Seventh Congress of the Comintern Report of Arab Delegates
Source: Free Arab Voice;
Translated: by Kevin Walsh from the French original;
Delivered: morning of 1 August 1935 (8th day of the Congress);
Transcribed: for Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden.
Stenogramme with authors’ corrections of the 13th session of the VIIth Congress of the Comintern: continuation of the discussion on the report by Pieck “On the Activity of the Executive Committee of the Communist International” and of Angaretis “On the Activity of the International Control Commission.” Original.
Nazim: British imperialism has replaced the direct mandate system of governing Iraq by the treaty of 1930, and has thereby organised an “independent” state. Before the ruling class of Iraq received its so-called “independence” and a seat in the League of Nations, it had to agree to all the demands of British imperialism. Thereby the latter not only did not weaken but on the contrary fundamentally strengthened its position of colonial rule in Iraq. This is but natural, inasmuch as Iraq possesses great military and strategic importance in the system of British imperialism, first of all as a fortified outpost of British imperialism against the Near East colonial possessions and as a military base against he USSR. Therefore British imperialism, despite the “treaty” with the ruling classes of Iraq, has retained in its hands all the points of military importance in the country: the railway and airway lines, the maritime bases in the Persian Gulf, the newly built airports, primarily to block the road to India, has built paved highways to the northern border of Iraq and has kept entirely intact its economic and political domination.
By consolidating its military and strategic base in Iraq, British imperialism has in view primarily the creation of a place d'armes for a counter-revolutionary attack on the USSR. With this end in view three great airports were built – one in Huneidi near Baghdad, one in Shueubie near Basri and one in Sin-Ummu-Duban near Ramadi. To the same end the railroads and highways are being built. Of course, you understand quite well that these measures by British imperialism are directed likewise towards inflicting merciless punishment upon and suppressing the powerful rising national liberation movement in Iraq. The British Intelligence Service has its representatives literally in every corner of the country. One of the usual methods of “work” by these agents of the British Intelligence Service is to cause constant clashes between tribes and among the various religious sects, which in this way aim to achieve a split and thus weaken the national front of struggle against British imperialism.
British imperialism has set up in Iraq a national army which has 17,000 bayonets and now the government has introduced a Bill providing for compulsory mobilisation. The national army is likewise supplied with military aeroplanes. Besides, there are 5,000 members on the police force. On the army alone the government spends about 55% of its entire budget, while for health protection it spends 3% of its budget. And this in a country where the vast majority of the population suffers from tropical and social diseases. If we take into account also the fact that immense sums are being spent on the constantly swelling apparatus of the colonial government, one can imagine what tremendous additional burden is thrust upon the masses of the people. Direct and indirect taxes are growing constantly while the arbitrary actions and the plundering policy of the government carried out by the officials creates an increasingly intolerable situation for the toilers. Despite the fact that the possessing class of town and country enjoys great privileges and is almost exempt from taxes, not to speak of foreign firms which are placed in extremely privileged positions, the government is levying new taxes upon the toilers and is passing legislation which will finally enslave them.
The toilers of Iraq see in their government the machinery of British imperialism which squeezes the last drop out of them and this is called the “government of an independent Arabian country”. At the same time all the big officials and cabinet ministers have seized immense stretches of the best lands in Iraq, paying trifling taxes at the same time, or being entirely exempt from taxes. To this must be added that the local feudal lords enjoy almost unlimited sway over the peasants, while the merchants and usurers draw the last farthing from the peasantry without mercy and with great arbitrariness. The prisons of “independent” Iraq are overcrowded with peasants who were unable to pay their taxes or their debts. For this reason the government in its “solicitude” for the toilers has built new capacious prisons in Mossul, Basra and Baghdad. The legislative organs work intensively for the purpose of allowing the landlords and the banks to seize and expropriate the land and the property of the peasantry.
Most of the peasants in Iraq have been deprived of their land and in part also of their implements of production and therefore they are like slaves at the mercy of the landlords, sheikhs and usurers. The Iraq peasants with their whole families and cattle, should he have such, are housed in earthen huts or at best in wooden shacks. The sufferings of the peasantry are increased by the tropical and social diseases which prevail among the vast majority, especially in the South where 90% of the peasant population have no medical aid while being afflicted with syphilis, malaria, trachoma; they live in abject poverty and squalor, work day and night, at that the whole family works, especially the women who do the heaviest work. Hence, the great mortality among the peasant women. The Iraq peasants with all their intense labour have an annual income of about 1 – 1? (3 mostly [i.e., “at most” ed.]) Iraqi pounds. Each of these peasants must pay 40% of the harvest to his feudal lord or sheik, and in addition 40% in taxes so that he is left 20% with which to feed his family. Besides the peasant, his family and children must also pay the inherited debts. The life of the Fellah masses in “independent” Iraq is very cheap. It is cheaper than the life of a sick dog of a British official for which special hospitals are prepared in Baghdad at the expense of the Ministry of Public Health of Iraq.
