The Communist Hypothesis by Alain Badiou

Any philosophical book is likely to leave the reader slightly confused and obliged to read through a second time. Likewise, many books by Leftist writers tend to do the same. So if you combine the two fields what you receive is a migraine encased in utter bewilderment. That is, of course, if you get unlucky and pick up a text meant for graduate students instead of the curious reader. In this regard Alain Badiou’s “The Communist Hypothesis” treads the thin line between difficulty and ease: difficulty because it utilizes great swathes of history in explaining its philosophical underpinnings, ease because it is not Hegel’s Logic transmogrified into contemporary emancipatory politics. Let’s call it a grey area.

As with any philosophy, Badiou elaborates a series of terms which denote how he views concepts and theories to function. Traditional definitions of Idea, History, Fact, and state shift into new meanings as he advances his primary thesis (the one relevant throughout the greatly different essays), that of the question concerning the party-state and the transition to a stateless society. Since Badiou comes from a French Maoist tradition, his historical examples center on The May 1968 Student Uprising, the Cultural Revolution in China, along with the host of usual Leftist revolutions and figures. Anyone unfamiliar with the concepts explored above will find it highly dense material, yet, those who have at least a passing understanding of what transpired will find it to be an enlightening read.

Though Badiou’s thesis concerns the transition to a stateless, classless society, the overall framework for this thesis is centered within the politics and reality of communism as a whole. By this I mean he discusses: ‘what is the communist idea?’, ‘is the communist idea even realizable?’ ‘What mistakes had been made in the past regarding this idea and how can they be avoided?’ along with several other important topics concerning practice. The material starts relatively simply and develops roughly along the line which I sketched above. However, as he digs into the more philosophically implicit theory, where he begins abstracting definitions to give life to new terms from old words, the reading becomes more strained. Expect to have to re-read pages as you attempt to grapple with how all of the theories and concepts interact with one another. In all honesty, it is not the densest theory you have come across and Badiou himself makes efforts to simplify and re-cover previously talked about ideas. Even so, however, it can still be tricky if this is your first introduction to Badiou’s writing.

So this is a book filled with history, politics, and theory, along with a healthy dose of philosophy. It can be onerous reading for the unwary; it could also be simple reading for the skilled. Whatever the case though, those who enjoy the prospect of expanding their horizons to modern Leftist theory, and philosophy in general, will find this book a delightful read. Everyone else… probably less so.

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