any service of goods: When the line is up for grabs, when the situation as a whole is at issue, a true communist must act without any selfish consideration and dare to go against the current, without fear of being demoted, excluded from the party, thrown in jail, forced to divorce, or stood before a firing squad. (tenth congress, documents, Beijing, 1973)

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It is clear that then it is the very existence of the party that is at stake because, were one to give up, one would only gain the partys statist desubjectivation, its counterrevolutionary termination. The ethics of Marxism lies in the resolution, on the solid terrain of the theory of the subject, of the paradoxes of the spirit of the party. This resolution takes place in the division of a conceptconfidencethat harbors, depending on its point of application, the demand for discipline and the inevitability of rebellion. Translated by Alberto Toscano, with the kind assistance of Lorenzo Chiesa and Nina Power
Note

1 This is Badious explanation of his lexical invention: A terminological remark. If, as we shall continually do, one opposes force to place, it will always be more homogeneous to say space of placement to designate the action of the structure. It would be even better to forge the term splace [esplace]. If, on the contrary, one says place, which is more Mallarman, we will need to say, in the Lacanian manner, lieutenancy, or placeholding, for place. But force is then heterogeneous to designate the a-structurally topological. It would be better to say: the outplace [horlieu] (Thorie du sujet, 28).Trans.