Rony Gabbay, Communism and Agrarian Reform in Iraq (London: Croom Helm, 1978).
Modern Iraqi history suffers from a lack of monographs and case studies on subjects such as rural affairs. Rony Gabbay’s research helps to fill this vacuum, at least in the area of social and political developments in the countryside and their relation to communism and agrarian reform. Published in 1978, even today Gabbay’s is an important source for the history of the Iraqi Communist Party.
Gabbay provides useful information on the socioeconomic position of the rural classes, and a clear picture of their severe oppression. His title may be too general; he is mainly concerned with the pre-1963 period, but he gives a interesting summary of the Iraqi Communist Party’s statements and policy in the pre-Baath period. The ICP emerges as largely unprepared for the 1958 upheaval, in the sense that the party had no transitional program and no clear agrarian program.
Gabbay’s book is among the few studies one can recommend on modern Iraq. It does, though, have one serious shortcoming. To judge communist policy with regard to the agrarian question, it is first of all necessary to analyze the political situation in the countryside and the political position of the lower rural classes with regard to shaikhs, state, the national revolution and agrarian reform. Little is said about the organizing capacity of the fellahin, of their relationship to the means of production, of their dependence on shaikhs and urban landowners and about the relationship between urban and rural opposition. Important regional differences are largely neglected. Gabbay’s judgement of the ICP’s policy lacks a basic pillar of investigation, and this is not offset by his insightful and lengthy citations from ICP program statements and party discussions.
This shortcoming has its consequences. Gabbay’s critique of the unpreparedness of the ICP in 1958 is justifiable, but this cannot be said of all his judgments with regard to the party’s role in land reform. In 1958 the ICP was hardly represented in the countryside, at least in terms of organized support, and this was a significant element in the balance of power between conservative and progressive forces in that decisive year. Gabbay does not seem to appreciate the hesitations of communist officials in implementing the distribution of land among the still highly dependent lower classes; these were not totally unjustified. The problem was not so much that the creation of petty landowners contradicted certain schools of communist thought; it could have no real success if Qasim and the ICP could not adequately control and protect a large-scale land reform. The revolution of 1958 was an urban affair in the sense that it did not immediately destroy the power of sheikhs and landowners. Gabbay almost blames the communists for the land reform failure. Land reform, however, is not a short-term process and the communists were in power only during a brief period of some months. By not investigating the structural difficulties of the agrarian situation, which were beyond the powers of the party, Gabbay’s analysis takes on strong voluntaristic overtones.