Philosophy and the Idea of Communism

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Philosophy and the Idea of Communism is an interview with the radical French philosopher Alain Badiou. Badiou is a former member of the Maoist Union of Communists best known for his tome Being and Event, as well as his skillful take-down of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in The Meaning of Sarkozy. He is a leading member of the Political Organisation which is involved in the fight for asylum and immigrant rights, among other campaigns.

The interview ranges from a discussion of how people become “subjects” to a discussion of Badiou’s key concepts of the “event and universalism”. According to Badiou an “event” is a radical break from what has existed before within a certain situation. People have to make a decision about whether to support, or have “fidelity” to this event and its declarations. Through this process people become “subjects”. These events can take place in love, science, art and politics.

These ideas are influenced by Badiou’s experiences in May 1968, as well as his rather misplaced support for the cultural revolution in China. Badiou’s rejection of the deterministic politics of the French Communist Party (PCF) has led to him to reject strategic thinking based on objective analysis. Badiou’s defence of the “Universalism” of what he calls the “Communist hypothesis” sets him completely at odds with the former fashion in academia for fragmentation and the rejection of any notion of truth.

Compared with most of the French left his conception of universalism does not call for the assimilation of ethnic or religious “particularities” to the French Republic. Rather communist politics unites those from different backgrounds into a common struggle without submerging differences. He was one of the few left wing figures to argue against the banning of the headscarf in public in France.

One of the weaknesses of Badiou’s work is his rejection of Lenin’s model of the party. He sees the goals of Leninist parties as setting up party-state societies such as the Soviet Union. He conflates the defeat of the Russian Revolution and dictatorship with its original goal of Soviet power. Badiou proposes organisations having “distance” from the state rather than having the goal of overthrowing it.

Being a short book at 120 pages there isn’t much room to explore some of Badiou’s concepts in detail and it does assume prior knowledge. For those looking for an introduction to Badiou’s work The Rebirth of History, an analysis of the Arab spring, and his book St Paul: The Foundation of Universalism are better places to start.

However, Philosophy and the Idea of Communism does highlight the importance of Badiou as an influential philosopher who argues for an idea of communism that fights for the oppressed.