Badiou Cultural Revolution (Apologetic)

cultural revolution

I just finished reading Badiou’s book on Deleuze and realized that for some reason I had on my desktop Badiou’s apologetic for the Culture Revolution. It’s not that Badiou failed to see the violent brutality of the Cultural Revolution; and it’s not that he doesn’t understand the Cultural Revolution to have been a “failure.” But in the end, “the real meaning,” which is the Idea of Cultural Revolution as the idea of mass democracy and militant action and the invention of new ways of being, is more important than the brutal history of its actual occurrence.

For Badiou, the failure of the Cultural Revolution was a political one, not a human one, while I would argue that Badiou’s failure is both political and human; and also conceptual in that I don’t see how one can separate idea from practice. For something to have gone that rotten so quickly, there must have been something rotten at the core of its idea.

Badiou’s book on Deleuze is far more insightful. I have no idea what it means that Badiou is taken so seriously by so many people as a political, rather than more simply as a philosophical lodestar. For as much as Badiou himself claims to reject the actual violence of the Cultural Revolution, the thought or idea of cultural revolution as opined here seems to be itself violence-prone and just one step removed from disaster.

You can read the entirety of Badiou’s article here: alan-badiou_cultural-_revolution_. I’m pasting below in italics quotations that reflect what I consider to be the main lines of the argument.

Mao’s Little Red Book has been our guide, not at all, as the dummies say, in the service of dogmatic catechism but, on the contrary, in order for us to clarify and invent new ways in all sorts of disparate situations that were unknown to us.

It is totally feasible to accept that nothing in this version is, properly speaking, incorrect. But nothing gives it the real meaning that can come only from the political understanding of the episodes, that is, their concentration in a form of thinking still active today.

There are the Red Guards, the revolutionary rebel workers, innumerable organizations and “general headquarters,” totally unpredictable situations, new political statements, texts without precedent, etc.

Mao and his group will have to invent a third recourse, the recourse to political mass mobilization, to try to break with the representatives of the majority trend and, in particular, their leaders at the upper echelons of the party and the state. This recourse supposes that one admit uncontrolled forms of revolt and organization.

However, our debt to the Cultural Revolution remains enormous. Because, tied to this grandiose and courageous saturation of the motif of the party, as the contemporary of what clearly appears today as the last revolution that was still attached to the motif of classes and of the class struggle, our Maoism will have been the experience and the name of a capital transition. And without this transition, or there where nobody is loyal to it, there is nothing.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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