Enter the Party

  • Michael Scriven


Paul Nizan died on 23 May 1940, aged 35. It would seem appropriate, given the centrality of the theme of death in Nizan’s life and work, to begin a biography of Nizan by focusing on the moment at which he died.


Communist Party Moral Integrity Collective Security Soviet State Soviet Society 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    P. Nizan, ‘Notes-programme sur la philosophie’, Bifur, 7 Dec 1930; reprinted in PIC, p. 207.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Un entretien avec Jean-Paul Sartre’, Le Monde, 14 May 1971, p. 20.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    P. Nizan, ‘Secrets de famille’, Monde, 14 Mar 1931, p. 4Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    J.-P. Sartre, Les Mots (Gallimard, 1964) p. 190.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Nizan, ‘Lettre à une amie’, July 1925, published in extenso in A. Cohen-Solal and H. Nizan, Paul Nizan, communiste impossible (Grasset, 1980) pp. 42–3. Further evidence of Nizan’s public disdain for ‘losers’ is provided in the original manuscript of an early novel written in 1923–4 by Jean-Paul Sartre, entitled La Semence et le scaphandre and centred on the Sartre-Nizan friendship. Nizan/Lucelles is described in the following terms: ‘Pity was totally unknown to him. I have never seen him commiserate with those worse off than himself. He used to refer to them as “losers”’ (Le Magazine littéraire, 59 (Dec 1971) p. 62).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    This driving ambition to succeed, so clearly visible in the personality of the adolescent Nizan, is doubtless a manifestation of what Emmanuel Todd, Nizan’s own grandson, refers to as the competitive and highly individualist ideology of the French petty bourgeoisie ensnared in the brutally aggressive and egoistic social relations of contemporary French capitalism. See E. Todd, Le Fou et le prolétaire (Laffont, 1979) pp. 231–5.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    P. Nizan, ‘Mort de la morale bourgeoise par Emmanuel Berl’, Europe, 15 July 1930; reprinted in NOC, p. 27.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    For a detailed account of Nizan’s academic achievements between 1917 and 1924, see A. Ginsbourg, Paul Nizan (Editions Universitaires, 1966) pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    ‘Lettre à Henriette Alphen’, 7 Mar 1927; cited in A. King, Paul Nizan, Écrivain (Didier, 1976) p. 12. See also J. Leiner, ‘Un portrait pirandellien’, ATO, pp. 32–3: ‘As a child he adored his father, but when he went to the Ecole Normale there occurred a split in their relationship.’Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    This role-playing activity in which the objective is to affirm one’s presence in the world by means of disguise (ideological, emotional or vestimentary) doubtless finds its clearest expression in Nizan’s cult of the dandy. His flirtation with fascism may in many ways be understood as a product of the exhibitionism and self-affirmation associated with the dandy. When Merleau-Ponty describes Nizan returning to Louis-le-Grand dressed in the blue of Valois, self-affirmation through disguise reaches its climax. Disguised in the ideological and vestimentary uniform of Valois’s fascist group, Nizan masks his inner turmoil beneath a reassuring cloak of certainty. See M. Merleau-Ponty, Signes (Gallimard, 1960) pp. 35–6.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    P. Nizan, ‘Lettre à Henriette Alphen’, 18 Aug 1926; cited in Cohen-Solal and Nizan, Paul Nizan, communiste impossible, p. 52.Google Scholar
  12. 30.
    P. Nizan, ‘Lettre à Henriette Alphen’, Apr 1927;Google Scholar
  13. cited in P. Ory, Paul Nizan: Destin d’un révolté (Ramsay, 1980) p. 72.Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    Nizan’s celebrated car accident, alluded to in a letter of 2 May 1927 (PIC, pp. 96–7), described by Sartre as an attempted suicide (PAA, pp. 36–7), and supported in this interpretation by Merleau-Ponty (Signes, p. 36), occurred at about the same time that he was debating the entrepreneurial solution, just prior to his return to France. Arguably, this event can be understood as a final dramatic manifestation of Nizan’s highly charged emotional state of the time, following which the political solution in France became progressively more dominant. Alternatively, the alleged suicide can be interpreted as pure myth-making on Sartre’s part. André Besse, Nizan’s tutee in Aden, is adamant, for example, that suicide can ‘definitely be ruled out’. (See A. King, Paul Nizan, écrivain (Didier, 1976) p. 20.)Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    E. Todd, Le Fou et le prolétaire (Laffont, 1979) pp. 231–65.Google Scholar
