Like many communist parties in the third world, the Arab CPs have been unable to win wide influence and truly strike root among the broad popular masses. Yet there are quite a number of conditions favourable to their political success: they are the oldest, most continuous and best organised parties in the Middle East; they have close relations with the Soviet Union, whose prestige ‒ at times quite considerable ‒ they can therefore exploit; and they have at their disposal a theoretical system which, even in its extremely schematised stalinist form, is superior to the other ideologies current in the Middle East in matters of social analysis. Their evident failure has both objective and subjective causes: on the one hand, certain unfavourable political and social conditions (a social structure which is rather unpropitious for the formation of an autonomous proletarian movement, an aristocratic and bourgeois elite which has occupied and managed to maintain the leading position in the national struggle, the Middle East’s proximity to Europe and its importance for the imperialist powers…) and, on the other hand, these parties’ own political mistakes. The latter can mostly be traced back to two inter-related factors.
First, the tradition of the communist movement since the 1930s, characterised ideologically by a gross schematic mutilation and deformation of marxism, and, on the organisational level, by an equally schematised and deformed conception of the leninist model of the party. The party’s policy was no longer based on a precise prior analysis of the situation of the country in question, but on the ‘application’ to that situation of certain universally valid ‘principles’; and these principles prevailed even when they were incompatible with the actual situation. In the matter of organisation, or so-called democratic centralism, the centre was given preponderance (information and directives flowed ‘downwards’) ‒ which facilitated the application of the said principles. With such a method, the elaboration of a policy taking due consideration of the realities of the country concerned ‒ a pre-condition for striking real roots among the popular masses ‒ became virtually impossible.
The second factor is the direct linkage of the policy of the CPs to that of the Soviet CP, and hence to that of the Soviet Union as a state, at least in strategic matters, but most frequently even in the fine details of tactics. During the existence of the Communist Intrnational (Comintern), this linkage was institutionally secured by the prerogative of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI) to hand down instructions to each member party. Later on, other mechanisms (similarity of views, loyal sentiments of solidarity with the Soviet Union, material dependence etc) were no less effective in producing similar results.
Concord and solidarity with the Soviet Union do not necessarily bring discredit on a party, particularly in view of the popularity which the Soviet Union enjoyed at times ‒ due to the direct effects of the October revolution, to its general anti-colonialist attitude and later on, to its pro-Arab position on the Middle East conflict. But the blind tailing behind the CPSU impaired still further the CPs’ concentration on the reality of their own countries, and had catastrophic consequences whenever the Soviet state took a step against the national interests of the peoples concerned. In the Middle East, the most notable step of this kind was the USSR’s support of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine, and its diplomatic and military aid (in the form of arms supplied through Czechoslovakia) to Israel in the 1948 war. The more or less hesitant acquiescence of the Arab CPs in this Soviet policy cost them the sympathy of the Arab peoples.1
The Arab defeat in the war of June 1967 and its aftermath have entailed a certain change in the attitude of the Arab CPs. In the present article we would like to document this process, which in turn reflects the change of direction of the Arab liberation movement as a whole. In doing so, we shall confine ourselves mainly to the CPs of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, which are particularly affected by the problem, due to the fact that their respective countries are adjacent to Israel and have many Palestinian refugees within their borders. We have few documents on the attitude of the Iraqi CP which, moreover, is smitten by splits. The Egyptian CP, whose history is equally rich in splits, dissolved itself in 1964. It is true that inside the party there had been strong opposition to this decision, and some small communist groups survived very deep underground; but there was no longer a united party until July 1975, when these groups reconstituted themselves as an Egyptian CP.2 At the time of writing, we have not yet got any documents on the attitude of the new party to the Palestinian question.
The question of the partition of Palestine
During the lifetime of the Comintern, the position of the CPSU ‒ and accordingly of all the Arab CPs ‒ was strictly anti-zionist. There was a clear conception of the class nature of zionism and of its necessary link with imperialist interests in the region, and for this reason everything was done to defeat the zionist project. Towards this end, the leadership of the Palestinian CP supported the Arab national movement during the revolt of 1936-39, and even went a bit far in accepting the reactionary leadership of that movement. This support for national aspirations helped to root the parties among the Arab masses. During the latter years of the second World War, their membership increased remarkably. The Soviet position on the partition resolution therefore came as a surprise, since it was directly contrary to the previous policy. Whatever the true motives for the Soviet turn-about3 ‒ and a certain amount of opportunism undoubtedly played a part in this, as the USSR wished to avoid a total confrontation with the US as well as to weaken British influence in the Middle East ‒ the Soviet Union itself only gave the following two reasons: its support for the principle of the right to self-determination, irrespective of circumstances, and the suffering of the Jews under fascist terror during the war, for which they ought to be compensated.4
In any case, the new situation meant a serious reverse for the Arab CPs. They felt obliged to toe the Soviet line ‒ not so much because of some ‘Diktat’ from Moscow, but by virtue of the weight of communist tradition, which did not allow deviations from the Soviet line. However, they produced a different argument to justify the new line, because the argument used by the Soviet Union itself was totally unacceptable in the Arab environment. Until 1947 they had demanded a democratic state for Arabs and Jews in Palestine, a demand directed against the zionist project of a ‘Jewish national home’. Now, in adopting the new Soviet position, they pointed at the balance of forces in the region, which in their view made it impossible to decisively eliminate the imperialist and zionist presence. In these circumstances, one had to accept the partition of Palestine, and build an independent and democratic state in the Arab part. This would be the most one could expect to achieve, and at the same time it would provide a favourable starting point for a future struggle for the creation of a federal socialist state in Palestine. Therefore they condemned the Arab intervention of May 1948, as an act of the Arab regimes dependent on British imperialism, designed to bring the Arab part of Palestine under the domination of Trans-Jordan and Egypt, and hence under that of Britain.5 This part of the argument is certainly valid, but the strategic evaluation of the situation was false; it regarded British influence in the Middle East as the main enemy, and called for the struggle against it, whereas the danger of zionism and the growing influence of the US were underestimated. Moreover, it saw only the reactionary aspect of Arab nationalism and of its demands, but not the progressive and revolutionising germs in that movement, which were to unfold in the following years (overthrow of the reactionary regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq).
