College wasn't all fun and games. I am in the process of digging up some old papers, and posting them for reference in the future!
Paper: Sartre Colonialism and Neocolonialism
April 4, 2006
“At a hundredth of a second we are all the same, all of us at the heart of our human condition.”
The quote inspired by a collection of photographs by Cartier-Bresson is the catalyst for delineating Sartre’s existential political views that shed light on his take on Marxism. Sartre looks at the true nature of people—that we are all the same race of humans. However, society and both extreme sides of ideology, both right and left, have done tremendous things to manipulate how people think about our fellow humans. That, in turn, has brought on a long history of oppression, hatred, animosity or whatever it may be that bring people to exploit, divide and conquer other people and territory—even in capitalistic, free states. It is taught from birth, rhetoric to disagree and work against other people. For me, I can draw a parallel in my lifetime as our generation grew up at the end of the cold war, and thus all people associated with communism were evil, violent and wrong. For Sartre it was the Chinese, a similar scenario. However, expanding my intellect and studying philosophies, history and paying attention to the needs and wants of people it becomes evident that Sartre makes a very relevant and rational point that; “We are all the same, all of us at the heart of our human condition.” Sartre’s philosophy has pertinent arguments that deal with colonization, touching on poverty, social issues, ideology and reform that play an important role in his critique of colonization.
Poverty is one driving cause to the shift of the masses towards communism. On the contrary one can see man that has conquered the world economically, amassing a fortune and only looks out for his own interest—a true capitalist. However, a population of the masses driven to the point where all their land is gone, they have no food, no schools or doctors and overall morale is incredibly low, that leads the masses to believe in collectivization and the need to survive off the means every man can produce. Exploited populations, such as the Muslims in Algeria are quite representative of this, France, used its colonies to enhance its capitalistic tendencies, but did nothing to improve the nation in which it colonized. Sartre argues that poverty is the construct for reform, as is the case for China. We have also seen in Russia, the Bolsheviks were successful because they were able to convince the rural peasants to that they were the best, and most powerful and could suit their needs. In China, the poor scavenge and pillage, but they sustain, and ultimately prevail, keeping China the way it has been for centuries. There is hope in a world full of hopelessness, hope that the communists brought.
This philosophy is represented quite intrinsically when looking at colonization. As Sartre notes, “(Colonization) is a system which was put in place around the middle of the nineteenth century, began to bear fruit in about 1880, and started its decline after the First World War, and is today turning against the colonizing nation (31).” In this case Sartre refers to Algeria and her mother nation France. Colonization came as a product of capitalism—mainly for the allocation of land into the hands of Europeans (some 2,703,000 hectares) for the promotion of it. The system worked because the French could maintain economic superiority and still sell goods back to the Muslims from their stolen land. The French, by dividing up the property in Algeria, forced tribal societies to be broken up, and lines were redrawn in the French’s favor—obtaining a vast population to farm the acquired lands. As Sartre notes, “the logic of the system makes him sacrifice the needs of the native population to those of the French in France (37).” The best example of this is that the stolen land was used to produce wine, and Muslims do not drink wine—thus depriving them of their staple food that was once grown on that land. With that, the endless and vicious cycle of poverty begins.
However, colonization was successful for a long time because the mother nation could impose ideals among the colonized of basic rhetoric such as, “the solitude of liberal individualism” which as Sartre describes as creating the masses but prevents them being conscience by mystifying them with the caricature of their own ideology (41). Give them irrigation, but only to produce what they were producing before in different areas. Give them railroads, but only to move the products swiftly to the ports and then into France, but the simple notion of innovation and construction of a more powerful nation are evident, just not accomplished for the natives.
This will not last though. Sartre argues that reform, in any sense, will ultimately end up in the benefit of the French. So if there cannot be reform, then what? As a Frenchman and an existentialist Sartre sees the morality issues at hand. He sees how colonization has manifested itself into exactly the opposite of what they were fighting for10 years ago against the Nazis. Thus, as an area that has been exploited, one cannot simply abandon it, nor can it hold on because the native people are crying out for help. So where is the help going to come from? “People who talk of abandonment of Algeria are imbeciles. There is no abandoning of what we never owned (47).” And thus the oppressors, the colonizers become the product of their destiny. Their dehumanizing effects have left an imprint on not only the oppressed society, but their own society as well.
It takes a man to see a man, and if that is established, then he should no longer view him with oppressive eyes. However, this is all too common, even in our systems that we label as facets of freedom, happiness and progression, all of those come at the cost of others who feel the exact opposite. “Our leaders go as far as to undermine freedom of expression, to hide the truth,” but what truth is there if everything we are taught to believe is a lie (55)? How can we be ones to judge good and evil if all of it is presented as good, and only when the evils are so persuasive that the masses congregate to justify their oppressors, only then do we see what harm has been caused for the benefit of ourselves? Sartre’s arguments are valid on the basis that we are all human—all of our hearts beat to the same rhythm of life. At no point should one man not treat another man in any other way. However, dehumanizing effects play a crucial role in the exploitation of a people, in this case the colonies including Algeria. France would not let her go because of issues of pride, but the Algerians finally realized that instead of promoting an ideology, France was simply just demolishing a nation. Poverty and oppression ultimately reign supreme, an oppressed mass of people will not sit quietly forever, and hopefully the oppressors can see they have been wrong, and ultimately succumb to their wits and relinquish what was never theirs in the first place.
Photographs by Cartier-Bresson