Published: in Solidarity, V, 9 (April 1969)
Transcribed: by Jonas Holmgren
Proofed: by George Poulados
This book, although hastily compiled to meet the mass demand for such works which followed the events of May 1968, is nevertheless essential reading. It is an exciting piece of living history, written by articulate and active participants, one of whom became the spokesman for a wide layer of student revolutionaries. The original French version was called Le Gauchisme - remède à la maladie sénile du communisme - a witty and meaningful rejoinder to Lenin's denunciation of left-wing communism as an "infantile disorder". The English title is unfortunately quite meaningless.
Starting with the student revolt in modern industrial societies, the authors analyze the background to the March 22 Movement, the spread of the ideas of May to sections of the working class, the strategy of the bourgeois state, the Gaullist phenomenon and - in considerable detail - the role of the Communist Party and its historical roots in ideology and previous practice.
The authors' thinking is throughout clearly influenced by material published in Socialisme ou Barbarie, Internationale Situationniste, Informations et Correspondance Ouvrières, Noir et Rouge, and Recherches Libertaires, an ideological debt freely, but rather erratically, acknowledged. The "plagiarism" is extensive, intelligently selective and thoroughly commendable, ensuring a wide audience for views as yet insufficiently known. Great chunks, for instance, of the Solidarity Pamphlet on The Workers' Opposition are to be found in the authors' discussion of the nature of Bolshevism. As the authors nicely put it: "Cohn-Bendit is simply the anonymous author of all these reviews".
I have but one criticism and it has been voiced before. It is a note of scepticism concerning the implied proximity of total revolution. It is hard to accept that, last May, it was touch and go whether everything would be swept aside. Or to believe that if, on the morning of May 25, Paris had awoken with several ministries occupied, Gaullism would have collapsed ... and self-management become an objective immediately to be fulfilled.
The grip of class society unfortunately exerts itself at a much deeper level than the authors appear to suspect. Even the decomposition of bourgeois state power -and one could argue whether it was as profound as they believe - is no guarantee that bourgeois institutions will be replaced by consciously created socialist ones. The essential precondition for a radical and total social transformation is the change, brought about through the class struggle itself, in the attitudes of the mass of the population, i.e. the working class. These attitudes today are not only coloured by the traditional organizations but are constantly reinforced by the very conditions of capitalist production and of life in capitalist society (passivity of workers subjected to domination by machines, pressure of financial insecurity, preoccupation with only immediate things, etc.). These attitudes (which add up to the more or less widespread acceptance of slavery by the majority of the slaves) are one of the main causes for the perpetuation of bourgeois or bureaucratic rule. (Other factors act in an opposite direction, constantly compelling people to question the methods, priorities and relations of capitalist production.) The ideological superstructure of capitalist society isn't as fragile as many revolutionaries seem to think. It has enormous resilience and to shatter it a whole epoch of sustained and conscious struggle will be necessary. The French events undoubtedly initiated such a period. But by ignoring this facet the Cohn-Bendit book at times unconsciously lapses into a system of ideas in which the role of active minorities would seem to be paramount. Paradoxically it is a system of ideas which thus explicitly formulated the authors would be the first to reject.
 Gabriel Cohn-Bendit and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative (London: André Deutsch, 1968).
Last updated on: 12.27.2011