The Algerian Revolution was one of the most powerful of the post-World War II national liberation struggles. The National Liberation Front (FLN--Front de Libération Nationale) led an armed struggle and mobilizations across the country to end the occupation by French imperialism, which had held the country in colonial bondage since 1830. The French government was finally forced to sign accords in 1962 granting Algeria independence, at the cost of 1 million Algerians killed and a country left ravaged by war. The new FLN government, headed by Ahmed Ben Bella, relied on the mobilizations of peasants and workers to carry through a series of anticapitalist measures.
Despite historic gains, the revolution went into retreat. In the 1965 Young Socialist article Waters explains the course taken by the leadership of the workers and farmers government in Algeria and the reasons for the stagnation of the revolution and the overthrow of Ben Bella that year.
This week we are reprinting additional material published by the world communist movement on the Algerian Revolution. Most is from the pages of World Outlook and its predecessor, The Internationalist. Both publications were edited by Joseph Hansen, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party, and provided extensive weekly coverage on the developments of the revolution and its international impact.
The first item is a 1964 resolution prepared by Hansen titled, "On the Character of the Algerian Government," adopted by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the international organization of communist parties at the time. The Socialist Workers Party in the United States had fraternal ties to the Fourth International since its founding in 1938. The resolution was published in the Feb. 21, 1964, issue of World Outlook and is available in the Education for Socialists bulletin titled For a Workers and Farmers Government in the United States by Jack Barnes.
Copyright ©1974 by Pathfinder Press and reprinted by permission. Footnotes and material in brackets are by the Militant.
Such a government is characterized by the displacement of the bourgeoisie [from] political power, the transfer of armed power from the bourgeoisie to the popular masses, and the initiation of far-reaching measures in property relations. The logical outcome of such a course is the establishment of a workers state; but, without a revolutionary Marxist party, this is not guaranteed. In the early days of the Communist International it was held to be excluded in the absence of a revolutionary Marxist party. Experience has shown, however, that this conclusion must be modified in the colonial world due to the extreme decay of capitalism and the effect of the existence of the Soviet Union and a series of workers states in the world today.
An essentially bourgeois state apparatus was bequeathed to Algeria. A crisis in the leadership of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) came to a head July 1, 1962, ending after a few days in the establishment of a de facto coalition government in which Ferhat Abbas and [Ahmed] Ben Bella represented the two opposing wings of neocolonialism and popular revolution. The struggle between these two tendencies within the coalition ended in the reinforcement of the Ben Bella wing, the promulgation of the decrees of March 1963 and the ouster successively of [Mohammed] Khider, Ferhat Abbas, and other bourgeois leaders although some rightist elements still remain in the government. These changes marked the end of the coalition and the establishment of a Workers and Peasants government.
As is a characteristic of a Workers and Peasants Government of this kind, the Algerian government has not followed a consistent course. Its general direction, however, has been in opposition to imperialism, to the old colonial structure, to neocolonialism and to bureaucratism. It has reacted with firmness to the initiatives of would-be new bourgeois layers, including armed counterrevolution. Its subjective aims have repeatedly been declared to be the construction of socialism. At the same time its consciousness is limited by its lack of Marxist training and background.
The question that remains to be answered is whether this government can establish a workers state. The movement in this direction is evident and bears many resemblances to the Cuban pattern. A profound agrarian reform has already been carried out, marked by virtual nationalization of the most important areas of arable land. Deep inroads have been made into the old ownership relations in the industrial sector with the establishment of a public and state-controlled sector. Yet to be undertaken are the expropriation of the key oil and mineral sector, the banks and insurance companies, establishment of a monopoly of foreign trade, and the inauguration of effective counter measures to the monetary, financial, and commercial activities of foreign imperialism.
Among the most heartening signs in Algeria are (1) in foreign policy the establishment of friendly relations with Cuba, Yugoslavia, China, the Soviet Union, and other workers states with the possibility this opens up for substantial aid from these sources; (2) the active attitude of the government toward developing the colonial revolution in such areas as Angola and South Africa; (3) within Algeria the establishment of the institution of "self-management." "Self management," with its already demonstrated importance for the development of workers and peasants democracy, offers the brightest opening for the establishment of the institutions of a workers state.
