One nation

Moshé Machover cites the platform of the Joint List, which stood in the elections to the Knesset, in his criticism of my view that the Palestinians and Israeli Jews constitute one nation (Letters, April 16). We both support the Joint List, but that does not necessarily mean support for its politics, which are, in so far as they have been formulated at all, eclectic and of the lowest common denominator. This is not surprising for an alliance of Islamist, radical nationalist and Stalinist tendencies.

The attitude of Zionism is quite clear. There is no such thing as an Israeli nationality. Nationality is defined on the basis of either religion or quite arbitrary factors. In reality, there are two nationalities that are de facto recognised - Jewish and Arab. Zionism decrees that there can be no separate Israeli nationality. In the words of former chief justice Simon Agranat, “The desire to create an Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation is not a legitimate aspiration. A division of the population into Israeli and Jewish nations would … negate the foundation on which the state of Israel was established.” I understand that Moshé disagrees with the decision in Tamarin and more recently in Uzi Ornanthat there is no separate Israeli nation, but he confines this to Hebrews - ie, Israeli Jews.

Certainly, Israeli Arabs are oppressed both collectively and individually. They are non-Jewish and Arab-speaking, and that is reason enough for such discrimination. It is in that sense fair enough to describe them as a national minority, just as Jews in Poland were classed as a national minority. But socialists and communists would have opposed the classification of Polish Jews as members of a separate, Jewish nation.

Of course, Israeli Arabs are part of the Palestinian people, though the Joint List supports a “just solution”, not the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. As for being part of the Arab nation, this is primarily a means of identifying with the oppressed Arabs of the Middle East. It has little practical import.

What I don’t think one can do is generalise from the specific, regardless of the context. In Turkey the logical extrapolation from Kurdish nationhood is indeed divorce and separation into two states. The same is true in Sri Lanka with the Tamils. It is not out of choice that the PKK has accepted the unity of the Turkish state. Israel, being a settler colonial state, is quite happy to accept that Israeli Arabs form a separate nation and to transfer to another state. When she was conducting ‘peace negotiations’, Tzipi Livni pushed the idea that Arab areas of Israel, such as ‘the Triangle’, would indeed be handed over to a Palestinian state.

Moshé says that if what I say is correct then an American nation could not have existed until late into the 19th century. Perhaps he would tell us when he believes the American nation was formed? Before the civil war? Before the abolition of slavery or segregation? Talk of an American nation is meaningless.

Moshé rejects the suggestion that Zionism has created a Palestinian nation, which includes its own settlers. I suggest that the basis of a separate non-Arab Hebrew or Israeli Jewish nation means the continuation of Zionism. Being Jewish in Israel is not a question of culture or language, but of apartheid privilege. How does this Hebrew nation define itself other than in antagonism to the Palestinian Arabs, within and without?

Moshé is wrong in suggesting that I conflate the Zionist mode of colonisation with that of South Africa. I don’t, but I do recognise that there are similarities, which today are being played out on the West Bank. Apartheid means separate development and racial segregation. Is that not where Zionism is heading?

Tony Greenstein

No nation

Tony Greenstein and Moshé Machover both show weaknesses and irrationalities in their own respective understandings of the Middle East. Indeed, at times they manage to expose outright denials of reality in each other’s analyses.

Machover is rightly scathing about the delusion of Greenstein that there is no national oppression in the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, and about Greenstein’s contention that the relationship is purely one involving “racism” against Palestinian Arabs. Greenstein fears that any acceptance of the existence of national oppression would legitimise the existence of an Israeli ‘nation’, and therefore logically legitimise the separation of Jews and Arabs and the further ethnic cleansing of Israel’s remaining Palestinian Arab population.

