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French Algeria: the destructive nature of a "mixed" colony

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The pre-colonial situation is that of the Maghreb before the capture of Algiers in 1830. What are the characteristics of pre-colonial Algeria, but also of the Maghreb?

The Maghreb before the capture of Algiers[edit | edit source]

Fight at the gates of Algiers in 1830.

The first characteristic corresponds to human numbers. Around 1830, the Maghreb had a population of about 10 million, while at the same time British India had a population of about 120 million. The Maghreb is more densely populated than America, but its density is far from reaching that of the great Asian empires.

At the time of the capture of Algiers, Algeria had a population of 3 million, Morocco, which is still larger in terms of population, is perhaps 7 million, while Tunisia has a population density of about 1 million. The 3 million appear to be very few compared to its future metropolis, France. Algeria appears, seen from the hexagon, as a sparsely populated territory.

At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Maghreb was in a bad way, burdened by plague, smallpox epidemics and climatic events that led to food shortages and famines. The populations of the Ancien Régime were subjected to phases of mortality. Demographic growth is low or even nil, but this will change, especially for colonial Algeria, being even unexpected.

1830 2010
France 33 63
Algeria 3 36

The ratio between the population of the colony and the metropolis in 1930 is from 1 to 11, it's an optical illusion: France seems very populated compared to Algeria which appears as a demographic desert.

In 2010, the ratio went from 1 to 2. The image that prevails today is that of a Maghreb, and more particularly of an Algeria that suffers from a demographic overload, whereas on the eve of French colonisation the situation was the opposite in terms of perception.

The second characteristic is a society that lacks cohesion; the third characteristic is based on agriculture and livestock farming.

Pre-colonial Algeria and the pre-colonial Maghreb are characterised by a distribution of land ownership that is very egalitarian between those who import and hold the land, and this will change during the colonial period.

Before 1830, the distribution of land ownership appears to have been fairly egalitarian. On the other hand, production techniques are not very advanced, which reflects the level of economic development.

We are dealing with economies that are living in slow motion in a "balance of stagnation".

Before the French conquest of 1830, the regencies of Algiers and Tunis were part of the Ottoman Empire.

It should be remembered that before the French occupation there was the occupation of the Arabs. The Maghreb populations were Islamized from the 8th century onwards, the occupation lasted from 755 to 1516, followed by an Ottoman occupation from 1516 to 1830. These are two occupations much longer than the French presence.

It is necessary to compare the Ottoman occupation and the French occupation in order to have a term of comparison.

When we talk about Ottoman occupation and colonisation in Algeria, we have to put the way and move forward as if we were on mined ground. As much for France, there is no problem, but there is a difference, what is the difference?

The Ottoman Turks are a Turkish military oligarchy at the head of today's Algerian territory that does not control the whole country. It is enough to militarily occupy certain parts of Algerian territory and basically what this military oligarchy is interested in is the coastal towns, while the hinterland is left to local chiefs who have a great deal of autonomy.

The will of the central Ottoman power, which is the Sultan of Constantinople, is not to extend to the whole country or to impose itself on everyone, the result is that the structures in place are not modified. The Ottoman Turk leaves in place what he finds.

The occupation is used to levy taxes, it is the only rule obeyed by all subjects consisting of recognition in the figure of the sultan the payment of a tax.

The other characteristic of Algerian society is its crumbling in coastal towns. In the American cities, there is the natural environment, there are elements that combine to give us the starting situation and then there is the weight of men.

In pre-colonial Algeria, there are invasions and migrations that make coastal cities places of mixing between the different elements, without however making a hierarchy between groups disappear. It should be noted that Morocco has never recognized Ottoman suzerainty.

The Turks are at the top, numerically weak are the dominant ones considering the rest of the population as inferiors. There is the same feeling at the top among the Andalusians who are the descendants of Maurs who were expelled from Spain and who find asylum in the Maghreb, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, then further down there are the blacks, sometimes soldiers or servants in the caravans of the Sahara who supply the markets forming the trans-Saharan trade.

At the bottom end of the scale, there are the despised Jews in the Maghreb and especially in Morocco. In reality, the condition of the Jews is unequal:

  • indigenous Jews have been in Algeria for a very long time, they are the humblest.
  • the Jews of Livorno form an amalgam of Jews of Iberian or Italian origin engaged in international trade, most of them expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, are well off, looking towards Europe willing to adapt to change. They are a part of the Jewish community open to the world, engaged in international trade and with a heritage that distinguishes them from indigenous Jews.

