The ORGANIZER Newsletter
Special International Supplement
Issue No. 70 – July 22, 2022
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IN THIS SPECIAL ISSUE:
• FRANCE / ALGERIA: Shame, Forever Shame! (French National Assembly Applauds Supporter of French Colonization of Algeria)
• ALGERIA: Sixty Years Ago, Algeria’s Independence — Interview with Abdelkader Bentaleb, editor of Minbar El Oummel (Workers Tribune).
• ALGERIA / WORKERS PARTY (PT) – From One Workers Party Congress to Another – by Abdelkader Bentaleb (reprinted from The Internationale Nos. 26-27, June 2022)
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FRANCE / ALGERIA
(1962: Algeria gains its independence from France)
Shame, Forever Shame!
On June 28, 2022, the inaugural session of the National Assembly of France [equivalent of House of Representatives – Tr. Note] began, as is the tradition, with a speech by the oldest member of the Assembly. It happened to be José Gonzalez of the far-right-wing Rassemblement National (RN) led by Marine Le Pen.
This right-winger gushed nostalgic for the days when Algeria was a French colony, declaring: “Excuse me, I think of my friends left over there” then, evoking the independence of Algeria in 1962, he continued: “I left a part of my France there. I am a man who has seen his soul forever bruised by the feeling of abandonment, torn from his native land by the wind of history.”
Gonzalez, a supporter of the OAS, spat on the memory of the millions of Algerians who died so that the Algerian nation could live … and a majority of deputies applauded him as a sign of encouragement. The OAS was a secret armed organization that perpetrated attacks and massacres to maintain “French Algeria.”
More outrageous still: Not a single Deputy of the NUPES [the leftist coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon – Tr. Note] stood up in protest. Not one rose up to shout out: “Long live Algerian Algeria!” (which an independent worker deputy would have done). Not one stood up and left the hemicycle of the National Assembly in protest.
Encouraged, the RN deputy went on to salute the “venerable parliamentarian” Édouard Frédéric-Dupont, a supporter of the extreme right-wing leagues in 1934 and later a defender of French Algeria. Later, Gonzalez told the press, “Come with me to Algeria, I will find you many Algerians who will say to you, ‘When are you coming back, French people?’” before adding, “I am not here to judge whether the OAS committed crimes or not.”
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(July 5, 1962 — Algerians celebrate their independence)
Sixty Years Ago, Algeria’s Independence
Sixty years ago, on July 5, 1962, Algeria proclaimed its independence, won after eight years of revolution that ended 132 years of French colonization. Following is an interview with our correspondent in Algiers, Abdelkader Bentaleb, editor of Minbar El Oummel (Workers Tribune).
Question: You were very young when the Algerian Revolution wrested Algeria’s independence from France; how do you remember these events 60 years later?
I remember it as an adult who lived through it. There is a TV series that was rightly called “Avoir 20 ans en 1962” [Being 20 Years Old in 1962]. In it, young men and women tell of the hope that arises for another life, of which they will be the masters, for the first time in their young lives. They cannot say what it will be precisely, but it will be “different.” It will be “fraternal.”
The Algeria of 1962 marked the end of a war that put an end to a long French colonization that witnessed a rare combination of violence and acculturation. For the moment, independence had not yet been proclaimed, but it meant the return of 300,000 Algerian refugees from Tunisia and Morocco, the liberation of the concentration camps where a quarter of the colonized population had been held, the release of prisoners, and the search for the dead and missing by their relatives. The French army, fourth in the world, was finally defeated.
But it cost several hundred thousand martyrs. Then, on July 5, 1962, exactly 132 years after the beginning of French colonization, millions of Algerian men and women, children and old people mixed and euphoric, on foot, in cars or on trucks, took to the streets of the whole country, as if to seize it and affirm that, “now it is ours! A fresco that will have no equivalent until almost 60 years later with the Hirak, the popular movement of February 2019.
(Ben Bella and Boumediene saluted by troops)
Question: Minbar El Oummel, your publication, states that the sovereignty of Algeria was “confiscated” in 1962. Why?
The national movement, at least its most radical fraction (the North African Star of Messali Hadj, then the Algerian People’s Party, PPA, then the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Freedoms, PPA-MTLD), was nourished and developed with the national, democratic and properly working-class demands that the Star’s program put forward, as early as 1924: agrarian reform, nationalization and socialization of the means of production, and an Algerian Constituent Assembly.
But the political conditions of the independence forbade the Algerian people from exercising the free determination of their future. These conditions must be remembered. When Charles de Gaulle returned to power on May 13, 1958, imposed by the French army in Algeria, he had no intention of acceding to the Algerian people’s demand for national independence. At best, he planned to turn the helm over to neo-colonial forces. He implemented two plans to achieve this: the Challe Military Plan, which consisted of liquidating the maquis [resistance], preventing them from being supplied with arms from Morocco and Tunisia, and deporting the rural population to concentration camps.
And de Gaulle included an economic plan, known as the Constantine Plan, whose objective was to strengthen the weak “Muslim” bourgeoisie through multiple investments and to promote “Muslim” executives to the highest level of the colonial administration. In this way, he thought, a “third force” would emerge with which he could negotiate a “neo-colonial” independence.
But this orientation, which he held for nearly four years with its deadly consequences, was rendered obsolete by the irruption of the urban masses in all Algerian cities, starting on December 9, 1960. They took advantage of one of the general’s “food tours” to take to the streets shouting, “Freedom and Independence.”
Starting from Aïn Témouchent, in the west, the demonstrations culminated in Algiers on December 11, 1960. The workers and the working classes in the cities sowed fear among the colonists. The masses could become even more radical – how far? – if the colonial war lasted any longer. The prospect of a “third force” was buried, but not that of a “neo-colonial Algeria” where the interests of French imperialism would be served. De Gaulle was then forced to enter into negotiations with the victorious forces on the ground: the National Liberation Front (FLN).
