Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Third Force

Jean-Paul Sartre was the most embattled postwar French philosopher. His serious and original engagement in political affairs brought him the enmity of left, right and center, both in his own country and abroad. He was even haunted by imaginary lobsters. Still, he graciously absorbed the admiration of the world's disaffected youth, while quaffing sherry from his battle station at Café de Flore.

Western Europe was poised between two rival imperial forces. France tended to lean left but of course toeing the Communist line was difficult in the wake of Budapest '56, if not earlier. And so Sartre formulated a "Third Force," and created the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly, designed to keep his country autonomous from the era's two great powers. For this he was accused of demagoguery and blasphemy. Those who saw him as a Soviet agent felt confirmed when he rejected the Nobel Prize in '64.

The Revolutionary Democratic Assembly initially had wide support, including from Sartre's rival Albert Camus. Rebecca Pitt, from the International Socialism Journal:

Sartre's involvement in the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly (RDR): The RDR was formed in early 1948 as a response to the Cold War, the Stalinist PCF and Gaullism, and made clear where its principles lay:

    Between the rottenness of capitalist democracy, the weaknesses and defects of a certain social democracy and the limitation of Communism to its Stalinist form, we believe an assembly of free men for revolutionary democracy is capable of giving new life to the principles of freedom and human dignity by binding them to the struggle for social revolution.

Formed as a left wing anti-Stalinist assembly, the RDR was able to "achieve a larger membership than any Trotskyist grouping between 1945 and 1968. However, as Birchall points out, the RDR contributed to its own downfall by failing to provide a clear position on the quickly developing political situation.

Sartre was no coalition-builder. He never got his revolution. But Sartre's radical notion of a European exception--a progressive, humane and powerful society--has indeed come to pass with the rise of the European Union.

Certainly he would have repudiated the taint of "rotten capitalist democracy." If the revolutionary aspect of Sartre's Third Force exists today, it's in the Latin American struggles for autonomy. But global politics is now "multipolar." Europe has transcended the power play between the U.S. and the shadowy East.