The crumbling is in the cities where fragmentation is evident, but as soon as one crosses the borders of the cities the crumbling of the Jews, Turks and blacks fades in front of the millions of Arabs and Berbers. What distinguishes Arabs and Berbers are language and culture.

All of these elements contribute to hindering the integration of society. Tunisia is the most totally Arabized of the Maghreb countries, the most Islamized, and the least fragmented geographically, offering more homogeneity than Morocco and Algeria.

The primary sector dominates, the current wealth, i.e. the activity from which Algeria derives the most income today, are hydrocarbons, but these deposits are exploited only at the end of the 1950s. We have an economy in which livestock and cereal farming dominate.

One of the features of the socio-economic system in place is the relatively egalitarian nature of land ownership.

In Algeria, there are regions where the population is sedentary, in other regions there are nomads who also cultivate the land, and finally there are landowners who do not cultivate the land, so there are landless peasants.

Sedentary regions are parcelled out properties that are directly exploited by the peasant owner and his family. Plots and arable land, directly exploited by a peasant who owns the land, are small family farms.

The situation of nomads is more complicated. There are tribal groups, each of which has its own territory, these tribal lands are vast, their possessions are recognized. Each tribe has a territory whose possession is recognized by the other tribes and the sovereign who is the sultan.

In areas where nomadic populations dominate, everyone belongs to a tribe whose membership gives a right to use the tribe's lands. However, these lands are not collective, each family has plots that it is able to cultivate, there is no title deed that proves everyone's rights, but the family portion of the cultivated plots is legitimized by work becoming continuous and hereditary possession.

In other words, there is a sedentary peasantry that owns the land and among the nomads this system that makes it possible for each tribal member and his family to cultivate and it is the work on the land that legitimizes the title of ownership becoming continuous and hereditary.

There are large estates that their owners do not exploit, such as land ceded to mosques, the lands of the sovereign and large families, but also the properties of city dwellers. The existence of these different types of property implies the existence of non-owner peasants.

In order to regain the characteristic that we insist on, the poor landless peasants who escape part of their profits are, however, in colonial Algeria in limited number. In other words, in pre-colonial Algeria and the pre-colonial Maghreb, there is a character that does not appear in the social setting that is the rural proletarian.

What dominates is the small farm, the small property and the small family farm on which the tax burden mainly weighs.

There are large estates, powerful families with powers of command, large families manage to impose chores on their dependents, but this does not lead to a feudalization of Maghreb society. The process is not pushed far enough to change social relations, Algerian peasants are able to keep their land until the colonial period.

This distribution of property, the size of farms, and the modes of exploitation reflect the balance of pre-colonial Maghreb society: they are societies that are demographically thinly populated, generally speaking, they lack homogeneity and stabilise at a fairly low technical level.

The Maghreb does not compare with Western Europe in this respect. There is an ungrateful natural environment, thermal variations are significant as one moves from the sea, rainfall is irregular. Against this ungrateful natural environment, the Maghrebian peasant struggles to innovate in terms of farming methods and agrarian tools. There is no close association between agriculture and livestock farming, which is a way out for a crop characterized by low development.

The plough is a very simple plough called the "araire" which is not able to turn the land in such a way as to store the irregular rains that only scratch the soil to bury the seed. For the herds, there is the lack of fodder reserves making the herds weak.

Cases of fallowing with a practice of crop rotation are very rare, there are situations where land is abundant and men rather rare encouraging a rather rare rotation, but without a fixed periodicity.

  • Do things change in areas where there is intensive occupation?

Even in these areas one notes the inertia of cultivation methods and instruments. The phase most often chosen in order to make this pre-colonial diagnosis, Europe at that time is in the process of industrialization preceded by a classic pattern of an agricultural revolution.

Compared to Europe thus engaged in industrialization, the Maghreb appears to be living in slow motion, i.e. "a balance of stagnation". Maghreb societies, and especially Algerian ones, are finding a balance. The important thing is that colonization will break this routine and violently.

Failure of European agricultural settlement[edit | edit source]

Chronological map of the conquest and territorial formation of Algeria.

If we consider the second French colonial empire, Algeria appears as something very special. France set out to make this territory a colony of settlement paying the price of blood and the financial cost of the conquest.

If the objective is achieved, Algeria will have to be populated by Europeans and mainly by French people who would come to settle on the land.

Within the framework of the second type of French colonisation from the years 1850 - 1860 - 1870 there is another type of settlement experience which is New Caledonia.

Colonization may at first appear as a project, Algeria appears at first as a sparsely populated territory, the conservation of Algeria may justify the conquest and the price of blood and money. A European population is sent to contain the resistance of the Arabs.

