The French Review 57.1 (1983): 121-122..
HIRSH, ARTHUR. The French New Left: An Intellectual History from Sartre to Gorz. Boston: South End Press, 1981. Pp. 253. $7.00.
[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]
Arthur Hirsh's concise study of the evolving theoretical dimension
of the French New Left is divided into three sections: I. "The
Intellectual Origins of the French Left," II. "May 1968,"
and III. "Beyond May 1968: The Legacy of the French New Left."
The first section clearly explains the Post-World War II intellectual
orientations of the French Left, based on the critique of Marxism,
on the inspiration of Hegelian studies, and on the discussion
of Marx's Paris Manuscripts. Hirsh then considers the three
branches of this Leftist analysis, within as well as outside the
French Communist Party: Sartre's "Existentialist Challenge"
(chapter 2), and his critique of Marxism in the Critique of
Dialectical Reason (a careful analysis in chapter 3); Henri
Lefèbvre's revisionist consideration of Marx in the Arguments
journal of the mid-fifties (chapter 4); and the Socialisme
ou Barbarie reflection on Marxism, focusing on the early works
of Cornelius Castoriadis (chapter 5).
Not only does Hirsh present a discussion of these different trends, he also explains each position as it relates to the next section, the rupture of May 1968. Hirsh maintains that, for this period of upheaval, Sartre's Critique provided a philosophical foundation for New Left themes. Hirsh also shows to what extent Lefèbvre's thought turned full circle from "Surrealist romanticism of the 1920's, to the Stalinist orthodoxy of the 1940's, and finally back to a utopian Socialist romanticism in the 1960's" (p. 104). To situate this second section, Hirsh discusses how the Socialisme ou Barbarie group represented the only vehicle for a systematic gauchiste critique of the Communist movement during the height of the Cold War, thereby providing a forum for numerous issues, such as autogestion and the rise of bureaucracy, which came to the forefront during and after May 1968.
This "revolution" of the late sixties (chapter 6) was the true turning point for each of the Leftist trends: Hirsh affirms that Sartre emerged as a leader in this protest, linked to the influence of the mid-sixties theoretical work by André Gorz (Stratégie ouvrière et néo-capitalisme) who was closely associated with l'UNEF leaders. Furthermore, Lefèbvre's works influenced the post-May 1968 analysis of alienation in capitalist consumption by the Internationale Situationniste group, whose theories extolled revolution through guerilla theater. And the influence of Castoriadis and of Socialisme ou Barbarie was revealed in the actions of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Nanterre March 22nd movement, whose members were also students of Lefèbvre.
Concluding that the events of May 1968 represent both a beginning and an end, Hirsh examines, in the final section, the structuralist-marxism of Althusser, the debates concerning Eurocommunism, and several social movements growing from the May 1968 activism. While severely criticizing the multiple stances of the Althusserian project (chapter 7), Hirsh situates them very well in the context of developments within the French Communist Party. His examination of the growth of Eurocommunism (chapter 8), entitled "the Crisis of Marxism," details the intricacies of Nicos Poulantzas's thought as well as the curiously concurrent emergence of the "Nouveaux Philosophes." Finally, "The New Social Movements of the 1970's" (chapter 9) reveal the importance of single-issue debates related to worker-oriented autogestion, Simone de Beauvoir and the new French feminists (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva, et al.), and les verts, the growth of the ecological movement, especially as reflected in André Gorz's recent theoretical works.
Despite the intricate topics considered, Hirsh's book is immensely
readable and extensively researched: the numerous end-notes for
each chapter provide a wealth of references for the reader seeking
a detailed follow-up to each issue examined, constituting a valuable
and precise orientation to the French Leftist political sphere.
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University