Letter to Russian Writers

Letter to Russian Writers

In the first days of the Hungarian Revolution, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Vercors and 19 other well-known French writers and intellectuals associated with the Communist movement produced a statement which, timidly and with much circumlocution, nevertheless questioned the Russian intervention. Cautious though it was, this statement broke the ice; a deluge followed, indicating a major crisis in the ranks of France’s Communist-inspired and influenced intellectuals.

A group of Russian writers, including M. Sholokhov, K. Fedyn and the inevitable Ilya Ehrenbourg, replied in a letter published by the Soviet Literaturnaia Gazeta on November 22.

The contents of the Russian reply are familiar enough and rest upon the charge that “Hungarian fascists” had seized control of the nation, making Soviet intervention a justified step. The tone of the reply, as the following excerpt should make clear, is likewise familiar:

It seems to us that during these difficult days you believed in the calumnies,
lies and misinformation about our country and its friends which were
spread in France. It was precisely during these days that you published your
statement against us, calling for the “triumph of truth” when Soviet soldiers,
at the sacrifice of their lives, were saving dozens and perhaps even hundreds
of lives from fascist terror.

The reply to the Russians given by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the other signers of the original statement goes far beyond their previous stand; we present it in its entirety (omitting only the opening paragraph which, noting this is the first time that Russian writers have engaged in a real debate with foreign colleagues, expresses the hope the discussion will continue). Not only does it indicate the profound crisis caused by the Hungarian revolt, but also the progress being made by significant intellectual voices engaged in the difficult task of breaking out of the darkness in which they have too long lived. (The letter follows.)

Your letter, however, has not convinced us; partly because several of your observations seem to us neither sufficiently well-grounded nor complete enough; and partly, in consequence, because our appreciation of the facts differs from yours:

1. We know, to be sure, that numerous reactionary elements profited from the popular insurrection to fight the socialist regime; we were acquainted with Mindszenty’s speech; we are not unaware of the fact that Horthyist emigre circles abroad were very active; we believe that these same circles nursed the hope of a restoration of the former regime and that they strove to bring about such a restoration, encouraged by certain American groups which, however, at the decisive moment did not dare support them effectively. We also know that these same Hungarian emigres actively participated at the side of our own fascis...