Our enemies’ friends
As the demonstrators on the pro-Palestinian march of 18 May entered Trafalgar square they were confronted by a lone socialist, bawling “Banish gods from the heavens, and rulers from the Earth!” over the assorted chants of Islamists and leftists. The same socialist had been told, in no uncertain terms, to go to Hell, by the Islamists, as he had tried to promote socialism as the solution to the Middle East question at the Hyde Park mustering point for the beginning of the march.
The various flavours of leftists on the march resolutely declined to confront the band of Islamists, despite the latter’s open insistence of their inimical opposition to them. Desperately holding to the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my ally the leftists held their noses and kept quiet. This in the face of the most reactionary ideas being pronounced by the Islamists: the separate nations of the Earth exist by the will of Allah, and they refuse to support the workers’ cause because they work for Allah. “Peace, Go to Hell” they shouted (and most things should go to Hell, it seemed, so far as they were concerned), and not one of the leftists who had been at the previous “peace” marches against the Afghan war, raised a word against their bellicose cry.
This is, perhaps, unsurprising, because this was in fact a pro-war march. The SWP, through their so-called Socialist Alliance front organisation, were promoting the slogan “Victory to the Intifada”. Some people on the march were chanting “No peace without justice” making clear their view that the Palestinian cause was “just”. Indeed, both slogans have little to do with a sensible materialist analysis of the situation, instead taking up a moralistic line on the “rights” of the Palestinians.
This is so on two counts, on the military and class factors involved. The Palestinians have no chance whatsoever of militarily overcoming Israel. Modern war is waged by economic might, and Israel with its GDP of around $110 billion (in 2000), whereas the Palestinian territories have a GDP of $4.2 billion (in 2000): the former has the capacity to routinely outgun the latter – this leaving aside the greater Israeli population of available for fighting, some 1.5 million. Further, Israel has a much better developed transportation and communications system, vital ingredients of modern war (CIA World Fact Book http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/). There being no special conditions for fighting (as the Vietnamese jungles), nor any economic leverage for the Palestinians to apply, the sheer weight of power is on the Israeli side.
It becomes clear from this that the Intifada could only succeed with outside military intervention. Unsurprisingly, this is already happening. It is widely acknowledged that the Palestinian guerrilla organisations Hamas and Mujahadeen are financed and controlled by Syria and Iran. Perhaps less reported, is the Palestinian Authority’s dependence on European aid: for example, according to the British Consulate in Jerusalem’s website, the UK gave £1.12 million in aid for a “Modernisation and Unification of Legislation Project”, and £1.13 million “Assistance to the Palestinian Legislative Council” (http://www.britishconsulate.org/dfid/govern.htm). That is, the UK paid for the basic administrative infrastructure for a Palestinian political entity. This is out of a total of $121 million in aid received by the PA (2000, CIA WorldFact Book). By contrast, according to the same US source, the Israeli state receives $1.1 billion in aid from the US.
The basis for this struggle is, as has been noted many times in this journal, the struggle for control of the oil resources of the Middle East. Historically, the US relied on the “Twin Pillar” policy of using Israel and Iran as regional clients to secure their interest in the oil regions. With Iran going over to religious nationalists, Israel became the focus of continued US interest in the region, and the main target for their rivals to try to damage their capacity to control the region.
These different interests are entering into the situation to pursue their own antagonistic interests. It is interesting to note, for example, that the earlier stage of the conflict involved the Israeli army targeting the physical infrastructure of the Palestinian authority, the infrastructure paid for by the UK and EU. Given these competing interests, the various world powers intervening in the Israel/Palestine conflict will only seek for resolutions compatible with their own interests and against those of their foes. As such, it is clear that the slogan of “Victory to the Intifada” has zero content even within the usual risible terms of leftist “anti-imperialism’”. The only possible resolution within capitalism is an imperialist resolution benefiting one or other of the “imperialist” powers struggling for influence in the area.
Asked by another socialist at the demo why they were calling for “Victory to the Intifada”, the leftists replied that the Palestinians are oppressed. It would be interesting to ask them whether the workers of Syria or Iran are oppressed, and, since they clearly are, why the leftists are pursuing a policy of giving support to the foreign policies of those oppressive regimes: policies, the success of which could only strengthen their grip at home. The leftists would doubtless reply that they support the struggles of Arab workers, but that the Palestinians are oppressed as a people, and their right to self-determination must be fought for. This illustrates the romantic/moralistic approach of the leftists – the oppression of Palestinian workers is made qualitatively worse by the denial of national rights, that is, the denial to the Palestinian capitalists of a free hand in exploiting their workers and conning them into believing that they share a common interest in defending a patch of land.
Who owns, rules
Nationalism, is the political form of property consciousness. It asserts that a group of people cannot exist as such unless defined by their ownership of a particular quarter of the world – the relations between “peoples” are actually the relations between patches of land, rather than the people upon them. It was the predominate form of ideology for the rising capitalist class in the 19th century, a way of understanding the world in terms of conflicting properties, and is now a tool for conning the working class into believing that there is some communal interest between themselves and their capitalist masters in where the boundaries of their state are drawn.
This illustrates the second aspect the material situation that belies the leftist sloganeering, its class content. It is essentially a problem of property. Were the Palestinians to win, they would still be oppressed as workers, and the land would belong to a new set of owners. They would still be subject to poverty, to the tyranny of their rulers and to the chaos of capitalist existence. In fact, they could only lose out, as the sacrifice in life, freedom and material goods necessary to win such a war were made. The same would go for the Israeli working class as well. Modern war is inherently antithetical to the interests of the working class, involving, as it does, disruption to the complex and integrated system of production we depend on for our existence, and necessitating the imposition of the tyrannous political structures needed to govern a society in a period of total war.
Given, then, that the leftist position is one based on abstract ideals and morals, rather than a materialist analysis of the situation, it becomes clear how they can tolerate marching alongside the religious without opposing them. Their march was an expression of who they wanted to see win, regardless of real world material factors, and was an expression of their adherence to the ideal of national self-determination. As such, their position is essentially an idealist one, a desire to see the world conform with an idea, simply by professing it.
The socialist case against religion is a simple one. We understand that, as ideas are the result of the historical movement of society, and the premises of religion thus concur with specific forms of society, religion is a social matter and not, as protestant sectarians would have it, a matter of individual conscience. Religion as we know it today is a part of a social process of acquiring and understanding knowledge left over from a bygone age, one in which the imagination of humanity outstripped its capacity to understand and control the world. Knowledge is inextricably linked with the process of acquiring it, with the practise of thinking. Since we, as workers, live in a world that has acquired the capacity to control its own material environment, we must reject those guides to behaviour and analysis based upon premises of human powerlessness, and the practises of thinking that go along with them.
This is why the comrade present at the Palestinian march became the lone voice in confrontation with the reactionary confusionists of religion; arguing against ideas that can only lead the workers away from the practical issues at hand, and essentially hide the property character of the question. If the workers of the world are to be able to obtain and apply the control of the world of which they are capable, they need to throw aside such slogans as “Palestine for the Palestinians” and instead affirm the need for a struggle against the system of minority rule which underpins all the world’s wars, and proclaim “The world for the workers!”