Israel outwards and inwards

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Israel outwards and inwards
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In 2019 the leading Marxist Jørgen Sandemose died (some of his bibliography in English can be viewed here).

Given the news about Israel this week, I post a quick translation of a piece (or comment on a Norwegian forum) which Sandemose wrote apropos the November 2014 "Nation-State Bill" of Netanyahu.

Sandemose's general theory (at the risk of summarizing) is that capitalism has not fully or properly developed in the rest of the world (outside Western Europe and US), that is, the economies of Latin-America, Africa, Asia (including even Israel as you will read) are still Asiatic formations. By the way, I think this contrast with the progressivist view (of eg even Luxemburg herself) that capitalism would (or has) simply spread itself everywhere. That is, Sandemose's view is more pessimistic and thus I think compatible with a theory of decadence of capitalism.

Anways, here's the translation (not perfect):

Israel outwards and inwards

Netanyahu is pursuing constitutional religiophobia adapted to a state built on cartels.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opening to legalize Israel "a Jewish state", which will exclude one and a half million Arab citizens, is not a proposal for a coup d'état, as one could easily have thought. On the contrary, it can be carried out under circumstances that cannot possibly break with Israeli constitutional principles.

On November 20, an editorial in the (mainstream Norwegian) Aftenposten stated: "Friends of Israel, and we count ourselves among them, have often justified their sympathy for Israel being a democracy in a part of the world where such is a rarity. If Israel does something that undermines this position, it will have negative consequences that are difficult to foresee. "

Aftenposten is in the wild in its relation to definitions of democracy. Israel is not a democracy, and this is true for two main reasons:

First, Israel has never enacted any constitution that commits the nation to a particular system of government. Apparently democracy is represented at the national level by the Knesset, but this is only in the form of a parliament, as it is still, in line with "provisional" provisions of 1948 and 1950, to be regarded as a working group whose objective is to set forth proposal for a constitution. This obviously never happens. (Or as the Romans said: it does happen "ad calendas graecas".) So far, there are some "basic laws" that are sometimes considered valid surrogates for a constitution, but there is just no constitutional basis for attributing validity to these laws.

If the Knesset was dissolved, and it could happen without constitutional problems overnight, then there is nothing formal in the way that certain positions of power (such as the Army leadership or the Supreme Court) may require a new "temporary" regime. Then we will see how serious it is being taken.

Second, Israel does not have the economic foundation, including property forms, that is the necessary precondition for a bourgeois democracy. While many believe this to be the case, it is often due to the vague term "market economy", which many consider to be a word that covers a traditional capitalist economic system. Although Israel may be called a market economy, it does not have a capitalist ownership structure. The country's economy depends on cartel-like “Business Groups”. This system characterizes virtually all industrialized economies outside Western Europe, the United States and English-speaking countries in general. Here, for example, there is no opportunity for freedom within real corporations; On the contrary, the ruling is around manipulations from co-ownership and unified family groups that have the real dominion, independent of any possible majority of shares. The OECD has long expressed its concern on this occasion, but the same could be said with regard to any industrialized country of this type – from Russia and China over Japan to Chile, to name the last country that has given this mafiotic property form a legal basis in its constitution.

In short: Israel itself forms a part of the world where 'democracy is a rarity' to paraphrase the Aftenpost-leader. To the extent that e.g. Muslim countries are industrialized, they build on exactly the same quasi-capitalist model, which is nothing more than a continuation of primitive family property, full of unpredictability, and constantly threatened by stagnation – which is especially true of Israel's economy, regardless of the current world crisis. More than half of the value of the Israeli economy is controlled today by dozens of family conglomerates.

It is often emphasized that Israel stands out negatively by being the only country in the world that has not defined its borders. Equally important is to see that this external indeterminacy has its counterpart in the country's inner structure.

This apparent indeterminacy is best expressed in an official state ideology based on faith, in this case Judaism. Political action then takes place on a basis that, as with any given apartment, need not be rationally justified. For example, it would be a mistake to call Netanyahu's threats racist. They do not deal with so-called racial differences, but rather are religiophobic, as is characteristic of currents in Islam.

In the same way, it is wrong to call the threats "fascist", in parallel with the meaningless term "islamo-fascism". Fascism is a phenomenon related to corporate features of real capitalist nations. Like Arab countries, Israel is well below that level.

The latest ICC article

The latest ICC article criticises a position by the ACG on anti-Zionist activism, especially their sentence that: "A secular, non-discriminatory, democratic state of Israel is acceptable". But perhaps the criticism is a bit too abstract. The ACG is answering the question: "how do we voice our opposition to what we used to safely call Zionism?" That is, in so far as mobilisation/activism around a particular subject is called for, becomes an issue - how should this be orientated, and in what particular sense. They say: "Let us leave to one side for now our opposition towards the concept of states." – by which I think they mean, that such a general position doesn't answer the particular question. The ICC meanwhile rejects the question: '[the ACG] is still submerged in the international campaign that forces each and every one to support or reject the “legitimacy” of the Zionist state.' Yes, the ACG is "submerged" in it, but that's because they're addressing the particular question, giving it attention. Take any other particular subject, eg work safety. The ACG reasoning would be similar: our general position is against wage-labour, but as to the particular question and campaign, "we accept" workplaces if they comply with the following safety criteria. That is, as they put it, "we need to work within the reality we have before us." Even if the general ICC position is, that no particular issue now can be reformed, I think that doesn't mean in practice that the ICC wouldn't intervene in a safety campaign, against particular workplaces. The criticism that I'd make of the ACG's position is rather, that their position is not particular or distinct enough. To return to the workplace safety anology, it's like they're saying, we support workplace safety campaigns, but not detail the criteria of safety. But, taking into account a small group's limited time and forces, I could hardly blame the ACG for not going into sufficient depth on every particular subject.


