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IS THE WORD COMMUNISM FOREVER

DOOMED?
ALAIN BADIOU

Thank you for being here today. Its a real brave gesture to talk of Communism just after
the victory of Barak Obama and when there is a violent crisis of capitalism. However, to
do that in a theater in New York is magnificent.
I begin by two very different things. On the one hand some very abstract definitions, on
the other hand some very concrete points in concern with the victory of Obama. And its
from the point of view of the position between the two, philosophical definitions and
concrete study of contemporary thought, that I shall introduce the old word
Communism.
So first the definitions. I name event, a rupture in the normal disposition of bodies and
normal ways of a particular situation. Or if you want, I name event a rupture of the
laws of the situation. So, in its very importance, an event is not the realization/variation
of a possibility that resides inside the situation. An event is the creation of a new
possibility. An event changes not only the real, but also the possible. An event is at the
level not of simple possibility, but at the level of possibility of possibility.
I name state or state of the situation the system of constraints, which precisely limit
the possibility. For example today I name the state of our situation, capitalist economy,
constitutional form of government, veridical laws about the order of labor, army, police,
and so on all that composes the state of our situation. The state defines what is
possible and what isnt. So an event is always something which happens beyond the
state. And therein lies the difference between an event and a simple fact.
I name truth procedure or truth an organization of consequences of an event. The
process or the fact of naming the process of what follows an event.
And I name facts the consequences of the existence of the state.
So the truth is not purely composed of facts. Its my own position to complete. The truth
is also the becoming of the new subject, the new collective subject, when the event is
political. Concerning this new collective subject, I can speak of the creation of the truth.
Concerning the state, I can speak of historical facts. For example, the revolution of
October 1917 in Russia is the creation of a new political truth. In the same country, the
victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in 1945 is a historical fact. Towards the
same history, which happens at times from an event and at times from a historical fact.
And finally a historical point. In fact when it transforms the relationship between the
identities of individuals and the identity of the power. For example when Lula became
the president of Brazil, it was a simple fact and not an event of historical transcendence.
Because it was the first time a simple worker occupied the head of the state.

Identities like worker, gay, black, woman, Jew, youth, small, red-haired, etc.,
are of no importance in the true political being which is universal or general. But the
relationship between these predicates, this identity and the power, can be of some
simple value concerning the action of the state.
With all that in mind we can say some words about the great victory of Obama, though it
is impossible for me to say anything concerning a fact, here and today. First, and I hope
its not too sad for you, its clear that Obamas victory is not a political event. To hard
comparison, with the same feel for the movement of the civil rights, under the direction
of Martin Luther King during the 60s, has been a great popular event. But the success of
Obama is for the moment, of the moment, straight inside the apparatus of the state, the
great capitalist economy, huge social inequalities, the war outside in Afghanistan, etc,
two political parties. So Obamas victory is a fact maybe an important fact of the
history of the state, but not, at least for the time being, a political event.
Second, Obamas victory is certainly a very important symbolic point of the state, of the
history of the state. The development of this real from Africa of black people, in the
name of slavery, of cultural domination, of racism and poverty is an enormous event, a
strong symbol, and not only for African Americans, but also for humanity as such.
But the symbolic level of the state is different from political truth. This strong symbol
can perfectly be, at the political level, empty or even negative. The decision will be,
finally, not in the hands of Obama, but in the subjective determination of the symbol.
Could you accept the advice from an old philosopher, from an old country? I just can say
to you, separate the levels. Dont confuse them. Enjoy the Symbolic. Dont trust the
state. And concerning politics rely only on yourself, on the collective action.
But here we have a new operation: How can we be prepared for a political event? How
can we believe in something which is really a political event and not a fact of the state of
history? Generally, in those acts we live in a sort of political activity. We accept the
general laws of the state as a necessity. To anticipate the creation of the new possibility,
the possibility which is not the simple development of the state facts, at least at an
intellectual or ideological level, we must have an idea of the possibility, a general idea of
the possibility of a different possibility. We have the ideal of the formal possibility of
other possibilities. And during more than one century, Communism has been the name
of this ideal. And it was a great name at first. When we find this name which was the
name of the possibility of something else, we have to return to the signification it had
originally in two texts of Karl Marxs. One is from 1844 the manuscripts of 1844 and
the other is from 1848, the famous Manifesto of the Communist Party.
In these texts Communism first signified negativity. It signified that the logic of place, of
the fundamental subordination of global workers to a dominating class, could be
surmounted. The structure of domination, which is that of history in its antiquity, is not
to be confounded. Consequently, said Marx, the oligarchic power created in the corrupt
state, although theyre paying the workers in an organized situation, is not ineluctable.
Other, the negative part of the word Communism. The Communist idea, the good word,
and I quote not for Marx, but as a hypothesis. The Communism hypothesis is that

