ALTHOUGH nothing can be completely certain in a problem so complex and emotion-bound as that of the Algerian revolution, it is now at least clear that the statement of President de Gaulle on September 16 and the events subsequent to it represented a major turning point in that struggle. The policy enunciated in the presidential declaration made mention for the first time, with reservations, of the possibility of self-determination, by which all Algerians would freely choose between the three alternatives of integration with France, some kind of association, or independence. The formal answer of the rebel government, which calls itself the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic, accepted the offer on September 28, with conditions, and expressed willingness to negotiate on political issues without insisting upon the precondition of French agreement to Algeria's right to independence. A short time later approval of the French Government's policy in the National Assembly by a massive majority consecrated the first concrete move toward a settlement in Algeria in the five years since the revolution began. There is a very important meaning to this ensemble of undertakings which has not escaped any of the protagonists, from the toughest military chieftains among the rebels to the farthest-right ultras among the Europeans in Algeria and their supporters in metropolitan France.

It is that self-determination, with the option of secession, implies recognition that sovereignty in Algeria belongs to the people of Algeria and no longer derives from the French constitution or from the sloganized concept of an Algérie française within an indivisible republic. The revolution has won on this essential and supreme point: the right to withdraw from the French Republic in honorable conditions. This right had previously been denied Algeria while it was extended at the time of the September 1958 referendum to all other French overseas possessions; and historians may well conclude in retrospect that from the moment the Fifth Republic was established as a federal republic the seed for settlement in Algeria had been planted.

In order to understand the importance of this emotionally, however, one need only recall the American Civil War and imagine the reaction if the North, in 1864, had agreed to the holding of a plebiscite in the Confederate States offering similar choices. If the unity of the republic was so cherished a concept in France as to cause considerable preoccupation over the legality of establishing the French Community in its present form, the unity of France and Algeria in recent years has taken on the quality of a sacred myth. The approval of the Assembly, expressed in part hesitantly and with ill grace, but withal by a heavy majority, thus acquires all the more meaning. The assent of the legislators was a prerequisite to asking the approval of the French electorate, by direct vote, in the event Algeria chooses independence--a possibility much more likely now than it was two months ago. A few speakers in the Assembly brought up the question of the constitutionality of the offer, and many more voices are bound to be raised against it between now and the time when it might take effect, but none of them can invalidate in the eyes of world opinion, or of the French and Algerian people themselves, this concept which, whatever happens, is from now on the integral element of the Franco-Algerian problem.

Recognition of the sovereign responsibility of the Algerians for their own future completes the de facto emergence of the idea of an Algerian nation, although serious difficulties subsist between both parties in technical details. The crucial point, in practical terms, is whether the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (G.P.R.A.) holds this sovereignty in trust. For the French it clearly does not, and the recognition of the principle of self-determination by General de Gaulle was accompanied by a categorical refusal to accord such a position to the rebel government. The answer of Ferhat Abbas, President of the G.P.R.A., carefully defined the nationalist position in these terms: "The Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic, recognized today by many countries, is the depositary and guarantor of the interests of the Algerian people until they have expressed themselves freely. It directs and controls the resistance of the Algerian people and the freedom struggle of the army of national liberation."

The Algerians consider that their identity as a nation has been established in a number of ways: in history, previous to the colonial period; through the efforts of the people as a whole and the blood they have shed; by the military energy of the Algerian guerrilla army and the political energy of the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.); and not least by the proclamation of a government in September 1958, which has been recognized by 17 countries, several of them Asian members of the Communist bloc, but including all the Arab nations but one. The French point of view--that the taking up of arms by a group of malcontents does not enable them to constitute themselves a sovereign political entity--has much strength in law but it contains certain weaknesses. One is that questions of such transcendent importance as the birth of nations are decided in the end not by legalisms but by the dynamics of force and the "divine right" of rebellion in extremis. Another is that the recent history of France is an embarrassment to the French on at least two scores. The Free French movement was itself a rebel organization which overthrew the legally constituted power in France and considered itself toward the end of World War II in exactly the same position as the G.P.R.A. now does--as safeguarding the inalienable rights of the people it claimed to represent. Second, the irregular circumstances leading to the creation of the Fifth Republic, although now glossed over with a remarkable aplomb, remain a tarnishing birthmark whenever the finger of incorruptible legality is pointed, as it so often is, by those very men who scorned it on May 13, 1958.

