Slogans on Gaza

Submitted by Matthew on 28 November, 2012 - 7:43

Socialist Worker (24 November), reporting on Gaza, explicitly opposes "calls for Israel and Palestine to negotiate a settlement". "The only solution", it says, "is to create a single state that allows Jews and Arabs to live alongside each other".

The voluntary merger of neighbouring nations into larger units is desirable all across the world. But merger without negotiation? Involuntary merger? That is only another way of saying "conquest".

If in areas where decades of cooperation have eroded old conflicts — say, between Britain and France — social progress had made national differences fade so much that the neighbouring nations were merging into a common political unit, then we might hope that after some decades or generations the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs would follow.

But that is not happening. SW's talk of "living alongside each other" suggests a voluntary merger, with nations so harmonised that they meld into a common unit; but their opposition to negotiation makes it clear that they advocate merger by force, in other words conquest.

Conquest by whom? By "a democratic uprising across the region".

But how can the uprising be "democratic" if it involves — if, in fact, the chief purpose of it is — the forcible suppression of the Israeli Jews? (And of other nations too? The Palestinians have been badly treated by Arab states as well as by Israel, and demand not to be part of a big Arab state ruled from Cairo or Baghdad, but to have their own state).

SW sees its desired future also as "secular". But how does that square with their support for Hamas, who are vehemently anti-secular?

SW's line amounts to abandoning all pressure on Israel to negotiate and counselling the Palestinians to wait for a promised future pan-Arab effort, called "democratic" for no clear reason, which will revenge them by imposing on the Israeli Jews the conquest and suppression which the Palestinians themselves have suffered at the hands of Israel. It is both unrealistic in any foreseeable future and reactionary.

Eric Lee's polemic (Solidarity 265) is right in condemning the slogan "From The River To The Sea", used by some demonstrators against the Israeli assault on Gaza. The slogan implies the conquest and driving-out of the Israeli-Jewish people.

Eric's polemic, however, begs another question. He suggests calling for a ceasefire.

At the time of the previous, bigger, Israeli attack on Gaza, in early 2009, Eric endorsed slogans like "Yes to peace, no to Hamas terror", which, if they were a call for ceasefire at all, put the onus entirely on Hamas.

We disagreed then and we disagree now. We oppose Hamas's stated aim of establishing Islamist rule over the whole of Palestine. But there is a huge disproportion of casualties — 160 Palestinians, six Israelis. There is a huge disproportion of forces: Israel could negotiate a two-states deal if it wanted to; Hamas can do little.

Those facts made the chief demand "stop the Israeli assault on Gaza". There's the additional fact that the conflict seems probably to have been unleashed deliberately by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu for electoral and geo-tactical reasons.

Most of the Gaza protests, even those where "From the river..." was heard, mobilised mainly people driven by proper anger against the use of overwhelming Israeli military might.

AWL members were there, sharing the anger, arguing for our "two-states" view against all "conquer-Israel" slogans, and getting a hearing.


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 18/07/2013 - 18:38

Hi comrade,

It's great that you oppose Arab conquest of Israel, unlike some on the far left, and want to support and engage with Israeli workers.

Of course we're in favour of both Palestinian and Israeli workers overthrowing their ruling classes and establishing workers' rule, and of course when that happens it would be logical that they would link up their governments, creating or at least moving towards a united historic Palestine (though it would probably also be part of a broader federation of the region).

But the point is that we need to get there. And at the moment the national conflict acts as a major barrier to Jewish-Arab workers' unity in basic class struggle, let alone socialist struggle.

Isn't this kind of problem why socialists, while not advocating a "first democracy, then socialism" stages theory, have developed democratic demands to arm the labour movement to deal with national conflicts?

And isn't the right of the Palestinians to have a genuinely independent state of their own, alongside Israel and with the same rights as Israel, a necessary democratic demand for building a united Jewish-Arab workers' movement?

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 18/07/2013 - 22:28

Hi comrade,

It would be good if you could explain why you think bourgeois democracy in, say, Egypt or Palestine, is "virtually impossible". Isn't that too categorical? Would you also include national independence for Palestine, short of socialist revolution, under this heading?

But even if you judge that, in a particular part of the world, the establishment of bourgeois democracy faces severe barriers or problems - I don't think it follows that we should reject democratic demands.

In his writings on the 1920s Chinese revolution and the 1930s Spanish revolution, Trotsky was analysing on the basis of the theory of "permanent revolution" - that only through the working-class conquest of power were even bourgeois-democratic demands likely to be achieved. Yet he put great emphasis on the mobilising value of such demands for the working class, particularly when the class was not yet ready to create its own workers' democracy, let alone seize power. I'm thinking of demands like a constituent assembly, land for the peasants, national self-determination...

As Trotsky later put in the Transitional Program: "It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it."

Even after the workers' revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks did not give up on the idea of self-determination for the nations of the former Czarist empire.

Isn't it necessary for us to have a democratic demand (ie one at least conceivably achievable short of workers' revolution) which can, if not solve, "lead out of" the national conflict, an outline democratic program around which both Israeli and Palestinian workers can mobilise?


