What is revolution? The question, I think, deserves to be asked now, when capitalism is at a crucial time in its history. The Western culture has turned the notion of revolution into something of a cliché, a reproduced image that circulates through various media outlets and as a result, is exhausted. The very idea of revolution in its classical Marxist sense (i.e. Workers of the world, unite!) seems to be something of the past, outdated, exhausted. But to go back to the initial question of this article, what exactly is revolution? It seems that the concept of an armed revolt against the existing system has now become the clichéd image of futility. Yet, as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century and near the Russian Revolution’s centennial (i.e. 2017), one cannot help but to rethink the very notion of revolution itself.
It is Alain Badiou’s conjecture that, what he appropriately names The Communist Hypothesis, needs to be rethought for the twenty-first century. Badiou holds that during the closing decades of the 19th century, the eternal idea communism was hypothetical (i.e. simply meaning, the very notion of positing a society without class and without inequality). In the 20th century, however, things were different. For Badiou, the 20th century tried to implement communism as a social system, rather than trying to posit it. It is important to note that Badiou rightly rejects the failed attempts of the 20th century, and holds that even though there was merit in their effort, they were disastrous. We are not entering a moment in history where communism as an idea, needs to be posed yet again. That is to say, like with the 19th century, the 21st century needs to reformulate the how of trying to implement communism. This means something very specific, for Badiou, who writes:
“In many respects we are closer today to the questions of the 19th century than to the revolutionary history of the 20th. A wide variety of 19th-century phenomena are reappearing: vast zones of poverty, widening inequalities, politics dissolved into the ‘service of wealth’, the nihilism of large sections of the young, the servility of much of the intelligentsia; the cramped, besieged experimentalism of a few groups seeking ways to express the communist hypothesis . . . Which is no doubt why, as in the 19th century, it is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today, but the conditions of its existence. This is our task, during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes—always global, or universal, in character—and political experience, always local or singular, yet transmissible, to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our consciousness and on the ground.”
When he concludes with “…to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our consciousness and on the ground,” Badiou suggests that for those who still seek an alternative to global capitalism that is not founded on right-wing reactionary religious movements, the question of communism must be put on the table once more. But what does this rethinking of communism mean for revolution? Is the concept of an armed revolution something of the past, or can it be reformulated and rethought? It can be argued that given Badiou’s position on rethinking the how of communism, revolution as a final push to overthrow the system belongs to the 20th century, or in Badiou’s own language, it belongs to the second phase of the communist hypothesis.
I think it's safe to claim that Badiou’s position is more or less concerned with late capitalism, that is, capitalism as it exists in Europe and North America. For Badiou, the Third or underdeveloped world does not necessarily come into play when the notion of rethinking communism is at stake. To this, Badiou replies:
“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 performative: we are deciding that this is how it is for us. Faithful to this point, it is then a question of elucidating the consequences that follow from this simple declaration.”
Badiou’s courageous act is to reject the false division of ‘West’ and ‘East’ that is so redundantly advertised by the politically correct, proto-fascist Liberals and postmodern thinkers such as Butler and Laclau. Against them, Badiou declares a ‘single world’. For Badiou, differences among people, their cultures and views do exist, but this does not negate a single, universal world:
“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.”
For his rejection of the politically correct mantra of the multicultural liberals, Badiou’s proposition is the only serious rally call to the defeated and exhausted Left. At a time when many Leftists have either changed their political views and assimilated into the system, or have joined the ranks of those who purport the Rainbow Coalition (i.e. identity politics of gays, African Americans and other minorities) thereby forgetting any anti-capitalist thinking, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek stand opposed. Even Hardt and Negri's misuse of Gilles Deleuze only serves as an interesting way to think about our postmodern capitalist world (i.e. immaterial labour, potential of liberation through technology, etc), yet it does nothing to properly rethink the eternal Idea of communism as a viable society, as an alternative to what we have here and now.
Badiou’s entire Oeuvre, then, is one concerned with revolution. The key is, for Badiou who calls the notion of revolution an Event, revolution occurs in different forms and in different fields: the political, the scientific, the artistic and the amorous. His entire philosophical project is concerned with the outburst of the event and the subjects which must have a fidelity towards said event. Badiou’s intervention into the Left is itself an event, it is simultaneously an event for philosophy and politics because it seeks to entirely rupture and rethink both fields. Also, as a subject to this event, my fidelity for Alain Badiou remains strong.
Badiou, Alain. The Communist Hypothesis. New Left Review 49 (2008). New Left Review. Jan. & Feb. 2008. Web. 12 Dec. 2009. <http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2705>