Workers Hammer No. 211
Defend the Palestinians against Zionist state terror!
For proletarian internationalism, not appeals to imperialism!
On boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions
Particularly since the Zionist rulers’ massacre on the Gaza aid flotilla, many defenders of the oppressed Palestinians have renewed their calls for “boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions” (BDS) against Israel. As revolutionary internationalists, we support time-limited trade union actions against the Israeli state. An example is the Swedish dock workers’ action boycotting Israeli ships and goods coming from or destined for Israel from 22 to 29 June in protest against Israel’s attack on the “Freedom Flotilla”. In general, we are in favour of the trade unions refusing to handle military goods being shipped to Israel, which would be a blow not only against the Zionist rulers but also against the British, US and other imperialist ruling classes.
But while we support the proposed action of the Swedish dockers, we oppose the political strategy of the reformist union bureaucracies that initiated it. While raising the supportable demand for lifting the blockade of Gaza, the call for the Swedish workers action also demands that “Israel pays respect to international law” and calls for “a general blockade of Israeli goods until the rights of the Palestinian people are guaranteed and the blockade of Gaza is lifted”. In a similar vein, a recent statement signed by British union leaders Tony Woodley, Dave Prentis, Billy Hayes, Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka says: “We call on the British government and the European Union to suspend the EU-Israel association agreement and to end their support for the blockade and collective punishment of the men, women and children of Gaza. We call for support for a policy of boycott of Israeli products, disinvestment from Israeli companies and sanctions against Israel until justice for the Palestinian people has been achieved” (Guardian, 5 June).
We are politically opposed to standing boycotts and to campaigns for disinvestment and sanctions against Israel, which are counterposed to the international working-class struggle on which the liberation of the Palestinians is premised. BDS campaigns serve to promote illusions in the benign nature of other capitalist powers — not least British imperialism — relative to Israel. If successful, boycott campaigns would hurt the working class of Israel, both Hebrew-speaking and Arab, causing mass layoffs and weakening its social power, which can and must be mobilised to smash the Zionist state from within through socialist revolution.
The reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) supports the strategy of BDS and explains its broad aims in an article titled “The fight against Israeli apartheid” in Socialist Worker (19 June) which says:
“The BDS strategy is to seek international support and solidarity until Israel complies with international law: that means Israel must end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and apply its own laws equitably and universally to Jew and to Arab alike.
“BDS is about building an international movement to isolate Israel economically, culturally and academically. It is about persuading artists, writers, and performers not to work in Israel — following the examples of Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello and others. It is about identifying Israeli products that are imported into Britain — not just those produced by settlements on illegally confiscated Palestinian resources — and pressing importers and outlets not to stock them. It is about gathering from supermarket shelves all products illegally produced in the West Bank and presenting them to the managers to help them avoid prosecution for selling stolen goods.”
The article notes that “BDS is NOT about boycotting individual Israeli scholars or academics”, but is an “institutional boycott”. In the face of a vicious Zionist outcry against British unions which had called for academic boycotts of Israel in 2006 we wrote: “The Spartacist League and the Spartacus Youth Group call for the defence of the UCU [University and College Union] and other unions and organisations against the Zionist backlash and recognise that the boycott campaign is motivated out of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians” (Workers Hammer no 196, Autumn 2006). At the same time, we noted that:
“The university unions’ boycott, which is part of the wider divestment campaign against Israel, represents an appeal to the supposed morality of British and European academic institutions and funding bodies to sever any links with the brutally oppressive and murderous Israeli regime. The problem with this is that the universities in Britain are no less attached to the British state than they are to the Israeli state in Israel. And the British imperialist state is no less bloody than the Israeli state.”
From India to Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, British imperialism has left a trail of carnage around the globe throughout its history. The present bloody mess in the Near East is itself the legacy of the “divide-and-rule” machinations of British imperialism when it was the dominant world power.
