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Why this essay (2) on a political movement which may seem, at first glance, extremely marginal?

I have been interested in extremist movements for a very long time and, while working on them, I realized that you don’t need to be many to have influence on society. And by leaning on the ultra-left, I noticed that a small group of theorists like the Situationist International, for example, had succeeded in having a decisive influence on the history of ideas, by revolutionizing the way it looked. ‘you could get on the cogs of society. It has renewed, reinvented a whole sociology and influenced philosophers like Jean Baudrillard. However, it brought together only 17 people at its pinnacle and when it dissolved itself in 1972, it only had two! Like what…

Can you define for us the difference, very important in your eyes, between the extreme left and the ultra-left?

In our time, we live in a generalized confusionism where the word “ultra” is used all the time and ends up not meaning anything … We have to clarify things. We should not, in fact, confuse the ultra-left and the extreme left. The latter is a label which groups together a number of currents. Among these, to sum up, there are two great families: the Leninist and authoritarian family, in which we will classify the Trotskyists, the Maoists or the Stalinists, and an anti-authoritarian family in which we find this old current born in the nineteenth century that ‘we call anarchism and also what we call the ultra-left, which is a communist current but anti-authoritarian of the far left and critical of it.

“We have to be clear about things. We should not, in fact, confuse the ultra-left and the extreme left. “

You explain that, from its inception, the ultra-left, whose militants claimed to be Communists, showed itself very severe towards the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 by perceiving very early on the totalitarian character of the Soviet regime, upon the arrival of Lenin in power …

In reality, those we call today’s thugs, who we have the impression that they are brainless and a little stupid, are the heirs of the very rich history of this ultra-left current which is a sea ​​serpent that sprang up and out again throughout the twentieth century, and which in fact embodies another communism alongside official communism. It is a current which is born in 1920 and which will impose itself first by exercising a left criticism of the Russian revolution, by denouncing its wanderings. Then, the ultra-left will question Lenin’s strategy, therefore Leninism, then Bolshevism as a whole, before wondering if it is not Marxism itself that must be criticized and come to criticize politics itself.

“These are people who are obviously at the forefront of extremism but, at the same time, who create extraordinary think tanks. “

These are a bit of a scratching post for revolutionary action and thinking …

We can say that, indeed. These are people who are obviously at the forefront of extremism but, at the same time, who create extraordinary thought laboratories in which talented people, great thinkers such as Cornélius Castoriadis, Claude Lefort, Guy Debord or Raoul Vaneigem or great creators like the surrealist Benjamin Péret.

At the same time, can we consider that the political line of the so-called “anti-anti-fascist” part of this ultra-left, in the 1920s and 1930s, led its defenders to play the role of useful idiots of fascism and of Nazism during their rise to power, in Italy and Germany?

Absolutely! The “anti-anti-fascism” of the ultra-left in the 20th century is the dark side of the first part of the history of this movement. The fact that the ultra-left, wanting to embody the most radical critique in this world, came to consider that there were no differences between fascism and democracy because, in both cases, we remained in capitalist exploitation, with its bosses, its market system, etc. On this basis, the supporters of this line have developed positions leading them to refuse to fight against fascism, then against Nazism …

Doesn’t the peak of the influence of the ultra-left in French society go back to the 60s to the 80s, around and after May-68, in the wake of the Situationists?

Probably. The situationists, led by Guy Debord, played a very important role with the students of May-68. They are a special case in the ultra-left because they are above all driven by an artistic process. When the Situationist International was created in 1957, it brought together a group of artists who only joined the ultra-left along the way. They claim to inherit all the artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century, be it Dada, surrealism or futurism, which tried to revolutionize art. They believe that this revolution has been made and that we must go even further by making our own life a work of art. And there, it becomes a little magical since they say, in short, “Let us revolutionize our daily life”, “Let us live each day as if it were to be the last” … But they quickly realize that it is impossible in life. real because society restricts development. They will then engage in a scalpel analysis of the workings of modern society by carrying out extraordinary sociological work. When the movement of 68 bursts, it is first of all a student and precisely made up of young people who want to revolutionize their daily life, who fight for sexual freedom, whose slogan is “Live without downtime, enjoy without obstacles”, a situationist slogan … Students’ expectations respond directly to the precepts of Guy Debord or Raoul Vaneigem.

