Be ever so ’umble

I have some problems, putting it mildly, with your recent piece, ‘Breaking the grip of Zionism’ by Jack Conrad (June 6). I’ll apologise upfront for this polemical response, but I appreciate that the Weekly Worker doesn’t shy away from these kinds of debate.

Firstly, the oppressor’s peace you rightly condemn is not just the final solution that Zionists dream of for Palestinians: an oppressor’s peace is any peace that allows the continuation of their project of settler-colonialism (which revolves entirely around ownership of the land). So long as the land is occupied, whether by settlements or by the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, the land question will never be resolved. The one-state solution (a free Palestine, from the river to the sea) that you dismiss as utopian is precisely the only condition that ends settler-colonialism.

I’m left with confusion when you make good points on the unremittingly bloodthirsty nature of Zionist settlers arising from the contradictions of settler-colonialism, but then you are too afraid to follow this to its natural conclusion; if Zionists will never allow Zionism to end peacefully, it must be destroyed militarily for settler-colonialism to end and justice to prevail.

I presume you have come to the conclusion that military victory is impossible due to a lack of faith in the resistance axis and their military strength. I would counter that never before in world history has the technological gap between the colonised and the coloniser been this close. This comes from hard-earned lessons in strategic adaptation from both state (Iran and Yemen) and non-state (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc) actors, whose interests and military production capabilities inherently threaten western imperialist hegemony. However, even if we accept your assumption that resistance-axis military victory over Israel is still impossible in the near future, it doesn’t change the hard truth that military victory is what it takes to prevent an oppressor’s peace.

Secondly, what right do you have to demand secularism from Palestinians? An Islamic Palestine is infinitely superior to continued genocide and settler-colonialism. I genuinely couldn’t care less which group of Palestinians liberates Palestine, so long as it is first and foremost liberated from genocidal settler-colonialism. If it is not secular, I don’t care, so long as national liberation is first achieved.

That’s not to say national liberation won’t run into inherent contradictions without socialist leadership (see The wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon). However, this is still better than the open genocide we see unfolding in Gaza, as I type this response. I think of the horrifying images of the insides of children’s skulls and dismembered limbs in plastic bags, I hear the desperate screams of Hind Rajab, surrounded by the corpses of her entire family, begging the dispatcher for a doomed ambulance before her own execution.

I genuinely am trying my best to give your position grace and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so I would like to ask: if Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran is the condition required to ensure an end to the genocide of Palestinians, can you accept that? As a “genuine Marxist”, yes, I can in fact “countenance” it. I lose no sleep over the poor Zionist settlers (“working class” or otherwise) committing genocide that requires “extraordinarily harsh measures” to be stopped. What do you think Palestinians have been experiencing for the past 70-plus years just for the crime of being born in a land needed for western imperialism?

That’s not to subscribe to ‘an eye for an eye’ kind of philosophy; however, war is war. Read about the Battle of Stalingrad, try and imagine the kind of daily brutality you must give and take to stop fascism from wiping you (and everything you’ve ever known and loved) out. The war that the Palestinian resistance and civilians face in Gaza is the modern equivalent to the Battle of Stalingrad. And, when they win (whether it will take months, years or entire generations worth of blood), the land must be returned to their previous owners, whatever the cost for the settlers who initiated the project of colonialism.

I, for one, do not imagine most Israelis being willing to stay in Palestine if they do not have their fascist settler-colonialist state. I imagine there will be plenty of ‘Operation Paperclips’ prepared to receive Israeli Defence Forces war criminals. However, even if they stay, every new massacre they commit today only sows hatred and vengeance that will one day be reaped (although the resistance has actually shown remarkable restraint - both in rhetoric and militarily from the material evidence of hostages being treated humanely and settler-civilian reports of the brief military occupation of settlements on October 7 by Hamas).

Regardless of what happens after military victory, it would not be the “poles of national oppression” being “reversed” onto Israel. That is, frankly speaking, ridiculous. This is akin to claims of ‘reverse racism’ or ‘misandry’; aka, claims so pathetic and risible as to be used as jokes. Palestinians would not be ‘colonising’ Israel if they took their own land back. This is the logic of playground bullies (‘It doesn’t matter who hits first, just who hits last’), not serious analysis. There is no equivalence between Palestinian resistance and vengeance against Israeli colonisation and genocide.

