Paris, 15 October 1945
Talentless offspring of the bourgeoisie,
If I refer to you thus, it is because it is the fairest way of describing you:
1) The Stalinist party is out to murder all revolutionary thinking and all thinking, period; it knows that it cannot look to writers drawn from among the people for such villainy, but it finds its finest lackeys among the failures of the bourgeoisie; for their part, the offspring of bourgeois, for want of talent, have need of a party to argue with a straight face that they have some, one that lets them in on the easiest way to “get ahead”; since such offspring of the bourgeoisie have no scruples when it comes to the people, they see no harm in playing along with the stultification of the masses and the destruction of all popular feelings. Today we can posit it pretty much as a general rule that a writer is owned by Stalinism in the degree to which he is bourgeois and an upstart.
2) That none of those who have been willing to place poetry and mind in the service of Stalinism possess any talent is a conclusion at which the whole of public opinion has readily arrived; it is a characteristic of any genuine talent that it is not slavish; a genuine talent wants all its success to belong entirely to itself and the successes it craves are successes that have nothing to do with publicity, celebrity, etc.; you start out by stipulating that talent must turn into propaganda; you embrace the poet only if he offers you a display of slavishness; the moment they surrender themselves into your hands, the best are miraculously rendered vile; Aragon, a great fellow once upon a time, you have turned into something unspeakable; Eluard — Eluard no less — who would cling to purity and greatness even in Hell, you have humbled and this latter infamy may well be the thing for which the future will be least forgiving of you.
Sensible of how public opinion has arrived at such a low opinion of you, you now seek to fend off the contempt coming your way; which is why, in your Nazi mouthpiece Les lettres francaises, in the 6 October 1945 edition, you announce the appointment of a panel charged with screening the “black list” of French writers; you have seen fit to include in that list, alongside the names of a few traitors deserving of chastisement (albeit that, in all reason, if we are to take the French patriot principle as our guide, there is no doubt but that Aragon ought to be the first to be chastised and the most severely chastised), you have slipped in the names of writers whose sole offence was that they refused slavish chores, the names of writers suspected in your view of sympathising with Trotskyism and anarchism. Today, having noted that public opinion rightly charges you with responsibility for one of the years when French literary life sank to its lowest, you hope that by downplaying your shame you will successfully banish all memory of it; by showing yourselves to be rather less infamous, you reckon folk will acclaim your generosity. The bourgeois, maybe, yes; but not I whose roots are in the people!
I am writing you this letter to tell you that I insist that I be left on that black list; even should you want to remove every other name from it, I demand that mine be allowed to remain, on its own; I will do the needful to ensure that the honour which you have unwittingly awarded me is banked for as long as I live.
I have been added to that list although you have never managed (and with good reason) to clearly bring any indictment against me; before adding my name, you waited for the “purge committee” proper (which was unanimous in not bringing any allegation against me) to finish its work and then, two months after the finalisation of that whole purge list, you, in conclave with yourselves alone, conjured up a list … which I had all to myself!
The real reasons for placing me on that list, you have never managed to spell out: you well know that your reasons would confound you. Let me spell them out then:
1) I was reputed to be a Trotskyist, a bit of an anarchist; and maybe I was at a different stage of my life, when I revelled in the obligation to fly some political colours; in any event, and all the more ridiculously for you, under the demands of the fight against Nazism and out of an immense admiration for the Russian people, I had become a Stalinist two years earlier. And even as you were condemning me, I was toiling away on behalf of Humanity (and, for the sake of the completeness of your police dossiers, I would rather be blunt about it that for some months now – for revolting reasons unconnected with my personal circumstances – Stalinists have utterly revolted me and I am back mixing with Trotskyists and anarchists who really are cut from different cloth than you!).
2) In 1940, I made the triple, unforgivable error of letting [Louis] Aragon see the sort of disgust that a man like him cannot help but provoke in someone with his roots in the people, translating Mayakovsky better than he ever could and writing to Elsa Triolet that she was (in what she is and does) a reactionary; those two creatures who feed on begrudgery and anger inevitably sought their base revenge; and since there is, within all revenge, something that takes revenge on vengeance, they did so risibly.
3) At a time when you had set up in France a machine to bring poetry into disgrace, I happened to say to four or five of your number that that undertaking left me indignant.
