What happened to Albert Camus when he stopped being a communist

In the early fifties, Albert camus he was at the height of his fame. During the Nazi invasion of France he had been an active member of the resistance and had written articles under a pseudonym in the newspaper ‘Combat’, banned by the German authorities. He was also its director, which made him the greatest intellectual authority in France at the time that, after liberation, he was trying to return to a certain normality and faced terrible dilemmas, such as the trials of the collaborators. Many readers “got used to him being the one who shaped their thoughts every day,” wrote the also intellectual Raymond Aron. In addition, in those same years, Camus had published ‘The Stranger’ and ‘The Plague’, two novels that reflected the anguish caused by war and violence, which were enormously successful. When Hannah arendt visited Paris, claimed that Camus was “without a doubt, the best man there is now in France “. His moral and political stature, he wrote, was far superior to that of other intellectuals.

But all that began to end in 1951. As reflected in their diaries, which is now published in Spanish by the Debate publishing house with the title ‘Live lucidity. All the cards (1935-1959) ‘Camus was fed up with being a political reference, but he didn’t dare say it. “Only belatedly does one acquire the courage to sustain what is known,” he wrote in one of those annotations, referring to doubts about whether to publicly affirm his rejection of that role. And, in addition, it was increasingly difficult for him to maintain his commitment to the communist left. In his diaries he had already written that “the French have preserved the customs and traditions of the revolution. The only thing they have lost is their guts. They have become a civil servant, a petty bourgeois and a dressmaker. The genius feature is that they have become a revolutionary. Legal. Conspire with official authorization. Fix the world without taking your butt off the couch. ” But in 1951 he developed that idea in book form, “The Rebellious Man.” It was expected “the aggressive, obstinate rejection of the system”, of the communist intellectuals, of the philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de BeauvoirOld friends of whom he was at the same time suspicious, because he came from a poor family in Algeria and had not attended the best Parisian schools and lacked elite academic credentials. I knew that the admirers of Stalin who wanted him to extend his socialist revolution to the rest of the world would reject his condemnation of all forms of violence – “I am only saying that we must reject all legitimacy of violence, whether it comes from reason of State or totalitarian philosophy” -, but what happened was even worse.

‘Living lucidity’ (Debate)

Sartre was not satisfied with commissioning a devastating review in the magazine he directed, ‘Les Temps Modernes’, but wrote himself an open letter to try to destroy the reputation who from then on would become his former friend for denouncing communism. He accused him of being a moralist concerned with violence, but not with poverty. Camus exalted the man who rebelled, but decried the notion of revolution and the traumas that it entailed. Sartre called him a reactionary. Camus called the people of ‘Les Temps Modernes’ ‘savonarolas’, in reference to the Puritan ruler of Florence who ordered the burning of the impure books. As the historian tells Tony judt in the study of his work, Camus’ invested the conventional defense that the intellectuals made of the revolutionary terror which was fashionable then ‘: it was not valid to say that somehow the terror of the French Revolution it legitimized the later terror of the Soviet Union, rather the terror of the latter should serve to reconsider whether the former was legitimate. The brutal rejection of his old friends made him gather the necessary courage to move away from the political dispute and the figure of the committed intellectual. “I was never very subject to the world, to opinion,” he writes in his diaries. “But I was somewhat, however little it was. I just made the final effort. I believe that, in this regard, my freedom is total. Free, therefore, benevolent “.

Sartre called him a reactionary. Camus called the people of ‘Les Temps Modernes’ ‘savonarolas’

In 1957, at just 44 years old, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. ‘Nobel’, he wrote laconically on his ‘cards’. “Strange feeling of overwhelm and melancholy. At twenty, poor and naked, I knew true glory. My mother.” Many considered him finished, despite his youth, and rthey received the news of their rise with a mixture of surprise and rejection. They believed that I had not written anything of value for a long time and that having left literature to write philosophy – the genre then in vogue in Parisian intellectual circles – had been a mistake because, simply, as Sartre had said in reviling ‘ The rebellious man‘, he was not a philosopher nor did he have first-hand philosophical knowledge, only through rehashes and comments. They even accused him of being a mere writer for high school literature classes. Neither did the fact that he was neutral in the war between France and Algeria helped him: he understood that French colonialism no longer made sense, but he condemned the terrifying violence of the pro-independence terrorist groups and was unable to imagine Algeria without the French presence and its mix of races and cultures. All the communists accused him of being a colonialist. His fame faded, and when he died shortly thereafter in 1960 in a car accident, virtually no one considered him, as Arendt had done just a decade earlier, “the best man in France.”

Photo: Albert Camus and his daughter Catherine (EFE)

Camus’ ‘cards’ are a strange reading, as are all texts written for oneself, without the ambition to publish them, and in which resentments and frustrations filter more sincerely. But they have something hypnotic, brutal. Not only because of Camus’ moral integrity, but because in them is his passion for the physical world: the sea, the sun, sex, the Algerian landscapes, his eternal reluctance before the intellectual world to which he belonged and later expelled him. Reading it today is incredibly enlightening, not only because it shows that you don’t have to be a furious political polemicist to have a genuine commitment to politics, but that revolutionaries of all ideologies are relentless with who only aspires to be a discreet rebellious man.

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What happened to Albert Camus when he stopped being a communist