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Alain Badiou in New York City

Posted by onehundredflowers on November 1, 2008

Alain Badiou will be speaking in New York City for the launch of Lacanian Ink #32.  There will be an introduction by editor, Josefina Ayerza.

Is the word ‘Communism’ forever doomed?

Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse, 466 Grand St., NYC 10002 [at Pitt St.]

November 6th, 7PM Seating is on a first come, first serve basis

Sponsored by the Miguel Abreu Gallery. For the flyer, click here.

12 Responses to “Alain Badiou in New York City”

  1. bob said

    what if he says the word “communism” is forever doomed?

  2. nando said

    That is a funny question.

    Bob writes:

    “what if he says the word “communism” is forever doomed?”

    Obviously we should listen to his argument, try to understand it, and dig into it critically, right?

    What do you think we should do when thougthful people make serious arguments about serious matters?

    I think we should critically evaluate the discussion — both to see whether the argument is something that should be united with, and then whether there are insights we can learn from (n a positive or negative way).

    * * * * *

    The Kasama Project has just formed itself, at its brief conference last April, as an explicitly communist effort — so obviously communist revolution (and the word “communist” itself) are central to our politics . B

    But that hardly ends that discussion, or exhausts that issue.

    * * * * *

    Badiou emerges from a european context, where the communist movement (in various incarnations) had a deep influence among the people — often associated with very NON-revolutionary politics. The U.S. is (as you know) quite different in that regard (where most people have had no contact with any major party calling itself socialist or communst).

    But despite such differences of experience, I’m rather curious to hear what Badiou has to say about this.

    Kasama has already posted an earlier essay by Badiou dealing with the Communist Hypothesis — so you can get an idea of his previous thinking.

    * * * * * * *

    By the way, the RCP’s Bob Avakian made an argument in 1981, in conquer the world, that the RCP should abandon the word “communist” — and let the revisionists have it. (In that essay he also argued against adopting the label Maoist.)

    Avakian wrote:

    “…I think that the trend, as represented by our Party and as concentrated in the newspaper, has become a real political trend in the U.S. (from everything I can gather) and that’s a growing thing, it’s not just a flash in the pan. Now I would like to say that I think we should sharply contrast our trend not only to straight up bourgeois politics, but also, rather than simply contesting the phony communists and saying “they’re not communists, we’re real communists,” we should to a certain degree and in a certain context, let the revisionists have the “communist” banner. And what we should say is, “yes, there are different tendencies: there’s the socialists and the social democrats, some of them are in power in different countries, you can see what they do, they’re more or less a straight up bourgeois trend; then there’s the communists, that is, the revisionists, they’re in power in some countries too, and in other countries they want to be in power on the same basis, you can see what they’re about; and then there’s our trend, which is the revolutionary communist/proletarian internationalist trend.” I say this not at all facetiously.”

    A lot has changed since 1981, so his arguments no longer apply. (Just as his assessment of his party becoming an influential political trend seems sad looked at over 25 years later.)

    Since then the RCP first the term Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and then (more recently) abandoned it in favor of the term “communism” as the name of its movement and ideology.

    I mention that proposal from Conquer the World just to remind everyone that there has always been an ongoing discussion of what our movement should call itself. (Marx raised it, Lenin changed the name of his party to Communist, the Comintern first insisted that parties adopt that name, then after 1935 urged parties to drop the name Communist, and so on.)

  3. Linda D. said

    Sorry Nando if I am “diverting” not the struggle but attention from Badiou, but I would like to ask you a question. Have never fully understood the rcp’s change of M-L-Mao Tsetung Thought to M-L-M. I know Mike has said there is a lot written about that but personally I haven’t read that much on the subject. And now, for the most part, dropping Mao(ism), and switching back to “communist(or ism).” I would like to know what the rcp bases these switches on. Rather, what you think they’re based on since it is hard to find anything in their press. Sorry to sound snarky, but I remember during the formation of the “party”, lots of people were asking, on what basis does the RU think they can form a vanguard party? You said, about Badiou that

    “Badiou emerges from a european context, where the communist movement (in various incarnations) had a deep influence among the people — often associated with very NON-revolutionary politics.”

    I would also like to better understand when the different “terminology” has some substance, rather than what is seemingly (to a lot of people) just a matter of semantics.

  4. celticfire said

    Being an observe orf the Kasama group, and someone who left the orbit of the RCP sometime ago, I wonder the inherit logic of constantly comparing our activities (Kasama or otherwise) to the legitimacy of the RCP. I understand a certain level of trying to comprehend and orient a new dynamic of political struggle while reconciling our experiences with the RCP – but at what point does trying to compare Kasama, or any other genuine revolutionary grouping to the RCP as dragging us down and holding us back?

    To some extent the developments that the Chinese CP made was the conscious act of breaking new ground from the Soviet experience. The problem I have come to see with constantly comparing our politics with that of the RCP, is that is constantly undermines our own legitimacy and denies the creative process of breaking new grounds, and exploring ideas of other revolutionary groups in the U.S.

