Yemen, People’s Democratic Republic Of

Yemen, People’s Democratic Republic Of
   Having played a pivotal part in an often violent struggle to halt colonial rule over south Yemen, the socialist National Liberation Front (NLF) assumed power upon the British departure in 1967, and announced the birth of the People’s Democratic Republic of South Yemen, later the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY).
   After overseeing the early years of NLF rule as president and party general secretary, the moderate Qahtan Mohammad al-Shaabi was ousted by radical MarxistLeninist factions within the party in 1969. They put into power Salim Ali Rubayi, made the name change mentioned above a year later, and steered the PDRY toward a Marxist–Leninist system of government based on that of the Soviet Union. Ideological ties that bore economic and military fruit were brokered with Moscow, as well as Cuba and China. All political parties were obliterated and amalgamated into the NLF, which became the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) in 1978, and the state became wholly subordinate to the will of the party. Foreign and domesticowned means of production were nationalized in their entirety, and a heavily centralized, planned economy was established, while two sets of Agrarian Reform Laws demanded the forceful confiscation of private land and its equal redistribution among workers’ cooperatives. The ruling class was destroyed, as landowners, former rulers and tribal leaders were stripped of their means of societal domination. Meanwhile, the position of women was enhanced as decreed by the government’s Orthodox Socialist Program and its egalitarian tone. Mass organizations such as the General Union of Yemeni Workers were instituted for people to become involved in the revolutionary climate, though in reality these amounted to little more than mouthpieces with which the NLF could filter down party doctrine. In accordance with the atheism of Marxism–Leninism, the former dominance of Islam was constantly undermined by the state, for example in the reclamation and nationalization of existing religious endowments. As in the Soviet Union, all of this was maintained against a backdrop of persecution, as religious and political figures deemed to be enemies of the new state frequently “disappeared.” By 1978 Rubayi’s authority had been so destabilized by the factional maneuverings of his rival Abdel Fattah Ismail, since 1969 the second most influential man in the PDRY, that after an ill-advised bid to attain outright control of the country against the will of the Central Committee he was deposed and executed. Predictably, his successor was Ismail, and as champion of the orthodox, Soviet-loyal wing of the newly named YSP, he immediately encouraged further Muscovite influence, and made his party’s commitment to Marxism–Leninism more pronounced. The PDRY had always espoused a desire to bring about unification with north Yemen, since 1967 the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and aside from during border skirmishes in 1979, its northern counterparts were not unfavorable to such a concept. Ismail’s administration, though, wanted not an equal union of PDRY and YAR, but a communist puppet state to be ruled from the south. To this end and with Soviet backing, the YSP surreptitiously sponsored Marxist groups inside the YAR, an initiative only decelerated with the April 1980 resignation and exile of Ismail. He had been the casualty of further factional rivalries within the YSP, and with his exit the presidency passed to Ali Nasir Muhammad Husani, prime minister since 1971. Ali Nasir oversaw a period of relative calm as the YSP continued to pursue its own interpretation of Marxism, until in 1986 Ismail returned to the PDRY with the intention of winning back his presidency, but in effect prompting a fierce 12-day civil war. This resulted in the loss of over a 1,000 Yemeni lives, most notably that of Ismail himself, and the jettisoning from power of Ali Nasir, who was replaced by Haydar Bakr al-Attas, regarded by many as an ideological pragmatist.
   With relations between the YAR and PDRY ever more conciliatory, and the effects of the policies of glasnost and perestroika that would ultimately engender the collapse of the Soviet Union sorely felt by a YSP so firmly under the yoke of Moscow, unification was nigh. On 22 May 1990 the two countries confirmed the inevitable, with the present-day Republic of Yemen pronounced and a raft of capitalist measures introduced. To the dismay of many of its leftwing members, the YSP shed its Marxist–Leninist rhetoric and embraced a social democratic-style manifesto that saw it summarily beaten in the multiparty elections of 1992, 1997 and 2003.
   Marxism in the PDRY was always subject to local conditions and interpretations. Despite inhabiting an overtly agricultural economy bereft of genuine industry, the NLF/YSP attempted to negate the ramifications of stage theory and immediately bring about their own localized version of Marxism. At the center of this, though, was the staunchly orthodox Marxist–Leninist concept of the mass party. The NLF/YSP hierarchy sought to marry the cross-class appeal they had garnered in the past as a liberation movement with the all-encompassing influence of an organization that has systematically destroyed all other power bases. The result of this was a party which was as hegemonic as any other in the communist world. Southern Yemeni Marxism was a mixture of orthodox theory tailored to meet actual conditions, and as such when Marxist–Leninist orthodoxy died elsewhere, and local conditions took hold (for example in the perennial, often tribal-based factional struggles inside the NLF/YSP), it capitulated as an ideology.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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