Class struggle or national war?
Moshé Machover replies to Tony Greenstein
Israeli workers: unlikely to find the prospect of a bourgeois revolution in the Arab world attractive
Tony Greenstein’s article, ‘No self-determination’ (Weekly Worker April 4 2017), is a reply to my own ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’.1 Here I would like to continue that friendly exchange.
Notwithstanding the titles of those two articles, neither the issue of self-determination of the Hebrew (aka ‘Israeli-Jewish’) nation, nor the question of its existence, which Tony denies, are really the most fundamental differences between us. I will return to these secondary points later on, but first I must address the crux of the matter.
Tony and I agree that overthrowing the Zionist regime and dismantling the repressive machine of the Israeli settler state is a necessary condition for a benign resolution of the conflict between the Zionist colonising project and the colonised Palestinian Arab people. The crucial question is how this may be achieved: what social forces are capable of overthrowing Zionism, and by what means.
I dealt with this question briefly in my above-mentioned article and more fully, in greater detail, in a previous article, ‘Belling the cat’.2 My answer was:
This cannot be achieved directly by forces external to Israel. External changes, global and regional, are indispensible for creating favourable conditions for the overthrow of Zionism, but the only social force able directly to achieve this overthrow is internal: the Israeli masses, primarily the Hebrew working class.
But will this class have not only the potential ability to overthrow the Zionist regime, but also an interest in so doing? No, if it is just a ‘bourgeois-democratic’ overthrow; because that would leave the Hebrew working class in its position of a socio-economically exploited and dominated class, while ending its advantages of being part of a privileged nation. Such an adverse change would in all probability be strongly resisted by the Hebrew workers, who would side with their own exploiters in fighting against it. However, a regional socialist transformation may well create a situation in which the Hebrew working class would be invited to give up its national privileges and swap them for a position of partnership in a regional rule of the working class. Such a deal would be attractive and, under favourable circumstances, could induce the Hebrew working class to play its vital role in overthrowing the Zionist regime.3
Tony hotly disputes the possibility of this scenario. He accuses me of being unscientific. Adopting a didactic tone, he tells us that “scientific theories are usually based on existing facts, which they then try to explain. Further observations and predictions based on the theory confirm whether the theory is true or not.” Whereas my scenario - or “theory”, as he calls it - has
no empirical evidence to support [it] ... It is based on nothing more than an assertion that, in certain circumstances, the Hebrew or Israeli-Jewish working class will abandon Zionism and act as a revolutionary agent of change.
I must admit that my scenario does not meet Tony’s empiricist criterion. It has no empirical evidence, because it is a projection into a future about which we can know very little for certain, except that it will be very different from the past. But my thesis is not a mere arbitrary assertion. It is based on a reasonable expectation - not a certain prediction! - that under favourable circumstances the Hebrew working class may let its class interests and class solidarity override its real or perceived national privileges and obedience to its exploiters.
Tony denies not only the likelihood of this turn by the Hebrew working class, but its very possibility. According to him, the Hebrew working class will forever be a reactionary mass. His evidence for this is very scant: it is based on the behaviour of working classes of settler societies whose structure was quite different from the Israeli one. But, more importantly, he has no evidence based on the behaviour of a working class in a settler society surrounded by a surging revolution, in which neighbouring working classes are set to take power. He has no such evidence because this has not happened so far. Nevertheless, he professes to know that the Hebrew working class can in no circumstances be an agent of revolutionary change.
In addition to this, Tony produces an argument that, coming from a revolutionary socialist, is really astounding:
Given that nowhere in the world, since 1917, has there been a successful working class revolution, what Moshé is in effect saying is that the Zionist dispossession of the Palestinians may never be reversed. Waiting until socialism has been ushered in for a resolution of the conflict is a recipe for no solution. This resembles similar arguments over women’s liberation.
Try to apply this kind of reasoning to any major problem of our present world that cannot be solved under capitalism. Take the end of exploitation, degradation of the environment, mass hunger and oppression - you name it. According to Tony’s logic, “waiting until socialism has been ushered in for a resolution of [these problems] is a recipe for no solution”. Sorry, comrade Tony; socialism is needed, and we must struggle - not “wait” - for it, precisely because there are many major problems of humanity that cannot be solved “until socialism has been ushered in”. The dispossession of the Palestinian Arab people may well be one of them.
But how does Tony envisage the overthrow of Zionism? According to him,
Contrary to Moshé’s argument, the overthrow of Zionism and its reactionary Arab counterparts can only come as part of a bourgeois democratic struggle that produces a regional-wide social movement. But in this the Jewish working class will play, at least initially, a subsidiary role.
He does not tell us why the Jewish working class will play any role at all in this bourgeois-democratic struggle, except to oppose it. What has the Hebrew working class to gain from a bourgeois-democratic revolution?
Tony does not go into any detail as to how a bourgeois-democratic revolution in the countries surrounding Israel will result in the overthrow of Israel’s Zionist regime. But, since he discounts the Hebrew working class as the main agent of this overthrow - and in the context of a bourgeois-democratic revolution he is quite right to do so - this can only mean that he expects the Zionist regime to be toppled from the outside. In such a confrontation the Hebrew working class will not have any reason, based on its class interests, to side with the foreign revolution and will surely choose patriotism and militarism.
So, whereas my scenario envisages the downfall of Zionism through internal class struggle, Tony’s scenario imagines an attempt to defeat Israel’s regime externally, by what will become a war between nations. He offers no empirical evidence to show that this war will produce the desired result. In fact, past and present observations suggest that it will most probably end very badly indeed.
Having clarified our differences on this fundamental point, namely how Zionism may be overthrown, the differences on Hebrew self-determination fall into their proper place. Tony seriously misrepresents my position:
The fatal flaw in Moshé’s schema is his belief that the Hebrew/Israeli-Jewish working class can be won over from their extreme racism and chauvinism by the prospect of forming their own state.
I expressly denied holding such a view. I explained that the context of Hebrew self-determination as advocated by Matzpen, and by me personally, is not that of secession, of forming a Hebrew nation-state, but, on the contrary, of giving up a separate Hebrew state, by its accession to a socialist regional federation. In this context, I pointed out, self-determination would mean that this accession ought to be voluntary, not coercive. Given my scenario for the overthrow of the Zionist regime, coercive annexation would clearly be out of the question.
But the way Tony sees it, a Zionist Israel, oppressive to the end, would be defeated from the outside. In this context, self-determination would indeed amount to forming, or re-forming a new Israeli state. I reject this meaning of self-determination, because I do not subscribe to Tony’s scenario.
Our differences on the existence of a Hebrew nation, which I affirm and Tony denies, are also easy to deal with. In fact Tony’s arguments for his denial are very thin indeed. They amount to nothing more substantial than quoting Israeli judges who share his denial. To this I can only reply in (almost) the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies (she of the Profumo affair): “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?” And I refer you to my article, ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’, for a detailed explanation as to why Zionist ideology has a stake in flying in the face of reality and denying the existence of a new Hebrew nation - and why Palestinian nationalist ideology shares this denial, albeit from a diametrically opposite viewpoint.
1. ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’ Weekly Worker January 12 2017.
2. ‘Belling the cat’ Weekly Worker December 12 2013.
3. ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’, op cit.