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Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism (Part Two: Cultural Revolutions).

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Rancière, Part Two. Cultural Revolutions.

“La rhétorique est une parole en révolte contre la condition poétique de l’être parlant. Elle parle pour faire taire. Tu ne parleras plus, tu ne penseras plus, tu feras ceci, tel est son programme.”

Rhetoric is a language in revolt against the poetic state of the speaking being. It talks in order to silence. You shall not speak further; you shall not think further, you shall do this, that’s its programme.

Rancière, Le Maître Ignorant. 1987 (1)

What is the substance of Rancière’s work? Rancière is a critic of the “post-democratic” world of the capitalist present. In this sense ‘anti-anti-populism’ is principally a sign that he welcomes dissatisfaction and protests against a world ruled by the “self-regulation of capital” and the “painless elimination of politics by consensus” Dissensus  “a logic of disruption” “ a process of equality” can enter the scene, an upset to the “consensual order”.

Can we give examples of these moments of dissensus having a real impact? Is Rancière one of those, like the editors of New Left Review, who reacted with all the glee of second childhood at the Brexit result as a blow to the ‘neo-liberal consensus’? The thought seems to have crossed his mind. But it hard to imagine that he sees the triumph of UKIP and the Tory Right, as the advance of a “communism of multitudes”. Are – marginal – egalitarian challenges to ‘post democracy’, such as the Occupy! or Nuit Debout movement better vehicles? Perhaps. He has also celebrated the mingling of artistic forms, protests, modern dance, films by Pedro Costa and Wang Bing, strikes over the organisation of the working day and demands for free time, to register only some examples. (Le Monde 6.6.18) Which, one could say, sounds more like a post-André Breton Manifesto for Nonconformist Equalitarian Taste than service to any political or economic Revolution.

There is no account of the critics of the attention-seeking tendencies of the Occupy! Movement, or of the anti-democratic implications of its own “consensus” decision-making. Yet…..one also hardly needs reminding that Rancière is always on the watch for the moment when these efforts fall apart, leaving only the egalitarian impulse intact.

These contradictory lines of thought indicate some reasons why Rancière’s writings are hard to get to grips with. On top of this his prose is often sarcastic (anti-populists recite “psalms”)  – his admirers call them “ironic”. The title of the book above, the Ignorant Master, evokes the Maître Penseurs, the Master thinkers, a term the New Philosopher André Glucksmann used against Marxism. Rancière hammers home a message through rhetorical anaphora, the marked repetition of words and phrases – his supporters might say they lend it maximum effect. He rages for egalitarianism in opaque literary French with a distinction between le politique (government as such, which he calls “la police”) and la politique (conflict/dissensus). This is intelligible to those – not necessarily every reader – familiar with the later Foucault’s use of the term ‘Police’ to embrace the wider social order, and Claude Lefort’s distinction between the two French nouns in his essay Permanence du théologico-politique (1981). Such instances indicate how his ideas and their presentation could be compared to a geological structure in which many types of sediment have left their trace.   (2)

Slavoj Žižek offers a handle on how to look into these strata. Rancière “…belongs to the field one is tempted to define as ‘post-Althusserian’: authors like Balibar, Alain Badiou, up to Ernesto Laclau, whose starting position was close to Althusser. The first thing to note here is how they are all opposed to the most elaborated ‘formal’ theory of democracy in contemporary French thought, that of Claude Lefort.” Althusser and the act of breaking free from him, is, it has been argued, looms over much more of Rancière’s career. His commitment to intellectual equality, “emancipation”, political equality against the Post-Democratic Elite, and the aesthetic theorising about the egalitarian potentials of the “sensible” can perhaps be made more intelligible by beginning with his defiance of this Teacher Žižek’s critique of the enthusiasm of the “post-Althussarians” for “pure politics” will occupy Part 3. (3)

Rancière’s entry into the annals of Theory began with some éclat. His contribution to Lire le Capital marked participation in one of the key moments in 20th century Marxist thought. (Le concept de critique de la critique de ‘économies politiques des Manuscrits de 1844 au capital. 1965) Some have suggested, generously, that the text – often appearing to be at the stage of seminar notes – is a significant account of Marx’s theory of alienation and “commodity fetishism”. It only came out in English publication in this millennium (2011), long after the better-known sections by Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar. Their impact does not appear diminished by the absence of Rancière’s pages from earlier circulation in the Anglophone world. The fourth volume, by Pierre Macherey (who has had a career as a critic and theorist of “literary production”) and Roger Establet (who went on to write on the capitalist education system) on the presentation and outline of Capital, was disinterred at the same time. Few seem to have noticed. (4)

Althusser’s project involved, Gregory Elliott has stated, a “critique of existing Marxism in its entirety”. Reading Capital may appear a key text in deciphering the hieroglyphics of capitalist appearance, bringing out the “unseen” mechanisms producing the visible surface. It aimed to stake out exploration of the “continent of history” with new eyes. Others may consider it a conceptual clarification that offered tools that could be developed through concrete studies. Following the philosophical essays in Althusser’s Pour Marx (1965) it aimed to bring conceptual developments, free from the “dogmatism” left by Stalinism inside the Communist movement, to the “science of history”, historical materialism, Elliot underlines that the “thrust” was a Marxism “amenable to rectification and capable of yielding new knowledge” (a view underlined in the Introduction to Pour Marx). Whether Lire le Capital itself formed part of the armoury of the theoretical struggle against a multitude of enemies, from the lingering Stalinists and the liberal Italian, wing, to the theorists of Marxist-Humanism, inside the Communist Party, or was primarily a research project, an end in itself, remains disputed, notably by Balibar.  (5)

Rancière became independently visible, both in France and elsewhere, as an egalitarian, and contrarian, through a polemic on this project, La leçon d’althusser (1974). This was a wide-ranging foray against the Marxist “education” from on high offered by the patron of the circle that produced Lire le Capital, Louis Althusser. The object was wider than the domain of Marxist research. His angle was that the former teacher at the elite École Normale Supérieure (ENS) had (undeniably) extended the interventions of Pour Marx and the writing of Lire le Capital to open participation in internal PCF politics and factional disputes.

La leçon d’althusser.

In La leçon d’althusser (1974) Rancière extended his questioning of the ‘revisionist’ Party line to Althusser’s alleged contempt for the student actors in the 1968 événements. The reasons for this dissatisfaction were clear. Rancière was not just an alumnus of Theory but was also a graduate of these political struggles in, the no doubt weighty, area of student politics. This was the fight against the “ revisionist” Parti Communiste Français (PCF) inside its own campus organisations.  In that role he had been an editor of the mid-sixties Cahiers marxistes-léninistes. Althusser had anonymously written an article for the publication and had encouraged this turn, up to certain, crucial points, until they had begun to create an independent anti-PCF groupuscule and, above all, during May 68. Having lent his weight in their battle against the Parti Communist Français (PCF); when the crunch came Althusser had turned his back on them when they engaged in action outside the Party’s control to merge with the mass struggle.

For Rancière the lesson of Althusser was wrapped up in that moment. The Party bore responsibility for thwarting the revolutionary possibilities of May 68. It had connived in the return to bourgeois rule. Althusser, in his response to the events had connived in its reaction and offered a justification of Order.  In his own shift towards the class struggle in philosophy around the defence of materialism, he had retreated to authorised, or at least permitted, intellectual disputes between ‘idealism and materialism’. (Lénine et la philosophie. 1972) The claim to wage the “ class struggle in theory” masked the inability to fight the class struggle when it happened in practice. For Rancière Althusser had rationalised traditional education. He had ended up by boiling down the class struggle to the clash between true (Marxist) ideas and false (bourgeois) ones. Rancière asked if such intellectuals, placing themselves on the side of a party apparatuses, talk about class struggle on behalf of the workers and the oppressed? Had there ever been in the corridors of the ENS a kind of revolutionary university of Yenan operated by his former mentor?

Rancière included a text (Pour Mémoire, 1969) that asked why Althusser has not considered the institution as one of the “appareils idéologiques” of the state.  Althusser’s 1970s drift into defending the “class struggle in theory”, and his pallid (since, top-down) view of Ideological State Apparatuses skirted around the topic. However it was inside the ‘knowledge’ taught that probably that La Leçon made the most telling points. Althusser’s version of ‘Marxism Leninism’ lacked, Rancière continued, an account of how the original Bolshevik party strategy and the apparatus with which it ruled the USSR, may have contributed to the “reconstitution des formes capitalists de la division du travail”.

Today’s readers would observe that the suggestion that the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao in 1966 offered another path, a “left critique” of Stalinism in practice looked thin then, and thinner now. Rancière’s own attack on this use of Mao, which halted at the description of the USSR as “social fascist”, were equally skeletal. The positive lessons that the Cultural Revolution offered for a challenge to the division of labour are seldom evoked today.  (6)

Althusser took note of Rancière’s  “acerbic” book. In L’avenir dure longtemps (1992) he remarked that the bone of contention was about his wish to remain inside the PCF. He respected the decision of his ‘disciples’ to go directly to the workers, and create a new independent body, the Union des Jeunesses Communiste marxistes-léninistes (UJCm-l).Yet the Communists had real ties with the proletariat, not just in elections, but also through the mass membership of the PCF aligned CGT union federation who had been amongst the few workers to go to the Sorbonne to support the students. (7)

La Gauche Prolétarienne.

