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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 17, No. 2. March 11, 1953

Speech by J.-P. Sartre — Delivered at the Vienna Congress of the Peoples for Peace-Dec, 1952

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Speech by J.-P. Sartre

Delivered at the Vienna Congress of the Peoples for Peace-Dec, 1952

The thinking and the politics of today are leading us towards a massacre because they are abstracted from reality. The world has been cut in two and each half is afraid of the other. From then on everyone acts without knowledge of the wishes and the decisions of his neighbour across the street; we make our own conjectures, give no credit to what is said, make our own interpretations and frame our own conduct according to what we imagine our opponent is going to do. From that point the only possible position is the one summed up by that most stupid expression of all the ages—if you want peace, prepare for war. Triumph of abstraction? On this basis men themselves become abstractions. On this basis each man is the other man, the possible enemy; we mistrust ourselves. In my country. France. It is uncommon to meet men: in the main one meets only togs and names.

The new and admirable thing about this peace congress is that what it has brought together is men. Not diplomats, not technicians or ministers, but men of every kind, of every opinion. Not men from nowhere, of course, but Chinese, Germans, French. They all have nations and they have not come here to deny their nationalities. Quite the contrary, in fact. Only, for them their nationality is no abstract classification, but a part of their reality as men. It is the way they live and work and love and die. These are German men, Russian men. Italian men and fundamentally their nationality is simply their particular point of view about peace. In wartime nationalities become separated. Then they are nothing but permission to shoot the enemy on sight: a Frenchman is a target. Today, for the first time, they are coming together. We are meeting here not, as in the case of certain scientific congresses, in spite of our origins, but because you are German, you Vietnamese and I French. And Just as the abstract leads to conflict, so one might say that the concrete unites us. For the concrete is the totality of the bonds that unite men among themselves. And if we think simply of this totality of the bonds that unite us we shall sec that to make war on each other is a perfectly imbecile undertaking.

For you see, there have been in the past some wonderful meetings of men who wanted peace both before and during other wars, like those at Zimmerwald and Kienthal. But those men had powers and responsibilities, coming as they did as delegates of trade unions or political parties. But there are all kinds here, some who come in the name of political parties and some who come on their own. And here we are not trying to give directives to a political party, or to create one. No more are we trying to set up some great Ineffective pompous machine, as a super-State would be No! And the name of this congress says perfectly what it means—the Congress of the Peoples. We have decided not to put ourselves in the place of our governments, but to talks among ourselves without them. Some of us have even come against their wishes. And we are not thinking of setting up an abstract organisation which would give orders to the ministers of our various governments. No! But since sovereignty comes from the people, we the governed, have come here to reach agreement on our requirements, and when we go home we shall be able to express on a national basis a desire which will be at the sometime that of each people and of all peoples. Then we shall indeed see whether government is at the service of the people or people at the service of governments. No, it la not a question of putting ourselves in the place of the ministers, and people [unclear: of] still be able to make a career of [unclear: diplomacy]. But we must say to them: While you have been glaring at each other like china dogs in the United Nations and elsewhere, we, the men and women you claim to be defending, have got together and reached unity. While you have been hardening in your mutual defiance and mutual distrust, we the peoples have chosen mutual confidence; and we have seen that this is the most effective of all methods of diplomacy. If there are still people in UNO who are for thinking that the third world war will be the struggle of Good against Evil, we tell them they are wrong; for the peoples have seen each other, spoken with each other, touched each other and have agreed that under any circumstances the war which is being prepared for them is an Evil, and that under any circumstances the peace that they shall make is a Good. No more will they send us off crusading.

Peace and Morality

But we too would be remaining in the abstract if we had to restrict ourselves to the expression of a wish for peace. There have been other movements for peace—for instance, that of Gary Davies (an American who renounced his nationality and called for a government of the world, camping on the steps of the Palais de Chaillot when the U.N. was sitting there.—Ed.). Gary Davies was a good chap, probably quite sincere, but he believed that peace was a question of morality, so that when asked to take a stand against the war in Viet Nam he refused because "It would be taking part in politics." But here we know that you can't condemn war in a general way or praise peace in the absolute. The pacifist is very badly equipped to answer the warrior, for since he wants peace at any price why should he not accept a peace imposed by force of arms?