(Ahmed Ben Bella addresses FLN rally)
Question: What were the Evian agreements, signed between de Gaulle and the FLN?
On March 19, 1962, the Evian agreements were signed. Formal independence was acquired in exchange for the preservation of French interests. The agreements rested on a social base made up of one million pieds-noirs [the name of the French colonists in Algeria – ed. Note]. The future power was constituted by an alliance between European “liberals” and Muslim “moderates.”
Under the slogan “The suitcase or the coffin,” from March 19, the OAS [Secret Army Organization, a fascist terrorist organization of “ultras” among the colonists – editor’s note] murdered Algerians in large numbers in working-class neighborhoods, making any reconciliation impossible. During the month of June, the pieds-noirs (Blackfeet) left for France. They created a vacuum that was immediately filled at the initiative of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA).
The best farms, those of the big landowners, were taken over by the agricultural workers. The workers occupied the factories and workplaces. They imposed workers’ control. The Evian agreements were torn up before they were even implemented by a movement initiated by the historic workers’ trade union federation, whose leadership went further than it wanted to, because the conditions were exceptional.
(Sign reads: “We Don’t Want the Evian Agreement!”)
Question: Against this movement “from below” the “one party” regime was imposed. …
Indeed, at the same time, on June 22, 1962, the National Council of the Algerian Revolution (CNRA), the “parliament” of the FLN, met. It adopted a “socialist” platform, while institutionalizing the FLN as a single party, thus flouting the oldest demand of the national movement: the free exercise by the people of democratic rights and freedoms.
It imposed the single list, or ballot, for the future election of a Constituent Assembly. The CNRA session concluded without agreeing on the list of members of the political bureau, which was nevertheless accepted as the only real future power.
The crisis of the summer of 1962, a crisis for power, opposed two clans. The Tlemcen clan was strengthened by the “border army” [the FLN troops stationed in Morocco and Tunisia – editor’s note]. It won by marching on Algiers, killing 1,500 of the maquisards [resistance fighters] of the central wilaya [department] at Boghari, 150 kilometers from the capital city of Algiers. The clan of Tizi Ouzou, so called because its headquarters was in this city, but which included many leaders of the wilayas of the interior and most of the personalities of the last provisional government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA), was beaten by the force of bayonets. The workers and the working classes, gathered around the UGTA, demonstrated as the army marched on Algiers, chanting: “Seven years, that’s enough!”
The Ben Bella-Boumediene power was installed in Algiers in September. It put its opponents in prison, in particular Mohamed Boudiaf, the main organizer of the outbreak of the armed struggle on November 1, 1954. The regime was legalized by the organization of elections to the Constituent Assembly: an “election” on a single list of FLN members only. The Constitution, drafted by experts without any participation of the nominally “elected” delegates, was adopted in 24 hours in a cinema.
In an attempt to stop the workers’ movement, the authorities liquidated the leadership of the central trade union, the UGTA, and appointed a director with full powers to head all the so-called self-managed enterprises. However, the masses continued to fight until the coup d’état of June 19, 1965. The definitive seizure of power by the military was the most striking expression that national independence had indeed been confiscated.
(Hirak 2019, same as in 1962: “It’s the People’s Turn to Have Their Say!”)
Question: How, 60 years after 1962, is the question of Algeria’s national and popular sovereignty posed?
This may come as a surprise, but I would say that the question of popular sovereignty is posed in the same terms as in 1962. Therefore, it is not surprising that the popular movement of February 2019 has brought this aspiration to the surface: “System, Clear Out!” – “It’s the People’s Turn to Have Their Say!”
Today, as in the past, we must fight for the organized people to demand the election to the Constituent Assembly, whose representatives are elected and revocable. Their mandate will be to sovereignly decide the forms and content of the institutions of the State. Such an assembly will name a government to implement a program that provides solutions to all the social and democratic demands of the people, nationalizes the means of production, and breaks with imperialism.
This can only be a workers’ government, which can take the form of a government of the united workers’ organizations that have broken with their policy of accompanying the initiatives of the regime. The current regime, it should be remembered, is a minority and illegitimate regime in terms of political democracy: The four “elections” held between December 2019 and October 2021 have been boycotted by the people. One in 10 voters turned out to vote. The current regime has remained in place only because of the support it receives from the trade union leaderships, particularly from the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA).
This situation makes it all the more important to fight for the independence of the workers’ unions, fighting for them to say “no” to the illegitimate regime’s outstretched hand of co-optation. The workers’ organizations must engage in a united struggle to win their demands by forging “mass unity” action in a national march to Algiers, where everything is decided! Such a movement would demand an increase of 30,000 dinars for all wage-earners and pensions, and a freeze on the prices of all basic necessities.
All these fights are concentrated for us, Organizing Committee of International Socialists (COSI), in the major fight of them all, that is, the fight to bring together the worker militants for the building of a workers’ party — a party of the entire the working class. This is a tool that has been missing dramatically for workers in the main events of the class struggle for at least a century.
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ALGERIA / WORKERS PARTY (PT)
(Hirak February 2019: The Uprising!)
From One Workers Party Congress to Another
(reprinted from The Internationale Nos. 26-27, June 2022)
By Abdelkader Bentaleb
The leaders of the Algerian Workers Party (PT) were particularly satisfied with their Eighth Congress, held on March 26-27, 2022. For any political formation, and particularly those that, like the PT, claim to represent the interests of workers, the aim of holding a Congress is to take stock of all the actions carried out, to build the organization, and to come to terms with the political orientation followed in the events of the class struggle between two Congresses.