Thirdly, it does not sit right with me that “contemporary realities” can simply sweep away the history of “ghastly repression”. Once again, this is the logic of playground bullies (‘I can’t give you back your lunch money - I’ve already spent it’), not some enlightened Realpolitik that leads to socialism. If you want to insinuate that the land question of settler-colonialism being solved is utopian, I struggle to see how your “realistic” oppressor’s peace would be any more sustainable. Or how the Pan-Arab magic fairy creating a communist Arabia which grants Israel “federal status” and forms the “Israeli-Jewish working class … into a positivity” is less utopian?

What we call ‘utopian’ isn’t based on our political imaginations (and their limitations): it is based on our study of history and materialism. Pan-Arabism (and similarly, Pan-Africanism) failed, not because Nasser wasn’t a great enough ‘great man of history’, but because the material conditions weren’t suitable for pan-Arabism. Fanon in The wretched of the Earth concisely describes the failures of movements like pan-Arabism as inherent from the nature of culture: culture is always national, not racial. There is no material basis for ‘Arabia’ any more: differentiated national cultures have already emerged. The only way to create ‘Arabia’ would be to eliminate those cultural differences by, using your euphemism, “extraordinarily harsh measures” (aka a process of cultural destruction), which I presume isn’t your advocated solution.

When the Zionist state collapses (likely due to global economic crisis and escalating military pressure), it would not be “the poles of national oppression reversed”: it would be national liberation via the destruction of a settler-colonial country.

For all your claims of being “realistic”, did it really not occur to you, even if we count the post-Nakba abomination as a country, that countries can still be destroyed? No country has a “right to exist”. Yugoslavia was destroyed. The Soviet Union was destroyed. Israel, Insha’Allah (God willing), will be destroyed. The complete destruction of Israel is the only realistic option to achieve the foundational basis for permanent peace in the region. Only from this foundation can the struggle for liberation continue (hopefully leading to communism).

It seems deeply misguided/arrogant/stupid to demand Palestinians free themselves from possibly the most brutal oppression currently existing in the world with our randomly added conditions (eg, ‘The Palestinian resistance isn’t secular enough for me to support’), when we are far inferior to Hamas (or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) in challenging our own imperialist state with much more time, resources and leeway.

A little humility goes a long way to earning respect.

Haoyu Tai

No soggy votes

Jack Conrad, having criticised the Manchester-based Communist Future group for being “vague, parochial and politically pointless” and counterposing capitalism to communism “in a manner reminiscent of the Socialist Party of Great Britain”, winds up with this damp squib of a rallying cry: “Our approach can be summed up as ‘Vote left where you can (and that includes the few left Labourites who are being allowed to stand), vote Labour where you must (ie, mainstream Labour)’” (Letters, June 6),

Good grief, Jack - you surely can´t be serious? Vote for the ‘party of business’? Why? Don’t tell me it’s because they are the ‘lesser evil’. Apart from anything else, it is capitalism that runs the politicians - not the politicians capitalism.

So much for the so-called Labour Party. But what about the left? What left group - be it Tusc, SPEW or the ‘Workers Party’ - actually stands for an alternative to capitalism? As far as I can see, none of them do. Jack talks about being “brutally honest”, but, to be brutally honest, his description of the Communist Future manifesto as being full of “soggy abstractions and pious wishes” could very well apply to his own.

When, oh when, is the penny going to drop on the left? You can´t have communism (aka socialism) unless a majority want it and understand it. That means talking about it and spreading the idea. Since when has the left advocated a moneyless, wageless, classless and stateless alternative to capitalism?

Sure, some might vaguely pay lip service to the idea, but all their energy is focused on implementing this or that reform of capitalism. If the history of the working class movement over the last 150 years has taught us anything, it is that you cannot simultaneously try to mend capitalism and end capitalism. In the end, you have to make a choice and the choice the left has made has meant it being more or less swallowed up whole by the beast - reduced to being a miserable rump, hanging on to the coat-tails of their preferred ‘party of business’.

Say what you like about the SPGB, but at least it provides a clear and ringing message in favour of communism - not some soggy excuse for endlessly postponing it in some mythical transition that is not going to take us anywhere different from where we are right now.

Robin Cox

Minimum replies

This letter is in further defence of the approach to communist politics expressed in the form of the fight for a political programme, containing:

I am responding here to the two letters from Robin Cox and Adam Buick of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (May 30) and that from Andrew Northall (June 6).

