In the summer of 1954, the American “third camp” Trotskyist group the Independent Socialist League (ISL) invited Clovis Maksoud, a Lebanese-American Arab nationalist and socialist then studying in London, to publish an article in their newspaper Labor Action setting out “the position of the Arab socialists on Israel”. It was published across two editions, on 9 August and 16 August, which can be read online here and here. Maksoud also wrote a report for the paper's 7 June edition, which is online here.
Maksoud, who went on to become a distinguished Arab diplomat and who died in May 2016 aged 90, was a member of the Progressive Socialist Party founded by Kamal Jumblatt, which was based mainly in Lebanon's Druze community. In his article, he argued for the overthrow of the Israeli state and its replacement with an Arab state in which Jews would have “cultural autonomy”, but no national rights.
Across two editions in August, Hal Draper, the paper's editor and, along with Max Shachtman, the ISL's foremost writer and theorist, replied. We republish that reply here. The article can be read in the original editions here and here.
Draper's perspective differs in some ways from ours. His policy is for a bi-national state (variously referred to in the article as a “bi-national Israel”, or a “bi-national Palestine”); the idea of an independent Palestinian state does not feature in his perspective. Our view is that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, particularly given the intervening 62 years of war and occupation, is a necessary first step to closer federation.
Draper somewhat flattens out Zionism into a uniformly colonialist movement, ignoring its political diversity and writing out the national-liberationist character many of its adherents, wrongheadedly but undeniably, imbued it with. It was the movement of an oppressed people – one with a reactionary-utopian solution to the oppression, no doubt, but always something more complex than a calculated plot to rob Arabs of their land.
Draper also foregrounds opposition to Israel's character as a “Jewish state” perhaps more than we would, not because we support the idea; or because we do not enthusiastically support the anti-racist struggle of Israel's Arab minority for full civil rights; or because we do not support democratic struggles to transform Israel into a state for its citizens rather than the imagined homeland for all Jews; but rather because our support for Israeli-Jewish self-determination is not contingent (as, in the final analysis, Draper's was not) on that self-determination expressing itself in a constitutional form we approve of. Until the peoples of the world develop post-national consciousness, any nation-state form will have, on some level, characteristics revolutionaries who aspire to that kind of post-national consciousness find distasteful.
To give an analogy “on the other side”, any future independent Palestine is likely to be “Islamic” in some form, and probably at the level of its constitution. Indeed, if it is governed, even in part, by the clerical-fascist Hamas, it will likely be an “Islamic state” to a greater and more reactionary degree than Israel is a Jewish one. Nevertheless, we would still support its right to come into being, to exist, and to defend itself. The principle of self-determination is not invalidated, in other words, if a national group expresses self-determination through reactionary constitutional or state forms.
Draper's comments on South Africa also seem off-the-mark, missing the point about the differences between the South African Boer and Israeli-Jewish populations (one a tiny, relatively socially-homogeneous minority, exploiting a black majority; one a much larger class-differentiated group, of equivalent size to the indigenous population, which it dispossessed rather than exploited).
Some of our differences with Draper are explained by the 62 years of historical development that separate us from this article. Others are perhaps differences of emphasis. Despite them, we think Draper's article offers some useful correctives to the “common sense” about Israel/Palestine that has prevailed on the far left for a generation or more.
It utterly rejects the idea that the state of Israel should be abolished or wiped out, or that it has no right to existence in the first place. It makes Jewish-Arab workers' unity its aim, rather than aspiring for a pan-Arab struggle “against Israel”. It is sympathetic to Jewish immigration to Palestine, and understands that the Jews in Palestine represented – even at the time of Israel's foundation, and certainly now, more than 60 years since – a national group, rather than a narrow settler-caste. It understands that for two distinct peoples, with a history of violent conflict with each other, to live in peace, let alone unity and federation, a framework within both peoples feel secure and free is required. And it knows that for the Jewish population of Palestine to be subsumed into a single Arab state as a cultural or religious minority would necessarily require their forcible conquest and suppression, an outcome that, as Draper puts its, would “mean merely the continuation of the present impasse in a different form”.
