Shortly after leaving Palestine in 1945, Tony Cliff wrote this seminal article about the foundations of Israel and Western intervention in the Middle East. He locates hope for the future in the workers and the poor across the region.
The events of the last few weeks in the Middle East have drawn the attention of the whole world to what is happening in this region. The terroristic acts of Zionist military organizations, the strikes and demonstrations of the Arab masses in Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad against Zionism, and the concentration of British troops in Palestine has aroused numerous questions whose answer will demand an uncovering of the socio-economic roots of the tangle in which this part of the world is involved.
Let us begin, then, with a discussion of the factor which until now has had the last word in the Middle East - imperialism.
The Imperialist Stake in the Arab East
The Arab East is important to the imperialist powers for four main reasons: first, as a route to other regions - India, Australia, China, etc.; second, as a source of raw materials; third, as an important market for manufactured goods; and fourth, as a field for capital investment. It is self-evident that there is a close connection between these four aspects.
The importance of this region as a route is well-known. The Suez Canal shortens the way from Europe to the East tremendously and through it vital products pass (90-100 per cent of the total British import of jute, tea and rubber, 70-90 per cent of hemp and manganese ore, 40-65 per cent of rice, wool, coffee, zinc ore, lead, etc.).
The Arab East also constitutes a region through which land routes pass. Germany under the Kaiser planned to construct a railway which would connect her with the Persian Gulf, the Berlin-Baghdad railway. This plan was one of the main immediate causes of the First World War. Germany’s defeat put an end to it. Instead Britain constructed a long railway route connecting nearly all the British colonies in Africa (the Cape-Cairo line) which links up with a network of railways connecting the countries of the Arab East: the Cairo-Haifa line, the Haifa-Beirut-Tripoli line (this line connects up with Anatolia and Istanbul), the Haifa-Hedjaz and Haifa-Baghdad lines. These railways constitute an iron hoop which consolidates and binds together the British Empire.
With the rise of the airplane, the ownership of bases in the Middle East becomes an important weapon in the struggle for air supremacy. The air route from London to Bombay, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia passes through Haifa. The beginning of the air route which passes through the length of British East Africa to Cape Town starts in Cairo. The French air route to Saigon before the war also passed through this region: Marseilles-Beirut-Baghdad-Bombay-Saigon.
The great importance of the Arab East as a route was one of the main reasons for the struggles between the European Powers during the last century - Napoleon’s expedition, the war against Turkey in 1832, the Crimean War, and the conquest of Egypt were all connected with this - and also one of the main immediate causes of the First and Second World Wars. Transport routes connecting countries and peoples are not, under capitalism, means for international cooperation, for peace, but for imperialist rivalry, for war.
Renan was most decidedly correct when he mentioned the classic saying, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword,” when welcoming Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez, to the French Academy in April 1885: “This saying must frequently have crossed your mind. Now that you have cut through it, the isthmus has become a defile, that is to say a battlefield. The Bosphorus by itself has been enough to keep the whole civilized world embarrassed up to the present, but now you have created a second and much more serious embarrassment. Not merely does the Canal connect two inland seas, but it serves as a communicating passage to all the oceans of the globe. In case of a maritime war, it will be of supreme importance, and everyone will be striving at top speed to occupy it. You have thus marked out a great battlefield for the future.”
The digging of the Canal turned the Arab East into a large battlefield, but the growth of air transport has thrown and will throw fuel on the fire of the struggle between the powers.
The most important raw material in the Arab East is petroleum. Until now only a tiny portion of the oilfields has been investigated, and it seems as if all estimates regarding oil reserves in the Middle East tend towards underestimation. In a report prepared for the United States Petroleum Resources Corporation the oil operator, E. DeGolyer, says: “The centre of gravity of world oil production is shifting from the Mexican Gulf and Caribbean area to the Middle East-Persian Gulf area and is likely to continue to shift until it is firmly established in that area.”
The truth of this statement is borne out by estimates of Middle East oil resources, one of which says that Saudi Arabia alone can satisfy the total world demand for fifteen years. It is assumed that the quantity in Iran and Iraq is not smaller than that in Saudi Arabia.
