Christophe Bourseiller Fund

The Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France (UPHF) received an exceptional donation in 2019 from Christophe Bourseiller, consisting of nearly 29,000 documents that have marked history since 1945. The mission of the University's Common Documentation Service is to preserve and promote this donation and make it available to all audiences, from researchers to students to enlightened amateurs. The University's Board of Trustees, sitting on July 4, 2019, approved the donation agreement.

Who is Christophe Bourseiller?

Historian, writer, and journalist Christophe Bourseiller, who was once a film actor, has never stopped collecting archival documents, newspapers, magazines, and books pertaining to movements he describes as "outside the norm," both in terms of politics and in terms of culture and religious facts. His activity covers several fields, from historical research to journalism. He has written several books, including Les Faux Messies and C'est un complot ! Christophe Bourseiller is also a doctor in History since 2019, following the defense of his thesis entitled Undefeated Shadow: from the destruction of "collaborationism" to its survival in post-war France (

What does his collection contain?

Christophe Bourseiller's donation is mostly made up of printed documents and a few sound and video recordings, most of which deal with all of the extremist currents and signs that have emerged since 1945, left-wing, right-wing, or unclassifiable, on an international basis, but mainly in French (about 70% of the total donation) and English. The donor has collected these various materials as he purchases them from second-hand bookstores or booksellers, but also at events or meetings with emblematic figures of these networks and organizations. 

Among the most important themes are: 

  • political extremism 
  • freemasonry
  • minority spiritualities and religions
  • communist states
  • anarchists and the ultra-left 
  • international politics

The origin of the fund. Interview with Christophe Bourseiller

Interview conducted by Sébastien Repaire, postdoctoral researcher at UPHF (LARSH lab), on October 19, 2020.

Could we establish some broad categories based on the provenance of your archives ?

First, there are the materials purchased in bookstores. I started in 1969-1970. 

Other documents were gleaned from demonstrations and meetings. I did all the major demonstrations from 1973 to 1990. Then I got tired of going. But when I was a professor at Sciences Po I sent my students there and they brought me back the leaflets, since we studied them in class. This is how I proceeded in my gleaning work, which I have continued, since I continue, despite myself, to pick up leaflets when I see them, to peel off stickers, or to be interested in new acronyms that I see appearing. Chance also sometimes plays a role. One night, I fell in front of the Scientology headquarters, the trash cans had not been taken out, and I went to the Scientology trash cans in Paris  so I recovered many internal documents that had been thrown away.

After that, there are the meetings. Having myself been a very young activist in two organizations, the Anarchist Revolutionary Organization (ORA) and the Marxist Left, two post-May '68 groupuscules, I obviously have a lot of documents from those organizations, including internal texts. From there, I got to know many activists from different groups, who either passed me documents or gave me their archives, seeing that I was becoming an archivist and that it would be more useful that way. I recovered for example the archives of a Belgian militant, who was a member of the Belgian Young Socialist Guards and then of the Socialist Workers' Party, which will become the Belgian Communist League. So I recovered a lot of internal Belgian archives, in Flemish and in French. There is also an extreme right-wing activist from the Third Way movement who had enough of politics and who brought me his archives, so I recovered a lot of internal documents from the extreme right-wing Third Way movement. When I worked with Robert Barcia, the leader of Lutte ouvrière, he also gave me access to archives that I was able to photocopy. 

I have also done a lot of traveling in my life, and so there are many archives that come from foreign countries. There are as well meetings with activists and other things.

A lot of the documents are about the United States, where do they come from ?

A lot of it was bought or acquired in the United States, where I used to go with my parents when I was a kid, and then regularly went there on my own. I was very interested in the states because in terms of emerging signs, the United States is often the incubator for new ideas. It's still a fact today, when you see all these new terms, like mental charge, intersectionality, etc. Everything comes from America. Everything comes from America.

