For democracy in the Palestine solidarity movement!

Submitted by dalcassian on 19 January, 2009 - 3:47 Author: Daniel Randall

On Saturday 17th January, a contingent of Workers' Liberty members in Sheffield attended a demonstration to oppose the Israeli assault on Gaza, as we had done for the previous two Saturdays.


Click here for the story of what happened, with photos. Another set of photos from Sheffield: click here.



One of our placards bore, on one side, the slogan "no to the IDF, no to Hamas" because we wanted to make clear our position that supporting the Palestinian people's struggle for independence does not mean endorsing the deeply reactionary politics of Hamas. For us, the slogan does not imply that the two forces (the IDF and Hamas) are equivalent but simply that revolutionary opposition to the Israeli state does not mean supporting any force that also happens to oppose it. As we have put it before - yes, the Israeli state is "the main enemy", but the existence of a main enemy does not convert other enemies into friends.

Since Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006, movements in Britain against the actions of the Israeli government have been hegemonised by forces which, tacitly or explicitly, support the Islamist politico-military parties, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that claim to make up the "resistance" to Israeli colonialism. The fact that they "resist" is not enough; it matters a great deal why they resist and what for. The alternative to Israeli state terror offered by Hezbollah and Hamas - theocratic, sectarian terror against secularists, women, LGBT people, trade unionists, apostates and Muslims of the wrong denomination, backed up by the powerful capitalist ruling-class of Iran - is one we cannot endorse. Furthermore, refusal to condemn Hamas's ideological, anti-Semitic project to destroy Israel cuts us off from the entire Israeli-Jewish nation - including the heroic and courageous Israeli opposition movements, which we believe have a crucial role to play in stopping the barbaric military adventures of the Israeli government.

We therefore believe it is necessary to challenge the pro-Hamas politics of the demonstrations from the standpoint of working-class solidarity with the Palestinians. Basic progressive politics on issues such as women's and LGBT rights cannot simply be suspended in times of war. Palestinian workers, women and LGBT activists courageously endeavor to combine struggle against Hamas with struggle against Israeli occupation; British activists should follow their example.

The presence of the placard sparked a dispute in which Workers' Liberty members were called "scabs" (by members of Permanent Revolution) and in which the placard was eventually wrested from us and torn up. We were told that the slogan was "offensive" and "beyond acceptable", and that it was therefore perfectly reasonable to destroy the placard and, beyond this, attempt to remove us from the demonstration.

This raises questions about the nature of the solidarity movement we are building in this country. There must be room within the movement (in meetings, on demonstrations, and on other actions) for an open and free debate about the politics of the conflict in the Middle East. Undoubtedly, we have found placards, banners and slogans that are essentially anti-Semitic (such as an SWP member's demand, shouted through a megaphone and overheard on the 10th January London demonstration, that Israeli-Jews "go back to New York or wherever they came from") to be deeply "offensive" and "beyond acceptable", but rather than physically silence these elements or demand that they leave the demonstrations, we have attempted to engage them politically.

Democracy in the Palestine solidarity movement must involve the right of those of us who make a distinction between supporting the Palestinian people and supporting Hamas as a politico-military force to express that view freely without fear of being silenced. Workers' Liberty is not alone in holding this position; our members in Sheffield were supported by members of the Anarchist Federation, and we have worked elsewhere in the country with revolutionaries of a Middle Eastern background such as the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq.

The role of organisations that consider themselves to be Trotskyists in this hysterical silencing of dissent is particularly depressing. The politics of the loudest voice, in which any individuals or groups that swim against the stream in any way must be silenced, is a politics imported wholesale from the tradition of Stalinism.
We appeal to all leftists who believe that free and open political debate is essential if we are to build a vibrant, democratic movement capable of genuinely supporting the Palestinian people in their struggle for independence, justice and peace to oppose the Stalinist silencing of dissent witnessed in Sheffield, and to work to ensure that the politics that characterise future Palestine solidarity movements are those of consistently democratic working-class internationalism.

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 19/01/2009 - 20:53

What is Stuart teaching the young people around him about democracy? Luckily there aren't very many; but in any case, my experience of the younger members of Permanent Revolution is that they tend to be much more reasonable than the old-time Workers Power cadre.

