Stalin As Abu Shawarib – Iraqi Jews and the Iraqi Communist Party

By Orit Bashkin
Submitted to Session P2628 (Rethinking Communism and Anti-Colonial Struggles in the Middle East, 2011 Annual Meeting
Arab Studies;
My paper looks at the participation of Jews in the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Communism, I argue, enabled Jews to demonstrate not only their commitment to the international ideals of communism, but also their devotion to the community in which they lived, at a time when certain Iraqi nationalists saw Iraqi Jewish identity as synonymous with disloyalty to the nation-state.

During the 1940s, Jews entered the ranks of the ICP in larger numbers, convinced of its vision of equality and social justice. They contributed to the ICP as cell members, union leaders, and party secretaries. An urban educated community, they likewise played a major role in the party’s translation and educational efforts. Iraq from 1945 to 1952 was characterized by sociopolitical turmoil, as strikes, demonstrations, and constant critiques of the state’s pro-British affiliations and unjust social policies loomed large in the public sphere. Iraqi Jews, like their Muslim and Christian compatriots, looked for political options that would provide an appropriate answer to these challenges, and found one in communism. The collaborative activities of Iraqis of various faiths and ethnicities within the ICP conveyed the notion that Iraqis, regardless of their religious beliefs, could share the same sociopolitical agenda. Jewish communists thus worked with Muslims and Christians in cells, unions, schools, and prisons; hosted fellow Muslim and Christian communists in their homes, and took refuge in homes of non-Jews. In fact, in a country that is divided today by sectarian violence, the ICP of the 1940s could be seen as a model of a nonsectarian organization.

Jewish Iraqi communists frequently used the term "Arab-Jew" to suggest that Iraqi Jews, as Arabic-speaking Iraqis, should remain in Iraq and fight alongside their Iraqi brethren to end sectarianism and exploitation. Communist ideology thus enabled Iraqi-Jews to critique the Iraqi state and its ultranationalist elites, while remaining loyal to the Iraqi people. Jewish Iraqi communists produced a rigorous critique of Zionism in the publications of The League for Combating Zionism, an organ which called for the termination of the mandate in Palestine and the creation of a free and democratic Palestinian state. The League (established 1945) argued that the Jewish religion could not form the basis for a national community, and that Zionism did a great disservice to world Jewry by promoting the colonization of Palestine and by ruining the relations between Jews and Muslims in the Arab world.