Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969
At the end of the 18th century, Algeria, which formally continued to be one of the domains of the Ottoman Empire, was suffering a sharp decline. Economic development was on an extremely low level. The population was engaged chiefly in nomadic cattle-breeding. Only the inhabitants of the valleys and the oases did any sort of farming. They sowed wheat, barley, cultivated olive trees and date palms. A few towns were famed for their artistic crafts and for their trade.
The native Algerian population consisted of Arabs and Berbers. Nearly the whole population, with the exception perhaps of the urban dwellers and a number of settled regions, was organised in clans and tribes. The most wide-spread form of landownership was communal ownership of the land. In the nomad regions the land belonged to the clans and in the settled regions, to the village communes. In some places collective tillage of the land and the gathering of the harvest still prevailed as well as joint consumption within the framework of the large families into which the clans were divided.
The feudal system in Algeria seriously hindered her social progress. Apart from the communal land in Algeria, there was the state and the khabus (waqf) land as well as the estates. These last were the personal property of the feudal lords, who exploited the enslaved khammases and robbed and ruined the nomads and the free farmers. The janissary leaders, who ruled Algeria, stirred up hatred between various tribes. It was by taking advantage of the internecine strife between the clans and the tribes and the feudal lords that the janissaries retained their domination over Algeria. They endowed a few tribes with special privileges. These tribes, which were known as Makhzen, helped the Turks collect taxes and offered military service, for which they were exempted from taxation. Many sheikhs and tribal chiefs exercised absolute power by right of inheritance.
The yoke of the Turks and the local feudal lords called forth popular, chiefly Bedouin, movements, which inevitably acquired a religious taint. The movements were headed by religious brotherhoods, which were closely linked with the tribal mass. Quite often their leaders, the marabouts, who headed the popular uprisings, later became feudal despots themselves. The religious brotherhoods carried on a tireless struggle against the Turks and exercised great influence over the people. The most important of these brotherhoods were the Kadiria and Rahmania.
As the weakest link in North Africa, Algeria became the first victim of French expansion in Maghreb. At the same time this was the first colonial conquest in the Arab countries to take place in the pre-monopolistic stage of capitalist development.
French plans for the conquest of Algeria had matured long before the famous “blow of the fly-whisk.” Napoleon I had once regarded Algeria as an indispensable foreign market for the industrial development of France. In his talks with Alexander I in Tilzit (1807) and Erfurt (1808), whenever the question of the partition of the Ottoman Empire arose, Napoleon I never failed to include Algeria in his future domains. To prepare for the conquest of the country in 1808, he sent the military engineer, Major Buten, to Algeria and Tunisia to make a topographical survey and work out a plan for the expedition. Although the defeats in Spain and Russia prevented Napoleon I from putting his plans into practice, Buten’s material was to come in handy during the preparations for the expedition of 1830.
Charles X recalled Napoleon’s plans in the last days of the collapsing Bourbon monarchy. The greed for new markets was the primary reason for the conquest of the Algerian regency, as the country was called in the official documents of the time. Of no little importance was the desire of the French landowners, who had lost their lands during the Great Revolution, to acquire new estates. By conquering Algeria, the Bourbons hoped to strengthen their own tottering throne. Charles X and his Prime Minister, Polignac, calculated that the military adventure would stir up a wave of nationalist feelings and delay the revolution. Tsarist Russia supported the aggressive plans of the Bourbon monarchy. Although England objected, she offered no resolute opposition.
As a propaganda pretext for the Algerian adventure, France raised the question of “piracy and the sufferings of prisoners in Algeria” as well as the financial account of the dey government. It must be noted, however, that as far back as the 18th century and especially after the punitive expeditions of the European squadrons and the United States at the beginning of the 19th century, Maghreb piracy had fallen into decay and had long since ceased to serve as a profitable business for the ruling clique of. Algeria. The Algerians’ opposition to the decisions of the Aix-la-Chapelle congress, however, made it possible for France to brand the dey government as the protector of the pirates.
