As far as I am concerned, philosophical thought cannot be detached from a fairly dense and hellishly complicated web of events. I believe I’ve been involved in most of the great ideological and political struggles of our time: the formation and dissolution of surrealism, the formation and fragmentation of existentialism, the rehabilitation of Hegel, discussions on the essence of Marxist philosophy and the fate of philosophy – liquidation of bourgeois nationalism and formal individualism – today the critique and balance sheet of what is globally called ‘Stalinism’.
I live on two planes, whose impossible unity is constantly unmade and recomposed: knowledge and dream, concept, and image. And it’s Schumann who taught me my secret, whether petty or deep I still don’t know, the secret of a rather painful duplication, which can become fertile if it is neither dissociated nor reduced.
Schumann is my man. I hate Philistines. But, today, Goliath is stronger than ever, and more multiple than ever. And the Philistines have surrounded the companions of David.
the majority of my Marxist friends, including the great György Lukács, have been obsessed by the memory of classicism; but I will write – if I manage it – an aesthetic of discord, of rift, of dépassement, in other words a Romantic aesthetic.
How to summarise a philosopher’s life without introducing an elementary criticism and self-criticism emerging from confidences or semi-confessions, without sketchy confrontations, the attempt at inventory, balance-sheet, and interpretation? The balance-sheet proves difficult and rather sad. I must admit that I have steadily restricted my philosophical ambitions. And that I probably committed an initial error in adopting a political philosophy without seeking to become a political man, remaining politically marginal (witness, judge). And thus hypercritical. Thus equipped with few means and lacking in power.
In an initial dépassement (bound up with the end of a first love affair; apropos of which I shall not say here, for want of space, how many women I have loved, how many children and mistresses I have had), I abandoned, at the same time, both religion and classical rationalism. Then, I imagined a sketch, a first version (premature and incomplete) of existentialism, bound up with the systematic exploration of the ‘other’, not only in the concept but in life, in perception, in imagination and the possible. And the philosophical determination of the ‘other’ led to the theory of alienation, which led me to study Hegel and Marx, to consider philosophy and reflection historically, to link philosophical thought to questions concerning justice, liberty, and truth in social existence. I decided, at that time, to live the proletarian life and work manually. Which I did for a number of months (time lost or not? I still ask myself the question).
When I became a Marxist (and a member of the French Communist Party), nearly thirty years ago, there was a certain predominant idea, both narrow and unexpressed (what is unsaid is generally more stifling than what is said). Marxism, it was thought, was reducible to political economy. This idea, moreover, represented a step forward in relation to the previous period, which had, at least in France, reduced Marxism simply to a political stance, external to science, and dressed up more or less well with philosophical justifications. This latent economism was no less narrow and stifling. (In its name, Georges Politzer abandoned his psychological work and conceived philosophy as merely an introduction to economic science, a kind of propaedeutic.) An underground struggle was necessary to obtain recognition of Marxist philosophy and its concepts as such, to have it recognised that philosophy as such was not brusquely overtaken and liquidated. This struggle continues today.
This book met with a chilly reception. On the academic side, it seems that the dislike focused on this way of applying to reality an obscure and profound philosophical notion, however respectable on the speculative level. On the Marxist side, I was supposed to have said that the proletariat, as the dominant class directing the nation, no longer fell under the category of alienation.
And that is how I find myself today, a Marxist philosopher, a philosopher nonconformist in every way, a revolutionary philosopher (at least I claim to be), faced with the bitter fact that instead of a body of work I have discontinuous and interrupted essays. Fragments. I must add, right away, that I am to blame in this. I am not entirely convinced (and this goes together with a profound crisis in philosophy) that philosophical expression is alive today. I defend philosophy without hiding from myself that poetry, or theatre, or the novel, have more effects. Without, of course, counting action. (And, yet, I have experienced, in untold ways, the brutal side of so-called men of action, and their distrust of philosophy and philosophers, inevitably and by nature hypercritical, and thus undisciplined.)