    In other words, I reject the notion that the RCP was/is the only real attempt at a communist organization (it was never a Party, in the real sense). Also, I think there is a significant dose of ultra-leftism in the overly fetishized comment Mao made about a correct line deciding everything…even though that quote marginally leaves the Marxist theory altogether, and ignores objective conditions. I think the RCP itself is guilty of many ultra-leftist errors stemming from an incorrect grasp of this quote, an their more-revolutionary-than-thou posturing.

    So, Kasama people, do we develop a new synthesis, or continue on with ultra-leftist posturing?

  5. Keith said

    I agree with Celtic Fire. But I would suggest to him and anyone else that the idea of a “synthesis” and a “new synthesis” is what binds this effort to the orbit of the RCP– as its other, or critic. In fact I have raised it before around the issue of electoral politics: it seems to me that core of Kasama upholds the history of the RCP and basically believes that Chairman Bob just leaked a few marbles at some point — the RCP without Bob would be their ideal. Now, it is certainly true that it is difficult to recruit of build an organization around a religious leader with a charisma of 11 but Bob is the least of the problem.

    I would ask: where does this idea of a “synthesis” (as in new synthesis) come from? What is the philosophy of science behind this idea of a new synthesis? And doesn’t it begin with Stalin’s definition of Leninism in his book “Foundations of Leninism”? I don’t raise Stalin as a bogey man. This is just where the idea comes from. Stalin says “Leninism is Marxism in the age of imperialism and proletarian revolution.” to Stalin’s credit, at least he provides a material foundation (capitalism has entered a new stage, supposedly) for the original supposed synthesis. Avakian’s synthesis has no relationship to material reality, he just worked up a new theory at of his head.

    I was in a group that accepted the idea of “Mao tse tung thought” but rejected the idea of “Maoism.” Most of the ideas that the debate drew on where developed by the Communist Party of Peru (their leader had a new synthesis too: “Gonzalo Thought”). It was- in hindsight – very corny. It took me a long time to break with the habits of thought formed in that sect.

    If you read Marx’s Capital, with any care, (which is what I did when the sect finally dissolved) you start to get an idea of what Marx meant by science. There is a great book on what Marx meant by science called “Essentialism in the thought of Karl Marx”, by Scott Meikle. You might check it out.

  6. TellNoLies said

    Celticfire and Keith both make good points. the experience of the RCP is one of a number of experiences trying to build a revolutionary organization in the US. For those who went through it, it might seem like the most important one to sum up. And in so far as people should sytematically sum up ALL of these experiences I don’t want to discourage anybody from carrying out thos task. But if folks are serious about moving forward it seems critical to me to get the RCP out of the rear-view mirror.

    Keith’s point about Stalin’s view of Leninism is a good one. Any genuine “new synthesis” or new chapter in the development of revolutionary theory needs to ask “what has changed in the world that makes the old theories inadequate.” In the course of things we should expect to also critique the adequacy of the old theory to the old conditions. But if we want to make leaps instead of playing catch up, we should be looking to what is different in our world, what quite simply could not have been theorized before because it did not exist.

    For the past 30 years we have witnessed a radical restructuring of global capitalism that we have been calling neoliberalism. The end of Fordism, the crazy financialization of the economy on historically unprecedented scale, the collapse of spatio-temporal obstacles to capital flows, massive migrations, the urbanization of the Global South, and so on have gone largely untheorized (or at least profoundly undertheorized) within the theoretical tradition that folks here call the ICM. Now on top of all that, neoliberalism seems to have entered its own crisis throwing open the doors to who the hell knows what.

    Maoism was a breath of fresh air a long time ago, a concrete challenge to the ossified Marxism of the Soviet Union and its theoretical representatives around the world. And while some individual Maoist groups have continued to do some interesting things, most recently and notably in South Asia, it is not, I think, the most vibrant starting point for an attempt to revitalize the revolutionary movement in the US.

  7. Arthur said

    TNL, in another Badiou thread you asked whether anybody knew what current experiments in politics of a different nature he was referring to when he said:

    Such a politics is, and no doubt will be for a long time, at a great distance from state power, but no matter. It begins level with the real, through the practical alliance between those who are most immediately available to invent such a politics: the newly-arrived proletarians from Africa and elsewhere, and the intellectuals who have inherited the political battles of the last few decades. This alliance will grow on the basis of what it will be capable of doing, point by point. It will not entertain any kind of organic relationship with the existing parties and with the electoral and institutional system that keeps them alive. It will invent the new discipline of those who have nothing, their political capacity, the new idea of what their victory will look like.

    In my view the Maoist tradition that developed in the Western world in the 1960s was such an experiment. The premise for rallying to Maoism was that we rejected the discredited results of the previous “international communist movement”.

    Nobody even mildly rebellious could become a communist when the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe or the parties supporting those regimes in the West were taken as models or when the existing reformist parties were offered as a means to change the world. Maoism was first and foremost a direct rejection of the then actually existing “left”.

