Algeria: Democratic freedoms are a class issue for workers
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Evian Accords1 , la Revue l'Anticapitaliste asked Kamel Aïssat, member of the leadership of the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PSTSocialist Workers Party, to answer their questions.
In March 1962, the Evian Accords ended the Algerian War and paved the way for the country's independence. How is this date seen today in Algeria and what meaning does it have when in France there is an uninhibited discourse from some on the right and the far right on colonization and racism?
Paradoxically, in Algeria, 19 March was never celebrated because originally those who seized power in 1965 had attacked the provisional government during the war for taking power in 1962. So, they denounced the Evian Accords, saying they were neo-colonial accords. It was a way of diminishing the legitimacy of the provisional government that emerged from the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). So, it’s only been ten years since we started celebrating 19 March. In Algeria, it is much more 5 July [declaration of independence] that remains the important symbol of independence. This new symbolic day has only been officially recognized for about ten years, because it has been a tool in the fight for historical legitimacy from the 1960s and 1970s.
Currently, 19 March marks above all the ceasefire, with an FLN leadership that was weakened militarily, which led to the signing of what we consider to be neo-colonial accords, insofar as the Evian Accords in themselves enshrined the guarantee of the continuity of the interests of the colonial bourgeoisie in Algeria.
So, it was only by the spontaneous uprising of the popular masses in general (especially in the agricultural sector and partly in the workers’ sector), and the fact that many peasants came to the cities, that the Evian Accords were automatically called into question, by the occupation of sites, by what was called the self-management process that began in July 1962.
Has Algeria now completely freed itself from the legacy of colonization or is it still suffering the effects of it?
I’ll take advantage of your question to say that the same was asked of our comrade Alain Krivine by the newspaper El Watan when he came to Algeria in 2007. He replied, “Yes, France is gone, but her interests are still there.” This was his response in November 2007, during a trip to the PST convention.
Fifteen years later, it’’s even deeper. We must recognise that in the international institutions, Bretton Woods, the IMF or the World Bank, in the distribution of world domination it is a representative of French imperialism who decides for Algeria. They are not American or English; there is a reproduction of the colonies in these institutions, and it is often French imperialism that looks after its private domain called Algeria. Including and particularly in the reforms that we experienced in the 1990s. There is no longer colonization by settlement but the interests, the form of domination are still there; they continue in one way or another with evolutions of course.
Does this explain, in relation to this anniversary, that we have the feeling of a balancing act both by France’s President Macron and Algeria’s President Tebboune? What does this reveal about the still ambiguous relationship between France and Algeria?
Relations between France and Algeria have had several phases since 1962. It must be understood that it is one of the few settler colonisations and this is very important. It is the only colony where there was no indigenous bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie came from the metropolis to settle. Colonization did not rely on a local bourgeoisie, it relied on the settler bourgeoisie.
This is totally different from the Moroccan, Tunisian or Egyptian examples where colonialism relied on indigenous, local bourgeoisies. And the war of liberation, in its radicalism, in its dignity, fundamentally expressed the will of the Algerian people to escape these relations. Settler colonization is really a form of slavery, because colonization began with the expropriation and sometimes the extermination of local populations to grab better land. The resistance lasted more than 50 years and it was not until the 1920s that the resistance resumed in the workers’ movement, especially in the immigration circles. But since 1870-1880, with the defeat of the resistance of Emir Abd el-Kader and other resistance fighters, settlement colonization took hold. The major violence and crimes of colonialism took place particularly during this period.
We tend to reduce the Algerian war to 1954-1962 but it goes deeper than that. Since 1962, we have had the impression that there is a piece of theatre being played out between French imperialism and its rulers, and the Algerian regime which, for us, is subservient to imperialism. That is to say, the local regime surfs on nationalist sentiment with the help of “mini-crises” that are absorbed quite quickly. The latest example is what we experienced from 2013, the fact that Algeria allowed the colonial power to use its airspace to bomb Mali – while Algeria, in its “anti-imperialist philosophy” has always resisted pressure aimed at foreign interference in neighbouring countries or elsewhere. But in 2013, the authorization was made, which Tebboune suspended for a few months, and there apparently it resumes. Because, to fully understand the relationship between French imperialism and backward bourgeoisies like ours – the local authorities – imperialism has an interest in having a regime in Algeria (and in other countries) that holds the reins of its population, because otherwise there would be a risk of explosion.
