1963-03 Algeria [Lyotard]

Printed in Socialisme ou Barbarie No.34 (March-May 1963). Translation Ian Birchall in International Socialism (summer 1963).

Immediately after independence in the summer of 1962, Algeria was faced with a political vacuum. The French administration disappeared; the FLN leadership, which might have been expected to take over, was split into fragments; the masses were inactive, intervening only to show the leaders they had had enough of their quarrels. The events of December 1960 had shown that a minority insurrection was changing into a mass movement. But the revolutionary impetus was lost, through the savage repression of the French government. The FLN turned more toward diplomacy to achieve its aims and during the famine and chaos of the post-Evian period, the relations between the people and the FLN organization rapidly deteriorated.

The problem awaiting solution at the end of the war was not only that of the form of the future state, but of the social character of independent Algeria. Colonization had crushed the Algerian class structure. The liberation movement had temporarily united peasants, workers, shopkeepers, intellectuals but it had not been able to develop a coherent ideology. The Algerian Communist Party had too often been bound by its composition and line to the French presence for it to be able to put a Stalinist imprint on the movement. Conditions favoured the bourgeois elements in the FLN. Military victory was impossible and moderate politicians like Fares or Abbas were the most suitable for negotiating a compromise settlement with France. Decisions about the social character of the new state had, inevitably, been avoided.

The enthusiasm generated by the liberation declined rapidly with the struggles among the leaders. In many regions the cadres succeeded in making themselves as much hated as the French troops. The people wanted peace, bread and work. They saw no connection between these simple demands and the disputes of the leaders. But they saw quite clearly the connection between these struggles and careerism and favouritism. When the leaders had finally agreed on the method of consulting them, the people were too concerned with survival to feel honoured at being consulted.

They chose the representatives that were chosen for them. The problem of keeping people alive, when so many were going hungry and there were 2 million unemployed was conceived and solved in terms of individuals and small groups – village, family, or quarter – not in terms of the whole of society. Nobody, no political group, no social class succeeded in creating a new image of Algeria which Algerians could want as much as they had wanted independence. It was vain to hope that the peasants would take the initiative for such an advance. The bourgeoisie has not the necessary economic, social, political and ideological consistency to grasp the social problem, and to impose its own solution on it, with the consent or acceptance of the broad masses of the people. The proletariat, although relatively important for an underdeveloped country, has not yet become conscious that its exploitation is the fundamental fact for itself and for the whole of society, nor has it isolated its own objectives from those of other classes.

This inability of the workers to create their own political organisation and ideology shows that the problem confronting colonial Algeria was not that of socialism. The alternatives were not: proletarian or free – but colonial or independent Algeria. The absence or weakness of proletarian consciousness and self-confidence may be ascribed to the terrorism used by the FLN leadership, from 1956 on, against the MNA and the USTA, smashing the community of workers in metropolitan France, or, further back, to the break between the French CP and the Messalist organisation. But all these facts illustrate rather than explain the weakness of the Algerian proletariat.

When he came out of prison, Ben Bella issued in Tripoli a sketch of a program. The introduction stated that ‘the revolutionary content of the national struggle has been seen and felt in its novelty and originality more by the masses of the people than by the cadres and organizations of the leadership’ and that ‘the FLN is ignorant of the deep revolutionary potentialities of the people of the countryside’. He denounced the ‘ideological poverty’ of the FLN, and criticized the appearance, in the Front’s organization, of a double tendency: of creating, ‘political hierarchies, and partisan military groups and cliques’; and of developing a ‘petty-bourgeois’ spirit, characterized by ‘the easy-going habits of the old parties with an urban following, escapism from reality, with an absence of any revolutionary education, an individualistic pursuit of safe positions, profit, and the contemptible satisfactions of self-interest, and the prejudices of many towards the peasants, and obscure militants.’

