I can't figure this out. Communism was supposed to be against nationalism. This would seem to favor pan-Arabism, which espoused the ideal of uniting the Arab lands instead of remaining divided up more or less in the same way as the British and French had established.

I could be mistaken but this conflict seems to predate Brezhnev. Khrushchev seems to engage in the conflict too, with at least one exception, and it maybe even goes back to Stalin. So it does not appear to be linked to any leader's new doctrine or reform change.

So what were the ideological and historical reasons for these two movements being at odds with each other? Was it more of a realpolitik thing?

  • 1
    I suspect it had something to do with communism vs Islam. Do the tenets of islam match those of communism? a part of me thinks not
    – Notaras
    Sep 29, 2015 at 23:07
  • Both are exclusive ideologies that demand total commitment from their adherents?
    – MCW
    Sep 30, 2015 at 8:12
  • Well, you can't say they are absolutely at odds. See Arab socialism
    – Matt
    Sep 30, 2015 at 8:21
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    Just as one (minor) example, women gained many rights under the systems of socialism / communism, as exemplified by many soviet women fighting alongside their male countrymen in WWII (I'm not naive, I understand the other pressures causing this as well). Women's rights under pan-Arabism are non-existent. Arabism (whether or not tied to Islamism) is all about stratification of classes and genders. Communism is all about destroying those divisions.
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 30, 2015 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


The simple answer is Pan-Arabism is not opposed to nationalism. It is opposed to national borders established by the West, but not the idea that they were one people and should have one united nation - the definition of nationalism. Communism is opposed to all division - class, national, ethnic, religious, the whole nine yards, and thus it would naturally be opposed to Pan-Arabism.

Marx himself called religion "opium of the people". Islam was the driving force behind the Arabian conquests in the middle ages, and it would be impossible to fully sever pan-Arabism from Islam.

Also, while Stalin coined the term "Socialism in one country", it is a strategic maneuver, not an end goal. The claimed ultimate goal of the Soviet Union's communist revolution was still that of Marx's - breaking down all division everywhere in the world, so on the surface at least, it couldn't support Pan-Arabism.

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    Pan-Arabisim is nationalism, in exactly the same way that 19th century Pan-Germanisim and Pan-Slavism were nationalism.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 30, 2015 at 10:53

Pan-Arabism is an ideology espousing the unification of the countries of North Africa and West Asia from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, referred to as the Arab world. It is closely connected to Arab nationalism, which asserts that the Arabs constitute a single nation. wikipedia on Pan-Arabism

In political and social sciences, communism (from Latin communis – common, universal)1 is a social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money,[3][4] and the state.[5][6] wikipedia on Communism

Pan Arabism is connected to Arab Nationalism and aims for the unification of countries.

Communism is structured on the absence of the state.

Difficult to reconcile an ideology dedicated to the elimination of the state with an ideology dedicated to the creation of a state.

(Apart from that, almost all ideologies are in conflict; asking why ideology A is in tension with ideology B is kind of like asking why Red isn't Blue).


Communism sets to replace religion as well as national identity with itself.
Pan-Arabism sets to establish religion (Islam) and a single regional (if not necessarily national) identity, Arab culture.
Thus the two are like fire and water, they can't possibly coexist in the same sphere of influence and not be at odds.

Of course either can and will use elements of the other to achieve short term goals towards its own ultimate goals, but only temporarilly and as needed (e.g. Arab countries would happily buy weapons from the USSR to attack their neighbours, especially Israel, and the USSR would happily supply those in their efforts to destabilise the region and create anti-western sentiment that'd eventually lead to the OPEC oil embargo against the western world).

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