The Seventh Congress was held on December 21-23, 2018. It was only three years and three months later that the Eighth Congress was held. However, according to the figures provided by the PT itself, the party lost more than half its membership between the Seventh and Eighth Congresses. It also experienced a serious crisis which saw the departure from the leadership of a member of the secretariat in charge of elected representatives; members of the Political Bureau; 15 members of the Central Committee; seven out of 11 members of the People’s National Assembly (Parliament’s Lower Chamber); and many leaders of wilaya (province) committees, particularly in the east of the country.
This is not the first crisis that the PT has experienced. During the 2002-2007 legislature, a significant proportion of its MPs [Members of Parliament] left the party. In 2009 and 2015, similar crises occurred. The 2015 crisis was led by the current Secretary General of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA). At the same time, since 2002, we have witnessed the departure or expulsion of vanguard militant activists, notably that of Kamel Arfoutni, who died recently, one of the few militant activists at the origin of all the organizations that preceded the PT, in particular the Liaison Committee of Algerian Trotskyists (CLTA) and the Socialist Workers Organization (OST).
But the particularity of the crisis that the PT experienced between its Seventh and Eighth Congresses is that it took place in the context of and in direct relation to the party’s orientation in the revolutionary crisis opened up by the Algerian masses’ upsurge against the regime in February 2019. What political orientation did the PT champion from its Seventh Congress to its Eighth?
At the Eighth Congress, PT Secretary General Louisa Hanoune presented the party’s activity report and the assessment of its political orientation. The first part of this document described the “global context characterized by the acceleration of the crisis of the rotten capitalist system, whose only response has become social war against workers, youth and peoples, war against nations, recourse to coups d’état and retreat in the field of democratic freedoms, etc. The tragedy of immigrants and refugees is nothing but an expression of the brutality of this regime. … The big imperialist powers employ the war against terrorism, which is the product of this same system, with the aim on the one hand of destroying nations, and restricting trade unions and freedoms and imposing regressive policies on the other. … Against this brutal course which threatens the foundations of human civilization, workers and peoples are waging a fierce struggle on all continents, beginning with the United States of America itself.”
The second part of the report was devoted to demonstrating that “the party’s political orientation and initiatives” have been in line with the needs of the movement by the masses from the opening of the revolutionary crisis on February 22, 2019. Louisa Hanoune recalled the process of accumulation of explosive elements that eventually erupted: “When the breaking point is reached and the extent of deprivation and suffering changes from quantity to quality, no-one can prevent the masses from sweeping clear the political arena and raising the question of power.” What Marxist worthy of the name would not agree with this statement?
Indeed, the Program of the Fourth International teaches us that: “The strategic task of the next period – a pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organization – consists in overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard (the confusion and disappointment of the older generation, the inexperience of the younger generation). It is necessary to help the masses, in the process of their daily struggles, to find the bridge between their current demands and the program of the socialist revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands which stem from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class, and invariably lead to the same conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
(Banner reads: “No to Tyranny, Yes to a Constituent Assembly!”)
With regard to countries oppressed by imperialism, such as Algeria, the Transitional Program points out:
“The democratic program cannot simply be thrown aside; the masses need to outgrow it in the struggle. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly remains fully valid for countries such as China or India. This slogan needs to be inextricably linked to the tasks of national liberation and agrarian reform. Above all, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to rouse and rally the peasants. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to set the workers against the ‘national’ bourgeoisie. At some stage in the mobilization of the masses under the slogans of revolutionary democracy, soviets can and should emerge. (…) Sooner or later, the soviets must overthrow bourgeois democracy. Only they are capable of seeing the democratic revolution through to the end and at the same time opening an era of socialist revolution.”
In practice, was the policy implemented by the PT leadership from December 2018 to March 2022 guided by these principles, which are recognized by supporters of the Fourth International throughout the world?
In order to allow everyone to judge this on the basis of the facts, it is appropriate to start from four events: the PT’s Seventh Congress in 2018; the political orientation of the PT in the first weeks of the revolutionary process; the nature and scope of the resignation of PT MPs from Parliament; and the constitution of the Pact for a Democratic Alternative (PDA).
From the PT’s Seventh Congress’s support to Bouteflika to the call for the formation of a bourgeois government
At the end of December 2018, the PT’s Seventh Congress was held in Algiers. It opened with the playing of a video in which Abdelaziz Bouteflika [then Algeria’s president – Tr. Note], appeared, against the backdrop of the national anthem, greeting a virtual crowd. There was no legal obligation to highlight the current President in this way at any Congress of any political party, and even less so at the Congress of a party that claimed to be in opposition to his policies. In reality, this fact was an expression of the PT’s ongoing political flirtation with the regime. On September 16, 2018, Louisa Hanoune announced at the start of the PT’s Political Bureau meeting that the parliamentary group in the illegitimate National Assembly would submit amendments “to reinforce the positive measures provided for in the 2019 Finance Bill” (our emphasis). She also reiterated her call for a Constituent Assembly, calling this step “an imperative necessity in the face of the challenges facing the country in order to protect it”.
In her opinion, the election of the Constituent Assembly should be the subject of a real debate between all the components of the people. She would champion this concept during the Seventh Congress, to the point that she positively envisaged participating in the “national conference” proposed by Ali Benflis, a former Prime Minister under Bouteflika, who was present at the opening of the Congress.
At the same congress, Lucien Gauthier, one of the leaders of the so-called “International Liaison Committee”, of which Louisa Hanoune is the co-ordinator, gave a speech in which he said that “the election of President Bouteflika in 1999 … had responded to the Algerian people’s expectation of peace and security”. Of course, these were the 1999 elections. But 20 years later, we were in a situation where the announcement of a fifth term sought by Bouteflika provoked massive rejection, which would be expressed in the cold light of day a few weeks later in the demonstrations of February 22, 2019.
