Michel Pablo

The Arab Revolution


The current Arab revolution forms part of the colonial revolution that has been irresistibly developing since the last world war. This revolution, furthermore, is only one aspect of the accelerating and irremediable break-up of the capitalist regime, and consequently forms part of the proletarian revolution by which the end of the capitalist regime will be completed and the new socialist social order will begin.

The text contained in this pamphlet had as its purpose the opening of a discussion in the organized movement of the Fourth International on some fundamental aspects and problems of the Arab revolution as seen in its proletarian and socialist dynamic, i.e., independently of its present bourgeois-democratic stage, from the viewpoint both of immediate tasks to be accomplished and of its present leadership.

From this point of view, this text was conceived for a discussion among revolutionary Marxists familiar with the terms employed and the ideas developed therein. In order to render it clearer and more up-to-date, we think it useful in this preface to emphasize the following points:

The Idea of the Arab Nation

The notion of the Arab nation is based above all upon the criteria of language and historical formation, more than on geographic or economic unity. Given the diversity of the geographic limits and the historical peculiarities of the Arab world, the aspiration for Arab unity within the frame of a centralist state or of a federation is above all peculiar to the Arab revolutionary masses.

The Arab ruling classes are too heterogeneous, too bound up with local and regional interests, too marked by their particularist formation and their different links with imperialism, to blend without resistance, spontaneously and under their own impulse, into an organized Arab unity. Their present cleavages and oppositions are eloquently significant of the organic inability of the Arab ruling classes to attain Arab organic unity under their leadership.

From this point of view, the unity of the Arab nation will prove to be historically the exclusive result of the victory of the Arab revolution under proletarian leadership in its socialist stage. In the meantime, the particularist resistance of the Arab ruling classes, profiting by the regional attachments of the masses, will have to be faced.

These considerations do not at all have as their purpose any attenuation whatever of the historical reality of an Arab nation currently seeking its organic unity. They aim rather at emphasizing the fact that Arab national consciousness, as well as the aspiration for Arab unity, are characteristic above all of the Arab masses struggling against imperialism and its native allies, and that only these masses will be able to bring about the unity of the Arab nation.

The Problem of the Land and Agrarian Reform

Underdeveloped countries, the Arab lands are characterized by the predominance of an agricultural economy and a peasantry that is far the most numerous class in the population.

As a result of the facts that the decisive part of the cultivated land is in the hands either of feudalists (the Middle East) or of European settlers (the Maghreb), and that native small properties, whether individual or communal, are endangered by the competition of big properties exploited in a capitalist way and by lack of technical and financial aid from the state, the agrarian question in all these countries takes on capital importance.

For a radical solution it would be necessary not only that the lands (generally the best ones) of the feudalists and settlers be recuperated, but that the state should also take dispositions to help the peasants – as individuals or as organized in collectives – to keep up their lands, improve their output, and recuperate new lands by various public works. That is to say, there would be needed, in addition to a revolutionary agrarian reform, a revolutionary state, which could not be other than the workers’ and peasants’ state.

In the absence of such a social solution, bourgeois agrarian reforms could not have any result other than, in the best of cases, to replace the class of native feudalists or the settlers by a layer of rich peasants who would easily dominate those peasants devoid of sufficient land and of adequate technical and financial means to keep it up in a competitive market economy.

This last-mentioned form of agricultural economy, which is currently prevalent everywhere in the Arab countries, has as a further result an irrational utilization of land – a situation which, under the very unfavorable climatic conditions of the Arab countries, soon ends up in the sterilization of production over vast areas of land.

The social consequence thereof is the speeded-up impoverishment of great masses of the peasantry, aggravated by the continued population increase.

To maintain the existent land in a productive state, and to include therein other arable areas, requires a state able to provide such an effort for the benefit of the peasant masses.

We thus fall back once more on the imperious need for a truly popular state, that of the power of the workers and peasants.

Concerning the forms that the agrarian revolution may take on, our text emphasizes the profit that it would have to derive from the continuance of pre-capitalist communal customs in matters of land ownership in the Arab countries, which might in certain cases facilitate the adoption, right from the beginning, of measures of collectivization rather than individual parcelling out. But this does not at all obviate the capital importance of giving the land or a life-interest in it to those who really work it and to win their democratic consent to any measure planned in this field.


