Bilan on the Arab revolt in Palestine

by Virgilio Verdaro

Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine part 1
Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine part 2
The Arab world in turmoil


Born in Switzerland and raised in Florence (where his father had been a professor of philosophy), Virgilio Verdaro joined the Italian Socialist Party at a young age. Alongside Amadeo Bordiga, he became a leader of the anti-parliamentary fraction of the party, and at Livorno in 1921 he helped to found the Italian Communist Party. A Swiss citizen, the fascists expelled him from Italy in 1922, whereupon he moved first to Austria then to Russia. There he returned to his studies of history, teaching at the Marx-Engels Institute and publishing, together with his wife Emilia Mariottini, a History of the International Labor Movement. They lived, along with other exiles, in the “Hotel Lux” in Moscow, working closely with Italian and Latin American members of the Comintern, all under the careful watch of the GPU.

In 1926 Verdaro welcomed his friend Bordiga to Moscow for the Comintern’s Sixth Enlarged Executive, whereupon Bordiga (recently ejected from the executive committee of the Italian Communist Party) proceeded to launch a polemic against Stalin, arguing for the staunch internationalist position that the Comintern itself should decide on Russian policy. It is often said that this was the last time a communist was able to insult Stalin to his face and live to tell the tale.* Bordiga’s comrades in Moscow would not all be so lucky. In 1929 Verdaro and some of his associates were condemned for “Bordigist-Trotskyist” deviations. All would either flee Russia or be murdered in the 1930s purges. During this period of repression (which Victor Serge called “the midnight of the century”) Verdaro, who was noted for his love of cats, began to write under the pseudonym “Gatto Mammone”, the name of a demonic cat in Italian folktales. In a biographical note on Verdaro, Philippe Bourrinet writes that “during heated debates in Moscow the Italian Stalinist Giovanni Germanetto would routinely refer to Verdaro’s cat as a ‘damned Trotskyist’.”1

In 1931 Verdaro managed to flee the USSR and join the core of Bordigist exiles in Belgium.2 There he became the secretary of the “Left Fraction of the Communist International” as the previously majority abstentionist faction of the Italian Communist Party came to call themselves (dropping “Italian” as internationalists and “party” in recognition of the definitive cooptation of the CPs by Stalinist “centrism”). Together with Ottorino Perrone, he soon became editor of the fraction’s new French-language journal Bilan.

In keeping with its title, Bilan took Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany as an opportunity to draw a balance sheet of the post-war revolutionary movements. Verdaro and Perrone approached this task with a remarkable openness, insisting there would be “no taboos and no ostracism”. They expressed a willingness to criticise earlier positions of their own faction, including those of Bordiga, and they published articles by other tendencies, including the Dutch German Left.

While the defeat of the German revolution and the rise of fascism were the core themes in Bilan (its cover repeated the line “Lenin 1917 – Noske 1919 – Hitler 1933”) the fraction was also concerned with the betrayal of internationalism signalled first by the Sino-Soviet war of 1929 and (ultimately) the soviet entry into the League of Nations. They saw Stalinism and fascism as closely related in so far as they represented war economies that were materially and ideologically preparing workers for another round of inter-imperialist carnage (and both depended on a historic defeat of the workers movement). Bilan devoted considerable attention to the international conflicts in which the contours of the coming war would first become visible. Thus they published extended articles on wars and civil wars in China, Japan, Abyssinia (Ethiopia), India, Spain, Greece, and Mexico, as well the 1936 Arab revolt in Palestine discussed in the articles below.3 All of these articles were written by Verdaro (under the name “Gatto Mammone”). Verdaro’s experience in Russia and with the Comintern seems to have provided him with a unique vantage point on questions of imperialism and geopolitics, as well as intimate knowledge of communist activities in many parts of the world.

Verdaro’s approach in these articles was framed by the Left Fraction’s deep scepticism towards movements for national liberation. Bilan explicitly rejected any strait-forward appropriation of Marx and Lenin’s formulations on “the national question”, declaring (surprisingly for a Bordigist current) that “Marxism is not a bible, it is a dialectical method; its strength resides in its dynamism” and that “we must stop, once and for all, jockeying with the hypotheses, phrases and disproved assertions of Marx and Lenin”.4 Marx had seen national liberation as a necessary component of the bourgeois revolution that would bring the world one step close to communism. Lenin hoped that it would weaken the imperialist powers and thus strengthen proletarian movements in both core and periphery. For Bilan there was no longer any scope for bourgeois revolutions in the periphery, the world faced only a stark option of inter-imperialist war or proletarian revolution.5 And Bilan argued that by the 1930s wars of so-called national liberation had generally become a means for one imperial power to challenge another (c.f Woodrow Wilson’s cynical championing of the anti colonial cause).6 Bilan thus ended up with a position very close to Rosa Luxemburg on the national question, a position that pitted them against both Stalinists and Trotskyists but united them with the German Dutch left (see the articles by Walter Auerbach that we have simultaneously republished).