They therefore have an interest in supporting a strong regime – whether here or elsewhere (e.g., Mohammed VI in Morocco). This relationship allows for the continuity of imperialist domination over wealth in the south.
So now the relationship between Algeria and France is even more complicated. Because the national movement was born in the workers’ movement in France, precisely inside the CGT at Renault in the 1920s. The first idea of independence came from l’Étoile nord-africaine – born with Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese Communist Party. They came together thanks to the Third International, one of the conditions of membership of which was to demand that socialists and communists support the liberation of peoples. The national movement was born in France; what is called the immigration played a central role.
Today we have more than three million Algerians living in France. It is an immigration that began in the 1920s, initially to work in metallurgy and mining. We are in the fourth or fifth generation, and the ties are strong. There are disputes because these links have become an issue of blackmail by imperialism and the Algerian government, to do with visas for example, free movement... because it is unacceptable that parents do not get to see their children, or vice versa, or that conditions are imposed so that they can displace people who have had a connection to the territory for generations.
If we continue with the history, there are names of antagonistic organizations that resurface: the FLN, the Organisation Armée Secrète [OAS – the far right terrorist organisation which resisted Algerian independence], which are often equated in the discourse of the right and far right. What is your analysis on this subject?
In fact, I think it's always been like that. Those nostalgic for colonialism or – to put it plainly – the colonial bourgeoisie, which has lost its interests and its material base in Algeria, feed this discourse and benefit from it. But we cannot compare the OAS to the FLN, which was the tool that allowed Algeria to snatch an elementary democratic victory, namely the right of peoples to self-determination. That’s the FLN originally. So, we would have liked it to be l’Étoile nord-africaine or an organization like the Indochinese Communist Party for example or something like that that would lead us to a socialist revolution.
But what happened was that the FLN, constituted from the Algerian petty bourgeoisie, took advantage of the failure and betrayal of the workers’ movement embodied by Stalinism or social democracy (Léon Blum said that Algeria was “a nation in formation” and that it was necessary to wait to demand independence) and weighed heavily on the absence of a progressive current in the outbreak of the war of liberation.
For its part, the OAS is an organization that is of course criminal. I said that colonization is a crime against humanity, and Macron said it too in 2017, but he didn’t say more than that. Memory will tell the degree of atrocity of these crimes. The OAS only murdered. They rejected accords which we consider neo-colonial, because the OAS embodied the armed wing of the local bourgeoisie. It was armed, of course; the military played a big role in Algeria. They are the armed arm of the “feudal” bourgeoisie, the big landowners in Algeria in particular and some industrialists.
Today, the far right is merely repeating a discourse, which has been developed even by some on the left, on the benefits of colonialism. They would have to explain to us what the “benefits of colonialism” are, apart from having built roads and houses that they inhabited. Because it was not the Algerian people who inhabited them, the natives, the natives had no right to anything. During the war there was a lot of abuse and massacre.
There is one side that has defended the rights of its people, its democratic and social emancipation, and on the other side the dominating power. Can revolutionary violence and reactionary violence be equated? That is the whole point. It is those nostalgic for this period, who now take advantage of the failure of rational solutions at the global level, of a lack of prospects for hope at the level of humanity, to return to very dangerous or even “inhuman” medieval discourses, which are fascistic.
There is another delicate, painful point that remains, and that is the question of the harkis. How is it handled in Algeria and what do you think of the requests made by the harkis for recognition, for the restoration of their honour, to the French government?
During the war, the harkis chose their side, that of the colonizer, and therefore left alongside the colonial state. So, from this point of view, it is a Franco-French issue and does not concern Algeria. Now, a lot has been said and exaggerated between the harkis. As in all wars, including France in 1945, there was of course a lot of settling of scores and the collective memory recorded these things, including lynching. This phenomenon is not unique to Algeria and its war of liberation.
The harkis took up arms with the French army against the Algerians; but there are also many French people who took up arms on the Algerian side. There is a current of the Fourth International that completely supported the struggle: the first congress that the FLN attended was that of the Fourth International in 1957. They built a weapons factory in Algeria
Today there are many villages with harkis, those who did not go to war, those who did not choose their side. So even though there have been cases of lynching, there has never been mass genocide. On the other hand, harkis in France are instrumentalized. They have chosen a side, it is painful, we agree. But it remains a matter that does not concern Algeria directly or indirectly.
Can you describe the current situation, when democratic freedoms are under attack by the Algerian government? Tell us the state of the social struggles and your means of action in the face of the suspension of the PST.
I would first like to clarify one thing on the social question and Algeria: it must be understood that the democratic and social conquests are intimately linked to the war of liberation, and to the hope of social emancipation aroused by the national movement itself. If Algerians joined the war of liberation, it was first of all because they had before their eyes an example of the comfortable life embodied by the settlers (including the working class among the settlers, who had apartments, were well installed and had leisure, which was not the case for the indigenous Algerians as they are called). The reference point of the Algerians was to live like these people; the social dream was embodied by the settlers, that’s settlement colonization.
The movement of 1962, which is called the “self-management movement”, aroused a lot of interest at the global level, even if it was distorted because there was no vanguard party and the forces organized in 1962 were mainly the army of defence, there was no political leadership. The self-management movement was thus led into a siding and broken down quite quickly after three or four years, even if activists helped to theorize on the issue. But we have not integrated the importance of the absence of a revolutionary organization, as we understand it in our country, in relation to the self-management movement that has not brought openings.
So today, and since 1962 in reference to the war of liberation, it is said that Algeria is a social state, which must guarantee social justice, in reference to the declaration of November 1954.
In Algeria housing is a right; work is a right; health is free; all these aspects have been guaranteed by the state since 1962. But in recent decades, there has been a process of liberalization and we are witnessing a permanent questioning of all social gains. And it has been getting even worse for the last year or two, with the latest policies they have pursued: the 2022 finance law and the reform on hydrocarbons that preceded it; the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) Partnerships Act.
They want to reduce what are called social transfers and are preparing a law to end subsidies on basic necessities (milk, bread, oil and so on). A majority of Algerians are currently living thanks to this and if we reduce it, we will aggravate an impoverishment which already exists, leading to the re-emergence that we already observe of diseases linked to malnutrition, eradicated by our health system since 1962.
We are currently seeing an ultra-neoliberal policy, which is preparing agreements primarily to please the multinationals. Agreements that give them a lot of power and facilities. Tebboune, in his first speech, promised $18 billion for the private sector in Algeria. The private sector in Algeria is the comprador bourgeoisie, that is to say those who live off public procurement. We do not have an autonomous or constituted productive bourgeoisie. As soon as there is an oil crisis, the bourgeoisie has fewer markets.
Today we have many attacks on freedoms, but we must understand that these are not made only for the purpose of stopping the Hirak movement, which is obvious. But freedoms are under attack all over the world. When we look at things in the world, we can talk about a “Hirak” in all countries, the term can integrate the movement of the Gilets jaunes in France for example. Around the world, we have seen that government responses are authoritarian and violent. Today in Algeria we are witnessing a violence whose aim is to break the political youth that has emerged and also to push through its project of economic and social reforms.
Because they cannot touch the historical achievements related to the war and collective memory without a reaction. The goal of this is the establishment of a new economic and social order in Algeria. It is the questioning of all the conquests.
In Algeria, the repression is very violent. Laws have been passed, a Penal Code in which amendments have been introduced that make anyone who wants to change the systems a terrorist. Unless you say, “I’m going to vote to change the system.”
