T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

Part VI
The Working Class Movement in the Arab East

<p. 197>

Chapter XXIV
Tasks of the Revolutionary Workers’ Movement
of the Arab East

I. The Agrarian Revolution

As we have already seen there are two kinds of class antagonism which exist side by side in the Arab countryside: firstly the antagonism between the peasantry as a whole and the feudal class, and secondly the antagonism between the rural poor (proletarians and semi-proletarians) and the village bourgeoisie. No Chinese wall, however, divides the two kinds, and often the same person is both a feudal landlord and a capitalist farmer, and the kulak both employs hired labourers and is the usurer and agent of foreign and local finance capital. The same hired labourers, too, are also petty tenants subjugated to the feudal lord. But nevertheless a clear differentiation must be made between the two kinds of antagonisms. The first is the fruit of the transition period from feudalism to capitalism and the second the fruit of the transition period from capitalism to socialism. The solution of the first antagonism is one of the decisive tasks of the socialist revolution, the solution of the second one of the tasks of the socialist revolution. The double pressure of imperialism and feudalism on the development of the forces of production, society and culture, brings about the combined character of the development in the East, the combination of revolutionary democratic and socialist tasks.

But the two kinds of antagonisms are not only different, but also antagonistic. While the antagonism between peasantry as a whole and the feudal class reflects the low level of development of the class differentiation among the peasantry and the low standard of development of economy and society, the depth and extent of the antagonism between the village proletariat and the village bourgeoisie is conditioned by the extent of development of economy and society. While the revolutionary solution of the first antagonism implies the division of the feudal lands, the solution of the second implies the changeover of the modern capitalist farms to collective farms, and the construction of collective farms on the basis of the integration of many small existing farms. Nevertheless, in spite of the antagonism between the tasks of the bourgeois democratic agrarian revolution and those of the socialist agrarian revolution, they yet complement each other, firstly the because annihilation of feudalism gives a tremendous push forward to the forces of production in agriculture which facilitates the tasks of socialist construction in town and country alike (if, of course, an incessant struggle is carried on against the enrichment of the village kulaks in this process), and secondly – and this especially – because the democratic agrarian revolution is a tremendous lever which strengthens the hammering force of the proletariat which rises against capitalism, and is a springboard for its rise to power.

Without understanding both the antagonistic and the complimentary character of the democratic and the socialist revolutions, the peasantry and the proletariat, we should not be able to understand the Leninist conception, as opposed to that of the Social-Revolutionists, of the hegemony of the proletariat over the peasantry, nor the practical demonstration of this conception in the October revolution, nor the degeneration of the Russian workers’ state under the double pressure of the world capitalism from without and the petty bourgeois tendencies of the peasantry from within. If the proletariat and the peasantry had not been two different classes, there would have been no place to talk of an alliance, the basic condition of whose existence is the hegemony of the proletariat which leads the peasantry while struggling against the reactionary anti-proletarian tendencies in it. Thus in 1909 Lenin wrote:

‘The fundamental idea of their (the Social-Revolutionists’) program was not at all that “an alliance of forces” of the proletariat and the peasantry is necessary, but that there is no class abyss between the former and the latter and that there is no need to draw a line of class demarcation between them, and that the social democratic idea of the petty bourgeois nature of the peasantry that distinguishes it from the proletariat is fundamentally false.’ (Works, Vol. XI, Part I, p. 198)

Unceasingly he repeated the same basic idea. Thus he wrote in 1905:

‘Our attitude towards the peasantry must be distrustful, we must organise separately from it, be ready for a struggle against it, to the extent that the peasantry comes forward as a reactionary or anti-proletarian force.’ (Works, Vol. VI, p. 113, our emphasis)

And in 1906 he wrote:

‘Our last advice: proletarians and semi-proletarians of city and country, organise yourselves separately! Place no trust in any small proprietors, even the <p. 198> petty ones, even those who “toil” … We support the peasant movement to the end, but we must remember that it is a movement or another class, not the one that can or will accomplish the socialist revolution.’ (Works, Vol. IX, p. 410)

The combination of agrarian democratic and socialist tasks can be made in different ways which do not contradict the laws of ‘combined development’ and ‘permanent revolution’ but give it added, broad and rich confirmation. Of course, if on the eve of the revolution the capitalist farms make up only an insignificant minority in the agriculture, the main part being based on peasant farms, the first acts of the revolution will be accompanied by the establishment of relatively few collective farms, while it is the division of the large estates, church and government lands among the peasants which will play the decisive role. On the other hand in places where the large farm has a more decisive weight, the relation between the two different parts of the agrarian revolution will be different. Insofar as the class differentiation among the peasantry is yet undeveloped, and the antagonism between the peasantry as a whole and the feudal class is of decisive weight compared with the antagonism within the peasantry itself, the main class struggle of the agricultural proletariat and the poor peasants against the village bourgeoisie will reveal itself after the anti-feudal revolution. Two stages are therefore created: in the first, while the proletariat in the towns are smashing the rule of capital, in the country all the peasantry is smashing the feudal estate – often under the leadership of the kulaks – and in the second, the village proletariat directs its struggle against the village bourgeoisie. The difference between the democratic and socialist periods in the Russian revolution Lenin described thus:

‘First there was a movement, in conjunction with the entire peasantry, against the monarchy, against the landlords, against medievalism, and to that extent the revolution remained a bourgeois, a bourgeois-democratic one. Then it became a movement, in conjunction with the poorest peasantry, with the semi-proletariat, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the village rich, the village vultures and the speculators, and to that extent the revolution became a socialist one. To attempt to put artificially a Chinese wall between the two stages, and to separate them by any other factor than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and of its unity with the village poor, means completely to pervert and vulgarise Marxism and to replace it by liberalism. It means to smuggle through a reactionary defence of the bourgeoisie against the socialist proletariat, under the cloak of quasi-learned references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie as compared with medievalism.’ (The Proletarian Revolution and Kautsky the Renegade, London 1920, p. 92)

What will the relation between these two stages be in the revolution which will take place in the Arab East?