I post now my unpublished letter apropos an article by the anti-Zionist campaigner Tony Greenstein (it's not about Greenstein, but just an occasion to comment on a general anti-Zionist tendency):

Tony Greenstein (in 'Contradictions of Zionism') rightly selects Max Nordau as an important historical figure, but instead of being a quasi-fascist ('a believer in social Darwinism', 'his ideas on art were similar to those of Hitler', citing Nordau's Degeneration on "racial instinct", etc.), I argue that this key Zionist leader is a socialist. Nordau's Degeneration attacks Nietzsche and Wagner, the term 'racial instinct' refers to species-being, and a footnote defends Lamarck. In 1884 in Die Neue Zeit Kautsky reviewed Nordau's Conventional lies of our civilisation, a book, by the way, from which the anarchist R. Rocker translated two chapters into Yiddish. Kautsky noted, that 'Marxism is not a stranger to Nordau, like many echoes of one of the main representative of this direction in France, Paul Lafargue, testify ... In the chapter on the "economic lie" he holds e.g. positions which, leaning on Lafargue's Droit à la paresse, sound completely Marxist'. Nordau's work is referenced in passing in the writings of Plekhanov, Trotsky and Bukharin. And more explicit still, after he became a Zionist, Nordau (in The Interpretation of History) approvingly quotes the The Origins of the Family: 'Engels observes correctly that civilized society is organized in a State which is "exclusively the State of the governing class, always a machine whose essential purpose is to keep down the oppressed and exploited class"'. In the 1906 year overview in Neue Freie Presse Nordau wrote on the aftermath of the 1905 Russian revolution: 'On the day when the Russian people will have overcome its stranglers – and that day is despite the momentary superiority of the government and despite the support of its foreign political and financial helpers close at hand – on this day in Europe many other things will collapse besides Tsarist despotism'. In 1905 he had written that the Russian revolutionaries are still too disunited. He thought that the Russian proletariat will be disappointed in their socialist hopes because they haven't a practical plan worked out (which he adds neither exists in the more advanced countries). He believed the artificially developed Russian big industry would collapse and the Russian empire dissolve into different nationalities (a situation which he didn't romanticize). He predicted WWI, and the destruction of 6 million Jews (suspicious prophecy according to Jew-haters). Although the veracity of this anecdote (from Buber's memoirs) may be doubted, the sentiment fits the man: "When Max Nordau, Herzl’s second in command, first received details on the existence of an Arab population in Palestine, he came shocked to Herzl, exclaiming: ‘I never realized this – we are committing an injustice.’"


By themselves these facts, that the leader of the Zionist movement (after Herzl) eg can approvingly quote Engels on the state as a machine of class domination, or can look forward to (and expect) the overthrow of Tsarist despotism, etc. are enough to undermine the (anti-Zionist, but not exclusively) caricature of Max Nordau (and thus in general of the Zionist movement). It's not just an academic historic question about Nordau, but how the anti-Zionist overzealous attempt to discredit the whole of Zionism (as quasi-fascist) simply carries water for the Revisionist (righwing) Zionism which today dominates.

But don't I exaggerate when I go so far as to call Nordau a socialist though? - it could be asked.

In 1884 August Bebel in passing mentioned Nordau's Conventional lies of our civilisation, a book which was popular also among bourgeois classes:

What a judgment is cast in this book upon marriage and upon the nobility, upon Christianity and religion! That is everything, which Social-Democracy has said, no objection againt that. Indeed, when I first read the chapter on marriage, I repeatedely clasped my hands on my head, and said to myself, if your book Woman and Socialism wasn't written 4 years before Nordau, I would have been faced with open accusations of plagiarism. Because almost entire pages of Nordau's book sound identitical to my book.

Nordau's book was read by the Mexican land-reformer Andrés Molina Enríquez. Also in Mexico before the revolution, Nordau's book was reading material of the Casa del Obrero Mundial (House of the World Worker), alongside Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread. The Spanish translator of Nordau's works was Nicolás Salmerón y Garcia, one of the pioneers of radical socialism in Spain. In the epilogue to the Spanish edition (1902) of Degeneration, Nordau highlighted its political motive, namely to expose and combat the reactionary, irrationalist obscurantism of the self-proclaimed radical avant-guard artists and thinkers in the late 19th century.

When in the 1900s Nordau wrote an article modestly defending the French revolution (despite its terror), he was attacked in the antisemitic La Libre parole.

The rightwing Zionist Leo Strauss in 1923 agreed with Herzl's complaint about Nordau"s "sympathy for socialism as well as [his] antipathy for secret diplomacy [namely of Herzl]". Nordau in a speech had declared that socialism and Zionism were compatible.

Again, I mention all this not mainly to undermine the anti-Zionist simplified black-and-white picture, but in order not to naturalize (ie project back in time) today's rightwing Zionism. If the 20th century sees a worsening rightwing trend in all countries and movements, then Zionism wouldn't be an exception. Today's Zionism has no interest in remembering more radical elements of its origins, just as today's bourgeoisie wants to forget (render harmless or discredit) its once more revolutionary heroes.


Syndicalism (1911 article by Nordau)

Max Nordau also wrote this (positive) article, titled 'Syndicalism - A world power', in The Agitator (15 December 1911, see last page), which was a US revolutionary syndicalist paper (inspired by the CGT in France).

Again I stress, this was written while Nordau was the key leader of the Zionist movement.

Nordau draws out the broader implication of the 1910 French railway strike (victorious in 1911); he sees it (ie syndicalism) as heralding the beginning of a new epoch in human history (citing Goethe's words, apropos the French revolutionary army's first victory in 1792).

This is time of the debate on mass strike/action among Marxists (involving Kautsky, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, etc.). I think Nordau definitely falls on the radical side of this debate (with Luxemburg et al.), though he counter-poses socialism (a doctrine injected by intellectuals) to the more effective syndicalism (masses' self-activity).

Given eg that later the Bolsheviks' stress on the importance of soviets was sometimes denounced as "syndicalist" (by Kautsky/menshevik types), etc., I could even see Nordau endorsing the soviets (and tbf, even Kautsky was forced to recognise the soviets as heralding a new important method of struggle for the future).


