Rene’ Crevel

When whole peoples had been decimated with fire and sword it became necessary to round up the survivors and domesticate them in such a cult of labor as could only proceed from the notions of original sin and atonement.

Murderous Humanitarianism

by the Surrealist Group of France [1932]

For centuries the soldiers, priests and civil agents of imperialism, in 
a welter of looting, outrage and wholesale murder, have with impunity 
grown fat off the colored races. Now it is the turn of the demagogues, 
with their counterfeit liberalism.

But the proletariat of today, whether metropolitan or colonial, is no 
longer to be fooled by fine words as to the real end in view, which is 
still, as it always was, the exploitation of the greatest number for the 
benefit of a few slavers. Now these slavers, knowing their days to be 
numbered and reading the doom of their system in the world crisis, fall 
back on a gospel of mercy, whereas in reality they rely more than ever 
on their traditional methods of slaughter to enforce their tyranny. No 
great penetration is required to read between the lines of the news, 
whether in print or on the screen: punitive expeditions, Blacks lynched 
in America, the white scourge devastating town and country in our 
parliamentary kingdoms and bourgeois republics.

War, that reliable colonial endemic, receives fresh impulse in the name 
of "pacification." France may well be proud of having launched this 
Godsent euphemism at the precise moment when, in throes of pacifism, she 
sent forth her tried and trusty thugs with instructions to plunder all 
those distant and defenseless peoples from whom the intercapitalistic 
butchery had distracted her attentions for a space. The most scandalous 
of these wars, that against the Riffians in 1925, stimulated a number of 
intellectuals, investors in militarism, to assert their complicity with 
the hangmen of jingo and capital.

Responding to the appeal of the Communist Party, we protested against 
the war in Morocco and made our declaration in Revolution Now and Forever!

In a France hideously inflated from having dismembered Europe, made 
mincemeat of Africa, polluted Oceania and ravaged whole tracts of Asia, 
we surrealists pronounced ourselves in favor of changing the imperialist 
war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war. Thus we placed 
our energies in the service of the revolution - of the proletariat and 
its struggles - and defined our attitude toward the colonial problem, 
and hence toward the color question.

Gone were the days when the delegates of this sniveling capitalism might 
screen themselves in those abstractions which, in both secular and 
religious mode, were invariably inspired by the Christian ignominy and 
which strove on the most grossly interested grounds to masochize 
whatever people had not yet been contaminated by the sordid moral and 
religious codes in which men feign to find authority for the 
exploitation of their fellows.

When whole peoples had been decimated with fire and sword it became 
necessary to round up the survivors and domesticate them in such a cult 
of labor as could only proceed from the notions of original sin and 
atonement.

The clergy and professional philanthropists have always collaborated 
with the army in this bloody exploitation. The colonial machinery that 
extracts the last penny from natural advantages hammers away with the 
joyful regularity of a pole ax. The white man preaches, doses, 
vaccinates, assassinates and (from himself) receives absolution. With 
his psalms, his speeches, his guarantees of liberty, equality and 
fraternity, he seeks to drown the noise of his machine guns. It is no 
good objecting that these periods of rapine are only a necessary phase 
and pave the way, in the words of the time-honored formula, "for an era 
of prosperity founded on a close and intelligent collaboration between 
the natives and the metropolis!" It is no good trying to palliate 
collective outrage and butchery by jury in the new colonies by inviting 
us to consider the old, and the peace and prosperity they have so long 
enjoyed. It is no good blustering about the Antilles and the "happy 
evolution" that has enabled them to be assimilated, or very nearly, by 
France.

In the Antilles, as in America, the fun began with the total 
extermination of the natives, in spite of their having extended a most 
cordial reception to the Christopher Columbian invaders. Were they now - 
in the hour of triumph, and having come so far - to set out empty-handed 
for home? Never! So they sailed on to Africa and stole men. These were 
in due course promoted by our humanists to the ranks of slavery, but 
were more or less exempted from the sadism of their masters by virtue of 
the fact that they represented a capital which had to be safeguarded 
like any other capital. Their descendants, long since reduced to 
destitution (in the French Antilles they live on vegetables and salt cod 
and are dependent in the matter of clothing on whatever old guano sacks 
they are lucky enough to steal), constitute a Black proletariat whose 
conditions of life are even more wretched than those of its European 
equivalent and which is exploited by a colored bourgeoisie quite as 
ferocious as any other. This bourgeoisie, covered by the machine guns of 
culture, "elects" such perfectly adequate representatives as "Hard 
Labor" Diagne and "Twister" Delmont.

The intellectuals of this new bourgeoisie, though they may not all be 
specialists in parliamentary abuse, are no better than the experts when 
they proclaim their devotion to the Spirit. The value of this idealism 
is precisely given by the maneuvers of its doctrinaires who, in their 
paradise of comfortable iniquity, have organized a system of poltroonery 
proof against all the necessities of life and the urgent consequences of 
dream. These gentlemen, votaries of corpses and theosophies, go to 
ground in the past, vanish down the warrens of Himalayan monasteries. 
Even for those whom a few last shreds of shame and intelligence dissuage 
from invoking those current religions whose God is too frankly a God of 
cash, there is the call of some "mystic Orient" or other. Our gallant 
sailors, policemen and agents of imperialist thought, in league with 
opium and literature, have swamped us with their irretentions of 
nostalgia; the function of all these idyllic alarms among the dead and 
gone being to distract our thoughts from the present, the abominations 
of the present.

A holy-saint-faced international of hypocrites deprecates the material 
progress foisted on the Blacks; protests, courteously, against the 
importation not only of alcohol, syphilis and field artillery but also 
of railways and printing. This comes well after the former rejoicings of 
its evangelical spirit at the idea that the "spiritual values" current 
in capitalist societies, and notably respect for human life and 
property, would devolve naturally from enforced familiarity with 
fermented drinks, firearms and disease. It is scarcely necessary to add 
that the colonist demands this respect for property without reciprocity. 
Those Blacks who have merely been compelled to distort in terms of 
fashionable jazz the natural expression of their joy at finding 
themselves partners of a universe from which Western peoples have 
willfully withdrawn may consider themselves lucky to have suffered 
nothing worse than degradation. The eighteenth century derived nothing 
from China except a repertoire of frivolities to grace the alcove. In 
the same way the whole object of our romantic exoticism and modern 
travel lust is of use only in entertaining that class of blasé clients 
sly enough to see an interest in deflecting to his own advantage the 
torrent of those energies which soon, sooner than he thinks, will close 
over his head.


ANDRÉ BRETON, ROGER CAILLOIS, RENÉ CHAR, RENÉ CREVEL, PAUL ELUARD, J.-M. 
MONNEROT, BENJAMIN PÉRET, YVES TANGUY, ANDRÉ THIRION, PIERRE UNIK, 
PIERRE YOYOTTE

This declaration, written in 1932, first appeared in Nancy Cunard's 
Negro anthology (1934),

translated by Samuel Beckett.

Négritude is a literary and ideological philosophy, developed by francophone African intellectuals, writers, and politicians in France during the 1930s. Its initiators included Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor (a future President of Senegal), and Léon Damas of French Guiana. Négritude intellectuals disapproved of French colonialism and claimed that the best strategy to oppose it was to encourage a common racial identity for black Africans worldwide. They included the Marxist ideas they favored as part of this philosophy. The writers generally used a realist literary style, and some say were also influenced somewhat by the Surrealism style, and in 1932 the manifesto “Murderous Humanitarianism” was signed by prominent Surrealists including the Martiniquans Pierre Yoyotte and J. M. Monnerot.

The term négritude was meant to be provocative. It takes its roots from the Latin niger, which was used exclusively in a racist context within France. It would be used to refer to black people as art nègre. Negritude sought to appropriate the word. The term was first used in its present sense by Césaire, in the third issue of L’Étudiant noir, a magazine which he had started in Paris with fellow students Léopold Senghor and Léon Damas, as well as Gilbert Gratiant, Leonard Sainville, Louis T. Achille, Aristide Maugée, and Paulette Nardal. L’Étudiant noir also includes Césaire’s first published work, Conscience Raciale et Révolution Sociale with the heading “Les Idées” and the rubric “Négreries”, which is notable for its disavowal of assimilation as a valid strategy for resistance and for its use of the word nègre as a positive term. The problem with assimilation was that one assimilated into a culture that considered African culture to be barbaric and unworthy of being seen as “civilized”. The assimilation into this culture would have been seen as an implicit acceptance of this view. Nègre previously had been used mainly in a pejorative sense. Césaire deliberately incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his philosophy.

Source: Murderous Humanitarianism

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