In accepting partition, the Arab CPs thus put forward a different shade of justification than the Soviet Union; but it can nevertheless be assumed that their respect for the Soviet Union played the most crucial part. Because of this attitude they were strongly attacked, and it was easier for the various regimes to repress them. It would however be wrong to regard this attitude of the parties as the sole, or even principal, cause for their failure. It was rather the totality of the parties’ policy, in all its various aspects, which, in the given objective conditions, led to that result. In this the Palestinian question played an important part, but only as one among other issues, such as the 1958 union between Egypt and Syria.
From about 1952, the attitude of the USSR changed in favour of the Arabs, notably after the 1955 Czech arms deal [with Egypt]. This enabled the Arab CPs to denounce Israel more and more vehemently for its pro-imperialist position. But even in this they were subject to a double constraint: they had to take into consideration the policy of the Soviet Union as well as that of the regimes in their own respective countries. For the USSR’s pro-Arab turn assumed the form of a slant towards the Arab states and their regimes. In case of conflict between these and the CPs in question, the USSR hardly ever came out in the latter’s favour, let alone exercise pressure on their behalf. Thus the parties felt obliged to pay exaggerated deference to the policy of these regimes, in order not to disown the Societ Union. Here too the constraint was not necessarily conscious, but could equally assert itself through habit of political thought. This led the parties to inflate in their propaganda the significance of every progressive step, no matter how slight, of an Arab regime; they were driven to a rearguard policy, which culminated in the self-dissolution of the Egyptian CP in 1964.
The limit which Soviet policy imposed on the Arab CPs even after 1955 was the recognition of Israel as a state: ‘From the 1948 war until the aggression of 1967, the Arab CPs adhered to the slogan “implementation of the UN resolutions”. The 1967 aggression, however, brought about an abrupt change in the positons of these parties, which now differed sharply with one another’.6
The Arab defeat in the June 1967 war and its repercussions
In accordance with its pre-1967 line, the USSR strongly condemned the Israeli aggression of June 1967, broke off its diplomatic relations with Israel and pledged its support for the Arab countries concerned, but confined its demands to the restoration of the status quo ante by the implementation of the UN resolutions, and thus did not call in question the State of Israel as such. Not that the Soviet Union was unaware of the zionist nature of Israel; it was indeed perfectly aware of this, and had repeatedly condemned it. What it failed to recognise ‒ or perhaps did recognise, but failed to draw conclusions from ‒ was the very dynamics of zionist ideology which, in association with Israel’s inevitable alignment with imperialist interests, must result in an aggressive and expansionist policy so long as Israel is dominated by zionism.
In the short term, the Soviet Union advocated the implementation of resolution 242 of the UN Security Council (under the slogan ‘liquidation of the consequences of the aggression’) as a first step towards a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict. Like some Arab communists, the Soviet Union believed that the class struggle inside Israel itself would eventually lead to the de-zionisation of Israeli society, if only the Arabs refrain from overt attacks against that state. At first the USSR severely disapproved of the Palestinian resistance, which it labelled ‘adventurist’. For its part, the Palestinian resistance criticised the Soviet position for ignoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people; to demand moderation from the Arab masses most grievously hit by expulsion and aggression was asking too much. One cannot but agree with this criticism, even though it is true that the Palestinians themselves have not so far developed a strategy that would connect their own objectives of liberation with Israeli reality as such.
Since 1970, there has been a rapprochement between the USSR and the Palestinian resistance movement, and the two sides have toned down their mutual criticism. Nevertheless, the difference of views still persists, at least officially, though unofficially the leadership of the PLO seems ready to recognise Israel de facto. As far as the Soviet position is concerned, one explanation (among others) lies in the very fact that in 1947 the Soviet Union declared itself in favour of partition, and does not wish to repudiate that attitude completely.
It goes without saying that the Soviet attitude has played a considerable role in determining the position taken by the Arab CPs. The CPSU may no longer be the ‘directing centre’ of world communism, but it would still like to be that movement’s tutor, and it does in fact play that role for the weaker parties, among which are also the Arab CPs. We shall see an example of this later on.
Immediately after the 1967 war, all Arab CPs except two7 took a position similar to that of the USSR. They spoke about ‘liquidating the consequences of the aggression’, and in this context approved of Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council. But the defeat in that war triggered off a number of mental processes in Arab society: the aggressive and dangerous nature of Israel came to be seen more clearly and was put in the foreground of the analysis, the weakness of the Arab regimes in facing the aggression was recognised, and there got off the ground a new Palestinian resistance movement which adopted the guerrilla form of organisation and the theory of protracted people’s war. All this had its own effect upon the CPS and forced them to react to this development. In so doing, they adopted contradictory positions. Some held on firmly to the old line, either by virtue of their unconditional loyalty to the USSR or because they were incapable of drawing a lesson from the changed situation; others took pains to try and achieve a deeper understanding of the state of affairs and changed their attitude to the problem, whose national dimensions were recognised at long last. The principle issues in that controversy were: ‒
1) The former attitude to the partition of Palestine ‒ was it wrong or not?
2) Resolution 242 and the ‘liquidation of the consequences of the aggression’ ‒ is this a strategic goal of the entire present stage, or a demand raised for tactical reasons?
3) Should one, going beyond this demand, already envisage as an objective the liquidation of the zionist State of Israel?
4) The attitude, in principle as well as in practice, towards the Palestinian resistance.
