Saturday, April 30, 2016

Socialism V Zionism

Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are in the news with accusations against members of the Labour Party for holding such views.  Ken Livingstone has been suspended for claiming links between Zionists and the Nazi’s during the 1930s. 

Socialists and Zionists have been opponents since the beginning. Inevitably, as they represented two incompatible views as to the solution workers of Jewish background should seek to the problem of anti-Semitism. Socialists never supported Zionism but opposed it as yet another nationalist delusion, as what we aspire to is a World without national frontiers in which free movement is possible and where all people live together as equals. To escape the vicious circle, we must respond to ethnic persecution not by promoting "our own" brand of nationalist or religious politics, but by asserting our identity as human beings and citizens of the future world cooperative commonwealth.

For a long time, the Jews have been one of capitalism's handier scapegoats vulnerable to the racist urgings to blame a scapegoat rather than consider how capitalism works and why it imposes such problems on them. They are liable to ignore the fact that the majority of Jews are also members of the working class, enduring the same poverty, poor housing and so on. They go through the same struggle for survival but Jews are no more aware of their class interests than are any other group of workers. In their ignorance they supported the establishment of the state of Israel and, if they live there, they serve the interests of the ruling class in the same way as workers everywhere - by acquiescing in their own exploitation, by participating in their rulers' wars, by voting for one capitalist party or another at election time. Israel is now a powerful, militaristic capitalist state nuclear power. It might have been hoped that the Jews' terrible history would have encouraged them to something more hopeful.

It's now nearly 120 years since Theodor Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews) and launched the Zionist movement having concluded that Jews would only be safe when they had a state of their own. Herzl realised that if his project was to succeed he had to seek support wherever it might be found. And who was more likely to back his movement than the anti-Semites? And so Herzl set off for Russia to sell his idea to the tsar's minister of police, Plehve, a notorious anti-Semite widely regarded as responsible for the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. An opportunistic alliance with another anti-semitic ruler of Russia – Stalin – was crucial to the establishment of the state of Israel. On Stalin's instructions, Czechoslovakia provided arms and training that enabled the fledgling Zionist armed forces in Palestine to win the war of independence in 1947-48. Stalin's motive was to undermine the position of Britain in the Middle East. For some years, the Israeli government continued to rely on Soviet military and diplomatic support, while keeping silent about the persecution of Soviet Jews, then at its height. Israel also entailed maintaining good relations with anti-semitic regimes, notably Argentina, where a disproportionate number of Jews were among those killed, imprisoned and tortured by the military junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Given the "anti-democratic, anti-semitic and Nazi tendencies" of the Argentine officer corps, we may assume that they were persecuted not merely as political opponents but also as Jews. Meanwhile, a stream of Israeli generals passed through Buenos Aires, selling the junta arms.

The assumption underlying the Zionist movement was that to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” was the only way to end their age-old persecution, especially under the yoke of the Tsars. This closely mirrored the aspirations of other thwarted nationalities such as the Poles, the Czechs, the Finns and the like. Marx argued that Jewish people should seek emancipation, not as Jews, but as human beings. To do this they should abandon their religion - just as Christians should abandon theirs - and become members of a secular human community in which money and the state should be abolished, i.e. Socialism. In the meantime, under capitalism, Jews should enjoy the same political rights, in a secular democratic state, as Christians and others.  In Tsarist Russia,the Jewish Labour League, the Bund, which was affiliated with the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had as its purpose Jewish cultural autonomy within a Social-Democratic Russia. They saw that on the principle of divide and rule, the Tsars had actually fostered anti-Semitism. They were convinced that the Jewish problem was a by-product of the private property system and would end with the end of that system. They did not think in terms of a return, to “the promised land” as a solution to their problems. The Zionist movement propounded the 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 emancipation as human beings but as Jews. Neither should they seek integration within the political states in which they found themselves, but separation, in a state of their own.

Many organisations and movements have clamoured for the allegiance of the workers during the twentieth century, all claiming some panacea, some new device which would, at long last, make capitalism palatable. The Jewish workers have been exposed to all the usual propaganda, but for them the basic issue of twentieth-century society - capitalism or socialism - has been even further confused by the Zionist Movement. This claimed that the problems of Jewry could only be solved by the establishment of one single homeland for Jews, a Jewish state. Like many other reformist movements, the Zionists have now had a chance to work out their theories in practice; Israel has been established. What evidence is there as to whether Jewish workers are any happier in capitalist Israel than they are in capitalist Britain or America? Zionism hasn’t established a workers’ paradise. The sole fruit of the decades of struggle and strife which Zionism has known has been - the establishment of yet another capitalist state. Which is an achievement the workers of the world, Jewish and Gentile, white and black, could well have done without.

