War in the Middle East: The obsolete theoretical framework of the Bordigist groups

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Organised violence in the Middle East has given rise to profound indignation throughout the whole world. First the terrorist attack of Hamas on 7 October, killing 1200 and injuring 2700 Israeli citizens, and then the ongoing, massive slaughter of the population in the Gaza strip by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Revolutionary organisations have the duty to denounce this imperialist barbarism as they have done throughout the history of the workers’ movement, starting with the “Manifesto to the Workmen of all Nations” by the Paris members of the International: "War for a question of preponderance or a dynasty can, in the eyes of workmen, be nothing but a criminal absurdity”[1].

In accordance with this responsibility, groups like the Internationalist Communist Tendency, Internationalist Voice, or Internationalist Communist Perspective in Korea, met this minimum requirement as they have in their articles defended a clear internationalist position on the war in the Middle East.

- “The working class must refuse to be recruited into the wars of the ruling class and fight against the exploiters on both sides. There is only one way for the Israeli and Palestinian working class (…) the struggle beyond nations and borders for common working-class interests. Only an international class struggle to overthrow the capitalist system can end the carnage and wars”[2].

- “Only the class struggle of the workers can offer an alternative to the brutality of capitalism, because the proletariat does not have a country to defend, and its fight must cross national borders and develop on an international scale”[3].

- “All capitalists are equally mortal enemies of the working class, who should not shed one drop of blood for those who exploit them, much less for their national-imperialist objectives. (…) The fundamental argument of class unity by all sectors of the working class - against the bourgeoisie, its states, its imperialist alignments - regardless of the ‘national’ origin of its constituent parts, is even more valid”[4].

In the case of the different Bordigist groups, the situation is more nuanced. As part of the revolutionary milieu, their position is fundamentally internationalist insofar as they denounce the imperialist massacre and reject any support for either of the opposing camps. However, despite loud proclamations of their internationalist commitment, their concrete defence of internationalism is not unequivocal. For some, by supporting the fight against the "national oppression" of the proletarians and the Palestinian masses, for others, by defending the idea that these massacres will generate a development of workers' struggles in the region and throughout the world, these groups reveal dangerous ambiguities regarding how to promote and defend proletarian internationalism in the current period of decomposing capitalism.

Ambiguities leaving the door ajar to opportunist slidings

Behind its declaration of solidarity with the Palestinian proletarians, the ICP/ Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste hides a call for struggle against the national oppression of Palestinians: “Palestine: a proletariat and a people condemned to be massacred. Israel: a state born out of the oppression of the Palestinian people and a Jewish proletariat as prisoner of the immediate benefits of that oppression and accomplice of it[5]. Thus, while internationalist revolutionaries should denounce the spiral of imperialist clashes between bourgeoisies, into which the different fractions of the proletariat of the Middle East are drawn, and promote the rejection by the workers of any "national liberation" movement because "the proletarians have no homeland", the ICP/ Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste tends to call, first of all, for a struggle to put an end to “Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”, which secondly excludes any solidarity with the working class in Israel which “is prisoner of the immediate benefits of that oppression and accomplice of it”.

Another group, the ICP/ Il Partito Communista-The Communist Party, seems to defend convincing internationalist positions when it writes:We must tell the Palestinian proletarians not to be deceived by their bourgeoisie (…) to immolate themselves as cannon fodder in wars contrary to their interests”. But in the next sentence, it adds: “We must tell the Israeli Jewish proletarians to fight against their bourgeoisie and against the national oppression of their Palestinian class brothers” [6]. So, it doesn’t call here for the international solidarity of all proletarians against the imperialist war, but it urges Israeli proletarians to support the Palestinian workers’ struggle against national oppression.

Finally, the ICP/ Il Programma Comunista-Cahiers Communistes recognises the exhaustion of the anti-colonial “national revolutionary” movements and thus puts forward the perspective that “in this terrible situation, the Middle Eastern proletariat (…) will be able to find the strength to escape the bonds of opportunism which imprison it. We hope that, as in the great battles of the past, it will be able to field the best fighters for its cause, that it will be able to turn today's unavoidable defeat into the starting point for a future rich in victories[7]. In other words, they propagate the false perspective according to which the proletariat of the Middle East, on its own, mobilised as it is behind religious and nationalist mystifications and crushed by imperialist massacres, will be able to learn the lessons of defeats and be at the basis of the resurgence of struggles which are renewing "with the great battles of the past" (one wonders which ones; perhaps the so called "national-revolutionary movements" of the 1960s and 1970s where the working class of the Middle East was mobilised behind various national bourgeois factions?)

