Workers Vanguard No. 981
27 May 2011
From the Archives of Marxism
Palestinian Trotskyists on the Partition of Palestine and the 1948 Arab-Israel War
Each May, as the Zionist rulers celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinians across the Near East mark the nakba, or catastrophe: the expulsion in 1948 of more than 700,000 Arabs from their homeland in Palestine. The United Nations General Assembly had voted the previous year in favor of ending the British mandate in Palestine and creating two independent states, one Zionist and the other Palestinian Arab. Through mass killings and terror, the Zionists drove out most of the Palestinian population from their homes and villages. Following the declaration of the founding of the Israeli state in May 1948, a number of bourgeois Arab regimes intervened militarily, not to defend the Palestinians but to seize land that had been allotted to them under the UN partition plan.
The small Palestinian Trotskyist group, the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), upheld the position of communist internationalism in the 1948 War between Israel and the Arab states. While recognizing the right of both the Hebrew-speaking and Palestinian Arab peoples to national self-determination, the RCL resolutely opposed the imperialist-imposed partition and took a position of revolutionary defeatism toward both sides in the war. That position is today upheld by the International Communist League.
We reprint below an excerpted editorial, titled “Against the Stream,” that was originally published in the RCL’s Hebrew organ Kol Ham’amad (Voice of the Class). The English translation was published by the then-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in Fourth International (May 1948). The excerpts refer to Ernest Bevin, who was foreign minister in Britain’s Labour Party government; Chaim Weitzmann (Weizmann), Israel’s first president; and the Husseinis, a clan of Palestinian landowners and political leaders.
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Politicians and diplomats are still trying to find a formula for the disastrous situation into which Palestine has been plunged by the UNO [United Nations Organization] deciding upon partition. Is this a “breach of international peace” or are we dealing with merely “hostile acts”? As far as we are concerned there is no point in this distinction. We are daily witnessing the killing or maiming of men and women, old and young, Jew or Arab. As always, the working masses and the poor suffer most.
Not so very long ago the Arab and Jewish workers were united in strikes against a foreign oppressor. This common struggle has been put to an end. Today the workers are being incited to kill each other. The inciters have succeeded
“Keeping order” in Palestine costs England over 35 million Pounds a year, an amount which exceeds the profit she can extort from this country. Partition will release her from her financial obligations, enable her to employ her soldiers in the productive process while her source of income will remain intact. — But this is not all. By partition a wedge is driven between the Arab and Jewish worker. The Zionist state with its provocative lines of demarcation will bring about the blossoming forth of irredentist (revenge) movements on either side, there will be fighting for an “Arab Palestine” and for a “Jewish state within the historic frontiers of Eretz Israel (Israel’s Land).” As a result, the chauvinistic atmosphere created thus will poison the Arab world in the Middle East and throttle the anti-imperialist fight of the masses, while Zionists and Arab feudalists will vie for imperialist favors
If the Anglo-American imperialists had forced this “solution” on Palestine of their own, the rotten game would have been patent in the whole Arab East. However, they dodged: the “problem” was passed on to the UNO. The function of the UNO was to sweeten the bitter dish cooked in the imperialist cuisine, dressing it, in Bevin’s words, with the twaddle of the “conscience of the world that has passed judgment.” Exactly! And the diplomats of the lesser countries danced to the tune of the dollar flute, reiterating the “public opinion of the world.” And the peculiar casts in this performance enabled Great Britain to appear as the Guardian Angel overflowing with sympathy for either side.
And the Soviet Union? Why did not her representatives call the UNO game the swindle it really is?—Apparently, the present foreign policy of the SU is not concerned with the fighting of the colonial masses. And as the Palestine question is a second-rate affair for the “Big,” the Soviet diplomats saw fit to dwell upon what Stalin had said about “the Soviet Union being ready to meet America and Britain halfway, economic and social differences notwithstanding.”
The Jewish worker having been separated from his Arab colleague and prevented from fighting a common class struggle will be at the mercy of his class enemies, imperialism and the Zionist bourgeoisie. It will be easy to arouse him against his proletarian ally, the Arab worker, “who is depriving him of jobs and depressing the level of wages” (a method that has not failed in the past!). Not in vain has Weitzmann said that “the Jewish state will stem Communist influence.” As a compensation, the Jewish worker is bestowed with the privilege of dying a hero’s death on the altar of the Hebrew state.