Finally he blamed the ideological bankruptcy of the FLN on the ‘gap which had grown up between the leadership and the masses’, after the exile of the former. Ben Bella appealed to the rank-and-file militants against the ‘barons’ and the opportunists, to the peasants against the ‘messieurs’. The following extracts reveal his populist orientation: ‘The bourgeoisie itself will have to subordinate its interests to the needs of the revolution … Algerian culture will fight against cultural cosmopolitanism and Westernisation… Islam must purge itself of all the additions and superstitions which have strangled and deformed it … In the Algerian context, the popular, democratic revolution is first of all an agrarian revolution’. The economic and social program slated that in principle ‘the land belongs to those who work it’, and announced the free distribution of land made available by the reduction of estates to their optimum size, the cancellation of peasants’ debts, the formation of rural workers’ cooperatives, and the setting up of State farms. The problem of industrialization was seen in terms of the needs of agriculture: in the short term ‘perfecting artisan production, and setting up small local or regional industries to exploit raw materials of an agricultural nature’; in the long term ‘creation of basic industries necessary to modern agriculture.’

The CNRA adopted this program unanimously, but quarrelled about the political instrument to put it into practice. When the Political Bureau finally emerged in Algiers as the nucleus of the new authority, it tried to legitimize itself by having elected a Chamber which in its turn elected it. Khider immediately started to set up Party cells, whose task was to organize the masses, and push them along the lines laid down by the Tripoli program; the special delegations installed in the provinces by the Provisional Executive were dissolved; the population elected vigilance Committees, controlled by men of the Political Bureau, until they could be transformed into Party cells.

The return to order and security gave the Political Bureau a chance to cut down common rights relaxed by the amnesty and suppress profiteers, and at the same time suppress the most troublesome cadres of formerly hostile willayas and workers who, here and there, had taken over the means of production.

At the end of summer 1962, then, a political and State apparatus was beginning to crystallize. What was its significance? Ben Bella’s State was hanging in a vacuum, looking for its social basis. It could find it neither in a bourgeoisie nor in a bureaucracy. The reconstruction of society began the wrong way up, by the construction of the State from the top. The task facing this State at present is to create its ‘cadres’, that is to say, the ruling class on which it will base itself, and of which it will be the expression.

The only bourgeoisie in the strict sense, that is to say, one which controls the means of production, was European, and had been politically eliminated, along with the most right-wing section of the nationalist movement. The European bourgeoisie had begun to leave Algeria even before the signing of the Evian agreement. During the summer the evacuation got quicker. But the property it held was not just abandoned. Algerian managers and farmers who seized the chance to pocket the profits from the land, flourished once the final negotiations started and it became obvious that independence was coming. When, in autumn, it was necessary to start ploughing, it was obvious that there had been a considerable transfer of agricultural land to Algerians – as had been the case with housing. While the struggle for political power was going on, the Algerian bourgeoisie had been enriching itself.

The administrators appointed by the Provisional Executive gave their protection to this operation, and benefited from participating. The enriching of businessmen and public figures was coupled with corruption among State officials. They sabotaged attempts to clean up the system, and helped their friends to find places in the administration.

But it lacked social force, ideology, and political prospects. It was simply an association of plundering. But it was protected by its natural ally – French capitalism. A decree issued by the Provisional Executive on 24 August 1962 provided for the requisition by prefects of abandoned firms, and the nomination by them of administrator-managers ‘chosen from among men belonging to the profession’, who would take over the functions of the absent boss; and for the return of the firms and the properties to their owners as soon as they indicated a desire to take them over again. Ben Bella had no choice but to govern with the corrupt State machine. The bourgeoisie was reassured by the Tripoli program, which said that the land – but not the means of production – must belong to the workers. Nonetheless Ben Bella continued to speak of ‘socialism’.

But the basis the new authority claimed for itself was not among the workers: ‘The peasant population is the decisive force on which we base ourselves … The poor peasants are indubitably the basic element of the revolutionary transformation. The revolutionary masses consist fundamentally of peasants’. And to support the theory of a peasant revolution, Ben Bella looks for famous precedents: ‘The Cuban revolution started off from a basis of this kind: a peasant mass taking arms for independence and agrarian reform’ … or unexpected ones: ‘Tsarist Russia also was an agricultural country.’