It is considered that the conquest of Algeria ends in 1870 in the context of industrialization in France.

There were many difficulties in order to fix the beginning of the industrial revolution in France. It is considered that the years 1830 - 1840, which are the beginning of industrialization, brought social difficulties. The idea appeared to make Algeria a sort of outlet for the surplus of the French population and above all to settle the question of the social cost of industrialization.

Great Britain, at a time when it is undergoing fundamental structural changes, has the possibility of sending away a surplus of population as a sort of valve.

It is a plan of colonization as it appeared many "France has an overabundant population, its borders have become too narrow, and the Algerian demographic desert is on its doorstep". However, fairly quickly, from the 1850s to 1860s, through population censuses, dismemberments and various surveys, France discovered itself to be a country of low fertility, a country of immigration and not of emigration.

In reality, France has neither the need to populate Algeria, nor the means to do so, and this was evident in the final days of the conquest of Algeria.

The result is that France is going to want to populate Algeria. From the moment in the 1850s - 1860s when it was realized that it could not, it was Arabophiles, including some civil servants who were familiar with Algerian realities, who put forward the idea of changing its demographic policy.

Emperor Napoleon III greets the "French colonists and the Arabs" from the balcony of the sub-prefecture of Mostaganem (department of Oran) during his official visit to Algeria on 20 May 1865. Sketch by M. Moulin published in Le Monde Illustré, 1865.

These circles became aware of the situation and succeeded in convincing Napoleon III that a change of policy and course was needed, and that the policy of settlement had to be turned away. Napoleon III will receive from his opponents the title of Emperor of the Arabs, who will want to tie the Arabs to the ground by giving them title deeds rather than letting the Arabs keep their land and give it to them instead of bringing a few thousand unsuitable settlers to the country.

This policy will arouse very strong opposition, as the supporters of unlimited colonization are very numerous in Algeria, especially among the large settlers. From the 1850s - 1860s, there is a first distribution of land.

The weight of colonial interests, patriotic arguments, this weight on French political circles was going to make what was a great idea of Napoleon III, who in retrospect was right.

This idea had the great merit of taking into account what we would call the initial conditions, including the weight of men. This idea had the merit of taking into account the fact that the Muslim population was and would remain a large majority in Algeria.

From the 1870s onwards, France's Algerian policy resumed its initial orientation by giving priority to European settlement with mixed results.

It all depends on the term of comparison one chooses. Either one stays within the French colonial domain in which case Algeria appears as an experience that stands out from the others, or one takes the successful colonisation experiences of settlements in the Americas and the Pacific in which case Algeria is very far from it.

Compared to other possessions in Asia and Africa, Algeria can claim the status of a settlement colony. In 1880, there were 400,000 Europeans settled while the Europeans were drowned in the indigenous masses in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, however, in Algeria this corresponds to 10% of the total population. If we look at the evolution of the number of European women in relation to the so-called Muslim Algerian population, Europeans will constitute a fraction of the maximum population at the beginning of the 20th century with 14%. This is the record reached in Algeria.

Algeria does not resemble almost all the colonies in Asia and Africa, but for all that it is not an experience that can be compared to what will happen in North America and the Pacific, in fact, Algeria is between the two, which is why it is characterized as a mixed colony.

The mixed colony brings together two numerically unequal populations, but the Europeans constitute a strong minority; from one end to the other, the Europeans do not succeed in winning.

A mixed colony is similar to Algeria, namely South Africa, where the white population is a stronger minority, but a minority nonetheless. According to the latest census of the general population of South Africa, the colours outnumbered the white Europeans.

These experiences never achieve the goal of surpassing the indigenous population. On the contrary, the privileges of the European minorities are doomed to disappear in the long run in the face of the demands of the mass of indigenous people. That is why we have in Algeria at the end of the colonial period the repatriation of Europeans from Algeria and why in 1991 there is the dismantling of apartheid, it is not tenable.

The mixed formula of colonisation is an explosive situation, it is white supremacy without the manpower.

The mixed colonization formula is much more unequal in South Africa. One of the signs is that the white minority in South Africa monopolizes a much larger fraction of the land than in Algeria, 87% of the cultivated land in European hands, while in Algeria it is estimated that 25% of the cultivated land is in European hands. Beyond these small differences, Algeria and South Africa are of the same colonial type because of the unequal distribution of populations and wealth.

A minority fraction of the population owns too large a proportion of the numerical importance of its wealth.

