Why did They Liquidate Salmin? – Ehud Ein-Gil

10 July 1981

in Articles

The following article had been written by Ehud Ein-Gil in 1981 and was presented for publication in Khamsin, but was rejected. The reason given was that it contains a too pungent personal criticism against Fred Halliday, the expert of South Yemen affairs, who was then close to the editorial board of Khamsin. The article was first published in Hebrew in 2004, as an online background appendix to Ein-Gil’s novel, Milestones on the Road to Hadhramaut (תחנות בדרך חצרמוות).

 

Salem Rubaya Ali (Salmin), chairman of the presidency council, The Popular Democratic Republic of Yemen

 

On June 26, 1978, fighting broke out in different areas of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY – South Yemen). When “peace” prevailed again, two days later, the president Salem Rubaya Ali and two of his closest aides in the government, Jaem Saleh and Salem La’war, have already been executed. A wave of purges followed, and ruling party and state officials all over the country, but especially in governorates 3 ,4 and 5, were deposed from their positions and from the party. Abd Al-Fattah Ismail and Ali Nasser Muhammad, Rubaya Ali’s longtime comerades-in-arms and then rivals within the ruling National Liberation Front (NLF), assumed immediate control of the government. Ismail, who organized and directed the coup, according to one version, or the counter-coup according to his, became president, but had to resign and was replaced by his accomplice Ali Nasser Muhammad by the end of April 1980.1

The South Yemeni events followed the assassination, two days earlier, of Ahmed Hussein Al-Ghashmi, the president of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). He had been killed when a briefcase carried by a South Yemeni special envoy exploded at a conference held to discuss relations between the two Yemeni states. The South Yemeni diplomat was also killed in the explosion. While some Arab countries immediately suspended their diplomatic relations with the PDRY, accusing its president of complicity in the assassination, Rubaya Ali’s rivals in the NLF’s central committee were hasty to exploit it against him, demanding his resignation. Having refused, Ali’s only hope was in summoning his supporters2. As it turned out, however, his rivals were faster, or better prepared. Since the supposed assassin got himself killed, rumours about the real instigator were spreading. The British “Guardian” reported on July 7, 1978, that the North Yemeni committee, set up to investigate Al-Ghashmi’s assassination, said that one South Yemeni citizen named Saleh, “reportedly a cousin of South Yemen’s Interior Minister Saleh Muhsen Qassem, had replaced the envoy originally sent by President Salem Rubaya Ali – Ali Salem La’war”. This is the same La’war who was then executed together with the president. The London magazin “Arabia and the Gulf” reported on July 24,1978, quoting the Egyptian leftist weekly “Al-Ahaly”, that Al-Ghashmi had been assassinated by opponents in the North, not the South, of Yemen.

While Al-Ghashmi’s assassination – either planned in advance or only used a later as a pretext to depose Rubaya Ali – caused but a personal change in the Northern regime, the change in the South was of a social and political character. One thing is perfectly clear: a pro-Moscow bureaucratic faction took power in the PDRY. But who were their executed and prosecuted opponents?

Both pro-Western and pro-Eastern circles agree – for different and even conflicting reasons – that Rubaya Ali refused to align his country to the “Soviet”-block. Muhammad Saleh Mutia, a member of the NLF’s politbureau and of the presidential council, as well as Foreign Minister, told the Beirut weekly “Al-Houriya” (July 24, 1978) that Salmin (Rubaya Ali’s underground nickname) was “against the relations with the socialist countries and formed separate [foreign] relations, not through the Foreign Ministry”. He added that “the deviationist and opportunist Salem Rubaya Ali, together with his opportunist group, wanted to pave the road to divert the revolution, by a chain of actions prepared in advance – since the fifth general congress” – of the NLF, in 1972! – “exploiting the legitimacy of their organization and government positions, to meet at last with the reactionary right in order to tie the revolution and the country to the wagon of colonialism and neo-colonialism” (By a curious irony of history, Muhammad Saleh Mutia was himself accused, two years later, of serving reactionary Saudi policy, and executed…).

This kind of “explanation” served as an excuse for executing a popular socialist and revolutionary leader by his comerades. The pro-Western Arab commentators and their Western colleagues used the same explanation in order to cry out against “Soviet expansionism”, suddenly hailing Rubaya Ali for being “moderate” and “pro-western”.3

As these bourgeois narrow minded could not, or did not want to imagine a socialist policy carried out independently, without Russian (or Chinese) supervision, they inevitably chose to see everything in black-and-white. We, however, are neither pro-Moscow nor pro-Western, and therefore we can see Red too…

My thesis is, that on June 26-27, 1978, the bureaucratic (of the East European Model) faction of the NLF, wishing to consolidate its power over the South Yemeni state by the establishment of a “new-model-vanguard-party” and a one-party regime, and to turn the country into a bureaucratic state, used the assassination of the North Yemeni president as a pretext to depose a left-wing faction that opposed this direction. In South Yemen, being a small isolated country, sealed off almost entirely from the outside world, the victorious faction had little difficulty in silencing the voice of the vanquished. Moreover, the people with access to South Yemen’s internal affairs, i.e. representatives of Arab leftist parties and media, rallied to unconditionally support the new regime, thus suppressing directly or indirectly the losers’ point of view. To find out what really happened and how, is therefore almost impossible; but it is still possible to look for the basic and real issues of contention, by resorting to the new rulers’ (distorted?) explanations and justifications, trying to see the light through the fog they spread around these issues.

“Technical” problems, i.e. living in Israel where most of the relevant material is considered illegal, and therefore inaccesible, forced me to rely on a relatively limited list of sources, which however supply a wealth of information. The Lebanese (Party of Communist Action) and Palestinian (Democratic Front fot the Liberation of Palestine) weekly “Al-Houriya” covered the South Yemen events in detail. Its first issues following the coup, before the official version of the events had time to cristalize, are an important source of information. So is Nabil Hadi’s book “17 Historical Hours at Bab Al-Mandeb” (in Arabic), that was published in Beirut in 1978, shortly after the events. Being present in Aden at the time of the fighting and afterwards, the author’s version – though biased – carries many relevant facts. These two sources, being hostile to Salem Rubaya Ali’s faction, can therefore be considered reliable when they supply information that may be interpreted to his favour. For the background of the controversy I have largely drawn from Fred Halliday’s book “Arabia without Sultans” (Pelican, 1974).

Hostility towards the Petit-Bourgeoisie

Two and a half years after the coup, in October 1980, the Yemenite socialist party (that replaced the old NLF shortly after the coup) held an extraordinary cogress. Delivering the political report of the party’s central committee, Ali Nasser Muhammad, by now its secretary general as well as president and prime minister, stated: “In the period preceding the establishment of the Yemeni Socialist Party, the petit-bourgeoisie had been exposed, as a result of the opportunist Left’s practices, to an adventurist and irresponsible policy, that was based on ignoring the laws of objective development, and almost denied the social role of the petit-bourgeoisie in the present stage of the national-democratic revolution”.