It remains true, however, that the problem has been much narrowed down now that self-determination is accepted by both sides, however differently each may interpret it. It is no longer a question of whether there will be talks, but what kind of talks, on what level, when, and with whom in what capacity. And these are, considering how hopeless the Algerian question seemed a short while ago, relatively unimportant details in a broader picture of hope. They will gradually be worked out; the problem is slowly and surely on the way to being solved.

The vast changes which we see beginning to take place as the result of this turning-point will have deep repercussions in Algeria and in France, as well as in all North Africa and the Arab world, and even in the long run for the outcome of the independence movements everywhere in Africa. Some of the effects are already visible, as in the drying up of private funds for investment in Algeria under the terms of the Constantine Plan; others may be inferred from the direction of events within Algeria. It would probably be more fruitful to examine, with the reasonably sound historical and sociological data we have, some of these longer range implications, rather than to speculate vainly upon the unpredictable political manœuvres of the coming months.


Let us look first at Algeria itself. Regardless of the way in which it comes into being, Algeria will have a structure whose general outlines can be determined by reference to the previous social history of North Africa and to the more recent impact of the revolution. Algeria has been at most times in the past a region without a well-defined existence. It lay sandwiched in between the two principal foci of Islamic culture in North Africa, Fez and Tunis, not only spiritually but geographically as well, for the long, lateral mountain ranges which run through it tend to make it a corridor between these two centers. Its lack of ethnic cohesion was marked by a large, indigenous Berber element, principally in the mountains of the center and southeast, which has been refractory to much of Arab civilization, although not to Islam.

The makers of the revolution have been conscious of the past. Great pains are taken by the rebel government in the field of propaganda to insist that Algeria existed as a state before the French conquest in 1830. While there is incontestable legal proof of this in treaties signed between the city-state of Algiers and the European powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was in fact a vast area of tribal independence and anarchy in the hinterland, behind coastal ports which themselves were under the nominal stewardship of the Ottoman Empire. It is of course this part of the pre-colonial period which the French emphasize when claiming that modern Algeria is their creation. The quarrel has lost much of its point, though, for while Algeria may not have existed in the sense of a modern state before 1830 it does now, and the revolution which has created Algeria is beating a dead horse.

Nevertheless it is permissible to assume that the Algerians' preoccupation with sanctifying their past will continue in the future, and this will probably mean a denigration of everything accomplished under French rule in favor of a glorification of a distant golden epoch. There is no more ardent patriotic fervor than that of the state which is developing an artificial myth of necessity. One would expect on the other hand a slight tempering of the myth because of the other factors mentioned above. The centrifugal pull of its neighbors, Morocco and Tunisia, the millenary prestige of their religious universities, the aura that surrounds the dynastic names of the Hafsids of Tunis and the Marinids of Fez are still potent influences. Whenever the subject drifts away from the revolution, and how Algeria has emancipated itself, to move onto the plane of traditional North African civilization, one has the impression that Algerians still defer to their neighbors whose past record is so much more imposing.

Thus Algeria came to modern history as something like the country cousin. Its colonial history placed it even further apart. Conquered in a bloody campaign lasting more than a decade, heavily settled by a European minority which by 1926 represented 15 percent of the population and held all economic and political power, assimilated and integrated by law to France, it underwent a drastic brainwashing of whatever traditional personality it once had. The absence of a respected traditional élite, of any sort of ruling dynasty or even figurehead to which an incipient nationalism could attach itself, has done much to shape the semi-anonymous, collective, impersonal and classless leadership of the National Liberation Front, and will doubtless be reflected in a new Algerian state.

The net result is that there has been created a tabula rasa which at least some of the revolutionary leaders have felt to be a blessing in disguise and upon which they have begun to shape a new Algeria designed by them. And if any single characteristic were to be isolated, among those which the rebel leaders have communicated to the people, it might be that of a tough self-confidence stemming from this return of the personality from the void. We were nothing, say many Algerians, and now we are ourselves, free to be anything we want. Almost every Algerian family has a male representative in the rebel army or its underground services, or in exile somewhere, and the sense of active participation in the making of the country touches nearly every household. The self-confidence is reinforced by a realization that, without minimizing the financial and military support Algeria has received from friendly countries, the people have won status largely by their own efforts; it is no accident that Algerians are so interested in Jugoslavia and Communist China. It was this feeling, that the offer of self-determination had finally been wrenched from a reluctant France only as a result of a successful, protracted military revolt, that led a minority of the leaders of the National Liberation Army (A.L.N.) to advise rejecting it and continuing an implacable struggle to the end.