The fact of the exchange itself is also worth noting. As Draper points out, the ISL was almost unique on the far left in actively commissioning articles from dissenting and contrary viewpoints, and opening up its pages to both internal and external debate. This is practise, maintained by the Bolsheviks even at the height of revolutionary struggle in Russia but now all but absent on the far left, is one Workers' Liberty believes must be revived and which we try to embody in our newspaper Solidarity.
The Mistakes of the Arab socialists
In the last two issues of Labor Action we have published an article by a representative Arab socialist spokesman, Comrade Clovis Maksoud, giving the Arab socialist position on Israel as he sees it. That article was, moreover, written at our invitation. And we welcome this opportunity for such an exchange of views. The fact that we disagree quite vigorously with its central thesis on Israel does not, to us, lessen the value of bringing such a discussion out into the open.
It is easy to understand Comrade Maksoud's resentment at the treatment of this question by most European and American socialists. It is not simply that the latter often tend to be pro-Zionist. That is a point of view to which they are entitled. But Comrade Maksoud writes us, and he has indicated in this article, that it has been virtually impossible for the Arab socialist viewpoint to get itself heard in these quarters. Their press has refused to print any articles by him or his comrades. The Arab viewpoint has been dealt with by simple suppression. This applies to the British labor press as others, he charges.
It is no surprise to us that the press and leadership of the social-democracies behave this way, for all their talk of being “tolerant” “democratic socialists” who have a very special horror of “Bolshevik” suppression of opinion. On the contrary, it is typical. They will often give space to minority points of view when these represent internal forces strong enough so that they cannot be ignored. But they have no or little concept of the inherent educational value of an open counterposition of views.
The attitude of Labor Action and the ISL [Independent Socialist League] on this matter has always been different, almost distinctive. We have gone out of our way, when in our opinion the ends of political education would be furthered, to publish points of view with which we disagree. To be sure, we have always stoutly defended our own position against these, and we always will, because we are not a characterless “open forum” but a socialist movement, but the openness of our columns to political dispute and disagreement of an educational nature is a nearly unique feature.
In the view of the Arab socialists' experiences with the European social-democracies and laborites of the Socialist International, we make the above clear in order to leave no uncertainty as to why we have given their position so much space, and also why we believe it necessary to criticise it.
Our Alternative to Chauvinism
In fair-sized passages through his article, Comrade Maksoud felt it necessary to devote a good deal of attention to the attitudes of the European socialists, as he found them, even though these remarks did not bear directly on the mooted question of Israel.
We quite sympathize with his feeling that the Socialist International is shot through with opportunism, confusion, and unsocialist policies and practises. In our resolutions we have ourselves expressed the hopes which we have for the further progressive development of the Asian socialists who federated at Rangoon, separate and apart from the effete reformists at Europe. We would share the resentment which he expresses at the condescendingly paternal attitude of the Europeans to most Asian socialists – we would call it bluntly chauvinistic. Comrade Maksoud's general remarks on such questions as “practicality” (when he polemicized against the European socialist attitude) were in our eyes absolutely sound and indeed elementary precepts of genuine socialism.
In Britain, where he is now studying, Comrade Maksoud has clearly gotten a heavy dose of that thoroughly chauvinistic attitude towards other peoples (including the socialists of other peoples) which is so heavy an element in British Laborism as in continental reformism and in other types of social-democrats, who have always been alien to Marxist internationalism.
Thus, he is absolutely correct in pointing with special indignation to the pro-Zionist argument that “Arabs were incapable of developing their areas”, presumably inherently, and that therefore a Jewish state was necessary to “civilize” the Middle East. This is absolutely nothing else than a Zionist version of the notorious white-man's-burden theory, and if it was so easy for European social-democrats to agree with the Zionists on this, that was so because of their common ground in imperialistic chauvinist attitudes.
