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ajnabi ([personal profile] ajnabi) wrote2010-03-08 03:59 am

postmodernism & poststructuralism, paper one

Anti-Colonialism and Allyship

In his essay, "Colonialism is a System," Jean-Paul Sartre argues that any movement aiming to dismantle colonialist structures must be led by the colonized. For example, reform to any colonial state must be carried out by the colonized, not the colonialists. Sartre's particular reference base is the Algerian struggle for independence from France. He criticizes the beliefs of French neocolonialists who wish to 'improve' Algeria, as this 'improvement' is necessarily predicated on French interests, not Algerian ones. Therefore, Sartre says to his fellow French people, "let us not allow ourselves to be diverted from our task by reformist mystification... The reforms will come in their own good time: the Algerian people will make them" (47).

Sartre's argument is based on his explanation of colonialism as a system that produces the class of the colonized, or 'the masses,' in opposition and subordinated to the class of the colonialists.
Colonialism is the process of acquiring raw materials and cheap labor from overseas markets that will help the "mother" country prosper. Hence, in this case, an overseas market was found in Algeria, exploited and conquered through force, and recreated for French consumers. As Sartre says, "the colonist is above all an artificial consumer, created overseas from nothing by a capitalism which is seeking new markets" (34). The French colonialists buy or obtain raw materials from Algeria, and sell them to the people of France, thereby encouraging the economic prosperity of France. Economic control of the colony is necessarily cemented through social and political control.

For example, in order to thoroughly conquer Algeria and remove any chance for recovery, the French colonialists divided up property structured on old feudal, agricultural and tribal bases. This introduced an individualized system of property, which "suppressed the forces of resistance" because it "replaced collective strength with a handful of individuals" who competed against each other for ownership rights (36). This colonial history perpetuates itself in the form of a reality "embodied in a million colonists, children and grandchildren of colonists, who have been shaped by colonialism and who think, speak and act according to the very principles of the colonial system" (44).

It is important, however, to realize that colonialism is not carried out by individual undertakings; it is systemic and historical (31). Sartre is vehement that there can be no possibility of "good" colonialists and "bad" colonialists (32); once the systemic nature of colonialism is realized, it becomes evident that a dialectic exists wherein the colonialist class holds power over the colonized class. Hence, "there are colons and that is it" (32). Sartre does distinguish between different classes of people among the colonialist class, however; he says that he "[does] not consider as colonists either the minor public officials or the European workers who are at the same time innocent victims and beneficiaries of the system" (32).

Nevertheless, individual French people cannot 'help' the Algerians through 'reform' of the colonial political structure without feeding back into the system of colonialism. The system requires that the Algerians be subordinated to the French, and any attempts by the French to change this system without addressing the root structures of colonialism will only reinforce it. This reinforcement will not help Algerians; it will perpetuate their power-disadvantaged position.

Because of the colonially restructured nature of Algerian society, the nationalist Algerian personality too is born out of this colonized framework (46). In introducing a western ideology of liberal individualism, property and ownership, French colonialism distorted, misinterpreted and reimagined Algerian history. This created a sensibility that Algerian structures before colonialism were somehow archaic and frozen in time. In this way, "a necessary aspect of the colonial system is that it attempts to bar the colonized people from the road of history" (41). As discussed earlier, the denial of history to the colonized is implemented through sociopolitical means. Another such example is how the French denied the Algerian Muslims the use of their own language (41).

However, according to Sartre, "the radically negative attitude [of colonialism] must have the necessary concomitant of producing an awakening among the masses" (46). This awakening develops as colonialism becomes increasingly entrenched and insidious. As the inhumane effects, i.e. the suffering of 'the masses,' increase, so too does this awakening. It becomes clear that the only way to become liberated is to destroy the colonial structure altogether.

Therefore, if the French truly wish to help Algerians, they will help in allowing their liberation. They will welcome the Algerian struggle for independence, and "fight alongside them to deliver both the Algerians and the French from colonial tyranny" (47). This is the only way French and Algerian people will be able to communicate on equal terrain.


Work Cited:

"Colonialism Is A System." Sartre, Jean-Paul. Colonialism and Neocolonialism. Trans. Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer and Terry McWilliams. New York: Routledge, n.d. 30-47.