Conference: French Colonial History Society, 15-17 June 2017, Aix-en-Provence.

Conference: French Colonial History Society, 15-17 June 2017, Aix-en-Provence.

I am giving a paper titled 'Mining the Contradictions: Phosphate, Communism and Colonialism in the Career of Michel Colonna'

A Communist, a Corsican and a miner – mainly of rock phosphate, at Khouribga, some 120 km east of Casablanca - Michel Colonna occupied a subaltern and dissident role in the French colonial world of the Third Republic. As a French citizen in Protectorate Morocco, as a white male ‘European’, as a powerful syndicalist in the Confédération Générale de Travail (CGT) – he was quite the opposite.


His career exacerbated these tensions. Resident in Khouribga from 1928 and hired permanently by 1930, he built a career underground in Morocco, organizing union membership at the rock face, as the phosphorous-rich rock was ripped out and sent to Europe to revolutionize crop yields. Sacked in 1940, he returned to Corsica and fought in the French wartime Resistance, before returning to Khouribga, where he challenged management, led strikes and militated for the inclusion of ‘indigène’ workers in the union. At the same time, he imposed rigid discipline, and in July 1945 sought to prosecute his colleague ‘Mme Morgana’ for ‘absent-mindedly’ defacing a photograph of Stalin.


This paper explores these apparent contradictions, and asks how this intersection of ideological commitments and regional/class identity can help us nuance the operation of French colonial rule in the Mediterranean.

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