Rancière, while he was in ‘Marxist-Leninist’ circle around Althusser, along with Macherey and Balibar, was of different cohort to those, like Robert Linhart and Benny Lévy who did not just split into a propaganda group outside the Party. They tried to engage directly in mass politics. Many of them became full-time activists. With hindsight one might say that May 68 showed not just the PCF’s fear of an uncontrolled uprising, and its unforeseeable consequences. It indicated equally the inability of the left, and (one could add) particularly this left to mobilise enough support to pose a genuine revolutionary challenge. La Gauche Prolétarienne (GP) founded in 1969 was at the time of the publication of La Leçon (1974) in the after-shock of self-dissolution, (November 1973) after some spectacular stunts.

People radicalised by the experience of May 68 led the GP, the result of a link-up between the ‘M-L’ current and some individuals from the broader ‘anti-authoritarian’ leftism that had emerged, such as the Movement Mars-22. From promoting the “all powerful” theory of Marxism-Leninism against Revisionism, it went outwards to the people. The GP was an effort to reach out to the anti-authoritarian spirit of students and young workers in revolt against trade union bureaucracy. Its project was to move with the spontaneous revolt of the masses (hence the nickname, Mao-spontex) but to harness it in a more coherent form.  Was it a Leninist organisation, knit together by democratic centralism, rested on a vertical chain of command?  The GP, tried, it is said, to break this division of political labour through its own practice. Rancière skirts around this issue. His attitude in La Leçon d’Althusser towards the GP’s efforts could be summarised as while the project was “abstract” “at least they tried to do something”. It was an experience from which those involved could look at their politics and culture while the “great unifying syntheses” of leftism on the wider political scene were collapsing.

For all its marginality the short history of the GP is as ample an object in the resilience of traditional hierarchy as Althusser’s Theory. Rancière, it is said, had had links but was not directly involved in the group. Yet he could have asked about the efforts to combat the “division of labour” in the GP. Accounts indicate that it was an intense and pronounced failure. The decision to dissolve the group was made from the top. The unpleasant internal regime and political misjudgements of the GP are widely seen to have contributed to the distaste for left-wing activism that condensed in the 1970s “anti-totalitarian moment”. Famously in Tigre en papier (2002) Olivier Rolin (former head of their proto-armed wing) described the leader of the Gauche Prolétarienne, known as Pierre Victor – that is, Benny Lévy – as the Grand Dirigent, Gédéon, He had “un pouvoir littéralement hypnotique.” There are many tales about clashes around this Authority, and within the central leadership. One of the most contentious arose during divisions over “popular justice”. This confronted the issue of what Rancière would later call the Police, not just in the ordinary sense of the word, but to what he considers to be the wider order-forming elements of society. It would be of interest to hear of his views on “tribunaux populaires” that would carry out class justice, and offer a direct “populist” challenge up to “prosecution” and punishment, not excluding executions. (8)

Althusser did go onto ask questions about the party apparatus. In Ce qui ne peut plus durer dans le Parti communiste (1977). Much of this intervention relates to the conflicts inside the PCF over the 1970s Union de la gaach,. Of more lasting significance, Althusser expressed deep doubts about the PCF’s ‘vertical’ structure of the PCF which partitioned ordinary members from one another and reproduced the leadership’s omnipotence and its  ‘religious conception of the Truth’ that reigned in the Politburo.”  It needs hardly underlining that taking this stand against the leadership of a party still scoring up to 20% of the vote took some genuine political courage. (9)

Rancière’s own questioning of Leninist political structures was more diffuse. As a bystander increasingly remote from activism, in La Leçon he had asked,  “How could we discuss the “ expression autonome de la révolte “ without being trapped in the distance and authority of theory? These issues, of how revolutionary groups could function democratically, or not, remains one of importance for all left political parties. Nevertheless is egalitarian ‘discussion’, the open to all those who speak, the knot from which oppositional politics are born? Is the entire mechanism of “representation”, from the Marxist party’s claim to stand “for” the workers, to the ‘bourgeois’ practice of election through the isolation of the voting booth (the ‘isoloir’ in French) substitutes for democracy?

These thoughts were never followed up by a call for a new form of left political organisation. Nor was there any serious consideration of parties as a crucial focus for politics. Indeed one could say that Rancière’s career, right up till the present moment, is marked by an avoidance and condemnation of organised politics. But what is there beyond the “autonomy of revolt” if not some kind of political body?

Les Révoltes Logiques.

Rancière, Althusser observed, went on to write some “remarkable” works on the dreams and projects of early workers’ movement. Named Les Révoltes Logiques (LRL), Rimbaud’s poetic cry against the rationalist ‘Democratic order’ imposed after the crushing of the Paris Commune, it published papers about popular struggles.   For some LRL intended to parallel the Maoist practice of sending members to work in factories (les Établis). The Review is said to have paid attention to revolts themselves and at first sight looks marked by “spontanéisme”. This angle, in opposition to the gradualism and tranquillity of the evolution of mentalities advanced by the Annals school, was interlaced with the denial that any Party any Official Voice, even one purporting to represent the labour movement, could speak for the people’s diversity. « il n’y a pas de voix du peuple. Il y a des voix éclatées, polémiques, divisant à chaque fois l’identité qu’elles mettent en scène » In this sense  it was neither Maoist, nor a search for a new subject – a unified « plèbe » that replaced the proletariat . The collective lasted from 1975 – 1985, although the review stopped appearing in 1981.  (10)

This voyage into the continent of History discarded the Marxist pretension to uncover the hidden mechanisms that create classes. It was not out to discover workers on the Royal road to modern socialist politics. Rancière’s (un-translated) Louis Gabriel Gauny. Le philosophe plébéien (1983) is one of its results. These fragments from the ‘memory of the people’ rescue works of a Plebeian Socrates. They include  “Opuscules cénobitiques” (a reference to early Christian ‘communist’ communities). They include reflections on the Prison of the Workplace run by “conseils de vampires”. Reflections on industrial production recall Michel Foucault’s Panopticon nightmare, not least because Gauny talked of a  “centre panoptique” while discussing the workers who build prison cells. Gauny also discourses on the “palingenesis (rebirth) of souls”. We are invited to discard the condescension of distance. Yet it is not easy to see the spirit of the enlightenment in Gauny’s theosophical vision of Diogenus and Jean the Baptist glimpsing the “cité future”. In short, the ideas offered by Gauny, and his striving to be somebody outside of his labouring existence, will strike most readers as strange and barely readable.  (11)

Proletarian Nights.

La nuit des prolétaires (1981), which features Gauny amongst a cast of toilers dreaming of emancipation, has found a larger audience. This was, it was asserted, the fruit of a break with both official ‘positivist’ labour history, and the rising Parti Socialiste endorsed (Mitterrand came to power in 1981) version of the left and labour movement. It aimed to explore the fringes of life, independent friendships and associations, snatches of out of work dreams and hopes where the embers of revolt burned What this meant is far from clear, but it appears to have signalled that Rancière aimed for something more than facts, to rescue from oblivion forgotten narratives of rebellion. Admirers claim that it was a voyage into the in-between, the borderlands, where the experience of exploitation and oppression led to attempts to build a better life.

One might expect a fresh look at ‘history from below’ in at odds with the dominant tradition of leftist writing to break the mould of our received perceptions. But if the above remarks have not already forewarned the reader, anybody anticipating a contribution to the ‘making of the French working class’ in La nuit des prolétaires (1981) will be disappointed Of hard-fought strikes, political campaigns, or, to use the words of E.P.Thompson, the poetry and labour of those “working people” who had “nourished…with incomparable fortitude, the Liberty Tree”, there is little sound.  A few glimpses into how worker organisations worked only appear after careful reading. The book, the result of some research in the archives, recounts the afterthoughts, the dreams of special group of toilers, writings and activities of 19th century Saint Simonian adepts of the Proto-socialist New Christianity and Icarian ‘communist’ workers.

Sutar Misha describes this, “instead of a social history of changing forms of work, organisations, or cultural practices, (it is) a history of the collision of arguments and fantasies that occupied a few hundred workers between 1830 and 1851.” To these reveries, and some engagement in associative life, the historical background, the 1848 Second Republic and the aftermath of Louis Bonaparte, is only legible by reference to a chronology attached at the end of the book.  Although there is an effort to avoid the retrospective condescension towards the ideas of the time, if the “principle of organisation” is discussed, it is sketchy. And, always given, in terms of these visionaries readiness to breach the borders between the “ proletariat “ and “bourgeois” utopian speculation.

If Nights of Labour shrivels when compared with the masterpieces of labour history, then this “extra labour” account of nights of non-labour of weary workers was never intended to enter the lists of traditional labour history radical or not. What is it? It is equally not without faults proper to its execution, and in terms of its own ‘egalitarian’ claims to present a new dimension of the past smothered by previous interpretations.. The book has been – abundantly – criticised for failing to distinguish between what the workers said, and Rancière’s own, abundant, opinions. Perhaps one might consider it a roman, a work of imaginative literature?A literary defence that it was written in a “style indirect libre” gives us little hope for greater clarity.  Had Rancière, in this and other ventures of the period, offered a breakthrough in ‘non-positivist’ mode – the word is certainly appropriate, ‘workerist’ history to stand on its own right?  Few, if any,  have followed its direction. Perhaps somebody could seek out  traces of this work.

