Israel and the Mavi Marmara massacre (2010)

Submitted by martin on 4 June, 2010 - 7:27 Author: Sean Matgamna

An impersonator who looks like the country's leader murders him, takes his place, and thereafter deliberately leads the state to defeat and catastrophe. That was the plot of a Hollywood film I saw long ago.

Sometimes it is almost tempting to think up some such tale to account for Israel's behaviour - to conclude that a bitter enemy of the Jewish state and of its best immediate and long-term interests has somehow got control in Jerusalem and works relentlessly to undermine Israel.

The self-righteous but too often senseless eternal prattle about "terrorists" with which the Israeli governments respond to criticisms only adds an extra element of repulsiveness to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

The flotilla of relief ships which the Israeli army bloodily attacked in international waters was far more a political demonstration against the Israeli blockade of Gaza than an attempt to bring practical relief to Gaza.

The quantity of relief goods it carried was comparatively insignificant in proportion to the needs of the people of Gaza, and at best would have brought a marginal amelioration. Primarily it was a political demonstration of solidarity with the people of Gaza and condemnation of Israel.

The Israeli army's attack on the ships turned the flotilla into a tremendously effective political demonstration against Israel. If that had been the intention, then the Israeli authorities would have succeeded brilliantly. They could not have done more if that had been their intention.

The Israeli army treated the people on the Mavi Marmara with the grotesquely disproportionate lack of restraint with which they habitually treat the Palestinians. The political message of the organisers of the flotilla was made to reverberate like thunder round the world.

None of the Israeli explanations stand up. So, the Israeli soldiers coming down ropes from helicopters were attacked with sticks - or iron bars, knives, whatever - by Islamist militants on the ship, some of whom at least will have advocated the destruction and abolition of the Jewish state by Arab military action?

So? That was not predictable, even as a contingency? That attempt to defend the ship from airborne attack justified the lethal response of armed professional soldiers, the killing of nine and the wounding of at least 30?

Only in the eyes of people who accept no restraint and no limits, people grown used to the exercise of lethal and disproportionate force, justified with the conventional cant against terrorists.

So soldiers do not, by the nature of their trade, make gentle and restrained policemen? That was not known, not to be expected?

Israeli soldiers captured most of the ships in the flotilla without bloodshed, therefore what happened on the sixth was not the fault of the Israeli army? That is only a variant on the argument that any resistance justifies massively disproportionate response.

The cry of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the occupants of the Mavi Marmara were "terrorists" is as if designed to discredit what Israel says when it is a matter of real terrorists.

What happened on the ships follows from the overall policy of recent Israeli governments: the fact that most Israeli leaders pay only, at best, lip service to the policy of allowing the Palestinians to set up an independent state, alongside Israel, in the Occupied Territories and Gaza. That policy is the only just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Something much better than the Israeli policy that led to the shipboard slaughter, to the Israeli blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, and to all the many disproportionate and bloody incidents in the Occupied Territories is, probably, available at will to an Israel acting from its present strength.

The present Israeli government, despite occasional words to placate Washington, is opposed to any just two-states solution. There is opposition within Israel to the government's policy, but Israel will not, it seems, change until it is forced to do so by Washington and the EU.

Will the massacre on the Mavi Marmara and the outcry against Israel lead to the deployment of enough pressure on Israel, and, in the most important place, to US pressure to end the blockade of Gaza? If it does, then those responsible for what happened on the ship will, inadvertently, have served the cause of progress and humanity.


Submitted by martin on Fri, 04/06/2010 - 08:58

The front page headline of Socialist Worker this week (2 June) is "Rise up against Israel".

The world in general is urged to "rise up against Israel", and against Israel as such, not against Israeli government policy or the Israeli state machine.

Anger and outrage are appropriate after the Mavi Marmara massacre. Here, however, there is at least as strong a note of glee at Israel being "shown up" as of human sympathy for the victims and their friends and families.

