André Gide and André Malraux 1936
Source: Pour Thaelmann. Paris, Editions Universelles, [n.d. 1936?];
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
André Gide and André Malraux were two of the most important French writers of the 20th century. Both passed through pro- communist phases, that of Malraux resulting in two of the greatest novels of political commitment ever written: “La Condition humaine” (“Man’s Fate”) (1933, about the revolution in China, and “L’Espoir (Man’s Hope) (1937), about the Spanish Civil War, in which Malraux served as an aviator. Malraux was to later become a Gaullist, serving as a minister under De Gaulle. Gide, after visiting the USSR and writing a virulent criticism of it in “Le Retour de l’URSS,” (1936) returned to his literary concerns.
The following are speeches given at a rally held in Paris on December 23, 1935 in support of German Communist Party leader Ernst Thaelmann and other communist prisoners.
We are gathered here to commemorate the acquittal of Dimitrov, Popov, and Tanev. Exactly two years ago today the Bulgarian communists, arrested along with Torgler on March 9, 1933 as instigators and accomplices in the Reichstag fire were found innocent and acquitted at the end of an extraordinary trial that began September 21 and thus lasted no less than three months. I said acquitted and not freed. Dimitrov’s, Popov’s and Tanev’s liberation was long delayed. Transferred from Leipzig to Berlin, held captive despite their acquittal, it was only in the face of the indignation caused by this denial of justice that thanks to the combined pressure of England, the USSR the three men finally saw the gates of their prison open on February 27, 1934, after an incarceration of almost one year.
Before speaking of Dimitrov himself, along with all of you I would like to pay homage to Dimitrov’s mother. In Paris we had the opportunity to meet this admirable woman, and I recall with emotion the day I had the great honor of shaking her hand. It was at the moment when Malraux and I decided to go to Berlin to protest to the German government against the illegally prolonged detention of her son. What latent heroism, what dignity, what nobility in the expression on her pained face. There were no tears, simply an extraordinary gravity. When I saw her I thought of the Mother of Maxim Gorky’s beautiful book. Paraskeva Dimitrova is now 74-years old. She has offered the revolution all her sons. George was the eldest, and it is he who brought into the struggle his father, mother and his brothers Constantin, Nicolas and Todor, all three of whom fell for the cause. Nicolas died in Siberia, sentenced to deportation for life and Todor a victim of torture in 1925.
“Even though I’m from a village and 72-years old I’m tenacious,” their elderly mother said during the Leipzig trial. She knew that her son George was “tenacious” as well. She knew he would prefer death to compromise. And that was the way she loved him to be. Comrades: nobles and aristocrats have for too long passed for holding the monopoly on the sense of honor. There is a proletarian honor that is worth every bit as much as theirs, and Paraskeva Dimitrova, like her son George, like each of her sons, has proved this. I would like a message of sympathy, respect and admiration to be sent them on the part of all of us here.
Let us return to George Dimitrov. “I am proud to be the son of the working class,” he declared during the Leipzig trial. However desirous of education he was, the lack of resources forced him to leave school at the age of twelve. In order to help his family with his meager wages he got a job at a printer’s where he quickly learned the profession of a typographer. Of all the unions that existed at the time in Bulgaria the oldest was that of the typographers, whose headquarters was in Sofia. Class consciousness wasn’t lacking in the Dimitrov family, and it didn’t require the frequenting of revolutionary circles for it to grow.
But the young George felt a pressing need to learn, and after his working day he studied with fervor. He began his militant activities at age 15. At 18 he was elected secretary of his union. From that moment his revolutionary activity was unceasing. In 1913, at age 31, George Dimitrov was elected member of the Bulgarian parliament, where he remained ten years. In close and constant contact with the workers of the cities and countryside he awakened in them their class consciousness and their feeling for their rights. He taught them by speech, writing, and example. He fomented strikes and led them. We are told that from 1908-1912 he succeeded in organizing nearly 680 strikes in the various branches of industry.
When the Great War broke out Dimitrov was deputy. His speeches from the tribune of the Bulgarian parliament, speeches both vehement and skillful, earned him the love of the working class and the hatred of the bourgeoisie. Imprisoned in 1917 he benefited from an amnesty voted for all political prisoners and left prison after eighteen months instead of the three years to which he’d been sentenced. It was then that the Tesniah party which he belonged to joined the International.