In order to back up the agricultural effort and to solve the question of the unemployment of the great masses of the Arab countries, the industrial development of these underdeveloped countries must naturally be speeded up. The question of industrialization is also conditioned by the nature of the social regime. Without statification of the surplus value which the imperialist and capitalist firms, oil companies and others, are extorting from the Arab masses, as well as the land rent of the feudalists and the big settler owners, the question of the large-scale industrialization of the Arab countries will naturally remain insoluble. And yet these countries possess immense power resources (petroleum, sunlight) which, together with the financial resources and the abundant labor power formed by the majority of their currently non-productive populations, could rapidly solve the question of their industrialization on a vast scale.

The Question of the National Bourgeoisie

The classic bourgeoisie of the Arab countries is of trading origin and formation. It has historically developed a special trait – very important for its attitude toward the agrarian question and its faculties for an effective struggle against imperialism and especially against the feudalists – its role as a usurer toward the peasants.

It is wrong to believe that the peasantry is the victim solely of the feudalists. The trading bourgeois of the towns exploit the Arab peasantry, composed of share-croppers and poor peasants, in a way which, although more subtle, remains no less rapacious – whence the fundamental opposition of these parasitical layers of the bourgeoisie to a genuine agrarian reform.

The revolutionary proletariat in the Arab countries will not be able to carry out properly its struggle for the completion of the revolution unless it takes into account this reactionary nature of the commercial bourgeoisie.

It is true, however, that, side-by-side with this classic bourgeoisie, there are developing at varying degrees some still limited strata of an industrial bourgeoisie, which is trying to shake off the tutelage, stifling for its own development, of imperialism and the feudalists.

With these strata, temporary alliances for precise goals, which do not alienate the autonomous objectives and policy of the class party of the proletariat and the poor peasants, are possible and indeed necessary. But this party must at no moment forget that the goal of the industrial bourgeoisie is not the extermination of imperialism but a coexploitation of the native masses, a coexploitation pushed in the best of cases to an overturn of the present relationship between foreign capital and native capital, in favor of the latter. Next, that the struggle of this bourgeoisie against the feudalists also cannot go beyond certain limits, for the feudalists keep up various economic relationships with this bourgeoisie, which furthermore, by its nature (because of its weakness), does not at all want to support a decisive fight against imperialism and against the feudalists, by basing itself (necessarily in this case) on the revolutionary masses.

The crime of the past and present policy of the Communist Parties consists, not in their seeking under certain circumstances an alliance with the colonial bourgeoisie, but in their idealizing it – which prevents defining the limits of its progressive action and hinders the autonomous class organization and policy of the proletariat.

The examples of Nasser’s Egypt and Kassem’s Iraq are in this connection highly instructive.

In both cases we are dealing with a revolution that is bourgeois-democratic from the viewpoint of the immediate tasks to be accomplished, led by political staffs of national officers who ideologically represent what can be called the Arab national bourgeoisie, i.e., the bourgeois strata which to a certain extent are opposed to imperialism and the feudalists.

These strata are generally those of the industrial bourgeoisie in the making. Both Nasser’s and Kassem’s regimes are, from the political viewpoint, Bonapartist regimes, of an unstable balance between the classes, while destined to cast their weight finally in favor of a single class.

In the case of Nasser, it is now clear that his Bonapartism is operating decisively in favor of the Egyptian industrial bourgeoisie. Furthermore, to the degree that the class struggle develops in Egypt and in the Arab world generally, and that the Nasser regime proves unable to solve the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the Arab revolution – viz. real independence from imperialism (with a real liquidation of all its economic after-effects), unification of the Arab nation, agrarian revolution, emancipation of women – the Nasser regime is turning against the masses and again drawing close to imperialism.

The true face of the Arab “national” bourgeoisie was unmasked on the occasion of the Iraqi revolution.

