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New Left Review I/109, May-June 1978

Louis Althusser

What Must Change in the Party

The defeat of the Union of the Left has seriously confused the popular masses and filled many Communists with profound disquiet. [*] The text that follows was published in four parts in Le Monde, on 24, 25, 26 and 27 April 1978. Publication was timed to coincide with the first Central Committee meeting after the elections (first round 12 March, second round 19 March), which was held on 26, 27 and 28 April. A slightly revised version of Althusser’s text has since been published by François Maspéro in book form, with a foreword commenting on Marchais’s report to the April cc meeting. All footnotes to the English translation have been added by nlr. A ‘workerist’—or more precisely sectarian—faction is openly rejoicing at the break with the Socialist Party, presenting it as a victory over the social-democratic danger. But the majority of militants are alarmed, not only at the grave setback itself, but above all at the condition in which this strange defeat took place. Moreover, something new is happening. While they wait for an explanation from the Party leadership, the militants are themselves beginning to analyse the process that led to the defeat: namely, the line actually followed by the Party, with all its somersaults, and the vagaries of its practice. What they seek from the leadership is an assurance that it will respect the material conditions without which the analysis cannot be pursued or its conclusions discussed. In particular, they are demanding an open forum in the party press and genuinely democratic preparation of the Twenty-Third Congress.

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Louis Althusser, ‘What Must Change in the Party’, NLR I/109: £3

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