The Algerian Revolution was, of course, a battle in Algeria and, to a lesser extent, in France. Yet, it was also an international fight between the FLN and its supporters and the French state and those eager to learn from its counter-revolutionary doctrine. Samia Henni describes this battle and its legacy from the 1960s all the way to the ongoing Hirak.
The Algerian Revolution, or the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), was waged against the tumultuous backdrop of the Cold War. It was not only a war between French army officers and the Algerian Armée de libération nationale (ALN, or National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Algerian Front de libération nationale—FLN, or National Liberation Front); it was also a conflict between the French civil and military authorities, among French army officers, between the French Left and Right, between French communists and leftists, between French Gaullists and right-wing parties, between the Eastern and Western blocs, and among Algerian elites. However, until 1999, the French government euphemistically called the war “Les opérations de maintien de l’ordre” (“operations for the enforcement of law and order”), “Les évènements d’Algérie” (“Algerian events”), or “La question algérienne” (“The Algerian question”). In France, and thereby in most Western countries, the term “war” was formally recognized 37 years after the ceasefire in 1962, when on October 18, 1999, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, the French authorities finally approved the use of the appellation “La Guerre d’Algérie” (“the Algerian War,” alternately translated as “the War for Algeria”) at French schools and in official terminology.
This armed conflict granted Algeria its independence from France after 132 years of colonization, dispossession, and violence. While the members of the ALN, FLN, and pro-Algerian-independence movements sought to liberate Algeria, France’s civil and military representatives, representing either the left-or right-wing of the political spectrum, all fought to ensure that Algeria was dominated by French colonial rule and to protect French economic interests in colonized Algeria. To this end, the war for and on Algeria’s territory was essential for both the revolutionaries (pro-independence) and the counter-revolutionaries (anti-independence). Whereas the keyword for the revolutionaries was “dispersion,” for the counter-revolutionaries it was “concentration.” The French colonial authorities considered the entire population living in colonized Algeria, including French nationals, as potential suspects. The line of demarcation between friend and foe was blurred. No physical frontier separates the two camps. Accordingly, the battlefield was no longer restricted to simple territorial boundaries but, rather, encompassed the entire territory of Algeria.
In addition to the destruction of war in Algeria, the French colonial regime decreed several laws, orders, and directives for the evacuation of certain areas and the construction of spaces to allow the strict control of the Algerian population and the defense of the European population living in Algeria. The forced relocation and construction of settlements in rural and urban areas was a key factor in isolating the Algerian population from the influence of the revolutionary liberation fighters and in impeding the spread of the desire and the support for independence (or “contamination,” to use the French army’s technical term). One of these laws was the State of Emergency of April 1955, which allowed the imposition of forbidden zones, the prohibition of free movement of civilians, and the strict control of the press and of publications of all kinds. Prior to this date, France’s actions involved the practice of war without acknowledging the state of war, and hence these actions lacked any legal legitimacy. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, France only admitted to the existence of a “non-international armed conflict” 18 months after the beginning of the war. By this point, Article 3 of the Geneva Convention (which specifies the minimum provisions of the two parties in this kind of conflict) should have been applied.
To oppose the imposed “non-international” status of the “war for Algeria,” the members of the FLN and ALN, as well as anti-colonial advocates fought for the internationalization of the so-called “Algerian question.” Together, they have successfully gained supporters among anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist promoters, as well as the future members of what would later be known as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). To achieve these internationalist objectives, the representatives of the FLN participated in the two meetings that paved the way for the establishment of anti-colonial international affairs: the summit of Asian and African heads of States of April 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia, known as the Bandung Conference, and the founding conference of the NAM of September 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Furthermore, they made sure that “the Algerian question” was debated at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, pursuing, and reinforcing the pan-Arab, pan-African, and anti-imperialist solidarities, as well as building new alliances. However, the members of the UN recognized Algeria’s right to self-determination only in December 1960, namely six years after the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution.
The United Nations’ recognition of Algeria’s right to independence was preceded by the release in France in September 1960 of the “Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la Guerre d’Algérie” (Declaration of the Right to Revolt in the Algerian War), known as the “Manifeste des 121” (Manifesto of the 121). The initiative for this public declaration to refuse to take arms against the Algerian people and to approve support for them emerged from the trial of September 5, 1960, of what was known as the “Jeanson network,” a group of left-wing militants led by the existential philosopher Francis Jeanson. The Jeanson network had acted as hosts to the FLN in France, had facilitated its activities, and had supported Algeria’s independence from France. The Manifeste des 121 was signed by 121 prominent French personalities, including Arthur Adamov, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Blanchot, André Breton, Édouard Glissant, Henri Lefebvre, François Maspero, André Masson, Alain Resnais, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet. It provoked a deep anger within the French government, the army, as well as amongst other French intellectuals. The French authorities banned and seized the manifesto, censoring all references to it, while right-wing French personalities firmly opposed it and in turn signed a counter-declaration called the “Manifeste des intellectuels français pour la résistance à l’abandon” (a rough translation of which is the “Manifesto of French Intellectuals for the Resistance to the Abandonment”), which was released in October 1960.