What does Socialist Worker mean by "rising up against Israel"? What do the Islamic clerical-fascist forces to whom Socialist Worker looks - as the "anti-imperialist camp" playing an analogous role in global politics now to that of now-defunct Stalinism in a previous era - mean by it?

They mean the military conquest of Israel by the surrounding states, and rule over any Jews who survive by an Arab regime. Sometimes they add that those surviving Jews should have "religious" (but not national) rights.

That "policy" is, fortunately, far from realistic in present conditions. It is still poisonous.

The Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut, responded to the massacre with a weaselly statement, effectively blaming the victims. Now activists in Britain are redoubling their calls for British trade unions to break all links with the Histadrut - as if links between union and union were conditional on political agreement, or as if British unions were justified in adopting a self-righteous boycott of Israeli workers.

The answer: maintain and build working-class links. Rise up, not "against Israel" as such, but against the policies of successive Israeli governments. Recognise Israel's right to exist and defend itself, but also the right of the Palestinians to an independent state, alongside Israel and with the same rights as Israel.

The other popular current demand is for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Britain. It seems bizarrely petty and beside the point. The thinking behind it, though, is that the demand to expel the ambassador can become a plausible, harmless-looking "thin end of the wedge" for a general policy of boycotting Israel and branding it as a state deserving destruction.

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Fri, 04/06/2010 - 19:59

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 10/06/2010 - 23:27

1) While the octopus motif has not been used exclusively to attack Jews, it has been used most prominently to communicate the idea of a group of people (Jews, the Irish, communists, whoever) spreading their "tentacles" and looking to control things from behind the scenes. This is almost certainly its most famous and well-known usage in this history of political cartoons. Does this not suggest, at the very least, that a bit of sensitivity is required when using this imagery to describe the world's only majority-Jewish state?

2) We have not "compared" the cartoonist with a Nazi cartoonist. We have not even suggested he was deliberately trying to evoke the anti-Semitic history of the image he selected. Maybe it's a total coincidence. Again - we're saying sensitivity is required. And the problem with the Zionism = Nazism or Star of David = swastika comparisons aren't merely that they're "offensive"; all sorts of ideas are "offensive" to all sorts of people. The problem with those comparisons is their essentialism; of all the nationalisms in the world, how many do you find routinely compared to Nazism by the left? Very few, other than Jewish nationalism. Of all the states in the world engaged in colonial projects on another people's land, how many do you find routinely referred to as "Nazi" or "fascist" by the left? Very few, other than Israel. Iran is not regularly called fascist by the left; that's the point. (More on this below.)

These double-standards would be bad enough on their own terms, but on top of this there's the fact that comparisons play on the continuing centrality to Jewish identity of the relatively-recent experience of attempted genocide under Nazism. The Star of David isn't just part of the national flag of Israel, it's a centuries-old cultural symbol that many if not most Jews identify with on some level (even the Jewish Socialists' Group, which is broadly Bundist in its political affinity/heritage, uses the image). If nothing else, those who think the Star of David = swastika comparison is legitimate/useful might like to think about the message that sends about whether the Palestine solidarity movement is a hospitable and accessible place for Jewish activists. The problem with the comparisons' "offensiveness" is that they are designed to offend, rather than to make a serious political point or analysis. No-one who actually cares about the proper meaning of words and the proper use of language could seriously suggest that Zionism = Nazism or that Israel is a fascist state.

