Ted Grant

The Middle East (June 1967 EC statement)

Source: Internal Militant document, The Colonial Revolution, June 1974, pp. 24-29
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010

The unsettled problems of world capitalism; the continued ferment in the colonial world; the instability of world relations; the difficulties of even such a super-power as America, bogged down in the unpopular war in Vietnam; the subterranean forces leading to explosion over a period; sudden changes in class and national and international relations; all these are brought out by the crisis in the Middle East. This area, from the viewpoint of its world strategic position and as the main oil producing area of the world, with three-quarters of the world’s known reserves within its borders, is a vitally important one from the viewpoint of all the world powers, especially the two super powers of Russia and America.

Mostly desert, it is oil and strategic position which make it important in world relations, though with the knitting together in the modern epoch of productive forces, the shrinking of the world with modern transport, all areas of the globe interact one upon another.

Before the Second World War, the area was dominated mainly by British and French imperialism, through direct spheres of influences and colonies. That is why North Africa assumed an important, if entirely secondary front in the struggle between the forces of Anglo-American imperialism and those of German imperialism. France was pushed out of Syria, with the ‘aid’ of her ‘allies’, American and British imperialism, in the aftermath of the World War.

In Palestine, British imperialism, which had played the game of divide and rule by pitting Arabs against Jews, was forced out in 1948. The original intention had been to create a patchwork state of Arabs and Jews, so that Anglo-American imperialism could continue to play off one against the other. In the same way the division of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan strengthens imperialist and great power intervention on the sub-continent.

However, imperialism miscalculated. In the war which followed the withdrawal of the British Army, the forces of the Jews in Palestine defeated the feudal armies which strove to take over Palestine. One and a half million Arab peasants were forcibly expelled or fled as refugees to Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

British imperialism in the First World War had promised Palestine to both Arabs and Jews. They had encouraged Zionist settlement in the area. The outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe, especially in Nazi Germany, and murder of millions of Jews, resulted in the panacea of Zionism gaining support among large sections of the Jews, especially the refugees surviving in the concentration camps.

Thus the crime of anti-Semitism led to the crime of Zionism. The thrusting out of the Arabs was grist to the mill of the reactionaries in the Arab states. For the first time, anti-Jewish feeling appeared in the Arab world and was used by the feudal reaction to try and maintain its position. The immigration to Palestine during the last 20 years has been an immigration of mainly Oriental Jews (after the first wave of immigration from the West). Thus, the historical irony of the Jewish state.

However, from the first day of its creation, surrounded by hostile forces, Israel had to become a tool and bastion of imperialism in the Middle East. Not a viable state, it could only be maintained by ‘reparations’ from Germany, subsidies from American imperialism and the largesse of American, British and Western European Jewish millionaires. Every year there is an unfavourable balance of trade, which has only been made up by these subventions.

Meanwhile, the population of the state has grown to three millions by natural growth and immigration, with a majority of Arab Jews. Now the sources of immigration have dried up. With a world Jewish population of about 12 million, only 25% are in the state of Israel and thus the mirage of Zionism is shown. The real tragedy is that Israel has become a dependency of imperialism, especially American imperialism, on whose manoeuvres and policies the State of Israel depends for its very existence. Now it is compelled to feature as a secure base of imperialism, surrounded on three sides by Arab states, implacably hostile and determined to work for the destruction of the Jewish State.

All the countries of the Arab East have been in a state of turmoil since the end of the war. The poor showing of the Egyptian army in the first war against Israel and the rottenness and decadence of the Egyptian monarchy as a tool of British imperialism, led to a guerrilla war against the forces of British occupation, their evacuation and the fall of King Farouk. The Egyptian Republic, led by the army officer caste which wished to modernise Egypt soon shed the nominal figure of the overturn, General Neguib, [and] Nasser came to power with the support of the officer caste and the support of the workers and peasants.

Nasser, based on his popular support as bonapartist dictator, with the changed relationship of forces on a world scale, manoeuvred between the powers of East and West. In 1956 American diplomacy withdrew support for the gigantic Aswan Dam scheme and as a reprisal Nasser, having secured Russian Aid for the building of the Dam, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal.

Israel, in collusion with British and French imperialism, and at their direct instigation, launched an attack on Egypt. Assisted by the British and French navies and air forces, they defeated Egypt. But by the pressures of America, Russia and most other countries, France and Britain were compelled ingloriously to withdraw their forces from Egypt.

