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Mourir à trente ans (English subtitles): A Radical Left in 68 and Post-68 France.

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(Having just found the film available on YouTube…)

Mourir à trente ans by  Romain Goupil recounts his adolescence and the life of  Michel Recanati, and the tumult of 1968. Goupil grew up in the la cité Montmartre-aux-artistes (rue Ordener, 18e arrondissement de Paris. A rebel at school, Goupil became attracted to the radical left, arguing with his father, a member of the Communist Party (PCF), who ridiculed leftist “groupuscules”. He became a member of the la Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire (JCR) where he met Recanati. During 68 his friend became a leading figure in the secondary school student movement, Les Comité d’actions lycéens (CAL). In the run up and during the May events his activism extended from his own lycée (from which he was suspended) to the streets bursting with demonstrations. The film memorably shows footage of the CAL, its strike committees at work, and the huge secondary school cortèges on the Paris marches. As a general strike told hold, in united protests they marched alongside the university students, the March 22 movement, and education unions.

Dotted with clips from the period, interviews, reading from his own unfinished writings, Michele’s documents, music of the time, we travel from the JCR to the Ligue Communiste and the Marxist culture it promoted. Inspired by ’68 the two friends became engaged in building a “real revolutionary party” in this “pre-revolutionary period”. as the Ligue began talking of creating its own ‘workers’ militia and carried out small exemplary direct action protests. Mourir à trente ans evokes the “appereil clandestin” and the “Service d’ordre” (Stewards) in its portrayal, had the insurrectional bent alleged in books such as Les Trotskistes by Christophe Nick (2002).

Many of their activities look today more like stunts than attempts at armed revolution. Following its leading figures, such as Alain Krivine, their operations often expressed solidarity with the Vietnamese fight. The two friends, with a group that included Daniel Bensaïd threw paint over the visiting South Vietnam President. It was when they confronted the far right that their street activity went further. Both Goupil and Recanati were engaged in a serious, and often physical, campaign against the far-right “des combats très violents de 1971 et 1973 contre l’extrême-droite“). The LC’s target was principally the successor of Occident, a fascist ‘national revolutionary’ group that had fought students in 1968, with iron bars and hand weapons, Ordre Nouveau.

After a big street battle against Ordre Nouveau in 1973 the Ligue communiste was dissolved. It reformed as the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in 1974.

The film ends with the suicide of Michel Recanati in March 1978.

The film is significant, both for its direct reach, and its innovative documentary technique. It is intensely moving.

For this writer, who has lived opposite la Cité Montmartre-aux-artistes, and who spent some years in the 1970s in the UK International Marxist Group (IMG) which was strongly influenced, politically and culturally, by the LCR, and who knows at first hand this part of the French left, it resonates deeply.

Half a Life (Mourir À Trente Ans) by Romain Goupil.

Los Angeles Filmforum 2018)

Perhaps the best film about the May 1968 left-wing uprising in Paris (and its dispiriting aftermath), Romain Goupil’s autobiographical documentary draws upon his own ample you-are-there film footage, shot over 12 years as events unfolded. Goupil intercuts this old footage with newer material to pay tribute to his friend and fellow revolutionary Michel Recanati, a militant leader who went missing and eventually committed suicide. This winner of the Caméra d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival is undistributed in the U.S., so don’t miss seeing it in a DCP from France that is temporarily in North America.

Rarely seen in the United States, Romain Goupil’s documentary chronicles his and his friends’ firsthand experiences as militant, teenage Trotskyites in 1960s France during the heyday of French student movements that culminated with the events of May 1968. Michel Recanati was a part of Goupil’s activist entourage who committed suicide in 1978. Prompted by his death, Goupil crafts a vibrantly raw autobiographical essay-style film that uses found footage and a range of sources including photographs, home movies, and interviews. Drawing on Recanati’s life trajectory to structure the film, Goupil succeeds in evoking the implosion of the leftist movement in 1960s and 1970s France while also constructing a filmic meditation on the transition from adolescence to adulthood during this tumultuous historical moment.

“Romain Goupil’s Mourir a 30 ans (Half a Life) recalls the history of the youngest end of the extra-parliamentary French left in the late 60s/early 70s from a perspective that is equally personal and political. Using interviews, documentary footage, and the films Goupil made during his youth, the movie recounts Goupil’s own experiences in the political movements leading up to and following from May ’68, as well as pays tribute to his friend and comrade, Michel Recanati, whom Goupil worked alongside in politics for many years but who surprisingly committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 30. An unruly child from a middle-class leftist family, Goupil became involved in politics early in his teens (perhaps around the age of 14), joining the Trotskyite JCR (Jeunesses Communistes Revolutionnaires) after quickly becoming disillusioned with the French Communist Party’s complacency. The JCR provided Goupil an early education in Marxism-Leninism, and brought him together with other militant young students who would become long-term comrades, including Recanati. Political activism in his school led to Goupil’s suspension, and, despite student protests in response, his expulsion, but Goupil refused to become any less political while “maturing” at another school. Goupil’s father was in the film industry, so Goupil had access to a camera from an early age and obsessively filmed the events in his life or recreated them in Truffaut-esque fictional versions.