As opposed to this leftist position, Ali Nasser Muhammad stated his position as follows: “When talking about the bourgeoisie, there exists in our country a group of a limited number of middle-bourgeoisie, consisting of owners of means-of-production, who employ wage labour in small capitalist- and goods-production, and merchants involved in the field of investment. This group plays a role in the social and economic development, according to the development plan and on the basis of the organized laws (stating) the forms of its contribution” (“The Extraordinary Congress of the Yemeni Socialist Patry”, Beirut 1980, pp. 153-154).

In the first issue of “Al-Houriya” after the coup (July 3, 1978), Muhammad Kashli writes that Rubaya Ali offered sometimes “extreme economic and social measures that were not needed, because conditions have not yet been ripe for exercising them, and sometimes he would rush off with such an increasing leftist extremety that his progressive comerades in the leadership – who are called today by Arab reaction ‘extremists who toppled the moderate president’ – tried to stop him…”

Where did this “extremety” come from? Explains Kashli: he, Salmin, “expressed with his extreme mentality that kind of peasant anarchist desire to put an end, here and now, to exploitation and oppression, to speed up the revolution, to burn its stages and escape forward… to the paradise of justice and equality that will come after the prolonged subjugation under feuldalism and the sultans…”

The Agrarian Revolution

That kind of “peasant anarchism”, or in other words – revolutionary vigor, was the driving force of the most important single social revolutionary achievement of the South Yemeni experience: the peasant uprisings of 1970. Fred Halliday, before he began to find “historical justification” to each bureaucratic encroachment, had described these uprisings as follows:

“The rural oppressors had been ousted in the nationalist struggle but this had been mainly because of their character as traitors – that is, opponents of the nationalist movement and allies of the British – and not because of their class role. The task of rural revolution still had to be carried out, and this, because of conditions in South Yemen, differed from analogous campaigns elsewhere…

“The 1970 law gave priority to those who tilled the land, and laid emphasis on grouping these peasants into cooperatives. In itself this law would have constituted a decree from above to be administered by government and party officials but its nature was transformed by the fact that it coincided with a popular mobilization, in the form of intifadhat or insurrections, which swept South Yemen in 1970-71. These provided the political basis for carrying out the rural transformation legally laid down in the December 1970 land reform act.

“The first intifadha predated but anticipated the land reform act: in October 1970 hundreds of poor peasants in the Batis region of the Third Governorate, armed with forks and scythes, occupied the lands and houses of the landowners, arrested them and set up a popular committee to administer their assets. The lands were then distributed in 3-5 acre lumps and grouped in a cooperative. In November 1970 peasants with NLF backing went on to the attack in the Fourth Governorate, where under the 1968 law only 294 acres had so far been distributed; the rest had been parcelled out by landowners and merchants to their associates and had thus slipped under the minimum requirements. An NLF militant later described how the peasants were helped to rise:

“‘We persuaded the peasants that the exploiters would never change and that they had to act. They took their hatchets and sickles and immediately arrested all the sheikhs, sada and other feudalists – eighty-two in all. The population were stupefied. They thought that these people were untouchable and that whoever lifted a hand against them would die on the spot. When they saw that the lords remained in prison and that the town was not struck by any cataclysm all tongues were loosened and all the other peasants joined those who had taken part in the risings and came into the peasant leagues. There are now five Peasant Defence Leagues in the province. It was important that the peasants themselves took the people to prison. Some were armed, but we did not distribute arms because we were afraid of a massacre’.

“Similar risings followed in other provinces. As President Salem Robea Ali put it: ‘…the land does not give itself away. It has to be taken. The NLF encouraged the intifadhat and other popular revolts, because revolutionary violence is the only way to produce a definite break between the large landlords and the workers… This policy also had some major consequences: the peasants, fishermen, and workers have set up militia to defend, arms in their hands, both their social gains and the popular power that made them possible’.

“By March 1972, fifteen months after the second land reform act, twenty-one cooperatives and twenty-four state farms had been set up. There were several hundred families in each. The process of creating rich peasants, begun by Qahtan, had been reversed. ‘We want progressively to transform the small peasants into agricultural workers’, Salem Robea stated” (“Arabia without Sultans”, pp. 248-249).

Salem Rubaya Ali was the moving spirit behind the insurrectionist policy inside the NLF leadership. No wonder that the above-mentioned Kashli wrote that “he became very popular, especially among the fallahs, during their 1970 insurrections…” David Hirst has confirmed this in the “Guardian” (August 29, 1978): “He was more popular than Abd Al-Fattah Ismail and the faceless Party machine. He was thought to represent ‘bedouin socialism’ with a human face…”

Salmin headed the supreme political committee for agriculture and agrarian reform. According to his later main opponent, “the supreme political committee succeeded through its tireless activities to create a (positive) political atmosphere among the peasants, when it organized the first peasant insurrection in the southern region of the third governorate” – Salmin’s home region – in October 7, 1970. “This region was considered one of the strongest feudalist fortresses in our country. After the peasants’ struggle against the land-monopolists in the second, third, forth and fifth governorates ensued, until the insurrections covered all the regions where feudalism had been well-founded” (Abd Al-Fattah Ismail, “The experience of the Popular Revolution in Democratic Yemen”, Nazareth-Akka, undated, p. 83).

Nabil Hadi finds the occasion of Salmin’s fall opportune to voice some reservations, indirectly pointing a blaming finger at the dead presidentand his – still living – supporters: “During the peasant insurrections, that were encouraged by the revolutionary authorities… there were some actions that were not free of extremism… While the activities of the peasant committees were performed in a popular and democratic spirit in general, they were based many times on anarchist enthusiasm; some actions of revenge, not free of brutality, have occured, not all of them justified and especially those committed against (land) owners that showed no resistance or whose property was of no feudalist nature or of no importance” (op. cit., p. 150).

One of the “extreme revolutionary slogans”, used by Salmin’s faction, stated according to Hadi that “private property should not be encouraged”, and that peasants owning private plots, as opposed to agricultural cooperative, “should not be encouraged to profit, knowing – as it was put by (the NLF paper) ’14 October’ – that in the Soviet Union, having gone through sixty years of socialist implementation, the peasant still sells the products of that piece of land that is his own private property inside the cooperative, and which is alotted to him near his home, and he does it freely, and moreover – they have even markets to sell their products” (p. 136).

When the Soviet Union is presented as the model for agrarian socialist Development in order to oppose a revolutionary-motivated idea to try another way, one should be not only stupid, but blind, to try and use it as a proof of the “wrongdoing” of the “opportunist and adventurist extreme left”. Considering the notorious “achievements” of Russian agriculture, the fact that Salmin and his comerades had no faith in that “model” and its “specialists” proves not only their revolutionary commitment, but their “peasant” commonsense as well.