3) It's simply not true that Iran is "regularly called fascist" on the left. On the contrary, the mere suggestion that the Iranian ruling-class's regime has even some characteristics in common with fascism (which in my view it clearly does) is likely to get you slandered as a pro-imperialist Islamophobic racist amongst most of the "mainstream" revolutionary left. Israel is the only state that is regularly written or spoken about in such terms on the SWP-dominated mainstream far left; Jewish nationalism is the only nationalism straightforwardly referred to as "Nazi" or "fascist". But actually, even if referring to Iran as "fascist" was much more common/accepted on the left, I'd definitely be against cartoons/imagery that replaced the central coat-of-arms on the Iranian flag with a swastika; there aren't the same issues of specificity and collective cultural memory relating to Nazism as there with Israel/Jewish people, but the "comparison" would still be extremely sloppy and could only be calculated to offend rather than to make a serious political point. (I might ask, actually, if you think it's so common/regular/accepted for Iran to be referred to as "fascist", why we didn't see thousands of white leftists marching with "Iranian coat-of-arms = swastika" placards/images on the massive demonstrations the British left organised to protest against the Iranian state's murder of pro-democracy activists last summer? Oh yes... because there weren't any.)

4) If I was a more cynical man than I am I might suggest that you have deliberately placed this comment on this article, rather than the article to which it actually refers, in order to mislead people from its actual content. Because if we were commenting on the article in question (here, by the way), people could see that Sean is not "in favour of immigration controls" to "preserve a Jewish majority". He argues, rightly, that a democratic, two-states settlement would have to involve some kind of negotiated settlement around the question of the Palestinian refugees/their descendants rather than the reactionary-utopian (not to mention completely inconceivable in practise) wet-dream of the Stalinoid left that involves the transplanting of 5,000,000 Palestinians into present-day Israel (a quick-fix, "demographic" way of getting rid of Israel, which sounds nicer in argument than "I want Israel to be crushed militarily by the Arab bourgeoisie and/or world Islamism", which is the actual, real-world implication of SWP-type politics on the question).

Unless you believe the Israeli-Jews have no national rights whatsoever and basically have no right to be where they are (so they should go back to... the shtetl? Auschwitz?), you can't seriously propose as "democratic" any "solution" or "settlement" that involves the right of a second, third or fourth-generation Palestinian refugee to dispossess the Israeli-Jew who was very possibly not born in 1948 and had no responsibility whatsoever for the expulsion of that person's parents or grandparents (or indeed that person themselves.) Why must that Israeli-Jew be made to pay for the crime the nascent Israeli ruling-class committed in 1948 rather than, say, the Arab bourgeoisies who (as you point out yourself) have continually brutalised the Palestinian refugees and their descendants for over 60 years in order to use them as political pawns in their regional-imperialist power-plays with Israel? I am in favour of an independent, secular state of Palestine alongside an independent, secular state of Israel and in favour of both states having open borders. But this is not what is meant by the mainstream left's demand for the "right of return"; they mean that those of the 800,000-or-so Palestinian refugees still alive and their 4,000,000-or-so descendants should have the "right" to return to the precise piece of land (or even the building) from which they (or their parent/grandparent) was expelled in 1948, and if that means expelling the people currently living there (even if those people were not alive in 1948), then tough. All the better, in fact. David - do you think that is democratic? Do you think that is just? Do you think such a demand can play any part in the development of an internationalist working-class unity between Palestinians and Israeli-Jews? Do you think it is even conceivable to imagine that 5,000,000 Palestinians would want to return to their former land, rather than fighting for full civil rights in the countries in which they have ended up (which is the standard left-wing attitude/demand for refugee communities)?

Our position on the "right of return" has nothing to do with "favouring immigration controls" or "preserving a Jewish majority"; it's about trying to articulate a response to a historic injustice which is not based on exacting revenge on people who were not responsible for that injustice. Any other response automatically precludes any possibility for Jewish-Arab working-class unity, and it is that unity - rather than any questions of geographical settlements or demographic majority - that should be our animating concern and point-of-departure here.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by edwardm on Sat, 12/06/2010 - 00:12

David, you write that "If opposing that forestalls unity with Zionist workers, then tough, because their sectional interests are not a veto against human equality."

What does this mean? Does it mean that you make it a pre-condition of conducting agitation among Israeli workers that they accept a leftwing position before you approach them (what about workers in other countries with sectional or racist prejudices?)?