Even if these organisations do not openly support an imperialist camp – neither the Palestinian bourgeoisie in the West Bank nor that in the Gaza Strip – they leave the door ajar for supporting the struggle of the Palestinian “masses” and “people” against their “national oppression”, which could only exacerbate the gulf between the working class in Israel and the Arab countries. These slidings towards so called “nationalist-revolutionary” perspectives constitute a threat to the internationalist stance of these organisations.

Proletarian internationalism is a class frontier which, in the face of imperialist war, separates the working class from the bourgeoisie. It is a principle that we must defend with tooth and nail at every moment of our activities: in interventions in worker’s struggles, in public meetings, in correspondence, and in our press. In this sense we endorse the words of Lenin that “there is one, and only one, kind of real internationalism, and that is – working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting (by propaganda, sympathy, and material aid) this struggle, this, and only this, line, in every country without exception. Everything else is deception...”[8]. The Bolsheviks often stood alone in their criticism of opportunist positions on the question of war, but this was an indispensable part of their work to construct the world party. Such a theoretical fight was and is essential to deepen all the consequences of an internationalist position and to demarcate revolutionaries from the enemies of the working class, particularly the social chauvinists.

Obsolete theoretical framework leads to opportunist slidings

In the period of the decadence of capitalism, a period where the relations of production established by the capitalist mode of production have been transformed into an increasingly heavy obstacle to the development of the productive forces, the bourgeoisie no longer has a progressive role to play in the development of society. Today, the creation of a new nation, the legal constitution of a new country, does not allow any real step forward in a development that the oldest and most powerful countries are themselves incapable of assuming. In a world dominated by imperialist confrontations, any struggle for "national liberation", far from constituting any progressive dynamic, constitutes in reality a moment in imperialist confrontations, in which the proletarians and peasants enrolled, voluntarily or by force, only participate.as cannon fodder.

The “national liberation” movements, which marked the 1960s and 1970s in particular, clearly demonstrated that the replacement of the colonisers by a national bourgeoisie in no way represented a progress for the proletariat, but on the contrary led it into countless conflicts between imperialist interests, in which workers and peasants were massacred. But the obsolete framework of the Bordigist groups prevent them from understanding the real stakes the international proletariat, and its sections in Israel/Palestine, is confronted with in the imperialist inferno of Gaza.

The group Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste continues to analyse the Palestinian question in the framework of “the spirit and the ‘national-revolutionary’ independence drive which characterised the struggles against national oppression in Algeria, Congo and, later, Angola and Mozambique, and which had long characterised the spontaneous revolt of the Palestinian proletariat[9].The drama and the challenge of the Palestinian “liberation movement” is, for Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste, that “the gigantic class potential represented by the Palestinian proletariat and proletarian masses, while manifesting itself through their armed and indomitable struggle in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, did not express an autonomous, class-based political programme capable of guiding the national movement"[10]. Thus, this group still calls for a Palestinian “liberation movement”, while revolutionaries on the contrary must defend the position that today all states, all bourgeoisies are imperialist and that proletarians should in no way support movements against national oppression.

Il Partito Communista-The Communist Party fundamentally shares the same framework, as it formulates the critique that this war is not a true “national liberation struggle” by the Palestinians, because such a struggle “would not have exposed the people of Gaza with such cynicism to Israel’s appalling vengeance[11]. Whereas revolutionaries must call for a rejection of every support for nationalist aims, this group insists on winning support for the struggle against national oppression among the Israeli working class and cynically regrets that the massacre by Hamas made it impossible: “Moreover, the struggle against the odious national oppression imposed on the Palestinians might have won support even among Israelis, primarily among the working class, if it had not been placed on the plane of the massacre of civilians, in compliance with the deliberate program of killing Jews wherever they are, carried out by the obscurantist Hamas"[12].

For its part, Il Programma Comunista-Cahiers Communistes recognises the exhaustion of the anti-colonial movements since the mid-1970s and emphasises that “the unresolved ‘national questions’ [have] turned into counter-revolutionary cancers”[13]. However, the impossibility of national revolutionary movements today leads this group to argue that this context of total imperialist destruction and barbaric chaos constitutes a fertile ground for the development of a broad proletarian movement: “What will cause governments most alarm, if the bloodbath continues, will be the massive declarations of solidarity from the Arab capitals (…) and from the many capitalist strongholds (where the Arab and in particular Palestinian proletariat has lived for decades)”. Certainly, the local bourgeoisie in alliance with the various religious and nationalist leaders will exploit religious and nationalist divisions “to avoid class contagion. Bourgeois governments will do all they can to break the instinctive bond with far-off proletarians massacred by such powerful forces: this bond, too, has its material role in the struggle, while the storm of ‘cast lead’ strikes at homes and bodies. And so, we trust that this instinctive bond with the immigrant proletarian masses in the imperialist cities will manage to find the path towards unrelenting class warfare[14].In short, as the title of their article already suggests[15], their perspective is  that the proletarian reaction will depart from the bloodbaths of the imperialist confrontations and from the very parts of the world proletariat that are trapped in the “counter-revolutionary cancers” of national liberation and massacred by the different imperialisms in the Middle East. But, in contrast to what happened during the First World War, in the present period of decomposing capitalism, it is the extension of the struggle of the world proletariat against attacks provoked by the economic crisis and the expansion of militarism that will offer a perspective to the proletarians in the Middle East.

