Leftism as I have tried to present it is far from being a finished, coherent theory. It is rather a collection of elements of critique, analysis and constructive conceptions. However, this confers sufficient coherence to make it legitimate to bring these elements together into a single conceptual framework. For leftism represents a common inspiration, a common vision of the world and projection of the future. The heterogeneity of its constituents, their occasional apparent incompatibility, also arises from the fact that this theory is not yet fully realized. It has been held up to examination at a moment when the fusion is not complete; at the present time, anything can still happen : the various contributory currents may separate, they may be come individualized outside the main stream, or they may become fused in the same crucible. All hypotheses are admissible; but categorical conclusions would still be impertinent.
Even such as it is now, incomplete and developing, leftist theory represents a confluence of several disparate influences. Its aims of radical transformation are inherited from Marxism, yet it conceives radicalism differently and in a broader sense. It accepts the Marxist idea of the class struggle, but includes in its notion of class all who do not have control over their own destinies and the ordering of whose activities does not lie in their own hands. It thus greatly enlarges the range of alienations weighing upon the individual, and breaks with Marxist economic thought. It thus widens the 'battleground' by refusing to restrict it to the framework of the workplace. It carries the battle into the very heart of everyday life. It insinuates it into every level of existence -- for leftism perceives repression at every level.
In fact, the whole of existence is called in question, simultaneously. Leftism considers that man is alienated in his sexual life because his real desires are stifled from infancy by morality, the family, the school. He is socialized by the patriarchal family which reproduces the authoritarian model of world society; the child is already trained to obey without question, to accept the fundamental division between those who command and those who do as they are told. The whole concept of education and discipline is such as to compel the child to inhibit his instincts of creativity and independence. The university, finally, transmits an ideological form of knowledge, and there is no academic discipline, not even the exact sciences, which in the end does not result in manipulating the student, in imposing on him a view of society, of happiness and of freedom, which is merely the reflection of a structure of domination. Having served a long apprenticeship of submission, man finds himself caught in a dense network of reifications and his consciousness is clouded by mystique. This explains the great difficulty he experiences in organizing his own authentic liberation; it explains why he is such a poor judge of his own interests and why he never ceases to wander from one kind of slavery to another. Until now, he has never been able to do more than exchange one master for another.
Now it has become a question of getting rid of all masters and all the shackles that impede our liberty. Here again, leftism dissociates itself from Marxism and from all the varieties of nineteenth-century socialism. It rejects productive labour, hoping to replace it by free, playtime activity, to which art is the closest existing approximation. It therefore dissociates itself from the mentality, of the industrial society that first imposed itself in Europe at the dawn of the capitalist era. It has inherited from the dadaist and surrealist tradition a supreme contempt for the technological society, its greyness and boredom. From millenarianism and the 'horsemen of the Apocalypse' it has borrowed the aspiration towards a totally different world, a paradise which can and should be realized on earth without delay. It takes its fantastic constructions from utopia, but wants to integrate them into its short-term projects; it refuses to banish the dream and boil down the real to what is currently achievable. Finally, it aspires to build a life in which man is not a stranger to his fellows, where communication can be restored through a de-alienated use of language. The word will then be inseparable from the deed and will express human and universal truth and not squalid everyday lies.
The struggle for a new world cannot use the reified instruments of the opposition movement inherited from the past. The irruption of subjectivity into everyday claims makes reconciliation with the principle of revolutionary leadership impossible : the right to the autonomy of struggle is the first victory of the conscious revolutionary. To be conscious means to be master of his own destiny. His consciousness results precisely from his situation in the historical process taking place around him : it cannot be injected, increased, reinforced or initiated by any deus ex machina.
Leftism believes it has found in our period of history, the period now beginning, the moment when the objective situation will finally allow subjectivity to assert itself. This situation results from the emergence, in a few privileged countries, of relative affluence which encourages man to withdraw his attention somewhat from the struggle for basic survival. This 'availability', previously unknown, leads him to ask questions about the existing order of things; he can become aware, if dimly, of the extension of the realm of the possible and the tangible. It is this conscious awareness of a realizable but forbidden future which contains the energy which will enable the proletarian to tear himself away from the burden of the condition to which he was born. He will then find buried deep inside himself miracles of intelligence, infinite potentialities and, above all, an unsuspected appetite for the creation of his own destiny.
These aspirations and these energies are embodied in total and general contestation of the existing system, of all present systems; this is the concrete translation of all his apocalyptic visions. The leftist is convinced that the development of active dissent, of what we have here termed 'contestation', will not fail to confirm his analyses and his predictions. How slender is the thread on which such confirmation currently hangs has already been indicated. Nevertheless, the significant indicators, found simultaneously in Warsaw and in Mexico, in Paris and in Berkeley, in Turin and in Osaka, have added a new dimension and lent a certain weight to contestation. But how are these indicators, which bear witness to a change both qualitative and in intensity in the world's social and political struggles, to be interpreted ? In a universe which tends towards the rational organization of every aspect of life, could these not be seen as the last convulsions of a world that is approaching its end ? Are these not the final explosions of a century which has never ceased to reverberate to the noise of explosions ? A last broadside in salute to a dying era, an anachronistic phenomenon before humanity accedes to the era of management where there will be no place either for contestation or for 'workers' insurrections'.
Another hypothesis claims that the generalization of total contestation and the features it now manifests may be seen as the signs heralding an epoch that is only just beginning, and in the course of which humanity will free itself from the last of its chains; in which art will come out of the museums and set itself up in the street. Contestation as it has been witnessed over the last few years is merely a prelude to more intense, radical and also more conscious struggles.
Which of these two interpretations should we choose ? No doubt the objection will be raised that both are false, because both are extreme; that the inevitable middle course will be the eventual solution. That is possible. What remains true is that leftist theory will only acquire its full meaning or its true dimension in the future : only the future can tell if its pretension to renew the theory of revolutionary movements is justified. Even so, its enormous ambitions make it worthy of study.
For the time being, we can only observe that ideas thrown out at random, and actions which were hardly intended to be seen as 'examples', have found an unexpected response. Leftism has elevated itself from Byzantine ratiocinations to the level of a doctrine : its few exponents have been replaced by numerous groups, even by unorganized masses who have adopted the same attitudes, and follow the same reasoning. The marginal sects of yesterday have taken on the impetus of a social movement.
Without prejudging its future, it may already be said that its immediacy is due to the tremendous changes which have taken place in the everyday lives of millions of individuals in so-called affluent societies. A whole realm of existence has been transformed for the working class with the increase in real income, and the guarantees created against the principal risks of working and family life with the disappearance of endemic unemployment.
Technological and scientific progress has indubitably assured a mastery of nature that was inconceivable even a quarter of a century ago. While the material conditions of everyday life have been improving, new ambitions began to surface from the depth of the human consciousness. In these circumstances leftism may be regarded as having provided original answers to new questions. It sees itself as providing no less than the promise of a predictable future. Its success depends, without doubt, on the rightness of those answers and the validity of that promise. But even now, as yet simple and incomplete, it represents a major effort of imagination in a world which seemed to be devoid of it.
This lack of imagination is peculiarly characteristic of what has generally been accepted as the left. And first in this category is official communism, the 'legitimate' heir to the revolutionary tradition of almost two centuries of social struggle. Leftism has made irreversible inroads into this monopoly. Whether leftism will become the revolutionary movement is an open question; but it has certainly demonstrated by its very existence and by the echo it has aroused, that this mantle is no longer worn by organized Marxism-Leninism.