The Birbeck Institute for the Humanities
Birbeck University of London
On the Idea of Communism
Conference 13th,14th & 15th March
“It’s just the simple thing that’s hard, so hard to do.”(B.Brecht)
The year of 1990 stands for the triple defeat of the Left: the retreat of the social-democratic Welfare State politics in the developed First World, the disintegration of the Soviet-style Socialist states in the industrialized Second World, and the retreat of emancipatory movements in the Third World. A certain epoch was thereby over, the epoch which began with the October Revolution and was characterized by the Party-State form of organization. Does this mean that the time of radical emancipatory politics is over?
In recent years, there are multiple signs which indicate the need for a new beginning. The utopia of the 1990, the Fukuyamaist “end of history” (liberal-democratic capitalist as the finally found natural social order) died twice in the first decade of the XXIst century. While the 9/11 attacks signaled its political death, the financial crisis of 2008 signals its economic death. In these new conditions, the task is not only to reflect on new strategies, but to radically rethink the most basic coordinates of emancipatory politics. One should go well beyond the rejection of the Party-State Left in its “Stalinist” form – a common place today -, and extend this rejection to the entire field of the “democratic Left” as the strategy to reform the system from within its representative-democratic state form. Much more than the debacle of the Really-Existing Socialism, the defeat of 1990 was the final defeat of this “democratic Left.”
This defeat raises the question: is “Communism” still the name to be used to designate the horizon of radical emancipatory projects? In spite of their theoretical differences, the participants share the thesis that one should remain faithful to the name “Communism”: this name is potent to serve as the Idea which guides our activity, as well as the instrument which enables us to expose the catastrophes of the XXth century politics, those of the Left included. The symposium will not deal with practico-political questions of how to analyze the latest economic, political, and military troubles, or how to organize a new political movement. More radical questioning is needed today - this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with Communism as a philosophical concept, advocating a precise and strong thesis: from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher.
“The communist hypothesis remains the good one, I do not see any other. If we have to abandon this hypothesis, then it is no longer worth doing anything at all in the field of collective action. Without the horizon of communism, without this Idea, there is nothing in the historical and political becoming of any interest to a philosopher. Let everyone bother about his own affairs, and let us stop talking about it. In this case, the rat-man is right, as is, by the way, the case with some ex-communists who are either avid of their rents or who lost courage. However, to hold on to the Idea, to the existence of this hypothesis, does not mean that we should retain its first form of presentation which was centered on property and State. In fact, what is imposed on us as a task, even as a philosophical obligation, is to help a new mode of existence of the hypothesis to deploy itself.” (Alain Badiou)
Judith Balso, Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Ranciere, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano, Gianni Vattimo, Wang Hui, Slavoj Zizek