Badiou’s “Communist Hypothesis”

Unwilling to neglect the stigmatizing burden of historical failure that communism has come to bear, Alain Badiou has set out to formulate a hypothesis that will resurrect and reinvigorate the communist ideal.

In the wake of the financial crisis, Badiou presents his argument with a controlled urgency and a sincere conviction that “Communism is the right hypothesis.” Pointing to the emptiness in neoliberal capitalism’s promise of “human rights,” Badiou aims for a new kind of “universal emancipation” in his reconceptualization of communism.

Badiou insists that his book is not a work of politics, but one that deals with the issues it raises at a fundamentally philosophical level: rather than taking for granted the “failure” of communism, he is intent on defining failure as such, crediting with sagacity only those “who are not blinded by the propagandist notion of failure.” With this in mind, Badiou takes us from May 1968 to the Cultural Revolution to the Paris Commune.Rather than flinching from the historical precedent set by these events, Badiou invites the possibility that these so-called failures may be thought of as a sequence that is far from complete. He argues, in other words, “that the apparent, and sometimes bloody, failures of events closely bound up with the communist hypothesis were and are stages in its history.”

Concerning the ultimate goal of The Communist Hypothesis, the book speaks for itself:

“To put it in a nutshell: we have to be bold enough to have an idea. A great idea. We have to convince ourselves that there is nothing ridiculous or criminal about having a great idea. The world of global and arrogant capitalism in which we live is taking us back to the 1840s and the birth of capitalism. Its imperative, as formulated by Guizot, was: ‘Get rich!’ We can translate that as ‘Live without an idea!’ We have to say that we cannot live without an idea. We have to say: ‘Have the courage to support the idea, and it can only be the communist idea in its generic sense.’ ”

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2 comments

  1. fmmv500

    BIG! I’ll give it a read, it’s what I’ve always felt, glad Badiou has the bulloks to say it! You know I’ve always liked his writings, and sure I will agree with pretty much everything he says. One of the only things I disagree with, as I’m sure u’d guess, is that I don’t believe ‘human rights’ to be a neoliberal capitalist promise but actaully based on socilaist/communist principles. Every night before I hit my bed I read the Universal Decleration of Human Rights on a poster that sits on the wall in front of me, and nearly every principle, every huamn right, bar one, the bit abour the right to private property (which is a neoliberal capitalist value) I agree with. It was written by two guys from Amnesty International, I the work they have done is phenomenal and shud be commended! The people who work there have done more than we’ve ever done to defend the rights of the vulnerable and poor, probably more than Badious ever done as an academic armchair revolutionary. We are all armchair revolutionary’s at the moment, although we try our best to protest and demonstarte in the form of direct action. And of course I believe there is a massive need for armchair critics, and that education brings enlightenment which brings universal emancipation, which in turn hopefully, inshallah, is reflected in social policy, a welfare state that cares for the vulnerable, and revolutionary ideals that brings us a shared sense of equality and prosperity, I still beleive we need human rights activists like those at Amensty and those who uphold the universal decleration of human rights. I agree that in a system of neoliberal capitalism as it stands these human rights activists face a goliath, a monster that is hard to defeat and is often left empty and meaningless, but that is no fault of the principles inherent in the Universal Decleration just reflects the fragilty of man, the fallibilty of the human species and greed of a system that keeps us subservient to the whims of a few free market capitalists profiteering off the blood, sweat and tears of the suffering masses.

    Peace and Solidarity.

    Thanks for the post, you alwasy end up stimulating me thoughts!

    • danielrenwick

      I don’t understand what you see Amnesty’s role in the declaration of human rights as being?

      I do not disagree with you – in fact, I think this is one of the most interesting questions to ask at the moment and I am glad you raised it. I may even write my dissertation on this. The point Badiou makes is based on his fidelity to the French schools anti-humanism and ahumanism, i.e. Althusser, Foucault, Sartre…et al.

      Badiou is not an armchair philosopher, one of the greatest things about the man is how he practices what he preaches.

      His problem with “Human Rights” is philosophical, it is not a mere flippant rejection that it bears the hallmarks of Western imperialistic thought (i.e. neo-liberalism) though the application of “Human Rights” is most definitely within the current historical framework a neo-colonial project of pacification and “Westernisation”. I would only bastardise his thought if I were to try and refine it to a mere reply. I would suggest reading his short book “Ethics: An Essay on Understanding Evil” – translated by Peter Hallward as a starting point if you really want to tackle Badiou on this. He made me a lot more sceptical of using the term and idenitfying myself with that movement. Though, of course, my acceptance of Badiou has to come with the caveat that living in a world where human rights exist for ALL and not some would be far greater and more revolutionary than anything we have seen before.

      Badiou’s politics are basically one of subtracting oneself from the current state and basic thought procedures to genuinely identify an equality founded on the inherent inconsistency we all represent before we are placed within a situation and made to count… A respect for “difference” is to identify (to liberation’s detriment) ourselves with the constructs of the modern state.

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