The unevenness in the levels of development of the agrarian relations in the different countries prevents us from giving one general answer as regards all of them.

In Egypt large estates exist which belong to giant, mainly foreign, companies. Very large semi-feudal and semi-capitalist farms also exist there. These facts constitute a powerful basis for the assumption that in the coming agrarian revolution the rise of collective farms will not be only rare, unusual occurrences, as in the Russian revolution.

In Palestine and Syria, because of their great backwardness, there will probably be no other alternative than to carry through in the main the division of the land (the feudal estates, state and Waqf property, and also their livestock and agricultural implements) among the peasants.

In Iraq the agrarian revolution must solve not the transitional problems of agriculture from capitalism to socialism, nor even in the main the transitional problems from feudalism to capitalism; here the central problem is the settlement of the Bedouin tribes, a task which can not be quickly, broadly and efficiently accomplished without the destruction of feudal fetters (rent, usury) on colonisation, without the division of the land of Iraq among all who want to cultivate it, and without a complete technical revolution in the sphere of irrigation – which is possible only on the basis of the planning of a workers’ state.

Owing to the fact that the Arab kulak is in many cases not only the employer of hired labour but also the usurer, it may be presumed that in the Arab East, and especially in Egypt and the relatively developed parts of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, the agrarian revolution will from the very beginning be directed not only against the feudal lords, but also against the kulaks.

<p. 199> And seeing that the banks are closely connected with agriculture, especially in Egypt, the agrarian revolution will be one of the main motive powers for the nationalisation of the banks. The total annulment of any debts of the poor and middle peasants and the creation of wide credit possibilities through the nationalised banks which will link up with the peasantry in a network of cooperatives, will be a most immediate and urgent task of the revolution, a task which oversteps the bounds of the agrarian revolution proper, i.e. the bounds of the change of land property relations, and passes over and intertwines with the socialisation of the credit and production system.

We may with complete certainty say that even if there are two distinct stages (democratic and socialist) in the future agrarian revolution in the Arab East, the distance between them will be smaller than in the Russian revolution, firstly because of the great weight of the latifundias belonging to foreign companies in Egyptian agriculture, and because of the great weight if Egypt among the Arab countries as a whole; secondly because of the fact that the revolution which will take place in the East, being part of the world revolution, will strengthen the alliance between the industrial proletariat and the rural poor much more than was the case in the Russian revolution, as the proletariat will have a tremendous implement for fortifying this alliance – electricity, tractors and other rationalised means of production that the rural poor need in order to build collective farms.

To these two factors, a third one, which is the result of the two, is the added: if from October 1917 to the middle of 1918 the kulaks played a great role in the agrarian revolution, it was not only because between them and the feudal order there was a great antagonism of interests, nor because the differentiation among the peasantry itself was not so deep and the kulaks had an influence over the lower layers of the peasantry, but also because the kulaks did not see all the implications which flow in the long run from the revolution – the consolidation of the rule of the proletariat and the struggle against the kulaks. In addition to the immediate economic ties of the kulaks in the Arab East with feudalism and foreign capital, another factor will drive them into the camp of the counter-revolutionary army – the direct connection between the agrarian revolution and the world socialist revolution. This connection will dispel any illusions the kulaks may harbour that they may become rulers of he countryside after the destruction of feudalism.

After the abolition of feudal property relations the alliance between the urban proletariat and the rural poor will be based on the common struggle for the construction of a socialist economy with large enterprises based on the most modern technical achievements, a struggle for the raising of the standard of life and culture in town and village and the annulment of the difference between them.

In Egypt, the most important country of the Arab East, a further factor will strengthen the connection between town and country: Egyptian agriculture, even with its backward technique, cannot exist without a centralised state, without a centralised system of control over irrigation. This will put a decisive card for the fusion of town and country in the hands of the Egyptian proletariat which will rise to power.

The alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry will be based on the class independence of the former from the influence of all classes of society – from the feudal class and the big bourgeoisie down to the petty bourgeoisie, included in which is the peasantry. It will be based on the support and expression that the proletariat will give to all the progressive needs of the peasantry, while waging a war to the death against the reactionary, anti-socialist, petty bourgeois tendencies within it.

If it is possible, despite the lack of clarity in the class relations among the different parts of the peasantry, despite cultural backwardness, dispersion and weakness, to mobilise the rural poor not only against feudalism, but also, after a short experience, for a struggle for the construction of large collective farms, then it will surely be possible to mobilise the middle peasantry for a struggle against the feudal landowners, and al least to neutralise them in the struggle of the proletariat against the kulaks and against kulak tendencies (which will never entirely disappear until socialist production rules completely), and for the construction of collective farms.

