Wed Apr 10, 2024
April 10, 2024

Stalinism and Pan-Africanism – Part IV

In previous articles, we have seen how the abandonment of the anti-colonial struggle was carried out by the Third International after Stalin and Dimitrov took over its leadership. This was reflected in the politics of Communist parties all over the world. Even more so after the 7th Congress, in July 1935, passed the thesis: “United Front: The Struggle Against Fascism and War” drawn up by Dimitrov, which indicated the alliance of the proletariat with a section of the bourgeoisie; the Popular Front as a privileged tactic.

By: Américo Gomes

Stalin’s political zigzags go from a sectarian orientation, which put an equal sign between fascism and social democracy, mainly in Germany in 1933, to, afterwards, boosting the anti-fascist alliance, not only with the social democrats but also with the bourgeoisie, which they started to consider progressive to, again, in 1939, allying himself with the Nazis with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact just to break with Hitler in 1941 when he invaded the USSR. After the Second War, the USSR, under Stalinism, was assuming a policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, which led to the submission of the Communist parties and their demoralisation before wide sections of the vanguard.
In the context of these zigzags, the French communists weakened the “Ligue contre l’impérialisme et l’oppression coloniale” [1] where they had an important work, with consequences on the action in nationalist movements of North Africa. In Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco these movements ended up developing autonomously and in conflict with the Communist policy of the French party. That is why bourgeois nationalist organisations such as Habib Bourguiba’s New Constitutional Liberal Party, most commonly known as Neo Destour in Tunisia, or the Sultan Mohamed V leadership in Morocco gained prominence. Eventually, in February 1936, the League’s policy was abandoned by the Stalinists in a meeting at the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris.
It was no different in Algeria. In the midst of supporting the Popular Front in France, the Stalinists dissolved the “North African Star”, an organisation for independence, in 1936 [2]. When the French government ordered the arrest of Messali Hadj and other nationalist leaders [3] and the clampdown on the Algerian People’s Party (PPA) in 1937, they were abandoned by the PCF [4].

In 1939, Maurice Thorez had termed Algeria a “nation in formation,” his version of the Leninist policy of “the right to self-determination,” which would not necessarily imply support for the independence of African nations. He does not defend their independence but rather the policy of demanding political and civil liberties against the position of Algerian nationalists, who claimed that their nation was already constituted and therefore they should be independent, as advocated by Messali Hadj.

In essence, the French Communist Party’s policy for colonialism in Asia, the Middle East and Africa followed a general justification of preserving the unity and integrity of the French Empire through a federation, guaranteeing the French hegemony over its colonies, so that France would not be reduced to its small metropolitan territory, [5] allegedly defending France’s integrity in the name of the struggle against American imperialism. [6]
Therefore, they defended a project of assimilation of Algeria to the French nation, where independence was not a priority and was conditioned to the evolution of socialism in France. They only came to accept the fight for independence when the resistance of the oppressed peoples imposed it.
In the war for Algerian independence, they were against the actions of the National Liberation Front (FLN) when it opted for armed struggle in 1954. This unmasks the neo-Stalinist falsehood that there was a political coincidence between Stalinist politics and the actions of Franz Fanon.

The French CP (PCF) and the independence of Algeria

In 1939, the Algerian CP (PCA) and the People’s Party of Algeria (PPA) were banned, and their militants had to go underground. The PCA recovered its legality in 1943, but the PPA remained banned until 1946. In that year, Hadj founded the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (MTLD), while the PCF remained hostile to independence.
In May 1945, at the end of WWII, the French gathered Algerians for a celebration but the anti-French sentiment was greater and it turned into a demonstration against the colonial occupation. There was swift brutal repression by the French government and a massacre of tens of thousands of Algerians happened in the towns of Setif and Guelma, east of the country.
The demonstrators chanted “Long live democracy”, “Down with colonialism” and “Long live independent Algeria”. The PCF characterised that the demonstrations were carried out by “troubled elements, Hitler-inspired, engaged in Setif in an armed aggression against the population… The police, assisted by the army, maintained order.” [7] It denounced Messali Hadj and the nationalist leaders [8] as “pseudo-nationalist leaders who consciously tried to deceive the Muslim masses, thus playing the game of the masters in an attempt to divide the Algerian population and the people of France” calling for “measures to be taken against the leaders of this pseudo-nationalist association.” [9]
As the outbreak of the insurrection for independence began in November 1954, the Algerian CP decided to support and integrate the Secours Populaire Algérien and the autonomous armed units, refusing to join the National Liberation Front (FLN). Then, it changes position and joins the National Liberation Army (ALN, the armed wing of the FLN) in September 1955. But for this to happen, there was a distancing from the policy of the PCF, which did not share it, since it defended “peace in Algeria” and not independence as the centre of its policy.

