Today In History: Sartre Denounces USSR
Today in 1956, Jean-Paul Sartre denounced the USSR, following its invasion of Hungary. The Soviets invaded Hungary on November 4, 1956; an outraged Sartre revoked his public sympathies with the Soviet rendition of Communism and also castigated the French Communist Party for failing to do the same.
On November 9, Sartre published an essay in the magazine L’Express, stating, “I condemn the Soviet invasion wholeheartedly and without any reservation. Without putting any responsibility onto the Russian people, I nevertheless insist that its current government has committed a crime… And the crime, to me, is not just the invasion of Budapest by army tanks, but the fact that this was made possible by twelve years of terror and imbecility… It is and will be impossible to reestablish any sort of contact with the men who are currently at the head of the [French Communist Party]. Each sentence they utter, each action they take is the culmination of 30 years of lies and sclerosis.”
Sartre, like many people around the world who were sympathetic to the USSR, had those sympathies dashed by the invasion. Sartre did not renounce his core of Marxist beliefs. Along with other Marxists of conscience, Sartre struggled to reconcile the actions of the Soviet Union with a more humanitarian vision of what Communist could and should be. A project that is still underway today. He outlined some of his ideas in Search for a Method.
After the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, Sartre cut all of his ties with the USSR for good. His political radicalism was put at the service of French revolutionary contingents. He also occasionally edited radical newspapers.
Sartre passed away in 1980. He is best remembered as the father of Existentialism.