In our present discussion of (and argument against) the Arab socialist view, the whole basis of the question will, I think, be quite different from that which Comrade Maksoud and his comrades are accustomed to meet and deal with.
As we see it, for one thing, ours is an attempt to develop a position from a Marxist internationalist standpoint. Above all we approach the problem as opponents of Zionism and of Zionist ideology and politics.
As I read Comrade Maksoud's article, my feeling is that he has not appreciated the full force and potentialities of a socialist anti-Zionist position like ours, perhaps because of its unfamiliarity, and we will have to devote some space to presenting it as an alternative to the Arab socialists' grievous mistake in calling for the overthrow of the state of Israel.
That is what is in question here, and nothing else; although of course there is a long list of related ideas in dispute that lie behind such a conclusion.
Theirs Is No Solution At All
Comrade Maksoud's conclusion is to demand “the emasculation of Israel's sovereignty”, to do away with this state's “sovereign, separate, isolated, and independent existence.” Instead, the Palestinian Jews are to be given merely “cultural autonomy”.
Plainly, it would be simpler to make clear that the state of Israel is to be conquered and crushed, by force of arms in a war, annexed to some Arab state or group of states, and thus wiped out. This is the “solution” to the Israel question of which Maksoud speaks.
We will argue that it is no “solution” at all, since it will solve nothing and mean merely the continuation of the present impasse in a different form. That it cannot bring the peace of which Maksoud speaks. That it will not save the Arab peoples from being pawns of imperialism. That it will not be the key to unlock the revolutionary energies of the Arabs, as Maksoud thinks.
In fat, we have here, I think, a typical example of bisymmetric mistakes. Maksoud has this in common with the Zionist ideology: the insistence that the face of Israel as a state is inseparable from the fate of Zionism. His insistence that Israel must be forcibly overthrown is the other side of the coin of the Zionist-chauvinist concept of the “Jewish state” and policy of persecuting the Arab minority.
At any rate, that's the way we see it, and so will we argue. This bisymmetric pattern has certain inevitable consequences. It is well-night inevitable that we will be denounced by Zionists for even printing Maksoud's article. And I'm afraid, under the circumstances, that it was just as inevitable that Maksoud should wind up by charging that we are not really anti-Zionist (because we don't go for the overthrow of Israel); that we may be against Zionist “excesses” but accept “basic Zionist theory”.
Thus Maksoud hurls into the same (Zionist) camp all those who would oppose his “solution” of war against Israel. That is not an advisable thing for him to do. If the Arab socialists insist that pro-Zionism is the only alternative to their call for war against Israel, they will surely convince a great many waverers that the Zionists are the preferable side.
Thus bisymmetric mistakes always feed on each other. (It works the other way too. When the Arab socialists meet only chauvinistic arguments against them, they are reinforced in their mistake.)
Here then is the central point at which we differ: we draw a firm line between (1) fighting Zionism, its ideologu and politics; fighting against the Zionist politics which are the official policies of the state of Israel, and against the Zionist leadership which is the official government of the state of Israel; and (2) fighting to overthrow the state of Israel as such.
Now, this distinction is as simple as ABC. It may be wrong in Maksoud's eyes. It may be a mistake in his opinion. He has a right to argue that we should be against both, both Zionism and the state of Israel as such. But he should not close his eyes to the fact that this distinction must be made.
Yet he insists on doing so. On June 7 last, we had explained the difference by referring to an analogy with Stalinist Russia. We stressed that there was a big difference between being anti-Stalinist and anti-Russian (or being anti-Nazi and anti-German). So also, we said, one must not mix up anti-Zionist and anti-Israel.
