Badiou on the Cultural Revolution

Here’s an article I found [PDF]. I’m planning on reading it this weekend to try to cure my probably under-informed knee-jerk reaction that advocating the Cultural Revolution is similar to being really excited about Stalin’s purges.

15 Responses to “Badiou on the Cultural Revolution”

  1. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    For readers, this is also published in the Communist Hypothesis.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Have others read this? If I’m understanding it, it seems as though what Badiou likes about the Cultural Revolution is two-fold — first, the gesture of absolute, uncompromising revolution (completely destroying previous social formations, making it clear that everything is new and up for grabs), and second, the fact that it takes a certain process to the limit so that we now know with absolute certainty that a revolution that takes the state as its horizon will always be recuperated by the state.

    Does that sound right? I know we have tons of Badiouians lurking….

  3. Patrik Says:

    I liked how open he is about nostalgia as a motivation for the discussion. And really, maoist jargon is pretty cool. “To change the human being in what is most profound.” etc.

    What I find interesting is the way he uses “political questions” as a hermeneutical tool to study a historical process – though he does it in a rather convenient way – e.g. reinterpreting the scope in time of the cultural revolution.

  4. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Adam, yes, that seems about right. I was involved in a reading group with some from RCPUSA folk, led by Bill Martin, and hey seemed to think it pointed to tension involved in, you know, needing like medical records after the revolution, but making that revolution outside the bounds of the state.

  5. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’ve been really bothered by the fact that there isn’t any good history, combined with good philosophy, of the failed attempts at cultural revolution (the one in China, the Khmer Rouge, the first century Christian experience, the Ismaili experience at Alamut, and so on).

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Sounds like maybe you’ll just have to do it yourself!

  7. zjb Says:

    Sorry, but am not seeing how you dis-entangle the absolutes of cultural revolution from The Cultural Revolution and the murder of millions. Too grotesque for me.

  8. jools Says:

    This Badiou essay isn’t too bad, but like almost all scholarship relating to the GPCR, it focuses far too heavily on political texts and the urban situation, and only seems to really examine the rural GPCR experience through the lens of student rebels going to the countryside. It touches on the most important aspect of the GPCR in the section on the power seizures – but this should be linked more strongly to the discussion of Mao’s cult of personality.

    As a sidenote, I would say a current example of this Maoist type of cult of personality is actually coming into being in Venezuela – it is a regular occurrence for the offices of regional rightist PSUV leaders (as the opposition has actually moved inside the PSUV to quite a large extent) to be occupied in the name of Chavez. I’ve not seen any discussion of this using Badiou’s framework for a Maoist cult of personality – it would probably be quite interesting.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It’s hard for me to get past the sense that Badiou views this as the purest revolution because it was revolution for its own sake — as though we would solve the “morning after” problem by just never having a morning after. Yet it seems to me that the revolution is a means, not an end.

    Perhaps I’m missing some crucial nuance, though.

  10. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    Some argue the notion of “cultural revolution” goes back to the French Revolution, but it certainly does have a huge use in post-1917 Soviet Russia – Bolsheviks always talked about political and cultural revolution, socio-economic and cultural liberation and so on. “Proletarian culture” movement (1917-1920) aka Prolekcult is something to look into for history, I think. All of this basically died by 1930 with the rise of Stalinism. So in some sense, “cultural revolution” is the exact opposite of “Stalinist revolution” – one attempts to create the new humankind through culture, the other by simply killing off the previous sort of humans (“old Bolsheviks” with ideas of democratic centralism and so on).

  11. How cultural is your cultural revolution? | Perverse Egalitarianism Says:

    […] your cultural revolution? Posted on October 7, 2012 by Mikhail Emelianov Adam Kotsko has a short post on Badiou’s essay on Chinese Cultural Revolution here – some comments follow. Having […]

  12. Matthijs Krul Says:

    Surely revolution is both a means *and* an end – the means of fundamental reform in order to achieve the end of the overthrow of existing conditions. The process of revolution itself has a transformative power, this has been well-described in the colonial context by Fanon and the like.

  13. John Bloomberg-Rissman Says:

    A Chinese colleague, who lived in Shanghai but who was relocated to the country (not as a student) and whose father died of a heart attack as a result of one of the CR’s shamings (you know, kneel down, hang this sign around your neck) read Badiou on the Cultural Revolution at my request and said he nailed it.

  14. ambzone Says:


    “Sorry, but am not seeing how you dis-entangle the absolutes of ________ from ________ and the murder of millions. Too grotesque for me.”

    Very fecund disqualifier there, zjb. Is there a specific time-limit within which the millions must be racked up, and is the liberal interpretation of what constitutes deliberate murder intended also for non-Chinese contexts?

  15. cskolnik Says:

    “The Circle of Life” . . . obviously. Did you all see the latest Zizek?
    “The Buddhist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism,” for those who don’t want to be redirected through one of my blogs. But if you do . . .!/2012/10/excess-of-attachment_3.html

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