A Date of Great Significance for the Algerian People

Today Algerian people go to the polls as participants in a constitutional referendum. If approved, a new constitution will empower the People’s National Assembly to recall the prime minister, members of parliament would be limited to two terms, and the presidency to two terms, whether consecutive or not. Algeria’s constitution was last altered in 2016.

Flag of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria

November 1st

November 1st is an important day in the history of Algeria, for it marks the date on which the Algerian Revolution was launched in 1954. This war of independence, waged until 1962 and led by the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), culminated in the liberation of Algeria from French colonial rule.

The Algerian War of Independence brought down six French governments and collapsed France’s Fourth Republic, and almost led to civil war in France.

Section of the Algerian National Liberation Front, 1962 (AFP)

Algeria Under French Control

France had controlled Algeria as a settler colony since 1830. They invaded France with an armada of 600 ships. Although they promised to preserve the liberties, properties, and religious freedoms of the inhabitants, French troops immediately began looting, arresting and killing Algerians for arbitrary reasons, and desecrating religious sites. The historian Ruedy estimates that over fifty million francs were stolen from Algerians.

France followed the blueprint of European colonialism practiced in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Their policy of genocide led to the death of between 500,000 and one million Algerians, who numbered only three million at the time. Over the course of the next 125 years hundreds of thousands of European immigrants settled the land.

The French ruled with a military dictatorship and exploited the land and people’s labour for their own ends. When they weren’t being executed or imprisoned, Algeria’s majority-Muslim population were treated like third-class citizens, subjected to disease, famine, and forced migrations as settlers seized their lands. Algerians were made to work in the colonial resource extraction apparatus providing cotton, precious minerals and iron ore; agricultural products including wine, citrus, olives and vegetables; and much more, to the French imperialist economy.

By 1953 60% of Algeria’s Muslim rural population was destitute —that is, lacking the basic necessities for life. Europeans owned about two-thirds of all arable land. Extreme poverty, dislocation from their traditional ways of life, illiteracy, and unemployment, compounded over 125 years of colonial occupation, had ravaged the Algerian people. France tested at least seventeen nuclear bombs on Algerian soil. In the mid-1950s Algeria had approximately 10 million inhabitants, 1 million of whom were settler colonialists of European descent.

The Algerian Revolution

FLN poster, 1956

During the revolution the French held onto their colonial possession until the bitter end. They had over half a million troops in Algeria, and kept fighting even when a 1960 UN resolution recognized Algeria’s right to independence. France employed indiscriminate massacres and bombing, concentration camps, napalm, terrorism, and “hundreds of thousands of instances of torture” (according to French historian Vidal-Naquet). They built electrified fences along the entire length of Algeria’s eastern and western borders.

Acts of terror were committed even within the homeland, most infamously at the Paris massacre of October 17th, 1961, when French National Police opened fire on a crowd of at least 30,000 peaceful civilians supporting Algerian independence, killing 300. Protesters were shot, beaten, and many drowned after being thrown into the River Seine by the police.

More than one million Algerians were killed by the French in the revolutionary war. They couldn’t, however, extinguish the dignity of the Algerian people nor their desire for sovereignty. Following eight years of armed struggle led by the FLN, characterized as a campaign of guerrilla warfare backed by the widespread support of the Algerian people, France ceded control. On July 5th, 1962 — the 132nd anniversary of French entry into the country — the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria proclaimed its birth as an independent nation.

Popular Representation of the Algerian Revolution in the West

In the West, Frantz Fanon, a member of the FLN, is one of the more famous supporters and chroniclers of the Algerian revolution. Fanon’s anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist writings, including The Wretched of the Earth (1961) have inspired movements for national liberation across the African continent and the world over. Critically acclaimed 1966 Italian-Algerian film The Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, is one of the great accomplishments of anti-imperialist cinema.

Frantz Fanon

Today Algeria is a sovereign nation free from colonialism and European hegemony and a pillar of the international Non-Aligned Movement that contains 120 nations.

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