In each case, it is plain, you have a political movement (with its accompanying ideology, philosophy, program, institutions, “organizational formulas”, economic theories, etc.) and at a given time this political movement (Stalinism, Nazism, Zionism) is in control of a state – to the disadvantage of the people of that state. Everybody knows how easy it has been for reactionary varieties of “anti-Communism” to pass over into anti-Russian fulminations. It was easy for anti-Nazism to mask a chauvinistic anti-Germanism, and it does so to this day all over Britain and France and in the British Labor Party. It was easy for reactionaries in the US, after Pearl Harbor, to whip up lynch sentiment against all Japanese people, even against Japanese-Americans, with filthy phrases like “yellow monkeys”.
In the case under discussion, we also have a relationship between a state and a political movement which dominates and controls its government today. As we said, this political movement – Zionism, like the analogy of Stalinism – has its own distinctive “philosophy”, program, etc.
Maksoud rejects the comparison. I confess that I cannot even follow his reasoning at that point. With regard to Communism (Stalinism), he agrees that -
“ … the opponents of this system must distinguish between the structural, institutional and methodological features of Communism, or for that matter any other system, and the people who live under that system.”
But it is different for Zionism, he argues -
“Zionism is not an institutional or organizational formula. It is not a theory of how a state ought to be run or the economy organized. It is a movement to create a state for a 'Jewish nation'.”
But Stalinism is not an “institutional or organizational formula” either – not simply, and not even mainly. To be sure, it has its characteristic “institutions” (like the MVD) and its characteristic “organizational formulas” - but Zionism has its characteristic institutions, etc., also. Above all Stalinism arose as a political movement, with a certain political philosophy, which captured a state. It proceeded to “create” a new state in its own image. Of course there are several thousand differences between Stalinism and Zionism which could be mentioned to confuse the analogy, but none of them are relevant to the very, very simple point: it is possible to be anti-Stalinist without being anti-Russian. It is possible to be anti-Zionist without being anti-Israel.
When Comrade Maksoud denies this, then we feel that he failing to see the very problem, let alone the correct socialist solution to it. If he denies that it is even possible to be anti-Zionist without being for the overthrow of Israel, then it is indeed difficult for him to grapple with the issues as they present themselves to the minds of most socialists, and not only those with a pro-Zionist bias.
[The following is included in the original as a footnote, asterisked at this point:
In fact, one could raise a question about what Maksoud means by Zionism. In his article in LA for June 7, he wrote: “Zionism is a movement which seeks to make religion the rallying factor of a nation. As such it is self-contained, mystical, and intolerant of other religions or races (cf the treatment of Arab minorities in Israel).”
It is just not true that Zionism makes religion the “rallying factor”. Surely Maksoud must know that for the majority of Zionists it is a secular movement; many if not most Zionist leaders have even been atheists or agnostics, or at least quite unreligious, etc. Here Maksoud misses the whole point about the Zionist mystique and the Zionist form of Jewish nationalism. Zionism looks on Jewry as being united not by their religion (if any) but by their inherent Jewish “nationality”, and this goes for all Jews everywhere by virtue of birth and “tribal” blood.
And Zionism is not necessarily intolerant of “other religions or races”. Within Israel it does not advocate discrimination against Christians, for example. The one religion of which it is most intolerant is – reform-Judaism (not Islam!), and that basically for reasons of state and not theology. Its disgraceful and criminal persecution of the Arab minority is based on political reasons; it is a political and social persecution, not a religious persecution.
Maksoud here sounds as if he thinks the Zionists are religious fanatics and zealots! Nothing could be further from the mark, or be a grosser misunderstanding of what the fight is all about.]
In our view, this distinction between being anti-Zionist and anti-Israel is the nub; but we must still go on to discuss Comrade Maksoud's positive reasons for being in favor of wiping out Israel as a state. The first of these is bound up with his argument that Israel had no right of existence in the first place.
At this point Comrade Maksoud's article presented a rebuttal to the ISL resolutions, which we had sent him for his information. But his presentation of our position was both inaccurate and inadequate, we think. In any case, it will be useful to sketch our point of view in at this stage of the argument. As we see it, Maksoud's error will be most apparent when it is seen on the background of our own approach to the question.
