Archives par mot-clé : Centre Georges Chevrier

A few comments on the socialist short form

A few comments on the socialist short form.


The following post originates from a short lecture delivered at a work group devoted to the short forms, from print to digital, that was held at the University of Burgundy on May 27th 2016. Involving the CGC (Centre Georges Chevrier/uBFC CNRS 7366), the CIMEOS (the information and communication science laboratory of the University of Burgundy/EA 4177 uBFC) and the GHRis (the history research group of the University of Rouen/EA 3831), this work group is the preparation to an eponymous symposium organized in Dijon on 16th and 17th March 2017.

EPSON scanner image

This post is about the socialist short form from the moment that it is turned into heritage (either indexed, archived, or possibly digitalized). Supposing the politicalness of this short form, we will take an interest in how it was used in the writings of the history of socialism.

The preservation process of these short forms is neither stationary nor frozen. It adopts two logics. The first one develops itself around the policing logic (the police records are brimming with short forms). The short form represents a clue, if not a proof. This characteristic opens the way toward the second logic: the memory-based logic of the activist or the party where the preservation of short forms – published as an anthology or available for consultation in libraries like the OURS in France (L’Office Universitaire de Recherche Socialiste) – is a resource for action, for history. For the historian, these preservation logics open the way toward a reflection on the militant arts of doing, invite in the aftermath to consider short forms as the graphical remains of a communication situation where a sense of discursive cacophony that should be ordered dominates.

This attribute characterizes the writing of history from the short form. The success of the collection “Archives”, founded by Pierre Nora, bears testament to this movement: the collection’s works were available by putting together/collaging multiples parts – where the short forms were particularly represented – behind which the historian stepped aside in a logic close to the New Wave.[1] Closer to us, the work of Philippe Artières and Dominique Kalifa on Vidal, le tueur de femmes[2] (Vidal, the women killer) uses the short form in a constrained epistemic framework (here the willingness to write a social biography) to produce a historical narrative thanks to montage. Worth noticing is the proximity of this practice with the one of socialist propagandists reunited around Adéodat Compère-Morel who used the encyclopedic form to organize the world of short forms.[3] When dealing with the corpuses of the short forms, any research is based on a rationale of the piece from which to recompose the object as a whole. The short forms can be interpreted within this horizon. This is established by the reflections on the appropriation of Marxism by the French socialist activists from the angle of the dissemination carried out in the framework of the GEME[4].[5] There is thus in the use of short forms by historians a theory of implicit brevity, a brevity as a whole. The short form would be the place from which, thanks to interpretation, it could be reconstructed or deconstructed.

The short forms taken as graphical remains of a communication situation are not a genre but create genres (stickers, leaflets, booklets, etc.) that form as many ways of doing politics. This is the place where one may ask questions about one’s relationship with orality, about the authorality of the short form, about the political gain of brevity in the study of the politicization from below – as well as from the top – phenomena. The materiality of short forms offers other leads to the historian of the labor movement: an editorial history of the movement, a graphical history, an epistemological questioning about the writing of this history in its first scientific age. Edouard Dolléans, and Georges Lefranc in particular, were originally journalists before being among the first historians of socialism of the first 20th century to devise the paradigms of the political and social history of the French labor movement.[6]

 Vincent Chambarlhac
CGC uBFC 7355

[1] Vincent Chambarlhac, « Georges Lefranc et l’écriture de « l’explosion sociale » » In Vincent Flauraud, Nathalie Ponsard, Histoire et mémoire des mouvements syndicaux au XXe siècle, Nancy, L’Arbre bleu, 2013

[2] Philippe Artières, Dominique Kalifa, Vidal. Le tueur de femmes, une biographie sociale, Paris, Librairie académique Perrin, 2001,

[3] Vincent Chambarlhac, « L’Encyclopédie socialiste, une forme singulière pour une cause politique ? » Genèses, Décembre 2004.

[4] Grande Édition de Marx et d’Engels: A vast project of retranslation in French of all the works of Marx and Engels and their publication in both paper and digital form.

[5] Vincent Chambarlhac, « L’orthodoxie marxiste de la SFIO, à propos d’une fausse évidence (1905-1914) », Cahiers d’histoire- Revue d’histoire critique, Janvier/Mars 2011.

[6] Fabrice d’Almeida, Histoire et politique, en France et en Italie : l’exemple des socialistes (1945-1983), Rome, Ecole française de Rome, 1998.

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