Palestine: Collectivising the mice
The Arab working class is the agency that can win a Palestinian state, argues Tony Greenstein
Moshé Machover chose a particularly inappropriate analogy to begin his Weekly Worker article, entitled ‘Belling the cat’, in which he argued against a secular, unitary state in Palestine.1 He described a fable, attributed to Aesop, whereby mice agreed that a bell should be hung around the neck of the cat that threatened them, so they might be warned of its approach; unfortunately, however, the means of carrying out this plan was not forthcoming.
In fact the struggle of early humanity could indeed be described as the ‘belling of the cat’ - it consisted in subduing wild animals, such as mammoths, on the basis of the superior brainpower of humans.
Moshé argues that without the achievement of socialism in Israel, then
the prospect of a capitalist democracy implied by the one-state project does not provide [the Israeli working class] with an incentive to overthrow the Zionist regime. On the contrary, it is much more likely to be mobilised by the regime to actively oppose this project and fight against it.
Comrade Machover even argues that:
… the Israeli working class as a whole has an objective interest in socialism. The Hebrew majority of the Israeli working class will therefore have not only the ability, but also an incentive to overthrow the capitalist Zionist regime, if that would mean becoming part of a dominant working class in a socialist context ... So we must conclude that the Israeli working class, which is an internal force, is capable of overthrowing the Zionist regime, but will not do so for the sake of the one-state project, because its Hebrew majority has no class interest in this bourgeois goal.
But, Moshé argues, “Contrariwise, the Palestinian Arab working class and its close allies, who do have much to gain from it, are for the most part (except for the minority inside Israel) an external force, and are unable to overthrow Zionism.”
Is he seriously arguing that but for the unitary state solution - ie, deZionisation - then the Israeli Jewish working class would overthrow Zionism? Why then did it not overthrow Zionism when most Palestinians supported Oslo and the two-state solution?
What Moshé implies is that the root of the problem is a national conflict, between the Hebrew Jews and the Palestinians. I disagree. Like many settler working classes, including that in South Africa, the settler working class proved the most reactionary class in society. Their identification as a ‘nation’ came from their oppression of the indigenous population. No amount of appeals to the Australian working class by the Aboriginal people, or to the Canadian working class by the Chinese railway workers, had the slightest effect. Quite the contrary, it was these forces that were most hostile to the native peoples and black/Asian people. In Ireland it was the Protestant working class that drove the Catholics from the dock and shipyards. In Algeria the French colonists did likewise. Our purpose should be not to give in to these fears of the settlers.
Moshé attributed the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa primarily to the indigenous struggle. But this is not true. Quite the contrary. The demise of Portuguese colonialism, epitomised in Angola and Mozambique and symbolised by the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1987-88, an important episode against the South African army’s intervention in the Angolan civil war (1975-2002),2 played an significant role. Coupled, of course, with the indigenous black struggle (where the working class possessed an economic power, which the Palestinians do not) and also a growing boycott campaign.
Moshé has failed to answer his own question about the possibility of a single-state solution. I will remind him:
I propose to subject this vision to the test of agency: what socio-political force can be counted on to implement such a vision, and in what circumstances would this be likely to come about? I address this issue from a socialist viewpoint ...
It seems clear, in the wake of the Arab spring, that only the masses of the Arab east and in particular the Egyptian and Iraqi working class have that ability. The west’s support for Israel lies in Israel’s crucial role in safeguarding western interests in the region. As Al Haig, US secretary of state, said, “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”3
Therein lies the solution. Demographically and military the Palestinians are too weak on their own to conquer Zionism, but a threat to Israel’s role as the US’s guard dog, coupled with the overthrow of regimes in the Arab Gulf, which are mainly dependent on migrant labour, is a different matter altogether. A threat to the Saudi regime would in particular unleash a storm in which Zionism was on the agenda.
Moshé accepts that “The working class is the only force in society that can escape the limits of national liberation, because it also challenges the rule of imperialism’s internal allies - the powerful local elites in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia”. Well, this is not necessarily true, especially given the economically distorted nature of the Arab Gulf, which relies on unorganised Arab labour and is able to buy off the opposition; but, as a general rule, the interests of the Palestinians lie in the overthrow of the Arab regimes and the triumph in particular of the Egyptian and Iraqi working class, to say nothing of those in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The international working class has not achieved power in even one country (with the partial exception of the USSR). Why should the Palestinians be the first to make a socialist revolution, given the class structure of a refugee population?
