Leftist support for Palestinian nationalism is a dose of capitalist poison – don’t swallow it

Printer-friendly version

The war in Gaza - Hamas’s atrocious attack on civilians on October 7 and Israel’s scorched earth response to it - has mobilised groups of capitalism’s left, mainly Trotskyist, to offer their “solution” to this crisis of war and destruction. But their solutions, while coming from slightly different angles, are for more of the same: you fight nationalism and imperialism by supporting nationalism and imperialism. In this way the “critical” role that leftism plays for the ruling class is for it to mop up the genuine disgust that workers feel for the endless wars of capital (i.e. imperialist wars) and dragoon the workers into active support for them, via the pretext that they are expressing “solidarity with the oppressed”. While they try to garner support for this or that nationalism or this or that “movement of the oppressed” the fundamentals of their positions are an attack on the basic tenet of the workers’ movement: its internationalism, its watchword that workers have no country and no national interest to defend. The Communist Left has put a clear internationalist position on this war, denouncing all sides, while some elements of anarchism have tried, with difficulties, to do the same. But all varieties of leftism have sought to mobilise workers behind the military factions of the belligerents and against the intrinsic international unity of the working class.

The SWP: applauding capitalist terror

The ICC has already looked at the positions of the Socialist Workers Party and its open support for Hamas and its atrocities[1], but a bit more on this group given its size and its importance for the state: in an article entitled “Imperialist War and Violence” (Socialist Worker, 4.12.23) it actually says that “the solution to capitalist war isn’t to back one imperialist side or the other – it’s to tackle the system that produces war and competition head on”. This sounds very much like an internationalist position and one that puts the class struggle at centre stage, but what is the content of this task – how is capitalism to be confronted “head on”? Their answer from the SWP is that it “means solidarity and support for oppressed peoples that revolt against imperialism”; in this case the murderers of Hamas! This is by no means the first time that the SWP has backed a ruling class with imperialist ambitions; in the 60’s and 70’s onward it supported the murderous gangsters of Mandela’s African National Congress now running South Africa[2] where the vast majority of what the SWP call “the oppressed” remain in poverty and misery, or the Viet Cong, now running Vietnam with an iron rule of Stalinist terror and fully integrated into the imperialist machinations around South-East Asia between the USA and China. And in the decades in between then and now the SWP has supported and called for solidarity and support to any number of capitalist killing-machines that they say are fighting for their “oppressed people”, whereas these factions that call themselves – or are called by the SWP – “anti-imperialist” are nothing but cogs in the machinery of capitalist barbarism.

The SWP use or rather misuse V. I. Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism and the weaknesses and hesitations of the past workers’ movement on the question of national liberation in order to suggest that only a small number of countries are imperialist, whereas imperialism blankets the globe, “nestles everywhere” [3] and necessarily sucks up any form of nationalist or “oppressed peoples” movement into itself. The SWP, through its trickery, is not behind the movement – which can only be a proletarian movement – to confront and “tackle the system that produces war and competition head on”. Rather, it is one of capitalism’s important recruiting sergeants for imperialist war, which is clearly demonstrated in its support for the war-machine of Hamas and its “right” to murder civilians, including small children, and rape women. The military and political wings of Hamas – and the half-a-dozen or so Palestinian “anti-imperialist” groups that support them - are not “anti-oppressive” forces but forces of the capitalist state which like any national liberation “movement” is conjured up by the greater powers, using their ubiquitous secret services and military assets, and whose very existence is based upon the ruthless exploitation and repression of the working class that they supposedly represent. That is something which clearly defines their capitalist nature - and the capitalist nature of the Socialist Workers’ Party along with it. Rather than fighting capitalism “head on”, that is engaging in a class struggle against exploitation and war, the SWP is explicit over Gaza: “fighting for a free Palestine seeks to strike a blow against imperialism smashing Israel and backers”.

We can only add that, for the SWP, “smashing Israel” necessarily involves “smashing” the Israeli working class. In a recent article[4] the SWP carefully explain that “Israeli workers gain from the exclusion, repression and marginalisation of Palestinian workers. They secure some of the profits from the robbery of Palestinians… Individuals can and sometimes do make the break from Zionism, but not Israeli workers as a class. Socialists should look to a force that can lead to the end of Zionist terror. That’s Palestinian resistance, the working class across the region and a protest movement in countries which fund and arm Israel”. And so, by implication, Israeli workers are legitimate targets for “acts of resistance” like the massacre of October 7[5].

