The Algerian Insurrection

Quevedo said of the Spaniards: "they haven't been able to be historians but they deserved to be". This is still true of the 1936 Spanish Revolution: others have written the history. It's too early to write the history of the insurrection that started in Algeria during spring 2001, but it's not too late to defend it; and to fight the deep indifference as we see it in France.

From Black Flag #222 (2002).

To illustrate the significance of this uprising, we need to look at the actions and declarations of the Algerian insurgents. Their dignity, understanding and courage reveals the abjection in which people of the 'modern world' are living; their apathy, their petty worries and their sordid hopes.

The young rioters fought police and gendarmerie (military police) forces for several weeks shouting: "You can't kill us we are already dead!" Treated as half dead by Algerian society, they knew that they had to destroy it to start living.

From the middle of April, mainly in Kabylie, but also in Kenchela, Skikda and parts of the East (at Oum El Bouaghi, Batna, Tebessa, Biskra, El Tarf etc.), they erected barricades, blocked off roads, assaulted gendarmerie and police stations. Rioters attacked a prefecture headquarters (in Tebessa, two ministers were inside the building), burned or vandalised many courthouses (in Ouacifs the 'Justice Court', recently built, was reduced to ashes), some tax offices, post offices and state corporation offices, political parties headquarters (at least thirty two), banks, social security offices etc. This incomplete list only gives a vague idea of the scale of the movement, but what is clear is that the insurgents undertook to clear the land of all "material expressions of the State".

After years of killings by the police and the military, the murder of a student in Beni Douala, on April 18th, provoked the first of the riots. In Amizour, near Bejaïa, the arbitrary arrest of three students on 22nd April provoked a mass insurrection. In Khenchela, on the 10th of June, an officer, showing off, driving a large car, called out insults to a young woman. Attacked by the young people who ran to defend the woman, he cried out: "But what is going on with you today?" and the answer was "Everything has changed." He got a good hiding and his car was destroyed. An hour later, he returned with thirty soldiers dressed in civilian clothes and armed with automatic rifles. After a pitched battle, the soldiers retreated, but the riot spread throughout the whole town: barricades were erected, the city hall, the tax office, Sonelgaz corporation's headquarter, the prefecture and two chain stores were turned over by people shouting: "this is the way for Chaouis!"

When the people cease to tolerate day to day oppression, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. During these weeks and months, nearly every day a gendarmerie brigade was attacked; and usually several at the same time. Military barracks were besieged; a blockade was imposed on the gendarmes who were forced to launch raids for supplies. Those who continued to have relations with them, even strictly commercial, were boycotted and punished. Some hotels were burned, as well as villas, cafes, restaurants, and stores; targeted because they belonged to dishonest officials or various wheeler-dealer-businessmen. There was a lot of destruction but surprisingly little looting.

So, for example, in Kherrata on May 23rd a stockpile of goods found a gendarmerie ex-officer's house was immediately burned. Everyone expressed their individual or collective grievances; concerning housing, water, industrial nuisance etc. Those known to be guilty of corruption were systematically exposed to public condemnation.

To start dealing with the problems posed by the dilapidated state of the country, it was necessary to first fight those who would prevent the people taking matters into their own hands.

The people targeted mayors and any officials close at hand. Beyond these skirmishes, the project of a complete expropriation from the expropriators was taking shape. On July 7th a declaration of the popular committee from Bejaïa's Wilaya (prefecture) was made to the State:

"Your gendarmes, symbols of corruption, have only one use – to kill, repress and traffic. That is why they must leave immediately. Concerning our security, our brave vigilance committees are dealing with it admirably: they are our pride." It continued, declaring that the citizens' problems would be dealt with "by our neighbourhood and villages' delegates and by trade unionist delegates who are working in an assembly called the popular committee. This is Direct Democracy!"

The insurrection, or at least in its more advanced form, was limited to Kabylie. Nevertheless, the Kabylie insurgents themselves called it an Algerian Revolution and tried to extend it beyond their local area, refusing the Berberist identity argument in which their enemies wanted to disguise them.