Btw, as regards antisemitic allegations, in 1920 Nordau wrote an article on Judaism and Bolshevism, where he rejected the allegation that Judaism was responsible for Boshevism, eg by making an anology of Trotsky to Jesus, namely that Jesus was a Jew, doesn't mean (in the eyes of antisemites) that Judaism is responsible for Christianity.



zionism and socialism

I welcome the initiative by d-man to start a thread on the question of Zionism, the Israeli State and the policy of the ACG. It is the subject of an article “The ACG rejects identity politics but “accepts” a democratic secular state of Israel” published on the website of the ICC in response to an article of the ACG. The article of the ACG simply “forgets” to defend the communist position that all bourgeois states are an enemy of the working class. But on libcom, where the ACG article has been published as well, no one seems to see the need to take up the challenge and to defend the proletarian internationalism. Therefore it is important that this discussion takes place on the forum of the ICC.

The first point I want to take up is the comparison d-man makes between the internationalism and the working place: “Yes, the ACG is "submerged" in in [the Zionist anti-Zionist trap], but that's because they're addressing the particular question.”(…) Take any other particular subject, eg work safety. The ACG reasoning would be similar: our general position is against wage-labour, but as to the particular question and campaign, "we accept" workplaces if they comply with the following safety criteria. That is, as they put it, "we need to work within the reality we have before us”.

The comparison the comrades makes here is not right, since he compares two situations that are of a completely different quality. Concessions on the level of the proletarian internationalism have far greater and more dramatic consequences than concessions on the level of the working places. In the end such concession on the level of proletarian internationalism leads us to accept the bourgeois state as something we need to reconcile with.

In its attempt to be concrete, which is the consequence of its activist politics, the ACG regularly falls into the traps of the bourgeoisie whether it is “unionism versus anti-unionism”; “Zionism versus anti-Zionism” or “racism versus anti-racism”, “democratism” or “anti-democratism”. In all these questions the ACG is not able to develop a clear and consequent proletarian politics. And its decision no longer to use the word “Zionism” is no solution either. On the contrary: since the Zionist state has been qualified as a racist state and “anti-Zionism have become increasingly colonised by anti-Semitic forms”, the ACG is so fearful of being called anti-Semitic and racist that, instead, it falls into the trap of a defence of an Israel democratic state, to be realized somewhere  ….. in the future?

Another point is that d-man, by means of several quotes, tries to show us that Max Nordau belonged to the workers’ movement: I argue that this key Zionist leader is a socialist”.

It may be true that Nordau was recognized by some parts of the workers’ movement as a socialist, maybe he considered himself a socialist. He may have written an article in a syndicalist paper, he may have quoted from Friedrich Engels’ book The Origins of the Family. But that does not mean that he was a socialist when he became a member of the Zionist movement in 1897. Apart from the facts d-man puts forward, it is also a fact that Nordau has never been member of any workers’ organisation.

The main question we have to clarify here is why d-man tries so hard to prove that Max Nordau was a socialist. Is it because he thinks, together with Max Nordau, that socialism and Zionism are compatible? I think it is. And that means that he still thinks that, in the core, Zionism also contains certain values worth defending. That’s probably also the reason why he says that “the anti-Zionist overzealous attempt to discredit the whole of Zionism (as quasi-fascist) simply carries water for the Revisionist (rightwing) Zionism which today dominates.” This phrase raises a lot of questions, but I will mention the most important.

In this phrase d-man reproaches the anti-Zionism that they reinforce the rightwing Zionism by their stupid accusation of “quasi-fascism” and, consequently, weaken the leftwing Zionism. Why is the defence of the leftwing Zionism so important for d-man? Why is it so bad that the leftwing Zionism is weakened in relation to the rightwing? Is this maybe the so-called socialist wing that defends the legacy of the socialist Nordau in the Zionist movement?

But in contrast to what this phrase seems to imply, Zionism has nothing to be defended by the communists. Zionism is a state-ideology. And the ‘progressive’ kibbutz movement within Zionism (the collective communities characterized by collective ownership of property, an emphasis on the dignity of manual labor, a system of direct democracy, and communal child care) was only the flag that became a cover up for the ultra-nationalism, the terrorism and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestine territory. From the very beginning Zionism was nothing else than an ideological justification for the constitution of independent Jewish nation-state, something Trotsky already understood in 1904.

“You understand what a devilishly cunning plan this is [of Herzl)? You pretend that you are buying a homeland in a distant street, you use supposed “serious negotiations” to dull the vigilance of the Sultan, and then… and then you squeeze Palestine out of him and spring it on the Jewish people.”  (The Decomposition of Zionism – And What Might Succeed It (1904)



Kamerling wrote: In its

Kamerling wrote:
In its attempt to be concrete, which is the consequence of its activist politics, the ACG regularly falls into the traps of the bourgeoisie

Perhaps I'm in a more charitable mood than you are, but I interpret their text as an attempt to avoid falling into the cheap leftist activist politics, which, in slight caricature, chants a thousand times "Zionism is baaaaaaad" (or more simply, adopts a sneering tonal expression when uttering the word "Zionism").

Concessions on the level of the proletarian internationalism have far greater and more dramatic consequences than concessions on the level of the working places.

The national question is certainly important, but the trade union, ecological, women, immigration, etc. questions are also important. Sometimes it's said that there is too much stress on the national question, so one should just avoid it (pretend it doesn't exist). Or that when it's about more distant places like Palestine, Kurds, etc., that it functions as a distraction, symbolic posturing, and we don't have any real influence anyway (like connections to like-minded organisations there, if they even exist). Again in a charitable interpretation, the ACG text can be said to attempt to neutralise/downplay the issue somewhat.

But that does not mean that he was a socialist when he became a member of the Zionist movement in 1897. Apart from the facts d-man puts forward, it is also a fact that Nordau has never been member of any workers’ organisation. The main question we have to clarify here is why d-man tries so hard to prove that Max Nordau was a socialist.

It's simply a matter of correcting a blindspot. Nordau didn't change his socialist (or anarchist, communist whatever) views after he co-founded the Zionist movement. Membership in a workers' organisation is a sign of commitment (but on the other hand, perhaps such activism is to be looked down upon), but is not a necessary requirement to claim that someone's poltical intellectual views/writings are socialist.

