Palestine: the background
Peace — even if it can only be an armed truce as long as capitalism lasts — is always better than war. Wars are never fought in the interests of the excluded majority, the working class. They are always the ones who suffer. In the face of the current war in Palestine, as in all wars the immediate need, from a working class point of view, is for the killings and destruction to stop.
In that artificial subdivision of the old Ottoman Empire known as Palestine, those who are suffering from the misguided attempt to set up a Jewish state there have been both the original population – whether of Muslim, Christian or Jewish religious background – and those who were misled by dreams of liberty into emigrating there.
Socialists and Zionists have been opponents since the beginning, because they represented two incompatible views as to the solution workers of Jewish background should seek to the problem of anti-semitism.
The socialist attitude was that, most Jewish people being workers, they should seek liberation, not as Jews, but as workers. To do this they should abandon their religious ideas – just as Christians should abandon theirs – and become members of a secular human community based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, i.e., socialism. In the meantime, under capitalism, everybody whatever their background should have the same political freedoms in a secular state.
The Zionist movement propounded the opposite view: that the Jews were a separate nation and that as such they were entitled to their own state, in Palestine. People of Jewish background should not seek liberation either as workers or as human beings, but specifically as Jews; they should not seek solidarity with workers in whichever political states they found themselves, but separation in a state of their own.
The battle lines were thus drawn and throughout Europe and America socialists and Zionists vied for the support of workers of Jewish background. Socialists argued against the idea that the Jews were a nation or a race; most Jews were workers and should join with other workers to achieve socialism which would mean ‘the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex’.
Even though many Zionists were not religious, all they had to go on to justify Palestine as the place for their Jewish state was the religious myth set out in some holy book that an imaginary god had given Palestine to the Jews to be their homeland.
Most Jews rejected Zionism in practice – and still do – by integrating into the countries where they lived. The terrible experience of the Second World War, however, convinced many (though by no means most) European Jews to embrace the idea of a Zionist state.
In l948 the Zionist dream was realised. Palestine was partitioned and a State of Israel established. Zionist extremists practised what is now called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish inhabitants of the Israeli part of Palestine were driven from their homes. To this day their descendants still vegetate in refugee camps, on minimum rations supplied by the UN refugee agency, in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
The establishment of Israel did not end anti-semitism. Quite the contrary. It has actually been partly sustained by the existence of Israel and grows every time the Israeli state clamps down on Palestinian opposition. It is happening this time too.
But to be clear, our opposition to Zionism does not mean that we support the PLO or Hamas. While we can sympathise with our fellow workers when they are so obviously being oppressed, we cannot support armed uprising – even less massacres of fellow workers – to establish a Palestine state.
It is not just Jewish nationalism that we condemn. We condemn all nationalisms equally. The ‘Palestinian nation’ is just as much a myth as the ‘Jewish nation’, or any other nation. Just like most Jews, most Palestinians are workers and should also seek freedom from oppression through uniting with workers from the other parts of the planet to establish a world of common ownership and democratic control. A Palestine state would be just another capitalist state in which workers are exploited for profit, as they are in all capitalist states.
Nationalism is the ideology which seeks to justify the capitalist division of the world into separate ‘nation-states’, each competing to gain a place in the sun for its ruling class and each with killing machines at its disposal. We utterly reject this view of the way humanity should organise itself.
On the occasion of the latest outbreak of nationalist barbarity in Palestine, we re-affirm as socialists that all oppressed peoples should seek their liberation, not as members of nations or religions or ethnic groups, but as workers. They should unite to abolish the division of the world into so-called nation-states and to establish a world cooperative commonwealth in which we will all be free and equal members – citizens of the world, not subjects of nation-states.