One has said and continues to say much on that date. But it seems to me that something was not expressed, at least not sufficiently and not clearly. So, I shall try to make my modest contribution on November 1st, 1954 from the people standpoint . It is not that of a historian nor that of an expert but of a private citizen who in his childhood and youth, lived through what were the consequences of this fundamental date. All I could say would be subject to my knowledge of history, hopefully as relevant and sufficient as one would like it to be but nevertheless giving insights to spark off detailed clarification.
On the social side, going back in the distant past, when agriculture was dominant, it seems that Algeria, unlike other countries in Europe and Asia, has not lived autonomous peasant revolts, spontaneously triggered by the exploited, and led by them in a self-managed manner, or against foreign occupation or against indigenous feudal or against both.
The revolts that we are told of by historians, since antiquity, have been always decided, organized and led by representatives of the ruling elite. Its purpose was primarily that of safeguarding its interests, either against a foreign invader or a native rival.
Massinissa to Emir Abdulkader, resistance to the invaders were decided, organized and led by elites. They formed, in one way or another, an oligarchic caste, in that it initially defended their caste interests, which then coincided with those of the people.
Culturally, either, Algeria (nor Tamazgha) had no intellectuals clearly opposed to a dominant caste. Augustine served the dominant church, slaughtering “heretics” who were challenging, especially because they denounced an oligarchic domination and the ensuing enrichment that stemmed off it. Indeed, Ibn Khaldun’s fundamental work, is, implicitly a critique of the dominant caste, but no frontal and radical criticism against them.
Algeria and Tamazgha have not had their Diogenes of Sinope (Western ancestor of the libertarian conception), their Epicurus, Socrates, their Mozi, Zhuangzi their (Asian ancestor of the libertarian conception), their Al Hallaj (questioning the religious vision of the Muslim dominant caste), their Giordano Bruno (questioning the religious vision of the Christian dominant caste) etc. These intellectuals have one way or another criticized in words and deeds, the dominant castes of their time, starting from a favourable view of the exploited people, and for some, recalling its self-directed action.
However, Algerian and Tamazghan historians, novelists, poets and artists usually focus on resistant elites (and virtues), never mentioning resistant peoples. It seems that in Algeria and Tamazgha, dominant caste and dominated people constituted an integral unit without internal contradictions. That is only where the dominant caste acted, it would have done:
1) only against a foreign invader, but never in a context of conflict between ruling caste (eg between Massinissa and Jugurtha between Emir Abdelkader and other tribal leaders or regions);
2) only for the people, and not, first, to defend its interests as dominant caste.
This retrospective chart seems to illustrate Algeria and Tamazgha’s recent history. Let us limit ourselves to Algeria.
In 1926, the North African Star:
Admittedly, a certain Messali Hadj, an activist worker became its undisputed leader. He had sympathy for the French Communist Party with leanings towards Marxism. What does this mean? That this ideology is, in its own way, as for the previously mentioned castes, that of an elite that knows better than the people it claims to defend in overcoming their servitude.
Noting that Messali’s wife, the daughter of a French anarcho-syndicalism activist, i.e. libertarian, hence the people looking after themselves and not leaving it to a “scholarly elite “, through its own forces, helped in that by intellectuals who put themselves at its service, and not bring the people to their service.
For the couple though, the Marxist elitist spirit overcame the libertarian one to the point where Messali became the “Leader” that we know, surrounded by his “bureaucratic cadres”, a Central Committee, a Political Bureau, etc. as per any Marxist model a pseudo-manager. However, at the service of a colonized nation, of a colonized people. And in this background, the distinction between “rich” and “poor”, bosses and employees, remained secondary. You had to put up a united “front” against the colonial enemy but still, under the direction of the “enlightened elite” which was the only one to take any decisions.
And, as the Algerian people was in its majority Muslim, the religious element was introduced as an ideological mobilization factor.
After the North African Star, came the MTLD that lead to the FLN and November 1st, 1954, with the outbreak of the national liberation war.
The spirit of an elite pseudo-manager, thus authoritarian, remained and was strengthened.
It manifested itself in a tragic way, as in 1949, with what was called the “Berber crisis”. Leaders on behalf of a vision “Arab-Islamic” murdered secular Amazigh activists. Few considered this conflict as under the term “ethnic” between Arabic and Amazigh-speaking peoples. Personally, if I am not mistaken, I would like to see first, as hidden behind the “ethnic” term, a more important cause: that of a confrontation between a secular and ethnic-religious ideologies. The former was more favorable to the interests of the exploited Algerian people , without distinction of linguistic expression. Instead, the second view was more favorable to the Algerian elite caste, there, too, without distinction of linguistic expression. Proof is that the murders of Amazigh leaders did not alienate most Amazigh activists of the “national cause”, that to first break free from colonialism.