The question of financial accounts was equally fictitious. During the revolution the dey had sent supplies. of wheat, salt-beef and hides to France, which was under a blockade at the time. He also supplied Bonaparte’s army with provisions during the Italian and Egyptian campaigns. The majority of the deliveries were made on a credit basis and the dey received nothing in return. The agreement on the repayment of debts and settlement of mutual claims concluded later through the mediation of the Algerian Jewish merchants, Bakri and Busnach, did not satisfy the dey. He felt that the French had deceived him, and cheated the Algerian treasury of several million francs. The dispute over the debts lasted for several years and irritated the dey and his men. Moreover, a conflict arose over the stronghold at La Calle, which the French had begun to fortify in spite of the formal prohibition of. the dey.
The differences were considerably aggravated by the French consul in Algeria, Pierre Deval. According to a French historian, in Algeria he was regarded as a person of questionable reputation, a rascal and unprincipled intriguer. He played a dirty and provocative role in the money conflict. Deval plotted, lied and exorted bribes from the dey. One hot morning on April 29, 1827, during one of their countless squabbles, Deval gravely insulted the dey, who in his indignation struck Deval with his fly-whisk.
This provided France with the long-awaited excuse. She immediately severed all relations with Algeria and blockaded the Algerian coast. At first she decided to act through the Egyptians. In 1829, Mohammed Ali, the governor of Egypt and one of France’s chief allies in the East, had almost agreed to attack Algeria, but then refused to bargain with France because of the insignificant reward that was offered.
In such circumstances the Polignac government and Charles X decided to operate independently. On June 14, 1830, the 37,000-strong French army under General de Bourmont landed at Sidi-Ferruch (23 kilometres west of Algiers). Opposition was strong, but fruitless. In the fight for Algiers, the French lost 400 men and the Turks lost 10,000. On July 4, 1830, Fort de l’Empereur fell. In the evening, the dey signed an unconditional surrender and on the following day, July 5, the French entered Algiers. On July 23, 1830, the dey was deported, the janissaries left for Turkey, the enemy plundered the Algerian treasury (about 48,000,000 francs) and also seized the homes, land and property of many Algerians.
Two weeks later, a revolution took place in Paris and Charles X’s shaky throne collapsed. General de Bourmont tried to send his troops to save the Bourbons, but met with the resistance of the soldiers. Having abandoned the army, he fled to Portugal.
The July monarchy of Louis Philippe de Orleans accepted the Algerian heritage of the Bourbons and after some hesitation decided to continue fighting in the name of the self-interest of the new rulers of France-knights of the money bag and easy profit. ln 1834, in conformity with the recommendations of the “Commission on Africa,” Louis Philippe formally proclaimed Algeria’s annexation and organised the civil administration of the “French possessions in North Africa” under a governor-general. By that time France had occupied only the coastal towns of Algiers, Oran, Mostaganem, Arzeu and Bougie as well as the Algerian Sahel and Metija. The rest of the country would not surrender to the French authorities.
Having seized Algiers, de Bourmont arrogantly announced in his report: “The whole kingdom will surrender to us within fifteen days without firing a single shot.” But he was mistaken. The French subdued Algeria only after forty years of bloody fighting against her people.
No sooner had the news of the capital’s fall spread throughout the country than the tribes rose in arms against the enemy. The Algerians used scorched earth tactics and the French troops, who were dependent on their own supply lines, often found themselves in difficulties. The extortion and plundering by the French army further roused the population who united to repel the aggressor. In the western part of Algeria, the movement was headed by the national hero, Abd el-Kader, and in the eastern, by Ahmed, the district bey of Constantine.
Abd el-Kader was born in 1808 in the marabout family of Muhi ed-Din. His father headed the religious brotherhood of Kaderiya in West Algeria and for many years he fought against the Turkish conquerors and then against the French occupation forces. Abd el-Kader had received his religious education before the French invasion and had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, visited Baghdad and then travelled to Egypt where he was impressed by the reforms of Mohammed Ali.
Abd el-Kader was no ordinary marabout. He was above all a courageous soldier, a skilled horseman, a good marksman and a talented general. He was an eloquent orator, an outstanding writer and poet and a brilliant organiser.
