Sunday, June 11, 2023

Henri Barbusse on the Soviet Union

By Nikos Mottas.

The 17th of May marked the 150th birth anniversary of French novelist, journalist and member of the French Communist Party, Henri Barbusse. He rose to fame following the publication of his novel “Le Feu” (Under Fire) in 1916, which is based on Barbusse's experiences as a soldier on the Western Front during the First World War.

The Great October Socialist Revolution, the the world-changing event of 'the twentieth century, had a profound influence on Barbusse. In January 1918 he left France and moved to Soviet Russia where he joined Lenin's Bolshevik Party. Later, in 1923, he became a member of the French Communist Party. 

From 1917 to his death, in 1935, Henri Barbusse dedicated himself in activities and writings in defense of the first workers' state in the world, the USSR.

Among others, in 1927 Barbusse participated in the Congress of Friends of the Soviet Union in Moscow. He led the World Congress Against Imperialist War (Amsterdam, 1932) and headed the World Committee Against War and Fascism, founded in 1933. He was also literary editor for the daily newspaper “l'Humanité” from 1926 to 1929.

In his work titled “Russie” (Russia), published by Flammarion in 1930 in Paris, he provides us with an evaluation of the first years of the Soviet Union. Here are some major examples:

“The October Revolution radically overturned social relations and values. It was the gigantic experiment, unprecedented in history: The working class, the mass of the exploited, was taking power into its own hands for the first time in the annals of mankind. This gigantic effort was born and developed through innumerable struggles and obstacles, which no one ignores anymore...”.

"(...) The Soviet reality, an organic consequence of the proletarian revolution, is nothing but a great example that illuminates the struggle, which divides the people of our time into two antagonistic parties, the exploiters and the exploited. It is the practical truth that gives weapons to some and takes them away from others. The specific fact of the USSR and the orientation it is taking, continue in the most positive way the mortal struggle that opened between the revolution and the counter-revolution. The working masses of the world, who are attentively following the events taking place in the Soviet country, must believe that a new world is being formed up there and must arouse the international proletariat to help the Soviet proletariat and believe in its struggle...”.

In an article about proletarian literature, firstly published in the Soviet magazine “Revolyutsiya i kultura” (Revolution and Culture), which was later republished in communist French outlet “Monde”, Barbusse wrote:

(…) The revolution created a new man, the citizen of the labor democracy: Factory worker, field worker, spiritual worker. This new man is at the same time a fighter who is forced to march against currents, destroy remains and build a social monument, the design and materials of which he holds in his hands. The revolution permeated everything: His will, his intellectuality, his spirituality. The proletarian literature of this militant worker. It must interpret to him the form, the movement, the flame, the incandescences and internal rivalries, the tendencies, and finally the work (…)

Henri Barbusse authored a 1935 biography of Joseph Stalin under the title “Staline: Un monde nouveau vu à travers un homme” (Stalin. A New World Seen Through the Man).

The proletarian novelist, who served the aim of the working class' emancipation, died on 30 August 1935.