I know that the Nobel Prize in itself is not a literary prize of the Western bloc, but it is what is made of it, and events may occur which are outside the province of the members of the Swedish Academy. This is why, in the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East. It has not been awarded, for example, to Neruda, who is one of the greatest South American poets. There has never been serious question of giving it to Louis Aragon, though he certainly deserves it. It is regrettable that the prize was given to Pasternak and not to Sholokhov, and that the only Soviet work thus honored should be one published abroad and banned in its own country. A balance might have been established by a similar gesture in the other direction. During the war in Algeria, when we had signed the “declaration of the 121,” I should have gratefully accepted the prize, because it would have honored not only me, but also the freedom for which we were fighting. But matters did not turn out that way, and it is only after the battle is over that the prize has been awarded me.
In discussing the motives of the Swedish Academy, mention has been made of freedom, a word that suggests many interpretations. In the West, only a general freedom is meant: personally, I mean a more concrete freedom which consists of the right to have more than one pair of shoes and to eat one’s fill. It seems to me less dangerous to decline the prize than to accept it. If I accept it, I offer myself to what I shall call “an objective rehabilitation.” According to the Figaro littéraire article, “a controversial political past would not be held against me.” I know that this article does not express the opinion of the Academy, but it clearly shows how my acceptance would be interpreted by certain rightist circles. I consider this “controversial political past” as still valid, even if I am quite prepared to acknowledge to my comrades certain past errors.