The following article, dated May 6, 2002, was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 64 (Spring 2002).
Israel is waging a brutal war of devastation against Palestinian society. Ariel Sharon and his government – armed, financed and endorsed by the United States – are wiping out the entire social infrastructure and slaughtering all who resist or get in the way, trying to erase all hope for any kind of a Palestinian state.
Thousands of Palestinians have been rounded up; some shot dead, execution-style. Almost two thousand have been killed. In the cities and refugee camps, whole neighborhoods were bulldozed, electricity, water and telephones were cut off, hospitals and ambulances were targeted, offices were ravaged and looted, and few dared venture out for food or other necessities.
Israel’s atrocities are so extreme, and the Palestinian defense so defiant, that the U.S. has been forced to caution Sharon with a few slaps on the wrist. The tenacious Palestinian struggle, coupled with the mass uprisings sweeping the Arab world, have unnerved Washington and its regional Arab servant rulers. But the planes, helicopters, missiles and tanks terrorizing the Palestinians are still largely American-made and supplied. And Bush grotesquely praised the mass murderer Sharon as a “man of peace.”
The bourgeois media in the U.S. mimic the Israeli and U.S. rulers in incessantly harping on acts of terrorism associated with the Palestinian intifada. None dare mention that at least four to five times as many Palestinians have been massacred by Israel’s state terror. Israeli dead are presented as full human beings, with names, ages and histories; but the Palestinians murdered are lucky to even receive a number, and many were buried by bulldozer.
While Israeli attacks are always described as “retaliation” for suicide bombings, they are in fact planned in advance. This was admitted by the Israeli armed forces through one of their mouthpieces, Amir Oren of the liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz:
In order to prepare properly for the next campaign, one of the Israeli officers in the territories said not long ago, it’s justified and in fact essential to learn from every possible source. If the mission will be to seize a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the Casbah in Nablus... then he must first analyze and internalize the lessons of earlier battles – even, however shocking it may sound, even how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto. (Jan. 25.)
Given the racist and inhuman nature of Israel’s offensive, picking the Nazis as a role model is most fitting. Indeed, four months later, the New York Times reported that the Nablus Casbah was “utterly destroyed.” Then Jenin was demolished.
George W. Bush and Colin Powell are knowingly guilty of supporting these war crimes. Their toothless plea for Sharon to stop “without delay” gave him extra weeks for slaughter. Even more rabid are liberal Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Joseph Lieberman, Diane Feinstein, Jon Corzine, John Kerry, Richard Gephardt, et al, who teamed up with Christian-right reactionaries to demand yet more time for Sharon’s butchers to finish the job.
Today’s Palestinians, especially the heroic defenders of the Jenin refugee camp who held off the Israeli assault for a week, take their place alongside the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto and the Paris Commune in the long line of those who have struggled against overwhelming force to resist their oppressors. Armed struggle against the Israeli military and the settler-zealots, who are an armed occupation force, is necessary. The vast majority of Israelis personally and directly benefit from the oppression of Palestinians – they enjoy their citizenship on Palestinian land at the expense of the Palestinians. But the Israeli masses are not personally responsible for this – most are the manipulated beneficiaries of the brutal policies of the Israeli ruling class and imperialism. It is the latter ruling classes and their armed forces who are the enemy and must be defeated. The Palestinian struggle should make every effort to distinguish between the Israeli ruling class and working class, as we will explain further below. Under no circumstances do we equate the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressor. But the killings of workers and other civilians (including Arabs) through the suicide bombing strategy is wrong, and plays into the hands of Sharon by providing an excuse for his far greater terrorist response.
Seeing no other way to fight back against Zionist terror, many Palestinians understandably see the bombers as heroic, but they cannot stop Israeli tanks and missiles. Most crucially, they mislead masses into trusting false leaderships and “saviors” instead of recognizing their own mass power. And the Palestinians do not stand alone: their struggle has inspired millions to rise up against Israeli and U.S. imperialism.
The struggle has been massive, spreading especially in the Arab world. In late March and early April, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco. In Jordan, where a majority of the population is of Palestinian origin, the monarchy forcibly repressed huge pro-Palestinian protests, but the demonstrations continued. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the normally unhesitatingly brutal state at first had to allow solidarity demonstrators to swell into hundreds of thousands, but then began to crack down. The growing economic crisis sweeping the Arab countries, like most of the world, feeds fuel to the anti-imperialist explosions.
Courtesy of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist attacks, Emperor Bush had been riding roughshod over all opponents. Afghanistan fell, Iraq was next; nowhere in the world was safe from imperialist attack. But suddenly Washington’s plans hit an unexpected wall of mass resistance. Growing Middle Eastern instability – the impending overthrow of regimes submissive to the U.S. – shook the centers of world power.
