Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Communism

Mao in a Muslim Land

In the coming years, China is expected to invest some $18 billion in an “economic corridor” crossing Pakistan to the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The latest installment is the development of the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The port scheme is a strategic move linked to the restoration of Gwadar’s oil refining capacity. The plan is that China’s purchases of crude from the Middle East will be refined there before flowing to China by pipeline.

China has been Pakistan’s close economic and military ally since soon after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. But Chinese influence in South Asia has been ideological as well.

Iranian Maoism

As in most other countries, Maoism in Iran emerged in the mid-1960s when Sino-Soviet disputes split the ranks of international communism. But Iranian communism and its Maoist variant were also rooted in domestic developments. During the 1940s, the pro-Soviet (Tudeh) communist party had made significant inroads among Iran’s industrial workers, as well as artists, writers, translators, journalists, scholars and university students. In 1953, a CIA-sponsored military coup placed Iran firmly on the American side of the Cold War, crushing all communist and independent nationalist activities. Nevertheless, Soviet-style Marxism and anti-imperialist nationalism remained powerful undercurrents in political culture.

Hadi al-`Alawi, Scion of the Two Civilizations

In the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China began to host a small community of Arab scholars and journalists, recruited mostly through “revolutionary” channels like the FLN, the PLO, and the Iraqi and Sudanese Communist Parties. These experts were brought to China with the explicit purpose of editing and translating texts, as well as providing Arabic-language instruction at Chinese media, propaganda and educational institutions. This select group included a number of writers and intellectuals, such as Kadhim al-Samawi, Hanna Mina, Sheikh Jalal al-Hanafi and Hadi al-‘Alawi, the last of whom left the deepest mark on twentieth-century Arab intellectual life.

Maxime Rodinson Looks Back

Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was a pioneering scholar of Islam and the Middle East, as well as a prominent Marxian public intellectual. A product of classical Orientalist training, he was professor of Old Ethiopic and South Arabian languages at the Sorbonne. His scholarly sensibility was historical-materialist, a perspective he brought to his famous biography of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (1961), as well as later publications including Islam and Capitalism (English edition, 1973), Marxism and the Muslim World (English, 1979) and Cult, Ghetto and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (1983). Rodinson was a contributing editor of Middle East Report from 1988 to 2000.

Editor’s Bookshelf

Although the Congressional investigating committee did everything in its power to minimize Israel’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal, the hearings and their fallout did suggest that Israel played a major, and very likely initiating, role in the sordid affair. This and other matters skirted by both the Tower Commission and the Congressional committee are examined by Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott and Jane Hunter in The Iran-Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era (Boston: South End Press, 1987).

Botman, Rise of Egyptian Communism

Selma Botman, The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970 (Syracuse, 1988).

The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970, one of several recent books that offer new insights on the experience of Marxism in Egypt before and during the Nasser era, provides an extensive account of the membership, organizational structure, theory and practice of the various communist groups which emerged in Egypt during the British occupation.

Palestinian Communists and the Intifada

Maher Al-Sharif, Al-Shuyu‘iyun wa Qadaya al-Nidal al-Watani al-Rahin [The Communists and Issues in the Current National Struggle] (Damascus: Center for Socialist Research and Study in the Arab World, 1988).

The role of the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP) is one of the most important and least understood aspects of the intifada. When a member of the PCP Political Bureau was elected to a seat on the PLO Executive Committee at the 18th Palestine National Council (PNC) in April 1987, many interpreted it as a sign of Moscow’s role in the process of reuniting the Palestinian factions. But that is an insufficient explanation for the double “cultural revolution” this opening represents.

A Split in the Iraqi Communist Party?

In the aftermath of the party’s fourth congress in October 1985, a group of 11 members led by an ex-alternate member of the central command of the party were expelled from the party. They had violated the party’s constitution by publicly circulating a memorandum attacking the new policy adopted by the party after its turn against the Baath rule in 1979, a document ratified by the 1985 congress. The document criticized the past experience of alliance with the Baath party on the grounds that the CP had accepted the possibility of the Baath leading Iraq’s transition to socialism. Consequently, according to the document, the CP had abandoned its political, ideological and organizational independence vis-à-vis the ruling party.

Gabbay, Communism and Agrarian Reform in Iraq

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.

Marxism, the Third World and the Middle East

It has become common in the West to question the relevance of Marxism to advanced capitalism, and to suggest that, as a theory, it is in “crisis” and requires substantial revision. Paradoxically, more orthodox versions of Marxist theory and politics seem to retain an appeal in the Third World. Since the end of World War II, nearly 20 countries have acquired governments professing adherence to Marxist ideas. Within the past decade alone, more than ten states have gone through social upheavals that have brought regimes of a Marxist orientation to power. As a force in world history, Marxism’s success in the Third World contrasts with its more checkered fate in the developed countries.

Palestinian Communists and the National Movement

George Hazboun is a leading Palestinian trade unionist. He was dismissed from his elected position as deputy mayor of Bethlehem by a January 22 municipal council decision, spearheaded by Mayor Elias Freij, for his alleged abstention from attending council meetings since May 1982. Coming as it did three weeks before the convening of the Palestine National Council in Algeria, this dismissal was interpreted by the national movement as an attempt to clear the ground for pro-Hashemite elements in the West Bank to make their presence known in the Algiers meeting and to mute anti-Jordanian sentiment locally.

“Tudeh’s Policy Is a Betrayal of the Working Class”

Fereidun Keshavarz was elected to the Tudeh politburo at the Party’s first congress in 1942. He was elected to the Iranian parliament in 1944 and in 1946 served as minister of in the short-lived government of Prime Minister Qavam. In 1958 he resigned from the Tudeh politburo and central committee. He met with Fred Halliday in Geneva on March 14, 1980 for this interview.

How do you evaluate the strength of the Tudeh Party in the 1940s, and how do you account for its popularity at that time?

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