Algeria, the Jews, and France
[Owing to an oversight on our part, Ray Alan was delayed in sending us his reply to several letters which appeared in the November 1961 issue commenting on his contribution to the controversy on “Algerian Independence and the Jews” (June 1961). We regret any embarrassment that this may have caused Mr. Alan, who is an old and valued contributor to COMMENTARY. And we wish to make it clear that we in no sense endorse the political characterization of him suggested by one of his critics in the November issue. In accordance with the usual procedures, which permit the last word to the original author, Mr. Alan’s reply below will bring discussion of this subject to a close.—Ed.]
To the Editor:
Mr. Fabre appears to take the slippery Mr. Blumenfeld at his face value and to believe that the latter is gallantly defending “the regeneration of France under de Gaulle” against “embittered Mendèsist” attack (though why Mendèsist I don’t know: I personally would not advocate M. Mendès-France’s return to the premiership in present circumstances: the outcome would probably be civil war). He should read Mr. Blumenfeld’s June outburst more carefully. In it, he will find Mr. Blumenfeld accusing de Gaulle of employing the French army to force the Europeans of Algeria to “accept extermination,” regretting that Soustelle is not “scurrying about hatching plots,” etc. Is not this the idiom of Rivarol? (De Gaulle, in an interview with a Gaullist journalist and Member of Parliament, Pierre Laffont, has himself said: “the cause of Algérie française is the revenge of the Pétainists.”)
This discussion is complicated by the fact that while Joseph Barry [see “Controversy,” June 1961] and I were traveling about France in May 1958, observing for ourselves, Mr. Blumenfeld appears to have relied for his vision of what was happening on the weeklies of the rabidly anti-democratic (and now anti-Gaullist) extreme right. He is known to the French Sûreté for his connection with some kind of public relations operation on behalf of the anti-Gaullist ultras, and in order to divert attention from the tainted sources of his own misinformation he evidently feels obliged to abuse those of us who try to peer behind the propagandist smokescreens of extreme right and extreme left.
Thus he trots out the Rivarol propaganda line that the Algiers riot-plus-mutiny of May 13, 1958, was “the most significant regenerative event in French history since 1940” and accuses me of “astonishing ignorance” when I try to put it into perspective. Like Rivarol he obviously lacks enthusiasm for the Liberation of France after Hitler’s war, and I can understand his astonishment that I should consider the Liberation, the establishment of the Monnet planning organization, and France’s participation in the Common Market, far more significant “regenerative events” than the antics of Lagaillarde and his friends in Algeria. Happily, most Frenchmen agree with me. The major French architect of the Liberation is now President of France; the organizers of the May 13 nonsense in Algiers are either in jail or in exile and would be lynched if they appeared in public in any major French city.
It will not have escaped the attention of your regular readers that in his letter in your November issue Mr. Blumenfeld backs down. Instead of defending his previous assertion that the May 13 uprising amounted to a great French “Revolution” (his capital letter), he is content now to insist on its effectiveness in Algiers, citing “any number of authorities,” including my excellent colleague Hal Lehrman. This was not the issue. Unlike Mr. Blumenfeld, neither Lehrman (who was in Algiers at the time, not in France) nor any other competent observer I know of has claimed that there was a “Revolution” or even a revolutionary atmosphere in France. Even the propagandist Bromberger brothers, who sought to justify the Algiers uprising by exaggerating popular discontent with the Fourth Republic, let slip in their book, Les 13 complots du 13 mai, several admissions that France was in no mood to follow the example of the Algiers extremists: in six or more passages they admit that “le climat à Paris n’est pas à la revolution”. . . . “la France ne suit pas Alger”. . . . “The Algiers committee is exasperated by lack of support in France,” etc.
Far from being filled with revolutionary ardor by the Algiers disorders, the average Frenchman considered de Gaulle a convenient compromise between the weak men in the Palais Bourbon and the wild men across the water; he looked to de Gaulle (whose candidates he had rejected only a few weeks earlier in the élections cantonales) for an emergency operation that would put the pieds noirs and their mutinous military friends in their places and then clean up the whole Algerian mess. (The Socialists, for example, agreed to support de Gaulle only after Mollet and Deferre had received his personal assurance that he was opposed to the Algérie française theme of the Algiers ultras.) Nothing could have been less like a “Revolution.” But presumably Mr. Blumenfeld considers this year’s Challe-Salan mutiny a glorious “Revolution” too, and the bomb-toting thugs of the OAS (a terrorist organization financed by Mr. Blumenfeld’s Algerian friends) glorious “Revolutionaries.”
The remainder of Mr. Blumenfeld’s letter is padded out with the kind of wild distortions one might expect of a man who can consider the FLN “at least as dangerous” as Hitler! The “Algerian Moslem nationalists” do not advocate “racist national socialism” (a bigger danger is that they may swing to the extreme left). I have never suggested that “the only solution to the Jewish problem in Algeria is a mass exodus to Israel”; I have never supported either the FLN or fascism. And who, outside of Mr. Blumenfeld’s mental universe, has ever “pinned the fascist label on all of Algeria’s Europeans”? I am beginning to suspect that Mr. Blumenfeld can’t read English.