We are all brothers

Protestors in Algeria, the US, and elsewhere must begin to imagine what a new, grassroots Third-Worldism of the 21st century may look like.

Solidarity protest with Algerians in Columbus, Ohio (Photo: Paul and Cathy Becker via Flickr CC Licensed).

Malcolm X visited Africa in 1964, two years after Algeria’s independence from French colonial rule, and one year before his martyrdom. During that visit, he noticed the stark similarities between the brutality of colonial state violence in Algiers and the “occupying armies” of the police in Harlem. On his return, he addressed a labor forum in New York City in March 1964:

I visited the Casbah … with some of the brothers—blood brothers. They took me all down into it and showed me the suffering, showed me the conditions that they had to live under while they were being occupied by the French … They lived in a police state, Algeria was a police state. Any occupied territory is a police state, and this is what Harlem is. Harlem is a police state. The police in Harlem—their presence is like occupation forces, like an occupying army. They’re not in Harlem to protect us; they’re not in Harlem to look out for our welfare …

Malcolm X recognized the commonality between colonialism in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and the subjugation of black people in the US. He also explained the need for a common resistance to this oppression:

[The Algerians] also showed me what they had to do to get those people off their back. The first thing they had to realize was that all of them were brothers; oppression made them brothers; exploitation made them brothers; degradation made them brothers; discrimination made them brothers; segregation made them brothers; humiliation made them brothers. And once all of them realized that they were blood brothers, they also realized what they had to do, to get that man off their back.

The past year has seen a resurgence of resistance movements across the global south. Nonviolent protests, which began in Algeria, framed their demands as a continuation of the struggle against the colonial indignities and injustices that Malcolm spoke about. Protestors made a point about the urgent need for a restructuring of the political and economic system that has proven to be at the service of the “political-financial mafia,” and its continued ties to French and other European economic and cultural colonialism. Simultaneously, black people—many of whom operate out of an “economic South in the geographic North,” have called for a reckoning of the US police state, and the persistence of the white supremacist racism that kills black bodies. In Palestine, plans by the Israeli settler colony for further land theft has led to a global Day of Rage. And in the last year, protests emerged in Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq, as well as Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. In all of these cases, there has been a growing realization of the common thread between state repression and its ties to global power.

However, as the Algerian writer Malek Bennabi explained in 1956 of the then-nascent Third-Worldist movement,  the recognition of common conditions of oppression does not necessarily produce a Third-Worldist consciousness and program. For this reason, thinkers, politicians, and activists in the 20th century worked to forge a program of global, Third-Worldist resistance to global power. Protestors in Algeria, the US, and elsewhere must likewise begin to imagine what a new, grassroots Third-Worldism of the 21st century might look like.

As Algerians plan to resume protests to coincide with the 58th anniversary of Algerian independence on July 5th, and this in the wake of mass protests following the murder of George Floyd in the U.S., renewed attention to the history of Third-Worldism and Algeria’s role as a mecca of revolution might help inspire such a program. Both contemporary movements have already recognized the ties to predatory global capitalism and continue to resist them; both movements have also celebrated and been celebrated globally, with symbols of solidarity being exchanged in many directions.

Following independence in 1962, revolutionaries from the Americas, Asia, and Africa similarly flocked to Algeria in attempts to forge a “third-way”—global ties of resistance to both Euro-American and Soviet colonialism and neocolonialism in the second half of the 20th century.

This movement took strong root in independent Algeria. Eldridge Cleaver led the office of the International Section of the Black Panther Party in Algiers (though in a sometimes tense relationship with the Algerian state). Frantz Fanon’s writings from his base in Algiers became field guides for black radicals in the US, and Nina Simone headlined the Pan-African Festival of Algiers in 1969. Shortly after Algerian independence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met with President Ben Bella in New York, of which he wrote:

All through our talks [Ben Bella] repeated or inferred, “We are brothers.” For Ben Bella, it was unmistakably clear that there is a close relationship between colonialism and segregation. He perceived that both are immoral systems aimed at the degradation of human personality. The battle of the Algerians against colonialism and the battle of the Negro against segregation is a common struggle.

According to historian Jeffrey Byrne, however, and despite Third-Worldist rhetoric of global solidarity, the movement often replicated, and thus re-inscribed, the primacy of the sovereign nation state. By extension, the model of Third-Worldist policies and international conventions, for example the Bandung Conference, often mimicked the political organization of the Cold War that privileged international bodies based around individual sovereign states. Perhaps because of this, a movement that rallied around ideals of Third-World unity may have worked to create a more state-centric and divided world.

Beyond nostalgia, this memory of the internationalism that was a prominent element of the post-colonial nation-state building projects of the 20th century should highlight the lessons of Third-Worldism and Afro-Asianism that was best captured in the spirit of the Bandung Conference of 1955. From these lessons, new strategies for connecting struggles against colonial capitalist domination must be forged, as Malcolm X insisted, from the streets of the Casbah to the hoods of America.

Algerian activists, however, must address serious problems that have persisted since Algeria’s independence—connected to a globalized racism that they are not immune to. Examples of xenophobia and pathologizing of blackness are well documented at both the popular level as well as among government officials. Even more, recently, social media activists have engaged in disturbingly racist performative solidarity with the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement.

As Algerians return to the streets to demand transparency in the constitutional referendum process, a legitimate democratic transition, freeing of all political prisoners, and the removal of entrenched and corrupt leadership, an eye should be kept on beginning to forge ties of global solidarity that are not dictated along national lines, and that redress Algerians’ problematic relationship to blackness. Despite these persistent problems, and as Malek Bennabi, Malcolm X, and others noted of the previous century, the conditions of repression that continue to plague black people in the US empire and Algerians in the current dictatorial and neocolonial regime remain connected. Thus, resistance to them must be connected as well.

About the Author

Ahmed Mitiche will be a PhD student in the Sociocultural Anthropology program at Columbia University. His research focuses on memory as critique of post-enlightenment notions of history in the context of the 2019 “Hirak” protests in Algeria.

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