Similarly, the material on American religious and sectarian movements was acquired during travel. Moreover, in the United States, it is much easier to have access to sectarian documents than in France : even for a closed community, guarded by armed guards, there is always a sentry box where they will explain to you what the movement is, there will be tracts, brochures, things that you can eventually buy. Whereas in France, when you go to a ZAD for example, they look at you strangely, and there is no such thing as a guardhouse at the entrance explaining "why we are here, what we want&". On the other hand, if you go to Aryan Nations, for example, the worst American neo-Nazi movement in Idaho, you have the gatehouse, where you can buy Mein Kampf in English and pamphlets explaining what nazism is ! This may sound surreal, but in the United States it works like this.

Other American documents could be purchased in France. The first time in my life that I went, in the 1970s, to the French Bookstore, which was on Rue de l'Abbé Grégoire, which was the fascist bookstore in Paris, I remember that the bookseller was playing Dixie, the Southern music. So there was this tune there while I was gleaning leaflets, documents, unmentionable newspapers. The French far right has always had this fascination for the South, for the Ku Klux Klan. By the way, I have a lot of documents from the Ku Klux Klan for the 1990s.

And what about Latin America ? 

The clandestine documents of the Peruvian MIR came from Peruvian opponents met in Paris in 1968-1969. Same thing for other documents coming from Latin Americans in exile in Paris at the same time. I was still a child but I was already interested in these subjects. Paris was then like a sanctuary for all these activists and guerrillas.


Other than the donation mentioned above, what about the many documents coming from Belgium ?

The Belgian newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s were purchased in Brussels. And then, when I was very young, I spent my pocket money every week in the many extremist bookstores and I went a lot to Maspero. And at Maspero's there was always the Belgian newspaper La Gauche, and since I bought everything, I also bought La Gauche. Then I met Ernest Mandel, head of the Fourth International and creator of La Gauche, who gave me other documents. I met him here at the Zimmer, then we met again and had dinner together. With Belgium, there have always been links. As for the Belgian extreme right-wing magazine Europe Magazine, I think I found it in a flea market  it's the chance of the bargain, in a way...

What are the main bookstores you used to visit regularly ?

I went to so many bookstores ! From 1969 to 1980, there was the bookstore La Joie de lire, that is Maspero, the bookstore Gît-le-Cœur, the bookstore La Commune, the bookstore Actualités, the bookstore La Vieille Taupe - the first one was excellent -, the bookstore Publico, which was the bookstore of the Anarchist Federation held by Hellyette Bess, a future member of Direct Action who loved me very much (laughter). After Publico, Hellyette Bess opened an anarchist bookshop called the Jargon libre, on rue de la Reine-Blanche, in the 13th arrondissement. She sold or gave internal documents for the edification of the militants of many groups. I also bought there the bulletin of the Anarchist Federation.

There was also the Brèche - bookshop of the Communist League -, and the bookshop of the Internationalist Communist Organization of Pierre Lambert, which was on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. These two bookstores were inside the headquarters of these movements, so you had to enter by showing your credentials and then you were led to the bookstore.

The bookstore was located in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis.

And then on the extreme right there were two very clandestine bookstores, the Librairie française, rue de l'Abbé Grégoire, as well as the Grégori bookstore, which was on rue du Bac and which was a newsagent with an incredible list of extreme right-wing newsletters in one corner, with mimeographed stuff... You went there pretending you were buying Le Monde !

From the 1980s on, many bookstores closed. In the 1980s, there was especially a far-right bookstore that opened and had a lot of influence : the Ognios bookstore, 10 rue des Pyramides, on the site of Jacques Doriot's PPF headquarters. These were bookstores that functioned in a semi-clandestine way, with newspapers and books on display, but there were also drawers with little post-it notes, and without the bookseller saying so, the drawers had to be opened, inside which there were forbidden anti-Semitic texts, very violent... The worst ones were in the drawer. The bookstore La Vieille Taupe also reopened in the 1990s, but by then it had become a negationist dispensary.

Have there also been direct exchanges with the movements concerned ?

From the early 1980s, I wrote a lot to groups, posing as someone who was interested, asking for documentation. So I received a lot of material through that system. For example, when the Old Mole began its Holocaust denial activities, I sent a letter and began to receive Holocaust denial leaflets and newspapers, which were not available in bookstores. I did this for many extreme right-wing movements. 

