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Communists in Colonial Algeria

Allison Drew
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This book recovers the lost history of Algeria's communist movement and its complex relationship with Algerian nationalism. The movement's shifting fortunes reflected both Algeria's largely rural class structure and the country's complex national and international dynamics. Algeria's de facto colonial relationship with France was critical. Algeria's Communist movement began in 1920 with a virtually all European membership as a region of the Parti Communiste Franҫais (PCF). The Parti Communiste Algérien (PCA) formed in 1936 remained close to the PCF during the Popular Front and Second World War years. But from the late 1940s growing numbers of Muslims joined the PCA, attracted by its concern with social justice and alienated by the nationalist movement's factionalism. This demographic change compelled the PCA to address the issue of national liberation. With the launch of armed struggle in November 1954, the PCA faced a classic socialist dilemma – organisational autonomy or dissolution and merger into the broader Front de Libération National (FLN). Increasingly independent of the PCF, the PCA maintained its organisational autonomy, while participating fully in the war of independence. Despite suffering severe repression during the war, at independence Algerian Communists refused to disband, seeing themselves as part of a long-term socialist movement that could be rebuilt. While the FLN promoted a one-party socialist state, the PCA promoted a pluralist political system. The PCA's hopes for political pluralism were shattered when it was banned by the one-party state in November 1962. The June 1965 military coup shut down all public political space.

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‘Drew has told the story of communist political action in Algeria in great detail, with attention to numerous individuals. At times, the number of names in play becomes overwhelming and the description of congress after congress seems excessive. But the tale is worth telling, and this kind of careful narrative is an essential building block for any analysis of the range of possibilities that opened and shut during the years of struggle over what kind of polity in what kind of wider political configuration ? whether communist or imperial, national or federal – Algeria could be. In the end, Drew doesn't explicitly answer the question of what the relationship of communism and nationalism actually was. But that question has no single answer, and she has given us a rich narrative of a struggle whose complexity is well worth pondering.'
Frederick Cooper, Department of History, New York University
Canadian Journal Of African Studies/La Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines
July 2016

‘Neville Alexander and Henri Alleg would be pleased and proud to read this superbly researched, carefully documented, absolutely fair-minded and accurate account. It is well structured, with a useful list of abbreviations, tables and maps. If there is an archive Professor Drew has not consulted, a surviving participant whom she did not interview, a relevant book or article and memoir she did not consult, I am unaware of it.'
David L. Schalk
Science and society Vol. 80, No. 3
July 2016

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