The Revolutionary State

Establishing power in the hands of the majority in South Yemen, i.e. the workers and peasants, “was and still is a problem that occupies them (the NLF leaders) both theoretically and practically. This has become evident since the radical wing took power in June 22, 1969; and it became evident in many events thereafter, the most important of which was perhaps the peasant uprisings in 1970, that were in fact an assault on the framework of the state… notwithstanding the fact that there was a revolutionary leadership at the peak of that state…”

This exceptional description by Fathi Abd Al-Fattah, an Egyptian progressive (i.e., pro-Moscow) writer, carries the revolutionary truth that has otherwise disappeared from his book (“The Experience of the Revolution in Democratic Yemen”, Al-Quds 1975, p. 125). This single sentence, though surrounded and covered by piles of paragraphs and pages to the contrary, tells us more about the real dinamics of the revolutionary process, than the acquainted “realism” of the “progressives” such as, for example, the analysis of one AbdAlla Khaled (“Al-Houriya”, July 31, 1978): These events, i.e. crushing Salmin’s faction, “proved that even in underdeveloped circumstances the revolutionary movement can survive, endure and develop, on condition that it is capable to organize the masses – who have the interest in the revolution – and to protect them, so that there will be no room for the development of the mob-symptom and anarchist tendencies that appear to be indispensable during the first stages of the revolution’s history”.

Down with the state, Long Live the State!

“Al-Hadaf” (25.10.1980, mouthpiece of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) hamner’s that slogan with even stronger words: “What the reactionary regimes, neighbouring South Yemen, fear the most is that the South Yemeni party will establish a State in the true meaning of the word State, with coherent and highly skilled management and organizational institutions, while they, the neighbouring countries, lack the real components of a State”.

It is not easy to discover the exact position of Salmin’s faction concerning the function of the state-machine in the revolutionary process. Trying to recreate their position out of fragments written by their opponents could be of dubious results. However, knowing his role during the peasant insurrections, citations of his oponents can be helpful for that purpose. Abd Al-Fattah Ismail told “Al-Houriya” (4.7.1978): “If we take Salem Rubaya’s position towards the state apparatus, we find a position characterized by hostility, anarchy and lack of organization, all covered with a mask of ‘fighting bureaucracy’.”

Nabil Hadi’s book voices many complaints which had been sounded by bureaucrats and aparatchiks against Salmin’s attitude towards them. They accused him of by-passing the legal chain of decision-making by giving direct orders over their heads, undermining their authority in the eyes of the masses. They claim that he did it in order to build a personal following and loyalties in the population, planning to create a power-base that will allow him to take over the government and become an autocrat. Using the style of Abd Al-Fattah Ismail, their position could, however, be described as “bureaucratic inefficiency covered with a mask of ‘defending democracy’…”

Nabil Hadi gives a vivid description of Salmin’s conduct: “There was not a single day in which Salmin would remain in his palace.4 In every minute we can see him surprising the people in a certain institution or a certain governorate, emerging from his ‘Landrover’ car and, acting sometimes like the ancient kings who came down and mixed with the people disguised as ‘darwish’s, he would then ask the people about their conditions and take interest in meeting and kissing an old woman in the street or in paying a certain poor 10 Dinars, or in visiting a mountainous area in the third governorate to honour a woman who had helped him while he had been a rebel and fugitive, escaping from his pursuers of the rightist government in 1968. And in the next day his pictures would appear in the front-pages of the newspapers and on the T.V. screen” (op. cit., p. 120). This last sentence is most probably a slander; Salmin had little authority over the media, a fact indirectly confirmed by Hadi himself at the bottom of the same page (!), where he writes about Salmin’s attempts ‘to delay the nomination of a new minister of information, in order – according to Hadi’s version – to practically take upon himself that job. His attempts, whatever their motivation, failed, leaving the authority over the media in the hands of someone else.

But even had Hadi’s insinuation been correct, his story is a description of a popular president, a man of the people who does not erect walls between him and the masses. And it appears that Salmin’s colleagues – who later became his opponents – cared to publicize (or let him publicize) his deeds in order to affirm the popular nature of the government.

Rubaya Ali’s position regarding the state apparatus may be clearer after reading the “accusations” directed against his treatment of “the holies’ holy” of every state – the army.

“There existed historical conditions that allowed Salem Rubaya to establish forces of a certain nature, which would rather remain loyal to the president than to the collective authority. Those were the conditions in which the Popular Forces were established. The establishment of these forces was connected to the peasant insurrections that erupted after the victory of the ‘corrective movement’ of June 22, 1969. The progressive regime decided at that time to find a different way to put into practice the agrarian reform, other than the one used in many Arab and other countries… The revolutionary regime decided after the 1969 move to encourage the peasants to take over the land themselves… For this purpose, peasant committees took upon themselves the task of guarding the land taken over from the feudalists by force of arms or by exerting massive pressure. The arms were partly distributed by the political organization [the NLF], partly being in the hands of the revolutionary peasants [fron the time of the liberation struggle], among whom there were some people of tribalist connections. The Popular Forces were comprised of this disharmonious mixture, which had showed harmony only in its aspirations to take over the land and to liberate the man cultivating it…” (Hadi, op. cit., pp. 117-118).

“We have previously recorded the conditions in which the Popular Forces emerged”, Hadi writes later (p .150), “these forces that carried out and protected the revolutionary measures taken in order to liberate the peasants and toilers of the countryside. We have also recorded how did Salem Rubaya care for the continuing existence of these forces without a firm and integral connection with the party leadership, and with the organization in general. This is part of his semi-tribalist practices which, as it became clearer later, were directed at putting a basic obstacle in the way of all the attempts to place the defensive Popular Forces on firm basis and under the leadership of the United Political Organization – The National Front…”

As a counterweight to this “unreliable” popular force of the armed masses, the bureaucratic faction (which, of course, could not trust such an “anarchist” troop) decided to enhance political activity in, and control of, the regular army. The army was still basically the one inherited from the colonial times, with some elements of the NLF incorporated in it, especially in its officer corps. But the party bureaucrats wanted a force fully loyal to them. For this purpose they established in 1972 an academy to train party cadres for a Popular Militia, that would assume the task of “protecting the revolution” and act as a reserve force for the regular army. No wonder that this militia played a decisive role in defeating Salmin’s faction. Salmin could not have expected these forces, as well as the regular army, to rally to his support, a fact that did not deter his opponents from insinuating that he had actually planned to lead a military coup.

In August 1977, Salmin prepared a special report about the conditions inside the regular army and about its political stand. I do not know the contents of that report. I do know what he was blamed of:

“The heroism of the army in defending the homeland from the mercenaries and in defending the revolution evaporated suddenly from Salmin’s mind. Evaporated also were the sacrifices of his couragous comerades in the popular war against the colonialists, those comerades who were the builders of the army and designers of its political line and military experiences” (Hadi. Op. cit., p. 132).