Lucien Gauthier’s speech of allegiance to the regime was published in Issue No. 111 (January 2019) of Fraternité, the PT’s publication, at a time when calls for a strike throughout the national education system were already multiplying, the first demonstrations were taking place, and football stadiums were shouting slogans of rejection of the regime and waving placards against a fifth term in office for Bouteflika.
This was not a momentary blunder; it was the substance of the PT’s policy. On January 19, 2019, one month after the Congress and one month before the popular protests, Louisa Hanoune, speaking at a meeting of young people, declared that she wanted “to see the presidential election of April 18 lead to political renewal and democratic transformation” (our emphasis). She also announced the resumption of the signatures campaign to demand from Bouteflika “the convening of a Constituent Assembly”.
On February 18, 2019, daily newspaper El Watan published a long interview with the PT Secretary General two days after the gigantic protest march in Kherrata against the regime, a march that announced the irruption of the popular masses on a national scale against a fifth term. Louisa Hanoune noted the “disintegration of the institutions because the system is in its death throes”, opposed the fifth term being solicited by Bouteflika’s entourage, denounced “the collusion between money and politics which is jeopardising the very existence of the state” and argued that “people are angry”. To be in line with these statements, it would have been enough for her to return to the PT’s original policy by opening up to the masses the perspective of a sovereign Constituent Assembly. But Louisa Hanoune preferred to address “the decision-makers”. She called on them: “Those who really want to convince Algerians that they are in favor of deep political reforms have two choices: either call genuine elections for a Constituent Assembly …, or move to a genuinely transparent early election of a new National Assembly, which will be representative and legitimate, to reform the Constitution or even to draw up a new one.”
“Either the regime convenes the new Constituent Assembly or it calls an early election”. In both cases, it was up to the regime to decide, within the framework of the system which, a few hours later, millions of Algerians would call on to “Clear out!”
Maintaining a continuous dialogue with the leading circle of the government, she explained: “The President is a candidate and he is committing to do things once elected. I don’t think he needs to wait until after the election. He can do a lot of things now… When you have the will, you can do anything.” It was no longer a question of class struggle based on antagonistic interests, but of “the simple wish to do good things and … a lot of them”. In reality, on February 18, the die was cast. The masses were gearing up for battle. The same day, young people occupied the Algiers metro system. And the calls to demonstrate on February 22 came from all sides in the social networks. On the 21st of February, 24 hours before the huge demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Algerians, Louisa Hanoune spoke again. She took note of the calls to demonstrate but did not call for them: “But everyone is free to take part”. However, she wanted to “warn against provocations that were still possible”, taking up the refrain of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who warned: “In Syria, the demonstrations started with flowers, and we saw what happened in the end.”
The day after the demonstrations on February 22, a PT statement said that it was a “historic day” and “a profound aspiration for change, for the departure of a system that has been suffocating them for years”. The PT characterized the institutions as being “in total decay (…), illegitimate”. It concluded: “The supporters of ‘continuity’ will bear sole responsibility for any provocative attitude that runs counter to the deep desire for change that was expressed throughout the country on February 22, 2019.”
(Banner reads: “No to an Illegitimate National Conference; Yes to a Sovereign Constituent Assembly!”)
The statement did not open up any perspective. Wouldn’t a genuine workers’ party have opened up to the masses the crucial perspective of a sovereign Constituent Assembly in order to counterpose the expression of popular sovereignty to the regime? On February 25, Louisa Hanoune appeared in a video interview on the news website TSA, which was taken up as an editorial in Fraternité (Issue No.115). After giving an analysis of the popular movement and indicating that the Constituent Assembly was the only path that was compatible with democracy, she suddenly addressed those who made the decisions in the name of Abdelaziz Bouteflika: “While there is still time, let him [Abdelaziz Bouteflika] announce his withdrawal at the end of the fourth term, the resignation of the present government, the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of a provisional government of technocrats to manage current affairs. A government composed of men and women of integrity, who are patriots and competent” (our emphasis).
What was she saying? She was advising the “decision-makers” in place to act “while there is still time” so that the outgoing President would appoint “a provisional government of technocrats to manage current affairs. A government composed of men and women of integrity, who are patriots and competent”. Can proletarian revolutionaries call for the formation of a government other than that of the workers? But is that what we are talking about, when the PT Secretary General relies on the “decision-makers” to form a transitional government? Who can think for a moment that those “decision-makers” would act in any other way than to protect the system?
On February 28, the eve of the twelfth Friday of mass demonstrations (March 1), a statement by Louisa Hanoune addressed to PT activists and sympathizers stated: “Tomorrow, there is no party affiliation … . Tomorrow, obviously, we will all go out, not as militant activists of the Workers Party, but as citizens, because national unity has been consolidated.” And she asked people to demonstrate “without any partisan slogans because it is not the PT that is calling for demonstrations”. In simple terms: one must put away one’s flag and one’s politics, forbidding oneself to open up the slightest political perspective, for example by providing the workers and young people with the only positive response to their aspiration expressed forcefully in the marches (“It is the people’s turn to have their say”): “Sovereign Constituent Assembly”. Conversely, at the same time, in the Algiers protest marches, the contingent of the “revolutionary workers’ left” – of which the militant activists who, on March7-9, 2019, had constituted the Committee for the Organization of Internationalist Socialists (COSI) and their sympathizers were part – was warmly received by the other demonstrators all along the route when it put forward the slogans: “Constituent Assembly and Self-Organization”.
On March 4, during a press conference at the PT’s headquarters, the Secretary General was questioned by a journalist regarding a call by academics who had put forward the perspective of a Constituent Assembly. She said: “The Constituent Assembly is on the agenda, it allows the debate to be broadened. There are intellectuals and academics who have issued a call in this direction. We support this call. We don’t want to use it to raise our own profile.” But which Constituent Assembly? As far as the Secretary General was concerned, it would “have to draft a new Basic Law, define the nature of the political system (parliamentary, presidential, etc.), set the safeguards of sovereignty and produce laws.” She added: “There is no exclusion in the Constituent Assembly. All social layers and sensitivities of the population must be represented. Businessmen driven out of business by the oligarchy will have their place” (our emphasis).
On March 9, the day after the mass demonstrations of March 8, the Secretary General declared: “Will those who are making the decisions in the name of the President respond positively to the people and stop this process which bears all kinds of danger?” (our emphasis) We have seen above the answers she suggests.
On March 10, with the general strike, the workers joined the dance, carried by the momentum of the previous Friday’s demonstrations. The cracks at the top were widening. More than ever, the movement by the masses needed an independent perspective to be opened up, based on the double aspiration expressed by the popular movement: “System, clear out!” and “It is the people’s turn to have their say”, which opposed the superficial patching up of the regime by getting rid of some political figures. An option that was already being sketched out.
On the evening of March 11, in response to Bouteflika’s letter announcing that he would remain in office for a longer period, but conceding that he would not seek a fifth term, young people took to the streets shouting “Goulna gaâ, c’est gaâ” (“We said [get rid of] all of them, that means all of them”).
This is what the COSI, proclaimed on March 7-8, 2019: “The postponement of the presidential election and the abandoning of the fifth term mark a new phase in the social, political and institutional crisis that has been going on since the demonstrations of February 22. … The announcement on March 11 (via Bouteflika’s letter) was precipitated by the events of the 72 hours that preceded it: the demonstrations by millions of Algerians in the streets of all the country’s cities on March 8 [International Women’s Day], increasingly blending the social and democratic demands of women, young people and workers with those common to all: “No to the fifth term, clear out!”; the irruption of youth in the streets after the closure of universities and high schools; the mass walkout by workers deciding to strike in the main industrial zones of the country (Rouiba, Arzew, El Hadjar, Hassi R’Mel, Hassi Messaoud); the marches by young people led by striking workers; the growing number of UGTA bodies, federations, local and departmental unions announcing the breaking-off of relations with the Secretary General, the main supporter of the regime; the constitution of embryonic popular committees for revival, linking together the representatives of the inhabitants of the neighborhoods and communes, workers in their workplace and young people: a new situation began to emerge. The working class, which had burst onto the political scene as a class, put itself forward as a candidate for resolving the crisis that was sweeping the country, grouping together the people, all the layers and all the sectors of the population (we saw, after the journalists, the call by the magistrates, the call by the doctors’ organization, the organizations of martyrs and mujahidin) around the workers organized with their unions and delegates. The government understood that its obstinate insistence on trying to force things through was leading the country into a situation of open revolutionary crisis. It took fright and considered that it could not stick to this line. It had to give the impression of changing the course of things while guaranteeing the one essential thing: the continuity of the regime. The powerful upsurge of the working class, the power of the mobilization by the whole people and by the youth forced this change of form.”
Faced with such a situation, the COSI statement concluded: “It is for the people to decide. There is no other way to do this than to convene a sovereign Constituent Assembly through which the representatives of the people – appointed, mandated and subject to oversight by them – will decide what the new institutions of the new Algeria should be. Yes, a sovereign Constituent Assembly with no limits, no restrictions other than respecting the mandate given by its constituents; a Constituent Assembly, not in two years, not the result of some obscure “national conference” decided from above, but a sovereign Constituent Assembly now, immediately, which must take the future of the country into its own hands. There is no answer below the level of a sovereign Constituent Assembly, because all other means have been rejected in advance. The entire people have shown their maturity and responsibility in the demonstrations that have been multiplying for the last 20 days. The Algerian people are mature and responsible enough to conduct a constituent process without being dictated to.”
What did the PT say about this same situation?
On March 12, in a statement following Bouteflika’s return from hospital in Switzerland, the PT took “note of the return of the President of the Republic”. It declared: “The withdrawal of the President’s candidacy and the postponement of the presidential elections can be a factor in preserving national sovereignty” (our emphasis). The statement concluded: “If the President really wants to give a pledge of sincerity, then he should restore to the people the right to speak now, appoint a technocratic government that acts in total transparency, composed of honest and patriotic men and women, capable of listening to the majority, to manage current affairs until the majority decides on the nature of the regime to be put in place and therefore the electoral calendar.”
In a press conference on March 16, Louisa Hanoune reiterated her proposal. She called on the “high authorities of the country” to respond to the popular movement in the following way: “The withdrawal of the President of the Republic at the end of the fourth term, the resignation of the government, the dissolution of the two Chambers of Parliament and the constitution of a technocratic and transitional government composed of competent people of integrity.”
Since its Seventh Congress – and in fact long before – up to the beginning of April 2019 (the height of the popular movement, up to the point when Bouteflika was forced by the Chiefs of Staff to resign in order to save the system), the PT had been the pilot-fish of all the political forces committed to maintaining the existing order, especially those within the State apparatus. This policy led its leaders to propose the formation of a bourgeois government “to exit the crisis” and to deny any path of independent struggle for the movement by the masses, which would have been concretized by agitating on the demand for the election of a sovereign Constituent Assembly, opposed to all bourgeois combinations. This is the bitter truth.
