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October 22, 2020

Interview with Süha Umar

Süha Umar is a Turkish Ambassador (Rtd.) He served as Head of the Turkish Delegation to ACRS.

November 27, 2020

Interview with Yezid Sayigh

Yezid Sayigh is a former Palestinian diplomat. He served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to ACRS. 

September 13, 2020

Interview with Fred Axelgard

Fred Axelgard is a former US diplomat. He served as a member of the US delegation to ACRS.

February 1973

A Declaration of the Cherikha-ye Fedai-ye Khalq about the Plan of Imperialism, Zionism, and Other Reactionaries and the Need for the [Middle Eastern] Region’s Revolutionary Forces to Unite (Excerpts)

Iranian leftists like the Constitutional Revolution’s Social Democrats, in 1905-1909, and proper Marxists like the members of the Iranian Communist Party—one of the earliest in the Middle East, founded in 1920, and enjoying considerable standing in the Comintern—never succeeded to capture the state in modern Iran. But as works like Maziar Behrooz’ Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran (2000) and Stephanie Cronin’s edited volume Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran (2004) remind us, Marxism was an influential sociopolitical and ideological force in Iran in the 1920s and especially from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Thus, from its birth as a general leftist party in 1941 via its transformation into a properly Marxist party—memorably analyzed in Ervand Abrahamian’s Iran between Two Revolutions (1982)—to its repression after the CIA-led coup d’Etat of 1953, the Tudeh was the most powerful party of mid-century Iran and the biggest of its kind in the Middle East.

Moreover, from the 1950s to the 1960s Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980; r. 1941-1979) and his regime saw the remaining Tudehis and 1960s Maoist splinter groups in Iran and in exile as a threat. It was against this political backdrop, too, that some socioeconomic policies like the 1963 land reform picked up long-standing communist demands, though that reform had other roots, too, and sought to neutralize Iran’s land-holding urban upper class. And in early 1971, it was a new Marxist group, the Sazman-e cherikha-ye fada’i-ye khalq-e Iran,The Organization of the Iranian People’s Fada’i Guerillas (OIPFG), that launched an armed struggle against the shah’s regime, a history told in Peyman Vahabzadeh’s A Guerilla Odyssey: Modernization, Secularism, Democracy, and the Fadai Period of National Liberation in Iran, 1971-1979 (2010). The Fada’i-ye Khalq denounced the Tudeh for sitting on its hands, excoriated the Soviet Union and soon also China for accommodating the shah, and forced competitors like the Islamo-Marxist Mujahedin-e Khalq to spring to action as well. Many fada’iyin died an early violent death.

Even so, several ones wrote influential theoretical texts while in prison, like Bizhan Jazani (1937-1975), or in the underground, like Amir Parviz Puyan (1947-1971) and Mas‘ud Ahmadzadeh (1947-1972). Although hailing from two different groups that had been active before early 1971 and then joined to form the Fada’i-ye Khalq, they had much in common. Thus, they welcomed Cuban, Chinese, and Vietnamese armed revolutionary experiences, but never saw them as simple models to emulate. They had contacts with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a story and whose long aftermath is analyzed in Naghmeh Sohrabi’s “Remembering the Palestine Group: Friendship, Global Activism, and the Iranian Revolution” (2019). And partly drawing on Regis Debray and Latin American urban guerilla theorists, they most crucially stressed the need for a self-sacrificing vanguard that attacks the state to shatter workers’ lethargy. (As this did not happen, by 1975 some fada’is split and turned to political agitation; some even joined the Tudeh.)

At the same time, there were disagreements, too. Perhaps key was the nature of the US-Iranian relationship. Ahmadzadeh saw the shah as a US puppet pure and simple, whereas Jazani though he had considerable autonomy while under US control. In this regard, the text produced here hews closely to the Ahmadzadeh line, which was dominant at the time of publication, in 1973. The text is an English translation of a Persian text published in the (obviously prohibited) fada’i publication Nabard-e Khalq; it did not have a byline. The text is of interest in this collection not only because of its systemic reference to US imperialism but also because of its region-wide perspective.

