United front

Moshé Machover and Tony Greenstein have taken a new tack in their most recent contributions about the Jewish state (Letters, April 13). Whether they describe Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu’s new minister of national security, as an “ultra-racist” or a “neo-Nazi”, they both agree that he’s no danger to the Israeli working class because his target is exclusively the Palestinians.

This brings to mind Pastor Niemöller’s famous statement: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist ...” The message is that, rather than threatening one group alone, Nazism threatened anyone who was a worker, a leftist or a member of some beleaguered minority. Anyone who said otherwise was guilty of the most monstrous self-deception possible. But the same goes for Ben-Gvir and his personal SS that the Netanyahu government has just authorised: it also poses a general threat. Hence, it isn’t just Palestinians who are in the line of fire, but anyone who opposes Zionism’s destructive course. Refusing to face facts about this latest turn to fascism amounts to a kind of suicide pact, precisely as it did in Germany in 1929-33.

Machover writes: “For a united front to be fit for purpose, its programme must therefore include overthrowing the Zionist colonial regime of Jewish supremacy, and supporting Palestinian national liberation. Otherwise, Palestinian workers will treat it with justified contempt. But, if it does have such a programme, then under present circumstances, only a tiny minority of Jewish workers will join up. The great majority see no point in giving up ‘their’ Jewish supremacy and putting themselves in Ben-Gvir’s line of fire. They will rather vote for him” (original emphasis).

One can only shake one’s head over such obtuseness. Of course, a united front of the working class is impossible “under present circumstances”. But then the whole purpose of a united front is to change those circumstances into something different. Should Jewish workers repudiate Jewish supremacy? Of course. But our message to Jewish workers is that they must repudiate Jewish supremacy or else anti-fascism will fail - in which case they’ll be doomed. Should we also call on Palestinian workers to repudiate the religious fundamentalism of far-right parties like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Again, the answer is yes. Both sides must understand that chauvinism, ethnic prejudice and all other reactionary ideologies are leading to disaster. Both must understand that they have to make room for one another in a territory no bigger than Massachusetts and that proletarian internationalism is the only way for national aspirations to be realised on both sides of the divide.

Machover adds that Jewish supremacism “may change, but it would take a major regional transformation to make it possible”. Exactly: the whole purpose of a united front is to begin the transformative process that socialism represents.

Machover’s insistence that nothing can change because Jewish workers will never give up their “privileges” marks him as a defeatist. Greenstein’s statement that “the Israeli working class will play little or no part in opposing the completion of the Zionist project” marks him as worse - an upside-down Zionist who believes that an anti-Jewish Nakba is the only way to even the score.

Daniel Lazare
New York

IRA accountable

It’s incredibly ignorant of Eddie Ford to put the Provisional IRA in the same camp as Extinction Rebellion and allege “they have no democratic accountability” (‘All power to the 3.5%’, April 20). The Provos had no democratic accountability? An organisation which developed entirely out of the heart and soul of the republican communities of the Six Counties, entirely composed of its young working class men and women, was not accountable?

It was so inseparable a part of the community that the British state saw that community and the Provos as one and the same thing and interned or massacred them wholesale - bringing in the whole paraphernalia of barbed wire, machine-gun posts, watch towers, tanks and armoured cars on the streets, assassination squads and military occupation. The Provos in the period of the armed struggle was the expression of the vast majority of people in those bitterly and murderously repressed communities. It was daily accountable to the people from which it sprang.

Obviously, they did not have open planning meetings or a public show of hands on where to attack British imperialism or loyalist militias, but they were accountable all right. Had they not been, they would not have been able to bring up to 20,000 British troops to a score draw at least. It was the realisation that the armed phase of the struggle was over which led to the change in direction for the republican movement as a whole, and that directly reflected the feeling on the street and throughout the community. That didn’t in my view require the almost total surrender of socialist and republican struggle or the Good Friday agreement, but this particular armed phase of resistance.

The point is, the Provos had nothing whatsoever in common with the petulant, irrational and ultra-middle class shenanigans of the XR doomsday cult - who represent nobody but themselves and their deeply suspect, rich funders. The Provisional IRA was an armed and militant section of the Irish working class - something which XR is not nor ever could be.

David John Douglass
South Shields

Death penalty

Although it may appear that the argument over the efficacy (or not) of the death penalty has been settled, there are many places where the discussion is still taking place, most notably in the West Indies.

In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, the country has a spiralling crime rate, and hanging may be brought back. The president of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturer’s Association is not clear that bringing it back will help: “You have criminals engaging in shoot-outs with the police,” he said. “I’m not sure how scared they will be of a hangman who may potentially hang them 10, 20 years from now.” But he went on: “Crime is bad for business … If the law is to hang, we will support it.”

Meanwhile the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines appears to have an even clearer position. In a crime conference held in Trinidad, he boasted that, although he was a Roman Catholic and the pope was against the death penalty, his own view was that “For murder, other than a crime of passion, you should get the death penalty”. But, like others in the islands, the PM’s views have not been so settled in the past. Perhaps (only perhaps!) this was because an innocent man was hanged in 1995. And on the same day two brothers were hanged, having been given a weekend’s notice.

In 2009 56% of those who took part in a referendum on the death penalty in St Vincent and the Grenadines voted to reject its restoration. The prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, had suggested that abolition of the death penalty was a neo-colonialist imposition by the Europeans, whereas the history of the death penalty shows us that it was used until recently by Europe and is still widely used in the US.

Although many of the islands still have the death penalty, most have not actually carried out an execution in many years. While only Bermuda has totally abolished it, Barbados, for example, still sentences individuals to death, but has not carried out that sentence since 1984. Jamaica also has a legal death penalty, but there have been none carried out since 1988. In fact the last execution that I can find in the West Indies was in St Kitts and Nevis in 2008.

Despite this, it appears the debate is still ongoing throughout the Caribbean and the future is far from clear.

Gaby Rubin


I appreciate comrade Downing’s letter of April 20 and I will attempt a response. I have authored several letters which have been published in the Weekly Worker regarding women’s issues - one was as thorough a synopsis as I could devise in the space at hand, dealing with Friedrich Engels. I support the promulgation of his revolutionary ideas - with the proviso that his work was limited by the amount of information at his command and the time in which it was situated.

Regarding Heather Brown, my statement that her argument is “valid” was not meant as an endorsement (I apologise for being unclear); I should have prefaced that by saying that this might be an interesting subject for a dialectical discussion. Brown unfortunately counterposes Marx to Engels and her analysis of Engels is very deficient. Nonetheless, I think her assessment has some possible value - if not for a unitary theory of class and gender, which seems to be her stated aim, then for some insights into Karl Marx. By totally rejecting Brown outright, as Gerry Downing seems to propose, because of weakness in her theory, I believe - we ipso facto ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. It might be an anti-intellectual exercise. Furthermore, it may not be a serious transgression, as Gerry Downing asserts, if Brown does not mention the Bolshevik women in one of her articles: this may not be her area of expertise or focus and it may not be fair to fault her for this.

I want to look at various schools of scholarship as impartially as possible or necessary. I had questioned the bias toward Shulamith Firestone expressed in a past Weekly Worker article, the reason being that she was brilliant, one of the founders of the women’s liberation movement in the US, and was sharper than a tack about the characteristics of the ‘patriarchy’ - a social formation that exists integrally as a part of capitalist class society - discovered by Friedrich Engels, who was influenced by Charles Fourier (credited with first using the term ‘féminisme’, in the 1830s), Marx, Morgan and others. Firestone’s hypothesis of the age-old source of women’s oppression is ahistorical, in my opinion, and she’s wrong about the solutions to remedy this systemic oppression. But the political drawbacks of the radical feminists didn’t prevent non-sectarian socialists from working with them at times on common goals. I hold that radical feminist scholarship has enriched socialist feminist theories.

There are many theorists - ‘critical Marxists’ and socialist feminists who have tried to build on orthodox or classical Marxism - and their work has at times converged and at other times diverged. Their objective is apparently to create the framework to theorise women’s and gender issues, as well as sexual, racial and ethnic issues, etc: for example, white heterosexism. There’s a danger that some of this scholarship weakens Marxist ideology (ie, Marxist concepts about the social and materialist relations of class, the capitalist mode of production and political economy, etc), but, on the other hand, there have been many breakthroughs. Important work by these theorists has started to address the social emancipation of gender and sexual diversity, yet racial issues seem to lag behind.

‘Feminism’, I was recently told, has historically been associated with liberal or bourgeois politics and, if true, that’s an unfortunate circumstance, because I’ve considered feminism to be a capacious, broad church with many tendencies, not based on one political theory. But if the reality is that the ‘left’ and people around the world consider feminism to be bourgeois politics - for whatever reasons - so be it. I will specifically define what I espouse, so there is no confusion or obfuscation: revolutionary, socialist feminism.