Michel Pablo: The Arab Revolution

This is not meant to be a really complete and exhaustive report on the Arab revolution. It is rather an introduction to the question and a preliminary discussion concerned more especially with the Arab revolution in the Middle East as well as with the Algerian revolution.

The Arab revolution is part of the colonial revolution of this post-war period and at times it becomes the dominant feature thereof. It embraces the countries of Moslem religion, of Moslem civilization, and of the Arabic language in Africa and the Middle East, and in particular Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the Sudan, the countries of the Arabian peninsula, and Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. To a certain extent Iran must also be included in spite of its pre-Islamic language, as more particularly forming part of the revolution in the Middle East; in all, some 70 million Arabs and “Arabized” peoples, or about one-sixth of the total Moslem population of the world.

It is a question of a national unit, historically developed as such, whose various elements, despite their different backgrounds on a purely racial basis [1], are conscious above all of being Arabs and belonging above all to the Arab nation.

This Arab or rather “Arabized” national community is, however, widely dispersed geographically from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Persia and the Caspian Sea and is riddled with many national minorities: Kurds, Assyrians, Jews, Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Persians, Berbers, and Arabized Negroes of many different African races, etc, certain of whom, however, despite national origins, religion, and some different customs, are now highly Arabized, and in practice form part of the Arab nation.

From the point of view of religion likewise, there is a diversity of sects and beliefs: Mohammedans: Sunnites, Shiites, Alaouites, Druses, Ismailis, etc. Christians: Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Gregorians, Jacobites, Maronites, Nestorians, etc. This religious mosaic is especially striking in for example Libya and Syria.

While the Maghreb, having lived in isolation for a long time, has managed to remain relatively outside the Mohammedan theological quarrels, in the rest of the Moslem world sects abound (Mohammed foresaw 72!) and though they completely agree on the strict observance of the Koran, there are many different interpretations of the importance of traditions and even more of the sense of destiny of the Prophet and of his successors.

Thus on a national foundation which is indubitably Arab or Arabized, a diversity of real ethnic and cultural structures is built up, resulting, among other things, from the extraordinarily turbulent past of these countries, most of which had suffered successive occupation by the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, and the Turks, before being subjected to that of the European imperialists in the XIXth and XXth centuries.

As capitalism made only a late and slight penetration in these countries, the centuries-old economic, as well as social, cultural, and ethnic structures, though upset and even in places overthrown, have nevertheless not been eliminated, and at the present moment are being interwoven in the reconstruction taking place in the Arab countries.

From the Marxist point of view the basic argument in favor of the existence of an Arab nation despite these factors is the existence of such a common national consciousness in the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of these countries, developed through the history of these peoples, a history which is marked by a common language, a common geographical location, and a common social and cultural system.

A brief historic survey of this question will best show how well-founded this argument is.

Historic Formation of Arab National Consciousness

Arab national consciousness appeared early, as early as the XIXth century, that is, at the very time when the modern capitalist nations in Europe were being formed, following the decline of the feudal empires of the West and the Ottoman East.

It was the fall of the Ottoman Empire as well as the imperialist aims and undertakings of the great capitalist countries of the Europe of that period (England, France, Germany) which awoke Arab nationalism at the end of the last century.

In the Arab commercial and cultural centres of the period – Beirut, Aleppo, Damascus, Bagdad, Alexandria, Cairo, as well as in Constantinople and the Persian cities, sometimes in Kabul or even in Delhi – the intellectual forerunners, tinged by European liberalism of the time, hoped to see the West helping to liberate the Arabs from the yoke of Turkish despotism and oppression.

But the attitude of the West soon brought disappointment and the liberalism of these forerunners was converted in to a more resolute Arab nationalism, like that of the main promoters of the Salafi movement (appealing to the Ancients), a reform movement and the cradle of Moslem and Arab aspirations in the 1890s.

For a time the “Young Turks” reform movement put an end to the specifically Arab awakening by absorbing it into the more general framework of an “Ottoman liberalism” claiming equality for all the oppressed nations of the Turkish Empire.

But as early as 1910 “Ottomanism” and “Ottoman-Arab fraternity” came to an end, since the “Young Turk” ideologists of the then rising Turkish bourgeoisie could not and would not genuinely break down the feudal system and the national oppression which the Ottoman Empire had created. From then onwards, the Arabs strove to organize themselves independently, first on a cultural level and then politically, but always under the main inspiration of the intellectuals, especially the Syro-Lebanese: the Literary Club (al Muntada al-Arabi) in Constantinople (1909), a discussion centre of which several members, Al-Khali, a Lebanese Moslem, Haidar, a Baalbeck Moslem, and Sallum, a Christian from Homs, were hanged as traitors by the Turks during the First World War; the Qahtan Society (those of Qahtan, the legendary ancestor of the race), a secret society more or less affiliated to the Literary Club, which aspired to the creation of a dual Turkish-Arab state on the Austro-Hungarian model; Al Faat, the Young Arab Society founded in 1913–1914 in Paris, with branches in Beirut and Damascus; the “Decentralization Party,” founded in Cairo by the Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians in 1912, with committees in Syria and Iraq and appearing as the spokesmen for Arab aspirations; and the Young Algerian Party, also formed in 1912.

On the eve of the 1914 war, the Arab national movement became a mass movement in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. The war accelerated the evolution, since the English realized that Arab nationalist support was essential in the fight against the Turks and their German allies. In the Spring of 1913, the members of Al-Fatat and of Al-Ahd, the former springing from the feudal and intellectual elite in the Syrian countries and the latter mainly representing the Mesopotamian officers in the Turkish army, drew up the “Damascus Protocol” which provided for the independence of the Arab countries situated between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. They were soon to be decimated by the brutal repression of the Turkish Pasha Jemal.

This repression, however, was to whip up nationalist fervor and to produce decision to take action by the principal chiefs in Arabia, such as Emir Feisal, son of Hussein, afterwards the founder of the Hashemite dynasty, the Emir of Mecca, who learning at Damascus on 6 May 1916 of the latest executions of Arab patriots, gave the signal for the armed revolt against the Turks with the cry of “Death has become sweet, O Arabs!” And it was the same Feisal who, having believed the lavish promises showered on him by the English and French during the 1914–1918 war, submitted “the Arab problem and its solution” to the Peace Conference in the following terms:

As the representative of my father who, at the request of Great Britain and France, led the Arab revolt against the Turks, I have come here to ask you that the Arabic-speaking peoples of Asia, from the Alexandretta Diarbuakr line to the Indian Ocean in the South, be recognized by the League of Nations as independent and sovereign peoples […]. I base my request on the principles enunciated by President Wilson and I am confident that the powers will attach more importance to the bodies and souls of the Arabic-speaking peoples than to their own material interests. [29th January 1919]

But as might have been expected, it was the latter that prevailed and divided up the Middle East in accordance with the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement (May 1916) into two spheres of influence, one English and the other French, and set up the infamous system of “mandates.”

For the Arabs 1920 was the year of catastrophe – Amal Nakba.

For all Arab nationalists [wrote one contemporary reactionary writer [2]] the decisions of the League of Nations in San Remo seemed to be an abominable iniquity. The creation of the states of Syria, Lebanon, Transjordania Palestine, and Iraq appeared to them as an absurdity contrary to all historical, cultural, and religious traditions.

Thus the Arab states of the Middle East were created “as by virtue of a jigsaw puzzle,” a colonialist attempt par excellence at “Balkanization.”

Under the shock of this disappointment, Arab revolutionary fever abated here and there, but elsewhere the national awakening burst out with greater force, as in Egypt and Iraq in the ’20s, and later in Morocco. [3] The gradual evolution of Turkey under “Kemalism” and of Iran under Raza. the founder of the Pahlevi dynasty, stimulated Arab nationalism. In Egypt, the “Wafd,” the Independence Party, was created, and wore itself out in a struggle against the king installed by the English in 1922, the latter wishing to maintain their de facto tutelage of the country. The same struggle was going on in Iraq, where the British persisted in maintaining an artificial administrative structure in order to hold in check the forces working for the real independence of the country.

