From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.2, March-April 1952, pp.47-52.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Egyptian events are new proof of the tremendous upsurge existing for months in the anti-imperialist movement in the Near East: The defeat of British imperialism in Iran had temporarily created a revolutionary situation, especially during the strike of the Abidan workers; now the revolutionary wave has enveloped all of Egypt and has given the Egyptian anti-imperialist movement a momentum unknown since 1946.
The fundamental factors which brought about this situation both in Iran and in Egypt are these:
Up to now the ruling classes of Iran have been successful with this tactic. The real stake there was oil, which induced the Americans to lend their protection to Iran, especially since the Soviet Union has a common frontier with Iran and since the United States was not yet ready to launch the world war. When Mossadegh stated to the American ambassador Grady, “If we turn communist it will be because of the mistakes of the English and of yourselves,” the Americans were convinced. But the Egyptian pashas had less luck. Here again the stake was an important communication line for the U.S. – the Suez Canal; but the Americans could not figure without the British army in their military plans for the Near East. That is why in this case Acheson gave full support to Great Britain.
The events in Iran contributed to hastening the outbreak of the anti-imperialist movement in Egypt. The Egyptian laboring masses learned from the example of Iran that it was no longer possible for British imperialism to maintain its positions with tanks and bayonets. So it is not surprising that on October 9 and 12, after the abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty, the demonstrators in Cairo celebrated the “liberation of Iran” together with Egypt’s action on the treaty. Nevertheless the popularity of the Iran movement could not have been the sole factor that suddenly drove the WAFD leaders to make their dramatic declaration of October 8. Up to 1950 the WAFD was the only Egyptian party which had any popularity among the Egyptian masses, as a result of its social demagogy and its promises of social reforms. But since coming to power it has not kept one of these promises.  The position of the WAFD in the eyes of the masses was shaken as a result of rising prices tind the decline of their living standards, and also because of the sharp fall in the price of cotton which heavily affected large layers of the fellahin and the middle classes. So weakened was its position that the WAFD could not hope to win another respite for its regime except by making a dramatic decision in the field of foreign policy which would thus allow it to push economic and social problems into the background for a time.
Therein lies the significance of the Egyptian government’s declaration of October 8 abrogating the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 and the 1899 agreement on the establishment of a condominium in the Sudan. In doing this the leaders of the WAFD were making a shrewd calculation. They knew, as would anyone who understood the position of the British troops, that the British command in the canal zone could easily cut off the supply of oil to Egypt which comes for the most part from two refineries in Suez; or could even stop the export of Egyptian cotton, which would cause the collapse of Egyptian economy. But Nahas Pasha was sure that British imperialism would not resort to such methods since it was itself anxious to maintain the existing social order in Egypt in order not to lose its own political and economic influence there. Nahas Pasha thus counted on a fictitious “struggle” between his government and that of Great Britain, limited to the sphere of diplomatic negotiations; and, when the British army began disrupting normal civilian life in Egypt, he stated to the British government:
“If imports are not reestablished here soon, water, electricity and other public services will cease to function. Disorders will result. There will be no bread, for the bakeries will not be able to operate ... If the English think this sort of pressure will make us change our policy they are mistaken; but undoubtedly the communist elements will not fail to use the occasion for their agitation ...”
But Nahas Pasha was grievously mistaken when he thought the Anglo-Egyptian conflict could be confined to diplomatic skirmishes. Upon the abrogation of the treaty some 60,000 workers and students crowded the streets of Cairo demanding arms of Nahas Pasha. A similar demonstration occurred in Alexandria, with the slogans “From now on, no more imperialism!” and “The workers are the army of the revolution!” These demonstrations were repeated the next day and the workers of Cairo and Alexandria assembled under the banners of their trade unions. In the Suez Canal zone the movement had a pronounced proletarian character, centering around the political strike of the workers against the British occupation troops. In the course of one month the majority of the 30,000 to 40,000 workers in the British military camps went on strike: railroad engineers on the special trains in the military districts stopped work; other railroad workers refused to transport British troops or their supplies; construction workers refused to continue work on the airfields; dock workers in Port Said and workers of the various shipping companies in the canal zone likewise went on strike. Because of the lack of central organization we cannot speak of a general strike; but in actual fact all work in the canal zone came to a halt.