June 1, 1971

If We Immigrate to Israel, We Are Bound to Incite the Panthers' Bitterness

For many centuries Jews not only from Europe but also from across all of what we now call the Middle East trickled to Eretz Israel/Palestine, most importantly to Jerusalem. Moreover, in the mid-nineteenth century, the leading proto-Zionist thinker Rabbi Judah Alkalai (1798 [Sarajevo]-1878 [Jerusalem]) was a Sephardi, i.e. a Jew whose family was originally from Sepharad, Spain, and ended up in the Ottoman Empire after being expulsed in the fifteenth century. And when in the later nineteenth century Zionism arose, it found some followers in the Middle East, too.

Despite all the above, Zionism’s political-ideological epicenter was the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Whether left- or right-wing or liberal, Zionist parties were led by European-born Jews (who were quite diverse, though). And while Jews from Middle Eastern countries continued to arrive in Palestine in the very late Ottoman period (1516/17-1917/18) and the British Mandate (1917/22-1948), most Jewish immigrants were from Europe. This changed only after and due to the Holocaust, in which about two out of three European Jews were killed. In the early postwar Americas and Western Europe, relatively few Jews wished to emigrate, and the Soviet Union, which after World War II replaced Poland as the European country with the largest Jewish population, forbade emigration.

Hence, the government of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion (1886-1968; r. 1948-1954/1955-1963) expanded initiatives—in some cases “helped” by Arab nationalist pressures on domestic Jews—to bring to Israel the ‘edot ha-mizrah, the (Middle) Eastern communities, a plural that would morph into the collective mizrahim. After all, Israel in 1948 counted “only” about 700,000 Jews. While many middle- and upper-class Jews e.g. from Morocco and Egypt left for Europe, a large majority—but far from all—of those Israel-bound emigrants were poor. As if this did not make starting a new life hard enough, the relatively poor newly-found State of Israel was overwhelmed by the ensuing population explosion. Worst, however, was systemic institutional and individual discrimination, analyzed e.g. in Ella Shohat’s classic article “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the standpoint of its Jewish victims” (1988). Yes: the Palestinians who had remained in Israel after the nakba had it worse, for the Jewish State did not treat them as full citizens, even subjecting them to military rule until 1966. But in the eyes of most Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants, this was cold comfort.

Protests occurred from the 1950s. They took a new turn in February 1971, when poor Jerusalemites, many with a petty criminal record and most from Morocco, founded the Black Panthers (BP), organizing demonstrations and asserting that their communities had “enough of deprivation [and] enough of discrimination.” Although the Panthers would have a limited long-term effect politically—only one, Charlie Bitton (born 1947), would go on to have a lasting political career, as a communist member of parliament—socially, they did. The government reacted not only with repression but also by increasing social services; besides, the Panthers helped bring different Middle Eastern Jewish communities closer. For our purposes most crucial, though, is the Panthers’ choice of name. While they did not too often refer to their US namesakes and never to leaders like Huey Newton (1942-1989), their name reflected the influence on Israel of US developments, as Oz Frankel’s “The Black Panthers of Israel and the Politics of Radical Analogy” (2012) argues. And although the Israeli Panthers shared neither the Americans’ separatist nationalism—they wanted fully in, not out—nor their use of arms nor their support for Palestine, calling themselves Panthers shocked Israel’s Ashkenazi (European) establishment. It presumably harmed Israel’s reputation, also by the hand of Arabs. Moreover, by the late 1960s Israelis and some US Jews believed that most African Americans had become anti-Semitic.

The text featured here, an English translation of a Hebrew article published in the leading daily Yediot Aharonot, reflects some of these intricate international dimensions of the rise of Israel’s Panthers.


Elaine Mokhtefi, 'Algiers: Third World Capital. Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers' (Excerpts)

