Voice of Revolutionary Students

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reply to the RCPUSA Badiou polemic by Steven David Maudlin

In follow up to the discussion of published polemics by the Revolutionary Communist Party USA vs the Nepal Maoists and Alain Badiou at the prior post Nepal: Revolution Reports (Prologue - Section 3):I'd like to wrap up and not spend any more time on these polemics.

I was really struck by the fact that the Nepal Maoists and the philosophy of Badiou have become my main points of interest over the last few years and the RCPUSA has chosen precisely these two elements in the development of 21st Century communism about which should have the most fear. I feel encouraged therefore that I may be on the right track. Nothing more to say on the Maoist polemic as I think IMHO it has been fairly discredited in comments at Kasama already. I do want to say at least a bit on the Badiou, then 'nough said.Each section of the polemic is repleat with quotes employed from Mr. Marx, supplemented by the wisdoms of RCPUSA guru Bob Avakian, and well salted with exhortations against the evils I am sure all of us abhor without resorting to such hyperbole. But at the end of each section we do get an original statement and these comprise the heart of the polemic. Beginning at the very end of the document:

Alain Badiou’s “egalitarian maxim proper to every politics of emancipation” does not offer a pathway of moving beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right—nor open the possibility of eliminating the bases for class society, commodity production, and exploitative and oppressive relations. It is stuck in bourgeois society.

To this I would like to supply Badiou's statement of the "communist hypothesis" from an article on Sarkozy (bourgeois right, isn't he) written sometime before his (Badiou's) now famous attack on the president in the latest book - the article:http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2705

What is the communist hypothesis? In its generic sense, given in its canonic Manifesto, ‘communist’ means, first, that the logic of class—the fundamental subordination of labour to a dominant class, the arrangement that has persisted since Antiquity—is not inevitable; it can be overcome. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away.So that is Badiou "stuck in bourgeois society".

The polemic is clearly focused on the question of Badiou's "egalitarian maxim" axiomatic as in the key statement ending the second to last section:

Yes, people have a capacity for truth (a criterion of equality for Badiou) but exactly in consequence of the divides and inequalities in society, this capacity does not translate into spontaneous gravitation towards or embrace of truth.Well first of all I want to say "Well no shit". If "people" (and I guess they mean something that means everybody) spontaneously embraced truth, then I that truth whatever it may be would not be something humanity failed to embrace. Obviously Badiou is not indicationg that. The "criterion of equality" is based on the "capacity for truth" not its spontaneous embrace by anyone (and here we are discussing the internal logic of the stement in the polemic, not at all what Badiou says). What is missing is a comprehension of Badiou's philosophy of the "Event" and the "Truth Process".

If, and this means "if" , a genuine novel "Event" occurs engendering a truth, it is only by individuals acting in allegiance to what they believe is a novel truth in this process (yes its an atheistic faith, perhaps even an embrace in a different sense) that the establishment of their having been an actual event occurs, it is realized future anterior. It is the case says Badiou that the advent of Marxism itself is in its truth process and marked by such manifestations as May 68 and the Cultural Revolution. The hypothesis is even said to be operative far into the past or not so far before Marx during the French Revolution. In a lack of understanding of Badiou we see the conclusions from the third to last section of the polemic:

With his “communist hypothesis,” Alain Badiou conflates the radical upsurges, social upheaval,and enthusiasm of the popular masses during the French Revolution with the communist revolution to overturn the bourgeois order and to create a new world.Actually Badiou presents the idea of revolutionary phases, positioning the state of the communist hypothesis at the start of the 21st century:

In many respects we are closer today to the questions of the 19th century than to the revolutionary history of the 20th. A wide variety of 19th-century phenomena are reappearing: vast zones of poverty, widening inequalities, politics dissolved into the ‘service of wealth’, the nihilism of large sections of the young, the servility of much of the intelligentsia; the cramped, besieged experimentalism of a few groups seeking ways to express the communist hypothesis . . . Which is no doubt why, as in the 19th century, it is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today, but the conditions of its existence. This is our task, during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes—always global, or universal, in character—and political experience, always local or singular, yet transmissible, to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our consciousness and on the ground.

So we come at last to the beginning of the polemic:

Alain Badiou is driven to a framework of understanding of the “problem” confronting humanity and its “solution” that corresponds to the class position and class outlook of a very definite segment of society, the radicalized petty bourgeoisie. He sees the problem of vast inequalities, but does not follow through to the taproots of exploitation in the economic base of society; he sees the solution as a “pure Idea of equality” in the political realm, not in overcoming the “4 Alls.”Then shortly after that in the same concluding statement of the first subsection: Alain Badiou wants “equality” but shrinks from the complex process of making a revolution that not only overcomes social inequality but also achieves something far higher than equality.Something "far higher than equality"?

The polemic tries to tell us Badiou is stuck in an earlier sequence from Rousseau to a present radicalized petty bourgeoisie. Actually, to put it in terms something like the way Badiou employs set-theory, the RCPUSA is circumscribed by a set situation made up of dogmatic elements, demonstrating the inadequacy of their party for 21st century communism because all they have is their rigid conclusions and anything else is revisionist. Badiou says there is the void, always a multiplicity exceeding set situations in the scope of our present understanding of how communism, or the egalitarian maxim, may manifest. Concluding with Badiou from the same article cited on the need to understand the novel phase underway:

What remains is to determine the point at which we now find ourselves in the history of the communist hypothesis... The first sequence runs from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune; let us say, 1792 to 1871. It links the popular mass movement to the seizure of power, through the insurrectional overthrow of the existing order... The second sequence of the communist hypothesis runs from 1917 to 1976: from the Bolshevik Revolution to the end of the Cultural Revolution and the militant upsurge throughout the world during the years 1966–75. It was dominated by the question: how to win? How to hold out—unlike the Paris Commune—against the armed reaction of the possessing classes... the revolution prevailed, either through insurrection or prolonged popular war.. but it proved ill-adapted for the construction of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the sense that Marx had intended—that is, a temporary state, organizing the transition to the non-state.. the Cultural Revolution and May 68, in its broadest sense—can be understood as attempts to deal with the inadequacy of the party... 1871 to 1914 saw imperialism triumphant across the globe. Since the second sequence came to an end in the 1970s we have been in another such interval, with the adversary in the ascendant once more.. The second sequence is over and it is pointless to try to restore it.

The RCPUSA Polemic is here : http://revcom.us/index.html


  1. The "criterion of equality" is based on the "capacity for truth" not its spontaneous embrace by anyone (and here we are discussing the internal logic of the stement in the polemic, not at all what Badiou says). What is missing is a comprehension of Badiou's philosophy of the "Event" and the "Truth Process".

    I think you are right in pointing out how Badiou by looking at equality through the his dynamic concept of truth and the RCPUSA is looks at truth through some static concept of the truth called the "New Synthesis"

  2. The RCPUSA are keen to show their knowledge of the ABC's of Marxism what they forget is that the Marxist literacy of Badiou as well of Prachanda and Bhattatari are writing essays in practice and theory and not reciting ABC's.

    The real dynamic Marxism is coming back into existence after being frozen for the last 40 years