I have a short question to both comrades Cox and Buick. Do you stand for the immediate forced collectivisation of small businesses and family farms (5.1 million among the UK’s working-age population of around 40 million, or 12.5%)? If you do, you are proposing to repeat the disastrous policies of the USSR in 1929-40, and of the People’s Republic of China in the ‘Great Leap Forward’ of 1958-62 and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of 1966-76.

If you don’t stand for forced collectivisation, you are not proposing the immediate implementation of the maximum programme, but taking political power in order to begin a period of transition. And you cannot propose the immediate abolition of money either, since you will need a medium of exchange to trade with the continuing petty-proprietor classes (urban and rural).

Of course, you might propose to wait before beginning socialist transformation for the capitalists to completely squeeze out the petty-proprietor classes. If so, you will wait forever, since the capitalist state artificially preserves and promotes the petty proprietor classes, through various forms of subsidy and regulatory preference, as a support for its authority. This has been very visible in the last 150 years; analogous forms of artificial state preservation-promotion of elements of a declining social order can be seen in the Roman empire between Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) and the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE, in Ming and Ching China (1368-1911), and on shorter scales in ‘absolutist’ Europe (1600-1800, and in some countries up to 1918) and in Tokugawa Japan (1603-1868).

That said, I agree with two of comrade Cox’s points. The first is that “the transition period is what we are living through now”. I made the same point, in fact, in my article, ‘Minimal symmetrical errors’ (May 23): “It is one that has already begun, in a deformed way, under capitalist rule … it is only under working class rule that the transition can be completed.”

The second is that “we don’t need the forces of production to be ‘further developed’ to establish a socialist economy”. I wrote about this in 2015 in the article, ‘Socialism will not require industrialisation’ (May 14 2015). It remains true that getting from a mixed economy with a substantial petty-proprietor sector to full socialisation will require a substantial period of transition.

Andrew Northall says: “Certainly, I could never see how some elements of the [Weekly Worker group’s] ‘minimum programme’ - such as the abolition of the standing army (and police and other state forces) and its replacement by a people’s or workers’ militia, and the general self-arming and self-organisation of the working class in their workplaces and communities - could possibly be achieved this side of a socialist revolution.” This is a startling claim, given that the militia system is the foundation of the current Swiss armed forces, and the general right to keep and bear arms is a (controversial) element of the US constitution. It is true that the United Kingdom is unlikely to break with the model that in 1991 David Edgerton called “liberal militarism” in New Left Review, without the overthrow of the UK political regime; but that is not the same thing as being inconsistent with the continuation of money and markets.

Comrade Northall counterposes to the CPGB’s minimum programme - which is founded on constitutional change with some limited, immediate economic and social demands - the Morning Star-CPB’s Britain’s road to socialism. But the BRS project is (and indeed he presents it as) an ‘economic issues first’ project, like the Trotskyists’ ‘transitional programmes’.

In reality, as the Corbyn experience shows, we can’t get to first base with the BRS project - a ‘left government’ - without first achieving effective mass hostility to the constitutional order, including the judicial power, the media ‘fourth estate’, the security service as a paramilitary wing of the Conservative Party (as in the ‘Zinoviev letter’ a hundred years ago, and as in the orchestrated smear campaign round ‘anti-Semitism’ recently), and so on.

Indeed, the Corbyn team’s efforts to achieve a ‘left government’ - by clinging to the Labour right, and by allowing Starmer free rein to tail-end the Tory ‘remainers’ dodgy manoeuvres in parliament in the hope of bringing down the May government - prepared the ground for the shattering defeat of the Labour left in 2019. It is remarkable that the 2020 edition of the BRS does not draw any effective balance-sheet of the Corbyn disaster.

This, of course, is to leave aside the BRS’s illusions in “peaceful coexistence” within the framework of the United Nations and, going along with this, in ‘socialist construction in a single country’. These fail to recognise the need for action on a scale sufficiently large to defeat US-imposed sanctions and are reflected in the delusions of ‘Lexit’ and so on.

Mike Macnair

He’s pro-Zionist

Daniel Lazare is not only a stuck record, with his obsession over Hamas: he is a social chauvinist and an unabashed Jewish supremacist.