The Jordanian CP
The ‘tendency for rigidity’ is most clearly expressed in an article written by Fahmi Salfiti, then secretary of the Central Committee of the Jordanian CP, for the journal Problems of Peace and Socialism published in Prague.8 In this article he adheres unbendingly to the formula of the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression. His lack of understanding of the Palestinian national problem is seen from the fact that he regards the (occupied) West Bank simply as belonging to Jordan, rather than as a part of Palestine annexed by Jordan in 1950. Thus he remains faithful to the idea which is cleary incompatible with an autonomous Palestinian identity. Salfiti nowhere mentions the Palestinians as such, but refers to them as ‘Jordanians’ or simply as ‘Arabs’. Thus he writes: ‘More than 400,000 Jordanian inhabitants found themselves compelled to leave the West Bank of Jordan’.9
The following quotation shows how Salfiti schematically separates the national and social aspects of the liberation struggle, and to what extent the then leadership of the party was committed to the idea of a peaceful solution:
‘Without directing its main attention to the current problems of economic and social development, the programme confirms and verifies the need for forming a government of national unity, where the participation of representatives of the big bourgeoisie and the land-owners will not be excluded, provided they turn against the occupation. It calls for a peaceful settlement and condemns the adventurist tendencies which have appeared after the defeat’.10
The article moreover grossly over-estimates the capability of the Arab regimes to fight against the aggression. This applies even to the Jordanian regime, and in 1968 of all times! ‘The existence of such a contradiction (between imperialism, zionism and the reactionary elements on the one hand and the broad strata hit by the aggression on the other ‒ AF) creates great possibilities for influencing the ruling circles of Jordan, and even the king himself; it accelerates their turning away from imperialism’.11
Consequently Salfiti reaches a stern verdict on the Palestinian resistance movement. He points out that its founders originate politically from the Muslim Brotherhood and that the reactionary regimes give them money, and he also asserts that conditions in the Arab countries are not ripe for guerrilla war. He then goes on to say:
‘The majority of the members of this sort of organisation are not Jordanians. Since their kernel consists of Arabs from Palestine, these organisations have limited practical possibilities and their goals are unrealisable’.12 (In an Arabic version of the same article ‒ we do not know whether this was in fact the original text ‒ the last sentence reads as follows: ‘These circumstances narrow their scope and cause them to choose goals which are in fact unrealisable’.)13
Thus the fact that an organisation is made up for the most part of Palestinians apparently makes a discussion of the content of its politics quite unnecessary! By the way, Salfiti himself is of Palestinian origin, as his name indicates. He concludes: ‘The activity of these organisations should in most cases be evaluated as negative. True, to some extent they cause damage to the enemy and get some publicity for themselves, but the price for this is paid in many sacrifices, in the expulsion of the Arab population from territories whose soil is most fertile’.14
In the whole article one would search in vain for a single allusion to the character of the State of Israel, the exact nature of its ties with imperialism or the reasons for its aggressiveness; missing too is any idea on the long-term perspectives of the struggle.
Unfortunately, this article had a vast circulation and was regarded as the last word of the Arab communists on the Palestinian problem. Nevertheless, it met with lively opposition not only in fraternal Arab parties but especially inside the Jordanian CP itself. Thus Karim Muruwwa, a leader of the Lebanese CP, replied in the following way to a question concerning the article quoted above:
‘As far as the Jordanian CP is concerned, I tell you that what was published in its name in an international journal (Problems of Peace and Socialism) does not convey the point of view of the Jordanian CP. An official delegate of that party has come to Lebanon, to the Lebanese CP, in order to say this and also to say that there is sincere collaboration between the Jordanian CP in the occupied territories and the fedayin organisations. He said; “The Jordanian CP has gained credit for many actions. I would not speak of this unless I were compelled to, because that would be to boast and brag in front of a fraternal people and a fraternal party”.’15
The opposition to Salfiti’s views inside the Jordanian party was in fact so great that the CC, which was not wholly on his side, published a contrary statement (March 1969). In this document it expressly affirms the right of the Palestinian people to struggle by every means against Israeli oppression and to continue the struggle after the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression:
‘The liquidation of Israeli occupation will open the way for the continuation of the struggle for a just solution of the Palestinian problem in accordance with the interests of the Palestinian Arab people and the Arab liberation movement’.16
In the June 1969 International Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties, held in Moscow, the Jordanian delegate Fu’ad Nassar said: ‘The struggle of the Palestinian Arab people is legitimate and sacred, because its aim is the expulsion of the conquerors and occupiers, the regaining of the territories usurped by Israel since 1948 contrary to United Nations resolutions, the return of those who were expelled, and the implementation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination on the territory of its homeland. The Jordanian CP, together with the Jordanian people, with other progressive peoples and all Arab peoples, will continue the struggle against the Israeli aggression. It supports the struggle of the Palestinian Arab people and its legitimate resistance against the occupiers and for the restoration of usurped rights’.17
The debate inside the Jordanian CP went on, and towards the end of 1969 led to the election of a new CC. Salfiti, who was unable to have his own way, left the party at the beginning of 1971 together with a small group of supporters.18
In November 1969, the party’s paper in the occupied territories, Al-Watan, wrote: ‘For our people, there is no other way to the liberation of its country and the defence of its existence but the intensification of the resistance and the use of higher forms of struggle’.19 This indicated that the party not only approved of armed struggle in principle ‒ as even Salfiti had done ‒ but was preparing to practise it.
