Seventh Congress of the Comintern Report of Arab Delegates
Source: Free Arab Voice;
Translated: by Kevin Walsh from the French original;
Delivered: by Khaled Bakdash, 30 July 1935;
Transcribed: for Marxists Internet Archive by Andy Blunden.
Stenogramme with authors’ corrections of the 10th session of the VIIth Congress of the Comintern: continuation of the discussion of the report of Pieck “On the activity of the Executive Committee of the Communist International” and of Angaretis “On the activity of the International Control Commission”. Original.
Comrades! The situation in Syria imposes heavy tasks and a great responsibility on our party. Syria, because of its location between Europe and Asia and on the Mediterranean, is a strategic center of fundamental importance for the entire system of French imperialism. [It is in the Near East especially as it is the supplier of its part of the petroleum from Mosul, its naval and air base and a center of concentration of its military forces whose strength or weakness can in a large measure determine defeat or victory in the Mediterranean and thus the good or poor functioning of its colonial apparatus [That is, Syria is the most convenient supply route for the petroleum produced near Mosul to reach Europe. Air and naval bases in Syria can command the Mediterranean Sea, control of which is vital to the good functioning of colonialism – FAV] Our country is also the closest French military base to our socialist homeland--the Soviet Union.
Otherwise Syria is, as the Arabs say, the heart of the Arab world. [The political and economic development of this country, in general, and the development of the national liberation movement in particular, are at the center of attention of all the Arab countries.] Syria is, finally, the only Arab country in which the construction of a Communist Party has gone successfully.
All these considerations give an importance on the pan-Arab scale to the revolutionary movement in Syria and to the activity of the Communist Party [especially for the further development of the Communist movement in this country and a great significance in case of international armed conflict.](1)
French imperialism, understanding the importance of Syria, has unleashed a savage terror to destroy the revolutionary movement in the country and has directed its most cruel blows against the working class and its vanguard, the Communist Party, which was reduced to a deep state of illegality.
After the armed insurrection of 1925 to 1927 in which for two years the Arab peasants, workers, and labourers showed how they are capable of fighting French imperialism, these French imperialists proceeded to carve up the country, in a new spirit, giving different forms to its oppressive apparatus for each different region. In the regions where feudal exploitation dominated, where there is not yet industrial development, where the influence of national-reformism is very weak, they installed direct and open dictatorship of the French military governors (Jebel-Druze and the Alawite area). In the other regions where industry is more or less developed, where there is a growing proletariat, where the influence of national-reformism is dominant, imperialism tried, without much success, to hide behind appearances of republican parliamentarism. So there are at present in little Syria, five governments, including two republics with “constitutions, parliaments and ministers”, two independent states, and one autonomous province. This imperialist policy strained to use the whole situation to, on the one hand, divide the forces of the national struggle of the Arab masses, and on the other to strengthen its domination by hiding behind a treaty, like the Anglo-Iraqi treaty, of alliance with the national-reformist bourgeoisie. But this policy has not thus far given imperialism the satisfying results for which it has waited. The new projects of which the French imperialist press has recently been speaking concerning the intent to give Syria a federal government have only emphasised these facts.
What the imperialist policy has come to achieve is to strengthen its military and strategic base and to exploit and starve the large mass of labouring people in the country. French imperialism directly monopolises all the tariffs and indirect taxes on the materials of mass consumption, which must, so they say, serve to maintain the military forces to compensate for the deficits of the foreign monopolists. At the same time it imposes ruinous taxes on the labouring masses to maintain the bureaucracy and police apparatus of the five governments of Syria.
The policy of “tariff protection” has deprived Syria of its markets, has destroyed the artisans by foreign competition, has sharpened the struggle among the different imperialists over the Syrian markets [and] that has only served to deepen the economic and agrarian crisis. The agrarian policy of French imperialism has ruined the large mass of peasants and Bedouins (nomads - FAV), has accelerated the loss of the land of the poorest peasants, has increased the servitude of the poor peasants and share-croppers and, finally, has worsened the condition of certain large strata of prosperous peasants. This is especially true in the villages, where the imperialist dictatorship is most hideous. The peasant is ruined by the taxes on the crops, the land, the livestock, and on his person, by the rents and the feudal despotism and suddenly also by the inhuman oppression and humiliation by French officers, police, and detachments of Circassian and Armenian volunteers.
