An Interview with Maspero: “A Few Misunderstandings”


This inter­view, con­duct­ed by Félix Bog­gio Éwan­jé-Épée and Stel­la Magliani-Belka­cem, was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Péri­ode. The Eng­lish trans­la­tion sub­se­quent­ly appeared at Ver­so.

We see the pub­lish­er François Maspero as hav­ing played a lead­ing role in “smug­gling across” the com­mu­nist and anti-colo­nial thought of the post­war peri­od and pre­serv­ing its her­itage. Indeed, Édi­tions Maspero is an unavoid­able ref­er­ence point for any dis­cus­sion of crit­i­cal pub­lish­ing in France. Maspero’s out­put was the the­atre of impor­tant debates on the far Left in the 1960s and 1970s, and played a pio­neer­ing role in many fields. It was Maspero who pub­lished Fanon, the polit­i­cal writ­ings of Bald­win, Mal­colm X and Che, antholo­gies of clas­sic labour-move­ment works, Althusser’s “Théorie” col­lec­tion, the jour­nal Par­ti­sans… We want­ed to ask him about his project and the edi­to­r­i­al ambi­tions that he had at the time. Here we repro­duce what he calls an “attempt at a response” to our ques­tions.

François Maspero:
Read­ing your ques­tions [see the Appen­dix below] I think that there are a few mis­un­der­stand­ings under­ly­ing them.

The first resides in your repeat­ed use of the words “the­o­ry” and “the­o­ret­i­cal.”

You are a Marx­ist review, which I have plen­ty of respect for: it is a tried and test­ed way of read­ing soci­ety. That said, you real­ly ought to under­stand that I was nev­er tru­ly a Marx­ist, and still less a the­o­ret­i­cal­ly trained one. My read­ing of Marx hard­ly goes beyond the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo. I entered work­ing life aged 21, help­ing to put togeth­er an Eng­lish-French tech­ni­cal dic­tio­nary for Édi­tions Gau­thi­er-Vil­lars, after hav­ing passed my bac­calau­re­ate at the fifth time of ask­ing and hav­ing got an eth­nol­o­gy cer­tifi­cate at the Paris Eth­nol­o­gy Muse­um. My con­cep­tion of his­to­ry, soci­ety and life is, above all, affec­tive, prob­a­bly on account of the fact that in my child­hood and ado­les­cence I was sur­round­ed by a fam­i­ly that was active in the Resis­tance. This con­cep­tion, start­ing out from what I saw in the War – and all the oth­er wars that fol­lowed – is per­haps rather Shake­speare­an: to para­phrase Mac­beth a lit­tle, “A tale writ­ten by a fool and told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.” We could also say that my con­cep­tion of free­dom owes a lot to Sartre, and that I nev­er turned my back on Camus.

So you weren’t pay­ing atten­tion – was this per­haps a piece of indul­gence, or increduli­ty on your part? – when I told you that “I only crossed their [the authors’] paths, I was a lit­tle like a sponge absorb­ing some­thing and then let­ting it out again. As it hap­pened, I pro­vid­ed some for­mat for their work – but noth­ing more.”

I’ll insist on that point. One time Pierre Vidal-Naquet defined me as an “organ­ic intel­lec­tu­al”: he told me that it was a term Gram­sci that used, and I took his word for it.

