Israeli Jews constitute a nation, but Zionism necessarily involves the oppression and removal of the Palestinians

Failed recipes

We must relearn the art of thinking strategically. Jack Conrad joins the debate on Israel-Palestine

No one can deny the huge importance of the Israel-Palestine question - although the combined Jewish and Arab population of Israel is tiny, just over 8.5 million. But, of course, in the late 1960s, the global hegemon came to regard Israel as a “strategic asset” … in those days against the threat of Arab radicalism to its client states in the Middle East.1 After the June 1967 Six Day war, and then with the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, the United States repeatedly upped its economic and military aid. As a result Israel is today widely compared to ancient Sparta: “Security is king and the army is god” (Gideon Levy).2 The country is highly militarised, has a stockpile of some 300 nuclear warheads3 and is equipped with cutting-edge US armoured, naval, airforce and missile hardware. Israel also possesses its own not inconsiderable arms industry.

It hardly needs adding, the Middle East contains around half of the world’s easily accessible reserves of oil and gas. The average cost of a barrel of oil in the Middle East is $10 (in Saudi Arabia it is just $2). Extracting Russian oil, the “next least costly producer”, is around $20, and it is far higher elsewhere.4 Needless to say, the US, including under Donald Trump, is determined that access to and distribution of this vital natural resource is ‘defended’ (ie, controlled by the US). And, of course, Israel, not Saudi Arabia, not Turkey, not Egypt, is its most reliable US satrap, enforcer, attack dog in the region. Oil, the life blood of post-World War II capitalism, is what primarily determines the US-Israel ‘special relationship’, not America’s so-called ‘Jewish community’ (parts of which, of course, serve as a real, but often much exaggerated, pro-Israel lobby group5).

So it is easy to understand why the Israel-Palestine question constitutes a modern-day litmus test. Those who support Israel’s continuation as a Zionist state, those who automatically reject condemnations of Zionism, those who categorise Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, can be considered on-message, potential partners, willing to sell themselves, respectable, etc, by the US state apparatus. The category of on-message, potential partners, etc, includes some who still pass as the ‘left’ in Britain - eg, Progress, Labour Friends of Israel, Jewish Labour Movement, The Guardian, Owen Jones, Jon Lansman, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, etc.

By contrast anyone who insists that Zionism does not represent all Jewish people, that Zionism is a colonial-settler project necessarily involving the oppression of the native Arab population, that Zionism is a blood and soil nationalism, such people, including ourselves, are targeted for vilification and, if possible, ostracism and the outer darkness. Indeed over the last couple of years there has been a highly successful, generously financed, well orchestrated, witch-hunt that has hit the Labour left like a black tornado. With the active connivance of the Tory government, the media, the Israeli embassy and the US Christian right, thousands have found themselves expelled or suspended. The biggest scalp, so far, being former London mayor and National Executive Committee member, Ken Livingstone.

Ideologically there had been a joining together of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. To be anti-Zionist is almost to become a Nazi, or, at the very least, a Nazi apologist. Obvious nonsense, but it brilliantly serves a threefold purpose.

Progress … of a sort

However, apart from the above, the anti-Zionist camp is far from united. For the purposes of this article, I will put aside attitudes towards the Labour Party, consciousness versus economistic spontaneity, the severe limitations of protest politics, etc. Instead of these, vital issues, let us concentrate on Israel-Palestine as a strategic question.

This brings me to Tony Greenstein and his reply to Moshé Machover’s Weekly Worker article ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’.6 I do so, not because of any wish represent comrade Machover. He is more than capable of doing that himself. Nor is my intention to start a flame war. I consider comrade Greenstein a friend of the CPGB. His Weekly Worker articles have certainly been full of insights into the sorry history of Zionism, horrible details about current Israeli politics and savage indictments of the current witch-hunt (of which he is himself a prominent victim). No, what I want to do is to revisit and develop my argument.

Comrade Greenstein says he agrees with Moshé when he says that it is “impossible for the Palestinians, by themselves, to overthrow Zionism.” In other words the solution to the Palestine-Israel question lies outside the Palestine-Israel box, ie, with the wider Arab world. However, comrade Greenstein rejects socialist revolution as premature. Instead he calls for a bourgeois democratic revolution.