The concrete gain for Israel was the freeing of the port of Eiloth and the Gulf of Aquaba to Israeli shipping and supplies. Three million tons of oil from Iran and 250,000 tons of cargo pass through the port. Apparently American imperialism signed a secret treaty with Israel, on condition of withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai and the mouth of the Gulf of Aquaba, to guarantee freedom of shipping of the straits of Tiran and the Gulf. The ‘United Nations’ force was stationed between Egypt and Israel as a guardian of the peace.

There has been a coup d’état and counter coup in Iraq. But a great part of foreign assets have been nationalised. In Algeria, the Algerian people have won their war of independence against France and nationalised certain industries. But in Syria, where reaction and revolution succeeded each other in bewildering succession, and where for a time there was a union with Egypt, the Syrian bourgeoisie breaking away when Nasser nationalised certain industries, the process has gone further.

The Syrian officer caste has nationalised 80% of industry and taken over a great part of the land with the support of the workers and peasants. Syria is the first bonapartist workers’ state in the Middle East. Due to the instability of the regime, they have mobilised and supported the Palestine refugee army, in raids on Israel. At American imperialist instigation, the Israeli army was being prepared as a reprisal to march to Damascus and smash the Syrian bonapartist workers’ state. At the same time, American imperialist diplomacy, which is notoriously ham-handed, had demonstrated their displeasure at Nasser’s ‘manoeuvres’ with the Egyptian army fighting together with the Yemen Republicans against the Royalists, backed and armed by their Saudi-Arabian feudal client state. They withdrew their gift of wheat this year to feed Egypt’s teeming millions. Alas! The Soviet Union this year has a bumper surplus and at Nasser’s request supplied the necessary wheat!

Meanwhile, all the states of the Middle East have been armed to the teeth by America, Britain, France and Russia. It was impossible to stand by and see Syria destroyed by Israeli forces. Consequently, Nasser demanded the withdrawal of the UN forces and marched his troops to the border of Israel and re-occupied Sharm-el-Sheikh at the top of the Gulf. Proclaiming a holy war against Israel, he called for the mobilisation of the troops of all the Arab countries. On three sides, Israel was surrounded by armed Arab armies. Israel replied with counter-mobilisation add eventually by striking [the ] first blow.

Meanwhile, the feudal state of Jordan is in constant ferment. The Imam of Yemen has been overthrown and the Sultan of Morocco holds his throne precariously. Even the arch-reactionary ruler of Saudi-Arabia, the citadel of feudal reaction, sits uneasily on his throne. The Arab world has been split between the so-called traditionalists and the revolutionaries. While Russia has supplied arms and equipment to Egypt and Syria, America has also supplied Jordan and Saudi-Arabia and France supplied Israel. Britain and America have also supplied Israel and Jordan. Thus a large part of the resources of the area have been wasted on arms equipment. Libya has remained a feudal kingdom. Tunisia has become the most capitalist of the Arab states. Iraq and the Sudan have waged wars against their own national minorities, the Kurds and the Negroid tribes of the South Sudan. All the Arab states of the Middle East have manoeuvred one against the other, the only thing they have in common—the bonapartist revolutionary workers’ states of Syria, the bourgeois bonapartist states of Egypt and Algeria, the feudal regimes of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and all the other states of the Arab world—is a common hatred of the state of Israel.

They have been utterly incapable of even uniting into one federal state, the three states of the Maghreb: Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. The policy of the imperialists has been to play off one section against the other and to back different powers according to the shifting sands of power politics. French imperialism, which yesterday was the chief arms supplier of Israel while she waged war against the Algerian people, now arms the Algerians because of her supplies of oil from that region and has stood somewhat aloof from the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ in the present crisis.

China, which previously offered to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, is now competing with the Russian Stalinists in offering wheat and arms to Egypt. At its inception, the Russian Stalinists recognised the state of Israel, but then began an implacable propaganda war against the Zionist state as a tool of American imperialism.

The other Arab states were compelled to support the Egyptian initiative in announcing the blockade of the Gulf and marching troops to the Gaza frontier with Israel. Nasser announced a holy war and the destruction of Israel.

Especially the ‘sister state’ of Syria not only mobilised the army, but, the only Arab state to do so, announced the arming of 300,000 Syrian workers and peasants as a revolutionary militia, as they had previously mobilised this mass support at each attempt at counter-revolution or reaction.

The opportunist and cynical course of such bourgeois bonapartists as Nasser was shown when, without consulting the Syrians, his closest allies, he announced a treaty of alliance with King Hussein of Jordan, whom the Syrians and the Egyptian rulers had been seeking to overthrow. Together with Saudi Arabia, bastions of imperialism and reaction in the Middle East, Hussein and Feisal were regarded as mortal enemies.