This revolution forms, at the present stage, the most advanced point of the Arab anti-imperialist and social revolution. Despite the fact that its official leadership is still assumed by a staff of “national” officers who would like to keep it within “Nasserist” (i.e., bourgeois-democratic) limits, the drive of the masses is infinitely more powerful than in the case of Egypt. This causes the Bonapartist character of Kassem’s regime to be far more strongly marked than Nasser’s, for Kassem does not have at his disposal a broad social base of his own.

In Iraq, because of the weakness of the industrial bourgeoisie, the hostility of the feudalists, and the successive purges of pro-Nasser elements in the army, Kassem has been seen to yield gradually to the pressure of the revolutionary masses, who form his real support against imperialism, Nasser, and domestic reaction. To the degree that the Iraqi revolution deepened, with creation by the masses of their own organs of dual power, including militias, and the increased politicisation of the expanding trade-union organizations, the social aspect of the revolution predominated over its initial national and anti-imperialist aspect.

These developments were far from pleasing to Nasser, hence his violent attacks against the Iraqi revolution and his spectacular anti-Communist and even anti-Soviet shift. This attitude, far from being accidental or personal, is in reality characteristic of the colonial bourgeoisie faced by the internal class struggle and the social problems of the revolution.

Khrushchev himself, disappointed and exasperated by Nasser’s anti-Communist and anti-Soviet attacks, was forced to stammer out a few elementary notions of revolutionary Marxist policy in the matter of the national bourgeoisie, but without drawing therefrom lasting conclusions defining a coherent line. Criticizing ‘nationalism”, i.e., the alliance, in colonial and dependent countries, of all classes, under the political leadership of the bourgeoisie, Khrushchev differentiates the struggle’s “anti-colonialist” phase, properly so called, from the social phase during which “the interests of different classes can possibly not coincide.” [1] “The attempts, by covering oneself with the banner of nationalism, to disregard the interests of the various layers of the population, and those of the workers, are inconsistent.” [1]

In reality the life-and-death struggle with the national bourgeoisie is inevitable in all cases where the revolution must be led from its anti-imperialist bourgeois-national phase up to its socialist proletarian social conclusion. The question is one, not of persons, but of classes.

From this point of view, it is not enough to criticize Nasser at a given moment, only to paint him in rosy colors at another moment, or to embrace Kassem, but to define a clear class line toward the colonial bourgeoisie which the Bonapartist regimes of both represent.

The now evident “betrayal” of Nasser was inevitable, inherent in the class nature of the colonial bourgeoisie confronted by the social deepening of the revolution. The “betrayal” of Kassem, to whom the favors of the Kremlin are now being given, is no less inevitable, in case the Iraqi Communist Party should prove unable to complete the revolution under its own leadership, backed by the country’s masses democratically organized in their committees, militias, and trade unions.

Kassem is only the super-Kerensky of the Iraqi revolution, i.e., the representative of a Bonapartist regime of an extreme fragility, which is trying to maintain a precarious balance between the revolutionary drive of the masses and the conservative and reactionary forces, still unable for the moment to go over to a counter-revolutionary offensive.

Under the rising pressure of the masses, Kassem is obliged to make progressive concessions, while resisting the social completion of the revolution and trying to stay within bourgeois limits. All the real gains of the masses – militias, trade-union organization, promises of a new emancipating status for women, etc. – are in reality the results of their struggles driving through Kassem’s resistance. His opposition to the legalization of the Communist Party and to the free political activity of the masses is in this connection significant of his limitations and class resistances.

At a later stage, in case of a retreat of the masses because of fatigue or disorientation the Kassem regime would try to annul some of these gains and to stabilize the bourgeois regime. [2]

The greatest danger now lying in wait for the Iraqi revolution is the Stalinist policy of the Iraqi CP. This party, the strongest of all the Arab Communist Parties, is at present torn between the tendency that is subject to the revolutionary pressure of its rank and file and of the masses, and the executive tendency that is docile to the Kremlin’s directives.