We haven't "set out to be provocative"; we have set out to put forward our politics on the demonstrations, in a sharp and clear manner. You'd think from what Stuart et al write that we are just turning up very occasionally in order to cause a stir; in fact, particularly in London, our young members have been a consistent presence on the pickets and demonstrations and actions, certainly far more than Permanent Revolution. We have been able to have numerous conversations and make a lot of contacts, even if the great majority still disagree with us and a small minority are viciously hostile.

Moreover, let us consider what is involved here. You never hear, really, of people's placards getting snatched and torn up on demos; not even ones saying things like "Israel = Hitler" or "Zionism = the New Holocaust" - real examples from Saturday's Trafalgar Square rally. As far as you could tell, the people carrying such placards on Saturday were not even challenged much! And yet the simple mention of opposition to Hamas is regarded as so illegitimate that it requires placards to be destroyed, as if they were BNP placards? Even if you think we're totally wrong, Stuart, doesn't this concern you from a democratic point of view? Are your communist instincts really that worn out?

Yes of course the Israeli flag is the flag of a bourgeois state, and yet it's also the flag of a national entity that thousands have recently shouted on the streets of London (not to mention many Arab cities) that they want to destroy. We think that view is radically wrong; and therefore carrying it alongside a Palestinian flag is not, from a revolutionary socialist point of view, the same as carrying eg a British flag. Particularly since we are not Israelis ourselves! To a certain degree, we can echo Trotsky on China and Japan: the Palestinians' patriotism is legitimate and progressive, while Israel's is a cover for imperialist robbery. *But only to a degree*: since, unlike Japan, Israel's existence is potentially (not currently, but potentially) under threat, and its people have a consciousness of this.

The AWL has replaced the red flag of socialism with the flag of Israel? Don't embarrass yourself.

In Sheffield, the slogan "No to the IDF, no to Hamas" was one among a wide variety of slogans, most of them focused on opposing Israel's war and its oppression of the Palestinians. My comrades carried a big banner saying "Israel out of the Occupied Territories". Similarly, the posters we have produced (in the middle of our paper, with smaller glossy versions also available) are focused on opposing Israel, with no mention of Hamas as it happens. You are just desperate to take the placard out of context.

In fact, we have no objection and are quite explicit about backing Palestinian armed resistance *within* the Occupied Territories, which of course means, in a certain sense, that we support the Hamas militias against the Israeli army. *We are not neutral; we back the Palestinians against Israel.* Hence our call for immediate Israeli withdrawal. But, firstly, there is no need to glory in the fact that it is Hamas playing this role in our slogans; and secondly, Hamas are not *just* fighting to drive Israel out of the Palestinian territories - they are also fighting to destroy Israel. They have fused together the progressive role of Palestinian national liberation force with the highly reactionary role of Arab/Islamic chauvinist force seeking to subjugate the Israeli nation, harming the former in the process.

In any case, even if Hamas were simply a national liberation movement, socialists would still be bound to sharply oppose and condemn its highly reactionary politics - and make solidarity with the workers' organisations, women, political opponents etc it is suppressing in Gaza. Easier, of course, to put this in the small print as Permanent Revolution has chosen to do; but we prefer to be upfront and get a hearing for unpopular ideas when those ideas are right.

Finally: I am for the defeat of Israel by the Palestinians. The tragedy is that, in this struggle, the Palestinians are led by a chauvinistic force that fights not for liberation, but to reverse roles and become the oppressor. In doing so, it cuts off any possibility of a merging of the Palestinians' national struggle with the social struggle of the Israeli proletariat - the dynamic synthesis that the Communist International saw as the key to world revolution in the 1920s. Since you think Israel doesn't have a real working class, I don't imagine you care very much. But I think Hamas, who have subordinated the Palestinian cause to their reactionary and chauvinist agenda, are traitors to the Palestinians, and that any socialist who soft peddles this is an idiot.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by Clive on Mon, 19/01/2009 - 21:07

Stuart

In my view your position is a 'scab position' too, if you want to put it like that; or anyway I object to it very strongly. And I believe a movement in solidarity with the Palestinians can be broader, and open to many more people who don't want to buy into your pseudo-Second Congress-of-the-Comintern take on it, if it doesn't demand 'solidarity with Hamas', or whatever, as a precondition for participation.