“Mourir a 30 ans draws heavily on this personal archive to tell the story of Goupil’s political coming of age, which is also a history of the JCR and the groups that flowed into and out of it. By May ’68, Goupil was merely 17, but, along with his equally young militant peers, had already accumulated years of experience of political organizing, including acting as a bodyguard for the Black Panthers when they visited Paris and sojourning in Berlin amongst the German New Left. During the events of May, Goupil and Recanati played leading roles in the Comités d’action lycées (CAL), which brought secondary students into the revolutionary movement. Using rare footage he shot, Goupil recounts the disconnect he felt at the beginning of that month as he went from street fighting one day to sitting in a classroom the next. As is the case with most films on May ’68, Goupil’s memorializing of those revolutionary days occasionally slips into nostalgia and privileges self-aggrandizement at the expense of historical insight, such as when Goupil focuses on a series of images that place himself and Recanati at the center of the events.

“In the months following May, the fight to continue the movement devolved into a power struggle amongst the different political groups, though Recanati would remain a significant leader for the younger organizations. The film documents how both young men over the next few years continued to participate in rallies and protests, as well as illegal direct actions such as bombing embassies with paint. After an organization led by Recanati violently clashed with police at an anti-fascist rally, Recanati was given a three-month prison sentence and briefly fled underground. As Goupil frames it, the political limits of the period brought out Recanati’s personal limits, the fragility lurking underneath his bold facade, which in an unknown manner transformed Recanati’s optimism about changing his life into his premature termination.” – Brian Rajski, http://retentionalfinitude.blogspot.com/2011/04/romain-goupil-mourir-30-ans-half-life.html?m=1

Romain Goupil supported Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 Presidential election,but has been quiet about the President this year.

Goupil has been prominent backing Ukraine against the Russian invasion, spending some weeks in Kiev earlier this year (Romain Goupil : « Arrêtons Poutine maintenant et définitivement. Armons les Ukrainiens ! ».)

Written by Andrew Coates

August 10, 2022 at 5:02 pm

Socialisme ou barbarie ; l’aventure d’un groupe (1946-1969). Dominique Frager. A Group and Journal with an enduring Legacy.

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SOCIALISME OU BARBARIE. L’AVENTURE D’UN GROUPE (1946-1969) Dominique Frager. 2021.

The Editorial of the first issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie declared, “..the expropriation of private capitalists, as part of the state ownership or nationalisation is only the negative half of the revolution. These measures can only have a progressive meaning if they are joined to the positive half, which is the management and control of the economy by the workers.” (“l’expropriation des capitalistes privés (exprimée dans l’étatisation ou la nationalisation) n’est que la moitié négative de la révolution prolétarienne. Ces mesures ne peuvent pas avoir une signification progressive si elles sont séparées de la moitié positive, qui est la gestion propre de l’économie par les travailleurs..”( Socialisme ou Barbarie – No. 1 (MARS/AVRIL 1949 ). In this process the fixed distinction between those giving orders, the managers, and those carrying them out, should end, not only in economic activity but across social life.

Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB) emerged, post-war, from a 50 strong current within French Trotskyism (the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, PCI) and the critique of the “contre-révolutionnaire du stalinisme”. The attack on “bureaucratic capitalism” in the USSR, ruled by a new layer of exploiters, “une nouvelle couche exploiteuse la bureaucratie” in 1949, when the Soviet Union, in control of Eastern Europe and at its zenith of popularity on the left was even further from majority left opinion than Trotskyist criticism of “deformed” workers’ states, The group was haunted, like the left as a whole, by the possibility of the Third World War. The title of their review and group, Socialism or Barbarism, adopted from Rosa Luxemburg’s 1916 Junius pamphlet illustrates, Dominique Frager observes, the same “catastrophic” vision of the self-destructive nature of capitalism and an inevitable global conflict.