another collective organization can go on. Each an every one that has this, this new
organization will eliminate the inequality of worth and even, for Marx, the division of
work. People who were separated between manual work and intellectual work, in other
words between the city and the country, each and everyone will be polyvalent workers:
this is the expression in Marxs Manifesto. The private appropriation of monstrous
fortunes and their transmission of within their means by the very existence of the
political state apparatus, protected by the military and the police, separated from the
civil society, will no longer appear to be an obvious necessity.
There will be, after Marx set up, after a brief sequence of what he names the plus-value,
charged with destroying working men or the poor workers, a long sequence of the
organization in the ways of free association of producing wealth, which would support
what Marx named the Decline of the State. And it was the most important definition of
Communism, which was the process of the decline of the state.
Let me remind you that the state is here not only the state of government, police, army,
and so on, but all that limits the possibility of collective creation.
So Communism in the middle of the 19th century designated the very general fact of
intellectual reorganizations. And this fact is the horizon for any action, although local
and limited in time, as it may be, which breaking with the order of the established state
composes a fragment of the new politics, fragment of politics of mobilization. It is in
short Communism, an idea whose function is regulatory and not a program. It is absurd
to categorize the Communist hypothesis to be a petit objet a because it serves to
produce, between different politics, lines of demarcation for a given political sequence.
It is extra compatible with the hypothesis of equality with which Communism is an
ideal, and it is emancipating, on the one hand, as directly opposed to the Communist
identity and its reactionary stance.
Communism in fact is a heuristic hypothesis frequently used in politics even if the word
does not appear. And so its a useful idea for the political determination and not the
concrete program of these politics.
Maybe you know the violence and kinds of ferocity with Jean-Paul Sartre who, in the
50s of the last century, said that any anti-communist is a dog. If we correctly read these
abrupt contents its true. Any action of the state, because it can, any action of the state
that appears formally contradictory with the communist hypothesis in the general sense
must be judged as opposed to the recognition of the goal of humanity. And so its
opposed to the properly united destiny of humanity.
As we know, the contemporality of, as we should say, capitalism, a name of social
existence, as the correct name of social existence is competition. That is to say, it is the
war within the capital and outside it, that the war as real is certainly the intra-human
part of humanity.

In another interview, the same Sartre says, in such terms, I quote; If the Communist
hypothesis is not right, if it is not applicable, this means that humanity is not in itself
something very different from ants or ferrets.
What he is saying there is that if competition, free markets, the search for
littlejouissance and the walls that protect you from the desires of the weak are
collectivified, the human being is not worth scum.
So only, to be a real actor, the real activity of the becoming-human of the human beast,
we have to know the history of the Communist hypothesis. And we have to study the
question: is really the Communist hypothesis right or completely wrong?
In fact, there are two great historical sequences of this hypothesis. And it is quite a
question both of them. The sequence of the creation, the creation of the power itself and
that of the first attempt to realize the theory. The first sequence begins with the French
Revolution and goes to the Paris Commune. Let us say, from 1792 to 1871. The first
sequence of the Communist hypothesis: it is that of the creation of the hypothesis. This
sequence links (and develops) the idea of Communism as a popular mass movement
with the notion of the savior of all. That is, the concrete form of the idea during this
sequence, mass movement on one side and on the other side the savior of all. Because it
was a mobilizing popular movement, under multiple forms demonstrations, strikes,
uprising, armed action, and so on around the figure of overthrowing the state we
know, the state was, within its walls, not only the government, the state was the form of
the reduction of possibility it must be strong to emancipate the possibility as such.
And the only possible actor of this destruction is the mass movement, and, first, the
mass movement of workers. And this overthrowing of the state is an insurrectional
overthrowing, which is called, as you know, revolution.
So finally, there is a strong lesson achieved between the Communist idea and the
practical upheaval, revolution. This revolution must suppress the existing forms of
society private property, private means of ownership, the separation of humans into
nations, the distribution of work, and so on and establish Communist equality, or
what the working-class thinkers of the 19th century, as my friend Jacques Rancire was
so well inclined to, names the community of peoples. Communism was, by
insurrection, the realization of the community of peoples.
This sequence closes with the astonishing newness and radical flavor of the Paris
Commune in 1871. The Commune represented a different alternative, a rare
combination of popular movement, working-class direction, and augmented
insurrection. It showed the economy of modernism of this formula, namely who was
murdered, as you know, or exercised the power of the completely new tying of two
moments, in one of the largest capitals of Europe. But it also showed it for what it was
worth, for it was not able either to extend the revolution to a national scale, or the
capacity to organize resistance to the counter-revolution, which was entirely supported
by the French middle class.

