Whilst recounting the “conflict” in national terms and with national subjects, the media do not even consider the absurdity of one country threatening its neighbor with a general strike of its own in retaliation.And yet it is the most revealing thing about how much is going on these days [this article was originally published in December 2017]. Telling because the threat is real for Israel and because Palestinian workers haven’t exactly embraced it with enthusiasm either. To understand Israel/Palestine let’s do a bit of history and for once, from the perspective of the workers.
1In the late 19th century European Jews were a cultural-religious minority, hardly a group capable of developing a national bourgeoisie in a particular territory. Only the Tsarist anti-Semitic policies had created a “pale of settlement” on the border with Europe where one could speak of Jewish majorities. But those same policies, which prohibited university studies, professional activities and the development of productive capital, prevented the birth of a Jewish national bourgeoisie in what today is part of Russia, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The industrial development of the Russian empire on the Poland-Donetsk-Petrograd-Urals line created, however, a massive Jewish proletariat who would mostly join first social democracy and then the Revolution. The phenomenon will be common throughout Europe and especially visible in the first communist parties (the Bolsheviks, the Germans, the Hungarians, etc.). Hence comes the association Bolshevism-Judaism by the Czarist feudal propaganda which will later be taken up by the Fascist reaction.
2In that framework Zionism will be the expression of petty-bourgeois strata in backward areas, fearful at the same time of the class struggle and of the tsarist oppression. Unable to constitute themselves as a bourgeoisie on their own soil, they will dream of a “country without people” in which they will be able to build a state to suit themselves.
In the founding document of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl’s “The Jewish State”, there was no deception whatsoever about the role reserved for Jewish workers in the revaluation and production of the Palestinian wasteland: exploitation, sacrifice and hardship to create an original accumulation of capital in the service of a Jewish bourgeoisie that would only come once the conditions for profitability were assured.
3This stark but sincere approach made Zionism decidedly unpopular among workers of Jewish origin, however much they suffered oppression, anti-Semitism and barbarities of all kinds. It did however allow Zionism a bourgeois “acceptability”, tailored to its “idealism”, which in the end achieved two fundamental successes:
- Families of the upper middle class of Jewish origin, especially the Rotschilds, donated sufficient sums to buy land and start a series of smallholding settlements.
- With the “guarantee” of such powerful donors, the charitable funds that helped survivors of the pogroms to settle in Canada or Argentina, agreed to direct part of their funds to new farms in Palestine. Later, from the merger of some funds and others, the “Keren Kayemet Leyisrael” was born, known as the “Jewish National Fund” (JNF), which bought the settlement lands from the local feudal lords.
4Unlike Herzl’s expectations, the “poor” who came in that first wave of migration (the first aliyah) were not workers, but small peasants persecuted or dispossessed of their land in Russia. When they saw the opportunity to settle down, they did not intend to return to the subsistence economy, but instead geared themselves – with the help of Zionist organizations – towards exporting cash crops, especially fruit crops. This type of cultivation requires the hiring of labor only during specific periods (planting, picking). This is how the Palestinian agrarian proletariat was formed and gave rise to the first Arab migrations from Syria and Egypt.
When the pogroms and repression preceding and following the Russian Revolution of 1905 brought the first waves of Jewish proletarians (the “second aliyah“) to Palestine, Jewish small landowners refused to hire them. They preferred the young, inexperienced, half-trained Arab proletariat to the Jewish workers, many of them with revolutionary experience, who came from Europe. These had to devote themselves to clearing work in isolated areas such as the Sea of Galilee. The refusal of the Jewish-Palestinian petty bourgeoisie of the “Yishuv” to form a “Jewish national proletariat” and their fear, even greater, that Jewish workers would infect Arab day laborers and the first urban industrial centers with socialist ideas, opened the door to the transfer of land in undesirable locations to self-managed cooperatives of Jewish workers: the first kibbutz movement.
In other words, since 1910 the strategy of the Israeli bourgeoisie has been to segregate the proletariat it was creating, mostly Arab, from the proletariat arriving as migrants fleeing the horrors of Europe, mostly Jewish.
5But the greatest long-term success of the nascent Zionist bourgeoisie was its alliance with British imperialism. The British Empire was looking for allies on the ground to take the lion’s share in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire of which the province of Syria (within which Palestine was included) was a part. Of course, British imperialism will always play two decks of cards, especially after succeeding in launching Arab “national” movements (the famous “Arab revolt” of Lawrence of Arabia) and the conversion of Palestine into a British “mandate” after World War I.
