Source: Marxist Internet Archive
Jean-Paul Sartre 1960
Racism and Colonialism as Praxis and Process
Excerpt from “Critique of Dialectical Reason”
Racism is not a mere ‘psychological defence’ of the colonialist, created for the needs of the cause, to justify colonisation to the metropolitan power and to himself; it is in fact Other-Thought produced objectively by the colonial system and by [s]uper-exploitation: man is defined bythe wage and by the nature of labour, and therefore it is true that wages, as they tend towards zero, and labour, as an alternation between unemployment and ‘forced labour’, reduce a colonised person to the sub-human which he is for the colonialist. Racist thinking is simply an activity which realises in alterity a practical truth inscribed in worked matter and in the system which results from it. But, on the other hand, and conversely, since the elementary structures of the simplest forms are inscribed in inorganic matter, they refer to various activities (both past and present) which either indefinitely reproduce or have helped to produce these human seals as inert thoughts: and these activities are necessarily antagonistic.
The racism which occurs to an Algerian colonialist imposed and produced by the conquest of Algeria, and is constantly recreated and reactualised by everyday practice through serial alterity. – Of course, the conquest of Algeria in itself can only be taken as a complex process dependent on a certain political and social situation in France as well as on the real relations between capitalist France and agricultural, feudal Algeria. Nevertheless, the colonial wars of the nineteenth century realised an original situation of violence for the colonialists as their fundamental relation to the natives; and this situation of violence produces and reproduces itself as the outcome of a collection of violent practices, that is to say, of intentional operations with precise aims, carried out by the army – as a group-institution – and by economic groups supported by public authority (by the delegates of the metropolitan sovereign). Of course, this violence, the cruelty towards Algerian tribes and the systematic operations aimed at taking over their land, was itself no more than an expression of a still abstract racism. This was due primarily to the state of war (‘pacification’ was long and bloody), which changed the statute because the fundamental relation was armed struggle; and this negative racism constituted the enemy as inferior rather than as a supposed ‘French citizen’. They were either ‘devils’ or ‘mindless savages’, depending whether they had won a victory, showing them in their activity or whether, on the contrary, they had suffered a temporary defeat, which is in itself an affirmation of the conqueror’s superiority. In either case, this Manichaean action, separating the hostile troops by the absolute negation of a line of fire, makes the Muslim other than man.
On the other hand, for reasons relating to its own history and to the development of capitalism within it, French society was at first quite undecided as to how to make use of its conquest. Colonial settlement? Penal colony? No practice had been defined up to 1880. Essentially, therefore, the Muslims still had to be respected, and subdued, and their slightest murmurs of revolt had to be suppressed. But they were more likely to be exterminated than employed – at least on a large scale. In any case, repressive practices, the policy of division and above all dispossession soon destroyed feudal structures and transformed this backward but structured society into an ‘atomised crowd’, and, before long, into an agricultural sub-proletariat. And this new (practico-inert) form of Muslim society is a real expression of violence; it objectively signifies the violence suffered by each of the serial Others, whom it produced. When our capital finally settled on capitalist colonisation as partial solution to its problems and as a source of new profits, this new form of exploitation was explained, developed, diffused, and practised by pressure groups. There is an undeniable link between Leroy-Beaulieu’s book, the politics of Jules Ferry, and the constitution of the first colonial banks and of sea transport. But, at the same time, other social milieux, with other interests, rose up in violent revolt against the policy of colonial conquest.
What this implies is that the colonial system, as an infernal machine which was to develop its own contradictions right up to a final explosion, corresponded to the objective needs of the French capitalists in general, but contradicted many particular interests. If it was to be imposed and set in motion, it had to be promoted; and the transition from objective interest, as an empty exigency, to the construction of the system was produced by a common practice, and corresponded historically to a real, organised dialectic linking a number of financial groups, statesmen and theoreticians in one organised task. And it would be wrong to schematise everything by simply saying that these groups were the expression of the interests of their class. For, in one sense, this is indeed what they were, and even all that they were. But they were not mediums, puffed up by some kind of spiritual fulness, or dragons with the class spirit which filled them pouring from their throats: their class was necessarily determined by their common creation of the system. This does not mean – as a voluntarist idealism would assert – that the exposition of the system automatically transposed itself into a general practice of the class: on the contrary, it is well known that it took patient efforts to impose it (propaganda, victories to wipe out the memory of defeats, initial advantages, etc.). It means, quite simply, that by the practical unity of organisations and apparatuses which it had itself produced (the sovereign as the present temporalisation of the State, technicians or ideologists, and economic pressure groups), the class found itself in the process of elaborating new tasks, and, regardless of its divisions, also found that it was in a state of minimal resistance to the system it had created: in effect, it profited from the practical power of the most respected and active institutions and organisations (the subjection of the fiercest milieux was already the future fate of their resistance), from its precise, pluridimensional elaboration (ideology, action by public powers, initiatives of private groups) in the face of sporadic, uncertain, and often contradictory resistance, and lastly, from the light which these new practices threw on the economic and social problems of the metropolis (new outlets for production, special circuits of exchange from the colony to the metropolitan power, and conversely).