The whole burden of the imperialist policy in Syria was increased especially in the last period, and all signs are that it will continue to worsen. The development of the national liberation movement pushes imperialism to increase all possible measures of oppression and terror. [Apart from savage laws against freedom of the press, of speech, of assembly, of association, and freedom to strike, apart from the law of prevention of crimes which punishes with up to two years in prison even the making of a gesture that could provoke the “citizens”, apart from all of that, imperialism imposes new repressive laws especially against the proletariat. One draft law which would permit the lawful dissolution of trade-unions, which were indissoluble even under Ottoman law, is being passed in Syria.] Not even satisfied with its attempts to turn national minorities, particularly Armenians, against the Arab masses, French imperialism began to open the doors of Syria to Zionist immigration which by its force in conjunction with world Jewish capital, must play a stronger role in the oppression of the Arab national liberation movement.
Otherwise, the preparations for war, the offensive and terror against the labouring population, are directly connected with the contradictions that work for the benefit of British, French, Italian, Japanese, and Hitlerite imperialists struggling to extend their influence over the Arab countries.
Italian fascist propaganda has greatly increased in recent times. Each year Mussolini’s agents organise free trips to Italy for young Arabs. The station Radio Bari broadcasts Arabic-language programs three times a week about “Italian-Arab friendship” and “fascist well-being in Italy”. It is the same with German fascism. Hitler has purchased the largest bourgeois newspapers in Syria which every day are full of photographs and articles about Hitlerism, which they represent as the “saviour of the German people”. Nazi agents try to use the national hatred the Arab people have for French imperialism to obtain their fascist goals. As for Japan, whose dumping bankrupted the artisans, it has recently advanced two projects to send, at their expense, Arab intellectuals to complete higher education at the universities of Tokyo.
[After the insurrection of 1925-1927, the promise of the French imperialists to give to its mandate a new spirit of liberalism has pushed not only the bourgeois and landlords and liberals but even some strata of bourgeois intellectuals to follow them. So the parties of the national-reformist bourgeoisie, the Koutla-Watanie, after the insurrection, concentrated their efforts on the demand for a “democratic-constitutional” regime which would assure them a more or less large share of power and a certain freedom of action for national capital. This party tries to turn the anti-imperialist movement into the struggle for parliamentarism and for the conclusion of a Franco-Syrian treaty.]
But nevertheless no force has been able to oppose the rapid radicalization of the laboring masses of the country. [In Syria we are participating in the development of a popular revolutionary movement which includes larger and larger strata of the Arab masses and which has often expressed itself in direct and violent revolutionary actions against the forces of imperialism.] If the national-reformist bourgeoisie drew from the insurrection of 1925-1927 the opportunistic and defeatist lesson that it is impossible to fight French imperialism and gain national independence by force of arms, but [only] by “diplomatic” methods, nonetheless the Arab workers have proved these seven years that they have inherited the heroic heritage and traditions of this revolution, and that they continue to march in its [revolutionary] path.
During the large and bloody demonstrations in the course of the parliamentary elections of 1933, some Arab workers heroically resisted even against the machineguns of French imperialism, which had been fired freely upon the unarmed masses, and established a state of siege that lasted for weeks. [During the demonstrations of tens of thousands in Damascus against the Franco-Syrian treaty that imperialism wanted to impose upon Syria in 1933, and also during the demonstrations against Zionism in the same year, the masses had attacked the police stations and had freed the imprisoned demonstrators after having sacrificed many dead and wounded. In these actions our Communist orators, having formed a united front with the revolutionary nationalists, had managed to thwart police attempts to transform the anti-imperialist movement into an attack against the Jewish quarter.] During the general strike that broke out in January 1935 in Zahle, a major agricultural centre, against the taxes and the despotism of the administrative authorities, more than 15,000 demonstrators were engaged in street battles for five days and disarmed the police and held the town and the town governor’s residence for an entire day. Our comrades were in the front lines of battle, they led the street demonstrations with exemplary courage, and among the thirty arrested there were seventeen Communists. One must add to this the peasants’ struggle against taxes, their violent resistance, sometimes in large groups, against police and judicial confiscations; the actions of the petit-bourgeoisie and their frequent clashes with the police; occasional attacks by groups of peasants with the support of whole villages against the cars of tourists and French civil servants. All this testifies to the growth of an anti-imperialist movement of the Arab masses.
