Dr Millien on Nationalism

MT 60 Years Ago 3rd Year No 90 –  Friday 27th April 1956

Hon Dr Millien in his eagerness to prove that Hindus are communalists who may swamp the other communities and even the coloured members of the Labour Party (Hindus probably did not vote Dr Millien during the last elections!) he has propounded a theory of his own: Communalism and Racialism are at the root of all troubles in various countries of the world.

In the Legislative Council, on the 17th instant, he backed that theory by quoting some examples. He said that the trouble in North Africa is accentuated by nationalism and racialism. We regret to say that Dr Millien has not taken the trouble to study the events which have compelled Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to rise in revolt against French Imperialism.

Last year, the great socialist weekly, the New Statesman and Nation sent its Paris Correspondent, Paul Johnson, to North Africa to make an on-the-sport reporting of the situation.

We reproduce below part of the article: ‘The Algerian Awakening’ by Paul Johnson which appeared in the issue of the New Statesman and Nation of April 16, 1955.

Commenting the article, the N. S. and Nation wrote: “The problems of France in North Africa are not precisely the same as those in Britain, in say, Kenya or the Caribbean; nor are the problems of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco identical in details. But all conform to a broad pattern of economic and political crisis which is becoming apparent in almost all colonial territories.”


The first thing they tell you in Algiers is that Algeria is part of France. “This is not a colony, you know. Everyone is a French citizen here. L’Agérie, c’est la France!” At the office of the Government-General, they gave me thirty-two pamphlets printed on glossy paper — the literature of triumphant colonialism. It was all there: the slogans (“In 120 years, France has transformed medieval anarchy into 20th century progress…”); the statistics (“50,000 miles of roads, 2750 miles of railways, 33 airports, 24,284 hospital beds…”); the photographs of smiling fellahs driving tractors, of healthy Arab children sitting in modern classrooms, of skyscraper flats towering over Arab medinas. And then, to crown everything, the spectacle of the benevolent despot, having distributed largesse of civilization, handing over to his adolescent children the reins of power: “Since the passing of the Statute of Algeria in 1947, the Algerians enjoy the full rights of French citizenship. They elect deputies to the National Assembly and control local affairs through the Algerian Assembly – L’Algérie, c’est la France!”

It’s all very spectacular and edifying. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer a number of questions – questions which anyone who travels through Algeria is inevitably led to ask. Why are there 100,000 troops in the country? Why is the biggest Arab party banned, and its leaders imprisoned or exiled? Why – after a century of peace – are 3000 “bandits” awaiting trial in military prisons? Why is it necessary to bomb Arab villages in the Aures? And why, above all, does everyone you talk to radiate the same sense of insecurity and fear?

The truth is the façade of progress – the skyscrapers, the civil rights solemnly inscribed in the Statute – is pitifully thin and since last November, when Algeria erupted into armed revolt, it has collapsed in ruins. The French occupied Algeria by force, they colonized it by force, and they still hold it by force. The idea of a joint Franco-Arab community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, is an elaborate myth. There are two nations in Algeria: 1,000,000 Frenchmen, who control the administration and 80% of the economy; and 8,000,000 politically and economically underprivileged Arabs. No amount of official propaganda can conceal this familiar pattern of colonialism.

The pattern emerges most clearly in the land. Of 5,625,381 hectares under regular cultivation, the French own 37 per cent, which includes 75 per cent of the high-grade land. Yields per hectare are from 100 to 500 per cent higher on French-owned farms – a ratio reflected in the comparative incomes of French and Arab farmers: £1,500 a year for the French, £ 25 for the Arabs. The social structure reveals the same tendencies. Of the 1,300 grandes propriétés, only 50 are owned by Arabs. Of the 44,434 freeholds farms, only 19,755 are owned by Arabs. The immense majority of the Arab agricultural population – some 1,800,000 – work as day-labourers on French farms or scratch a precarious living from second-grade land in the hills.

And the smiling fellahs driving tractors? True, there are now 17,000 tractors in Algeria – three times as many as in 1939. But 16,500 are owned by the colons. A fellah with an annual income of £25 finds it difficult enough to buy seeds, let alone tractors; even if he has full ownership of his land and is legally eligible for a loan, he is clearly an unjustifiable risk for the banks. Last year, for instance, the Caisse du Crédit Agricole Mutuel issued £ 42,000,000 in loans; but this sum went to a mere 51,000 farmers, of whom 45,000 were Frenchmen. The Government has tried to solve the problem by setting up a credit agency, the Société Agricole de Prévoyance, which issues loans to the fellahs. But the credits at its disposal are miserably inadequate: in 1953, for instance, £ 2,000,000 was distributed among more than 600,000 fellahs…!

Yes, Algeria is France – but France with a difference. Education, as in France, is compulsory and universal. But the number of children between the ages of 6 and 14 receiving no education at all rose from 1,140,000 in 1944 to 2,400,000 in 1954. In 1964, at the present rate, it will be 5,000,000. Meanwhile, credits for schools fell from £4,931,000 in 1952-53 to £ 4,465,007 in 1954-55. But lack of money alone does not explain why the country has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. One of the objects of French policy is the destruction of the Arab language and culture; and, at both a central and local level, the authorities try to prevent the building of Arab schools and the training of Arab teachers. At the moment, only 293 Arabs are attending teacher-training colleges….


*  Published in print edition on 24 November 2017

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