The Genre of the Party

This is the text of a talk giv­en at the inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence “Donne Polit­i­ca Utopia,” in hon­or of Rossana Rossan­da, Uni­ver­si­ty of Pado­va, May 14-15, 2010.

I have cho­sen “The Genre of the Par­ty” as a title, risk­ing a play on words in French as well as Ital­ian (what is the gen­der of the par­ty, or which type of par­ty?).1 It seemed impos­si­ble not to take advan­tage of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to eval­u­ate what is prob­lem­at­ic and needs to be rethought in the forms of polit­i­cal engage­ment tying me to Rossana Rossan­da, but also indi­rect­ly to Mario Tron­ti, Luciana Castel­li­na, and many oth­ers who might also be here today.2 I would like to briefly return to what might be the cen­tral prob­lem of polit­i­cal sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, where Marx­ist thought encoun­tered its lim­it and ulti­mate­ly hit an impasse: the par­ty-form and its con­flict­ual rela­tion­ship with anoth­er “form,” that of the “women’s move­ment” and, con­se­quent­ly, fem­i­nism.

In this approach, a dou­ble rhetor­i­cal fig­ure will be deployed. It’s a metaphor, since genre is tak­en here both in the sense of gen­der, or the social con­struc­tion of sex­u­al dif­fer­ence, and in the sense of a type of insti­tu­tion, polit­i­cal action, or col­lec­tive sub­jec­tiv­i­ty called the “par­ty.” But it’s also a metonym, since (again, in France and Italy, because of sim­i­lar­i­ties in our post-war polit­i­cal his­to­ries) the com­mon term “par­ty” in truth only des­ig­nates a sin­gle par­ty: the com­mu­nist par­ty. This restric­tion might seem arbi­trary and anachro­nis­tic if we were not wit­ness­ing today a renewed inter­est in the “mor­pho­log­i­cal” sin­gu­lar­i­ty of the major 20th cen­tu­ry “mass” com­mu­nist par­ties, and the con­tra­dic­tions that shaped them. Of course, this inter­est is insep­a­ra­ble from a more gen­er­al attempt at think­ing the cur­rent cri­sis of pol­i­tics which presents itself both as a cri­sis of democ­ra­cy and as a cri­sis of cit­i­zen­ship, affect­ing both “par­ties” and “move­ments,” and root­ed in both local and uni­ver­sal forms of belong­ing [appar­te­nance].

Any con­tri­bu­tion to this debate that invokes par­tic­u­lar fig­ures must be care­ful­ly his­tori­cized: in oth­er words, sit­u­at­ed and dat­ed. I have thus decid­ed to rely on a reread­ing of sev­er­al essen­tial texts relat­ed to the debates around the “par­ty-form” at the moment when, it seemed, this expres­sion emerged with­in Marx­ist intel­lec­tu­al cir­cles, in a con­junc­ture which was itself crit­i­cal: the turn­ing point of the 1970s-80s, marked in Italy by the trag­ic end of the expe­ri­ence of the “His­toric Com­pro­mise,” and in France by the even­tu­al fail­ure of the “Com­mon Pro­gramme” as an attempt at pop­u­lar uni­ty insti­gat­ed from above. It was also the moment that appeared to be the last gasp of the ener­gies set in motion by May ‘68 and the “Creep­ing May” that fol­lowed.3 I will be study­ing three texts that, while near­ly con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous, each have very dif­fer­ent con­tent: Louis Althusser’s inter­ven­tion pub­lished in Il Man­i­festo in 1979, “Le marx­isme comme théorie finie”;4 Rossanda’s 1979 book, Le altre, which col­lects a series of her reports con­duct­ed between 1978 and 1979 on the pro­gram RadioTre, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of mil­i­tants, intel­lec­tu­als, and polit­i­cal and union lead­ers;5 final­ly, Mario Tronti’s 1980 work Il tem­po del­la polit­i­ca, pre­cise­ly where the lan­guage of the “par­ty-form” first arose.6 For log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, I will dis­cuss them in the fol­low­ing order: Althuss­er, Tron­ti, Rossan­da.

Three Interventions in the Crisis: Althusser, Tronti, Rossanda

Althuss­er does not talk about a “cri­sis of pol­i­tics” or its insti­tu­tion­al forms, but a “cri­sis of Marx­ism,” which for him is essen­tial­ly a per­ma­nent cri­sis of the rela­tion between the­o­ry and prac­tice in Marx­ism: Marx­ism is not the the­o­ry of its real pol­i­tics (deter­mined, if not imposed, by the cir­cum­stances of its inter­ven­tion in his­to­ry, always unfore­see­able) and by way of con­se­quence, Marx­ist pol­i­tics no longer cor­re­sponds to its “the­o­ry” (that is, its project of the tran­si­tion to com­mu­nism or “rev­o­lu­tion”). This cri­tique is aimed at the Marx­ist tra­di­tion in gen­er­al, whose roots should be sought in cer­tain “lim­its” of Marx him­self, but in par­tic­u­lar Gram­sci and his lega­cy: not because Gram­sci is a bad Marx­ist, but because in his hero­ic effort to think the caus­es and effects of the cri­sis, he rein­forces the “bour­geois” dis­tinc­tion – of Hegelian ori­gin – between polit­i­cal soci­ety and civ­il soci­ety. By con­trast, in Althusser’s view, this dis­tinc­tion must be defin­i­tive­ly abol­ished.7 This is why, in the dis­cus­sion around “Euro­com­mu­nist” strat­e­gy that fol­lowed, he declared him­self to be in favor of what Pietro Ingrao called a “gen­er­al­ized politi­ciza­tion,” and stat­ed that this would “end by putting into ques­tion the orga­ni­za­tion­al form of the par­ty itself.”8 This cri­sis is a “cri­sis of the auton­o­my of pol­i­tics,” which I under­stand to be, in the con­text, not so much a cri­tique of the­o­ries of the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal as a cri­tique of the auton­o­miza­tion of pol­i­tics, its func­tion­ing and orga­ni­za­tions, its pro­ce­dures for dis­cus­sion, etc., in rela­tion to social move­ments (or “mass move­ments”) them­selves.9 This is why Althuss­er can, at the same time, advo­cate for a (mass) com­mu­nist par­ty that would be autonomous, in the sense of being “sit­u­at­ed out­side the state” [fuori del­lo Sta­to]. A par­ty, in oth­er words, whose polit­i­cal form would be rad­i­cal­ly for­eign to, or exte­ri­or to the log­ic of the (bour­geois) state and inde­pen­dent of its “play.”10

Let’s dwell on this for­mu­la­tion for a moment, as it con­tains at once all the rad­i­cal­i­ty and equiv­o­ca­tions of Althusser’s posi­tion. His unpub­lished the­o­ret­i­cal devel­op­ments from the peri­od, found in the man­u­script “Marx in His Lim­its,” can help us clar­i­fy the mean­ing. In effect, he insists that what char­ac­ter­izes the bour­geois state is its exte­ri­or­i­ty to class strug­gle. Tak­ing up a tra­di­tion­al notion in Marx­ist the­o­ry – that of the “auton­o­miza­tion of the state appa­ra­tus” – Althuss­er tries to turn this into a “pos­i­tive” fea­ture of the state (of the state-form), pos­sess­ing not only a sup­ple­men­tary degree of alien­ation but a spe­cif­ic “effi­ca­cy.”11

Is this to say that the state finds itself “out­side of pol­i­tics” (while the com­mu­nist par­ty, by man­ag­ing to orga­nize “out­side the state,” would find itself, at the same time, capa­ble of “doing pol­i­tics,” fare polit­i­ca, what the state tries to pre­vent the par­ty from doing by repress­ing it or absorb­ing it with­in itself)? Rather, it is a mat­ter of inscrib­ing a fun­da­men­tal equiv­oc­i­ty with­in the very con­cept of “pol­i­tics,” whose mean­ings and prac­tices for the rul­ing class and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class no longer over­lap.12 The dou­ble sense of “pol­i­tics” serves to express a con­flict of irre­ducible ten­den­cies that, in his attempt to clar­i­fy it in Marx­ist terms, Althuss­er relates to the ques­tion of “repro­duc­tion” (repro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion, and more broad­ly the repro­duc­tion of social rela­tions). Every site of repro­duc­tion is effec­tive­ly the site of a con­flict between social forces, or more pre­cise­ly, between his­tor­i­cal ten­den­cies – with some tend­ing towards repro­duc­ing the exist­ing state of things in the same way (or even in an “expand­ed” fash­ion), while oth­ers tend towards inter­rupt­ing the dom­i­na­tion-effect (and thus man­i­fest­ing the para­dox of a “repro­duc­tion” that is a “non-repro­duc­tion”).13 The out­come of this per­ma­nent strug­gle would be, at bot­tom, “aleato­ry”: the repro­duc­tion of what exists is not guar­an­teed, it can some­times lead to the break-up of the “ide­o­log­i­cal state appa­ra­tus­es,” direct­ed or orga­nized by a “mass par­ty,” which is absolute­ly sin­gu­lar and rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from oth­er “par­ties” inside the machine of the repro­duc­tion of hege­mo­ny.

