French and the Revolution

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The complicated and imperfect architecture of this book reflects the ups and downs of its fate: it originated in the struggle for a clear and definite conception of the inner dialectic of the revolutionary process and was added to during the course of that struggle. The reader who is interested only in the external drama of revolution would do better to set this book aside. But those for whom revolution is not just a colossal spectacle but an objectively determined condition of social crisis, subject to its own internal laws, may perhaps benefit from a reading of the pages herewith presented.

In publishing this work in French, I am resigned in advance to being accused of dogmatism, casuistry, a fondness for exegesis of ancient texts, and lack of "clarity." Alas, the only thing expressed by the aversion to materialist dialectics, so commonly found in "left" circles in France, not excluding the ranks of socialists as well, one maybe sure, is the conservatism of official French thought, which has its own deep roots in the history of French bourgeois society. But we have no doubt that the dialectics of the historical process will deal with French bourgeois habits of thought no less thoroughly than with the bourgeoisie itself. Even the French language, with all its splendid refinement and polish, in whose processing not the least important part was played by that severe machine, the guillotine, is bound to be swept up by the force of history's dialectic and hurled anew into a giant crucible to be remolded at the highest temperatures. Losing none of its qualities of logical precision, it will in the process acquire dialectical flexibility. Revolution in language will be but an expression of the new revolution in the realm of ideas, which in turn will be inseparable from the revolution in the realm of things.

A substantial part of this book is connected with Russia, with the present and past struggle over ideas within its revolutionary ranks. The course of events has raised these disputes to international prominence. This, and only this, serves as justification for the appearance in French of this theoretical-polemical work.

In the appendix we have included three essays, one that deals with a French novel about the Chinese revolution, the other two taking up the analysis of the Spanish revolution unfolding before our eyes. Regardless of differences in the country or epoch dealt with, one constant theme — "permanent revolution" — unites the parts of this book into a single whole, despite its crying defects, of which the author is more sharply aware than anyone.

The reader who pauses in indecision over one polemical chapter or another, or some quotation-loaded digression into the historical past of Russian Marxist thought, to ask, what use is all this to me? would be right to break off reading and turn to the concluding pages devoted to China and Spain. Perhaps after that, the chapters that at first seemed "doctrinaire" or "casuistical" would present themselves in a less repellent light.

At least the author would like to hope so.