THE question is frequently raised whether nationalism-- particularly Arab nationalism--fosters the expansion of Communism or serves rather as an antidote to it. If we may judge by the experience of Tunisia, there is no doubt that the struggle for national independence served as a restraint and a deterrent.

Under the French Protectorate many young Tunisian intellectuals had been attracted by Communist ideas. In them they found relief from the colonial yoke which weighed so heavily upon them, and a hope of future freedom. These young men, whose ideals were primarily patriotic, received encouragement from the French Communists, who in 1944 led them to set up a Tunisian Communist Party (P.C.T.).

In spite of its Tunisian label, the P.C.T. failed to acquire strength. It sought in vain to associate itself with the Destour Party and share some of its prestige. But Tunisians knew that the policy of the Destour Party was more in harmony with their aims than was that of the Communists; they rejected foreign ideology and rallied around a movement which was genuinely based on the national interest. The P.C.T. of today has a ridiculously small number of Moslem members, and in the national elections of last May the Communists gained only 2,764 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

One of my earliest companions in the struggle for independence is a case in point. As a student in Paris, at a time when French rule seemed absolutely unalterable and the original Destour movement was standing still, he became a member of the French Communist Party. But after he had returned to Tunisia he realized that Communism was a false substitute for his patriotic ideals and he joined me in founding the Neo-Destour Party to fight actively for independence. Today he laughs at his youthful error and finds that his concern for social justice is fully satisfied by the struggle to develop his new country.

Farhat Hached, the great leader of Tunisian trade-unionism and martyr to the national cause, is still another example of the moral conversion which nationalism has effected upon men attracted by Communist doctrine. Like many other union leaders he found in nationalism the way to social progress; for the attainment of independence does not fulfill the goal of Tunisian nationalism. In order to maintain and develop our independence it is essential to raise the living standard of the great masses of the people and ensure harmony among all classes. Nationalism implies social action--a revolutionary change in the condition of the people, inspired by concern for the interests of the nation as a whole. From this point of view it is directly opposed to Communism, which exploits patriotic feelings for mere propaganda purposes and is predicated on a class struggle designed to divide the nation rather than bind it together.


Can we generalize from Tunisia's experience? In other Arab countries and in the Far East, has not nationalism opened the door to Communism? This was the conviction of a British journalist in Singapore, who wrote in 1951 under the suggestive title, "Nationalists Hatching Red Eggs." Noting the Russian technique of capturing the sympathy of peoples engaged in casting off the bonds imposed on them by European imperialism, through military establishments or oil interests, he came to the conclusion that Communism would open a breach through Iran into Asia Minor and then spill over into Africa, establishing itself at Europe's back door.

Now, six years later, would the same prophecy hold true? Of course, Communism is still trying to obtain a toehold in Africa and the Middle East. But a completely independent Iran has kept Communism out, and the Arab nationalist groups have bidden their people be wary of Communism despite the obvious temporary advantages to be secured by accepting Soviet offers of collaboration. The West has not yet definitely won the struggle; but neither has there been any decisive result from the very considerable efforts of the Communists to bring this part of the world under their sway, particularly by the clever tactic of exploiting nationalist feeling.

Some people believe that Islam is responsible for this resistance to Communist penetration. Certainly our Moslem religion inculcates respect for the individual and his liberty, implants faith in the transcendence of moral laws and inoculates us against the fallacious logic of dialectic materialism. On the other hand, Communism has made a successful compromise with Islam in the Soviet Republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It has skillfully hidden its philosophical tenets behind the social and material benefits obtained through an authoritarian and collectivist régime and a rapid improvement of what was an abysmally low living standard. Ignorance and poverty are quite capable of weakening the armor of the Moslem faith. The Arab masses can be tempted by an apparently generous system which simultaneously promises them freedom from European domination, social equality and better economic conditions, while also appealing to their old instinct for community living. The spiritual ramparts of the Moslem faith must be defended against Communism's insidious aggression by men with something constructive to offer. And only a nationalism resolutely committed to the path of progress can fit this need.

National feeling is as old as the world, but the present-day revolution of underdeveloped, dominated peoples takes on the appearance of a struggle between haves and have-nots. This is the aspect of the nationalist movement that lends itself to Communist exploitation. To keep free of Communism, Arab nationalism must not content itself solely with an assertion of its rights. It must remake the economic and social structure of the Arab countries in a manner consonant with their own genius and in such a way as to win them a place in the modern world. By adding the teachings received from the West to the best of Islam, educated Arab leaders may find other weapons against Communist propaganda.

Our young men are inspired, above all, by an immense need for personal dignity and by an uncoercible spirit of independence. This spirit and this need underlie all their work, all their thought. Their frame of mind is like that of the European and American peoples in the time of their national revolutions; it is characterized by the same uncompromising patriotism, the same thirst for liberty. These impulses find their healthiest outlet in the struggle for independence. If they are stifled or repressed they may turn to Communism for expression. That is what I mean when I say that nationalism is an antidote to Communism.