Even in March 1956, the French Stalinists voted to give full powers to the government of the Prime Minister of France, Guy Mollet, of the Socialist Party, to continue the war and crush the independence organisation, led by General Jacques Massu. They argued that it was important to keep Algeria close to France and denounced the “recourse to terrorism and armed struggle”, under the pretext that these violent practices would equal those used by the French ruler. They were refuted by the FLN membership, who remembered the use of arms by the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation.

The antagonism between Fanon and the Stalinists

The fact is that it is a falsehood of neo-Stalinists to claim Frantz Fanon and seek to associate him with Stalinism when their stances were opposed. Fanon was known for defending revolutionary violence as essential to the struggle for colonial emancipation in Africa. In this sense, he had extremely progressive positions, distinct from the leadership of the French Communist Party, which refused to recognise the right to fight for the independence of Algeria.
Fanon was a radical anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist, an advocate of pan-African theses that had a special echo in the anti-colonial third-world sectors. In his book In defence of the African revolution, written during the Algerian liberation struggle, Fanon expresses his thought when was deported after his underground activities were discovered in 1956. Fanon deepens his thought in The Wretched of the Earth, which gives a decisive weight to his theory on “revolutionary violence” as being an essential element of the anti-colonial struggle. It states a dehumanization of the population due to the repression and torture of the French empire that took on a character of sadistic racist rage. It makes a detailed portrait of violence as an instrument of colonial domination and as an essential and necessary premise for the decolonisation process. An evolution of his fragmented, racialist and “phenomenological” thinking is presented in Black skin, white masks.
It is demonstrated that the Stalinist and Fanon’s stances were not only different but antagonistic.

A revolutionary struggle for independence

The FLN became, in fact, the people in arms, and created its armed arm: the National Liberation Army (ELN), with Ahmed Bem Bella, Mustafa Bem Boulaid and Mohamed Boudiaf in the leadership. It grew from 500 combatants in 1954 to 100,000 in 1960. They fused in their programme principles, values and ideas of Arab nationalism, Islamism and what they understood as Marxism, particularly with regard to anti-imperialism.
On 19 September 1958, a Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA) was formed, headed by the moderate Ferhat Abbas. The Stalinists only supported the GPRA and the demand for full independence in 1960, but still subjected the success of the anti-colonial struggle to a political process in France.
Algerian independence cost a high death toll, it is estimated that 1 million Algerians were killed during the conflict, compared to approximately 30,000 French.
The Portuguese CP and the anti-colonial struggle
It is also a falsehood of neo-Stalinists to affirm that the Portuguese Communist Party’s policy was always to promote the fight for independence in the Portuguese-speaking colonies.
The movement for the independence of Angola was constituted by a series of organisations that fought against colonial domination by military means. The first to come to power was the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which remains in power today. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) were also part of this struggle.
At the I Congress of the Portuguese Communist Party in 1923, the “sale of the African colonies” to Britain was proposed by the then general secretary José Carlos Rates to “promote the agriculture capitalisation and trade in Portugal.” [10] Even the Stalinist Jules Humberto Droz, a Comintern’s emissary to Portugal, wrote that it was extremely difficult to convince the CC to withdraw this proposal.

In a report to the VII Congress of the Communist International in 1935, Bento Gonçalves, then general secretary of the PCP, admitted the lack of activity in the struggle “in defence of the interests of the colonial peoples oppressed by Portuguese imperialism.” [11] The People’s Front programme in 1936 is based on the defence of national integrity, which included the, considered by Portugal, Overseas Territories, i.e. its colonies. It gave up its support for the colonial struggle in the hope of a front with the bourgeoisie.