You ask me to “tell you about the links that were estab­lished among the La joie de lire book­shop, pub­lish­ing activ­i­ty and mil­i­tant cir­cles dur­ing Édi­tions Maspero’s adven­tures.” Actu­al­ly, what hap­pened was that after hav­ing had a very dif­fi­cult time, and even more trou­ble putting up with the eth­nol­o­gy teach­ing of the peri­od, in my first book­shop on Rue Mon­sieur-le-Prince I had the chance to meet some of the read­ers of Présence Africaine; mil­i­tants in the Por­tuguese colonies includ­ing Mario de Andrade and Amil­car Cabral; anti-colo­nial­ists more gen­er­al­ly; and vis­i­tors as var­ied as Césaire (then an MP), Sen­g­hor (then a sen­a­tor) and L.G. Damas. It was thanks to Mario de Andrade that I entered into con­tact with Fanon, with a view to pub­lish­ing Year Five of the Alger­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, which all the oth­er pub­lish­ers obvi­ous­ly reject­ed. This was also the moment that I estab­lished links with Peu­ple et Cul­ture. From late 1955 to late 1956, at the height of the ‘thaw’, I was a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, but I was expelled for hav­ing protest­ed against both the Budapest events and the Com­mu­nist Party’s reluc­tance to com­mit itself in oppo­si­tion to the war in Alge­ria: I was reproached by André Tol­let (a mem­ber of its Cen­tral Com­mit­tee) for hav­ing “spat on the Par­ty.” An extreme­ly salu­tary expe­ri­ence.

I then got into a lot of debt in order to buy La joie de lire and every­thing went well up until 1968 (at least after the attacks, the repeat­ed and very expen­sive bailiffs’ vis­its, and the charges for under­min­ing state secu­ri­ty and incit­ing sol­diers to deser­tion and insub­or­di­na­tion had all come and gone, as they did). There were sev­en of us work­ing there, and I didn’t ever have to take on any fur­ther debts in order to dou­ble the space and raise the num­ber of work­ers (they refused the label ‘employ­ees’) to around thir­ty. From then on it became a night­mare. I was then very com­mit­ted to hav­ing a col­lec­tive lead­er­ship, and one of the most promi­nent mem­bers, Émile Copfer­mann – whose help was, in every oth­er sense, of price­less impor­tance, par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of books on edu­ca­tion, psy­chi­a­try and the­atre – had this idea that we had to pub­lish every­thing that “con­tributed to debate.” And for a while I agreed with him. Hence all the pam­phlets by Maoist groups, by the Révo­lu­tion!group, the Front sol­i­dar­ité Indo­chine, the École eman­cipée, so many oth­ers whose names I’ve for­got­ten, and, indeed, the Ligue com­mu­niste [lat­er LCR, which ini­ti­at­ed today’s NPA]. Pub­lish­ing the banned jour­nal Tri­con­ti­nen­tal and var­i­ous books on the African dic­ta­tor­ships, I was over­whelmed with court cas­es and con­vic­tions (one for hav­ing insult­ed France’s great pal Mob­u­to: “pub­li­ca­tion of ‘for­eign’ works”, “libel against for­eign heads of state”), cost­ing me an enor­mous sum, being deprived my civ­il lib­er­ties, and even three months in prison (which I did not have to serve, thanks to Pompidou’s death – Gis­card d’Estaing had the fine idea of declar­ing an amnesty for those with short sen­tences). And at the same time, a lot of the same groups whose pam­phlets I was pub­lish­ing rec­om­mend­ed steal­ing from my book­shop (“nick from Masp.”) because it was “rev­o­lu­tion­ary.” A major­i­ty of the “work­ers’” at the book­shop took a lais­sez-faire view of this, argu­ing that when they came to work there it wasn’t because they want­ed to become cops. I should add that I nev­er could call the police because hav­ing dis­cussed this prob­lem with the dis­trict com­mis­sion­er he warned me that giv­en the kind of peo­ple com­ing to the book­shop and the prob­a­ble trou­ble in the case of arrests, it would give the police pre­fec­ture a pre­text to shut the place down, an oppor­tu­ni­ty that they’d be only too hap­py to take.

I joined the Ligue com­mu­niste in 1970, above all as a reac­tion against those mem­bers of the col­lec­tive lead­er­ship who pro­claimed them­selves mil­i­tants but were noth­ing of the kind (the most night­mar­ish of those help­ing to run Par­ti­sans was a cer­tain Boris Fraenkel). This affil­i­a­tion to the Ligue owed prin­ci­pal­ly to my friend – and he was a friend, to the last – Daniel Ben­saïd. Then I had a motor­bike acci­dent, fol­lowed by seri­ous depres­sion and final­ly a sui­cide attempt that left me in a coma for sev­er­al days, before quick­ly mak­ing out that it had been a phoney attempt.

