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Alain Badiou “The Communist Hypothesis”

Badiou, Alain 2008. The Communist Hypothesis. New Left Review 49: 29-42.

If we posit a definition of politics as ‘collective action, organized by certain principles, that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility which  is  currently  repressed  by  the  dominant  order’,  then  we  would have to conclude that the electoral mechanism is an essentially apolitical procedure. (31)

What is the communist hypothesis? In its generic sense, given in its canonic Manifesto,  ‘communist’  means,  first,  that  the  logic  of  class—the  fundamental  subordination  of  labour  to  a  dominant  class,  the arrangement  that  has  persisted  since  Antiquity—is  not  inevitable;  it can be overcome. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour. The private appropriation of mas-sive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away. (34-35)

‘Communism’ as such denotes only this very general set of intellectual representations. It is what Kant called an Idea, with a regulatory function,  rather  than  a  programme.  It  is foolish  to  call  such  communist principles utopian; in the sense that I have defined them here they are intellectual patterns, always actualized in a different fashion. As a pure Idea of equality, the communist hypothesis has no doubt existed since the beginnings of the state. (35)

The political problem, then, has to be reversed. We cannot start from an  analytic  agreement  on  the  existence  of  the  world  and  proceed  to normative action with regard to its characteristics. The disagreement is not over qualities but over existence. Confronted with the artificial and murderous division of the world into two—a disjunction named by the very term, ‘the West’—we must affirm the existence of the single world right from the start, as axiom and principle. The simple phrase, ‘there  is  only  one  world’,  is  not  an  objective conclusion.  It  is  perfor-mative:  we  are  deciding  that  this  is  how  it  is  for  us. (38)

A first consequence is the recognition that all belong to the same world as myself: the African worker I see in the restaurant kitchen, the Moroccan I see digging a hole in the road, the veiled woman looking after children in a park. That is where we reverse the dominant idea of the world united by objects and signs, to make a unity in terms of living, acting beings, here and now. (39)

The single world of living women and men may well have laws; what it cannot have is subjective or ‘cultural’ preconditions for existence within it—to demand that you have to be like everyone else. The single world is precisely the place where an unlimited set of differences exist. Philosophically, far from casting doubt on the unity of the world, these differences are its principle of existence. (39)

The  simplest  definition  of  ‘identity’  is the series of characteristics and properties by which an individual or a group recognizes itself as its ‘self’. But what is this ‘self’? It is that which, across all the characteristic properties of identity, remains more or less invariant. It is possible, then, to say that an identity is the ensemble of properties that support an invariance. (39-40)

Defined  in  this  way,  by  invariants,  identity  is  doubly  related  to  difference: on the one hand, identity is that which is different from the rest;  on  the  other,  it  is  that  which  does  not  become  different,  which is invariant. The affirmation of identity has two further aspects. The first form is negative. It consists of desperately maintaining that I am not  the  other. […] The second involves the immanent development of identity within a new situation—rather like Nietzsche’s famous maxim, ‘become what you are’. The Moroccan worker does not abandon that which constitutes his individual identity, whether socially or in the family; but he will gradually adapt all this, in a creative fashion, to the place in which he finds himself. He will thus invent what he is—a Moroccan worker in Paris—not through any internal rupture, but by an expansion of identity. (40)

The political consequences of the axiom, ‘there is only one world’, will work  to  consolidate  what  is  universal  in  identities.  An  example—a local experiment—would be a meeting held recently in Paris, where undocumented  workers  and  French  nationals  came  together  to demand the abolition of persecutory laws, police raids and expulsions; to demand that foreign workers be recognized simply in terms of their presence: that no one is illegal; all demands that are very natural for people who are basically in the same existential situation—people of the same world. (40)

The virtue of courage constructs itself through endurance within the impossible; time is its raw material. What takes courage is to operate in terms of a different durée to that imposed by the law of the world. The point we are seeking must be one that can connect to another order of time. (41)

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