To make myself clear, I shall say that all the relations between the colonialists and the colonised throughout the colonial system are an actualisation of practico-inert characteristics which are introduced and defined by common actions – or in other words, that both sociology and economism must be dissolved in History. If some contemporary work of sociology says that ‘pauperisation’, as the destruction of the social structures of the Muslim community, was a necessary result of contact between two particular societies, one backward (or underdeveloped), agricultural and feudal, the other industrialised, then intelligibility and necessity are both absent from this type of determination. The two can be connected only in so far as the real, conscious activity of each colonialist (especially on the economic plane) is seen as realising, by itself, in particular cases, for limited objectives, but in the [pursuit] of a common objective, the ‘pauperisation’ which the contact between two societies (those beings of reason) could not produce apart from individual contacts between the individuals who compose them. But this means that the term ‘pauperisation’ and the pseudo-concept which underlies it become utterly useless: they are both designed to take us modestly back to the process. But the sole intelligible reality, the praxis of men, puts paid to both of them; and it relates to two quite distinct types of action: past, transcended action and present action. In fact, what should be said first is that the contact between the industrial society and the agricultural society was achieved by Bugeaud’s soldiers, arid by the atrocious massacres perpetrated by these soldiers; and that the destruction of the forms of inheritance proper to the Muslim tribes did not emerge from some idealistic interpenetration of two different juridical systems, but from the fact that merchants, encouraged by the State and supported by our armies, imposed the code on the Muslims the better to rob them. Only on this basis can one comprehend that the colonial goal was to produce and to sell food to the metropolitan power at less than world rates and that the means of achieving this goal was the creation of a sub-proletariat of the desolate and the chronically unemployed (which itself explains the notion of pauperisation). And this operation was complemented by that of the commodity merchants – whom we have just mentioned – and by the policy of the military authorities (destroying all structures which might permit regroupment or resistance, maintaining a supposed feudality of collaborators and traitors, accomplices of the French, preserving the appearance of a locally-based sovereignty and exploiting, in their own interest and that of their masters, an impoverished, impotent mass which had been reduced to a molecular statute). Thus the system (as an infernal machine of the practico-inert field) became the undertaking of a nation through its institutional groups (war), through the ‘hot’ creation of a new form of imperialism based on a new politics (involving a new relationship between individuals and public powers), through the systematic, concerted destruction of a community and, of course, the installation of a new mechanism of exploitation (new colonialists) by appropriate organisations (banking, credit systems, government favours, etc.).
Now, in all these practices, violence and destruction were an integral part of the desired objective. At the three different levels of this action, this involved (1) the physical liquidation of a number of Muslims and the dissolution of their institutions, while they were not allowed to ,enjoy’ ours; (2) depriving indigenous communities of land ownership and transferring it to the newcomers through the brutal and deliberately over-rapid application of the civil code; and (3) establishing the true bond between the colony and the metropolis (sales of colonial products at minimum prices, and purchases of manufactured goods from the metropolitan power at high prices) on the basis of systematic super-exploitation of the native. In other words, for the child of the colonialist, violence was present in the situation itself, and was a social force which produced him. The son of the colonialist and the son of the Muslim are both the children of the objective violence which defines the system itself as a practico-inert hell. But if this violence-object produces them, if they suffer it partly as their own inertia, this is because it used to be violence-praxis when the system was in the process of being installed. It is man who inscribed his violence in things as the eternal unity of this passive mediation between men.
The proponents of ‘pauperisation’ may claim that the development of French society in the middle of the nineteenth century was precisely such as to prevent it from conceiving of any relationship to the Muslim peasants of Algeria other than one of violence. This is true, in that the bourgeois of the last century were very harmoniously ignoble in all their activities. And this ignominy was obviously partly due to the fact that the bourgeois were themselves alienated products of the capitalist system which characterised the metropolitan society: how could the objective characteristics of the system – the conditions of labour which he imposed on his workers, the senseless waste of human lives which was characteristic of the ‘iron and coal’ period – fail to produce bourgeois who had no feelings for the natives of North Africa? If the bourgeois was a man, while the worker, his compatriot, was merely sub-human, how could an Algerian, a distant enemy, be anything but a dog?
But the answer must be first that sociology has inverted itself in order to correspond to History: if bourgeois society pauperises feudal society, this is not a result of its superiority (acting on the Arab community, in fact, in spite of itself and by its mere existence) but of its inferiority, of the revolting brutality which so clearly characterised capitalism in its origins. And precisely because of this, the negation returns in the colonising class. Thus it necessarily refers to action: strictly speaking one might, from some idealist, Aristotelian point of view, countenance an attraction at a distance by the positive plenitude of an object which, in its distant connection with this plenitude, reinteriorises and reflects its inadequacies. But when negativity becomes the source in one object of modifications (either positive or negative) [in] the other, then this negativity will produce its effects only in an action or system of actions which determines itself on the basis of it and which preserves it in itself as the negative orientation of the expenditure of energy. It is true that the bourgeois are products (but when we shortly return to class we shall see that these products are also agents); it is also true that these children of violence were produced by the violent praxis of their fathers – which takes them back to the History from which they wished to escape.