But it literally has never occurred to me that you, or anyone else who wants to express solidarity in whatever way they choose, should have their placards torn up. This is, I think, an absolutely new development in British left politics. You are perfectly entitled to your view of the AWL's position. But what happened to 'march separately' (in the sense, obviously, of having our own slogans), 'strike together'? And what do you think you are teaching the young people around you about democracy? For shame.

Submitted by Caroline on Mon, 19/01/2009 - 22:59

Stuart,

So you weren't directly supporting the placard being ripped up then? Just not 'fighting to defend our staged provocative placards'? I've been told that members of PR were positively advocating the placard be torn up and the AWL be kicked off the demo - is that not correct?

The placard wasn't 'staged' or intended to be 'provocative'. Comrades from Sheffield AWL have attended all the protests in Sheffield against the assault on Gaza and we've disagreed with the political tone of pro-Hamas contingents and some of the placards.
So we make and take a banner and placards which reflect our opposition to the Israeli bombardment, our solidarity with the Palestinians *and* and our opposition to the murderous reactionaries of Hamas. We also carried slogans that said "End the seige on Gaza" and "End the occupation - two nations, two states".
That's not provocation Stuart, that's a group of revolutionary socialists with different politics to you expressing those politics. You sound like the SWP who see any political criticism as 'provocation' and as an excuse to exclude us from meetings or worse. I'm guessing you've experienced that over the years as well.
So it's 'provocation' when you disagree? Just so happens that your politics on Israel/Palestine (which I find abhorrent) are the majority view on these protests. What happens when you find yourself in a minority on a demonstration with angry opponents ripping up your placard? You won't find the AWL supporting that kind of undemocratic, stalinist censorship even if we disagree with you. It's Permanent Revolution who've degenerated, not the AWL.

Submitted by Clive on Tue, 20/01/2009 - 00:48

You really don't understand me? Even more disturbing, frankly, since re-reading it, it seems perfectly clear to me.

But okay.

Ripping up people's placards is not very democratic. Is it. People don't normally do that on demonstrations. Do they. Ripping up placards because they don't have what you think are the right slogans might put some (normal) people off coming along.

And if you teach (young, for instance) people it's okay to rip up placards because you don't think they've got the right slogans, this might have, well, a bad effect.

Submitted by Clive on Tue, 20/01/2009 - 07:40

Do you think it was okay for the placard to be ripped up?

Do you think someone could have intervened to stop it happening - perhaps try to calm down someone who was very upset, apparently?

Do you think it was right for the left - the SWP, at least, if not PR - to cheer the tearing up of the placard?

Do you think the issue of whether people can come on these protests with their own slogans and attitudes to Hamas is of any significance or weight at all in developing a movement (not just a movement on this question) with healthy democracy?

Do you think it is acceptable in a would-be democratic movement a) for the PSC to dictate what placards can be brought on demos, and b) 'react' to people asserting their right not to be dictated to?

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 20/01/2009 - 09:37

"To back Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation of the lands where they live. To demand Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. To support those in Israel who oppose the occupation, and those who refuse to serve in the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories."

Picked at random via the search engine. We have used this formula or similar ones many times over the years.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 20/01/2009 - 20:15

Actually, someone did try and calm down the irate chair of the local PSC as he was ripping up our placard; he was also Palestinian, so the idea that the conflict on the demo was between us and "the Palestinians" is nonsense. As is the claim, made by Stuart (London), that PR are blameless in the incident; I'm not going to give out people's full names over the internet but one PR member (who Stuart has named as 'Alison') and Stuart C (who I'll name because he's already posted here identifying himself) were very clear in shouting at us to leave. The verbatim quote from Stuart C was "you're scabbing, go on - leave. Off you go. Off you go." The PR members and two fellow travellers (Stuart C and one other person) clapped when the placard was ripped down.

