Obituary: Claude Bourdet

On 31 March 1956 French security police came to arrest Claude Bourdet.

He was taken first to the prison of La Sante, then to Fresnes. He was finally taken to some barracks where a magistrate prepared to examine him. "It's curious," Bourdet remarked, "but it's exactly the same as last time. First to Sante, then Fresnes. You've followed the same route as the others." "What do you mean, `the others'?" asked the magistrate, frowning. "Why, the Gestapo, of course," replied Bourdet. "You must have heard of them." The magistrate went white with rage. Bourdet thought he was going to hit him.

In 1956 Bourdet was arrested because he had written an article attacking the policies of the French government in Algeria. He was accused of demoralising the army. In March 1944 it was as a leader of the Resistance that he was arrested, deported to Oranienburg, and from there to Buchenwald. The irony of the 1956 incident was that the orders for his arrest came from two former companions of the Resistance, Bourges- Maunoury, the Minister for Defence, and the head of his private office, Louis Mangin, who had been sent from London by de Gaulle to occupied France.

Thus Bourdet was able to contemplate to what extent the forces that had been united against the Germans had become disunited. The 1956 arrest was not important, Bourdet being released within hours of his arrest, which had caused a wave of protests. But, 30 years later, he was still recalling the sadness that it had caused him. What he considered to be the best in France had become divided, hostile to each other, enemies.

Yet all his life he had contemplated such divisions and had, in no small way, himself contributed to them. In the autumn of 1940, Henri Frenay, a distinguished young officer who was humiliated by the defeat, began to organise patriotic groups in the south of France. Claude Bourdet joined with enthusiasm, and in May 1941 Frenay appointed him the leader of the network in the departments of the Alpes- Maritimes and the Var. The south was not occupied by the Germans, so the task of the Resistance was not so much fighting as propaganda. At this Bourdet and his associates were remarkably successful. From December 1941 onwards their main publication became Combat, which grew from some 5,000 copies an issue to some 150,000. Their Resistance network adopted the name of its newspaper.

But there were many problems within the Resistance movements. Frenay believed that Petain, the hero of Verdun, could save France. Bourdet, in long walks along the quais of Marseilles, persuaded him that they had nothing to hope from him. Then there were the Communists. Bourdet was reluctant to co-operate with them, and fearful of their future dominance. Most famous of all were his suspicions of de Gaulle and London, his contempt for those who knew nothing about Resistance work giving orders to those who had gained vast experience and knowledge.

This last led him to be less than enthusiastic about Jean Moulin, who was charged by de Gaulle with unifying the different Resistance groupings. But he never wavered in his conviction that the aim of the Resistance was to create a new France, one which would be modern and progressive.

Bourdet's father was Edouard Bourdet, a highly successful dramatist; his mother, Catherine Pozzi, a poet with a famous salon. With their divorce, Bourdet studied in Zurich as an engineer. Having become bilingual in French and English through his English nanny, he became tri-lingual with German attached. As a left-wing Catholic he supported the Popular Front, and from 1936 he was attached to the economics minister, Charles Spinasse, who disappointed him by being one of the socialists who voted full powers to Petain in July 1940.

On Bourdet's return to France in 1945 he was elected deputy to the first Consultative Assembly and was for a time in charge of national broadcasting. But his future was in political journalism. He succeeded Albert Camus in the peacetime Combat newspaper, but quarrelled with the owner, and left in order to be one of the founders of the weekly France-Observateur, an independent left-wing publication with great influence.

I first met Bourdet when I was a student at the Ecole Normale Superieure in 1948, when he came to denounce the war in Indo-China. He told me that he had great hopes of the Labour government in England, and believed that it would become the leader of a united socialist Europe. In 1957 he came to Birmingham University to speak of French misdeeds in Algeria. His English was perfect but dated. It was curious to hear such a militant speaking the language of Bertie Wooster. His visit was a great success.

He continued his campaigns. Against de Gaulle in 1958; in favour of the Third World; working for a new independent socialist party; in opposition to a Europe dominated by capitalism and Germany. Some said that he was the sort of man who would drive his car in order to give help, but would knock an innocent bystander down as he did so.

Others saw him as the stalwart defender of justice, the tireless believer in a better world, a man of outstanding honesty.

Douglas Johnson

Claude Bourdet, journalist and resister: born Paris 28 October 1909; Founder and Editor, France-Observateur (now Le Nouvel Observateur) 1950- 63; books include L'Aventure incertaine 1975; married 1935 Ida Adamoff (two sons, one daughter); died Paris 20 March 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little