The Ambassador in France (Caffery) to the Secretary of State

No. 5749

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 2234 of July 11, 1946,6 informing this Embassy that the American Consulate General at Algiers had been requested to prepare fortnightly airgrams on the subject of Communist propaganda and activities in Algeria and that identical instructions had been sent to the consular offices at Tunis, Casablanca and Rabat. It is felt these periodical reports will be most timely and interesting, and the Embassy would appreciate receiving copies thereof.

Instruction No. 2234 also made reference to the Embassy’s despatch No. 5336 of June 5, 1946,6 pertaining to an interview with Ferhat Abbas, a prominent Algerian native leader. The Department referred in particular to the statement contained in the closing paragraph: “For the purpose of developing autonomy of these areas and of weakening their ties with France, they (the Communists) do not hesitate to pose as the friends ‘of these oppressed native populations.’ This policy of course fits in with the Soviet general interest in the whole Mediterranean area and more particularly with their desire to weaken the control of other Mediterranean powers over the outlets of this Sea.” The Department’s instruction expresses the opinion that “so long as the Soviets still have hopes of gaining control of France by peaceful means, their policy can only be one of establishing friendly relations between the Arab nationalist leaders of North Africa and the Communist party, rather than ‘actually weakening their ties with France’; and that not until the Communists are convinced that they have little or no chance of gaining control of France [Page 55]and with it, French Africa, will their program be aimed at breaking the North African communities away from the mother country.”

The Embassy agrees fully that the Soviets would prefer if possible to influence and control French North Africa through gaining “legal” control of France, thanks to the Communist party. It would seem, however, that for some time and more especially since the Referendum of June 2 [May 5?], 1946,7 the Soviets may have had their hopes dampened for a speedy accession to power of the French Communist party through legal means.

The Embassy agrees with the Department’s statement that Soviet policy until now has preeminently been one of establishing friendly relations between the Arab nationalist leaders of North Africa and the leaders of the Communist party. In this connection, however, the Embassy would like to express its belief that it is extremely difficult in such relatively backward countries as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, to distinguish between Communists, autonomists and those natives advocating all out independence. It would seem, on the contrary, that these various movements, which should in theory be quite separate and distinct, are on the contrary confused and interwoven at the base, with a few leaders at the top giving the appearance of separate and distinct movements. Furthermore, while the Communist party has posed as a patriotic party since 1941 and has refrained from using separatist slogans openly, the Embassy believes that behind the scenes the Communists’ organizations in French North Africa have, ever since the Allied landings of November 8, 1942, fostered, aided and abetted nationalist or independent movements in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

While true Marxist Communist doctrine would appear difficult to reconcile with the form of Moslem life which has slowly evolved in North Africa in the course of centuries, it is not believed that the contradictions in doctrine would provide a major obstacle to extensive Communist penetration of the Moslem masses. While the consular offices in North Africa are more qualified to give an authoritative opinion on the subject, the Embassy, viewing the situation from Paris, believes that Communist doctrine in North Africa is purposely kept exceedingly fluid, ill-defined, and that according to Leninist-Stalinist theory it has been tailored to adapt itself to the loose and as yet uncrystallized nationalist aspirations of these areas and towards the exploitation of the misery and subnormal standards of living which for several years have prevailed in North Africa, due to a series of dry years and to the war.

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In many ways, it would appear that Communism wears a cloak of nationalism and local autonomy in North Africa and perhaps more especially in Algeria. Thus, while it can be said that the Communists as such have not succeeded in developing (or perhaps have not attempted to develop) an extensive following under their own banner in Algeria, one must not forget the potential allies they have in the followers of Ferhat Abbas and of Messali Hadj. Ferhat Abbas’s sweeping victory at the polls in June is an indirect Communist success. (In the Constitutional Committee of the Assembly, Ferhat Abbas first voted with the Communists and Socialists when they voted together on an issue. In case of disagreement he abstained. On two occasions, however, during the recent past, he modified this policy and voted with the Communists against the Socialists.)

The Communist official party newspaper Humanité has granted extensive support to the native autonomist elements in French North Africa ever since that area came painfully into the news with the Constantine uprisings of May 1945. The autonomist nationalist leaders, Messali and Ferhat Abbas, have been defended from the start. (It may be of some interest that Messali Hadj when arrested in November 1934 was defended by the “Secours Rouge International” or Red International Legal Aid. The movement which he then headed, the “North African Star” was not only nationalist but also professed Marxist doctrines.) The Humanité waged a campaign in favor of the pardon of all natives implicated in the Constantine uprisings.

The Humanité of June 23, 1946 gives a certain prominence to the meeting in Algiers of the Central Committee of the Algerian Communist party. As a sub-title, Humanité declares “it demands the immediate release of Messali.” It is assumed the Consulate General at Algiers has reported on the text of the resolutions adopted. However, in connection with the subject of this despatch, special attention is drawn to that part of the plan adopted by the Algerian Communists calling for the establishment of an Algerian Democratic Republic. True enough, such a Republic would be “tied to the people of France by federal bonds, freely decided upon, as well as to the other peoples federated into the French Union”, but the trend would appear to be clearly indicated.

Thus it would seem that in many ways the Communist party has in fact since the liberation of France contributed materially to the development of North African nationalist movements (more especially the Algerian one), and thereby has already contributed somewhat to weakening the ties which bind North Africa to France.

Respectfully yours,

Jefferson Caffery
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. In the May 5 referendum the new French draft constitution, the adoption of which was advocated by the French Communists, was rejected. In elections held on June 2 the Mouvement Républicain Populaire replaced the Communists as the largest party in France.