Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Support Palestinian workers!

I was disappointed by Rhodri Evans' response to Daniel Randall's Solidarity article about the Palestinian trade union movement. While Daniel's piece displayed his support for the “third camp” of independent working-class forces in Palestine, the tone of Rhodri's letter was to emphasise our criticisms of initiatives to organise Palestinian workers rather than focussing on their vital role in opposing both Israeli expansionism and clerical-fascist Islamist forces.

Rhodri is right to say that we should not have illusions in the politics of the Stalinist leaders of the Workers' Advice Centre initiative – he cites their failure to adopt a “two states” position on Israel-Palestine as his greatest concern here. But Rhodri sidesteps any reference to Fatah-controlled trade unions which, although of course standing in favour of a “two-state” solution, are in tow to a bourgeois-nationalist party riddled with corruption.

He tells us that the “working-class movements can effect fundamental political change only when they have the policies to do so” - well, yes, of course there is more to working-class politics than day-to-day trade union activism. But “two states” - a slogan which I myself support as the only guarantee of self-determination for both nations - is a poor litmus test. Some version of “two states” could be taken up by any number of different political forces, including both Ehud Olmert some sections of Hamas; we do not in any case propose that basic trade union activism plus good international politics equals a rounded workers' movement; and our support for independent working-class organisation is not conditional.

Indeed, neither Israel's racist Histradut union nor Iraqi trade unions who, horror of horrors, call for the withdrawal of US-UK troops, are subject to equivalent disapproval in Solidarity. In both cases we recognise their potential to organise the working class as a class as central and not conditional on any given democratic question.

Of course, Rhodri denies any suggestion that our support for the Palestinian labour movement is subject to any conditions. But the way we portray the situation in Israel-Palestine and the enthusiasm of our support for workers' organisations there says something about our orientation and is furthermore, in a sense, part of our “solidarity” effort, exposing the way in which the international labour movement ignores Palestinian workers. We should – absolutely - not be afraid to be open about our disagreements with their politics. But our primary attitude is not one of criticism, which may risk clouding the class lines.

To illustrate the contradiction here, I recommend that comrades take a look at recent Solidarity pieces on Palestine such as the editorial in Solidarity 3/114 and Mark Osborn's letter “Help Fatah fight Hamas”, which were both highly sympathetic to Fatah. While using vaguely sceptical formulations such as “David doesn’t like the choice, Fatah or Hamas. I don’t like it much myself”, no specific problems with Fatah’s programme were mentioned, which has the effect of blunting our criticisms and giving the impression that we do indeed tolerate their politics. In both pieces the fact that Fatah is a bourgeois party; its support for the “al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade”; and all of the reasons why Fatah has lost the confidence of the Palestinian masses, were ignored. Why is Fatah above criticism? Because it is for “two states”, and better than Hamas.

So despite the AWL's “third campism”, on the Palestinian question it seems that our solidarity with the workers' movement is essentially secondary to interest in the fortunes of Fatah. We have no positive alternative to Hamas-Fatah feuding.

Indeed, the recent Workers' Liberty supplement entitled “How do we best help the Palestinians?” rightly opposed any academic boycott of Israel and argued for “two states” but failed to pose the question of positive solidarity with Palestinian workers – thus repeating one of the main mistakes of the “boycotters”. While the arguments made on the national question were convincing, its pages did not in fact give us any clues as to “how we can best help the Palestinians”, or deal with the question of agency. How might the organised working class grow as a real force in the region, and how can we practically help them? This should have been addressed.

For as socialists we know what we are for as well as what we are against. We do not let our opponents write our programmes for us. Opposing Hamas should not mean that we support Fatah, any more than opposing a boycott of Israeli academia means we do not build solidarity with the Palestinians, à la Engage. If the AWL is in favour of independent working-class politics, than how can supporting independent working-class organisations, however weak they are now, be anything other than our number one focus?


Phil BC said...

What do you make of the arguments recently put on the UK Left Network by Tony Greenstein that the academic boycott has had the effect of mobilising these academics to speak out against the repression of the Palestinians?

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