At present England has a decisive position in oil production in the Middle East as may be seen from the following figures of its distribution among the different interests. (Figures given are in 1,000 barrels.)
There is no doubt that with the increase in the exploitation of the oilfields in Saudi Arabia and Bahrein, the weight of the American companies in the production of oil in the Middle East will grow tremendously. Harold Guise, writing in The Wall Street Magazine for 3 March, 1945, is not blind to reality when he says: “The whole Middle East area today resembles a huge chess-board for economic and political manoeuver seldom matched anywhere else ... The complex struggle for postwar economic and political power is nowhere potentially so disrupting as in that part of the world.”
Another important raw material which this region supplies is cotton. In face of the USA’s nearly complete monopoly of the world cotton supply (producing about two-thirds of the world’s cotton and manufacturing only half of her production) and in face of the ousting of Lancashire by the industries in India, Japan, Canada, Brazil, etc., especially in the field of cheaper cotton goods, it became vitally necessary for the English capitalists to keep a monopolistic hold over Egyptian cotton which is of high quality and as such vitally necessary to Lancashire which produces better class goods.
Other raw materials such as potash, bromine, magnesium ore, etc., are produced in large quantities in this region. The potential value of these chemicals is much greater even than their actual value has been, as according to monopolistic international agreements a policy of “organizing scarcity” has been ruthlessly followed in the East.
The importance of the Arab East as a market is also not to be overlooked as, despite the advance in industrialization, its imports before the war amounted to 78-80 million pounds - quite a substantial sum.
But the greatest importance of this region is its wide field for investment of capital.
Imperialist Capital Dominates the Arab East
Egypt, which contains the majority of the Arab inhabitants of this region, has been up until now the richest country in the region. For this reason imperialist capital’s attention is drawn especially to it. For dozens of years the main investments have been the loans to the Egyptian state, which kept its formal independence. This was a very tidy source of plunder. Thus during the years 1883-1910 the interest alone on a debt of 95 million pounds amounted to 105.6 million pounds. It is interesting to note that Egypt received only 60 million pounds of this debt, the rest being taken by different financial manipulations, so that for 60 million pounds Egypt paid interest of 105.6 million pounds and after this had a debt of 95 million pounds. During the same 28 years the Egyptian fellah paid a sum of 30 million pounds in order to maintain the occupation army in Sudan for the sake of the English plantation companies.
At the same time English, French, Italian, Belgian, German and other contractors were wringing millions of pounds out of the Egyptian people by the construction of works at very exaggerated prices. Thus for instance, the Aswan dam, which, according to the estimate of Sir William Willcocks, the British irrigation expert, should have cost 2.5 million pounds, actually cost 7 million pounds, excluding the 1.2 million pounds for repairs. During these same 28 years when foreign capitalism sucked out of Egypt a sum of about 200 million pounds, the Egyptian Education Department received the almost infinitesimal sum of 3.6 million pounds (less than 130 thousand pounds a year) and the Ministry of Health 3.4 million pounds. Could there be any better proof of the civilizing role of imperialism?
In the last few decades there has been a change in the direction of imperialist capital investment. The place of state loans has been taken by investment in railways, trains, light and power, water, banks and industry, etc. Today all key positions of the economy of the Arab East are in the hands of foreign capitalists.
In Egypt, according to an estimate made by French circles. (L’Egypte Independante par le Groupe D’Etudes de L’Islam’, Paris, 1938, pp.144-5), foreign capital in 1937 amounted to 450 million pounds, the entire wealth of the country being estimated at 963 million pounds, which means that foreigners owned 47 per cent of it.
According to another estimate, capital investment, besides land, in the same year amounted to 550 million pounds (A. Bonne, The Economic Development of the Middle East, Jerusalem, 1943, p.73). Seeing that the price of land is estimated at 500-600 million pounds (and according to another estimate 670 million pounds) the total property of Egypt amounts to 1,000-1,100 million pounds. According to another estimate of 1937 based on English calculations, foreign capital invested in Egypt amounted to 500 million pounds. Thus the property of foreigners constitutes 40-50 per cent of Egypt’s total property, which sum does not differ from that arrived at by the French experts.
