Partisan Review, Vol.6, No.2 Winter, 1939
edith piaf main-m
Edith Piaf, 1939

Paris in 1939


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Partisan Review, Vol. 6, No. 2. Winter, 1939

The Summer of regret, nostalgia, fear with and without objects, has turned into a Winter of confusion, anger, and debate. The issue came out in late November, 1938.

The Fall leads into the Winter issue of Partisan Review, and opens with the journal’s  “This Quarter” editorial, the second in a series of five. These editorials were excellent additions to a developing sense of  immediacy in Partisan Review in the Winter issue of Vol.6, No. 2.  Remember that this journal was in some ways quite parochial: written by people in a  defined coterie, at this point more pointedly Trotskyist than other anti- Stalinist publications in the USA, but now, and through 1939, above all, determined to keep a revolutionary internationalist perspective on Europe from the New York telescope.  By making each “This Quarter,” a collage of inter-related but distinct set of editorials, it was able to appeal to different constituencies at home as well.

HerschelHerschel Grynspan.

The first short article. “Crisis in Paris” was probably written close to the time when Herschel Grynspan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, assassinated a German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, November 7th, 1938, at the German Embassy in Paris, protesting the expulsion of Jews from Germany. He was immediately arrested by the French Police. He was eventually sent back to Germany, where he was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he is thought to have died  by 1945. It was in retaliation for Grynspan’s act that Kristallnacht/  The Night of Broken Glass riots against Jews took place across Germany the 8 &9th of November, 1938.

Scenes from Kristallnacht — burning building, smashed interior of Berlin Synagogue

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But the “Crisis in Paris” piece takes as its focus the international meaning of Paris as a symbol of and centre for political, intellectual and cultural life and how Nazism would destroy that image and that reality.

For a century  the history of France was the history of European politics: from the great revolution of 1789 to the 1848 ‘year of revolutions,’ the proto-fascist reaction of ‘Napoleon the Little,’and finally, the Paris Commune of 1871, which sketched out a whole new theory of revolution, to be realised in 1917.” oh dear……first time as tragedy, second time as farce, tenth time as Trump…

“SO, too, in arts and letters. The current of modern art, from Cezanne to Picasso, has been channelled deep in Paris. And it was to Paris, not to Berlin or London or Rome, that our own expatriates of the twenties went to write their novels and publish their independent ‘little’ magazines. In that benign and quickening air, the expression of the best integrated culture of modern times — the avant-garde —   the very term is French — in art and literature has found it least impossible to survive.”

“Now all this is threatened, the eye of Western culture is dimming. For months now, the newspaper correspondents have been filling in, bit by bit, the now sadly familiar image of a nation that is preparing to take leave of democratic government. We know well by now what happens to intellectual life under a totalitarian regime. If France goes fascist, we shall be saying goodbye to Western culture in all seriousness and for a long time to come.

SO, the first part of the piece is a view of what has been, and what may be to come, suffused with both nostalgia and fear, retrospect and the prospect of the death of democracy. But Partisan Review returns to its contemporary world, the politics of Stalinism, and the ‘disastrous’ ‘People’s Front,’ policy which led to the Munich Pact (the agreement between Britain and Germany in 1938, under which Germany was allowed to extend its territory into parts of Czechoslovakia in which German-speaking peoples lived). and the openly reactionary Daladier government. Daladier was also in attendance at the Munich agreement, but fled to North Africa when Paris fell to Hitler in 1940.

“The French masses still have a respite left them — several months, a year, even two, perhaps — in which to set in motion the only kind of anti-fascist struggle that can succeed: a revolutionary struggle against the whole capitalist order. The nucleus of such a movement already exists, in such militant left-wing organisations as the Lutte de Classe, a semi-syndicalist trade union, the Pivert group, which split off last summer from the Socialist Party of France, and the International Workers.[affiliated with the Fourth International.]”  The piece ends by asking readers in the USA to send donations to these parties.