The independent class organisation of the rural proletariat as an inseparable part of the urban proletariat is the guarantee of the complete and <p. 200> uncompromising accomplishment of the agrarian, anti-feudal revolution, and the most rapid, least zigzagging transition to the tasks of the construction of a socialist economy in the countryside.

II. The Unity of the Arab Countries

Another central task resting upon the proletariat of the Arab East is that of uniting the Arab countries. We must make clear what place this task takes in the whole class struggle of the proletariat – what is the connection between it and the other revolutionary democratic and socialist tasks.

It appears as though this task contains a contradiction in itself. In the present order the establishment if a real unity of the Arab countries is impossible (because of the existence of imperialism and of the different dynastic interests, the weakness of economic connections between the Arab countries because of feudal backwardness and the rule of foreign capital over the key positions of the economy etc. In a socialist regime the whole globe will make up one economic and cultural unit – despite the diversity in the position of the different countries in this unity – just as a river passing through different countries gets different colours according to the local soil, but is nevertheless one river. Thus in capitalism the unity of the Arab countries is not possible. And in socialism the unity will grow beyond the national bounds of the Arab countries. If so, of what value is a slogan of unity of the Arab countries?

To this it may be answered that first of all, between the two orders – capitalism and socialism – there is a transitional period in which this slogan may have very great practical importance, as the dictatorship of the proletariat which will come into being in the Middle East will need to accomplish two contradictory but complementary tasks: the one – to bind the countries of the East to the other workers’ states, to arrange the international division of labour, to get material and cultural help from the proletariat of the more advanced countries; the other – to raise the peasantry out of their feudal backwardness and their localistic narrow-mindedness. It is clear that in order to accomplish the first task the establishment of one world state would be the most desirable. But on the other hand the accomplishment of the second task will be attained to a large extent via national channels: the fellah from the faraway village will learn firstly to change his local meagre dialect for the cultured Arab language. As a result of the clash and interpenetration of these two contradictory and complementary trends, it may be assumed that the world proletarian dictatorship will not adopt a supranational one-state form, but the form of a federation of national states. Only with the raising of the millions of peasants out of their extreme backwardness, which today cannot be accomplished except through the socialisation of production both in agriculture and industry, only with the abolition of the unevenness in the levels of development of the different countries by a gigantic uplift of the economy and culture in the countries of the East, can the federation give up its place to one supranational unit. This, however, will not be a state proper, as it will come into being with the decisive abolition of classes (the abolition of the peasantry as a class separate from the proletariat) and the abolition of competition between men over the distribution of the fruits of production. The federation of workers’ states therefore – the form of connection between the victorious proletariat of the developed countries and the proletariat of the East – assumes the existence of national units to some extent autonomous, and it assumes the existence of such units primarily in the Eastern countries. From this one sees the possibility and the practical value of the accomplishment of the unity of the Arab counties during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In addition to this, the slogan of the unity of the Arab counties has great strategic value during the period of the struggle for the establishment of a workers’ government. It serves as a means for recruiting the masses against imperialism and tumbling down the different dynasties and feudal and bourgeois statesmen who put stumbling blocks in the way of real unity.

Precisely because of this, every falsification of unity, every substitute for it which has the intention of exploiting it for aims fundamentally opposed to its very nature (such as the existing ‘Arab League’) must be fiercely fought against. If Bismarck accomplished the unity of Germany and thus the programme of the German bourgeoisie, this is not proof of the progressiveness of the Prussian Junkers, but an illustration of the reactionary character of the German bourgeoisie which instead of a struggle for the unity of Germany by a democratic revolution, reconciled itself with a ‘change from above’ carried through be the dynasty, a compromise with the reaction. The <p. 201> Arab bourgeoisie through weakness and dependence on foreign capital and imperialism is not capable not only of following the democratic revolutionary road after the example of the French bourgeoisie, but even of following that of the German bourgeoisie – leaving the feudal lord the reins of political power in exchange for his satisfying its profit interests. The feudal and Bedouin rulers are too weak and dependent on imperialism to produce a Bismarck or a Cavour from their midst. And so while in Germany and Italy unity came about on the basis of the reconciliation of the bourgeoisie with the most reactionary dynasties, in the Arab East ‘unity’ is realised in part by elements which have even less interest than the feudal lords in real political unity (the kings of semi-Bedouin states – Ibn Saud, Emir Abdullah, the King of Yemen) and is a unity in inverted commas only – without economic, without cultural unity. Such a ‘unity’ today means a British cordon sanitaire directed against the influence of France, USA and the USSR in this area. Arab socialists must therefore stubbornly express abhorrence of the ‘Arab League’ at whose head stand Ibn Saud and Farouk, and of similar ‘unity’ drives.

Instinctively the Arab workers already feel what the real character of the ‘Arab League’ is, even though as yet they have not drawn all the conclusions. The conference of the League in Alexandria therefore produced a negligible echo compared with the clashes with imperialism in Lebanon or Morocco. And it is clear that the glue of real unity of the Arab countries can only be the common struggle, common sacrifices and common victories of the masses in different countries.