Louisa Hanoune’s arrest and the administrative resignation of the PT MPs
(Sept. 30, 2019 POID, France, calls for freeing Louisa Hanoune and all prisoners of conscience in Algeria.)
The arrest and imprisonment on May 9, 2019 of PT Secretary General Louisa Hanoune provoked legitimate indignation in Algeria and internationally. For our part, we spoke out without hesitation against the repression directed at her and for her immediate release and that of all political prisoners, regardless of what one might think of their political positions.
The faction of the military regime that held the reins of power, before and even more so since the Chiefs of Staff forced Bouteflika from power, had her arrested as part of a settling of accounts against the Bouteflika clan: Saïd Bouteflika, the brother of the outgoing President, and two former security officials, Generals Toufik and Tartag, who were also jailed and charged with “plotting against the State and military authority”.
Supporters of the PT Secretary General claimed that she was arrested as a representative of the movement by millions of Algerians who, since February 22, had taken to the streets shouting “System, clear out!” The [CCI’s weekly] newspaper Informations Ouvrieres stated (May 16, 2019): “The charges against Louisa Hanoune are directed against the entire Algerian people”.
Let us say from the outset that any political activity by Louisa Hanoune or any other political leader does not concern the State, its justice system, and even less so military justice. The PT’s Secretary General should not have been in Blida military prison. This is why we stood alongside PT activists to take action for her release. She is only accountable to her party. But, like any activist, and even more so for a leader claiming to act in the interests of the popular movement, her action is subject to criticism. Let us review the facts.
On March 27, the PT stated that it “could not participate in an operation to patch up and therefore save the system”.
The same day, the PT Secretary General met secretly with Saïd Bouteflika and General Toufik, former Director of Intelligence, two pillars of the regime. This meeting was only revealed on May 16 by her lawyer, Rachid Khane. Mr. Khane said that his client had taken part because “she thought that the meeting was official”, i.e., held with the agreement of the President’s office.
A question then arises: Was the PT leadership informed of this initiative? In response to several interlocutors, Ramdane Tazibt, a member of the PT secretariat, curtly replied that “this initiative falls within the prerogatives of the party’s Secretary General”, which could mean: “Move along, there’s nothing to see here!” He is not entirely wrong: The activities of the PT leader are primarily the concern of her party’s leaders and activists. However, insofar as this was a public political act in a particular context, the question arises: Could the PT Secretary General meet or simply respond to an invitation from leaders of the system at a time when the popular movement was shouting “System, clear out!” and “Goulna gaâ, c’est gaâ!”, particularly when the PT had stated on the same day that it “could not participate in an operation to patch up and therefore save the system”?
The PT leader’s lawyer explained that during the meeting, Louisa Hanoune had challenged the plan to rescue the regime presented to her by her interlocutors. This is all very well, but that is not the problem. The political fault lies precisely in the meeting, and not only in the content of the discussions, because it was kept “secret” for two months.
On April 1, the day before Bouteflika’s resignation, the PT announced that it had “decided that its parliamentary group will resign, because under no circumstances will it participate in the attempt to rescue the illegitimate institutions of a regime built on the denial of the people’s sovereignty.”
On April 28, in response to rumors that some PT MPs had not resigned and had participated in the swearing-in of Bensalah as “interim President”, the PT acknowledged that only four of its 11 MPs had resigned, including the Secretary General. The other seven, the majority of the group, announced that this decision had been taken without them being informed or consulted! It doesn’t really matter whether this was true or not, because it concerns the internal life of the PT. What concerns us and all labor activists is the choice of the four MPs and main leaders of the PT to resign “administratively”. In doing so, they turned their backs on the whole experience of the international labor movement regarding the revolutionary use of their presence in a bourgeois parliament.
Because, what had they done since millions of Algerians started on February 22, 2019 to burst onto the streets every week, shouting “System, clear out!”?
It was not until April 1, five long weeks later, that the PT announced in a simple press release that its MPs were resigning from the People’s National Assembly. But not once since February 22 had they used their presence in Parliament to present a motion submitted to a vote, declaring, in the face of this rump Assembly and against it: “Legitimacy is on the side of the majority in the street, this Assembly is illegitimate, we are proposing a motion by which this Assembly recognizes that it represents nothing, and convenes the Constituent Assembly to allow the people to decide for themselves on the future of the country”? Such a motion would probably have been defeated. But the educational demonstration would have been made that this Assembly deserved to be abandoned once and for all by MPs committed to the people’s sovereignty and preferring to be in the streets alongside the masses.
No such declaration was made. Not on February 22, not on the 23rd, not on 24th, not in the week that followed, not in any of the other weeks. It was not until five weeks later that four PT MPs settled for resigning administratively, without seeking to make the demand for the nation’s sovereignty explode within the confines of the rump Assembly, without making themselves the spokespersons of the demand for the nation’s sovereignty. The PT MPs left the Assembly on the sly.
The whole revolutionary process in Algeria today poses the question of power, and therefore, in an intimately linked way, the question of the party. If the crisis of humankind is the crisis of the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat, the solution to this crisis today in Algeria must overcome the obstacle constituted by the political collapse of the PT. This is the conclusion we, the founding militants of COSI, have reached in organising ourselves to pursue this task.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire: the PT joins the PDA
In her opening report to the PT’s Eighth Congress, Louisa Hanoune highlighted in particular the PT’s membership in the Pact for a Democratic Alternative (PDA) as being “positive”. What is the PDA and how does the PT’s membership in it perfectly express the nature of its politics?
