New Perspectives on the Algerian War 1954 - 1962

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: School of Languages & Area Studies

Abstract

The Algerian War 1954 to 1962 was one of the most violent and protracted episodes on the decolonisation process. In large part this is explained by the depth and duration of French colonialism, unique in the Arab world, whereby Algeria was annexed as an integral part of France with one million settlers co-existing uneasily with nine million Muslims by 1954.

This specificity explains the surge of research interest in the area and without the perspectives of Branche on torture, Thénault on justice, Harbi and Meynier on the National Liberation Front (FLN) and Stora on memory this project would not be possible. However, my study advances our understanding because it puts the Socialist-led Republican Front, in power between January 1956 and May 1957, at the centre of the conflict. It analyses in detail why the Republican Front decided to dramatically intensify the war by pouring financial and military resources into reforming Algeria and defeating the FLN.

This commitment to Algeria was motivated by anxieties about great power status. Victory over the FLN was seen to be vital for future standing on the world stage. It would not only secure oil and gas resources, but also renew France's universal civilising mission in the face of perceived threats from Arab nationalism, Soviet communism and rival Anglo-Saxon imperialisms. A reformed Algeria would be the pivot in a humanist empire from Paris to Brazzaville: an international third way that dovetailed with support for socialist Israel and a belief in European unity.

It was also powered by the notion that it was possible to find a middle way between settler extremism and FLN nationalism. So, Muslim emancipation was about the expansion of individual equality and educational opportunities. It was about providing health care for the ordinary population, above all women. It was about bringing robust republican government to the remote regions that would end discrimination and poverty.
Significantly too, the Republican Front approached the Algerian problem in terms of religious tolerance. France's role was to create a fraternal, pluralistic society that brought together the three faith communities - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - under the Fourth Republic's progressive umbrella. This vision of mutual respect was then contrasted with the FLN's destructive terrorism.

Surprisingly there has been little detailed analysis of this welfare colonialism. The language of reconciliation and reform has been underestimated, whilst key figures, like Marcel Champeix, the Minister of Algerian Affairs, have been ignored. Thus, by relocating the Republican Front's political and military choices at the core of the unfolding dynamic of the Algerian War, this study will offer new source material and a revision of orthodox views.

In particular it will show that the FLN's strategy was directed first and foremost against humanist colonialism. Through violence the FLN set out to polarise attitudes. It aimed to destroy any possible third way that posed an alternative to national independence.

In this way it is too simplistic to think of the Algerian War as coloniser versus colonised. Rather the conflict must be thought of as a complex dynamic that drew in a range of actors including, crucially, the French state. So, in 1956 the Republican Front committed huge resources to integrating Algeria into France. In contrast, by 1962 de Gaulle, in the face of protracted FLN violence, supported independence because such integration was too costly and blocked his wider plans for national renewal.

The monograph is divided into three parts entitled Origins, War and Consequences that will guide the reader to the key issues. As the case for support demonstrates, the book's coherence is to be found in a clear chronological framework that analyses colonialism, Algerian nationalism, the Republican Front and the impact of war on civilian populations.

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