Which road should our movement take?

Another Israel is possible

What kind of solution is workable, is acceptable? Steve Freeman refuses to discount Hebrew workers as an agency for change. They can be won, he argues, to give up their national privileges in return for legal equality in a democratic, federal Israel-Palestine

This is a response to two articles: Moshé Machover’s ‘Not a zero-sum game’ (Weekly Worker May 30)1 and Mike Macnair’s ‘Minimal symmetrical errors’ (May 23)2, which both addressed the Republican Labour Education Forum’s (RLEF) case for a democratic, secular, federal republic of Israel-Palestine. In addition there are comments on Jack Conrad’s ‘Breaking the grip of Zionism’ (June 6),3 which addresses our case only indirectly.

The RLEF position paper 14 directly takes up what Moshé calls the minimum requirements for a democratic Israel. The last paragraph (72) says in summary:

The aim of building a real and lasting peace must be a democratic, secular, federal republic of Israel and Palestine - one state and two nations - from the river to the sea. Twenty one million people, including Palestinian refugees, living in peace, with a more united working class movement and the hope of building a democratic commonwealth for all its citizens.

Another Israel is both possible and necessary. It is possible because it is a deeply divided society. As Tony Greenstein says, “half of the Israelis identify as Israelis and half identify as Jews and most of the latter identify as messianic fundamentalists” (‘Thinking beyond ceasefires’ Weekly Worker March 21).4 As with all nations, ethnic, religious and class identities divide Israel. There was a struggle going on over the nature of Israeli society and its democracy before October 2023 and it is now growing again.

Another Israel is not just possible, but urgently necessary, because of the disaster that the Zionist republic has imposed on the Palestinian and Israeli people. The numbers of Palestinians and Israelis dead and injured is proof enough. We could add that the economic cost is massive in the loss of infrastructure and productive capacity. Financial capital will extract a huge premium from the burden of national debt.

The Zionist project is finished. Its moral authority is shredded, as its crimes against humanity are exposed. It is opposed and condemned by every civilised person not in the pay or pocket of the United States. Ha’aretz says: “The brutalisation of Israel is well under way. If we do not act, its collapse is only a matter of time.” If Israel’s centre does not act against the extremists “and remove the malignant growth of occupation from the body politic, Israel’s final fall is a matter of time. The countdown has begun.”5

Israeli historian Ilan Pappé says: “Israel is a failed project and it is destined to fail, despite the huge human cost paid by Palestinians … The truth is, it is not sustainable”. He continues: “The problem is that its disintegration could be a long process and a very bloody one, whose principal victims would be the Palestinians.” He then adds: “It is also not clear if the Palestinians are ready to take over, as a united liberation movement, following the final stages of the disintegration of the Zionist project.”6

Readiness is a key question. How long can reactionary, imperialist forces prop up and sustain the dying Zionist republic? Who is ready to deliver the coup de grâce? Ilan Pappé looks to the Palestinians, but for us it is a matter of class. The working class in Israel-Palestine is the only class that can strike the fatal blow if it is ready. Note that Israeli workers (Hebrew and Arab) are only part of this class and cannot succeed ‘alone’ without unity with Palestinian workers.

Is the Israel-Palestine working class politically ready for a democratic Israel? This is a question about programme, culture and party. Do they have a minimum republican programme and democratic culture around which unity can be forged and organisation developed? The Zionist state must be replaced by a democratic, secular republic - not limited to the current Israeli borders, but to the whole territory, from the river to the sea. The constitutional form that recognises two nations is the binational federal republic. On this point there is more agreement with Moshé than might be imagined.

Moshé says:

Steve’s blueprint, a “federal republic of Israel-Palestine”, is ideologically bourgeois-liberal. This, in itself, is not a sufficient argument against it: it clearly ticks some of the boxes essential for a benign resolution of the conflict, which I listed in my recent article: equal rights for all, including equal personal rights, and - secondly and importantly - equal national rights for both groups involved: namely Palestinian Arabs and Hebrews (aka Israeli Jews).

In fact the federal republic ticks all the boxes “essential for a benign resolution of the conflict”.


Moshé adds: “An additional condition, which Steve fails to mention (due to an oversight?), is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland”. The reference our paper makes to “21 million people” is 15 million currently living in Israel and Palestine, and an estimated six million refugees.

