Andre Gide (1869- 1951) was a central figure in French intellectual life in the early decades of the 20th century, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947. His was a passionate voice among European anti-fascists and he was widely admired in the USA and in the Soviet Union before his break with the Communist Party in 1936. Gide was older than most of the Partisan Review crowd but was seen as a comrade in arms because of his literary excellence and his initial political sympathy with Communism and his subsequent anti-Stalinism. After he made his break, many others felt freer to criticise Soviet Stalinism. In the 1940s, Nicolas Chiaromonte, the Italian intellectual and close friend of Mary McCarthy, defended and identified with Gide’s position.
Gide — youth and man).
Gide was a man who was an experimenter: in writing, in politics, and in love. He began writing as a young man, and published his first novel in 1891. Gide’s works were grounded in a drive towards personal ‘truth’ — addressing one’s own inner life, developing and reflecting upon psychological identity and being responsible to to that never-entirely-to-be-achieved personhood . If that sounds a lot like Sartre, its because Sartre was heavily influenced by Gide. However, after the War, Sartre became more involved in Communist Party politics and theory, and Gide turned away from the movement. As we will see, Partisan Review did extensively engage with Sartre’s works in the post-War period.
Gide was one of the founders of the Nouvelle Revue Française, which published many of the writers who also contributed to PR. His interests were humanitarian as well as political and literary. He spent time in Africa in 1926-27. On his return he wrote about the exploitation of human and natural resources by French colonial businesses. He became a model for the anti- colonial movements of the post war period.
Gide was a sexual explorer as well: though he married in 1895, he soon became the lover of 15 year old Marc Allegret, with whom he had a long relationship which continued as a friendship until Gide’s death in 1951.
Marc Allegret became a distinguished filmmaker in France.
Gide’s marriage to his cousin, Madeleine, was what used to be called a ‘companionate marriage’– the marriage was not sexual but the two loved each other and Gide was a devoted to her care. But it became emotionally crisis-ridden when Madeleine burned Gide’s correspondence in revenge for his sexual relationship with Marc Allegret.
Gide had strong and permanent friendships with many women, the most important of whom were Maria van Rysselberghe and her daughter,Elisabeth b.1890.
Elisabeth and Gide had a short sexual relationship, and Elisabeth gave birth in 1923 to a daughter, Catherine, who was Gide’s only child.
Gide was filled with enthusiasm about the Soviet Revolution, and with the same curiosity and mental sensitivity to a new world to be explored that he had shown in Africa, he went to the USSR in 1936 to observe life in the communist country. In “Return from the USSR,” a short book published in France by Gallimard in 1936, he recounted his visit and his developing critique of the Soviet Union under the domination of Stalin; it was then translated and published in the US by Knopf in 1937. The French edition went through more 30 reprints that year.
Gide had been invited by the Soviet Writer’s Union, an official Party organisation, and he was squired around in a luxurious style. But as he travelled, he began to notice that things weren’t as he had hoped they would be. The greatest trouble lay in the anti-intellectualism that is part of Soviet education under Stalin: he writes:
“IN THE U.S.S.R. everybody knows beforehand, once and for all, that on any and every subject there can be only one opinion. And In fact everybody’s mind has been so moulded and this conformism become to such a degree easy, natural, and imperceptible,that I do not think any hypocrisy enters Into it. Are these really the people who made the revolution?No; they are the people who profit by it. Every morning the Pravda teaches them just what they should know and think and believe. And he who strays from the path had better look out! So that every time you talk to one Russian you feel as If you were talking to them all. Not exactly that every-one obeys a word of command; but everything Is so arranged that nobody can differ from anybody else. “
As for Stalin himself, “Stalin’s effigy is met with everywhere; his name is on every tongue; his praises are invariably sung in every speech. In Georgia particularly, I did not enter a single Inhabited room, even the humblest and the most sordid, without remarking a portraitof Stalin hanging on the wall, in the no doubt place where the Ikon used to be. Is It adoration, love, or fear? I do not know; always and everywhere he is present.”
The response to Gide’s ‘report’ was divided between outraged loyal Communists and the developing anti-Stalinist group in the US and Europe. Gide had never been a member of the Communist Party, but many felt he had defected from the movement.