But just as with Luxemburg, Bilan’s reluctance to support movements of national liberation as a counterweight to imperialism did not blind them to the evils of the latter. Rather, it was precisely their acute and prescient sense of the carnage that imperialism represented, together with the obvious weakness of any alliance of convenience between nationalist causes and this or that imperialist bloc (including the soviet bloc) that led to their vigilance in this respect. Nor did they draw the conclusion that because national independence without proletarian revolution was henceforth a chimaera that the struggles of the oppressed in colonised countries were hopeless or insignificant. On the contrary, since the only remaining choice was between inter imperial war and proletarian revolution, and since imperialist war was first announcing itself in the colonised hinterland, they looked for connections between revolutionary tendencies in both the colonised and colonising world as the only way to halt the otherwise inevitable onset of war:

“any progressive evolution in the colonies has become bound up not with so-called wars of emancipation of the ‘oppressed’ bourgeoisie against the domination of imperialism, but with civil wars of the proletariat and the peasant masses against their direct exploiters with insurrectionary struggles carried out in liaison with the advanced proletariat in the metropoles”7

This is the context in which Verdaro turned to an analysis of mounting conflict in the colonised world, including his analysis of the outbreak of Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936. In the articles below Verdaro situates Zionism and Arab nationalism in a broader historical and geopolitical context, focussing on the key role of British imperialism in pitting Jew against Arab ("divide et impera", the colonial policy sin qua non) to both secure it’s immediate interests in Palestine and to manage the collapse of the Ottoman empire while preventing the formation of a new Eastern bloc. This helps to explain why nationalism has been so successful in concealing class divisions in both camps. Here Verdaro points both to the fascist developments within Zionism (Jabotisnky) and to Stalinist support for an Arab chauvinism via the “Arabisation” of Middle Eastern communist parties.8 He concludes: “[f]or the true revolutionary, of course, there is no ‘Palestinian’ question, but only the struggle of all the exploited of the Middle East, Arabs and Jews included, which is part of the more general struggle of all the exploited of the entire world for the communist revolution.”

During his time in Belgium editing Bilan Verdaro lived in abject poverty and was subject to the harassment of both stalinist and fascist secret services. When the nazies invaded he fled to Switzerland where he found work as an archivist in Balerna, his birthplace. There he fell out of touch with the Bordigists, joined the local socialist party, and was even elected to the town council (a scandal for some of his anti-parliamentarist comrades). He died in Florence in 1960. Bordiga, from Naples, sent a letter of condolence to his wife, stressing that, despite all the vicissitudes, Virgilio “had never abandoned his faith in communist doctrine.” According to Bourinnet, a fictionalised Verdaro (Professor Rütli) appears in Charles Plisnier’s 1937 novel Faux Passeports (1937), which depicts him “as a thoughtful intellectual unaffected by the pathos of action and perinde ac cadaver [“corpse-like submission"] characteristic of Comintern Stalinism.”9


Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine (part 1)

Bilan n°31 – May-June 1936

The aggravation of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine, the accentuation of the anti-British orientation of the Arab world, which during the world war was a pawn of British imperialism, has induced us to consider the Jewish problem and that of the pan-Arab nationalist movement. Here we will try to treat the first of these two problems.

We know that, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the various countries to which they came which didn’t expel them (less for religious reasons invoked by the Catholic authorities than for economic reasons, in particular the confiscation of their property and the cancellation of their credit) regulated their living conditions according to the Papal Bull of the mid-16th century, which became the rule in all countries, forcing them to live in closed quarters (the ghetto) and obliging them to wear an infamous insignia.

Expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1394, they emigrated to Germany, Italy and Poland; expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1498, they took refuge in Holland, Italy and above all in the Ottoman Empire which then occupied north Africa and the greater part of south east Europe; there they formed, and even form today, a community speaking a Judeo-Spanish dialect, whereas those emigrants in Poland, Russia, Hungary, etc., speak the Judeo-German dialect (Yiddish). The Hebrew language, which during this epoch remained the language of the Rabbis, was removed from the realm of dead languages to become the language of the Jews of Palestine with the current Jewish nationalist movement.

