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Alain Badiou: "Vote, or reinvent politics?"


With the first round of French presidential elections scheduled for April 23, Alain Badiou weighs in on the question of whether the dominant system can ever truly be changed through voting. In a piece published in Le Monde and translated by David Broder for the Verso blog, Badiou argues that voting only upholds a fundamentally conservative system, and that the real political goal should be to “reinvent communism.” Here’s an excerpt:

If we are to oppose this terrible turn of things, only one path is open to us: to reinvent communism. This greatly spat-upon word must be picked up again, cleaned, recreated. It heralds — as it has for less than two centuries, but in a great vision backed up by the real — a liberation of humanity. A few decades of unprecedented attempts — violent because they were brutally encircled and attacked, and finally doomed to defeat — cannot convince anyone of good faith that they are enough to wipe out this prospect, forcing us to give up on realising it forever.

So, should we vote, then? Fundamentally, we should be indifferent to this demand, coming from the state and its organisations. By now, we should all know that to vote is but to reinforce one of the conservative orientations of the existing system.

Brought back to its real contents, the vote is a ceremony that depoliticises peoples. We must begin by everywhere properly re-establishing the communist vision of the future. Convinced militants must everywhere go and discuss its principles among all the popular contexts of the world. As Mao proposed, we must “render to the people, in its specificity, what it gives us amidst the confusion.” And that is reinventing politics.

Image: French presidential candidates (from left) Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron. Via Yahoo News.


If the (political) event is made up of both the event itself and the situation in which the event occurs, as Badiou contends, does it not make sense to engage the situation in order to allow for the most felicitous unfolding of the event? The revolution has a better chance of success under Mélenchon than it does under Fillon. Voting, then, would constitute the act of laying the ground for the revolution; not a replacement for insurrection, but its necessary corollary.


In the US, a majority of people do not vote, and do so not because they are occupied by reinventing politics but because they (rightfully) see no role for themselves at all in shaping the larger society in any significant way. Its not an either / or situation. While the outcome of recent elections has been far from ideal, Sanders introduced and energized basic concepts of a popular left (previously absent in the US) & Mélenchon has done the same in France. While i agree it shouldnt be the lefts main focus, it is worth considering, as nwhite points out, how the communist project can gain support, momentum & favorable context resulting from electoral politics.