Camus at Combat – From the Revolution to the Republic


Combat 23rd August 1944. The headline heralds the building of barricades by citizens in the capital. Camus’ anonymous editorial begins at the far left ‘Ils ne passeront pas.’

When authoritarian regimes are in power, writing that tells the truth effectively serves at propaganda. To write with honesty is to observe and to expose. These actions are the death of dictatorships. And they are integral to the Resistance movement, who must develop their own press to disseminate ideas outside the established order. For the French Resistance during World War II, Combat became the underground voice of the Revolution. This newspaper was spearheaded by notable French philosopher Albert Camus, who became editor in chief from 1944-1947. For Camus, the role of the press and ‘raison d’être’ for Combat was not “chercher à plaire” but rather “éclairer” (Combat 31 August 1994). His journalistic philosophy of “élever ce pays en élevant son langage” (Combat 31 August 1944) is clear within all of his editorials; however, this front page of 1944, only a few days before the liberation of France shows the enthusiastic language of persuasion that he believed would incite a “liberal revolution.”

Combat – De la Resistance a la Revolution”

The word “Combat” connotes the strength of the French people and, most notably, the aims of the Resistance; consciously indicating the newspaper’s revolutionary aims. The symbolism of the newspaper’s logo, the ‘Croix de Loraine’, is particularly significant. Between 1940 and 1944, the region of Lorraine was annexed to Germany. During that period, the Cross served as a rallying point for French ambitions to recover its lost provinces. This historical significance lent it considerable weight as a symbol of French patriotism becoming, in World War II, a symbol of the French Free Forces. Camus is, therefore associating his newspaper with the patriotism and revolutionary ideas that the Cross represents.

Interestingly, Camus’ name does not appear anywhere on the front cover. Although Camus both wrote the editorial piece and edited the paper itself, he remains anonymous. By omitting his name, Camus is removing his position as an intellectual and writing as another member of the revolution. This blurs the boundary between the proletariat and the intelligentsia uniting them for the cause of ‘Revolution”.

The title of Camus’ editorial “Ils ne passeront pas” is an obvious translation of the Spanish Republican slogan “No Pasaram”. Camus is known to have felt close to the Spanish Republican cause and would write many empowering editorials about Spain. This phrase was first heard during the Spanish Civil War when a member of the Communist Party of Spain, Dolores Gomez, took to the radio waves to call for resistance [i]. Her famous phrase “No Pasaran” became a rallying call to action. Such terminology was thus commonly associated with radical leftist movements and further emphasises the revolutionary intent of the newspaper itself.

 Spanish slogan ‘No Pasaram’ on the streets of Madrid.

“Liberté Liberté Chérie”

Camus, in his front page, creates a sense of patriotism to both inspire the people of France into the Resistance and create a sense of nationhood that crosses political party lines. He begins to quote from the French National Anthem “La Marseillaise” with the heading “Liberté Liberté Chérie.” This song was particularly symbolic during the Second World War as the Vichy movement banned its use. Thus, by quoting it, Camus is making clear the revolutionary spirit of Combat. Interestingly, while being explicitly patriotic, this song can be interpreted as both dangerously anti-establishment and, paradoxically, a tool of the elite [ii]. This symbolizes Camus desire for the French people to overcome their political differences and work together to form a truly democratic state, the way factions of the Resistance had been able to work together to defeat a common enemy.

Camus further emphasises this sense of patriotism through specific and persuasive language techniques to delineate his readership base. Through using group terms such a “le peuple”, and “les parisiens”, Camus is using the technique of association to persuade people into believing they are part of a larger collective. Furthermore, Camus explicitly names Parisian areas such as “le Quartier Latin” and the “Battignolles”. In the 20th century Paris, these locations were most associated with students and the working class. By quoting them, Camus is aligning himself with the message of the socialist worker and the ‘etudiant engagée’; further establishing his newspaper’s readership. These persuasive language techniques are deployed by Camus to create a sense of patriotism in uniting for the cause of the “liberal revolution” as well as setting out his readership and encouraging these readers to read, so the newspaper can be published.

“La République Sourde et Muette”

When looking at Camus’ work for Combat, it is important to address his opinions of the free press. As the euphoria of the Liberation lessened with time, Camus’ editorials took a more critical tone. Notably relating to the failure of the free press and thus, by association, his inability to keep Combat independent. During his time as editor of Combat, the magazine faced many problems, including a four-week printer strike that halted the French newspaper industry itself. However, the morality of Camus’ intentions remained consistent.

After the strike, in his “La République Sourde et Muette” (Combat, 15th March 1947) Camus fought for the independence of his newspaper from capitalism. Wanting to separate journalism and money Camus claimed “Pauvre et livre avant la grève Combat reparait encore appauvri mais toujours libre. Vivant de sa vente et de sa publicité, il y a un mois, il continue de ne compter que sur ses lecteurs”. By associating the words “pauvre” and “libre” he is arguing that freedom and, in particular, freedom of the press is independent of business. Indeed, in this bold and decisive statement, Camus breaks from the constraints of capitalist ideals of “vente” and “publicité”, tools which he believed hampered the independent spirit of journalism. Furthermore, Camus shifts the survival of Combat from “publicité” to his “lecteurs”. Effectively shifting the power from corporations back into the hands of his readers. With this statement it is clear to say that Camus was in fact, a journalist ‘engagée’, spearheading the ideal of a “morale professionnelle” [iii].

“La République Sourde et Muette” (Combat, 15th March 1947) –Camus

The front-page of this edition of Combat neatly sums up the newspaper, helmed by Albert Camus’, intentions. These were; to revolutionize the popular press in France, free the press from the capitalist agenda and create a dialogue that crosses political party lines. The paper speaks to a patriotic French people who are looking for a newspaper with the courage to disseminate information about the Revolution and relate radical ideas about democracy as a whole. However, as the ideas of Revolution ended with the Liberation, Camus’ fight to keep Combat’s independent spirit was unsuccessful. Indeed, without the risk of death or imprisonment, that was present during the war, journalism after the Liberation had to fight to remain honourable. Ultimately, Camus’ persistence to maintain his journalistic morality was attributed to his lifelong philosophy of the press; “when the free press fails, democracy fails.”



ii. french-anthem-finally-hit-right-note


Further Reading

De Gramont, A. (1991). Between Hell and Reason: Essays from the Resistance Newspaper Combat, 1944-1947. (New York: Wesleyan University Press)

Levi- Valensi, J. (2006). Camus at Combat. Writing 1944-1947. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press)

Martin, M. (1997). Medias et Journalistes de la Republique. (Paris: Odile Jacob)

Sarocchi, J. (1992). Camus et le premier Combat (1944-1947). (Paris: Colloque de Paris). Pp.259-262


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