Monday, April 23, 2007

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 2)

"At the highest point of Communist influence - in mid May 1959 ...."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978.) page 838

In Part 1, I explained the background to the rise of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) to the prominence it enjoyed in May 1959 - which was the month when members of its Central Committee led a mass May Day demonstration through the streets of Baghdad.

Responsible Revolutionaries

The Communists leading the demonstration were dressed in their best suits and ties. This indicated something about their commitment and values. They did not choose to be seen as being either Islamist or Arabs. For with them and as a prominent part of the crowd were many non-Arabs from the Kurdish north of Iraq.

They called upon the nation's new leader, General Qasim to set up a representative system with Western-style bourgeois democratic arrangements which they believed would best ensure just economic and social policies, alongside civil liberties. As a means to this democratic aim, they sort representation in the Qasim Government itself.

The Ebb And Flow

After the high-water mark of the rally with half a million from all over Iraq on the streets of Baghdad out of a population of less than 7 million, the ICP could claim to have played an important role in shaping developments in Iraq until disaster struck both itself and Qasim in 1963. Yet is was an influence that ebbed and flowed and never reached the high hopes of those May Day festivities.

Qasim could not ignore the pressure on the streets. There were many Communist demonstrations taking place throughout Iraq. For a short spell Naziha al-Dulaimi, a female member of the ICP was appointed to a Junior Government post alongside two Communist sympathisers. But an electoral system was never established.

In demonstrations in Mosul and Kirkuk, conflict emerged when elements both inside and outside of the regime clashed with the ICP. Given the scope of ICP pressure, Qasim responded with a double tactic.

First, he adopted constraints upon the activities of the ICP and its women's, youth and peace movements. But these fell short of the full scale repression which had occurred in the past.

Secondly (as shown below), he pursued a range of measures aimed at improving the lot of the poor. It was because the ICP wished to encourage such reforms that they sort to protect Qasim and his regime from the very forces which eventually smashed them. They did this dispute the restraints Qasim had placed upon them.

Five Years Of Hope

The ICP's efforts to democratise the Officer-led revolution of 1958 failed when Qasim and those around him decided to hang on to the power they had grabbed and to use the connections and corrupt practices of the old monarchical regime to maintain their position.

Yet aided by growing Oil Revenues the Qasim regime embarked upon an impressive looking list of reforms. Although results never fully matched up to the rhetoric.

There was a degree of Land Reform and redistribution of estates, which removed (but fully compensated) some of the larger land owners. There was a school building programme and a trebling of pupil numbers, but the teacher shortage it produced wasn't seriously tackled. A similar problem arose in building hospitals and in not providing sufficient new doctors. Labour laws attempted to tackle excessive working hours, to provide minimum wages and create jobs; but the actual achievements were patchy.

The most successful reform was the building of 10,000 houses in Baghdad to replace the self made mud homes of the crude sarifas which I described in Part 1.

Whilst prior to a move to censorship, there was a period of the growth of intellectual, cultural and artistic achievements. The ICP's involvement in ranges of activities, encouraged these developments. This was possible because the ICP did not in general adopt a dogmatic Marxist-Leninist approach, but was the leading party for social reform and democracy in Iraq.

Restrictions And Restraints

Unfortunately for the ICP, Qasim came to believe the propaganda which put him as "Sole Leader". The ICP was not allowed to register as a recognised Political Party and it suffered from censorship and the disbanding of its associated organisations. Yet they knew that things would get much worse for them if Qasim was removed.

The Communists ability to get people onto the streets neither gave it the power to democratise the system, nor the ability to take it over. A Communist coup would also have brought the Western Powers down upon it like a ton of bricks. For the West even believed that Qasim was in the pockets of the Communists when he entered into a relationship with the Soviet Union mainly for military hardware.

It wasn't just Qasim's economic and social programme which the ICP felt driven to protect. He also advocated a policy of "Iraq First" as an alternative to those pressing for a Pan-Arab alternative. The ICP shared this stance.

The Pan-Arab ideal was reflected in the attempt to unite Eqypt and Syria into a United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961. It was hoped that this project would draw in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world.

