Why the struggle for a democratic, secular Palestine is the only way forward for the Arab and Jewish masses in the Middle East.
[The following article was written as a response to Brian Grogan’s blog entitled “Considerations on the December 2019 UK general election ” which can be found here: https://politicaleconomyofimperialism.blogspot.com/ For reasons of space I was unable to develop the points on Brexit and the national question in the UK.]
The assessment of the election contained in Brian Grogan’s article is unquestionably refreshing in its rebuttal of the British left’s romance with Corbynite reformism. However, embedded within it is a political viewpoint on Israel, Palestine and the national question which is fundamentally flawed and leads to the opposite of the class struggle outlook which the author espouses. Hence,where the reader might have expected a revolutionary programme of action – or at least a hint of one - to confront the incoming rightist government of Boris Johnson, the article ends with the somewhat bizarre statement that the outcome of the election could well advance the class struggle. Thus, the final sentence of the article concludes:
“The outcome of the election could well have a beneficial outcome in forcing an examination of the catastrophic consequences of supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.”
Our revolutionary heritage
Indeed, this is not the only thing that is turned upside down in the article’s topsy turvy world . As we shall see, by jettisoning the historic position of the communist movement on the question of Palestine and the national question in the Middle East, the author begins to make some fundamental errors closer to home. In order to appreciate the scale of this, I think it is important to at least revisit and review our basic principles and programme, neither of which the author deems important enough even to mention. Understandably so perhaps, since they are the exact opposiite of what he now advocates. So, for the sake of clarity let me begin by including a brief bibliography:
• Israel and the Arab Revolution: Fundamental Principles of Revolutionnary Marxism by Gus Horrowitz. https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swpus/education/arab-revolution.pdf
• Israel’s War Against the Palestinnian People by David Frankel and Will Reissner (Pathfinder Press, 1983)
• Roots of the Mideast War: Selections from the International Socialist Review (ISR, Theoretical Journal of SWP (USA) 1973)
In addition to these “fundamental principles” and programmatic posiitions, you can also find a rich supply of articles in the archive of Intercontinental Press which is available on The Militant website: http://www.index.themilitant.com
These documents and articles are part of our priceless revolutionary heritage which was forged in the heat of battle. Here is a summary of what communists stood for and should continue to do so today:
1. The Israeli state was founded directly upon the mass expulsion of native Palestinians and expropriation of their lands.
2. It never was and never could be a place of refuge for the Jewish diaspora.
3. Since its foundation, the Israeli state has been on a permanent war footing as an outpost of imperialism in the colonial and semi-colonial world.
4. Its territorial expansion and annexation of Arab lands is an inherent feature of this function as is its mass murder of Palestinian civilians
5. Following its success in the 1967 war, Israel became an imperialist state in its own right, but even more dependent on military occupation and repression of the dispossessed Palestinians.
6. Although its founding articles proclaimed it as a secular state, mainstream Zionism always portrayed the Arab world in racist terms. Within Israel itself, the Arab population suffers racist discrimination in employment, housing and land ownership.
7. As in Northern Ireland, an apartheid regime of minority rule was avoided through mass expulsion of the native population and the creation of an artificial majority settler caste. The racist portrayal of the Arab people was a necessary corollary of this.
8. As the Palestinian and Arab masses fight back against Israeli expanionism, this will open the class schisms within the settler caste and allow for a possible alliance of Arab and Jewish workers.
9. Such working class unity can only be achieved and sustained in the long run by dismantling the Israeli state and creating a workers government at the head of a democratic, secular Palestine.
10. Marxists do not support the right of self-determination for all nations or nationalities. This is a right of oppressed not oppressor nations.
This is the indisputable and proud heritage of the revolutionary Marxist movement’s policy on Israel and the Arab revolution. You may no longer agree with it but it cannot be erased by the simple act of ommission.
All the more so in the context of the United Kingdom, where we do support the right of self-determination for Ireland, Scotland and Wales but most definitely not for England or the UK from the EU or anybody else for that mattter. As on Palestine, failure to apply this basic criterion can easily lapse into social chauvinism, for example by unconditionally supporting withdrawal of the British imperialist state from the EU whilst at the same time abstaining on or opposing Scottish independence. There is a similar logic around Ireland but I will return to that later.