Thus, the November 1st, 1954 statement was first the initiative of a group of activists, that later met with opposition from the ruling bureaucratic caste in the nationalist movement, when betting on the mobilization of the people for armed struggle.
This mobilization has not been easy and was the result of two complementary actions. First, ideological work among the people, for a consensus. On the other hand, some form of coercion against not only the pro-colonialist opponents but also against all recalcitrant members of the exploited peoples.
It is then not these, whether from cities and / or countryside, that initiated the uprising against the colonial system, but surely a group of committed nationalist militants.
To obtain the broadest consensus needed, all social forces available in the nation were united in a common force: hence the label of “Front”.
So, the elite part of the Algerian people, Arabic and Amazigh, extend their social importance in the process. And the people stayed and became more of a mere instrument of action, as it were the armed wing led by an elite.
Then the contradictions within the national liberation movement have appeared and increased. At the point of reaching the attempted solution: The Congress of Soummam and the 1956 Charter. The authentic representatives of the exploited people made their voices heard. And this should be noted, as a unit: solidarity with Arabic and Amazigh speaking Larbi Ben M’hidi and Abane Ramdane (pictured above).
Issues discussed “Military / Civilian,” “Inside / Outside”, religion / secularism, democracy, etc., reflected the contradictions in the anti-colonial liberation movement, between the People dimension (the Algerian people “lower echelons” of the social ladder, that of workers, whether Arabic or Amazigh) and that of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie.
The result is known: by violence, including murder, representatives of the two classes have defeated and conquered hegemony in the national liberation movement.
The military coup of the summer of 1962, to seize state power, was only the logical consequence and manifestation.
The fundamental question
I now come to the fundamental question that all arise: But how is it that on November 1st, 1954 gave birth to a society so contrary to its aspirations?
The answer seems easy, clear and logical: because the people was an instrument, run by sincere friends at first and then, subsequently, manipulated by its untrue friends.
Why have they recovered the national movement in their favor and to the detriment of the people? Because this was never an autonomous master of its political action and armed struggle.
How to explain this deficiency? By the fact that the sincere friends of the people, Larbi Ben M’hidi and Abane Ramdane, did not, despite their goodwill and sincere love for their people, thus found the solution to make the people master of its action. Certainly, Ben M’hidi would have said: “Throw the revolution in the streets, the people would take hold of it. “But when the revolution was actually thrown in the street, in spontaneous popular and autonomous protests, in 1960, very quickly the bureaucratic apparatus of the FLN mastered and controlled the movement, putting it to his advantage.
From all that has been said, one must conclude that the Algerian people has never, in its history, had the opportunity to act independently, as always being led by leaders who were able to assure it that autonomy of action. Certainly, Ben M’hidi and Ramdane are true children of the people, but they were not able, despite their efforts put its fate in its own hands. Obviously, these two leaders were, despite themselves and despite their will, the specific historical circumstances of products. These have always been dominated by a pseudo-managing elite, at the expense of social self-management by the people themselves.
And yet, at independence, the miracle occurred! Following the abandonment of businesses and farms by the colonialists and their indigenous owners accomplices, and in the absence of a new state (with its bureaucracy and its “elite leaders”), workers in towns and countryside have taken their destiny in their hands: they were able to carry on operating their production units, and second miracle, quite positively for that matter!
The causes of this double miracle remain, to my knowledge, still lacking explanations.
So, November 1st, 1954 is all that: a generally straight-managed action where the people was simply a maneuvered instrument, and a surprising self-managed actor.
What is regrettable is that the Algerian intellectuals generally focus on the first aspect, embellishing it, and therefore totally obscuring to the second aspect. And yet these intellectuals claim to speak in favor of the exploited people. Is it not because these intellectuals, despite themselves, remain prisoners of a pseudo-manager authoritarian elite mentality? (1)
An objection could be made; other peoples have lived through their own national liberation war, in under a pseudo-run direction, but did not meet with similar situation of the Algerian people. Take the most obvious example: the Vietnamese people. Its heroic anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist was led by a Marxist elite. And, logically, the result of the victory was the establishment of a dominant elite caste. So much so that even General Giap, who left power, unhappy criticized vainly the anti-popular outcome.
Therefore, what is it all about? That in Algeria, a caste that took advantage of the national liberation war proved even more parasitic than the Vietnamese one. One explanation is that Vietnam experienced in its past, peasant and workers’ revolts, acting in a libertarian way, but not in Algeria. Hence the arrogance of the Algerian ruling caste.
Let us ask ourselves those ultimate questions for reflection, being aware of their potentially provocative appearance, but beneficial in the end given the current situation in Algeria: would the best result of November 1st, 1954 be the national liberation or the emergence of social self-management?
And perhaps the best way to commemorate that date would it be to focus on the relinquish foreign colonialism, or what needs to be done for that or the liberation from indigenous colonialism?
(1) It is possible that this finding be changed in a future contribution. It will report on a book by David Porter, “Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria.”