They granted most of the political power to the Sunnites forming the feudal and commercial aristocracy, held out hopes of autonomy to the Kurds and Assyrians, and allocated some districts to Shiite chiefs. As for the nature of the parliamentary system which later masked this regime, Nuri-es-Sa’id, “the Englishman,” defined it most aptly in these words:

The selection of candidates at the elections is arranged to include all former prime ministers, all ministers who have held posts more than twice, members of the Bureau of the Assembly, retired high officials, heads of communities, tribal chiefs, etc. They represent nearly 60% of the Chamber; the rest depend largely on the power of the government.

This fake system bred fierce struggles, like those of the anti-imperialist revolts of 1921 and the internal convulsions which endangered the cohesion of the Iraqi state.

In the Lebanon, in Syria, and in Palestine, the struggle against the “Mandates” between the two wars also stimulated Arab nationalism and brought the hour of formal independence nearer.

The case of Palestine, the most Arab country of the whole “Fertile Crescent,” deserves special mention. The Balfour Declaration in 1918 recognized the right of the Jews to found a “National Home” in this Arab country under mandate. As the Jewish community grew in size – 190,000 in 1929 – political Zionism became more virulent, against which the Arabs, especially starting from that date, have reacted violently. For they saw in it an ever more serious obstacle to their own political development, a danger to their own economic independence, and a policy of territorial expansion by the Jews to their own detriment.

It must be noted, however, that even at that time the Arabs would have agreed to negotiate with the Jews as citizens of the state of Palestine, to sanction their holding of land, to respect their cultural autonomy and perhaps even their local self-administration, in brief would have granted them a national minority status; but they intended to stop further immigration and the purchase of new lands, activities feverishly pursued by the Zionist Agency.

The anti-Zionist movement (soon to become anti-British by the very force of circumstances) of the Palestinian Arabs dates from the ’30s and grew in strength, reaching its climax on the outbreak of the Second World War. Zionism, an instrument of the imperialists, thus became a powerful reagent in creating Arab nationalism. In the ’30s, Palestine, together with Syria, became the main centre from which the ideas of the unity of the Arab world radiated again with new force. A Palestinian newspaper, Al-Arabi, issued this catechism in 1932 under the spiritual direction of Shakib Aslan and Abd er Rahman Azzam:

The Arabs occupy in their own right half of the Mediterranean circle. They look on the Atlantic Ocean on the one side and on the Indian Ocean on the other. Everywhere, common customs, identical culture. Arab unity is therefore a present reality and a historical reality.

With a view to strengthening cultural unity, plans were made to set up an Arab University in Jerusalem, as well as an Arab Academy – the latter was established in Egypt late in 1933.

In the Autumn of 1932, the Executive Committee of the Arab Congress, which met in Jerusalem in 1931, prepared for a new congress to study the discontinuance of customs offices and the unification of the monetary systems and the postal services in the Arab countries.

The period from 1930 to 1933 (during which King Feisal of Iraq died) was marked by various other endeavors to effect Arab unification, but all were sabotaged by imperialism and its native agents. On the outbreak of the Second World War imperialist domination in the Arab countries was already tottering but was still far from being abolished. In Palestine, however, a veritable war against the British had been raging since 1936 while the French had great difficulty in maintaining their position in Syria.

The new war crowned the process towards formal political independence of the Middle East states who profited from the inter-imperialist war, from the decline in the power of England and France, and from the dissensions between them.

The most outstanding events in this period were: the Iraq revolution against the English in May 1941; the evacuation of Lebanon and Syria by the French in November 1943; the Conference of Alexandria in September 1944, which laid the foundations for the League of Arab States (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen). But the interested patronage of London and the antagonism between the royal families of the Saudis and the Hashemites were also present at the birth of the Arab League.

And that is why the aspiration towards Arab unity retreated before the “respect of the independence and the sovereignty of the Arab State” simply “wishing to affirm and consolidate these ties,” as the Charter of the League proclaimed.

Since 1945 the Arab states of the Near East have become formally independent and have become members of the United Nations. [4]

On the other hand, the Arab countries of North Africa still had to wait for their hour of independence. Libya became independent in 1952, followed by the Sudan and then Morocco and Tunisia (1956). In Africa there are only Algeria and the Sahara regions attached to France, and the Spanish Sahara, which have not yet been liberated.

A new phase of the Arab revolution began after the end of the war, aimed at obtaining real independence from imperialism; it raises fundamental economic and social problems arising from the very widening of the Arab revolution.

The Economic and Social Structures of the Arab Countries

Arab society is that of the arid countries of a good half of the Mediterranean circle, the peasant population of which, whether sedentary, nomad, or intermediate, clings to the lands bordering the sea, or to those on the banks of the great rivers, in the high mountains, in the oases, or to the grazing “steppes” with which the extensive deserts of the interior are dotted; where the system of land-holding has in general been shaped by Islamic law and Turkish feudalism, with urban centres populated by a mercantile and money-lending bourgeoisie living parasitically on trading profits and rents; a society which has long remained compartmented, closed off, and turned in on itself, and – whether in the Middle East or in the Maghreb – with relationship of family and tribal hierarchy and subordination, with the imprint of slavery sometimes still fresh upon it, a society not yet overthrown by imperialist penetration as such, except in small islets and in the peripheral fringes of the countries.

This is, roughly, the customary picture that we had of the Arab countries and which substantially corresponds to present reality. But in this general sketch, the concrete individual structures are necessarily blurred, and so are the essential lines of the evolution in progress. Hence the need for a more profound analysis.

1) The Problem of the Land

In general, and in spite of undoubted progress made in industrialization which has made great strides, especially during the last war, the Arab countries are still characterized by the overwhelming preponderance of an agricultural economy dominated by relationships which are substantially feudal in the Middle East, and capitalist in the colonialist-owned big estates of the Maghreb countries.

The parasitic and usurious bourgeoisie of the towns has a direct interest in maintaining the present conditions in the country since it is these conditions which enable it often to own lands – which it sub-lets at a profit – and to manage, as it were, the finances of the fellahin who are constantly short of money and overwhelmed with debts. There are only nuclei in formation – but growing steadily despite everything – of an industrial bourgeoisie properly so called, whose interest it is to curb the power of the feudalists and the usurious bourgeois, to carry out certain reforms, and to raise the standard of living of the peasants, thus creating the home market which is indispensable for its own development.

It is these nuclei of the industrial bourgeoisie, as well as the intellectual or even military circles – linked ideologically to the industrial bourgeoisie – who, in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and Iraq, have really led the Arab revolution in the post-war period. (This is apart from the special case of the Algerian revolution which we shall study later.)

Let us make clearer, by means of some essential data, the present economic and social structure in the rural districts of the Arab countries:

From 5 to 45% of the land area is suitable for cultivation and an even smaller percentage has been cultivated, between 2 and 33%, but in general less than 10% The primary problem of water and irrigation weighs heavily on the exploitation of the land. In the six following countries – Lebanon, Syria, (Turkey), Transjordan, Iraq, and Iran – less than ⅛ of the cultivated lands is irrigated. In Iraq, 2,620 square miles are irrigated out of 19,100 square miles that could be, and in Syria, 1,250,000 acres out of 8,750,000 acres.

The limited area of cultivated land, aggravated by irrigation difficulties, occupied by an agricultural population forming the overwhelming majority of an ever increasing total population, lowers the average available land per capita to a level comparable with that of India, namely 1.48 acres.

This extremely low proportion of cultivated land, as well as the very low yields of crops, are due to outmoded social relations rather than to insurmountable natural obstacles.

Islam forbids tenant farming at fixed rents; it has stipulated share-cropping and has allowed the most drastic rates. Furthermore, the inheritance laws laid down by the Koran have favored the splitting up of estates to an extreme degree, each male child inheriting two parts and each female child one part.

In addition, the principle of state control under the Ottoman Empire bore heavily on the land for a long time. It first allowed the creation of fiefs burdened with a rent and this favored absenteeism of the vested “lords,” bad cultivation, stagnation, and consequently extremely diversified systems of tenure.

The rights of the Moslem cultivator of the land (share-cropper or owner) are in general – whether in the Maghreb or in the Middle East – confirmed by custom, tradition, and the arbitrariness of the heads of the family or of the tribes, who fix the rents and periodically redistribute the lands inside the land collective of the family or tribe (muchaa system).

