In May 1945 the French state committed a massacred thousands in Sétif, Algeria after a street demonstration marking the end of the Second World War adopted anti-colonial demands. Members of the French Communist Party (PCF) in De Gaulle's government supported the massacre, claiming that the anti-colonial demonstrators were supported by the Germans. The Sétif massacre is mentioned briefly by Frantz Fanon in the Wretched of the Earth.
Published in Ohé Partisans! No. 4 August 1945, a short-lived magazine produced by a group of veterans of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP).
The Truth Concerning the Drama in North Africa
Underhanded censorship and a well-behaved press: these are the reasons why so few people have a precise idea about the events that have bloodied Algeria.
The peoples of North Africa have never known the “benefits of colonization.”
The wealth of the big colonists and industrialists was earned from the sweat and blood of the colonial slaves:
A horrible famine and greatly increased mortality since the war.
In Algeria two thirds of native children die before age two.
In certain regions the only food the Algerians have is 120 grams of grain per day.
Thousands of Arabs live in rags and nearly naked.
Multiply by ten the restrictions we know here and by twenty the Vichyssoise rot and you have the situation in North Africa.
The anger of the masses is multiplied by the same amount.
The Algerian Parties
Because of their policy of giving support to the government the French workers’ parties have lost a great part of their influence.
The Algerians clearly realize that the words of the Socialist and Communist Parties against the big colonists are nothing but demagogy.
It is obvious that the colonists could not exploit the Algerian people much longer if they didn’t have the bayonets of the “democratic” government — in which the Socialists and Communists participate — to support them.
It is thus the Algerian nationalist parties who benefit from the confidence of the popular masses.
There is the Parti du Peuple Algerien (PPA), which a certain hypocritical press had attempted to confuse with the [collaborationist] Parti Populaire Français. No need to say that they have nothing in common.
The leader of the PPA, Messali Hadj, was imprisoned under Daladier’s government and then under that of Petain, and finally under the current government.
The second party is the “Mouvement des Amis du Manifeste” of Ferhat Abbas.
The bourgeoisie was unable to put a brake on the popular upsurge by appeals to calm made by treasonous working class leaders (which is fashionable here among us), the latter no longer having any credit in Algeria.
In order to break the back of the emancipation movement it is preparing a monstrous provocation.
The preparations for the massacre were the work of fascist colonists and the Algerian administration. (This was recognized by the entire left-wing press in France.)
But the government’s complicity (which the press remains silent about) leaps out from the following facts.
On May 8 the drama broke out in Sétif. A native demonstration took place. A crowd of several thousand North Africans march with their banners: “Long Live Free Algeria!” “Free Messali Hadj!”
The police intervene. The crowd refuses to take back the slogans. A police superintendent takes out his revolver and fires on the demonstrators. Several collapse. The crowd disperses. A group of natives runs through the city killing a certain number of people.
In all, 102 dead according to the official numbers.
The pretext is provided for a savage repression, and the French state naturally refuses to disturb those who fomented the provocation.
On the contrary, repression is organized against the native population.
The Versaillais Have Had Children
Martial law is decreed in Sétif. Natives are forbidden to leave their houses if they don’t have a special armband indicating that they are going to work.
Any Muslim seen without an armband is killed without warning.
In a square in the middle of Sétif a child plucking flowers is killed by an policeman.
In the region of Sétif the repression is carried out by the Foreign Legion and Senegalais soldiers, who massacre, rape, pillage, and burn down native houses.
The navy sends the “Duguay-Trouin” from Bône. It bombards the area around Kerata. M. Tillon1 asked the workers to build a strong aviation. That’s fine: the Algerian fascists know how to use this aviation to spread death in the native villages. It bombards and machine guns the entire region to the north of Sétif, which is currently a desert (according to the democratic press of Algeria).
The massacre reaches it height.
In Guelma. The Petainist press has done its work well and fomented a veritable racist madness in the European population. To such a point that the repression is led by elements of “France Combattante” and even the local Communist Party!
On May 11 and 12, according to the sub-prefect Achiary, French officers have 300 young Muslims shot down (600-800 according to other witnesses). Just what you'd expect from Vichy officers (who wanted nothing but to redeem themselves).
The carnage continues everywhere, and in Taher, at the end of a talk by M. Lestrade-Carbonel, prefect of Constantine, several notorious Vichystes say: “It’s a day of victory for us!” Indeed.
In France the people’s civil guard no longer exists, but in North Africa reaction constituted a civil guard of its own, in which the former members of Darnand’s SOI occupy the principal positions of command.
Some communist militants who had risen up against killings were struck by gas grenades. Some militants mysteriously disappeared.
In Djidjelli on May 9, 10, and 11 the army pillaged the native neighborhoods.
The federation of federal unions protested and demanded to be received by the prefect, who refused and responded in the manner of Goering: “The army is doing its duty.”
The Classic Maneuver
Of course reaction is trying to confuse the issue in accordance with the classic technique. It declares that Germany is behind all this.
This is a technique that works with the foolish who forget that it’s capital that made Hitler and not Hitler who made capitalism.
At a meeting of mayors of the Sahel held at the town hall of Douera a certain M. Dromigny applauded the name of General DeGaulle and then went into a diatribe against “German propaganda,” ending by calling for the continuation of martial law and of repression against natives.
Before the war this M. Dromigny was the representative in Algeria of the fascist Dorgères.
Balance Sheet of the Repression
“A few hundred victims”
This is false.
So M. Tixier-Stulpnagel2 makes a concession:
“One thousand two hundred Algerians killed.” This is false.
The officers charged with the repression admit to 8,000 dead.
The American consul in Algiers declares there were 35,000 native victims.
On the Champs Elysées the crowds applaud the SS of the Foreign Legion in their white kepis. (“Those are real soldiers, my dear.”)
How clear everything become with “the German problem.”
And over there, in the ruins of a village, an elderly Arab talks to his children about “the master race.”
We feel great shame in thinking about all this, we who fought for four years against oppression.
No, Algerian comrades, we don’t want to be the accomplices of the bourgeois government and its killers.
Long live the struggle of the Algerian people for is independence!
Workers of all countries, unite!
Source: Ohé Partisans! No. 4 August 1945;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2004.
Translator’s note: Though the bulk of the French left was slow in supporting the struggle for Algerian independence, French Trotskyists had long supported the fight, and many of its members would put their lives on the line to back the cause of Algerian independence. The demonstrations and massacres that occurred on May 8, 1945 in Algeria, the day of the German surrender, are generally considered the beginning of the Algerian war for independence, and the Trotskyists were virtually alone in condemning the killings of Algerians that occurred. This article appeared in a short-lived magazine put out by veterans of the Communist-led Resistance group the FTP.
Reproduced from https://www.marxists.org/history/france/trotskyism/1945/algeria.htm
- 1Charles Tillon, leader of the Resistance fighters of the FTP during the occupation, minister in the post-war government.
- 2Reference to Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, extreme right wing politician, his name amalgamated with that of Otto Von Stulpnagel, German military commander in France during the war.