Most “Trotskyists” today are, everywhere, agitators and propagandists against the Jewish state of Israel. Not agitators for the view that Israel should change its relationship with the Palestinians, or that it should help set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. No. The agitation and propaganda centres on the “demand” that Israel should cease to exist.
In war they have sided with the Arab states — Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan —in the hope and expectation that, victorious, they would put an end to Israel. At the start of the 21st century they back the medieval-minded forces of Arab and Islamic clerical fascism — the Muslim Brotherhood and its off-shoots, and Hezbollah, Hamas and the jihadists in Iraq. Rejecting a two-state solution, these mystics of “anti-Imperialism” back the Muslim mystics who would recreate the Caliphate — the pre-World War I Turkish empire, against Israel. This “left” is mainly, in Britain, centred on the SWP-Respect.
What do they propose to put in place of Israel? It used to be a “secular democratic state” covering all of pre-1948 Palestinian. In this, the Jews who survived the necessary conquest by Arab armies would be offered religious, but not national, rights. The now all-determining alliance with Islamic clerical fascists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood's British offshoot, the Muslim Association of Britain, has knocked the “secular” out of that formula. The fact of all-pervasive dictatorship in the Arab states, with the flickering exception of Lebanon, had always begged the question about the “democratic” part of it. What is left now? “Marxist” support for the conquest of Israel by Hamas-Hezbollah-like jihadists!
This political attitude to Israel-Palestine is a long way from the politics of the international Trotskyist movement on this question in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s — when Israel was established — as the documents assembled here, mainly from the late 1940s, show. Looking back you can see some of the roots of what exists now, but you also see a great deal more. What changed in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, obviously, was Israel’s victory over the Arab states in the Six-Day War of 1967, and its occupation of the whole of pre-1948 Palestine.
The UN partition plan of 1947, under which Israel came into existence, had provided for two states in Palestine, one for the Arabs. The territory of that projected Palestinian state was taken by Egypt, Jordan, and, marginally, Israel, in 1948-9. After June 1967 Israel controlled it all, and for forty years now has been the brutal colonial master of the Palestinian people.
The rectification of this terrible situation calls for the realisation, even 60 years too late, of the UN’s 1947 resolution - two states for the two peoples. It is the rational response to the oppression of the Palestinians, as well as being the only remotely practicable one, and the only way to do something like justice to both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. You may think that. Most reasonable people do. Not the kitsch left! While trading, in its agitation and propaganda, on justified humanitarian outrage at the suffering of the Palestinians, it rejects the only policy that could bring relief to the Palestinians! Maximum outrage combines here with maximum indifference to the Palestinian people
Before and after World War I, revolutionary socialists opposed the Zionist project, but they did not side with the reactionaries, still less with the then equivalent of today’s clerical fascists, of the Arab world, against the Zionists. They defended the right of Jews to go to Palestine, as to anywhere else (see the 1929 article by Max Shachtman in this collection).
Then, in 1929-30, the Communist International, which at first had characterised the Arab pogroms against Jews in Palestine as... pogroms, switched their “line” and decided, that since this was a period, the “Third Period”, where everywhere capitalism was giving way to revolution, the pogroms must be part of the world-wide anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist upsurge.They came out unrestrainedly for the “anti-imperialist” pogromists. It was the start of what is today the “anti-Zionist” “anti-imperialism” held to by most “Trotskyists”.
It was tragically reminiscent of the response of the heroic Russian terrorists of the Narodnaya Volya, who had just assassinated the Tsar, to the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1881. They had hoped by their spectacular assassination to detonate the people against the aristocracy — and lo, here the people were rising. The pogroms were therefore welcome evidence that “the people” were responding to the Narodniks. They were honest, though very confused, people. The Stalinists were cynical manipulators who, in the 1930s,’40s and ‘50s — with a short break in the late 1940s, when they backed the formation of Israel, in order to make trouble for the British Empire — would fill the labour movement with their own poisonous brand of anti-Semitic “anti-Zionism.
The most striking thing about the late 1940s documents of the “Orthodox Trotskyists” collected here is that in the 1948 war — in which Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and others greeted the declaration of Israel by a full-scale invasion — they do not support the Arabs. They tell the truth about the political nature of the Arab forces: they consider that a matter of consequence in shaping their attitude towards the war. Political fantasy did not lead them to see in Arab feudalists, still less in clerical fascists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, “objectively” anti-imperialist revolutionaries.
The “Heterodox Trotskyists” - those like Max Shachtman, Albert Glotzer and Hal Draper, who had fallen out with Trotsky in 1939-40 over Russia’s invasion of Finland - denounced Zionism but supported Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. Some other Trotskyists in Europe had supported Irgun’s guerrilla war against the British.
Even so, you can see some of the roots of later developments in the Trotskyist attitude of 1948. The Jews supported the partition of Palestine. The Orthodox Trotskyists’ refusal to endorse their right to self-determination, was in this situation, though none of them backed the Arab states, a pro-Arab attitude. (Curiously, it parallels the implicitly anti-Palestinian position now of those “anti-Zionists” who reject the two state solution). Why they did this was spelled out in a polemical article of 1946, by Tony Cliff, the late founder of the British SWP. Arguing in an internal bulletin of the US organisation, he wrote: “we are sure that acceptance by the SWP (of anything less than stark hostility to Israel) will do infinite harm to the cause of the Fourth International in all the Arab countries and may even bring about a cleavage between the colonial sections and the SWP”.
The “line” was to be determined not by political right and wrong, not by basic working class socialist politics, but by the consideration of how it would “play” in the Arab countries. In effect he says that the Trotskyists dare not recognise national rights for the Jewish Palestinians. That approach then inhibited logical support for Jewish national rights. Today, the same approach has eaten away the political brain and backbone of those “Trotskyists” who, in the name of “anti-Imperialism”, ally with some of the most reactionary forces on the planet. We publish these documents to help young people miseducated by the kitsch-Trotskyists get their political bearings.
For reasons of space small cuts have been made in the documents.