In 1832, the tribes who were fighting against the occupation forces elected Abd el-Kader as their leader. He was confronted with the difficult task of combating feudal and tribal disunity, subduing the endless strife and uniting the whole population in the one common desire to defend the independence of their country. Because of his closeness to the people and because he symbolised their hopes, Abd el-Kader went a long way towards achieving this end.
Once he took over the command of the West Algerian tribes, Abd el-Kader inflicted merciless blows on the French troops, using the classical tactics of guerrilla warfare. Having suffered a number of defeats and some bad luck, the French finally agreed to negotiations and in February 1834, he concluded with them the Desmichel Treaty. Abd el-Kader willingly agreed to the French proposal since he felt an urgent need for a peaceful respite to reorganise his troops and gain strength for a renewal of the war against the invaders. Moreover, the treaty acknowledged all western Algeria, with the exception of three coastal towns, as the territory of the new sovereign Arab state under Abd el-Kader, who adopted the title of “sovereign of the believers” (emir el-mu’meneen).
Having become the ruler of a large state, Abd el-Kader continued to lead a humble way of life. He ate simple food, drank only water, wore no ornaments and, true to the nomadic customs, preferred to live in a tent. His only property consisted of a small flock of sheep and a plot of land, which was ploughed by a pair of oxen. His only wealth was a wonderful library. He did not use a single penny for his personal needs from the revenues, which were paid into his treasury by the Algerian tribes.
His chief concern was for the army-his main weapon in the struggle against the enemy. Apart from the irregular tribal levies, numbering approximately 70,000 men, Abd el-Kader formed a regular army consisting of 10,000 men. The aga el-askari was entrusted with the command of the regular army, which was divided into thousands (battalions), hundreds (companies) and platoons with an aga, sail or reis es-saf respectively at their head. The artillery of Abd el-Kader numbered 36 pieces (true, only twelve of them were fit for use). Abd el-Kader invited instructors from Morocco and Tunisia to train and organise regular army units. There were also several European instructors, especially French. Abd el-Kader received considerable help from Morocco in equipping his troops. Close ties existed between him and the Moroccan Sultan, who supplied him with weapons and money. Abd el-Kader built barracks and fortresses, a foundry, two powder-mills and a weaving manufactory.
Abd el-Kader used the old, traditional methods as well as new, extreme methods to gain money for the upkeep of his army and for military construction. He collected ushr, zakat for each head of cattle and extraordinary taxes from his dependencies. Apart from this, he used the subsidies of the Moroccan Sultan and incomes from the state lands and monopolies. He also replenished his treasury with the spoils seized during raids on hostile tribes who had refused to join his movement or had defected to the French.
Abd el-Kader found support among the Moslem clergy and Bedouins, who comprised the main bulk of his troops. The social structure may be characterised as early feudal. Strong survivals of the primitive-communal system existed within the feudal mode of production. Without changing the basis of feudal production, Abd el-Kader, nevertheless, realised the necessity of reducing feudal oppression and carried out a number of reforms curtailing feudal tyranny. He also carried out an administrative reform, dividing Algeria into nine regions with caliphs-vicegerents, subordinate to the central power at their head. He abolished the selling of posts, struggled against the embezzlement of public property and tried to defend the nomads and peasants from the tyranny of the feudal lords and tribal chiefs.
Abd el-Kader was unable to eliminate feudal relations in Algeria, nor did he set himself the. task of doing so. But he curtailed the absolute rule of the feudal lords and thus aroused their hate. “The time of the shepherds and the marabouts has come,” they would say angrily. The feudal leaders of eastern Algeria refused to obey him. Under their bey, Ahmed, they fought the French independently of Abd el-Kader. Nor would the Kabylia feudal lords and sheikhs of the Sahara oases obey him. He usually assigned marabouts as his deputies and only in rare cases did he give the post to the feudal leaders. But even the feudal lords who collaborated with Abd el-Kader were ready to give him up to the French. Their interests, their ambitions and self-interest came before the interests of their country. The acts of treason and the mutinies of the feudal lords weakened the state founded by Abd el-Kader more than the doubtful successes of the French generals.
