What Has Remained of the Left in Algeria?

The political arena is frozen in Algeria as the political forces have neither the right to exist as organizations nor as discourses. In the face of a liberal “Mafia” imposed by the dictatorship, the people hold on to the deep-rooted traditions of egalitarianism and justice, far removed from dogmas and ideologies. So what has remained of the“left”, while the inevitable restructuring of the political field is pending, other than what the people have kept deep within:a rejection of injustice and oppression, resisting the impositions of imperialism in Palestine and refusing to align themselves with the West?
2020-03-06

Omar Benderra

An Algerian economic expert, member of “Algeria Watch”


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Collective Ahl Al-Kahf - Tunisia

This publication has benefited from the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. This text may be reproduced in part or in full, provided the source is acknowledged.

The moral and political collapse of the "socialist" camp – which is, in fact, a collection of intransigent regimes, led by the former Soviet Union - largely explains the decline of a vast ideological current based on the ideals of justice and egalitarian demands. In the West, the communist parties are not the only political parties that have retreated, among those who supposedly reject, with varying degrees of sincerity, the market’s tyranny - just like the social-democratic partieswhose practices of power often end upbeing alignedwith the market and the liberal system. The same can be concluded for the former “Third World” countries. In all cases, it is more of an internal collapse than an ideological victory of liberal conservatism. This is the case in Algeria today.

From “Specific” Socialism to Bureaucratic Liberalism

The summer crisis which erupted immediately after Algeria's independence on 5 July 1962, in which the border army led by Boumédiène faced "The Interim Government of the Republic of Algeria" (1) and resistance groups, led to a permanent banon politics from a society riddled by wounds and traumas caused by a horrible colonial history. Political parties were banned, and only the National Liberation Front (FLN), emptied of its essence and reduced to a purely bureaucratic apparatus, remained responsible for relayingthe options of the power. By imposing the single party, the military-police regime monopolized political expression. As soon as sovereignty was restored, the progressive and social orientations of the liberation war (2) were gradually abandoned by an increasingly corrupt police state.

According to the official discourse, the social dimensions of the 1970s development policy were the result of a “specific” formula of socialism that adopted part of the socio-economic postulates of the various currents of “scientific” socialism, while rejecting areligious dialectical materialism. The pace of the economic transformation towards an “open” arbitrary liberalism, catalyzed by the death of President Boumédiène in 1978, was accelerated by the military coup of January 11th, 1992, whichput a violent and bloody end to the free elections - an unprecedented event in the history of independent Algeria.

The 1962 summer crisis that erupted immediately after Algeria's independence, in which the border army led by Boumédiène faced "The Interim Government of the Republic of Algeria" and the resistance groups, led to a permanent ban on politics from a society riddled by wounds and traumas caused by a horrible colonial history.

The first round of these elections, which werein the process of establishing a multi-partisan political reality, revealed that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was ahead in the results. It was a party with a vague identity, which was licensed only two years before the elections, and it presented a fragile combination of different, and sometimes contrasting, sensibilities affiliated with different trends of “political Islam”. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was run by a “Shura” Council (advisory board), and some of its most emblematic figures were Ali Belhadj, a very popular preacher, and Abbas Madani, one of the notable men who had participated in the National Liberation Movement. The other two parties that achieved significant results (yet weak in comparison to the Islamists’ results) in the elections were the historic “National Liberation Front” (FLN) - the former single party headed by pro-reform Abdulhamid Mehri, and the “Socialist Forces Front” (FFS), headed by Hussein Ait Ahmed, a prominent figure of the Algerian Revolution and a fierce opponent to the authoritarian regime installed by the army after the independence in July 1962. Both parties claimed they were socialists, yet it was a historical “specific” socialism, slightly or fundamentally modified to fit the National Liberation Front, and, on the other hand, it was a democratic socialism with a “humane” face (one that Ait Ahmed holds so dearly), according to the Socialist Forces Front.