The various Arab rulers – exploitative, corrupt, subservient to U.S. imperialism and brutally oppressive of their own people – were terrified by the potential of the Palestinian struggle. Now, as a result of the intifada and the mass explosions it was sparking in the Arab world, even these traitors had to temporarily oppose the threatened U.S. war on Iraq. This was not out of genuine opposition to U.S. policy but out of fear of what might befall them if they went along with yet another imperialist war against fellow Arabs.
Bush & Co. are clearly upset that they cannot yet unleash more terror on Iraq. But, while they are annoyed at Sharon for not crushing the intifada more quickly and quietly, they place the real blame on “Arafat” – shorthand for the Palestinian struggle. Each new provocation by Israel, together with the daily grinding oppression of life under occupation and the collapsing economy, gives rise to new acts of resistance that Israel uses as convenient pretexts for further violence. The arrogant rulers of the world despise the Palestinians’ failure to simply roll over and die.
Historically, the Zionist ideology claimed the right of all Jews to “return” to their “Palestinian homeland” where some of their ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Inevitably, when the state of Israel was created it meant the brutal forced exile of most of the indigenous Palestinian people and the seizure of their lands – a massive crime in keeping with colonialism’s long history of bloody conquest. At the time of the United Nations partition plan of 1947, Jews made up only 30 percent of the population of the British colony of Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Yet the U.N. plan called for 55 percent of Palestine to become a “Jewish State.” But even before Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948, armed Zionist forces had staked claim to territory not allotted by the U.N., terrorizing Arabs in areas under their military control. With imperialism firmly on their side, the Zionists were able to capture 78 percent of Palestine, at the cost of the lives of thousands of Palestinian civilians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. In its 1967 war of expansion, Israel routed the armies of the Arab states and occupied the rest of Palestine. Despite toothless U.N. resolutions, Israel has steadily implanted settler enclaves in the post-‘67 occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ruthlessly isolating and destroying Palestinian villages in the process. In any event, regardless of the percentages, the Zionists had no right to steal any of the land areas.
Israel’s creation following the Second World War was no coincidence, and had little to do with concerns to protect the Jews from another holocaust. British colonialism was in its dying days, and was withdrawing from its vast empire, setting up local ruling classes as substitutes. But with the Middle East’s oil wealth so hugely important to the imperialists’ economies, they could not afford to only leave such a fragile power structure behind. They needed to have a permanent imperialist military presence in the region to replace the British colonialists, and the creation of Israel fit the bill. Ever since, Israel has been imperialism’s beachhead in the region – its guarantee that the Arab masses would remain oppressed and superexploited.
Israel is an apartheid colonial-settler state. The existence of a religiously and ethnically exclusive Jewish state in Palestine is no different from the past creation of the racist Afrikaaner state in South Africa. Naturally, Israel’s racist oppression of the Palestinians it expelled from its territory is mirrored by racist policies internally. Jews of European or American origin, even recent immigrants, receive the full benefits of citizenship: land, housing, hospitals and education. Jews from Arab countries and new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine are in second place, competing for middle-range jobs. Black-skinned Ethiopian Jews are scorned by a deeply racist society. Palestinians living within the 1948 borders are forced to accept fourth-class status as “Israeli Arabs,” as opposed to those in the territories occupied in 1967.
Any support to the existence of the Israeli state is an endorsement of the bloody colonial seizure of land from the Palestinians. The term “occupied territories” is used by the media to refer to those new areas the Israelis occupied in the expansionist war of 1967 – the West Bank and Gaza – and not the initial seizure of land at Israel’s founding. But we join with Palestinians in declaring that All Israel is “Occupied Territory”!
The supposed “peace process” initiated between Israel’s Rabin Administration and the PLO’s Arafat, with the backing of U.S. imperialism, aimed to consolidate Israel’s rule over the vast bulk of Palestine. In return, the Palestinians were offered formal recognition of a state on tiny scraps of territory. Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were offered the perks of office and limited neo-colonial power, in return for policing the Palestinian masses in the interests of imperialism.
It was on this colonial basis that the Oslo process projected the establishment of “sovereignty” for the Palestinians. Not only were Palestinians required to forego all claim to the 78 percent of Palestine territory encompassed by the state of Israel, as well as to accept the continued occupation of 59 percent of the West Bank, but they were to do so without control over their airport, any control of international boundaries or any free movement between the scattered fragments of the Palestinian Bantustan. Arafat’s Palestinian National Authority (PNA) would have as its primary task the domestic repression of Palestinian militancy. And the millions of Palestinians in the diaspora could hope at most for a token few to be allowed to return to their homeland.