It’s clear­ly jus­ti­fied to ask whether or not this con­struc­tion (which remained incom­plete, let’s not for­get) is pure­ly tau­to­log­i­cal: the com­mu­nist par­ty is able to take apart the appa­ra­tus­es of bour­geois class dom­i­na­tion to the extent that it oper­ates accord­ing to prin­ci­ples opposed to those gov­ern­ing the instru­ments of this dom­i­na­tion, and their dis­tance is thus irreducible…One can also be atten­tive to the “work” there­by effect­ed on the struc­tur­al con­straints of pol­i­tics, seek­ing to (the­o­ret­i­cal­ly) local­ize the point of their insta­bil­i­ty, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of their over­com­ing, where the “cir­cle” of repro­duc­tion runs into its own lim­its.

But above all, it should be stat­ed that in this the­o­ret­i­cal work, under­pinned by a cer­tain polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, the polit­i­cal [le poli­tique] remains absolute­ly homo­ge­neous: the het­ero­ge­neous dimen­sion, which fem­i­nism espe­cial­ly rep­re­sents, plays no role (no par­tic­u­lar role, in any case, as we can always imag­ine that canon­i­cal expres­sions like the “mass par­ty” or “mass move­ments” also cov­er a pol­i­tics “towards women,” as in the com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions stem­ming from the Third Inter­na­tion­al, which is in a sense the most com­plete expres­sion of the mis­recog­ni­tion of the prob­lem fem­i­nism rais­es for pol­i­tics).14 We will resist the temp­ta­tion to per­form a “symp­to­matic read­ing” by short-cir­cuit­ing ret­ro­spec­tive bio­graph­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions with the (sor­ry) fact of a cer­tain con­formism, still large­ly shared among Marx­ists of the same peri­od. Or rather, we can observe that the symp­tom is con­cen­trat­ed in the per­sis­tent usage of the term “repro­duc­tion”; as if Althuss­er (and his stu­dents) were nev­er aware that the word Marx employs to ana­lyze the struc­tur­al dimen­sion of cap­i­tal also had anoth­er mean­ing, tied to sex­u­al­i­ty and “life,” and con­se­quent­ly to the func­tion women have been prin­ci­pal­ly con­fined to in his­tor­i­cal soci­eties: that of moth­ers charged with rais­ing pro­duc­ers, war­riors, cit­i­zens and, if need be, intel­lec­tu­als, artists, or politicians…It’s worth at least ask­ing whether any­one in Althusser’s cir­cle at the time ever men­tioned to him that this ambi­gu­i­ty could call his entire con­cep­tion of “pol­i­tics” into ques­tion.15

Let’s now exam­ine, in an equal­ly schemat­ic fash­ion, Mario Tronti’s for­mu­la­tions in 1980: he speaks not of a “cri­sis of Marx­ism,” but a “cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism”; or rather, cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis.16 To be clear: this does not mean an “eco­nom­ic” cri­sis, but indeed a polit­i­cal cri­sis whose “con­di­tions,” as required from a Marx­ist per­spec­tive, stem from the his­to­ry of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion: it is the cri­sis of a par­tic­u­lar mod­el of how work­ing class strug­gles are incor­po­rat­ed into cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment. Or bet­ter, it is the cri­sis of a mode of “man­ag­ing” class con­flicts that inte­grates them into the con­sti­tu­tion of an indus­tri­al­iz­ing mod­el (mass pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion) which orig­i­nat­ed in the Unit­ed States dur­ing the 1930s (with the New Deal) and was then export­ed to Europe, espe­cial­ly the “polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry” of 1960s Italy. Tron­ti defines the Key­ne­sian state as the “final clas­si­cal form of bour­geois pol­i­tics,” not because it involves a mod­el of the state in the con­sti­tu­tion­al sense (even under­stood as a “mate­r­i­al” con­sti­tu­tion), but inso­far as it is a “tac­ti­cal” mod­el – in the sense of a social war – through which the polit­i­cal capac­i­ty of the bour­geoisie could be deployed. Yet it entered into cri­sis at the end of the 1960s, as evi­denced by the resis­tance move­ments that every­where flood­ed the pub­lic sphere:

A social leap not gov­erned by the polit­i­cal always pro­vokes a rup­ture between gen­er­a­tions, a devel­op­ment with­out a plan always has the effect of ratch­et­ing up the class antag­o­nism. Youth and work­ers gave the sig­nal of a new pos­si­ble uni­ty as an alter­na­tive to the sys­tem. The stu­dents left the uni­ver­si­ty, the work­ers left the fac­to­ry: this great metaphor was not trans­lat­ed, was not inter­pret­ed. Yet our con­tem­po­rary lev­el of class strug­gle was already writ­ten here: a polit­i­cal cen­tral­i­ty in the cir­cle of new forces of social antag­o­nism.17

What does the slo­gan of the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal” mean in this con­text?

In my view, it seems to mean two things. On the one hand, it demon­strates the (irre­versible? or con­junc­tur­al, linked to the moment of “cri­sis?”) end of the auton­o­my of the eco­nom­ic, and thus the demise of the illu­sion accord­ing to which eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment – trans­for­ma­tions in indus­try – would con­sti­tute a “mate­r­i­al base” pri­or to the class strug­gle.18 On the oth­er hand, it denotes the polit­i­cal cen­tral­i­ty of the only rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject: the work­ing class. But it is pre­cise­ly on this point that the cri­sis trans­forms its own con­di­tions: it induces a muta­tion that is sub­jec­tive­ly reflect­ed as the “cri­sis of the work­ers’ par­ty-form.”19

Tron­ti tells us this is the effect of a con­junc­tion between the work­ers’ acquired capac­i­ty to sub­vert the forms of pow­er exer­cised by cap­i­tal in the fac­to­ry, and the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion – a rev­o­lu­tion­ary trans­for­ma­tion, one could say – chang­ing the mean­ing of the cat­e­go­ry of “labor”: not mere­ly a new divi­sion of labor, but an abo­li­tion of tra­di­tion­al divi­sions between pro­duc­tive and unpro­duc­tive labor (thus, per­haps between indus­tri­al and domes­tic labor) and between man­u­al and intel­lec­tu­al labor (thus per­haps between pro­duc­tion and edu­ca­tion). From this point, one more step now needs to be tak­en, “beyond the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal”: when work turns into “non-work” (but also when non-work becomes “work”), work has become a polit­i­cal cat­e­go­ry.20 And the obvi­ous ques­tion aris­es, of how a “com­mu­nist par­ty” can still be a “class par­ty”: the par­ty must doubt­less come to under­stand (and orga­nize) this dialec­ti­cal con­tra­dic­tion of being a “par­ty of the work­ing class” that is no longer, soci­o­log­i­cal­ly speak­ing, a “work­ers’ par­ty,” but the par­ty of an “expan­sive” class that con­stant­ly tran­scends its own lim­its.

Once again, on this point we are tempt­ed to (retroac­tive­ly) ask Tron­ti the ques­tion: where are women in this dialec­tic? Where is the women’s move­ment? In con­trast to what we saw in Althusser’s work, women are not at all absent, but includ­ed in the cat­e­go­ry of an “orga­nized move­ment,” des­tined to enter into the build­ing of an “open par­ty,” which in a way is noth­ing oth­er than their very encounter.21 Tron­ti lists three “move­ments” of this type, whose impor­tance have been proven after ‘68. Right away, it’s clear this is a mat­ter of polit­i­cal – not soci­o­log­i­cal – cat­e­gories, even if one needs to resort to soci­ol­o­gy to under­stand their inter­sec­tions: the work­ers’ move­ment (or the new politi­ciza­tion of work­ers’ strug­gles), the col­lec­tive youth move­ment, revolt­ing against the author­i­tar­i­an­ism and util­i­tar­i­an­ism of bour­geois soci­ety (and in this sense, “com­mu­nist” in an intel­lec­tu­al sense), and the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment, the indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive revolt against forms of famil­ial (patri­ar­chal) depen­dence and new (bour­geois) forms of male pow­er, which pro­duces polit­i­cal para­dox­es for cap­i­tal­ism (par­tic­u­lar­ly through the entry of women into the work­force, which con­sti­tutes an “instance of equal­i­ty”).22 How­ev­er, the sus­pi­cion per­sists that a hier­ar­chy of cat­e­gories is at play here, at least at the mor­pho­log­i­cal lev­el (that of move­ment or par­ty “forms”): the cri­tique of the bour­geois and patri­ar­chal fam­i­ly is under­stood in terms of a rela­tion of class and social dom­i­na­tion to over­throw, and its orga­ni­za­tion­al forms are thought via a “joint” [uni­taire] mod­el whose effi­ca­cy was demon­strat­ed by the youth move­ment. Inverse­ly, one should note the very spe­cif­ic impor­tance Tron­ti con­fers to the women’s move­ment (if not to fem­i­nism) to ensure the demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of com­mu­nist pol­i­tics. This is not out­side the con­cerns under­ly­ing the con­ver­sa­tions orga­nized at the same his­tor­i­cal moment by Rossan­da, and thus con­nects these dis­cus­sions (appar­ent­ly more “empir­i­cal”) with a reflec­tion on the cri­sis of the par­ty-form as the “neces­si­ty and dif­fi­cul­ty of hold­ing togeth­er dis­cus­sions and deci­sions, pas­sion and dis­ci­pline, true mil­i­tan­cy and true lead­er­ship,” whose con­tra­dic­tion is that “today, firm­ly and crit­i­cal­ly, the com­mu­nist move­ment is face to face with mod­ern democ­ra­cy.”23

