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New International, March–April 1951



Morocco – a New Indo-China?

As the French Terrorize the Nationalist Movement

(15 March 1951)


From The New International, Vol. XVII No. 2, March–April 1951, pp. 92–100.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Rarely have more contradictory and confused reports appeared in the world press than those relating to happenings within the French Protectorate of Morocco during the past few months. Concurrent with an increased American interest in this North African country, induced by the construction of important American air bases throughout the land, there has been, unfortunately, a redoubling of French censorship and an obscuring of the bitter struggle now going on.

But the story of French Morocco is not at all a new one. It goes back almost 40 years, to the installation of the Protectorate itself in 1912. If one reads the many speeches of Jean Jaurès delivered at this time in the French Assembly, it is clear that his opposition to imposition of a Protectorate was largely based upon his understanding that the “Moroccan question" would provide an endless source of conflict and turmoil for France throughout the years. The confused, three-cornered struggle of today between the French administration (represented by General Juin, the Resident General) the nominal sovereign (the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef), and the nationalist movement of the Istiqlal party – all this is but the most recent evolution in a long history.

While it may be impossible to verify the charge of the Egyptian government that 30,000 nationalists have been arrested (the Istiqlal announced that 8,000 of their supporters were in prison as of March 1, 1951), or to clarify precisely what degree of intimidation was employed by General Juin to force the Sultan to yield to French demands, the basic problem at stake is apparent to the most ill- informed: that is, do or do not the people of Morocco have the right to complete independence? It is the story of Asia, of colonialism, of imperialism, of nationalism. As Franc-Tireur, a left-wing, anti-Stalinist daily of Paris expressed it:

“Morocco is not only an aerial base, a land rich in raw materials, a paradise for capital in flight, a refuge for former Vichy supporters. Morocco is also, whether we like it or not, the country of 8 million Moroccans. Would it be too much to suggest that they also have their word to say?”

In a sense, the Moroccan problem has come home to roost on American soil, or the steps of the White House. Whatever Roosevelt may have said, in the concrete, to the Sultan of Morocco during their famous conversation, it was assuredly not discouraging to Moroccan nationalist aspirations! Today, the French authorities refer to this “promise” with many regrets, but place their trust in the natural desire of the State Department to see a regime of peace and tranquility, an atmosphere most favorable for military and strategic purposes. As Le Monde remarked on March 3: “The credit which General Juin enjoys at Washington seems bound to have a determining role in the present crisis.”

Whether this will be the case is highly doubtful, regardless of immediate events. A brief sketch of contemporary Moroccan history will, we think, indicate that surface manifestations of the fundamental crisis may be smoothed over, but not for very long.

The French Moroccan Protectorate today consists of 8,500,000 Moroccan people (Arabs, Berbers, Jews, etc.) and 410,000 Europeans, almost entirely French. There are 500,000 industrial workers (miners, dockers, railroads and public works) and 1,500,000 landless agricultural workers. The French live entirely in the large cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Agadir, etc., while over 75 per cent of the native population live scattered throughout the land as laborers or small peasants (fellahs). A characteristic process of expropriation of the peasants from their lands and their subsequent proletarianization has been going on for some time. In 1939, the Moroccans cultivated 4,645,000 hectares; in 1948, this was reduced to 3,950,000 hectares. The fellahs enter mining (phosphate), road construction, docking, packing and other industries related to industrialization and modernization of the country. Such is the essential social picture of Morocco today, based upon statistics contained in the proposed budget for 1951, as presented by the French Resident General.

