Support for “Free Palestine” means support for imperialist war

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We publish here an exchange of views with T, a contact in Germany, focusing on the mobilisations in support of “Freedom for Palestine”.

Letter from T


Here is a contribution to the discussion from me:

One criticism I have is that the ICC portrays other political positions that do not correspond to the ICC's understanding of internationalism as anti-internationalist. Lenin had a different position on the anti-colonial/anti-imperialist struggle than Rosa Luxemburg - but was he not an internationalist?  A brief search on the subject reveals that Lenin clearly supported the anti-colonial struggle politically. Central to this is the "right of nations to self-determination". He wrote: "Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation - and this demand in its political expression signifies nothing more nor less than the recognition of the right to self-determination - but must render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation   in these countries and assist their rebellion - and if need be, their revolutionary war - against the imperialist powers that oppress them."[1]

He also accuses those socialists who do not stand up for the right to self-determination of being lackeys of the imperialist bourgeoisie. With regard to these socialists, he writes that such socialists “are behaving like chauvinists, like lackeys of the blood-and-mud-stained imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie”[2].

And Lenin also brings something important to the point: " As against this philistine, opportunist utopia, the programme of Social-Democracy must point out that under imperialism the division of nations into oppressing and oppressed ones is a fundamental, most important and inevitable fact.”[3]

Even if imperialism is a world system, and I am also convinced that there can be no "progressive" national struggles, the following question nevertheless arises: is the nationalism of the Israeli state the SAME as the nationalism of the Palestinians? Is there no difference between the oppressing side and the oppressed side from the perspective of the ICC? So, to put it very clearly, in a nutshell: it is true that I can see that the nationalist-religious politics of parts of the Palestinian population do not offer an emancipatory, socialist perspective (but rather oppress). In this respect, criticising it is also essential. BUT: where does a policy lead that does not distinguish between oppressor and oppressed? This level of oppression is missing in the ICC analysis. In fact, oppression exists at the level of nationality - as Lenin says, this is an essential element of imperialism! This aspect is not addressed by the ICC, it is not explained, but rather ignored.

If there is no difference from the perspective of the ICC, this would at least explain why the murderous actions of the Israeli state are not the focus of agitation. It would also explain why the criticism of the German state and the imperialist West, with Israel as an ally, is so timid.

I do not arrive at a conclusive solution to the problem. Nor do I fully agree with Lenin's position, but I do think that he addresses important aspects.

The ICC's position appears to be a template, as exactly the same arguments are used for both the war in Ukraine and the war in Palestine. Both cases have similarities - which the ICC emphasises (thesis of decadence, example of a state of decomposition) - but also differ in important respects. For example: Ukraine is a state that is being heavily armed by NATO. Palestine is not a state. It is an occupied territory that was granted an "autonomous authority" by the occupying power. There are many other differences, this was just one example.

Furthermore: The question arises as to how the attack by the militant groups and the bloody massacre on 7 October came about in the first place. Some (or many?) people in Israel are asking themselves: where was Mossad and where was the army? Didn't they fail terribly? How could this happen? The ICC is simply adopting the official "facts" and the official explanation of what happened - which are being fed to us by interested parties.

Here I can even refer to an older ICC article which states: "All too often, when the ICC denounces the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie, our critics accuse of us of lapsing into a conspiratorial view of history. However their incomprehension in this regard is not just a misunderstanding of our analysis, but even worse falls prey to the ideological claptrap of bourgeois apologists in the media and academia whose job it is to denigrate as irrational conspiracy theorists those who try to ascertain the patterns and processes within bourgeois political, economic and social life. However, it is not even controversial to assert that lies, terror, coercion, double-dealing, corruption, plots and political assassination have been the stock in trade of exploitative ruling classes throughout history, whether in the ancient world, feudalism or modern capitalism."[4]

You certainly don't now see any possible Machiavellianism with 7 October! Documents have already emerged that raise big questions, see: "Documents reveal Israeli conspiracy to promote 7 October attack"[5]

In an English publication by the ICC, there is an important thought that illustrates the importance of the issue: "But there is something even worse: this Pandora's box will never close again. As in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, there will be no going back, no ‘return to peace’."[6]

In my opinion, this is completely true. The problem I wanted to present lies in the extent to which disgust with the ugly face of Western imperialism leads to collective resistance. A resistance that can rise up against the imperialist logic of war. Anyone who does not take the concrete manifestation of Western imperialism - as we are currently seeing in the indiscriminate murder of over 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip - as a starting point is failing to take a tactical approach.

