Algeria: Bouteflika downed, now the system must go!

Algerians poured onto the streets in celebration yesterday night, after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his resignation. This comes after one-and-a-half months of mass protests against his rule. But this alone will not solve anything, and the masses are now calling for the downfall of the whole regime.

Late Tuesday evening, Bouteflika was seen on TV handing over his resignation, alongside Abdelkader Bensalah, the president of the constituent council, who is formally set to take over the presidency until new elections are organised within a 90-day period. Defiant until the end, the statement, written by the cabal of people behind Bouteflika, was a partial jab at the army, who pressured Bouteflika to resign last night:

"This decision, which I take in my soul and conscience, is destined to contribute to the appeasement of the hearts and minds of my compatriots, to allow them to take Algeria towards a better future to which they legitimately aspire (...)"

Euphoria and defiance on the streets

Following the announcement, tens of thousands took to the streets in the capital Algiers to celebrate the downfall of the invalid dictator. The mood was euphoric, but at the same time, defiant, with slogans such as: “Congratulations, this is only the beginning”; "Every day, a demonstration, we will not give up”; “The people decide”; “They will all be judged” and "The people want to kick them all out!" Many people are saying that, instead of invoking article 102 (which places power in the hands of the constitutional council) they want article 7, which states that, “the people are the source of power.”

A France24, a reporter from Algiers gave an apt assessment of the mood, when she said the following:

“We were definitely taken aback by the raw emotion. This is what we’ve been asking for, for the past six weeks. This is what the people have been protesting about for the past six weeks. Now the main demand of the protesters has been granted (...)

“The initial response was one of euphoria, one of extreme joy. It’s a sense of triumph, a sense of victory. But people are also aware that this is just the beginning... This is the beginning of the real struggle, which is to get rid of the regime around the president and not only him as a person. Because we all know that he wasn’t the one calling the shots, because he’s been too sick anyway to do so.”

Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the regime is unable to resist the revolutionary movement, which was gaining momentum by the day. Over the past month alone, there have been four huge days of action, with millions of people on the streets and two widespread strike movements, the last of which shut down large sections of the public sector and state-owned enterprises last week. The protests were strongest in places such as Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou, where the local chapters of the UGTA organised full general strikes and de facto held power. These are Kabyle areas, who have a recent history of revolutionary movements. Nevertheless, the pressure for a general strike was present throughout the working class, which made “Down with [UGTA general secretary] Sidi Said!” one of the main slogans on the protests in the past weeks. No doubt, these strikes struck terror in the ruling class, who did not want to see an independent, working-class movement developing.

At the same time, the aims of the movement changed throughout this period. Starting with the demand for Bouteflika not to stand in the elections, the demand today is, unequivocally, the downfall of the whole regime.

Youth protest Image fair useThere is jubliation on the streets, but also a determination to push further / Image: fair use

Splits at the top

The rising strength and confidence of the revolutionary movement provoked a whole series of splits and defections within the regime. Fearing for their own positions, layer after layer from within the ruling elite started to distance themselves from Bouteflika and the immediate circle around him. Top businessmen, state officials, as well as the main bosses’ federation, the head of the UGTA trade union federation, and coalition parties the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the Democratic National Rally (RND) were all seen calling for the resignation of Bouteflika.

Last week, the army chief of staff, who has so far been adamantly on Bouteflika's side, issued a call for declaring the president unfit to rule and handing over power to the constituent council. This call was reiterated yesterday, when Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah demanded the president’s “immediate” resignation. In the clearest sign of a direct split within the absolute top of the regime, as a threatening show of force, the commander in chief also summoned a meeting of the army tops in the same breath.

Bouteflika at Mechouar Tlemcen Image fair useFearing for their own positions, layer after layer from within the ruling elite started to distance themselves from Bouteflika / Image: Wikimedia Commons

The entry of the army onto the scene in this manner reflects the divisions within the ruling class. One camp, behind Bouteflika, is adamantly opposed to giving any concessions to the revolutionary masses. This faction is comfortable at the top of the regime and stands to lose the most of all the factions of the ruling class. It fears that giving concessions to the masses will only embolden and further radicalise the movement.

The army, conversely, represents another wing, which also has French imperialism on its side, and which can see that this movement will not go away. Instead of dragging the process out and risking a complete collapse of the system, it is attempting to lead the movement down safe paths. They speak of “the people and the army”, conveniently forgetting that the army has been a key pillar in the dictatorship until now. And Salah, who has been threatening the movement since it started on 22 February, is suddenly supposed to be a servant of the people?