I reiterate all of Clive's questions about what kind of democratic culture you think this builds in the movement; the fact that Stuart C felt "very angry" about our placard is neither here nor there. I feel "very angry" about having to demonstrate alongside people who support Hamas, an organisation that wants to kill me, but I don't go around ripping up their materials or telling them they should leave the demo.

I also reiterate one of the questions I asked PR members on the day - if simply expressing opposition to two forces in the same slogan implies "equating" them, why were PR members giving out leaflets bearing the headline slogan "no to US imperialism, no to the Islamic regime"? At a time when Iran is threatened with invasion, surely this is a scab position that amounts to backing imperialism against its victims??!! (It isn't, of course, but undoubtedly this is what PR would claim if we were giving out leaflets bearing the same slogan...)

On some of the substantive issues, I think I have dealt elsewhere with exactly why expressing opposition to more than one political force at a time doesn't mean you think they're exact equivalents. If PR comrades can't get their heads around that then I feel sorry for you, frankly.

As for Stuart's outrage about our non-support for Hamas's armed resistance (he puts it in CAPITAL LETTERS, no less; he must be really pissed off. Imagine how irate Hamas must be? I bet they thought they could rely on the British left for unstinting loyalty, and there we go breaking ranks; shame on us) - I don't see what his problem is. I support the right of the Palestinian people to militarily resist colonial occupation but that doesn't compel me to positively endorse or support ever force engaged in acts of "resistance". I disagree with Sacha about supporting Hamas military actions against the Israeli army; we don't support the "resistance" of bourgeois, theocratic militias funded by a regional-imperialist power whose project is not a bourgeois-democratic project for Palestinian independence (like the mid-1980s PLO, whose resistance I personally would've supported) but a clerical-fascist project for the establishment of a theocratic state and the destruction of the Israeli-Jewish nation (not just the "Zionist state", but Israeli-Jews as a national group; read their charter). That's what they're "resisting" for. If Stuart's going to try and guilt-trip us for not supporting that, I don't think it's going to wash (although I must say, the capital letters really did make me stop and think for a moment there...)

Stuart's comparison of the Israeli-Jews to the Nazis is obscene but unsurprising. There's a grotesque comedy to the fact that he can make such a comparison in one breath and express righteous indignation that we have commented on the (tactitly or explicitly) anti-Semitic politics hegemonising much of the political space on Gaza demonstrations around the country, particularly in London.

On the Israeli flag issue, against Stuart's attempt to distort what actually happened let me clarify a few things. Stuart tries very, very hard to make out that our comrade was simply "waving an Israeli flag" to try and sabotage the demonstration when in reality, he took both an Israeli and Palestinian flag (which Stuart mentions ever-so-briefly and then skips over), echoing the logo of the leftist Israeli anti-war group Gush Shalom (who, as a group made of up people he compares to Nazi colonialists, Stuart probably doesn't have much time for). He was accosted by Islamists who got the cops to remove him from the demo; presumably Stuart would've cheered them on, just as his comrades cheered on the ripping up of our placard in Sheffield.

Finally on the question of "causing trouble". Much has been made of this sentence from my initial report and I don't retract it. People's outrage (mock outrage, I suspect) to this is another indication of how abjectly low the democratic and political culture of the left has become. I reassert our right - and pretty much anyone's right, frankly, barring all but organised fascists - to attend these demonstrations and express a particular political position on the conflict in the Middle East without fear of being silenced, even if it swims against the stream of the lowest-common-denominator, tactic-or-explicit support for Hamas that PR want to make a prerequisite for participation in the movement. To express any dissent will undoubtedly "cause trouble", and undoubtedly, we want to educate the young people brought into politics by this war that the hegemonic ideas of the movement they're rightly attracted to offer neither them nor the Palestinians any hope of liberation. If that makes us "troublemakers" then fine - we're troublemakers.