When the revolutionary party poses the problem of unity it must connect it with the vital social interests of the masses. The unification of the trade unions of all the countries of the Middle East would give real content and a most solid basis to the struggle for the unity of the Arab counties. A general strike of the Egyptian workers would then produce a colossal echo of strikes throughout all the Arab countries etc.

It is clear that the more fervently the masses infuse a class content into the unity, the more ardently they turn the unity of the Arab countries into a springboard to their own interests, the more sure is its meaning to be not the levelling of the different Arab countries to conform with the most backward of them, but on the contrary, the raising of the masses in the backward regions to the standard of organisation, consciousness and class struggle of the proletariat in the most advanced regions, such a unity will obviously drive the feudal and bourgeois leaders into open antagonism.

Here we come to another problem: which countries must the Arab proletariat include in the union? Is a unification of all the Arabs in one state to be aspired to from Iraq up to Egypt and on through all the North African states (Tunis, Algeria, Morocco)?

The unevenness in the tempo of development of the different Arab countries which already began in the pre-capitalist economy – due to different historical and geographical factors – and which became much greater through imperialist exploitation accompanied by the disfigured forms of capitalist development springing from it – this unevenness will not be obliterated with the general strike or the first shot from the barricades. The struggle of the masses in the different countries will therefore begin at different stages in conformity with the difference in the degree of economic and cultural development, the class structure, the degree of consciousness and organisation of the proletariat etc.. The compass of Arab unity will therefore change, and in the days of the revolution, at a rapid pace. It may even be possible that, against the union of one chain of Arab countries in which the proletariat rules, a union of a second chain of reactionary countries might arise for some while. In any event it is essential that the proletariat in every Arab country should determine its stand to the question of unity not a priori, not simply for unity’s sake, but for unity of countries independent of imperialism – a unity directed against imperialism, against the Arab bourgeoisie and feudal lords. [1]

<p. 202>

III. The National Liberatory Struggle and the International Unity of the Proletariat

One of the decisive tasks confronting the proletariat of the colonial countries, one which intertwines with all the other tasks, is that of the struggle for national freedom, for the right of self-determination. This struggle is conducted in a period when the world is in transition from capitalism to socialism, from the national state to the world state, we thus find that there are two kinds of tasks imposed upon the colonial proletariat; on the one had – national liberation and the overcoming of feudal particularism; on the other hand – the establishment of the world federation of socialist states, a socialist task.

Insofar as the bonds between the colonial bourgeoisie and imperialism become closer, insofar as the class antagonisms, insofar as the interests of the feudal class in the colonies and imperialism coincide more and more so that the class struggle of the peasantry is identical with the national liberatory struggle – to that extent does the wall dividing the above two kinds of tasks become broken down.

It is clear that the more obstinate the struggle of the toiling Arabs or Indians becomes and also that of the English proletariat, against imperialism, the stronger will be the unity of Arab and British workers; for, in the first place, a basic condition for the social liberation of the English workers is the throwing off of the influence of chauvinism which is a vital weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie. We must remember that ‘no nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.’ Brotherhood is not possible except between equals, and certainly not between the subjugated and the free. The common struggle against the common enemy – imperialism – the struggle for the right of self-determination of the subjugated peoples, is a vital condition for the establishment of the true international unity of the proletariat of the ‘mother’ country and that of the colonial country.

A pretext against the war for freedom of the colonial peoples often put forward by the reformists in the ‘mother’ counties – a pretext the answer to which will clear up many important points and which I shall therefore dwell upon – is that the forces of production need larger and larger state units; the struggle for the separation of India or Egypt from England is intended to break up a large economic state unit in order to replace it by a smaller unit, ergo it is reactionary.

This way of arguing is false from its foundations. It is based on the substitution of the abstract for the concrete. A large economic unit in the abstract! As though the existing unit, imperialism, brings about a unity of the world economy with an all-embracing and multilateral development of all the countries, as though it does not unify the world economy only to a limited, unilateral degree, the degree to which it is necessary in the interests of the profits and greed of the big capitalists of the ‘mother’ country. The unity of the world economy – yes, this will be a vital necessity not only for the advanced socialist England, who, if closed within her national boundaries would choke and go hungry, not only for the advanced countries whose forces of production outgrow the framework of the national state, but also for a socialist Arab East, whose backwardness makes her dependent on external factors, who, in such backwardness would suffer severely if cut off from the world economy, if the world division of labour were abolished. But the wide, encompassing unity of the Arab East and England will not be possible without the all-sided development of the Arab East, without the liberation of the Arab East from imperialism. This is also the condition for overcoming feudal particularism in the Arab East and the establishment of a unified Arab economy. From the political standpoint too, the establishment of a real and stable unity of England and the Arab East is not possible except with the Arab East’s right of freedom, of secession from England. If no direct line leads from the unity of England with a socialist Arab East, this is due only to the unevenness, caused by imperialism, of the conditions of development of England and the Arab East.

