Forget about elections, once and for all! - Alain Badiou

Forget about elections, once and for all! - Alain Badiou

Following Trump’s victory, on the eve of the final vote in France, and with a snap election on the way for the UK, Badiou answers critics who have attacked his radical rejection of the democratic vote. First published on Urbanomic, translated by Robin Mackay.

I understand the bitterness of those protesting against the election results in France—in particular those disappointed by Mélenchon following the first round of voting. Having said this, however, they have said and done what they could: there was no fraud in this election, no particular aberration.

In fact, there were only two party-political anomalies, which have unfortunately (for the real powers that be) resulted in the decomposition of the central parliamentary bloc, made up of the classic Right and Left. For forty years, for two centuries even, it is this bloc that has supported the development of local capitalism. Now, the local incumbent of the supposed left, Hollande, did not run, which split up his party. On the other hand, the classic Right, because of the disastrous primaries, did not bet on its best old horse, Juppé, but on the sad figure of a provincial bourgeois, too distanced from the ‘societal’ delicacies of modern capitalism.

‘Normally’, the second round would have been Hollande/Juppé, or at worst Le Pen/Juppé—in both cases an easy win for Juppé. In the absence of the two government parties, as they fell apart, our true masters for two centuries—namely, the owners and managers of capital, were a little lost. But happily (for them) with their usual personal politics, the old veterans of reaction, along with (of course) the help of the social-democratic residue (Valls, Le Drian, Ségolène Royal et al), have cobbled together a presentable substitute for the decohering central parliamentary bloc. That’s what Macron is. What they also did—something very useful, and which will have great importance going forward—is to rally Bayrou, the old experienced centrist sage, a man of many electoral battles, even the most difficult. All of this was done with great brio, in record time. Success in the end is practically guaranteed.

In these conditions, entirely understandably, the vote confirms, more clearly than usual, that pro-capitalist rightist subjectivity, including in its somewhat fascistoid forms, is absolutely in the majority in France.

Some of the country’s intellectuals, and some of its youth, refuse to see it, or bitterly complain about it. What then? Do they, these lovers of democratic elections, want to change the electorate as one changes a dirty shirt? Whoever votes must consent to the will of the majority, after all! In truth, these two groups see the world according to their own situation and their own dreams, without drawing the inevitable conclusion: we can expect absolutely nothing from the ‘democratic’ vote.

Already in 1850, Napoleon III could see that universal suffrage was not the horror that the right-thinking bourgeoisie imagined it was, but a veritable blessing, an unexpected and precious legitimation for reactionary powers. And this is still true today, throughout the world. ‘Napoleon the Little’ discovered that, in anything like normal, stable historical conditions, the numerical majority is always fundamentally conservative.

Let’s draw the conclusion calmly. Getting hysterical about the results of an election leads to nothing but pointless depression. We need to get used to it: we will never put an end to our servitude without—above and beyond electoral rituals—the historical coming-together of four factors:

  1. An unstable historical situation, which strongly shakes up conservative subjectivities. Alas, this probably means a war—as for the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the Chinese Revolution between 1937 and 1947.
  2. A strongly established ideological division, naturally first of all amongst intellectuals, but ultimately amongst the masses themselves, a conviction that there are two ways and not just one, that the whole space of political thought must be structured around the antagonistic contradiction capitalism/communism, or some equivalent of these. Let me recall in passing the principles of the second way: the establishment, against private property, of collective forms of the control of the means of production, of credit and exchanges; a polymorphy of labour, something that in particular is undermined by the opposition between manual and intellectual labour; internationalism as a consequence; and forms of popular control working toward the end of the separate State.
  3. A popular uprising—certainly, as always, the uprising of a minority, but one which at least suspends the power of the State, an uprising often connected to point (1) above.
  4. A solid organisation capable of proposing an active synthesis of the three first points, in the direction of a quashing of the enemy and the putting into place, as quickly as possible, of the constitutive elements of the second way, the communist way—those elements enumerated above.

Two of these four points, (1) and (3), depend on the conjuncture. But from this point on, we must work actively on point (2), which is absolutely crucial. And we can also work on point (4), in particular, in the light shed by point (2), by holding common meetings and actions between some of the intellectuals on one hand, and on the other hand the proletariat in three of its current forms: active workers and staff, working families stricken and demoralised by the frenetic de-industrialisation of France over the past thirty years, and the nomad proletariat, whether from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

To get hysterical about the election results, in an at once declamatory and depressed fashion, is not only futile—it is positively harmful. It amounts to placing oneself squarely upon the terrain of the adversary, with no recourse. We must become indifferent to elections, which, at most, involve a purely tactical choice between: abstaining from participation in this ‘democratic’ fiction, or supporting this or that competitor for circumstantial reasons—which, precisely, we must define according to the context of a communist politics, a context which has nothing to do with State rituals of power. Our time, which is always precious, must be dedicated to the true hard work of politics, which can only be pursued through the four points set out above.

