Raya Dunayevskaya 1958

Whither Paris?

Source: News & Letters, July, 1958. This piece appeared in “Two Worlds,” Dunayevskaya’s regular column of this period;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

History, wrote Marx in his analysis of the coup of Napoleon III a century ago, repeats itself: once as tragedy, the next time as farce. Today, two weeks after the coup of De Gaulle this applies both to General de Gaulle and to the French Communist Party. The General deludes himself that he can become the heroic Maid of Orleans merely by substituting the “I, De Gaulle” for Petain’s capitulation to Nazi Germany. The French Communist Part thinks it can delude the workers because it is saying all the correct things against De Gaulle, although it did nothing to stop him.

There is no greater obstacle in the path of the workers striving for a totally new way of life than that the Communist should gain control of their movement and once again thwart their aspirations, as they have done ever since the end of World War II when they used their prestige as Resistance fighters to establish bourgeois parliamentarianism that brought De Gaulle to power in 1945, and again in 1958.


The Communists had been officers in the French Resistance under De Gaulle. At the end of the war they outdid him in their chauvinistic attitude to Germany. In both cases it was because they followed the Moscow line. So long as they thought they could keep him from attaching himself to the other pole of world capital – America – they didn’t find too much to criticize in the General.

Meanwhile, a million Frenchmen had joined the Communist Party. Other millions – workers in trade unions – let the Communists gain control of their union. These workers, however, were not playing parliamentary politics. They had hoped thus to have “the form of organization” with which to establish an entirely new society free from capitalist exploitation.

The Communist Party, however, had no intention of reaching for power – not when there was no Russian Army at hand to control the workers. Instead, it began to expand its “cultural” activities while engaging in politicking at its worst. For example, it voted emergency powers to Pflimlim [1] that forbade workers’ demonstrations and was part of the parliamentary farce which completed the downfall of the Fourth French Republic. There is no doubt that the social composition of the Communist Party in France has changed radically during this decade as it moved away from proletarian action. The only successful Communist call for strike action in 1958 was from the Teachers Federation. Nevertheless the Communists hope now to regain the working class support that the socialists have had.


A key role in this will be played by the French intellectuals. The most infamous of these are the Existentialists who have been willing victims of the Communists who leave them free “to engage” or “disengage” from any activity in the mass movement by taking over all “responsibilities of leadership.”

1948 witnessed the first breakaway of a part of the French proletariat from the stranglehold of the Communist Party. Existentialists offered to lead it – and led it right back to Communism. The most prominent Existentialist apologist for Communism, Jean-Paul Sartre, did break away during the brutal Communist suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, but he is now back in some “popular front against fascism.”


It is not out of any confusion between Marxism and Communism. Nor is it necessarily for lack of bravery. No. The brainwashing these intellectuals have undergone is due to the simple fact that intellectuals, far removed from the discipline of the factory and the class struggle, are afflicted with an incurable malady: the concept that workers are “backward,” must be “taught,” must be “led.” They are totally blind to the fact that the greatest obstacle in the way of the workers’ establishing a totally new society, new human relations, is precisely the established self-styled Marxist parties like the Communist, Socialists and Labor Party.


Where Marx removed theory from a dispute among intellectuals and made it into a wagon in the class struggle, the modern intellectual reduces theory to a word game reserved for intellectuals. Where the Existentialist intellectual thwarted the proletarian attempt to break away from Communism, the Marxist intellectual let it suffocate for lack of any comprehensive revolutionary theory with which to combat Communism. Where they did not thirst to lead, to sit in the seat of the capitalists and plan “for” the workers, they nevertheless did nothing to face their intellectual responsibility, to put an end to the intellectual sloth that has accumulated in the Marxist movement. Despite all protestations to the contrary, small theoretical groupings who did see Communism for the state capitalist tyranny it is, did nothing to re-establish Marxism in its original form of a new Humanism. It is high time for a serious reappraisal.

1. Pierre Pflimlin (1907-2007) served as prime minister in the weeks leading up to the return of De Gaulle. Transcriber’s note.