In sketching the mood of a future Algeria one must not forget that the revolution will leave behind a bitter country. A recent French estimate of the population showed that there were some 800,000 persons less than one would have expected on the basis of projections from the 1954 census. Some are in the maquis, others are refugees, but the majority are probably victims of a war which has already cost Algeria at the least 5 percent of its population--half a million dead. As every household is involved, so most of them have suffered casualties, and all have been subject to search, arbitrary arrest, preventive detention in concentration camps for unspecified periods, brutalities of all sorts and constant humiliation in endless petty ways. A reaction must be considered inevitable. Even after peace comes to Algeria, and despite the fact that the A.L.N. is on the whole a highly disciplined organization, we can expect to see many private scores settled, as they were in postwar Europe.

As to the European population in Algeria, in spite of the guarantees given by the rebel authorities, the psychological--even if not physical--feelings of insecurity of a minority no longer in a position of command will unquestionably lead to a large-scale withdrawal. This is shown in the experience of Morocco and Tunisia, where the hostility between the European and Muslim communities was nowhere near so profound as in Algeria but where about half the European population has left in the three years since independence. More than anything else, the relatively larger land holdings of the Europeans in Algeria, where the European 3 percent of the rural population has 31 percent of the land, have been, and would go on being, a source of friction. They are likely to evoke far more drastic solutions than the first laudable but insufficient steps toward redistribution now being taken under the provisions of the Constantine Plan.

Once a large, unassimilable minority departs (and the fact that this seems unavoidable rather than desirable should be stressed), there is another side to the coin, and a happier one. The French on the whole came off much better than the English in their intellectual marriage with the Arab world, all politics aside. This was true in the Levant states, in Egypt and even more so in North Africa. And of all the Arabs, the Algerians have received the most lasting imprint. The century-long association, the enforced francisization, have produced an Algerian élite which, while almost totally anti-French politically, is often culturally indistinguishable from the Gallic norm. Ferhat Abbas, with his French wife and his inability to speak good Arabic, is himself representative; so, too, are the works of modern Algerian literature, all written in French; the surprising use of French in military instruction courses within the A.L.N.; the dress, habits, outlook and Cartesian thought processes of most of the middle and higher-echelon militants of the revolution. This deep coating of French thought and life will not last indefinitely, one would suspect--in the manner in which Hispanic culture was grafted onto Latin America; Arab civilization is too self-centered and resistant for that. But for the next generation, while predictably frantic efforts are being made to mold the new Algerian personality in its own terms, it may serve as a bridge to the inflow of technical progress and humanistic culture in a society which will have much need of both. One might say that Algeria in this respect would be better off than any other country which has become free since World War II, except perhaps India.


In France itself the Algerian question has again proved an essential paradox of French politics to be true: the conservatives are often liberal, socialists carry out policies which the right would not dare attempt, and empires are less despotic in the main than republics. The last is a proposition which the Algerians, who were considered an "Arab kingdom" under the Second Empire and assimilated to France by the Third Republic, feel strongly. In more recent years one has seen Antoine Pinay as the architect of Moroccan independence, and it is now the arch-nationalist Debré who, as an instrument of President de Gaulle, is orchestrating the composition of an Algerian solution.

The acts of the President of the French Republic have been interpreted by his opponents--men who are all the more bitter because they fear that what they saw as final victory is now slipping away from them--as dictatorial Napoleonism. Granted a considerable degree of absolutist grace in the personality of the chief executive, it should not be forgotten that he took the pains to have his policy approved in advance by both the army and public opinion. His trip to Algeria late in August, after "Operation Jumelles" had been long enough under way to assess its results, was designed to convince the officer corps of the necessity for combining a liberal solution with the pacification efforts. And his junket through the north of France, just before the September 16 statement, convinced him that the French people would support a forthright approach to the problem.