We come now to the third text of the same peri­od: Le altre, pub­lished by Rossana Rossan­da in 1979, on the basis of RadioTre episodes record­ed the pre­vi­ous year. It seems impor­tant that it is a col­lec­tive book, already a polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence in itself, in which the author took part in an encounter between gen­er­a­tions, men and women, work­ers and intel­lec­tu­als, between dif­fer­ent forms of mil­i­tant activ­i­ty (com­mu­nists, syn­di­cal­ists, fem­i­nists). This led her to place the foun­da­tions of her past polit­i­cal engage­ment – in the PCI – into ques­tion. But she also clear­ly says that the expe­ri­ence made it pos­si­ble to sub­vert this engage­ment from with­in, through the “com­mu­nist heresy” rep­re­sent­ed by the work of the Il Man­i­festo group: “no polit­i­cal group was more full of women, from the top to the base. Incred­i­ble women, expert and pow­er­ful… They were always the mid­dle of the polit­i­cal group, unri­valed in work but dogged in deci­sions.”24 One could thus speak of a “prac­ti­cal fem­i­nism” in the Man­i­festo group (not exempt from con­tra­dic­tion, since in a cer­tain way women behaved like “per­fect men”), and even of a “the­o­ret­i­cal fem­i­nism” if the con­tent of 200 The­ses on Com­mu­nism, from 1970 (and itself not devoid of con­tra­dic­tions), is tak­en into account.25 It seems that this expe­ri­ence – at once con­flict­ual and pro­duc­tive – pro­vides a neat con­trast with the idea of a cri­sis of (demo­c­ra­t­ic) polit­i­cal forms that is men­tioned fur­ther on, when Rossan­da describes the dis­ap­point­ment of women who were engaged in pol­i­tics in the after­math of the war and their retreat [reflux] away from par­ties (not only the com­mu­nist par­ty), and the grow­ing con­flict between the val­ues of the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tion and their own val­ues: “Women retreat­ed from [rifluis­cono] the par­ties, as they had retreat­ed from mine, because they no longer rec­og­nized them­selves in these forms of rela­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which were then the forms of the polit­i­cal, the com­mon rules between exploiter and exploit­ed, gov­ern­ing and gov­erned.”26 We can avoid here a crit­i­cal appli­ca­tion of the argu­ment, com­ing from Engels, Bebel, Clara Zetkin, and Gram­sci too, that makes the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in pol­i­tics the mea­sure of the party’s demo­c­ra­t­ic devel­op­ment.27 There still needs to be a dis­tinc­tion between a sit­u­a­tion in which women are offi­cial­ly exclud­ed from pol­i­tics, rel­e­gat­ed to the rank of “pas­sive cit­i­zens,” by vio­lence if nec­es­sary, and a sit­u­a­tion where, although “called” there, they end up leav­ing, because they could not make their voic­es heard or their demands rec­og­nized. Note the prox­im­i­ty of these terms: exclu­sion, retreat, exit.

We can thus grasp a triple dialec­tic tra­vers­ing the entire book.

1.) First, what we can call the dialec­tic of oth­er­ness [l’étrangeté]: women’s posi­tion in pol­i­tics is one of “dif­fer­ence,” but this posi­tion is akin to that of a “secret agent,” intro­duc­ing fem­i­nist inter­ests [intérêt] with­in com­mu­nism:

Women leave the par­ties or they return – and here Lidia Mena­pace intro­duces a theme which we will see tak­en up again by women of very diverse polit­i­cal posi­tions, but all linked to the expe­ri­ence of fem­i­nism – in a man­ner so very dif­fer­ent from the past. With a cold sec­u­lar eye, she says: know­ing that they could not achieve their goals as women in the par­ties, it was nev­er­the­less use­ful to stay with­in them to guar­an­tee social ties. We stayed, per­mit­ting our­selves a smile, as the secret agents of fem­i­nism, with­out sur­ren­der­ing, remain­ing vig­i­lant.28

The het­ero­gene­ity of eman­ci­pa­to­ry inter­ests is acknowl­edged here, whose ground [fonde­ment] is the alter­i­ty of women in rela­tion to the polit­i­cal world of men (shaped by mas­cu­line dom­i­na­tion, includ­ing qua rev­o­lu­tion­ary pol­i­tics). This is a het­ero­gene­ity that must not be defined in either basic eco­nom­ic terms (or by the divi­sion of labor) or sim­ply social terms (by func­tions, roles, hier­ar­chies) but in terms of sex­u­al­i­ty and sex­u­al dif­fer­ence – pre­cise­ly what insti­tu­tion­al pol­i­tics (and thus par­ties) can­not “bear” but repress­es, intel­lec­tu­al­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly.

2.) There fol­lows the dialec­tic of equal­i­ty and inequal­i­ty: respond­ing to an inter­locu­tor (Licia Con­te) defend­ing the pri­or­i­ty of the val­ue of free­dom, Rossan­da explains that the cat­e­go­ry of equal­i­ty is more sub­ver­sive polit­i­cal­ly (the “specter” that always haunts dis­cours­es of pow­er). It’s also more para­dox­i­cal, espe­cial­ly from the stand­point of women, who are habit­u­at­ed to see­ing them­selves denied effec­tive equal­i­ty, access to rights, and social activ­i­ties, and to see egal­i­tar­i­an polit­i­cal dis­cours­es (demo­c­ra­t­ic, repub­li­can, even com­mu­nist) as func­tion­ing in their turn as denials of the dif­fer­ence between the sex­es, which can lead them to see, inverse­ly, a pro­tec­tion of the right to dif­fer­ence in main­tain­ing inequal­i­ty.29 But in women’s “dou­ble dis­trust” [dou­ble méfi­ance] – which some­times results in con­ser­vatism, oth­er times revolt – there is a cru­cial ques­tion for pol­i­tics: that of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and the inde­ter­mi­nate­ness it brings.30

3.) And last­ly, there is a dialec­tic inter­nal to “fem­i­nism” itself: the divi­sion between “first-wave fem­i­nism” and “sec­ond-wave fem­i­nism,” which seems to repro­duce an old­er social divi­sion between the pub­lic sphere and the pri­vate sphere.31 But sec­ond-wave fem­i­nism, rather than affirm­ing that “the pri­vate is polit­i­cal” in a sim­plis­tic fash­ion, focus­es on the trans­for­ma­tion of transin­di­vid­ual rela­tions, and the way in which they affect indi­vid­u­al­i­ty itself. In a way, this con­sti­tutes anoth­er “site” for pol­i­tics, out­side of its offi­cial insti­tu­tions and gen­er­al def­i­n­i­tion. How­ev­er, Rossan­da does not back away from defin­ing “pol­i­tics” in a broad sense as the con­flict­ual sphere of rela­tions between state, soci­ety, and par­ties. At least on the sur­face, an aporet­ic prob­lem of dis­course emerges here: fem­i­nism both changes and does not change the site of pol­i­tics… is there a way of keep­ing one’s own dis­tance from the fem­i­nism she describes, or with which she is in con­ver­sa­tion (“I who am not a fem­i­nist”)?32 Or does this indeed mean that fem­i­nism, in regard to pol­i­tics, does not rep­re­sent so much an actu­al dis­place­ment towards an already exist­ing place, as an “atopic” [atopique]33 capac­i­ty of sub­ver­sion and con­tes­ta­tion to pow­er in dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tion­al “sites” of pol­i­tics, both from above and below?34 We encounter, then, the metaphor of the secret agent and its func­tion of hid­den pas­sage through bor­ders. But we do not know what effects it might yield on the “repro­duc­tion” of the clas­si­cal forms of class strug­gle.

The Party-Form: Political Genesis and Sexual Structure

At this point, it’s of course nec­es­sary to leave behind a sim­ple con­fronta­tion between texts that express the uncer­tain­ties of a con­junc­ture (a con­junc­ture which seems to us today as the “end” of a par­tic­u­lar era of pol­i­tics, if not the end of pol­i­tics itself).35 It’s nec­es­sary to go back to the begin­ning of a dis­cus­sion on the par­ty-form as a his­tor­i­cal form that pro­duced (and per­haps will still pro­duce) deter­mi­nate effects, objec­tive as well as sub­jec­tive. This “form” is doubt­less not real­ized in the same way; it has not remained immutable. Nev­er­the­less, it has a cer­tain log­ic, and was sub­ject­ed in the West (and else­where, since like the “nation-form” or the “school form” [forme sco­laire], it has been export­ed the world over) to struc­tur­al con­straints. I will lim­it myself on this point to some pro­gram­mat­ic indi­ca­tions, liable to change and refor­mu­la­tion in light of dis­cus­sion. I will orga­nize these indi­ca­tions around three prob­lems con­cern­ing, respec­tive­ly, the geneal­o­gy of the par­ty-form, the fea­tures of “par­ty com­mu­nism” with regard to sex­u­al dif­fer­ence, and final­ly the con­tra­dic­to­ry effect of fem­i­nism on the attempts to democ­ra­tize the com­mu­nist par­ty.

