Arab Communists and the Struggle against Fascism and Nazism

Maher al-Sharif
https://libcom.org/files/images/library/2013-05-01T131523Z_1089080936_GM1E9511C6G01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ.JPGIraqi Communist Party

As soon as fascism and then Nazism entered the scene in Europe, the communist parties in the Arab countries adopted a clear position towards them, warning against their ambitions and aggressive policies. This position placed the Arab communists at odds with certain sectors of Arab public opinion, influenced by the propaganda of fascism and Nazism, which saw Italy and Germany as potential allies in their struggle against Britain and France, the colonial powers in the majority of Arab countries.

The VII Congress of the Communist International

The attitude of the Arab communists towards fascism and Nazism was no different from that adopted by all the communist parties in the world, organized, from the beginning of the 1920s, around the Communist International (CI). The Seventh Congress of the CI, meeting in Moscow from July 25 to August 20, 1935, constituted a decisive turning point in the history of the international communist movement. In the presence of the delegates at this congress, including a number of Arabs, the Bulgarian Communist leader Georgie Dimitrov presented a detailed report on “the fascist offensive and the tasks of the Communist International in the struggle for the unity of the working class against fascism. In this report Dimitrov called on the communist parties in all countries to act to form an anti-fascist united popular front, including the vast majority of the masses in their countries. 1] The Italian communist leader Palmiero Togliatti presented a report on “the struggle against the preparation of a new world war by the imperialists”. In it he denounced fascism as “the main force” fomenting war” and stressed the need to link the struggle against war with the struggle against fascism and fascist-inspired movements.

Campaigns hostile to fascism and Nazism

The first campaign organized by the Arab communists against fascism and its policies of war and colonization, was aimed at supporting the Ethiopian struggle against Italian aggression. In many Arab countries, on the initiative of the communists, groups of solidarity with the Ethiopian people were formed. At the beginning of October 1935, the Communist Party of Palestine, with the assistance of the Communist Parties of Arab and African countries and Italy, issued a declaration calling for an international campaign to stop the fascist aggression against Ethiopia. It read: “We, the sons of the oppressed peoples of Africa and the Arab countries, we, the workers of Italy … are fully aware that, by supporting the Ethiopian people in the face of the fascist adventure, we will have confronted the imminent danger of a new world war, which could lead the whole world, especially our countries, to unprecedented destruction” [3].

The second campaign organized by the Arab communists against fascism and its plots was the campaign of solidarity with the Spanish republicans. Then, at the call of the CI, Arab communists joined the international brigades that went to Spain to fight alongside the Spanish republicans. Among these communists were Arab and Jewish members of the Communist Party of Palestine, such as ʻAli Abdel Khaleq al-Jibawi, a member of the party’s Central Committee, killed in Spain, and Najati Sidqi, a member of the party’s secretariat, charged by the CI leadership with helping to organize information campaigns aimed at Moroccans fighting in the ranks of the insurgents under the command of General Franco [4].

In 1936, the Palestinian Communist Party devoted several pages of its underground weekly al-jabha al-shaʻbiyya to disseminating to the Palestinian public the truth about the Spanish Civil War and the nature of the forces involved. In its issue of 25 September 1936, which appeared under the title “The Civil War in Spain: a war of fascist reaction against freedom and democracy”, the newspaper wrote: “The attention of our Arab people is focused, after our beloved Palestine, on this merciless civil war that has been going on in Spain for more than two months”. After reviewing the premises of this war, the author writes: “General Franco’s movement is a fascist war against freedom and democracy. This movement is not only hostile to the Spanish people, but it is also a serious attack on the Arab people, especially the Arabs of Morocco who are discovering the seriousness of the mistake they made in assisting the Spanish fascists” [5]. 5] The same party organ had pointed out in another article published on August 21, 1936, that “the leaders of the fascist movement in Spain rebelled and fought against the popular government “after receiving the order, approval and material assistance of the Italian and Hitlerian fascists”.

Constitution of Arab movements against fascism and Nazism

As early as 1937, movements and organizations opposed to fascism and Nazism began to form. In May of that year, the Anti-Fascist League was formed in Lebanon and Syria by a group of communist intellectuals and democrats. This league held, in Beirut on May 6 and 7, 1939, “the first Syrian-Lebanese congress for the struggle against fascism”, in which more than 200 delegates from Syria and Lebanon participated, representing 32 organizations, not counting dozens of deputies who presented themselves personally or sent messages of approval and moral support to the congress.

In Iraq, the Communist Party led a campaign to bring together and unify all the national forces opposed to fascism. At its initiative, a feminist organization was formed under the name of the Association for the Fight against Fascism and Nazism. The central organ of the party, the newspaper al-Qaʻida, had as its motto: “To the masses of the people, unite against fascism, for bread and democratic freedoms, in a united national front” [8].

In Egypt, the ardor of the fascists provoked a resurgence of zeal in the camp of the communists and democrats, where the opponents of fascism and anti-Semitism were grouped in various organizations and associations. 9] In 1933, with Hitler’s accession to power, the Committee for Combating Anti-Semitism was created to undertake campaigns against Nazism and to organize the boycott of German products. This same committee encouraged Jews to engage in the fight against fascism in their respective countries instead of emigrating to Palestine. In 1934, the League of Supporters of Peace was founded and launched several campaigns to condemn the Italian aggression in Ethiopia and to support the struggle of the Republicans in Spain.

