Albert Camus, 'Neither Victims Nor Executioners'

IssueApril 2005
Review by Harry Mister

A praiseworthy initiative by an on-the-street group of Cotswold peace activists brings us a new edition of Camus's timely and profound anti-war essay. A world famous French essayist and playwright, Camus first contributed his assessment of the world outlook in 1946 to the Parisian resistance newspaper, Combat, to which he had been an underground contributor during the Nazi occupation.

The New York magazine Liberation, the foremost US advocate of nonviolence during the Martin Luther King era, published a translation of the essay in 1960 to mark the sad occasion of Camus's early death. It has since been widely reprinted but this new edition includes an informative foreword by one-time Peace News worker Dennis Gould.

Written in the wake of WWII, it is, post-Iraq, a challenging essay for today's opposition to war. It discusses the implications of idealism, revolution, socialism, terror, and much more, in pragmatic terms. He provides no “party line” nor dogmatic assertions, simply an objective elucidation of how to cope with the failed drift of current society and politics. He points towards an “international revolution in which the resources of man, raw materials, commercial markets, and our cultural riches may be better distributed”. Though his political evaluations were set out in the 1950s the situations he discusses are remarkably relevant to those of today, and are coupled with a total rejection of war as a tool for social change.

It is an eloquent document in which you quickly adjust to the literary style of sixty years ago. He concludes with, “The only honourable course will be to stake everything on the formidable gamble, that words are more powerful than munitions.”

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