✍ Marxism and the French Left. Studies on Labour and Politics in France, 1830-1981 [1986]

por Teoría de la historia

e50ce03ae7a044397f9fd110.LAfter two monographs on particular aspects of nineteenth and twentieth-century French socialism, Tony Judt turns to a broad survey of this most studied of French political traditions. The result is stimulating but not easily categorized: it is neither a comprehensive survey of Marxism and the French Left, as promised by the title, nor a set of disconnected essays, as the subtitle threatens. The author devotes close attention to only five topics, some broad, others rather narrow, but in the process he conveys a coherent view of French socialist history. This work deserves to reach a wide audience -and reaches out half-way toward one- but perhaps requires too much prior knowledge to become popular. Specialists will find some received ideas challenged -and, indeed, Judt has some harsh words for much socialist historiography- but he demonstrates the benefits of studying Marxism from the “outside”. The strength of Judt’s interpretation comes from his understanding that French socialism belongs “to the revolutionary tradition in a land where politics always took precedence over economics in determining collective behaviour” (p. 21). Precisely for this reason, he argues, Marxism was readily assimilated into the mainstream of French socialism in the 1880s and 1890s; Marx’s analysis of the French political situation was sound even though the French case showed his theory of history to be nonsense. After demonstrating the futility of a Marxist explanation of the history of the French labor movement, Judt issues a welcome call for “a demythologized history of French labour” (p. 113). Judt’s examination of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière in the 1920s and 1930s also argues the failure of any Marxist interpretation, for he shows a party with a doctrine and a strategy designed to serve the interests of the proletariat yet largely at variance with “the sociological configuration of either its membership or its voters” (p. 158). Yet, the claim of the socialists who supported Jean Jaurès and Leon Blum to be Marxists was as legitimate as the claim of the post-Tours Communists. Judt also suggests -heretically, but with good reason- that Blum’smarxism-and-the-french-left political achievements were in many respects more remarkable than those of his mentor, Jaurès. Judt is also critical of the historiography that tries to separate the leftist intellectual tradition in France from the popular socialist and labor movements. His post-mortem on the flourishing of the Marxism of the French intelligentsia after 1945 is devastating: “Marxism became the subject matter of marxists, where once that role had been filled by the real world of social relation” (p. 174), although it reveals a certain “Anglo-Saxon” prejudice toward the French culture of the Word. Although he argues that the intellectual passing of Marxism is not to be regretted, Judt’s work ends -in his historian’s look at the election of François Mitterrand to the presidency- on a note of loss, a sense of the end of an era in the history of the French Left.

[William LOGUE. “Marxism and the French Left: Studies in Labour and Politics in France, 1830-1981 by Tony Judt” (reseña), in The American Historical Review, vol. XCII, nº 3, junio de 1987, p. 685]