In January 1992, the officers and bureaucrats of Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN), the men, women and elitist heirs of those who claimed to have won independence for their people and brought their nation 30 years of stability, progress and socialism, looked multi-party, ballot-box democracy square in the face and panicked. Out of the babel of parties organized after the departure of President Chadli Benjadid, it was the Islamist movements, most notably the party called the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), that offered the most inspiring alternatives to the discredited technocracy of the past. Of all the opposition groups to emerge, those calling for Islamic solutions to corruption, immiseration of the young generation and state tyranny had always appeared in the forefront of the violent protests that snowballed throughout the 1980s into the nationwide explosion of 1988. Thus, when the state began to democratize, the FIS and other leaders who could "speak Muslim" enjoyed immediate legitimacy for their long and prominent role confronting the generals and apparatchiks. However, when FIS candidates began eclipsing other secular-oriented rival parties as well as the candidates from the now-repentant and freshly fumigated FLN, the soldiers behind the regime became alarmed. When the FIS started winning local elections in the first rounds toward choosing a new parliament, alarm turned to action. The army staged its 1992 coup, banned the FIS, jailed or exiled its leaders, and began to systematically tame the other parties, Islamists, socialists, liberals, the lot over the next several years. In November 1995, General Lamine Zeroual was elected president against three other rivals, and the violence began. Today political murders, massacres and bombings go on with the only common certainty being the continuing victimization of ordinary Algerians.
Kay Adamson's book fits into that category of studies more oriented toward explaining the roots of Algeria's current crisis, rather than analyzing the crisis itself as it is now unfolding. To Adamson, the seeds of the crisis lie in the very fractiousness of the independence struggle itself, in the ideological befuddlements and etatist development policies of the Boumediene regime (1965-1978) and in the ongoing entanglement of France and Algeria. In that sense, this is not a strikingly original work in terms of its broad interpretation. Written first as a dissertation, Dr. Adamson's book is not always easy reading. Although relatively (and mercifully) free of the jargon that can make economic-focused works an ordeal to read, the author does have an affinity for long sentences. There are also a number of French and American works on Algeria that might be expected in the bibliography but are not there. Finally, while granting such information is restricted and difficult to ferret out, the role of the armed forces as both economic consumers and financial burdens deserves some attention in a nation which for so long boasted of its muscular and expensive military capabilities. These reservations registered, however, Dr. Adamson's analysis offers a number of rewarding insights that make it well worth reading.
Adamson argues that, for Boumediene, socialism equated to the kind of dramatic industrialization that the Soviets claimed to achieve, mobilized through the sort of central planning that characterized France, the old occupier. Riveted on this goal, he allowed the areas of education, justice and religious affairs to drift into the hands of religious leaders. Here, Arabization proved the unifying theme, but beneath that theme ran two potentially conflicting strands. To the FLN, Arabization was nationalist and secular, while more religiously minded civil servants saw it as a vehicle to revive an Islamic identity. Factionalism within the FLN that had been kept dormant during the years of struggle now erupted over industry policy and, even more intensely, over agricultural reform and issues of land and water. As Adamson documents, colonial policy com pounded these problems by neglecting Algerian labor, leaving a workforce severely lacking in modem skills. As a result, the kinds of mass mobilizations that eventually revived Soviet industry under Stalin could not be repeated in Algeria. And the state's increasing dependence on oil revenues cushioned state-run industries from the need to actually achieve productive expansion. Thus, while most areas of the economy experienced some growth and improved training of the labor force, the largest bloc of state-salaried employees was unskilled or semi-skilled laborers in the public-works sector.
Dr. Adamson also provides numerous observations on the symbiotic relationship between Algeria and the evolution of the French nation, going back to the age of Bonaparte. If Algerians struggle with the conflicting image of the French as "partners in progress" or colonialist exploiters, France now debates parallel issues: "the criminal, unassimilable foreigner" as opposed to "Islam, the second religion of France." European Economic Community authorities, seeking to gain them legitimacy and access to Zeroual's councils, often hosted Islamic factions. If the cold-eyed determination to eradicate persists on both sides of the Mediterranean, so does hope of reconciliation.