Histoire: Héros des uns, méchants des autres (When our Thenardiers turn out to be heroes)

22 juin, 2020

Bernard Emile and his wife Yvonne

Cosette avec sa poupée chez les Thénardier | Paris MuséesJean Valjean, Cosette et son seau | Paris Musées
One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Dicton anglais
Il n’est rien sur la terre de si humble qui ne rende à la terre un service spécial ; il n’est rien non plus de si bon qui, détourné de son légitime usage, ne devienne rebelle à son origine et ne tombe dans l’abus. La vertu même devient vice, étant mal appliquée, et le vice est parfois ennobli par l’action. Shakespeare (Père Laurence, Roméo et Juliette, II, 3)
The difference between virtue and vice is far less radical than we would like to believe. Sometimes the most effective goodness…is carried out by those who have already compromised themselves with evil, those who are members of the very organization that set the ball rolling toward the abyss. Hence a strange and frustrating contradiction: that absolute goodness is often surprisingly ineffective, while compromised, splintered and ambiguous goodness, one that is touched and stained by evil, is the only kind that may set limits to mass murder. And while absolute evil is indeed defined by its consistent one-dimensionality, this more mundane sort of wickedness, the most prevalent sort, contains within itself also seeds of goodness that may be stimulated and encouraged by the example of the few dwellers of these nether regions who may have come to recognize their own moral potential. Omer Bartov
Countrymen is a fascinating study in the ambiguity of virtue. (…) There simply are no general answers to the question of why humans behave as they do in times of extremity. What Lidegaard’s story really demonstrates is that history and context are all. Denmark was Denmark: that is all one can truthfully say. Lidegaard makes the argument, in his conclusion, that had resistance been as strong elsewhere in Europe as it was in Denmark, the Nazis might never have been able to drive the Final Solution to its conclusion. (…) Countrymen is a story about a little country that did the right thing for complicated reasons, and got away with it for equally complicated reasons. It is a story that reinforces an old truth: solidarity and decency depend on a dense tissue of connection among people, on long-formed habits of the heart, on resilient cultures of common citizenship, and on leaders who marshal these virtues by their example. In Denmark, this dense tissue bound human beings together and indirect rule made it impossible for the Germans to rip it apart. Elsewhere in Europe, by contrast, it was destroyed in stages, first by ghettoizing and isolating the Jewish people and then by insulating bystanders from the full horror of Nazi intentions. Once Jews had been stripped of citizenship, property, rights, and social existence—once they could appeal only to the common humanity of persecutors and bystanders alike—it was too late. There is a sobering message in Lidegaard’s tale for the human rights era that came after these abominations. If a people come to rely for their protection on human rights alone, on the mutual recognition of common humanity, they are already in serious danger. The Danish story seems to tell us that it is not the universal human chain that binds peoples together in extremity, but more local and granular ties: the particular consciousness of time, place, and heritage that led a Danish villager to stand up to the Gestapo and say no, it will not happen here, not in our village. This extraordinary story of one small country has resonance beyond its Danish context. Countrymen should be read by anyone seeking to understand what precise set of shared social and political understandings can make possible, in times of terrible darkness, acts of civil courage and uncommon decency. Michael Ignatieff
Le bilan final – la perte de 25% de Juifs vivant en France, y compris 15% des citoyens juifs de France, dont de nombreux enfants – est plus lourd qu’il ne l’aurait été sans la participation de l’administration et de certains citoyens français. (…) il faut «s’élever contre l’idée qui se répand actuellement que Vichy a essayé dès le début d’épargner les Juifs anciennement établis en France. Il est vrai qu’en 1942, Vichy tente à quelques reprises de faire déporter les étrangers avant les citoyens français, mais ces efforts sont tardifs et peu efficaces. [Et au lieu] de se demander pourquoi tant de Juifs ont survécu en France (…) il faudrait plutôt se demander pourquoi tant ont péri. Robert Paxton
Ces êtres appartenaient à cette classe bâtarde composée de gens grossiers parvenus et de gens intelligents déchus, qui est entre la classe dite moyenne et la classe dite inférieure, et qui combine quelques-uns des défauts de la seconde avec presque tous les vices de la première, sans avoir le généreux élan de l’ouvrier ni l’ordre honnête du bourgeois. C’étaient de ces natures naines qui, si quelque feu sombre les chauffe par hasard, deviennent facilement monstrueuses. Il y avait dans la femme le fond d’une brute et dans l’homme l’étoffe d’un gueux. Tous deux étaient au plus haut degré susceptibles de l’espèce de hideux progrès qui se fait dans le sens du mal. Il existe des âmes écrevisses reculant continuellement vers les ténèbres, rétrogradant dans la vie plutôt qu’elles n’y avancent, employant l’expérience à augmenter leur difformité, empirant sans cesse, et s’empreignant de plus en plus d’une noirceur croissante. Cet homme et cette femme étaient de ces âmes-là. Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, 1862)
Thénardier est le patronyme d’une famille « misérable » que Victor Hugo met en scène et décrit dans son roman Les Misérables (1862). On découvre le couple aubergiste à Montfermeil quand Fantine lui confie la garde de sa fille Cosette qu’il va honteusement exploiter comme bonne à tout faire. À cette époque-là, le couple a deux petites filles, Éponine et Azelma, puis un garçon, Gavroche. Les Thénardier auront encore deux fils dont ils se débarrasseront et dont on ne connaîtra jamais les prénoms. Après la mort de Fantine, Jean Valjean soustrait Cosette à leur emprise moyennant une coquette somme d’argent. Après la faillite de leur auberge, on les retrouve à Paris se faisant passer pour la famille Jondrette, car le couple, accointé avec le milieu interlope et participant à divers faits criminels, se cache de la police tandis qu’il exploite ses filles pour pratiquer la mendicité. C’est le hasard qui mettra à nouveau la famille Thénardier en présence de Jean Valjean. (…) Le père est un ancien soldat devenu sergent et médaillé à la bataille de Waterloo grâce à la méprise du colonel Pontmercy qui, revenu à lui alors que Thénardier était occupé à le dépouiller (comme il le faisait sur tous les cadavres du champ de bataille), a cru que celui-ci le secourait. De ce fait, Thénardier se fait passer pour un bon samaritain (ayant échappé au risque d’être pris et fusillé comme pilleur), d’où le nom de son auberge qu’il affiche comme une gloire. Fantine ne peut pas garder son enfant, car elle retourne à Montreuil-sur-Mer, sa ville natale, pour y chercher du travail et, en 1818, une mère célibataire était rejetée par la société. Les Thénardier acceptent de prendre Cosette en pension moyennant le paiement de 7 francs par mois. Fantine « confie » un peu trop rapidement Cosette aux Thénardier après avoir aperçu la mère Thénardier attentionnée avec ses fillettes. Contrairement à la promesse qu’ils ont faite à Fantine de bien s’occuper de Cosette, ils jalousent cette jolie enfant, l’asservissent et la maltraitent. Cosette ne vit plus que dans la crainte et la tristesse tandis que le couple Thénardier réclame des sommes de plus en plus élevées à Fantine qui, pour continuer à leur verser une pension mensuelle devenue exorbitante, et après avoir perdu son emploi, vend ses cheveux et ses dents de devant, puis, à bout de ressources, va jusqu’à se faire fille publique avant de mourir en février 1823. Leur auberge fait faillite en 1828 après que Jean Valjean a réussi à arracher Cosette à leurs griffes (en la leur achetant) pour se réfugier à Paris à la fin de l’année 1823. Les Thénardier réapparaissent à Paris (année 1830), s’étant défaits, moyennant finances, de leurs deux plus jeunes fils, et ont changé de nom, ils sont désormais la « famille Jondrette » avec leurs enfants Azelma, Éponine et Gavroche. Ils vivent d’expédients avant de devenir les pires des malfrats en s’acoquinant avec la bande Patron-Minette. Dès le début, le couple Thénardier est décrit comme fourbe et sans scrupules, mais on peut penser que c’est un effet de la misère. Victor Hugo rend le ménage Thénardier antipathique alors qu’il s’apitoie sur leurs enfants exploités sans vergogne. Pour survivre, le couple n’hésite pas à recourir à toutes sortes de moyens criminels, du plus léger au rédhibitoire (exploitation éhontée de la pauvreté, vols, cambriolages, agressions, voire assassinat). De ce fait, la famille côtoie différents milieux interlopes (banditisme, prostitution), ce qui permet à Hugo de se pencher sur les causes sociales de ces comportements, de faire réfléchir le lecteur et de l’inciter à ne pas condamner systématiquement certains agissements (digression Le Mauvais Pauvre). Thénardier et sa fille Azelma, survivant à leur famille en juin 1833 (on ignore ce que sont devenus les deux plus jeunes fils perdus de vue durant l’insurrection de juin 1832), quittent la France pour s’expatrier aux États-Unis. L’injustice et le crime n’étant pas spécifiquement français, avec l’argent donné par Marius pour qu’ils disparaissent de leur vie (la vie de Cosette et Marius), homme de bien, l’ancien exploiteur de Fantine et de Cosette y devient trafiquant d’esclaves. Tout au long du roman, les destins de Jean Valjean, de Cosette, de Marius, ne cessent de croiser ceux des Thénardier qui joueront, en bien et en mal, un rôle essentiel dans la vie des trois protagonistes. (…) Ce nom aurait été inspiré à Victor Hugo par Louis Jacques Thénard, son contemporain et chimiste renommé, qui était opposé à la réduction du temps de travail des enfants proposée par Hugo.  Wikipedia
Pour le nouveau président de la Commission, ce n’était pas nécessaire de s’être comporté comme un héros pour obtenir l’honneur. Le grand nombre des cas signalés à Yad Vashem èroved qu’il y avait eu une réelle implication de nombreuses personnes, gens du commun, dans la tentative d’arracher les Juifs à l’extermination. Faire connaitre leurs histoires signifiait réfuter le mythe selon lequel l’opposition contre le nazisme était un acte impossible, que ce n’était pas une possibilité concrète d’aider les persécutés sans courir de risques extrêmes. Plusieurs fois, une petite intervention avait suffi pour empêcher une grande tragédie. C’est pourquoi il est important de valoriser publiquement chaque geste d’opposition qui a été fait en faveur des Juifs dans l’Europe occupée par les Nazis. (…) Mais comment juger qui a sauvé un juif et tué un autre homme après la guerre ? Ou la femme qui a caché les persécutés, alors qu’elle se prostituait avec les fonctionnaires nazis ? Ou ceux qui ont sauvé des dizaines de Juifs en Pologne sans nullement abandonner leurs opinions antisémites ? Ou également ceux qui ont aidé en échange d’argent ? Wikipedia
Cette médaille qui honore la famille Bernard honore aussi les habitants de Collonges-sous-salève. Représentant de la communauté israélite d’Annecy

Héros des uns, méchants des autres..

En ces temps devenus fous de furie et d’hystérie déboulonnatrice

Retour avec cette nouvelle édition retrouvée hier sur Facebook …

Du fameux livre de Paxton et Marrus il y a cinq ans …

Où contre la thèse révisionniste de Zemmour …

Créditant le régime de Pétain, à l’inverse de la Hollande ou de la Belgique, du sauvetage de quelque 75% de « ses » Juifs ….

Paxton rappelle dans sa nouvelle préface que le bilan final – dont de nombreux enfants – est plus lourd qu’il ne l’aurait été sans la participation de l’administration et de certains citoyens français …

Sur un souvenir personnel …

Rappelant l’irréductible ambiguïté du bien …

Avec ces gens connus dans mon enfance comme Thénardiers …

Et redécouverts bien après comme bons samaritains …

Yvonne Bernard et son mari Emile

Comité français pour Yad vashem

Emile et Yvonne Bernard, des adventistes du septième jour pratiquants possédaient une ferme dans le village de Collonges-sous-Salève en Haute-Savoie près de la frontière suisse. Les réfugiés juifs de Marseille savaient que ces personnes aidaient ceux qui devaient traverser la frontière clandestinement.

Peu après l’invasion du sud de la France par les Allemands, Raymond Katz, âgé de dix-sept ans, un refugié juif de Strasbourg, arriva en train de Marseille à Collonges. Il arriva sain et sauf à la ferme des Bernard le 25 novembre 1942. Emile et Yvonne Bernard l’accueillirent pendant deux jours sans rien attendre en retour. Alors qu’il était chez eux, un couple de Juifs âgés arriva à la ferme et fut également accueilli.

La nuit du deuxième jour, Emile Bernard proposa à Raymond Katz de lui faire traverser la frontière et  passer en Suisse. Il mit ses deux mains sur la tête du jeune homme et le bénit avant de partir. Raymond Katz marchait à environ cinquante mètres derrière Emile Bernard jusqu’à ce que ce dernier s’arrête et lui montre où traverser. Raymond Katz réussit à passer la frontière suisse. Les Allemands patrouillaient 24 heures sur 24 le long de la frontière qui séparait les deux pays et c’est grâce à sa très bonne connaissance de la région qu’Emile Bernard put guider Raymond vers un point de passage accessible.

Après la guerre, les Bernard furent totalement opposés à accepter la moindre reconnaissance de leurs actes de sauvetage. C’est seulement après leur décès qu’ils purent être honorés pour leurs actes nobles et courageux.

Le 3 Avril 2006 l’Institut Yad Vashem de Jérusalem a décerné le titre de Juste parmi les Nations à Monsieur Emile Bernard et son épouse Yvonne.

Voir aussi:

Bernard Emile & Yvonne

Yad vashem

Emile and Yvonne Bernard, pious Seventh Day Adventists, owned a farm in the village of Collonges Sous Salève (Haute Savoie) close to the Swiss border. Their names were known among the Jewish refugees in Marseilles as people who helped those in need smuggle across the border. One day, not long after the Germans occupied the south of France, 17-year-old Raymond Katz, a Jewish refugee from Strasbourg, traveled by train from Marseilles to Collonges. He arrived safely at the Bernards’ farm on November 25, 1942. They opened their home to him and hosted him for two days without expecting or receiving anything in return. While he was there, an elderly Jewish couple arrived at the farm and they too were taken into the farmhouse. At nightfall of the second day, Emile invited Katz to embark on his journey. Placing both his hands on the young man’s head, Bernard blessed him and they set out on their way. Katz kept about 50 meters behind Bernard until the latter stopped at a certain point and showed him where to cross. Katz successfully crossed the border into Switzerland. The Germans patrolled the border between France and Switzerland around the clock and it was because of Bernard’s intimate knowledge of the area that he was able to direct Katz to a suitable crossing point.
After the war, the Bernards were strenuously opposed to accepting any recognition for their rescue efforts; it was only after they both passed away that they could be honored for their noble and brave deeds.
On April 3, 2006, Yad Vashem recognized Emile and Yvonne Bernard as Righteous Among the Nations.
Voir enfin:

Vichy et les Juifs : Robert Paxton persiste et signe

L’historien américain publie ce 14 octobre aux côtés de Michael Marrus une seconde édition de la publication de 1981. Cette version actualisée vient contredire l’idée répandue depuis quelques temps, selon laquelle Pétain aurait protégé des Juifs français.

Hugo-Pierre Gausserand et Jacques de Saint Victor

Impossible d’évoquer la question du régime de Vichy et de son rapport à la «question juive», comme l’écrivait Jean-Paul Sartre en 1946, sans évoquer l’auteur Robert Paxton. Historien américain, il publie en 1973 dans le cadre de ses études le fruit de ses recherches quant au rôle du gouvernement de Pétain dans la Shoah, La France de Vichy.

Avec cette parution, Robert Paxton venait remettre en cause certaines versions plus favorables au régime de Vichy. S’appuyant sur de nombreuses archives, ses travaux devinrent très vite une référence. Pourtant, à l’époque, l’historien connaît un déferlement de haine en France, jusqu’à se voir empêché de s’exprimer à la télévision.

Telle une piqûre de rappel, il publie ce 14 octobre une seconde version de l’ouvrage Vichy et les Juifs qu’il co-signait en 1981 aux côtés de Michael Marrus. Ces travaux réédités ont pour ambition de tordre le cou aux récentes thèses selon lesquelles Pétain et son régime politique auraient protégé des Juifs français de la Shoah.

Une réponse au révisionnisme

La principale cible sous-entendue de ce réquisitoire? Eric Zemmour. L’éditorialiste, auteur du bestseller Le suicide français, est devenu le fer de lance de cette nouvelle lecture, «pétainiste» pour certains. Dans son essai, et, le 4 octobre 2014 sur le plateau d’On n’est pas couché, il déclarait: «Pétain a sauvé des Juifs français», ajoutant qu’une large majorité de ceux-là n’avaient pas connu le sort tragique des millions d’autres dans les autres pays occupés par les nazis.

Paxton et Marrus, dans la préface de leur nouveau livre, précisent: «Le bilan final – la perte de 25% de Juifs vivant en France, y compris 15% des citoyens juifs de France, dont de nombreux enfants – est plus lourd qu’il ne l’aurait été sans la participation de l’administration et de certains citoyens français». Les deux historiens ne reviennent pas sur la grande différence avec ce qui s’est passé dans d’autres pays, notamment en Hollande ou en Belgique, où la population juive a quasiment été entièrement décimée.

Selon eux, il faut «s’élever contre l’idée qui se répand actuellement que Vichy a essayé dès le début d’épargner les Juifs anciennement établis en France». Ils admettent cependant: «Il est vrai qu’en 1942, Vichy tente à quelques reprises de faire déporter les étrangers avant les citoyens français», ce qu’avait défendu Eric Zemmour, mais, ajoutent les deux historiens, «ces efforts sont tardifs et peu efficaces».

Les deux auteurs concluent sur une considération plus morale qu’historique, en trouvant «fâcheux que certains continuent de se demander pourquoi tant de Juifs ont survécu en France. Etant donné les opportunités de survie, il faudrait plutôt se demander pourquoi tant ont péri».

Robert Paxton dédie cette réédition «aux Français anonymes et admirables» ayant aidé les Juifs persécutés. L’auteur de La France de Vichy de conclure: «Beaucoup de Français en ont ras-le-bol de ces histoires et préfèrent ne plus y penser.»


Orwell/70e: Hommage à la décence commune (My country right or wrong: rediscovering with Orwell the spiritual need for truth and patriotism for which no substitute has yet been found)

21 février, 2020

Image result for Orwell common decency

S’ils se taisent, les pierres crieront! Jésus (Luc 19 : 40)
Je te loue, Père, Seigneur du ciel et de la terre, de ce que tu as caché ces choses aux sages et aux intelligents, et de ce que tu les as révélées aux enfants. Jésus (Matthieu 11: 25)
Le plus difficile n’est pas de dire ce que l’on voit mais d’accepter de voir ce que l’on voit. Péguy
Dans des temps de tromperie généralisée, le seul fait de dire la vérité est un acte révolutionnaire. George Orwell
Il faut constamment se battre pour voir ce qui se trouve au bout de son nez. Orwell
Government cannot be conducted on “pure” pacifist lines, because any government which refused in all circumstances to use force could be overthrown by anyone, even any individual, who was willing to use force. . . . As to the conquest of England, Gandhi would certainly advise us to let Germans rule here rather than fight against them—in fact he did advocate just that. And if Hitler conquered England he would, I imagine, try to bring into being a nationwide pacifist movement, which would prevent serious resistance and therefore make it easier for him to rule. George Orwell
What would Gandhi do if he wasn’t given a shelf [of freedom by the British] to stand on?. . . The fact is that Gandhi’s political methods were almost irrelevant to the present situation, because they depended on publicity. As Mr. Fischer admits, Gandhi never had to deal with a totalitarian Power. He was dealing with an old-fashioned and rather shaky despotism which treated him in a fairly chivalrous way and allowed him to appeal to world opinion at every step. (…) It is difficult to see how his strategy of fasting and civil disobedience could be applied in a country where political opponents simply disappear and the public never hears anything that the Government does not want it to hear. Moreover, it appears that when Mr. Fischer tellsus that we should follow Gandhi’s teachings he. . . wants to prevent the expansion of Russian imperialism, nonviolently if we can, but violently if we must; whereas Gandhi’s central tenant was that you must not use violence even if the alternative is defeat. Asked to give an opinion on the German Jews, Gandhi apparently answered that they should have committed mass suicide, and thus “arouse the world”—an answer which seems to embarrass even Mr. Fischer. George Orwell
In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that “non-attachment” is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. (…) We live in a lunatic world in which opposites are constantly changing into one another, in which pacifists find themselves worshipping Hitler, Socialists become Nationalists, patriots become quislings, Buddhistspray for the success of the Japanese Army, and the Stock Market takes an upward turn when the Russians stage an offensive. The creeds [pacifism, Anarchism, Stalinism] have the advantage that they aim at the impossible and therefore in effect demand very little. If you throw in a touch of oriental mysticism and Buchmanite raptures over Gandhi, you have everything that a disaffected intellectual needs. The life of an English gentleman and the moral attitude of a saint can be enjoyed simultaneously. By merely transferring your allegiance from England to India (it used to be Russia), you can indulge to the full in allthe chauvinistic sentiments which would be totally impossible if you recognized them for what they were. In the name of pacifism you can compromise with Hitler, and in the name of spirituality you can keep your money. . . There is indeed a sort of apocalyptic truth in the statement of the German radio that the teachings of Hitler and Gandhi are the same. George Orwell
Le Parti vous disait de rejeter le témoignage de vos yeux et de vos oreilles. C’était son commandement ultime, et le plus essentiel. Le cœur de Winston défaillit quand il pensa à l’énorme puissance déployée contre lui, à la facilité avec laquelle n’importe quel intellectuel du Parti le vaincrait dans une discussion, aux arguments qu’il serait incapable de comprendre et auxquels il pourrait encore moins répondre. Et cependant, c’était lui qui avait raison ! Ils avaient tort, et il avait raison. Il fallait défendre l’évident, le bêta et le vrai. Les truismes sont vrais, cramponne-toi à cela. Le monde matériel existe, ses lois ne changent pas. Les pierres sont dures, l’eau est humide, et les objets qu’on lâche tombent vers le centre de la terre. Avec le sentiment […] qu’il posait un axiome important, il écrivit : “La liberté, c’est la liberté de dire que deux et deux font quatre. Si cela est accordé, tout le reste suit. George Orwell (1984)
Ce qui me tracasse en ce moment, c’est qu’on ne sait pas très bien si dans des pays comme l’Angleterre les gens ordinaires font suffisamment la différence entre démocratie et despotisme pour avoir envie de défendre leurs libertés. […] Les intellectuels qui affirment aujourd’hui que démocratie et fascisme, c’est blanc bonnet et bonnet blanc, etc., me dépriment au plus haut point. Mais il se peut qu’au moment de l’épreuve de vérité les gens ordinaires s’avèrent être plus intelligents que les intellectuels. George Orwell
Quand vous rentrez en Angleterre après un voyage à l’étranger, vous avez immédiatement la sensation de respirer un air différent […]. La bière est plus amère, les pièces de monnaie sont plus lourdes, l’herbe est plus verte, les publicités sont plus criardes. […] Alors l’immensité de l’Angleterre vous engloutit et vous perdez pour un instant de vue que la nation dans son ensemble possède un seul caractère identifiable. George Orwell
La nuit qui a précédé le Pacte germano-soviétique, j’ai rêvé que la guerre avait commencé. Ce rêve m’a appris que j’étais de tout cœur patriote, que je soutiendrais la guerre et que je combattrais si possible. Tout cela est enfantin, bien sûr, mais je préfère avoir reçu ce type d’éducation que de ressembler aux intellectuels de gauche qui sont tellement ‘ éclairés ’ qu’ils ne peuvent comprendre les émotions les plus ordinaires. George Orwell
Une part de nous veut être un héros ou un saint, mais l’autre moitié c’est ce petit homme gras qui voit très clairement l’avantage qu’il y a à rester en vie. C’est notre moi privé, la voix de notre ventre qui proteste contre notre âme. George Orwell
This insignificant and self-effacing hero who had nothing to recommend him but a little goodness in his heart and apparently a ridiculous ideal. This would be to give the truth its due, to give the sum of two and two as four. (…) It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency. Albert Camus
But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is one of knowing whether two and two do make four. Camus
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. George Orwell
A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists. Camus
Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. (…) So long as physical reality cannot be altogether ignored, so long as two and two have to make four. Orwell
ONE DAY in February 1945, in Paris, George Orwell waited at the café Deux Magots, where he was to meet Albert Camus for the first time. But Camus, suffering from tuberculosis and exhaustion — because of which he was currently on leave from his editorship of the resistance newspaper Combat — didn’t show up. They would never again have the chance to meet each other. Five years later, Orwell died, in England — from an illness related to his own tuberculosis. This may very well be one of the great missed opportunities in 20th-century European letters. But although Orwell and Camus were two of the most intriguing political and literary figures of their time, they are rarely considered in relation to each other, and when they are, it is usually not to any great depth. There are superficial similarities between them that tend to distract from looking for deeper affinities, albeit buried beneath significant antimonies. Although, politically and intellectually, they drew many of the same conclusions, these were, more often than not, arrived at from very different starting points, or via different routes. And that is, ultimately, why Orwell and Camus are so interesting to consider together. In a sense, the life and work of each man acts as an independent variable to confirm the truths and the doubts revealed by the life and work of the other. Part of the reason for these different attitudes and approaches to writing may be due to their different social backgrounds. For Orwell, that background was middle-class, old Etonian — even when he rebelled against it he was still inculcated by the attitudes that came with it. He had seen several of his classmates — such as Cyril Connolly — go on to become writers and editors of literary journals and newspapers, and so he was never in any doubt that a literary career was not something he could pursue. His five years in the Burmese Police were, he later said, partly an attempt to actively avoid becoming a writer — as if it was always inevitable. Camus, on the other hand, came from very poor, largely illiterate, working-class French Algeria. There was hardly anything inevitable in Camus’s becoming a writer. Growing up, there were no books in the house, and no privacy. During the school holidays, he worked with his uncles and older brother in a wine-barrel factory. His older brother didn’t go to high school, but went instead to work full-time with their uncles. Camus was supposed to follow suit, but an intervention from a schoolteacher, Louis Germain — and later the encouragement of a high school teacher and then university lecturer, Jean Grenier — made Camus see new possibilities. But even here, these possibilities extended mainly to the goal of becoming a high school teacher, and the need for a steady, honest job. Writing was certainly a possibility, but it was always something besides, something you did after work hours. For a working-class family in 1930s Algeria, writing was not considered legitimate work. (…) Although Camus was already famous in France for his work from the early 1940s, it was his post-war work — beginning with the publication of The Plague — that brought him international renown. Orwell became internationally famous at about the same time. It is from the 1950s onward that the reputations of both figures were truly established. But such reputations — often disproportionate to the work in question — are almost always based on misunderstandings and oversimplifications. For Orwell, this process largely occurred after his death (January 21, 1950). Camus struggled against his own growing reputation, often in vain, throughout the 1950s, until his own death on January 4, 1960. Even here, in these misunderstandings and oversimplifications, a comparison between Orwell and Camus is worth pursuing. Their reputations have been secured, largely through the imposition of a false binary over each of their work, with one half being brought narrowly into relief against the attempted suppression of the other half. The dividing line is between their fiction and their nonfiction, their art and their politics: Camus is seen as a great literary figure, but a poor political thinker, while Orwell as a great political writer, but a poor literary figure. What is ultimately compelling about these men, however, is that they are both consummate literary and political writers. The two aspects of their work — the literary and the political — cannot be pitted against each other. It is the balance between the two that is responsible for the creative force behind each man’s work. By reconsidering Orwell and Camus in relation to each other, the prominent aspect of each can be used to rehabilitate the suppressed aspect of the other. Both rehearsed their literary and political thinking throughout the 1930s. Orwell’s thinking evolved more publicly in various book reviews, as well as articles and books. Camus rehearsed his ideas more privately, in his notebooks and unpublished essays, but also in the occasional published book review (in Algeria). It was not until The Myth of Sisyphus was published (1942) that his mature ideas on aesthetics would become known, albeit largely ignored. What is essential to note is that, for both men, these ideas, both literary and political, were developed in unison, and were forged in the act of writing, and in response to the same climate of political and social unease. Although Orwell became famous for his final two novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, their reputation is built on the political message they carry. And to get at that message, the literary and artistic aspects of these works have been pushed to the side. The retrospective appraisal of his pre-war books holds up his nonfiction works (The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia) and downplays his novels (A Clergyman’s Daughter, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air), except when (as with Down and Out in Paris and London and Burmese Days) they can be mined for autobiographical and social or political import. His political journalism and essays are seen as the core of his thinking, and Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four as popular illustrations of these ideas. But Orwell himself, very early in his career, argued against this style of reading literature. In one of his first book reviews, in 1930, for example — on Lewis Mumford’s book Herman Melville — he argues that such interpretation (an “unpleasant but necessary word”) is a “dangerous method of approaching a work of art. Done with absolute thoroughness, it would cause art itself to vanish.” Reducing a work of art to an allegorical message, he said, “is like eating an apple for the pips.” In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus also argued against reducing novels to what he called a “thesis-novel, the work that proves, the most hateful of all, […] the one that most often is inspired by a smug thought.” For both men, a novel is not supposed to tell the reader what to think, but rather to create the conditions through which the reader can experience thinking for themselves. This idea became the creative spark that fired also their political imaginations, especially their opposition to totalitarianism. Throughout the 1930s, both Camus and Orwell saw the problem of the contemporary novel in terms of the tendencies toward either formalism or realism. On the one hand, empty formalism focused on technique, on art for art’s sake; on the other, social realism or naturalism revealed the world, but without any structure, or by attaching a simplistic morality to the work. Both men recognized the merits of each, but also the absurdity of allowing each aspect to dominate a work of art. For Orwell, the two most influential books throughout the 1930s were James Joyce’s Ulysses and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. He argued, both publicly (in reviews) and privately (in letters), that Ulysses perfectly used various formal techniques to examine, for the first time, both the outside and the inside of the ordinary man, and to bridge the gap between the “intellectual” and the “man-in-the-street.” Tropic of Cancer focused the reader’s attention on the brutal and often ugly facts of everyday life. But Orwell also felt that both books went too far in each direction — the formalism of the former, and the brutal naturalism of the latter. He strove to develop his own style that joined the best of both, while jettisoning the worst. Incorporating the political into his writing — thinking about the political in literary terms — is what allowed him to strike a balance. This is one of the often missed points of his otherwise well-known essay “Politics and the English Language.” Although he explicitly states that he is not examining the “literary use of language,” he is still looking at the use of literary language in political writing. The whole focus of the essay is to examine the use of imagery and metaphor, and the misuse of cliché and abstract language — the way that politics uses language to corrupt or prevent thought, and the way we can rejuvenate our language in order to allow and clarify our thinking. Moreover, the reason Orwell wasn’t looking at the “literary use of language” in that essay is that he had already done so in a previous one, “The Prevention of Literature” — which, in many respects, provides the context and the conditions for understanding more clearly the argument in “Politics and the English Language.” (The two essays were written almost in conjunction with one another in late 1945, soon after Orwell and Camus were supposed to meet). In this earlier essay, Orwell makes the explicit link between literature and totalitarianism, and shows how a politics that tends toward totalitarianism not only reduces the capacity of literature to be created and read, but also that totalitarianism achieves its own goals, in part, through the very process of preventing literature from being created and read. The reason for this, Orwell argues, is that literature is concerned with increasing consciousness, free thought, the imagination, all of which are anathema to totalitarianism. For him, literary thinking is inextricably linked to intellectual honesty. “At some time in the future, if the human mind becomes something totally different from what it is, we may learn to separate literary creation from intellectual honesty. At present we know only that the imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.” For Orwell, reading a novel for its allegorical message, while ignoring its literary context, is a form of intellectual dishonesty. For Camus, such a reading is inspired by a “smug thought”: “You demonstrate the truth you feel sure of possessing.” This unity of the literary and the political in Orwell’s work is central also to his other well-known essay “Why I Write,” where he explicitly states: “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.” The essay includes an often cited passage, used to supposedly highlight his political writing at the expense of his literary writing: “looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” But this ignores a previous, qualifying statement from the same essay: “But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant.” The context for these passages is created by the main argument of his essay. Here Orwell examines four motivations for why writers, in general — and himself in particular — write: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. “I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth [the political],” he adds. It is worth noting that one aspect for which Orwell is renowned — his focus on “things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity” — is, for him, the definition of the historical impulse, and not, as may be assumed, his political purpose. It was, indeed, the historical context that Orwell found himself in that forced him, albeit against his nature, to become political. But it was his literary thinking — from which his intellectual honesty evolved — that forced him to consider his historical context so clearly, so as to become political. It is for this reason that Orwell, on occasion, referred to himself as a “literary intellectual.” This self-description, and the argument behind it, aptly applies also to Camus. In a 1951 interview, for example, he said: What, in fact, is the aim of every creative artist? To depict the passions of his day. In the seventeenth century, the passions of love were at the forefront of people’s minds. But today, the passions of our century are collective passions, because society is in disorder. Artistic creation, instead of removing us from the drama of our time, is one of the means we are given of bringing it closer. Totalitarian regimes are well aware of this, since they consider us their first enemies. Isn’t it obvious that everything which destroys art aims to strengthen ideologies that make men unhappy? And yet, where Orwell is praised for his political judgment, albeit based upon a denigration of his literary imagination, Camus is praised for his literary works (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, after all), but, in the process, he is denigrated for his political thinking — often dismissed as a noble but vague humanism; admirable, but not worth taking seriously. However, by the time most of the French intelligentsia embraced Communism in the late 1940s and ’50s, Camus had already joined and been expelled from the Communist Party (the Algerian branch). At a time when many others — such as Merleau-Ponty and Sartre — were being seduced by Communism, Camus was already aware of its theoretical contradictions and practical impossibilities. His experiences during the purges of the mid-1940s showed him that today’s victims can easily become tomorrow’s executioners. His own political thinking — which, like Orwell’s, was grounded in intellectual honesty and concrete experience — developed early, through his growing up in poverty in working-class Algeria. What Orwell learned only slowly, and from the outside, about poverty and working-class culture, Camus knew firsthand, from the root source. Camus sharpened his political sensibilities through his journalism, which forced upon him the practice of keeping an open mind, of collecting the facts for himself, and then thinking through their significance and implications. Take, for example, his 1939 series of articles on the drought and famine of the Kabylia region of Algeria. The lyricism of Camus’s prose is often cited, but what is ignored are the dozens of pages full of painstaking detail, facts and figures, and reported conversations with those affected, the attempt to examine the environmental, the social, the cultural, the colonial, the economic, and the political aspects of the situation. Nearly two decades later, these pieces were collected together with Camus’s other writings about Algeria. Covering more than eighty printed pages, his preface notes, however, that “pieces were too long and detailed to reproduce here in their entirety, and I have cut overly general observations and sections on housing, welfare, crafts, and usury.” These articles are the equivalent of Orwell’s investigation into working-class life, published as The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). When they were first published in June 1939, the political and media uproar led to Camus’s blacklisting in Algeria and his self-exile to Paris. Needless to say, he was not blacklisted for his lyricism. (…) In his journalism, Camus was also focused on domestic French, European, and international politics. A constant refrain in his Combat editorials and articles — written in the course of facing day-to-day political and social struggles — is the criticism that what is lacking in contemporary politics is a sense of “imagination.” Like Orwell, Camus saw the imagination as essential to forcing an individual to see the concrete reality beyond the words and ideologies of his day. Here is but one example, from an editorial on August 30, 1944: “Thirty-four Frenchmen tortured and then murdered at Vincennes: without help from our imagination these words say nothing. And what does the imagination reveal? Two men, face-to-face, one of whom is preparing to tear out the fingernails of the other, who looks him in the eye.” There are numerous other examples in Camus’s journalism. They are the equivalent of Orwell’s famous line: “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” — of which he, too, has numerous other, lesser-known examples in his own writing. But each of these tiny moments of detail is the outcome of a more fully developed imagination. Such imagination is the lynchpin between the political and the literary aspects of the work of both Orwell and Camus. For Orwell, this political imagination is associated with “decency.” Camus also spoke of “decency” in his journalism, but, for him, it was associated mainly with an attitude of “modesty.” Much of the development of Camus’s political thinking, culminating in The Rebel, is based around his opposition to all forms of modern nihilism, whether they came from the right or the left. But even here Camus has a unique perspective on what nihilism is: “A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists.” It is precisely the same criticism that Orwell leveled against totalitarianism: “Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.” Most commentators focus on the first part of this statement, and ignore the implications of the second part. This is from the same essay in which Orwell rehearses an image used so powerfully in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “So long as physical reality cannot be altogether ignored, so long as two and two have to make four […].” And the essay in which this appears? “The Prevention of Literature.” Camus’s equivalent to this essay appeared as a later chapter in his political work The Rebel. There he described how the roots of rebellion — and its inextricable belief in limits, predicated upon what exists, and its preservation — were the same as the roots of art. For Camus, as for Orwell, the separation of the two aspects of human experience, the political and the literary, is the first sign of the decadence of each. Camus writes: The trial of art has been opened definitively and is continuing today with the embarrassed complicity of artists and intellectuals dedicated to calumniating both their art and their intelligence. We notice, in fact, that in the contest between Shakespeare and the shoemaker, it is not the shoemaker who maligns Shakespeare or beauty but, on the contrary, the man who continues to read Shakespeare and who does not choose to make shoes — which he could never make, if it comes to that. (…) Orwell had arranged the meeting with Camus, ostensibly on the basis of the latter having been the editor of Combat during the final months of the war. In an article Orwell was researching at the time — published in the Manchester Evening News on 28 February, 1945 — about the French newspaper scene, Orwell cited Combat as one of the leading “Left-wing Socialist” newspapers that was still able to retain some of its critical power amidst the rising status quo and censorship of post-war Paris. Orwell was probably thinking of the likes of Camus when he wrote: “But the experience of the occupation has produced in large numbers a new type of journalist — very young, idealistic and yet hardened by illegality, and completely non-commercial in outlook — and these men are bound to make their influence felt in the post-war Press.” So they would have probably spoken about the occupation and the liberation, and about the press, about censorship and paper shortages. Had the conversation gone off topic, had they spoken about other than immediate things, it is likely that they would have spoken about Spain. Orwell’s 1938 book Homage to Catalonia, about his experience of the Spanish Civil War, was soon to be published in a French translation. Camus had an abiding affiliation with Spain. His mother was Spanish. He was also currently having a love affair with María Casares — a Spanish actress, the daughter of Santiago Casares y Quiroga, the prime minister of Spain during the military uprising in 1936, which started the civil war. Camus would have been interested to hear about Orwell’s time in Spain, and especially about his being shot through the throat. Orwell would have been interested to hear, via Camus’s close contacts, current news of Spain. Matthew Lamb
George Orwell n’imaginait probablement pas que ce qu’il écrivait finirait par être la réalité de la Chine. Etudiant pékinois (décembre 2010)
I want to yell at that liberatory young woman with her sledgehammer: « Don’t do it! » Apple is not different. That industry is going to give rise to innumerable forms of triviality and misogyny, to the concentration of wealth and the dispersal of mental concentration. To suicidal, underpaid Chinese factory workers whose reality must be like that of the shuffling workers in the commercial. If you think a crowd of people staring at one screen is bad, wait until you have created a world in which billions of people stare at their own screens even while walking, driving, eating in the company of friends—all of them eternally elsewhere. Rebecca Solnit
La barbarie commence dans les discours de haine, elle commence dans l’encouragement au discours qui théorise sur ce fameux grand remplacement qui est en réalité un mythe raciste et xénophobe. Nous sommes de ce fait face à une grande responsabilité. Je ne peux pas ne pas le dire sur ce plateau. Quand des médias salarisent des personnes comme Eric Zemmour, on est complice de ce climat. Benjamin Lucas (Génération.S)
On met tous les flics dans des quartiers des minorités. Oui, c’est vrai. Pourquoi on fait ça? Parce que c’est là où il y a toute la criminalité. Comment on les désarme ? Eh bien, on les jette contre le mur et on les fouille. Michael Bloomberg (2015)
Eh bien, pendant longtemps, les gens ont dit que vous ne pouviez rien y faire, mais les Noirs et les Latinos obtiennent de très mauvais résultats aux tests scolaires par rapport aux Blancs et aux Asiatiques. Si vous regardez nos prisons, ce sont principalement des minorités. Si vous regardez là où se trouve la criminalité, c’est dans les quartiers des minorités. Si vous regardez qui sont les victimes et les criminels, c’est pratiquement tous des minorités. C’est quelque chose qui dure depuis longtemps. Je suppose que c’est répandu ailleurs mais c’est certainement vrai à New York. Et pendant de nombreuses années, les gens ont dit que vous ne pouviez rien y faire. Néanmoins, il y a cette énorme cohorte d’hommes noirs et latinos, disons, de 16 à 25 ans qui n’ont pas d’emploi, de perspectives, ne savent pas comment trouver un emploi, ne savent pas quelles sont leurs compétences, ne savent pas comment se comporter sur le lieu de travail où ils doivent travailler en collaboration et collectivement. Il y aura des emplois, si nous pouvons les obtenir pour ces enfants – ou leurs familles – même si leurs pères ne vivent pas avec leur mère, ou n’ont jamais été mariés, ou même s’ils sont en prison, engager les pères. Beaucoup de statistiques montrent que si le père est impliqué, cela donne à l’enfant une certaine compréhension qu’il se dirige sur le mauvais chemin – et leur assigne des mentors. Beaucoup de ces enfants – ce n’est pas qu’ils soient de mauvais enfants – c’est qu’une fois qu’ils ont fait une erreur, il leur est très difficile de s’en sortir. Mais nous avons une obligation envers eux – sinon pour des raisons de compassion, juste pour des raisons égoïstes. Les trois quarts de tous les enfants de New York qui vont en prison purgent une période et en sortent, retournent immédiatement en prison. Les trois quarts d’entre eux. … Nous devons juste rompre ce cycle. Michael Bloomberg (2011)
Avec le temps, j’ai fini par comprendre quelque chose que j’ai longtemps eu du mal à admettre : j’ai eu tort sur un point important. Notre objectif central était de sauver des vies. Mais les faits sont là : beaucoup trop d’innocents ont été arrêtés et une immense majorité d’entre eux étaient noirs ou latinos. Cela a pu inclure, je suis désolé de le dire, certains d’entre vous qui sont ici aujourd’hui, ou vos enfants, vos petits-enfants, vos voisins, vos proches. Michael Bloomberg
Si votre conversation lors d’une élection présidentielle concerne un gars vêtu d’une robe et s’il peut aller au vestiaire avec leur fille, ce n’est pas une formule gagnante pour la plupart des gens. La plupart des gens se soucient des soins de santé, ils se soucient de l’éducation, de la sécurité et de tout ce genre de choses. Nous nous concentrons sur beaucoup de choses qui ont peu de pertinence pour les gens qui essaient de vivre dans un monde qui change à cause de la technologie et des communications et des choses comme ça, et donc vous pouvez comprendre d’où vient quelqu’un comme le président Trump. Aujourd’hui, pratiquement tous les candidats à la présidence du Parti démocrate ont été si progressistes – je ne sais pas ce que signifie progressiste – mais ils sont dans un endroit où se trouve une partie du public américain et il reste à voir si une majorité de l’électorat l’est. Michael Bloomberg
J’aimerais parler de qui nous combattons. Un milliardaire qui traite les femmes de “grosses vaches” et de “lesbiennes au visage chevalin”. Et non, je ne parle pas de Donald Trump, a repris la sénatrice du Massachusetts. Je parle de Michael Bloomberg. Les démocrates prennent un grand risque si nous remplaçons un milliardaire arrogant par un autre. Elizabeth Warren
Qui peut battre Donald Trump ? Et qui peut faire le travail s’il arrive à la Maison Blanche ? Je dirais que je suis le candidat qui peut faire ces deux choses. Bloomberg
Bloomberg says things that can’t be said in polite company. Maybe voters don’t mind as much as elites do. It’s amusing to learn that Mike Bloomberg, just last year, was filmed speaking with his customary bluntness about transgender individuals: “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people,” he said at a business development forum. You can’t talk that way anymore in the upper levels of the Democratic party, the media, the arts, or even corporate America. If Bloomberg had said this as the CEO of a publicly traded company, instead of as the owner of a private one, intense pressure would have been put on the board to fire him. And this was hardly the first time he said something that was guaranteed to offend. “We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is,” Bloomberg said in 2015 at the Aspen Institute, adding, “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.” Bloomberg hasn’t had to report to anyone for many years, and being as frank as he likes, no matter how rude he sounds, is part of his brand. “A List of Things Bloomberg Actually Said About Fat People, Rape, George W. Bush, and J.Lo” ran one of the more entertaining headlines of this campaign season. My personal favorite is one of many one-liners contained in the now-infamous booklet, The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg. It was published as a sort of party favor back in 1990 by his employees, and no one quite seems to be able to tell if it is a spoof or an actual compendium of Bloomberg remarks. If the former, it sounds a lot like the latter to a lot of people. A highlight is Bloomberg’s summing-up of the British royals: “What a bunch of misfits — a gay, an architect, that horsey-faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.”  (…) Yet Bloomberg’s sharp rise in polling has coincided with a concerted effort by the media to score him for all of these grave offenses against political correctness. We’re about to learn whether anyone outside the elite stratum of the country actually considers these sorts of barbed comments to be disqualifying. True, nobody is allowed to talk like this anymore. But then again, the only other politician who dares to is the current occupant of the White House. Which raises the question: Does a history of extreme political incorrectness actually boost Bloomberg’s chances? (…) American elites hear the way Bloomberg talks and think: Shocking! Disqualifying! Outrageous! Median voters might hear something very different: This guy is a match for Trump! (…) The sort of people who get the vapors at offensive comments are going to vote for the Democrat this fall no matter who it is. Bloomberg’s political incorrectness won’t matter any more than Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War mattered in 2016. Yet the prospect of riding into battle with someone who is as arrogant, aggressive, politically incorrect, and corrosively funny as Trump has to be a tempting proposition to a lot of Democrats. Even if it’s a fellow New York billionaire. Kyle Smith
The French Revolution hit “peak” coerced egalitarianism with the Jacobin takeover and so-called Reign of Terror. After all, when you begin guillotining fellow travelers on charges they are counterrevolutionaries and begin worshiping a new atheist secular power “Reason,” institutionalized as Robespierre’s “Cult of the Supreme Being,” you have mostly reached the limits of political radicalism and are into the territory of the nihilistic, if not the maniacal and absurd—with a rendezvous with Napoleon on the horizon. From 2009 through 2016, Barack Obama recalibrated the Democratic Party’s liberalism into progressive radicalism. He opened the border and all but dismantled existing immigration law. Sanctuary cities sprang up with impunity. Executive orders bypassed the Congress. The Iran Deal ignored the Senate’s treaty-making responsibilities. Obama sought to nationalize healthcare. The concept of “diversity” replaced affirmative action, by redefining racial oppression as distinct from historical grievance and economic disparity and instead lumping together 30 percent of the population as nonwhite, and thus antithetical to the new buzz construct of “white privilege.” Fast and Furious, the surveillance of the Associated Press reporters, Benghazi, the weaponization of the IRS, and the use of CIA, FBI, and DOJ to seed the spurious Steele dossier were all written off as proof of the “most scandal free” administration in memory. But today Obamaism has been figuratively guillotined by the New Jacobins. It is found guilty of crimes of insufficient revolutionary zeal, as well as compromises with the U.S. Constitution and capitalism. Once considered a crank socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is now leads in many Democratic primary polls. Arriving with him at this moment in our politics is peak progressivism. First-term socialists—House representatives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her fellow “squad” members, inspired by Sanders—now set the new Democratic agenda. And it is one that is more radical than anything seen in modern American history and largely unsustainable: calls to level a wealth tax and new top income-tax rates of 70-90 percent, to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, all student debt, an enforceable southern border, the internal combustion engine, and most Second Amendment rights, and to enact multi-trillion dollar new entitlements as outlined in the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college, free healthcare for illegal aliens, and reparations. Identity politics so rules the rhetoric of the new progressive party that all of its—exclusively white—primary finalists vie to be most vocal in the ritual damning of their own country (that has ironically ensured their own influence, power, success and wealth) as inherently “racist.” (…) Peak progressivism calls for the abolition of the constitutionally mandated Electoral College. Radicals now fault past failed schemes to pack the federal and Supreme Court with left-wing justices only because they failed, and thus advance ways to make court-packing work in the present. The bolder among them wants to reconfigure the U.S. Senate into a proportionally representational house or abolish it altogether. All that would be left after that would be the formal abolition of the U.S. Constitution itself. Primary candidates compete with one another to water down voting laws, variously demanding that 16-year-olds, felons, and illegal aliens should be given the franchise. Gay marriage, which Obama opposed in 2008 and later promoted after reelection, is now passé. The new civil rights cause celebre is transgenderism, an ancient syndrome known in the past under a variety of clinical definitions that affects less than half of one percent of the population. Who, after these peak progressive ideas, would be left as ineligible to vote—12-year-olds, those on death row, the rest of the earth’s population? All moderate Democratic presidential candidates long ago dropped out. Those who have not, such as Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, are in virtual reeducation camps, as they promise to progressive rivals and the media to renounce most of their past positions, effusively apologizing for prior incorrect thinking and failure to become sufficiently “woke.” (…) Peak progressivism eventually either recedes, or, to remain viable, entails violence, as in the Russian, Chinese, or Cuban revolutions. The odd thing is not that Sanders supporter James Hodkinson tried to mow down some of the Republican House leadership, or a recent left-wing activist sought to run over Trump supporters with his van, or that Hollywood stars still compete with each other in imagining the most fitting rhetorical torture or killing of the president of the United States—bombing, incineration, beheading, stabbing, shooting, beating—but that progressive voices rarely complain about such extremist rhetoric or actions. Impeachment 1.0 in January 2017 looks tame in comparison to 2.0 in February 2020, which in turn will seem a sell-out compared to 3.0 in 2021. George McGovern ensured a Nixon landslide, Jimmy Carter hastened the Reagan Revolution—and the eventual return of the old Democrats under Bill Clinton. The frightening visions of the new peak progressives will ensure the reelection of Donald Trump, as well as either the likely end of themselves—or else a collective dystopian nightmare. Victor Davis Hanson
The Chinese Communist government increasingly poses an existential threat not just to its own 1.4 billion citizens but to the world at large. China is currently in a dangerously chaotic state. And why not, when a premodern authoritarian society leaps wildly into the brave new world of high-tech science in a single generation? The Chinese technological revolution is overseen by an Orwellian dictatorship. Predictably, the Chinese Communist Party has not developed the social, political, or cultural infrastructure to ensure that its sophisticated industrial and biological research does not go rogue and become destructive to itself and to the billions of people who are on the importing end of Chinese products and protocols. Central Party officials run the government, military, media, and universities collectively in a manner reminiscent of the science-fiction Borg organism of Star Trek, which was a horde of robot-like entities all under the control of a central mind. Thirty years ago, American pundits began gushing over China’s sudden leap from horse-drawn power to solar, wind, and nuclear energy. The Chinese Communist government wowed Westerners. It created from nothing high-speed rail, solar farms, shiny new airports, and gleaming new high-density apartment buildings. Western-trained Chinese scientists soon were conducting sophisticated medical and scientific research. And they often did so rapidly, without the prying regulators, nosy elected officials, and bothersome citizen lawsuits that often burden American and European scientists. To make China instantly rich and modern, the Communist hierarchy — the same government that once caused the deaths of some 60 million innocents under Mao Zedong — ignored property rights. It crushed individual freedom. It embraced secrecy and bulldozed over any who stood in its way. In much the same manner that silly American pundits once praised Benito Mussolini’s fascist efforts to modernize Depression-era Italy, many naifs in the West praised China only because they wished that their own countries could recalibrate so quickly and efficiently — especially in service to green agendas. But the world is learning that China does not just move mountains for new dams or bulldoze ancient neighborhoods that stand in the path of high-speed rail. It also hid the outbreak and the mysterious origins of the deadly coronavirus from its own people and the rest of the planet as well — a more dangerous replay of its earlier effort to mask the spread of the SARS virus. The result was that thousands of unknowing carriers spread the viral plague while the government covered up its epidemic proportions. China, of course, does not wish to have either its products or citizens quarantined from other countries. But the Chinese government will not allow foreign scientists to enter its country to collaborate on containing the coronavirus and developing a vaccine. No wonder Internet conspiracies speculate that the virus was either a rogue product of the Chinese military’s bioengineering weapons lab or originated from bats, snakes, or pangolins and the open-air markets where they are sold as food. It is hard to believe that in 2020, the world’s largest and second-wealthiest country, which boasts of high-tech consumer products and gleaming cities, has imprisoned in “re-education camps” more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in the manner that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao once relocated “undesirable” populations. China seems confident that it will soon rule the world, given its huge population, massive trade surpluses, vast cash reserves, and industries that produce so many of the world’s electronic devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods. For a year, the Chinese government has battled massive street demonstrations for democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing cynically assumes that Western nations don’t care. They are expected to drop their characteristic human-rights advocacy because of how profitable their investments inside China have proven. Beijing was right. Few Western companies complain that Chinese society is surveilled, regulated, and controlled in a nightmarish fashion that George Orwell once predicted in his dystopian novel, 1984. All of these recent scandals should remind the world that China got rich by warping trade and stealing technology in much the same way that it deals with epidemics and dissidents. That is, by simply ignoring legitimate criticism and crushing anyone in its way. If the Chinese Communist Borg is willing to put millions of its own citizens at risk of infection and death, why would it care about foreigners’ complaints that China is getting rich and powerful by breaking international trade rules? The truth about President Trump’s decision to call China to account over its systematic abuse of international trade norms is not that Trump’s policy is reckless or ill-considered. It’s that at this late date, the reckoning might prove too little, too late. Victor Davis Hanson
Une enquête de Bloomberg révèle qu’Amazon emploie des milliers de salariés dans le monde pour écouter les conversations des utilisateurs avec Alexa, l’assistant vocal qui alimente les enceintes Echo du géant et plus de 100 millions d’objets connectés dans le monde. Ces employés travaillent neuf heures par jour dans des bureaux à Boston, au Costa Rica, en Inde ou encore en Roumanie. Il analyse jusqu’à 1000 clips audio par jour pour transcrire et annoter leur contenu. Le but est d’améliorer l’outil de reconnaissance vocale en éliminant les lacunes dans la compréhension de la parole humaine par Alexa et en l’aidant à mieux répondre aux demandes des utilisateurs. Un employé explique ainsi à Bloomberg avoir aidé Alexa à mieux comprendre le nom «Taylor Swift» en lui indiquant que l’utilisateur parlait d’une artiste musicale. Parmi le type de clips auxquels les salariés accèdent, des requêtes mais aussi des sons enregistrés comme une femme qui chante mal sous la douche. Problème: ces fichiers peuvent être partagés sur une messagerie interne pour aider un collègue à mieux interpréter une phrase ou pour se moquer d’un enregistrement amusant. D’autres extraits sont parfois plus problématiques. Deux personnes qui travaillaient pour Amazon ont ainsi raconté avoir entendu ce qui ressemblait à une agression sexuelle. Après l’avoir mentionné à leur hiérarchie, ils ont été informés qu’Amazon ne souhaitait pas réagir à la situation.  (…) Amazon mentionne dans ses conditions d’utilisation que les conversations des utilisateurs avec Alexa sont enregistrées pour améliorer son assistant virtuel. Cependant, le géant n’y précise explicitement pas que ces conversations peuvent être écoutées par des humains. Et si l’utilisateur peut limiter via les paramètres de confidentialité d’Alexa l’utilisation qui est faite de ces enregistrements, il ne peut jamais empêcher cette transmission. (…) Amazon n’est pas la seule entreprise à faire écouter une partie de ces conversations à des humains pour améliorer son outil de reconnaissance vocale. C’est aussi le cas chez Google et Apple avec leurs propres assistants vocaux Google Assistant et Siri. Pour Siri d’Apple, les enregistrements passés en revue ne contiennent pas d’informations personnelles. Durant les six mois où ils sont stockés, ils sont liés à un identifiant aléatoire selon un livre blanc sur la sécurité d’Apple. Après ces six mois, les données sont dépourvues de leur identifiant aléatoire, mais elles peuvent être stockées plus longtemps pour améliorer la reconnaissance vocale de Siri. Chez Google, certains réviseurs peuvent accéder à des extraits audio de Google Assistant, mais ces derniers ne sont associés à aucune information personnelle et le son est déformé, selon l’entreprise. Dans la nuit du 2 au 3 août, Amazon a mis à jour son application Alexa pour expliquer plus clairement la manière dont les enregistrements sont utilisés. Ainsi, on peut dorénavant lire que «les fichiers audios peuvent être […] manuellement révisés pour aider à améliorer les services [d’Amazon]». Alors qu’avant, la firme indiquait seulement que les enregistrements pouvaient «être utilisés pour développer de nouvelles fonctionnalités». Via l’application, il est aussi possible de désactiver l’envoi et l’écoute des fichiers audios avec Alexa. L’annonce d’Amazon fait suite à la procédure administrative ouverte par l’autorité de protection des données de Hambourg à l’encontre de Google. Depuis le 1er août et pendant trois mois, la firme n’est plus autorisée à laisser ses employés ou sous-traitants écouter les conversations enregistrées par son assistant intelligent. L’interdiction s’étend à toute l’Union Européenne. Apple a également emboîté le pas à Google et Amazon. La firme a annoncé au média TechCrunch qu’elle suspendait la manière dont les enregistrements sont utilisés pour améliorer son assistant vocal, «le temps de le réexaminer en profondeur». Cette décision s’applique au monde entier. Figaro
Au moment où j’écris, des êtres humains hautement civilisés veulent au-dessus de moi et essaient de me tuer. George Orwell
En 1930, il n’y avait aucune activité, sauf peut-être la recherche scientifique, les arts et l’engagement politique de gauche à laquelle puisse croire un individu conscient. La civilisation occidentale était au plus bas de son prestige et le “désenchantement” était partout. Qui pouvait encore envisager de réussir sa vie dans les carrières traditionnelles de la classe moyenne – en devenant officier, clergyman, agent de change, fonctionnaire aux Indes ou que sais-je encore ? Et que restait-il des valeurs de nos grands-parents ? Le patriotisme, la religion, l’Empire, la famille, le caractère sacré du mariage, la cravate aux couleurs du collège, la naissance, l’éducation, la discipline – tout individu moyennement éduqué pouvait en trois minutes vous démontrer l’inanité de tout cela. Mais qu’obtient-on, en fin de compte, en se débarrassant de choses aussi élémentaires que le patriotisme ou la religion ? On n’est pas pour autant débarrassé du besoin de croire à quelque chose. […] Je ne crois pas qu’il faille aller chercher plus loin les raisons pour lesquelles les jeunes écrivains des années 1930 se sont rassemblés sous le houlette du parti communiste. Il y avait là une Église, une armée, une orthodoxie, une discipline. Il y avait là une Patrie et – en tout cas depuis 1935 ou à peu près – un Führer. Tous les attachements profonds et toutes les superstitions dont l’esprit avait apparemment fait litière pouvaient revenir en force sous le plus mince des déguisements. Le patriotisme, l’Empire, la religion, la gloire militaire – tout cela était contenu dans un seul mot : “Russie”. […] Dans ces conditions, le “communisme de l’intellectuel anglais apparaît comme un phénomène assez aisément explicable : c’est le patriotisme des déracinés. » George Orwell
L’auteur de 1984, l’un des romans politiques les plus sombres du XXème siècle, était un grand optimiste, amoureux de son pays, à l’aise dans son époque, même si, dans ses fantasmes, il aurait préféré vivre au XVIIIème siècle en « joyeux pasteur ». Il conçut son existence comme une œuvre, et son œuvre, d’abord comme la quête d’une écriture (…) Son inclinaison profonde en tant que personnage public ne fut pas la politique mais la morale. Lorsqu’on étudie l’un des aspects de sa pensée, il faut constamment avoir à l’esprit ces paramètres. Nous sommes en présence d’un homme heureux, d’un écrivain poursuivant, à sa manière, un objectif de modernité, d’un citoyen qui attribuait au peuple anglais des vertus cardinales : gentillesse, loyauté, amour de la tradition, decency (décence, politesse, bonne mœurs), et ce don, pour lui apanage de ses compatriotes, de ne pas se laisser impressionner par les grands hommes, comme Napoléon, Churchill ou Staline. Raymond Williams a dit d’Orwell qu’il était un auteur bien anglais, éminemment insulaire et cocardier (Orwell, Londres, 1971). On verra que son attitude vis-à-vis de sa patrie a évolué au gré des circonstances personnelles et historiques. Ce qui ne changera jamais, c’est la prééminence du ressenti, de l’esthétique et de la morale, alliée à une conscience aiguë de la rhétorique, elle-même vécue comme une modalité politique du discours et de l’écriture. Ainsi, à l’automne 1940, au début de la guerre, les alliances se nouent et se dénouent. Orwell se demande si le conflit sera purement impérialiste et s’il faudra faire front commun avec la bourgeoisie. Tout en se posant ces questions d’importance, il ne peut s’empêcher d’écouter ses voix et de moraliser : « La nuit qui a précédé le Pacte germano-soviétique, j’ai rêvé que la guerre avait commencé. Ce rêve m’a appris que j’étais de tout cœur patriote, que je soutiendrais la guerre et que je combattrais si possible. Tout cela est enfantin, bien sûr, mais je préfère avoir reçu ce type d’éducation que de ressembler aux intellectuels de gauche qui sont tellement ‘ éclairés ’ qu’ils ne peuvent comprendre les émotions les plus ordinaires. » L’enfance d’Orwell fut marquée, pour ce qui nous concerne ici, par la catastrophe du Titanic. Dans un texte de résistance consensuel, très “ union nationale ” de 1940 (“My Country Right and Left ”, “ Mon pays, “ de droite et de gauche ” ou “ qu’il ait raison ou tort ”), Orwell évoque ce traumatisme. Il laisse entendre que l’attachement à une nation découle plus d’un ressenti charnel à des événements isolés mais marquants qu’à de grandes causes ou à une Histoire qui se fait mais qui n’est pas toujours lisible. En primaire, Orwell eut beau détester la discipline sadique des écoles primaires privées, les preparatory schools, il n’en admit pas moins, par la suite, que les grandes victoires anglaises (au diable les régiments écossais ou gallois !) furent préparées sur les terrains de cricket des écoles privées, la guerre n’étant qu’une forme suprême du sport où il est impossible de tricher (Orwell fut cependant l’un des premiers à dénoncer la concomitance entre sport et nationalisme dans un article visionnaire de 1945, “ The Sporting Spirit ”). Á Eton, il reçut sa part d’enseignement, de culture militariste. Il sut prendre du recul par rapport à cette vision du monde, ce qui ne l’empêcha pas de s’enrôler au sortir de l’enseignement secondaire, alors que rien ni personne ne l’y contraignait, dans la police impériale en Birmanie. Or c’est bel et bien durant sa plus tendre enfance que le futur écrivain avait été imprégné d’idéologie belliciste, d’une philosophie portant au plus haut niveau les valeurs de défense sacrée de la patrie, avec comme corollaire une dépréciation de l’ennemi. Orwell va se forger une conscience politique dans les années trente, non sans hésitations et revirements. Contre sa classe d’origine, la bourgeoisie impérialiste, et contre lui-même, en tirant parti de la névrose de culpabilité qui le taraude depuis l’enfance. Pour ce faire, il lui faudra passer par la France et l’immersion dans des franges défavorisées de la classe ouvrière, le Kent des travailleurs agricoles exploités et le Londres des clochards (voir son premier ouvrage, une biofiction : Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933. En français, Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres). C’est qu’Orwell est de ces écrivains qui sont allés au-delà de leur monde et qui, de retour, ont adopté le regard du Persan : « Quand vous rentrez en Angleterre après un voyage à l’étranger, vous avez immédiatement la sensation de respirer un air différent […]. La bière est plus amère, les pièces de monnaie sont plus lourdes, l’herbe est plus verte, les publicités sont plus criardes. […] Alors l’immensité de l’Angleterre vous engloutit et vous perdez pour un instant de vue que la nation dans son ensemble possède un seul caractère identifiable. » Toute la complexité du patriotisme d’Orwell tient dans ces phrases. Il est capable d’observer son univers familier de l’extérieur, mais il est aussi terriblement anglo-centré. Cela dit, par delà des évidences assénées de manière aussi désarmante, il faut retenir qu’avant de s’émerveiller devant les « visages doux et noueux » de ses compatriotes, leurs « mauvaises dents » et leurs « bonnes manières », le « clic-clac des sabots dans les villes du Lancashire », Orwell avait su observer l’Angleterre à partir de la connaissance qu’il avait de son empire : c’est parce qu’il avait vécu au contact des masses exploitées d’Extrême-Orient qu’il pourrait sympathiser avec le lumpen-proletariat anglais puis avec la classe ouvrière proprement dite, « les victimes symboliques de l’injustice qui jouaient le même rôle en Angleterre que les Birmans en Birmanie » (1936). Après la découverte de la condition prolétarienne dans son pays, Orwell part se battre en Espagne, tout simplement parce qu’il faut se dresser contre le fascisme pour laisser une chance au socialisme. (…) Traumatisé par la défaite des Républicains, par la trahison des staliniens, Orwell va alors traverser une phase de doutes personnels durant laquelle les sentiments pacifistes et internationalistes vont prendre le dessus. D’avoir versé son sang, d’avoir été ainsi “ baptisé ”, autorise un Orwell dégoûté par la guerre à envisager, de 1937 à 1939, un certain cynisme dans la démission face à la menace hitlérienne.  (…) Ainsi, après les années 1936-37 où, choqué par la brutalité de la classe dirigeante, par l’irréalisme des élites de la gauche libérale, il a adopté des comportements extrêmes (vivre dans la crasse chez des logeurs exploiteurs du Lancashire, descendre au fond de la mine, partager le lot des combattants de base en Catalogne), il pressent, vers 1938-1939, que le conflit qui s’annonce sera terrible et il recherche des valeurs modérées. Dans les très nombreuses pages qu’il consacre à l’Angleterre et à son peuple, il offre des images et des concepts de paix (dans son roman de 1938 Coming Up for Air – en français Un peu d’air frais, il fait dire à son narrateur : «Pêcher, c’est le contraire de faire la guerre »), de raison, de stabilité, de juste milieu. Mais pas de médiocrité. Orwell n’aimait pas les comportements petits. Il raille Napoléon se rendant aux Anglais par peur des Prussiens, Ludendorff se cachant derrière des lunettes de soleil ou encore cet empereur romain qui s’était barricadé dans des toilettes (Orwell mourut des années avant que le roi du Maroc Hassan II fasse de même). L’idéal d’Orwell à l’époque, c’est un Sancho Pança qui n’aurait pas peur des bombes mais qui ne se planterait pas poitrail nu face à la mitraille : « Une part de nous veut être un héro ou un saint, mais l’autre moitié c’est ce petit homme gras qui voit très clairement l’avantage qu’il y a à rester en vie. C’est notre moi privé, la voix de notre ventre qui proteste contre notre âme. » Aux sentiments anti-guerre qui transparaissaient çà et là dans le discours de Homage to Catalonia succède un comportement franchement pacifiste, en particulier durant l’hiver 1938-39, époque où, souffrant gravement des poumons, il réside pour quelques mois à Marrakech. Il pose qu’être pacifiste ce n’est pas forcément vouloir bloquer les réformes sociales. Il s’est forgé un socialisme dont le marxisme n’est pas totalement exclu (dans The Road to Wigan Pier, en particulier. En français, Le Quai de Wigan). Mais progressivement, et cela le mènera jusqu’à la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, il rejette ce qui, au niveau socio-politique, n’est pas, à ses yeux, anglais : le stalinisme, l’internationalisme prolétarien, le fascisme évidemment, mais aussi l’Église Catholique Romaine et tout ce qui s’apparente aux intellectuels de gauche européens. Il moque avec férocité l’îlot de pensée dissidente de ceux qui « vont chercher leurs recettes de cuisine à Paris et leurs idées à Moscou. »  Face aux dangers – Hitler, la guerre, le capitalisme sauvage, l’industrialisation débridée – Orwell va donc partir dans une quête de l’anglicisé  Sa patrie ne trouvera le salut que dans la réaffirmation de ses valeurs fondamentales. Une transformation de la société anglaise – qu’il appelle de ses vœux – ne se fera que dans le respect des traditions. De 1937 à 1940, le projet d’Orwell est d’établir une continuité entre l’Angleterre du présent et celle du passé. Bernard Gensane
L’essence, la force du patriotisme d’Orwell lui permirent durant deux décennies de tous les dangers de retrouver des valeurs stables, une morale en politique, et d’alimenter son instinct de conservation à la source de son amour pour son pays. Ce patriotisme n’était pas aveugle. L’honnêteté intellectuelle d’Orwell (certes relative), son pessimisme lucide, son humour froid au second degré le faisaient souvent passer pour un prophète de malheur. Ce n’est pas parce qu’il était fondamentalement patriote qu’il aimait et défendait l’Angleterre, mais c’est parce que l’amour de son pays était quintessencié qu’il était patriote. Parce qu’il souhaitait, vers 1940, un consensus politique national et que ce que l’Europe proposait (des régimes forts ou des démocraties en déliquescence) ne lui convenait pas, il soutiendrait son pays de droite comme de gauche (« My country Right and Left »), l’Angleterre de Chamberlain pouvant évoluer à court terme vers un changement radical de société. Orwell établissait par ailleurs une nette distinction entre patriotisme et nationalisme. Être patriote revenait à aimer un endroit, un mode de vie que l’on considérait comme les meilleurs au monde, mais sans pour autant vouloir les imposer aux autres. Pour Orwell, le patriotisme était par nature défensif, militairement et culturellement parlant. Il impliquait par ailleurs une adhésion volontaire à un espace, à une communauté et à des valeurs. Inversement, il concevait le nationalisme comme l’idéologie belliqueuse d’individus en quête de prestige, non pour eux-mêmes mais pour des ensembles dans lesquels ils choisissent d’enfouir leur propre personnalité. Un communiste ne pouvait donc pas, selon lui, être patriote, mais seulement nationaliste, puisqu’il était capable, en l’espace de quelques jours, de transférer ses allégeances selon les nécessités de l’actualité, son rapport à sa terre, à sa patrie étant extrêmement ténu. Il avait établi une typologie de différentes formes de nationalismes : la forme “ positive ”, incarnée par le nationalisme celtique, le sionisme, et ceux qui n’admettaient pas le recul de l’influence anglaise dans le monde ; un nationalisme de “ transfert ” (il faisait se côtoyer le communisme, le pacifisme, le catholicisme militant, la conscience de classe)  (…) La pensée d’Orwell, dans la dernière partie de sa vie, préfigure l’idéologie travailliste des années cinquante, celle qui a rompu, dans les faits, avec le marxisme. Pour Orwell qui, de 1945 à sa mort en 1950, est un sympathisant du Labour, le socialisme se résume à davantage d’égalité et le remplacement des élites obsolètes par ce qu’on n’appelle pas encore la méritocratie. (…) De plus sa pensée, surtout quand elle est novatrice, est constamment bridée par des interférences personnelles. Qu’il écrive des pages anti-impérialistes, socialistes, révolutionnaires ou réformistes, l’image de l’homme vaincu, isolé pour qui un changement profond de société impulsé par le “ peuple ” est une chimère, domine. On peut supposer que le pessimisme d’Orwell a été alimenté par l’échec de soulèvements populaires, comme ceux de Kronstadt ou de Varsovie, sans parler de la prise de Barcelone par les Franquistes. Les patriotes sont ceux qui, pour nous résumer, sont prêts à prendre les armes pour mener une guerre populaire. Les ennemis de la patrie sont les pro-fascistes. L’idée d’une victoire d’Hitler plait aux très riches, aux communistes, aux Chemises noires d’Oswald Mosley (parti fasciste qui, étrangement, fut le premier parti anglais à adopter un programme économique keynésien !), aux pacifistes et à certaines factions catholiques. Et puis, si les choses tournaient mal sur le front intérieur, la totalité des plus pauvres des ouvriers pourrait adopter une position défaitiste mais pas pro-hitlérienne dans les faits. Il restait donc les trois-quarts de la classe ouvrière et la petite bourgeoisie moins les intellectuels de gauche car ces derniers s’étaient, rappelons-le, déconsidérés depuis une dizaine d’années au moins. Le combat étant national et même nationaliste, il faudrait se méfier de cette « intelligentsia européanisée ». De 1945 à 1950, le mot “ patriotisme ” n’apparaît jamais plus sous la plume d’Orwell. Visionnaire comme Churchill – dont il partage certaines conceptions en matière de géopolitique, Orwell a compris que la division du monde est un état de fait durable. Contre ceux qui envisagent une fusion pure et simple des États-Unis et de la Grande Bretagne, contre une petite minorité d’Anglais qui rêve d’une intégration au système soviétique, il envisage des « États-Unis socialistes d’Europe». L’essayiste qui, en 1947, publie dans la revue d’extrême-gauche étasunienne Partisan Review l’article “ Toward European Unity ” rédige les premières moutures d’un univers fictionnel d’où sont absentes les valeurs de la civilisation occidentale, le patriotisme y compris. Bernard Gensane
Qu’est-ce qu’Orwell-Bouwling perçoit d’insupportable et même de terrifiant chez le professionnel de l’antifascisme ? Le fonctionnement mécanique de son langage. Son discours et ses mots ont perdu tout contact avec le monde ordinaire. Ils ont même vampirisé son esprit et s’y sont installés à demeure en se substituant à son expérience. Dès lors, leur contenu importe moins que le pouvoir qu’ils lui donnent sur ceux à qui il s’adresse. Ses mots sont devenus les instruments d’une violence qu’il exerce à l’égard des autres. Mais elle opère aussi sur lui-même puisqu’il n’éprouve plus qu’une seule émotion : la haine. Bien qu’il se réclame de la démocratie, le propagandiste antifasciste a déjà quelque chose de l’intellectuel totalitaire. L’opposé du l’homme ordinaire en effet est l’homme totalitaire, c’est-à-dire l’individu qui est dépossédé de sa capacité d’exercer son jugement de manière indépendante, et du même coup de sa capacité d’éprouver tout l’éventail des sentiments ordinaires. C’est ce qu’annonce au héros de 1984 l’intellectuel dirigeant qui le torture : « Jamais plus tu ne seras capable d’un sentiment humain ordinaire (ordinary human feeling). Tout sera mort en toi. Tu ne seras plus jamais capable d’amour, d’amitié, de joie de vivre, de rire, de curiosité, de courage ou d’intégrité. Tu seras creux. Nous allons te presser jusqu’à ce que tu sois vide, puis nous te remplirons de nous-mêmes.» Il importe de bien comprendre ici que l’adjectif « totalitaire » ne s’applique pas seulement pour Orwell à des régimes et à des mouvements politiques mais à des idées et mécanismes intellectuels qui sont partout à l’œuvre dans le monde moderne. Comme l’explique bien James Conant, « tel qu’[Orwell] l’emploie, le terme “totalitarisme” désigne des stratégies (à la fois pratiques et intellectuelles) qui […] sont appelées ainsi parce qu’elles ont pour but de parvenir à un contrôle total de la pensée, de l’action et des sentiments humains». On observera que cet usage du terme « totalitaire » est conforme à celui de son inventeur probable, le libéral antifasciste italien Giovanni Amendola, qui écrivait en avril 1923 : « Le fascisme ne vise pas tant à gouverner l’Italie qu’à monopoliser le contrôle des consciences italiennes. Il ne lui suffit pas de posséder le pouvoir : il veut posséder la conscience privée de tous les citoyens, il veut la “conversion” des Italiens.» L’usage orwellien du terme « totalitaire », poursuit Conant, « ne recouvre pas seulement des formes de régimes politiques mais aussi des types de pratiques et d’institutions plus envahissantes et plus spécifiques (diverses pratiques journalistiques comptent parmi ses exemples favoris). Mais par-dessus tout, Orwell applique ce terme aux idées des intellectuels – et pas seulement à celles qui ont cours dans […] les “pays totalitaires” mais à des idées qui circulent dans tout le monde industriel moderne». La réponse d’Orwell est claire : les idées qui sont capables de briser notre relation au monde ordinaire. Ce qui rend une idée totalitaire, ce n’est pas son contenu particulier (rien n’est plus opposé quant à leurs contenus respectifs que les idées fascistes et les idées communistes) mais son fonctionnement, ou, plus exactement, sa capacité à fonctionner comme une arme pour détruire l’homme ordinaire. Aucun régime ou mouvement totalitaire n’a jamais proclamé que deux et deux font cinq. Ce serait une croyance aussi absurde que peu efficace. Mais si Orwell en fait le paradigme de l’idée totalitaire, c’est que l’absurdité même de son contenu fait mieux ressortir sa fonction première : priver les individus de tout usage de leur propre entendement (pour parler comme Kant) ou de tout usage de leurs propres concepts (pour parler comme Wittgenstein et Cavell). Si « deux et deux font quatre » n’est pas vrai, ou s’il n’est pas vrai que les pierres sont dures, alors je ne sais plus ce que veut dire le mot « vrai », et je ne peux plus l’utiliser. Il convient de remarquer ici que, pour Orwell, la possibilité d’implanter des dogmes totalitaires irrationnels dans un esprit dépend de la perméabilité de celui-ci aux arguments du scepticisme philosophique. Il y a ainsi dans 1984 un moment sceptique où Winston se dit à lui-même : « Le Parti finirait par annoncer que deux et deux font cinq et il faudrait le croire. Il était inéluctable que, tôt ou tard, il fasse cette déclaration. La logique de sa position l’exigeait. Ce n’était pas seulement la validité de l’expérience mais l’existence même d’une réalité extérieure qui était tacitement niée par sa philosophie. L’hérésie des hérésies était le sens commun. Et ce qui était terrifiant, ce n’était pas qu’ils vous tuent si vous pensiez autrement, mais que peut-être ils avaient raison. Car, après tout, comment pouvons-nous savoir que deux et deux font quatre ? Ou qu’il y a une force de gravitation ? Ou que le passé est immuable ? Si le passé et le monde extérieur n’existent que dans l’esprit et si l’esprit lui-même peut être contrôlé – alors quoi ? » De manière remarquable, Winston ne va échapper à cette menace sceptique, qui le rend vulnérable aux arguments des intellectuels du Parti, que par un raffermissement soudain de sa confiance en lui-même. « Mais non ! Son courage lui sembla soudain suffisant pour s’affermir de lui-même (to stiffen of its own accord).» Cette confiance en lui ne le quittera plus, jusqu’au moment où la torture en brisant son corps laissera son esprit définitivement sans défense face à la dialectique destructrice d’O’Brien. Comme l’a clairement vu le philosophe américain Stanley Cavell, la résistance au scepticisme (et donc au dogmatisme) n’est pas affaire de connaissance théorique ou d’argument philosophique mais de reconnaissance ou d’acceptation du monde ordinaire. « Ce que laisse entendre le scepticisme, c’est que, comme nous n’avons aucun moyen de nous assurer que le monde existe, sa présence à nous-même ne relève pas du connaître. Le monde doit être accepté.» Ce qu’Orwell décrit comme la passivité de l’homme ordinaire n’est ainsi rien d’autre que son acceptation du monde ordinaire. À l’inverse, les intellectuels ont une forte tendance à ne pas se reconnaître comme des hommes ordinaires, c’est-à-dire à ne pas reconnaître la part écrasante de l’ordinaire dans leurs existences. Dans sa recension, en 1936, de Printemps noir d’Henry Miller, Orwell se demande pourquoi « la fiction anglaise de haut niveau est écrite la plupart du temps par des lettrés sur des lettrés pour des lettrés. […] Dickens a su exprimer sous une forme comique, schématique et par là même mémorable, l’honnêteté native de l’homme ordinaire (the native decency of the common man). Et il est important que, sous ce rapport, des gens de toutes sortes puissent être décrits comme “ordinaires” (“common”). Dans un pays tel que l’Angleterre, il existe, par-delà la division des classes, une certaine unité de culture. Tout au long de l’ère chrétienne, et plus nettement encore après la Révolution française, le monde occidental a été hanté par les idées de liberté et d’égalité. Ce ne sont que des idées, mais elles ont pénétré toutes les couches de la société. On voit partout subsister les plus atroces injustices, cruautés, mensonges, snobismes, mais il est peu de gens qui puissent contempler tout cela aussi froidement qu’un propriétaire d’esclaves romains, par exemple». Cet éloge de la common decency, de l’honnêteté commune, appelle quelques remarques. Bien qu’Orwell la dise « native », au sens où elle ne découle pas d’un code moral explicite ni de prescriptions enseignées comme telles, l’honnêteté commune est un héritage historique. Elle était inconnue du propriétaire d’esclaves romain et Orwell l’associe au christianisme et à la Révolution française. Mais si elle est apparue dans l’histoire, elle peut également en disparaître. Le totalitarisme n’est rien d’autre que la tendance à la liquidation de l’honnêteté commune – tendance méthodiquement et systématiquement mise en œuvre par certains courants et régimes politiques, mais tendance inscrite comme une possibilité dans la structure même des sociétés contemporaines. La common decency a pénétré toutes les classes de la société. Elle n’a pas aboli celles-ci, bien évidemment, pas plus qu’elle n’a aboli la lutte des classes. Mais elle constitue un ensemble de dispositions et d’exigences à partir desquelles des hommes appartenant à des classes différentes, voire antagonistes, peuvent, pourvu qu’ils le veuillent vraiment, partager quelque chose de leurs existences. On peut aller plus loin : c’est cette honnêteté commune qui est au principe du projet socialiste d’abolition de la domination de classe et des différences de classe. Orwell ne dit pas comme Engels : faisons d’abord la révolution ; alors, dans les nouvelles conditions économiques et sociales émergera une humanité nouvelle et par conséquent une morale nouvelle que nous sommes incapables aujourd’hui d’anticiper. Orwell dit plutôt : nous savons tous parfaitement ce qu’est l’honnêteté commune ; faisons la révolution pour abolir les barrières de classe qui l’offensent en permanence et qui empêchent qu’elle soit la base effective de la vie sociale. Aucune révolution démocratique ne saurait nous dispenser de l’honnêteté commune. Celle-ci est même la condition sans laquelle la révolution ne saurait être démocratique et aboutira au remplacement d’une classe dirigeante par une autre. « Ce qui me fait peur avec l’intelligentsia moderne, c’est son incapacité à se rendre compte que la société humaine doit avoir pour base l’honnêteté commune (common decency), quelles que puissent être ses formes politiques et économiques. » En effet, l’intelligentsia moderne s’est coupée de ce socle à la fois historique et humain qu’est l’honnêteté commune. Fascinée par la politique de la force, elle est devenue antidémocratique en politique et « réaliste », c’est-à-dire cynique, en morale. Orwell appelle « réalisme » « la doctrine qui veut que la force prime le droit », et il voit dans « la montée du “réalisme” […] le grand événement de l’histoire intellectuelle de notre époque ». (…) On peut juger cette explication un peu courte. Elle a toutefois l’immense mérite de soulever une question importante et difficile : si le monde ordinaire est le monde de mon expérience, il ne peut pas être un monde abstrait où hommes, choses, lieux et coutumes sont interchangeables ; c’est nécessairement un monde concret et particulier : un pays ou une région, une langue, une culture, des institutions, une histoire, etc. Si dans Le Lion et la licorne, un petit livre qu’il publie en 1941 et qui porte comme sous-titre Socialisme et génie anglais, Orwell exalte le mode de vie anglais (de la « bonne tasse de thé »jusqu’aux emblèmes de la royauté) et s’il y conjugue socialisme et patriotisme (qu’il distingue très fermement du nationalisme), ce n’est pas pour concilier artificiellement ses convictions politiques profondes avec l’urgence immédiate de la défense de l’Angleterre. Il l’a proclamé à plusieurs reprises, non sans un brin de provocation : « Aucun révolutionnaire authentique n’a jamais été un internationaliste.» En tout cas, il ne s’est jamais reconnu dans l’internationalisme abstrait du communisme qu’il n’a cessé de dénoncer comme un instrument à peine masqué de la politique de puissance soviétique. Et quand, en décembre 1936, il part combattre en Espagne, il ne le fait pas en activiste de la révolution mondiale mais comme un Anglais socialiste, solidaire des Espagnols antifascistes ; et c’est dans cet esprit qu’il écrira Hommage à la Catalogne. Le patriotisme assumé d’Orwell n’est sûrement pas sans rapport avec l’imperméabilité de la classe populaire anglaise au fascisme comme au stalinisme, aussi avec l’imperméabilité de la classe dirigeante anglaise au fascisme. Dans sa « Lettre de Londres » à la Partisan Review de juillet-août 1941, il écrit : « Ce type de climat où vous n’osez pas parler politique de peur que la Gestapo ne surprenne vos paroles, ce climat est tout bonnement impensable en Angleterre. Toute tentative de l’instaurer sera brisée dans l’œuf, non pas tant par une résistance consciente que par l’incapacité des gens ordinaires (ordinary people) à comprendre ce qu’on attendrait d’eux. Une fois encore, Orwell table moins sur la lucidité de George Bowling que sur sa passivité. Quant à la classe dirigeante, dont il craignait avant guerre qu’elle ne profite du déclenchement des hostilités pour faire basculer le pays dans un anglo-fascisme comparable à l’austro-fascisme d’un Dollfuss, il doit reconnaître qu’elle reste fondamentalement attachée au libéralisme. « La classe dirigeante britannique croit à la démocratie et à la liberté individuelle en un sens étroit et quelque peu hypocrite. Mais du moins, elle croit à la lettre de la loi et s’y tiendra parfois même quand elle n’est pas à son avantage. Rien n’indique qu’elle évolue vers une mentalité véritablement fasciste. La Grande-Bretagne peut être fascisée de l’extérieur ou au terme d’une révolution intérieure, mais la vieille classe dirigeante ne peut, à mon sens, être elle-même l’agent d’un totalitarisme véritable.» Les seuls, encore une fois, qui en Angleterre aient été gagné au totalitarisme sont des intellectuels. Dans l’après-guerre, Orwell verra en eux quelque chose comme un parti de l’étranger. Comme on le voit, le modèle de l’intellectuel ordinaire – de l’intellectuel qui se reconnaît comme un homme ordinaire – se distingue très clairement de celui de l’intellectuel engagé. Celui-ci se vit d’abord comme séparé, puis va rejoindre le combat des autres hommes au nom des valeurs intellectuelles et universelles qui sont les siennes : il court ainsi le risque permanent de se poser comme une autorité dictant aux autres ce qu’ils doivent faire ou assignant à leurs actes un sens qu’il prétend mieux connaître qu’eux-mêmes. L’intellectuel ordinaire, lui, vit les événements et y réagit en homme ordinaire qu’il est et qu’il reconnaît être. Orwell a vécu l’approche de la guerre et la montée des totalitarismes avec les mêmes sentiments et les mêmes réactions que son vendeur d’assurances George Bowling. Certes, parce qu’il était un intellectuel, et plus particulièrement un écrivain, il avait la capacité de mettre ses réactions en mots et en idées. Mais il ne prétendait pas pour autant être un porte-parole. On peut se demander si ce modèle ne constitue pas pour un intellectuel la seule manière d’essayer d’être et de rester un démocrate. Jean-Jacques Rosat

C’est la décence commune, imbécile !

