Zaki Khairi Said, interview Prague Sept 1993 re journal “Problems of Peace and Socialism.”
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
The Saids were the parents of Yahya Said, a young Iraqi man who was working for the Helsinki Citizens Assembly. We met in their apartment the day that Clinton had Yasser Arafat and Rabin together shaking hands on the White House lawn, a result of the Oslo process. We watched it on TV and discussed it.
MS: What was your job there? [on the staff of Problems of Peace and Socialism, aka in the West as The World Marxist Review.]
Said: I was a representative of our party, a member of the editorial board of the journal and an enlarged editorial council. I was a member of the Afro-Asian national liberation committee, headed by Metra, the Indian.
MS How many people worked at the journal at any given time?
Said: I don’t remember the statistics. Not all the parties joined. Any party could join if they wished. The Chinese never joined, the Italians joined at first but in the last years withdrew. The French withdrew before the Italians. The British, Canadians and US remained from the beginning to the end of the journal.
MS How many languages did it publish?
Said: Russian, and German, Czech, Polish, all the E. European languages of that Communist parties, plus French, Italian, English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese because there were many communists from Latin America. And in the last years there was Kurdish. But not all. They collected from many numbers certain articles.
MS: But not all journals had the same articles, right? If I read the World Marxist Review the articles might be different from the Spanish edition, etc.
Said. Certain editions they chose a few articles. There was a journal in Morocco published in Arabic and there was an agreement with it to publish only a few of the articles. There were such agreements.
MS: No list of names on the masthead. Why not?
Said; Because this board is not permanent. Always there are changes. Every party changed their representative on the editorial board from time to time and certain parties were underground. They did not want to publish names in the journal for safety reasons. So even the editor-in-chief’s name was not published.
MS: Who was the editor in chief while you were there?
Said: It always changed every two or three years. He was always a Soviet because they paid the main expenses of the journal.
MS: When you were there who was editor in chief?
Said: The second time it was Zaradov. He was a theoretician. Prominent. He died. The first time I worked there the editor was Frantsiev.
MS: Yahya said you did not agree with my theory that the Russians were learning from people there. Is that so?
Said: The permanent journalists who worked to edit the articles commonly over-worked the articles that they received so they could not be recognized by the contributors themselves. But in time this was remedied and part of the ____ was specialized in polemics, discussion between different points of view. The last few years, the journal was open to discussion.
MS: It wasn’t censored.
Mrs. Said: It was nice at the end.
Said: The journal became lively at the end.
Mrs Said: We always read it after we left because it was the main source of our information about parties and new thinking. We selected some articles for our journal for the Arabic countries. Our comrades told how everything developed. We were very sad because at the last time it gave all the communist parties in the world knowledge about all the parties and how they took the perestroika in his way. This discussion told all the communists in the world how to think, how to take this new thinking in his party. It made me sad that they closed it. There was a free discussion in the last years. Every writer wrote whatever he liked. I think now it is also necessary to have such a journal.
MS: Did you know Marina Pavlova Silvanskaya?
MS: Who were some of the other people on the editorial board when you were there?
Said: Kashtan. General Secretary. World Communist Congress where Kashtan and his successor were. I don’t remember the names. Rossi from Italy. He was energetic in discussion, he was also for discussion on the pages of the journal. He had a weakness for polemics.
MS: In Czechoslovakia there was an effort to keep the Russians from talking to the Czechs. The Russians were isolated from the Czechs here.
Ms. Said: I don’t think this is right.
MS. Until ’89.
Said: Soviets had no orders on members of the journal. They couldn’t prevent anybody from making connections with anybody else, even with agents of foreign powers. They had no means to prevent anybody from making contacts. They were powerless. And the feelings of the Czechs towards the Soviets outside the government was ordinary, because the Czech communists were not anti-Soviet, but in the street, this is another matter. Some people were anti-soviet, others not. We had not connections with Czech people because we don’t know the language.