As far as land is concerned, foreign capitalists have direct proprietorship over 8 per cent of the cultivated land of Egypt, i.e. land worth 50 million pounds. If we deduct this sum from the total of foreign capital invested in Egypt, we get, according to one estimate, 400 million pounds, and according to the other, 450 million pounds.
Taking Bonne s estimate of capital investment, besides land we see that foreign capital accounts for 73-81 per cent.
Thus foreign capitalists own nearly half the total property of Egypt and about three-quarters of all property besides land.
The situation in Palestine is not different. Here, too, imperialist capital has overwhelming weight. This is revealed clearly by the census of industry of 1939. This showed that the concessions had 53.2 per cent of all the capital invested in industry and 74.9 per cent of the motor power, despite the fact that some of the biggest enterprises belonging to foreign capital (such as Haifa Refineries, Steel Bros., etc.) were not included. If all enterprises belonging to foreign capital were included it would be clear that at least three-quarters of the industrial capital of the country is imperialist capital, and at least nine-tenths of the motor power is concentrated in its enterprises.
In Syria foreign capital owns a slightly smaller proportion of the wealth of the country. In Iraq practically 100 per cent of industry is in its hands.
With the realization of the giant American petroleum plans in the Middle East - to build pipelines, refineries, etc. - which, according to the most conservative estimates, will demand the investment of at least 300 million pounds, the subjugation of this region will be very substantially increased.
Imperialist capital desires to monopolize the markets of the Arab East for its industrial development there and especially to prevent the rise of a machine industry which would make for economic independence. Seeing that the profits of imperialist capital are dependent on the low wages paid to the Arab workers and the low prices paid for the products bought from the peasants, imperialism is interested in keeping the countryside in the most backward condition, so that it will be an inexhaustible reserve of labour power and cheap raw materials. Imperialism is further interested in this for socio-political reasons: first because only backward, illiterate, sick masses dispersed in tiny villages far away from one another can be ruled easily, and second because its most faithful agents in the colonial countries are the feudal landlords. Thus imperialism is inextricably involved in the agrarian question.
The Agrarian Question
Three-quarters of the Arab population lives in the country, subjugated to a tiny handful of big landowners. In Egypt 0.5 per cent of the landowners have 37.1 per cent of all the land while 70.7 per cent have only 12.4 per cent of all the land. 331 men have three times more land than 1 Ω million poor peasants and there are more than a million land cultivators who have no land of their own whatsoever. One plantation company alone owns such a large area of land as to employ 35,000 workers. The king’s estate covers a similar area and maintains about 30,000 small peasants. A calculation of Emile Minost, director general of Credit Foncier Egyptien, a bank connected by every fibre with the existing economic and social order and therefore not likely to exaggerate the extent of exploitation of the masses, gives the division of the net income from agriculture as follows:
Thus a few thousand landowners receive twice the sum that three million fellaheen receive. On an average a poor peasant before the war did not earn more than 7-8 pounds a year. During the war his nominal income rose, but the cost of living rose even more, and his real income therefore decreased. The agricultural worker received even less. The daily wage of a male agricultural worker before the war was 3 piasters (7.2d), of a female, 3 piasters and of a child, 1-1k piasters. Furthermore, they were subject to extended periods of unemployment every year as the season of work lasts 6-8 months. Even a foreman did not receive more than 2 pounds a month, a clerk 3 pounds, and a cart driver 1-1.2 pounds. Although during the war wages about doubled themselves, the cost of living rose much more; and there are places where even today the wage of a male agricultural worker does not reach one shilling.
With such low incomes, the food position is obviously terrible. As a matter of fact it is comparable only with that of the Indians. It has been calculated that the consumption of the average Egyptian, which is of course much higher than that of the poor peasant and worker, is only 46 per cent of the optimum in wheat, 25 per cent in sugar, 23 per cent in meat and fish, and 8 per cent in milk products. Furthermore the nutritional value is not improving but steadily deteriorating.