The second sequence of the Communist hypothesis goes from 1917, the Russian
Revolution, to 1976, the end of the Cultural Revolution in China, which also marks the
end of the militant youth movements in Europe and America (and Latin America of
course), which arose all over the world, somewhere between 1966 and 1975, and whose
center, from the point of view of political innovation, was May 1968 in Paris and
consequently during the years that followed. But as you know during the late 60s we
have many of the things forming political resistance to the Vietnam War in America and
also the movement of the youth practically in all countries all over the world.
This second sequence lasts about 60 years, but notice that it is separated from the first
by a gap of about the same length, more than 40 years. The history of the Communist
hypothesis is not a continuous history; its a continuity by sequences, which are
separated. It is important for us, for maybe we are right now between two sequences.
So this second sequence, which begins with the Russian Revolution, is dominated by one
thing and its (betting on it): How can we be victorious? That is the somber and
practically unique question during the revolution. How contrary to the Paris Commune
can we endure, embracing the sanguine revelation, the rich people and their
mercenaries? How can we organize the new power, the new state, in such a way that its
enemies would not destroy it?
Lenin recognized it, since under Lenin it the first answer to this question was founded.
And its certainly not for nothing that Lenin responded to the problem, when the
insurrection lasted in Russia one day longer than the Paris Commune. This official
victory and the real, what concerned Lenin were the problems of organization and
indifference and was entirely contained, starting with 1902 and of course in What is to
be done?, Lenins famous text What is to be done?, in the theory and the practice of the
centralism and organization of a class party. We can say that the Communist Party only
gives body in their thesis to the realization of the Communist hypothesis.
This construction of the second sequence of the hypothesis, the Party, actually restores
the question initiated in the first sequence, the question of the victory, in Russia, in
China, in Albania, in Korea, in Vietnam, and sometimes in Cuba, and thus gives
directions to the Communist Party, the complete revolution of the political and social
order at once.
After the first sequence, whose dividing line was the formulation of the Communist
hypothesis, and of the reality of the movement, of the mass movement, there was
effectively a second sequence whose very line was a harsh and militaristic organization,
local victory, duration, and construction of the new state.
As it is known, the second sequence created in its turn a program that did not have the
means to dissolve, with the result that apparently it did not solve the problem left by the
first. And in fact, the Party, the Communist Party, which was the body of the Communist
hypothesis, the Communist Party adapted to the insurrectional and military history that
was successful against fighting their supporters, opposed to the inept, for the
construction of the State around the dictatorship of the proletariat in the sense of Marx.

That is, a state organizing the transition towards another state. The power of organizing
the non-powered, the dialectical form of the decline of the state. Under the form of the
party-state like in Russia, China, and other places a new form of state, which was
authoritarian and imperialist, was instated. And this state was negative, very far from
the practical law of the people, and very far from the ideal of the decline of the state. The
deployment of, as some would have put it, violence, was in no recognition in the state of
the inertia of its internal bureaucracy. When the peasant has competition imposed on
him by a mercenary, with the army taking more than its share to demonstrate it, you
would never win.
The most important contemporary problem is that the political form of the party does
not equate with the certain reorganization and the creative transformation of the
Communist hypothesis. And it is to this problem that participated the last important
contributions of the second sequence. The Cultural Revolution in China and its neighbor
Russia, is named, for example, after Mao. In China, Maos maxim on this point was: No
Communism without the Communist movement. No Communism is without the
Communist movement. The party is not sufficient: if you dont have the movement, you
have nothing at all if any cause can be taken in the name of, to resonate, to develop the
power of the state, and consequently the combination of the real world, the Cultural
Revolution attempted to start, and quickly becomes cowardly and violent. The definition
of the enemy, being either uncertain or directed against the unity the whole of society,
the Communist Party Mao has something to do with this when he declares, and I
quote: We do now know, in our country, where the movement is, or whether the
movement is in the Communist Party.
So, the struggle was finally between the party and the facts. And it destroyed the social
consistency. Finally, the old order had to be re-established in the worst conditions. In
France, after May 68, the dominating motif was that the organized collective action
should create new political space, and not reproduce the centralized management of the
state. The reinvigorated content would be new forms of organization and action,
enveloping the same political divisions, intellectuals and workers, and proposing the
prolongation of the Communist hypothesis even beyond the logic of size or of power.
There is an event that even if this experience were under new forms, at the end of May
68, it would be considered that on the whole the modern form of the reactionary state
was once again dominant in markets, under the cover of democracy.
The word Communism is today a completely forgotten word, only practically identified
with a lost experience. It is why the political situation, and the ideological situation are
so confusing. Because in fact, the Communist hypothesis, with or without the word
Communism, which is only a word, you can speak, for example of the egalitarian
hypothesis or the hypothesis of radical equality or whatever, but all that remains of the
right hypothesis, the right to think an idea of new possibilities, and not only of
realization of old possibilities inscribed in the state. I see no hope. If this hypothesis
must be ours, once more we need new words. But we know better to do anything
whatsoever as far as the collective action is concerned. Without the horizon of equality
and Communism, without this idea, nothing in historical and political revolution is of