Le Maître Ignorant.

Rancière’s next effort in the history of 19th century radicalism came with his free rendering of the work and opinions of the pedagogue Joseph Jacotot (1770 – 1840) offered perhaps his most celebrated template for real democratic practice. To Rancière the “méthode Jacotot” grounded on the equality of intelligence, both tried to emancipate minds, and to challenge authority beyond the schoolroom or lecture hall. (Le Maître Ignorant Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, 1987)

A supporter of the French Revolution, and an educator under both the Directory and the Empire, Jacotot, lecturer in physics and Chemistry, moved to Belgium under the Second Restoration. Working as a teacher of French literature at the State University of Louvain the  Frenchman was faced with Dutch speaking students. He began his course, helped by the presence of an interpreter,  with a bilingual edition of the 18th century novel Télémaque by Fénelon, an appealing (and syntactically uncomplicated) fantasy full of ancient Greek mythology. Without explanations they proceeded to translate and comment on the text. whose description of the utopian kingdom (a « communist monarchy , if marked by ..slavery and a strict hierarchy of functions) of Salente (chapter X) was an early Enlightenment favourite. Rancière asserted in Les nuits that it remained a manual amongst 1820 and 1830s philanthropists and autodidacts, wishing to instruct the proletariat. Although about the only thing most of us know about the context of the short novel is that it was a veiled criticism of Louis the XIV it not endured as classic of subversion. No doubt some British workers read Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516)  which has more political merit, and is more widely acknowledged a source of communist thinking, though that also imagines a society with slaves and draconian punishment. (13)

These considerations (not discussed) apart, the novices’ apparent success, on Jacot’s own account, demonstrated the equality of intelligence. But the lesson was not that he had found a new means of teasing out people’s inner talents through a (rather presumptive) exercise in the Socratic – maieutic – method. It all began with a recognition that everyone can learn on their own – and a heavy dose of repetition. For Rancière, it is a stage on the way to indicate that, “L’égalité ne se donne ni ne se revendique, elle se pratique, elle se vérifie” This may be freely translated as Equality is not something given, nor is it something that is demanded, it is something that is proved in practice (14)

For many writers on Rancière, le Maître was a crucial moment in his thought. David Panagia states that, “Jacotot matters to Rancière in the same way that he mattered to the Communards of the Paris Commune: he matters because Jacotot develops an account of equality that refuses the propriety of judgment as a condition of political participation by refusing a priori common standards, including the common standard that to be an eligible participant in politics one must have a faculty of judgment.” But what conclusions can one draw from this? Anders Fjeld in Jacques Rancière Pratiquer l’eqalité (2018) suggests that at first sight the conceptual framework developed in the Maitre Ignorant could serve as a template for Rancière’s political work. But…intellectual and political emancipation are not the same.  (15)

This leads us to our  next section: from Le Philosophe et ses pauvresLa Mésentente La Haine de la démocratie,  and beyond…….



References :


  1. Page 53. Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Fayard 1987.
  2.  “I know English people who I consider advanced, intellectual people, who say they are rather pleased that it was a Leave vote. I think you absolutely cannot simply reduce the Remain side to progress and universalism and the Leave side to backwardness. I think that you have to understand that with this type of vote there are lots of reasons why people might have voted for it. There is a reaction against foreigners because they are foreigners, but then again there are two very different aspects to the European question. There is the part that is about European power, the excessive power that is accountable to no one. We can speak of a denial of democracy, a denial which the European bureaucracy itself embodies. Then there is the aspect that is about relating to the other, relations with foreigners. So I think that in this situation there are two totally different kinds of question. I think that having this kind of referendum is to mix these questions up, in a rather systematic way. But of course it was not the people from below but the government and Mr. Cameron who did that, trying to divert, we might say, a democratic aspiration into an identitarian one.”  Europe: The Return of the People, or of Populism?  See Claude Lefort Essais sur le politique : xixe et xxe siècles, Paris, Seuil, 1986 (Collection Points. 2001) On Foucault and the Police “The ‘police apparatus’ is linked to the ‘state apparatus’; to the ‘centre of political sovereignty’, it works within the ambit of ‘disciplinary power’ and is a productive as well as a limiting apparatus. As early as in Madness and CivilisationFoucault defines police as “the totality of measures which make work possible and necessary for all those who would not live without it . . .” (p. 46). Again “Down to the end of the ancient regime, the term ‘police’ does not signify at least not exclusively the institution of police in the modern sense; ‘police’ is the ensemble of mechanisms serving to ensure order, the properly channelled growth of wealth and the conditions of preservation of health in general’ (Power/Knowledge p. 170). Thus police has as its main function the production and protection of wealth and protection of general conditions of health (which is obviously related to the first two functions). The production of wealth function includes all kinds of “economic regulation (the circulation of commodities, manufacturing processes, the obligations of trades people both to one another and to there clientele)”. The protection of wealth function is constituted of the ” ‘measures of public order’ (surveillance of dangerous individuals, expulsion of vagabonds and if necessary beggars and the pursuit of criminals” (ibid. p. 170). The production and protection of health function includes the “general rules of hygiene (checks on the quality of foodstuffs sold, the water supply and the cleanliness of streets)” [ibid. pp. 170-171].Police function…
  3. The use of rhetoric in Rancière’s writing a waits if Roland Barthes, but a simply glance through four pages (85 – 89) devoted to populism and the 2005 French EU Constitution referendum in 2005 in La Haine de la démocratie. Jacques Rancière. La Fabrique. 2005) Permanence du théologico-politique (1981) In Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. XIXe – XXe siècles. Editions du Seuil.  1986.
  4. The Lesson of Rancière. Slavoj Žižek. In: The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. Jacques Rancière. Continuum. 2005. The following is influenced by the invaluable framework offered to introduce his writings in Rancière: Pratiquer l’égalité. Anders Fjeld.   Éditer. 2018
  5. See Pages 223 – 226. La leçon d’althusser. Gallimard. 1974 See the account, of the theoretical issues at stake and biographical intersection of Rancière and Althusser, in The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. Brill. 2006. Pages 22 and 25. Althusser’s Solicitude. George Elliott. In The Althusserian legacy. Edited by E. Ann Kaplan and Michael Spinker. Verso 1993.  More widely Conditions, limites et conséquences de l’intervention philosophique dans la conjoncture Althusser à l’épreuve de Rancière Eva Mancuso. 2013. More widely see the dossier in Radical Philosophy: The Althusser–Rancière Controversy Archive.
  6. Pages 271 and 191. La Leçon d’Althusser. Was Rancière the originator of the Althusserian theory of Ideological State Apparatuses? He has stated this and it  is reflected in Reviewing Rancière. Or, the persistence of discrepancies Bruno Bosteels. Radical Philosophy. 170. 211. Perhaps the most obvious point is that while there may be some relation between the ideas, Rancière had no picture of “Interpellation” or sense of how and why these institutions “reproduce” social relations. Rancière’s principal claims, about ideological struggle during the Great Cultural Revolution, have not worn well, unless of course one considers mass bureaucratic violence and repression to be beneficial forms of socialist ideological struggle. For Balibar’s view on the mixture of motives behind Reading Capital see Page 15: Étienne Balibar, L’Illimitation démocratique. Martian Deleixhe. Michalon. 2014.
  7. The whole of chapter 5 of The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. Is devoted to this issue. He notably stated, “ a concrete critique, one which exists in the facts, in the struggle, in the line, in the practices, their principles and their forms, of the Chinese Revolution. A silent critique, which speaks through its actions, the result of the political and ideological struggles of the Revolution, from the Long March to the Cultural Revolution and its results. A critique from afar. A critique from ‘behind the scenes’” (Althusser cited, Page 231) Elliott charitably remarked that, “For over a decade, Althusser was caught up in the Parisian illusion of the epoch.” (Page 353) Amongst “post-Althusserian” theorists Alain Badiou still holds to such Noble Lies about the Cultural Revolutions. Rancière could criticise Althusser’s use of Mao, and his avoidance of looking at the nature of the USSR, but not ask whether the “verbiage” of human rights could have applied to the Cultural Revolution. Pages 196 – 7 La Leçon op cit.
  8. Pages 221 – 225. L’avenir dure longtemps Louis Althusser. Stock/IMEC. 1992.
  9. Page 42. Olivier Rolin Tigre en Papier. Seuil, 2002 Of the voluminous literature on the GP and popular justice Pages 237 – 8. Les Maoistes. Christophe Bourseiller. Plon. 2008. If it necessary  I should point out that the  writer of the present article comes from a very different ‘gauchiste’ tradition. Some details on the workings of the inner circles of the GP and its leader’s bizarre political trajectory, from Mao to the Torah in this fine study: Philippe Lardinois, De Pierre Victor à Benny Levy, de Mao à Moïse ?, Luc Pire, 2008
  10. See Althusser. The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. New Left Review.
  11. On RL see: David Amalric & Benjamin Faure. Réappropriation des savoirs et subjectivations politiques: Jacques Rancière après Mai 68. Dissensus. 2011. « a) « Ni conscience d’une avant garde instruite par la science ni systématisation des idées nées de la pratique des masses. b)Ni l’un ni le multiple : un sujet unifié de l’histoire (la classe ouvrière) ou la multiplicité irréductible des luttes. c) Ni le plein ni le vide : la pleine positivité théorique et sociologique de la classe ouvrière ou la négativité destructrice de la subjectivité rebelle. » In A Thorn in the Side of Social History: Jacques Rancière and Les Révoltes logiques Mischa Suter. Research Centre for Economic and Social History, Zurich. 2012. it is suggested that “établissement and enquête”, the Maoist practice of establishing members as workers and “inquiry” marked the journal. “Au « on a raison de se révolter » de la Gauche prolétarienne, la revue substitue l’attention portée à la révolte, « Nous aurons la philosophie féroce ». In Révoltes logiques, 1975-1981 Vincent Chambarlhac.
  12. Page 73. Louis Gabriel Gauny. Le philosophe plébéien La-Découverte-Maspero. 1983.
  13. Jacques Rancière. La nuit des prolétaries. Plurielle. 2012 Paperback
  14. Page 40 Jacques Rancière. La nuit des prolétaires.Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Fayard 1987 More on this study: Sur « Le maitre ignorant »
    It goes without saying that this tale of instant learning is not widely accepted. See French Wikipedia entry for links on this: Le Maître ignorant. 