En ces temps de politiquement correct et de novlangue généralisés …

Comme de mensonge entériné par la loi même, entre « mariage pour tous », « enfants pour tous » et sportives transgenres qui gagnent toutes les courses, sur l’origine de la vie ….

Où les débats politiques se transforment en procès staliniens …

Sommant leurs victimes publiquement de faire leur propre autocritique …

Et où face à un camp démocrate

Complètement déconnecté de la réalité …

L’ancien maire de New York et multimilliardaire Michael Bloomberg …

Se voit contraint de renier son franc-parler proprement trumpien …

Jusqu’à s’excuser d’avoir réduit de moitié le nombre de meurtres de sa ville …

Et où avec la technologie occidentale et les conséquences internationales que l’on sait, la Chine ressemble de plus en plus à 1984

Alors que par la voie plus « douce » de la servitude volontaire, l’Occident que nous sommes se livre de plus en plus allègrement au Big brother des GAFAM …

Pendant qu’en Europe, les mêmes dirigeants qui ont imposé à leur population des millions de clandestins musulmans …

Dont nombre d’auteurs d’actes dits « de déséquilibrés » …

N’hésitent pas à dénoncer comme « poison raciste »

Les réactions de rejet qu’ils ont eux-mêmes provoquées …

Comment ne pas repenser …

Contre la réduction au populisme et au fascisme …

De toute parole libre ou d’amour de son pays …

Aux avertissements désormais prophétiques d’un George Orwell …

Dont on fêtait le 70e anniversaire de la mort il y a tout juste un mois…

Contre cette singulière propension, béatification de Gandhi comprise, à l’aveuglement de nos intellectuels …

Qui « vont chercher leurs recettes de cuisine à Paris et leurs idées à Moscou » …

Et ne pas se remémorer …

A l’instar de son contemporain français Camus qu’il faillit d’ailleurs rencontrer

Sa dévotion à la vérité et à sa défense de « l’homme ordinaire » …

Autrement dit à sa fameuse « décence commune » …

Sans laquelle « le reste ne peut suivre » ?

 

Quand les intellectuels s’emparent du fouet

Orwell & la défense de l’homme ordinaire

Jean-Jacques Rosat

p. 89-109

revue Agone

Numéro 34 | 2005

Notes de la rédaction

Ce texte a pour origine une communication présentée au colloque « Le politique et l’ordinaire » organisé à l’université de Picardie (Amiens) les 5 et 6 avril 2004 par Sandra Laugier, Laurent Bove et Claude Gauthier.

La collection « Banc d’essais », que dirige Jean-Jacques Rosat aux éditions Agone, fera paraître en 2006 un essai de John Newsinger, traduit de l’anglais par Bernard Gensane et consacré à La Politique selon Orwell ; également en projet dans cette collection, préfacé et traduit par Jean-Jacques Rosat, un essai de James Conant, Orwell ou le Pouvoir de la vérité.

La question décisive en politique n’est pas de savoir si l’on dispose de la théorie vraie : comme toutes les théories, les théories politiques sont faillibles et partielles ; et, parce qu’elles sont politiques, elles peuvent facilement devenir des instruments de pouvoir et de domination. La question politique décisive est de savoir comment, dans le monde moderne, chacun, même s’il est un intellectuel, peut rester un homme ordinaire, comment il peut conserver sa capacité de se fier à son expérience et à son jugement, comment il peut préserver son sens du réel et son sens moral.

Cette idée est clairement formulée dans une page célèbre de 1984 : « Le Parti vous disait de rejeter le témoignage de vos yeux et de vos oreilles. C’était son commandement ultime, et le plus essentiel. Le cœur de Winston défaillit quand il pensa à l’énorme puissance déployée contre lui, à la facilité avec laquelle n’importe quel intellectuel du Parti le vaincrait dans une discussion, aux arguments qu’il serait incapable de comprendre et auxquels il pourrait encore moins répondre. Et cependant, c’était lui qui avait raison ! Ils avaient tort, et il avait raison. Il fallait défendre l’évident, le bêta et le vrai. Les truismes sont vrais, cramponne-toi à cela. Le monde matériel existe, ses lois ne changent pas. Les pierres sont dures, l’eau est humide, et les objets qu’on lâche tombent vers le centre de la terre. Avec le sentiment […] qu’il posait un axiome important, il écrivit : “La liberté, c’est la liberté de dire que deux et deux font quatre. Si cela est accordé, tout le reste suit.”1 »

Il y a donc un monde ordinaire. Les pierres y sont dures, et deux plus deux y font quatre.

Cette caractérisation du monde ordinaire à partir des jugements de perception et des jugements arithmétiques remonte, dans la pensée d’Orwell, à l’année 1936 au moins, soit treize ans avant la publication de 1984. Dans une lettre à l’écrivain américain Henry Miller, l’auteur de Tropique du Cancer, il déclare : « J’ai en moi une sorte d’attitude terre à terre solidement ancrée qui fait que je me sens mal à l’aise dès que je quitte ce monde ordinaire où l’herbe est verte, la pierre dure, etc.2 » Et dans une recension strictement contemporaine de Printemps noir, un roman du même Miller, Orwell explique que « le mot écrit perd son pouvoir s’il s’éloigne trop ou, plus exactement, s’il demeure trop longtemps éloigné du monde ordinaire où deux et deux font quatre3 ». Comme le fait observer le philosophe américain James Conant, les jugements de perception et les jugements arithmétiques élémentaires ont un point commun : « Une fois qu’un membre de notre communauté linguistique est devenu compétent dans l’application des concepts appropriés (perceptuels ou arithmétiques), ce sont deux types de jugements dont il peut facilement établir, individuellement et par lui-même, la vérité ou la fausseté. Une fois qu’il a acquis les concepts appropriés et qu’il les a complètement maîtrisés, ce sont des domaines où il est capable de prononcer un verdict sans s’occuper de ce que devient, au sein de sa communauté, le consensus les concernant. […] Quand le verdict concerne, par exemple, quelque chose que vous êtes le seul à avoir vu, vous avez d’excellentes raisons a priori de vous fier davantage à votre propre vision de l’événement qu’à une version contradictoire, parue, disons, dans le journal.4 »

L’existence du monde ordinaire repose donc sur la capacité de chacun de nous à établir la vérité d’un certain nombre d’affirmations par lui-même, indépendamment de ce que peuvent affirmer les autres et, plus encore, indépendamment de tout pouvoir. Cette capacité est la caractéristique première de l’homme ordinaire. En se cramponnant à ces affirmations, Winston, le personnage central de 1984, lutte pour rester un homme ordinaire, pour penser et agir en sorte que le monde ordinaire continue d’exister.

Car le monde ordinaire peut disparaître.

C’est la découverte terrifiante qu’a faite Orwell en 1937 – un choc qui va déterminer pour le reste de sa vie aussi bien son activité politique que son travail d’écrivain. De retour d’Espagne après avoir combattu le fascisme dans la milice du POUM et après avoir dû s’enfuir pour échapper d’extrême justesse à son arrestation par les communistes, il est abasourdi par la manière dont la presse de gauche anglaise rend compte des événements espagnols et par le degré auquel les intellectuels de gauche ne veulent rien savoir de la liquidation systématique des anarchistes et des militants du POUM par les staliniens. Voici comment, dans ses « Réflexions sur la guerre d’Espagne », écrites cinq ans plus tard, en 1942, à Londres et sous les bombes allemandes, il évoque sa prise de conscience de ce qui est pour lui le trait essentiel, totalement neuf et totalement terrifiant, du totalitarisme : « Tôt dans ma vie, je m’étais aperçu qu’un journal ne rapporte jamais correctement aucun événement, mais en Espagne, pour la première fois, j’ai vu rapporter dans les journaux des choses qui n’avaient plus rien à voir avec les faits, pas même le genre de relation que suppose un mensonge ordinaire. J’ai vu rapporter de grandes batailles là où aucun combat n’avait eu lieu et un complet silence là où des centaines d’hommes avaient été tués. […] J’ai vu les journaux de Londres débiter ces mensonges et des intellectuels zélés bâtir des constructions émotionnelles sur des événements qui n’avaient jamais eu lieu. J’ai vu, en fait, l’histoire s’écrire non pas en fonction de ce qui s’était passé, mais en fonction de ce qui aurait dû se passer selon les diverses “lignes de parti”. […] Ce genre de chose m’effraie, car il me donne souvent le sentiment que le concept même de vérité objective est en voie de disparaître du monde. […] Je suis prêt à croire que l’histoire est la plupart du temps inexacte et déformée, mais, ce qui est propre à notre époque, c’est l’abandon de l’idée que l’histoire pourrait être écrite de façon véridique. Dans le passé, les gens mentaient délibérément, coloraient inconsciemment ce qu’ils écrivaient, ou cherchaient la vérité à grand-peine, tout en sachant bien qu’ils commettraient inévitablement un certain nombre d’erreurs. Mais, dans tous les cas, ils croyaient que les “faits” existent, et qu’on peut plus ou moins les découvrir. Et, dans la pratique, il y avait toujours tout un ensemble de faits sur lesquels à peu près tout le monde pouvait s’accorder. Si vous regardez l’histoire de la dernière guerre [la Première Guerre mondiale], dans l’Encyclopedia Britannica par exemple, vous vous apercevrez qu’une bonne partie des données sont empruntées à des sources allemandes. Un historien allemand et un historien anglais seront en profond désaccord sur bien des points, et même sur des points fondamentaux, mais il y aura toujours cet ensemble de faits neutres, pourrait-on dire, à propos desquels aucun des deux ne contestera sérieusement ce que dit l’autre. C’est précisément cette base d’accord […] que détruit le totalitarisme. […] L’objectif qu’implique cette ligne de pensée est un monde de cauchemar où le Chef, ou une clique dirigeante, ne contrôle pas seulement l’avenir, mais aussi le passé. Si le Chef dit de tel ou tel événement “cela n’a jamais eu lieu” – eh bien, cela n’a jamais eu lieu. S’il dit que deux et deux font cinq – eh bien, deux et deux font cinq. Cette perspective me terrifie beaucoup plus que les bombes – et après ce que ce que nous avons vécu ces dernières années, ce ne sont pas là des propos en l’air.5 »

I —

Qui donc est l’homme ordinaire, ce « dernier homme en Europe » (c’était le titre initial de 1984) dont dépend rien de moins que l’avenir de la liberté et de la civilisation ?

L’homme ordinaire n’est ni le militant ni le citoyen. L’horizon de ses jugements n’est ni l’histoire de l’humanité ni la nation, mais le monde concret et particulier de son expérience, celui sur lequel il a prise et où ses actes ont un sens pour lui. Dans son essai intitulé Dans le ventre de la baleine, Orwell crédite Henry Miller d’avoir donné dans un roman comme Tropique du Cancer une image plus juste de l’homme ordinaire que bien des romanciers engagés : « Parce qu’il est passif par rapport à l’expérience, Miller peut s’approcher davantage de l’homme ordinaire que des auteurs plus soucieux d’engagement. L’homme ordinaire est passif. À l’intérieur d’un cercle étroit (sa vie familiale, et peut-être le syndicat ou la politique locale), il se sent maître de son destin ; mais face aux grands événements majeurs, il est tout aussi démuni que face aux éléments. Bien loin de tenter d’agir sur l’avenir, il file doux et attend que les choses se passent.6 » On le rencontre par exemple dans « les livres écrits sur la Grande Guerre [qui] sont l’œuvre de simples soldats ou d’officiers subalternes, qui ne prétendaient même pas comprendre de quoi il retournait – des livres comme À l’ouest rien de nouveau, Le Feu [ou] L’Adieu aux armes […], écrits non par des propagandistes, mais par des victimes7 ».

L’homme ordinaire, ajoute Orwell, est « apolitique et amoral », non pas au sens où il ignorerait tout code moral et ne voterait jamais aux élections, mais au sens où ni les doctrines morales ni les idéologies politiques ne sont les véritables ressorts de sa conduite. Cette passivité rend l’homme ordinaire plus sensible et plus réceptif aux événements qui bouleversent notre monde et à leur véritable signification que celui qui les appréhende essentiellement à travers les doctrines et les mots.

Dans Un peu d’air frais – le roman qu’Orwell écrit dans l’ambiance de l’avant-Deuxième Guerre mondiale –, le héros et narrateur, George Bowling, ancien combattant de 1914-1918 et vendeur d’assurances dans le civil, est le prototype de l’homme ordinaire. Mieux qu’un intellectuel ou un militant, il voit littéralement non seulement la nouvelle guerre qui vient mais surtout l’après-guerre : « Je ne suis pas un imbécile, mais je ne suis pas non plus un intellectuel (a highbrow). En temps normal, mon horizon ne dépasse pas celui du type moyen de mon âge, qui gagne sept livres par semaines et qui a deux gosses à élever. Et pourtant, j’ai assez de bon sens pour voir que l’ancienne vie à laquelle nous sommes accoutumés est en voie d’être détruite jusque dans ses racines. Je sens que ça vient. Je vois la guerre qui approche et l’après-guerre, les queues devant les magasins d’alimentation, la police secrète et les hauts-parleurs qui vous disent ce qu’il faut penser. Et je ne suis pas le seul dans ce cas. Il y en a des millions comme moi. Les types ordinaires (ordinary chaps) que je croise partout, les types que je rencontre dans les pubs, les conducteurs d’autobus, les représentants en quincaillerie – tous se rendent compte que le monde va mal.8 »

Bowling pense que l’instauration d’un régime fasciste en Angleterre ne changerait pas grand-chose à sa vie quotidienne, puisqu’il n’est pas politiquement engagé. Et pourtant, cette perspective lui est insupportable. « Qu’adviendra-t-il de gens comme moi si nous devons avoir le fascisme en Angleterre ? La vérité est que ça ne fera probablement pas la moindre différence. […] Le type ordinaire comme moi, celui qui passe inaperçu, suivra son train-train habituel. Et pourtant, ça me terrifie – je vous dis que ça me terrifie.9 » En janvier 1940, pendant la « drôle de guerre », Orwell écrit à son éditeur, Victor Gollancz : « Ce qui me tracasse en ce moment, c’est qu’on ne sait pas très bien si dans des pays comme l’Angleterre les gens ordinaires (the ordinary people) font suffisamment la différence entre démocratie et despotisme pour avoir envie de défendre leurs libertés. […] Les intellectuels qui affirment aujourd’hui que démocratie et fascisme c’est blanc bonnet et bonnet blanc, etc., me dépriment au plus haut point. Mais il se peut qu’au moment de l’épreuve de vérité les gens ordinaires (the common people) s’avèrent être plus intelligents que les gens intelligents (more intelligent than the clever ones).10 »

En somme, George Orwell a plutôt confiance dans les réactions de George Bowling.

Un des épisodes les plus remarquables d’Un peu d’air frais est celui où Bowling se rend à une réunion du Club du Livre de Gauche. Ce Club a réellement existé : créé en mai 1936 par l’éditeur Victor Gollancz, c’était un club de diffusion de livres militants (le premier titre proposé à ses membres fut un livre de Maurice Thorez, La France d’aujourd’hui et le Front populaire) et, en même temps, un réseau de cercles qui organisaient des conférences et qui compta jusqu’à 1 200 groupes et 57 000 membres à travers toute l’Angleterre. C’est d’ailleurs par le Club du Livre de Gauche que fut publié et diffusé en 1937 le premier livre d’Orwell à connaître le succès, Le Quai de Wigan (44 000 exemplaires), un reportage sur la vie des ouvriers dans le nord de l’Angleterre11. Cela n’empêcha pas Orwell de combattre vigoureusement la ligne « Front populaire » défendue à cette époque par Gollancz et par le Club du Livre de Gauche. Orwell y voyait une stratégie visant à placer le mouvement ouvrier européen sous la coupe des partis communistes, donc à le subordonner aux exigences de la politique extérieure de l’Union soviétique, et, par conséquent, à stériliser toutes ses potentialités révolutionnaires.

Bowling, l’homme ordinaire, assiste donc à une conférence de dénonciation du fascisme et de Hitler prononcée par un propagandiste et activiste officiel du Front populaire, « un type venu de Londres ». Mais il n’y entend que des mots vides et de la haine. L’orateur lui-même est creux, hormis sa haine. « Vous connaissez le refrain. Ces types-là peuvent vous le moudre pendant des heures, comme un gramophone. Tournez la manivelle, pressez le bouton, et ça y est. Démocratie, fascisme, démocratie. Je trouvais quand même un certain intérêt à l’observer. Un petit homme assez minable, chauve et blanc comme un linge, debout sur l’estrade, à lâcher des slogans. Qu’est-ce qu’il fait là ? Ouvertement, de façon délibérée, il attise la haine. Il se démène pour vous faire haïr certains étrangers qu’il appelle fascistes. Drôle de chose, je me disais, être “M. Untel, l’antifasciste bien connu”. Drôle d’affaire, l’antifascisme. Ce type, je suppose qu’il gagne sa croûte en écrivant des livres contre Hitler. Qu’est-ce qu’il faisait avant Hitler ? Et qu’est-ce qu’il fera si Hitler disparaît ? […] Il essaie d’attiser la haine chez ceux qui l’écoutent, mais ce n’est rien à côté de la haine qu’il éprouve personnellement. […] Si vous le fendiez en deux pour l’ouvrir, tout ce que vous y trouveriez ce serait démocratie-fascisme-démocratie. Ce serait intéressant de connaître la vie privée d’un type pareil. Mais a-t-il seulement une vie privée ? Ou se répand-il d’estrade en estrade, en attisant la haine ? Peut-être même rêve-t-il en slogans ? […] Je vis la vision qui était la sienne. […] Ce qu’il voit […], c’est une image de lui-même frappant des visages avec une clé anglaise, des visages fascistes, bien entendu. […] Frappe ! Au beau milieu ! Les os se brisent comme une coquille d’œuf, et le visage de tout à l’heure n’est plus qu’un gros pâté de confiture de fraise. […] C’est ce qu’il a en tête, qu’il dorme ou qu’il veille, et plus il y pense, plus il aime ça. Et tout est très bien du moment que les visages écrabouillés sont des visages fascistes. C’est ce que vous pouviez entendre au son même de sa voix.12 »

On ne saurait soupçonner Orwell de faiblesse à l’égard du fascisme : dès décembre 1936, il partit le combattre en Espagne les armes à la main, et la balle qui, en mai 1937, lui traversa la gorge et faillit lui coûter la vie venait d’une tranchée fasciste. Orwell-Bowling déteste donc le fascisme au moins autant que le propagandiste à la tribune. Mais il ne le déteste pas de la même manière. Et la manière ici est essentielle. Il le déteste comme un homme ordinaire, pas comme un intellectuel activiste. Qu’est-ce qu’Orwell-Bouwling perçoit d’insupportable et même de terrifiant chez le professionnel de l’antifascisme ? Le fonctionnement mécanique de son langage. Son discours et ses mots ont perdu tout contact avec le monde ordinaire. Ils ont même vampirisé son esprit et s’y sont installés à demeure en se substituant à son expérience. Dès lors, leur contenu importe moins que le pouvoir qu’ils lui donnent sur ceux à qui il s’adresse. Ses mots sont devenus les instruments d’une violence qu’il exerce à l’égard des autres. Mais elle opère aussi sur lui-même puisqu’il n’éprouve plus qu’une seule émotion : la haine. Bien qu’il se réclame de la démocratie, le propagandiste antifasciste a déjà quelque chose de l’intellectuel totalitaire.

II —

L’opposé du l’homme ordinaire en effet est l’homme totalitaire, c’est-à-dire l’individu qui est dépossédé de sa capacité d’exercer son jugement de manière indépendante, et du même coup de sa capacité d’éprouver tout l’éventail des sentiments ordinaires. C’est ce qu’annonce au héros de 1984 l’intellectuel dirigeant qui le torture : « Jamais plus tu ne seras capable d’un sentiment humain ordinaire (ordinary human feeling). Tout sera mort en toi. Tu ne seras plus jamais capable d’amour, d’amitié, de joie de vivre, de rire, de curiosité, de courage ou d’intégrité. Tu seras creux. Nous allons te presser jusqu’à ce que tu sois vide, puis nous te remplirons de nous-mêmes.13 »

Il importe de bien comprendre ici que l’adjectif « totalitaire » ne s’applique pas seulement pour Orwell à des régimes et à des mouvements politiques mais à des idées et mécanismes intellectuels qui sont partout à l’œuvre dans le monde moderne. Comme l’explique bien James Conant, « tel qu’[Orwell] l’emploie, le terme “totalitarisme” désigne des stratégies (à la fois pratiques et intellectuelles) qui […] sont appelées ainsi parce qu’elles ont pour but de parvenir à un contrôle total de la pensée, de l’action et des sentiments humains14 ». On observera que cet usage du terme « totalitaire » est conforme à celui de son inventeur probable, le libéral antifasciste italien Giovanni Amendola, qui écrivait en avril 1923 : « Le fascisme ne vise pas tant à gouverner l’Italie qu’à monopoliser le contrôle des consciences italiennes. Il ne lui suffit pas de posséder le pouvoir : il veut posséder la conscience privée de tous les citoyens, il veut la “conversion” des Italiens.15 » L’usage orwellien du terme « totalitaire », poursuit Conant, « ne recouvre pas seulement des formes de régimes politiques mais aussi des types de pratiques et d’institutions plus envahissantes et plus spécifiques (diverses pratiques journalistiques comptent parmi ses exemples favoris). Mais par-dessus tout, Orwell applique ce terme aux idées des intellectuels – et pas seulement à celles qui ont cours dans […] les “pays totalitaires” mais à des idées qui circulent dans tout le monde industriel moderne16 ».

Quelles idées ?

La réponse d’Orwell est claire : les idées qui sont capables de briser notre relation au monde ordinaire. Ce qui rend une idée totalitaire, ce n’est pas son contenu particulier (rien n’est plus opposé quant à leurs contenus respectifs que les idées fascistes et les idées communistes) mais son fonctionnement, ou, plus exactement, sa capacité à fonctionner comme une arme pour détruire l’homme ordinaire. Aucun régime ou mouvement totalitaire n’a jamais proclamé que deux et deux font cinq. Ce serait une croyance aussi absurde que peu efficace. Mais si Orwell en fait le paradigme de l’idée totalitaire, c’est que l’absurdité même de son contenu fait mieux ressortir sa fonction première : priver les individus de tout usage de leur propre entendement (pour parler comme Kant) ou de tout usage de leurs propres concepts (pour parler comme Wittgenstein et Cavell). Si « deux et deux font quatre » n’est pas vrai, ou s’il n’est pas vrai que les pierres sont dures, alors je ne sais plus ce que veut dire le mot « vrai », et je ne peux plus l’utiliser.

Il convient de remarquer ici que, pour Orwell, la possibilité d’implanter des dogmes totalitaires irrationnels dans un esprit dépend de la perméabilité de celui-ci aux arguments du scepticisme philosophique. Il y a ainsi dans 1984 un moment sceptique où Winston se dit à lui-même : « Le Parti finirait par annoncer que deux et deux font cinq et il faudrait le croire. Il était inéluctable que, tôt ou tard, il fasse cette déclaration. La logique de sa position l’exigeait. Ce n’était pas seulement la validité de l’expérience mais l’existence même d’une réalité extérieure qui était tacitement niée par sa philosophie. L’hérésie des hérésies était le sens commun. Et ce qui était terrifiant, ce n’était pas qu’ils vous tuent si vous pensiez autrement, mais que peut-être ils avaient raison. Car, après tout, comment pouvons-nous savoir que deux et deux font quatre ? Ou qu’il y a une force de gravitation ? Ou que le passé est immuable ? Si le passé et le monde extérieur n’existent que dans l’esprit et si l’esprit lui-même peut être contrôlé – alors quoi ?17 » De manière remarquable, Winston ne va échapper à cette menace sceptique, qui le rend vulnérable aux arguments des intellectuels du Parti, que par un raffermissement soudain de sa confiance en lui-même. « Mais non ! Son courage lui sembla soudain suffisant pour s’affermir de lui-même (to stiffen of its own accord).18 » Cette confiance en lui ne le quittera plus, jusqu’au moment où la torture en brisant son corps laissera son esprit définitivement sans défense face à la dialectique destructrice d’O’Brien. Comme l’a clairement vu le philosophe américain Stanley Cavell, la résistance au scepticisme (et donc au dogmatisme) n’est pas affaire de connaissance théorique ou d’argument philosophique mais de reconnaissance ou d’acceptation du monde ordinaire. « Ce que laisse entendre le scepticisme, c’est que, comme nous n’avons aucun moyen de nous assurer que le monde existe, sa présence à nous-même ne relève pas du connaître. Le monde doit être accepté.19 » Ce qu’Orwell décrit comme la passivité de l’homme ordinaire n’est ainsi rien d’autre que son acceptation du monde ordinaire.

À l’inverse, les intellectuels ont une forte tendance à ne pas se reconnaître comme des hommes ordinaires, c’est-à-dire à ne pas reconnaître la part écrasante de l’ordinaire dans leurs existences.

Dans sa recension, en 1936, de Printemps noir d’Henry Miller, Orwell se demande pourquoi « la fiction anglaise de haut niveau est écrite la plupart du temps par des lettrés sur des lettrés pour des lettrés. […] Les livres sur des gens ordinaires qui se comportent d’une manière ordinaire sont rarissimes parce qu’il faut pour les écrire quelqu’un qui soit capable de se placer à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de l’homme ordinaire (ordinary man) – tel Joyce simultanément à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de Bloom. Mais cela revient à admettre qu’on est soi-même, les neuf dixièmes du temps, une personne ordinaire (an ordinary person), chose qu’aucun intellectuel ne veut justement s’avouer.20 » C’est le problème qu’il pose dans son roman Et vive l’aspidistra ! où un jeune poète fauché met toute son énergie à rater sa vie par refus de l’ordinaire21.

Bien qu’Orwell ne le dise pas expressément, cette difficulté des intellectuels à s’assumer comme des gens ordinaires est évidemment liée à leur rapport au langage. L’intellectuel est, par définition, l’homme des mots, l’homme qui vit par les mots, dans les mots, et dont le rapport au monde passe davantage par les mots que par le regard, l’action ou plus généralement l’expérience. Si le scepticisme, au sens où l’entend Cavell, « est la faculté, que possède et désire quiconque possède le langage, de s’exiler, de s’excommunier de la communauté qui, par consensus ou consentement mutuel, fonde l’existence du langage22 », les intellectuels sont plus vulnérables au scepticisme que les gens ordinaires. Ils peuvent alors, à la manière de Descartes, s’enfermer dans leur « poêle » pour douter de l’existence du monde extérieur et même de celle de leur propre corps, en utilisant les mots, coupés de leur usage ordinaire, dans des méditations métaphysiques. Mais ils peuvent aussi les faire fonctionner, tout aussi coupés du monde ordinaire, comme des instruments de déformation de la réalité (dans la propagande, par exemple) et comme des instruments d’exercice du pouvoir sur les esprits. Une des leçons de 1984 est que ces deux usages ne sont pas sans rapport l’un avec l’autre, et que des arguments produits dans les jeux apparemment inoffensifs de la spéculation peuvent, quand ils sont maniés par des intellectuels de pouvoir, devenir de puissants moyens de destruction de la liberté de penser. Par exemple, pour convaincre Winston que le Parti peut se rendre maître du passé, O’Brien utilise l’arsenal des arguments classiques de l’idéalisme qui tendent à prouver que le passé n’existe pas en tant que tel, mais seulement dans les archives et dans l’esprit des hommes.

Il vaut mieux ne pas oublier que le pouvoir sur les esprits est un pouvoir intellectuel et qu’il est exercé par des intellectuels. C’est pourquoi il est essentiel dans l’économie de 1984 qu’O’Brien, l’adversaire de Winston, celui qui finira par le briser intellectuellement, affectivement et moralement, soit lui-même un intellectuel, et que les séances de torture de la troisième partie du roman soient entrecoupées de discussions philosophiques où il l’emporte à tout coup. O’Brien n’est pas un intellectuel au service d’une classe dominante. La caste dominante, c’est lui.

III —

Selon Orwell, en effet, le totalitarisme est le rêve secret de l’intelligentsia.

Dans un essai intitulé « James Burnham et l’ère des organisateurs » qui date de mai 1946, c’est-à-dire de l’époque où il entreprend d’écrire 1984, Orwell met en lumière le lien qui existe entre les prédictions de Burnham – selon lesquelles le pouvoir dans les sociétés modernes va passer des propriétaires capitalistes aux organisateurs (aux managers) – et l’attirance d’une fraction non négligeable des intellectuels anglais pour la Russie de Staline (attirance d’autant plus étrange à première vue que le communisme et le stalinisme n’en ont exercé que très peu sur la classe ouvrière anglaise). « La théorie de Burnham n’est qu’une variante […] du culte de la puissance qui exerce une telle emprise sur les intellectuels. Le communisme en est une variante plus courante, du moins en Angleterre. Si l’on étudie le cas des personnes qui, tout en ayant une idée de la véritable nature du régime soviétique, sont fermement russophiles, on constate que, dans l’ensemble, elles appartiennent à cette classe des “organisateurs” à laquelle Burnham consacre ses écrits. En fait, ce ne sont pas des “organisateurs” au sens étroit, mais des scientifiques, des techniciens, des enseignants, des bureaucrates, des politiciens de métier : de manière générale, des représentants des couches moyennes qui se sentent brimés par un système qui est encore partiellement aristocratique, et qui ont soif de pouvoir et de prestige. Ils se tournent vers l’URSS et y voient – ou croient y voir – un système qui élimine la classe supérieure, maintient la classe ouvrière à sa place et confère un pouvoir illimité à des gens qui leur sont très semblables. C’est seulement après que le régime soviétique est devenu manifestement totalitaire que les intellectuels anglais ont commencé à s’y intéresser en grand nombre. L’intelligentsia britannique russophile désavouerait Burnham, et pourtant il formule en réalité son vœu secret : la destruction de la vieille version égalitaire du socialisme et l’avènement d’une société hiérarchisée où l’intellectuel puisse enfin s’emparer du fouet.23 »

On trouve sans doute ici l’explication d’une caractéristique importante et souvent négligée du type de totalitarisme décrit dans 1984 : le contrôle des esprits et l’endoctrinement permanents n’y concernent que les membres du Parti, les organisateurs au sens large. Tous les autres, les prolétaires, soit 85 % de la population, sont considérés comme « des inférieurs naturels, qui doivent être tenus en état de dépendance, comme les animaux, par l’application de quelques règles simples. Laissés à eux-mêmes comme le bétail dans les plaines de l’Argentine, ils étaient revenus à un style de vie qui leur paraissait naturel selon une sorte de canon ancestral24 ». La société que décrit 1984 n’est ainsi pas tant une parodie du stalinisme – ou d’un mixte de stalinisme et de fascisme comme on le dit souvent – qu’une satire du rêve secret de l’intelligentsia de gauche britannique. Comme l’écrit Judith Shklar, « l’intellectuel qui ne peut pas supporter les intellectuels n’est pas une espèce rare ; mais ce qui singularise Orwell, c’est qu’il a traduit son mépris dans la vision d’une société gouvernée par les objets de son dédain. L’état totalitaire qu’il a imaginé n’est pas tout à fait celui de Staline, non plus que celui d’Hitler. Le Parti Intérieur, qui dispense l’Angsoc et dirige l’aire numéro 1 dans 1984, est composé d’intellectuels radicaux anglo-américains25 ».

Si Orwell concentre ainsi l’essentiel de ses critiques sur « les intelligentsias politique et technique, [sur] les maîtres de la vérité idéologique et [sur] ceux du savoir scientifique », c’est parce que, comme le souligne Michael Walzer, il craint qu’« une fois les capitalistes vaincus, ces deux groupes sociaux ne fassent obstacle à une révolution démocratique ou ne l’usurpent »26. La critique d’Orwell, rappelle Walzer, est « une critique interne au socialisme27 », et l’affrontement entre l’intellectuel et l’homme ordinaire passe ainsi à l’intérieur du mouvement socialiste. Rendant compte, en 1938, d’un recueil d’essais du romancier socialiste et d’origine ouvrière Jack Common, Orwell avertit le lecteur qu’il y apprendra « beaucoup moins de choses sur le socialisme en tant que théorie économique que dans le banal manuel de propagande, mais infiniment plus sur le socialisme en tant qu’article de foi et, pourrait-on presque dire, comme mode de vie. […] On entend ici la voix authentique de l’homme ordinaire (the authentic voice of the ordinary man), de cet homme qui introduirait une nouvelle honnêteté (a new decency) dans la gestion des affaires, si seulement il y accédait, au lieu de ne jamais sortir des tranchées, de l’esclavage salarié et de la prison28 ». Il loue l’auteur d’avoir « mis le doigt sur l’une des principales difficultés auxquelles se heurte le mouvement socialiste – à savoir que le mot “socialisme” a pour un travailleur une signification toute différente de celle qu’il revêt aux yeux d’un marxiste originaire de la classe moyenne. Pour ceux qui tiennent effectivement entre leurs mains les destinées du mouvement socialiste, la quasi-totalité de ce qu’un travailleur manuel entend par “socialisme” est soit absurde soit hérétique. […] Les travailleurs manuels acquièrent dans une civilisation machiniste, de par les conditions mêmes dans lesquels ils vivent, un certain nombre de traits de caractère : droiture, imprévoyance, générosité, haine des privilèges. C’est à partir de ces dispositions précises qu’ils forgent leur conception de la société future, au point que l’idée d’égalité fonde la mystique du socialisme prolétarien. C’est là une conception très différente de celle du socialiste de la classe moyenne, qui vénère en Marx un prophète29 ». Ainsi, c’est la mainmise des intellectuels sur le mouvement ouvrier qui explique pourquoi « ce à quoi on assiste chaque fois, c’est à un soulèvement prolétarien très vite canalisé et trahi par les malins qui se trouvent au sommet, et donc à la naissance d’une nouvelle classe dirigeante. Ce qui ne se réalise jamais, c’est l’égalité30 ».

IV —

Orwell n’est pas ouvriériste. D’abord, l’idée d’attribuer à la classe ouvrière, parce qu’elle est la classe exploitée, un rôle dirigeant ou messianique est totalement étrangère à Orwell. Et surtout, les dispositions morales qu’il reconnaît aux ouvriers ordinaires – droiture, générosité, haine des privilèges, soif d’égalité – ne sont pas spécifiquement ouvrières : elles relèvent de l’honnêteté commune, de ce qu’il appelle lui-même la common decency : cette morale déclarée “bourgeoise” par les intellectuels de gauche et, à ce titre, décriée par eux – morale qui est simplement celle des gens ordinaires.

Dans son essai sur Dickens, qui est un de ses chefs-d’œuvre, Orwell exalte ce qu’il tient pour « un des traits caractéristiques de la culture populaire occidentale. Il est présent dans les contes et les chansons humoristiques, dans des figures mythiques comme Mickey Mouse ou Popeye (deux avatars de Jack le Tueur de Géants), dans l’histoire du socialisme ouvrier. […] C’est le sentiment qu’il faut toujours être du côté de l’opprimé, prendre le parti du faible contre le fort. [… L]’homme ordinaire (the common man) vit toujours dans l’univers psychologique de Dickens, [alors que] la plupart des intellectuels, pour ne pas dire tous, se sont ralliés à une forme de totalitarisme ou à une autre. D’un point de vue marxiste ou fasciste, la quasi-totalité des valeurs défendues par Dickens peuvent être assimilées à la “morale bourgeoise” et honnies à ce titre. Mais pour ce qui est des conceptions morales, il n’y a rien de plus “bourgeois” que la classe ouvrière anglaise. Les gens ordinaires (the ordinary people), dans les pays occidentaux, n’ont pas encore accepté l’univers mental du “réalisme” et de la politique de la Force. […] Dickens a su exprimer sous une forme comique, schématique et par là même mémorable, l’honnêteté native de l’homme ordinaire (the native decency of the common man). Et il est important que, sous ce rapport, des gens de toutes sortes puissent être décrits comme “ordinaires” (“common”). Dans un pays tel que l’Angleterre, il existe, par-delà la division des classes, une certaine unité de culture. Tout au long de l’ère chrétienne, et plus nettement encore après la Révolution française, le monde occidental a été hanté par les idées de liberté et d’égalité. Ce ne sont que des idées, mais elles ont pénétré toutes les couches de la société. On voit partout subsister les plus atroces injustices, cruautés, mensonges, snobismes, mais il est peu de gens qui puissent contempler tout cela aussi froidement qu’un propriétaire d’esclaves romains, par exemple31 ».

Cet éloge de la common decency, de l’honnêteté commune, appelle quelques remarques.

Bien qu’Orwell la dise « native », au sens où elle ne découle pas d’un code moral explicite ni de prescriptions enseignées comme telles, l’honnêteté commune est un héritage historique. Elle était inconnue du propriétaire d’esclaves romain et Orwell l’associe au christianisme et à la Révolution française. Mais si elle est apparue dans l’histoire, elle peut également en disparaître. Le totalitarisme n’est rien d’autre que la tendance à la liquidation de l’honnêteté commune – tendance méthodiquement et systématiquement mise en œuvre par certains courants et régimes politiques, mais tendance inscrite comme une possibilité dans la structure même des sociétés contemporaines.

32 Ibid., p. 663.

La common decency a pénétré toutes les classes de la société. Elle n’a pas aboli celles-ci, bien évidemment, pas plus qu’elle n’a aboli la lutte des classes. Mais elle constitue un ensemble de dispositions et d’exigences à partir desquelles des hommes appartenant à des classes différentes, voire antagonistes, peuvent, pourvu qu’ils le veuillent vraiment, partager quelque chose de leurs existences.

On peut aller plus loin : c’est cette honnêteté commune qui est au principe du projet socialiste d’abolition de la domination de classe et des différences de classe. Orwell ne dit pas comme Engels : faisons d’abord la révolution ; alors, dans les nouvelles conditions économiques et sociales émergera une humanité nouvelle et par conséquent une morale nouvelle que nous sommes incapables aujourd’hui d’anticiper. Orwell dit plutôt : nous savons tous parfaitement ce qu’est l’honnêteté commune ; faisons la révolution pour abolir les barrières de classe qui l’offensent en permanence et qui empêchent qu’elle soit la base effective de la vie sociale. Aucune révolution démocratique ne saurait nous dispenser de l’honnêteté commune. Celle-ci est même la condition sans laquelle la révolution ne saurait être démocratique et aboutira au remplacement d’une classe dirigeante par une autre. « Ce qui me fait peur avec l’intelligentsia moderne, c’est son incapacité à se rendre compte que la société humaine doit avoir pour base l’honnêteté commune (common decency), quelles que puissent être ses formes politiques et économiques.32 »

33 Ibid., tome III, p. 284.

En effet, l’intelligentsia moderne s’est coupée de ce socle à la fois historique et humain qu’est l’honnêteté commune. Fascinée par la politique de la force, elle est devenue antidémocratique en politique et « réaliste », c’est-à-dire cynique, en morale. Orwell appelle « réalisme » « la doctrine qui veut que la force prime le droit », et il voit dans « la montée du “réalisme” […] le grand événement de l’histoire intellectuelle de notre époque »33.

33Les effets moralement corrupteur de ce réalisme, Orwell ne les discerne pas seulement dans la presse ou les écrits politiques mais dans la littérature et jusque dans la poésie. À propos d’un poème d’Auden intitulé Spain, il dit que c’est à son avis « une des seules choses à peu près convenables inspirées par la guerre d’Espagne ».

Demain, pour la jeunesse, les poètes explosant comme des bombes,

Les promenades autour du lac, les semaines d’étroite communion ;

Demain les courses de vélo

À travers les banlieues par les soirs d’été : mais aujourd’hui la lutte.

Aujourd’hui l’inévitable montée des chances de mourir,

Le nécessaire assassinat et sa culpabilité assumée

Aujourd’hui le gaspillage de ses forces

Dans des tracts éphémères et des meetings rasants.

Mais il en donne le commentaire ironique suivant : « La deuxième strophe représente une sorte de croquis sur le vif de la journée d’un “bon militant”. Le matin, un ou deux assassinats politiques, dix minutes d’interlude pour “étouffer le remords bourgeois”, puis un déjeuner rapide et un après-midi plus une soirée occupés à écrire des slogans sur les murs et à distribuer des tracts. Tout cela est très édifiant. Mais remarquez l’expression “le nécessaire assassinat (necessary murder)” : elle ne peut avoir été employée que par quelqu’un pour qui l’assassinat est tout au plus un mot. En ce qui me concerne, je ne parlerais pas aussi légèrement de l’assassinat. Il se trouve que j’ai vu quantité de corps d’hommes assassinés – je ne dis pas tués au combat, mais bien assassinés. J’ai donc quelque idée de ce qu’est un assassinat – la terreur, la haine, les gémissements des parents, les autopsies, le sang, les odeurs. Pour moi, l’assassinat doit être évité. C’est aussi l’opinion des gens ordinaires. […] Le type d’amoralisme de M. Auden est celui des gens qui s’arrangent toujours pour n’être pas là quand on appuie sur la détente.34 »

L’importance de cette page tient à la relation étroite qu’elle établit entre la fascination des intellectuels pour la puissance et la corruption du langage : l’une et l’autre découlent de la perte de l’ordinaire.

V —

Comment un poète de l’envergure d’Auden – mais on pourrait poser la même question pour Aragon – a-t-il pu être attiré vers le « réalisme » et trahir ainsi les valeurs libérales qui sont la condition d’existence d’une littérature authentique ? « Comment des écrivains ont-ils pu être attirés par une forme de socialisme qui rend impossible toute honnêteté intellectuelle ?35 »

C’est la question que pose Orwell dans un long essai publié en 1940 et intitulé « Dans le ventre de la baleine », où il analyse la littérature anglaise de l’entre-deux-guerres et, plus particulièrement, la différence quant à leur rapport à la société et à la politique entre les écrivains des années 1920 (Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, entre autres) et ceux des années 1930 (Auden et Spender notamment). Sa réponse est qu’en 1930 la crise morale et spirituelle de la société anglaise (et de la civilisation occidentale) était telle que les fonctions et les engagements habituels des intellectuels, ceux par lesquels ils étaient traditionnellement reliés à la communauté nationale, avaient perdu toute signification. Orwell lui-même a vécu cette crise. Né en 1903 et ancien élève d’Eton, il a démissionné en 1927 des fonctions d’officier de police qu’il exerçait depuis cinq ans en Birmanie parce qu’il a pris conscience que l’Empire britannique exalté par Kipling n’était en réalité qu’un sordide système d’exploitation économique, totalement inhumain où, comme le dit un personnage de son roman Une histoire birmane, « les fonctionnaires maintiennent les Birmans à terre pendant que les hommes d’affaires leur font les poches ». Mais il est resté malgré tout profondément attaché à l’Angleterre, alors que beaucoup d’intellectuels de sa génération se sont cherché une autre patrie qu’ils ont cru trouver dans la Russie soviétique.

« En 1930, il n’y avait aucune activité, sauf peut-être la recherche scientifique, les arts et l’engagement politique de gauche à laquelle puisse croire un individu conscient. La civilisation occidentale était au plus bas de son prestige et le “désenchantement” était partout. Qui pouvait encore envisager de réussir sa vie dans les carrières traditionnelles de la classe moyenne – en devenant officier, clergyman, agent de change, fonctionnaire aux Indes ou que sais-je encore ? Et que restait-il des valeurs de nos grands-parents ? Le patriotisme, la religion, l’Empire, la famille, le caractère sacré du mariage, la cravate aux couleurs du collège, la naissance, l’éducation, la discipline – tout individu moyennement éduqué pouvait en trois minutes vous démontrer l’inanité de tout cela. Mais qu’obtient-on, en fin de compte, en se débarrassant de choses aussi élémentaires que le patriotisme ou la religion ? On n’est pas pour autant débarrassé du besoin de croire à quelque chose. […] Je ne crois pas qu’il faille aller chercher plus loin les raisons pour lesquelles les jeunes écrivains des années 1930 se sont rassemblés sous le houlette du parti communiste. Il y avait là une Église, une armée, une orthodoxie, une discipline. Il y avait là une Patrie et – en tout cas depuis 1935 ou à peu près – un Führer. Tous les attachements profonds et toutes les superstitions dont l’esprit avait apparemment fait litière pouvaient revenir en force sous le plus mince des déguisements. Le patriotisme, l’Empire, la religion, la gloire militaire – tout cela était contenu dans un seul mot : “Russie”. […] Dans ces conditions, le “communisme de l’intellectuel anglais apparaît comme un phénomène assez aisément explicable : c’est le patriotisme des déracinés.36 » On peut juger cette explication un peu courte. Elle a toutefois l’immense mérite de soulever une question importante et difficile : si le monde ordinaire est le monde de mon expérience, il ne peut pas être un monde abstrait où hommes, choses, lieux et coutumes sont interchangeables ; c’est nécessairement un monde concret et particulier : un pays ou une région, une langue, une culture, des institutions, une histoire, etc.

Si dans Le Lion et la licorne, un petit livre qu’il publie en 1941 et qui porte comme sous-titre Socialisme et génie anglais, Orwell exalte le mode de vie anglais (de la « bonne tasse de thé »jusqu’aux emblèmes de la royauté) et s’il y conjugue socialisme et patriotisme (qu’il distingue très fermement du nationalisme), ce n’est pas pour concilier artificiellement ses convictions politiques profondes avec l’urgence immédiate de la défense de l’Angleterre. Il l’a proclamé à plusieurs reprises, non sans un brin de provocation : « Aucun révolutionnaire authentique n’a jamais été un internationaliste.37 » En tout cas, il ne s’est jamais reconnu dans l’internationalisme abstrait du communisme qu’il n’a cessé de dénoncer comme un instrument à peine masqué de la politique de puissance soviétique. Et quand, en décembre 1936, il part combattre en Espagne, il ne le fait pas en activiste de la révolution mondiale mais comme un Anglais socialiste, solidaire des Espagnols antifascistes ; et c’est dans cet esprit qu’il écrira Hommage à la Catalogne.

Le patriotisme assumé d’Orwell n’est sûrement pas sans rapport avec l’imperméabilité de la classe populaire anglaise au fascisme comme au stalinisme, aussi avec l’imperméabilité de la classe dirigeante anglaise au fascisme. Dans sa « Lettre de Londres » à la Partisan Review de juillet-août 1941, il écrit : « Ce type de climat où vous n’osez pas parler politique de peur que la Gestapo ne surprenne vos paroles, ce climat est tout bonnement impensable en Angleterre. Toute tentative de l’instaurer sera brisée dans l’œuf, non pas tant par une résistance consciente que par l’incapacité des gens ordinaires (ordinary people)à comprendre ce qu’on attendrait d’eux.38 » Une fois encore, Orwell table moins sur la lucidité de George Bowling que sur sa passivité. Quant à la classe dirigeante, dont il craignait avant guerre qu’elle ne profite du déclenchement des hostilités pour faire basculer le pays dans un anglo-fascisme comparable à l’austro-fascisme d’un Dollfuss, il doit reconnaître qu’elle reste fondamentalement attachée au libéralisme. « La classe dirigeante britannique croit à la démocratie et à la liberté individuelle en un sens étroit et quelque peu hypocrite. Mais du moins, elle croit à la lettre de la loi et s’y tiendra parfois même quand elle n’est pas à son avantage. Rien n’indique qu’elle évolue vers une mentalité véritablement fasciste. La Grande-Bretagne peut être fascisée de l’extérieur ou au terme d’une révolution intérieure, mais la vieille classe dirigeante ne peut, à mon sens, être elle-même l’agent d’un totalitarisme véritable.39 »

Les seuls, encore une fois, qui en Angleterre aient été gagné au totalitarisme sont des intellectuels. Dans l’après-guerre, Orwell verra en eux quelque chose comme un parti de l’étranger.

Comme on le voit, le modèle de l’intellectuel ordinaire – de l’intellectuel qui se reconnaît comme un homme ordinaire – se distingue très clairement de celui de l’intellectuel engagé. Celui-ci se vit d’abord comme séparé, puis va rejoindre le combat des autres hommes au nom des valeurs intellectuelles et universelles qui sont les siennes : il court ainsi le risque permanent de se poser comme une autorité dictant aux autres ce qu’ils doivent faire ou assignant à leurs actes un sens qu’il prétend mieux connaître qu’eux-mêmes. L’intellectuel ordinaire, lui, vit les événements et y réagit en homme ordinaire qu’il est et qu’il reconnaît être. Orwell a vécu l’approche de la guerre et la montée des totalitarismes avec les mêmes sentiments et les mêmes réactions que son vendeur d’assurances Georges Bowling. Certes, parce qu’il était un intellectuel, et plus particulièrement un écrivain, il avait la capacité de mettre ses réactions en mots et en idées. Mais il ne prétendait pas pour autant être un porte-parole.

On peut se demander si ce modèle ne constitue pas pour un intellectuel la seule manière d’essayer d’être et de rester un démocrate.

Notes

1 George Orwell, 1984, traduit de l’anglais par Amélie Audiberti, Gallimard “folio”, p. 119. (Cette traduction a été modifiée chaque fois que cela a paru nécessaire.)

2 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, traduit de l’anglais par Anne Krief, Michel Pétris et Jaime Semprun, Ivrea-Encyclopédie des nuissances, tome I, p. 292.

3 Ibid., p. 296.

4 James Conant, « Freedom, Cruelty and Truth : Rorty versus Orwell », in Robert Brandom (dir.), Rorty and his Critics, Blackwell, 2000, p. 299.

5 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome II, p. 322-325.

6 Ibid., tome I, p. 624.

7 Ibid.

8 George Orwell, Un peu d’air frais (1939), traduit de l’anglais par Richard Prêtre, Ivrea, 1983, p. 210.

9 Ibid., p. 199-200.

10 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome I, p. 511.

11 Lire John Newsinger, Orwell’s Politics, Palgrave, 1999, p. 32-33 (La Politique selon Orwell, traduit par Bernard Gensane, Agone, à paraître).

12 George Orwell, Un peu d’air frais, op. cit., p. 194-198.

13 George Orwell, 1984, op. cit., p. 362.

14 James Conant, « Freedom, Cruelty and Truth… », art. cit., p. 293.

15 Giovanni Amendola, Il Mondo, 1er avril 1923, cité in Emilio Gentile, Qu’est-ce que le fascisme ? Histoire et interprétation, Gallimard, 2004, p. 112.

16 James Conant, « Freedom, Cruelty and Truth… », art. cit., p. 293.

17 George Orwell, 1984, op. cit., p. 118.

18 Ibid.

19 Stanley Cavell, Le Déni de savoir, traduit de l’anglais par Jean-Pierre Maquerlot, Seuil, p. 152. Sur la philosophie politique de Cavell, on peut lire Sandra Laugier, Recommencer la philosophie. La philosophie américaine aujourd’hui, PUF, 1999, chap. IV et V.

20 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome I, p. 294.

21 George Orwell, Et vive l’aspidistra ! (1936), traduit de l’anglais par Yvonne Davet, Ivrea, 1982.

22 Stanley Cavell, Le Déni de savoir, op. cit., p. 54.

23 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome IV, p. 218-219.

24 George Orwell, 1984, op. cit., p. 105

25 Judith Shklar, « Nineteen Eigthy-Four : Should Political Theory Care ? » in Stanley Hoffmann (dir.), Political Thought and Political Thinkers, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 342-343, cité in James Conant, « Freedom, Cruelty and Truth… », art. cit., p. 329, n. 116.

26 Michael Walzer, « George Orwell’s England », inThe Company of Critics : Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century, Halban, Londres, 1989 ; repris in Graham Holderness, Bryan Loughrey and Nahem Yousaf (dir.), George Orwell, Macmillan, 1998, p. 195.

27 Ibid., p. 196.

28 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome I, p. 424.

29 Ibid., p. 423.

30 Ibid., p. 424.

31 George Orwell, Essais, articles et lettres, op. cit., tome I, p. 573-574.

32 Ibid., p. 663.

33 Ibid., tome III, p. 284.

34 Ibid., tome I, p. 643-644.

35 Ibid., p. 641.

36 Ibid., p. 642.

37 Ibid., tome II, p. 133.

38 Ibid., p. 152-153.

39 Ibid.

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jean-Jacques Rosat, « Quand les intellectuels s’emparent du fouet », revue Agone, 34 | 2005, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 23 octobre 2008. URL : http://revueagone.revues.org/106. Consulté le 08 avril 2012.

Auteur

Jean-Jacques Rosat

Voir aussi:

George Orwell patriote (I)

Bernard Gensane

8 oct. 2017

L’auteur de 1984, l’un des romans politiques les plus sombres du XXème siècle, était un grand optimiste, amoureux de son pays, à l’aise dans son époque, même si, dans ses fantasmes, il aurait préféré vivre au XVIIIème siècle en « joyeux pasteur ». Il conçut son existence comme une œuvre, et son œuvre, d’abord comme la quête d’une écriture (raison pour laquelle j’ai sous-titré mon livre sur Orwell “ vie et écriture ” : (George Orwell, vie et écriture), Nancy, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1994). Son inclinaison profonde en tant que personnage public ne fut pas la politique mais la morale. Lorsqu’on étudie l’un des aspects de sa pensée, il faut constamment avoir à l’esprit ces paramètres. Nous sommes en présence d’un homme heureux, d’un écrivain poursuivant, à sa manière, un objectif de modernité, d’un citoyen qui attribuait au peuple anglais des vertus cardinales : gentillesse, loyauté, amour de la tradition, decency (décence, politesse, bonne mœurs), et ce don, pour lui apanage de ses compatriotes, de ne pas se laisser impressionner par les grands hommes, comme Napoléon, Churchill ou Staline.

Raymond Williams a dit d’Orwell qu’il était un auteur bien anglais, éminemment insulaire et cocardier (Orwell, Londres, 1971). On verra que son attitude vis-à-vis de sa patrie a évolué au gré des circonstances personnelles et historiques. Ce qui ne changera jamais, c’est la prééminence du ressenti, de l’esthétique et de la morale, alliée à une conscience aiguë de la rhétorique, elle-même vécue comme une modalité politique du discours et de l’écriture. Ainsi, à l’automne 1940, au début de la guerre, les alliances se nouent et se dénouent. Orwell se demande si le conflit sera purement impérialiste et s’il faudra faire front commun avec la bourgeoisie. Tout en se posant ces questions d’importance, il ne peut s’empêcher d’écouter ses voix et de moraliser : « La nuit qui a précédé le Pacte germano-soviétique, j’ai rêvé que la guerre avait commencé. Ce rêve m’a appris que j’étais de tout cœur patriote, que je soutiendrais la guerre et que je combattrais si possible. Tout cela est enfantin, bien sûr, mais je préfère avoir reçu ce type d’éducation que de ressembler aux intellectuels de gauche qui sont tellement ‘ éclairés ’ qu’ils ne peuvent comprendre les émotions les plus ordinaires. »

L’enfance d’Orwell fut marquée, pour ce qui nous concerne ici, par la catastrophe du Titanic. Dans un texte de résistance consensuel, très “ union nationale ” de 1940 (“My Country Right and Left ”, “ Mon pays, “ de droite et de gauche ” ou “ qu’il ait raison ou tord ”), Orwell évoque ce traumatisme. Il laisse entendre que l’attachement à une nation découle plus d’un ressenti charnel à des événements isolés mais marquants qu’à de grandes causes ou à une Histoire qui se fait mais qui n’est pas toujours lisible.

En primaire, Orwell eut beau détester la discipline sadique des écoles primaires privées, les preparatory schools, il n’en admit pas moins, par la suite, que les grandes victoires anglaises (au diable les régiments écossais ou gallois !) furent préparées sur les terrains de cricket des écoles privées, la guerre n’étant qu’une forme suprême du sport où il est impossible de tricher (Orwell fut cependant l’un des premiers à dénoncer la concomitance entre sport et nationalisme dans un article visionnaire de 1945, “ The Sporting Spirit ”). Á Eton, il reçut sa part d’enseignement, de culture militariste. Il sut prendre du recul par rapport à cette vision du monde, ce qui ne l’empêcha pas de s’enrôler au sortir de l’enseignement secondaire, alors que rien ni personne ne l’y contraignait, dans la police impériale en Birmanie. Or c’est bel et bien durant sa plus tendre enfance que le futur écrivain avait été imprégné d’idéologie belliciste, d’une philosophie portant au plus haut niveau les valeurs de défense sacrée de la patrie, avec comme corollaire une dépréciation de l’ennemi.

Orwell va se forger une conscience politique dans les années trente, non sans hésitations et revirements. Contre sa classe d’origine, la bourgeoisie impérialiste, et contre lui-même, en tirant parti de la névrose de culpabilité qui le taraude depuis l’enfance. Pour ce faire, il lui faudra passer par la France et l’immersion dans des franges défavorisées de la classe ouvrière, le Kent des travailleurs agricoles exploités et le Londres des clochards (voir son premier ouvrage, une biofiction : Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933. En français, Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres). C’est qu’Orwell est de ces écrivains qui sont allés au-delà de leur monde et qui, de retour, ont adopté le regard du Persan : « Quand vous rentrez en Angleterre après un voyage à l’étranger, vous avez immédiatement la sensation de respirer un air différent […]. La bière est plus amère, les pièces de monnaie sont plus lourdes, l’herbe est plus verte, les publicités sont plus criardes. […] Alors l’immensité de l’Angleterre vous engloutit et vous perdez pour un instant de vue que la nation dans son ensemble possède un seul caractère identifiable. » Toute la complexité du patriotisme d’Orwell tient dans ces phrases. Il est capable d’observer son univers familier de l’extérieur, mais il est aussi terriblement anglo-centré. Cela dit, par delà des évidences assénées de manière aussi désarmante, il faut retenir qu’avant de s’émerveiller devant les « visages doux et noueux » de ses compatriotes, leurs « mauvaises dents » et leurs « bonnes manières », le « clic-clac des sabots dans les villes du Lancashire », Orwell avait su observer l’Angleterre à partir de la connaissance qu’il avait de son empire : c’est parce qu’il avait vécu au contact des masses exploitées d’Extrême-Orient qu’il pourrait sympathiser avec le lumpen-proletariat anglais puis avec la classe ouvrière proprement dite, « les victimes symboliques de l’injustice qui jouaient le même rôle en Angleterre que les Birmans en Birmanie » (1936).

Après la découverte de la condition prolétarienne dans son pays, Orwell part se battre en Espagne, tout simplement parce qu’il faut se dresser contre le fascisme pour laisser une chance au socialisme. Il combat avec courage au sein de la milice internationale du P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), d’inspiration trotskiste, et rencontrera des hommes et femmes conscients, fraternels, tendus ver un objectif, bref l’image inversée des futurs proles de 1984. Il perçoit ces citoyens en armes comme un maillon dans l’immense chaîne fraternelle du genre humain, succédant aux soldats de Verdun, de Waterloo, des Thermopyles, souffrant de la même vermine, vivant et mourant sur des champs de bataille où l’on n’entend jamais chanter les oiseaux (Homage to catalonia, 1938. Version française : La Catalogne libre).

Traumatisé par la défaite des Républicains, par la trahison des staliniens, Orwell va alors traverser une phase de doutes personnels durant laquelle les sentiments pacifistes et internationalistes vont prendre le dessus. D’avoir versé son sang, d’avoir été ainsi “ baptisé ”, autorise un Orwell dégoûté par la guerre à envisager, de 1937 à 1939, un certain cynisme dans la démission face à la menace hitlérienne. Dans sa thèse (“ Orwell : l’engagement ”), Gilbert Bonifias posera que : « Il ne fait […] aucun doute que les événements d’Espagne contribuèrent puissamment à pousser [Orwell]  dans cette direction qui se voulait à la fois révolutionnaire et pacifique », et qu’« il n’est donc pas étonnant de l’entendre proclamer dans ses écrits son opposition à toute guerre avec l’Allemagne et à la formation d’un Front populaire en Angleterre ».

Ainsi, après les années 1936-37 où, choqué par la brutalité de la classe dirigeante, par l’irréalisme des élites de la gauche libérale, il a adopté des comportements extrêmes (vivre dans la crasse chez des logeurs exploiteurs du Lancashire, descendre au fond de la mine, partager le lot des combattants de base en Catalogne), il pressent, vers 1938-1939, que le conflit qui s’annonce sera terrible et il recherche des valeurs modérées. Dans les très nombreuses pages qu’il consacre à l’Angleterre et à son peuple, il offre des images et des concepts de paix (dans son roman de 1938 Coming Up for Air – en français Un peu d’air frais, il fait dire à son narrateur : «Pêcher, c’est le contraire de faire la guerre »), de raison, de stabilité, de juste milieu. Mais pas de médiocrité. Orwell n’aimait pas les comportements petits. Il raille Napoléon se rendant aux Anglais par peur des Prussiens, Ludendorff se cachant derrière des lunettes de soleil ou encore cet empereur romain qui s’était barricadé dans des toilettes (Orwell mourut des années avant que le roi du Maroc Hassan II fasse de même). L’idéal d’Orwell à l’époque, c’est un Sancho Pança qui n’aurait pas peur des bombes mais qui ne se planterait pas poitrail nu face à la mitraille : « Une part de nous veut être un héro ou un saint, mais l’autre moitié c’est ce petit homme gras qui voit très clairement l’avantage qu’il y a à rester en vie. C’est notre moi privé, la voix de notre ventre qui proteste contre notre âme. »

Aux sentiments anti-guerre qui transparaissaient çà et là dans le discours de Homage to Catalonia succède un comportement franchement pacifiste, en particulier durant l’hiver 1938-39, époque où, souffrant gravement des poumons, il réside pour quelques mois à Marrakech. Il pose qu’être pacifiste ce n’est pas forcément vouloir bloquer les réformes sociales. Il s’est forgé un socialisme dont le marxisme n’est pas totalement exclu (dans The Road to Wigan Pier, en particulier. En français, Le Quai de Wigan). Mais progressivement, et cela le mènera jusqu’à la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, il rejette ce qui, au niveau socio-politique, n’est pas, à ses yeux, anglais : le stalinisme, l’internationalisme prolétarien, le fascisme évidemment, mais aussi l’Église Catholique Romaine et tout ce qui s’apparente aux intellectuels de gauche européens. Il moque avec férocité l’îlot de pensée dissidente de ceux qui « vont chercher leurs recettes de cuisine à Paris et leurs idées à Moscou. »  Face aux dangers – Hitler, la guerre, le capitalisme sauvage, l’industrialisation débridée – Orwell va donc partir dans une quête de l’anglicisé  Sa patrie ne trouvera le salut que dans la réaffirmation de ses valeurs fondamentales. Une transformation de la société anglaise – qu’il appelle de ses vœux – ne se fera que dans le respect des traditions. De 1937 à 1940, le projet d’Orwell est d’établir une continuité entre l’Angleterre du présent et celle du passé.

Tout cela n’ira pas sans contradictions ni difficultés.

Plus tard, on verra que le seul moment de vrai bonheur que connaît Winston Smith dans 1984 sont les heures passées avec Julia dans le magasin d’antiquités – lieu ô combien symbolique – qui lui rappelle l’Angleterre d’avant la dictature (2ème partie, chapitre 4). Mais en 1938-9, George Bowling éprouve bien des désillusions. En simplifiant, on pourrait résumer Coming up for Air en disant que cette œuvre est l’image d’une apocalypse qui anéantirait une vision rêvée de l’enfance. Bowling n’idéalise cependant pas la tradition. Le regard qu’il porte vers le passé, le voyage qu’il entreprend vers les lieux de son enfance, lui permettent de se repérer dans le présent, d’essayer de respirer, de se régénérer. Lucide, le personnage expose comment la bourgeoisie anglaise est prisonnière de sa propre idéologie, à quel point la manière de pensée de la middle-class est appauvrissante. Il raille la nostalgie qu’éprouvent les colons revenus des Indes : comme son créateur, mais à l’inverse d’un Kipling, il sait l’illusion de vivre au centre de l’Empire avec les valeurs de la périphérie. Il ne croit pas en l’aptitude des militants – ceux de gauche en particulier qu’il caricature à l’envi – à se mobiliser dans le cadre d’une riposte nationale face à l’ennemi. Il ressent jusque dans ses fibres la possibilité d’une disparition de son pays, avec ses valeurs, sa culture.

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George Orwell patriote (2)

Bernard Gensane

10 octobre 2017

En 1936, lors de son enquête du côté du Quai de Wigan, Orwell s’était assuré qu’il y avait bien deux Angleterre et il avait fait son choix. Il serait toujours aux côtés de la classe ouvrière contre la bourgeoisie. Vis-à-vis de la working class et des indigents en général, il prendrait donc l’exact contre-pied de Baden Powell, fondateur du mouvement scout, qui les décrivait comme anti-patriotiques et anti-sociaux. En 1940, face au danger totalitaire et à la guerre, Orwell croit de moins en moins en l’urgence, voire en la nécessité, de la révolution nationale ou internationale par la violence, et il souhaite que sa patrie soit une dans la lutte. Alors qu’en 1936 la bourgeoisie, impériale ou non, était responsable de tous les maux, elle est dédouanée en 1940, et Orwell en brosse un portrait bizarrement touchant. Depuis soixante-quinze ans, écrit-il dans Coming Up for Air, la classe dirigeante a perdu de son aptitude à gouverner. Autrefois, dans les colonies, il faisait bon vivre dans le perpétuel été d’avant la guerre des Boers, mais depuis 1920 les fonctionnaires de Whitehall surveillent « chaque pouce de l’Empire » et brident l’initiative. L’horizon impérialiste se rétrécissant, cette bourgeoisie de l’outremer n’a pu se réadapter en métropole. Étant intrinsèquement « moraux », les hommes d’affaires anglais n’ont pu, comme leurs confrères américains (« de vrais bandits ») devenir millionnaires. Et ces malheureux bourgeois, par manque de compétence intellectuelle, n’ont pas sérieusement lutté contre le nazisme dans les années trente car ils n’avaient pas «compris » ce phénomène. Orwell croit d’ailleurs inférer qu’ils n’auraient pas non plus compris le communisme s’il avait frappé à leur porte. Les grands responsables du déclin de l’Empire et de l’essoufflement de la bourgeoisie ne sont pas des gestionnaires surannés à la tête d’un outil de production inefficace se débattant dans un nouveau rapport de forces international défavorable mais, tout simplement, les intellectuels de gauche. Ils ont sapé « le moral des britanniques », ils se sont répandus en attitudes « négatives et récriminatrices » sans faire de « suggestions concrètes ». Et, surtout, ils se sont contentés d’évoluer (ô, surprise, pour des intellectuels !) dans un « monde d’idées ». Mais, Dieu merci, l’Angleterre est désormais, n’en déplaise au Dr Goebbels, une grande famille victorienne, un peu «collet monté », mais unie avec bien peu de « brebis galeuses » en son sein.

Tout en admettant après 1940 que la Home Guard (dont il fit partie) était organisée de telle manière que seuls les riches commandaient, il persiste à croire que la guerre a des vertus égalitaires car elle atténue les antagonismes de classe : « La guerre est le plus formidable facteur de changements. Elle accélère tous les mécanismes, elle efface les différences de surface. Par dessus tout, elle fait comprendre à l’individu qu’il n’est pas tout à fait un individu. »

Qu’auront les Anglais à opposer aux divisions blindées allemandes et à la Luftwaffe? Hormis un potentiel militaire non négligeable et une aide américaine qui viendra forcément, Orwell fait confiance aux qualités du peuple anglais. Tout d’abord, la bonne humeur et la sérénité. Comme Bertrand Russel qui, pour Orwell, incarnait moins l’archétype de l’intellectuel anglais que celui de l’Anglais intelligent, ses compatriotes sauront faire preuve de décence et d’esprit chevaleresque (le mot “intellectual ” est quasiment une insulte outre-Manche ; Orwell utilisait “intelligentsia ”, un mot russe d’origine polonaise, donc un peu barbare). Et puis la solidarité, l’honnêteté, le respect de la légalité feront le reste.

Mais il faut dire que la douceur de vivre que connaissait la classe moyenne avant-guerre avait débouché sur une certaine indolence. Désormais, Orwell est persuadé de la victoire car elle sera celle des gens ordinaires qui auront su se dépasser tout en restant eux-mêmes. Il apprécie que, malgré les circonstances exceptionnelles, les Anglais sont restés civiques, légalistes, respectueux des droits de l’individu, et il aimera que Churchill perde les élections de 1945, preuve que ses compatriotes, gens ordinaires, se méfient des hommes forts trop doués … et trop réactionnaires.

Dans les premiers chapitres de Homage to Catalonia, Orwell avait magnifiquement saisi une lutte révolutionnaire, pensant que l’enthousiasme populaire devait suffire à faire vaincre la révolution. Avec “ The Lion and the Unicorn ” (Le Lion et la licorne), son grand texte théorique sur l’Angleterre en guerre, Orwell propose une synthèse enthousiaste du patriotisme et du socialisme. Ces pages sont contemporaines de la Bataille d’Angleterre : l’heure est au drame et à l’espoir en une victoire à court terme. Bien que nous soyons ici dans un essai franchement politique, le narrateur s’affiche dès la première phrase : Orwell écrit ce texte au moment précis et parce que des avions ennemis lui passent au-dessus de la tête : « Au moment où j’écris, des êtres humains hautement civilisés veulent au-dessus de moi et essaient de me tuer. »

Ce qui est en jeu désormais, ce n’est plus le statu quo social ou la révolution, mais la civilisation ou la barbarie. Mieux vaut Chamberlain que Hitler. Le narrateur de Down and Out in Paris and London avait découvert certains de ses compatriotes dans leur étrangeté. Burmese Days (Tragédie birmane) fleurait bon son exotisme. Dans The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell était allé à la rencontre des ouvrières du textile et des mineurs dans leur différence. Désormais, il va à la recherche des autres dans leur ressemblance avec lui-même et ceux de sa classe d’origine, la frange inférieure de la bonne bourgeoisie (the lower-upper-middle class). Ce qui unit les Anglais, postule-t-il, est plus important que ce qui les sépare. Et il pose également que ce qu’il raillait à la fin de Homage to Catalonia, ces caractéristiques d’une Albion aveugle et assoupie (« les pâtures bien grasses, les hommes coiffés de leur chapeau melon, les bus rouges, les policiers en uniforme bleu ») c’est justement ce qui fait la beauté, mais aussi la force de l’Angleterre éternelle. Il existe un caractère national anglais, comme il existe un patrimoine et une « culture commune » que, bizarrement, comme s’il en avait un peu honte, il délimite par la négative : «Les Anglais sont très différents des autres. Il y a une sorte d’acceptation ambiguë de ce fait dans l’aversion éprouvée par presque tous les étrangers pour notre mode de vie national. Peu d’Européens supportent de vivre en Angleterre, et même les Américains se sentent davantage chez eux en Europe. »

Dans “ The Lion and the Unicorn ”, Orwell avance que l’affaiblissement de l’impérialisme dans les années trente a été provoqué en grande partie par l’intelligentsia de gauche, ce groupe s’étant lui-même renforcée grâce à la stagnation de l’Empire. Il pense qu’une alliance objective s’est nouée entre les colonels en retraite (les “ Blimps ”) pour qui un individu trop intelligent ne pouvait être patriote, et les intellectuels pour qui un patriote ne pouvait décidément pas être intelligent. Ce paradoxe déroutant ne peut surprendre dans la mesure où il venait en bout de chaîne après d’autres considérations tout aussi étonnantes sur les intellectuels. Orwell pose tout d’abord que du pessimisme à une vision réactionnaire des choses il n’y a qu’un pas vite franchi par une fraction importante de la classe dominante. Il estime également qu’il eût été possible de susciter un mouvement pacifiste authentiquement populaire en Angleterre, loin de la « gauche de salon ». Mais, dans les années trente, l’intelligentsia s’est déconsidérée dans des activités indignes, dans le domaine de l’esprit comme dans la politique. Elle s’est coupée du reste de la société en dénigrant systématiquement la civilisation occidentale et en cultivant un sentiment négatif de « désillusion ». La « vraie question », se demande Orwell, n’est pas de savoir pourquoi des bourgeois sont devenus staliniens, mais pourquoi ils ont viré à gauche. A première vue, c’est parce que les puissances de l’Axe menaçaient l’Empire britannique, l’antifascisme et l’impérialisme se rejoignant dans un même combat (dans une correspondance de décembre 1938, il explicitait ce postulat. Il estimait que si un « grand mouvement pro-Arabe » voyait le jour, il serait « fatalement pro-fasciste ».)

C’est à cette époque qu’Orwell va définir petit à petit ce qu’est pour lui l’Anglais idéal. George Bowling, son narrateur de Coming Up For Air, en était une esquisse aux traits assurément appuyés, permettant à l’auteur de considérer avec plus de commisération que jamais tous ceux qui ne correspondaient pas au moule. « Un type comme moi est incapable de ressembler à un gentleman », reconnaissait Bowling sans vraiment le regretter. « Les vêtements que je porte », poursuivait-il, sont «l’uniforme de la tribu ». En peignant cet homme ordinaire, Orwell s’adressait à ceux qui, comme son personnage, cultivaient la nostalgie de leur passé et aspiraient à un socialisme non dogmatique, un peu proudhonien. Petit-bourgeois, Bowling ne prône pas l’émancipation de la femme, il n’a pas de l’amour une approche très romantique, il s’indigne des inégalités sociales et déplore que le salarié se voit privé du produit de son travail par le système capitaliste. Il se méfie de la bureaucratie qui empiète sur la liberté individuelle, tout comme le capitalisme qui, par le système de crédit, empêche le salarié d’être jamais propriétaire. Le monde de Bowling converge avec celui de “ The Lion and the Unicorn ” : « C’est votre civilisation. C’est vous. » Ce monde que je décris, dit Orwell, c’est toujours le vôtre. Que vous l’aimiez ou non, il vous manque dès que vous le quittez. Comme vous, il est moyen, ni le joyau chanté par Shakespeare, ni l’enfer décrit par Goebbels. Vous êtes, nous sommes, les membres d’une famille victorienne empesée, avec son lot inévitable de squelettes dans le placard. Chez nous, les jeunes n’ont pas la parole, ce sont les vieux oncles irresponsables qui monopolisent le pouvoir, mais nous sommes une famille unie, avec sa langue, sa culture, ses souvenirs, son esprit de solidarité. Vous et moi sommes peut-être des médiocres, mais au moins saurons-nous, en vrais patriotes, nous unir face à l’adversité extérieure et débusquer l’ennemi intérieur. Nous pourrons toujours nous arc-bouter sur un impérialisme qui n’est pas à dénigrer en bloc : seule sa dimension morale est à redouter quand il détruit la conscience de l’oppresseur et de l’opprimé.

“ The Lion and the Unicorn ” donne donc une idée assez précise de l’image que se fait alors Orwell de son pays. Ces pages sont un mélange d’observations pénétrantes, de gentilles banalités et de généralisations désarmantes : « Les Anglais ne sont pas doués en matière artistique. Ils ne sont pas aussi musiciens que les Italiens ou les Allemands ; la peinture et la sculpture ne se sont pas développés chez nous comme en Fance. Les Anglais ont en horreur la pensée abstraite. Bien que constituant un peuple somnambule, ils sont capables, au paroxysme d’une crise, de dégainer et d’agir par une espèce d’instinct, à dire vrai un code de conduite compris pratiquement de tous quoique jamais formulé. »

Ce qu’Orwell apprécie alors au premier chef chez ses compatriotes, c’est leur réserve, leur politesse : ils font la queue patiemment dans l’ordre, sans se bousculer. Si les ouvriers ne sont pas toujours très gracieux, du moins font-ils toujours preuve de beaucoup d’attentions. La modération de ses compatriotes invite Orwell à penser que le fascisme ne prendra jamais dans son pays : « les purges hitlériennes n’auraient pu exister en Angleterre », affirme-t-il, sans s’interroger le moins du monde sur les conditions historiques qui ont permis à la barbarie de se déchaîner au pays de Goethe. Les Anglais sont trop raisonnables, ils croient trop en la justice pour se laisser entraîner dans le vertige de la terreur et des abus de pouvoir. L’Angleterre est protégée par ses traditions et son histoire, par son essence. La vision d’Orwell est donc très déterministe. La société peut changer, mais jusqu’à un certain point : « on n’obtient pas un panais avec une graine de navet ». Orwell pouvait bien, à l’orée de la guerre, énoncer de telles banalités, le fait est là : le pays n’a pas plié et les traîtres ne furent qu’une poignée. Un solide pragmatisme, une volonté exceptionnelle de croire en soi et de vaincre ont permis de tenir. L’Angleterre a gagné la guerre parce que les vertus typiques chères à Orwell n’étaient pas l’apanage de la classe dirigeante. En était dépositaire le peuple, constitué à ses yeux par la classe ouvrière consciente et la frange inférieure de la bourgeoisie. Et, à long terme, seul cet ensemble social saurait, selon lui, résister à l’envahissement de la culture populaire par le modernisme réducteur et nivelant.

L’essence, la force du patriotisme d’Orwell lui permirent durant deux décennies de tous les dangers de retrouver des valeurs stables, une morale en politique, et d’alimenter son instinct de conservation à la source de son amour pour son pays. Ce patriotisme n’était pas aveugle. L’honnêteté intellectuelle d’Orwell (certes relative), son pessimisme lucide, son humour froid au second degré le faisaient souvent passer pour un prophète de malheur. Ce n’est pas parce qu’il était fondamentalement patriote qu’il aimait et défendait l’Angleterre, mais c’est parce que l’amour de son pays était quintessencié qu’il était patriote. Parce qu’il souhaitait, vers 1940, un consensus politique national et que ce que l’Europe proposait (des régimes forts ou des démocraties en déliquescence) ne lui convenait pas, il soutiendrait son pays de droite comme de gauche (« My country Right and Left »), l’Angleterre de Chamberlain pouvant évoluer à court terme vers un changement radical de société. Orwell établissait par ailleurs une nette distinction entre patriotisme et nationalisme. Être patriote revenait à aimer un endroit, un mode de vie que l’on considérait comme les meilleurs au monde, mais sans pour autant vouloir les imposer aux autres. Pour Orwell, le patriotisme était par nature défensif, militairement et culturellement parlant. Il impliquait par ailleurs une adhésion volontaire à un espace, à une communauté et à des valeurs. Inversement, il concevait le nationalisme comme l’idéologie belliqueuse d’individus en quête de prestige, non pour eux-mêmes mais pour des ensembles dans lesquels ils choisissent d’enfouir leur propre personnalité. Un communiste ne pouvait donc pas, selon lui, être patriote, mais seulement nationaliste, puisqu’il était capable, en l’espace de quelques jours, de transférer ses allégeances selon les nécessités de l’actualité, son rapport à sa terre, à sa patrie étant extrêmement ténu. Il avait établi une typologie de différentes formes de nationalismes : la forme “ positive ”, incarnée par le nationalisme celtique, le sionisme, et ceux qui n’admettaient pas le recul de l’influence anglaise dans le monde ; un nationalisme de “ tranfert ” (il faisait se côtoyer le communisme, le pacifisme, le catholicisme militant, la conscience de classe) ; une variante négative qui incluait pour lui l’anglophobie, l’antisémitisme, le trotskisme.