For example, there have already been proletarian actions, such as the refusal of dock workers to load weapons and ammunition to be used in the Gaza war. Unfortunately, the ICC press does not report anything about this - although this could be a concrete, small step towards proletarian internationalism.

The following assessment is not correct in its generalised statement and is reminiscent of the announcements from German imperialist government circles: "Nevertheless, they [the demonstrators] are actually taking part in demonstrations that are pro-war in character, in which the leading slogan ‘Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea’ can only be achieved through the military destruction of Israel and the mass murder and expulsion of Israeli Jews - a reverse Nakba."[7]

"In truth, [they are] taking part in demonstrations that are pro-war in character"? There are certainly many participants who are not aware of the problem of the nationalist-religious escalation and there are also openly reactionary forces. But to attribute a fundamentally pro-war character to the demonstrations is wrong. And, as already mentioned above, very compatible with the official statements of German and European imperialism. Because what they don't need now is opposition to the slaughter in Gaza. That is why critics are being massively attacked and demonstrations banned. And the ICC is of the opinion that these are "pro-war demonstrations"?

The multi-faith working class in Europe and the USA is raising its voice against the war - millions of times!  - and the ICC is of the opinion that they are taking part in "pro-war demonstrations"?


ICC reply

We welcome the contribution of the comrade. He has made a real effort to explain his position in the face of the war in the Middle East, mainly based on the positions developed by Lenin during the First World War. With his critique he participates in the clarification of the nature of the Gaza war, which has already posed serious problems to some political groups in their defence of the perspective of the world working class. For us this is all the more reason to respond carefully to this contribution

But we want to start with a methodological question.  Since the comrade makes no appreciation of the analytical framework used by the ICC to develop its position in face of this war, we don’t know if his criticism only concerns specific points in the analysis or the whole political approach of the ICC. It is for instance not completely clear if the comrade is 100 percent in agreement with the internationalism defended by the ICC, or only under certain conditions.

In any case it seems that the comrade is in agreement with the ICC that “this Pandora's box will never close again. As in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, there will be no going back, no ‘return to peace’.” This is an important point because from this we infer that the comrade agrees with us on the concept of the irrationality of this war, in which there will be no winners, but only destruction and further chaos. But this position is not without consequences, because such a position makes it useless to support either camp in this war. Especially when the comrade also affirms that, in the epoch of imperialism, “progressive” national struggles are no longer possible[8].

Oppressors and oppressed

That’s why we are all the more surprised that the comrade brings up the theory of the oppressor and oppressed nations, by following the words of Lenin, that “under imperialism the division of nations into oppressing and oppressed ones is a fundamental, most important and inevitable fact"[9]. And in support of this position, he also adds that “Palestine is not a state”.

It is not exactly clear what the comrade is saying here , but he seems to say that the Palestinian nation is not equal to the Israeli nation, that the Palestinians are actually an oppressed national minority within the Israeli state, an idea which we can accept. This is a situation similar to the oppressed nations in the Czarist Russia before 1917. And it was Lenin who therefore defended the “rights of the nations to self-determination”. But this tactical position aimed at favouring the conditions for the world revolution, turned out disastrously when it was put into practice after the October Revolution. In 1918 Rosa Luxemburg rightly criticised this “tactic”, for instance in her pamphlet The Russian Revolution. 

In this pamphlet Rosa Luxemburg showed, on the basis of the empirical facts, that when nations were given “self-determination” after October 1917, they immediately became reactionary formations, and not only turned against each other but also against the revolution[10].

This occurred because of the fact that capitalism had entered its period of decadence, a world completely divided, in a state of historical crisis and irreversible decline. Increased competition between the great powers for a share of the world market led to military tensions, culminating in the First World War. Following the First World War, and with the failure of economic "remedies" for the crisis of capitalism, the only way left for the bourgeoisie to break the deadlock was to rush headlong into militarism and war. But even the smaller nations could not escape this logic. If they wanted to survive they had to accept the flight into militarism and to conform to the global demands of the major imperialist powers.

Every national bourgeoisie must submit to the logic of the permanent war of capital, to its way of life, and to the chain of imperialist conflicts that follows from this. National liberation has become equal to imperialist war and the ideology of "national liberation" in the decadence of capitalism is reactionary.

The distinction of Lenin between oppressor and oppressed nations is not wrong, but it does not touch upon the roots of the capitalist mode of production. Oppression and oppressed are superstructural features that have no direct relation with the basis and an abolition of a particular form of oppression has no fundamental impact on the material conditions of capitalist society. The fight of the oppressed or even the elimination of oppression of Palestinians, Blacks or women – if this would ever be possible under capitalism - does not abolish this very system. On the contrary, as is the case with the Palestinians, we can even expect that their “liberation” from the oppressing Israeli regime, if it ever succeeded at all, would most certainly lead to an oppressive regime like the other Islamic states in the region and thus not to the undermining of capitalism – not to mention its abolition.