But it is also true that this rapacious violence was not a cerebral circumvolution, or a proper power of social institutions (although it is realised in institutions too). Either it is the capitalist process itself (to the extent that, as we shall see, the exploiter readopts the practico-inert) or, if there are new developments in the system (for example, in colonialism), it temporalises itself in common (or even individual) real activities which realise it in objectivity. Violence, as bourgeois exis, exists in the exploitation of the proletariat as an inherited relation of the dominant class to the dominated class (but we shall see that it is also a practice at this level); and violence, as the praxis of this bourgeois generation, lay in colonisation. But the exis, in itself, was no more than a diachronic mediation between two cycles of praxis. And colonial undertakings, as the plural temporalisation of bourgeois violence (as tile violence of one class against another within a community) is also its dialectical enrichment and expansion. In new conditions, where exploitation must start on the basis of oppression, this violence renews itself; it will extend to mass extermination and torture. It must therefore create itself in order to maintain itself, and change in order to remain the same. Conversely, it will return as practical violence to be used immediately in the metropolitan power against the exploited masses as soon as there is a lull in the colonial war. As is well known, Bugeaud appeared to the high bourgeoisie of 1848 as the dreamed-of destroyer of the Second Republic; and it is not an accident that Franco came from Morocco.
The evolution of violence is clearly expressed here: first a structure of alienation in the practico-inert, it is actualised as praxis in colonisation. and its (temporary) victory presents itself as the objectification of the practical ensemble (army, capitalists, commodity merchants, colonialists) in a practico-inert system where it represents the fundamental structure of reciprocity between the colonialists and the colonised. But in alienation itself, this new serial exis cannot exist unless everyone realises and adopts it as other in his everyday praxis. This means, in the first place, that it becomes its own idea in the form of racism in other words, that the colonialists constantly actualise the practices of extermination, robbery and exploitation which have been established by previous generations, and transcend them towards a system of other values, entirely governed by alterity. But still it would be no more than an ineffectual transcendence of the objective exis if the situation did not involve a reciprocity of violence. In other words, the colonialist discovers in the native not only the Other than man but also his own sworn Enemy (in other words, the Enemy of Man). This discovery does not presuppose resistance (open or clandestine), or riots, or threats of revolt: the violence of the colonialists itself emerges as an indefinite necessity or, to put it another way, the colonialist reveals the violence of the native, even in his passivity, as the obvious consequence of his own violence and as its sole justification. This discovery is made through hatred and fear, as a negative determination of the practical field, as a co-efficient of adversity affecting certain multiplicities in this field, in short, as a permanent danger which has to be avoided or prevented. Racism has to become a practice: it is not contemplation awakening the significations engraved on things; it is in itself self-justifying violence: violence presenting itself as induced violence, counter-violence and legitimate defence. The colonialist lives on an ‘Island of Doctor Moreau’, surrounded by terrifying beasts created in the image of man, but botched, and whose poor adaptation (neither animals nor human creatures) is expressed in hatred and cruelty: these beasts wish to destroy their beautiful image, the colonialists, perfect men. The immediate practical attitude of a colonialist is therefore that of a man confronted by a sly and vicious beast. First, one has to defend oneself against the blindness of the metropolitan power, which cannot distinguish false men from true. The colonialist phrase, ‘We know the Arab’, like the Southerner’s, ‘The Yankee doesn’t know the nigger’, is an action: a juridical (and intimidated) rejection of any possibility that the metropolitan power should find solutions to colonial problems in the metropolis. What this basically means is: the colonialist and the native are a couple, produced by an antagonistic situation and by one another. No one (except the army, if the colonialist calls on it as a weapon) can intervene in their duel. And this is precisely the theme of the racist propaganda that the colonialist spreads in the metropolitan power itself. his portrayal of the native (always negative) is designed to ‘open people’s eyes’ and to disorientate metropolitan opinion. Furthermore, at a more complex level, the practical operation involves a rejection of any political solution to the colonial problem (the basis of the problem being, of course, social). The colonialist wants the status quo because any change in the system (which, at the present time, is everywhere on the decline) can only hasten the end of colonisation: integration and assimilation (full recognition of all our rights for the colonised), as much as independence, immediately results in the end of super-exploitation, and therefore of low wages, and therefore of the low prices which are the raison d’être of the ‘colony-metropolis’ economic circuit. The activity of racism is a praxis illuminated by a theory’ (‘biological’, ‘social’, or empirical racism, it does not matter which) aiming to keep the masses in a state of molecular aggregation, and to use every possible means to increase the ‘sub-humanity’ of the natives (a religious policy favouring the most superstitious elements; an educational policy designed not to educate the natives in our culture and at the same time to deprive them of the possibility of becoming educated in their own culture, etc.).