I think this represents progress … of a sort. Back in 2008 he was equating the CPGB with the AWL and resting his strategy of achieving a single-state Palestine, not only on when the Arab masses “once again” challenge their rulers, but on Malthusian projections of when “the oil runs out”. Peak oil, not the end of oil, was once projected for 2030 by the doom mongers. Then, after that, who knows in 2050, in 2070, when oil begins to run out, the “more intelligent Zionists will realise that the game is up”.7 Why? Because with the end of oil US imperialism will supposedly lose interest in the Middle East and abandon its Israeli “strategic asset” to its fate. Evidentially this was not a well founded analysis, neither of the oil industry nor international relations. Rather a sign of desperation and political despair.

The end of oil was always a complete nonsense. So was peak oil for that matter. In fact the whole thesis - that there is a certain amount of oil in the ground which will at some point begin to run out - takes no account of reserves, demand or price. Eg, if demand increases then one would expect the price to increase and that would make what are now totally unexploited or marginal fields viable. Exploration would also be stimulated and new sources discovered. Besides that you can make oil from a whole range of different substances, eg, tar sands, coal and methane, if you are prepared to pay the financial and environmental cost. Note, in the late 19th century various top minds in Britain fretted over diminishing reserves of coal.8

Actually, if peak oil ever happened - and it won’t - in all likelihood, the US would continue its ‘special relationship’ with Israel, not least to police a region which would still contain the cheapest recoverable oil reserves.

The fact that the Israeli-Jewish population is ever fearful of the internal and external Arab threat - military, economic, political, demographic, etc - means that the alliance with the US has a solid democratic mandate. In no small measure this is what gives the Zionist regime a stability that is so clearly absent in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Are the Jews a nation?

All comrades on our side of the debate over the Israel-Palestine question agree that the Jewish people, taken as a whole, do not constitute a nation. A piece of Zionist fakery. There is a not unfounded suggestion that the Jewish Shtetl in late medieval Poland-Lithuania had nation-like features. Yet these semi-autonomous micro-states were long ago swept away by a combination of feudal decay and capitalist development. Equally to the point, they never included any more than a minority of the world’s Jewish population within their pinched domains. Jews as a whole constituted not a nation but a people-religion. Another being the Sikhs.

Nation-states typically emerged from the womb of feudalism and are based on the existence of a common territory, language, economy, etc. There are between 12-20 million Jews worldwide today (that includes secular Jews, of course). Living on every inhabited continent they speak a giddy range of native tongues. English, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Hungarian, Turkish. 

Following in the footsteps of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky, the Belgian Trotskyist Abram Leon famously described the Jews of feudal Europe as a “people-class” in his influential book The Jewish question (1946). Jewishness might once have referred to holding a common faith and in some parts of the world a common legally sanctioned caste position. Eg, in eastern Europe Jews constituted the “sole commercial element in a purely agricultural society.”9 Nowadays, however, while religion still counts, it is in rapid decline, eg, amongst the Jewish population of Israel 41.4% define themselves as “secular”. Nevertheless showing how complex things are when asked “what religion are you?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish.10 Being Jewish is therefore just as much about imagined ancestry, a sense of common cultural identity and how one sees oneself and is seen by others. Economics has nothing to do with it under presentday circumstances.

Following in the footsteps of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky, the Belgian Trotskyist Abram Leon famously described the Jews of feudal Europe as a “people-class” in his influential book The Jewish question (1946). Jewishness might once have referred to holding a common faith and in some parts of the world a common legally sanctioned caste position. Eg, in eastern Europe Jews constituted the “sole commercial element in a purely agricultural society.”9 Nowadays, however, while religion still counts, it is in rapid decline, eg, amongst the Jewish population of Israel 41.4% define themselves as “secular”. Nevertheless showing how complex things are when asked “what religion are you?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish.10 Being Jewish is therefore just as much about imagined ancestry, a sense of common cultural identity and how one sees oneself and is seen by others. Economics has nothing to do with it under presentday circumstances.

Are the Israeli-Jews a nation?