  15. Page 7. Rancière’s Sentiments. David Panagia Duke University Press. 2018. Page 53. Jacques Rancière. Pratiquer l’égalitie Anders Fjeld. Michalon.. 2018.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 9, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Row in Northern Ireland Labour Party, Boyd Black: ‘Maoist’ BICO Resurfaces.

with 4 comments

Image result for British and Irish Communist organisation

BICO Once again.

There is, as yet, no comprehensive history of British and Irish ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Popularly known as Maoism, for the various groups’ alignment with Beijing during the 1960s, this political current had influence in much of the rest of Europe, and in the United States, where it was described as the New Communist Movement in the 1970s (1) French Maoism continues to draw attraction, with many colourful escapades to its name, and even a proto-armed wing, La Nouvelle Résistance Populaire (NRP), and the leader of the Gauche Prolétarienne, Benn Lévy, the hardest and the hard M-Ler, who became Sartre’s secretary and ended his days as student of the Torah in Jerusalem. (2) The former M-L Dutch Socialistische Partij, Socialist Party, with parliamentary representation, and its counterpart in Belgium, the, Parti du travail de Belgique /en Partij van de Arbeid van België, also attracts interest, not least in the latter’s days as enthusiasts for North Korean Juche.

But here possibly only Alexei Sayle’s learned tome stands out. Largely concerned with his activism in the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) he summarised their, and his orthodox Communist parents’ activism as, “my hobby and my family’s hobby was the elimination of private property via the violent expropriation of landowners, industrialists, railroad magnates and shipowners…”(3)

Maoism is however back in the news. A former member of  the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) are apparently involved in the controversies taking place in the Northern Irish Labour Party.

John Rogan writes,

There was an article in the Belfast Telegraph about the ruction in the Labour Party in NI by its ex-Secretary (Kathryn Johnson) which may be of interest.

The main person she seems to be angry with is Boyd Black. As a curious historical footnote for Leftist Trainspotters everywhere, Mr Black was at one point a member of the pro-Stalin, pro-Mao, pro-Kymer Rouge British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) and stood as a “Unionist” candidate in the 1986 Fulham by-election.


Black seems to have something of  a history of “controversy”.

Image result for British and Irish Communist organisation

His background is acknowledged.

On another occasion, “Boyd Black, Blacks election agent confirmed that he had been a member of the British and Irish Communist Organisation at one time.” 

Whatever his present relations to the group, if there are any, are  we note that BICO’s publication in Britain at the present is Labour Affairs which takes a keen interest in the Labour Party.

This is how they describe their present form,

Who We Are

Monthly journal of the Ernest Bevin Society.  It is a small independent left-wing magazine based in Britain, but covering the wider world.  Previously Labour and Trade Union Review.

The Ernest Bevin Society began as the British portion of the British and Irish Communist Organisation, but then decided Leninism was no longer relevant.  In the 1970s it advocated Workers Control as general reformism as the best way forward in Britain.  It warned ahead of time that the methods being used to fight Thatcher were going to fail.  But retained a general confidence in socialism after the Soviet collapse.

We did also warn well ahead of it becoming obvious that Yeltsin was going to fail.  And said in 1989 that People’s China was not in fact about to collapse.

We condemned New Labour for having adjusted to Thatcherite fantasies rather than what actually existed.  And were flatly against the war on Iraq, fully expecting Saddam’s rather bad system to be replaced  by something much worse.

See out publisher’s website at Athol Books.

For historians we lack a complete organigramme of the groupuscule’s original relations to other supporters of Marxist Leninism. Indeed while Wikipedia mentions this it is difficult to see the nature of the link to either the “first wave” M-L split with orthodox Communism, based on the Sino-Soviet dispute, or the “second wave” , which arose from enthusiasm for the Cultural Revolution.

Wikipedia sets them out as this,

Brendan Clifford was an Irish emigrant from the Sliabh Luachra area of County Cork who had migrated to London and become involved in left-wing politics there.[1] Clifford and some of his followers had been in Michael McCreery’s Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity and later they joined the Irish Communist Group.[2][3]

This body consisted largely of Irish people who were living in London and were opposed to the Soviet-aligned communist organisations intended for Irish people. Following a 1965 split, the Maoist wing named itself the Irish Communist Organisation, which later became the British and Irish Communist Organisation. The broadly Trotskyist wing, led by Gerry Lawless, became the Irish Workers’ Group.[4]

The ICO undertook an investigation into the development of Maoism, and concluded that it was not a suitable model for an anti-revisionist group. The Chinese Communist Party had supported some aspects of Nikita Khrushchev‘s “revisionism“, and then been dishonest about its past positions.[5]

One founder-member, Dennis Dennehy, was Secretary of the Dublin Housing Action Committee, which organised a highly successful protest movement in the early 1960s.

In 1968, the ICO issued a press release which defended the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

BICO is known, above all, for the writings on the Irish Question of Brendan Clifford. According to the Bible in such matters, he was an “unemployed Jesuit trained, gravedigger” who spent time in Trinity College Library Dublin researching Irish republicanism. This is what he found in works on the founders of this tradition.

“Having blown off the dust he was flabbergasted to discover that these saintly heroes, who he had been told were the Irish equivalents of Garibaldi and Mazzini, were a shower of bigoted, racist, shitbags, who hated England because it had prevented Ireland from establishing its own empire with its own blacks to chain up and flog. The odd man out among this unsavoury crew was Wolfe Tone, a Protestant who view of the Vatican tallies closely with that Ian Paisley.” (John Sullivan. As Soon As This Pub Closes)

The ‘two nations’ theory which he developed from these studies made Clifford’s name. His collected articles, from the Irish Communist, published in 1971 under the name Aspects of Nationalism (1972) begin with a long discussion of Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question. On this basis he took a stand for “Protestant national rights”. .

There is no mention of Clifford or a forerunner to BICO in Bob Purdie’s authoritative history of the Civil Rights movement Politics in the Streets (1990). It can be safely said to be beyond marginal to People’s Democracy – the most important grass-roots radical organisation in the land since the 1920s.

All COBI is known for is the ‘two nations’ theory. The view retains a certain intuitive appeal, no doubt reinforced by later Irish ‘revisionist’ histories which look at the conservative sides of nationalism, and Catholic cultural and political domination of the Republic In less studious environments problems immediately arose. COBI therefore backed protests such as the Ulster Workers’ Council and all attempts by the Protestant side to resist Irish unity. The one problem, no doubt unforeseen, but perhaps familiar to anybody who ever met Unionists, not to say, Orangemen, is that a group so dominated by violent racist bigots would be hard to find, although American ‘white nationalists’ stand muster.

The remnants of BICO seemed to have pursued with the Historical Review. The British branch became the Ernest Bevin society. The have been fading into decent obscurity.  They are rare creatures. The present writer may be one of the few people alive to have met them…..


(1) Revolution in the Air. Max Elbaum. Verso. 2002.
(2) De Pierre Victory à Benny Lévy, de Mao à Moïse. Philippe Lardinois. Editions Luc Pire. 2008.
(3) Page 132. Stalin Ate My Homework. Alexei Sayle. Sceptre. 2010. Sayle accurately makes this description, “Woodcraft Folk…. they formed the paramilitary wing of the Co-operative movement.”(P 91) See also the less amusing, Thatcher Stole my Trousers. Alexei Sayle. Bloomsbury Circus. 2016.

Update, for a serious account of this dispute: Clarion.


By Labour Party of Northern Ireland members

The Labour Party in Northern Ireland’s executive committee has recently undergone a catastrophic breakdown in communication, followed by a series of resignations which received a degree of local media attention and attention on the left. Sadly, the explanations given by those involved have been consistently misleading. Whilst the context is political, as might be expected, much of the upset is interpersonal and the motivations of those involved represent a complex combination of the two. As things stand, there is a toxic air about this local party’s dissent into in-fighting, but if we look carefully it might be possible to discern some lessons for the Labour left.


Written by Andrew Coates

August 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Anniversary of the ‘Cultural Revolution’: French Maoism, Olivier Rolin’s, Tigre en papier.

with 4 comments

China’s Cultural Revolution: 50th anniversary unmarked by state media reports the BBC.

This is perhaps the moment to reflect on the European admirers, and active supporters of the Cultural Revolution.