The Gaza solidarity movement in this country is hegemonised by politics that, from any basic socialist point of view, are deeply problematic. For anyone who wants to make meaningful solidarity with the Palestinians, much less win radicalised Asian youth to Marxsim, "making trouble" for those hegemonic politics should be a matter of principle.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 21/01/2009 - 10:37

I wouldn't say I "support Hamas militarily, but not politically"; I wouldn't even say that I "support Hamas military actions against the Israeli army". However, it does seem to me that, if we want the Palestians to drive Israel out of the Occupied Territories, which is what "Israel out of Gaza and the West Bank" implies, then we not simply neutral between the two combatants, even though one of them is Hamas. Given both Hamas' attitude to Israel and its stance towards progressive forces within Palestine, this may simply come down to being sharp and clear and emphatic in saying "Israel get out" (cf Russia in Afghanistan); but still, there's an imbalance.

On the other hand, there is also another imbalance, which is the fact that Hamas is far more reactionary and chauvinistic than the Israeli government - ie if it was strong enough it would do worse to Israel than Israel is currently doing to the Palestinians. Not much of the left seems to take this into account.

Sacha

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 21/01/2009 - 11:50

Tom

I largely agree with you. I think two main factors have forced Hamas, or rather tendencies within it, to moderate. 1. The knowledge that they obviously do have to negotiate with Israel, and 2. the need to maintain support among Palestinians who aren't nuts.

Two other points worth making, though. First, that the pragmatism about the national question isn't the same as moderating the Islamist ideology. And second that for much of the anti-Zionist left, the *un*pragmatic wing of Hamas, the one that doesn't want to compromise or negotiate, is *better* (see for instance Chris Harman's article/pamphlet, The Prophet and the Proletariat, or whatever it's called, reviewed somewhere on this site.)

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 21/01/2009 - 12:43

I'm not arguing for some kind of exceptionalism. But surely, the 'external constraints', or factors compelling more moderate action, on the Israeli hawks and on Hamas are not quite the same. In Israel there are regular elections, a body of opinion which isn't mobilised en masse now, but often does mobilise as wars continue and get worse and their supposed objectives slip from sight. Hamas' pragmatism comes from a different kind of consideration. It's not monolithic; but the range of political views within it - as an Islamist organisation - are obviously narrower than within the whole of Israeli society. (And the hawks are a heterogeneous bunch. One of the weird things about Israel is that hawks on the national question are sometimes better on social questions than doves - or at least this always used to be the case)

I agree about how nasty the Israeli hawks are, of course.

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 21/01/2009 - 14:19

I don't want to labour this, and we need to be clear exactly what we are arguing about. I'm sure it's true Hamas are sensitive to their base, up to a point - other Islamist movements certainly are. But that's within a certain framework. And whatever the narrowness of the major Israeli parties, you can hardly compare their approach to those they don't agree with... Surely. Hamas has a long history of violence in its dealings with other - especially secular, etc - tendencies.

And yes it's true that anti-war movements in Israel tend to follow Israeli soldiers' deaths (actually there's a video doing the rounds of Uri Avnery making this point on a demo in Tel Aviv, I think). But still, sometimes those movements have been quite forceful - Lebanon 1982, especially. And whatever the cross-party official policies regarding the occupied territories and so on, my point is that there are limits imposed on how far the hawks can go - for instance now in Gaza - by Israeli public opinion. For sure those limits look pretty broad at the moment!

But this matters, in the bigger picture, because it *is* possible to mobilise some part of Israeli society for peace, it will be possible to do so in the future. They are not all gung-ho chauvinistic sadists, either. This needs to be said, against Leftish public opinion, which tends not to be interested at all, and it's vital to the very *possibility* of a solution to the national conflict.

I'm not underestimating the scale of the task, or how small the anti-war movement in Israel is at the moment. But at least a factor in the hegemony of hawkish policy in Israel is the strategy of Hamas.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 22/01/2009 - 17:26

No time to respond comprehensively on this now, so just a few quick points.

I think the answer to Tom's concluding question depends a lot on what "support" means. I've personally always found the political/military support formula a bit problematic; for a small British Trot group to say it gives "military support" to a particular organisation means nothing beyond an abstract expression that, in a military conflict between that force and another, they'd prefer the victory of that force. I certainly wouldn't "prefer" the victory of the IDF over Hamas (which would necessarily entail the slaughter of many more innocent Palestinians), but I don't think I'd prefer the victory of Hamas over Israel, either, which would necessarily involve a massive expansion of Hamas's military capacity and - however far they've moved since the old charter - wouldn't be good news for the Israeli-Jews as a national minority within the Arab world.

