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The Republic’s Natives (Les Indigènes de la République), the debate about French colonialism and its consequences

dimanche 29 juin 2008, par Yves

The Republic’s Natives (Les Indigènes de la République), the debate about French colonialism and its consequences

« Non-Whites » against « Whites »,

or proles against capitalists ?

In the 1980s the multiculturalist Left popularized the silly concept of "Blacks, Blancs, Beurs" (« Blacks, Whites and Arabs ») as the basis of the soft and apolitical antiracist movement « SOS Racisme ». So, one should not be astonished that, today, twenty years later, some leftwing people, thinking they can appear more radical than their elders, have reinvented the struggle of the "Whites" against the "non-Whites", claiming that Marxism is "dogmatic", that the Left has underestimated racism, colonialism and the effects of post-colonialism, etc.

These themes are promoted by many « White » professors, academics or researchers ; by some « White » post-Stalinist senators or deputies of the CP who are desperately trying to find a new basis for their declining Party ; by a whole layer of North-African social scientists who live in France (and are probably French but this does not matter in our discussion) and want to gain a niche in the university world or to have some seats in the leading bodies of the SP, CP or Greens ; and also by sincere grassroots militants of the revolutionary Left. Their arguments also circulate on the Internet and influence many individuals who are not politicized in a traditionnal way but have identity problems (we all have !) linked to their national origin, their religion (islam) and/or the colour of their skin.

The initial arguments of the Republic’s Natives consist of five very basic points voiced by revolutionary militants for 50 years :
– France has a colonial past,
– Republican ideology was, inter alia, used to justify colonialism,
– France still has colonies (DOM-TOM) and maintains post-colonial relationships with many countries of Subsaharian Africa and Northern Africa,
– There are racist discriminations in France,
– In France live and work persons with different skin colours, and one finds more "Whites" than "non-Whites" at the top than at the bottom of the social scale.
If the “Republic’s Natives” only expressed these five very simple assertions, they could belong to any Far Left or anarchist organization. What are the demands defended by the « Republic’s Natives’ » ?
– voting rights and citizenship for the non-French,
– regularization of all undocumented workers,
– struggle against all forms of discriminations,
– immediate measures against precariousness, unemployment and ghettoïzation,
– creation and development of stable jobs, in the public and private sectors,
– guarantee of an equal education and training for everybody ;
– betterment of the housing and living conditions in the popular districts,
– decent and free public transports in these districts (only the word « free » could some pose problems to the most moderate bourgeois parties).
Houria Bouteldja (spokesperson of the « Natives’ Movement ») is perfectly right when she says that « the Republic’s Natives » do not pretend « to make the revolution ». When one reads the above quoted list of demands, one understands why. The trick of the Republic’s Natives is to appear as radicals, and even as « anti-nationalists » (which they are absolutely not) while defending at the same time a program which is perfectly acceptable by the capitalist system.

What is then the originality of the “Republic’s Natives” ?

To justify their existence, the Republic’s Natives had to invent a wobbly and contradictory ideology resting on five postulates :

1) Because of its colonial past and of its post-colonial present, the French Republic has supposedly « indigénisé » (transformed into natives) whole fractions of the population on French territory. The inhabitants of these territories can be considered as "natives" :
– either because they live in popular districts completely forsaken by the Welfare state,
– or because they are "non-Whites",
– or because – although they are "Whites" – they defend the struggle of the "non Whites" against racism and postcolonialism.

2) The institutions of the French Republic are supposedly "islamophobic". Any critique of Islam, as a religion, or of the various currents of political Islam is thus automatically labelled as « racist ».

3) secularism and separation between the Church and the State are supposedly useless.
As explains Houria Boutelja : « I am against the idea that – whatever your ethnic group, nationality, origin, culture and sex – religion means oppression, and that to be emancipated one must fight against religion (...) this only corresponds to French history, to the separation between the Church and the State here (...) There are societies which do not need the separation between the Church and the State, and for which religion is not a problem. Religion is not the opium of the people. It can be, this has to be contextualised . Religion can be a tool of emancipation, that was the case in Latin America with liberation theology. »

4) All « Whites » (proletarians included) supposedly profit from "privileges" of which the "non-Whites » are supposedly deprived (see the book of Sadri Khiari, a former Trotskyist Tunisian leader, « Politique de la racaille »). The « non-Whites » are all considered as proletarians and descendants of colonized people or slaves.