The author of the book from which the below excerpts are taken, Elaine Mokhtefi née Klein, is a US American of Jewish origin born in 1928 in New York. She became politically involved there in the late 1940s. In 1951, she moved to Paris, where she worked as a translator for various anti-racist and anti-colonial movements. It was in the French capital that she met Algerian independence activists and became involved with the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), which was founded in November 1954 and started Algeria’s independence war. She participated in the 1958 All-African People’s Conference in Ghana (for which see also the entry on Frantz Fanon’s FLN speech). In 1960-1962, she worked in New York for the FLN. FLN representatives stationed in the United States sought to contact US politicians and officials, and in New York successfully lobbied at the United Nations headquarters during its war against France, as Matthew Connelly showed inA Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (2002). Moreover, already at this time the FLN was deeply involved with various other anticolonial liberation movements, as Mokhtefi’s fascinating book illustrates. When Algeria became independent, in 1962, she moved there. She worked in various official capacities, inter alia for the Algeria Press Service. And due to her New York experience and command of English, she often was asked to work with representatives of foreign independence movements, including the US Black Panther Party (BPP), whose presence in Algeria in 1969 and its effect on the BPP’s take on the Arab-Israeli conflict has been studied in Michael Fischbach’s Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (2018). Many such movements were assisted by the Algerian government, which saw itself as a player in multiple overlapping anticolonial and postcolonial frameworks, including African unity, Arab unity, Afro-Asianism, and Third Worldism, as Jeffrey Byrnes has shown in his Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order (2016). Mokhtefi was for political reasons forced to leave Algeria in 1974, accompanied by her Algerian husband, the former FLN member Mokhtar Mokhtefi. They settled in Paris, and in 1994 moved to New York.

July 2, 1957

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy in the Senate, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1957

On July 2, 1957, US senator John F. Kennedy made his perhaps best-known senatorial speech—on Algeria.

Home to about 8 million Muslims, 1.2 million European settlers, and 130,000 Jews, it was from October 1954 embroiled in what France dubbed “events”—domestic events, to be precise. Virtually all settlers and most metropolitan French saw Algeria as an indivisible part of France. Algeria had been integrated into metropolitan administrative structures in 1847, towards the end of a structurally if not intentionally genocidal pacification campaign; Algeria’s population dropped by half between 1830, when France invaded, and the early 1870s. Eighty years and many political turns later (see e.g. Messali Hadj’s 1927 speech in this collection), in 1954, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) launched a war for independence. Kennedy did not quite see eye to eye with the FLN.

As Kennedy's speech shows, he did not want France entirely out of North Africa. However, he had criticized French action already in early 1950s Indochina. And in 1957 he met with Abdelkader Chanderli (1915-1993), an unaccredited representative of the FLN at the United Nations in New York and in Washington, DC, and a linchpin of the FLN’s successful international offensive described in Matthew Connelly’s A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (2002). Thus, Kennedy supported the FLN’s demand for independence, which explains its very positive reaction to his speech.

And thus, unlike the 1952-1960 Republican administration of Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) that officially backed the views of NATO ally France and kept delivering arms, the Democratic senator diagnosed a “war” by “Western imperialism” that, together with if different from “Soviet imperialism,” is “the great enemy of … the most powerful single force in the world today: ... man's eternal desire to be free and independent.” (In fact, Kennedy’s speech on the Algerian example of Western imperialism was the first of two, the second concerning the Polish example of Sovietimperialism. On another, domestic note, to support African Algeria’s independence was an attempt to woe civil-rights-movement-era African Americans without enraging white voters.) To be sure, Kennedy saw France as an ally, too. But France’s war was tainting Washington too much, which helped Moscow. In Kennedy’s eyes, to support the US Cold War against the Soviet Union meant granting Algeria independence. The official French line was the exact opposite: only continued French presence in Algeria could keep Moscow and its Egyptian puppet, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, from controlling the Mediterranean and encroaching on Africa.

December 3, 1956

Middle East (Situation): Debated in the Commons Chamber, Monday, 3 December 1956

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) nationalized the Suez Canal Company, surprising the world. The government of France, in whose capital of Paris the company was headquartered, and the British government, the company’s plurality shareholder, sought to reverse nationalization in court, but failed—even though they clad their case in the language not of imperial self-interest but, rather, of international public interest. The time in which such language was somewhat acceptable, even at home, was passing, and the Suez Crisis played a big part in this final act.

