Afterword to the
English-Language Edition (2002)
This book was written in France in 1983. The passage of
nearly twenty years and an ocean crossing have not rendered its
basic propositions either more valid or less. The pages that fol-
low thus shall attempt simply to situate these propositions both
within the evolution of my own work and the political and theoret-
ical debates of the last thirty or so years.
My previous book, The Nights of Labor (published in France in
1981), allowed me to o√er an interpretation—equally distant from
the two poles of the then-dominant thought—of the French labor
movement in the nineteenth century and of social conflict in gen-
eral.∞ Against the traditions of historical materialism and political
avant-gardism, it endeavored to reveal the specific nature of the in-
tellectual revolution assumed by the emergence of working-class
thought. But it opposed at the same time a counter-discourse,
flourishing in that era, that valorized an idea of working-class
thought rooted in craft traditions or the forms of popular culture
and sociability. The Nights of Labor sought to show how the idea of
working-class emancipation assumed, on the contrary, a strong
symbolic rupture with a culture of craft or popular sociabilities—
in short, with working-class ‘‘identity.’’ Working-class emancipa-
tion was not the a≈rmation of values specific to the world of
labor. It was a rupture in the order of things that founded these
‘‘values,’’ a rupture in the traditional division [partage] assigning
the privilege of thought to some and the tasks of production to
others. The French workers who, in the nineteenth century, cre-
ated newspapers or associations, wrote poems, or joined utopian
groups, were claiming the status of fully speaking and thinking
beings. At the birth of the ‘‘workers’ movement,’’ there was thus
neither the ‘‘importation’’ of scientific thought into the world of
the worker nor the a≈rmation of a worker culture. There was
instead the transgressive will to appropriate the ‘‘night’’ of poets
and thinkers, to appropriate the language and culture of the other,
to act as if intellectual equality were indeed real and e√ectual.
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