But Israel could not tolerate the idea of even such a tiny and divided Palestinian state. There is a relentless capitalist-economic and religious-ideological pressure for the Israeli imperialist state to expand to its “biblical” borders. And the reaction of the Palestinian masses to the proposals showed that if they were forced to accept such a fragmented “state,” it would only be as a stepping stone toward a renewed and more powerful struggle to retake their homeland. Thus the Israelis sabotaged even this rotten deal from the beginning. In the course of the “negotiations” the Israeli government tripled the amount of land taken up by new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and doubled their population. “Access roads,” open only to Jewish settlers and Israeli troops, were built throughout the territories, further dividing the area into isolated and unviable patches of land – Palestinian villages and towns isolated from each other by a series of checkpoints and barriers.
The negotiations failed because they revealed that the co-existence of the Zionist state and any kind of a Palestinian state was impossible. It became clear that the Palestinian mass struggle would never cease if Arafat accepted pieces of the West Bank and Gaza plus scattered and miserable refugee camps abroad as their “homeland.” Thus the process served only to tighten Israel’s occupation.
There is no middle ground between the existence of the racist, imperialist state of Israel, and the Palestinian masses’ demands for freedom. But the need to dampen the struggle of the Palestinians and their masses of Arab supporters means that such hopeless “peace” proposals must constantly be advanced.
The plan presented by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and approved at the recent Arab League summit in Beirut is another such betrayal. In exchange for a full withdrawal from the 1967 occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian West Bank/Gaza state, it promises “normal relations” between Israel and all Arab states – that is, free reign for the Israeli bourgeoisie to militarily and economically imprison the Palestinians in a pseudo-independent mini-state, while gaining access to exploit Arab workers throughout the region.
Despite Washington’s verbal support for the Saudi plan, motivated by its need for Arab support against Iraq, all sections of the Israeli ruling class rejected it. Sharon refused to entertain the thought of giving up an inch of Israeli territory. And, like the more “dovish” racists like Foreign Minister Peres, he utterly rejected the right of return for Palestinian refugees, since it would obviously destroy the “Jewish character” of Israel, and thus the Zionist state itself.
In fact, the Saudi plan was equivocal on the right of return, referring vaguely to U.N. Resolution 194, which promises “return or compensation” to exiles. The Arab rulers know that Israel would not accept its destruction as a Jewish state. They had the utopian hope that Washington would force a token return and some kind of compensation deal upon the Israeli negotiators. However, the Israelis cannot even acknowledge such a right without undermining their own existence as a state. And the U.S. will not cripple the only reliable counterrevolutionary army in the Middle East.
The regional Arab rulers do not wish to see Israel destroyed and the Palestinians liberated. Israel has a contradictory meaning for them. Often it serves to divert the anger of their own workers. But, more and more, the Palestinian intifada ignites those same masses not only against the Zionists, but their own rulers as well. Their “practical” course is to ostensibly champion the Palestinians, get some sort of mini-state and enough compensation to placate them and to see that Israel keeps a firm grip over whatever statelet emerges. It is the only course they have, and of course it is a hopeless disaster for Arab workers in Palestine and everywhere else.
As for Yasser Arafat, every tank and bulldozer, every Israeli bullet and bomb aimed at his Ramallah compound, gave him added popularity among Arabs. The Palestinian people, who have had just cause to mistrust him, nevertheless know that it is they who are being attacked when the Israelis attack him. They want unity of all Palestinians in the struggle. The fact that he was under the gun and was seemingly refusing to give in could only raise his stature. However, Arafat’s politics are in fact a barrier to united Arab mass struggle.
Sharon’s blitzkrieg and Bush’s support for Israel have not stopped Arafat from repeatedly signaling his desire to undermine the intifada. First he urged Arab states to enlist in Washington’s “war on terrorism”; then he arrested militants from rival organizations like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He supported the Saudi plan. Later, under fire from Sharon’s forces, he called for U.N. “peacekeepers.” But this kind of “protection” for the Palestinians would mean their defeat and disarmament in the face of Israeli terror by the imperialists, a lesson that should have been learned 20 years ago in Lebanon, when Israeli forces slaughtered thousands of Palestinians under the watchful eye of the U.N.
Arafat tried to end the intifada. But he failed; he knew he couldn’t remain in power if he openly took the side of its enemies. Sharon therefore wanted to humiliate him and decimate the Palestinian people. The necessity of defending Arafat against Israel now must not blind Palestinians and their supporters to the need to defend themselves from him as well. Because he in fact does not defend the Palestinian masses or fight to restore more than shreds of the Palestinian homeland, he can only sabotage and betray the unity that the fighters yearn for.
Israel is not simply a loyal servant of the U.S. Nor is the U.S. simply in thrall to Israel, as some Arab nationalists believe. Israel is ultimately dependent upon the U.S. but has a great deal of room to maneuver. The ruling classes of both countries share a common interest in maintaining imperialist domination over the region. But while the U.S. usually prefers to maintain a fragile equilibrium, Israel has its own interests: maximizing its own policing role, getting paid for it by U.S. imperialism, and ensuring that any Palestinian statelet they might be forced to accept as a way to contain the struggle would be as subordinate as possible to Israel economically, politically and militarily. And now the Israeli rulers hope that by destroying the Palestinian social infrastructure they can even avoid conceding a potentially threatening mini-state.
