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Workers’ International News, May 1938


‘Riots’ in Tunis


From Workers’ International News, Vol.1 No.5, May 1938, pp.4-5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Eleven were killed and forty wounded when the police fired on demonstrators in Tunis on April 9th. Once again rapacious French Imperialism has tried to drown in blood the rising revolt of the colonial workers and peasants of North Africa, goaded beyond the limits of human endurance by the unendurable conditions of their existence.

The Arab peasants who have been plundered of all but meagre strips of barren soil have seen their labour disappear through the failure of harvests due to the drought; they have seen the irrigation water which might have saved them diverted to the more fertile lands of the French colonists; driven from the land by famine, they enter the towns and depress the already intolerable conditions of the Arab workers, who toil from twelve to sixteen hours a day to earn a few coppers. Coming on top of famine, the increased burden of taxes which the Government has laid on the colonies to pay for its arms programme has increased the price of the necessities of life. Short time, unemployment, high food prices, these are the conditions that generate the wave of revolt in the North African slaves of French Imperialism. They have summed up their demands for work and irrigation aid in the slogan “Bread and water.” The Popular Front Government and its successors gives them bullets.

The insurrectionary movement of the Arab slaves has lined itself up behind the parties of Arab nationalism. In Tunis, the Neo Destour Party, led by “constitutional” nationalists has remonstrated with imperialism in vain. They called attention to the grave results in the weakening of France’s strategic position in the Mediterranean that would result from the failure to give relief to the population, and they were met with the grim contempt of the authorities and an increase in the burdens laid on them. Their path barred by the uncompromising attitude of French imperialism, the pressure of the exasperated Arab masses has compelled them to adopt a radical policy, and they have called upon the population to refuse to pay taxes.

The reply of the authorities was to arrest the secretary .of the Neo Destour in Souk-el-Arba and other nationalist leaders, under charges of “Criminal propaganda.” The campaign of calumny against the Neo Destour has been intensified and the leaders are again accused of being paid agents of Italian fascism. Last October Moroccan nationalist leaders, El Fassi and others, were arrested on monstrously false charges of plotting with German-Italian fascism against the French Popular Front Government, following the shooting down of strikers and demonstrators at Metlaoui and Meknes. French “democracy” seeks to justify its bloody deeds by linking its victims with fascism.

The arrest of the Neo Destour leaders on false charges was followed by a demonstration in Tunis demanding the release of the prisoners. The authorities insinuated that the demonstration had been organised by agents from the Italian consulate, and was a fascist manoeuvre. When the paper Elamal called for a general strike to force the release of the nationalist leaders, it was confiscated by the police.

The infuriated population came out on a general strike in Tunis and other towns. Martial law was declared. Demonstrators assembled outside the Governor’s palace and demanded a parliament. Ali Delahouane, a Neo Destour leader was arrested, although the demonstration was an orderly one. Systematically the authorities answered each protest with a fresh provocation. The arrest of Delahouane added fuel to the flames and 2,000 demonstrators paraded past the law courts demanding his release.

The authorities chose this moment to administer the blow which they were preparing. A ferocious police attack was launched against the demonstrators, who were fired upon, eleven being killed and forty wounded.

The streets were occupied by troops, armoured cars patrolled the town, civilians were searched for arms. Under the martial law regulations, all meetings were forbidden, the organ of the Neo Destour, L’Action Tunisienne, suspended, and seventy three arrests made for trial before the military tribunals. To the population thus gripped in the vice of military repression, the Resident Governor reiterates yet again his promises to examine “the legitimate complaints of the Tunisian people.”

Just as in the previous massacres of oppressed Arab slaves the “communist” press supported its capitalist partners in the Popular Front in their bloody repressions, so also in this case L’Humanité and Ce Soir, “Communist” Party papers, hasten to justify the crimes of French Imperialism. They repeat the allegations that the Italian secret police is behind the uprisings, they congratulate the Governor for his energetic action in quelling the disturbances, they demand a stern inquiry into the sources whence the “riots” were provoked.

The Popular Front Government in Spain, serving the needs of its imperialist masters, was just as brutal a jailer in the prison of Spanish Morocco as its predecessors. The Moors, who found the chains of Republican Spain no lighter than those of the Monarchy, became the dupes of Franco who used them to kill their fellow slaves in Spain. The Spanish workers paid literally in blood for their support of Popular Front treachery. So also from French North Africa the Arabs will be brought to crush the French workers. The funds allotted to the alleviation of starvation in the French colonies are administered by the colonists, who are predominantly fascist, as a political weapon to strengthen themselves, and Fascism recruits a second army of Moors.

In Britain too, where the Popular Front has entered the realm of discussion, the workers must be conscious that the British Popular Front if it ever comes into being, will continue the murderous work of its Tory predecessor, will add more victims to the list of massacred Indian and colonial slaves and will thereby generate the troops for a British Franco. The experience of the Popular Front in Spain and France must engrave on workers’ consciousness the lesson that only by revolutionary class struggle, only by linking their struggles with those of the colonial oppressed, will the workers be liberated from the slavery and misery of capitalism in decay.

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