The death of King Moulay El Hassan in 1894 is usually accepted as the starting point for the crisis of the Moroccan Cherifian dynasty and the country’s involvement in foreign intrigues. The Algesiras Conference of 1906 temporarily postponed French designs, but in March 1912 King Moulay Abd el Hafid was induced to sign the existing Protectorate treaty. A French administration gradually replaced that of the King or Sultan which, however, continued a formal existence. The Sultan, assisted by his chief minister (the Grand Vizir) and represented throughout the country by local governors (Pashas, Caids and Djemmas), held no real power under the right of “supervision” granted by the Protectorate treaty to the French administration. That true molder of the Protectorate, Marshall Lyautey, created a Central Office of administration which elaborates all decisions concerning the country’s activities and issues general directions establishing Protectorate policy. The French authorities prepare dahirs (decrees) for submission to the Sultan and for his signature, but he enjoys no real authority. “In practice he (the Sultan) has no real power. He only has contact with the Cherifian counsellor whom he sees daily, but that is all. In reality, his advice is only solicited as a matter of formality.” Thus did Lyautey explain the matter in 1920.

A characteristic Dahir was that signed in August, 1914, permitting the expropriation of privately owned lands for “reasons of public utility.” Under this decree, 1,000,000 hectares of the most fertile and valuable land is now in the hands of 4,710 Europeans, of whom 4,200 are French. Other broad administrative policies established by the French attempted to divide Arab from Berber, the mountaineer people dwelling in Southern Morocco, by a system of special laws governing the latter. Efforts to Christianize the Berbers, of Mohammedan origin, were pursued by the French. This policy has not been strikingly successful, although in moments of crisis the French rely considerably for support on the Berbers and their local leaders.

Such a system quickly brought its inevitable reactions, the best known of which was the bloody War of the Riff, waged against the famous Abd- el-Krim, during the years 1925–1927. It is not our intention here to review in detail the story of this struggle, successfully concluded by the French, or the slow rebirth of Moroccan nationalism of a much more moderate kind. By 1930, the “Committee of Moroccan Action” had renewed the task of criticizing the abuses of the regime and making Moroccan nationalist aims known to the world. A monthly review, Maghreb (Morocco), was begun in Paris in 1932, followed by a French language weekly Action du Peuple, published in Fez. Both publications were quickly banned by the Protectorate authorities, despite the fact that eminent French liberals and intellectuals contributed to them. It is important to note that at this time the Moroccans pressed only for administrative reforms and did not propose an end of the Protectorate or independence. In 1934, in a pamphlet entitled A Plan for Moroccan Reforms, submitted to the Sultan and the French authorities, a series of constructive measures were proposed, but met with no success. Until the war period, no basic change in the internal situation occurred.

Moderate nationalist leaders of the country offered their support to the French during the crisis of the war itself. When the Allied landing in North Africa itself took place, the Sultan and his associates resumed an active part in the war and placed their territory at the disposal of the Allied command. A large part of the financing of the French Committee of National Liberation came from Moroccan funds. But, simultaneously, the Atlantic Charter was taken at its face value and the liberation of France was linked with an impending liberation of Morocco itself. However, the Protectorate administration which had continued under Pétain and which was to continue under General de Gaulle, had a different interpretation of matters. A series of repressive measures, dating from the Dahir of February 17, 1941, which banned the purchase of real estate by a Moroccan and included the arrest of less moderate nationalist leaders, signaled the intention of the French government to hold on to Morocco, coute que coute.

The formal birth of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party was announced in an historic proclamation, issued on January 11, 1944. This document, addressed to the Sultan, the Resident General of France in Morocco and the Allied governments, based itself upon the failure of the Protectorate treaty and the substitution for its provisions of French supervision that of direct French rule. In the name of the Atlantic Charter and the Teheran Conference, the Istiqlal Party asked for “... the independence and territorial integrity of Morocco under the leadership and guidance of the Sultan”; negotiations to fix the international status of the country within the framework of national sovereignty and the establishment of a Constitutional Democracy, under the Sultan, who would exercise his functions as a limited monarch. An impressive list of Moroccan spokesmen – professors, writers, merchants, etc. – signed the proclamation which had the approval of the Sultan.

Eighteen days later occurred the first reaction of a reconstituted French authority. Denouncing the “hand of Germany,” the French arrested the Istiqlal leadership, exiled them to Corsica, and impressively deployed motorized units throughout the large cities. The rebuilt army, consisting of the French Foreign Legion and Senegalese troops, swept into action and terrorized the population. From that moment on, the Istiqlal has been obliged to pursue a semi-clandestine existence, and the epoch of post-war turmoil within the Protectorate had begun. It is interesting to note that at this time, no Communist Party existed in the country. These measures were codified in the form of an order of the General Superior Commander of the troops in Morocco, on March 14, 1945, to the effect that:

“No public or private meeting can be held without previous authorization ...”