Arafat and the other Arab rulers want some sort of Palestinian state in the “occupied territories” to bolster their strength against imperialism as well as against the restive Arab masses. They hope such a state will quell the struggles of most Palestinians, and will be able to repress those who oppose such an impossible betrayal. But they recognize that any such Palestinian state will inevitably exist in the shadow of Israel’s overwhelming military force – and as far as they are concerned, that is just as well. For the Arab rulers know that their states are too weak to be relied on to crush powerful mass rebellions. They and U.S. imperialism both need the guarantee of the Israeli military machine, the proven counterrevolutionary containment force in the Middle East – witness its role in the “Black September” events of 1970 when the Mossad, Israel’s CIA, helped prop up Jordan’s monarchy against a Palestinian uprising.
Working-class revolutionaries among the Palestinians must be prepared to oppose bourgeois, pro-imperialist forces for the leadership of the struggle. Crucially, the Palestinians must be able to defend themselves from Israel’s assault in an organized fashion, arms in hand, without having to rely on Arafat’s police or factional militias. Leaders of working-class organizations in Palestine like the trade unions must be challenged to support the formation of mass workers’ militias.
Because of the monstrous love affair between the AFL-CIO and Israel, it would be absurd to challenge the U.S. labor bureaucracy to provide arms to Palestinian workers as an exposure tactic. However, around the world the working class fervently supports the intifada, and its leaders pay it lip service. In demanding the arming of the Palestinian masses, proletarian revolutionaries would make every effort to prioritize the arming of organizations of workers and the poor.
To aid the Palestinians and expose the present illusions in Arafat and the Arab rulers, proletarian revolutionaries demand of them: provide arms to the masses! The Saddam Husseins, Mubaraks, and Abdullahs talk big about the poor Palestinians. The Arab masses must challenge them to put up or shut up – send arms to the Palestinians!
The street protests in support of the intifada are vital, but they need to be joined by massive general strikes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the other countries of the Middle East demanding arms for the Palestinians. Once workers realize their power to shut these states down, their own additional demands for jobs, a decent income and an end to imperialist superexploitation will lead them to question which class should have state power at home.
Over the decades, the Palestinian masses have been led to believe in a variety of supposedly “practical” solutions (i.e., ones that accept the continued existence of imperialist capitalism and Israel) – all of which inevitably failed. In desperation, some turned to reactionary clerical leaders, another dead end. The masses have paid in blood for the absence of a genuine revolutionary leadership.
But the Palestinian intifada has inspired the Arab masses into struggle and threatens the Arab bourgeois ruling classes of the region. Mass struggles for real solidarity with Palestine and for the social and economic needs of all Arab workers could promote a huge leap in class consciousness. With the active participation of a revolutionary communist political party, millions could embrace the chance to overthrow hated dictatorships and establish their own workers’ states. Such a revolutionary onslaught could tip the balance of forces in favor of the Palestinians and enable them to finally overthrow their Zionist oppressors. This revolutionary road is far more practical than the “solutions” now being presented.
In the interests of imperialism, the Middle East is divided into a series of inter-dependent prison-states: Arab dictatorships in the service of imperialism, with Israel the maximum security core. While the Arab masses’ struggles constantly force attempts to superficially reform the arrangement, the survival of the system demands that its basic structure remains. All regional bourgeois forces, both Israeli and Arab, depend on it against the threat of the masses’ struggles.
The Palestinian masses alone cannot defeat Israel – they do not have the strength to overcome this state that has the full backing of imperialism. But through their heroic struggles they can become the vanguard of the Arab masses’ revolutionary overthrow of imperialism. The road to Palestinian freedom really begins with unchaining the Arab working classes of the region from their bourgeois leaders and opening a revolutionary struggle against their neo-colonial Arab rulers.
But this has always been rejected by Fatah, Arafat’s party that leads the PLO. Its bourgeois nationalism matched easily with its pledge of non-interference in the affairs of “brother Arab” regimes. The left wing of secular nationalism is little better. Both the PFLP and the smaller DFLP remained for years as Arafat’s and Fatah’s pseudo-socialist loyal opposition within the PLO. They have a two-stage theory of revolution, which set aside the working-class struggle for socialism in favor of collaboration with Arafat and the bourgeoisie, even during the Oslo “peace process,” when Fatah’s betrayals of national liberation were most obvious.
It is no secret that the masses who risk their lives for the creation of a Palestinian state are driven by economic as well as social and political needs. Instead of the grinding poverty enforced by imperialism, they dream of a liberated state in which they will live as well as their present oppressors. The interpenetrated yearning for freedom and a human standard of living drive the struggles of the Arab workers. However, so long as the intifada is led by bourgeois forces rather than the class-conscious proletariat, it cannot succeed.