Unveiling the propaganda of the Arab partisans of fascism

The Arab communists applied themselves, without hesitation, to denouncing the propaganda disseminated by the Italian fascists and the German Nazis in the Arab countries. This was well received by certain sectors of public opinion, particularly among the youth.

The Lebanese communist writer Raʼif Khoury attacked the ideas that seduced the younger generations and made them receptive to fascism. In an article published by the magazine al-Taliʻa, he refuted the idea that fascism was intended to free Arabs from the yoke of British and French colonization. He argued that fascism “firmly believed in colonization and was preparing with a firm foot for conquest” [11].

In a speech to the delegates of the “First Syrian-Lebanese Congress for the Fight against Fascism”, held in Beirut in May 1939, the general secretary of the Syrian-Lebanese Communist Party, Khaled Bakdash, stated that “the main objective of Hitler and Mussolini was to occupy colonies in Asia and Africa, their efforts to consolidate their domination in the heart of Europe and in the countries of the Mediterranean basin were only a strategically necessary preamble to the realization of their dreams of sharing regions of the East, first and foremost the Arab Near East” [12]. [12] Responding to those among Arabs who called for a neutral policy in the conflict between “democratic countries” and “fascist countries” in Europe, Bakdash argued that supporters of neutrality ignore the fact that “if Italy and Germany won the war, the young Arab states from Baghdad to Riyadh, the young national liberation movements in Syria and Palestine, would be drowned in blood, crushed by the axes of the torturers of Rome and Berlin” [13].

The Syrian-Lebanese Communist Party had devoted a good part of the debates of its fourth congress, held in November 1941, to responding to the fascist propaganda that was being disseminated in Arab countries. In the report published at the end of this congress, the party appealed to Syrian and Lebanese citizens to reject the lies of Nazi agents who claimed that “victory would crown the efforts of Hitler, who was preparing revenge, in the name of the Arabs, against foreign colonialism and its agents”. The Arabs should know, in fact, that Hitlerism is “the most atrocious colonialism in history” [14].

In Iraq, the Communist Party warned the nationalist officers who carried out the 1941 coup d’état against policies that could lead to an agreement with Nazi Germany on the universal principle that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”. In a May 17, 1941 letter to Rashid ʻAli Keylani, the leader of the rebel officers, Fahd, the general secretary of the Communist Party, argues that the armies of the Axis countries are no less inclined to imperialism than Great Britain and that, therefore, relying on the help of any imperialist state means nothing less than the fall of the national movement into the arms of another imperialism” [15].

In Palestine, the Communist Party Central Committee had to acknowledge in 1939 that some leaders of the Palestinian Arab national movement “facilitated the introduction of fascist propaganda not only in Palestine but in the entire Middle East region by propagating the idea that the German fascists would help the Arabs in their struggle for independence” [16].

Tunisia saw German forces penetrate the country in November 1940; in response to the attitude of a large number of activists of the Destour party who had opted for collaboration with the Germans, the Tunisian Communist Party called on the people to “confront, at all costs, the Hitlerian occupier and to unite in the struggle for democracy and peace” [17].

Solidarity with the USSR and universal struggle against Nazism

Following the signing by the Western democracies of the Treaty of Munich with Germany at the end of September 1938, the Soviet government, fearing that German troops would invade its territory, agreed on 23 August 1939 to sign a treaty of non-aggression with Nazi Germany. Despite the embarrassment that this sudden decision by the USSR provoked in the ranks of the Arab communists, they nonetheless supported it, in the conviction that the “single socialist state” had to be supported at all costs.

The German aggression against the USSR in June 1941, however, led the communists of the world, including the Arab communists, to regard support for the USSR as a primary task. It was then that the Arab communists began to organize campaigns of solidarity with the Soviet peoples and to create ad hoc committees to assist them.

In the declaration issued at the end of its fourth national council in November 1941, the Syrian-Lebanese Communist Party considered that the appeal: “Come to the aid of the USSR” should be the appeal of all free men throughout the world, including those in the Arab world. The idea was that “the destiny of their homelands and their independence were linked to the victory of the Soviet state and the free peoples against Nazi Germany” [18].

The Arab communists insisted on the need to link the struggle of the Arab peoples for emancipation from Franco-British colonization with the universal struggle against fascism. In an article entitled: “Our Communist Party and Power”, published in the newspaper “Sawt al-Chaʻb” on June 22, 1944, Nicolas Chaoui, an eminent Lebanese communist leader, maintained that real independence as desired “will be easy and accessible only insofar as the general victory over Hitlerism and fascism in general will be total, solid and rooted” [19].

For a democratic solution to the Palestinian question

While taking a firm stand against the Zionist movement and its aims in Palestine, the Arab communists condemned the Nazi policy of persecution of Jews in Europe.

