Sunday, July 08, 2012

Algeria's 50 years of independence

5 July 2012 marked Algeria’s 50th anniversary of national independence from 132 years of the French colonial control at the heavy price of a bitter eight-year armed struggle. 300,000-1,000,000 Algerian deaths, large-scale repression, torture and military removal of millions from their homes. Algeria’s liberation from a major Western power was well-publicized by the writings of Franz Fanon.

Yet for most Algerians it is hard to celebrate. What is there to celebrate when only 20 years ago, the military moved from the background to the fore with a coup d’etat cancelling elections and quickly leading to a decade of horrendous civil war between the military and Islamists, causing the deaths of some 200,000. The post-independence regime continues to produce a constant stream of exiles abroad.

Nevertheless, from a different perspective, Algeria has much to celebrate. From 1962 to the present, many grassroots Algerians have steadily resisted, in a variety of ways, the greed, power schemes and repression from above.  In the first year of independence and after, thousands of Algerian workers spontaneously and with the encouragement of the nationalist trade union took over operation of modern farms and units in industrial and other realms abandoned by Europeans fleeing to France and set to work to self-manage the grassroots re-booting of the national economy. Even though opposed and sabotaged by the military, bureaucrats and the bourgeoisie who resented this growing horizontalist sector of hundreds of thousands and the general challenge to elite power and privileges it represented, many self-management workers struggled for several years to maintain and embrace this attempt at "socialism" from below.

In 1980 emerged a largely spontaneous wave of massive protest and resistance among the proud Berbers of Kabylia, based on long-standing grievances against regime authoritarianism, its disdain for rich Berber linguistic and cultural identity as well as its neglect of the region’s economy. This “Berber Spring” was the first large-scale political challenge to the regime since the early 60s. The later Kabyle insurrection of April 2001 was followed by mass demonstrations and a widespread horizontalist “assemblies movement,” also showed a large-scale rejection of the regime. Virtually the entire region of Kabylia rose up in defiant protest, besieging police stations with rocks and fire bombs while also burning government and political party offices. Other Kabyles formed local grassroots councils based on centuries-old Kabyle horizontalist principles and confederated together from the bottom up. This rising massive defiance and spontaneous self-organization threatened to spread elsewhere in Algeria and to mobilize a national uprising against the regime until the regime repressed it. However, the self-organized assemblies movement persisted for several years.

 A similar but larger protest by thousands of young people took place in the capital, Algiers, in October 1988—without an explicit political program, but demonstrating through their choice of targets (government and FLN party offices and opulent retail stores) their contempt for political and economic elites prospering at the expense of most Algerians. This explosion of massive street demonstrations over several days was then repressed by gunfire, arrests and torture and used by the regime to justify and manipulate a partial liberalization of politics and economic policy. In this brief moment like the recent Arab Spring, many hoped for a genuine multiparty pluralist political system with respect for free expression and human rights. A new outspoken human rights league developed in this period along with new media, independent women’s rights groups and autonomous trade unions separate from the regime’s  largely submissive UGTA union federation. In the end, however, the combination of a growing and increasingly confident and demagogic Islamist movement, including a strong radical component, and manipulation by the dominant military to block genuine democratization culminated in a cancelled legislative electoral process (about to be won by Islamists) in January 1992. What followed was a long nightmare decade of repression, massacres, tortures, assassinations, “disappearances” and rapes committed by both sides.

Nevertheless, the human rights league, autonomous trade unions, women’s rights groups and other grassroots organizations continue to survive and to take strong political stands.The rigged lections are boycotted by large numbers, most recently a month ago for the national assembly. The continued habit of boycotts by alienated voters and further appeals for abstention by opposition figures produced another humiliating grassroots rejection of the system. While the regime claimed a 42% participation rate of eligible voters, the lack of transparency in vote-counting and other traditional forms of electoral manipulation led critics to suggest a much lower rate and fraudulent victories. As well, even among those who voted, admitted the government, about 22% of cast ballots were faulty or blank.

Each year sees thousands of more-or-less spontaneous local demonstrations, riots and confrontations, the only way aggrieved people can gain “dialogue” with oppressive officials. Whether at the level of local daily life or in broader social movements large numbers of grassroots Algerians over the past five decades have refused to accept the authoritarian and corrupt regime imposed since independence and continued the “national liberation struggle” against the national bourgeoisie. Chawki Amari suggested two years ago in El Watan, a leading Algiers newspaper, that Algerians are by nature anarchists who Bakunin would have no trouble recognizing. Every substantial political upheaval is rooted in millions of individual rebellious attitudes and behaviors nourished anonymously over generations until the right conjuncture of economic and political factors breaks through existing bonds of oppression.

It is this struggle which is to be celebrated.

Adapted from here

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