In the Labour Left Alliance ‘Great Debate’, I stated: “This partition state is a massively expensive system not least in the exclusion of 5-6 million refugees. The partition state must be ended and replaced by a single state ... including the freedom for returning refugees.”7 So in response to Moshé’s query I am happy to confirm our democratic proposal cannot and does not forget the Palestinian refugees, even if that should have been made clearer.

Moshé then says: “With this necessary addition [ie, the right of return], the blueprint could, if implemented, go a long way to resolving the conflict.” It is a credible proposal, because it meets the requirements for democracy and working class unity. But Moshé questions or indeed denies it can be implemented and hence he claims it is utopian. This brings us back to the revolutionary potential of even backward sections of the working class to break free. This is not a superstitious belief, but derived from scientific analysis of the struggle between capital and wage labour.

This is the point of divergence between Moshé and Tony Greenstein. Tony writes off the Israeli-Palestinian working class and looks to Palestinian nationalism. Moshé says:

Contrary to the caricature drawn by Tony, the Israeli Jews are not a reactionary Zionist monolith; nor are the Hebrew workers uniformly extreme-right racists. In addition to a small minority of committed Hebrew genuine socialists (and ipso facto anti-Zionists), there is quite a sizable floating minority whose commitment to Zionist colonialism is far from firm - they can be won over to internationalism, given the right circumstances.8

He adds:

… not all Hebrew workers support the racist ultra-right; there are many manifestations of cross-national class solidarity and mutual support, particularly in workplaces where Palestinian and Hebrew workers rub shoulders. Class consciousness and common interests can sometimes surmount colonial-national, supremacist ideology.

In opposing Tony’s attitude to Israeli workers, Moshé gives indirect support to the democratic case.

He writes: “What makes Steve’s bourgeois-liberal position politically utopian is his insistence that his blueprint does not require a regional socialist transformation, but can be implemented under capitalism.” I do not accept that “bourgeois-liberal” is the correct way to characterise working class republicanism. No democratic republic, in and of itself, can abolish capitalism in one country. I agree that democratic revolutions across the Middle East would unlock the situation in Israel-Palestine.

Liberal democratic demands must be won with the political leadership of the working class. If the working class won political power in this republic, it would not survive without a regional democratic and social transformation. The point about ‘liberal democratic’ demands (eg, the democratic republic, right of nations, right to vote, freedom of speech, right to strike, etc) is not that they are liberal and do not require capitalism to be abolished: it is that the liberals, who claim to support these demands, betray the fight for them, act half-heartedly and surrender prematurely. The liberals betray liberalism because they are in the pay of capital.

Not minimalist

Mike Macnair’s article on the minimum programme is useful and informative on one level. It is ruined by his attempt to engineer a bogus argument against the Israeli-Palestinian working class adopting a minimum republican programme. The Israeli Mikha’el Macnair is sitting in Tel Aviv without any programme except to tail the economistic ‘minimalist’ reformism and hold on until the cavalry of revolutionary liberation arrives from Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

This is not to say that the cavalry will not come. How great it would be if it did turn up! It is simply to argue that we should not put all our eggs in that basket and rely upon them. The national question inside Israel-Palestine has to be addressed in a programmatic way by Israeli-Palestinian workers themselves. There is no escape from their need for self-liberation.

In the Death agony of capitalism Trotsky says:

Classical social democracy, functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its programme into two parts independent of each other: the minimum programme which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum programme which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future. Between the minimum and the maximum programme no bridge existed.

We should change the terms of this argument. The minimum is the republican programme of social democracy and the maximum is the communist programme. So Trotsky is saying that between the republican programme and the communist programme we need a transitional programme to bridge the gap. As it happens, I agree with his argument. History tells us that communists need three programmes (republican-transitional-communist).

It is not a matter of hiding these various programmes, but of understanding which is the immediate programme for now. These three programmes are all revolutionary if used in the right way. Leftwing communism is built on the substitution of the transitional programme or the communist maximum programme for the republican programme. It is this that renders left communism out of touch with the masses of the people.

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party had a minimum or republican programme of achievable reforms. It was a revolutionary programme, because it was based on a scientific, materialist analysis of the development of capitalism and hence the expansion of the working class and the growth of its political power. It begins by describing the development and contradictions in capitalism that lead the world towards socialism. It soon turns from the general to the particular.

It says that the RSDLP “takes as its most immediate political task the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy and its replacement by a democratic republic, the constitution of which would ensure …” Then follows a series of democratic and economic reforms. These stand on their own two feet, because they mean real democratic and social progress for the people of Russia and the working class, regardless of whether the word ‘socialism’ is attached to it or not. Achievable reforms had a powerful attraction to the mass of the working class.

