Thursday, 23 June 2011

The History of Algerian Independence

This introduction to the history of the Algerian struggle for independence is hosted by the Marxists Internet Archive.

French Colonization: For over 300 years Algeria was an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire – after the empire helped overthrow Spanish captivity of Algeria in 1518. The autonomous Algeria was very powerful, with a fleet that ruled all the Mediterranean while European nations payed taxes to cross it – those who refused to recognize Algeria’s claim to the sea would have their ships captured and ransomed off. As capitalism advanced throughout Europe, international trade began to slowly develop in earnest, and property claims over water was a fundamental enemy. In 1815, the United States sent a fleet across the Atlantic to battle Algeria, with mixed results. The following year the English and Dutch sent a second, combined fleet to crush Algerian might – but were unable to beat algerian tactical supremacy. In 1830, the French invaded and successfully suppressed Algeria, capturing the capital port city of Algeirs and by 1834, Algeria was annexed as a colony of France.

Under french domination, Algerians could not hold public meetings nor even leave their homes without permission. French state racism kept Algerians at the bottom of society, working as servants, unskilled labourers and peasants, while only French citizens or other whites were allowed skilled jobs and positions in the social institutions (from the police to the government).

Messali Hadj After the Russian Revolution, the Algerian Communist Ahmed Messali Hadj began underground struggles to build a revolutionary movement to overthrow French Colonialism. By the second world war, Ferhat Abbas, once a well-known Algerian social-democratic reformist, became a Communist and joined with Hadj to build a militant workers party – Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty.

Ouradour-sur-Glane in Algeria, Ohé Partisans! No. 4 August 1945

In 1947, fearful of the growing nationalistic uprisings in the wake of the second world war, the French government established a parliamentary assembly in Algeria, made up of half European and Algerian delegates, with the purpose of upholding French colonial rule. It did not last.
Ferhat Abbas In March of 1954, Ahmed Ben Bella, an ex-sergeant in the French army who was deported to Egypt for his leftist political beliefs, joined eight other Algerian exiles to form what would become the National Liberation Front (FLN). On November 1, 1954, just a few months after it’s creation, the FLN heroically began coordinated attacks on government buildings, military and police posts, and communications installations.

The FLN was waging a guerrilla war, much like their ancestor and hero, Abd al-Qadir, who led a guerilla struggle for 13 years at the outset of French rule in 1834. By 1957, the guerrilla’s made such progress that the French desperately called in 400,000 soldiers to bolster their occupation of the rising nation. Atrocities were committed on both sides: the genocidal French slaughtered entire villages of Algerians, while certain groups within the FLN used terrorism against the white civilian population.

See the Editorial in the first issue of “El Moudjahid”, published by the FLN in 1956,
Why the Communist Voted in Favor of the Government, Jacques Duclos, March 1956
Ali-la-Pointe, hero of the battle of Algiers
and Letter to the Europeans of Algeria, Algerian Communist Party, October 1957.

The French erected electrified fences along the Tunisian and Moroccan borders to restrict the free movement of the FLN; while they began rounding up all Algerians in concentration camps. Outraged by the lack of even more thorough repression in May, 1958, French settlers overthrew their own government, and installed General Charles de Gaulle as the ruler of Algerian France.

Not all French people turned their backs on the Algerians however. There were “pied-noir” (European Algerians) who supported the liberation war, and one of these was Fernand Iveton.

In less than a year however, de Gaulle openly announced his association with the French government, and explained that the only way out was a tactical retreat – giving in to demands for free elections. French settlers unsuccessfully tried again to overthrow General de Gaulle, including terrorist attacks in Paris, while their genocidal war against the FLN and Algerians continued.
See Algeria and the defeat of French Humanism,
The Arab Revolution, Michael Pablo November 1958, Preface, June 1959, and
Alain Krivine on Algeria, 1956-62.
My Discovery of Algeria, by Henri Alleg

In March of 1962, a cease-fire was established: by July a nation-wide referendum was held with the Algerian people voting overwhelmingly for independence, with presidential elections scheduled for September.