But it is not just a matter of Zionists and anti-Semites sometimes having strategic or business interests in common. There are ideological affinities. Zionists, like anti-Semites, are mostly racists and nationalists for whom it is abnormal that an ethnic group should live dispersed as a minority in various countries. What if the Jews in a given country are well integrated, face no significant anti-Semitism, and show no interest in being "normalised"? Originally Zionism was conceived as a means of solving the problem of anti-Semitism. From this point of view, where the problem does not exist there is no need for the solution. However, ends and means were inverted long ago, and Zionism became an end in itself, with anti-semitism a condition of its success. Anti-Semitism might still be regarded in principle as an evil, but as a necessary evil. Often it was also said to be a lesser evil compared to the threat of assimilation supposedly inherent in rising rates of intermarriage.

Israel's ruling élite ordered the construction of their wall in 1994, and duly baptised it the 'Separation Barrier'. You would have thought that the Israeli's might have recalled the wall that the Nazi's imprisoned 400,000 Jews behind in what became known as the ‘Warsaw Ghetto’ prior to their elimination, but evidently memories are short, and propaganda long. The justification for its construction is that it has been built to protect Israeli's from Palestinian suicide bomb attacks. Opponents regard the wall as a means to further annex Palestinian land, and that security is just a subterfuge. The wall also violates international law as laid down by the International Court of Justice. However, ‘justice’ under capitalism inevitably pans out as ‘might is right’, especially when the US is your Godfather.

The establishment of an Israeli state was the goal of Zionism and its founder Theodor Herzl’s entry in his 1895 diary, reveals the thoughts of a ‘righteous’ man:
“We must expropriate gently the private property on the state assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly” (Righteous victims).

The Israeli 'settlers are also opposed to the barrier, but their opposition is because it appears to relinquish the Jewish claim to the 'Land of Israel'. This is the land that God promised to the descendants of Abraham. This is a biblical deal struck between God and the Jewish ‘people’ some 3500 years ago. It is also the ideological engine of Zionism, and the Likud party’s rationale for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Socialists argue 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 an irrational belief, the religious myth set out in some holy book that the Jewish God had given Palestine to the Jews to be their homeland. Many Jewish workers were convinced by the Socialist argument and rejected Zionism, and played - and still play - a considerable part in the Socialist movement. 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

Israelis may well have wondered whether there is any country in the world where Jews are less safe. Thoughtful Israelis may also wonder how much of the anti-semitism in the world today is generated by Israel itself through its mistreatment of Palestinians. The establishment of Israel did not end anti-semitism. In fact it caused it to spread to where it had never existed before - to the Arab-speaking parts of the world. For centuries Jews had lived in peace and security, integrated and speaking Arabic, in these parts of the world. Now, as a direct result of the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine,, they came to suffer the same persecution that the European Jews had. The result was that centuries of integration was undone in decades. Today there are virtually no Jews living in Arab countries: most Arab Jews are now in Israel where they form an underprivileged group. The dreams of Jewish workers of a life free from persecution and oppression finds its echo today in the dreams of Palestinian workers. Jewish dreams have not been answered by the setting up of the state of Israel and Palestinian dreams will not be answered by the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Zionists are always complaining about anti-semitism, real or imaginary. They use such complaints especially as a gambit to de-legitimise criticism of Zionism and Israel. From the start, however, Zionist opposition to anti-semitism has been superficial and selective, because Zionism is itself closely connected to anti-semitism. The Zionist needs anti-semitism like heroin addicts need their fix. It may seem a trifle naive to ask why Israel's ruling circles don't realise that by their own actions they are generating anti-semitism. They realise. But they make it a point not to give a damn what the world thinks of them.

Zionism has misled many Jewish workers with its promise of a "homeland for Jews". The Zionist myth is that the Jews had reclaimed an empty, barren land - 'a land without people for a people without land'- and made the desert bloom. The other side of Israeli Independence is the Nakba (the catastrophe) when the Palestinians lost their homeland to the Jewish state. Dispossession still continues in various ways. There are demands that Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency should be disbanded and the neo-apartheid system ended; there should be equality between all citizens.

Since that time the dream of a “homeland” free from oppression and insecurity that led so many Jews to rally round their leaders in the name of Zionism, has been bitterly disappointed. The state of Israel has been at war with its Arab neighbours almost for its entire existence. The expropriation of land from the Arabs and the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have resulted in a legacy of frustration and bitterness among many of the 750,000 Arabs who stayed in Israel after the 1948 exodus and continue to endure discrimination in employment and welfare and among the one and a half million refugees in camps in the occupied territories.

