MOROCCO: On Pre-Colonial Morocco

August 05, 2008   by Brahim Fillali – ex-CLER (Morocco)

Does Berber Federalism serve as an indigenous African model of Anarchist Federalism?

By Brahim Fillali, Morocco, March 2004. Published in Morocco on 11 October 2005, translated by Pat Murtagh, Canada, 2008, and edited by Michael Schmidt, South Africa, 2008. Fillali, the former editor of the Moroccan anarchist journal Ici et Maintenant (Here and Now) which was shut down by the Moroccan state, and founder of the Centre Libertaire d’Études et Recherches (CLER) in Ouarzazarte in the Atlas Mountains – also shut down by the state – now has a blog in Arabic and French at:


I wish to stress this point because the prefix does not mean the same thing. If we said not capitalist, it is assumed that there is an alternative mode of production wherein capitalism and other possibilities that are open to the future of society. History is not linear; no societies are sentenced to spend their historical development via capitalism. Within the framework of autonomy and independence, each of them can create an autonomous social organization on its own and their own mode of production, and so on. Capitalism is not the only system with a way of invasion, expansion and colonialism. It is different from other forms of colonialism, however, because of the levels of development that the productive forces have reached in advanced capitalism, reflecting the experience and success of science. But it is the only mode production tends to be globalized. With slavery, feudalism, the mode of Asian production and many others we could not talk about Globalization or globalisation …

However, the qualifier pre-capitalist refers to capitalism as the determining mode because earlier modes that will necessarily become capitalist. In others terms it is not possible to avoid the historic passage through capitalism. This is wrong and justifies imperialism, globalization and globalization. What is the strategy of capitalism? It is the generalization of capitalism in all aspects of social life throughout the entire globe. Can we reach this stage? Is that generalisation of the capitalist mode of production possible? Will capitalist culture totally and completely destroy other cultures that still exist within society, until we arrive at identical societies? Can we speak with a unified global identity, unique and homogeneous? Can you reduce all human and social experiences to a single experience model and predetermined route? Capitalism, is it an inevitable destiny?
What capitalism can never realize it that it has to end because of the creativity and the development of human intelligence. Capitalism, by contrast, creates the mechanisms and means of its own destruction; by its nature being unequal, repressive, authoritarian and racist. While we can not prohibit people from reflecting and thinking differently, capitalism will never be highest stage, the termination of human civilization. Is this identity stagnant and unchangeable? What identity? Questions and issues arise, so we must stop to answer some of them.


What relationship? This trinity was a very complex relationship which called on colonization to settle its affairs. Morocco in the 19th Century, and even before colonial penetration, was not governed under a central government existing in the entire geographical area of the country. The Makhzenis [state bureaucrats], that part which occupied part of the area, especially the most important part, in the country that France calls USEFUL MOROCCO in opposition to USELESS MOROCCO. This expression condenses the meaning of the whole imperialist project. Utility goes back to a value that Morocco has. What it is useful here and not useful there? It’s not like they say; “capitalism is a mission of civilization”. It is a productive mode of operation, enslavement, violence, contempt, racism, inequality and repression.

I said that the Makhzen (central government) could not be generalized throughout the society. Politically the tribes did not recognize the Sultan (King); they were not under his government. They were rebels against the State of Makhzen; they founded their own organisations. Example: the tribe of Ait Atta extending through southern Morocco (Lamhamid to Benimellal) through to the Atlas Mountains. Those in the south call themselves N’tafouit Atta (from the sun, that is to say the Sahara), and those of Atlas region N’oumalou Atta (from the shadows, i.e. from the west). This tribe is organized by a federalist logic, but the federation of Ait Atta is based on ethnicity: those entrusted with responsibility in the organs of the federation belong to one of the parts of the tribe. They are divided into five factions or extended families. She (the tribe) has never heard of either state or parliament or political party or trade union or anything. It is a tribe that occupies a large geographical space. Regions close to each other organized by a federation (but the tribe has the same design of organization: federalism). Take the example of the Bougafer federation, comprising the Ait Atta Saghro, near Tinghir, then M’semrir, Boulmane Dades, and Zagora Lamhamid.

