The following document was issued by the Palestinian Trotskyists in 1948. When the left today writes or speaks about the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, it is a story of anti-Arab atrocities by the Jews, and no more. The clear implication is that the Arab side deserved support, whatever the faults of its leadership.
Marxists in 1948 saw it quite differently. Some Trotskyists internationally backed the Jews; the Trotskyists in Palestine itself condemned both sides as chauvinist. They could all see that the Arab forces were led by corrupt feudalists, mainipulted by British imperialism and engaged in a “racial war”.
We also print here an introduction of the Palestinian Trotskyists’ document by the official magazine of the world Trotskyist movement, which published it in 1948. The introduction softens the line considerably. Here the mass Arab chauvinism indicted by the Palestinian Trotksyists has mystically become a force for “the Arab revolution” which drives forward despite the crushing of socialist and working-class organisation among the Arabs. It is a first early example of a way of thought which would grip the whole Trotskyist movement, in which any nationalist mobilisation or disturbance, whatever its form, is automaticaly a “new rise of the world revolution”.
The Trotskyists had maintained that the formation of a Jewish state was impossible; it now existed. The Trotskyists had insisted that the main issue in Palestine was the determination of British imperialism to keep it as a military base; the proposal topartition Palestine was denounced as a manoeuvre to stabilise the presence of British troops and the document ended with calls for joint Jewish Arab struggle against Britain which had no grip on the situation. Now the British troops were leaving.
The focus on “British troops out” had served to cover up lack of answers on the question of how both Jewish and Arab rights could be protected. Now the Palestinian Trotksyists offered no general political slogans, confining themselves to the task of keeping links among the tiny minority of Jewish and Arab internationalists. Their comrades in Paris said “a united and independent Arab Palestine, with full national minority rights for the Jewish community”; but how, in the actual situation could the Jews have had any national minority rights without the right to their own state?
From Quatrième Internationale, June-July 1948
Introduction by Quatrieme Internationale
The theses of our Palestinian comrades, which we publish here, were drafted before the formal proclamation of the State of Israel and the invasion of Palestine by the armies of the Arab states.
The theses explain the basic developments, so it will be sufficient here to outline briefly the position of the Fourth International on the recent events.
What we said at the time of the UN decision to partition Palestine remains completely justified in relation to the new miniature “State” of Israel. Far from resolving the Jewish question, it will give it an even more tragic sharpness, not only by sharpening anti-semitic tendencies in Britain and in the countries of the Near East, but also and above all by crystallising the anti-imperialist sentiments of the Arab masses in all the neighbouring countries.
Even apart from the question of the attitude of the great powers, this state has no historic future. Subject to permanent crises and convulsions — permanent civil war having been avoided only by the complete purging of all the Arab villages on its territory — it will collapse in terrible butchery at a forthcoming stage of the Arab revolution, unless the Jewish proletariat separates itself in time from Zionist chauvinism.
The task of Jewish revolutionaries in Israel is to prepare that break. Their political line should remain unshakeably that of struggle against the partition of Palestine, for the reintegration of the territory of Israel into a united Palestine, in the framework of a Federation of Arab States of the Middle East which will guarantee the Jewish minority all the rights of national cultural autonomy.
The Arab feudal potentates, Farouk (king of Egypt) and Abdultah (king of Jordan), far from struggling against the partition of Palestine, seek above all to partition this unfortunate country between their own kingdoms. Their invasion aims above all to divert the attention of their own subjects from the mounting social tension in their countries.
At the same time, they have tried to exploit the anti-imperialist sentiments of the masses to cover their own miserable capitulation to world capital (the Sudan affair, Iraq’s and Jordan’s treaties with the city, etc.) A few weeks of war have been enough to show the lamentable organisation of their military forces.
It is not under their leadership that the Arab masses will be able to reunify Palestine. Still less will the struggle against imperialism develop under their aegis, when even in the case of Palestine the Arab sovereigns are ready at the end of the day to have the compromise currently being worked out by the great powers imposed on them.
The opposition that the Arab masses everywhere manifest to the State of Israel and to the intervention of imperialism in this part of the world is quite another matter. This opposition is an incontestably progressive force which tomorrow will reinforce the general current of the Arab revolution in the Middle East.
