The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s
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Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Julia Kristeva, Phillipe Sollers, and Jean-Luc Godard. During the 1960s, a who's who of French thinkers, writers, and artists, spurred by China's Cultural Revolution, were seized with a fascination for Maoism. Combining a merciless exposé of left-wing political folly and cross-cultural misunderstanding with a spirited defense of the 1960s, The Wind from the East tells the colorful story of this legendary period in France. Richard Wolin shows how French students and intellectuals, inspired by their perceptions of the Cultural Revolution, and motivated by utopian hopes, incited grassroots social movements and reinvigorated French civic and cultural life.
Wolin's riveting narrative reveals that Maoism's allure among France's best and brightest actually had little to do with a real understanding of Chinese politics. Instead, it paradoxically served as a vehicle for an emancipatory transformation of French society. French student leftists took up the trope of "cultural revolution," applying it to their criticisms of everyday life. Wolin examines how Maoism captured the imaginations of France's leading cultural figures, influencing Sartre's "perfect Maoist moment"; Foucault's conception of power; Sollers's chic, leftist intellectual journal Tel Quel; as well as Kristeva's book on Chinese women--which included a vigorous defense of foot-binding.
Recounting the cultural and political odyssey of French students and intellectuals in the 1960s, The Wind from the East illustrates how the Maoist phenomenon unexpectedly sparked a democratic political sea change in France.
later philosoph ical mission: reconciling existentialism 's focu s o n indiv idual freedo m w ith M arxism's emphasis on the dyn amics of histo r y and class struggle. In lieu of convincing proof of Leroy's g uilt, the Maoist p osition remained little m ore than an incitem ent to v igilantism. N evertheless, led by Victor, the M aoists rem aine d immovable. R eplying to Sart re in the sam e issue of La Cause du Peuple, they accused him of d riv ing a wed ge b etween the bo urgeoisie as a class
leftism develop ed a theory of radical de m ocracy. Inspired by the tradition of worker self-managem e nt, it advocated a " h orizontal," egalitarian m odel of dem ocratization: the self-organization of society. Leftism's p olitical b ete no ir was Leninism and its do ubles: Stalinism , T ro tsk yism, an d M aoism. They were viewed as fo rms ofleft-w ing authoritarianism that h ad rep eatedly quashed rival leftist m ovem ents that strove for worker autono my. At the sam e time, in o ne of the
less than 72 0 francs ($144); about 1,500 ,000 wage ea rners o n the b ottom of the scale -unskilled industrial laborers and agricultural workers-made little more than 400 francs a m onth ($80)." 34 See M allet, Essays on the New Working Class. M AY '68 99 Their profession al interests lay w ith the preservatio n and improvem ent of the existing system. A s an aspiring managerial elite, Fran ce's " new class" w as genuinely Saint-Simonian. The student radicals, o n the o ther h and, proved
the restrictive nature of contemporary social roles. As 45 See Regis D ebray, Teachers, Writers, Celebrities: Th e Intellectuals of Modem France (Lo ndo n: N ew Left B ooks, 1981), where Debray's m any percep tive in sights are offset by sweeping a nd untenabl e exaggerations: " We are seeing the university corp s and, at a more gen eral level the intellect ual corps, volu ntarily relinquish its own logic of orga ni zation, selection and reproduction and adopt the m arket logic inherent in the
What about the broad range of proscribed and marginalized sexualities? Was homosexual desire somehow less valid than heterosexual desire? Why challenge the economic and political aspects of bourgeois 45 De Beauvoir, Tout compte fait, 419. 142 chapter 4 society while leaving its culture, mores, and predominant social psychological modalities unchallenged? The Tout! editorial board expressed these concerns in the following programmatic statement of principle: Capitalist society has not only