The geneal­o­gy of the par­ty-form, as we under­stand it today, is in fact a whole pro­gram of research, dri­ven by the encounter (and per­haps con­flict) of two lines of expla­na­tion. We clear­ly see in The Prison Note­books where this divi­sion, one could say, com­plete­ly con­trols the usage of the notion of the “Mod­ern Prince,” the means by which Gram­sci tries at once to dis­cern the sin­gu­lar­i­ty of the com­mu­nist expe­ri­ence [phénomène] after the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, and to imag­ine its diver­si­fi­ca­tion on the basis of new his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions cre­at­ed by the con­fronta­tion with Euro­pean fas­cism. On the one side, we have the whole reflec­tion on the tran­si­tion of the work­ers’ move­ment from its “eco­nom­ic-cor­po­rate” phase to its prop­er­ly “polit­i­cal” phase, of which the par­ty must be the instru­ment: the par­ty is that poten­tial­ly hege­mon­ic force in soci­ety, that fos­ters the emer­gence of “organ­ic intel­lec­tu­als” from the work­ing class and leads to the for­ma­tion of a new col­lec­tive capac­i­ty of reflec­tion on the his­toric­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ist “rela­tions of force.” On the oth­er hand, we have a whole mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary inquiry, with­out fixed lim­its, on the for­ma­tion of the insti­tu­tions of bour­geois nation­al pol­i­tics, in which the moments of “active” and “pas­sive” rev­o­lu­tions unfold, until the emer­gence of mass par­ties, where a par­tic­u­lar “demo­c­ra­t­ic” fusion of elit­ism and pop­ulism becomes oper­a­tive. From this per­spec­tive, the com­mu­nist par­ty “did not invent” its form: it receives the par­ty-form from his­to­ry, even if it trans­formed towards its own ends, and sets it in the frame­work of a cer­tain “mate­r­i­al con­sti­tu­tion,” of which it is one pole. If we are to then ask how such a divid­ed geneal­o­gy could elu­ci­date the “organ­ic” pres­ence of sex­ism with­in the par­ty-form, we are direct­ed towards very pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent, even het­ero­ge­neous, phe­nom­e­na.36 On the one hand lies the fact – in no way reducible to a soci­o­log­i­cal dead­weight inher­it­ed from the past, but which is rather an “inven­tion” of mod­ern indus­tri­al­iza­tion – of what can be called the sex­u­al­iza­tion of strug­gles, and thus their “genre.” In par­tic­u­lar there is the viril­i­ty of forms of work­ers’ strug­gles (the strike, insur­rec­tion), but also the role of indis­pens­able sup­port – I was going to say care – that women play (mate­r­i­al, moral, and even sen­ti­men­tal: bring­ing food and refur­bish­ments to strikes, admir­ing their hero­ism, con­tin­u­ing and trans­mit­ting the val­ues of sol­i­dar­i­ty with­in pop­u­lar cul­ture, from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion).37 On the oth­er hand, we have all the forms of the mas­cu­line monop­oly on polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, from which also fol­lows the mas­cu­line char­ac­ter of polit­i­cal actions and rhetoric, what Geneviève Fraisse defined neg­a­tive­ly as the pro­hi­bi­tion of pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion imposed on women dur­ing the bour­geois era (and thus the pro­hi­bi­tion of their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the “sov­er­eign,” in the repub­li­can sense of the term).38 Noth­ing about this sit­u­a­tion fun­da­men­tal­ly changes with the entry of the work­ing class (itself made of male workers…much more than women work­ers) into the demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal frame­work.

But it’s no doubt imper­a­tive to leave behind this pure­ly insti­tu­tion­al geneal­o­gy of the idea of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty and take into con­sid­er­a­tion social and his­tor­i­cal real­i­ties, where anthro­po­log­i­cal deter­mi­na­tions rise to the sur­face. This is the sec­ond prob­lem: we will argue here that the “par­ty-form” in which pol­i­tics is orga­nized as the for­ma­tion of a col­lec­tive will is also, intrin­si­cal­ly, a his­tor­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion of anthro­po­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, inso­far as it con­cerns the divi­sion between intel­lec­tu­al and man­u­al labor (stud­ied by Gram­sci) as well as the dif­fer­ence between sex­es (neglect­ed by him). It is a mat­ter of under­stand­ing here what account­ed for the his­tor­i­cal com­mu­nist par­ties’ capac­i­ty for insur­rec­tion and resis­tance (one is tempt­ed to call them “actu­al­ly exist­ing” par­ties, in the way there was an “actu­al­ly exist­ing social­ism,” with which they main­tained organ­ic – although some­times con­flict­ual – ties). The thread of analy­sis that seems most per­ti­nent for study­ing par­ty com­mu­nism is the dialec­tic between its func­tions as a counter-soci­ety and its strat­e­gy of counter-pow­er. This evi­dent­ly rais­es the ques­tion of know­ing – in an acute fash­ion – at what point the move­ment that sought to be poten­tial­ly hege­mon­ic and might have appeared as a chal­lenge to the exist­ing order was actu­al­ly “sub­al­tern,” as it sus­tained and repro­duced the social rela­tions and forms of sym­bol­ic vio­lence char­ac­ter­is­tic of the soci­ety in which it devel­oped.39 I will for my part dis­tin­guish these two aspects, whose role have been invoked in turn by ana­lysts of the his­to­ry of the French and Ital­ian – and more broad­ly, West­ern – com­mu­nist par­ties.40

“Counter-soci­ety” refers to the ensem­ble of forms of resis­tance to exploita­tion, sol­i­dar­i­ty in strug­gles, and con­fronta­tions with the state, church, and “social poli­cies” of the bour­geoisie in deter­mi­nate nation­al con­di­tions. It takes the form of the polit­i­cal par­ty and its (in the famous Stal­in­ist def­i­n­i­tion) trans­mis­sion belts – unions, youth orga­ni­za­tions, cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tions, munic­i­pal­i­ties – and fos­ters a mod­el of social­iza­tion that opposed to bour­geois social­iza­tion, by devel­op­ing a rel­a­tive­ly sep­a­rate class cul­ture and edu­ca­tion. This point is cru­cial if we want to under­stand how in real­i­ty the class “for-itself” is pro­ject­ed onto the “class in-itself” and repro­duces it, not the inverse; this runs against the ide­al schema of the for­ma­tion of class con­scious­ness the­o­rized by Marx (and per­fect­ed by Lukács). As Françoise Duroux argues, the ulti­mate basis for this repro­duc­tion is the “fam­i­ly of work­ers,” in the dou­ble sense of the gen­i­tive: the work­er fam­i­ly, but also the fam­i­ly that the (male) work­er “pos­sess­es” (and the means by which he also “pos­sess­es” women).41 This is why in the actu­al com­mu­nist par­ty (despite a few – ever lim­it­ed and pre­car­i­ous – excep­tions, espe­cial­ly among intel­lec­tu­als) the social struc­ture excludes women from direct polit­i­cal action, any deci­sion-mak­ing, while mak­ing them the guardians of class con­scious­ness (just as in the bour­geois state and fam­i­ly, where they become the guardians of patri­o­tism and reli­gious val­ues). It is not at all sur­pris­ing that in these con­di­tions, the par­ty-form is rad­i­cal­ly incom­pat­i­ble with fem­i­nism in its dif­fer­ent forms, since fem­i­nism begins with putting this role of repro­duc­ing the col­lec­tive val­ues assigned to the dif­fer­ence between sex­es into ques­tion. Fem­i­nism is thus not so much the “class ene­my” as the “ene­my of class” [Le fémin­isme n’est donc pas tant “l’ennemi de classe” que “l’ennemi de la classe”]: but often, in the dra­mat­ic his­to­ry of the actu­al com­mu­nist par­ties, the sec­ond des­ig­na­tion was col­lapsed into the first, and fem­i­nists were deemed to be bour­geois agents with­in the work­ers’ move­ment (which, as we have seen, Rossan­da and her com­rades tried to iron­i­cal­ly invert into a rev­o­lu­tion­ary fea­ture).

“Counter-pow­er” has a dif­fer­ent mean­ing: it is the party’s capac­i­ty to oppose itself to the state and the rul­ing class through the for­ma­tion of an autonomous polit­i­cal lead­er­ship. Lenin the­o­rizes the form of this lead­er­ship – halfway between descrip­tion and pre­scrip­tion – as an organ­ic com­bi­na­tion of sci­ence and orga­ni­za­tion. His­tor­i­cal­ly, this com­bi­na­tion cul­mi­nates in the fig­ure of the “leader,” both a the­o­rist and orga­niz­er, and I imag­ine one will eas­i­ly admit that in the 20th cen­tu­ry, this fig­ure in which these two aspects of clas­si­cal “rep­re­sen­ta­tion” are bound up is typ­i­cal­ly male (not to say mas­cu­line). There are women, how­ev­er, who force their entry into this ”club” of the­o­rists and orga­niz­ers, the most remark­able and trag­ic being that of Rosa Lux­em­burg.42 This is why we need to be a lit­tle more sub­tle and not sim­ply repeat fem­i­nist gen­er­al­i­ties on the mas­cu­line char­ac­ter of knowl­edge and pow­er, and recon­struct the analy­sis of forms of sym­bol­ic vio­lence tied the author­i­ty of knowl­edge, its trans­mis­sion in a spe­cif­ic milieu where the demands of instruc­tion were par­tic­u­lar­ly strong, and their com­bi­na­tion with phal­lo­crat­ic modal­i­ties of adher­ence to dis­ci­pline and the pro­duc­tion of “com­mon sense” with­in orga­ni­za­tions.43 Counter-pow­er is not a counter-soci­ety, but the result of strate­gies of counter-pow­er backed by counter-soci­etal forms, those of the “actu­al­ly exist­ing” com­mu­nist par­ties (once again: not with­out trou­bles, resis­tances, excep­tions, sub­ver­sions), which were indeed based on spe­cif­ic forms of patri­archy and intel­lec­tu­al patri­archy, the rein­force­ment of the fam­i­ly and the con­sent of women to a “ratio­nal­ly” male author­i­ty, as well as a fra­ter­ni­ty between mil­i­tants (com­rades) whose ben­e­fi­cia­ries were “nat­u­ral­ly” men. Women, by this fact, were both includ­ed from below in a sub­al­tern posi­tion and exclud­ed from the “top” (or placed in an excen­tric [excen­trique] posi­tion. This con­tra­dic­to­ry sit­u­a­tion is a his­tor­i­cal fact, of course, but it is also a struc­tur­al trait, express­ing the “impos­si­ble” rela­tion­ship that the par­ty-form main­tains with the com­bi­na­tion of class rela­tions and gen­der rela­tions, or het­ero­ge­neous forms of dom­i­na­tion.44