5) The “Republic’s Natives” seem to be very critical towards French nationalism which can wrongly lead one to believe that they are truly internationalists and even a-nationalists. But as soon as one carefully reads their texts, one finds many contradictory positions. For example, they ask the French State to recognize the role of the colonized soldiers who participated… to colonial wars (Algeria and Indochina) ! They claim to be the descendents of Jean Moulin, a bourgeois leader of the Gaullist Resistance, etc.

The youth who attacked the high-school students demonstations in 2005 and the students demonstrations in 2006, and the recent war of Israel against Lebanon gave the opportunity to the “Republic’s Natives”, to add 2 inept postulates to the five preceding ones :

6) the « lascars » (the "rogues", a modest term used to describe those who steal high school students, beat them up and break demonstrations) are supposedly individuals revolted against the capitalist system who constitute a new vanguard and shows us the way ahead while clashing with cops and setting fire to public buildings.

7) the present war against Lebanon has enabled the « Natives Movement » to add a new position to their collection : being « proud » of the « Lebanese resistance », they claim to be the « fifth column of international terrorism » and to « follow Jean Moulin’s tradition » (Jean Moulin was the coordinateur of the French bourgeois resistance to German occupation.) I dont think it’s necessary to comment such assertions. What it shows is the main contradiction of the « Natives Movements » – a contradiction which one finds also in Tariq Ramadan’s political writings. They want to the best representatives of Arab or Muslim anti-imperialism (whatever these two expressions mean) and at the same time to be the heirs of French chauvinist, imperialist and anti-working class Resistance movements. An impossible position to keep.

In spite of the stupidity of these assertions, it’s necessary to analyze them, and to show :
– that they coincide with the worst popular and reactionary « common sense » (for which skin color is the essential element of the personal and collective identity)
– and that they have invented nothing, since they recycle old ideas, which existed even before the appearance of Marxism and labour movement :
+ robbers and cop killers are supposedly animated by a « pure » revolt against the system (from Mandrin and Robin Hood to the Bonnot gang and Mesrine, many popular myths feed this illusion) ;
+ the poorest elements of the population are supposedly the most revolutionary ones (an old Christian idea expressed in the New Testament : the Paradise will be the kingdom of the poor) : one can’t be thus astonished that those who defend the liberation theology in Latin America, the revolutionary virtues of the "Islam of the poor" and the supposed radicality of the November 2005 "rioters" belong often to the same political circles or have a common political background.
Compassion for the "poor" and the "non-Whites », far from being an original position of the “Republic’s Natives” today, is an old position common to populist tendencies, Maoists and third- worldists. In itself, obviously, compassion is rather a quality than a defect, unfortunately it can lead to all kinds of policies : from humanitarian action to guerilla struggle, from the Pope to Che Guevara, Bob Geldoff or Sting.

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The concept of "Natives" is incoherent, untrue, demagogic and manipulative

– Incoherent

"Our parents, our grandparents, were put in slavery, colonized, animalized", affirms the Republic’s Natives Manifesto, "us, descendants of African slaves and deportees". If the “Republic’s Natives” claimed only to organise the descendants of slaves and colonized people, one could see a certain coherence in their project. It would be the project of a lobby based on the common memory of the descendants of victims whose ancestors suffered painful experiments which are sufficiently similar to provoke empathy. But, if one follows this logic of a hereditary suffering and inferiorisation caused by the « White World », then the numerous « White » intellectuals who participate to the Republic’s Natives movement have no special qualification to talk and write about the painful experiments of the descendants of colonized people and slaves today. If this identity logic is so powerful, one does not see how these "White" intellectuals and militants can have the right to be the mouthspeakers of the "non-Whites" considering that their ancestors have "enslaved", "animalised" and "colonized" the descendants of the people they pretend to defend.