Because of the terrible poverty of the masses, their health conditions are very bad, and the mortality rate is tremendously high, as indicated by the following table, compiled in 1938:
Only India approximates the death rate of Egypt!
Besides “normal” deaths, famine and epidemics take their toll of life. Thus during 1944 malaria managed to wipe out tens of thousands of fellaheen in Upper Egypt, whose bodies, weakened by continued hunger, were suscepti1,000 ble to the disease in its severest form. According to one estimate which we may be sure is not exaggerated, 140,000 died of malaria (Al-Ahram, 14 April, 1944). 500 workers of the land company Kom Ombo alone died (Al-Ahram, 1 March, 1944).
Because of the poor conditions of health, the life expectancy is very low: for males, 31 years and females, 36 years. In the United Kingdom the life expectancy is 60 years for a male and 64 for a female. Those who live to be adults are very weak. Among those conscripted from the villages in 1941, only 11 per cent were medically fit for army service. 90 per cent of Egypt’s population suffers from trachoma, 50 per cent from worm disease, 75 per cent from bilharzia, 50 per cent from ankylostoma. The number of people who are afflicted with tuberculosis exceeds 300,000.
Poverty is inevitably accompanied by ignorance, which in Egypt reaches fearful dimensions. Some idea of its extent may be gained from the very succinct remark of el-Mussawar when discussing the results of the 1937 census (28 August, 1942): We have 30,000 holders of diplomas as against 14 million who know neither how to read nor write.
Ignorance is the product of the existing social system, and also one of its pillars. The ruling class knows very well that the illiteracy of the masses is one of the greatest assets of the regime. Thus a certain Egyptian senator thanked God that his country took first place in ignorance (Al-Ahram, 7 July, 1944).
Riches, pleasures and hilarity of some tens of thousands of Egyptians and foreigners on the one hand and hunger, disease and ignorance of the millions on the other - this is the picture of agricultural Egypt!
The agrarian problem in the other Arab countries is not substantially different to that in Egypt. Thus in Palestine about half the lands are in the hands of 250 feudal families. The feudal lords, being at the same time the usurers, have tremendous power, as has been shown by a British official in these words: In one Area Officer’s charge extending over three sub-districts there are fourteen government tax collectors; one moneylender alone in one of those sub-districts was said to employ 26 mounted debt collectors.’ (L. French, Reports of Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine, Jerusalem, 1931-32, London, p.77.)
According to the Report of a Committee on the Economic Conditions of Agriculturists in Palestine commonly called the Johnson-Crosbie Report, only 23.9 per cent of all produce of the fellah remains in his hands, while 48.8 goes in taxes to the government, rent to the landowner, and interest to the usurer. In order to understand how low the standard of living of the Arab cultivator is as a result of the backwardness of his economy, his exploitation by different parasites (who constitute the main hindrances to the development of the economy) I have made the comparison between the diet of a fellah and that which the government is supposed to give to convicts (though naturally a large part of this goes into the pockets of the prison officials). I assume that a fellah and his wife are in prison, and that four of his children are in a “Boys Reformatory School”:
Although this calculation is by no means precise, it nevertheless gives some indication of the terrible conditions endured by the masses of the fellaheens in Palestine.
Conditions in Syria and Iraq are not different. In the latter country there are feudal lords whose estates cover areas of tens of thousands of hectares. Thus the major part of Muntafiq district which covers an area of 6,260 sq. kms. is owned by one family. The income of the fellah in this area is 7-8 pounds a year.
The conditions of the urban masses are not less difficult than those of the agricultural population.
The Conditions of the Masses in the Towns
Under the double pressure of concentrated imperialist capital and feudalism, because of the small development of industry and the low standard of living of the agricultural toilers in the villages, open and hidden unemployment is very widespread and the conditions of the town workers are very bad. This can well be exemplified by describing the conditions of work in one big industry. Let us take the spinning and weaving works of Mahalla el Kubra, which employs 26,000 workers and 3,000 clerks, inspectors and managers. Beginners receive 1/6 a day, experienced workers 2/7, skilled workers 10 pounds a month. The workers have one day of rest a fortnight and work a ten-hour day. There is no social service and the doctor is there only to give permission for sick leave.
