THE FRENCH COMMUNIST PARTY VERSUS THE STUDENTS: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968 by Richard Johnson


Email this review


The French Communist Party has energetically manipulated intellectuals in the same way the U.S. government has tried to use academics in the service of the cold war: policy is formulated beyond their reach while they are assigned to beautify it for the public and make it palatable to their colleagues. Johnson anatomizes this relationship by examining the postwar left-wing French intelligentsia, from off-and-on fellow travelers like Sartre to party hacks like the recent expellee Roger Garaudy. Johnson maps how the exigencies of postwar ""peaceful coexistence"" prompted the Party toward a detente with existentialism; likewise Garaudy gyrated to prove the compatability of Catholicism with Marxism. ""Theory"" and ""theoreticians"" were cut to suit tactical tastes; Johnson carries this truism further by analyzing the organizational structure of the party, noting that discrete sections like ""the student movement,"" ""the peace movement,"" and ""the trade-union movement"" evolve their own directions which often clash with the party's general aims. Student intellectuals are a classic example: taking their theories too seriously, they get purged. Johnson underscores the impotence of the intellectual gauchistes -- the uprising of May 1968, for example, threw them into opposition against the party's strongmen, but they had nothing more than ""purity"" and ""direct action"" to propose. Given Johnson's commendable effort to discuss power relations within the party, it is regrettable that he underestimates the role of the trade union-based ""proletarian kernel"" and exaggerates its ""dogmatic orthodoxy."" With its mappings of Althusser, Lefebvre, Aragon, et al. and their tangles in the May heat, the book performs a valuable service; the party and its ""theorists"" still await the full sociological and historical grasp of a Robert Michels or a Carl Schorske, but this is a must for those interested in a coherent view of the Communists' role in the May Days, especially since its historical dimensions are fuller than those of Touraine, Singer, Lefebvre, et al.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1972
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press