So in occupied France we saw certain pacifists rally to the Hitlerites because they believed in good faith that Germany was about to impose a German peace upon the worlds—albeit a little brutally. But we cannot say that we want peace at any price, particularly at the price of a reign of terror. The other day our reactionary Press, commenting upon the English atom bomb experiment, shouted "Another bomb—there indeed is Peace on the march." On reading that, we understand that our first duty is to dig out the beautiful word Peace from the mud into which it has been thrown and to clean it up a bit. No! No peace in terror, not in humiliation, not in bondage. No peace at any price. Right here among us there are representatives of peoples which have been struggling for years for their liberation. Only we say that today at this very moment and taking everything into account, there is in the historical situation we are now in both a chance for Peace and a chance for war. We say that we have chosen the chance for Peace and that we wish to show that such a chance exists and to seek out what must be done so that it shall not pass us by.

Unlike Gary Davies we know that we must act in a political way; we know that Peace is not a permanent condition that is bestowed upon us one fine day like a good conduct certificate, but a long term construction project to be carried out on a world-wide basis and demanding the collaboration of all the world's peoples.

All the world's peoples are here in the persona of their representatives. Where else, in what other place on earth, could they meet together today ? All the peoples are here ready to build peace as the peoples should build it. That is to say concretely and starting out from the concrete life. Between capitalist and Socialist States as would today be inevitable if it could be shown that their co-existence was economically impossible; that is, if it so happened that the peoples living under one of these regimes, in order to work and to satisfy their hunger, needed the destruction of the other regime. Now there is nobody saying that. Representatives of socialist countries, for their part, tell us in so many words that they want peace and that coexistence is possible. But the exponents of preventive war, of rearming Europe, of blackmail by the atom bomb—what do they say? Do they Justify the pressure they apply in terms of economic pressures? Not at all. You will not find this idea expressed by Burnham, the State Department adviser, nor by Monnerot or Aron, the two French theorists whose work is to defend the Atlantic Pact. Aron goes so far as to remark that the present attitude of the U.S.A. towards the Chinese Government is not Justifiable on the grounds of economic necessity because in 1939 U.S. trade with China represented only three per cent of U.S. foreign trade. What do they say then? Well, they talk of political imperialism, of socialist aggression, of religious wards and of a crusade against communism. In short, these are political, not economic, arguments—and passionate ones at that, aiming at attitudes and an ideology.

In a word, they are afraid, and—what comes to the same thing—they are trying to make others afraid. And some people who want peace as surely as we want it are being drawn into the dangerous situation of running the risk of making war against "the others" out of sheer terrar that "the others" might make war on them.

Jean Paul Sartre is one of the more prominent post-war writers ad dramatists who have, arisen on the Continent. As a young man he studied under the philosophers Husserl and Heidegger, and now has come to be regarded as the foremost exponent of the philosophical trend known as "Existentialism." His difference from the Marxist view is best summarised in his work "Existentialism and Humanism."

The Answer

Now what answer docs this congress provide for such people? Just this—that agreement is possible upon any subject once fear has been put aside, when instead of becoming lost in vain conjecture on the intentions and wishes of "the others" we ask them in so many words what those intentions and wishes are.

There is a Chinese Government recognised as such by the whole Chinese people, it has all the power in its hands. It runs the economy of the country. It possesses a strong army. And like any normal government. It is in China. But for the United States and the United Nations it does not exist. For them the Chinese Government consists of a handful of exiles living in Washington or at Lake Success. Is this not abstract? is it not abstract that the French Government is keeping the government of Bao Dai whom nobody wants, and is granting to him little by little, without being able to do anything about it, all the [unclear: concessns] which were refused to Ho Chi Minh? We could go on indefinitely quoting separations, idealistic lines of demarcation, false doors, [unclear: alse] windows, unsupportable agreements, abstractions which can be maintained only by violence since they deliberately violate the historical situation.

In the main, those of us who are here have neither the science of the technician nor the jurisdiction of the ' diplomat, but we have an immense advantage over both in what we are real, concrete. The peoples are concrete and could not themselves violate history because they are history. We have not among us the specialists who juggle with peoples in the United Nations, but we have the representatives of those peoples, of those who suffer most from these abstract situations. They have not come to tell us about the motives of prudence which demand the continuation of the divisions which are tearing the world apart under the protection of armies of occupation. They have come to tell us that they can no longer put up with the lines, the zones, the divisions and the armies; and it is they who can tell us before anyone else where the remedies lie. And when they tell us simply that they want those armies to leave, they already have helped us to make considerable program simply because they have shown us what the truth of the situation is. And they will do more than that. If for instance the German delegates come to us French and say that the dismemberment of Germany—which we consider dangerous to us—is, for them also. Intolerable, then they will have demonstrated the profound solidarity uniting any Frenchman who opposes war with any German who wants German unity. In the United Nations agreements are reached at the best by mutual concessions whereas here they will be reached by taking a census of our common requirements. But it goes without saying that these difficulties which maintain the cold war are born of the cold war itself. They will never be suppressed without a radical change in international relations.