We also do know, that having learned of the report’s contents, Ali Nasser Muhammad, then prime minister, had a heated discussion with Salmin. According to Nabil Hadi, Salmin agreed to “soften” parts of his criticism. The following day, after reviewing large military maneuvers, when “the celebration came to an end, an overwhelming success achieved, and all were exchanging their (feelings of) satisfaction, and the media has already transmitted its report – Salmin stood up in the open field and directed a speech to the celebrating crowd and the weary soldiers. He ‘congratulated’ them in his speech but attacked the army, its composition and its leadership. He declared that this army should be dissolved immediately, because it was neither the army of the revolution nor the army of the republic and not the army of the working class and its vanguard leadership” (Hadi, p. 132).

On september 1, 1977, in another army occasion, Ali Nasser Muhammad stated the bureaucratic wing’s position:

“He (Muhammad) praised the heroism of the soldiers and officers and their glorious role in the popular war and in the defence of independence, homeland and people; (and) the firm connection between the army and the United Political Organization. He declared that the army is the force that protects the revolution and its leading organization, and carries out the decisions and directives of the central committee. The third point was that nobody would be able to even think about a military coup in Democratic Yemen” (hadi, Op. cit., pp. 132-133).

Nobody, except the bureaucratic faction itself, that relied on the regular army (and especially the airforce) on one hand, and on the loyal militia on the other hand, to remove a popular president and faction in order to consolidate what “Al-Hadaf” described as “a state in the true meaning of the word State”.

Goodbye again to Marx’s withering of the state.

Maybe as important for the bureaucrats as the state is the junction were all the bureaucratic roads meet: the Party.

The new model vanguard party

Someone has written in “Al-Houriya” that most dangerous in Rubaya Ali’s “deviation” was his impeding the establishment of the party (Nassir Al-As’ad, 18.12.78). Abd Al-Fattah Ismail wrote that “taking over the revolutionary tasks and building a progressive experience in our country is possible only if there exists a party that will play the leading role in the revolutionary process, and in the leadership of the struggles of the Yemeni working class and its allies” (“The Experience of the Popular Revolution”, p. 70).

The leading role of the (communist) party is an expression taken directly from Eastern Europe’s vocabulary. So is the belief that socialists may act only in the framework of a single party. The NLF, wrote Ismail, “is not afraid of a patriotic alliance, based on the principles of scientific socialism… (But) whoever believes in and defends the ideology of the working class, and its interests, and its aims, cannot historically remain but inside one party-organization. Otherwise they lose their raison d’etre” (op. cit., p. 73).

Turning the loose organization of the NLF into an East-European type of communist party was the pronounced policy of the NLF leadership. Part and parcel of this policy were the negotiations towards the merger of two smaller parties into the NLF, to become a “new-model-vanguard-party” that would rule the country in a one-party regime. These two smaller parties were The Popular Democratic Union (the local pro-Moscow stalinist organization), and The Popular Vanguard’s Party (the local branch of the pan-Arab Ba’ath party).

It was clear to Salmin’s faction, as well as to his opponents, that the establishment of the new party would be an important landmark on the road of the PDRY into the Eastern block, with all the expected consequences in the internal political life and foreign policy.

Said Abd Al-Fattah Ismail (“Al-Houriya”, 18.9.1978): “What is the nature of this party? What is its identity? Is it to become a transitory party? Is it a middle-of-the-road party? Is it a revolutionary democratic party? – It is strange to hear these questions from those who were in the past the most leftist elements…”

His “surprise” is, of course, understandable. Coming from a man influenced deeply by the “soviet” advisers, no wonder that he expresses his “mother-party’s” habit of identifying the correct leftist position with supporting the “democratic-centralist” dictatorship of the Party.

“You must thoroughly understand”, he went on, “that the question in dispute with Salem Rubaya and his deviationist group, concerning the party, was not just about the word ‘party’… neither the word as a word nor the ‘new-model-vanguard-party’ as an expression. But it was a dispute about basic questions, about essential questions, a dispute connected to the Yemenite national problems. They did not want a new-model-vanguard-party, unitary in its Arabism, international in its (foreign) relations, and patriotic in its positions… What they wanted was a party that would formally believe in the unity of the international working-class struggle, without believing neither in the unity of the toilers’ struggle in the Yemenite homeland with that of the Arab region. We have emphasized inside the organization that there would inevitably be a strong connection between the unitarian patriotic position and the internationalist position; it is impossible for us to be patriotic (in the ideological, revolutionary and class meaning of the word) without believing in internationalist solidarity” (Ismail in “Al-Houriya”, 18.9.1978).

In the first anniversary of the Yemeni Socialist Party, its general secretary (then) Abd Al-Fattah Ismail hailed its tightening relations with “the socialist countries”, led by the Soviet Union, and the disappearance of the positions characterized by “fear and caution” towards the Arab communist parties, with which “we have entered a democratic and responsible discussion, aiming to reach front-like agreements with them on a democratic basis” (“Al-Houriya”, October 15, 1979).

Unlike these developing good relations with the Arab stalinists, Ismail stated that “our dispute with the practices of Salem Rubaya’s group is a dispute with anarchism and the opportunist infantile left”, which, so it happened, had to disappear in order to clear the way for the bureaucrats. And he goes on to explain that “it is well known that the opportunist left is a worldwide tendency, characterized by anarchism and adventurism, which damages the unity of the Arab and international revolutionary movement and its struggle that is directed against the imperialist system, Zionism, Fascism and Reaction… The influence of the opportunist left spreads among groups of the petit-bourgeiosie, among circles of the educated… and Salem Rubaya belongs to this opportunist line which appears externally as extreme revolutionism, while in essence it is opposed to scientific socialism, and rejects the principal and strategic alliance with the forces of the Arab and international revolution, of which the Soviet Union is the vanguard” (Abd A1-Fattah Ismail to “Al-Houriya”, July 24, 1978).

Muhammad Saleh Muti’a has put it this way: “His (Rubaya’s) practices are part of the characterizations of the wavering petit-bourgeoisie, which fluctuates between the extreme right and the extreme left, while its positions remain wavering and selective, pendulating between claims of commitment to scientific socialist ideas on the one hand and… trotzkyism on the other” (“Al-Houriya”, 24.7.1978).

The terminology is very remindful of that used during Stalin’s era against his political opponents, who usually stood to his left. However, Stalin did inherit that vocabulary from Lenin, a fact that attracts all sorts of “Marxist-Leninists” to everyone that uses it. More than sixty years after the first workers-peasants-and-soldiers’ insurrection against the bureaucratic dictatorship (in Kronstadt), it is surprising to find so many leftists and socialists who fall into that old and used trap of the “infantile left” argument. Whatever help is exspected from the Soviet Union by third-world socialists, it is no reason to lose the clear sight, and condone by “understanding” every bureaucratic takeover.