Am I in favour of the Palestinian militarily resisting Israeli invasion and occupation? Yes, of course. But personally I'm not sure I feel comfortable saying a great deal beyond that in terms of concretely "supporting" the only force currently engaged in carrying that out.

If a FLN-style organisation had mass support in Palestine (something more equivalent to the mid-1980s PLO, perhaps) I might well feel differently, because the consequences of the victory of such a force would be, I think, democratic. The consequences of a Hamas victory would be far from democratic - not just for the Israeli-Jews but for the Palestinians forced to live under the theocratic rule that would inevitably result.

The huge ambiguities and complexities here suggest to me that, to a certain degree, hypothesising about who we "support" in military conflicts in which we cannot possibly have any current impact is a bit pointless. We shouldn't turn wars into football matches.

We should focus on the impact we can have, and for me that comes down to building practical solidarity with any democratic, working-class elements in Palestine and Israel. Our activity can genuinely help them grow and develop and carve out an independent, working-class resistance to both Israeli colonialism and Hamas theocracy. That's not to say we shouldn't have a programme for the region or a comprehensive political response, but it is to recognise that getting hung up on deciding whether to express "support" for a bourgeois war party is a bit of a waste of time.

It's nice, by the way, to have a debate about the Middle East on this site which is rational, reasonable and characterised by serious political substance rather than sectarian slander. Thanks Tom.

Submitted by edwardm on Thu, 22/01/2009 - 18:28

Seconded - it's good to see a thoughtful contribution on Israel/Palestine that doesn't descend into hysteria and slander.

I think that, as Robin has suggested, the question of how you characterise Hamas has to go beyond an analysis of the present moment and take in the question of how Hamas would respond to a changing situation in Israel/Palestine, in particular in terms of their relation to Palestinian civil society and organised labour; and the role that Hamas plays in regional politics in terms of the strategic position of Islamism in the Middle East.

I take Tom's two points - that the situation in Palestine is conducive to a generally high level of 'background political violence' - so thuggery against political opponents doesn't necessarily mean that a party is out-and-out fascist; and that Hamas' situation forces them into a pragmatic position, on the question of rank-and-file democracy (i.e. that they physically can't extract the support of sane Palestinians through mass coercion) and on Israel (i.e. they're prepared to talk about a Two-State solution).

But once the situation in Palestine improves, and a state is allowed to emerge and Hamas comes to possess greater stability and improved means of coercion, how will their current 'pragmatic-democratic' position change? And to what extent will the working class find itself with room to organise? For me, that's a question of working-class self-defence. I don't think that, once the current constraints on violent coercion are removed, Hamas will restrict itself to "Fatah" levels of political violence: I think that once they are able, they will not be squeamish about strangling or hegemonising all organs of civil society and worker organisation, as Islamists do in Iran, for example. Whether they are able to do that, I think, will be decided by the extent to which a coherent political opposition to Hamas is already in place when Hamas's current 'shackles' come off. Hamas is forced to compromise with Palestinian civil society and labour now - but workers need to start building their organs of self-defense against Hamas, because once Hamas get any breathing space, they will likely revert to co-ercion. Are we prepared to gamble that their current 'conciliatory' (i.e. no more brutal than Fatah was) outlook is earnest and heartfelt?

Who's to say that they're on a consistent "leftward" trajectory, especially when that trajectory was effectively forced upon them? Why shouldn't a 'conciliatory' period of thaw be followed by an aggressive 'ultra' zigzag, as NEP was followed by the Five Year Plan? After all, most of Hamas' cadre were formed in a brutal war...