This keeps the cultivator in a state of uncertainty regarding his rights and the future of his plot. This uncertainty is in its turn reflected in poor routine cultivation of the soil.

By a certain simplification, it is possible to distinguish, in the Middle East, side-by-side with “mulk” lands, corresponding to the individual peasant holdings in European countries, the fief and the tenure which predominate. Originally property of the state, or rather of the sovereign, the “miri” lands have passed to the feudal lords, for services rendered, in the form of “mulk,” or else in the form of more or less long-term leases, and, in either case, sub-let by the feudal lords to the peasants. The “matruki” are lands reserved for public use and the “waqf” represent property in mortmain, religious or charitable donations.

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The “miri” are characteristic of Iraq, the “matruki” of Iran; and for a long period the “waqf” represented one-tenth of the cultivated lands in Egypt.

In the Maghreb, the large agricultural estates, established on the best land, are generally in the hands of capitalist settlers and of a few native big landowners. They are cultivated according to modern methods, thanks to the use of an abundant and cheap native labor force, the landless peasants. As for the lands left for the native population, they are divided into “mulk” lands, the indivisible family lands – characteristic of the mountainous regions (each household of the agnatic family having the right to the yield in proportion to the area) – cultivated by the members of the family or by share-croppers on a ⅕ basis (khammes) in the case of land belonging to semi-nomads of the Sahara oases, of collective lands of peasant communities or of pastoral tribes; and of public or private “habous” lands equivalent to the Egyptian “waqf.” The latter category is still particularly important today in Tunisia.

In a general way, there is social predominance everywhere of landlords as well as of the “notables” of the tribe or of the community and of their merchant and usurious bourgeois allies in the towns; in their hands are concentrated the economic power, the financial power, and the civil authority; on the other hand, small landowners, especially all precarious landholders, who, for that very reason, do not see the necessity and the possibilities of long term cultivation.

The leasehold rent is often demanded in cash by the owners who live in the town. In order to subsist, the peasant must almost regularly resort to credit – an advance in cash or in kind – the formula varying but giving interest of 100% or more to the “merchants” or to the lending capitalist proprietors, acting as managers of their “clients,” paying their taxes, taking over their extraordinary family expenses, etc.

It is only the peasants in the mountainous regions like those in Algeria or Morocco – where the system is one of indivisible family and communal property and where a great spirit of mutual help prevails – who escape from this rule relating to the condition of the Arab peasant. But on the other hand, the population in these regions is constantly increasing on a poor and limited land-area, already minutely split up, fully settled, and overpopulated. This is what has given rise to emigration on an hitherto unknown scale.

In Egypt, before the 1952 agricultural reform, the land under cultivation broke down into some 5,600,000 feddan [5] of privately owned land, 592,000 feddan of waqf lands and 2,500,000 feddan of state land or land for common public use. Small holdings of less than 5 feddan per family accounted for 37% of the total; but this was in the hands of 94% of the owners. Medium-sized holdings of between 5 and 10 feddan represented 31.6% of the privately owned property, in the hands of 5.3% of the owners. The large estates of more than 50 feddan and representing more than 31% of the private property (without counting the waqf lands) was owned by less than 0.5% of the owners.

It is estimated, however, that it is impossible to subsist on less than two feddan. Now before 1952 there were more than two and a half million owners with less than 2 feddan, and the tendency, in view of the growth of the population, was towards a reduction even of this area. And the average share of the crop paid to the landlord was 80% of the total income!

In Lebanon the very tiny estate of between 1.2 and 12 acres predominates, but a few years ago, 2% of the owners still owned 40% of the land.

In Syria, before the recent land reform, the large estates of more than 250 acres, contrasting perhaps even more than in Egypt with the small one of under 25 acres, accounted for more than 15% of the cultivatable area. In the north of the country, the big landowners hold from 80 to 90% of the land; and 60 to 75% in the Damascus region: [6]

In Iraq, “property is the most subinfeudated, the system is vague, and the most outstanding feature is the development of the large estate. Under the Turkish regime, outside the urban areas, all the land was miri,” [7] and this was seized in various ways by the feudalists and the “notables.”

Before the recent agrarian reform, about one thousand landlords owned some 20 million acres out of a total of 30 million acres of arable land. Certain “notables” owned estates of 100,000 acres worked by veritable serfs who often received only 30% of the harvest. [8]

In Jordan the small holding of less than 25 acres predominates. From 30 to 40% of the villagers are probably landless. The system of the large estate, concentrated in the hands of a few hundred landlords, is still increasing.

In Iran, 85% of the land workers do not own the land on which they work: it belongs either to the state or to a limited number of big landowners.

In the Maghreb the situation is as follows:

In Tunisia, out of about 22 million acres of “productive” land, about 9,300,000 acres of which are actually cultivated, the colonists recently still owned 1,900,000 acres of the best land. The rest is divided among a few large native feudal owners of habous lands and a multitude of small native owners.

In Algeria, out of nearly 30,000,000 acres of arable land, 10 million of which are cultivated, 25,000 European colonists own or have the concession of a little more than 7 million acres of the best lands. In 1950 the lands owned by the European colonists represented 38% of the cultivated land. It is estimated on the other hand that the rural land owned by the Moslems consists of about 600,000 holdings of which 70% are not viable (less than 25 acres).

There is therefore an agricultural population of almost 700,000 peasant families without land (three to four million people).

In Morocco, 12,200,000 out of the 37 to 50 million acres of arable land (and 10 million acres of forest) were actually under cultivation in 1953 (about 10 million under cereals). Six thousand European colonists owned about 2,500,000 acres of arable land (with 900 farms of more than 750 acres), of which 1,500,000 acres are actually worked. The yields, however, are often three times as great as those of Moroccan farmers.

The few thousand Moroccan big feudalists own one quarter of the cultivated land in Morocco, i.e., 4,500,000 acres. About 1,300,000 Moroccans cultivate nearly 10,000,000 acres of land. In 1954 it was estimated that there were 500,000 peasant families without land. [9] A quarter of the land cultivated by the Moroccans is in the form of collective lands.

Everywhere, whether in the Middle East or in the Maghreb, there is an immense rural proletariat side-by-side with a mass of impoverished peasants and nomads [10]; a surplus population without any possibility of obtaining really productive employment.

The living conditions of this population are among the most miserable in the world: an annual income per capita – and sometimes per whole family, as in Egypt – of less than 50 dollars; total illiteracy; numerous diseases due to under-nourishment or the conditions of work and the climate (tuberculosis, malaria, trachoma – which does not spare the eyes of even an Ibn Saud – bilharzia, ancylostomiasis, etc.), all of which undermine their already weakened organisms.

And while the tendency of evolution is towards concentration and modernization of the large estates, the surplus peasant population, which is not economically employed and consequently not economically viable for the cultivation of the land, increases because of the progress that is nevertheless made in hygiene, the sedentarization of the nomads, and the increased productivity of the soil, which does not expand in proportion.

Thus there is clearly sketched out the primary importance, side-by-side with the national struggle for real independence from imperialism, of the agrarian problem in these countries. This problem, furthermore, can be satisfactorily solved only by a complete agrarian reform in the framework of an overall revolutionary policy that will give the peasant sufficient land and will increase its productivity. To recover new land by various hydraulic projects, to eliminate disease and illiteracy, to increase the productivity of the soil, and, by making great strides in agriculture, to back up the indispensable parallel of industrialization of the Arab countries, demands more than an agrarian reform, it requires an overall state policy.

The agrarian reform in the Arab countries should aim at giving the land to those who actually work it, that is to say, to the small landowners, the share-croppers and agricultural workers, removing all the uncertainties which now weigh so heavily on the small plot, expropriating without compensation the lands of the large native and colonist owners as well as the waqf and habous lands, and enlarging the existing lands by hydraulic and other projects wherever possible and necessary.

As regards the forms to be taken by such an agrarian reform, they must take into account both the community customs which still characterize the Arab family and tribal society (although on the decline because of the penetration of capitalism) and the requirements of an irrigated cultivation, no less on a community basis.