In 1973, I stopped the pam­phlets and the pub­li­ca­tion of Par­ti­sans and Tri­con­ti­nen­tal. Stu­pid­ly, I had stub­born­ly con­tin­ued putting out Tri­con­ti­nen­tal, even after hav­ing told its Cuban orga­niz­ers that it did not cor­re­spond to the hopes that Che had placed in it, and it was the ruin of me. Strug­gling to get back on my feet, I no longer belonged to the LCR (new­ly rebrand­ed), and nor did I pub­lish what it pro­duced.

In that same peri­od, many writ­ers mobi­lized in a sig­nif­i­cant move­ment in sol­i­dar­i­ty with pub­lish­ers in dif­fi­cul­ty, which you wouldn’t see many doing now. It was then that I decid­ed to sell La joie de lire, which was the only solu­tion giv­en that a large pro­por­tion of its ‘work­ers’ were becom­ing increas­ing­ly uncon­trol­lable (the authors who had ral­lied to the cause were dis­cour­aged by their dis­cus­sions with them, so decid­ed only to defend the pub­lish­ers them­selves) and the prospec­tive buy­ers had com­mit­ted to keep­ing them on. But then the buy­ers hur­ried to liq­ui­date the book­shop, hav­ing helped them­selves to what was in the kit­ty. That earned them a tri­al and a con­vic­tion in a mag­is­trates’ court… but that’s anoth­er sto­ry.

I can remem­ber the two oppo­site extremes of this expe­ri­ence: on the one hand, the authors’ impres­sive mobil­i­sa­tion; on the oth­er hand, a cer­tain vis­it by Alain Geis­mar and Serge July, who upon my refusal to pub­lish their book Vers la guerre civile [Toward civ­il war], barked that the day would come when I’d have to pay for all the wool I’d sheared off the back of the rev­o­lu­tion…

You speak of a “polit­i­cal project”, “the­o­ret­i­cal activ­i­ty,” “polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal imper­a­tives.” I don’t see it like that. Rather, I would just say that I was always moved by peo­ples’ strug­gles for free­dom and sen­si­tive to the axiom that “a peo­ple that oppress­es anoth­er can­not itself be free.” Pierre Vidal-Naquet estab­lished some sub­tle dis­tinc­tions among the oppo­nents of colo­nial­ism and neo-colo­nial­ism: the Drey­fusard tra­di­tion, the lega­cy of the Resis­tance, Judeo-Chris­t­ian moral­i­ty… (and I am quot­ing him off the top of my head). Frankly, I don’t know which of these cat­e­gories I belong to. Any­how, I sup­port­ed the Alger­ian people’s strug­gle, through my liaisons with the French fed­er­a­tion of the FLN. I very quick­ly saw how this strug­gle was being appro­pri­at­ed in the inter­ests of a new oli­garchy. I had placed a lot of hope in the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion dur­ing the ear­ly days, but took my dis­tance after Che’s death, hav­ing myself also been to Bolivia twice. The mil­i­tari­sa­tion of Cuban soci­ety and its align­ment with the Sovi­et Union sealed the mat­ter. But I nev­er gave up on sup­port­ing any­thing that I saw as bring­ing hope. I often think of what F. Scott Fitzger­ald says in The Crack-Up, which Jorge Sem­prun always loved quot­ing: “One should … be able to see things as hope­less and yet be deter­mined to make them oth­er­wise.”

I will add that it was always a prin­ci­ple of mine that from the moment I pub­lished an author, I would sup­port them if they need­ed it. That is why, for exam­ple, I was expelled from Bolivia, and then from Spain after giv­ing a wit­ness state­ment in defence of the author of a biog­ra­phy of Fran­co, and why I went to Israel in 1971 to protest in sol­i­dar­i­ty with a Pales­tin­ian author who had been interned in a camp. From the moment you pub­lish some­one, you are respon­si­ble for them to the last.

