Sartre and the Nizan Affair: The Cold War Politics of French Communism

  • Michael Scriven


It is both fascinating and chastening to speculate on the manner in which the Sartre-Nizan relationship might have developed had Nizan survived the war, and had he experienced the socio-political realities of post-Liberation France. In many ways this process of speculation and fictional reconstruction has the makings of a promising novel, but a novel veering either towards the romantic or the pessimistic depending on one’s view of the two individuals concerned and of the intellectual climate of the time.


Communist Party Atomic Bomb Postwar Period Intellectual Climate Democratic Centralism 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Interview with Michel Contat, 22 June 1991.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    L. Siegel, La Clandestine (Maren Sell, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See J.-P. Sartre, Les Carnets de la drôle de guerre (Gallimard, 1983), pp. 310–18, and n. 10.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Interview with Liliane Siegel, 21 June 1991.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Simone de Beauvoir, Entretiens avec Jean-Paul Sartre (Gallimard, 1981), p. 352.Google Scholar
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    J.-P. Sartre and M. Contat, ‘Autoportrait à soixante-dix ans’, Le Nouvel observateur, 7–13 July 1975, p. 70; reprinted in SIT10, pp. 133–226.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., pp. 191–2.Google Scholar
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    J.-P. Sartre, ‘La Semence et Le Scaphandre’, in Ecrits de jeunesse (edited by M. Contat and M. Rybalka, Gallimard, 1990), pp. 137–87. The first chapter was originally published in Le Magazine Littéraire, no. 59 (December 1971), pp. 29 and 59–64.Google Scholar
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    G. Idt, ‘Les Chemins de la liberté: Les Toboggans du romanesque’, Sartre inédit, Obliques, nos 18–19 (1979).Google Scholar
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    J. Cau, in M. Contat and J. Lecarme, ‘Les Années Sartre’, radio programme broadcast on France Culture, 24 and 25 August 1990.Google Scholar
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    It is, of course, important to differentiate between the level of their commitment to the PCF. Nizan was much more willing to submit to a party line: ‘Nizan’s allegiance to the party prevented him from seeing his radicalism through to the end’, notes Sartre (SIT10, p. 194). Equally, Sartre insists that his was a fundamentally anarchistic outlook on life: ‘I never accepted any authority over me, and I always considered that anarchy, that is to say a society without authority, could be achieved’ (SIT10, p. 156).Google Scholar
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    For a more detailed account of Nizan’s departure from the PCF, see M. Scriven, Paul Nizan: Communist Novelist (London: Macmillan, 1988), pp. 57–71.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 177–8.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 174. Two days after the banning of l’Humanité on 25 August 1939, Nizan had advocated communist collaboration on non-communist newspapers.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 400–1. Rossi quotes and paraphrases Dimitrov’s argument as expressed in an article published in a widely circulated PCF tract entitled: La Vérité sur la guerre: comment la gagner. He refers specifically to Nizan on pages 257–8, 338 (n. 1), 356 (n. 2) and 442–3. See also A. Rossi, Les Communistes français pendant le drôle de guerre (Les Iles d’Or, 1951), pp. 40, 42 (n. 27) and 254.Google Scholar
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    See P. Daixs, J’ai cru au matin (Robert Laffont, 1976), p. 340 n. 1: ‘Party intellectuals had spread the rumour that Sartre was not above suspicion. Moreover, Sartre had always been the friend of Nizan, considered by the Party to be a police informer following his resignation over the Nazi-Soviet pact’. See also D. Caute, Communism and the French Intellectuals: 1914–1960 (London: André Deutsch, 1964), p. 151.Google Scholar
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    A. A. Zhdanov, The International Situation (London: W. P. Coates, 1947).Google Scholar
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    Cited in L. Casanova, Le Parti communiste, les intellectuels et la nation (Editions Sociales, 1949), p. 9.Google Scholar
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    J.-P. Sartre, Qu’est-ce que la littérature? (Gallimard, 1948; SIT2); initially published in five parts in Les Temps Modernes, nos 17–22 (February–July 1947). Significantly, the July 1947 number contained not only the final part of Qu’est-ce que la littérature?, including an uncompromising attack on the cultural policy of the PCF (‘Stalinist communist politics are incompatible with the honest practice of the literary profession’ [p. 87]), but also accounts of the Nizan Affair (pp. 181–4) and the Heidegger Affair (pp. 115–38).Google Scholar