In every village there are quarters (Ighreman). Each neighbourhood (Ighram) according to custom is called each year to mandate individuals according to their belonging to a faction of the tribe. That’s the criterion that expresses the ethnicity of the organization. They mandate groups together to form a committee of the district which joins with other committees and other districts to form the general village committee. This will, in turn, appoint a working committee and mandates to be met. Amghar n’ighf n’ousgass (the secretary-general – if we can call it that) is elected at the end of each year by representation from the village. The federation along with other mandated groups within the village committee, represents the village to other tribes (inter-tribal wars are continuously unleashed). Members of the federation are all mandated for one year. Each member that does not respect the mandate is immediately relieved of his responsibility, rejected by the organs of the federation. In addition to the disavowal of the state they recognize the Sultan as a religious but not a political authority.

This impelled the Makhzen to create institutions that will give middle and long term normalization between the Makhzen and the tribes. This is the Zawia institution. It is called Laazib (land / property) Zawia and it is designated by the Sultan. The Cherif, the head of Zawia, represents the Sultan as a religious power. Zawia’s role is to disseminate Islamic ideology, permanently put Islam in daily life, gradually breaking customs and devising by religion another form of social organization. It is religion, which serves as a means of destruction of one culture by another, and is the means of cultural and political domination, and so on. Despite all this is not the Makhzen which has come to dominate the tribes as a central power.

At that time we are talking about two countries in one, called the Makhzen Blade al Makhzen which is the national Makhzen, while the space occupied by the tribes is called Blade Siba. Siba according to the Makhzen is in a state of disorder and revolt. But tribes in the state of Siba are not in a world full of disorder. The existence of the federations is a concrete example, real and historic, meaning Morocco is a society of difference and diversity. It is the Makhzen which tends by its Arab-Islamic ideology to destroy and eliminate the cultures that are different from it. The Siba is a concept that justifies domination. With the distribution of the world between the imperialist forces, it was intended that Morocco be occupied by France and Spain. It was colonialism that established boundaries between societies. It was colonialism that had developed the logic of development of other countries. It established another view of historical process that was estranged from society. Colonialism partly destroyed cultures, disrupting them, to build a model of society that suits it to maintain an order established at the international level. Everything was placed in the context of power relations.
Ethnology, anthropology, sociology [etc] have played a very important role in domination. It was a scientific mission in Tangiers, chaired by Bellaire Michaud and others, which dealt with the discovery of Moroccan society in order not fall into the same mistakes committed in Algeria. With this investigation made on the Makhzen, on the tribes, etc., driven by a strategy of domination with a minimum of rifles and a maximum of scientific research, that’s how scientific research serves as facilitator of colonial penetration: know the country and after that, occupation authority and domination. That is why I say that the issues of colonial sociology are not scientific; they are ideological, asking for a response or solution or a predetermined strategy. In this sense the questions don’t present a discovery, but justify a response, a reality.


Returning to the nature of Moroccan society in the 19th Century and the beginning of 20th, within the tribe, the means of production were collective, but there was also alongside this, private property. All the families of the tribes held fields, herds… but there were no employees, no employees in the tribe. People grew, harvested, worked together to turn their fields via their roles. If there were six people, there was an agreement by custom to work any field cooperatively that jointly belonged to the six people. Without money, without anyone being paid, no salaries – because they were farmers / producers who united freely. No exploitation of others; we worked our fields. In the tribal collective the criteria were strong. There was the custom, the spirit of customary acts and practice on a daily basis. The history of Imazighnes was broken and deflected by the Arab-Muslims and the West afterwards.

