Revolution #195, March 14, 2010


A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic

Excerpts from:
Alain Badiou's "Politics of Emancipation": A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World
by Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K. J. A.


Equality is a first principle, an axiom, in Alain Badiou's politics of emancipation. He has stated: "the philosophical embrace of emancipatory politics is to be carried out through the name of a radical politics of equality," the "egalitarian maxim [is] proper to every politics of emancipation." He has enshrined equality as "the principle of principles."

But real communism is something far different, far more radical, and far loftier than equality. Describing the content and goal of communism and the socialist transition to communism—and distinguishing it from utopian and ultimately reformist socialism, Marx writes:

Socialism is the declaration of the permanence of revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations. [emphasis in original, underscoring ours]


Badiou has written about the "creation of a space of autonomy in the factories [with] the objective...not to take power, to replace an existing power, but to force the state to invent a new relation with the workers." But what kinds of "new relations" is he imagining?

On the one hand, it is not possible within capitalist society to establish an alternative mode of production, to put an end to the exploitation of wage labor and create a planned economy based on social need (a point which Badiou will occasionally acknowledge). Socialism is indeed the only alternative to capitalism; but it can only be established, develop, and function systemically—on the basis of the socialization of ownership of the means of production and the leadership and coordinating role of a new state power.

On the other hand, any truly transformational politics is going to bring you into collision and antagonism with the existing bourgeois state. Mao's famously provocative statement about the Paris Commune is rather apt in this regard: "If the Paris Commune had not failed but had been successful, then in my opinion, it would have become by now a bourgeois commune. This is because it was impossible for the French bourgeoisie to allow France's working class to have so much political power."

Badiou can advocate for, and may even find, some "space" within the existing system and state power, because his politics of equality is not transformational; it does not stand in fundamental antagonism to bourgeois relations.

As for notions of "worker cooperatives" within capitalist society (a politics echoed in the perspectives of people like Naomi Klein), any such sites would be interacting with the larger capitalist economy of society and the imperialist world economy. They would not be able to free themselves from surrounding commodity relations: at the level of input and exchange requirements, competitive pressures, and ideological influences (the narrowing perspective of "my/our" production unit, etc.). Badiou "subtracts" economics from his politics and autonomous spaces.

The repressive force of the bourgeois state—its policing, surveillance, and punitive powers—reach into all zones of modern bourgeois society. The pervasive influence of bourgeois ideology, the shaping of public opinion, the control over the means of disseminating ideas—all this too is part of the fabric of bourgeois society.

Is this to say that all resistance is futile, or that it is impossible to build a revolutionary movement in bourgeois society? No, of course not. But resistance is struggle, and spaces of resistance—which are possible and desirable—will collide with the repressive powers of bourgeois society. Any revolutionary movement must be forged with full recognition of its fundamental antagonism with the ruling state; it cannot carry on work aimlessly but—particularly in modern capitalist countries—must work with the perspective of accumulating strength to go over to the contest for power at a time when society is convulsed with social crisis and upheaval.

Issue Number 1, Summer-Fall 2009
also includes:

Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic seeks to set forth, defend, and further advance the theoretical framework for the beginning of a new stage of communist revolution in the contemporary world. This journal will promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. Without drawing sharp dividing lines between communism as a living, critical, and developing science serving the emancipation of humanity, on the one hand, and other perspectives, paths, and programs that cannot lead to emancipation, on the other—whether openly reformist or claiming the mantle or moniker of "communism"—without making such demarcations, it will not be possible to achieve the requisite understanding and clarity to radically change the world. Demarcations will contribute to achieving that clarity.

In the wrangling spirit of Marxism, Demarcations will also delve into questions and challenges posed by major changes in the world today. The last quarter-century has seen intensified globalization, growing urbanization and shantytown-ization in the Third World, the rise of religious fundamentalism, shifting alignments in the world imperialist system, and the acceleration of environmental degradation. Demarcations will examine such changes, the discourses that have grown up in connection with them, and the ideological, political, and strategic implications of such developments for communist revolution. Demarcations will also undertake theoretical explorations of issues of art, science, and culture.

It is fitting that the inaugural issue of Demarcations opens with an extensive original polemic against the political philosophy and thought of Alain Badiou.


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond