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  • The Cultural Revolution:The Last Revolution?
  • Alain Badiou (bio)
    Translated by Bruno Bosteels (bio)


Why discuss the "Cultural Revolution"—which is the official name for a long period of serious disturbances in communist China between 1965 and 1976? For at least three reasons:

1. The Cultural Revolution has been a constant and lively reference of militant activity throughout the world, and particularly in France, at least between 1967 and 1976. It is part of our political history and the basis for the existence of the Maoist current, the only true political creation of the sixties and seventies. I can say "our," I was part of it, and in a certain sense, to quote Rimbaud, "I am there, I am still there." In the untiring inventiveness of the Chinese revolutionaries, all sorts of subjective and practical trajectories have found their name. Already, to change subjectivity, to live otherwise, to think otherwise: the Chinese—and then we—called that [End Page 481] "revolutionarization." They said: "To change the human being in what is most profound." They taught that in political practice, we must be both at once "the arrow and the bull's eye," because the old worldview is also still present within us. By the end of the sixties, we went everywhere: to the factories, to the suburbs, to the countryside. Tens of thousands of students became proletarian or went to live among the workers. For this too we had the words of the Cultural Revolution: the "great exchanges of experience," "to serve the people," and, always the essential slogan, the "mass alliance." We fought against the brutal inertia of the PCF [French Communist Party], against its violent conservatism. In China too the party bureaucracy was attacked; that was called "to struggle against revisionism." Even the splits, the confrontations between revolutionaries from different orientations, were referred to the Chinese way: "To hunt down the black gangsters," to be finished with those who are "leftist in appearance and rightist in reality." When we met with a popular political situation, a factory strike or a confrontation with the fascistic landlords, we knew that we had "to excel in the discovery of the proletarian Left, to rally the Center, to isolate and crush the Right." Mao's Little Red Book has been our guide, not at all, as the dummies say, in the service of dogmatic catechism but, on the contrary, in order for us to clarify and invent new ways in all sorts of disparate situations that were unknown to us. With regard to all this, since I am not one of those who cover their abandonment and their rallying to the established reaction with references to the psychology of illusions or to the morality of blindness, we can only quote our sources and pay homage to the Chinese revolutionaries.

2. The Cultural Revolution is the typical example (yet another notion from Maoism, the typical example: a revolutionary find that must be generalized) of a political experience that saturates the form of the party-state. I use the category of "saturation" in the sense given to it by Sylvain Lazarus:1 I will attempt to show that the Cultural Revolution is the last significant political sequence that is still internal to the party-state (in this case, the Chinese Communist Party) and fails as such. Already, May '68 and its aftermath, that is something slightly different. The Polish movement or Chiapas, that is something very different. The Political Organization, that is something absolutely different. But without the saturation of the sixties [End Page 482] and seventies, nothing would as yet be thinkable, outside the specter of the party-state, or the parties-state.2

3. The Cultural Revolution is a great lesson in history and politics, in history as thought from within politics (and not the other way around). Indeed, depending on whether we examine this "revolution" (the word itself lies at the heart of the saturation) according to the dominant historiography or according to a real political question, we arrive at gripping disagreements. What matters is for us to see clearly that the nature of this discord is not of the order of empirical or positivist exactness or lack thereof. We...


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pp. 481-514
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