“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.”
A dark cloud hangs over the 60th anniversary of the death of Nobel Prize winning French Existentialist and Absurdist author, Albert Camus, like a thick noxious shroud. For it seems the famed anti-fascist editor of the resistance journal Combat was deeply troubled about the future of his country. Evidence of which has only recently surfaced in the form of a three page typed letter written in 1943 and found in the dusty archives of former French President, Charles de Gaulle.
In it, Camus, seems to presage the fate of his fellow intellectuals, people like Robert Brasillach, executed for so-called intellectual crimes and collaboration with National Socialist Germany, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, author of the novel Gilles (1939) and Director of the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, who committed suicide shortly after the liberation of Paris by the Allies, and Louis Ferdinand Celine, who wrote Journey to the End of the Night (1932) and was hounded for the rest of his life for his belief that communism was the worst evil of modern times and Marxists and “hedonistic liberals” were villains.
Camus, who signed a petition calling for clemency for Brasillach, wrote in the long overlooked communication:
“Justice and freedom cannot be mutually exclusive and are still essential for rebuilding the world and opposing the destructive logic of history”.
Camus, the creator of classics like The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1946) and The Rebel (1951), goes on to say, in a broody foreboding of the vicious revenge that became known as the ‘epuration’ or ‘purification’ after the De Gaulle regime was installed in the Elysees that:
“The systematic waste of able-bodied individuals in the country is not only killing the country but also the lively and vibrant ideas that will ensure its future. This is what we must avoid and it’s this situation that we must remind people of every day, every hour if necessary in all articles, all broadcasts, all gatherings, all proclamations aimed at those who set the pace of war. The rest is up to us.”
A humanistic position that set him at odds with Stalin-apologists like Sartre and his erstwhile lover Simone de Beauvoir, the Marxist and Trotskyite stalwarts of the Left Bank intelligentsia, who were establishing their credentials as the trendy moral consciences of the Fifth Republic. The situation coming to a head when Camus publicly sided with anti-Soviet Hungarian Uprising in 1956, spoke favourably of Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago (1957) who was an outspoken critic of The Kremlin, and his confrontation with representatives of the Algerian Liberation Army, during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature, saying:
“I have always condemned terrorism and I must condemn terrorism that works blindly in the streets of Algiers and one day might strike at my mother and family. I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice”.
Comments that his critics condemned as colonialist and reactionary, despite the fact that Camus, as a moralist, was attempting to illustrate the dichotomy between the two positions: the use of terrorism and indiscriminate violence in order to achieve lasting justice. A stance that would have been seen by the Communist Left of the time has an act of apostasy and which gives some degree of credence to the thesis in Italian author Giovanni Catelli’s book, The Death of Camus (2019). Catelli indicating in an interview:
“I believe the KGB conceived a plan to eliminate him at the time of the scandal provoked by the Occupation of Hungary. But I remain convinced that what really drew them to execute the plan was [President Nikita] Khrushchev’s visit to Paris in March 1960: the French and Soviet governments wanted to become closer, at the expense of the U.S.”
“Don’t forget that in 1966, discrete pressure from the Soviets convinced De Gaulle to leave NATO. The French and Soviet governments, as well as the French Communist party, had spent months carefully preparing the Soviet leader’s visit. It was meant to seal the friendship between France and the Soviet Union. No critical voice could be raised.”
And indeed, a highly original, obstinate and challenging voice that may have posed difficult questions did indeed fall silent on the 4th January 1960 when a Facel Vega HK500 inexplicably crashed into a tree on a long stretch of straight road in Le Grand Fossard in the small town of Villeblevin, near Sens. Camus’s bloodied corpse leaving a coterie of devotees to mourn his loss and think carefully on his words:
“The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Something to ponder six decades on as President Emmanuel Macron insists on extending the powers of the European Union while describing NATO as “brain dead”; Muslim youths take a break from burning cars at New Year to rape a French girl in Morsang-sur-Orge while reciting passages from the Koran, and the Mouvement des Gilets jaunes take to the streets of the nation’s capital once again.