As a whole, Algeria, as we have noted many times, has entered a process of permanent revolution of highly transitional character in which all the basic economic, social, and political structures are being shaken up and given new forms. This process is certain to continue. It will be greatly facilitated and strengthened if one of the main problems not on the agenda--the organization of a mass party on a revolutionary Marxist program--is successfully solved.
The appearance of a Workers and Peasants Government in Algeria is concrete evidence of the depth of the revolutionary process occurring there. It is of historic importance not only for Algeria and North Africa but for the whole African continent and the rest of the world.
The new rate was calculated at about ten to fifteen percent of income.
Still lower ceilings will be established for certain categories. These include deductions of ten to twenty percent for homes distant from the center of town; and up to forty and fifty percent for the families of victims of the war and veterans.
It is calculated that rent ceilings on the average will thus be ten to twenty percent lower than under French imperialist rule. The action of the Ben Bella government follows the precedent set by the Castro regime, which slashed rents by fifty percent after coming to power.
Some radicals--even some socialists--who pride themselves on their capacity to sympathize with human suffering, display an attitude that is not much different. They seem to find it inconvenient to organize even a small campaign of aid.
Thus it would appear that Algeria’s war orphans, the tens of thousands of the most pitiful victims of history’s most savage colonial war, have been abandoned by the outside world and are even being disregarded by certain officials in Algeria itself.
These are the facts that came out at a press conference held by three young people [who] head Algeria’s national organization for war orphans, "El Djil el Djadid." In reply to what the press might do about the situation, one of them said: "Our aim in meeting with you today was to raise a cry of alarm. We propose to organize a national and international campaign. We repeat then, we count on the press to take an active part in the defense of these children who form part of the framework of the reconstruction of the country and the building of socialism."
In addition, on the same night, the Algerian authorities took over some huge properties which were not at all "vacated"; particularly the immense Trappe farms held by Henri Borgeaud, who for many years made and unmade the governor generals sent by France to Algeria. The properties nationalized in this way were turned over to management committees elected by the workers.
Just before announcing the decrees, Ben Bella told a group of youth preparing to form a volunteer work brigade: "In the second phase of our revolution, we are going to put into effect extremely important decisions. We are going to deal a mortal blow to speculation in this country. We are going to make those who want to continue in the pattern of the colonial bourgeoisie understand that there is no place for them here. We are going to see to it that there will no longer be a bourgeoisie here that profits from the labor of their brothers but only Algerians, not grubbing after money, but generous in exerting themselves to serve their country."
They meet after some six months of setting up and attempting to operate Management Committees and Workers Councils of a highly democratic character. And they meet in the face of a threat of armed rebellion in the Kabylie and an attack by the reactionary Moroccan monarchy that could escalate into war. What they say and decide in this Congress can settle a good many questions in Algeria.
The first session was impressive even to the hardened cynical reporters of the capitalist press. Here is what the correspondent of the Paris daily Le Monde writes [October 27]:
"Astonishing spectacle: three thousand peasants, the dark hue under the white turban, a face that is the image of their land, weathered, hollowed and molded by erosion, baked by the sun, furrowed with wrinkles. Three thousand real peasants, seated in this room to hear technical reports and statistics...
"It is not sure that they will understand everything, but to see them speaks volumes. They are here, they are called ‘Messieurs les congressistes’ [Gentlemen of the Congress], their opinions are sought. They have in their hands a small red folder with very serious things inside. Here is the genuine revolution. Why be astonished then if every time the name of Ben Bella is mentioned they applaud? After which they formulate such criticisms that an observer who has not been warned would classify them among the most unconditional of the opposition.
"They are not sparing in their criticisms. Badly paid, badly provisioned, without supplies or seeds, they have come to say that they cannot continue like this.
"Those of Tizi Ouzou ask that the land be divided, those of Sétif want guns to shoot jackals, those of Zeralda fire a hot broadside at officials who want to impose on them in a bureaucratic way. The commissioners of the agrarian reform, they say, must come from the people and know the land. In Batna they want the chairmen of the committees to be men of mature age. A delegate from Tébessa brought up the case of his region where the fields are sown with mines. Suggestions rain down. No one is spared.