Again, I must tell you that I am unable to answer your ques­tion “What polit­i­cal or the­o­ret­i­cal imper­a­tives were guid­ing you when you decid­ed to “import” into France writ­ings and strate­gic debates con­nect­ed to … etc.” I only did what seemed right at the time, for bet­ter or worse – noth­ing more. I know that in May 1968 you heard a whole bunch of peo­ple say­ing “Moral­i­ty – fuck it.” But I am still con­vinced that a rev­o­lu­tion­ary moral­i­ty does exist (Trot­sky wrote that it demand­ed a “moral courage of a dif­fer­ent cal­iber” as com­pared to bour­geois moral­i­ty).  And I think I didn’t do too bad­ly, apart from a few bum notes (e.g. the pub­li­ca­tion – again in ser­vice of “par­tic­i­pat­ing in the debate” – of Gilbert Mury’s Alba­nia, Land of the New Man, some Enver Hox­ha texts and Alain Badiou’s “Yenan” col­lec­tion, which I have nev­er ceased to regret).

You want to know how I got the idea of pub­lish­ing trans­la­tions of “Black Amer­i­can thought.” Well, it was exact­ly the same as I said before, a mod­icum of inter­est in what was going on in the world, noth­ing else. A mod­icum of inter­est with­out which you wouldn’t even be human. And nor did this begin “in the late 1950s”; we could even say I was run­ning a lit­tle late. I missed out on the pub­li­ca­tion of oth­er books (or did not have the means to do so), for exam­ple Du Bois’s works, even though my friend Abdou Moumouni had told me all about them.

Sim­i­lar­ly, I pub­lished texts by the Ger­man Red Army Fac­tion, though in that case I added a fore­word spec­i­fy­ing what impor­tance they had and in what sense they were of inter­est to us, and, on the oth­er hand, the dead end that I thought they were lead­ing us down.

You ask me “if ‘com­mit­ted’ pub­lish­ing can inter­vene in the polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion of the rad­i­cal Left.” First off, I would reject this term “com­mit­ted” being applied to pub­lish­ing: real engage­ment requires a more direct­ly con­crete action than the mere fact of pub­lish­ing books – if you just did that, you’d be get­ting off light­ly. Then, I would remind you that the times have pro­found­ly changed: at the time of the first few texts that I pub­lished, books were still a first-rank medi­um almost at the same lev­el as news­pa­pers, radio and the TV (and there was only one chan­nel). Pho­to­copy­ing was at an embry­on­ic stage and the Inter­net not even imag­in­able.  I am well aware that cer­tain books or pam­phlets can, still today, have a mass influ­ence – of course I am think­ing of Stéphane Hessel’s Time for Out­rage! although despite the friend­ship between us I find out­rage alone inef­fec­tive and insuf­fi­cient, and have tak­en care to avoid it in my own writ­ings. All the same, I think that in the era of bound­less indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion, the Web, social net­works and every­thing of that kind, it must be dif­fi­cult for pub­lish­ing alone – what you call “com­mit­ted” pub­lish­ing – to inter­vene effec­tive­ly in the polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion of the “rad­i­cal Left,” a term which itself needs some qual­i­fi­ca­tion, since it seems to me to encap­su­late every­thing and noth­ing – which is rather a prob­lem, when you claim to speak of “the­o­ry.”