Educated young men furnish the most active recruits to the nationalist cause, and it is from their ranks that we must draw the governing class of tomorrow. These young men must lead and educate the masses, develop their feelings of patriotism and civic responsibility and endow them with moral principles to such an extent that the interests of the nation as a whole will seem more important than the class struggle. Through the young élite of the nation we must inject the antidote of nationalism into the masses of the people.

In short, the blossoming of nationalism enables the Arab peoples to resist Communism by allowing them to center their hopes on the spiritual growth of Islam. In this resistance they will be strengthened, particularly in North Africa, by a natural attachment to the liberal civilization of the West.


Indeed, the affinity of North Africans for the liberal democracy of the West, their geographical proximity to Europe and their need to enjoy the economic coöperation of the great nations of the free world are further obstacles to the advance of Communism. Africa touches Western Europe and reaches out toward America. The Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, which are channels of communication rather than barriers between them, keep Africans in constant contact with the whole Western world. Having grown up under the influence of the liberal and democratic West, the African peoples have naturally drawn upon it for their political ideals. The great principles of the French Revolution, the ideas of Woodrow Wilson and the juridical structure of Western civilization hold an important place in their civic credo. From the very first stirrings of their independence movement, North Africans have had a latent tradition of democratic liberalism which binds them to the nations of the free world.

African economic resources are complementary to those of the West, and in particular to those of Europe. Agriculture is Africa's chief source of wealth, and its surplus products--oils, fruits, grains, cocoa--find a natural outlet on the European market. The industrial nations of the West take Africa's minerals and raw materials and sell them back in the form of machines and manufactured products. In order to develop industries of their own, Africans must look to the West for investment and technical aid. The full development of Africa's natural resources and the transformation from a colonial to a national economy will by no means do away with their need for coöperation with the West. A prosperous, liberal economy cannot function without international exchanges.

African nationalism has its place within the Western orbit, and in spite of some lingering resentment against the colonial Powers, Africa knows that its future is linked with theirs. But if Africans are in the process of emancipation, they are still economically underdeveloped. The danger is that the Western nations may leave them to their fate rather than coöperate on a basis of equality and full respect for their independence. It is only then that the young African nations might be tempted to turn, out of sheer despair, to the Communists. Their spiritual independence is still fragile; it hinges upon their political independence and on the West's willingness to help them improve economic conditions. The Western Powers therefore have an important rôle to play in keeping the Arab and African countries out of Communist hands.

First of all, the Western nations must not seek to prevent the emancipation of colonial or economically dependent peoples. They should, on the contrary, encourage them and facilitate the setting up of sound independent states. Furthermore, they have a moral obligation to render them such financial and technical aid as will enable them to maintain a free economy and living standards high enough to give them a dignified place among the nations of the world.

Nations are like families: when a child grows up and leaves home, is he not helped in making a place for himself? The African need is all the more pressing inasmuch as colonial exploitation has not allowed production to match the needs of rapidly increasing population. It is to the best interest of Western society to reverse the flow which is enriching the metropolitan countries and give generous aid to the young states that they may help their people to live decent lives.

African nationalists, for their part, will then think twice before breaking off relations with the country of which they were former dependents. They will lay the groundwork for voluntary coöperation, and will come out openly in favor of working with the West. Among nations as well as among individuals determination and sincerity pay off better than hesitation and duplicity.

As for Tunisia, it has chosen unequivocally to follow the free world of the West. But while rejecting Communism, it bears no enmity toward the nations which live under a Communist régime. Every one of them should have the right to live under the ideological and economic system which suits it best. But Tunisia is geographically, economically and spiritually remote from the Communist nations and there is no reason why it should cast its lot with them. Tunisia's natural sympathies are with the democratic and liberal nations, and its economic interests demand that it trade with its neighbors. Inasmuch as the free world and the Communist world are two opposite camps, Tunisia belongs to the former. Thus far it has seen no need to join any defensive alliance against Communist aggression, but if it felt threatened it would not hesitate to do so.

Nevertheless, it should be appreciated that for a newly emancipated country without major resources neutralism appears to offer certain advantages. In the present state of latent conflict between the great world Powers, neutralism may keep smaller nations out of quarrels in which they have no direct concern and give them an illusory feeling of security. At the same time they may lay claim to moral superiority and seek to arbitrate the differences among the great Powers. And of course they are in an excellent bargaining position, because each rival group may try to outbid the other for their support.

