That said, we must grapple with what Badiou has written, not with what he has not. Salutary in his account is the direct disavowal of the political party and its conjunction with the state, now definitively obsolete as a mechanism for a revolutionary project: “The party-form has had its day, exhausted in a brief century by its state avatars.” This has been the philosopher’s (non-)party line for some time, and surely he means to provide an opening to grasp what might be provisionally new about the political volatility of the present. But it is on this point that Badiou and the book founder absolutely. For, still in thrall to the guiding Idea, he continues to assume and demand of us the very activity most closely identified with the party-form: organization: “Anyway, it remains the case,” he writes, “that, by formalizing the constitutive features of the event, organization makes it possible for its authority to be preserved….Organization transforms into political law the dictatorship of the true from which the reality of the historical riot derived its universal prestige.”
So: for Badiou, the Idea has in some sense replaced the party. Or, there is a triangle of riot/party/Idea, and it must now be the Idea rather than the party that shepherds the riot from immediate to historical, to communism. However, being itself immaterial, the Idea will require some manner of practical activity to realize itself down here — and that activity looks a lot like what the party once did. “I maintain that the time of organization,” he writes in a summary chapter, “the time of construction of an empirical duration of the Idea in its post-riot phase, is crucial.” Behold the Dictatorship of the Idea.
The exhortation to organize has been often heard in the dissolution of the various Occupy encampments here in the US, from left thinkers as various as Noam Chomsky, Doug Henwood, and Jodi Dean. And “organize” must in some regard be the right thing to do, in so far as it is a term both common-sensical and capacious in its lack of specificity. It risks being what Fredric Jameson calls a “pseudoconcept”: the imperative to “organize” comes down to, do that thing that causes you to be more rather than less effective. But lacking any further tactical clarity, the word inevitably backslides into the meaning it offered the last time around, redolent of sad-faced activists trying to sell you copies of Socialist Worker. In the face of this vast and mercurial irruption which Badiou’s book wishes to register, the call to “organize” serves for the moment as the chorus to a paradoxical song: this new politics is fantastic, but it seems to have reached its limits; we need…the old politics!
Badiou’s communism thus drives itself straightaway into the ditch separating new from the old: “at a distance from the state,” but still fundamentally oriented toward hoary ideas about the state’s withering away. Though “organization” no longer means a party capable of seizing state power and directing its military and bureaucratic power toward particular programmatic ends, it does mean that “[y]ou decide what the state must do and find the means of forcing it to, while always keeping your distance from the state…” And yet this orientation toward the state – regardless of its reliance on telekinesis rather than direct contact – reproduces the primary weakness of the riots and uprisings of the present, the very thing it seeks to overcome.