This is an attempt by Greenstein to deny reality and force it into a particular theoretical mould that is at variance with that reality: the paradigm of the “colonial settler state”. Thus Greenstein writes: “Above all, this idea depends on whether or not you see Israel’s Jewish population as forming a nation separate from that of the Palestinians. I do not accept that because of the nature of settler colonialists: they are incapable of forming separate nations unless they utterly vanquish or exterminate the indigenous population … the obvious conclusion is that Palestine ... contains one nation - Jewish Palestinians or Hebrews and Arab Palestinians. To argue, as the majority of Jewish settlers do, that Israeli Arabs are a different nation and do not belong within the Israeli state, that they should be ‘swapped’ for the settlement blocs, is a primary example of racism.”

The idea that the Israeli Jewish population, as currently constituted, are part of the same nation as the Palestinian-Israelis is absurd. The key to this is consciousness: for them to be both part of the same nation, both groups have to be conscious of this. Neither are.

On the other hand, Machover’s position that the ‘modern Hebrews’ (ie, the Israeli Jewish population) themselves constitute an actual nation, local to the Middle East, also denies reality. The flaw in this logic again resolves around the question of consciousness: the Israeli Jews have no belief in themselves as a nation local to the Middle East. They consider themselves to be part of a worldwide Jewish ‘nation’ and that the state of Israel therefore belongs to all Jews.

Machover has elsewhere resorted to a tortured analogy - using categories derived from the Marxist conception of the development of the consciousness of the proletariat - to explain the lack of a genuine national consciousness of the ‘modern Hebrews’, claiming that they are a ‘nation in itself’ without being conscious of the fact, in a manner analogous to the proletariat constituting itself as a ‘class in itself’ without having gained the consciousness of its mission to liberate humanity (ie, to become a ‘class for itself’).

But, unlike the consciousness of the universal working class, the consciousness of nations is based on concrete particularisms. And the presence or absence of a concrete example of particularist consciousness is pretty decisive in determining whether or not that form of concrete national entity exists objectively. Of course, this is not entirely subjective; it has to be at least feasible in material reality for that concrete national particularism to exist. But, nevertheless, without consciousness of its own existence, no nation can objectively exist.

The oppression of the Palestinians does not stem from being a national minority in a conventional national state. Rather, they are the excluded majority, and it is in this that their national oppression consists. What excluded them is not a conventional nation, but rather the territorial manifestation of a wider, semi-national formation, which claims to be the ‘Jewish nation’.

Zionism cannot jump over material reality - it did not succeed in forging the diverse Jewish population in many countries into a nation. The attempt to do so was reactionary social engineering. But the creation of Israel nevertheless represented a reactionary material change. It created a semi-nation - with a pan-Jewish Zionist bourgeoisie in command, occupying stolen Arab land, which regards the territory it seized as its own ‘national’ asset. This semi-nation, based on a conception of the Jews as a secular people, as opposed to a religious population, is what subjects the Palestinians to national oppression by exclusion from their own homeland.

Greenstein is obviously wrong, and absurd, to argue that Israeli Jews are currently part of the same nation as the Palestinian Arabs. On the contrary, they are part of the Jewish semi-national formation that oppresses the Palestinians. But, because this semi-nation is not a viable nation, if Greenstein’s conception was modified in a particular way, it would point to the solution.

For Israeli Jews to become part of a common nation with the Palestinian Arabs, they would have to renounce the secular Jewish identity - the conscious ideological basis of this semi-national formation. Such renunciation of ‘Jewishness’ would be quite compatible with practising Judaism - religious Jews could easily be part of a common nation with Christian and Muslim Arabs if the inherently chauvinist ‘secular’ identity were to disappear.

Gilad Atzmon and Shlomo Sand, who pose this necessity for Israeli Jews to consciously become part of a common nation with Palestinians through renouncing secular ‘Jewishness’, are pointing to the progressive solution to the Israel question that eludes Greenstein, because of his false dogma of the “colonial settler state”. These non-Marxist thinkers are pretty close to the truth, though they do not have a political strategy to put their insights into practice. A movement of conscious Marxists, armed with this understanding, could create a force to overturn Zionism and lead to a real revolutionary change in the Middle East.

