S. Munier , Zionism and The Middle East – The Aftermath of the Jewish-Arab War (A Report from Israel), Fourth International, Vol.10 No.9, October 1949, pp.277-283.
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The course of events in the Middle East since the creation of the Jewish State over a year ago should shake two great illusions held by large sections of the international working class: (1) that imperialism was defeated by the creation of a new independent state in an anti-imperialist struggle; (2) that the existence of this Jewish State has a progressive influence on the working-class and the labor movement in the Arab countries of the Middle East.
It is important to make clear to every socialist in the world that without the support of Anglo-American imperialism the State of Israel could not have been founded.
Had not the US delegation to the UN influenced and bribed a certain number of delegations of small states, Haiti, Philippines and others; had not the US government allowed Israel, to be supplied with money and materials so it could pay in dollars for Czechoslovakian arms; had it not given the new state recognition within a few hours of its creation; had not the British army tolerated the opening of the road to Jerusalem by conquest and evacuation of the Arab villages along this road (on March 2, 1948, British troops joined the Hagana to break up an Arab block at Bab al Wad, then early in April it failed to intervene when military actions along the road began, then on April 6 the British brought some supply trains into the city, etc.); had the British army not come to the rescue of the Jewish settlements Dan and Kfar Szold in Upper Galilee on the 9th of January; and last but not least, had not the first truce which was imposed by the UN in June 1948 saved Jewish Jerusalem from starvation and military collapse – had not all this happened the State of Israel could not have come into being.
The aim of Anglo-American imperialism was to create a force which would play the same role in the framework of the Middle East as a whole that Zionism had played for 30 years in Palestine. As a focus for chauvinist hate it would serve to divert the revolutionary struggles of the Middle Eastern Arab masses from anti-imperialist into racial or religious channels. But since the balance of power (or perhaps rather the balance of impotence) between Arabs and Jews in Palestine had been disturbed by the development of the last year, and since a device had to be found to cope with the rising labor movement all over the Middle East, a new balance had to be created between a Jewish State and the Arab states which surrounded it.
Only in this light can the seemingly wavering policy of the US government be understood. On November 29, 1947, the UN Assembly adopted the resolution to partition Palestine and to create a Jewish State. The signal had been given: the next day fighting between Arabs and Jews began in Palestine. But something went wrong with the plan in its initial stage in most of the Arab countries: demonstrations were directed mainly against foreign companies and establishments, including the Soviet Union because of its support of partition, and the Communist Party, whose offices in Damascus were wrecked. Only where they ruled directly did the British succeed at the time in turning these riots against the Jewish minority, e.g., in the British Crown-Colony of Aden anti-partition demonstrators killed 75 Jews and wounded many more.
The fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine early in 1948 showed clearly that, on the Palestinian scale, the Jews were militarily stronger. The cause for Arab weakness was not only because of the feudal structure of Arab society in general, but also the reactionary Arab leadership which had deliberately prevented the growth of any mass movement similar to that of 1936-39 in fear of the working class which had emerged during World War II. The question was now: Will the Arab governments of the surrounding countries intervene?
On January 12, 1948, British diplomatic sources in London confirmed the report that Great Britain was supplying arms to Egypt, Iraq and Trans-Jordan according to “treaties,” but still the will and ability of these governments to invade Palestine remained doubtful. They needed new encouragement which came in the form of the American declaration at the UN in March 1948 renouncing partition and favoring trusteeship. This declaration, together with the conspicuous helplessness of the UN apparatus to implement its own decision, induced the governments of the Middle East to make a bid for the position of sole agent of Anglo-American imperialism in the Middle East to the exclusion of the Zionist leadership.