Applauding capitalist terror, but with nuances

 With its own particular nuances but generally going along the same lines as the SWP in supporting war with Israel, the International Marxist Tendency[6] is generally more cautiously critical of Hamas. seeing it as a pawn of Israel (which used it for a long time to divide and control the Gaza Strip) but supports the Palestinian people having “the right to... defend themselves”. In an article called “The Communist Party of Greece and the struggle for the liberation of Palestine: a necessary debate” the IMT take up the issue. There’s plenty of “comradeship” between these two groups, one Trotskyist, the other Stalinist – which is correct seeing that they both belong to the left of capital – and turgid verbal gymnastics that are supposed to show their genuine “marxism”, including quoting Lenin and the Third International, but the position of the IMT is exposed as equally supportive of aspects of imperialism as the SWP. After “comradely” criticism of the Greek CP (KKE) for supporting the “two-state” solution which “is not the struggle for socialism” and in order to give a “genuinely marxist position”, the IMT agrees with the KKE “that the struggle for national liberation is a crucial part of the programme of communists in Palestine”. While it spouts off endlessly about “socialism” and “Marxism”, it peddles the lie that “national liberation”, in this case “intifada until victory” which is the war of Palestinians against Israel, is a step towards socialism rather than the further descent into capitalist barbarity that it manifestly is. The IMT doesn’t stop here: “March with us” they say “and boldly fight for world intifada”. The idea that a world revolution could be achieved by of a series of nationalist uprisings shows how Trotskyism cannot but support the world of imperialism.

The Socialist Party, formerly Militant, is less gung-ho about the war in Gaza than the previous two groups above, obscuring its support for imperialism with various democratic snake-oil remedies. “How can we build a movement to stop the war in Gaza?” it asks given its involvement in the mobilisation against the first Gulf War twenty years ago. It takes a different tack from the SWP’s “unconditional support for Hamas” and criticises the latter for its October attack on Israel. It calls instead for “a socialist intifada” which is nothing but a more “left wing” form of war against Israel. And indeed, the SP go along with the SWP in that “we agree that it is essential to support the struggles for national liberation” - the difference being the language used in order to support nationalism and imperialism. The SP calls for the war against Israel to be run by “... democratically organised defence committees (fighting) for liberation” which according them will result in “an independent Palestinian state alongside a socialist Israel...” (SP website). We should not be fooled by painting support for nationalism in red.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty offers a “softer”, more pacifist tone in its response to the war. The AWL supports “workers’ control”, state ownership and a fuller democracy”, and its pacifist, democratic approach is equally dangerous to proletarian consciousness as the bellicosity of the SWP. It’s another group going into verbal contortions in order to present its entirely capitalist programme as “socialist”. Supporting a cease-fire and the release of Israeli hostages, the AWL calls for an arms embargo and the withdrawal of military aid from Israel before realising that the latter is more than self-sufficient in weaponry apart from hosting one of the biggest arms dumps of US weaponry outside of America.  It supports what it calls the “growing peace movement” in an article on its website called “Full ceasefire, peace, two states!”, which if “democratically organised” will result in “an independent Palestinian state alongside a socialist Israel”. Such pacifism has always played into the hands of the ruling class and further undermines a real understanding of imperialism and its perspectives for humanity. And the AWL, with all its own nuances, is still very much putting forward the idea of Palestinian national liberation.

The various “solutions” to the war in Gaza from the menagerie of leftism above are entirely complementary, indeed part of the war fever now being generated by the bourgeoisie. “National liberation” and Palestinian nationalism are active factors in imperialism, part of the engine of the war machine of capitalism. Aside from the general confusions spread by the leftists about war, “socialism” and “marxism”, groups like the SWP and the IMT want to aim more specifically at the working class. The SWP, which is strong in the trade unions, wants to “take the struggle against war into the workplace” and for “workplace days of action”. The IMT suggest that workers should take strike action against the war in order “to bring down the war machine, hinder the flow of weapons to Israel”, and it says that with such action “the Zionist war effort would come crashing down”.

Against all these attempts to obscure the issue and dragoon workers behind the nationalist factions of the bourgeoisie, the working class needs clarity above all. Capitalist war, particularly on the scale it is spreading today, always brings inflation and greater attacks on the working class, where more and more sacrifices are demanded from them by the bourgeoisie. Therein lays the kernel of the class struggle against imperialism where the workers fight for their own interests against the ruling class and its national interest. All demands to support any kind of nationalism or nationalist movement contribute to undermining the fundamental aim of the class struggle – the destruction of the nation state.

Baboon 15.1.23


[1] World Revolution 398, The SWP justifies Hamas slaughter

[2] The article linked to here below explains the class nature of the ANC. World Revolution 257,  South African strike wave comes up against ANC and unions

[3] For more on the basis of imperialism see Rosa Luxemburg’s Junius Pamphlet, available on marxists.org

[4] “What is the role of Israel’s working class?”, Socialist Worker 16.1.24

[5] This idea of dismissing the Israeli working class as a mere bunch of “settlers” - an open attack on a section of the world proletariat - is by no means limited to the SWP. We will come back to this in a future article.

[6]  The International Marxist Tendency is a world-wide Trotskyist organisation that had its roots in the Militant left of the 1970’s. It exists in 35 countries and its British section publishes Socialist Appeal, whose slogan on this is “Intifada ‘til the end” with the “end” involved being that of Israel and its population.


War in Gaza