Wikipedia (English – the French version is considerably longer and more thorough) singles out one group. (1)

One of the best known was the Gauche prolétarienne (GP) which existed from 1968 to 1974. As Christophe Bourseiller has put it, “Of all the Maoist organizations after May 1968, the most important numerically as well as in cultural influence was without question the Gauche prolétarienne”.

The GP was formed in October 1968. After a split in the Union des jeunesses communists marxistes-léninistes (UJC(ml)), several members – including Olivier Rolin, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec, Jean-Claude Vernier, the brothers Tony and Benny Lévy, Jean Schiavo, Maurice Brover and Jean-Claude Zancarini – formed the new party. In 1969 the former student union leaders Alain Geismar and Serge July joined the group.

Several members of the group were involved with the founding of the French daily Libération which evolved into a centre left mainstream mass circulation daily newspaper.

One of these figures, Olivier Rolin, was not only in the leadership but directed the military wing (branche militaire) of the group,  la Nouvelle résistance populaire. The history of the NRP remains highly controversial.

After blowing hot for armed action, they blew cold and abandoned the path of force. A botched – or futile it depends on one’s viewpoint – kidnapping of Renault manager Robert Nogrette in response to the killing of  Pierre Overney in 1972 ended in his release.  They abandoned other plans for ‘military’ vengeance, which included a plan to murder a former Collaborator. Rolin is amongst those who lay claim to the belief that this was responsible for the absence in France of  left-wing terrorism – until the 1980s Action Directe that it is.

The Gauche Prolétarienne dissolved in 1973.

Rolin subsequently became a novelist. His works include the well-received,  Invention du Monde (1993), Port-Soudan (1994), described a “brilliantly crafted”, that is, a finely written but slight tale of an expatriate functionary and his return home with hard memories,  the picaresque  Un chasseur de lions (2008) which has been compared unfavourably to a Tintin album – meaning, I enjoyed it.

Tigre en papier (2oo2) is the most political of his books. It is a thinly veiled account of life in the GP written, as critics has described it, with the marks of a  thriller and lubricious descriptions of women. One of the said critics, F. Frommer  (À propos de Tigre en papier d’Olivier Rolin), observes that it is hard to classify – if not to follow. Is it a novel, a tale, fiction about one’s self, autobiography, souvenir, memoir (Roman/récit, autofiction/autobiographie, souvenir/mémoire. To say that the ‘Aristotelian unities’ are not followed would not count of a point against Tigre en Paper, if it were not, as indicated, presented at points in the form of an airport spine-chiller, decked out in the grandiose language, Rolin employs to describe the ideological loadstars of of dedicated ‘Maoist’ activists: « La théâtralité de la Révolution », « La haine de la beauté », « La sacralisation du malheur ». La Cause is the object of masochistic self-sacrifice. The pages are also studded, as Frommer remarks, with old brand names, old songs, old films, and, if you haven’t got the message, other period details,  which struck me, such as a explanation of  the importance of duplicators  for 1970s leftists.

I digress.

The principal value of the book is as an account of the GP, the ‘military wing’ chief, Martin (that is, Rolin…), his comrade, the ‘sublime’  Marie , and, above all, of its leader, Benny Lévy, known at the time as  Pierre Victor. In Tigre he is Gédéon, who is known from its abbreviation, DG,  as the Grand Dirigeant. This identity is at any rate the view of, amongst others, Philippe Lardinois, who uses the portrait as a hook in De Pierre Victor à Benny Levy, de Mao à Moïse ? (2008). He incarnated the ‘L’Organisation’ of the novel – though it remains to this day a mystery why. Or indeed exactly what happened in mind’s of the participants in  the escapades of the ‘military wing’ in the narrative to make them turn from playing at being revolutionaries to other games. Tigre en papier’s title suggest that they were made of flimsy substance. No doubt, but they certainly tried to look terrifying….

To call the Victor character a sour-faced arrogant shit would be perhaps enough, except that he managed to wreck the lives of (fictionalised but clearly real) characters as well. The GP, like all Maoist groupuscules, and some Trotskyist organisations, sent their members, particularly intellectuals (outside their Leading Cadres, naturally)  into factories to become ordinary workers, or, rather, to turn into militant leaders of the proletariat. These “établis” were expected to follow the commands of the Organisation. A tragic story of one such ruined life is probably the best passage in the book. It is the affecting story of a stunning (how could it be otherwise?) young woman, Cosette, svelte, almost an elfin (see previous observation on Rolin’s sexist language)  separated by Party decision from her partner, who is himself placed under the guidance of a ‘prolo’. Workers figures in the novel, if at all, as lugubrious figurants, if not, in the case of a police informer, a sexually unpleasant rough. No doubt anxious to indict the puritanism of the GP there is an episode in which Martin rebuffs a male cadre’s advances, and finds unable to talk about it.

Tigre en papier outlines one striking feature of the whole Gauche Prolétarienne experience: despite a brief reference to the anti-totalitarian Victor Serge, the total absence of any critical balance-sheet of the Cultural Revolution that inspired the movement.

This is how the leader of the GP  washed up after years of Talmudic studies,

Benny Lévy embraced Jewish Orthodoxy, and began to study in a yeshiva in Strasbourg. He finally immigrated to Israel in 1997, where he established the Institut d’études lévinassiennes in Jerusalem along with Bernard-Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut, and learned with Rabbi Moshe Shapira. He died suddenly during the holiday of Sukkot in 2003.

 (1) See also: Les Maoïstes. Christophe Bourseiller, Review and Reflections. Andrew Coates.

The book has been translated and received this notice (New York Times 2007):

PAPER TIGER. By Olivier Rolin. Translated by William Cloonan. (University of Nebraska, cloth, $40; paper, $17.95.) Martin, an aging French radical from the 60s, wonders where it all went and why. One night in 2000, when this rushing stream of a book is set, he broods out loud while driving around (and around and around) Paris with Marie, the 24-year-old daughter of his best friend from “the Cause.” Marie’s father died in an unexplained fall from a church tower 20 years earlier, and the excuse for Martin’s regurgitation of the past is to introduce Marie to her lost parent. At the same time, he is trying to understand his own father, a “colonialist soldier” killed carrying out “France’s civilizing mission” in Indochina. Through these histories, Rolin philosophizes about Big Ideas like aging, lost idealism and the weight of past wars on future generations. It sounds like heavy going, and it is. Rolin’s use of the second-person and the recurring shifts back and forth in time can be disorienting; but there are also treats that make the car ride worth taking, some serious (like Rolin’s observations — often pessimistic — about the human condition) and others delightfully comic (like the young revolutionaries’ many botched missions). When the journey to the end of the night is over, the impression left behind (at once comforting and disturbing) is that history will make a paper tiger of every high hope and feared foe alike, no matter how seemingly imperishable.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

Badiou: Sokal Style Spoof (Canular) of Badiou Studies Hits Le Monde.

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Badiou: raves against ‘Machinations’ Behind Spoof of his Oeuvre. 

Alain Badiou et le réveil de la farce (1) was published over a full page in Le Monde des ideés yesterday (full article only available on-line to subscribers)

It explores the amusing – we are still laughing – hoax carried out on the prestigious Badiou Studies by two genial pranksters  Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (see:  Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou).

Mediapart, reports Badiou being struck by  « l’ignorance totale de [son] œuvre que révèlent les manœuvres de deux ratés de la philosophie qui s’égarent dans leurs minuscules machinations » – the complete ignorance displayed in this work, which revealed the manoeuvres of two philosophical failures engaged in nanoscopic machinations.

The Le Monde article cites one reaction: that the jape was a way of avoiding a serious debate on Badiou’s august philosophy.

It would indeed be a mighty task to do so, but the parody was targeted at the respectful attention ‘cultural studies’ (as Le Monde puts it) gives to anything spread with enough of Badiou’s speculations.

We will simply ask: by what ‘truth procedure” can  anybody impose as a “grid” this ontology, as cited by the admirable Retraction Watch)?

Sets are what gendering processes by reactionary institutions intend to hold, in contradiction to the status of the multiplicities proper to each subject qua subject. This tension between subjectivity and gender comes to the fore through the lens of the ‘count-as-one’, the ontological operator identified by Badiou as the fluid mediator between set-belonging and set-existence. After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count-as-one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman.

Badiou is said to have originated his ideas in Althusser’s anti-humanism.

So, regardless of his later use of set-theory (rather than, say Athusser’s ‘Spinozist’ monist ontology of substance) it is “useful” (quotation marks) to ask in what sense is there a “theoretical practice” at work? What  raw material do Badiou and his acolytes employ? Or to put is more clearly: what are their ’empirical’ (more quotation marks) material – their data?

The underlying impression is that Badiou uses a picture of who the world is structured – the ground of existence – which comes from his own head. Assuming that he is not a new Pythagoras and sees numbers in stones and stars (and perhaps refuses to eat beans) one would like to know how this theory relates to the central aspect of Badiou’s politics: not the structures of Events (though we would like to know how their uniqueness is more unforeseeable hapexes, (that is wholly new occurrences, from apparently ‘nowhere’) that is Humean aetiology), but how set theory operates in history, and in the Idea.

Badiou’s “‘pure doctrine of the multiple” (with very obvious echoes of Mao-Tse-Tung’s writings on ‘Dialectics’) presents exactly the problems – that it can be simply imposed on material – that the parody of  Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non) Being (Benedetta Tripodi) was designed to illustrate.