Alongside the French political and ideological opposition, the diplomatic nature of the Algerian Revolution was decisive. On the international arena, the Algerian liberation fighters and the pro-Algerian independence activists employed international law, human rights, radio broadcast, TV studios, congresses, press conferences, and other means to expose French colonial violence, disclose the reasons of their armed struggle, and claim their right to independence. In contrast, the French government’s policies were organized around the idea that “Algeria is France” and that “the Algerian question” was a domestic affair.
This battle for internationalization was informed by the independence of other formerly colonized territories—such as Morocco and Tunisia that gained their independence in 1956, and Ghana in 1957. It was also shaped by an environment of positions that insisted on economic “development,” and equal market opportunities, especially after the 1956 announcement of the large-scale reserves of fossil fuel in the Algerian Sahara.
The symbiosis of the internationalist dimension of the Algerian Revolution was epitomized by Frantz Omar Fanon. The psychiatrist, political philosopher, and anti-colonial activist from the French colony of Martinique (a French Department since 1946) participated in this battle in many ways. He contributed as a writer in academic journals and revolutionary newspaper, such as the Algerian El Moudjahid; as a practicing psychiatrist at Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria between 1953 and 1957; as an Ambassador to Ghana on behalf of the Algerian provisional government; as an anti-colonial speaker and advocate at conferences across Africa, and as an active member of the Algerian National Liberation Front. Fanon crafted the ethical quintessence of revolutionary principles and anti-colonial practices as a commitment to human dignity, accountability, and responsibility. Fanon analyzed and theorized the colonial world in four volumes: Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (1952, Black Skin, White Masks), L’An V de la Révolution Algérienne (1959, A Dying Colonialism), Les Damnés de la Terre (1961, The Wretched of the Earth), and Pour La Révolution Africaine (posthumously published in 1964, Toward the African Revolution). His publications on French colonialism and the Algerian Revolution had influenced, and are still influencing, many revolutionary, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and liberation figures and movements across the world, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Black Panther Party (BPP) in the United States.
Whereas the French civil authorities firmly opposed this internationalization and the internationalist dimension of the Algerian Revolution, the French army practiced, theorized, and secretly exported the French colonial school of warfare to the rest of the world. Known as “La Guerre moderne” (Modern Warfare), these theories were developed by French officers who had gained their practical experience during World War II and during the so-called “Indochina War” (1946–1954), which France lost. The French officers secretly transferred these methods to North and South America during the 1960s.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States and other countries have overtly expressed their vivid interest in French military practices in colonized Algeria—notably the infamous urban warfare methods of the battle of Algiers (1956–1957) famously portrayed in the 1966 movie directed by Gillo Pontecorvo—and in the ways in which the French army had created, learned from, integrated, and enforced counter-revolutionary measures.
Developed by Marshal Thomas-Robert Bugeaud in French colonized Algeria, refined by Marshal Joseph Simon Gallieni in the French colony of Madagascar, transmitted by Marshal Louis Lyautey to the French Protectorate of Morocco, extensively practiced and theorized by Colonels Marcel Bigeard, David Galula, Yves Godard, Charles Lacheroy, and Roger Trinquier, and Generals Paul Aussaresses, Jacques Massu, and Raoul Salan in colonized Algeria during the Algerian Revolution, and exported to the rest of the world, La Guerre moderne would later become known as the “dirty war.” Salan was France’s most decorated soldier at the time, and in February 1961 he founded the paramilitary extremist group the Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS, or Secret Army Organization) in Franco’s Madrid, which violently opposed Algeria’s independence. Salan was arrested in April 1962 in Algiers and condemned to life imprisonment. In July 1968—a mere six years later—he was granted amnesty, and in November 1982 he was reinstated into the French army. The French journalist Marie-Monique Robin masterfully interviewed those officers who were still alive in 2003. The interviews formed the basis for her book Les escadrons de la mort: l’école française (The Death Squads: The French School), also used in her documentary film with the same title. The film and book detail both the methods of the “dirty war” applied by the protagonists and the export of these methods to the Americas, notably to Argentina, Chile, and the United States.
After the independence of Algeria in 1962, the internationalist spirit of the Algerian Revolution continued to be enforced. The newly independent People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria welcomed, hosted, and supported various anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalistic, anti-racist, and other revolutionary movements and political opponents. Among these were the PLO, BPP, Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, and the African National Congress (ANC). Amílcar Cabral, the pan-Africanist and anti-colonial leader of the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (Portuguese for African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC), called Algiers the “Mecca of revolutionaries.” Similarly, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian political leader and chairman of the PLO from 1969 to 2004, described Algiers as a “window through which we appear to the West.” To promote African cultures and strengthen its African alliances, the Algerian government, along with the Organization of the African Union (OAU) organized the first Pan-African Cultural Festival (PanAf) in Algiers in 1969. A few years later, in 1973, Algiers was the home of the 4th Summit Conference of Heads of State or Government of the NAM. Such eagerness for internationalist ideals, rooted in socialist principles, helped the Algerian government to claim and establish its international reputation and anti-colonial identity throughout Africa and around the world. However, these principles were distinctive from Algeria’s national and regional politics and policies, which were not always revolutionary, especially when they came to women’s rights, the family code, languages, religions, employment, and education.