And if it is necessary to sacrifice "unity" with those Zionist workers (on the grounds that they do not already agree with you), then what programme are you suggesting? What agency do you turn to to resolve the conflict if not a joint movement of Palestinian and Israeli workers, built on the basis of slogans that negotiate one set of interests against another in the interests of a just peace?

What agency, if not a movement involving Zionist workers (for most Israeli workers surely are very Zionist in their views)? Invading Arab armies? No? Then perhaps that mysterious beast, "Communism From Below", about whose miraculous powers I have heard so much?

You generously offer that you "would not demand that people be turfed out of their homes". Jolly decent of you. But here you're implicitly just drawing up a wish-list of conditions to place on "Zionist workers" before you will deign to work with them. Who are you to place such demands (or not)? You sound like you're playing great-power chess. The point of the two-states programme is not that it is a list of things we demand that Israeli workers concede - it is a programme which allows for the national rights of the two national groups to be negotiated against each other, as part of a dialogue which will emerge within the framework of a working-class movement for peace and unity.

I agree with you that the only rational way to understand the "right of return" is as a "right" to be exercised or not, rather than as a one-time militarised population transfer - but would you agree that that right would have to be negotiated against the equally valid right of the Israeli Jews?

Submitted by edwardm on Mon, 14/06/2010 - 00:15

The use of Arab labour to undercut Israeli labour has been one of the major levers (alongside the militarisation of society) by which neoliberalism has made its advance in Israel. One could make the argument that Israeli workers would benefit in the short term by continuing to deny rights to Palestinians - in fact they would benefit more by levelling-up and organising Arab labour.
But more than that - the single biggest political issue in Israel is the constant state of war (youths wearing gun-belts in every public place, constant incursions and attacks by one side or another). The only solution that makes any sense to this is a just peace which grants national rights to both sides. This solution to the war and the question of national rights directly addresses the immediate political interests of Israeli workers. That is the basis from which further advances, such as a fight against border controls, can be made.

Being against a one-state solution and arguing that the left should adopt slogans with which it is possible to approach Israeli workers *as workers* - that is not to do with picking slogans which 'ensure us a short-term audience'. It is not 'soft' on Israeli workers. It might look 'soft' or 'economistic', when it is weighed against the approach of most of the rest of the left to Israeli workers! The SWP and most of the left demand that Israeli workers leave Israel, or accept rule by a hostile power, or willingly fall victim to economic boycott or terrorist bomb, in the hope that their sacrifice will make their leaders 'pay attention'.

To accept murder, dispossession, exile - what heights of anti-imperialist consciousness the SWP demand of Israeli workers! What a 'hard', 'principled' stand, which emphasises the 'political'! None of this buggering about talking about the material interests of Israeli workers - just hard anti-imperialist politics! Next to such a display of impeccable anti-Zionist principle, the approach of the AWL might look like we are pandering to Israeli workers. In a way, we are - we are not calling for them to be slaughtered! As a result, the rest of the left accuses the AWL and those who hold a socialist, two-state position of being 'soft', 'economistic', 'rightwing' or insufficiently 'political'. It sounds like you have half-fallen for this stuff, David. But on closer examination, you agree with us. Calling for the invasion of Israel, you're against that. Approaching Israeli workers as workers and breaking them from nationalist politics on a class-struggle basis - you're for that.

So you're for two states, still? You are against a blanket boycott of Israel?

