Earlier this month Laurent Joffrin, Editorial Director of the French publication Libération, criticized Alain Badiou for his take on the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It wasn’t just his criticism that drew Badiou’s ire, but his choice words – Joffrin said Badiou “was a kind of Maoist dinosaur lost in our time.”
Today, the Verso blog has published a translated version of Badiou’s response that is thoroughly amazing and worth a read. Badiou starts by responding to the claim that he “is just a frozen dinosaur.”
Joffrin’s method of showing my frozenness is a simple and speedy one: the very expression ‘Cultural Revolution’ alone provokes in him he numerical ejaculation of ‘seven hundred thousand dead’, along with horrific – true – details regarding the abuse of a well-known intellectual at the hands of the Red Guards.
“Joffrin is certainly more outdated, old-fashioned and out of touch than I am,” Badiou writes, as he adds up the death toll from liberal democracies.
“Let’s imagine that in the course of a political discussion on democracy someone advanced arguments referring to some of the important episodes of the French Revolution. I suppose that Joffrin would have to cut them short, saying ‘The French Revolution? Really? 200,000 dead and the barbaric decapitation of the great poet André Chenier!’…? No, he wouldn’t, because he knows a little something about the French Revolution and its fundamental role in the development of modern democracies. So the point is that he knows nothing, and does not want to know anything, about the Cultural Revolution, and its no less fundamental role in the development of modern communism. He does not even know who killed whom, in what context and for what reason. “
” But let’s also recognise that the very-democratic-and-not-at-all-totalitarian First World War represented an orgy of death without parallel in the human devastation resulting from the Cultural Revolution. And to venture a subjective note, I will remind you that during my youth, when, seeing the colonial wars, I began to engage in the rigours of politics, the police stations of Paris played host to merciless torture. The freely elected government of the time was even led by a socialist. Isn’t it time that Joffrin tells us about the ‘democratic madness’?
Badiou goes on to defend his use of Maoist militancy, noting it was the “cliques in the Party” that seized power and “took China down the ‘capitalist road'” with “unparallelled brutality.” This, he argues, made the revolution fail to “realise its own ambitions.”
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 Maoist to disrupt the class.
Read Badiou’s full response here.