When considering Sartre’s and Camus’ positions on the Algerian War of Independence, it is useful to begin by briefly locating both men in relation to colonialism in general and Algeria in particular. The first point, an obvious one, but one which needs to be made, is that while Camus, the child of Belcourt, had first-hand knowledge of life in working-class Algiers, and as a journalist of the misery of Kabylia in the late 1930s, Sartre, the Parisian intellectual par excellence, had almost no direct knowledge of the country. I say almost no direct knowledge because he and de Beauvoir did pass through southern Algeria en route to French West Africa in 1950 but apparently paid scant attention to the political situation in that country.
Let me start with an apparent aside. In the midst of his dialectical demolition of Foucault’s Histoire de la folie, in “Cogito et histoire de la folie,” Derrida argues that although Foucault wants to do an archeology of madness’s silence, an archeo-logy is a logically ordered work (465), and that even though Foucault wants to protest against reason’s sequestration of madness, “reason in the classical age” can only be brought before the tribunal of Reason in general (466), which could then rule on the unreasonableness of classical reason.
For over fifty years Francis Jeanson has been one of the world’s exemplary radical thinkers and actors. We Sartreans know him as the author of one of the earliest, and still most insightful, books on Sartre’s philosophy, Le Problème moral et la philosophie de Jean-Paul Sartre [Available in translation. See Sartre and the Problem of Morality, Bloomington, 1980], Sartre par lui-même, and Sartre dans sa vie, as well as of the review of Camus’ L’Homme révolté [The Rebel, New York, 1954] which instigated the Sartre/Camus break. Then came Algeria. As his biographer writes, “His intervention against the Algerian War shapes our collective destiny. Without Francis Jeanson, the resistance of French intellectuals to this colonial war would have been different” (Marie-Pierre Ulluoa, Francis Jeanson: un intellectuel en dissidence [Paris: Berg International, 2001], 244). At the beginning of the insurrection he and his first wife wrote a book about French colonialism and its effects on Algeria. He then organized the Jeanson network, the “porteurs des valises” who hid Algerian activists and deserters from the French army, and raised money for the FLN. In this role he lived underground for several years and was tried and sentenced in absentia to 10 years prison, a sentence which was only commuted at the end of the war. Jeanson was invited to Chalon-sur-Saône to direct its House of Culture and then worked as a philosopher participating in a continuing education program for psychiatrists in a mental hospital. He then returned to a small family house in Claouey, on the Bassin d’Arcachon, where he has continued to write and involve himself in such activities as the France-Sarajevo Association, which has encouraged a multi-ethnic Bosnia.
Sartre's writing on colonialism and anti-colonial critique is diverse, protean and frequently self-contradictory, and for this reason has generated a good deal of controversy. His celebrated and notorious 'Orphée noir', written as the preface to Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, has been read as both veneration and critique of the negritude movement, and he has been named both spokesman and traitor of anti-colonial resistance in Africa. Explicating the dynamics of an assertion of black identity in contradistinction to colonial influence, Sartre introduced revolutionary black poetry to the European audience it was directed against, only to be condemned by some of the other negritude thinkers, such as Alioune Diop, as eurocentric and blinded by his own position as a metropolitan, and therefore colonial, intellectual. The version of negritude promoted in 'Orphée noir' was criticised by such thinkers for being too rigid and essentialist, yet conversely, Fanon objected that Sartre's stress on the movement as transitory and provisional meant that was insufficiently immersed in 'authentic black experience'. In addition, Sartre's more journalistic writing, which called for the withdrawal of the French presence in Algeria during the war of independence, aptly served to draw attention to dissension about the Algerian question within French society, but, as Robert Young points out, the Marxist approach underpinning many of these pieces has also been seen as universalising.
