It is now more than fifty years since World War I shattered all hope that Europe and, in its wake, the rest of the world, would advance on paths other than those of systematic blood-letting toward greater democracy, economic and social justice, and what was then considered to be “Civilization.” The world we have fallen heir to is a world in which violence, overt or covert, of weapons, institutions, and economic scarcity, reigns supreme; it is a world of fear and terror.
In sixty years, humanity has lived through two world wars, the triumph and destruction of fascism and Nazism, the genocides that had as their victims Armenians, Jews, and Gypsies, the massacres that have accompanied colonial wars. Meanwhile, the attempt made in 1917 to bring about a workers’ socialist revolution in Russia led to the totalitarian tyranny of Stalin; the anti-imperialist peasant revolution in China witnessed, with its “cultural revolution,” the deification of Mao Tsetung and the execration of recalcitrants. These mutations have permitted the installing of a system of global co-dominance, first by two powers (United States and Soviet Russia), then by three (United States, Soviet Russia, and China) which, at some future date, can well become four or five, if Japan and Europe succeed in compelling recognition of their force.
As it more and more impinges on us, the Third World is being colonized and plundered by colonialist powers. Often its leaders adapt to this situation and try to reap benefits from the obligations of loyalty it imposes. At times, they resist: the Indochinese war has been and will remain the culminating point of this struggle. In the developed countries, meanwhile, a section of the younger generation is rejecting a society that the new forms of capitalism condemn to uncontrolled consumerism, social injustice, and destruction of men and their natural or traditional surroundings.
Concurrent with these vast upheavals, the social role of intellectual workers has assumed ever greater importance. Their number is increasing in both absolute and relative figures, since their work is essential to the production of wealth, and the global transformations taking place must be conceptualized, explained, and, as the case may be, justified or combated. But the intellectual workers of today’s world are far from constituting a coherent, meaningfully active ensemble. One might even say that their political, not to say prophetic, role has diminished in proportion to the growth of their social role. Some—and they are a majority—shut themselves up in fragmentary tasks which, at times, result in their becoming the more or less conscious accomplices of crimes against humanity, as for instance in the case of scientists working for the manufacture of deadly war materials.
Others act as propagandists for established governments; while still others formulate unconditional ideological justifications for self-styled revolutionary movements, prompt to switch to other revolutions if they feel they have been betrayed by the one they were serving. The critical function, which is inherent to intellectual activity, and whose abandonment constitutes the only real act of betrayal on the part of educated men and women, would appear just now to be the most scandalously rare of all commodities. Yet today still, it is in the West that one is freest to criticize both the authorities one lives under and is associated with, as well as those who control the so-called socialist countries, or the “liberated” Third World countries.
The undersigned recognize the existence of a three-pronged revolutionary movement which is disrupting the global order, and which, thus far, no theory has satisfactorily succeeded in integrating:
—The revolt of the peoples of the Third World against imperialism, and for a fairer distribution of the earth’s wealth;
—The revolt convulsing the developed countries, which challenges the structures of industrial societies, i.e., the relations between capital and labor; the separation of those who lead from those who are led, of those who possess the knowledge and power to make decisions from those who carry them out; the very nature of production which, since the beginnings of capitalism, has been deeply rooted in the idea that the aim and justification of society are the exploitation of nature, and that these require or warrant the exploitation of men by one another;
—The demands made by religious, ethnic, sexual minorities and other oppressed categories (women, young people, old people, dark-skinned people, immigrant workers, etc.) who are asserting and, if need be, imposing their right to exist in opposition to majorities or oppressive groups. The Indochinese peoples’ war against American imperialism, the French May ’68 uprising, the revolt of the Czechoslovak people against the tyranny of the party apparatus imposed upon them by the Soviet Union, the combat being waged throughout the entire developed world by immigrant workers to win the simple right to live, by women against male chauvinism, the struggle of the people of Bengla-Desh, of the Palestinians, the crusade against ethnocide and genocide—have been, are, and will continue to be expressions of these revolutionary transformations. But to state that we “support” these struggles and these demands is to accomplish only the slightest, not to say the least important, part of our task, if it can be said that one exists which is common to us all. The world we live in is not a simple world in which it would suffice to choose one’s camp, in order to contribute to the future of humanity.
No country, no regime, no social group is the depository of absolute truth and justice, and doubtless none ever will be. The terrifying experience of Stalinism, the transformation of revolutionary intellectuals into defenders of crime and lies, showed to what lengths utopian identifications and the lure of power—which, in today’s world, are among the characteristic temptations that face educated men and women—can lead. Swayed by the mass media, by the political line of machine ideologists, or simply by their own passions, Western intellectuals (atleast, those who expressed themselves publicly) have argued for or against the Biafran, Bengali, Palestinian, and Israeli peoples; whereas the revolt in Ceylon, which was unanimously condemned by all the states, was ignored by the vast majority of them. We believe that intellectuals have more important things to do than to act as the salaried or voluntary purveyors for political or bureaucratic bodies in search of an ideology. We should like therefore to recall a few fundamental premises which, for us, are politically and morally evident.