Orwell a longtemps cru, au moins jusqu’à la rédaction de 1984, que toute guerre pouvait avoir des vertus salutaires, au niveau humain et politique. A l’inverse de ceux qui estimaient que la guerre est la continuation d’un état de chose par d’autres moyens, il voyait en elle une brisure, un moment paroxystique où les individus et les communautés vivent dans un état supérieur, sont révélés par l’épreuve et où, en d’autres termes, Dieu peut reconnaître les siens. Et c’est en Espagne qu’il a commencé à réfléchir au rapport entre la guerre et la révolution. Il pensait alors, contrairement, par exemple, à de nombreux trotskistes anglais, qu’il fallait d’abord se débarrasser du fascisme avant de faire la révolution dans les démocraties bourgeoises. Il semble moins dogmatique sur ce point en 1940. Une révolution et la guerre peuvent être concomitantes. Et il estime alors qu’une révolution (anti-bourgeoise évidemment) pourrait surgir de la guerre grâce aux qualités intrinsèques du peuple anglais. La guerre et la révolution pourront remettre les choses en place. Les inutiles, les inefficaces, les privilégiés disparaîtront. Les compétences populaires pourront s’exprimer. Le peuple en sortira humainement enrichi : « Nous avons avancé aussi lentement que des glaciers et nous n’avons appris que dans les désastres. »

Dans la lutte, il n’y a pas la droite et la gauche, la bourgeoisie et la classe ouvrière, mais les combattants et les partisans de la démission. Le peuple victorieux saura être magnanime. Pas de procès pour les criminels de guerre demande, dès 1943, Orwell lucide et visionnaire : « Les tyrans doivent être mis à mort uniquement par leurs propres sujets ; ceux qui sont punis par une autorité étrangère, par exemple Napoléon, deviennent des martyrs et des légendes. »

La pensée d’Orwell, dans la dernière partie de sa vie, préfigure l’idéologie travailliste des années cinquante, celle qui a rompu, dans les faits, avec le marxisme. Pour Orwell qui, de 1945 à sa mort en 1950, est un sympathisant du Labour, le socialisme se résume à davantage d’égalité et le remplacement des élites obsolètes par ce qu’on n’appelle pas encore la méritocratie. L’Angleterre ne devrait plus être « une famille avec les médiocres aux commandes ». Mais il reproche, cela dit, au gouvernement de Clement Attlee de ne pas avoir suffisamment nationalisé.

Orwell pose donc presque tous les problèmes en termes moraux, en termes d’individualités. De plus sa pensée, surtout quand elle est novatrice, est constamment bridée par des interférences personnelles. Qu’il écrive des pages anti-impérialistes, socialistes, révolutionnaires ou réformistes, l’image de l’homme vaincu, isolé pour qui un changement profond de société impulsé par le “ peuple ” est une chimère, domine. On peut supposer que le pessimisme d’Orwell a été alimenté par l’échec de soulèvements populaires, comme ceux de Kronstadt ou de Varsovie, sans parler de la prise de Barcelone par les Franquistes.

Les patriotes sont ceux qui, pour nous résumer, sont prêts à prendre les armes pour mener une guerre populaire. Les ennemis de la patrie sont les pro-fascistes. L’idée d’une victoire d’Hitler plait aux très riches, aux communistes, aux Chemises noires d’Oswald Mosley (parti fasciste qui, étrangement, fut le premier parti anglais à adopter un programme économique keynésien !), aux pacifistes et à certaines factions catholiques. Et puis, si les choses tournaient mal sur le front intérieur, la totalité des plus pauvres des ouvriers pourrait adopter une position défaitiste mais pas pro-hitlérienne dans les faits. Il restait donc les trois-quarts de la classe ouvrière et la petite bourgeoisie moins les intellectuels de gauche car ces derniers s’étaient, rappelons-le, déconsidérés depuis une dizaine d’années au moins. Le combat étant national et même nationaliste, il faudrait se méfier de cette « intelligentsia européanisée ».

De 1945 à 1950, le mot “ patriotisme ” n’apparaît jamais plus sous la plume d’Orwell. Visionnaire comme Churchill – dont il partage certaines conceptions en matière de géopolitique, Orwell a compris que la division du monde est un état de fait durable. Contre ceux qui envisagent une fusion pure et simple des États-Unis et de la Grande Bretagne, contre une petite minorité d’Anglais qui rêve d’une intégration au système soviétique, il envisage des « États-Unis socialistes d’Europe». L’essayiste qui, en 1947, publie dans la revue d’extrême-gauche étasunienne Partisan Review l’article “ Toward European Unity ” rédige les premières moutures d’un univers fictionnel d’où sont absentes les valeurs de la civilisation occidentale, le patriotisme y compris.

Bref retour sur Orwell (III)

Bernard GENSANE
21 mars 2016

Ce qui distingue les grands créateurs des autres, c’est que, à partir de la réalité, ils élaborent des modèles plus prégnants que celle-ci en nous la faisant comprendre et ressentir comme jamais auparavant. Essayez d’imaginer un gamin de Paris des années 1830 sans penser à Gavroche. Essayez de vous représenter Mozart sans vous remémorer celui d’Amadeus et son rire jamais envisagé jusque là. Le “ Guernica ” de Picasso occulte la vraie ville dont on ne sait, en fait, pas grand chose. Quant à Emma Bovary, elle écrase votre cousine rêveuse.

Dans 1984, Orwell invente un monde et sa langue officielle, la Novlangue (Newspeak). Elle a ceci de particulier qu’elle est conçue pour mourir, Orwell partant du principe que, plus on élimine des mots (on garde “ chaise ” et on supprime “ fauteuil ” “ tabouret ”), plus on réduit leur champ sémantique (“ liberté ” n’est utilisé que dans des phrases comme « j’ai la liberté de choisir entre des pommes de terre et du chou »), plus on réduit une pensée qui devient sans cesse davantage binaire, manichéenne.

Cette invention n’est pas arrivée comme un cheveu sur la soupe dans la vie d’Orwell et sa carrière d’écrivain et de journaliste. Il connaissait sept langues étrangères : le latin et le grec, qu’il avait très bien maîtrisés dans son école privée, le français, qu’il pratiquait avec aisance (il lisait Villon dans le texte, et lorsqu’il enseigna le français dans une école secondaire pendant quelques mois, ses cours se déroulaient entièrement dans la langue), l’hindustani, l’ourdou (deux versions d’une même langue) et le birman, appris lors de son séjour de cinq ans dans la police impériale, le castillan et le catalan, assimilés au contact des Républicains durant la guerre civile. Avant de créer la Novlangue, il s’intéressa, de 1942 à 1944, au Basic English du linguiste Charles Kay Ogden avant d’écarter l’utilisation d’une langue artificielle : il trouvait contre-culturelle une langue fabriquée – simplifiée ou pas – à vocation universelle. Mais il est clair que ce Basic English fut une source d’inspiration pour la Novlangue. Enfin, il avait des notions d’esperanto, que parlait couramment une de ses tantes, mais il s’en méfiait en tant que langue factice (« Les langues ne se peuvent se développer que lentement, comme des fleurs », disait-il).

Bien avant 1984, les premiers livres d’Orwell avaient révélé son grand intérêt pour les questions de langue. Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres, une autofiction de 1933, montre qu’Orwell s’engoue pour les lois sociales de construction du langage. Tragédie birmane (1934) présente la Birmanie comme une société multilingue, les colons empêchant les autochtones d’apprendre l’anglais dans toutes ses finesses et les contraignant à l’utilisation d’un pidgin. Dans Une fille de pasteur (1935), Orwell reproduit, en s’inspirant de Joyce, un dialogue de théâtre entre les miséreux et la fille du pasteur. Dans Le quai de Wigan (1937), ce magistral essai devenu classique sur le monde des mineurs de charbon dans les années trente, Orwell offre quelques exemples d’anglais du Lancashire et du Yorkshire. Dans La Catalogne libre (1938), il utilise sa connaissance du catalan et du castillan. Dans Un peu d’air frais (1939), il présente les variétés de l’anglais selon les classes et commence à dénoncer ce qu’il appelle le “ jargon ” des hommes politiques. Etrangement, peut-être, la dictature de La ferme des animaux ne connaît pas de problèmes langagiers.

Toute la réflexion d’Orwell sur la langue repose sur une idée-force, que la linguistique récusait déjà à son époque, selon laquelle les mots sont autonomes par rapport à la pensée. Et il lui a échappé, comme le proposait fortement Roman Jakobson, que « de même qu’en peinture la géométrie se superpose à la couleur, la puissance d’abstraction de la pensée humaine surimpose des figures grammaticales au mot. » Il affirme pour sa part que la pensée est tellement dépendante des mots que ceux-ci peuvent régir celle-là. Il croit que parler c’est choisir des mots en toute souveraineté, ignorant qu’on ne saurait conceptualiser sans l’appui du langage. Comment dire “ la glace ” en bambara, langue de contrées où il fait trente degrés toute l’année ? En contradiction totale avec le concept d’arbitrarité du signe (voir comment le coq chante en anglais, en espagnol, en allemand, en français et en chinois), il suppose une corrélation entre le sens d’un mot et sa configuration sonore. Dans le monde de 1984, des fonctionnaires de la langue suppriment des mots du dictionnaire et confèrent aux vocables épargnés un sens unique, ce qui n’est pas soutenable dans la mesure où la pensée et les mots n’existent pas dans des sphères distinctes, Orwell pensant peut-être qu’à un mot pourrait correspondre automatiquement une seule pensée.

Dans ses essais majeurs sur la langue comme “ La politique et la langue anglaise ”, il estime que la langue dégénère quand elle sert le discours politique. Il s’inscrit dès lors dans la tradition idéaliste : « Bien écrire ou bien parler est un art. » Ecrire en anglais, c’est « se battre contre le flou, l’obscurité, les pièges tendus par les adjectifs décoratifs et les empiètements du latin et du grec ». Revendiquant son anglicité, Orwell préférait les mots d’origine saxonne aux mots d’origine franco-latine : freedom à liberty, brotherhood à fraternity, tout en sachant que plus de la moitié des mots de l’anglais venaient du français et de latin. A de nombreuses reprises, il décrit sa langue comme « défigurée », « violentée ».

Mais, à sa manière, Orwell a repris l’idéal de Boileau selon lequel ce qui se conçoit bien s’énonce clairement : « Une prose de qualité est transparente comme une vitre ». Ce cristal lui était nécessaire pour mieux faire passer la réalité confuse, violente et terrorisante. Stylistiquement parlant, sa plus grande réussite aura été de faire croire qu’il écrivait “ naturellement ” dans la langue parlée d’un anglais éduqué. D’où son obsession de ne pas pouvoir glisser « la lame d’un couteau métaphorique » entre les mots et le sens. Sa règle – pas toujours applicable – était que le sens décide du mot. Il s’efforça toujours, cela dit, de faire coïncider la forme et le fond.

Pour Orwell, les différences langagières étaient régies par les antagonismes de classe. Les classes éduquées ayant perdu le contact avec le monde ouvrier, il urgeait que les prolétaires redonnent du souffle à la langue anémiée de la classe dirigeante. Son idéalisme l’amena à proposer, pour que les accents régionaux ne disparaissent pas (ils sont toujours bien présents aujourd’hui), un accent « national » (pas le sien, lui l’ancien élève d’Eton), un « cockney modifié » ou alors un des accents du Nord. Mais dans 1984, non seulement les Proles ne régénèrent pas la langue du Parti intérieur, mais il n’existe aucun phénomène de contact entre leur langue et celle des maîtres.

Bien que polyglotte, Orwell n’affectionnait pas les emprunts entre langues. Il n’admit jamais que, si le vocabulaire anglais était très riche, c’est justement parce que la langue anglaise avait deux racines principales. De plus, alors que dans 1984 chaque continent possède une seule langue officielle, Orwell n’a rien écrit sur un fait déjà bien présent à son époque : le nouveau statut de l’anglais en tant que première langue véhiculaire mondiale. Conscient de la fin de la suprématie de l’Angleterre en tant que puissance planétaire, il redoutait le contact avec la culture d’outre-Atlantique. Plutôt conservateur en matière langagière, il n’en a pas moins créé de nombreux néologismes. Par exemple la “ nancytude ” (tapettitude), la “ scotchification ” (de l’Angleterre) (écossification), “ sub-faecal ” (sous-fécal), la “ blimpocracy ” (culotte de peaucratie). Bien que jungien, Orwell n’avait pas perçu que l’inconscient était structuré comme un langage. Il voyait dans les mots une substance pâteuse, fuyant indéfiniment devant les réalités de la pensée (« Quelqu’un a-t-il jamais écrit une lettre d’amour dans laquelle il a exprimé exactement ce qu’il voulait dire ? »). D’où cette proposition d’inventer des nouveaux mots (ou des mots neufs), aussi tranquillement que s’il s’agissait de « pièces pour moteur d’auto ». Mais il n’a pas pu (ou n’a pas eu le temps) de réfléchir à ses propres maniérismes. Il abusait d’adverbes de fréquences (“ rarement ”, “ toujours ”) parce qu’il avait tendance à généraliser. Il utilisait souvent la préposition “ comme ”, des adjectifs comme “ différent ”, “ identique ”, des verbes comme “ comparer ” parce qu’il pensait très souvent de manière analogique. Il s’efforça, cela dit, de s’imposer une hygiène d’écriture consistant, par exemple, à éviter les métaphores rebattues (pas une seule dans La ferme des animaux). Et il proposa cinq règles de bonne écriture et une sixième dirimante, dont il n’est pas stupide de s’inspirer, même si elles trahissent son souci névrotique de propreté :

Ne jamais utiliser une métaphore déjà vue sous la plume d’un autre.
Ne jamais utiliser un mot long quand un court fait l’affaire.
Supprimer un mot lorsqu’il est possible de le supprimer.
Ne pas utiliser la voix passive [beaucoup plus fréquente en anglais qu’en français] quand l’actif convient.
Ne jamais utiliser une expression étrangère, un mot scientifique ou du jargon s’il existe un équivalent en anglais de tous les jours.
Ne pas appliquer ces règles dès lors que le résultat est franchement malsonnant.

Dans 1984, le statut de la langue n’est pas toujours très cohérent. Un seul personnage (membre du Parti Extérieur) parle naturellement en Novlangue. Les enfants de Mrs Parson, pourtant militant zélés de la Ligue de la Jeunesse, s’expriment en anglais ordinaire. Orwell a toujours pensé que le manque de démocratie ou la dictature du prolétariat aggraveraient les antagonismes de classe. Aux trois classes d’Océania correspond une organisation linguistique gouvernée par le chiffre trois. Dans le Parti Intérieur, la Novlangue est censée être la norme ; dans le Parti Extérieur, elle se diffuse progressivement ; elle est inconnue des Proles qui parlent cockney, un idiome qui est d’avantage une recréation orwellienne que du cockney authentique. La Novlangue n’est pas généralisée dans le roman parce que le livre n’est pas une prophétie mais une satire dystopique. Elle ne peut être parlée par des personnages qui ressemblent aux gens qu’Orwell a côtoyés sa vie durant. A la fin du roman, Orwell estime que la Novlangue ne sera pas utilisé par tous avant 2050, malgré les moyens de coercition considérables dont dispose le système. Ce qui semble peut-être le plus pertinent dans la création de la Novlangue, c’est cette idée, aujourd’hui banale, qu’un discours officiel peut fort bien parler pour ne rien dire. Nous sommes en effet dans la destruction du sens. Le personnel politique étasunien a atteint cet idéal : souvenons-nous de Reagan se contenant de murmurer devant ses supporters « Read my lips » ou Hillary Clinton proposant un petit jappement chaque fois que Donald Trump proférerait un ânerie. Orwell postule par ailleurs que la langue fait naître la faute, le sentiment de culpabilité, notion que reprendra plus tard Roland Barthes expliquant que le fascisme n’empêche pas de dire mais oblige à dire.

L’écrivain au style translucide qu’était Orwell avait senti dans les années trente que la langue ne serait plus jamais un moyen de communication innocent. Winston finissait par “ aimer ” Big Brother parce que le mot “ amour ”, tout en ayant perdu sa signification d’origine, existait toujours bel et bien sous son horrible travestissement. Cratyle, dans le dialogue de Platon, avait décidé de se taire (« si des noms sont mal établis, ils ne sont plus que des éclats de voix »). Orwell choisit de travailler la simplicité de son expression (pour ceux dont l’anglais n’est pas la langue maternelle, il est l’un des auteurs les plus faciles à lire) et de renforcer le pouvoir de ses propres mots.

Voir par ailleurs:

How Being Politically Incorrect Could Help Bloomberg

Bloomberg says things that can’t be said in polite company. Maybe voters don’t mind as much as elites do.It’s amusing to learn that Mike Bloomberg, just last year, was filmed speaking with his customary bluntness about transgender individuals: “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people,” he said at a business development forum.

You can’t talk that way anymore in the upper levels of the Democratic party, the media, the arts, or even corporate America. If Bloomberg had said this as the CEO of a publicly traded company, instead of as the owner of a private one, intense pressure would have been put on the board to fire him. And this was hardly the first time he said something that was guaranteed to offend. “We put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is,” Bloomberg said in 2015 at the Aspen Institute, adding, “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.”

Bloomberg hasn’t had to report to anyone for many years, and being as frank as he likes, no matter how rude he sounds, is part of his brand. “A List of Things Bloomberg Actually Said About Fat People, Rape, George W. Bush, and J.Lo” ran one of the more entertaining headlines of this campaign season. My personal favorite is one of many one-liners contained in the now-infamous booklet, The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg. It was published as a sort of party favor back in 1990 by his employees, and no one quite seems to be able to tell if it is a spoof or an actual compendium of Bloomberg remarks. If the former, it sounds a lot like the latter to a lot of people. A highlight is Bloomberg’s summing-up of the British royals: “What a bunch of misfits — a gay, an architect, that horsey-faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad.” (Fact check: Prince Charles is not an architect, merely an architectural enthusiast.)

Yet Bloomberg’s sharp rise in polling has coincided with a concerted effort by the media to score him for all of these grave offenses against political correctness. We’re about to learn whether anyone outside the elite stratum of the country actually considers these sorts of barbed comments to be disqualifying. True, nobody is allowed to talk like this anymore. But then again, the only other politician who dares to is the current occupant of the White House. Which raises the question: Does a history of extreme political incorrectness actually boost Bloomberg’s chances?

Reading about what Democratic voters have to say, it’s evident that all principles and policies are negotiable. The only thing that matters to them is defeating Donald Trump. Medicare for All, Medicare for All Who Want It, continue the status quo? Whatever. As long as someone other than Trump is in charge. Democratic voters have discarded Elizabeth Warren because they don’t think she can defeat Trump, and they are having severe misgivings about Joe Biden because they’re not sure he’s still vigorous enough for battle, or indeed vigorous enough to make it through a sentence without taking a break for a nap. Bernie Sanders, too, has to be making Democratic voters nervous: Hey, we just want Trump gone, we don’t want to be annexed by Denmark. Most Democrats are aware that Sanders is extreme, and more important, most Democrats are aware that swing voters in Michigan and Wisconsin are aware of this.

American elites hear the way Bloomberg talks and think: Shocking! Disqualifying! Outrageous! Median voters might hear something very different: This guy is a match for Trump! Instead of choosing a parody of an earnest loser in a rumpled sweater who has a garage full of Eugene V. Debs filmstrips, the Dems could go with a swashbuckling, trash-talking, don’t-give-a-fig capitalist buccaneer who is prepared to rain insults on Trump, not just gently shake his head and say, “That’s not who we are.” Instead of having a pathetic old schmuck in a subcompact who seems like he should be teaching bored high schoolers, they could have a fiercely combative alpha male who could buy and sell Trump 20 times over. Why not dump Walter White and go with Heisenberg?

The sort of people who get the vapors at offensive comments are going to vote for the Democrat this fall no matter who it is. Bloomberg’s political incorrectness won’t matter any more than Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War mattered in 2016. Yet the prospect of riding into battle with someone who is as arrogant, aggressive, politically incorrect, and corrosively funny as Trump has to be a tempting proposition to a lot of Democrats. Even if it’s a fellow New York billionaire.

Voir de même:

Reaching Peak Progressivism
« The frightening visions of the new peak progressives will ensure the reelection of Donald Trump, as well as either the likely end of themselves—or else a collective dystopian nightmare. »>The frightening visions of the new peak progressives will ensure the reelection of Donald Trump, as well as either the likely end of themselves—or else a collective dystopian nightmare.
Victor Davis Hanson
American greatness
February 16th, 2020

In 2020 we have finally hit peak progressivism. The adjective “peak”—apex or summit— is often used to describe something that has reached its maximum extent but thereafter will insidiously decline—like supposed U.S. domestic oil production in 2000 when more oil was purportedly taken out of, rather than still in the ground. While the idea of peak oil in the days before fracking and horizontal drilling proved vastly premature, we likely are witnessing something like “peak progressivism” today.

By that I mean the hard-left takeover of the Democratic Party and the accompanying progressive agenda now have reached an extreme—beyond which will only result in the steady erosion of radical ideology altogether.

The French Revolution hit “peak” coerced egalitarianism with the Jacobin takeover and so-called Reign of Terror. After all, when you begin guillotining fellow travelers on charges they are counterrevolutionaries and begin worshiping a new atheist secular power “Reason,” institutionalized as Robespierre’s “Cult of the Supreme Being,” you have mostly reached the limits of political radicalism and are into the territory of the nihilistic, if not the maniacal and absurd—with a rendezvous with Napoleon on the horizon.

From 2009 through 2016, Barack Obama recalibrated the Democratic Party’s liberalism into progressive radicalism. He opened the border and all but dismantled existing immigration law. Sanctuary cities sprang up with impunity. Executive orders bypassed the Congress. The Iran Deal ignored the Senate’s treaty-making responsibilities. Obama sought to nationalize healthcare. The concept of “diversity” replaced affirmative action, by redefining racial oppression as distinct from historical grievance and economic disparity and instead lumping together 30 percent of the population as nonwhite, and thus antithetical to the new buzz construct of “white privilege.” Fast and Furious, the surveillance of the Associated Press reporters, Benghazi, the weaponization of the IRS, and the use of CIA, FBI, and DOJ to seed the spurious Steele dossier were all written off as proof of the “most scandal free” administration in memory.

But today Obamaism has been figuratively guillotined by the New Jacobins. It is found guilty of crimes of insufficient revolutionary zeal, as well as compromises with the U.S. Constitution and capitalism.

Once considered a crank socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is now leads in many Democratic primary polls. Arriving with him at this moment in our politics is peak progressivism.

First-term socialists—House representatives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her fellow “squad” members, inspired by Sanders—now set the new Democratic agenda. And it is one that is more radical than anything seen in modern American history and largely unsustainable: calls to level a wealth tax and new top income-tax rates of 70-90 percent, to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, all student debt, an enforceable southern border, the internal combustion engine, and most Second Amendment rights, and to enact multi-trillion dollar new entitlements as outlined in the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, free college, free healthcare for illegal aliens, and reparations.

Identity politics so rules the rhetoric of the new progressive party that all of its—exclusively white—primary finalists vie to be most vocal in the ritual damning of their own country (that has ironically ensured their own influence, power, success and wealth) as inherently “racist.”

Universities Lead the Way In the Revolution Eating Itself

Outside of the political sphere, peak progressivism had reinvented the university, rejecting Martin Luther King, Jr’s vision of racial integration and assimilation, by demanding racially obsessed dorms, safe spaces, and applications.

There is hardly a First Amendment on campuses anymore. Speakers with unpopular views are shouted down with impunity by student activists. “Trigger warnings” seek to censor required texts. The mere accusation of sexual harassment on campus is synonymous with the suspension of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments. Skepticism over abortion, “climate change,” or identity politics can cancel out a faculty career.

It is hard to imagine where universities go after peak progressivism, since it would be the pure nihilism of abolishing grades, admissions standards, and student fees.

Peak progressivism calls for the abolition of the constitutionally mandated Electoral College. Radicals now fault past failed schemes to pack the federal and Supreme Court with left-wing justices only because they failed, and thus advance ways to make court-packing work in the present. The bolder among them wants to reconfigure the U.S. Senate into a proportionally representational house or abolish it altogether. All that would be left after that would be the formal abolition of the U.S. Constitution itself.

Primary candidates compete with one another to water down voting laws, variously demanding that 16-year-olds, felons, and illegal aliens should be given the franchise. Gay marriage, which Obama opposed in 2008 and later promoted after reelection, is now passé. The new civil rights cause celebre is transgenderism, an ancient syndrome known in the past under a variety of clinical definitions that affects less than half of one percent of the population. Who, after these peak progressive ideas, would be left as

ineligible to vote—12-year-olds, those on death row, the rest of the earth’s population?

All moderate Democratic presidential candidates long ago dropped out. Those who have not, such as Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, are in virtual reeducation camps, as they promise to progressive rivals and the media to renounce most of their past positions, effusively apologizing for prior incorrect thinking and failure to become sufficiently “woke.”

The Cycles of Cultish Extremism

There are certain historical characteristics of the current peak progressivism that are typical of past cycles of cultish extremism.

Iconoclasm—the destruction of statues and icons deemed reactionary—is typical.

So is Trotskyization, the renaming of buildings, streets, and institutions on the theory that current correct ideology makes past iconic figures no longer deserving of recognition and thus erased from history.

Puritanism is also typical, as correct speech extends to thoughts and behavior. Peak progressivism now includes Victorian prudery. Flattery, traditional flirting, and praise of physical beauty are proof of counter-revolutionary barbarism and toxic masculinity. The Internet allows instant cancel culture searches of one’s entire past thoughts, conduct, and expression in efforts to erase impure personas.

Tribal factionalism is a final symptom that peak ideology is already degenerating into chaos. In the Democratic primary, candidates could agree that white privilege and whiteness were toxic but no one quite could define whether black, Latino, Asian, gay, female upper-middle class, or wealthy candidates were the most victimized by America and thus the most deserving of reparatory considerations.

The much-discussed “intersectionality” is a construct, a myth. The history of ideological extremism is instead a war of all factions against one another.

We see just that in the peak progressive primaries. Michael Bloomberg is deemed a racist and sexist. But then so is Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders supposedly hires racists and sexists and won’t honor minimum wage laws. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) thinks Bernie is condescending to women and minorities. Pete Buttigieg thinks he is the victim of Joe Biden’s subtle anti-gay political adds, and feels, but does not articulate, that the black community is inherent anti-homosexual. The race to tag others as victimizers and selves as victimized is endless.

Radicals also vie to make rivals look counter-revolutionary, as they advance ever more incoherent and unhinged schemes without a clue that they are losing not just moderate support but even liberal followers. The more Warren feels she must become the purest peak progressive on the debate stage and the most radical in the U.S. Senate, the more her former supporters feel she is either a conniving opportunist or nuts or both.

Impossible Demands, Even of Their Own

Peak progressives cannot possibly live up to their rhetoric fantasies and so suffer from rank hypocrisies. Redistributionists like Warren and Sanders either fly on private jets or choose non-egalitarian first-class commercial. Hollywood stars who mouth crazy Oscar and Grammy ceremony platitudes vie with each other to wear multi-thousand-dollar clothes, live in mansions, and own yachts—as they drive down ratings to historic lows.

Not long ago, progressive pundits on CNN and MSNBC declared the current indicted lawyer Michael Avenatti presidential material for his fabrications and lies that were used to smear Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Where does a network go after that?

Racial quota advocates demand proportional representations and cry out about disparate impact but soon discover that they have no plans or desire to appoint candidates of color to be included on the Democrat debate stage (or to reserve slots for Asian-American basketball forwards, or to ensure blacks make up only 12 percent of the coveted billets of the U.S. Postal Service.) Peak progressives never imagine that they, too, can become prisoners of their ridiculous ideologies.

Peak progressives also live in cocoons. They have no inkling how their ever more radical talk alienates the public. How odd to see Mike Bloomberg repudiate many of his mayoral policies that once were popular with even liberal New Yorkers. (Or is Bloomberg’s Machiavellian team leaking past politically incorrect statements about crime and the housing collapse to show that in comparison with his current rivals’ professed lunacies that he once sounded pragmatic and sane?)

To prove he is not a racist, Joe Biden sounds like an incendiary radical, only further turning off his once-sizable moderate block of supporters. As Democratic candidates careen ever farther to the left, their crowds shrink, and Donald Trump’s rallies expand.

Peak progressivism even scares the diehard NeverTrump right, which fears imploding by voting for a whacked-out Bernie Sanders as the only alternative to the hated Trump.

Peak progressivism eventually either recedes, or, to remain viable, entails violence, as in the Russian, Chinese, or Cuban revolutions. The odd thing is not that Sanders supporter James Hodkinson tried to mow down some of the Republican House leadership, or a recent left-wing activist sought to run over Trump supporters with his van, or that Hollywood stars still compete with each other in imagining the most fitting rhetorical torture or killing of the president of the United States—bombing, incineration, beheading, stabbing, shooting, beating—but that progressive voices rarely complain about such extremist rhetoric or actions. Impeachment 1.0 in January 2017 looks tame in comparison to 2.0 in February 2020, which in turn will seem a sell-out compared to 3.0 in 2021.

George McGovern ensured a Nixon landslide, Jimmy Carter hastened the Reagan Revolution—and the eventual return of the old Democrats under Bill Clinton.

The frightening visions of the new peak progressives will ensure the reelection of Donald Trump, as well as either the likely end of themselves—or else a collective dystopian nightmare.

Voir de plus:

China’s Government Is Like Something out of 1984

The Chinese technological revolution is overseen by an Orwellian dictatorship.The Chinese Communist government increasingly poses an existential threat not just to its own 1.4 billion citizens but to the world at large.

China is currently in a dangerously chaotic state. And why not, when a premodern authoritarian society leaps wildly into the brave new world of high-tech science in a single generation?

The Chinese technological revolution is overseen by an Orwellian dictatorship. Predictably, the Chinese Communist Party has not developed the social, political, or cultural infrastructure to ensure that its sophisticated industrial and biological research does not go rogue and become destructive to itself and to the billions of people who are on the importing end of Chinese products and protocols.

Central Party officials run the government, military, media, and universities collectively in a manner reminiscent of the science-fiction Borg organism of Star Trek, which was a horde of robot-like entities all under the control of a central mind.

Thirty years ago, American pundits began gushing over China’s sudden leap from horse-drawn power to solar, wind, and nuclear energy. The Chinese Communist government wowed Westerners. It created from nothing high-speed rail, solar farms, shiny new airports, and gleaming new high-density apartment buildings.

Western-trained Chinese scientists soon were conducting sophisticated medical and scientific research. And they often did so rapidly, without the prying regulators, nosy elected officials, and bothersome citizen lawsuits that often burden American and European scientists.

To make China instantly rich and modern, the Communist hierarchy — the same government that once caused the deaths of some 60 million innocents under Mao Zedong — ignored property rights. It crushed individual freedom. It embraced secrecy and bulldozed over any who stood in its way.

In much the same manner that silly American pundits once praised Benito Mussolini’s fascist efforts to modernize Depression-era Italy, many naifs in the West praised China only because they wished that their own countries could recalibrate so quickly and efficiently — especially in service to green agendas.

But the world is learning that China does not just move mountains for new dams or bulldoze ancient neighborhoods that stand in the path of high-speed rail. It also hid the outbreak and the mysterious origins of the deadly coronavirus from its own people and the rest of the planet as well — a more dangerous replay of its earlier effort to mask the spread of the SARS virus. The result was that thousands of unknowing carriers spread the viral plague while the government covered up its epidemic proportions.

China, of course, does not wish to have either its products or citizens quarantined from other countries. But the Chinese government will not allow foreign scientists to enter its country to collaborate on containing the coronavirus and developing a vaccine.

No wonder Internet conspiracies speculate that the virus was either a rogue product of the Chinese military’s bioengineering weapons lab or originated from bats, snakes, or pangolins and the open-air markets where they are sold as food.

It is hard to believe that in 2020, the world’s largest and second-wealthiest county, which boasts of high-tech consumer products and gleaming cities, has imprisoned in “re-education camps” more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in the manner that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao once relocated “undesirable” populations.

China seems confident that it will soon rule the world, given its huge population, massive trade surpluses, vast cash reserves, and industries that produce so many of the world’s electronic devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods.

For a year, the Chinese government has battled massive street demonstrations for democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing cynically assumes that Western nations don’t care. They are expected to drop their characteristic human-rights advocacy because of how profitable their investments inside China have proven.

Beijing was right. Few Western companies complain that Chinese society is surveilled, regulated, and controlled in a nightmarish fashion that George Orwell once predicted in his dystopian novel, 1984.

All of these recent scandals should remind the world that China got rich by warping trade and stealing technology in much the same way that it deals with epidemics and dissidents. That is, by simply ignoring legitimate criticism and crushing anyone in its way.

If the Chinese Communist Borg is willing to put millions of its own citizens at risk of infection and death, why would it care about foreigners’ complaints that China is getting rich and powerful by breaking international trade rules?

The truth about President Trump’s decision to call China to account over its systematic abuse of international trade norms is not that Trump’s policy is reckless or ill-considered. It’s that at this late date, the reckoning might prove too little, too late.

Voir encore:

Des employés d’Amazon écoutent les conversations des utilisateurs avec Alexa

Pour améliorer les performances de reconnaissance vocale de son assistant intelligent Alexa, des milliers de salariés d’Amazon écoutent des extraits de conversations réelles. Il n’est pas mentionné explicitement dans ses conditions d’utilisation que des humains peuvent y accéder.

Kesso Diallo

Plusieurs personnes hésitent à introduire des enceintes connectées chez eux par crainte d’être écoutés. D’une certaine façon, c’est bien le cas. Une enquête de Bloomberg révèle qu’Amazon emploie des milliers de salariés dans le monde pour écouter les conversations des utilisateurs avec Alexa, l’assistant vocal qui alimente les enceintes Echo du géant et plus de 100 millions d’objets connectés dans le monde. Ces employés travaillent neuf heures par jour dans des bureaux à Boston, au Costa Rica, en Inde ou encore en Roumanie. Il analyse jusqu’à 1000 clips audio par jour pour transcrire et annoter leur contenu. Le but est d’améliorer l’outil de reconnaissance vocale en éliminant les lacunes dans la compréhension de la parole humaine par Alexa et en l’aidant à mieux répondre aux demandes des utilisateurs. Un employé explique ainsi à Bloomberg avoir aidé Alexa à mieux comprendre le nom «Taylor Swift» en lui indiquant que l’utilisateur parlait d’une artiste musicale.

La vie privée des utilisateurs chez Amazon

Parmi le type de clips auxquels les salariés accèdent, des requêtes mais aussi des sons enregistrés comme une femme qui chante mal sous la douche. Problème: ces fichiers peuvent être partagés sur une messagerie interne pour aider un collègue à mieux interpréter une phrase ou pour se moquer d’un enregistrement amusant. D’autres extraits sont parfois plus problématiques. Deux personnes qui travaillaient pour Amazon ont ainsi raconté avoir entendu ce qui ressemblait à une agression sexuelle. Après l’avoir mentionné à leur hiérarchie, ils ont été informés qu’Amazon ne souhaitait pas réagir à la situation. Pourtant le géant affirme que «des procédures ont été mises en place» pour ce genre de situation. Enfin, lorsque les employés entendent des données personnelles telles que les coordonnées bancaires, ils cochent simplement une boîte de dialogue indiquant «données critiques» avant de passer au fichier audio suivant.

Selon un porte-parole d’Amazon, seul «un très faible échantillon des enregistrements» est utilisé pour améliorer l’expérience de l’utilisateur. Il précise également que les employés ne peuvent pas accéder directement aux informations d’identification des personnes ou des comptes associés aux enregistrements. «Toutes les informations sont traitées avec la plus grande confidentialité et nous utilisons l’authentification multifacteurs pour restreindre l’accès, le chiffrement des services et des audits de notre environnement de contrôle pour le protéger». Pourtant, les captures d’écran fournies par les employés à Bloomberg montrent qu’à défaut d’indiquer le nom complet et l’adresse d’un utilisateur, les enregistrements sont tout de même associés à un numéro de compte, ainsi qu’au prénom de l’utilisateur et le numéro de série de l’appareil.

Paramètres de confidentialité

Amazon mentionne dans ses conditions d’utilisation que les conversations des utilisateurs avec Alexa sont enregistrées pour améliorer son assistant virtuel. Cependant, le géant n’y précise explicitement pas que ces conversations peuvent être écoutées par des humains. Et si l’utilisateur peut limiter via les paramètres de confidentialité d’Alexa l’utilisation qui est faite de ces enregistrements, il ne peut jamais empêcher cette transmission.

Alexa est conçue pour enregistrer en continu des extraits audio dès qu’elle entend le mot d’activation, soit «Alexa» par défaut. Ce mot peut être modifié. Une fois qu’il est détecté, l’anneau de lumière situé au-dessus de l’enceinte devient bleu, indiquant que le périphérique enregistre et transmet une commande aux serveurs d’Amazon. Le site du géant affirme qu’aucun son n’est stocké à moins que l’enceinte connectée Echo ne détecte le mot d’activation ou ne soit allumée en appuyant sur un bouton. Mais, il arrive qu’Alexa commence un enregistrement sans aucune demande de la part de l’utilisateur ou par accident. L’assistant vocal peut en effet se tromper, notamment avec d’autres langues que l’anglais. En français, il peut confondre «sa» avec «Alexa», soit son mot d’activation. Chaque auditeur transcrit ainsi jusqu’à 100 enregistrements par jour dans ces situations selon une source de Bloomberg.

Améliorer les assistants vocaux

Amazon n’est pas la seule entreprise à faire écouter une partie de ces conversations à des humains pour améliorer son outil de reconnaissance vocale. C’est aussi le cas chez Google et Apple avec leurs propres assistants vocaux Google Assistant et Siri. Pour Siri d’Apple, les enregistrements passés en revue ne contiennent pas d’informations personnelles. Durant les six mois où ils sont stockés, ils sont liés à un identifiant aléatoire selon un livre blanc sur la sécurité d’Apple. Après ces six mois, les données sont dépourvues de leur identifiant aléatoire, mais elles peuvent être stockées plus longtemps pour améliorer la reconnaissance vocale de Siri. Chez Google, certains réviseurs peuvent accéder à des extraits audio de Google Assistant, mais ces derniers ne sont associés à aucune information personnelle et le son est déformé, selon l’entreprise.

Dans la nuit du 2 au 3 août, Amazon a mis à jour son application Alexa pour expliquer plus clairement la manière dont les enregistrements sont utilisés. Ainsi, on peut dorénavant lire que «les fichiers audios peuvent être […] manuellement révisés pour aider à améliorer les services [d’Amazon]». Alors qu’avant, la firme indiquait seulement que les enregistrements pouvaient «être utilisés pour développer de nouvelles fonctionnalités». Via l’application, il est aussi possible de désactiver l’envoi et l’écoute des fichiers audios avec Alexa. L’annonce d’Amazon fait suite à la procédure administrative ouverte par l’autorité de protection des données de Hambourg à l’encontre de Google. Depuis le 1er août et pendant trois mois, la firme n’est plus autorisée à laisser ses employés ou sous-traitants écouter les conversations enregistrées par son assistant intelligent. L’interdiction s’étend à toute l’Union Européenne. Apple a également emboîté le pas à Google et Amazon. La firme a annoncé au média TechCrunch qu’elle suspendait la manière dont les enregistrements sont utilisés pour améliorer son assistant vocal, «le temps de le réexaminer en profondeur». Cette décision s’applique au monde entier.

Voir enfin:

Primaires américaines : à Las Vegas, le milliardaire Michael Bloomberg aiguise les rivalités démocrates
L’ancien maire de New York a participé à son premier débat des primaires et fait l’unanimité contre lui parmi les autres candidats.

Corine Lesnes

Le Monde

20 février 2020

Michael Bloomberg avait beaucoup d’explications à fournir. Sur ses déclarations méprisantes à l’égard des femmes, son passé républicain, et surtout sa politique de « stop and frisk » ou contrôle au faciès quand il était maire de New York de 2002 à 2013. Dès la deuxième minute du débat des primaires démocrates de Las Vegas, mercredi 19 février, Bernie Sanders a attaqué frontalement le nouveau venu dans la campagne, expliquant qu’il n’avait aucune chance de battre Donald Trump, en raison de son soutien passé à cette pratique raciste.

Le milliardaire a encaissé le coup. « Euh », a-t-il balbutié. Elizabeth Warren s’est précipitée pour le tailler en pièces : « J’aimerais parler de qui nous combattons, a-t-elle lancé. Un milliardaire qui traite les femmes de “grosses vaches” et de “lesbiennes au visage chevalin”. Et non, je ne parle pas de Donald Trump, a repris la sénatrice du Massachusetts. Je parle de Michael Bloomberg. Les démocrates prennent un grand risque si nous remplaçons un milliardaire arrogant par un autre. »

Dans l’assistance, il y a eu un moment d’effroi puis des applaudissements. La candidate, en perte de vitesse depuis des semaines dans les sondages, faisait référence à une compilation satirique concoctée en 1990 par un cadre de la société Bloomberg et offerte au PDG pour son 48e anniversaire : la recension de quelques « maximes » d’un homme réputé pour ses jugements corrosifs. Bloomberg a préféré ne pas relever. « Je suis New-Yorkais, a-t-il répondu d’une voix atone. Je sais comment m’y prendre avec un imposteur new-yorkais de l’arrogance de Donald Trump. »

Effet Bloomberg ? Sursaut de combativité parmi les concurrents distancés dans les sondages ? Le neuvième débat démocrate, mercredi 19 février, le premier pour l’ancien maire de New York, a été le plus brutal depuis le début de la compétition pour la succession de Donald Trump. Pendant la première heure, le casino Paris Las Vegas s’est transformé en arène où les six candidats-gladiateurs ont déversé attaques et insultes – des plus conséquentes aux plus mesquines. NBC News a totalisé 75 tirs dans les 60 premières minutes. Et dans toutes les directions.

Ascension fulgurante

Amy Klobuchar, l’accrocheuse sénatrice du Minnesota, s’est vu longuement reprocher d’avoir été incapable de citer le nom du président mexicain dans une interview, alors qu’elle a multiplié les excuses et pris soin de mentionner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (après un coup d’œil à ses notes). Avec son air de premier de la classe, le polyglotte Pete Buttigieg, qui court sur les mêmes terres centristes du Midwest, l’a énervée plusieurs fois : « J’aimerais que tout le monde soit aussi parfait que toi, Pete. »

Rien n’a été épargné aux spectateurs. Pas même la crise cardiaque subie, en octobre 2019 dans cette même ville de Las Vegas, par Bernie Sanders. Pete Buttigieg, le premier, mais pas le seul, lui a reproché de ne pas publier davantage d’informations sur son dossier médical. Bernie Sanders, la figure rouge depuis son premier emportement contre Michael Bloomberg, a répondu qu’il avait donné toutes les garanties. Avant de botter en direction de Bloomberg : « Je crois qu’on partage le fait d’avoir deux stents », a-t-il glissé. « C’était il y a 25 ans », a soupiré l’ancien maire de New York.

L’ascension fulgurante de ce dernier a fait l’effet d’un électrochoc dans le camp démocrate. Plusieurs sondages l’ont maintenant placé dans le trio de tête, voire en deuxième position. Dans le dernier calcul de la moyenne des sondages établie par le site Realclearpolitics, Bernie Sanders arrive en première position avec 29 %, Joe Biden est deuxième avec 18 %, talonné par Michael Bloomberg à 16 %. Le sondage NBC News-Wall Street Journal, publié à la veille du débat, a lui aussi placé le socialiste-démocrate en tête avec 27 %, devant Joe Biden, en recul de 11 points. L’ancien vice-président, qui joue gros lors des caucus du Nevada samedi, a tenu son rang dans le débat, mais sans éclat.

Neuvième fortune mondiale

Depuis qu’il s’est lancé en novembre 2019, Michael Bloomberg, 55 milliards de dollars (50 milliards d’euros), la 9e fortune mondiale selon le classement du magazine Forbes en 2019, a déployé des moyens sans précédent. Il a déjà dépensé 409 millions de dollars, dont un million par jour sur Facebook selon NBC News, soit plus que les candidats encore en lice pendant toute l’année 2019.

Lui qui a fait sa fortune dans l’information financière a mis en place un dispositif sophistiqué sur les réseaux sociaux, allant jusqu’à payer des influenceurs pour publier des mèmes. Il a recruté des auteurs d’émissions satiriques pour calibrer des Tweet susceptibles de déclencher la rage de Donald Trump – lequel mord régulièrement à l’hameçon. Sans avoir participé aux caucus de l’Iowa ou aux primaires du New Hampshire, sans se présenter aux caucus du Nevada samedi 22 ou aux primaires de Caroline du Sud le 29 février, Michael Bloomberg s‘est hissé devant des candidats qui battent la campagne depuis plus d’un an.

Ceux-ci ont-ils réussi à enrayer la dynamique ? Bloomberg, qui n’avait pas participé à un débat politique depuis plus de dix ans, n’a pas manifesté de talent oratoire particulier, hésitant dans sa défense. Sur les contrôles au faciès, il s’est de nouveau excusé, plaidant l’ignorance de l’impact sur les minorités, tout en répétant que, de 650, le nombre de meurtres à New York avait été réduit de 50 %. Il ne s’est animé que dans la partie consacrée au climat, l’une de ses causes de prédilection.

Quoi qu’il en soit, sa présence a entraîné un débat supplémentaire chez les démocrates. Tous les candidats se sont déclarés scandalisés qu’il « achète » l’élection à coups de publicités (une telle fortune, équivalente à ce que possèdent 125 millions d’Américains, est « immorale », a jugé Bernie Sanders). Mais Bloomberg, un self-made-man, ingénieur de formation qui a inventé une plate-forme de trading, n’est pas vu comme un épouvantail par toute la gauche, où sévit ce qu’un éditorialiste a appelé « la tentation de Bloomberg », l’anti-Bernie Sanders.

Le milliardaire a reçu le soutien de dizaines de maires et d’élus afro-américains, dont il aide les projets sociaux depuis des années. Il a investi 500 millions de dollars dans la campagne de l’organisation écologiste Sierra Club « Beyond coal », qui a contribué à fermer la moitié des centrales au charbon du pays. Pas une cause progressiste – du planning familial à l’Emily’s List, qui aide les femmes en politique – qui n’ait bénéficié de subventions de sa fondation. « J’ai eu beaucoup de chance, j’ai gagné beaucoup d’argent et je suis en train de le dépenser pour débarrasser le pays de Donald Trump. Et d’ailleurs, une bonne partie de cet argent va au Parti démocrate », a-t-il rappelé.

Voir enfin:

Poison Apples
Rebecca Solnit
Harper’s
Dec. 2014

Thirty years ago, Apple Computer launched a new product with a messianic commercial in which legions of blank-faced, coverall-clad workers march, as if in a trance, through a strange industrial world. They arrive at a bright screen, which they sit in front of in homogeneous rows to watch a Big Brother–like figure announce the triumph of a mind-controlling monoculture. An athlete speeds toward the massive hall. Her sprinting power, her golden skin and bright red shorts, and even her gender stand in contrast to the zombie shuffle of the male figures.

The ad cuts back and forth between this vivid, supercharged woman in color and the bald ghost-workers in black and white. Pursued by faceless police in riot helmets intent on stopping her, she nevertheless finds time to spin her sledgehammer round and round before hurling it at the screen, where it smashes the image of Big Brother. The screen explodes in brightness, like an atomic blast, before the video cuts to a shot of the audience’s illuminated faces, their mouths open in shock. Then comes the famous tagline: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ ” It’s perhaps Silicon Valley’s first announcement that they don’t just make tools; they make culture. But what kind of culture?

This minute-long movie was made in an era of considerable anxiety about the future. Alien (1979) postulated the usual hostile invaders, with better effects; Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) showed a chaotic world of post-peak-oil car mania; Blade Runner (1982) was set in a Los Angeles that was a weird mix of post-human and post-white, two qualities that were regarded with what seemed like equal dismay; and The Terminator (1984) worried about smart machines. This little Apple film was made to pep you up about the future, not to scare you, back in the days when the power of computers was puny compared with now, and nuclear threats were huge.

I want to yell at that liberatory young woman with her sledgehammer: « Don’t do it! » Apple is not different. That industry is going to give rise to innumerable forms of triviality and misogyny, to the concentration of wealth and the dispersal of mental concentration. To suicidal, underpaid Chinese factory workers whose reality must be like that of the shuffling workers in the commercial. If you think a crowd of people staring at one screen is bad, wait until you have created a world in which billions of people stare at their own screens even while walking, driving, eating in the company of friends—all of them eternally elsewhere. »

Voir par ailleurs:

Inside the Whale

When Henry Miller’s novel, Tropic of Cancer, appeared in 1935, it was greeted with rather cautious praise, obviously conditioned in some cases by a fear of seeming to enjoy pornography. Among the people who praised it were T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Aldous Huxley, John dos Passos, Ezra Pound — on the whole, not the writers who are in fashion at this moment. And in fact the subject matter of the book, and to a certain extent its mental atmosphere, belong to the twenties rather than to the thirties.Tropic of Cancer is a novel in the first person, or autobiography in the form of a novel, whichever way you like to look at it. Miller himself insists that it is straight autobiography, but the tempo and method of telling the story are those of a novel. It is a story of the American Paris, but not along quite the usual lines, because the Americans who figure in it happen to be people without money. During the boom years, when dollars were plentiful and the exchange-value of the franc was low, Paris was invaded by such a swarm of artists, writers, students, dilettanti, sight-seers, debauchees, and plain idlers as the world has probably never seen. In some quarters of the town the so-called artists must actually have outnumbered the working population — indeed, it has been reckoned that in the late ‘twenties there were as many as 30,000 painters in Paris, most of them impostors. The populace had grown so hardened to artists that gruff-voiced lesbians in corduroy breeches and young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without attracting a glance, and along the Seine banks by Notre Dame it was almost impossible to pick one’s way between the sketching-stools. It was the age of dark horses and neglected genii; the phrase on everybody’s lips was ‘quand je serai lancé’. As it turned out, nobody was ‘lancé’, the slump descended like another Ice Age, the cosmopolitan mob of artists vanished, and the huge Montparnasse cafés which only ten years ago were filled till the small hours by hordes of shrieking poseurs have turned into darkened tombs in which there are not even any ghosts. It is this world — described in, among other novels, Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr — that Miller is writing about, but he is dealing only with the under side of it, the lumpen-proletarian fringe which has been able to survive the slump because it is composed partly of genuine artists and partly of genuine scoundrels. The neglected genii, the paranoiacs who are always ‘going to’ write the novel that will knock Proust into a cocked hat, are there, but they are only genii in the rather rare moments when they are not scouting about for the next meal. For the most part it is a story of bug-ridden rooms in workingmen’s hotels, of fights, drinking bouts, cheap brothels, Russian refugees, cadging, swindling, and temporary jobs. And the whole atmosphere of the poor quarters of Paris as a foreigner sees them — the cobbled alleys, the sour reek of refuse, the bistros with their greasy zinc counters and worn brick floors, the green waters of the Seine, the blue cloaks of the Republican Guard, the crumbling iron urinals, the peculiar sweetish smell of the Metro stations, the cigarettes that come to pieces, the pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens — it is all there, or at any rate the feeling of it is there.On the face of it no material could be less promising. When Tropic of Cancer was published the Italians were marching into Abyssinia and Hitler’s concentration camps were already bulging. The intellectual foci of the world were Rome, Moscow, and Berlin. It did not seem to be a moment at which a novel of outstanding value was likely to be written about American dead-beats cadging drinks in the Latin Quarter. Of course a novelist is not obliged to write directly about contemporary history, but a novelist who simply disregards the major public events of the moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot. From a mere account of the subject matter of Tropic of Cancer most people would probably assume it to be no more than a bit of naughty-naughty left over from the ‘twenties. Actually, nearly everyone who read it saw at once that it was nothing of the kind, but a very remarkable book. How or why remarkable? That question is never easy to answer. It is better to begin by describing the impression that Tropic of Cancer has left on my own mind.

When I first opened Tropic of Cancer and saw that it was full of unprintable words, my immediate reaction was a refusal to be impressed. Most people’s would be the same, I believe. Nevertheless, after a lapse of time the atmosphere of the book, besides innumerable details, seemed to linger in my memory in a peculiar way. A year later Miller’s second book, Black Spring, was published. By this time Tropic of Cancer was much more vividly present in my mind than it had been when I first read it. My first feeling about Black Spring was that it showed a falling-off, and it is a fact that it has not the same unity as the other book. Yet after another year there were many passages in Black Spring that had also rooted themselves in my memory. Evidently these books are of the sort to leave a flavour behind them — books that ‘create a world of their own’, as the saying goes. The books that do this are not necessarily good books, they may be good bad books like Raffles or the Sherlock Holmes stories, or perverse and morbid books like Wuthering Heights or The House with the Green Shutters. But now and again there appears a novel which opens up a new world not by revealing what is strange, but by revealing what is familiar. The truly remarkable thing about Ulysses, for instance, is the commonplaceness of its material. Of course there is much more in Ulysses than this, because Joyce is a kind of poet and also an elephantine pedant, but his real achievement has been to get the familiar on to paper. He dared — for it is a matter of daring just as much as of technique — to expose the imbecilities of the inner mind, and in doing so he discovered an America which was under everybody’s nose. Here is a whole world of stuff which you supposed to be of its nature incommunicable, and somebody has managed to communicate it. The effect is to break down, at any rate momentarily, the solitude in which the human being lives. When you read certain passages in Ulysses you feel that Joyce’s mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he has never heard your name, that there exists some world outside time and space in which you and he are together. And though he does not resemble Joyce in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in Black Spring, tends to slide away into mere verbiage or into the squashy universe of the surrealists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. ‘He knows all about me,’ you feel; ‘he wrote this specially for me’. It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylized, marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and are dealing with the recognizable experiences of human beings.

But what kind of experience? What kind of human beings? Miller is writing about the man in the street, and it is incidentally rather a pity that it should be a street full of brothels. That is the penalty of leaving your native land. It means transferring your roots into shallower soil. Exile is probably more damaging to a novelist than to a painter or even a poet, because its effect is to take him out of contact with working life and narrow down his range to the street, the café, the church, the brothel and the studio. On the whole, in Miller’s books you are reading about people living the expatriate life, people drinking, talking, meditating, and fornicating, not about people working, marrying, and bringing up children; a pity, because he would have described the one set of activities as well as the other. In Black Spring there is a wonderful flashback of New York, the swarming Irish-infested New York of the O. Henry period, but the Paris scenes are the best, and, granted their utter worthlessness as social types, the drunks and dead-beats of the cafés are handled with a feeling for character and a mastery of technique that are unapproached in any at all recent novel. All of them are not only credible but completely familiar; you have the feeling that all their adventures have happened to yourself. Not that they are anything very startling in the way of adventures. Henry gets a job with a melancholy Indian student, gets another job at a dreadful French school during a cold snap when the lavatories are frozen solid, goes on drinking bouts in Le Havre with his friend Collins, the sea captain, goes to brothels where there are wonderful Negresses, talks with his friend Van Norden, the novelist, who has got the great novel of the world in his head but can never bring himself to begin writing it. His friend Karl, on the verge of starvation, is picked up by a wealthy widow who wishes to marry him. There are interminable Hamlet-like conversations in which Karl tries to decide which is worse, being hungry or sleeping with an old woman. In great detail he describes his visits to the widow, how he went to the hotel dressed in his best, how before going in he neglected to urinate, so that the whole evening was one long crescendo of torment etc., etc. And after all, none of it is true, the widow doesn’t even exist — Karl has simply invented her in order to make himself seem important. The whole book is in this vein, more or less. Why is it that these monstrous trivialities are so engrossing? Simply because the whole atmosphere is deeply familiar, because you have all the while the feeling that these things are happening to you. And you have this feeling because somebody has chosen to drop the Geneva language of the ordinary novel and drag the real-politik of the inner mind into the open. In Miller’s case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. The callous coarseness with which the characters in Tropic of Cancer talk is very rare in fiction, but it is extremely common in real life; again and again I have heard just such conversations from people who were not even aware that they were talking coarsely. It is worth noticing that Tropic of Cancer is not a young man’s book. Miller was in his forties when it was published, and though since then he has produced three or four others, it is obvious that this first book had been lived with for years. It is one of those books that are slowly matured in poverty and obscurity, by people who know what they have got to do and therefore are able to wait. The prose is astonishing, and in parts of Black Spring it is even better. Unfortunately I cannot quote; unprintable words occur almost everywhere. But get hold of Tropic of Cancer, get hold of Black Spring and read especially the first hundred pages. They give you an idea of what can still be done, even at this late date, with English prose. In them, English is treated as a spoken language, but spoken without fear, i.e. without fear of rhetoric or of the unusual or poetical word. The adjective has come back, after its ten years’ exile. It is a flowing, swelling prose, a prose with rhythms in it, something quite different from the flat cautious statements and snack-bar dialects that are now in fashion.

When a book like Tropic of Cancer appears, it is only natural that the first thing people notice should be its obscenity. Given our current notions of literary decency, it is not at all easy to approach an unprintable book with detachment. Either one is shocked and disgusted, or one is morbidly thrilled, or one is determined above all else not to be impressed. The last is probably the commonest reaction, with the result that unprintable books often get less attention than they deserve. It is rather the fashion to say that nothing is easier than to write an obscene book, that people only do it in order to get themselves talked about and make money, etc., etc. What makes it obvious that this is not the case is that books which are obscene in the police-court sense are distinctly uncommon. If there were easy money to be made out of dirty words, a lot more people would be making it. But, because ‘obscene’ books do not appear very frequently, there is a tendency to lump them together, as a rule quite unjustifiably. Tropic of Cancer has been vaguely associated with two other books, Ulysses and Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, but in neither case is there much resemblance. What Miller has in common with Joyce is a willingness to mention the inane, squalid facts of everyday life. Putting aside differences of technique, the funeral scene in Ulysses, for instance, would fit into Tropic of Cancer; the whole chapter is a sort of confession, an exposé of the frightful inner callousness of the human being. But there the resemblance ends. As a novel, Tropic of Cancer is far inferior to Ulysses. Joyce is an artist, in a sense in which Miller is not and probably would not wish to be, and in any case he is attempting much more. He is exploring different states of consciousness, dream, reverie (the ‘bronze-by-gold’ chapter), drunkenness, etc., and dovetailing them all into a huge complex pattern, almost like a Victorian ‘plot’. Miller is simply a hard-boiled person talking about life, an ordinary American businessman with intellectual courage and a gift for words. It is perhaps significant that he looks exactly like everyone’s idea of an American businessman. As for the comparison with Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, it is even further from the point. Both books use unprintable words, both are in some sense autobiographical, but that is all. Voyage au Bout de la Nuit is a book-with-a-purpose, and its purpose is to protest against the horror and meaninglessness of modern life — actually, indeed, of life. It is a cry of unbearable disgust, a voice from the cesspool. Tropic of Cancer is almost exactly the opposite. The thing has become so unusual as to seem almost anomalous, but it is the book of a man who is happy. So is Black Spring, though slightly less so, because tinged in places with nostalgia. With years of lumpen-proletarian life behind him, hunger, vagabondage, dirt, failure, nights in the open, battles with immigration officers, endless struggles for a bit of cash, Miller finds that he is enjoying himself. Exactly the aspects of life that fill Céline with horror are the ones that appeal to him. So far from protesting, he is accepting. And the very word ‘acceptance’ calls up his real affinity, another American, Walt Whitman.

But there is something rather curious in being Whitman in the nineteen-thirties. It is not certain that if Whitman himself were alive at the moment he would write anything in the least degree resembling Leaves of Grass. For what he is saying, after all, is ‘I accept’, and there is a radical difference between acceptance now and acceptance then. Whitman was writing in a time of unexampled prosperity, but more than that, he was writing in a country where freedom was something more than a word. The democracy, equality, and comradeship that he is always talking about are not remote ideals, but something that existed in front of his eyes. In mid-nineteenth-century America men felt themselves free and equal, were free and equal, so far as that is possible outside a society of pure communism. There was poverty and there were even class-distinctions, but except for the Negroes there was no permanently submerged class. Everyone had inside him, like a kind of core, the, knowledge that he could earn a decent living, and earn it without bootlicking. When you read about Mark Twain’s Mississippi raftsmen and pilots, or Bret Harte’s Western gold-miners, they seem more remote than the cannibals of the Stone Age. The reason is simply that they are free human beings. But it is the same even with the peaceful domesticated America of the Eastern states, the America of Little Women, Helen’s Babies, and Riding Down from Bangor. Life has a buoyant, carefree quality that you can feel as you read, like a physical sensation in your belly. It is this that Whitman is celebrating, though actually he does it very badly, because he is one of those writers who tell you what you ought to feel instead of making you feel it. Luckilly for his beliefs, perhaps, he died too early to see the deterioration in American life that came with the rise of large-scale industry and the exploiting of cheap immigrant labour.

Miller’s outlook is deeply akin to that of Whitman, and neaarly everyone who has read him has remarked on this. Tropic of Cancer ends with an especially Whitmanesque passage, in which, after the lecheries, the swindles, the fights, the drinking bouts, and the imbecilities, he simply sits down and watches the Seine flowing past, in a sort of mystical acceptance of the thing-as-it-is. Only, what is he accepting? In the first place, not America, but the ancient boneheap of Europe, where every grain of soil has passed through innumerable human bodies. Secondly, not an epoch of expansion and liberty, but an epoch of fear, tyranny, and regimentation. To say ‘I accept’ in an age like our own is to say that you accept concentration camps, rubber truncheons, Hitler, Stalin, bombs, aeroplanes, tinned food, machine guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux belts, gas masks, submarines, spies, provocateurs, press-censorship, secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films, and political murders. Not only those things, of course, but, those things among others. And on the whole this is Henry Miller’s attitude. Not quite always, because at moments he shows signs of a fairly ordinary kind of literary nostalgia. There is a long passage in the earlier part of Black Spring, in praise of the Middle Ages, which as prose must be one of the most remarkable pieces of writing in recent years, but which displays an attitude not very different from that of Chesterton. In Max and the White Phagocytes there is an attack on modern American civilization (breakfast cereals, cellophane, etc.) from the usual angle of the literary man who hates industrialism. But in general the attitude is ‘Let’s swallow it whole’. And hence the seeming preocupation with indecency and with the dirty-handkerchief side of life. It is only seeming, for the truth is that ordinary everyday life consists far more largely of horrors than writers of fiction usually care to admit. Whitman himself ‘accepted’ a great deal that his contemporaries found unmentionable. For he is not only writing of the prairie, he also wanders through the city and notes the shattered skull of the suicide, the ‘grey sick faces of onanists’, etc, etc. But unquestionably our own age, at any rate in Western Europe, is less healthy and less hopeful than the age in which Whitman was writing. Unlike Whitman, we live in a shrinking world. The ‘democratic vistas’ have ended in barbed wire. There is less feeling of creation and growth, less and less emphasis on the cradle, endlessly rocking, more and more emphasis on the teapot, endlessly stewing. To accept civilization as it is practically means accepting decay. It has ceased to be a strenuous attitude and become a passive attitude — even ‘decadent’, if that word means anything.

But precisely because, in one sense, he is passive to experience, Miller is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive. Within a narrow circle (home life, and perhaps the trade union or local politics) he feels himself master of his fate, but against major events he is as helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavouring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him. During the past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books written about the Spanish Civil War with those written about the war of 1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them, right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even pretend to understand what the whole thing was about. Books like All Quiet on the Western Front, Le Feu, A FArewell to Arms, Death of  a Hero, Good-bye to All That, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and A Subaltern on the Somme were written not by propagandists but by victims. They are saying in effect, ‘What the hell is all this about? God knows. All we can do is to endure.’ And though he is not writing about war, nor, on the whole, about unhappiness, this is nearer to Miller’s attitude than the omniscience which is now fashionable. The Booster, a short-lived periodical of which he was part-editor, used to describe itself in its advertisements as ‘non-political, non-educational, non-progressive, non-cooperative, non-ethical, non-literary, non-consistent, non-contemporary’, and Miller’s own work could be described in nearly the same terms. It is a voice from the crowd, from the underling, from the third-class carriage, from the ordinary, non-political, non-moral, passive man.

I have been using the phrase ‘ordinary man’ rather loosely, and I have taken it for granted that the ‘ordinary man’ exists, a thing now denied by some people. I do not mean that the people Miller is writing about constitute a majority, still less that he is writing about proletarians. No English or American novelist has as yet seriously attempted that. And again, the people in Tropic of Cancer fall short of being ordinary to the extent that they are idle, disreputable, and more or less ‘artistic’. As I have said already, this is a pity, but it is the necessary result of expatriation. Miller’s ‘ordinary man’ is neither the manual worker nor the suburban householder, but the derelict, the declassé, the adventurer, the American intellectual without roots and without money. Still, the experiences even of this type overlap fairly widely with those of more normal people. Miller has been able to get the most out of his rather limited material because he has had the courage to identify with it. The ordinary man, the ‘average sensual man’, has been given the power of speech, like Balaam’s ass.

It will be seen that this is something out of date, or at any rate out of fashion. The average sensual man is out of fashion. The passive, non-political attitude is out of fashion. Preoccupation with sex and truthfulness about the inner life are out of fashion. American Paris is out of fashion. A book like Tropic of Cancer, published at such a time, must be either a tedious preciosity or something unusual, and I think a majority of the people who have read it would agree that it is not the first. It is worth trying to discover just what this escape from the current literary fashion means. But to do that one has got to see it against its background — that is, against the general development of English literature in the twenty years since the Great War.

2

When one says that a writer is fashionable one practically always means that he is admired by people under thirty. At the beginning of the period I am speaking of, the years during and immediately after the war, the writer who had the deepest hold upon the thinking young was almost certainly Housman. Among people who were adolescent in the years 1910-25, Housman had an influence which was enormous and is now not at all easy to understand. In 1920, when I was about seventeen, I probably knew the whole of A Shropshire Lad by heart. I wonder how much impression A Shropshire Lad makes at this moment on a boy of the same age and more or less the same cast of mind? No doubt he has heard of it and even glanced into it; it might strike him as cheaply clever — probably that would be about all. Yet these are the poems that I and my contemporaries used to recite to ourselves, over and over, in a kind of ecstasy, just as earlier generations had recited Meredith’s ‘Love in a Valley’, Swinburne’s ‘Garden of Proserpine’ etc., etc.

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.

It just tinkles. But it did not seem to tinkle in 1920. Why does the bubble always burst? To answer that question one has to take account of the external conditions that make certain writers popular at certain times. Housman’s poems had not attracted much notice when they were first published. What was there in them that appealed so deeply to a single generation, the generation born round about 1900?

In the first place, Housman is a ‘country’ poet. His poems are full of the charm of buried villages, the nostalgia of place-names, Clunton and Clunbury, Knighton, Ludlow, ‘on Wenlock Edge’, ‘in summer time on Bredon’, thatched roofs and the jingle of smithies, the wild jonquils in the pastures, the ‘blue, remembered hills’. War poems apart, English verse of the 1910-25 period is mostly ‘country’. The reason no doubt was that the rentier-professional class was ceasing once and for all to have any real relationship with the soil; but at any rate there prevailed then, far more than now, a kind of snobbism of belonging to the country and despising the town. England at that time was hardly more an agricultural country than it is now, but before the light industries began to spread themselves it was easier to think of it as one. Most middle-class boys grew up within sight of a farm, and naturally it was the picturesque side of farm life that appealed to them — the ploughing, harvesting, stack-thrashing and so forth. Unless he has to do it himself a boy is not likely to notice the horrible drudgery of hoeing turnips, milking cows with chapped teats at four o’clock in the morning, etc., etc. Just before, just after, and for that matter, during the war was the great age of the ‘Nature poet’, the heyday of Richard Jefferies and W. H. Hudson. Rupert Brooke’s ‘Grantchester’, the star poem of 1913, is nothing but an enormous gush of ‘country’ sentiment, a sort of accumulated vomit from a stomach stuffed with place-names. Considered as a poem ‘Grantchester’ is something worse than worthless, but as an illustration of what the thinking middle-class young of that period felt it is a valuable document.

Housman, however, did not enthuse over the rambler roses in the week-ending spirit of Brooke and the others. The ‘country’ motif is there all the time, but mainly as a background. Most of the poems have a quasi-human subject, a kind of idealized rustic, in reality Strephon or Corydon brought up to date. This in itself had a deep appeal. Experience shows that overcivilized people enjoy reading about rustics (key-phrase, ‘close to the soil’) because they imagine them to be more primitive and passionate than themselves. Hence the ‘dark earth’ novels of Sheila Kaye-Smith, etc. And at that time a middle-class boy, with his ‘country’ bias, would identify with an agricultural worker as he would never have done with a town worker. Most boys had in their minds a vision of an idealized ploughman, gypsy, poacher, or gamekeeper, always pictured as a wild, free, roving blade, living a life of rabbit-snaring, cockfighting, horses, beer, and women. Masefield’s Everlasting Mercy, another valuable period-piece, immensely popular with boys round about the war years, gives you this vision in a very crude form. But Housman’s Maurices and Terences could be taken seriously where Masefield’s Saul Kane could not; on this side of him, Housman was Masefield with a dash of Theocritus. Moreover all his themes are adolescent — murder, suicide, unhappy love, early death. They deal with the simple, intelligible disasters that give you the feeling of being up against the ‘bedrock facts’of life:

The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood has dried;
And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.

And again:

They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
And whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men that die at morn.

It is all more or less in the same tune. Everything comes unstuck. ‘Dick lies long in the churchyard and Ned lies long in jail’. And notice also the exquisite self-pity — the ‘nobody loves me’ feeling:

The diamond drops adorning
The low mound on the lea,
Those are the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.

Hard cheese, old chap! Such poems might have been written expressly for adolescents. And the unvarying sexual pessimism (the girl always dies or marries somebody else) seemed like wisdom to boys who were herded together in public schools and were half-inclined to think of women as something unattainable. Whether Housman ever had the same appeal for girls I doubt. In his poems the woman’s point of view is not considered, she is merely the nymph, the siren, the treacherous half-human creature who leads you a little distance and then gives you the slip.

But Housman would not have appealed so deeply to the people who were young in 1920 if it had not been for another strain in him, and that was his blasphemous, antinomian, ‘cynical’ strain. The fight that always occurs between the generations was exceptionally bitter at the end of the Great War; this was partly due to the war itself, and partly it was an indirect result of the Russian Revolution, but an intellectual struggle was in any case due at about that date. Owing probably to the ease and security of life in England, which even the war hardly disturbed, many people whose ideas were formed in the ‘eighties or earlier had carried them quite unmodified into the nineteen-twenties. Meanwhile, so far as the younger generation was concerned, the official beliefs were dissolving like sand-castles. The slump in religious belief, for instance, was spectacular. For several years the old-young antagonism took on a quality of real hatred. What was left of the war generation had crept out of the massacre to find their elders still bellowing the slogans of 1914, and a slightly younger generation of boys were writhing under dirty-minded celibate schoolmasters. It was to these that Housman appealed, with his implied sexual revolt and his personal grievance against God. He was patriotic, it was true, but in a harmless old-fashioned way, to the tune of red coats and ‘God save the Queen’ rather than steel helmets and ‘Hang the Kaiser’. And he was satisfyingly anti-Christian — he stood for a kind of bitter, defiant paganism, the conviction that life is short and the gods are against you, which exactly fitted the prevailing mood of the young; and all in charming fragile verse that was composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.

It will be seen that I have discussed Housman as though he were merely a propagandist, an utterer of maxims and quotable ‘bits’. Obviously he was more than that. There is no need to under-rate him now because he was over-rated a few years ago. Although one gets into trouble nowadays for saying so, there are a number of his poems (‘Into my heart an air that kills’, for instance, and ‘Is my team ploughing?’) that are not likely to remain long out of favour. But at bottom it is always a writer’s tendency, his ‘purpose’, his ‘message’, that makes him liked or disliked. The proof of this is the extreme difficulty of seeing any literary merit in a book that seriously damages your deepest beliefs. And no book is ever truly neutral. Some or other tendency is always discernible, in verse as much as in prose, even if it does no more than determine the form and the choice of imagery. But poets who attain wide popularity, like Housman, are as a rule definitely gnomic writers.

After the war, after Housman and the Nature-poets, there appears a group of writers of completely different tendency — Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey. So far as the middle and late ‘twenties go, these are ‘the movement’, as surely as the Auden-Spender group have been ‘the movement’ during the past few years. It is true that not all of the gifted writers of the period can be fitted into the pattern. E. M. Forster, for instance, though he wrote his best book in 1923 or thereabouts, was essentially pre-war, and Yeats does not seem in either of his phases to belong to the ‘twenties. Others who were still living, Moore, Conrad, Bennett, Wells, Norman Douglas, had shot their bolt before the war ever happened. On the other hand, a writer who should be added to the group, though in the narrowly literary sense he hardly ‘belongs’, is Somerset Maugham. Of course the dates do not fit exactly; most of these writers had already published books before the war, but they can be classified as post-war in the same sense that the younger men now writing are post-slump. Equally, of course, you could read through most of the literary papers of the time without grasping that these people are ‘the movement’. Even more then than at most times the big shots of literary journalism were busy pretending that the age-before-last had not come to an end. Squire ruled the London Mercury, Gibbs and Walpole were the gods of the lending libraries, there was a cult of cheeriness and manliness, beer and cricket, briar pipes and monogamy, and it was at all times possible to earn a few guineas by writing an article denouncing ‘highbrows’. But all the same it was the despised highbrows who had captured the young. The wind was blowing from Europe, and long before 1930 it had blown the beer-and-cricket school naked, except for their knighthoods.

But the first thing one would notice about the group of writers I have named above is that they do not look like a group. Moreover several of them would strongly object to being coupled with several of the others. Lawrence and Eliot were in reality antipathetic, Huxley worshipped Lawrence but was repelled by Joyce, most of the others would have looked down on Huxley, Strachey, and Maugham, and Lewis attacked everyone in turn; indeed, his reputation as a writer rests largely on these attacks. And yet there is a certain temperamental similarity, evident enough now, though it would not have been so a dozen years ago. What it amounts to is pessimism of outlook. But it is necessary to make clear what is meant by pessimism.

If the keynote of the Georgian poets was ‘beauty of Nature’, the keynote of the post-war writers would be ‘tragic sense of life’. The spirit behind Housman’s poems for instance, is not tragic, merely querulous; it is hedonism disappointed. The same is true of Hardy, though one ought to make an exception of The Dynasts. But the Joyce-Eliot group come later in time, puritanism is not their main adversary, they are able from the start to ‘see through’ most of the things that their predecessors had fought for. All of them are temperamentally hostile to the notion of ‘progress’; it is felt that progress not only doesn’t happen, but ought not to happen. Given this general similarity, there are, of course, differences of approach between the writers I have named as well as different degrees of talent. Eliot’s pessimism is partly the Christian pessimism, which implies a certain indifference to human misery, partly a lament over the decadence of Western civilization (‘We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men,’ etc., etc.), a sort of twilight-of-the-gods feeling, which finally leads him, in ‘Sweeney Agonistes’ for instance, to achieve the difficult feat of making modern life out to be worse than it is. With Strachey it is merely a polite eighteenth-century scepticism mixed up with a taste for debunking. With Maugham it is a kind of stoical resignation, the stiff upper lip of the pukka sahib somewhere East of Suez, carrying on with his job without believing in it, like an Antonine Emperor. Lawrence at first sight does not seem to be a pessimistic writer, because, like Dickens, he is a ‘change-of-heart’ man and constantly insisting that life here and now would be all right if only you looked at it a little differently. But what he is demanding is a movement away from our mechanized civilization, which is not going to happen. Therefore his exasperation with the present turns once more into idealization of the past, this time a safely mythical past, the Bronze Age. When Lawrence prefers the Etruscans (his Etruscans) to ourselves it is difficult not to agree with him, and yet, after all, it is a species of defeatism, because that is not the direction in which the world is moving. The kind of life that he is always pointing to, a life centring round the simple mysteries — sex, earth, fire, water, blood — is merely a lost cause. All he has been able to produce, therefore, is a wish that things would happen in a way in which they are manifestly not going to happen. ‘A wave of generosity or a wave of death’, he says, but it is obvious that there are no waves of generosity this side of the horizon. So he flees to Mexico, and then dies at forty-five, a few years before the wave of death gets going. It will be seen that once again I am speaking of these people as though they were not artists, as though they were merely propagandists putting a ‘message’ across. And once again it is obvious that all of them are more than that. It would be absurd, for instance, to look on Ulysses as merely a show-up of the horror of modern life, the ‘dirty Daily Mail era’, as Pound put it. Joyce actually is more of a ‘pure artist’ than most writers. But Ulysses could not have been written by someone who was merely dabbling with word-patterns; it is the product of a special vision of life, the vision of a Catholic who has lost his faith. What Joyce is saying is ‘Here is life without God. Just look at it!’ and his technical innovations, important though they are, are primarily to serve this purpose.

But what is noticeable about all these writers is that what ‘purpose’ they have is very much up in the air. There is no attention to the urgent problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense. Our eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus — to everywhere except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks back at the ‘twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English intelligentsia. The Russian Revolution, for instance, all but vanishes from the English consciousness between the death of Lenin and the Ukraine famine — about ten years. Throughout those years Russia means Tolstoy, Dostoievski, and exiled counts driving taxi-cabs. Italy means picture-galleries, ruins, churches, and museums — but not Blackshirts. Germany means films, nudism, and psychoanalysis — but not Hitler, of whom hardly anyone had heard till 1931. In ‘cultured’ circles art-for-art’s-saking extended practically to a worship of the meaningless. Literature was supposed to consist solely in the manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the unforgivable sin, and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked on as a lapse of a taste. About 1928, in one of the three genuinely funny jokes that Punch has produced since the Great War, an intolerable youth is pictured informing his aunt that he intends to ‘write’. ‘And what are you going to write about, dear?’ asks the aunt. ‘My dear aunt,’ says the youth crushingly, ‘one doesn’t write about anything, one just writes.’ The best writers of the ‘twenties did not subscribe to this doctrine, their ‘purpose’ is in most cases fairly overt, but it is usually ‘purpose’ along moral-religious-cultural lines. Also, when translatable into political terms, it is in no case ‘left’. In one way or another the tendency of all the writers in this group is conservative. Lewis, for instance, spent years in frenzied witch-smellings after ‘Bolshevism’, which he was able to detect in very unlikely places. Recently he has changed some of his views, perhaps influenced by Hitler’s treatment of artists, but it is safe to bet that he will not go very far leftward. Pound seems to have plumped definitely for Fascism, at any rate the Italian variety. Eliot has remained aloof, but if forced at the pistol’s point to choose between Fascism and some more democratic form of socialism, would probably choose Fascism. Huxley starts off with the usual despair-of-life, then, under the influence of Lawrence’s ‘dark abdomen’, tries something called Life-Worship, and finally arrives at pacifism — a tenable position, and at this moment an honourable one, but probably in the long run involving rejection of socialism. It is also noticeable that most of the writers in this group have a certain tenderness for the Catholic Church, though not usually of a kind that an orthodox Catholic would accept.

The mental connexion between pessimism and a reactionary outlook is no doubt obvious enough. What is perhaps less obvious is just why the leading writers of the ‘twenties were predominantly pessimistic. Why always the sense of decadence, the skulls and cactuses, the yearning after lost faith and impossible civilizations? Was it not, after all, because these people were writing in an exceptionally comfortable epoch? It is just in such times that ‘cosmic despair’ can flourish. People with empty bellies never despair of the universe, nor even think about the universe, for that matter. The whole period 1910-30 was a prosperous one, and even the war years were physically tolerable if one happened to be a non-combatant in one of the Allied countries. As for the ‘twenties, they were the golden age of the rentier-intellectual, a period of irresponsibility such as the world had never before seen. The war was over, the new totalitarian states had not arisen, moral and religious tabus of all descriptions had vanished, and the cash was rolling in. ‘Disillusionment’ was all the fashion. Everyone with a safe £500 a year turned highbrow and began training himself in taedium vitae. It was an age of eagles and of crumpets, facile despairs, backyard Hamlets, cheap return tickets to the end of the night. In some of the minor characteristic novels of the period, books like Told by an Idiot, the despair-of-life reaches a Turkish-bath atmosphere of self-pity. And even the best writers of the time can be convicted of a too Olympian attitude, a too great readiness to wash their hands of the immediate practical problem. They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong end of the telescope. Not that that invalidates their books, as books. The first test of any work of art is survival, and it is a fact that a great deal that was written in the period 1910-30 has survived and looks like continuing to survive. One has only to think of Ulysses, Of Human Bondage, most of Lawrence’s early work, especially his short stories, and virtually the whole of Eliot’s poems up to about 1930, to wonder what is now being written that will wear so well.

But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers owe something to their predecessors, their ‘tendency’ is entirely different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the ‘twenties is ‘tragic sense of life’, the keynote of the new writers is ‘serious purpose’.

The differences between the two schools are discussed at some length in Mr Louis MacNeice’s book Modern Poetry. This book is, of course, written entirely from the angle of the younger group and takes the superiority of their standards for granted. According to Mr MacNeice:

The poets of New Signatures,* unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people’s emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity…  The whole poetry, on the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day-Lewis implies that they have desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things ought to be desired and others hated.

And again:

The poets of New Signatures have swung back. . . to the Greek preference for information or statement. The first requirement is to have something to say, and after that you must say it as well as you can.

In other words, ‘purpose’ has come back, the younger writers have ‘gone into politics’. As I have pointed out already, Eliot & Co. are not really so non-partisan as Mr MacNeice seems to suggest. Still, it is broadly true that in the ‘twenties the literary emphasis was more on technique and less on subject-matter than it is now.