In March 1970, the Jordanian CP announced the creation of a commando organisation for the liberation of Palestine, called Ansar (= ‘partisans’ or ‘adherents’), in which the Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi CPs also soon took part. The importance of this lies not so much in the combat power of the new organisation, which remained small and was at first disowned by most other resistance groups, but more in the new attitude of the CPs towards the Palestinian resistance: no longer merely verbal approval, but actual participation in the armed struggle. Nevertheless, the Ansar forces, as well as the CPs themselves, still adhered to certain points which were rejected by the Palestinians in general: acceptance of Resolution 242, stress on the need for all forms of struggle, etc.20
This naturally entailed a certain degree of incoherence in the party’s new position: on the one hand, it moved closer to the resistance, but on the other hand it kept on to positions rejected by the latter. The Ansar forces were well aware of this and made an effort deliberately to omit all mention of the controversial points such as Resolution 242. The other resistance groups were slow to welcome the new organisation, and its representative was only co-opted onto the National Council in his personal capacity and against the opposition of some Fatah leaders. In 1972, the Ansar forces were dissolved by the CPSs‒ presumably in order to further the unity of the resistance and with a view to influencing the movement as a whole, if need be by individual affiliation to the various organisations.21
In accordance with the Jordanian CP’s newly adopted view that the Palestinian people has a national identity of its own and that the status of the West Bank as part of Jordan can only be provisional, the communists of the occupied territories separated themselves organisationally from the party and formed themselves into the Palestinian Communist Organisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which however retained a close collaboration with the parent party.
Despite the party’s political rapprochement with the Palestinian resistance, there remained some sharp differences: the party continued to stress its advocacy of the implementation of Resolution 242 as an important tactical step (though no longer as a strategic goal). It admits that the Palestinians reject the resolution because it does not take their national rights into consideration, but it believes that a point-blank rejection gives rise to a needless split among the progressive Arab forces. The party does not explicitly challenge the existence of the State of Israel, although it is difficult to see how the right of the refugees to return and to self-determination in their country can be implemented in that state as it is. This shows an inconsistency which is perhaps dictated by deference to the Israeli CP, but undoubtedly above all to the USSR.
Finally, a particularly thorny issue is the question of the 1947/48 partition of Palestine. The party certainly condemns the actual outcome of the 1948 partition, but not the 1947 UN resolution:
‘Because of its subjugation to colonialist and reactionary domination, Jordan was used as a base for the conspiracy against the Palestinian people and its cause, which culminated in the imperialist-zionist plot of 1948 against Palestine. This plot prevented the implementation of the UN resolution of 29 November 1947 and led to the Palestinian Arab people being deprived of its right to self-determination. This, in turn, resulted in the carving up of that people’s state and in the expulsion of the people itself, part of the territory of its state falling under Israeli occupation and another part being annexed by Jordan’.22
While this account correctly renders the factual development, it skirts round an evaluation of the partition resolution and of the communist stand towards it, thus avoiding discussion of a crucial point that has caused grave tension between communists and Arab nationalists.
On the other hand, in talking with party members, one can hear an entirely explicit and quite frank criticism of the 1947 positions, but this does not easily find its way into official documents, where due respect must be paid to various ‘diplomatic’ considerations. However, in this connection it is significant that the party has re-published pre-1947 documents of ‘Usbat al-taharrur al-watani (= National Liberation League) which are being circulated and arouse lively discussions among the membership. The NLL was, in 1943-48, the organisation of Arab communists in Palestine, which was strongly opposed to partition; until the early 1970s its documents had been taboo in the Jordanian CP.23
The Lebanese CP
Immediately after the defeat of June 1967, the Lebanese CP took a position similar to that 0f the USSR. In an article published in 15 October 1967 in its weekly Al-Akhbar, it speaks above all about liquidating the consequences of the aggression and stresses the importance of the UN resolutions in this respect. But the argumentation and language are quite different from those used by Salfiti, to take an extreme example. Thus the article begins with a call for a solution of the Palestinian problem ‘in the interest of the Palestinian people and its right to its soil and homeland’.24
There follows a general discussion of the nature of the State of Israel and its importance for imperialism, which is completely absent from Salfiti’s article though it is essential for a proper discussion of the problem. The Al-Akhbar article then shows that even at that early stage, immediately after the war, some thinking was done on the nature of the aggression, ie on the inherent logic of zionism and Israel’s organic ties to the interests of imperialism in the region, which had led inexorably to the aggression. Consequently, the demand raised is not merely for the restoration of the status quo, but for a solution in the interest of the Palestinian people. On the other hand, the article makes no mention of the Palestinian resistance in the proper sense, as at that stage it had not yet acquired its reputation.
The discussion inside the Lebanese CP led eventually to a critical revision of the party’s entire policy since its first congress (December 1943 ‒ January 1944). At its second congress, held in July 1968, the CC report contained a detailed summary of the party’s policy in the intervening twenty-five years and a criticism of certain ‘deviations’. On the national problem, the report says:
‘In point of fact, the party took a narrow view of the Palestinian cause and the colonial-zionist conspiracy against it. It did not grasp that in the first phase Palestine itself was the target in the plans of colonialism and zionism, and that the motivation for achieving this target in the first place was to make the Palestine issue a point of departure for damming up and suppressing the Arab national liberation movement, which had grown vigorously after the second World War and was beginning to endanger the positions of colonialist domination in a region whose soil contains more than half of the world’s known oil reserves, a region which constitutes a strategically important position as a junction connecting the colonialist West with South-East Asia and the Far East, and which borders on the south of the Soviet Union. That is to say, the party was incapable of evaluating properly the real political and national dimensions, which in the long run were to result in the success of the conspiracy against Palestine ‒ the erection of an artificial structure on its soil.
