Source: "Termoignage, La Pensee" in The World of Henri Wallon
Translator: Donald Nicholson - Smith
Publisher: Jason Aaronson 1984
Transcription / Markup: Nate Schmolze;
Online Version: Wallon Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2001
If I may recall my own childhood, in which you were involved, for me you were one of the living links with the past. I am thinking of your relationship to the famous, “Wallon Amendment" one of the first links I consciously made between the history books and real men. I was also very impressed, as an adolescent, when I learned that you, a scholar, had participated in the campaign for the Third International.
My grandfather was a very liberal Catholic. He had been a student of
Michelet’s. Michelet even designated him as his successor when he gave up his professorship He
entered political life as an abolitionist, he had been one of the secretaries on
the commission headed by Schoelcher. He represented first Guadeloupe and then the Nord departement As a Catholic, he was against the Falloux law. He resigned when Montagne was excluded from
the Assembly He declared in his letter of resignation that, since he had
been elected by universal suffrage, he could not continue to sit when it was violated. During the Empire, he stepped aside. He
put his two sons through Sainte-Barbe, then the school for oppositionists. Toward the end of his life, he took a turn to the
right because of the Commune.
As to my own politics, I was a member of the Socialist Party before the first world war. I left before 1914, disgusted by the triumph of electoralism. This was the time when I knew your father, Marcel Cohen, at the big rallies held by Jaurès and Pressensé. I followed the Communist Party as a sympathizer until 1942, when I joined.
Perhaps I may also say something on that period? I came to see you regularly at your laboratory, to keep liaison going, as we used to say. It was a difficult situation. Politzer and Solomon had been shot. For the few of us who learned of this right away, your determination was a great encouragement and, if I may so, a great joy.
I campaigned for adherence to the Third International without belonging to the Party. I had engaged in some activities linked to the Communist Party, especially at the time of the Spanish Civil War.
What was the atmosphere among the intellectuals you were friends with at the time of the October Revolution?
Nearly all of us were interested in and favorably disposed to the Revolution. We followed the events passionately. We considered the party’s joining of the Third International almost a personal triumph, without being in the Party.
The younger generation would no doubt like to hear about the Cercle de Russie Neuve, about some of the things you explained in the preface to A la lumière du marxisme: the desire you and no doubt quite a few other scientists had to make contact with Soviet science, and the research to which this interest led you on both the social and ideological conditioning of scientific work and on dialectical materialism, which resulted in the critical examination of the assumptions of your own field of study.
We were very favorably disposed toward the Soviet revolution. In 1931 I went to Moscow for a Congress of clinical psychologists. My wife and I were struck by the atmosphere in the streets, the feeling of confidence among the people.
Returning to France, I was invited, with Piéron and Laugler, to give my impressions to the Cercie de Russie Neuve, directed by Madame Duchène. The circle had been founded, with people like Francois Jourdain, to foster positive ideas toward the USSR and to try to tell the truth. I was asked to be part of the circle. Then came the idea of organizing a circle for scientific studies. There were number of us, including Prenant, Mineur, Friedman, Parain, Marc Cohen, Laberenne, Baby. Our program was: to become acquainted with Marxism, to understand the scientific point of view, for each to see what he could use in his own research in his own field. At first there were some closed meetings, then some public conferences, then the two volumes of A la lumière du marxisme. This was interrupted by the war; the registration cards of members were destroyed as a precaution at the circle’s headquarters.
Those two books had a great influence on my generation.
My copies were seized by the Gestapo when they searched my house.
In 1942 one of your most important books was published, De l’acte a la pensée.
My course was banned, but the book had just come out. The Nazis started a
bookstore in the Place de la Sorbonne, and my book was in the window.
Yes, you were amused, I recall, by the fact that the book, restrained but clearly Marxist, was being sold right under the Nazis’ noses.