One of the most striking aspects of Sarkozy’s rise to power was the support he attracted from Left renegades—from turncoats such as André Glucksmann. As someone who still wears his coat very much the same way round, how would you explain this strange phenomenon?

I think you have to put this in perspective, or rather look at it more closely. First of all, it would be better to ask: why so many Maoists from the Gauche Prolétarienne? Because it is among them that you find those who ‘went wrong’ in this way. Secondly, as far as I am aware, only a few rank-and-file activists in the gp made this about-turn. So, to give your question a slightly more technical character, I would say: why did so many people in the gp leadership take such a bad turn?

There were other Maoist organizations—for example the ucfml, which I was involved in establishing, along with Sylvain Lazarus, Natacha Michel and others, in 1970.footnote1 In fact, Lazarus and Michel came from the gp, in the wake of a split of sorts, whereas my own background was completely different: I came from the psu, the social democrats. I’m not aware of a single leader or activist in our organization who took a wrong turn, in the sense we are speaking of here. People from other organizations, such as the gop and vlr, often went back to the pcf, and there was a sprinkling of other groups, in particular the pcmlf, whose idea was more to rebuild the good old Communist Party, which was already in pretty poor shape.footnote2 On the whole, these people are still somewhere or other ‘on the left’ today.

But those who ‘went wrong’ in public and spectacular fashion—some of them, like Glucksmann, becoming official supporters of Sarkozy—did come from the gp, which was broadly hegemonic in this milieu, particularly among intellectuals. We could mention Serge July, founder of Libération, Benny Lévy, who was the gp’s leading figure, Jacques-Alain Miller, Jean-Claude Milner, Olivier Rolin, head of the military wing, or indeed Glucksmann himself, who joined rather late in the day, but joined all the same. There were also less well-known intellectuals such as Jean-Marc Salmon, who played a major role at Vincennes and later became a die-hard pro-American.footnote3

There are a number of ways to understand this turncoat phenomenon. The first is that many of these people had a mistaken analysis of the situation at that time, in the years 1966–73; they thought that it was actually revolutionary, in an immediate sense. The Miller brothers gave me the tersest formulations on this point. A few years later, around 1978, I asked them: ‘Why did you just quit like that?’ Because they dropped out very suddenly—even today there are elderly workers, Malians in the hostels, Moroccans in the factories, who ask us: ‘How is it that, overnight, we never saw those guys again?’ Jacques-Alain Miller said to me: ‘Because I realized one day that the country was quiet.’ And Gérard: ‘Because we understood we were not going to take power.’ It was a very revealing response, that of people who saw their undertaking not as the start of a long journey with a great deal of ebb and flow, but as an avenue towards power. Gérard said as much in all innocence, and he later joined the Socialist party, which is something else again.

So, a mistaken understanding of the conjuncture, leading either to a blocked ambition, or to the realization that it was going to take a great deal of trouble and hard work in a situation that was not all that promising. You could see them in Balzacian terms as ambitious young men who imagined they were going to take Paris by dint of revolutionary enthusiasm, but then came to understand that things were a bit more complicated. The proof of this is that a large number of these people have found positions of power elsewhere, in psychoanalysis, in the media, as philosophical commentators, and so on. Their renunciation did not take place along the lines of: ‘I’ll go back to being anonymous’, but rather: ‘That wasn’t the right card, so I’ll play a different one.’

There was a second principle involved in this reversal, less Balzacian and more ideological. This was embodied by the ‘nouveaux philosophes’—themselves part of a long history—and by those who followed them, often with a certain honesty and not necessarily for personal ends. What happened at that point was a transition from the alternatives of ‘bourgeois world or revolutionary world’ to those of ‘totalitarianism or democracy’. The shift can be given a precise date: it was articulated starting from 1976, and a certain number of former gp activists were involved in presenting it. Not just them, but them along with others. This was particularly the case with Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau, when they wrote their book L’Ange, a kind of philosophical balance sheet of their involvement with the gp.footnote4