Discipline is kept according to a military system. There are also constant fines which cut into the workers’ incomes. As far as the housing conditions of this enterprise are concerned, fifteen workers live in one room sleeping in three shifts on five mattresses (Al-Ahram, 21 December, 1944). In other industrial enterprises the conditions are the same.
Obviously the low wages and high prices seriously impair the health of the workers. Thus it is revealed that of 6,000 printing workers in Egypt, 62 per cent suffered from diseases of the digestive system, 85 per cent from anemia, 45 per cent from lead poisoning (Al-Ahram, 23 February, 1944). Two incidents bear witness to the extent of the poverty in Egyptian towns: in September 1943, four people were trampled to death when alms were being distributed and in March 1944, an Egyptian woman sold her daughter to a merchant immediately after birth - for 20 pounds.
The condition of the masses in Jaffa and Haifa, Damascus and Beirut, Baghdad and Basra, is a little, but not much, better than in Cairo and Alexandria.
The Relation of the Ruling Classes to Imperialism
Imperialism could not fortify its domination over the colonial millions if it did not find support in the upper classes of these nations. From what has been said above, it is clear what causes the feudal class to be the agency of imperialism. What is the relation of the Arab bourgeoisie to imperialism?
In order to answer this question it must first be stated that the Arab bourgeoisie is not a homogenous class. Commercial and banking capital intertwines with different modes of production. In the colonies the major part of this capital is connected with the feudal mode of production, enterprises of foreign capital or the import of commodities from abroad. All these sections of the bourgeoisie identify themselves with feudalism and imperialism. The minor part of the Arab bourgeoisie is the industrial bourgeoisie. It rises at a time when the world economy ruled by concentrated finance capital is in decline. It cannot build up its industry, stand in competition with the industries of the mother’ country, accumulate sufficient quantities of capital and so on except by the harsh exploitation of the workers and peasants and the purchase of cheap labour and raw material, which is made possible for them as the result of the existence of feudalism and imperialism.
This framework of the rule of finance capital on the background of declining world capitalism together with the existence of feudal property relations also determines the weakness of the colonial industrial bourgeoisie and its dependence to a major extent on foreign capital. This is shown in partnerships of foreign and local capital and the dependence of local enterprises on being financed by foreign banks. The existence of the colonial bourgeoisie, the industrial bourgeoisie included, is therefore conditioned by the super-exploitation of the workers and peasants - which is the result and the sine qua non of imperialism - and by direct economic dependence on foreign capital and imperialism. The colonial bourgeoisie is not the antipodes of imperialism and feudalism, but the antipodes of the workers and peasants. The connection of the colonial bourgeoisie with foreign capital and feudalism on the one hand and the class struggle of the proletariat and peasantry on the other (which two factors are mutually dependent) determine the limits of the struggle of the colonial bourgeoisie for concessions from imperialism.
The Arab bourgeoisie in Palestine is in a special, peculiar position. Here the junior partners of imperialist capital are not the Arab bourgeoisie but the Zionist bourgeoisie. The secondary positions of the economy - such as light industries - are not in the hands of Arab capital as in Egypt or Syria, but in the hands of Zionist capital. Thus according to the 1939 census of industry, the industries of Palestine were distributed thus:
As has been stated the concessions exclude some of the important enterprises of foreign capital. On the other hand some enterprises belonging to non-Arabs are included in the first item. If we correct the table, therefore, we find that foreign capital has at least three-quarters of the capital invested in industry, Jewish capital a fifth and Arab capital only 2-3 per cent.
But this position of the Arab bourgeoisie in Palestine does not make it anti-imperialist, but on the contrary urges it to make efforts to oust the Zionist bourgeoisie in order that it may become the agent of imperialism.
