Written: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2007.
On December 19, 1969 two pharmacists were killed during a holdup at a drugstore on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir in Paris, not far from the Bastille. As he fled, the shooter wounded two others who were on the scene, one of whom, an off-duty policeman, told those who came to assist him that the killer was “a mulatto.” Almost four months later, based on information provided by an informant, the police arrested the suspected killer, and the Pierre Goldman Affair had begun. For Pierre Goldman was anything but a common criminal, though he feely admitted to three armed robberies while proclaiming his innocence in the killings on Richard Lenoir.
Goldman’s curriculum vitae was anything but ordinary. He was born in Lyon on June 22, 1944 to two important of the Jewish Communist resistance organization, the FTP-MOI. He said in his autobiography “Souvenirs obscurs d’un Juif polonais né en France” (“Dim memories of a Polish Jew Born in France”): “In my crib were hidden tracts and arms.” Shortly after his birth the FTP-MOI sent his mother to Grenoble, and after the Liberation his parents permanently separated.
His mother, a fervent Communist, returned to newly socialist Poland a couple of years after the war, planning to take Pierre with her, but at the last moment his father kidnapped him, and Pierre was raised in France, beginning a troubled childhood and adolescence. For Goldman considered himself above and before all a Jew, “a Jew and an atheist,” and foreign to all things French. Jewishness was for him an eternal sign of his ineluctable otherness, and he felt it everywhere: visiting his mother in Poland he would brandish a Yiddish newspaper on the streets of Warsaw, though he couldn’t read the language.
He was adopted by his father’s second wife (and through her he had a family of half-brothers and sisters, including the rock singer Jean-Jacques Goldman), but he was in a way a stranger to his family, attending boarding schools, getting expelled from various institutions, and obsessed with death from his youth, an obsession “which had its source in [his] first breath.”
Following in his family’s political footsteps, Goldman was a member of the Union des Etudiants Communistes, but legal political activity held little interest for him, haunted as he was by the memory of the acts of the Jewish heroes of the Resistance, particularly “the sublime Jew, Marcel Rayman,” executed by the Nazis as part of the Manouchian Group. For Goldman May ‘68 was a case of “collective onanism.” Henri Weber, co-founder – along with Godman’s friend Alain Krivine – of the Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire said of him: “I saw him as animated by a will to destroy, while we, on the contrary, wanted to construct a more just society. His hypothesis, to do in French society what the Venezuelan guerrilleros were doing, was the fruit of an enormous misunderstanding.” In keeping with this, he attempted to enter into contact with Pierre Victor, leader of the Maoist Gauche Proletarienne to advance plans for armed urban warfare in France.
Having already traveled to revolutionary Cuba, Goldman’s dream was to participate in armed struggle in Latin America, whose music, culture, and language he loved, and in 1969 he was sent to Venezuela, where he participated in a fruitless guerrilla movement.
Back in France, at loose ends, alienated from everyone and everything, he entered the gangster phase of his life, frequenting the Antillean underworld of Paris, finding there accomplices in his crimes, and his alibi for his whereabouts on the night of the killings on Richard Lenoir.
After his arrest for the pharmacy killings, in his defense he cited his acts in his other hold-ups, in all of which he was armed, but where he never used his weapons. And “having no love of life,” he said he had no reason to deny a crime that would have brought with it a possible death sentence.
By the time of his trial, in December 1974, a full-fledged campaign in his defense had been launched, including figures from the Trostskyist Krivine, to Sartre and Simone Signoret, who attended his trial. Yet even his family had doubts as to his innocence, and it was only when he swore his innocence to his father on the memory of the dead of Auschwitz, and to his mother on the dead of the Resistance, that they believed him.
Goldman called no witnesses in his defense, saying: “I am innocent because I am innocent, and not because various individuals will come here to stress such and such a trait of my character, of my conduct.” Despite the contradictions in the case against him (which he exhaustively laid out in his autobiography) Goldman was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
While there he wrote his autobiography, an account of a man in a state of total disarray, a book that has justly been described as Dostoevskyan.
On appeal the verdict was overturned, and Goldman was acquitted at a second trial in 1976.
Goldman was hired at Libération, the left-wing paper that had most loudly defended him, and thanks to the intervention of Pierre Victor, Sartre’s secretary, who was soon to return to his origins as Benny Levy, Goldman was given a job at Les Temps Modernes, but his time at these reviews was difficult. Even more, it’s more than likely that he renewed his contacts with the underworld and was involved in a number of crimes.
He also published a second book, the novel “L’Ordinaire Mesaventure d’Archibald Rapoport,” a book that was poorly received and which brought him little money. But from loyalty and principle, he granted the first interview on the book to “Rouge,” the newspaper of his friend Krivine’s Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire.
And then, on September 20, 1979, a few hours after the birth of his first child Manuel, Goldman was shot down on the streets of Paris, a group calling itself “Honneur de la Polic"’ claiming credit for the crime. 15,000 people accompanied his casket to Père Lachaise cemetery.
A quarter of a century after his death Goldman was still a controversial figure. No one had been arrested for his death, but a biography published in 2005 spoke of Goldman’s involvement in arms and drug trafficking and of their possible role in his death, as well as questioning the truth of his alibi for the night of the killings in Paris. This final mystery was perhaps his most fitting epitaph.