Today, the masses remain in a waiting mood, as long as their own masters seem to be taking up the battle. When the treason of the latter is exposed to the world, the independent intervention of the Arab masses will be on the agenda.
It will permit at that point a convergence of the struggle against the feudal lords and the terrible social misery. and the struggle against imperialism and Zionism. To prepare, as from today, this convergence, is the task of the revolutionaries in the Middle East who, while struggling against any chauvinist or anti-semitic current, will concentrate their propaganda on the following slogans:
* Down with the partition of Palestine! For a united and independent Arab Palestine, with full national minority rights for the Jewish community.
* Down with imperialist intervention in Palestine! Out with all the foreign troops and the UN “mediators” and “observers”! For the right of the Arab masses to determine their own future. For the election of a Constittient Assembly through universal secret suffrage! For the agrarian revolution!
* Down with the Arab League, instrument of imperialism! Down with the corrupt kings and the feudal exploiters! Long live the Arab socialist revolution in the Middle East!
Against Arab chauvinism! Against Zionism
1. The weakness of British imperialism after the Second World War, the consolidation of the native bourgeoisie in certain important colonies and the development of the working class, with the intensification of its social and anti-imperialist struggle, have forced Britain to withdraw its troops from certain colonies and to propose a readjustment of the defence of the Empire.
British imperialism is withdrawing some of its troops from Palestine and Iraq and leaving the UN, that is, American imperialism, the job of deciding the fate of Palestine; and, on the other hand, it is inciting “holy war” in Palestine to gain political influence in the Arab world and it is trying to ally itself with the Arab states, as in the projected treaty with Iraq which would give British imperialism as much power as possible in conditions of indirect domination.
The decision to divide Palestine, supported by the United States apparently in opposition to Britain, has created the following situation in the Arab East. Britain has gained the possibility of withdrawing some of its troops while enhancing its prestige in the Arab World. America, whose oil interests have not suffered by a certain loss of prestige, thinks to the economic links which tie the native bourgeoisie to American imperialism, has gained a direct agent there: the Zionist bourgeoisie which, through this, has become completely dependent on American capital and American policy.
Besides, American imperialism now has a justification to intervene militarily in the Middle East whenever that suits it.
The two imperialisms have created a situation of mounting chauvinism in which has become possible to crush the Arab working class and all the left movements in the whole Arab East — and the Russian support for the imperialist plan for dividing Palestine must equally be blamed for this.
2. The Arab feudalists and the Middle East bourgeoisie see the Zionist bourgeoisie not only as a competitor on the consumer goods market (as regards Egypt), but also on the market for imperialist agents in the Middle East.
By its racial war against the Jews of Palestine, the Arab League wants to limit the zone of activity of the Jewish industries and to prove to imperialism that it is a factor that can serve it even better than Zionism. At the same time, it favours imperialism in its large scale plans in the Middle East, and it is only too interested in following its orders with a view to using this chauvinist war to boost anti-Russian sentiments and brutally to crush the Arab working class and all the left groups.
It sees the Zionist bogeyman and the Palestinian problem in general as a good opportunity to divert the attention of the oppressed masses of the Arab countries from their social problems and from native and imperialist exploitation, to heighten racial hatred against minorities, and to recruit the jobless for the “jihad” in Palestine.
3. The Arab feudalists of Palestine, knowing that in such a racial war they are the natural leaders, want in this way to regain their authority over the Arab population of Palestine, an authority which had been weakened by the development during the war of the young bourgeoisie of the coastal cities and by the growth and the organisation of the Arab working class in Palestine.
While the revolt of 1936 began by a general strike, and was concentrated at the start in the cities, this time the main feature of the activity has been, from the start, military action by bands of rural guerillas. While in 1936-9 many of the “battles” were waged against British troops (even if the main drive was against the Jews), this time it is mainly the Jews who are attacked, while the functionaries of British imperialism and its officers and soldiers are treated in a friendly way or at most accused of not holding to the promised “neutrality”.
