Workers Hammer No. 224

Autumn 2013


Quote of the issue

Perfidious Albion in the Near East

When Parliament voted to oppose Tory prime minister David Cameron’s plans to join in air strikes against Syria, much of the reformist left sang the praises of this imperialist talk shop heeding the “will of the people”. Contrary to these illusion-mongers, the “Mother of Parliaments”, which has for several centuries presided over the brutal and bloody conquest and slaughter of the colonial and semicolonial peoples, has not changed its spots. When in late 1943, amid the interimperialist carnage of World War II, in which Britain and Vichy France were on opposing sides, Winston Churchill came out in support of Lebanon’s independence — from France! — the Trotskyists scathingly exposed the hypocrisy of the British imperialists and their perfidious role in the subjugation of the peoples of the Near East and India.

Syria and Lebanon, countries long civilized, were formerly part of the Ottoman empire in which they were relatively autonomous. Lebanon is partly inhabited by a population of Catholic faith, the Maronites, and this was France’s original pretext for showing a special interest in the country. Catholic schools and missions were the carriers of French penetration. During the last war “for democracy” Turkey sided with Germany and in 1916 the British and the French entered into a secret agreement known as the Sykes-Picot treaty, by which they divided the spoils: Palestine and Arabia for the British; Lebanon and Syria for the French. Is it necessary to add that these champions of “democracy” did not even bother to consult the peoples concerned?

After the last war, France swept away the Lebanese national government and moved in. French corporations and banks grabbed all they could. The political regime under the Third Republic became more severe than it had been under the Ottoman empire. The whole operation was juridically sanctioned by the League of Nations which gave Lebanon and Syria to France as a “mandate”.

The history of Lebanon and Syria since then has been one of incessant revolts against the French yoke. In 1925 armed rebellion broke out and for a while it seemed almost successful. But French imperialism managed to crush it, and has since then maintained its rule by a combination of open violence and innumerable promises of independence which have never been fulfilled. Political oppression goes hand in hand with economic exploitation and pillage....

When Egyptian students demonstrated in the streets of Cairo shouting “We are soldiers of Lebanon!” — this is easy to understand. However, something quite unexpected happened. It soon appeared that Churchill was also ready to fight for Lebanon. Churchill? Yes, Churchill himself, the chief of a government that holds four hundred millions of Indians in political oppression and economic destitution. But didn’t Churchill put Gandhi and Nehru in jail for exactly the same reasons that de Gaulle jailed [Lebanese leaders] El-Khoury and Sohl, namely, for asking the independence of their respective countries? In this Lebanon crisis, it is hard to decide where the most disgusting hypocrisy lies: in a de Gaulle, head of a Committee of Liberation, fighting tooth and nail against the independence of Lebanon, or in a Churchill, oppressor of India, proclaiming himself champion of this independence....

The precarious character of such independence is obvious. It may disappear at the end of this war as it disappeared after the last war. But even if Lebanon and Syria can keep their political independence, French investments — in banks, railroads, port facilities and utilities — remain. Tomorrow British and especially American investments will increase. The fate of these countries is foretold by Irak. Irak was a “mandate” given by the League of Nations to Great Britain in the same way as Lebanon and Syria were given to France. Subsequently Irak became politically independent, but, held in the grip of British imperialism, cannot escape from economic poverty. The national independence of the people of the Middle East is only a stage in their fight against imperialism. This struggle cannot be carried to the end by the native bourgeoisie. The young proletariat of these countries, in alliance with the workers of the great imperialist powers, can alone break the grip of imperialism that keeps the whole Middle East in stagnation and misery.

— Marc Loris, “Lebanon’s fight for independence”, in Fourth International, January 1944