Badiou: the Paris Commune (from Polemics)
In his discussion of the Paris Commune in Polemics, Badiou considers the Paris Commune as an evental site, a new being in the world that has made itself (a new being that has made itself in the world).
From Marxism-Leninism-Maoism comes a reading of the Commune that poses the question of the relation of the party to the state. Badiou faults Marx's reading for its continued attachment to the state. Even as Marx (and later Engels) recognizes that the Commune smashes the bourgeois state, they nonetheless criticize it for failing to be statist enough. To me his critique can be rendered as a criticism of state fetishism: I know the Commune is not a state, nevertheless I believe it is a state. And, indeed, Badiou refers to the party as a 'mental schema.' Badiou's goal is to provide a different Commune, one that is not reduced to the fetishistism of the classical reading.
Fetishistic disavowal gives a particular form to the communist party (proletarian party, social democratic party). On the one hand, it understands itself as premised on the destruction of the state. To this extent, it remains outside it. It's position is exterior to the state, aimed toward it only to destroy it. On the other hand, "the party is also the organizer of a centralized, disciplined capacity that is entirely bent on taking state power." It asserts what it denies, giving itself form as that what it would replace. We could perhaps also say that the state persists as as an ego ideal of the party, the point from which it sees itself.
More specifically, then, in the classical (Marxist) reading, as Badiou tells it, the problem of the Commune is the relation between society and the state, that is, "the social nature of state power." On the one hand, the Commune smashes the machinery of the state. On the other, its failures were those of failing to become a state, failures of centralization, organization, decision. These failures, moreover, are linked (albeit ambiguously) to the inconsistency of the Commune's major parties. The Proudhonians and the Blanquists "ended up doing exactly the opposite of their manifest ideology." Marxism, then, emerges as the answer.
For Badiou, the party gives body to the ambiguity of the Marxist account of the commune:
It becomes the political site of a fundamental tension between the non-state, and even anti-state characters of the a politics of emancipation, and the statist character of the victory and duration of that politics. Moreover, this is the case irrespective of whether the victory is insurrectional or electoral: the mental schema is the same.So, the Commune is understood as a political form determined by the workers and one that exercises power. Yet, Badiou adds, if this is all it is, then it is political obsolete, determined now by a Stalinism that reduces political power to party.
... The party-state is endowed with capacities designed to resolve problems the Commune left unresolved: a centralization of the police and of military defence; the complete destruction of bourgeois economic decisons; the rallying and submission of the peasants to workers' hegemony; the creation of a powerful international, etc.
It is worth noting, and I hope to further this idea later, that reduction may well be the wrong term. It could be, and I think that in many cases it is, what Badiou renders as 'reduction' is an expansion, an opening up and creation of the world, milieu, set of possibilities, vocabulary. The assumption, then, that 'party' is the name of a political reduction is what needs to be rejected in favor of an understanding of what new capacities and possibilities it opens up.
With Mao, the understanding of politics as articulated to a state and dominated by the party remains the same, with the addition of the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses.
Badiou, though, wants to put aside the classical version of the Paris Commune, the Marxist interepretations that came later, that inscribed the experience within the party-state linkage, a linkage that prescribes a particular failure and a particular explanation for that failure. Putting aside the classical version is crucial because it has installed in the left a conception of politics that locates political incapacity in the left (a failure of the movement) and not in the gap between the state and politics ('political invention'). One symptom (not Badiou's term) of the problem: the every-present theme of betrayal. As soon as 'the left' acquires power, they betray us.
But is betrayal reducible to the linkage of politics to the state? Or is it possible that breaking this link is itself a form of betrayal? Differently put, a certain idealism that assumes a pure politics, a politics without compromise, corruption, disappointment, without power and violence, this is the point from which the accusation of betrayal arises. It's no wonder, then, that Zizek has rightly criticized the pure politics of Badiou. "Betrayal" is a feeling. It's a subjective assessment, in the eye of the beholder. A left that constitutes itself so as to be forever and perpetually betrayed is one incapable of managing or acknowledging or finding a way to arrange the gap internal to the people or between the people and its own self-steering or governance.
Badiou reads the declaration of the Central Committee of the National Guard as a "declaration to break with the left." He notes other situations where the task was to break 'with all subjection to that fundamental emblem, the 'Left'" (Chinese revolutionaries 1965-1968; French Maoists 1966-1976).
And what is this for us? What is the incapacity with which we must break? It is surely not with a relation to the state--the left in the US has retreated from the state since 1968, retreating into issue and identity politics and letting liberals focus on the state. It is also surely not a relation to the party--the left in the US has never had a communist or socialist party within reach of state power. In fact, left politics in the US have had the form of fragmentation, specificity, decenteredness, multiplicity, and occasional alliance: this is that with which we must break.
What is the non-existent aspect of our situation? Organization, solidarity, political will. What we hear from all quarters is the impossibility of a unified left, the undesirability of a unified left, the inevitable failure and compromise and betrayal that we persistently level at ourselves. We revel in the fantasy of inaction and lack of power, refusing to acknowledge how this is already action and power, but action and power on behalf of an other (capital as supported by the liberal democratic state).
Describing the event of the Paris Commune in terms of its content, Badiou emphasizes the appearance of a working-being in the space of a governmental and political capacity.
And, for us? What sort of capacity has not appeared but must appear? A collective capacity, a capacity for solidarity -- Occupy gave us a glimps, Madison gave us a glimpse, Tahrir Square gave us more than a glimpse before it became recaptured in elections.
The Paris Commune destroyed "the order of subjective incapacity." Badiou concludes that a political rupture is a rupture with the left and, for us, a rupture with democracy. For us, here and now, 'left' means not parliamentary left (we have none) but the left of issues, identity, and sectarianism.