Jean-Paul Sartre 1960

Letter in Support of the Jeanson Network

Sartre with Che and Simone in Cuba 1960

Source: Le proces du réseau Jeanson. Paris, Editions Francois Maspero, 1961;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor, June 2006;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2006.

In September 1960 a group of members of the Jeanson Network, French men and women who actively supported the Algerian FLN, was put on trial. Jeanson, a collaborator of Sartre’s on the editorial board of “Les Temps Modernes” as not among the defendants, having managed to avoid capture. At the moment of the trial Sartre was in Brazil from which he sent a telegram in support of the defendants. He also sent the following letter, which was read into the trial record.

September 16, 1960

Dear Sir;

It being impossible for me to attend the hearing of the Military Tribunal, which I profoundly regret, I want to explain in detail the object of my previous telegram. It is little to affirm my “complete solidarity” with the accused; I must also say why.

I don’t think I have ever met Helene Cuénat, but through Francis Jeanson I know the conditions under which the “support network” works that is today on trial. Jeanson, I remind you, was a collaborator of mine for a long time, and if we haven’t always been in agreement, as is normal, the Algerian problem in any case brings us together. I daily followed his efforts – which were those of the French left – to find a solution to this problem through legal means. And it was only in the face of the failure of these efforts, in the face of the obvious powerlessness of that left, that he resolved to enter into clandestine action in order to provide concrete assistance to the Algerian people in their struggle for their independence.

But we must clear up an ambiguity. His practical solidarity with the Algerian combatants was not only dictated by noble principles or by a general determination to fight oppression wherever it shows itself. It proceeded from a political analysis of the situation in France itself. Algerian independence, in fact, is assured. It will occur in a year or five years, in agreement with France or against it, after a referendum or through the internationalization of the conflict: this I don’t know. But it is already a fact and General De Gaulle himself, brought to power by the champions of French Algeria, finds himself forced to recognize that “Algerians: Algeria is yours.” And so I repeat that independence is certain. What isn’t is the future of democracy in France, for the war in Algeria has rotted this country. The progressive diminution in liberties, the disappearance of political life, the generalization of torture, the permanent insurrection of the military power against the civil power mark an evolution that we can, without exaggeration, qualify as “fascist.” The left is powerless in the face of this evolution, and it will remain so unless it accepts uniting its forces with the only force that is today truly fighting against the common enemy of Algerian and French freedoms, and that force is the FLN.

This was the conclusion that Francis Jeanson had reached, and it is also the one that I have reached. And I think I can say that today there are more and more Frenchmen, especially among the young, who have decided to translate this into acts. We have a better view of things when we are in contact, as I am at this moment in Latin America, with foreign opinion. Those who the right-wing press accuse of “treason,” and that a certain left hesitates to defend as it should, overseas are largely considered France’s hope for tomorrow, and its honor of today. Not a single day passes that I’m not questioned about them, who they are, what they want. Newspapers are ready to open their columns to them. The representatives of the movement of draft dodgers “Jeune Resistance” are invited to congresses. And the “Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the War in Algeria,” to which I gave my signature, as well as 120 other academics, writers, artists and journalists, was greeted as the reawakening of the French intelligentsia.

In short, in my opinion it is important to fully grasp two points, which you will forgive me for summarizing a trifle cursorily (but it is difficulty, in such a deposition, to get to the heart of things). On one hand the French who aid the FLN are not only impelled by generous feelings towards an oppressed people, nor are they putting themselves at the service of a foreign cause: they are working for themselves, for their freedom and their future, they are working for the installation of a real democracy in France. On the other hand, they aren’t isolated; rather they benefit from an ever growing assistance, an active or passive sympathy that is ceaselessly growing. They are in the vanguard of a movement that will perhaps awaken the left, mired in a miserable prudence, and will have better prepared it for the inevitable test of strength with the army that has merely been postponed since May 1958.

It is obviously difficult, dear sir, for me to imagine from this distance the questions the Military tribunal could have asked me. Nevertheless, I suppose that one of them would have had as its object the interview I granted Francis Jeanson for his newsletter, “Vérités pour...” and I will answer without any hesitation. I don’t remember the exact date, nor the precise terms of the interview, but you will easily find it if this text is in the dossier. On the other hand, what I know is that Jeanson came to see me in his role as leader of the “support network” and as editor in chief of this clandestine bulletin which was its organ, and I received him knowing full well what I was doing. Since then I must have seen him two or three times. He didn’t hide from me what he was doing, and I fully approved of his actions. In this domain I don’t think there are noble tasks or common tasks, activities reserved to intellectuals and others not worthy of them. During the Resistance professors at the Sorbonne didn’t hesitate to pass along messages and work as liaisons. If Jeanson has asked of me to carry valises or to put up Algerian militants, and if I could have done so without any risks for them, I would have done it without any hesitation. I believe these things must be said, for the moment approaches when each must accept his responsibilities. Yet those very individuals who are most engaged in political activity still hesitate – from some kind of respect for formal legality – to go beyond certain limits. On the contrary it is the young, supported by intellectuals who as is the case in Korea, in Turkey, in Japan, are beginning to explode the mystifications of which we are victims.. From which flows the exceptional importance of this trial. For the first time, despite all obstacles, all prejudices, Algerians and Frenchmen, fraternally united in a common combat, find themselves together in the box of the accused. It is in vain that an attempt is being made to separate them. It is also in vain that they are attempting to present the Frenchmen as having gone astray, as desperate or as romantics. We are beginning to have enough of fake indulgences and “psychological explanations.” It is crucial that we clearly say that these men and women are not alone; that hundreds of others have picked up the baton, that thousands of others are ready to do it. A contrary fate has provisionally separated them from us, but I dare say that they are in the box as our delegates. They represent France’s future. And the ephemeral power that is preparing to judge them already represents nothing.