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  • L'Extrême Gauche plurielle: entre démocratie radicale et révolution
  • Edward Ousselin
L'Extrême Gauche plurielle: entre démocratie radicale et révolution. 2nd edition. By Philippe Raynaud. (Collection Tempus). Paris: Perrin, 2010. 272 pp. Pb €8.50.

Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the once-mighty French Communist Party lives on, even though it has jettisoned its core ideological principles and has been reduced to the status of a fringe party. Much of its traditional base of working-class voters, meanwhile, has gravitated to the far-right Front National. While the rise of an extreme right-wing movement in France has received sustained attention, the fact that a non-negligible portion of the French electorate (roughly 10 per cent) continues to support a variety of far-left political movements, many of which still proudly uphold their Marxist tenets, remains comparatively unexamined. Philippe Raynaud has investigated the historical and ideological roots of these movements, has analysed the writings of the main authors who remain associated with a radical or revolutionary political tradition, and has taken into account the economic, social, and geopolitical transformations that have contributed to the various realignments among the extreme left-wing protest movements. Raynaud's lucid presentation deserves much praise: he successfully guides the reader through a thicket of competing political programmes and cultures, many of which seem to be separated only by minutely differing positions that were staked out decades ago, during the ideological struggles of the Soviet era, and have come to resemble the abstruse but bitterly contested doctrinal disputes that characterize religious cults. It is definitely not a straightforward task to clarify, for instance, why there were three different Trotskyite candidates in the 2002 and 2007 Presidential elections. Aside from the diverse Marxist offshoots (including the defunct Maoist and Cuban revolutionary influences) that are linked to a well-established political tradition with comparatively more ancient historical roots, newer and more surprising movements — 'altermondialistes', 'indigènes de la République', 'antisionistes', among other 'nouvelles radicalités' — have emerged and, in relative terms, have prospered in recent years, exerting a discernible level of influence on French political discourse (though not policies), a situation that leads the author to posit a new form of exceptionalism: 'la France présente néanmoins trois caractères originaux qui la distinguent des autres démocraties, et notamment de la plupart des autres pays de l'Union européenne' (p. 8). One of these distinguishing characteristics is the resilience of a political culture broadly defined by its opposition to capitalism, and particularly to global capitalism, a culture periodically renewed by a cadre of intellectuals, many of whom are not affiliated with a political party and whose writings merit close examination. Raynaud thus devotes chapters to such authors as Toni Negri, Alain Badiou, and Étienne Balibar, elucidating in the process their own intellectual references. It is striking to note that Marxist theory is now only one element, and by no means a dominant one, within a set of divergent conceptual constructs: 'L'unité des nouvelles radicalités est essentiellement négative: elle se fait contre "le libéralisme", contre les restrictions à l'immigration, contre les politiques "sécuritaires"' (p. 218). The protest movements of the far-left have largely supplanted the Communist Party as the (discordant) voices of those who feel marginalized by the successive electoral triumphs of the reformist left and the 'liberal' right. [End Page 522]

Edward Ousselin
Western Washington University


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