Ian Donovan
Communist Explorations

Grow up

I was pleased to read comrade Steve Freeman’s letter about the Republican Socialists, as it cogently presented the argument and answered some of the points that my letter in the same issue criticised - rather intemperately, admittedly (April 16). However, I stand by the bulk of my criticism.

The problem lies not with the Republican Socialists, but with the political culture of the communist-socialist movement as a whole. Either there is a complete collapse into a ‘broad movement’ or an obsession over a ‘fundamental principle’. The current CPGB has been guilty of this by advocating votes for Labour, but insisting that leftwing parties support a people’s militia (eg, No2EU). This navel-gazing can lead to statements that seem like Dada manifestos, comrade Pete McLaren’s letter last week being a prime example.

According to this epistle, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is “the sixth largest party contesting the general election”. I haven’t bothered checking, but I presume that what is meant is: ‘Tusc is fielding the sixth largest number of candidates in the general election’, which isn’t quite the same. Amazingly, this is “the largest coordinated left challenge since World War II - over 70 years ago” (NB: 70 is the fingers of both hands seven times).

But wait, there’s more! “Dave Nellist outlined how Tusc was the only genuinely anti-austerity party in these elections”. So have the SPGB been voting for austerity since 1904? Or is this a more recent split?

The point I want to get across is more eloquently put in the most recent edition of Red Pepper, in which the Green Party’s anti-capitalist value is assessed. Since the last election, the Greens have gained members, votes and credibility through a number of factors. In contrast, the communist-socialist movement is, arguably, in a worse position. The anti-establishment Zeitgeist and appetite for a different socio-economic system cried out for a single Marxist vision, but this has been lost to either the Greens, nationalist visions or the xenophobia of the UK Independence Party. This election is lost and we can only hope for a Labour-SNP coalition.

To advance the cause, I suggest the following as a minimum statement of principles for a TUC-type organisation comprised of parties, unity projects, trade unions, campaigns, individuals or anything else that is on our side:

1. The current capitalist system only benefits a few people and is harmful to most people;

2. We seek to change the current capitalist system, so that everybody can have a dignified and fulfilling life.

It is about time that we grew up and made a difference.

Dave Brown

Growing stench

Nicola Sturgeon stormed onto our TV sets. It all goes to show that the Scottish referendum was no ordinary event. A nation had woken up to the possibility of a different future. The majority decided to stay where they were, many frightened by the dire warnings of disaster from unionist politicians and powerful members of the business class. Surely the end?

This election will prove it is not all over by any means. Jack will not go back in his box. Now we can see the real impact of the referendum. The 45% who rejected Westminster and voted ‘yes’ have torpedoed the union. It is not sunk yet - only holed below the waterline. Water is pouring in and the ship is beginning to list.

Scotland found a taste of freedom and the possibility of a self-governing republic. Just as powerful is the whip of reaction from England. With two weeks to go, the Tory campaign is stagnating. Press the panic button and hit Scotland. Out come Cameron, Tebbit, Major, Clegg and an embarrassed Miliband.

The Tories understand that England is divided over this. But a significant minority have chauvinist instincts and if their resentments can be mobilised then Scotland could do for Cameron what immigration has done for Ukip. Brew up a storm and count the votes pilling up. Of course, when the Tories are mobilising anti-Scottish chauvinism, they will lose voters in Scotland. Small beer when the majority of votes are in England. The key thing for Cameron is to exploit resentments and win this election. For short-term advantage the Tories are building their funeral pyre of unionism.

Back in September after the referendum, Cameron played the English card as a weapon against Labour calling for ‘English votes for English laws’. That is as far as it went until now. Standing in Bermondsey as an anti-unionist candidate was not the obvious thing to do. ‘Another Scotland is possible’ is a message of hope for England too. People are listening. Scotland’s rebellion is England’s opportunity.

