The campaign of genocide which is the current military policy of the State of Israel is a tragic reflection of the real face of nationalism. The mythical image of Zionism as a movement of pioneering, progressive, pious, peace-loving nation-building has been more than exposed by the ruthless attempt to liquidate the city of Beirut “for reasons of national security”.
In early August the Canadian ambassador surveyed fifty-five separate areas of Beirut and declared that “this would make Berlin of 1944 look like a tea party”. The International Red Cross has declared that “at least 80 per cent of the casualties are civilians” (Sunday Times, 8 August 1982). Our TV screens abound with pictures of families which have lost fathers, mothers and children—victims of a senseless struggle of national ambition. In early August a block of flats in West Beirut was destroyed and nearly all of its civilian inhabitants died. Not for a long time has the horror of capitalist war been quite so evident as in the Lebanon.
As ever, when there is killing to be done, God’s rep on earth is to be found sanctifying it. Just as God’s Anglicans were blessing the British killers as they set off for the Falklands, so the British Chief Rabbi, in an interview in the Guardian on August 7, had to say that “to the extent that the only principle governing this action is one of self defence, or that of the security of the State, yes, Biblical or divine sanction can be claimed for it”. One might ask God’s spokesman precisely how a soldier carrying a gun or a pilot dropping a bomb can be engaging in self-defence against unarmed children, but then, one might as well engage in such a seminar with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.
The curse of nationalism is not new. Let it be clear that unlike certain anti-Zionists, socialists do not oppose the tunnel-vision mentality of nationalism only when it is Jewish. To us, the flag-waving, trigger-happy Zionists are no more ignorant and abhorrent than those who have swallowed the diversionary, nationalist message of the PLO. Socialists do not take sides in national conflicts because it is not our aim to support one or other of the competing capitalist or would-be capitalist factions, each of which seeks its own territories and exploitable populations. No socialist will ever fight to defend a border—we want to do away with the divisiveness of countries and states.
But there is a bitter irony about Zionist nationalism. In Dachau, the site of the old Nazi murder camp, a permanent exhibition stands as testimony to the atrocities committed in modern times against millions of Jews. That the survivors of such persecution sought refuge in a nation of their own—a country which would never persecute or exterminate anyone and would be free of the perverse national chauvinism on which Nazism was based—is not difficult to understand. In Israel, and here in Britain, not a few Zionists are now beginning to ask themselves the question: “How can it be that the country created by the holocaust is now inflicting similar misery on people who are just as defenceless as the Jews in Europe had been?” Some of them are blaming Begin. Others say that the PLO has pushed the Israeli government to such measures. The truth is that those who saw a solution in Zionist nationalism—in having their own laws, prisons, borders, army and weapons of destruction—were naive. Their form of nationalism is no less aggressive or bigoted than is ever the case under a system of society where the laws of the jungle are presented as being the rules of civilised conduct. Every nation’s flag is dripping with the blood of its enemies; every ruling class pays for its power in other people’s lives.
Nationalism can never be a solution to the problems of oppression: it was not for the Jews; it would not be for the Palestinians. The problem is class, not national, racial, or religious origins. As a class, workers have no country. The British do not own Britain, the majority of Israelis have no significant economic stake in Israel, the impoverished Arabs do not share their exploiters’ national wealth. There are two classes in society: those who possess without producing and those who produce without possessing. Wars are fought over the interests of the capitalists and would-be capitalists. In the 1940s an aspirant Israeli ruling class, represented by such vicious thugs as the Stern gang (of which the present Israeli Foreign Minister was a member), used terrorist tactics to secure their goal. Having obtained power violently, who could have expected the Israeli ruling class to have maintained power except by the continued use of violence? Israeli workers identify with the aims of their rulers—they see their national identity as more important than their class identity with Arab and other workers. In this they are dangerously mistaken.
The socialist solution to the Middle East conflict is not a piecemeal policy. We do not advocate re-drawing the border or political deals or the exchange of one (American-backed) ruling class for another (Russian-backed) one. These amount to mere rearrangements of the capitalist furniture. Only when Israeli and Arab workers join the worldwide movement for a society without class ownership, nations or armies will the war finally cease.
This is not a pious hope for the future. Workers are dying in Beirut and there is every sign that more will be killed. What is now a local war could turn into something rather bigger. Who will stop the killing once and for all—Habib, Begin or Arafat? To expect this to happen is like hoping for Brezhnev and Reagan to shake hands, make up and disarm. We leave such dreams to the Utopians who are fond of calling themselves Realists. For socialists, it is clear that if there is ever to be peace it is those who are the sitting targets of war who must actively pursue it.