Hocine Belalloufi, Democracy in Algeria, Reform or Revolution. Coédition Lazhari Labter éditions / Editions Apic Alger, 2012.
On the shelves of bookstores in Algiers, a book appeared a few months ago whose cover immediately stood out. Under the image of a large classic-looking compass, in large and bold letters, is the question that Hocine Belalloufi tries to answer in roughly five hundred pages: Democracy in Algeria, Reform or Revolution? Since 2008, this former editor-in-chief of Alger Républicain and regular contributor to La Nation has issued a "plea for a new Arab revolution." He undoubtedly draws on the political openings using the Tunisian revolution as a model. His new work asks us to "think about the Algerian crisis" fifty years after the liberation from colonialism and the imposition of an authoritarian regime.
The first merit of this work is its format in that it is rare to have a single volume that addresses contemporary politics in Algeria systematically. Analysis and criticism regarding Algeria often remains scattered in national daily newspapers or web sites – without mentioning the fact that international publications all but overlook the country. Of course, there are exceptions to this episodic coverage of Algeria, such as Le Quotidien d’Oran or the journal Naqd. One could also mention the recent essays of former Minister of Trade, Smaïl Goumeziane and the ex-governor of the central bank, Abderrahmane Hadj-Nacer. The second merit of Belalloufi’s work lies in its leftist political orientation; he participates in a trend that is tied to the Party of the Socialist Avant-Garde (PAGS), which was a semi-tolerated communist organization, known for its controversial "critical support" for the Algerian regime before the introduction of a multiparty system in 1989.
Sadek Hadjerès` afterword, who was a prominent communist leader until 1990, confirms this impression on several levels. The privileged interlocutors are primarily the former members of the formerly hegemonic PAGS, followed by diverse supporters of socialism, and finally democrats in the broad sense. Indeed, the successors of Algerian communism are dispersed into competing parties that are modest in size: the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), the Party for the Secularism and the Democracy (PLD), and the Algerian Party for the Democracy and the Socialism (PADS). The latter voices its positions in the famous Alger Républicain, a publication which once collaborated with Henri Alleg, Albert Camus, and Kateb Yacine, and which is now reduced to a photocopied bulletin and a web site due to financial difficulties.
The former Trotskyites who vilified the PAGS as an "agency of the Kremlin bureaucracy" have since successfully developed an apparatus which has taken the place, ceteris paribus, of its former Stalinist rival in its "critical support" for the regime. Served by its social-populist rhetoric and its opportunist alliances with administration organizations (FLN and RND) linked to the former unique labor union (UGTA), the Workers` Party (PT) outdid the other anti-Stalinist outsiders during its time underground. On the other side, the Socialist Workers’ Party (PST), which claims to be an opposition movement (unlike the pro-Bouteflika PT), does not enjoy a seat in the parliament and tends to coordinate its actions with diverse opposition groups or autonomous syndicalists. Interestingly, Hocine Belalloufi dedicates this book to the teacher union activist Redouane Osman who disappeared in 2007.
The organized militants who advocate a democratic change in Algeria are divided between the oldest opposition party, the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) and the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), both of which have their traditional base of support in Kabylia. The former has been undermined by a wave of protests due to its participation in the general elections, which were boycotted by more radical factions. As for the latter, its liberalism and adventurism at the beginning of 2011 are severely judged by the author who reminds us of its participation in two governments and its links with the Tunisian RCD. The differences between these opposition parties, which crystallized around the short-lived National Coordination for the Change and the Democracy (CNCD), are the object of a commentary in the last part of the book. The CNDC was created on January 2011 after the youth riots in Algeria.
Hocine Belalloufi tries to demonstrate that Algeria is ready for a "democratic revolution" because of the incapacity of the regime to reform itself. He claims that we have entered into a "new international revolutionary cycle" due to the regional uprisings and of the global economic crisis. Extending the reflections of Samir Amin, the author makes a helpful clarification, writing against the conspiratorial conception of history propagated by the Algerian admirers of Thierry Meyssan (dictators’ propagandist) or Alain Soral (far-right writer). He encourages fighting the “rebel regimes” (Iran, Sudan, and Syria) without serving the dictates of imperialism: he accepts neither status quo nor foreign intervention as seen in Libya. For him, the "essential core of the new Arab revolution" therefore consists of democratic and social struggles, as well as national liberation movements and armed resistance.
