A political publication talking about historical and contemporary political publications! Léopold Lambert introduces the ideas behind this issue’s topic: where the “noble” history of political struggles meet the much more mundane sum of questions engaged in the politics of production of publications.
Welcome to the 22nd issue of The Funambulist. Publishing the Struggle is the second opus of a 2019 six-issue series that consists in the analysis and promotion of several dimensions of political struggles. The first issue of the series (#21 January-February 2019) was dedicated to the way historical and contemporary political movements have made space an asset in their struggle against colonialism, racism, and capitalism. This second issue is more introspective for us, since it examines several examples of publications, like ours, that explicitly attempts to serve a given political struggle. The idea of this issue’s topic came from a (second) visit to the exhibition “Blackboard” at Paris’ Jeu de Paume museum, which consisted in a retrospective of French Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili’s work (see her interview in The Funambulist 18 Cartography & Power). The politics of solidarity that her films convey in 1960s Algiers, 1970s Oakland, and 2010s Athens, as well as the publishing production that accompany them triggered the idea that we should dedicate a full issue to it.
On March 31, 1955, the French Parliament voted for the first of many legislation that would compose the legal dimension of the counter-revolution against the anti-colonial Algerian Revolution initiated five months earlier. A few days later, the French state of emergency was born, and immediately applied in Aures and Kabylie (northeastern regions of Algeria). Amidst the legalization of the curfews, forbidden zones, arbitrary searches and arrests that had characterized the daily reality of Algeria for previous months (and the 125 years before that), Article 11 of the state of emergency allowed the French authorities to control the press, publications, and the radio during the time of its application. The French communist newspaper L’Humanité was one of the publications most targeted by this measure during the seven and a half years of the Algerian Revolution, at times featuring a full blank page in lieu of articles denouncing the use of torture or war crimes by the French army and police. As Todd Shepard writes in this present issue, French publishing houses were also subjected to this censorship. The publishers who braved such suppressive policies in solidarity with the anti-colonial struggle are, of course, an inspiration for anyone involved in political publishing.
Yet, in order to be censored, one has to be established within the colonial empire’s structures. The publications of revolutionary movements, on the other hand, have to operate in clandestinity; their staff don’t ‘simply’ risk to be censored and tried in courts, but also to be potentially arrested, tortured, and detained in camps. The Algerian Revolution started with a series of attacks and sabotages in a multitude of sites on the night of November 1, 1954; but these actions were complemented with the massive distribution of a declaration that aimed to initiate a revolutionary movement towards the total independence of Algeria. The declaration, typed by L’Algérie Libre editor-in-chief Mohamed El Aichaoui in a small tailor shop of Algiers’ Casbah a few days earlier, was clandestinely copied and spread all over the country for all to learn of the existence and actions undertaken by the newly created National Liberation Front (FLN). A year and half later, the FLN will have its own newspaper, El Moudjahid (The Resistant), edited in newly-independent Tunisia and distributed clandestinely in Algeria. Its contributors are anonymous but, among them, a Martiniquan psychiatrist would later become the most important anti-colonial writer of his time and beyond: Frantz Fanon.
Unsurprisingly, Fanon’s words run throughout this issue, independently and without any coordination between the contributors. His last book, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), was first published by one of these supportive French publishers, Francois Maspero, in 1961, during the third occurrence of the state of emergency (see Todd Shepard); it then strongly influenced the Black Panthers (see Jane Rhodes), the indigenous movements of the Pacific (see Angélique Stastny), and more recently some of the young publishing projects we’re featuring throughout this issue (see Pensaré). Rare are those who, like him, have succeeded in making words such redoutable weapons — perhaps because instead of trying to raise awareness among the empire’s liberals, Fanon talks to those who need no convincing, and who rather necessitate the tools to describe the violence deployed against them, as well as the impetus experienced when the struggle is presented as an inexorable force.
But words and content are not the only important components when it comes to publishing the struggle: the ethics and politics of production of such publications also constitute a fundamental dimension of what they attempt to achieve. For better or for worse, these considerations may be neglected when scrutinized through the historical lens we present in the five main articles of this issue. However, they are tangibly present in the five presentations of current publishing endeavors in France (métagraphes), South Africa (Pathways), Lebanon (Kohl), Spain-Mexico (Pensaré), and Egypt (Mada Masr) for whom the political standards of production have to meet those set by the contents they publish. Questions of who gets to speak? about what, and where? how? from where and in which language? with what retribution? in what way to speak to them? do readers find the contents accessible? what is the influence of their feedback? join those, more technical, that are inherent to (in this case, print) publishing: who is printing? which kind of paper and ink? what are the networks of distribution? is it free, and if not what is the price? does it change depending on the context or the social status of readers? how to recycle damaged copies? which neighborhood should the office be based? not to forget the fundamental questions related to the relationships between the members of the editorial team: is there any hierarchy or is it full horizontality? does gender, race, class, ability or age affect in any way these relations? how much are each member paid? do all feel comfortable in the workplace? who is part of the decision process? who speaks for the publication in public? who makes coffee and tea? This non-exhaustive list of questions constitutes their daily bread, as well as ours, and similarly to all political organizing; none of our answers could possibly reach perfection, sometimes we are very far from it but what we do is try and learn to “fail better.” With this in mind, I wish you an excellent read. ■