The peasants certainly played a very important rôle in the struggle for liberation. They form the great majority of the Algerian people, and their problems are the social problems of the whole country: land, bread, work, a new culture. In other ‘dependent countries’ in Africa, and in the Near East, capitalist domination has been combined with the pre-capitalist structures. Local feudalism has cooperated with the European companies. Investment has remained strictly limited to the needs of the capitalist companies and to the speculations of the land-owning aristocracy; in the interior the peasants continue, more downtrodden than before, to cultivate the land with their primitive tools. The traditional culture is not disrupted from top to bottom. No revolutionary ferment runs through the countryside, because capitalism has introduced nothing new.

But in Algeria direct colonization has taken from the peasants in a hundred years nearly seven and a half million acres of land and forest. A modern, mechanized sector of rural capitalism, employing few workers, has left most of the farmers landless and workless. The population explosion has increased unemployment. The destruction of artisan production and small village traders has put an end to subsistence economy. The lack of industrial development and technical education, and the European population, prevented the rural unemployed from finding work in the non-agricultural sector.

In the long run the peasants’ only choice was to revolt or be destroyed. But nobody clearly posed the question of the organisation of society and of the State, and the essential question of the relation between the masses and this organization. Not even the question of the appropriation of the land by the rural masses emerged as a question which these masses would have to solve. That is the great paradox of the Algerian revolution.

This failure of the landless fellaheen to seize the land can be explained by regional diversities and the limits they impose. The poor peasants working on the slopes of the Kabyle or in the Chaouia regions are traditionally attached to small family properties, clustered around their barns. They do not see what is to be gained from a redistribution of land, if no new land is to be won from the mountains. The old-fashioned peasant cannot achieve a profitable agriculture without the help of experts and educationalists. Processing industries (textiles, food), are required which can use the local hydro-electrical equipment, and provide a high degree of employment in relation to the capital invested. Here again the fate of the peasants is not in their own hands. When Ben Bella took power, the ‘revolution by the peasantry’ could no longer be the revolution of the peasantry. The slogan denoted only the Governments’ intention to concern itself with agricultural reform.

On the pretext that the proletariat of the developed countries has not made the revolution, Ben Bella intends to unleash the communist capacities of the primitive peasantry, and base his revolutionary strategy on an International of the Third World. On the pretext that the workers in underdeveloped countries are privileged in comparison to the peasants, and hence have become like bourgeois, he is trying to hold their organizations in check. At the end of the summer of 1962, these half-truths (it is true, for example, that beside the miserable income of an Algerian peasant, the wage of a tram-driver in Algiers, or a metal-worker at Sochaux seems astronomical – these half-truths serve as an ideological cover for the government’s impotence, and for the bourgeois offensive which is taking shape under the protection of its organization.

Ben Bella is not a peasant leader; the relation between his government and the rural masses is formal and plebiscitary. The State cannot express the aspirations of the peasantry, for they are silent; instead it is trying to dictate to them. In Western countries, the expropriation of the peasant from the land was the accompaniment of industrialization. They flocked to the towns where the capitalists could give them employment by purchasing their labour-power. Of course, the picture was not a pretty one. The peasants were reduced to starvation, and the new industrial proletariat were exposed, defenceless, to the wages and conditions of work imposed by their employers. But the whole process had meaning – the destruction of pre-capitalist relations, and the creation of new relations. Capital took over the whole of society.

In Algeria, the introduction of capitalist relationships into the country followed, broadly, the same path: the expulsion of rural workers, the creation of large estates, ‘liberation’ of a considerable amount of labour-power. It seemed that the transition to wage-labour as the dominant form of productive relationships must follow. In fact there are more than 500,000 agricultural workers. 400,000 workers who have emigrated to France, and 200,000-250,000 Algerian wage-earners in industry, commerce and the public services in Algeria. In total more than a million workers, totally dispossessed of the means of production, that is to say. proletarianized or potentially so. For a colonial country it is a considerable part of the working population.