the nature to interest the philosopher. Let everyone mind his own business and talk no
more about it.
In fact, what has become of it, or we can even say our philosophical duty, is to
contribute with finding a new mode of existence of the hypothesis we have, new kinds of
political organization this hypothesis can give rise to. We have learned from the second
sequence and its fateful failure, we must return to the conditions of existence of the
Communist hypothesis, and not only to perfect the means of our struggle.
The lesson of the second sequence is that the question of victory cannot be the center of
our sequence. We have, and we must, experience something new, and, there is, after the
resistance, the question of the power. What is the politics which is not to be confused
with the question of the power? That is, the real one. We cannot be satisfied with the
dialectic situation between the state and the mass movement, with the preparation of
the insurrection, with the construction of the power pool and dialectic organization,
with the concept of revolution, which today is obscure. We must, in reality, reestablish
first the hypothesis, communist or egalitarian, with the ideological or militant fit. And
with respect to this, we are closer to the powers already in mind in the 19th century.
There we are with the history of the revolution of the last century. We are much closer to
the 19th century than to the last century. In the dialectical division of history we have,
sometimes, to move ahead of time.
Just like maybe after 1840, we are now confronted with absolutely cynical capitalism,
more and more inspired by the ideas that only work backwards: poor are justly poor, the
Africans are underdeveloped, and that the future with no discernable limit belongs to
the civilized bourgeoisie of the Western world. All kinds of phenomena from the 19th
century reappear, extraordinarily extended forms of misery within these countries
themselves. Forever growing in inequality, the radical cut between the people of the
working classes, of the uninformed, and the middle class, the complete dissolution of
political power in the service of property and capitalist profits. Several years of
ratiocination, disorganization of revolutionaries, and the nihilist despair of large
portions of the youth, the servility of the large majority of them, and the experience of
the base obsequiousness of formal groups in the quest of the contemporary means to
establish, re-establish, find new definitions for the Communist hypothesis.
All these characteristics are very close to the political situation which was dominant in
Europe in the middle of the 19th century. Which is why the apparent victory of
capitalism, occasion to the second sequence of the Communist hypothesis, had been, in
fact, a very strong reaction, a very strong return to something very old. The politicization
of contemporary capitalism is as you see the return to the cynical capitalism of the 19th
century. And it is probably why after the 19th century the question is not for us the
victory of the Communist hypothesis, but the conditions of its identity. Our problems
are much more the problems of Marx than the problems of Lenin, and that was the great
question of the revolutionaries of the 19th century.
First, did the historical existence of the hypothesis produce the conditions in a large
nation of people and that we are not made prisoners by the very definition of the word

uttered by our enemies? Even historical resistance to the hypothesis, where there is a lot
of power, is that, sort of identified here, that is oppressing us. It is complex, but at the
moment exciting too. By combining conflicts of thought because at the beginning we are
dealing with a new form of an instance or idea, there is a weight to the constructions of
thought, like the construction of a new form of dialectic by Marx. These constructions of
thought are always normal and universal. But we are also with new political
experimentations, which are local and singular, and the mixture of the two may
constitute a thought at the universal level, with political experimentation at the local or
singular level, which finally can produce the new form: the Communist hypothesis.
This existence must be, throughout history, in consciousness, by new forms of these
organizations of what is the political event, and on the level by the result and by learning
of local experimentation. So we can open the third sequence of this great time, we can.
And if we can, we must.
Thank you.