The Intellectual and His People: Staging the People Volume 2
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Following the previous volume of essays by Jacques Rancière from the 1970s, Staging the People: The Proletarian and His Double, this second collection focuses on the ways in which radical philosophers understand the people they profess to speak for. The Intellectual and His People engages in an incisive and original way with current political and cultural issues, including the “discovery” of totalitarianism by the “new philosophers,” the relationship of Sartre and Foucault to popular struggles, nostalgia for the ebbing world of the factory, the slippage of the artistic avant-garde into defending corporate privilege, and the ambiguous sociological critique of Pierre Bourdieu. As ever, Rancière challenges all patterns of thought in which one-time radicalism has become empty convention.
At a time when the government was stepping up its attacks on the Gauche Prolétarienne, and when it turned out that there was little to expect from the only protection theoretically recognized, i. e. that of the popular masses, the idea of the ‘Front Démocratique’ was developed, and more precisely of ‘Secours Rouge’: a democratic mass movement seen in the traditional way as dependent on the proletarian vanguard, but also as a structure of defence and protection for political activity. It was around the prosecuted journal La Cause du Peuple and its imprisoned activists that this attempt to expand resistance by involving initially progressive intellectuals and artists was first conducted.
Even if we believe that Soviet power is the culmination of bourgeois power, our own bourgeoisies remain unconvinced; they generally prefer to follow more established paths and keep their old personnel. Those who burn the Communist Party offices don’t all have the delicacy to go on to burn themselves. The majority prefer to continue to set fire to the offices of other parties, and then to individuals with too dark a skin or a hooked nose, etc. The enemies of our enemies are rarely our friends, and we will not make the struggle against a social-fascism dressed up in ‘working-class’, ‘Communist’ or ‘revolutionary’ guise any easier by practising the same kind of confusion as it does and cheering every ‘anti-Communist’ action as an act of liberation on the part of the wretched of the state.
It is certainly not our object here to wax sentimental over outdated forms of oppression, or preach that rebellion was misguided, but rather to be attentive to the formation of the new order. At Vincennes, early in 1969, hearing on the other side of the wall the buzzing beehive that replaced the outdated conservatoires of French literature, it was clear that the time of sweet boredom was over. No longer were Corneille and Racine just studied: you worked on the reading of these classics. And this naturally required Althusser, psychoanalysis, semiology and the history of madness.
A struggle against the dictatorships of tomorrow? That seems a trifle hasty, given how long the previous dictatorship lasted. Have the old ruling classes, their police and profiteers, melted away so quickly after half a century of the Salazar regime? Are there not among those opposing the Communists’ seizure of press and unions some people who would rather seize these for themselves? Glucksmann sees an anti-Communist demonstration, and interprets it as a demonstration against red fascism, of the plebs against power, of the oppressed countryside against the town.
But not one, at all events, in which to speak to the men of culture. It was this absence of common language that deserved the name of barbarism. It was opposed to the very principle of civic life: the constant movement from ‘instinctive wisdom’ to ‘reflective wisdom’, ‘the mutual initiation of the instinctive and the educated classes’. 14 The revolutionary ‘miracle’ that had given the coming unity its legend had not managed to abolish the separation between the two virtues that were supposed to mutually irrigate one another: the culture of the lettered class that summed up the experience of the men of the people, and the energy of the men of the people in which the lettered had to immerse themselves.