We will quote here three of our documents written between 19 June and July 7, 2019. We do not need to change a word. The first, the “Open Letter to the leaders of the PT and the PST” [Socialist Workers Party, the Algerian organization linked to the Pabloite Unified Secretariat], explained the reasons why the COSI was turning down the invitation to take part in the “national conference” planned for June 26 to officially found the PDA. We said: “This “pact”, which constitutes the signatories as “forces of the democratic alternative”, does not seal an ad hoc alliance on a particular point of the struggle such as opposing repression – which is needed – or defending democratic rights, where the organizations and parties act together while retaining their independence, in line with the old principle of the labor movement: “March separately, strike together”; rather, it is a “pact” based on the common struggle for power between organizations claiming to represent the workers and advocates for the bourgeoisie and its State” (our emphasis). The whole history of the class struggle has taught us the absurdity of thinking that a “common struggle for power” between working-class parties and bourgeois parties is possible, unless the former accept the program and objectives of the latter.
It also teaches us that the bourgeoisie, on behalf of imperialism, never puts all its eggs in one basket when antagonism between the classes rises to the point where the bourgeoisie sees its power wavering in the face of a powerful mass movement. After February 22, 2019, the bourgeoisie in Algeria had two options: install a military-police dictatorship or renovate the façade of the regime. To do this, it needed to create an obstacle to the movement of the masses with the aim of limiting it and keeping it within the framework of the existing social order. The PDA fulfilled this function.
Here is the proof, stated on June 19 in the Open Letter: “On the one hand, you establish perfectly the diagnosis that the current system is incapable of responding positively and fully to the wishes of the whole people to decide its own future, as it has proclaimed continuously for the last 18 weeks; but on the other hand, after setting yourselves up as the only political force “capable of faithfully translating”its wishes, you propose that you will “develop a political solution that is ambitious, reasonable and achievable”. And, for the sake of clarity, you write further on that the time “has come for consultation and dialogue to build a consensual political pact that will then define the contours of the process of democratic transition.””(our emphasis).
This orientation was exactly that of the pro-bourgeois components of the PDA: the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), but also the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS) and the Party for Secularism and Democracy (PLD). In his speech, the FFS’s First Secretary summed up the PDA’s objective: “It will be necessary to reach a compromise with those in charge”, i.e., with the existing state apparatus. The nature of the components of the PDA defines it perfectly. The RCD was represented by three ministers in the first Bouteflika-Benflis government when the latter bloodily suppressed the youth uprising in Kabylia (2001). It has never hidden its commitment to “a social and ethical market economy” and an “accelerated privatization of public enterprises”, and supports the recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank. Zoubida Assoul’s Union for Change and Progress (UPC) is an empty shell. The UPC supported the aborted presidential candidacy of Ghediri, a retired major-general, a candidacy driven by part of the military hierarchy. Before that, Zoubida Assoul was a member of Moutawana, a grouping that included Ahmed Benbitour, ex-Prime Minister and main negotiator with the IMF, and Benouari, ex-Minister of Finance and current CEO of several private investment funds, including the French bank Société Générale.
The signatories of the PDA also included two relics of the crisis of the historic Stalinist party, the Socialist Vanguard Party (PAGS): the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS) and the Party for Secularism and Democracy (PLD). The MDS had totally converted to the “market economy”, and its National Council had opposed the demand for a sovereign Constituent Assembly. The PLD’s main leader, Moulay Chentouf, wrote in daily newspapers El Watan and Le Soir d’Algérie (May 21 and 23, 2019): “The People’s National Army (ANP) must be the guarantor of the peaceful nature of the transition and its democratic outcome. The ANP is the most advanced and organized force in the state and society. This is why the people count on their army to accompany them in the revolutionary process they are carrying out. The ANP is urged to fully support the people’s demands by concretely and urgently translating its major slogan: “System, clear out!”, by dissolving all political parties without exception and all trade union organizations.”
The last element that defines the nature and political aims of the PDA is that the leaderships of the PST and the PT accepted the decision by the RCD, MDS, PLD and UPC to refuse to include the demand for the convening and election of a sovereign Constituent Assembly. This at a time when more than ever, the whole situation placed on the agenda the opening of such a perspective and, therefore, the struggle for the independence of the workers and their organizations so that the workers might take the lead in the struggle for popular sovereignty and give it its true meaning: the national and social emancipation of the people from the comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism.
The PT leadership, like the PST leadership, had switched to the policy of the “popular front”, a policy which has always prepared the greatest defeats of the proletariat, from the crushing of the Chinese Revolution in 1927 to that of the Spanish Revolution in 1936-39, or the tragedy in Chile in 1973. The PT leadership, like the PST leadership, could not ignore one of the main lessons of the class struggle of the last century, synthesized in the Transitional Program which it claims to stand for: “‘People’s Fronts’ on the one hand, fascism on the other: these are the last political resources of imperialism in the struggle against the proletarian revolution.” The Program adds that “there is not and there cannot be a place for [revolutionaries] in any of the Popular Fronts”, because the fundamental position of revolutionaries is that they “uncompromisingly oppose[s] all political groupings that are linked with the bourgeoisie”.
The consequences of the constitution of the PDA
We have dwelt on the PDA because the PT’s rallying to this “popular front” combination is comparable to the labor organizations joining the various alliances with the bourgeoisie since the late 1930s: their shift to the side of the bourgeois order. The PDA was designed to stand against the movement of the masses. The organizations which make it up will give, together or separately, numerous proofs of this.
In December 2019, as the presidential election organized by the regime loomed, there were increasing calls for a general strike from December 8 to 12 and an active boycott on election day. At its meeting on December 7, the PDA issued a call to “support peaceful actions to express our rejection of the election”. The word “peaceful” was used precisely by the PDA and its constituents to distinguish themselves from the actions on the ground by the masses, who had organized an active boycott of the election in many villages and polling stations.
