France 1960

Letter from Francis Jeanson to Jean-Paul Sartre

Source: Les Temps Modernes, April-May 1960;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

Francis Jeanson, in hiding because of his work in solidarity with the FLN, wrote this letter to his mentor, Jean-Paul Sartre. It was published in Sartre’s journal.

...But let’s turn to our choice: is it the right one? Yes, I think so, simply because there is no other.

Since the number 1 French problem was the Algerian problem it was necessary to recall the Left to the only road that can be theirs in such a matter: solidarity with a people in struggle for its freedom. Since the Left had lost its sense of action, it was necessary to act in order to give this back to it, and thus act in the sense of that solidarity. Since the Left couldn’t manage to unite it was necessary that each of our undertakings be, in itself, an example of unity in action. And since solidarity doesn’t accommodate itself to solipsism, and since its truth demands that it be recognized by those with whom we claim to be in solidarity, it was necessary that our Algerian comrades not confuse us with all the loudmouths and advice-givers that the Left had so generously graced them with since November 1, 1954.

This is to say that we had no choice. These last three years the reawakening of the Left and the maintaining of the possibilities of a Franco-Algerian friendship passed through a certain type of action demanding, in any case, that this type of action manifest itself both here and there. Within these limits, the concrete specifications were up to the client who gave us their assistance on this or that level. And I depended on the chiefs of networks for those who had chosen to totally commit themselves to us.

But it must be seen that everything is of a piece. I began my clandestine action by driving Algerian leaders across Paris. Six months later I found myself responsible for the centralization and evacuation of funds collected in France by the FLN. A few days ago a foreign correspondent asked me during a press conference if we also transported arms for the FLN, and if we had participated in violent actions. I answered that we hadn’t, and that this wasn’t for a principled reason, but simply because the Algerians had judged it preferable to not impose upon us a drama of conscience that they were perfectly capable of imagining. I could have said, but a new question had diverted me , that in fact, taking refuge behind a principle was trivial: in such a case if you assist revolutionaries you assist their revolution.

I know that we are accused of treason. But I ask, who and what do we betray? Judicially we are plunged in a civil war, since the Algerians are considered full French citizens; we thus don’t betray France. In fact, the national community no longer exists; where are its great axes, where are its lines of force, where are the fixed points of its structure? No nationalist mysticism, no neo-Barresianism will ever persuade me to confess to a sense of community with MM Debré and Kovacs, with General Massu and Lt Charbonnier, with the agents of repression and those who work to justify it. No formal sense of civic duty will make me admit that there still exist “legal forms of conduct and common obligations” when the president of the republic himself- the Savior of France — makes himself the champion of illegality by taking power thanks to a coup de force and in not applying the constitution that he himself had voted for under these very conditions. Every day the domain of the arbitrary grows. Yesterdays’ legality is ceaselessly revised; a simple decree allows a state of emergency to be declared that parliament — with all its benevolence, and the very moment it voted pleins pouvoirs — hadn’t granted.

Of course, this isn’t fascism. But if we betray something at this moment is it anything but a subversive enterprise carried out against an unstable regime by fascist forces that had installed it as transitional two years ago?

And now, what? There is no longer one family in Algeria that hasn’t had a member of its family join the maquis or been tortured or killed by the French. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of that country eat the grass on the Tunisian and Moroccan borders. 15%-20% of the Algerian population, nearly two million inhabitants of this “French province” are concentrated in camps where an average of one child a day among a “regroupement” of 1000 people dies every day, which comes to about 1500 children a day in total. Must we console ourselves by noting that in these camps there are neither gas chambers nor crematory ovens? And should we feel any scruples about rising up alongside the Algerians against those who inflict this on them, or who content themselves with deploring the fact that others inflict it on them? When things have reached such a point there is no longer room for a third camp; one is either with one side, or with the other.