Algeria marks Nov. 1, 1954: ‘And people will rise up!’
Nov 02, 2022 - 02:58 AM
MONTREAL, Canada (AA) – Several dozen armed actions, notably in the Aures region in the east, were carried out during the night of Sunday to Monday, Nov. 1, 1954, throughout Algeria, which was a French colony at that time, so initiating what was to become one of the bloodiest and largest insurrections and revolutions of the 20th century.
A home-made bomb was planted on the road linking the towns of Boufarik and Blida, a few dozen kilometers south of Algiers, as well as on the Ager-Oran railway line, a metropolis in the west of the country, a quarter of an hour before “H” time, on Sunday around midnight.
The choice of the date of Nov. 1, which corresponds to the Catholic feast of All Saints’ Day, also known as the Feast of the Dead, is not accidental. Above all, this choice saw a people resurrect and rise up to aspire to a dignified life, far from the yoke of humiliation and colonial oppression that came to claim to civilize the indigenous populations.
As it is laborious, difficult, and delicate, if not impossible, to define in a few lines or pages this triggering event of the ‘Algerian Events’ (let us appreciate in passing the bitter euphemism used by France), we will try, within the framework of a subjective choice and an effort at synthesis, to come back to a few facets of this major event that inspired so many other struggles.
The Appeal: A founding text to accompany the armed struggle
The instigators of the struggle were not content with launching an armed struggle against a colonial empire, but showed a high spirit and a certain intellect by addressing the conscience of a subjugated and dominated people.
This text is none other than the “The Appeal of November 1,” which was broadcast on the very day the armed struggle was launched.
Two major elements characterize this founding Appeal. The first is the explicit evocation of the decades of struggle from the second paragraph, thus not denying the past fights, which in fact never stopped or very little, since the beginning of the occupation in July 1830.
Moreover, the writers of the Appeal, who evoke this “people united behind the slogan of independence and action,” admit in a lapidary but very illustrative sentence full of resolution and determination: “It is true that the struggle will be long but the outcome is certain.”
Heavy toll of the war
Not one Algerian family has not been bereaved by the loss of a loved one who fell in combat, or worse still, by the disappearance of one of its members whose fate has remained and still remains unknown, without a grave or documents attesting to his death or execution.
According to Algerian sources, the number of the disappeared and the dead was close to 1.5 million people. In the opposite camp, that of the French authorities or French historians, it is “admitted” that no less than 300,000 to 400,000 Algerians perished, compared to 27,500 soldiers and 2,800 civilians among the Europeans and the Blackfoot.
This war of figures, regardless of the accuracy of the figures and their manipulation for propaganda or glorification purposes, or to play down the drama, shows that this unequal confrontation, in terms power relationships, had generated human tears and gaping wounds that remained open for many decades, and even never closed.
Torture: an institutionalized practice and a state policy
Worse than the summary and extra-judicial executions, and other assassinations targeting a leading activist or an entire village, it is the acts of torture that targeted the independence activists and freedom fighters that will remain engraved forever, like indelible marks on the pediment of the Republic of France, the champion of democracy and human rights.
Indeed, France had set up an institutionalized system in Algeria that was far from being “a drift or a hazard of war” as some people claimed. This was torture, where barbarity and horror competed.
From the bathtub and the wood chore to the Geneva and the truth serum, via rape, hanging, nail pulling and the guillotine, France doubled its ingenuity in inventing and refining methods of torture, each as abject as the next, even raising reactions in the metropolis where intellectuals spoke out against these medieval practices.
Primacy of politics over military
Despite the start of a relentless armed struggle against a colonial army and a NATO member country, the architects of the Algerian nationalist struggle correctly and intelligently grasped the relevance of political action and its importance on the national, regional, and international levels to attract adherence and support for the Algerian struggle.
It was during the Soummam Congress, held in August 1956 in the eponymous valley, and more precisely in the village of Ifri (in the region of Petite Kabylie), under the nose and in the face of the French army, that the leaders of the National Liberation Front (FLN) organized a major meeting clandestinely.
This Congress made it possible to “structure” and organize the Algerian revolution, emphasizing the primacy of politics over the military and giving the Revolution the means to have a national base and to ensure its presence on the international scene.
In the above, we have skimmed over some of the many aspects of the Algerian Revolution, which began in November 1954, although this pivotal and founding event, which has been the subject and focus of dozens of films (including the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, directed in 1966 by the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo, or L’Opium et le Baton, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1975), hundreds of documentaries, as well as thousands of scientific articles, theses, books, and works of all kinds, would deserve much more to identify the major part of these facets.
Indeed, we can talk about the diplomatic dimension of the Revolution and its action, which began at the Non-Aligned Summit in Bandung in 1955, to the point of pushing France, thanks to the hard work of the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA), into the very heart of the United Nations with the help of some Arab states, such as Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt, and with the support of the countries of the Eastern bloc in Europe and of China.
We will also be able to highlight the genius of certain FLN and ALN (National Liberation Army) leaders, who set up an effective and most formidable intelligence service when the Algerian state did not yet exist.
Another stroke of genius was to set up a competitive Algerian national football team composed of professionals who were all playing in the French league and some of whom were playing for the French national team. This project, which has carried the voice of Algeria so much and which has brought so much to the Revolution with a certain psychological and social impact in France and all over the world, thanks to the technical prowess of the “dribblers of Independence” but also to their political maturity and their nationalist conscience.
We can go further by returning to the media dimension with the creation of the newspaper Al-Moudjahid, the voice of the Revolution, initially in Algiers before it was transferred to Tunis in 1957, or the launch of the “Voice of Algeria” (Sawt al Jazair) on Radio Tunis with the bewitching voice and mobilizing words of Aissa Messaoudi, the Zeitounian.
So many facets and aspects, many women and men, lovers of freedom and thirsty for dignity, who made heavy sacrifices and who engraved their acts of bravery in the Pantheon of the struggle for the Algerian Nation to live — some of whom deny it the right to exist, more than six decades later — and to whom the Fatherland is grateful.
However, if there is one name to remember, it is that of the Algerian people, the only hero, who with their bare hands, in total destitution and material misery, knew how to rise up and stand up, “aspiring to live” with dignity, to “break the chains” and see “the darkness dissipate,” thus responding to the call of their destiny.
* Translated by Aurore Bonny.
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.