Racism and anti-Semitism
In the case of Israel, the author now supports its right of self-determination and opposes the struggle for a democratic secular Palestine as being anti-semitic. After uncritically quoting the HRA definitiion of anti-semitism, he goes on to say:
“When applied to Israel today, insisting that it is a “racist endeavour” cannot be interpreted as other than a demand that it cease to exist; that it be overthrown. This cannot be interpreted otherwise than an attack on Jews not only in Israel but around the world”
If this were true of course, it would mean that communists have been attacking world Jewry for several decades now. And not only us, the United Nations, Fidel Castro, the Non-aligned movement have all insisted that Israel is a racist endeavour. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned movement at the 34th General Assembly of the UN in 1979, Castro had this to say:
“The revolutionary movement has always affirmed its abhorrence of racial discrimination and pogroms of any kind, and deep in our hearts we repudiate with all our strength the unrelenting persecution and genocide that Nazism unleashed in its time against the Jewish people.
"But I cannot recall anything so similar in contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide carried out today by imperialism and Zionism against the Palestinian people, stripped of their land, expelled from their own homeland, dispersed throughout the world, persecuted and murdered.”
This was no aberration on Fidel's part. It was at the core of Cuba’s support for UN resolution 3379, adopted on 10 November 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), which "determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination" When this resolution was revoked in 1991, Cuba was one of 25 countries which defended it. Cuba’s historic position is not without contemporary resonance. Just recently, the Ecuadorian envoy to the UN paraphrased Castro’s 1979 speech, resulting in Israel mounting a fierce offensive against Ecuador’s so-called anti-semitism.
So, given our rich revolutionary heritage on Palestine, what changed and when? What were the causal factors and at which point were the contradictions so profound as to make for a qualitative transformation? Readers will struggle in vain to account for this because in reality there has been no qualitiative change in the function of the Israeli state and it’s oppression of the Palestinian masses. What we are left with is a purely political metamorphis, a veritable volte face of historic proportions without foundation or any coherent justification other than logical leapfrogging.
Is the the Israeli state just the same as the USA?
However, there are one or two somewhat raw clues where Grogan refers to Israel “as it exists today” or simply “Israel today”. Even here however, the reader will face a bewildering silence as to how Israel today differs from Israel of yesterday.
Apparently the answer lies somewhere in time when the Militant newspaper argued that Israel’s very existence for 65 years or more deemed it worthy of recognition. Accompanying this view is the notion that Israel is now no different to any other capitalist or imperialist power. After all, didn’t American capitalism commit even more horrendous crimes against the indigenous Indian population? In essence Grogan makes the same argument when he crticises the Palestine solidarity movement for singling out Israel for sanctions as opposed to the USA, China, India etc.
In reality such a facile pairing is at best ahistorical, particularly with regard to US imperialism. It is true of course that the genocide against the American indians played a vital part in the rise of capitalism. However, it is quite false to say that the modern US imperialist state was or is founded on this oppression. The oppression of the Indians began long before the emergence of US imperialism. It was interwoven with the establishment and overthrow of different states beginning with the English colonial settler state and ending with the Civil War. In short, the modern US capitalist state was born from two distinct, progressive revolutions leading to the triumph of the capitalist mode of production. This was a necessary historic advance but trom that point on upto the emergence of US imperialism around the turn of the 20th century, there was nothing progressive whatsoever. The emergence of imperialism – the highest stage of capitlalism - and its subjugation of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle and Far East only brought misery, war, displacement and superexploitation on a grand scale.
The establishment of the state of Israel and its current role should be seen in that context. Contrary to Zionist mythology, it did not bring civilisation to the Middle East. It was not the product of a bourgeois democratic revolution and the harbinger of a more advanced social
order. The state of Israel was and remains a reactionary, colonial settler state founded upon the dispossession of nearly a million Palestinians and the establishment of a fortress of imperialism in the Arab world. Unlike the American revolution, there was and is nothing progressive about it whatsoever.