Zionism and Imperialism
We have always been opposed to the Zionist program of setting up a “Jewish state” by carving it out of another people's country (Palestine) against the will of the latter. During most of the history of Zionism, it has sought to become the willing tool of some imperialist exploiter who would foist the Zionist aim upon Palestine for its own imperialist reasons. Zionism began in the 19th century by offering itself to Turkey in that role. After the Balfour Declaration it willingly prostituted itself to British imperialism, in the hope that the lion would set up its “Jewish state” as a fortress for the empire.
During most of its history, what it had to aim at was the setting up of a rule by a Jewish minority over an Arab majority, the Jewish minority coming into power and staying in power as the tool of an outside imperialist force. Therefore our resolution spoke of the “criminal policy of Zionism towards the Arabs, a policy which was based on the aim of minority rule by the Jews of Palestine under the wing of British imperialism”. This political character of Zionism was not changed by the events of the last two decades. But at the side of the Zionists' reactionry aspirations there also developed a different, a new, an accompanying factor which did not owe its motive force and impact to Zionism.
Our Comrade Maksoud sees only the impact of Zionism. We would like to call his attention to this other explosive development. This was the exterminationist fate which loomed before a whole people in Europe, the Jewish people.
The Fate of a People
First there was the wholesale persecution of Jews before the war. During the war there took place an event never before seen in the world – at least not in our civilized days – the unprecedented physical extermination of six million Jews. This was the Nazi “solution” of the Jewish problem. Not only Germany became untenable: mass antisemitic persecution was spreading to Italy and to France under the Nazi occupation. Then after the war, a new wave of anti-Jewish persecution arose in and engulfed the Stalinist empire, the satellites as well as Russia itself.
A whole people was being murdered and driven out of Europe. Driven – where? Where could they go? Even fleeing for their lives, where could they flee?
Why to Palestine? asks Comrade Maksoud in effect. This is a problem for the whole world, not just our responsibility. Why should we have to bear the burden alone?
He is absolutely correct. The one country that was indicated in the first place as a haven was not Palestine but the United States; not the Arabs' land, but ours. Any socialist, any half-decent democrat, who failed to cry this out – Open the doors of the US to the Jewish refugees! - was a fraud. Our resolution said:
“The elementary democratic demand of free emigration and immigration, long part of every genuinely democratic program, must be vigorously fought for in the specific case of the European Jews. All barriers to immigration to the countries of their choice must be broken down. For socialists in the US, the richest country in the world and the one capable of absorbing the largest population, this means the struggle against the exclusion of the Jews from this country. For this reason, independent socialists raised and continue to raise the slogan 'Open the doors of the US!'”
Socialist Position on Immigration
We should like Comrade Maksoud to note that it has always been the elementary democratic duty of every genuine socialist to fight for this untrammelled right of free immigration and emigration, by anyone to “the country of his choice”. It has been called into question in the socialist movement, historically, only by the extreme chauvinist wing.
The American socialist movement has gone through this. Before World War I, to its everlasting shame and disgrace, the American Socialist Party took the position of supporting Oriental-exclusion laws. The same socialist leaders who led in this move were those who betrayed socialism in the later war, and who betrayed socialism daily in their reformist politics. They were chauvinists. At the same time the Socialist International repudiated the American SP position and called for the genuine socialist position. We stick with this socialist position.
We had another reason for raising the demand “Open the doors of the US”. Not only because the US is the richest country, but also it because it happens to be the country we live in. Every decent socialist in (say) Britain would be equally duty-bound to demand “open the doors of Britain”, even though Britain is not as rich as the US. The same goes for every socialist in the world, bar none.
It is no argument to prove that the influx of such immigration might harm the standards or otherwise impair the situation of native labor. That was the rationale of the American SP chauvinists (mentioned above) and they were right up to a certain point. If such immigration did not create such problems, then anyone (and not only socialist-internationalists) could easily come out for a human and internationalist position.
We trust, then, that Comrade Maksoud now understands what we (at least) mean by the right of the Jews to go to “the country of their choice”. It is a right we would fight for, for anyone, anytime. How much more so in view of the explosive situation we have barely sketched, the extermination of a people?