For a certain period (specifically, that of capitalism in the age of free competition), the individual took the concrete and ideological form of individualism, of the private consciousness opposed to the public consciousness. That in no way prevented man from being a (social) individual; the problem being to unite the individual with the universal and resolve a series of contradictions in order to make society serve the individual and not the individual (directly or indirectly, in authoritarian or liberal fashion) serve society. There is no definition of communism without this absolute demand, forgotten by those who transformed Marxism into a state philosophy and ideology. This demand expresses, at the same time as temporary and out-dated excrescences, a profound and essential requirement. Reason, thought, the work of art or philosophy, are and will always be individual things (or rather, non-things). Even if their content or material comes from history, the people, the masses. Even and especially when the too famous ‘cult of personality’ consecrated and sealed in state socialism the partial or total elimination of individuality, and in any case the abandonment of the fundamental demand as such. For the cult of personality is radically incompatible with the culture of the universal individual. The impersonality of thought is the most stubborn illusion of vulgar Marxism and its dogmatism (still more illusory in attributing the privilege of thought to the superior ‘personality’ or the fetishised political community). This means that, for vulgar Marxism and its dogmatism or ultra-dogmatism, thought has come to the end of its critical and creative role, to become a kind of organ of collective application of an essentially finished system.
I understand the imprecations of certain ‘adversaries’ and certain ‘friends’: ‘How, with this attitude, can you claim to be a Communist, and for nearly thirty years a member of the French Communist Party, an active, rank-and-file militant? This is a strange misunderstanding, if nothing more. You must have suffered a good deal, or else hidden yourself.’ That is what some will say or think. And others: ‘But you’re crazy! You’re neither a Communist nor a Marxist. You are simply a bad member of the Party. You have never understood anything. You’re deceiving the Party. You want to subtract half of your consciousness and life from the Party’s control and discipline. Today, in the guise of an autobiography, you’ve unmasked yourself, you are putting yourself outside of the Party, as you already were, you’ve never been…’
The first thing to agree on is the exact meaning of these words: ‘being a Marxist, being a Communist’.
On the contrary, if by the words ‘being Marxist, being Communist’ we mean the fact of starting from a scientific (materialist and dialectical) analysis of social development to envisage the advent of a classless society based on abundance, on the endless proliferation of needs and their satisfactions, and consequently on collective ownership and the social utilisation of the means of production, so that the words ‘justice’, ‘right’ and ‘democracy’ in the end lose their meaning – if we mean by that the idea that already today one can know and appreciate the present and the class struggle from the point of view of this future, in order to orient it towards that future with the maximum economy as far as lives, wealth, and the achievements of civilisation are concerned – then I proclaim loud and clear that I am a very good Communist. And in no way idealist. On the contrary. The Party is then the free association of those who overtly, openly, freely, and clearly take a position in this sense, in all problems, who adopt on every contemporary question the solution oriented in this direction, and who therefore accept a certain rational discipline. A definition that is both precise and broad. It does not assert that the Communist Party as such is the only social force heading towards socialism, nor even the only revolutionary political force, but that it is the only coherent revolutionary force, capable of following through to the end the transformation of the world.
In sum, I maintain loud and clear that I am a good Communist. And a Marxist. Even if this brief autobiography were to be used one day as evidence in a future trial, or as cement in amalgam.
One final word. I do not present myself as a man without sin. I am not a hero (and I do not like heroes, especially when they survive). And, yet, on close examination, if my honour as a philosopher is not without stain (let the stainless cast the first stone), if I have sometimes retreated or weakened, I do not believe I have failed. ‘A dog would not want this life,’ said Faust. I would not want any other.
I am of my time, as fully and as painfully as possible, and sometimes as humbly as possible. I ‘assume’ all its contradictions, to the full. I believe it is wrong to want to leap over one or several historical periods, and pretend to be already ‘Communist men’. That means nothing. More exactly, this pretence of exceptional quality transforms itself into its contrary: discipline into spinelessness, liberty into dogmatism, devotion into frenzied ambition. I believe this is (along with its immanent punishment) a form of idealism in the Marxist sense of the word: a superfetation, a parasitic excrescence on the tree of life. In a word, sectarianism (the ideology of a sect).
If what is meant by ‘being Communist’ is unconditional loyalty to one or various men (yesterday Stalin), or to a country (yesterday or today Soviet Russia), or to a class (the French proletariat), or to a nationality (France), or to a political institution (today the Party, tomorrow the state issuing from revolutionary transformation), I reply: no, I am not a good Communist. As I will never accept anything absolute, anything unconditioned. Truth alone has an ‘unconditional’ and absolute right, and is itself always relative at the same time as absolute. Never will I renounce my critical freedom, a freedom that is moreover conditional and limited by the acceptance of disciplines and decisions taken with a view to action. Never will I abandon the unity of this multiple and contradictory aspect – my philosophical conscience.