Foreign policy

The question of party structure and policy was integrally connected with international relations. As the PDRY had a unique position on the international diplomatic arena, let us follow Fred Halliday’s description of it six to eight years before the coup (“Arabia without Sultans”, pp. 253-256). This should give us a better perspective to understand the direction of the later changes.

Wrote Halliday:

“South Yemen’s foreign policy was characterized by a militant inernationalism, especially after the ‘corrective move’ of June 1969. At one level this reflected a deep political commitment to support other struggling movements who were carrying through the policies for which the NLF itself had fought. At another level it reflected the concrete needs of the South Yemeni revolution itself which had been born amid a world of enemies and which had common interests with anti-imperialist forces elsewhere.

“Diplomatic relations with the USA were broken off altogether in October 1969 in protest at US citizens being allowed to serve in the Israeli army. Relations were formally established with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and with the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam; and in time close ties grew with Cuba and with the Democratic Republic of North Korea. It was obvious that People’s Yemen stood firmly on the side of the communist world, and that the economic aid which it needed had to come from there. The Soviet Union and China had provided around £25 million each by March 1972 – the Soviets in aid to the army and the fishing industry, the Chinese in medical aid and in a road project linking Aden to the Hadhramaut. But inspite this general support the PDRY stood to the left of both these major powers on a number of key issues. Both Russia and China opened diplomatic ties to the states of the lower Gulf [the Arab Emirates] whom the PDRY at first refused to recognize and whom it tried to exclude from the Arab League and the United Nations. On Palestine, the PDRY opposed the UN resolution of November 1967 which the Soviet Union had sponsored, and the NLF’s initial criticism of the ‘petty-bourgeois’ character of such states as Egypt and Algeria contrasted with the favourable official Soviet characterization of them. On the other hand the PDRY did not regard the Soviet Union as a ‘social imperialist’ country, as the Chinese maintained, and it therefore held that the United States remained the number one enemy of the peoples of the world. In addition to the above there were other differences. The Chinese support for the Nimeri government in the Sudan after the July 1971 massacre of the Communist party leaders contrasted with PDRY solidarity with the murdered revolutionaries. Like the Vietnamese, the PDRY refused to be drawn into Sino-Soviet polemics, but, like the Vietnamese too, the South Yemeni revolutionaries felt the negative consequences both of the rivalry between the two communist states and of the separate detentes which both were seeking with the USA.

“The PDRY stood far to the left of any other Arab government, particularly in their tense and principled relations to the chloroforming institutions of inter-Arab politics such as the Arab League. Their experience with inter-Arab politics before independence had been bitter. The most immediate enemies they now faced were other Arab states, and their solidarity with anti-imperialist forces all over the world and their refusal to accept the mystifications of ‘Arab socialism’ were unique. They were often accused of being ‘outside Arabism’ and anti-Islamic. They were the first Arab state to recognize Bangladesh – in explicit rejection of the reactionary ‘Moslem solidarity’ which tied the other states to Pakistan. On Palestine they consistently supported the guerrilla organizations and, while having special relations with the PDFLP, gave what support they could to the guerrilla movement as a whole…

“The PDRY was always clear that the enemies it faced were the same as those faced by the peoples of the Gulf – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US. In 1971 they refused to recognize the pupet states granted ‘independence’ by Britain (although they failed in their campaign to exclude them from international organizations) and they kept up a barrage ot political attacks on the pro-imperialist forces in the region. For this reason the PDRY was in a state of permanent hostility with both its north-eastern neighbours; along the fifty-mile frontier with Oman, and along the 300-mile frontier with Saudi Arabia. Border clashes were frequent, and in May 1972 Omani forces made an air and ground attack on guerrilla positions inside the PDRY”.

For a small and poor half-a-country like South Yemen, to defend revolutionary independence in the face of the imperialist, as well as bureaucratic, powers was a matter of walking on a thin rope. When it became clear that the revolution is not going to sweep the neighbouring countries, as had been hoped, the NLF had to develop a policy that would allow it to survive with as few compromises as possible. The bureaucratic faction pulled the wagon towards a non-problematic reliance on the Soviet Union. This however demanded quite a few compromises, including the loss of the unique left-wing position internally as well as externally. Salmin opted, so it seems, for keeping some contacts with China, as a counterbalance to Russian pressures. The Kuwaiti daily “A-Siasa” wrote, immediately after the coup (28.6.1978), that “after Salem Rubaya Ali’s fall it may be said that the Soviet wing liquidated the Chinese wing in South Yemen’s leadership”.

Falling into Moscow’s embrace meant also betraying old-time revolutionary comerades across the Red Sea. The “Time” magazin reported (July 10, 1978) that “the two rivals also disagreed about South Yemen’s role in the Horn of Africa. Robaya Ali, who had ordered 1,000 paratroopers to assist Ethiopia against Somalia in the Ogaden, did not want to use his soldiers against guerrillas in the breakaway province of Eritrea. Ismail did”.

In the political report submitted to the extraordinary congress of the Yemeni Socialist Party in October 1980, the word “Eritrea” is not to be found, while the Ethiopian military junta, named “revolution”, is said to march “from victory to victory”. The national liberation struggle of the Eritrean people was betrayed just because the Ethiopian state was taken by a (temporarily?) pro-Russian junta.

The accusations directed against Salmin, to the extent that he had “tried to tie Democratic Yemen to the reactionary and imperialist axis” (“Al-Houriya”, 23.10.1978) must be considered in this context. While the Soviet Union now wholly supported Ethiopia in its war against Somalia as well as in Eritrea, Saudi-Arabia, Egypt and Sudan changed faces accordingly, to support – not unconditionally as it turned out – the Eritrean liberation movements (mostly the rightist one). It should be emphasized that this changing of sides was a result of the change in the international setup only, and not of any social or political change in the character of the Eritrean movements.

Supporting the Eritrean national liberation struggle against imperial Ethiopia had been a longtime policy of the Arab left.5 After the fall of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Sellasie, and the 180 degrees turnabout of the Soviet Union from supporting Somalia to supporting its Ethiopian (now republican) rival, the Arab left – some sooner some later – gradually followed suit. The support of Eritrea was thus left to the pro-Western Arab states. This however did not change the nature of the Eritrean struggle,6 something that can be understood only by true internationalists.

As late as July 9, 1978, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) issued a joint statement with the Eritrean Liberation Front, saying they both agree that there is a need to stop “the on-going Ethiopian-Eritrean fighting, on the basis of the right to self-determination according to the revolutionary principles” “Al-Houriya”, 9.7.78). A year and a half later (“Al-Houriya”, 24.12.1979), in a joint statement of the DFLP and the Yemeni Socialist Party, both signatories expressed their support for the Ethiopian-South Yemeni friendship treaty. There was no mention of Eritrea, neither as an ongoing liberation struggle nor as an internal Ethiopian question that still has to be solved. Eritrea simply disappeared.

