Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Colonialism Never Gives Anything Away for Nothing

by

Frantz Fanon made this observation in his classic text on revolutionary struggles for national liberation: “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.” Like childbirth, it is simultaneously the creation of a new relationship and the creation of a new human. No longer is the oppressor, the colonizer, alone in their supremacy. Indeed, it is now the oppressed, the colonized who has demanded an equality. Of course, to the colonizer unwilling to release their power, this demand is not only impossible to fulfill, it must be put down with all possible means.

It is this understanding of the struggle against colonialism (and its successor imperialism) that forms the essence of Algerian freedom fighter Zohra Drif’s memoir, Inside the Battle of Algiers: Memoir of a Woman Freedom Fighter. A bestseller in Algeria and France, this recently translated history stands with texts like George Jackson’s Soledad Brother and Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in terms of its honesty and desire for justice. In addition to being the personal history of a revolutionary Algerian patriot, Drif’s memoir is also a study of the tightrope women in movements like Algeria’s Frente Liberacion National (FLN) must sometimes walk, given the nature of patriarchal societies and the armed struggle.

Although Inside the Battle of Algiers is informed by Fanon and the international struggle against European colonialism of the Twentieth century, it is first and foremost a narrative of the day to day events of a cell of dedicated revolutionaries. Zohra Drif begins her tale by describing her childhood. An intelligent student, Drif’s education was encouraged by her family—especially her father—and was ultimately the means by which she made it to Algiers. Her awareness of the growing struggle for Algerian independence began when she was quite young and by the time she went to the equivalent of high school, Drif was a supporter of the most militant wing of the independence movement. Indeed, when they weren’t studying, she and a good friend spent much of their first couple years in Algiers attending political meetings and hoping to be introduced to members of the underground.

When they finally did make a connection and gained the trust of their cell, the two young women were given their first assignment. This involved delivering weekly stipends to families of those fighters who were in the country training, in prison or dead. These tasks not only provided an essential service to the struggle’s fighters and their families, they also helped Drif and her comrade gain a familiarity of the Casbah, a city within the city of Algiers. It is the Casbah that is the oldest part of the metropolis and was the heart and soul of the era of the revolution Drif and her comrades took part in. It was also the Casbah, that was sealed off by the military and police authorities, much like the Israelis have done in Gaza and US forces did in Vietnam and Iraq. The scenario she describes is one of increasingly brutal police and military repression amidst a growing sense of the inevitability of the independence struggle’s ultimate success. The reader is introduced to a number of Drif’s comrades and confidantes as she describes her growing involvement.

That involvement included setting bombs. In her descriptions of these operations, Drif carefully describes the reconnaissance undertaken, developing of disguises and the actual carrying out of the operations. It is a narrative that brings to the forefront the issues of violence in the pursuit of freedom and justice while keeping the engaged reader on the edge of their seat, wondering if the freedom fighters will pull off their action without being killed or caught. In between these escapades, the reader is provided a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of those who decide to commit their lives to armed struggle. In essence, these details describe a growing camaraderie that compares to that of a family. There is a sense of a genuine love amongst the fighters and those that provide safe houses and cover for them. As the campaign of bombings and other attacks intensifies, however, those familial-like bonds are tested, with some members of the underground forces caving to the oppressor. To their credit, most members of the revolutionary forces did not cave either to bribery, threats or torture. Also to their credit is that those who did succumb to torture were not branded as traitors (like those who bend to bribery), but as victims of the same oppressor who had colonized the Algerian people for decades with dehumanization, violence and torture.

Although relatively light on political discussion, Inside the Battle of Algiers presents the reader with enough history and political discussion to provide the understanding necessary to appreciate the political struggle the FLN was engaged in. For this reader, the crucial political statement in the book is one spoken to Drif by her cell leader after she expresses impatience over a decision to cancel an operation she was involved in and had been preparing to undertake. “However you must remember that you are not—that none of us are—ordinary soldiers in a conventional army…. Never lose sight of what we are: political activists whom the colonial regime’s arrogance has forced us to become fighters in a war of national liberation….we will oblige France to meet us on a different battlefield: the political one, where it can never win.” In other words, the very asymmetry of the war demands that the national liberation struggle be primarily a political one. As it would in Vietnam, this approach turned out to be the correct one in Algeria, too. Also important are her discussions of the role of women in such a struggle; how far does one push for one’s freedom as a woman in the context of fighting to free one’s people? How does one address the psychology of patriarchy without alienating the masses?

Zohra Drif’s Inside the Battle of Algiers is an emotionally riveting historical adventure that is both exhilarating and breathtaking. It is also an intellectually provocative study of a once-common form of political struggle that combined Marxist and nationalist thought in order to free the colonies from their yoke. Intensely personal, it is proof that a popular struggle must be of the people and by the people in order for it to succeed. Like Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece film The Battle of Algiers, Drif’s memoir is a powerful and unforgettable work.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 Compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
Ron Jacobs
Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!
Russell Mokhiber
Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia
Michael Barker
The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”
Murray Dobbin
Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich
Dave Lindorff
Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize
Rafael Bernabe – Manuel Rodríguez Banchs
Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María
Oliver Tickell
#FreeJackLetts
Victor Grossman
From Jamaica to Knees
Michael Welton
Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?
Graham Peebles
Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism
Louis Proyect
On Gowans on Syria
Charles R. Larson
Review: Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s “Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby”
David Yearsley
Katy Perry’s Gastro-Pop, Gastro-Porn Orgy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail