Gaza and the national question

See also :

Printer-friendly versionSend to friend

All across the world people expressed horror and revulsion at the Israeli massacres in Gaza. The purpose of this article is not to go over the details again, but the death toll, an estimated 1,200 or more Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the conflict, shows quite clearly that this was not a struggle between two equal powers, but a massacre pure and simple. This is an important point that needs to be considered when looking at how communists understand conflicts like these.

Although in some countries there was support for Israel's so-called and even some protests supporting the massacres everywhere these were massively outnumbered by those demonstrating against the massacres, with massive demonstrations of hundreds of thousands taking place in Damascus, Madrid, Cairo, Istanbul, and even in Israel itself. Across the world it seems that even though many states refused to condemn or even supported the Israeli attack, there was little public support for it. In the ‘Islamic world' in particular condemnation of the attacks was almost unanimous with the demonstrations in Syria directly organised by the state, and here in Turkey President Gül somehow managing to decide "Israel's bombardment of Gaza shows disrespect to the Turkish Republic", and Tayip managing to become a minor international media star for a moment. In fact in Turkey as well as in the majority of Arab countries all political forces within society were united around the issue.

When this type of ‘national unity' emerges the first questions that revolutionaries need to be asking is whose class interests are being represented here. Invariably the answer will be not those of the working class.

In reality the Turkish political classes and the Israeli ones are in no way different. Anybody who listened to the Israeli politicians justifying the murders committed by their troops would have heard exactly the same line that we in Turkey have been listening to for years. The army was ‘defending innocent civilians against murderous terrorists'. We all know where we have heard those lines before. The lies used by the Israeli state to justify its war are exactly the same one, almost on a word for word basis, as those used by the Turkish state to justify its barbarism in the South-East and in the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq.

Of course, the hypocrisy of the ruling class is blatant for all to see. The arguments of some of the left organisations though are much more subtly. Ultimately they come down to supporting the Palestinian national Liberation movement and in particular HAMAS.  The vast majority of these organisations are well aware that HAMAS is a reactionary anti-working class organisation. Some will even remember the attacks on the teachers and public sector strikes in September 2006. However, they continue to argue that it is necessary for socialists to support HAMAS as they are the only force struggling against the Israelis, and the only force that can protect the Palestinian people.

The facts on the ground tend to dispute this though. The death toll shows that they are absolutely incapable of protecting the Palestinian people. The myth of the Palestinian struggle promoted by the left is one in which eventually these ‘brave national forces' will triumph over the ‘Israeli Zionist regime', and its propaganda tools are pictures of national flags, dead children, and beautiful young women with assault rifles. In fact there only seems to be one main problem with the whole conception, and that is that it has nothing at all to do with reality.

The Palestinian national movement will never be able to destroy Israel by itself. The casualty figures at the start of this article point out the reality very bluntly; for every Israeli that died nearly one hundred Palestinians did. Communists arguing for an internationalist position, no support for either side in the bosses' wars, have been told by members of the leftist organisations that the struggle is absolutely unequal and if you don't support HAMAS' struggle, you are lining up alongside the imperialists. Obviously they have a point here, the sides are unequal. However, whilst supporting the underdog may seem reasonable in a football match, for example when Haccetepe go to Fener, it is not really much of a political analysis.

Imperialism today is not only the USA and its allies. Imperialism is now a world system. All major countries have imperialistic interests. It is not only the USA, the British, and the French. Russia and China also have imperial interests as do much smaller countries like Turkey, Syria, and Iran, and in the struggles between these powers the interests of various national minorities count little more than the interests of pawns on a chessboard. The Kurdish example is a good one. Over the years, Kurdish nationalist organisations have allied themselves with all of the regional and major powers; the example of Syria's past support for the PKK is just one reasonably recent example from this country. National liberation movements in the modern epoch can be little more than tools in the struggles between different powers, and in this case in the struggle of Syria and Iran against Israel.

Let's be very clear about the realities of the situation; there is absolutely no possibility of a Palestinian victory at the moment. The ‘best' that they can hope for is some sort of ‘homeland' like the Bantustans in apartheid South Africa, where Palestinian police enforce Israeli order. At the moment there can not be a military defeat of Israel and its US backers. It is just not going to happen.

The only possibility that such a military defeat could come about would be if there were a massive change in the global balance of power, if the US were knocked down from its throne as overlord of the Middle East. It would need a new power or coalition of powers to arise to challenge American hegemony. Maybe in the future this could be done by China or even a re-emergent Russia. At the moment, though it doesn't seem very likely.

What would it mean if it were to happen? A change in the imperialist balance of power is not something that tends to happen peacefully. At the very least, it would mean a return to the days of the cold war struggle for power with proxy armies confronting each other all across the globe. At worst it would mean generalised war. For the Middle East it would almost certainly mean a further increase in the murderous cycle of national/ethnic/religious conflicts, which are dragging the region deeper and deeper into barbarism. A Palestinian victory in Gaza would mean new massacres, only this time it would be Arabs massacring Jews.

...And for the Palestinian working class? The history of national liberation movements can give us a good idea of what would await them. Victorious nationalist movements have a tendency to turn round and massacre working class or socialist supporters of those movements who want something more. The murder of thousands of workers and communists in Shanghai in 1927 is only one of the best known examples, but it is part of a long history that goes in this part of the world from Mustafa Suphi and the leaders of the TKP to Kurdish nationalists in Iraq shooting down striking cement factory workers today.

