Acolonial metropolis may be seen as a “centre of determination” of its colonies:footnote1 but equally a colony may escape this conventional dependence and determinacy to erupt into, even momentarily to absorb, the history of its metropolis. “French” Algeria has proved the paradigm instance of the dangerous autonomy of colonial interests and ideologies. Source of wealth of a colonial lobby which became powerfully entrenched in metropolitan political and economic institutions, logistic and political base for the overthrow of the IVth Republic, scene of the most prolonged and brutal colonial war since Indochina, Algeria in the later ’fifties became the epicentre of French history.
This complex experience provides an exceptionally rich model in any general study of decolonization. The intimacy and dialectical movement of the relations between colony and metropolis constitute an extraordinary field for conceptual elaboration and “totalization”. Properly, for example, any theory of the Algerian Revolution must involve and integrate a theory of French bourgeois society as a whole: how otherwise can the advent, significance and implications of Gaullist decolonization be understood?
The theoretical interest of Algerian decolonization is, however, of less concern here than its political significance. The context, form and hopes afforded by the long struggle for liberation and its achievement confer on it a special importance: its future necessarily engages us. For this reason we have a duty not to make hasty or peremptory judgements, but to try and grasp the specific structure of possibilities and difficulties which emerged from the liberation struggle. We must understand the colonial system, the liberation war, and the problems of independence together, as a totality.
Whatever the options which are now being taken, socialists will be particularly attentive to certain key indices. One must be the extent to which democracy is realizable and realized in such pivotal institutions as the party, the trade unions, the communes and the workers’ councils. A second is