Alain Badiou, the Maoist Investigation, and the Party-Form

in Historical Materialism
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As scholarly interest in the experience of French Maoism has been undergoing something of a renaissance, it is unsurprising that the Maoist practice of investigations has elicited varying degrees of attention in recent years. But this attention has tended to be subsumed within, if not overshadowed by, much broader historical and exegetical undertakings. This paper seeks to redress this limitation in the literature by focusing on the lengthiest and most detailed summary of Maoist investigations among peasants in the French countryside, The Book of Poor Peasants, published by Alain Badiou’s Group for the Foundation of the Union of Communists of France Marxist-Leninist (ucfml) in 1976. This book vividly demonstrates the difficulties and limitations associated with the practice of investigations. It thus affords a more critical appreciation of this practice. The book also casts Badiou’s shift toward a ‘politics without party’ in a new light.

Historical Materialism

Research in Critical Marxist Theory



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Bosteels 2005, pp. 580–1; Ross 2002, pp. 109–13; Wolin 2010, pp. 18, 131–2, 138, 159, 303, 305–7, 323, 330, 338. Ross offers a synopsis of crucial aspects of the investigation in her analysis of social amnesia about May 1968 in France. Bosteels dwells briefly on the investigation in his dialectical interpretation of the later Badiou. Wolin devotes a few pages of his lengthy book to the popularity of investigations among organisations concerned with the struggles of traditionally marginalised groups, such as prisoners, gays and women.


Badiou 2010, pp. 52–4.


Bosteels 2005, pp. 629–30, n. 50.


Fields 1988, p. 98.


Bosteels 2005, p. 585.


Bosteels 2005, p. 579.


Mao 1971, pp. 23–39.


Marx 1997.


Rigaudias-Weiss 1975, pp. 158–70.


Wright 2002, pp. 24–5.


Wolin 2010, pp. 330–1.


Hoffman 2015.


Smith 2013. For the recollections of a ujcml militant who conducted investigations among peasants in the Vosges region of northeastern France only to then take up a position in a factory, see Manceaux 1972, pp. 54–7.


Artières 2011, pp. 53–4.


Badiou 2001b, pp. 95–6.


Toscano 2008, p. 535.


Hallward 2003, p. 41.


Hallward 2003, p. 43.


Badiou 2008, pp. 85–6.


Badiou 2008, p. 15.


Badiou 2008, p. 12.


Badiou 2008, p. 87.


Badiou 2008, p. 67.


Badiou 2008, p. 108.


Badiou 2008, p. 109.


Badiou 2010, pp. 181–2.


Badiou 2010, pp. 179–80. Marx criticised the Communards for failing to attack the government of Adolphe Thiers in Versailles at its moment of greatest vulnerability (Marx 1996, p. 178). V.I. Lenin echoed a more general variation of this criticism in Lenin 2002, p. 37.


Badiou 2010, p. 182.


Badiou 2010, pp. 113–4, 155–6.


Badiou 2001a, p. 67; my italics.


Hallward 2003, p. 126.


Badiou 1975, p. 110.


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