“The authorization request must be signed by two French citizens ...”

“French citizens only will be able to speak at public and private meetings and the French language alone is allowed.”

“Entrance to the meeting hall can be refused to Moroccan subjects.”

It is reported that de Gaulle received the assurance of a non-interventionist attitude on the part of Churchill and the United States. At any rate, the Sultan decided that the proper moment for an open struggle was not at hand, and despite the arrests and repressions, urged the population to await the end of the war and the expected Peace Conference for presentation of their demands. Thus was a moderate nationalist movement driven into a negative opposition.

At this point, we must briefly summarize the major grievances of the Moroccan nationalists against the French Protectorate. Without elaboration, they may be stated to be the following:

  1. Administration: The powers of general administration rest in the hands of the French; the Sultan and the shadow government around him have no powers over either internal or external affairs. In the civil service, there is both inequality of pay and discrimination against Moroccans of holding higher posts. In 1950, the administrative bureaucracy – which had risen from 19,145 functionaries in 1938 to a grand total of 41,450 – included only 9 per cent Moroccans in its upper ranks and 96 per cent Moroccans in its subaltern ranks. Of the functionaries, 14,219 were in the police force, accounting for 15 per cent of the administrative budget.
  2. Reforms: On November 26, 1944, the Resident General announced a series of proposed reforms whose object would be (a) a progressive evolution towards a modern, democratic state; (b) creation of a Moroccan elite capable of pursuing this evolution, and (c) improvement of the living standards of the Moroccan masses. Istiqlal makes the flat charge that nothing has been done to fulfill these pledges. Commissions were appointed; their recommendations were never carried out.
  3. Justice: Moroccan legal and juridical structure is controlled by French agents who appoint Moroccan chiefs on a territorial basis. Each native judge (Pasha or Caid) is considered an absolute master in his area; no juries or right of counsel are known. Since elections in any sense of the word do not exist in the country, these judges are under no popular control.

    In terms of civil liberties, the nationalists can point to their complete absence. A former French deputy to the Chamber of Deputies, representing Morocco, points out in his study, Le Probleme Marocain en 1949 (Toulouse, 1949) that the right of Moroccans to organize trade unions is forbidden. Irving Brown, AFL representative in Europe and delegate to Morocco of the International Federation of Free Trade Unions, has had personal experience of this state of affairs. In the cities, trade unions of the French CGT (now controlled by the Communist Party) do exist and the membership of Moroccans is tolerated. This paradox is explained by the fact that these unions are French unions, even though Stalinist, and the Moroccans cannot hold any posts in them. No organization of agricultural workers is allowed.

    Moroccans desiring to travel within their own country must have visas signed by the control authorities. Certain sections of Morocco, labeled “security zones,” are forbidden to them. Pierre Parent, the French authority on Morocco cited above, reports that telephone conversations by Moroccans must be in French. There is no freedom of press, speech, reunion etc.
  4. Education: The authorities quickly laid down the principle of minimal education and opportunity. In 1950, of 1,500,000 Moroccan children eligible for public school education 99,707 or 7 per cent, actually were in attendance. The attendance of the 58,645 European children was 100 per cent. Separate schools are maintained, and the budget allots equal amounts for European and Mohammedan schools. For European students, 299 higher education scholarships are available; 106 for the Moroccans.