On the eve of November 1, 2020, the PDA rejected the constitutional referendum that had been called on that date, without taking any initiative. One month before the legislative elections of June 12, 2021, the FFS quit the PDA. Its activist base had forced its leadership to no longer take part in it. The remaining political forces (PT, PST, MDS and UCP) called for people “not to vote” in the elections. But on the eve of the elections, the PT leadership broke the unity by calling on citizens to “express themselves freely by voting or not voting on June 12”.
In the local elections of November 27, 2021, the FFS, which was no longer represented in the PDA, stood candidates. The RCD exploded into two halves, and one of the fractions quit the PDA to participate in the local elections. The PT leadership announced that it was leaving “its activists free to stand candidates or not”.
“The hope born with the popular revolution has evaporated” (Louisa Hanoune)
Five elections have been held since the presidential election of December 2019. They have been massively rejected by millions of Algerians. Seven to eight out of ten registered voters did not go to the polling stations – a sign that the popular masses have not been beaten. They have retreated in an orderly fashion, for lack of a political perspective. However, workers and young people have continued their struggles on their own ground, especially in the workplace. In the recent period, let us mention the general strike by public service workers in the south of the country, covering nearly 30 wilayas.
For months, the press has been aware that a more widespread popular mobilization might resume at some point. Since the early days of 2022, as a result of the withdrawal of State support for the prices of basic necessities, plus the taxes introduced by the 2022 Finance Law, prices have been soaring. According to unofficial experts, inflation on foodstuffs averages almost 50 percent.
This is exactly the situation in which the PT’s Eighth Congress was held. In the third part of her opening report to the Congress, Louisa Hanoune described the situation of the workers and the working class under the government’s policy, as she had done regarding the international situation. She even stated that “those who are running the country (…) are incapable of responding to the aspirations and urgent needs, and even of running the country according to a program capable of getting it out of the difficult situation”.
(What is needed is to affirm a political program of struggle…)
Any genuinely working-class party would have concluded from this that it was necessary to affirm a political program of struggle, combining social and democratic demands, including the demand for a sovereign Constituent Assembly, i.e., for a break with imperialism, to put an end to a system that is incapable of satisfying any demand. Any genuine workers’ party would have combined this with slogans to be carried into the trade unions in order to help the workers formulate their demands and mobilize, and specific proposals for action responding to the situation. Like the fight for the trade unions to call on a united basis for a central march to Algiers, where everything is decided, for the satisfaction of all social and democratic demands. Or the call by the national Front Against Repression to hold general assemblies in the cities and wilayas to broaden the fight against repression. This did not happen. Is it because, as Louisa Hanoune said three days later in a press conference: “The hope born with the popular revolution has evaporated”? In other words, says the PT Secretary General: the masses have been defeated.
Regarding unity against imperialism and the independence of revolutionaries
In her press conference, Louisa Hanoune asked the government to cancel the measures taken by the regime, which no one could contest. But all these demands, she said, were addressed to the government so that “the internal front is strengthened in the face of external dangers”: “The Algerian state cannot remain faithful to the traditions, principles and ideals dedicated to respecting the sovereignty of nations (…) which have guided the foreign policy of our country since independence, unless the internal front is really consolidated in terms of respect for the exercise of rights and at the level of social conditions linked to the life of the majority of people (…), without which the country would be exposed to foreign interventions.”
Here, she was using the phraseology of the regime’s main figures (that of the illegitimate “President” Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and the Presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate). Like the regime, Louisa Hanoune, derived the alleged need to “consolidate the internal front” from the external threats to be faced. The PT Secretary General said: “It is now confirmed that the Zionist threat, including at the security level, has become a reality in our region. [It] threatens the stability of our country.”
We are not the ones to dispute the need not to underestimate the threat of the Zionist entity. It is real. But if this is a question of the traditional Marxist orientation of the “anti-imperialist united front”, the revolutionaries are unconditionally against imperialism whatever the nature of the existing regime, but the revolutionaries remain independent of the regime and of all bourgeois or petty-bourgeois forces. They do not stop the struggle against the bourgeois regime.
The independence of revolutionaries is expressed particularly in the combination of the struggle against imperialism and the struggle for the unity of the workers, the working-class layers and their organizations. In other words, for the workers to take the lead in the struggle against imperialism, thus giving it its true meaning: imperialism will only be truly defeated by the victory of the working class.
The threat of the Zionist entity and, more generally, of imperialism is there. But isn’t the regime acting in favor of imperialism? Has it not decided to repeal the provision prohibiting the Algerian army from intervening outside the country’s borders? Did it not authorise the French Air Force to use Algerian airspace to bomb Mali? Has it not decided to repeal the so-called 51/49 measure (which until recently prohibited foreign companies from holding more than 49 percent of the capital of an Algerian company) and to open up the capital of public companies, including banks and insurance companies, to foreign investors?
Did it not abolish State subsidies of the prices of basic necessities, applying to the letter the recommendations of the IMF and the World Bank? In view of all these measures, is the regime not the main vector for imperialism to “recolonize” the Algerian economy?
All the experience of the class struggle (especially in Egypt) shows that the fight against imperialism begins by opposing all anti-social measures and by putting an end to a regime that is the Trojan horse of the big imperialist powers in Algeria. In these conditions, the calls to “strengthen the internal front” are aimed at sealing the cracks between the regime and the masses, who have been in struggle since February 22, 2019, and making them accept the anti-social and anti-democratic measures.
The position of the PT, expressed during its Congress, takes on its true meaning in relation to the possible new initiative of the regime to engage in a “new dialogue with the political class” to strengthen “the internal front”, as the daily newspaper L’Expression tells us. In the end, the verbal radicalism of the PT Secretary General is in the service of a political orientation of adaptation to the existing order.
- Algeria, March 30, 2022