John Ireland and Constance Mui
We are thrilled, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Sartre Studies International, to publish for the first time in English (thanks to Dennis Gilbert’s initiative and perseverance) two interviews on theater given by Sartre to Russia’s oldest continually running theater journal, Teatr, whose first issues date from the 1930s. Six years apart, these two interviews give us the flavor of Sartre addressing a Soviet audience, in early 1956, just before Russian tanks rolled into Hungary and then again in early 1962, as France negotiated its exit out of the disastrous Algerian War. While these interviews intersect at times with remarks made by Sartre in interviews and lectures during the same period in France (the need for theater to become a truly popular forum, the importance of Brecht as a model of politically engaged theater, etc.), the tone of the two interviews (the first in particular) is different, as Sartre seeks to connect with a socialist audience. These interviews also break new ground. Discussing contemporary playwrights, Sartre demonstrates, for example, his familiarity with Kateb Yacine and Algerian theater. More unexpectedly, addressing Russian readers, Sartre offers a much more positive assessment of Jean Vilar’s Théâtre National Populaire than he ever formulated in France. In short, beyond their content, these interviews help us appreciate even more the importance of the situation shaping Sartre’s pronouncements at any given moment.
It is one of Sartre's greatest strengths that his declared aim was 'to write for his own time'. From the 1940s onward, he became ever less interested in 'timeless' questions, and ever more concerned to explore the concrete realities of his own age. This engagement with the contemporary makes it particularly tempting to consider what Sartre's responses to the events of our own age would be. Ever since his death in 1980, those of us who have drawn insight and inspiration from Sartre's works have tended to ask how Sartre might have judged particular political developments. And because of the central place given to violence in his thought, as well as his detailed reflections on the Second World War and the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, it is only natural to ask how Sartre would have responded to the appalling events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent 'war on terror'.
By what incredible foresight did the most significant intellectual quarrel of the twentieth century anticipate the major issue of the twenty-first? When Camus and Sartre parted ways in 1952, the main question dividing them was political violence—specifically, that of communism. And as they continued to jibe at each other during the next decade, especially during the war in Algeria, one of the major issues between them became terrorism. The 1957 and 1964 Nobel Laureates were divided sharply over which violence most urgently demanded to be addressed and attacked—the humiliations and oppressions, often masked, that Sartre described as systematically built into daily life under capitalism and colonialism, or the brutal and abstract calculus of murder seen by Camus as built into some of the movements that claimed to liberate people from capitalist and colonial oppression.
The Sartre-Camus conflict remains, fifty years later, philosophically unresolved. And I would argue—against today's conventional wisdom so persistently asserted by Tony Judt—it is also historically unresolved, despite today.
Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone
The question whether, in the interim, the "socialist morality" allows adequate restraint on revolutionary action, cannot fairly be answered in abstraction from history, in this case our epoch. We submit that the group of projects called corporate "globalization" - imposing free trade, privatization, and dominance of transnational corporations - shapes that epoch. These projects are associated with polarization of wealth, deepening poverty, and an alarming new global U.S. military domination. Using 9/11 as pretext for a "war on terror," this domination backs corporate globalization. If Nazi occupation of France and French occupation of Algeria made Sartre and Beauvoir assign moral primacy to overcoming oppressive systems, then U.S. global occupation should occasion rebirth of that commitment. Parallels among the three occupations are striking. France's turning of colonial and metropolitan working classes against each other is echoed by globalization's pitting of (e.g.) Chinese against Mexican workers in a race to lower wages to get investment. Seducing first-world workers with racial superiority and cheap imports from near-slavery producers once again conceals their thralldom to their own bosses. Nazi and French use of overwhelming force and even torture are re-cycled by the U.S. and its agents, again to hide the vulnerability of their small forces amidst their enemies.
Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1961). Russo rightly observes that both texts underline Sartre’s ambiguous relationship to violence; yet this violence is already foregrounded in the Notebooks . 6 However, the situation with the Algerian War
Is Liberation without Freedom Possible?
, than from his later, more explicitly Marxist work, written at the time of the Algerian conflict’. 4 Based on the analysis offered in that text, this article points out some criteria according to which we might decide whether Islamic terrorism can be