Whatever the events which will follow, they will be more far-reaching in their effects than the Suez War of 1956. The imperialists find themselves in a dilemma. They have released forces beyond their control. Feverishly they are striving for a compromise. America and Britain have declared for the freedom of the seas and the international character of the straits of Tiran and Gulf of Aqaba. They have tried to reach a compromise allowing all other shipping except Israeli flag ships to use the straits of Tiran to reach the Israeli port of Eilath and the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Very few Israeli ships actually used the port, but the port of Eilath has assumed greater importance for the Israeli state. It by-passes the Suez Canal, to whose use Israeli ships have been barred. It gives access to important markets for exports and imports to Africa, Australia and other areas, which otherwise would be prohibitively costly. The Israeli capitalists have planned an extensive development of the resources and routes from the Port.

Now the great powers, especially America, have been placed in a quandary. Having incited the Israeli state against Syria, they desperately, sought to restrain the Zionist state from posing the problem of war. At the same time, they tried to force a compromise on Egypt, the leading and most important Arab state. French imperialism suggested a four-power conference of America, Russia, France and Britain. But the war in Vietnam made that impossible. In addition to which, China was ready to step in with supplies of arms to the Egyptians. France, the most zealous to attack in 1956, took up almost a neutral stand as between the Arab powers and Israel.

The threat of a blocking of the Suez Canal, and the destruction and withholding of Middle East oil, half of which is supplied to Western Europe, caused the imperialist powers to seek a solution. But they were faced with an irreconcilable problem. Israel mobilised almost its entire manpower. They could not maintain the position indefinitely.

It was this that was the basis of the desperate attack of the Israeli army and air force. The Egyptian army and the Jordanian army have been knocked out in a few days. The Israeli army occupies Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan, while in Egypt they seized the whole of the Sinai Peninsula down to Sharm el Sheik and the Suez Canal. The Israeli army thus waged a blitzkrieg against the armies of Egypt and Jordan. Taking advantage of shelling by Syrian guns on Israeli settlements on the border, they attacked Syria despite the acceptance of a ‘ceasefire’ resolution by the ‘Security Council’, which was accepted by Jordan, then Egypt and Syria. They turned to the original plan of campaign and marched into Syria towards Damascus, in order to bring down the Baath government. Had Syria remained undefeated, she could have become an example to the other Arab states. That is why the resignation of Nasser provoked such alarm among the Arab rulers. Despite disastrous defeat sustained by the Egyptian army, because he has remained the mouthpiece of Arab unity and carried many reforms in Egypt, while being regarded as anti-capitalist by the masses, spontaneous demonstrations have resulted in the withdrawal of the resignation of Nasser.

The leaving of their puppet to its fate by Britain and America did not prevent the outbreak of fierce anti-Anglo-American imperialist feelings among the masses. This was especially because of the story put out by Hussain and Nasser, of an air shield having been put [up] by the air forces of Britain and America, as an excuse for the devastating defeat suffered by their armed forces.

Thus the odium of their imperialist policies in the Middle East still fell on Anglo-American imperialism. Immediately the rulers of the oil states in the Arab East were compelled to announce an embargo on oil to Britain and America. Thus arose the position they were endeavouring to avoid, the closure of the Suez Canal, and the stopping of oil supplies, as in 1956, has nevertheless been a consequence of the war.

All the great powers have been doing a profitable business from the pouring in of arms to the area. They cannot reach an agreement. Consequently the British announcement of an embargo to all Middle East states was hurriedly withdrawn.

The victory of the Israeli forces was too decisive for the imperialist powers. Instead of weakening, as the imperialists had calculated, it has strengthened the Israeli position immensely. While remaining dependent on British and American imperialism, for the moment the Israeli state has secured a relative independence. The result has been entirely different than at the time of the Suez War, and more like that of the war in 1949.

The Israeli capitalists have been talking about securing “safe” and “strategic” frontiers. They have been demanding not only the use of the Gulf of Aqaba, but access also to the Suez Canal; not the “armistice” which has endured for nearly two decades, and in which there have been three wars, but a definite “peace treaty”. But a “peace” won in this way can only sow the seeds of a new war. It is no solution for the peoples of the Middle East. The example of Syria remains, and the arming of 300,000 workers and peasants remains a guarantee against a new reactionary coup in Syria. The advance into Syria by the Israeli army after ‘cease- fire’, probably with the connivance and support of Britain and America, was in the hope of bringing down the regime in Syria. It was intended to smash the Syrian army which remains intact, after the collapse of Jordan and Egypt.

