Andre Labarthe and Raymond Aron: Political Myth and Ideology in 'La France Libre.' (French Resistance Publication during World War II)
Flood, Christopher, Journal of European Studies
The history of the monthly review, La France libre, deserves a special place among the more paradoxical features of the Free French movements in London during the Occupation. The review was founded in November 1940 at de Gaulle's invitation and enjoyed immediate success. Its first issue of 8,000 copies sold so well that it was immediately reprinted in a further 10,000 copies. At its peak, towards the end of the war, it allegedly had some 76,000 subscribers, a remarkable figure which gave it the largest circulation of any monthly published in England at the time. Besides the contributions of its tiny editorial team, headed by Andre Labarthe and Raymond Aron, the journal received regular articles over varying periods from a number of talented writers, including the economists, Robert Marjolin (who also served for a time as a second secretaire de la redaction under the pseudonym of Robert Vacher) and E. M. Friedwald; the journalists, Pierre Maillaud and Louis Levy; the artist-turned-broadcaster, Jean Oberle, and others. The review also received occasional articles or literary pieces from an outstanding range of French or English contributors, drawn from political, journalistic, economic, military, intellectual or literary circles.
Raymond Aron, working under the pseudonym, Rene Avord, did most of the day-to-day editorial work. He had already been a productive academic writer on philosophical and sociological subjects before the war. He had also had some limited experience as a political commentator, when he contributed a number of articles to Alain's Libres Propos and Guehenno's Europe while he was working as a Lektor at the French Institute in Berlin between 1931 and 1933. In La France libre he regularly contributed long, densely argued, analytical and theoretical articles on diverse aspects of contemporary politics, as well as unsigned monthly chronicles of the situation in France, numerous other pieces on topics relating to the war, and occasional book reviews. In addition, Aron edited and translated the articles of the magazine's regular commentator on military affairs, Stanislas Szymonzyk, who drafted the original pieces in German. In his memoirs Aron had a right to recall his indefatigable work for the review with considerable pride: it had been an impressive achievement.
Andre Labarthe, the founder and director of La France libre, had been a favoured member of de Gaulle's entourage at the time when the review was launched. Formerly a senior scientific civil servant, sometime ministerial adviser, and occasional journalist, Labarthe had been de Gaulle's adviser on armaments and scientific research before he turned his energies to the launching of La France libre, of which most issues were to be led by an editorial of three or four pages over his signature. He was, in fact, a mercurial figure of great charm and dynamism. He was also a fixer, wheeler-dealer and inveterate schemer who perhaps merited Brian Crozier's retrospective description of him as 'the arch-adventurer of the Free French movement'. Looking back on that time with the benefit of hindsight, Aron recalls his own early impressions of Labarthe in ambivalent terms which are echoed in his subsequent allusions to the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction in anything that Labarthe said:
Andre Labarthe me seduisit. Il parlait de tout et de rien, d'abondance,
avec charme. Il evoquait, de temps a autre, ses talents de violoniste,
enfant virtuose quand il avait huit ans. Fils d'une mere tres pauvre
(femme de menage), peut-etre d'un pere illustre (on murmurait
Maeterlinck), il excipait volontiers de ses titres de scientifique. Il avait
appartenu au Cabinet de Pierre Cot, ministre de l'aviation dans le
gouvernement du Front populaire; il passait pour un homme de
gauche. Parmi les rallies de 1940, il faisait figure d'une personnalite,
une brillante carriere lui etait ouverte dans le mouvement gaulliste. …