The former is instinctively seeking a class line, distrusting Kassem (and with good reason), and trying to base itself above all on the autonomous organization and action of the revolutionary masses. It is embodied, at the leadership level, by the party’s native cadres, who were formed in “the dungeons and the camps” of the old regime and remained steadily in contact with the masses. [3] But the dominant tendency in the leadership is represented by the hardened Stalinists formed in exile, in the USSR and the Popular Democracies, who subordinate the party’s autonomous class policy to the changing interests of Soviet diplomacy. It is this tendency that gives Kassem unconditional support, that paints his regime in bright colors, and that calls for the disastrous Menshevik policy of the revolution by stages, Iraq allegedly needing to pass through a whole period of bourgeois-democratic development before there ripen the economic and social conditions that permit visualising the possibility of the socialist revolution under the leadership of the proletariat.

In case this tendency proves more powerful than the revolutionary pressure of the masses, the Iraqi revolution will inevitably experience defeat, either in the form of an overthrow of the present regime by the concerted and unexpected action of foreign and domestic forces, pro-Nasser for example, or else by the stabilization of the Kassem regime on a bourgeois basis.

The hope of a progressive development of the revolution lies only in the masses’ revolutionary dynamism, which might under certain conditions push the Iraqi CP beyond the limited goals of Soviet diplomacy, and make it outline a revolutionary orientation toward power.

The Kremlin is interested in the Iraqi revolution only in connection with its foreign policy, where it is a matter of utilizing the Iraqi trump card to bring pressure on Nasser and the imperialists. By this pressure Nasser might be prevented from being integrated in the imperialist orbit, while imperialisms such as England, which have great interests in Iraq and in the Middle East, might show more understanding toward for example the European goals of Kremlin diplomacy.

In general, the Kremlin is at present seeking, not to develop the social dynamics of the Arab revolution and to help it to victory under proletarian leadership, but simply to win the favors of the colonial bourgeoisie and to draw it away from coalition with imperialism.

In this way, as against ephemeral successes on the diplomatic level, as the experiment with Nasser once more clearly demonstrates, the Kremlin sacrifices the fundamental interests of the colonial revolution, which would be able to triumph only under proletarian leadership, in an inevitable and necessary struggle against the national bourgeoisie.

The criminal embellishment of the national bourgeoisie by the Kremlin and the Communist Parties at its disposal, whether it is question on any occasion of Nasser or Kassem, of Sukarno or Nehru, of Fidel Castro [4], et al., is at present the most powerful brake on the progressive development of the colonial revolution.

Once more, we repeat, it is not a question, in colonial and dependent countries, of avoiding alliances with the national bourgeoisie to the extent that it engages in an effective struggle against imperialism and the feudalists. It is a matter of considering these alliances to be temporary, to make them about precise goals of common action, to maintain the complete organizational and political independence of the party of the proletariat, to avoid painting this bourgeoisie in glowing colors, to prepare the masses ideologically for the bourgeoisie’s inevitable turn against themselves as soon as they begin the struggle in the field of the social deepening of the revolution, its completion on the bourgeois-democratic level and its socialist development.

Social Revolution and Unity of the Arab Nation

The social development of the Iraqi revolution soon raised a new question: what attitude to take toward Arab unity under present conditions.

Where it is a question of Arab states of the same social regime, the imperative need of Arab unification in a centralized state or a federation must have priority over the political nature of the regime under which the process of unification is carried out. But where it is a question of Arab states of social regimes that are different or are becoming so, the imperative need of unification must be subordinated to the necessity of defending the social conquests of the revolution, its proletarian and socialist future.

To take a concrete example: in the case of relations between Iraq and the UAR, it is certainly necessary to take into account the fact that the Iraqi revolution currently constitutes the socially most advanced outpost of the Arab revolution, and that consequently its gains cannot be simply annulled by just simply putting it under the whip of Nasser’s reactionary dictatorial regime – and this allegedly in the name of the highest interests of Arab unification.

But the Iraqi Communist Party, now the fierce defender of the country’s independence, should have justified the temporary subordination of unification to the imperative needs of the development of the social revolution in Iraq on the basis of quite other arguments than those it is at present using. [5]

The Iraqi CP’s only justification for temporarily suspending unification with the UAR could in reality be only its determination to carry out the proletarian revolution in Iraq and to avoid compromising this process by subjecting it to Nasser’s reactionary regime, which Nasser, in case of unification, would spread throughout Iraq as well.

