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A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 Chapter 3

August 30, 2010

“In this admirable country in which a spring without equal covers it with flowers and its light, men are suffering hunger and demanding justice.”

The third chapter of Horne’s book on Algeria opens with a quote from Albert Camus, which I have posted above. This chapter focuses on the political situation of Algeria following the Setif incident until the outbreak of the war in 1954. The author begins by discussing the many “gifts” France had given Algeria. These include things like modern roads and railways, air ports, cities and ports, electricity and gas, and a telecommunications system. My thought was that these were not really gifts though, they were infrastructure that allowed the pied noirs to profit and extract resources from Algeria to France, which explains the gifts.

Algerian coastline

The primary ‘gift’ given by the French to Algeria was education. The problem, for France was that the little education it gave the Algerians left them wanting more, and able to analyze their place in society. Many Algerians fought in both the first and second world wars, and returned home to be second class citizens. There was also much disorder among the French economy, and these effects were readily felt in Algeria.

One of the important things Horne discusses in this chapter was the attempt by the French to placate the Algerian people through the statute passed in 1947. The statute allowed for the following reforms:

  • The suppression of the communes mixtes, and their replacement by democratically elected local councils.
  • The suppression of the military government of the Saharan territories and their replacement by civil departments.
  • The recognition of Arabic as an official language alongside French.
  • The separation of church and state for Muslims, as for the other religions
  • The electoral enfranchisement of Muslim women
  • Abolition of the system of government by decree replaced by an elected Assemblee Algerienne composed of 120 members (sixty from each electoral college) with powers to modify metropolitan laws ap[applicable to Algeria, and also to vote in budget and finance bills. (1)

The statute did not have the inteded effect however, as even with the separation of the two colleges, the pied noir were over represented compared to the Algerians. What followed was a sham election which caused many Algerians to become disillusioned to the idea of freedom through democratic means. At the same time came news of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, which saw the defeat of the French army in a pitched battle by the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh. This launched a wave of nationalism throughout Algeria.

Ahmed Ben Bella

Following the sham election, many Algerians became radicalized. One of the most important people Horne discusses is Ahmed Ben Bella. Ben Bella enlisted twice in the French army and was awarded with a medal by de Gaule. Ben Bella was involved in a gun fight and ended up having to flee his job as a municipal council. He joined the group MTLD, the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties. Ben Bella however did not fit in, and was involved with forming a splinter group called the OS, Organization Speciale which pledged to fight colonialism by all means, legal or illegal. This is the group that would later come to form the FLN, the Front de Libération Nationale.

(1)  A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 Chapter 3, pg 69

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2010 5:08 am

    Thanks to your info, I will be checking in..thanks

  2. September 2, 2010 4:06 pm

    Hi Gls,

    Really interesting posts on Algeria and A Savage War of Peace. I’m tangentially interested in the Algerian war and wider decolonialisation as much of my research is on the 1960s and the Left. So, it’s great to read these posts. Keep it up : )


    • great lake swimmer permalink
      September 2, 2010 4:14 pm


      Glad to see you are enjoying the posts. I took a little break, but will get back to it, now that the war is starting there will be alot more things to mention.

      Would you mind saying a little bit more on what you are researching? I saw you had something on your blog about PhD research, thats pretty cool. Where do you go to school?


  3. September 3, 2010 7:30 am

    Hey Lake Swimmer,

    I’m doing a PhD at Lancaster University, UK.

    My research is on “American Short Stories, 1960s-1970s”. So far these stories have been mostly read in a way that emphasises their innovative forms, and sees this innovation (put simply) as a means of questioning and blurring the distinction between fact and fiction (or reality and imagination; reality and text; author and reader, etc, etc).

    My own research questions this (basically formalist) approach, and seeks instead a more adequate periodisation of the texts – in order to remedy the dehistoricisation and “depoliticisation” of previous readings. I put “depoliticisation” in quotation, because I think there is certainly a politics implicit in previous readings: for a start, in their turn away from “politics”.

    So, one of the things I’m doing at the moment is reasearching the fate of the Left in the 60s. For example, I’m interested in the “crisis” following the Stalinist experience and the attempts to enrich/reformulate Marxism by, for example, the Frankfurt School (esp. Benjamin, Adorno, Marcuse); the New Left; the Situationists; Socialisme ou Barbarie and Castoriadis, etc. I’m also interested in what you might see as a further wave of “revisionism” following ’68: the turn to critical theory – e.g. post-structuralism and “postmodernism”. I’m also interested in the decline of the traditional “proletariat”, and the rise of anti-colonial nationalism (e.g. in India; in Algeria; in Vietnam); the civil-rights movement; feminism; gay rights; student protest; and the counter-culture.

    All of these things come together, for me, in the idea of the “cultural turn”. I want to describe this as a hegemonic shift. To my mind there is an identifiable formation linking all of these different aspects, as well as a shift in the technique of capitalism itself in this period. Back in the 1940s Adorno was writing of the Culture Industry and in many ways the “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s (i.e. the New Left and the counter-culture) can be seen as a reaction against this invasion of the cultural sphere by capitalism (e.g. through film; through fascist and war time propaganda, etc.) that Adorno describes. I’m wondering if in many ways this critique was absorbed by capitalist society in the 1960s, through a “passive revolution” that resulted in a new form of “consumerism” (“capitalism with a human face”) that demonstrably absorbs and defuses (recuperates) cultural/identity politics, whilst expanding into new areas in order to solve capitalism’s own problems: namely, that the qualitatively different ’50s-style consumerism was struggling to continue expanding.

    Well, that’s all jumbled up – I’m sorry. Hope it’s still interesting in some way!


    • great lake swimmer permalink
      September 3, 2010 1:46 pm

      Man, that was pretty interesting to read, sounds awesome. I am glad that I was able to understand most of what you were talking about. i haven’t read anything really dense in a while, and im going to be taking a class on hegel so i guess i should practise.


  4. utopiaorbust permalink
    September 14, 2010 2:17 pm

    I am also interested in the Algerian independence, but I have had very little introduction to it. Thanks for posting this information – the list of reforms is pretty interesting. Have you seen the film “Battle of Algiers”? The FLN is very interesting, as are all small armed struggle groups.

    Does the author discuss what has happened in Algeria since independence?

    • great lake swimmer permalink
      September 14, 2010 5:36 pm

      I haven’t finished the book, I got side tracked onto other things. I have seen that movie, and I thought it was pretty good. I cannot anwser your question about when the book ends, as I currently do not have access to it.

  5. abdelkader boulis permalink
    December 28, 2012 6:58 am

    The mistakes that caused for this infortunet history of the murderer of many innocents in both side. Was arrogance from a lot of so called pied noir.(if they were humble and wise). The colonisation or the annexsarion of algeria to france would not conclud by the fleing of most algerian of european origine with thealgerian of indigenous origine to france or any where else.
    Degaule is of a noble and fair character. But he came late.destiny unseen a none human can predict. However honest intention based on just and commen good humility clarity and patience perseverance. Will make the future better safe . Insha allah.

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