Then the situation began to shift. Simon Hughes, the former MP for Bermondsey now seeking re-election, played the Scotland card in his interview in the Evening Standard. He told us that “Londoners are in danger of seeing their taxes ‘hijacked’ to Scotland if Ed Miliband does a deal with the Scottish National Party”. He said that “vital public services would be in the firing line if SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon demanded a high price to prop up a Labour government”.

Scratch a British unionist and you will find an English chauvinist. Any threat to the permanence of the union is seen by its supporters as an attack on the British way of life. If you are upper class or middle class then this danger feels real and present. It very soon turns into anti-Scottish attitudes. The Tories want to do to Scotland what Ukip has done for immigrants.

Queen Anne’s 1707 Act of Union chained Scotland to England “forever”. Now the union is well past its sell-by date. It is starting to smell. The stench is growing. There is only one answer, chuck it in the bin, the quicker, the better. Only conservative Marxists want to keep it in the fridge as long as possible.

Republican socialists demand the immediate end of the chains that bind Scotland to England. Once again the left in England in the shape of Tusc and Left Unity have been found wanting. They have no policies and nothing to say. I repeat that it is vital that there is at least one anti-unionist candidate in England who is prepared to call on Tusc, Left Unity and the CPGB to stop following the British road to nowhere. I call upon all of them to immediately issue public statements condemning English chauvinism promoted by the Tories.


Steve Freeman
Bermondsey and Old Southwark


About 30 people attended a meeting of the campaign group, Liverpool Against the Cuts, recently, at which anti-austerity political parties standing locally were invited to speak. The parties agreeing to participate were Tusc, Left Unity and Old Swan Against the Cuts. The latter’s candidate is a member of the grandly-named International Socialist League - the British Section of the International Workers League/Fourth International (ISL). The Tusc candidate is a member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales.

The speakers addressed questions from members of LATC about the election in May this year. Generally, they agreed that the Labour Party will continue to impose cuts and fail to represent workers’ interests; that the Green Party is inconsistent and unreliable; that Ukip is taking advantage of division between workers and the Scottish National Party of workers’ fear and anger about austerity.

My questions were: “Do you think that a classless alternative to capitalism is realisable in today’s world? If so, how would a vote for you and your party help bring this about? In other words, what is your vision of socialism and how to get there?”

After the meeting, the SPEW speaker apologised to me for not answering my questions. I appreciated his honesty. He had spoken of how a Tusc government would nationalise the banks, energy and pharmaceutical companies. Tusc would impose strict controls over the movement of capital abroad and call on workers’ in other countries to support these measures. This gained him a round of applause. When he said that Tusc is opposed to the idea of open borders, I assumed he was referring to restrictions on capital rather than labour. I did not have a chance to interrogate him on this.

In contrast, as I passed the Left Unity speaker going out of the building, she remarked briefly that she liked my questions. I thanked her. She targeted the crisis of capitalism as a cause for the movement of labour across borders. She also highlighted the militancy and potential power of Chinese and Indian workers. She emphasised that it was the task of workers worldwide to end capitalism and its global economic and environmental crises. This is a healthy corrective to the tendency to focus on local or national strategies for change.

The ISL speaker was opposed to immigration controls and Ukip’s scapegoating of foreign workers. He wanted to explain why the left is so weak in the UK. Appealing to the activists at the meeting, he argued that when workers are organised and militant then the left is strong. He therefore urged listeners to agitate for class struggle and to organise in the workplaces and communities from below.

This explanation surprised me. I had expected that a Trotskyist speaker would mention Stalinism and Labourism as barriers to class-consciousness. The combined influence of these historical forces has, in my opinion, weakened both the left and the working class by either ignoring, distorting or polemicising against the potential for a classless alternative to capitalism in the present. As a result the electorate tends to associate socialism and communism with the failure of utopian projects and actual historical dystopias.