But instead of such an attitude, the Iraqi CP, nowise facing toward the perspective of the proletarian revolution, puts forward fallacious pretexts that compromise its cause and the communist cause among the Arab masses who ardently long for Arab unification: the so-called need of better guaranteeing the country’s economic (in reality, capitalist) development within the limits of Iraqi national independence, and the anti-democratic nature of Nasser’s regime.

We repeat: this last argument could be valid only if the Iraqi CP were setting up, as opposed to the unification demanded by Nasser, the need to complete the victory of the social – i.e., proletarian – revolution in Iraq. Otherwise, it is Nasser who is right in implicitly considering that, both social regimes being equal, it is unification that must take priority over the more or less democratic nature of the political regime.

The Algerian Revolution

If the Iraqi revolution constitutes at present the most advanced stage, socially and from the viewpoint of proletarian perspectives, of the Arab revolution, the Algerian revolution, at the other end of the Arab world, represents a no less important peculiarity of that revolution. In Iraq, the tone was set by the strength of the revolutionary movement of the masses and the presence of a Communist Party that has a real base and plays an important role in the revolutionary process. In Algeria, the lack of an important proletarian and communist movement is combined with an equally extreme weakness of the bourgeoisie and the resultant importance of the plebeian masses: poor peasants, agricultural and industrial workers, impoverished petty-bourgeoisie.

It is the cadres arisen from these masses and basing themselves upon them who are leading the present revolution under the banner of the FLN.

Despite the still essentially national-democratic slogans inscribed on that banner, the revolutionary strength of the plebeian mass movement in Algeria proves to be enormous and impressive. The Algerian people’s armed struggle has now been invincibly maintained for almost five years against the bulk of the military forces of one of the main imperialist powers of our century, which is trying with an unheard-of savagery to keep under its yoke Algeria, the key-country of its African colonial empire.

Never has the disproportion between the means utilised by imperialism and a small colonial country been so overwhelming; never has so broad-scale an attempt been made to exterminate physically the great masses of an oppressed people, in order to break its indomitable will to struggle. The atrocious colonial war of Algeria, which has unfortunately been going on up till now amid a shameless passivity on the part of the proletarian masses of France and of the so-called civilized capitalist countries, will be written down in history as the most sanguinary and infamous colonialist enterprise of imperialism before it finally leaves the stage.

Just the fact that under such unfavorable conditions the Algerian revolution, practically alone, continues the combat, growing more solid and profound, should be sufficient to justify not only the immense respect that the proletariat of Europe ought to feel toward its heroic Algerian brothers, spurring it to support them in their well-justified combat against imperialism, but also respect for the organization that began the revolution and was formed in the struggle itself, the FLN.

This organization, really a united front of diverse tendencies of Algerian opinion in the anti-imperialist struggle, is certainly not a homogeneous revolutionary party, and cannot within its present structure evolve toward such a party. But what is sure is that it includes all the valid revolutionary forces of the Algerian people, from which tomorrow there will emerge the cadres of the revolutionary Marxist tendency who will know how to lead the Algerian revolution to its complete victory.

The weaknesses which characterize and the dangers which lie in wait for the present leadership of the Algerian revolution should be neither covered up nor minimised. The lack of a precise doctrine, of a clear and precise programme, can lead the best-intentioned cadres of the revolution to become objectively servitors of a bourgeois, pro-imperialist, and anti-democratic cause, following the example of the Bourguibist leadership of the Tunisian revolution, or of the King of Morocco, of the Moroccan revolution.

The lack of a clear and radical social and political doctrine corresponding to the true interests of the peasants and workers who embody the Algerian nation in its struggle, means practising a policy that is in the final analysis bourgeois, with a future that will inevitably be “Bourguibist.”

The FLN would be unable to avoid such an evolution unless, starting right now, a coherent tendency within it should fight perseveringly to endow it with a precise and radical social and political programme and with a more definite and strict organizational structure that links it ideologically and organizationally to its militant base, especially the fighters and the Algerian masses of the interior, and their effective and permanent control.

It is of course not a question of fostering illusions about transforming the FLN in its present structure and entirety into a proletarian and socialist party. But what can and must be contemplated is transforming it into a transitional political formation by means of working up a definite programme and a structure that links it to its base and ensures that base’s control over it.