Appealing to the blood-soaked British imperialists, Socialist Worker (5 June) put forward a call that “We must force Britain to break all links with Israel, including shutting down its embassy.” The notion that the British government, corporations or campus administrations (or for that matter, the EU or the UN) can be “persuaded” to promote economic and social justice is ludicrous. But the programme of the SWP rests on the myth that British imperialism can be pressured into acting on behalf of the oppressed and perpetuates the very illusions in imperialist “democracy” that Marxists seek to destroy. As we said in “Zionist backlash over ‘boycott Israel’ ”(Workers Hammer no 196, Autumn 2006):
“Why not call for a boycott of all British consumer goods, protesting the British rulers’ brutality against the oppressed Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, not to mention British imperialism’s role in the subjugation of Iraq and Afghanistan? Not only does this promote illusions in the ‘democratic’ and ‘civilised’ nature of other capitalist powers and corporations which the campaign seeks to dissuade from doing business with Israel, such a campaign is actually anti-working class.”
Boycotts and apartheid South Africa
The “boycott, disinvestment and sanctions” campaign is consciously modelled on the campaign for disinvestment from and sanctions against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Writing in the Guardian (10 January 2009), Naomi Klein argued that “The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.” The disinvestment campaign against South Africa in Europe and North America was centrally promoted by the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC). It was based on a claim that South African capitalism could be fundamentally reformed through pressure from “democratic” imperialist powers such as the US and Britain. In fact, it was not disinvestment, but the mass social struggles of the black and other non-white toilers, centred on the working class, which brought an end to direct white-supremacist rule in South Africa. The significant wage gains won by black class struggle and the instability caused by a growing strike movement deterred investment in South Africa.
At the time, our organisation uniquely told the truth: that disinvestment was at best an empty moral gesture; that if foreign companies did withdraw substantial productive assets this would hurt black workers and weaken the powerful black union movement; and, most crucially, that it was obscene to look to US imperialism and its British junior partner as a force for “democracy” anywhere in the world. The disinvestment that did occur largely took the form of overseas corporations signing over their interests to local subsidiaries, which often treated their workers even more brutally. Indeed, 1989 saw strikes by black oil and rubber workers in South Africa against such disinvestment schemes. As we wrote in “Black Workers Strike Against ‘Divestment’ Union-Busting” (Workers Vanguard no 486, 29 September 1989), “The only kind of ‘divestment’ that will benefit the exploited and oppressed will be proletarian revolution, and the expropriation of these riches by a black-centered workers government as part of a socialist federation of southern Africa.” That remains no less true today, as ANC leaders like Jacob Zuma continue to serve as black front men for a neo-apartheid capitalist system whose fundamental character, including enormous disparities between racial groups, has remained intact.
For a socialist federation of the Near East!
The Spartacist League and other sections of the International Communist League intervened into the recent protests against the Zionist attacks on the flotilla to express our solidarity with the Palestinian masses and to put forward the only perspective — international socialist revolution — that can put an end to Palestinian national oppression. The myriad peoples of the Near East will not know peace, justice or prosperity until bourgeois rule in the region is overthrown through a series of socialist revolutions. As revolutionaries in Britain, solidarity with the oppressed in neocolonial countries means first and foremost opposing our own ruling class and fighting to bring down British imperialism through socialist revolution at home.
The hideous oppression of the Palestinians today, including the siege of Gaza, is an expression of the barbaric rule of capitalist imperialism and Zionist nationalism. For more than 60 years, Palestinians have suffered under the jackboot of Zionist Israel — an oppression that has intensified since the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR, which acted as a counterweight to US imperialism internationally, deprived the late Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) of crucial diplomatic and financial support, paving the way for the ignominious 1993 US imperialism-sponsored Oslo “peace” accords, establishing the Palestinian Authority as the Zionists’ police auxiliaries in the Occupied Territories. In an article headlined “Israel-PLO Deal for Palestinian Ghetto” we wrote that this deal “does not offer even the most deformed expression of self-determination” and “would place the PLO’s seal on the national oppression of the long-suffering Palestinian Arab masses” (Workers Hammer no 137, September/October 1993). It was this betrayal by the secular-nationalist PLO that paved the way for the rise of reactionary Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians.
