While Algeria’s rulers bear much of the responsibility for the lack of democratic reform after the advent of formal party-political pluralism in 1989, the political forces notionally engaged in constitutional opposition have their share. This judgment applies in particular to the Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS). Finally legalised in 1989, the FFS from its foundation in 1963 has provided the main template of ‘opposition’ in Algeria but it has not been engaged in genuine opposition, merely dissidence. Media commentary and academic analysis have attributed democratic credentials and reforming ambitions to the FFS on the strength of its discourse, while ignoring the way the party has actually behaved. This flawed approach has also built upon earlier errors in the analysis of the FFS by the French sociologist Jeanne Favret, who misconceived the 1963 rebellion as representing the ‘ultra-modernism’ of the Kabyle middle class and misunderstood the role of tradition in this affair. This paper examines the party’s behaviour since 1989 and the logics of the rebellion of 1963–5, and explains how and why the FFS has always fallen short of opposing the government with a serious democratic project.