The betrayals of the bourgeois nationalists were predictable, and they led to a situation where the only major force that claims to speak for full self-determination is the right-wing Islamists. In despair, many Palestinians have turned to them. But their claim is a lie. The Zionists helped build Hamas in the first place, to offset Arafat. Sharon’s offensive decimated the Palestinian Authority and the secular nationalist leadership around Arafat but left Hamas relatively unscathed; its stronghold in Gaza was initially not attacked. Just as Bush needed Osama bin Laden to justify his new imperialist offensive, Sharon needs suicide bombers to justify his brutal oppression of the Palestinians. He tries to avoid dealing with Arafat because he wants to avoid ceding even a statelet, and because he prefers Hamas as his “terrorist” target.
So too, the fundamentalists timed their campaigns to destroy possible truces, not because the truces were lies (which they were) but because they need a constant, overwhelming Israeli attack to magnify their own religious and political authority. Authentic Marxists support an armed struggle against Israel – a mass struggle designed to win, not a struggle of individual heroes which is rooted in a sense of hopelessness and desperation that breeds martyrdom and inevitable defeat. As well, the socially reactionary agenda of Islamists cripples the class struggle which is the only real hope for the Arab masses. As economic misery deepens, the fundamentalists’ hostility to mass armed struggle becomes even clearer. Because the clerical reactionary leaders themselves represent the anti-secular part of the bourgeoisie, they favor individuals with bombs. They too fear the threat of mass armed and trained militias. The Bush/Sharon terrorists feed off the acts of the Islamic terrorists, and vice versa. It’s no conspiracy – it’s a fact.
Socialist revolutions by the Arab working classes can overthrow the current capitalist dictators and put the working class in power. A Socialist Federation of Workers’ States of the Middle East could destroy imperialism’s grip on the region and start to re-build their economies in the masses’ interests.
There is no way to predict exactly how the Israeli imperialist settler state will be overthrown. But it is clear that revolutionary struggles of the working classes and poor of the region would by themselves greatly undermine Israel. They would destroy the artificial states that border Israel – like Jordan and Lebanon – that were created by imperialism to divide the Arab masses, particularly the Palestinians. And revolutionary states in which the working class is armed and organized to defend its interests would be able to realize the Arab masses’ already burning desire to aid the Palestinians’ revolutionary struggle to overthrow Israel. Then the battle, which today sees the Palestinian masses armed with little more than stones fighting Israeli tanks, helicopter gunships and jets, could be turned into a fight the Palestinians could win.
Revolutionary socialists aim for the overthrow of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian workers’ state that includes the whole of Israel, and in which all people have the right to live free of religious or ethnic discrimination.
Zionists constantly slander the Palestinian struggle against Israel as inherently anti-Jewish. It is a tribute to the Palestinian people that in spite of their brutal oppression at the hands of Israel, the vast majority have refused to support an anti-Jewish program or leadership. Their struggle’s aim is not the destruction of Jews in the region, but the destruction of the Israeli apartheid state. Scandalously, there are some groups which consider themselves socialist, and even Trotskyist, which echo Zionist propaganda and say that to champion the cause of the liberation of all Palestine and the complete destruction of Israel is to call for “driving the Jews into the sea.”
A prominent example of such an organization is the Spartacist League (SL), along with its splinter groups, the Internationalist Group and the International Bolshevik Tendency. The SL recently attacked our revolutionary strategy for the Palestinian struggle in its newspaper, Workers Vanguard (April 19).
The Spartacists’ article condemns leftists who call for a Palestinian workers’ state “in which Jews, Arabs, Muslims and Christians would have equal rights.” The problem, as the SL sees it, is that this position “denies that the Hebrew-speaking people constitute a nation with the right to self-determination.... Behind this position is the argument that since Israeli Jews are the oppressors, they have forfeited their own national rights as against the oppressed Palestinians.”
The SL then singles out the LRP for attack since, unlike deceptive pseudo-socialists, we make this approach explicit. The SL elaborates:
The doctrine that an oppressor nation forfeits its right to self-determination has nothing in common with socialism and democracy; it is the ideology of genocidal irredentism. The Zionist state was created by crushing the national rights of the Palestinians. But securing national justice for the Palestinians does not mean reversing the terms of oppression and denying the democratic rights of the Hebrew-speaking people. Basic to the Leninist position on the national question – the only consistently democratic position – is that all nations have a right to self-determination.
Self-determination for Palestinians means nothing if it does not mean their right to reclaim the land that was stolen from them by imperialism and the creation of the state of Israel, and to form their own state on that territory. Since Arabs would vastly outnumber Israelis under such circumstances, it is only natural that the state created by a victorious workers’ revolution will be a Palestinian state. But a Palestinian Leninist workers’ state would defend the right of Jews and all other peoples to live there in peace.
