Was Jean-Paul Sartre an Anarchist ? — Reflections on the supposed anarchism of Jean-Paul Sartre directed to my pen pals in the United States
René Berthier
Article mis en ligne le 20 mars 2023

par Eric Vilain

I recently discovered from an exchange of emails with a friend in the United States that some English-language scholars recognise Jean-Paul Sartre as an anarchist thinker. At first sight this seemed totally incongruous to me : indeed, I have been a libertarian activist for over 50 years and I had never heard such a thing. So I asked a lot of comrades – old timers like me or academics – about Sartre’s alleged “anarchism”. “The collective memory of the movement has retained no trace of a rapprochement between Sartre and anarchism.

In the French anarchist movement, he has always been considered as a “crapule stalinienne” (“Stalinist scoundrel”). It is true that when he no longer was in favour with the Communist Party, his Stalinist ex-comrades also called him a “jackal with a pen” and a “typewriting hyena”... In France we say : “One lends only to the rich”. French anarchists did not digest the article Sartre wrote in 1954 on his return from the Soviet Union, entitled “freedom of criticism is total in the USSR”, not only for the factual error it asserts, but also for the revelation of its author’s ideological blindness and his disconnection from reality.

There is, however, a certain injustice on the part of French anarchists in reducing Sartre to a “Stalinist scoundrel”. While it is true that he was once associated with the defence of any dictatorship waving a red flag, it is also true
that he was later associated with the anti-Stalinist left that Ian Birchall describes in Sartre against Stalinism4. No doubt French anarchists have not been able to grasp the tactical subtleties that led Sartre to break away from the Stalinist Communist Party and move towards Stalinist Maoist groups...