The leading figures in this group are Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis, MacNeice, and there is a long string of writers of more or less the same tendency, Isherwood, John Lehmann, Arthur Calder-Marshall, Edward Upward, Alec Brown, Philip Henderson, and many others. As before, I am lumping them together simply according to tendency. Obviously there are very great variations in talent. But when one compares these writers with the Joyce-Eliot generation, the immediately striking thing is how much easier it is to form them into a group. Technically they are closer together, politically they are almost indistinguishable, and their criticisms of one another’s work have always been (to put it mildly) good-natured. The outstanding writers of the ‘twenties were of very varied origins, few of them had passed through the ordinary English educational mill (incidentally, the best of them, barring Lawrence, were not Englishmen), and most of them had had at some time to struggle against poverty, neglect, and even downright persecution. On the other hand, nearly all the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Bloomsbury pattern. The few who are of proletarian origin are of the kind that is declassed early in life, first by means of scholarships and then by the bleaching-tub of London ‘culture’. It is significant that several of the writers in this group have been not only boys but, subsequently, masters at public schools. Some years ago I described Auden as ‘a sort of gutless Kipling’. As criticism this was quite unworthy, indeed it was merely a spiteful remark, but it is a fact that in Auden’s work, especially his earlier work, an atmosphere of uplift — something rather like Kipling’s ‘If’ or Newbolt’s ‘Play up, Play up, and Play the Game!’— never seems to be very far away. Take, for instance, a poem like ‘You’re leaving now, and it’s up to you boys’. It is pure scoutmaster, the exact note of the ten-minutes’ straight talk on the dangers of self-abuse. No doubt there is an element of parody that he intends, but there is also a deeper resemblance that he does not intend. And of course the rather priggish note that is common to most of these writers is a symptom of release. By throwing ‘pure art’ overboard they have freed themselves from the fear of being laughed at and vastly enlarged their scope. The prophetic side of Marxism, for example, is new material for poetry and has great possibilities:

We are nothing.
We have fallen
Into the dark and shall be destroyed.
Think though, that in this darkness
We hold the secret hub of an idea
Whose living sunlit wheel revolves in future years outside.

(Spender, Trial of a Judge.)

But at the same time, by being Marxised literature has moved no nearer to the masses. Even allowing for the time-lag, Auden and Spender are somewhat farther from being popular writers than Joyce and Eliot, let alone Lawrence. As before, there are many contemporary writers who are outside the current, but there is not much doubt about what is the current. For the middle and late ‘thirties, Auden, Spender & Co. are ‘the movement’, just as Joyce, Eliot & Co. were for the ‘twenties. And the movement is in the direction of some rather ill-defined thing called Communism. As early as 1934 or 1935 it was considered eccentric in literary circles not to be more or less ‘left’, and in another year or two there had grown up a left-wing orthodoxy that made a certain set of opinions absolutely de rigueur on certain subjects, The idea had begun to gain ground (vide Edward Upward and others) that a writer must either be actively ‘left’ or write badly. Between 1935 and 1939 the Communist Party had an almost irresistible fascination for any writer under forty. It became as normal to hear that so-and-so had ‘joined’ as it had been a few years earlier, when Roman Catholicism was fashionable, to hear that so-and-so had ‘been received’. For about three years, in fact, the central stream of English literature was more or less directly under Communist control. How was it possible for such a thing to happen? And at the same time, what is meant by ‘Communism’? It is better to answer the second question first.

The Communist movement in Western Europe began, as a movement for the violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into an instrument of Russian foreign policy. This was probably inevitable when the revolutionary ferment that followed the Great War had died down. So far as I know, the only comprehensive history of this subject in English is Franz Borkenau’s book, The Communist International. What Borkenau’s facts even more than his deductions make clear is that Communism could never have developed along its present lines if any revolutionary feeling had existed in the industrialised countries. In England, for instance, it is obvious that no such feeling has existed for years past. The pathetic membership-figures of all extremist parties show this clearly. It is, only natural, therefore, that the English Communist movement should be controlled by people who are mentally subservient to Russia and have no real aim except to manipulate British foreign policy in the Russian interest. Of course such an aim cannot be openly admitted, and it is this fact that gives the Communist Party its very peculiar character. The more vocal kind of Communist is in effect a Russian publicity agent posing as an international socialist. It is a pose that is easily kept up at normal times, but becomes difficult in moments of crisis, because of the fact that the U.S.S.R. is no more scrupulous in its foreign policy than the rest of the Great Powers. Alliances, changes of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international socialism. Every time Stalin swaps partners, ‘Marxism’ has to be hammered into a new shape. This entails sudden and violent changes of ‘line’, purges, denunciations, systematic destruction of party literature, etc., etc. Every Communist is in fact liable at any moment to have to alter his most fundamental convictions, or leave the party. The unquestionable dogma of Monday may become the damnable heresy of Tuesday, and so on. This has happened at least three times during the past ten years. It follows that in any Western country a Communist Party is always unstable and usually very small. Its long-term membership really consists of an inner ring of intellectuals who have identified with the Russian bureaucracy, and a slightly larger body of working-class people who feel a loyalty towards Soviet Russia without necessarily understanding its policies. Otherwise there is only a shifting membership, one lot coming and another going with each change of ‘line’.

In 1930 the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organization whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party. But by 1935 the face of Europe had changed, and left-wing politics changed with it. Hitler had risen to power and begun to rearm, the Russian five-year plans had succeeded, Russia had reappeared as a great military power. As Hitler’s three targets of attack were, to all appearances, Great Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R., the three countries were forced into a sort of uneasy rapprochement. This meant that the English or French Communist was obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist — that is, to defend the very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years. The Comintern slogans suddenly faded from red to pink. ‘World revolution’ and ‘Social-Fascism’ gave way to ‘Defence of democracy’ and ‘Stop Hitler’. The years 1935-9 were the period of anti-Fascism and the Popular Front, the heyday of the Left Book Club, when red Duchesses and ‘broad-minded’ deans toured the battlefields of the Spanish war and Winston Churchill was the blue-eyed boy of the Daily Worker. Since then, of course, there has been yet another change of ‘line’. But what is important for my purpose is that it was during the ‘anti-Fascist’ phase that the younger English writers gravitated towards Communism.

The Fascism-democracy dogfight was no doubt an attraction in itself, but in any case their conversion was due at about that date. It was obvious that laissez-faire capitalism was finished and that there had got to be some kind of reconstruction; in the world of 1935 it was hardly possible to remain politically indifferent. But why did these young men turn towards anything so alien as Russian Communism? Why should writers be attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible? The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment.

Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. The trouble was that by about 1930 there was no activity, except perhaps scientific research, the arts, and left-wing politics, that a thinking person could believe in. The debunking of Western civilization had reached its climax and ‘disillusionment’ was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding, honour, discipline — anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole lot of them inside out in three minutes. But what do you achieve, after all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You have not necessarily got rid of the need for something to believe in. There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism. But I do not think one need look farther than this for the reason why the young writers of the ‘thirties flocked into or towards the Communist Party. It was simply something to believe in. Here was a Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and — at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts — a Führer. All the loyalties and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion, empire, military glory — all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader, hero, saviour — all in one word, Stalin. God — Stalin. The devil — Hitler. Heaven — Moscow. Hell — Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after all, the ‘Communism’ of the English intellectual is something explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated.

But there is one other thing that undoubtedly contributed to the cult of Russia among the English intelligentsia during these years, and that is the softness and security of life in England itself. With all its injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the over-whelming majority of English people have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the dominant writers of the thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism. Look, for instance, at this extract from Mr Auden’s poem Spain (incidentally this poem is one of the few decent things that have been written about the Spanish war):

To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

The second stanza is intended as a sort of tabloid picture of a day in the life of a ‘good party man’. In the morning a couple of political murders, a ten-minutes’ interlude to stifle ‘bourgeois’ remorse, and then a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and distributing leaflets. All very edifying. But notice the phrase ‘necessary murder’. It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men — I don’t mean killed in battle, I mean murdered. Therefore I have some conception of what murder means — the terror, the hatred, the howling relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and Stalins find murder necessary, but they don’t advertise their callousness, and they don’t speak of it as murder; it is ‘liquidation’, ‘elimination’, or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden’s brand of amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot. The warmongering to which the English intelligentsia gave themselves up in the period 1935-9 was largely based on a sense of personal immunity. The attitude was very different in France, where the military service is hard to dodge and even literary men know the weight of a pack.

Towards the end of Mr Cyril Connolly’s recent book, Enemies of Promise, there occurs an interesting and revealing passage. The first part of the book, is, more or less, an evaluation of present-day literature. Mr Connolly belongs exactly to the generation of the writers of ‘the movement’, and with not many reservations their values are his values. It is interesting to notice that among prose-writers he admires chiefly those specialising in violence — the would-be tough American school, Hemingway, etc. The latter part of the book, however, is autobiographical and consists of an account, fascinatingly accurate, of life at a preparatory school and Eton in the years 1910-20. Mr Connolly ends by remarking:

Were I to deduce anything from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development.

When you read the second sentence in this passage, your natural impulse is to look for the misprint. Presumably there is a ‘not’ left out, or something. But no, not a bit of it! He means it! And what is more, he is merely speaking the truth, in an inverted fashion. ‘Cultured’ middle-class life has reached a depth of softness at which a public-school education — five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery — can actually be looked back upon as an eventful period. To nearly all the writers who have counted during the ‘thirties, what more has ever happened than Mr Connolly records in Enemies of Promise? It is the same pattern all the time; public school, university, a few trips abroad, then London. Hunger, hardship, solitude, exile, war, prison, persecution, manual labour — hardly even words. No wonder that the huge tribe known as ‘the right left people’ found it so easy to condone the purge-and-Ogpu side of the Russian régime and the horrors of the first Five-Year Plan. They were so gloriously incapable of understanding what it all meant.

By 1937 the whole of the intelligentsia was mentally at war. Left-wing thought had narrowed down to ‘anti-Fascism’, i.e. to a negative, and a torrent of hate-literature directed against Germany and the politicians supposedly friendly to Germany was pouring from the Press. The thing that, to me, was truly frightening about the war in Spain was not such violence as I witnessed, nor even the party feuds behind the lines, but the immediate reappearance in left-wing circles of the mental atmosphere of the Great War. The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight back into the mental slum of 1915. All the familiar wartime idiocies, spy-hunting, orthodoxy-sniffing (Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist?), the retailing of atrocity stories, came back into vogue as though the intervening years had never happened. Before the end of the Spanish war, and even before Munich, some of the better of the left-wing writers were beginning to squirm. Neither Auden nor, on the whole, Spender wrote about the Spanish war in quite the vein that was expected of them. Since then there has been a change of feeling and much dismay and confusion, because the actual course of events has made nonsense of the left-wing orthodoxy of the last few years. But then it did not need very great acuteness to see that much of it was nonsense from the start. There is no certainty, therefore, that the next orthodoxy to emerge will be any better than the last.

On the whole the literary history of the ‘thirties seems to justify the opinion that a writer does well to keep out of politics. For any writer who accepts or partially accepts the discipline of a political party is sooner or later faced with the alternative: toe the line, or shut up. It is, of course, possible to toe the line and go on writing — after a fashion. Any Marxist can demonstrate with the greatest of ease that ‘bourgeois’ liberty of thought is an illusion. But when he has finished his demonstration there remains the psychological fact that without this ‘bourgeois’ liberty the creative powers wither away. In the future a totalitarian literature may arise, but it will be quite different from anything we can now imagine. Literature as we know it is an individual thing, demanding mental honesty and a minimum of censorship. And this is even truer of prose than of verse. It is probably not a coincidence that the best writers of the ‘thirties have been poets. The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature. How many Roman Catholics have been good novelists? Even the handful one could name have usually been bad Catholics. The novel is practically a Protestant form of art; it is a product of the free mind, of the autonomous individual. No decade in the past hundred and fifty years has been so barren of imaginative prose as the nineteen-thirties. There have been good poems, good sociological works, brilliant pamphlets, but practically no fiction of any value at all. From 1933 onwards the mental climate was increasingly against it. Anyone sensitive enough to be touched by the zeitgeist was also involved in politics. Not everyone, of course, was definitely in the political racket, but practically everyone was on its periphery and more or less mixed up in propaganda campaigns and squalid controversies. Communists and near-Communists had a disproportionately large influence in the literary reviews. It was a time of labels, slogans, and evasions. At the worst moments you were expected to lock yourself up in a constipating little cage of lies; at the best a sort of voluntary censorship (‘Ought I to say this? Is it pro-Fascist?’) was at work in nearly everyone’s mind. It is almost inconceivable that good novels should be written in such an atmosphere. Good novels are not written by by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken about their own unorthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened. This brings me back to Henry Miller.

3

If this were a likely moment for the launching of ‘schools’ literature, Henry Miller might be the starting-point of a new ‘school’. He does at any rate mark an unexpected swing of the pendulum. In his books one gets right away from the ‘political animal’ and back to a viewpoint not only individualistic but completely passive — the view-point of a man who believes the world-process to be outside his control and who in any case hardly wishes to control it.

I first met Miller at the end of 1936, when I was passing through Paris on my way to Spain. What most intrigued me about him was to find that he felt no interest in the Spanish war whatever. He merely told me in forcible terms that to go to Spain at that moment was the act of an idiot. He could understand anyone going there from purely selfish motives, out of curiosity, for instance, but to mix oneself up in such things from a sense of obligation was sheer stupidity. In any case my ideas about combating Fascism, defending democracy, etc., etc., were all boloney. Our civilization was destined to be swept away and replaced by something so different that we should scarcely regard it as human — a prospect that did not bother him, he said. And some such outlook is implicit throughout his work. Everywhere there is the sense of the approaching cataclysm, and almost everywhere the implied belief that it doesn’t matter. The only political declaration which, so far as I know, he has ever made in print is a purely negative one. A year or so ago an American magazine, the Marxist Quarterly, sent out a questionnaire to various American writers asking them to define their attitude on the subject of war. Miller replied in terms of extreme pacifism, an individual refusal to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion — practically, in fact, a declaration of irresponsibility.

However, there is more than one kind of irresponsibility. As a rule, writers who do not wish to identify themselves with the historical process at the moment either ignore it or fight against if. If they can ignore it, they are probably fools. If they can understand it well enough to want to fight against it, they probably have enough vision to realize that they cannot win. Look, for instance, at a poem like ‘The Scholar Gypsy’, with its railing against the ‘strange disease of modern life’ and its magnificent defeatist simile in the final stanza. It expresses one of the normal literary attitudes, perhaps actually the prevailing attitude during the last hundred years. And on the other hand there are the ‘progressives’, the yea-sayers, the Shaw-Wells type, always leaping forward to embrace the ego-projections which they mistake for the future. On the whole the writers of the ‘twenties took the first line and the writers of the ‘thirties the second. And at any given moment, of course, there is a huge tribe of Barries and Deepings and Dells who simply don’t notice what is happening. Where Miller’s work is symptomatically important is in its avoidance of any of these attitudes. He is neither pushing the world-process forward nor trying to drag it back, but on the other hand he is by no means ignoring it. I should say that he believes in the impending ruin of Western Civilization much more firmly than the majority of ‘revolutionary’ writers; only he does not feel called upon to do anything about it. He is fiddling while Rome is burning, and, unlike the enormous majority of people who do this, fiddling with his face towards the flames.

In Max and the White Phagocytes there is one of those revealing passages in which a writer tells you a great deal about himself while talking about somebody else. The book includes a long essay on the diaries of Anais Nin, which I have never read, except for a few fragments, and which I believe have not been published. Miller claims that they are the only true feminine writing that has ever appeared, whatever that may mean. But the interesting passage is one in which he compares Anais Nin — evidently a completely subjective, introverted writer — to Jonah in the whale’s belly. In passing he refers to an essay that Aldous Huxley wrote some years ago about El Greco’s picture, ‘The Dream of Philip the Second’. Huxley remarks that the people in El Greco’s pictures always look as though they were in the bellies of whales, and professes to find something peculiarly horrible in the idea of being in a ‘visceral prison’. Miller retorts that, on the contrary, there are many worse things than being swallowed by whales, and the passage makes it dear that he himself finds the idea rather attractive. Here he is touching upon what is probably a very widespread fantasy. It is perhaps worth noticing that everyone, at least every English-speaking person, invariably speaks of Jonah and the whale. Of course the creature that swallowed Jonah was a fish, and was so described in the Bible (Jonah i. 17), but children naturally confuse it with a whale, and this fragment of baby-talk is habitually carried into later life — a sign, perhaps, of the hold that the Jonah myth has upon our imaginations. For the fact is that being inside a whale is a very comfortable, cosy, homelike thought. The historical Jonah, if he can be so called, was glad enough to escape, but in imagination, in day-dream, countless people have envied him. It is, of course, quite obvious why. The whale’s belly is simply a womb big enough for an adult. There you are, in the dark, cushioned space that exactly fits you, with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to keep up an attitude of the completest indifference, no matter what happens. A storm that would sink all the battleships in the world would hardly reach you as an echo. Even the whale’s own movements would probably be imperceptible to you. He might be wallowing among the surface waves or shooting down into the blackness of the middle seas (a mile deep, according to Herman Melville), but you would never notice the difference. Short of being dead, it is the final, unsurpassable stage of irresponsibility. And however it may be with Anais Nin, there is no question that Miller himself is inside the whale. All his best and most characteristic passages are written from the angle of Jonah, a willing Jonah. Not that he is especially introverted — quite the contrary. In his case the whale happens to be transparent. Only he feels no impulse to alter or control the process that he is undergoing. He has performed the essential Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting.

It will be seen what this amounts to. It is a species of quietism, implying either complete unbelief or else a degree of belief amounting to mysticism. The attitude is ‘Je m’en fous’ or ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him’, whichever way you like to look at it; for practical purposes both are identical, the moral in either case being ‘Sit on your bum’. But in a time like ours, is this a defensible attitude? Notice that it is almost impossible to refrain from asking this question. At the moment of writing, we are still in a period in which it is taken for granted that books ought always to be positive, serious, and ‘constructive’. A dozen years ago this idea would have been greeted with titters. (‘My dear aunt, one doesn’t write about anything, one just writes.’) Then the pendulum swung away from the frivolous notion that art is merely technique, but it swung a very long distance, to the point of asserting that a book can only be ‘good’ if it is founded on a ‘true’ vision of life. Naturally the people who believe this also believe that they are in posssion of the truth themselves. Catholic critics, for instance, tend to claim that books arc only ‘good’ when they are of Catholic tendency. Marxist critics make the same claim more boldy for Marxist books. For instance, Mr Edward Upward (‘A Marxist Interpretation of Literature,’ in The Mind in Chains):

Literary criticism which aims at being Marxist must. . . proclaim that no book written at the present time can be ‘good’ unless it is written from a Marxist or near-Marxist viewpoint.

Various other writers have made similar or comparable statements. Mr Upward italicises ‘at the present time’ because, he realizes that you cannot, for instance, dismiss Hamlet on the ground that Shakespeare was not a Marxist. Nevertheless his interesting essay only glances very shortly at this difficulty. Much of the literature that comes to us out of the past is permeated by and in fact founded on beliefs (the belief in the immortality of the soul, for example) which now seem to us false and in some cases contemptibly silly. Yet it is ‘good’ literature, if survival is any test. Mr Upward would no doubt answer that a belief which was appropriate several centuries ago might be inappropriate and therefore stultifying now. But this does not get one much farther, because it assumes that in any age there will be one body of belief which is the current approximation to truth, and that the best literature of the time will be more or less in harmony with it. Actually no such uniformity has ever existed. In seventeenth-century England, for instance, there was a religious and political cleavage which distinctly resembled the left-right antagonism of to-day. Looking back, most modern people would feel that the bourgeois-Puritan viewpoint was a better approximation to truth than the Catholic-feudal one. But it is certainly not the case that all or even a majority of the best writers of the time were Puritans. And more than this, there exist ‘good’ writers whose world-view would in any age be recognized false and silly. Edgar Allan Poe is an example. Poe’s outlook is at best a wild romanticism and at worst is not far from being insane in the literal clinical sense. Why is it, then that stories like ‘The Black Cat’, ‘The Tell-tale Heart’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and so forth, which might very nearly have been written by a lunatic, do not convey a feeling of falsity? Because they are true within a certain framework, they keep the rules of their own peculiar world, like a Japanese picture. But it appears that to write successfully about such a world you have got to believe in it. One sees the difference immediately if one compares Poe’s Tales with what is, in my opinion, an insincere attempt to work up a similar atmosphere, Julian Green’s Minuit. The thing that immediately strikes one about Minuit is that there is no reason why any of the events in it should happen. Everything is completely arbitrary; there is no emotional sequence. But this is exactly what one does not feel with Poe’s stories. Their maniacal logic, in its own setting, is quite convincing. When, for instance, the drunkard seizes the black cat and cuts its eye out with his penknife, one knows exactly why he did it, even to the point of feeling that one would have done the same oneself. It seems therefore that for a creative writer possession of the ‘truth’ is less important than emotional sincerity. Even Mr Upward would not claim that a writer needs nothing beyond a Marxist training. He also needs a talent. But talent, apparently, is a matter of being able to care, of really believing in your beliefs, whether they are true or false. The difference between, for instance, Céline and Evelyn Waugh is a difference of emotional intensity. It is the difference between genuine despair and a despair that is at least partly a pretence. And with this there goes another consideration which is perhaps less obvious: that there are occasions when an ‘untrue’ belief is more likely to be sincerely held than a ‘true’ one.

If one looks at the books of personal reminiscence written about the war of 1914-18, one notices that nearly all that have remained readable after a lapse of time are written from a passive, negative angle. They are the records of something completely meaningless, a nightmare happening in a void. That was not actually the truth about the war, but it was the truth about the individual reaction. The soldier advancing into a machine-gun barrage or standing waist-deep in a flooded trench knew only that here was an appalling experience in which he was all but helpless. He was likelier to make a good book out of his helplessness and his ignorance than out of a pretended power to see the whole thing in perspective. As for the books that were written during the war itself, the best of them were nearly all the work of people who simply turned their backs and tried not to notice that the war was happening. Mr E. M. Forster has described how in 1917 he read Prufrock and other of Eliot’s early poems, and how it heartened him at such a time to get hold of poems that were ‘innocent of public-spiritedness’:

They sang of private disgust and diffidence, and of people who seemed genuine because they were unattractive or weak…  Here was a protest, and a feeble one, and the more congenial for being feeble… He who could turn aside to complain of ladies and drawing-rooms preserved a tiny drop of our self-respect, he carried on the human heritage.

That is very well said. Mr MacNeice, in the book I have referred to already, quotes this passage and somewhat smugly adds:

Ten years later less feeble protests were to be made by poets and the human heritage carried on rather differently… The contemplation of a world of fragments becomes boring and Eliot’s successors are more interested in tidying it up.

Similar remarks are scattered throughout Mr MacNeice’s book. What he wishes us to believe is that Eliot’s ‘successors’ (meaning Mr MacNeice and his friends) have in some way ‘protested’ more effectively than Eliot did by publishing ‘Prufrock’ at the moment when the Allied armies were assaulting the Hindenburg Line. Just where these ‘protests’ are to be found I do not know. But in the contrast between Mr Forster’s comment and Mr MacNeice’s lies all the difference between a man who knows what the 1914-18 war was like and a man who barely remembers it. The truth is that in 1917 there was nothing that a thinking and a sensitive person could do, except to remain human, if possible. And a gesture of helplessness, even of frivolity, might be the best way of doing that. If I had been a soldier fighting in the Great War, I would sooner have got hold of ‘Prufrock’ than The First Hundred Thousand or Horatio Bottomley’s Letters to the Boys in the Trenches. I should have felt, like Mr Forster, that by simply standing aloof and keeping touch with pre-war emotions, Eliot was carrying on the human heritage. What a relief it would have been at such a time, to read about the hesitations of a middle-aged highbrow with a bald spot! So different from bayonet-drill! After the bombs and the food-queues and the recruiting-posters, a human voice! What a relief!

But, after all, the war of 1914-18 was only a heightened moment in an almost continuous crisis. At this date it hardly even needs a war to bring home to us the disintegration of our society and the increasing helplessness of all decent people. It is for this reason that I think that the passive, non-cooperative attitude implied in Henry Miller’s work is justified. Whether or not it is an expression of what people ought to feel, it probably comes somewhere near to expressing what they do feel. Once again it is the human voice among the bomb-explosions, a friendly American voice, ‘innocent of public-spiritedness’. No sermons, merely the subjective truth. And along those lines, apparently, it is still possible for a good novel to be written. Not necessarily an edifying novel, but a novel worth reading and likely to be remembered after it is read.

While I have been writing this essay another European war has broken out. It will either last several years and tear Western civilization to pieces, or it will end inconclusively and prepare the way for yet another war which will do the job once and for all. But war is only ‘peace intensified’. What is quite obviously happening, war or no war, is the break-up of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the full implications of this were not foreseen, because it was generally imagined that socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships — an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely imaginable. As for the writer, he is sitting on a melting iceberg; he is merely an anachronism, a hangover from the bourgeois age, as surely doomed as the hippopotamus. Miller seems to me a man out of the common because he saw and proclaimed this fact a long while before most of his contemporaries — at a time, indeed, when many of them were actually burbling about a renaissance of literature. Wyndham Lewis had said years earlier that the major history of the English language was finished, but he was basing this on different and rather trivial reasons. But from now onwards the all-important fact for the creative writer is going to be that this is not a writer’s world. That does not mean that he cannot help to bring the new society into being, but he can take no part in the process as a writer. For as a writer he is a liberal, and what is happening is the destruction of liberalism. It seems likely, therefore, that in the remaining years of free speech any novel worth reading will follow more or less along the lines that Miller has followed — I do not mean in technique or subject matter, but in implied outlook. The passive attitude will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before. Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism — robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale — or rather, admit you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it. That seems to be the formula, that any sensitive novelist is now likely to adopt. A novel on more positive, ‘constructive’ lines, and not emotionally spurious, is at present very difficult to imagine.

But do I mean by this that Miller is a ‘great author’, a new hope for English prose? Nothing of the kind. Miller himself would be the last to claim or want any such thing. No doubt he will go on writing — anybody who has once started always goes on writing — and associated with him there are a number of writers of approximately the same tendency, Lawrence Durrell, Michael Fraenkel and others, almost amounting to a ‘school’. But he himself seems to me essentially a man of one book. Sooner or later I should expect him to descend into unintelligibility, or into charlatanism: there are signs of both in his later work. His last book, Tropic of Capricorn, I have not even read. This was not because I did not want to read it, but because the police and Customs authorities have so far managed to prevent me from getting hold of it. But it would surprise me if it came anywhere near Tropic of Cancer or the opening chapters of Black Spring. Like certain other autobiographical novelists, he had it in him to do just one thing perfectly, and he did it. Considering what the fiction of the nineteen-thirties has been like, that is something.

Miller’s books are published by the Obelisk Press in Paris. What will happen to the Obelisk Press, now that war has broken out and Jack Kahane, the publisher, is dead, I do not know, but at any rate the books are still procurable. I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory. It is also an ‘important’ book, in a sense different from the sense in which that word is generally used. As a rule novels are spoken of as ‘important’ when they are either a ‘terrible indictment’ of something or other or when they introduce some technical innovation. Neither of these applies to Tropic of Cancer. Its importance is merely symptomatic. Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive accepter of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses. Symptomatically, that is more significant than the mere fact that five thousand novels are published in England every year and four thousand nine hundred of them are tripe. It is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape.

* Published in 1932.

From the Complete Works, XXII, 600. First published 11 March 1940 as part of Inside the Whale, a selection of essays also containing ‘Charles Dickens’ and ‘Boys’ Weeklies’.

Voir enfin:

Part I: England Your EnglandIAs I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are “only doing their duty”, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.

Also, one must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are founded on real differences of outlook. Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another. Hitler’s June Purge, for instance, could not have happened in England. And, as western peoples go, the English are very highly differentiated. There is a sort of backhanded admission of this in the dislike which nearly all foreigners feel for our national way of life. Few Europeans can endure living in England, and even Americans often feel more at home in Europe.

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. It is therefore of the deepest importance to try and determine what England is, before guessing what part England can play in the huge events that are happening.

II

National characteristics are not easy to pin down, and when pinned down they often turn out to be trivialities or seem to have no connection with one another. Spaniards are cruel to animals, Italians can do nothing without making a deafening noise, the Chinese are addicted to gambling. Obviously such things don’t matter in themselves. Nevertheless, nothing is causeless, and even the fact that Englishmen have bad teeth can tell something about the realities of English life.

Here are a couple of generalizations about England that would be accepted by almost all observers. One is that the English are not gifted artistically. They are not as musical as the Germans or Italians, painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France. Another is that, as Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic “world-view”. Nor is this because they are “practical”, as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One has only to look at their methods of town-planning and water-supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis, and a system of weights and measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency. But they have a certain power of acting without taking thought. Their world-famed hypocrisy – their double-faced attitude towards the Empire, for instance – is bound up with this. Also, in moments of supreme crisis the whole nation can suddenly draw together and act upon a species of instinct, really a code of conduct which is understood by almost everyone, though never formulated. The phrase that Hitler coined for the Germans, “a sleep-walking people”, would have been better applied to the English. Not that there is anything to be proud of in being called a sleep-walker.

But here it is worth noticing a minor English trait which is extremely well marked though not often commented on, and that is a love of flowers. This is one of the first things that one notices when one reaches England from abroad, especially if one is coming from southern Europe. Does it not contradict the English indifference to the arts? Not really, because it is found in people who have no aesthetic feelings whatever. What it does link up with, however, is another English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the “nice cup of tea”. The liberty of the individual is still believed in, almost as in the nineteenth century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty, the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above. The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker. It is obvious, of course, that even this purely private liberty is a lost cause. Like all other modern peoples, the English are in process of being numbered, labelled, conscripted, “co-ordinated”. But the pull of their impulses is in the other direction, and the kind of regimentation that can be imposed on them will be modified in consequence. No party rallies, no Youth Movements, no coloured shirts, no Jew-baiting or “spontaneous” demonstrations. No Gestapo either, in all probability.

But in all societies the common people must live to some extent against the existing order. The genuinely popular culture of England is something that goes on beneath the surface, unofficially and more or less frowned on by the authorities. One thing one notices if one looks directly at the common people, especially in the big towns, is that they are not puritanical. They are inveterate gamblers, drink as much beer as their wages will permit, are devoted to bawdy jokes, and use probably the foulest language in the world. They have to satisfy these tastes in the face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts, etc., etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice allow everything to happen. Also, the common people are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries. The Anglican Church never had a real hold on them, it was simply a preserve of the landed gentry, and the Nonconformist sects only influenced minorities. And yet they have retained a deep tinge of Christian feeling, while almost forgetting the name of Christ. The power-worship which is the new religion of Europe, and which has infected the English intelligentsia, has never touched the common people. They have never caught up with power politics. The “realism” which is preached in Japanese and Italian newspapers would horrify them. One can learn a good deal about the spirit of England from the comic coloured postcards that you see in the windows of cheap stationers’ shops. These things are a sort of diary upon which the English people have unconsciously recorded themselves. Their old-fashioned outlook, their graded snobberies, their mixture of bawdiness and hypocrisy, their extreme gentleness, their deeply moral attitude to life, are all mirrored there.

The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement. And with this goes something that is always written off by European observers as “decadence” or hypocrisy, the English hatred of war and militarism. It is rooted deep in history, and it is strong in the lower-middle class as well as the working class. Successive wars have shaken it but not destroyed it. Well within living memory it was common for “the redcoats” to be booed at in the streets and for the landlords of respectable public-houses to refuse to allow soldiers on the premises. In peace-time, even when there are two million unemployed, it is difficult to fill the ranks of the tiny standing army, which is officered by the country gentry and a specialized stratum of the middle class, and manned by farm labourers and slum proletarians. The mass of the people are without military knowledge or tradition, and their attitude towards war is invariably defensive. No politician could rise to power by promising them conquests or military “glory”, no Hymn of Hate has ever made any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the soldiers made up and sang of their own accord were not vengeful but humorous and mock-defeatist.[1] The only enemy they ever named was the sergeant-major.

In England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the “Rule Britannia” stuff, is done by small minorities. The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious. They do not retain among their historical memories the name of a single military victory. English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance. Sir John Moore’s army at Corunna, fighting a desperate rear-guard action before escaping overseas (just like Dunkirk!) has more appeal than a brilliant victory. The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction. And of the last war, the four names which have really engraved themselves on the popular memory are Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele, every time a disaster. The names of the great battles that finally broke the German armies are simply unknown to the general public.

The reason why the English anti-militarism disgusts foreign observers is that it ignores the existence of the British Empire. It looks like sheer hypocrisy. After all, the English have absorbed a quarter of the earth and held on to it by means of a huge navy. How dare they then turn round and say that war is wicked?

It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is a perfectly sound instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship. What English people of nearly all classes loathe from the bottom of their hearts is the swaggering officer type, the jingle of spurs and the crash of boots. Decades before Hitler was ever heard of, the word “Prussian” had much the same significance in England as “Nazi” has to-day. So deep does this feeling go that for a hundred years past the officers of the British Army, in peace-time, have always worn civilian clothes when off duty.

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is “Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me”, like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army. The Italians adopted the goose-step at about the time when Italy passed definitely under German control, and, as one would expect, they do it less well than the Germans. The Vichy government, if it survives, is bound to introduce a stiffer parade-ground discipline into what is left of the French army. In the British army the drill is rigid and complicated, full of memories of the eighteenth century, but without definite swagger; the march is merely a formalized walk. It belongs to a society which is ruled by the sword, no doubt, but a sword which must never be taken out of the scabbard.

And yet the gentleness of English civilization is mixed up with barbarities and anachronisms. Our criminal law is as out-of-date as the muskets in the Tower. Over against the Nazi Storm Trooper you have got to set that typically English figure, the hanging judge, some gouty old bully with his mind rooted in the nineteenth century, handing out savage sentences. In England people are still hanged by the neck and flogged with the cat o’ nine tails. Both of these punishments are obscene as well as cruel, but there has never been any genuinely popular outcry against them. People accept them (and Dartmoor, and Borstal) almost as they accept the weather. They are part of “the law”, which is assumed to be unalterable.

Here one comes upon an all-important English trait: the respect for constitutionalism and legality, the belief in “the law” as something above the State and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible.

It is not that anyone imagines the law to be just. Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not. Remarks like “They can’t run me in; I haven’t done anything wrong”, or “They can’t do that; it’s against the law”, are part of the atmosphere of England. The professed enemies of society have this feeling as strongly as anyone else. One sees it in prison-books like Wilfred Macartney’s Walls Have Mouths or Jim Phelan’s Jail Journey, in the solemn idiocies that take place at the trials of Conscientious Objectors, in letters to the papers from eminent Marxist professors, pointing out that this or that is a “miscarriage of British justice”. Everyone believes in his heart that the law can be, ought to be, and, on the whole, will be impartially administered. The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power, has never taken root. Even the intelligentsia have only accepted it in theory.

An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is “just the same as” or “just as bad as” totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life is different because of them. In proof of which, look about you. Where are the rubber truncheons, where is the castor oil? The sword is still in the scabbard, and while it stays there corruption cannot go beyond a certain point. The English electoral system, for instance, is an all-but open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways it is gerrymandered in the interest of the moneyed class. But until some deep change has occurred in the public mind, it cannot become completely corrupt. You do not arrive at the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery. Even hypocrisy is a powerful safeguard. The hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horsehair wig, whom nothing short of dynamite will ever teach what century he is living in, but who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England. He is a symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape.

III

I have spoken all the while of “the nation”, “England”, “Britain’”, as though 45 million souls could somehow be treated as a unit. But is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and the poor? Dare one pretend that there is anything in common between people with £100,000 a year and people with £1 a week? And even Welsh and Scottish readers are likely to have been offended because I have used the word “England” oftener than “Britain”, as though the whole population dwelt in London and the Home Counties and neither north nor west possessed a culture of its own.

One gets a better view of this question if one considers the minor point first. It is quite true that the so-called races of Britain feel themselves to be very different from one another. A Scotsman, for instance, does not thank you if you call him an Englishman. You can see the hesitation we feel on this point by the fact that we call our islands by no less than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion. Even the differences between north and south England loom large in our own eyes. But somehow these differences fade away the moment that any two Britons are confronted by a European. It is very rare to meet a foreigner, other than an American, who can distinguish between English and Scots or even English and Irish. To a Frenchman, the Breton and the Auvergnat seem very different beings, and the accent of Marseilles is a stock joke in Paris. Yet we speak of “France” and “the French”, recognizing France as an entity, a single civilization, which in fact it is. So also with ourselves. Looked at from the outside, even the cockney and the Yorkshireman have a strong family resemblance.

And even the distinction between rich and poor dwindles somewhat when one regards the nation from the outside. There is no question about the inequality of wealth in England. It is grosser than in any European country, and you have only to look down the nearest street to see it. Economically, England is certainly two nations, if not three or four. But at the same time the vast majority of the people feel themselves to be a single nation and are conscious of resembling one another more than they resemble foreigners. Patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred, and always stronger than any kind of internationalism. Except for a brief moment in 1920 (the “Hands off Russia” movement) the British working class have never thought or acted internationally. For two and a half years they watched their comrades in Spain slowly strangled, and never aided them by even a single strike.[2] But when their own country (the country of Lord Nuffield and Mr Montagu Norman) was in danger, their attitude was very different. At the moment when it seemed likely that England might be invaded, Anthony Eden appealed over the radio for Local Defence Volunteers. He got a quarter of a million men in the first twenty-four hours, and another million in the subsequent month. One has only to compare these figures with, for instance, the number of Conscientious Objectors to see how vast is the strength of traditional loyalties compared with new ones.

In England patriotism takes different forms in different classes, but it runs like a connecting thread through nearly all of them. Only the Europeanized intelligentsia are really immune to it. As a positive emotion it is stronger in the middle class than in the upper class – the cheap public schools, for instance, are more given to patriotic demonstrations than the expensive ones – but the number of definitely treacherous rich men, the Laval-Quisling type, is probably very small. In the working class patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The working man’s heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack. But the famous “insularity” and “xenophobia” of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are more national than the rich, but the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits. Even when they are obliged to live abroad for years they refuse either to accustom themselves to foreign food or to learn foreign languages. Nearly every Englishman of working-class origin considers it effeminate to pronounce a foreign word correctly. During the war of 1914-18 the English working class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired. In four years on French soil they did not even acquire a liking for wine. The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time. But it plays its part in the English mystique, and the intellectuals who have tried to break it down have generally done more harm than good. At bottom it is the same quality in the English character that repels the tourist and keeps out the invader.

Here one comes back to two English characteristics that I pointed out, seemingly rather at random, at the beginning of the last chapter. One is the lack of artistic ability. This is perhaps another way of saying that the English are outside the European culture. For there is one art in which they have shown plenty of talent, namely literature. But this is also the only art that cannot cross frontiers. Literature, especially poetry, and lyric poetry most of all, is a kind of family joke, with little or no value outside its own language-group. Except for Shakespeare, the best English poets are barely known in Europe, even as names. The only poets who are widely read are Byron, who is admired for the wrong reasons, and Oscar Wilde, who is pitied as a victim of English hypocrisy. And linked up with this, though not very obviously, is the lack of philosophical faculty, the absence in nearly all Englishmen of any need for an ordered system of thought or even for the use of logic.

Up to a point, the sense of national unity is a substitute for a “world-view”. Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can come moments when the whole nation suddenly swings together and does the same thing, like a herd of cattle facing a wolf. There was such a moment, unmistakably, at the time of the disaster in France. After eight months of vaguely wondering what the war was about, the people suddenly knew what they had got to do: first, to get the army away from Dunkirk, and secondly to prevent invasion. It was like the awakening of a giant. Quick! Danger! The Philistines be upon thee, Samson! And then the swift unanimous action – and then, alas, the prompt relapse into sleep. In a divided nation that would have been exactly the moment for a big peace movement to arise. But does this mean that the instinct of the English will always tell them to do the right thing? Not at all, merely that it will tell them to do the same thing. In the 1931 General Election, for instance, we all did the wrong thing in perfect unison. We were as single-minded as the Gadarene swine. But I honestly doubt whether we can say that we were shoved down the slope against our will.

It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the Press, the radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led. However much one may hate to admit it, it is almost certain that between 1931 and 1940 the National Government represented the will of the mass of the people. It tolerated slums, unemployment and a cowardly foreign policy. Yes, but so did public opinion. It was a stagnant period, and its natural leaders were mediocrities.

In spite of the campaigns of a few thousand left-wingers, it is fairly certain that the bulk of the English people were behind Chamberlain’s foreign policy. More, it is fairly certain that the same struggle was going on in Chamberlain’s mind as in the minds of ordinary people. His opponents professed to see in him a dark and wily schemer, plotting to sell England to Hitler, but it is far likelier that he was merely a stupid old man doing his best according to his very dim lights. It is difficult otherwise to explain the contradictions of his policy, his failure to grasp any of the courses that were open to him. Like the mass of the people, he did not want to pay the price either of peace or of war. And public opinion was behind him all the while, in policies that were completely incompatible with one another. It was behind him when he went to Munich, when he tried to come to an understanding with Russia, when he gave the guarantee to Poland, when he honoured it, and when he prosecuted the war half-heartedly. Only when the results of his policy became apparent did it turn against him; which is to say that it turned against its own lethargy of the past seven years. Thereupon the people picked a leader nearer to their mood, Churchill, who was at any rate able to grasp that wars are not won without fighting. Later, perhaps, they will pick another leader who can grasp that only Socialist nations can fight effectively.

Do I mean by all this that England is a genuine democracy? No, not even a reader of the Daily Telegraph could quite swallow that.

England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly. But in any calculation about it one has got to take into account its emotional unity, the tendency of nearly all its inhabitants to feel alike and act together in moments of supreme crisis. It is the only great country in Europe that is not obliged to drive hundreds of thousands of its nationals into exile or the concentration camp. At this moment, after a year of war, newspapers and pamphlets abusing the Government, praising the enemy and clamouring for surrender are being sold on the streets, almost without interference. And this is less from a respect for freedom of speech than from a simple perception that these things don’t matter. It is safe to let a paper like Peace News be sold, because it is certain that ninety-five per cent of the population will never want to read it. The nation is bound together by an invisible chain. At any normal time the ruling class will rob, mismanage, sabotage, lead us into the muck; but let popular opinion really make itself heard, let them get a tug from below that they cannot avoid feeling, and it is difficult for them not to respond. The left-wing writers who denounce the whole of the ruling class as “pro-Fascist” are grossly over-simplifying. Even among the inner clique of politicians who brought us to our present pass, it is doubtful whether there were any conscious traitors. The corruption that happens in England is seldom of that kind. Nearly always it is more in the nature of self-deception, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand doeth. And being unconscious, it is limited. One sees this at its most obvious in the English Press. Is the English press honest or dishonest? At normal times it is deeply dishonest. All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news. Yet I do not suppose there is one paper in England that can be straightforwardly bribed with hard cash. In the France of the Third Republic all but a very few of the newspapers could notoriously be bought over the counter like so many pounds of cheese. Public life in England has never been openly scandalous. It has not reached the pitch of disintegration at which humbug can be dropped.

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted passage, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control – that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

IV

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.

In the years between 1920 and 1940 it was happening with the speed of a chemical reaction. Yet at the moment of writing it is still possible to speak of a ruling class. Like the knife which has had two new blades and three new handles, the upper fringe of English society is still almost what it was in the mid-nineteenth century. After 1832 the old landowning aristocracy steadily lost power, but instead of disappearing or becoming a fossil they simply intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and financiers who had replaced them, and soon turned them into accurate copies of themselves. The wealthy ship-owner or cotton-miller set up for himself an alibi as a country gentleman, while his sons learned the right mannerisms at public schools which had been designed for just that purpose. England was ruled by an aristocracy constantly recruited from parvenus. And considering what energy the self-made men possessed, and considering that they were buying their way into a class which at any rate had a tradition of public service, one might have expected that able rulers could be produced in some such way.

And yet somehow the ruling class decayed, lost its ability, its daring, finally even its ruthlessness, until a time came when stuffed shirts like Eden or Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent. As for Baldwin, one could not even dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air. The mishandling of England’s domestic problems during the nineteen-twenties had been bad enough, but British foreign policy between 1931 and 1939 is one of the wonders of the world. Why? What had happened? What was it that at every decisive moment made every British statesman do the wrong thing with so unerring an instinct?

The underlying fact was that the whole position of the monied class had long ceased to be justifiable. There they sat, at the centre of a vast empire and a world-wide financial network, drawing interest and profits and spending them – on what? It was fair to say that life within the British Empire was in many ways better than life outside it. Still, the Empire was underdeveloped, India slept in the Middle Ages, the Dominions lay empty, with foreigners jealously barred out, and even England was full of slums and unemployment. Only half a million people, the people in the country houses, definitely benefited from the existing system. Moreover, the tendency of small businesses to merge together into large ones robbed more and more of the monied class of their function and turned them into mere owners, their work being done for them by salaried managers and technicians. For long past there had been in England an entirely functionless class, living on money that was invested they hardly knew where, the “idle rich”, the people whose photographs you can look at in the Tatler and the Bystander, always supposing that you want to. The existence of these people was by any standard unjustifiable. They were simply parasites, less useful to society than his fleas are to a dog.

By 1920 there were many people who were aware of all this. By 1930 millions were aware of it. But the British ruling class obviously could not admit to themselves that their usefulness was at an end. Had they done that they would have had to abdicate. For it was not possible for them to turn themselves into mere bandits, like the American millionaires, consciously clinging to unjust privileges and beating down opposition by bribery and tear-gas bombs. After all, they belonged to a class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first and greatest of the Commandments. They had to feel themselves true patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was only one escape for them – into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible. Difficult though this was, they achieved it, largely by fixing their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going on round them.

There is much in England that this explains. It explains the decay of country life, due to the keeping-up of a sham feudalism which drives the more spirited workers off the land. It explains the immobility of the public schools, which have barely altered since the ’eighties of the last century. It explains the military incompetence which has again and again startled the world. Since the ’fifties every war in which England has engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale. The higher commanders, drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit to themselves that the world was changing. They have always clung to obsolete methods and weapons, because they inevitably saw each war as a repetition of the last. Before the Boer War they prepared for the Zulu War, before the 1914 for the Boer War, and before the present war for 1914. Even at this moment hundreds of thousands of men in England are being trained with the bayonet, a weapon entirely useless except for opening tins. It is worth noticing that the navy and, latterly, the Air Force, have always been more efficient than the regular army. But the navy is only partially, and the Air Force hardly at all, within the ruling-class orbit.

It must be admitted that so long as things were peaceful the methods of the British ruling class served them well enough. Their own people manifestly tolerated them. However unjustly England might be organized, it was at any rate not torn by class warfare or haunted by secret police. The Empire was peaceful as no area of comparable size has ever been. Throughout its vast extent, nearly a quarter of the earth, there were fewer armed men than would be found necessary by a minor Balkan state. As people to live under, and looking at them merely from a liberal, negative standpoint, the British ruling class had their points. They were preferable to the truly modern men, the Nazis and Fascists. But it had long been obvious that they would be helpless against any serious attack from the outside.

They could not struggle against Nazism or Fascism, because they could not understand them. Neither could they have struggled against Communism, if Communism had been a serious force in western Europe. To understand Fascism they would have had to study the theory of Socialism, which would have forced them to realize that the economic system by which they lived was unjust, inefficient and out of date. But it was exactly this fact that they had trained themselves never to face. They dealt with Fascism as the cavalry generals of 1914 dealt with the machine gun – by ignoring it. After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it was argued, they must be friendly to the British dividend-drawer. Hence the truly frightening spectacle of Conservative M.P.s wildly cheering the news that British ships, bringing food to the Spanish Republican government, had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes. Even when they had begun to grasp that Fascism was dangerous, its essentially revolutionary nature, the huge military effort it was capable of making, the sort of tactics it would use, were quite beyond their comprehension. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, anyone with as much political knowledge as can be acquired from a sixpenny pamphlet on Socialism knew that, if Franco won, the result would be strategically disastrous for England; and yet generals and admirals who had given their lives to the study of war were unable to grasp this fact. This vein of political ignorance runs right through English official life, through Cabinet ministers, ambassadors, consuls, judges, magistrates, policemen. The policeman who arrests the “Red” does not understand the theories the “Red” is preaching; if he did, his own position as bodyguard of the monied class might seem less pleasant to him. There is reason to think that even military espionage is hopelessly hampered by ignorance of the new economic doctrines and the ramifications of the underground parties.

The British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or democratic Socialism. One ought never to forget this, for nearly the whole of German and Italian propaganda is designed to cover it up. The natural instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain, etc. was to come to an agreement with Hitler. But – and here the peculiar feature of English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national solidarity, comes in – they could only do so by breaking up the Empire and selling their own people into semi-slavery. A truly corrupt class would have done this without hesitation, as in France. But things had not gone that distance in England. Politicians who would make cringing speeches about “the duty of loyalty to our conquerors” are hardly to be found in English public life. Tossed to and fro between their incomes and their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do anything but make the worst of both worlds.

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are morally fairly sound, is that in time of war they are ready enough to get themselves killed. Several dukes, earls and what-not were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders. That could not happen if these people were the cynical scoundrels that they are sometimes declared to be. It is important not to misunderstand their motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.

V

The stagnation of the Empire in the between-war years affected everyone in England, but it had an especially direct effect upon two important sub-sections of the middle class. One was the military and imperialist middle class, generally nicknamed the Blimps, and the other the left-wing intelligentsia. These two seemingly hostile types, symbolic opposites – the halfpay colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain, like a dinosaur, the highbrow with his domed forehead and stalk-like neck – are mentally linked together and constantly interact upon one another; in any case they are born to a considerable extent into the same families.

Thirty years ago the Blimp class was already losing its vitality. The middle-class families celebrated by Kipling, the prolific lowbrow families whose sons officered the army and navy and swarmed over all the waste places of the earth from the Yukon to the Irrawaddy, were dwindling before 1914. The thing that had killed them was the telegraph. In a narrowing world, more and more governed from Whitehall, there was every year less room for individual initiative. Men like Clive, Nelson, Nicholson, Gordon would find no place for themselves in the modern British Empire. By 1920 nearly every inch of the colonial empire was in the grip of Whitehall. Well-meaning, over-civilized men, in dark suits and black felt hats, with neatly rolled umbrellas crooked over the left forearm, were imposing their constipated view of life on Malaya and Nigeria, Mombasa and Mandalay. The one-time empire builders were reduced to the status of clerks, buried deeper and deeper under mounds of paper and red tape. In the early ’twenties one could see, all over the Empire, the older officials, who had known more spacious days, writhing impotently under the changes that were happening. From that time onwards it has been next door to impossible to induce young men of spirit to take any part in imperial administration. And what was true of the official world was true also of the commercial. The great monopoly companies swallowed up hosts of petty traders. Instead of going out to trade adventurously in the Indies one went to an office stool in Bombay or Singapore. And life in Bombay or Singapore was actually duller and safer than life in London. Imperialist sentiment remained strong in the middle class, chiefly owing to family tradition, but the job of administering the Empire had ceased to appeal. Few able men went east of Suez if there was any way of avoiding it.

But the general weakening of imperialism, and to some extent of the whole British morale, that took place during the nineteen-thirties, was partly the work of the left-wing intelligentsia, itself a kind of growth that had sprouted from the stagnation of the Empire.

It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense “Left”. Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E. Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an “intellectual” has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order. Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for him. In an Empire that was simply stagnant, neither being developed nor falling to pieces, and in an England ruled by people whose chief asset was their stupidity, to be “clever” was to be suspect. If you had the kind of brain that could understand the poems of T. S. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job. The intellectuals could find a function for themselves only in the literary reviews and the left-wing political parties.

The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most “anti-Fascist” during the Spanish civil war are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.

In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God save the King” than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the New Statesman and the News-Chronicle cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism hastened the process.

It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a by-product of ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use them, and they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one’s country implies “for better, for worse”. Both Blimps and highbrows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence. If you were a patriot you read Blackwood’s Magazine and publicly thanked God that you were “not brainy”. If you were an intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical courage as barbarous. It is obvious that this preposterous convention cannot continue. The Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very peculiar kind of war, that may make this possible.

VI

One of the most important developments in England during the past twenty years has been the upward and downward extension of the middle class. It has happened on such a scale as to make the old classification of society into capitalists, proletarians and petit bourgeois (small property-owners) almost obsolete.

England is a country in which property and financial power are concentrated in very few hands. Few people in modern England own anything at all, except clothes, furniture and possibly a house. The peasantry have long since disappeared, the independent shopkeeper is being destroyed, the small business-man is diminishing in numbers. But at the same time modern industry is so complicated that it cannot get along without great numbers of managers, salesmen, engineers, chemists and technicians of all kinds, drawing fairly large salaries. And these in turn call into being a professional class of doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, etc., etc. The tendency of advanced capitalism has therefore been to enlarge the middle class and not to wipe it out as it once seemed likely to do.

But much more important than this is the spread of middle-class ideas and habits among the working class. The British working class are now better off in almost all ways than they were thirty years ago. This is partly due to the efforts of the Trade Unions, but partly to the mere advance of physical science. It is not always realized that within rather narrow limits the standard of life of a country can rise without a corresponding rise in real-wages. Up to a point, civilization can lift itself up by its boot-tags. However unjustly society is organized, certain technical advances are bound to benefit the whole community, because certain kinds of goods are necessarily held in common. A millionaire cannot, for example, light the streets for himself while darkening them for other people. Nearly all citizens of civilized countries now enjoy the use of good roads, germ-free water, police protection, free libraries and probably free education of a kind. Public education in England has been meanly starved of money, but it has nevertheless improved, largely owing to the devoted efforts of the teachers, and the habit of reading has become enormously more widespread. To an increasing extent the rich and the poor read the same books, and they also see the same films and listen to the same radio programmes. And the differences in their way of life have been diminished by the mass-production of cheap clothes and improvements in housing. So far as outward appearance goes, the clothes of rich and poor, especially in the case of women, differ far less than they did thirty or even fifteen years ago. As to housing, England still has slums which are a blot on civilization, but much building has been done during the past ten years, largely by the local authorities. The modern council house, with its bathroom and electric light, is smaller than the stockbroker’s villa, but it is recognizably the same kind of house, which the farm labourer’s cottage is not. A person who has grown up in a council housing estate is likely to be – indeed, visibly is – more middle class in outlook than a person who has grown up in a slum.

The effect of all this is a general softening of manners. It is enhanced by the fact that modern industrial methods tend always to demand less muscular effort and therefore to leave people with more energy when their day’s work is done. Many workers in the light industries are less truly manual labourers than is a doctor or a grocer. In tastes, habits, manners and outlook the working class and the middle class are drawing together. The unjust distinctions remain, but the real differences diminish. The old-style “proletarian” – collarless, unshaven and with muscles warped by heavy labour – still exists, but he is constantly decreasing in numbers; he only predominates in the heavy-industry areas of the north of England.

After 1918 there began to appear something that had never existed in England before: people of indeterminate social class. In 1910 every human being in these islands could be “placed” in an instant by his clothes, manners and accent. That is no longer the case. Above all, it is not the case in the new townships that have developed as a result of cheap motor cars and the southward shift of industry. The place to look for the germs of the future England is in the light-industry areas and along the arterial roads. In Slough, Dagenham, Barnet, Letchworth, Hayes – everywhere, indeed, on the outskirts of great towns – the old pattern is gradually changing into something new. In those vast new wildernesses of glass and brick the sharp distinctions of the older kind of town, with its slums and mansions, or of the country, with its manor-houses and squalid cottages, no longer exist. There are wide gradations of income, but it is the same kind of life that is being lived at different levels, in labour-saving flats or council houses, along the concrete roads and in the naked democracy of the swimming-pools. It is a rather restless, cultureless life, centring round tinned food, Picture Post, the radio and the internal combustion engine. It is a civilization in which children grow up with an intimate knowledge of magnetoes and in complete ignorance of the Bible. To that civilization belong the people who are most at home in and most definitely of the modern world, the technicians and the higher-paid skilled workers, the airmen and their mechanics, the radio experts, film producers, popular journalists and industrial chemists. They are the indeterminate stratum at which the older class distinctions are beginning to break down.

This war, unless we are defeated, will wipe out most of the existing class privileges. There are every day fewer people who wish them to continue. Nor need we fear that as the pattern changes life in England will lose its peculiar flavour. The new red cities of Greater London are crude enough, but these things are only the rash that accompanies a change. In whatever shape England emerges from the war it will be deeply tinged with the characteristics that I have spoken of earlier. The intellectuals who hope to see it Russianized or Germanized will be disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.

Part II: Shopkeepers at War

I

I began this book to the tune of German bombs, and I begin this second chapter in the added racket of the barrage. The yellow gun-flashes are lighting the sky, the splinters are rattling on the house-tops, and London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Anyone able to read a map knows that we are in deadly danger. I do not mean that we are beaten or need be beaten. Almost certainly the outcome depends on our own will. But at this moment we are in the soup, full fathom five, and we have been brought there by follies which we are still committing and which will drown us altogether if we do not mend our ways quickly.

What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism – that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit – does not work. It cannot deliver the goods. This fact had been known to millions of people for years past, but nothing ever came of it, because there was no real urge from below to alter the system, and those at the top had trained themselves to be impenetrably stupid on just this point. Argument and propaganda got one nowhere. The lords of property simply sat on their bottoms and proclaimed that all was for the best. Hitler’s conquest of Europe, however, was a physical debunking of capitalism. War, for all its evil, is at any rate an unanswerable test of strength, like a try-your-grip machine. Great strength returns the penny, and there is no way of faking the result.

When the nautical screw was first invented, there was a controversy that lasted for years as to whether screw-steamers or paddle-steamers were better. The paddle-steamers, like all obsolete things, had their champions, who supported them by ingenious arguments. Finally, however, a distinguished admiral tied a screw-steamer and a paddle-steamer of equal horsepower stern to stern and set their engines running. That settled the question once and for all. And it was something similar that happened on the fields of Norway and of Flanders. Once and for all it was proved that a planned economy is stronger than a planless one. But it is necessary here to give some kind of definition to those much-abused words, Socialism and Fascism.

Socialism is usually defined as “common ownership of the means of production”. Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a State employee. This does not mean that people are stripped of private possessions such as clothes and furniture, but it does mean that all productive goods, such as land, mines, ships and machinery, are the property of the State. The State is the sole large-scale producer. It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption. At normal times a capitalist economy can never consume all that it produces, so that there is always a wasted surplus (wheat burned in furnaces, herrings dumped back into the sea, etc., etc.) and always unemployment. In time of war, on the other hand, it has difficulty in producing all that it needs, because nothing is produced unless someone sees his way to making a profit out of it. In a Socialist economy these problems do not exist. The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them. Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials. Money, for internal purposes, ceases to be a mysterious all-powerful thing and becomes a sort of coupon or ration-ticket, issued in sufficient quantities to buy up such consumption goods as may be available at the moment.

However, it has become clear in the last few years that “common ownership of the means of production” is not in itself a sufficient definition of Socialism. One must also add the following: approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. These are simply the necessary safeguards against the reappearance of a class-system. Centralized ownership has very little meaning unless the mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some kind of control over the government. “The State” may come to mean no more than a self-elected political party, and oligarchy and privilege can return, based on power rather than on money.

But what then is Fascism?

Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes. Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and – this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathize with Fascism – generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything. It controls investment, raw materials, rates of interest, working hours, wages. The factory owner still owns his factory, but he is for practical purposes reduced to the status of a manager. Everyone is in effect a State employee, though the salaries vary very greatly. The mere efficiency of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the world has ever seen.

But the idea underlying Fascism is irreconcilably different from that which underlies Socialism. Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite. The driving force behind the Nazi movement is the belief in human inequality, the superiority of Germans to all other races, the right of Germany to rule the world. Outside the German Reich it does not recognize any obligations. Eminent Nazi professors have “proved” over and over again that only Nordic man is fully human, have even mooted the idea that non-Nordic peoples (such as ourselves) can interbreed with gorillas! Therefore, while a species of war-Socialism exists within the German state, its attitude towards conquered nations is frankly that of an exploiter. The function of the Czechs, Poles, French, etc., is simply to produce such goods as Germany may need, and get in return just as little as will keep them from open rebellion. If we are conquered, our job will probably be to manufacture weapons for Hitler’s forthcoming wars with Russia and America. The Nazis aim, in effect, at setting up a kind of caste system, with four main castes corresponding rather closely to those of the Hindu religion. At the top comes the Nazi party, second come the mass of the German people, third come the conquered European populations. Fourth and last are to come the coloured peoples, the “semi-apes” as Hitler calls them, who are to be reduced quite openly to slavery.

However horrible this system may seem to us, it works. It works because it is a planned system geared to a definite purpose, world-conquest, and not allowing any private interest, either of capitalist or worker, to stand in its way. British capitalism does not work, because it is a competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main objective. It is a system in which all the forces are pulling in opposite directions and the interests of the individual are as often as not totally opposed to those of the State.

All through the critical years British capitalism, with its immense industrial plant and its unrivalled supply of skilled labour, was unequal to the strain of preparing for war. To prepare for war on the modern scale you have got to divert the greater part of your national income to armaments, which means cutting down on consumption goods. A bombing plane, for instance, is equivalent in price to fifty small motor cars, or eighty thousand pairs of silk stockings, or a million loaves of bread. Clearly you can’t have many bombing planes without lowering the national standard of life. It is guns or butter, as Marshal Göring remarked. But in Chamberlain’s England the transition could not be made. The rich would not face the necessary taxation, and while the rich are still visibly rich it is not possible to tax the poor very heavily either. Moreover, so long as profit was the main object the manufacturer had no incentive to change over from consumption goods to armaments. A business-man’s first duty is to his share-holders. Perhaps England needs tanks, but perhaps it pays better to manufacture motor cars. To prevent war material from reaching the enemy is common sense, but to sell in the highest market is a business duty. Right at the end of August 1939 the British dealers were tumbling over one another in their eagerness to sell Germany tin, rubber, copper and shellac – and this in the clear, certain knowledge that war was going to break out in a week or two. It was about as sensible as selling somebody a razor to cut your throat with. But it was “good business”.

And now look at the results. After 1934 it was known that Germany was rearming. After 1936 everyone with eyes in his head knew that war was coming. After Munich it was merely a question of how soon the war would begin. In September 1939 war broke out. Eight months later it was discovered that, so far as equipment went, the British army was barely beyond the standard of 1918. We saw our soldiers fighting their way desperately to the coast, with one aeroplane against three, with rifles against tanks, with bayonets against tommy-guns. There were not even enough revolvers to supply all the officers. After a year of war the regular army was still short of 300,000 tin hats. There had even, previously, been a shortage of uniforms – this in one of the greatest woollen-producing countries in the world!

What had happened was that the whole monied class, unwilling to face a change in their way of life, had shut their eyes to the nature of Fascism and modern war. And false optimism was fed to the general public by the gutter press, which lives on its advertisements and is therefore interested in keeping trade conditions normal. Year after year the Beaverbrook press assured us in huge headlines that THERE WILL BE NO WAR, and as late as the beginning of 1939 Lord Rothermere was describing Hitler as “a great gentleman”. And while England in the moment of disaster proved to be short of every war material except ships, it is not recorded that there was any shortage of motor cars, fur coats, gramophones, lipstick, chocolates or silk stockings. And dare anyone pretend that the same tug-of-war between private profit and public necessity is not still continuing? England fights for her life, but business must fight for profits. You can hardly open a newspaper without seeing the two contradictory processes happening side by side. On the very same page you will find the Government urging you to save and the seller of some useless luxury urging you to spend. Lend to Defend, but Guinness is Good for You. Buy a Spitfire, but also buy Haig and Haig, Pond’s Face Cream and Black Magic Chocolates.

But one thing gives hope – the visible swing in public opinion. If we can survive this war, the defeat in Flanders will turn out to have been one of the great turning-points in English history. In that spectacular disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism. Before that the case against capitalism had never been proved. Russia, the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. All criticism broke itself against the rat-trap faces of bankers and the brassy laughter of stockbrokers. Socialism? Ha! ha! ha! Where’s the money to come from? Ha! ha! ha! The lords of property were firm in their seats, and they knew it. But after the French collapse there came something that could not be laughed away, something that neither cheque-books nor policemen were any use against – the bombing. Zweee – BOOM! What’s that? Oh, only a bomb on the Stock Exchange. Zweee – BOOM! Another acre of somebody’s valuable slum-property gone west. Hitler will at any rate go down in history as the man who made the City of London laugh on the wrong side of its face. For the first time in their lives the comfortable were uncomfortable, the professional optimists had to admit that there was something wrong. It was a great step forward. From that time onwards the ghastly job of trying to convince artificially stupefied people that a planned economy might be better than a free-for-all in which the worst man wins – that job will never be quite so ghastly again.

II

The difference between Socialism and capitalism is not primarily a difference of technique. One cannot simply change from one system to the other as one might install a new piece of machinery in a factory, and then carry on as before, with the same people in positions of control. Obviously there is also needed a complete shift of power. New blood, new men, new ideas – in the true sense of the word, a revolution.

I have spoken earlier of the soundness and homogeneity of England, the patriotism that runs like a connecting thread through almost all classes. After Dunkirk anyone who had eyes in his head could see this. But it is absurd to pretend that the promise of that moment has been fulfilled. Almost certainly the mass of the people are now ready for the vast changes that are necessary; but those changes have not even begun to happen.

England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old – that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of 1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses.

As soon as one considers any problem of this war – and it does not matter whether it is the widest aspect of strategy or the tiniest detail of home organization – one sees that the necessary moves cannot be made while the social structure of England remains what it is. Inevitably, because of their position and upbringing, the ruling class are fighting for their own privileges, which cannot possibly be reconciled with the public interest. It is a mistake to imagine that war-aims, strategy, propaganda and industrial organization exist in watertight compartments. All are interconnected. Every strategic plan, every tactical method, even every weapon will bear the stamp of the social system that produced it. The British ruling class are fighting against Hitler, whom they have always regarded and whom some of them still regard as their protector against Bolshevism. That does not mean that they will deliberately sell out; but it does mean that at every decisive moment they are likely to falter, pull their punches, do the wrong thing.

Until the Churchill Government called some sort of halt to the process, they have done the wrong thing with an unerring instinct ever since 1931. They helped Franco to overthrow the Spanish government, although anyone not an imbecile could have told them that a Fascist Spain would be hostile to England. They fed Italy with war materials all through the winter of 1939-40, although it was obvious to the whole world that the Italians were going to attack us in the spring. For the sake of a few hundred thousand dividend-drawers they are turning India from an ally into an enemy. Moreover, so long as the monied classes remain in control, we cannot develop any but a defensive strategy. Every victory means a change in the status quo. How can we drive the Italians out of Abyssinia without rousing echoes among the coloured peoples of our own Empire? How can we even smash Hitler without the risk of bringing the German Socialists and Communists into power? The left-wingers who wail that “this is a capitalist war” and that “British Imperialism” is fighting for loot have got their heads screwed on backwards. The last thing the British monied class wish for is to acquire fresh territory. It would simply be an embarrassment. Their war-aim (both unattainable and unmentionable) is simply to hang on to what they have got.

Internally, England is still the rich man’s Paradise. All talk of “equality of sacrifice” is nonsense. At the same time as factory-workers are asked to put up with longer hours, advertisements for “Butler. One in family, eight in staff” are appearing in the press. The bombed-out populations of the East End go hungry and homeless while wealthier victims simply step into their cars and flee to comfortable country houses. The Home Guard swells to a million men in a few weeks, and is deliberately organized from above in such a way that only people with private incomes can hold positions of command. Even the rationing system is so arranged that it hits the poor all the time, while people with over £2,000 a year are practically unaffected by it. Everywhere privilege is squandering good will. In such circumstances even propaganda becomes almost impossible. As attempts to stir up patriotic feeling, the red posters issued by the Chamberlain Government at the beginning of the war broke all depth-records. Yet they could not have been much other than they were, for how could Chamberlain and his followers take the risk of rousing strong popular feeling against Fascism? Anyone who was genuinely hostile to Fascism must also be opposed to Chamberlain himself, and to all the others who had helped Hitler into power. So also with external propaganda. In all Lord Halifax’s speeches there is not one concrete proposal for which a single inhabitant of Europe would risk the top joint of his little finger. For what war-aim can Halifax, or anyone like him, conceivably have, except to put the clock back to 1933?

It is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can be set free. Revolution does not mean red flags and street fighting, it means a fundamental shift of power. Whether it happens with or without bloodshed is largely an accident of time and place. Nor does it mean the dictatorship of a single class. The people in England who grasp what changes are needed and are capable of carrying them through are not confined to any one class, though it is true that very few people with over £2,000 a year are among them. What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old. It is not primarily a question of change of government. British governments do, broadly speaking, represent the will of the people, and if we alter our structure from below we shall get the government we need. Ambassadors, generals, officials and colonial administrators who are senile or pro-Fascist are more dangerous than Cabinet ministers whose follies have to be committed in public. Right through our national life we have got to fight against privilege, against the notion that a half-witted public-schoolboy is better for command than an intelligent mechanic. Although there are gifted and honest individuals among them, we have got to break the grip of the monied class as a whole. England has got to assume its real shape. The England that is only just beneath the surface, in the factories and the newspaper offices, in the aeroplanes and the submarines, has got to take charge of its own destiny.

In the short run, equality of sacrifice, “war-communism”, is even more important than radical economic changes. It is very necessary that industry should be nationalized, but it is more urgently necessary that such monstrosities as butlers and “private incomes” should disappear forthwith. Almost certainly the main reason why the Spanish Republic could keep up the fight for two and a half years against impossible odds was that there were no gross contrasts of wealth. The people suffered horribly, but they all suffered alike. When the private soldier had not a cigarette, the general had not one either. Given equality of sacrifice, the morale of a country like England would probably be unbreakable. But at present we have nothing to appeal to except traditional patriotism, which is deeper here than elsewhere, but is not necessarily bottomless. At some point or another you have got to deal with the man who says ‘I should be no worse off under Hitler’. But what answer can you give him – that is, what answer that you can expect him to listen to – while common soldiers risk their lives for two and sixpence a day, and fat women ride about in Rolls-Royce cars, nursing Pekingeses?

It is quite likely that this war will last three years. It will mean cruel overwork, cold dull winters, uninteresting food, lack of amusements, prolonged bombing. It cannot but lower the general standard of living, because the essential act of war is to manufacture armaments instead of consumable goods. The working class will have to suffer terrible things. And they will suffer them, almost indefinitely, provided that they know what they are fighting for. They are not cowards, and they are not even internationally-minded. They can stand all that the Spanish workers stood, and more. But they will want some kind of proof that a better life is ahead for themselves and their children. The one sure earnest of that is that when they are taxed and overworked they shall see that the rich are being hit even harder. And if the rich squeal audibly, so much the better.

We can bring these things about, if we really want to. It is not true that public opinion has no power in England. It never makes itself heard without achieving something; it has been responsible for most of the changes for the better during the past six months. But we have moved with glacier-like slowness, and we have learned only from disasters. It took the fall of Paris to get rid of Chamberlain and the unnecessary suffering of scores of thousands of people in the East End to get rid or partially rid of Sir John Anderson. It is not worth losing a battle in order to bury a corpse. For we are fighting against swift evil intelligences, and time presses, and

History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot alter or pardon.

III

During the last six months there has been much talk of “the Fifth Column”. From time to time obscure lunatics have been jailed for making speeches in favour of Hitler, and large numbers of German refugees have been interned, a thing which has almost certainly done us great harm in Europe. It is of course obvious that the idea of a large, organized army of Fifth Columnists suddenly appearing on the streets with weapons in their hands, as in Holland and Belgium, is ridiculous. Nevertheless a Fifth Column danger does exist. One can only consider it if one also considers in what way England might be defeated.

It does not seem probable that air bombing can settle a major war. England might well be invaded and conquered, but the invasion would be a dangerous gamble, and if it happened and failed it would probably leave us more united and less Blimp-ridden than before. Moreover, if England were overrun by foreign troops the English people would know that they had been beaten and would continue the struggle. It is doubtful whether they could be held down permanently, or whether Hitler wishes to keep an army of a million men stationed in these islands. A government of ­­–––––, ––––– and ––––– (you can fill in the names) would suit him better. The English can probably not be bullied into surrender, but they might quite easily be bored, cajoled or cheated into it, provided that, as at Munich, they did not know that they were surrendering. It could happen most easily when the war seemed to be going well rather than badly. The threatening tone of so much of the German and Italian propaganda is a psychological mistake. It only gets home on intellectuals. With the general public the proper approach would be “Let’s call it a draw”. It is when a peace-offer along those lines is made that the pro-Fascists will raise their voices.

But who are the pro-Fascists? The idea of a Hitler victory appeals to the very rich, to the Communists, to Mosley’s followers, to the pacifists, and to certain sections among the Catholics. Also, if things went badly enough on the Home Front, the whole of the poorer section of the working class might swing round to a position that was defeatist though not actively pro-Hitler.

In this motley list one can see the daring of German propaganda, its willingness to offer everything to everybody. But the various pro-Fascist forces are not consciously acting together, and they operate in different ways.

The Communists must certainly be regarded as pro-Hitler, and are bound to remain so unless Russian policy changes, but they have not very much influence. Mosley’s Blackshirts, though now lying very low, are a more serious danger, because of the footing they probably possess in the armed forces. Still, even in its palmiest days Mosley’s following can hardly have numbered 50,000. Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing Hitler and even toying with anti-semitism. This is interesting, but it is not important. “Pure” pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion. Of the membership of the Peace Pledge Union, less than fifteen per cent even pay their annual subscriptions. None of these bodies of people, pacifists, Communists or Blackshirts, could bring a large-scale stop-the-war movement into being by their own efforts. But they might help to make things very much easier for a treacherous government negotiating surrender. Like the French Communists, they might become the half-conscious agents of millionaires.

The real danger is from above. One ought not to pay any attention to Hitler’s recent line of talk about being the friend of the poor man, the enemy of plutocracy, etc., etc. Hitler’s real self is in Mein Kampf, and in his actions. He has never persecuted the rich, except when they were Jews or when they tried actively to oppose him. He stands for a centralized economy which robs the capitalist of most of his power but leaves the structure of society much as before. The State controls industry, but there are still rich and poor, masters and men. Therefore, as against genuine Socialism, the monied class have always been on his side. This was crystal clear at the time of the Spanish civil war, and clear again at the time when France surrendered. Hitler’s puppet government are not working-men, but a gang of bankers, gaga generals and corrupt right-wing politicians.

That kind of spectacular, conscious treachery is less likely to succeed in England, indeed is far less likely even to be tried. Nevertheless, to many payers of super-tax this war is simply an insane family squabble which ought to be stopped at all costs. One need not doubt that a “peace” movement is on foot somewhere in high places; probably a shadow Cabinet has already been formed. These people will get their chance not in the moment of defeat but in some stagnant period when boredom is reinforced by discontent. They will not talk about surrender, only about peace; and doubtless they will persuade themselves, and perhaps other people, that they are acting for the best. An army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount – that is our danger. But it cannot arise when we have once introduced a reasonable degree of social justice. The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Göring’s bombing planes.

Part III: The English Revolution

I

The English revolution started several years ago, and it began to gather momentum when the troops came back from Dunkirk. Like all else in England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening. The war has speeded it up, but it has also increased, and desperately, the necessity for speed.

Progress and reaction are ceasing to have anything to do with party labels. If one wishes to name a particular moment, one can say that the old distinction between Right and Left broke down when Picture Post was first published. What are the politics of Picture Post? Or of Cavalcade, or Priestley’s broadcasts, or the leading articles in the Evening Standard? None of the old classifications will fit them. They merely point to the existence of multitudes of unlabelled people who have grasped within the last year or two that something is wrong. But since a classless, ownerless society is generally spoken of as ‘Socialism’, we can give that name to the society towards which we are now moving. The war and the revolution are inseparable. We cannot establish anything that a Western nation would regard as Socialism without defeating Hitler; on the hand we cannot defeat Hitler while we remain economically and socially in the nineteenth century. The past is fighting the future, and we have two years, a year, possibly only a few months, to see to it that the future wins.

We cannot look to this or to any similar government to put through the necessary changes of its own accord. The initiative will have to come from below. That means that there will have to arise something that has never yet existed in England, a Socialist movement that actually has the mass of the people behind it. But one must start by recognizing why it is that English Socialism has failed.

In England there is only one Socialist party that has ever seriously mattered, the Labour Party. It has never been able to achieve any major change, because except in purely domestic matters it has never possessed a genuinely independent policy. It was and is primarily a party of the Trade Unions, devoted to raising wages and improving working conditions. This meant that all through the critical years it was directly interested in the prosperity of British capitalism. In particular it was interested in the maintenance of the British Empire, for the wealth of England was drawn largely from Asia and Africa. The standard of living of the Trade Union workers, whom the Labour Party represented, depended indirectly on the sweating of Indian coolies. At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races. It had to stand for the “independence” of India, just as it had to stand for disarmament and “progress” generally. Nevertheless everyone was aware that this was nonsense. In the age of the tank and the bombing plane, backward agricultural countries like India and the African colonies can no more be independent than can a cat or a dog. Had any Labour Government come into office with a clear majority and then proceeded to grant India anything that could truly be called independence, India would simply have been absorbed by Japan, or divided between Japan and Russia.

To a Labour government in power, three imperial policies would have been open. One was to continue administering the Empire exactly as before, which meant dropping all pretensions to Socialism. Another was to set the subject peoples “free”, which meant in practice handing them over to Japan, Italy and other predatory powers, and incidentally causing a catastrophic drop in the British standard of living. The third was to develop a positive imperial policy, and aim at transforming the Empire into a federation of Socialist states, like a looser and freer version of the Union of Soviet Republics. But the Labour Party’s history and background made this impossible. It was a party of the Trade Unions, hopelessly parochial in outlook, with little interest in imperial affairs and no contacts among the men who actually held the Empire together. It would have had to hand over the administration of India and Africa and the whole job of imperial defence to men drawn from a different class and traditionally hostile to Socialism. Overshadowing everything was the doubt whether a Labour Government which meant business could make itself obeyed. For all the size of its following, the Labour Party had no footing in the navy, little or none in the army or Air Force, none whatever in the colonial services, and not even a sure footing in the Home civil service. In England its position was strong but not unchallengeable, and outside England all the points were in the hands of its enemies. Once in power, the same dilemma would always have faced it: carry out your promises, and risk revolt, or continue with the same policy as the Conservatives, and stop talking about Socialism. The Labour leaders never found a solution, and from 1935 onwards it was very doubtful whether they had any wish to take office. They had degenerated into a Permanent Opposition.

Outside the Labour Party there existed several extremist parties, of whom the Communists were the strongest. The Communists had considerable influence in the Labour Party in the years 1920-26 and 1935-9. Their chief importance, and that of the whole left wing of the Labour movement, was the part they played in alienating the middle classes from Socialism.

The history of the past seven years has made it perfectly clear that Communism has no chance in Western Europe. The appeal of Fascism is enormously greater. In one country after another the Communists have been rooted out by their more up-to-date enemies, the Nazis. In the English-speaking countries they never had a serious footing. The creed they were spreading could appeal only to a rather rare type of person, found chiefly in the middle-class intelligentsia, the type who has ceased to love his own country but still feels the need of patriotism, and therefore develops patriotic sentiments towards Russia. By 1940, after working for twenty years and spending a great deal of money, the British Communists had barely 20,000 members, actually a smaller number than they had started out with in 1920. The other Marxist parties were of even less importance. They had not the Russian money and prestige behind them, and even more than the Communists they were tied to the nineteenth-century doctrine of the class war. They continued year after year to preach this out-of-date gospel, and never drew any inference from the fact that it got them no followers.

Nor did any strong native Fascist movement grow up. Material conditions were not bad enough, and no leader who could be taken seriously was forthcoming. One would have had to look a long time to find a man more barren of ideas than Sir Oswald Mosley. He was as hollow as a jug. Even the elementary fact that Fascism must not offend national sentiment had escaped him. His entire movement was imitated slavishly from abroad, the uniform and the party programme from Italy and the salute from Germany, with the Jew-baiting tacked on as an afterthought, Mosley having actually started his movement with Jews among his most prominent followers. A man of the stamp of Bottomley or Lloyd George could perhaps have brought a real British Fascist movement into existence. But such leaders only appear when the psychological need for them exists.

After twenty years of stagnation and unemployment, the entire English Socialist movement was unable to produce a version of Socialism which the mass of the people could even find desirable. The Labour Party stood for a timid reformism, the Marxists were looking at the modern world through nineteenth-century spectacles. Both ignored agriculture and imperial problems, and both antagonized the middle classes. The suffocating stupidity of left-wing propaganda had frightened away whole classes of necessary people, factory managers, airmen, naval officers, farmers, white-collar workers, shopkeepers, policemen. All of these people had been taught to think of Socialism as something which menaced their livelihood, or as something seditious, alien, “anti-British” as they would have called it. Only the intellectuals, the least useful section of the middle class, gravitated towards the movement.

A Socialist Party which genuinely wished to achieve anything would have started by facing several facts which to this day are considered unmentionable in left-wing circles. It would have recognized that England is more united than most countries, that the British workers have a great deal to lose besides their chains, and that the differences in outlook and habits between class and class are rapidly diminishing. In general, it would have recognized that the old-fashioned “proletarian revolution” is an impossibility. But all through the between-war years no Socialist programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared; basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives. The Communists wanted to go on and on, suffering a comfortable martyrdom, meeting with endless defeats and afterwards putting the blame on other people. The left-wing intelligentsia wanted to go on and on, sniggering at the Blimps, sapping away at middle-class morale, but still keeping their favoured position as hangers-on of the dividend-drawers. Labour Party politics had become a variant of Conservatism, “revolutionary” politics had become a game of make-believe.

Now, however, the circumstances have changed, the drowsy years have ended. Being a Socialist no longer means kicking theoretically against a system which in practice you are fairly well satisfied with. This time our predicament is real. It is “the Philistines be upon thee, Samson”. We have got to make our words take physical shape, or perish. We know very well that with its present social structure England cannot survive, and we have got to make other people see that fact and act upon it. We cannot win the war without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war. At such a time it is possible, as it was not in the peaceful years, to be both revolutionary and realistic. A Socialist movement which can swing the mass of the people behind it, drive the pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices and let the working class see that they have something to fight for, win over the middle classes instead of antagonizing them, produce a workable imperial policy instead of a mixture of humbug and Utopianism, bring patriotism and intelligence into partnership – for the first time, a movement of such a kind becomes possible.