Farjallah al-Helou, one of the leaders of the Lebanese Communist Party, affirmed in a speech in Beirut on 5 October 1944 that the struggle led by the Arabs, including the Lebanese, against Zionism was not the result of ‘religious intent or racist grudge, as the Zionists claim’, for it is undeniable ‘that the Arabs were never motivated by any fanaticism whatsoever’ [20].

In its quest for a democratic solution to the Palestinian question, the National Liberation League, which from the beginning of 1944 brought Arab communists together, was the only political force in the Arab camp that attempted to bring an international dimension to the struggle led by the Arab people of Palestine. In this sense, it considered the Palestinian question as a problem of national liberation, just as it saw it as “an integral part of a cause defended on a world scale for the disappearance of racist regimes, the independence of all peoples within their own homelands, and the establishment of fraternity and equality between these peoples” [21].

The National Liberation League had sought from the outset to establish a clear demarcation between Zionism, on the one hand, and the Jewish population of Palestine, on the other. It had called on the Arab national movement to contribute, through the adoption of a realistic and democratic policy, “to the weakening of the potential for Zionist action among the Jewish masses,” while stressing that the interests of the latter “were directly linked to the success of the Arab people’s struggle against imperialism and Zionism”. In the same vein, they criticized the positions of the traditional nationalist leaders who constantly proclaimed “that it was absolutely impossible for them to live in peace with the Jewish community in Palestine, or even to grant the latter any democratic rights”. For the League, the adoption of a policy of peace for the Jewish population, as well as the granting of democratic rights, did not in any way mean the renunciation of the national rights of Palestinian Arabs.

Notes

Georgie Dimitrov, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle for the Unity of the Working Class against Fascism,” in Selected Works, Volume 2, Sofia, 1972, pp. 5-94.

2] Ercoli [Palmiro Togliatti], “The Tasks of the Communist International in Connection with the Preparations for a New World War by the Imperialists,” in Resolutions and Decisions of the VII Congress of the Communist International, Paris, Bureau d’éditions, n.d., pp. 24-32.

3] La Correspondance Internationale, n. 89-90, October 5, 1935, p.1309, Paris.

4] Mahmud al-Atrash, Tariq al-Kifah, unpublished memoirs, p. 286; Najati Sidqi, Mudhakkarat, Beirut, Muʼasasat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, 2001, p. 122-153.

5] Al-Jabha al-Shaʻbiyya , n. 17, 25 September 1936, p. 4.

6] Op.cit, n. 12, 21 August 1936, p. 3.

7] Al-Fashistiyya wa-khataruha ʻala al-aqtar al-ʻarabiyya, al-Taliʻa, special issue, volume 5, May 1939, Beirut.

8] Zaki Khayri and Suʻad Khayri, Dirasat fi tarikh al-hizb al-shuyuʻi al-ʻ iraqi, volume 1, 1984, pp. 65-67.

[9] Rifʻat al-Saʻid, al-Yasar al-masri 1925-1945, Beirut, Dar al-Taliʻa, 1972, pp. 52-53.

10] Op. cit. pp. 239-241.

11] Raʼif Khoury, “Nahnu wal-fashistiyya”, al-Tali ʻa, December 1936, Beirut, p. 840-844.

12] Khaled Bakdash, “Al-Fashistiyya wal-shu ʻub al-ʻ arabiyya”, in al-Fashistiyya wakhataruha ʻala al- aqtar al-ʻarabiyya, op. cit, pp. 369-370.

13] Op.cit, pp. 372-374.

14] Bayan al-majlis al-watani al-rabiʻ lil-hizb al-shuyuʻ i fi suriyya wa-lubnan, Damascus, November 1941, Éditions du parti, p. 47-54.

15] Khayri, Dirasat fi tarikh al-hizb al-shuyuʻ i al-ʻiraqi, volume 1, op.cit, pp. 60-61.

16] Anonymous, “Combats en Palestine”, L’Internationale Communiste, n. 1, 1939, Moscow, p. 58-62.

17] ʻAbdel Hamid al-Arqash, Al-Haraka al-ʻummaliyya al-tunisiyya 1920-1957, Damascus, Markaz al-abhath wal-dirasat al-ishtirakiyya fi al-ʻalam al-ʻarabi, 1988, pp. 97-98.

18] Bayan al-majlis al-watani al-rabiʻ lil-hizb al-shuyuʻi fi suriyya wa-lubnan, op.cit, pp. 49-50.

19] Nicolas, Chaoui, Kitabat wa-dirasat, Beyrouth, Dar al-Farabi, ]s.d.[, pp. 71-72.

20] Farjallah al-Helou, Kitabat mukhtara, Beirut, Dar al-Farabi, 1974, p. 115-121.

21] ʻUsbat al-taharrur al-watani fi Filastin, Harakatuna al-wataniyya wal-qiwa al-taharuriyya al-ʻalamiyya, April 12, 1944, pp. 1-3.

[22] ʻUsbat al-taharrur al-watani fi Filastin, Al-ʻuqda al-filastiniyya wal-tariq ila halliha, 10 October 1945, pp. 8-21.

English Translation by Internationalist 360°
Italian Translation by Alessandro Lattanzio