But in the course of their invasion, after May 15, when the Trans-Jordan Arab Legion threatened to defeat Jewish Jerusalem and the Egyptian army reached the southern Jewish colonies on the gateway to Tel Aviv, the first truce was imposed giving the Jews a needed respite to organize their army, to import weapons and to supply Jerusalem. The aim of the truce was to create a balance of power, not to create the opportunity for a decisive military victory of the Jews over the Arab armies. British officers continued to serve with the Arab Legion, and Egypt and Syria continued to buy arms in several European Marshall Plan countries.
New truces were imposed as the need arose to maintain this balance of power.
The last one was imposed when Israeli forces moved into Egyptian territory and threatened the annihilation of the whole Egyptian force in Palestine, whose collapse would have had serious social repercussions in Egypt. In the meantime the creation of the Arab refugee problem, together with quarrels over boundaries, resulted in enough tension between Israel and the Arab countries for American diplomacy to undertake the “pacification” of the Middle East for the time being by the conclusion of a “permanent truce” in Rhodes.
However, the creation of the State of Israel as a diversion for the Arab masses of the Middle East from the anti-imperialist struggle, was not the only gain for Anglo-American imperialism from the war and the new balance of power. An important by-product of last year’s events was the exhaustion of resources and reserves of almost all the Middle Eastern governments. Benefiting from the war-time prosperity of World War II, the Arab bourgeoisie all over the Middle East and especially in Egypt gained strength and resources, considerably improving their bargaining position vis-a-vis British imperialism.
Britain had to be very “generous”, as the Economist puts it, in its sterling agreement with Egypt. Egypt could afford to quit the sterling bloc and Syria the franc bloc. Although general economic trends (e.g., the new influx of imported goods which compete with the products of the newly established native industries) were the main cause for the end of the war-time boom, the Palestinian war played an important part in the disruption of government finances and the dwindling of state resources.
The reserve fund of the Egyptian government at the end of the financial year 1946-47 amounted to about 70 million Egyptian pounds. Financial circles in Egypt estimated the expenditure of the Palestinian war (which has to be covered by the reserve fund) at 30 million pounds. An additional 8 million pounds were voted by the Egyptian parliament for extraordinary military expenditure in April 1949. Together with drawings on the reserve fund for the so-called “5-year plan” (approximately 10 million pounds yearly), this fund will now be diminished by six-sevenths, i.e., it will have fallen to 10 million pounds.
No figures have been published about the expenditures of the Iraq government on the Palestinian war, but the deficit on the state budget for 1948-49 in consequence of this war, has been estimated at 15 million Iraqi dinars (pounds sterling). (The whole regular budget amounted to 25 million dinars including 10 million dinars ordinary expenditure on defense.) In Iraq the war caused a financial crisis which threatens the country with “economic chaos” as the Arab News Agency put it.
Syrian reserves had already been exhausted before 1949. In the financial year of 1949-50 the Syrian budget amounted to 129 million Syrian pounds (approximately 14.3 million pounds sterling). Syria’s expenditure on defense in the same year had been fixed at 39.5 million pounds sterling plus 15 million pounds sterling on internal security. But after the coup d’etat the new dictator increased the defense budget to the fantastic sum of 70 million pounds sterling, i.e., to more than half the budget which together with expenditures on internal security amounts to 65% of the budget.
Although Lebanon also had to increase its military expenditures tremendously, the main burden it had to assume from the Palestinian war was expenditures on Palestinian Arab refugees which amounted to more than half the Lebanese budget. The official figures given for the expenditure on the Trans-Jordan Arab Legion during the last year were 3.5 million pounds sterling. It was declared that these costs are to be met from the surplus of the coming years’ budgets; the entire budget of poor Trans-Jordan for this year amounts only to 2,430,000 pounds.
It goes without saying that the Arab governments of the Middle Eastern countries did all they could to shift the burden of these huge expenditures on their suppressed masses. Special taxes on essential consumer goods were introduced in several of the above-mentioned countries. But these alone were not enough to see the Arab feudals and bourgeoisie through their political adventure in Palestine, or to cure the financial ills of their states which had been aggravated by the war with Israel.