While the smaller number of Jews in the West, and to some extent those in the USA, acquired economic and political influence through their influence on the stock market, and intellectual influence through the number of them in the liberal professions, the great masses were concentrated in Eastern Europe, which already, by the end of the 18th century, grouped together 80% of Europe's Jews. Through the first partition of Poland and the annexation of Bessarabia, they came under the rule of the Tsars, who by the beginning of the 19th century had two-thirds of all Jews within their territories. From the outset, the Russian government adopted a repressive policy dating from Catherine II, which found its fiercest expression under Alexander III, who envisaged the solution to the Jewish problem in the following way: a third must be converted, a third must emigrate, and a third must be exterminated. They were confined to a number of districts in provinces in the northwest (White Russia), southeast (Ukraine and Bessarabia) and Poland. These were their areas of residence. They were not allowed to live outside the cities, and especially not in the industrialised areas (mining basins and metalworking regions). But it was above all among these Jews that capitalism made its first inroads in the 19th century, and that a class differentiation was determined.

It was the pressure of Russian government terrorism that gave the first impetus to Palestinian colonisation. The first Jews returned to Palestine after their expulsion from Spain at the end of the 15th century, and the first agricultural colony was established near Jaffa in 1870. But the first serious emigration began only after 1880, when police persecution and the first pogroms led to emigration to America and Palestine.

This first “Aliyah” (Jewish immigration) of 1882, the so-called “Biluimes”, was mostly made up of Russian students who can be considered the pioneers of Jewish settlement in Palestine. The second “Aliyah” took place in 1904-05, following the crushing of the first revolution in Russia. The number of Jews settled in Palestine rose from 12,000 in 1850 to 35,000 in 1882 and 90,000 in 1914.

These were all Jews from Russia and Romania, intellectuals and proletarians, because the Jewish capitalists of the West, like the Rothschilds and the Hirsches, limited themselves to financial support which gave them a benevolent reputation as philanthropists, without the need for them to give up their precious persons.

Among the “Biluimes” of 1882, socialists were still few and far between, because in the controversy of the time as to whether Jewish emigration should be directed to Palestine or America, they favoured the latter. In the first Jewish emigration to the United States, socialists were therefore very numerous, and early on set up organisations, newspapers, almost trying for a kind of communist colonisation.

The second time the question arose of where to direct Jewish emigration, it was, as we said, after the defeat of the first Russian revolution and as a result of the worsening pogroms characterised by that of Kitchinew [Chisinau, Moldavia].

The Zionism which attempted to assure the Jewish people a place in Palestine and which had just set up a National Fund for acquiring territory, was, at the time of the 7th Zionist Congress in Basel, divided between the traditionalist current which remained faithful to the constitution of the Jewish state in Palestine and the territorialists who were for colonisation elsewhere, in this case in Uganda, offered by the British.

Alone a minority of socialist Jews, the Poales Zionists of Ber Borochov, remained faithful to the traditionalists, all the other Jewish socialist parties at the time, such as the Zionist Socialists (S.S.) and the Serpistes – a sort of reproduction in the Jewish milieu of the Russian Social-Revolutionaries – declared themselves for territorialism. The oldest and the most powerful Jewish organisation of the time, the Bund, was, as we know, quite negative on the subject of the national question, at least in this period.

A decisive moment for the movement for national renaissance was opened with the world war of 1914. After the occupation of Palestine by British troops, to which the Jewish Legion of Jabotinsky rallied, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was promulgated which promised the constitution of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.

This promise was sanctioned at the San Remo Conference in 1920, which placed Palestine under British mandate.

The Balfour declaration led to a third “Aliyah” but it was above all the fourth, the most numerous, which coincided with the remit of the Palestinian mandate to Britain. This “Aliyah” already involved quite numerous layers of petty-bourgeois. We know that the latest immigration in Palestine which followed the rise of Hitler to power and which is certainly the most important already contained a strong percentage of capitalists.

While the first census carried out in Palestine in 1922, reflecting the ravages of the world war, recorded only 84,000 Jews, or 11% of the total population, that of 1931 already registered 175,000. In 1934, the figures were 307,000 out of a total population of 1,171,000. The current figure is 400,000 Jews.

Eighty percent of the Jews are established in the towns whose development is illustrated by the rapidly mushrooming city of Tel-Aviv. The development of Jewish industry is also rather rapid: in 1928 one could count 3,505 firms, of which 782 had more than 4 workers, i.e. a total of 18,000 workers with a capital invested of 3.5 million pounds.

In the countryside Jews accounted for only 20% of the population, while Arabs made up 65%. But the fellahin work their land with primitive means, while the Jews in their colonies and plantations work according to the intensive methods of capitalism, employing Arab labor at very low wages.

The figures we have given already explain one side of the present conflict. For twenty centuries the Jews had abandoned Palestine and other populations were installed on the banks of the Jordan. Although the Balfour declaration and the decisions of the League of Nations pretended to give respect to the rights of the occupants of Palestine, in reality the growth of Jewish immigration meant driving the Arabs off their lands, even if they were bought at a low price by the Jewish National Fund.