You want me to talk about my rela­tion­ship with Louis Althuss­er and Charles Bet­tel­heim. I had friend­ly rela­tions with Louis Althuss­er (except dur­ing his man­ic episodes, when he became impos­si­ble: like when he demand­ed that I hand over my man­age­ment respon­si­bil­i­ties at the pub­lish­ing house to Éti­enne Bal­ibar). He used to make an excel­lent shoul­der of lamb with peach­es (or maybe apri­cots, I don’t know any more), but obvi­ous­ly we only episod­i­cal­ly spoke of phi­los­o­phy: he spoke to me at my own lev­el, and that was fine. While he was total­ly free to run his own col­lec­tion, he had no mean­ing­ful influ­ence over the rest of our out­put. He used to say, not with­out a cer­tain con­de­scen­sion, that what I pub­lished was “in the domain of ide­ol­o­gy” – for him an emi­nent­ly pejo­ra­tive term – or even that I put out “too many bad books” (and in fact nowa­days I wouldn’t blame him for that). All the same, I did have to pub­lish three books in the “Cahiers libres” series that he had already planned for his col­lec­tion and which I thus con­tract­ed. The first was Bangla Desh, nation­al­isme dans la révo­lu­tion, by Bernard-Hen­ri Lévy; then Michèle Loi’s L’intelligence au pou­voir  (if mem­o­ry serves, this was about the mar­vels of the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion); and the icing on the cake was M.A. Macciocchi’s Let­tres de l’intérieur du par­ti: in this par­tic­u­lar case, the book was meant to be built around Macciocchi’s let­ters and Althusser’s respons­es to them, but then Althuss­er abrupt­ly renounced his own con­tri­bu­tions, which left lit­tle of inter­est. But ulti­mate­ly, I’ll repeat, my rela­tions with Althuss­er were ami­ca­ble. He always had this need to be seduced. Though that obvi­ous­ly didn’t stop him going to set up anoth­er col­lec­tion – “Analyse” – with Hachette… I’d add that I held his wife Hélène in great affec­tion, but that, too, is anoth­er sto­ry.

As for Charles Bet­tel­heim, it’s a sim­ple one: I had lit­tle con­tact with him, as every­thing went via his col­lab­o­ra­tor Jacques Char­rière (who was also direc­tor of the mag­a­zine L’Avant-Scène). I fol­lowed their instruc­tions, I obeyed what they said – I only had one prob­lem, with a cer­tain Dume­nil, who I think lat­er made a name for him­self. I do not think that this very strict­ly delim­it­ed col­lec­tion had any influ­ence on our oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, be that in the “soci­ol­o­gy” series (Wright Mills) or “eco­nom­ics” (Andre Gun­der Frank), or lat­er with the Cri­tique de l’économie poli­tique.

The only per­son who indulged me with his high­ly the­o­ret­i­cal insights was Mau­rice Gode­lier, who spent long hours del­ug­ing me with them, dur­ing which I was unfor­tu­nate­ly (or for­tu­nate­ly?) often unable to under­stand him. Still, I am grate­ful to him for bring­ing us some great clas­sics of anthro­pol­o­gy (Byzance noire, De la Souil­lure), though Malinowski’s Jardins de corail appeared not on his ini­tia­tive, but rather as the result of an old dream of mine. And there were a lot of pub­li­ca­tions with at least some­thing to do with anthro­pol­o­gy that didn’t owe to him, such as Le long voy­age des gens du Fleuve, Les fleurs du Con­go, Le Roy­aume du Waa­lo, the books of Basil David­son, Claude Mail­las­soux, M.H. Dowidar, Pierre-Philippe Rey, Gérard Althabe, Mah­je­mout Diop, etc. (I will here note that the third book I pub­lished in 1959 was Au pied du mont Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta’s dis­ser­ta­tion on his own peo­ple, with a pref­ace by Georges Balandi­er, which was pub­lished while Keny­at­ta was in prison).