As for the donkey joke - you give the impression that the difference between us is that you are against borders and we are not. That's not the case. That reduces politics to a silly game of making lists of demands (e.g. free ice cream and seaside trips). No-one here is in favour of borders. The question is the political approach you advocate in the fight to eradicate them. You can't dodge questions by saying, "I am against borders, so I don't have to answer that", because the abolition of borders is sadly not on the cards.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 14/06/2010 - 00:40

1) No-one is suggesting that the "right" of Israeli-Jews to hold onto their current section prejudices is of equal weight to the right of the Palestinians to self-determination (obviously we do not believe in any such "right" for the Israeli-Jews). Obviously we oppose exclusivist immigration controls in the here-and-now, including the "right of return" law for Jews practised by Israel, and if we were active within Israel itself we would certainly put more emphasis on such opposition. I would point out, though, that Israel is not the only country to have such a law in place and I don't see that Israel's law of return is any more uniquely reactionary or racist than any other immigration law/control practised by any other bourgeois state. The law is not simply about conducting a "demographic war" against the Palestinians; it is about the Zionist project of creating a national refuge from world anti-Semitism (hence the use of the Nazi's definition of "a Jew" in the stipulations of the law - the logic being that anyone who would be under threat by a Nazi or Nazi-type government would be welcome to seek refuge in Israel). That's a project we oppose - we don't think anti-Semitism can be fought by creating a nation-state island of Jewish control and we don't think Israel should be the collective national property of all Jews everywhere. But to argue that Israel's immigration controls are somehow more racist than those of other states or that they are designed solely to keep Arabs out misses the point about the origins of the state and the contradictory character of Zionist ideology.

The national question in Israel/Palestinian is one of right against right. We positively support/defend/advocate/whatever the right of self-determination for Israeli-Jews. The struggle for independence of the currently-colonised national group (the Palestinians) is of course our point-of-departure but given that any attempt to develop programmes for the region must necessarily deal with the question of the Israeli-Jews, our attitude to them and their rights can't just be an afterthought.

We think they (the Israeli-Jews) are a national group and we believe national groups should have the right to self-determination. Therefore any settlement we might advocate for the region has to take their right to self-determination into account as well as the same right for the Palestinians. We do not, unlike some on the left, believe that the right to self-determination is only for "oppressed nations". Hence we don't use the "right of return" demand as it is conceived of in its commonplace usage on the left - the unconditional right for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to reclaim buildings/land from which they/their parents/their grandparents were driven off in 1948. Instead we favour democratic settlements and compromises between the two peoples. Unless you don't think the Israeli-Jews constitute a national group then no other position makes sense; the only other options are the preservation of the status quo or the reactionary-fantasy "solutions" of the SWP-led left which involve the military subjugation/conquest of Israel by an external force (and in which scenario I would support Israel's right to defend itself; wouldn't you, David? There's an analogy, I think, with police operations against terrorism; this is effectively the bourgeois state defending itself, but I don't think any serious socialist would advocate that the police have no "right" to investigate or arrest terrorists or to attempt to prevent terrorist atrocities from being carried out. That doesn't mean we support the police/the state or believe that the police are the agency capable of ultimately undermining/defeating terrorism.)

2) I found David's comment about "6 million martyrs" extremely facetious. I'm reminded of Orwell's comment about the Daily Telegraph:

"There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads - they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late".

Similarly, just because the Israeli ruling-class cynically uses the issue of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust to deflect criticism, that doesn't mean they aren't real issues that people who want to develop a serious analysis of and response to the situation (rather than a cowboys-and-Indians perspective) should consider.

It cannot be beyond the grasp of someone as clever as David to understand that the mechanised, industrialised attempt to wipe a particular ethnic group off the face of the earth on a scale never seen before or since will leave a pretty scar on the consciousness of that ethnic group. It is the single-most significant reason for the growth of Zionism into a mass movement and one of the most significant factors behind the actual creation of the modern state of Israel. Like it or not, the collective cultural memory of the Holocaust is an extremely central aspect of many (probably most) Jews' ethno-cultural identity and certainly a central aspect of Israeli-Jewish national consciousness. The fact that this is played upon and fed into and distorted into chauvinism by Israeli bourgeois ideology does not mean we can just ignore it.