– Untrue

All the inhabitants of the colonized territories were not slaves. In all French colonies there were autochtonous dominant classes, administrative, religious and commercial elites who actively collaborated with the occupying forces (in Subsaharian Africa, for example, French colonialism often played the ethnical groups who had been victims of slavery against the slave-trading ethnical groups). Once French African colonies became « independent » in the early 60s, a good part of the old elites, and the new elites born from the national liberation struggle, generally continued to collaborate with post-colonial France. These classes monopolized the national resources, ransacked them, and did not equitably distribute them among the ex-colonized people they were in charge of.

It is thus untrue to affirm that all the Algerians present in France for example are descendants of "colonized" people (if one means the poor fellahs – countrymen– exploited by French settlers) or that all the Senegalese or Malians living in France are descendants of "slaves". Unless, one gives to « colonized » a purely moral, not material, meaning, hiding the contradictory class interests which always existed in French colonies, and a long time before the arrival of French soldiers.

– Demagogic

The word "Native" is so vague that it allows anybody (« White », non-« White », African, Arab, etc.) to include or exclude in its definition anybody he or she wants. One finds here a very common practice in the Stalinist parties and trotskyist groups : you are a "comrade" as long as you follow the right line, but at any moment the Party can decide that you are a "class enemy".

The “Republic’s Natives” do not speak of « class enemies », since they ignore the social classes in capitalist society, but they use slandering words like "traitors", "brownies", "Uncle Toms", « Bounties » (like the American Cherrios, Black outside, white inside), etc.

– Manipulative
The “Republic’s Natives” claim to speak in the name of the most exploited, but when one checks the professions of those who signed the “Republic’s Natives Manifesto” one sees that most of them belong to the university elite, the intellectual middle-class and that the proletarians (using a generous way of counting them) represent less than 10% of them.

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The socalled « islamophoby » of the French State or of French society is a convenient myth

Those who denounce islamophoby deliberately confuse four distinct questions :

1) the old anti-Arab racism, which was reinforced at the time of the return in France of the Pied-noirs (Blackfeet are not an Indian tribe but the name for former French settlers of Algeria who returned to France after 1963 and mostly live in the South of France, as well as the harkis, the Algerians who cooperated with French colonial Army and were obliged to leave Algeria). This anti-Arab racism has been maintained by part of their descendants, and by Right of Extreme Righwing politicians like Le Pen, Mégret and De Villiers and their corresponding parties. This anti-Arab racism is powerful in the police force (and in French military forces) and results regularly in "bavures" (supposedly, unwished victims of police brutalities) who systematically concern people who, whether they have a French ID or not, have North-African, Far or Middle Eastern background (the concept of « Arab » is indeed a sufficiently fuzzy concept for the cops to include Turks, Iranians, Kabyles… and Arabs).

2) The ignorance or mistrust concerning Islamic religion, related to the fact that in France catholic religion is in a majority among… the believers. But one should not forget that France counts less believers than all the other European countries (14 % of atheists in France). This percentage of atheists represents 9,6 million of people so much more than the 3 to 5 million of supposed "Muslims", withouth mentioning that only 20 % of them are regarded as true practioners of Islam....

3) the hostility against the Muslim fundamentalist currents : this hostility is certainly fed by the media, but also corresponds to an old anticlerical tendency inside the labour movement, anticlericalism which does not spare any religion (as has shown the publication of « Mahomet caricatures » in the French press)

4) the fear of islamo-terrorist attacks : this fear is not only linked to media manipulations since on several occasions murderous terrorist attacks took place on the French territory. Moussaoui, one of the participants in the preparations of September 11 which killed 3000 people has French nationality. And several French people locked in Guantanamo and then judged in France recognized they were preparing terrorist attacks (it was difficult for them to deny it, given what the cops found in their homes !)

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Atheism is not an opinion like another

The originality of the “Republic’s Natives” is to have, in the name of the fight against a socalled « islamophobic racism » banned all criticisms not only against religion, but also against the political perversions resulting from these religions. As Houria Bouteldja declared about one of the organisations which fought the « anti-hijab law » on a wrong political basis : The « Collectif Une Ecole pour toutes et tous » (A School for everyone) is a group "where all sorts of people who joined later the “Republic’s Natives” were already there", "it was said that it was a collective in favour of the hijab, whereas 90 % were perfect atheists".

