Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Manifesto of the 21: French Intellectuals and Decolonization

[I intended to post this yesterday, so the date of the Manifesto’s signing and the date of the post would coincide; since that did not happen, I’m posting it today, a day late.]
As I learned this morning from Verso Radical Diary, The Manifesto of the 121 was signed on this date in 1960:
“The Manifesto of the 121 (Full title: Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie or Declaration on the right of insubordination in the Algerian War) was an open letter signed by 121 intellectuals and published on 6 September 1960 in the magazine Vérité-Liberté [124 more intellectuals signed soon thereafter]. It called on the French government (then headed by the Gaullist Michel Debré) and public opinion to recognise the Algerian War as a legitimate struggle for independence, denouncing the use of torture by the French army, and calling for French conscientious objectors to the conflict to be respected by the authorities.”
The Declaration was drafted by Dionys Mascolo, Maurice Blanchot and Jean Schuster. It stated that the cause of the Algerians was the cause of all free men, and that the struggle was striking a decisive blow to the cause of colonialism. Although the vast majority of the signatories belonged to the French Left, a few had been close in their past to the French far-right, such as Maurice Blanchot or Robert Scipion (who had been a sympathiser of the Croix-de-Feu). The signatories included figures from a variety of political and cultural movements, such as Marxism, existentialism, and a number of figures associated with the Nouveau Roman and New Wave literary and cinematic trends.” (Edited from the Wikipedia entry)
*           *           *
“[The Manifesto] was a document more read about than read since – of the journals in which it was to appear, one was seized, and the other, Sartre’s Les Temps modernes, came out with two blank pages in its place, the result of government censorship. The government didn’t stop at censorship. As a result of the manifesto, they put in place stiff penalties for those calling for insubordination; jobs were lost and careers temporarily shut down.”
David L. Schalk elaborates:
“The complete document became briefly available in France only in 1961, when it was published in Le droit à l’insoumission, a collection of texts dealing the controversy [i.e., the question of the struggle for Algerian independence and opposition to the war in Algeria], edited by François Maspero. This volume was promptly seized by the government.
In Le Monde during September and October 1960 there are fascinating brief references to what must have appeared to many readers as a mysterious document. When a famous intellectual figure such as André Schwartz-Bart or François Sagan added his or her name to the list of signers, Le Monde took note. Journalists also reported on the sanctions taken by the government against some of the signatories, and Le Monde published a list of the 180 who had signed through September 30, 1960, including Clara and Florence Malraux, the ex-wife and daughter of de Gaulle’s minister of culture.
Le Monde printed in its entirety a counter-manifesto of October 1960 that condemned the work of ‘the professors of treason,’ accus[ing them] of being a ‘fifth column’ that draws its inspiration from ‘foreign propaganda.’ This manifesto was signed by nearly three hundred intellectual supporters of Algérie française, including seven members of the French Academy. But at the time readers could only speculate as to the exact nature of the ‘treason’ supposedly perpetrated by these ‘professors.’”
Among the signatories of the Manifesto of the 121:
  • Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher
  • Michèle Bernstein, situationist
  • Maurice Blanchot, writer
  • André Breton, surrealist
  • Guy Debord, situationist
  • Jacques Gernet, sinologist
  • Daniel Guérin, historian
  • Henri Lefebvre, sociologist
  • Michel Leiris, writer and ethnologist
  • Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, philosopher and psychoanalyst
  • Jean-François Revel, journalist
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher
  • Simone Signoret, actress
  • François Truffaut, film-maker
  • Jean-Pierre Vernant, historian
  • Pierre Vidal-Naquet, historian

For the full Declaration, see the link (along with other invaluable links), “The Manifesto of the 121,”at the History of Algerian Independence page of the Marxist Internet Archive.  
I hope shortly to write more about the opposition of anti-colonialist (and later, anti-imperialist advocates for national self-determination) French intellectuals to the Algerian War as well as the intriguing later influence of this manifesto on US intellectuals opposing the American War in Vietnam. The petition titled “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” published in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic in October 1967, and “widely circulated thereafter,” “was one of the most important documents in the intellectuals’ campaign against President Johnson and the Vietnam War,” leading “directly to the establishment of the militant antiwar organization called Resist.” According to Sandy Vogelgesang, its authors, Marcus Raskin and Arthur Waskow, “borrowed consciously” from the Manifesto of the 121.
    Essential Reading:
    • Aronson, Ronald. Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
    • Fanon, Frantz (Haakon Chevalier, tr.). A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965.
    • Feraoun, Mouldoud (Mary Elllen Wolf and Claud Fouillade, tr. and James D. Le Sueur, ed.) Journal-1955-1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000 (Éditions du Seuil, 1962).
    • Harrison, Alexander. Challenging De Gaulle: The OAS and the Counterrevolution in Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Praeger, 1989.
    • Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Penguin Books, 1979; 2nd ed., New York: NYRB Classics, 2006.  
    • Le Sueur, James D. Uncivil War: Intellectuals and Identity Politics during the French Algerian War. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2nd ed., 2005.
    • Sartre, Jean-Paul (Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer, and Terry McWilliams, tr.). Colonialism and Neocolonialism. New York: Routledge, 2001 (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1964).
    • Schalk, David L. War and the Ivory Tower. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005 ed.
    • Sorum, Paul Clay. Intellectuals and Decolonization in France. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.


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