[Marxism] Foucault and the French left

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Fri Apr 2 04:46:58 MST 2004

On Fri, 2 Apr 2004 13:16:36 +1000 (EST)
=?iso-8859-1?q?Nicholas=20Siemensma?= <nsiemensma at yahoo.com.au> writes:
> Didn't Foucault shuttle around politically just like he did
> theoretically? I had the impression that he was some kind of Gaullist
> until he came back from Tunisia in the late Sixties.

He was all over the map politically.  At the École 
Normale Supérieure he studied under the Marxist
philosopher, Louis Althusser.  In his youth, Foucault
was for a short time a member of the French Communist
Party, and during that period he wrote a thesis, in which
among other things, celebrated the work of Ivan Pavlov and his school in
Soviet psychology, which I believe was published
under the title *Mental Illness and Personality*.
In that book he also talked about psychoanalysis and
existentialist analysis as "mythical explanations"
that needed to be replaced by more scientific,
Marxist categories.

Not long after writing that book, Foucault turned
against Marxism in favor of Nietzsche.  His
politics shifted rightwards, so that by the early
1960s he was a kind of Gaullist.  And he
served de Gaulle's government in various
capacities as a member of advisory boards
concerning educational matters.  

However, by the mid-1960s his politics began to 
shift sharply leftwards. During a teaching stint in 
Tunisia, he found that many of his best students to 
be communists and he became very close to them 
as they battled repression by the Tunisian government. 
After the May-June events of 1968 he became increasingly 
drawn to the young Maoists. During his Maoist years, 
Foucault was active in struggles for the rights of mental 
patients and the rights of prisoners. After the mid 1970s he 
drifted away from Maoist politics (as did most of his erstwhile 
Maoist friends) but he supported the Iranian Revolution. 
During his last years he began to take an interest in 
F.A. Hayek and Austrian economics. 

Jim F.

> Nick
> > While personally I think his work has done more to 
> > obsfuscate issues of power than to shed light on them, you 
> > might also find Foulcault's own "Remarks on Marx" helpful in 
> > clarifying his relationship to the European Left of the late 
> > 60's.  
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