The Politics in Middle East has always been a delicate topic for discussion among scholars. This region like no other can be characterized by increased feeling of justice among its peoples. Now, the author has decided to move the attention of the readers on only one country, that plays a particular role in the context of social justice in Arab World.
It is Egypt.
This country has always been politically associated with mass uprisings and will to make difference in the whole Arab World. This time, the focus of the research will be on the one of the attempts to make this difference — building a state of common welfare. The development of Arabic socialism occurred in the Egypt in 50s years of the past century. The period can be briefly characterized as progressive relatively to all other pro-Western regimes that were dominating among Middle-Eastern countries. This period started with rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Enduring aspiration of social justice and independence by people of Egypt resonated with his rule and reforms.
The aim of the author of a research is to show a comprehensive critique of Arabic socialism from a Marxist point of view. Main facilities of Arabic socialism under rule of Nasser will be described. The author will try to examine mistakes made by Free Officers movement and president Nasser. Which consist in not following the basic principles of Marxism. The author of the paper believes that it is important to study the failure of Arabic socialism in Egypt and consequently in the whole Arab world in the prism of absence of Communist Party based on the principles of scientific centralism.
The main objective reasons of Arabic socialism fall will also be described in the paper.
Main facilities of Arabic socialism under the rule of Nasser
Initially, it is important to define some basic terms. Arabic socialism — is state sponsored economic development, as manifested in Nasserism as state ideologies of Egypt in 1950s and 60s (1). In its turn, Nasserism — is the state «ideology» of Egypt in 1950s, with no fixed principles, which politically stood for Pan-Arabic nationalism, nationalization of key elements of economy and social policy, which was provided by Gamal Abdel Nasser.
In the discussion of Arabic socialism, it is important to stress on initial Free Officers movement. This group originally opposed to the British troop presence, corruption and general failure of King Farouk to cope with political problems.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was considered as most important political leaders in the Free Officers and Middle East at all. Whether in literature, cinema, or music, Nasser has been a favorite site of reference not only for the creators but also for the recipients of those works (3).
More or less, Nasser gave Arabs the hope that he would lead them to the long-expected justice and termination of Western rule.
«Proponents of Arab Socialism made a case for the distinctiveness of their ideology. They stressed its differences with communism, including the role it allowed for private property that was not exploitative, its rejection of the idea of class struggle (although echoes of that theme sometimes appeared), and its respect for religion. Nasser argued that all religions advocated socialism, and he pointed to various Islamic doctrines that had a socialist flavor» (2).
Generally speaking, early in the post- independence years, major socialist Arab states, such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt, undertook massive land reform measures, nationalized industry and financial institutions, provided universal healthcare and education and clamped down on the cycle of resource usurpation (4).
Nasser immediately decided to impose Egypt under socialist reforms. It was a period of increasing living standards. Free education and healthcare were the core of the reforms. This included the creation of schools and health centers throughout the country. The government also took television, press and radio under harsh control. He also granted women the right to vote.
Land reform was mainly focused on confiscation of land from big feudals, foreign landowners and distribution of it among peasants.
The Nationalization of Suez Canal was aimed to spare nation out of imperialist influence at all.
In the foreign policy, Nasser decided to join non-aligned movement. There also was a creation of United Arab Republic (the Union with Syria).
It is important to understand that many of these actions were erroneous.
Direct critique of Arab socialism
The mistakes made by Nasser`s rule in building a society of mass welfare will be analyzed from a Marxist perspective.
Firstly, it is important to state that in order to build a country that is independent from other Western capitalist states, it is significant in politics to move forward building a communism. Which was rejected from the start of the rule. The leaders of Egyptian revolution in 1950s did not mean building a real communism:
«These revolutionaries had no fixed ideology. Some of them, notably Sadat, had been associated with the Muslim Brothers, others with Young Egypt, the Wafd, or the Sa’dists. A few, notably Khalid Mohieddine, had Marxist tendencies but generally would remain on the side-lines. Most were not affiliated with any political party. They could agree to little more than a set of six principles stressing opposition to imperialism, feudalism and monopoly capitalism and calling for social justice, a strengthened army and the restoration of parliamentary rule».
So, the general idea of Arabic socialism originates from the notion of social justice and welfare.
Typical naïve demands for social justice, anti-imperialism etc., which could not be achieved without destroying capitalism by building communism. There obviously political illiteracy can be observed.
Secondly, refuse from the concept of class struggle resulted in the victory of bourgeoisie, because it led minds of Egyptian proletariat to the thoughts that there are no classes and this struggle at all. And consequently moved him away from turning to organized working class, by realizing his place in industrial relations and need to build a communism.
Speaking about land reform, which was a leftist mistake. The land of feudals and foreign landowners should have been nationalized but not given to peasants. This gave the rise to the national bourgeoisie. More correct way was by nationalizing land to create a big state agricultural holding that would have served the needs of all country. Moreover, the government allowed the use a considerable amount of land in the hand of small business. Which has paved path to the rise of small bourgeoisie in the country. The analogue to kulaks in Soviet Union.
What is more, government under the rule of Nasser did not manage to stress on which property is considered as not exploitative. As it is seen from above, Nasserists did not consider small business exploitative. As many leftists nowadays. While, relations of private property are a form of seizure of products from other members of society. The problem of private property is not in the thing that it is exploitative, but in the opposition of people to each other.