I think that this question, of how Hamas will conduct itself vis-a-vis the working class and civil society once Israel allows it to rebuild its infrastructure, is more important than Hamas' 1988 commitment to destroying Israel. I think that, given the impossibility of Hamas 'crushing Israel', it is very unlikely that they will ever really return to that perspective in earnest, and instead stick to some version of Two States. But if the Palestinian labour movement is imprisoned within the shell of Hamas, just as Eastern-bloc unions were imprisoned within the shell of Stalinism, how will they be able to foster cross-border solidarity, which must be the real guarantor of a functioning Two-State peace?

And seen in the context of Islamism in the region, the need for a hard line on Hamas comes into a clearer, sharper view. Hamas's fight to co-opt or strangle Palestinian civil society/labour is part of a broader regional narrative, of populist Islamism competing with secular, working-class organisations for political leadership of mass movements. The SWP will sometimes argue that the fact that they don't have a programme for the Palestinians is irrelevant, because "the revolution in Egypt will solve the problem". Well, maybe, but what kind of revolution in Egypt? It will only be a socialist revolution if the Islamists are defeated - they won't 'morph' into socialists by themselves. We need to go after the politics of the would-be Islamist leaders of popular movements, in every country: and a clear line on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will imply an equally hard line on Hamas. The issue is class independence.

Hamas' pragmatism on Two States will likely endure. Their pragmatism on internal democracy will probably not. The international solidarity movement needs to contribute to the emergence of a clear pole of working-class attraction in Palestine - in terms of physical worker self-defence and forthright political criticism of Islamism. We see the solution to the conflict in terms of independent working-class organisations, and regardless of Hamas's "geo-political diplomacy" orientation to Israel, they definitely will stifle real, independent working-class organisations, in a radical way that secular bourgeois parties won't.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 22/01/2009 - 23:51

Tom, you say that Hamas is not that different from Fatah, but why would you suppose that, if they consolidated their power in an independent state, Hamas would not crush the workers' organisations just as thoroughly as their friends in Iran have? Fatah is highly authoritarian and reactionary, but it seems to me there is most certainly a difference. Would be interested to hear your thoughts though.

(Ed, when you say "Why shouldn't a 'conciliatory' period of thaw be followed by an aggressive 'ultra' zigzag, as NEP was followed by the Five Year Plan?", you seem to be missing the point. The NEP was a *retreat*, but a retreat within the framework of exhausted and bureaucratically distorted workers' power; the Five Year Plan was the organising framework of the bureaucracy as it wiped out the remnants of workers' power and converted itself into a ruling class. The two cannot be straightforwardly compared. What was need at the end of the 1920s was not 'more thaw', but industrialisation within the framework of revived workers' democacy and a fight for international revolution.)

Sacha

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 23/01/2009 - 10:51

And how, precisely, do you propose "excluding" us from demonstrations, Tony? This would necessarily involve us being carted off by heavies or getting the cops involved (which is what happened in London). Is this what you're proposing? Getting the police to politically purify your demos for you?

Nice.

For the record (although it is becoming tiresome having to response to these pathetic slanders), we have said many, many times that there is no equivalence between the IDF and Hamas and that this was not was the slogan was designed to express. It's also entirely unsurprising to see Tony recycle the distortion now doing the rounds on the left that we simply "turned up" at a London demo "with an Israeli flag" - in reality, our comrades took small Israeli and Palestinian flags onto the demonstration to echo the logo of Gush Shalom. Islamist activists united with the cops to attack our comrades on that occasion; I imagine that this is the sort of united front that would get Tony salivating when it comes to dealing with the AWL.

If Tony really thinks Israel is comparable with Nazism, I wonder how he explains the fact that the 10,000 people who marched against war in Tel Aviv weren't rounded up and shot? What kind of self-respecting fascist regime would tolerate that level of public dissent in one of its biggest cities?

Perhaps Tony believes that the whole thing was an orchestrated Zionist conspiracy to delude the world into thinking that not everyone in Israel is a bloodthirsty hawk. After all, the Tony Greenstein Bureau of Unsubstantiated Statistics With No Context informs us that "90%+" of all Israelis, "including" the peace movement, are positively "urging on further acts of murder."

Maybe I misread all those placards they were carrying. I thought they said "stop the war", which - in fairness - is an easy slogan to confuse with "we urge on further acts of murder!"