In the aftermath, pointless questions were raised by a governmental "inquiry commission" and journalists, to discover if provocative activities of the gendarmerie could have provoked the riots; as if the existence of the Algerian State and its bloody repression is not a permanent provocation; and as if the population needed special justifications to revolt! The insurgents took up the term "hogra", an Algerian term for the arbitrary nature of authority, its privileges, corruption and contempt. Fighting the hogra meant fighting the State itself. What would be left of a state without privileges or corruption, a state that could not use arbitrary force and scorn? In Algeria more than anywhere else, nearly nothing: the only public service that had really worked in this country, over the past forty years, was torture and political assassination. Whilst conspiring one against the other to appropriate power and oil income, the State gangs never stopped conspiring together against the people. As one of these political decision-makers declared after the repression of October 1988 riots:

"During thirty years, we were able to tear each other apart, to fight each other. However, we never abandoned an expelled leader, even by simply visiting him. Because we were united by the certainty that our children have to take over from us. We knew that if this law was broken off, it would be the end for us, because the street would not be satisfied with one head but would take all." (Cited by Jose Garçon in the preface of Djallal Malti's book: La Nouvelle Guerre d'Algerie, 1999)

Through countless purges, eliminations, manipulations, negotiations, covered up executions and mass killings, the real and unique continuity of the Algerian State (in continuity with the FLN) has been the police. As early as 1956, the emerging bureaucracy organised itself around the FLN's secret services (the basis for the future 'Securite Militaire'). The assassination of Abbane Ramdane in December 1957 illustrates their definitive victory over those who wanted to use ideology to control the masses and to justify the coming bureaucratic and dictatorial system.

Since then police terrorism has tended to take the place of "revolutionary" rhetoric. Execution became the standard procedure to resolve conflicts, not only against the MNA of Messali Hadj, but also inside the FLN itself. Since 1958, police officers were trained in KGB schools in Moscow. (Former President) Boumedienne had himself been an assistant to Boussouf, the organiser of FLN' s interior police. And we know that the generals, who are part of the Mafioso authorities in Algeria, many "deserters from the French Army" (in other words very lately converted to the anti-colonial struggle), went during the sixties to Moscow to gain other skills. With these dual influences of colonialism and Stalinism, their methods of pacification (or eradication), mirrored the worst atrocities of the French colonial army.

For the bureaucrats who cynically glorified the masses with their slogans ("Only one hero, the people"), the Algerian masses have served as human material for their operations and scheming, cannon fodder, sent to be massacred by the French army and then directly massacred.

The resolution of the rioters, when they already had dozens of dead in their ranks, gives clear testimony to the hatred accumulated over the years in Algeria (and particularly in Kabylie) against the State. "No forgiveness, never!" has been a popular slogan. According to Le Monde Diplomatique, "the immediate leaving of gendarmerie brigades" from Kabylie was the only "clear" demand of the rebels. This was a revolutionary demand, whose natural progression would be the "effective control of all state executive functions and of security corps by the democratic elected institutions". The movement's goal was to dismantle the "special armed detachments" which are the main functional and "material expression" of the Algerian State.

To effectively dismantle and then to organise the retaking of power by the people, by the masses "who substitute their own force for the force organised to oppress them" (Marx about the Paris Commune) was the aim. Even if this had only been accomplished in a part of the territory, it could not have been accomplished without a revolution in all other aspects of social life in that area. And this was what the insurgents aimed to do when they besieged the gendarmeries, isolated them and separated them from society in order that society separated from them. This was the example that Kabylie gave to the rest of Algeria.

The existence of such a movement in itself disproves all the political lies omnipresent in Algeria for so many years. In the face of the uprisings, police fictions started to dissolve and people's true loyalties began to become apparent: "we refuse to show solidarity with those who are destroying state property" declared a representative of the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front).

In Portugal in 1974, people used to say, "truth is like oil". Today in Kabylie we say: "Truth is like a cork." The insurgents were not interested in abstract debating of the 'truth' with the state (the conclusions of governmental enquiry commissions were denounced in advance, and their dissolution was one of the demands of the El-Kseur platform), but instead imposed the truth with their "live" actions.