Many people will be familiar with the writings of the two best-known figures of SouB, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort. The former, whose political beginnings stretch back to Greek Trotskyism, whose works on self-management, early translated into English and diffused by the group Solidarity in the 60s and 70s (an account of Solidarity is given in the concluding section of this work), and a university career as the author of books such as the highly abstract ‘political ontology’ of The Imaginary Constitution of Society (1987) discussed societies built on autonomy as against present-day heteronomy. By the 1990s he increasingly dwelt on the wonder that was ancient Greek democracy, a passion for the Athenian Boule, he claimed, was shared by C.LR. James. Efforts to emulate this direct deliberation model have influenced calls for People’s Assemblies drawn by lot. Lefort, developed both a political and academic reputation as a theorist of the “democratic revolutions”, the pluralism and expansion of human rights struggles and the ‘indeterminacy’ of democracy.

L’aventure d’un groupe is not a biography that centres on these two figures. It is outward, not inward, looking. Early on, in “Les Débuts“, Frager underlines the contact, and critique, with the ideas of the heterodox post-Trotskyist Johnson-Forest group, formed around C.L. R. James and the Marxist humanist, Raya Dunayevskaya, who developed their own take on Soviet reality as state capitalist. While Frager cites the SouB publication of Paul Romano’s The American Worker it would been interesting to explore the influence on, above all, Lefort, of the book James brilliantly rendered into English, Boris Souvarine’s Staline (1935, trans: 1939).

Socialisme ou Barbarie : L’aventure d’un groupe, is above all, a book about a group.  Dominique Frager has had the excellent idea of following up the comment of one member, Daniel Blanchard (who would later work with the American New Leftist, Murray Bookchin, a founder of social ecology), of a book about the wider adventure, a journey without a pre-determined destination. The risks taken are placed within the explorations of the wider activist membership. He indicates the fertile development of ideas, not just on the Soviet bureaucracy, bureaucracy tout court, such as the early critiques of Chinese Stalinism by Pierre Souyri, (Mao is perhaps, after Stalin, an ideal type for what Lefort would later call an “Egocrat”). Chapters are arranged around their debates and disagreements (first real “succession”), the fertile utopian ideas offered, and articles, such as on the incipient bureaucracy (“les voies de la bureaucratisation dans le ‘tiers monde'”) of ‘anti-colonalist’ revolutions and states.

The text is interspersed with boxes containing valuable portraits of lesser, or largely unknown, figures involved in SouB, from the POUM fighter Alberto Masso, to the former tramway worker and educationalist Martine Vidal. There is a satisfying section on the situationist Guy Debord. He was attracted, briefly, to SouB when they were talking about everyday life “la critique de la vie quotidienne” and left (1961) with customary ill grace. In a pleasant touch the present book discovers that Castoriadis used the term the “Spectacle” some time (1959) before it appeared in the articles of the author of the Society of the Spectacle (1967).

Dominique Frager had been involved in one of the groups descended from SouB, Pouvoir Ouvrier. It broke from them when Castoriadis announced in the early 60s that he had done with Marxism, both because of its appeal to scientific authority and its failure to account of the “privatisation” of modern capitalism (not of nationalised industries, but a popular turn to private concerns in the affluent society). Like many in the sixties the economist, working for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), considered that capitalism has been stabilised. Those who rejected this stand included the future post-modernist, Jean-François Lyotard.

Socialisme ou Barbarie : L’aventure d’un groupe is unfailingly generous to the people, activists, writers, associates, and movements of SouB and its milieu. Even criticisms of Guy Debord are restricted to observing the Situationist International difficulty in forming free relationship amongst equals and their capacity for theoretical radicalism outrunning their practical capacity – a restrained jugement in many people’s judgement.

The group pioneered a free-thinking critique of Stalinism, and laid down important markers for the politics of self-management and workers’ control. Castoriadis was not alone in stating in his last texts that if they had questioned the existence of authority, ecological thinking had raised equally fundamental issues about productivism and the nature of human needs on the planet. Green politics have at present more of a popular impact than than the fundamental challenges SouB hoped for against the power of those in charge: at work and society, the capitalists, East, West and South. Effective policies for the environment need, some would argue, that kind of transformation as well.


See also:

SOCIALISME OU BARBARIE. L’AVENTURE D’UN GROUPE (1946-1969) Dominique Frager [Note de lecture]paru dans lundimatin (the autonomist black-bloc fellow travellers).

In English:

Socialisme Ou Barbarie

Socialisme ou Barbarie: A French Revolutionary Group (1949-65) Marcel van der Linden

Written by Andrew Coates

July 25, 2022 at 6:43 pm

French Left: Eric Coquerel (NUPES) Elected Chair of National Assembly Finance Committee.

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France 24 reports,

Hard-left MP Eric Coquerel was elected chair of the French parliament’s powerful finance committee on Thursday, a day after the far-right obtained two assembly vice-presidencies – signs of the growing power of radical parties in the new parliament.

Continuing with this colourful language the article states,

Coquerel, 63, is a veteran politician and one of the most senior members of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon‘s La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party.