3) Unless David thinks there is nothing at all wrong with the standard far-left attitude to Israel and Israeli-Jews, then I can't see that his opposition to our idea of "left anti-Semitism" can be much more than semantics. We have never said that this phenomenon is akin to straightforward anti-Jewish racism or that hostility to Jews is the starting point/motivation (indeed, the opposite is often the case; the motivation/starting point is very often entirely laudable - i.e. a desire to do something, anything, to help the Palestinians - and hostility to Jews is where it ends up when that desire is fed through the Stalinoid politics offered by the forces that politically hegemonise the Palestine solidarity movement). Maybe there's a more precise term for the phenomenon out there somewhere but life's too short. I'd like to know what David concretely disagrees with in the analysis of Moishe Postone, for example (read our interview with him here).


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 17/06/2010 - 00:54

Deal with the politics, David; don't just whine about how terribly oppressed you are by my "browbeating". If you can't understand why the question "where should the Israeli-Jews go?" is relevant when dealing with the left "common sense" on Israel/Palestine then I can only conclude that you are now wilfully ignoring glaring realities in the logic of SWP-type politics (realities which you once acknowledged and criticised openly and now ignore, without making any attempt to take stock of or account for your wild zig-zagging), and for reasons I can only speculate at. And if you think Israel is comparable to Stalinist Russia (which the Shachtman quote would suggest you do) then I can only conclude that you have lost your political bearings entirely.

I would ask you to think carefully before you accuse me again (as you have now done twice) of "cheaply invoking the Holocaust as a polemical tool". I would ask you to consider whether your holy crusade against the politics you once held is worth enough to you to make you shut your eyes and ears to political realities I believe you must still on some level be aware of. You are not arguing here with a member of the Israeli ruling-class. You are arguing with a Jewish revolutionary communist, hostile to Zionism and hostile to the Israeli state. And I am telling you that I believe that anti-Semitism and the historical experience of the Holocaust should be centrally important considerations for anyone attempting to develop a materialist understanding of the state of Israel and the Israeli-Jewish nation, let alone develop a working-class, internationalist response to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Unless you now have no respect whatsoever for the politics you once held and for the people alongside whom you fought for them, I think the least you can do is respond to these arguments on their substance and merits rather than simply endlessly crying "how dare you accuse me of anti-Semitism? Stop browbeating me! Stop using the Holocaust as a polemical tool!"

Saying that you believe in "communism", that you are "against states" and "against borders" might be a handy get-out-of-jail-free card that allows you to avoid ever having to actually answer tough questions about nations, national consciousness, the history of various nationalist movements, self-determination (or any variety of other issues that can be swept under the rug by simply proclaiming that, as an internationalist communist, you don't believe in any of that nonsense anyway). But given that the unifying thread of almost everything you have done in your political life seems to be a yearning to be taken seriously as a significant revolutionary thinker, I would suggest that you may wish to start taking the arguments of others more seriously if you yourself wish to have your ideas taken seriously in return.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 17/06/2010 - 11:34

"But your statement suggests you agree with a right of return for Jews who have never lived in Israel, like hundreds of thousands of ultra-Zionist, albeit not Israeli, Russian émigrés who are encouraged to come, but not a right of return for Palestinians who still have the keys to the homes they were turfed out of?" - where did you get this from? What part of what we say or what Daniel says suggests that we think this? Supporting the right of self-determination for Israeli Jews does not mean supporting expansionist Zionist politics. You used to understand this - so this fudging-together of the two different concepts suggests you're actually trying to misrepresent our politics; to convince others (or yourself) that we are, in fact, right-wing social democrats or something.

Ed Maltby

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 17/06/2010 - 11:51

"I am against all barriers to immigration by anyone." - As Daniel points out, saying that is the easy part. There's no disagreement here. The disagreement arises when you think that merely parroting this is all that is important (and that anyone who sullies themselves with demands short of this is a social-fascist). We don't approach workers with an ultimatum for 'communism': we have to develop a programme which can bridge the gap between the present moment (whose shitness we can't wish away) and a more advanced workers' movement of the future. That programme has to respect the rights of both national groups in Israel-Palestine: otherwise there is no reason for it to have any grip. "These Israeli workers do not appreciate the necessity of abandoning their national rights and their right to secede from a larger Arab state: they are imperialists, racists!" Won't get you very far, not only with Israeli workers, but with Palestinian and Arab workers in Israel, who are trying to organise alongside Israeli workers.