- There is no problem of ends and means, the means being an integral part of the ends. Consequently, all means that are not oriented in relation to the desired ends should be firmly rejected in the name of the most elementary political honesty. If we want to change the world, it is perhaps also and primarily out of moral concern. There is no rational or scientific strategy that should not be examined in the light of the moral code that has been adopted. When we condemn certain political practices, it is not only, or not always, because they are ineffectual (in many cases, they may be effectual on a short-term basis), but because they are immoral and degrading and will weigh heavily upon the society of the future. There can be no “good” torture, no “good” secret police, no “good” dictatorship. Nor can there be “good” concentration camps, or “legitimate genocide.” There are battles that must be fought, but there are no “good” armies, no “good” nation-states. Extortions of all kinds, beatings, third-degree methods, kidnapping, threats to hostages … without all being comparable to torture, are not good or bad according to which cause they defend. They are all bad, whatever one may think of the responsibilities or ultimate objectives involved.
- There does not exist a revolutionary apocalypse, and belief in such an apocalypse is a perversion. When a victorious revolution comes to power, it inherits the conflicts of the preceding society and creates new ones. Building the free and egalitarian socialist society should therefore not be postponed until after the revolutionary crisis, whether local or global, but should be undertaken before the crisis, and carried on while it is in progress. Revolutionaries must work now, in their daily lives and in their organizations, toward fairer relationships between individuals and between social groups. The myth of the “Great Day” is all the more dangerous in that a society that is born of revolution is necessarily discordant, like all historical societies, and the temptation is great to hold “conspirators” and “saboteurs” responsible for what goes wrong. Any political group that believes it holds the key to immediate, automatic transformation of society is a candidate for dictatorship, with its inevitable train of concentration camps and torture.
- There are no “formal” freedoms that can be abolished, whether “temporarily” or in the name of “real” or “future” freedoms, without great danger. True enough, the history of humanity is not identical with the history of freedoms, and it can pursue its course without them in the same way that it has done heretofore, during its immense progression through time and space. But the fact that freedoms won and rights gained constitute part of the heritage of the feudal and then the capitalist transformations of a sector of the West, and could serve, in future as they do today, as alibi for the ruling classes, should not lead us to dismiss them. On the contrary, they must be extended until they cease to be the privilege of the few.
Violence is a part of today’s world and we have no illusions that it can soon disappear. But to recognize the role of violence in history, with violence of the oppressors giving rise to violence of the oppressed who, in their turn, and all too readily, themselves become the oppressors, does not authorize us to excuse or justify it. The weapons of criticism, when they can be used, are always superior to criticism by weapons.
The first duty of the intellectual, in whatever part of the world he may be, to whatever “camp” he may be committed, is to speak the truth, or at least what he humbly believes to be the truth. He must do this without messianic pride, independently of all authority and, if need be, in opposition to it, whatever it may represent; independently too of all orthodoxy, all conformity, all demagogy. At no moment should intellectuals move from criticism to apologetics. There is no individual or collective Caesar who deserves universal support. The ideally just society is not a society that is devoid of conflict—there is no end to history—but one in which the contestants, when they come to power, in their turn may be contested; a society in which criticism is free and sovereign, and there is no need for apologetics.
We call on all who agree with these principles to join us in signing this manifesto.
Lucien Bianco, Jean-Paul Brisson, Jacques Brunschwig, Claude Cadart, Gérard Chaliand, Noam Chomsky, Jean Cassou, Antoine Cullioli, Jean-Pierre Darmon, Jean-Marie Domenach, Georges Duby, Richard Falk, Jean-Jacques de Félice, Marc Ferro, Rolland Filliatre, Roger Godement, René Hellez, Robert Jaulin, Marie Jolas, Robert Lennuyer, Charles Malamoud, Elise Marienstrasse, Richard Marienstrasse, Jean-Daniel Martinet, Jean-Paul Mathieu, Juliette Mince, Claude Massé, Edgar Morin, Pierre Mothé, Pierre Pachet, Jacques Panigel, Michelle Perrot, Nicole Clément-Rein, Maxime Rodinson, Claude Roy, Pierre Samuel, Lilly Scherr, Jean-Claude Schmidt, Pauline Schmidt, Laurent Schwartz, Alfred Simon, Paul Thibaud, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Geneviéve Vidal-Nacquet, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Gilbert Walusinski, Cheng Ying-Haiang. (List incomplete)
Additional signatures may be addressed to: Laurent Schwartz, 37 rue Pierre Nicole, Paris 75005
October 18, 1973