[OPE-L] Robert Stuart, Marxism and National Identity: Socialism, Nationalism, and National Socialism during the French Fin de Siècle.

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Apr 15 2007 - 04:46:41 EDT

Just finished this excellent book. Did not get 
the sense that Stuart bifurcated the followers of 
Guesde into fundamental cosmopolitans and 
socialist nationalists only in guise. In my 
reading Stuart is quite clear that both positions 
belonged to and warred for the control of the 
soul of the POF.

What I think may be missing from the book is a 
comparison of how Guesde and Jaures responded 
differently to the Dreyfus affair. It seems that 
the latter, the reformist, was much more critical 
of the anti Semitic enemies of Dreyfus; moreover, 
he opposed militarism and the Great War, not the 
orthodox Marxist Guesde. The problems with 
orthodox or formulaic Marxism may have been 
thrown into relief through a comparison with 
Guesde and Jaures.

But this excellent book is much richer than this 
review suggests; it is chock full of insights 
about the challenges nationalism, regionalism, 
ethnic identity and globalization pose to Marxist 
theory. Its registering  of the tsunami like 
power of nationalism is also disturbingly 
uncanny. A very important book for the times.

H-France Review Vol. 7 (March 2007), No. 26
Robert Stuart, Marxism and National Identity: 
Socialism, Nationalism, and National Socialism 
during the French Fin de Siècle. Albany: State 
University of New York Press, 2006. x + 305 pp. 
Appendices, notes, bibliography, and index. 
$29.95 U.S. (pb). ISBN 0-7914-6670-1.
Review by Torbjörn Wandel, Truman State University.

