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The Acid Test of Palestine

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Palestine is one of the critical acid tests for revolutionary Marxists.
I recently came across some material from the International Socialist League in Israel, and in particular the writing of Yossi Schwartz on Marxmail.
The first was a post from Yossi taking a position on the current situation in Lebanon.
Here he stated his military support for Hezbollah against imperialism, Israel and the Siniora national bourgeoisie. But at the same time he carefully spelled out his political oppostion to Hezbollah as a bourgeois party that could not defeat imperialism nor bring about a socialist revolution.
He was then attacked by a number of Marxmail regulars who see any criticism of ‘progressive’ anti-imperialist forces as sectarian. Not only that, as an Israeli revolutionary, he should be ashamed at having the gall to criticise a political party that was fighting Zionism.
It doesnt matter that Yossi explained his position on the defeat of the Zionist state and his support for one Palestine socilialist workers republic. His critics told him it was easy for an Israeli to make such ‘ultra-left’ pronouncements. Yossi then explained that it was not easy.

Yossi then posted a statement in the name of the ISL on the recent actions of the Palestinian bulldozer driver who smashed into cars and overturned buses in Jeruselem before being shot dead by an off duty Israel cop.

This aroused my curiosity in the ISL. I discovered that it was a split from the Grant/Wood tendency in mid 2007 resulting from an apparent disagreement on tactics towards Hamas. There is an account of it here.
The article written by Yehuda Stern, “The Victory of Hamas in Gaza and the questions facing Israeli and Palestinian workers” is still posted on the In Defence of Marxism website here.

The subject of the article was the victory of Hamas in an internal struggle with Fatah for control of Gaza. Stern argued that Hamas rode to victory on a wave of popularity as the Palestinian masses expressed their rejection of the open collaboration of Fatah with Israel and Imperialism. The Grant/Woods tendency however argued that the dispute between Hamas and Fatah was a fight between two equally reactionary forces incapable of advancing the Palestinian struggle.

As Stern says in the article:
“It is amazing to see how the imperialists have understood far better than most people on the left what lies at the heart of the present conflict – not a mere power struggle between two equally reactionary forces but a decisive battle between imperialism and the Palestinian people. The bourgeoisie in Israel is now hysterical, and for a good reason: although the victory of Hamas in Gaza does not solve any of the fundamental problems of the Palestinian masses, this was clearly a severe blow against imperialism. It is clear then that the question at hand is not the leadership of either side but the class forces supporting them.”

Indeed the ISL has no illusions in Hamas:
“Hamas is a populist, reactionary movement, whose leadership not long ago had announced its willingness to negotiate with the USA and Britain. They justified this with the argument that these two imperialist powers were different from Israel, as they are not “occupying states”. They said this long after the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq where the USA and Britain are the main occupying forces and also ignoring the fact that behind Israeli imperialism stands US imperialism with all its might.”

Stern then goes on to explain how Hamas rose to power from the time of the formation of the Islamic Brotherhood in Gaza in 1948. Hamas opposed the Oslo agreement of 1993 and the sellout of the Palestinian Authority which created terrible conditions for Palestinians.

“That is why we cannot join the hue and cry of the sectarian and petit bourgeois left. They limit themselves to shouting that Hamas is a reactionary movement, that it is as pro-imperialist as Fatah, that it is a terrorist organization, and so on. These cries reflect bourgeois public opinion, and not by chance. We defend the right of the Palestinian people to determine their own destiny and to choose their own government without any outside interference. They clearly voted massively for Hamas giving this organisation a landslide victory in the last elections. It is an unfortunate fact that an Islamic fundamentalist force has come to lead the Palestinian masses, but rather than weep about all this what we should be doing is looking at the responsibility of the “left” in allowing such a situation to emerge.”

But while Hamas won popular support rejecting the treachery of Fatah, rose to power on the wave of anti-imperialist sentiment of the Palestinian masses, Hamas cannot bring about their liberation.

