Saturday, July 10, 2010

Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis: A Review, Part I

There is this group of over-entitled and unbelievably spoiled papa's boys who deal with the boredom of grad school by pretending to be oh, so dedicated revolutionaries. While Daddies are paying the bills and guarding that trust fund for when darling boys finally graduate, the sons walk around feeling important and showering everybody with badly digested quotes from Zizek, Badiou, Lacan, Deleuze, etc. I know that they will descend on my blog with a vengeance to berate me for a critical analysis of the work of one of their idols. This has happened before and will keep happening. Their fake Marxism makes it intolerable for them that a woman from a background that is a lot less privileged than theirs would dare have an opinion. Well, you've just got to suck it up, boys. Cheers!

For the most part, Badiou's  The Communist Hypothesis consists of some old essays that have been published elsewhere a while ago and are now repackaged and accompanied by Badiou's explanation of why it makes sense to re-publish these essays as one book. So if you are thinking about buying the book, you need to be forewarned: you can find most of what it contains elsewhere and for free. What's genuinely new in the book is about 20 pages at the beginning and 20 pages at the end.

This isn't a book of philosophy, as much as an autobiographically tinged discussion of three historic events that Badiou finds important: May of 1968, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Paris Commune of 1871. The most valuable thing about the part that discusses May '68 was for me Badiou's discussion of his personal response to those events. His detailed explanation of what May 1968 entailed and how events unfolded seemed a bit superfluous because this is a story most people who would be interested in Badiou enough to buy his books know well already.

The part dedicated to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Badiou's defense of his Maoism was the one I found to be the most uninspiring intellectually. Badiou attempts to defend Mao's personality cult by saying that it is no different from the admiration we render to artists. This argument sounds extremely feeble since nobody has seen huge demonstrations of people holding Modigliani's portrait and nobody has claimed that Dostoyevsky's wisdom is helpful even in the art of planting tomatoes (as according to Badiou has been said about Mao's wisdom.) The rest of the chapter dedicated to Maoism (which is actually a conference Badiou delivered in 2002) lists in minute and often excruciatingly boring detail the events of the Cultural Revolution.

The last revolutionary event that Badiou discusses is the Paris Commune. This is the most interesting part of the book. Badiou explains that the Maoist attempt to appropriate the legacy of the Commune failed because of Mao's incapacity to escape, in this case,  from the constraints of the party-state framework. In view of this failure to appropriate the political legacy of the Commune for the contemporary revolutionary purposes, Badiou offers an important analysis of the events of 1871. The Commune was the only revolutionary event that did not allow the corrupt and power-seeking Left to pretend that it represents the interests of the revolutionaries, thereby robbing them of the fruits of their struggle and perverting their original goals.

The book ends with a letter that Badiou addresses to Zizek. The letter disappointed me because it contains some decidedly unintelligent statements. To give an example, Stalin and Mao "fail to understand [that] any immanent negation is, in its essence, a negation of the negation that it is." Those of us who know anything at all about Stalin can imagine well enough what Stalin would do to an intellectual (Stalin's most hated kind of person) presenting him with this type of sentence. This makes me think that Badiou has a very limited understanding of both Stalin's goals and his failures*. Badiou insists the horrors committed by Stalin and others like him (which he light-heartedly refers to as "hair-raising anecdotes") can and should be ignored by today's Marxists. Ignoring unpleasant facts that you have no idea how to explain is, for me, a sign of intellectual impotence. As I said before, I would love to read an honest and detailed communist analysis of why every communism-inspired regime has been such a total and irredeemable disaster. Instead, modern day Marxists only offer the disappointing and childish response that "capitalism and colonialism also killed many people." In The Communist Hypothesis, Badiou goes as far as to berate his friend Slavoj Zizek for "projecting" his knowledge of Stalin's atrocities onto Mao Zedong. It is as if Badiou were bothered by the idea that anybody might revive the knowledge of Stalinist horrors.

* If you plan to argue about this, please, at the very least familiarize yourself with the most basic facts of Stalin's life. It annoys me a lot when people who know nothing about the history of my country start lecturing me on it.

[To be continued . . .]


profacero said...

You've heard the term in Spanish "psico-bolche," right? Psychological Bolshevik? It refers to those kinds of papa's boys.

Clarissa said...

I actually never heard the word. Ha ha ha. It's super funny!

Anonymous said...

This is wondeful! I did read this book and some others by this man and found all of them to be idiotic. I am an old fashioned old man (older than Badiou) who reads Marx even now. And a bit of Hegel. So I have been wondering why this man is called a philosopher or even a hypothesist? Because there is no moment of originality in anything he has to say.
Thank you for posting such articles. I will continue to read your words in the remaining days.