As a result, the Middle East has been swept by a new wave of international – mainly American – loans and investments reminiscent of the good old days of imperialist expansion in this part of the world. A special mission visited the Middle East on behalf of the International Bank to explore the possibilities of outlets for American capital in this region which, according to American sources, has become the main market along with Africa, for US capital investment.
The first item, of course, on the list of the new imperialist expansion is oil. The situation in Syria arising out of the Palestinian war finally convinced the ruling classes in this country that they need the royalties of the oil companies. In May 1949, the agreement with the Trans-Arabian Pipeline Co. was ratified after having been opposed by popular demonstrations and the Syrian parliament for many months. While new oil concessions are being offered to American companies, British companies are exploring the possibilities of investment in the Latakia harbor and the Euphrates water schemes. Other American oil companies are feverishly exploiting Egyptian oil resources on both shores of the Gulf of Suez, while at the same time American capital is not neglecting the possibilities of the iron industry near Assuan and development schemes of the Nile.
However, together with oil, the main channel of investment today is government loans through the International Bank or the Import-Export Bank of the US. Various sources have reported that Iraq is requesting a loan from the International Bank of between 48 million and 100 million dollars. At the same time, the Iraqian government is negotiating a loan from Britain of 15-20 million pounds sterling. According to a report of the Egyptian paper al Misri, Egypt has requested a loan of 15 million pounds from the International Bank. Israel, whose economy has been exhausted by the war and the new mass immigration at least as much as the Arab countries, has already been given a loan of 100 million dollars by the US. Thus the Palestinian war has created an atmosphere conducive to this new wave of imperialist penetration.
At the same time, the bourgeoisie of the Arab countries has lost many of the strong positions it gained during World War II. The large accumulation of capital resulting from the military expenditures of the allies, the absence of competition from foreign goods, and the decline of British imperialism generally, tremendously strengthened the bargaining position of the Arab bourgeoisie, especially Egypt, in relation to British imperialism. One of the indications of this process, for instance, was the promulgation of the Egyptian Company Law which went into effect on November 4, 1947. According to this law at least 40% of the directors of any Egyptian joint stock company must be Egyptians; the number of Egyptian employees not less than 75% and their total compensation not less than 65%; and the total of Egyptian workers shall not be less than 90% and their total compensation not less than 80%. Firms were given three years’ grace to bring their percentage of Egyptians employed up to the prescribed level. Moreover, at least 51% of the shares of new joint stock companies and of new capital investment were to be earmarked for Egyptians.
However, the first trial of strength showed the inability of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to implement the new law. When the Suez Canal company defied the law, a special agreement was signed between this company and the Egyptian government on March 7, 1949, according to which Egypt gets only 5 instead of 11 new seats on the board of directors (of the 32 directors at present only two are Egyptians) and that not in the course of three but of fifteen years! The strengthening of the Egyptian element among the employees is mentioned only in general terms, percentages being fixed only for new employees without specifying any time limit. Nothing is said in the agreement about the share of Egyptians in new capital investment. Mr. Tuck, formerly US Ambassador to Egypt, became a member of the Board of Directors of the Suez Canal Company.
Thus the domination of the Egyptian and other Middle Eastern companies by foreign capital has been enormously strengthened during the last year while the native bourgeoisie has been unable to make any serious move in the direction of creating the necessary base for an independent national economy.
Facilitating the new wave of economic penetration, the Palestinian war has also aided the imperialist powers by strengthening their political position in the Arab East. The general surge of chauvinism created by this war has been very useful in diverting the anti-imperialist mood of the Arab masses all over the Middle East against the Jewish and other minorities in these countries. Hanging of Jews in Iraq and death sentences for those who fled the country, persecution of the Jewish communities of Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, the confinement of many Egyptian Jews to concentration camps and confiscation of their property – all this created a suitable atmosphere for imperialism to carry out its political schemes.