“The main problem facing the Palestinian masses now is that the de facto break up of the PA into two farcical states will not change the fundamental nightmare situation they are living in. Hamas does not have any real alternative to offer to capitalist exploitation, hardly compensated by Hamas’ Islamic charity institutions upon which a growing layer of the population of Gaza depends in order to survive. Even the temporary relief granted by the effect of the victory of Hamas upon the powerful rival clans and organisations cannot last for very long.”

Stern goes on to explain why revolutionaries can block with Hamas against imperialism but at the same time fight against their reactionary class politics:

“For these reasons we do not give the fundamentalists any political support. Hamas is a populist movement. It built its support on the one hand on the betrayal of the nationalists and on the other on the betrayal of the left and its sell-out to the PLO and Fatah. And we should always keep firmly in mind that Hamas does
not want to overthrow capitalism. They merely wish for banks and monopolies with Islamic names. If they follow the same path of making deals with the imperialist powers, which at a certain stage will be inevitable, its leadership will be exposed as just another group of bourgeois politicians, no better than Fatah, especially should they attempt to set up a regime in their image to assert their domination. This, in the long run, is the only possibility in Palestine, where the ruling class is extremely weak and lacks any popular base.”

The article goes on to explain how the Stalinists capitulate to the popular front of progressive national bourgeoisies like Hamas or Hezbollah.

More interesting however, is their critique of the ‘philosophical roots of sectarian political degeneration’.
Here we have the main difference between the ISL and the Grant/Woods tendency exposed.

“Their argument, as we have already said, is that since both Fatah and Hamas are reactionary bourgeois movements, there is no reason to differentiate between them. We have already demonstrated why the refusal to differentiate between the downtrodden masses that support and fight under the leadership of Hamas and the rotten Fatah leadership is nonsensical and irresponsible from a class perspective. Now we shall elaborate on the philosophical postulates underlying it.”

…”Thus, the sectarian usually substitutes Marxist philosophy with either vulgar materialism or with idealism. One of the main characteristics of idealist philosophy is that it analyses objects, movements, states and so forth through their form instead of their material basis (Trotsky explains this quite well in his 1938 essay, Their Morals and Ours). This is the reason for their inability to understand phenomena such as Proletarian Bonapartism, the Bolivarian Revolution, or the political situation in the Middle East and in Israel-Palestine in particular, alongside countless other questions. For the idealist, all that matters is that
Hamas is “Islamic” and Fatah is “nationalist”. The fact that at this moment in time one side is supported by the Palestinian masses, while the other is supported by imperialism, is at best secondary to these so-called
“Marxists” (here again we see how the sectarian considers “the incidental thing serious and the serious thing incidental.”)”

Stern then elaborates on how sectarians impose their petty bourgeois program on workers ignoring the actual struggles in which workers class consciousness develops. He could have mentioned that this is the point made by Trotsky that sectarians are frightened opportunists -afraid that they will capitulate to opportunism which in this case would be Islamic fundamentalism.

To avoid both sterile sectarianism and crass opportunism, it is important to understand why the mass support of Palestinians for Hamas is an important starting point in developing a class consciousness that can break with the reactionary politics of Hamas.

“Those who stand together with the masses in the struggle and support them have the credibility needed to present their criticism of the leadership. Those who stand aside and refuse to support the masses will never be taken seriously. Nor should they be. This, as we have already mentioned, is merely the ultimate fate
of sectarianism.”

…”Meanwhile, in Palestine, the inability of Hamas to advance the liberation struggle will become more and more evident. Just as we saw in Lebanon after last year’s war, the masses in Gaza after the defeat of Fatah – seen as agents of imperialism -will demand jobs, bread and higher wages. In Gaza the unemployment rate is just over 60%. The reactionary Hamas will not be able to give the masses anything. After any military setback of Israeli we would see the national liberation struggle grow, but this would expose Hamas and reveal all its limitations, and would serve as a lesson for the Palestinian workers. They will eventually come
to realise that the only way to liberate the Palestinian masses from imperialism is through the class struggle. The present state of affairs in Israel exposes more and more the fact that Israeli and Palestinian workers have a clear common goal – the social revolution.”

On the acid test of Palestine, I think the Israeli International Socialist League has passed with red flag flying.

Written by raved

July 5, 2008 at 4:04 am