In 1835, the French generals, having treacherously violated their agreements with Abd el-Kader, invaded his territory. The peaceful respite had ended. After two years of fierce, yet fruitless fighting, France consented to a new agreement with Abd el-Kader. It was signed on May 30, 1837, in Tafna. This time the French were compelled to acknowledge Abd el-Kader’s power not only in western, but also in central Algeria. They agreed to this so as to be able to concentrate all their efforts on the campaign against Constantine, where the second breeding ground of anti-French opposition was located.
In the winter of 1836, the French had attempted to seize Constantine, but had been rebuffed by the Arabs and had retreated with the loss of 1,000 men. Now, a year later, having concluded peace with Abd el-Kader and having received an assurance of his neutrality, the French attacked Constantine with powerful forces. In October 1837, they finally succeeded in capturing the city, which was situated on high cliffs and had seemed inaccessible. The population offered fierce resistance. A battle was waged in the narrow streets for each corner and each roof. In the end Ahmed Bey was forced to retreat deep into the country, to the remote mountains, where resistance continued for some time.
The seizure of Constantine and the eastern part of Algeria was followed by savage colonial plundering. The French took over the land and property of the vanquished, and this resulted in a fresh outbreak of disturbances. The tribes of eastern Algeria began a guerrilla war against the enemy. They acknowledged Abd el-Kader’s leadership and requested him to send his deputies to Constantine. On this basis, the French accused Abd el-Kader of violating the Peace Treaty of 1839 and unleashed a new war against him. In his turn, Abd el-Kader declared a holy war on France, which lasted several years.
By 1839, France had concentrated 70,000 men in Algeria and was still sending in reinforcements. The French soldiers died by the thousands of disease, of the unbearable heat, marsh gas and hunger, and fell in battle. But the French army continued to grow. In 1837, it had 42,000 men whereas by 1844, the number had reached 90,000. It was twice the size of Abd el-Kader’s army and was equipped with weapons that the Arabs could not even dream of. Abd el-Kader could oppose this force only with the moral superiority of his men and their skilful guerrilla tactics. “When your army attacks, we shall retreat,” he wrote to a French marshal. “Then it will be forced to retreat and we shall return. We shall fight when we feel it is necessary. You know we are not cowards. But we are not so foolish as to expose ourselves to defeat by your army. We shall exhaust your army, torment and destroy it piece by piece and the climate will finish it off.” By employing these tactics, Abd el-Kader was able to keep up a steady resistance for a number of years.
One of France’s top generals, Marshal Bugeaud, was made commander-in-chief of the occupation army. He bribed the Algerian feudal lords, who became the vassals of France and were appointed deputies in the most backward regions of Algeria. In the battles against Abd el-Kader, Bugeaud adopted new mobile column tactics. He singled out nine to twelve columns, which moved simultaneously along the western routes, each combing its own sector, and seizing fortresses and towns where Abd el-Kader’s bases and magazines were located. This ‘was more like bilateral guerrilla warfare than regular military actions. The battles and raiding dragged on for several years. The French resorted to the most barbarian methods to terrorise the Algerian population and exterminated entire tribes which had sided with Abd el-Kader. According to the testimony of participants in the campaign, the French cut off the prisoners’ ears and took away the Arabs’ wives, children and flocks. They exchanged women prisoners for horses and auctioned them off like pack animals. “It cost them nothing to behead a prisoner in public, so as to command the Arabs’ respect for their authority,” wrote a contemporary.
The barbarous war, inter-tribal strife and the acts of treason by many feudal lords culminated in Abd el-Kader’s expulsion from Algeria and the subjugation of his territory by the French after a four-year struggle. Abd el-Kader did not give up. In 1844, together with a group of faithful followers he took refuge in Morocco, which had been helping him all these years, and began preparing for new battles.