Alain Badiou, 2017. Source:

Urbanomic_Document_UFD026.pdf125.52 KB


Tom Henry
Oct 2 2017 05:58

I have been fascinated for a while by the convergence of Maoism, particularly by Badiou, and communization theory, and the above 'four factors' put it fairly well.

Badiou and Zizek, from 2008, have jointly been trying to reformulate the idea of communism in the light of the failure of Leninism and the Party. They have attacked this problem from a Leninist (Zizek) and a Maoist (Badiou) perspective.

Badiou, in fact, began this re-evaluation at least as early as 1982 in his book The Theory of the Subject, long before the recent communizing current established itself, but perhaps contemporaneously with Gilles Dauve.

Alain Badiou defines the reconceptualisation of communism in these terms:

“The decisive issue is the need to cling to the historical hypothesis of a world that has been freed from the law of profit and private interest – even while we are, at the level of intellectual representations, still prisoners of the conviction that we cannot do away with it, that this is the way of the world, and that no politics of emancipation is possible. That is what I propose to call the communist hypothesis. It is in fact mainly negative, as it is safer and more important to say that the existing world is not necessary than it is to say, when we have nothing to go on, that a different world is possible” [Theory of the Subject, original emphasis].

He continues:

“The history of the USSR is by and large the historical demonstration of this point: the Leninist party is incommensurable to the tasks of the transition to communism, despite the fact that it is appropriate to those of the victorious insurrection.”


“We know today that all emancipatory politics must put an end to the model of the party, or of multiple parties, in order to affirm a politics ‘without party’[.] [O]ur debt towards the [Chinese] Cultural Revolution [of the late 1960s] remains enormous [b]ecause [it] clearly appears today as the last revolution that was still attached to the motif of classes and of the class struggle.”

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri summarize the significance of the Cultural Revolution for leftist ideology in the West:

“Mao himself had called upon the Chinese masses to attack the party-state apparatus and claim power for themselves. The image of China thus served as an alternative to the Soviet model and the various Communist parties that followed the Soviet line, but it also posed the notion of a full and free engagement of the masses with no centralized control. The external image of the Cultural Revolution was thus one of antiauthoritarianism and radical democracy” [Hardt and Negri 2004, Multitude, original emphasis].

This Maoist turn from the State and Jacobinism is described by Badiou in terms that first make a break with Lenin:

“The Party in Lenin’s sense certainly comprised the creation of such a [practical] discipline [of revolutionary thought], but one that was ultimately subordinated to constraints of the State. Today’s task […] is to support the creation of such a discipline subtracted from the grip of the state, the creation of a thoroughly political discipline” [Polemics, 2006].

But Badiou also warns about associating this change of heart too closely with anarchism:

“We know today that all emancipatory politics must put an end to the model of the party, or of multiple parties, in order to affirm a politics ‘without party,’ and yet at the same time without lapsing into the figure of anarchism, which has never been anything else than the vain critique, or the double, or the shadow, of the communist parties, just as the black flag is only the double or the shadow of the red flag.” [Communist Hypothesis, 2010].
Tom Henry
Oct 2 2017 04:19

Slavoj Zizek, who maintains a more Leninist or Jacobinist perspective has commented interestingly on Badiou and how Marxists should approach their role as ‘revolutionaries’.

All of this text here is worth reading, but I have picked out a couple or so passages that may be of interest here.

Badiou is right: anti-capitalism cannot be directly the goal of political action - in politics, one opposes concrete political agents and their actions, not an anonymous "system." However, if one may apply here the distinction between goal and aim, if not goal, it should be its ultimate aim, the horizon of all its activity.

One of the Gothic DVD games starts with the wisdom: "Each Event is preceded by Prophecy. But without the Hero, there is no Event." One can easily translate this obscure wisdom in Marxist terms: "The general outlines of each revolutionary event can be foretold by social theorists; however, this event can effectively take place only if there is a revolutionary subject." Or, as Badiou would have put it: "Only if there is a subject, an Event can occur within an evental site."