What is important to us here are the two following aspects of colonial praxis:
(a) First, the praxis of oppression which we have just described complements the process of exploitation and merges into it. By ‘process of exploitation’ I mean the practico-inert functioning of the system once it has been installed: strictly speaking, the big (colonialist) landowner does not – at least in Algeria – force the natives to work for him for starvation wages; the deceptive system of free contract on which the capitalist process is based has been acclimatised in Algeria, or so it seems. In fact, demographic pressure is producing an under-nourished population, in a state of chronic unemployment (or semi-unemployment) and the natives come to offer themselves to the employers, poverty creating a competitive antagonism which forces them to accept, or even propose, the lowest wages. Owing to poor industrial development – which is also characteristic of the colonial system – this mainly agricultural sub-proletariat cannot overcome these antagonisms in a unity of demands. Working-class emancipation goes hand in hand with industrial concentration: in a colonised country, the pauperisation of the masses destroyed the structures of the old society, and removed the means for reconstituting another, based on different structures and on different relations of sociality.
In this sense, therefore, it is possible to claim that exploitation by new generations of colonialists of new generations of natives realises itself as a process: in the framework of an economic and social system, wage levels will be settled on the basis of specific material conditions which elude the action of the colonialists as much as that of the natives (the economic conjuncture and the demographic thrust, for example, etc.). But the process is mainly conditioned by the atomisation of the native masses; and is based on the following duality: the disintegration of the old communities, and the constant dissolution of any new groups which attempt to form, and a rejection of integration into the colonising society. In short, it is necessary that the colonised people should be nothing, except a labour force which can be bought for less and less. Now this necessity, which conditions the entire process, may have manifested itself, in the great days of colonialism, as an inert exigency within the system. But, in fact, this exigency is fulfilled; and if it is fulfilled, this is specifically because it is also the object of an oppressive praxis and because it was the objective (now achieved and transcended) of past oppression. This oppressive praxis, past and present, with its objective future, did not initially set itself the long-term objective of producing a native statute which would favour the establishment and autonomous functioning of the colonial circuit. In fact, as we have seen, the violence of ‘conquest’ was accompanied by considerable uncertainty as to the aim of colonisation, and this uncertainty was partly due to the fact that the violence occurred at a moment before that in which the economic organisation of France enabled it to define a colonial policy. But the fact remains that the practices of extermination and plunder atomised Muslim society and politico-financial committees created the system on the basis of this atomisation. In other words, the radical impotence and the poverty of the masses were at least implicit among the fundamental factors which the banks and the State combined and transcended in the project of a rational exploitation of the colonies. Thus, when one reaches the key condition of the colonial undertaking, low wages, it is notable that the process on the basis of which they were settled was a necessity of the practico-inert only in so far as an oppressive praxis had deliberately produced a situation which made the process necessary. Or rather, the victory of arms was not enough; it had to be renewed every day. It would be even more effective and economical to maintain it by institutionalising it, that is to say, by endowing it, for the natives, with the character of a practico-inert statute: and this could not be done without affecting the Algerian army itself with institutional inertia. Inorganic inertia, as a permanent feature of the praxis-institution, reproduces itself as an inert perpetuation of untranscendable impotence among the natives. The molecular constitution of the masses, as a material, inorganic, and necessary condition of the process of super-exploitation presents itself as the inert result of a strict determinism (and so one comes back to positivist reason): but in reality this inertia – however inorganic it may be – is constantly produced by the petrified violence which is constituted by the presence of the army. And the internal consequences of this induced impotence (poverty, disease, competitive antagonism, the birth-rate, etc.), though they present themselves as serial and as a determination of the practico-inert field, are, as a whole, a controlled process. The old violence is reabsorbed by the inertia-violence of the institution, and its uncertainties disappear in the objective certainty of colonialism, which is the thought of the army itself, that is to say, its raison d’être and the signification – both global and in detail – of its practices and organisation.
To the extent that the presence-institution of a metropolitan army is a praxis which occasions inorganic inertia amongst the colonised masses, the natives themselves will treat this inertia both as their destiny and as an oppressive practice of the enemy. Even if an individual interiorises it as a feeling of inferiority (adopting and accepting in immanence the sentence which the colonialists have passed), even if he sees his colonised-being as a negative determination and an original statute of sub-humanity, and even if he tries to get closer to his conquerors, and to resemble them (in short, if he seeks to be assimilated), he does not cease to experience this condition, this ontological statute, as the inexorable and unforgivable violence done to him by a hard-hearted enemy. This is because this violence is specifically directed so as to deprive him of any possibility of reacting, even by admiring his oppressors and seeking to become like them. Thus, in their practical, everyday life, the exploited experience oppression through all their activities, not as alienation, but as a straightforward deliberate constraint of men by men. And to the extent that the army-institution is a force which is displayed so that it need not be used (or so that it is, immediately ready for use), the practical display is the common praxis of all soldiers and is expressed both in their group operations and in their individual relations with Muslims (so we re-encounter a practical racism – though at a different level and with a different meaning).