The Arab bourgeoisie cannot and will not wage the anti- imperialist struggle. Despite its wrestling with imperialism for some concessions for itself it is clear that the fate of the bourgeoisie is bound up with that of imperialism.
Problems Facing Arab Ruling Classes With the End of the War
With the end of the Second World War British imperialism is confronted with very serious difficulties in the East and needs to adopt extreme measures to protect its interests. The Arab exploiting classes stand before similar difficulties connected with those of imperialism. An understanding of this calls for a description of the socio-economic situation during the war.
During the war the capitalists and especially the big foreign companies active in the East made tremendous profits. Whereas in the last war the British army spent 45 million pounds in Egypt, in this war the amount is much greater. The war income of Egypt in 1940 was estimated at 34 million pounds, in 1941 at 100 million pounds, and in 1942, ’43 and ’44 it was at least as much as in 1941. The Times of 20 September, 1943 estimated that the army expended 200 million pounds a year in the Middle East. The bourgeoisie has enjoyed extraordinary profits. Thus the big Egyptian sugar company (a French company) ended the year 1941 with 266,000 pounds; 1942 with 1,350,000 pounds. The National Weaving Factories paid 11 per cent dividends in 1938 and 22 per cent in 1942. Misr Weaving Factories in Mahallah paid 7 per cent dividends in 1938 and 28 per cent in 1943. Misr Weaving Factory in the village Dawar paid 12 per cent in 1941 and 20 per cent in 1943. The Marconi Broadcasting Company paid 7 per cent in 1935 and 25 per cent in 1940. Egyptian Hotel Companies paid 10 per cent in 1938 and 25 per cent in 1941. The number of millionaires in Egypt before the war was fifty, and in 1943, four hundred.
The bourgeoisie made tremendous profits in commerce too. Thus in the three years 1941, 1942, 1943, the merchants in Beirut made profits of 16 million pounds. 10 million pounds of this went into the pockets of ten merchants, 2 million pounds went into the pockets of another 20 merchants, and the other 4 million into the pockets of hundreds of smaller merchants.
The banks also enjoyed great prosperity. In all commercial banks in Egypt deposits increased from 44.8 million pounds in 1939 to 116.6 million pounds in 1942. In the Lebanon during the same period it increased from 26.5 million pounds to 84.5 million pounds and in Syria from 6.1 million pounds to 36.4 million pounds. The Arab banks in Palestine paid a dividend of 20 per cent in 1943.
At the same time the suffering of the toiling masses increased very much. The result was a tremendous sharpening of the social tension, which reached its climax in Egypt. Already in January 1942, a bourgeois member of the Egyptian Chamber of Deputies said: “We have already stood on this platform before and warned the government of the danger of hunger, and we then remarked that he was right who said that hunger is a heretic which knows no compromise or manners. He who looks into history will know that hunger was the cause of many revolutions. And if history tells us that the revolutionary people in one of the biggest states in Europe cried from the depths of their hearts, ‘We want bread’, then we heard a similar rebellious cry of the same tone before the last ‘Feast of Sacrifice’ in the streets of Cairo, a cry that was heard from the mouths of the hungry people attacking the bread vans, in order to snatch bread.” The speaker later described the situation in the country as a “revolutionary situation” (Al-Misri, 6 January, 1942).
Another senator in March 1943 described the situation in these words: “The war has brought about a concentration of capital in the hands of a few hundreds. The wealth of the rich has increased while the poor have been forced down into more terrible poverty; the gulf between the classes has deepened. The social system is shaky and grave dangers threaten it. A good future cannot be prophesied for the country.”