I have dealt quite extensively with the question of Eritrea, that may seem marginal to the South Yemeni events. But, in the eyes of the imperialist policy-makers, the events in South Yemen, and Ethiopia, as well as Iran and Afghanistan, were all part of a Soviet master-plan of expansion. This kind of analysis, when presented as a main theme in Western propaganda, sounded like war mongering. In the face of this imperialist attack on the Soviet Union, an anti-imperialist like Fred Halliday came forward with a thesis that in fact defends the Soviet Union, and by the way tends to ignore the fact that in all four cases the Soviet Union seemed to gain, but not necessarily the left (see Halliday’s article “The Arc of Revolutions” in “Race&Class”, xx, 4, 1979). To claim, as he did, that Salmin’s faction, as well as the Eritrean guerrillas, were in fact “manipulated” by Arab reactionaries, was going a little bit too far in the defence of the Soviet Union, to a point of serving it against the left.

Abuse of power

After the execution of Salmin, a torrent of accusations against his past practices poured from his executioners. Apart from the purely political accusations, and sometimes intermingled with them, there were accusations of a personal character. Salmin was accused of nominating “his tribesmen” to positions like, no more no less, “the secretary of the central committee’s secretariat”, or “member of the politbureau” (Hadi, Op. cit., pp.126-127). Salmin had little control of the party machine, if any. This was confirmed even by his opponents. How the hell could he then nominate anyone to the central committee or to the politbureau? Either his faction had the majority of the party’s leadership to carry through these nominations, or at the time these nominees were accepted by the other faction too.

There were also insinuations that Salmin misused state funds and bribed people to support him. It is impossible for an outsider to refute or confirm the factual basis for these accusations. However, having been raised in the context of a social and political struggle, it seems that these accusations were mere slander and distortion, not real issues.

After the success of the coup against him, Salmin was captured alive together with his closest aides. They could be put to trial, be it even a show-trial reminiscent of Stalin’s era. They could be given the chance to defend themselves, if their captors were so sure of their accusations. It must be concluded that putting them to trial might have embarassed their captors, if the captives could use the platform to disclose the real political differences.

Anyway, here is a partial list of Salmin’s supposed crimes: he set up factories controled only by the presidncy and not by any government ministry (Hadi, p. 126); he turned some members of the country’s embassies abroad into “agents of the presidency” (Saleh Muti, “Al-Houriya”, 24.1.18); he established illegal commercial institutions not controled by the treasury; he used money from the “political fund” to improve the conditions of those loyal to him personally (Fadl Muhsen, “Al-Houriya”, 24.7.78); the Saudi aid to the state was directed to support only one faction, Salmin’s faction (Minister of Defence Ali Antar to Nabil Hadi, p. 142), etc.

If Salmin had committed all the “unpolitical” crimes he was later accused of, his opponents could have tried to depose him for that reason long before the coup and his execution. I think that most of the “crimes” of personal character can somehow be fitted into the broad framework of the political struggle that was being waged between Salmin’s faction, represented as it were by the presidency as an institution, and the bureaucratic faction. It is possible to explain the political character of some of the “personal” abuses, something I will however not try to do. Writing this article I assumed that Salmin’s personal behaviour, be it what it was, is not relevant to the analysis of the political issues that were at stake. I assume also that Salmin’s opponents, being aware of his popularity among the masses, launched a slander campaign of the Stalinist type in order to prevent and counterweight a potential wave of hostility towards his executioners. Accusing him of extreme leftist positions could be a merit in the eyes of the Yemeni workers and peasants. He had to be accused of betraying the revolution to Saudi Arabia and of corruption and embezzlement.

It was not inevitable

The South Yemeni experience was the dream incarnate of third-worldist socialist revolutionary theories. Beginning as a broad national liberation front, fighting against the colonial power, in 1963, the militants of the NLF acting underground gradually grasped the limitations of the national struggle per-se, questioning in the process the dominating pan-Arab Nasserist ideology (and practice in the North Yemeni civil war, where Egypt backed the republican regime against the monarchists) as well as their own Nasserist leadership. These militants were progressively moving to the left, giving the movement a growing socialist character. While the NLF leadership in exile could be described as left-Nasserists (Nasserism being the Egyptian-led version of Arab-Socialism), the inland militants were already studying marxist literature in the underground, and developed such radical positions that led them to engage in a civil-war against the bourgeois nationalists (i.e., mainstream Nasserists), during the anti-colonial struggle. After winning this underground civil war, the NLF succeeded in liberating most of the countryside from the local Sultans, Britain’s allies, leaving the British no alternative but to negotiate independence with the NLF (whose mere existance had not been recognized until then, neither by the British nor by Nasser) and hand over Aden to it, in 1967.

After independence internal controversies tore apart the NLF. The right wing – led by President Qahtan A-Sha’abi – lost the majority in the NLF congress of 1968, but used the regular army to retain power. The left wing, socialist-revolutionary and internationalist by now, resorted – in May 1968, how symbolic – to guerrilla war against the government. As this war dragged on, weakening both sides, the opportunity was seized by enemies of the revolution. Under the threat of foreign intervention from Saudi Arabia, the left decided to try a shortcut: reconciliation with Qahtan, joining efforts in defending the country, and trying again to takeover the state from the inside. This the left managed to achieve not long after, in June 1969, ridding itself of its middle-of-the-road fellow travellers by the end of the year, replacing them in the government with a communist and a Ba’athi.

By the end of 1970 the PDRY stood to the left of each and every state in the world. Wrote Fred Halliday: “The central internal problem concerned the character of the South Yerneni state, and of the NLF’s role. Survival was the first concern of the state and the NLF, and this conflicted in direct ways with the realization of a democratic, political life within the republic. The need for mass democratic institutions within the party and within the state, had been one of the cornerstones of the left’s critique of Qahtan. Yet when the ‘left’ itself came to power it proved unwilling to actualize its previous slogans. One factor impeding them was the constant threat of foreign attack and internal disruption by counter revolutionaries. Another was the lack of political cadres and the continuance among the masses of pre-revolutionary ldeas and practices. The continuing economic difficulties of the republic also made the building of a party and of mass democratic institutions more difficult. But the failure to build these led inevitably to the growth of other forms of centralized political control in which the armed forces and the top leadership substituted for the democratic interrelationship of government and people” (“Arabia without Sultans”, p. 259).

The NLF was not, of course, the first revolutionary movement to face this dilemma, but it was also not the first to dare resolve it by resigning power in favour of the democratic organs of the working masses. In fact none did that. All, for reasons similar to those sumrnerized by Halliday, decided sooner or later to follow the Russian example and model, taking the “safe” and “paved” road of bureaucratic one-party dictatorship.