What of the Jews in Israel? I have argued that they are an exception and do constitute a nation. Israeli Jews speak the same language, inhabit the same territory, have a common culture and share a sense of identity.11 Naturally new migrants, such as those from the former Soviet Union in the 1980-90s, stand out as a partial exception, crucially when it comes to language. Many of them, especially if they were over 30 found themselves unable to master the Hebrew language, and, given their relative numbers, were able to stick to Russian in terms of their day-to-day life. There are Russian dominated neighbourhoods. However, their children absorbed Hebrew naturally, assimilated and are nowadays unmistakably Israeli. Comrade Machover calls Israeli Jews the Hebrew nation and I have often used the same designation. Either way, the Hebrew-speaking Jews of Israel are the sole Jewish nation in the world today.

Over the course of the 20th century millions of Jews have migrated from Europe, Asia and Africa, have learnt Hebrew, and made and remade the Israeli-Jewish nation. This recent historical phenomenon has to be categorically distinguished from the much older and much wider Jewish people-religion. Yes, nations can be formed extraordinarily quickly in historical terms. It does not take hundreds or thousands of years as some nationalist ideologues pretend.

Comrade Greenstein refuses to countenance the palpable fact of the Jewish-Israeli nation. This stance allows him to escape the possibility of calling for national self-determination for the Israel-Jewish nation. If the Israeli Jews are not a nation there can be no national self-determination. Problem solved.

However, it is not so easy. Comrade Greenstein’s case rests on jesuitical, not Marxist, reasoning. Hence he tells us that the legal definition of what constitutes one’s nationality in Israel is based firstly, on the “myth” of a “previous Jewish political presence” and, secondly, an “imagined ethnicity”. Certainly Israeli courts have ruled that there is no “Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation.”12 There is, in other words, a dichotomy between legal doctrine and socio-political reality. Going back to 1913, Germany had not dissimilar blood and soil legal stipulations.13 Till the 1999 reform, so-called ethnic Germans, going back to grandparents, especially in the former ‘eastern bloc’, could obtain German citizenship (a right taken up by many Poles, Russians, Ukrainians … and Israelis).

But the task of Marxists is precisely to debunk myths, to reveal the reality that exists beneath the surface appearance of all ideological claims. Because that is what we are dealing with. Notions of a common Jewish nationality are false (see above). If that is the case, and comrade Greenstein agrees, then it logically follows that Jews in Israel can be, must be, separated from Jews world-wide when it comes to nation and nationality. Eg, Jews in Britain are part of the British nation, not the “Jewish nation”.

Are Israeli Jews, by contrast, a non-nation? Are the Jews of Israel nothing but a heterogeneous collection of many different nations? In other words are they still Polish, German, Russian, Iraqi, Moroccan, Indian, etc? Undoubtedly, even generations on, such identities survive as significant political and cultural determinates. Eg, the Ashkenazi - whose main origins lie in eastern Europe - form a colonial aristocracy. But such differences are overlaid by an Israeli commonality. There is an acid test. What are the young men and women of the Israeli Defence Force prepared to die for? The country of their parents or grandparents? Hardly. Their religious sect? A few maybe (on the far right). Or their country? The many wars fought by Israel since 1947-48 surely gives the answer.

In other words there is compelling indirect evidence that Israeli-Jews are conscious of themselves as a nation. We can also refer to the Pew Research Centre’s survey of Israeli opinion. We read that 46% of Israeli Jews see themselves as “Jewish first and then Israeli”. The bulk of “Jewish first and then Israeli” being accounted for by the three religious categories, ie, the Haredit, Dati and Masorti. Secular Jews - the Hiloni - see themselves as Israeli first, by 59% to 20%. What this shows is that amongst ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox and Conservative Jews religion is of primary concern. That is hardly news. But as the survey makes plain, they still see themselves as Israeli. There is near unanimity, however, when it comes to the central plank of Zionist ideology. Alike secular and religious Israeli Jews agree that Israel should be a Jewish state, that Jews world wide should be able to migrate to Israel and be granted full citizenship rights.14

What of the Israeli courts? Does their remit extend to all Jews? No, there is an Israeli Ministry of Justice, an Israeli high court, Israeli labor, military courts, etc. Their jurisdiction is confined to the state of Israel - and Israeli citizens - alone. That applies to the Rabbinic courts too. Hence we come to Israel’s marriage laws. They constitute another of comrade Greenstein’s objections to the reality of the Israeli-Jewish nation. These laws - inherited from the Ottoman empire - prohibit intermarriage between confessional sects (there is no provision for civil marriage).

For a marriage to gain full legal recognition it must be carried out within the religious community of which both partners are presumed to belong (a practice which necessitates conversion, entry into a couple union or forces people to travel abroad). When it comes to Jews it is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that has to preside over all marriages (and cases of divorce, etc). Hence secular, reform, etc, Israeli Jews must go to an orthodox rabbi. A cause of bitter complaint.

But once again comrade Greenstein conflates law with social reality. People of both sexes cohabit and in increasing numbers, enter legal unions or even marry through the Paraguayan embassy.15 The real point, however, is that despite the reactionary marriage laws, and the feigned religiosity forced upon millions, Israel’s Jews, be they orthodox, conservative, reform or secular, constitute a nation.

Especially amongst the 41.4% who define themselves as secular, there is a powerful assimilation tendency (much less so with the ultra-Orthodox). Secular Jews who originated from the former USSR marry native Israelis (whose parents or grandparents originated from Germany, Poland, Iraq, Morocco, etc).16 Secular Jews whose parents and grandparents were born in Israel-Palestine marry incomers from the US, Russia, Ukraine, etc. These couples then have children who use Hebrew as their everyday language (elsewhere amongst Jews, Hebrew is a sacred or liturgical language used like Latin once was by the Catholic church).


While communists have no truck with Zionism and condemn the colonial-settler origins of Israel, we recognise that a definite Israeli Jewish nation has come into existence. Nevertheless, Zionist Israel must go. That is a basic democratic demand. Zionism is not “a nationalist movement aimed at empowering” Jews (editorial Morning Star).17 Zionism is an ongoing colonial settler project. The aim of Zionism is a Jewish state for Jewish people (from the river to the sea). In other words a greater Israel. Unless it is stopped we should expect the expulsion of Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens and the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank’s 2.7 million Palestinian population. Why? Israel faces a fundamental problem. What to do with the people whose land it is bent on robbing? Zionism cannot permit the more biologically fertile Palestinians to grow into a majority within Israel, that is for sure. Hence the Zionist talk of a demographic time bomb.

On the other hand, to demand the immediate abolition of Israel, not the Zionist regime, and the creation of a single Palestinian state in which Hebrews, whose biggest group consider themselves secular, are to be granted religious, not national rights, is a proposition which I regard as fundamentally undemocratic: a proposition, in truth, if it were put in practice, would reverse the poles of oppression.

There are some 6.1 million Israeli Jews. About 10-11 million Palestinians worldwide; but only 6-7 million of them live in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, Israel proper and the near abroad of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Hence, unless there is the forcible movement of peoples, eg, the deportation of Jews, the rescinding of Palestinian citizenship rights and mass deportation from Jordan (where they are highly integrated), the round-up and expulsion of Palestinian workers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, etc, it is fair to say then, that the projected single Palestinian state would include roughly equivalent numbers of Hebrews and Arabs.

Comrades in the Middle East, in my view, have every reason to include in their programmes specific pledges and assurances which go towards overcoming or at least diminishing Hebrew fears and phobias, and thereby help diminish the antagonism between Hebrews and Palestinians and the wider Arab nation. Branding Israeli-Jews as oppressors and nothing but oppressors, telling them that they will be recognised only in terms of their religious affiliations, that they would have no common national rights, plays into the hands of the worst Zionist scaremongers.

That was true, unfortunately, of the 1968 Palestine National Covenant (or PLO charter). It baldly maintained that Palestine is the “homeland” of the “Palestinian Arab people” who are an “integral part of the Arab nation” (article one). Palestine is defined as having the boundaries of the pre-1947 British mandate territory (article two). The only Jews considered legitimate Palestinians were those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion” (article five).18

The beginning of the “Zionist invasion” dates back, I presume to the 1880s, when the first European Jewish colonists trickled into the Ottoman controlled Holy Land. So what is to happen to those Jews whose ancestors arrived in Palestine with the “Zionist invasion”? Even if we fast-forward the invasion date that still amounts to the majority of Israeli Jews. In 1948, some 65% of them originated from elsewhere. Today only the tiniest minority could trace their ancestry back to the Jewish inhabitants of 19th century Palestine.

Though many of the formulations contained in the 1968 Palestine National Covenant has since been disowned by the PLO, they are, to all intents and purposes, still upheld by sections of the left (comrade Greenstein included). As I have just remarked above, some are generously prepared to grant Jews religious rights within their proposed single Palestinian state. National rights are an altogether different matter. After all, in the Marxist tradition at least, that would mean countenancing the right of Hebrews to some form of autonomy, or in the worst case scenario, even forming their own separate state.

Recognising the existential danger presented by a 6.1 million-strong enemy within - a militarily defeated, oppressed and, one would guess, a bitterly resentful population - others, logically, demand that all post-invasion Jews should be expelled from Palestine.

I distinctly remember squeezing through one of the narrow gates to Hyde Park, some time in 2008-09, in order to join one of those huge Gaza solidarity demonstrations and immediately encountering Weyman Bennett, a member of the SWP’s central committee. He was noisily megaphoning: “Jews out of Israel … send them back to where they come from … New York … or wherever.” I was appalled. True, not sparklingly eloquent. But the message was all too clear. And he is far from unique.

A better expressed example would be Nahuel Moreno (1924-87), the Argentinean Trotskyite leader. He was equally strident. Writing in his journal Correo Internacional, Moreno declared that “there is no other way to destroy the Zionist state than throwing out the Zionists” (September 1982). And if anyone thought there were “non-Zionist Jewish residents” he made his position quite explicit: “those imaginary inhabitants do not exist.” The destruction of the Zionist state, he continued, “necessarily implies the removal of the present inhabitants”. Otherwise this would mean “accepting the accomplished fact of the Jewish occupation of Israel.”19

Opposing demands for the removal of the Israeli Jewish population does not mean sliding into Zionist apologetics. Those leftwingers such as Max Shachtman, Hal Draper and Al Glotzer, who in the name of Israeli-Jewish self-determination, defended 1948 Israel were clearly wrong precisely because it meant turning a blind eye to real oppression and forced removal ... of the Palestinians. Most Jews arrived in Palestine - from Europe - explicitly or implicitly, determined to displace the Palestinian natives. Contrary to Zionist myth the territory was not an empty space lacking permanent inhabitants.

Israel was planned to be what Karl Kautsky categorised as a “work colony”. Not an “exploitation colony”.20 That was the Zionist project - labor, revisionist and religious. Palestinians were therefore not economically required to serve as cheap labour by the conquerors. They were surplus to requirement. An obstacle that one way or the other would have to be cowed, uprooted and dispossessed of their land. Colonists would provide all the classes in Zionist Israel.

Maybe in the 1930s and 40s it would have been legitimate to argue that recent Jewish migrants should head back to, throw in their lot with, and bank on a socialist victory in Europe. However, a moment’s reflection shows why not. The abject failure of the working class movement to prevent the Nazi coup wholly mitigates against that approach. Jews were quite justified when they fled continental Europe and demanded that Britain, the US, etc opened their doors. Without that there was Palestine and the Zionist alternative. True, many on the left feared that Palestine itself was a death-trap for escaping Jews. And, of course, it was always right to have fought with every ounce of available strength for the defeat of Nazi barbarism and for working class rule in Europe. Nevertheless, between 1933-45 returning Jews to Europe would have been to make oneself complicit in mass murder. We certainly know that now.

So on balance, at least in terms of the region, it would have been better for the Arab and Jewish left to have unitedly campaigned for the immediate withdrawal of the British and French occupying powers, the termination of the 1922 League of Nations mandates and re-establishing a greater Syria - roughly along the old Ottoman borders and therefore incorporating most of what is today Syria, Jordan, Israel-Palestine and Lebanon. A first step towards pan-Arab unity under working class leadership. Deprived of an imperial sponsor, European Jewish migrants could then be encouraged to develop their culture, contribute their talents and democratically assimilate.

That does not rule out the possibility of a Jewish autonomous area or even a state. Trotsky speculated about such a scenario in the late 1930s. “Once socialism has become master of our planet or at least of its most important sections”, he argued, “it will have unimaginable resources in all domains.” That could encompass “great migrations”. Not “compulsory displacements” and the creation of new ghettos, Trotsky stressed. Rather mass migrations “freely consented to, or rather demanded by certain nationalities or parts of nationalities.” In particular Trotsky had in mind the “dispersed Jews” who might want to be “reassembled in the same community”. They would, he promised, find “a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun.”21

The ever growing Nazi menace and the imminent prospect that war would bring the extermination of European Jews haunted Trotsky. Holding out the prospect of future mass migrations was clearly in the absence of being able to do anything decisive in the way of stopping Hitler. The bloody shadow of the swastika already hung over much of Europe.

As an aside, in my opinion, socialism will in all likelihood not witness mass migrations. Surely both in terms of the past and present a tell tale symptom of social decay, persecution and desperation. Getting to the desired destination is often very costly and risky for the migrant. Many are ripped off. Not a few die. Life thereafter is often precarious, hard and deeply alienating.

Socialism would do away with all that. Through the mass transfer of wealth and technique from the advanced countries to the rest of the world, the standard of living will be quickly evened up everywhere. Doubtless people will travel far and wide for all manner of reasons. Nonetheless, I suspect that mostly they will be more than content to return to their homeland where their families, friends and familiar cultural surroundings are. Far from socialism ushering in another age of mass migrations, it will put an end to them. Global citizens will have rich, deep and enduring local connections.

Either way, while Trotsky remained convinced that the socialist revolution is the only “realistic solution” to the “Jewish question”, in June 1940 he was willing to concede that if “Jewish workers and peasants asked for an independent state”, which they were not being given by Britain in mandate Palestine, “if they want it, the proletariat will give it.”22

Not that we should completely rule out population movements in the meantime. Under present circumstances a good case can be made for the orderly transfer of Israeli settlers back from the West Bank. They could be relocated in Israel in perfect safety and without too much personal trauma. Yes, I say, Israeli troops, watch towers, check points, special roads, exclusive settlements … and citizens must go … and substantial reparations be paid over to the Palestinians.

Certainly if Israeli settlements are allowed to continue to grow and asphyxiatingly spread across the face of the West Bank, a Palestinian state will become as real as the prospects of American natives regaining their lost territories. But it is not too late ... yet.

Two political economies

Incidentally, the position of Rhodesian or South African whites is in no way analogous to that of Israeli Jews. Here, as I, and comrade Machover, have pointed out on numerous occasions, we are dealing with different political economies (I came to this conclusion, second hand, through reading Kautsky; comrade Machover arrived at the same conclusion, through his own empirical investigations).

Because the whites in South Africa presided over an exploitation colony, not a work colony, they never, nor could they, ever form a nation. They were the supervisors, the police captains, the farm managers, the capitalists, the political and state elite (equivalent in that sense to the Normans in post-1066 England). Nor in any meaningful territorial terms did they form a historically constituted majority. Eg, every ‘white’ area in apartheid South Africa - they predominately spoke Afrikaans or English - was also permanently inhabited by numerous house servants, and these little enclaves relied upon a small army of incoming workers who commuted daily from the surrounding townships. And, of course, around the white areas lived the 80% black and coloured majority, who were decisive to the workings of the overall economy).

The same cannot be said of Israeli Jews. In central Israel, especially along the Tel Aviv-Haifa coastal strip, they form a clear and stable majority. Of course, Jews are the supervisors, the police captains, the farm managers, the capitalists, the political and state elite. But they are also the proletariat. Indeed one of the key aims of Labor Zionism - till the 1970s the dominant strand in Zionism - was the proletarianisation of incoming Jewish migrants. Meanwhile, with the connivance of the Histadrut, the Labor-Zionist trade union confederation, the native Arab-Palestinian population were to be excluded from the economy or made completely marginal (the fate of natives in other work colonies such as Canada, the US and Australia).

A non-Zionist Israel

I think it is now obvious that Palestinians, by their own efforts, in isolation, cannot possibly establish a single state over the whole of pre-1947 Palestine in which the Hebrew speaking Jews have religious but not national rights. They simply lack the military muscle and international connections. Added to which, of course, the Palestinians are debilitatingly split territorially between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank, and therefore cannot achieve anything beyond abject surrender or hopeless resistance.

So we come to the vital question of agency and the determining relationship between means and ends. Agency and solution forming a dialectical unity. There is no realistic possibility of the Palestinians overpowering Israel. It is not only the regional superpower. It is backed by the global superpower. The logical conclusion of this, in Marxist terms, is a working class perspective to overthrow the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Tunisia, etc. In other words the Arab revolution. Combined with working class leadership, such a perspective can seriously envisage abolishing Zionist Israel and ending the national oppression of the Palestinians.

Obviously, the call for an Arab revolution is a matter of strategy, not a tactic. How things are presented in terms of propaganda and agitation is, of course, tactical. But the Arab revolution is, in its own way, on a par with Polish, Italian, German unification in 19th century Europe. There is an Arab nation and, politically, there is every reason to fight for its unification.

True, there have been various Arab unity projects in recent times. Eg, Nasser’s United Arab Republic and the attempts at Ba’athist unity (Iraq and Syria). All failed. Not only did they involve conflict with other countries in the region, such as Iran. There was the continued oppression of national minorities inbuilt into them too. The Kurds, Berbers, etc were to be permanently subordinated to the Arabs.

Our task, in the 21st century, is not to turn back the clock and revive Arab nationalism. No, what we are looking forwards to is working class leadership within Egypt, Syria, Jordan, etc and beyond. Doubtless the idea of Arab unification is more popular in Egypt than Morocco. The task of communists, however, is not to carry out opinion polls and act according to their ever changing results. We must chart a route map for world revolution. Arab unification is a democratic demand and the working class has every interest in making it their cause, as did Marx and Engels in Germany.

However, having come to the recognition of the impossibility of the Palestinians achieving a one-state solution, and the necessity of an Arab revolution, comrade Greenstein calls for a limiting “bourgeois revolution”. In other words, if the working class takes the lead, it should stop half-way, hand power to the Arab bourgeois, so that this class can ‘unfreeze’ organic development and allow the Arab world to follow the path blazed by 18th and 19th century Europe. Presumably this bourgeois Arabia then conquers Israel by force and liberates the oppressed Palestinians. A recipe for a bloody, possibly a nuclear war ... and also an elementary failure to recognise the existing imperialist hierarchy. Despite that evolutionist hypothesis, comrade Greenstein blithely informs us that no struggle “can be conducted on the basis of a hypothetical future.”23 Surely all struggles are. Even the most primitive of our animal ancestors had brains that could project forward to a “hypothetical future” … eg, I hear you, I smell you, I see you … I want to eat you.

Nevertheless, if I have got him right, what comrade Greenstein proposes, is a mirror image of Russian Menshevism. What I envisage, by contrast, is an Arab Bolshevism. The revolution must proceed uninterruptedly. Conceivably, if the working class can take the lead in realising Arab unity, it can then lead the Arab socialist revolution from the position of state power - one phase overlapping with, feeding into, making way for the other.

Working class forces in the Arab world must stop trailing behind petty bourgeois nationalism and liberal imperialism. That is for sure. Arab unification must become the cause of the socialist working class. Then, instead of seeing the Arabs as enemies, there is the realistic possibility of the working class in Israel breaking from their own ruling class, taking power and ending Israel as a Zionist state. Socialist forces outside Israel would certainly lend them support and assistance.

Does this perspective mean perpetuating national oppression? Obviously no, not at all. Does it mean national oppression in a new, reversed, form. Again, obviously no, not at all. Where a national question exists there should be a militant fight to ensure full equality. That must include, where politically necessary, the right to self-determination up to the right to form a separate state. A non-Zionist Israel should, therefore, be offered full unity, associate status or independence. So should the Kurdish and Berber people. However, our preference, almost needless to say, is to maximise unity, in the first place the unity of the working class. So, if the communists were successful, within an Arab Union of States there would be religious, linguistic and national minorities. We certainly want national self-determination to be exercised in favour of unity.

Comrade Machover envisages a federal Arab Union. I have no problem with that as a transitional arrangement. Surely, though, we should wherever possible seek centralised unity. The most effective, the most democratic, the most powerful form of working class rule.

This was the programme of that part of the working class in Germany that acted under the guidance of the Marx-Engels team and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848. Doubtless the demand for German unification was stronger in this petty state compared with some other petty state. There were dozens of them. But communists in Germany did not bow to backward narrow mindedness and local fears and prejudices. No, they took the lead and fought for a single republic and indivisible unity. That did not make them nationalists. Prussian Germany was to be broken up. German Poland was to be separated off and reunited with Austrian and Russian Poland. A two state solution, if you like. Marx and Engels were insistent on that.


Marxists do not deny the right of the Israeli-Jewish nation to self-determination on the basis of some half-baked or perverted reading of classic texts. The right to self-determination is not a communist blessing exclusively bestowed upon the oppressed. It is fundamentally a demand for equality. All nations must have the equal right to determine their own fate - as long as that does not involve the oppression of another people. Hence communists recognise that the US, British, German and French nations have self-determination. Today that is unproblematic. There is, therefore, no need to demand US, British, German or French self-determination. We simply desire to see that right extended to all nations.

There are clear political advantages to raising the demand for Hebrew national self-determination (for a post-Zionist Israel). It builds trust between Arabs and Jews, lessens fears and potentially increases the number of anti-Zionist Jews inside Israel.

Instead of categorising oppressors as irredeemable oppressors, Marxism demands political strategies designed to change people. Eg, Marx sought to win the American-Irish to side with the enslaved blacks in the US civil war. A hard task. The Irish constituted a large minority - behind the British and German Americans - but they stood on the lowest rung of white privilege. Irish-Americans therefore saw the “Negro as a dangerous competitor” if they were freed (Marx).24 In New York there were three days of Irish-led anti-draft rioting during July 1863. Hence the Marx strategy within the First International of pressing for Ireland’s freedom from British rule. He did not give up on the Irish-Americans. He wanted to raise their class horizons. In a similar way the post-October 1917 Bolsheviks granted Cossack self-determination along with a whole raft a specific concessions designed to split this privileged military caste by winning the less privileged over to an identification with the Bolshevik regime.

The lesson is to once again learn to think strategically.


1. N Chomsky The fateful triangle London 1983, p21.

2. G Levy ‘Sparta goes to the polls’ Ha’aretz May 6 2012.

3. Israel Hayon April 14 2014.

4. Financial Times April 5 2017.

5. Eg, the American Jewish Congress, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Zionist Organisation of America.

6. M Machover ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’ Weekly Worker January 12 2017. T Greenstein ‘No self-determination’ Weekly Worker April 20 2017.

7. T Greenstein ‘Beyond Zionism or continuing Zionism?’ Weekly Worker December 11 2008.

8. See W Jevons The coal question London 1866.

9. A Leon The Jewish question New York NY 1986, p184.

10. http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/.

11. I know there are those who object to this definition of what constitutes a nation because it comes from Joseph Stalin. But his 1913 Marxism and the national question comes from 1913 and came highly recommended by Lenin. Note, Lenin employed the same ‘objective’ criteria when writing about nations and national self-determination. No less to the point, it provides a highly serviceable checklist of what does and what does not constitute a nation.

12. T Greenstein ‘No self-determination’ Weekly Worker April 20 2017.

13. https://archive.org/stream/jstor-2212311/2212311_djvu.txt.

14. http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/.

15. Paraguay allows people to marry under its law without being personally present.

16. Some one in ten married couples in Israel are defined as “interfaith” (Ha’aretz June 2 2014).

17. Editorial Morning Star April 6 2017.

18. Quoted in U Davis Israel an apartheid state London 1990, pp128-31.

19. www.internationalist.org/palestineintifada0201.html.

20. www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1907/colonial/index.htm.

21. marxists.architexturez.net/history/etol/newspape/fi/vol06/no12/trotsky.htm.

22. archive.workersliberty.org/publications/readings/swpschool2000/jews.pdf.

23. T Greenstein ‘No self-determination’ Weekly Worker April 20 2017.

24. Quoted in AJ Nimtz Marx, Tocqueville, and race in America Lanham MA 2003, p107.