At the same time, the two governments early on after the canal nationalization decided to remove Nasser by force, for re-compensation was not their central concern. France believed Nasser was enabling the FLN, which in 1954 had started Algeria’s War for Independence, and Britain wanted some say in the canal, which had for decades been its worldwide empire’s “swing-door,” as a member of parliament, Anthony Eden (1897-1977), called it in 1929. In August 1956 France began discussing a joint operation with Israel, which wanted Nasser gone, too, and the Red Sea opened for Israel-bound ships. In early October the two were joined by Britain. On the 29th, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. On the 30th, France and Britain gave Israel and Egypt a 12-hour ultimatum to cease hostilities, or they would intervene—and Anglo-French forces bombed Egyptian forces from the 31st and on November 5-6 occupied the canal’s northern tip. Although a power play, “Operation Musketeer,” like the court case, could not be an open imperial move anymore, then, and did not present itself to the world as such. No matter: especially in colonies and postcolonial countries, people were outraged.

More problematically for France and Britain, Washington was incredulous. This Middle Eastern affair triggered the worst crisis of the 1950s between America’s rising international empire and Europe’s descending empires, and indeed clarified and accelerated that descent. President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) fumed that Prime Ministers Anthony Eden and Guy Mollet (1905-1977) had disregarded his administration’s opposition to military action. Worse, they had deceived him about their intentions. And worst, their attack on Egypt undermined the supreme US tenet: Soviet containment. The Americans were by association tainted by their NATO allies’ imperialist move while the Soviets looked good—on November 5 they offered Egypt troops and threatened to nuke London, Paris, and Tel Aviv—and that although they had just repressed an uprising in Hungary.

On the very day of the ultimatum, October 30, Eisenhower washed his hands of that move on live US television, and the US mission at the UN organized a cease-fire resolution vote in the Security Council. France and Britain vetoed it. Although sharing its European allies’ emotions about Nasser, the US administration withheld critical oil and monetary supplies from them to bring them to heel and withdraw from Egypt—after which, it promised, they would be warmly welcomed back. It ceased most bilateral communications and froze almost all everyday social interactions with its two allies, even cancelling a scheduled visit by Eden. And it badgered its allies at the UN, supporting an Afro-Asian resolution that on November 24 called Israel, Britain, and France to withdraw forthwith. On December 3, the British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd took the floor in the House of Commons.

May 18, 1925

J.V. Stalin, 'The Political Tasks of the University of the Peoples of the Far East: Speech Delivered at a Meeting of Students of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, May 18, 1925'

After World War I, several communist movements tried to replicate the Bolsheviks’ take-over of Russia in European countries, most importantly and most often in Germany. All failed. As a result, the Soviet leadership and communists worldwide from around 1920 focused more energies on colonized countries, especially in Asia. As most of these seemed to lack the economic and sociopolitical conditions necessary for a communist revolution, the aim was to weaken if not overthrow European imperial rule, serving the interests of both the USSR and the local petit bourgeoisie, peasants, and few industrial workers. The perhaps greatest price was China. Moreover, India was seen to be (exceptionally) ripe for direct communist action.

Communists and some anti-colonial nationalists were also active in and across the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, often sharing resources while being networked with the Communist International. Abbreviated as the Comintern (also the Third International), the latter was thekey international communist organization: founded in 1919 in Moscow, headquartered there, and employing through its dissolution in 1943 thousands of professional cadres from around the world, principally from Europe and Asia, as Brigitte Studer’s Reisende der Weltrevolution: Eine Globalgeschichte der Kommunistischen Internationale (2020) shows. Also in the Soviet Union, the year 1920 saw the landmark Congress of the Peoples of the East, in Baku. And in 1921, the Communist University for Laborers of the East (Kommunistichyeskii univyersityet trudyaschikhsya Vostoka, KUTV) opened its doors in Moscow. It became the first full-fledged Soviet training center for Soviet Muslims and for foreign communist cadres, principally from Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, and it impacted Soviet views of the East, as Lana Ravandi-Fadai and Masha Kirasirova have shown in “Red Mecca” (2015) and “The ‘East’ as a Category of Bolshevik Ideology and Comintern Administration” (2017), respectively. The text here is the English translation, published in 1954 in the collection J. V. Stalin: Works: Volume 7, of a Russian text published in 1925 in the principal Soviet newspaper, Pravda, rendering a speech that the 1924-1953 Chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) held to KUTV’s students in 1925.

January 14, 1962

Ambassador Reis Malile, ‘Information on the Meeting of the Government-level Economic Delegation led by Comrade Abdyl Kellezi with Comrade Mao Zedong’

Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and Abdyl Kellezi discuss revisionism, relations with the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party of the USA.