In the context of a debate with Marcel Gauchet on the theme ‘communism and democracy’ I invoked certain characteristics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in service of a complex argument. This proved sufficient for Laurent Joffrin to abandon instantly the toil that doubtless occupies all of his time – the soft laying-off of almost a hundred employees from the Libération newspaper – to give his verdict: Badiou 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 the 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.
Perhaps Joffrin did not spend long enough thinking about the formulation that I used in the supposedly guilty text, since counting the death toll stands for nothing in terms of political analysis. 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. Well, the question of political communism is far more modern than the question of liberal democracy, which was exhausted in its 1840s origins (1), and the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, including the lessons of its failure, are far more appropriate to addressing contemporary problems – capitalism going wild, inequalities returning to pre-World War I levels, the brutalising development of the division of labour, the dismantling and/or privatisation of everything meant to serve the general interest, not to forget the striking stagnation in political inventiveness – than the lessons of the French Revolution could ever be, whatever their lasting importance. In this regard, Joffrin is certainly more outdated, old-fashioned and out of touch than I am.