The Two Bloc

When we speak of the co-existence of two economic systems I do not believe we mean the co-existence of two blocs, for a co-existence is not a juxtaposition. A Juxtaposition of two-blocks maintains distrust and ends by leading from cold war to hot war. The African and Asian delegates will tell us how they see the task of the peoples of their continents in the establishment of peace. As a European guest I shall personally say what I should like to see for Western Europe. It would be no use denying that the economy of Western Europe becomes dally more dependent on the United States. On the other hand, in most of the democracies, the proletariat is turning hopefully towards Soviet Russia and the eastern democracies. The result of these two tendencies today is a more or less violent conflict between the masses and certain categories of leader. But if we persevere, these very characteristics might tomorrow, on the contrary, give to the countries of the West the role of mediators. I don't mean by that that they should come in as mediators in diplomatic discussions—we are not here to talk about diplomats—but I mean that they should be the terrain where the currents coming from the capitalist American and from the Socialist U.S.S.R. would meet and intermingle. I say that a renewal or an intensification of the currents of commerce between the eastern democracies and those of Western Europe would not only be in accord with concrete reality, but would help to make of Europe (Including a revived Germany and Austria) one of the Indispensable hinges, between the great Powers.

Now this would be possible on two conditions. The first is that the Western European States should be able to concert their efforts in an examination of the means by which they can progressively recover their economic Independence and loosen the bonds of this Atlantic Pact which, ignoring their ambiguous situation and their abundant internal contradictions, just simply turns them into United States soldiers and forces them to join a bloc when this is precisely what they do not want and cannot do. They "could then, to the extent that they had regained their independence, re-establish friendly relations and solidarity with the Eastern democracies and put back some sense into treaties like the Franco-Soviet pact.

So it seems to me that the aim of this congress should be to bring to the notice of the various governments, by our final resolution here and by our daily activities at home, the concrete wishes of the peoples; to demand that these powers which have assumed responsibility for the world whether we like it or not should defer to the will of the peoples; to obtain a complete reorientation of International negotiations. Can we say that we are approaching these objectives? No, far from that, for it's a long-term Job, one that we have not really yet begun. But begin we shall, and we shall go through to the final objective.

Many of us have come to this congress as delegates of divers organisations or with the mandate of a political party, others with no mandate whatever. But all of us, all those who give their approval to the final resolution, will consider themselves on their return as bearing the man-dale of the congress. The congress should be our conscious collective will, and in the name of this will upon our return to our many countries we shall find ourselves with new obligations to fulfill and new tasks to perform. It is to be hoped that this year's Congress will at last bring a positive solution which the governments will take account of. That is my ardent hope, but we should not hide ourselves the fact that we are still a minority in our countries. I know personally many very honest people who should be here alongside us, but who are not. Why is this? From pessimism, from resignation, and because they have been made to feel that the Congress is a manoeuvre. In short, they have not put their trust in it and as I have said, it is mistrust that leads to war.

The geographical divisions of which Germany is today in danger of dying is with us an invisible social division, but it's the same thing, a sort of impenetrable vacuum separating one half of the nation from the other. This abstract separation causes us to treat our cousin or our neighbour not as a cousin or as a neighbour, but as an enemy cut off from us by a line of fire. This distance has been created without trenches and cannons, but there is nonetheless a no man's land dividing the people of France. And this no man's land, the result of three years of cold war, is each day helping to make our countries factors for war instead of the factors for peace that they should be. For this reason, one of the essential aims of our Congress should be and shall be to cause these men of goodwill bitterly to regret not having come to Vienna. They "must say among themselves, "We wanted peace, yet when a group of sincere men came together to try to make peace we were not there." When these regrets shall have melted away a Utile of their mistrust and their fear, this no man's land, or in other words anti-Communism, shall have been rolled back a little further, and we [unclear: shall] be able to say that in the cours of our work for peace on an International scale we have helped to bring reconciliation at home.

Today we are still a minority, but at the next Congress we shall perhaps be the representatives of the majority in our country.