How­ev­er, a third prob­lem aris­es: all of this his­to­ry did not take place with­out con­flict or trans­for­ma­tion. Par­ty com­mu­nism inter­sects with the social and moral trans­for­ma­tions of soci­ety. The counter-soci­ety is not real­ly exter­nal to bour­geois soci­ety, or it can­not remain there for long, and it even con­tributes to its devel­op­ment. But above all, the com­mu­nist idea, or more broad­ly, the idea of a “rev­o­lu­tion” that would over­throw social dom­i­na­tion in all its forms, con­sti­tutes a con­tra­dic­to­ry cat­a­lyst [fer­ment] with­in polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions. What seems inter­est­ing to me is first of all the per­ma­nent ten­sion which fol­lows from the fact that the com­mu­nist par­ty reveals itself to be in a cer­tain sense less demo­c­ra­t­ic than the soci­ety it seeks to bring about, and even less demo­c­ra­t­ic in its inter­nal orga­ni­za­tion than the lib­er­al soci­ety it forms itself with­in (even if the dif­fer­ence between an insti­tu­tion­al, for­mal democ­ra­cy and a democ­ra­cy that would effec­tive­ly ben­e­fit the mass­es needs to be care­ful­ly under­stood).45 But more spec­u­la­tive­ly, we can pose the ques­tion of how to imag­ine the antic­i­pa­tion of com­mu­nism, as col­lec­tive eman­ci­pa­tion, with­in the move­ment and insti­tu­tions or orga­ni­za­tions that pre­pare it. This is the whole ques­tion of a self-insti­tu­tion of com­mu­nism by com­mu­nists them­selves, in their own rela­tions of orga­ni­za­tion, in the aim of its rev­o­lu­tion­ary gen­er­al­iza­tion through­out soci­ety, which turns the expres­sion “com­mu­nist par­ty” prac­ti­cal­ly into an oxy­moron, or a uni­ty of oppo­sites.46 Just as Lenin dis­cussed a “non-state state,” there needs to be dis­cus­sion of a “non-par­ty par­ty…” But if we trace the spec­u­la­tive dimen­sion of the prob­lem back to his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence (par­tic­u­lar­ly that of the 1960s and 70s), we indeed see ele­ments of con­crete utopia come to the fore (that is, a utopia that mate­ri­al­izes in the imme­di­a­cy of the present instead of being pro­ject­ed into the future, or thought in terms of its antic­i­pa­tion) and is also one of the modes in which the par­ty-form is placed into ques­tion: this is why, sub­ject­ed more or less pro­found­ly to their hereti­cal influ­ence, the “real” par­ties fun­da­men­tal­ly reject­ed these ele­ments, or viewed them as ele­ments that inten­si­fied their own his­tor­i­cal cri­sis as opposed to ren­o­vat­ing fac­tors, antic­i­pat­ing the tran­si­tion to anoth­er peri­od. These ele­ments were not uni­fied, how­ev­er; or at least, even if they were not incom­pat­i­ble, they did not form the com­po­nents of a “move­ment of move­ments” (as Tron­ti want­ed to believe, as did oth­ers, in the extra­or­di­nary post-’68 con­text). Rather than ren­der the stu­dent and youth move­ment as sin­gu­lar (and to bet­ter iden­ti­fy that which, at the time, held the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a ver­i­ta­ble “encounter” between stu­dent youth and work­er youth), I would say that there was, against the par­ty-form, a resur­gence of what has always con­sti­tut­ed its “oth­er,” coun­cil democ­ra­cy (often dubbed in France as “self-man­age­ment” [auto­ges­tion]).47 And there was fem­i­nism as the broad­er women’s move­ment across soci­ety, for the right to speak and gen­der equal­i­ty, with­out the reduc­tion of one to the mod­el of the oth­er. Both cas­es involved what can be called a process of rad­i­cal democ­ra­ti­za­tion, or the “democ­ra­ti­za­tion of democ­ra­cy” itself, in its lim­it­ed his­tor­i­cal forms. And in both cas­es the ini­tial effect of this democ­ra­ti­za­tion was to dis­mem­ber [démem­br­er] the “polit­i­cal body,” dis­solve the organ­ic (by def­i­n­i­tion imag­i­nary) uni­ty on which the par­ty con­tin­ued to rec­og­nize itself in order to oppose the pow­er [puis­sance] of the dom­i­nat­ed to that of the dom­i­nant, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sov­er­eign­ty of the peo­ple to that of the cap­i­tal­ist state. Yet as wit­nessed in the fol­low­ing years, this dis­mem­ber­ment freed up a het­ero­gene­ity; it opened a space of auton­o­my for a time, more or less, but it did not artic­u­late a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy.

Feminism, the Utopian Last Resort of Communism

This is why I would like to end this rem­i­nis­cence of old dis­cus­sions, this sketch of a ret­ro­spec­tive the­o­riza­tion, with a sim­ple hypoth­e­sis, which seems jus­ti­fi­able on the basis of these dis­cus­sions. To argue that the par­ty-form is not absolute­ly “fin­ished,” in the sense of a com­ple­tion of its his­tor­i­cal course (which would also cer­tain­ly be the end of a spe­cif­ic artic­u­la­tion of move­ment, social con­flicts, pol­i­tics, and the­o­ret­i­cal dis­course), one could say that the fem­i­nism reject­ed by his­tor­i­cal com­mu­nism has also become, in a cer­tain way, its utopi­an last resort.48 I’ll return to a word­ing I’ve used else­where, in try­ing to show that the sig­nif­i­cance of a polit­i­cal per­spec­tive is not so much to pro­vide a “def­i­n­i­tion” of com­mu­nism as the reverse image of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety, but to try to answer the ques­tion: “‘who are the com­mu­nists today?,” in a deter­mi­nate his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, and a spe­cif­ic social site, and “what are they doing?”49 Let us remem­ber that this was the way in which Marx him­self joined togeth­er his cri­tique of cap­i­tal­ism and bour­geois rule at the end of the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo. And I will say this: one of the pos­si­ble respons­es (not the only, of course) is that the “com­mu­nists” are now “fem­i­nists” (whether they call them­selves such or not), because fem­i­nists pro­vide a sup­ple­ment of rev­o­lu­tion­ary and demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics to his­tor­i­cal com­mu­nism: a sup­ple­ment it did not believe itself to need, because it believed itself to be self-suf­fi­cient (imag­ined itself as a “total­iza­tion” of the “real move­ment which abol­ish­es the present state of things”), but with­out which it could not pos­si­bly begin again [recon­stituer] (although per­haps now, it is the case that one must, in a giv­en con­junc­ture, con­sid­er one­self as a com­po­nent or ele­ment of a new pol­i­tics, and not as its uni­fy­ing fig­ure). It is in this sense that I pro­pose to con­sid­er fem­i­nists as a “utopi­an last resort”: because who they are and what they do is decid­ed­ly incom­pat­i­ble with the clo­sure expressed by the “par­ty” idea, or at least by its his­tor­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion as a “col­lec­tive” pol­i­tics (the great Gram­s­cian idea of the “col­lec­tive intel­lec­tu­al has lost none of its val­ue), but also as “sep­a­rate,” “homo­ge­neous” (or whose auton­o­my would be con­di­tioned by its homo­gene­ity). Aban­doned to only its class deter­mi­na­tion, the per­spec­tive of rev­o­lu­tion­ary hege­mo­ny ineluctably falls back into the imag­i­nary of puri­ty, while sex­u­al dif­fer­ence con­sti­tutes a residue of social, moral, and anthro­po­log­i­cal – and thus also polit­i­cal – impu­ri­ty. In order to grasp the fact that fem­i­nism can­not be reduced to the idea of a “women’s move­ment” qua expres­sion of cor­po­ra­tive inter­ests, not to men­tion a “women’s par­ty” (because it does not claim to be anoth­er “part” or “posi­tion” than that of unas­sim­i­l­able dif­fer­ence), I point to a term Françoise Duroux has recent­ly employed: atopia rather than utopia. But in say­ing the “utopi­an last resort for com­mu­nism,” I am think­ing pre­cise­ly of this dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of its self-ref­er­en­tial orga­ni­za­tion­al forms, which at the same time is a way of bring­ing back the ques­tion of polit­i­cal prac­tice as such, beyond bygone aims (what we are tempt­ed to call, with Kosel­leck, its futures past) and his­tor­i­cal­ly sed­i­ment­ed forms. “Atopic” in regard to exist­ing forms of pol­i­tics is not “apo­lit­i­cal”: the exact oppo­site is the case. And this is doubt­less what Rossan­da sought to sug­gest in her com­men­tary on Antigone.50

Trans­lat­ed by Patrick King and Asad Haider

The trans­la­tors wish to thank Jason E. Smith and Andrew Anas­tasi for their invalu­able com­ments on ear­li­er drafts of the trans­la­tion.

