Is Communism the Answer to the Crisis?

I'm Watermark

Sackur: Alain Badiou welcome to HARDtalk. Do you see this economic crisis we are living through as a moment of tremendous opportunity for the anti-capitalist Left?

Badiou: My answer will be cautious. In one sense, naturally, this crisis is the end of a sequence – a sequence where it is explained that the world of capitalism, democratic societies, and so on, is the best world possible. In that sense there is something like a big change. In another sense, it’s not my conviction that the crisis is always the idea of a new figure of the situation. Many crisis have [ended] in the past with terrible consequences, and it is not my conviction that the crisis of capitalism is by itself a new vision of politics and of societies and so on.

Sackur: But do you, to put it bluntly, want to overthrow the system as it currently works in the rich western democracies?

Badiou: We don’t know really today what is the extension of the crisis? Maybe, finally, the rich world, the rich western world will find new means to develop the sequence of capitalism itself. So the crisis is an opportunity, maybe but it’s not a solution, it’s not by itself the beginning of something new.

Sackur: But you see, what I’m wondering is whether for you – as a sort of philosopher, an intellectual, a figure on the far Left of French politics – whether you would be expecting the French people to be more angry than they appear to be. I mean, we’ve had one or two strikes there’s another one planned for the coming days, but frankly French public doesn’t appear to be as angry as one might have expected.

Badiou: Yes, but you know the question of popular movements is not only the question to be angry or to be in difficulties, in big difficulties, or the question of a crisis. You must have some ideas, some great ideas, ideas of emancipation, ideas of the possibility of something else, that is the point. The failure of all socialist and communist experiences in the last century as its consequence is that we have no, today, great and clear idea of another world.

Sackur: But hang on, you are — are you not — a communist?

Badiou: The Idea of Communism was a great Idea of a new possiblity during the 19th century. During the last century, all experiences under this Idea have been a failure. So today we must construct — not immediately — a new solution after the crisis of capitalism, we have to reconstruct a new Idea.

Sackur: But, you know, I’ve been reading your work, and you insist in your writings and recently that “Communism is the right hypothesis,” you say.

Badiou: I think that Communism is the right name for another form of society, certainly. Because Communism signifies, first, the Idea of society which is not under the rule, which is not ruled by, private interests.

Sackur: But see when you say that, and you’ve already alluded to the problem that history presents, French people, British people, people around the world are simply going to say to you, “Alain Badiou, look at the 20th century. Look at our recent history.” How can you say communism is the right hypothesis today, when we know what we know about the authoritarian, tyrannical tendencies of communism in our lifetimes.

Badiou: Yes, but we have to distinguish between the genuine Idea of Communism, for example in the work of Marx himself, and the experiences of the last century, because the experiences of the last century are the first attempt to realize a new society. This attempt is a failure, okay. But after that, is the failure of that sort of experience the failure of the Idea itself? I don’t believe it.