Thus the trap of Zionism for the Jews in the Middle East still remains. These victories will only provoke further hatred among the masses of Arabs. But the rulers of the Arab countries cannot remain unscathed. It was only a few years after 1947 that there came the fall of Farouk. Now the process will be speeded up. All the Arab rulers need to tremble at the anger of the masses.

The Russian bureaucracy has played an opportunist role in the area, arming and inciting the decayed Arab rulers against Israel, in the hope of gaining strategic positions in opposition to American imperialism. Their policy, like that of the imperialists, temporarily lies in ruins—the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Israeli rulers, was a warning not to push their army too far into Syria for the purpose of provoking a reactionary coup, and the restoration of capitalism within that country.

Intervention in Syria was also intended to prevent a march of Syrian troops into Jordan, to support the Jordanian people against the puppet king. The Israelis apparently intend to try and prop up the throne of Hussain, as a semi-puppet of Israel as well as the imperialists! Nasser did not wage the war as a revolutionary war; on the contrary he was for the ‘unity’ of the Arab world, including Feisal and Hussain, whom he only yesterday denounced as feudal reactionary tyrants and agents of imperialism. Among the Arab masses in all these countries, there is an urge and yearning for unity. The splits between the Arab countries between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘modernists’ are irreparable. So too is the impossibility of capitalist-cum-feudal regimes solving the problems of their own countries, let alone the problem of Arab unity.

The whole area of the Middle East mirrors the problems of the colonial countries, even in an exaggerated form. All these states are composed of Arab people. What stands in the way of their unification are the vested interests of the capitalists, landlords and bureaucracy of all of them. The temporary unity in the face of Israel will collapse rapidly now that the war is over. Especially as the Arab armies have been defeated by the forces of a tiny state. Only Syria has armed its workers and peasants, as a guard against reaction. One of the advantages of the Israeli army was that it was a citizen army, with a fanatical morale in the face of the threat of destruction and slaughter.

The lessons of the war will gradually percolate among the Arab masses. There will be no era of stability within the area. The example of Syria will more and more have an effect on the masses, and even sections of the officer caste within the Arab countries. In the same way as Feisal fears the setting up of a Republican regime in the Yemen, for fear of the reaction on his own army and people, so all the states fear the example of the ‘Arab Socialism’ in Syria, on their peoples. Thus the perspective is one of greater upheavals and risings in the area. The struggle against British imperialism in Aden and against the sheiks in South Arabia is an indication of this process.

The projected withdrawal of British imperialism from Aden, and the hopelessness of propping up the puppet South Arabian Federation of tiny ‘kingdoms’ in the coming period, will soon be shown. The announcement in Parliament by George Brown that there would be no elections and that a British military presence would be maintained in Aden and South Arabia after independence, with aircraft carriers and troops was greeted with jubilation by the Tories, who were pressing for the propping up against the people of the unrepresentative sultans and sheiks. Duncan Sandys, on the extreme right wing of the Conservatives, exclaimed joyously that he thought that he heard himself speaking when the announcement was made! This betrayal of the elementary principles of self-determination by the Labour leaders provoked a swift reply. Arab officers and soldiers and even Arab police of the so-called “South Arabian Federation” have mutinied and fired on British troops. This even before the fake declaration of independence. Aden and South Arabian terrain, with mountains, caves and other shelter, provides a good position for guerrilla war and for making impotent British aircraft carriers and planes. Thus the position of Yemen will be repeated in this area. If it is not possible to maintain the power of the sheiks with British troops in Aden now, it will be even less possible by means of aircraft carriers after their withdrawal. British imperialism will suffer another costly and ignominious defeat.

The hold of imperialism in the area lies in the fact that they are the only market for oil, control the overwhelming majority of the tankers, supply arms to the area and own and control most of the oil wells. What should be a blessing to the area is its curse. Oil is the major raw material of the area; nearly all the countries are dependent upon it. Egypt and Syria have certain industries, such as cotton and textiles. But the whole area is weak and decaying in face of the might of imperialism; even at second remove, without direct domination by imperialist troops, the area is dominated economically by imperialism.

None of the problems of Israel or of the other countries has been settled by this war. The Middle East will become even more unstable than ever before, particularly as the rest of the colonial world remains in a state of crisis.