If the republican minimum programme is not relevant or achievable for the working class in Israel-Palestine, is it applicable in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran or Egypt? Is the republican programme redundant throughout the Middle East? This poses some fundamental contradictions for the CPGB. Is Great Britain an exceptional case or is it Israel-Palestine?

There is, of course, a fourth kind of programme in left reformism. This is not a republican programme or a transitional one. We could call it ‘minimalist’ (which is in danger of being confused with the minimum programme). A reformist programme of reforms is significantly different from a republican (ie, revolutionary) programme of reforms. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifestos of 2017 and 2019 are examples of reformist sub-republican reforms. This type is found in the Socialist Alliance, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and Left Unity.

The whole of Mike’s intellectual construction against the Israeli-Palestinian working class adopting a republican minimum programme rests on the phrase I used about “achievable reforms”. The republican programme is a programme of reforms, to quote Trotsky, “which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society”. It would be dishonest for any communist to dress this up in socialist rhetoric.

I deliberately said “achievable reforms” that are achievable under capitalism in order to speak the truth, even though I thought it would excite leftwing communists to fury. From a working class perspective, reforms are improvements which benefit the working class and strengthen its position in society: for example, higher wages, the right to strike, votes for women or free abortion on demand.

The republican minimum programme of achievable reforms raises the ambition of the working class from everyday economic reforms. It puts the idea of reform on the basis of scientific theory, as opposed to what is thrown up spontaneously on a daily basis. The key point is that the minimum republican programme is, despite appearances to the contrary, a revolutionary programme.

Mike’s attempt to construct a theory of the republican programme that does not comprise reforms, is unachievable, unattractive, overthrows capitalism in one country and is, exceptionally, not applicable to Israel-Palestine, does not stand up. The conclusion is that communists should not leave their comrades in Tel Aviv in the lurch or in the dark about the republican (ie, revolutionary) programme for Israel-Palestine.

Brit left

Jack Conrad’s ‘Breaking the grip of Zionism’ (Weekly Worker June 6)9 provides very useful information about the history of the struggle in Israel-Palestine. However, I want to focus on the sections headed ‘Brit left’. After setting out the shift that the British socialists made from supporting Labour Zionism to rejecting it, Jack discusses the two main misleaders of the left in the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Socialist Workers Party.

Democracy is not socialism. Capitalism still exists even in the most democratic republican state. However, such a republic will not be at peace with capitalism, but in a higher state of war. It is a war that leads directly to the extension of socialisation and internationalisation. This is why capital does not welcome more democracy, as wanted and needed by the working class.

Some socialists (ie, economists) have been opposed to democratic demands, such as votes for women, proportional representation (PR) or self-determination, because they do not abolish capitalism or because they are impossible under capitalism and unnecessary under socialism. Others say we do not want capitalist PR but only socialist PR! The word, ‘socialism’, is being used to muddy the waters. We should strip out that word in order to reveal the real argument.

Jack says that the Socialist Party calls for “a ‘socialist’ Israel alongside a ‘socialist’ West Bank, Gaza Strip Palestine”. If we remove the ‘socialist’ disguise, all this amounts to, in reality, is the two-state solution. I therefore agree with Jack’s comment that

… we are presented with, on the one hand, a socialistic version of the current PLO’s Israel-Palestine two-state ‘solution’ - the Socialist Party in England and Wales being perhaps the most prominent advocate. It calls for a ‘socialist’ Israel alongside a ‘socialist’ West Bank, Gaza Strip Palestine.

The national socialist rhetoric means we avoid thinking concretely about the two-state solution. It is worth considering two versions of two states - Zionist and democratic. The first version means a continuation of a Zionist state alongside Palestine. This is the totally unacceptable continuation of a racist state on principle. There are two objections to it - apart from being proposed by the US, UK and EU. First is the objection on principle that a racist Israeli state will never be able to establish relations that are free, democratic and equal between the two nations. The second is that on practical grounds it has become impossible because of the fragmentation of the West Bank and the extensive intersection of settlers and Israel Defence Forces roads, etc.

A democratic two-state solution would require the overthrow of the Zionist state, replaced by a democratic, secular Israel, which would necessitate the unconditional withdrawal of the IDF from all the occupied territories, recognition of the Palestinian state, the release of all Palestinian prisoners, the end of the blockade of trade and travel, and elections for a Palestine constituent assembly. No matter how unlikely this scenario seems, it would not be a ‘solution’, because, as Jack says, “Anyway, why on earth two such states would remain separate, especially given substantial population crossover, is something of a mystery.” In other words, if this happened, it would lead almost directly to a single state as the only thing that makes economic sense to the people.