Submitted by LM on Thu, 18/07/2013 - 23:27

The argument that democratic demands are impossible to achieve in an era of capitalist imperialism was one made a lot by left-communists and council communists such as Herman Gorter during the crisis of the Second International and early Third International.

In a debate about the United States of Europe slogan, though Lenin himself thought it was "impossible or reactionary" (Trotsky disagreed), it did not follow for him that democratic demands in general were unachievable. To this categorical argument from Gorter and others, Lenin wrote that on “the basis of [this] reasoning it would be necessary to discard a whole series of points from our minimum programme as being impossible under imperialism. While it is true that genuine democracy can be realised only under socialism, we still do not discard these points.”

In 1915, he continued to argue that democratic demands, far from in any way weakening the struggle for socialism, in fact, serve to “draw new sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the semi-proletarian masses into the socialist struggle.” Nor did he deny that revolutionary-democratic slogans had lost their relevance, writing that “political revolutions are inevitable in the course of the socialist revolution, which should not be regarded as a single act, but as a period of turbulent political and economic upheavals, the most intense class struggle, civil war, revolutions, and counter-revolutions.”

I think that's the key point. Democratic issues are of crucial importance to the working-class, for the reason that more democratic forms of bourgeois democracy are often more conducive to building working-class organisations and, in the case of the national question, socialists addressing it with a class position independent of nationalists of all strips can undercut nationalism and drain the poison of national divisions within the working-class. In other words, unite workers' struggle requires a programme with democratic demands around which you can build the sort of movement that can go on to smash the state.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 19/07/2013 - 09:35

"It is absurd to contrapose the socialist revolutlon and the revolutionary struggle against capitalism to a single problem of democracy, in this case, the national question. We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary programme and tactics on all democratic demands: a republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights for women, the self-determillation of nations, etc. While capitalism exists, these demands—all of them—can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms. Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle, but a period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It is for the sake of this final aim that we must formulate every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary way. It is quite conceivable that the workers of some particular country will overthrow the bourgeoisie before even a single fundamental democratic reform has been fully achieved. It is, however, quite inconceivable that the proletariat, as a historical class, will be able to defeat the bourgeoisie, unless it is prepared for that by being educated in the spirit of the most consistent and resolutely revolutionary democracy."

(The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1915)

I think this also points towards the 'transitional demands' approach the Communist International and the Trotskyists later developed, but that's another story...

The whole article is worth reading (here). I'm not saying that you're taking the same approach as Parabellum, David - but Lenin's reply is thought-provoking.


Submitted by AWL on Fri, 19/07/2013 - 13:25

Hi again,

I agree with most of what you write.

In terms of Israel-Palestine, I think the question is the following. If a single state settlement would be more desirable - and I agree that it would be, for various reasons (eg you could solve the question of the descendants of the refugees more easily) - ok, but how is it going to happen?

Is it conceivable that the Israelis are going to dissolve themselves into a common state with the Palestinians? That most Israeli workers are going to be won to this?

Isn't it far more likely that a majority of Israeli workers could be won to forcing "their" government to withdraw troops, evacuate the settlements, give the Palestinians a really independent state and so on? This may be a long way off, but it seems to me qualitatively closer/easier than most Israelis be willing to dissolve their separate nation state.

The only way I can see a single state realistically coming about, except as a step forward after the Palestinians get independence and the two nations live alongside each other, is one side conquering the other completely. And of course such a result would not be democratic, secular, truly binational etc.

Of course, there could be a revolutionary wave across the region which will pose the problem differently. But, firstly, we should be wary of assuming even revolutionary working-class struggle will automatically solve the national conflict: in fact the national conflict could be the rock on which it crashes. And in any case, don't we need a more immediate democratic slogan given that no such revolutionary wave exists?

Sorry if I'm repeating myself!


Submitted by AWL on Fri, 19/07/2013 - 14:42

I guess it's possible to argue that there is no immediate democratic demand realistically applicable to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Given the direness of the current situation, that has a certain plausibility. However, I think the demand for two independent states remains a useful one, which gives our agitation a certain cutting edge. That's because, difficult as it is, it is much less difficult than any other program on the table. And it would represent a genuine measure of liberation.

Yes, have a read of our pamphlet here, though it's out of date.

You could also read this recent piece by Israeli leftist Uri Avnery.

It's a good thing that rather than the Muslim Brotherhood simply confiscating and crushing the upheaval in Egypt, a new phase of popular and working-class protests, this time against the Brotherhood, began. However, without an independent working-class political force, the workers' movement and the revolutionary youth are left rudderless between competing bourgeois forces - as we see in so many leftists welcoming the military coup.

The fundamental political problem remains, even if the Brotherhood is on the back foot and the Egyptian bourgeoisie is having trouble finding a stable form for its rule. Unless a working-class party can be built, things are unlikely to work out well.

I remember having this discussion with Egyptian trade unionists in 2011, and I think what we argued was proved right.


Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.