So what is the idea of communism, according to the weekend’s conference at the Volksbühne in Berlin? Best answer still offered in the first 15 mins or so of this lecture from 2009.
Badiou’s answer is in French: The communist hypothesis.
musings about media, discourse theory and education
An event for Berlin discoursologists on Tuesday 2 March, 7pm in KW Institute for Contemporary Art.
Rado Riha: The Idea as Thinking Politics
Over twenty years ago Alain Badiou asked the question “Can politics be thought?”, which today he answers affirmatively via the notion of the idea of communism. For it poses a real reference point in terms of a “morale provisoire” both for our thinking and existence.
In order to fulfill these moral demands we—as “materialists of the event and the exception” (Badiou)—should not forget to ask how such a materialism of the idea could be manifested. In this context one has to consider whether Kant’s philosophy offers any starting points for this materialism of the idea.
Rado Riha is a philosopher at the Institute of Philosophy, Centre for Scientific Research at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana as well as professor of philosophy at the University of Nova Gorica (post-graduate program of Intercultural Studies). He studied at the University of Ljubljana and, in the 1980s, belonged to the so-called “Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis”. His research focuses on ethics, epistemology, contemporary French philosophy, the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. From 1996 to 2003 he edited the journal Filozofski Vestnik whose board member he has been since 1993. In English, Riha published “Politics as the real of philosophy” in Laclau: A Critical Reader (edited by Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart, Routledge 2004); available as publications in German are Reale Geschehnisse der Freiheit(1993) and Politik der Wahrheit (1997, in cooperation with Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière and Jelica Šumič). Currently Riha is working on a book on Badiou and Kant.
Further discussions are planned with Lorenzo Chiesa, Peter Hallward, Alberto Toscano, Nina Power, amongst others.
I’m enthused. When there seems to be such a very widespread consensus that neo-liberalism, the entrepreneurial self, competitiveness, anti-immigration, securitisation, etc. are inevitable and unavoidable, it can seem that there is no way to dislodge this set of beliefs; no way to push an alternative hegemonic project into the mainstream; or to shift the discursive field.
Badiou to the rescue. To get out of the depressive malaise, he says, drawing on Lacan, we have to move from impotence to impossibility. Yes, of course getting rid of inequality or the desire for wealth is impossible, but we can still hold onto those points and ‘endure in the impossible’. Beyond Sarkozy, my favourite section in this book is Badiou’s resignification of ‘communism’. ‘Communism’ denotes a ‘very general set of intellectual representations’:
This set is the horizon of any initiative, however local and limited in time it may be, that breaks with the order of established opinions – the necessity of inequalities and the state instrument for protecting these – and composes a fragment of a politics of emancipation. In other words, communism is what Kant calls an ‘Idea’, with a regulatory function, rather than a programme. It is absurd to characterize communist principles in the sense I have defined them as utopian, as is so often done. They are intellectual patterns, always actualized in a different fashion, that serve to produce likes of demarcation between different forms of politics. By and large, a particular political sequence if ether compatible with these principles or opposed to them, in which case it is reactionary. ‘Communism’ in this sense, is a heuristic hypothesis that is very frequently used in political argument, even if the word itself does not appear. (Alain Badiou, 2008, The Meaning of Sarkozy, p. 99)