    The Moroccan educational system is divided into almost a dozen categories, on a caste and religious basis. Illiteracy compares with that existing in India during the period of British occupation. It is ironically reported that as of 1946, the Protectorate’s educational system had produced 3 doctors, 6 lawyers, 6 agricultural engineers and a handful of school teachers.
  5. Public Health: Since 1947, the budget has allotted 5.9 per cent for public health services. There are 12 (twelve) Moroccan doctors in the country. The Health Service has 200 doctors, or one for 45,000 inhabitants (one for 120,000 inhabitants in the countryside). Parent reports one hospital bed for 2,150 Moroccans as compared with one bed for 185 Europeans. Separate hospitals are maintained.
  6. The Land: An impoverished fellah or agricultural laborer is characteristic of Moroccan agrarian economy. Rudimentary methods prevail and the claim is advanced that the peasant has made no progress in 30 years. He is not permitted to purchase land from Europeans. The Istiqlal Party statement of March 8, 1945, contains a detailed analysis of the lot of the Moroccan peasant. It is further stated that irrigation projects benefit almost exclusively those lands possessed by the minority of Europeans.
  7. Economic Discrimination: Finally, and perhaps most serious of all, is the specific problem of Moroccan economic life itself, which especially favors the French minority while handicapping the development of the Moroccan economic community. In this respect, be it noted that the most vocal nationalists are precisely the members of the small Moroccan merchant, capitalist, trading and industrial class who struggle against many forms of discrimination. In passing, it is this fact which makes the cry of “communism” so absurd.

    On the economic front, the complaints of the Moroccans are bitter and varied. In the mixed companies and societies that do exist, Moroccan capital is always in the minority; contracts awarded by the administration for road-building, irrigation work or other capital projects invariably go to French contractors. The mines, public services, farms operated on a large scale, leading businesses etc. are all in French hands. The Moroccan bourgeois is obliged to live a peripheral existence. Since 1945, French capital seeking refuge from the dangers of a disturbed Europe, has surged into the country and a spectacular development of commerce, phosphate mining and horticulture has taken place, but only to French advantage. Moroccan traders further state that discriminations, in the form of tariffs, duties and quotas, operate against their export commerce, but do not exist for their French competitors.

    A discriminatory direct and indirect tax system exists, of which the following are some examples. The main direct tax is the tertib, or land tax, which furnishes 40 per cent of all direct taxation. In 1950, 3,236,685,188 francs was contributed by Moroccans (419 francs per head), and 372,519,610 francs by Europeans (332 francs per head). Of the total tertib collected, 90 per cent is paid by the Moroccan fellah who pays 24 per cent more per hectare than the French colonist. Indirect taxes, paid by 94 per cent of the Moroccan population, exist for customs, stamps, tobacco and especially on imported food and consumers’ items such as sugar, tea, cotton goods and native foods from other Arabian lands. There is no general taxation of profits or capital values.


There remains but one question to clarify in this summary analysis of the issues behind the conflict in Morocco. That is, what is the Istiqlal Party, what does it want, what of the charges directed against it by the Protectorate authorities? As to the truth or falsity of the various charges of repression and counter-repression, it is impossible to supply accurate details at present. Suffice to say that the French do not deny repressive measures against Istiqlal, a party they have never accepted or recognized. They merely deny the degree of alleged repression, or rumors, such as the bombing of Fez etc. Nor have the French denied the charge that on January 26, 1951, General Juin in the name of the Protectorate posed a choice of abdication or disavowal of the Istiqlal to the Sultan, obliging the sovereign in a declaration published at Rabat under the signature of the Grand Vizir, to condemn "the methods of a certain party” without specifying either the party or the methods! Since that moment, an “iron curtain” of French construction has fallen over the country and it has been impossible to learn precise details of what is going on.

But there is no difficulty whatever in discovering the truth about the Istiqlal Party and its intentions. That is readily available in a series of documents and statements published by the party since its foundation seven years ago, or in conversations with its representatives at Paris, Drs. Yousoufi and Elkohen, or in statements of the official party leader, Si Allal el Fassi, now in flight at neutral Tangier.