When Hocine Belalloufi discusses the "strategic and tactical aspects of the democratic revolution in Algeria", he underscores the importance of democratic protests and distances himself from a "narrowly economistic vision." For him, it is necessary to fight to take power (rather than to destroy or avoid it), even if this may end in disappointment as was the case with Lula in Brazil. Moreover, he suggests that the institution of a "real democracy" may lead the way to a "socialist transition." If he criticizes the PT, it is less for its existing political program than for its "reformism" which is characterized by its electioneering and its paradoxical appeal to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He encourages the political parties to choose between reform and revolution and to distinguish force from violence. In his eyes, the construction of an adequate and functional balance of power will prevent recourse to the latter.
Hocine Belalloufi criticizes both the "error of the left" that refuses to fight alongside liberals as well as the "error of the right" that overlooks social concerns. He advocates the direction of the democratic movement by the popular classes. For him, only a link between democratic demands and social justice will allow for these movements to compete with Islamism. Contrary to the "eradicators" (like former communists or so-called secularists who pretend to eradicate Islamism by all means necessary) the author wishes to see the elaboration of a "minimum consensus, as found in Tunisia” with some Islamists. While recommending secularization, a democratic movement should paradoxically participate in the “renovation of the vision of religion” thanks to the thought of Mohammed Arkoun or Tariq Ramadan. It would be necessary to expect a "long ideological struggle" or even a "real cultural revolution." Gramsci and Mao are not so far from this vision.
Hocine Belalloufi puts into perspective the role of the “avant-garde of democratic struggle” that is often attributed to the region of Kabylia and condemns the racist leanings of the separatists. This does not, however, prevent him from envisaging a regionalization of the country (by instituting local parliaments or promoting specific languages). He also notes the importance of the question of women in Algeria and also proposes “a democratic vision based on complete legal equality between the sexes.” One might regret that democratic struggles are reduced to an opposition between two poles (the moderate right and the radical left) in that the boundaries between the two certainly remain more fluid. Moreover, the attention given to the questions of political organization, commonly posed by Leninists, overlook the fact that protest movements in Algeria often rest outside – and against – existing political institutions. The 1980 and 2001 riots – best known as the Berber Spring and the Black Spring – are the most enlightening examples.
In the conclusion the author invites us "to relocate the compass" that the workers movement has lost: the socialist perspective. Moreover, in the same manner as Marxism cannot be reduced to a Leninist interpretation, socialism should not remain eternally associated to the Chinese or Russian experiences to my point of view. The Algerian left, which is marked both by populism and Stalinism, continues to ignore its heterodox variants, such as councilists or libertarians. On the other hand, the demands for democracy are likely to be insufficient when one looks at the exhaustion of its forms of representation or its systematic corruption. These questions are not limited to the Algerian case and are central for all of those who are invested in emancipation and direct democracy.
The work of Hocine Belalloufi presents the necessary groundwork in order to think about the current political situation in Algeria and other countries. Offering a framework for a debate that is without neither compromise nor insults is already a significant step. One would like to hope that other authors will reaffirm these egalitarian, secular, and non-violent principles. If activists such as the situationnist Mohamed Dahou or the anarchist Mohamed Saïl were exceptions in their time, they were nevertheless pioneers of the anti-authoritarian movement and remind us of the plurality of the Algerian revolutionary commitments. After a colonial night, a confiscated independence and a civil war whose embers are still burning, Algerians continue to refuse a world where one must chose between the certainty of dying of boredom or the possibility of dying of starvation.
 Hocine Belalloufi, La Démocratie en Algérie, Réforme ou révolution ? Sur la crise algérienne et les moyens d`en sortir, preface of Samir Amin, postface of Sadek Hadjerès, Alger, Apic – Lazhari Labter, 2012.
 Hocine Belalloufi, Le Grand Moyen-Orient : Guerres ou paix ? Plaidoyer pour une nouvelle révolution arabe, Alger, Lazhari Labter, 2008.
 Smaïl Goumeziane, Algérie, l’histoire en héritage, Alger, Edif 2000, 2011.
 Abderrahmane Hadj-Nacer, La Martingale algérienne. Réflexions sur une crise, Alger, Barzakh, 2011.
 Created in 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) is the former unique party.
 Created in 1997, the Democratic National Rally (RND) is the FLN’s twin brother, linked with UGTA.
 Created in 1956, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) is linked with the government and employers.
 L’Algérie brûle !, par un groupe d’autonomes algériens, Paris, éditions Champ libre, 1981.
 Jaime Semprun, Apologie pour l’insurrection algérienne, éditions de l’Encyclopédie des nuisances, 2001.