Gide lived with a great sense of sociable connections, and he was accompanied on his trip by a set of companions, each of whom had a lively mind and literary sensibility as well as a great excitement about going to the Soviet Union: Jacques Schiffrin, Eugene Dabit, Louis Guilloux, Jef Last and Pierre Herbart.
Kurt Wolf (standing) Jacques Schiffrin (seated)
Schiffrin was the editor of the Library of the Pleiades, the distinguished uniform set of works by renowned writers, much like the present-day volumes in the Library of America. He merged the project with Gallimard Editions, still an important French publishing house.
Eugene Dabit was a left wing writer associated with the ‘proletarian literature’ movement in France. His most successful novel, published when he was 31, L’Hôtel du Nord (1929) was a popular success in France. During the junket, Dabitdeveloped Scarlet Fever, and was hospitalised where he died. Gide was very distressed and dedicated the “Return from the Soviet Union”: “To the memory of Eugene Dabit, I dedicate these pages, reflections of what I lived and thought beside him, with him.”
Louis Guilloux, novelist, was a close friend of Dabit, who painted the portrait here. He remained sceptical of the Stalinist regime, and never became a member of the FCP
. Gide and Herbart
Pierre Herbart (1903-1974) was a life-long friend of Gide. It was Gide who helped get Herbart’s first novel published by Gallimard when Pierre was 21 years old, and in 1931 he married Elisabeth van Rysselberghe, the mother of Gide’s child, Catherine. He had been close to Jean Cocteau, who showed him the pleasures of opium, to which Herbart remained addicted until his death.He allied himself with Gide’s anti-colonialism, and was happy to join Gide for his own second trip to the USSR in 1936. Herbert became a member of the French Communist Party who, in turn, grew suspicious of him during the visit with Gide to the USSR.
Andre Gide and Pierre Herbart
Jef Last was a Dutch sailor in the merchant marine, and also a member of the Communist movement in the Netherlands; he first met Gide at a meeting Gide chaired where the Report of the Congress of Soviet Writers was read. They remained friends and were both interested in the way in which the Soviet Union would legislate for/against homosexuality.
As Alan Sheridan, in his excellent biography of Gide tells us, as the group trip to the USSR was coming to its close, two major events shadowed the expedition. One was the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and the other was the 1936 “Trial of the Sixteen,” the show trial of Zinoviev-Kamenev, Trotsky (in absentia), and 13 others. (See blog post 26 November, 2016, “End Papers” which discusses the Moscow Show Trials.click here EndPapers)
The struggle of Nationalists against Republicans in Spain was complicated by the Stalinism of the Spanish Communist Party, and the Trotsky-inspired anti-Stalinism of the POUM, the more or less independent coalition of socialist and anarchist groups. Gide had been pleased that even though Herbart was a committed CPer, he and Gide began agreeing about the conditions, politics, and culture of Stalinist USSR. The situation was different with Jef Last, who remained close to the positions of Stalin, and who invited Gide to come to Madrid to “testify once again to your absolute fidelity to the revolutionary, socialist cause.” Jef Last also urged Gide not to publish Return from the USSR, because it would be premature, given the unstable situation in Spain. Last continued to press Gide to forgo the publication.
But on 13 November,1936 Return to the Soviet Union was published. You can access it by clicking on the underlined link, which gives you the full text. Return from the USSR. Herbert wrote a somewhat pusillanimous criticism of the work, given that he had been working on the proofs with Gide for weeks. And Jef Last, though he had built his defence against Gide with the weak generalisations and urges to loyalty, retired from the arguments after some months.
Gide was taken aback by the angry reviews he received, and he soon began another discussion document, ‘Second Thoughts on the USSR.’ Philip Rahv, at PR, said to Dwight McDonald that they should translate and publish the piece. But Fred Dupee thought that the ‘Second Thoughts’ essay might sound too political and alienate the contributors to PR who weren’t political at all. After some arguments and an attack by the New Masses on Partisan Review, it was decided to print the Gide piece in the second issue. Vol. IV No2.
So…. its Christmas morning here in London, and maybe you are getting ready to have your Christmas meal. After this long build-up, I hope you will be able to make sense of the “Second Thoughts” piece. Read it and let me know what you think. CLICK: Second Thoughts on the Soviet Union
Oh yes, and Happy New Year, Annie J.