Is it because he thinks, together with Max Nordau, that socialism and Zionism are compatible? I think it is. And that means that he still thinks that, in the core, Zionism also contains certain values worth defending. ...Why is the defence of the leftwing Zionism so important for d-man?

Of course there are leftists, but not necessarily myself included, who think that socialism and the right to self-determination (in this case of Jews) are compatible (in Holland eg Sam de Wolff and Salomon Kleerekoper, cf. research by historian Evelien Gans). A bit more interesting is when the co-founder (not just a sympathiser, member, or splinter faction) of a national movement is a socialist, but then, from the national side, this movement mostly comes to think of itself as incompatible with (/opposed to) socialism, despite still celebrating that same co-founder (even saying that Nordau was more important than Herzl).


(Nordau's article on syndicalism first appeared in April 1911 in La Revue ('Un pouvoir naissant'). The English version is just an abbreviation. It had also appeared in the 23 July issue of the Los Angeles Examiner, as reported by William C. Owen in the Mexican anarchist paper Regeneracion (last page here).  

Btw, apparently in the 14 September 1919 issue of the Argentinian La Nacion (though I don't find it there) Nordau wrote an article on the 8-hour work day, in which he affirms his positive endorsement, forty years earlier, of Lafargue's book on the right to laziness.

Murray Rothbard's anti-Zionism

Murray Rothbard's essay, in Left and Right 's Autumn 1967 issue, 'War Guilt in the Middle East', is on the same (perhaps even above the) level of most of the Left's anti-Zionism. (The journal is remembered for its positive obituary to Ché Guevara.) In 1990 Rothbard wrote 'Pat Buchanan and the Menace of Anti-Anti-Semitism' (also reproduced here), talking about a "Smear Bund" that silences critics of Israel with the charge of anti-semitism. This piece is likewise on the same level of discourse as today on the left.

The libertarian Rothbard can't be suspected of being a socialist anti-capitalist (unlike btw the co-founder of modern Zionism, Max Nordau, who I argued above, is to be counted as a socialist thinker).

Today there are warnings about a Red-Brown alliance, crypto-fash, populist right, etc., usually from defenders of interventionist wars. I'm not satisfied with their guilt-by-associations, or attributions of hidden fascist motive. Instead we should, on the merit of argument, distinguish a communist perspective from anti-Zionism.



New translation of 1908

New translation of 1908 critique of Zionism here, which a particular focus on the ideas of socialist-Zionists (eg Borochov).

At the 1920 Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, this current (in the incarnation of the Jewish Communist Party/Poale Zion) made a statement to Settle and colonize Palestine on communist principles, see Riddell's translation (online p.8 here). The academic Serhiy Hirik has written a bit about them (and here's a video in English, but it's just general). I quote a passage from their wiki:

The EKP occupied a strong position in Baku after the arrival of the 11th Soviet Red Army. The Jewish population of the city grew considerably in those years because of the pogroms committed by the White Army in Ukraine Belarus and Russia that led many Jews to find shelter in Azerbaijan, a country without an antisemitic tradition. The fact that the Jewish population had grown up to 13,700 persons helped the EKP (as well as the Communist Bund, the Yevsektsiya and the Zionist parties) to enlarge its membership in the area. The EKP promoted many cultural activities and struggled for the eliminination of illiteracy, in particular among the Mountain Jews.

There's an inventory of their materials. "Leaders" were eg Zalman Ostrovsky and Moisey Pogorelsky (1892-1973). I just give an e-translation of the latter's bio (excuse the size):

In 1905 he began his labor activity in the office of the machine-building plant of the Partnership “N.Ya. Jacobson, G.L. Livshits and K ". (Minsk), where he worked for 13 years. Participant of strikes, together with the plant was evacuated to Yaroslavl, where he studied at the Demidov Lyceum. Member of the Jewish Social Democratic Party "Poalei Zion", (1915). In the RSDLP since 1917. In the summer of 1917 he was elected a vowel of the Yaroslavl City Duma and a member of the Yaroslavl Council. He was a member of the editorial boards and was published in the Bolshevik newspapers: Vlast Truda, Izvestia of the Yaroslavl Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, and Yaroslavl Communist. Political worker of the 44th VOKhR brigade. In nov. In 1918 he moved to Saratov, worked in the Gubsovprof, collaborated in Izvestia of the Saratov Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, fell ill in September and returned to Yaroslavl. Member of the RCP (b) from 1919 to 1924. He was engaged in newspaper work: head of the agitation and literary department of "ROSTA", a correspondent for a number of newspapers. In the summer of 1920 he moved to Moscow, a member of the Central Committee of the Jewish Communist Party, a member of the presidium of the All-Russian Society for the Land Arrangement of Jewish Workers (OZET). Member of the editorial board of the central body of the Jewish Communist Party "Poalei-Zion", editor of the magazine "Nakanune". In 1922 he began to work in the Central Committee of the Union of Leatherworkers, in December he was elected to the Central Committee of the Union, held positions: head of the editorial and publishing department, cultural department, statistics department, chairman of the Istprof Central Committee, editor of the magazine "The Tanner's Voice". At the VI-VIII All-Russian Congresses of the Union, he was elected to the Central Committee. In 1927 he became a member of the CPSU (b). In aug. 1931 went to work in the Zamoskvoretsky district party committee as deputy head of culture and prop, member of the Republic of Kazakhstan. From Dec. 1932 to Oct. 1935 head of the school department of Kiev RK, executive editor of the regional newspaper "For the Bolshevik Tempos". At the end of 1937 he was repressed, dismissed from his job and expelled from the party, in November he was reinstated at work and in the party. Since 1937, director and founder of the school for working youth No. 38 at the Paris Commune shoe factory. (1937-1958). Member of the Technical Council of the Shoe Industry Management of the Moscow City Council of National Economy (1956). He was buried at the Danilovskoye cemetery in Moscow.

This is all nothing new or special though, as compared to my claim, that perhaps the founding father of Zionism, Max Nordau, was and remained a socialist (I can provide additional "proofs" if need be). We can't dismiss socialist Zionism as just nominally socialist, out of a mere opportunist adaptation to win over the socialist-minded Jewish masses. Just like Moses Hess, Nordau was a principally convinced socialist. Moreover, also perhaps like Hess, he was a sharp mind, and I repeat we should do well to take him serious.