Since the First World War, a “national-revolutionary” struggle has never constituted a perspective for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat that could constitute the starting point for a genuine proletarian reaction. The obsolete framework of these Bordigist groups prevents them from understanding the current stakes in the Middle East and leads them to develop ambiguous positions, opening the doors to opportunist slidings.

This obsolete framework also leads to the trivialisation of war.

The war in Gaza is not, as Il Programma Comunista-Cahiers Communistes states, “the umpteenth wave of slaughter”, presumably followed by a new period of stability and peace. On the contrary, this war represents a significant new step in the acceleration of chaos in the region and beyond. “The sheer scale of the killings indicates that the barbarity has reached a new level. (…) Both sides are wallowing in the most appalling and irrational murderous fury!”[16]. We are faced with the utmost expression of barbarism, a bloody fight until nothing else is left but ruins in a region that has become completely uninhabitable. The war in Ukraine was already a new stage in the aggravation of imperialist confrontations. The war in Gaza takes it one step further. Even if this won’t lead to the outbreak of a world war, the cumulation and combined effects of all these wars may have a similar or even worse consequences for life on the planet. But the Bordigist groups express a strong tendency to underestimate the stakes of the present situation, leading to erroneous conclusions and orientations. Their inability to understand the real dangers contained in the present situation is clearly shown in the fact that these organisations trivialise the historical gravity and impact of the war in Gaza[17]. On the one hand the positions of Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste hold the view that the present conditions still enable the Palestinian proletariat to fight for its own interests against the Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisie. On the other hand, Il Partito Communista-The Communist Party has set its sight on the world war, which is “an ineluctable economic necessity”, since capitalism “can only survive by destroying. That’s why it needs the general war”[18].

What we have actually seen in the past three years is not a build up towards a world war, but a situation that has accelerated worldwide through an accumulation of crises: pandemic, ecological, food, refugee, and economic crises. Even if some of these groups have acknowledged this accumulation of crises, none of them understands that these crises are not separated cases, but part of the same process of the decomposition of the capitalist world, each one reinforcing each other’s effects. In this process of putrefaction, the war has become the central factor, the real catalyst, aggravating all other crises. It aggravates the global economic crisis, plunges whole sections of the world population into barbarism; it leads to unemployment and social misery in the strongest capitalist countries, and increases the destructive effects of the ecological peril. Therefore, it is mistaken to consider the present war in Gaza as an umpteenth massacre in the Middle East which can be followed again by a period of calm or reconstruction in whatever form[19].

In the face of this war the various ICPs show their complete incapacity to understand the stakes of the present imperialist confrontations. The absence of an adequate framework, that of the decadence and decomposition of capitalism, leads all the Bordigist organisations to cling to an outdated concept, incapable of explaining all the dynamics of the current situation and opening the door to serious opportunistic slidings.

D&R 22 February 2024


[1] Réveil of July 12 1870, cited in The Civil war in France, K. Marx.

[6] War in Gaza, Il Partito Comunista

[9] “Prise de position du PCI/ Le prolétaire du 4 janvier 2024”, https://www.pcint.org/

[10] Id.

[11]The Gazan Proletariat Crushed in a war between world imperialisms, The Communist Party 56, - Feb- March 2024, https://www.international-communist-party.org/English/TheCPart/TCP_056.htm.

[12] Id.

[15] Israel and Palestine: State terrorism and proletarian defeatism. Concerning the inapplicability of the perspective of revolutionary defeatism in today’s situation, read “Militarism and decomposition (May 2022), International Review 168.

[17]The ICP/ Il Programma Comunista-Cahiers Communistes has republished an article about the war in Gaza in 2009, a choice that was justified by this group with the words that “essentially nothing has changed, except the exponential increase in firepower unleashed in the Gaza Strip” by the state of Israel.

[19]The underestimation is also expressed for instance by the few public activities of these groups at the beginning of this war: the ICP/ Le Prolétaire-Programme Communiste has published only two articles, the ICP/ Il Partito Communista-The Communist Party two articles and one public meeting, the ICP/ Il Programma Comunista-Cahiers communistes two articles and one public meeting.


Proletarian political milieu