The revolutionary nationalist movement in Syria is growing rapidly and can lead decisive battles and unexpected explosions against French imperialism, which we can incite to prepare ourselves for the combat that is drawing near. [One quite common characteristic of recent anti-imperialist activity of the middle classes is the development of illegal revolutionary groups formed by intellectuals and petit-bourgeois elements having terrorist or putschist goals, found in almost every city and many villages.]
The most important stage in this popular uprising is the development of activity of the Arab proletariat.
The strikes and the workers’ actions which five years back were rare and passed nearly unnoticed have actually come to the center of political life in the country because of their duration, their mass political character, and their violence. The strikes of advanced Syrian workers for trade-union freedom, against the imperialist customs policy, against terror, against the tobacco monopoly, their participation for the first time in the Near East in parliamentary elections in 1934, with their special platform of national liberation, and their proletarian candidates who obtained a good number of votes, all this shows that the Syrian proletariat has entered into the practical and direct struggle to assure its hegemony in the national liberation struggle. The actions of the advanced elements of the Syrian proletariat have not only awakened the most backward strata of workers and led them into the arena of economic and political struggle, but these actions were often the trigger of very active popular movements. Several strikes by the thousands of taxi drivers against the tariff policy and the privileges of foreign monopolists leading the large masses of shopkeepers and small businessmen to the struggle against the taxes placed entire regions of the country in a state of uprising and almost in a state of siege.
We see in all of this that it comes to be said, that the imperialist domination of Syria has contributed greatly to preparing the possibilities and conditions necessary for the revolutionary reversal of this domination. The objective conditions for the first stage of the Syrian revolution, the stage of a general revolutionary national uprising of the great masses against imperialism, are in feverish preparation. At the same time the subjective condition essential for the victory of this upsurge is also preparing itself through the rapid consolidation of the vanguard of the proletariat, our Communist Party.
Our party, formed shortly before the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, was obliged until 1930 to struggle against opportunism and the club spirit, which not only did not want to go among the masses, but did not even want to show itself to the masses. At the time when the march towards the masses had just begun, party leadership came to be dominated by elements coming from an enemy camp, from the camp of counter-revolutionary Zionism. These elements, not satisfied with having prevented the development of a fraternal party in Palestine, also infiltrated into Egypt and Syria to prevent the development of a Communist movement there too. Gangrenous with Zionist ideology and the chauvinism of racial superiority, these elements introduced into our party a line that prevented its transformation into a party of the masses, into a party having a base in the masses of the Arab proletariat. Their lack of confidence in the Arab masses, in the revolutionary possibilities of the Arab national liberation movement, prevented them from seeing the bourgeois-democratic tasks of the Syrian revolution and oriented them toward the Armenian national minority.(2) They denied, under cover of phoney internationalism, the special role of this minority in the conditions of Syria in which this minority opposed the Arab masses politically. They did not see that imperialism, aided by the Armenian bourgeoisie and by some insignificant privileges, tried to use this minority against the national liberation movement of the Arab masses. These semi-Zionist elements, supported by their Armenian comrades, fell under a strong Dashnak [Armenian Rightist Party- FAV] chauvinist influence and sabotaged the Arabization of the party. They sabotaged the transformation of the party into a mass party, which by its national and social composition, by its righteous policy on the national liberation movement and the workers’ movement would be capable of winning the confidence of the Arab workers and of assuming a proletarian leadership in the national revolutionary struggle.
