High on Guilt

Aden, Arabie

by Paul Nizan, with a Foreword by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Joan Pinkham
Monthly Review Press, 159 pp., $6.00

Confessions of a Disloyal European

by Jan Myrdal
Pantheon, 201 pp., $4.95

One of the Germans who was there talked about the Evangelical scenes which took place at the London School of Economics in June, when student revolutionaries from the continent burst into the place and set up court. The British students milled around and asked what they must do to be saved. Some wanted action, wanted to storm a newspaper building, quoted Che on the revolutionary’s duty to make revolution. Others said plaintively that there was nothing to revolt against. “There was this nice guy who got up and said that in English society it all went so smoothly and there was no police provocation and not much fascist behavior and liberalism sort of worked, and you know he was more or less crying, and said: ‘I must have an answer: what shall we do?’ ”

The Berliners—especially—gave them an answer. They told the English students to go away and study, to read Marx and Luxemburg, to do their homework on their own society and their own universities until they had understood in what monstrous wise learning was being enslaved by being made instrumental, by enforced isolation in the ivory tower. When they had understood that there was a link between the Professor buried in Latin literature and the Vietnam war, then their organizations would begin to form on the basis of a common analysis. Then, as a third stage, they would be able to apply this analysis instantly to “actual problems as they arise. As we did when we marched on the Axel-Springer-Haus the night Rudi Dutschke was shot. After months and years of study and agitation and enlightenment, everybody was able at once to draw the same conclusion from the shooting and to act.”

Thus the Berliners—Nestors among the student rebels of Europe—sagely indicate the path of salvation between emotional extremes. There should be no incoherent self-pity because one cannot act: perhaps, on a closer look, one can, and if not one should stop whining. Nor should there be frenetic action for the sake of action (merely the other side of the coin). No extravagance. No auto-intoxication on guilt. No heroes. Don’t mourn for me, boys—the prostrate Dutschke might have muttered—analyze!

These two books of young rebellion are a far cry from that austerity. They are short but profuse. They both smell like subjective therapy products: Nizan (about twenty-one when he wrote Aden, Arabie) must have felt that he had got a weight off his mind and onto the minds of the bourgeoisie. Jan Myrdal may have hoped for some absolution. This is only relevant because it is often obtrusive. Both books, but especially Nizan’s, are under-cooked, unpruned, and self-indulgent.

AFTER NIZAN had written this book, he spent twelve years in the French Communist Party. He departed in anger, in 1939, to be killed a year later by a stray bullet at Dunkirk where he was working as a liaison officer and interpreter with the British. The Party spent much time and energy trying to bury Nizan’s talents…

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