The working class of Iraq is in the same difficult situation as the peasantry. Their wages, their living standards are constantly on the downgrade and therefore the young worker who is cruelly exploited ages rapidly and dies an early death. There is no law in the country to cure even in the slightest degree the unlimited arbitrary conduct and cruel exploitation of the bourgeoisie and capitalists. In Iraq there is no labour protection: a worker may be thrown upon the street at any time if his boss so desires, in which event his whole family is doomed to perish. There is no limit to the working time. The average working day lasts from 12 to 16 hours, and in most of the workshops, workers get no free day even on religious holidays. The law prohibits labour organisations of every description as well as meetings of workers.
There are 5700 workers employed by the Iraq railways. In some of the industries and ports about 9,000 workers are employed while a great many workers are engaged in the building industry. Others find employment in small shops packing dates, in dry-goods stores, small factories, in irrigation, agriculture, tobacco growing, cotton plantations and textile mills.
All these groups of unorganised Iraq workers are extremely poor and subject to all kinds of feudal taxes, are in bondage to the shop owners for the debts they owe them as well as to the house owners and employers. They have no civil rights, not even simple human rights. In Iraq there are about 15,000 chauffeurs and repair garage workers. These workers are likewise badly exploited and lead a miserable life because of the persecutions of the police who constantly fine them and impose all kinds of taxes upon them. In 1934 the chauffeurs of Baghdad declared a strike and forced the government to make concessions despite the repression and police persecution. In this strike the Communists took an active organisational part. It is to be regretted that the experience of the strike movement was not properly utilised and consolidated because of the weakness and even utter lack of a trade union movement in Iraq.
Despite the furious terror and police provocation, during the last few years, there has been a development and rise in the revolutionary national liberation movement. As early as 1920 the broad masses of the people of Iraq under the direct influence of the great October Socialist revolution and in reply to the attack of British imperialism rose in a heroic insurrection. This insurrection was stamped out in blood. During the entire succeeding period there was no let-up in the armed peasant uprisings and the national liberation movement of the Kurdish people. Especially is it necessary to note the heroic struggle of the whole Iraq people against British imperialism and the central government which found expression in the uprisings in Souk al Shuyok, Rometha and Suleiman in 1925, 1927, 1931 and 1933. The uprisings in Barzan, 1932, and in Soukal Shayook, 1929, bore an anti-imperialist, anti-government and partly anti-feudal character. In the cities there was no end to the disturbances in which the working class took the most active part, sometimes forming independent demonstrations and strikes. In 1931 there occurred the strike of the railroad workers, in 1933 there was a general strike of chauffeurs, while in 1932 the mass movement grew into a general strike of the urban petty bourgeoisie during which for 17 days stores and workshops were closed, and for 3 months the Belgian electric company was boycotted, in which campaign the Communists took an active part. Despite the furious terror and police provocations of the British imperialists jointly with the Iraq feudal lords, the last few years have witnessed a development and upsurge of the revolutionary national liberation movement.
Now I want to dwell somewhat on the last mighty anti-imperialist and anti-government uprising in the South of Iraq in the province of Muntafique and Divanie. This uprising of 1935 has lasted six months, continues to this day and passed through three periods of development. In substance it consists of three independent and consecutive uprisings. In the first period the uprising took place in the regions around Nejef and Kerbela and Hindya under the slogans of a religious and civil democracy. It transpired under the leadership of tribal sheikhs, whose aim it was to utilise the discontent of the masses of the people in their own reactionary interests. However, even this uprising had as its base an anti-imperialist and anti-government character and contained within itself the seeds of an agrarian anti-feudal struggle, as a result of which the sheikhs were compelled to advance a number of peasant, democratic demands. The imperialists conducted provocative work among the tribes and in the press and strove to attribute to this movement the character of tribal and religious discord. This uprising was suppressed almost without bloodshed, as a result of the sheiks’ going over quite openly to the side of the government and accepting posts which the government offered them in the form of concessions.
Our party took an active part in this uprising, and carried on propaganda in town and country, distributing leaflets in the name of the United Anti-Imperialist Committee, popularising the agrarian and labour demands as well as the demands of the broad masses of urban petty bourgeoisie. The Communist Party succeeded in distributing these leaflets upon eight occasions. (While all prisoners have been set free thanks to the amnesty which was proclaimed at that period), the Communists who fell into the hands of the police at the time of the uprising remain in prison to this day.