In order to make the link with the American typology, mixed colonization creates a situation of extreme inequality that is reminiscent of the first two categories of American colonies.

The fact that French colonization ends in a war that lasts a long time, is expensive and causes many victims is not so surprising when presented in this way.

The gap is between the plan to make Algeria a settlement colony and a type of settlement that is not at all reminiscent of the initial project.

The results of the settlement policy are mixed, initially the objectives are achieved, but quite soon the European population will peak.

The population counted as French in Algeria at first, according to census figures, increased more than tenfold between the 1856 and 1954 censuses.

At first glance, this is something quite spectacular or efficient. This increase is due less to immigration and the natural growth of French people coming from France than to the assimilation of European foreigners and Algerian Jews.

We are moving towards a European community in Algeria which will be composed of French people of French origin, non-French Europeans such as Spaniards, Italians, Maltese, Germans, but also Swiss, there are also Algerian Jews.

In 1880, emigrants from Spain, Italy and Malta formed a larger population than the French, since they were driven by poverty, while the French were the excluded from the industrial revolution.

This was an unprecedented situation. In the 1880s, non-French European emigrants outnumbered French emigrants. The question of French sovereignty over Algeria arose.

In order to ensure its sovereignty, we will imagine a legislation that will make non-French Europeans French and Algerian Jews French.

A law of 1889 ordered the automatic naturalization of all foreigners born in Algeria if they did not claim their father's original nationality on reaching the age of majority. According to the law of the land, one can be naturalized automatically if he does not claim his father's original nationality.

At the same time, the category of the French was inflated with a decree from 1870 onwards which collectively naturalized the Jews of Algeria. Zn 1870 they are 30000 and in 1954 they are 140000. Algerian Jews will, over time, become remarkably westernized as French citizens. They will speak French, dress in European style, send their children to the school of the Republic.

In 1962, when the retreat came, naturalized French Algerian Jews will go en masse to almost all of France and not to Israel.

From 1896 onwards, this process of assimilation was a fact and a success, a French community was to emerge in Algeria. From 1896 onwards, the number of French people born in Algeria exceeded the number of immigrants, and a people emerged that was called at the time a "new people" called the "black feet".

This community of Europeans of French or foreign origin will do the same thing as the British emigrants to North America who will from a moment on call themselves Americans. These French from Algeria will call themselves Algerians.

A sense of identity emerges within this community of Europeans, but it will not be able to turn into an independentist patriotism, even if there were with the Blackfoot patriotism some desire to separate from France.

In 1954, nearly 80% of Europeans were born in Algeria. In other words, the accepted term of repatriation in 1962 is inappropriate since it is not basically a question of bringing back to their homeland French people born in France, but of displacing populations born for the most part in Algeria, it is an uprooting and an exile.

Algeria cannot therefore have the same destiny as the thirteen North American colonies, once again it is demography: the numerical weakness of this so-called Blackfoot people compared to the Muslim majority makes any separation from the metropolis impossible unless the South African formula is chosen.

The radical way is separate development, but in South Africa the Europeans are twice as numerous as the Europeans in Algeria.

European settlement in Algeria goes further than in a typical exploitative colony in Asia and Africa. This settlement goes less far than in South Africa, and there is no comparison with the settlements in North America and the Pacific. In fact, the so-called European population, i.e., the French-born or non-French naturalized Europeans, the Algerian Jews, but also the non-naturalized Europeans, all these groups constitute the category of Europeans.

These Europeans only grew more rapidly than the indigenous Muslims during the first forty years of the French presence. From 1830 to 1870, we are in a process that would have effectively increased the number of Europeans.

From the 1870s onwards, the opposite happened; there was a shift in the demographic relationship between communities, but not the expected shift. The acceleration of the natural growth of the Muslim population means that the European population will never exceed the maximum rate of 14% reached at the beginning of the 20th century and will subsequently fall to less than 10% in 1962 before the final exodus.

The underlying reason for the failure of European settlement must be compared with successful experiments such as the thirteen North American colonies. It is in the light of this success that its failure in Algeria can be explained.

We do not find the same starting situation in Algeria as in North America, it could not work. If we stick to that, this European agricultural settlement policy was destined to fail in Algeria.

The agricultural colonization of the thirteen North American colonies took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, not in the 19th century. The bulk of European immigration dates from after the 1840s, but from then on, immigrants were concentrated in urban centres.

The arrival of Europeans gives rise to two types of differentiated settlements:

  • Northern settlements based on European agricultural settlement.
  • the southern colonies based on plantation and slavery.

