The ambiguities of anarchist internationalism

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The present war in the Middle East is a catastrophe for the workers and the general population in Israel/Palestine, killing over a thousand in Israel, tens of thousands in Gaza and hundreds on the West Bank, creating almost insurmountable divisions between the workers in these territories by compelling them to choose their imperialist camp, between the barbarism of Hamas or the barbarism of the Israeli state, while intense propaganda campaigns pressurise workers either to support Israel in the name of fighting anti-Semitism or to join the pro-Palestinian “peace” protests against the massacres perpetrated by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

A number of anarchist groups unreservedly defend the “Palestinian Resistance” or maintain a complete silence about the issue. This is quite normal for bourgeois groups and the ideologies of the radical petty bourgeoisie, whose job is to make their small contribution to the war campaigns in order to weaken the proletariat’s class consciousness and push it into a trap. Only a few internationalist minorities claiming the anarchist title have refused to choose between the warring parties, often with important ambiguities.

The CNT in Paris and the KRAS in Moscow have published an article called “Stop the Barbarism !” that indeed does not call for the defence of the national interests of Palestine or Israel. But at the same time it doesn’t clearly defend an internationalist position: it does not explicitly say that the workers have no fatherland and that the answer to war is the struggle of the exploited in all countries. In fact it doesn’t talk about the working class at all. Fortunately, the KRAS has also published a translation of another article “Against Israeli and Palestinian Nationalism”. This article is clearer than the CNT article as the preface admits: “The published text expresses well the internationalist, anti-nationalist, anti-ethnicist and class position.”  

Other anarchist groups have published a more straightforward internationalist position, as have the organisations of the communist left. We have already referred to these statements in an article “Internationalist positions against the war” in World Revolution no. 398. But among them the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG) while defending an internationalist position in its first article[1], makes important concessions to bourgeois nationalism in a second article, called “The situation in Gaza”.

Anarchist Communist Group: a covert defence of national liberation

This second article by the ACG presents the war in Israel as a confrontation between a colonial and colonised nation in which Israel is “the dominant aggressor, due to its status as a settler-colonial state”. What, in the view of ACG, are the consequences of such an analysis?

*Whether a colonising or a colonised nation “both are entities that ultimately stand in the way of the liberation of the Palestinian working class and the class unity of all workers in the region”. Therefore the ACG is opposed to the Israeli state as well as to the Hamas regime.

*The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the past, and Hamas today, cannot bring liberation to Palestinians. So this liberation must come from the Palestinian working class as “the most oppressed section of the working class” with “strong political awareness” whose struggle is “a prerequisite to a revolutionary movement in the region”.

*But the working class in Palestine cannot do this on its own, “the Palestinian people … can only be free as can all people, through internationalist class struggle”. So the ACG calls “upon the international working class to organise in support and defence of their Palestinian counterparts”.

In itself, we might be in agreement with certain affirmations in this article, especially with the call for “internationalist class struggle”. But here it is the tree that hides the forest, because behind all these radical words, “internationalist class struggle”, “liberation”, “international solidarity”, “revolutionary struggle”, hide some fundamental concession to nationalism. Why?

As the article puts it, Israel occupies a nation, Palestine. So it advocates that the Palestinian workers should fight the Israeli state and organise armed self-defence. It thus affirms “the right and necessity of the Palestinian working class to resist the Israeli state”. The fight against the Israeli occupation is thus aimed at ejecting Israel from Palestine. But what else is this than a struggle for national liberation, not headed by the bourgeoisie but by a section of the working class? The ACG says “we reject the idea of liberation under a national banner”, but in the article it has already opened wide the window to that same idea.

Furthermore, the article says nothing about the necessity of the working class in Palestine to fight against its own bourgeoisie. The article makes no mention of the existence of a Palestinian state or a Palestinian nation. This is a way of smudging over the real issue. This is the open window to the idea that the workers in Palestine should not struggle against the Palestinian bourgeoisie. It only talks about resisting “the Israeli state, including through the method of revolutionary struggle” which “can distinguish itself from the nationalist forces”. But on such a basis, the working class in Palestine can in no way wage a real autonomous struggle and will not be able to distinguish itself from the Palestinian nationalist forces.

The article not only calls Palestinian workers to liberate themselves from the Israeli occupation, but it even appeals to the workers of the world to support this struggle for “liberation”. Leaving aside the question of whether the Palestinian working class is currently capable of fighting on its own terrain, something that is highly doubtful, it is not the task of the world working class to support a certain sector of the class to get rid of the yoke of a colonial rule. And even if it is true that the Palestinian workers are generally poorer than their Israeli class brothers, and their living conditions much worse, this doesn’t change the fact that any idea of “liberating” a particular nation is nothing more than a product of the logic of global imperialism, and thus can only take place on a bourgeois terrain[2].

