Under the Paving Stones II: Horror of the Nameless Dead!, Research Time, 13/03/2018

Here’s how I knew I was on the right track by using Ian Buchanan’s commentary to help me through this historical investigation. He’s up-front about the role the Algerian War played in conditioning the Paris Uprising a decade later.

Yesterday, I talked about how the popular perceptions of the Paris Uprising is that it was a unified movement of radical socialist and communist students in the city’s public sector universities. But if you learn about how it really developed, you realize how laughable that is. Trouble is, you have to deep-dive.

You often conceive of the year 1968 as the beginning of the new
progressive politics. But like all socially transformative events, it was
also the end and culmination of long-running social tensions, a
unique intersection of tensions and interests that's as remarkable as
it was improbable.
The conditions of the Paris Uprising of 1968 lay in the Algerian War. This was a brutal, decade-long conflict that lasted nearly a decade. The French government had conquered Algeria in the early 1830s, and by the end of the 1840s reformed its administration of the region to become part of France. The provinces of Oran, Alger, and Constantine were just as French as Rouen and Bordeaux.

Pretty much all the Algerians disagreed, but their voices didn’t matter. After the Second World War, France re-established their government in Algeria fairly easily, but the Front de Libération Nationale began a guerrilla war in 1954, which was more effective than any of the last century of independence struggles.

FLN combat against French rule was brutal, frequently using terrorist attacks against French government and military institutions that killed many Arab and European civilians. The French government frequently carried out mass arrests, mass detentions, and massacres.

Despite a vigorous eight-year campaign of borderline war crimes, Algeria won independence from France in 1962. It’s gone through periodic civil war among different factions since then, and settled into an unpleasant but fairly stable one-party dictatorship.

French society – especially in the more urbane, cosmopolitan culture of Paris – experienced anything but stability thanks to the war. The general consensus of Paris’ citizens on politics was an inoffensive liberal social democracy. France’s political party leaders kept up a fitting line on domestic policy.

But there was a general consensus among Parisians that their government was run – no matter which party or coalition of parties was in charge at a given time – by hypocritical war criminals.

Everyone knew that the French army massacres thousands of Algerian civilians – it was collective punishment for the insurgency. The same kind of thing the Germans did throughout France during their occupation and under the Vichy regime. Just what the British was doing in Kenya fighting the Mau Mau insurgency.

Most of us remember the Arab Spring uprisings against the
authoritarian governments of the region. We democrats supported
those revolutions, but it was a very different story 60 years ago
when Europeans were the autocratic governments Arab people
were demonstrating to overthrow.
The French government, throughout the Algerian revolution, publicized their massacres of civilians as victories against terrorists. So far, so familiar.

The brutality of the French in Algeria was bad enough. But France’s leaders made the situation worse by promoting themselves as the champions of the country’s social democratic welfare state.

The government supported French workers organizing for collective bargaining and improved labour conditions while massacring Algerian workers organizing for independence. They were proud democrats in Europe and proud leaders of a military regime in Africa. They were humane architects of the welfare state who happily killed Arabs by the hundreds for a decade.

Yet the government line was that Algeria was France. So by the government’s own words, they were massacring French citizens. Quite a lot of French citizens in France saw that a state military apparatus that had no problem massacring Algerians would have no problem massacring European French if people turned against them.

So radical communist students, socialist factory and trade union activists, and liberal business people all came to the same conclusion. No more. This was the common interest uniting these groups that – in pretty much all other social and political situations – can’t agree on lunch, let alone a common political program.

But they were all united in the desire to overthrow a French government that demonstrated, in their treatment of Algerians, that they were willing to commit mass military violence against their own citizens if the citizens wanted something they didn’t like.

That’s Buchanan's account of how the uncommon alliance of the Paris Uprising developed. Works for me.

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