The French ambition was to make Algeria a colony in the image of the American colonies in the north and more precisely the middle colonies in the northeast of the Atlantic coast.

  • What explains the success in one case and mark the differences for Algeria?

It is a region that does not offer certain possibilities. It does not offer the prospect of the plundering of precious metals and does not allow the establishment of a slave plantation colony based on highly profitable tropical products.

The temperate climate of the northern and central parts of the Atlantic coast of what is now the United States offers something special to European immigration, providing suitable conditions for settling settlers accompanied by their families and thus allowing an economy based on family farming and geared to diversified agricultural activities, also known as temperate-type activities such as cereal growing and livestock farming, to flourish.

The weight of the men allows the European agricultural settlement in the northern colonies, but the growth and success of this type of settlement is due to a particular factor.

In North America, there is a lack of cohabitation between the native and immigrant populations. This absence is facilitated in North America by two factors that have much less influence in Algeria :

  • very low population density.
  • the Amerindian populations are victims of the microbial shock.

European immigrants arriving in North America find a clear place, which is not the case in Algeria. The tragedy of the Algerian experience is that it is a colony of a certain type which assumes that there is no coexistence of an existing population and a population of immigrants, whereas in Algeria there is one.

The population densities are very different. At the arrival of the first Europeans, the population of the current United States is estimated at 3.5 million inhabitants, i.e. a density of 3.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, making it much easier for Europeans wishing to settle.

In North America, there is room to turn people away, whereas in Algeria there is no room to turn them away.

  • At the time of its colonial conquest, what was the density of population in Algeria?

When using this criterion or indicator of stocking density, one falls on levels. Since stand densities are very different, we are not dealing with structures that are in place and that are similar.

The Algerian territory has, around 1830, 3 million inhabitants, but a distinction must be made between so-called "useful" Algeria where people can live, work the land, obtain their means of subsistence, which is the population density without the Sahara and the Sahara.

In the northern strip bordering the Mediterranean, the population density amounts to nearly 14 inhabitants per square kilometre. This is a threshold that puts us in the presence of a farming economy rather than, as in North America, an economy of hunters, gatherers and, incidentally, farmers.

The indigenous population of Algeria is facing an advance in European settlement. Between 1830 and 1870, the European population grew at a higher rate than the Algerian population, but the latter was confronted with the advance of the latter stuck between the Saharan desert and the Mediterranean coast, with no space to flee to, unlike the Indians, who could find alternative territories in the centre and west of what is now the United States.

The failure of the colonisation of European settlement is due to the fact that Algeria is not an empty or very sparsely populated territory always predisposed to receive settlers, unlike the thirteen North American colonies and especially the northern colonies. On the other hand, this failure of settlement in Algeria can also be explained by the fact that the settlers, by settling in agriculture, are in direct competition with indigenous producers.

At the time of the conquest of Algeria, it was not conceivable to adopt a policy aimed at the large-scale massacre of the indigenous populations or their systematic expulsion from their usual area of existence.

Napoleon III renounced this policy of extermination and refoulement, taking a stand on this issue in his letter on France's policy in Algeria published in 1865: "it cannot enter into the idea of people exterminating the 3 million natives who are in Algeria or driving them back into the desert following the example of the North Americans towards the Indians.

For the Emperor of the Arabs, therefore, we must live with the Arabs, from whom we are going to take the best land.

The lack of coexistence between the European and indigenous populations on the North American continent has a positive consequence for the white colonist, which is that he does not find himself in a situation of competition with the indigenous populations and indigenous agriculture.

The cost of indigenous production in agriculture is lower, indigenous agricultures are able to produce the same thing, but cheaper. In order for European farmers to hold on to the land, they need intervention to give them benefits.

The state will intervene and pay, in the formula of mixed colonization where there is a minority of Europeans on a disproportionate amount of land. Maintaining European colonization requires state intervention because otherwise they cannot compete with indigenous producers: it is the adoption of measures that are favourable to the European farmer.

The state intervenes to benefit the European farmer, but discriminates against the indigenous population, it is a solution that leads to tensions, it is a time bomb.

In a colony such as Algeria, if there are not enough Europeans, if they are going to get their hands on a disproportionate amount of land, they need a workforce. European agriculture, in order to maintain and develop, needs relatively abundant and cheap indigenous labour.

In this type of colony, there is an economic dependence on Europeans, on indigenous labour. This is a distinguishing feature not only of colonial Algeria, but of other territories that can be classified as mixed colonies, such as South Africa, Kenya, but also the former Southern Rhodesia.