However, a fully capitalist social structure has not emerged. The Algerian capitalist sends nearly half his profits out of (he country, speculates with, or consumes unproductively the other half; and lets 3/5 of total investment be financed by the French State. In 1953 it was estimated that 40 percent of private savings left Algeria every year: only half was reinvested in the country. In that year the State provided 60 percent of the 121 milliard (old) francs invested. Public financing creates few jobs because it is mainly concerned with the infrastructure. Of 48 milliards of net investment in 1953, 22 milliard were devoted to hydraulic engineering, to the Algerian Gas and Electricity Companies, to Algerian Railways, the Post Office and the road network. Social and administrative investment (26 milliards the same year) may create jobs, but it does not increase productive capacity. Economic investment from private sources is essentially concerned with commerce and building. The rare attempts to create processing industries to use native raw materials met with open hostility from French firms whose interests were affected.

Under the pretext of helping independent Algeria to build itself up, the Evian agreements imposed a double obligation on it: to respect the interests of capitalism as it existed in the country before 1 July 1962, and to keep to the rate of growth planned by French experts in the last years of colonization. The two limitations are cleverly combined. Capital invested, in agriculture especially, serves as a guarantee for capital to be invested: if you take over French land, you will compensate for it out of the aid due to you. And the rates of growth provided for in the development plan presuppose a virtually unchanged agricultural situation. Imperialism consents to help the country, but on the basis of its colonial structure.

This is obviously nonsense. The first problem facing Algeria is unemployment. The only solution would be the massive transfer of the unemployed half of the active rural population into the secondary and tertiary sectors. These must absorb not only urban unemployment, but also underemployment in agriculture. But the plans for the next decade forecast a rise of working days in agriculture from 150 million at the beginning of the period (1959), to 177 million at the end (1968), for an active rural population of 2.693,000 persons. If 265 working days a year are regarded as full employment, this estimate will provide, at the end of the period, full-time work for only 668,000 persons.

More than 2,000,000 agricultural workers would thus stay unemployed. The same result is visualised in the Constantine Plan. The creation of jobs in the non-agricultural sectors is dealt with without regard to the problem of rural unemployment.

To assure an annual average increase of 5 percent in the average wage over ten years, allowing for a population increase of 2.5 percent per year, it will be necessary to invest about 5,000 milliards for the period, including 4,000 milliards of new capital assets. The Ten Year Program sets out that about half the financing will come from Algerian sources, and the other half from funds ‘of foreign origin’. Nearly all the Algerian capital would come from private savings; the foreign investments would be for the most part public, or semi-public. 16 percent of the total would go to the primary sector, 51 percent to the secondary sector. 19 percent to the tertiary sector, and 14 percent to housing.

The mainly foreign public funds would finance, especially, investments in agriculture, the infrastructure, and housing, while private funds of foreign origin would be entirely devoted to the oil sector. Algerian private capital would be shared mainly between agriculture, housing, and commerce. The investment in various processing industries represents less than 7 percent of the total investments planned for. At the end of the period current operations will leave an annual deficit of 164 milliards resulting from the increase in imports following the development of production. This deficit is almost entirely covered by the loan from the French Treasury to the Algerian Treasury (150 milliards). The movement of private capital will leave a credit balance of only 10 milliards.

Even though the Evian agreements leave the Algerian government some room for manoeuvre, allow compromise on certain aspects of financial aid, and allow for agreements to discuss certain transfers of power later on, the direction taken by cooperation will, at best, remain what it is in the Ten Year plans; a belated contribution of imperialism to the smooth creation of an Algerian bourgeoisie.

The situation has worsened since 1958, the intensification of military operations caused further destruction; the OAS sabotaged part of the social, administrative and cultural infrastructure; the departure of four-fifths of the French population deprived the country of technical cadres and skilled workers; the reduction in the military forces stationed in the country slowed down the entry of capital to finance administrative and private expenditure.

But Ben Bella’s state is not yet a bourgeois state. When the ploughing season arrived in the autumn, and winter was approaching, the questions of land, work and hunger were posed before the government had taken any overall measures to deal with them. Around Constantine, and in certain regions around Oran, farms were occupied, and management committees elected in the villages. Work and produce were shared out among unemployed fellaheen. On the Sétifois plateau, the peasants went so far as to requisition, in the landlord’s presence, lands which they thought were being inadequately cultivated.

