During my senior year in college, I attempted to write an intellectual history of the Situationist International, a group of radical theorists in France who published scathing critiques of the capitalist system and consumerism, while seeking to find a new revolutionary praxis. The paper was an ambitious project to be sure, attempting to cover a group as complex as the Situationist International in only 25 pages is probably not possible, especially for a student who is unfamiliar with the history of Marxism and radicalism in France.
Nevertheless, I was able to place the Situationists within the context of their contemporaries and thus was able to explain why they rejected the policies of the majority of the Marxist left. In order to do that, I had to rely on a variety of different works, including a couple by the scholar Tony Judt, working slowly to make sense of a political milieu that was completely unfamiliar. After reading French Communist Party Versus the Students: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968, I realize that there was a lot more I could have addressed within the paper.
The French Communist Party Versus the Students is essentially a history of the French Communist Party (PCF) and their relationship to both the student movement as well as other radical parties in France during the 1950s and 1960s. The book examines how the party was structured and how it functioned, a necessary study if one is to consider the PCFís role in the May-June events of 1968. Granted, most of this book is a rather dry history of a party that by the 1960s had lost most of its radicalism, and indeed has little contemporary relevance. While it lacks the sense of immediacy as well as the readability of Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, a book that covers the way in which the PCF and other “radical” parties acted as counter-revolutionary forces, The French Communist Party Versus the Students explores the role of the PCF in a broader historical context and is an important book for people wanting to understand the Communists role in May and June of 1968.
Richard Johnson, French Communist Party Versus the Students: Revolutionary Politics in May-June 1968, (Yale University Press, 1972).