This means that it is possible to foresee on a broad scale for these countries an agricultural reform which will right from the outset bring into being communal or tribal collectives (which will be amalgamated later into larger collectives) and convert the best of the large agricultural holdings of the native feudalists and the colonists into state undertakings, managed by collectives of the agricultural workers or sharecroppers now working on them.

In fact, the standard of living of the Arab share-cropper or agricultural worker is at present so low (perhaps horrifying would be the better word) that any appreciable economic improvement, including for example in the form of wages, can inspire these masses to greater productivity on a collective farm of which they would be the managers.

Naturally, the concrete case is different for each country and sometimes even for this or that region.

2) Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, and Industrialization

Quite recently the Arab bourgeoisie was still composed essentially of the merchants and rentiers to whom the greatest part of the profits from agricultural production accrued in one form or another. These strata consumed, redistributed, or exported the produce of the earth, hoarding their gains in the form of gold, or investing them in real estate or in large estates sublet to sharecroppers or cultivated by agricultural workers, along the lines of a capitalist undertaking: [11]

These strata likewise engaged in the usurious exploitation of the peasants, bound to them “by a complex system of debts, of commercial relations, or as clients.” Merchants playing an important part in trade (textiles, cereals) or in transport, were a characteristic feature also in the basic composition of the Arab bourgeoisie in the towns in the Maghreb.

This structure of the Arab bourgeoisie, essentially parasitical, still predominates at the present moment.

But the economic transformations that occurred in the Arab countries as a result of imperialist penetration, the opening up of the oil fields, and the slow but steady process of industrialization, have given rise, side-by-side with these strata, to nuclei of an industrial bourgeoisie properly so called and consequently to a modern proletariat.

In the Middle East, in addition to the trade bases and undertakings such as the Suez Canal, it is the oil fields which have been the greatest influence in the economic and social transformation of the countries of this region. Today there are 600 oil wells in the Middle East supplying one quarter of the total production of the Western world, while the reserves in this area are estimated at ⅔ of the total of the “Atlantic” reserves. [12] The total output of the Middle East is worth more than one thousand million dollars per annum. The income obtained from petroleum forms the major part, if not the whole, of the budget of the oil-producing Arab states. Only a very tiny part of this income, however, is now used for the benefit of the national economy.

Nevertheless, the technical needs for exploiting the petroleum and the profits arising from this exploitation have completely overthrown the traditional life on the whole of the “Persian” fringe of a country like Arabia for example, where slavery still prevailed quite recently: denomadization and proletarianization, road construction, urbanization.

Furthermore, a modern industry has been developed to varying degrees in the different countries of the Middle East, especially since the First World War and still more since the Second: extractive industries (other than that of petroleum which is entirely in the hands of the imperialists) or processing industries.

By far the main industry is the textile industry, especially in Egypt (which, in addition to cotton, processes linen, rayon, and natural silk in very large factories as well as in a multitude of artisanal workshops). Then come the Lebanon and Syria. In Iraq, the textile industry is only in its initial stages, and only cotton and rayon are processed.

Then come the foodstuff, the metal, the chemical, and the building industries, all of recent development and concentrated chiefly in Egypt, with a few undertakings in the Lebanon and Syria. As a general rule, these industries, including the textile industry, do not as yet, in spite of their constant progress, even cover internal demand, and consequently it is very exceptional if there is surplus for export.

Their development is important, however, because of its social consequences, strengthening the formation of a real industrial bourgeoisie and of a modern proletariat.

The contingents of the latter are still weak numerically; but, often concentrated and holding key economic positions in these countries, they are steadily growing: a vanguard of some 200,000 oil workers in Iran, in the Persian Gulf protectorates, in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, in Syria, and in the Sahara; workers in the textile and building industries in Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad; workers in transport, dockers in the various ports from Alexandria to Lattaquieh.

Egypt alone – by far the most industrialized of the Arab countries – has 1,300,000 workers at the moment, but most of them (90%) are unskilled workers scattered among several thousands of small workshops; only 65 factories employ more than 500 workers.

In the Maghreb, the economy is dominated by colonial agriculture whose aim is exportation. Nevertheless,

processing industries have been established in the towns, first with the object of satisfying the needs of the internal market, especially of the Europeans: flour mills, alimentary paste factories here and there, modern oil-processing plants, and a few canneries. But before 1945 at least, they supplied practically nothing for export. Most of the other produce of the soil and the subsoil were also scarcely ever processed, either. [13]

Before the war not one of the countries in North Africa had

a metal industry apart from foundries and repair workshops. Not textile industries, either, although cotton fabrics were one of the most important import articles. There were just a few workshops processing wool, especially in Morocco. The chemical industry was limited on the whole to the production of sulphuric acid and superphosphates used almost exclusively by the European settlers. The building industry was unable to satisfy the needs in these countries under construction. Algeria, for example, imported two thirds of its cement, one half of its lime, and even a substantial proportion of its tiles and bricks. [14]

This situation has changed very much since the last war. Industrialization then appeared to be essential for the war effort itself. From 1943 on, in the three countries in North Africa cut off from the mother country, there was soon a shortage of the most essential manufactured goods. It was therefore necessary to improvize a whole series of new industries: foodstuffs, metallurgical, household goods, chemical and glass industries, building industries, etc.

A number of these industries, being unable to face the competition of the better equipped industries in the mother country, failed as soon as the war ended. But the impetus given to industrialization was able to be maintained nevertheless, thanks to fresh investments of capital fleeing from France or of international capital, due likewise to the strategic importance of the Maghreb countries, which favored large-scale undertakings and heavy expenditure. Industry benefited greatly from these investments (public or private).

In addition to some local capital invested in the foodstuff and textile undertakings,

large concerns in metropolitan France established branches, such as Pont a Mousson, Air Liquide, Solvay, Pechiney, Saint-Gobain, Lafargue, Niederwiller, Boussac, Amieux, etc, and some Anglo-American undertakings (Nord-Africaine de Plomb in Zellidja, Gulf Oil and Shell in Tunisia). [15]

Thus various factories sprang up: metallurgical, textile, chemical, etc. Some of these factories (foodstuff industries) are at the place of production, but most of them have been erected near the ports and have given rise to vast industrial quarters (the famous “bidonvilles” being among them)

Neither in the Middle East nor in the Maghreb has the industrialization process now taking place brought about as yet any qualitative transformation of the traditional economic structure of these under-developed countries dominated by agriculture and trade.

Technically, the large-scale development of industry is handicapped by the absence of a heavy industry which could efficiently and cheaply equip the light industries and consequently reduce the exorbitant cost price of the goods made by the home industries which, in order to survive. have to be protected by no less exorbitant tariffs.

Economically, the feudal structure in the rural regions and the usurious role of the merchant bourgeoisie of the cities are impeding the creation of a vast internal market capable of spurring the development of industry.

Financially, the development of industry is impeded by the lack of sufficient resources for primary accumulation of capital, native capital preferring the rapid and substantial profits to be obtained from mercantile and money-lending operations and foreign capital being willing to invest only cautiously, likewise with the hope of quick profits, while the state, in the hands of the native feudo-capitalists or of imperialism, in its turn favors this speculative activity and itself absorbs, by the phenomenon, well known in these countries, of an officialdom as plethoric as it is incompetent and parasitical, a high proportion of the resources which would otherwise be available for the development of the national economy. [16]

Furthermore, because of their very nature as underdeveloped countries, an immense productive force, represented by the working potential of their population, remains for the most part without any possible productive employment: two thirds of the 18 million fellahin in Egypt, 7 persons out of 9 of the Algerian native population, etc.

Thus the social and economic conditions of the feudo-capitalist regime in these countries, still economically dominated – with very rare exceptions – by imperialism, constitute a major obstacle to the industrialization of these countries and render absolutely unattainable any prospect of catching up with the industrial countries in the foreseeable future.

And yet natural conditions are nowise unfavorable to a rapid industrialization of the Arab countries.

Even though the problem of hydraulic power or power based on coal is generally difficult for any of these countries to solve, on the other hand most of them can benefit, apart from the solar power of tomorrow, from the extraordinary abundance of petroleum, resources which, combined in an inter-Arab pool, would be fully sufficient for all the needs of their industrialization.