  1. Translator’s note: This pun, which Bal­ibar deploys at sev­er­al points in the text, is almost impos­si­ble to ren­der ade­quate­ly in Eng­lish. For the major Romance lan­guages French, Ital­ian, Span­ish, and Por­tuguese the word for “gen­der” (genre in French, for instance) can refer to both the social forms of sex­u­al dif­fer­ence and more broad­ly to a “type” or “kind” of x, stem­ming from the Latin root genus. The title is a prime exam­ple: it denotes simul­ta­ne­ous­ly the “gen­der” of the par­ty (as Bal­ibar asks par­en­thet­i­cal­ly, what is the gen­der of the par­ty?) and the “type” of the par­ty (or which “type” of par­ty?, as in Lenin’s “par­ty of a new type”). Due to the dif­fi­cul­ties in cap­tur­ing this pol­y­se­my, we have left genre in the orig­i­nal French in the places where he delib­er­ate­ly calls on this dou­ble mean­ing, and have ital­i­cized its usage through­out. 

  2. I have obvi­ous­ly been inspired by exist­ing titles: “Le genre de l’histoire,” the title of a 1988 issue of the Cahiers du Grif [a French fem­i­nist jour­nal] where a trans­la­tion of Joan Scott’s arti­cle, “Gen­der: A Use­ful Cat­e­go­ry of His­tor­i­cal Analy­sis” appeared; and more recent­ly, Rada Ivekovic, Le sexe de la nation (Paris: Léo Scheer, 2003). 

  3. In recall­ing the com­mu­nist expe­ri­ence and crit­i­cisms of it, one must not for­get the deci­sive impor­tance of a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous event in East­ern Europe: the Prague Spring and its crush­ing defeat by the War­saw Pact. 

  4. This text was com­mis­sioned by Rossana Rossan­da to extend and gen­er­al­ize Althusser’s inter­ven­tion at the 1978 Venice con­fer­ence on “Pow­er and Oppo­si­tion in Post-Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Soci­eties,” (see the Eng­lish edi­tion, Pow­er and Oppo­si­tion in Post-Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Soci­eties, ed. Il Man­i­festo, trans. Patrick Camiller and John Roth­schild (Lon­don: Ink Links Ltd., 1979) and launched an inter­na­tion­al debate, which took place over sev­er­al weeks in the columns of the Ital­ian com­mu­nist dai­ly Il Man­i­festo, before being col­lect­ed in a small vol­ume that is very dif­fi­cult to track down today: Dis­cutere lo Sta­to (Bari: De Dona­to, 1978). This debate was tak­en up again and devel­oped by Althuss­er in an unfin­ished work: “Marx in His Lim­its,” in The Phi­los­o­phy of the Encounter: Lat­er Writ­ings, 1978-1987, ed. Olivi­er Cor­pet and Fran­cois Math­eron, trans. G.M. Gosh­gar­i­an (New York: Ver­so, 2006). Translator’s Note: For the orig­i­nal arti­cle Bal­ibar men­tions, see Louis Althuss­er, “Le marx­isme comme théorie finie,” in Soli­tude de Machi­av­el, ed. Yves Sin­tomer (Paris: PUF: 1998), 281-96. “Finie” should be tak­en here in the sense of a “finite” or lim­it­ed the­o­ry, while still car­ry­ing the con­no­ta­tions of “fin­ished,” “com­plet­ed,” or “exhaust­ed,” as sug­gest­ed by Althusser’s writ­ings in the same peri­od on the “cri­sis of Marx­ism.” 

  5. Rossana Rossan­da, Le altre: con­ver­sazioni a Radiotre sui rap­por­ti tra donne e polit­i­ca, lib­er­tà, fra­ter­ni­tà, uguaglian­za, democrazia, fas­cis­mo, resisten­za, sta­to, par­ti­to, riv­o­luzione, fem­min­is­mo (Milan: Bom­piani, 1980). 

  6. Mario Tron­ti, Il tem­po del­la polit­i­ca (Rome: Edi­tori Riu­ni­ti, 1980). This text was the first vol­ume in the then-new Ten­den­ze series from Edi­tori Riu­ni­ti. Tron­ti has told me that in this peri­od the lan­guage of the “par­ty-form” (as the antithe­sis of the “state-form”) was in cir­cu­la­tion around the intel­lec­tu­al milieu of operais­mo (per­son­al con­ver­sa­tion). 

  7. Was Althuss­er cor­rect about Gram­sci on this point? I leave this ques­tion to the side. To bet­ter under­stand the con­junc­ture of his ref­er­ences to Gram­sci, one would have to recon­struct the whole debate con­cern­ing the “fideli­ty” or “infi­deli­ty” of Togli­at­ti and the lead­ers of the PCI’s usage of Gram­sci, but also the “provo­ca­tion” ini­ti­at­ed by Nor­ber­to Bobbio’s inter­ven­tion in the mid-1970s, which point­ed out that in the clo­sure of the gap between civ­il soci­ety and polit­i­cal soci­ety laid the ground­work for anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic ten­den­cies in the com­mu­nist tra­di­tion since Marx. 

  8. “finisce per met­tere in causa la for­ma di orga­niz­zazione del par­ti­to stes­so,” Dis­cutere lo Sta­to, 14. 

  9. Ibid., 20. Translator’s Note: Bal­ibar is refer­ring here to Tronti’s work over the course of the 1970s on the “auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal.” In line with oth­er thinkers of his era, like Nor­ber­to Bob­bio, Tron­ti saw major gaps in the polit­i­cal the­o­ry of Marx­ism and its under­stand­ing of the state. The autonomous log­ic of the “polit­i­cal” – the field in which state insti­tu­tions and class forces respond to eco­nom­ic devel­op­ments, with the state often tak­ing an active role of com­mand in the process of cap­i­tal­ist repro­duc­tion – meant that it was not pos­si­ble to sim­ply read class strug­gle as sim­ply a reflec­tion of social dynam­ics. For Tron­ti, there are spe­cif­ic forms of “mod­ern bour­geois pow­er” or “polit­i­cal cycles of cap­i­tal” that do not stand in one-to-one cor­re­spon­dence to the eco­nom­ic rhythms of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, and which for Tron­ti assumed a pri­ma­cy from the Great Depres­sion on. Of course, the prac­ti­cal impor­tance for ana­lyz­ing this speci­fici­ty was the ques­tion of the par­ty and the work­ers’ polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion in and against the state. But it there is a strong ten­den­cy in Tronti’s work on the top­ic to sub­sti­tute the work­ers’ par­ty for the work­ing class itself (a residue, as Anto­nio Negri has sug­gest­ed of the Ital­ian con­junc­ture and the PCI’s strat­e­gy of the His­toric Com­pro­mise), thus pos­ing the ques­tion of whether the need to gov­ern the state effec­tive­ly over­took the demand to abol­ish the cap­i­tal­ist state. This would pre­cise­ly be the auton­o­miza­tion of pol­i­tics tar­get­ed by Althuss­er, a dis­con­nect of com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions from mass move­ments. See Mat­teo Man­dari­ni, “Notes on the Polit­i­cal Over the Longue Durée,” from the View­point issue on the state, itself an intro­duc­tion to Tronti’s 1979 essay, “The Polit­i­cal.” See also Sara R. Far­ris, “Althuss­er and Tron­ti: The Pri­ma­cy of Pol­i­tics Ver­sus the Auton­o­my of the Polit­i­cal,” in Encoun­ter­ing Althuss­er: Pol­i­tics and Mate­ri­al­ism in Con­tem­po­rary Rad­i­cal Thought, eds. Kat­ja Diefen­bach, Sara R. Far­ris, Gal Kirn, and Peter D. Thomas (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 2013), 185-203. 

  10. It is on this point in the dis­cus­sion that I declared myself to be in dis­agree­ment; I attempt­ed to deploy the Althusser­ian con­cep­tion of the “ide­o­log­i­cal state appa­ra­tus­es,” which to me had to include the com­mu­nist par­ties, against Althuss­er him­self (Dis­cutere lo Sta­to, 271 sq.). 

  11. Althuss­er, “Marx in His Lim­its,” 70 sq. Althusser’s line of argu­ment is direct­ed specif­i­cal­ly against Nicos Poulantzas’s argu­ment that the state “is by def­i­n­i­tion tra­versed by class strug­gle”; which, Althuss­er says, is “to engage in wish­ful think­ing.” 

  12. Note that Althuss­er does not say that the bour­geois class is “sep­a­rate from the class strug­gle” – that would be a con­tra­dic­tion in terms, as he insists else­where on the fact that the act that the exis­tence of class­es does not pre­cede their his­tor­i­cal strug­gle. But in order to engage in class strug­gle and insti­tute what we can call, with Gram­sci, “hege­mo­ny,” the bour­geois class con­structs a machine or appa­ra­tus “sep­a­rate from the class strug­gle” (the state) through which it can gov­ern in its own inter­ests and which allows it at the same time to “neu­tral­ize” the rev­o­lu­tion­ary class strug­gle (“depoliti­cize” it: there is a clear con­ver­gence here with Tron­ti and, by proxy, with Carl Schmitt). 

