Philosophy and the Idea of Communism
by Alain Badiou and Peter Engelmann
NO BEGINNER’S text, Philosophy and the Idea of Communism assumes a deep knowledge of Hegel — arguably the most arcane of Western philosophers — with no introduction to guide the casual reader.
Even so, its dialogic form is eminently readable, with Badiou and Engelmann making their entry point the distinction between the “individual” — the human animal — and the “subject” — one summoned to participate in one of life’s processes — only alighting explicitly on Marx and communism some 26 pages in. Although a little laboured at times, this discussion lays important theoretical groundwork for the remainder of the book.
The electoral process holds no value for Badiou, who declares that “what we call democracy is simply the organisation of the power of the dominant hegemony. It’s the process that legitimises or establishes domination. We have to stop concerning ourselves with it.”
What’s needed, he believes, is the rehabilitation of the “communist idea” from association with historical socialist states, followed by a mass movement of political subjects. The subject “is what enables the individual, who is singular, particular, to have access to the universal,” and therefore participate in communism’s internationalist thought and action.
Under Engelmann’s direct questioning Badiou rejects as a “monstrous pathology” the idea that a party, or a leader such as Stalin, can represent a movement of universality. “Stalinism,” he believes, is “a succession of representations” which transform universality into its opposite.
“There is no need to imagine anything; the point is to fight,” shrugs Badiou in response to Engelmann’s question as to whether it’s possible to imagine a society without a state, reflecting an overall indifference to the task of summoning “subjects” to the communist idea.
Yet it is difficult to imagine that many will participate in a rupture if no vision exists of how a new order will meet their physical needs and Badiou’s refusal to address this is unsatisfying.
And his assertion that “there’s not a single person who says they’re communist anymore, except possibly me and some of my friends” will raise snorts of derision.
Perhaps Badiou should look across the Channel or, indeed, any direction globally?