The Post-War Dynamic
In this writer's opinion (thought it can be mooted) by far the greatest portion of Europe's persecuted Jews would have preferred to come to the US and not to Palestine, given free choice. The influx of Jews to Palestine was not primarily due to a sudden increase in pro-Zionist sentiments of Jews, out of love for Zionism. But the US banged its doors shut, while pretending to express its horror at the anti-Jewish crimes of others. Other countries banged the door. A steel ring of national boundaries encircled the Jews while, for many of them, the need for sheer survival forced them, or seem to force them, outward. Something had to give.
International reaction forced the fleeing Jews into the bag set up by the Zionists. Here was one direction in which they could go with some outside help – the help and machinery set up by the Zionist movement. It was the path of least resistance for them, and the pressure could relieve itself (partly) only in this direction.
This is what set up the dynamic push behind the post-war influx of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. It is in this connection that we come to the passage in our resolution, part of which Maksoud quoted with obvious misunderstanding. The part which Maksoud quoted is italicized:
“The post-war influx of European Jews into Palestine greatly exacerbated Arab-Jewish relations in the country. The Zionist leaders looked upon this influx of refugees as a means of imposing all-Jewish rule upon the whole country. The Arab effendis demanded that the Jewish people, hounded in Europe, be deprived of the right to found a new life in the country of their choice.”
It should be clear to Comrade Maksoud now that what we are talking about is the right to free immigration. Just as we raised the demand “Open the doors of the US”, so we also believe it was the duty of socialists to support the right of Jews to immigrate to Palestine.
For Arab-Jewish Unity
In our view, as in Maksoud's, it was a misfortune that the Jewish exodus was channelized into Palestine to the extent it was. That is one of the crimes for which world capitalism and imperialism ought to answer some day. But it was a fact, and not a Zionist plot.
The Zionists were able to take advantage of this antisemitic windfall – in general, Zionism has always fed on antisemitism – but the problem that was created had to be faced by socialists and everyone else. It could not be faced merely by yelling against Zionism.
We had a program. It was a proposal for a revolutionary solution. It was what we counterposed to the Zionist solution, on the one hand, and to the Arab states' policy on the other. As concisely summarized in our resolution (directly following the last quotation given), it was:
“The Marxist, firmly opposed to both, advocated a policy which would bring together the Arab and Jewish peoples in a joint fight against British imperialism in the first place, and, necessarily bound up with this, against Jewish capital and Arab landlordism, for a Palestine freed from all foreign rule and governed by a democratic Constituent Assembly based upon equal and universal suffrage. Such a fight was desired least of all by the Jewish and Arab upper classes. In the course of a joint struggle from below, cemented by common national-revolutionary aims and common social interests, Marxists aimed for a free and independent state of Palestine, based on the coexistence of two equal peoples, with national and cultural rights and autonomy safeguarded for both. This was the only progressive solution of the Palestine question. It looked not only to revolutionary struggles in Palestine but to the upsurge of anti-imperialist and revolutionary strivings in the whole Near East, on the road to a Near East Federation of socialist republics.”
This is highly compressed, and we shall have to come back to some points, but certain things should be immediately clear.
Against a “Jewish State”
In the first place, it should be plain that we oppose, above all, the basic idea of Zionism of building a “Jewish state”. The idea, the concept-aim of a “Jewish state”, and all that implies, is central to the Zionist ideology. As long as the people and government of Israel, following the Zionist road, continue to try to build Israel as a “Jewish state”, there can be no peace between Jew and Arab. So we believe.
For this period when Palestine's imperialist controller was still Britain, which stood over both Jew and Arab, the class-oriented revolutionary proposal which we made was one which would have necessitated freeing the Jewish workers from the bonds of Zionist ideology as well as mobilizing the Arab masses free from Arab landlordism.
