Originally published in Marxism Alive # 9, 2004.
In spite of countless expressions of courage and willingness to fight that has been the brand mark of the restless history of Islam, especially of Iraq, the Iraqi working class has not yet been able to build a revolutionary leadership fit to carry on the struggle for national liberation to the very end, to the expulsion of imperialism from their territories, the expropriation of the parasitic and blackmailing bourgeoisie always licking the boots of whatever imperialism may have happened to be in the office. That is why those leaders in whom the toiling masses have trusted have betrayed them. The two most outstanding examples of the above are the two major political forces of Iraq: the Baath and the CP.
The Baath was founded in the 40s by a group of intellectuals from Syria. The founder, Michel Aflaq studied in France and was at first attracted to the CP, but the support the communists gave to the Popular Front in 1936 and their refusal to insist on freedom for colonies as part of a programme drove Aflaq away from the communists. It was this experience that induced him to believe that communist parties would always pose the interest of the oppressed, especially the interests of the colonies, ahead of the interests of the state of the soviets. If this was a sample of what “proletarian internationalism” meant, the poor and oppressed inhabitants of the colonial or semi colonial world would fare much better if they forgot all about those flamboyant phrases, forget all about the Soviet Union and fight for their emancipation as simple nationalists. (T. Ali, Bush in Babylon).
That was why, in 1943, Aflaq, together with Salah Bitlar, decided to found a new party and his position against the communists become more rigid when, following the official soviet policy, the Arabic communists backed the formation of the state of Isarel. Tariq Ali tells us how this policy of the PC’s generated many protests even among the Jewish members of the Egyptian and Iraqi parties and that one of the founders of the Egyptian party changed his Jewish name in protest against the creation of the state of Israel and refused to leave his country. He also tells us how the defense of Israel by the CP helped Baath to become a mass party by gathering those who were displeased with the CP posture.
The Iraqi communist party was one of the strongest in the Middle East. They had cells in the army integrated by well trained cadres, specialized in clandestine activities. It was a mass party. Tariq Ali tells us: The communists and their numerous front organizations had grown extraordinarily after July 1958. The party daily newspaper circulated in 30 000 papers (a lot for Iraq) and its members were to be found in all the regions and in all the institutions of the country.
But they firmly followed the orders of the Moscow bureaucrats, whose policy was determined by the way the bureaucratic interests were expressed in the region. After the murder of its main leader, the CP supported the formation of the state of Israel just as they had discontinued any kind of opposition to the French and British occupation during World War II. When monarchy fell, they supported the new regime of nationalist bourgeoisie. But Qsim, the leader of the bourgeois administration, felt the weight of the communists and, in 1959, tried to sweep them off the arena, just the way Nasser had done in Egypt. The reaction was immediate. Communists held mass demonstration fit to seize power, but a messenger from Moscow arrived in Bagdad with urgent instructions for N. Khrushchev, instructing them not to destabilize the Qasim regime. Moscow perceived that a communist victory in Bagdad would jeopardize their relations with Nasser and the Arabic nationalism.
In 1963 the Baathists produce a coup d’estait and put an end to Qasim’s administration. Qasim himself was tried and executed. CP was persecuted, its leaders exiled and thousands of its members, especially those in the Air Force and Army, were arrested, tortured and executed. What helped the country to survive was the strong support in the Kurdish areas of the country. In spite of all the violence, the organization survived under cover and its Kurdish bastions remained practically unharmed.
While persecuting communists, the Baathists in power maintained excellent relations with the USSR, arrived at trading agreements with Poland and recognized the RDA. In 1973, due to guidelines from the soviet bureaucracy and by means of clear manipulation by the Baathists to neutralize them, the Iraqi CP form a popular front administration together with Baath. Tariq Ali tells us that during all this term in office the communists did not exert any real power. They became puppets. All the important decisions were taken by Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein. Neither the membership of the FNP nor the government put an end to repressions. Communist soldiers in the army were executed, activists in the factories were arrested for a short time so as to be “cured” of tradeunionism and the party paper, even if it continued appearing, was submitted to a terrific self censorship. Saddam himself warned the communist leaders that he would not tolerate any political activity in the army, except that of his own party.
Saddam was getting ready for the seizure of power. There was a purge of the dissatisfied Baathists and in 1978, the CP was expelled from the government and the FNP. Some of the leaders were arrested. And just to show to Washington the definite nature of the split, Saddam Hussein had 31 members of the party executed with the pretext that they had repeatedly ignored warnings and had created cells of CP in the armed forces. That was not true (T. Ali) The following year, 1979, Saddam appointed himself general and then he made himself president of the Republic after the force withdrawal of his cousin Hassam al-Bakr.
Saddam was the Iraqi personification of a process of the deepest adaptation of the old bourgeois nationalism to American imperialism similar to what happened in the Syria of Hafez Al-Assad (also part of the Baath movement) and Sadat’s Egypt. Not because his predecessors had followed a consistently anti imperialistic guideline, but because of the degree of cynicism and willingness to play the role of the overt counterrevolutionary in the region in exchange of “revalorization” by the imperialistic powers and to dispute the role of a regional leader with the blessing of the USA. For this purpose he was willing to get rid of the communists in his administration, to repress the Kurds, the Chiita and then invade Iran. This seems similar to what happened in Latin America with such movements as the Argentine Peronists, APRA in Peru of MNR in Bolivia. They all start to gradually lose their original nationalistic traits and increasingly adapt themselves to support the imperialistic project in exchange for just a few crumbs of the master’s feast. That goes to prove that, in genera lines, national bourgeoisies of the peripheral countries are incapable of confronting imperialism and so the Theses of the Permanent Revolution of Trotsky are proved more valid in these days of globalised colonisation than ever before.
Tariq Ali puts it in a nutshell: Saddam Hussein shared the same political universe. Both had defeated their radical allies, both had revived the good fortune of the middle class salesmen and merchants; both had created a structure where eat leader would occupy the summit of a pyramid created to give each despot total power; both used an anti imperialist rhetoric while in public and at the same time flattered the USA in private. An neither of them was a newcomer to repression. Saddam destroyed the communists and squashed the Kurds; the Syrian thinker, his colleague, had ten thousand people put to death – Islamic and secular opponents – who had risen against the regime. (Bush in Babylon)
The CP had collaborated intensely with British imperialism and also with the American, even in the worst time of occupation. In their positions in the Saddam Hussein administration in 2003, the CP integrated the ruling Council in Iraq which had been built by the USA to consolidate occupation and in this way became an accomplice of the worst times in the history of Islam.
Translation by E. Jeziersk