The article suggests that liberation from that colonial rule will also bring about the liberation of the Palestinian workers as a class. But nothing is further from the truth. The liberation of the working class in any country can only occur through the destruction of capitalism on a global scale. And while the article underlines that capitalism is the basis of colonial ideology, it says nothing about the need to destroy capitalism in order abolish all nation states.

In fact, the position defended by the ACG in this article is very dangerous because, at first glance, it seems indeed to be based on proletarian internationalism. But that is only in appearance. Because if you read it carefully, the opposite is the case. The article does not straightforwardly and openly defend Palestinian nationalism, but its logic, its whole reasoning points in that direction. It is a very sophisticated exposition of the national liberation ideology.

Under the conditions of decadence of capitalism any struggle for “national liberation” is by definition a dead-end, only leading to an uninterrupted chain of military confrontations, after which it’s not the working class that comes to power but a new bourgeois faction. In the history of capitalism there hasn’t been any struggle for national liberation in which the working class was able to autonomously liberate itself from occupation and repression by bourgeois factions. On the contrary, any attempt to be freed from foreign occupation depends on the positions adopted by other imperialist powers that use it in their own interests. The interests of the population that aims to “liberate” itself are completely subordinated to the imperialist appetites of these powers.

The absence of a solid basis to the proclamations of anarchist internationalists

As we recalled in a recent article, “Anarchism has thus always been divided into a whole series of tendencies, ranging from those who have become part of the left wing of capital, like those who joined the Republican government during the 1936-39 war in Spain, to those who clearly defended internationalist positions against imperialist war, such as Emma Goldman during World War One[3].The internationalism of the anarchists who sincerely want to defend this principle is not based on the universal conditions imposed on the proletariat by capitalism on a world scale, i.e. the exploitation of their labour power in all countries and in all continents. Proletarian internationalism has its point of departure in the conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat: beyond frontiers and military fronts, beyond races and culture, the proletariat finds its unity in the common struggle against its conditions of exploitation and the community of interest in the abolition of wage labour, in communism. This is the foundation of its class nature.

It's precisely the absence, for anarchist internationalism, of a basis in the workers’ struggle against exploitation which explains why the ACG published this article. The reason is that the denunciation of war by anarchism is “more tied up with its abstract ‘principles' such as anti-authoritarianism, liberty, the rejection of any power, anti-statism, etc., than to a clear conception that this internationalism constitutes a class frontier that distinguishes the camp of capital from the camp of the proletariat” [4].

One of the consequences is that, within the same international anarchist federation, nationalist and internationalist positions can easily coexist without causing problems or provoking heated debates. This lack of a consistent internationalist position is also shown by the reference at the end of the article of the ACG to “Palestine Action”, a totally pro-Palestine leftist group which targets arms suppliers to Israel. During the recent Radical Bookfair in London they refused to discuss the ICC’s argument underlining the inter-imperialist context of the war, even calling it an “infantile” analysis, recalling the Stalinist rhetoric against the communist left.

The failure of organised anarchism to fight imperialist war on a proletarian basis was clearly demonstrated in Spain 1936, something that is not recognised today by groups like the ACG or the internationalist minorities within the CNT. Both still speak about the Spanish revolution instead of the imperialist war in Spain, a rehearsal for World War II. But drawing the lessons of anarchism’s failure in face of the war is only possible by breaking with its abstract approach and calling into question the absence of a solid, materialist basis for its internationalist proclamations.  

Faced with imperialist war, only one position rejects any identification with one of the camps in the conflict and at the same time outlines a perspective for ending all wars, and that is proletarian internationalism. This means that “capitalism can only be overthrown and communism established on a global scale” when “the working class is united across national boundaries”[5].This viewpoint represents the only perspective that can put an end to capitalist exploitation, to the barbarity of war which increasingly threatens the very existence of humanity.


Dennis, 2.1.24


[1]Neither Israel nor Hamas!”, Anarchist Communist Group.

[2] The article implicitly accuses the Israeli workers of complicity in the exploitation of Palestinian workers: “the Israeli Jewish working-class are shamefully complicit with the oppression of the Palestinian proletariat”, but it nonetheless calls the Israeli workers to express their solidarity with the Palestinian workers.

[5]The need for internationalism in the face of the Boer War”, part 8 from the series on the struggle for the class party in the UK, ICConline.


War in the Middle East