The dogmatic view of the national problems
‘It must frankly be admitted that this came about because for a long time we had under-estimated and neglected the national problems and failed to understand them in an objective way and to see their revolutionary character. This was due to our having viewed the national problems wrongly ‒ that is, from the outside ‒ and taking them to be only the concern of the bourgeoisie, as if the workers, the peasants and the popular masses have no national sentiments and are untouched by national questions.’ [There follows a short explanation of the difference between European and Arab nationalism which the party had not seen earlier, hence its disregard for national problems, and the report goes on to say:] ‘If we were confronted with a fundamental problem of a national nature, such as the Palestinian problem, it assumed in our eyes the form of Nuri Sa’id, of King ‘Abdallah, of Faruq and the other puppets; and we did not see the deep popular current which was powerfully propelled by national motive forces and which would eventually lead to the expulsion of the puppets or to their removal in one way or another. On the other hand, we must not pass in silence over certain chauvinistic trends that predominated the thoughts and concepts of several nationalist organisations, and anti-communist tendencies they displayed, which helped to reinforce our emotional positions on the national question’.25
But despite the criticism of its own attitude to the partition of Palestine, the Lebanese CP still defends the USSR’s position on that issue:
‘The fundamental position of the Soviet Union on this question aimed at the independence of Palestine in the framework of a unitary state. But the interwoven aspects of the problem, the aggravation of the situation and the continual conspiracy of the colonialists threatened to frustrate completely the realisation of this aim. These circumstances made it necessary to take in practice a position which would foil the conspiracy of the colonialists and guarantee peace and quiet in the region, while at the same time stressing the need to work toward a unified state’.26
On the other hand, the Lebanese communists were not entitled to take such a ‘practical’ position; being directly involved, and not subject to the exigencies of world-wide political responsibility, they ought to have stuck to their principled opposition to the partition of Palestine.
One can see the difficulties involved in the need to defend Soviet policy on all important points. Still, let us note that the Lebanese CP did clearly dissociate itself from its old dogmatic position, and the explanation it offered in doing so was essentially correct.
The programme adopted by that same congress expresses the party’s current views on the Palestinian problem. Its treatment of this subject begins with a historical outline of zionism and its fight against the Arab national movement, in order to elucidate the political content of zionism. The programme rejects the 1947 partition resolution, but here too an attempt is made to justify the Soviet position. It reaches the conclusion that Israel is, externally, the truncheon and gendarme of imperialism in the region for suppressing the Arab liberation movement and an instument of neo-colonialist penetration into Africa and Asia; and that, internally, Israel is a capitalist and clericalist state based on the oppression of workers and racist discrimination of Arabs and Oriental Jews. As for the party’s views on the way to a solution of the Palestinian problem, they are contained in the following quotation:
‘The just and realistic way, which opens up a real possibility for solving the Palestinian problem, passes through strengthening the progressive Arab regimes, which will be the main force in solving the problem, and through undermining those Arab countries which are still dominated by feudalism and reaction, because they are allies of colonialism and zionism and an obstacle on the road to the solution of each and every problem in the sense of liberation, progress and Arab unity.
‘The present resistance movement, part of which is the armed resistance of the Palestinian people in Israel and in the occupied territories, is the revolutionary movement of a people robbed of its land and all its rights. All patriotic and progressive forces, including the communists, participate in this struggle; it receives the backing and support of all the forces of progress around the world and of their vanguard, the socialist countries and the world communist movement.
‘The complete solution of the Palestinian problem must be based on principled positions and must begin with the recognition of the inalienable right of the Palestinian Arabs to their soil and their homeland, hence the recognition of their right to return to that homeland and their right to self-determination there. One cannot justify anything founded upon violence and robbery; and the presence today of Jews in Palestine cannot prejudice the historical and natural right of the Palestinian Arabs to their country’.27
This passage shows that in the confrontation with Israel the Lebanese communists attach principal importance to the ‘progressive’ Arab regimes, at least during the present phase. In this they follow the tradition of Arab communists. However, the far-reaching recognition of Palestinian rights is not grounded on that tradition; and it is moreover incompatible with the guarantees which the Soviet Union is prepared to give to the Israeli state.
The third congress of the party made no essential changes in this position; but it made more explicit reference to the Palestinian resistance, which in the mean time had won greater popularity. The ‘national movement of the Palestinian Arab people’ is regarded as part of the liberation movement on both Arab and world scale. The party therefore ‘has been working for the support of the resistance by all political, moral, material and human means, including participation in armed actions. Together with other progressive forces, it has concentrated its struggle on the defence of the resistance against the conspiracy and the attempts at liquidation to which it has been exposed’.28
The reference to participation in the armed struggle is an allusion to the Ansar forces mentioned above in connection with the Jordanian CP.
The Lebanese party has not however abandoned its criticism of the Palestinian resistance movement and the concepts relating to it:
‘The party has vigorously opposed the false opportunistic conceptions of the right and “left” of this movement which amount to separating between it and the Arab liberation movement, either by viewing it in isolation from the basic anti-imperialist and progressive content which the Arab national movement possesses at its present stage, or by trying to burden it with more than it can carry and by arbitrarily making it out to be the vanguard of, and sometimes even a substitute for, the entire national liberation movement, rather than regarding it as part of the latter… From this principled and firm point of view, the party has looked at the mistakes of the resistance and expressed its opinion frankly and clearly; whether it was a matter of structural defects resulting from the basically petty-bourgeois class structure of the movement, from the anti-communism which was widespread in some of its groups and among many of its leading elements, and from the fact that it succumbed to the material enticements of Arab reaction and has relied on it; or whether it was a matter of mistakes resulting from a series of wrong strategic and tactical practices. However, the party has always stressed that these shortcomings and mistakes should not conceal the progressive and anti-imperialist content embodied in the resistance movement.
Similarly, the party has always noted the difficult and complicated conditions which confront the struggle of the Palestinian people and the resistance groups, and which are the objective cause of many mistakes in the practice of the resistance, just as it has courageously stressed the responsibility of the communists, who did not assume a more active role in this movement right from the beginning, for had they done so they might perhaps have strengthened it and reduced its mistakes and weaknesses.29
The Lebanese CP’s criticism of the Palestinian resistance relates to the fact that the latter does not have a clear view of its own social character and of its relationship with the Arab liberation movement in general, and is therefore incapable of elaborating a programme which would, first, indicate the goals of the present stage (stating their social character) and, second, deduce from a realistic analysis the correct relationships of the resistance to political forces in the Arab and international arenas.
