Demonstration in solidarity with the people of Palestine in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
US imperialism has made it clear that the Israeli cause is not just its cause but that of imperialism as a whole, encompassing its other proxy – Ukraine. This country in turn has been happy to endorse this alignment, with Zelensky seeking a photo opportunity with Netanyahu but with Israel showing reticence only because its relations with Russia are not one of open antagonism. An indication of the reactionary character of Russia and an embarrassment to everyone, including those leftists whose ‘anti-imperialism’ involves support for Russia.
On the other hand, many friends of the Palestinian people start sometimes from humanitarian concerns or some sort of more or less consistent and considered opposition to Western imperialism and its Zionist proxy.
So who are the real friends of the Palestinian people might seem to be a reasonable question. In answering it we have already seen from the previous post that we cannot identify who these are simply by accepting their word for it. We need to determine who might be expected to support the Palestinian people based on their own interests in doing so and what this support amounts to and its objectives might be.
So, just as every Arab country and people is composed of ruling classes, for whom the Palestinians are a problem, so too are there working classes and other subordinated sections of the people who genuinely support the Palestinians and have demonstrated this support. But the Palestinian people themselves are also divided into classes, including a working class and other subordinated and marginalised people, for example in refugee camps, as well as a Palestinian middle class and bourgeoisie.
It has been the policy of the Arab states to turn the Palestinian movement into replicas of themselves, with a relatively privileged and corrupt leadership, which is why the Palestinian Authority lost Gaza and is now more and more discredited in the West Bank. This has led to the growth of Islamic fundamentalist movements with their own state sponsors. A recent article in the ‘Financial Times‘ by a former British ambassador to Lebanon recommends that imperialism make its own attempt to fashion a Palestinian movement – “the US and Europeans have recognised that they need to rebuild mainstream Palestinian leadership, having cast them adrift.”
So, everyone wants to help the Palestinians, even the imperialists who are helping the Zionist regime murder thousands of them, or is happy to stand aside and parrot Israel’s ‘right to self-defence’, when what they actually mean is its right to commit mass murder and ethnic cleansing. Those who defend the democratic rights of the Palestinian people cannot therefore avoid the question of what sort of Palestine they want to solidarise with – an end to the current siege and offensive is only the most immediate task.
If we believe we can build a movement that can make a difference then it also needs to develop its own views and policy on the role of imperialism, the Arab states, Islamic fundamentalist regimes and movements, and the position of Jewish workers. This is what is meant by saying, as we did in the first post, that ‘the question of Palestine is not only about Palestine’. Even when it is about Palestine we should have a view on what sort of Palestine we want.
Arguing that it is none of our business is mistaken on two counts. First, it will not stop every other force, from imperialism to Islamic fundamentalism, seeking to create its own version of Palestine, and second, solidarity is a two way street. This means unless we think the Palestinians will always be purely victims we must allow their agency, and we want their actions to be in solidarity with the struggles of workers in the rest of the world who are, and will, come to their aid.
This means we need to consider what sort of Palestine solidarity we need. The same corruption, deceit and reactionary outlook that infects the Arab regimes, and the Palestinian movement itself ,exists among those in the West supporting Palestine, partly reflecting their class interests and partly, in some cases, awful politics. Let us look at Ireland as an example.
The Irish state, and its people generally, are known to be the most pro-Palestinian in Europe, the Irish President, who has only symbolic powers in the main, voiced his opposition to von der Leyen’s declaration of unconditional support to Israel when she quickly visited it. Yet who is stupid enough to believe that the Irish state, so dependent on the United States and its multinationals for its financing, will do anything effective to support the Palestinian cause and hinder Western imperialist support for it?
Or take the prominent participant in recent demonstrations supporting the Palestinian people – Sinn Fein. It will most likely soon be a participant in Government in the Irish State. Is it going to use its position to effectively challenge Israel or its imperialist backer? To ask the question is to answer it. In the past it has had secret “below the radar” meetings with Likud, ‘explaining’ that it made its criticism of Israel’s policies in private, exactly the same boast of von der Leyen, Biden, Sunak etc. etc. More recently, it joined with the rest of the Irish establishment in welcoming Joe Biden to Ireland.
The only force that has an interest in solidarity with the Palestinian oppressed is the working class, and this is because their interests are aligned in opposing imperialism and the oppression that accompanies it. Empathy with oppression is fine, but unless solidarity is a two-way street based on mutual interests it will not be strong or lasting. Unfortunately some on then left are unable to express this solidarity consistently, because they either support western imperialism in Ukraine or also support the Zionist state itself.
Joe Biden has been congratulated by bourgeois media commentators for wrapping up the aid package for Israel with that for Ukraine, to out-manoeuvre Republicans in Congress, but it places a question in front of those on the left who oppose Israel but support Ukraine – do you support it? Responding that you would wish to see the objects of this aid treated separately neither answers the question nor addresses the nub of the matter, which points to their inconsistent opposition to imperialism or in other words, inconsistent support.
If the Palestinian people are in the maelstrom of the world-wide imperialist conflict, the question to be put is how would it be possible to end their oppression without also ending this wider conflict, for as long as imperialism exists, so will war. The eruption of the largest war in Europe since World War II and the renewed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, with war also threatened in China and Taiwan, shows that this is not an idle or academic question. It is one that requires and defines political movements and programmes.
It is not the first time the socialist movement and the working class has been placed with the choice. In World War I the socialist movement split over ‘defence of the fatherland’ with most backing their own capitalist state in the war. Today, much of the left has repeated the betrayal, mostly rallying to Ukraine and de facto Western imperialism, while another part supports Russia, ludicrously under the banner of ‘anti-imperialism’.
Neither has argued that the working class must maintain an independent position opposed to both, or argued that the only answer to capitalist war is socialism. None of their various claims–for ‘self-determination’, ‘anti-imperialism’, or even ‘Free Palestine’ include any credible argument that these lead to socialism or are part of a socialist programme. Nor could they– how could Western imperialist support for capitalist Ukraine, or support for Hamas, or other Arab states, or the Iranian state, lead to such an objective? Yet many who support ‘Ukraine’ or the Palestinian cause claim to be socialists.
A socialism that is always deferred, to come to the fore at some future undefined point, while others in the meantime limit and define the political character of any solidarity, is blind to its own impotence.
The alternative programme is permanent revolution, which was first enunciated by Marx after the revolutions of 1848 and further elaborated by Trotsky after the Russian revolution in 1905 and put into practice in the revolution in 1917. A future series of posts will look at how this has been, and should be, understood.