The ICP opposed such Pan-Arabism on three main counts. First, it felt that it should cater for all Iraqis including the significant body of Kurds.

Secondly, Communism did not have the strength it held in Iraq in other parts of the Arab world, where it was generally seen as an atheistic and anti-Islamic force. Other Arab nations normally stamped out local Communist activities which tended to be more in the dogmatic Marxist-Leninist mould than was the case with the dominant trend in the ICP.

Finally; if the ICP succeeded in advancing its version of left-wing Democratic Socialism in Iraq, it could hope to export its approach to non-Arab neighbours in places such as Iran. Kurds also lived in wide areas of Turkey, Syria and Iran which bordered on Northern Iraq.

Qasim's opposition to the Pan-Arab ideal led to his relative isolation in the Arab World (although he attempted to make overtures to Arab Gulf States other than Kuwait.) On Kuwuit, he called for it to become a province of Iraq in 1961, when it gained its independence from Britain. A position which led to Iraq's expulsion from the Arab League.

From Dream To Nightmare

In October 1959 a 22 year old Saddam Hussein was one of a group of Ba'thist conspirators who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Qasim.

The organisation Saddam acted on behalf of operated via cells in the forces, in the Governmental structure and increasingly in the wider society; making use of the strong tribal, clan and family networks which existed and still exist in Iraq. These were territories which the ICP hoped that working class loyalties and comradeship would come to transcend.

The Ba'thist copied the ICP's tactic of attempting to take over the streets - but with a difference. They believed that power came out of the barrel of a gun. They used assassinations and conspiracies and had links which enabled them to obtain arms for their activists on the streets.

The Ba'thist ideology wasn't as clear cut as the ICP's. It talked in terms of Pan-Arabism and of a form of socialism that was directed at Arabs only and yet it pursued its own form of nationhood which was directed at needing to establish a strong centralised State. Pan-Arabism was seen by numbers of Ba'thists as coming from deals stitched up between the strong national leaders they desired.

For both tactical reasons and those of shared values, Ba'thists were willing to work with pro-Arab Nationalists who were insiders in the structure of the State, especially those in the forces. The Ba'thists were, however, faction driven at this time and (as with the Nationalists) personality, power and patronage were more influential than the veneer of their ideas.

The Coup of February 1963 was, therefore, a combined effort involving Ba'thists and disaffected Nationalists. It was followed a month later by a Ba'thist Coup in Syria. This worried the Nationalists who had participated in the Iraqi Coup. Their position looked to be in danger. They then moved quickly and ousted the Ba'thists in the November.

It was to be 1968 before a further Ba'thist Coup opened the door for the eventual regime leading to Saddam Hussein.

Next Time

Although the Communists were dealt with in a hideous fashion by the Ba'thists in 1963 (and many times later), the ICP was able to survive because it knew from its past how to function as a clandestine organisation.

Because I have been dealing with the high-water mark of the ICP (at a time which was to become its main ideological inspiration), I have only covered the years 1958 to 1963 today.

In Part 3, I will seek to cover the forty year period from 1963 to 2003 as it is mainly a single story of an organisation seeking to survive as an underground operation. There is, however, one seeming anomaly to explain. How was it that the ICP signed up to a short-lived deal with the Ba'thist Government in 1973, and was this justified?

A concluding Part 4 will be directed to the ICP's attitude to the Coalitions' Invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its subsequent actions and stance.


The main works I have consulted in an attempt to check details (but not for interpretations) are to be found here, here, and here. Then there is a further work which I am very supportive of and for which I wrote an introduction - see here. Finally,there is also here an interesting looking work which I have not yet seen and have just ordered. I intend to read it only after completing my items on the ICP, to then see what its similarity and differences are to my own analysis. I then hope to post a review of that book.


Anonymous said...

I had been waiting for this.... and it was worth it!!!

Thanks a million Comrade,


P.S. If John McDonnell does win, he truly would be wise to appoint as the Party Political educator! Keep it up, Comrade!

Anonymous said...

"appoint you"

Harry Barnes said...


Thanks comrade.