Is the minimal difference in politics not the one between Nazism and Stalinism? In a letter to Herbert Marcuse from 20 January 1948, Heidegger wrote: "To the serious legitimate charges that you express 'about a regime that murdered millions of Jews...' I can merely add that if instead of 'Jews' you had written 'East Germans,' then the same holds true for one of the allies, with the difference that everything that has occurred since 1945 has become public knowledge, while the bloody terror of the Nazis in point of fact had been kept a secret from the German people." [1] Marcuse was fully justified in replying that the thin difference between brutally ex-patriating people and burning them in a concentration camp is the line that, at that moment, separated civilization from barbarism. One should not shirk from going even a step further: the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp also was, at that historical moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.

There is, however, a limit to this [Badiouian] strategy: if followed thoroughly, it ends up in a kind of "active quietism": while forever postponing the Big Act, all one does is to engage in small interventions with the secret hope that somehow, inexplicably, by means of a magic "jump from quantity to quality," they will lead to global radical change. This strategy has to be supplemented by the readiness and ability to discern the moment when the possibility of the Big Change is approaching, and, at that point, to quickly change the strategy, take the risk and engage in total struggle. In other words, one should not forget that, in politics, "major repercussions" do not come by themselves: true, one has to lay the ground for them by means of the patient work, but one should also know to seize the moment when it arrives. Even more, the lesson of Rosa Luxemburg's critique of reformism is pertinent here: it is not enough to patiently wait for the "right moment" of the revolution; if one merely waits for it, it will never come, i.e., one has to start with "premature" attempts which - therein resides the "pedagogy of the revolution" - in their very failure to achieve their professed goal create the (subjective) conditions for the "right" moment. The "specifically communist patience" is not just the patient waiting for the moment when radical change will explode like what the system theory calls "emergent property"; it is also the patience of losing the battles in order to gain the final fight (recall Mao's slogan: "from defeat to defeat, to the final victory"). Or, to put it in more Badiouian time: the fact that the evental irruption functions as a break in time, as introducing a totally different order of temporality (the temporality of the "work of love," the fidelity to the event), means that, from the perspective of non-evental time of historical evolution, there is NEVER a "proper moment" for the revolutionary event, the situation is never "mature" for the revolutionary act - the act is always, by definition, "premature." Recall what truly deserves the title of the repetition of the French Revolution: the Haiti revolution led by Toussaint l'Ouverture - it was clearly "ahead of his time," "premature," and as such doomed to fail, yet, precisely as such, it was perhaps even more of an Event than the French Revolution itself. These past defeats accumulate the utopian energy which will explode in the final battle: "maturation" is not waiting for "objective" circumstances to reach maturity, but the accumulation of defeats.

Progressive liberals today often complain that they would like to join a "revolution" (a more radical emancipatory political movement), but no matter how desperately they search for it, they just "don't see it" (they don't see anywhere in the social space a political agent with a will and strength to seriously engage in such activity). While there is a moment of truth in it, one should nonetheless also add that the very attitude of these liberals is in itself part of a problem: if one just waits to "see" a revolutionary movement, it will, of course, never arise, and one will never see it. What Hegel says about the curtain that separates appearances from true reality (behind the veil of appearance there is nothing, only what the subject who looks there put it there), holds also for a revolutionary process: "seeing" and "desire" are here inextricably linked, i.e., the revolutionary potential is not there to discover as an objective social fact, one "sees it" only insofar as one "desires" it (engages oneself in the movement). No wonder Mensheviks and those who opposed Lenin's call for a revolutionary takeover in the summer of 1917 "didn't see" the conditions for it as "ripe" and opposed it as "premature" - they simply did not WANT the revolution. (Another version of this skeptical argument about "seeing" is that liberals claim how capitalism is today so global and all-encompassing that they cannot "see" any serious alternative to it, that they cannot imagine a feasible "outside" to it. The reply to this is that, insofar as this is true, they do not see at all, tout court: the task is not to see the outside, but to see in the first place (to grasp the nature of today's capitalism) - the Marxist wager is that, when we "see" this, we see enough, inclusive of how to get out...) So our reply to the worried progressive liberals, eager to join the revolution, and just not seeing its chances anywhere around, should be like the answer to the proverbial ecologist worried about the prospect of catastrophe don't worry, the catastrophe will arrive...