Another pretext put forward against the liberatory struggle of the oppressed peoples runs like this: under conditions of capitalist imperialism the freedom of peoples is simply a fiction, as by different means (financial, military, etc.) the imperialist Powers make all peoples subservient to <p. 203> themselves, and the right of self-determination is thus a Utopia. Lenin’s forceful reply to this was:

‘the demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies, as advanced by all revolutionary Social-Democrats, is “impossible of achievement” under capitalism without a series of revolutions. This does not imply, however, that Social-Democracy must refrain from conducting an immediate and most determined struggle for all these demands – to refrain would merely be to the advantage of the bourgeoisie and reaction. On the contrary it implies that it is necessary to formulate and put forward all these demands, not in a reformist, but in a revolutionary way; not keeping within the framework of bourgeois legality, but by breaking through it; not by confining oneself to parliamentary speeches and verbal protests, but by drawing the mass into real action, by widening and fomenting the struggle for every kind of fundamental, democratic demand, right up to and including the direct onslaught of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, i.e. to the socialist revolution, which will expropriate the bourgeoisie.’ (Works, Vol. XIX, p. 49)

A revolutionary situation puts ideas, parties and personalities to a crucial test, every want of clarity reveals itself in brutal nakedness. No problem has caused to many headaches, and then resulting in a lack of sufficient clarification, as the national problem, especially when the national movement is not part of the general democratic movement but of the socialist movement. We must then clearly answer the question: what must the revolutionary movement do when there is antagonism between the right of self-determination of nations and the interests of the international proletariat? If the proletariat ruled in England and it were able to pass over the borders of the Arab East and thus help the Arab workers and peasants to free themselves from heir feudal and bourgeois exploiters, would it be permissible for the English proletariat to violate the ‘right of self-determination’ of the Arabs? Would the Arab proletariat be permitted, or perhaps even obliged, to invoke the aid of the British Red Army, assist it to enter the Arab East and thus violate the ‘right of self-determination’ of the inhabitants? Etc., etc.

These questions and many others which now appear purely theoretical will take on flesh and blood in the period of revolutionary upheavals to come. An answer to them is absolutely vital. An answer to all question of this kind was given by Lenin when he said:

‘The various demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not absolute, but a small part of the general democratic (now: general Socialist) world movement. Possibly, in individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchical intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement. But it would be ridiculous on these grounds to delete the demand for a republic from the programme of international Social-Democracy.’ (Works, vol. XIX, pp. 287–8)

In exactly the same way if the slogan of national freedom is simply a wall behind which the Egyptian bourgeoisie will hide to elude the influence of the proletarian revolution in England, and particularly if it becomes a screen for the penetration of American imperialism, for, let us say, the preparation of the aggression against a socialist England, then, if the English workers with the help of the Arab workers can possibly conquer the country, it is their duty so to do. [2]

<p. 204> The part is subordinate to the whole, and today, with the world as a whole in a process of transition to socialism, the decisive criterion for everything is – does it help or harm the transition?

Every democratic demand, including the right of national self-determination, is not absolute, but relative also for the bourgeoisie. The French bourgeoisie at the time of the Paris Commune doffed its national Sunday dress and proved that all the national governments were united against the proletariat. The Russian bourgeoisie displayed the same treachery at the time of the Russian revolution. Franco and Petain went the same way, giving clear proof that for them national freedom is subordinate to the interests of capitalist profits. The ease with which the bourgeoisie substituted a fascist framework for the democratic when the latter appeared insufficient for the defence of capitalist profits proves conclusively that for the bourgeoisie democratic demands are not absolute. Obviously this fact will not prevent the Arab bourgeoisie which betrays the fight for freedom against imperialism, from turning the slogan of ‘full national freedom’ into a central and absolute slogan when the English proletariat might be taking power in England. On the other hand this central and ‘absolute’ slogan will not prevent them from opening the frontiers of their country to American imperialism. Thus, insofar as the question has a relation to the English proletarian state, the demand of the Arab bourgeoisie for the right of self-determination will be absolute, and insofar as it has a relation to the world bourgeoisie it is relative.

The revolutionary proletariat in the colonies too must measure every matter, including that of national freedom, from the point of view of their class interests. If for the majority of the Arab workers this truth is yet unclear, if they do not yet fully understand that it is not they who must serve the struggle for national freedom but the struggle for national freedom which must serve their interests, this is because of the as yet narrow scale of the class struggle, because of the influence of the petty bourgeois ideology which sees in nationalism an absolute, abstract truth, unchanging with the change of historical circumstances. It is the fate of the petty bourgeoisie to be hurt both by the treachery of the big bourgeoisie in the struggle for national liberation and by the proletariat’s leaping forward into an international unity of toilers. Insofar as the class struggle in the world as a whole and in the Arab East in particular deepens, as the social and national clashes with imperialism increase, and as the revolution in Europe, including France and England, conquers, the Arab bourgeoisie will show itself up in its true colours. A period of world revolution means a period of tremendous upheavals, giant leaps and great swings. Every such swing, whether to left or right, will clearly reveal the Arab bourgeoisie’s relation to different problems, including that of national freedom. It will become clear to all that their nationalism is but the handmaiden of capitalist profit interests. This will facilitate the Arab workers’ freeing himself from the influence of the bourgeoisie, i.e. it will help him to subordinate the national liberatory struggle to the interests of the masses of toilers who constitute a decisive majority of the people.