Lazare purports not to understand Moshé Machover’s reference to a ‘porky’. It is cockney rhyming slang (‘porky pie’ translates as ‘lie’). In other words Lazare is a liar. Unlike me Moshé chooses to be diplomatic. The allegation that Hamas is in the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is one such lie. There are others that Lazare has told in his obsessive attack on the Palestinian resistance.

I have many criticisms of Hamas - not least their conservative social agenda, their religious conformism, their refusal to criticise Arab regimes, etc. But I also applaud their determined resistance to the genocidal offensive of Israel and its imperialist allies.

Lazare’s reference to Hamas being “ultra-reactionary” applies more to him. The suggestion that, because Israel demonises Hamas in its attack on Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation, we should therefore jettison support for it is disgraceful, even by Lazare’s low standards. Since when do we take our stance from Israel? Israel has always demonised its opponents as the ‘new Hitler’ - from Nasser to Arafat, to Saddam Hussein. Israel weaponises anti-Semitism and the holocaust and Lazare is happy to oblige them.

Hamas has always differentiated between Jews and Zionists. Jews who have lived in or visited Gaza have never experienced any problem. Hamas condemned the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and the anti-Semitic attacks in Paris in 2015. Hamas has, unlike Lazare, developed politically in the course of the struggle against Zionism and it is noticeable how well the Israeli hostages look compared to the broken bodies of Palestinian captives.

When Yocheved Lifshitz, the 85-year-old hostage, was released early on, alongside other Israeli hostages, she praised Hamas’s humane treatment. One Zionist apologist explained this by referring to the Stockholm Syndrome. I asked this person on Twitter why it was that no Palestinian prisoners ever seemed to suffer from this syndrome. I’m still waiting for an answer!

Hamas did not “murder” hundreds of Israelis on October 7. All the evidence is that Hamas killed about 400 Israeli soldiers and that many, if not most, of the Israelis who died were victims of Israel’s Hannibal Directive, which stipulates that it is better to kill Israelis rather than let them be captured and exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. Of course, there were some atrocities, but they pale in comparison with the medieval barbarities that Israel’s military has engaged in, with its mass graves, execution of children, attacks on hospitals, torture of doctors and so on. The behaviour of Israel’s ‘moral army’ is on a par with the atrocities of the Nazi SS.

Lazare calls on us to “make common cause with the Israeli proletariat”. No doubt he would have had us make common cause with white workers in the US deep south who took part in lynchings, the South African white proletariat who fought for the colour bar and Protestant workers who drove Catholic workers out of the Belfast shipyards and formed the backbone of the Ulster loyalist militias.

We should recognise Lazare for what he is - an unabashed supporter of imperialism. He orientates to the working class of the oppressor, not the oppressed. There is no mention of the hundreds of Gaza workers who were working in Israel and who were imprisoned and tortured. Or the trade union premises in Gaza City which were bombed. Palestinian workers for him don’t exist.

There is no example of Israeli workers coming out in solidarity with Palestinian workers and against the work permit system that allows them to be used as a superexploited workforce on Israeli building sites and in service industries. Lazare understands nothing of how Histadrut, the Zionist trade union federation, began its days destroying the mixed railworkers union or how it spawned the Haganah terror organisation that scabbed on the Palestinian general strike.

Lazare is no different from supporters of imperialism in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty or socialists like Henry Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation in the last century. They too oriented to the aristocracy of labour, including its settler-colonial counterparts.

The fact is that settler working classes are, without exception, complicit in the oppression of the native working class. In other words, they trade their interests as a working class for an identification with the racial ethno-nationalist state. They have completely lost any international class consciousness.

It is no surprise that Lazare is opposed to the BDS movement, since it may jeopardise the employment prospects of Israeli workers. The fact that Palestinian workers support it is irrelevant to him, because, like the Zionist he is, they are all but invisible.

I have no doubt that, when Jewish and non-Jewish workers supported the boycott of Nazi Germany in the 1930s (which was destroyed by Lazare’s friends in the Zionist movement, who preferred to set up Ha’avara, a trading agreement with the Nazis) that Lazare would have joined the Zionists and the Jewish bourgeoisie, to say nothing of the non-Jewish bourgeoisie, in opposing the boycott because of its effect on German workers.

Moshé’s comparison with laying off arms workers is, of course, quite valid. If the principle Lazare is advocating is opposition to making workers unemployed then that applies equally to workers in the arms industries. Perhaps Lazare would also have defended the right of IG Farben workers to continue making Zyklon B, the gas used to exterminate Jews?