II

The fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word into a realizable policy.

The inefficiency of private capitalism has been proved all over Europe. Its injustice has been proved in the East End of London. Patriotism, against which the Socialists fought so long, has become a tremendous lever in their hands. People who at any other time would cling like glue to their miserable scraps of privilege, will surrender them fast enough when their country is in danger. War is the greatest of all agents of change. It speeds up all processes, wipes out minor distinctions, brings realities to the surface. Above all, war brings it home to the individual that he is not altogether an individual. It is only because they are aware of this that men will die on the field of battle. At this moment it is not so much a question of surrendering life as of surrendering leisure, comfort, economic liberty, social prestige. There are very few people England who really want to see their country conquered by Germany. If it can be made clear that defeating Hitler means wiping out class privilege, the great mass of middling people, the £6 a week to £2,000 a year class, will probably be on our side. These people are quite indispensable, because they include most of the technical experts. Obviously the snobbishness and political ignorance of people like airmen and naval officers will be a very great difficulty. But without those airmen, destroyer commanders, etc., etc., we could not survive for a week. The only approach to them is through their patriotism. An intelligent Socialist movement will use their patriotism, instead of merely insulting it, as hitherto.

But do I mean that there will no opposition? Of course not. It would be childish to expect anything of the kind.

There will be a bitter political struggle, and there will be unconscious and half-conscious sabotage everywhere. At some point or other it may be necessary to use violence. It is easy to imagine a pro-Fascist rebellion breaking out in, for instance, India. We shall have to fight against bribery, ignorance and snobbery. The bankers and the larger business-men, the landowners and dividend-drawers, the officials with their prehensile bottoms, will obstruct for all they are worth. Even the middle class will writhe when their accustomed way of life is menaced. But just because the English sense of national unity has never disintegrated, because patriotism is finally stronger than class-hatred, the chances are that the will of the majority will prevail. It is no use imagining that one can make fundamental changes without causing a split in the nation; but the treacherous minority will be far smaller in time of war than it would be at any other time.

The swing of opinion is visibly happening, but it cannot be counted on to happen fast enough of its own accord. This war is a race between the consolidation of Hitler’s empire and the growth of democratic consciousness. Everywhere in England you can see a ding-dong battle ranging to and fro – in Parliament and in the Government, in the factories and the armed forces, in the pubs and the air-raid shelters, in the newspapers and on the radio. Every day there are tiny defeats, tiny victories. Morrison for Home Security – a few yards forward. Priestley shoved off the air – a few yards back. It is a struggle between the groping and the unteachable, between the young and the old, between the living and the dead. But it is very necessary that the discontent which undoubtedly exists should take a purposeful and not merely obstructive form. It is time for the people to define their war aims. What is wanted is a simple, concrete programme of action, which can be given all possible publicity, and round which public opinion can group itself.

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England’s internal policy, the other three with the Empire and the world:–

I. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.

II. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.

III. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

IV. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over.

V. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented.

VI. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers.

The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror. But for the purposes of this book a certain amount of amplification is needed.

I. Nationalization. One can “nationalize” industry by the stroke of a pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes possible to eliminate the class of mere owners who live not by virtue of anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing directors carrying on with their jobs as State-employees. There is reason to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with over £2,000 a year – and even if one counts in all their dependants there are not more than half a million of these people in England. Nationalization of agricultural land implies cutting out the landlord and the tithe-drawer, but not necessarily interfering with the farmer. It is difficult to imagine any reorganization of English agriculture that would not retain most of the existing farms as units, at any rate at the beginning. The farmer, when he is competent, will continue as a salaried manager. He is virtually that already, with the added disadvantage of having to make a profit and being permanently in debt to the bank. With certain kinds of petty trading, and even the small-scale ownership of land, the State will probably not interfere at all. It would be a great mistake to start by victimizing the smallholder class, for instance. These people are necessary, on the whole they are competent, and the amount of work they do depends on the feeling that they are “their own masters”. But the State will certainly impose an upward limit to the ownership of land (probably fifteen acres at the very most), and will never permit any ownership of land in town areas.

From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves. They will be ready then to endure the sacrifices that are ahead of us, war or no war. And even if the face of England hardly seems to change, on the day that our main industries are formally nationalized the dominance of a single class will have been broken. From then onwards the emphasis will be shifted from ownership to management, from privilege to competence. It is quite possible that State-ownership will in itself bring about less social change than will be forced upon us by the common hardships of war. But it is the necessary first step without any real reconstruction is impossible.

II. Incomes. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage, which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of consumption-goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing-scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the world’s history to suggest that all human beings should have exactly equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow-creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.

III. Education. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the Elementary Schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability. At present, public-school education is partly a training in class prejudice and partly a sort of tax that the middle classes pay to the upper class in return for the right to enter certain professions. It is true that that state of affairs is altering. The middle classes have begun to rebel against the expensiveness of education, and the war will bankrupt the majority of the public schools if it continues for another year or two. The evacuation is also producing certain minor changes. But there is a danger that some of the older schools, which will be able to weather the financial storm longest, will survive in some form or another as festering centres of snobbery. As for the 10,000 “private” schools that England possesses, the vast majority of them deserve nothing except suppression. They are simply commercial undertakings, and in many cases their educational level is actually lower than that of the Elementary Schools. They merely exist because of a widespread idea that there is something disgraceful in being educated by the public authorities. The State could quell this idea by declaring itself responsible for all education, even if at the start this were no more than a gesture. We need gestures, as well as actions. It is all too obvious that our talk of “defending democracy” is nonsense while it is a mere accident of birth that decides whether a gifted child shall or shall not get the education it deserves.

IV. India. What we must offer India is not “freedom”, which, I have said earlier, is impossible, but alliance, partnership – in a word, equality. But we must also tell the Indians that they are free to secede, if they want to. Without that there can be no equality of partnership, and our claim to be defending the coloured peoples against Fascism will never be believed. But it is a mistake to imagine that if the Indians were free to cut themselves adrift they would immediately do so. When a British government offers them unconditional independence, they will refuse it. For as soon as they have the power to secede the chief reasons for doing so will have disappeared.

A complete severance of the two countries would be a disaster for India no less than for England. Intelligent Indians know this. As things are at present, India not only cannot defend itself, it is hardly even capable of feeding itself. The whole administration of the country depends on a framework of experts (engineers, forest officers, railwaymen, soldiers, doctors) who are predominantly English and could not be replaced within five or ten years. Moreover, English is the chief lingua franca and nearly the whole of the Indian intelligentsia is deeply anglicised. Any transference to foreign rule – for if the British marched out of India the Japanese and other powers would immediately march in – would mean an immense dislocation. Neither the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans nor the Italians would be capable of administering India even at the low level of efficiency that is attained by the British. They do not possess the necessary supplies of technical experts or the knowledge of languages and local conditions, and they probably could not win the confidence of indispensable go-betweens such as the Eurasians. If India were simply “liberated”, i.e. deprived of British military protection, the first result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second a series of enormous famines which would kill millions of people within a few years.

What India needs is the power to work out its own constitution without British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its military protection and technical advice. This is unthinkable until there is a Socialist government in England. For at least eighty years England has artificially prevented the development of India, partly from fear of trade competition if Indian industries were too highly developed, partly because backward peoples are more easily governed than civilized ones. It is a commonplace that the average Indian suffers far more from his own countrymen than from the British. The petty Indian capitalist exploits the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness, the peasant lives from birth to death in the grip of the moneylender. But all this is an indirect result of the British rule, which aims half-consciously at keeping India as backward as possible. The classes most loyal to Britain are the princes, the landowners and the business community – in general, the reactionary classes who are doing fairly well out of the status quo. The moment that England ceased to stand towards India in the relation of an exploiter, the balance of forces would be altered. No need then for the British to flatter the ridiculous Indian princes, with their gilded elephants and cardboard armies, to prevent the growth of the Indian Trade Unions, to play off Moslem against Hindu, to protect the worthless life of the moneylender, to receive the salaams of toadying minor officials, to prefer the half-barbarous Gurkha to the educated Bengali. Once check that stream of dividends that flows from the bodies of Indian coolies to the banking accounts of old ladies in Cheltenham, and the whole sahib-native nexus, with its haughty ignorance on one side and envy and servility on the other, can come to an end. Englishmen and Indians can work side by side for the development of India, and for the training of Indians in all the arts which, so far, they have been systematically prevented from learning. How many of the existing British personnel in India, commercial or official, would fall in with such an arrangement – which would mean ceasing once and for all to be “sahibs” – is a different question. But, broadly speaking, more is to be hoped from the younger men and from those officials (civil engineers, forestry and agriculture experts, doctors, educationists) who have been scientifically educated. The higher officials, the provincial governors, commissioners, judges, etc., are hopeless; but they are also the most easily replaceable.

That, roughly, is what would be meant by Dominion status if it were offered to India by a Socialist government. It is an offer of partnership on equal terms until such time as the world has ceased to be ruled by bombing planes. But we must add to it the unconditional right to secede. It is the only way of proving that we mean what we say. And what applies to India applies, mutatis mutandis, to Burma, Malaya and most of our African possessions.

V and VI explain themselves. They are the necessary preliminary to any claim that we are fighting this war for the protection of peaceful peoples against Fascist aggression.

Is it impossibly hopeful to think that such a policy as this could get a following in England? A year ago, even six months ago, it would have been, but not now. Moreover – and this is the peculiar opportunity of this moment – it could be given the necessary publicity. There is now a considerable weekly press, with a circulation of millions, which would be ready to popularize – if not exactly the programme I have sketched above, at any rate some policy along those lines. There are even three or four daily papers which would be prepared to give it a sympathetic hearing. That is the distance we have travelled in the last six months.

But is such a policy realizable? That depends entirely on ourselves.

Some of the points I have suggested are of the kind that could be carried out immediately, others would take years or decades and even then would not be perfectly achieved. No political programme is ever carried out in its entirety. But what matters is that that or something like it should be our declared policy. It is always the direction that counts. It is of course quite hopeless to expect the present government to pledge itself to any policy that implies turning this war into a revolutionary war. It is at best a government of compromise, with Churchill riding two horses like a circus acrobat. Before such measures as limitation of incomes become even thinkable, there will have to be complete shift of power away from the old ruling class. If during this winter the war settles into another stagnant period, we ought in my opinion to agitate for a General Election, a thing which the Tory Party machine will make frantic efforts to prevent. But even without an election we can get the government we want, provided that we want it urgently enough. A real shove from below will accomplish it. As to who will be in that government when it comes, I make no guess. I only know that the right men will be there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders movements.

Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed before, a specifically English Socialist movement. Hitherto there has been only the Labour Party, which was the creation of the working class but did not aim at any fundamental change, and Marxism, which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. There was nothing that really touched the heart of the English people. Throughout its entire history the English Socialist movement has never produced a song with a catchy tune – nothing like La Marseillaise or La Cucaracha, for instance. When a Socialist movement native to England appears, the Marxists, like all others with a vested interest in the past, will be its bitter enemies. Inevitably they will denounce it as ‘Fascism’. Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against Nazis we shall “go Nazi” ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if we fight Negroes we shall turn black. To “go Nazi” we should have to have the history of Germany behind us. Nations do not escape from their past merely by making a revolution. An English Socialist government will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilization, the peculiar civilization which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons. It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the Trade Unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand, and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as “a Christian country”. The Catholic Church will war against it, but the Nonconformist sects and the bulk of the Anglican Church will be able to come to terms with it. It will show a power of assimilating the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt whether any revolution has happened.

But all the same it will have done the essential thing. It will have nationalized industry, scaled down incomes, set up a classless educational system. Its real nature will be apparent from the hatred which the surviving rich men of the world will feel for it. It will aim not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the moneylender, the dividend-drawer and the wooden-headed British official. Its war-strategy will be totally different from that of any property-ruled state, because it will not be afraid of the revolutionary after-effects when any existing régime is brought down. It will not have the smallest scruple about attacking hostile neutrals or stirring up native rebellion in enemy colonies. It will fight in such a way that even if it is beaten its memory will be dangerous to the victor, as the memory of the French Revolution was dangerous to Metternich’s Europe. The dictators will fear it as they could not fear the existing British régime, even if its military strength were ten times what it is.

But at this moment, when the drowsy life of England has barely altered, and the offensive contrast of wealth and poverty still exists everywhere, even amid the bombs, why do I dare to say that all these things “will” happen?

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either – or”. Either we turn this war into a revolutionary war (I do not say that our policy will be exactly what I have indicated above – merely that it will be along those general lines) or we lose it, and much more besides. Quite soon it will be possible to say definitely that our feet are set upon one path or the other. But at any rate it is certain that with our present social structure we cannot win. Our real forces, physical, moral or intellectual, cannot be mobilized.

III

Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between the future and the past. No real revolutionary has ever been an internationalist.

During the past twenty years the negative, fainéant outlook which has been fashionable among English left-wingers, the sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm. It would have been harmful even if we had been living in the squashy League of Nations universe that these people imagined. In an age of Führers and bombing planes it was a disaster. However little we may like it, toughness is the price of survival. A nation trained to think hedonistically cannot survive amid peoples who work like slaves and breed like rabbits, and whose chief national industry is war. English Socialists of nearly all colours have wanted to make a stand against Fascism, but at the same time they have aimed at making their own countrymen unwarlike. They have failed, because in England traditional loyalties are stronger than new ones. But in spite of all the “anti-Fascist” heroics of the left-wing press, what chance should we have stood when the real struggle with Fascism came, if the average Englishman had been the kind of creature that the New Statesman, the Daily Worker or even the News Chronicle wished to make him?

Up to 1935 virtually all English left-wingers were vaguely pacifist. After 1935 the more vocal of them flung themselves eagerly into the Popular Front movement, which was simply an evasion of the whole problem posed by Fascism. It set out to be “anti-Fascist” in a purely negative way – “against” Fascism without being “for” any discoverable policy – and underneath it lay the flabby idea that when the time came the Russians would do our fighting for us. It is astonishing how this illusion fails to die. Every week sees its spate of letters to the press, pointing out that if we had a government with no Tories in it the Russians could hardly avoid coming round to our side. Or we are to publish high-sounding war aims (vide books like Unser Kampf, A Hundred Million Allies – If We Choose, etc.), whereupon the European populations will infallibly rise on our behalf. It is the same idea all the time – look abroad for your inspiration, get someone else to do your fighting for you. Underneath it lies the frightful inferiority complex of the English intellectual, the belief that the English are no longer a martial race, no longer capable of enduring.

In truth there is no reason to think that anyone will do our fighting for us yet awhile, except the Chinese, who have been doing it for three years already.[3] The Russians may be driven to fight on our side by the fact of a direct attack, but they have made it clear enough that they will not stand up to the German army if there is any way of avoiding it. In any case they are not likely to be attracted by the spectacle of a left-wing government in England. The present Russian régime must almost certainly be hostile to any revolution in the West. The subject peoples of Europe will rebel when Hitler begins to totter, but not earlier. Our potential allies are not the Europeans but on the one hand the Americans, who will need a year to mobilize their resources even if Big Business can be brought to heel, and on the other hand the coloured peoples, who cannot be even sentimentally on our side till our own revolution has started. For a long time, a year, two years, possibly three years, England has got to be the shock-absorber of the world. We have got to face bombing, hunger, overwork, influenza, boredom and treacherous peace offers. Manifestly it is a time to stiffen morale, not to weaken it. Instead of taking the mechanically anti-British attitude which is usual on the Left, it is better to consider what the world would really be like if the English-speaking culture perished. For it is childish to suppose that the other English-speaking countries, even the U.S.A., will be unaffected if Britain is conquered.

Lord Halifax, and all his tribe, believe that when the war is over things will be exactly as they were before. Back to the crazy pavement of Versailles, back to “democracy”, i.e. capitalism, back to dole queues and the Rolls-Royce cars, back to the grey top hats and the sponge-bag trousers, in saecula saeculorum. It is of course obvious that nothing of the kind is going to happen. A feeble imitation of it might just possibly happen in the case of a negotiated peace, but only for a short while. Laissez-faire capitalism is dead.[4] The choice lies between the kind of collective society that Hitler will set up and the kind that can arise if he is defeated.

If Hitler wins this war he will consolidate his rule over Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and if his armies have not been too greatly exhausted beforehand, he will wrench vast territories from Soviet Russia. He will set up a graded caste-society in which the German Herrenvolk (“master race” or “aristocratic race”) will rule over Slavs and other lesser peoples whose job will be to produce low-priced agricultural products. He will reduce the coloured peoples once and for all to outright slavery. The real quarrel of the Fascist powers with British imperialism is that they know that it is disintegrating. Another twenty years along the present line of development, and India will be a peasant republic linked with England only by voluntary alliance. The “semi-apes” of whom Hitler speaks with such loathing will be flying aeroplanes and manufacturing machine-guns. The Fascist dream of a slave empire will be at an end. On the other hand, if we are defeated we simply hand over our own victims to new masters who come fresh to the job and have not developed any scruples.

But more is involved than the fate of the coloured peoples. Two incompatible visions of life are fighting one another. “Between democracy and totalitarianism”, says Mussolini, “there can be no compromise”. The two creeds cannot even, for any length of time, live side by side. So long as democracy exists, even in its very imperfect English form, totalitarianism is in deadly danger. The whole English-speaking world is haunted by the idea of human equality, and though it would be simply a lie to say that either we or the Americans have ever acted up to our professions, still, the idea is there, and it is capable of one day becoming a reality. From the English-speaking culture, if it does not perish, a society of free and equal human beings will ultimately arise. But it is precisely the idea of human equality – the “Jewish” or “Judæo-Christian” idea of equality – that Hitler came into the world to destroy. He has, heaven knows, said so often enough. The thought of a world in which black men would be as good as white men and Jews treated as human beings brings him the same horror and despair as the thought of endless slavery brings to us.

It is important to keep in mind how irreconcilable these two viewpoints are. Some time within the next year a pro-Hitler reaction within the left-wing intelligentsia is likely enough. There are premonitory signs of it already. Hitler’s positive achievement appeals to the emptiness of these people, and, in the case of those with pacifist leanings, to their masochism. One knows in advance more or less what they will say. They will start by refusing to admit that British capitalism is evolving into something different, or that the defeat of Hitler can mean any more than a victory for the British and American millionaires. And from that they will proceed to argue that, after all, democracy is “just the same as” or “just as bad as” totalitarianism. There is not much freedom of speech in England; therefore there is no more than exists in Germany. To be on the dole is a horrible experience; therefore it is no worse to be in the torture-chambers of the Gestapo. In general, two blacks make a white, half a loaf is the same as no bread.

But in reality, whatever may be true about democracy and totalitarianism, it is not true that they are the same. It would not be true, even if British democracy were incapable of evolving beyond its present stage. The whole conception of the militarized continental state, with its secret police, its censored literature and its conscript labour, is utterly different from that of the loose maritime democracy, with its slums and unemployment, its strikes and party politics. It is the difference between land power and sea power, between cruelty and inefficiency, between lying and self-deception, between the S.S.-man and the rent-collector. And in choosing between them one chooses not so much on the strength of what they now are as of what they are capable of becoming. But in a sense it is irrelevant whether democracy, at its highest or at its lowest, is “better” than totalitarianism. To decide that one would have to have access to absolute standards. The only question that matters is where one’s real sympathies will lie when the pinch comes. The intellectuals who are so fond of balancing democracy against totalitarianism and “proving” that one is as bad as the other are simply frivolous people who have never been shoved up against realities. They show the same shallow misunderstanding of Fascism now, when they are beginning to flirt with it, as a year or two ago, when they were squealing against it. The question is not, “Can you make out a debating-society ‘case’ in favour of Hitler?” The question is, “Do you genuinely accept that case? Are you willing to submit to Hitler’s rule? Do you want to see England conquered, or don’t you?” It would be better to be sure on that point before frivolously siding with the enemy. For there is no such thing as neutrality in war; in practice one must help one side or the other.

When the pinch comes, no one bred in the Western tradition can accept the Fascist vision of life. It is important to realize that now, and to grasp what it entails. With all its sloth, hypocrisy and injustice, the English-speaking civilization is the only large obstacle in Hitler’s path. It is a living contradiction of all the “infallible” dogmas of Fascism. That is why all Fascist writers for years past have agreed that England’s power must be destroyed. England must be “exterminated”, must be “annihilated”, must “cease to exist”. Strategically it would be possible for this war to end with Hitler in secure possession of Europe, and with the British Empire intact and British sea-power barely affected. But ideologically it is not possible; were Hitler to make an offer along those lines, it could only be treacherously, with a view to conquering England indirectly or renewing the attack at some more favourable moment. England cannot possibly be allowed to remain as a sort of funnel through which deadly ideas from beyond the Atlantic flow into the police-states of Europe. And turning it round to our point of view, we see the vastness of the issue before us, the all-importance of preserving our democracy more or less as we have known it. But to preserve is always to extend. The choice before us is not so much between victory and defeat as between revolution and apathy. If the thing we are fighting for is altogether destroyed, it will have been destroyed partly by our own act.

It could happen that England could introduce the beginnings of Socialism, turn this war into a revolutionary war, and still be defeated. That is at any rate thinkable. But, terrible as it would be for anyone who is now adult, it would be far less deadly than the “compromise peace” which a few rich men and their hired liars are hoping for. The final ruin of England could only be accomplished by an English government acting under orders from Berlin. But that cannot happen if England has awakened beforehand. For in that case the defeat would be unmistakable, the struggle would continue, the idea would survive. The difference between going down fighting, and surrendering without a fight, is by no means a question of “honour” and schoolboy heroics. Hitler said once that to accept defeat destroys the soul of a nation. This sounds like a piece of claptrap, but it is strictly true. The defeat of 1870 did not lessen the world-influence of France. The Third Republic had more influence, intellectually, than the France of Napoleon III. But the sort of peace that Pétain, Laval & Co. have accepted can only be purchased by deliberately wiping out the national culture. The Vichy government will enjoy a spurious independence only on condition that it destroys the distinctive marks of French culture: republicanism, secularism, respect for the intellect, absence of colour prejudice. We cannot be utterly defeated if we have made our revolution beforehand. We may see German troops marching down Whitehall, but another process, ultimately deadly to the German power-dream, will have been started. The Spanish people were defeated, but the things they learned during those two and a half memorable years will one day come back upon the Spanish Fascists like a boomerang.

A piece of Shakespearean bombast was much quoted at the beginning of the war. Even Mr Chamberlain quoted it once, if my memory does not deceive me:

Come the four corners of the world in arms
And we shall shock them: Naught shall make us rue
If England to herself do rest but true.

It is right enough, if you interpret it rightly. But England has got to be true to herself. She is not being true to herself while the refugees who have sought our shores are penned up in concentration camps, and company directors work out subtle schemes to dodge their Excess Profits Tax. It is goodbye to the Tatler and the Bystander, and farewell to the lady in the Rolls-Royce car. The heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and the streets, in the factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban back garden; and at present they are still kept under by a generation of ghosts. Compared with the task of bringing the real England to the surface, even the winning of the war, necessary though it is, is secondary. By revolution we become more ourselves, not less. There is no question of stopping short, striking a compromise, salvaging “democracy”, standing still. Nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward. I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.

Orwell’s Notes

[1] For example:

I don’t want to join the bloody Army,
I don’t want to go unto the war;
I want no more to roam,
I’d rather stay at home
Living on the earnings of a whore.

But it was not in that spirit that they fought.

[2] It is true that they aided them to a certain extent with money. Still, the sums raised for the various aid-Spain funds would not equal five per cent of the turnover of the Football Pools during the same period. [3] Written before the outbreak of the war in Greece. [4] It is interesting to notice that Mr. Kennedy, U.S.A. Ambassador in London, remarked on his return to New York in October 1940 that as a result of the war, “democracy is finished”. By “democracy”, of course, he meant private capitalism.First published by Searchlight Books, 19 February 1941

 

 

 

 

 


Journée internationale de commémoration des victimes de l’Holocauste/75e: Détacher le judaïsme d’Israël, c’est en faire un cadavre sans vie dépourvu d’âme (After the Holocaust, any argument that Jews can survive as a religion without a state is profoundly ridiculous)

27 janvier, 2020
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Vous qui aimez l’Éternel, haïssez le mal! Psaume 97: 10
Celui qui est sans foyer n’est pas une personne. Le Talmud
Vers l’Orient compliqué, je volais avec des idées simples. Je savais que, au milieu de facteurs enchevêtrés, une partie essentielle s’y jouait. Il fallait donc en être. Charles de Gaulle (avril 1941)
99% des migrants non européens s’intègrent parfaitement à la nation française (…) l’islam n’est pas une menace pour la France, il est une composante depuis le VIIIe siècle. (…) ce qui se cache aujourd’hui derrière le « souverainisme » désigne en fait la même xénophobie, la même fermeture, la même absence de confiance en soi que les idéologies anti-italienne, antipolonaise, antiarménienne, et antisémites des siècles passés. Jacques Attali
Le souverainisme n’est que le nouveau nom de l’antisémitisme. Jacques Attali
Ecoutez-les : ils se lamentent cette semaine sur la montée de l’antisémitisme ; mais ils s’arrangent pour ne pas désigner les coupables. Ainsi font les faux-culs de l’antiracisme. Leur silence vaut camouflage. Ce qu’ils cherchent à taire est, il est vrai, le résultat de leur idéologie. Car ils savent, ces prétendues belles âmes, que la haine du juif a muté avec leur consentement tacite. Elle n’est plus tant dans la vieille extrême droite nostalgique de fantômes vichyssois qu’au cœur de la nouvelle société arabo-musulmane issue de l’immigration. Un rapport de l’Ifop confirme ces jours-ci qu’un Français juif sur trois se sent menacé au quotidien. 84% des juifs âgés entre 18 et 24 ans disent avoir été victimes d’actes antisémites. Ce mercredi, Emmanuel Macron entame en Israël un court séjour à l’occasion du 75e anniversaire de la libération d’Auschwitz. Mais les nazis d’aujourd’hui n’ont plus rien à voir avec ceux d’hier. Certes, certains attentats commis à l’étranger contre des musulmans par des suprémacistes blancs – notamment ceux de Christchurch (Nouvelle Zélande) le 15 mars 2019 – permettent aux faussaires d’alerter sur le danger d’une renaissance de l’extrême droite. En France, Jacques Attali est de ces intellectuels qui s’emploient à brouiller les réalités. C’est lui qui a déclaré, le 3 octobre 2019 : « 99% des migrants non européens s’intègrent parfaitement à la nation française (…) l’islam n’est pas une menace pour la France, il est une composante depuis le VIIIe siècle ». Dans un tweet du 4 octobre, il a aussi assuré : « Le souverainisme n’est que le nouveau nom de l’antisémitisme ». Mais ceux qui n’osent nommer les ennemis des Juifs avalisent une ignominie. Ils sont les traîtres. Oui, les Français juifs ont été trahis par la République capitularde. Ils ont été trahis par ceux qui avaient pour mission de protéger la nation de cette authentique « lèpre qui monte » qu’est l’antisémitisme. Or, quand Macron emploie cette expression, c’est pour dénoncer les peuples qui se réveillent. Le président porte une lourde responsabilité dans l’occultation des sources. Dans mon essai – Les Traîtres – je rappelle les procédés ignobles qui furent ceux du chef de l’Etat quand il laissa croire, à l’instar de Bernard-Henri Lévy, que l’antisémitisme était porté par les Gilets jaunes et plus généralement par les populistes. Je reprends ici quelques lignes de mon livre : « Quand Macron rend hommage à Simone Veil devant le Panthéon, en juillet 2018, il évoque « les vents mauvais qui à nouveau se lèvent ». Mais il ne vise pas là, comme on pourrait s’y attendre vu les circonstances, la judéophobie islamique qui massacre des innocents en France et ailleurs. Non, il vise les populistes, les eurosceptiques, tous ceux qui ne le suivent pas. Pour la Macronie et ses désinformateurs agréés, l’antisémitisme est, forcément, au centre du mouvement des Gilets jaunes. Le chercheur Jean-Yves Camus a beau objecter : « Le mouvement des Gilets jaunes en tant que tel n’est pas antisémite », le bourrage de crâne élyséen ne changera rien à son réquisitoire hystérique. Voici dont un chef d’Etat qui accuse une partie de son peuple d’être porteur d’une maladie de l’esprit qui touche, en réalité, ceux qui se sont soumis à l’islam le plus rétrograde mais que Macron, en revanche, choisit d’épargner. ». Comment respecter un pouvoir qui démissionne, toute honte bue ? Ivan Rioufol
La participation de Donald Trump [à la ‘Marche pour la vie’] est entièrement opportuniste. Il ne me semble pas qu’il ait des convictions morales solides. Il a découvert que les chrétiens conservateurs évangéliques le soutiennent, ils sont eux-mêmes pro-vie donc finalement il leur donne ce qu’ils veulent. Il est peut-être hypocrite à propos du droit à l’avortement, mais ce qu’il faut retenir, c’est qu’il a nommé des juges pro-vie à la Cour Suprême. Et je préfère avoir un président hypocrite qui reste constant dans sa politique sur l’avortement, qu’un président qui soit sincèrement pro-vie mais qui ne soit pas suffisamment engagé pour cette cause… George W. Bush était fermement engagé pour la vie également. Il ne faut pas oublier que les alliés de Trump comme ses ennemis adorent les exagérations pour parler de lui… Et encore une fois, l’essentiel est dans ce qu’il fait et non pas dans la sincérité de ses actions. (…) l’avortement n’est pas une nouvelle fracture, c’est une ligne de clivage depuis les années 1980 lors de la première campagne électorale de Ronald Reagan. Le fait que l’avortement demeure une fracture depuis toutes ces années est particulièrement intéressant: le pays a beaucoup évolué, même au sujet de la libération sexuelle. Un rapport de 2003 publié dans The Atlantic par Thomas B. Edsall intitulé «Blue Movie» montre de manière éloquente comment les questions de sexualité, incluant l’avortement, permettent de prédire avec précision le parti pour lequel les personnes interrogées vont voter. Depuis, les États-Unis sont devenus plus libéraux sur ces questions. La pornographie s’est répandue et est devenue largement accessible. Le mariage homosexuel a gagné un soutien majoritaire à une vitesse fulgurante et particulièrement auprès des jeunes. Après l’arrêt Obergefell qui déclare le droit constitutionnel du mariage homosexuel, pour les chrétiens la question des droits des homosexuels n’est plus centrée sur l’homosexualité elle-même mais sur la confrontation entre les droits LGBT et la liberté de conscience des croyants. Tous les vieux combats culturels concernant les questions de sexualité ont été perdus par la droite… à l’exception de l’avortement. Étrangement, l’opinion publique à propos de l’avortement n’a pas véritablement évolué depuis 1973. La plupart des Américains sont favorables à l’avortement, qui est légalisé, mais en y appliquant des restrictions. Alors qu’en 1973 l’arrêt Roe v. Wade prévoit un avortement sans restrictions. Ce qui est particulièrement intéressant, c’est que même si les «millennials» sont bien plus libres sur les questions de sexualité que les générations précédentes, et malgré le fait qu’ils sont la génération la plus laïque de l’histoire des États-Unis, l’opposition à un avortement sans restriction demeure forte parmi eux. Je ne suis pas certain d’avoir la clef d’explication de ce phénomène mais je pense que la technologie est un élément de compréhension. Les avancées des échographies ont permis aux gens de véritablement voir pour la première fois ce qui se passe dans l’utérus et de prendre conscience qu’ils n’y voient pas qu’un morceau de chair mais un être humain en train de se développer. Les miracles de la médecine actuelle qui sauve la vie de bébés nés grands prématurés sont plus parlants pour cette génération que les sermons des prêtres. (…) La probabilité de la réélection de Donald Trump dépend de sa capacité à rallier sa base et à convaincre les conservateurs qui rechignent à voter démocrate, mais qui n’avaient pas voté pour lui en 2016 à cause de doutes profonds sur sa personne. Trump n’a pas été aussi mauvais que ce que je craignais. Pour autant je ne crois pas qu’il a été un bon président. Néanmoins, je vais sûrement voter pour lui en 2020, et ce pour une bonne raison: le parti démocrate est extrêmement hostile envers les conservateurs religieux et sociétaux mais aussi envers nos libertés fondamentales. Leur combat pour la théorie du genre et l’extension maximale des droits de la communauté LGBT sont les principaux piliers du programme démocrate. Les activistes progressistes ont désigné les chrétiens conservateurs comme leur principal ennemi. Sur ces questions et sur la protection de la liberté d’expression, on ne peut pas leur faire confiance. Ils sont devenus les ennemis de la liberté. Il est clair que le nombre d’Américains qui est d’accord avec les traditionalistes sur ces questions diminue. Je crois que dans les mois et les décennies à venir, les juges fédéraux conservateurs que Trump a nommés seront les seuls à offrir une véritable sauvegarde de la liberté religieuse aux États-Unis. Les Républicains au Congrès et à la Maison Blanche n’ont pas vraiment agi en faveur du renforcement de la liberté religieuse contre les revendications des droits LGBT. Ils sont terrifiés à l’idée de passer pour bigots. Malheureusement, beaucoup de chrétiens américains ont eu des faux espoirs avec le Grand Old Party, en pensant qu’il suffisait de voter républicain pour gagner sur ces questions. En réalité, dans tous les domaines, académiques, médicaux, juridiques, dans les entreprises, les droits LGBT et l’idéologie du genre sont triomphants. Voter républicain est le seul moyen de ralentir cette «Blitzkrieg» progressiste et peut être à travers des biais juridiques y mettre fin dans le futur. Ce n’est pas grand-chose, mais c’est tout ce que nous pouvons faire pour le moment sur le front politique. (…) Il est vrai que Trump a la présidence, les Républicains tiennent la majorité au Congrès et pour ces deux raisons les Républicains nomment un certain nombre de juges fédéraux. C’est un élément important mais ce n’est pas suffisant face au pouvoir culturel immense que les progressistes détiennent de leur côté. Ils contrôlent les plus grands médias d’information et de divertissement, ils contrôlent les écoles et les universités, la médecine et le droit et aussi de manière assez improbable, les grandes entreprises. L’émergence d’un «woke capitalism», un capitalisme progressiste, est un des faits politiques les plus significatifs de la décennie. La majorité des conservateurs n’a pas conscience de leur puissance ni de la manière dont ils se sont clairement positionnés contre le conservatisme social. Ils sont encore attachés à l’ère reaganienne et à illusion que le monde des affaires est conservateur. Quand Ronald Reagan a été élu président en 1980, il a ouvert une nouvelle ère dans la politique américaine, dominée par la droite, plus précisément par les néolibéraux de la droite. Cette ère s’est achevée avec Obama et Trump, mais l’avenir n’est pas écrit. Si on avait dit à un électeur conservateur au moment de l’investiture de Reagan que 30 ans plus tard le christianisme serait déclinant en Amérique, que le mariage homosexuel et l’adoption seraient légaux, que la pornographie violente serait uniformément répandue et accessible à tous y compris aux enfants grâce aux smartphones, que les médecins seraient autorisés à retirer des poitrines féminines à des jeunes filles pour devenir des hommes transgenres, je pense que cet électeur ne croirait pas une seconde qu’un pays qui autorise cela puisse être véritablement conservateur. Et pourtant c’est la réalité de l’Amérique d’aujourd’hui. Si nous sommes un pays conservateur, pourquoi n’avons-nous pas eu un mouvement comme celui de la Manif pour tous, qui pourtant en France, au pays de la laïcité, a conduit des centaines de milliers de personnes dans les rues de Paris pour manifester? J’ai le sentiment que nous sommes plus un pays houllebecquien, même si les conservateurs ne veulent pas l’admettre. Les chrétiens traditionnels, catholiques, protestants, orthodoxes, ont perdu la guerre culturelle. Nous devons nous préparer à une longue période d’occupation et de résistance. C’est ce que j’appelle choisir l’option bénédictine. Même si mon livre s’est bien vendu aux États-Unis, proportionnellement il a eu plus de succès en Europe. En France, en Italie, en Espagne et dans d’autres pays européens mes lecteurs sont des catholiques de moins de 40 ans. Lorsque vous êtes aussi jeune et que vous allez encore à la messe, vous n’avez pas à être convaincu de la vérité du diagnostic que je porte sur le malaise culturel actuel. De même, vous n’avez pas besoin d’être convaincu de l’impuissance de l’église post-soixante-huitarde dans cette crise. En Amérique, les chrétiens n’ont pas encore vu pleinement cette vérité. Cela nous attend dans cette nouvelle décennie. Ce sera un choc douloureux mais nous ne serons pas en mesure de constituer une vraie résistance tant que nous n’accepterons pas cette réalité. Après Trump, le déluge. Rod Dreher
Le voyage de milliers de réfugiés juifs, en 1947, sur le vieux navire « Exodus » en direction de la Palestine. Otto Preminger retrace la naissance de l’État d’Israël dans une fresque majestueuse portée par Paul Newman et Eva Marie Saint. En 1947, des réfugiés juifs européens en partance pour la Palestine mandataire sont refoulés par les autorités britanniques et placés dans des camps d’internement sur l’île de Chypre. Alors que les Nations unies s’apprêtent à se prononcer sur le plan de partage de la Palestine, Ari ben Canaan, un agent de la Haganah, une organisation paramilitaire sioniste, se fait passer pour un officier anglais et embarque des centaines de réfugiés sur un vieux navire rebaptisé Exodus. Lorsque le subterfuge est découvert, Canaan menace de faire sauter le bateau et obtient ainsi du général Sutherland la levée du blocus britannique. L’infirmière américaine Kitty Fremont, qui s’est prise d’affection pour Karen, une jeune passagère à la recherche de son père biologique, fait partie du voyage vers Haïfa. Tandis que Kitty se rapproche d’Ari, sa protégée s’éprend de Dov, un rescapé d’Auschwitz qui, une fois à terre, s’engage dans les rangs de l’Irgoun, une organisation clandestine aux méthodes violentes… Fondée sur le best-seller de Leon Uris, dont Otto Preminger a confié l’adaptation – créditée – à Dalton Trumbo, scénariste inscrit sur la liste noire d’Hollywood, cette fresque de plus de trois heures entrelace destins individuels et grande histoire, amours contrariées et soubresauts politiques avec une fluidité époustouflante, dénuée de tout effet démonstratif. Si elle s’autorise quelques libertés avec les faits et dédaigne le point de vue des Arabes, cette épopée, tournée dans des décors naturels à Chypre et en Israël, dépeint avec finesse le traumatisme des rescapés de l’Holocauste – personnifié par Dov, interprété par Sal Mineo, dans une bouleversante séquence d’interrogatoire. Elle met aussi l’accent sur la confusion des autorités britanniques, les dissensions entre factions sionistes, les germes du conflit israélo-palestinien… Rythmé par la partition exaltée d’Ernest Gold et magnifiquement interprété par Paul Newman et Eva Maria Saint, l’un des chefs-d’œuvre d’Otto Preminger. Arte
Dans la réalité, le navire fut intercepté en 1947 au large de Haïfa par les autorités britanniques, et ses passagers furent tout d’abord transférés à Port-de-Bouc en France, puis redéployés dans des camps de déportés en Allemagne. Ce n’est qu’en 1948, après l’établissement de l’État d’Israël, qu’une première partie des réfugiés de l’Exodus parvint en Palestine. L’attentat de l’hôtel King David eut lieu avant l’affaire de l’Exodus, en juillet 1946, et non en juillet 1947 comme montré dans le film. Il causa notamment la fin du « Mouvement de la révolte hébraïque », réunion de la Haganah, de l’Irgoun, et du Lehi : la Haganah quitta ce mouvement après l’attentat, en protestation contre cette action. De même, l’attaque de la prison d’Acre eut lieu en mai 1947, toujours avant l’affaire de l’Exodus, et fut montée entièrement par l’Irgoun. La tentative de prise de Safed est montrée comme une attaque arabe alors que la ville a été prise par les forces juives en mai 1947 et sa population arabe expulsée. La principale critique de l’historien Larry Portis est que ce film ne présente qu’un côté du conflit, en nous montrant comment quelques rares membres de la Haganah, peu armés mais courageux et unis, parviennent à empêcher l’attaque d’un kibboutz par des Arabes fanatisés et encadrés par d’anciens soldats du Troisième Reich, alors que les Britanniques refusent d’intervenir. Les Arabes ne tueront que deux personnes autour du camp : l’innocente et très blonde Karen, tuée dans la nuit, et le mukhtar du village arabe voisin, Taha, ami d’enfance d’Ari Ben Canaan. Le village arabe est d’ailleurs mystérieusement abandonné, ce qui permet aux jeunes sionistes de se lancer à la défense de Safed dont on entend l’attaque dans le lointain. Wikipedia
Not only were both film and novel tremendous commercial successes, but they were conceived of as the two axes of a single, mutually reinforcing project.* The idea for the book was suggested to Leon Uris by Dore Schary, a top executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The motivation behind the project is described by Kathleen Christison. « The idea for the book » she says, « began with a prominent public-relations consultant who in the early 1950s decided that the United States was too apathetic about Israel’s struggle for survival and recognition. » Uris received a contract from Doubleday and went to Israel and Cyprus where he carried out extensive research. The book was published in September, 1958. It was first re-printed in October the following year. By 1964, it had gone through 30 re-printings. This success was undoubtedly helped by the film’s release in 1960, but not entirely, as Uris’s novel was a book-of-the-month club selection in September, 1959 (which perhaps explains the first re-printing). The film was to be made by MGM. But when the time came, the studio hesitated. The project was perhaps too political for the big producers. At this moment Otto Preminger bought the screen rights from MGM. He then produced and directed the film, featuring an all-star cast including Paul Newman, Eva Marie-Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, Peter Lawford and other box-office draws of the moment. The film also benefited from a lavish production in “superpanavision 70” after having been filmed on location. The music was composed by Ernest Gold, for which he received an Academy Award for the best music score of 1960. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. In spite of its length—three and a half hours—the film was a tremendous popular and critical success. It is noteworthy that the release of “Exodus” the film in 1960 indicates that its production began upon Exodus the book’s publication. It is reasonable, therefore, to suppose a degree of coordination, in keeping with the origins of the project. In short, it was a major operation which brilliantly succeeded. It has been estimated that in excess of 20 million people have read the novel, and that hundreds of millions have seen the film. Not only was this success a financial bonanza, but its political impact has been equally considerable. There can be little doubt that “Exodus” the film has been one of the most important influences on US perceptions and understanding of the hostilities between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. It is thusly illuminating to return to the message communicated by this film, in attempting to gage its role in ideological formation. “Exodus” is the story of the Exodus 1947, a ship purchased in the United States and used to transport 4,500 Jewish refugees to Palestine. In reality, the novel and film take great liberties with the original story. Intercepted by the British authorities in the port of Haïfa, the real-life refugees were taken to the French port of Sête, where they were held, becoming the object of intense Zionist agitation and propaganda. Eventually they were transported to Germany and held temporarily in transit camps. Although this incident was used by Uris as the point of departure for his novel, the book is a work of fiction. Not only were the characters invented, but the events did not correspond to reality except in the most general way. In Uris’s narrative, an intercepted ship (not named “Exodus”) is intercepted on the high sea and taken to Cyprus where the passengers are put in camps. Representatives of the Haganah, the secret Jewish army in Palestine, arrive secretly in Cyprus in order to care for, educate and mobilize the refugees. The agent-in-chief is Ari Ben Canaan, played by Paul Newman. Ben Canaan is the son of Barak Ben Canaan, prominent leader of the Yishuv, the Jewish, Zionist community in Palestine. Tricking the British with great intelligence and audacity, Ari Ben Canaan arranges for the arrival of a ship purchased in the United States, on which he places 600 Jewish refugee children—orphans from the Nazi extermination camps and elsewhere. Once the children are on the ship, Ben Canaan names the ship the “Exodus”, and runs up the Zionist flag. He then informs the British authorities that, if the ship is not allowed to depart for Palestine, it will be blown up with all aboard. Before having organized this potential suicide bombing (of himself, the Haganah agents and the 600 children), Ben Canaan has met Kitty Fremont, an American nurse who has become fond of the children and, it must be said, of Ari Ben Canaan. This love interest is carefully intertwined with the major theme: the inexorable need and will of the Jewish people to occupy the soil of Palestine. As it might be expected, the British give in. After some discussion between a clearly anti-semitic officer and those more troubled by the plight of the refugees, the ship is allowed to depart for Palestine. It arrives just before the vote of the United Nations Organization recommending the partition of Palestine between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. As the partition is refused by the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states, war breaks out and the characters all join the ultimately successful effort against what are described as over-whelming odds. Even Kitty and Major Sutherland, the British officer who tipped the balance in favour of releasing the “Exodus,” join the fight. Sutherland’s participation, representing the defection of a British imperialist to the zionist cause, if particularly symbolic. Why did Sutherland jeopardize his position and reputation, and then resign from the army? His humanitarian was forged by the fact that he had seen the Nazi extermination camps when Germany was liberated and, more troubling, his mother was Jewish, although converted to the Church of England. Sutherland has a belated identity crisis which led him, too, to establish himself in the naitive Israel. The other major characters is the film similarly represent the “return” of Jewish people to their “promised land.” For example, Karen, the young girl who Kitty would like to adopt and take to the United States, is a German Jew who was saved by placement in a Danish family during the war. Karen will elect to stay with her people, in spite of her affection for Kitty. Karen is also attached to Dov Landau, a fellow refugee, 17 year-old survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and death camps. Once in Palestine, Dov joins a Zionist terrorist organization (based on the Irgun) and, in the book and film (but not, of course, in reality), places a bomb in the wing of King David Hotel housing the British Command, causing considerable loss of life. The role of human agency, leadership and the nature of decision-making, are a dimension of “Exodus” that is particularly revealing of the propagandistic intent of the film. Most noteworthy is the fact that all the major characters are presented as exceptional people, and all are Jewish, with the exception of Kitty. However, it is not as individuals that the protagonists of the film are important, but rather as representatives of the Jewish people. In this respect, in its effort to portray Jewishness as a special human condition distinguishing Jews and Jewish culture from others, that “Exodus” is most didactic. Ari Ben Canaan is clearly a superior being, but he merely represents the Jewish people. They are, collectively, just as strong, resourceful and determined as Ari. This positive image is highlighted by the portrayal of other ethnic groupings present in the film. The British, for example, are seen, at best, as divided and, at their worst, as degenerate products of national decay and imperialistic racism. The most striking contrast to the collective solidarity, intellectual brilliance, and awesome courage of the Jews is, with the “Arabs.” In spite of their greater numbers, the culture and character of the Arabs show them to be clearly inferior. Ari, who is a “sabra”—a Jewish person born in Palestine—and, as a consequence, understands the Arab character, knows that they are no match for determined Jews. “You turn 400 Arabs loose,” he says, and “they will run in 400 different directions.” This assessment of the motional and intellectual self-possession of the Arabs was made prior to the spectacular jail break at Acre prison. The very indiscipline of the Arabs would cover the escape of the determined Zionists. The Arab leaders are equally incapable of effective action, as they are essentially self-interested and uncaring about their own people. In the end, it is this lack of tolerance and human sympathy in the non Jews that most distinguishes Jews and Arabs. In Exodus the novel, Arabs are constantly, explicitly, and exclusively, described as lazy and shiftless, dirty and deceitful. They have become dependant upon the Jews, and hate them for it. In “Exodus” the film, however, this characterization is not nearly as insisted upon, at least not in the dialogue. Still, way they are portrayed on the screen inspires fear and distrust. (…) What is absent from Preminger’s film—the moral misery, the existential despair, the doubts and confusion of the survivors of the Judeocide—is focused upon in Gitaï’s film. Conversely, what is absent from Gitaï’s film—the expression of Zionist ideals, aspirations and dogma, the glorifications of one ethnic group at the expense of others—is the very point of Preminger’s. This thematic inversion is particularly evident in reference to two aspect of the films: firstly, in the use of names and, secondly, in the dramatic monologues or soliloquies which end both films. In “Exodus”, the use of names for symbolic purposes is immediately evident. “Exodus” refers to the biblical return of the Jews from slavery to the Holy Land—their god-given territory, a sacred site. This sacred site is necessary to Jewish religious observance and identity. Only here, it is explained in “Exodus,” can Jews be safe. Only here, it is asserted, can they throw-off invidious self-perceptions, imposed by antisemitism and assimilation pressures, and become the strong, self-reliant and confident people they really are. This vision of Jewish identity propagated by Zionism is implicitly challenged in Kedma. Again, the title of the film is symbolically significant. “Kedma” means the “East” or “Orient”, or “going towards the East.” The people on the Kedma—Jewish refugees from Europe, speaking European languages and Yiddish—were arriving in another cultural world an alien one, in the East. The result would be more existential disorientation and another ethnically conflictual environment. The difference in perspective manifest in the two films is found also in the names given to the protagonists. In Kedma, an example is given of the abrupt Hebrewization of names as the passengers arrived in the new land, thus highlighting the cultural transformation central to the Zionist project. In “Exodus,” there is much explicit discussion of this aspect of Zionism, and some of the names given to central characters reveal the heavy-handedness of its message. It is, of course, a well-established convention to give evocative names to the protagonists of a literary or cinematographic work. Where would be, for example, Jack London’s The Iron Hell, without his hero, Ernest Everhard? The answer is that the novel might be more impressive without such readily apparent propagandistic trappings. And the same is true for Exodus. Leon Uris’s chief protagonist is Ari Ben Canaan, Hebrew for “Lion, son of Canaan.” This role model for Jewish people everywhere is thusly the direct heir of the ancient Canaanites, precursors of the Jewish community in the land of Palestine. This historical legacy and patrimony established, Paul Newman had only to play the strong fighter—ferocious, hard and wily—with his blond mane cut short, in the military style. The object of Ari’s affections, however ambivalent they may be, is Kitty Fremont, played by Eva Marie Saint. Not only does the pairing of the earnest and ever-hard Ari, the “Lion,” and the compliant but faithful “Kitty” imply a classic gender relationship, but the coupling of this prickly Sabra and the cuddly American symbolizes the special relationship between the United States and native state of Israel that has come to be called the “fifty-first state” of the union. The other major character, played by the baby-faced Sal Mineo, is “Dov Landau,” the 17-year-old survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Auschwitz. This name evokes the dove of peace and the infancy indirectly evoked by the term “landau” (baby carriage?). The irony is that the angelic Dov, alights on Palestinian soil with the fury of a maddened bird of prey. He is the consummate terrorist—angry and bloodthirsty. Dov’s conversion to Zionism as a collective project, as opposed to a vehicle for his personal vengeance, comes at the end of the story when peace has been (temporarily) achieved through unrelenting combat. Dov then leaves Israel for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) where he will perfect the engineering skills learned building bombs in Warsaw and in Palestine. Peace means refining the technical capacity for the new nation’s defence. In the meantime, Dov’s fiancee, the soft and sweet Karen, has been cruelly murdered by the Arabs. « Exodus » and « Kedma » differ most notably in the latter’s avoidance of the kind of crude propaganda that Leon Uris and Otto Preminger so heavily developed. Rather than forcing his viewers to accept a vision of the birth of Israel founded upon characters, distortions and omissions from historical reality, Amos Gitaï chose to simply place characters that we see briefly in a specific situation which is the real focus of the film. Whereas Preminger symbolized the destiny of a people in the story of strong characters, Gitaï illustrated the tragedy of an historical conjuncture in which the historical actors were largely incidental. We see this aspect of Gitaï’s thematic inversion of Preminger’s film in the soliloquies delivered in both films. At the very end of “Exodus,” Ari Ben Canaan delivers a speech at Karen’s graveside, in which he justifies the Zionist project as the just and prophetic return of a people forced to err in a hostile world for 2000 years. The resistance encountered to this project, he explains, is only the result of evil, self-interested individuals (such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) who are afraid of losing their privileges once the Arabs learn that Jewish settlement is in their interest. Ari concludes: “I swear that the day will come when Arab and Jew will live in Peace together.” The film then ends with a military convey receding into the distance, towards a new battle in the just cause. In Kedma, there are two soliloquies, delivered not by strong and self-composed leaders, but by distraught, frightened people, caught in a web woven by the apprentice sorcerers in the background—the real architects of the situations in which destinies are sealed and lives are broken. The first speech is made by a middle-aged Polish Jew. Appalled by the new cycle of suffering he witnessed upon arrival in Palestine, he shouts that suffering, guilt and martyrdom have become essential to the Jewish character. Without it, he cries, the Jewish people “cannot exist.” This is their tragedy. The second expression of despair is made by an aged Palestinian peasant, pushed off his land, fleeing the combat. Disregarding the danger, he says: “we will stay here in spite of you. Like a wall, and we will fill the streets with demonstrations, generation after generation.” How to reconcile the Holocaust (the fascist judeocide) and the Nakba (the Palestinian « disaster » of the Zionist ethnic cleansing)? Gitaï’s « Kedma » places the contemporary dilemma within its historical and existential context. Preminger’s “Exodus” did everything not to provide movie-goers with the elements necessary to informed understanding. This is the difference between, on the one hand, demagogy and propaganda and, on the other hand, a call to reason and justice. Representations of leadership in « Exodus » were carefully contrived to create support, in the United States and elsewhere for the State of Israel. It is for this reason that the machinations and tractations of the world leaders who created the situation are conspicuously absent from the story. In « Kedma, » on the contrary, the absence of leaders and any characterization of leadership is designed to have an entirely different effect: namely the evocation of the hatred and human suffering caused when people are instrumental in the service of political and ideological projects. Larry Portis
‘En parler jamais, y penser toujours !’… A l’inverse du «communautarisme», politiquement impensé en France, mais quotidiennement évoqué («communautés» gay, juive, musulmane, arménienne, etc.), la pensée commune française est infectée par la pensée communautaire. Considérée comme étant d’origine anglo-saxonne, cette pensée a pourtant façonné (et miné) la société coloniale en Afrique du Nord. Ce n’était pas «classe contre classe» dans l’égalité citoyenne comme en métropole, mais religion contre religion, dans l’inégalité statutaire et juridique (« citoyens français», «Européens», «israélites», «sujets français musulmans», «indigènes»)… Des millions de Français et d’étrangers habitant aujourd’hui en France ont vécu dans cette pratique politique quotidienne, inconsciemment transmise à leurs enfants. Que l’héritage du communautarisme colonial provienne du refoulé politique français, qu’il ait été fécondé par la pensée politique musulmane (statut des dhimmis ou «protégés»), ou par le communautarisme institutionnel ottoman, a aujourd’hui peu d’importance. Ce qui importe en revanche, c’est qu’au Maghreb, depuis 1945, le communautarisme a conduit à son terme naturel, une épuration ethnique soft, c’est-à-dire au départ concomitant (Algérie) ou successif (Tunisie, Maroc) des «communautés» française, européenne et israélite. Les deux premières ont quitté le Maghreb dans le cadre de la légitime lutte d’indépendance ; la dernière a été délégitimée par son identité extra-musulmane. Les guerres du Proche-Orient ne sont pas étrangères au phénomène (au moins au Maroc et en Tunisie) : elles ont produit une insécurité de basse intensité qui, en trente ans, a vidé le Maghreb de ses communautés juives bimillénaires. Le résultat est connu. Alors que l’Afrique du Sud a préservé son miracle multiethnique, et est aujourd’hui le géant économique de l’Afrique, le Maghreb s’est économiquement réduit comme peau de chagrin. Son PIB n’excède pas celui des Bouches-du-Rhône (90 milliards d’euros), département nourri et irrigué par l’apport des migrants de toute la Méditerranée (« israélites», pieds-noirs, musulmans nord-africains, arméniens…). La violence antisémite qui frappe aujourd’hui en France est moralement et politiquement insupportable. Elle est d’autant plus dramatique que les jeunes beurs qui la mettent en oeuvre rejouent (inconsciemment ?) des scènes qui ont vidé l’Afrique du Nord de ses communautés… Le gouvernement israélien prend acte de cet état de fait, mais Israël n’a-t-il pas justement été créé pour cela ? La perspective d’un départ programmé des juifs de France, ne serait-ce que d’une importante minorité d’entre eux, serait l’échec le plus retentissant de la République française depuis Vichy. Mais cette violence est aussi économiquement et intellectuellement catastrophique. Faut-il rappeler que la nation américaine, la plus riche du monde, est aussi la plus brassée ? Le Proche-Orient, entré il y a plus d’un demi-siècle dans un processus de purification ethnico-religieuse, s’abîme dans les crises et la récession économique, au fur et à mesure que le quittent ses minorités : Européens, juifs d’Europe, Arméniens, juifs arabes, et maintenant chrétiens d’Orient. Intellectuellement, il est plus insupportable encore, qu’en dehors des plus hautes autorités de l’Etat français, il revienne aux intellectuels juifs de France de lancer des signaux d’alarme. Le principe de la démocratie confie à des médiateurs ou représentants (du peuple) la défense de tous les citoyens. Confier la défense d’une «communauté» agressée à ses propres médiateurs est une régression. Il est vrai que traditionnellement, les israélites d’Europe ont été interdits d’activités productives et cantonnés aux services et activités d’échange. L’émancipation des juifs de France au XIXe siècle, puis les traumatismes du XXe siècle, alliés aux fantastiques progrès de l’école, ont accompagné la «montée en gamme» de cette population. Les intellectuels d’origine juive (ou de judaïsme revendiqué) animent aujourd’hui largement le débat public national (au grand dam de Tariq Ramadan), et il va sans dire que leur départ vers les Etats-Unis ou Israël serait une perte incalculable. La France généreuse accueille 80 % de migrants avec un niveau d’études infrasecondaire (quand plus de 80 % des migrants aux Etats-Unis sont diplômés du supérieur), peut-elle de surcroît se permettre de se vider d’une partie croissante de ses forces vives intellectuelles ? Pierre Vermeren
Il y a un syndrome de Jérusalem des dirigeants français. Le syndrome en question, bien connu des psychiatres, projette le visiteur dans un univers mystico-fantasmatique où il se sent illico investi d’une mission sacrée. Certes, ni Jacques Chirac en 1996, ni Emmanuel Macron, aujourd’hui, ne se sont pris pour le Messie. Pourtant, leur passage, dans des contextes bien différents, se sera déroulé avec les mêmes réflexes, suscitant la même vague d’émotion. Au terme d’une longue balade, le 22 janvier, dans la vieille ville, après force accolades et mots profonds – « en ce petit lieu, tant de jaillissements… »- le président, euphorique, s’est rendu à l’Eglise Sainte-Anne. Edifiée par les Croisés, puis transformée en mosquée par Saladin, elle fut offerte à la France en 1856 par les Ottomans de la Sublime Porte, alors maitres de la Palestine, pour services rendus contre l’Empire russe pendant la guerre de Crimée. Et là, divine surprise pour les témoins palestiniens qui n’apprécient guère de voir reconnue par près de 40 chefs d’Etat la centralité d’Israël dans la mémoire du génocide ! Emmanuel Macron, endossant sans le savoir tout en le sachant les habits du Jacques Chirac de 1996, s’est engueulé – ce mot trivial est cependant le seul qui convienne – avec les gardes de la sécurité israélienne. Ces derniers étaient sur les dents depuis des jours. Il y avait de quoi. Recevoir les grands de ce monde dans une capitale sous haute tension n’est pas une mince affaire. La veille, le quotidien palestinien Al Hayat al Jedida, organe officiel de l’Autorité palestinienne, avait publié sans complexe l’édito d’un certain Yahya Rabah qui écrivait mot pour mot, à propos de ce Forum sur le génocide : « Un coup de feu perturbera la cérémonie et un cadavre annulera l’événement ». Le Shin Bet, le renseignement intérieur, prend tout au sérieux et, quoiqu’on puisse en dire sur les réseaux sociaux marqués du sceau de la haine d’Israël, sans la vigilance du Shin Bet, les citoyens de l’Etat hébreu et ses visiteurs auraient du souci à se faire. L’Eglise Sainte-Anne est bel et bien domaine français mais en matière d’anti-terrorisme, les Israéliens sont au parfum. Les agents pénètrent donc dans les lieux, ce qui est à la fois illégitime et compréhensible. Voire « souhaitable » nous confie une source française anonyme, consciente des dangers de la ville sainte et habituée au professionnalisme des collègues israéliens. C’est alors qu’Emmanuel Macron voit rouge. Jérusalem baignait, cette après-midi là, dans une lumière de Golgotha. Les cieux déversaient les eaux du déluge sur la terre promise. Le protocole français, fine mouche, avait prévu 200 parapluies. Il y eut une éclaircie. Macron vit se profiler dans les nuées la silhouette de Chirac et entendit à travers l’orage l’impayable apostrophe, en english dans le texte, de son prédécesseur en 1996. Les hommes du Shin Bet, à l’époque, redoutaient comme aujourd’hui l’incident mortel et s’interposaient entre le « Rais » gaulois et la foule palestinienne. Ce fut alors que tonna l’immortel : « You want me to back to my plane ?????? ». Saisi par l’éternel syndrome de Jérusalem, Macron à son tour gronda : « I don’t like what you did in front of me », « Je n’aime pas ce que vous avez fait devant moi ! » et ordonna qu’on vire illico de Sainte-Anne, territoire français, les agents de l’Etat hébreu, ces étrangers, ces provocateurs. L’affaire fit la Une de la presse israélienne, palestinienne et, forcément, française. Comme de bien entendu, on loua d’un côté la merveilleuse colère du frenchie face à ces gros bras israéliens tandis qu’on s’étonna, de l’autre, d’une telle similitude avec l’affaire Chirac. En réalité, nous sommes en mesure de prouver que le président a été saisi de ce fameux syndrome qui fait les saints, les martyrs et les bonnes consciences. C’était en effet diablement compliqué, en même temps que l’on honorait Israël en acceptant pour la première fois d’y commémorer le génocide (l’historienne Annette Wievorka a écrit là-dessus une fort belle tribune dans les colonnes du Monde), très compliqué d’assurer les Palestiniens de l’historique empathie tricolore à leur égard. Le Macron version Forum de la Shoah pourfend l’antisémitisme, ce qui, du reste, ne rassure pas un instant les Français juifs, en dehors des représentants peu représentatifs des institutions communautaires, mais le Macron version Eglise Sainte-Anne entonne le grand air de la résistance à l’occupation. Bien joué. Enfin, dernier aspect du syndrome de Jérusalem des dirigeants français : le retour du refoulé de la fille ainée de l’Eglise. Il n’a jamais été admis et ne sera sans doute jamais admis au tréfonds des consciences que les juifs aient pu défier le temps, l’oubli et la mort, pour retrouver la Jérusalem biblique et en arpenter les rues en êtres libres et souverains. Que musulmans et chrétiens palestiniens y vivent avec eux dans la même dignité constitue l’espérance naturelle des hommes de paix. Cette espérance, un jour, finira par être comblée. Mais la paix, justement, ne pourra se négocier et s’accomplir qu’en abandonnant les préjugés tenaces, la vision des Israéliens comme venus d’ailleurs et non comme fils fidèles de cette ville. En oubliant ce très politique et très démago syndrome de Jérusalem. Martine Gozlan
Mon identité relationnelle séduisait une foule de gauche qui me considérait comme un rabbin en phase avec les temps modernes, quelqu’un qui rendait la religion accessible et pertinente. Ma défense d’Israël plaisait à un public opposé de conservateurs qui considéraient Israël comme injustement diffamé par la gauche. Les chrétiens évangéliques affluaient vers le message d’Israël en tant que phare de la liberté et bastion des droits de l’homme. Cependant, plus je défendais Israël, en particulier par le biais d’annonces dans les médias, plus mes amis et admirateurs libéraux commençaient à me déserter. Comment mon message universel d’une famille humaine pouvait-il s’intégrer à ma défense passionnée d’un État-nation juif? Comment ma croyance en l’égalité de toute l’humanité pouvait-elle coexister avec ce qu’ils considéraient comme le déplacement des Palestiniens par Israël? L’accord nucléaire du président Barack Obama avec l’Iran de l’époque a mis ce conflit en exergue. Les libéraux se sont réjouis de son élection et de sa politique. Ceux qui l’aimaient et le soutenaient étaient les mêmes personnes qui étaient d’accord avec mes réflexions sur le judaïsme, soutenaient mes campagnes anti-génocide dans des endroits tels que le Rwanda et approuvaient ma poursuite de l’éducation sur l’Holocauste. Alors, comment pouvais-je m’opposer si fermement à Obama sur l’Iran? N’avais-je pas compris que ce leader éclairé faisait la paix? Le dédain que les gens ressentaient pour mon opposition féroce à la politique iranienne d’Obama était pour eux une déception non pas de mes vues politiques, mais de ma foi. Le judaïsme n’est-il pas une religion de paix? Comment pouvions-nous haïr les mollahs iraniens? J’ai soudain ressenti le choc de deux identités. Mon identité juive et rabbinique me disait de suivre Ésaïe, de battre des épées en socs de charrue, remplissant le monde d’amour et d’harmonie. Mais en regardant la menace existentielle qui pèse sur Israël, je ne sentais plus que les paroles d’Isaïe étaient immédiatement pertinentes; les paroles du roi David dans les Psaumes semblaient plus appropriées: «Ceux qui aiment Dieu détestent le mal. Alors que nous publiions plus d’annonces – y compris avec Elie Wiesel – contre l’accord avec l’Iran, soulignant l’abomination de donner au premier parrain du terrorisme au monde 150 milliards de dollars d’actifs non gelés – en grande partie en espèces – je me sentais perdre ma base libérale autrefois fidèle. « Peut-être que Shmuley nous avait trompés et était un fondamentaliste extrémiste depuis le début. »  (…) Le judaïsme a permis au peuple juif d’être la première et seule nation à survivre par la croyance plutôt que par les frontières, avec des rabbins plutôt que des combattants, et la Bible et les prophètes plutôt qu’une économie et des marchés. Mais Theodor Herzl est arrivé et a gâché la fête. Quel genre d’existence était-ce, a-t-il demandé, alors qu’il examinait l’humiliation sans fin des Juifs européens – même ceux qui, comme Alfred Dreyfus, avaient pensé qu’ils pourraient s’assimiler et être accepté des non juifs ? C’est une vie misérable, pensait Herzl. Nous n’avons aucune dignité. Nous avons besoin d’un État-nation. Un foyer juif. Un endroit où les Juifs peuvent vivre avec la prospérité et la sécurité fournies par leur propre armée. Les rabbins ont crié à la faute. Est-ce à dire qu’Israël remplacerait le judaïsme? En effet, nombre des premiers sionistes étaient farouchement laïcs. Ce n’est pas difficile de comprendre pourquoi. Ils pensaient que le judaïsme avec sa dépendance ultime en Dieu plutôt que les efforts de l’individu freinait le peuple juif. Herzl prédisait un État juif avant 50 ans. Il s’était trompé de cinq ans. Cependant, ces cinq années critiques sont arrivées avec un événement: l’Holocauste. Si Israël avait respecté sa prédiction, 6 millions de vies juives auraient pu être épargnées. La politique nazie était l’émigration juive avant son anéantissement. C’est juste qu’aucun pays – y compris les États-Unis – ne voulait les accepter. Ils ont donc été tués à raison de 10 000 par jour. En fait, ce qu’Herzl avait fait, c’est de révéler la profonde erreur de Zakkai. Oui, le judaïsme a permis au peuple juif de survivre – jusqu’à ce qu’il soit gazé et transformé en cendres dans les crématoires d’Auschwitz, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen et Dachau. Après l’Holocauste, tout argument selon lequel les Juifs peuvent survivre en tant que religion sans État est profondément ridicule, c’est pourquoi le Neturei Karta, en plus d’être un embarras pour le judaïsme alors qu’il traîne avec des tueurs tels que l’ancien président iranien Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, est également profondément ignorant. Le monde n’est pas habitué à voir les Juifs se défendre et préférerait que nous soyons le peuple du livre plutôt que le peuple des Uzi. Je suis rabbin. Je veux que le peuple juif soit une lumière pour les nations. Je crois que le judaïsme a des enseignements rédempteurs à partager avec le monde sur la famille, la sexualité, le mariage, la dignité humaine, la mise en perspective de l’accumulation de richesses, l’égalité des femmes, le respect de tous les enfants de Dieu, la haine du mal et la lutte contre les violations des droits de l’homme. (…) Mais alors que le monde se tournait vers Israël, j’ai ressenti l’appel de mon peuple. Comment pourrais-je ne pas défendre l’État juif, où deux de mes enfants ont servi dans l’armée et où mon peuple réalisait l’ancien rêve de retourner en Israël et à Sion? Je me suis lancé dans les guerres d’Israël via des débats publics sur le campus, des débats publics sur CNN, Fox et MSNBC et des campagnes publicitaires mondiales qui ont défendu l’État juif. Cette décision a entraîné la perte d’une grande partie de mon public de gauche. Comment une personne éclairée comme moi pouvait  parler des droits de l’homme et du sauvetage des relations personnelles et ne pas me soucier des Palestiniens, mes critiques, qui étaient aussi les critiques d’Israël. Comment pouvais-je justifier l’agression d’Israël? Ma réponse selon laquelle Israël est le grand espoir arabe est tombée sur une sourde oreille. Je crois que l’épanouissement d’une démocratie au Moyen-Orient avec tous les droits pour tous ses citoyens arabes et musulmans ferait mentir les dictateurs arabes qui prétendent que des choses comme la liberté de la presse sont impossibles au Moyen-Orient. Il y avait un parti pris contre Israël qui semblait difficile à surmonter. (…) Alors que le monde se retournait contre Israël et que l’antisémitisme se développait à travers le monde, être un combattant pour Israël signifiait souvent perdre l’opportunité d’être une lumière pour les nations. Le monde dans son ensemble n’allait pas écouter quelqu’un l’accuser d’antisémitisme. Le monde n’allait pas voir quelqu’un qui défendait Israël – qu’il diffamait comme un occupant de l’apartheid – comme une lumière morale et spirituelle. Comme mon fils Mendy me l’a dit, c’est presque comme si les nations du monde étaient si brutales envers nous qu’elles ont complètement réorienté notre mission nationale de la propagation de la parole de Dieu à la survie de base. Et après qu’ils nous aient forcés à survivre, ils nous ont reproché de riposter et ont dit que ceux qui se battent n’ont pas le droit de prêcher un message spirituel d’unité universelle et de guérison cosmique. L’élection du président Donald Trump a amplifié ce fossé. Ces Juifs reconnaissants à Trump d’avoir déplacé l’ambassade américaine en Israël à Jérusalem; le retrait de l’accord nucléaire iranien catastrophique; l’arrêt de la diffamation d’Israël aux Nations Unies; l’arrêt du financement de l’Autorité palestinienne tant qu’elle utilise cet argent  pour récompenser l’assassinat de Juifs; et la reconnaissance des hauteurs du Golan, sont traités comme indignes d’un rabbin.  (…) Nous ne devons pas renoncer à expliquer que la spiritualité juive et sa réussite à soutenir le peuple juif sont intimement liées à Israël. Oui, le monde n’est pas habitué à voir les Juifs se défendre et préférerait que nous soyons le peuple du livre plutôt que le peuple des uzis. Un cynique pourrait dire que le monde ne déteste pas tant les Juifs que les Juifs qui détiennent le pouvoir et se défendent pour eux-mêmes. Prenez Hollywood, par exemple. Presque tous les mois, l’industrie sort un excellent film sur la tragédie de l’Holocauste – mais elle n’a produit aucun film positif sur Israël depuis que Paul Newman a joué dans «Exodus». Des juifs avec des étoiles jaunes de David sur eux mourant et étant gazés touchent les scénaristes, réalisateurs et producteurs hollywoodiens. Les Juifs qui se battent dans les chars Merkava sur les hauteurs du Golan, ou les commandos israéliens qui prennent d’assaut les avant-postes terroristes à Gaza pour s’assurer qu’ils ne seront plus jamais abattus, est considéré non pas aussi héroïque mais oppressant pour les voisins d’Israël. D’un autre côté, avoir des guerriers israéliens a considérablement amélioré le judaïsme. Avoir une maison pour laquelle nous sommes prêts à nous battre et à nous défendre dans les relations publiques mondiales a donné au peuple juif une dignité que nous ne possédions pas auparavant lorsque nous étions une nation pitoyable. Les évangéliques chrétiens affluent désormais non seulement pour soutenir l’État juif, mais aussi pour en apprendre davantage sur la judéité de Jésus. (…) Sans Israël, le peuple juif – et la religion juive par extension – n’aurait pas l’impact qu’il a sur les chrétiens évangéliques. De même, sans Israël, il n’y aurait pas une véritable renaissance du judaïsme – non seulement avec les centaines de yeshivots et de séminaires qui ont ouvert, mais avec les communautés juives du monde entier qui ont renforcé leurs liens avec leur foi en raison de l’inspiration d’Israël. Pour le moment, nous ne gagnerons pas nécessairement les mondialistes alors que nous nous battons pour Israël. Ils nous puniront pour notre défense de nous-mêmes. Mais je crois qu’avec le temps, cela va changer. Il y aura un retour de bâton contre le libéralisme faux et frauduleux d’aujourd’hui qui diabolisait Israël alors qu’il fêtait l’Iran, la Turquie et la Chine. Quant au prix que nous paierons jusque-là, je pense qu’il en vaut vraiment la peine. Israël en vaut la peine. La patrie juive en vaut la peine. L’État juif en vaut la peine. Non seulement parce que sans Israel, il n’y aurait pas de sanctuaire pour les Juifs à l’ère de la persécution mondiale, mais parce que, comme le dit le Talmud, ‘Celui qui est sans foyer n’est pas une personne.’ Même pour les Juifs qui vivent dans la diaspora, c’est Israël qui donne à notre identité juive sa dignité. C’est Israël qui donne un sens à notre observance juive. Et c’est Israël qui donne à chaque homme, femme et enfant juif la plus grande fierté. Quel sens auraient nos prières quotidiennes sans la supplication de la présence divine retournant à Jérusalem? Comment pouvons-nous chercher à être connectés aux enseignements d’Abraham sans comprendre qu’ils proviennent d’un lieu et d’un temps particuliers en Israël? Détacher le judaïsme d’Israël, c’est faire de notre religion un cadavre sans vie dépourvu d’âme. Tant que le monde ne verra pas la vertu d’Israël – un événement rendu beaucoup plus difficile par l’antisémitisme mondialement ancré – mon avis est que nous ne pouvons pas abandonner la bataille pour joindre les deux. Nous ne devons pas renoncer à expliquer que la spiritualité juive et sa réussite à soutenir le peuple juif sont intimement liées à Israël. Rabbin Shmuley Boteach
My relationships identity appealed to a liberal crowd that saw me as a rabbi in tune with modern times, someone who made religion accessible and relevant. My defense of Israel appealed to an opposite audience of conservatives that saw Israel as being unfairly maligned by the left. Evangelical Christians flocked to the message of Israel as a beacon of freedom and bastion of human rights. However, the more I stood up for Israel, especially through ads in the media, the more my liberal friends and admirers began to desert me. How did my universal message of one human family mesh with my passionate defense of a Jewish nation state? How did my belief in the equality of all humankind coexist with what they saw was Israel’s displacement of the Palestinians? Then-President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran brought this conflict into stark relief. Liberals delighted in his election and his policies. Those who loved him and supported him were the same people who agreed with my thoughts on Judaism, supported my anti-genocide campaigns in places such as Rwanda, and agreed with my furtherance of Holocaust education. So how could I so strongly oppose Obama on Iran? Did I not understand this enlightened leader was making peace? The disdain people felt for my ferocious opposition to Obama’s Iran policy was a disappointment not in my politics, but my faith. Is Judaism not a religion of peace? How could we hate the Iranian mullahs? I suddenly felt the clash of two identities. My Jewish, rabbinical identity told me to follow Isaiah, beating swords into plowshares, filling the world with love and harmony. But in looking at the existential threat facing Israel, I did not feel the words of Isaiah were immediately relevant; the words of King David in Psalms seemed more appropriate: “Those who love God hate evil.” As we took out more ads — including with Elie Wiesel — against the Iran deal, pointing out the abomination of giving the world’s foremost sponsor of terror $150 billion in unfrozen assets — much of it in cash — I felt myself losing my once-stalwart liberal base. “Perhaps Shmuley had bamboozled us and was an extremist fundamentalist all along.” (…) Judaism ensured the Jewish people would be the first and only nation to survive by belief rather than borders, with rabbis rather than fighters, and the Bible and Prophets rather than an economy and markets. But along came Theodor Herzl and spoiled the party. What kind of existence is this, he asked, as he surveyed the never-ending humiliation of European Jewry — even those who, like Alfred Dreyfus, had thought they might assimilate into non-Jewish acceptance? This is a wretched life, Herzl thought. We have no dignity. We need a nation state. A Jewish home. A place where Jews can live with prosperity and security provided by their own army. The rabbis cried foul. Does this mean Israel would replace Judaism? Indeed, many early Zionists were fiercely secular. It’s not hard to understand why. They felt Judaism with its ultimate reliance on God rather than the efforts of the individual was holding back the Jewish people. Herzl predicted a Jewish state within 50 years. He was off by about five. However, those critical five came with an event: the Holocaust. If Israel had met his prediction, 6 million Jewish lives might have been spared. The Nazi policy was Jewish emigration before it was annihilation. It’s just that no country — including the United States — would take them in. So they were killed at a rate of about 10,000 per day. In effect, what Herzl did was expose Zakkai’s decision as profoundly incorrect. Yes, Judaism allowed the Jewish people to survive — until they were gassed and turned into ash in the crematoria of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. After the Holocaust, any argument that Jews can survive as a religion without a state is profoundly ridiculous, which is why the Neturei Karta, aside from being an embarrassment to Judaism as they hang out with killers such as former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also are profoundly ignorant. The world is not accustomed to seeing Jews stand up for themselves and would prefer us being the people of the book rather than the people of the Uzi. I am a rabbi. I want the Jewish people to be a light unto the nations. I believe Judaism has redemptive teachings to share with the world on family, sexuality, marriage, human dignity, putting the accumulation of wealth in perspective, equality of women, respect for all of God’s children, hatred of evil and fighting human rights abuses. (…) But as the world turned on Israel, I felt the call of my people. How could I not stand up for the Jewish state, where two of my children served in the army and where my people were fulfilling the ancient dream of returning to Israel and Zion? I threw myself into the Israel wars via public debates on campus, public debates on CNN, Fox and MSNBC and global advertising campaigns that defended the Jewish state. With that decision came the loss of much of my liberal audience. How could I, an enlightened person who spoke about human rights and rescuing relationships, not care about the Palestinians, my critics, who were also Israel’s critics. How could I justify Israel’s aggression? My response that Israel is the great Arab hope was met with deaf ears. I believe the flourishing of a democracy in the Middle East with full rights for all its Arab and Muslim citizens would give lie to Arab dictators who claim that things such as press freedom are impossible in the Middle East. There was a bias against Israel that seemed hard to surmount. (…) As the world turned against Israel and as anti-Semitism sprang up around the world, being a fighter for Israel often meant forfeiting the opportunity to be a light unto the nations. The world at large was not going to listen to someone accusing it of anti-Semitism. The world was not going to see someone who defended Israel — which it vilified as an apartheid occupier — as a moral and spiritual light. As my son Mendy told me, it’s almost as if the nations of the world were so brutal toward us that they completely reoriented our national mission from spreading the word of God to basic survival. And after they forced us into survival mode, they faulted us for fighting back and said those who fight have no right to preach a spiritual message of universal oneness and cosmic healing. The election of President Donald Trump has magnified this divide. Those Jews thankful to Trump for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; withdrawing from the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal; stopping the vilification of Israel at the United Nations; ceasing the funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it channels that money in a pay-for-slay policy for killing Jews; and recognizing the Golan Heights, are treated as unworthy of the mantle of Jewish teacher. If you show the Jewish virtue of hakarat hatov, basic gratitude, toward a president who has strengthened and legitimized Israel immeasurably, especially at the United Nations, you are promoting darkness to the nations rather than serving as a light. (…) We must not give up on explaining that Jewish spirituality and its success in sustaining the Jewish people is intimately connected with Israel. Yes, the world is not accustomed to seeing Jews stand up for themselves and would prefer us being the people of the book rather than the people of the Uzi. A cynic might say the world does not so much hate Jews as hate Jews who have power and stick up for themselves. Take Hollywood, for example. Nearly every month, the industry releases an excellent movie about the tragedy of the Holocaust — yet it has not produced one positive movie about Israel since Paul Newman starred in “Exodus.” Jews with yellow Stars of David on them dying and being gassed moves and touches Hollywood writers, directors and producers. Jews battling in Merkava tanks on the Golan Heights, or Israeli commandos storming terrorist outposts in Gaza to ensure they never again are slaughtered, is seen not so much as heroic but as oppressive to Israel’s neighbors. On the other hand, having Israel warriors has greatly enhanced Judaism. Having a home for which we are prepared to fight and stand up for ourselves in global PR has given the Jewish people a dignity we previously did not possess when we were a pitied nation. Christian evangelicals now flock not only to support the Jewish state but to learn about the Jewishness of Jesus. (…) Were it not for Israel, the Jewish people — and the Jewish religion by extension — would not have the impact it is having on evangelical Christians. Likewise, were it not for Israel, there would not be a true renaissance of Judaism — not only with the hundreds of yeshivot and seminaries that have opened but with Jewish communities the world over that have strengthened their bonds to their faith because of Israel’s inspiration. (…) Right now, we may not necessarily win over the globalists as we fight for Israel. They will punish us for standing up for ourselves. But I believe that in time, this will change. There will be a backlash against the false and fraudulent liberalism of today that would demonize Israel even as it fetes Iran, Turkey and China. As for the price we pay until then, I feel it absolutely is worth it. Israel is worth it. The Jewish homeland is worth it. The Jewish state is worth it. Not only because without Israe there would be no sanctuary for Jews in an age of global persecution, but because as the Talmud says, “He who is without a home is not a person.” Even for Jews who live in the Diaspora, it is Israel that gives our Jewish identity dignity. It is Israel that gives our Jewish observance meaning. And it is Israel that gives every Jewish man, woman and child the greatest pride. What meaning would our daily prayers have without the supplication of the divine presence returning to Jerusalem? How do we seek to be connected to the teachings of Abraham without understanding that they stemmed from a particular place and time in Israel? To detach Judaism from Israel is to make our religion a lifeless corpse bereft of soul. Until such time as the world comes to see Israel’s virtue — an event made much harder by globally ingrained anti-Semitism — my advice is that we cannot give up the battle on joining the two. We must not give up on explaining that Jewish spirituality and its success in sustaining the Jewish people is intimately connected with Israel. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Cachez cet Israël que je ne saurai voir !