[The article goes on to quote remarks from several delegates published in the newspaper Le Peuple. At the time, the regime of Moroccan monarch Hassan II had launched a military assault on Algeria, backed by Washington, Paris, and Madrid.]
Salem Djelloul (27), chairman of a Management Committee at Ameur Smaïn: "I’ll tell you first of all, ‘Long live socialism and long live Ben Bella.’ I will add, ‘We’ll break the aggression of Hassan II and all the enemies of Algerian socialism the way we break clods.’
"We regret that it’s only the cities that have doctors and there aren’t any at all in the countryside where we are."
Benzahri Rabah (36): "We are happy over the advent of socialism and we are determined to do everything to realize this aim. We are determined to work with the same intensity we showed in liberating the national territory from the claws of colonialism. We will defeat Hassan II the way we defeated the foreign oppressor."
Ali Rahmani Mohamed (22): "We wish full success to our Congress and we reaffirm our total support to the socialist policy of our Brother Ben Bella. We must, however, indicate the lack of mechanics on our farms. We have to say in addition that we were obliged to call on private transport to deliver our products."
Dagani Saïd (40): "Our Management Committee is doing very well. We hope that this year things will go even better due to the fact that there will be no delay in the delivery of seeds. We must tell you that we lack a pharmacy. We have to make a very long trip to get medicine."
In the world press, Morocco’s armed assault on Algeria occupied the center of attention. On the surface it seemed to be an unequal match and that, no doubt, was why King Hassan II struck. With a well-equipped, well-trained army, backed by the imperialist West, including Franco, the king had evidently long studied the blow he intended to deliver.
Algeria on the other hand faced an armed uprising in the Kabylie, the country is poor, militarily weak, still suffering the terrible ravages of the most bitter colonial war in history. What chance did the ragged, politically divided peasants of Algeria have against the sleek mobile forces of Hassan II?
What the monarch and his imperialist backers did not expect was the form of reply. The Ben Bella government openly appealed for political revolution in Morocco. In Algeria the government threw all its forces into mobilizing the people to defend their revolutionary gains and their socialist goals.
These appeals met with an echo among the Moroccan people and Hassan II began to feel that his throne was not altogether secure. Among the Algerian people, fervor mounted to new heights throughout the nation. The recruiting stations were completely unable to register the long lines of people who queued up.
On the military side, too, Algeria had excellent chances of gaining strength against the monarchal-imperialist combination. Arms were made available by Egypt, the East European countries, and the Soviet Union. Even Cuba was reported to have decided without the least hesitation to share the precious stock accumulated for defense against the constant threat of invasion by the biggest bully on earth.2
1. As French colonialists left Algeria in the final months of the independence war, peasants and workers began to organize "self-management committees" to administer them. With the fields full of crops, peasants organized efforts to bring in the harvest, and soon their committees controlled large sections of land throughout the country. A similar process took place in the factories abandoned by French owners and managers.
The Ben Bella government responded by legalizing and supporting the factory and peasant committees. In 1963 the revolutionary leadership launched a campaign to hold democratic elections to the self-management bodies. Slates of candidates nominated by trade unions or any group of 10 workers or more were registered by an electoral commission and posted three days prior to the elections, which were held by secret ballot. World Outlook reported at the time, "Thanks to this electoral campaign for the democratic reorganization of self-management, many farms and factories now have regularly and democratically constituted bodies of self-management."
2. In response to the 1963 invasion by Moroccan forces, the Cuban government, at Algeria’s request, sent a column of troops under the command of Efigenio Ameijeiras, a veteran of the Cuban revolutionary war, to help stop the attack. In an October 1997 article published in the French publication Le Monde diplomatique under the title, "On the 30th Anniversary of the Death of Che Guevara: Che as I knew him," Ben Bella says the Cuban forces included 22 tanks fitted "with infrared equipment that allowed them to be used at night. They had been delivered to Cuba by the Soviet Union on the express condition that they were not to be made available to third countries, even communist countries such as Bulgaria, in any circumstances. Despite these restrictions by Moscow, the Cubans defied all the taboos and sent their tanks to the assistance of the endangered Algerian revolution without a moment’s hesitation." The full text of Ben Bella’s article can be found in Celebrating the Homecoming of Ernesto Che Guevara’s Reinforcement Brigade to Cuba, distributed by Pathfinder Press.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home