The hands of American imperialism were tied to a certain extent by commitments in the bloody war against the Vietnamese people. If they step up these commitments, they will have no strategic reserve for use against the peoples of Latin America or Africa in the inevitable revolts which loom ahead. That partly explains the policy of America, of Britain and of France. But above all, it was the question of oil which led them to leave their client state of Israel out on a limb. The limitedness of all these states, from royalist to bonapartist-republican, cannot be overcome by Nasser-ism or Pan-Arabism. Only the working class, leading the peasants to the construction of a democratic socialist federation of all Arab states, including Israel as an autonomous part and giving full rights for national minorities such as the Kurds in Iraq and the Negroid tribes in the Sudan, could solve the problem. In such a federation, the Palestine Arab refugees would have the full right to return to Palestine if they wished. Such a fraternal union of peoples would only be possible on a democratic socialist basis.

This in turn, considering the history of the area and the history of Europe since the degeneration of the Russian Revolution would be dependent on the development of the revolution in Europe—social revolution in a country of the West or political revolution in the East.

Meanwhile, one of the main aims of the Israeli invasion of Syria after an ostensible cease-fire was the destruction of the bonapartist Syrian workers’ state and the opening up of the possibility of a reactionary counter-revolutionary coup. The whole crisis in the Middle East was caused by the incitement of Israel by American imperialism to destroy the Syrian revolution.

The war is over, but the process of radicalisation and upsurge of the Arab masses, which since World War II in one country after another have taken the road of armed revolt, is just beginning. The effect of the Arab defeats can be entirely unexpected by the imperialists. All the reactionary rulers sit uneasily on their thrones. The weak Arab bourgeoisie and landlords can look with terror to the example of Syria. The whole Arab East will in the future become even more disturbed than in the past epoch. There can be a sharp swing to the left in social relations, even in such countries as Egypt and Algeria. In one way, the war has been a welcome diversion to the Zionists. Israel’s economy was in crisis. Immigration had dried up. There was an actual net emigration of thousands of European Jews among the most skilled sections. Unemployment reached the crisis proportion of 10% of the labour force. Strikes and a splitting of the nation on class lines were beginning. The wars and victories have temporarily cut across this process.

For the time being, the power balance in the Middle East has been upset. As with previous Zionist moves, persecutions of Jews in Aden, Morocco and Egypt have taken place. Thus the vicious circle is once again introduced in the Middle East.

The role of the United Nations as a forum for the great powers on whose decision and agreements it depends, has been completely exposed by the Arab-Israeli war. Its impotence has previously been shown in all the wars which have taken place since the Second World War. It was particularly emphasised by the Vietnam war, in which American imperialism has been bogged down. Once again, as with the Indo-Pakistan war, it has shown its incapacity to stop wars even among the minor powers like Egypt and Israel, where big power interests have been involved.

Each nation-state has its own vested interests. Thus, when Nasser demanded the withdrawal of the UNO ‘peace-keeping force’ which stood on the frontiers of Israel and Egypt, the Yugoslav and Indian allies of Egypt immediately withdrew their contingents. At the first threat of war the UNO troops were withdrawn. The ‘Security Council’ has been powerless because of the conflict of interests of American imperialism and the lesser great powers and the Soviet bureaucracy. The latter has used the propaganda trick often used by American imperialism in the past, and called for a meeting of the General Assembly of all the nations represented at UNO. But the Assembly can only ‘recommend’ decisions to the Security Council. Behind the scenes, efforts are being made for a horse-deal between the two super-powers, to include Vietnam as well as the Middle East.

Thus it is irrefutably demonstrated that only the greatest power of all—the power of political revolution in the East and social revolution in the West—can solve the problems facing mankind. The ‘United Nations’ is a snare to delude the working class of all countries. It is a meeting place of the representatives of all the gangster rulers. It cannot solve a single fundamental problem between the nations, but only secondary conflicts. If even the states of Eastern Europe cannot unite, despite the same social system based on the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism, because of the conflicting vested interests of the national bureaucrats, and if the imperialist states are riven with national contradictions, then the impotence of an international assembly based on nations split into class forces is obvious. The UNO has revealed itself as powerless as the League of Nations when faced with any serious conflict between the powers. Nowadays these interests extend to every part of the globe and thus conflicts of interest immediately affect the world powers.

Stalinist China, which has just exploded her first H-bomb, has been excluded from the UN up to the present time, because of American imperialist opposition. Meanwhile secret diplomatic talks between the American and Chinese ambassadors in Warsaw have been resumed. This demonstrates the hypocrisy of both the Chinese bureaucracy and of American imperialism.

Only the peoples of the world—in the first place, the working class—have common interests in the organisation of the resources of the world for the benefit of the peoples. But this can only take place with the overthrow of imperialism and of the Stalinist bureaucracies.

June 1967