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    La Tribune des Temps Modernes, ‘Communisme et anticommunisme’, radio programme broadcast on 27 October 1947.Google Scholar
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    J. Kanapa, L’Existentialisme n’est pas un humanisme (Editions Sociales, 1947). Kanapa refers specifically to the Nizan Affair in the following terms: Just as Marcel, with the Church, reserves his appeals for charity solely for war criminals and condemned fascists, so Sartre commits himself solely to ‘bad causes’; since all activities are equivalent, why not instigate a ‘Nizan Affair’? It seems that for the existentialists all activities are indeed equivalent … except one which is worthy of attention: saving traitors. (p. 74)Google Scholar
  34. 35.
    The signatories of the statement which appeared in Littérature, Combat, Carrefour and Gavroche were: R. Aron, G. Adam, A. Breton, S. de Beauvoir, P. Bost, A. Billy, P. Brisson, J.-L. Bost, J. Benda, R. Caillois, A. Camus, M. Fombeure, J. Guéhenno, H. Jeanson, J. Lescure, M. Leiris, J. Lemarchand, R. Maheu, M. Merleau-Ponty, F. Mauriac, Brice-Parain, J. Paulhan, J.-P. Sartre, J. Schlumberger, P. Soupault.Google Scholar
  35. 36.
    See ‘Le Cas Nizan’, Combat, April 1947; reproduced in Les Temps Modernes, no. 22 (July 1947), pp. 181–4.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. ‘M. Martin-Chauffier, in agreement with us on the substance of our protest, has not signed because he disapproves its tone and form.’Google Scholar
  37. 38.
    ‘Mise au point du Comité National des Ecrivains’, Les Lettres françaises, 11 April 1947; reproduced in Les Temps Modernes, no. 22 (July 1947), p. 182.Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    ‘La Réponse de J.-P. Sartre au CNE’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 22 (July 1947), p. 183.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. Lefebvre subsequently retracted the allegation in La Somme et le reste (La Nef de Pais, 1959).Google Scholar
  40. 41.
    Cited in C. Connolly, ‘The Nizan Case’, Horizon, June 1947, pp. 305–9.Google Scholar
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  42. 43.
    P. Daix, in M. Contat and J. Lecarme, ‘Les Années Sartre’.Google Scholar
  43. 44.
  44. 45.
    A. Lecoeur, in ‘Mémoires d’Ex’, television film (Mosco) produced by Richard Copans for La Sept and broadcast on 19 and 23 January 1991.Google Scholar
  45. 46.
    J. Paulhan, De la paille et le grain (Gallimard, 1948); and Lettre aux Directeurs de la Résistance (Ramsay, 1987).Google Scholar
  46. 47.
    Les Lettres françaises, 22 November 1946; reproduced in J. Paulhan, De la paille et le grain (Gallimard, 1948), p. 95.Google Scholar
  47. 48.
    J. Paulhan, Lettre aux Directeurs de la Résistance (Editions Ramsay, 1987), pp. 35–49.Google Scholar
  48. 49.
    J. Pouillon, Letter to Michael Scriven, 25 August 1991.Google Scholar
  49. 50.
    Jean Paulhan refers approvingly to Sartre’s revelations of Aragon’s duplicitous attempts to dishonour Nizan in De la paille et le grain (Gallimard, 1948), p. 88.Google Scholar
  50. 51.
    J.-P. Sartre, Préface à Aden Arabie (François Maspero, 1960), p. 7.Google Scholar
  51. 52.
    P. McCarthey assesses Sartre’s attitude to Nizan in the following terms: ‘Paradoxically, Nizan is too much of a communist to please the 1948 Sartre and too much of an ex-communist to please the 1952 Sartre’ — ‘Sartre, Nizan and the Dilemmas of Commitment’, in F. Jameson (ed.), ‘Sartre after Sartre’, Yale Fench Studies, no. 68 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 200.Google Scholar
  52. 53.
    Both Walter Redfern and Pascal Ory argue that Nizan was the inspiration of the characters of Brunet and Schneider-Vicarios in Les Chemins de la liberté. See W. Redfern, Paul Nizan: Committed Literature in a Conspiratorial World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 206–9; and P. Ory, Nizan: Destin d’un révolté (Editions Ramsay, 1980), pp. 234–5.Google Scholar
  53. 54.
    J.-P. Sartre, ‘Drôle d’amitié’, in Les Temps Modernes, no. 49 (November 1949), pp. 769–806, and no. 50 (December 1949), pp. 1009–39; subsequently published in Sartre Oeuvres romanesques (Gallimard, 1981), pp. 1533–4.Google Scholar
  54. 55.
    A. Pierrard, in ‘Mémoires d’Ex’.Google Scholar
  55. 56.
    See, for example, P. Nizan, L’Humanité, 29 September 1935.Google Scholar
  56. 57.
    A. Lecoeur, in ‘Mémoires d’Ex’.Google Scholar
  57. 58.
    C. Morgan, Les Don Quichotte et les autres (Editions Roblot, 1972), p. 12.Google Scholar
  58. 59.
    SIT2, p. 329, n. 23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Scriven 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Scriven
    • 1
  1. 1.University of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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