Mineral resources, although poorly prospected and ill known, seem to be abundant:

In the Middle East: Bituminous limestone in the Yarmouk valley in Syria, vast deposits of salts in the whole Syrian desert, in the Dead Sea [17], on the shores of the Red Sea, etc; iron ores to the east of Assuan in Egypt, and in the Lebanon; coal, copper, and lead in the Yemen; gold at Mahad Dahab in Saudi Arabia; phosphates in Egypt and in the Libyan desert, etc.

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In North Africa: Phosphates in Tunisia and especially Morocco which produce nearly one third of the world output; iron deposits, especially in Algeria, such as those of Bone (centre of Ouenza), the working of which is now contemplated with an estimated production of 400,000 to 500,000 tons of iron per annum; lead and zinc deposits in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco; manganese, cobalt, and other rare minerals in Morocco; very large mineral resources of many kinds in the Sahara; petroleum, gas, the Colomb-Bechar coal basin, iron deposits in Gara Djebilet and Fort Gouraud, copper at Akjoujt, various mineral deposits in Hoggar, etc.

To these mineral resources of the Middle East and North Africa must be added the raw materials from vegetable and animal sources: cotton, cane and beet sugar, various oils, wool, etc.

With regard to the financial conditions for the industrialization of the Arab countries, they are fully satisfied by the existence of the petroleum resources combined with a vast and currently idle surplus labor power of the population of these countries. Theoretically, the colossal profits from the production of petroleum [18] should be sufficient to finance the industrialization of a united Federated Arab Republic. But the greater part of these profits returns to the foreign imperialist companies and to the ruling oligarchies (governments, kings, sheikhs). [19]

The fabulous incomes of the Sheikh of Kuwait and of the royal treasury of Saudi Arabia are well known: more than $500 million and $300 million respectively per annum! The Sheikh of Kuwait uses about one third for his family (70 people) and another third is invested in “international shares of the first order by an investment committee” set up by the Sheikh in London, the famous Kuwait Investment Board! Only one third is used for the so-called “general good.”

As regards the petroleum income of Saudi Arabia, $50 million are used in maintaining the 300 members of the royal family and the 24 “1001 Nights” palaces (against only $13 million for agriculture between 1952 and 1954, $80 million for the army in 1955).

In Iraq, on the other hand, 70% of the revenue from petroleum was used by a “Development Board” to improve the national economy, especially agriculture, thanks mainly to works controlling the floods of the Tigris and the Euphrates for irrigation purposes.

The imperialist grip on petroleum also impedes home consumption, partly because of the difficulties it sets up to the refining of any quantity of crude petroleum on the spot, but mainly because of the imposition of a price much higher than the production price in the Middle East since it is calculated on the basis of the price of American oil.

In conclusion, expropriation without compensation to the imperialists and feudalists is a primary condition if the very vast Arab petroleum resources are to make an effective contribution to the rapid development of the national economy of these countries.

There is another very important resource in these countries which by itself could at least partly solve the difficult problem of primary accumulation of the capital required for a rapid and large-scale commencement of industrialization; this resource is the productive mobilization of the labor power of millions of men and women now partially or totally unemployed. This force, engaged in irrigation works, reforestation, and diverse civil construction, as well as in local industry, within the framework of a state-controlled and planned economy, could very quickly make considerable productive forces available, beginning by substantially increasing agricultural production. The effective mobilization of this resource is likewise a question of the social system.

Balance Sheet of the Present Bourgeois Leadership of the Arab Revolution

It is these data that must be taken into account when judging the role played by the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership of the Arab revolution in this post-war period, to draw its trial balance, and to evaluate its prospects.

The outstanding events in the Middle Eastern and Arab revolution in general, in the new stage opened since the end of the Second World War, are: the Mossadegh experiment in Iran; the 1952 Egyptian political revolution and the rise to power of Nasserism; the liberation of Tunisia and Morocco; the Algerian revolution of November 1954; the formation of the UAR; the 1958 Lebanese and Iraqi revolutions.

In all these events a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership of the revolution asserted its authority, heading up the national anti-imperialist struggle. In some cases, the leading political role played by the bourgeois parties and personalities – themselves of bourgeois social origin or definitively attached ideologically to the bourgeoisie – was perfectly clear: Mossadegh in Iran; the Istiqlal in Morocco; the Neo-Destour and Bourguiba in Tunisia; various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois formations in Lebanon and Syria. In other cases, such as those of Egypt and Iraq, the leadership of the revolution was taken over by a Bonapartist officers’ group, whose social essence and orientation should be better grasped. This is more generally the case of Nasserism.

Events have completely demonstrated, it seems to me, the correctness of the essential theses of revolutionary Marxism on the development of the colonial revolution in our time and the role of the native bourgeoisie. They have confirmed the possibility for the bourgeoisie to struggle, up to a certain point, against imperialism, and this in turn confirms the necessity of a national anti-imperialist united front rallying all classes, in the case of colonial and semi-colonial countries.

But events have equally demonstrated the limitations of the native bourgeoisie in all essential fields: real independence from imperialism; national unification; agrarian reform; industrialization; the emancipation of women. Because of the fact that the native bourgeoisie, including the nucleus of the industrial bourgeoisie, is in all these countries both economically weak, too tied up economically with imperialism, with the feudalists, and with the other native exploiting strata (mercantile and usurious bourgeoisie), and afraid to base itself firmly on the peasant and worker masses, events have shown that this bourgeoisie cannot achieve and complete the aforementioned essential tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. [20]

Mossadegh’s failure in the nationalization of oil in Iran; the balance sheets of the Istiqlal regime in Morocco and the Neo-Destour regime in Tunisia; today’s trial balance of the Iraqi revolution – all this experience is present to show clearly the limitations of a revolutionary leadership that is in the last analysis bourgeois. (We shall treat separately the case of the present Algerian revolution.)

These limitations are all the more flagrant in that the international conditions of the post-war period have in reality given the national bourgeoisies of the colonial and semi-colonial countries exceptional possibilities and chances, because of the antagonism between the East and West and the quite new possibilities of diplomatic, military, financial, commercial, and technical aid at the disposal of the USSR and the other workers’ states. [21]

Owing to these new circumstances, the national bourgeoisie has the possibility of pushing its relative independence from imperialism much further than in the past, and at the same time to stand up victoriously to possible aggressions by imperialism, as was the case at the time of the Anglo-French 1956 Suez expedition, and again at the time of the events following the 1958 revolution in Iraq.

But the class nature of the national bourgeoisie prevents it from profiting by such an exceptional situation to make radical riddance of the economic consequences of imperialism and the feudalists, whose existence is a major obstacle to the extension of the internal market and to a rapid and large-scale industrialization. The economic positions of imperialism are nowhere completely eliminated in the Arab countries, including Egypt – far from it.

In the case of certain expropriations and statifications, which took place under the drive of the masses and of urgent political and economic needs – such as those of the Suez Canal and other enterprises in Egypt – the imperialists have been given fat compensation, which loads the national economy with burdens which reduce to just that extent the possible resources that could have been devoted to industrialization.

The case of petroleum, which is determinant for the economic future and the industrialization of the Arab countries, is characteristic of the general weakness of the bourgeoisie confronted by imperialism. The new relationship of forces set up between the two might be able to lead the bourgeoisie to negotiate the terms of the contracts with the oil companies in a way more favorable to itself. This process has already started. [22]

But the stage of the statification without indemnization of these companies, a primordial precondition for ensuring the primitive accumulation necessary to get industrialization started on a big scale in the Arab countries, will not be entered without the revolutionary drive of the Arab masses and without a leadership that goes well outside the bourgeois framework.

The task of the unification of the Arab nation is no less compromised under the present bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership of the Arab revolution, Arab unification is too progressive a task not to subordinate to it the character of the regime under which it might be able to be brought about,

The unification of the Arab nation would form the most propitious framework for the economic, social, and political flowering of the Arab revolution. From this point of view, the political forms in which this process is carried out are less important than the content itself. If for example Arab unification could be brought about in the framework of a single centralized state, governed by Nasser, however anti-democratic this state might be, one would not be able to be against such a unification. One would be satisfied merely to continue the struggle for democratic freedoms and for socialism within such a state.