The programme must include a radical agrarian reform, the statification of the principal enterprises and means of production, the emancipation of women, the federation of the Maghreb and its confederation under certain conditions with the rest of the Arab nation of the Middle East, of Egypt, the Sudan, and Libya, the democratic structure of popular power (constituent assembly; people’s committees, which are already administering those parts of the country that are liberated or under de facto control).

Such control must include the transfer to Algeria itself of the principal organs of the revolutionary government and their attachment to the ranks of the fighters and the masses of the interior, while maintaining and developing delegations and various services abroad.

Only such political and organizational measures can effectively counteract the bureaucratic corruption of the leadership, fight against the trend to “Bourguibist” – i.e., pro-bourgeois and pro-imperialist – formations in the leadership, increase the flexibility of the organization of the revolution, deepen its close liaison with the masses, and inspire them with a new energy.

What is more, to the degree that the Algerian revolution makes clear its social and democratic aspect, it cannot fail to meet with an increasingly sympathetic echo among the popular masses of the other Arab countries, and even of European countries, including France, and its soldiers, workers and peasants in uniform.

The reactionary and barbarous enterprise of imperialism would appear in the eyes of the masses to be even more infamous as it struggles against the steadily deeper revolution of the Algerian people.

Even the conduct of the war, from the strictly military viewpoint, would prove to be modified by such measures, for the main strength of the Algerian combatants at the present stage lies in their mobility and their close fusion with the population. But whoever says mobility and close fusion with the masses is really saying social and political deepening of the revolution, rendering individual combatants conscious of their mission, and the masses conscious of the goals of the struggle and more and more involved in its victorious completion.

The possible generalization of the revolutionary war throughout the whole Maghreb would, furthermore, be enormously facilitated by such an orientation.

Naturally it is a question here only of suggestions for a programme, a tactic, an organization, whose more precise details must be worked out by the revolutionary Marxist tendency of the great Algerian revolution.

The Fourth International considers it its duty at present to help unconditionally and unreservedly this revolution as well as the colonial revolution in general.

Conscious of the terrible lag of the workers’ movement of the advanced capitalist countries in comparison to the colonial revolution, it realizes that, in order to bring together and weld the joint between the two branches of the world revolution, political propaganda is not enough. There are needed acts of real practical solidarity with the colonial masses in struggle, now in the vanguard of the revolutionary assault against imperialism and capitalism.

June 1959

* * *


1. Khrushchev statements on 17 March 1959.

2. After this preface was written and was being set in type, Kassem started a trial of strength with the Iraqi CP and the revolutionary masses.

He is now trying to suppress the militias once more, and is proceeding to purges and even arrests of revolutionary elements. Kassem in his turn is taking Nasser’s anti-Communist road.

“Paradoxically, General Kassem’s strongest asset in the present struggle for power,” writes the British ex-cabinet minister Anthony Nutting in the 28 June New York Herald Tribune “is that the Communists have built him up to a position from which they cannot now tear him down.” (My italics.)

3. For this tendency, “what matters is the radical and immediate transformation of the social and economic structure” of Iraq. “It is the one that demands the nationalization of enterprises, the sharing out of land, the hanging of traitors, the purge of the army and the administration. It is this tendency that worries General Kassem. And it is likely that it is against it that the government is – in the shadows – furbishing its arms.” (Study by E. Sablier in Le Monde of 28 May 1959.)

4. Fidel Castro is at present the latest “hero” discovered by the Communist Parties of Latin America, to whose regime they attribute the revolutionary gains of the Cuban masses. Fidel Castro, however, is only the Bonapartist representative of the bourgeoisie, who is undergoing the pressure of the masses and is forced to make them important concessions, against which his bourgeois teammates are already rising up, as has just been clearly shown by the opposition set going inside his own government against the – timid enough – agrarian reform.

5. As well as, for that matter, the other Arab Communist Parties, beginning with that of Syria, led by Bagdasche.

The Arab Revolution
Table of Contents
Pablo icon
Michel Pablo
Marx icon
Marxist Writers’

Updated on: 6 July 2020