The « atheists » who fought for the right to wear a hijab in public schools have done it :
– either because, like the British SWP or a minority of the Trotskyist LCR, they consider that Islam is "the religion of the poor" (the Saoudi princes and émiratis still laugh about it in their palates),
– or because, like much of leftists today, they think that the religion is a question which divides, which is secondary. For these people, science has its limits, materialism is undoubtedly a too dogmatic "philosophy", etc.
The “Republic’s Natives” thus allowed obscurantists and reactionaries like the partisans of Tarik Ramadan (the Collectif des Musulmans de France in particular) to have a left or even radical reputation, with few expenses for them. The political price to pay was heavy : all criticisms not only of Islam but also of political Islam are now banned and labelled as racist.
Thus Sadri Khiari celebrates "the unity between Blacks and Arabs, Muslims or sympathizers of political Islam and atheists" without asking himself what’s the price of such a unity, especially when one knows what the notion of political Islam covers : djihadists terrorists, the Algerian FIS, the Muslim Brothers, the Iranian mollahs, etc. One does not see which basic democratic rights these currents can defend together with atheists. They are against freedom of expression, as was clearly shown when the caricatures of Mahomet were published. But they are also against any democratic rights for women or for the working class, as shown by the Muslim Brothers attitude in all the countries were they have some influence, or as shown by the Iranian dictatorship.

« Whites » and non-« Whites » are useless concepts to understand reality and act

The multiculturalist tradition borrows its tools from the ethnicist theories which founded North-American racist society : according to the new « left » version of this ideology, the classification of the individuals according to their skin colour does not rest anymore on a (pseudo) biological basis (as it was the case since the XIXe century), but on a political basis.
In other words, one can still talk about white or black « races » today, because these words have supposedly become purely "political" concepts. One wonders in what universe live the academics who pretend to "deconstruct" the theory of the races in the richest imperialist power with the help of the terms used by the Ku Klux Klan ! These lousy theoretical jugglings hide their capitulation in front of the primary and reactionary prejudices of the American population.
Exported in France, a country where the pseudo theory of the races is not taught any more, these theses are now used by the “Republic’s Natives” in their articles, leaflets and books. In a country with a "white" majority, they do nothing but consolidate the prejudices of the most ignorant French people for whom, indeed, the color of skin is essential.
In a country where the National Front collects 15% of the votes on a national scale and whose public propaganda does not dare yet to speak about « white superiority », but where the Lepenists do express this type of opinions in private without restraint, one must be completely irresponsible to rehabilitate the concept of "Whites", even if it is to criticize it.

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The internationalism of the " “Republic’s Natives”" is fake !

The majority of those who, on the left or on the right, attacked the “Republic’s Natives” accused them, more or less directly, to be new representatives of the « Antifrance », just like the royalist Far Right did with respect to the Jews in the 19th century. Thus invited to a TV programm after the « November riots », Houria Bouteldja was opposed to a whole pleiad of French chauvinist intellectuals. And when Bouteldja explained to them that « nationality did not matter », that « birth was due to random », one could believe one moment in a miracle : an antinationalist voice was finally heard on public television. Alas, as soon as she was asked if she was proud to be of Algerian background, Houria Bouteldja stammered and could not answer. Her antinationalism thus is very limited, directed against French imperialism (a position we will not reproach her), but she is unable to apply it to her parents’ fatherland (which means she still believes in the myth of national unity between all classes, provided that it is not in the "white world"). After that, remarks like "borders bother me, space belongs to everyone, one is everywhere at home... the nation-State bothers me, it produces racism, " sound hollow, not to say false. "French identity must explode" she says, and one can only agree with her, except that she does not hold the same speech about the Algerian, Iraqi, Chinese, or Turkish identities. And when she continues : "I think that the French must accept their Arab, and Muslim part, and ourselves, we must accept all that, I must accept my Chinese part", one understands that one is once more in front of a "radical chic" speech – and nothing else. Many radical spangles, but little content.
Jérémy Robine, who interviewed Houria Bouteldja, is mistaken when he accuses Bouteldja of being hostile to the republican principle which founds French nation. It is quite simply not her problem, nor that of the “Republic’s Natives”, to immediately propose a good model of integration or assimilation into the French imperialist State. And we will certainly not reproach it to the “Republic’s Natives”.
On the other hand, they do not dare to go beyond a critique of the French national model. As Said Bouamama says : "I do not question the concept of nation". Even a "Marxist" like Bouamama limits his reflexion and criticism, and consequently one should not be astonished that the “Republic’s Natives” only denounce the nationalism of certain imperialist powers but never the nationalism of the secondary imperialisms (Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Turkey, etc), that Israeli nationalism is denounced, but not Palestinian nationalism, etc. Moreover Sadri Khiari, in Politique de la racaille (Politics of the Scum), devotes a whole chapter to the question of "a good" nationalism.