I can’t enter into the details of his activity, given that the Bulgarian constitution and the struggle between the revolutionary and reformist unions would require too-lengthy explanations in order to be understood and would touch us less directly than what remains to be said. I’m anxious to get to the Leipzig trial.
It was January 30, 1933 that Hitler was named chancellor of the Reich. I am not a historian. Other will perhaps later speak to you about the history of fascism in Germany. As for fascism itself, you all know it as well as I. The fascist tendency exists in all countries, though sometimes in a latent and larval state. This is why Germany’s adventure isn’t only of historical interest but is exemplary. Others better qualified than I will enlighten you on this impending danger and the means to combat it. It is important to consider that at least in Germany fascism was only able to be established by a fraud that almost turned to its embarrassment. I am speaking of the Reichstag fire, which the Hitlerites with their lies attempted to hold the Communist Party responsible for. The Leipzig trial, thanks to Dimitrov, was able to defeat that imposture.
It is doubtless fortunate that none of the lawyers Dimitrov proposed for his defense, Detchev, Moro-Giafferi, Campinchi, Torres, Grigorov, Gallagher or Lehmann were accepted by the Leipzig court,. This is why Dimitrov was called on to plead for himself. It is certain that he did this better than even the most eloquent and skilled lawyer could have done, for Dimitrov didn’t have recourse to any ruse. I mean that he didn’t bring to his plea any concern for personal protection, none of those denials that Dr Sack, for example, used for the parallel defense of Torgler and which caused Dimitrov to cry out: “I prefer, though innocent, to be sentenced to death by the tribunal than to obtain my acquittal thanks to a plea like that one.” Yes Dimitrov defended himself without any other eloquence than that of perfect honesty, but with an intelligence, a presence of spirit, an authority that disdained all courtroom cleverness and immediately obtained the admiration of the audience, to the confusion and the consternation of the prosecution. But there was even more: the defendant Dimitrov almost immediately became the accuser. He no longer defended himself; he attacked. They wanted to prevent him from speaking. He kept on. Nothing intimidated him or could silence him. “I admit,” he said, “that my language is rough and austere, but my combat and my life have also been rough and austere.” He didn’t defend himself, but rather the immense Communist Party of all nations, and what gave him strength was being the spokesman for all the oppressed masses. He knew that the voice of the party he represented, so often stifled, falsified, and travestied, will finally be heard and that the echo of that voice will resound throughout the world, thanks to the signal importance given this trial by the prosecution itself. Too bad for it! This is what led Dimitrov to shout without too much irony: “Goering’s and Goebbels’ speeches have also done much to propagandize for communism, though no one has thought to thank them for this unhoped for effect of their interventions.”
I would like to be able to say that those who commit injustices sooner or later pay for them, but this, alas, isn’t always so. But in the present case we have the right to affirm that this monstrous trial, like a boomerang, will return against those who initiated it. The Hitlerite party, receiving a head wound, had to defend itself by force and injustice. Material strength will allow it to triumph for a time, but only be descending deeper and deeper into the arbitrary.
The interest and importance of Leipzig trial, like the Dreyfus Affair, goes far beyond the borders of the country in which it occurred. It placed face to face the two powers that everywhere fight and seek to strangle each other. All countries are united in this struggle. But if each imperialism is individual and fights only for itself, the great cause of communism is general, it belongs to all peoples. It is common. It was in this way that the victory of the first French Revolution had a profound and prolonged effect throughout Europe and the world. Since that time foreign relations have become closer and steadier, and the relations among the suffering classes of all countries have become closer. The right wing press speaks endlessly of the USSR’s propaganda as if we didn’t understand that more than any press propaganda the propaganda of the example is the most eloquent.
For France the Revolution of 1789 was a first step. Since then there have been highs and lows. But the constant progress has been more or less apparent: it is inevitable. Those who oppose this necessary progress can at best slow it down; they will never (to quote a beautiful image of Hugo) “force ‘89, which marches, to retreat.”
Comrades, the figure of George Dimitrov is unique, but political prisoners are legion.
Most of these prisoners, of these tortured have committed no crime; their sole crime is that of not thinking as they should, is not accepting injustice. In many countries the party of justice is illegal and can result in be sent to jail.