I'm currently reading a pamphlet that the I-CL (a forerunner of Workers' Liberty) produced in the 1970s - "Women's Liberation and Workers' Revolution". There's an instructive section in it about this sort of ultra-left, ultimatistic approach, which sees r-r-r-revolutionary slogans as the be-all and end-all. It is about certain activists in the women's movement, socialists, who claimed that a labour movement initiative called the Working Women's Charter was 'reformist' and not worth bothering with:

"They claim that a Charter which doesn't include a demand for working-class rule is reformist.

"But such a demand, written into the Charter, would in no way guarantee the movement a revolutionary character. This approach comes down to a completely static view of politics. If a movement doesn't have *your* programme, written out, reject it as a waste of time. You see yourself as part of an enlightened few; the rest of us are still in darkness, and have to be shown the light. Or else the comrades advocating this approach... see one demand, like that for a workers' government, shoved in at the end, as adding enough Marxist spice to make the movement revolutionary. This is just opportunism.

"This sectarianism is an attempt to *impose* a revolutionary consciousness on the working class 'from above', demanding that the class become revolutionary... It reveals a process of fetishisation, believing that a demand from the programme can have a life of its own, apart from the revolutionary party and the working class. It is... a failure to understand that the working class can only develop consciousness in struggle."

In the mouths of Communist Party apparatchiks in the Third Period, this was a horrifying approach, violently wasteful and counter-productive - a tragedy. In the mouths of very, very small anti-Stalinist socialist groups, it is farce.

Ed Maltby

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 20/06/2010 - 10:05

We have millions of Palestinians denied their democratic rights, oppressed, in poverty, blockaded and killed with impunity by the Israeli state, a state that has also shown that it will kill with impunity anyone who attempts to peacefully break the blockade or demonstrate against it in its territory or even in international waters.

Socialists should be for full legal, social and political equality for Arabs and for international workers' condemnation of the Isralei attacks, blockade and war against the Palestinians supporting workers' sanctions and action.

Of course it will require a mass movement primarily in the Middle East, in Israel/Palestine, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria to overthrow the barbaric dictatorships and fight for democracy, freedom and socialism to make real lasting change. In the meantime a mass movement for boycott, for action in solidarity with the Palestinians. Within this movement we need to of course highlight the role of many Jewish workers who have shown solidarity, including refuseniks who have gone to jail rather than oppress Palestinians, be resolutely against anti_Semitism or any link with organisations who are anti-Semitic, and link this movement with the whole fo the antiracist movement, including against the fascists who have attacked Palestinian solidarity events

As for Ed's point that raising demands is not enough, "believing that a demand from the programme can have a life of its own... is... a failure to understand that the working class can only develop consciousness in struggle"

Yes- partly. But we do have to raise demands as well. Not in a preacherly abstract hectoring way but in ways that relate to working class people's everyday experience. However, some kind of consicous discussion and debate is needed- it is clearly not the case that struggle in and of itself spontaneously solves problems. Work in the unions and working class communities around building resistance to the cuts, to attacks on public services and welfare is going to be very important in the next stage in British working class politics but we should also keep to the forefront international struggles whether opposing Israeli government's blockade, the fascists, supporting international struggles such as the South African football strike, demandng troops out now from Afghanistan, a workers' solution to climate catastrophe- all of these issues and more are important to raise within the wider movement and we should not assume that these issues cannot also mobilise working class people. Part of the solution here though is for the left to ask the questions, not just come in to trot (unintentional but perhaps apposite pun) out a series of answers and engage campaigns in real discussions around action.

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