Algeria: huge Revolution Day marches – now prepare a general strike!

The huge demonstration on 1 November marks a high point for the Algerian Hirak movement, which has been going on for an uninterrupted 37 weeks. The regime has decided to call for presidential elections on 12 December, which the masses have correctly rejected. The slogan of a general strike to stop the elections and force the ousting of the regime is gaining ground.

1 November, Revolution Day, is a national holiday in Algeria, marking the beginning of the revolutionary war for independence in 1954. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital Algiers in a huge show of strength, just after the regime (now headed by Bensalah but in practice led by military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah) had announced presidential elections on 12 December. The protesters feared that the regime would blockade entrances to the city as they have done before, so tens of thousands travelled from all over the country the day before and spent the night in Algiers waiting for the big protest on 1 November. By attempting to prevent the success of the demonstration, the regime in effect created a situation where tens of thousands were already taking over the streets the night before. The mood was one of defiance and there was a feeling of strength.

The Hirak protest movement had, in practice, reclaimed the war for independence against colonial rule from 1954 to 1962 as its own, depriving the regime of any legitimacy it might claim as an inheritor of that tradition. On Sunday 30 June, the regime arrested 86-year old veteran of the liberation war, Lakhdar Bouregaa, because of his criticism of army leader Salah and his rigged presidential elections. Bouregaa was jailed on charges of “undermining the morale of the army in peacetime”. When he appeared in front of the judge on 22 October, he refused to answer any questions, saying he did not recognise the system of power and was not prepared to betray the Hirak. Many carried masks bearing his face on the demonstration.

Stressing the divorce between the regime and the tradition of the liberation war, two other iconic FLN veterans – the female bombers Djamila Bouhired and Zohra Drif – have also joined the Hirak movement and marched against the regime. The National Peoples’ Army, which has attempted to claim legitimacy as a successor of the National Liberation Army, has been thoroughly exposed.

The crowds were very aware of this connection and amongst the slogans they chanted were: “Les généraux à la poubelle, wa el djazair teddi el istiqlal” (“Generals in the bin, and Algeria will recover its independence”) and “Ya Ali Amar baldi fi danger, n-kemlou fiha la bataille d’Alger” (“Hey Ali Amar, my country is in danger, we will complete the battle of Algiers”) in reference to independence struggle hero Ali Amar, also known as Ali Lapointe, and the role he played in the battle of Algiers. There were other chants linking the current struggle with the independence revolution: “Yal Haoues, el moudjahidine fel habs” (“El Haoues [a martyred commander of the FLN] the moudjahidine [fighters] are in jail!” referring to the arrest of Bouregaa). Some faced the police shouting: “Hadi dawla wala istiimar” (“Is this a state or a colonial power?)

Mood of defiance

An article in reporters explains what happened on the eve of 1 November:

“Demonstrators arriving from all over the country, braving the Gendarmerie checkpoints and police checks. And it was early in the evening that everything started. A first group of young people from neighboring Wilayas improvised a demonstration that will cross Amirouche boulevard to Grande-Poste where, gradually, by tens then by hundreds to become a few thousand, gathered... They will not wait for 20h. Neither 23:59, as suggested on Facebook. Mehraz [traditional bronze mortar] is now! Many of these mythical bronze implements found themselves outside with the mission, at the same time, to make noise to the address of Hirak and to sound the death knell of the system. The atmosphere is festive, cheerful. Good humoured. Until the police forces, previously on stand-by, were ordered to repel the growing crowd beyond the perimeter of Khettabi Avenue. The evacuation is brutal. Without care. But the demonstrators insist. Persistent. And that will last a good part of the night. Between Didouche Mourad, Place Audin, Place des Martyrs. The cannons will just remind you that it is midnight. This vigil will result in the arrest of some 200 people, according to reliable eyewitnesses, around the TNA.”

It is worth reproducing an accountof the demonstration published by Inter Lignes Algerie under the headline “Million strong marches on November 1: historic response to established power”:

“... the Algerians, attached to the ideals of the glorious revolution, mobilize massively to mark in turn the history of Algeria post-independence. ‘Tsunami’, ‘human tide’, ‘surge’ ... All the qualifiers will not be enough to describe the great popular mobilization recorded today in Algiers, but also across all the cities of the country. Millions of citizens, without risk of error, have invaded the streets of the country to demand the completion of independence, whose course was diverted the day after the departure of the colonizer…. Unsurprisingly, the capital has seen one of the most mobilizing marches since the beginning of the popular movement of February 22nd.

“... But hundreds of people were able to access Algiers, some of whom spent the night under the stars. Braving the fatigue and the policemen who chased them, they were the first in the street to give the starting shot to this great march. The latter began in the early hours of the morning. Didouche Mourad Street, Place Audin and the Grand Poste were crowded with people from 10 am in the morning. It was a precursor to the success of the march.