A young soldier who ‘did his military service’ in Algeria (I am thinking of the heyday of colonialism, between 1910 and 1935) was himself ambivalent in his discovery of himself and of the Others: it was as an institutionalised being that he was there, in a given town, in a given barracks and even, in his ‘free-time’, in a particular street or brothel. But, at the same time, the living historical praxis of the African army (which presents itself as an apparatus of counter-violence) appeared to him through the repeated operations he was made to perform, the instructions he received: the a-temporal inertia of institutionalised Being is realised and produced through a historical, practical orientation. This orientation was determined by the relations between colonialists and the natives everywhere, which are reflected by news of military exercises, on a given morning, in a particular barracks at Blidah or Philippeville, both as an index of the universal tension and’ as a concrete factor of it. The soldiers see this particular riot as the’ sign which enables them to decipher the other signs which have appeared directly in their experience, and as the enemy action which will determine their immediate fate (‘confined to barracks’, ‘despatched! with two other regiments, to restore order’) or their long-term fate (insurrection is brewing, it will break out). Through such news, they are signified as agents of a common praxis (a repressive expedition, battles, etc.); in other words, they see themselves – in so far as they have the power to unleash counter-violence – as sovereign members of the sovereign. Since this sovereignty is, in effect, being rejected by the natives – by the revolt in some other town – it reverts to being the pure, common power of the individual and the group to rearrange the practical field unconditionally. And as this power is real and concrete only in so far as it is limited, in reciprocity, by that of the Other, it becomes here an abstract violence, through the decision to treat the colonised masses as objects. They have destroyed the relationship, according to the sovereign ideology, by suddenly rejecting military sovereignty: and by this action, they have put themselves outside the law. Thus the re-establishment of reciprocity presupposes a moment of pitiless violence, that is to say, of the bloody dissolution of native groups: for reciprocity takes place, for the sovereign, between two inertias, one of which is the pure, serial impotence of the native, while the other is the freely agreed passivity of the army which retains its force. The slightest regroupment, as a negation of serial inertia, is a breach of contract. But for the soldier, as institutionalised-being, the distant revolt gives a sort of negative unity to this molecular crowd, by defining (more or less exactly) the degree of tension between the troops and the colonised masses. It becomes wholly a group, or a possibility of producing armed groups, or an unfathomable sea concealing armed groups. Thus the point of application for counter-violence is really everywhere here, and the lived relationship between the soldier and the masses must everywhere be that of the sovereign to rebels. This means that the army, on the slightest suspicion, recognises itself in its entirety as a practical unit for repression, as an agent of the perpetual dissolution of communities in favour of serial alterity. Thus the impotence-revolt of the masses and the inertia-violence of the army both deserve the name of ‘praxis-process’.
The colonialists themselves, however, with or without military help (or rather with passive or active military help) had to defend the atomisation of the masses against any metropolitan initiatives. Here, the process was no longer the product of a praxis, but its autonomous development had to be protected by strenuous activities: political allies had to be found in the Assembly or in the government, support had to he found in economic groups uniting the big colonialists and certain Metropolitan capitalists, and the acceptance of ‘assimilating’ or ‘integrating’ reforms had to be prevented. And if, in spite of everything, some law was passed which tended to ‘liberalise’ the regime and to recognise Muslim political rights, its implementation would have to he prevented – for example, by organising rigged elections whenever the electors were consulted in Algeria. If social reforms were being proposed (redistribution of land, etc.), the colonialists might also be able to turn them to their own advantage. Lastly, since all these violent operations had to take place in a climate of violence – that is to say, they could be undertaken only by violent men – propaganda had to reflect this universal violence, and reflect his own violence to the colonialist as the simple manly courage, resolute in all things, of an embattled minority; and it had to present everyone with the other – violence of the natives as constantly endangering the colonialists everywhere. That is to say, it struck permanent fear into the colonialists and presented this angry fear as pure courage. These indispensable operations as a whole required organisms and vigilance apparatuses, and these produced themselves, in specific circumstances, as a dissolution of seriality among the colonialists themselves. I have already said when speaking of the practico-inert – that the colonialists (as a superexploiting class) – like the natives, by the play of competitive antagonisms and recurrence – were engaged in a series of series and that racism in this series was other thought (of and through the Other), in short, process-thought. But the common interest was always present for all in that they were engaged in a double relation to the metropolitan power and to the natives, and that they had either to disappear or to remain the sole necessary mediation between the two.
Their basic contradiction lies at this level: the ‘liberal’ regime of the metropolitan power corresponds to the historical development of French capitalism, to the metropolitan bourgeoisie; and it is also useful for the colonialists, out there, when they are represented and defended in France, and when they try to create and finance pressure-groups in Paris. But such a regime – which is possibly the most practical kind for a society based on exploitation – is not at all suitable for a society based the on super-exploitation. So, in the name of bourgeois democracy, metropolitan power has to be prevented from democratising its colonies; in the name of the heroic sovereignty of those who are besieged, the rare liberal institutions in the colony must be besieged.
This conflict, this complex praxis, the manifestation of class interest, of the interest of all classes of colonialists is concretised in groups of violence at the slightest provocation. And by this I do not mean groups which realise real violence (though there are such groupings: provocateurs, counter-terrorists, etc.), so much as practical communities whose role is to perpetuate the climate of violence by making themselves violence incarnate. Such groupings can be regarded as having the function of systematically lowering the threshold of class seriality, so as to allow more effective groupings (economic groups and pressure-groups) to constitute themselves despite competitive antagonisms; they represent the extreme possibilities for the colonialist: the extermination of the natives and the extermination of the colonialists. In one respect, these possibilities are in fact equivalent: they both lead to the destruction of colonisation; it is precisely the colonialist’s need for the super-exploited native which transformed the wasteful, uncontrolled violence of the colonial conquests into economic, controlled violence. But the violent groups embody the extreme possibilities and can be described as extremist in the sense that in the light of the conflict which they make permanent, any praxis of conciliation must appear as a terrible mistake: the only action which can bear fruit is one which is based on coercion and repression. Thus the organised groups formed a sort of one-way barrier: while constantly presenting violence to the colonialists as the very foundation of their situation and as the sole means of preserving it, they tended to create in 4frica a milieu completely impenetrable to liberal institutions; but since they were based on French nationality, these organisations enabled every colonialist to defend his right to violence in Algeria, in terms of his rights as a free citizen of the metropolitan power.
This operation of protection is indispensable if the process of superexploitation is to develop according to its practico-inert laws. But if we connect the past praxis which is preserved by the serial inertia of the exploiters and exploited, and which has become passive activity (inanimate matter as a mediation between men), to institutional praxis, as Violence held in an inertia which is forever temporary, and also to extremist activities (agitation, propaganda, and the defence of the Algerian colony against the metropolitan power), then we can see super-exploitation as a process which realises itself on the basis of a praxis which produced and directed it, under the protection of an institutional action and in non-reciprocal isolation which has been artificially produced by common practices. In short, it becomes the anti-dialectical moment determining itself in the milieu of the constituted dialectic or, so to speak, the practico-inert moment as the common objective of convergent practices and as their artificial product. And, of course, it is also their mediation or, in other words, the unity of their being-outside-it. But we also see that the groups in question are linked to one another by relations of interiority (there are diachronic and synthetic connections amongst the officers, and between them – as, representatives of different generations and practices – and the soldiers; there are synchronic connections between extremist groups and the: officers, etc.) and also to the colonialists in general (we shall come back to this in the next paragraph).
Thus it is true that the process involves both the super-exploiters and the native sub-proletariat in an anti-dialectical movement which: constitutes the future as an inexorable destiny for everyone and for., every collective. It is true that, from this point of view, it is the system and the conjuncture which bring about the ruin of this particular colonial undertaking and, thereby, blindly, the unemployment of these particular Muslims, and their poverty, and the death of their children! through malnutrition, etc. Thus, in a way, the entire apparatus of violence will have served to constitute a sort of closed field in which practico-inert forces crush the individual enterprise of certain colonialists. But this is itself the goal, since the problem is to sustain and isolate, in a laboratory experiment, an ‘economic world’ which obeys rigid laws and is based, in reality, on the continued annihilation of the super-exploited (on the practical refusal to treat them as subjects with rights, whatever the right). This ‘economic world’, in which super-exploitation is meticulously concealed, and which presents itself in the vague guise of classical liberalism, is simply the abstract set of competitive or semi-competitive relations between colonialists, either directly or through the mediation of the metropolitan power. To take things on this terrain (that is to say, deliberately ignoring colonialism as a system and History as the basis of every human process), repressive apparatus and the groups of violence must in effect protect the freedom to produce, to sell and to buy, and therefore the possibility that any given colonialist may be ruined, in specific circumstances an in accordance with very strict rules. On the other hand, this abstract false economics is nothing but the common interest of the colonialists that is to say, it enables them to develop their individual antagonisms without these conflicts ever being able to benefit the over-exploited mass who have to pay the price.
It is now clear that we must distinguish between three levels within colonisation as developing History: the play of flat appearances which can be studied by economic Reason has no intelligibility except in relation to the anti-dialectical system of super-exploitation. And this in turn is not intelligible unless one begins by seeing it as a product of human labour which created it and continues to control it. And, unlike the forged tool, or worked matter, it does not by itself introduce alterity and recurrence between the groups which supervise its autonomous development: in fact it realises itself as a complex ensemble of connections between series (super-exp loiters and super-exploited, the connections between the former on the basis of their relations with the latter and conversely, the connections with metropolitan importers and exporters, etc.); but the groups which ensure its functioning are connected by relations of interiority – springing from their practical tasks and therefore cannot be serialised by its mediation. Thus it is perfectly clear here that super-exploitation as a practico-inert process is nothing but oppression as a historical praxis realising itself, determining itself and controlling itself in the milieu of passive activity.
