Marxism Loses Cachet in Paris, Its Former Hotbed

Marxist debates in Paris have long had a fascination for the world beyond the city's Left Bank cafes and bookshops.

Third-world revolutionaries such as Ho Chi Minh and Cambodia's Pol Pot studied here, and Marxist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre captured the imagination of several generations of college radicals - as well as proved that a philosopher in Paris could attain the cult status of a rock star. In the 1960s and '70s, Paris premiered the works of prominent theorists of so-called third world revolution, such as Frantz Fanon.

Today the writings of Marx are much less in evidence in the Left Bank bookshops that once featured them.

"The only ones left are the ones that are hard to understand. We had to discount the rest," says one bookseller, pointing to her last paperback collection of the complete writings of Karl Marx.

Courses on Marx are also disappearing from French universities. Ironically, the move to marginalize Marx was made under France's first Socialist government, says Alain Parguez, an economics professor at the University of Besancon, outside Paris. "The Ministry of Education began requiring that all course curricula be approved in Paris, and courses on the history of economic thought featuring Marx were one of the first casualties."

The experience of France's 14-year Socialist presidency, which was forced to abandon its Socialist political agenda after two years in office, proved deeply disillusioning to many French Marxists. In addition, the French Communist Party continued defending the Soviet version of Marxism long after many in the Soviet bloc had repudiated it.

"If communism can't prove it is capable of explaining its planetary failure, it has no future," says Arnaud Spire, who directs coverage of ideology for the French communist daily, "L'Humanite."

"Texts on Marx are no longer sure-fire bestsellers," he adds, ironically. "The reading of Marx has been in decline at least since 1983, as have the number of books sold and the number of university theses on Marx."

But this should not be interpreted to mean that Marxism is dead in France. An international conference on Marx last November attracted more than 1,000 researchers.

"There's a critical reevaluation going on of Marx," Mr. Spire adds. "Those who draw the right lessons from [Marxism's] failures will have a future."

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