As the SL agrees, national self-determination means nothing if it does not mean the right to secede. To defend the right of what the SL calls the “Hebrew-speaking people” to secede from a Palestinian workers state means their right to declare control of a territory and form their own state. When Palestinians win their right to self-determination, including a full right of return to their homeland, they will be a majority everywhere. Hence to defend the right of self-determination for Israel means to defend the right of Israelis to keep land stolen from the Palestinians and either rule its “workers’ state” as a minority, or expel the Palestinian majority from that land entirely. No wonder the SL condemns us for saying that “All Israel is Occupied Territory!” It’s time for the SL to put up or shut up: are you for Israeli minority apartheid rule, or Israeli ethnic cleansing? It must be one or the other.
Note that the SL is so cowardly and dishonest that they cannot bring themselves to even write the name of the nation they are concerned for – Israel. Instead they refer to the Israeli Jews as “the Hebrew-speaking people,” as if they are the only nation in the world without a name! They do this to hide the fact that they support the continued existence of an Israeli Jewish state, albeit a mythical Israeli “workers’ state.” The SL are, in a word, Zionists. And since the SL defends the idea that “all nations have a right to self-determination,” it must mean that if the Palestinian majority ever seem able to return to “Israel,” or if the Palestinian struggle ever threatens the imperialist Israeli nation-state’s existence, the SL would defend the Zionist colonial settler state! Shame!
Indeed in another example of their touching concern for the rights of self-determination for imperialist nations, the SL long ago declared their support in principle for some immigration controls in order to protect imperialist nations from being overrun by foreigners from the neo-colonial world. (See Correction on the Slogan “Open the Borders” in this issue.) So surely the SL should join with Ariel Sharon and every other racist Zionist in opposing the full right of return of Palestinians and their descendants to the land the Israelis expelled them from. And they should do so for the same reason: that the exercise of such a right would lead to a Palestinian majority and the end of an Israeli nation-state!
The SL argues that Lenin treated the question of national self-determination as an abstract bourgeois right uncomplicated by the concrete nature of imperialism. This is nonsense. The First World War and the Russian revolution taught Lenin that capitalism had entered its imperialist epoch, and all democratic questions could now only be solved by the overthrow of imperialism through world socialist revolution. During the war, various reformist social democrats called for the defense of all the warring nations and in particular wailed in sympathy for the small imperialist state of Belgium, which was overrun by Germany. Lenin, on the other hand, did not call for equal rights between imperialist nations in the war, let alone between imperialist and colonial nations, but for the defeat of the imperialists. He never said a word about the rights of imperialist nations!
Whenever the “rights” of imperialist nation-states are brought into question by the struggle against imperialism, Leninists unhesitatingly support the rights of the oppressed over the oppressors. To do anything else means to weaken and divert the democratic and revolutionary socialist struggle into the blind alley of bourgeois “democratic” solutions. This can only limit the masses’ struggles and give imperialism the opportunity to launch counterrevolution. And that is certainly the meaning of defending the right to self-determination of the imperialist Israeli nation.
Moreover, in the case of Palestine, while the SL wails about equal democratic rights, their position is an anti-democratic travesty of Leninism. Israelis are still a minority in Palestine, despite all of imperialism’s attempts to slaughter and destroy the Palestinian nation. To defend the right of Israeli self-determination is to defend the right of a minority people to seize territory and rule over a majority. And that’s the point: to defend the rights of imperialist nations means to repudiate the rights of the oppressed.
Indeed, in their article attacking the LRP, the SL comes out more clearly for a separate Israeli (workers’) state than ever before. The SL says their solution is an “Arab/Hebrew workers revolution.” They explain that in the past:
we raised the call for a bi-national workers state encompassing both the Palestinian Arab and Hebrew-speaking peoples, but we have not since raised that tactical perspective. We cannot project the particular national configuration which would best express the democratic aspirations of both peoples under conditions of proletarian power in the region. This might well take the form of a bi-national workers state or two or more workers states.
The SL’s strategy is as farcical as it is reactionary. The “Arab/Hebrew workers’ revolution” they conceive of is one conducted jointly, in which the “Hebrew workers” then refuse to live in a Palestinian state and demand the right to secede. The Spartacists imagine a socialist revolution made by “Hebrew” workers who are still so racist and accustomed to minority rule that they demand the right to keep stolen Palestinian land on which to set up their own separate “workers’ state”! But the SL’s position is not unique. It is in the vile tradition of those racist “communists” in South Africa who raised the call “Workers of the World Unite – For a White South Africa.” The policy of favoring a “bi-national Arab/Hebrew state” was not the SL’s invention. It was the policy of the arch-renegade from Trotskyism, Max Shachtman. The SL is now following the same right-wing course Shachtman blazed ... to open pro-Zionism.