Con­verse­ly, I enjoyed the most gen­er­ous sup­port and advice of authors like Chris­t­ian Baude­lot, who I men­tioned in an ear­li­er mes­sage, and oth­ers such as (in no par­tic­u­lar order) Roger Gen­tis, Yves Benot, Abdou Moumouni, Albert Mem­mi, Yves Lacoste (before the jour­nal Hérodote turned from geog­ra­phy to geopol­i­tics, which hap­pened after my depar­ture), Jean Copans, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Jean Maitron, Gérard Althabe (who was behind the “Luttes sociales” col­lec­tion), Eliz­a­beth Roudi­nesco, Mouloud Mam­meri (who had me pub­lish Isfra de Si Mohand and his own Gram­maire berbère), Taos Amrouche, and so many oth­ers. I prob­a­bly lent their sug­ges­tions due weight, and each author had their own. Georges Haupt, who I asked to take a lead on the “Bib­lio­thèque social­iste,” was a nov­el unto him­self, his sug­ges­tions on the his­to­ry of the social­ist move­ment burned like fire­works. J.P. Ver­nant, even aside from the price­less con­tri­bu­tion he made with his books, always behaved like he was my old­er broth­er: that was a man who right up to the final peri­od before his death gave you an incred­i­ble love for life. Thanks to him as well as Pierre Vidal-Naquet, I was able to pub­lish a col­lec­tion of Greek and Roman stud­ies that made a big splash at the time. Final­ly, I can­not for­get to men­tion Chris Mark­er, with­out whom, quite sim­ply I would not have become what I am. Among oth­ers, it was he who shared with me the ide­al that was then behind Peu­ple et Cul­ture, and much besides: a whole vision of the world where dreams were always at the heart of real­i­ty; for with­out dreams (unlike utopia) you can only live life as a veg­etable. He, too – even more so – gave me this love for life, this life force, not to give up on what you have com­mit­ted to doing.

Three par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tions were a joy to work on. First, Voix, which was devot­ed to poet­ry and entrust­ed to Fan­chi­ta Gon­za­lez-Batlle, with such suc­cess­es, for exam­ple, as John Berg­er’s Sep­tième homme, the poems of Naz­im Hik­met and Tahar Ben Jelloun’s first books: “Put the poet­ic back at the heart of the polit­i­cal,” Édouard Glis­sant used to say, and at one time I pub­lished his review Aco­ma. Sec­ond, “Actes et Mémoires du peu­ple,” which I per­son­al­ly took charge of, under the name Louis Con­stant. Its best-sell­er was Les car­nets de guerre de Louis Barthas, edit­ed by Rémy Cazals. Third, “La Décou­verte,” based on trav­el essays, and not only Euro­pean ones: : Inca Gar­cila­so de la Vega, Ibn Batou­ta and Juan Pérez Jolote…

Anoth­er aspect of our pub­lish­ing was to serve organ­i­sa­tions like the CFDT [trade union fed­er­a­tion], the  Union générale des tra­vailleurs séné­galais (my friend and com­rade and friend Sal­ly N’Dongo), the Paysans Tra­vailleurs (the ances­tors of the Con­fédéra­tion Paysanne, with Louis Lam­bert), École éman­cipée, Plan­ning famil­ial, the mag­is­trates’ union; and above all Gisti [a migrants’ rights group], print­ing books and text­books for lit­er­a­cy pro­grams, which were sold at cost price.

I very much liked doing this work, above all every­thing to do with their graph­ic con­cep­tion, work with the print­ers, and exchanges with the authors, which were high­ly stim­u­lat­ing when they real­ly want­ed to come under my wing. But as time passed I more and more came to hate the pro­fes­sion, to the point of terming it – and again recent­ly – as a kind of pimp­ing. At many big pub­lish­ers (and some­times the less big ones, too) there is an odi­ous pro­pri­etary cul­ture. Sim­ply put, I hate pos­ses­sion as much as author­i­ty. And if you hate pow­er (whether pow­er over indi­vid­u­als, or in choos­ing books), then that’s a real prob­lem when your job is to run a busi­ness (even a sup­pos­ed­ly intel­lec­tu­al one), which, alas, was far too long the case for me…

