ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Autumn 1964


Editorial 4

South Arabia


From International Socialism, No.18, Autumn 1964, pp.4-5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The recently published Chatham House Essay [1] on Aden and the ‘unconstitutional conference’ in London have once more neatly exposed the chronic anachronism that is British imperialist policy. Living still in the spiritual age of the gunboat, Her Majesty’s Government, here represented by Duncan Sandys, insists on maintaining the Aden base, once fuelling station of the Fleet on which depended the British Empire. It is to be maintained in defence of the military route to the East (Singapore) via the Suez Canal or by air, as part of the British ‘contribution’ to Western imperialist forces (chiefly the US 7th Fleet) in the crucial area of South-East Asia.

Oil is of secondary importance; it has been pointed out that the Arabs cannot drink it. Independent Kuwait must sell oil to maintain the rate of social progress demanded by the population, and invests the surplus in London (up to £400 million it has been said, an important part of Britain’s balance of payments). Others sell for their own reasons. Desert Sultans everywhere dream of striking rich, and dispute fiercely over concessions. Imperialist military posturing, as was shown by Suez, can result in a united Arab front that totally withholds supplies – exactly what is feared most. It is an error to regard Persian Gulf oil as an exclusively British preserve. 60 percent is US-exploited, while Italian and Japanese companies also operate. Strategically, Aden is the latest in a series of bases (Suez, Kenya ...), once declared indispensable to British interests and soon evacuated at high cost. It is planned to spend £20 million on Aden, an investment no more likely to last than its predecessors. As usual, political development has outstripped imperialist calculation (and will probably continue to do so in the next most likely spot, Gan in the Maldive Islands). Militarily, each option is worse than the last. Climatic conditions in the Persian Gulf are so unfavourable to British troops that in the Kuwait expedition of 1961 10 per cent of the reserves flown from England were heat casualties within five days.

The political expedient of HMG, succeeding over a century of ‘pacification’ and treaty-making with the 24 States of the Aden Protectorate and Aden Colony, is the South Arabian Federation, imposed in 1963, together with undemocratic ‘self-government’, against the nationalists of the South Arabian League and the trade unionists of the Aden TUC and People’s Socialist Party. The elections of 1959, limited to an electorate of 21,554 out of a population of 180,000, were boycotted by 73 per cent in response to the TUC’s call, and a ‘moderate’ gradualist Legislative Council representative only of the Arab bourgeoisie (and HMG) was elected– by 5,000 voters. The TUC leader, Abdulla Al Asnag, at that time in jail, became spokesman of the left-wing nationalist majority. In 1960 after a wave of strikes the Industrial Relations Ordinance was introduced, making strikes illegal. This did not deter the TUC from calling a general strike against it, and another in 1962 against the constitutional conference. The Aden TUC, according to ICFTU the most developed in the Middle East, has 22,000 members (1963) and itself formed the People’s Socialist Party in 1962. The TUC has demonstrated its power to close down, for political ends, the port of Aden, third busiest in the Commonwealth, and the refinery, even at the expense of Aden’s economy, which is dependent on the Suez Canal traffic; and it could close the base, which also spends £12 million per annum. The PSP was unrepresented this year at the Constitutional Conference, postponed because of a bomb attack on the High Commissioner, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis.

The constitution of the Federation is biased in favour of the rulers of the former Protectorate States, who, since the deposition by British troops in 1956 of the pro-Nasser Sultan of Lahej, have been entirely reactionary and excessively numerous. As one nationalist leader put it: ‘In Aden we are against the Yemen because it is feudal, but there is only one Imam there. There will be 26 Imams in the Federation.’ Since he spoke the Imam of the Yemen has been deposed, though still recognised and fought for by HMG (and Opposition). His overthrow has stimulated the workers and people of Aden and the Yemen in their struggle for a free, united and democratic South Arabia. In this struggle socialists must give unstinting support to the labour and republican movements of South Arabia and demand repudiation of Wilson’s shameful support of Tory intervention. Labour must reverse this policy, withdraw the troops, free South Arabia, and support to the hilt the South Arabian labour and socialist movements.


1. Imperial Outpost – Aden; its place in British strategic policy, Gillian King, published by OUP for Chatham House, 8s 6d.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 20.8.2007