Since Oslo, one “peace” accord after another has been heralded as opening the door to Palestinian national emancipation. In reality, Zionist oppression of the Palestinians has only intensified, leading to ever deadlier cycles of terror against the Palestinian population. Israel’s rulers have increasingly driven the Palestinians into bantustan-like enclaves demarcated by a heavily-guarded wall and sliced up by Zionist settlements, checkpoints and bypass highways. Gaza is little more than a concentration camp: an impoverished, devastated strip where 1.5 million Palestinians are trapped, surrounded by the sea, an electrified fence and a wall sealing its border with Egypt. All Zionist troops and settlers out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem!
Both the Palestinian and Hebrew-speaking nations have the right to self-determination, but because the two nations are geographically interpenetrated, self-determination for one can only be achieved by denying it to the other. Under capitalism, every “solution” to the Palestinian national question either perpetuates the oppression of the Palestinian Arab people or envisions a reversal of the terms of oppression, denying the legitimate national rights of the Hebrew-speaking people. In situations of interpenetrated peoples, a democratic solution to the national question can be achieved only through socialist revolution, because only the proletariat in power has an interest in resolving national antagonisms and can begin to meet the material needs of all working people.
We make a distinction between the Hebrew-speaking nation living in Israel and the Zionist state. This is counterposed to the view of the Zionists, and indeed of the Islamic fundamentalists, who equate the Zionist state with the Hebrew-speaking people. The Zionist state is not only a catastrophe for Palestinians — it is also a deathtrap for Jews. Some 25 per cent of citizens live in poverty and income disparities are higher than in Egypt and Jordan. Sephardic Jews, though overwhelmingly under the sway of right-wing and religious parties, suffer widespread discrimination and poverty. The Palestinian Arabs, nominally “citizens” who constitute 20 per cent of Israel’s population, are consigned to segregated, impoverished areas and low-paid, unskilled jobs.
Israeli society is not a seamless reactionary mass. Despite widespread support in Israel for the Gaza blockade, there have been demonstrations against the brutal killings on the flotilla, including a 6000-strong rally in Tel Aviv on 5 June. It is the false consciousness of religion and Zionist nationalism and racism — in the face of pervasive anti-Semitism — that is the glue binding the Hebrew-speaking proletariat to its Israeli ruling-class enemy. As long as Zionist oppression of Palestinians continues, Israeli Jews will continue to be a target of hatred and outrage by the more than 100 million Arabs who surround them. It is only the working class of Israel — Hebrew and Arab — that has the capacity to destroy the Zionist citadel from within.
As Marxists, we fight to bring the class question to the fore. The only road to social and national liberation for the Palestinians — including the right of all refugees and their descendants to return to their homeland — and all the other peoples of the Near East lies through common class struggle by the Arab, Hebrew-speaking and other working classes of the region. For the Palestinians, this means recognising the right of the Hebrew-speaking people to national self-determination. In turn, breaking the Hebrew-speaking workers from their Zionist rulers requires that they champion the national rights of the Palestinians. We have no illusions that winning the Hebrew-speaking proletariat to this perspective will be an easy task. Indeed, it will likely require the victory of socialist revolution in one of the other Near Eastern states to break the Hebrew-speaking proletariat from Zionist chauvinism. This task is not made easier by the criminal indiscriminate terror bombings carried out by Islamic forces against Israeli civilians, which drive the Hebrew-speaking population further into the arms of the Zionist rulers.