The Israeli working class will be the last group in Israeli society to oppose Zionism, just as white South Africa workers never rejected apartheid. Under the guise of working class solidarity (always with the most racist, least oppressed workers), Lazare turns his back on the most oppressed workers, be they Palestinian, Irish Catholic or black South African.

Lazare uses the slogan of working class unity to disempower the most oppressed workers, because either he doesn’t understand the relationship of the national question to the struggle for socialism or, if he does, he prefers to identify with the oppressor.

I have my disagreements with Moshé, but at least he, unlike Daniel Lazare, is an anti-Zionist.

Tony Greenstein

Makes me sick

Daniel Lazare talks about Hamas bringing about the massacre of up to 100,000 Palestinians (who knows what number) and the almost complete destruction of hospitals, schools, mosques, houses … But he won’t talk about Israel bringing about the attack that killed a thousand or several hundred Israelis some time last year by murdering tens of thousands of Palestinians, unrelentingly raining down death and destruction on them and the reserves they’ve been forced into year after year after year

You can’t have it both ways. He makes me sick.

Elijah Traven

Comrade Delta

As a reader of Socialist Worker, I would like to comment on the Socialist Workers Party’s recent apology for the ‘Comrade Delta’ debacle.

I have yet to discover the relevant article outlining the apology, so deeply hidden on the SWP’s website is it. To find out more details of the apology I read the recent article on it in the Weekly Worker and the scathing report, ‘The SWP apology is too little, too late’, by Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, which split from the SWP over the Comrade Delta crisis.

The question arising from the apology is why now? Well, I think it is due to the recent upsurge in student protests and encampments over the genocide in Gaza. The SWP’s central committee has also seen how Socialist Appeal - now called the Revolutionary Communist Party - has grown from 50 members in 2010 to more than a thousand today, by making a conscious turn to student work. The problem for the SWP is that the Delta affair in 2014 has decimated its work amongst students - students being the prime source of recruits ever since its newspaper Labour Worker changed its name to Socialist Worker in 1968. Hence the apology.

Since the Covid lockdowns I have from time to time taken part in the SWP’s Norwich and East Anglia branch’s Zoom meetings. I have noticed that all of the participants are aged 50 or over apart from one or two recent graduates. This shows that the Delta affair has led to a dearth of recruits amongst students and graduates. The SWP members’ average age is now in the mid-50s to mid-60s.

Whilst Socialist Worker is an excellent newspaper, in the long term the prospects for it and its sponsor, the SWP, are bleak. In spite of the Delta apology, I cannot see how the SWP can continue to exist, given the collapse in its work amongst students since 2014.

John Smithee

Unity psyche

I have barely read a leftwing site or newspaper in a decade and a half. My ideas are certainly half-baked, and my finger has well and truly lost track of an insightful pulse honed in intellectual and practical engagement.

I struggle to understand why those earnest enough to be part of left politics do not see the fundamental need for an overarching unity. I suspect it is that the notion of needing and being the vanguard within a capitalist dynamic has led to a tendency for left groups to become a home for a variant of petty bourgeois frustrations - at least at the (largely unchanging) leadership level. Not by intention or design, but by historical tendency. Giving a primacy to ideology and political lines, they become identified with the individual’s psyche, and disagreements necessitate splits, expulsions and disengagement. Intellectual individuals or cliques compete for their own survival - often, I guess, also livelihood, if the position in the organisation can fund or opportunise that.

I have heard it said that this is due to the low ebb of class struggle. Sure, that doesn’t help to ground things. But is not the very act of agency to counteract tendencies of least historical resistance, at least if that is an historical possibility? Is communism/socialism/whatever rooted in human solidarity possible?

I don’t know an answer, but I do think it would be a start if those who believe it would seek to be encompassed in one group, whose parameters are the international productive and distributive revolutionising of the means of social reproduction, on the basis that we choose to confer equal rights on all humans regardless of their differences.

The key orbit running thorough this is facilitating solidarity - solidarity despite differences, intellectual, political or in action. I don’t see how the importance of any position on an issue or event overrides this.

Yes, things can get messy, with missteps aplenty - yet the need to act and learn together remains. To posit a societal change is a daring and risky (potentially to barbaric levels) endeavour - especially if it only gets partial traction.

Adam Harper