This criticism is expounded systematically in an essay by Karim Muruwwa in the special issue of Dirasat ‘Arabiyya from which we have already quoted above.30 He criticises the view of the Fatah theoreticians, according to which the Palestinian refugees constitute a class apart and their exile situation justifies deferring the social issues in the liberation struggle till after the return to Palestine.31 Muruwwa insists on the fact that the Palestinian people is for the most part integrated into the relations of production ‒ deformed though they may be ‒ of the host Arab countries, where the petty-bourgeoisie preponderates but where there are also elements of all other, mutually opposed classes. The resistance movement is influenced by all class forces interested in national liberation, albeit conceived by some of them merely as restoration of the old class society. Hence ‒ according to Muruwwa ‒ the vague and hazy character of the ideology of the resistance, which obstinately clings to nationalist dogmas and makes them the sole touchstone of a correct political position, thereby making it easier for very dubious elements to attach themselves to the movement.
Muruwwa calls for clear strategy and tactics, which above all would take more consciously into consideration the social nature of the struggle and would put the relationship of the resistance to the Arab peoples and regimes on a more realistic basis. Here too he gives much credit to the ‘progressive’ regimes; but taken as a whole his criticism poses correctly the problem of the weaknesses of the Palestinian resistance.
Since then the position of the CP has not changed in any essential way. But it is important to state that on this basis there developed a practical collaboration between the Palestinian resistance and the Lebanese CP. Both sides opened their press organs to each other; and in particular Muruwwa often writes in Filastin al-Thawra and Shu’un Filastiniyya, respectively the central organ and theoretical journal of the PLO. His essay discussed above originated as a lecture delivered in the cadre school of the PFLP. The Lebanese CP belongs to the Arab Front for Participation in the Palestinian Revolution which in the general Arab arena is mostly a forum for declamation, but which has played in Lebanon an important role in defending the resistance and enhancing its political influence. This process has only rarely been properly recognised, because the Palestinians for their part have been rather reserved in the matter of practical solidarity with the Lebanese left.32
As we have seen, the support of the Lebanese CP for the resistance was combined with criticism. While certain points of this criticism were unacceptable to the resistance, it was nevertheless an important factor in the process of theoretical clarification. At present this clarification process is to some extent put in abeyance because of the Lebanese events. The need for it, however, is underlined by the course of these very events.
Naturally, the CP has particularly close relations with the left-wing guerrilla organisations. Thus at first only the PFLP and the DFLP came forward in favour of recognising the Ansar forces as part of the PLO. But later on the other organisations also developed good relations with them, in parallel with the improvement of relations between the PLO and the Soviet Union.
The Syrian CP
The tendency of changing the traditional attitude, which we have traced in the other parties, operated also in the Syrian CP ‒ but in different circumstances and with different results. Khalid Bakdash, secretary general of the party and a great authority among all CPs in the Arab East, remained attached to the traditional position. His partisanship of the USSR is so unconditional, that he does not allow himself the slightest deviation from its conceptions.
The third congress of the Syrian CP, held in June 1969, resolved that a draft programme be drawn up; and such a document was indeed approved by the CC in 1970 and circulated inside the party for discussion. This draft was inspired by the Lebanese CP’s programme mentioned above, but went even further in its attacks against Israel and in its support of the resistance:
‘The essence of the Palestinian problem lies in the following:
‘1. The Palestinian Arab people has the right to liberate its homeland, usurped by colonialism and zionism, to return to it, to exercise self-determination in its territory and to set up its own state in the form it wishes.
‘2. The enemy of the Palestinian Arab people in this struggle is the same one that has deprived it of this right, namely imperialism and zionism.
‘3. The struggle of the Palestinian Arab people is a just liberation struggle and forms an inseparable part of the Arab national liberation movement and therefore of the world revolutionary movement.
‘4. In order to enable the Palestinian Arab people to achieve its goal regarding the liberation of its homeland, zionism and its aggressive and expansionist institutions must be liquidated.
‘5. The Palestinian Arab people has the right to employ various forms of struggle, including armed struggle, for achieving its goals. The Arab nation is duty bound to work for the creation of all conditions facilitating the achievement of the just goals of that people.
‘6. The realisation of the national rights of the Palestinian Arab people does not contradict but is consistent with the interest of the Jewish masses to live together with it in a just and democratic peace, free from colonialism and zionism, and to decide their own future as they please’.33
On the party’s attitude to the actions of the guerrillas, the document says: ‘The Arab masses in general, and in particular their progressive forces, are called upon not only to intensify their material and moral support of the resistance movement, but also to step up their practical participation in this great patriotic and national activity, because the Israeli occupation of Arab territories affects the interests of all the Arab peoples’.34 It also states explicitly that the guerrilla struggle should not come to an end with the liberation of the territories occupied in 1967.35
All this would later be said by the Jordanian and Lebanese communists as well, but as communist party programmes go it is very explicit, and it shows how strong the pressure must have been at the party’s roots, given that the secretary general, Bakdash, had a quite different view. During the general discussion of the draft programme, he therefore came out against the passages in question. His position was in minority in the politbureau, but he controlled the party’s apparatus.
By the beginning of 1971 the party had virtually split, and it was no longer possible to patch it up by internal discussion. Having the apparatus at his disposal, Bakdash managed to win over to his side a substantial part of the membership, which the opposing faction was unable to neutralise (as the analogous tendencies in the Jordanian and Lebanese parties had been neutralised), particularly as in this case the Secretary General had the ideological and material support of the Soviet Union’s CP.
In May 1971, a joint delegation of both factions left for Moscow in order to discuss with Soviet leaders and officials how the conflict might be resolved. In the course of these talks, members of the Soviet team made strong objections to the statements on the Palestinian question in the draft programme. In their view the programme should have confined itself to demanding the liquidation of the consequences of the 1967 aggression, and the right of the Palestinians to return to their country and exercise self-determination there. It should not have specified what must be done with the State of Israel in order to achieve these aims, but should have left this to a future collaboration with Israeli democrats. Anything said in the programme beyond these demands would not be a class position and would be inconsistent with proletarian internationalism ‒ assertions upon which the Soviet experts did not further elaborate.
