Thursday, 5 May 2011
Trotskyists and the State of Israel
What immediately springs to mind when one thinks of the British left and its relationship with the state of Israel? Boycotts maybe, or rhetoric verging on the anti-Semitic? Or perhaps a veneration of reactionaries and clerical fascists, just so long as they see Israel as public enemy number one?
As Sean Matgamma points out:
“Most ‘Trotskyists’ today are, everywhere, agitators and propagandists against the Jewish state of Israel. Not agitators for the view that Israel should change its relationship with the Palestinians, or that it should help set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. No. The agitation and propaganda centres on the ‘demand’ that Israel should cease to exist...In war [these ‘Trotskyists’] have sided with the Arab states - Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan - in the hope and expectation that, victorious, they would put an end to Israel. At the start of the 21st-century they back the medieval-minded forces of Arab and Islamic clerical fascism - the Muslim Brotherhood and its off-shoots, and Hezbollah, Hamas and the jihadists in Iraq. Rejecting a two-state solution, these mystics of ‘anti-Imperialism’ back the Muslim mystics who would recreate the Caliphate - the pre-World War I Turkish Empire, against Israel.”
What is less well-known to some who see themselves as modern day carriers of the Trotskyist flame is that many of their ideas about Israel actually come from a Stalinist section of the Marxist movement in the 1920s. Most of the Trotskyist left at the time argued for Arab-Jewish reconciliation and solidarity in anti-imperialist struggle - along working class lines against the Zionist bourgeoisie as well as against reactionary Arab clerics; and together against US and UK imperialism.
One thing that stands out in the Statement of the Fourth International on the Jewish Question is the call for united Jewish and Arab trade unions. Contrast this with those today who wish to write-off Israeli trade unionists entirely in their clammer for boycotts. Interestingly, the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unionists continues to oppose boycotting its Israeli counterpart. Which Palestinians do the modern-day so-called “Trotskyists” listen to however? The pious clerical fascists who call for an immediate severing of all ties with the Jewish state.
While we see some on the left today who would consider themselves opposed to Stalinism embracing the likes of Hamas, in the past it was the Stalinists themselves who felt compelled to make every event occurring anywhere in the world fit into their “anti-imperialist” blueprint. In Palestine this meant refusing to distinguish between the genuine aspirations of the Arab working-class and the corrupt, anti-Semitic agenda of the Mufti. In response, American Trotskyists of the time put out an article entitled Pogrom or revolution?, highlighting the sordid compromises being made by the Stalinists in their support for reactionary Arab leaderships, at the expense of the Arab working classes: “The Arab leaders have curbed the genuine movement of the masses, they have stunted its growth and prevented the development of its natural courses of struggle; they have repeatedly misled and devitalised it. They are still the only spokesmen of the movement, and they speak for reactionary aims. They fight for an ‘Arab Empire’. They have compromised with imperialism and are willing to do it again. They are against all Jews as Jews...They promise the peasant no land and the worker no social improvement. They are vehement enemies not only of Bolshevism, but of the mildest kind of labour movement. In this respect, they far ‘excel’ their Zionist competitors...”
There is the same failure on the left today, seen most vividly in groups like the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP,) who fail to distinguish between the Arab working masses and their reactionary, clerical rulers. This is perhaps the symptom of a loss of faith in the emancipatory potential of the working class as a whole. Equally crass opportunism prevails at home in the UK, where the SWP play a game of crude identity politics, opportunistically supplanting any oppressed minority for the working class as a whole, even if in doing so they act against the interests of the workers’ movement.
In the 1920s and 1930s Trotskyists called for Jews and Arabs to transform the war between themselves, which served the ends of imperialism, into a war of both nations against imperialism. To oppose the reactionary rulers of both sides, whether right-wing Israeli Zionists, or Arab clerical fascists. It's worth remembering this the next time a person on the kitsch-left starts lazily proclaiming their "anti-imperialist" credentials.