As the people of Tunisia are idealistic and peace-loving, they are instinctively attracted by neutralism. They do not wish to be drawn into armed conflict nor to find their country once more a battle-ground over issues which chiefly concern the Great Powers. As the fable tells us, "A little man has nothing to gain by entering into a big man's fight." Tunisians are therefore inclined to believe that neutrality might be a bar to invasion and save them from the terrible weapons which promise to characterize the next world war.

But Tunisian political leaders are realists. They know that the neutrality of a weak nation cannot save it from invasion if it stands in a belligerent's way. Belgium has proved this, to her own sorrow; and if Switzerland has thus far succeeded in keeping herself isolated it is only by reason of her peculiar geographical position and the fact that in one way or another all the warring Powers found her neutral status advantageous to them. If another world war were to break out, would Tunisia's strategic position allow her to maintain neutrality? History proves that unilateral declarations of neutrality and even nonaggression pacts fail to stand up in the face of large-scale conflict. Neutralism in the cold war and neutrality in a "hot" one are equally precarious.

Solidarity offers small nations the greatest security. In union, the proverb warns, there is strength. Young nations must, first of all, assure their protection against an aggression aimed at any single one of them; and partnership in a collective security system is usually sufficient to discourage an isolated attack of this kind. As for a widespread conflict, protection can be effectively assured only by the solidarity of a large powerfully-armed group.

Tunisia is in no way a warlike nation; she has no unsatisfied claims and no ambition to extend her sway. But she must defend her freshly-won independence against any attempt to return to the old colonial system or any new imperialistic designs. The United Nations offers a definite recourse, and Tunisia has complete faith in this international court of appeal, which it hopes may become stronger and stronger as time goes by. But the existence of a court does not absolve an individual from the responsibility of guarding his property, and the United Nations has not opposed the organization of regional security systems.

Heretofore Tunisia was a part of the French military system. The French Army performed a double duty--that of colonial occupation and defense against foreign invaders. Obviously, the first function must be abandoned as soon as possible; indeed, this is essential if Tunisia is to negotiate a mutual defense agreement with France. After that, Tunisia will be able to participate in a broad collective security system which will guarantee both her independence and her security in case of a large-scale war.

Economically, also, Tunisia has inherited ties of interdependence with France. We have everything to gain by maintaining close economic relations with a country which is in a position to extend considerable financial aid if it so desires. But the new economic relationship must be based on free and non-exclusive coöperation. Tunisian economic development is predicated upon association with the whole free world; that indeed is one of the reasons why Tunisia has decided in favor of association with the West.

What advantage could Tunisia derive from economic neutralism? A seesaw game between Western aid and Communist aid would soon ruin Tunisian credit in its natural market place and introduce elements of imbalance and disorder into the whole economic picture. Every enterprise calls for a choice at the outset and tremendous perseverance if its goal is to be realized. Having chosen to follow the liberal economic system of the West, which corresponds to both the present and future needs of Tunisia, we must now hew to that line. The life of a nation somehow hangs together; to split the allegiances of its culture and mores, its economy and defense, would mean inviting dissolution. If a country were to link its political or economic fate to that of the Communists, how long could its civilization endure? A unified philosophy and a unified way of life are essential conditions of national stability.

And yet the personality of a nation is composed of complex elements; its culture and racial allegiance create bonds which do not necessarily correspond to its defensive and economic arrangements. Even if it has chosen a certain military and economic alliance it may preserve other ties if they are not incompatible with it. Such is the case with Tunisia. Her economic interests and future development exercise a westward pull, but she cannot deny her allegiance to the Arab and Moslem world. Her ethnic and cultural traditions, her brotherly feeling toward the other Arab peoples, are in no way inconsistent with her ties to the West. The Arab and Moslem East has nothing in common with the Communistic Far East, a fact which is too often forgotten when East and West are spoken of as fatally opposed to each other.

In the Arab and Moslem world, Tunisia and the other North African nations occupy a place of their own: they are the Maghreb, literally the "West." This fact explains their westward orientation. Their "Western" political line in no way conflicts with the brotherhood of the Arab peoples. When the Lebanese Premier, Sami Solh, came to Tunis last March he commented shrewdly, "I have come to tighten the historic bonds between Arabs of the East and Arabs of the West." In this way he underlined the fact that no nation is excluded from the Arab brotherhood because it has also a Western orientation.

Tunisian policy is determined both by its history and by its geography. Because Tunisia is a part of Africa, it tends to identify itself firmly with other North African nations whose interests it shares. As a member of the Arab community, it has brotherly relations with the Arab countries to the East. And because it is situated in the "West," and is a neighbor to Europe and in particular to France, it looks for security and economic progress in a close alliance with the free nations of the West. It is along these three lines that our foreign policy must develop.

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  • HABIB BOURGUIBA, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia; President of the Tunisian National Assembly; founder and President of the Neo-Destour Party
  • More By Habib Bourguiba