Moshé accepts that, unlike the two-state project, the one-state project is revolutionary. The former is perfectly consistent with the continued existence of Israel as a Zionist state. Indeed, the … PLO would replace direct Israeli military occupation by political and economic domination of a Zionist Israel over a defenceless and subservient Palestinian statelet. No revolution would be needed. But the one-state project self-evidently requires the deZionisation of Israel: overthrow of its Zionist regime, and complete termination of the Zionist project. Indeed, the Israeli state itself would have to be superseded by a very different polity.
Comrade Machover accepts that the unitary, democratic state of Palestine is inherently revolutionary, unlike the two-state solution, but then defers to the Israeli working class. If Zionism is ever overthrown it will in part be because of the withdrawal of support by the USA and the acquiescence of the Israeli oligarchy, middle class and liberal section of society. Most of the Mizrahim and Russian working class will be the last to come on board and will constitute the ‘bitter-enders’.
But I agree with Moshé’s argument against Omar Barghouti - that Israeli Jews will only ever be a small minority of those who join the struggle: “… the one-state project self-evidently requires the deZionisation of Israel: overthrow of its Zionist regime, and complete termination of the Zionist project.” He accepts that it is the only one that is compatible with a socialist solution:
Indeed, the Israeli state itself would have to be superseded by a very different polity. So the one-state project can only be implemented by social forces that must not only be persuaded that this is in their interest, but must also be able to overthrow Zionism and the Israeli state structure.
But the Israeli working class has not even been active in its own defence. Why should the overthrow of Zionism, which, after all, is its identity, be of any interest to it? On the contrary, like all settler working classes, the Hebrews will be the last to accept the inevitable. When Zionism is being replaced it will be the Israeli oligarchy, its middle class, its secular liberals and a small section of Mizrahis who will abandon Zionism.
I am not arguing for a one-state solution as “a stepping stone” to the fulfilment of a unitary state: quite the contrary. Partition has always been a reactionary solution. Still less that such a state would be socialist, but there is a somewhat greater chance of the forces of revolution being set in motion under a unitary state than the proposed mini- Bantustan that is (at best) envisaged.
The purpose of a unitary, democratic, secular state is a conceptual one. When people ask you what you stand for, then you have to have an answer. Furthermore it enables the struggle for human rights for Palestinians as individuals to be the main modus of struggle.
That is why the struggle against Zionism and apartheid are indeed similar. The Afrikaners were not a nation, nor were the French of Algeria or the British in Ireland and the Malvinas. It is indeed true that, as in South Africa, it is only a minority of Israeli Jews who have become anti- Zionist. It is surely a good thing that the proponents of a secular, unitary state welcome them, just as black South Africans welcomed white opponents of apartheid.
Moshé states that “the Hebrew masses - predominantly the majority Hebrew section of the working class, including white-collar workers who were at the forefront of the massive protests in 2011 against neoliberalism - have nothing to gain from the one-state project”. He is aware of the fact that attempts were indeed made to link the demands of the Israeli Jewish protestors with the occupation. He is also aware that the settlers had their presence there to pre-empt this and Shelly Yachimovich, the Israeli Labour leader, consciously opposed any such linkage, along with those Israelis who were complaining about the cost of living. They were even unable to link the vast expenditure on the settlements to their own situation.
Moshé cites Tikva Honig-Parnass as saying: “The contention that the [Israeli-Palestinian] ‘conflict’ cannot have a bourgeois nationalist resolution is based on an argument about the differences in the colonial models of Israel and South Africa.”
Machover emphasises that this difference is central to his analysis of the conflict and his conclusion regarding its resolution. I aim to show that this assumed connection between the colonial model and the resolution is faulty.
But it is a fact that decolonisation and national liberation movements were largely successful, even if the results were not socialist, as with the corrupt African National Congress in South Africa. That, however, is the task of the oppressed peoples. The western working classes have also not been very successful in achieving a socialist change in society.
What the struggle against Zionism raises - and this is why the analogy with apartheid is important - is the demand for equal rights for all Palestinians, be they Arab or Jewish, wherever they live. That should be the prime demand of the Palestinians and why all ‘peace talks’ and the bubble of Ramallah are dangerous to them.
Moshé’s thesis is that the main fear of the Israeli Jewish working class is that in a unitary state they could suffer from what they inflicted. Settler populations always do have such fears. The fear that they will experience what the Palestinians experienced. Our job is not to give way to such fears, but to say that all national rights - except the right to Jewish supremacy - will be theirs for the taking. Israel will truly become a state of its own citizens. The Israeli Jews define their ‘nationality’ by their role primarily, even though they do not claim nationhood.
Moshé imagines a pure social revolution. However, Lenin noted: “Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is”4.
1. ‘Belling the cat’ Weekly Worker December 12 3013.
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cuito_ Cuanavale.
4. VI Lenin, ‘The discussion on self-determination summed up’: www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/jul/x01.htm.