This is the reality which revolutionists have recognised throughout the past half century. To avoid any confusion on this matter we should mention that, both in Grogan's blog itself and in various articles in The Militant there is a slightly disingenuous use of the phrase “recognise the simple reality” of the Israeli state. Of course, you would have to be blind to not see that the Israeli state exists. In that sense, we do “recognise the simple reality”. But the author and his mentors alternate this with an altogether different use of the term by arguing for political recognition of Israel as a legitimate entity whose existence should now be accepted by the oppressed Palestinian masses. It’s a cute trick.
Still, we are left with the enigma as to why? Why now? What historic change in the politics of the region has occasioned this poltical sommersault? It could be argued that there is a crisis of leadership of the liberation struggle; that the Second Intifada represented a dead end; that the combined reactionary leadership of Fateh and Hammas mean that the liberation struggle is at an historical impasse. In short, the subjective factor – the leadership - has now become the weightiest element in our analysis of the objective situation. The article contains none of these arguments which are worthy of consideration. Nevertheless they were the subject of an in depth article by the Militant itself not so long ago:
“With the outbreak of a second intifada in late 2000, armed groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which call for the replacement of Israel with an Islamic state, stepped into the leadership vacuum. They gained recruits and led the bombing campaign that increasingly marked the second intifada, which peaked in a wave of suicide bombings in 2002 aimed primarily at civilian targets inside Israel. These reactionary, bourgeois forces offered a course counter to the interests of Palestinian toilers, ultimately isolating themselves.” (The Militant 30/11/2004)
Nevertheless, the article correctly concluded:
“Despite the blows Tel Aviv and Washington have dealt to the fight for Palestinian national rights, however, they have been unable to resolve the conflict. Within the framework of imperialism, there is no solution to the Palestinian question. The Palestinian struggle for land and national liberation remains the axis of the class struggle in Israel and throughout those areas that historically constituted Palestine.”
There is nothing of a qualitative nature that would force us to change this conclusion. Indeed, despite their leadership, the Palestinian masses continue to demonstrate an unbelievable resilience and heroism in their resistance to the Israeli occupation. In part this is born of desperation, but underlying it is an indomitable yearning for freedom at the core of which is their right of return.
This unquenchable aspiration of the disposessed Palestinian masses - represented in struggle by the Nakba mobilisations – is gaily ignored in Grogan's article. Instead, pride of place is given to the so-called right of return of Jews on the basis that Jews might be persecuted and faced with the same horrors as they were in Nazi Germany, Czarist or Stalinist Russia and any other country where they could be scapegoated by the ruling class.
Anti-semitism and fascism
In equating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, the article argues that it is false to use the template of historical anti-semitism:
“The Left finds few instances of anti - Semitism because it is applying the template of traditional rightist assaults on synagogues or violent physical assaults on Jews.”
However, this very same template constitutes a central premise of the author’s entire argument for recognising the Israeli state, particularly as a place of refuge.
“The fact is that the underlying dynamic that created conditions for the holocaust has not gone away. As the capitalist crisis intensifies, Jews will once again become a scapegoat for capitalism in crisis. The stakes are that serious.”
Leaving this contradiction aside, the author presents us with a schema that predicates the current line of march of the working class on the hypothesis of a future fascist reaction which will once again threaten world Jewry. Of course this is not an impossible scenario. But it is not on the agenda now. Nowhere within the imperialist world is the ruling class resorting to fascism as an instrument to terrorise and subdue the working class struggle. Before that happens, the working class will rise and have its own opportunity to seize state power. And as it does so, it’s policy on the Jewish question will be quite the opposite to seeking refuge in the state of Israel. This class struggle perspective was made perfectly clear by Leon Trotsky:
“Now more than ever, the fate of the Jewish people—not only their political but also their physical fate—is indissolubly linked with the emancipating struggle of the international proletariat. Only audacious mobilization of the workers against reaction, creation of workers’ militia, direct physical resistance to the fascist gangs, increasing self-confidence, activity and audacity on the part of all the oppressed can provoke a change in the relation of forces, stop the world wave of fascism, and open a new chapter in the history of mankind”
In contrast to the article’s uncritical embrace of Zionist ideology, Trotsky in the very midst of fascist terror and liquidation of the Jews went on to say:
“The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people.”
