[Marxism] Camus

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 7 07:33:45 MST 2004

NY Times, February 7, 2004
Camus and the Neo-Cons: More in Common Than They Might Suspect

It was a heady moment. Liberation was at hand. The world's most powerful 
totalitarian state had been defeated. World-historical struggles had come 
to an end.

Such was the situation after the Soviet Union collapsed. And the sense of 
triumph was palpable. In an essay reprinted in "The Norman Podhoretz 
Reader" (Free Press), Mr. Podhoretz wrote a "Eulogy" for neo-conservatism — 
the political and cultural movement with which he and the magazine he 
edited, Commentary, had been so closely identified. It was a eulogy that 
proclaimed satisfaction and closure. For two decades, Commentary had 
advocated unrelenting challenges to Soviet power, and while the downfall 
had never been seen as imminent, it had always been hoped for.

In his introduction to this new collection — which samples Mr. Podhoretz's 
argumentative power and rhetorical range over nearly 50 years — Paul 
Johnson notes that the Soviet collapse also brought to its end an era in 
American intellectual life in which Mr. Podhoretz had been a major player.

But as central as Soviet Communism was to neo-conservativism, the eulogy, 
of course, was premature. History did not come to end. Free-market 
economies ran into trouble. Genocidal massacres took place. Terrorism 
erupted. Old conflicts were metastasizing, emerging in new configurations. 
So neo-conservativism continues, now even taking center stage, named as the 
ideology behind President Bush's foreign policy.

In neo-conservatism's continued evolution, though, how are lessons learned 
from the past to be applied to a transformed world? An example from the 
past may show how vexed such questions can be.

Consider the period just after the Second World War, when another tyranny 
had just collapsed. It seemed as if the Allies had, through their trials, 
learned something about totalitarianism and democracy. Could those concepts 
be used to understand the Soviet Union, the West's erstwhile partner? Was 
it something very different (a humanitarian revolutionary state gone awry) 
or something very similar (a fascistic state beyond saving)?

Such issues affected the impassioned arguments between the two most 
important writers in postwar France, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. In 
his new book, "Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel 
That Ended It" (University of Chicago), Ronald Aronson, who teaches at 
Wayne State University, traces the nuances of their friendship, their 
mutual influences and hostilities, and the themes that still haunt 
contemporary debates.

Their schism over Communism was not academic. At the time of France's 
liberation, buoyed by its Resistance role, the Communist Party had 400,000 
members; that figure almost doubled by 1946, and the party joined a 
coalition government. In addition, according to Mr. Aronson, the party 
dominated the largest trade union, published dozens of newspapers including 
the country's two largest, and had a payroll of more than 14,000. The 
Communist Party was part of the mainstream in a way it never was in the 
United States.

But its allegiances were just as open to question: it slavishly followed 
Soviet leadership; fellow travelers idealized the Soviet Union, despite 
readily available accounts of horrors. André Gide, who visited Russia in 
the 1930's, said he doubted whether anywhere, even in Hitler's Germany, the 
"mind and spirit are less free, more bowed down."

Camus had joined the party in Algeria in 1935 and left two years later in 
dismay. Mr. Aronson even implies that Camus' views on absurdity and freedom 
grew out of that experience.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/07/arts/07CONN.html


Albert Camus: A Life.(Review) (book reviews)
Monthly Review, Dec, 1998, by John L. Hess

Olivier Todd, (New York: Knopf, 1997) 434 pp., $30, cloth.

The New York Times Book Review summarized Todd's Albert Camus: A Life as a 
"biography of the near-proletarian from Algeria who reached the top of the 
literary pole in Paris, then fell silent when he could not defend the 
fashionable Stalinism of the 1950s." To which a knowledgeable French reader 
might reply, quelle neo-connerie!

To begin with, Camus never fell silent, expect that he refused to speak out 
against the French terror in Algeria - a refusal that drew reproaches not 
only from the left but also from the Christian Democrat Francois Mauriac, 
the Gaullist Andre Malraux, the conservative Raymond Aron, and Camus's 
allies in the CIA-financed Congress for Cultural Freedom, Arthur Koestler, 
Ignazio Silone, and Stephen Spender. And it was obtuse for the Times 
reviewer, Richard Bernstein, to imply that Camus's famous break with his 
benefactor Jean-Paul Sartre was over Stalinism. Sartre was never a 
Communist, as Camus had been before the war. Indeed Todd relies on that 
experience to defend Camus from the charge of prejudice. He relates that 
the party assigned Camus to agitate for a bill to grant suffrage to a 
select few Algerian Arabs, but dropped the effort in 1937 in deference to 
Popular Front unity. Camus, Todd says, broke with the party rather than go 
along. Against that brief outreach to the Other, however, must be weighed 
the rest of Camus's life and works.

For Americans in the 1950s, Camus came on as a dashing figure, a literary 
genius, an existentialist icon, a champion of our side in the Cold War and 
a Resistance hero. He rather resembled Humphrey Bogart, and indeed flirted 
with a movie career; his glamor was magnified by a Nobel Prize and 
sanctified by his death like James Dean in an automobile crash in 1960. (Of 
his celebrity tour here, Todd records chiefly that he added an American to 
his harem.)

The two novels he wrote during the Occupation became must reading, as they 
remain. I recall, however, feeling that I was missing something. Having 
been to Oran during the war, I wondered as I read Camus, where are the 
Arabs? They appear to have escaped The Plague entirely; only two figure, 
barely, in The Stranger - a prostitute who is beaten by the narrator's 
thuggish pal Raymond, and an Arab youth, perhaps a kin of hers, whom the 
narrator, Meursault-Camus, seeks out and senselessly murders.

I confess I was less struck then by the low status Camus accorded women - 
the other Other. Meursault treats with callous indifference the woman who 
loves him, and rebuts a suggestion by the court that his crime might have 
been impelled by grief and rage over his mother's death. On the contrary, 
he embraces an imminent release from "this whole absurd life," and the 
novel ends, "I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators 
the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate."

It is no wonder that the Nazi cultural gauleiter in Paris liked the 
manuscript and volunteered to help find "all the paper needed" to publish 
it. A hero's contempt for life and decency and the Other - what could have 
been more timely, in occupied Europe, in 1942? Or, alas, today? Camus's 
contempt for life did not, though, extend to his own, not literally. In The 
Fall (1956), an autobiographical monologue of self-pity, 
self-glorification, and disdain for mankind and especially womankind, he 
said he had refused to join the Resistance because he had a horror of being 
beaten to death in a cell. "Underground action suited neither my 
temperament nor my preference for exposed heights," he wrote.

full: http://tinylink.com/?7j0gAUtyk1

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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