Does a fin-de-siècle socialist have more in 
common with a socialist today than with a 
fin-de-siècle conservative? Is Jean Jaurès or 
Jules Guesde more like Ségolène Royal or Maurice 
Barrès? This kind of question is central to our 
understanding of the past, especially of the end 
of the nineteenth century when so many of the 
categories we use in studying it were created, 
transmuted, or fine-tuned. Establishing 
ideological continuity across time--in this case 
linking socialists across generations in a great 
chain of being--has the advantages of clarity and 
coherence. Yet the synchronic juxtaposition is 
more rewarding to the historian because it forces 
us to bring out the particularity of context.
For the most part, the emphasis is on continuity 
in Robert Stuart's expert study of French 
Marxism's encounter with questions of nationhood, 
ethnicity, and race during the fin-de-siècle. 
This emphasis stems from two core ideas that 
animate the text: that, to the author, French 
Marxists "are, at a century's distance, 'my 
people'" (p. ix), and that they "should be kept 
clearly distinct" (p. 182) from the fin-de-siècle 
Right. Stuart's fellow feeling enables him to 
offer intimate insight into fin-de-siècle French 
Marxism, and he demonstrates how ideologically 
dissimilar from their contemporaries its 
adherents truly were. In doing so he rescues 
their views on the national question from 
relative inattention, considerable 
misunderstanding, and some notable malignity by 
scholars of Marxism and historians of late 
nineteenth-century France. Yet more critical 
attention to the commonalities between French 
Marxists and their opponents, while it might have 
compromised the admirable clarity of his account, 
would have offered a more complex image of the 
particular context of the French fin de siècle. 
As in his Marxism at Work,[1] to which this book 
in many ways is a topical sequel, Stuart's focus 
is not on socialism broadly or French Marxism 
generally but on the Parti Ouvrier Français under 
the leadership of Jules Guesde and a coterie of 
others, including Marx's son-in-law Paul 
Lafargue, in the last two decades of the 
nineteenth century and the first few years of the 
twentieth. It is in an exceptionally informed 
account, drawing mainly on L'Égalité and Le 
Socialiste--the party's weeklies edited by 
Guesde--and other newspapers and pamphlets to 
which POF leaders contributed. As such, Stuart 
speaks with authority on what the Guesdists said 
(and failed to say) about national identity and 
much else. Stuart's intimate knowledge of 
Guesdism is the central strength of the text and 
its many positive qualities flow from it.
Stuart's main conceit is to present what he calls 
the different "personae" of French Marxism in the 
period. In chapter one, he brings forward a 
"Guesdism at its most cosmopolitan" (p. 27), 
rooted in Enlightenment universalism and 
exhibiting principled inclusion in a climate 
increasingly hostile to difference. As he 
demonstrates in chapters two and three, while the 
POF toyed with a kind of socialist nationalism 
that tapped into the link between the French 
Revolution and universal human rights, their 
cosmopolitanism blinded them to the appeal of 
nationalism on workers, and Stuart shows them 
generally confounded by the false consciousness 
of nationalism. Chapter four explores 
"proletarian patriotism," which sought to 
establish the working class as the universal 
nation (instead of France as the homeland of 
universalism). In chapter five, Stuart deals with 
the Guesdists' encounter with race, showing that 
while the POF leadership occasionally slipped 
into racialized language, they were the most 
incisive enemies of racists the period saw. As 
with nationalism, he shows them baffled and 
irritated by the ubiquity of such a bourgeois 
distraction. Chapter six--where Stuart really 
hits his stride--explores the multiple and 
confused ways that the Guesdists confronted the 
new extreme Right, the forerunners of fascism, 
that emerged in the fin de siècle. He ends with a 
superb conclusion and an appendix that contains 
some of the most judicious and clearest 
definitions of the notoriously confusing terms of 
the period available anywhere. Stuart's device of 
presenting a conflicted group of militants, where 
"the schizophrenic disjuncture between their 
cosmopolitan and socialist-nationalist personae" 
(p. 77) generated an array of positions on 
national identity, allows him to offer a text 
awash in insight about French Marxism, 
encapsulated in pithy formulations that elegantly 
encompass the complexity of the period.
But Stuart's determination to keep the Parti 
Ouvrier distinct from its opponents and his own 
sympathy with their goals sometimes works to 
divorce them from their context. He rarely doubts 
that the real POF is the cosmopolitan version 
that opens the book. When they depart from that 
core identity, it is a "lapse" (pp. 81, 98), or 
the POF engage in "personification" (p. 90), they 
were merely "posturing as patriots" (p. 88), wore 
a "guise" (p. 88), or they momentarily 
"succumbed" (pp. 72, 98) or "surrendered" (p. 73) 
to an "aberrant" (p. 98) position. The 
"personae," it turns out, are really the 
ill-fitting masks that these cosmopolitan 
Guesdists don when "cowering before the tsunami 
of nationalist passion" (p. 73). Stuart is 
visibly saddened when Guesdists were too weak not 
to get caught up in their context and thus 
departed from their cosmopolitan socialist 
identity. As such, Stuart often treats the POF 
militants not as a product of their milieu but at 
odds with it. Such treatment is dubious in a work 
of history.
Adding to this impression are Stuart's judgments 
about the judiciousness of Guesdist tactics. Most 
of the time, their analyses "abounded with 
insight" (p. 45), they were "prescient" and 
"trenchant" (p. 47), and "should command our 
respect" (p. 27). When they were "wrong" (p. 95), 
it seems to pain him and he does not show 
compunction in defending or correcting them. If 
they made an "error," it was because they were 
"overly optimistic" (p. 42) and Stuart will 
wistfully suggest a different approach that might 
have worked better. Maybe so, but it is unclear 
why or how Stuart's suggesting alternative 
tactics is relevant to a work of history other 
than cementing the impression that real socialism 
is cosmopolitan socialism and that it coincides 
with Stuart's socialism.
Still, this POF feels slightly unreal and 
disembodied. This is not the book to learn about 
the formation of the Parti Ouvrier (or, more 