Mrs Said: Because I speak Russian, I suffered a lot from anti-Soviet feeling. When I gave birth to Yahya, I suffered very much because the doctor asked me, Have you not any drop of Soviet blood? And when I want to give birth to Yahya, he gave me morphine and they had to open me with a Caesarian to give birth to my son because of this anti-sovietism. They changed the doctor directly but they did not make any [apology?]. If you know Russian you can understand and speak with the people because all of them learned Russian in school and the two languages have the same core, so you can understand some Czech without studying it. I understand most of the things that I needed. At that time, the Czech people were a closed people, even among themselves. When a woman comes to another woman’s door, they talked in the doorway but don’t say, Come in and sit down to drink tea or coffee. They are isolated, live to themselves. So the the social life with foreigners was very closed. So I didn’t need to study Czech, though I am sorry I did not.
Said: Swedish language is pre-Shakespeare English. Mixed with English, German, Russian, etc.
MS: Can you tell me about the agricultural policies. Were there special correspondents at PP& S who worked on agricultural matters? Were there people who specialized in agriculture there?
Mrs Said: He specialized at the journal on agriculture in Iraq, wrote two articles about the problems of land in Iraq.
Said: 80% of the Iraqi peasants under the monarchy were landless. One landlord owned an area of agricultural lands equivalent to the area of Lebanon. Under the monarchy, before 1958, before the revolution, Iraq was ruled by one monarch plus 1000 feudal landlords.
Mrs. Said: But we have had two agricultural reforms, so now it is very different.
MS: If you had had a communist regime in Iraq, would you have brought in collective farming?
Said: There are experiments in this regard. Large ones. Because there was no _____. We have to encourage all sorts of cooperation. We need every sort of cooperatives — credit cooperatives, marketing cooperatives for peasants and farm products…
MS Did the Russians attempt to see to it that the ideas that were in articles on agriculture conformed to their ideas about agricuclture in the Soviet Union?
Said: I wrote two articles and never made any reference to Soviet agriculture nor to Leninism in agriculture.
Mrs. Said: He writes about our agriculture, about the experience of our people. And they don’t oblige him to write anything in particular, but in the political areas, when he writes about dictatorship, they interfere.
Said: They want to keep good diplomatic relations with the Iraqi government. There was competition between the two superpowers, so they could not allow us to attack the Iraqi governments. If the Soviets would agree with us to make such attacks, the most tenacious opposition we would meet would be from the Czechoslovakian representative, the Hungarian representative — all those who paid dollars to the journal. Those who paid hard currency to the journal prevented us from making any attack on Iraq because Iraq was a very precious source of dollars for the Eastern European states controlling hard currency.
MS: The peace groups in North America were mostly opposed to the Gulf War, but in Moscow it was different. The reformers were in favor of the Gulf War.
Said: But Gorbachev was against the war.
MS: Well, it depends on who you listen to. In the U.N. he supported the war. When Primakov came back from Baghdad he had an offer from Saddam, but everybody acted as if he had nothing at all. In fact they tend to forget. Do you know about that?
Said: No. Shevardnadze was more American than the Americans, more royalist than the king.
MS: You are right. He and Baker were friends.
Said: It is not friendship, it is a client.
MS: When articles came were they written by people here in Prague on the staff or did you receive articles from people all over the world?
Said: From everywhere. France, Africa. Some of the countries’ correspondents from various Communist Parties wrote articles for the journal, in cooperation with the official journalists who worked for the magazine. Several articles come from outside the offices of the journal, came from everywhere. Even non-Communists wrote us.
MS: Some of the articles were written by non-Communists?
Ms. Khairi: Yes, especially in the last years. The movements everywhere. There was always one such article or two in every issue.
Said: One should see the volumes of the journal. You can know because the contributors belong to which party. The geography. At the end of the issue there is an index of contributors and articles. You can make a study of the history of the journal. From 1986 until the end of the journal, the last six years, were very interesting.
MS: Were there many debates and disagreements about issues within the editorial board?
Said: Yes, very acute. Rossi was a very hot man, very quarrelsome. Different Communist Parties around the world had their own line.
