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The Communist Hypothesis: The Politics of Alain Badiou

Lecturer: Robert Boncardo

Originally Taught: Winter School 2019

There are few contemporary thinkers who have argued so consistently and in such trenchant terms as Alain Badiou has for communism as the solution to humanity’s secular political predicament. But what does Badiou mean by communism — or, more precisely, by what he terms the ‘Communist Hypothesis’? What does Badiou’s proposal entail for the future of humanity? How does his vision of communism respond to the many challenges we face today, from the crisis of capitalism, to migration, to the impending ecological catastrophe? Where do Badiou’s ideas about communism come from, and how have they evolved over time? What forms have Badiou’s own political engagements taken from the 1960’s until today?

In this course, we will examine the contours and evolution of Badiou’s ‘Communist Hypothesis’ and assess its pertinence to our contemporary situation. Students will be introduced to the key components of Badiou’s thinking about communism, including his account of equality, of capitalism and its contradictions, of political organisation and of the history of Marxism, of the worker’s movement and of decolonisation struggles. Students will also learn about Badiou’s own engagement in political movements in France and in other parts of the world. The course will thus provide students with a sense of the scope of Badiou’s political activities — both practical and theoretical — and will familiarize them with those aspects of Badiou’s philosophical system that attempt to ground or orient these activities.

Course Structure

The course will be structured chronologically, tracking the evolution of Badiou’s communist politics from the 1960’s until today:

  • In the first two lectures, students will be introduced to Badiou’s early political engagements in France’s Parti Socialiste Unifié in the 1960’s and to his activities as a national leader of the Union des Communistes de France Marxiste-Léniniste in the 1970’s. In these two opening lectures, students will explore Badiou’s references to Maoism and to the Cultural Revolution in China and will learn how he applied these points of reference to local struggles in France, particularly amongst immigrant workers and poor peasants. As the major philosophical reference for these two lectures, students will engage with short extracts from Badiou’s 1982 work Theory of the Subject.
  • In the third and fourth lectures, students will encounter Badiou’s political activities from the period of 1982-2007, during which he militated with the Organisation Politique. In this period, Badiou radically reformulated his conception of politics, in particular as regards Marxism and the question of the State, while continuing to engage in similar political struggles, in particular movements of undocumented workers. To grasp the philosophical stakes of this evolution, students will be introduced to Badiou’s short 1985 book Can Politics Be Thought? and to his masterwork, 1988’s Being and Event.
  • Finally, the fifth lecture will engage with Badiou’s recent pronouncements on the contemporary political conjuncture. Topics will include the Arab Spring, the crisis in the Eurozone, the election of Donald Trump, and the Yellow Vests movement in France.

This course will require no prior knowledge of Badiou’s corpus, nor of philosophy, but only a desire to engage critically with one of today’s foremost thinkers. At the end of the course, students will be able to arrive at their own determination as to the relevance of Badiou’s politics for the struggles of the past and of the contemporary world.

Suggested Background Reading

  • Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis (Verso, 2010)
  • Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject (Bloomsbury, 2013)
  • Alain Badiou, Greece and the Reinvention of Politics (Verso, 2018)
  • Alain Badiou, Can Politics Be Thought? (Duke University Press, 2019)