    It is a rather heroic understatement to say that what has been understood as Maoism or the international communist movement in recent days, including the RCP(USA), “is not, I think, the most vibrant starting point for an attempt to revitalize the revolutionary movement…”

    Those particular examples of the undead are also a very peripheral aspect of the broader “left milieu” that is also “less than vibrant” (ie quite putrid).

    I see no reason to abandon Maoism to the enemy any more than communism, revolution or leftism.

    There was a real movement in the 1960s, different from what we thought it was at the time, but it was real, it helped change the world for the better and it was vibrant (until “everyone” became Maoist).

    The “breath of fresh air” was that we didn’t just offer a “concrete challenge the ossified Marxism of the Soviet Union” but treated it as our enemy. Likewise for the reformist parties. Not in a “sectarian” or “ultra-left” way of posturing (though that happened later), but simply observing it as a self evident fact as obvious to us as it was to anyone else oppressed by them.

    A similar “experiment” is required with today’s “left”. There are very good reasons why it has no mass support.

    Nobody progressive wants to live in the kind of society they advocate.

    That’s why Maoists launched a Cultural Revolution in China and that’s what we were on about in the West too.

    Instead of being organically tied to the existing institutions of “the left” we should be helping to bury it while building something real.

    PS With your anarcho background you ought to be in the best position to do a survey that answers your own question with examples of what sort of experiments Badiou was talking about. The people in such experiments with real politics disconnected from existing institutions tend to think of themselves as anarcho before discovering they need to become communist.

  8. Five Ridges said


    It is not clear whether you are criticizing Mao’s idea that “the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line decides everything…” or wrong interpretations of it.

    That statement by Mao must be understood properly, in the proper context of his theory. Mao meant by correct line, not principally by what is stated as the line, but principally what is the practice of the line, what is the line in practice. Mao precisely sought to discredit an idealist view of theory and ideological and political line.

    Mao stressed this throughout his writings and revolutionary practice. This principle parallels what Marx wrote: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways. The point is, however, to change it.”

  9. celticfire said

    Five Ridges,

    I think I agree. Mao did emphasize (as did Lenin, and Marx) practice. What I am pointing out is the trend of ultra-leftist forces using the quote to ridiculous ends (ie: the RCP). Practice becomes promoting an individual, and almost ignoring concrete conditions (the RCP line on christian fascism a few years ago). The RCP was not alone in this – I would say the dominate trend in the 60’s/70’s were the ultra leftist American Maoists (CWP, and all the M-L groups).

    It’s not about chucking Mao’s quote on a correct line, it’s about contrast to what he said about concrete conditions. I think we loose perspective if all of Maoism is summed up to the correct line quote – and it leads us to the absurd things that have already been practiced. In other words: class struggle is more complex then just good policy or proclamations, its a correct line in theory and practice.

  10. Eddy said

    Five Ridges wrote:

    That statement by Mao must be understood properly, in the proper context of his theory. Mao meant by correct line, not principally by what is stated as the line, but principally what is the practice of the line, what is the line in practice. Mao precisely sought to discredit an idealist view of theory and ideological and political line

    Exactly so.

    It is important that this is a matter of debate — ‘line’ versus ‘practice’ — for what it reveals about our current understanding of what is theory and what is meant by ‘political line.’

    If we return to Lenin’s introduction of the metaphor ‘line,’ it’s obvious that he was referring to the need for a guide to current practice – THAT is the purpose, utility, necessity of ‘political line.’

    Simply because one can ‘write it down’ doesn’t make ‘it’ theory, nor is the act of socializing practice through sharing experience (e.g. ‘writing it down’), make it less ‘practical.’

    “Those who regard the Iskra “plan” as a manifestation of “bookishness” have totally failed to understand its substance and take for the goal that which is suggested as the most suitable means for the present time. These people have not taken the trouble to study the two comparisons that were drawn to present a clear illustration of the plan. Iskra wrote: The publication of an all-Russia political newspaper must be the main line by which we may unswervingly develop, deepen, and expand the organisation (viz., the revolutionary organisation that is ever ready to support every protest and every outbreak). Pray tell me, when bricklayers lay bricks in, various parts of an enormous, unprecedentedly large structure, is it “paper” work to use a line to help them find the correct place for the bricklaying; to indicate to them the ultimate goal of the common work; to enable them to use, not only every brick, but even every piece of brick which, cemented to the bricks laid before and after it, forms a finished, continuous line? And are we not now passing through precisely such a period in our Party life when we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack the guide line for all to see and follow?” (Lenin, What is to be Done?, “The ‘Plan’ For an All-Russia Political Newspaper”)

  11. Eddy said

    And in regard to Badiou’s talk the other evening, he emphasized both the overall correctness of the idée of Marxism — which he outlined in regard to classless, communist society — and the necessity to continue to struggle to make it the reality.

  12. zerohour said

    In NYC, he didn’t directly address the title of the talk, the “word” communism, except to say that the communist hypothesis could be renamed the “egalitarian” hypothesis if we so wished. The more important point wasn’t the word, but what it signified.

    I’ll try to transcribe my recording, and post some relevant passages here.

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