For the very same reason that Grogan's article fails to present a revolutionary class struggle alternative to anti-semitism within the imperialist world, it lapses into a strange species of reformist gradualism within the Mideast itself.
The two-state solution and stages theory of revolution
The starting point of the article, founded as it is on the current position of The Militant, appears to be that the national question – and with it the national liberation struggle - is now an obstacle on the road to revolution. It needs to be removed – fairly of course – and only then can the class struggle resume it’s normal course. Unfortunately, this is but a tedious variant of the theory of revolution by stages, a theory which justified the disastrous policies of class colaboration and defeat most notably in China, Spain and Indonesia. However, even Stalin would have raised one of his heavy eyebrows when presented with a programme of revolution involving not just two but potentially four stages before imperialism can be dealt a mortal blow.
It sounds farfetched I know but consider this article from the Militant on the Palestine question:
“ [Stage 1:BL]a road for lasting truce with agreements that include recognition of Israel, as both a Jewish homeland and constitutional state, and the recognition of a Palestinian state [Stage 2:BL] which would be a step toward a single, viable geographic homeland for Palestinians [Stage 3:BL] This would open up space for working people to discuss, organize and fight for their interests in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, as well as lay the basis for a renewal of the Palestinian struggle.” The Militant , 01/09/14
Presumably, according to this scenario, the socialist revolution would be the culminating – 4th stage – of this process.
This runs completely contrary to contemporary revolutionary Marxist notions of the class struggle as well as our communist heritage which regards the national liberation struggles of oppressed peoples as inseparable from the socialist revolution and vice versa. At its core the policy of this article is that of a two state solution – albeit one which it hopes will open a path towards a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel. In reality this is a tired old formula advanced historically by the social democracy and Stalinism against the Palestinian struggle from the 1967 war onwards. Indeed, it was this very same two-state solution which was at the heart of PLO’s retreat leading to the Oslo accords in 1993 and 1995.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the second agreement, what is the balance sheet? Clearly, despite the PLO’s recognition of the Israeli state, there is nothing to celebrate. Quite the contrary, if anything, successive Israeli governments have become more and more aggressive leading to an even greater fortification of the Israeli state, more Jewish settlements, more destruction and theft of Palestinian lands and homes, more unbridled represssion, and a revival of reactionary Israeli nationalism. The establishment of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the ratification of the Nation State law are but the logical next steps taken by a settler state emboldened by the weakness and divisions within the Palestinian resistance to cement and codify its colonial occupation.
In face of this emboldened colonial and imperialist aggression, continuing to advance a bankrupt two-state “solution” does nothing to mobilise the oppressed Palestinian masses or to advance the class struggle within Israel itself. Indeed, the so-called demands of mutual recognition are not intended to moiblise anybody. Instead, they are a plea to the existing bourgeois leaders of both sides to carry out effective peace negotiations, presumably along the lines of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.
The road ahead
Revolutionists in this and other imperialist countries should take quite the opposite stance. We say to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in your fight for freedom. Not as sideline commentators but as fellow combatants in the struggle to return to your homeland. We are with you on the mass Nakba marches. We stand together against the military pass laws and restrictions on the right to assembly in the West Bank. We call for an end to the massacres of civilians. We call for release of the prisoners and an end to their torture. We say down with the apartheid wall. End the occupation. For a free and democratic Palestine without settlements or discrimination of any sort.
It is along this axis, that revolutionists should advance the fight for working class unity and struggle against our common capitalist enemies and for socialism throughout the Arab world. The fracturing of the Israeli the settler caste into its class constituents will undoubtedly be one of the major factors in advancing along this road. However, that is at a very early stage and should not be used as an altar on which to sacrifice the needs and interests of the Palestinian masses.