Bugeaud made a demand in the form of an ultimatum that the Moroccan Sultan, Mulai Abd er-Rahman, should give up Abd el-Kader. When he was refused, he invaded Morocco. While the French squadron under Prince de Joinville was bombarding Tangier (August 6) and Mogador (August 15), Bugeaud crushed the Moroccan Sultan’s semi-feudal army in a large-scale battle at the River Isly (August 14, 1844). Only the threat of British intervention restrained the French and saved Mulai Abd er-Rahman. The French had to withdraw from Morocco. But according to the Tangier Peace Treaty of September 10, 1844, Mulai Abd er-Rahman declared Abd el-Kader an outlaw, undertook to refuse all aid to the Algerian uprising, to withdraw his troops from the borders and to punish the officers “guilty” of having helped the insurgents. The treaty fixed the exact borders between Algeria and Morocco, but only on a comparatively narrow coastal strip. No demarcation line was drawn further south, so there was always the danger of new conflicts.
Immediately after the conclusion of the Tangier Peace Treaty, Abd el-Kader returned to Algeria and waged guerrilla warfare as he moved about in the desert. In the meanwhile, a new popular uprising headed by the goat-herd Bu Maza (“the goat man”) flared up in the northern part of Algeria in the region between Oran and Algiers.
The uprising was called forth by the French plundering of the land. In the very first years of French occupation, the authorities had begun a wide-scale confiscation of the lands. On September 8, 1830, all the state lands (beyliks) and those of the Algerian Turks were declared the property of France. On March 1, 1833, a law was issued on the expropriation of lands, the ownership of which had not been legalised by title deeds. In 1839, the lands of the rebellious Metija tribes and the Algerian Sahel were confiscated. All these lands either passed into the hands of the French colonists or became the object of desperate speculation. Land speculators, adventurers and nobles who had lost their estates in France came to Algeria in pursuit of easy profit and set up new feudal patrimonies on the fertile plains surrounding Algiers. They turned the landless Arab peasants into their serfs, khammases. Many of the colonisers surrounded themselves with Oriental luxury, erected palaces and acquired harems. The French generals and dignitaries participated in all these shady deals, grew rich and appropriated huge estates.
The “agrarian reform” carried out by the colonisers increased land plunder. In 1843-44, the French authorities issued decrees which ensured the rapid growth of French colonisation. On March 24, 1843, a decree was issued on the confiscation of the public khabus (waqf), the religiouslands. On October 1, 1844, the Europeans were permitted to buy private waqfs (on the basis of the new enzel). The decree of October 1, 1844, which was confirmed on July 21, 1846, declared as state property all land known as “no man’s land” (all uncultivated land, for which no title deeds had been issued up to June 1, 1830). On the basis of these “laws” all the Algerian tribes were requested to present documentary proof of their land rights. Most of the tribes, which owned land on the basis of the usual rights, had no such documents, which was exactly what the colonisers counted on. Mass expropriations began. In the Algiers district alone the French authorities expropriated 168,000 hectares, out of which the Arabs received 30,000 hectares and the French colonialists – 138,000 hectares. The same thing happened in other parts of Algeria.
The wholesale plundering of the land exhausted the local people’s patience and in 1845 the whole of western Algeria rose in rebellion against the French. The leader of the uprising, Bu Maza, appealed to Abd el-Kader and offered him the leadership of the popular struggle. The French hastened to raise the strength of the occupation army to 108,000 men. Eighteen punitive detachments again slaughtered the population and destroyed villages. The French generals, Pelissier and Saint Arnaud broke the record of barbarism in this campaign. Pelissier drove thousands of Arabs into the mountain caves, where he suffocated them with smoke. Saint Arnaud bricked up in caves 1,500 Arabs, including women and children. Nor did Cavaignac, who was serving in the occupation army at the time, lag behind them.
The brutal repressions and the decree of July 31, 1845, on the confiscation of land as a punishment for “associating with the enemy” achieved their aim. The uprising began to wane. French detachments pursued Abd el-Kader, trying to surround him, but he withdrew to the oases of the Sahara Desert and from there continued to wage guerrilla warfare. It was only at the end of 1847, following the treachery of the Moroccan Sultan, that the French captured Abd el-Kader and sent him away to France. In 1848, Ahmed bey was also taken prisoner. After spending five years in France, Abd el-Kader was permitted to return to the East. Having lived for a few years in Bursa, in 1855 he settled in Damascus, where he spent the rest of his life. Abd el-Kader died in 1883, a the age of 75.
