Translation 1/3: Iraqi Communist Party History. “Part One: The Iraqi communists, their political alliances, and lessons learnt (1934-2014)” by Jassim al-Halwai

Below is the first instalment of a three-part translation of a series of articles written for the ICP by communist intellectual Jassim al-Halwai. The article begins with some preliminary clarifications and wider context setting before getting stuck into more granular historical analysis of the ICP’s relations with other Iraqi political factions throughout the organisation’s history. Parts two and three to follow. Anything between […] are my additions, usually for historical clarification.


Part One: The Iraqi communists, their political alliances, and lessons learnt (1934-2014)

By Jassim al-Halwai, 28 March 2014.

[Translated by Benedict Robin]


An attempt at definition

A political alliance is an agreement between political parties, groups or persons on a political, economic or social programme, or an agreement over a specific political issue. Usually, such an agreement will be made between forces that are in close political alignment and have a shared interest in the agreement. An agreement over a political programme must aim, partially or wholly, at change in the nature of political authority, or in tangible change in the balance of forces which would serve this objective and provide an opportunity to achieve the agreed upon programme. The alliance imposes a commitment on participants to the agreement and what it entails in terms of decisions/policies, while they retain the right to preserve their independence (political, ideological, organisational). Amongst the factors that guarantee the success of any political alliance are its extension to the popular bases of the parties and allied forces involved and its rejection of intervention from external states and political forces in internal matters.


Political alliances are rendered necessary by objective conditions, when there are social classes and groups with different interests in society. Usually, some of these classes or groups are brought together by shared objectives that arise through the development of society, in one phase or another. Their alliance strengthens their position in the conflict in order that these goals can be achieved. For, generally speaking, action undertaken by a group is stronger than individual action, the individual acting as part of a group is stronger than when he acts alone. And what applies to the individual also applies to the parties and political forces. In addition to an alliance bringing these groups together and coordinating between them, focusing on the specific objective delineated by the leadership of the alliance, it also encourages groups outside the alliance to work for the realisation of these goals. Of course, because of this, political alliances, as a political approach, have been a consistent feature in the politics of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), and we find examples in all the ICP’s programmes and it struggles in order to achieve them, but not at any price.


Before entering into the experience of the ICP in this domain, it would be helpful to cast a brief historical glance over the position of this issue in the policies of global communist movements towards colonial and subordinate countries. For the ICP is a part of this global movement, and was a member of the Communist International (Comintern) which disbanded in 1942. The policy of the Comintern, established in 1919, towards the colonial and subordinate countries during its 1st World Congress was carried out on the basis of supporting nationalist movements that were engaged in the struggle against imperialism, and called for the formation of the united front against imperialism. However, at the 6th World Congress in Moscow in the summer of 1928, the Comintern abandoned this policy in favour of the concept of “class against class”. This involved an isolationist position from the national bourgeoisie in colonial and subordinate countries. The Congress put before the communist parties in these countries “leftist” tasks, such as “achieving an agricultural revolution”, and “establishing a government of the workers and the peasants”, as steps on the road to “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This leftist isolationist orientation reflected the policy of the ICP during the initial phase of its establishment. Thus, the Party’s paper, kifaḥ al-sha’b (The People’s Struggle), in its third issue in August 1935, called for struggle in order to “concentrate power and authority in the hands of the workers and the peasants, and in order to launch the social revolution without delay in all domains of life and the liberation of the people from the various forms of subjugation”.[1]


It is worth noting that the leftist-isolationist calls were issued at a time when the Comintern, at its 7th Congress held in July 1935, abandoned the policy of the 6th Congress (represented in the slogan “class against class”), and adopted the slogan of the popular fronts against fascism and the war, and the nationalist fronts in colonial countries. The ICP dropped the leftist-isolationist policy at the same time.


The global communist movement, after the dissolution of the Comintern, continued to call for “national fronts” and “democratic national fronts” for countries in the “third world” from its platforms and global congresses. The predecessors of the 3rd Comintern (the Communist International), or the 1st and 2nd Comintern, did not put the issue of political alliances in their communist statement or their other documents. Karl Marx had proposed an alliance of the working class with the peasants after the experience of the revolutions in Europe in 1848 and the Paris Commune in 1871 where the peasants had resembled the choir without whom the song of the working class by itself, in all the peasant countries, transforms into a swan song (the death pangs). The Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin, implemented Marx’s pronouncement in Russia, and developed it in a way appropriate to the conditions of their time and country. The pronouncement became a fundamental principle for the policy of communist parties in agrarian countries. Such an alliance had requirements that differed, to one degree or another, from one country to another and from one phase to another, and I think it maintains its vitality, as a principle, for communist parties in developing countries, even up to the present day. These requirements, in brief, are: 1) that the party possess an agricultural programme expressing the needs of the historical phase; 2) an accurate understanding of the different categories of the peasantry; 3) the existence of party organisations within the peasantry itself; 4) the support of democratic and cooperative organisations in the countryside; and 5) leadership of the peasants’ struggles.[2]