They decreed that organizations like the MAK (Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie) would be terrorist organizations. This characterization of terrorism is not unique to Algeria. We see it in Palestine, against human rights organizations. But also in France, when we see that pro-Palestinian organizations are accused of being linked to terrorism, or when anti-Zionism is accused of anti-Semitism.
So, the repression is harsh in Algeria, and on the PST especially, but it is also global.
The PST was therefore attacked, we received international solidarity and we thank the comrades who contributed to it. The PST has been suspended but the verdict has not yet been pronounced. We listened to the speech, but we did not have the judgment in our hands. At first glance, we understand that their objective is to comply with the law which says that dissolution must be made if there is a recurrence. The first time the authorities demanded it, we filed all the documents, but they refused to accept them, we sent them by bailiff, but they acted as if they had not received anything. We went to see them, but they did not receive us. They want to paralyze everyone, all the organizations, who have participated in the movement and campaigns on democratic issues.
We cannot be at the back in these campaigns, but today we are under a threat of dissolution, of prohibition. We have comrades who are being prosecuted. We don’t talk about it too much because we don’t want to feed the fear that exists in society. Rather, we want to build nuclei of resistance and we are involved in initiatives to launch fronts for freedoms and against repression, for the release of prisoners. We are present, we play our militant role.
Is this the form of response that you will adopt?
In a case of repression like this, it’s quite complicated. People are afraid to write on Facebook, to speak, to express themselves so it is important to come together because it is collectively that we face fear, we cannot experience it individually. It is to maintain forms of organization that make it possible to face fear collectively.
We believe that the urgency of urgencies is the release of detainees, the defence of freedoms and the right to organise.
We are present in the social struggles. There is significant discontent, but the struggles are very weak because they are not accompanied by a trade union movement, because there is a significant erosion. The trade union movement of the working class in Algeria historically was born in the national movement, not in the classical class struggle.
So far the most important class struggle is the struggle of the Numilog workers, a direct confrontation of the workers of the trade union sections with a private employer, one of the biggest in Algeria, Macron’s friend, Mr. Rebbrab. They were fired, and they are now being prosecuted for organizing rallies to defend themselves.
There are social struggles that can come from a popular front, from a link between the working class and the popular struggles that exist in the neighbourhoods. It is this juncture that must be observed and helped. We are present as the PST, with our weaknesses.
We risk being dissolved at any time, we are campaigning against the dissolution of the PST. We received signatures and have a petition on Mediapart. We are going to expand it further to challenge the public authorities on the basis of petitions because we also have historical legitimacy in this country. We are part of the currents that can claim to be part of the Curiel network, suitcase carriers2 , sympathy with one of the few currents that supported the war of national liberation, the Fourth International. Our comrades played a role that is not at all negligible in the national movement and even after independence, as cited by the historian Mohammed Harbi in his books, or as the comrades Clara and Henri Benoit recount in their book “L’Algérie au cœur”.
To conclude, our priorities today are to resist neoliberal reforms, to build networks of resistance but to defend freedoms because, without freedom, we cannot organize. If we do not have the right to assemble, if we do not have the right to express ourselves, the winner is the bourgeoisie, which can live with a dictatorship, or authoritarian excesses, as we have seen in many countries. But not the workers! Freedoms are fundamental to the working class, and it can be said that this is a class issue.
Translated by fourth.international from la Revue l’Anticapitaliste.
- 1The Évian Accords were a set of peace treaties signed on 18 March 1962 in Évian-les-Bains, France, by France and the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic, the government-in-exile of FLN (Front de Libération Nationale).. The Accords ended the 1954–1962 Algerian War with a formal cease-fire proclaimed for 19 March and formalized the status of Algeria as an independent country.
- 2Name given to the network that provided support in France to the FLN. It collected and transported money and false documentation for the agents of the Algerian FLN operating in metropolitan France. See https://en.wik…