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The Death of Jean Moulin. Patrick Marnham. John Murray. [pound]20.00. ISBN 0-7195-5919-7.

When Patrick Marnham began his life of Jean Moulin he expected a straightforward account of an obvious hero. If the French Resistance had a leader it was Moulin. His betrayal and death were doubly tragic, a defeat in war and a deprivation of a man who would surely have played a major role in post-war reconstruction.

The truth Mr Marnham has discovered is much less focussed. That Moulin was a courageous and resourceful leader isn't in doubt. The question is whether France was deprived of a great president or of a commissar of an iron despotism subordinate to the Kremlin. Had de Gaulle chosen badly when his choices in exile were limited? Would Moulin have been a Petain of the left, delivering France to a terrible vengeance?

The likelihood is that Moulin was his own man. Mr Marnham weighs the evidence carefully. He is exceptionally thorough, intelligent and well-informed. His conclusion is quite chilling.

Gifted and successful as an artist, Moulin chose the career of a civil servant. He rose rapidly through the administrative ranks of the Third Republic. His family background was republican and anti-clerical in a tradition from the Revolution.

The Spanish Civil War was for Moulin, as for so many, the crucible of his personal ideology. If the choice were between Hitler and Stalin, then it would have to be Stalin, for it was he who came to the aid of Spanish democracy when the democracies looked away.

Moulin was certainly a fellow traveller. This, in the political context of the Thirties, was unremarkable. But there remains the possibility that he was more, that he was a Comintern agent, a sleeper waiting for the moment to awake.

There is circumstantial evidence that Moulin had pre-war training in espionage, training you wouldn't expect the Prefect of Chartres to be given as part of his civic duties.

Moulin moved carefully through the networks of Party members and freemasons. When war and defeat came Moulin's abilities and experience in these curious ways, as well as his administrative talents, allowed him to rise through the Resistance, ensuring support in whatever faction he found himself. When de Gaulle in London exile called for a Resistance leader it was Moulin who made the journey.

The choice, therefore, was not between evils. The spirit of democracy (even if idiosyncratically personated by an aloof and 'destined' brigadier) was alive.

Moulin exceeded de Gaulle's orders and everyone's expectations. From a rabble of squabbling factions Moulin fashioned a coherent force worth, General Eisenhower said, fifteen divisions.

By the time of Moulin's betrayal in June 1943 the essential work had been done. The Resistance was prepared to fight, and to fight under the ultimate command of Charles de Gaulle for a progressive democracy. It is Mr Marnham's conclusion that the Partie Communiste Francaise betrayed Jean Moulin to the Gestapo, as it had betrayed France in 1940 during the Hitler-Stalin alliance.

The result was a victory neither for fascism nor communism. It was a defeat for imaginative reconstruction. Aneurin Bevan once observed that French voters for the Communists were 'good socialists looking for a leader'. They were mourning Jean Moulin.
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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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