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Revealing Thoughts: French Post-War Cultural Disarray and the Revue marxiste enquête of 1929

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2008


Perhaps the most cherished prerogative of French intellectuals is the right to take a position, to have a public opinion on any and every matter. This power to pronounce judgement has crumbled somewhat in the electronic age before the pressures of the public opinion poll and the occasionally surreal media star syndrome, but generally intellectual and cultural leaders in France have retained highly visible and respected roles within national life.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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1 This article is extracted from my ‘Priests and Jesters: The “Philosophies” Circle and French Marxism between the Wars’, (thereafter ‘Priests’), an expanded version of my PhD thesis (University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1986), currently being revisedGoogle Scholar. The immediate context of the enquête is presented in my article, ‘The Revue Marxiste Affair: French Marxism and Communism in Transition between the Wars’, Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques (forthcoming). I wish to thank the readers and editors of Contemporary European History, and especially Julian Stallabrass, Jack Censer and Mary Kennedy-Burkhard, for their helpful suggestions.

2 Debray, Régis, Teachers, Writers, Celebrities: The Intellectuals of Modern France (thereafter Debray, Teachers), trans. Macey, David (London: NLB, 1981), 72.Google Scholar

3 , Debray, Teachers, and Pierre Assouline, Gaston Gallimard: A Half Century of French Publishing, trans. Salemson, Harold J. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).Google Scholar

4 For a discussion of the evolution of cultural taste and norms as reflected in the book reviews found in cultural and intellectual journals, see Allen, James Smith, In the Public Eye: A History of Reading in Modern France (thereafter Allen, Public Eye) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 112–22.Google Scholar

5 For recent discussions of the ‘jeunes gens d'aujourd'hui’ survey see Wohl, Robert, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979)Google Scholar, and for the later debates on literature and politics see Flower, J. E., Literature and the Left in France: Society, Politics and The Novel Since the Late Nineteenth Century (London: MacMillan, 1983).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Valery, Paul, ‘La crise de l'esprit’, Nouvelle Revue Française, No. 71 (08 1919), 323–4.Google Scholar

7 Arland, Marcel, ‘Sur un nouveau mal du siècle’, Nouvelle Revue Française, No. 127 (02 1924), 157.Google Scholar

8 , LeCorbusier, ‘Les tracés régulateurs,’ L'Esprit Nouveau, No. 5 (May 1921), cited in Kenneth E. Silver, Esprit de Corps (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 381.Google Scholar

9 Thérive, André, ‘Les Livres. Jean-Paul Sartre, “La Nausé”’, Temps, 14–15 07 1938, 3, cited in Allen, Public Eye, 121–2.Google Scholar

10 Bloch, Marc, Strange Defeat, trans. Hopkins, G. (New York: Norton, 1968), 153.Google Scholar

11 Along with the author's manuscript and article mentioned above, nearly any work on post-1917 French or ‘Western’ Marxism will mention in passing the ‘Philosophies’, usually paraphrasing Lichtheim's comments in Marxism in Modern France (New York: Columbia University, 1966), 86Google Scholar. The longest published discussions are in Mortimer, Edward, The Rise of the French Communist Party (London/Boston: Faber and Faber, 1984)Google Scholar, and Lindenberg, Daniel, Le marxisme introuvable (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1975)Google Scholar, but curiously both examine the group's early history only from 1924 to 1929 and ignore the Revue Marxiste. Biographies of all six group members can be found in the Dictionnaire Biographique du Mouvement Ouvrier Français, quartiéme partie: 1914–1939, directed by Maitron, Jean (Paris: Éditions Ouvrières).Google Scholar The works of my colleague Michel Trebitsch are of particular importance. Along with his preface to Lefebvre, , Critique of Everyday Life, Vol. 1, (New York: Verso, 1991)Google Scholar, see his Les mésaventures du groupe Philosophies (1924–1933)’, Revue des Revues, No. 3 (Spring 1987)Google Scholar; Le groupe “Philosophies” de Max Jacob aux Surréalistes 1924–1925’, Cahiers de l'Institut d'Histoire du Temps Present, No. 6 (11 1987)Google Scholar; ‘Philosophie et marxisme dans les années trente’, in L'Engagement des intellectuels dans la France des années trente (Montreal: University of Quebec, 1990)Google Scholar, and Le renouveau philosophique avorté des années trente. Entretien avec Henri Lefebvre’, Europe, No. 683 (03 1986).Google Scholar

12 Along with my ‘Priests’, accounts of the relationship between the ‘Philosophies’, the Surrealists and the Clarté movement in the writings of Nicole Racine-Furland, ‘Les écrivains communistes en France (1920–1936)’, thèse du 3e cycle (University of Paris), 1963; idem, Une revue d'intellectuels communistes dans les années vingt: Clarté (1921–1928)’, Revue Française de Science Politique, Vol. 17, no. 3 (06 1967)Google Scholar, and Idem., Du mouvement à la revue Clarté: jeunes intellectuels “révolutionnaires” de la guerre et de l'aprés-guerre 1916–1925’, Cahiers de l'Institute d'Histoire du Temps Present, No. 6 (11 1987)Google Scholar, as well as the works of Short, Robert S., ‘The Political History of the Surrealist Movement in France, 1918–1940’, PhD Thesis (University of Sussex, 1965)Google Scholar, and ibid., The Politics of Surrealism, 1920–1936’, Journwal of Contemporary History, Vol. 1, no. 2 (04 1966)Google Scholar. For a narrow but chronologically precise overview of the Clarté–Surrealist alliance, see Rose, Alan, Surrealism and Communism: The Early Years, (New York: Peter Lang, 1991)Google Scholar. Balakian, Anna, in her Surrealism: The Road to the Absolute (New York: Dutton, 1970), best captures the underlying aspirations of the movement.Google Scholar

13 Revue de la Psychologie concrète, Nos. 1, 2 (02, 07 1929)Google Scholar. The 1929 publications of Les Revues included (using the Voltairian pseudonym ‘François Arouet’) Politzer, Fin d'une parade philosophique, and a number of translations from Russian authors. Mauvais Temps was originally announced in Monde, No. 44 (6 April 1929), 3, and remained in the planning stages the following year before being given up. The publications and journals of Les Revues were widely and usually very positively reviewed throughout the French press. The press continued operations until August 1931, and would be bought out by the Lutte de Classes circle, yet another evolution of the Clarté group that the ‘Philosophies’ worked with in 1925.