This trend in popular thought is of primary importance in gauging the chances of making such a settlement come off. The climate of opinion in France on this subject had always been difficult to measure with exactitude. This writer remembers attending a conference in Paris in the spring of 1958, just prior to the demise of the Fourth Republic, at which the intellectuals, government officials and journalists who were French participants agreed both that General de Gaulle would not return to power and that the ordinary Frenchman, as opposed to a small, over-politized élite, was little interested in Algeria. Perhaps the latter contention was always as false as the former proved to be, but however much public opinion in the past was behind all-out efforts to settle the Algerian problem by force, it seems now to have been considerably diluted. The new moderation has occurred in part owing to the economic stability of France. The evidences of a widely spreading middle-class prosperity are everywhere; and, although there is still a serious creeping inflation, even this once foreboding aspect of the economic picture serves further to concentrate the attention of the Frenchman-in-the-street on daily economic matters. Everyone seems to want the new refrigerator more than he wants to keep Algeria. Nor is this phenomenon unique to France; in countries which even two to three years ago were obsessed by politics, there is noticeable a general drift of thought toward what one is hopefully inclined to view as a more mature understanding of how serious are the economic problems facing them.

It would also seem that this maturity within France corresponds to a new moral awareness; reassured by the prestige which they feel General de Gaulle has restored to their country, many Frenchmen are now willing to see a glimmer of reason in the long, bitter battle which the Algerians have fought for freedom. Finally, one senses a complex feeling abroad in France in the fall of 1959, perhaps an amalgam of all these impressions, that Algeria no longer represents an issue of pride and emotion as it once did. It is clear that General de Gaulle sensed this with remarkable intuition soon after coming to power and long before it was recognized by most observers. It is this popular feeling--much more than the tepid, doubting approval of the army--which contains the best guarantee for a reasonably prompt settlement.

After this much optimism, a caution. In spite of everything which the new régime in France has accomplished in the domain of financial redressment, renovation of outworn institutions and psychological awakening, it was born out of the inability of its predecessor to solve the Algerian question; and it is on this issue, and this alone, that it will be judged. One is tempted by the analogy of the organism which dies itself after having assured the perpetuation of its species. It may well be that the Fifth Republic came into being for a limited time for this purpose, and, having provided for the future of France by eliminating what has been called the national cancer, will give way in turn to a successor.

There are serious reasons for suspecting that this may be the case. Whereas under the Fourth Republic it was axiomatic that any politician or cabinet which tried to make terms in Algeria was committing suicide, it now seems that the sacrifice demanded will be the highest that could be offered: that of the prestige of the man who already once saved France in her most poignant hours. The extraordinary national wave of abandon which transformed the power of decision to one man, and the complete impoverishment of the Assembly as a decision-making body, may be setting the stage for this. And this sacrifice may ultimately be salutary, for it is now clear to all--even, it must be supposed, to General de Gaulle--that for any other purpose than the over-riding one of obtaining an Algerian settlement the new constitution and the institutions it has established are not representative of the spirit of a vigorous and democratic state of the kind that France has been and could be again.

A further danger arises from the present nature of the French state. The Fifth Republic was born in violence, and those who brandished the sword in May 1958, without having to use it, do not lack the temptation to repeat the pattern of that success. The plot and counter-plot spy dramas, the intrigue and blackmail, the deception, bad faith and threat which are now part of French political life in the shadows, show the possibilities. The authority of a civilian government devoid of prestige is sustained by one man. A large and powerful army, thoroughly dedicated to what it honestly conceives to be its mission to pacify Algeria, is led by officers who are racked by a conflict between their immense personal loyalty to an almost God-like saviour and the gnawing suspicion that he is in this case fallible. When Marshal Juin, drawing on his great prestige as a maréchal de France and a member of the Academy, condemns the offer of self-determination as a "bet which will not win," he may merely seem to be a French MacArthur. But the supremacy of civil institutions in the United States was never questioned even at the most unpleasant moments, whereas it has been in France very recently and very seriously. And when General Ely declares that the French Army cannot leave Algeria within a humanly foreseeable time, and General Massu speaks of continuing the pacification as before, many Frenchmen, grounded in their classics, go so far as to see the clash in terms of the gathering shadows of Cassius, Antony and Brutus before Caesar.

