The Minute of Truth

Manifesto signed in by French intellectuals writers and artists concerning the right to civil disobedience...

The SI on the "Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War". From Internationale Situationniste #5 (December 1960).

Submitted by Fozzie on January 25, 2023

"The undersigned, considering that each person must take a position concerning the acts that are henceforth impossible to present as the diverse deeds of individual adventures; considering that they themselves, in their places and according to their means, have the duty to intervene, not to give advice to the men who have personally decided to face such serious problems, but to ask those who judge them to not let themselves be equivocal in their words and values, declare:

"-- We respect and judge to be justified the refusal to take up arms against the Algerian people.

"-- We respect and judge to be justified the conduct of the French people who estimate it to be their duty to bring aid and protection to the oppressed Algerians in the name of the French people.

"-- The cause of the Algerian people, which contributes in a decisive fashion to the ruin of the colonial system, is the cause of all free people."

Such are the conclusions of a Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the Algerian War, signed by 121 artists and intellectuals, which was published at the beginning of September [1960]. Due to actions soon thereafter taken and the first indictments made, during the course of September, 60 or 70 people1 added their names to the first list; some of these people were known to be quite far from any political radicalism. To break the movement, the government did not hesitate to resort to exceptional sanctions, announced on 28 September. While civil servants (generally in education) were suspended, all of the signatories were banned from [French] radio-television, their very names could no longer be mentioned on it, and rejected from the subsidized theaters and films normally registered by the National Center for Cinema. In addition, at this date, the maximum penalties relative to the offense recognized in this text were raised from several months to several years in prison. By taking these measures, the government admitted that it could only contain the extension of the scandal through the means of an open war against all cultural freedoms in the country. These extreme actions, moreover, appeared to have little pay-off, since more than 60 [more] names were added to the prohibited declaration after the 28th -- which adds up to at least 254 signatures -- [and] since the indictments were only handed down with great slowness.

The effect of the "Declaration of the 121," thanks to the publicity that the repression assured it in France and abroad, has been far from negligible. One saw the sheltered French intelligentsia count on a noble manifesto that summoned power to strike quickly and strongly2 against the anti-France; the sacred newspaper of the intellectual Poujade3 stigmatized (eight columns to one) "the manifesto of the pederasts"; and some old specialists of the total questioning of several "perspectives" promptly questioned themselves about their own participation in this excess and immediately did their best to divert the signatories towards a respectful petition, through which the Federation of National Education made it known that it desires that the way be ended through negotiation (one thinks here particularly of E. Morin and C. Lefort).4

In the cultural stratum, the merit of this declaration is having drawn a very clear line of separation. The signatories did not at all represent a political avant-garde, nor a coherent programme, nor even an assembly in which -- beyond this gesture -- one could approve of the majority of the individuals. But all those who, in these circumstances, have not wanted to take sides concerning the joint cause of the Algerians' liberty and [that of] the indicted intellectuals have, on the contrary, counter-signed the confession that all of their pretenses to prowl around the vicinity of any "avant-gardism" must now be greeted with laughter and scorn. Thus one is hardly surprised at having hardly seen involved in such drudgery the cretins who, several months ago, organized an anti-trial, in which their sole idea -- so as to compensate for their hideous artistic, social and intellectual deficiencies -- was that one must reject any judgment so that liberty is truly defended. Faithful to themselves, they have not judged that there was some liberty to defend in the case of the 121.

Politically, this declaration was not without use in the relative awakening of French public opinion over the last three months. The evening of 27 October, despite the dazzling sabotage by the Communists5 and the brakes applied by all of the bureaucratic unions, the youth -- college students, especially -- led the first street demonstration against the war. After years of mystifications and resignation, a certain awakening is taking place.

On 11 December, the Algerian Revolution6 -- with the intervention of the masses in the streets of Algers and Oran -- made the people who are the most resolved to be deaf hear that it was indeed "the cause of the Algerian people" as a whole. The scandal is no longer expressed by a tract written by intellectuals, but by the blood of the unarmed crowds, which still addresses itself, finally to the proletariat of France, the intervention of which can only end the war quickly and properly.

Translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2007. Footnotes by the translator.

  • 1Including Guy Debord and Michele Bernstein.
  • 2Rather than be "equivocal."
  • 3Pierre Poujade (1920-2003), a right-wing publisher and politician.
  • 4Edgar Morin and Claude Lefort, former members of Socialisme ou Barbarie.
  • 5The French Communist Party.
  • 6Not just Algerian independence from France, but Algeria's independence from the global capitalist order.