In another symbolic gesture, the business tycoon, Ali Haddad, who was also the head of the main bosses’ association, was arrested trying to leave the country with large sums of money. The arrest of people moving capital out of the country has been a major demand of some layers in the movement, particularly middle-class elements. And it is clear that the army is trying to appear to carry out the will of the revolution with this act.

No confidence in the army

But let us be clear, the army forcing Bouteflika to resign and arresting people like Haddad, at this stage, is only aimed at saving the system as a whole. Yes, most probably the generals will allow elections to take place in the near future. But these elections will be tailored so as not to interfere with any of the vital interests of the ruling class. By giving cosmetic concessions from above, they are trying to maintain all of the main pillars of Algerian capitalism, while demobilising the revolutionary masses. At the same time, the generals are manoeuvring to concentrate more power in their own hands going forward.

Of course, if the army had tried to openly suppress this movement in the past month-and-a-half, it would almost certainly have led to its lower ranks (who are mainly composed of working-class and peasant soldiers themselves) to break away, leaving the general staff suspended in midair. The collapse of the army would have been the precursor to the collapse of the whole regime. Thus, the generals are pathetically trying to ride the mass movement instead of opposing it head-on.

However, having seen the instability in Egypt after the army pushed aside Mubarak in 2011, the generals are not necessarily interested in direct rule at this point. Instead, they are trying to play up the myth of bourgeois constitutionalism and legalism (which some liberal and middle-class elements within the movement have also emphasised) by calling for the implementation of article 102 of the constitution. In this way, by “following the law” and with the intervention of the army as an organised force, they are also trying to undermine the confidence of the masses in their own power.

But the resignation of Bouteflika does not change anything fundamentally. The friendly manner in which power was handed over to Abdelkader Bensalah last night showed what is really happening: a manoeuvre by the regime to create the illusion of change, while keeping everything intact. Abdelkader Bensalah, the newly functioning president in charge, has been a staunch ally of Bouteflika right to the end. Except for Bouteflika, all of the key people in power remain in place. As many protesters pointed out, those in power now are the same people who have been ruling on behalf of the vegetative Bouteflika for years.

The streets immediately saw through this deception. If any real change is to be achieved, all of these people must be removed. That is, the whole regime must be removed. But what should replace it? Already, there are many reports of committees being set up to coordinate the struggles in the neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Some of these have organised the protests, coordinated stewarding to ensure disciplined marches, and even led teams to clean up afterwards – to a far-higher standard than one would expect from the state, we should add.

In places like Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia as well, the strike committees de facto held power in their hands, ensuring the strike did not harm ordinary people (for instance, by making cooking gas available). These committees must be generalised and connected on a regional and national scale. In this way, the revolution can erect the embryonic elements of a new type of power, based on the working class, the youth and the poor. Needless to say, they are far more competent at running society than the present parasites at the top.

They all must go!

For years, these people have been living off the blood of ordinary Algerians. On paper, Algerians are benefitting from a huge public sector, with enormous sums spent on healthcare, education etc. But these services are falling apart by the day. Where is the money going? While the rich live in obscenely luxurious conditions, tens of thousands of youth are forced to leave the country every year. Those who remain are, for the most part, forced to live in precarious conditions, jumping from one short-term job to another – if they are lucky. The youth, which makes up the majority of the population, faces an unemployment level of 30 percent. At least 24 percent of the population is living in poverty, and the average purchasing power is reported to have fallen by up to 60 percent since 2014.

The only way to solve these problems is not only to change the tops within the state apparatus, but also to expropriate the ruling class as a whole. All the properties of the oligarchs must be expropriated and, along with the major state-owned enterprises such as Sonatrach, run under the control and management of the working class. Instead of syphoning off the profits of these entities into the pockets of corrupt regime insiders, they must be used to raise living standards and develop Algerian society. Today, this society is falling apart, but on the basis of a democratically planned economy, it could flourish on a level never seen before.

Algeria protests 2019 3 Image Mohamed SoltanThe whole regime must fall! Victory to the Algerian masses! / Image: Mohamed Soltan

The Algerian masses have shown enormous strength and determination. Without any organisation or prior plan, they have made the ruling class, the state and the army bow to them. Now, they must finish the job and remove these people from all positions of authority, and take power into their own hands.

  • No confidence in the army!
  • No to article 102!
  • Down with the whole system!
  • Committees everywhere – and for a national convention of delegates!
  • Expropriate the capitalist class!
  • Nationalise all major domestic and multinational companies!
  • For a sovereign Constituent Assembly to address the economic and social demands of the working masses!

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