The failure of the Security Council of the UN in September 1947 to concede the Egyptian case provoked huge demonstrations involving, among others, the workers and employees of the Egyptian Army Workshop. But a year later, in October 1948, no reaction whatsoever followed the British declaration that “in view of the international situation” Britain was not prepared to withdraw troops from Egypt in keeping with its own commitments. On the contrary, the feudal clique governing Egypt by military dictatorship was able to retain office during all this time without even trying to win the support of the masses by promising to ameliorate their social plight or to free Egypt from imperialist domination – such promises were made by the more bourgeois Wafd party. Instead the attention of the masses was diverted to terrorist attacks against non-Egyptian minorities. Under such circumstances the government was even able to speak about the revival of the Bevin-Sidqi pact which Egypt could not sign in 1946 because of serious danger of revolution.
But it was further south where British imperialism dealt its main blow. Under the cover of the Palestinian war Britain rapidly consummated the final separation of the Sudan from Egypt and the installation of a separate so-called “Legislative Assembly,” in the Sudan consisting mainly of pro-British tribal chiefs appointed by the British Governor. The “assembly” is devoid of any power except that of agreeing, ex post facto, to all steps taken by the Governor; it is not even allowed to propose changes in the budget. No action was taken by Egypt when the so-called “elections” to this assembly were held on November 15, 1948, or after it met early in 1949, except for a dissenting statement by the Egyptian government. In the meantime, the Egyptian bourgeoisie is trying to come to terms with Britain in order to obtain some share in the exploitation of the Sudan. It fears the cooperation of the Sudanese anti-imperialist, national and labor movement, which grew immensely in the recent months, with an anti-imperialist movement of the Egyptian workers.
A similar development has taken place during the last year in Iraq. Only a year and a half ago, in January 1948 huge mass demonstrations of workers and students followed the conclusion of the Treaty of Portsmouth between Bevin and the pro-British Iraqi premier Saleh Jabr, confirming the right of Britain to use Iraq as a military base to protect its interests in the Middle. East. After a week, of demonstrations the Iraqi regent was obliged to denounce the treaty, and another week of violent mass movements forced the resignation of Saleh Jabr who fled the country. New demonstrations broke out against the British-Trans-Jordan Treaty of Alliance concluded in March 1948.
One year of war in Palestine, however, sufficed to alter this situation to enable Britain to regain her dominating position in Iraqi politics. Beginning with October 1948, pro-British Iraqi politicians penetrated again, one by one, into Iraqian cabinets, among them Shaker al-Wadi (who had signed the Portsmouth Treaty as defense minister). New demonstrations were now violently suppressed. The process culminated with the selection, on January 6, 1949, as premier of Iraq, of Nuri Pasha Said, the agent par excellence of British imperialism in the Middle East.
The course of events in Egypt and Iraq during the last year shows clearly how dependent the feudal and bourgeois classes of the Arab East have become on imperialist help and support. The Palestinian war was ample proof for these classes of the necessity of an alliance with imperialism. Yet events have demonstrated not only that these classes are incapable of leading any fight against imperialism for the independence of their countries, but also their complete impotence in overcoming the feudalistic particularistic tendencies prevailing in the Middle East. The Arab League created by British imperialism mainly for the purpose of concentrating the attention of the Middle Eastern masses on the problem of Palestine, was not even able to coordinate military operations in the Palestinian war. In the end each front collapsed separately, and open rifts arose between the Egyptian and the Hashemite blocs.
Moreover, in the course of the last year and a half, complete separation between Syria and the Lebanon occurred, the borders were closed and customs walls erected, the Lebanon remaining within the franc bloc and Syria quitting it. (It should be remembered that even at the time of French rule in these countries, which fostered separation and quarrels, economic unity between them had always been maintained.) If we add the creation of the new dwarf state of Israel the picture of the Balkanization of the Middle East becomes complete. Imperialism has succeeded in erecting boundaries to prevent contact between the labor movement of the different countries of the Arab East on the one hand and in order to create blocs according to need, on the other hand.