We can't here fully discuss the anti-Zionist arguments of course. Let me just raise a few of them.

A common line of argument basically went, that Jews should "stay where they are and fight class struggle". I have heard such a point also made with regard to today's third-world refugees. If it's taken in a consistent fashion, then Eastern European Jews, emigrating since 1880s to eg America (or South-Africa etc.), should not have done so, but rather stayed in Eastern Europe (the same message to Jews living in 1930s Nazi Germany). And after all, emigration in itself doesn't prevent refugees from finding themselves facing the realities of capitalism anew elsewhere. Or, if emigration is permissible/compatible with class struggle, then there's no objection why it should not go to one particular place, eg Palestine. The Arab Palestinians' objection to this would sound like the anti-immigrant slogan: "we can't be expected to welcome here all the world's problems/refugees".

Another, more recent, argument compares Israel to South Africa's Apartheid. This is lazy, for it assumes a shared rejection of Apartheid. But there was actually a kind of defense of this system, eg coming by a libertarian-type like Antony Sutton (in his book on gold). He pointed to the US (after ending segregation), with regard to its continued poor treatment and situation of blacks. And today is the situation for blacks in SA better (eg about 20,000 murders a year)? So, suppose Palestinian Arabs become citizens of a one-state solution, as far as we know from the US example (where neighbourhoods continue to be ethnically divided), that wouldn't mean it would end their discrimination, or improve their social-economic status. I don't know the extent of restrictions today, but if tomorrow the bigger Israeli capitalists were allowed to completely enter the Arab Palestinian market, it seems realistic that Palestinian businesses (including agriculture) would be squeezed.


on "socialist Zionism"

Leaving aside Max Nordau for the moment, there is a wider question behind d-man’s argument: was “socialist Zionism” ever part of the workers’ movement?

I would argue that the current of Russian social democracy around Ber Borochov and Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) were part of the workers’ movement at the turn of the century, but this doesn’t alter the fact that Borochov’s attempt to reconcile marxism and Zionism was a theoretical dead-end, and was one expression among many of the penetration of bourgeois ideology into the proletarian movement. Some of the points made in the critique of Socialist Zionism by the Bundist Boris Frumkin, which d-man links to, go in this direction.

It’s not accidental that Borochov was more aligned to the Menshevik tendency in Russia: he shared with them a rigid schema of “first you have to go through the normal bourgeois stage then you can fight for socialism”, only transposed to the Land of Israel, where a new Jewish proletariat would be formed through some kind of collaboration with the Jewish bourgeoisie.

Menshevik ideas were soon to play an openly reactionary role when faced with the war of 1914 and above all the revolution of 1917. On the other hand, the fact that Poale Zion began its life as a confused current within the workers’ movement led some of its adherents to support the 1917 revolution and in certain cases to join the Communist Parties in Russia and elsewhere, or to set up short-lived separate groups which identified with communism – as did the Bundists. The Communist Party in Palestine was mainly created by Poale Zion militants although the situation was very confused, temporarily leading to two Communist parties with different positions on Zionism. We should also note that the left wing of Poale Zion refused to join the World Zionist organisation set up by Herzl (and Max Nordau!), considering it to be bourgeois.

So much for a period in the history of the workers’ movement which is definitely over. The contours of the proletarian movement have necessarily become much narrower in the epoch of decadence and it is not possible for groups infected by nationalist ideas to remain part of it. A good example would be the Algerian section of the Bordigist International Communist Party, which in 1980 provoked a huge crisis in the Bordigist organisation by coming out in favour of the Arab regimes’ wars against Israel. By the same token it is inconceivable that any proletarian currents today could entertain the idea that there is an emancipatory content to Zionism, however “left wing”.

This does not mean of course that “factors of race and nation”, as Bordiga put it in one of his texts, no longer play a role in capitalist society. We can see it appearing in the USA and internationally around the Black Lives Matter movement. Communists need to deepen their historic/theoretical analysis of these factors, and this will certainly include how the question was posed in the workers’ movement in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, or the way different revolutionary groups considered the “Negro question” in the USA of the 30s. But we already have enough historical experience in these areas to arm us with the understanding that all ideas about the need for separate struggles by particular groups and categories, or the demand for “self-determination” or “autonomy” for different national or ethnic groups, can only serve the reactionary ends of the bourgeoisie.

The question Alf raises

The question Alf raises (whether Poale Zion was "ever part of the workers’ movement") is IMO not wider, but narrower. And to be clear, my own argument/claim has not been, that "leftwing Zionism" is somehow worth defending as progressive. Let me nevertheless respond to Alf's description of it as "one expression among many of the penetration of bourgeois ideology into the proletarian movement" and that is an early example of an ideology of "separate struggles by particular groups and categories [which] can only serve the reactionary ends of the bourgeoisie."

On Libcom (before I was banned) I was asked by Mike Harman to give examples of radical working class groups that engaged in identity politics (which I maintain is something that is an existing problem, which they should be criticised for, as Lenin did). I gave the example of the (Jewish Labour) Bund. In response, Harman disputed that the Bund was a real working class group, given that it was adjecent to or a part of Social Democracy, and so in his (anarchist) view not part of the revolutionary workers' movement.

IIRC in the 1920s or 30s there existed a Jewish section in the French communist party, and the leftcom position (Bilan) was to oppose separate sections (also by sex, age group, etc.).

My thought apropos Alf's post would be the following: is such "identity politics" (of the Bund) inside the workers' movement not equally, if not actually even more, damaging or dangerous, than a Zionist organisation which exists separate, remains external to the workers' movement, makes no claim to be socialist, nor attempts to "penetrate" the workers' movement (although neither does it oppose socialism, and may even have a founder who happens to be a convinced socialist himself)?



identity politics

We can't here fully discuss the anti-Zionist arguments of course. Let me just raise a few of them.

^ To pick up this thread, let me comment on some other arguments (or vague reasonings). Feel free to add to the discussion.