The seeds of Halliday’s later justification of this decision, that had finally been carried out after a bloody repression of the left wing’s own left wing, are to be found in the above cited text. Halliday accepted the claim that democratic participation of the (ignorant?) masses was somehow incompatible with the security and survival of the state. Moreover, he attached the bureaucratic task of “building a party” to the revolutionary task of encouraging (he wrote “building”) “mass democratic institutions”, as if they are inseperable and equally important. As it turned out in the PDRY, the building of a party, or rather The Patry, was the opposite of developing mass democratic institutions and initiative. It was the alternative rather than a complementary measure, and it had to be fought over. The problem was, that in the decisive moment the masses did not take part in the struggle, at least not actively. There is no proof that they were informed of the controversy or consulted by neither wing. When the battle was fought, it was faction-fighting in the top, and not a broad social struggle with revolutionary characteristics. This, of course, was more to the detriment of the left, because the bureaucrats had more control, and support, in the armed forces. It is not surprising that the bureaucrats did not appeal to the masses to participate in the struggle, but it shows that the left suffered too from some of the symptoms that plagued the bureaucrats’ camp.

The bureaucrats got the upper hand. In the Soviet Union this had happened only after a prolonged struggle inside the soviets and the party, and the rise of Stalin to power. Many veteran revolutionary leaders of the party had to be executed (after the annihilation of the opposition parties, bourgeois as well as socialist, and of the anarchist resistance) before this could be achieved. In Cuba, a similar case to South Yemen, the process of bureaucratisation was more humane, in part because it was carried out under the same revolutionary-turned-bureaucrat leader, Fidel Castro, and endorsed by Ernesto (Che) Guevarra. Castro was ready to use his popularity as a revolutionary in the service of the party machine that was to take over the state.

Significantly, and in a similar way to what happened later in the PDRY, the pro-Moscow Cuban communist party merged with the loose but victorious liberation movement to mark this transformation. But unlike Castro, Salmin refused to play the part. He refused to become a second Fidel (or Che). In the eyes of the party apparatus, he had to be removed. But this had to be done also according to many leftists like Fred Halliday, who regard the victory of the bureaucracy as inevitable and therefore historically justified; in their eyes, Salmin’s alternative did not deserve their support or solidarity. After his fall, those leftists’ task seemed to become defending the (bureaucratic) regime against reactionary and imperialist propaganda, instead of trying to thoroughly analyse and learn the lesson of the South Yemeni experience.

In the case of “Al-Houriya”, “Al-Hadaf” and their like, the “defence of progressive Democratic Yemen” included also the important service of cover-up. They were fast to conceal the true meaning of the internal struggle in the NLF and presented it, first and foremost, as a struggle between a reactionary pro-Saudi faction (Salmin) using leftist phraesiology, and a pro-Soviet progressive party leadership. The same applies to Fred Halliday, who – considered the main specialist of South Yemeni affairs in the European and American left – is responsible for the same kind of cover-up. In an article published in 1979, although mentioning in passing the existence of differences concerning internal issues, Halliday emphasized: “…the events in South Yemen came to a head above all because of the increasing pressure put upon that country by Saudi Arabia, and indirectly, the USA. It was therefore a case of US-inspired ‘destabilization’ that in the end backfired” (“the Arc of Revolutions: Iran, Afghanistan, South Yemen, Ethiopia”, p. 380).

Rather than cover-up by distortion, Halliday chose to conceal the true meaning of Salmin’s downfall simply by not writing about it, or by referring to it only in passing, as if nothing really significant had happened. His anti-imperialism led him (like so many others before him) to side with the pro-Russian bureaucrats, and see the conspiratorial hand of the imperialist monster everywhere. Thus, when referring to the Ethiopian-Eritrean ongoing conflict, all that Halliday has to say about the Eritrean liberation struggle is that the Saudis “were manipulating the Eritrean guerrillas” (“The Arc…”, p. 381); his readers are led to believe that fighting against an army of foreign (though neigbour) occupation, which serves a chauvinist and uncompromising dictatorship, needs manipulation only because that junta is supported by the Soviet Union and uses socialist terminology.

Similarly to what happened in the Soviet Union and Cuba during the first five-to-ten years after the revolutionary takeover, the future of the revolution in South Yemen depended almost entirely on the spreading of the revolutionary wave to the neighbouring, and richer, countries. In South Yemen there were hopes that this is possible. By 1970, the revolutionary struggle in neighbouring Oman, especially in the closer region of Dhofar, seemed to gain more than a foothold. In Jordan the Palestinian movement was not yet beaten, and represented a potential revolutionary force that could transform the host country into another North-Vietnam. The Eritreans across Bab Al-Mandeb were liberating some areas from Ethiopian (still under the emperor) control. The British, the regional imperialist superpower, were leaving their Gulf colonies, granting them independence that seemed so fragile. And there was the war-torn North Yemen, the richer and more populous half of the country. However, when the hopes proved too optimistic, stability became the watchword. The conformists, not to say conservatives, who preferred the paved road of the bureaucratic example of Eastern Europe to the driftsand of revolutionary experimentation, gradually prevailed. When survival of state and party gets top priority, survival of the socialist revolution must give way.

Is the bureaucratic regime a necessary, inevitable stage in the road of under-developed countries to socialism? History has answered this question in the affirmative, until now. But is this a road to socialism? If not, how then can a revolutionary movement and state preserve their revolutonary nature in times of revolutionary retreat in the neighbouring countries, without retreating in turn to bureaucratic transformation? Is this possible?

The PDRY had to look for foreign aid, if it wanted to develop some industry without extracting from the peasantry most of the needed capital. This aid could come, accompanied by political conditions, from the capitalist world. It could also come unconditionally, and at the beginning it did, from the Eastern block (at that time including China). But the Russian aid was never unconditional, and usually was followed by some sort of pressure and intervention in the internal affairs of the recipients. Thus, when the Russians changed sides in the conflict of the Horn of Africa, and had to leave their bases in Somalia, they needed alternative naval services and bases in the region, something only Aden could offer. Their presence and influence (maybe even pressure) had an accumulative influence on the development of the NLF’s bureaucratic faction. The danger of wholly falling into the bureaucratic camp and losing the relative freedom to revolutionary experimentation and initiative, was growing. What could the socialist revolutionaries do? Oppose the Russian interference and lose their aid? Refuse them the requested naval bases when they are “in need”? Was it possible to hold both ends of the stick – receiving aid and refusing to pay its (political) price? Was it possible to bargain? If not, what was the alternative, if any?

I allow myself to assume, although I have no substanciated proof to it, that Rubaya Ali opted for the only possible alternative: diversifying the sources of aid, playing their opposing influences one against the other, thus preserving some sort of freedom of action. That should be the explanation to his opposition to break all ties with China; that is probably why he was ready to examine the Saudi and American conditions for aid.7

Receiving aid from the US does not constitute per-se a counter-revolutionary step. Moreover, when thus presented by supporters of the Soviet Union, this claim is really ridiculous. The Soviet Union itself relies on grain shipments from the USA to feed its population, and stands in the line to buy technical innovations and professional skills from the West.

Diversification of the sources of aid, while preserving some revolutionary independence, could be a very delicate and sensitive policy of walking on a thin rope. But it is not impossible; it was not impossible. It was not inevitably doomed.