It would be futile to deny that the period of the last year, from May 1948 to May 1949, has been a period of stagnation of the labor movement in the Arab East, except perhaps for some countries on the fringe of the Arab states like the Sudan (where strong trade unions came into being and took part in the political struggle of the Sudanese anti-imperialist movement) or Cyprus which had little connection with the Arab countries and less with the Palestinian war. This stagnation was only natural in face of the creation of Israel, the war and the chauvinistic atmosphere connected with it. Nevertheless, the Arab working class in the Middle East has not been defeated in a decisive struggle and is, therefore, capable of drawing the lessons of last year’s events.
In one place of the Middle East, however, changes have occurred which are comparable to a major defeat of the working class, and that is in Palestine itself. The mass flight of the Arabs from Haifa, the center of the Palestinian working class (oil refineries, railway workshops, etc.), and from Jaffa and the rest of the coastal plain, brought with it the complete annihilation of the Arab working class of Palestine (together, by the way, with the annihilation of all the progressive capitalist development of parts of the Arab society in Palestine). The cooperation of Jewish with Arab workers in Haifa during the big strikes of government workers and employees in the spring of 1946, or during the strike in the oil refineries early in 1947, transcended the local arena in its importance. The barrier between Jewish and Arab workers built by imperialism, Zionism and Arab reaction, which had been broken from time to time as, e.g., by the above-mentioned strikes, has now been fortified by political boundaries between belligerent or at least rival states, excluding the physical contact between Jewish and Arab workers.
In the other countries of the Middle East as well the Palestinian war left its marks. In Egypt the labor movement never again reached the climax of February 1946, when for some days the Workers’ and Students’ Committee dominated the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Nevertheless, new big strikes and struggles were still to come. In September 1947, for instance, a strike was declared at the big textile factory in Mehalla al-Kubra where about 30,000 workers are employed. The strike led to armed clashes with the police. On April 5, 1948, however, it was the police force itself which went on strike, demanding improvement of its working conditions. In the strike in Alexandria thousands of workers left the factories and organized a huge demonstration which was joined by the striking policemen, part of whom were armed. It took the Egyptian army two days to restore order after martial law had been declared. It should be stressed that this strike was only the culmination of a whole series of strikes and disputes at oil companies, textile factories, sugar mills and transport companies (i.e., the Suez Canal Co.) which broke out in March and April, 1948.
One month later, however, in May 1948, the invasion into Palestine began and martial law was declared. A new drive was launched against independent trade union activity and arrests of workers and left-wing intellectuals followed. Huge concentration camps were erected for all who had communist records, one of them at al-Tor-the place of exile for criminals famous for its high rate of mortality! Thus the Palestinian war brought with it a slowdown of working class trade union and political activity because of police repression and martial law which was extended in May 1949 for a full year after the cessation of hostilities. Moreover, the Egyptian government and ruling classes, who have always tried to convince the Egyptian masses that communism is a movement of non-Egyptian minorities living in Egypt, now made the attempt to connect it with Israeli and Zionist espionage.
Yet in Egypt, unlike some other countries, the attempt to concentrate the attention of the masses on the Palestinian war and the Zionist danger has to a large degree failed. Welcome as this fact is for future struggles of the Egyptian working class, it was partly the consequence of a certain apathy on the part of organized labor in Egypt toward the labor movement in the other Arab countries because of the failure of, Stalinist trade union leaders to coordinate the organization and struggles of organized labor all over the Middle East.
The crusade against the working class and the labor movement swept Syria and Iraq as well. All trade unions not connected with the government were ruthlessly suppressed and many of their leaders arrested. Two weeks alter the UN resolution on partition of Palestine the Communist (Stalinist) Party of Syria was outlawed. In Iraq there followed a series of executions of leaders and members of the illegal Stalinist organization. Even in the Lebanon, where the Stalinists had been allowed a larger degree of freedom, Mustafa al-Aris, one of their leaders and the representative of the Middle Eastern trade Unions in the WFTU was arrested on November 19, 1948.