That is, a group of ideas that can be spread without any rigour or regard to reality, in an academic text which ‘consecrates’ the authority of the Master, Badiou.

In case anybody does not believe that  Badiou’s ideas are deeply problematic see the Wikipedia entry.

Badiou uses the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory to identify the relationship of being to history, Nature, the State, and God. Most significantly this use means that (as with set theory) there is a strict prohibition on self-belonging; a set cannot contain or belong to itself. This results from the axiom of foundation – or the axiom of regularity – which enacts such a prohibition (cf. p. 190 in Being and Event).


These sets are, in line with constructible ontology, relative to one’s being-in-the-world and one’s being in language (where sets and concepts, such as the concept ‘humanity’, get their names). However, he continues, the dominations themselves are, whilst being relative concepts, not necessarily intrinsic to language and constructible thought; rather one can axiomatically define a domination – in the terms of mathematical ontology – as a set of conditions such that any condition outside the domination is dominated by at least one term inside the domination. One does not necessarily need to refer to constructible language to conceive of a ‘set of dominations’, which he refers to as the indiscernible set, or the generic set. It is therefore, he continues, possible to think beyond the strictures of the relativistic constructible universe of language, by a process Cohen calls forcing. And he concludes in following that while ontology can mark out a space for an inhabitant of the constructible situation to decide upon the indiscernible, it falls to the subject – about which the ontological situation cannot comment – to nominate this indiscernible, this generic point; and thus nominate, and give name to, the undecidable event. Badiou thereby marks out a philosophy by which to refute the apparent relativism or apoliticism in post-structuralist thought.

Let us jump from this can ask: how can we ‘decide upon the undecidable event’, tied by a kind of Sartrean commitment (fidelity)  to the supreme Events of Communism?  What indeed are the Events in question, their concrete structures which leave such deep traces that the furnish the material for his “hypotheses” – of Communism?

In the extremely clear dialogue in Que faire ? Dialogue sur le communisme, le capitalisme et l’avenir de la démocratie, d’Alain Badiou et Marcel Gauchet, (Philosophie Editions 2014) All the set theory, all the set of dominations, all the generic sets, fall away. Badiou simply repeats that, er well, the Revolution and specifically the Chinese Cultural Revolution (given or take some minor quibbles about this or that decision taken at the time), remains a fixed point of reference and hope for Communism.

Since many would strongly dispute that the Cultural Revolution was a Communist Event, the basis on which he elaborates his “communist hypothesis”.  That by contrast it was created by a faction fight between various  nationalist and Stalinist bureaucrats , and the highly dubious ‘communist’ Mao, Badiou has to answer on the terrain of History. As illustrated at length in the writings of  Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, and who had an enormous effect on the European radical left in the 1970s, though apparently not on Badiou. (1)

A settling of accounts with that blood-stained History is something Badiou has never done.

All he can do is to repeat, when presented with these and other facts, is  that, “la démocratie, sous sa forme parlementaire, interdit tout changement d’ampleur ” – parliamentary democracy banishes all form of substantive change.”

Many leftists would not see the commands of the Great Helmsman as an alternative to democracy tout court.

Anouk Barberousse and  Philippe Huneman are therefore right to highlight the abstract absurdity of a system based on a system based on an ontological  system.

If anything they are too kind about Badiou’s groupuscule’s past.

The second comment in the article comes from le Monde’s  Julie Clarini. She asks whether the hoax is not part of a fight within the radical left (gauche radicale).

Indeed it is – here. Badiou decides on the ‘Event’ of the cultural revolution. His practice (which Wikipedia registers only in his ephemeral L’organisation politique) goes back to the subject of this Blog post below – not to mention the Tendance’s own political background as a Marxist and leftist opponent of the kind of ‘Maoism’ Badiou stood for.


(1) Laurent Joffrin, (Libération) with whom we do not always agree, probably almost never agree with,  makes this salient summary of this appalling position,

On se permettra donc de rappeler, sur le même ton de légèreté, que cet amusant «bond en avant», lancé par Mao pour mettre en œuvre son «hypothèse communiste», a déclenché l’une des plus terribles famines que la Chine ait jamais connues, pendant laquelle, sans doute pour se donner un air d’anticonformisme révolutionnaire, les familles affamées mangeaient des écorces, des rideaux ou des excréments et, dans certains cas, encore plus distrayants, mangeaient leurs jeunes enfants pour survivre. Au total, on estime que la politique de Mao à cette époque a causé la mort de plus de vingt millions de personnes, sur lesquelles on passera rapidement dans le souci de ne pas gâcher l’ambiance. Comme le dit Badiou en parlant de Mao et de son régime, «les caricatures sont tellement faciles».

Put briefly Laurent remarks that the jolly old Great Leap Forward alone resulted in intense suffering and countless millions of deaths.

 So here is a look at the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ past of Badiou:

Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Alain Badiou’s political philosophy is, apparently, grounded on singular situated truths and potential revolutions. Fidelity to the invariant truth is a matter of procedure. What he calls an ‘Idea’’ has three basic elements, “a truth procedure, a belonging to history and individual subjectivation”. Authenticity, we might say were we admirers of Sartre’s philosophy, hangs in there.

This has a range (to put it as its most modest) of applications. But Badiou is best known for his politics (which are not renowned for their modesty).

On the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’, the professor has aroused controversy time and time again by giving a positive, glowing, account (“at any rate from 1965 to 1968” although he does not give the exact day of the week in this time-span) of this “political truth”. (1) These have had local, indeed spatial, moorings, no doubt, for example, in Maoist re-education camps as well as some time in Shanghai. There is the also the possibility of becoming a “militant for the truth”, perhaps, one might hazard, exemplified in the acts of the Union des communistes de France (marxiste-léninistes), the UJM (M-L) founded in 1969 by Alain Badiou and others whose names, sadly or not, few can recall or care about.

On the issue of Communism the professor has declaimed that the “Idea of communism, subjectivation constituted the link between the local belonging to a political procedure and the huge forward march towards its collective emancipation. To give out a flyer in a marketplace was also to mount the stage of History” (2) In the light of, er, recent and not so recent events, Badiou is not enthusiastic about the State’s ability to deliver Communism. A True Communist Event occurs only when it is “subtracted from the power of the State. “ Yet he notes with pleasure that Mao “had begun” to deal with this issue, incarnated by Stalin, “in a number of his writings” – which Badiou has commented on “guided by the eternity of the True.” (3)

Alain Badiou is perhaps reticent, for reasons which will become apparent,  to mention that he too has mounted History’s stage. He too has experience of the “vigorous subjective existence of the communist hypothesis.” Indeed as Francis Dosse’s biography Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée (2009) illustrates in a fascinating snapshot, it was indeed “vigorous”.

In the journal of the UJM (M-L) Cahier Yénan (No 4. 1977) Badiou attacked the celebrated joint work of Deleuze and Guattari, L’anti-Œdipe as “vulgar moralisers”, and for ignoring the scientific teachings of Marxism-Leninism. The second piece under the pseudonym of Georges Peyrol, was titled, Le fascime de la pomme de terre. Badiou observed that the pair were “pre-fascists”. Badiou frothed at the metaphor of the “rhizome”, to grasp the tentacles of multiple being, the proliferation of social shoots (most celebrated in their Mille plateaux1980). The Ontologist detected a parallel with Lin Biao’s revisionism, the One that dived into Two, had subtly become the One that symbolised the Tyrant. (4)

Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.

At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.

The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.

When Deleuze passed away in 1995, Badiou, Dosse recounts, gave him a “vibrant homage.” He considered himself a “worthy successor” of Deleuze in his present Chair, on condition that one read him in the light of the “bonne philosophie” (the right philosophy). According to Dosse Badiou revealed that in 1991 he had proposed to Delueze to hold a public exchange of views (at the time when one of the Deleuze’s best-known works, What is Philosophy, was published). This was refused but as the resulting correspondence, giving reasons for this refusal, was apparently important. He equally refused to let this be published, which left Badiou with material he could not render public.

The book which did get to the printers, is Badiou’s, Delueze. La Clameur de l’Être (1997). It no doubt interests those fascinated by the obscurity of a (until very recent) apologist for the Khmer Rouge, and a conformed admirer of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. What rankles Dosse is that Badiou baldly repeats a much earlier idea: that Deleuze’s philosophy centres on the ONE, “C’est la venue de l’Un, renommé par Delueze l’Un-tout, que se consacre, dans sa plus haute destination, la pensée.” (5) In other words, he repeated, at the core of this ‘study’  the ridiculous claims he made back in the days of Cahier Yénan dressed up in more elliptical and pretentious language. He further – we note ourselves –  charged that Deleuze was something of a Stoic – which to many people has more than w whiff of his old ‘cultural revolution’ or more exactly Gang of Four  thinking about attacking ‘Confucius’.

Still, at least he didn’t call him once more a ‘pre-fascist’.

That’s Badiou for fidelity, hein?


(1) Page 2. The Idea of Communism. Alain Badiou. In The Idea of Communism. Edited Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Žižek. Verso. 2010. (2) Page 4. Badiou. Op cit. (3) Page 10.  Badiou. Op cit. (4) Pages 432 – 434. Francis Dosse Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée La Découverte. 2009 (5) Page 435. Dosse Op cit.

Everything (mostly) that you wanted to know about the politics of the fraud Badiou here: Révolution culturelle : Alain Badiou, le Grand Prestidigitateur.CLAUDE HUDELOT

This is worth noting, although it includes a link to Badiou’s evasive responses, Editor Calls Badiou a “Frozen Dinosaur”

Badiou is no stranger to Maoist militancy of his own. When he worked at the same university as Gilles Deleuze, he declared Deleuze an “enemy of the people” and would bring groups of fellow Maoists to disrupt the class.

About 12 years ago I wrote a lengthy critique of Badiou’s Ethics and his tendentious claims about the universalism of Saint Paul.  Unfortunately it’s in a format I can’t Blog with. But believe me, there is a more, a lot more, to say…


Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2016 at 11:15 am

Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought: Aravindan Balakrishnan “Abused and Raped Followers” Court is Told.

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Cult leader Comrade Bala ‘abused followers in brutal campaign of degradation’

Thanks Sarah Jones. 

More reports,

BBC: Communist cult leader ‘imprisoned daughter’.

Guardian:  Brixton commune leader locked up daughter and raped acolytes, jury told. Court hears Aravindan Balakrishman, 75, mounted campaign of ‘debilitating mental and physical violence’ against the women in his collective

The Independent.

Aravindan Balakrishnan: Court hears Maoist cult leader ‘raped female followers and imprisoned daughter for 30 years’

The 75-year-old ruled over a band of women supporters in his south London communist collective  Paul Peachey.

A charismatic Maoist revolutionary raped female followers and imprisoned his own daughter for 30 years after brainwashing them into believing he was an all-powerful and all-seeing leader, a court heard today.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, ruled over a dwindling band of women supporters in his south London communist collective using threats and violence as he pursued his goal of overthrowing the “fascist state”, jurors were told.

His daughter – whose mother was another member of the collective – was beaten, bullied and rarely left the house with Mr Balakrishnan using her fear of the outside world to terrify her into submission, Southwark Crown Court heard.

She never went to school, played with a friend or saw a doctor during her childhood and the power that he held over her meant that she could not leave for the first three decades of her life, said Rosina Cottage QC, counsel for the prosecution. By the time that she left, she was ill with diabetes.

“She was hidden from the outside world, and it kept from her, except as a tool with which to terrify her into subjugation,” said Ms Cottage, opening the case for the prosecution.

“Her freedom of movement was restrained to the extent that even though she could have left physically, the power that the defendant exercised over her meant that she could never leave.”

Mr Balakrishnan, a charismatic and energetic speaker, was the organiser of a communist group in the 1970s based in Brixton, known as the Workers Institute, the court heard.

He is accused of raping and indecently assaulting two women members of the group, including one who was allegedly attacked seven times over a period of about 12 years from 1980.

“This case concerns the brutal and calculated manipulation by one man to subjugate women under his control,” said Ms Cottage. He bent them to his will using mental and physical dominance, violence and sexual degradation, she said.

The two victims of rape stayed in the collective too frightened to leave and hating to stay, said Ms Cottage. “They were forced into sexual acts over which they had no choice and were deliberately degrading and humiliating. He seemed to exult in his power over them.”

Background: Lambeth slavery case.

Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought.

London slavery: Maoist group moved from activism to paranoia-driven cult mentality, say British leftists.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: As more is revealed about the activities of the cult-like group in Lambeth now being investigated for holding three women in slavery, other far-left groups in the UK remain bemused about what happened.

In the 1960s and 1970s, parties to the left of the Labour Party of UK Prime Minister Harold Wildon became increasingly disenchanted with his soft socialist approach.

They became heavily radicalised and also underwent many internal splits.

Larger groups of the time included the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain and a number of Trotskyist movements like Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Ted Grant’s group that eventually became the Militant tendency within the Labour Party).

However the tiny group led by Aravindan Balakrishnan (better known as Comrade Bala) was itself a radical splinter party of the Communist Party of England Marxist Leninist [CPB-ML) that was an oddity even within far left circles. Indeed his Workers Institute offshoot was described as “the most lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe” by the London Times in the late 1970s.

Dr Paul Flewers first came across the Workers Institute group in the late 1970s. Now an independent Marxist he was then a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, later the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is now defunct. He recalls competing for customers as they distributed rival paper newspapers and leaflets in Brixton.

“The WI was very hostile to other left groups. It had been banned from attending other groups’ meetings because of its disruptive activities (disobeying the chairman, shouting out and interrupting speakers, etc).” said Flewers in an email interview.

“We didn’t talk about brainwashing or abuse, we just wondered how people could genuinely believe its policies, which, when compared to even the most bizarre statements from left-wingers over the decades, were about the weirdest anyone had ever seen!”

“People do follow charismatic leaders, a person who can express with ease and confidence the overall view of the group to which one is attracted to. Even intelligent people can end up accepting illogical things if they are part of a broad package that they generally accept.”

“There often comes a time when something makes a person think that this or that aspect of the group’s policies or behaviour isn’t quite right; then the leader’s charisma looks less convincing, he now seems less omniscient. Group loyalists start to look as if they have stopped thinking creatively and merely accept by rote what the party leader and leadership declare.”

Like most others, Flewers recalls some major flaws in WI’s ideology, calling it “totally unreal, with no relationship with reality. Britain was a ‘fascist’ state in its eyes. China was going to liberate the UK from this by means of the People’s Liberation Army, China had indeed secretly established the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain — so the workers really ruled (if in secret) in a fascist state! Completely mad!

As more and more people deserted the group, particularly after a police raid on party premises in 1978, it eventually descended into more of a cult controlled by Comrade Bala and his wife.

“The WI’s offices were raided by the police. This sort of thing is a very rare occurrence in Britain, and I suspect that Comrade Bala, paranoid to start with, saw this as the start of a general clampdown so he and his depleted ranks went underground. The British police state actually existed in Comrade Bala’s mind.”

“They suddenly disappeared. After the early 1980s, there was not the slightest sign of them. I think that the two older women in this current case went voluntarily with Mr and Mrs Comrade Bala into clandestinity.”

“Eventually, despite being kept indoors with only limited contact with the outside world, these two women would begin to doubt Comrade Bala’s ideas about Britain as a fascist police state and along with a general feel that they’d like to get out, they finally decided to break with him. The younger woman, born, raised and educated in clandestinity, could see that there was a better life outside which she was being denied.

While familiar with the group by sight then Flewers did not know their names and can only affirm that most of Comrade Bala’s followers were women of Asian descent.

It has to be said that both the SWP and the WRP have also had their own scandals relating to allegations of abuse. Earlier this year, members of the SWP accused the party of covering up rapes and sexual assault by referring them to the party’s own committee which allegedly let offenders offer lightly.

Flewers adds “The Healy group — Socialist Labour League, becoming the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974 — was also very paranoid about state interference and surveillance; it was very intolerable of internal dissent; Healy was exposed as an abuser of his membership, physically assaulting members at times, sexually abusing female members as well!”

Meanwhile Socialist historian Keith Flett in a blog post commented on the broader effect that the slavery case might have on the small British Maoist community. “British Maoism is getting bad press, which considering how few adherents it had even at its peak is quite an achievement. Of course part of that is the media trying to conflate Maoism with anyone much to the left of Blair.”

“British Maoists like Reg Birch, an engineering union official who founded the first UK Maoist organisation the Communist Party of Britain Marxist Leninist, were largely good activists in trade unions and the wider move.” said Flett, characterising British Maoists as mostly good comrades and mostly harmless.

A poster Grim and Dim recalls Comrade Bala’s group somewhat amusingly. “I well remember the Workers Institute from the 70s. Their main slogan was “Did tunnels deep, store grain and never seek hegemony”. It didn’t seem terrible relevant in 1970s London (though it was rumoured one of their members worked on the tube. I am mystified by claims that they had 20+ members – we always reckoned there were three of them!”

This is more horrific than we thought.

All our concern and love to those seeking justice.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Balakrishnan, Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Thought, Charged.

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Not Very Funny Now.

Just announced: “Man charged in London ‘slavery’ inquiry

Police have charged a man with false imprisonment, rape and child cruelty in a suspected slavery case in London.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 74, has been charged with one count of cruelty to a person under 16, four counts of rape and 19 counts of indecent assault.

The suspected offences relate to three women. No further action is being taken regarding his wife arrested last year.

Mr Balakrishnan, who was arrested in Lambeth in November 2013, is due before Westminster magistrates on 17 December.

Anthony Connell, senior prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said there was “insufficient evidence” for the prospect of conviction relating to Balakrishnan’s wife who was arrested at the same time.

The three alleged victims – a Briton in her 30s, an Irish woman in her 50s and a Malaysian woman in her 70s – were rescued from an address in Brixton in October 2013.

The false imprisonment charge against Mr Balakrishnan relates to a 14-year period between January 1999 and October 2013.

The four rape charges span periods from 1980 to 1983, and the indecent assault charges cover periods from 1980 to 1992.

Another woman connected to Mr Balakrishnan, Sian Davies from west Wales, died aged 43 in 1997 at the house where they were living.”


Balakrishnan ran the The Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought

The Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought (substituting Mao Zedong Thought after 1979) was created in 1974 when Aravindan Balakrishnan (popularly known as Bala), formerly a member of the National Executive Committee and Central Committee of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), led a break-away from that organization. The new organisation was characterized by the ultra-left posturing and Mao worship formerly evident in the CPE (ML) or, as Bala described them: the “Communist” Party of Elizabeth (Most-Loyal).