You also highlight the connections, in the 70s and 80s, of a part of the ultra-left with the extreme right, by the defense of the negationist theses of Robert Faurisson …

The denial period is the most scandalous and dark part of the history of the ultra-left. We are here facing the heirs of this “Italian left” which refused to fight against fascism and Nazism in the 1930s. It is true that some ultra-left have thought that by defending Faurisson and supporting the theses which denied the Nazi genocide, they would destroy the democratic consensus and undermine capitalist society. They imagined thus advancing their own ideas. Obviously, they have gone astray and seriously damaged their own movement. And besides, I observe that the ultra-left of the XXIst century have completely hidden this part of their history and have completely reconsidered these positions which they strongly condemn today.

You can see that after a period of relative slumber, from the 1980s to the 2000s, this trend has been revitalized over the past twenty years via the Zadists, the neo-murals and a new generation of independent activists …

In fact, against all odds, while we could have expected the ultra-left to die its beautiful death in the 21st century, a new generation has taken up the torch by following the precepts of Guy Debord, who, in 1972, in the last text of the Situationist International, said that it was now necessary to privilege the fight against “nuisances”, that is to say, for him, the ecological fight. He himself then went to live in the countryside, far from urban centers. In the early 2000s, a number of young people who read it and who were interested in this ultra-left counterculture set out to create autonomous structures called the Zad, the zones to be defended, which are also called zones of defensive autonomy. The Zads had been theorized in the 90s by Hakim Bey, an American militant of the ultra-left. He proposed to create in capitalist territory “liberated zones” of the state. Today, they are flourishing everywhere.

“Why are the Black Blocs breaking? To set an example, in the hope that the workers will let themselves be won over by revolutionary anger and destroy everything in turn. “

There are also activists of the ultra-left among the yellow vests …

Yes, and that’s normal. It is another aspect of the activism of these people which is the fact of refusing the organized demonstration by preferring to constitute themselves in autonomous blocks, or black blocks, therefore in “Black Blocs” at the head of the procession and to establish a relationship. direct forces with capitalism. Why do the Black Blocs break? To set an example, in the hope that the workers will let themselves be won over by revolutionary anger and destroy everything in turn. The yellow vests were interesting for Black Blocks, especially during the assault on the Arc de Triomphe, because next to the ultra-left militants wearing a yellow vest, which we could call Black Blocs, were found some of the yellow vests who had been convinced of the fact that, in the end, only force pays and that we get nothing if we do not break everything. Some yellow vests rejected the Black Blocs, of course, but others supported them. They are the ones journalists have dubbed the ultra-yellows. In itself, it is a political victory for the ultra-left to have succeeded in convincing people of the validity of their frontal revolutionary strategy.

You also note that, since the demonstrations of 2016 against the Labor Law, the trade union services, which previously did not hesitate to punch up against the ultra-left demonstrators, are now showing rather benevolent , even in solidarity with independent activists, even when they are violent. How do you explain this evolution towards these militants constituted in Black Blocs which you estimate to the number of 2000 in France?

It’s relatively new. This corresponds to the evolution of the unions which tend to have less security services than before and which, for some of them, have been infiltrated by the extreme left. And far-left activists have a more benevolent and more nuanced attitude towards the ultra-left than that of the big Communist arms of the past. Today’s unions are in fact much more controlled by the far left by the Communist Party …

(1) Historian, writer and journalist, Christophe Bourseiller is the author of several essays, in particular on extremist and minority trends. Doctor in History, he defended, in December 2011, a thesis entitled “Undefeated Shadow. From the destruction of “collaborationism” to its survival in post-war France, 1944-1954 “, obtaining the thesis prize, France category. Former actor (he thus plays an unforgettable second role in Yves Robert’s comedy, “An elephant, that trumps enormously”) and television host, he is the producer on the channel Histoire de “C’est un plot” and ensures in addition a regular column in the morning of France Inter.

(2) “New history of the ultra-left”, published by Cerf, 24 euros.

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