One of the most beautiful moments, was the women's demonstration in Tizi-Ouzou on 24th May. The women started by refusing to allow the official "Association of Widowed and Daughters of the Martyrs of the Independence War" to join their demonstration, and then expelled Khalida Messaoudi, in her own words "militant companion" of Bouteflika (president-dictator). She had just left the RCD and was attempting to change her political image: "As she was trying to slip into the procession, jeering started.'Khalida out', shouted some women. 'Khalida Lewinski' screamed others. She had only just been evacuated to Alger." (Liberation, 26th-27th May 2001.) Finally, after showing their contempt for the media's auxiliaries, they also prevented representatives of Kabylie's official council from joining the demonstration.

The rejection of all political parties was a consistent aspect of the insurrection, and one of the most slandered. The offices of the two parties (RCD and FFS) that might have hoped to profit from such a movement were among the first to burn in Tizi-Rached on April 26th. And even during the June 25th demonstration in Tizi Ouzou, commemorating the third anniversary of the execution of the singer Lounes Matoub, we heard among the slogans "a kabyle is a kabyle, its enemies are the gendarmes", "no FFS, no RCD". The most discredited party was the RCD, despite its resignation from the government at the end of April, it was impossible to forget its long time collaboration with the military clan of the 'eradicators'. The FFS, formerly less compromised with the authorities, revealed its true colours by presenting, on the 12th May, to Bouteflika, to the army chief of staff and to the chief of the DRS (former Securite Militaire), a 'memorandum' offering their services to organise a "democratic transition".

The most outstanding aspect of the Algerian insurrection was its self-organisation. The hostility toward political parties and "any proximity with power", the distrust for unaccountable 'representatives', the refusal to be, once more, rank and file for political scheming; all this resulted in the spreading and co-ordination of village and neighbourhood assemblies, rapidly recognised by everybody as the only authentic expression of the movement. As early as the 20th April, the delegates of the forty-three villages of Beni Douala daïra (sub prefecture) came together to call for a general strike. During the following days, village committees co-ordinated throughout the whole wilaya of Tizi-Ouzou. On May 4th, in the city of Tizi-Ouzou itself, posters from a neighbourhood temporary organising committee called for a six day general strike. On May 6th a meeting for the 10th was called in Beni Douala for an assembly of delegates from Tizi-Ozou, Bejaïa and Bouira's wilayas, to co-ordinate actions throughout the whole of Kabylie and to adopt a platform of demands. As one delegate declared: "the parties, nobody believes in them anymore here." (Liberte, May 7th)

The meeting in Beni-Douala took place as expected, but only 200 delegates, mainly from the villages of Tizi-Ouzou' wilaya attended. It transpired that the press had broadcast a false communiqué announcing the postponement of the meeting (this was just the beginning of a growing campaign of disinformation and slanders). A mayor who attended to remind the assembly of the need to respect the law of the land, was thrown out "we don't need a mayor here or any state representative" declared the delegates.

A concern to protect the autonomy of the movement and the will to control closely its delegates marked all the decisions; for example, a decision was made to create a committee headquarters in Tizi-Ouzou to publicise the next delegates meeting: but the assembly made forbade the committee the right to speak in the name of the movement. (No declaration to the media etc.)

It is impossible to accurately catalogue the spread of the assembly movement to the whole of Kabylie and on to the rest of Algeria; firstly because the Algerian "independent" press (and the French press) wrote of the need for an urgent "democratic" modernisation but hardly mentioned at all the activities and declarations of the assemblies, or, worse they slandered them.

We can nevertheless point out the main developments of self-organisation, that followed the riots as they spread throughout the country. On May 18th in Illoula, a delegates meeting of the Tizi-Ouzou region adopted a platform of demands (among these, the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all gendarmerie brigades) and called for a march on Tizi-Ouzou. On May 21st, this march brought together hundreds of thousands of demonstrators ("'the black march' was organised by the co-ordination of village committees and political parties had no visible presence" noted Le Monde in its May 23rd edition). Then a succession of delegates meetings led to the formation of an inter-wilayas co-ordination (Tizi-Ouzou, Bejaïa, Bouira, Setif, Boumerdes, Bordj-Bou-Arredidj, Algiers, and the 'Comite collectif des unversites d'Alger') and to the adoption, on June 11th at El-Kseur, of a platform of common demands. The march on Algiers, on June 14th, was the peak of this first stage of the movement.