The Europeans compete directly in the agricultural production sector with the indigenous labour force. If the Europeans compete directly in the agricultural sector, then the Europeans will have to be favoured on the one hand, but also discriminate against the majority, somehow marginalizing the majority of the population.

The Kenyan example refers to the issue of coffee. In certain areas of Kenya, from a certain point on, from the First World War onwards, the European colonists began to grow coffee and export it. The colonial state intervenes and prohibits African producers from entering this lucrative branch which is reserved for whites. This is a typical result of the mixing formula.

The representation of the colonists in a legislative body refers to the existence of a political relay allowing the defence of their interests to the metropolises. Since it is a protected minority, this small European community has the opportunity, by being represented in a legislative body, to defend its interests not only on the spot, but also in the metropolis. From 1848 onwards, the French citizens of Algeria were allowed to elect four deputies to the National Assembly.

Settlers were very rare in Algeria. At the beginning of the 1950s, there were about 1 million Europeans, but among these Europeans, there are very few settlers who are landowners of European origin.

At the beginning of the 1950s, in Algeria, out of the 1 million Europeans, there are 19400 settlers who with their families make up about 75000 people, that is 7% of the total number of Europeans.

Europeans are a minority, but they do not live in rural areas. In almost all cases, Europeans are specialised workers, civil servants, employees, taxi drivers, garage owners, station managers, nurses, engineers, shopkeepers, etc.

The European settlement fails in the control of the Algerian space. The gap is a gaping chasm between what was initially imagined and what is achieved, on the ground the distance is very great. It was imagined that immigrants from France would settle on land, whose numbers would grow over time to the point of overwhelming the indigenous population.

According to the dream of some French colonial circles, there would not be a small or medium sized rooted French peasantry, the vast majority of the European population would remain an urban population. In 1871, the French urban population was 60% European, in 1954 this proportion was 54% with a high concentration in Algiers and Oran.

This urban population is growing because over time we are witnessing a phenomenon of land concentration. Land ownership will be in the hands of a small number of owners, which will lead to a decline in the European rural population that is regrouping in the cities.

In 1954, about 6,000 large landowners alone owned 87% of the settlement land. It is a process of building up large estates.

Land grab[edit | edit source]

The settlement policy fails, but the land grab succeeds. We have reached a situation where the mixed formula leads to very great inequalities.

It is a minority of the population that manages to get its hands on a disproportionate share of the wealth.

Between 1830 and 1954, Europeans got their hands on 2.7 million hectares, or about ¼ of cultivated land, from the state as well as from private individuals or large capitalist companies, among which the Geneva-based Swiss Setif company.

In Zimbabwe, more than 85% of the land is in European hands. There are colonization experiences where this process of land spoliation goes very far.

In Algeria, it is most often the best land on which wheat is cultivated, and then from the 1880s onwards the vines are used to make wine.

From 1860 to 1917, the bulk of the land passed into European hands, and the appropriation took place either :

  • by confiscation: takes place when there are muted rebellions. To punish the population, the land of the "rebels" was confiscated. This was particularly the case during the rebellion of 1871, which was followed by the confiscation of property as a punishment. There was also the confiscation of property intended for the maintenance of mosques and the land occupied by the Ottomans. Property in the public domain is also confiscated.
  • by levy: takes place on tribal territories.
  • by new laws: favouring the constitution of individual property and also favouring private transactions.

There is a colonial policy, in the case of this policy, European settlement fails, on the other hand, the takeover of the completed lands.

The French seize about 25% of the land, but for some authors this would be 1/3. Compared to the South African case, this may not seem much, since in South Africa 87% of the land is in European hands.

It should be pointed out that the settlers, who are very few in number, represent only 2% of the total agricultural population in 1950.

As the colonial period progressed, there was a trend towards increased European ownership on the one hand, and a decrease in indigenous ownership on the other. The gap will be large, in 1950 it will exceed the ratio of 10 to 1.

On the European side, there was a tendency for land to be concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners, while Muslim peasants saw their land shrink, unable to compete on equal terms with neighbouring settlers since more than 70% of the natives owned less than 10 hectares.

This is one of the explanations for the performance, which is different if we consider European farmers on the one hand and indigenous people on the other. The Europeans do much better because they have much larger areas, they are better endowed, their estates are better equipped, they have much more credit and, at the end of the day, they produce and market a major proportion of agricultural products. In 1950, 2/3 of Algeria's crop production was produced by European farmers and more than 90% of its wine.

One of the characteristics of the mixed colony is found in this type of settlement, given the fact that European farmers compete with native farmers who can produce as much, but at a lower cost, requiring state intervention.