1989 – 1991: A Democratic Leeway

Algerian Socialism was largely founded on the nationalization of large sectors of the economy. The bureaucratic mechanisms used to manage foreign trade and the de facto control of political police and military leaders over it - even before the death of Houari Boumédiène in 1978 – proved to be an obstacle to any development. This issueaggravated the country's dependence on hydrocarbon exports and imports of consumer goods, such as food products. This bureaucratic organization is largely responsible for the debt crisis and the deterioration of the general economic conditions of the country.

Senior executives at the Presidency tried to deal with this development by formulating a reforms program based on a dual openness: towards a market economy on the one hand - while preserving an advanced public sector in the 1970s - and towards the rule of law, order and public freedoms on the other hand. This openness, which mobilized a large number of professionals and experts from all sectors is, above all, the work of a group of executives–usually dubbed “reformers” - who were the entourage of the Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche. These executives, (influenced by the Minister of Economy Ghazi Haidousi (3) and supported by some leaders of the National Liberation Front, mainly by Abdelhamid Mehri) were convinced that there was a need to exit the authoritarian regime and abandon the inefficient administrative mode of managing the economy based on oil and gas rent. After being appointed as a Prime Minister by President Chadhli Ben Djedid in September 1989, Mouloud Hamrouche and his government implemented a program of political reforms, for a short period of no more than 18 months (until June 1991). The program was based on the establishment of the rule of law, especially in terms of public and economic freedoms, by ending monopolies and the institutionalization of common market rules.

Algerian Socialism was largely founded on the nationalization of large sectors of the economy. The bureaucratic mechanisms used to manage foreign trade and the de facto control of political police and military leaders over it proved to be an obstacle to any development. This bureaucratic organization is largely responsible for the debt crisis and the deterioration of the general economic conditions of the country.

Foreign debt, which drained the bulk of the country's external revenues with its high interests, was the main obstacle during that period. The strategic priority was to preserve national sovereignty by avoiding subordination to the ultraliberal programs of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the creditors who controlled the bulk of an external debt which significantly reduced the room for maneuvering. For the reformists, the main dilemma was the ability to preserve, as much as possible, the social character (free medicine and public education) of the stateas a descendent of the war of liberation, and to defend the public sector, while at the same time accelerating its democratic transformation and opening up to the private sector in an attempt toeffectively rehabilitate the economy.

Hussein Ait Ahmed described that movement and that period as a “democratic openness by force” (4). It was during this period of unprecedented freedoms – particularly, freedoms of expression, assembly and demonstration – that “independent” newspapers were born and new parties emerged from the shade; the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), in particular. There was also the Vanguard Socialist Party (5),though much less important than the former two. It is considered the heir of the Algerian Communist Party, close to the Soviet Union, and oscillating throughout the long period of its unauthorized activity, between a “critical support” and an outright alignment with the regime. The dramatic events of the 1990s proved that the party was, in fact, widely infiltrated by the political police. Other small Marxist formations had also gone public, attributing themselves to the Fourth Internationalism or to Trotskyism in general.

The work of the “reformist” government quickly provoked opposition from within the system, from those whose power had diminished and whose monopolization of rent management was in question. These individuals in high positions in the military and political police were the protectors and the primary beneficiaries of a system of interest groups, particularly groups actively involved in importing food commodities and making foreign transactions. The January 1992 coup, amidst unprecedented violence, closed the doors to a political openness that began in the wake of the events of October 1988, when the internal crisis of the regime coincided with an escalating public anger.

Superficial Modernity and Dictatorship

In the early 1990s, the Socialist Vanguard Party (PAGS), which consisted mainly of urban francophone middle-class militants, emerged exhausted from clandestine work. The party’s approach of “critical support” to the regime had cost it much of its credibility in the eyes of the cadres and the population, in a context of a deeply rooted tradition of apprehension ofcommunism. In fact, the 1939 rupture with the French Communist Party (PCF), which was considered a neo-colonial party, had greatly influenced the shape of the political discourse of Algerian independence seekers. (6)

Externally, the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Red Army caused popular outrage in the Algerian public opinion, which had also witnessed withastonished admiration the Islamic revolution’s overthrowing of the Shah's regime in Iran that same year. Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, annihilating any chances of intelligibility through the old discourse. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Algerians who had endured the “police socialism” established by Boumédiène were not willing to lend any credibility to expired theses. In the late 1980s, the rapidly and radically transforming international political contexts revealed the difficulties of the daily life of Algerians, characterized by the lack of variousessential needs, constant arbitrariness and shameless display of wealth by the most corrupt of the power elites. Popular outragewas constantly irrigating the terrain of “political Islam” that was consistently growing and strengthenedthroughout that decade.