  13. Translator’s note: The dom­i­na­tion-effect [l’effet de dom­i­na­tion] is the oper­a­tive mech­a­nism by which a rela­tion of sub­jec­tion “works,” or repro­duces itself – a rela­tion­ship of ide­o­log­i­cal dom­i­na­tion, for instance. See Éti­enne Bal­ibar and Pierre Macherey, “On Lit­er­a­ture as an Ide­o­log­i­cal Form: Some Marx­ist Propo­si­tions,” trans. Ian McLeod, John White­head, and Ann Wordsworth, Oxford Lit­er­ary Review 3, no. 1 (1978): 4-12. 

  14. In dis­cus­sion at the Pado­va con­fer­ence [where this paper was giv­en], Luciana Castel­li­na specif­i­cal­ly recalled how, with­in com­mu­nist par­ties, women mil­i­tants or even “lead­ers” were charged with imple­ment­ing a “pol­i­tics for women” that was in no way a “women’s pol­i­tics” [des femmes mil­i­tantes ou même « dirigeantes » étaient chargées de met­tre en œuvre une « poli­tique envers les femmes » qui n’était à aucun degré une poli­tique des femmes]. It was not even required that they con­front [elles repren­nent à leur compte] the posi­tions of the Catholic Church on abor­tion, con­tra­cep­tion, or divorce. 

  15. In her 2004 book, Way­ward Repro­duc­tions: Genealo­gies of Race and Nation in Transat­lantic Mod­ern Thought (Durham, NC: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press), Alys Eve Wein­baum relays a con­ver­sa­tion that she and I had had in Amherst in 1996 (at the Rethink­ing Marx­ism con­fer­ence) where she asked me why I did not con­sid­er this dual sense of “repro­duc­tion” when I was seek­ing to define the his­tor­i­cal func­tion of the “genealog­i­cal schema” con­sti­tut­ing the “nation form”: to which I had respond­ed that the two rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent though homony­mous con­cepts must not be confused…I don’t remem­ber the con­ver­sa­tion, but I’m sure she is right: no doubt they must not be “con­fused” but they should cer­tain­ly be “artic­u­lat­ed” or bet­ter: “overde­ter­mined.” 

  16. Il tem­po, 43 

  17. Il tem­po, 33. Ear­li­er (18), Tron­ti reaf­firms that the move­ment of ‘68 did not suf­fer a “defeat.” 

  18. “Soci­ety was tru­ly changed, with the cri­sis and with the exit from the cri­sis, with wars and with strug­gles. It was tru­ly the end of civ­il soci­ety, the bürg­er­liche Gesellschaft, of Fer­gu­son and Hegel, Smith and Marx. It was tru­ly the end of the ide­o­log­i­cal his­to­ry of ‘bour­geois soci­ety,’ as the sep­a­ra­tion of the polit­i­cal State, as the world of the indi­vid­ual and of the pri­vate against the sphere of pub­lic inter­est, as the mar­ket and pro­duc­tion dis­tinct from the norm and the deci­sion. Should we not call all this: the birth of the auton­o­my of the polit­i­cal? Let us call it then: the end of the auton­o­my of the eco­nom­ic…” Il tem­po, 20-21. 

  19. “Where cap­i­tal­ism was weak… the polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion of the work­ers’ move­ment has found [his­tor­i­cal] spaces of devel­op­ment. Where cap­i­tal­ism was strong, through aggres­sive­ness, through nov­el­ty, through the absolute lack of a past, through the unlim­it­ed avail­abil­i­ty of resources… no polit­i­cal form of pro­le­tar­i­an orga­ni­za­tion has even appeared. The rest of the work­ers’ world will have to adjust to this sit­u­a­tion. The form of the work­ers’ par­ty is in cri­sis…” Il tem­po, 77. 

  20. Il tem­po, 71. 

  21. “The con­cept of an orga­nized move­ment begins to become pos­si­ble. It is not the par­ty that must make itself open and become move­ment. And it is the move­ment, or bet­ter the move­ments, which must think to give itself, in new, unknown forms, with­out bor­row­ing from any mod­els, begin­nings, prin­ci­ples, exper­i­ments of orga­ni­za­tion…” Il tem­po, 102. 

  22. “Because here, unlike every­thing that Marx­ism has sus­tained up to now, we see that an egal­i­tar­i­an instance is brought about direct­ly by the advance­ment of cap­i­tal­ism - the woman who works and pro­duces and earns and strug­gles - while inequal­i­ty remains and deep­ens and explodes on the ter­rain of the polit­i­cal, that is on the field of pow­er rela­tions between the sex­es, not in the fam­i­ly-fac­to­ry, but in the fam­i­ly-State, where the divi­sion which counts, between men and women, as between fathers and sons, is indeed not the eco­nom­ic one between pro­duc­ers and con­sumers, but the polit­i­cal one between gov­ern­ing and gov­erned.” Il tem­po, 104. 

  23. Il tem­po, 101. 

  24. Le altre, 20. 

  25. “In the 200 The­ses on Com­mu­nism, women were pre­sent­ed as com­plete mar­gin­al­iza­tion, and in the right place, thus as prob­lema­ti­za­tion of the idea of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject. They were not imper­fect pro­le­tar­i­ans, aspir­ing to the cen­tral­i­ty of the work­ers – they were autonomous fig­ures, direct­ly bear­ers of val­ue… But hav­ing said this, between them and oth­er groups not not­ed to be dif­fer­ent, they always left between paren­the­ses that, if women were a prod­uct of his­to­ry, they were of a his­to­ry long enough to coin­cide with the time of nature…” (Ibid.). 

  26. Ibid., 30. 

  27. Anto­nio Gram­sci, The Prison Note­books, Vol­ume 3, ed. and trans. Joseph Buttigieg and Anto­nio Callari (New York: Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1993), 202 (§65). 

  28. Le altre, 178. 

  29. “Oth­er Milanese voic­es: The pos­i­tive of inequal­i­ty is that each of us is dif­fer­ent. We are dif­fer­ent, and this is a pos­i­tive fact, and we must real­ize that. But the neg­a­tive is the rigid divi­sion of roles, of cul­ture. From the mode of edu­cat­ing girls dif­fer­ent­ly, and then assign­ing them a cer­tain role as adults…this way they man­age to reduce all of a woman’s capac­i­ties.” Ibid., 109. 

  30. Ibid., 115. 

  31. Ibid., 28-9. 

  32. Ibid., 74. 

  33. Translator’s note: atopic, from the Greek áto­pos or atopía, mean­ing “out of place,” or “of no place.” 

  34. Françoise Duroux, “Une classe de femmes est-elle pos­si­ble?”: Post-scrip­tum pour une mise à l’heure et propo­si­tions pour un essai d’épistémologie du “gen­der” à la manière de Niet­zsche (unpub­lished text): “But this exit from nature [which is induced by “class racism,” in part com­pa­ra­ble to “sex­u­al racism”] nev­er­the­less proves to be impos­si­ble, for the ple­beians, for the work­ers, because two cor­rel­a­tive con­di­tions are ful­filled: the pos­si­bil­i­ty of giv­ing shape to the group (the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the col­lec­tive, of form­ing a group, form­ing links), [and] the pos­si­bil­i­ty of inscrib­ing this group in the polis (the city) and on the polit­i­cal ter­rain. It is not insignif­i­cant that this sec­ond pos­si­bil­i­ty depends on a delim­i­ta­tion of ter­ri­to­ries: that of the com­mu­ni­ty of men, rel­a­tive to the exclu­sion of women…Who is it that we call women in rela­tion to these two pos­si­bil­i­ties? Through three scenes, I will try to show how the women of the first divi­sion, who will doubt­less remain the last, encounter the apo­r­ia of iden­ti­ty and are forced to push it to its ulti­mate con­se­quences. Apo­r­ias, impass­es, the study of “issues” – these terms per­sist in fem­i­nist texts, symp­toms of an inad­e­quate rela­tion­ship of facts to state­ments. In the sys­tem of “rep­re­sen­ta­tions” and con­cepts, “solu­tions” do not exist, except for a return to the ini­tial case: the com­ple­men­tar­i­ty of the sex­es. Three scenes in which a dis­crep­an­cy appears: the “exit from nature” becomes the seces­sion from the Acrop­o­lis [in the fable of Lysis­tra­ta], dis­con­tent [malen­ten­du] in the Repub­lic [the repres­sion of “cit­i­zens” dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion], the seces­sion of the “out­siders” [Vir­ginia Woolf’s “Out­siders’ Soci­ety”], impos­si­ble with­out aban­don­ing place, iden­ti­ty, and class. Utopia meets atopia…” (10-11). 

  35. See anoth­er lat­er text by Mario Tron­ti: La polit­i­ca al tra­mon­to, (Turin: Ein­au­di 1998). 

  36. It would be inter­est­ing to exam­ine the ways in which this genealog­i­cal dilem­ma appears, reach­ing back to Marx. In the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo specif­i­cal­ly, there are two clear “lines” in com­pe­ti­tion with one anoth­er: the expres­sion “com­mu­nist par­ty” essen­tial­ly des­ig­nates the becom­ing-con­scious and orga­ni­za­tion of the strug­gles of the pro­le­tar­i­an class­es, which is noth­ing oth­er than the expres­sion of the alien­ation or inter­nal decom­po­si­tion of bour­geois soci­ety (this is the line that Lukács will take to an extreme with cer­tain for­mu­la­tions in His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness in 1923); but on the oth­er hand, Marx describes the his­to­ry of class strug­gles as a suc­ces­sion of forms of antag­o­nism grad­u­al­ly affect­ing an increas­ing num­ber of groups (a “polar­iza­tion” of soci­ety, in the course of which the bour­geoisie “schools the pro­le­tari­at” [enrôle le pro­lé­tari­at], pro­vid­ing it with a “polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion” until it becomes autonomous and turns against the bour­geoisie). And this dou­ble line is doubt­less present in Lenin’s What is to Be Done?, in which the work­ers’ “class con­scious­ness” and orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty is organ­i­cal­ly linked to their capac­i­ty to rep­re­sent “all class­es of soci­ety.” 

