Book Review: Obsolete Communism: The Left Wing Alternative By Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Johannes Pedersen

This was an excellent book, first and foremost it is an account of the May 68’ uprising in France by one of it’s leaders. The uprising was a spontaneous expression of popular discontent that started in the universities and boiled over into the French working class, nearly unseating the government. The book explains the students and workers roles in the uprising. It also analyzes the reactions of the State and the counter-revolutionary role played by the trade unions and the Communist Party. At the end of the book is an analysis of the Russia Revolution in which the author argues structure and methods of the Bolshevik Party were counterproductive and that the Party flagged behind the masses, that the authoritarian nature of the bureaucracy that developed was due to the organization of the Party not solely due to Stalin’s efforts, as some have claimed. Ironically, many of the facts cited to back up his claim are quoted directly from Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” (Trotsky was a prominent figure in the Party during the Revolution). I do have a number of criticisms of the book however. First, scattered throughout the book are phrases like: we are against authority, or against power, or leaders etc. If you take the time to define these terms then holding positions such as those becomes absurd. If authority is defined as the imposition of our will on another, then a revolution, a riot, or even a protest makes use of authority. Certainly we are not against these things; therefore it doesn’t make sense to say that we are against authority. The same sort of logic could be applied to power, or leaders. This way of framing our ideas is a problem that is rampant in the anarchist movement, and it seems, among the left-communists as well. My second criticism of the book is its rejection of the vanguard. Don’t mistake me here I am not embracing Lenin’s tyrannical notion of the party, the vanguard is merely that segment of the population which acts first. Revolutionary organization’s role, in my opinion, is to initiate popular struggle and to act as a sustaining force when the initial popular enthusiasm has subsided, to prevent the revolution from being taken over by totalitarian elements within the revolutionary milieu. Perhaps the greatest gem of insight contained within the book, and perhaps the only new theoretical idea presented in the book is the analysis of the universities role under capitalism namely, the production of a managerial elite. Basically what that means is that the purpose of college is not to bring knowledge to the population but rather to turn out a class of people with the ability to make the day-to-day decisions that keep the wheels turning. Well worth picking up.