(b) This brings us to our second observation: the relations between ,lie oppressing groups are always the conditioned conditions of serialities of series, that is to say, of the inert gathering of the ‘occupants’. It should be noted, in fact, that they are aimed at a certain common objective through the various practices and in accordance with different assessments of the situation. Their racisms – though all of them are based equally on the sub-humanity of Muslims – are nevertheless divergent. The extremism of some – which arises from adopted function – can be contrasted with the apparent moderation of others (of the officers, or of some of them) which, apart from periods of disturbance and repression, appears as a quiet strength which is put on display so that it need not be used. On the other hand, the officers need not be ‘colonials’; and if they are, they are not necessarily connected to any particular colony. Lastly, they are functionaries of the metropolitan power rather than landowners or shopkeepers who are established in Africa.
But it should be stated quite specifically that the African army was the violence of the colonialists and that the colonialists were for the army the legitimacy of this violence. It should also be observed that the set of colonial exploiters includes all social categories and that all of them (from the French worker to the judge and the farmer) are bound by the same privilege, which the soldiers share with them: they are better paid than in France, and their relative comfort is based on the poverty of the Muslims. Thus the unity of all groups of colonialists, (from accidental, ephemeral groups to institutional ones) was conditioned by the climate of the colony, that is to say, by the Other-Being of the series. To what extent could this Other-Being be dissolved in fused groups? And to what extent is it, on the contrary, unsurmountably rigid and passive? It is easy to imagine the array of intermediaries: to each moment there corresponds a different relation between the practical communities: opposition and tension – relaxation, quasi-serial co-existence – the more or less advanced unity of integration. But the being of the series, in the world of violence, is determined on the basis of its relation of antagonistic reciprocity with the masses whom it oppresses. This relation, in effect, as a real antagonism, is in no way reducible to the practico-inert ensemble of the process of exploitation: but it cannot be regarded as a genuine reciprocal praxis of struggle since it is in opposition to series which are still paralysed by alterity. This is, in fact, a tension which is both immediately detectable and impossible to determine, and which appears as a common signification of reciprocal individual actions. This common signification, however, is not directly realisable, since it does not in itself relate to any community of which any of the agents might form part as a common individual. It consists, rather, of actions which, in themselves and in their strict individuality, involve a negation of seriality: they appear incapable of being carried out except on the basis of a previous agreement or an order; but the particular experience in which they occur does not allow them to be related to any organised group. In fact, these reactions do not, in general, transcend the level of atomisation or seriality, but they are evidence of a change in the serial bonds – for example, the strength of everyone’s anger – which is expressed in his bearing – being derived from that which he attributes to the oppressed Other and to all the others, as might happen, for example, the day after a mosque has been profaned by drunken soldiers, or after a brawl between soldiers and Muslims resulting in Muslim deaths. The employer was worried that day; the behaviour of his employees (or employee) appeared to him as a sign; and his anxiety was soon to turn into violence: and this transition from anxiety to the will to repress is itself an act of alterity. But it is on the basis of these reactions, each of which bases its violence on that of the other, that insurrectional or punitive groups can constitute themselves within the series itself. In effect, everyone’s serial reaction consists in confusing community and series, and interpreting the behaviour of the enemy as the praxis of a group, of which this particular antagonist is a common individual. This supposition induces the group into each series as a negative unity, that is to say, as the sole means of struggling against the groups which are bidden in the Other. Of course, historical conditions as a whole will determine the liquidation of seriality here or there; what is certain is that the liquidation, wherever it takes place, immediately occasions a liquidation of the same order in the adversary. Thus pressure-groups, violent groups, and institutional groups, in their relation of reciprocity and reciprocal mediation, provide an exact index of the reciprocal determination, beyond the process, of colonialists and colonised, that is to say, an index of violence.
But as tension increases, the unity of these heterogeneous groups tightens until it becomes a real unity of action. In this moment, this synchronic, pluri-dimensional praxis really becomes the praxis of the colonialist group. It adopts two serial determinations and takes them into itself in order to dissolve them: (1) Its deliberate violence cannot descend lower than that which the super-exploiters manifest every day, in their relations to the exploited, and which constitutes what one might call a bond of inert interiority between the two serialities. Serial violence dissolves, like seriality, into minimal violence as a primary determination of praxis. (2) The group adopts, as its own project, the violence of the series in this precise moment of the history of the colony, turning it into its cohesion and the orientation of its praxis (in becoming the serial madness of a lynching, panic will be contained in the Others by army forces and will become, in the military group, in institutional forms (sanctions to be taken, etc.), the upper limit of its repressive activity).