The ploughing campaign announced by the government set the movement going. Officially it was nothing more than requesting European colons and rich Algerian farmers to let their agricultural implements be used when they had finished their own ploughing. On 8 October, the ministers and regional authorities met at the Prefecture of Oran to launch the operation in the area. The President of the National Bureau for Abandoned Property expressed the position of the leadership in these words: ‘No firm will be refloated without prior examination. In any case the eventual return of the owners is still provided for, for the rights of property are still unchanged, and an official examination will determine in what conditions the firm can carry on its activity’. At the same meeting the director of Agriculture and Forests declared that this campaign, as far as agricultural equipment was concerned, meant ‘a friendly take-over of under-employed tractors.’ But the good sense of the peasants disrupted these plans in some places; they started to use the tractors without waiting for the permission of the owners: and if they refused, their machines were sometimes burnt.

The hostility shown by the peasantry to the transfer of French farms to the Algerian bourgeoisie, and in general to all speculations, forced the government to decree, on 17 October, the ‘freezing’ of all abandoned agricultural land, and the cancellation of contracts signed since 1 July 1962, and of acts of sale or renting signed abroad. On 20 October, Le Monde announced: ‘Landless fellaheen await agrarian reform announced by the government’, but on the 23: ‘the ploughing campaign will diminish the suffering of the fellaheen in the immediate future, and calm their impatience’. The next day the government forbade all transactions in personal or real estate, and decreed that management committees should be appointed in the abandoned agricultural companies. Finally on the 25th, this last measure was extended to all abandoned firms.

The State was so weak and uncertain that the timid initiative of a few peasants had sufficed to make these charges. At the same time. Ben Bella seized the opportunity to dissociate himself from the monopolists. By cancelling all post-independence transactions in property, he was trying to stop the formation of a new bourgeoisie. By setting up management committees for all abandoned property, even in the firms where there was no spontaneous movement, he was trying to create a ‘collectivized’ public sector, which would be out of the hands of the bourgeoisie, but also of the workers if by any chance they wanted to go further. The October decrees in fact lay down that committees are permitted only in abandoned property, that they must obtain the permission of the prefect, that the landlord’s rights are not questioned, and that if he should come back, the management and the profits are shared between him and the workers.

These modest measures gave the French government a chance to react in the name of the Evian agreements. De Gaulle would be quite glad to be rid of the burden of Algeria, which is no longer France’s best customer. The oil companies can defend their own interests, and the strategic value of Algeria is non-existent in an age of intercontinental missiles. A complete jettisoning of Algeria should be politically unwise, but its slow abandonment is permissible.

From the point of view of classical political categories, Ben Bella’s position is impossible. Simplifying it to make it fit into these categories, his policy can be defined as follows: leave to capitalism (real French and potential Algerian capitalism) a free hand in the industrial and commercial sectors, and satisfy the peasants by setting up agricultural cooperatives and State farms where they are technically desirable, and sharing out the land elsewhere. But in this last strategy, a contradiction arises which should make it impossible. A condition for getting capitalist aid is that ex-colonial property should be left untouched; to set up a ‘semi-collectivized’ or ‘collectivized’ sector, or to share out the great estates among the peasants, would invite reparations. Paris would deduct the compensation due to the owners from the aid promised to Algiers.

It might be thought that strong leadership would provide an answer, but this is a dream. The strengthening of the political apparatus, i.e. bureaucratization. might be the answer if the contradictions mentioned above were destroying society: if the problems posed by work, land, education, finance were awakening among those directly concerned – the unemployed, peasants, workers, young people – a collective response to the crisis of this society. Then the problems of Algeria would overflow the ministerial dossiers, and pass on to the only area where they could find a real solution, that of social struggle. They would be embodied as dramatic alternatives: for or against the poor peasants, for or against French capitalism, for or against the property-grabbers, for or against the FLN party. Only in these conditions could a political apparatus strengthen itself, for it would respond to a need present in society, or in certain classes.