Anyway, Tony; I think I'll leave it there for now. Good luck assembling a squad to "exclude" us from future demos. Islamists and the British state have already proved themselves potential allies for you.

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 23/01/2009 - 18:39

Tom

All interesting points. I've only got time to make one in response. I don't think an assessment of the consequences of a Hamas victory is just about whether they can wage a ground war, threaten Israeli security, and so on. And I'm not convinced the aftermath of the last Lebanon war is a good parallel. Because of the specific weight and regional significance of Palestine, I think a Hamas military victory could well have much more far-reaching implications - spur on other Islamist movements, etc. - which would not be progressive or to the benefit of developing a labour movement or democratic and secular politics.

(Obviously on one level, right now, any sort of Israeli defeat, is de facto a Hamas victory. I'm talking here about something more than symbolically so).

One and a half points. I accept, on the whole, the case you're making for Hamas being more moderate, or whatever, than in the stereoptype. But my guess is that the picture is actually very complex, there are lots of things going on, and you might be being too sanguine,.

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 25/01/2009 - 23:04

Tom,

I've been thinking about your comparison of Hamas' charter with the Labour Party's Clause 4. Two things to note:

1. It's not the case that the Labour Party leadership previously believed in Clause 4 and then gradually abandoned this view. They never believed in it or had any intention of putting it into practice - not in 1918, not in 1929, not in 1945. Even the post-45 nationalisations, *which went nowhere near implementing the Clause*, were pushed on the Labour government by a rank-and-file revolt at the 1944 conference. Of course, the neoliberal hijackers of New Labour moved radically further away from the sentiments contained in Clause 4, to such an extent that they felt they had to ditch it (there was also a large element of making a demonstration to the bourgeois media and Tory voters); but Labour was never going to act on it.

In contrast: you think Hamas, both leadership and rank-and-file, didn't believe in destroying Israel in 1987?

2. The Hamas charter is fascistic in the extreme - a theocratic state, world Jewish conspiracies, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Freemasons, the French revolution etc. In so far as Hamas has moved (in only two decades), it has clearly moved within this general framework. I don't know why you wouldn't think they favour an Iranian-type regime. After all, Khomeini too said that he was in favour of the restoration of the 1906 Iranian constitution - shortly before unleashing mass terror and drowning the Iranian revolution in blood.

Sacha

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 26/01/2009 - 18:10

..."is the end of the occupation".

Yes, clearly. And I think I'm right in saying, Tom, that you do believe that "weakening Hamas" is something revolutionaries should aim for. Unfortunately, a great many people on the "left" don't agree, which might explain (if not excuse) some of the more bent-stick assessments of Hamas that myself and others have made (although I don't retract the description of them as an organisation that would kill me if it had the opportunity).

In answer to your question about my view of the PLO, I might've more accurately said "late-1980s" rather than "mid-1980s", but they were on their way to a two-states position before the formal change in 1988.

Your point about an organisation's official documents/charters/whatevers not being the only determining factor in what that organisation represents politically is obviously true on a certain level (as the PLO example - who, as I say, were effectively two-statist before they formally changed their line - shows), but they are still a factor. I don't think Hamas has undergone qualitative change since their Charter was written. A degree of two-states pragmatism on the part of some of its leadership isn't enough to convince me.

On a different note, how do you conceive of the "one state" you say you "aspire to" coming about? And what do you do about the fact that, as far as it's possible to tell these things, big majorities within both the national groups in the area (Israeli-Jews and Palestinians) don't want "one state" but rather independent states of their own?

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 27/01/2009 - 11:29

"For a very different example on how people relate to official documents, according to a recent thread on this site, someone had managed to join AWL without ever believing themselves to be a "revolutionary socialist"..."

Just a quick reply on this:
a) the person in question was never an AWL member, he just used to come to AWL branch meetings in Oxford (until a row about Palestine alienated him, funnily enough);
b) I'm pretty sure, in fact, that he did used to call himself a revolutionary socialist. I certainly remember that he regularly used to wear one of our Marx t-shirts with 'The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class itself' on it (not the same thing I realise).

Sacha

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