Zionism will thus become an element of the “internal” debate among British imperial policy makers. Positions would oscillate between those who, like Balfour, were betting in the long term on a broader alliance with the Arabs and those like Churchill – who failed to convince Roosevelt but did, later on, convince Truman – who realized the importance of a reliable bastion against Germany. A position very similar to Churchill’s was held by De Gaulle until after the Suez crisis of ’56 and during a certain key period, Stalin, not at all under suspicion of philo-Semitism, who through Hashomer Hatzair in 1948 equipped the Tzahal with weaponry through Czechoslovakia.
6Because in the meantime, from the 1920s onwards, the first local echoes of Arab nationalism had appeared… and they became increasingly aligned with Germany.
At first it was a feudal reaction that gained strength through violence between factions of the Arab Jerusalemite establishment by imposing itself on the Muslim religious leadership with their own “Grand Mufti”. Thus began “the conflict” as a policy of attacks and assassinations of Arab and Turkish tribal chiefs and landowners who had sold or planned to sell land to Jewish funds. Then, once dissent was suppressed, terrorism targeted Jewish workers and farmers. The so-called “Arab revolt” was nothing more than a Levantine-style pogrom.
7In a constant paradox throughout this process, however, the extension of land purchases, which had initially favored mostly Ottoman bureaucrats, began to benefit the Jerusalemite petty bourgeoisie. This now thriving, but limited, social class considered itself part of a region of Syria and realized that the rapid economic development of the new “yishuv” bourgeoisie, culturally and economically closer to the British, threatened to leave them isolated as a subaltern petty bourgeoisie.
Overcoming the short-sightedness of the Mufti and the old tribal leaders, they realized very early on that their model must be that of a “national construction”, in the manner of the national “rebirth” of the once Turkish occupier, and not that of a “religious awakening”. They will thus be “pan-Arabists” and will encourage the Mufti to forge closer ties with the Syrian movements. Since Syria was administered by France, the reference for the Arab nationalists would be France’s greatest imperialist rival at the time, Germany, itself allied with the new national Turkey.
This is what will lead some and others to link up with German Nationalsocialism. The “pan-Arabists” will end up ideologically recycling the Axis discourse, feudal anti-Semitism and the modernizing needs of the paltry Syrian-Palestinian national capital into a mixture fit for the times. What from 1947 onwards would be the Baath, represented the true vanguard of the creation of state capitalism in the Arab world. When the defeats of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon in ’48 became definitive in the 1967 Six-Day War, pan-Arabism became utopian. They would then lead the rapprochement with the USSR and would give rise, in 1964, to the PLO, the final conversion of pan-Arab nationalism into Palestinian nationalism.
Class struggle and the “two-state solution”
The real basis of agreement between the Palestinian and Israeli bourgeoisie is that a nationally fractured proletariat is in the interest of both parties.
This division has allowed the Israeli state to erode the living and working conditions of workers – Palestinian and/or Jewish – with Israeli passports to levels that would be the envy of the European bourgeoisies. Today 60% of Israeli retirees live in poverty and working conditions, labor market fragmentation and precariousness have increased many-fold since the 1990s. And should they heed the propaganda then they should feel privileged besides because, only national unity, according to the Israeli bourgeoisie, will prevent a new genocide at the hands of Israel’s many Arab and Muslim enemies.
In the territory under the Palestinian National Authority, the fact that “the boss” is a foreigner left the hands free for the national bourgeoisie to identify with “socialism”, equating “throwing the Jews into the sea” with nationalization. On a daily basis, for the Palestinian workers, everyday exploitation was combined with the daily humiliation of Israeli controls, the quasi-mafia-like repression of a Palestinian bourgeoisie as nationalist as it is corrupt and incompetent and, from a certain moment on, that fundamentalist and brutal para-state, born of the decomposition concocted between the Israeli and Palestinian governments, which is Hamas. Millions of dollars may rain down from Europe and the powers interested in “humanely” undermining Israel: we will not see decent public services in the PNA, not even basic ones. Nor will we see the Palestinian bourgeoisie and state create decent paying jobs or welfare systems… unless by welfare system one means having to sacrifice one’s life in a suicide knife attack on Israeli soldiers or policemen for the state to cover the minimum expenses of a poverty-stricken family.
If war is the way of life of the bourgeoisie as a global class, its branches in Palestine and Israel have made it a relatively stable form of domination. Rooted in fear, religion, racism and decomposition, for them war is the present and the future. That is what they both defend by setting as their horizon a “binational solution”, two complementary states in crime and exploitation of workers.
No, there is no two-state solution. Two states would keep both bourgeoisies united in their criminal mode of domination and exploitation, complicit in a daily and brutal apartheid. Nor, as is obvious, is there a solution in a single state based on the expansion of one of the existing ones or of one of its neighbors, who would be the ones expropriated and killed if not the workers?
The solution is another kind of class unity, the unity of our class, the workers, against all forms of exploitation and oppression. There is no future other than misery and death in the homeland as well as in the boss, no matter what name they are called.