But it is in practice improbable that Nasserism unify the Arab nation under the form either of a centralized inter-Arab state, or even of a confederation of Arab republics. All forms of association of the Arab states as transitional forms toward unification in a single centralized state or an effective federative republic [23] must be considered progressive and supported if they tend to be carried out.

The present difficulties within the UAR between Egypt and Syria, as well as the attitude of reserve on both sides between the UAR and Iraq about extending unification also to the latter country; Bourguiba’s hostility toward the UAR; the dissensions even within the Maghreb – these are so many important indications of the organic, and not merely conjunctural, inaptitude of any one of the Arab bourgeoisies – even of the relatively most dynamic among them – to set itself up as the assimilating and unifying element of the Arab countries as a whole.

The different fractions of the Arab feudocapitalist ruling classes are too heterogeneous from the viewpoint of economic and social structure, each too differently tied up to imperialism, too particularist, to polarize themselves by their own will and movement around a single axis in a single national framework. Only a strong political power endowed with great economic dynamism would be able to break the centrifugal particularist tendencies and bring about unification, which is above all the common revolutionary aspiration of the Arab masses. [24]

Nasserism does not have this scope. Nasserism represents par excellence a Bonapartist power which exploits the strength of the mass movement in Egypt and in the Arab countries as well as the antagonism between the East and West, to the final profit of the social stratum – still limited but steadily being re-enforced – of the national industrial bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie, capitalist par excellence, does not at present have sufficient strength to rule through a parliamentary democratic party and government. To impose its rule it needs a strong state able to face both imperialism and the economically backward native feudo-bourgeois strata, without being outflanked on the left by the autonomous revolutionary movement of the masses.

The military power of the “anti-imperialist” “national” officers – offspring mostly of the middle bourgeoisie of the towns and country, sons of medium-large landowners, businessmen, or functionaries – who aspire in vague social terms to “modernize” their country, to “catch up with” the West, etc. – such a power is, for this stratum of the bourgeoisie, a dream come true as a political tool.

Basically Nasserist Bonapartism works in favor of the development of capitalism, both through the fact that part of the state administration, growing wealthy because of its functions, becomes capitalist, i.e., an owner of capital, and through state action as a whole, which is trying to make up for primitive capitalist accumulation and is aiding industrial capitalist development [25] against the limitations to this development produced in the past by the omnipotence of imperialism and feudalism.

The inter-Arab policy of Nasserism in trying to create a vaster inter-Arab market from which imperialist and feudal obstacles would be at least partly eliminated, and in trying on such a basis to bring other fractions of the Arab bourgeoisie to tie into this undertaking, is also purely capitalist in its economic essence.

We have just seen the limits of the anti-imperialist struggle of the national bourgeoisie as well as those of its struggle for national unification and industrialization. It remains for us to demonstrate the limits of its struggle against the feudalists, which clearly appear in the extreme timidity of the agrarian reforms undertaken since the war by the national bourgeoisie.

In Egypt, the agrarian reform has to date benefited less than about 10% of the immense mass of the fellahin, while having accorded fat indemnities to the “expropriated” proprietors. [26]

The extension of the agrarian reform now going on in Syria sets the ceiling on private property left to the feudalists at 200 acres of irrigated land, increased by 100 acres in case of children, plus 750 acres of non-irrigated land. For the rest of his land taken over by the state, the owner is indemnified on the basis of a price for the land equal to ten times the average annual rent (which is often, as in Egypt, four times greater than the rent of an equal area in Europe).

As for the land distributed to the peasants, it will be formed of plots of 20 acres of irrigated land or 75 acres of non-irrigated land, payable in 40 years at an interest rate of l.5%. This reform also will not affect at the end of the five years required for its application, more than an infinitesimal part of the more than three million landless peasants in Syria.

As for the agrarian reform in Iraq, which in a sense precipitated the extension of the agrarian reform in Syria, it is even more moderate “in view of the fact that Iraq possesses three times more cultivatable land than Syria”! – as certain Arab apologists for the reform very paradoxically argue (cf. the Oct 1958 Arab Review, published by the Arab Students’ Union in England).

This reform, also spread over five years, proposes that the upper limit of private property shall be brought down to 618 acres of irrigated land and 1230 acres of non-irrigated land. In all these cases, the class of former big landowners will be succeeded by a stratum of rich peasants who, sheltered from financial troubles – if only because of state indemnities – will have no difficulty in economically dominating, one way or another, the small peasants who have become owners of tiny plots, in a thankless climate, without suitable material and technical aid from the state.

As for the liberated countries of the Maghreb – Tunisia and Morocco – apart from limited expropriations, with indemnity, of a few settlers’ estates, no serious attempt at agrarian reform has yet been undertaken.

Under these conditions it can be affirmed without any exaggeration that the crucial problem, the agrarian problem, remains essentially intact in the Arab countries, and that it is an illusion to expect a radical solution thereof from the present leadership of the Arab revolution.

As for the emancipation of women, whose condition in these countries, as a result of Islamic prescriptions and the feudal past, is among the most anachronistic and grievous in the world, the solution of this task also is tied up with the radical economic and social transformation of these countries, which cannot be accomplished under the present feudo-capitalist regime. [27]

For a New Revolutionary Marxist Arab Leadership

Both to wind up and complete the Arab revolution’s bourgeois-democratic tasks, properly so called, and to tackle the socialist reconstruction of the Arab nation, it is necessary to cause a new leadership of the revolution to arise, representing the proletariat and the poor peasant masses of the Arab countries. In other words, a revolutionary Marxist leadership.

It must be admitted, however, that this task is running very late as against history’s time-table, and that it has been terribly complicated, in the Arab countries as elsewhere, by the changing foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy. By their thoroughly opportunist and class-collaborationist policy, the Communist Parties, docile instruments in the Arab countries just as elsewhere, have in reality so far sabotaged the creation of autonomous class political parties that stimulate the autonomous organization and action of the proletariat and the poor peasants.

Granted, such a necessary class policy does not mean to minimize in any way whatever the alliance with the national bourgeoisie in the effective struggle against imperialism and the feudalists. But this equally necessary alliance must take the form of a united front among autonomous class organizations with a view to effective action, for precise goals, each of the participants in the front fully safeguarding its own political physiognomy and its full right to criticism of its conjunctural allies. That is the Leninist policy of the united front. In colonial and dependent countries, in view of the dual role of the national bourgeoisie, this policy involves the merciless ideological criticism of the inevitable limitations of the national bourgeoisie, and the no less inevitable class struggle against it, in order to complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution and to tackle the socialist tasks properly so called.

Instead of following such a line, the Communist Parties of the Arab countries were forced by the Kremlin to line up, sometimes with the positions of the metropolitan bourgeoisie, sometimes with those of the national bourgeoisie, thus betraying both the struggle for national independence and the struggle for social liberation.

Every time the Kremlin wagered on the alliance or the neutralization of a metropolitan bourgeoisie, it cynically sacrificed to this goal the interests of the anti-imperialist struggle and of the social revolution in the countries dependent upon this metropolis. Before and during the Second World War, in order to maintain its alliance with Great Britain and France, the Kremlin forced the Arab Communist Parties to tone down their struggle for national independence, and even flatly to sabotage this struggle just so as not to hinder its imperialist allies. After the war, at another stage, when the movement for national independence became in spite of everything irresistible, in order to win the good graces of the national bourgeoisie in its own struggle against the Atlantic powers, the Kremlin forced the Communist Parties here and there to line up completely with the positions of the national bourgeoisie, to tone down and even openly to sabotage the autonomous class struggle for the social revolution in these countries.

Is it necessary to recall the sabotage of the anti-imperialist struggle in which the Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and other Communist Parties engaged during the war, a struggle sacrificed on the altar of the Kremlin’s alliance with Great Britain, France, and the United States? Is it necessary to recall how, “full of understanding” for the “historical bonds” allegedly existing between their respective countries and France, the Communist Parties of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in fact long sabotaged the struggle for the national independence of these countries and then were taken into tow by the nationalist leaderships which took the initiative in such a struggle? Is it necessary to recall the almost unconditional support that the CPs of Egypt and Syria gave Nasser from 1955 on, after the big arms agreement between Egypt and Czechoslovakia, a support that went even to the extreme of self-liquidation and open sabotage of any class policy in these countries?