It is not the role of communists and revolutionaries to support the weaker side in a struggle. Nor is it their job to mobilise workers to die on behalf of their bosses. We come from a different tradition.

It is a tradition that puts class interests, not national interests first. It is the tradition of Lenin and of the revolutionary upsurges that put an end to the First World War.

It is a tradition that now as then says that workers have no country.

Sabri

Comments

There is a contradiction

There is a contradiction here. You say that the Zionist narrative of Israel ‘defending innocent civilians against murderous terrorists' is false yet you admit that if Israel were defeated, then the Arabs would commit massacres against the Jews. If the triumphant Arabs would massacre the Jews--and they would--then it follows that any military action that keeps the Arabs weak leads to the protection of the Jews.

There is a contradiction but

There is a contradiction but it lies in the development of imperialism of which zionism is a part, as indeed are all the Arab and the Iranian regimes. All of them manipulated by bigger powers as well as their own imperialist interests. Left unchecked, imperialism in the Middle East will lead to greater warfare in which the working class and oppressed masses on all sides will suffer. Supporting a side because its offers protection is the blackmail of the state and it's to submit to the gangsterism of the state in the same way that Palestinians look to the protection of Hamas or aany of the other gangster factions. Ultimately there is no protection except the unified struggle of the working class.

You assume that both sides

You assume that both sides want war. But if the Palestinians surrendered to the Israelis, then the checkpoints and the borders would be open in a few years as they were prior to the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987. Peace would reign. On the other hand, the war can't be ended by the Israelis surrendering to the Palestinians because the Palestinians would inflict another Holocaust!

To suggest a reversion to

To suggest a reversion to some pre-conflict state, should the warmaking element of the Palestinian state "surrender," is to misunderstand the nature of imperialism. Imperialist, capitalist expansion does not end, and peace never reigns in the decadent stage of capitalism. War opens new markets and increases profits, so it is for the benefit of interested parties on either side that the conflict continues. Antisemitic nationalism on one side and zionist nationalism on the other are the incitive methods of the bourgeoisie. I don't understand the continued inability of commentators to distinguish between the imperialist conflict and the working class victimized by it.

Honestly I think you

Honestly I think you Communists engage in scaremongering. You guys spent the Cold War predicting another world war that would end civilization. You failed to realize that no capitalist will gain profits of any kind let alone "super profits" from the destruction of the world.

Likewise the inherent limitations of a small army dependent on the mobilization of a whole society led Israel to make peace with Egypt and Jordan, while Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian militias/terror groups refused to (sincerely) make peace with Israel.

Ultimately material interests are not enough to maintain war--war costs burn up profits. It takes a fierce ideology to maintain war and the sacrifice therein. The fact is that most secular ideologies are bankrupt with the exception of a considerable Leftist minority dedicated to the downfall of the Western powers and the civilizations they protect. The strong ideologies are religions--especially in the Middle East, where a militant Islamic front hopes to expand until the conquest of the world. This front can have such extravagant hopes before it alone is willing to destroy the world rather than surrender. The only opponents with any serious hope of stopping this Islamic front are the Religious Zionists (only at a local level) and the Christian Right (though Christian militancy pales before the Islamic brand). If in 2100 or 2200 the world is still not dominated by militant Islam, it may be less due to the strengths of the opposition and more due to its own weaknesses!

re: Hidden Author

"Honestly I think you Communists engage in scaremongering. You guys spent the Cold War predicting another world war that would end civilization. You failed to realize that no capitalist will gain profits of any kind let alone 'super profits' from the destruction of the world."
Feel free to actually read the entirety of the ICC's press in the Cold War period (and the press of its predecessor organizations, especially the GCF), on the question of world war. If you did so, you would find that there are preconditions for world war, the most important of which are the existence of built up armed forces, the division of the capitalist powers into two or more clearly defined camps, and the ability of the bourgeoisie to get the proletariat to unthinkingly do what it [the bourgeoisie] wants. Without all of these preconditions, a world war is impossible. The ICC didn't spend the Cold War saying "oh, all these preconditions are present, therefore a world war is inevitable!" On the contrary, what it said was that, since a massive arms buildup and the division of the capitalist world into two camps was an accomplished fact, the only thing that could prevent world war was the unwillingness of the proletariat to be led into it. This isn't "scaremongering"; this is logical reasoning from a given set of facts and premises. What's interesting is that the world came closest to war in the early 1960s, right before the reemergence of the open economic crisis and the resumption of the class struggle by the proletariat. This would seem to confirm the ICC's analysis; once the proletariat manifested its combativeness, the war scares between the superpowers rapidly receded.

Capitalists don't set out to destroy the world (they couldn't do so anyway; the most harm they can do is to higher animals, including humans, and plants). They set out to redivide the national shares of the world market so as to maximize the area that is open for their exploitation. Destruction of humanity is merely an inadvertent and unintended, but all too likely, consequence of this need to continually redivide the world market.

Even if the bourgeoisie

Even if the bourgeoisie managed to lobotomize the entire proletariat into being perfect servants, they would refrain from world war. At least the American bourgeoisie would do its best in that regard.
Other bourgeoisie may be willing to destroy the world, not for profits, but because they are fanatical true believers of their own propaganda, be it Communist or Islamist. Whether it's Khrushchev's decision to place nukes in Cuba (with the Cuban Communists seeking to nuke America) or Bin Laden issuing fatwas to nuke America, it is utopian dreams rather than profits which motivate the move to world war!