I believe there exists the argument, that Israel-supporters are guilty of identity politics (and a point here is, that this would be ironic/inconsistent on their part, as they are often the loudest critics of identity politics of others). Jewish nationalism does not necessarily justify itself by anti-Semitism/victimhood though; it can be based solely on an assertive "pride", but hence also why anti-Zionists decry its supremacy/exceptionalism/privilege. For me it has been a key point, that identity politics is practiced by extreme rightwingers (like white-supremacists), and the liberal version is not only unable to overcome but encourages the rightwing. "Identity politics" is not just a reduction of individuals into helpless suffering victims, but also a celebration of their combative agency/pride, in the first place still just against adversity/oppression, and secondly, their creative "positivity" in itself as contribution to culture (even if just due to adding diversity).

A bit related, there is an argument, that the Palestinian Arabs are the victim/underdog/weaker side, eg they throw only rocks or at most small missiles, and hence their side/cause deserves support/sympathy. More fundamentally, there is a disproportion in power between the warring sides (not just in their particular responses), and this I think appeals to the notion of an "equal" and "fair" contest. Such contests that were equal (so say if the Palestinian Arabs had tanks etc. at their disposal) would not be less violent conflicts, though perhaps the threat of mutual destruction would lower the temperature (a cold war so to speak, if both sides were rational). I see also an argument, that seems to downplay Arab rock-throwing, so as to excuse it or dispell that it justifies counter-measures (which are almost by definition disproportionate, coming as they do, from the militarily stronger side). Even if the counter-measure could be proportional, it would be still an "eye for an eye" though. Rock-throwing in itself can perfectly be recognised as a serious danger (doesn't the bible say, that Cain killed his brother Abel with a rock?); if Jewish settlers throw rocks against Arabs, it would be condemned as a violent attack (pogrom), etc. Still as recently in the Rwandan genocide, there was stoning, alongside machetes (plenty of deadly wars and cruel massacres in history, prior to the invention of fire-arms).

But due to modern weaponry like explosives, a few individuals can do mass-scale terrorism (eg 2017 Sinai mosque attack left over 300 killed), and there is no real "fair" counter-measure against it, as far as I imagine (and if suicide attack, the perpetrators are already death). The justification for using this terrible means by the weaker side is the lack of tanks or air force, ie lack of more powerful weapons. That is, we would have used "normal" means of war like tanks, if only we had them.

I just highlight some strange logic, which surely occurs in any topic.


Often with the comparison of Jewish colonisation in British Palestine to other situations, the go-to example is Ulster (Northern Ireland). But I wonder if another comparison, a bit more recent, could be the Indian immigrants to the Carribean, eg the Apparently they were also allocated land as a reward (less fertile public lands probably). There was apparently also resentment of recently freed black slaves facing competition against the influx of cheap Indian labour immigrants. There have been subsequently several heads of state in the Carribean who are of Indian descent, so, although I'm quite ignorant of the situation, I imagine these Indian communities did well socially and perhaps are even at an advantage to the "native" population.

Critics of Zionism like to point out how few Jews emigrated to Palestine (most went to other places), but relatively speaking in the 1930s, there was a significant influx into Palestine. I'm just a bit frivously imagining/comparing scenarios, but perhaps if Jews hadn't come to Palestine, perhaps the British would have tried sourcing Indians (or other non-Arab ethnicities) to Palestine. I mean, today the Gulf states do this.


In a email-discussion between (non-Marxist) Jewish peace activists, Abraham Weizfeld (Jewish Socialist Bund) objects to the "cliché reference to the ‘Jewish supremacist state of Israel’. This joins both the Zionist and the Antisemites who identify and target the Jewish People as if we were the State, just because the Zionists say so."

Weizfeld differentiates between nation (peoplehood) and statehood, as well as, if I understood his writings, between a nation-state (national self-determination) - which he rejects, and 'auto-determination', which I guess does not involve a nation-state (perhaps like the USA, composed of different ethnicities), or which for him may not even involve a state at all.

1) In general, it's difficult to understand (at least for me now) what the supposed difference precisely is between the "bad" nation-state, and what is called the good 'democratic' state ("for its citizens of all ethnicities"). On this distinction hinges a lot of the (radical-)liberal criticism of Israel, but again, it's quite unclear what it means. Just to raise one question for example, if all Palestinian Arabs would live as equal citizens with Jews on the entire territory (one-state), would this entity be a Palestinian "nation-state" or would it be a democratic state (and apparently hence neither Jews nor Palestinian Arabs would have a nation-state)? Do there even exist any nation-states in the world anymore?

2) What does the expression precisely mean for a nation/people to "have" a state, or to "have their own" state? To me this expression (of "having") indicates that one identifies the state simply with territory/land (which can be "owned"). This identification is probably also found in the early "Zionists", when Jews in Russia (apart from some expections) could not own land, so they sought to obtain a special place where they could easily obtain, own and settle land. I think it's needless to say, that "having one's own land" is not yet the same as "having one's own state".






Here's a (probably trivial) comment on the modern vulgar use of the term "colony" (or "colonization"), as something automatically bad. The term "colony" can be used in many fields, eg for summer holiday camps. The term "colonization" featured, in a neutral sense, in the title of the communist-aligned Organization for Jewish Colonization in Russia (created in 1924). Karl Kautsky, around 1880, wrote several pieces on colonies or colonization, and one of the points he made there iirc was, that while the European pro-imperialists justified/covered their (expensive) policy of conquest in the eyes of the general public with the purported justification of colonization (ie colonization was seen as something good for the poor and general public, as giving them a chance to migrate abroad), – colonization was not actually the real reason for the policy of conquest. For Kautsky, in itself, colonization was not something bad, although this might be seen as just an academic point, as in practice it usually was bad for the natives (Kautsky wrote a very harsh piece on the European treatment of native Americans). I would hold fast to colonization/colonies in the old, neutral term.

Incidentally a US ex-Trot (apperently moved leftward), Albert Weisbord, seemed to claim, that Bolshevism was to blame for the purely negative use of the term "colony":

Lenin distorts the very meaning of imperialism, changing the concept from a political one to an economic phase of capitalism. For the Marxist, imperialism has existed for thousands of years, under ancient Rome, Persia, Greece, Egypt, and elsewhere. The essence of imperialism is the physical conquest and/or political and military subjugation of one State or national territory by another. ...

