Paul Nizan 1947

Petition in Defense of Paul Nizan

Source: Paul Nizan, Intellectuel Communiste. Maspero, Paris, 1967;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

The following petition in defense of Nizan’s memory, still under attack by the French Communist Party, appeared in several French magazines, including Sartre’s “Les Temps Modernes,” in 1947:

We are occasionally reminded that Jacques Decour, that Jean Pévost, that Vernet died for us, and this is quite right. But around the name of Nizan, one of the most gifted writers of his generation, and who was killed by the Germans in 1940, there is silence. No one dares speak of him and it appears they want to bury him a second time. But in certain political circles it is whispered that he was a traitor. Aragon affirmed to one of us that Nizan furnished information to the Ministry of the Interior on the activities of the Communist Party. If you ask for proof they never give it to you. They say that it was well-known, that Politzer said this shortly before dying, and that in any case, it’s enough to read Nizan’s works to see that he was a traitor. In his latest book, “De L’Existentialisme,” M. Lefebvre writes; “Paul Nizan had few friends and we ask ourselves: what was his secret, the secret of his obsession and his torment. Today we know what it was. All of his books revolve around the idea of treason.” And “he came from a reactionary, if not fascist, group. Perhaps he was still a member, since he claimed to be spying on them.”

But as far as we know the Communists can only reproach Nizan for having left the party in 1939, at the moment of the German-Soviet pact. Everyone can think what he wills about that; it’s strictly a political affair and it’s not our intention to consider it here. But when they accuse of informing without providing any proof, we can’t forget that he is a writer, that he died in combat, and that it’s our duty as writers to defend his memory. And so we address ourselves to M. Lefevbre (and to all those who spread these defamatory accusations) and we ask them the following question: when you say that Nizan is a traitor do you simply mean that he left the Communist Party in 1939? If this is the case, state it clearly and everyone will think in accordance with his principles. Or do you mean to insinuate that well before the war he accepted money to inform an anti-communist government about your party? If this is the case, prove it. If we remain without an answer or if we don’t receive the proofs demanded we will take note of your silence and we will publish a second communiqué confirming Nizan’s innocence.

R. Aron, G. Adam, A Breton, Beauvoir, P.Bost, A. Billy, P. Brisson, J-L Bost, J. Benda, R. Caillois, A. Camus, M. Fombeure, J. Guehenno, H. Jeanson, J. Lescure, M. Leiris, J. Lemarchand, R. Maher, M. Merleau-Ponty, F. Mauriac, Brice-Parain, Jean Paulhan, J-P Sartre, J. Schlumberger, Ph. Soupault.

L. Martin-Chauffier associates himself with this in a letter published separately.

The Communist response, which appeared in L’Humanité on April 4, 1947, said in part that the goal of the operation isn’t” to rehabilitate Nizan’s memory, which these gentlemen could care less about, but to attack the French Communist Party....Nizan left the French communist Party in September 1939. he left it dramatically, giving his gesture a showy character and immediately participating in the abominable campaign of slander unleashed against the most clear-sighted and courageous of the French...Traitor to his party, he was at the same time a traitor to France by aiding the Daladiers, the Bonnets – against whom he had previously written – and all the agents of the fifth column in carrying out their criminal policy with his public declarations. Can we believe that this wasn’t the prolongation of a previous activity?”