It is not possible to enumerate here all the points of the criticism, which in any case consisted of disjointed remarks on various formulations and was not meant for publication.36 It reveals very clearly the pretension of the Soviet communists to direct the whole of the world communist movement, as well as their sensitivity to the slightest or most implicit criticism.
As a result of these talks, the Syrian communists promised to re-unite. For this purpose they called a conference, which met in November 1971 and in the course of which Bakdash, claiming that strategic differences with the USSR are inadmissible for communists, demanded an unconditional acceptance of the Soviet position:
‘They [Bakdash’s opponents ‒ A.F.] set themselves another objective, which they call a strategic objective ‒ the elimination of Israel as a state, under the slogan either of the “liberation of Palestine” or the liberation of “their usurped homeland”, or under the slogan of the “liquidation of zionist institutions” or something of the kind.
‘Such talk is not only at variance with the decisions of the seventh congress of the Communist International, which called for an identity of objectives; it is also at variance with proletarian internationalism; it is at variance with the class attitude and consequently with the interests of the Arab people and our interests as a party.
‘Such talk, the employment of such extremist, unrealistic and non-class slogans, whatever is intended by them, can only serve the aims of colonialist zionist propaganda.
‘If you will permit me, I want to say in a completely brotherly way that all talk to the effect that we are friends of the USSR, but that we differ from it as regards the strategic objective, is not communist talk’.37
This conference too failed to lead to any reconciliation of the two positions. Since then the situation has solidified, so that to all intents and purposes there are two Syrian CPs, of roughly equal political weight,38 differing sharply with one another on various issues, among which the Palestinian question is the most important. Officially, for the purpose of representation outside, they do not appear as separated, but in current usage they are distinguished from each other by the designations ‘Syrian CP ‒ Bakdash group’ and ‘Syrian CP ‒ Riad al-Turk group’ (the names of their respective leaders). Nevertheless, Bakdash has to some extent kept the privileged position of mediator between the CPSU and the CPs of the Mashriq, so that he still has close relations with the parties that on the political level are much closer to his opponents.
Conclusions and prospects
Let us sum up. The Arab CPs dealt with here have sharply changed their attitude toward the Palestinian problem after the 1967 defeat. Immediately after the war they retained their traditional conception of the problem, did not truly grasp the deep connection between imperialism and zionism in the expansionist and aggressive policy of Israel, confined themselves to the demand for the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression and left the rest to the class struggle inside Israel or to future stages of the confrontation. They also retained their wrong and rather unpopular old evaluation of the 1947 partition resolution, which had provided justification and legitimation for the creation of the zionist state. But even as these positions were being articulated, they met with a growing opposition which eventually overcame them.
The exponents of this other position have examined more precisely the character of the Israeli state, and have concluded that the Arab liberation movement ought to direct its struggle against the very existence of that state machine, in a prolonged confrontation, in which the implementation of the UN resolutions would only be the first phase. Consequently, the CPs have gone beyond merely ideological support for the Palestinian resistance and have taken some active part in the armed struggle. This change of position, which also takes the national interest into consideration, was certainly brought about by the 1967 aggression itself, which made the character of Israel stand out more clearly, as well as by its repercussions on the Palestinian and Arab levels and above all by the rise of the armed resistance movement, which won a great deal of popularity in all the Arab countries after the battle of Karameh (21 March 1968).
This new attitude has enabled the CPs to collaborate with the resistance and to exercise idological and political influence over it. Thus it has created for the CPs the preconditions for coming out of their isolation, which had resulted (among other causes) from their negative attitude toward certain national questions. The possibility therefore exists for a closer relation between the national and social factors in the ongoing Arab liberation struggle.
But the process described here has been a contradictory one, inasmuch as it has changed in a positive sense certain subjective factors of political success, but has by no means eliminated all the errors and weaknesses of the parties in question. There still remain the close ties with the Soviet Union and its policies, which can be harmful in certain respects. There remains also the traditional party schematism, which restricts their freedom of political action and their ability to react; they still grossly overestimate the so-called progressive regimes, etc. To this one should also add the insufficiently clear and partly false definition of the class nature of the national liberation movement. We cannot elaborate here on this subject, but merely mention for example the theory of the non-capitalist road of development, the democratic-national state, etc.39
Moreover, the Arab CPs have neither large numbers of members nor great influence on the masses. In a word: they can in no way claim to be revolutionary vanguard organisations. They have taken a step in a direction which may after all enable them to become effective political factors. Will the CPs manage to transform their new chances into political success, and if so what might be the nature of this success? At the present moment one cannot clearly predict this.
This article was written in autumn 1976. Unfortunately, I have too little recent first-hand knowledge and documents to deal appropriately with the intervening period. My evaluation of certain views and actions of the CPs was influenced by the conceptual framework of Palestinian nationalism to an extent I find exaggerated today. This is above all the case with the communists’ stand towards the partition issue which certainly would have merited a more thorough analysis. Nevertheless I preferred to leave the article in its original form since after all its stress lies on more recent developments and I still believe that in this respect it is of a certain documentary value. ‒ A.F.