After the capitulation of Abd el-Kader, almost all Algeria, except for the remote oases in the south and the mountainous Kabylia came under French control. Several years were to pass before the latter regions were conquered. In 1849, the French undertook a campaign against the south and captured a number of oases in the Algerian Sahara. The rebellious oasis of Zaatcha, where the French had to take each hut by force was wiped off the face of the earth. Bu Zian, the leader of the popular struggle, was executed. The “civilisers” beheaded him and put his head on display on the fortress wall.
In 1851, a large tribal uprising under the leadership of Bu Bagla (the “mule man”) broke out in the mountainous: regions of Kabylia. A punitive expedition destroyed and pillaged 300 villages, but it was unable to capture the leader of the uprising.
In 1852, a big uprising flared up in the Laghouta oasis and in 1854, in the Tuggurt oasis.
In 1854, as soon as the Eastern war had begun, the struggle in Kabylia once again acquired greater scope. For three years (1854-57) the people, headed by Bu Bagla, successfully repelled the French punitive expeditions. The leading role in the struggle was played by the religious brotherhood of Rahmania. It was only in July 1857, that the French generals were able to subdue Kabylia.
The Algerian war served as a school for the hangmen of the French working class such as Cavaignac, Saint Arnaud, MacMahon and many others. Later they were to apply the same bloody methods of reprisal against the revolutionary proletariat of Paris that they had used against the freedom-loving Arabs in Algeria.
Algeria was an agrarian country and, having captured it, the French capitalists gave no thought to its industrial development. They regarded it as a market for their goods and as a source of raw material and food. Their main concern was to make as much profit as possible by selling their goods on the Algerian market for the highest price possible and receiving in return agricultural raw material at the lowest possible price. The degree of their success can be seen from the following table of Algeria’s imports and exports (annual average in millions of francs):
Before the French conquest of Algeria, the domestic industry (peasant and Bedouin) and the handicrafts (in the towns) were widely developed, but after the conquest they fell into decline.
The occupation authorities actively catered to the demands of the metropolitan capitalists and guaranteed wide opportunities for the unrestricted import of manufactured goods to Algeria. This, naturally, led to the ruin of wide masses of artisans and to the aggravation of the conflicts between the working strata of the Algerian people and the French colonialists.
French capital went on pumping raw material out of Algeria in increasing quantities. By importing manufactured goods, French capital was destroying industrial production in Algeria, while by exporting raw material, it was exercising active control over the production of raw materials and foodstuffs, over agriculture and the mining industry of Algeria.
In what form was this control expressed? First of all, in the acquisition of land. After the defeat of Abd el-Kader and the popular uprisings of the fifties, this process was accelerated. Under Napoleon III, land plundering assumed considerable proportions. The law issued on February 26, 1851, having codified all the previous French “agrarian” laws issued in Algeria, included even woodland in the land categories that could be confiscated by the French authorities. The expropriation of large tracts of wooded country, including a considerable amount of bush, gave the colonialists 2,000,000 hectares of land for agricultural exploitation and deprived the Arabs of game reserves, pastures, fuel and building materials. The same law granted the right to conclude transactions, i.e., the purchase and sale of land, with the exception of the tribal lands, which could be surrendered only to the state. Since the tribes did not give up their lands voluntarily, a new measure known as cantonisation was introduced in 1861. It was announced that the tribal lands were only for use, not for ownership. In view of this, the tribes were ordered to return the “surplus land” to the state, which only after this recognised them as the owners of the remaining land. According to this decree, only those lands which the Arabs and Berbers had cultivated in the two years preceding 1861, as well as their pastures, were left in their possession. Out of 343,000 hectares affected by the “cantonisation” in 1861, 61,000 hectares were confiscated by the state.
“Cantonisation” aroused discontent in Algeria and by a senatus-consulte, signed on April 23, 1863, the French were compelled to acknowledge all land in the use of the tribes as the latter’s property.