Recently a small package of cigarette paper was given me, the sheets all wrinkled because they were rolled so they could slide between the cracks of the Belgrade prison. These sheets are covered with a fine and patient calligraphy. It is only with a magnifying glass that we can read on them the tale of the terrible tortures to which the comrade who supports them with heroic courage is subjected.
I propose to turn the text of these papers over to the public soon, when it will no longer be imprudent to do so. In the meanwhile, listen to these few sentences: “Around 10:00 a.m. they took me to the upper floor. I was beaten and suspended from an iron bar until around 1:00 p.m. Brought back to my cell I remarked that blood was flowing from my mouth. My shirt was soaked in blood. The beating with a blackjack gave me the appearance of a mangy zebra. My skin was stuck to my shirt by the coagulated blood. With my nails I scratched into the wall a five-pointed star and I wrote above it ‘Revolution.’”
Nowhere in this tale that you will soon read is there a single complaint. But the tale of these sufferings resounds in us like an appeal. Such appeals also reach us from Poland, Spain, and Germany, and, alas, so many other countries. I understand why the fascist governments fear the party of these irreducible oppressed: there is nothing more natural than that these governments and capitalist society defend themselves. But as a result of this something admirable is happening. Compression is making firmer the determination of the parties and the ties among their members. You know the physical law of compressed gases: compression giving them a greater force of expansion, there soon arrives a moment when that captive force explodes.
And now, on behalf of all of you, I would like to cry out to the victims of fascist repression, to all the prisoners in concentration camps and jails: “No, you don’t suffer in vain.” And to say to the oppressors, to the executioners: “The more victims you make the more numerous will be the heroes who will come forth from among us to replace them. Too bad for you if you make martyrs of them.
Those among you who heard Thaelmann when he spoke at Bullier no doubt remember his words: “I am with the revolutionary France that is listening to me, and you must know that I will remain with it.”
I think we owe it to that France to say that for almost two years it has not ceased to be with him.
People constantly tell us: what good are meetings like these? And we constantly answer: it is the presence of these crowds that permit those who are in prison on their behalf to live. The people know that if actions like those of the Liberation Committee were vain then capitalism wouldn’t deploy so much force in its propaganda, and that what we do here with simply our will our enemies everywhere do with their money.
I wouldn’t have spoken here tonight if I didn’t want to add a name to the martyrology that was quoted before you, a name you don’t yet know well enough and which I want you to know better, that of Ludwig Renn.
He is supposed to be freed this year, and we intend to do all we can so that this liberation occurs.
Renn is one of the greatest of German writers. He was an officer. His participation in the communist movement was considered particularly dangerous because of his knowledge of combat organizations.
There is no need to speak here of the relationship between the proletariat and intellectuals: those who fight side by side don’t need to discuss why they are together. And yet I want to say that Renn was on your side not because he saw in you the future, but because he is one of those few intellectuals who want to return to the reviled word “dignity” its true meaning.
Comrades, may luck spare you those intellectuals who will only join with you on the eve of your victory.
We are with him because he is noble and because he chose to be a communist; because he was an officer and he chose to write against war; because he was a writer and though able to flee he chose to bear the singularly heavy weight of all he had said and thought; because at the moment when he awaited his sentence he said:
“I belong to the Communist Party and will belong to it until my death. Today you are victorious and you strike out at us. That is how things are. But know that I take full responsibility for my ideas and that on the day that I am made to say anything other than what I say now, it will be because I will have ceased to be a man.”
Comrades, secret trials require twice the courage. The great fascist silence has fallen on Renn. This man who said that he came to us because he desired virile fraternity, the virile fraternity that he tried to find in war and didn’t, that he expected of revolt and that he found in the revolution, this man said: “If one day I am condemned, may those I fought for be for me.” This evening, in this hall where my words are broken up by the sound of traffic, in this atmosphere of the holiday season, in this place where not one of you can move without bumping against a comrade, in this hall full of fraternal presence and lights, may poor human speech be equal to what I want to say when I say in your name to Thaelmann, to Renn, and to all our imprisoned: “Comrades, we are with you in your solitude and your darkness.”
Renn said to you: “As long as I am a man.” You were a man and this crowd is here to attest to it. And not only the crowd that surrounds you. Another one, unknown, which from the last soviet in Asturias to the first Chinese soviet stands silently on guard around your prison, as you would expect them to. A crowd that intends to turn its silence into action, to make chiefs of its martyrs, and for whom your place is alongside Dimitrov at the Comintern.