Ted Grant

Hands Off The Lebanon

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 1 no. 7 (July-August 1958)
Transcription: Nick 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

The Lebanese civil war began with the assassination of Nassib Metni, editor of a left-wing journal called The Telegraph. Although a Christian, he was opposed to the policies of the Christian President, Chamoun, and the ruling clique.

The Opposition, including trade unionists and the Socialist Party, called a general strike, which rapidly widened into insurrection in the main cities and over the whole country. After a few weeks of fighting, most of the Bekaa, the larger towns and large slices of mountain territory in the North and South, are under the control of the insurrectionists.

The Lebanon is a small strip of territory bordered by Syria and the sea, only 35 miles wide at its widest point. Dominated by France before the Second World War, it has been used as a point of support by Anglo-American imperialism since the war. It is an artificial creation, with an Arab population of one and a half million, nearly half of whom are Christians.

The ruling class is hopelessly corrupt, and the regime rotten through and through. Chamoun was the only Middle Eastern leader who rushed to accept the Eisenhower Doctrine, enthusiastically and without reservation. This was one of the factors provoking opposition among the population, both Christian and Muslim. In common with all other Arabs, the people aspire to union with their brothers in other Arab countries, and are opposed to the policy of the government of support for the West, particularly in the light of the Suez events. In the general strike, which has lasted more than six weeks, not only the workers but the shopkeepers also struck.

Immediately Chamoun raised the cry of massive intervention from the United Arab Republic (1), and appealed to the United Nations. But the report of the U.N. observers who patrolled parts of the frontiers has entirely rejected this claim.

U.S. hypocrisy

On June 25th, five ships sailed from U.S. ports with 1,700 Marines on board. At the same time, killing two birds with one stone, 25,000 extra men, including commandos and paratroops, were sent to Cyprus by the British government. It is clear that if the Opposition shows signs of gaining the upper hand, the threat of “direct action” by Anglo-American imperialism intervening in the conflict would be carried out. Thus the hypocrisy of the U.S. imperialists’ attitude at the time of Suez (2) is exposed.

It is not at all concern with the rights of small nations which has prevented the imperialists from intervening so far, but fear of the repercussions in the other, oil bearing, Arab states, and the possibility of a flare-up throughout the Middle East. The imperialists have however toyed with the idea of allowing other Middle Eastern forces (Iraq, Jordan) to intervene. Nuri es-Said, Iraqi premier, has threatened the intervention of Iraqi and Jordanian troops if requested by President Chamoun, in order to offset the alleged intervening forces from the United Arab Republic. But the United Arab Federation (Jordan-Iraq) is largely an Anglo-American puppet (3), and this would be intervention by Anglo-American imperialism at second hand. It is British and American imperialism who will decide the issue.

Despots without support

The real reason for the concern of Nuri es-Said is the effect on the peoples of Iraq, Jordan and the rest of the Middle East. For the Jordanian and Iraqi governments are despotisms without support among the people.

The situation in the Lebanon has meanwhile become more confused. Four of the Opposition parties in the Lebanon have been banned. President Chamoun has armed the Falange, the extreme Right Wing Christian Party, which has sent its gangs to beat unarmed workers while the police look on indifferently. The 6,000 strong Army under General Chehab has played a very equivocal part in the struggle; although 60 percent of the Army are Christians, to use it in an offensive against the rebels would be to split it in pieces, and, as in Middle Eastern politics generally, Chehab wants to preserve it as an unified force for use to back a possible future arbiter. The Air Force of 2,000 is an additional factor which has been handled with the same degree of equivocation. Meanwhile, with the stalemate, plague and diseases threaten the big towns. The leaders of this spontaneous uprising obviously do not wish to carry forward a real struggle: this explains the fantastic travel between the lines and the indulgent attitude to it by both sides, and the small number of casualties. Behind the scenes, U.S. imperialism is trying to patch together a compromise, probably with a loan to repair the damage and to maintain the Lebanon in the orbit of Western imperialism. It is significant in this connection that the Opposition leaders have several times specifically denied any programme for integration of the Lebanon in the United Arab Republic.

Thus the spontaneous insurrection of the people has been betrayed into a sordid struggle behind the scenes for position and power between warring cliques. Chamoun, under pressure, has agreed not to stand for re-election.

However, a patched-up compromise will not restore peace to the Lebanon or the Middle East for long. The support by imperialism for all the forces of reaction and privilege prepares the way for new explosions. The demand for the union of all Arabs into one state and the complete expulsion of imperialism from the area will gain further strength. British workers should demand the withdrawal of all troops, the right of the Arab peoples to unite, with the democratic right of self-determination.


(1) The U.A.R. was a union between Egypt and Syria, as a first step towards a pan-Arab state. It began in 1958, raising widespread support from the Arab masses and existed until 1961 when Syria seceded from the union.

(2) On October 29th 1956, an Israeli, British and French coordinated attack against Egypt led to the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula and seized control of the Suez Canal. The attack was in retaliation against the decision of Egyptian president Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal announced on July 26th. Although initially successful from a military point of view the imperialist aggression against Egypt stirred up mass support for Nasser and against all the reactionary regimes that were supporting imperialist aggression throughout the Middle East. This forced the British and French to back off in a humiliating defeat.

(3) The reactionary “Baghdad Pact” suddenly collapsed because of the insurrection of July 14th, 1958 that put an end to the Hashemite pro Anglo-American Monarchy in Iraq.