Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative: by Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, paperback, 239 pages. By Maddy

Apr 15, 2011

In May 1968, students in a suburb of France revolted against capitalism, bourgeoise social norms, and conservative education policies. The revolt spread through universities and factories throughout France. General strikes, barricades in the streets, having sex in the Sorbonne (a major university in Paris) and more! Unlike in the United States, in France there was a very real chance that the government would resign or collapse.

Although he labelled himself an anarcho-Marxist and said he despised all leaders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, or “Danny the Red” as he was more commonly known, was the defacto leader of the protesting students, and of the entire movement itself. Obsolete Communism is Danny the Red and his brother Gabriel’s account of the events of May 68.

The first half of the book has an irrestibly exciting tone – no surprise, as it was written when Danny was only 23, just five weeks after the uprising. (Note: If you have never read anything about May 68, you might want to first read a short article outlining the basic events because a basic knowledge of the chronology of events is assumed.) The Cohn-Bendit brothers express their distaste for modern middle class life: “The petty life of yesterday was left behind; gone the dingy office, the boredom in a tiny flat, with a tiny television and, outside, a tiny road with a tiny car; gone the repetition, the studied gestures, the regimentation and the lack of joy and desire,” they write.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book is, at times, little more than a rushed critique of leaders, the Communist Party (and their role in repressing the movement), and the usual anti-Trotsky sentiments. The brothers take the position that the working class (and all oppressed people for that matter) have a natural understanding of their own oppression and do not need to be educated about their condition. While it is certainly true that – to take a modern example – a McDonalds worker knows he or she is being screwed, it definitely does often take something extra to transform general anger about one’s shitty life into a revolutionary movement. Most revolutions, contrary to what Danny and Gabriel would have us believe, do involve some level of organization and education.

Despite all this, I recommend this book not only to people interested in the May 68 events, but also to everyone involved in the anti-globalization movement. Whether you end up agreeing or not, this book raises many crucial basic questions about the relationship of middle class students to workers and about the nature of modern revolution in general. –Maddy (AK Press, 674-A 23rd St., Oakland, CA 94612-1163)

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