2005 | 14 | 4(56) | 79-86
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Sartre and Communism

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When Sartre died in 1980 the secretary of the French Communist Party eulogized him as 'one of the greatest minds of our time', closing thereby a long period of mutual strain, recriminations, competition and misunderstanding. Sartre was never a member of a communist party, but he often supported its efforts in public speeches and in press. But the party did not trust him. His closest communist friend, Paul Nizan, presented him in a novel a character that resembled Sartre, a radical pessimist and a petit bourgeois, who is not a sincere advocate of socialist ideas and eventually betrays the working class. This figure cannot be interpreted as a literal image of Sartre, but it is true that Sartre's relation to communism was always complicated. For some time he tried to reconcile his views with the current policies of the French and Soviet communists parties. But he never accepted their dogmas and gradually he became more and more suspicious of the policies of the French communists, whom he trusted even less then the Soviets. For this attitude he was sometimes called a hypo-Stalinist, i.e. a defender of the Soviets who nevertheless admitted to having a broad knowledge of the atrocities committed by them. Sartre held this precarious position until 1956, when he openly broke off his allegiance to the FCP and finally withdrew his support for the Soviet version of communism after the invasion of Hungary. But even then he changed his allies, not his views. In the subsequent period he found new friends among the Maoists and remained a distant observer or sympathizer of the EuroMarxists. In general his political views should be viewed not as expressing a well defined political position, but as a manifestation of philosophical and ethical ideas, and as a realization (perhaps the last one) of what was traditionally conceived in France as the intellectual's mission
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  • A. Cohen-Solal, L' Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 54, Boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris, France
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