The State intervenes in the takeover of the land, in the distribution of the land, in tools, equipment, credit and in a whole range of support granted to European farmers.

When historians interested in the cost-benefit balance sheet of the colonisation of Algeria insist that this territory costs a lot, because the State intervenes to support a fraction of the minority population in order to be able to make the comparison.

Demographics must be considered in conjunction with the land structure. If we have the situation and the characteristics of the co-educational formula, if a minority of the population holds a majority of the wealth and if this wealth is constituted by the land, then we must consider the evolution of the numbers involved: there are Europeans and natives.

From a certain point on, those natives who see the best land passing into European hands, who see their plots shrink, then their numbers increase against all odds.

From the 1870s, not only is there a renewal of the Algerian so-called Muslim population, but it is also growing at a high rate: in 1860 the Muslim population is 2.7 million, there is a temporary demographic decline that does not resemble the American or Oceanian precedent, in 1920 this population increases to 4.9 million and in 1954 it rises to 8.7 million.

The fact that the Europeans get their hands on an excessive part of the land, combined with what some have called a demographic explosion or a demographic boom, will lead to what is usually called in specialized reading the proletarianization of the indigenous mass.

The accelerated growth of the Muslim population inexorably reduces the available surface area per capita and per family, so the production of indigenous agriculture tends to stagnate or decrease due to a drop in yield or soil degradation.

From 1860, on the eve of the Second World War, the share of wheat produced in Algeria by the Arab peasantry rose from 80% to 20%.

This is a situation in which the majority of the agricultural and indigenous working population was to perform less and less well in terms of cereal production or yields. A proportion of the active population does not own a sufficiently large plot of land. In addition to these peasants, there are a greater number of non-owners, sharecroppers and permanent or temporary non-owner farm workers.

A large portion is under-employed or unemployed: in the early 1950s, there was a large number of unemployed workers in rural areas, with almost one million rural unemployed in 1954. It is a mass of "trampled" peasants who, from the moment they lose their means of subsistence in rural areas, have several choices:

  • get hired in the big estates.

They have several choices: * go to the cities or to public works sites; it is a phenomenon of rural exodus of impoverished peasants who go to the cities.

  • From 1914 to 1954, 2 million Algerians stayed in France either as soldiers or workers.

Inequalities and "mixed" colonisation[edit | edit source]

With the process of colonization appears in the landscape of Algeria someone who was previously absent: the rural proletarian. This is why we underlined his absence at the beginning.

On the other hand, proletarianization does not affect the whole indigenous society. Some of the members of this society succeed either in conserving their heritage or in strengthening it.

But for the vast majority, it is a deteriorating situation. In a large part of the country, the settlers own most of the fertile land.

Europeans are in the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, the main employers, yet there are disparities both between Europeans and non-Europeans and within the European group as well as among Muslim Algerians.

The temptation to present Europeans as a dominant class and all Muslims as an undifferentiated mass of proletarians and sub-proletarians must be resisted. Both societies have their favoured or disadvantaged groups.

For the European population, the social gaps are greatest in the countryside. Alongside huge estates there are smallholders, sometimes on the verge of poverty, who have not been absorbed into the process of land concentration.

As far as the Algerian Muslim population is concerned, the gaps appear in the cities, in the urban environment there are Muslim middle classes whose standard of living is close to that of the European working population, who are mostly wage-earners and small businessmen.

Inequalities in terms of legal and political status should be noted; in other words, in this type of settlement, there are economic inequalities, but these are compounded by inequalities in legal and political status. This inequality tends to separate very clearly these two entities, which are diversified.

From a legal point of view, there is the indigenous code, which is a regulatory arsenal that only applies to indigenous people; it is a repressive legal system that only applies to indigenous people. It is applied by the administration in violation of the principles of the separation of powers, while the code of indigénat provides for collective sanctions in violation of French law. It is a regime of exception established everywhere in the French empire except in Morocco and Tunisia.

You can be punished if you disobey orders, the punishment can be collective, but you can also be punished, bearing in mind that during the colonial period there was no free movement of persons if you are caught without permission outside your district, which is subject to the law of the code de l'indigénat.

Inequality of political status is the situation in which indigenous Muslims as inhabitants of a territory annexed by France are French nationals. In 1848, Algeria was proclaimed an integral part of French territory, constituting three departments and sending deputies to the National Assembly. Indigenous Muslims have had French nationality since 1865, but not the citizenship of France, while indigenous Israelites, who were naturalized collectively in 1870, enjoy legal assimilation that is not subject to the code of indigénat.