The next phase of the uprising flared up in Divania a few weeks after the first period came to a close. It launched anti-imperialist and anti-government slogans and attracted middle and petty strata of sheikhs. Even this uprising was declared beyond the law. The sheikhs of the neighbouring regions, frightened by the growth of this movement, hastened to capitulate to the government; the latter sent into the region of the uprising its river flotilla, artillery and aviation and with their help succeeded in wiping out almost every village in the region. Thousands of imprisoned peasants have been court-martialled on the spot, and, as was the case in Rumeina and Divania, Nasrie, hanged on the spot.
During the third period the uprising embraced the region of Souk al Shuyok and bore a definitely mature character of peasant class struggle. The peasants of this region came out in dependently with slogans of removing British troops from the soil of Iraq, destroying aerodromes, for a democratic national government, for a reduction of taxes, for a division of state lands among the peasants, for wiping out of debts, etc.
In other words, they accepted all the basic demands which we put forth in our leaflets. The insurgents succeeded in ousting all sheikhs from the regions; they broke prisons and made short shrift of the police. As a measure of self-defence they opened the sluices and released the water, thereby stopping the river transport; they captured 18 machine guns, 600 rifles and one cannon. A section of the national army, which was sent as a punitive expedition against the insurgents went over to their side. The insurgents went into battle with Communist leaflets in their hands and when captured and brought before the court martial showed the judges our handbills and said: “Everything is written here”. The government and the imperialists brought all kinds of arms which they had at their disposal into the region of the uprising, but even that measure helped them only to localise the uprising and keep it from spreading to the remaining regions.
This uprising, as a mass peasant movement, is of enormous significance for all countries of the Near East and in particular for the development of the national liberation and agrarian movement in Iraq. It laid bare the vast social upheavals which took place in the ranks of the peasantry of Iraq and that revolutionary might which it represents. This uprising was also a serious gap for our Communist Party, revealing at the same time the vast possibilities which we have for Communist work among the Iraq masses. In the course of this short period our Party increased tenfold, not counting the considerable numbers of sympathisers who rally around the Party. The sympathies of the toiling masses of Iraq are on the side of this uprising, which, while inflicting a slap to the puppet Iraq government, at the same time shook the ground under the feet of British imperialism in that country. Considerable masses of toilers in all Arabian countries are still following the national reformists; still we succeeded in this uprising in exposing the role of the national reformist government and their policy of blocs with the imperialists.
In spite of the mistake which we committed and which consisted particularly in our weak work of attracting workers of Iraq to join the uprising in such a very short time of the age of our Party, still we can state, even on the basis of an incomplete study of the experience of the battles in Iraq, that we achieved unquestionable successes. We want to utilise this occasion in order to say to the toilers of all Arabian countries that they can gain true independence only through decisive struggle and through the organising of the broadest national masses for armed fight against imperialism and its agency. Only this armed battle can bring the masses to a struggle for a workers’ and peasants’ government and for their power in the form of Soviets, as against the puppet national reformist government which helps the imperialists in realising their colonial policy.
Nazam: I am compelled to make a declaration before the Congress in order to refute the incorrect facts with regard to Iraq, which Comrade Ferdi, as delegate to the Congress, reported apparently in his own name.
1. It was alleged that the masses of the people in Iraq under the cloak of the national government, do not directly feel the oppression of British imperialism. This is incorrect. Iraq is a colony of British imperialism and the masses of the people feel the direct power of British arms. A regime of occupation prevails in the country in the true sense of the word. Before Iraq was accepted in the League of Nations, British imperialism thoroughly consolidated its colonial positions in the country, and in the first place its military positions, which are directed against the masses of the people and against the U.S.S.R. This is what must be understood. The oppression of British imperialism is giving rise to a powerful anti-imperialist movement. Terror reigns in the country.
2. It was alleged that there is no clearly defined national-liberation movement in Iraq. It is not true. Our people know the glorious anti-imperialist revolution of 1920, when the peasants fought under the slogan “Out with the British from the country, to the last soldiers!” That revolution was suppressed in a sea of blood of the toiling people and in direct battles with the British troops. The British were compelled to resort to manoeuvres and to proclaim Feisal King of Iraq. The latter is relying on the feudal class of the country and upon the compradores. For 15 years peasant insurrections all over the country against British imperialism and its puppet – the central government – do not cease to take place, although they were suppressed exclusively with British bombs and tanks to the treachery of the feudals. The most recent uprising in 1935 is already nearing its sixth month. The peasants advanced all the slogans of the Communist Party of Iraq. The uprising is of a real anti-imperialist and anti-feudal character. In the course of this uprising our Young Communist Party, in spite of its shortcomings, passed a real test of which I had the honour to report to the Congress. It is not without reason that the Ministry of Iraq has earmarked £40,000 sterling as a special budget appropriation to combat the Communist movement in the country. These facts ought to be known. A powerful national liberation movement exists in Iraq, and the Communist Party of Iraq will be able to fulfil its duty as organiser of this movement and, under the leadership of the Comintern and the hegemony of the working class, will lead the movement to its victorious conclusion.