For the reformists, the main dilemma was the ability to preserve, as much as possible, the social character (free medicine and public education) of the state as a descendent of the war of liberation, and to defend the public sector, while at the same time accelerating its democratic transformation and opening up to the private sector in an attempt to effectively rehabilitate the economy.

In light of its unrealistic approaches and its devastating internal disagreements, the Socialist Vanguard Party, despite its long history, failed in the 1991 elections, just like the “laboratory” parties (such as the modernist secularist “Rally for Culture and Democracy” (RCD), founded by internal intelligence agencies, but backed by very generous external support, especially by circles close to the French Socialist Party. This examination has lost none of its relevance: the Algerian society is not yet ready to engage in the pseudo-modernist propaganda promoted by a contrived bourgeoisie.

The Military, the Eradicators and the Oligarchs

The dissolution of the Socialist Vanguard Party in 1993, the main party claiming Marxism in Algeria (7), coincided with the beginning of the army’s war against the rebellion. This radically anti-religious “communist” trend (8) soon joined the more extremist minority in its support of the generals: the notorious “eradicators” who supported the idea of a full-fledged war against the Islamists and their suppression by all means possible (generalized torture, forced disappearances, massacres…). The war “against civilians”(9) found, among these circles, its most committed actors and its most enthusiastic propagandists - especially in Europe.

The suspiciousyet extremely bloody war against citizens who “failed to elect well”in 1991 mobilized a number of activists who seemed unbothered with the gradual loss of social gains and the accelerated deepening of inequalities between citizens. In fact, the liberal trends whose “Mafia” character was obvious - especially since the signing of the Stand-By Agreement with the IMF in 1994 - have provoked almost no reactions from “progressive” parties and figures (10), even though the agreement was a major blow to the public sector, which ended up dismantled with a large part of it sold amid total blackout.

That period witnessed an abrupt mutation of a number of ex-Marxist public figures, who became opportunistic businessmen with greedy appetites. The implementation of the Stand-By Agreement was accompanied by a brutal subjugation of the overseers who rejected the liquidation of the public sector and the orders of the political police. For example, during 1994 and 1995, more than 4,000 figures and executives were imprisoned on various pretexts, and some died in prison as a result of torture.The war against civilians and the wide violations of human rights presented an effective cover-up for a brutal reorientationof the economy. This ultraviolent period, culminating in the mass killings carried out by “death squads” linked to the secret military police, ended with the appointment of Abdelaziz Bouteflika as president in 1999.

In the early 1990s, the Socialist Vanguard Party (PAGS), which consisted mainly of urban francophone middle-class militants, emerged exhausted from clandestine work. The party’s approach of “critical support” to the regime had cost it much of its credibility in the eyes of the population.

The first years of the current century brought much“luck” to the regime. The attacks of 11 September 2001 completely diverted Western policies towards the"clash of civilizations". The coup generals received a grand prize they had not even expected, as the interest of human rights organizations in Algeria gradually faded, making the regime more accepted. More “good news” were in sight. Oil prices rose exponentially over a period of 10 years, enabling the country of 40 million inhabitants to collect more than 800 billion dollars in hydrocarbon export revenues during the period between 2003 and 2013. Theunprecedented levelsof corruption in the military-security apparatus were higher than ever, modifying the power structure in Algeria. A new class of intermediaries associated with influential decision-making groups in the presidency and the head of the army was formed, and took advantage of these circles’ unlimited ability to plunder and monopolize national wealth. These businessmennow have a major role in decision-making positions (11). Based on all this, Algeria is today objectively governed by the oligarchy, consistent with the military and political police (12). The decisions made concerning the economic policy are the most prominent proof of this.