centrally, about the adding of "Français" to the 
party's name in the late 1890s) or to get 
biographical information about its leadership. In 
fact, only those whom non-specialists are likely 
to recognize immediately, such as Guesde and 
Lafargue, are even introduced at all. Although 
Stuart frequently refers to the belle époque, he 
remains (aside from engaging present-day Marxist 
debate) almost entirely in the 1880s and 1990s 
without explaining why. As a result, the book 
never touches on what would appear to be the very 
interesting question of Guesde's turn toward 
patriotism and even nationalism after the Great 
War. Drawing out the context and identifying the 
leadership and membership of the POF would have 
helped broaden the audience that the text 
Best exemplifying the text's own insight and 
blindness is the discussion of the POF and 
antisemitism,[2] the longest section in the 
longest chapter of the book. Stuart is convincing 
in concluding that the Guesdists' failure to 
support Dreyfus did not mean that they were 
anti-Dreyfusards or antisemites. He shows how as 
cosmopolitans they were opposed to any form of 
particularism, be it regionalism, nationalism, 
Eurocentrism, or "philo-Semitism." "Trivial 
deviations" from their "antiracist imperative," 
he argues, ought not to "obscure the Guesdists' 
hatred of their anti-Semitic enemies" (p. 126). 
His emphatic distinction between Guesdists and 
the extreme Right is convincing and a very 
important contribution.
Yet he is at a loss to explain satisfactorily the 
use of what is very obviously antisemitic 
language by these tolerant humanists. Faced with 
it, Stuart seems just as at a loss as the 
Guesdists, his "people," and he grasps for 
straws. Somehow, using the word "Jews" for 
financial speculators is not antisemitic to him 
because it "almost always referred, not to ethnic 
Jews, but to financial speculators, of whatever 
race or religion" (p. 116). He mentions that some 
Jews themselves talked this way (p. 118), 
although it is unclear why this makes it less 
racist. He points out that what POF leaders were 
most worried about was industrial, not financial, 
capitalism anyway (p. 119), but at the same time 
that since Jews advanced capitalism and advancing 
capitalism meant the imminence of socialism, this 
meant that Guesdists were really supporters of 
Jews--actually "they delighted in capitalism's 
universalization of 'juiverie'" (p. 120)!
While the insensitivity is uncharacteristic of 
the book, this blindness is symptomatic in the 
sense that it is a product of Stuart's insistence 
that the POF be "kept clearly distinct" from 
their ideological opponents. Here the 
poststructuralism that Stuart periodically mocks 
as too caught up in identity politics would have 
helped him. First, it would have made it easier 
for him to recognize the problems with 
universalist humanism and its devaluation of 
particularity. Second, it would have enabled him 
to make the crucial distinction between 
antisemites and antisemitism. It is clear that 
most French Marxists did not hate Jews, but 
without recourse to this distinction Stuart is 
unable to explain away their antisemitic 
statements, let alone to explain them. Third, as 
Venita Datta has shown so persuasively, if one 
moves beyond politics and ideology narrowly 
defined, it becomes apparent that opposing groups 
have plenty in common, since, for example, as 
Datta shows, "writers of the avant-garde shared 
with their opponents a common discourse of honor 
and masculinity."[3] The poststructuralist 
emphasis on discourse--gendered discourse in 
particular--bound to a specific milieu would have 
been useful to explore ways in which French 
Marxists and anti-Marxists inhabited the same 
In speeches several months ago, the two main 
presidential candidates in France outlined the 
themes of their campaigns. Whereas Guesdists at a 
century's distance, as Stuart puts it, "flaunted 
the red flag rather than the tricolore" (p. 18), 
when Ségolène Royal announced her candidacy for 
the Parti Socialiste, she chose "the nation," and 
the first word she pronounced in outlining this 
theme was "le drapeau." Nicolas Sarkozy for his 
part promised a veritable revolution: a vision of 
"un nouvel Etat, d'une nouvelle nation, d'une 
nouvelle République." The "rupture" he described 
was to "ne plus tolérer des injustices qui font 
honte à notre République." (As for his opponents, 
he argued that, "Les socialistes de jadis étaient 
d'abord républicains, les socialistes 
d'aujourdhui sont d'abord socialistes.")[4] These 
statements are reminders, to the historian at 
least, that particular contexts always trump and 
shape ideology. In fact, ideology to Marx himself 
was the denial of context, "the negation of the 
particularity of place," as Michel de Certeau 
once put it, "being the very principle of 
ideology."[5] When Robert Stuart extends this 
analytical imperative to the POF and not just to 
its ideological opponents, Marxism and National 
Identity is a deeply informed, nuanced, 
clear-headed, and excellent contribution to our 
understanding of the role of the Parti Ouvrier in 
the turbulent debates about national identity 
during the fin de siècle.

[1] Marxism at Work: Ideology, Class and French 
Socialism during the Third Republic (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1992).
[2] Following established practice in the field 
of the study of antisemitism, I do not hyphenate 
the terms antisemite, antisemitic, and 
antisemitism, as this seems to concede the point 
that there is a distinct racial group called 
[3] Venita Datta, Birth of a National Icon: The 
Literary Avant-Garde and the Origins of the 
Intellectual in France (Albany: State University 
of New York Press, 1999), especially chapter 
five. The quote is from p. 118.
[4] Le Monde, 13 October 2006.
[5] Michel de Certeau, L'écriture de l'histoire 
(Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1975), p. 79.

Torbjörn Wandel
Truman State University

Copyright © 2007 by the Society for French 
Historical Studies, all rights reserved. The 
Society for French Historical Studies permits the 
electronic distribution for nonprofit educational 
purposes, provided that full and accurate credit 
is given to the author, the date of publication, 
and its location on the H-France website. No 
republication or distribution by print media will 
be permitted without permission. For any other 
proposed uses, contact the Editor-in-Chief of 
H-France Review Vol. 7 (March 2007), No. 26

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon Apr 30 2007 - 00:00:17 EDT