"We Are Part of a Whole": Internationalist Nationalism, Anti-imperialism, and Arab Leftists in the Interwar World

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:10 PM
Marshfield Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Sana Tannoury-Karam, Northeastern University
In 1929, Yusuf Yazbik, a Lebanese intellectual and activist, participated in the second meeting of the League Against Imperialism in Frankfurt. Yazbik belonged to a generation that founded the first Arab communist party in Lebanon and Syria in 1924, and who, by the end of the 1920s, had either renounced their membership of the party, or, much more commonly, had been purged. This generation of Arab leftists, as Yazbik’s experience reveals, continued to engage in international networks of anti-colonial solidarities that the interwar period had made possible. This paper inserts Arab leftists into that ‘internationalist moment’, examining their links with the movements of the interwar world, particularly their connections to the League Against Imperialism. Although the Arab Left of the interwar period drew heavily upon the tradition of socialism that had circulated in the Eastern Mediterranean since the late 19th century, it was also shaped by the political considerations of its own time, including the persistence of capitalism and imperialism and its growth throughout the world, particularly its manifestations through the imposition of French Mandate and British Mandates over the Levant, as well as the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Soviet Union’s stances against imperialism, and its successful fight against fascism. My paper contextualizes the attraction that Arab leftists had towards the Soviet Union within the framework of interwar anti-imperialism, arguing that anti-imperialism became the discourse through which Arab leftists mobilized for social justice, democratic and non-sectarian political systems, and rights for workers and women.
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