The question of sensuality puts socialism to the test: asking it means exploring the nature and extent of communal emancipation. This is the slightly unorthodox hypothesis that underscores this far-reaching study in which two centuries of French socialism are scrutinised from the viewpoint of pleasure and the senses. From Charles Fourier’s “sensual harmonies” all the way to the pallid governmental socialism of today there is a constant tension between, on the one hand, an angular dominant socialism in favour of militant asceticism, and on the other, a minority socialism that is all soft edges and has room for good food, good times and love.
Forbidden Fruit visits the various fronts in the debate about sensuality. Here we come across Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Léon Blum, Claire Démar and Jeannette Vermeersch, Marcel Sembat, Roger Vailland and François Mitterrand; we turn the pages of L’Atelier and L’Humanité; we join the fight alongside militants of SFIO (the French section of Workers International) and MLF (a women’s liberation movement); we learn about the retreat from Ménilmontant, the freedom – for some – in the early Twentieth Century, and the favourite restaurant of one socialist movement; we witness those who are happy to savour a dozen oysters and those who rail against the seductions of physical love. At the end of the journey a quite different picture of socialism emerges.
Thomas Bouchet is a teacher and researcher of contemporary history at the université de Bourgogne. His previous book Noms d’oiseaux, l’insulte en politique de la Restauration à nos jours was published by Stock in 2010.