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Ian H. Birchall

The Right Divided

(March 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.56, March 1973, p.26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Right Divided
Wolves in the City: The Death of French Algeria

Paul Henissart
Hart-Davis, £2.95; Paladin (paper back), 60p.

In 1962, after over seven years of cruel war, the French withdrew from Algeria. But in the last year De Gaulle’s government faced a grim challenge from the OAS (Secret Army Organisation), which strove through terrorism to prevent Algerian independence. The OAS had massive support from European settlers in Algeria and wide backing in France; it enjoyed at least the passive approval of high-ranking figures in the Army, Government and legal system. And yet it failed.

In some ways the obstacles confronting the extreme Right are the mirror-image of those that face the Left. (Certainly the OAS felt they could learn from the Left; Susini, their main theoretician, was a student of Lenin, and the terrorist organiser Degueldre dreamed of imitating the Budapest rising of 1956).

For example, the OAS was torn by sectarian divisions; it attracted all who opposed De Gaulle from the Right monarchists and tax-reformers, traditional conservatives and fascist activists. As a result, it never clarified its strategy, whether it wanted a physical confrontation with the state or whether terrorism was merely a means to put pressure on the government.

The OAS sent carefully worded moderate letters to French political leaders; fished for money from the Algerian wine industry (but got only a few hundred pounds out of the millions the industry made in profits); and hoped against hope that De Gaulle’s prime minister Debre was really on their side. The OAS even made advances to the French Socialist Party (and got some tentative encouragement – from some of the self-same politicians now participating in the left-wing electoral alliance). Yet at the same time the OAS pursued a campaign of almost indiscriminate terror against Algerians and anyone who opposed them; a campaign that certainly was out of the control of the OAS leaders, and which rapidly alienated the support even of members of the French army who had originally been sympathetic.

Salan, the OAS leader, a drug-addict and increasingly out-of-touch with those he claimed to represent, deliberately refused to clarify his programme so as not to split his potential supporters. Even the basic aim – whether to keep Algeria French or to create a European-controlled coastal zone by partitions, was never properly defined.

Henissart’s book tells the story of the last fateful year of French Algeria. He seems to be not always sure whether he is writing a work of history or a thriller (though to be fair the ambiguity lies in the subject matter). But his book is a readable account which can be recommended to those who want to explore the intricacies of French politics. Possibly, too, it may cast some light on the situation in Northern Ireland.

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Last updated: 29.6.2008