Imagining the End of Empire in Ireland and Algeria

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Ireland might not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about the Algerian Revolution and internationalism. Yet, as Dónal Hassett argues in this text, the Irish Revolution was an inspiration and example for many FLN strategists. In the recent past, it has been the Algerian struggle that has inspired some of those in the North of Ireland who continue to fight towards the end of the empire.

In 1961, the seventh year of the Algerian Revolution, the prominent nationalist Laroussi Khelifa published his Manual for the Algerian Activist. Based on the material used by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) in its training schools in Morocco, the section dedicated to “revolutionary doctrine” gave pride of place not to Marx nor Fanon, but rather to “the particularly significant example of valiant little Ireland.” Khelifa presented the Algerian struggle as part of a broader international anti-colonial movement that had first swept South America, then Asia, and finally Africa. In this historic process, Ireland stood out for its “unremitting struggle for over a century […] to win its independence from the English colossus.” Khelifa was just the latest in a long line of nationalist activists to evoke Ireland in their analyses of Algeria’s struggle for freedom. For Algerian nationalists, Irish history served, above all, as a means of legitimizing, interrogating, and reimagining their own visions of anti-colonial struggle. Revolutionary Algeria would play a similar, (if more limited) role in the political imaginaries of Irish radicals in the early years of the conflict in the North of Ireland, underlining the extent to which the imagined geographies of revolution transcended the physical and cultural distances between the two countries.

As well as marking the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence, 2022 sits at the tail end of Ireland’s so-called Decade of Centenaries, a period of commemoration, reflection, and ongoing contestation over the legacies of the Irish Revolution.

Thinking comparatively, as the revolutionaries discussed here did, about the praxis, the aspirations, the achievements, and the shortcomings of these two major moments of decolonization, will, I hope, help both to inform the work of dismantling the legacies of colonialism in our countries and to build new links of anti-colonial solidarity in the present.