Anarchism in Algeria

Anarchism in Algeria mainly concerns the history of the libertarian movement during and after French colonization in Algeria.

The colonial period

According to the French historian Gilbert Meynier: "The anticolonialist antecedents of French anarchism do not really make it possible to distinguish it, from the rest of the workers' movement in the colonies. It would be wrong to think that the anarchist tradition was quite anticolonialist. If activists claiming in any way the libertarian / anarchist current could have anti-colonialist positions, it was mainly through antimilitarism or defense, general and global, the oppressed."[1]

As early as the end of the 19th century, numerous groups of political activists (emigrants or exiles of European origin) claimed to be anarchist. Despite their desire to promote anarchism to the entire population of Algeria, the anarchist movement was predominantly European. Article writers, as well as subscribers of the libertarian press, were in their vast majority Europeans from Algeria. It was not until the 1920s that activists of Algerian Arab and Berber origin joined the movement.[2]

The libertarian press

The first anarchist newspaper, Revolutionary Action, was published in Algiers in 1887. Élisée Reclus participated in anarchist attempts in Algeria to try to found a local labor movement. At that time, some libertarians sympathized with emigrating to Africa for the purpose of "revolutionary propaganda". Over the decades numerous publications emerged printing a variety of anarchist viewpoints, including translations of Peter Kropotkin's works. By 1890, anarchist groups were publishing newspapers and holding public meetings in Algiers, Bab El Oued, Boufarik and Mustapha. These groups refused to send delegates to the Algerian Socialist Congress of 1901, instead standing for the creation of a revolutionary Committee with a single objective: "the Social Revolution".[2]

In 1923, the "Libertarian Federation of North Africa" and its newspaper, Le Flambeau, was established by Algerian anarchists to coordinate Maghrebi libertarians in one and the same political organisation: "Le Flambeau has the ambition to unite all the anarchist comrades, scattered on all sides of our region, in the young and lively anarchist federation of northern French Africa and intensify anarchist propaganda more than ever".[2]

In November 1924, the first congress of the Algerian Anarchist Federation was held. A proposal was made to go to the workers of Algeria with "talks, conferences, formation of neighborhood groups and brochures (...) to revitalize the people of Algiers". In April 1925, Le Flambeau published an article on "The anarchist movement in Algeria": "There is unfortunately not yet in Algeria, a deep anarchist movement affecting the working masses on a par with communist, socialist or even syndicalist propaganda". The paper went on hiatus shortly after, following the arrests of several anarchists in Algiers. In July 1926, in an article titled "Colonization", published in Le Flambeau, Sail Mohamed launched a call to join the revolutionary movement:

We appeal to the natives of Algeria; we beg them to open their eyes and look ahead. We tell them to join the groups of advanced ideas. Let them teach their children the right to revolt against colonial tyrants! For this, let them learn. Let them not forget that resignation is the worst of evils, and that the only way out of their slavery is union against the colonial oppressor.

However, after three years of existence, the anarchist movement failed to develop on Algerian soil and even less so in Morocco or Tunisia.

In September 1936 Saïl, a member of the French section of the AIT (CGT-SR), went to fight against fascism in Spain. Aged 42, he was one of the first foreign volunteers to join the Durruti Column. He would even be appointed later on as head of the Internationalist Group of the Anarchist Militia, which was politically significant given the Republicans were carrying out a vicious propaganda campaign against the "invasion of the Moors".

The libertarian movement and the Algerian national liberation struggle

In France, the libertarian movement was divided on whether to oppose the wars of decolonization and especially the war in Algeria.

Two positions could be detected: one, apparently unequivocal, refers back to back to the colonialist army and the people fighting for their independence, on the pretext that both were nationalistic and subject to leaders. The other considers that a colonial war, more generally a struggle of a people for its independence, is a complex phenomenon in which national struggles and class struggles intersect. According to the proponents of this second position, it must also be taken into account that the people who rise up have the same adversaries as the exploited of the colonizing country and that the class analysis thus makes it possible to found an anti-colonial solidarity, where the unity behind the leaders of the insurrection is neither fatal nor necessarily sustainable.

