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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Marvin Garson

Poor Trotsky

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Ou Va l’Algeria?
Mohammed Boudiaf
Librairie de l’Etoile, Paris.

Mohammed Boudiaf, one of the ‘old Bolsheviks’ of the Algerian revolution, was arrested by his former comrades in June 1963. Whisked away to the Sahara, held incommunicado for five months with no charges placed against’ him, he was finally released last November with no more explanations than at the time of his arrest. This book, published just two months later, is partly a prison diary and partly Boudiaf’s political manifesto.

The title of the book, the circumstances in which it was written, the author’s political history and personal reputation, all lead the reader to expect a sharp political analysis of the sort Trotsky made for France, Germany, Spain and Russia in the 1930’s. But it is very poor Trotsky indeed.

The first half of the book, the prison diary, is surprisingly self-pitying in tone: surprisingly, because Boudiaf is no stranger to prisons. It is little more than a plea for habeas corpus and the Rights of Man, never beginning to answer the question, ‘Why was Boudiaf arrested?’

The second part is supposed to be an analysis and a programme. Instead there are only bits and pieces of each, seemingly chosen at random without any logical necessity. The lack of documentation is shameful; so many dubious points stand naked without a shred of evidence to protect them from the jeers of Ben Bella’s apologists.

The history and description of autogestion is remarkably sketchy for someone who claims to be a ‘scientific socialist.’ After a single page of discussion, Boudiaf concludes that ‘the birth of the agricultural sector in autogestion is the result of a profound people’s movement which the government has only sought to canalise.’ (p.165) He develops this thought for another two pages, then drops the ‘profound people’s movement’ forever in order to return to the juicier topic of The Dictatorship and The Caste on Which It Rests.

The impression that Boudiaf is just carping rather than seriously criticising the regime is reinforced by the failure to specify the kind of economic and political system he is proposing. He is a socialist, of course, and a democratic, anti-bureaucratic one to boot. But so is everybody nowadays. He opposes Ben Bella’s single-party system and state-bureaucratic economy. But apparently not on principle. It seems that a party can legitimately claim a political monopoly ‘in the measure that it is an instrument at the service of the broad masses, capable of involving them in a revolutionary enterprise aiming at the profound transformation of society.’ (p.200) As it stands – as Boudiaf lets it stand – this is a dangerously vague formula that has been used to justify every single party, from Castro’s to Nkrumah’s.

In his discussion of the trade unions, it becomes clear that he has no idea of worker’s management in industry or agriculture. The unions are supposed to ‘speak in the name of the workers in the organs of economic decision ...’ (p.203). Very well, but what are these organs? A mystery; for Boudiaf doesn’t find it necessary to talk about them. Why was Boudiaf put in gaol? The answer would help to explain a preat deal of what is happening in Algeria. But so far neither the gaolers nor their prisoner have given us that answer.

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Last updated on 9 April 2010