Actions of solidarity of other working-class groups were also large scale; but they suffered similarly from the lack of centralized leadership and thus had the character, of partial and sporadic actions. The workers at the Shell installations in Nefisha began a solidarity strike but returned to work after a week, “in the national interest” as an official source stated. At Suez itself the dock workers only went out on a 24-hour protest strike and took up collections for the workers who had left the British military camps. Similar collections were made among the workers of the oil companies in Port Said and the white-collar workers in Ismaila.
The organizational dispersion of the Egyptian trade unions – a result of the repressive measures of the Egyptian government – and the lack of an autonomous political and trade union leadership of the workers, prevented this strike wave from becoming a political general strike which would have shaken not only the base of the British military occupation but also the pillars of the Egyptian government and the social system of the Nile valley. The movement was sufficiently powerful, nevertheless, to encourage workers in other parts of Egypt into action. The railroad company of the Delta had as usual fired the spokesmen of the workers when they demanded improvement in working conditions; but now one day of strike, on November 9, 1951, was enough to win complete satisfaction, including the rehiring of the discharged workers! Encouraged by the events in the Suez Canal zone, 10,000 workers and employees of the British army and the RAF in the Sudan began a strike on November 26 for improvement in their working conditions.
This avalanche which swept over Egypt immediafely after the abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty came most inopportunely for the Egyptian government. So little was the government prepared to see the struggle against the occupation in the canal zone take the proletarian form of strike, that 1,400 workers who had left the British military camps had to return to them because they were not given work that had been promised by the government. In several cities in the Nile delta there were even demonstrations of workers who had lost their jobs as a result of the anti-imperialist strikes. The weakness of the trade union organization made it impossible to support the strike with collections from the workers. To this was added the fact that the government succeeded in giving the strike the form of an exodus of workers from the Suez Canal zone.
But the WAFD did not confine itself to thus splintering the movement of the masses and crushing its revolutionary sp’irit. Wherever it could, it even attempted to break the strikes. For example, it persuaded the canal workers in Port Said to let a naval transport with American troops go through, although at first the workers had refused to serve these imperialist allies of Great Britain. The technicians and skilled workers of the British arsenal at Timsah received an order from the Egyptian Labor Office to stay on their jobs and not to strike.
It was the same with the demonstrations. On October 12, 1951, three days after they had begun, all demonstrations were forbidden. The masses paid no attention to the decree. On October 16 they gathered in a gigantic demonstration with the slogans “We want arms and battle!” and “Down with the Mediterranean pact!” – and Nahas Pasha had to appeal to them: “I beg you, stop the demonstration.”
Next day the Minister of Interior called a meeting of the editors of all newspapers for the purpose of publishing a long statement asking the people to cease all demonstrations.  The WAFD press published slogans against the demonstrations; the sheik of the Azhar mosque called on the masses to be calm. The head of the WAFD youth, M. Belal, even felt it necessary in a statement on October 10 to denounce particularly the use of the slogan “Revolution” in the .mass demonstrations.
But all this was still not enough. The revolutionary movement of the masses was beginning to bypass the leaders of the WAFD. When their pleadings and prayers made no headway with the people, they called on the police and the army for help in suppressing the revolutionary movement of the masses by force of arms. There were victims in Cairo and Alexandria, but primarily in the Suez Canal zone did repression assume a barbarously cruel form. On October 16 a crowd of Egyptians attacked a British military camp. According to the official report British troops supported by the Egyptian police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing seven Egyptians and wounding many others. On October 30 the British army arrested one of the labor leaders in Suez. The workers organized a huge demonstration to win his freedom. The Egyptian governor of the city immediately despatched a large police detachment to the scene which engaged the workers in battle and” succeeded in scattering them. Here is how The Economist, organ of the City of London, described the situation in its issue of October 27:
“In the canal zone the picture of the relationship between Egyptians and British is far from uniform. Relations between the two armies remain friendly, and one can hardly speak of a state of siege. In fact, at the time of our writing, reports are coming to London which speak of fine cooperation between the Egyptian police and our military authorities.”
While the anti-imperialist movement of the Egyptian masses, especially the strikes and workers’ demonstrations, was being brutally suppressed, efforts were undertaken to divert it on to a chauvinist and terrorist road. Various reactionary organizations and parties – among others, the “Mussulman Brothers” (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoun), the so-called “Socialist Party,” the “Liberal-Constitutional Party” of the large landholders – set up a “Committee for a National Convention” and formed “combat troops” (“Kataib”) whose task was to unleash individual terrorism against British soldiers in the canal zone and to supervise the boycott against the English and everything English. An important point in the program of the “Kataib” was to maintain order in the country, especially in case of demonstrations! General Aziz el-Masri, a known collaborator of fascist Italy during the war, was designated commander of these combat troops.
These terrorist groups, of which the “Mussulman Brothers” were the main body, began terrorist actions against the British; soldiers were attacked, killed and thrown into the canals; attempts were made in the course of the demonstrations to arouse the population against all foreigners and attack their dwellings and stores in Cairo and Alexandria; the slogan of boycott was advanced against everything of English origin, including English culture. The “Mussulman Brothers” thus endeavored to splinter and destroy the revolutionary and anti-imperialist uprising of the masses through individual terroristic actions, chauvinism and religious fanaticism. At the same time, the central leadership of the organization supported the governmental repression against the workers. It is not surprising then that the WAFD, contrary to its traditional policy, legalized the “Mussulman Brothers” and supported the “Kataib,” and for security took them under its direct protection.
British imperialism did not view this type of movement with hostility. The tendency to religious fanaticism, combined with individual terrorism, excluded any possibility of fraternization between the Egyptian workers and British soldiers. It gave the British the opportunity to launch anti-Egyptian propaganda in other countries, to completely ignore the proletarian movement, and even opened up the possibility of dividing the Coptic workers from their Moslem class-brothers and inciting them against each other. Since the death of a few British soldiers was of no importance for imperialism and the imperialists saw great advantages in diverting the masses from a proletarian movement and pushing them on to a road which would have to end in the collapse of the Egyptian anti-imperialist struggle, they encouraged the outbreak of individual terrorism through constant provocations, arbitrary requisitions, brigandage, attacks on persons and property. There are innumerable examples of these British provocations. 
The clearest expressioii of this policy of the occupation troops can be found in the following statement (UP report, November 27, 1951) by Brigadier General R.B. Goldsmith, head of the general staff of the British command in the Suez Canal zone, at a press conference in Ismaila:
“Incidents have been on a mounting scale during the last 48 hours. But we arc satisfied that the rate is increasing. Every time we can take reprisals against the terrorists it 13 a good thing, because it gives the troops experience of the things they have to be prepared for. It is good training (!) for the young recruits.”
It is clear to every revolutionary communist in Egypt and abroad that he should unreservedly support the slogan of the Egyptian masses: el Gala (withdrawal of British troops from Egypt and the Sudan), and that he must be in the forefront of their fight for liberation from imperialist occupation. At the same time it is his duty to sharply criticize the Sudan policy of the feudal and capitalist leaders of the WAFD and other Egyptian parties.
“Anglo-Egyptian Condominium” in the Sudan was established toward the end of the last century after the conquest of the country by British imperialism with the aid of Egyptian troops, following upon the Mahdi insurrection and within the framework of general imperialist expansion in Africa. The aim of this condominium was to make Egypt co-responsible with British imperialist rule but with Egypt having no real power (the Governor General of the Sudan has always been an Englishman!).
Since around 1930 an autonomous national movement has developed in the Sudan, divided into two camps. On one side is the Ashigga party, along with the Students’ Congress from Gordon University, the center of gravity resting in the cities of southern Sudan (in municipal elections the Ashigga party always wins an overwhelming majority of votes); on the other, the Umma party under the leadership of Sir Abd el-Rahman al-Mahdi, a large landowner who received bountiful gifts from the British, notably his estate on an island in the Nile near Khartum. The Ashigga party and the groups supporting it call for evacuation of the Sudan by the British troops and unification of the Sudan with Egypt under the Egyptian crown.
The Umma party advances the slogan of national independence for the Sudan, but always insists more on independence in relation to Egypt than independence in relation to England. That is why it enjoys the support of the British administration in the Sudan and collaborated with it in creating a “Legislative Assembly” and other similar institutions with fictitious sovereignty (they do not have the right to vote on the budget, the British administration can annul their decisions merely by its veto). The aim of British policy in the Sudan -is to pass slowly, after many years of “education,” from direct to indirect rule, as in Transjordan for instance – an indirect rule which will be based on faithful agents of Great Britain, the feudal leaders of the Umma party and the heads of the Negro tribes of southern Sudan.
Independently of these two camps there has developed in the Sudan since 1947 a powerful, militant and well organized trade’ union movement, the core of which is the union of railroad workers. This “federation of labor unions” has conducted a number of large strikes in the last years, the two high points being the general strikes of April and August, 1951, which virtually paralyzed all activity in the cities of southern Sudan. This labor organization has also given evidence of political independence. It calls for independence of the Sudan, abolishing of the condominium and evacuation of all foreign troops. It participated actively in the big demonstrations of April 1948 against the plan for a “Legislative Assembly.” Both the Umma and Ashigga parties were suspicious of the growth of this workers’ movement and not infrequently attempted to persuade the labor leaders to call off strikes (this being one of the reasons for the collapse of the strike in July 1947).
Through its strikes and militant actions the workers’ movement in the Sudan demonstrated that it was the only force in the country ready and able to carry on a real struggle against British imperialism. Coordination of the anti-imperialist movement of the Egyptian masses with this force (for example, the proletarian actions in the Suez Canal zone with the strike of 10,000 workers in the vicinity of the British army in the Sudan) would have shaken the British power and put the liberation of the Nile valley on the order of the day.
But the leadership of the Egyptian nationalist movement had for thirty years followed a policy which tended to set the anti-imperialist movement of the Sudan against the Egyptian movement. The leaders of the WAFD have always declared that the Sudan must return to Egypt ior historical reasons; and in their negotiations with Great Britain they for the most part demanded nothing more than a real carrying out of the 1899 treaty, that is, that. Egypt should have the same rights as Great Britain in the domination of the Sudan. Numerous Egyptian leaders declare, like did the Nazis, that the Sudan represents “living space” for Egypt.
The sharpest expression of these pseudo-imperialist aspirations of a colonial bourgeoisie who, without having won their Own independence, are trying to imitate the highest and most reactionary stage of imperialism, is to be found in the statement of Nahas Pasha on October 8, 1951. Having abrogated the 1899 condominium treaty and proclaimed Earouk King of Egypt and the Sudan, he decreed (No.4 of the Royal Decrees) that the Sudanese would have the right to elect their own government “democratically” but that all matters of foreign policy, national defense and finances would be reserved to the King in accordance with the Egyptian constitution.
This declaration afforded British imperialism another opportunity to isolate the anti-imperialist movement in the Sudan from that in Egypt. Immediately after October 8, when Cairo and Alexandria were shaken by vast demonstrations, the people of Khartum, capital of the Sudan, quietly went about their affairs (according to a dispatch in the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, Oct. 11). It was only at the end of October that demonstrations took place in the Sudan, launched almost exclusively by students from the secondary schools and without participation by the workers. The above-mentioned strike at the military installations did not break out until the end of November, at which time the proletarian movement in Egypt already had clearly lost its momentum and the individual terrorism of the “Kataib” was in the forefront.
The leaders of the pro-Egyptian Ashigga party, confused and divided among themselves, remained silent for several days and then went to Cairo to get the WAFD leaders to arbitrate their disputes. On the other hand, the Umma party gave big publicity to statements against Egyptian imperialism (of course without mentioning British imperialism!) and correctly and in detail criticized the absurdity of “self-determination” as proposed by Egypt (without mentioning that the “self-determination” proposed by the British government was equally absurd!).
The main political advantage the British governor of the Sudan was able to derive from Nahas Pasha’s declaration of October 8, was in the abrupt turn of Sir Ali el-Mirghani, chief political and religious rival of Abd el-Rahman al-Mahdi, who until then had supported Egypt and the Ashigga party and who now declared himself in favor of the British plans. In this atmosphere it was not difficult for the British governor on November 21 to have the leaders of the Ashigga party arrested, without any protest demonstrations from the masses, as had always occurred in Khartum and Oundourman in such circumstances.
In this situation the Sudanese trade unions confined themselves to publishing a statement in which they supported the abrogation of the 1899 condominium treaty, called for an immediate end to the condominium and demanded the right of self-determination for the Sudanese people “as inscribed in the UN charter.” This weak and vague statement was the result both of the Egyptian policy’ which isolated the Sudanese masses from the Egyptian, and of the lack of coordination and joint organization of the Egyptian and Sudanese working-class and trade union movements.
Only such an organization, fighting for the evacuation of the British troops and for an end to British rule in Egypt and the Sudan, as well as for the right of full self-determination for the Sudanese masses, and appealing to the Sudanese to struggle shoulder to shoulder with their Egyptian brothers against imperialism – only such an organization could inflict a real defeat on imperialism.
The well-known Stalinist zigzag policy toward the national movements in the colonies had been and is still being sharply expressed by the Egyptian Stalinists. For them the leaders of the WAFD have either “definitely gone over lo the imperialist camp” or else they are described as “the. revolutionary fighters against imperialism.” The Leninist policy toward the national movements in the colonies, which consists of “marching separately and striking together” and supports every real anti-imperialist action wh-ile criticizing the true intentions of the WAFD leaders and of educating the masses; such a policy of “supporting the WAFD as the rope supports the hanging man,” while still maintaining the independence of the proletarian organization, remains completely unknown to them. Mere is but one small example of the post-war policy of Egyptian Stalinism, from the Stalinist organ El-Pagr-el-Gadid, March 13, 1946:
“Rightist elements have taken over WAFD policy and are determining its orientation. The result is that today the WAFD is more inclined than previously to reach a compromise with imperialism. This situation demonstrates that the WAFD has become the representative of the bourgeoisie (?), which has lost its revolutionary possibilities.”
But only two months later, May 22, the same organ wrote, regarding a WAFD statement on the negotiations with Great Britain:
“This statement expresses a nationalist tendency ... and we consider it as a turn in the policy of the WAFD regarding British imperialism. It is the duty of all the progressives and all democratic organizations to support the WAFD.”
The same turn from an ultra-left to a rightist position has occurred during the last months. Although it was not long ago that the Stalinist organizations were frequently being split by the expulsion of members or groups accused of a “pro-WAFD tendency,” the proclamation of October 8 produced a flobd of acclamations in the Stalinist ranks. The Stalinist statements and leaflets contained “congratulations to the WAFD government and its magnificent position”; they said that “a new epoch has opened” in which “all aspirations arc joining together to drive out imperialism.” Similarly, the statement of the Egyptian Stalinist “Committee for Peace” celebrated “the magnificence of the historic national action taken by the government” and saw in it “the realization of the old and always renewed ‘aspirations of the people.” Still further: “The Committee sees in the declaration of His Excellency the President of the Council and His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs a correct understanding (!) of the role Egypt must play in order to maintain world peace” (Al-Mistri, Oct. 13, 1951). The sole demand the Stalinists made of the government was for the release of political prisoners.
These Stalinist adulations naturally did not prevent the government of the WAFD from forcibly suppressing the workers’ demonstrations and strikes and from cooperating during this “historic national action” with the British imperialist army! Nor did they prevent Minister of Interior Serag el-Din from stating to a foreign journalist that nothing had changed in the attitude of Egypt toward communism since the abrogation of the 1946 treaty. Nor did they prevent the police from again..arresting communists or having them convicted by Egyptian judges. What the Stalinist policy did help to prevent, because of lack of a serious criticism of the decree transforming the Sudan into a province of the Egyptian realm, was unification of the Sudanese laboring masses with their Egyptian brothers ior a common struggle against both British imperialism and the aspirations of the feudal Arabs to imitate imperialism and fascism.
The recent events in Egypt have again demonstrated the enormous revolutionary spirit of the Egyptian proletariat, which had already been revealed at the time of the strike wave in the spring of 1950. They have once more confirmed that, despite the backward state of Egyptian industry, the Egyptian proletariat – because of its high degree of concentration in the ports, failroads, oil installations and the military camps – represents a revolutionary force which could become decisive in the struggle of the Near East for national and social liberation. On the other hand, these events have confirmed the lessons of the strikes of the spring of 1950, lack of a centralized, coordinating leadership leads the revolutionary impetus into an impasse and prevents it from winning decisive victories. Without such leadership the magnificent actions of workers’ solidarity break out separately in different enterprises and different cities instead of all together – and this greatly weakens their effectiveness.
Through lack of an internationalist revolutionary leadership the anti-imperialist movement of the masses did not take any steps toward fraternization with the British soldiers and did not turn to the international proletariat for help. That is why it was possible for the feudal and capitalist Egyptian leaders to stem the proletarian character of the movement and divert it on to the sterile and chauvinist road of individual terrorism. And that in its turn allowed British imperialism to hide from world public opinion the real content of the anti-imperialist movement of the Egyptian masses and to represent it as a fanatical explosion of primitive religious instincts.
The recent events in Egypt have again confirmed the correctness of the demands of Fourth International groups for the calling of a Congress to establish a federation of trade unions and all the working-class organizations in all the countries of the Near East. Apart from a few student demonstrations in Beirut and Damascus, the Egyptian movement has had few echoes in the other Arab countries. Solidarity strikes on the part of working-class organizations have been completely lacking. Yet this is the only road for defeating imperialism. A correct position on the Sudan question is of basic importance for the organization of the Egyptian proletariat; for as long as the struggle of the Egyptian and the Sudanese masses is not organized in common, British imperialism will keep its base in the Sudan from where it will be able to strangle the revolutionary movement in Egypt. To achieve this unity of action it is necessary to combat the slogan “Union of the Nile valley under the Egyptian crown”; at the same time it is necessary to combat the policy of the Umma party in the Sudan which is only a disguised way of supporting British rule.
Such are the concrete tasks confronting the organizations of the Fourth International in Egypt and the Near East, and they are once more placed on the order of the day by the recent events in Egypt.
End of November 1951
1. In the spring of 1950 the government found itself obliged to enact a law giving coat-of-living increases to wage-workers – “for reasons of public security,” according to Minister of Interior Serag el-Din. At the same time it sent its police to forcibly suppress the strikers who were trying to compel the capitalists to carry out the law.
2. The statement used the pretext that there was a “British plot” to “exploit the demonstrations” in order to discredit Egypt.
3. One example among many: On October 17 the British command sent a column of armored cars to patrol the streets of Ismaila during a mass demonstration. In the ensuing tumult seven Egyptians were killed and forty wounded by the British.
Last updated on 19.7.2005