MS: I just came from talking with Jan Urban who was the chairman of Civic Forum until the last elections. His father was the Czech ambassador to Finland and he grew up in Finland, studying Russian. He told me that the Italians were more influential on the Russian than were the Czechs. He mentioned Luciano Antonelli and someone else. Do you know Antonelli?
MS: He says there is somebody named Slavik I should meet.
Said: Yes. Slavik was secretary of the journal. It was the tradition always to put a Soviet editor-in-chief plus a Czech secretary. Slavik was the first Czechoslovakian secretary. After 1968 when Dubcek appeared, he joined the Dubcek movement and was dismissed from the party and the journal. I know him. I knew him during my first time here in 1965. He must be an old man now.
MS: I probably cannot visit him because I need to have an interpreter.
Said: I remember Slavik said once that the communist party in opposition is different from a ruling communist party. The Communist Party in opposition has nothing to lose but its chains, while a ruling Communist Party has everything to lose — so while the comrades who are not from a ruling communist party should consider it, don’t ask too much of us! (We laugh). He turned Marx’s slogan around. I’ll never forget this maxim of Slavik’s.
MS: How much contact did you have with members of the Czech communist party?
Said: I had several conflicts with the man responsible for unhappiness in the Central Committee — Bilak. I would come to a conference in the journal, and I would make an intervention about the fascist regime in Iraq. He got very nervous because he was afraid that word would get around Czechoslovakia that Iraq was a fascist regime. He immediately would look askance and our relations soured. This happened several times with Bilak. We were on bad terms because of this. He wanted me to keep quiet concerning the fascism of Saddam Hussein. And I didn’t keep quiet. Never! This was my party. My party sent me in order to expose the regime in Iraq.
MS: So your salary would have been paid by your Iraqi CP?
Mrs. Said: The journal paid him.
Said: The journal was a collective one, and the various communist parties paid their share in hard currency to the treasury of the journal and certain parties could contribute other things — the East Germans could contribute furniture. The _________s could contribute printing material, and so on. The Czechs published the original text.
MS: How was it decided how long you would stay. Who decides that you will come for two years? Who decides that somebody else would replace you? How did such decisions get made?
Said: [unclear passage] There was a small cabinet composed of countries that paid for the journal. The cabinet decides everything financial and all the member parties are represented …
MS: So the Iraqi party contributed to the journal and could send somebody.
Mrs. Said: Our party is one of the inner cabinet.
MS: After your two years were up, you had to be replaced. Was that a regular policy that nobody could stay more than two years?
Said: Many members remained for twenty years. Not ours. Some people died there.
MS: You say permanent journalists were there. How many?
Said: The journal employed a staff of 400 of many nationalities, including typists, journalists, accountants, etc.
MS: Did they all live in the same area?
Said: No. They worked in one building belong to the pope of Rome but they lived [scattered] in several districts of Prague. There were special buses that collected them every morning and distributed them every evening.
MS: There was no problem having them talk to their Czech neighbors?
Said: No, never.
MS: One man told me that everybody was afraid of that building because it was right next to the secret police.
Said: On the same state, there was the secret police, but there were several buildings between them ___________.
MS: Was there much connection between them? He said everybody was afraid of the journal because of the connection between them?
Said: Honestly speaking, nobody noticed either the ______ nor the journal. Those are “after” stories. There was a restaurant in the building and outside people came to eat there, together with the workers at the journal. Nobody prevented that. There were no secrets. Four hundred people worked there — mostly local Czech people.
MS: So you now are connected with New Culture magazine. You have always been connected with it?
Said: Of course. But New Culture was published either in Iraq or in Syria, while the journal was in Prague.
MS: But now you contribute to New Culture.
Said: Yes. I am a contributor, not an editor.
MS: What was the last article you contributed?
Said: I discussed a decision by the Central Committee of October last year when our party wanted to [?cut?] the journal. This year I discuss with the others which part of Marxism we should hold— the theory or the methods. I contributed to this discussion under the headline “The Unity of Theory and Method,” because of course, beginning from Hegel there is a
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