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The Communist
Hypothesis
ALAIN BADIOU

Translated by
David Macey and Steve Corcoran

VERSO
London



New York

First published in English by Verso2010
©Verso2010
Translation David Macey and Steve Corcoran ©2010
'A Brief Chronolgy of the Cultural Revolution'
translated by Bruno Bosted2010

First published as l:hypotMse communiste
Appendix first published as Presentation de Mao, De la pratique et de la
contradiction, avec une lettre d'Alain Badiou et la reponse de Slavoj ZiZek
© LaFabrique2008
All rights reserved
T he moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted
1357910 8 642

Verso
UK: 6 Meard Street, London WIF OEG
USA: 20 Jay Street, Suite 10lO, Brooklyn, NY 11201
WVl'-W. versobooks.com

Verso is the imprint of New Left Books
ISBN-3
I : 978-1-84467-600-2

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress CataIoging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress
Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed in the USA by Maple Vail

Contents

Preamble: What Is Called Failure?

I

We Are Still the Contemporaries of May '68
l.

May '68 Revisited, 40 Years On

2. Outline of a Beginning

1
41
43
68

3. This C risis Is the Spectacle:

Where Is the Real?
II
III

The Cultural Revolution: The Last Revolution? 101
The Paris Commune:
A Political Declaration on Politics

IV

91

The Idea of Communism

168
229

Appendix. Letter from Alain Badiou to
Slavoj ZiZek: On the Work of Mao Zedong

261

Preamble: What Is Called Failure?
I

T

he mid-1970s saw the beginnings of the ebb
the 'red decade' ushered in by the fourfold
circumstances of national liberation struggles (in
Vietnam and Palestine in particular), the worldwide
student and youth movement (Germany, Japan, the
USA, Mexico . . .), factory revolts (France and Italy)
and the Cultural Revolution in China. It finds its
subjective form in a resigned surrender, in a return
to customs - including electoral customs - deference
towards the capitalo-parliamentarian or 'Western'
order, and the conviction that to want something better
is to want something worse. It finds its intellectual
form in what, in France, acquired the very strange
name of 'the new philosophy'. Despite the change
of name, we have here, almost unchanged, all the
arguments of the American anti-communism of the

2

THE COMMUNIST HYPOTHESIS

1950s: socialist regimes are loathsome despotisms
and bloody dictatorships. At the level of the state,
this socialist 'totalitarianism' must be contrasted with
representative democracy which, while it is of course
imperfect, is by far the least bad form of government.
At the moral level, which is the most important in
philosophical terms, we must preach the values of the
'free world' centred on and protected by the United
States. Because it has ended in failure all over the
world, the communist hypothesis is a criminal utopia
that must give way to a culture of 'human rights', which
combines the cult of freedom (including, of course,
freedom of enterprise, the freedom to own property
and to grow rich that is the material guarantee of
all other freedoms) and a representation in which
Good is a victim. Good is never anything more than
the struggle against Evil, which is tantamount to
saying that we must care only for those who present
themselves, or who are exhibited, as the victims of
Evil. As for Evil, it is everything that the free West
designates as such, what Reagan called 'the Evil
Empire'. Which brings us back to our starting point:
the communist Idea, and so on.
For various reasons, this propaganda machine

PREAMBLE: WHAT IS CALLED FAILURE?

3

is now obsolete, mainly because there is no longer a
single powerful state claiming to be communist, or even
socialist. Many rhetorical devices have of eourse been
recycled in the 'war against terror' which, in France, has
taken on the guise of an anti-Islamist crusade. And yet
no one can seriously believe that a particularist religious
ideology that is backward-looking in terms of its social
vision, and fascistic in both its conception of action
and its outcome, can replace a promise of universal
emancipation supported by three centuries of critical,
international and secular philosophy that exploited the
resources of science and mobilized, at the very heart
of the industrial metropolises, the enthusiasm of both
workers and intellectuals. Lumping together Stalin
and Hitler was already a sign of extreme intellectual
poverty: the norm by which any collective undertaking
has to be judged is, it was argued, the number of deaths
it causes. If that were really the ca.'>e, the huge colonial
genocides and massacres, the millions of deaths in the
civil and world wars through which our West forged its
might, should be enough to discredit, even in the eyes of
'philosophers' who extol their morality, the parliamentary
regimes of Europe and America. What would be left for
those who scribble about Rights? How could they go on


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