Yet while the working class in Egypt underwent only a certain stagnation in its activity because of police suppression, in Syria and Iraq the labor movement suffered a considerable moral setback. One of the main reasons for this was the support given by the Soviet bureaucracy to the partition of Palestine at the UN. The Syrian ruling classes succeeded in inducing the demonstrators against partition on December 1, 1947, the day after the decision was made, to attack Stalinist headquarters in Damascus. The Syrian and Iraqian Stalinists, who always had been the most ardent opponents of partition, connecting it, not unreasonably, with the whole imperialist scheme of enslavement of the Middle East (pointing to the fact that partition goes hand in hand with the Greater Syria Scheme), ceased their opposition overnight because of the Russian position and made one of their famous 180 degree turns. A few years ago, the Stalinists were engaged in forming common committees with feudal and chauvinistic parties in Iraq, Syria and Palestine to fight partition and Zionism. Thus it was not too difficult for the ruling reactionary governments of Syria and Iraq to identify communism with Zionism in the eyes of the masses; adding a moral defeat to police suppression. Stalinism was deserted by many of its prominent leaders in Syria, the Lebanon, Iraq and the Arab parts of Palestine, who went over to the camp of the ruling class reaction.
Moreover, in Syria and Iraq the ruling feudal agents of imperialism succeeded to a certain degree in infecting the politically conscious masses of the towns with their chauvinist poison. The demonstrations in Baghdad, for instance, which denounced the reintroduction of the pro-British politicians into the Iraqian cabinet, did not voice any opposition to the Palestinian adventure of the Iraqian army but on the contrary called for the continuation of the war against the Jews. One factor strengthening this trend of chauvinism was that, unlike the Egyptian army, neither the Syrian nor the Iraqian army suffered a major defeat on the Palestinian battlefield. Thus the recovery of the Syrian and Iraqian labor movements may be more difficult and painful than that of the Egyptians.
The events in the Middle East during the last two years, the fate of the Stalinist parties in this part of the world, and the turn in the policies of these parties which occurred since Russia changed her attitude toward the various trends in Middle Eastern politics, prove only too clearly the total bankruptcy of the Stalinist program pursued for more than a decade and a half in the Arab countries. In accordance with their world policy, the Stalinists in the Arab East refrained from any independent working class policy, flattered the feudal and bourgeois nationalist leaders, tried to form “popular fronts” with them and preached “national unity.” Examples of how the Arab Stalinists omitted socialism from their program, how they even renounced the demand to divide the feudal estates, how they opposed strikes in “national establishments,” how “national unity” became their main aim would fill a book. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the attitude of the Arab Stalinists toward the two forces which played the main role in the Arab East in carrying out the imperialist plan to incite the Palestinian war: the Palestinian Arab leadership and the Arab League.
The attempt to induce the reactionary feudal Palestinian Arab leadership into a “national unity” alliance with the Stalinist organization, the “League for National Freedom,” was the basic line of policy of the Palestinian Arab Stalinists. (At the same time the Jewish Stalinists kept their own separate organization, the “Communist Party of Palestine,” under the Zionist blue and white flag.) When the party of the Mufti, the so-called “Arab Party,” officially resumed activity after the war, the secretary of the Stalinist “League” sent them the following telegram: “The League for National Freedom in Palestine sends you its congratulations on your decision to resume activity by your national party and we believe that this decision will help us all in the unification of the efforts to serve our dear fatherland” (al-Ittihad, No.1).
