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New Left Review I/52, November-December 1968

J. M. Vincent

The PCF and its History

The socialist revolution in France cannot be a repetition of the May events, any more than the 1917 Revolution (February and October) was a repetition of 1905. The May events were a tremendous explosion, in which (through tracts, meetings, newspapers and even sometimes through the distorted accounts in the bourgeois press) forgotten revolutionary traditions and intellectual weapons were rediscovered by hundreds of thousands of workers and students. But it must not be thought that a confident and coherent vanguard with properly formulated objectives has arisen out of it. Only a beginning was made—a start which both reflects the unfinished, interrupted character of the revolutionary process and the embryonic, incomplete and contradictory nature of the political leadership which tried to confront the crisis. The abortive revolution of May was profound in its implications for the collective unconscious of the masses, in the energy released in numerous strata of society, in its shock to new and old hierarchical structures; but it was also marked by a kind of political debility both at the base and at the summit. This is not to deny its exemplary character or its importance as a point of reference for future revolutionary activity, but care must be taken not to idealize all its aspects or to believe that it is a model that can be faithfully reproduced. A political advance, or more exactly a break with the political practice of the various organizations, is necessary if the conditions of victory are to be assured. In particular, the more or less ‘instinctive’ receptivity of students, technicians and young workers to oppositional Marxist tendencies must be transformed into a creative assimilation of Marxism—which presupposes a fairly rapid ideological clarification of the May movement. In this respect, it is of crucial importance that the theoretical and political positions of the revolutionary current which is now emerging in France should not remain at the level of an abstract and general critique of the pcf (revisionism, social-democratization) but should be such that they erode day by day the conservatism of the pcf’s apparatus and its influence on the masses.

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J. M. Vincent, ‘The PCF and its History’, NLR I/52: £3

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