French Intellectuals against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970'S

By Michael Scott Christofferson | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
INTELLECTUALS AND THE POLITICS OF THE
UNION OF THE LEFT
The Birth of Antitotalitarianism

The significance of Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in the emergence of French antitotalitarianism has—as the preceding chapter has argued— been misconstrued. The Gulag Archipelago was not a revelatory text; it was the PCF’s attacks on it and its author that gave it a special prominence in French debates. Still, The Gulag Archipelago was eventually attributed a decisive influence in the evolution of the politics of the French intellectual Left because doing so allowed French intellectuals to critique the Union of the Left in universal terms, harshly condemn communism, and magnify the threat that communism posed in France by highlighting intellectuals’ past blindness to totalitarianism. As the following discussion should demonstrate, this attribution of influence to The Gulag Archipelago was, given the dynamics of the politics of the Left between 1974 and 1978, an essential claim for those critical of the Union of the Left. This chapter will, following the preceding chapter’s effort to dismantle the critique of totalitarianism’s myth of origins, offer the first elements of an explanation of the origins of French antitotalitarianism in the encounter of French intellectuals of the noncommunist Left and their particular concerns with the politics of the Union of the Left.

In brief, this chapter argues that certain intellectuals developed the critique of totalitarianism in response to the intensification of political struggle within the Union of the Left in 1974 and 1975. This critique of totalitarianism was not an abrupt reversal of the noncommunist left-wing intellectuals’ positions on the parties of the Left, but rather a radicalization of their existing criticisms. Many intellectuals, particularly those discussed

Notes for this section begin on page 147.

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