The party’s statement on the eve of World War II “On the way to war and foreign domination, the policy of national treason of the fascist government of Salazar“, in 1937, denounces the government for not helping Portuguese companies in the colonies to the advantage of German companies’ investment, mainly in Angola.
Even in 1945, Álvaro Cunhal acknowledged the non-existence of anti-colonial work in the past and yet the progress made by then “can only be considered as the first and still hesitant steps. There is no Portuguese colony with party work.” [12] In this sense, Cunhal advocated a Portuguese national policy that would contribute to the development of the colonies yet not to their independence, as the aim was to seek unity with the sectors of the bourgeoisie that they regarded as progressive.
The sixth issue of the newspaper Avante (Forward), published during World War II, at the moment when the Australian military had invaded Timor, denounced the attack on the national integrity of Portugal, not even touching on the right to self-determination of the people of Timor.
The III Congress of the PCP, in November 1943, passed that the colonial peoples hadthe right to constitute themselves as independent states but considered that, because they were underdeveloped, they could not “secure their independence by themselves under the present circumstances” and would be submitted, if they conquered it, to other imperialisms. [13]
This is because, between the 1940s and 1950s, although the Portuguese Stalinists admitted the right to independence for the colonies, they subordinated it to the struggle for bourgeois democracy in Portugal. They even opposed the formation of anti-colonial independence movements, claiming that there were no conditions for the colonies to become independent. [14]
The 1946 emergency program of the National Council of Antifascist Unity, which advocated unity with the bourgeoisie against the Salazar dictatorship, proposed the inclusion of the colonies, accepting the civilising mission of the metropolis over the indigenous peoples as a burden of the Portuguese white man to bring them to the lights of civilization. [15]
This stance was repeated in 1952 when the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee declared that “only a democratic regime would enable the Portuguese people to help the peoples in the colonies effectively.” [16] Only in the V Congress, in October 1957, did the PCP consider that the necessary conditions were mature for the peoples of Africa to conquer their freedom and independence. [17]
The MPLA leader Lucio Lara describes that Angolan militants were “accused of racism by elements of the Portuguese left who did not understand the need for us to constitute autonomous organisations of struggle,” showing how it was difficult to convince them of the dialectical interrelation between the anti-colonial struggle and the fight against fascism in Portugal. [18]
Even after changing their position to support the independence of colonies, this rhetoric did not translate into concrete action until 1961. The party leadership criticised Mario Pinto Andrade’s initiatives for an independence policy since the priority would be to fight Salazar’s dictatorship. They demanded democracy in the metropolis and the colonies, but not independence.
Actually, this policy only changed significantly in the 1960s, when the newspaper O Anticolonial (The Anti-colonial) was published by the Communist Party, FRELIMO, PAIGC and MPLA under the slogan “For Peace and Self-determination of Colonial Peoples. [19] In 1970, the Ação Revolucionária Armada (Armed Revolutionary Action), linked to the PCP, began to sabotage the port of Lisbon against the sending of soldiers and weapons to the colonies.
The first demonstration for the independence of colonies, in the city of Oporto, Portugal, in January 1968, was held by the Maoist left-wing organisations, not by Stalinists. Just as in 1967, the PCP advocated against the individual defection of Portuguese soldiers fighting in the colonies, because they considered that they would need revolutionary activists within the armed forces to push forward the democratic revolution against the dictatorship in Portugal, while the organisations for independence in the colonies called for the defection of Portuguese soldiers.
The opposite of what was proposed by Amilcar Cabral (African Party for the Independence of Guiné and Cabo Verde – PAIGC), who claimed that “the fall of fascism in Portugal might not lead to the end of colonialism (…) we are certain that the liquidation of Portuguese colonialism would contribute in a very effective way to the destruction of fascism in Portugal.” [20]

As can be seen, the Portuguese Communist Party followed the more general Stalinist rule of prioritising class conciliation through a popular front policy with the national bourgeoisie, or else a broad front of struggle against the dictatorship, subordinating the anti-colonial struggle for national independence.


[1] – League Against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression.

[2] – Founded in 1926 by Algerian emigrants sympathetic to communism at the time supported by the Communist Party.

[3] – A coalition of socialists, communists and radicals won the parliamentary elections in May 1936 and Léon Blum was elected prime minister. He remained in office until 1938.

[4] – George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism?
[5] – Grégoire Madjaria, A questão colonial e a política do Partido Comunista Francês – 1944-47.
[6] Claude Meillassoux, Décolonisation…, L’Homme et la société, N. 51-54, 1979.
[7] – L’Humanité, 11 May 1945
[8] – L’Humanité, 19 May 1945
[9] – Maxime Benatouil, On the day of the triumph over Nazism, French settlers launched a massacre in Algeria.
[10] – J. Paulo Guerra, Memória das Guerras Coloniais.
[11] – Bento Gonçalves, Escritos.
[12] – Alvaro Cunhal, Informe sobre Organização.

[13] – Álvaro Cunhal, Political Report of the Secretariat of the Central Committee to the 1st Illegal Congress of the Portuguese Communist Party, chapter The Alliance with the Colonial Peoples.

[14] – Antonio Costa Pinto, O fim do Império Português.
[15] – Armando de Aguiar, O Mundo que os portugueses criaram, Ed. Lisboa, 1954.
[16] – Dalila Cabrita Mateus, A Luta pela Independência: a formação das elites fundadoras do FRELIMO, MPLA e PAIGC. Editorial Inquérito, 1999.
[17] – Idem

[18] – Idem

[19] – Dalila Cabrita Mateus e Álvaro Mateus, Angola 61 – Guerra colonial: causas e consequências. Texto Editora, 2011.
[20] – Amilcar Cabral, Textos Políticos. Porto: CEC Henrique A. Carneiro, 1974.

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