It is not out of humanity towards "a persecuted people without a country" that Great Britain chose a pro-Jewish policy. It was the interests of British high finance, in which Jews have a predominant influence, that determined this policy. On the other hand, right from the start of Jewish colonisation, there was a marked contrast between Arab and Jewish proletarians. Initially, Jewish settlers employed Jewish workers because they exploited their national fervour to defend themselves against Arab incursions. Afterwards, with the consolidation of the situation, the industrial and Jewish landed proprietors preferred Arab, to the more demanding Jewish labour.

In forming their unions, the Jewish workers, rather than engaging in class warfare, devoted themselves to limiting competition from low-wage Arabs. This explains the chauvinistic character of the Jewish labour movement, which is exploited by Jewish nationalism and British imperialism.

Of course, there are also political reasons behind the current conflict. British imperialism, despite the hostility of both races, would like to bring two different states under the same roof, and even create a bi-parliamentary system with separate parliaments for Jews and Arabs.

In the Jewish camp, aside from the procrastinating directive of Weissman there are the revisionists of Jabotinsky who in fighting official Zionism, accused Great Britain of absenteeism, if not of reneging on its commitments, and who wanted to open Jewish immigration up to Trans-Jordan, Syria and the Sinai Peninsula.

The first conflicts, which broke out in August 1929 around the Wailing Wall, resulted, according to official statistics, in the deaths of two hundred Arabs and one hundred and thirty Jews – figures which are certainly lower than the reality, because while the Jews succeeded in repelling the attacks in the more modern conglomerations, in Hebron, Safit and some Jerusalem suburbs, the Arabs went on to carry out some real pogroms.

These events marked a halt to the pro-Jewish British policy because the colonial British empire comprised many Muslims, India included, which was sufficient reason for it to be prudent.

Following this attitude of the British government towards the Jewish national homeland, the majority of the Jewish parties: the orthodox Zionists, the general Zionists and the revisionists went into opposition, while the staunchest support for British policy (led at the time by the Labour Party) was represented by the Jewish Labour movement which was the political expression of the General Confederation of Labour, organising almost all the Jewish workers in Palestine.

Recently, a common struggle between Jewish and Arab movements against the Mandate Power had been expressed, but only on the surface. But the fire was smouldering beneath the ashes, and the explosion consisted of the events of last May.

* * * * *

The Italian fascist press has been up in arms against the accusation of the “sanctionist” press that fascist agents had fomented the struggles in Palestine, an accusation that was already made regarding recent events in Egypt. Nobody can deny that fascism has a great interest in fanning the flames. Italian imperialism has never hidden its designs towards the Near-East, that’s to say its desire to substitute itself for the mandatory powers in Palestine and Syria. Moreover, in the Mediterranean it possesses a powerful naval and military base on Rhodes and the other Dodecanese islands. British imperialism on the other hand, may find itself at an advantage due to the conflict between Arabs and Jews – for according to the old Roman formula divide et impera, it must divide in order to rule – but it must also take into account the financial power of the Jews and the threat posed by the Arab nationalist movement.

This latter movement, which we'll talk about at greater length another time [see “The Arab world in turmoil” below], is a consequence of the world war, which led to industrialisation in India, Palestine and Syria and strengthened the indigenous bourgeoisie which presented its candidature for government, that is, for the exploitation of the indigenous masses.

The Arabs accuse Britain of wanting to make Palestine the Jewish national homeland, which would mean stealing the land from the indigenous population. They have again sent emissaries to Egypt, Syria and Morocco in order to lead an agitation in the Muslim world in favour of the Palestinian Arabs, so as to try to intensify the movement with a view of a national pan-Islamic union. They are encouraged by recent events in Syria where the mandatory power, France, has been obliged to capitulate in front of a general strike, and also by events in Egypt where agitation and the constitution of a single national front has obliged London to treat the government of Cairo as an equal. We don't know if the general strike of the Arabs in Palestine will obtain a similar success. We will examine this movement at the same time as the Arab problem in the next article.



Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine (part 2)

Bilan n°32 – June-July 1936

As we saw in the first part of this article, when, after 2000 years of “exile”, the “Biluimes” acquired a strip of sandy territory south of Jaffa, they found that other people, the Arabs, had taken their place in Palestine. The latter numbered a few hundred thousand, either fellahin (peasants) or Bedouins (nomads). The peasants worked with very primitive means, as the soil belonged to the landowners (effendi). British imperialists, as we know, in encouraging these Arab landowners and bourgeois to fight alongside them during the world war, had promised them the constitution of an Arab national state. The Arab revolt was, in fact, of decisive importance in the collapse of the Turko-German front in the Near-East, since it nullified the Ottoman Caliph’s appeal to Holy War and held at bay numerous Turkish troops in Syria, not to mention the destruction of the Turkish army in Mesopotamia.