When I took on François Gèze at the end of 1980, he was already run­ning a Cede­tim (lat­er, “Cen­tre d’études social­istes du tiers-monde,” then “Cen­tre d’études anti-impéri­al­istes” and final­ly “Cen­tre d’études et d’initiatives de sol­i­dar­ité inter­na­tionale”) col­lec­tion: and strange­ly, this was the only col­lec­tion authen­ti­cal­ly attached to the “third-world­ism” for which he reproached me. I only lat­er real­ized my error and his insep­a­ra­ble ally Bruno Par­men­tier had been edu­cat­ed in France’s top col­leges and so I could not mea­sure up to them. I remem­ber that one of his accu­sa­tions direct­ed against me was that of “con­fus­ing expe­ri­ence with the con­di­tions of expe­ri­ence,” which for them, I sup­pose, was some unpar­don­able crime.

Before my depar­ture, the last books I pub­lished were a paper­back of La France con­tre l’Afrique, Jacottet’s trans­la­tion of the Odyssey with a post­face by François Har­tog, Var­lam Chalamov’s account of Koly­ma, Cap­tain Dreyfus’s mem­oirs (with a pref­ace by Pierre Vidal-Naquet), and Anna Akhmatova’s Poème sans héros. I left with­out any sev­er­ance pay, giv­ing up my share to François Gèze for the token pay­ment of one franc. Fol­low­ing this, I was able to write essays (fac­tu­al ones, that is, with noth­ing “the­o­ret­i­cal” about them), and work for radio and news­pa­pers: in Chi­na, Sara­je­vo, the Balka­ns, Pales­tine, Gaza, the Caribbean and so on. I wrote nov­els and arti­cles that were trans­lat­ed into many lan­guages. I went out in search of the Earth’s inhab­i­tants – Les Pas­sagers du Rois­sy-Express, Balka­ns-Tran­sit – and tried to explain the begin­ning of the con­quest of Alge­ria in L’Honneur de Saint-Arnaud. I did more than eighty trans­la­tions from three lan­guages, some of which are par­tic­u­lar­ly close to my heart: Con­rad, Rigo­ni-Stern, César Valle­jo, Álvaro Mutis… All things that brought more to me intel­lec­tu­al­ly than pub­lish­ing did, but which I can well under­stand are out­side of your field of inter­est.

For four years I con­tin­ued pub­lish­ing the review L’Alternative (for rights and free­doms in East­ern Europe), though unfor­tu­nate­ly I even­tu­al­ly had to bring it to a close because after some remark­ably suc­cess­ful, sub­stan­tial issues that brought hope of the poten­tial of the coun­tries then still under Sovi­et dom­i­na­tion – hopes that were, alas, lat­er betrayed – the weight of nation­alisms became impos­si­ble to bear, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Roma­nia, Ukraine and the Baltic coun­tries. It was in this vein that I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live in Poland dur­ing some of the excit­ing moments of the KOR and then Sol­i­dar­i­ty, and to make friends such as Jean-Yves Potel, Adam Mich­nik and Jacek Kuron – who I met in War­saw – Lev Kopelev and Efim Etkin, as well as Czech “Char­ter 77” mil­i­tants who I met in Prague dur­ing those years: and they were heady days.

I am con­scious that I have not been able to give a sat­is­fac­to­ry response to your ques­tions. But for my part, I think that you mis­took me for some­one else, imag­in­ing an indi­vid­ual who is not me, and who I have nev­er been. I made no the­o­ret­i­cal read­ing of the texts that I pub­lished. I was mere­ly lucky enough to have dozens of authors and read­ers com­ing to me from var­i­ous direc­tions, suit­ing my curiosi­ties, who had a cer­tain view of his­to­ry and soci­ety, and, above all, brought hopes that coin­cid­ed to some extent with my own.

Indeed, I do wor­ry rather that all this won’t be of much more use to you than what is already con­tained in my book La Mai­son des Pas­sages.

Fr. M.