Thus, the seriality of the colonialists is not dissolved elsewhere; everyone remains the Other, imprisoned in his impotent anger whereas the groups as a whole (from the army and constituted bodies to the groups of violence) maintain the serial inertia of the Others (who are the passive individuals who have to be defended and whose defence requires them to be confined in their passivity). But the practical unity, of the constitutive bodies and organisations, in its temporalisation, thereby becomes the colony itself, as oppression and repressive violence.. The apparatus transforms the violence of flight and panic into a, synthetic, sovereign project for re-establishing order by violence; in the repressive violence of the apparatus, the Other recognises his own as Other, he discovers the blind lynching to be the serial signification of the summary execution. He remains external to the armed force which defends him; but in the dimension of the Other, that force, becomes the unity of everyone and of the Others, as an other synthesis, (other mode of Being); it becomes the activity of all the Others as the other side of their passivity. Thus inert violence, as frequentative and as the dated connection between colonialists and colonised, is recognised as sovereignty inside repressive practice; and the latter, legitimated by the need to defend the Others, gives violence-process its first statute operation. But, to conclude, if violence becomes a praxis of oppression this is because it always was one. The first groupings of natives that occasioned repressive practices themselves appeared against the back ground of their daily deteriorating situation; and this deterioration could occur only as long as their molecular non-being was forcibly held in the framework of a political and economic status quo while demographic pressure constantly lowered their standard of living. The impossible, as the negative reality of their condition, was a product: it was molecular exile at the boundary of life and death. The only possible way out was to confront total negation with total negation, violence with equal violence; to negate dispersal and atomisation by an initially negative unity whose content would be defined in struggle: the Algerian nation. Thus the Algerian rebellion, through being desperate violence, was simply an adoption of the despair in which the colonialists maintained the natives; its violence was simply a negation of the impossible, and the impossibility of life was the immediate result of oppression. Algerians had to live, because colonialists needed a sub-proletariat, but they had to live at the frontier of the impossibility of life because wages had to be as close as possible to zero. The violence of the rebel was the violence of the colonialist; there was never any other. The struggle between the oppressed and oppressors ultimately became the reciprocal interiorisation of a single oppression: the prime object of oppression, interiorising it and finding it to be the negative source of its unity, appalled the oppressor, who recognised, in violent rebellion, his own oppressive violence as a hostile force taking him in turn as its object. And against his own violence as Other, he created a counter-violence which was simply his own oppression become repressive, that is to say, reactualised and trying to transcend the violence of the Other, in other words his own violence in the Other. We have thus shown, in the simple example of colonisation, that the relationship between oppressors and oppressed was, from beginning to end, a struggle, and that it was this struggle, as a double reciprocal praxis, which ensured – at least until the insurrectional phase – the rigid development of the process of exploitation.
It will no doubt be objected that I have chosen the most favourable example: where exploitation is super-exploitation and where it is necessarily accompanied by conquest and oppression. The very fact of conquest presupposes military struggle. No doubt it will be said that what I have found at the end of my search is what I carefully put there at the outset. But in reality, I discussed the practice and system of colonialism because I wanted to show, by reference to a simple example, the possible importance of substituting History for economic and sociological interpretations, or generally for all determinisms. For the first time in this investigation, I wanted to give an outline of an initial description of the formal structures of the concrete. Lastly, I wanted to show that we should no longer cheat with such precise and true words as praxis and struggle. Either we have endless equivocation, and praxis signifies almost the same as ‘process’ and struggle as ‘contrary double alienation of two serialities in the practico-inert’; in which case everything is definitively obscured: action and History lose their sense and words no longer have any meaning. Or else we allow words their meanings, defining praxis as an organising project which transcends material conditions towards an end and inscribes itself, through labour, in inorganic matter as a rearrangement of the practical field and a reunification of means in the light of the end. Then the idea of struggle between classes must be given its fullest meaning; in other words, even in the case of economic development within one country, even though the gradual constitution of the proletariat is taking place among the poorest sections of the peasant class, and even though the worker ‘freely’ sells his labour power, exploitation must be inseparable from oppression, just as the seriality of the bourgeois class is inseparable from the practical apparatuses which it adopts for itself Economism is false because it makes exploitation into no more than a particular result, whereas this result could not be maintained, and the process of capital could not develop, if they were not sustained by the project of exploitation. And I certainly mean that it is capital which is expressed through the mouths of capitalists and which produces them as projects of unconditional exploitation. But on the other hand it is capitalists who sustain and produce capital and who develop industry and the credit system through their project of exploiting in order to realise a profit. This is the circularity which we have encountered everywhere. We shall meet with it again. But we must recall its movement in order to understand the bond between process and praxis. We shall shortly be inquiring what type of intelligibility this bicephalous being called struggle can have, especially when it involves not individual combat, but practical contradiction splitting every nation and the world. But, above all, we must return to this notion of ‘class struggle’: if it is a practico-inert structure (a passive contradictory reciprocity of conditioning), or if it is exis, the human order is strictly comparable to the molecular order, and the only historical Reason is positivist Reason, which posits the unintelligibility of History as a definite fact. But, on the other hand, if it is praxis through and through, the entire human universe vanishes into a Hegelian idealism. In order to get out of the difficulty, let us attempt to employ all the discoveries which our investigation has given us, at every level of formal complexity.