The 1956 French Republican Front’s ‘Civilizing Mission’: Algeria, the Cold War and the Third Way

Abstract: This lecture will examine why the left-wing Republican Front Government, elected in January 1956 and led by the Socialist Party General Secretary, Guy Mollet, intensified the Algerian War in February, March and April, passing the ‘special powers’, recalling reservists and launching a concerted policy to win Muslim ‘hearts and minds’. It will analyze how this strategy, entitled ‘pacification’, was justified in terms of a third way between settler extremism and the FLN. At the same time this paper will set the Republican Front policy within the wider international context. It will analyze how strategy in Algeria was seen to be inseparable from opposition to pan-Arab Egypt and support for socialist Israel. Within this schema the Republican Front Government stressed the symmetry between France and Israel. Both were seen to be ‘civilized’. Both were seen to be ‘democratic’. Both were seen to be involved in a struggle against ‘feudalism’ and pan-Arab nationalism. Support for socialist Israel was seen to be an example of international solidarity against Nasser whose pan-Arab nationalism, it was argued, was ultimately controlled by the Soviet Union. It was also motivated by the belief that weakening Nasser through Israel would also destroy the FLN. In this way the paper will examine how support for Israel intersected with Cold War anti-communism, memories of appeasement and concepts of a democratic anti-communist ‘Eur-Afrique’.

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