- On the theoretical and organisational deformations of the communist movement see Fernando Claudin, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Penguin, 1975. ↩
- On this new CP see Al-Safir, Beirut, 4 August 1975 (in Arabic). ↩
- Cf Arnold Krammer, ‘Soviet motives in the partition of Palestine’, Journal of Palestine Studies 6 (II,2), p 102-119. ↩
- See the speeches of the Soviet representatives at the UN, reproduced (in French) in Partisans no 52, March-April 1970, pp 64-73. ↩
- See ‘Abdelqader Yasin, ‘The Arab CPs and the Palestinian problem’ (in Arabic), in The Palestinian Resistance: Realities and Prospects, special publication of the journal Dirasat ‘Arabiyya, Dar al-Tali’a, Beirut 1971, pp49-65. ↩
- ibid, p 62. ↩
- These exceptions which we do not discuss here ‒ they have no direct repercussion on the ground ‒ are the Sudanese and Moroccan parties. They have explicitly demanded the liquidation of the State of Israel. On this see documents in Naji ‘Allush (ed), Discussions on the Palestinian Revolution (in Arabic), Dar al Tali’a, Beirut 1970, pp 330-6; and Ali Yata (secretary general of the Moroccan CP), ‘‘Libération nationale et revolution sociale. L’exemple de la Palestine’, in Anouar Abdel-Malek (ed), La pensée politique arabe contemporaine, Seuil, Paris 1970, pp 321-30. ↩
- Fahmi Salfiti, ‘Das Wichtigste in der Taktik der jordanischem Kommunisten’, in Probleme des Friedens und des Sozialismus, no 10/11 (October/November 1968), pp 1359-67. ↩
- ibid, p 1359. ↩
- ibid, p 1360. ↩
- ibid, p 1361. ↩
- ibid, p 1366. ↩
- The Arabic text is in the volume edited by N. ‘Allush mentioned in note 7, pp 354-68. The sentence in question is on p 366. ↩
- F. Salfiti, loc cit p 1367. ↩
- Karim Muruwwa, ‘The CP’, in Arab Cultural Club (ed), The Political Forces in Lebanon (in Arabic), Dar al-Tali’a, Beirut 1970, p 218. ↩
- Statement of the CC of the Jordanian CP, quoted in ‘Abdelqader Yasin, loc cit, p 64. ↩
- Internationale Beratung der kommunistischem und Arbeiterparteien, Moskau 1969. Dokumente. Verlag Frieden und Sozialismus, Prague 1969, p 103f. ↩
- Cf Naji ‘Allush, ‘The Arab CPs and the Palestinian problem after the 1967 aggression’ (in Arabic), in Shu’un Filastiniyya no 4 (September 1971), p 163. ↩
- Quoted in ‘Abdelqader Yasin, loc cit, p 64. ↩
- See interview with a representative of the Ansar forces in N. ‘Allush (ed), Discussions, loc cit, pp 386-9; also Riad N. el-Rayyes and Dunia Nahas (eds), Guerrillas for Palestine. A study of the Palestinian Commando Organizations, An-Nahar Press Services, Beirut n.d. pp 59-61. ↩
- On all this see Guerrillas for Palestine (mentioned in the preceding note) p 60. ↩
- The tasks facing the Jordanian CP at the present stage (in Arabic). Resolution of the CC of the Jordanian CP, end of May 1974, p 13. ↩
- For example, National Liberation League in Palestine, The Palestinian problem and the way to its solution (in Arabic), published by the Jordanian CP, n.p., August 1973. On the ‘Usba see Yehoshua Porath, ‘Usbat al-Taharrur al-Watani (The National Liberation League) 1943-1948’, in Asian and African Studies 4, Jerusalem 1968, pp 1-21; and Mohammed Hafiz Ya’qub, ‘From the history of the revolutionary movement in Palestine: The National Liberation League and the mid-1940s’ (in Arabic), in Dirasat ‘Arabiyya no 1 (November 1972), pp 39-65. ↩
- In N. ‘Allush (ed), Discussions, loc cit, p 337. ↩
- The Struggle of the Lebanese CP through its Documents, part 1 (in Arabic), n.p. (Beirut?), January 1971, p 153f. ↩
- ibid, p 154f. ↩
- ibid, p 43f. ↩
- The Lebanese Communists and the Tasks of the Coming Stage. Third Congress of the Lebanese CP (in Arabic), n.p. n.d. (Beirut 1972?), p 149. ↩
- ibid, p 149. ↩
- Karim Muruwwa, ‘On strategy and tactics in the resistance movement’ (in Arabic), in The Palestinian Resistance etc. (cited in note 5), pp 223-40. ↩
- Here is an example of this Fatah argumentation: ‘… the new class of refugees, which has not been taken into consideration by many thinkers, is the class on which the Palestinian revolution depends… (Al-Fatah) is the only revolutionary movement which has transcended the Arab movements, Arab parties and the Palestinian regional movements, and it has done this because it has depended on the refugee class’. ‘Abu Lutf answers questions’, in Leila S. Kadi (ed), Basic Political Documents of the Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement, PLO Research Center, Beirut 1969, p 102. ↩
- In this respect see Samir Franjieh, ‘How revolutionary is the resistance?’, in Journal of Palestine Studies, I, no 2 (Winter 1972), pp 52-60; and Sadik Al-Azm. ‘The Palestinian resistance movement reconsidered’, in Edward Said and Fuad Suleiman (eds), The Arabs Today. Alternatives for Tomorrow, Columbus, Ohio 1973, pp 121-135. ↩
- Draft programme of the Syrian CP, in Questions of the Difference inside the Syrian CP (in Arabic), Dar Ibn Khaldun, Beirut 1972, p 82f. ↩
- ibid, p 85. ↩
- ibid, p 84. ↩
- See notes of this discussion taken by one of the Syrian participants, ‘The Soviet attitude to the Palestinian Problem. From the records of the Syrian CP, 1971-72’, in Journal of Palestine Studies 5 (II,1), pp 187-212. ↩
- Excerpts from Bakdash’s speech to the conference, reproduced ibid, p 203. ↩
- This refers to the situation before the Syrian intervention in Lebanon, which the Bakdash group supported. ↩
- There are signs that the Arab communists are realising the inadequacy of these conceptions, which are widely accepted in the world communist movement. See for example the books of Karim Muruwwa, the work of the Lebanese communist theoretician Mahdi Amil, and the communist-inspired periodical Kitabat Misriyya (= Egyptian Writings) appearing in Beirut. ↩