But if British imperialism helped to instigate this Arab revolt against Turkey, thanks to its promise to create an Arab state composed of all the provinces of the old Ottoman Empire (including Palestine), it didn’t hesitate to also solicit, as a counterpoint in defence of its own interests, the support of the Jewish Zionists, by telling them that Palestine would be handed over to them both in terms of administration and colonisation.

At the same time, it gained the support of French imperialism by ceding to it the mandate over Syria, thus detaching this region, which forms an indissoluble historical and economic unit with Palestine.

* * * * *

In Lord Balfour's letter to Baron Rothschild, President of the Zionist Federation of England, dated November 2, 1917, in which he informed him that the English government looked favourably on the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and that it would use all its efforts to achieve this objective, Lord Balfour added that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".

Despite the ambiguous terms of this declaration, which allowed a new people to install themselves on their soil, the Arab population as a whole remained neutral at first, with some even in favour of the establishment of a Jewish national homeland. Arab landowners, fearing that an agrarian reform law would be instituted, were willing to sell land. The Zionist leaders, preoccupied with political concerns, did not take advantage of these offers at first, and even went so far as to approve the Allenby government’s ban on land sales.

Soon, the Zionist bourgeoisie was inclined to occupy Palestine completely (territorially and politically), dispossessing the native population and driving them into the desert. This tendency is manifest today among “revisionist” Zionists, i.e. in the pro-fascist current of the nationalist Jewish movement.

The area of arable land of Palestine is about 12 million metric “dounams” (1 dounam = 1/10 of a hectare) of which 5 to 6 million are currently under cultivation.

Here’s how the area of land cultivated by the Jews in Palestine since 1899 has been established:

1899: 22 colonies, 5,000 inhabitants, 300,000 dounams.
1914: 43 colonies, 12,000 inhabitants, 400,000 dounams.
1922: 73 colonies, 15,000 inhabitants, 600,000 dounams.
1934: 160 colonies, 70,000 inhabitants, 1,200,000 dounams.

In order to judge the real value of this progression and the influence which comes from it, we mustn't forget that even today Arab cultivation of the land is of a primitive fashion, while the Jewish colonies employ the most modern cultivation methods.

Jewish capital invested in agricultural enterprises is estimated at several million gold-dollars, 65% of it in plantations. Although Jews own only 14% of cultivated land, the value of their produce accounts for a quarter of total production.

On the orange plantations, the Jews manage 55% of the total crop.

* * * * *

It was in April 1920, in Jerusalem, and in May 1921, in Jaffa, that, in the form of pogroms, the first symptoms of Arab reaction occurred. Sir Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner to Palestine until 1925, tried to appease the Arabs by halting Jewish immigration, while promising the Arabs a representative government and allocating them the best lands in the public domain.

After the great wave of colonisation in 1925, which peaked at 33,000 immigrants, the situation worsened and eventually led to the movements of August 1929. It was at this time that the Arab populations of Palestine were joined in their struggle by the Bedouin tribes, called forth by Muslim agitators.

Following these events, the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry sent to Palestine, known as the Shaw Commission, concluded that the events were due to Jewish labour immigration and the “scarcity” of land and it proposed to the government to buy land in order to compensate the fellahin who had been dispossessed of their land.

When, in May 1930, the British government accepted the conclusions of the Shaw Commission in their entirety and once again suspended Jewish labour immigration to Palestine, the Jewish labour movement – which the Shaw Commission had refused to listen to – responded with a 24 hour protest strike, while the Poale-Zionists, in every country, as well as the large Jewish unions in America, protested against this measure through numerous demonstrations.

In October 1930, a new statement on British policy in Palestine appeared, known as the "White Paper".

It was also very unfavourable to Zionist arguments. But, faced with the ever-growing protests of the Jews, the Labour Government responded in February 1931, with a letter from MacDonald, which reaffirmed the right to work, and to Jewish immigration and colonisation, and authorised Jewish employers to hire Jewish labour when they preferred the latter to Arabs, regardless of any increase in Arab unemployment.

The Palestinian labour movement was quick to put its trust in the British Labour government, while all the other Zionist parties remained in suspicious opposition.

We have demonstrated, in the preceding article, the reasons for the chauvinist character of the Palestinian workers' movement.

The Histadrut – the main Palestinian union – only included Jews (80% of Jewish workers are organised). It was only the necessity to raise the standard of living of the Arab masses, in order to protect the high wages of Jewish labour, which has lately led it to support Arab organisation. But the embryonic unions grouped in the “Alliance” remain organically separate from the Histadrut, with the exception of the transport union which includes representatives of both races.

