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.