The Unified National Front: Our path and our historic duty

After the reestablishment of the Party under the leadership of Comrade Fahd, alongside the effort of the party to obtain legal recognition to operate a party as a front organisation in 1942, the Party began calling for a “Unified National Front”. It consolidated its activity within this domain, where Hizb al-Taḥarrur al-Watani [the ICP’s front party] began writing letters, memos, and suggested projects for the National Democratic Party (NDP). The task of national relations was entrusted to Comrade Saaram (Hussain Muhammad al-Shabibi) who wrote the first complete Iraqi study about the front under the title: “The Unified National Front: Our path and our historic duty”, and the study was transformed into a pamphlet delivered by Comrade Fahd. The title clearly indicates that the call for the front was not an emergency tactic for the Party, but rather a consistent political approach dictated by the objective historical conditions. At the time, the democratic forces ignored the calls of the Party and the demand to unify the parties into a single party, which forced al-Shabibi to pause a long time to deal with this matter in the sober scientific approach with which he dealt with other issues, and what emerged from this was: “Now Iraq has entered into a phase in which the class interests have become crystalized, and the masses have become acquainted through their struggle with the attitudes of the propertied classes. Therefore, the matter is different, the propertied classes (including the bourgeoisie) struggle when the conditions are appropriate for struggle, that is, when their interests require it, and leave the struggle and liquidate its organisations when they threaten their interests. They do not simply leave the struggle by themselves, but insist that the conscious elements of the masses also leave the struggle until the bourgeoisie rises again, that is, when the propertied class thinks that the struggle is in its interests. The positions of the classes in our national struggle proved this truth. For after they obtained the Iraqi-English treaty, they isolated their parties and prevented others from forming parties and associations on the pretext that the time had not yet come for forming parties. A single party for all democrats (under the leadership of the bourgeoisie and its connected intellectuals) is easy to eliminate when its leadership finds that the interest – its interest – requires its dissolution as it was dissolved by the nationalist parties (including the Popular Reform Association).[3]


The National Cooperation Committee (Lajnat al-Ta’āwan al-Watani)

The 1930 treaty of subjugation [the Anglo-Iraqi treaty] concluded between the governments of Britain and Iraq was rejected by the Iraqi nationalist forces who struggled for its cancelation. However, the ruling Iraqi groups were seeking for its amendment. In November 1947, “al-Qa’ida”, the newspaper of the Central Iraqi Communist Party, came out with general popular opinion in an article which accused the government of Salih Jabr [Iraqi Prime Minister 29 March 1947 – 29 January 1948] of carrying out secret negotiations with the British to revise the treaty. This led to calls for the fall of the Salih Jabr government. The atmosphere prior to this time was fraught with statements and leaks indicating the determination of the government to amend the treaty. Preparing to face the coming situation, the Party succeeded in bringing together the leftist forces in a single framework (Lajnat al-Ta’āwan al-Watani) in November 1947. This alliance included representatives from the ICP, Hizb al-Sha’b (The People’s Party), the Razkari Kurdish Party, and the left wing of the National Democratic Party (NDP). Kamil Qazanji was chosen as President of the Committee. Comrade Fahd praised the formation of this Committee by means of a letter from his prison in al-Kut, recommending its leadership to the comrades and a widening of its activity, and warning against the interference of others in its affairs.[4]


The Committee played a clear role in the glorious al-Wathba [“The Leap”, referring to protests that broke out in Baghdad in 1948 in response to plans to renew the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi treaty] especially amongst the students where a committee was formed in the field, and who were not deceived by the manoeuvres of the administrator which led to the temporary withdrawal of the nationalist parties from al-Wathba just when it was at the peak of its intensity. The agreement which underpinned the Lajnat al-Ta’āwan al-Watani broke down following the victory of al-Wathba which resulted in the downfall of the Salih Jabr government and the Portsmouth Treaty [treaty signed in Portsmouth in 1948 which revised the Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1930].


The Association Committee (Lajnat al-Irtibāṭ)

The Communist Party contributed alongside the other nationalist parties in the call for two political strikes. The first on the 14th October 1951, supporting the struggle of the Egyptian people against the British occupation. The second on 19th February 1952 protesting against the oil sharing agreement which the Iraqi government concluded with foreign oil companies. This latter case included a number of cities and was accompanied by demonstrations and violent clashes with the police. There was cooperation between the nationalist political forces during the 1952 strike, especially in terms of forming the Lajnat al-Irtibāṭ (Association Committee) between the nationalist parties on 17th November 1952, which the Communist Party participated in via its front organisation Ḥaraka Anṣār al-Salām, without revealing its real name and represented by ‘Amar ‘Abd Allah and ‘Abd al-Wahab Mahmud, alongside Ḥizb al-Jabha al-Sha’biyya al-Mūḥida (the United People’s Front Part) and Al-Ḥizb Al-Waṭanī al-Dīmuqrāṭī (NDP) and Ḥizb al-Istiqlāl. The student forces previously mentioned played an effective role in igniting the spark of the November 1952 uprising which was launched from the colleges in Baghdad. However, their role receded on the ground following the development of the uprising and the dominance of the Communist Party over its leadership and its unilateral decisions. This led to the dissolution of the student movement with the end of the uprising.[5]   

[1] 2- حنا بطاطو، تاريخ الشيوعيين والحزب الشيوعي في العراق، ترجمة عفيف الرزاز، الجزء الثاني ص 90.

[2] لكاتب هذه السطور مقالان حول هذا الموضوع منشوران في الثقافة الجديدة، الأول في أيلول 1974 تحت عنوان “حول أهمية وإمكانية تحقيق تحالف العمال والفلاحين في بعض البلدان النامية”، والثاني في تشرين الثاني 1977 العدد11 تحت عنوان “تحالف العمال والفلاحين في ضوء تجربة ثورة أكتوبر”.

[3] كتابات الرفيق حسين محمد الشبيبي، بغداد، ص 125

[4] راجع عزيز سباهي “عقود من تاريخ الحزب الشيوعي العراقي، الجزء الأول ص 331

[5] راجع سباهي، المصدر السابق، ص 65 و69

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