August 1, 2021

“Leftism is not just the extreme left, it is a global attitude, the mark of an era”

Historian Philippe Buton, professor of contemporary history at the University of Reims, author of History of leftism, the legacy of May 1968 (Perrin, 560 pages, 26 euros), explains what remains of this political movement which shook France half a century ago.

The use of the term “leftist” is debated. Why assume it?

This term is political and disparaging, originally used by Lenin to disqualify his left-wing opponents. This word has entered everyday language to designate what is on the left of the PCF and certain fractions of the extreme left do not disdain to use it. But this term is not only a synonym for the far left. In leftism there is something else, a global attitude, reflexes which are the mark of an era.

Your book tells the story of the extreme left groups of the years 1968. What traces remain in French politics?

There is recycling, but it is done unconsciously. Leftists have gone through a double transformation: when they became left and when they quit. When we cease to be, either it is done in a way soft – we no longer believe in it – or we wonder why we did this, why we put ourselves in danger. Those who have experienced this double transformation have a calm outlook on society. On the other hand, for those who did not question themselves, it is more delicate. They take up elements that can be dangerous, such as a particular look on the police, a certain indulgence vis-à-vis delinquency, even terrorism.

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Can we say that cultural leftism (societal transformations, the revolution of morals, more individualistic) has won and that political leftism (the programmatic discourse of organizations, more collective) has lost?

Yes. Fortunately, political leftism has lost. Cultural leftism is ambivalent. He transformed French society, for the most part for the better, but in certain aspects, many people believed that the freedom that resonated in 1968 meant “my freedom is first”, “my desire is first”, “work. is secondary, intellectual asceticism is not important ”. Quite the opposite, moreover, of what the leftists did, who worked and read a lot. Today, this effort of permanent reflection has been lost.

How to explain the difference between what happened at that time, in Italy and in France?

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