Time to be communists again

Alain Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis (Verso), reviewed by Bertie Russell

September 27, 2010 · 2 min read

A timely contribution from arguably one of the most important philosophers of our time, Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis develops directly from his earlier works The Meaning of Sarkozy (2009) and an article in the New Left Review from a year previously, also entitled ‘The Communist Hypothesis’.

The central premise of the present book is to reassert the ‘idea of communism’ as a fundamental necessity in all revolutionary politics. Put simply ‘the word “communism”, which was for a long time the name of that power, has been cheapened and prostituted. But if we allow it to disappear, we surrender to the supporters of order, to the febrile actors in the disaster movie.’

Badiou’s project, therefore, is to show that, despite the ignominy towards the term over the past 20 years, the idea of communism – whatever we may call it – is the leitmotif of every historically significant struggle we care to think of. The book reflects on three moments of revolutionary upheaval – 1968, China’s cultural revolution and the Paris commune – to illustrate this thesis. While these events may by now seem tired caricatures, they nonetheless serve to illustrate that despite their respective failures, each contributed to the development of the communist idea – of a world other than capital. The task at hand, according to Badiou, is not for us to repeat these historical events and their failures but to find (many) ways to manifest the communist hypothesis appropriate to contemporary conditions.

The book is dense in places, as Badiou has a tendency to insert his often obscure philosophical concepts where they are perhaps unnecessary. Furthermore, his account of the cultural revolution perhaps serves more as an attempt to reconcile the failings of his own Maoist past than it does to develop upon his argument. Nonetheless, the central premise of this book is persuasive and is arguably important in understanding and developing a new wave of politics capable of confronting and going beyond capital. Perhaps it’s time for us to start calling ourselves communists again?


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