Georges Politzer 1933
Source: Ecrits 1: La Philosophie et les Mythes, ed. By Jacques Debouzy. Éditions Sociales, Paris, 1969;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor.
Published in the magazine Commune in 1934, this is the text of a speech given in 1933 at a meeting of the Association des Ecrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (Association of Revolutionary Writes and Artists -A.E.A.R.)
All those who attended the meeting organized by the A.E.A.R. to close Commune’s inquiry know that clear conclusions were drawn there by our comrades Vaillant-Coututrier, Aragon and Ehrenburg. At the same time they noted that the discussion we organized had a significance that went far beyond the simply “documentary.” Commune’s question ["Who do you write for?"] implies classes and class struggle. For that reason its position is an attack, not on the writer to whom it is posed, but on the bourgeoisie, which doesn’t want the question to be posed. But this attack provokes a counter-offensive out of which comes — in a whole series of responses — the either intentional or unintentional research for means to escape the question, to turn it against us, or to obliterate it. And in the responses in this category arguments have appeared that we have already met on many occasions. But not only are those who are still far from us sensitive to them; so are some of those who are already with us. This is why it is important not to neglect it.
In his speech Drieu La Rochelle said that those of us in the A.E.A.R. were the “convinced.” He didn’t say about what; he didn’t expand on the theme. But others have already expanded on it and continue to do so by representing us as “dogmatic,” in the hope that they will thus inspire a definitive horror about us on the part of intellectuals attached to the “critical spirit” and “intellectual independence;” in the hope as well that we will ourselves end up being intimidated and that we will make concessions in order to avoid being merely a sect.
But this is much useless diplomacy. There are a certain number of us in the A.E.A.R. who are convinced of the correctness of Marxism and want to be consistent Marxists. But it has never been a question of making this attitude a condition for membership in the A.E.A.R.. The discussion at the meeting was a striking proof of this, not because we engaged in discussions with writers who are not part of the A.E.A.R., but because the interventions by some members of the A.E.A.R. demonstrated certain differences in point of view. Can it be said that our comrade Edith Thomas supported a Marxist point of view? Obviously not. Nevertheless, I feel that not only is she part of the A.E.A.R., but it’s normal that she be part of it. For what is important is not the material fact of the disagreement of certain comrades with Marxism; what’s important is their attitude in the face of this disagreement. For there is the disagreement of those whose honesty and good faith are proved by the fact that, while not thinking like those who make an effort to be consistent Marxists, by their acts nevertheless forbid the bourgeoisie to exploit these difference in its interest, and who don’t transform their disagreements into a war machine against Marxism, who don’t allow this to be done and who are, in any case, with us in action. These people can come to the A.E.A.R., and we will do all we can to have them come to us. But there is also the disagreement of those who make war machines of their disagreement with Marxism; those who feed anti-Marxist campaigns; those who assist the bourgeoisie in leading its crusade against Marxism. These people are not ours. They belong to the bourgeoisie and have nothing to do with the A.E.A.R..
And since this is our line of conduct, these ridiculous stories that they spread about our “dogmatism” are strictly meant to hide the simple fact that what we want above all is to carry out the separation of honest intellectuals on one side and lackeys of the bourgeoisie on the other.
But given all this, we don’t hide the fact that if we are the convinced, we also want to convince, nor the basis upon which we make our effort at convincing. I think there is no reason to be intimidated by reproaches like those comrade Edith Thomas expressed in her speech. She doesn’t want Marx and Engels to be used as hammers — which is how she expressed it — but at the same time she declared that she wrote in order to liquidate these conflicts, which is a Freudian theory. And in this way, at the precise moment when our comrade thought she was carrying out an act of independence in separating herself from the proletarian thinkers that Marx and Lenin are, it was only to make herself a subject — unintentionally, I'm sure — of the bourgeois thinker that is Freud.
And so, in order to not pass for dogmatic must we renounce making this kind of demonstration or, in general, demonstrations of this kind? This is exactly the goal of the bourgeoisie’s blackmailing of “liberalism.” For while we would renounce the affirmation of our Marxist-Leninist ideology, the bourgeoisie wouldn’t renounce the propagation of its ideology. Every retreat on our part would be met with an ideological offensive on their part. And while we would renounce making our texts known “in order not to annoy our comrades,” we would purely and simply deliver them over to the texts of the bourgeoisie. But this famous blackmail doesn’t impress us. I consider Marxism-Leninism a science in the true meaning of the term. I put the scandalized expressions made before statements like these by so-call positive spirits — like the high-school leaving exam level logician Rougier, who wanted to demonstrate the Scholastic character of Marxism — on the same level as the professional grimaces of prostitutes.