The source of the SL’s position is that they share the Zionists’ fear of the oppressed and their racist caricature of the Arab masses as anti-Jewish pogromists. After all, the Arab workers who make the revolution which they imagine could, according to their conception, only establish a Palestinian workers’ state that oppresses the Jews. They cannot conceive of a Palestinian workers’ state that allows Jews to live in peace within its borders. Such attitudes are standard for the SL. They match the SL’s attacks on past U.S. ghetto rebellions, and the more recent rebellion against police brutality in Cincinnati, as dangerous explosions of “lumpen rage” rather than working-class struggles. Thus the SL expresses the racist fears of petty-bourgeois whites that unless the struggles of oppressed peoples are strictly controlled, they will simply be criminal bloodlettings.
In elaborating their pro-imperialist position on Palestine, the SL does raise an important question, albeit in a dishonest way:
The LRP characterizes the whole of the Hebrew-speaking proletariat as a “labor aristocracy” and calls for “a single Palestinian workers’ state.”... This perspective rejects any possibility of winning the Hebrew-speaking workers to a program of class unity with their Arab brothers and sisters in a common fight against all the exploiters and oppressors of the region. And without that, any talk of “revolution” or national justice is simply empty rhetoric that does nothing to advance the cause of the Palestinians.
On the contrary, all the Spartacists’ talk of solidarity with the Palestinians is empty rhetoric when their strategy is for the Palestinian workers to not overthrow the Israeli state until the Israeli masses awaken from their Zionist stupor and join with the Palestinian struggle. It is no wonder that in reference to the struggle against South African apartheid, the SL once argued that black workers would have to wait to make their revolution until they won white workers to the cause – a doomsday proposition. (See our Socialist Voice No. 8.)
In their attack, the SL buries grains of truth in a mountain of distortion. To begin with, we have never simply characterized the whole Israeli working class as a “labor aristocracy” – that is, a whole class so privileged that it is wedded to its rulers. But for the SL to act as if there is not a huge difference between the freedoms and standards of living of Israeli and Palestinian workers is repugnant.
As embarrassing as it is to have to explain, Israeli workers enjoy a tremendous privilege over Palestinian workers: Israeli Jews have a state and democratic freedoms, and Palestinians do not. Also, a large portion of the Israeli working class enjoys a high standard of living as a result of Israel’s imperialist domination of the Palestinians, and the support it receives from the U.S. for performing this role. This elevated standard of living serves to tie large numbers of Israeli workers to supporting the Israeli state.
However, such economic privileges are not enjoyed by all: Jews originally from Arab and African countries in particular face heavy discrimination, although not to the extent of fourth-class Israeli Palestinians. The Israeli bourgeoisie has been able to buy the loyalty of many Jewish workers with property stolen from Palestinians and the subsidies paid by the U.S.; but in conditions of economic crisis, this bribe is ultimately incompatible with the bourgeoisie’s own profits. This labor aristocracy will inevitably be undermined by the Israeli ruling class.
Palestinian revolutionaries must oppose all tactics that unnecessarily drive Israeli workers into the arms of their rulers, such as suicide bombings of civilians. And they must seek every opportunity to win active support for their cause among Jewish workers. They should come out in defense of Israeli workers under economic attack from their ruling class in order to show that the Israeli ruling class, and not the Palestinian masses, is their enemy. And they must take advantage of other divisions in Israeli society, such as that of the “refuseniks,” the hundreds of Israeli reserve officers who, while professing loyalty to Zionism, have refused to serve in the territories occupied in 1967.
Courageous work by Palestinian revolutionaries could win a minority of Jewish workers to the cause of socialist revolution. Palestinian revolutionaries must make every effort to make clear to Jewish workers that a workers’ state will not mean their oppression – by offering them cultural autonomy as a practical concession, along with guarantees of economic equality and other democratic rights.
However, the hard truth is that the privileges granted Israeli workers, along with Zionist mythology, have tied most to support of the state of Israel. Spartacist fantasies of an “Arab/Hebrew workers’ revolution” aside, in all likelihood a majority of Israeli workers can be expected to remain loyal to the continued existence of Israel – despite the best efforts of Palestinian revolutionaries. But through their efforts to reach out to Jewish workers, Palestinian revolutionaries can at least hope to neutralize the role of most Israeli workers and win them away from supporting the Zionists’ brutal, counterrevolutionary plans.
Finally, the SL writes:
The logic of the LRP position is that if the Israeli working class is unwilling to live in a Palestinian-dominated state, then it has no right to live in the region at all.
Jews will have the right to live in a Palestinian workers’ state, free from any form of religious or ethnic discrimination. And it can be said that Israelis unwilling to live in a Palestinian workers’ state will have the right to leave, with the exception of those who wish to leave in order to mount counterrevolutionary attacks on the workers’ state – they will have to be repressed. But who has ever heard of “Leninists” defending reactionary racists who refuse to accept majority rule in a workers’ state? No wonder the SL’s article condemns leftists for calling Israel a “settler-colonial state.” And no wonder the SL’s chieftain James Robertson once publicly called for self-determination for the Boers in South Africa.
