The Enemy on the Left! – Jean-Paul Sartre

Apart from the conventional left, the Labourite and Communist elements, the pseudo-socialist political scene is also cluttered up with a plethora of fringe-leftists who call themselves Trotskyists, Maoists, International Socialists etc. and who (insofar as one can follow their varying lines) claim to be lefter-than-left or more socialist than thou. (Alice’s answer to the Mad Hatter is perhaps relevant. She could not have more tea because she hadn’t had any yet. Similarly, these proliferating groups cannot be more socialist than the Labour Party which is not socialist at all. Though it is true they could not be less, either.)


It is difficult to keep up with these endlessly splintering groups and practically impossible to gather what they really stand for but perhaps one can begin by mentioning an interview in the Guardian recently with Jean-Paul Sartre “widely acknowledged as the greatest living philosopher”. (Not so long ago, the title of world champ was claimed for Bertrand Russell whose most philosophical moment had occurred when he mooted the dropping of an atom bomb on Moscow. Not bad for a life-long pacifist. If only Marx was still around to re-write The Poverty of Philosophy.) This French genius, hero of the would-be revolutionary students, now, it seems, calls himself a Maoist. What he was doing all his leftist life, before Maoism was thought of as a creed, the interview does not make clear. One recalls that at various times he has quarrelled with the French Communist Party and at other times he has supported them — including times when the Stalin terror has been at its most ferocious; but you can’t really expect leftist philosophers to bother themselves with such trivia as the fact that 200 million Russian workers were held in a tyrant’s grasp and untold numbers were being frozen and worked to death in forced-labour camps. One also recalls his association with Russell in the so-called Tribunal to try America for war crimes in Vietnam (of which there was no shortage, of course) which really boiled down to support for the victory of that kindly, freedom-loving “communist”, Uncle Ho.


The interview, though it occupies four columns, never gets round to asking the Great Man why he is a Maoist or indeed what kind of an alleged socialist that animal is supposed to be. So one can only fall back on the assumption that the Maoists stand for the sort of régime that exists in China today: where Mao makes it clear, both in word and in deed, that he is himself a Stalinist. So we have the farcical position that the revolting students of 1968 who called the French Communist Party “Stalinist shit” are now personified by a philosopher who stands for Chinese Stalinist shit. A rose by another name indeed. But of course that sort of muddle is the inevitable fate of those who lurch from one fashionable nostrum to another without ever giving themselves the time to work out the real lesson of the present jungle world, in Russia, or China, or the West — that capitalism is the enemy and only an understanding proletariat can do anything about it.


Clearly, the workers will never learn that lesson from a Professor of Maoism. Instead of getting knowledge in their heads, their heads will be broken by the brutal arm of the state. For our Maoist makes it clear he does not hold with the “legal action” of voting and although he does not spell out what means the workers should adopt, it is clear that our Maoists are enemies on the left indeed.


L. E. Weidberg