Popular Resistances Against a “Mafiosi” Liberalism

In the face ofthese socio-political developments that occurredvery publicly but without attracting any valuable political reactions, can we confirm that the movements carrying ideas of justice and progress no longer exist in Algeria? Is it true that every expression which does not align itself with the directions at work since 1994 is almost impossible, and that the entire society is living under a repressive regime that has abandoned its citizens? The spread of a Cholera epidemic in central Algeria in late August 2018 has exposed the extent of the neglect of an impotent regime whose only policy is to silence opponents’ voices. A debate is therefore forbidden, and anykind of expression has been confined to the clientele margins of a regime that had created a political vacuum equal in its magnitude to its moral collapse and its economic and social bankruptcy.

The political arena has become suspended in time. Political forces that represent society have no right to exist as structures, organizations or even as discourses. The vocal advocates of eradicating Islamists simply vanished from the media scene, as the naivety of their theses became increasingly evident with the regime’s regression. The relationship between the francophone petty bourgeoisiethat produced most of the leftist activists, and the rest of the society was gradually severed. The sporadic demonstrations that organizationsfrom this medium continually tried to organize no longer mobilize the masses. However, it is clear that the ideas of progress and justice have not left the social field, even if those who have long stood for these ideas have lost all ability to influence and persuade.

As with the illegal mass immigration movement towards Europe, young people’s anti-regime slogans in the football stadiums speak volumes about the despair of the new “wretched of the earth” under the rule of the Algerian dictatorship. While Algerian young men and women risk their lives as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean, an uncultivated and lawless comprador bourgeoisie is in formation in symbiosiswith the power centers. The recent shocking case of cocaine trafficking involving police, army commanders and personnel is an example of this situation.

Anger culminates within wide social classesas the people are left to face their fates. The terrible deepening of the disparities between classes and the suffocation of political expression nurtures the people’s resentment. The mediocre and futile military bourgeoisie, with its civil facades, offered nothing but violence, in addition to subsidizing goods to numb popular outrage. But this policy is coming to an end, since the decreasein rent revenues could no longer allow for a lenient redistribution of wealth for the clientele, as in the past decade.

In the face of a liberal “Mafia” imposed by the dictatorship, the people hold on to the deep-rooted traditions of egalitarianism and justice, far removed from dogmas and ideologies. So what has remained of the “left”, while the inevitable restructuring of the political field is pending, other than what the people have kept deep within: a rejection of injustice and oppression, resisting the impositions of imperialism in Palestine and refusing to align themselves with the West?

The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of Assafir Al-Arabi and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation cannot accept any liability for it.

Translated from Arabic by Sabah Jalloul
Published in Assafir Al-Arabi on 27/11/2018

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1- The Interim Government of the Republic of Algeria.
2- As expressed in the fundamental texts of the Algerian Revolution, the Appeal of November 1, 1954 and the Soummam Conference (August 20, 1956).
3- Cf. Ghazi HIDOUCI, Algeria, The Unfinished Liberation, La Découverte, Paris, 1995, 302 pages.
4- For more about the political activity of Hussein Ait Ahmed after the coup of January 1992, read the contribution of Samir Ghazlawi.
5- The Socialist Revolutionary Party - founded by Mohamed Boudiaf - almost completely ceased in the late 1980s.
6- See Jean-Pierre Vernan, “The French Communist Party and the Algerian Question”, an article published in French in the magazine Voies Nouvelles, 1959.
7- See the article of Abdul Aziz Saudi.
8- A position that represents a large part of the Vanguard Socialist Party activists.
9- See article by Salima Mallah and François Jazz, “Dirty War in Algeria: The Responsible and The Guilty”, published in the French newspaper Le Monde on May 16, 2005.
10- With some exceptions that are worth mentioning, such as Sadek Hagras, the former Secretary General of the Vanguard Socialist Party.
11- See Omar Ben Derra's article, “Algeria of the Oligarchs: The Coalition of the Bayonets and the Money Treasuries”, published in French on Algeria-Watch in December 2014.
12- The strength of the decision-making power of this new military-comprador bourgeoisie, for example, can be illustrated by the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of a prime minister during the summer of 2017.

Articles from Algeria