Some of these unresolved issues have incited the Algerian people to take to the streets of Algerian cities in February 2019. These ongoing peaceful protests, known as “Hirak” or the “Revolution of Smiles,” began a few days after Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1937–2021), the then President of Algeria, announced its candidacy for a fifth presidential term.
This was not the first demonstration led by the Algerian civil society since its independence from French colonial rule. The Algerian people protested during the Algerian Civil War (1991–2002) and the anti-government uprisings in Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s —the so-called “Arab Spring.” However, the Hirak is a revolutionary civil mobilization. The peaceful civil movement succeeded in making Bouteflika and other close collaborators resign, as well as in attracting international media coverage and reactions from politicians and intellectuals.
It is also revolutionary because the Algerian protesters employ numerous revolutionary songs, slogans, and terms, including “independence” and “claiming a second liberation” after that of 1962.
These demands for “independence” and “liberation” from an established and longstanding system of oppression echo Fanon’s critique of the colonial (physical, psychological, and virtual) space and time. This critique incites to read the ongoing cartographies of the so-called “post-colonial” or “post-colony” in relation to an ongoing colonial world order of dispossession, including the extraction, exploitation, and transportation of capitals and resources, as well as the circulation of norms and forms that do not respond to specific environmental and socio-economic conditions. Fanon’s arguments reflect ongoing socio-political, spatial-economic, and environmental practices that public institutions and private corporations have generated and continue to support and tolerate. These situations are to be understood nationally, internationally, and transnationally. Such a multiscale view is informed by internationalist decolonial, anti-colonial, abolitionist, Indigenous, brown, Black, queer, feminist, environmentalist, and other traditions of associating anti-colonialism with aspirations for independence, freedom, liberation, and justice. Sometimes the means to defend these demands (and rights) may be regarded as violent by those who will inevitably lose their privilege if the demands are granted. As Fanon argued: “whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” For Fanon, violence is both a human (political) and a medical (scientific) notion. He identified at least three categories of violence: offensive colonial violence, defensive anti-colonial violence and violence in the international context, opening up possibilities for constructive reconsiderations of world orders, spaces, and assumptions.
These possibilities are repeatedly being disrupted, oppressed, and suppressed. On February 23, 2005, the French Fifth Republic (1958 to the present), under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, decreed law no. 2005-158 on the “Reconnaissance de la Nation et contribution nationale en faveur des Français rapatriés” (Recognition of the Nation and the National Contributions of the Repatriated French). Article 4 mandated that teachers must teach students about the “positive role” of French colonialism, particularly in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia). With Article 4, the French authorities dictated the contents of history lessons; indoctrinated pupils studying in French schools; obligated teachers to dissimulate a number of infamous colonial massacres; compelled teachers and pupils alike to praise French colonialism and imperialism; negated the violence of colonialism; reversed the work of historians and their ongoing debates; offended all those who had lived, or still live, under a colonial regime; overlooked the accountability and responsibility of the French colonial authorities; and celebrated the crimes that the French civil and military authorities committed, including the crimes of the French OAS. In the wake of an avalanche of national and international responses, protests, debates, and condemnations which particularly centered on the events of the Algerian Revolution, the French authorities removed, with some difficulty, the aforementioned terms from Article 4 on February 15, 2006, one year after its institution. But France’s intention (and that of other countries) to eulogize colonialism persists today.
An opposition and critique of the coloniality of this neocolonial intention entails the possibility for decoloniality, which is not to be mistaken with decolonization. Decoloniality can be understood, as Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine Walsh argued in their book On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (2018), “as an analytic […] necessarily tied to the lived contexts of struggle, struggles against the structures, matrices, and manifestations modernity/coloniality/capitalism/heteropatriarchy, among other structural, systemic, and systematic modes of power, and for the possibilities of an otherwise.” Unlike decolonization, which is largely associated with the political independence of colonized territories, decoloniality entails a “relationality,” or a condition of relating, which is rooted in “understandings that both cross geopolitical locations and colonial differences,” as Mignolo and Walsh claimed.
The ongoing actions of the Hirakis (people participating in the Hirak) in Algeria and around the world promote “the possibilities of an otherwise,” which unsettle most members of the Algerian government, some of whom fought for independence from French colonial rule and are still representing the FLN. The planned internationalization of the Algerian Revolution against the order of the French government and the inevitable relationality that the Hirak engendered against the will of the Algerian government are forms of resistance, refusal, disobedience, existence, and knowledge. These forms will always be used, adapted, improved, supported, and disseminated until independence and justice are achieved. ■