Can unworthy Muslims be granted French citizenship? It is possible, provided they apply for it, as accession to French citizenship is not a right, but a favour granted by the colonizer in a dissuasive manner: one must renounce Koranic law or Berber customs. In the end, a very small number of indigenous Muslims acceded to French citizenship during the colonial period.

French citizens of indigenous origin were a category that continued to be discriminated against: they had difficulty gaining access to land and could not hold administrative positions either.

French colonization disrupted Muslim society, which was not the case for the Ottoman occupation, the peasantry, the cadres of Algerian Muslim society and the urban elites. Generally speaking, the mixed colonisation formula is destructive and generates strong inequalities.

In South Africa and Zimbabwe we find the same characteristics where European domination always ends in extreme violence or late. The war in Zimbabwe ended in 1980, the dismantling of apartheid took place in 1990, etc. The European domination of Zimbabwe is still extremely violent or late.

It is an upheaval that primarily concerns the peasantry, which is the victim of land dispossession and is becoming impoverished.

Another impact of colonization is the break-up of the Muslim aristocracy, the big families, the tribal chiefs, the bourgeoisie of the big cities, who almost all disappear under the shock of colonization.

In urban areas, there is something like a revival in the wake of colonization. Urban elites are reconstituting themselves very slowly from the 1900s and especially after the First World War. This reconstitution of urban elites is taking place in a new form, which are secularized and francized Muslims.

The best representatives of this urban elite who after independence settle for a fraction in France are French-speaking Algerian writers. This literary production starts from the moment the elites are reconstituted.

Mixed colonization assigns to a majority a minority share of wealth and power.

Something that complicates the calculation of income gaps in colonial Algeria is the European presence: one must consider the average individual income of the European farmer in Algeria, which in 1954 was 35 times higher than that of the Muslim farmer.

At the same date, but this time in a general way for all Algeria, the average income of a European family is 8 times higher than that of an Algerian family. Three-quarters of the French in Algeria have an income that is 15% to 20% lower than that of metropolitan France, the income gap between France and Muslim Algeria was in 1950 close to 8 or even 8.5.

By way of comparison, in 1950, the gap in average income between Western industrialized countries and the bloc then called the Third World was on average 5.7. The gap between France and Algeria is higher.

In Algeria, there is the economic and social coexistence of two communities. This coexistence is felt for the humblest as a "European" Algeria, modern, developing and enriching, on the other hand, coexisting with this Algeria there is a "traditional" Algeria involved in a process of impoverishment.

This awareness will transform the juxtaposition of this society, the differences become unequal and unjust.

  • What would it have taken for colonization in Algeria not to lead to war? What would it have taken so that the almost one million European women would not have been forced to leave? What would have prevented the independent state of Algeria from getting its hands on the heritage, land and property of the Europeans?

It would have taken something that neither the French government nor the pieds-noirs wanted: reforms in favour of the majority. Only reforms would have prevented the radicalization of nationalist struggles and the brutal overthrow of the colonial order. No French government would prove capable of implementing reforms for fear of the discontent of an uncompromising white colonist.

The European colonist, the Blackfoot have a share of responsibility in the Algerian drama which is notably the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962 causing on the European side nearly 35,000 deaths and on the Muslim side from 300,000 to 350,000 deaths.

« Group of Six", leaders of the FLN. Photo taken just before the outbreak of the war on 1st November 1954. Standing, from left to right: Rabah Bitat, Mostefa Ben Boulaïd, Didouche Mourad and Mohamed Boudiaf. Sitting: Krim Belkacem on the left, and Larbi Ben M'hidi on the right.

The French people of Algeria stubbornly refused any reform leading to the final uprooting of the European people of Algeria. This exodus took place in tragic conditions, in three months from May to July 1962 800,000 Blackfoot people left Algeria, experiencing it as exile and uprooting.

The Front de Libération National was founded in Cairo in 1954, working to eliminate during the war and after all the other competing nationalist formations that imposed themselves as the sole party of the Algerian government established in 1962. After independence, the FLN tensed up the Algerian youth and the Algerian forces, and exclusivism led to a civil war that has ravaged the country since 1992.

After independence and the recovery of national wealth, at the expense of the former colonists, gives rise to Algerian immigration to the metropolis, which continues and intensifies due to demographic short-sightedness, but above all due to the economic inefficiency of the post-colonial state.

In such a perspective and beyond the appreciation of individual or collective responsibilities, the history of French colonization in Algeria reveals that although defeated, stripped and humiliated, the vast majority of Algerian Muslims never gave up.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]