“At around 13:30, the streets of the capital usually used by the demonstrators were already full of people. It was difficult to find your way among the crowds of protesters pouring into these neighborhoods, which stretched for several kilometers: Hassiba Ben Bouali street leading from May 1 to the Grande Poste, the Zighout Youcef boulevard leading from Place des Martyrs towards Algiers-Center and Didouche Mourad Street which goes down to Place Audin were saturated.”

Significantly, and in a sign of the defiant mood, the Amazigh flag of the Berber people was flown, which general Gaid Salah had banned in mid-June. The Wednesday before the march, Salah had stressed the banning of the waving of the Amazigh flag, threatening those who disobeyed with five years imprisonment for the invented crime of “injury to the national emblem”. Despite the threats, the Amazigh flag was proudly displayed in the march, with thousands shouting “iwa nigui imazighen” (“we are Amazigh”), eventually leading to more arrests.

The huge demonstration in Algiers was the centre of attention on the day, but there were also huge demonstrations in every town and city across the country. The mass protest movement, which started in February, managed to first postpone and then cancel the presidential elections, and finally forced the resignation of Bouteflika in April. Since then, the regime has been trying to rebuild its legitimacy with a combination of the carrot and the stick. There has been selective repression, with the arrest of activists and prominent opposition figures, but any time the army has attempted to use open repression against the movement, this has been met with an even bigger protest by the masses.

Believing the movement was starting to weaken after eight months of weekly demonstrations, the military thought it was the right time to take a step forward. However, the calling of presidential elections by the hated military junta acted as a spur for people to come out on the streets in greater numbers than before. The huge outpouring of opposition on 1 November leaves the regime in a much-weakened position, but still in power. The elections have become a focal point in the struggle between the official power of the military regime and the power of the streets.

The all-out strike of the judges and magistrates is an indication of how the revolutionary crisis is affecting even sections of the state apparatus. The strike, called by the National Union of Magistrates (SNM), started on 24 October in defence of the independence of the courts from government intervention, and demanding the resignation of the minister of justice. Over 3,000 judges and magistrates were involved in the movement. After a week of strikes, on Sunday 3 November, there were unprecedented scenes as the government decided to send riot police to clear out the Courthouse in Oran, which had been occupied by judges. On Tuesday 5 November, the SNM union leaders decided to call off the strike, only to be met by an uprising of their own ranks, refusing to abide by the call to return to work. We are talking here of judges, not militant dockers!

Complete the revolution

The Hirak movement has put the regime against the ropes. The Algerian people, the workers, the poor, the peasants and above all the youth, have shown enormous willingness to struggle, great courage in the face of repression, and resilience over the 37 weeks that the movement has lasted so far. What is missing is a clear strategy to deal the regime one last blow to bring it tumbling down.

The idea of the need for a general strike is spreading like wildfire. Already, the powerful National Union of Energy Workers called for a three-day strike on 5-7 November for openly political reasons in support of the Hirak. School teachers are also on strike, insurance workers went on strike last Sunday and bank workers are threatening a national strike. At the same time, the militant town of Bejaïa was paralysed by a general strike movement on 5 November involving both autonomous unions and local affiliates of the official UGTA. The strike movement, which also affected other parts of the country, coincided with the weekly Tuesday student demonstrations, which have run parallel to the main ones every Friday. Emboldened by the 1 November show of strength, this time the demonstrations were larger than usual. One of the unions calling for a general strike, COSYFOP, announced that 36 willayas (provinces) had joined the strike movement.

This is clearly the way forward. A massive general strike would paralyse the country and bring the military regime to its knees. We are not just talking about a “normal” protest strike – this would be a political general strike posing the question “who rules the country: Gaid Salah and the generals or the Hirak movement”?

The organisation of a mass, political general strike is the only way to bring down the regime, and can serve as a basis for the convening of a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly where workers and peasants can decide the future of the country in a democratic way. To achieve this, strike and action committees should be set up in every workplace, school and university, in every working-class neighbourhood, and coordinated at the level of the willayas and nationally through a network of elected representatives.

The democratic and national demands of the movement (full amnesty, disbanding of the forces of repression, down with the generals, respect for the national rights of the Amazigh, right of strike without reprisals, free and democratic trade unions) need to be combined with economic and social demands (healthcare for all, free education, bread and housing) which can only be achieved through the expropriation of the multinationals, the renationalisation of privatised companies and the expropriation of the capitalist oligarchy, which has enriched itself by being in or close to the power of the regime.

In the current world situation, a revolutionary victory in Algeria would send shockwaves across the North of Africa and beyond. It would be met with solidarity and sympathy by workers preparing a general strike in France. Algeria’s heroic struggle for independence would be completed with the abolition of capitalism.

Down with the generals! Down with the system!

For a political general strike against the fake presidential election!

Committees everywhere! For a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly! All power to the workers!

For a Socialist Algeria free from imperialist domination!