Anti-colonialism and anti-racism in Maxime Rodinson's political thought

Selim Nadi


This paper aims at exploring Maxime Rodinson's political thought on Racism and Colonialism. Indeed, Rodinson was probably one of the most rigorous intellectual the French Left has produced during the Second half of the 20th Century concerning the issue of Colonialism and Racism. As a jewish historian and sociologist, Rodinson tried to produce a scientifical framework in order to analyse antisemitism, zionism, the development of capitalism in the “Muslim World” and the economical development of post-independance Arab countries. Rodinson was a teacher of ethiopian and “south-arabic” and spoke approximatively 37 different languages; hence as a historian, he produced a large academic work, based on a profound knowledge of writings of the period he was dealing with. His biography of Mahomet is, even today, probably one of the most serious work done on the Prophet of Islam. However, if Rodinson is widely known as a historian and a sociologist, he also was a lifelong activist. Member of the French Communist Party (PCF), from the end of the 1930s to 1958, he was one of the first French intellectuals to write some serious texts on the Palestinian issue. Rodinson also created, along with Jacques Berque, the GRAPP (Groupe de recherches et d'actions pour la Palestine). After his famous article in "Les Temps Modernes", entitled “Israël, fait colonial?” (1967) he was widely attacked by a lot of pro-Israelian activists or academics, seeing him as a “renegate jew” (even, in some case, as a “self-hating jew”). Nonetheless, this paper also aims at dealing with Rodinson's work on antisemitism and especially his critique of Abraham Léon.
Wether it was in his historical writings on economical development in Muslim countries, in his writtings on antisemitism or zionism, or on colonialism, Rodinson's work was grasped in a critical dialogue with marxism and a scepticism on political activism that I want to discuss in this paper. Being part of the “Historical Materialism” stream “(Re-)Conceptualising Marxist Theories of Racism”, I don't want to draw a static pictures of Rodinson's historical and theoretical work, but rather to put the dialectical linkage of his reflexion on different issues (mainly on colonialism and racism) in light, in order to show the way his writings evolved and wich role they played in the wider intellectual context of post-WWII France.

Maxime Rodinson - Colonialism - Arab World - Antisemitism - Zionism