  16. 38.
    D. Caute, Communism and the French Intellectuals, 1914–1960 (London: André Deutsch, 1964) p. 98.Google Scholar
  17. 40.
    See G. Cogniot, L’Internationale communiste (Editions Sociales, 1969) p. 100.Google Scholar
  18. 41.
    See, for example, D. Tartakowsky, ‘Le tournant des années trente’, in Le PCF: étapes et problèmes, 1920–1972 (Editions sociales, 1981), and G. Cogniot, ‘L’Internationale devant la crise économique des pays capitalistes et la montée du fascisme (1929–1933)’, in L’Internationale communiste.Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    According to G. Cogniot, Thorez was highly supportive of the Amsterdam Congress held in August 1932. In November and December 1932 Duclos was outspoken in his attacks on sectarian politics which he judged to be undermining the party’s appeal to the masses (see Cogniot, L’Internationale communiste, pp. 111–15). J. Touchard, by contrast, is of the view that both Thorez and Duclos remained committed to the ‘class against class’ strategy until February 1934 (see J. Touchard, ‘Le Parti communiste français et les intellectuels’, Revue française de science politique, 17 June 1967, pp. 468–83).Google Scholar
  20. 47.
    P. Nizan, ‘Notes-programme sur la philosophie’, Bifur, 7 Dec 1930; reprinted in PIC, p. 212.Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Apart from Nizan, Politzer and Rappoport, the other members of the editorial board of La Revue marxiste were H. Lefebvre, N. Guterman and P. Morange. For an account of the ‘Revue marxiste’ episode, see H. Lefebvre, La Somme et le reste (La Nef de Paris, 1959) pp. 425–35.Google Scholar
  22. 55.
    P. Nizan, ‘Les Conséquences du refus’, La Nouvelle Revue française, Dec 1932; reprinted in PIC, p. 239.Google Scholar
  23. 57.
    S. de Beauvoir, La Force de l’âge (Gallimard, 1960) p. 237.Google Scholar
  24. 60.
    Although it is clearly the case that between 1928 and 1933 Nizan’s understanding of the Soviet Union progressed considerably, in no small measure due to his translation in 1933 of L. Fischer’s Les Soviets dans les affaires mondiales (Gallimard, 1933), nevertheless Nizan’s quest for moral integrity, allied to the generally simplified view of the world purveyed by the PCF during this sectarian phase, encouraged him to opt for an abstract Soviet Utopia, the site of moral justice and sublimated angst.Google Scholar
  25. It is worth mentioning in this context Nizan’s translation of T. Dreiser’s L’Amérique tragique, published similarly in 1933, which substantially increased Nizan’s knowledge of America.Google Scholar
  26. 62.
    P. Nizan, ‘Le Tombeau de Timour’, Vendredi, 22 Jan 1937, p. 11; and ‘Sindobod Toçikiston’, Europe, 15 May 1935, pp. 73–99, reprinted in PIC, pp. 175–96.Google Scholar
  27. 63.
    The extent of their mutual dislike can be gauged by Barbusse’s description of Nizan as a ‘petty-bourgeois careerist, a parasite on the working class destined to become a parasite on the bourgeois state’ (Monde, Sep 1932, quoted in A. Cohen-Solal and H. Nizan, Paul Nizan communiste impossible (Grasset, 1980) p. 102).Google Scholar
  28. 64.
    P. Nizan, ‘André Gide’, La Littérature internationale, 3 (1934) pp. 126–33; reprinted in PIC, pp. 107–20.Google Scholar
  29. 66.
    P. Nizan, ‘Sur l’humanisme’, Europe, July 1935, pp. 453–7; reprinted in PIC, p. 230.Google Scholar
  30. 71.
    A. Gide, Retour de l’URSS (Gallimard, 1936).Google Scholar
  31. 72.
    P. Nizan, ‘Un esprit non prévenu: Retour de l’URSS par André Gide’, Vendredi, 29 Jan 1937; reprinted in NOC, pp. 240–9.Google Scholar
  32. 76.
    P. Nizan, De la Sainte Russie à l’URSS par Georges Friedmann’, Commune, May 1938, pp. 1123–5.Google Scholar
  33. 80.
    P. Nizan, ‘L’Ennemi public numéro un’, Regards, 61 (14 Mar 1935); reprinted in PIC, pp. 246–50.Google Scholar
  34. 83.
    P. Nizan, La France trahie’, Ce Soir, 19–23 July 1939.Google Scholar
  35. 103.
    P. Nizan, ‘Secrets de l’Espagne’, La Correspondance internationale, 13 June–11 July 1936.Google Scholar
  36. 105.
    P. Nizan, ‘Renaissance de l’Espagne’, Commune, Sep 1936, pp. 10–13.Google Scholar
  37. 112.
    See G. Péri, ‘Laissera-t-on l’armée de Mussolini conquérir l’Espagne?’, ibid., 12 Mar 1937.Google Scholar
  38. 116.
    O. Todd, Préface: Chronique de septembre (Gallimard, 1978) p. v.Google Scholar
  39. 122.
    See J. Elleinstein, Staline (Fayard, 1984) pp. 241–65.Google Scholar
  40. 127.
    S. de Beauvoir, La Force de l’âge (Gallimard, 1960) p. 429.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Scriven 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Scriven
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathUK

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