En ce 75e anniversaire de la libération d’Auschwitz …

Au lendemain d’un forum où l’on honorait Israël en acceptant pour la première fois d’y commémorer le génocide …

Qui vit à nouveau syndrome de Jérusalem oblige …

Selon l’heureuse formule de Martine Gozlan du magazine Marianne …

Un président français « entonner à nouveau,  pour rassurer les Palestiniens de l’historique empathie tricolore à leur égard, le grand air de la résistance à l’occupation » …

Mais aussi de la rafraichissante rediffusion sur Arte

Avec ses distorsions historiques, ses Arabes fanatisés et encadrés par d’anciens soldats du Troisième Reich et ses Britanniques refusant d’intervenir …

D’un Exodus avec toute la force et la passion bien vivantes de l’idéal sioniste  …

Et à l’heure où comme le rappelait Pierre Vermeren il y a déjà 16 ans …

Une France généreuse qui accueille 80 % de migrants au niveau d’études infrasecondaire contre plus de 80 % de diplômés du supérieur aux Etats-Unis …

Est en train de payer le prix à nouveau, après les pays arabes avant elle et sur fond de cécité redoublée, de la fuite de ses élites juives …

Pendant que le meilleur défenseur qu’ait connu tant le peuple juif qu’iranien ou même chrétien depuis Reagan …

Se voir moquer comme le premier idiot du village venu …

Comment ne pas voir avec le rabbin américain Shmuley Boteach …

Qu’ « après l’Holocauste, tout argument selon lequel les Juifs peuvent survivre en tant que religion sans État est profondément ridicule » …

Et que « détacher le judaïsme d’Israël, c’est faire d’en faire un cadavre sans vie dépourvu d’âme « ?

The Clash Over Support for Israel
Have the Jews paid a price for defending Israel?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Jewish Journal
Jan 22, 2020

I am a lover and supporter of Israel. I dedicate much of my life and waking hours to defending, supporting and promoting Israel. I say this not to brag or take credit, but to be crystal clear that in asking whether Israel has helped or hurt Judaism, I am not querying whether the state of Israel should exist or whether it has been a blessing to the Jewish people.

Israel is the greatest modern miracle of the Jewish nation. Its existence has saved countless lives. It is the sole democracy in the Middle East and is a global bastion of human rights. Had Israel existed in 1940, 6 million Jews may not have died, and the Holocaust might not have occurred. Israel is the pride and joy of the Jewish people. Those who do not agree with this statement likely are ignorant of Jewish history and blind to Jewish purpose.

But what is the price Judaism has paid for the state of Israel? Is it possible for the Jewish people to remain a light for other nations as they engage in daily struggles to protect and promote their nation state as it is assailed from all sides?

I joined the Chabad movement as a boy, attending summer camp and meeting the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, when I was about 10 years old. The Rebbe’s universal message of globally spreading Judaism appealed to me. By 14, I had switched to a full-time, live-in Chabad yeshiva in Los Angeles. By 19, I was the Rebbe’s student emissary in Sydney, and by 22, along with my wife, Debbie, his full-time rabbinical emissary at Oxford University.

I reveled in making Judaism a light unto the nations. Why should Christianity and Islam, daughter religions of Judaism, make all the impact, with Judaism getting no credit? Where was the Jewish message for non-Jews about passionate marriages, kosher sex, raising inspired children and creating close-knit communities? Why was Judaism a spiritual backwater that appealed only to Jews?

My intention was not to proselytize non-Jews to Judaism. To the contrary, I wanted everyone to find purpose in their own identities and backgrounds. I wanted everyone to — as my friend Marianne Williamson once said — “honor their own incarnation.” But I also wanted universal Jewish values to influence them.

To that extent, I diverged from the traditional Hillel and Chabad campus model of focusing almost exclusively on Jews, and created a student organization that had thousands of non-Jews. Within two years of its creation, the Oxford L’Chaim Society had grown to become the second largest in Oxford’s history.

At that time, the late 1980s, I was keenly aware my beloved Israel was under attack. I was astonished by how much hatred the Jewish state engendered. I dedicated myself and our organization to Israel’s defense. In 11 years, we hosted six men who had or would serve as Israel’s prime ministers: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin. This was in addition to hundreds of other pro-Israel speakers and debaters.

The more I stood up for Israel, especially through ads in the media, the more my liberal friends and admirers began to desert me.

We trained students to be Israel’s spokespeople at important forums such as the Oxford Union. Some of our student leaders and participants went on to be top political officials, including Ambassador Ron Dermer, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who was one of Israel’s greatest champions before turning on Israel with his support for the Iran nuclear agreement and his vote against the Taylor Force act in Senate committee.

While I continued to defend Israel, I published books on sex, relationships and marriage. I was wearing two hats: Hebrew warrior and relationship guru. The two peacefully coexisted — until about a decade ago, when they began to sharply diverge.

My relationships identity appealed to a liberal crowd that saw me as a rabbi in tune with modern times, someone who made religion accessible and relevant. My defense of Israel appealed to an opposite audience of conservatives that saw Israel as being unfairly maligned by the left. Evangelical Christians flocked to the message of Israel as a beacon of freedom and bastion of human rights.

However, the more I stood up for Israel, especially through ads in the media, the more my liberal friends and admirers began to desert me. How did my universal message of one human family mesh with my passionate defense of a Jewish nation state? How did my belief in the equality of all humankind coexist with what they saw was Israel’s displacement of the Palestinians?

Then-President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran brought this conflict into stark relief. Liberals delighted in his election and his policies. Those who loved him and supported him were the same people who agreed with my thoughts on Judaism, supported my anti-genocide campaigns in places such as Rwanda, and agreed with my furtherance of Holocaust education.

So how could I so strongly oppose Obama on Iran? Did I not understand this enlightened leader was making peace? The disdain people felt for my ferocious opposition to Obama’s Iran policy was a disappointment not in my politics, but my faith. Is Judaism not a religion of peace? How could we hate the Iranian mullahs?

After the Holocaust, any argument that Jews can survive as a religion without a state is profoundly ridiculous.

I suddenly felt the clash of two identities. My Jewish, rabbinical identity told me to follow Isaiah, beating swords into plowshares, filling the world with love and harmony. But in looking at the existential threat facing Israel, I did not feel the words of Isaiah were immediately relevant; the words of King David in Psalms seemed more appropriate: “Those who love God hate evil.”

As we took out more ads — including with Elie Wiesel — against the Iran deal, pointing out the abomination of giving the world’s foremost sponsor of terror $150 billion in unfrozen assets — much of it in cash — I felt myself losing my once-stalwart liberal base. “Perhaps Shmuley had bamboozled us and was an extremist fundamentalist all along.”

But the clash here was not about Shmuley-the-relationship-counselor versus Shmuley-the-Hebrew-warrior; it was a clash of Shmuley the rabbi, representing the universalist goals of Judaism, with Shmuley the Israel fighter, representing the existential survival needs of the Jewish nation-state.

As many saw it, it was a conflict between Jewish universalism and Hebrew parochialism; Judaism as a religion for all people versus Israel as a state for only Jewish people.

It was at this point I recalled the story of Roman Emperor Vespasian and the greatest rabbi of the last years of the Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

The gist of the story is this: It’s 2,000 years ago and the Romans have surrounded Jerusalem. They are about to invade, annihilate the population and destroy the Holy Temple. The Jewish rebels fighting the Romans have made it a capital offense for anyone — including the greatest rabbis — to leave Jerusalem, for fear traitors will seek terms with the Romans or betray the Jewish cause.

Zakkai decides the Jewish cause is lost. The Romans will destroy everything. He fakes his death and is taken out of Jerusalem in a coffin, as bodies cannot be buried in the holy city. He is granted an audience with Vespasian, who is then a general, and greets him with the words, “Hail, Caesar.” Vespasian says the rabbi deserves death for giving him the imperial salutation when he is only a commanding general. Just then, a messenger comes in from Rome and says, “Hail, Caesar. The Roman emperor in the capital city has been deposed. You have been proclaimed the new emperor by your troops.”

Vespasian looks at Zakkai and is impressed, thinking the man is some kind of prophet. Vespasian agrees to grant the rabbi three wishes, the most important of which is Zakkai’s request that even if Jerusalem is destroyed, Vespasian will allow the rabbis and teachers to go to the city of Yavneh and establish a yeshiva there for the continuity of Judaism, the religion, unmolested by Rome.

But wait. What about the Temple? What about Israel? What about Jerusalem? What about the Jewish nation state? Clearly, Zakkai made a decision. Israel was lost, but Judaism would remain. The Jewish people would live on not through borders, an army and a capital, but through Jewish mitzvot and Torah observance. The people would survive through rabbis rather than soldiers, through scripture rather than a state, through the minute strictures of the halachah rather than the borders of a country.

From that fork in the road where Zakkai could have asked Vespasian to spare the country instead of sparing the Torah and teachers comes our present dilemma. For 2,000 years, Zakkai’s gamble — for which he was strongly criticized by fellow Talmudists — more or less worked. The Jewish people survived in exile through their Judaism.

I say “more or less” because survival came at the price of humiliation, expulsion, persecution, constant attack and finally, annihilation in the Holocaust. Yet for all those immeasurable and unspeakable horrors, Judaism and the Jewish people survived, even as millions did not.

Judaism ensured the Jewish people would be the first and only nation to survive by belief rather than borders, with rabbis rather than fighters, and the Bible and Prophets rather than an economy and markets.

But along came Theodor Herzl and spoiled the party. What kind of existence is this, he asked, as he surveyed the never-ending humiliation of European Jewry — even those who, like Alfred Dreyfus, had thought they might assimilate into non-Jewish acceptance? This is a wretched life, Herzl thought. We have no dignity. We need a nation state. A Jewish home. A place where Jews can live with prosperity and security provided by their own army.

The rabbis cried foul. Does this mean Israel would replace Judaism? Indeed, many early Zionists were fiercely secular. It’s not hard to understand why. They felt Judaism with its ultimate reliance on God rather than the efforts of the individual was holding back the Jewish people.

Herzl predicted a Jewish state within 50 years. He was off by about five. However, those critical five came with an event: the Holocaust. If Israel had met his prediction, 6 million Jewish lives might have been spared. The Nazi policy was Jewish emigration before it was annihilation. It’s just that no country — including the United States — would take them in. So they were killed at a rate of about 10,000 per day.

In effect, what Herzl did was expose Zakkai’s decision as profoundly incorrect. Yes, Judaism allowed the Jewish people to survive — until they were gassed and turned into ash in the crematoria of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau.

After the Holocaust, any argument that Jews can survive as a religion without a state is profoundly ridiculous, which is why the Neturei Karta, aside from being an embarrassment to Judaism as they hang out with killers such as former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also are profoundly ignorant.

The world is not accustomed to seeing Jews stand up for themselves and would prefer us being the people of the book rather than the people of the Uzi.

I am a rabbi. I want the Jewish people to be a light unto the nations. I believe Judaism has redemptive teachings to share with the world on family, sexuality, marriage, human dignity, putting the accumulation of wealth in perspective, equality of women, respect for all of God’s children, hatred of evil and fighting human rights abuses.

As a religion, we can and should impart those values. No one gave us the opportunity to do so when authorities shoved us into ghettos, resulting in poverty-level existence. However, the emancipation of European Jewry provided that opportunity. Judaism finally might be heard.

Jewish luminaries such as philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86) began the process, even as they compromised some of the core of Judaism in an effort to make it more palatable. The creation of the United States gave Jews full rights and acceptance, and for the first time in 2,000 years, there arose the possibility that rabbis and Jewish thinkers might go public via TV, radio and later, the internet, as well as publish books that profoundly impact hundreds of millions of non-Jews.

Modern media and a new, open, liberal mindset allowed Judaism — for the first time in history — to become a light unto the nations, without having to influence the world through the medium of Christianity or Islam.

I firmly jumped on this bandwagon, using Jewish wisdom to counsel non-Jewish families on a national TV show. I sought to rescue faltering marriages, restore lost intimacy and passion from monogamous relationships, and help parents inspire their children with values.

But as the world turned on Israel, I felt the call of my people. How could I not stand up for the Jewish state, where two of my children served in the army and where my people were fulfilling the ancient dream of returning to Israel and Zion?

I threw myself into the Israel wars via public debates on campus, public debates on CNN, Fox and MSNBC and global advertising campaigns that defended the Jewish state.

With that decision came the loss of much of my liberal audience. How could I, an enlightened person who spoke about human rights and rescuing relationships, not care about the Palestinians, my critics, who were also Israel’s critics. How could I justify Israel’s aggression?

My response that Israel is the great Arab hope was met with deaf ears. I believe the flourishing of a democracy in the Middle East with full rights for all its Arab and Muslim citizens would give lie to Arab dictators who claim that things such as press freedom are impossible in the Middle East. There was a bias against Israel that seemed hard to surmount.

The quandary I faced took me back two millennia to Zakkai, sitting before Vespasian. Would I be silent on Israel so I could remain a rabbi to the gentiles? Would I allow Israel to suffer while I spoke on television about kosher sex? Would I allow my closest friend and former student president Cory Booker to betray Israel and the United States by voting to give the killer mullahs in Tehran $150 billion so Booker’s many admirers would continue to see me as the enlightened Chassidic rabbi who mentored him? Would I be silent to remain popular among the Hollywood set while Israelis were blown up on buses and in cafes?

No, I would not. I would not remain silent, regardless of personal cost.

But this wasn’t primarily about me and the price I personally paid. It was about a choice. As the world turned against Israel and as anti-Semitism sprang up around the world, being a fighter for Israel often meant forfeiting the opportunity to be a light unto the nations. The world at large was not going to listen to someone accusing it of anti-Semitism. The world was not going to see someone who defended Israel — which it vilified as an apartheid occupier — as a moral and spiritual light.

As my son Mendy told me, it’s almost as if the nations of the world were so brutal toward us that they completely reoriented our national mission from spreading the word of God to basic survival. And after they forced us into survival mode, they faulted us for fighting back and said those who fight have no right to preach a spiritual message of universal oneness and cosmic healing.

The election of President Donald Trump has magnified this divide. Those Jews thankful to Trump for moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; withdrawing from the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal; stopping the vilification of Israel at the United Nations; ceasing the funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it channels that money in a pay-for-slay policy for killing Jews; and recognizing the Golan Heights, are treated as unworthy of the mantle of Jewish teacher. If you show the Jewish virtue of hakarat hatov, basic gratitude, toward a president who has strengthened and legitimized Israel immeasurably, especially at the United Nations, you are promoting darkness to the nations rather than serving as a light.

There now is an undeniable conflict between being an Israel warrior and serving as an exponent of Judaism, such that the more one engages in the former, the less effective he or she is in the latter. And one is forced to choose?

To detach Judaism from Israel is to make our religion a lifeless corpse bereft of soul.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at Hillel and Chabad on campus. They care deeply about Israel. Still, they pay, at best, lip service to the battle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on college campuses without mounting any serious and coordinated national campaign to combat it. Why? Their local directors will say — in their minds, with good cause — that if they stand for Israel or fight openly against Israel Apartheid Week, then students won’t come for chicken soup on Friday night. Hillel directors and Chabad rabbis feel they are forced to choose between advocating for Israel and losing more liberal-minded Jewish students, or forfeiting the fight for Israel and getting Jewish students to come to Torah classes or lectures on the Holocaust.

I cannot tell you how many college campus activists have expressed to me privately that Israel now is so toxic a subject on campuses that mixing it with their Jewish activities would cause them to lose more than half their participants.

To these Chabad rabbis and Hillel directors, I responded, “But, wait. If you’re going to cut out Israel from your programs — with the exception for some meaningless tokenism like having a falafel party on Yom HaAtzmaut — then you’ve cut out the heart of Judaism. Israel is central to everything Judaism stands for. What’s next? If God is offensive to atheists and makes you look backward and unscientific for your beliefs, do you drop Him as well? If mikveh is misunderstood by women as a belief that their menses make then unclean, do we cut out that, too? Or the Sabbath, if people believe it’s a day of idleness for people who are lazy and don’t want to work, will the Sabbath also be stripped out of Judaism?”

To this, one of Hillel’s most generous benefactors told me, “Look. I would never say this in public, but the battle for Israel on campus is lost. We should have woken up two decades ago. But we didn’t. And now, if we prioritize fighting for Israel, we cannot be impactful with teaching Judaism.”

So what can we do? Is Israel an unqualified blessing, or has its creation come at the expense of Jewish globalism? Has the creation of a nation-state in our ancient homeland in the Middle East compromised the universal impact we Jews were meant to make as a religion? Has Israel made us parochial rather than global? Myopic rather than universal? Limited rather than expansive? Controversial rather than popular?

Has Israel and the battle we must wage for Israel undermined the Jewish people’s capacity to use Jewish spirituality to influence the nations? The answer is yes and no.

We must not give up on explaining that Jewish spirituality and its success in sustaining the Jewish people is intimately connected with Israel.

Yes, the world is not accustomed to seeing Jews stand up for themselves and would prefer us being the people of the book rather than the people of the Uzi. A cynic might say the world does not so much hate Jews as hate Jews who have power and stick up for themselves. Take Hollywood, for example. Nearly every month, the industry releases an excellent movie about the tragedy of the Holocaust — yet it has not produced one positive movie about Israel since Paul Newman starred in “Exodus.” Jews with yellow Stars of David on them dying and being gassed moves and touches Hollywood writers, directors and producers. Jews battling in Merkava tanks on the Golan Heights, or Israeli commandos storming terrorist outposts in Gaza to ensure they never again are slaughtered, is seen not so much as heroic but as oppressive to Israel’s neighbors.

On the other hand, having Israel warriors has greatly enhanced Judaism. Having a home for which we are prepared to fight and stand up for ourselves in global PR has given the Jewish people a dignity we previously did not possess when we were a pitied nation.

Christian evangelicals now flock not only to support the Jewish state but to learn about the Jewishness of Jesus. In my book “Kosher Jesus,” I argue, based on Christian scripture and the New Testament, that Jesus was a Jewish patriot who fought for the freedom of Israel against the Roman oppressors and was put to death by Roman proconsul Pontius Pilate for his defiance.

Were it not for Israel, the Jewish people — and the Jewish religion by extension — would not have the impact it is having on evangelical Christians. Likewise, were it not for Israel, there would not be a true renaissance of Judaism — not only with the hundreds of yeshivot and seminaries that have opened but with Jewish communities the world over that have strengthened their bonds to their faith because of Israel’s inspiration.

But for those who are more liberally minded and are true globalists, yes, standing up for Israel has somewhat impaired our ability to influence them with Jewish values. For example, the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, may be the ultimate statement of globalist influence. When I was last there three years ago, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was treated as a global celebrity, feted by world leaders, even as Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke two hours after him, couldn’t fill half the room because attendees were boycotting his appearance.

Right now, we may not necessarily win over the globalists as we fight for Israel. They will punish us for standing up for ourselves. But I believe that in time, this will change. There will be a backlash against the false and fraudulent liberalism of today that would demonize Israel even as it fetes Iran, Turkey and China.

As for the price we pay until then, I feel it absolutely is worth it. Israel is worth it. The Jewish homeland is worth it. The Jewish state is worth it. Not only because without Israe there would be no sanctuary for Jews in an age of global persecution, but because as the Talmud says, “He who is without a home is not a person.” Even for Jews who live in the Diaspora, it is Israel that gives our Jewish identity dignity. It is Israel that gives our Jewish observance meaning. And it is Israel that gives every Jewish man, woman and child the greatest pride.

What meaning would our daily prayers have without the supplication of the divine presence returning to Jerusalem? How do we seek to be connected to the teachings of Abraham without understanding that they stemmed from a particular place and time in Israel? To detach Judaism from Israel is to make our religion a lifeless corpse bereft of soul.

Until such time as the world comes to see Israel’s virtue — an event made much harder by globally ingrained anti-Semitism — my advice is that we cannot give up the battle on joining the two. We must not give up on explaining that Jewish spirituality and its success in sustaining the Jewish people is intimately connected with Israel.

We Jews create strong families because we understand bonds that stretch across time and space, like our connection to Israel. We understand holiness because of the holy land of Israel. We understand ecstasy and longing because every year, we read of Moses’ ecstatic longing to enter Israel. We understand the need to keep one’s word and fulfill one’s promises — because after 2,000 years of exile, God kept his promise and returned us to the glorious, beautiful and majestic land of Israel, even as we continue to wait for the long-promised complete redemption of our people with the Messiah, when Israel and all the nations of the Earth will live in peace, men will beat their swords into plowshares, and no man will ever again teach his son the art of war.

May it happen now.


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of 33 books, including “Judaism for Everyone,” “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery” and “Lust for Love,” co-authored with actress and activist Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley. 

Voir aussi:

Colère de Macron : le syndrome de Jérusalem des présidents français
Martine Gozlan
Marianne
23/01/2020

Rédactrice en chef
Travaille sur les questions et les pays d’Islam et couvre le conflit israélo-palestinien. A publié de nombreux livres sur l’islamisme, entre autres Pour comprendre l’intégrisme islamiste (Albin Michel 2002), Le sexe d’Allah ( Grasset 2004), Le désir d’islam (Grasset 2005), Sunnites-Chiites, pourquoi ils s’entretuent (Le Seuil 2008), L’imposture turque (Grasset 2011), ainsi qu’un récit sur l’Etat hébreu Israël contre Israël (L’Archipel, 2012) et une biographie Hannah Szenes l’étoile foudroyée (l’Archipel 2014).

En marge du sommet international sur la mémoire de la Shoah et l’antisémitisme qui réunit une quarantaine de chefs d’Etat en Israël, le président français a eu une vive altercation ce 22 janvier, comme Jacques Chirac en 1996, avec la sécurité israélienne, cette fois à la basilique Sainte-Anne, domaine français au cœur de la vieille ville.

Il y a un syndrome de Jérusalem des dirigeants français. Le syndrome en question, bien connu des psychiatres, projette le visiteur dans un univers mystico-fantasmatique où il se sent illico investi d’une mission sacrée. Certes, ni Jacques Chirac en 1996, ni Emmanuel Macron, aujourd’hui, ne se sont pris pour le Messie. Pourtant, leur passage, dans des contextes bien différents, se sera déroulé avec les mêmes réflexes, suscitant la même vague d’émotion. Au terme d’une longue balade, le 22 janvier, dans la vieille ville, après force accolades et mots profonds – « en ce petit lieu, tant de jaillissements… »- le président, euphorique, s’est rendu à l’Eglise Sainte-Anne. Edifiée par les Croisés, puis transformée en mosquée par Saladin, elle fut offerte à la France en 1856 par les Ottomans de la Sublime Porte, alors maitres de la Palestine, pour services rendus contre l’Empire russe pendant la guerre de Crimée. Et là, divine surprise pour les témoins palestiniens qui n’apprécient guère de voir reconnue par près de 40 chefs d’Etat la centralité d’Israël dans la mémoire du génocide ! Emmanuel Macron, endossant sans le savoir tout en le sachant les habits du Jacques Chirac de 1996, s’est engueulé – ce mot trivial est cependant le seul qui convienne – avec les gardes de la sécurité israélienne. Ces derniers étaient sur les dents depuis des jours. Il y avait de quoi.

Recevoir les grands de ce monde dans une capitale sous haute tension n’est pas une mince affaire. La veille, le quotidien palestinien Al Hayat al Jedida, organe officiel de l’Autorité palestinienne, avait publié sans complexe l’édito d’un certain Yahya Rabah qui écrivait mot pour mot, à propos de ce Forum sur le génocide : « Un coup de feu perturbera la cérémonie et un cadavre annulera l’événement ». Le Shin Bet, le renseignement intérieur, prend tout au sérieux et, quoiqu’on puisse en dire sur les réseaux sociaux marqués du sceau de la haine d’Israël, sans la vigilance du Shin Bet, les citoyens de l’Etat hébreu et ses visiteurs auraient du souci à se faire. L’Eglise Sainte-Anne est bel et bien domaine français mais en matière d’anti-terrorisme, les Israéliens sont au parfum. Les agents pénètrent donc dans les lieux, ce qui est à la fois illégitime et compréhensible. Voire « souhaitable » nous confie une source française anonyme, consciente des dangers de la ville sainte et habituée au professionnalisme des collègues israéliens.

La colère du Frenchie

C’est alors qu’Emmanuel Macron voit rouge. Jérusalem baignait, cette après-midi là, dans une lumière de Golgotha. Les cieux déversaient les eaux du déluge sur la terre promise. Le protocole français, fine mouche, avait prévu 200 parapluies. Il y eut une éclaircie. Macron vit se profiler dans les nuées la silhouette de Chirac et entendit à travers l’orage l’impayable apostrophe, en english dans le texte, de son prédécesseur en 1996. Les hommes du Shin Bet, à l’époque, redoutaient comme aujourd’hui l’incident mortel et s’interposaient entre le « Rais » gaulois et la foule palestinienne. Ce fut alors que tonna l’immortel : « You want me to back to my plane ?????? ». Saisi par l’éternel syndrome de Jérusalem, Macron à son tour gronda : « I don’t like what you did in front of me », « Je n’aime pas ce que vous avez fait devant moi ! » et ordonna qu’on vire illico de Sainte-Anne, territoire français, les agents de l’Etat hébreu, ces étrangers, ces provocateurs.

L’affaire fit la Une de la presse israélienne, palestinienne et, forcément, française. Comme de bien entendu, on loua d’un côté la merveilleuse colère du frenchie face à ces gros bras israéliens tandis qu’on s’étonna, de l’autre, d’une telle similitude avec l’affaire Chirac. En réalité, nous sommes en mesure de prouver que le président a été saisi de ce fameux syndrome qui fait les saints, les martyrs et les bonnes consciences. C’était en effet diablement compliqué, en même temps que l’on honorait Israël en acceptant pour la première fois d’y commémorer le génocide (l’historienne Annette Wievorka a écrit là-dessus une fort belle tribune dans les colonnes du Monde), très compliqué d’assurer les Palestiniens de l’historique empathie tricolore à leur égard. Le Macron version Forum de la Shoah pourfend l’antisémitisme, ce qui, du reste, ne rassure pas un instant les Français juifs, en dehors des représentants peu représentatifs des institutions communautaires, mais le Macron version Eglise Sainte-Anne entonne le grand air de la résistance à l’occupation. Bien joué.

Enfin, dernier aspect du syndrome de Jérusalem des dirigeants français : le retour du refoulé de la fille ainée de l’Eglise. Il n’a jamais été admis et ne sera sans doute jamais admis au tréfonds des consciences que les juifs aient pu défier le temps, l’oubli et la mort, pour retrouver la Jérusalem biblique et en arpenter les rues en êtres libres et souverains. Que musulmans et chrétiens palestiniens y vivent avec eux dans la même dignité constitue l’espérance naturelle des hommes de paix. Cette espérance, un jour, finira par être comblée. Mais la paix, justement, ne pourra se négocier et s’accomplir qu’en abandonnant les préjugés tenaces, la vision des Israéliens comme venus d’ailleurs et non comme fils fidèles de cette ville. En oubliant ce très politique et très démago syndrome de Jérusalem.

Voir également:

Le coût du communautarisme
Pressions et violences contre les juifs peuvent amputer une nation d’une de ses forces vives.
Pierre Vermeren
Libération
13 juillet 2004

«En parler jamais, y penser toujours !»… A l’inverse du «communautarisme», politiquement impensé en France, mais quotidiennement évoqué («communautés» gay, juive, musulmane, arménienne, etc.), la pensée commune française est infectée par la pensée communautaire. Considérée comme étant d’origine anglo-saxonne, cette pensée a pourtant façonné (et miné) la société coloniale en Afrique du Nord. Ce n’était pas «classe contre classe» dans l’égalité citoyenne comme en métropole, mais religion contre religion, dans l’inégalité statutaire et juridique (« citoyens français», «Européens», «israélites», «sujets français musulmans», «indigènes»)… Des millions de Français et d’étrangers habitant aujourd’hui en France ont vécu dans cette pratique politique quotidienne, inconsciemment transmise à leurs enfants. Que l’héritage du communautarisme colonial provienne du refoulé politique français, qu’il ait été fécondé par la pensée politique musulmane (statut des dhimmis ou «protégés»), ou par le communautarisme institutionnel ottoman, a aujourd’hui peu d’importance.

Ce qui importe en revanche, c’est qu’au Maghreb, depuis 1945, le communautarisme a conduit à son terme naturel, une épuration ethnique soft, c’est-à-dire au départ concomitant (Algérie) ou successif (Tunisie, Maroc) des «communautés» française, européenne et israélite. Les deux premières ont quitté le Maghreb dans le cadre de la légitime lutte d’indépendance ; la dernière a été délégitimée par son identité extra-musulmane. Les guerres du Proche-Orient ne sont pas étrangères au phénomène (au moins au Maroc et en Tunisie) : elles ont produit une insécurité de basse intensité qui, en trente ans, a vidé le Maghreb de ses communautés juives bimillénaires.

Le résultat est connu. Alors que l’Afrique du Sud a préservé son miracle multiethnique, et est aujourd’hui le géant économique de l’Afrique, le Maghreb s’est économiquement réduit comme peau de chagrin. Son PIB n’excède pas celui des Bouches-du-Rhône (90 milliards d’euros), département nourri et irrigué par l’apport des migrants de toute la Méditerranée (« israélites», pieds-noirs, musulmans nord-africains, arméniens…).

La violence antisémite qui frappe aujourd’hui en France est moralement et politiquement insupportable. Elle est d’autant plus dramatique que les jeunes beurs qui la mettent en oeuvre rejouent (inconsciemment ?) des scènes qui ont vidé l’Afrique du Nord de ses communautés… Le gouvernement israélien prend acte de cet état de fait, mais Israël n’a-t-il pas justement été créé pour cela ? La perspective d’un départ programmé des juifs de France, ne serait-ce que d’une importante minorité d’entre eux, serait l’échec le plus retentissant de la République française depuis Vichy.

Mais cette violence est aussi économiquement et intellectuellement catastrophique. Faut-il rappeler que la nation américaine, la plus riche du monde, est aussi la plus brassée ? Le Proche-Orient, entré il y a plus d’un demi-siècle dans un processus de purification ethnico-religieuse, s’abîme dans les crises et la récession économique, au fur et à mesure que le quittent ses minorités : Européens, juifs d’Europe, Arméniens, juifs arabes, et maintenant chrétiens d’Orient. Intellectuellement, il est plus insupportable encore, qu’en dehors des plus hautes autorités de l’Etat français, il revienne aux intellectuels juifs de France de lancer des signaux d’alarme. Le principe de la démocratie confie à des médiateurs ou représentants (du peuple) la défense de tous les citoyens. Confier la défense d’une «communauté» agressée à ses propres médiateurs est une régression.

Il est vrai que traditionnellement, les israélites d’Europe ont été interdits d’activités productives et cantonnés aux services et activités d’échange. L’émancipation des juifs de France au XIXe siècle, puis les traumatismes du XXe siècle, alliés aux fantastiques progrès de l’école, ont accompagné la «montée en gamme» de cette population. Les intellectuels d’origine juive (ou de judaïsme revendiqué) animent aujourd’hui largement le débat public national (au grand dam de Tariq Ramadan), et il va sans dire que leur départ vers les Etats-Unis ou Israël serait une perte incalculable. La France généreuse accueille 80 % de migrants avec un niveau d’études infrasecondaire (quand plus de 80 % des migrants aux Etats-Unis sont diplômés du supérieur), peut-elle de surcroît se permettre de se vider d’une partie croissante de ses forces vives intellectuelles ?

Voir encore:

Absent Leaders: Heroes and Villains in Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” and Amos Gitaï’s Kedma

Larry Portis

Events in the Middle East have become more and more difficult to ignor. They are unquestionably vital, not only to our interests, but to our ideals. For this reason our understanding of the history of the region, and our vision of it, should be a major preoccupation. The problem is that, given the centrality of the region in contemporary geo-political relations, it is difficult to distinguish between historical facts and the ideological distortions of them. This is why a backward look at the film “Exodus” is both timely and important. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, « Exodus » was released in 1960, and had enormous success. In evaluating this success, we are helped by the release in 2002 of another film, « Kedma », directed by Amos Gitaï. These two films treat the same subject—the clandestine arrival of Jewish refugees in Palestine in 1947 in the midst of armed conflict. This was the eve of the partition of Palestine, proposed by the United Nations Organization but rejected by the non Jewish (or, rather, non-zionist) population and states of the entire eastern mediterranean region. Following the British announcement of their withdrawal from the protectorate established in 1920 by the mandate system of the treaty of Verseille, the stage was set for a defining event of the short, brutal twentieth century : the creation of the state of Israel and the population transfers and ethnic conflicts that accompanied it. Comparison of the two films, both in terms of their genesis as artistic creations and as political statements, elucidates aspects of a complex process of ideological formation. Seen terms of representations of leadership, the two films are extremely different. “Exodus” is a glorification of a certain type of leadership, at a certain level of decision-making. It works only at the level of strategic and tactical zionist command within Palestine immediately before, during and after the war for the creation of the state of Israel. The film is discrete relative to a higher level (higher in terms of power relations)—that of international diplomacy. Although decisions of the British military administration are implicitly criticized in the film, such criticism is not allowed to call into question Britain itself as an actor on the international stage. When either the British or the United-Statesians (and the French and Italians) are referred to, it is always as individuals, not representatives of overall national sentiments. Representations of leadership, and this includes tacit representations of the absence of leadership and/or the absence of leaders, are important in the films both in relation to their narrative content and to the ideological or perceptual effects intended by their directors. In Kedma, representations of leadership are only implicit. Amos Gitaï was concerned to present an historical situation by depicting a single incident, the origins of which are not explained directly and, in the course of which, individuals are shown to be subordinate to developments over which they have no real control. The incident in question is the illegal arrival of a ship, “Kedma,” on the coast of Palestine. There is an important qualification to make before any attempt to compare these films. The problem is that a discussion of the narrative content of Preminger’s film “Exodus” would not be legitimate without speaking of Exodus the novel, written by Leon Uris. Not only were both film and novel tremendous commercial successes, but they were conceived of as the two axes of a single, mutually reinforcing project.* The idea for the book was suggested to Leon Uris by Dore Schary, a top executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The motivation behind the project is described by Kathleen Christison. « The idea for the book » she says, « began with a prominent public-relations consultant who in the early 1950s decided that the United States was too apathetic about Israel’s struggle for survival and recognition. » Uris received a contract from Doubleday and went to Israel and Cyprus where he carried out extensive research. The book was published in September, 1958. It was first re-printed in October the following year. By 1964, it had gone through 30 re-printings. This success was undoubtedly helped by the film’s release in 1960, but not entirely, as Uris’s novel was a book-of-the-month club selection in September, 1959 (which perhaps explains the first re-printing). The film was to be made by MGM. But when the time came, the studio hesitated. The project was perhaps too political for the big producers. At this moment Otto Preminger bought the screen rights from MGM. He then produced and directed the film, featuring an all-star cast including Paul Newman, Eva Marie-Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, Peter Lawford and other box-office draws of the moment. The film also benefited from a lavish production in “superpanavision 70” after having been filmed on location. The music was composed by Ernest Gold, for which he received an Academy Award for the best music score of 1960. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. In spite of its length—three and a half hours—the film was a tremendous popular and critical success. It is noteworthy that the release of “Exodus” the film in 1960 indicates that its production began upon Exodus the book’s publication. It is reasonable, therefore, to suppose a degree of coordination, in keeping with the origins of the project. In short, it was a major operation which brilliantly succeeded. It has been estimated that in excess of 20 million people have read the novel, and that hundreds of millions have seen the film. Not only was this success a financial bonanza, but its political impact.

has been equally considerable. There can be little doubt that “Exodus” the film has been one of the most important influences on US perceptions and understanding of the hostilities between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. It is thusly illuminating to return to the message communicated by this film, in attempting to gage its role in ideological formation. “Exodus” is the story of the Exodus 1947, a ship purchased in the United States and used to transport 4,500 Jewish refugees to Palestine. In reality, the novel and film take great liberties with the original story. Intercepted by the British authorities in the port of Haïfa, the real-life refugees were taken to the French port of Sête, where they were held, becoming the object of intense Zionist agitation and propaganda. Eventually they were transported to Germany and held temporarily in transit camps. Although this incident was used by Uris as the point of departure for his novel, the book is a work of fiction. Not only were the characters invented, but the events did not correspond to reality except in the most general way. In Uris’s narrative, an intercepted ship (not named “Exodus”) is intercepted on the high sea and taken to Cyprus where the passengers are put in camps. Representatives of the Haganah, the secret Jewish army in Palestine, arrive secretly in Cyprus in order to care for, educate and mobilize the refugees. The agent-in-chief is Ari Ben Canaan, played by Paul Newman. Ben Canaan is the son of Barak Ben Canaan, prominent leader of the Yishuv, the Jewish, Zionist community in Palestine. Tricking the British with great intelligence and audacity, Ari Ben Canaan arranges for the arrival of a ship purchased in the United States, on which he places 600 Jewish refugee children—orphans from the Nazi extermination camps and elsewhere. Once the children are on the ship, Ben Canaan names the ship the “Exodus”, and runs up the Zionist flag. He then informs the British authorities that, if the ship is not allowed to depart for Palestine, it will be blown up with all aboard. Before having organized this potential suicide bombing (of himself, the Haganah agents and the 600 children), Ben Canaan has met Kitty Fremont, an American nurse who has become fond of the children and, it must be said, of Ari Ben Canaan. This love interest is carefully intertwined with the major theme: the inexorable need and will of the Jewish people to occupy the soil of Palestine. As it might be expected, the British give in. After some discussion between a clearly anti-semitic officer and those more troubled by the plight of the refugees, the ship is allowed to depart for Palestine. It arrives just before the vote of the United Nations Organization recommending the partition of Palestine between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. As the partition is refused by the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states, war breaks out and the characters all join the ultimately successful effort

against what are described as over-whelming odds. Even Kitty and Major Sutherland, the British officer who tipped the balance in favour of releasing the “Exodus,” join the fight. Sutherland’s participation, representing the defection of a British imperialist to the zionist cause, if particularly symbolic. Why did Sutherland jeopardize his position and reputation, and then resign from the army? His humanitarian was forged by the fact that he had seen the Nazi extermination camps when Germany was liberated and, more troubling, his mother was Jewish, although converted to the Church of England. Sutherland has a belated identity crisis which led him, too, to establish himself in the naitive Israel. The other major characters is the film similarly represent the “return” of Jewish people to their “promised land.” For example, Karen, the young girl who Kitty would like to adopt and take to the United States, is a German Jew who was saved by placement in a Danish family during the war. Karen will elect to stay with her people, in spite of her affection for Kitty. Karen is also attached to Dov Landau, a fellow refugee, 17 year-old survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and death camps. Once in Palestine, Dov joins a Zionist terrorist organization (based on the Irgun) and, in the book and film (but not, of course, in reality), places a bomb in the wing of King David Hotel housing the British Command, causing considerable loss of life. The role of human agency, leadership and the nature of decision-making, are a dimension of “Exodus” that is particularly revealing of the propagandistic intent of the film. Most noteworthy is the fact that all the major characters are presented as exceptional people, and all are Jewish, with the exception of Kitty. However, it is not as individuals that the protagonists of the film are important, but rather as representatives of the Jewish people. In this respect, in its effort to portray Jewishness as a special human condition distinguishing Jews and Jewish culture from others, that “Exodus” is most didactic. Ari Ben Canaan is clearly a superior being, but he merely represents the Jewish people. They are, collectively, just as strong, resourceful and determined as Ari. This positive image is highlighted by the portrayal of other ethnic groupings present in the film. The British, for example, are seen, at best, as divided and, at their worst, as degenerate products of national decay and imperialistic racism. The most striking contrast to the collective solidarity, intellectual brilliance, and awesome courage of the Jews is, with the “Arabs.” In spite of their greater numbers, the culture and character of the Arabs show them to be clearly inferior. Ari, who is a “sabra”—a Jewish person born in Palestine—and, as a consequence, understands the Arab character, knows that they are no match for determined Jews. “You turn 400 Arabs loose,” he says, and “they will run in 400 different directions.” This assessment of the emotional and intellectual self-possession of the Arabs was made prior to the spectacular jail break at Acre prison. The very indiscipline of the Arabs would cover the escape of the determined Zionists. The Arab leaders are equally incapable of effective action, as they are essentially self-interested and uncaring about their own people. In the end, it is this lack of tolerance and human sympathy in the non Jews that most distinguishes Jews and Arabs. In Exodus the novel, Arabs are constantly, explicitly, and exclusively, described as lazy and shiftless, dirty and deceitful. They have become dependant upon the Jews, and hate them for it. In “Exodus” the film, however, this characterization is not nearly as insisted upon, at least not in the dialogue. Still, way they are portrayed on the screen inspires fear and distrust. The contrast between the ethnic stereotyping exhibited in “Exodus” and the portrayal of characters in Amos Gitaï’s Kedma could not be greater. In Kedma, there is no discussion of strategy or tactics, and thusly no invidious reflections upon one ethnic group’s capacity in relation to another’s. People simply find themselves in situations, and attempt to survive. This is how the survivors of the Judeocide perpetrated by the German government describe their experiences during the voyage, before the Kedma arrives. This is how all the characters—European Jews and Palestinians—react once the ship has disembarked its passengers. In Kedma, there are no leaders visible. Their existence can only be supposed. Their plans, strategies and justifications are unexplained. They remain in the background as part of a larger tragedy produced by forces over which “ordinary” people seemingly have little or no control. Gitaï’s film expresses a lack of confidence in leadership and, in this way, Kedma can be understood as a reading (and viewing) of « Exodus. » There is, in fact, a remarkable parallel development of the two films. What is absent from Preminger’s film—the moral misery, the existential despair, the doubts and confusion of the survivors of the Judeocide—is focused upon in Gitaï’s film. Conversely, what is absent from Gitaï’s film—the expression of Zionist ideals, aspirations and dogma, the glorifications of one ethnic group at the expense of others—is the very point of Preminger’s. This thematic inversion is particularly evident in reference to two aspect of the films: firstly, in the use of names and, secondly, in the dramatic monologues or soliloquies which end both films. In “Exodus”, the use of names for symbolic purposes is immediately evident. “Exodus” refers to the biblical return of the Jews from slavery to the Holy Land—their god-given territory, a sacred site. This sacred site is necessary to Jewish religious observance and identity. Only here, it is explained in “Exodus,” can Jews be safe. Only here, it is asserted, can they throw-off invidious self-perceptions, imposed by anti-semitism and assimilation pressures, and become the strong, self-reliant and confident people they really are. This vision of Jewish identity propagated by Zionism is implicitly challenged in Kedma. Again, the title of the film is symbolically significant. “Kedma” means the “East” or “Orient”, or “going towards the East.” The people on the Kedma—Jewish refugees from Europe, speaking European languages and Yiddish—were arriving in another cultural world an alien one, in the East. The result would be more existential disorientation and another ethnically conflictual environment. The difference in perspective manifest in the two films is found also in the names given to the protagonists. In Kedma, an example is given of the abrupt Hebrewization of names as the passengers arrived in the new land, thus highlighting the cultural transformation central to the Zionist project. In “Exodus,” there is much explicit discussion of this aspect of Zionism, and some of the names given to central characters reveal the heavy-handedness of its message. It is, of course, a well-established convention to give evocative names to the protagonists of a literary or cinematographic work. Where would be, for example, Jack London’s The Iron Hell, without his hero, Ernest Everhard? The answer is that the novel might be more impressive without such readily apparent propagandistic trappings. And the same is true for Exodus. Leon Uris’s chief protagonist is Ari Ben Canaan, Hebrew for “Lion, son of Canaan.” This role model for Jewish people everywhere is thusly the direct heir of the ancient Canaanites, precursors of the Jewish community in the land of Palestine. This historical legacy and patrimony established, Paul Newman had only to play the strong fighter—ferocious, hard and wily—with his blond mane cut short, in the military style. The object of Ari’s affections, however ambivalent they may be, is Kitty Fremont, played by Eva Marie Saint. Not only does the pairing of the earnest and ever-hard Ari, the “Lion,” and the compliant but faithful “Kitty” imply a classic gender relationship, but the coupling of this prickly Sabra and the cuddly American symbolizes the special relationship between the United States and native state of Israel that has come to be called the “fifty-first state” of the union. The other major character, played by the baby-faced Sal Mineo, is “Dov Landau,” the 17-year-old survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Auschwitz. This name evokes the dove of peace and the infancy indirectly evoked by the term “landau” (baby carriage?). The irony is that the angelic Dov, alights on Palestinian soil with the fury of a maddened bird of prey. He is the consummate terrorist—angry and bloodthirsty. Dov’s conversion to Zionism as a collective project, as opposed to a vehicle for his personal vengeance, comes at the end of the story when peace has been (temporarily) achieved through unrelenting combat. Dov then leaves Israel for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) where he will perfect the engineering skills learned building bombs in Warsaw and in Palestine. Peace means refining the technical capacity for the new nation’s defence. In the meantime, Dov’s fiancee, the soft and sweet Karen, has been cruelly murdered by the Arabs. « Exodus » and « Kedma » differ most notably in the latter’s avoidance of the kind of crude propaganda that Leon Uris and Otto Preminger so heavily developed. Rather than forcing his viewers to accept a vision of the birth of Israel founded upon characters, distortions and omissions from historical reality, Amos Gitaï chose to simply place characters that we see briefly in a specific situation which is the real focus of the film. Whereas Preminger symbolized the destiny of a people in the story of strong characters, Gitaï illustrated the tragedy of an historical conjuncture in which the historical actors were largely incidental. We see this aspect of Gitaï’s thematic inversion of Preminger’s film in the soliloquies delivered in both films. At the very end of “Exodus,” Ari Ben Canaan delivers a speech at Karen’s graveside, in which he justifies the Zionist project as the just and prophetic return of a people forced to err in a hostile world for 2000 years. The resistance encountered to this project, he explains, is only the result of evil, self-interested individuals (such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) who are afraid of losing their privileges once the Arabs learn that Jewish settlement is in their interest. Ari concludes: “I swear that the day will come when Arab and Jew will live in Peace together.” The film then ends with a military convey receding into the distance, towards a new battle in the just cause. In Kedma, there are two soliloquies, delivered not by strong and self-composed leaders, but by distraught, frightened people, caught in a web woven by the apprentice sorcerers in the background—the real architects of the situations in which destinies are sealed and lives are broken. The first speech is made by a middle-aged Polish Jew. Appalled by the new cycle of suffering he witnessed upon arrival in Palestine, he shouts that suffering, guilt and martyrdom have become essential to the Jewish character. Without it, he cries, the Jewish people “cannot exist.” This is their tragedy. The second expression of despair is made by an aged Palestinian peasant, pushed off his land, fleeing the combat. Disregarding the danger, he says: “we will stay here in spite of you. Like a wall, and we will fill the streets with demonstrations, generation after generation.” How to reconcile the Holocaust (the fascist judeocide) and the Nakba (the Palestinian « disaster » of the Zionist ethnic cleansing)? Gitaï’s « Kedma » places the contemporary dilemma within its historical and existential context. Preminger’s “Exodus” did everything not to provide movie-goers with the elements necessary to informed understanding. This is the difference between, on the one hand, demagogy and propaganda and, on the other hand, a call to reason and justice. Representations of leadership in « Exodus » were carefully contrived to create support, in the United States and elsewhere for the State of Israel. It is for this reason that the machinations and tractations of the world leaders who created the situation are conspicuously absent from the story. In « Kedma, » on the contrary, the absence of leaders and any characterization of leadership is designed to have an entirely different effect: namely the evocation of the hatred and human suffering caused when people are instrumental in the service of political and ideological projects.

Voir enfin:

La thèse mortifère de l’envahissement de la France

Il faut à tout prix dénoncer les discours délirants, d’Eric Zemmour, de William Goldnadel, ou même, dans de trop nombreuses de ses déclarations, d’Alain Finkielkraut, écrit Jacques Attali. Tant les discours hostiles aux musulmans en France sont mortifères.

Jacques Attali
Les Echos
3 oct. 2019

Quand on parle de « souverainisme », beaucoup de gens veulent croire qu’on ne parle, en Europe, que d’une maîtrise des importations et d’un refus des disciplines communautaires. En réalité, dans la plupart des cas, ceux qui en font l’apologie parlent en fait ainsi à mots couverts d’un refus des migrants, et plus largement, d’un refus des musulmans.

Rien ne serait pourtant plus terrible, en particulier dans la société française, que de laisser dénoncer impunément la présence musulmane, et de transformer une (légale) critique de l’islam en un (illégale) racisme antiafricain (et en particulier antiarabe).

L’islam n’est pas une menace

D’abord, les discours ainsi tenus sont faux. Il n’y a aucun envahissement de la France ni de l’Europe par l’Islam ou par l’Afrique. Les migrants non européens en France ne représentent pas, en solde net annuel, 450.000 personnes, comme le prétendent les extrêmes, mais moins de 185.000 personnes (et encore, en tenant compte des naturalisations, qui en représentent la moitié), soit moins d’un demi pour cent de la population française.

99 % d’entre eux s’intègrent parfaitement dans la nation française ; ils font des études, fondent des familles, parlent en français à leurs enfants, créent des entreprises, deviennent professeurs ou médecins. Les mères musulmanes et africaines ne sont pas de moins bonnes mères que les autres françaises ou résidentes en France. Et les musulmans ne sont pas beaucoup plus pratiquants que ne le sont aujourd’hui les fidèles des autres monothéismes.

L’islam n’est pas une menace pour la France ; il en est une composante depuis le VIIIe siècle. C’est même par lui, et par les philosophes juifs, que la pensée grecque est arrivée en France au tournant du premier millénaire. Et jamais le monde ne s’est mieux porté que quand judaïsme, chrétienté et Islam travaillaient ensemble à faire triompher la raison sur l’obscurantisme.

Bien sûr, on doit tout faire pour faciliter l’intégration des migrants, favoriser la réussite de leurs enfants ; et s’opposer à toutes les tentatives religieuses, d’où qu’elles viennent, pour imposer une conception du monde, ou un mode de vie, contraires aux règles de la laïcité, non respectueuses des droits des femmes ou, plus généralement, violant les lois de la République. Ce n’est pas le cas en France de la quasi-totalité des gens de foi, quelle que soit leur foi. Et en particulier ce n’est pas le cas des musulmans.

Discours hostiles

Ces discours hostiles aux musulmans de France sont mortifères. En particulier quand ils viennent de Juifs, qui devraient ne pas oublier que l’antisémitisme vise à la fois les uns et les autres. Il faut donc à tout prix dénoncer les discours délirants d’Eric Zemmour, de William Goldnadel, ou même, dans de trop nombreuses de ses déclarations, d’Alain Finkielkraut ; et de tant d’autres.

En particulier, il est triste de voir des descendants de Juifs d’Algérie oublier le rôle magnifique que les musulmans algériens ont joué pour soutenir et protéger leurs parents, aux temps horribles de l’antisémitisme triomphant en métropole, et plus encore en Algérie, sous Vichy, sous Giraud, et même sous de Gaulle.

Il ne serait pas de l’intérêt de la communauté juive française que les musulmans de France en viennent à penser que leurs concitoyens juifs se joignent à ceux qui veulent les chasser du pays, alors que les deux communautés sont encore considérées par d’autres Français comme des nouveaux venus indésirables. Ce serait aussi faire le jeu de ce qui aimerait importer en Europe le tragique conflit du Moyen-Orient.

Ne pas oublier le passé

La France ne se résume pas à un passé, souvent insupportable, ni à une histoire, souvent critiquable. La France n’est pas à prendre en bloc, à vénérer en tant que telle. Elle doit savoir critiquer son propre rôle dans l’esclavage, dans le colonialisme, dans la xénophobie, dans l’antisémitisme, dans la collaboration, dans la destruction de la nature. Elle ne doit pas céder à ces fantasmes de « grand remplacement », et elle doit se souvenir qu’elle porte le nom d’un peuple envahisseur, et qu’elle est, depuis son origine, le lieu privilégié d’installation d’innombrables peuples, dont chaque Français, d’où qu’il vienne, est l’héritier.

Elle ne doit pas oublier non plus que ce qui se cache aujourd’hui derrière le « souverainisme » désigne en fait la même xénophobie, la même fermeture, la même absence de confiance en soi que les idéologies anti-italienne, antipolonaise, antiarménienne, et antisémites des siècles passés.

La France est un devenir dont le passé ne peut être pris en bloc, mais doit être soigneusement trié, selon des critères que, justement, la République française a contribué à construire.

La France n’est grande que quand elle est ouverte, accueillante, sûre d’elle-même. Quand elle se construit, siècle après siècle en confiance, dans le brassage et l’intégration d’idées et de familles nouvelles, venues enrichir la communauté nationale. Quand elle permet de donner à la mondialisation la dimension qui lui manque tant, celle de la démocratie, de la justice sociale, et de la défense des libertés, contre toutes les dictatures.

Voir par ailleurs:

Rod Dreher: « Les Américains sont-ils redevenus conservateurs? »

FIGAROVOX/ENTRETIEN – Donald Trump participe ce vendredi à la «Marche pour la vie» de Washington, et la Cour suprême des États-Unis est redevenue majoritairement conservatrice sous son mandat. L’essayiste américain Rod Dreher nuance pourtant ce basculement politique.
Paul Sugy
Le Figaro
24 janvier 2020

Rod Dreher est un journaliste et écrivain américain, éditorialiste à l’American Conservative. Il a publié Comment être chrétien dans un monde qui ne l’est plus: le pari bénédictin (Artège, 2017).


FIGAROVOX. – Donald Trump assiste ce vendredi à la «Marche pour la vie» à Washington. C’est la première fois qu’un président américain y participe. Pourtant il y a quelques années, il se déclarait «pro-choix»…

Rod DREHER. – La participation de Donald Trump est entièrement opportuniste. Il ne me semble pas qu’il ait des convictions morales solides. Il a découvert que les chrétiens conservateurs évangéliques le soutiennent, ils sont eux-mêmes pro-vie donc finalement il leur donne ce qu’ils veulent. Il est peut-être hypocrite à propos du droit à l’avortement, mais ce qu’il faut retenir, c’est qu’il a nommé des juges pro-vie à la Cour Suprême. Et je préfère avoir un président hypocrite qui reste constant dans sa politique sur l’avortement, qu’un président qui soit sincèrement pro-vie mais qui ne soit pas suffisamment engagé pour cette cause…

Est-il réellement «le président le plus pro-vie de l’histoire» comme l’a expliqué Russel T. Vought au Daily Wire?

Je ne connais pas la réponse à cette question. Il se peut qu’il le soit, mais George W. Bush était fermement engagé pour la vie également. Il ne faut pas oublier que les alliés de Trump comme ses ennemis adorent les exagérations pour parler de lui… Et encore une fois, l’essentiel est dans ce qu’il fait et non pas dans la sincérité de ses actions.

Le droit à l’avortement est-il une nouvelle ligne de fracture pour la politique américaine?

Non, l’avortement n’est pas une nouvelle fracture, c’est une ligne de clivage depuis les années 1980 lors de la première campagne électorale de Ronald Reagan. Le fait que l’avortement demeure une fracture depuis toutes ces années est particulièrement intéressant: le pays a beaucoup évolué, même au sujet de la libération sexuelle.

Tous les vieux combats culturels concernant les questions de sexualité ont été perdus par la droite… à l’exception de l’avortement.

Un rapport de 2003 publié dans The Atlantic par Thomas B. Edsall intitulé «Blue Movie» montre de manière éloquente comment les questions de sexualité, incluant l’avortement, permettent de prédire avec précision le parti pour lequel les personnes interrogées vont voter. Depuis, les États-Unis sont devenus plus libéraux sur ces questions. La pornographie s’est répandue et est devenue largement accessible. Le mariage homosexuel a gagné un soutien majoritaire à une vitesse fulgurante et particulièrement auprès des jeunes. Après l’arrêt Obergefell qui déclare le droit constitutionnel du mariage homosexuel, pour les chrétiens la question des droits des homosexuels n’est plus centrée sur l’homosexualité elle-même mais sur la confrontation entre les droits LGBT et la liberté de conscience des croyants. Tous les vieux combats culturels concernant les questions de sexualité ont été perdus par la droite… à l’exception de l’avortement. Étrangement, l’opinion publique à propos de l’avortement n’a pas véritablement évolué depuis 1973. La plupart des Américains sont favorables à l’avortement, qui est légalisé, mais en y appliquant des restrictions. Alors qu’en 1973 l’arrêt Roe v. Wade prévoit un avortement sans restrictions.

Les miracles de la médecine actuelle qui sauve la vie de bébés nés grands prématurés sont plus parlants pour cette génération que les sermons des prêtres.

Ce qui est particulièrement intéressant, c’est que même si les «millennials» sont bien plus libres sur les questions de sexualité que les générations précédentes, et malgré le fait qu’ils sont la génération la plus laïque de l’histoire des États-Unis, l’opposition à un avortement sans restriction demeure forte parmi eux. Je ne suis pas certain d’avoir la clef d’explication de ce phénomène mais je pense que la technologie est un élément de compréhension. Les avancées des échographies ont permis aux gens de véritablement voir pour la première fois ce qu’il se passe dans l’utérus et de prendre conscience qu’ils n’y voient pas qu’un morceau de chair mais un être humain en train de se développer. Les miracles de la médecine actuelle qui sauve la vie de bébés nés grands prématurés sont plus parlants pour cette génération que les sermons des prêtres.

Dans la campagne pour sa réélection, Donald Trump va-t-il tenter de rallier un électorat profondément conservateur?

Oui évidemment, il n’a plus grand monde à convaincre. La probabilité de la réélection de Donald Trump dépend de sa capacité à rallier sa base et à convaincre les conservateurs qui rechignent à voter démocrate, mais qui n’avaient pas voté pour lui en 2016 à cause de doutes profonds sur sa personne.

Les activistes progressistes ont désigné les chrétiens conservateurs comme leur principal ennemi.

Trump n’a pas été aussi mauvais que ce que je craignais. Pour autant je ne crois pas qu’il a été un bon président. Néanmoins, je vais sûrement voter pour lui en 2020, et ce pour une bonne raison: le parti démocrate est extrêmement hostile envers les conservateurs religieux et sociétaux mais aussi envers nos libertés fondamentales. Leur combat pour la théorie du genre et l’extension maximale des droits de la communauté LGBT sont les principaux piliers du programme démocrate. Les activistes progressistes ont désigné les chrétiens conservateurs comme leur principal ennemi. Sur ces questions et sur la protection de la liberté d’expression, on ne peut pas leur faire confiance. Ils sont devenus les ennemis de la liberté.

Il est clair que le nombre d’Américains qui est d’accord avec les traditionalistes sur ces questions diminue. Je crois que dans les mois et les décennies à venir, les juges fédéraux conservateurs que Trump a nommés seront les seuls à offrir une véritable sauvegarde de la liberté religieuse aux États-Unis. Les Républicains au Congrès et à la Maison Blanche n’ont pas vraiment agi en faveur du renforcement de la liberté religieuse contre les revendications des droits LGBT. Ils sont terrifiés à l’idée de passer pour bigots. Malheureusement, beaucoup de chrétiens américains ont eu des faux espoirs avec le Grand Old Party, en pensant qu’il suffisait de voter républicain pour gagner sur ces questions. En réalité, dans tous les domaines, académiques, médicaux, juridiques, dans les entreprises, les droits LGBT et l’idéologie du genre sont triomphants. Voter républicain est le seul moyen de ralentir cette «Blitzkrieg» progressiste et peut être à travers des biais juridiques y mettre fin dans le futur. Ce n’est pas grand-chose, mais c’est tout ce que nous pouvons faire pour le moment sur le front politique.

À en croire les journaux français, les États-Unis vivent en ce moment un crépuscule du progressisme… Est-ce aussi votre sentiment?

C’est faux, mais je peux comprendre que cela semble apparaître de cette manière pour quelqu’un qui ne s’intéresse qu’au pouvoir politique. Il est vrai que Trump a la présidence, les Républicains tiennent la majorité au Congrès et pour ces deux raisons les Républicains nomment un certain nombre de juges fédéraux.

L’émergence d’un « woke capitalism  », un capitalisme progressiste, est un des faits politiques les plus significatifs de la décennie.

C’est un élément important mais ce n’est pas suffisant face au pouvoir culturel immense que les progressistes détiennent de leur côté. Ils contrôlent les plus grands médias d’information et de divertissement, ils contrôlent les écoles et les universités, la médecine et le droit et aussi de manière assez improbable, les grandes entreprises. L’émergence d’un «woke capitalism», un capitalisme progressiste, est un des faits politiques les plus significatifs de la décennie. La majorité des conservateurs n’a pas conscience de leur puissance ni de la manière dont ils se sont clairement positionnés contre le conservatisme social. Ils sont encore attachés à l’ère reaganienne et à illusion que le monde des affaires est conservateur.

Quand Ronald Reagan a été élu président en 1980, il a ouvert une nouvelle ère dans la politique américaine, dominée par la droite, plus précisément par les néolibéraux de la droite. Cette ère s’est achevée avec Obama et Trump, mais l’avenir n’est pas écrit. Si on avait dit à un électeur conservateur au moment de l’investiture de Reagan que 30 ans plus tard le christianisme serait déclinant en Amérique, que le mariage homosexuel et l’adoption seraient légaux, que la pornographie violente serait uniformément répandue et accessible à tous y compris aux enfants grâce aux smartphones, que les médecins seraient autorisés à retirer des poitrines féminines à des jeunes filles pour devenir des hommes transgenres, je pense que cet électeur ne croirait pas une seconde qu’un pays qui autorise cela puisse être véritablement conservateur. Et pourtant c’est la réalité de l’Amérique d’aujourd’hui.

Les chrétiens traditionnels, catholiques, protestants, orthodoxes, ont perdu la guerre culturelle.

Si nous sommes un pays conservateur, pourquoi n’avons-nous pas eu un mouvement comme celui de la Manif pour tous, qui pourtant en France, au pays de la laïcité, a conduit des centaines de milliers de personnes dans les rues de Paris pour manifester? J’ai le sentiment que nous sommes plus un pays houllebecquien, même si les conservateurs ne veulent pas l’admettre. Les chrétiens traditionnels, catholiques, protestants, orthodoxes, ont perdu la guerre culturelle. Nous devons nous préparer à une longue période d’occupation et de résistance. C’est ce que j’appelle choisir l’option bénédictine. Même si mon livre s’est bien vendu aux États-Unis, proportionnellement il a eu plus de succès en Europe. En France, en Italie, en Espagne et dans d’autres pays européens mes lecteurs sont des catholiques de moins de 40 ans. Lorsque vous êtes aussi jeune et que vous allez encore à la messe, vous n’avez pas à être convaincu de la vérité du diagnostic que je porte sur le malaise culturel actuel. De même, vous n’avez pas besoin d’être convaincu de l’impuissance de l’église post-soixante-huitarde dans cette crise. En Amérique, les chrétiens n’ont pas encore vu pleinement cette vérité. Cela nous attend dans cette nouvelle décennie. Ce sera un choc douloureux mais nous ne serons pas en mesure de constituer une vraie résistance tant que nous n’accepterons pas cette réalité. Après Trump, le déluge.


Elimination du général Soleimani: Attention, une décision irresponsable peut en cacher une autre ! (Guess who just pulled another decisive blow against Iran’s rogue adventurism ?)

3 janvier, 2020

CA502K5W8AAepmbImage may contain: 2 people"Soleimani is my commander" says the lower graffiti on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad at the very end of 2019LONG LIVE TRUMP ! (On Tehran streets after Soleimani's elimination, Jan. 3, 2019)
Image result for damet garm poeticPersian is a beautifully lyrical and highly emotional language, one that adds a touch of poetry to everyday phrases. Discover these 18 poetic Persian phrases you'll wish English had.

3 a.m. There is a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Who do you want answering the phone? Hillary Clinton ad (2008)
The assassination of Iran Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani is an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.  Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iranian Foreign Minister)
Le président Trump vient de jeter un bâton de dynamite dans une poudrière, et il doit au peuple américain une explication. C’est une énorme escalade dans une région déjà dangereuse. Joe Biden
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. Mike Pompeo
Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands. His demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice. Proud of President Trump for doing the strong and right thing. Nikki Haley
To Iran and its proxy militias: We will not accept the continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region. Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner and place of our choosing. We urge the Iranian regime to end malign activities. Mark Esper (US Defense Secretary)
At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week. This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world. US state department
In March 2007, Soleimani was included on a list of Iranian individuals targeted with sanctions in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747. On 18 May 2011, he was sanctioned again by the U.S. along with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials due to his alleged involvement in providing material support to the Syrian government. On 24 June 2011, the Official Journal of the European Union said the three Iranian Revolutionary Guard members now subject to sanctions had been « providing equipment and support to help the Syrian government suppress protests in Syria ». The Iranians added to the EU sanctions list were two Revolutionary Guard commanders, Soleimani, Mohammad Ali Jafari, and the Guard’s deputy commander for intelligence, Hossein Taeb. Soleimani was also sanctioned by the Swiss government in September 2011 on the same grounds cited by the European Union. In 2007, the U.S. included him in a « Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism », which forbade U.S. citizens from doing business with him. The list, published in the EU’s Official Journal on 24 June 2011, also included a Syrian property firm, an investment fund and two other enterprises accused of funding the Syrian government. The list also included Mohammad Ali Jafari and Hossein Taeb. On 13 November 2018, the U.S. sanctioned an Iraqi military leader named Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi and others who allegedly were acting on Soleimani’s behalf in financing military actions in Syria or otherwise providing support for terrorism in the region. Wikipedia
The historic nuclear accord between a US-led group of countries and Iran was good news for a man who some consider to be the Middle East’s most effective covert operative. As a result of the deal, Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force and the general responsible for overseeing Iran’s network of proxy organizations, will be removed from European Union sanctions lists once the agreement is implemented, and taken off a UN sanctions list after eight or fewer years. Iran obtained some key concessions as a result of the nuclear agreement, including access to an estimated $150 billion in frozen assets; the lifting of a UN arms embargo, the eventual end to sanctions related to the country’s ballistic missile program; the ability to operate over 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and to run stable elements through centrifuges at the once-clandestine and heavily guarded Fordow facility; nuclear assistance from the US and its partners; and the ability to stall inspections of sensitive sites for as long as 24 days. In light of these accomplishments, the de-listing of a general responsible for coordinating anti-US militia groups in Iraq — someone who may be responsible for the deaths of US soldiers — almost seems gratuitous. It’s unlikely that the entire deal hinged on a single Iranian officer’s ability to open bank accounts in EU states or travel within Europe. But it got into the deal anyway. So did a reprieve for Bank Saderat, which the US sanctioned in 2006 for facilitating money transfers to Iranian regime-supported terror groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. As part of the deal, Bank Saderat will leave the EU sanctions list on the same timetable as Suleimani, although it will remain under US designation. Like Suleimani’s removal, Bank Saderat’s apparent legalization in Europe suggests that for the purposes of the deal, the US and its partners lumped a broad range of restrictions under the heading of « nuclear-related » sanctions. Suleimani and Bank Saderat are still going to remain under US sanctions related to the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and support for terrorism. US sanctions have broad extraterritorial reach, and the US Treasury Department has turned into the scourge of compliance desks at banks around the world. But that matters to a somewhat lesser degree inside of the EU, where companies have actually been exempted from complying with certain US « secondary sanctions » on Iran since the mid-1990s. (…) Some time in the next few years, Qasem Suleimani will be able to travel and do business inside the EU, while a bank that’s facilitated the funding of US-listed terror group’s will be allowed to enter the European market. As part of the nuclear deal, the US and its partners bargained away much of the international leverage against some of the more problematic sectors in the Iranian regime, including entities whose wrongdoing went well beyond the nuclear realm. The result is the almost complete reversal of the sanctions regime in Europe. Iran successfully pushed for a broad definition of « nuclear-related sanctions, » and bargained hard — and effectively — for a maximal degree of sanctions relief. And the de-listing of Bank Saderat and Qasem Suleimani, along with the late-breaking effort to classify arms trade restrictions as purely nuclear-related, demonstrates just how far the US and its partners were willing to go to close a historic nuclear deal. Armin Rosen
This was a combatant. There’s no doubt that he fit the description of ‘combatant.’ He was a uniformed member of an enemy military who was actively planning to kill Americans; American soldiers and probably, as well, American civilians. It was the right thing to do. It was legally justified, and I think we should applaud the president for his decision. We send a very powerful message to the Iranian government that we will not stand by as the American embassy is attacked — which is an act of war — and we will not stand by as plans are being made to attack and kill American soldiers. I think every president who had any degree of courage would do the same thing, and I applaud our president for doing it, and the members of the military who carried it out, risking their own lives and safety. I think this is an action that will have saved lives in the end.  The president doesn’t need congressional authorization, or any legal authorization … The president, as the commander-in-chief of the army is entitled to take preventive actions to save the lives of the American military. This is very similar to what Barack Obama did with Ben Rhodes’s authorization and approval — without Congress’s authorization — in killing Osama bin Laden. In fact, that was worse, in some ways, because that was a revenge act. There was no real threat that Osama bin Laden would carry out any future terrorist acts. Moreover, he was not a member of an official armed forces in uniform, so it’s a fortiori from what Obama did and Rhodes did that President Trump has complete legal authority in a much more compelling way to have taken the military action that was taken today. Alan Dershowitz
Trump in full fascist 101 mode-,steal and lie – untill there’s nothing left and start a war – He’s so idiotic he doesn’t know he just attacked Iran And that’s not like anywhere else. John Cusak
Dear , The USA has disrespected your country, your flag, your people. 52% of us humbly apologize. We want peace with your nation. We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime. We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us. . Rose McGowan
On se réveille dans un monde plus dangereux (…) et l’escalade militaire est toujours dangereuse. Amélie de Montchalin (secrétaire d’État française aux Affaires européennes)
C’est d’abord l’Iranienne qui va vous répondre et celle-là ne peut que se réjouir de ce qui s’est passé. Je parle en mon nom mais je peux vous l’assurer aussi au nom de millions d’Iraniens, probablement la majorité d’entre eux : cet homme était haï, il incarnait le mal absolu ! Je suis révoltée par les commentaires que j’ai entendus venant de certains pseudo-spécialistes de l’Iran, le présentant sur une chaîne de télévision comme un individu charismatique et populaire. Il faut ne rien connaître et ne rien comprendre à ce pays pour tenir ce genre de sottises. Pour l’Iranien lambda, Soleimani était un monstre, ce qui se fait de pire dans la République islamique. (…) Soleimani en était un élément essentiel, aussi puissant que Khameini et ce n’est pas de la propagande que d’affirmer que sa mort ne choque presque personne. (…) Je ne suis pas dans le secret des généraux iraniens mais une simple observatrice informée. Le régime est aux abois depuis des mois, totalement isolé. Ils savent qu’ils n’ont pas d’avenir, la rue et le peuple n’en veulent plus, ils ne peuvent pas vraiment compter sur l’Union européenne et pas plus sur la Chine. Ils n’ont aucun avenir et c’est ce qui rend la situation particulièrement dangereuse car ils sont dans une logique suicidaire. (…) En réalité, ils ont tout perdu et ne peuvent plus sortir du pays pour s’installer à l’étranger car des mandats ont été lancés contre la plupart d’entre eux. Les sanctions ont asséché la manne des pétrodollars et c’est essentiel car il n’y avait pas d’adhésion idéologique à ce régime. (…) Donald Trump (…) a considérablement affaibli ce régime, comme jamais auparavant, et peut-être même a-t-il signé leur arrêt de mort. Nous verrons. Lors des manifestations populaires, à Téhéran et dans d’autre villes, les noms de Khameini, de Rohani, de Soleimani étaient hués. Il n’y a jamais eu de slogans anti-Trump ou contre les Etats-Unis. (…) [Mais] hélas ils n’abandonneront pas le pouvoir tranquillement, j’en suis convaincue. Mahnaz Shirali
The whole “protest” against the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad last week was almost certainly a Suleimani-staged operation to make it look as if Iraqis wanted America out when in fact it was the other way around. The protesters were paid pro-Iranian militiamen. No one in Baghdad was fooled by this. In a way, it’s what got Suleimani killed. He so wanted to cover his failures in Iraq he decided to start provoking the Americans there by shelling their forces, hoping they would overreact, kill Iraqis and turn them against the United States. Trump, rather than taking the bait, killed Suleimani instead. I have no idea whether this was wise or what will be the long-term implications. But (…) Suleimani is part of a system called the Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution has managed to use oil money and violence to stay in power since 1979 — and that is Iran’s tragedy, a tragedy that the death of one Iranian general will not change. Today’s Iran is the heir to a great civilization and the home of an enormously talented people and significant culture. Wherever Iranians go in the world today, they thrive as scientists, doctors, artists, writers and filmmakers — except in the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose most famous exports are suicide bombing, cyberterrorism and proxy militia leaders. The very fact that Suleimani was probably the most famous Iranian in the region speaks to the utter emptiness of this regime, and how it has wasted the lives of two generations of Iranians by looking for dignity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways. (…) in the coming days there will be noisy protests in Iran, the burning of American flags and much crying for the “martyr.” The morning after the morning after? There will be a thousand quiet conversations inside Iran that won’t get reported. They will be about the travesty that is their own government and how it has squandered so much of Iran’s wealth and talent on an imperial project that has made Iran hated in the Middle East. And yes, the morning after, America’s Sunni Arab allies will quietly celebrate Suleimani’s death, but we must never forget that it is the dysfunction of many of the Sunni Arab regimes — their lack of freedom, modern education and women’s empowerment — that made them so weak that Iran was able to take them over from the inside with its proxies. (…) the Middle East, particularly Iran, is becoming an environmental disaster area — running out of water, with rising desertification and overpopulation. If governments there don’t stop fighting and come together to build resilience against climate change — rather than celebrating self-promoting military frauds who conquer failed states and make them fail even more — they’re all doomed. Thomas L. Friedman
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi. Suleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon. He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria. So his death is of enormous significance. The question of course is how does Iran respond in terms of direct action by its military and Revolutionary Guard Corps forces? And how does it direct its proxies—the Iranian-supported Shia militia in Iraq and Syria and southern Lebanon, and throughout the world? (…) The reasoning seems to be to show in the most significant way possible that the U.S. is just not going to allow the continued violence—the rocketing of our bases, the killing of an American contractor, the attacks on shipping, on unarmed drones—without a very significant response. Many people had rightly questioned whether American deterrence had eroded somewhat because of the relatively insignificant responses to the earlier actions. This clearly was of vastly greater importance. Of course it also, per the Defense Department statement, was a defensive action given the reported planning and contingencies that Suleimani was going to Iraq to discuss and presumably approve. This was in response to the killing of an American contractor, the wounding of American forces, and just a sense of how this could go downhill from here if the Iranians don’t realize that this cannot continue. (…) Iran is in a very precarious economic situation, it is very fragile domestically—they’ve killed many, many hundreds if not thousands of Iranian citizens who were demonstrating on the streets of Iran in response to the dismal economic situation and the mismanagement and corruption. I just don’t see the Iranians as anywhere near as supportive of the regime at this point as they were decades ago during the Iran-Iraq War. Clearly the supreme leader has to consider that as Iran considers the potential responses to what the U.S. has done. It will be interesting now to see if there is a U.S. diplomatic initiative to reach out to Iran and to say, “Okay, the next move could be strikes against your oil infrastructure and your forces in your country—where does that end?” (…) We haven’t declared war, but we have taken a very, very significant action. (…) We’ve taken numerous actions to augment our air defenses in the region, our offensive capabilities in the region, in terms of general purpose and special operations forces and air assets. The Pentagon has considered the implications, the potential consequences and has done a great deal to mitigate the risks—although you can’t fully mitigate the potential risks.  (…) Again what was the alternative? Do it in Iran? Think of the implications of that. This is the most formidable adversary that we have faced for decades. He is a combination of CIA director, JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] commander, and special presidential envoy for the region. This is a very significant effort to reestablish deterrence, which obviously had not been shored up by the relatively insignificant responses up until now. (…) Obviously all sides will suffer if this becomes a wider war, but Iran has to be very worried that—in the state of its economy, the significant popular unrest and demonstrations against the regime—that this is a real threat to the regime in a way that we have not seen prior to this. (…) The incentive would be to get out from under the sanctions, which are crippling. Could we get back to the Iran nuclear deal plus some additional actions that could address the shortcomings of the agreement? This is a very significant escalation, and they don’t know where this goes any more than anyone else does. Yes, they can respond and they can retaliate, and that can lead to further retaliation—and that it is clear now that the administration is willing to take very substantial action. This is a pretty clarifying moment in that regard. (…) Right now they are probably doing what anyone does in this situation: considering the menu of options. There could be actions in the gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz by proxies in the regional countries, and in other continents where the Quds Force have activities. There’s a very considerable number of potential responses by Iran, and then there’s any number of potential U.S. responses to those actions. Given the state of their economy, I think they have to be very leery, very concerned that that could actually result in the first real challenge to the regime certainly since the Iran-Iraq War. (…) The [Iraqi] prime minister has said that he would put forward legislation to [kick the U.S. military out of Iraq], although I don’t think that the majority of Iraqi leaders want to see that given that ISIS is still a significant threat. They are keenly aware that it was not the Iranian supported militias that defeated the Islamic State, it was U.S.-enabled Iraqi armed forces and special forces that really fought the decisive battles. Gen. David Petraeus
[Qasem Soleimani] was our most significant Iranian adversary during my four years in Iraq, [and] certainly when I was the Central Command commander, and very much so when I was the director of the CIA. He is unquestionably the most significant and important — or was the most significant and important — Iranian figure in the region, the most important architect of the effort by Iran to solidify control of the Shia crescent, and the operational commander of the various initiatives that were part of that effort. (…)  He sent a message to me through the president of Iraq in late March of 2008, during the battle of Basra, when we were supporting the Iraqi army forces that were battling the Shia militias in Basra that were supported, of course, by Qasem Soleimani and the Quds Force. He sent a message through the president that said, « General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qasem Soleimani, control the policy of Iran for Iraq, and also for Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. » And the implication of that was, « If you want to deal with Iran to resolve this situation in Basra, you should deal with me, not with the Iranian diplomats. » And his power only grew from that point in time. By the way, I did not — I actually told the president to tell Qasem Soleimani to pound sand. (…) I suspect that the leaders in Washington were seeking to reestablish deterrence, which clearly had eroded to some degree, perhaps by the relatively insignificant actions in response to these strikes on the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia, shipping in the Gulf and our $130 million dollar drone that was shot down. And we had seen increased numbers of attacks against US forces in Iraq. So I’m sure that there was a lot of discussion about what could show the Iranians most significantly that we are really serious, that they should not continue to escalate. Now, obviously, there is a menu of options that they have now and not just in terms of direct Iranian action against perhaps our large bases in the various Gulf states, shipping in the Gulf, but also through proxy actions — and not just in the region, but even in places such as Latin America and Africa and Europe. (…) I am not privy to the intelligence that was the foundation for the decision, which clearly was, as was announced, this was a defensive action, that Soleimani was going into the country to presumably approve further attacks. Without really being in the inner circle on that, I think it’s very difficult to either second-guess or to even think through what the recommendation might have been. Again, it is impossible to overstate the significance of this action. This is much more substantial than the killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s even more substantial than the killing of Baghdadi. (…) my understanding is that we have significantly shored up our air defenses, our air assets, our ground defenses and so forth. There’s been the movement of a lot of forces into the region in months, not just in the past days. So there’s been a very substantial augmentation of our defensive capabilities and also our offensive capabilities.  And (…) the question Iran has to ask itself is, « Where does this end? » If they now retaliate in a significant way — and considering how vulnerable their infrastructure and forces are at a time when their economy is in dismal shape because of the sanctions. So Iran is not in a position of strength, although it clearly has many, many options available to it, as I mentioned, not just with their armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, but also with these Quds Force-supported proxy elements throughout the region in the world. (…) I think one of the questions is, « What will the diplomatic ramifications of this be? » And again, there have been celebrations in some places in Iraq at the loss of Qasem Soleimani. So, again, there’s no tears being shed in certain parts of the country. And one has to ask what happens in the wake of the killing of the individual who had a veto, virtually, over the leadership of Iraq. What transpires now depends on the calculations of all these different elements. And certainly the US, I would assume, is considering diplomatic initiatives as well, reaching out and saying, « Okay. Does that send a sufficient message of our seriousness? Now, would you like to return to the table? » Or does Iran accelerate the nuclear program, which would, of course, precipitate something further from the United States? Very likely. So lots of calculations here. And I think we’re still very early in the deliberations on all the different ramifications of this very significant action. (…) I think that this particular episode has been fairly impressively handled. There’s been restraint in some of the communications methods from the White House. The Department of Defense put out, I think, a solid statement. It has taken significant actions, again, to shore up our defenses and our offensive capabilities. The question now, I think, is what is the diplomatic initiative that follows this? What will the State Department and the Secretary of State do now to try to get back to the table and reduce or end the battlefield consequences? [The flag that Donald Trump posted last night, no words] (…) I think relative to some of his tweets that was quite restrained. Gen. David Petraeus
Washington gave Israel a green light to assassinate Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Monday. Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that « there is an American-Israeli agreement » that Soleimani is a « threat to the two countries’ interests in the region. » It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East. (…) The agreement between Israel and the United States, according to the report, comes three years after Washington thwarted an Israeli attempt to kill the general. The report says Israel was « on the verge » of assassinating Soleimani three years ago, near Damascus, but the United States warned the Iranian leadership of the plan, revealing that Israel was closely tracking the Iranian general. Haaretz (2018)
Most revered military leader’ now joins ‘austere religious scholar’ and ‘mourners’ trying to storm our embassy as word choices that make normal people wonder whose side the American mainstream media is on. Buck Sexton
Make no mistake – this is bigger than taking out Osama Bin Laden. Ranj Alaaldin
The reported deaths of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani and the Iraqi commander of the militia that killed an American last week was a bold and decisive military action made possible by excellent intelligence and the courage of America’s service members. His death is a huge loss for Iran’s regime and its Iraqi proxies, and a major operational and psychological victory for the United States. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), led by Suleimani, was responsible for the deaths of more than 600 Americans in Iraq between 2003-2011, and countless more injured. He was a chief architect behind Iran’s continuing reign of terror in the region. This strike against one of the world’s most odious terrorists is no different than the mission which took out Osama bin Laden – it is, in fact, even more justifiable since he was in a foreign country directing terrorist attacks against Americans. Lt. Col. (Ret.) James Carafano (Heritage Foundation)
This is a major blow. I would argue that this is probably the most major decapitation strike the United States has ever carried out. … This is a man who controlled a transnational foreign legion that was controlling governments in numerous different countries. He had a hell of a lot of power and a hell of a lot of control. You have to be a strong leader in order to get these people to work with you, know how and when to play them off one another, and also know which Iranians do I need within the IRGC-QF, which Lebanese do I need, which Iraqis do I need … that’s not something you can just pick up at a local five and dime. It takes decades of experience. (…) It’s an incredible two-fer. This is another one of those old hands. These guys don’t grow on trees. It takes time. Iran has been at war with the United States since the Islamic Revolutionary regime took power in Tehran in 1979. To say that we are going to war or that this is yet another American escalation — I think we need to be a little more detailed. Over the past year, Kata’ib Hizballah, was launching rockets and mortars at Americans in Iraq and eventually killed one. Over the past couple of years we’ve had a number of issues in the Gulf, we’ve had a number of issues in different countries, we’ve had international terrorism issues, you name it, you can throw everything at the wall, and the Iranians have in some way been behind some of it. Even arm supplies to the Taliban … so this didn’t just appear in a vacuum because ‘we didn’t like the Iranians. What the administration must offer now is firm diplomacy backed by the continuing, credible threat of the use of military force. President Trump has wisely shown that he will act with the full powers of his office when American interests are threatened, and the extremist regime in Tehran would be wise to take notice. Phillip Smyth (Washington Institute)
From a military and diplomatic perspective, Soleimani was Iran’s David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal and Brett McGurk all rolled into one. And that’s now the problem Iran faces. I do not know of a single Iranian who was more indispensable to his government’s ambitions in the Middle East. From 2015 to 2017, when we were in the heat of the fighting against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, I would watch Soleimani shuttle back and forth between Syria and Iraq. When the war to prop up Bashar al-Assad was going poorly, Soleimani would leave Iraq for Syria. And when Iranian-backed militias in Iraq began to struggle against the Islamic State, Soleimani would leave Syria for Iraq. That’s now a problem for Iran. Just as the United States often faces a shortage of human capital—not all general officers and diplomats are created equal, sadly, and we are not exactly blessed with a surplus of Arabic speakers in our government—Iran also doesn’t have a lot of talent to go around. One of the reasons I thought Iran erred so often in Yemen—giving strategic weapons such as anti-ship cruise missiles to a bunch of undertrained Houthi yahoos, for example—was a lack of adult supervision. Qassem Soleimani was the adult supervision. He was spread thin over the past decade, but he was nonetheless a serious if nefarious adversary of the United States and its partners in the region. And Iran and its partners will now feel his loss greatly. Soleimani was at least partially, and in many cases directly, responsible for dozens if not hundreds of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq going back to the height of the Iraq War. Andrew Exum
Soleimani is responsible for the Iranian military terror reign across the Middle East. Many Arab Muslims across the region are celebrating today. Unfortunately, many US Democrats are not. Instead, they are criticizing President Trump. If the death of Soleimani leads to any escalation, it is the Islamic regime of Iran that is to blame. The same Islamic terror regime that past President Obama wanted to align as the US closest ally in the Middle East, handing them the disastrous nuclear deal, as well as billions of dollars in cash. As Iran considers the US “big satan” and Israel as “little satan”, Israel is on high alert for any Iranian attacks in retaliation. Iran has always viewed an attack on Israeli interests as an attack on the USA. Avi Abelow
The successful operation against Qassem Suleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. (…) President Trump has conditioned his policies on Iranian behavior. When Iran spread its malign influence, Trump acted to check it. When Iran struck, Trump hit back: never disproportionately, never definitively. He left open the possibility of negotiations. He doesn’t want to have the greater Middle East — whether Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, or Afghanistan — dominate his presidency the way it dominated those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. Best to keep the region on the back burner and watch it so it doesn’t boil over. Do not overcommit resources to this underdeveloped, war-torn, sectarian land. The result was reciprocal antagonism. In 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by his predecessor. He began jacking up sanctions. The Iranian economy turned to a shambles. This “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare deprived the Iranian war machine of revenue and drove a wedge between the Iranian public and the Iranian government. Trump offered the opportunity to negotiate a new agreement. Iran refused. And began to lash out. Last June, Iran’s fingerprints were all over two oil tankers that exploded in the Persian Gulf. Trump tightened the screws. Iran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off a military strike at the last minute and responded indirectly, with more sanctions, cyber attacks, and additional troop deployments to the region. Last September a drone fleet launched by Iranian proxies in Yemen devastated the Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Trump responded as he had to previous incidents: nonviolently. Iran slowly brought the region to a boil. First it hit boats, then drones, then the key infrastructure of a critical ally. On December 27 it went further: Members of the Kataib Hezbollah militia launched rockets at a U.S. installation near Kirkuk, Iraq. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded. An American contractor was killed. Destroying physical objects merited economic sanctions and cyber intrusions. Ending lives required a lethal response. It arrived on December 29 when F-15s pounded five Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq and Syria. At least 25 militiamen were killed. Then, when Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias organized a mob to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, setting fire to the grounds, America made a show of force and threatened severe reprisals. The angry crowd melted away. The risk to the U.S. embassy — and the possibility of another Benghazi — must have angered Trump. “The game has changed,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said hours before the assassination of Soleimani at Baghdad airport. (…) Deterrence, says Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, is credibly holding at risk something your adversary holds dear. If the reports out of Iraq are true, President Trump has put at risk the entirety of the Iranian imperial enterprise even as his maximum-pressure campaign strangles the Iranian economy and fosters domestic unrest. That will get the ayatollah’s attention. And now the United States must prepare for his answer. The bombs over Baghdad? That was Trump calling Khamenei’s bluff. The game has changed. But it isn’t over. Matthew Continetti
D’un point de vue fonctionnel, [Soleimani] était responsable de la force al-Qods des Gardiens de la Révolution, c’est-à-dire de l’ensemble des opérations menées par l’Iran dans toute la région. Cet homme avait beaucoup de secrets. Il était l’un des vecteurs, sinon le vecteur principal, du déploiement de l’influence de l’Iran. Je ne suis pas de ceux qui pensent qu’il y a une volonté expansionniste de l’Iran, mais Téhéran a développé des réseaux d’influence et c’est probablement Soleimani qui avait la haute main sur ceux-ci. Sur tous les terrains chauds de la région où l’Iran a une influence, on retrouve le général Soleimani. Il avait été localisé en Syrie ces dernières années, ce qui indique que la coordination des opérations des milices chiites dans le pays était sous sa responsabilité. Le fait qu’il ait été assassiné à Bagdad cette nuit prouve qu’il avait une importance logistique sur la coordination des milices en Irak. (…) Il ne faut pas sous-estimer l’importance de cette décision irresponsable de Donald Trump. Depuis le retrait unilatéral des Etats-Unis de l’accord sur le nucléaire, en mai 2018, les tensions avec l’Iran se sont accrues. Ce qui était très important, c’est que ces tensions étaient mesurées, sous contrôle. Elles avaient un fort impact sur la vie quotidienne des Iraniens. Pour autant, il n’y avait pas beaucoup de dérapages militaires : quelques incidents dans le golfe, le bombardement de sites pétroliers en Arabie-Saoudite. C’était un combat à fleuret moucheté. Personne ne franchissait la ligne rouge. Je crains fort qu’elle ait été franchie par cette décision, en raison de la qualité de la cible et de son importance dans le dispositif régional iranien. Les tensions s’étaient ravivées au cours des dernières heures, avec le siège de l’ambassade américaine à Bagdad, sans nul doute mené par les milices iraniennes. Il est évident que Soleimani a tenu un rôle. Cette prise d’assaut venait à la suite d’attaques ciblées des Etats-Unis. (…) Cela s’explique par le manque de sang-froid de Donald Trump. Ce matin, les démocrates s’insurgent, car cette décision a été prise sans concertation. C’est une décision à l’emporte-pièce, il a été sans doute un peu excité par les va-t-en-guerre de son camp, comme le secrétaire d’Etat Mike Pompeo, qui prône une ligne dure contre l’Iran. On y est presque. (…) Les Iraniens ne vont pas rester les deux pieds dans le même sabot. Je ne sais pas de quelles manières ils réagiront, ni où et quand. Ce ne sera sans doute pas tout de suite, mais nul doute qu’ils réagiront. Nous sommes dans une nouvelle séquence, ouverte par cet assassinat ciblé, réalisé au mépris de toutes les conventions internationales. Je ne maîtrise pas tous les paramètres, mais, à chaud, je peux imaginer qu’il y aura une recrudescence d’action militaire contre des objectifs américains, des bases militaires, des ambassades ou des intérêts sur place. Il y a également des risques pour Israël, qui sera peut-être une cible. Les milices pro-iraniennes déployées en Syrie ont une capacité de feu contre des villes israéliennes. Dans la région, il va y avoir un regain de mobilisation de toutes les forces proches de l’Iran, en Irak, au Liban et en Syrie. Je ne veux pas dire qu’il y a un risque d’embrasement général, je n’en sais rien, ce n’est pas la peine d’alimenter le fantasme. Mais la situation est infiniment préoccupante. Il y aura des conséquences, même si on ne sait pas bien les mesurer. (…) Une action sur le détroit d’Ormuz [où transitent de nombreux pétroliers] peut faire partie des mesures mises en œuvre par les Iraniens. Ils peuvent bloquer ou menacer de bloquer. Je ne pense pas qu’ils feront un blocage complet : les Iraniens font de la politique et ils savent que cela se retournerait contre eux. Mais il peut y avoir quelques arraisonnements de navires pétroliers et les cours du pétrole pourraient monter, même si cela n’avait pas été le cas après les incidents de l’été dernier dans le détroit. Didier Billion

Attention: une décision irresponsable peut en cacher une autre !