Then, when I published my first book, Les Ennemis du système : Enquête sur les mouvements extrémistes en France, in 1989, as the book had a certain notoriety, then I was contacted by many extremist movements that wanted to prove to me that they were right, that they were good... And I began to receive an enormous amount of things. For example, the Communist League gave me a service of all its publications, which lasted until the creation of the NPA in 2009. I also received some very interesting right-wing stuff, including underground neo-Nazi newsletters, like The National Socialist, which are without copyright, in ISBN, without anything... They were sent to me anonymously! I was delighted, obviously, since it fed my archives.


The materials on royalists and the far right are well represented...

When I was 16, I went to the headquarters of many movements. I went to the headquarters of the New French Action, or to the headquarters of the National Front, where I met by chance Jean-Marie Le Pen during the 1974 campaign. I was laughing out loud inside because I knew very well who Le Pen was. I was going to look for documentation and I had a trick when I was very young, I would say: "I am doing an exposé on political movements. I went to the headquarters of all the extremist parties with my sweet little face ! I also went to the headquarters of all the unions. The idea was to make archives, to understand the political life. I was a bit autistic, in my opinion. I went without fear, especially when there was an election campaign to say I was interested and ask for documentation. 

Then, starting in the 1980s, I also made a point of going every year to the Blue-White-Red Festival, which is an open-air bookstore, where everything is free. And becoming a journalist, I received a lot of press releases, press kits that I obviously kept.

So there's really a lot of archives on the National Front, and I would even say it's a mine on the history of the National Front. I have everything since 1972. Since the 2010s I've made less of a gesture of going there, I let things come, but I don't have that much on the National Rally, except for the Marion Maréchal current that sends me its newsletters.

What about the documents related to Freemasonry ?

I've been involved in Freemasonry since 1984, with a hiatus, and it has always interested me. So I deposited internal texts, which are very rare, and moreover they are various lots, coming from esoteric bookstores, bookstores ... Rather small esoteric bookstores where you could find lots of small bulletins. There were also newsletters that I received or to which I was automatically subscribed. Now, I had the possibility of bequeathing them to Masonic obediences, but if I bequeathed them to the Grand Lodge of France, they were not interested in everything that concerned the Grand Orient of France... I therefore said to myself that it would be better to make them available to researchers. Besides, these documents are rare for researchers, but less so for Freemasons. I have put in the collection some rare documents, like documents concerning the high-grades, or sheets of convocation which show what is talked about and who is invited. My archives are not only about extremism, they go far beyond ! 

And as far as documents on Zionism, sometimes in Hebrew ?

These are documents that I bought in New York from antiquarian bookstores. For the documents from the 1960s, I found them very interesting because they develop the Zionist view of the origins, very left-wing. In these bookstores they had lots. One thing that I found amusing : in New York, many bookstores were in the floors of buildings, nothing was indicated, you went up to the fiftieth floor of the building, and there was a bookstore of old books !

In addition to the donations already mentioned, have you integrated into your archives other collections already established ?

There was also a Socialist Party activist who had kept all his archives from high school and university, leaflets and SP documents. So I integrated everything into my own archives. 

So, I had received very large Maoist archives, those of Jacques Jurquet, the founder of the PCMLF, and others of Raymond Casas, who had left the PCF for the PCMLF, and who abruptly stopped his militant career after being threatened with death by the PCF in the early 1970s. But these archives on Maoism were bequeathed to the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.


Finally, why did you choose the UPHF for your archives ?

It was the chance of meetings. I gave a lecture in Valenciennes to a group of bosses on the risks of social crisis, a few years ago. I met Denis Wautier, who runs Valutec, a company linked to the UPHF, and during the dinner that followed I talked about my archives, which I no longer knew where to store. I asked Denis if he had an idea, and he suggested that I talk to the University about it. And there was a kind of rush of enthusiasm, which made me choose Valenciennes, even though I have no connection with Valenciennes. A dynamic, young university with people who want to go there, that's the best! The UPHF then agreed to take over the entire fund and made me a wonderful proposal to create the Observatory. A really interesting double project !