It is one of modern history’s great tragedies that the Nazi holocaust of Jews has been manipulated by imperialism to justify the creation of the Israeli apartheid state. But the state of Israel is no protection from anti-Semitic attacks. The majority of Israelis are in any case not European Jews, but come from the Middle East and elsewhere. And Israel’s creation has obviously failed as a solution to anti-Jewish attacks. The only way to put an end to the threat of anti-Jewish attacks is to resolutely fight them wherever they occur in the course of struggling to overthrow the system that breeds them: imperialist capitalism.
The crisis of modern society is, as Trotsky pointed out, the crisis of working-class leadership. The Middle Eastern masses have repeatedly risen up. The betrayals by secular middle-class nationalist, Stalinist and pseudo-socialist leaders in the past, opened the doors for the Islamic obscurantist leaders. It is now crucial for a working-class revolutionary leadership to lead the struggle.
We said above that the democratic right of Palestinian self-determination demands the end of the racist Israeli state and its replacement by a united workers’ Palestine with full rights for all. The abandonment of genuine Palestinian self-determination by nationalists both left and right is confirmation in negative form of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which holds that the democratic demands of the oppressed can only be secured in the course of the working-class-led struggle for socialist revolution and its extension internationally.
Revolutionary strategy will not appear out of thin air. What is necessary is the leadership of an authentic Trotskyist party in each country in the region, sections of a re-created Fourth International – to lead our class to settle accounts with its rulers and to confront the Zionist and imperialist murderers. We in the imperialist countries have a similar task.
In the U.S., the movement opposing Israel’s war on the Palestinians achieved a tremendous outpouring of support on April 20, when upwards of 75,000 people rallied in Washington, D.C. under the banner “Free Palestine!” A large number of the protesters were Palestinians and Muslims, who bravely defied the government’s offensive of jailings and deportations against Middle Eastern and Central Asian immigrants.
The rally’s success came despite months of sectarian infighting among its organizers. The date had originally been set for an anti-war demonstration to protest the planned meeting of imperialist financiers in the International Monetary Fund. Two coalitions – International ANSWER, led by the Workers World Party, and the Stop the War coalition initiated by student peace groups – organized competing actions on the same day. That itself was a step forward, since they had originally been scheduled a week apart!
The reasons for the split were originally pure sectarianism. On one side, the WWP habitually hides behind supposedly broad fronts like ANSWER and issues ultimatums about when and where to protest. The other side, led by social-democrats, pacifists and “revolutionaries,” would rather split the movement than work with WWP, which they denounce, accurately, as Stalinist. But politically the two sides are not very different. Both covet the participation of liberal politicians, although today most of the Democrats they are saving seats for won’t touch the Palestinians’ cause with a ten-foot pole.
A similar division marred the February 2 protests against the World Economic Forum in New York. Essentially the same forces as today split the politically similar protests against Bush I’s Gulf War in 1991. (See The Real Anti-War Scandal.)
This April, however, a real political division emerged. As the Israeli offensive intensified, ANSWER rightly decided to place its main emphasis on solidarity with the Palestinians. In contrast, the publicity of the Stop the War grouping opposed war only in the abstract and not in Palestine; there was a nod to Palestinian solidarity buried deep in its website but nothing on leaflets distributed only a few days before April 20. That made the Stop the War event a diversion from the prime need to protest an ongoing imperialist war backed by the U.S. We were hardly the only ones to notice: that is clearly why at least three-quarters of the D.C. protesters showed up at the ANSWER rally.
A theme on many placards on April 20 was the slogan “Sharon = Hitler,” or its symbolic equivalent, Israeli Star of David = Nazi Swastika. These signs are immensely annoying to Zionist sympathizers and were criticized as overly provocative or inaccurate by some pro-Palestinian marchers as well, including ANSWER officials who went around asking that the signs be put away.
We defend these slogans. They concisely express the outrage that we and millions of others feel about racist mass murder. The fact that Sharon is not a fascist but is carrying out the policy of mainstream Zionism today makes him no less dangerous. Identifying the Israeli invaders with the Nazis is indeed provocative: it justly defies the Zionists’s claim that they are the moral heirs of Hitler’s victims. Above, we cited one quotation where Zionist officials make the parallel to the Nazis themselves, and there are others.
And the comparison is as accurate as any slogan can be: Sharon’s war is not his “final solution,” but it is a step in that direction, no less bloody and destructive than, say, Kristallnacht in 1938. (Interestingly, the “provocation” that the Nazis cited for that crime was the assassination of a Nazi official in Paris by a young Jewish “terrorist,” Herschel Grynszpan.) Moreover, the slogans are explicitly not anti-Jewish; and they have the added virtue of countering those Muslim reactionaries who admire Hitler for his treatment of the Jews.