It is true that this unconditional support to Nasserism now seems to have been partially withdrawn from him, in a new turn-about by the CPs of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, which are criticizing Nasser, taking stands against the extension of the UAR to Iraq, and singing the praises of the sovereignty of each Arab state, now Iraq first of all.

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Naturally, what is mainly responsible for this policy, at first sight puzzling, is also the Kremlin itself, which probably considers it dangerous to strengthen Nasser any further, for fear lest he soon do without the Kremlin’s support and swing over to the Western side. This zigzagging and utterly opportunist policy – determined by the changing objectives of the Kremlin’s foreign policy and not by the well understood imperative needs of the anti-imperialist and social revolutions in the colonial and dependent countries – is applied by the Kremlin through a few key men in the Communist Parties, for the majority of their members and even of their cadres have no consciousness of the role of simple pawns that their parties play on the chessboard of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. It well might be, in the case of a very strong revolutionary movement of the masses, that they might drag certain of these parties beyond the limits assigned to their action by the Kremlin, as was the case with the Algerian CP, joining – tardily and against the line of the French CP – the Algerian revolution led by the FLN; and this might tomorrow be the case with the CP in Iraq.

In general, however, these parties, with the exception of the CPs of Iraq and now again of Syria, are at present largely discredited and isolated from the broad Arab masses. This raises the problem of the creation of the new, revolutionary Marxist, leadership in the Arab countries, with prospects of working not essentially in the CPs but by other ways specific to each country.

The primordial task in all the Arab countries currently consists in grouping together, on the integral programme of revolutionary Marxism, i.e., of the Fourth International, a nucleus of Arab cadres who at the same time are inside the real mass movement of their respective countries, and who begin to work up a platform, a transitional programme, that takes into account the peculiarities of their countries. This concrete transitional programme must combine anti-imperialist and national democratic demands with socialist slogans properly so called, in order thus to show in each country the concrete specific road that leads from the present situation to the radical, socialist, solution, within the Arab context. The preparation of such a programme must go hand-in-hand with the definition and propaganda of the transitional party that will work for this programme.

The struggle for the socialist solution is inseparable from the struggle for the formation of the revolutionary Marxist mass party, the indispensable instrument for socialist victory. But the creation of the revolutionary Marxist mass party passes in each case by concrete transitional paths.

In this way it may be that the revolutionary Marxists of countries like Morocco or Tunisia reach the conclusion that the formation of the revolutionary Marxist party takes the path of the creation of a Labor Party based on the trade unions [28], in view of the strength of the trade-union movement and the tendencies to spontaneous politicization it has shown (Tunisia) and currently continues to show (Morocco). This way can, furthermore, turn out to be of a more general interest, for the trade-union movement is called upon to play an identical role, also of a politically pioneer nature, in a whole category of countries.

Such a party will have to work up a general programme as advanced as possible, and especially a transitional action programme, giving a concrete answer to the unsolved problems of genuine independence from imperialism, Arab unification, agrarian reform, economic and industrial development, and the emancipation of women.

In the more special case of Algeria, it is obvious that both the revolutionary Marxist tendency and the essential forces of a mass Labor Party of tomorrow will emerge from the inevitable social and political differentiation within the present FLN. The FLN, at its beginnings an anti-imperialist national united front, is constantly undergoing a differentiation through the deepening, the experience, and even the difficulties, of the revolution. Its base is essentially plebeian, composed of rural laborers of the big colonial estates, of poor peasants from the mountain regions and the oases, of khammes [29], of nomads from the Sahara, craftsmen, petty traders, and workers from the cities of Algeria and from the proletarian emigration in France. Its leadership is taken by elements who have emerged from these milieux, mixed with intellectual elements and a few rare representatives of middle-bourgeois strata.

The disproportion, much greater than elsewhere, between plebeian elements and petty-bourgeois and especially bourgeois elements, which is in favor of the numerical and social importance of the former, causes the Algerian revolution to be far deeper and harder to “bourgeoisify,” to “Bourgibify,” than the Tunisian or even the Moroccan revolution.

Nevertheless the fact must not be minimized that, for lack of a clear revolutionary Marxist ideology, even the best-intentioned and most pro-plebeian petty-bourgeois elements inevitably fall back into the orbit of a policy which, finally, is bourgeois.

This danger is always lying in wait for the leadership of the FLN: I am speaking, of course, not of the openly pro-bourgeois if not themselves bourgeois elements, like Ferhat Abbas, but of its left intellectuals and its military leaders of peasant stock. This is all the more the case in that the Algerian revolution is now burdened by the weight of: the de Gaulle regime with its “economic and social overtures,” its ambiguity about Algeria, and also its stepped-up repression; the pressure of the Tunisian and Moroccan bourgeoisies attracted by the prospect of coexploiting the riches of the Sahara together with imperialism; the prostration of the French workers’ movement; and also – it must be said – the ineffectiveness of the political programme and general leadership of the Algerian revolution.

It is not a matter of bringing into question the enormous positive accomplishment of the FLN, the initiator of the revolution and the organizer so far of a fierce and nothing less than astonishing resistance to the extraordinarily powerful war effort of an exasperated and savage imperialism. It is rather a matter of understanding that the very deepening of the revolution under the new conditions in which it is put, requires that its social programme be made more specific, and that the structure and functioning of the FLN be made more democratic, so that the plebeian base of the revolution may be more associated with it and therein find the reasons, the prospects, and the justification of its long combat and its immense sacrifices.

The creation of revolutionary Marxist nuclei in each Arab country, inside the real mass movement, must go hand-in-hand with their inter-Arab liaison, in order to form in reality the initial nucleus of the mass Arab revolutionary Marxist party of tomorrow. The Fourth International is disposed and firmly decided to aid, by a great effort in all fields, the accomplishment of such a task. Its militants are collaborating closely and fraternally, without the faintest desire to impose their views bureaucratically, with all Arab comrades who are revolutionary Marxists or who are turning toward revolutionary Marxism, independently of complete agreement on the totality of the positions of the Fourth International in order to help them to group together organizationally both by countries and on the inter-Arab plane, to work up their platform, both inter-Arab and country by country, and to publish an inter-Arab revolutionary Marxist theoretical organ.

This is a great and urgent task. The future of the Arab revolution depends upon it. From the depths of that revolution there have already emerged admirable and heroic figures seeking more or less confusedly for its socialist future, its only future.

In the lineage of a proletarian like the Egyptian Mustapha Khamis [30] or one of the first glorious moudjahidines of the Algerian revolution, Larbi Ben M’Hidi [31], the Arab revolutionary Marxists will know how to carry the revolution, for which fellahin and proletarians have accepted so many sacrifices, to its victorious goal: the Arab Socialist Republic.

November 1958


1. Even in Arabia, there is not, strictly speaking, an Arab race according to modern scientific definitions; rather there is a mixture of three main racial types: Chamite, Mediterranean and Armenoid (according to Bertram Thomas). In Iraq the basic population is “nabatee” or “Chaldean,” and “Aramaic” or “Syriac” in Syria-Lebanon. Ethnically. Egypt is Coptic. From Libya to Morocco the Maghreb is Berber; the Berbers themselves are not a race but an “ethnic complex.”

2. R. Puron: The Near East, Editions Payot, Paris.

3. There was also a movement of demands in Algeria in the ’20s, led by the Emir Khaled; and at Paris in 1923 there was created the Etoile Nord-Africaine.

4. Except Aden, the Pirate Coast, Bahrein, and Kuwait in Arabia, which are territories controlled or protected by Great Britain; Palestine and Jordan obtained only in 1948 and 1949 respectively the formal status of independence.

5. One feddan is equal to 478 square yards.

6. This property was cultivated by share-cropping. “The lots entrusted to the tenants are between 17.5 and 150 acres for dry farming, depending on the quality of the soil and the dryness of the climate, and the proportion which they keep for themselves varies in the same way from one half to four fifths. The contracts concluded for one year or for the duration of the crop rotation offer no guarantee to the tenant. He is bound to the owner only by his debts.” (The Mediterranean and the Middle East, by P. Birot and Jean Bresch, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris)

7. Ibid.

8. A law in 1933 gave the owner the right to keep the share-cropper on the land until he had paid his debt.

9. In 45 years the miserable conditions have driven one million rural people to the towns where they form the semi-proletariat of the “bidonvilles” (shanty-towns).