It was only in 1933, in its fourth enlarged plenum, that our party was able to take a correct line, putting the line of Arabisation as the basis of its policy. It has put forward this line in the national movement, taken a correct line toward the national minorities whose labouring masses have direct interests in the national and agrarian Arab revolution. It has liquidated anti-party groups and driven Zionist and Dashnak elements from the leadership. Since then the party has achieved some serious successes. It has won some important positions in the working class and has established for itself a solid base in the heart of the Arab proletariat. It has won the confidence of the large Arab masses who begin to see the Communists as the most courageous, the most sincere, and the most consistent in the grand cause of all the Arab peoples, the cause of complete national independence, and the throwing off of the hideous imperialist yoke.
It is especially in the trade-union movement, in the strike struggle of the working class, that our party has scored some serious gains. Having placed as the basis of our activity the entry into the daily struggle of the workers, we have been able to show them by their own experience that our party is the true fighter, even for their smallest demands. In this manner we have been able in large measure to take into our hands the push towards unionising the working class and helping it to find some forms of organisation and methods of struggle that are effective in the conditions of increased imperialist terror. Just during the years 1933 and 1934, in the 45 strikes which involved 50,000 strikers, we were able entirely to lead the 15 most important strikes, while participating in all the others through our orators, our militants and our trade-union groups. In helping the strikers (typographers, textile workers, cobblers, etc.), in working out their platform, in the organisation of illegal or semi-legal meetings, in the formation and leadership of strike picket lines, we have gained the masses’ great confidence as organisers and leaders of their struggles. In 1933 we organised and led the typographers’ strike for trade-union rights, which strongly reverberated in all the Arab countries and which not only increased the authority of the party, but also raised the morale of the whole Arab working class. For ten days the country was deprived of its largest daily newspapers, and in this way all public attention was concentrated on the strike. The destruction of the printing office of the newspaper L'Orient by the strikers, a newspaper which wanted to break the strike and which was, because of this, unable to operate for 15 days, set a shining example of the revolutionary manner in which the advanced proletariat defends its actions against strike-breakers. The sympathy strikes which broke out among the typographers of several places, the refusal of newspaper hawkers to distribute newspapers of companies that were able to operate because of police protection, the sending by the tobacco workers of cigarettes to the strikers, the telegrams of solidarity from several villages, all this showed popular support which had gathered around this strike led by our party.
During the last strike of the 10,000 taxi drivers in April 1935, which lasted 13 days and took on such a violent character that the country was almost in a state of siege and in which the drivers burned and destroyed dozens of cabs belonging to strikebreakers, we participated very actively in the action which unfolded nearly under our influence. In the course of the struggle against the scabs, we had one death, a Communist taxi driver, to whose funeral drivers from distant places came on foot so as not to violate the strike. The funeral turned into a major demonstration and clashes with the police. Despite the betrayal by the strike committee, formed mostly by garage owners and reformist elements, which wanted to end the strike on the eleventh day, the strike continued undiminished for two more days under our influence and did not end until after the reopening of the taxi drivers’ trade-union, closed by the authorities during the strike, and the acceptance of a major part of their demands.
During all our actions, we worked especially to strengthen our organised base in the working class. Our party created new cells in enterprises and trades. It created new trade-unions there, where they had not existed, such as those of the more or less large oppositions in the national-reformist trade-unions, and organised some illegal or semi-legal trade-union groups in several professions not yet having trade-unions and which worked for the creation of their corresponding trade-unions. In 1934, we held a trade-union conference in Damascus, in which the representatives of 14 professions participated, and then a larger one in Beirut. As a result of the work of these two conferences, a manifesto containing the platform of the general demands of the working class was published and a trade-union council was elected to lead the trade-union work in all of Syria.
In 1933 we were only established in two or three villages and in others very weakly. During this period, we succeeded in creating organisations in more than 25 villages, some connections and some groups of sympathisers in dozens of villages. We have started to enter the life of the peasantry and to organise its resistance to imperialist pillage and oppression. In 1934, through a lot of agitation, we organised a delegation consisting of representatives of 14 villages, elected in meetings of 15 to 60 peasants. This delegation presented the demands of the region to the authorities, of which the most important were: nullification of the tax on land and inheritance, weekly payments to destitute peasants, and suspension of debts for four years. If our comrades leading the regional organisations had not committed the sectarian error of shunning the strata of more or less wealthy peasants who were ready for action, this campaign could have involved dozens of villages.