To draw a comparison between Berber federalism and anarchist federalism, I can say that the first one comes out of a tribal society and is based on the ethnic factor and localism, and a subsistence economy alongside nomadism. This federalism works in a society without schools. No school before, the fkih (1) after that fills the teaching profession… Federalist society has attached to it a culture of oral, unwritten memory. A culture of ear and eye; customs rather than the law. This allows us to say that the F.A.T. (2) is simply implemented in a society of primary relations in the family; a patriarchal society, in which mythology and religion dominate the cultural field. This is what characterizes agricultural and semi-nomadic societies. This is federalism local or regional and not international. It is not an achievement of a societal project; it can not be. In its development it cannot exceed the ceiling of the tribe, its limits. It’s a tribal federalism in an agricultural and semi-nomadic society. It is simple social organization, but equally there is mutual aid and non-exploitation, customs, not mandates, laws and elections. The tribe has “enjoyed” neither police nor prison, nor all those other forms of repression. Its federalism ensured that the society was neither militaristic nor autocratic. I raised this issue of the federation to say that federalism as a conception of social organization is not strange to Moroccan society – despite its nature.

If we take two concepts – anarchist federalism and liberal democracy – and try to explain them to an Amazigh (3), it is easy for him to understand anarchist federalism but difficult with liberal democracy because in his history he practiced some sort of federalism, and his culture is close to the federalist logic. Even elections are designed in a tribal logic; if we vote for X, it’s not because he is part of a political party which adopts an ideology and political program, but because he is of the family, the village or the tribe. What remains – ideology, policy – is not interesting.

We are unable to understand politics in Morocco without calling on social science. The political party has played the same role that authority has played: destruction of the tribal logic. The political party is an alien mechanism to Makhzen structure of the tribe. The political party has done what the bottle of Coca-Cola has done to a tribe in Africa, which has never seen such a bottle. It has torn apart the tribe. When we talk informally about social structure, that’s it. How does tribal mentality include designs and practical politics?

From self-management and, direct action, to elections, the group, unity, the federation, the political party, the trade union, the association and the state. Let me say that the problem of anarchism in Morocco does not depend on its Western origins as a foreign import, that of the “other”. The other is no longer a psychological problem – unless you want to disguise the logic of things – because it is ubiquitous, it is part of our identity. Then why refuse technology and the values that accompany it? There has been talk of the federalism of the tribe in the 19th Century and the beginning of 20th. Now things have changed, but the past still weighs heavily on us. This is because it is still recent, and the system has not made a break and transition in history. It is not a system in itself, there is in connection with the capitalist system that has created a relationship of dependency which is structural, drawn between societies. So the tribe is in this general social crisis due to dependency, and feels always a nostalgia for the past. Muslims belong to the past, but this is blocked. Even the Left refers to a past. Everyone in this society is not in the present. Normally it is the present that exists because the past is compared to a present and the future is referring to a present. It is always this determined one thing that has passed, or what is to come. This is not the past that determines the present and the future. It was Détérminé not determinant (4). The past can not answer questions which were unknown and not asked. It is the future who will answer your questions, not the present nor the past, and this future is not without history it is the result of the accumulation of human civilization.

The future includes past and present, this is an overtaking, and a break at the same time the destruction and reconstruction concurrently. The past is blocking and tampering with the present. But the present is will contribute each time to the future and replace it If not, the past will dominate all time. What I mean is that the solution is neither in the tribe nor religion nor in a past experience, but in a society different from all other than man has known and which surpasses them.

1) I am unable to translate this, but perhaps it means filth – Pat Murtagh
2) Reference uncertain – Michael Schmidt
3) A Berber, literally a “free person” – Michael Schmidt
4) I have left the language here as it was rather than try and translate it as “determined” and “determining” because I suspects that I am incapable of rendering these terms in proper English. I may get the “gist’ of this or I may not. I try not to translate philosophy. Thus I ask the reader to take this paragraph as perhaps inaccurate – Pat Murtagh.

Source: anarkismo

About tahriricn

bringing together anarchist perspectives from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe

Posted on March 1, 2013, in History of Anarchism, North Africa, Theory of Anarchism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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