Fare from hiding the texts of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, we will increasingly make them known. We will demonstrate the scientific character of Marxism-Leninism by showing how it alone allows us to understand events. We even think that in France in all branches of science — the natural and social alike — there will come research that will flow from a consistent application of the dialectical-materialist method.
At the same time we will demonstrate how Marxism-Leninism allows us to unmask the trickery through which the bourgeoisie seeks to enslave honest intellectuals in the name of the independence of the spirit.
And here we find again the question: Who do you write for? Upon hearing Benda, Lalou, and Crémieux speak I had the impression that they are persuaded that: 1: The writer necessarily knows who he writes for; and 2: it’s up to him alone to write for X or for Y.
Yet the fact of writing constitutes an act that has determined repercussions in society. There is this fact and there is the writer’s consciousness of this fact. These are two different things, and it’s not simply how the writer responds to the question “who do you write for?” that decides, in fact, for whom he writes. I had the impression that Benda is persuaded that since he intends to write for the Platonic man he automatically and effectively writes for him. Nevertheless, his readers are recruited from among men who are concrete men. His writings confirm, reinforce or, on the contrary, contradict and weaken ideas and sentiments. The concrete men who are Benda’s readers constitute fractions of the classes engaged in the class struggle. The ideas and the sentiments that Benda will have reinforced or weakened influence the class consciousness of these men. This class consciousness is a decisive factor in the class struggle, and M. Benda will thus have acted in and on the class struggle!
What is true for M. Benda is true for all those who write in a class society and consequently for he who writes in a capitalist society. Whatever he might do he can’t prevent his writings from having a social action, and a social action that consists in reinforcing one and weakening the other of the two classes in struggle. M. Benda declared that he disengages himself of responsibility. These are nothing but magic words. At the very moment when he disengages himself, history engages him. For precisely this declaration, by reinforcing intellectuals in the illusion of an impossible neutrality, prevents them from joining the revolutionary proletariat, which is what the most honest of them would do if they were truly persuaded of the utopian character of neutrality.
In the same way M. Crémieux proclaimed himself a “writer without epithets.” If the intention of being a writer without epithets had the power to abolish classes and consequently the class struggle, M. Crémieux could effectively be a writer without epithets. But the proletarian revolution alone has this power! As for M. Crémieux, in proclaiming himself writer-without-epithets has done nothing but obscure among a certain number of intellectuals the problem of their situation in the midst of the class struggle. In this way, without wanting to he has rendered the bourgeoisie a service. And neither tears, nor protests, nor witty phrases can wipe out this service as long as M. Crémieux professes without-epithetism in the middle of the class struggle.
If writers admit with difficulty that in spite of their intentions they intervene in the class struggle, it’s because they have a highly schematic idea of the class struggle. They don’t see that in the life of a class society the class struggle is reflected in all of life’s manifestations.
Even the discussion around the question of “who do you write for?” can only be clearly explained by the class struggle. At the same time, they don’t realize the variety of means it puts into action. I'm sure that Edith Thomas didn’t realize that proclaiming — as a response to the question posed by the A.E.A.R. — that we write to resolve personal problems represents a satisfaction...for the bourgeoisie, insofar as there is found there an opposition to Marxism on the basis of a purely psychological platform.
But if we consider the entire extent and depth of the class struggle it is then clear that for the writer the question is not to know whether he takes part or no. The question is to know how and for who he takes part; if he represents the unconscious and more or less perfected plaything of social forces of which he is ignorant, or a conscious factor. “Who do you wrote for?” means in the first place: “Do you know who you write for?” It next means: “Do the social consequences of your writing correspond to the intentions that animate you while writing?” And for this reason I think that we must maintain and tirelessly repeat the question: “Who do you write for?”; we must even respond in the place of those who don’t themselves respond.
It remains that a meeting like that provoked by the A.E.A.R. — whatever the shockwaves and interpretations it has set off — is good, because in setting face to face differing points of view it clearly shows what still separates certain writers from our concepts; to say to them that the darkness that still surrounds certain questions of Marxism-Leninism for them is not in the least an obstacle to their collaboration with us; and to seize the thread, however thin it might be, that attaches them to the proletariat. And we should also, in thanking those who have come, wish that others should also come, and perhaps also that those who have come should return, for we refuse to lightly call enemies those who — still searching for themselves — think themselves sometimes irritated by our certitude.