The decree pointed out that the right of common ownership could not be sold but it also proposed dividing common property first among the clans and tribes, then among individual families. This decree made it easier for the French colonisers to acquire land and gave the state the opportunity to take over part of the tribal lands. Thus, for example, in seven years alone (1863-70) out of 7,000,000 hectares of land that had been divided up, 1,000,000 hectares were confiscated by the colonisers.
How was the land that had been seized by the state used? A considerable part was either leased or granted to French settlers as part of the process of “formal colonisation.” By 1871, the colonial settlers had been given 480,000 hectares of the best land. Ninety per cent of this land fell into the hands of the big proprietors, who owned over fifty hectares each. Since, however, the smaller proprietors, who possessed less than fifty hectares, frequently cultivated their land intensively (grapes, vegetables, and so on) they actually owned rich enterprises. The claim that the French colonisation was done by working folk was groundless. There were, of course, some French peasants among the colonial settlers, mainly rich farmers, but these were few, not more than 10,000 in all, and their share of the land was negligible.
Apart from the land that had been taken over during the process of “formal colonisation,” huge tracts of land werebought up by French colonisers from the local landowners. Under Napoleon III, the embezzlement of the land (mainly from the state fund) by the big. French capitalist companies, which acted as concessionaires, acquired extensive proportions. Between 1851 and 1861, the big concessionaires received 70,000 hectares of land, out of which 20,000 hectares were appropriated by the Compagnie Genevois alone (i.e., over 250,000 hectares were handed out in this period as part of the process of “formal colonisation”). Between 1861 and 1871, the concessionaires seized 400,000 hectares (not counting the 116,000 hectares “presented” for purposes of “formal colonisation”). The following figures speak of the scale of operations. Between 1862 and 1863 alone 30 big concessionaires acquired 160,000 hectares of woodland; in 1865, the Société Générale Algerienne received 100,000 hectares and the Société du Khabra et Makta – 25,000 hectares.
Thus, on the one hand, there was the process of concentrating the land in the hands of the French capitalist societies and big settlers. On the other hand, wide masses of the Algerian peasantry were being deprived of their lands; previously free members of peasant communes were being turned into enslaved métayers and brutally exploited farm labourers.
Does this mean that big changes took place in the mode of production, that a big capitalist economy came into being? By no means, although it would be incorrect to deny the beginnings of such a capitalist economy. Even in those years the use of hired labour developed together with grape cultivation. But up to 1870, the vine-growing areas were negligible and were restricted only to the region of Metija. In grain farming, which continued to be the main form of agriculture in Algeria, the use of hired labour in big production was an exception. Agriculture was still based on the small-scale production of the fellaheen. Significant changes, however, had taken place in the conditions of small-scale production.
Prior to the French conquest this was an economy of either free members of peasant communes or dependent feudal métayers. The majority of the free communers had large families. The economy was mainly of a natural character (although the landlords had acquired comparatively large quantities of marketable grain).
Following the expropriation of the peasants and the seizure of communal land by the” French capitalists, the number of free communers sharply decreased, but the number of enslaved métayers increased. The national economy began to acquire a commodity character. The exploitation of the métayers by the money-lenders was intensified. Usurers (khammases) were active everywhere. It is known, for example, that the Compagnie Genevois leased lands that it had seized to the khammases. The same went for the Société Algerienne, which, according to the decree, was obliged to lease part of its domains to the French settlers but, in fact, leased most of the land to the khammases. When the Société Algerienne was reorganised as the Compagnie Algerienne (1878) it was assigned 70,000 hectares, out of which 59,000 hectares were leased to the khammases, 6,000 were taken on lease by the settlers and only 5,000 hectares comprised the personal property of the company. Individual French settlers, especially in the grain-growing regions, also made extensive use of the khammas system.
The seizure of the land by the French colonisers, capitalists and concessionaires’ societies, the expropriation of scores of thousands of Algerian peasants, their brutal exploitation as métayers and farm labourers, all this gave rise to fresh popular uprisings. In western Algeria in 1859, the Banu Snassen tribes revolted. In 1864, rebellion flared up among the tribes of Walid-sidi-Sheikh. Finally, in 1871, a great national liberation uprising began headed by Mokrani.