Gaza and the national question

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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.