Manifesto of the 121  

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"A very important movement is developing in France, and it’s necessary that French and international opinion be better informed about it at a moment when a new phase in the War in Algeria must lead us to see, and not to forget, the depth of the crisis that began six years ago.

In ever greater numbers, French men and women are pursued, imprisoned, and sentenced for having refused to participate in this war, or for having come to the assistance of the Algerian fighters. Distorted by their adversaries, but also softened by those who have the obligation to defend them, their reasons, for the most part, are not understood. Nevertheless, it isn’t enough to say that this resistance to public authority is respectable. As a protest by men wounded in their very honor and in the idea they have of the truth, it has a meaning that goes far beyond the circumstances in which it is affirmed, and which it is important to grasp, however the events turn out.

For the Algerians the struggle, carried out either by military or diplomatic means, is not in the least ambiguous. It is a war of national independence. But what is its nature for the French? It’s not a foreign war. The territory of France has never been threatened. But there’s even more; it is carried out against men who do not consider themselves French, and who fight to cease being so. It isn’t enough to say that this is a war of conquest, an imperialist war, accompanied by an added amount of racism. There is something of this in every war, and the ambiguous nature of it remains.

In fact, in taking a decision that was in itself a fundamental abuse, the State in the first place mobilized entire classes of citizens with the sole goal of accomplishing what it called a police action against an oppressed population, one which had never revolted except due to a concern for its basic dignity, since it demands that it at last be recognized as an independent community.

Neither a war of conquest nor a war of “national defense,” nor a civil war, the war in Algeria has little by little become an autonomous action on the part of the army and a caste which refuse to submit in the face of an uprising which even the civil power, aware of the general collapse of colonial empires, seems ready to accept.

Today, it is principally through the will of the army that this criminal and absurd combat is maintained; and this army, by the important political role that many of its higher representatives have it play — at times acting openly and violently outside any form of legality, betraying the ends confided in it by the nation — compromises and risks perverting the nation itself by forcing the citizens under its orders to become the accomplices of a seditious and degrading action. Must we be reminded that fifteen years after the destruction of the Hitlerite order, French militarism has managed to bring back torture and restore it as an institution in Europe.

It is under these conditions that many French men and women have come to put in doubt the meaning of traditional values and obligations. What is civic responsibility if, in certain conditions, it becomes shameful submission? Are there not cases where refusal is a sacred obligation, where “treason” means the courageous respect for the truth? And when, by the will of those who use it as an instrument of racist or ideological domination, the army shows itself to be in open or latent revolt against democratic institutions, does not revolt against the army take on a new meaning?

This moral dilemma has been posed since the beginning of the war. With the war prolonging itself, it is only normal that with greater frequency these moral choices are concretely made in the form of increasingly numerous acts of insubordination and desertion, as well as those of protection and assistance to Algerian fighters. Free movements have developed on the margins of all the official parties, without their assistance and, finally, despite their disavowal. Outside of pre-established frameworks and orders, by a spontaneous act of conscience, once again a resistance is born; seeking and inventing forms of action and means of struggle in a new situation where, either by inertia or doctrinal timidity, either due to nationalist or moral prejudices, political groups and journals of opinion agree not to recognize the true sense and requirements.

The undersigned, considering that each of us must take a stand concerning acts which it is from here on in impossible to present as isolated news stories; considering that whatever their location and whatever their means, they have the obligation to intervene; not in order to give advice to men who have to make their own decision before such serious problems, but to ask of those who judge them to not let themselves be caught up in the ambiguity of words and values, declare:

  • We respect and judge justified the refusal to take up arms against the Algerian people.
  • We respect and judge justified the conduct of those French men and women who consider it their obligation to give aid and protection to the Algerians, oppressed in the name of the French people.
  • The cause of the Algerian people, which contributes decisively to the ruin of the colonial system, is the cause of all free men and women."--"Manifesto of the 121" (1960) [1], tr. by Mitch Abidor

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The Manifesto of the 121 (Manifeste des 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. 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. The vast majority of the signatories belonged to the French Left. 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.

List of signatories

See also




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