* * * * *

The Arab general strike in Palestine is now entering its fourth month. The guerrilla warfare continues, despite the recent decree imposing the death penalty on the perpetrators of an attack. Every day there are ambushes and assaults on trains and cars, not to mention the destruction and burning of Jewish property.

These events have already cost the Mandatory Power almost half a million pounds sterling for the upkeep of the armed forces and the reduction of tax income, a consequence of the passive resistance and the economic boycott of the Arab masses. Recently, in the Commons, the Minister of the Colonies has given figures on the victims: 400 Muslims, 200 Jews and 100 police. Up to now, 1,800 Arabs and Jews have been judged and 1,200, of which 300 are Jews, condemned. According to the Minister, a hundred Arab nationalists have been sent to concentration camps. Four Communist leaders (2 Jews and 2 Armenians) were detained and 60 Communists were under police surveillance. These are the official figures.

It is evident that the policy of British imperialism in Palestine naturally draws its inspiration from a colonial policy characteristic of all imperialism. This consists of relying everywhere on certain strata of the colonial population (by pitting races against each other or different religious denominations, or by arousing jealousies between clans or chiefs), which enables imperialism to firmly establish its super-oppression over the colonial masses themselves, without distinction of race or denomination.

But if this manoeuvre was able to succeed in Morocco and in central Africa, in Palestine and in Syria the Arab nationalist movement presents a very compact resistance. It relies on the more or less independent countries which surround it: Turkey, Persia, Egypt, Iraq, the Arab states and, moreover, is linked to the whole of the Muslim world which accounts for 300 million individuals.

Despite the contrasts between the various Muslim states and despite the Anglophile policies of some of them, the great danger for imperialism would be the constitution of an eastern bloc capable of imposing itself – which would be possible if the awakening and strengthening of nationalist sentiment in the indigenous bourgeoisies could prevent the awakening of the class revolt of the colonial exploited who want to put an end to both their exploiters and European imperialism – and which could find a rallying point in Turkey, which has just reasserted its rights over the Dardanelles and which could resume its pan-Islamic policy.

But, Palestine is of capital importance for British imperialism. If the Zionists thought they were getting a “Jewish” Palestine, in reality they would only get a “British” Palestine. The Palestinian transit routes link Europe to India. They could replace the maritime route from Suez whose security has just been weakened by the establishment of Italian imperialism in Ethiopia. Nor should we forget that the pipeline from Mosul ends at the Palestinian port of Haifa.

Finally, British policy will always have to take account of the fact that 100 million Muslims live in the British Empire. In Palestine, British imperialism has so far succeeded in containing the threat posed by the Arab national independence movement. It opposes the latter with Zionism which, by pushing the Jewish masses to emigrate to Palestine, dislocates the class movement in their country of origin where they would have found their place and ensures a solid support for British policy in the Middle East.

The expropriation of land and miserable prices plunged the Arab proletarians into abject poverty and drove them into the arms of the Arab nationalists, the large landowners and the nascent bourgeoisie. The latter evidently profited from this in order to direct the discontent of the fellahin and proletarians against the Jewish workers in the same way that the Zionist capitalists have directed the discontent of the Jewish workers against the Arabs. British imperialism and the Arab and Jewish ruling classes can only be strengthened by this division between the Jewish and Arab exploited.

Official communism helps the Arabs in their struggle against Zionism, which is qualified as an instrument of British imperialism.

As early as 1929, the Jewish nationalist press published a police "blacklist" in which communist agitators figured alongside the Grand Mufti and Arab nationalist leaders. Today, many communist militants have been arrested.

After having launched the slogan of “Arabisation” of the party (the latter, like the CP in Syria and even Egypt, had been founded by Jewish intellectuals who were later denounced as “opportunists”) the centrists have today launched the slogan of “Arabia for the Arabs” which is nothing but a copy of the slogan “Federation of all Arab peoples”, the motto of the Arab nationalists, i.e. the large landowners (Effendi) and intellectuals who, with the support of the Muslim clergy, lead the Arab Congress and channel, in the name of their interests, the reactions of the exploited Arabs.

For the true revolutionary, of course, there is no “Palestinian” question, but only the struggle of all the exploited of the Middle East, Arabs and Jews included, which is part of the more general struggle of all the exploited of the entire world for the communist revolution.



The Arab world in turmoil

Bilan n°44 – October-November 1937

The events in Spain, and even those in China, are already old news. New developments are occurring with extraordinary growth. Alongside the clarion calls of Mussolini and Hitler, or the "policing" decisions in the Mediterranean by the Anglo-French fleets in collaboration with the Italian fleet, aimed at tracking down "unknown" pirates, we have the situation in the Middle East, where the plan to divide Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state is coming to the fore, provoking discontent on both sides. Using as a pretext a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the assassination of a senior British official in Galilee, the High Commissioner of Palestine outlawed the Arab Executive Committee and hunted down Arab nationalist leaders, deporting them to the remote islands of Seychelles.