The problem facing the country is not that of socialism. The word is used by the leaders, but the spirit of socialism docs not move the masses, and it cannot, because the present crisis does not result from the inability of capitalism to assure the economic, social and cultural development of the country. On the contrary, it results from the fact that capitalism itself, that is. a positive domination by man over his elementary needs – to work, to eat. not to die of cold or of disease – has not been developed.

Development and socialism are not the same thing. With the world dominated by capitalism, in the form of the Russian bureaucracy and Western imperialism, an ex-colonial country can only begin to develop by a massive investment of labour. This means, at least in ‘over-populated’ countries like Algeria, that the unemployed labour force is used to the maximum. The greater part of the surplus product must be invested in productive equipment, not re-distributed. Therefore for peasants and workers there is an increase in work without any noticeable improvement in living conditions. The native bourgeoisie or bureaucracy is expected to satisfy the basic aspirations of the masses; to destroy the social and economic conditions of underdevelopment; and to share out. as well as possible, work and its product among the workers. Development is possible, even in one country, for development is only a name for the more or less complete suppression of the inequalities inherited from the imperialist period, and a more or less rapid increase in productive capacity. A bureaucratic or bourgeois-bureaucratic power can fulfil this function.

There are, however, some signs that the Algerian people are not altogether unaware of their problems. The peasants awoke somewhat from their lethargy during the autumn ploughing. The dissatisfaction of the urban workers has not gone as far as direct action, but it stiffened the UGTA against the offensive launched against it by the authorities; not only were local leaders re-elected, but the Union as a whole demanded autonomy from the Government. Other signs of activity can be noted: for example the great popularity of the Cuban revolution among the urban population, or the banners ‘No to Salaries of 500,000’, which were put up at the celebrations on 1 November, under the very eyes of the deputies, who were suspected of wanting to vote themselves emoluments of this order. Peasants, students, workers, continue to search for a solution to their daily difficulties. Many have seen the connection between the problem of work and the Cuban revolution; place-hunting and the building of the State; the attitude of the prefects and the bourgeois offensive against the land. Algeria cannot await an answer to her problems indefinitely. Capitalism has disintegrated her traditional communities, starved and exiled her peasants, created a proletariat of emigrants, stifled the bourgeois and the petty-bourgeois. No class has been able to give an answer to the crisis produced by this destruction, because no class has been completely constituted, with its social function, its economic role, its political instruments, its conception of history and society. In Algeria the social polarities have not been sufficiently developed: the bourgeois has not lost his exclusive passion for land and home; the worker has not been cut off from the village, and become a proletarian; even less has the peasant – the most rebellious survivor of the pre-capitalist era even in Europe – lost his class between the alternatives offered him by profit-making agriculture – those of rich farmer or agricultural worker. All these categories exist, it is true, but only in the embryonic state; and seven years of war have not been enough to form a new society in the womb of the old colonial society. If the germ of bureaucracy which the FLN represented has been stillborn, it is because it was socially composite; on the one hand none of the social groups represented in it had the necessary consistency to take over the apparatus and use it for its own purposes; on the other hand the conflict between classes in Algeria had not reached such a degree of intensity that the apparatus itself could and must place itself above them to smother their antagonisms, and construct a model of a future society, acceptable to all classes, and which it could if necessary impose by force. In particular ‘communism’ has not found deep roots among the Algerian proletariat. Algerian workers and peasants have not resisted Stalinism on the basis of a distrust of bureaucracy, but because they have not had to suffer the pitiless onslaught of a national bourgeoisie, and because the crisis has not revealed the inability of this bourgeoisie to solve the problems of society.

Algeria still does not belong to those who live there, and they still have the task of conquering it. It may be shaken by crises – famine, unemployment, wretchedness, despair will produce them. But none of them will be decisive, and give an answer to THE crisis from which Algeria is suffering until one social class, or a strongly organized fraction of society, constructs and makes everyone accept a model of new relationships.

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