A l’heure où …

Après les attaques de pétroliers, la destruction d’installations pétrolières saoudiennes et les roquettes sur des bases américaines ayant entrainé la mort d’un citoyen américain …

Et avant sa brillante élimination par les forces américaines …

Le cerveau du dispositif terroriste des mollahs au Moyen-Orient préparait une possible deuxième attaque de l’ambassade américaine à Bagdad …

Pendant que la rue arabe comme la rue iranienne peinent à cacher leur joie …

Devinez quelle « décision irresponsable » dénoncent le parti démocrate américain, nos médias ou nos prétendus spécialistes ?

Mort du général Soleimani : « C’est une décision irresponsable de Donald Trump », estime un spécialiste de la région
Interrogé par franceinfo, Didier Billion, directeur adjoint de l’Institut de relations internationales et stratégique (Iris), spécialiste du Moyen-Orient, redoute qu’une « ligne rouge » ait été franchie.
Propos recueillis par Thomas Baïetto
France Télévisions
03/01/202

Qassem Soleimani est mort. Cet influent général iranien a été tué, vendredi 3 janvier, par une frappe américaine contre son convoi qui circulait sur l’aéroport de Bagdad (Irak). Cette élimination, ordonnée par le président américain Donald Trump, fait craindre une nouvelle escalade militaire dans la région.

Pour franceinfo, Didier Billion, directeur adjoint de l’Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques (Iris) et spécialiste du Moyen-Orient, analyse les possibles conséquences de cette mort.

Franceinfo : Pouvez-vous nous rappeler le rôle de Qassem Soleimani dans le régime iranien ?

Didier Billion : D’un point de vue fonctionnel, il était responsable de la force al-Qods des Gardiens de la Révolution, c’est-à-dire de l’ensemble des opérations menées par l’Iran dans toute la région. Cet homme avait beaucoup de secrets. Il était l’un des vecteurs, sinon le vecteur principal, du déploiement de l’influence de l’Iran. Je ne suis pas de ceux qui pensent qu’il y a une volonté expansionniste de l’Iran, mais Téhéran a développé des réseaux d’influence et c’est probablement Soleimani qui avait la haute main sur ceux-ci.

Sur tous les terrains chauds de la région où l’Iran a une influence, on retrouve le général Soleimani.Didier Billion à franceinfo

Il avait été localisé en Syrie ces dernières années, ce qui indique que la coordination des opérations des milices chiites dans le pays était sous sa responsabilité. Le fait qu’il ait été assassiné à Bagdad cette nuit prouve qu’il avait une importance logistique sur la coordination des milices en Irak.

Comment analysez-vous la décision des Etats-Unis de le tuer ?

Il ne faut pas sous-estimer l’importance de cette décision irresponsable de Donald Trump. Depuis le retrait unilatéral des Etats-Unis de l’accord sur le nucléaire, en mai 2018, les tensions avec l’Iran se sont accrues. Ce qui était très important, c’est que ces tensions étaient mesurées, sous contrôle. Elles avaient un fort impact sur la vie quotidienne des Iraniens. Pour autant, il n’y avait pas beaucoup de dérapages militaires : quelques incidents dans le golfe, le bombardement de sites pétroliers en Arabie-Saoudite. C’était un combat à fleuret moucheté. Personne ne franchissait la ligne rouge.

Je crains fort qu’elle ait été franchie par cette décision, en raison de la qualité de la cible et de son importance dans le dispositif régional iranien. Les tensions s’étaient ravivées au cours des dernières heures, avec le siège de l’ambassade américaine à Bagdad, sans nul doute mené par les milices iraniennes. Il est évident que Soleimani a tenu un rôle. Cette prise d’assaut venait à la suite d’attaques ciblées des Etats-Unis.

Tout indiquait une montée en tension, mais là, ce n’est pas seulement un mort de plus, c’est très important.Didier Billionà franceinfo

Cela s’explique par le manque de sang-froid de Donald Trump. Ce matin, les démocrates s’insurgent, car cette décision a été prise sans concertation. C’est une décision à l’emporte-pièce, il a été sans doute un peu excité par les va-t-en-guerre de son camp, comme le secrétaire d’Etat Mike Pompeo, qui prône une ligne dure contre l’Iran. On y est presque.

A quelles réactions peut-on s’attendre de la part de l’Iran ?

Les Iraniens ne vont pas rester les deux pieds dans le même sabot. Je ne sais pas de quelles manières ils réagiront, ni où et quand. Ce ne sera sans doute pas tout de suite, mais nul doute qu’ils réagiront. Nous sommes dans une nouvelle séquence, ouverte par cet assassinat ciblé, réalisé au mépris de toutes les conventions internationales. Je ne maîtrise pas tous les paramètres, mais, à chaud, je peux imaginer qu’il y aura une recrudescence d’action militaire contre des objectifs américains, des bases militaires, des ambassades ou des intérêts sur place.

Il y a également des risques pour Israël, qui sera peut-être une cible. Les milices pro-iraniennes déployées en Syrie ont une capacité de feu contre des villes israéliennes. Dans la région, il va y avoir un regain de mobilisation de toutes les forces proches de l’Iran, en Irak, au Liban et en Syrie. Je ne veux pas dire qu’il y a un risque d’embrasement général, je n’en sais rien, ce n’est pas la peine d’alimenter le fantasme. Mais la situation est infiniment préoccupante. Il y aura des conséquences, même si on ne sait pas bien les mesurer.

Peut-on s’attendre à des conséquences économiques ?

Une action sur le détroit d’Ormuz [où transitent de nombreux pétroliers] peut faire partie des mesures mises en œuvre par les Iraniens. Ils peuvent bloquer ou menacer de bloquer. Je ne pense pas qu’ils feront un blocage complet : les Iraniens font de la politique et ils savent que cela se retournerait contre eux. Mais il peut y avoir quelques arraisonnements de navires pétroliers et les cours du pétrole pourraient monter, même si cela n’avait pas été le cas après les incidents de l’été dernier dans le détroit.

Voir aussi:

Mort de Soleimani : l’Iran menace, la scène internationale s’inquiète
Le puissant général Qassem Soleimani a été tué à Bagdad. L’ambassade américaine à Bagdad a appelé ses ressortissants à quitter l’Irak « immédiatement ».
Le Point/AFP
03/01/2020

C’est certainement un moment clé du conflit qui oppose les États-Unis à l’Iran. Le puissant général Qassem Soleimani a été tué, jeudi 2 janvier, dans un raid américain à Bagdad, trois jours après une attaque inédite contre l’ambassade américaine. Le général Soleimani « n’a eu que ce qu’il méritait », a abondé le sénateur républicain Tom Cotton. Rapidement, des ténors républicains se sont félicités de ce raid ordonné par Trump. Une attaque dénoncée par ses adversaires démocrates, dont son potentiel rival à la présidentielle, Joe Biden.

Le Premier ministre israélien, Benyamin Netanyahou, a interrompu vendredi son voyage officiel en Grèce afin de rentrer en Israël, a indiqué son bureau à l’Agence France-Presse. Benyamin Netanyahou, arrivé à Athènes jeudi où il a signé un accord avec Chypre et la Grèce en faveur d’un projet de gazoduc, devait rester dans ce pays jusqu’à samedi, mais il a écourté son voyage après l’annonce du décès de Qassem Soleimani, chef des forces iraniennes al-Qods souvent accusées par Israël de préparer des attaques contre l’État hébreu.

La France a plaidé pour la « stabilité »

Le chef du mouvement chiite libanais Hezbollah, grand allié de l’Iran, a promis « le juste châtiment » aux « assassins criminels » responsables de la mort du général iranien Qassem Soleimani. « Apporter le juste châtiment aux assassins criminels […] sera la responsabilité et la tâche de tous les résistants et combattants à travers le monde », a promis dans un communiqué le chef du Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, qui utilise généralement le terme de « Résistance » pour désigner son organisation et ses alliés.

De son côté, la France a plaidé pour la « stabilité » au Moyen-Orient estimant, par la voix d’Amélie de Montchalin, secrétaire d’État aux Affaires européennes, que « l’escalade militaire [était] toujours dangereuse ». « On se réveille dans un monde plus dangereux. L’escalade militaire est toujours dangereuse », a-t-elle déclaré au micro de RTL. « Quand de telles opérations ont lieu, on voit bien que l’escalade est en marche alors que nous souhaitons avant tout la stabilité et la désescalade », a-t-elle ajouté.

Le ministre britannique des Affaires étrangères, Dominic Raab, a appelé « toutes les parties à la désescalade ». « Nous avons toujours reconnu la menace agressive posée par la force iranienne Qods dirigée par Qassem Soleimani. Après sa mort, nous exhortons toutes les parties à la désescalade. Un autre conflit n’est aucunement dans notre intérêt », a déclaré le chef de la diplomatie britannique dans un communiqué.

Éviter une « escalade des tensions »

La Chine a fait part de sa « préoccupation » et a appelé au « calme ». La Chine est l’un des pays signataires de l’accord sur le nucléaire iranien, dont les États-Unis se sont retirés unilatéralement en 2018, et l’un des principaux importateurs de brut iranien. « Nous demandons instamment à toutes les parties concernées, en particulier aux États-Unis, de garder leur calme et de faire preuve de retenue afin d’éviter une nouvelle escalade des tensions », a indiqué devant la presse un porte-parole de la diplomatie chinoise, Geng Shuang.

La Russie a mis en garde contre les conséquences de l’assassinat ciblé à Bagdad du général iranien Qassem Soleimani, une frappe américaine « hasardeuse » qui va se traduire par un « accroissement des tensions dans la région ». « L’assassinat de Soleimani […] est un palier hasardeux qui va mener à l’accroissement des tensions dans la région », a déclaré le ministère russe des Affaires étrangères, cité par les agences RIA Novosti et TASS. « Soleimani servait fidèlement les intérêts de l’Iran. Nous présentons nos sincères condoléances au peuple iranien », a-t-il ajouté.

Les ressortissants américains en Irak appelés à fuir

L’assassinat ciblé du général iranien Qassem Soleimani représente « une escalade dangereuse dans la violence », a déclaré, vendredi, la présidente de la Chambre des représentants, la démocrate Nancy Pelosi. « L’Amérique et le monde ne peuvent pas se permettre une escalade des tensions qui atteigne un point de non-retour », a estimé Nancy Pelosi dans un communiqué.

Le pouvoir syrien a dénoncé la « lâche agression américaine » y voyant une « grave escalade » pour le Moyen-Orient, a rapporté l’agence officielle Sana. La Syrie est certaine que cette « lâche agression américaine […] ne fera que renforcer la détermination à suivre le modèle de ces chefs de la résistance », souligne une source du ministère des Affaires étrangères à Damas citée par Sana.

L’ambassade américaine à Bagdad a appelé ses ressortissants à quitter l’Irak « immédiatement ». La chancellerie conseille vivement aux Américains en Irak de partir « par avion tant que cela est possible », alors que le raid a eu lieu dans l’enceinte même de l’aéroport de Bagdad, « sinon vers d’autres pays par voie terrestre ». Les principaux postes-frontières de l’Irak mènent vers l’Iran et la Syrie en guerre, alors que d’autres points de passage existent vers l’Arabie saoudite et la Turquie.

« Une guerre dévastatrice en Irak »

Le Premier ministre démissionnaire irakien Adel Abdel Mahdi a estimé que le raid allait « déclencher une guerre dévastatrice en Irak ». « L’assassinat d’un commandant militaire irakien occupant un poste officiel est une agression contre l’Irak, son État, son gouvernement et son peuple », affirme Adel Abdel Mahdi dans un communiqué, alors qu’Abou Mehdi al-Mouhandis est le numéro deux du Hachd al-Chaabi, une coalition de paramilitaires pro-Iran intégrée à l’État. « Régler ses comptes contre des personnalités dirigeantes irakiennes ou d’un pays ami sur le sol irakien […] constitue une violation flagrante des conditions autorisant la présence des troupes américaines », ajoute le texte.

Le guide suprême iranien, l’ayatollah Ali Khamenei, s’est engagé vendredi à « venger » la mort du puissant général iranien Qassem Soleimani, tué plus tôt dans un raid américain à Bagdad, et a décrété un deuil national de trois jours dans son pays. « Le martyre est la récompense de son inlassable travail durant toutes ces années. […] Si Dieu le veut, son œuvre et son chemin ne s’arrêteront pas là, et une vengeance implacable attend les criminels qui ont empli leurs mains de son sang et de celui des autres martyrs », a dit l’ayatollah Khamenei sur son compte Twitter en farsi.

L’Iran promet une vengeance

L’Iran et les « nations libres de la région » se vengeront des États-Unis après la mort du puissant général iranien Qassem Soleimani, a promis le président Hassan Rohani. « Il n’y a aucun doute sur le fait que la grande nation d’Iran et les autres nations libres de la région prendront leur revanche sur l’Amérique criminelle pour cet horrible meurtre », a déclaré Hassan Rohani dans un communiqué publié sur le site du gouvernement.

Qaïs al-Khazali, un commandant de la coalition pro-iranienne en Irak, a appelé « tous les combattants » à se « tenir prêts », quelques heures après l’assassinat par les Américains du général iranien Qassem Soleimani à Bagdad. « Que tous les combattants résistants se tiennent prêts, car ce qui nous attend, c’est une conquête proche et une grande victoire », a écrit Qaïs al-Khazali, chef d’Assaïb Ahl al-Haq, l’une des plus importantes factions du Hachd al-Chaabi qui regroupe les paramilitaires pro-Iran sous la tutelle de l’État irakien, dans une lettre manuscrite dont l’Agence France-Presse a pu consulter une copie.

Les républicains serrent les rangs

« J’apprécie l’action courageuse du président Donald Trump contre l’agression iranienne », a salué sur Twitter l’influent sénateur républicain Lindsey Graham, proche allié du président peu après la confirmation par le Pentagone que le locataire de la Maison-Blanche avait donné l’ordre de tuer le général iranien Qassem Soleimani, dans un raid à Bagdad. « Au gouvernement iranien : si vous en voulez plus, vous en aurez plus », a-t-il menacé, avant d’ajouter : « Si l’agression iranienne se poursuit et que je travaillais dans une raffinerie iranienne de pétrole, je songerais à une reconversion. »

Comme cet élu de Caroline du Sud, les républicains serraient les rangs jeudi soir derrière la stratégie du président américain. « Les actions défensives que les États-Unis ont prises contre l’Iran et ses mandataires sont conformes aux avertissements clairs qu’ils ont reçus. Ils ont choisi d’ignorer ces avertissements parce qu’ils croyaient que le président des États-Unis était empêché d’agir en raison de nos divisions politiques internes. Ils ont extrêmement mal évalué », a également salué le sénateur républicain Marco Rubio.

« Un bâton de dynamite »

Dans l’autre camp, les adversaires démocrates du président qui ont approuvé le mois dernier à la Chambre basse du Congrès son renvoi en procès pour destitution ont dénoncé le bombardement et les risques d’escalade avec l’Iran. « Le président Trump vient de jeter un bâton de dynamite dans une poudrière, et il doit au peuple américain une explication », a dénoncé l’ancien vice-président Joe Biden, en lice pour la primaire démocrate en vue de l’élection présidentielle de novembre. « C’est une énorme escalade dans une région déjà dangereuse », a-t-il insisté, dans un communiqué.

« La dangereuse escalade de Trump nous amène plus près d’une autre guerre désastreuse au Moyen-Orient », a dénoncé Bernie Sanders, autre favori de la primaire démocrate. « Trump a promis de terminer les guerres sans fin, mais cette action nous met sur le chemin d’une autre », a poursuivi le sénateur indépendant.

« Un affront aux pouvoirs du Congrès »

Le chef démocrate de la commission des Affaires étrangères de la Chambre des représentants a déploré que Donald Trump n’ait pas notifié le Congrès américain du raid mené en Irak. « Mener une action de cette gravité sans impliquer le Congrès soulève de graves problèmes légaux et constitue un affront aux pouvoirs du Congrès », a écrit dans un communiqué Eliot Engel.

« D’accord, il ne fait aucun doute que Soleimani a beaucoup de sang sur les mains. Mais c’est un moment vraiment effrayant. L’Iran va réagir et probablement à différents endroits. Pensée à tout le personnel américain dans la région en ce moment », a, quant à lui, estimé Ben Rhodes, ancien proche conseiller de Barack Obama. « Un président qui a juré de tenir les États-Unis à l’écart d’une autre guerre au Moyen-Orient vient dans les faits de faire une déclaration de guerre », a réagi le président de l’organisation International Crisis Group Robert Malley.

Voir également:

Frappe américaine : « Pour l’Iranien lambda, le général Soleimani était un monstre »
Propos recueillis par Alain Léauthier
Marianne
03/01/2020

Le puissant général iranien Qassem Soleimani a été éliminé ce vendredi 3 janvier, dans un raid américain sur l’aéroport de Bagdad. Y’a-t-il un risque d’escalade et de guerre ouverte avec les Etats-Unis ? Décryptage avec Mahnaz Shirali, chercheuse iranienne à Sciences Po.

Au fou ! Quelques heures après l’élimination spectaculaire, tôt dans la matinée de ce vendredi 3 janvier, du général Qassem Soleimani, le chef des opérations extérieures (la force al-Qods) des Gardiens de la Révolution iranienne et pilier du régime des mollahs, nombre de chancelleries étrangères condamnaient à demi-mot le raid aérien ciblé ordonné par Donald Trump. « On se réveille dans un monde plus dangereux (…) et l’escalade militaire est toujours dangereuse », a ainsi benoitement déclaré Amélie de Montchalin, la secrétaire d’État française aux Affaires européennes.

En Irak même, l’ex Premier ministre Adel Abdoul Mahdi, proche de Téhéran et obligé de démissionner en décembre sous la pression de la rue, a dénoncé une « atteinte aux conditions de la présence américaine en Irak et atteinte à la souveraineté du pays », allant jusqu’à qualifier d’ « assassinat » la frappe qui a également coûté la vie à Abou Mehdi al-Mouhandis, le numéro deux du Hachd al-Chaabi, une coalition de paramilitaires pro-Iran, désormais intégrés à l’Etat irakien et très actifs dans la tentative d’assaut de l’ambassade américaine à Bagdad il y a trois jours. Dans un tweet musclé, le secrétaire d’État Mike Pompéo l’avait clairement désigné comme un des responsables des évènements ainsi que Qaïs al-Khazali, fondateur de la milice chiite Assaïb Ahl al-Haq, une des factions du Hachd al-Chaabi.

Les mollahs disposent d’une grande variété de relais pour semer le chaos dans la région

Ce dernier ne se trouvait pas dans le convoi visé par la frappe létale et a lancé un appel au djihad – « Que tous les combattants résistants se tiennent prêts car ce qui nous attend, c’est une conquête proche et une grande victoire » – relayant une déclaration tonitruante de l’ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Dans un tweet, le guide suprême iranien a promis une « vengeance implacable » aux « criminels qui ont empli leurs mains de son sang et de celui des autres martyrs », menace sur laquelle s’est aussitôt calé le président Hassan Rohani, longtemps présenté comme le chef de file des « modérés » et réformateurs.

Les dignitaires de la République islamique ne pouvaient guère faire moins à l’issue de plusieurs mois de tensions et d’accrochages indirects qui ont culminé vendredi 27 décembre avec la mort d’un sous-traitant américain lors d’une énième attaque à la roquette contre une base militaire, située cette fois à Kirkouk, dans le nord de l’Irak, en pleine zone pétrolière.

Deux jours plus tard, les avions américains avaient répliqué en bombardant des garnisons des brigades du Hezbollah, autre faction pro-iranienne à la solde de Qassem Soleimani, et c’est autour du cortège funéraire des vingt-cinq « martyrs » tombés ce jour-là qu’avait débuté l’assaut contre l’ambassade des Etats-Unis à Bagdad. En attendant les éventuelles représailles iraniennes, les Etats-Unis ont encouragé leurs ressortissants à quitter au plus vite le sol irakien, tâche qui ne sera pas forcément des plus aisées, et les forces israéliennes ont été placées en état d’alerte maximal. Si une confrontation directe semble pour l’heure exclue, du Yemen au Liban en passant par la Syrie et bien sûr l’Irak, les mollahs disposent d’une grande variété de relais pour semer le chaos dans la région, à l’image du bombardement téléguidé d’installations pétrolières dans l’est de l’Arabie saoudite en septembre dernier.

Aux Etats-Unis, à en croire les commentaires alarmistes de Nancy Pelosi, la présidente démocrate de la Chambre des représentants, et ceux d’une presse lui reprochant déjà des vacances prolongées en Floride alors qu’il met le feu aux poudres, Donald Trump aurait montré une fois de plus l’incohérence de sa politique étrangère. Traître à la cause des Kurdes un jour mais jouant les apprentis sorciers un autre. Tel n’est pourtant pas tout à fait le sentiment de la chercheuse iranienne Mahnaz Shirali, enseignante à Science-Po, dans l’entretien qu’elle nous accorde ce vendredi.


Marianne : Quelle est votre première réaction après la mort de Qassem Soleimani ?

Mahnaz Shirali : C’est d’abord l’Iranienne qui va vous répondre et celle-là ne peut que se réjouir de ce qui s’est passé. Je parle en mon nom mais je peux vous l’assurer aussi au nom de millions d’Iraniens, probablement la majorité d’entre eux : cet homme était haï, il incarnait le mal absolu ! Je suis révoltée par les commentaires que j’ai entendus venant de certains pseudo-spécialistes de l’Iran, le présentant sur une chaîne de télévision comme un individu charismatique et populaire. Il faut ne rien connaître et ne rien comprendre à ce pays pour tenir ce genre de sottises. Pour l’Iranien lambda, Soleimani était un monstre, ce qui se fait de pire dans la République islamique.

C’est un coup dur pour le régime ?

Évidemment, Soleimani en était un élément essentiel, aussi puissant que Khameini et ce n’est pas de la propagande que d’affirmer que sa mort ne choque presque personne.

A quoi peut-on s’attendre ?

Je ne suis pas dans le secret des généraux iraniens mais une simple observatrice informée. Le régime est aux abois depuis des mois, totalement isolé. Ils savent qu’ils n’ont pas d’avenir, la rue et le peuple n’en veulent plus, ils ne peuvent pas vraiment compter sur l’Union européenne et pas plus sur la Chine. Ils n’ont aucun avenir et c’est ce qui rend la situation particulièrement dangereuse car ils sont dans une logique suicidaire.

Les mollahs ont accumulé des fortunes à l’étranger. Ne voudront-ils pas préserver leurs acquis financiers ?

En réalité, ils ont tout perdu et ne peuvent plus sortir du pays pour s’installer à l’étranger car des mandats ont été lancés contre la plupart d’entre eux. Les sanctions ont asséché la manne des pétrodollars et c’est essentiel car il n’y avait pas d’adhésion idéologique à ce régime.

Est-ce à dire que ligne suivi par Trump sur la question iranienne et durement critiquée par de nombreux experts, peut se révéler positive ?

Je ne suis pas compétente pour juger de la politique de Donald Trump. Je peux juste faire quelques observations. Il a considérablement affaibli ce régime, comme jamais auparavant, et peut-être même a-t-il signé leur arrêt de mort. Nous verrons. Lors des manifestations populaires, à Téhéran et dans d’autre villes, les noms de Khameini, de Rohani, de Soleimani étaient hués. Il n’y a jamais eu de slogans anti-Trump ou contre les Etats-Unis.

Mais la situation désormais est explosive…

Probablement oui, hélas, ils n’abandonneront pas le pouvoir tranquillement, j’en suis convaincue.

Voir de même:

Soleimani : La rue iranienne félicite Trump
Iran Resist
03.01.2020

Trump dit avoir mis à mort le Vador immortel des mollahs, Qassem Soleimani. Les adversaires de Trump le blâment. La France s’est jointe à eux par l’intermédiaire de Malbrunot. Mais les Iraniens sont heureux et se félicitent de cette mort et félicitent Trump comme le montre ce slogan écrit dans un quartier chic de Téhéran : Trump Damet garm ! Trump ! Reste en forme !

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Par ailleurs, à Kermanshâh (Kurdistan iranien), les gens ont fait un gâteau pour une fête en honneur de l’élimination de Hadj Ghassem Soleimani. Dans une vidéo faisant part de cette initiative, un homme qui partage le gâteau fait référence à Soleimani en utilisant son sobriquet de Shash Ghassem (pisseux Ghassem) !

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Il y a d’autres vidéos ou images du même genre.

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D’autres opposants en exil appellent aussi les ambassades du régime pour faire part de leur joie et leurs interlocuteurs ne prennent pas la peine de protester !

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Il y a aussi des scènes de joie en Irak et en Syrie !

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Contrairement aux prédictions des Malbrunot & co (voix du Quai d’Orsay), le Moyen-Orient ne va pas basculer dans le chaos pro-mollahs ! Les Français feraient mieux de changer de discours et suivre les peuples de la région au lieu de suivre leurs ennemis par aversion pour Trump ou par jalousie pour ses succès.

Trump Damet garm !

Voir de plus:

Petraeus Says Trump May Have Helped ‘Reestablish Deterrence’ by Killing Suleimani
The former U.S. commander and CIA director says Iran’s “very fragile” situation may limit its response.
Lara Seligman
Foreign policy
January 3, 2020

As a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus is keenly familiar with Qassem Suleimani, the powerful chief of Iran’s Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad Friday morning.

After months of a muted U.S. response to Tehran’s repeated lashing out—the downing of a U.S. military drone, a devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, and more—Suleimani’s killing was designed to send a pointed message to the regime that the United States will not tolerate continued provocation, he said.

Petraeus spoke to Foreign Policy on Friday about the implications of an action he called “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Foreign Policy: What impact will the killing of Gen. Suleimani have on regional tensions?

David Petraeus: It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi. Suleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon. He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria. So his death is of enormous significance.

The question of course is how does Iran respond in terms of direct action by its military and Revolutionary Guard Corps forces? And how does it direct its proxies—the Iranian-supported Shia militia in Iraq and Syria and southern Lebanon, and throughout the world?

FP: Two previous administrations have reportedly considered this course of action and dismissed it. Why did Trump act now?

DP: The reasoning seems to be to show in the most significant way possible that the U.S. is just not going to allow the continued violence—the rocketing of our bases, the killing of an American contractor, the attacks on shipping, on unarmed drones—without a very significant response.

Many people had rightly questioned whether American deterrence had eroded somewhat because of the relatively insignificant responses to the earlier actions. This clearly was of vastly greater importance. Of course it also, per the Defense Department statement, was a defensive action given the reported planning and contingencies that Suleimani was going to Iraq to discuss and presumably approve.

This was in response to the killing of an American contractor, the wounding of American forces, and just a sense of how this could go downhill from here if the Iranians don’t realize that this cannot continue.

FP: Do you think this response was proportionate?

DP: It was a defensive response and this is, again, of enormous consequence and significance. But now the question is: How does Iran respond with its own forces and its proxies, and then what does that lead the U.S. to do?

Iran is in a very precarious economic situation, it is very fragile domestically—they’ve killed many, many hundreds if not thousands of Iranian citizens who were demonstrating on the streets of Iran in response to the dismal economic situation and the mismanagement and corruption. I just don’t see the Iranians as anywhere near as supportive of the regime at this point as they were decades ago during the Iran-Iraq War. Clearly the supreme leader has to consider that as Iran considers the potential responses to what the U.S. has done.

It will be interesting now to see if there is a U.S. diplomatic initiative to reach out to Iran and to say, “Okay, the next move could be strikes against your oil infrastructure and your forces in your country—where does that end?”

FP: Will Iran consider this an act of war?

DP: I don’t know what that means, to be truthful. They clearly recognize how very significant it was. But as to the definition—is a cyberattack an act of war? No one can ever answer that. We haven’t declared war, but we have taken a very, very significant action.

FP: How prepared is the U.S. to protect its forces in the region?

DP: We’ve taken numerous actions to augment our air defenses in the region, our offensive capabilities in the region, in terms of general purpose and special operations forces and air assets. The Pentagon has considered the implications the potential consequences and has done a great deal to mitigate the risks—although you can’t fully mitigate the potential risks.

FP: Do you think the decision to conduct this attack on Iraqi soil was overly provocative?

DP: Again what was the alternative? Do it in Iran? Think of the implications of that. This is the most formidable adversary that we have faced for decades. He is a combination of CIA director, JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] commander, and special presidential envoy for the region. This is a very significant effort to reestablish deterrence, which obviously had not been shored up by the relatively insignificant responses up until now.

FP: What is the likelihood that there will be an all-out war?

DP: Obviously all sides will suffer if this becomes a wider war, but Iran has to be very worried that—in the state of its economy, the significant popular unrest and demonstrations against the regime—that this is a real threat to the regime in a way that we have not seen prior to this.

FP: Given the maximum pressure campaign that has crippled its economy, the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, and now this assassination, what incentive does Iran have to negotiate now?

DP: The incentive would be to get out from under the sanctions, which are crippling. Could we get back to the Iran nuclear deal plus some additional actions that could address the shortcomings of the agreement?

This is a very significant escalation, and they don’t know where this goes any more than anyone else does. Yes, they can respond and they can retaliate, and that can lead to further retaliation—and that it is clear now that the administration is willing to take very substantial action. This is a pretty clarifying moment in that regard.

FP: What will Iran do to retaliate?

DP: Right now they are probably doing what anyone does in this situation: considering the menu of options. There could be actions in the gulf, in the Strait of Hormuz by proxies in the regional countries, and in other continents where the Quds Force have activities. There’s a very considerable number of potential responses by Iran, and then there’s any number of potential U.S. responses to those actions

Given the state of their economy, I think they have to be very leery, very concerned that that could actually result in the first real challenge to the regime certainly since the Iran-Iraq War.

FP: Will the Iraqi government kick the U.S. military out of Iraq?

DP: The prime minister has said that he would put forward legislation to do that, although I don’t think that the majority of Iraqi leaders want to see that given that ISIS is still a significant threat. They are keenly aware that it was not the Iranian supported militias that defeated the Islamic State, it was U.S.-enabled Iraqi armed forces and special forces that really fought the decisive battles.

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy.

Voir encore:

Gen. Petraeus on Qasem Soleimani’s killing: ‘It’s impossible to overstate the significance’
The World
January 03, 2020

The United States is sending nearly 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East from the 82nd Airborne Division as a precaution amid rising threats to American forces in the region, the Pentagon said on Friday.

Iran promised vengeance after a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qasem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.

The overnight attack, authorized by US President Donald Trump, was a dramatic escalation in the « shadow war » in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As former commander of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus is very familiar with Soleimani. He spoke to The World’s host Marco Werman about what could happen next.

Marco Werman: How did you know Qasem Soleimani?

Gen. David Petraeus: Well, he was our most significant Iranian adversary during my four years in Iraq, [and] certainly when I was the Central Command commander, and very much so when I was the director of the CIA. He is unquestionably the most significant and important — or was the most significant and important — Iranian figure in the region, the most important architect of the effort by Iran to solidify control of the Shia crescent, and the operational commander of the various initiatives that were part of that effort.

General Petraeus, did you ever interact directly or indirectly with him?

Indirectly. He sent a message to me through the president of Iraq in late March of 2008, during the battle of Basra, when we were supporting the Iraqi army forces that were battling the Shia militias in Basra that were supported, of course, by Qasem Soleimani and the Quds Force. He sent a message through the president that said, « General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qasem Soleimani, control the policy of Iran for Iraq, and also for Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. »

And the implication of that was, « If you want to deal with Iran to resolve this situation in Basra, you should deal with me, not with the Iranian diplomats. » And his power only grew from that point in time. By the way, I did not — I actually told the president to tell Qasem Soleimani to pound sand.

So why do you suppose this happened now, though?

Well, I suspect that the leaders in Washington were seeking to reestablish deterrence, which clearly had eroded to some degree, perhaps by the relatively insignificant actions in response to these strikes on the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia, shipping in the Gulf and our $130 million dollar drone that was shot down. And we had seen increased numbers of attacks against US forces in Iraq. So I’m sure that there was a lot of discussion about what could show the Iranians most significantly that we are really serious, that they should not continue to escalate.

Now, obviously, there is a menu of options that they have now and not just in terms of direct Iranian action against perhaps our large bases in the various Gulf states, shipping in the Gulf, but also through proxy actions — and not just in the region, but even in places such as Latin America and Africa and Europe.

Would you have recommended this course of action right now?

I’d hesitate to answer that just because I am not privy to the intelligence that was the foundation for the decision, which clearly was, as was announced, this was a defensive action, that Soleimani was going into the country to presumably approve further attacks. Without really being in the inner circle on that, I think it’s very difficult to either second-guess or to even think through what the recommendation might have been.

Again, it is impossible to overstate the significance of this action. This is much more substantial than the killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s even more substantial than the killing of Baghdadi.

Final question, General Petraeus, how vulnerable are US military and civilian personnel in the Middle East right now as a result of what happened last night?

Well, my understanding is that we have significantly shored up our air defenses, our air assets, our ground defenses and so forth. There’s been the movement of a lot of forces into the region in months, not just in the past days. So there’s been a very substantial augmentation of our defensive capabilities and also our offensive capabilities.

And, you know, the question Iran has to ask itself is, « Where does this end? » If they now retaliate in a significant way — and considering how vulnerable their infrastructure and forces are at a time when their economy is in dismal shape because of the sanctions. So Iran is not in a position of strength, although it clearly has many, many options available to it, as I mentioned, not just with their armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, but also with these Quds Force-supported proxy elements throughout the region in the world.

Two short questions for what’s next, Gen. Petraeus — US remaining in Iraq, and war with Iran. What’s your best guess?

Well, I think one of the questions is, « What will the diplomatic ramifications of this be? » And again, there have been celebrations in some places in Iraq at the loss of Qasem Soleimani. So, again, there’s no tears being shed in certain parts of the country. And one has to ask what happens in the wake of the killing of the individual who had a veto, virtually, over the leadership of Iraq. What transpires now depends on the calculations of all these different elements. And certainly the US, I would assume, is considering diplomatic initiatives as well, reaching out and saying, « Okay. Does that send a sufficient message of our seriousness? Now, would you like to return to the table? » Or does Iran accelerate the nuclear program, which would, of course, precipitate something further from the United States? Very likely. So lots of calculations here. And I think we’re still very early in the deliberations on all the different ramifications of this very significant action.

Do you have confidence in this administration to kind of navigate all those calculations?

Well, I think that this particular episode has been fairly impressively handled. There’s been restraint in some of the communications methods from the White House. The Department of Defense put out, I think, a solid statement. It has taken significant actions, again, to shore up our defenses and our offensive capabilities. The question now, I think, is what is the diplomatic initiative that follows this? What will the State Department and the Secretary of State do now to try to get back to the table and reduce or end the battlefield consequences?

The flag that Donald Trump posted last night, no words. Was that restraint, do you think?

I think it was. Certainly all things are relative. And I think relative to some of his tweets that was quite restrained.

Voir enfin:

Iran’s strategic mastermind got a huge boost from the nuclear deal

The historic nuclear accord between a US-led group of countries and Iran was good news for a man who some consider to be the Middle East’s most effective covert operative.As a result of the deal, Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force and the general responsible for overseeing Iran’s network of proxy organizations, will be removed from European Union sanctions lists once the agreement is implemented, and taken off a UN sanctions list after eight or fewer years.

Iran obtained some key concessions as a result of the nuclear agreement, including access to an estimated $150 billion in frozen assets; the lifting of a UN arms embargo, the eventual end to sanctions related to the country’s ballistic missile program; the ability to operate over 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges and to run stable elements through centrifuges at the once-clandestine and heavily guarded Fordow facility; nuclear assistance from the US and its partners; and the ability to stall inspections of sensitive sites for as long as 24 days. In light of these accomplishments, the de-listing of a general responsible for coordinating anti-US militia groups in Iraq — someone who may be responsible for the deaths of US soldiers — almost seems gratuitous.

It’s unlikely that the entire deal hinged on a single Iranian officer’s ability to open bank accounts in EU states or travel within Europe. But it got into the deal anyway. So did a reprieve for Bank Saderat, which the US sanctioned in 2006 for facilitating money transfers to Iranian regime-supported terror groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. As part of the deal, Bank Saderat will leave the EU sanctions list on the same timetable as Suleimani, although it will remain under US designation.

Like Suleimani’s removal, Bank Saderat’s apparent legalization in Europe suggests that for the purposes of the deal, the US and its partners lumped a broad range of restrictions under the heading of « nuclear-related » sanctions.

Suleimani and Bank Saderat are still going to remain under US sanctions related to the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and support for terrorism. US sanctions have broad extraterritorial reach, and the US Treasury Department has turned into the scourge of compliance desks at banks around the world. But that matters to a somewhat lesser degree inside of the EU, where companies have actually been exempted from complying with certain US « secondary sanctions » on Iran since the mid-1990s.

Any company that transacts with a US-designated individual takes on a certain degree of US legal exposure. That actually creates problem for US allies whose companies operate under less restrictive legal regimes. It’s perfectly legal under domestic law for companies in many EU countries — among the US’s closest allies — to perform transactions for certain US-listed individuals and entities. This has been the cause of some trans-Atlantic tensions in the past, with an upshot that’s of immediate relevance to the nuclear deal reached Tuesday.In 1996, the US Congress passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, targeting entities in two longstanding opponents of the US. But these were countries where European companies had routinely invested. The law didn’t just sanction two unfriendly regimes — it effectively sanctioned US allies where business with both countries was legally tolerated.

The law triggered consultations between the US and the EU under the World Trade Organization’s various dispute mechanisms. Diplomatic protests forced the US and and its European allies to figure out a compromise that wouldn’t expose their companies to additional legal scrutiny or lead to an unnecessary escalation in trans-Atlantic trade barriers.

The result is that the US kept the law on the books, but scaled back their implementation in Europe. Then-President Bill Clinton « negotiated an agreement under which the United States would not impose any ISLA sanctions
on European firms – much to Congress’ dismay. »

And in November 1996, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution protecting European companies from the reach of US law. The resolution authorized « blocking recognition or enforcement of decisions or judgments giving effect to the covered laws, » effectively canceling the extraterritoriality of certain US sanctions on European soil (although legal exposure continued for European companies with enough of a US presence to put them under American jurisdiction). In past disputes, companies inside of Europe have had an EU-authorized waiver for complying with US secondary sanctions.

In a post-deal environment in which European companies are eager investors in a far less diplomatically isolated Iran, the 1996 spat could be a sign of things to come, as well as a guideline for smoothing out disputes over US sanctions enforcement in Europe.

Some time in the next few years, Qasem Suleimani will be able to travel and do business inside the EU, while a bank that’s facilitated the funding of US-listed terror group’s will be allowed to enter the European market. As part of the nuclear deal, the US and its partners bargained away much of the international leverage against some of the more problematic sectors in the Iranian regime, including entities whose wrongdoing went well beyond the nuclear realm.The result is the almost complete reversal of the sanctions regime in Europe. « If you look at the competing annexes, the European list is much more comprehensive and there are going to be significant differences between the designation lists that are maintained, » Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider. « The Europeans look as if they’re about to just open up entirely to Iran. »

Iran successfully pushed for a broad definition of « nuclear-related sanctions, » and bargained hard — and effectively — for a maximal degree of sanctions relief.

And the de-listing of Bank Saderat and Qasem Suleimani, along with the late-breaking effort to classify arms trade restrictions as purely nuclear-related, demonstrates just how far the US and its partners were willing to go to close a historic nuclear deal.

Voir par ailleurs:

Iran: le général Soleimani raconte sa guerre israélo-libanaise de 2006
Le Point/AFP
01/10/2019

La télévision d’Etat iranienne a diffusé mardi soir un entretien exclusif avec le général de division Ghassem Soleimani, un haut commandant des Gardiens de la Révolution, consacré à sa présence au Liban lors du conflit israélo-libanais de l’été 2006.

L’entretien est présenté comme la première interview du général Soleimani, homme de l’ombre à la tête de la force Qods, chargée des opérations extérieures –notamment en Irak et en Syrie— des Gardiens, l’armée idéologique de la République islamique.

Au cours des quelque 90 minutes d’entretien diffusées sur la première chaîne de la télévision d’Etat, le général Soleimani explique avoir passé au Liban, avec le Hezbollah chiite libanais, l’essentiel de ce conflit ayant duré 34 jours.

Le général dit être entré au pays du Cèdre au tout début de la guerre à partir de la Syrie avec Imad Moughnieh, haut commandant militaire du Hezbollah (tué en 2008) considéré par le mouvement chiite comme l’artisan de la « victoire » contre Israël lors de ce conflit ayant fait 1.200 morts côté libanais et 160 côté israélien.

Il revient sur l’élément déclencheur de la guerre: l’attaque, le 12 juillet, d’un commando du Hezbollah parvenu « à entrer en Palestine occupée (Israël, NDLR), attaquer un (blindé) sioniste et capturer deux soldats blessés ».

Mis à part une courte mission au bout « d’une semaine » pour rendre compte de la situation au guide suprême iranien, l’ayatollah Ali Khamenei, et revenir au Liban le jour-même avec un message de sa part pour Hassan Nasrallah, le chef du Hezbollah, le général dit être resté au Liban pour aider ses compagnons d’armes chiites.

Dans l’entretien, l’officier ne mentionne pas la présence d’autres Iraniens. Il livre le récit d’une expérience avant tout personnelle, au contact de Moughnieh et de M. Nasrallah.

Il raconte comment, pris sous des bombardements israéliens sur la banlieue sud de Beyrouth, bastion du Hezbollah, il évacue avec Moughniyeh le cheikh Nasrallah de la « chambre d’opérations » où il se trouve.

Selon son récit, lui et Moughniyeh font passer le chef du Hezbollah cette nuit-là d’abri en cachette avant de revenir tous deux à leur centre de commandement.

La publication de l’interview, réalisée par le bureau de l’ayatollah Khamenei, survient quelques jours après la publication, par ce même bureau, d’une photo inédite montrant Hassan Nasrallah « au-côté » de M. Khamenei et du général Soleimani et accréditant l’idée d’une rencontre récente entre les trois hommes à Téhéran.

Voir aussi:

Trump Calls the Ayatollah’s Bluff

And scores a victory against terrorism
Matthew Continetti
National review
January 3, 2020

The successful operation against Qassem Suleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. It will also test President Trump’s Iran strategy. It is now Trump, not Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ascended a rung on the ladder of escalation by killing the military architect of Iran’s Shiite empire. For years, Iran has set the rules. It was Iran that picked the time and place of confrontation. No more.

Reciprocity has been the key to understanding Donald Trump. Whether you are a media figure or a mullah, a prime minister or a pope, he will be good to you if you are good to him. Say something mean, though, or work against his interests, and he will respond in force. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be polite. There will be fallout. But you may think twice before crossing him again.

That has been the case with Iran. President Trump has conditioned his policies on Iranian behavior. When Iran spread its malign influence, Trump acted to check it. When Iran struck, Trump hit back: never disproportionately, never definitively. He left open the possibility of negotiations. He doesn’t want to have the greater Middle East — whether Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, or Afghanistan — dominate his presidency the way it dominated those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. Best to keep the region on the back burner and watch it so it doesn’t boil over. Do not overcommit resources to this underdeveloped, war-torn, sectarian land.

The result was reciprocal antagonism. In 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by his predecessor. He began jacking up sanctions. The Iranian economy turned to a shambles. This “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare deprived the Iranian war machine of revenue and drove a wedge between the Iranian public and the Iranian government. Trump offered the opportunity to negotiate a new agreement. Iran refused.

And began to lash out. Last June, Iran’s fingerprints were all over two oil tankers that exploded in the Persian Gulf. Trump tightened the screws. Iran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off a military strike at the last minute and responded indirectly, with more sanctions, cyber attacks, and additional troop deployments to the region. Last September a drone fleet launched by Iranian proxies in Yemen devastated the Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Trump responded as he had to previous incidents: nonviolently.

Iran slowly brought the region to a boil. First it hit boats, then drones, then the key infrastructure of a critical ally. On December 27 it went further: Members of the Kataib Hezbollah militia launched rockets at a U.S. installation near Kirkuk, Iraq. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded. An American contractor was killed.

Destroying physical objects merited economic sanctions and cyber intrusions. Ending lives required a lethal response. It arrived on December 29 when F-15s pounded five Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq and Syria. At least 25 militiamen were killed. Then, when Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias organized a mob to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, setting fire to the grounds, America made a show of force and threatened severe reprisals. The angry crowd melted away.

The risk to the U.S. embassy — and the possibility of another Benghazi — must have angered Trump. “The game has changed,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said hours before the assassination of Soleimani at Baghdad airport. Indeed it has. The decades-long gray-zone conflict between Iran and the United States manifested itself in subterfuge, terrorism, technological combat, financial chicanery, and proxy forces. Throughout it all, the two sides confronted each other directly only once: in the second half of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. That is about to change.

Deterrence, says Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, is credibly holding at risk something your adversary holds dear. If the reports out of Iraq are true, President Trump has put at risk the entirety of the Iranian imperial enterprise even as his maximum-pressure campaign strangles the Iranian economy and fosters domestic unrest. That will get the ayatollah’s attention. And now the United States must prepare for his answer.

The bombs over Baghdad? That was Trump calling Khamenei’s bluff. The game has changed. But it isn’t over.

Voir également:

The Shadow Commander
Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he’s directing Assad’s war in Syria.
The New Yorker
September 23, 2013

Last February, some of Iran’s most influential leaders gathered at the Amir al-Momenin Mosque, in northeast Tehran, inside a gated community reserved for officers of the Revolutionary Guard. They had come to pay their last respects to a fallen comrade. Hassan Shateri, a veteran of Iran’s covert wars throughout the Middle East and South Asia, was a senior commander in a powerful, élite branch of the Revolutionary Guard called the Quds Force. The force is the sharp instrument of Iranian foreign policy, roughly analogous to a combined C.I.A. and Special Forces; its name comes from the Persian word for Jerusalem, which its fighters have promised to liberate. Since 1979, its goal has been to subvert Iran’s enemies and extend the country’s influence across the Middle East. Shateri had spent much of his career abroad, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, where the Quds Force helped Shiite militias kill American soldiers.

Shateri had been killed two days before, on the road that runs between Damascus and Beirut. He had gone to Syria, along with thousands of other members of the Quds Force, to rescue the country’s besieged President, Bashar al-Assad, a crucial ally of Iran. In the past few years, Shateri had worked under an alias as the Quds Force’s chief in Lebanon; there he had helped sustain the armed group Hezbollah, which at the time of the funeral had begun to pour men into Syria to fight for the regime. The circumstances of his death were unclear: one Iranian official said that Shateri had been “directly targeted” by “the Zionist regime,” as Iranians habitually refer to Israel.

At the funeral, the mourners sobbed, and some beat their chests in the Shiite way. Shateri’s casket was wrapped in an Iranian flag, and gathered around it were the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, dressed in green fatigues; a member of the plot to murder four exiled opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant in 1992; and the father of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander believed to be responsible for the bombings that killed more than two hundred and fifty Americans in Beirut in 1983. Mughniyeh was assassinated in 2008, purportedly by Israeli agents. In the ethos of the Iranian revolution, to die was to serve. Before Shateri’s funeral, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, released a note of praise: “In the end, he drank the sweet syrup of martyrdom.”

Kneeling in the second row on the mosque’s carpeted floor was Major General Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force’s leader: a small man of fifty-six, with silver hair, a close-cropped beard, and a look of intense self-containment. It was Suleimani who had sent Shateri, an old and trusted friend, to his death. As Revolutionary Guard commanders, he and Shateri belonged to a small fraternity formed during the Sacred Defense, the name given to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and left as many as a million people dead. It was a catastrophic fight, but for Iran it was the beginning of a three-decade project to build a Shiite sphere of influence, stretching across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Along with its allies in Syria and Lebanon, Iran forms an Axis of Resistance, arrayed against the region’s dominant Sunni powers and the West. In Syria, the project hung in the balance, and Suleimani was mounting a desperate fight, even if the price of victory was a sectarian conflict that engulfed the region for years.

Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,” John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, “and no one’s ever heard of him.”

When Suleimani appears in public—often to speak at veterans’ events or to meet with Khamenei—he carries himself inconspicuously and rarely raises his voice, exhibiting a trait that Arabs call khilib, or understated charisma. “He is so short, but he has this presence,” a former senior Iraqi official told me. “There will be ten people in a room, and when Suleimani walks in he doesn’t come and sit with you. He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn’t speak, doesn’t comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him.”

At the funeral, Suleimani was dressed in a black jacket and a black shirt with no tie, in the Iranian style; his long, angular face and his arched eyebrows were twisted with pain. The Quds Force had never lost such a high-ranking officer abroad. The day before the funeral, Suleimani had travelled to Shateri’s home to offer condolences to his family. He has a fierce attachment to martyred soldiers, and often visits their families; in a recent interview with Iranian media, he said, “When I see the children of the martyrs, I want to smell their scent, and I lose myself.” As the funeral continued, he and the other mourners bent forward to pray, pressing their foreheads to the carpet. “One of the rarest people, who brought the revolution and the whole world to you, is gone,” Alireza Panahian, the imam, told the mourners. Suleimani cradled his head in his palm and began to weep.

The early months of 2013, around the time of Shateri’s death, marked a low point for the Iranian intervention in Syria. Assad was steadily losing ground to the rebels, who are dominated by Sunnis, Iran’s rivals. If Assad fell, the Iranian regime would lose its link to Hezbollah, its forward base against Israel. In a speech, one Iranian cleric said, “If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”

Although the Iranians were severely strained by American sanctions, imposed to stop the regime from developing a nuclear weapon, they were unstinting in their efforts to save Assad. Among other things, they extended a seven-billion-dollar loan to shore up the Syrian economy. “I don’t think the Iranians are calculating this in terms of dollars,” a Middle Eastern security official told me. “They regard the loss of Assad as an existential threat.” For Suleimani, saving Assad seemed a matter of pride, especially if it meant distinguishing himself from the Americans. “Suleimani told us the Iranians would do whatever was necessary,” a former Iraqi leader told me. “He said, ‘We’re not like the Americans. We don’t abandon our friends.’ ”

Last year, Suleimani asked Kurdish leaders in Iraq to allow him to open a supply route across northern Iraq and into Syria. For years, he had bullied and bribed the Kurds into coöperating with his plans, but this time they rebuffed him. Worse, Assad’s soldiers wouldn’t fight—or, when they did, they mostly butchered civilians, driving the populace to the rebels. “The Syrian Army is useless!” Suleimani told an Iraqi politician. He longed for the Basij, the Iranian militia whose fighters crushed the popular uprisings against the regime in 2009. “Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I could conquer the whole country,” he said. In August, 2012, anti-Assad rebels captured forty-eight Iranians inside Syria. Iranian leaders protested that they were pilgrims, come to pray at a holy Shiite shrine, but the rebels, as well as Western intelligence agencies, said that they were members of the Quds Force. In any case, they were valuable enough so that Assad agreed to release more than two thousand captured rebels to have them freed. And then Shateri was killed.

Finally, Suleimani began flying into Damascus frequently so that he could assume personal control of the Iranian intervention. “He’s running the war himself,” an American defense official told me. In Damascus, he is said to work out of a heavily fortified command post in a nondescript building, where he has installed a multinational array of officers: the heads of the Syrian military, a Hezbollah commander, and a coördinator of Iraqi Shiite militias, which Suleimani mobilized and brought to the fight. If Suleimani couldn’t have the Basij, he settled for the next best thing: Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, the Basij’s former deputy commander. Hamedani, another comrade from the Iran-Iraq War, was experienced in running the kind of irregular militias that the Iranians were assembling, in order to keep on fighting if Assad fell.

Late last year, Western officials began to notice a sharp increase in Iranian supply flights into the Damascus airport. Instead of a handful a week, planes were coming every day, carrying weapons and ammunition—“tons of it,” the Middle Eastern security official told me—along with officers from the Quds Force. According to American officials, the officers coördinated attacks, trained militias, and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications. They also forced the various branches of Assad’s security services—designed to spy on one another—to work together. The Middle Eastern security official said that the number of Quds Force operatives, along with the Iraqi Shiite militiamen they brought with them, reached into the thousands. “They’re spread out across the entire country,” he told me.

A turning point came in April, after rebels captured the Syrian town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. To retake the town, Suleimani called on Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, to send in more than two thousand fighters. It wasn’t a difficult sell. Qusayr sits at the entrance to the Bekaa Valley, the main conduit for missiles and other matériel to Hezbollah; if it was closed, Hezbollah would find it difficult to survive. Suleimani and Nasrallah are old friends, having coöperated for years in Lebanon and in the many places around the world where Hezbollah operatives have performed terrorist missions at the Iranians’ behest. According to Will Fulton, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, Hezbollah fighters encircled Qusayr, cutting off the roads, then moved in. Dozens of them were killed, as were at least eight Iranian officers. On June 5th, the town fell. “The whole operation was orchestrated by Suleimani,” Maguire, who is still active in the region, said. “It was a great victory for him.”

Despite all of Suleimani’s rough work, his image among Iran’s faithful is that of an irreproachable war hero—a decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, in which he became a division commander while still in his twenties. In public, he is almost theatrically modest. During a recent appearance, he described himself as “the smallest soldier,” and, according to the Iranian press, rebuffed members of the audience who tried to kiss his hand. His power comes mostly from his close relationship with Khamenei, who provides the guiding vision for Iranian society. The Supreme Leader, who usually reserves his highest praise for fallen soldiers, has referred to Suleimani as “a living martyr of the revolution.” Suleimani is a hard-line supporter of Iran’s authoritarian system. In July, 1999, at the height of student protests, he signed, with other Revolutionary Guard commanders, a letter warning the reformist President Mohammad Khatami that if he didn’t put down the revolt the military would—perhaps deposing Khatami in the process. “Our patience has run out,” the generals wrote. The police crushed the demonstrators, as they did again, a decade later.

Iran’s government is intensely fractious, and there are many figures around Khamenei who help shape foreign policy, including Revolutionary Guard commanders, senior clerics, and Foreign Ministry officials. But Suleimani has been given a remarkably free hand in implementing Khamenei’s vision. “He has ties to every corner of the system,” Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, told me. “He is what I call politically clever. He has a relationship with everyone.” Officials describe him as a believer in Islam and in the revolution; while many senior figures in the Revolutionary Guard have grown wealthy through the Guard’s control over key Iranian industries, Suleimani has been endowed with a personal fortune by the Supreme Leader. “He’s well taken care of,” Maguire said.

Suleimani lives in Tehran, and appears to lead the home life of a bureaucrat in middle age. “He gets up at four every morning, and he’s in bed by nine-thirty every night,” the Iraqi politician, who has known him for many years, told me, shaking his head in disbelief. Suleimani has a bad prostate and recurring back pain. He’s “respectful of his wife,” the Middle Eastern security official told me, sometimes taking her along on trips. He has three sons and two daughters, and is evidently a strict but loving father. He is said to be especially worried about his daughter Nargis, who lives in Malaysia. “She is deviating from the ways of Islam,” the Middle Eastern official said.

Maguire told me, “Suleimani is a far more polished guy than most. He can move in political circles, but he’s also got the substance to be intimidating.” Although he is widely read, his aesthetic tastes appear to be strictly traditional. “I don’t think he’d listen to classical music,” the Middle Eastern official told me. “The European thing—I don’t think that’s his vibe, basically.” Suleimani has little formal education, but, the former senior Iraqi official told me, “he is a very shrewd, frighteningly intelligent strategist.” His tools include payoffs for politicians across the Middle East, intimidation when it is needed, and murder as a last resort. Over the years, the Quds Force has built an international network of assets, some of them drawn from the Iranian diaspora, who can be called on to support missions. “They’re everywhere,” a second Middle Eastern security official said. In 2010, according to Western officials, the Quds Force and Hezbollah launched a new campaign against American and Israeli targets—in apparent retaliation for the covert effort to slow down the Iranian nuclear program, which has included cyber attacks and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi—at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as he sat down to eat at a restaurant a few miles from the White House. The cartel member approached by Suleimani’s agent turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (The Quds Force appears to be more effective close to home, and a number of the remote plans have gone awry.) Still, after the plot collapsed, two former American officials told a congressional committee that Suleimani should be assassinated. “Suleimani travels a lot,” one said. “He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him.” In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defense; a social-media campaign proclaimed, “We are all Qassem Suleimani.”

Several Middle Eastern officials, some of whom I have known for a decade, stopped talking the moment I brought up Suleimani. “We don’t want to have any part of this,” a Kurdish official in Iraq said. Among spies in the West, he appears to exist in a special category, an enemy both hated and admired: a Middle Eastern equivalent of Karla, the elusive Soviet master spy in John le Carré’s novels. When I called Dagan, the former Mossad chief, and mentioned Suleimani’s name, there was a long pause on the line. “Ah,” he said, in a tone of weary irony, “a very good friend.”

In March, 2009, on the eve of the Iranian New Year, Suleimani led a group of Iran-Iraq War veterans to the Paa-Alam Heights, a barren, rocky promontory on the Iraqi border. In 1986, Paa-Alam was the scene of one of the terrible battles over the Faw Peninsula, where tens of thousands of men died while hardly advancing a step. A video recording from the visit shows Suleimani standing on a mountaintop, recounting the battle to his old comrades. In a gentle voice, he speaks over a soundtrack of music and prayers.

“This is the Dasht-e-Abbas Road,” Suleimani says, pointing into the valley below. “This area stood between us and the enemy.” Later, Suleimani and the group stand on the banks of a creek, where he reads aloud the names of fallen Iranian soldiers, his voice trembling with emotion. During a break, he speaks with an interviewer, and describes the fighting in near-mystical terms. “The battlefield is mankind’s lost paradise—the paradise in which morality and human conduct are at their highest,” he says. “One type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise—the battlefield.”

Suleimani was born in Rabor, an impoverished mountain village in eastern Iran. When he was a boy, his father, like many other farmers, took out an agricultural loan from the government of the Shah. He owed nine hundred toman—about a hundred dollars at the time—and couldn’t pay it back. In a brief memoir, Suleimani wrote of leaving home with a young relative named Ahmad Suleimani, who was in a similar situation. “At night, we couldn’t fall asleep with the sadness of thinking that government agents were coming to arrest our fathers,” he wrote. Together, they travelled to Kerman, the nearest city, to try to clear their family’s debt. The place was unwelcoming. “We were only thirteen, and our bodies were so tiny, wherever we went, they wouldn’t hire us,” he wrote. “Until one day, when we were hired as laborers at a school construction site on Khajoo Street, which was where the city ended. They paid us two toman per day.” After eight months, they had saved enough money to bring home, but the winter snow was too deep. They were told to seek out a local driver named Pahlavan—“Champion”—who was a “strong man who could lift up a cow or a donkey with his teeth.” During the drive, whenever the car got stuck, “he would lift up the Jeep and put it aside!” In Suleimani’s telling, Pahlavan is an ardent detractor of the Shah. He says of the two boys, “This is the time for them to rest and play, not work as a laborer in a strange city. I spit on the life they have made for us!” They arrived home, Suleimani writes, “just as the lights were coming on in the village homes. When the news travelled in our village, there was pandemonium.”

As a young man, Suleimani gave few signs of greater ambition. According to Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he had only a high-school education, and worked for Kerman’s municipal water department. But it was a revolutionary time, and the country’s gathering unrest was making itself felt. Away from work, Suleimani spent hours lifting weights in local gyms, which, like many in the Middle East, offered physical training and inspiration for the warrior spirit. During Ramadan, he attended sermons by a travelling preacher named Hojjat Kamyab—a protégé of Khamenei’s—and it was there that he became inspired by the possibility of Islamic revolution.

In 1979, when Suleimani was twenty-two, the Shah fell to a popular uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the name of Islam. Swept up in the fervor, Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard, a force established by Iran’s new clerical leadership to prevent the military from mounting a coup. Though he received little training—perhaps only a forty-five-day course—he advanced rapidly. As a young guardsman, Suleimani was dispatched to northwestern Iran, where he helped crush an uprising by ethnic Kurds.

When the revolution was eighteen months old, Saddam Hussein sent the Iraqi Army sweeping across the border, hoping to take advantage of the internal chaos. Instead, the invasion solidified Khomeini’s leadership and unified the country in resistance, starting a brutal, entrenched war. Suleimani was sent to the front with a simple task, to supply water to the soldiers there, and he never left. “I entered the war on a fifteen-day mission, and ended up staying until the end,” he has said. A photograph from that time shows the young Suleimani dressed in green fatigues, with no insignia of rank, his black eyes focussed on a far horizon. “We were all young and wanted to serve the revolution,” he told an interviewer in 2005.

Suleimani earned a reputation for bravery and élan, especially as a result of reconnaissance missions he undertook behind Iraqi lines. He returned from several missions bearing a goat, which his soldiers slaughtered and grilled. “Even the Iraqis, our enemy, admired him for this,” a former Revolutionary Guard officer who defected to the United States told me. On Iraqi radio, Suleimani became known as “the goat thief.” In recognition of his effectiveness, Alfoneh said, he was put in charge of a brigade from Kerman, with men from the gyms where he lifted weights.

The Iranian Army was badly overmatched, and its commanders resorted to crude and costly tactics. In “human wave” assaults, they sent thousands of young men directly into the Iraqi lines, often to clear minefields, and soldiers died at a precipitous rate. Suleimani seemed distressed by the loss of life. Before sending his men into battle, he would embrace each one and bid him goodbye; in speeches, he praised martyred soldiers and begged their forgiveness for not being martyred himself. When Suleimani’s superiors announced plans to attack the Faw Peninsula, he dismissed them as wasteful and foolhardy. The former Revolutionary Guard officer recalled seeing Suleimani in 1985, after a battle in which his brigade had suffered many dead and wounded. He was sitting alone in a corner of a tent. “He was very silent, thinking about the people he’d lost,” the officer said.

Ahmad, the young relative who travelled with Suleimani to Kerman, was killed in 1984. On at least one occasion, Suleimani himself was wounded. Still, he didn’t lose enthusiasm for his work. In the nineteen-eighties, Reuel Marc Gerecht was a young C.I.A. officer posted to Istanbul, where he recruited from the thousands of Iranian soldiers who went there to recuperate. “You’d get a whole variety of guardsmen,” Gerecht, who has written extensively on Iran, told me. “You’d get clerics, you’d get people who came to breathe and whore and drink.” Gerecht divided the veterans into two groups. “There were the broken and the burned out, the hollow-eyed—the guys who had been destroyed,” he said. “And then there were the bright-eyed guys who just couldn’t wait to get back to the front. I’d put Suleimani in the latter category.”

Ryan Crocker, the American Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, got a similar feeling. During the Iraq War, Crocker sometimes dealt with Suleimani indirectly, through Iraqi leaders who shuttled in and out of Tehran. Once, he asked one of the Iraqis if Suleimani was especially religious. The answer was “Not really,” Crocker told me. “He attends mosque periodically. Religion doesn’t drive him. Nationalism drives him, and the love of the fight.”

Iran’s leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam’s preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. “Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?” Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. “Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam.” In 1987, during a battle with the Iraqi Army, a division under Suleimani’s command was attacked by artillery shells containing chemical weapons. More than a hundred of his men suffered the effects.

The other lesson drawn from the Iran-Iraq War was the futility of fighting a head-to-head confrontation. In 1982, after the Iranians expelled the Iraqi forces, Khomeini ordered his men to keep going, to “liberate” Iraq and push on to Jerusalem. Six years and hundreds of thousands of lives later, he agreed to a ceasefire. According to Alfoneh, many of the generals of Suleimani’s generation believe they could have succeeded had the clerics not flinched. “Many of them feel like they were stabbed in the back,” he said. “They have nurtured this myth for nearly thirty years.” But Iran’s leaders did not want another bloodbath. Instead, they had to build the capacity to wage asymmetrical warfare—attacking stronger powers indirectly, outside of Iran.

The Quds Force was an ideal tool. Khomeini had created the prototype for the force in 1979, with the goal of protecting Iran and exporting the Islamic Revolution. The first big opportunity came in Lebanon, where Revolutionary Guard officers were dispatched in 1982 to help organize Shiite militias in the many-sided Lebanese civil war. Those efforts resulted in the creation of Hezbollah, which developed under Iranian guidance. Hezbollah’s military commander, the brilliant and murderous Imad Mughniyeh, helped form what became known as the Special Security Apparatus, a wing of Hezbollah that works closely with the Quds Force. With assistance from Iran, Hezbollah helped orchestrate attacks on the American Embassy and on French and American military barracks. “In the early days, when Hezbollah was totally dependent on Iranian help, Mughniyeh and others were basically willing Iranian assets,” David Crist, a historian for the U.S. military and the author of “The Twilight War,” says.

For all of the Iranian regime’s aggressiveness, some of its religious zeal seemed to burn out. In 1989, Khomeini stopped urging Iranians to spread the revolution, and called instead for expediency to preserve its gains. Persian self-interest was the order of the day, even if it was indistinguishable from revolutionary fervor. In those years, Suleimani worked along Iran’s eastern frontier, aiding Afghan rebels who were holding out against the Taliban. The Iranian regime regarded the Taliban with intense hostility, in large part because of their persecution of Afghanistan’s minority Shiite population. (At one point, the two countries nearly went to war; Iran mobilized a quarter of a million troops, and its leaders denounced the Taliban as an affront to Islam.) In an area that breeds corruption, Suleimani made a name for himself battling opium smugglers along the Afghan border.

In 1998, Suleimani was named the head of the Quds Force, taking over an agency that had already built a lethal résumé: American and Argentine officials believe that the Iranian regime helped Hezbollah orchestrate the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which killed twenty-nine people, and the attack on the Jewish center in the same city two years later, which killed eighty-five. Suleimani has built the Quds Force into an organization with extraordinary reach, with branches focussed on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations. With a base in the former U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran, the force has between ten thousand and twenty thousand members, divided between combatants and those who train and oversee foreign assets. Its members are picked for their skill and their allegiance to the doctrine of the Islamic Revolution (as well as, in some cases, their family connections). According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, fighters are recruited throughout the region, trained in Shiraz and Tehran, indoctrinated at the Jerusalem Operation College, in Qom, and then “sent on months-long missions to Afghanistan and Iraq to gain experience in field operational work. They usually travel under the guise of Iranian construction workers.”

After taking command, Suleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughniyeh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. “They had a huge presence—training, advising, planning,” Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, “another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can’t.”

Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America’s allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas—helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. “No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves,” a Western diplomat in Baghdad told me. “In each case, Suleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely.”

In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.” It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn’t surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. “You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qassem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”

Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation.”

The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.” The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”

Before the meetings fell apart, Crocker talked with the lead negotiator about the possibility of war in Iraq. “Look,” Crocker said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do have some responsibility for Iraq—it’s my portfolio—and I can read the signs, and I think we’re going to go in.” He saw an enormous opportunity. The Iranians despised Saddam, and Crocker figured that they would be willing to work with the U.S. “I was not a fan of the invasion,” he told me. “But I was thinking, If we’re going to do it, let’s see if we can flip an enemy into a friend—at least tactically for this, and then let’s see where we can take it.” The negotiator indicated that the Iranians were willing to talk, and that Iraq, like Afghanistan, was part of Suleimani’s brief: “It’s one guy running both shows.”

After the invasion began, in March, 2003, Iranian officials were frantic to let the Americans know that they wanted peace. Many of them watched the regimes topple in Afghanistan and Iraq and were convinced that they were next. “They were scared shitless,” Maguire, the former C.I.A. officer in Baghdad, told me. “They were sending runners across the border to our élite elements saying, ‘Look, we don’t want any trouble with you.’ We had an enormous upper hand.” That same year, American officials determined that Iran had reconfigured its plans to develop a nuclear weapon to proceed more slowly and covertly, lest it invite a Western attack.

After Saddam’s regime collapsed, Crocker was dispatched to Baghdad to organize a fledgling government, called the Iraqi Governing Council. He realized that many Iraqi politicians were flying to Tehran for consultations, and he jumped at the chance to negotiate indirectly with Suleimani. In the course of the summer, Crocker passed him the names of prospective Shiite candidates, and the two men vetted each one. Crocker did not offer veto power, but he abandoned candidates whom Suleimani found especially objectionable. “The formation of the governing council was in its essence a negotiation between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

Voir de même:

Gen. Soleimani: A new brand of Iranian hero for nationalist times
Not a Shiite religious figure and not a martyr, Qassem Soleimani, the living commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, has been elevated to hero status.
Scott Peterson
The Christian Science Monitor
February 15, 2016

Tehran, Iran
For years the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force worked from the shadows, conducting the nation’s battles from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

But today Qassem Soleimani is Iran’s celebrity general, a man elevated to hero status by a social media machine that has at least 10 Instagram accounts and spreads photographs and selfies of him at the front lines in Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic Republic long ago turned hero worship into an art form, with its devotion to Shiite religious figures and war martyrs. But the growing personality cult that halos Maj. Gen. Soleimani is different: The gray-haired servant of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is very much alive, and his ascent to stardom coincides with a growing nationalist trend in Iran.

“Propaganda in Iran is changing, and every nation needs a live hero,” says a conservative analyst in Qom, who asked not to be named.

“The dead heroes now are not useful; we need a live hero now. Iranian people like great commanders, military heroes in history,” he says, ticking off a string of names. “I think Qassem Soleimani is the right person for our new propaganda policy – the right person at the right time.”

Soleimani’s face surged into public view after the self-described Islamic State (IS) swept from Syria into Iraq in June 2014. Frontline photographs of the general mingling with Iranian fighters went viral.

Iranians cite many reasons for his rise, from “saving” Baghdad from IS jihadists and reactivating Shiite militias in Iraq to preserving the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during nearly six years of war.

Never mind that some analysts suggest that earlier failures to prevent internal upheaval in Iraq and Syria – for years those countries were part of Soleimani’s responsibility – are the reason for Iran’s deep involvement today.

For his part, Soleimani attributes the “collapse of American power in the region” to Iran’s “spiritual influence” in bolstering resistance against the United States, Israel, and their allies.

“It is very extraordinary. Who else can come close?” says a veteran observer in Tehran, Iran, who asked not to be named. “I don’t know how intentional this is; you see people in all walks of life respect him. It shows we can have a very popular hero who is not a cleric.”

“There is no stain on his image,” says the observer.

Indeed, Soleimani has become a source of pride and a symbol for Iranians of all stripes of their nation’s power abroad. At a pro-regime rally, even young Westernized women in makeup pledge to be “soldiers” of Soleimani. At a bodybuilding championship held in his honor, bare-chested men flaunted their muscles beside a huge portrait of him.

Among the Islamic Revolution’s true believers, Soleimani’s exploits are sung by religious storytellers and posted online. His writings about the Iran-Iraq War are steeped in religious language.

In a video from the Syrian front line broadcast on state TV last month, he addressed fighters, saying, of an Iranian volunteer who was killed, “God loves the person who makes holy war his path.”

When erroneous reports of Soleimani’s death recently emerged (Iran has lost dozens of senior IRGC commanders in Syria and Iraq and hundreds of “advisers”), he laughed and said, “This [martyrdom] is something that I have climbed mountains and crossed plains to find.

Some say the hero worship has gone too far; months ago the IRGC ordered Iranian media not to publish frontline selfies. When a young director wanted to make a film inspired by his hero, the general said he was against it and was embarrassed.

Yet Soleimani appears to have relented for Ebrahim Hatamikia, a renowned director of war films.

“Bodyguard” is now premièring at a festival in Tehran. “I made this film for the love of Haj Qassem Soleimani,” the director told an Iranian website, adding that he is “the earth beneath Soleimani’s feet.”

Voir de plus:

The war on ISIS is getting weird in Iraq
Michael B Kelley
Business insider
Mar 25, 2015

The US has started providing « air strikes, airborne intelligence, and Advise & Assist support to Iraqi security forces headquarters » as Baghdad struggles to drive ISIS militants out of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

The Iraqi assault has heretofore been spearheaded by Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and most of the Iraqi forces are members of Shiite militias beholden to Tehran.

The British magazine The Week features Suleimani in bed with Uncle Sam, which is quite striking given that Suleimani directed « a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq, » as detailed by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.The notion of the US working on the same side Suleimani is confounding to those who consider him a formidable adversary.

« There’s just no way that the US military can actively support an offensive led by Suleimani, » Christopher Harmer, a former aviator in the United States Navy in the Persian Gulf who is now an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, told Helene Cooper of The New York Times recently. « He’s a more stately version of Osama bin Laden. »

Suleimani’s Iraqi allies — such as the powerful Badr militia — are known for allegedly burning down Sunni villages and using power drills on enemies.

« It’s a little hard for us to be allied on the battlefield with groups of individuals who are unrepentantly covered in American blood, » Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, told US News.

Nevertheless, American warplanes have provided support for the so-called special groups over the past few months.

Badr commander Hadi al-Ameri recently told Eli Lake of Bloomberg that the US ambassador to Iraq offered airstrikes to support the Iraqi army and the Badr ground forces. Ameri added that Suleimani « advises us. He offers us information, we respect him very much. »

The Wall Street Journal noted that « U.S. officials want to ensure that Iran doesn’t play a central role in the fight ahead. U.S. officials want to be certain that the Iraqi military provides strong oversight of the Shiite militias. »

The question is who tells Suleimani to get out of the way but leave his militias behind.

Voir de plus:

Trump Kills Iran’s Most Overrated Warrior
Suleimani pushed his country to build an empire, but drove it into the ground instead.
Thomas L. Friedman
NYT
Jan. 3, 2020

One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran. Why? Because Trump just ordered the assassination of possibly the dumbest man in Iran and the most overrated strategist in the Middle East: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?

