Echoes of the Algerian insurgency
ADMIN NOTE: This post originally appeared in the 16 November 2021 edition of the Early Warning report at Forward Observer. You can find the rest of my intelligence reporting there.
InFocus: Echoes of the Algerian insurgency
In previous weeks, I’ve discussed the Far Left’s mutual aid events and other community-oriented efforts. This often means winter clothing drives for the homeless, soup kitchens, and brake light clinics (replacing dead tail lights so you don’t get pulled over by police). These efforts put Far Left groups out among the people to build popular support for revolutionary and anti-capitalist aims.
Mentally, I keep going back to the descriptions of French soldiers during the counterinsurgency in Algeria (1954-1962). There was an expectation that French troops would be in sustained combat with the Soviet-backed National Liberation Army (ALN) of Algeria. Once reality set in, French troops realized that one of their greatest struggles was to maintain contact with the populace. Contact with the people meant information, building relationships, and ultimately security if French troops could win their support. In fact, trying to win the support of the people was a main effort of the counterinsurgency, although the French’s greatest efforts came later in the conflict.
Throughout the 1950s, communist revolutionaries formed social groups to attract and recruit young Algerians. The communists were quite explicit in the need for these social groups to replace the role of family for new recruits. In 1954, French General Jean Marchand noted: "These [communist] organizations constitute the new basic cells instead of the family, and family devotion has been replaced by duty towards the Party."
Upon finding that the Communist Party was indoctrinating young Algerians via identity-based groups, the French set upon counter-organizing the populace. In 1956, the French formed the Psychological Action and Information Service (SAPI), an intelligence unit that was tasked with building inroads with the populace, weeding out “strangers” in villages (who could be communist political agents or out-of-area fighters), organizing self-defense units, and creating social clubs to counter-organize the populace against the communist insurgents. The real battle was over legitimacy: which side did the people support to be their government?
Like the Americans in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the French lost Algeria on the strategic level. Like the Americans against the Viet Cong and Taliban, the French enjoyed overwhelming tactical success against the ALN, but as the war staggered on, the French government was dragged down politically at home and internationally. The French were also prone to acts of brutal repression, which politically hurt their cause in addition to alienating the Algerian populace. To save face, French President Charles de Gaulle reframed the retreat from Algeria as a gracious act of an empire granting independence to its Algerian colony.
I bring this up because these Far Left groups are expanding a strategic advantage in several areas ahead of worsening low intensity conflict this decade. Places like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington remain ground zero for Far Left revolutionary efforts, although we do see similar activity to a lesser extent across the country. The correct context to understand mutual aid and other community-based efforts is that these are attempts to build popular support for revolution. At a “tactical” level, these are humanitarian and charitable efforts. At the strategic level, these efforts are aimed at building social power capable of overthrowing the capitalist system.
Through his Cold War-era study of Far Left revolutions and insurgencies, Major General Samuel Griffith (1906-1983) found that insurgent movements were viable once they obtained the support of 15-25% of the populace. As the French (and British and Americans) found, popular support means information, financial support, political and auxiliary support, and ultimately security. The more people you win to your side, the more support you’re going to have, if you can keep it. This is the exact same fight happening in the United States right now, although it’s still in an early stage. - M.S.