If the English and French proletariat succeeds in taking power before the Arab proletariat (a very likely probability seeing that the revolutionary party and the class consciousness of the proletariat is much greater in Europe than in the Arab East) the withdrawal of the French and English armies and police forces will create exceptionally comfortable conditions for the militant activity of the colonial masses. At the same time the question as to who will be the owners of the enterprises that until now belonged to English and French capitalists and which constitute the overwhelming factor in the economy, will be the decisive question which will arouse great class struggles. The attempt of the Arab bourgeoisie to take control of these enterprises will arouse a huge wave of antagonism on the part of the Arab proletariat.

The more strikes of the Arab workers in enterprises of foreign capital and those of the local bourgeoisie spread today, the greater will be the difficulty tomorrow of the Arab bourgeoisie’s taking into its hands the enterprises of foreign capital which will be left without owners.

The more powerful the independent anti-imperialist struggle of the Arab proletariat today, the easier will it be to disclose the true face of the Arab bourgeoisie in its relation to nationalism, the easier will it be for it to pull off the lustre of national pathos, and the easier will it be for it, after the victory of the socialist revolution in England and Europe, to struggle for political and economic unity with the European proletariat.

<p. 205> The vast social and national gulf between the Arab workers and the foreign capitalist and the tremendous weight of foreign capital, makes the slogan of workers’ control of production in enterprises of foreign capital superfluous. And the fact that foreign capital relies on tremendous military power makes workers’ control even less capable of being carried out than it was in the October Revolution. The smashing of imperialism will therefore constitute an immediate step towards the expropriation of foreign capital, at the same time as which, or shortly after, will come the expropriation of the Arab bourgeoisie.

Practical experience alone will prove whether control of production in enterprises of local capital, especially where its weight is comparison with that of foreign enterprises is fairly substantial (e.g. in Syria), will be one of the tasks of the revolution in the Arab East.

Whether, and how long, the Arab proletariat delays in conquering power after the European proletariat does, will depend on the relation of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie on a world scale, and the extent of the organisation and consciousness of the Arab proletariat. A class position, and the exposition of the real interests behind every national slogan and every national activity, a struggle under the independent banner of the Arab proletariat – this is a basic condition for the establishment of a militant unity between it and the international proletariat during the time that imperialism rules and after its destruction.

IV. Defence of the Rights of National and Communal Minorities

Seeing that the number of communal and national minorities in the Arab East is large, no basic solution of the problem of the masses in this region is possible which does not include a solution of the minorities’ problem.

This too belongs to the category of revolutionary democratic tasks. The revolutionary rising bourgeoisie could afford to behave liberally with the minorities, to assimilate many of their members into its midst, open its gates for their free migration, tear down the walls of the Jewish ghetto and so forth. Today, the declining bourgeoisie is compelled to smash its idols of yesterday: the common law of the bourgeoisie in the developed countries today is on the one hand persecution of minorities, national segregation, Maidanek, and on the other strictly limited immigration laws. The bourgeoisie of the Arab countries, where only now capitalism is beginning to develop, also cannot furnish a radical solution to the question of minorities. For these countries too the solution of the revolutionary democratic task reaches over into the sphere of the socialist revolution. The reasons for this are clear.

Imperialism is the main factor retarding the broad all-sided economic development of the Arab countries, and therefore disturbing the complete abolition of the communal economic castes; it foments communal strife and contention and its existence excludes the existence of inter-communal peace.

The bourgeoisie of the Arab countries is not the antipodes of imperialism. Tied to feudalism and struggling for a place in the cracks left by imperialism it is incapable of overcoming the internal competition eating at its vitals, and primarily the communal competition. The same factor – fear of the proletarian revolution – which drove the German bourgeoisie to pursue a course of insane persecution of the Jews as a means of galvanising national unity in the German people, will tomorrow drive the Arab bourgeoisie to savage hatred of the minorities.

Only the revolutionary proletariat will be able to solve the problem of the minorities, firstly by maintaining inter-communal and international unity in all its institutions – the party, trade unions, sports clubs, etc., and secondly through the class struggle and socialism which opens up such broad and splendid economic, social and cultural vistas that communal and national competition will be entirely done away with.

Obviously, the minorities’ question is not independent of the whole social system, as it is not a juridical and abstract question. But a political administrative arrangement for he assurance of the interests of the minorities, and a struggle therefore is obliged to be an inseparable part of the programme of the proletarian party. For even though the proletarian class struggle and its child the proletarian revolution destroy the basis for the existence of communal and national differences, for the existence of that lack of faith <p. 206> and suspiciousness which today prevails among the members of the different communities, the very development of the class struggle and the revolution make it an imperative precondition that included in the aims of the revolutionary struggle there shall be such a political administrative arrangement which will extract the thorn from the question of majority and minority, safe guarding the minority from being a prey to clerical or chauvinist segregationist propaganda, and from being a plaything in the hands of imperialism. We must therefore include the following demands in the fighting programme of revolutionary socialism:

  1. The right of the people to receive instruction in their native tongue in schools established at the expense of the state and local government bodies, the right of every citizen to speak at assemblies in his native tongue, the use of the native language equally with the state language in all local, public and state institutions; the abolition of the obligatory state language.
  2. Local government on a broad scale; regional government in all localities where the population is specific in composition and distinguished by specific economic conditions of life, national composition of the population etc. (the minorities in Syria and Lebanon who occupy a continuous stretch of territory, the Jews of Palestine and the population of Sudan); the local population itself to decide in a democratic manner on the fixing of the territorial borders of the regional government; the abolition of all local and provincial authorities appointed by the state.
  3. The right of all nationalities forming part of the state, if they form a compact body with practically no Arab population – such as the Sudanese in Southern Sudan to the Kurds in Northern Iraq – freely to separate and to form independent states. The republic of the Arab people must attract other nations or peoples not by force but exclusively by their voluntary consent to the creation of a common state. The unity and fraternal alliance of the workers of all countries cannot be reconciled with the direct or indirect exercise of force against other nationalities. The right of secession of the non-Arab peoples from the Arab state is conditioned only by the independence of these regions, their non-transformation into colonies of imperialism as springboards for attempts to subjugate the Arab state.