  37. “So it will be as ‘red wives’ [épous­es rouges], to employ Clara Zetkin’s expres­sion, that women will be invit­ed to the ‘class strug­gle,’ includ­ed in the class, espous­ing its inter­ests, col­lab­o­rat­ing in a his­tor­i­cal process that does not affect their place” (Duroux, op. cit., 17). Duroux notes that such sub­or­di­na­tion oscil­lates uncon­trol­lably between a devel­op­ment of the divi­sion of labor between the sex­es and a polit­i­cal instru­men­tal­iza­tion of the sex­u­al rela­tion­ship (or, if one prefers, “love”). 

  38. Geneviève Fraisse, Les Deux gou­verne­ments: la famille et la Cité, (Paris: Folio Gal­li­mard, 2000). 

  39. Nev­er­the­less, this repro­duc­tion should not be read in a fatal­is­tic or deter­min­is­tic man­ner, as it also con­tains an aleato­ry dimen­sion, as Althuss­er would say. This is undoubt­ed­ly why Rossan­da can write that “set­tling accounts with the biggest [of the polit­i­cal par­ties], the com­mu­nist par­ty… is already a way of set­tling accounts with the state.” Le altre, 30. 

  40. The term “counter-soci­ety,” which has tak­en on a gen­er­al usage in con­tem­po­rary soci­ol­o­gy, was first employed apro­pos the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty by Annie Kriegel (who had been a near­ly fanat­ic mil­i­tant in the par­ty and who sub­se­quent­ly became a vocif­er­ous crit­ic) in a 1968 text: Les com­mu­nistes français. 1920-1970 (Paris: Le Seuil, 1985 [1968]). Nat­u­ral­ly, when tak­en beyond polemics, this cat­e­go­ry opens up a prob­lem with no easy solu­tion: between the de fac­to con­di­tion of a work­er-work­erist cul­ture (which is also, as we see today among immi­grant work­ers, is a strat­e­gy for defend­ing tra­di­tion­al famil­ial forms threat­ened by wage labor) and the anti-cap­i­tal­ist “volon­té de scis­sion,” there is an array of his­tor­i­cal modal­i­ties of “com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism” that engen­der class con­scious­ness. “Counter-pow­er,” on the oth­er hand, is a cat­e­go­ry of the lib­er­al polit­i­cal tra­di­tion (always in force in the idea of checks and bal­ances) appro­pri­at­ed by Marx­ist polit­i­cal the­o­ry, which has inscribed it in a gen­er­al­ized rep­re­sen­ta­tion of pol­i­tics as con­flict, or even as “war” con­tin­ued by oth­er means. 

  41. Françoise Duroux, “La famille des ouvri­ers: mythe ou poli­tique?,” Ph.D Diss., Uni­ver­si­ty of Paris-VII, 1982. This ques­tion probes far­ther into the “unsaid” of Marx­ism, since it forces one to exam­ine how Marx “exclud­ed” the rela­tion­ship between men and women as a sex­u­al rela­tion­ship from the schema of forms of dom­i­na­tion, which was actu­al­ly includ­ed by the “utopi­an” socialisms Marx crit­i­cized. It is true that this inclu­sion would have forced him to call into ques­tion the lin­ear­i­ty of the his­tor­i­cal order of suc­ces­sion between modes of exploita­tion, and also renounce the idea that what char­ac­ter­izes the pro­le­tari­at is its rad­i­cal absence of prop­er­ty (Eigen­tum­slosigkeit), and that in a com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion pro­le­tar­i­ans have “noth­ing to lose but their chains.” Pro­le­tar­i­ans are always pri­vate own­ers of “some­thing,” name­ly their wives (cor­po­re­al­ly and through domes­tic labor) and fam­i­lies; thus they have “some­thing to lose,” or at least the moral con­di­tions of rev­o­lu­tion does not present them­selves in terms that are imme­di­ate­ly uni­ver­sal­iz­able. 

  42. In par­tic­u­lar, Lenin’s ambiva­lent stances towards Rosa Lux­em­burg should be stud­ied, and a for­tiori those of Lukács, who was clos­er to her the­o­ret­i­cal posi­tions from the start. But in His­to­ry and Class Con­scious­ness, Lukács took it upon him­self, as it were, to offer crit­i­cisms of Lux­em­burg over the way in which the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion liq­ui­dat­ed the ques­tion of democ­ra­cy: the response that Lenin was hence­forth unable to give. 

  43. The inverse of which might be what Geneviève Fraisse again calls “con­sent,” which direct­ly reflects the clas­si­cal prob­lem­at­ic of “vol­un­tary servi­tude.” Geneviève Fraisse, Du con­sen­te­ment (Paris: Edi­tions du Seuil, 2007). 

  44. Marx­ism proves inca­pable of “resolv­ing” the log­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion which holds that class can­not “divide” the cat­e­go­ry of women with­out sex­u­al dif­fer­ence (or “gen­der”) divid­ing the class: the bour­geoisie are not work­ers, and the work­ers are the bour­geoisie, but the eman­ci­pa­tion of the work­ers in rela­tion to the two forms of dom­i­na­tion they under­go calls into ques­tion the “neu­tral­i­ty” of the pro­le­tari­at as con­cerns gen­der which spans, in prac­tice, a mas­cu­line mod­el of social antag­o­nism (whose extreme form is “social war” or “civ­il war”). 

  45. The para­dox is that social strug­gles orga­nized by the com­mu­nist par­ty democ­ra­tize bour­geois soci­ety, but jus­ti­fy (for a cer­tain peri­od of time) a non-demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­ci­pline and a monop­oly of pow­er with­in the par­ty. We are close here to what Georges Lavau, in an impor­tant study of the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty, called in Machi­avel­lian terms (bor­rowed not from The Prince, but from the Dis­cours­es on Livy) the “trib­u­tary func­tion” of the orga­nized work­ers’ move­ment. Georges Lavau, À quoi sert le Par­ti com­mu­niste français? (Paris: Fayard, 1981). 

  46. The mere fact of pos­ing this ques­tion breaks with the tra­di­tion of the “dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at,” as it is the­o­rized after Lenin, since it relies on the apoc­a­lyp­tic idea of the advent of absolute democ­ra­cy that pass­es through its oppo­site, and even through its insti­tu­tion­al nega­tion. But on the oth­er hand or con­verse­ly, the idea of an insti­tu­tion of strug­gle for com­mu­nism that must real­ize it in advance and in itself (or pre­fig­ure the com­mu­nist future) ties back, through the “asso­ci­a­tions” of utopi­an social­ism, to the mes­sian­ic pol­i­tics of the first Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties (which were also, in the West, doubt­less the first sites where what Alain Badiou calls the “com­mu­nist hypoth­e­sis” took shape). 

  47. But also often with­in the “sys­tem” and its less and less obe­di­ent trans­mis­sion belts, in par­tic­u­lar the unions: Cf. Bruno Trentin , Il Sin­da­ca­to dei con­sigli (a col­lec­tion of inter­views with Bruno Ugoli­ni, Edi­tori Riu­ni­ti, Roma, 1980). One finds a cryp­tic pre­sen­ta­tion of the con­flict that divid­ed the CGT in ‘68 over this point, and which result­ed in the vic­to­ry of the old­er, con­trol­ling appa­ra­tus of the union by the lead­er­ship of the par­ty, in the mem­oirs recent­ly pub­lished by Georges Séguy, for­mer sec­re­tary of the French CGT: Résis­ter: de Mau­thausen à Mai 68 (Paris: L’Archipel, 2008). 

  48. I leave to the side the ques­tion of coun­cil democ­ra­cy, which pos­es oth­er prob­lems, even if they can only be abstract­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed. The lega­cy of the idea of “coun­cils” today prin­ci­pal­ly invites research on the expe­ri­ences of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry, non-par­lia­men­tary “counter-democ­ra­cy” (which does not means anti-par­lia­men­tary). Cf. Yves Sin­tomer, Le pou­voir au peu­ple (Paris: La décou­verte, 2007). Translator’s note: We have ren­dered Balibar’s dif­fi­cult phrase, “recours utopique,” as “utopi­an last resort,” fol­low­ing Michael C. Behrent’s trans­la­tion found in a recent inter­view with Bal­ibar con­duct­ed by Nico­las Duvoux and Pas­cal Sévérac in La vie des idées. Note that Balibar’s use of the term, although not entire­ly clear, seems close­ly tied that of a “sup­ple­ment” – an oth­er scene or modal­i­ty of pol­i­tics that needs to be tak­en into account in its speci­fici­ty. 

  49. Étienne Bal­ibar, “Occa­sion­al Notes on Com­mu­nism,” trans. Blan­dine Joret, Kri­sis: Jour­nal of Con­tem­po­rary Phi­los­o­phy, no.1 (2011). 

  50. Sopho­cles, Antigone, Con un sag­gio di Rossana Rossan­da, trad. Luisa Bion­de­tii (Milan: Fel­trinel­li, 1987). 

Author of the article

is a French philosopher and currently Anniversary Chair of Contemporary European Philosophy at Kingston University London and Visiting Professor at Columbia University.