 It is not surprising that settlement of the occupied territories by orthodox Jewish zealots who subscribe to racist religious nationalism which advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from “Greater Israel”, has resulted in an equally vicious hatred of Jews by many Palestinians. But to strive for the replacement of an oppressive Israeli state by a Palestinian one cannot be an answer. It can only result in continued oppression — class oppression — by a Palestinian ruling class that would replace the Israeli ruling class.

 Emma Goldman in her 1938 work On Zionism identified 'Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the many.' The founders of Israel sought to expel as much of the Arab majority as they could and make their profits by creating an almost all-Jewish working class in the mistaken belief 'it is better to be exploited by one's fellow countrymen' (Marx 1848).

 Israel is the most economically and socially developed capitalist nation state in the Middle East with a large working class. It is a bourgeois democracy but also a sectarian/apartheid state. Israeli capitalism not only exploits the Jewish working class but also a Palestinian working class and increasingly migrant labour from Asia and Eastern Europe. Palestinians in the state of Israel comprise 20 percent of the population and face discrimination, and are considered to be second class citizens because the very definition of a Jewish state excludes them. Next there are the Bedouin Arabs who live in unrecognized villages unconnected to water and electricity systems. At the bottom of the economic pyramid are the African migrants from Eritrea and the Sudan who cannot legally work but are used as cheap labour in hotel, restaurant and cleaning companies, and when arrested are put in detention centres such as the one in the Negev desert.

Our opposition to Zionism does not mean that we support Hamas or Hezbollah. Unlike some, we don’t single out Jewish nationalism for special condemnation. We condemn all nationalisms equally. The “Palestinian nation” is just as much a myth as the “Jewish nation”, or any other nation. 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. Peace is always better than war. Because wars are never fought in the interests of ordinary people. And because in wars it is always ordinary people who suffer. So, irrespective of the issues involved or the terms agreed, Socialists can only welcome the ending of any war in any part of the world. Stop the killing is our permanent policy. Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism hold back the growth of class consciousness among the working class in Israel and Palestine. Emma Goldman claimed the origin of the Arab-Israeli war stemmed from the fact that 'the Arab feudal lords had sold the land to the Jews without the knowledge of the Arab people.' Goldman concluded that 'the land should belong to those who till the soil', in other words, the Jewish and Palestinian working class regardless of religion and national identity in a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.

Zionist nationalism had its share of leftist confusionists in its early days — people who imagined that the establishment of an independent Jewish state would provide not only a refuge from the threat of racist persecution but a territory in which a new socialist order would emerge. In his book, From Class To Nation, David Ben Gurion wrote optimistically:
 "Socialist Zionism means a full Zionism. . .This is a sort of Zionism which will not be content with redeeming only a part of the people, but aims at the complete redemption of all the people of Israel; this is a sort of Zionism which envisages the Land of Israel as a homeland not only for a few privileged and wealthy but wants it to be a homeland for every Jew who returns there - a homeland that equally provides for all her children, revives them, makes them into citizens and redeems all of them without discrimination."
Ben Gurion was later to become Prime Minister of the Israeli state.

 Things did not turn out as those who saw Zionism as a step forward to socialism had thought it would. It is very easy to say, before a nation has been established, that it will not only be a homeland for the "privileged and wealthy". But under capitalism, in which Israel exists, countries belong to the minority class who own their resources and for all the talk of equality Israel is a country of brutal contradictions between affluence for a few and poverty for many. The almost racist assumption in the above quotation explains much that has happened since.

 If Israel is to be a homeland for the Jews, then what is to happen to those not invited into the new land of supposed equality? The answer is to be found all too evidently in the recent brutalities committed by the Israeli state on the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israel is not unique in its anti-social military savagery: all capitalist nations act that way — they usually call it "national defence". But those who advocated the creation of such a state in the name of socialism have much to answer for. There is no shortage of disillusioned left-wing Zionists in Israel today who will have to make up their minds whether to support nationalism or its ceaseless enemy - socialism.

The Socialist Party certainly doesn’t single out Zionism for special treatment. We are opposed to all nationalisms.  We accept that many other capitalist states and factions in the Middle East have pursued policies that are nationalist and anti-socialist.  Neither Israeli nor Palestinian capitalism can serve the interest of the vast majority of the population. The workings of world capitalism in the Middle East show that peace and prosperity there are only possible in a world-wide framework - socialism. 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 Star of David flag-waving, trigger-happy Zionists are no more ignorant and abhorrent than those who have swallowed the diversionary, nationalist message of Hamas. 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.


There is a bitter irony about Zionist nationalism. That the survivors of Nazi 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 anti-semitism on which Nazism was based—is not difficult to understand. In Israel, 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?" 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. In the 1940s an aspirant Israeli ruling class, represented by such vicious thugs as the Stern gang 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.

0 comments: