The book starts like a chronicle: a young, idealistic engineer launches a political literary journal and asks for Sartre’s friendly support. The philosopher agrees at once. This marks the beginning of a deep, long-lasting relationship. At the time, in the 1970s, a radical political struggle has begun, under the leadership of the proletarian Maoist left in particular - Olivier Rolin, André Glucksmann, Alain Geismar, and of course Sartre’s future assistant: Pierre Victor - Benny Lévy by his real name. Jean-Pierre Barou was part of the small group of activists who brought France on the brink of revolution. He describes the events he took part in: the popular tribunal in Lens, with Sartre as its head, declaring the directors of the Charbonnages de France (the national company for coal mining) responsible for deaths occurred in pits accidents; the violent clashes at Renault-Billancourt and the tragic death of Pierre Overney; Michel Foucault’s involvement and the launch of the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons.
Barou describes the daily life of the community gathered around Pierre Victor: The internal disputes, the semi clandestine existence, prosecution and repression. He also composes an extraordinary, complex portrait of Sartre: ageing, almost blind, working on his « Flaubert » in the morning and militating at the doors of the Renault factory in the afternoon, after lunching at the Coupole restaurant.
This is a compelling description of Sartre as a generous and uncompromising man, inflexible in his fight for freedom. Barou shows the connections between reflection and action and the role they play in the famous ‘return of the religious’ that characterised the philosopher’s approach, denying the stereotypical portrayal of Sartre as A senile man manipulated by extreme left activists. This is a highly personal account on the revolutionary events from May 1968 to the creation of the journal Libération that offers an unique view of Sartre’s role.
Jean-Pierre Barou was born in Paris. He studied as an engineer before he became a political militant: a publisher of avant-garde journals, and an active member of the proletarian left, he took part in the creation of the Libération newspaper. In 1975, he published a book that became a cult essay: Gilda je t’aime, à bas le travail (La France sauvage). He then became an editor for Seuil and a defender of non-western, so-called primitive, societies both as an editor and as an exhibitions organiser.