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SOME PRECISIONS ABOUT THE WORD « NATIVES »

Natives (Indigènes) was in the beginning a term used by the settlers or the colonial authorities to designate the people who lived before them on the territories exploited and oppressed by the Western powers. The word "natives" is used by the “Republic’s Natives” like a mark turned over against the French State and racist institutions (a bit like Afro-Americans use between themselves the word "nigger"). But it also has for the “Republic’s Natives” other uses :

1) a "native" can be a member of the most exploited classes, what the Marxists call a proletarian. In this case why was it necessary to introduce a new concept ?

2) this term is liberally allotted to the socalled "Whites", provided that they support the cause of... “Republic’s Natives”. This definition has then several floors ("ethnic", national, social and political). It echoes a definition by Edgar Morin about jewishness : for him, any individual is a Jew if he/she feels empathy and total solidarity with the sufferings of the Jewish people. This very generous universalist definition also echoes to the famous slogan of May 68 "We are all German Jews". At that time this slogan may have sounded internationalist, but it was very ambiguous, as has shown later the appearance of new forms of anti-semitism in the name of a badly understood antizionism.

If Morin’s definition could seem full of good humanist intentions, the obsessional references made to the skin color in the texts of the “Republic’s Natives” make us doubt that their intentions are very clear.
What the Republic’s Natives require from the socalled « Whites » is absurd. It reminds, on an other subject, the attitude taken by humanist teachers who try to convince their French-African or French-North African pupils that the extermination of the Jews in Europe is the only tool to understand and measure the horror of other genocides,

The “Republic’s Natives Manifesto” starts by declaring that the "first victims of social exclusion" are the "people coming from the colonies (...) and belonging to the " post-colonial immigration " ; but then the Manifesto pretends that " independently of their background, the populations of the "suburbs" "are transformed into Natives" ". These two assertions are contradictory :

– the first assertion stresses the skin color or the "ethnic group" (which many young suburbian people translate by "race", as in "Screw your race", « dirty race", etc), as the standard of all social exclusions,
– while the second assertion underlines the social discriminations which touch all proletarians, whatever their skin color, their passport and their birthplace.

As the “Republic’s Natives” did not succeed in solving this contradiction (and one must recognize that the relationship between class, national and socalled "ethnic" factors is far from being simple), they extended the pseudo-concept of « Natives » to all the inhabitants of the popular districts but with one condition : all the "White" proles must identify themselves with natives, ex-colonized, post-colonized or former African slaves.
The "Republic’s Natives would like that any proletarian to personnally identify with the most radical anticolonialist cause, to turn over the negative image which he is likely to have in his head, and to identify with yesterdays’ colonized people, and today’s migrants. It is difficult to imagine a more acrobatic political and intellectual move, more especially as this move is required only from one part : it is the "white" proletarian who must feel guilty for the crimes committed by "his" dominant class and stop being the accomplice of racism, colonialism and "post-colonialism". The "non Whites" and their thirdworldist fellow travellers do not have anything else to do than to enjoy their posture of moral superiority.

Y.C. (Ni patrie ni frontières)