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International Socialism, Autumn 1963


Notes of the Quarter

2. Algerian Shades


From International Socialism, No.14, Autumn 1963.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Algerian experiment in socialism is an extremely important one, particularly ... workers control in the socialised sector of both industry and agriculture. (Michael Randle in Peace News, 5 July).

Ben Bella ... leads a new nation which ... bids fair to break new ground in applying socialist theory at the grass roots (Russell Kerr, Tribune, 12 July).

I think the National Front ... will turn to the activists of the Army ... and to the workers’ self-management committees, and in so doing gain strength to push the revolution in a socialist direction (Ken Coates, letter in Tribune, 19 July).

Another generation of ghosts is forming within the British left today, and no doubt elsewhere as well. Likes its predecessors – the Sinophiles, the Yugophiles, the Cubaphiles and the general-Colonial-Revolution-philes – it has its strip of holy soil – Algeria; its canon – workers’ control; and its shrine – La Trappe, a large farm a few miles out of Algiers. Like the others it is a joint product of gloom at the political outlook at home and of the illusions of victory abroad. Unlike them, it is a populous generation containing pacifists, Tribunites, Trotskyists and New Lefters.

Not all readers might have seen the decree Dealing with the Organisation and Management of Industrial, Mining and Artisan Enterprises, as well as Vacated Agricultural Undertakings published at the end of March this year. It is a model of how to debar workers from exercising any power over the enterprises they are supposed to be managing.

All production units are to be governed by a General Assembly of Workers, a Workers’ council, a management Committee and a Director unless the President of the Council decrees them to be ‘undertakings of national importance’, in which case they might be managed ‘by public or semi-public bodies, or by national companies’ (Article 1). The General Assembly of Workers is formed of permanent workers only (Articles 2 & 3) whose number and membership- are determined by the Director (Article 5); seasonal workers, who constitute the overwhelming majority in Algeria, are specifically excluded (Article 4). Members of the Workers’ Council are elected for three years at a stretch by and from the General Assembly (Articles 9 & 12); and elect, also for three years, the members of the management Committee (Article 15).

The most interesting aspects of the Decree concern the Director. He ‘represents the State inside the enterprise’, ‘opposes plans of development which do not conform to the national Plan’, opposes the diminution of the initial value of the means of production’ (as, for instance, when wage rises are sought to be made out of depreciation funds), signs all ... cheques’; holds ready cash, etc (Article 20). He is a member of the Management Committee (Article 21) and can be appointed and dismissed only by the ‘supervising body’ outside the enterprise. Dismissal is not easy: ‘He can be relieved of his functions as director or a grave fault or obvious incompetence or if the Council of Communal Enterprise and Self-Management retire him with his consent’ (Article 22. Emphasis added).

Imposition from above is the hall-mark of the Decree. ‘Any person who knowingly blocks the functioning of a management Committee, will be liable to a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine ...’ (Article 28); each level of ‘self-management’ has the duty of ensuring fulfilment of the State Plan (Articles 9, 14, 16); all are ultimately subordinate to the ‘supervising body’ working through the Director; none have the right to influence the Plan or affect this ‘supervising body’ in any way. Under any circumstances, this form of collectivism-from-above must be abhorrent to socialists; under circumstances in which the FLN is the only legal party, in which the unions have been absorbed into the State, in which critics are arrested without trial ... It is recognisable as a conspiracy against Algeria’s workers as pernicious as the French conspiracy before it. Surely there are enough shades of substitute victories amongst the left for us to be spared this one.

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