R. Leblond Algeria 1954
Source: La Vérité des Travailleurs, no. 25 November 1954;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org.
Translator’s note: French Trotskyists were among the first supporters of Algeria’s war of liberation. This article, from the newspaper of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), appeared within days of the outbreak of the war on November 1, 1954. Clearly laying out the PCI line, most notably it shows the party’s support for Messali Hadj’s Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiquess (MTLD), which the PCI preferred to the FLN, though it unstintingly supported the latter group in its fight against the French. The author of this article, “Robert Leblond,” was actually the German born French Trotskyist Rodolphe Prager, who would frequently write in support of the Algerians. Prager had been active in underground Trotskyist activity in France during the Occupation and, after the war, in his role on the colonial commission of the PCI, was in contact with Messali Hadj. Prager lived in Israel for two years, from 1950-1952, working on a kibbutz, and lived and worked in Tunisia from 1959-1963. A leader of the PCI upon his return to France, he is most famous for his four volume “Congrès de la Quatrième Internationale.” Prager died in 1996.
Once again the French army is covering itself in glory at the expense of an oppressed people. It attacks gourbis and douars and demonstrates the science of round-ups and searching with a fine tooth comb. The experience of Vietnam, Tunisia and Korea testify to the fact that imperialism, despite its modern weapons and its technical and material superiority, despite its repression and monstrous massacres, is defeated in advance in these kinds of conflicts. However strong your arms, you can’t row with impunity against the course of history, even if you dedicate powerful material means to this. The force of arms can accumulate ruins, terribly increase the number of victims, but it can’t defeat in a lasting way the will of an entire people fighting for a just cause.
The breaking out of the Algerian crisis can only come as a surprise to those who allow themselves to be taken in by the declarations of the official representatives of colonialism. The precursory signs of the storm weren’t lacking over the course of the past few weeks. The mass demonstration that greeted Mitterrand in Algeria was symptomatic of the climate of large strata of the population. The victory of Vietnam, the elastic retreat of imperialism in Tunisia, however provisional and tactical it was, could not but have an effect of the Algerian people, backed into a dramatic situation from which there is no exit.
The discrepancy between the situation in Algeria and that in Morocco and Tunisia over the past year in no way bespeaks a less disastrous state of affairs in that country or a lesser degree of maturity of the militants of the national movement. It is actually the contrary that is true. Algeria was completely colonized before the others, and this to the point of being reduced to a French department. France wanted to completely depersonalize the country and its inhabitants. The Algerian national movement has always been on point. It’s a mass movement par excellence which even has a marked proletarian character.
That open conflict broke out later is primarily the result of the greater stakes of the struggle in Algeria, due both to its position as a strategic pivot and its different juridical status.
Despite what the “anti-capitalist” democrats and the “Franc-Tireur” might say, echoed by the “Populaire,” extremism and violence are the acts of colonialism. Is it the destiny of the Algerian people and its sole right to allow itself to be led to the slaughterhouse? Those gentlemen call for the punishment of the leaders and “no one but the leaders.” They want the repression to be carried out with discernment. For them the realization of the aspirations of the Algerian people is a matter of good sense and patient diplomacy within the unalterable framework of colonialist law. Poor men who want to quiet their “socialist” scruples while preserving the fundamental interests of a capitalist France which, without its colonies and in particular without North Africa would be reduced to the rank of a Belgium.
Is there a single people in the world that freed itself from its chains without resorting to violence to put an end to the violence of its oppressors?
The total emancipation of the Maghreb without any doubt signifies the decline and the debacle of French imperialism. There is no way to hide this. All those who remain preoccupied with the safeguarding of French imperialism will fall along with it, for that imperialism is condemned by history and has no way out. There is no solution to the French situation aside from the socialist solution, and this in a future that is not decades away.
The breaking out of the armed struggle is the price paid for a policy of dishonesty, arbitrary acts, and repression carried out without cease by successive governments in Algeria since the Liberation, including those with socialist or communist participation. They have responded with frivolous remedies for the vast political, social, and economic problems of that country, which have themselves been scorned.
The Algerian problem is simple: a population that grows by 250,000 units annually has no outlet either in the countryside, where the best and largest tracts were stolen from them by colonization, or in the cities, where imperialism puts up obstacles to the construction of industries that would be the sole guarantor of the country’s development. People are born déclassé in this country and they are condemned to remain so all their lives. Whence the immigration impelled by hunger to the metropolis.
The situation is accompanied by permanent racial discrimination, national oppression, and repression.
There is no solution to these problems outside the abolition of the colonialist regime. Saying this is not issuing an extremist or demagogic demand: it is the sole realistic and real demand. Nothing can be settled in Algeria as long as the country remains subject to exploitation by France, as long as it can’t freely dispose of its fate.
The creation of an Algerian maquis is the expression of a political crisis within the national movement, as was the case in Tunisia. This crisis is not a shameful illness, for it only expresses the considerable difficulties of the struggle at a particular conjuncture.
There is no doubt, for example, that the policy of diplomatic negotiations with the French bourgeoisie carried out by the Neo-Destour and the Istiqlal is now bankrupt, in the sense that it was not able to prevent the deterioration of the situation in Tunisia and Morocco.
In the same way the parliamentary experience of the MTLD bore little fruit and its shortcomings in the area of unions reduced the effectiveness of its action. This action should have integrated itself into the international conjuncture and the great liberating currents of our time. So many problems both delicate and difficult to resolve, given their negative experience with the great French working class parties, which stabbed the national movement in the back in 1936 and 1945, and in the last few years barely supported it, if at all.
Given these conditions is there reason to be surprised that there was a crisis within the MTLD? This movement includes a great number of experienced and tried militants. Many are being hunted and have lived underground for years. The example of Vietnam and Tunisia prove that it is possible to confront colonialism and even defeat it. The tactic followed until now has not showed itself to be profitable in their eyes.
The French working class movement, which has not granted the MTLD the support it was due, is in any case in no position to give it any lessons.
The struggle in Algeria will be more difficult than elsewhere. This is because it is a question there of its being the backbone of North Africa, and even of Africa. The French population there is particularly large and capitalist interests particularly important.
M. Mitterrand’s energetic declarations no longer leave any doubt as to the intentions of the government. The so called “intelligent” bourgeois will show that they handle the cudgel as well as the others. Their intelligence doesn’t prevent them from denying the obvious, from proffering stupidities, from decreeing that Algeria is French territory like the Auvergne and the Ile-de-France, and that there is no national question there.
North Africa strives to be one, and its real independence can only be accomplished within the framework of the unity of the Maghreb. Whatever the vicissitudes of a difficult struggle, the combat for the liberation of the Maghreb has entered a new phase since November 1.
The banning of the MTLD, the arrest of hundreds of its members and leaders will change nothing.
The French proletariat cannot passively watch the unfurling of imperialist repression. Its organizations must commit to effective actions for