Source: Henri Jeanson, Notre Guerre. Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1960;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2004.
In his 1960 account of the work and motivations of the “porteurs de valises” — the valise carriers who actively aided the FLN, their leader, Francis Jeanson, dealt directly with the notion of betrayal.
Perhaps these few remarks will allow us to better characterize the strange contradiction that never ceased to haunt our work. In order for the Algerians to not confuse us with all the theoreticians and advice-givers from whom for a long time they had expected nothing, it was necessary that our engagement at their side be total, that we become militants of the FLN. But in order to make ourselves understood by our compatriots, while supporting the principle of solidarity and calling for its practical application, we had to show them that we didn’t want in any way to renounce our quality as Frenchmen, that we preserve a real autonomy.
In a certain measure the distinction between the practical level and the political level furnished a means of escaping from the contradiction. On the first level, obvious technical reasons necessitated the observance of strict discipline, common to the French and Algerian elements. At the same time, on the second level, every Algerian understood perfectly that we had to adapt our actions to the diverse characteristics of our national context. But it must be seen that there was an enormous danger there; by too cleverly distinguishing between the two levels we would have deprived our practical assistance of all political meaning, while at the same time cutting our work in the French milieu from its concrete roots. The contradiction would have disappeared, but with it all our chances at effectiveness as well.
In fact, the contradiction was real. Far from having to escape it, we had, on the contrary, to progressively resolve it. And the only way to arrive at this was to never neglect, to never attempt to elude either of the two terms. This can be stated in several ways; I will choose the most...provocative. But I ask again that we not see this as a caprice on my part. Let us then say that we had at one and the same time to “betray” the French in making common cause with the Algerians, and “betray” the Algerians in remaining resolutely French.
This double “treason” is our fidelity to the French cause and to the human cause, which should justly be one and the same cause. And in the conjuncture in which we find ourselves since November ‘54, I defy anyone to succeed in a different way in fighting for justice and his country together.
Under any hypothesis we are all mired up to the neck in treason. Some betray unconsciously; these are the victims tossed by the waves, carried along by a current that they don’t understand. But among those who betray consciously some seek to benefit from the advantages of conformism while declaring themselves progressives, and attribute to themselves the merit of being truly “political,” the last sages and the only thinkers. The others patiently make an effort to create the conditions whereby no one will ever again be forced, in serving one ideal, to betray another.
I said that the contradiction never ceased haunting our work; this, in fact, is nothing but the ghost of a contradiction. Barely have you taken it for real and sought to define it, and it becomes inconsistent, intolerable, purely imaginary. And nevertheless it is there, implicit in each of your acts, penetrating everything, poisoning everything with its insidious presence. In fact, its reality goes hand in hand with its unreality. It is real, since it is so in the eyes of a great number of Frenchmen; it isn’t, since these Frenchmen, in thinking they serve their country, deny what it has of greatest value, the very source of the unique grandeur that it can today claim. So it is precisely they who contradict themselves and betray themselves by accepting a contradiction between the Algerian revolution and the interests of France.
Such is the false antinomy that eats away at us and paralyzes us. Purely subjective as an error, and largely objectivized by the generalization of that error.