And by nationalizing all main means of production, Nasser and other members of Free officers did not understand that nationalization is the only way to the further changes of socialist revolution but not the end itself.
What is more, under true socialism, there should be a gradual transition to a communism by steadily moving away from such leftovers of bourgeois society as private property (not personal).
Certainly, this has not been done neither by Nasser or Free Officers movement at all.
As was observed by many historians, a newly elected National Assembly was almost fully consisted of peasants and workers. However, this did not make a parliament fully socialist and serving the interests of working class. As it is stated by many Marxist scholars, the truly socialist authorities must be consisted of people who have fully comprehended the legacy of Marxist-Leninist theory. This will be the following of the principle of science-based centralism party.
The case of National Assembly under the rule of Nasser only proves the Marxist theory, that hoverer much workers placed in the parliament this does not make it more Marxist or socialist. Peasants or workers might be completely infected by bourgeois perception.
Ideology of Pan-Arabism provided by Nasser can be characterized as spontaneous movement of Arab peoples.
As was correctly expressed by Beverley Milton-Edwards:
«The rise of Egyptian nationalism at the turn of twentieth century was associated with an urbanized, anti-colonial, educated elite which was determined to end Britain’s hold over the largest country in the region…».
And a task of every true Socialist-Marxist is to inject in the spontaneous movement parts of orderliness and Marxist theory.
As every bourgeois movement, the movement of Pan-Arabism was consisted of unscientific elements, one of them is nationalism. Nationalism is considered by Marxists as reactionary ideology playing game on the side of bourgeoisie by artificially separating peoples.
Creation of The United Arab Republic was one of the manifestations of Pan-Arabism. But as it was stated earlier the so-called ideology of Pan-Arabism was not led by internationalism and Marxist-Leninist theory, thus was bourgeoisly-nationalist. This movement only sow divisions among proletariat. It would have been right, if communist led party injected in the movement the elements of organization, centralization and Marxism, getting rid of nationalism.
Nasser as the only leader among region with pro-nationalist and socialist orientation should have direct the rising notion of Pan-Arabism in the proper way, the way of uniting all Arab states against American and European imperialism, but what is more important to unite them on a basis of centralized Communist party (the party of working class), with unified principles of governance and ideology. Moreover, he should have excluded nationalist part from the notion at all.
Thus thankfully to nationalism in Pan-Arab movement, every Arab state was seeing itself, first of all, as a leader of the movement. Briefly saying, every Arab state (for instance, Syria) sees itself as the best candidate to rule the Middle East.
Nasserists were also not very good at centralization of ideology. Nasser did not manage to get rid of elements that were objectively hostile to the working class. This is understandable, because of lack of centralization of ideology, Nasser did not make any party cleanses to prevent a party from being full of traitors and office-seekers.
Taking into account all expressed above, it can be confidently said that failure of Arabic socialism was inevitable.
However, it could be a mistake if we would diminish the role of Western countries in fall of Nasser`s regime.
In fact, by violating the basic principles of communism, centralism-based party in his politics Nasser after his death had literally given the country into the hands of pro-American leaders, who managed to make Egypt from the real Arab power, to a puppet of USA.
However, despite the author’s critiques of Arabic socialism, it was progressive in the context of Cold War. It objectively marked a point in overall class struggle in the context of the War.
It is also important to state the progressivity of fighting of Egypt for self-determination. Because in that case this self-determination served the interests of Egyptian proletariat.
It is also necessary to admit that the appearance of Khrushchev line in Soviet Union after death of Stalin gradually started to ruin its credit in the eyes of peoples around the world and significantly affected development of communism in the Middle East.
Taking everything into account it is important to say that «ideology» of Arabic socialism is contrary to Marxist science about society and state. Thus, in building a state of common welfare, Nasser and his colleagues from Free Officers rejected communism as a possible way of moving further, which explains their failure in building a society of welfare, mass education and happiness.
As a political opportunist Nasser decided not to build communism with gradual moving from transitional phase (capitalism — socialism) but to politically and economically stay on this phase without moving further (to socialism). And as it supposed by the author and other Marxists, if leaders decide to stop on the first stage, their politics should be considered as objectively hostile to a working class and respite for the class of capitalists.
However, judging from placing of class forces during the Cold War, the regime of Nasser and ideology of Pan-Arabism can be considered as progressive because it was opposed to the American and European imperialism, which is usually more reactionary.
Dear Arab peoples, if your desire is to live in peaceful, free land, study Marxism-Leninism and unite around the magazine by building a communist party, a party of science-based centralism for the peaceful future free from any imperialist country. Only by implementing Marxist-Leninist theory to progressive politics we can win!
1.The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, edited by Esposito, John L.: Oxford University Press, 2003. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195125580.001.0001/acref-9780195125580.
2. Perry, Glenn E. The History of Egypt, 2nd Edition. Westport: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2015. Accessed February 18, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.
3. Khalifah O. Nasser in the Egyptian Imaginary. EUP; 2017. Accessed February 19, 2022. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,sso&db=nlebk&AN=1584855&site=eds-live
4. Kadri, Ali. “Arab Socialism in Retrospect”. Chapter. In The Unmaking of Arab Socialism, 29–76. Anthem Press, 2016.
5. Milton-Edwards, B. (2019) Contemporary Politics in the Middle East. 4th edition, Polity.