Lenin’s position that “division of nations into oppressor and oppressed (…) forms the essence of imperialism” [11] leaves the window wide open for the view that all classes in the oppressed, non-imperialist nations have a common interest in fighting the oppressing nation. In other words: the distinction between "aggressors and aggressed", between "oppressor and oppressed nations" is not only invalid, but forms the ideological framework designed to draw the exploited class into wars in defence of interests which are not its own. Therefore it is widely used by the extreme left of capital to call upon workers to support the struggle of oppressed national populations in the framework of imperialist war. Distinct class interests are hidden and replaced by with the “people’s interests” and the general interests of the oppressed nation[12].

In his theory Lenin did not only start from superstructural features, he also divided countries in the world into three main types and for each of these three types he developed different politics[13]. But the working class is one  international class and every policy that seeks to define the best tactics for each part is in contradiction with the principle that the proletarian revolution has to take place on a world-wide level and not according to specific conditions in this or that part of the world. In this sense Rosa Luxemburg is right that “any socialist policy that disregards this defining historical[imperialistic] milieu, and wants to be guided only by the isolated viewpoints of one country in the midst of the world whirlpool, is built on sand from the outset”[14].

The Palestinian regime also suppresses the working class

In contrast to the comrade, we are convinced that Gaza is not only a national entity but that the regime in Gaza has also several functions of a bourgeois state: it collects taxes and has an army, a juridical apparatus, detention facilities, intelligence and police personal, etc. It is the Hamas de-facto administration which exercises these state functions and has, since 2005, under the direction of a highly centralised command centre, been able to fire thousands rockets into Israeli territory. There is only one conclusion possible: the war in Gaza is a war between two imperialist states.

Therefore, we do not agree with the comrade when he draws the conclusion that revolutionaries should take as a starting point for their tactical position the “disgust with the ugly face of Western imperialism (…) as we are currently seeing in the indiscriminate murder of over 10,000 people [and more] in the Gaza Strip”. The ICC, in line with the positions defended by the tradition of the Communist Left, does not choose one of the imperialist camps, neither for tactical reasons nor because of the massacres and atrocities caused by one of the imperialist camps. But the comrade seems to have another view which, as a concrete expression of his theoretical approach, is clearly shown in the critique of the ICC’s position on the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In his critique the comrade draws the conclusion that these demonstrations, in contrast to the position defended in the article “The reality behind the bourgeois slogans”, were not pro-war demonstration. According to the comrade, they were pro-Palestine demonstrations, supported by workers, and that this is why the demonstrators’ criticisms of the policy of the western bourgeoisie were attacked by the mainstream media. By not adopting the right tactical stance, the ICC supposedly joins the chorus of the anti-Palestinian campaign. But the article is right when it says that the slogan “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” can only signify the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population in the region between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, “a Nakba in reverse”. And this has nothing to do with an anti-Palestinian or pro-Israeli position, but with a position that approaches and analyses the situation in the Middle East from the perspective of the proletariat, the only class capable of transcending capitalist relations and thus not determined by the antagonistic interests of imperialist states.

To conclude, we must say that war is not the result of certain particular policies, which are "more or less nationalist", "more or less aggressive", etc., but the product of the capitalist system as a whole, resulting from its nature and the historical tendencies of decadence, from which no part of the ruling class can escape. In this sense there is indeed no difference between the nationalism of Israel and the nationalism of Palestine: both ideologies are a cover for the drive to war and for the repression of the working class by the bourgeois state.


Dennis, February 2024


[2] Op cit

[3] Op cit

[8] In order to avoid any misunderstanding, for the ICC “progressive” national struggles in the nineteenth century led to the constitution of a higher unity of the bourgeoisie within particular areas, the centralisation of the national economy and integration of more labour power.

[9] V. I.Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Theses (1916), 3. “The Meaning of the Right to Self-Determination and its Relation to Federation”

[12] Examples of the position  of the extreme left of capital: “We stand firmly with the oppressed Palestinian masses” (International Marxist Tendency); we express “unanimous solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people” (Socialist Equality Party WSWS); let’s show our “solidarity with the colonized and oppressed Palestinian people” (CPGB).

[13] V. I.Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Theses (1916),6. Three Types of Countries in Relation to Self-Determination of Nations



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