None of the speakers answered my questions directly. This made me wonder whether there is an unspoken consensus that this might have generated disagreeable controversy and differences of opinion. Maybe, I thought, our left candidates are afraid to think about the socialist future in public because they might face hostility, ridicule and division. In other words, the topic would not be an ‘election winner’. Nonetheless I was glad that they gave attention to the ideas of building the class struggle from below, what measures a workers’ government would introduce if elected and how to develop a global perspective on workers’ liberation.

Despite admiring the sincerity and courage of the candidates, I left unconvinced I should vote for any of them. It is hard to be a genuine left reformist in the UK today. I thought of the revisionist 19th century Marxist, Eduard Bernstein. Marxist readers of this paper will remember that Bernstein is associated with the statement: “The final aim is nothing; the movement is everything”. I find the reluctance or inability of experienced class-struggle militants to discuss the final aim of socialism/communism/a classless world society in public embarrassing. I wonder whether this timidity is not confined to elections only, but rather is a permanent outcome of despair and the absence of access to an adequate Marxist education today.

Paul B Smith


The final reprint of The Leninist’s coverage on the miners’ strike was from just after it ended in March 1985 (‘Lessons of the Great Strike’, April 9). Mark Fischer reflects on the theme at the time that the National Union of Mineworkers had not been broken and the cause wasn’t lost, but in retrospect he now thinks we had.

Personally, I think you were right the first time. 1985 hadn’t broken the miners or the union. We suffered a great defeat of confidence and lost almost 100,000 men in the first rush to get out after the defeat, as the closures steamed through. We had also the existence of the yellow-dog Union of Democratic Mineworkers, which had taken something less than 20% of our total membership, but was an obstacle to regroupment and recommitment. But, when the dust settled, coal was still more than 85% of the grid and 85% of that power was produced by coal mined by union miners. We still had power. One year after the end of the Great Strike, pit, regional and area strikes were sweeping the coalfields, a national rank-and-file miners’ organisation had been established with its own widely circulating paper. Arthur Scargill was soon to be re-elected president in a national election based on individual secret ballot and - guess what - we commissioned a national ballot for industrial action and achieved more than an 80% ‘yes’ vote and the National Coal Board/British Coal backed off and withdrew its draconian ‘national disciplinary code’, which had stopped the Yorkshire coalfield with wildcat actions and mass picketing.

It was at that point that the Thatcher plan for the industry was dumped, basically to smash the NUM, close all but the super-profitable pits and sell off a decentralised, privatised, non-union, super-profitable coal industry. This was replaced by the Major plan, which essentially aimed to rid the country of the NUM and its influence by closing down the industry lock, stock and barrel and switching to nuclear and gas power regardless of the economic and social consequences. Labour added its weight to this process by diving up to its armpits in ‘environmental’ and ‘green’ policies in the European Union and the imposition of a scheme which would end coal power and coal production in Europe. We are now living in the last days of this plan, with only my own pit, Hatfield Main, left standing. We can say with certainty we are indeed defeated now, although we weren’t at the end of the strike and not really for another 10 years later.

There are a few other observations I would make on Jack Conrad’s comments from the time. As I constantly remind readers in this paper, the NUM did not think it could do it alone, and from before the start of the strike constructed strike coordinating bodies in London and all the big regions, of all the mass unions, to coordinate action and plug any holes. We had every reason to think they were sincere and many, if not most, were. The NUM was not “split down the middle”, by the way. It had a fraction of about 20% break away. A scab rump left us. We did not split 50-50, as Jack suggests. Neither did the end of the miners’ strike usher in a new period of working class militancy, with strikes across industry just as bitter as ours had been. And, needless to say, ‘revolution’ was not placed on the agenda following our defeat.