In the anti-imperialist popular movement, our party has achieved some success. It participated in all the demonstrations and actions, including those led and launched by the national-reformists, and it greatly influenced the direction of these actions by the intervention of its militants and orators. In July 1934, on the occasion of the anniversary of the armed struggle against the French occupation, we organised a successful action on the battlefields of 1920 and debated the heroic traditions of the fighting with the national-reformists.
We succeeded in organising a party press and in publishing a central organ whose circulation increases every day and have created a legally sanctioned theoretical organ which has succeeded in attracting a growing number of revolutionary intellectuals in all the Arab countries.
Our party has participated in the international actions devoted to Dimitrov and Thaelman who have became very popular among the Arab masses. We engaged in much activity in the struggle against imperialist war and for the defence of the Soviet Union. There was almost no campaign led by the party that was not conducted by these tactics. On the occasion of the entry of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations, the party explained by proclamations and brochures the proletarian policy of our Soviet government and unmasked the calumnies of the bourgeois press and of renegades of the Communist movement in the Arab countries who cried “Treason!” by the USSR to the principles of the Third International.
The most important progress obtained by our resident party is that in this last period it has placed as the basis of all its activity and especially in the anti-imperialist struggle the tactic of the united front. It managed to concentrate the attention of all its members, to orient the work of the whole organisation towards study of the basis of forms and methods of application of this tactic and its application in the practice of their daily work. It has already made some small practical steps in that domain. It participated in popular anti-imperialist actions in alliance with the national-revolutionary elements and groups. In different campaigns it was able to organise some popular committees: the committee for the struggle against Zionism, against the war and for the defence of Abyssinia, for the defence of the rights of the peasants. In connection with the imperialist project to establish a tobacco monopoly, and the popular anger which it provoked, the Central Committee issued the directive to work on the basis of the united front, even with the Arab manufacturers who were unhappy with the monopoly, on condition that they meet some of the tobacco workers’ demands. In the work among the masses of the Armenian national minority where after Arabisation, our influence rapidly increased, the application of the tactic of the united front also registered some success. Our comrades linked themselves with the Hinchak (Armenian Social Democratic Party) and organised with them a committee against the fascist Dashnak Party of the Armenian bourgeoisie, which party was active and collaborating with the imperialist police.
All this shows that we have already taken a great step forward by the complete abandonment of the sectarianism of the past when similar attempts at common action were considered to be pure opportunism and Arab nationalism. In that period the party put forward its slogans without concerning itself whether or not the masses supported them. Occasionally it tried to impose its slogans on the masses. In 1934, the situation was very favourable for convening a popular congress for national liberation. Instead of basing this action on the slogans that were accepted by the large masses, who were still subject to national-reformist influence, we decided that it was essential to convene a congress where all of our platform, and especially the agrarian part, would be accepted without taking into consideration the general character of the mass of the congress. So we only succeeded in gathering up in the congress a small number of workers and intellectuals, most of whom were our sympathisers.
In preparing the typographers’ strike in 1933, we tried to send a list of 15 demands, whereas there were only three demands which interested the workers: freedom for their dissolved trade-union, eight hours of work, and regular payment of salaries. It is true that we succeeded in submitting our list to a vote in the strike meetings, but in practice, it was only on the basis of the three demands that the workers struggled for ten days. In working in the national-reformist trade-unions, we tried to create only red oppositions which had to have as their primary condition for existence, the struggle to change the national-reformist leadership or to attack the bosses and the contractors if it concerned mixed trade-unions. In the work for the creation of new trade-unions, we tried to ensure that from the start they be purely class unions and even that the entire leadership be in the hands of our partisans. In 1933, we tried to organise a union of the Beirut longshoremen. The workers wanted to put a contractor whom they highly esteemed at the head of the organising committee. In mobilising our partisans against these attempts, we provoked a sharp split, and as a result, the failure of the organisational attempt. This in comparison with a similar situation, which was our last success, has a very great importance.
