Well-written philosophy books can give revolutionaries words to use to help us explain ideas, and answer questions that people who are not yet revolutionaries may ask us. So philosophy can help us to explain why we engage in a revolutionary struggle to other people we meet at work or in a movement.
This is where my issues with Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis begin. This book and, to some extent, his politics are written for those “in the know” – people who have already committed themselves to the path of revolutionary politics. This seems to echo throughout his work to the point of defining his philosophy and politics.
Badiou gives a relatively clear definition of his main ideas, at least from the perspective of someone who reads philosophy. If that is not you, his style may be difficult. This is not a reason to give up reading the book, as it contains some interesting and useful explanations for why and how, if a revolution fails, we should stay committed and learn important strategic lessons from this failure. This has obvious importance in affirming the revolutionary potential of the Paris Commune, May 1968, and the Solidarity movement in Poland, at the same time as allowing us to have an analysis of why they didn’t completely overthrow global capitalism.
Explaining his philosophy, Badiou contrasts the “State”, which is everything currently existing in the world (such as economic relations, imperialism, inequality and government institutions) to the “Event”, which is when people do something unexpected and new, opening up future possibilities that were not there beforehand.
Badiou outlines the “Communist Hypothesis”, which can be compared to a religious calling. Devotees to this “Idea of Communism” are not necessarily class fighters or organised in political parties, but somehow still commit to an ahistorical idea of equality and justice only achievable through struggle.
Badiou’s conflict between the “Event” and the “State” leaves no space for how the immediate struggle for reforms may change gradually over time and become a revolutionary movement as the working class begins to realise its own power. Rather Badiou’s revolution is a sudden movement of force. Revolutions don’t seem to be able to emerge as a result of the obvious struggles and conflicts that we all see and live through right now.
This perspective on communism undermines what I view as the potential good of philosophy – that well articulated ideas can arm us with arguments, helping to explain why what seems like everyday unfairness is actually created by the capitalist system.
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