He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.

All that for the pleasure of saying that Tehran can call the shots in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. What exactly was second prize?

With the Tehran regime severely deprived of funds, the ayatollahs had to raise gasoline prices at home, triggering massive domestic protests. That required a harsh crackdown by Iran’s clerics against their own people that left thousands jailed and killed, further weakening the legitimacy of the regime.

Then Mr. “Military Genius” Suleimani decided that, having propped up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and helping to kill 500,000 Syrians in the process, he would overreach again and try to put direct pressure on Israel. He would do this by trying to transfer precision-guided rockets from Iran to Iranian proxy forces in Lebanon and Syria.

Alas, Suleimani discovered that fighting Israel — specifically, its combined air force, special forces, intelligence and cyber — is not like fighting the Nusra front or the Islamic State. The Israelis hit back hard, sending a whole bunch of Iranians home from Syria in caskets and hammering their proxies as far away as Western Iraq.

Indeed, Israeli intelligence had so penetrated Suleimani’s Quds Force and its proxies that Suleimani would land a plane with precision munitions in Syria at 5 p.m., and the Israeli air force would blow it up by 5:30 p.m. Suleimani’s men were like fish in a barrel. If Iran had a free press and a real parliament, he would have been fired for colossal mismanagement.

But it gets better, or actually worse, for Suleimani. Many of his obituaries say that he led the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, in tacit alliance with America. Well, that’s true. But what they omit is that Suleimani’s, and Iran’s, overreaching in Iraq helped to produce the Islamic State in the first place.

It was Suleimani and his Quds Force pals who pushed Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to push Sunnis out of the Iraqi government and army, stop paying salaries to Sunni soldiers, kill and arrest large numbers of peaceful Sunni protesters and generally turn Iraq into a Shiite-dominated sectarian state. The Islamic State was the counterreaction.

Finally, it was Suleimani’s project of making Iran the imperial power in the Middle East that turned Iran into the most hated power in the Middle East for many of the young, rising pro-democracy forces — both Sunnis and Shiites — in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

As the Iranian-American scholar Ray Takeyh pointed out in a wise essay in Politico, in recent years “Soleimani began expanding Iran’s imperial frontiers. For the first time in its history, Iran became a true regional power, stretching its influence from the banks of the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Soleimani understood that Persians would not be willing to die in distant battlefields for the sake of Arabs, so he focused on recruiting Arabs and Afghans as an auxiliary force. He often boasted that he could create a militia in little time and deploy it against Iran’s various enemies.”

It was precisely those Suleimani proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen — that created pro-Iranian Shiite states-within-states in all of these countries. And it was precisely these states-within-states that helped to prevent any of these countries from cohering, fostered massive corruption and kept these countries from developing infrastructure — schools, roads, electricity.

And therefore it was Suleimani and his proxies — his “kingmakers” in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq — who increasingly came to be seen, and hated, as imperial powers in the region, even more so than Trump’s America. This triggered popular, authentic, bottom-up democracy movements in Lebanon and Iraq that involved Sunnis and Shiites locking arms together to demand noncorrupt, nonsectarian democratic governance.

On Nov. 27, Iraqi Shiites — yes, Iraqi Shiites — burned down the Iranian consulate in Najaf, Iraq, removing the Iranian flag from the building and putting an Iraqi flag in its place. That was after Iraqi Shiites, in September 2018, set the Iranian consulate in Basra ablaze, shouting condemnations of Iran’s interference in Iraqi politics.

The whole “protest” against the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad last week was almost certainly a Suleimani-staged operation to make it look as if Iraqis wanted America out when in fact it was the other way around. The protesters were paid pro-Iranian militiamen. No one in Baghdad was fooled by this.

In a way, it’s what got Suleimani killed. He so wanted to cover his failures in Iraq he decided to start provoking the Americans there by shelling their forces, hoping they would overreact, kill Iraqis and turn them against the United States. Trump, rather than taking the bait, killed Suleimani instead.

I have no idea whether this was wise or what will be the long-term implications. But here are two things I do know about the Middle East.

First, often in the Middle East the opposite of “bad” is not “good.” The opposite of bad often turns out to be “disorder.” Just because you take out a really bad actor like Suleimani doesn’t mean a good actor, or a good change in policy, comes in his wake. Suleimani is part of a system called the Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution has managed to use oil money and violence to stay in power since 1979 — and that is Iran’s tragedy, a tragedy that the death of one Iranian general will not change.

Today’s Iran is the heir to a great civilization and the home of an enormously talented people and significant culture. Wherever Iranians go in the world today, they thrive as scientists, doctors, artists, writers and filmmakers — except in the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose most famous exports are suicide bombing, cyberterrorism and proxy militia leaders. The very fact that Suleimani was probably the most famous Iranian in the region speaks to the utter emptiness of this regime, and how it has wasted the lives of two generations of Iranians by looking for dignity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

The other thing I know is that in the Middle East all important politics happens the morning after the morning after.

Yes, in the coming days there will be noisy protests in Iran, the burning of American flags and much crying for the “martyr.” The morning after the morning after? There will be a thousand quiet conversations inside Iran that won’t get reported. They will be about the travesty that is their own government and how it has squandered so much of Iran’s wealth and talent on an imperial project that has made Iran hated in the Middle East.

And yes, the morning after, America’s Sunni Arab allies will quietly celebrate Suleimani’s death, but we must never forget that it is the dysfunction of many of the Sunni Arab regimes — their lack of freedom, modern education and women’s empowerment — that made them so weak that Iran was able to take them over from the inside with its proxies.

I write these lines while flying over New Zealand, where the smoke from forest fires 2,500 miles away over eastern Australia can be seen and felt. Mother Nature doesn’t know Suleimani’s name, but everyone in the Arab world is going to know her name. Because the Middle East, particularly Iran, is becoming an environmental disaster area — running out of water, with rising desertification and overpopulation. If governments there don’t stop fighting and come together to build resilience against climate change — rather than celebrating self-promoting military frauds who conquer failed states and make them fail even more — they’re all doomed.

Voir encore:

Love is a Battlefield
Jon Stewart takes the U.S.-Iran ‘strange bedfellows’ line literally, imagines Iraq as a love triangle
Peter Weber
The Week
June 17, 2014

Yes, Jon Stewart is a comedian, and no, The Daily Show isn’t a hard news-and-analysis show. But on Monday night’s show, Stewart gave a remarkably cogent and creative explanation of the geopolitical situation in Iraq. The U.S. and Iran are discussing coordinating their efforts in Iraq to defeat a common enemy, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militia. Meanwhile, ISIS is getting financial support from one of America’s biggest Arab allies, and Iran’s biggest Muslim enemy, Saudi Arabia.

Forget « strange bedfellows » — this is a romantic Gordian knot. But it makes a lot of sense when Stewart presents the situation as a love triangle. « Sure, you say ‘Death to America’ and burn our flags, but you do it to our face, » Stewart tells Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been funding America’s enemies behind our backs — but what about its sweet, sweet crude oil? Like all good love triangles, this one has a soundtrack — Stewart draws on the hits of the 1980s to great effect. In fact, the only ’80s song Stewart left out that would have tied this all together: « Love Bites. » –Peter Weber

State Department urges U.S. citizens to ‘depart Iraq immediately’ due to ‘heightened tensions’

4:37 a.m.

The State Department on Friday urged « U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately, » citing unspecified « heightened tensions in Iraq and the region » and the « Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound. »

Iranian officials have vowed « harsh » retaliation for America’s assassination Friday of Iran’s top regional military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, outside Baghdad International Airport. Syria similarly criticized the « treacherous American criminal aggression » and warned of a « dangerous escalation » in the region.

Iraq’s outgoing prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, also slammed the the « liquidation operations » against Soleimani and half a dozen Iraqi militiamen killed in the drone strikes as an « aggression against Iraq, » a « brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and blatant attack on the nation’s dignity, » and an « obvious violation of the conditions of U.S. troop presence in Iraq, which is limited to training Iraqi forces. » A senior Iraqi official said Parliament must take « necessary and appropriate measures to protect Iraq’s dignity, security, and sovereignty. »

The Pentagon said President Trump ordered the assassination of Soleimani as a « defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad, » claiming the Quds Force commander was « actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. » Peter Weber

If President Trump was watching Fox News at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday night, he got a violently mixed messages on his order to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, national hero, and scourge of U.S. forces.

Sean Hannity called into his own show to tell guest host Josh Chaffetz that the killing of Soleimani was « a huge victory and total leadership by the president » and « the opposite of what happened in Benghazi. » Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) channeled Ronald Reagan and praised Trump’s « peace through strength. » Oliver North, Karl Rove, and Ari Flesischer also lauded Trump’s decision.

Earlier, fellow host Tucker Carlson saw neither peace nor strength in Trump’s actions. He blamed « official Washington, » though, and suggested Trump had been « out-maneuvered » by more hawkish advisers who might be pushing America « toward war despite what the president wants. »

« There’s been virtually no debate or even discussion about this, but America appears to be lumbering toward a new Middle East war, » Carlson said. « The very people demanding action against Iran tonight » are « liars, and they don’t care about you, they don’t care about your kids, they’re reckless and incompetent. And you should keep all of that in mind as war with Iran looms closer tonight. » Trump, he added, « doesn’t seek war and he’s wary of it, particularly in an election year. » When his guest, Curt Mills of The American Conservative, said war with Iran « would be twice as bad » as the Iraq War and « if Trump does this, he’s cooked, » Carlson sadly concurred: « I think that’s right. »

Media Matters’ Matt Gertz pointed out that Hannity has always been more « bellicose » than Carlson on Iran, and both men informally advise Trump off-air as well as on-air. And « if you pay attention to the impact the Fox News Cabinet has on the president, » he tweeted Thursday night, « Tucker Carlson has been off for the holidays the past few days as tensions with Iran mounted. » Coincidence? Maybe. But on such twists does the fate of our world turn.

Voir enfin:

Le massacre des prisonniers politiques de 1988 en Iran : une mobilisation forclose ?
Henry Sorg
Raisons politiques
2008/2 (n° 30), pages 59 à 87

« Au nom de Dieu clément et miséricordieux. J’ai décidé afin de me distraire et me calmer l’esprit, sachant qu’il n’y a pas d’issue pour me sauver de cette douleur, de présenter [mes filles] disparues, Leili et Shirine, dans une note pour mes chers petits-enfants qui ignoreront cette histoire et comment elle est arrivée ­ spécialement les enfants de Shirine. D’abord je dois dire que je n’ai pas de savoir pour exprimer correctement tous mes souvenirs et mes observations sur ce qui s’est passé pour moi et mes enfants durant cette période funeste de la Révolution [en Iran]. Je n’ai pris un crayon et une feuille de papier qu’en de rares occasions de ma vie, alors que dire maintenant que je suis un vieillard de 70 ans aux mains tremblantes, aux yeux plein de sang (…). Mais que faire puisque je suis en conflit avec moi-même. Mon appel intérieur m’a tout pris et me crie : â?œnote ce que tu as vu, ce que tu as entendu et ce que tu as vécuâ?. Mon appel intérieur me crie : â?œpuisque c’est vrai, rapporte que Leili était enceinte de huit mois lorsqu’ils l’ont exécutéeâ?Â ; il me crie : â?œEcris au moins que Shirine, après six ans et neuf mois de prison, et après avoir supporté les tortures les plus sauvages et les plus modernes a finalement été exécutée, et ils n’ont pas rendu son corpsâ?. Si ces souvenirs comportent des erreurs d’écriture, on en comprendra l’essentiel du propos à un certain point. Certainement, les enfants de Shirine veulent savoir qui était leur mère et pourquoi elle a été exécutée. »
Carnet de notes retrouvé à T., Iran

1LA RÉVOLUTION IRANIENNE s’est instituée sur la double violence d’une « guerre sainte [2][2]L’ayatollah Khomeini qualifie la guerre de Jihad défensif et… » contre un ennemi extérieur, l’Irak, et d’une élimination physique des opposants intérieurs, celle notamment des prisonniers politiques en 1988 [3][3]L’auteur remercie Sandrine Lefranc pour sa lecture attentive et…. Durant l’été 1988, après que l’ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini eut accepté de mauvaise grâce la résolution 598 de l’ONU mettant fin à la longue guerre contre l’Irak, les prisons du pays ont été purgées de leurs prisonniers politiques. Le nombre exact de prisonniers exécutés et enterrés dans des fosses communes ou des sections de cimetière reste jusqu’à ce jour inconnu. Les rares recherches menées sur la question, les organisations qui ont capitalisé les témoignages de survivants, les groupes politiques dont les membres ont été exécutés, les témoignages individuels, mais aussi certains anciens responsables de l’État islamique s’accordent pour reconnaître que ce bilan se chiffre en plusieurs milliers [4][4]Voir notamment Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions. Prisons…. Cet événement a non seulement fait l’objet de la part des autorités publiques iraniennes d’un silence orchestré et d’un déni, mais il n’a pas non plus été documenté ou analysé de façon exhaustive. Vingt ans après les faits, on peine encore à mettre au jour cette réalité qui existe de façon fragmentaire, par assemblage d’ouï-dire et de témoignages : matrice à mythes pour certains acteurs politiques exclus du champ national (tel le Parti des Moudjahidines du Peuple dont les membres furent les principales victimes [5][5]Voir E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 215 ;…), drames familiaux couverts d’un silence gêné pour une population iranienne qui ne souhaite pas vraiment connaître ce qu’elle appelle, pudiquement, « ces histoires-là ».

2 Dans le contexte d’une « démocratisation » de la vie sociale et politique [6][6]Farhad Khosrokhavar, « L’Iran, la démocratie et la nouvelle… à partir des années 1990, les exécutions de 1988 sont absentes du débat initié sur les libertés publiques et, notamment, des revendications exprimées en faveur d’un État de droit et d’une nouvelle société civile [7][7]Ibid., p. 309 et Nouchine Yavari d’Hellencourt, « Islam et…. En effet, le contexte politique autoritaire dans lequel se sont perpétrées les violences d’État ­ de 1979, juste après la Révolution, jusqu’aux massacres de 1988 ­ évolue dans la décennie suivante vers une demande de « réforme » et de libéralisation du régime islamique. Cette transformation procède principalement autour de trois mouvements : d’une part, la réflexion théorique (à la fois politique et théologique) qui occupe le débat publique sur les rapports entre islam et droits de l’homme [8][8]Ibid. ; d’autre part, une série de changements politiques au sein des institutions suite à l’élection du président Khatami en 1997, aux élections municipales de 1999 et celles du 6e Parlement en 2000 ; enfin, l’apparition d’un nouveau rapport au politique dans la société avec l’émergence d’une culture politique qui, en rupture avec l’islamisme révolutionnaire des deux décennies précédentes, se détourne des « concepts identitaires classiques comme “peuple” ou “nation” [vers ceux, nouveaux] de société civile (jâme’e madani), de citoyenneté (shahrvandi) et d’individu (fard)  [9][9]Ibid. ». Ces nouveaux mouvements, s’ils mentionnent éventuellement et discrètement les « événements » de 1988, le font sur le mode de l’allusion et non pas sur celui de la mobilisation.

3 L’étoffe du silence qui entoure les exécutions massives de l’été 1988 est complexe : Qui sont les victimes ? Quelles en sont les raisons ? Quelles en sont les conditions et qui en sont les responsables ? Il s’agit d’abord, en s’appuyant sur la littérature existante ainsi que sur les sources premières accessibles, d’exposer quelques éléments de réponses à ces questions, sur un sujet d’étude inédit en France. D’autre part, il s’agit de réfléchir autour de ces faits connus, mais non reconnus ­ selon la définition que Cohen propose du « déni [10][10]Stanley Cohen, States of Denial, Knowing about Atrocities and… » ­ en se demandant comment fonctionnent les dispositifs d’invisibilisation mis en place par le pouvoir et comment y répondent des pratiques de souvenir. Le massacre de 1988 est l’enjeu d’une mémoire dont il s’agit pour le pouvoir d’effacer la trace, d’abord, de façon à la fois concrète et symbolique, à travers l’interdit du rituel funéraire pour les victimes. Cette tension mémorielle travaille la société iranienne et oppose depuis deux décennies un passé non « commémorable » à un travail de mémoire qui se cristallise autour des sépultures.

4 Peu de matériaux empiriques et d’analyses sont disponibles sur l’exécution en masse des prisonniers politiques qui a clos la période de consolidation du pouvoir et de suppression de l’opposition au Parti républicain islamique de 1981 à 1988. Les sources, disponibles en persan et en anglais, se composent principalement de témoignages et de quelques travaux d’investigation historiques [11][11]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209-229 ;…, sociologiques [12][12]Maziar Behrooz, « Reflections on Iran’s Prison System During… et juridiques ­ ces derniers s’intéressant à la qualification des exécutions de masse comme « crime contre l’humanité [13][13]Reza Afshari, Human Rights in Iran : The Abuse of Cultural… ». Les rapports non-gouvernementaux et internationaux [14][14]Conseil Économique et Social des Nations Unies (ECOSOC),… constituent une autre source, qui, tout comme les travaux scientifiques, se fondent principalement sur des entretiens avec de rares prisonniers témoins exilés à l’étranger et avec les proches des victimes, ainsi que sur des témoignages écrits [15][15]Un impressionnant travail a été accompli sur ce point par E.…. À cet égard, les Mémoires de l’ayatollah Montazeri documentent les faits du point de vue de l’organisation politique et, dans une certaine mesure, de l’organisation administrative. D’un autre côté, plusieurs témoignages ont été publiés sous forme de romans, de lettres écrites depuis la prison ou de mémoires [16][16]Notamment Nima Parvaresh, Nabardi nabarabar : gozareshi az haft…. D’autres témoignages, nombreux, restent encore à découvrir et assembler, comme celui que nous nous proposons d’explorer dans cet article.

5 Lors d’un séjour dans la ville de T. en 2004, nous avons pu prendre connaissance d’un carnet de notes d’une cinquantaine de pages écrites entre 1989 et 1990 par un homme âgé. Ce cahier a été trouvé à sa mort par ses proches dans ses effets personnels. Javad L., retraité d’une compagnie publique résidant à T., était père de six enfants dont les cinq aînés, qui avaient suivi de solides formations universitaires, commençaient leur vie adulte à la fin des années 1970. Dans ces pages, il racontait dans le détail les circonstances de l’arrestation et de l’exécution de ses deux filles à la suite de la Révolution de 1978. Celles-ci avaient pris part de façon active au mouvement d’opposition des Moudjahidines du Peuple [17][17]Nous reprenons, parmi les différentes transcriptions possibles,…, au cours de la révolution iranienne et dans les premières années de la nouvelle République islamique. Elles ont été arrêtées dans le cadre de la répression politique mise en place à partir de 1980. Le carnet de notes relate des faits qui s’étendent de 1980 à 1988 et détaille l’arrestation, l’emprisonnement et l’exécution des deux jeunes femmes, la première en 1982 et la seconde en 1988. Les destinataires étant de jeunes enfants au moment des faits, l’écriture cherche à faire passer une mémoire qui imbrique généalogie familiale et histoire nationale : « Certainement, les enfants de Shirine veulent savoir qui était leur mère et pourquoi elle a été exécutée. » Le texte poursuit : « Peut-être qu’il leur sera intéressant de connaître les moudjahidines, de quelles franges de la société ils étaient issus, quels étaient leurs buts et leurs intentions et pourquoi ils ont été massacrés sans merci. Je reprends donc depuis le début, du plus loin que vont mes souvenirs. Inhcha’Allah. »

Les moudjahidines : de la révolution à la répression

6 Les membres, et de façon bien plus déterminante en nombre, les proches et sympathisants du Parti des Moudjahidines du peuple (Moudjahidine-e Khalq) sont les principales cibles des vagues de répression successives entre 1981 et 1988 et forment une large majorité des prisonniers exécutés en 1988. Ce parti politique, dont la formation remonte au lendemain des mouvements de mai 1968 dans le monde, se fonde sur une synthèse entre islamisme, gauche radicale et nationalisme anti-impérialiste. À l’origine, le mouvement revendique l’inspiration du Front National (Jebhe-ye Melli) de Mossadeq et Fatemi [18][18]Mohammad Mossadeq a été Premier ministre de 1951 à 1953. Ayant…. Fortement influencés par les écrits de Shariati [19][19]Ervand Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, New Haven/Londres,…, sociologue des religions et figure intellectuelle de l’opposition à la monarchie pahlavie, les moudjahidines articulent la pensée d’un islam chiite politique à une approche socio-économique marxiste et la revendication d’une société sans classe (nezam-e bi tabaghe-ye tawhidi), ainsi qu’une critique de la domination occidentale et un nationalisme révolutionnaire proche des mouvements de libération nationale du Tiers-monde [20][20]Ibid., p. 100-102.. « Quel était leur programme ? écrit Javad, je ne le sais pas. Ce que je sais, c’est que comme la peste et le choléra, en un clin d’ il, tous les jeunes éduqués, engagés et pieux, filles ou garçons, ont commencé à soutenir le programme des moudjahidines, grisés par leur enthousiasme, comme s’ils avaient trouvé réponse à tous leurs manques dans cette école de pensée. (…) Au début, ils se comptaient parmi les partisans de l’ayatolla Khomeini et de feu l’ayatollah Taleghani, et ils considéraient ceux-ci comme les symboles de leur salut. De jour en jour, le nombre de leurs partisans augmentait. Surtout chez les gens éduqués, des professeurs de lycée aux lycéens. » À la différence des autres partis de gauche, et particulièrement l’historique parti communiste (le Tudeh) dirigé par l’élite intellectuelle et bénéficiant d’une certaine base populaire, le parti mobilise une nombreuse population étudiante et lycéenne issue d’une jeunesse non fortunée, mais qui a eu accès à l’éducation [21][21]Ibid., p. 229 ; voir également A. Matin-Asgari, « Twentieth…. « Les moudjahidines, avec leur combinaison de chiisme, de modernisme et de radicalisme social exerçaient une évidente séduction sur la jeune intelligentsia, composée de plus en plus par les enfants, non pas de l’élite aisée ou des laïques éduqués, mais de la classe moyenne traditionnelle [22][22]E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 229 (notre… », rappelle Abrahamian, qui insiste d’autre part sur l’extrême jeunesse de sa base. Alors que les cadres du parti ont été politisés dans les mouvements étudiants de la fin des années 1960, la base militante a été socialisée et politisée en 1977-79. En 1981, elle se compose principalement de lycéens et d’étudiants radicalisés par l’expérience de la révolution, vivant encore pour la plupart dans le foyer familial.
Présentés comme « islamo-marxistes » et poursuivis dans les dernières années de la monarchie, les moudjahidines prennent une part active au mouvement qui initie la révolution de 1979. Accueillant avec enthousiasme le retour de l’ayatollah Khomeini de son exil français en 1978, les moudjahidines s’opposent pourtant au principe du Velayat-e Faghih (gouvernement du docteur de la loi islamique) [23][23]Appliqué dans la Constitution iranienne de 1979, ce principe…, qui est au fondement constitutionnel de la nouvelle République islamique, et soutiennent le président de la République laïque Bani Sadr. Mobilisant d’importantes manifestations d’opposition dans les principales villes, les moudjahidines sont un des seuls partis politiques à présenter des candidats dans tout le pays en vue des élections législatives de 1981. Le mouvement et ses membres sont violemment écartés de la vie publique à partir de l’attentat du 28 juin 1981 au siège du Parti républicain islamiste : officiellement attribué aux moudjahidines, cet attentat à la bombe fait 71 morts parmi les hauts responsables de ce parti qui amorce à cette époque son appropriation exclusive du pouvoir [24][24]Haleh Afshar (dir.), Iran : A Revolution in Turmoil, Albany,…. Une Fatwa énoncée par Khomeini rend alors les moudjahidines illégaux, en les identifiant comme monafeghins, « hypocrites en matière de religion ». Cette étiquette, télescopant encore une fois l’actualité politique et la tradition musulmane, reprend le nom donné aux polythéistes de Médine qui s’étaient déclarés du côté de Mahommet et ses premiers fidèles, tout en vendant la ville aux assiégeants de la Mecque : le couperet distingue le chiisme « vrai », en condamnant et en discréditant définitivement l’islamisme révolutionnaire inspiré par Chariati. Le 29 juillet 1981, le dirigeant des Moudjahidine-e Kalq, Massoud Rajavi quitte clandestinement le pays en compagnie du président Bani Sadr pour former, en France, le Conseil National de la Résistance. Par la suite, l’ex-président se distancie du mouvement pris en main par le dirigeant moudjahidine qui recompose une structure politique fermée en recrutant de nouveaux sympathisants dans les villes européennes et américaines. Pour les moudjahidines, l’opposition au régime post-révolutionnaire s’est traduite par un anti-patriotisme stratégique qui les a amenés à s’allier avec l’Irak durant le conflit des années 1980 [25][25]Connie Bruck, « Exiles : How Iran’s Expatriates Are Gaming the…. C’est à cette évolution qu’Abrahamian attribue l’évolution sectaire du parti [26][26]E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 260-261. et sa rupture avec la société iranienne dans les années 1980. L’isolement du parti et de ses membres, ses pratiques hiérarchiques, ses prises de position ambiguës depuis 2001 sont dénoncées [27][27]C. Bruck, « Exiles… », art. cité ; Human Rights Watch, No… et semblent l’avoir marginalisé comme acteur politique dans l’espace iranien [28][28]Elizabeth Rubin, « The Cult of Rajavi », New York Times….

7 « Pourquoi les moudjahidines ont-ils réussi à élargir la base de la mobilisation politique [dans les années 1970 et 1980], mais échoué à accéder au pouvoir [29][29]E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 3 (notre… ? » Cette question, qui guide la recherche historique d’Abrahamian sur le mouvement [30][30]Ibid., Javad cherche lui aussi à l’éclaircir quand il évoque les élections de 1981 : « En fait dans beaucoup de villes iraniennes, les moudjahidines avaient la majorité des voix [31][31]Le mouvement était le seul à présenter des candidats partout en…. Malheureusement, après le décompte des votes, la situation a changé, et la raison en était que les jeunes moudjahidines n’étaient pas faits pour la politique. Ils n’avaient pas commencé la lutte pour avoir des postes de pouvoir et du prestige. Ils pensaient établir une société pieuse [32][32]Le manuscrit dit : « une société Tohidie  », d’après le Tohid… et sans classe (…) Quel qu’aient été ces idées en tous cas, elles ont été étouffées dans l’ uf. Par ceux qui s’étaient cachés derrière la Révolution et qui sont apparus tout à coup. »

Le massacre de l’été 1988

8 L’institution d’un État islamique en Iran s’est fondée, à partir de 1981, sur un « régime de terreur » qui a duré aussi longtemps que la guerre contre l’Irak, et s’est traduit concrètement par une élimination physique des opposants politiques potentiels, le recours à la torture et une grande publicité de ces deux pratiques afin de « tenir » la population [33][33]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confession, op. cit., p. 210.. C’est dans ce contexte que vient en 1988, de l’ayatollah Khomeini, l’ordre de purger les prisons en éliminant les opposants politiques. Les membres les plus actifs de l’opposition au régime islamiste ont déjà été éliminés entre 1981 et 1985 (environ 15 000 exécutions) [34][34]Nader Vahabi, « L’obstacle structurel à l’abolition de la peine… ou se sont exilés à cette même époque. Les prisonniers politiques et d’opinion en 1988 sont des (ex-)sympathisants ou des membres des moudjahidines pour la grande majorité, du Tudeh (PC), de partis d’extrême gauche minoritaires, du PDKI (parti indépendantiste kurde), ou encore sans affiliation. Cette purge a lieu au terme de procès spéciaux : d’une part, une condamnation à mort doit être signée par le Vali-e Faghih, mais Khomeini donne procuration à une équipe composée de membres du clergé et de divers corps administratifs (Information, Intérieur, autorités pénitentiaires) pour mener ces procès qui prennent en réalité la forme de brefs interrogatoires à la chaîne. D’autre part, l’ayatollah Montazeri, alors numéro deux du régime, cite une Fatwa énoncée par Khomeini à propos des moudjahidines : « Ceux qui sont dans des prisons du pays et restent engagés dans leur soutien aux Monafeghin [Moujahidines], sont en guerre contre Dieu et condamnés à mort (…) Annihilez les ennemis de l’Islam immédiatement. Dans cette affaire, utilisez tous les critères qui accélèrent l’application du verdict [35][35]H.-A. Montazeri, Khaterat, op. cit.. » Des témoignages de prisonniers acquittés d’Evin et de Gohar Dasht, à Téhéran, ont été par la suite diffusés dans certains journaux libres de langue iranienne et sur les sites Internet d’ONG iraniennes. Celui de Javad est l’un des rares qui évoque l’événement en province, dans la ville de T. Cet épisode, qui clôt son carnet, commence quand il reçoit un appel le 30 juillet 1988 à 22 h 00, de la prison de D. où sa fille est détenue depuis 1981, lui demandant de venir immédiatement la voir car elle « va partir en voyage demain ». Il est surpris : on est dimanche, or personne ne lui a rien dit lors de la visite hebdomadaire du samedi, qui s’est déroulée normalement la veille. Il se rend à la prison où il rencontre sa fille et lui demande des explications. Shirine raconte : « “Hier soir à 23 heures, alors que tout le monde dormait et que la prison était totalement silencieuse, ils sont venus me chercher, ils m’ont bandé les yeux sans expliquer de quoi il s’agissait et ils m’ont emmenée dans une salle où se tenaient un grand nombre de responsables : le gouverneur municipal, le directeur de la prison, le procureur, le chef du département exécutif et quelques membres [du ministère] de l’Information ainsi que quelques personnes que je n’avais jamais vues auparavant. D’abord, le gouverneur municipal se tourne vers moi et me dit : `D’après ce que nous savons, tu es encore partisane des Monafeghins‘. Je réponds : `S’il n’a pas encore été prouvé pour vous que je ne suis plus dans aucune action et que je n’en soutiens aucune, que faut-il faire pour vous convaincre ?’ Ensuite il demande : `Que penses-tu de la République islamique ?’ Je réponds : `Depuis que la République islamique a vu le jour, il y a de cela sept ans et quelques mois, je suis quant à moi en prison. Je n’ai pas eu de contact avec la société pour pouvoir avoir quelconque aperçu des façons de faire de la République islamique.’ Le gouverneur municipal a ordonné `Emmenez-la’. Il était alors minuit environ. Je ne sais pas quel est le but de cet événement.” Le gardien de prison intervient : “Le but est celui que nous avons dit : ils veulent vous envoyer en voyage, mais j’ignore où”. Moi qui étais le père de la prisonnière, je demande : “Quelle somme d’argent peut-elle avoir avec elle dans ce voyage ?” Il me répond : “Elle peut avoir la somme qu’elle veut”. J’ai donc donné 500 tomans que j’avais sur moi à Shirine. Sa mère lui a donné les habits qu’elle avait apportés. (…) Ensuite, j’ai demandé au responsable de la prison : “Quand pourrons-nous avoir des nouvelles de Shirine et savoir où elle est ?” Il répond “Revenez ici dans quinze jours, peut-être qu’on en saura plus d’ici là.” »
À partir du 19 juillet 1988 à Téhéran, et quelques jours plus tard dans les autres villes, les autorités pénitentiaires isolent les prisons. « Quinze jours plus tard, sa mère et moi nous sommes rendus à la prison. Un grand nombre de proches de prisonniers s’étaient regroupés là, même ceux dont les enfants avaient été libérés il y a un ou deux ans ou quelques mois. Nous leur avons demandé ce qu’ils faisaient là. Ils nous ont répondu qu’ils ne savaient pas eux-mêmes. “Tout ce qu’on sait, c’est que nos enfants sont venus pour leur feuille de présence et ils ne sont pas encore ressortis.” Car la règle était que chaque prisonnier libéré devait se présenter une à deux fois par semaine pour signer une feuille de présence. Des gardiens armés postés sur le trottoir devant la prison ne laissaient personne s’approcher et, de la même façon, des gardiens armés étaient postés devant la porte du tribunal révolutionnaire, situé un peu plus loin, pour empêcher les gens d’approcher. Une grande affiche était placardée au mur : “Pour raison de surcharge de travail, nous ne pouvons accueillir les visiteurs.” » Dans les prisons, les détenus sont isolés par groupes d’affiliation politique et par durée de peine ; les espaces communs sont fermés. À l’extérieur, aucune nouvelle des prisons ne paraît plus dans la presse du pays qui, pour des raisons d’intimidation et de propagande, en est très friande en temps normal : c’est le huis-clos dans lequel s’organisent les exécutions, dont le plus gros se déroule en quelques semaines à la fin août 1988. Selon un prisonnier qui se trouvait alors dans la principale prison d’Evin : « À partir de juillet 1988, pas de journaux, pas de télévision, pas de douche, pas de visite des familles et souvent, pas de nourriture. Dans chaque pièce (d’environ 24 mètres carrés) il y avait plus de 45 prisonniers. Finalement, le 29 ou le 30 juillet, ils ont commencé le massacre [36][36]Hossein Mokhtar, Testimony at the September 1st Conference,….  » Les exécutions ont donc lieu à la suite des « procès » spéciaux menés en quelques jours à l’encontre de milliers de prisonniers. Alors que les questions posées à Shirine sont d’ordre politique et interrogent sa loyauté envers le régime en place, les interrogatoires cités par de nombreuses sources, notamment pour les prisons d’Evin et de Gohar Dasht, indiquent l’usage d’une grammaire religieuse, d’une forme « inquisitoire [37][37]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209 et… » et d’une certaine vision politique de l’islam qui cherche, à la surprise des prisonniers, non plus à connaître leurs opinions, mais à déterminer s’ils sont de bons musulmans. Au cours d’un échange de quelques minutes, un jury d’autorités religieuses demandait ainsi aux prisonniers communistes s’ils priaient et si leurs parents priaient : en cas de double réponse négative, les prisonniers étaient acquittés (une personne élevée dans l’athéisme ne peut être un « apostat »), si par contre ils étaient athées de parents religieux, ils étaient alors condamnés à mort pour apostasie. Les moudjahidines quant à eux devaient, pour avoir la vie sauve, prouver qu’ils étaient repentants (et donc s’affirmer prêts à étrangler un autre moudjahidine) et loyaux (prêts à nettoyer les champs de mine de l’armée iranienne avec leur corps) : ceux qui répondaient par la négative à ces questions, et ils furent nombreux, étaient condamnés à mort pour « hypocrisie » [38][38]Ibid.. Le processus, qui se déroule de mi-juillet à début septembre, est orchestré dans la discrétion, notamment par le recours aux pendaisons, qui correspondent par ailleurs à l’exécution appropriée pour les non-musulmans (les Kafer, dont il est interdit de faire couler le sang). D’après témoignages, des prisonniers ignoraient que leurs co-détenus étaient en train d’être exécutés par centaines et pensaient qu’ils étaient « transférés ailleurs [39][39]Témoignage cité dans E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…,… ». La forme de ces procès, menés par des autorités ad hoc pour des prisonniers qui ont déjà été jugés une première fois (parfois rejugés plusieurs fois lors de leur peine ou qui l’ont parfois déjà purgée) soulève la question de savoir si l’on doit parler d’« exécution ». Abrahamian parle des « exécutions de masse de 1988 » [40][40]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209. ; le mot avancé par ceux qui ont travaillé sur la qualification juridique des événements comme « crimes contre l’humanité » est celui de « massacre » [41][41]K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art.….

Pratiques d’invisibilisation

9 À partir du mois de novembre 1988, la nouvelle des exécutions est annoncée aux familles lors de la visite hebdomadaire ; très vite, l’émotion gagne la foule qui se rassemble devant la prison. Face à la volonté de discrétion du pouvoir, d’autres méthodes sont adoptées. « C’est en âbân [octobre-novembre] qu’un jour, contre toute attente, la porte de la prison s’ouvrit et on nous dit d’entrer. Nous ne tenions plus en place de joie, et nous nous reprochions de ne pas avoir amené quelques fruits avec nous au cas où, ou d’avoir pris quelques vêtements. Mais après un moment d’attente et d’impatience, ils nous ont distribué des formulaires en nous ordonnant de les remplir, afin de consigner tous renseignements concernant les prisonniers et leur famille : domicile, lieu de travail, salaire, activités quotidiennes, connaissances. Ceux qui pouvaient remplir ce formulaire le faisaient eux-mêmes, et ceux qui ne savaient pas écrire se faisaient aider. Quand les formulaires ont été remplis, ils ont été collectés un par un (…) puis la porte s’est ouverte et on nous a dit : “C’est bon, vous pouvez partir” (…) Cette situation incertaine se poursuivait. Les jours de visite, nous nous réunissions comme d’habitude devant la prison, et finalement, comme d’habitude, nous nous dispersions bredouille. Jusqu’à un samedi, au début du mois d’âzar [novembre] : j’étais moi-même parti à la prison quand on a appelé à la maison en disant : “Dites au père de Shirine L. de se rendre demain matin à D.” (…) Le jour suivant, comme indiqué, nous nous sommes rendus devant la prison de D. à 9 heures. Il y avait d’autres personnes attroupées qui avaient reçu le même appel. Quand je les ai vues, je me suis un peu apaisé.(…) Nous étions une centaine ce jour-là, car ils avaient déjà rendu les affaires personnelles d’une trentaine de prisonnières à leur famille. Après un moment d’attente, ils ont appelé la première personne, qui était un vieillard de 60 à 70 ans, comme moi. Tous, nous retenions notre souffle : pourquoi ont-ils appelé cette seule personne ? Nous attendions tous que le vieil homme ressorte afin de lui demander de quoi il retournait. Cela ne dura pas longtemps, peut-être dix minutes, avant que l’on revoie de loin le vieillard, tenant un bout de papier dans la main. Nous nous sommes rués sur lui, mais il était analphabète et ne savait pas de quoi il s’agissait : “Ils m’ont donné ce papier et m’ont dit de partir, et de me le faire lire dehors. Ensuite ils m’ont présenté une lettre et m’ont dit de mettre mes empreintes au bas. Ils m’ont prévenu de ne pas faire le moindre bruit, sans quoi ils viendraient arrêter toute la famille. Ils m’ont recommandé de ne pas perdre le bout de papier.” Ce bout de papier que le vieillard tenait à la main (…) disait ceci : “telle section, tel rang, tel numéro”. Le vieillard s’est assis dans un coin et s’est mis à pleurer. La deuxième et la troisième personne s’en vont et reviennent de la même manière. J’étais le quatrième : un responsable de l’Information venait devant la porte, appelait la personne, l’accompagnait dans le couloir de la prison. Là-bas, on nous faisait entrer dans une pièce pour une fouille complète ; ensuite on entrait dans une deuxième pièce où un jeune de 25 à 30 ans était assis sur une chaise, entouré de deux pasdars[42][42]Les pasdaran-e Sepah, gardiens de la Révolution, sont la milice…. Après des salutations mielleuses, celui-ci nous demandait : “Que pensez-vous de la République islamique ? Quel souvenir gardez-vous du martyre des 72 compagnons de l’Imam [43][43]Expression désignant l’attentat terroriste de juin 1981 où… ?” Je ne sais pas ce qu’on répondait d’habitude ; quant à moi, j’ai exprimé clairement ma pensée. Puis il me tendit un morceau de papier imprimé en disant : “Lis-le, c’est l’accord qui stipule que vous n’avez aucun droit d’organiser une cérémonie de mise en terre, vous n’avez pas le droit d’organiser de cérémonie religieuse privée, ni dans une mosquée, ni à domicile, ni au cimetière, vous devez vous garder de pleurer à haute voix ou faire réciter le Coran pour les défunts.” Puis il lut lui-même la lettre (…) et me demanda de signer. J’ai déchiré la lettre en morceaux sur sa table. Deux personnes sont entrées dans la pièce et m’ont pris ; elles m’ont emmené par la porte de derrière de la prison et m’ont mis dans une voiture. Elles m’ont conduit jusqu’au carrefour de l’aéroport [à une autre extrémité de la ville] et m’ont fait descendre là-bas, en me mettant dans la poche le bout de papier où était écrit : Cimetière X, section 22, rang 3, tombe no 4. Mais dans cette section du cimetière, il y a beaucoup de tombes recouvertes d’une simple dalle de ciment. Des gens trop curieux ont démontré que ces tombes sont anciennes et ne portent pas de nom ; ou bien c’est en recouvrant la dalle en pierre d’une couche de béton qu’ils les présentaient aux familles comme la tombe des êtres chers qu’ils venaient de perdre. On nous disait : “Ce n’est pas la peine d’aller pleurer sur une tombe vide.” Selon un des gardiens de la prison, il restait 400 prisonniers moudjahidines dans les prisons de D. et du Sepah à T. qui ont été emmenés de nuit avec plusieurs camions spéciaux accompagnés d’un groupe de garde, entre 1 et 3 heures du matin. Ils les ont tous emmenés les yeux bandés, et aucun gardien ordinaire de la prison n’a été engagé pour cette affaire. Où ils les ont emmené et ce qu’ils leur ont fait, Dieu seul le sait. »
Les recherches de Shahrooz [44][44]K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art.… sur la façon dont les familles ont été averties des exécutions confirment le récit de Javad : l’isolement des prisons durant l’été, l’usage du téléphone et l’annonce individuelle des exécutions, la demande d’un engagement écrit au silence, mais aussi la surveillance des familles qui se rendent au cimetière et des interrogatoires hebdomadaires au Komité[45][45]Du français « comité » : désigne les cellules informelles… sur le chemin du retour. Ces stratégies s’inscrivent dans un ensemble de pratiques élaborées par le pouvoir depuis 1981 pour « tenir » les familles, dans un contexte où la grande majorité des prisonniers et des condamnés à mort sont des adolescents ou de jeunes adultes. C’est au niveau de la parenté immédiate qu’agit la répression : les frères et s urs, voisins proches et parents sont souvent incarcérés, pour quelques mois, en même temps que les opposants. Si les parents inquiets parlent trop, s’agitent ou se conduisent de façon bruyante dans les différentes situations administratives (devant le procureur révolutionnaire, le tribunal, etc.) où ils viennent s’enquérir du sort de leurs enfants détenus, une pratique courante du Sepah, d’après Javad, est d’emmener les enfants restant de la famille en représailles. Face aux pratiques de terreur qui prennent appui dans le tissu social immédiat (voisinage, parenté), « personne n’osait respirer fort » remarque Javad, qui se souvient avoir perdu son calme un jour, dans le tribunal, alors qu’on l’y avait envoyé pour demander des nouvelles de sa fille. Quinze jours plus tard, une voiture du Sepah s’arrête chez Javad à minuit et vient chercher la jeune s ur de Shirine « pour un interrogatoire ».

10 Les pratiques d’invisibilisation semblent s’organiser en couches successives : si du cercle témoin de la répression, la famille, peu d’information et d’agitation doit filtrer au-dehors, vers des relais sociaux plus larges, les gardiens s’assurent quant à eux que certaines pratiques de gestion des centres de détention ne soient pas connues des familles. Javad identifie ainsi « trois sortes de morts. Ceux qui meurent sous la torture : leur corps ne sont pas rendus et ils ne disent pas aux proches où ils se trouvent ; ceux qui sont pendus : ils donnent un bout de papier disant qu’ils sont enterrés à tel endroit, mais interdisent les cérémonies et les regroupements autour de la tombe ; ceux qui sont fusillés : ils peuvent rendre le corps à la famille contre une somme de 7 à 10 000 tomans ». Cette distinction s’explique peut-être du fait que la pendaison est réservée aux Kafer, aux non-musulmans, et en l’occurrence aux moudjahidines qui sont considérés tels depuis la Fatwa de 1981. Dès lors, les sépultures doivent être dans les carrés non-musulmans des cimetières, ce qui ne serait pas forcément respecté si le corps était rendu aux familles. En 1988, les corps des victimes ne sont pas rendus aux familles qui refusent de leur côté de reconnaître comme authentiques les tombes indiquées par le pouvoir, en particulier depuis la découverte de charniers qui laissent penser que les prisonniers exécutés ont été enterrés dans des fosses communes [46][46]AI, « Mass Executions of Political Prisoners », Amnesty….

11 Le gouvernement dénie les rumeurs d’exécution massive. Le président de la République, aujourd’hui « Guide suprême de la Révolution », Ali Khamenei, reconnaît que quelques Monafeghins ont été exécutés durant l’été, mais justifie cette action au nom de la sûreté d’État et de la préservation du territoire national [47][47]Ibid.. En 1989, une lettre ouverte de la mission permanente de la République islamique d’Iran à l’ONU répond de manière ambiguë au communiqué d’Amnesty International : « Les autorités de la République islamique d’Iran ont toujours nié l’existence d’exécutions politiques, mais cela ne contredit pas d’autres déclarations postérieures confirmant que des espions et des terroristes ont été exécutés [48][48]UN document A/44/153, ZB février 1989, cité dans AI, Iran :…. » En effet, le 5 juillet 1988, peu après la signature du cessez-le-feu entre l’Iran et l’Irak, l’Organisation des moudjahidines exilée dans une base militaire en Irak lance une offensive armée à la frontière iranienne et pénètre brièvement sur le territoire iranien, avant d’être sévèrement défaite par l’armée adverse. Shahrooz réfute l’idée selon laquelle les exécutions massives de 1988, dont les analystes peinent à saisir clairement l’objectif ou le mobile, seraient une riposte à cette tentative d’attaque militaire, en s’appuyant sur plusieurs témoignages individuels et le rapport du représentant spécial auprès de la Commission des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, selon lesquels les procès et les exécutions de 1988 commencent à partir du mois d’avril, soit avant l’attaque du 5 juillet [49][49]Final Report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic….

12 Il faut mentionner que le pouvoir impliqué dans les violences d’État de 1988, comme dans la gestion de leur héritage, est un corps hétérogène, parcouru de divisions d’au moins deux sortes. D’une part, il comprend des acteurs gouvernementaux, officiels, et différents groupes privés ou paramilitaires liés au Parti républicain islamique (le Hezbollah, le Sepah). D’autre part, le dispositif de répression et l’évolution des pratiques carcérales dans les années 1980 s’inscrivent, au sein même du parti au pouvoir, dans des jeux d’influences et des luttes politiques dont l’enjeu est la succession de Khomeini [50][50]M. Behrooz, « Reflections on Iran’s Prison System… », art.…. Une analyse des ordres mettant en place le massacre et des réponses aux réticences exprimées dans les rangs du Parti républicain islamique montre que cet événement est l’occasion pour le pouvoir de faire « le tri entre les mitigés et les vrais croyants parmi [l]es partisans [du régime], leur imposant par ailleurs le silence au sujet des droits humains [51][51]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 221 (notre…  » : les exécutions de masse auraient servi à verrouiller et à assurer la continuité du gouvernement mis en place par Khomeini, qui s’éteint en 1989. L’ayatollah Montazeri ­ dauphin et successeur pressenti de Khomeini à la fonction de Guide suprême de la Révolution depuis 1979 ­ est ainsi écarté de la scène publique et placé en résidence surveillée à partir de 1988, suite à ses prises de positions critiques au sujet des exécutions [52][52]Ibid., p. 221-222 ; Azadeh Kian-Thiébaut, « La révolution….

13 À défaut de pouvoir s’appuyer sur un recensement officiel ou encore sur des investigations auprès des familles et dans les fosses présumées ­ les gouvernements successifs rendant risquée les mentions ou recherches sur le sujet ­ il est difficile d’estimer le nombre de victimes du massacre. Pour Amnesty International, elles étaient 2 500 en 1990, soit quelques mois après les événements. Depuis, la collecte d’informations auprès des familles, que ce soit par les partis politiques dont les membres étaient concernés ou par des initiatives de droits de l’homme [53][53]H. Mokhtar, Testimony at the September 1 Conference, op. cit…, dresse une liste nominative de 4 000 à 5 000 victimes. Le Parti des Moudjahidine-e Kalq chiffre le massacre à 30 000 [54][54]Christina Lamb, The Telegraph, « Khomeini fatwa “led to killing…, ce qui est bien supérieur aux chiffres avancés ailleurs. Une récente étude qui tente de rassembler les données dans les différentes provinces conclue au chiffre de 12 000 [55][55]Nasser Mohajer, « The Mass Killings in Iran », Aresh, no 57,…. Aux pratiques violentes du pouvoir répond le souci de mettre au jour des faits précis et de prendre la mesure de l’ampleur de l’événement.

14 Face à cela, les analyses juridiques du « crime contre l’humanité » de 1988 s’interrogent sur l’impossibilité ou l’absence de volonté politique actuelle en ce qui concerne la mobilisation sur le terrain du droit, et en particulier du droit pénal international [56][56]K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art.…. Il serait fort utile de confronter les mobilisations du droit dans l’espace publique en Iran depuis la « démocratisation » des années 1990, et les essais de reformulation des exécutions massives de 1988 en un enjeu des droits de l’homme qui n’ont paradoxalement pas connu de relais effectif et de réalisation concrète [57][57]K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art.…. Ce décalage, ou cette absence, se comprend notamment par le passé révolutionnaire, nezami, et l’implication plus ou moins directe de certains responsables du mouvement réformateur dans les violences d’État durant la mise en place du régime islamique, et, notamment, dans le massacre de 1988. Ainsi, Akbar Ganji, journaliste d’opposition connu pour ses engagements en faveur des libertés civiles, plusieurs fois emprisonné depuis 2000, est-il un ancien commandant des Pasdaran-e Sepah[58][58]Voir par exemple N. Yavari d’Hellencourt, « Islam et…. Saïd Hajarian, autre figure de l’opposition démocrate et directeur du journal réformateur Sobh-e Emrooz, était adjoint du ministre de l’Information Reyshahri 1984 à 1989 [59][59]Voir par exemple Ahmed Vahdat, « The Spectre of Montazeri »,…. Abdullah Nouri, qui s’impose à la fin des années 1990 comme la figure principale du parti réformateur, était ministre de l’Intérieur en 1988 et a fait des déclarations niant les allégations d’exécutions, qu’il attribuait à « une campagne organisée à l’étranger  » tout en affirmant que « la loi islamique et le gouvernement de la République islamique d’Iran respectent la dignité humaine et ont organisé les institutions de la République islamique sur ce principe essentiel [60][60]Cité dans K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and… ». Si l’évocation des événements de l’été 1988 a été une ligne rouge à ne pas franchir sous les mandats réformateurs des années 1990-2000, les élections présidentielles de 2005 et les cadres conservateurs au pouvoir sous le mandat d’Ahmadinejad éloignent d’autant plus une perspective de reconnaissance ou de publicisation que la responsabilité pénale individuelle des membres actuels du gouvernement est engagée dans les exécutions de 1988 ­ et, plus généralement, dans le système pénitentiaire des années 1980. Selon plusieurs sources, l’actuel ministre de l’Intérieur, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a siégé au sein de la commission chargée des procès-minute de l’été 1988, en tant que représentant du ministère de l’Information [61][61]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 210 ;….

La commémoration

15 Ainsi, en dehors des témoignages mentionnés, les faits dont nous parlons n’ont jamais été évoqués dans l’espace public à un niveau politique ou juridique [62][62]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit. ; R. Afshari,…. Il s’agit alors de regarder du côté des pratiques mémorielles ­ comme nous le suggère la démarche de Javad. Comment la mémoire intime et familiale acquiert-elle une dimension politique ? Face aux pratiques d’invisibilisation (gestion du deuil, confiscation funéraire, etc.), les rites et les lieux funéraires sont travaillés par l’enjeu d’une commémoration dont il s’agit de saisir la porté et les limites, politiques. Ce mouvement se noue d’abord autour de la référence au « martyre » autour de laquelle s’organise l’Islam révolutionnaire. Face aux exécutions de masse, de 1981 à 1988, la réalité des victimes est revisitée à travers la notion de martyre. L’idée du martyre est présente dans la pensée politique de Chariati [63][63]Paul Vieille, « L’institution shi’ite, la religiosité…, et participe à configurer l’action politique des Moujahidines, qu’il s’agisse de l’engagement révolutionnaire ou, plus tard, de la résistance [64][64]Voir par exemple E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op.…. Principal ressort du discours public et de la communication pour l’engagement populaire dans la guerre contre l’Irak, elle est davantage encore une pierre de touche de l’islam chiite à l’aune de l’idéologie révolutionnaire du Parti républicain islamique [65][65]F. Khosrokhavar, L’islamisme et la mort : le martyre…. Autour de ce « culte du martyre », relayé par un art mural prolifique, s’organise la mobilisation nationale, puis la mémoire officielle du conflit [66][66]Ulrich Marzolph, « The Martyr’s Way to Paradise. Shiite Mural…. Entre 1981 et 1988, les jeunes bassidjis révolutionnaires ont nettoyé par centaines de milliers les champs de mines de l’armée, dans une utopie mortifère et salvatrice qui les érigeait en nouveaux « martyrs » de l’Islam. Dans le contexte d’une guerre qui laisse la société iranienne exsangue de 600 000 à un million d’hommes, la sépulture chiite, l’anonymat, la célébration du martyr et de la nation sont fondus dans des offices religieux publiques et médiatisés pour les combattants victimes [67][67]Ali Reza Sheikholeslami, « The Transformation of Iran’s…. Comme l’illustrent la production et le souvenir des martyrs, et le rapport qu’ils instituent à la mort et au corps, à la colère et à la vengeance, la République islamique s’appuie sur une idéologie « martyropathe [68][68]F. Khosrokhavar, L’islamisme et la mort…, op. cit. », née d’un effondrement de l’utopie révolutionnaire, qui s’impose comme la clé de voûte de l’action politique et de la raison d’État. Or, tandis qu’elle enserre l’espace public dans un réseau de passions orchestré par un dispositif rhétorique et institutionnel, elle verrouille toute possibilité de saisir le souvenir et l’émotion collective hors de cette grille logique étroite. C’est dans cette canalisation politique et totalitaire de l’émotion et du deuil que va s’inscrire, de manière subvertie et discrète, une mémoire émotive du massacre de 1988.
Le vendredi matin, dans les cimetières de province, dans le carré des promis au paradis, les mères des enfants « martyrs » de la guerre pleurent ensemble leurs morts, alors que dans le carré d’à côté, sur des tombes sans inscriptions, d’autres mères, dans une même sociabilité et un même rituel, pleurent leurs « martyrs » à elles : ceux de 1988. Un jeune bassidji écrit ainsi à ses parents depuis le front : « Jusqu’à présent, on n’a pas trouvé le corps de certains martyrs. Si cela se produit dans mon cas, n’en soyez pas tristes [mes parents] : vous n’avez pas épargné ma vie et vous l’avez donné pour Dieu, alors renoncez à mon corps et quand vous en ressentez le besoin, rendez-vous sur la tombe des autres martyrs [69][69]Témoignage paru dans le journal islamiste Keyhan en 1984, cité… ! » Le corps dérobé, disparu, du martyr, qui est une constante de l’idéologie islamique révolutionnaire, se réalise paradoxalement dans le cimetière de Khavaran, dans les fosses communes où ont été enterrés les prisonniers de la prison d’Evin exécutés en 1988. Pour les journalistes de la BBC : « Le cimetière de Khavaran n’est rien d’autre qu’un terrain vague terreux où, ça et là, des familles ont démarqué au hasard et de façon symbolique des tombes à l’aide de pierres. Il y a aussi quelques vraies pierres tombales et les familles affirment les y avoir mises car elles disent que leurs proches exécutés ont été enterrés à cet endroit [70][70]BBC Persia, « Le cimetière de Khavaran : des sépultures sans…. » Les cadres religieux où s’ancre le travail du deuil dessinent un espace de négociation, de répression et de détournement pour les acteurs : l’État en joue pour étouffer la possibilité d’une mémoire du massacre, les familles les détournent pour pleurer et se souvenir, malgré tout. Dès lors, la mémoire des exécutés de l’été 1988 flotte silencieusement dans l’imaginaire « martyropathe » de la République islamique ­ qui a assis sa domination précisément sur ces morts politiques. La mère d’un prisonnier exécuté écrit à sa fille exilée à l’étranger : « Le vendredi, toutes les mères et d’autres membres de la famille sont allés au cimetière. Quelle journée de deuil ! C’était comme l’Ashura. Des mères sont venues avec des portraits de leurs fils ; l’une d’elles avait perdu cinq fils et belles-filles. Finalement, le Komité est venu et nous a dispersé [71][71]AI, Iran : Violations of Human Rights 1987-1990, p. 3. Notre…. »

16 L’Ashura, dans la tradition chiite, est un moment de socialisation et de deuil où chacun pleure pour ses morts et ses peines dans le cadre de la commémoration religieuse du « martyr » d’Hussein. La référence à l’Ashura, et l’idée d’une communauté du deuil qui transparaît dans le témoignage, renvoie à une certaine socialité entre les familles de prisonniers comme le noyau autour duquel s’embraient les pratiques de souvenir. Les exécutions ne sont pas pensées dans le cadre préexistant des partis politiques auxquels appartenaient les victimes, mais à un niveau familial et intime. Toutefois, à partir des proches liés par une communauté d’expérience s’élaborent des pratiques de souvenir à un niveau collectif. Cette socialité est nouée dans l’épreuve qu’a été pour les familles de soutenir les prisonniers durant leur peine et de se tenir informées de leur sort. On trouve la trace de ce lien entre les familles, dans le témoignage de Javad. Ainsi commence le récit de l’annonce des exécutions en automne 1988 : « Le jour suivant, comme indiqué, nous nous sommes rendus devant la prison de D. à 9 heures. Il y avait d’autres personnes attroupées qui avaient reçu le même appel. Quand je les ai vus, je me suis un peu apaisé. Nous nous demandions les uns aux autres : “Et vous, qu’en pensez-vous ?” Chacun donnait son avis, l’un disait : “Ils veulent sûrement accorder une visite”, l’autre : “Ils veulent expliquer pourquoi ils ont interdit les visites”. Bref, dans ce brouhaha, nous étions tous d’accord pour dire que nous allions enfin connaître la fin de cette angoissante incertitude. » Ces moments de rencontre et de socialité jouent une fonction essentielle dans la circulation de l’information. Dans le témoignage de Javad, ce sont les nouvelles données par les familles dont les proches sont transférés d’une ville à l’autre, ou qui ont plusieurs proches prisonniers dans plusieurs villes différentes, qui permettent d’avoir une appréhension plus générale de l’échelle et des procédés de répression politique à un niveau national. La sociabilité des proches apparaît ainsi comme le lieu d’une résistance face aux pratiques du pouvoir, à travers une circulation de l’information qui répond aux stratégies de secret, mais aussi à travers la constitution de solidarités ponctuelles. Après 1988, cette socialité des proches de prisonniers semble avoir été une ressource à partir de laquelle des pratiques collectives de souvenir ont peu à peu vu le jour. La mère d’un prisonnier exécuté à Téhéran et enterré dans le cimetière de Khavaran explique dans un entretien : « Quand nous voulions aller sur sa tombe, on nous emmenait au Komité : “Pourquoi êtes-vous venus ? Et les gens avec qui vous parliez, qui était-ce ?” Un jour par semaine, le Komité nous attendait en chemin et nous emmenait là-bas. Jusqu’en 1989, quand on a organisé une cérémonie avec quelques autres mères pour nos enfants. Le soir, ils sont venus et nous ont dit « Venez à [la prison d’] Evin demain. Le lendemain matin de bonne heure nous sommes allés à Evin. Ils nous ont gardés jusqu’à 14 heures les yeux bandés, puis ils nous ont mis dans une voiture et nous ont emmenés au Komité. Ils nous ont gardés trois jours, et nous ont interrogés individuellement pour savoir comment nous nous connaissions. “Ça fait huit ans que nous allons en visite ensemble, nous avons appris à nous connaître ; ça fait un an que vous avez tué nos enfants, nous avons appris à nous connaître. C’est comme dire bonjour à ses voisins : à force d’aller à Evin, aux Komités, nous avons fini par nous connaître.” Ils ont demandé les noms de famille de toutes les mères. “Je ne les connais pas, ai-je répondu. Je connais leur prénom, c’est tout [72][72]Entretien filmé reproduit sur le site internet de l’ONG de….” » La réponse qui semble émerger dans les décennies suivant l’exécution des prisonniers est celle de pratiques mémorielles qui s’organisent autour de deux choses : la commémoration collective des morts dans le cadre d’une cérémonie rituelle qui est celle du bozorgdasht, et l’identification du massacre de 1988 à un lieu spécifique, qui est le cimetière de Khavaran. Ce dernier point renvoie en effet à l’émergence progressive d’un lieu-symbole, investi d’une mémoire presque narrative de l’événement et des pratiques qui ont orchestré les procès et les exécutions collectives, la confiscation des corps, le silence public. La place qu’a progressivement acquise cet endroit dans la commémoration des exécutions, alors qu’il n’est qu’un lieu parmi les cimetières municipaux et les charniers (dont 21 seraient localisés à ce jour [73][73]Entretien télévisé disponible sur internet : Mosahebe-ye…) où les dépouilles ont été enfouies en 1988, semble indiquer qu’au-delà des souvenirs individuels, les pratiques mémorielles tendent à se ressaisir à un niveau collectif. « Khavaran est un nom qui signifie “ne pas oublier” » titrait ainsi un article consacré à une cérémonie de commémoration dans le cimetière en septembre 2005 [74][74]Mohammad Reza Mohini, « Khavaran est un nom qui signifie “ne…. Pourquoi et comment ce mot-symbole a-t-il émergé ? Qu’indique-t-il sur la façon dont les enjeux de non-oubli se saisissent en termes collectifs, et éventuellement politiques ?

« Khavaran : un nom qui signifie “ne pas oublier” »

17 Les procès orchestrant le massacre de 1988 témoignent de cet Islam politique particulier réintroduit par Khomeini, qui repose notamment sur le réinvestissement politique des mythes fondateurs et de la tradition historique du chiisme. Les condamnés le sont pour « hypocrisie » ou pour « apostasie » ; c’est donc en « damnés », et en vue d’assurer cette damnation, que leur passage de ce monde à l’autre sera organisé. On enterre les victimes avec leurs habits et même leurs chaussures (le rituel exige un linceul blanc) dans des fosses communes très peu profondes, à fleur de terre (l’islam exige une profondeur minimum de 1,5 mètre) [75][75]E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confession…, op. cit., p. 218 ; K.…. Le deuil s’organise dans la société chiite autour de plusieurs étapes de commémoration collectives et de rassemblements funéraires : le troisième jour, le septième jour, le quarantième jour, qui marque la fin officielle des funérailles. En 1988, le quarantième jour était passé lorsque les familles furent informées de la mort de leurs proches. La majorité des exécutions eurent lieu à Téhéran et la gestion des corps semble s’être organisée dans l’obsession des règles du najes (la séparation des musulmans et des non-musulmans, du pur et de l’impur) : des fosses sont apparues, non pas dans le cimetière musulman de Behesht-e-Zara (où même des opposants politiques marxistes exécutés par l’ancien régime furent exhumés et déplacés), mais dans un carré situé dans le cimetière de Khavaran perdu sur une route à 16 km au sud-est de Téhéran, qui est un lieu d’inhumation ba’haie [76][76]Communauté religieuse persécutée.. Le lieu a été renommé Kaferestan (la terre des Kafer, des incroyants) ou encore Lanatabad (le lieu des damnés) ; les familles s’y réfèrent comme Golzar-e Khavaran (le champ de fleurs de Khavaran) car elles y ont planté des fleurs, et qu’une fois par an, à la date anniversaire du massacre, la terre du terrain vague est recouverte de bouquets. Le lieu est même parfois désigné comme golestan (le champ de fleurs), par analogie phonique et retournement du mot gourestan (le cimetière). La guerre des noms en fait en tous cas le lieu d’une mémoire laborieuse, tendue.
C’est dans ce contexte que se sont mises en place à Khavaran des cérémonies de commémoration des morts de 1988, inscrites dans la tradition ritualisée du bozorgdasht, qui est celle d’une visite au cimetière à la date anniversaire de la mort, donnant lieu à un rassemblement laïque des proches pour évoquer le souvenir du défunt. Progressivement, ces visites se sont transformées en cérémonies de commémoration du massacre de 1988. Une fois par an, lors du bozorgdasht, « le cimetière de Khavaran, rapportent les observateurs, est transformé en champs de fleurs et des opposants au régime islamique se mêlent aux familles : on récite des poèmes et on lit des textes sur la vie des disparus, de petites marches de protestation s’organisent même dans le cimetière [77][77]BBC Persia, « Le cimetière de Khavaran… », art. cité ; voir…. » Cependant, deux décennies après les faits, les enjeux de visibilisation du massacre, qui engage la responsabilité individuelle de membres de certaines administrations encore en fonction, restent sensibles. En novembre 2005, une radio américaine en langue persane, Radio Farda, annonce que des pierres tombales du cimetière de Khavaran sont détruites par « des individus non-identifiés [78][78]Nouvelles radiophonique du 19 novembre 2005, Radio Farda,… ». En automne 2007, sept personnes ayant participé au bozorgdasht de proches à Khavaran sont arrêtées et détenues dans la « section 209 » de la prison d’Evin à Téhéran, sous autorité du ministère de l’Information [79][79]AI, Action Urgente, « Iran : Craintes de mauvais traitements/…. Un rapport de Human Rights Watch avance des témoignages de familles de victimes selon lesquels « des tombes improvisées, placées par les familles ont été détruites. On dit que le gouvernement prépare une intervention importante à [Khavaran] afin de supprimer les traces d’inhumation [80][80]Human Rights Watch, Minister of murders, op. cit. Notre…. »

18 Lors des commémorations, la présence d’« opposants du régime » aux côtés des familles des victimes ­ la manifestation regroupait 2 000 personnes en 2005 ­ et de « petites marches de protestations » semble témoigner d’une politisation des rites mortuaires autour desquels se sont cristallisés les enjeux d’oubli et de souvenir liés à l’événement. Ce qu’on constate, c’est la fonction de catalyse du lieu dans l’organisation d’une action collective qui dépasserait le cercle des intimes. Ainsi, les membres de Kanoon-e Khavaran (l’Association Khavaran) fondée en 1996 par les sympathisants d’un groupe politique marxiste exilés en Europe et Amérique du Nord, s’organisent-ils en un réseau d’information qui a pour objet la constitution d’archives relatives aux exécutions, la production d’une liste nominale des victimes ainsi que la localisation de charniers à travers le pays [81][81]Kanoon-e Khavaran, op. cit. (site internet).. D’autre part, dans les différents textes lus lors des commémorations, le nom propre, Khavaran, émerge comme une synthèse des événements de 1988 et de leur mémoire. Ainsi de cette chanson qui commence par : « Khavaran ! Khavaran ! Terre des souvenirs. Il y vient parfois des mères… », ou encore de ce poème lu lors d’un bozorgdasht : « Je suis le cri rouge de la liberté / Lis mon nom, ma mère, dans le ciel de Khavaran / Je suis le drapeau sanglant de la liberté / Lis mon nom, mon épouse, dans le ciel de Khavaran / Je suis la bannière rouge de la liberté / Lis mon nom, mon enfant, dans le ciel de Khavaran / Je suis prisonnier sous la terre sèche de Khavaran / Lis mon nom, peuple courageux, dans le ciel de Khavaran [82][82]M. R. Mohini, « Khavaran est un nom qui signifie “ne pas… ». Si les trois premiers vers opposent le parcours politique des victimes (« le cri rouge de la liberté ») à un lien familial autour duquel se noue le souvenir (la mère, l’épouse, l’enfant), le dernier vers propose la mémoire de l’événement non-publicisé (« prisonnier sous la terre sèche de Khavaran ») comme le levier d’une appropriation politique, et presque la condition de reformation du « peuple courageux », en s’insérant ainsi dans un schème essentiel du discours post-révolutionnaire qui est l’invitation au peuple à réitérer la mobilisation héroïque de la révolution. Or, la difficulté d’une politisation de cette histoire alternative que propose Khavaran se négocie précisément autour de cette référence à l’histoire et la grammaire révolutionnaires, et à son « anachronisme » par rapport à un répertoire contemporain de discours et d’actions centré autour de la revendication de libertés civiles [83][83]F. Khosrokhavar, « L’Iran, la démocratie et la nouvelle…. En effet, la charge mémorielle attribuée à ce charnier signifie-t-elle pour autant la formation d’une mémoire collective à partir de laquelle se reconstruit, dans le contexte iranien actuel, l’enjeu politique des exécutions de masse ? Mais alors, quelle identité se cristallise autour de cette mémoire commune ? C’est avec cette question qu’apparaissent les limites et les tensions liées à la possibilité de « se mobiliser » autour de la constitution des exécutions comme une cause publique.

19 Les enjeux de mémoire et d’identité sont pris dans une relation plastique de réciprocité, rappelle Gillis : « Une dimension fondamentale de toute identité individuelle ou collective, à savoir un sentiment de communauté [a sense of sameness] dans le temps et l’espace, s’élabore à partir du souvenir ; et ce dont on se souvient ainsi est défini par l’identité revendiquée [84][84]John R. Gillis (dir.), Commemorations : The Politics of…. » Or il y a une tension entre les pratiques mémorielles qui émergent sur des sites comme Khavaran, et l’identification des victimes du massacre au mouvement des moudjahidines (auquel plus de 70 % des prisonniers exécutés étaient en effet affiliés). Si les exécutions de 1988 ne sont pas vraiment un secret au sein de la population iranienne, elles sont directement rapportées à la trajectoire politique des moudjahidines qui semblent avoir été exclus des revendications et des références par lesquelles une identité nationale iranienne s’est négociée dans les pays depuis la Révolution. De leur côté, les moudjahidines entretiennent une mémoire des « martyrs » de 1988 liée aux narrations et aux symboles qui construisent l’identité forte et exclusive du groupe en exil, et pour ce faire relisent l’événement comme une confrontation entre le pouvoir et la résistance (c’est-à-dire les moudjahidines) ; cette interprétation laisse de côté la diversité des appartenances politiques des victimes en 1988, comme le fait que de nombreux prisonniers d’opinion s’étaient, au cours de leur détention, détachés de toute étiquette politique ou militante. Pour Shahrooz, c’est là le principal obstacle politique à une mobilisation par le droit faisant du massacre de 1988 un « crime contre l’humanité [85][85]K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art.… ».

Un enjeu actuel

20 Dans ses analyses sur la non-commémoration et l’oubli dans la cité athénienne, Nicole Loraux identifiait le « deuil inoublieux [86][86]Nicole Loraux, La cité divisée. L’oubli dans la mémoire… » comme une passion politique qui lie le familial et la vie de la cité. À l’image de Javad qui a décidé de consigner ses mémoires pour ses petits-enfants, on peut observer que l’enjeu d’une résistance mémorielle face aux événements de 1988 engage les notions d’oubli et de déni face à un silence orchestré du pouvoir. Orchestré, et non total, ni effectif. Cette orchestration, c’est cette attitude ambivalente du pouvoir qui enterre en secret les victimes à fleur de terre, tout en faisant de l’odeur putride qui se dégage du charnier la preuve que ces personnes (qui ne sont officiellement pas là) étaient des non-musulmans ; c’est aussi annoncer la mort des prisonniers aux familles, mais en organisant un dispositif de mise sous silence du deuil (contrats de non-sépulture, annonces différées et au téléphone) ; c’est encore l’énonciation d’une Fatwa de mort de la part du Guide suprême, mais la négation d’exécutions de masse, puisque si l’exécution de prisonniers est reconnue, leur échelle niée. L’émergence d’une commémoration esquisse un réinvestissement politique des rites et des lieux de sépulture là où l’invisibilisation du massacre se fondait sur leur confiscation. Il faudrait pouvoir mener une observation interne, comparée, des structures de mobilisation que révèlent ces commémorations, même si une telle étude s’avère difficile dans le contexte actuel marqué par une nouvelle surveillance du pouvoir, comme le montrent les interventions de 2005 à 2007 sur le site de Khavaran, auprès des familles engagées ou de chercheurs souhaitant explorer le sujet [87][87]Nathalie Nougayrède, « Une chercheuse franco-iranienne empêchée…. En se fondant sur les articles scientifiques, les sources médiatiques, les différents témoignages publiés et les sites associatifs consacrés à ce sujet, il apparaît toutefois que les enjeux du non-oubli restent pris dans une tension mémorielle qui enserre les possibilités de mobilisation [88][88]Nader Khoshdel, « Marasem-e bozorgdasht-e zendanian-e siasi :…. Cette tension ne concerne pas uniquement les écarts entre le travail de commémoration initié par les familles et l’investissement politique et identitaire de l’événement parmi les groupes qui se sont, dans une faible mesure, réorganisés en exil. Elle concerne également l’impossibilité paradoxale de constituer la demande de reconnaissance et de justice comme une cause commune, dans un espace public marqué par la revendication de libertés civiles. L’extériorité des événements de 1988 par rapport à la vie politique et l’étanchéité des revendications civiles face à cette réalité invitent à penser la place singulière qu’occupe le massacre de 1988 dans la complexité des jeux de rupture et de continuité qui tissent l’histoire iranienne contemporaine ­ et donc, les enjeux politiques actuels dont est chargée sa mémoire.

Notes

  • [1]
    Notre traduction.
  • [2]
    L’ayatollah Khomeini qualifie la guerre de Jihad défensif et l’appelle « Défense Sacrée » (Def¯a’e moghaddas) ; au sujet des offensives iraniennes il parle de « Kerbala » en référence à la bataille qui, dans cette ville irakienne, marque en 680 le début de la rupture entre les Chiites et les Sunnites ; la guerre en Irak est appelée « Qadisiyya de Sadam » par référence, ici encore religieuse, à la bataille al-Qadisiyya de Sa’d qui eut lieu en Mésopotamie en 636 entre Musulmans et Perses sassanides, dans le cadre de la conquête musulmane de la Perse (voir à ce sujet Sinan Antoon, « Monumental Disrespect », Middle East Report, no 228, automne 2003, p. 28-30).
  • [3]
    L’auteur remercie Sandrine Lefranc pour sa lecture attentive et ses commentaires.
  • [4]
    Voir notamment Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions. Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999 ; Amnesty International (AI), « Iran : Violations of Human Rights 1987-1990  », décembre 1990 ; AI, « Iran : Political Executions », décembre 1988 ; anonyme, « Man shahede ghatle ame zendanyane siyasi boodam » (« J’ai été témoin du massacre des prisonniers politiques »), Cheshmandaz, no 14, hiver 1995 ; Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khaterat (Mémoires), hhhhttp:// wwww. amontazeri. com(consulté le 7 avril 2008).
  • [5]
    Voir E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 215 ; AI, « Iran : Violations of Human Rights 1987-1990  » ; Kaveh Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor : A Preliminary Report on The 1988 Massacre of Iran’s Political Prisoners », Harvard Human Rights Journal, vol. 20, 2007, p. 227-261, p. 228.
  • [6]
    Farhad Khosrokhavar, « L’Iran, la démocratie et la nouvelle citoyenneté », Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, no 111, 2001/2, p. 291-317.
  • [7]
    Ibid., p. 309 et Nouchine Yavari d’Hellencourt, « Islam et démocratie : de la nécessité d’une contextualisation  », Cemoti, no spécial, La question démocratique et les sociétés musulmanes. Le militaire, l’entrepreneur et le paysan, no 27, hhhhttp:// cemoti. revues. org/ document656. html(consulté le 20 avril 2008).
  • [8]
    Ibid.
  • [9]
    Ibid.
  • [10]
    Stanley Cohen, States of Denial, Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2001.
  • [11]
    E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209-229 ; Afshin Matin-Asgari, « Twentieth Century Iran’s Political Prisoners », Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 42, no 5, 2006, p. 689-707.
  • [12]
    Maziar Behrooz, « Reflections on Iran’s Prison System During the Montazeri Years (1985­1988)  », Iran Analysis Quarterly, vol. 2, no 3, 2005, p. 11-24.
  • [13]
    Reza Afshari, Human Rights in Iran : The Abuse of Cultural Relativism, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001 ; K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art. cité, p. 243-257 ; Raluca Mihaila, « Political Considerations in Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity : An Iranian Case Study », Hemispheres : The Tufts University Journal of International Affairs, no spécial, State-Building : Risks and Consequences, 2002, hhhhttp:// ase. tufts. edu/ hemispheres/ (consulté le 7 avril 2008).
  • [14]
    Conseil Économique et Social des Nations Unies (ECOSOC), Commission sur les droits humains, « On the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran », Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 27, U.N. Doc. A/44/620 (2 novembre 1989) ; Final Report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, pursuant to Commission resolution 1992/67 of 4 March 1992, E/CN.4/1993/41 ; Human Rights Watch, « Pour-Mohammadi and the 1988 Prison Massacres », Ministers of Murder : Iran’s New Security Cabinet, hhhhttp:// wwww. hrw. org/ backgrounder/ mena/ iran1205/ 2. htm#_Toc121896787(consulté le 7 avril 2008).
  • [15]
    Un impressionnant travail a été accompli sur ce point par E. Abrahambian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209-229, qui reste la principale référence à ce jour.
  • [16]
    Notamment Nima Parvaresh, Nabardi nabarabar : gozareshi az haft sal zendan 1361­68 (Une bataille inégale : rapport de sept ans en prison 1982­1989), Andeesheh va Peykar Publications, 1995 ; Reza Ghaffari, Khaterate yek zendani az zendanhaye jomhuriyeh islami (Les mémoires d’un prisonnier dans les prisons de la République Islamique), Stockholm, Arash Forlag, 1998 ; anonyme, « Man shahede ghatle ame zendanyane siyasi boodam », op. cit.
  • [17]
    Nous reprenons, parmi les différentes transcriptions possibles, l’orthographe adoptée par l’organisation aujourd’hui [[[[http:// wwww. maryam-rajavi. com/ fr/ content/ view/ 300/ 66/ (consulté le 7 avril 2008). « Moudjahidines » est le pluriel de « moudjahed ».
  • [18]
    Mohammad Mossadeq a été Premier ministre de 1951 à 1953. Ayant nationalisé l’industrie pétrolière iranienne en 1951, il est renversé en 1953 suite à l’opération « TP-Ajax » (menée par la CIA), condamné à trois ans d’emprisonnement, puis assigné à résidence jusqu’à sa mort en 1967. Hosein Fatemi est le fondateur du Front de Libération exécuté en 1955.
  • [19]
    Ervand Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, New Haven/Londres, Yale University Press, 1992, p. 115-125.
  • [20]
    Ibid., p. 100-102.
  • [21]
    Ibid., p. 229 ; voir également A. Matin-Asgari, « Twentieth Century Iran’s Political Prisoners », art. cité, p. 690.
  • [22]
    E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 229 (notre traduction).
  • [23]
    Appliqué dans la Constitution iranienne de 1979, ce principe théologique confère aux religieux la primauté sur le pouvoir politique et assure une gestion réelle du pouvoir par le Guide de la Révolution (Vali-e Faghih) qui détermine la direction politique générale du pays, arbitre les conflits entre pouvoirs législatif, exécutif et judiciaire et est chef des armées (régulières et paramilitaires).
  • [24]
    Haleh Afshar (dir.), Iran : A Revolution in Turmoil, Albany, SUNY Press, 1985 ; Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the ayatollahs : Iran and the Islamic Revolution, New York, Basic Books, 1984.
  • [25]
    Connie Bruck, « Exiles : How Iran’s Expatriates Are Gaming the Nuclear Threat », The New Yorker, 6 Mars 2006, p. 48.
  • [26]
    E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 260-261.
  • [27]
    C. Bruck, « Exiles… », art. cité ; Human Rights Watch, No exit : human rights abuses inside the MKO camps, 2005, [[[http:// hrw. org/ backgrounder/ mena/ iran0505/ ?iran0505.pdf, consulté le 7 avril 2008] ; Human Rights Watch, Statement on Responses to Human Rights Watch Report on Abuses by the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), 15 février 2006, [[[[http:// hrw. org/ mideast/ pdf/ iran021506. pdf(consulté le 7 avril 2008).
  • [28]
    Elizabeth Rubin, « The Cult of Rajavi », New York Times Magazine, 13 juillet 2003, p. 26.
  • [29]
    E. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedins, op. cit., p. 3 (notre traduction).
  • [30]
    Ibid.
  • [31]
    Le mouvement était le seul à présenter des candidats partout en Iran.
  • [32]
    Le manuscrit dit : « une société Tohidie  », d’après le Tohid qui est le premier principe d’Islam (« Je dis qu’il y a un seul Dieu ») : une société islamique selon la perspective d’Ali Chariati.
  • [33]
    E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confession, op. cit., p. 210.
  • [34]
    Nader Vahabi, « L’obstacle structurel à l’abolition de la peine de mort en Iran », Panagea, « Diritti umani », mars 2007, hhhttp:// wwww. panagea. eu/ web/ index. php? ?option=com_content&task=view&id=150&Itemid=99999999 (consulté le 28 avril 2008).
  • [35]
    H.-A. Montazeri, Khaterat, op. cit.
  • [36]
    Hossein Mokhtar, Testimony at the September 1st Conference, Mission for Establishment of Human Rights in Iran (MEHR), 1998, en ligne, hhhhttp:// wwww. mehr. org/ massacre_1988. htm(consulté le 7 avril 2008). Notre traduction.
  • [37]
    E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209 et suiv.
  • [38]
    Ibid.
  • [39]
    Témoignage cité dans E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 214 ; K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art. cité, p. 238.
  • [40]
    E. Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions…, op. cit., p. 209.
  • [41]
    K. Shahrooz, « With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor… », art. cité, p. 227 ; R. Mihaila, « Political Considerations in Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity… », art. cité. Ces travaux prolongent une recherche initiale d’Amnesty International qui a produit plusieurs rapports quasi contemporains aux événements (« Iran : Violations of Human Rights 1987-1990  », art. cité ; « Iran : Political Executions », art. cité) et adopte aujourd’hui la définition de crime contre l’humanité : « Aux termes du droit international en vigueur en 1988, on entend par crimes contre l’humanité des attaques généralisées ou systématiques dirigées contre des civils et fondées sur des motifs discriminatoires, y compris d’ordre politique. » (AI, Action Urgente, « Iran : Craintes de mauvais traitements/ Prisonniers d’opinion présumés », 2 novembre 2007, [en ligne hhhhttp:// asiapacific. amnesty. org/ library/ Index/ FRAMDE131282007,consulté le 7 avril 2008]).
  • [42]
    Les pasdaran-e Sepah, gardiens de la Révolution, sont la milice paramilitaire de la République islamique.
  • [43]
    Expression désignant l’attentat terroriste de juin 1981 où 72 cadres du Parti républicain islamique sont morts : le terme renvoie aux « compagnons l’Imam de Hussein » dans la tradition chiite ; l’« Imam » désigne ici Khomeini.