Drawing upon the Chinese experience of base areas, the Institute argued in favour of revolutionaries being based in working class communities, “the weakest link for the fascist state system” where political mobilisation involved whole families free from the “fascist rules and regulations and job security” involved in workplaces or educational institutions. Here revolutionary cadre could integrate and learn from the “sterling qualities of the labouring people while raising the intellectual level of the workers. Taking a working class job in the community is vital for this.”

On the left, when they were active (in the 1970s) we thought this was amusing, and made fun of the sect, collecting their mimeographed ‘paper’, laughing and imitating it.

It doesn’t seem very funny now.


The Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought (known as the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought until 1979) was a small Maoist political party based in Brixton, London. It was formed by Aravindan Balakrishnan in 1974 after his expulsion from the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). They began publishing the South London Workers’ Bulletin from a south London squat, aiming to build a “red base” in Brixton and encourage the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to liberate the area. This came to broader attention when the diarist in The Times in April 1977 reported some of the group’s material as an amusing aside.

The Workers’ Institute claimed affiliation to the Communist Party of China. A document by the group issued in 1977 argued that the British population was moving in a “revolutionary direction”.Balakrishnan prophesied that China’s People’s Liberation Army would have launched a revolutionary invasion of Britain by 1980. Their headquarters in Acre Lane, Brixton, known as the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, opened in October 1976. “This new development”, the 1977 document asserted, “has taken the British fascist state by storm”.[5] The groups remaining members moved underground following a police raid on these premises in 1978. In 1982, Steve Rayner wrote a study of the organisation and critiqued its presentism. Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, said of the group in November 2013 “If one were to be brutally honest they were more of psychiatric interest than political interest. They had nothing to do with the mainstream leftwing and communist politics of the day.”

In 2013, the former leaders of the group were arrested as suspects in the Lambeth slavery case, allegedly being responsible for the enslavement and domestic abuse of three women. Balakrishnan was formally charged with multiple offences on 11 December 2014. No further legal action is to be taken against his wife.

Hatful of History (November 2013)

Inside the paranoid Maoist cults of 1970s Britain: A post at The Conversation UK

By now, the internet is awash with material on the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and the alleged ‘domestic slavery’ case. The Conversation (UK) has published a brief article by myself on the Workers’ Institute and the political milieu they emerged from the 1970s. The piece opens with the following:

The couple accused in the case of alleged “domestic slavery” in London were reportedly the leaders of a tiny Maoist sect, the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, which had gone “underground” in the late 1970s. To understand how the Workers’ Institute ended up so far off the radar, we need to understand where they came from – the strange world of radical Maoist politics in 1970s London.

And the rest can be viewed here.

I would like thank Sam Richards from the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online for his help with sources and additional information, Matt Fitzpatrick and David Lockwood for reading the draft version  and Andrew from The Conversation for his editorial work.

I thought readers might also be interested in some observations made by Sam, which I wasn’t able to incorporate into the final article:

1) It was the Cultural Revolution that inspired a new wave of Maoist organisations, largely populated by (previously non-aligned) students. They were joined by some anti-revisionists (mainly ex-Communist Party members)  active in the original groups, but those original groups faded away. English Maoism was at its most active a new, radical and immersed in Maoist rhetoric and imagery.

2) These groups were consciously internationalist: the Communist Party of England (ML) was (and remained throughout its name changes) part of ‘The Internationalist’ trend led by Hardial Bains, founder-leader of the Communist Party of Canada (ML).

3) Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist) judged they had “adopted ’Maoism’ as a source of slogans, ritual chants and the focus for a student cult” in Imperialism and the Struggle for a Revolutionary Party (1974).

4) While the Workers’ Institute was both small in size and largely separate from the other maoist groups, there was always the embarrassment that they would be thought of as “typical Maoists”. In fact the splintering of the Maoist trend in the late 1970s did see the largest (Birch’s CPBML) and the third largest (CPEML under their new name of RCPBML) side with Albania – that is the “supermaoists” of the sixties denounced Mao as anti-Marxist.

5) An alternative journalist viewpoint from 1978, available on EROL, showed that at the time,  the Institute was equally regarded as strange.

“A short guide to Maoists in Britain”, The Leveller, No.20, November 1978:
“An encounter with the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought [“we have undertaken the unprecedented task of building the first stable base area in the imperialist heartlands, in and around Brixton …this has driven the British bourgeoisie up the wall”], truly the most lunatic of the lunatic fringe of left politics in Britain, can be an unsettling experience. Tiny in numbers and fanatical in zeal, carrying dogmatism, rhetoric and sectarianism to ever greater extremes, it is many people’s idea of a typical Maoist group.

Not so. Terry Ilott and John Dawes report that of the numerous Maoist groups, there are some which, though small and theoretically weak (unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world) we might take more seriously than we do.”

Sam also provided some unseen pictures of the Workers’ Institute, which you can see in this post.

And as I wrote here, the history of British Maoism still needs to be written!


Tendance Coatesy has carried material on French Maoism which indicates a similar degree of political intensity, if not insanity:

Written by Andrew Coates

December 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Les Maoïstes. Christophe Bourseiller, Review and Reflections.

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Reflections on Les maoïstes. La folle histoire des gardes rouges français. Christophe Bourseiller. 2nd Edition. Plon. 2008

“Soutien à contre-courant des Khmers Rouges contre l’invasion vietnamienne.” Support, against the trend, for the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese invasion. 10 ans de Maoïsme. UCFML . 1981.

“As for us, the UCFML, I’d say that we were a centre-left organisation, in the sense always advocated by Mao, who described himself as a centrist.” Alain Badiou. 2008.

“Contradiction is present in the development of all things; it permeates the process of development of each thing from beginning to end. Mao Tse-Tung. On Contradiction. (1)

Maoists, or as admirers of the Chinese Communist Party leader called themselves, Marxist-Leninists (M-L), were an important political current on the European far-left during the late sixties and ‘seventies. So tangibly present then, and so absent today Christophe Bourseiller begins by asking if they were images in a dream.

It’s hard to recall that groups like the Parti du Travail Belge (PTB) or the Socialistische Partij (SP) in Holland, or that some of the most conservative individuals in the German Greens, had M-L origins, and intensely admired Chinese Communism. As a public movement Maoism, even its less personalised M-L form, is, apart from some small associations of migrant workers, and traces in the deep obscurity of Alain Badiou’s metaphysics, effectively dead.

The most famous disappearing act of all was French Maoism.

Long gone are the days when a young British leftist could find, with excitement, a copy of the daily Humanité Rouge in a rural French town kiosk.

Yet those who were engaged in the meteoric rise and fall of Gallic Marxist-Leninism have not been silent about their experiences.

But their accounts, marked by the precious gift of hindsight, are very partial. How can one write about Maoism when one has not been a Maoist? shouted one woman to Bourseiller after a debate on France Culture after the first edition of his study in 1996. Extremely lucidly, is the reply.

Les Maoists presents their history from the standpoint of the “réalité multiple” of the period and the different groups following the Great Helmsman’s line. That is more than needed. The Maoists, and their opponents, were split into more rival ideological city-fortresses than China Miéville’s Besźel and Ul Qoma (The City and the City. 2009). Bourseiller is not afraid to open breaches in the narrative former Maoists have constructed, and to observe what many have ‘unseen’. He sheds light on what remains, for the non-Maoist left, a political enigma to this day.

French Maoism originated in the crosshatched world of French orthodox Communism, as supporters of an orthodox pro-Chinese current that broke with the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). In 1963 the 25 point letter from the Chinese Communist Party attacking the ‘revisionist’ USSR’s leaders gave heart to those, with counterparts across the world Communist movement, who hankered for a purer ‘Marxism-Leninism’ than post-Stalinist Russia offered. Non-party M-L circles began to appear.

Some stayed for a long time in parallel lines within the PCF. The process of forming new M-L parties so far resembles that in many other countries, that is, of ‘first wave’ Marxist-Leninism, such as the ancestors of the Communist Party of Britain (M-L) nostalgic for the certainties of the Comintern and the Soviet fatherland, who found an anchor in Beijing.

But Reg Birch never ran up against the PCF.  The French  Party tried with exceptional violence (that is physical attacks) to suppress any public manifestation of pro-Chinese communism. In 1967 a “véritable armée” of PCF thugs attacked a meeting at the Mutualité of the newly formed Mouvement Communiste Français (M-L). The MCFML did not crumble but remained

But the new political current’s cultural impact had been growing, helped by a degree of sympathy from less politicised Sinophiles. In the mid-6os, younger intellectuals like Robert Linhart, close to the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, developed M-L ideology in the Cahiers Marxiste-Leniniste. The Chinese Cultural Revolution profoundly impressed this ‘second wave’.

Their Marxism mixed Mao and Althusser, the Little Red Book and Lire le Capital. But efforts to wage factional battles inside the student Communist organisation, the UEC, ran into a brick wall. Red Guards were not welcome. The UEC excluded them. They set up new organisations, such as the Union de Jeuenesses Communistes (M-L), UJC (M-L) – 1967, that soon aimed to expand beyond the student milieu. Theoretical practice (unlike the British journal of that name) would never to be purely academic, but an arm of political struggle. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

June 3, 2011 at 10:52 am