Describing in passing the internal issues in dispute, Fred Halliday wrote:

“These differences began with economic policy – whether to rely on the spontaneity of the masses (Salem Rubaya Ali) or on more orthodox centralized administrative procedures (Abd Al-Fattah Ismail) – and extended to what kind of party the NLF should be – a militant if loosely-structured group based on a strong ethical element (Salem Rubaya) or a more established formal structure modelled on the ruling parties of Eastern Europe (Abd Al-Fatah)” (“The Arc…” , p. 379).

These differences were then the reason of the struggle in the PDRY that came to a head in the events of June 26 and 27. These, and not any American or Saudi manipulation. It was a struggle between a left wing that wanted a workers-and-peasants state, excluding even the middle and petit-bourgeoisie from taking an active part in the development process, and a bureaucratic wing that opted for a single party dictatorship, tolerating the capitalist role of the petit-bourgeoisie and some elements of the middle bourgeoisie in the development process.

The left wing tended to place the responsibility to the country’s defence in the hands of the Popular Forces, made up of the working masses themselves, while the bureaucratic wing chose to rely not only on the regular army, but rather on a party-army called the Popular Militia.

Rubaya Ali’s personal faults and mistakes notwithstanding, in this struggle he represented the left wing and deserved the support and solidarity of socialists had his faction won. Now, however, it is not a matter of actual support or solidarity. Now it is a matter of discovering the historical facts, fitting them into the socio-political map of the Arab East and into the legacy of revolutionary socialism, and trying to apply the lessons drawn from them in the revolutionary socialist education and future experiences.

 

  1. The only version of the events from the losing side was to be found in the “Guardian”. David Hirst met some South Yemeni fugitives in the North, in a camp near Marib. “Abdulla belonged to the so-called Popular Forces, the late President’s counterweight to the People’s Militia of Abd Al-Fattah Ismail. His version of the power struggle differed from the now-official one. Abd Al-Fattah Ismail had succeeded, by a ruse, in depriving the Popular Forces of all their heavy arms, several days before it began. None the less, in Zinjibar, President Rubaya Ali’s native province, 300 partisans had destroyed an enemy force of 600 advancing through a narrow pass” (31.8.1978). The subsequent victors later claimed, and showed, the heavy artilery, weapons and ammunition captured “during the battle”, as proof of Salmin’s “premeditated plan” for a coup (see picture in “Al-Houriya”, 9.7.78), but Hirst’s story shows that the same could be said to the opposite, had the results been different.
  2. A close relative of Rubaya Ali told me in 2010 that he had considered resignation to avoid bloodshed, and did not organise to fight his opponents, otherwise he would certainly have sent his family to a safer place. As it turned out, his wife and children were in their home in Aden and had no knowledge of the danger to his life.
  3. Muzafar Abu Al-Ala wonders in “Al-Houriya” (July 3, 1978) about the fast turnabout in the position of the Arab Right towards Salem Rubaya Ali: “They fought him and his comerades in the leadership for many long years, (and now) they emphasize that he had been supporting improved relations with Saudi Arabia and North Yemen, in a time when the legitimate leadership of the party tended to strengthen relations with the socialist countries. And ‘Al-Ahram’ went last Thursday so far, trying to ‘whitewash’ Salem Rubaya’s picture, that it invented a story to the extent that he had supposedly intended to warn Al-Ghashmi of the planned assassination that awaited him”. Asks Abu Al-Ala: “What happened to the Arab Right and reaction, and their mouthpieces?” – i.e., they were wrong, but when? I assume that Abu Al-Ala meant to say they were wrong to say that Rubaya Ali had been pro-Saudi, because he (Abu Al-Ala) emphasized in his article the fact that the events were, first and foremost, “internal” and with “internal roots”. The international leanings and preferences were after all of only marginal, or indirect, importance.
  4. Using the word palace for the presidencial residence and offices is more in line with the description of Salmin’s “royal” behaviour than with the truth. Unlike the ancient kings, Salmin did not wear a costume to disguise himself, but wore his usual modest clothes, and drove his ‘Landrover’ himself, having neither a private chauffeur nor a convoy of attaches and bodyguards. This was confirmed by Lafif Lakhdar, who told me a fascinating story of the days he had spent in South Yemen, traveling with Salmin in his vehicle, visiting remote hamlets, eating what the people ate and sleeping like they did – on the floor. Lafif also told me of Salmin’s office in Aden, that was always open to everyone: people used to walk in directly from the street, not having to make an appointment or pass a line of secretaries.
  5. The Egyptian leftist magazin “A-Tali’a” of March 1977 explained its decision to publish a dossier about Eritrea not only as a service to its readers, but also as a “commitment towards our principles of supporting movements of national liberation”. 
  6. In an interview to “Al-Houriya”, 17.7.78, Ahmad Nasser, head of the executive committee of the Eritrean Liberation Front, said: “We raise the slogan of reaching a democratic peaceful solution, in the face of the reactionary and imperialist policies, and the nationalist-chauvinist Ethiopian as well as Eritrean policies, but this does not mean that we offer concessions in matters connected to questions of principle”. Nasser was then presented by “Al-Houriya” with the following analysis: “Imperialism has more than one single favourite. During Heile Sellasie’s regime, and maybe during the first stages that followed the liquidation of the imperial regime in Ethiopia, the Americans and Israelis gambled on preventing Eritrean independence, lest it becomes a progressive state that will strengthen the progressive states on the shores of the Red Sea. From another side, under the new conditions, when imperialism fears the continuing progressive changes in Ethiopia, Arab reaction – particularly Saudi Arabia and the rightist Egyptian regime – began to bet on Eritrean seperation in an attempt to deal a blow to Ethiopia and to the progressive Eritreans, as they had tried (successfully) to do in Somalia. How do you regard the need to fight these reactionary tendencies, especially in connection with your organization?” Ahmad Nasser answered: “We shall never accept neither intervention in our internal affairs nor conditioned external aid; we shall accept nothing but to be independent. And again: we emphasize our independence, and we shall never agree to become a tool in the hands of anybody”. Could these words be said by Salmin, had he the opportunity to defend himself against the accusations that he had “tried to tie South Yemen to the reactionary and imperialist axis”?
  7. An American envoy was due to arrive in Aden on the 26th or 27th of June 1978. His visit was cancelled following (North Yemen’s president) Al-Ghashmi’s assassination and Salmin’s execution (according to the Israeli daily “Ha’aretz“, 27.6.78, based on an AP report from Washington the day before). If Salmin was really pro-American, he would not have initiated the assassination of Al-Ghashmi, for which he was later blamed, that would certainly undermine the American mission (the envoy was at San’a at the time). Salmin’s opponents must decide: either he was pro-American, or he was the one who initiated the assassination. This card cannot be played both ways. It is possible, though, that he was neither.

Previous post:

Next post: