Idealised picture of female kibbutz guard in 1936

Aim for deZionisation

Israel is a work colony based on an ideology of blood and soil. Mike Macnair gets to grips with the logic and history of ethnic cleansing and expansionism

Sometimes writing for this paper feels like taking on the role of Cassandra, who was cursed by the god Apollo to accurately prophesy future disasters, but never to be believed by her listeners. This is mainly a matter of the endless commitment of the left to repeating ‘broad front’ initiatives which, entirely predictably, fail. But it also affects international politics, where we cannot really expect warnings of coming disasters to have much impact, even if we were much more influential than we are.

We have for years now been publishing comrade Moshé Machover’s articles warning of the danger that the next major conflict in the Middle East would be used by the Israeli state as a cover for the next round of major ethnic cleansing, and explaining why the Israeli state is driven towards this policy. We are not alone in this: the Matzpen analysis of Israel as a special form of settler-colonialism, defended by comrade Machover, has come to have considerable influence: Googling ‘Moshé Machover settler-colonialism’ produces 78,000 hits. Nonetheless, the effect is still like seeing disaster inexorably approaching, as if it were in slow motion. Now the disaster has arrived. Israel is immediately ethnically cleansing Gaza; and, under cover of this spectacular campaign of destruction, the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, which has been ongoing for years, has sharply accelerated.1

The analysis of Israel as a special form of settler-colonialism, of the variety called by Karl Kautsky ‘work colonies’,2 has two fundamental virtues, both of which derive from the recognition that the ‘work colony’ seeks not to exploit the natives, but to massacre them, drive them out or confine them to ‘Indian reservations’, for the benefit of colonist primary producers (peasant farmers, petty bourgeois and workers).

First virtue

The first virtue - unfortunately one with little application to the immediate situation - is that settler-colonialism of this type inevitably implies that a new nation is created - as in the various Latin American states, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. The idea of the expulsion of all the descendants of the Iberian colonists back to Spain and Portugal is illusory, and equally that of the expulsion of the descendants of the European colonists of the USA and ‘white commonwealth’ to the countries of remote European origin. The crimes of the Israeli state do not alter the fact that there is a large Hebrew-speaking population born and raised in Israel, and that any long-term solution which is not to merely reverse the poles of oppression - and thus, betray the ideas of political democracy, of human emancipation and of communism - must offer this group a right to self-government in their own language and culture, not merely religious freedom.

The idea has little application to the present situation, which is one where the Israeli state is an instrument by which the USA holds the Middle East in military subordination. This is reflected in the US decision to send carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean to back up Israel in the present war. America backs Israel in order to maintain veto control of the oil taps, which in turn serves to keep US hands on the throats of the potential imperial rivals, Japan, China, France and Germany.3 The Palestinians - and the Arabs more generally - are merely collateral damage. The same was, of course, true of the origin of imperialist support for the Zionist project from the 1917 Balfour Declaration on - in that period, at first, attempts by the UK to keep control of the oil taps at the expense of France and Germany, then in the 1940s French manoeuvres to undermine this UK control.4

The USA prefers Israel because it is more radically dependent on America than any other ally in the region - Arthur Balfour’s original project of a ‘loyal little Ulster’. Balfour’s project was subordinated in the late 1930s when its effects began to threaten radically increased costs for Britain’s direct colonial rule elsewhere in the region, and was reconstituted under US auspices with the Kennedy administration and after.

Until this problem is overcome, the question of what an Arab revolution could offer the Israeli working class in terms of national rights is not immediately posed. The US subsidises Israel too extensively and has too much ability to cripple the economies of disobedient nations for any revolutionary alternative, however politically attractive, to look attractive to Israeli workers.

It is thus first necessary that US policy must either cease to be relevant or change. This means that either the US world-dominance should fall; or military technology should change in ways which marginalise the military benefits of veto control of the oil taps (we may be seeing this beginning at present in the form of the failure in Ukraine of the ‘tanks, motor transport and aircraft’ model of warfare); or the costs of unconditional support for the Israeli state come to outweigh the benefits for the USA. The last of these options requires a regional movement which is more than a movement of protest, but one which threatens to take power.


The second analytical merit of the analysis of Zionism as settler-colonialism of the work colony type is that it helps to explain the persistent expansionism of the Israeli state and its complete inability, while remaining true to itself, to make peace on any sort of ‘two states’ terms or negotiate in good faith: what has at one time or another been offered as ‘two states’ by Israeli governments is no more than large ‘Indian reservations’, in which the Israeli state retains sovereignty and control of the borders. Even less than that is now on offer: the ‘Palestinian Authority’ in the West Bank controls much less territory and has less practical authority than the Navajo Nation in the USA.

The reason behind this is that, whether or not early Jewish Zionists made significant use of the originally Christian Zionist expression, “a land without a people for a people without a land”,5 the implicit project of Zionism, of creating a Jewish state in which the Jews would be all classes, rather than merely a ‘people-class’ of intermediaries, as they were in the middle ages, necessarily entailed very extensive taking of land. This might be ‘bought’ from local notables who were alleged to be landlords in order to give them title to sell (a common tactic throughout the history of the British empire), or it might be merely taken by force. Endless conflict is inevitable. The creation of Indian reservations merely expresses a radical relation of forces in favour of the colonisers; it does not, as ‘first nations’ movements across the globe in the last few decades have shown, obliterate the ‘first nation’.

At this point it is necessary to note two features of the Israeli colonisation operation which are specific to it and not shared by the cases of the Iberian and British empire settler-colonial regimes. The first is the underlying driver of the emigration; the second is the local relation of forces in the territory colonised.

The Iberian and British empire settler-colonial developments were at root driven by the same dynamics which drove in earlier centuries the German medieval Drang nach Osten (pressure to the east) and the English expansion in the same period into Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The peasantry as a class has to save for old age in the form of producing children; and hence naturally tends to overproduce children, leading to land hunger. Early-modern settler-colonialism added to this the tendency, with capitalist development, for the peasantry to be driven off the land either by enclosures or by debts; and took place in the context of the expansion of bulk shipping, which enabled the shipping of people overseas in large numbers.6 Once the demographic transition to capitalism was complete, fertility fell and migration began to be driven by access to jobs rather than access to land.

Zionist colonisation does not have the same material driver: the world’s Jews are not a peasantry overproducing children or undergoing capitalist dispossession. It was at first an ideological reaction to the European Catholic anti-Semitic movement of the late 19th century, which remained within the ‘universe of discourse’ of late 19th century ‘blood and soil’ nationalism. Then it was sharply reinforced by the holocaust in 1940-45. US subsidies to Israel meant that there was a major wave of ordinary economic migration from the USSR from the 1970s to 1990. But Zionism remains an ideological movement which advocates the idea of Israel as a state for all the Jews in the world - in spite of the fact that currently only 30% of the world’s Jews live in Israel.7 The Israeli state therefore exaggerates the extent of anti-Semitism outside Israel - not only to obtain political backing, but also to win more immigrants.

The consequence of this is that Israel must be expansionist. On the basis of the ideological claim to the land god gave to the descendants of Abraham by Sarah, it is, according to Genesis 15:18, to be “from the river of Egypt [the Nile] unto the great river, the river Euphrates” - that is, the whole of the current territories of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel-Palestine, the several states of the Arabian peninsula, and substantial parts of Iraq and Egypt.

Set the ideology on one side: a state for all the Jews in the world, on the basis that this is the only escape from anti-Semitism, would need a territory more than two times larger than the current Israel in order to accommodate the Jews of the diaspora moving in.


Suppose, therefore, that the present war leads, first, to the actual extermination or expulsion of the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, and as a result of the resulting wave of revulsion to a rise in actual anti-Semitic attacks (which is not impossible) and hence to a new wave of Jewish migration to Israel. There will then still be political pressure in Israel for further expansion. We may guess into southern Lebanon, which Israel has targeted before, and Syria.

The other side of the coin is the regional relationship of forces. The Iberian and British empire settler-colonies were created in the confrontation between late feudal/early and high-capitalist forces and relations of production of the colonisers, with paleolithic, neolithic and chalcolithic forces and relations of production of the colonised. The colonisers were further aided by the introduction of diseases from the Eurasian disease pool into the Americas, which radically reduced the populations of the colonised.

Israel, in contrast, is attempting to colonise a part of the territory of the Arab-speaking eastern Mediterranean and Arabian peninsula, and on the Genesis claim of some of the religious Zionist fantasists, Iraq. This is a population of about 7.1 million in Israel, or 23 million if all the world’s Jews were sucked in to this disaster, attempting to reduce to oppressed ‘first nation’ status 254.7 million Arabic speakers, who are mostly governed by capitalist states, and in a shared disease environment.8

The underlying long-term dynamic is therefore that of the medieval Crusader states: the state of Israel can only survive if it is either actively supported by the USA, as it now is, or if it is tolerated by its neighbours. And it can only be tolerated by its neighbours in the long-term if it is deZionised: that is, if it becomes a state of its Hebrew-speaking inhabitants rather than a state which claims to be the state of all the world’s Jews.

  1. Eg, ‘Emboldened Israeli settlers seek to tighten grip on West Bank’ Financial Times November 16.↩︎

  2. www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1907/colonial/4-work.htm.↩︎

  3. Cf ‘Anti-Semitism of useful idiots’ Weekly Worker August 31: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1456/anti-semitism-of-useful-idiots.↩︎

  4. J Barr, A line in the sand Washington 2014.↩︎

  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_land_without_a_people_for_a_people_without_a_land has convenient references.↩︎

  6. The British also ‘transported’ convicts in large numbers to American colonies between 1618 and 1776 and to Australia between 1788 and 1868.↩︎

  7. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_population_by_country.↩︎

  8. Figures from Wikipedia: List_of_countries_and_territories_were_Arabic_is_an_official_language.↩︎