Bring Mehdi Back! (Part II)

Mehdi Ben Barka (1920-1965) is the charismatic leader (amongst others) of the anti-colonial movement which led Morocco to formal independence from France in 1956. He founded the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP) in 1959. He later was accused of plotting against the regime and forced to exile. The Moroccan authorities condemned Ben Barka to death in absentia in 1964. He was kidnapped in Paris -in broad day light- in October 29, 1965. His body was never recovered.

I’ve read many papers and commentaries on the life and death of Mehdi Ben Barka, but the one piece, I think, that has cleverly put the circumstances of the murder of the Moroccan leader in its appropriate perspective, both local and international, was this article published exactly two years ago in Le Monde Diplomatique by Rene Gallissot, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Paris.
I apologize in advance if my (paraphrasing) translation sounds poor or inappropriate. In any case, you can find the original piece in full here (fr).

Mehdi Ben Barka & the Tricontinental
(Part I)

René Gallissot
October 2005
In Le Monde Diplomatique

1956 was a vertiginous year: turmoil within the communist bloc, a FrancoBritish “expedition” in Suez. July 26, president Gamal Abdel Nasser decides to nationalize the Suez Canal and everyone predicts the collapse of Egypt; the opposite happens, along with a surge in independence struggles. The Bandung conference had already predicted in April 1955, this upsurge of national emancipation movements which will indeed occur first in Asia and Africa, then in Latin America , the former Portuguese colonies in Africa and eventually in South-Africa.

Who remembers today July 14, 1958, when the Republic was proclaimed in Baghdad, radiant, with no religious veils, renewing the French Revolution’s declaration of 1789, secular, federating all minorities, promising pluralism of thought and expression? The French war in Algeria continued unabated, but Algerians were standing firm. For Africa, the epicenter was then the Congo, freed at last from [the cruel] grasp of Belgium domination. [In the beginning of the 60’s,] the Tricontinental was a de facto reality.

Mehdi Ben Barka, at the very moment of his assassination in October 1965, was working on making the liberation movements in the “third-world” converge, by preparing the Tricontinetal Conference which was scheduled to take place in Havana in January 1966 […]
The institutionalisation of the regimes following independence [from western colonial powers,] raised the problematic of distinguishing State strategies for [controlling] power on the one hand from the international liberation movement on the other. In 1961, in opposition to so-called “moderate” states, the Group of Casablanca assembled representatives from states known as progressive: Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Libya and Morocco under the advocacy of Abdallah Ibrahim’s left leaning government (which will soon after be revoked) […]
Due to two condemnations to death in Morocco, Ben Barka was constantly in exile, often travelling between Cairo and Geneva. During his six months stay in Algiers, he engaged in the laborious task of bringing about an internationalist perspective for the conjunction of the national liberation movements […]

The Algerian capital had become the intellectual home for the international revolutionary contestation […]

Breaking up underdevelopment was not only a national project, it was also a concerted action against dependency to the Capitalistic system, the dominant poles of which are various but fundamentally linked to the economic and political hegemony of the United States. “Africa is the Latin America of Europe,” repeatedly said Ben Barka. Federating the Maghreb and Africa was taking an anti-imperialistic dimension. We are here far from national-developementalism which eventually transformed the left -in the context of the emerging states- into [a lifeless] technocratic elite. The Tricontinental movement was independent from the Soviet Union and Ben Barka wanted to establish an autonomous dynamic […]

In Algiers, Ben Barka launched a new publication for information, agitation and reflexion for the anti colonialist commission of the OPSAA (The Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa and Asia established in Accra-Ghana in 1957), titled “la Revue Africaine.” His interest turned then towards Cuba and Latin America. He was particularly impressed by the Cuban [tremendously successful] literacy campaign, dreaming of a similar experience in his own Morocco. He decided to work in establishing a documentation and studies Center on national liberation movements and -convinced as he was by the revolutionary potential amongst third-world youth- he set up the outline for a Tricontinental University […]

American attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro, led the Cuban leader to get closer to Moscow. Followed the “Cuban Missiles” crisis and the cruel US economic blockade over the island. In 1962 Cuba was expelled from the Organization of the American States and Castro summoned “the people of the world to get moving.” That was the precise objective of the Tricontinental. In October 3th, 1965, Ben Barka declared during a media conference, preliminary to the Havana Conference that “both currents of the world revolution will be represented: that stemming from the October revolution (or Bolshevik revolution) and that from the national liberation revolution.”

The profound cause of the abduction and murder of Ben Barka can only be elucidated within this revolutionary and Tricontinental context.

To Be Continued…

5 thoughts on “Bring Mehdi Back! (Part II)

  1. Is it just me or are there no figures of of any notable stature in the Arabic opposition of any country anymore. Where are the towering figures who represented the hopes and aspirations of millions following the end of empire and independence?

    It’s just astounding the dumbing down of political discourse we are seeing around us. Or is this just me?

  2. An excellent article. You’ve given a vital historical context as to where these movements emerged from though I wouldn’t lump them all in with Bin Laden. The problem, I agree, remains one of an imperialist and arrogant foreign policy from western nations. You may be interested to read an article coming out on Monday in the CreativeSyria Forum

    I’d be very interested to know what you think.

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