If the Algerian war aroused the hostility of the synthesist Anarchist Federation, it was by antimilitarism: refusal of military service and the defense of conscientious objection. As they did at the time of the Italian colonial enterprise in Ethiopia, it was by libertarian pacifism that they opposed it. Thus the Anarchist Federation, while condemning the war, referred to Algerian and French nationalism back to back. The libertarian world called for a common resistance of the two peoples to their common exploiters: the FLN which fought for the independence of the Algerian people was put on the same footing as the colonial power.

In contrast, the platformist Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) engaged in a "critical support" of the Algerian separatists. They covered the walls of Paris with red posters saying "Long live free Algeria! Signed by FCL". In agreement with the Algerian National Movement (MNA) of Messali Hadj, the FCL sent one of its activists Pierre Morain to the North where, on May 1, 1955, he participated in violent clashes occurring during a demonstration in Lille, between the police forces and Algerian workers carrying banners demanding "Free Algeria". On 8 December, he was charged with "undermining the external security of the State". He was finally released in March 1956. In the summer of 1957, the police forces finally dismantled the FCL, a victim of the great activity of its militants against the war of Algeria.

Maurice Joyeux was hostile to the war of independence, seeing only a bourgeois revolution: "We are against colonialism because we are for the rights of everyone to dispose of himself. We are against the Algerian war because we think that the workers have nothing to gain from this war. But this stance against the Algerian war can not, in any case, be an endorsement of the FLN. In Algeria, men do not fight for their liberation but to give themselves new masters..." After the publication of the "Manifesto of the 121" signed by Maurice Joyeux among others, the FA adopted a nuanced point of view: "They made a war of national independence. And how could it be otherwise? Does this mean that we are subscribing to the Marxist theory that a people must pass the national independence stage and then turn against their bourgeoisie? We are convinced that this step can be skipped."

Black Spring

In 2001, a young Kabyle student, Guermah Massinissa, was arrested by Algerian gendarmes and later died inside the gendarmerie. This provoked large-scale riots in the Kabylie region, that lasted for months. The traditional Berber political parties, Saïd Sadi's Liberal Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and Hocine Aït Ahmed's Socialist Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), were marginalized by the radical grass-roots activism and violent forms of protest. Instead, new movements rose to the fore in Kabyle politics: the Berber Arouch Citizens' Movement (BACM) and the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), whose regionalist ambitions for autonomy marked a new evolution in Kabyle politics: with the region of Barbacha gaining a significant degree of autonomy, giving hope to many Kabylie activists.

A march that brought many tens of thousands of Kabyles into the capital, Algiers, was organized by the Arouch Movement. The demonstration was followed by confrontations between the local population of Algiers and the demonstrating Kabyles. The police sided with the "Algérois" and state television thanked "les Algérois for having defended their town from the invaders". Since then, public marches in Algiers are prohibited.

Residents in Barbacha became increasingly hostile towards the government and police. Often engaging in arson attacks against local courts, government offices, political party offices, welfare centres and police stations under the slogan 'You can't kill us, we are already dead!', alongside road blockades and strikes. The police, gendarmerie and military were expelled from the region and Barbacha has since seen very little crime. There is still a functioning city government, making Barbacha a functioning model of dual power. Democratic assemblies modelled off traditional village councils were created as a dual power system and coordinated further protests, garbage collection, fuel distribution, cleaning, welfare programs and maintenance for local schools and public services.


  1. French Anarchists and the Algerian War
  2. Philippe Bouba, Le mouvement anarchiste en Algérie de 1887 à 1926 : presse de propagande et de combat, activités militantes et positions politiques face au fait colonial], Université d'Oran Es-Sénia, CRASC, Université de Perpignan, CRHiSM, 2011
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