At the same time, the solidarity of the Arab masses with the oppressed Palestinian people must be directed towards proletarian revolution against their own Arab rulers, who, whether bourgeois nationalists or Islamic traditionalists, are fundamentally the political agents of Western imperialism. If this does not happen, the intense and justifiable hostility against Israel and its American protector will serve to further strengthen the forces of Islamic fundamentalism, which posture as the “radical” opposition to the mainly pro-Western Arab regimes. We look to the proletariat of the region more widely, such as in Egypt, which has been a centre of working-class strikes and protests over the past several years. With some 50 per cent of the Palestinian population living outside the Occupied Territories — in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel — the national liberation of the Palestinians demands a perspective of socialist revolution throughout the Near East, including within Israel, the most powerful and economically advanced country in the region. It is vital to forge revolutionary Marxist parties throughout the Near East to unite the proletariat — Arab, Persian, Kurdish and Hebrew, Sunni and Shi’ite, Muslim and Christian — in struggle against imperialism and to smash the Zionist garrison state from within and sweep away the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Syrian Ba’athist bonapartists and the capitalist rulers of Lebanon through socialist revolution. For a socialist federation of the Near East!
Our proletarian internationalist perspective is counterposed to those reformists who tail Islamic fundamentalism, such as the SWP. Socialist Worker (10 January 2009) ran an article titled “Hamas’s history of resistance”, enthusing over Hamas as the “bearer of a tradition of Palestinian resistance”. Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are vile anti-Jewish and anti-Christian religious bigots who seek to enslave women and extirpate any manifestations of social progress. Hamas is descended from the clerical-fascist Muslim Brotherhood, which became particularly prominent in Egypt in the late 1940s. Under the slogan “communism = atheism = liberation of women”, the Muslim Brotherhood mobilised a terror campaign against Communists and other secular forces. Hamas preaches the social segregation of women, the wearing of the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and anti-woman sharia law. Far from embodying a “history of resistance”, Hamas was initially supported by Israel as a counterweight to the secular-nationalist PLO. Carrying out attacks on secularists and Communists, the Islamists engaged in neither political nor military struggle against Israel.
With the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, the Islamists feared that if they stood aside they would lose their following. Hamas was founded in the spring of 1988 as an Islamist political movement with an armed wing. Hamas sought to fuse the national struggle, previously a secular movement containing a leftist component, with reactionary Islamic fundamentalism. It was only in the autumn of 1989, after discovering that Hamas had killed two Israeli soldiers, that Israel broke relations with the group.
The Arab bourgeois regimes have always been enemies of Palestinian national liberation. When the Arab armies went to war with Israel in 1948, it was not to “liberate” Palestine but to carve it up among themselves. Between 1948 and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. And the Palestinians there remained politically dispossessed and subject to brutal repression. In the decade following the 1967 war, nearly 50,000 Palestinians were slaughtered by Arab governments, including some 10,000 militants killed by the Jordanian monarchy in the 1970 Black September massacre.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which laid the basis for the liberation of the tsarist empire’s many subjugated peoples, was a beacon of liberation for the oppressed throughout the world, inspiring anti-colonial revolts throughout the Near East. This legacy continued despite the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR. In 1958, Iraqi workers led by the multinational Iraqi Communist Party — which included Muslims, Jews and Christians, Arabs and Kurds — fought to make a revolution and came to the brink of power. However, this and other revolutionary opportunities were betrayed by the Kremlin and the Stalinist-led Communist parties, subordinating the proletariat to an alliance with “progressive” bourgeois nationalists, who, once in power, launched a blood-bath against the Communist-led workers.
What is necessary is the forging of revolutionary Marxist parties throughout the Near East, built in opposition to all forms of nationalism and religious fundamentalism, and committed to the struggle for socialist revolution, which, on an international scale, can finally open the door to human equality and liberation. The conquest of power by the proletariat in the Near East does not complete the socialist revolution, but only opens it by changing the direction of social development. But that social development can be consolidated only through the international extension of the revolution, particularly to the advanced, industrialised imperialist countries.
Defence of those subjugated by the imperialists around the globe demands the pursuit of class struggle in Britain, the US and other imperialist centres, pointing towards a proletarian struggle for power. The Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League, is committed to the fight to forge a multiethnic revolutionary workers party to lead the proletariat in the struggle to sweep away British imperialism through socialist revolution.