Istiqlal is a legitimate nationalist party, expressing the nationalist desires of the country in precisely the same sense that Gandhi’s Congress party once expressed the same emotions in India. It is a conservative, bourgeois party in its leadership, which consists largely of the country’s merchant and trading class, dispossessed intellectuals and leading professionals of the nation. Its political and social program is both moderate and modest – full support to the Sultan in his efforts to modernize and democratize the country and raise its woefully low standards of life; a constitutional monarchy based upon a Constituent Assembly; an end to the inferior status conferred by the Protectorate treaty and the establishment of new political, social and economic relations, based upon full equality, between Morocco and France; the immediate release of all nationalist detenus and the extension of full civil freedoms, including the right to organize, to the Moroccan population. Moroccans are fond of quoting the French slogan of “Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité” as symbolizing their program; these details contain its essence.

To be sure, Istiqlal has members who represent more radical viewpoints, including those who would abolish the Sultanate and all related to it. But it is a broad, united front movement, embracing many views on the ultimate destiny of the country once liberation has been won. Its moderate wing is in command today, and these are the men pursued by the authorities. On the international scene, it has sympathetic but not formal ties with the Arab League and inclines toward the concept of an eventual Arabian Federation in North Africa; the party likewise desires the end of the artificial separation between Spanish and French Morocco, a division arranged by the European powers against Moroccan will. Istiqlal’s sole formal international affiliation is to the Congress of Colonial People’s, an international center of nationalist and colonialist movements with offices in Paris and London.

The French charges against the Istiqlal fall roughly into three categories: the party represents a tiny minority of the population which, in its gross majority, supports the French; the party is a feudalist movement based upon the most backward, Islamist sectors of Moroccan society; the party is an agency of “international communism” and/or helps Moscow pursue its disruptive aims in the Western World.

To the first charge that Istiqlal represents only city bourgeois, local aristocrats and young intellectuals the party counters with a claim that it represents 75 per cent of the population and challenges the French to hold free elections to prove or disprove the issue. Municipal and village elections, under a property franchise, have indicated the Istiqlal claim to have a strong validity, but without nationwide elections one cannot gauge' the political temper of the country. There is little reason to doubt that the party’s program for social and economic reforms on the land would not be popularly supported. Three other alleged nationalist parties exist (United Moroccan, Socialist Party and the Democratic Party of Independence), but none have played any popular role, nor can any reflection of their activities be found in the country’s life. It remains an incontestable fact that Istiqlal, when occasion permitted, has mobilized tens of thousands of city people for popular demonstrations under its banner.

The second charge of attachment to feudalist principles has no foundation in fact and is quickly turned against the French authorities by the party leaders. They point to the structure of the Protectorate raised by the French and particularly to the role of the Pasha of Marrakech, El Glaoui. This local feudal chieftain, elevated to his present position by the authorities, has often been suggested as a possible successor to the present Sultan if the latter is deposed. It was El Glaoui who recently organized the demonstrations of mountain Berbers who, descending upon the key cities of the country, backed the French pressure which brought about the Sultan’s capitulation to demands that he renounce support of Istiqlal and remove its sympathizers from his council of ministers. Whatever analysis one may make of Moroccan society, it is clear that this society is the product of the French Protectorate.

As to the final charge of “communism,” the facts speak for themselves. Istiqlal is affiliated with the Congress of Colonial Peoples, an organization in violent opposition to the Stalinist movement and often denounced by Moscow. The latest statement of the party leader, Si Allal el Fassi, on February 26, 1951, again reiterated this opposition to the communists: “ We have always refused offers, of united action made to us by the so-called Moroccan Communist Party.” The Communist Party leaders in Morocco are all Frenchmen, active in the Moroccan units of the CGT trade unions – that is, unions in which Moroccans are either not admitted or merely tolerated! The communist newspaper in Morocco is published in French and circulates only among Frenchmen.

To clarify the atmosphere, we must first have all the facts at our command. But the key problem is clear enough: shall insurgent nationalism be repressed in North Africa, or shall it be permitted to take its rightful place in the world? In his statement of February 26, el Fassi concluded in these words:

“The Protectorate regime has become nothing less than a juridical fiction. We are confronted with a system of direct administration, pure and simple. We therefore ask for a renovation of the contract tying us to France. What extremism is there in our desire to cleanse the basis of our collaboration?”

The French, actively engaged in pursuing el Fassi and his supporters, have not yet replied.

Paris, March 15, 1951

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