Thus the right of secession of the minorities leads to the aim of the unity of the toilers without distinction of community and nation. For the right of the secession allowed the minority does not stand in contradiction to the propaganda and struggle for voluntary unity. And the right of secession itself is subordinate to one criterion alone: that it does not serve as a weapon on the hands of imperialism in its suppression of the masses of the majority as well as the minority.

V. Soviets and the Constituent Assembly

All the revolutionary democratic and socialist tasks discussed cannot be realised except by the masses of workers and peasants organised in broad organisations of struggle, i.e. Soviets. The Soviet is the only broad organisation which gives the maximum possibility for the activity of every worker and peasant, every factory and every village, and which enables the maximum decentralisation and centralisation to exist at one and the same time; it is the most suitable organisation for mobilising the masses of people at a time when they reach the height of revolutionary activity. It is clear that the smashing of imperialism, capitalism and feudalism is not possible without the organisation of the masses in Soviets. Only the government of the workers and peasants, only the government of soviets can rise upon the ruins of imperialism, capitalism and feudalism. If so, the questions may be asked; what is the relation between the struggle for workers’ power and the struggle for general democratic rights? Must the revolutionary socialist party see in every demand for parliament and for the constituent assembly only an illusory demand, a means of diverting the masses, which must be fought against with the slogan ‘all power to councils of workers and peasants’?

The experience of the October Revolution and the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky have given ample reply to these questions and it would have been superfluous to dwell on them had it not been for the confusion of ideas introduced by the Stalinists at the time of the Chinese revolution and afterwards, when this confusion brought with it severe defeats which the Stalinist leaders found necessary to cover up by obscuring the problems.

Bourgeois democracy is only formal, perverted and defective democracy, the main content of every constitution being in guns, and all the while that the bourgeoisie rules over the military and police apparatus and the state <p. 207> bureaucracy, and it controls all the wealth (and therefore also the press, the radio, etc.) true democracy cannot exist. Soviet rule is open dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, but at the same time it is true democracy for the masses of people. Soviet rule is both a high complementary stage of bourgeois democracy and also its negation, just as the proletariat is the heir and successor of [the] bourgeois revolutionary tradition and also its negation, raising it to a higher level and renewing its content and form.

The relation between the two kinds of democracy can differ much according to historical circumstances. In the period of the struggle against feudalism democratic demands constituted not only a petty bourgeois illusion which blurred the antagonisms with the insurrectionary people, but also a factor rousing the people to action, and placing them in basic contradiction to the feudal class. Only after the first blows of the masses of people against Louis XVI and the nobles did the masses of Parisian sans-culottes begin to organize in independent organs of their own. At the beginning of the French Revolution, the defence of the National Assembly, which gave no representation at all to the sans-culottes, was a revolutionary factor of prime importance. Only with the rise of the independent power and the strengthening of the organization of the sans-culottes, did the above state institution become obsolete. In like manner the slogan of the constituent assembly in Russia not only revealed the organizational immaturity of the masses who followed the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists who tail behind the bourgeoisie, but also revealed their very strong desire for struggle. Because of their insufficient experience of parliamentary institutions, the illusion entertained by the masses of Russian people, especially peasants, that the constituent assembly, being elected by the people, would naturally be a real servant of their interests, was still strong.

And so, even if the second condition is fulfilled and the proletariat is organized into soviets, armed and militant, the slogan of the constituent assembly does not yet fall away before the other condition is fulfilled – the recognition that it is superfluous. Lenin was the first to analyze this question fully, and he summarized the experience of the Bolsheviks in this question by saying:

‘That owing to a number of special conditions the urban working class and the soldiers and peasants in Russia in September–November 1917 were exceptionally well prepared for the acceptance of the Soviet system and for the dispersion of the most democratic bourgeois parliament is an absolutely incontestable and fully established historical fact. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly, but took part in the elections both before and after the conquest of political power by the proletariat …

‘… Participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic, and even after that victory, not only does no harm to the revolutionary proletariat, but actually makes it easier for it to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be dispersed; it facilitates success in dispersing them, and facilitates the process whereby bourgeois parliamentarism becomes “politically obsolete”.’ (Selected Works, Vol. X, pp. 100–1) [3]

In order to get rid of bourgeois parliamentarism the masses must outgrow it. In reality it is not essential for the masses to undergo much parliamentary experience in order to free themselves of illusions. In Russia, for example, a semi-parliament (the duma) existed for about ten years, and a full parliament for only one day. Under certain conditions it is very possible that any attempt at parliamentarism even of the most fragmentary kind may be skipped over. This is conditioned by the class relation of forces, not in one country alone, but on a world plane. Thus, for instance, if the proletariat in England were to smash the bourgeois state and establish Soviet rule, it is possible that the workers of Egypt might pass directly to a struggle for the disarmament of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, i.e. a struggle for Soviet rule; the Palestinian workers might do likewise: while the former would have had experience only of fragmentary parliamentarism, the latter would have had no experience of it whatsoever.