I am puzzled by the references to Buckton, Knapp, Todd and Slater, as if they stabbed us in the back and let us down, when the absolute opposite is the case. No British National Union of Seamen seafarer handled coal or sailed scab cargoes, while coal ships were tied up for 12 months. No train broke our picket lines - indeed they imagined they saw a picket line, which they refused to cross, when our lads were too lazy to turn up and mount one. Thousands of train drivers and guards were sent home without pay, many suspended for refusing to run scab trains or cross picket lines. Leicester had only 31 men on strike and 2,219 scabbing. The Coalville signal box men refused to allow coal onto the line, and crews refused to man trains for 12 months! Even to the point where National Union of Railwaymen signal box men were compulsorily laid off on sick as being mentally ill for not allowing coal trains through junctions.

When it comes to dockers, well, of course, it would have been excellent if all the dockers had downed tools and struck in solidarity with the miners, but that degree of class-consciousness and solidarity wasn’t on the cards at that point. Instead the action of blocking scab coal, fuel and iron ore was sold on the basis of self-interest.

If Jack had any experience in mass industry and mass union struggles, he would know that action is frequently initiated on the basis of how it directly and materially affects you as a worker in your industry, rather than as a class, for the class. In this case, the union dockers at Immingham had allowed non-dockers to unload scab coke on the docks. A national dock strike had been launched, which had the Thatcher government quaking, and, obviously, many dockers knew this was grist to the mill of the miners and the overall victory would be a class one, not simply a sectional one.

Thatcher knew it too, and Keith Joseph was dispatched to concede everything to dockers and reaffirm the terms of the dock labour scheme - ie, that only registered union dockers would move freight on the ports. This threw the giant ball of fortune back into the court of the weakest dock labour force in Britain.

Ron Todd went down to Immingham with the president of the Aslef union (which was imposing the coke blockade by rail) to plead with the dockers to hold their water. He spelt out to the furious mob that they had the fate of the miners, the dockers and the rest of the working class in their hands. He was pelted with iron bolts and Aslef president (and Communist Party member) Bill Ronskey was knocked off the platform, while Ron was struck in the forehead by a bolt and had his head split open. He carried on appealing to them to stand their ground, with blood running down his face and onto his shirt. So, unless you know something that I don’t, other than that workers don’t always do what they should do, I can’t see why any of those leaders from those unions should come in for criticism of the kind Jack gave them.

What happened, of course, was that the so-called union dockers at Immingham then started to unload the scab iron and coke themselves, thus staying within the terms of the dock labour scheme, and whipping away the ground on which the strike had been called. Obviously, if the dockers had simply marched out in support of the miners nationwide without any direct self-interest, that would have been hallelujah time, but the workers didn’t want to play it that way. Not for the first time in commenting on this strike, Jack supposes workers will simply do as they are told, and if they aren’t so told then it is a failure of leadership - as if the views of the workers are always progressive and rooted in a clear class perspective. Would that were so.

Sometimes, you just have to piss with the dick you’ve got, as they say in Yorkshire. The criticism of Scargill seems to be that he didn’t lead an all-out attack on the capitalist system per se and the strike was confined to pits and coal rather than calling a mass general strike for the overthrow of capitalism and imposition of a soviet socialist system. Well, yes and no. We were fighting a defensive strike to stand still, to conserve what we had and where we were, as a backstop to any further inroads in the terms and conditions of the miners in particular and the working class as a whole. But the reality of that fight and the forces represented within it, and the aims that stood behind the stated aims, were a different quality of conflict and Jack surely knows that now, if not then.

It was because the miners represented more than a trade union challenge to a Tory government, offered a different set of values and principles and had faith in an entirely different basis on which to construct society that we were taken out, and systematically wiped out, in two mass assaults and numerous small skirmishes. Just Hatfield remains, and they are determined it should go too, just as we are determined that it should not.

One remaining outpost of the NUM isn’t going to storm Whitehall or overthrow the system, but the fact that we are still there offers inspiration and vision to the working class movement as a whole, and the entire political establishment. The Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour Party know it too.

David Douglass
South Shields