In this way the Arab leaders have managed to create an atmosphere of extreme chauvinism, in which a provocation can lead to a massive massacre of Jewish workers, as in the retineries of Haifa, by the backward sections of their Arab fellow-workers (some of the most advanced Arab workers did not participate in this action, and others rescued Jews), and where there are no more joint strike struggles by Jewish and Arab workers for the same demands, but, on the contrary, the struggles are waged separately, for the introduction of security measures against possible attacks.
The Arab bourgeoisie, to the extent that it exists in Palestine as an independent class (the owners of lemon plantations and urban elements of the coastal cities — the followers of Muss el-Alami) want order and security in the interests of business, but its ‘national guard’, in the midst of mass chauvinist attacks, is less and less important in comparison with the feudal-led guerillas.
4. Zionism, which seems to be at the height of its diplomatic successes, has managed to help imperialism in which the Jewish masses have to learn what it means to be the scapegoat of imperialism.
The present civil war, which raises the chauvinism in the Jewish masses to the extreme, is itself in part the result of the Zionist chauvinism which accompanied the establishment of a closed Jewish economy.
Imperialism has managed to divert from itself the discontent of the Arab masses in the Middle East and to direct it against the Jewish masses in Palestine, and the inevitable consequence of this war will be the total dependence of Zionism on American imperialism.
5. In these circumstances the decline of the influence of the Arab workers’ organisations is obvious. After having managed to become an important factor in Arab political life, they are today almost paralysed. We must moreover expect that they will not be able to regain their position in the near future, for the following reasons.
a) The wave of crushing of leftwing and working-class organisations in the Arab East developed before they were strong enough to defend themselves and hold their position. If that is true in the centres of the Arab working class, particularly in Egypt, then undoubtedly it will influence the more backward working class of Palestine.
b) In the near future, we have to expect a numerical decline of the Arab working class in Palestine, firstly as a result of the decline of work for the British Army and secondly as a result of the stoppages of work caused by the conflict.
c) The Arab Stalinists have lost part of their political and organisational influence because the masses see them as the representatives of Russia, which has betrayed the Arab masses by favouring partition and the Jewish state.
d) The growing chauvinism of the Jewish workers, and the open support given to partition by the ‘left’ Zionist leaders, including the Jewish Stalinists, are mirrored among the Arab workers, and constitute another factor pushing them into the arms of feudal reaction.
On the other hand, the social composition of the Arab working class is much more progressive today than it was at the beginning of the 1936-9 revolt.
6. In the past the political activity of the revolutionary party among the Jewish workers was difficult because of their privileged position in the closed Jewish economy.
It will be all the more so today, now that this position is supported not only by American imperialism but also by Russia.
On the other hand, the increased influence of the Arab feudal reaction is mirrored by an increased chauvinism on the Jewish side. There is a certain perspective for our work in the possibility of individually winning over Stalinists who have remained firmly opposed to partition and who may therefore recognise the treachery of Stalinist Russia.
7The foregoing analysis shows that in the near future (the next few months) we cannot expect large scale actions by the Arab workers, still less common actions by Arab and Jewish workers.
Until the weariness caused by the deterioration of the economic situation and the bloodshed makes itself felt — that will be the starting point of a new revolutionary rise — it is very probable that there will be a strengthening of chauvinism and massacres on a grand scale.
In the near future, our work will be limited essentially to maintaining links between the Arab and Jewish comrades, and to strengthening the cadres, particularly on the Arab side, as the basis for revolutionary activity in the future.
We must explain patiently to the most advanced sections of the Arab proletariat and the intelligentsia that racial military actions only deepen the gulf between Jews and Arabs and thus lead in practice to political division; that the fundamental factor and the main cause of division is imperialism; that the present battles are only strengthening imperialism; that, thanks to the bourgeois and feudal leadership of the Arab countries — which is the agent of imperialism — we have been beaten at one stage of the anti-imperialist struggle; and that we must prepare for victory at the next stage — that is, for the unification of Palestine and the Arab East in general — by creating the only force which can achieve these goals, the revolutionary proletarian party of the Arab East.
Our success will depend in large part on the consolidation in good time of the revolutionary communist forces in Egypt.
Haifa, January 1948