Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Solidarity on Israel-Palestine

In her reply to David Kirk’s criticism of the Solidarity 3/128 editorial on Israel/Palestine, Cathy Nugent comments on the idea that we should not put demands on bourgeois governments:

“… socialists have always made such “calls” and made demands on bourgeois governments, and in many dreadful circumstances — in order to organise movements of opposition, to cohere groups of people who share our basic politics, because these demands/calls have the potential to create mass movements, or because under pressure bourgeois governments do act.”

This is correct when it refers to the necessity of making demands for agitational purposes. If the workers’ movement raises slogans for Palestinian self-determination, it can become a rallying point for working class forces, who can hegemonise the democratic and national question and thus build a third camp independent of the Israeli state and the Palestinian leadership. Socialists must argue (i) for working-class unity and independence from other class forces and (ii) for the workers’ movement to take the lead in posing democratic demands against the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes.

However, it is does not follow that a simple expression of the sentiment ‘The Israeli state really ought to allow the Palestinians to have their own state’ is necessarily ‘third camp’ in character. The ‘third camp’ is the organised working class taking the lead in struggle, not just the idea of a ‘two state solution’ in itself. After all, Fatah, Ehud Olmert, sections of Hamas and George Bush all want a ‘two state solution’, but their projects are not similar to our hope for a joint Arab-Jewish workers’ struggle for self-determination for all peoples in the region. The fact that we do not just shout “down with negotiations” or “down with diplomatic deals” when they happen does not mean that we do not have our own politics to push forward as well.

Yet the editorial in question made not a single reference to workers’ struggle, the working class or even trade unions, either in the abstract or in the concrete. It did not at any point mention the class struggle in the region nor how national oppression and democratic struggles relate to it. It read not like an article in a Trotskyist paper but like an Independent comment piece which patronisingly “exposes” the Israeli government’s “lack of proportion”. There was not one word in the editorial which would have been out of place in any liberal bourgeois daily.

This was the problem with the way the editorial posed demands on the Israeli government. Rather than stressing the importance of working-class struggle to force these demands to be fulfilled, it suggested that it would be the Kadima government which gifted Palestinian self-determination. As “one of the most democratic societies in existence”, Israel “should be correspondingly humane and enlightened” and use its power to grant justice to the Palestinians. No other agency of change was mentioned, with the article appealing to the Israeli élite to live up to their own democratic credentials!

That is not an agitational demand. In front of whom does the hypocrisy of Ehud Olmert and the IDF need to be “exposed”? I doubt that anyone who would buy our – revolutionary socialist - paper, nor for that matter the Palestinian workers and unemployed masses, would have been too impressed. We need to make the case for a ‘third camp’ in Israel-Palestine, not waste paper with liberal musings about “disproportionate” levels of violence.


Renegade Eye said...

I've never before seen such open debate and disagreement in a democratic centralist group. That is not a criticism, but an observation. It might strengthen your group.

This is our World Perspectives document. It includes Israel and Palestine.

Luke said...

Hi David,

I haven't read the editorial you're criticising, but I have two observations.

You suggest, that to adopt a "third camp" stance is to recognise the leading role of the working class in the democratic struggle. Not withstanding their differences, you're argument is analagous to both Lenin and Trotsky's position on the role of working class in Russian Revolution.

But, how then, do you explain the fact that Lenin and Trotsky did not use the term third camp themselves? Of course, the simple answer is that it was not part of the Marxist vocabulary at the time - only arising in debates on the nature of the Soviet Union inside the Trotskyist movement during the 1930s.

But this itself points to a more fundamental reason. Namely, that the term third camp suggests an equivocal relationship between the first and second camps - like any other binary opposition. The point being, of course, that in the division of the world between the imperialist and the imperialised (ie dominated) nations we do not see such a binary opposition. On the contrary, the Israeli settler state is armed to the teeth by the world's most powerful imperial power, the United States.

The point being that there is a much better term that summarises what you have described - the leading role of the working class in the anti-imperialist struggle - and that is permanent revolution.

What's more, is it not also the case that, Lenin and Trotsky are right on another fundamental element of the policy of permanent revolution. Namely, that in fighting for the leadership of the national liberation struggle, the working class must not have a sectarian attitude to other class forces. But, rather, use the anti-imperialist united front. This is precisely a means to expose the inconsistent and self-defeating "anti-imperialism" of the petit bourgeois and even bourgeois forces.

It is radically different from the popular front policy, because it does entail the political subordination of communist forces, to the leadership of other classes. It only recognises the need for common actions against occupying forces.

All the best,

Luke Cooper

Luke said...

Oh, sorry, a qualification is in order. Naturally, the situation in Russia in 1917 was not an anti-imperialist struggle.

The point though, is that in the period following the Russian Revolution Trotsky, in particular, quickly realised that the theory of permanent revolution was essential to the anti-imperialist struggles. See, for example "persepctives and tasks in the east". Also, at this time the revolutionary comintern developed the anti-imperialist united front policy.

The analogy with Russia 1917 holds insofar as it constitued a revolutionary crisis and opportunity for the working class to struggle for power, in which the Bolsheviks did take united front positions with other class forces, e.g. the petit bourgeois left SRs during the insurrection, and the defence of the bourgeois provisional government during the Kerensky coup.


Dave said...

I think trotsky used it first, this was at a time when you either supported Stalinism, or you didn't, and the vast majority didn't share Trotsky's standpoint, so the time period was a little different, to put it lightly.

Anyway I read the editorial in question, I come from a different background than you david, and I disagree with you generally, but I'm glad your fighting your party's leadership when it writes stuff like "Israel is one of the most democratic societies in existence."

What's more shocking is the insistence that bourgeois democracy and Western ideology is more 'humane' and 'enlightened' than other societies, as if they've forgotten which Western states invaded certain Middle Eastern states recently.

Jonesy said...

It is refreshing to see that a few still share the struggle, not relegated to the amorphous glob of sheep known as the masses. Good-O!