The unofficial aim of the Algiers march was to spread subversion to Algiers itself and to confront the State 'at home'. And, indeed, going to the presidency to bring the platform of El-Kseur (the official goal of the march), with hundreds of thousands or millions of demonstrators in the streets, would have enabled the insurgents to speak directly to the State, and to proclaim to the Algerian people that the time had come to end the last forty years of oppression.

The authorities realised that they had to prevent, at any cost, the spread of the insurrection to Algiers, and despite the State's paralysis, found sufficient forces to head off the danger. The authorities used effectively all the repressive tools available to them, splitting up the demonstrators from Kabylie, blocking most of them ten kilometres from downtown Algiers, isolating rioters groups and introducing agent provocateurs, recruited among local gangs, into the crowd. Further, the demoralization and fear among people living in Algiers who suffered the most during the "dirty war" was helpful to the State. The capital's population had only recently begun to rediscover their fighting spirit during the student agitation that started in early May; and since the demonstration called by the FFS on the 31st which had enabled an initial meeting with the insurgents of Kabylie.
The comments of some Algerois, reported in the press, expressed quite fairly the situation at that time, after a week of spontaneous demos in Algiers (and also Oran, Setif, Boumerdes) with hundreds or thousands of demonstrators:

"We shout 'pouvoir assassin'. We are beaten. Then we go home and we watch, on French TV, the real riots in Kabylie, just one hour from here. But today we'll know better what is going on, if we join the war or if we stay outside."

"We were afraid to get out of the neighbourhood because of assassinations, policemen, terrorists and all that. Now, I think it's our time, we have to go. But I'm very confused."

"Who in Algeria, doesn't feel injustice and deep discontent? Who doesn't want to end that? However, Algiers is not Kabylie. There it is very tough but they know each other, they are all together, with a culture, strong structures that resisted despite war. Here, our only political education comes from Egyptian TV soap. After years of brainwashing, G.I.A (Islamic Armed Groups) bulletins looking like science fiction, our brains were like pulp. In a big city, any provocation or dirty trick can happen." (Liberation, May 31st 2001)

Jaime Semprun
Paris

Notes:

FFS: Front des Forces Socialistes - Authoritarian Socialist Party

FIS: Front Islamique du Salut - Islamic Salvation Front – Islamic Populist Party. It was the main opposition to the FLN. They won local and legislative elections in December 1991, the generals rejected the democratic results and organised a coup. FIS leaders and activists were arrested, many tortured, some killed, and the villages and cities who voted for FIS became victims of State Terror. Of the villagers who survived, many joined the Islamist terrorist guerrillas to protect themselves from the army and/or to get revenge.

FLN: Front de Liberation Nationale - THE Algerian Party for decades. Supposedly democratic and post-colonial, but in fact the corrupt party of the Leninist-nationalist ruling class. The role of the FLN was to control, at any price, the vital resources of the country (mainly oil) for its own interests and for the oil industry. Historically, the FLN manipulated the memory of the fight against French occupation, but is now working for privatisation with capitalist global institutions.

RCD: Rassemblement Culture et Democratie - Berberist Authoritarian Party - Presented the Insurrection in Kabylie as a "cultural" insurrection.

GIA: Islamic Armed Groups - Islamo-fascists who are using 2 types of armed struggle: regular fighting against the army and terrorism and mass murder of Algerian civilians. One favourite tactic is to murder civilians at false army checkpoints. Many of the GIA are in fact manipulated by the Algerian intelligence services and the army generals-businessmen (who are the real leaders of the country). In addition, some terror acts attributed to the GIA are in fact committed by army commandos dressed as islamist terrorists. For instance they go into villages who voted for the FIS and kill, torture, rape women, burn babies in front of their parents etc. Of course western intelligence services (specially French Services) are aware of the Algerian state terrorism, but they support it, as a mean of social control and local stability.