Most of the Romantic liberal enthusiasts who first welcomed the French Revolution were appalled by the Terror, the "monstrosity" unleashed by the revolution, and started to doubt its very rationale. The notable exception is here Percy B. Shelley who remained faithful to the Revolution to the end, without idealizing it, without washing away its terror; in his poem The Revolt of Islam, he formulated a rejection of the reactionary claim that the tragic and violent outcome is in some way the "truth" of the bright revolutionary hopes and ideals of universal freedom. For Shelley, history is a series of possible outcomes, possibility has priority over actuality, there is a surplus in it over its actualization, the spark that persists underground, so that the very immediate failure of emancipatory attempts signals to those who harbor future revolutionary aspirations that they should be repeated more radically, more comprehensively.

Zizek explores the Deluezian idea of repetition to establish 'the new'. Zizek argues that the repetition of revolts will establish the new – therefore we must seize the opportunity for revolt and revolution whenever we can. We must, in his Shelley-ian perspective, not shy away from the prospect of terror in future revolutions, like liberals do, but embrace it as a repetition that could break out into something new (could even bypass itself?).

His [Badiou’s] beautifully developed example is that of Spartacus: erased from official history, his name was resurrected first by the black slaves' rebellion in Haiti (the progressive governor Laveaux called Toussaint l'Ouverture "black Spartacus"), and, a century later, by the two German "Spartakists," Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht.
Already for Kierkegaard, repetition is "inverted memory", a movement forward, the production of the New, and not the reproduction of the Old. "There is nothing new under the sun" is the strongest contrast to the movement of repetition. So, it is not only that repetition is (one of the modes of) the emergence of the New - the New can ONLY emerge through repetition.
Tom Henry
Oct 2 2017 06:05

My own thoughts on all this begin from the obvious fact that that all of us are operating within a state society. What characterises a state is that the numbers of people are too large for social organisation to proceed on a ‘face-to-face’ basis – and therefore people, 'the people', have to be managed. This is the reason that philosophy (and accounting, and writing, and history) began at the time that states began. Philosophers tried to work out the best way to live in a society that was not ideal – that is, it had too many people and it, or rather the people, therefore had to be managed.

The ideal kind of society for philosophers appears to be one in which people manage themselves for the greater good of the power that dominates them. It could be argued that we are effectively, or almost, at that point now. More profoundly, it could be argued that our ancestors got to that point the day after the first state established itself over them in whatever part of the world they lived.

We have 'fallen' from the Garden of Eden (this has always been ever and only a story of the rise of the state, as historian Christopher Hill, for example, has observed) and now we have to work out the best way to live. But it seems that all efforts so far to achieve a new and more equal way to live have ended in disaster. Zizek, of course, if one reads the article above, would argue that this (to call it a disaster) is simply a liberal response, he would say that we need to keep making the ‘mistake’ until we get it right.

My view is that 'we' (I mean us and those who make revolutions) have no option but to keep ‘making the mistake,’ if that is what it is. Our revolt is conditioned and determined by our existence as subjects of a state and our position within that state.

Whether we agree with revolution and promote it, or whether we don’t, others will and it will happen, or not. We are reproduced by society. All the different types of revolutionary are pre-written into the narrative of the state, and they attain particular percentage numbers depending on the particular conditions. Obviously, those who profess themselves to be revolutionaries can attach a moral high-ground to themselves, but all they/we are doing is fulfilling a function of state society: the resistance to inequality and the desire to live in a garden of Eden. This garden is what we presume is either irrevocably lost in the past (Rousseau), in which case we should, following Rousseau's advice, make do as best as we can, or it is possible in the future (Marx). These impulses are hard-wired into the social fabric, or culture, of every state society.

The ‘debate between' Rousseau and Hobbes over the nature of humans is irrelevant because they both agreed that humans had to be managed once they were in state society (a form of society required once the population becomes too large). The externalised, or othered, enemy of the state (the revolutionary) belongs to the state, just as the externalised, or othered, state belongs to the enemy of the state. We will do what we will do.

This is why, if we look at the debates on anti-fascism for example, there are certain opposing positions taken by the anti-fascists and the anti-anti-fascists, though both, more importantly, share the presumption of anti-reformism. Neither tendency, historically and theoretically, has any effect beyond allowing fascism. Thus, the function of the revolutionaries in this instance is fulfilled. If fascism is to be halted, or not allowed to emerge, it is always halted, or prevented, by other means, at other levels.

Which is why I argued on the ‘Chomsky on Antifa’ thread for a different course: a suspension of ‘revolutionism’ in its entirety in the context of anti-fascism.

Tom Henry
Oct 8 2017 22:56

Of course, with reference to Zizek, Badiou, Dauve, and communization theory, it is Bordiga who expressed much of it first. In reality, present day anti-partyism is stuck at the hermeneutical mysticism of Bordiga.

Camatte went further than Bordiga in the end. But few have followed him.