And what promises does the Jewish state hold out? Does it really mean a step toward the solution of the Jewish problem?
The partition was not meant to solve Jewish misery nor is it likely ever to do so. This dwarf of a state which is too small to absorb the Jewish masses cannot even solve the problems of its citizens. The Hebrew state can only infest the Arab East with anti-Semitism and may well turn out—as Trotsky said—a bloody trap for hundreds of thousands of Jews.
The leaders of the Arab League reacted to the decision on partition with speeches full of threats and enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, a Zionist state is to them a godsend from Allah. Calling up the worker and fellah [peasant] for the “holy war to save Palestine” is supposed to stifle their cries for bread, land and freedom. Another time-honored method of diverting an embittered people against the Jewish and communist danger.
In Palestine the feudal rule has of late begun to lose ground. During the war the Arab working class has grown in numbers and political consciousness. Jewish and Arab workers stood up against the foreign oppressor, against whom they together went on strikes. A strong leftist trade union had come into existence; and the “Workers’ Association of the Arabs of Palestine” had been well on the way of freeing itself from the influence of the Husseinis. The murder of its leader, Sami Taha, committed by hirelings of the Arab High Committee could not restrain this development. But where the Husseinis failed, the decision of the imperialist agency, the UNO succeeded. The partition decision stifled the class struggle of the Palestine workers. The prospect of being at the hands of the Zionist “conquerors of soil and labor” is arousing fear and anxiety among the Arab workers and fellahs. Nationalist war slogans fall on fertile soil. And feudal murderers see their chance. Thus the policy of partition enables the feudalists to turn back the wheels of history
The two camps today mobilize the masses under the mask of “self-defense.” “We have been attacked, let us defend ourselves!”—say the Zionists. “Let us ward off the danger of a Jewish conquest!”—declares the Arab Higher Committee. Where does the truth lie?
War is the continuation of politics by other means. The war led by the Arab feudalists is but the continuation of their reactionary war on the worker and the fellah who are striving to shake off oppression and exploitation. For the feudal effendis [lords] “Salvation of Palestine” means safeguarding their revenues at the expense of the fellahin, maintaining their autocratic rule in town and country, smashing the proletarian organizations and international class solidarity.
The war waged by the Zionists is the continuation of their expansionist policy based on discrimination between the two peoples: they defend kibbush avoda (ousting of Arab labor), kibbush adama (ousting of the fellah), boycott of Arab goods, “Hebrew rule.” The military conflict is a direct result of the policy of the Zionist conquerors.
This war can on neither side be said to bear a progressive character. The war does not release progressive forces or do away with social and economic obstacles in the path of development of the two nations. Quite the opposite is true. It is apt to obscure the class antagonism and to open the gate for nationalist excesses. It weakens the proletariat and strengthens imperialism in both camps.
Each side is “anti-imperialist” to the bone, busy detecting the reactionary—in the opposite camp. And imperialism is always seen—helping the other side. But this kind of exposure is oil on the imperialist fire. For the inveigling policy of imperialism is based upon agents and agencies within both camps. Therefore, we say to the Palestine people in reply to the patriotic warmongers: Make this war between Jews and Arabs, which serves the end of imperialism, the common war of both nations against imperialism!
This is the only solution guaranteeing a real peace. This must be our goal which must be achieved without concessions to the chauvinist mood prevailing at present among the masses.
How can that be done?
“The main enemy is in our own country!”—this was what Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had to say to the workers when imperialists and social democrats were inciting them to the slaughter of their fellow workers in other countries. In this spirit we say to the Jewish and Arab workers: The enemy is in your own camp!
Jewish workers! Get rid of the Zionist provocateurs who tell you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the Hebrew state.
Arab worker and fellah! Get rid of the chauvinist provocateurs who are getting you into a mess of blood for their own sake and pocket.
Workers of the two peoples, unite in a common front against imperialism and its agents!