[Marxism] New Statesman | How the west embraced Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 28 06:47:42 MDT 2014

  Julian Bourg recounts how in France Mao’s thoughts became à la mode 
with the August 1967 release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s film 
about a youthful Parisian Maoist sect. Among French thinkers, Bourg 
notes, “Mao’s language of violence had a certain rhetorical appeal.” In 
fact, it was his combination of rhetorical violence with sub-Hegelian 
dialectical logic that proved so irresistible to sections of the French 
intelligentsia. Eulogising Mao’s distinction between principal and 
secondary contradictions, Louis Althusser deployed Maoist categories as 
part of an extremely abstract and, indeed, largely meaningless defence 
of “the relative autonomy of theory”.

Althusser’s student Alain Badiou (for many years professor of philosophy 
at the École Normale Supérieure) continued to defend Maoism long after 
the scale of its casualties had become undeniable. As recently as 2008, 
while commending himself for being “now one of Maoism’s few noteworthy 
representatives”, Badiou praised Mao’s thought as “a new politics of the 
negation of the negation”. From one point of view, this stance is merely 
contemptible – a professorial pirouette around a vast pile of corpses. 
But one must bear in mind the fathomless frivolity of some on the French 
left. Already in 1980, two former Maoist militants had announced their 
rejection of the creed in the language of fashion: “China was in . . . 
Now it is out . . . we are no longer Maoists.” Against this background, 
Badiou’s persistence is almost heroically absurd.


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