First International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture

Paris, France June 21st-25th, 1935
The Paris congress went down in history as one of the most important and turbulent intellectual congresses in the interwar period. The congress, initiated and organized by Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse, became an attempt of the literary world's response to the slogan of the people's front. Among the invited speakers there appeared figures with exceptionally diverse strategies concerning the subject-matter defence of culture. The whole event was held under the patronage of Maxim Gorky, and the invited guests included Louis Aragon, Bertolt Brecht, André Gide, Aldous Huxley, André Malraux, Robert Musil and Boris Pasternak, among others.

The main issues raised in the congress speeches were the attitude of artists and their work to the current political and social situation and the threat to culture from fascist regimes. The atmosphere of the event, which was reported in the press as a “great intellectual mass”, was marked by a regular dispute between delegations of individual countries, organizations or individuals – a dispute between the surrealist André Breton and the USSR delegate Ilia Erenburg was particularly symbolic. René Crevel, who tried to mediate between them in vain, ultimately failed and committed suicide the night before the inauguration of the congress.

The Paris congress proved to be a failure. No binding decisions were made on the common position of the progressive creative community, but it was the first congress in history where the notion of cultural freedom and the danger of totalitarianism were so widely debated. The congress idea was continued – both in the second half of the 1930s (including 1936, Lviv; 1937, Valencia) and after the war (1948, Wrocław; 1950, West Berlin).