© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
Assassins of Memory (4)
Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press 1992), English translation copyright 1992 Columbia University Press
No reproduction except for personal use only - Reproduction interdite sauf pour usage personnel

4. The Sect

At the core of contemporary "revisionism" in France, there have, of course, been personalities such as Paul Rassinier[65] or Robert Faurisson and, since 1978, there has above all been the relentless and pathological work of an extreme-left-wing revolutionary group, La Vieille Taupe. It was initially a bookstore, from 1965 to 1972, and an excellent resource for those seeking rare brochures of ancient or modern revolutionary dissent, having acquired the estate of Marx's prewar publisher Costes. The bookstore --founded by Pierre Guillaume, a former militant of Socialisme ou Barbarie, who moved to the subgroup Pouvoir ouvrier (along with J.-F. Lyotard and P. Souyiri)-- became in turn, in September 1967, a new informal subgroup.[66] La Vieille Taupe had a turbulent history, but managed to attract such traveling companions as La Jeune Taupe or La Guerre Sociale, all of which are convinced they are more or less sole heirs to the revolutionary tradition.

The history of revolutionary sects in France has not been written, but it may be surmised that of all of them, the most important, through the influence it exercised, was that which crystallized around Socialisme ou Barbarie (SOB), from 1949 to 1965.

SOB was born as a tendency of the (Trotskyist) Internationalist Communist party, a tendency led above all by Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, and which broke with Trotskyism on the basis of a radical critique of Soviet radical critique of Soviet bureaucracy.[67] It became absurd to criticize Stalinism ferociously and at the same time to call for an unconditional defense of the U.S.S.R., "a bureaucratic deformation of a worker state." The U.S.S.R. was a class society, even if the bureaucracy, the ruling class of a totalitarian society, was not to be confused with a bourgeoisie it had effectively destroyed.

SOB lived the life of all sects, traversed by tensions, marked by breaks and reconciliations. What were the stakes? It may be said that the group, an "organ of criticism and revolutionary orientation," was at once a "philosophical society," a place for the theoretical analysis of contemporary societies --and in this domain its role was incomparable-- and, in purpose, the core of a Leninist-style revolutionary party --and in that it could only fail, any sect with dreams of becoming a church and of creating a new orthodoxy being "destined as a result to provoke a new reformation."[68]

It was around those issues that the most violent forms of dissidence within the group occurred: the "anti-party" tendency of Claude Lefort in 1958; the "proletarian" dissidence of Pouvoir ouvrier, after the majority's break with Marxism in 1963. The ideas of SOB, those of worker-run factories, for example, of the break with political apparatuses, of the analysis of the opposition between the "rulers" and the "ruled," exploded in May 1968 after the disappearance of the journal.[69]

What does La Vieille Taupe owe to its prehistory? Certainly the retrospective refusal, which came from Trotskyism, of the antifascist consensus on which the resistance to Nazism had been based (the Trotskyists resisted, but on their own, and according to internationalist principles that were rather difficult to apply); certainly as well, and this was specific to Socialisme ou Barbarie, the idea that the revolutionary struggle had to be fought against bureaucratic terrorism as well as against capitalist domination. But on two levels they innovated. First, by seeking --unlike SOB, which had functioned in sectarian solitude, and unlike those members of the extreme left who isolate themselves in scientific critical thought[70]-- to penetrate the jungle of the mass media.[71] And then, in 1970, La Vieille Taupe rallied to the positions of Paul Rassinier.[72] From this it derived the most radical deductions. In the view of La Vieille Taupe, there was no specificity to the Hitler experience among the gallery of modern tyrannies: the concentration camps could only be exploitation camps, in the economic sense of the word, and, as a result, the extermination camps could not have existed since, in all due logic, they should not have existed.

On this were grafted two theoretically adventitious elements that were to end up being crucial. The first is the perverse and megalomaniacal personality of an individual, Pierre Guillaume, who was convinced that he understood the secrets of world revolution and, in addition, of world capitalism, since he attempted to make a financial killing for his group in Brazil, which he regarded as the heart of capitalist growth,[73] and above all the will to publicity through scandal, which was a break with the practice of revolutionary "groupuscules." On that terrain, P. Guillaume and his friends encountered a man who could not care less for world revolution, but who, in the service of a mad anti-Semitic passion, entertained personal dreams of scandalous glory: Robert Faurisson.

But the audience addressed by La Vieille Taupe through various media and tracts, periodicals, cassettes, and comic books that it distributed and continues to distribute is also totally uninterested in world revolution. Only a few young people, concerned lest they be fooled by what they assumed was "official" propaganda, could in any way be sensitive to the revisionist thesis. To work at the level of the mass media, they had to ally themselves theoretically and practically with the only groups for whom such a position had ideological interest: the anti-Semitic far right (of either fundamentalist Catholic[74] or paleo- or neo-Nazi[75] stripe) and the fraction of the Arab Islamic world struggling --for good or bad reasons- - against Israel. In both cases an alliance was attempted and sealed. In 1986, after the Roques affair, the Front National was the only important political group to support that Nazi intellectual and his analyses. The publication in 1986 of W. Stäglich's Nazi volume The Myth of Auschwitz sealed the first alliance, and the indefatigable activity of Vincent Monteil[76] has contributed what it can toward the establishment of the second.[77]

On occasion La Vieille Taupe has issued a reminder that it is not anti-Semitic, that it has published two works by Bernard Lazare, the first of which, L'Antisémitisme, son histoire et ses causes, has regularly been used by anti-Semites, but the second of which, Contre l'antisémitisme,[78] escapes that accusation. It has indulged in grandiloquent proclamations that leave no doubt as to the megalomania of their author: "The proletarians of La Vieille Taupe, without any pleasure, have been obliged to become historians, jurists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, publishers, distributors, and militants, all functions alien to them, but which have allowed them to accomplish a labor it would have taken the employees of the university years to assimilate." It has also issued solemn declarations: "At present the myth is dead.... We have no calling to continue activities that have been imposed on us by necessity."[79] With the exception of à brief intervention at the time of the Polish crisis in December 1981, it does not appear to have been engaged in anything else.

But ideological positions have their own logic. That of a delusion concerning a plot (by the Jews, to be sure). In 1980 Faurisson was prepared to write that there was no conspiracy:[80] "It would seem more precise to say that a myth was forged, a kind of patriotic religion in which truth and falsehood were combined in varying doses by the victors of the last war."[81] He has just put his name to a tract (in the spring of 1987) in which he explains that the "lie of Auschwitz" was born in April 1944 in central Europe and that there are "five principal parties" --all of them Jews, to be sure-- who bear responsibility. "For details, contact Robert Faurisson."[82] A tract that is perhaps not directly the work of La Vieille Taupe, but that was plainly inspired by it as well as by the work of the late Paul Rassinier, calmly explains that the Jews were responsible for the Second World War, that through the agency of Israel they will provoke a third one, and that so fictitious is the tale of their extermination that they can be seen in every quarter: "Every 'miraculous' escapee is proof that their story about the extermination is garbage."[83] At the head of all its publications, La Vieille Taupe reprints the maxim: "The terrible thing about looking for the truth is that one finds it." What is terrible, in fact, is that La Vieille Taupe has glaringly revealed the truth about itself.

(Next section )
(Table of Contents )


Server / Server © Michel Fingerhut 1996-2001 - document mis à jour le 09/11/1998 à 19h18m51s.
Pour écrire au serveur (PAS à l'auteur)/To write to the server (NOT to the author): MESSAGE