Similarly, with the “bolshevik” distorted theories about “colonies” and “colonialism.” Marxism always considered colonies as having been in existence for thousands of years. A home country would send out “colonists” to “colonize” lands. Such settlements were called “colonies.” ... But “bolshevism” had to confuse colonies with conquests, and colonials with conquered natives. Furthermore “colonies” were now defined by Lenin as dominated merely by economic policies. If a country was dominated by economic investments made by another power, such a country was a "colony” of that power though no physical seizure had taken place, according to Lenin. Thus Haiti or even Canada could be considered a “colony” of the United States, though there had been no physical conquest.

As I mentioned in previous posts, anti-Zionism is not necessarily socialist. For example George W. Robnett, a Christian anti-Communist, who visited Palestinian refugee camps in the 1950s iirc, authored a book, sometimes titled Conquest Through Immigration. Now, I think it has become evident that fascist anti-immigrant groups (in Europe) are using the term or framework of colonization, in reference to the flow of (usually Muslim) immigrants, who although they don't buy or settle rural land, "occupy" national resources (/wages/houses/etc.) that supposedly otherwise would have gone to the "native" European population (so-called "great replacement" theory). My (perhaps pedantic) concern is that the modern exclusively-negative usage of "colonization" (in reference to Palestine/Israel), runs the danger of over-shooting its mark (and basically appeals to a nativist rightwing sentiment).

Nordau translations

I put together an article about Nordau (one section, at the end, mentions other potential socialist early Zionists):

Again, I myself am not at all heavily "invested" in proving that Nordau (under whose chairmanship the Zionist program was drafted) was a socialist. If you, like Kamerling does in his above post, judge that my presentation of evidence doesn't qualify him as a socialist, that suits me perhaps even better; it means you have strong criteria for what makes a socialist, and hopefully have a clear definition of these strict criteria and apply them consistently to everyone (by contrast, look, for instance, at how broad the list of writers included in the Marxist Internet Archive is).

As I put in my opening comment for discussion, especially anti-Zionist socialists should read my article.


response to Cosmonaut article

Last spring an American activist in Cosmonaut criticised a piece on the Palestinian conflict written by the Angry Workers of the World-group. He mentions the AWW-group in the same breath as the leftcom ICT and, more widely, apparently traditional (or sectarian) Marxists as a whole: 

Cosmonaut contributor wrote:
Like most leftists, if we cannot control something, or if it doesn’t fit our empirically pure understandings of class, we want to start putting our dogmas through the pamphlet-brain machine like a square peg through a round hole.

I don't know if AWW has responded, but as the critique seemed addressed also to a leftcom group, I like to give a response of sorts.

The contributor takes the AWW to task for apparently holding the following:

CC wrote:
Zionism is just another nationalism, the Zionist state is just another state, yet those who support Palestinian Liberation must answer for a list of crimes of the Palestinian “state”.

The dogma that this analysis adheres to is not hard to understand. It is derived from the first World War and the Russian Revolution, so it is held dearly by some leftists.


...the working class of any nation is not above that of another nation, and therefore the strategy in the context of imperialist war is for the proletariat in those nations to work towards the defeat of their own nations, called “revolutionary defeatism”. It worked, and so 100 years later, we have the kernel for the posturing of “Neither Israel nor Palestine”.

However, this analysis makes no sense for Palestine.


Because Ireland and the United States were so different, Marx and Lenin hardly prescribed “revolutionary defeatism” as they had for Germany and Russia.

^ That is, we (/AWW) should not tell to the Palestinian workers to overthrow their Palestinian state structures. The Palestinian workers should not practice (revolutionary) defeatism (in the conflict with Israel).

It is not explicitly said whether "defeatism" applies at least for the side of Israeli Jewish workers (as AWW and the ICT uphold). One might assume that it obviously does hold. However, defeatism in the common sense implies recognition of some kind of national existence of the (to be defeated) belligerent/oppressor country, and in the case of a Jewish state that existence would be reduced to eg something within the 1949 lines. In that way, presumably, defeatism does not go far enough, and insofar as the Israeli working class is even addressed, its task instead falls under the slogan of the dissolution of the Jewish state, or what I call "destructionism" (instead of defeatism). This is something of a new unique political demand I think. As settler colonialism started on an even smaller level than cities (namely as settlements), an independent existence of even tiny settlements will get no recognition/legitimacy from this new political demand, that I call "destructionism".

It's not an appeal to combat (Israeli Jewish) chauvinism. It's instead an appeal to combat racism. This distinction was noted in a recent pro-Zionist article: "That ‘new’ socialism predictably understands the national conflict between Israel and Palestine over contested territory as a racial conflict, not as a contest of competing chauvinisms."

The Cosmonaut contributor criticises the AWW for its claim that Zionism is just another nationalism, by comparing it to the UK:


CC wrote:

Israel is not simply a capitalist state like the UK, to use an example. It is not anatomically or functionally the same. It is an ethno-theocracy, and that is no exaggeration. The UK (as in the Isle of Great Britain, we will leave Northern Ireland to the side for now and let comrades closer draw their own analogies) is imperialist and racist, no doubt, and worthy of its own list of crimes and inhumanities, yes. However, Israel is a settler-colonial state through and through. This is not a moral category, it is an empirical one, and one which makes all the difference here.


It is exceptional as a settler ethnostate, at every turn rather anomalous. The state is not even the same on paper. It is multi-Zionist party de-facto republic, with no constitution. Only parties which espouse some form of Zionism are legally able to operate. It is defined as a state of the Jewish people worldwide, not even within its borders, which by the way, it has never defined. There are no civil marriages and inter-racial marriage is illegal. There is not even a recognized Israeli nationality, as this would undermine the idea of “Jewish statehood” and therefore the entire Zionist project.

^ As to the charge that Israel would be a theocracy, and the UK is not, it might be surprising to learn, but the British monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England: "As the supreme governor, the monarch formally appoints high-ranking members of the church on the advice of the prime minister of the United Kingdom, who is in turn advised by church leaders,[1] such as the Lords Spiritual."

