Jacques Cantier

Algeria Under the Vichy Regime Publication date : March 1, 2002

On 25 June 1940, both the Franco-German and Franco-Italian Armistice came into effect. In Algiers, a ceremony at the war memorial was followed by a veterans’ parade. “Everything exhaled the terrible contrast between the glories of early summer in a landscape of triumphant lines, and the collapse of our pride. The passers-by, who were few and far between, seemed stooped in submission,” an eyewitness recalls today. Patriotic fervour had died down. Appeals to carry on the struggle in France’s colonial empire no longer served any purpose. The archbishop of Algiers advocated the recovery of France in a spirit of “submission to those who had the formidable task of governing it”. In 1940, British warships destroyed most of the French fleet at anchor in the harbour at Mers-el-Kebir, hastening the rejection of the Allies. From then on, the struggle against Germany was an individual one. The Vichy regime, which came into existence following the parliamentary vote of 10 July 1940, was thus able to extend its rule over Algeria. Claiming to be at the head of a “National Revolution” which would create “a new Man” and fight against the forces of “Anti-France”, the Vichy government was able to flourish until the Anglo-American landings in North Africa in 1942. The author has given us a thorough review of this little-known period, which was marked by General Weygand’s supreme command and the intrigues of a succession of minor Vichy chiefs. This is not just a historical parenthesis. The study of the consequences of the “National Revolution” in France’s colonies casts a new light on the discussion about the nature and actions of the Vichy regime. It also illuminates a frequently concealed stage in the development of colonial society, which had had to confront a growing number of internal difficulties since the 1930s. Ultimately, the Algerian situation helps us understand what France’s “National Revolution” really represented — with the result that the Vichy government’s claim that it balanced “two sets of discourse” is seriously shaken. It also makes it easier to understand the rise of anti-colonialism in the post-war period.

Jacques Cantier is a lecturer at the University of Toulouse-Le-Mirail.