The ques­tions that Félix Bog­gio Éwan­jé-Épée and Stel­la Magliani-Belka­cem put to François Maspero:

- From its first activ­i­ties putting out pam­phlets and books dur­ing the Alger­ian War, up till the end of the La joie de lire book­shop, Édi­tions Maspero was an unri­valed exam­ple of the inter­ac­tion between inde­pen­dent book­shops, activism and rad­i­cal-Left pub­lish­ing. Could you tell us about the links that were estab­lished among the La joie de lire book­shop, pub­lish­ing activ­i­ty and mil­i­tant cir­cles dur­ing Édi­tions Maspero’s adven­tures?

- From the very first sen­tences of Édi­tions Maspero’s out­put we see the flow­er­ing of a polit­i­cal project around anti-colo­nial and anti-racist strug­gles. Your pub­lish­ing activ­i­ty began at the heart of the Alger­ian nation­al lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. We would like to know if, for you, this expe­ri­ence sug­gest­ed the need for a cer­tain type of the­o­ret­i­cal activ­i­ty, to be found for exam­ple in Par­ti­sans jour­nal or the pub­li­ca­tion of the writ­ings of Che and Fidel Cas­tro. We can see that Édi­tions Maspero brought out texts that accom­pa­nied oppressed peo­ples’ strug­gles – strug­gles and texts that per­haps had lit­tle vis­i­bil­i­ty in France oth­er­wise – at the very moment when these bat­tles were being fought. How, for exam­ple, did you get the idea of pub­lish­ing trans­la­tions of Black Amer­i­can thought (Mal­colm X, Bald­win) in the late 1950s and ear­ly 1960s?

- Fol­low­ing straight on from the pre­vi­ous ques­tion, how did this inter­na­tion­al­ism evolve, how did you see it? What polit­i­cal or the­o­ret­i­cal imper­a­tives were guid­ing you when you decid­ed to “import” into France writ­ings and strate­gic debates con­nect­ed to semi-colo­nial social for­ma­tions – or, at least, ones dom­i­nat­ed by impe­ri­al­ism?

- One of the char­ac­ter­is­tic traits of Édi­tions Maspero was its open­ness to the var­i­ous dif­fer­ent cur­rents of gauchisme and even cer­tain ele­ments of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty. You even pro­vid­ed a real tri­bune to the organ­i­sa­tions of the rad­i­cal Left, with col­lec­tions and book series – and we are par­tic­u­lar­ly think­ing of those devot­ed to the Ligue com­mu­niste, lat­er the Ligue com­mu­niste révo­lu­tion­naire. What con­cep­tion of polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal debate allowed you such vari­ety, such open­ness, at a moment when the most sec­tar­i­an polemics were at their high point? How did you see the inces­sant polemics among the far Left? Do you think that “com­mit­ted” pub­lish­ing can inter­vene in the polit­i­cal recom­po­si­tion of the rad­i­cal Left?

- Could you tell us about your involve­ment with Louis Althuss­er and Charles Bet­tel­heim, and their influ­ence on your cat­a­logue? With these authors as well as the wide range of so-called “Althusse­ri­ans,” it seems that Édi­tions Maspero con­tributed to a French social sci­ences – in par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal econ­o­my and soci­ol­o­gy – very heav­i­ly influ­enced by Marx­ism, which has today large­ly been wiped away by oth­er cur­rents of social sci­ences. Do you have a view on the poten­tial of this renew­al of the social sci­ences, which was per­haps too quick­ly aban­doned by your suc­ces­sors at La décou­verte?

- Today, it would prob­a­bly be dif­fi­cult to ral­ly many far-Left polit­i­cal activists around the pub­li­ca­tions (the­o­ret­i­cal or oth­er­wise) of a pub­lish­er like Maspero used to be. Indeed, we can see a wide­spread anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism on the rad­i­cal Left, which seems to date back to the very end of the 1970s. Do you agree with this intu­ition – and if there was such a turn­ing point, what was your expe­ri­ence of it? How was it expressed? What do you think were its caus­es?

– Trans­lat­ed by David Broder

Author of the article

was a French author, translator, journalist, editor, and publisher. He was also the owner of La Joie de lire, a radical bookstore in Paris.