We shall dwell here on the Arab national problem. Arabs are generally confused with other Muslims. This is particularly so because, until the World War, they were subject to the Turks (Ottomans), with whom their only affinity was the common Muslim religion. The Arabs, both sedentary and nomadic, number no more than 40 million (5 million in Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine; 6 million in Arabia proper; 15 million in Egypt and Tripolitania and 12 million in the Maghreb, i.e. Morocco and southern Algeria), but they consider themselves the "chosen" race because Mohammed arose among them. However, they are extremely different from one another, both ethnically and religiously. Ethnically, because the conquest was carried out by the Prophet's successors at the head of tens of thousands of nomadic Bedouins from the Arabian desert, who imposed their domination on the indigenous populations. Religiously, because while almost all of them are Muslims, they are divided into the various sects of Islamic heresy. Although the national renaissance movement, i.e. pan-Arabism, is older, in reality, the Arab problem can be said to have arisen from the 1914 war.

During this imperialist conflict, only a tiny minority of Arabs followed the pan-Islamic trend proclaimed by Turkey and supported by Germany. The majority of Arabs were won over, by direct suggestion from English imperialism, to the idea of liberation from the Turkish yoke and the constitution of an independent Arab state (especially the populations of the Arabian desert, where the action of the all-too-famous Lawrence took place). In Egypt, on the other hand, this movement was naturally less intense, because Egypt was already de facto independent from Turkey, and the foreign power was precisely England, which took advantage of the war to impose its "protectorate", which was merely the sanction of its effective occupation in 1882.

The Sharif of Mecca, who had pompously proclaimed himself "King of Arabia", was recognized under the more modest name of King of the Hijaz in 1916. The most important result of this skilful "divide and rule" policy, pitting the two most important fractions of the Muslim world against each other: the Arabs against the Turks, was to prevent the proclamation of the Holy War, which could have set in motion the Islamic populations of the Allies’ colonies.

The war having ended with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire – Turkey was reduced to the rank of a secondary Asian power until its revival under Kemel Pasha – the Arabs naturally found their aspirations disappointed: the imperialist brigands ceded nothing of what they had stolen.

British imperialism held on to Palestine (where it also created a National Home for the Jews, to reward the Zionists, its most loyal agents), Iraq (i.e. Mesopotamia) and Transjordan under the Mandate.

As for Egypt, where a king more receptive to imperial demands was put on the throne, it was granted purely fictitious "independence" in 1922, while the Sudan remained completely under British occupation.

France was given a mandate over Syria. All in all, the Arabs found themselves under far greater oppression than under the "Sick Man of Europe" [trans. The Ottoman Empire].

Only in the deserts of Arabia were national states formed: the Sharif of Mecca remained king of the Hedjaz, and one of his sons became Emir of Transjordan, the other king of Iraq. The other states were the Emirate of Nedjed and the Imamat of Yemen.

In short, all Arab peoples remained dominated by European imperialism in one form or another: through the old dynasties of the kings of Egypt, the sultans of Morocco, the beys of Tunisia or the new vassal kings of Iraq and Transjordan, or in the form of League of Nations mandates. And what the imperialists mean by "mandates", Japan proved with the Pacific Islands and Great Britain with its mandate in East Africa. In other Arab countries, imperialism continued to dominate directly, like Italy in Libya, or France in Algeria.

And even the states of Arabia, despite their "independent" name, remain, thanks to their backward state, under the economic domination of British imperialism, from which Yemen would like to escape by throwing itself into the arms of Italian imperialism, with which it has just concluded a treaty. The unified Arab power that Arab nationalists dream of, and that the Wohabite ruler of Saudi Arabia (born of the unification of Hedjaz and Nedjed) would like to realize in his own interests, could only be, in the final analysis, a satellite of British imperialism, because the Arabian Peninsula remains of the utmost strategic importance as a route to India, especially since Italian imperialism has established itself in Ethiopia and threatens the other imperial route via Suez. This Arab state, in addition to Arabia proper, would include Transjordan, to which Palestine and Syria would be attached.

This obviously offends French imperialism, which has made Syria its strategic base in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly after Turkish rearmament in the Dardanelles.10

But Italian imperialism also has its sights set on the Middle East. Not only would it like to replace France's religious monopoly as the guardian of Christianity, but it would also like to replace France in the Syrian mandate and, finally, as already mentioned, it is seeking to support its manoeuvres in Yemen.

As we can see, in the Middle East too, the various imperialisms are at loggerheads, and a new nerve centre is emerging.

As we all know, Egypt – along with Iraq in 1932 – was admitted to the League of Nations. But this kind of certificate of good conduct that hegemonic imperialists grant to colonial or semi-colonial countries does not guarantee them anything, as Ethiopia learned to its cost.