In order not to do them an injustice, however, we should report that the Stalinists supported others besides the most reactionary exponents of feudal interests in Palestine, the party of the Mufti. When Mussa al-Alami, who later became the leader of a somewhat more urban opposition to the Mufti party, was named representative of the Palestinian Arabs in the parleys for the formation of the Arab League, the Stalinist organ wrote: “The Arab people in Palestine see in the election of Mussa al-Alami as its representative at these talks a first step, and a big step, in the direction of national unity in Palestine.” (al-Ittihad, No.21.) (Today al-Alami is the mouthpiece of Britain and King Abdullah – S.M.)
The Stalinist attitude toward the Arab League was no better. After it had been formed, the Egyptian Stalinists wrote in their paper, al-Fagr al-Gadid May 16, 1945):
“The Arab League ... constitutes a support to the dominating world trend of this epoch which signifies the struggle against fascist imperialism ... The Arab League does not restrict the sovereign national rights of its members. It guarantees these rights and strengthens them and defends them against any violation. Moreover, it works for the achievement of the national rights of the member nations and fulfills their hopes for freedom and independence. There can be no doubt that the Arab League will succeed to achieve this aim as long as its policy is based on connecting the Arab national cause with the general international situation, and as long as it believes that history pushes forcefully forward towards the strengthening of peoples’ freedoms and the fortification of their national rights ...”
With such a policy, there can be no doubt that the Stalinists of the Arab East did their share in strengthening the prestige of those leaders who on the Arab side were responsible for carrying out the imperialist plan of racial war and working class suppression in the Middle East.
With the change of attitude of Russian foreign policy, the Arab Stalinists immediately followed suit. A leaflet published early in April 1949, and signed by the Stalinist parties of some Middle Eastern countries, stated: “The Palestinian war has proved beyond discussion that the ‘Arab League’ is only a tool in the hand of imperialism, a den of betrayal and intrigues against the Arab peoples.” It seems that, more than anything else, the Arab League betrayed Stalinist illusions. Nevertheless, the same leaflet still speaks about “national unity” and a “popular front,” although apparently the new partner to betray the new illusions has not been decided on.
On the Palestinian arena the turn was even sharper. The same Arab Stalinists, who had hailed the Mufti party and Mussa al-Alami, now merged – inside the State of Israel – with the Jewish Stalinist party and joined the Jewish Stalinists in hailing and praising the establishment of this state. Their common program for the elections to the Jewish parliament began with the words: “From suppression we have emerged to freedom!” All that was lacking was an open repudiation of their former policy. But this was soon remedied in an Arabic pamphlet published in September 1948, Why must we fight for Arab State in Palestine (in accordance with the UN resolution on partition):
“We ourselves have a share in the responsibility (for the catastrophe of Arab society in Palestine) because of the mistake in our policy of national unity. Our demand for complete national unity comprising the leadership of the national movement together with sincere national elements was in reality a cover for the treason of this leadership. Our duty should have been to uncover its real character before the masses with explicitness and courage in order to remove it from leading the people and to prevent it from carrying out its abominable crimes.”
How right – but how belated! Yet the old betrayed love affair was to come to an end only for a new one to begin – the signs are already discernible. When the Israeli army took the Egyptian village Abu-Ageila in December 1948, it came upon an Egyptian concentration camp full of Arab Stalinists from Hebron, Gaza, and other places which had been occupied by the Egyptian army. Although they had been interned for opposing the war, they were not set free but were transferred at once to an Israeli concentration camp where they remain interned to this day.
As we have seen, the Palestinian war was a further step in the direction of the Balkanization of the Middle East. Anglo-American imperialism succeeded in creating a situation in which it was able to deal separately with each state in the easiest way in order to carry out its economic and political plans. The war provided the opportunity for the suppression of the working class in the Arab East, and Stalinist policy did its share in demoralizing the labor movement. The question now before the revolutionary communist movement in the Middle East is: What are the prospects for the Middle East working class in the near future?