14 Reponses à notre enquête’, Revue Marxiste, No. 2 (03 1929), 252Google Scholar.

15 Renard, Georges, ‘Reponse’, Revue Marxiste, No. 2 (03 1929), 255Google Scholar. The following month Gustave Belot similarly directed his audience to his article, ‘L'education du prolétariat par la doctrine marxiste’, in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 1929.

16 Cocteau, , ‘Reponse’, Revue Marxiste, No. 2 (03 1929), 253Google Scholar.

17 Clément Vautel, ‘Reponse’, ibid., 252–3. Other responses in this issue came from Pierre Dominique, Georges Renard and André Thérive. Charles Rappoport, in his role of rapporteur, sarcastically demolished Vautel in the June issue, 726–32.

18 Gabriel Marcel, ‘Reponse’, ibid., No. 3 (April 1929), 379–80.

19 Jacques Émile Blanche, ‘Reponse’, ibid., 382–3. Other responses were by Edmond Goblot, Jacques Hadamard and Gustave Belot.

20 Emmanuel Berl, ‘Reponse’, ibid., No. 7 (Aug./Sept. 1929), 86–7.

21 Grenier, Jean, ‘La pensée engagéer’, Esprit, No. 42 (03 1936), 959–64.Google Scholar

22 Nizan, Paul Yves, The Watchdogs, trans. Fittingoff, Paul (New York: Monthly Review, 1971), 17.Google Scholar

23 Hughes, H. Stuart, Consciousness and Society (New York: Vintage, 1977), 415–16.Google ScholarSchalk, David, The Spectrum of Political Engagement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), is essential reading on interwar French debate regarding political judgement and participation.Google Scholar

24 For an overview of these themes of anti-Americanism, anti-communism and anti-mechanism in French intellectual life, see Collomb, Michel, ‘Américanisme et anti-américanisme dans la littérature française de l'entre-deux-guerres’, Romanistische Zeitschrift für Literaturgeschichte/Cahiers d'Histoire des Littératures Romanes, Vol. 6, nos. 1/2 (1982)Google Scholar and especially the two works of Kuisel, Richard, Capitalism and the State in Modern France (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981)Google Scholar, and Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization (Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993)Google Scholar. Key members of the Revue Marxiste group, Henri Lefebvre, Norbert Guterman and Georges Friedmann, wrote extensively on these issues throughout their lives. For their major pieces during the 1930s, see Lefebvre, and Guterman, , La conscience mystifiée (Paris: Gallimard, 1936)Google Scholar, and Friedmann, Georges, Problèmes du machinisme en U.R.S.S. et dans les pays capitalistes (Paris: Éditions Sociales Internationales, 1934)Google Scholar, and idem, La crise du progrès (Paris: Gallimard, 1936).

25 Lalou, René, ‘Reponse’, Revue Marxiste, No. 7 (08/09 1929), 86–7.Google Scholar See also the responses of Louis Massignon, Pierre Bost, G. Charensol, Renée Dunan, Pierre Scize, Alfred Mortier, Noel Sabord, H. L. Follin and André Cresson.

26 ‘La Revue Marxiste enquête’, Revue Européenne, new series No. 6 (June 1929), 1,980. In July and November Revue Européenne simply listed the contents of Revue Marxiste.

27 Brousson, Jean-Jacques, ‘Témoignages russes et littéraires’, Nouvelles Littéraires, No. 333 (2 03 1929), 3.Google Scholar

28 Pierre-Quint, Léon, ‘Reponse’, Revue Marxiste, No. 7 (08/09 1929), 90–1.Google Scholar

29 Pierre-Quint, Léon, ‘Les caractères religieux du communisme’, Europe, No. 79 (07 1929), 476.Google Scholar

30 Thibaudet, Albert, ‘Réflexions’, Nouvelle Revue Française, No. 190 (07 1929), 100.Google Scholar

31 Debates of this type were Morhange's favourite, and the August issue of Nouvelle revue Française, No. 191, 292, dutifully carried a closing line indicating that Morhange's reply to Thibaudet would appear in the September number. Morhange's reply was never published, and no further mention of the matter appeared in NRF. This example is but one of a half-dozen where NRF stated it would print Morhange's response to NRF commentaries, but then did not do so. Pierre Nora has informed me (personal communication, 15 Sept. 1988) that Gallimard/NRF's files do not include any correspondence from Morhange dating from these years.

32 I have offered some preliminary suggestions on these topics in my presentation ‘Fascism in French enquêtes 1929–1939’, to the New England Modern Language Association, 1 April 1989, and in my tentative research summary ‘Il y a toujours directors de conscience?: The Volontés enquête of 1939’, to the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, ‘Cultures of Interwar France’, directed by Steve Ungar and Dudley Andrew, University of Iowa, 1992. I hope to present my research on these topics in the near future.