- As to the absence of a constitution in Israel, it is well-known that this is the case in the UK.

- As for legal operation of restricted number of political parties, Israel has proportional representation, whereas the UK system offers less chance for small parties to win a seat.

- As for undefined borders, although Britain is an island, I recall the recent dispute with France about fishing rights. In Brexit negotiations, I seem to recall it warned Spain not to touch Gibraltar.

- As to no civil marriages in Israel, this is the case in the surrounding Muslim region, and probably that situation is as much, if not more, supported by the Muslim (and maybe Christian) minority, as it is by the Jewish religious. Anyway, we as socialists don't advocate for marriage.

- As to lack of an "Israeli nationality" option in the registry, yes, a "British" ethnic nationality seems available as one of the options in UK survey methods, but does that mean the UK is a normal state? Maybe for those in the US, surveys about race are normal (perhaps Israel inherited the practice from the British mandate). But in Germany and France surveys about race are prohibited, and it's those fools who claim to fight racism who argue for introduction of racial surveys:  Anyway, the US racial survey does not have a general "American" option either (people are forced to describe themselves as eg "White", "Asian", etc), so the lack of an "Israeli nationality" in the survey is the same in that regard (yet luckily doesn't classify by skin colour).





More on comparisons. It is said (by Moshe Machover), that a significant difference between Israel and South Africa's Apartheid is, that the oppressed non-Whites had leverage in their struggle due to their role as exploited labour (whereas supposedly Palestinian Arab labour is non-essential to the Israeli economy). As a consequence of this, there could apparently be no majority among Whites in favour of the formation of their own nation state (called "Volkstaat"), as it would lack the possibility to exploit cheap labour. Besides the economic factor, I think there are other causes that prevented a "two-state solution" (into White and non-White) in South Africa; eg the lack of geographic concentration of Whites in a defined area of South African land. The idea of a Volkstaat was moreover rejected (by the ANC), as perpetuation of Apartheid in a disguised form; I think in reality Palestinian activists too oppose (or would criticise as racist etc.) any separate Jewish state (and so oppose the two states solution). The very comparison of Israel to South Africa itself suggests the idea of a one-state solution. Despite the ANC's general opposition to the idea of a White Volkstaat, the right to self-determination (ie for Whites) was recognised and put in the 1996 Constitution. Why was even the ANC capable of recognising the right to self-determination of Whites (whereas Palestine activists in reality reject such a right for Jews in the Near East)?

The site on the history of the SA 1996 constitution explains:

At this time, both the ANC and National Party (NP) were anxiously trying to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy. Mandela argued that it would be better for the country if the AVF discovered for themselves that there was no part of South Africa where such a region could exist, rather than forcing them to accept the extinction of their dream. He persuaded his National Executive Committee (NEC) to give far-right Afrikaners a dignified route to enter into the democratic dispensation.

A further (non-referenced) quote indicates, that there was no real possibility of implementation of the right to (White) self-determination:

“In the negotiations, the ANC said, ‘right, what do you want?’ And we were forced then to word certain things and say really what we mean by self-determination … We had internal problems in a certain sense because … we didn’t know exactly what we wanted.”

–Pieter Mulder, co-founder of the Freedom Front in 1994

So, only in a slightly paradoxical way, the reason the ANC was able/willing to grant the right of self-determination to Afrikaners is, that this right could not really be implemented. But what I highlight here is the ANC's "non-principled" (/non-ideological) position (towards the idea of a Volkstaat). It did not, in principle (or ideological purity), refuse the right of Whites to their own state on the territory of SA. True, again, in general the ANC did oppose a two-state solution. However, even its opposition to a two-state scenario (ie the creation of a Volkstaat) seems to have been based mainly on a "non-principled" reason, namely the ANC expressed the reason for its stance eg simply in terms of prevention of a (civil) war:

ANC statement in 1993 wrote:
The threat by General Tienie Groenewald, former Chief of Military Intelligence, to
establish a white breakaway state within months, is shortsighted, dangerous and not in
the interests of any of South Africa’s people.
The ANC views this matter in a serious light and warns Groenewald that the people of
South Africa will not fold arms and allow themselves to be blackmailed into accepting
schemes that seek to tum South Africa into another Bosnia.

I highlight here the ANC's comparison to Bosnia, ie to a context lacking the factor of (Western settler) colonialism. At least in this statement, the ANC would compare a two-state scenario in SA to a "normal" ethnic-nationalist conflict, and not frame its opposition to such a scenario in a ("principled") settler-colonialism paradigm.

It can be argued that a difference between SA and Bosnia is, that the minority Serbs and Croats in Bosnia did have a better chance at realising self-determination, because they (unlike the White Afrikaner) could opt to join their already existing national states (namely Croatia and Serbia). Furthermore Bosnia, unlike SA, was not an old established state. SA was not under threat from neighbouring countries, though I suppose an Afrikaner Volkstaat could have found some external support from White supremacist groups in the West (but not real imperialist powers). This is not to downplay the existential threat to non-Whites in a potential SA (civil) war scenario, but their position was stronger than Bosniaks (on their own), who thus had to rely on Western/Islamist support for survival. The amount of outside "fuel" for (continuing) a SA civil war once it would have started, seems less, in comparison to the Bosnian war. What would have been the strategic importance (to eg US or France, or India etc.) of the creation of a separate Afrikaner Volkstaat? I assume there was some strategic importance of an independent Bosnia for the imperialist (and regional) powers. Likewise, I assume there is also some strategic importance to an independent Jewish state in the Near East. By the way, if we grant the lack of an obvious imperialist significance in case of a potential Volkstaat in the region of SA, this does not mean a (ethnic-)national state is "good" or "better" than national states which do have a (greater) geo-strategic significance. The reason to oppose an Afrikaner Volkstaat could then not have been a "principled" one, ie not due to "anti-imperialism". Therefore a two-state solution even in South Africa (ie creation of a White Volkstaat) would have been more acceptable for (today's self-styled anti-imperialist) Palestine activists, than is the existence of an independent Jewish state.