10. The latter, mostly shepherds, although declining surely and inevitably, still form an appreciable component in the total Arab population, perhaps something like 10%: 300,000 in Syria, the majority of the six million inhabitants of Saudi Arabia, two million in Iran, more than half the population of the Sahara (where there are about 1.7 million inhabitants).

The conversion of the nomads to a sedentary life, now taking place both in the Middle East and in the Maghreb, is a result of the creation of the various independent states, breaking up the desert and cutting off the pasture areas, as well as of the introduction of the trade and automotive transport of the capitalist era, which make a wandering life in the desert both difficult and obsolete.

“Sedentarization is accompanied more than ever by profound economic and social changes. The tribal chiefs are being transformed into large landowners by various means: dictatorial distribution of the arable lands, sale of water, and credits,” while others become simple peasants, or even, having lost all their flocks, go to swell the number of khammes at the oases, or transform themselves into proletarians flocking to the towns or to the oil-fields as in Arabia and now in the Sahara.

11. “In Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and even in the Lebanon, except in the high mountains, a goodly section of the large estates is in the hands of the bourgeois families who bought the ‘mulk’ lands, and acquired the usufruct of ‘miri’ estates (made valuable in Iraq by harnessing the waters) on the basis of shares in the agricultural communities of muchaa structure. They place them under managers, parcel them out among the tenants […] unless they expand the irrigation works, buy equipment, and introduce industrial crops for the purpose of speculation.” (The Mediterranean and the Middle East, by P. Birot and Jean Dresch)

12. Estimated at 16,100 million tons. Saudi Arabia alone has greater petroleum reserves than the United States (thanks in particular to undersea strata).

13. The Mediterranean and the Middle East, already quoted.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Officialdom in the underdeveloped countries (as well as petty trading, for that matter) is a means of escaping from the poverty to which the majority of the population of these countries is condemned. In Egypt in 1951 there were 550,000 officials, 200,000 of whom had no specific task.

17. Forty thousand million tons of mineral salts; inexhaustible reserves of potash.

18. It was 150 million tons or more than 20% of world production (not counting the USSR) in 1954. Furthermore it is estimated that Middle East petroleum will have to cover at least half of world consumption, which is to be doubled in the next ten years – which will raise production in the Middle East to 800 million tons.

19. At the present moment, each ton of oil produced in the Middle East brings to governments concerned an average share of the profits equivalent to $5.50.

20. That is the task proper to the bourgeois social revolution, which, in the past, in European countries, permitted overthrowing feudalism and installing modern capitalism.

21. Egypt: The volume of trade between Egypt and the USSR increased more than 11 times between 1953 and 1957. For a whole series of goods, the USSR is now Egypt’s main supplier. Thus, in 1957, among Egyptian imports the USSR figured for: 43% of the wheat; 37% of the oil; 37% of the sawn lumber; 50% of the plywood; 27% of the tractors. The USSR, furthermore, is now buying more than 30% of Egyptian cotton, and also rice.

Syria: In 1957 Syria’s imports from the Soviet Union represented, in value: Machinery and equipment 47%; Petroleum products 24%; Rolled iron 13%; Sawn lumber 9%.

Soviet imports coming from Syria were represented mainly by cotton (more than 70%).

The product of the sale of Soviet goods, in the case of both Syria and Egypt, was entirely devoted to the purchase of these countries’ agricultural products.

The credits granted by the USSR to the UAR at present add up to about $450,000,000 (of which about $200,000,000 for construction of the Aswan Dam).

22. In the form of “integrated” companies which are set up with Japanese and Italian capital in certain cases, sharing the profits according to more advantageous formulae than the traditional “fifty-fifty,” and giving a right to share in the profits arising not only from the production, but also from the refining, the transport, and the sale of petroleum. It is in these terms that Saudi Arabia recently wanted to draw up a contract with the Standard Oil of Indiana.

23. Between the United Maghreb Republic and the United Arab Republic of the States of the Middle East, for example.

24. Arab national unification must also include real autonomy and even self-determination for the different ethnic communities that exist in certain states, for example the Kurds in Iraq. It would furthermore have to solve, in the Middle East, the question of the state of Israel and the Arab refugees. These people, 800,000 in number, are still living uprooted and unemployed in camps, generally in tents. The only fair solution for their painful and explosive problem is their reinstallation in Palestine, the Arab country par excellence, the present state of Israel being absorbed as a national minority enjoying a regime of self-government and full cultural freedoms within a United Arab Republic of the Middle East.

25. Empirically Nasserism is finding its vocation as a political regime for the development of the industrial bourgeoisie. Ever since 1952 Egypt’s effort at industrialization has been speeding up, despite still limited practical results (only 200 million Egyptian pounds industrial capital in 1956).

The policy of the Nasserist state is more and more marked by the drive for industrialization: mixed enterprises, with strong participation by the state; a “Committee of Production” given the job of speeding up the development of industry; the “Committee of the Plan” in 1956; a five-year plan in preparation, which should begin in 1959.

This plan is to concern 256 million pounds sterling – a modest sum, after all – of which 36 million granted by the Soviet Union, 44 million by West Germany, 8 million by East Germany, and 10 million by Japan.

Nevertheless, the mobilization of local capital in favor of industry, including that given to landowners in the guise of payment for their lands expropriated by the agrarian reform, has so far been a failure.

26. The law of 1952 limits property in cultivated land to 200 feddans, or to 300 feddans, for the first two children give a right to 50 extra feddans each (300 feddans = 311 acres). Uncultivated properties are not affected by the agrarian reform. Thus 666,000 untilled feddans could be recuperated, plus 180,000 feddan, belonging to the royal family. In July 1956, 500,000 individuals divided into 65,000 families had benefited by plots from the 260,000 feddans that had been confiscated. The overall agrarian reform will affect 1,500,000 fellahin in all, out of more than 18.000,000. The indemnity paid to the former owner is set at ten times the rental value of his lands, plus the price of installations, machines, and trees. It is paid in 3% Treasury Bonds payable after 30 years. In July 1956. 5,000 million francs of these bonds had been delivered, and their interest payments honored.

The land sold is payable in 30 years, at a price equal to 30 times the tax rate, plus 3%, interest, plus l5% of the expenses of exploitation. The whole is payable on the annual harvest. In theory, the plots cannot be broken up, even on an inheritance basis.

The fellahin owners cultivate their lands within a collective framework – in obligatory cooperatives – receiving their share of the harvest on an area pro rata basis. The most important aspect of the reform is the authoritarian lowering of the formerly exorbitant rental rate, changed from between 40 and 50 Egyptian pounds per feddan before the reform to between 18 and 21.

27. The participation of women in the Arab revolution in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and now in Algeria, has partly loosened but nowise broken the mediaeval yoke that still lies upon them.

It is only the Moslem women of the mountain regions or of the nomad tribes who have here and there kept a certain freedom, sometimes possibly the inheritance of the matriarchal institutions of former times (women of Kabylia, but especially women of the Chaouia Berber culture of the Aures, Touareg women of the desert, etc.).

28. Worker, proletarian, in its ideology and programme; Worker and Peasant in popular nomenclature.

29. Share-croppers on a one-fifth basis.

30. Leader of the union workers of the big Kafrel-Dawar textile-mill in the suburbs of Alexandria, who on 12 August 1932 gathered before the offices of the management, demanding a raise in pay and the firing of a member of the company’s secretariat and of the head of the labor bureau, “in the name of Mohammed Naguib and the revolution!” Condemned to death by a court martial and executed, having refused to “denounce those who put him up to it,” to the last minute he shouted “Long live the revolution!” and murmured, “I shall not die.”

31. After several weeks of tortures, Ben M’Hidi, a heroic fighter right from the first hour of the Algerian revolution, still had the strength to spit out his contempt for an imperialist army of executioners, and the courage to proclaim in the faces of his tortures. “We shall win because our cause is just, and because your tortures are impotent against our faith in an independent Algeria.”

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Modern History of the Arab Countries

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