At present our task is to push and enlarge our successes to practically capture the large masses, again under the influence of conciliators or reactionaries, to pass rapidly to the creation of a bloc of the proletariat with the revolutionary bourgeoisie, this central task which has come to confront us colonial Communists, as Comrade Stalin said ten years ago in his speech program at the Communist University of the East.
[Our party, as compared with 1929, after its Arabisation, has risen by 600%, making 80% of its members Arabs, of whom 60% are workers and 25% peasants.] This passage appeared only in the Russian translation.
We already have a cadre of proven militants and of professional revolutionaries, armed with the revolutionary theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, who have definitively given themselves to the cause of the revolution and who will be capable of consolidating our progress, and taking it as a solid base for greater success, for the true Bolshevik success. This elite of our cadre raises the banner of Communism not only in actions and battles in the streets, but also in the tribunals and in the imperialist prisons. Our 35 imprisoned comrades are now leading an heroic struggle against the horrors of the imperialist jails and mobilising the mass of the prisoners in the struggle. In the prison in Damascus, our comrades have organised a hunger-strike against tyranny and mistreatment by the French director of the prison, in which they have won over some of the prisoners of the uprising of 1925 and all the 1,200 common prisoners. For three days the prison was entirely in revolt. The placing of our comrades in solitary confinement did not stop the action of the prisoners, who have made the first condition for the end of their strike the return of their companions to the general population, and that all their demands be met. In effect under the leadership of the Communists, the prisoners have obtained their demands.
With a correct line and under the leadership of our International, this cadre will be capable of satisfying the needs of the revolutionary masses and of accomplishing the tasks devolving upon them by the situation of the country, to mobilise all the forces capable of fighting the main enemy, the hideous enemy of the Syrian people, French imperialism.
We, the Communists, are the most consistent fighters in Syria, fighters to the very end against this enemy. We are the most devoted fighters for the independence of our country, for the liberation of our people from oppression, from obscurantism, and from poverty. To fight this enemy, to end the domination of French imperialism, we are ready to unite our efforts with all those who want a free and independent Syria. We have great confidence in our forces and in the guidance of our International. It is under its leadership and by its effective aid that we have attained our past successes, and it is by its effective aid and under its leadership that we are marching toward the decisive victory [of the proletariat.] We hope that by a stubborn and Bolshevik struggle, we will always hold high the banner of our glorious Communist International.
(1) The opening paragraphs of the French text of this report were edited by hand with considerable material being apparently cut out. The Russian-language version of the report, however has restyled and reincorporated some of that crossed out material. The opening of the report in Russian translation, found in Fond 494, Opis 1, delo 186, page 1, where it appears as two paragraphs, reads as follows:
“Comrades! Syria, being the only colony of French imperialism in the Near East, between Europe and Asia on the road to Iraqi oil, conveniently situated on the Mediterranean Sea, has great military-strategic significance for the direction of offensive colonial wars.
“On the other hand, the development of the national liberation movement in Syria captures the attention of all the Arab countries. Finally, Syria, alone among all the Arab countries, is where the building of the Communist Party has proceeded successfully. Thus, the development of the Communist Party of Syria possesses great significance for the further development of the Communist movement in all the Arab countries.”
(2) The opening lines of this paragraph read slightly differently in the Russian translation found in Fond 494, Opis’ 1, delo 186, pages 5-6, where the phrase about the “Zionist ideology of chauvinism and racial superiority” has been omitted, vis:
“Our party, formed shortly before the 6th Congress of the Comintern, was compelled until 1930 to battle against opportunism and small circle spirit, against an unwillingness, not only to go to the masses, but even to expose themselves to the masses. When this stage was passed and we began to draw near to the masses, the leadership was seized by elements coming from the camp of counter-revolutionary Zionism. Not content with their having impeded the development of the fraternal party in Palestine, these Zionist elements slipped into Egypt and Syria, there to put the brakes on the Communist parties. These elements carried out a line that would interfere in the transformation of a party into a mass party having a mass base among the Arab workers. Their lack of faith in the Arab masses, in the revolutionary potential of the Arab national liberation movement, prevented them from understanding the bourgeois democratic tasks of the Syrian revolution, forcing them to orientate themselves on the Armenian national minority.”