It is not that a coup is imminent, or even likely. But there is always the possibility as long as a policy of moderation must cope with extremists who feel that they could profit from the neutralization or disappearance of the one man who can direct such a delicate operation. A deputy of the National Assembly says publicly that there is a death list with professional killers assigned to the job of execution. At the top of the list is the first enemy of the right-wing groups who have theoretically made up the list; meanwhile, the walls of Paris are defaced with signs saying "De Gaulle equals Mendès."

At the moment the genius of the Gaullist approach is that he has disarmed, as effectively as possible, all the internal adversaries of a reasonable solution--be they right-wing fanatics, Communists, diehard settlers who dream of the last century or the never-say-die group among the A.L.N. leaders. And the policy he has sketched out has even won the tentative approval of the American and Soviet Governments, both of which are now on record as favoring some kind of continuing, freely chosen tie between France and Algeria. This will not be without influence, for in Algeria, as in many other troubled spots in the world, the signs of an international détente are having their effect. Both sides are aware of how much less opportunity they have now for blackmailing one side or the other to support their most extreme pretensions.

There is a further aspect of the problem which deserves consideration: the development of the Sahara and the discovery of oil in quantity there. By a striking coincidence, as the Algerian revolution entered its sixth year on November 1, the first flow of oil from the Saharan fields arrived in Bougie, on the Mediterranean coast, through the just-completed pipeline. While enhancing the stakes in Algeria temporarily--but, more importantly, giving a much greater economic solidity to North Africa's long-term economic future--oil may not be so decisive a factor as is generally assumed. Technically Saharan oil is not altogether suited to the French consumption pattern; it lends itself more readily to resale to other countries, in a world now glutted with production. Thus control, while advantageous for France, is not the vital necessity it is often pictured. Furthermore, there is no example in recent history where a vibrant nationalism has been impeded by like questions of economic exploitation, nor, conversely, where the new nationalisms have not finally seen the advantage of mutually profitable arrangements. So it would seem that the birth of Algeria would take place regardless of how much oil is present, and that sufficient room is available to negotiate on practical issues surrounding it. If France, or the Common Market, or Europe requires the oil, then Algeria needs product-markets and labor-markets in those very areas; there is a natural quid pro quo at hand. And interim solutions, involving perhaps a condominium over the Sahara, in which all North Africa might share with France, are in the minds of many closest to the question.

Algeria is, it should be stated again and again, a political problem and it must be solved on a political level. For peoples who are still struggling for identity and emancipation political pressures are overwhelming. It is only after this elementary instinct is satisfied that it is possible to concentrate on their economic sores, or to go on from there to questions of the social orientation of the economy. The reluctance of the West, particularly in its dealings with the Arab world, to treat political problems as such has been its greatest single mistake. And in this lies the weakness of the Constantine Plan for raising living standards in Algeria; excellent though it is in principle, the Algerians must first have a sense of being themselves. It is useless to say that Algeria, without France, will be an economic disaster. The Algerians are quick to answer that they accept the risk, they are willing to undergo the sufferings, but that first things come first.

The road ahead is sure to be painful and arduous. One cannot predict how long it will last, six months or six years, but the general outline of the future can be seen. No matter how delayed or how tortuous or how limited are the negotiations at first, and even if they should be temporarily abandoned and the war continued, they will inevitably end in the application of the self-determination now recognized. If the choice is really free--and it will take a great deal of effort from everyone to ensure that extremists from neither side dominate the scene--then Algeria will declare itself free; if it is not, there may have to be other opportunities for choice. But the logic of history points in only one direction.

And will not everyone profit from an end of the sterile, deadly game now being played? The creative energy let loose in Algeria is sure to be enormous--dynamic and revolutionary, chaotic and violent in part, but real; and whatever else, it will make the new Algeria a very different country from the old. The rose is certain to bloom red where so many Caesars have bled. For France as well, the unloosing of the Algerian burden financially can only be a stimulus to its own amazing revival in recent years and a spur to its new European vocation; while no less rewarding will be the psychological release that comes through an honorable quittance of the colonial complex which has lingered so long and bitterly, from Syria and Lebanon, through Indochina, Tunisia and Morocco, through the formation of the Community, to settle upon Algeria. This final casting-off will have been the most painful. It has done enormous damage to both parties for the past five years. It has brought France to the breaking point, but in the end it is fair to say that Algeria has been the crucible which has provided France with her ultimate test and now, miraculously, offers a means for her salvation.

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