The case against the SWP is different, because it argues straightforwardly for a democratic, one-state solution and does not load it up with the word, ‘socialism’, as a cover story. The SWP calls for “the abolition, the dismantling, of Israel” and in its place “one secular, democratic [capitalist - JC] state built on the principle of equal rights for all citizens, including Israeli Jews.” Jack feels the need to warn readers that “democratic” means “capitalist”, as if to put us off it.

The real case against the SWP’s “one democratic state” is twofold. First it is not democratic, because it does not recognise there is an Israeli nation that has a right to exist. This includes the 20% Palestinian Israelis who nobody recognises as fully Israeli, neither Zionists nor leftists. Second is the question of agency. It seems that the SWP can only see the Arab nation as the force for change. Jack says: “Perhaps what the SWP therefore envisages is a combination of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood governments in Egypt, Syria and Jordan acting together against Israel.” He adds: “An anti-working class agency if ever there was one”. Jack exposes this as a Marxist version of Palestinian nationalism that looks to the agency of Palestinian nationalism.

Jack spells out the fact that liquidating the Israeli nation, either by state oppression or the denial of national rights, would lead ultimately to ethnic cleansing and genocide. As he says, “The poles of national oppression would thereby be reversed. Not something any genuine Marxist would countenance.” I do not think I am a genuine Marxist, but I would never countenance such a thing! He lays down the acid test that “No democratic solution can be won without the consent of Israeli Jews - that is, a clearly expressed majority of them”.

I believe that the Israeli working class, with its Palestinian minority and in alliance with Palestinian workers in the West Bank and Gaza, could pass that democratic test. We can observe that fear has driven Israeli workers into the arms of the Zionists. This is not an iron law of politics. We can say it would be difficult to achieve without communists in Israel armed with a minimum, republican programme. Who else can plant the seeds in the minds of workers that can result in huge oak trees of freedom?

At the end of this section Jack says:

The only realistic, progressive and humane programme must be based on a mutual recognition by both Palestinians and Israeli Jews of each other’s national rights. Needless to say, it would be an excellent thing if both nations chose to happily live side by side or, even better, to slowly merge together into a single nation. No rational human being would want to oppose either such outcome.

In this statement Jack is in effect endorsing our democratic case for one state with two nations living “side by side”: a democratic, federal, secular republic, which might over time eventually merge into one nation. What we add to this is that this can only become possible if the Israeli-Palestinian working class begin to unite with a common, democratic-republican aim.

Our proposal for a democratic peace settlement and federal constitutional agreement (‘One republic for two nations’) is the most democratic proposal made by anybody on the left. This does not require capitalism to be abolished as a precondition. There is a responsibility to be honest about this and tell it how it is, warts and all. We are not sticking socialist lipstick on a pig.

Both Moshé and Jack recognise that our democratic republican demand is the only one that could work, because it ticks all the boxes so that “no rational human being would want to oppose either such outcome” (ie, two nations which may then eventually become one nation or not). Moshé recognises that ‘One republic for two nations’ is democratically valid, even if unachievable, and Jack’s position is more or less the same. Mike’s attempt to reject the republican programme on the grounds of “achievable reforms” is not valid.

I will end by saying that I have not commented on Jack’s section on the Arab nation. That requires further consideration.

  1. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1493/not-a-zero-sum-game.↩︎

  2. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1492/minimal-symmetrical-errors.↩︎

  3. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1494/breaking-the-grip-of-zionism.↩︎

  4. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1483/thinking-beyond-ceasefires.↩︎

  5. www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/2024-06-07/ty-article-opinion/israels-brutalization-is-underway-if-we-do-not-act-collapse-is-only-a-matter-of-time/0000018f-ef07-dbca-a99f-eff78ad70000.↩︎

  6. www.palestinechronicle.com/israel-is-destined-to-fail-top-israeli-historian-writes-in-palestine-chronicle.↩︎

  7. See ‘Thinking beyond ceasefires’ Weekly Worker March 21 (see note 4).↩︎

  8. ‘Not a zero-sum game’ Weekly Worker May 30 (see note 1).↩︎

  9. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1494/breaking-the-grip-of-zionism.↩︎