The Algeria of Daniel Guérin, Libertarian
In December 1965 Daniel Guérin published a pamphlet entitled LAlgérie caporalisée? which contains a rather bizarre analysis of Boumédiennes regime. According to Guérin, nothing happened in June. Faithful to an old schema, he sees only a Bonapartism in power both before and after the coup détat, struggling classically on two fronts: against the counterrevolution of the indigenous propertied classes and against the threatening enthusiasm of the workers striving for self-management. And in foreign affairs he finds the same desire on the part of both regimes for an adroit balancing act between capitalist and socialist countries (p. 6). None of the declarations of the so-called Council of the Revolution contains any innovations whatsoever or any hints of an original program (p. 10). However, when he drafted his main text, dated November 5, Guérin thought he detected some potential new developments as the putchists were being pushed, as if despite themselves, to the right developments that seem to foreshadow an antisocialist policy (p. 11, our emphasis). One might suppose that Guérin disregards the considerable differences between the two regimes because he is carried away by the equal contempt that Ben Bella and Boumédienne might well arouse in a revolutionary who is a declared partisan of libertarian socialism and self-management. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case! He has no other revolutionary solution to recommend than the restoration of Ben Bella: To rally a popular opposition to the colonels regime in Algeria today without reference to Ben Bella, or while making a total political critique of Ben-Bellaism, would be an undertaking doomed to failure (p. 17). And before June 19 the Ben Bella regimes numerous attacks on the workers, the exploits of its police and army the same police and army that are still in place today, in fact were for Guérin only mistakes, weaknesses and omissions of an acceptable orientation. The king was badly advised or misinformed; never responsible. Since Guérin cannot be unaware of the open struggles of Ben Bellas regime against the masses (he himself provides some excellent documentation of them, notably apropos of the Congress of Agricultural Workers), he has to reconstruct history by totally separating Ben Bella from his regime. Page 12: The sabotage of self-management, organized, of course, without Ben Bellas knowledge. Page 2: As we can see more clearly today, Ben Bella never had his hands free: for nearly three years he was the tool, the prisoner, the hostage of Boumédienne. In other words, people thought Ben Bella was in power, but his downfall has shown that he wasnt. Such an astonishing retroactive demonstration could just as well be applied to the Czar, who was believed to be an autocrat before 1917. But Guérin overlooks this question: Who besides Ben Bella made Boumédienne, by hoisting himself into power with the aid of Boumédiennes arms? That Ben Bella later made some half-hearted and very inept attempts to get rid of his tool is another matter. It is because he was above all a bureaucrat that he was at first essentially in solidarity with, and eventually the victim of, bureaucrats more rational than he.
What, then, is the secret of this aberration of one of our famous leftist intellectuals, and one of the most ostensibly libertarian among them at that? With him it is no different than with all the others: it is the decisive influence of their vainglorious participation in high society; their common tendency, even more servile than a lackeys, to be swept off their feet with joy because they have spoken with the greats of this world; and the imbecility that makes them attribute such greatness to those who have condescended to talk to them. Whether they are partisans of the self-managing masses or of police-state bureaucracies, the leftist intellectuals of the period from which we are just emerging always have the same awestruck admiration for power and government. The closer they are to a governmental position, the more the leaders of the underdeveloped countries fascinate these ridiculous professors of leftist museology. In Simone de Beauvoirs memoirs, so revealing of the fundamental degradation of a whole generation of intellectuals, her narration of a dinner at the Soviet Embassy exposes a pettiness so irremediable and so shameless that she isnt even aware of it.
So here is the secret: Guérin knew Ben Bella. He listened to him from time to time: When I had the privilege, at the beginning of December 1963, of a brief audience at the Villa Joly in order to present to the President a report resulting from my month of traveling around the country observing the self-managed enterprises, I had the impression that he had been prejudiced against my conclusions by Ali Mahsas and the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Bachir Boumaza (p. 7).
Guérin really is for self-management, but, like Mohammed Harbi, it is in the pure form of its spirit incarnated as a privileged hero that he prefers to meet it, recognize it and aid it with his sage advice. Daniel Guérin met the World-Spirit of self-management over a cup of tea, and everything else follows.
LAlgérie de Daniel Guérin, libertaire originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #10 (Paris, March 1966). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.
A postscript to this article appeared in the following issue. See also Address to Revolutionaries of Algeria and of All Countries and The Class Struggles in Algeria.