Egypt's entry into the Geneva Council, in the wake of this year's Montreux Conference – the one that abolished the "capitulations"11 – thus strengthens the current that would like to form, with Turkey, Iran (Persia's official name), Afghanistan, Iraq and soon, no doubt, Syria and Lebanon, a kind of Little Muslim Entente that could play an important role in the course of events, as a stimulus to the Islamic populations subject to European imperialism. In fact, of the two hundred and fifty million Muslims, 80% depend on the latter. 95 million depend on the British Empire; 55 million on the Netherlands (Sunda Islands), 22 million on France.

And what role does the mass of the exploited play in all this? There is one common and decisive characteristic of all Arab countries: just as all political levers of control depend on British, French, Italian and Spanish (Morocco) imperialism, their entire economic life is in the hands of foreign financial capital: banks and factories; livestock and grazing land; means of production and communication; public debt... etc. etc. Even the artificial irrigation systems that are vital to the Arab populations because they live in the steppes and deserts where their existence depends on this, are in its hands.

The "foreign" imperialism that transforms Arab countries into agrarian appendages and suppliers of raw materials for the metropolis naturally relies on feudal landowners, the commercial bourgeoisie and the clergy. In the Arab countries in particular, landowners dominate, while the development of the capitalist element is reduced to a few subtle layers of commercial bourgeoisie more or less linked to feudal landowners. Only Egypt stands out because, as in India, during the war an industry was formed that strengthened the bourgeoisie and gave rise to a proletariat. The Egyptian national bourgeoisie also relied on workers' agitation to achieve its political ends, even though it persecuted the workers' movement when it came to power with the interested help of British imperialism.

The fellahin (sedentary Arabs) and Bedouins (nomadic Arabs) are thus subjected to dual national and foreign exploitation; to theft of land and livestock; to unprecedented exploitation in forms different in name but equal in result; to the scourge of usury. The influence of the clergy should not be underestimated: the Grand Sharif of Mecca, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, are supporters of imperialism on the same scale as the Abuna (head of the Coptic Church in Abyssinia) who was among the first to recognize the Italian conquerors.

Centrism obviously sets great store by nationalist movements, inviting representatives to its "anti-imperialist" congresses. But it is certain that the Wafd in Egypt, the Arab Higher Committee in Palestine, the "National Bloc" in Syria, and the Destour (nationalist party) in Tunisia are quite prepared to make a pact with imperialism. And if they have taken the lead in violent agitations, they have done so in an attempt to curb them and prevent a class solution. For both foreign imperialism and these privileged Arab classes, the enemy is the same: the mass of the exploited seeking its own way. The great revolts in Morocco in 1924-26 (Abd-el-Krim), in Syria in 1925, the movements in Palestine in 1929 and 1936, the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt were much less the work of nationalists than the expression of mass discontent against their double exploitation. Even less were they the work of Moscow's "red hand".

In more economically developed countries trade unions exist – in all Muslim countries there are guilds which in many cases have served as nuclei for workers' organisations – and strikes and workers' agitation are the order of the day. But most of these unions are in the hands of the nationalist-reformists, with whom centrism now forms a united front.

In the most economically backward Arab countries – Morocco, southern Algeria, Libya – the only form of mass reaction against economic exploitation and the prospect of inevitable cannon fodder in imperialist conflicts has been the tribal revolt against the oppressor, exemplified by the Abd-el-Krim uprising.

Of course, there are communist parties in the Near East, at least in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and French North Africa. But they are all excessively weak numerically and subject to the most ruthless repression by "democratic" France and England. Their internal history is represented by the trend towards "Arabization" demanded by Moscow, which in simple terms means integration into the nationalist movement. Naturally, there's no shortage of Trotskyites, and we know what that means.

In assessing all national problems, we come up against the incomplete positions that the Third International, in its revolutionary period, laid down for colonial countries.

All these incomplete, erroneous positions, envisaging a common struggle between the exploited and bourgeois nationalist movements, end in massacres and the channelling of mass enthusiasm behind bourgeois nationalism, i.e. behind imperialism, with which a compromise will always be found.

For other countries, the centrists maintain that "communists must oppose counter-revolutionary and capitulatory national-reformism with the revolutionary pan-Arab and anti-imperialist front of the working masses and the urban petty bourgeoisie, a front based on the development of workers' movements". We can read this in the theses on the tasks of communists in the Arab movement.

How, in fact, this revolutionary front tactic is applied, the Chinese masses are learning to their cost, who under the banner of the Kuomintang executioners (and pushed by the centrists while Trotsky plays the same music) are compelled to pursue the Third Revolution by joining in the imperialist war.