But just as the possibility that the proletariat whose trade unions and parties are illegal might, under special international conditions, pass over directly to the seizure of state power, does not cancel the necessity of the masses to struggle for legality in the framework of the existing regime, so the fact that under certain conditions it is possible for a colonial country to pass over directly from imperialist dictatorship to Soviet rule does not cancel the necessity, all the while that imperialism rules, to struggle to smash it and put the constituent assembly in its place.

<p. 208> In general, the struggle for democratic demands, when conducted with revolutionary proletarian methods, is not a brake on the revolution, but is a link in the chain or development of the permanent revolution.

The relative weight that must be given to transitional democratic demands and the connection between them and the conquest of power by the proletariat are conditioned by the concrete circumstances.

In the conditions of the countries of the Arab East today, before the masses have undertaken broad militant action, a revolutionary party must give relatively great weight in its agitation to the slogan of the democratic constituent assembly. In face of corruption, falsified elections, police pressure on electors, baiting of socialists etc., the main emphasis in the propaganda of the revolutionary party in Egypt, Palestine, Syria Lebanon and Iraq must today be on the necessity for democracy. But in order for the demand for democracy not to be merely abstract, it must be connected with certain activities of the masses: a struggle for freedom of association, freedom of assembly and of the press, as essential preconditions for the establishment of democracy. The same agitational slogan must be connected with the independence of the trade unions from the state and police bureaucracy. With the upsurge of a widespread wave of strikes, even if only economic, the relative weight if the slogan of the democratic constituent assembly and its place among the general slogans of struggle of the masses is liable to change. Then the Soviet is likely to appear as the organ of the masses for the leading of general strikes etc. Then perhaps the revolutionary party may call upon the masses to use Soviets as he organ of pressure on the existing parliament, or as an institution which will supervise elections to a new parliament, or which will even take upon itself different political administrative tasks such as defence from the police force or even its disarmament, supervision of food supply to the masses and so on. As a certain higher stage of development of the class struggle, the slogan of the constituent assembly may become connected with the demand for the division of the land, expropriation of foreign capital, the organisation of a popular army etc.. In all these demands, whatever the immediate aim of the mass struggle, if its realisation is bound up with the far-reaching revolutionary tasks, the form of organisation of the mass struggle will be the Soviet. Only at a higher stage of the development of the struggle, of the organisation and class consciousness of the masses organise in Soviets, can these, from being an organiser of struggle, become a form of state.

The concrete circumstances will determine if, and when, and in connection with what, the demand for one constituent assembly of all the Arab states must be put forward.

All the democratic slogans and the struggle of the revolutionary party for them will constitute links in the chain of the struggle for socialism only if the revolutionary party does not shut its eyes to two basic factors: firstly, only the masses organised in Soviets can realise the democratic demands with all their revolutionary content, and in this way outgrow them, and secondly, the democratic demands are not absolute and may change from being progressive to being reactionary, from being revolutionary to being counter-revolutionary. (Thus the very capitalists and feudal lords who today oppose the struggle of the masses for democratic parliaments, and especially for one democratic parliament of the whole Arab East, will shield behind parliamentary legality when the masses overgrown parliamentarism and struggle for Soviet power.) In such conditions strategic and tactical elasticity must go hand in hand with a rocklike firmness of principles. Only the subordination of strategy and tactics to principle can bring about a unity of all the partial actions, which will be a consistent chain leading to one aim – the seizure of power of the proletariat.


1. The class criterion will put the inhabitants of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and also perhaps the Iraqi Arabs, or at least its Bedouin sections, out of the sphere of the revolutionary union for a period. And if we consider the geographical distance of the north African countries from the countries of the Middle East, and the fact that the imperialist power subjugating the former is not the same as that subjugating most of the latter (the former – France, the latter – mainly England) we conclude that it is very possible that there will be an interval between the latter’s winning of independence and the formers’. In any event, the proletariat will not be at a loss among all the combinations and possibilities to find its way to the unity of the Arab countries, if it goes out from the actual reality and adopts a class criterion.

2. In order to avoid any misunderstanding we must clearly point out that one of the essential conditions to make the entry of the British Red Army into the Arab East possible and fruitful is the ripening of the class struggle in the Arab East and the clear consciousness of most of the Arab workers that there is need for the help of the Red Army, as otherwise the activity of the army is liable to fail precisely because of its putting an excellent weapon in the shape of propaganda for ‘National Unity’ into the hands of the Arab bourgeoisie and feudal lords (cf. the Experiment of Poland in 1920 when the Soviet Red Army marched on Warsaw). Our estimate is not based on the sanctifying of the principle of the ‘right of self-determination of nations’ but on an estimate of the class relations of forces. According to the basic doctrine of revolutionary strategy: revolutionary violence is not the child-bearer but only the midwife!

3. This quotation is from ‘Left-Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder, Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 31, Moscow 1974, pp. 59–60. (Editor’s note)

Last updated on 2.6.2011