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Sherman Stanley

Imperialist Powers Reach for Near and Middle East

(May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 19, 12 May 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The battle for control of the riches of the Near East is on in full force. The completion of the Balkan conquest by the blitz armies of Germany was the preliminary step. Now comes the “Drive to the East” – toward the oil fields, toward Suez, toward the cotton of the Nile valley. German imperialism sticks with mechanical rigidity to its imperialist aims of 100 years – the famous “Drang nach Osten.”

Britain, on the other hand, is fighting a “defensive” imperialist, struggle. It has sewed up these regions ever since the last World War – now it stands in great danger of losing them to its mighty rival, Germany. Because of its tremendous weakness – an overwhelming proof of the hatred in which it is held by the masses of these countries – Britain will probably lose the battle for the Near East in short order. All it has to rely upon are its relatively small English and Australian forces (backed by a small group of professional soldiers from India), plus whatever limited aid Roosevelt may send. Of material or moral support from the population, it has literally none. These people have lived under British domination too long to be whipped up into sacrificing their lives or possessions for the continuation of British rule.

Tempting Prizes

What countries are involved? First there is Turkey (15,000,000 population), Egypt (16,000,000), Syria (3,000,000), Palestine (2,000,008), Saudi Arabia (3,000,000), Transjordania (400,000) and Iraq (3,500,000). These nations (total population 33,000,000) are involved directly and immediately. At a more remote distance lie even greater stakes – perhaps the greatest of the war: Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, Ceylon and India – the most magnificent of all imperialist prizes.

The rewards offered by a successful conquest of the Near and Middle East by Hitler are rich and tempting. If they were not the British would not be prepared to battle so hard for them. They are both strategic and economic in nature. Control of the eastern Mediterranean and its water routes, domination of the Arabian colonial world, the great oil wells of Iran, Iraq and Arabia, the food crops of wheat, rice, barley, fruits and dates. The important thing to note is that this is the first major effort on Hitler’s part to break out of the confines of Europe and seize a substantial portion of the genuine colonial world for imperialist exploitation.

The real character of this conflict has already been clearly shown in the fighting in Egypt. Here Axis (German-Italian) and British forces have fought for months, but the ENTIRE native population of 16,000,000 Egyptian peasants and workers remain totally indifferent to and non-participants in the struggle. To them it is a fight for control of the Suez Canal, Egyptian cotton, and commerce, ports and harbors to protect Britain’s Far Eastern life-line, etc. It concerns them in no way, except insofar as they can express their hostility to BOTH sides.

The Iraq “Uprising”

The same thing holds true for Iraq, which has now been dragged into the war. Since 1925 the British have dominated, through their puppet government, this miserably poor and thinly populated country of 3,500,000 people. They have no interest in the country itself. Lying in the extensive semi-arid plateau area of the Near East it is a poor country with wandering Bedouin tribesmen and semi-feudal “felaheen” peasants. It has always been ruled by a clique of big landlords, merchants and western-educated army officers. This clique has always been ready to itself up to the highest paying imperialist power. Heretofore that has been Britain.

The current “uprising” against the British, led by Rashid Ali, a big landowner, in no way stems from the nationalist desires of the poor people. It simply means that a section of the ruling clique – principally the pro-Nazi army officers – have been bought off by the Germans and are now playing their game. It is a clique battle pure and simple. The stake is obvious: the Mosul oil fields and the pipe lines running through the country from Mosul and Iran to Palestine and French Syria. So far as the imperialists are concerned that is all Iraq amounts to – a country with invaluable oil fields that will aid the continuation of the world slaughter.

Lack Leadership

To gain support among the Arabs – and it is clear that support is desired only from the Arabian chieftains and feudal ruling cliques – Hitler must indulge in widespread “anti-British imperialist” demagogy. He must pose as the great liberator, come to free the Arab colonials from long and harsh British rule. This, naturally, is a 100 per cent lie and we understand that Hitler will replace British rule with the just as exploitative rule of the Nazis. The events of the fast-approaching struggle will undoubtedly revive much genuine Arabian and anti-imperialist nationalist sentiment. But because of the lack of any strong revolutionary Marxist forces or of movements with a serious socialist background and tradition in this section of the world it is highly improbable that much will be accomplished. The masses involved realize full well what is the issue and resent being driven into another, but they lack the organizational weapons and leadership with which to express themselves.

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