4) But there is much more: what you traitors to thought, to poetry, to the people could not bear to see go unpunished in me was my loyalty to those three great things; what you could not brook, as it would be your death warrant, was the emergence of a proletarian soul, a profoundly, irretrievably popular consciousness; had it been within your power to have me shot, you would have done it on a charge of possession of a proletarian soul.
5) At a baser level, your level, you could not forgive me for my scandalous stance in “literary life”; I have automatically shunned any “deals”, any “fixes”, any “set-ups”; I systematically reject anything that might be of service to me in the eyes of the established order, being an habitué of no salon, no café, no ante-chamber, in short, no place where putting in an appearance represents a leg-up; rather than indulging in propaganda, I do my damnedest to mount the greatest possible anti-propaganda against myself; I take more pleasure from a chat with a peasant or a worker than bandying words with some Stalinist millionaire. I have not yet forgotten that the essential thing is not the “seeming” but “the being”. Given the way you live, it is scarcely surprising if such a stance may be as unthinkable to you as it is criminal to a man of decency.
Though you were so vile towards me, I was very genteel towards you; I suggested to you that you disclose what I had done, not as part of the literary Resistance, that contemptible sham, but in the bona fide Resistance; the sacrifice was great; it is hard for someone who “is” anti-Nazi (as I am to my very bones and for good, since here I am telling you some home truths) to have to “appear” so; I took the trouble to point out to you that I did so out of concern for your interests rather than my own; back then I still had a few naïve illusions that prevented me from seeing that you constitute a “sin against the spirit”, that being the only one for which there is no forgiveness; in order to spare you from baseness and a grotesque act, I even wrote to the bold Morgan and even listened to Queneau the informer.
A year earlier, in August 1943, along with a few friends, I had already given you a clumsy but chaste warning; in two pages entitled “A Little Clarity” I had denounced this affront to the honour of poets which you had dubbed “Poetry of the Resistance”; as I was working in the Resistance at the time and as the Gestapo was on my trail that same August, I could scarcely accept without a murmur a literature (?) of propaganda that besmirched the two things most deserving of respect at that time: the Resistance and Poetry (Let me add that at that time I was working on your side, but in my case, not in order to “make it”).
You may laugh and you may sneer; the grimacing face that you sought to impose on man has an inevitability that will quickly backfire on you. You were wrong to laugh: the man you damned last year simply because came from the people and had remained people, wishes, for purity’s sake, to be left with your condemnation; for the sake of his “interests” (having a knowledge of some thirty one languages, he speaks your language too) he wishes to be known to posterity as a man condemned; knowing with the certainty that only perception of basic truths can confer that, the more you condemn him, the more he will be saved.
PS – I would ask you to have me attacked in all your dailies, weeklies, reviews, etc. The more you attack me, the prouder and stronger will I be. I know that there are some members of your party (pure souls) who are lobbying you to ensure that my name is stricken from the blacklist. Their overtures are made without my consent and I have of course asked them to say nothing (Just like I asked the folk in whose homes I hid during the Occupation never to mention it. Death to propaganda!)
This text (together with the poems from the Undesirable Poems collection) has been smuggled out of the country; so you will never be able to destroy it. This text is to be published in the forthcoming edition of “Undesirable Poems”).
One more thing. This text has been ready for some days now; I had to read it over several times for fear that there might be a touch of exaggeration about the serious charges I am making against you: THERE IS NONE; instead, my words have not been scathing enough about the task you have agreed to carry out. Had you pulled it off, the entire earth would be silenced.
You can give way to me or not give way to me: to me it matters not one jot, or rather, you would do better to change your ways and less good for me to do so; the only thing I welcome is injustice’ I come from the people and your approval under one heading or another would be a stain upon me, a sign that I had turned traitor.
Needless to say we are not dealing here with some literary spat between, but with a crucial battle. IN WHICH I KNOW THAT WILL COME AWAY THE WINNER; your only recourse against a people from among the people and who has kept faith with the people is to murder him; but then that would tantamount to a swift and final acknowledgment that I am right.
And now, if you are wise, say nothing. Become as tiny as you are. For you, the game is up and you can no longer escape the people’s justice.