Like every historical process, recent developments in the Middle East will not lack in dialectically opposite effects. Postwar reopening of the connections between the Middle East and Europe and America have caused a considerable crisis in native industries which developed during the war. Syria has been suffering from severe unemployment and Egyptian industry, especially textiles, is threatened by the lack of home markets and feels the need of exporting and competing with foreign goods.
Yet the main working class concentrations in this part of the world have always been the establishments of foreign capital. The new investment drive of foreign, mainly American, capital (oil, development schemes, etc.) will bring with it new large concentrations of workers and working class organization. Moreover, the inter-Middle Eastern scale of these investments and schemes will confront the Arab working class with the urgent need of co-ordinating the struggle in the different countries of the Arab East. It should be noted that the only strike in these countries which surpassed the boundaries fixed by imperialism was ä strike in the Iraq Petroleum Co. which operates all over the Middle East.
At the same time, the difficulties which the Middle Eastern countries will face in supply and marketing will reveal the extreme hardships suffered by the masses of the Middle East because of imperialist partitioning. It goes without saying that in the case of a new world economic crisis this hardship will become a catastrophe for the masses of the Middle East.
Politically, too, the Palestinian war will have not only the immediate consequences described above. It is true, chauvinism has been fostered, a state of permanent tension has been created, the Middle East has been divided even more than it had been before. But one thing has been proved by the Palestinian war: the complete dependence of the Middle East bourgeoisie and feudal chieftains on imperialism, their impotence in leading even the slightest struggle against imperialism and their complete failure to overcome particularism and parochialism, even in the interest of fostering chauvinism in the Palestinian war. Moreover, military defeat and responsibility for the creation of more than half a million Arab refugees (shared, of course, with British imperialism and the Zionist massacres as in Deir Yassin, Lydda, Galilee and other places) have undermined to a large degree the prestige and political influence of the feudal and bourgeois Arab leadership.
But that does not automatically mean the revolutionizing of the Arab masses. As long as no revolutionary communist leadership is able to direct the disillusionment of the masses into progressive class channels, religious fanatics or military “heroes” will direct it into racial hate and communal riots, carrying with them mainly the urban petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen-proletariat of the big slums of Cairo, Alexandria, Aleppo, Beirut and Baghdad. One thing, however, is clear: the scope for Stalinist “national unity” and “popular front” maneuvers has narrowed considerably.
The first and foremost task of the Middle Eastern working class today is the demand for legalization of trade unions and labor organizations. The main aim, however, for which Trotskyist groups in the Middle East must strive is the unification of labor across the imperialist boundaries. Our old slogan – A Congress of Trade Unions all over the Middle East – is not only still valid, but has acquired additional importance in the new situation.
Today, after the experience of the Palestinian war, it will be more difficult for the Stalinist leaders of some Middle Eastern trade unions to sabotage this unification, as they did in the past to avoid embarrassing their relations with the ruling classes. (When asked why he opposes such a Middle Eastern Workers’ Congress in the framework of the WFTU, Mustafa al-Aris, the Stalinist representative in the WFTU, once answered that in that case he would be compelled to invite the Jewish Histadrut too, which was what he wanted to avoid.)
A Congress of Middle Eastern labor would be the best means to overcome parochialism and chauvinism, to co-ordinate the struggle in the different countries. Based on an internationalist policy, it could appeal to the working classes of the minority peoples including the Jewish working class. It could become the nucleus of the United Socialist States of the Middle East.
The struggle of the labor movement in the Middle East may have to face severe suppression in the near future. Neither the local ruling classes, whose position has become extremely precarious, nor imperialism, for whom the Middle East has become economically and strategically essential, can afford a liberal policy toward the workers and the labor movement. Only the concerted action and organization of the workers of Egypt, both parts of Palestine, Syria and the Lebanon and Iraq can succeed in over coming this suppression, liberate the toiling masses, the workers and the poor fellahin, from the foreign and native yoke and build a new society.
1. S. Munir was a pseudonym for Gabriel Baer.
Last updated on 1.6.2005