The peace means a great increase in the sufferings of the masses. The authorities’ purchase of products to the extent of tens of millions of pounds will cease, which will lead to the dismissal of about a quarter of a million workers employed in industries supplying the army. The great majority of the 800 thousand workers employed directly by the army will also be discharged. Even industries producing for the civil population will be confronted with grave difficulties in the form of foreign competition which during the war was nearly non-existent, difficulties in the renewal of machinery, etc. The ruling classes are preparing to roll the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the workers and peasants, and make no secret of their intentions. Thus, Fouad Saraj ed-Din, a large landowner who was Minister of Agriculture, Internal Affairs and Social Welfare, said that in order that Egyptian cotton be able to compete with Indian, Chinese and Brazilian cotton, with artificial silk and nylon, the rise of wages in agriculture must be stopped. Hafez Afifi, director of the big bank, “Misr”, also stated that the rise of wages deprived the Egyptian industry of the possibility to compete with foreign products. The paper Al-Ahram of 19 July, 1943 stated that the workers were getting a high wage which accustomed them to luxuries (sic!).
Increasing Antagonism Between Bourgeoisie and Imperialists
At the same time the antagonism between the Arab industrial bourgeoisie and imperialism is increasing. There are two main bones of contention: first the problem of the defence of the existing industries from the competition of foreign goods, and second the problem of Britain’s tremendous debt to the Eastern countries (to Egypt 350 million pounds, to Palestine - here mainly to Jewish capitalists - 100 million pounds, to Iraq 60 million pounds). The position of the sections of the Arab bourgeoisie regarding these questions is different. The compradore bourgeoisie is much more interested in trade with overseas than in the development of the local industry.
On the other hand the industrialists insist on raising the customs tariffs and are also more assertive as regards the British debt, for they badly need its repayment in order to renew their worn machinery. Thus at the session of the senate on 20 January, 1945, Senator Ahmed Ramzi Bey said that the currency restrictions meant that Egypt could not get dollars and buy in the USA, but only in England, and this was a serious handicap. He proposed that England supply dollars or even hand over to Egypt some of her shares in companies in Egypt, such as those of the Suez Company, Anglo-Egyptian Co., etc. He also mentioned the decline in practice, if not in theory, of the value of the Egyptian pound compared with the pound sterling. Al-Ahram of 19 April, 1944, states that the United Kingdom’s debt to Egypt is the debt of the strong to the weak, and of course it was dependent on the will of the strong whether and how to pay. A week later the same paper quotes Senator Mohamed Barakat Pasha as stating that the United Kingdom would not be able to pay her debts and advising Egypt to leave the sterling bloc. The same theme of leaving the sterling bloc and transferring Suez and other shares to Egyptian hands repeats itself over and over again in the Egyptian press.
The Arab bourgeoisie in the neighbouring countries is weaker and therefore less insistent. The position of the Arab exploiting classes may be summarized thus: all of them turn their faces towards the cutting of the standard of living of the masses. Some of them, the industrialists, want to use pressure on Britain in order to wring some concessions. But nevertheless one thing must be absolutely clear. Even for the Arab industrialists the first factor takes overwhelming precedence over the second.
In the face of the deep abyss between the masses of workers and peasants and imperialism, the latter is interested, and will be more so in the future, to divert the ire of the masses into a misleading side-track. The majority of the Arab exploiters - the feudal lords, the compradore bourgeoisie, the merchants and usurers - identify themselves in this matter completely with imperialism. (It must not be understood that this means necessarily British imperialism. It may just as well be another, i.e. American.) The industrial bourgeoisie will perhaps try to make use of the masses’ ire in order to wring some concessions from imperialism, but before long it is sure to join hands with it in an effort to direct the movement of the hungry masses away from the national and social liberation struggle into a side channel - one of chauvinistic-communal riots.
Jerusalem, 12 November 1945
Fourth International, December 1945.
Republished in Tony Cliff, Neither Washington nor Moscow, Bookmarks (London) 1982.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS - Die Roten.
Born in Palestine to Zionist parents in 1917, Ygael Gluckstein became a Trotskyist during the 1930s and played a leading role in the attempt to forge a movement uniting Arab and Jewish workers. At the end of of the Second World war he moved to Britain and adopted the pseudonym Tony Cliff, later founding the International Socialists, and the Socialist Workers Party. Cliff’s works are available on the Marxist Internet Archive. For more on Cliff’slife see his autobiography ‘A World to Win: Life of a Revolutionary’ and Ian Birchall’s 'Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time'