The finance committee he will now chair has extensive powers, and this was the most-watched vote as the new, very fragmented lower house of parliament sets to work.

The committee has a key role in the adoption of the French budget in parliament and in overseeing how the state spends public money, with the possibility of doing impromptu checks in ministries.

Its president can also get access to the confidential tax declarations of companies or individuals but can’t publish them.

The committee’s powers go beyond the budget bill, as it can strike down draft amendments on any legislation if it considers that it will unnecessarily weigh on public finances, giving its president a key role on a wide range of policies.

Coquerel is indeed a veteran of the left. He has said he began as an anarchist. The new Finance Commission President’s political career includes a long stint in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), work as a leading figure of the Mouvement républicain et citoyen (MRC), (honorary president, Jean Paul Chevènement), which advocated what Wiki calls “moderate” protectionist measures and a strong state, and within which he was in charge of their “anti-mondialisation » (anti-globalisation) strategy. This ended with the honoured President of the MRC stood for the French Presidency in 2002 as the candidate who was « ni de droite, ni de gauche » (neither right nor left) and with the device, « au-dessus de la droite et de la gauche, il y a la République » (above the right and the left, there is the Republic). The Che, as he was called in his left-wing days, got backing from far left confusionists, left patriots/nationalists and the far right. The list, we learn, included, Jean-François KahnRégis Debray or Max Gallo , his campaign director, but also young people Emmanuel Macron and Florian Philippot  (extreme right, he led an anti-vax campaign on the streets not long ago).

Chevènement has a long memory. Today he supports Emmanuel Macron (“Le 27 mai, en vue des élections législatives, Jean-Pierre Chevènement lançait Refondation Républicaine, nouveau satellite de la macronie.”).

Coquerel was heavily involved in the 2005 Referendum campaign to reject the new European Constitution. He was amongst those who called for a No vote, a stand that went from other left sovereigntists sections of the ‘alter-globalist’ left, the Communists (PCF), , to nationalists of all kinds, and the extreme right. The majority of the Socialist Party (despite a strong minority) backed a Yes vote, as did the official majority of the Greens (Les Verts) and centre left groups. French voters, (54,67%) rejected the new Treaty, leading some to hope for a popular revolt against neo-liberalism. This did not happen. The centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy, economically – but not socially – liberal candidate was elected President in May 2007. Amongst his pledges was a re-negotiation and ratification of a mini-treaty without a referendum. Eventually, the new version, the Lisbon Treaty, was voted by the Parliament.

Coqurel’s career since that time involved clubs and regroupings on the ‘anti-liberal’ (in the economic sense) left. as been within the Parti de Gauche, closely involved in the alliance Le Front de Gauche and, close to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has been a supporter of La France insoumise (LFI). He is said in 2016, during the run up to the 2017 Presidential bid, to have coined the phrase, referring to the European Union (and in the aftermath of the crisis over the left Syriza government in Greece) ” Cette Europe-là, soit on la change, soit on doit la quitter” This Europe, either we change it, or we have to leave it.

Those not entirely friendly to the politics of the some of this ‘anti-liberal left’ have called them “sovereigntists” rather than socialists. Not everybody regards highly those with this political background. Mélenchon, and LFI have since toned down the declarative anti-EU policies and rhetoric and evolved towards something like an ‘another Europe’ position. Le Monde summarised the common stand of NUPES (the left alliance for the Parliamentary elections), “Despite these historical differences (Note: over the 2005 Referendum), the formations of the Nupes have agreed on a common desire to reform the EU to ”  put an end to the liberal and productivist course of the European Union and to build a new project at the service of ecological, democratic solidarity”. 

This is a useful summary, including reference to Coquerel’s commitment to the sport of Sailing:

Coquerel has been a, extremely active, LFI MP in the National Assembly since 2017.

Le Monde says,

Left-wing LFI seizes presidency of Finance Committee in French Assemblée

Eric Coquerel will start his mandate by chairing debates on the purchasing power bill. He insists that he does not wish to ‘block for the sake of blocking,’ but warns, ‘I will use all my prerogatives.’

He also made energetic promises on the agenda-setting. “These past five years, the government has often decided things with a push-button at the Elysée. I will ensure that the Assemblée has time to legislate, debate and decide,” explained Mr. Coquerel, who intends to influence the choice of topics for investigative committees and various reports. He plans to invite trade unionists and to broaden the spectrum of audited persons, such as the former anti-corruption judge Eva Joly. “We hope to have more access to the committee’s resources (administrators, etc.) and to be a source of proposals,” added Socialist MP Christine Pirès-Beaune.

There is now this – rumours about Coquerel’s behaviour towards women:

Written by Andrew Coates

July 1, 2022 at 5:55 pm