There was an Arab majority in Palestine. A democratic Palestine ruled under universal suffrage meant a Palestine whose Arab majority would decide. This was anathema to every Zionist, and exactly what we would never accept. But on the other hand, it could be accepted by the Jewish masses only in the context of an entirely different relationship between the two peoples. Both sides would have to view the new independent state as the home of two peoples in which both were free.
As we saw it, such a development could come about only through the rise of revolutionary class-consciousness from below. As Maksoud well says in his own article, it is in times of revolutionary stress and uplift that men begin to think differently, and then everything is possible.
Of course, we did not have any illusions about the immediate “practicality” of this program. We knew very well that on both sides the minds of the people were stuffed with chauvinist antagonisms. It was long plain that some reactionary “solution” was more on the cards, and not a revolutionary solutions that could have been possible only with the existence of advanced revolutionary socialist movements in the region.
The “solution” that was pushed through was partition. We were against the partition as a “solution”. Our resolution said on this point:
“For the Marxists, the partition was and is no solution for either the basic problem of Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine, or, still less, for the Jewish problem in the world. As against partition, we advocated a different course ...” (as already discussed above).
“... As compared with the program we advocated, partition represented a setback on the road to greater understanding and cooperation between the Jewish and Arab peoples: it did indeed lead to a bloody fratricidal war in which and after which national feelings were inflamed even more and state-boundary walls were set up between the two peoples.”
And we were right, we believe, in our view that the partition was no solution. Time has shown that. But then our resolution proceeds to make a point which we cannot emphasize too strongly to Maksoud:
“But if partition and the subsequent setting up and consolidation of the new state of Israel did not and could not solve the basic problem, or advance its solution, it did pose entirely new conditions under which that solution had to be sought.”
From my point of view, I would repeat that to Maksoud a thousand times: partition was no solution. The setting up of Israel was no solution. Your program to destroy Israel would be no solution. The problem is how to bring together the Jewish and Arab peoples on a revolutionary democratic basis, and this problem has to be dealt with on the basis of the conditions that exist. Israel is a fact. Nothing will be gained by an Arab-Jewish war against it, whether it wins or loses. There is a way to bring peace and a united life to the Near East, but it is not as simple a way as the mere proposal “war against Israel”.
We have outlined the point of view of our resolution as a background for taking up Comrade Maksoud's arguments for war, and as the background for counterposing this other solution of which we speak.
As we see it, then, Comrade Maksoud is reluctant to take a square look at one whole side of the post-war impasse in Palestine. He can see clearly the reactionary contribution Zionism made to this impasse. But he does not give weight to the force which we emphasized in the first part of this reply: the flight of the Jewish people from Europe, and the channelization of this struggle for sheer survival to Palestine.
An exhausted victim of shipwreck is swimming in burning waters. He tries to climb into a lifeboat. The lifeboat already has its quota. To take on another will not swamp it but it will make the fate of all in it so much the more precarious. “Why pick on our little boat?” say the possessors of the lifeboat indignantly, as they crack the newcomer over the head with an oar and throw him back into the water …
Maybe that picture is not entirely fair, but will serve to underline the point. The point is that the post-war plight of a desperate mass of Jews brought about a situation which could not be met simply with denunciation of Zionism and in which the rights of the Arab peoples were the only considerations for international socialists.
We have already sketched the revolutionary solution we have proposed, revolutionary in the literal sense that it depended on revolutionary action from below among the Arab and Jewish masses. It was only in the context of such an approach that we had the right to advocate the free immigration of Jews not only to the US and any other “country of their choice”, but also to Palestine.
Immigration and Rights
Here Comrade Maksoud does us a grave injustice. He quotes our statement that the Jews (like all other peoples, remember) have a “right” to immigrate (“to found a new life”) in the “country of their choice.” He then proceeds to transpose this to mean that according to us there is a “Jewish right to Palestine”, and this naturally is exactly the Zionist claim. Therefore, the ISL holds “the concept of a 'Jewish right to Palestine'”, and really accepts Zionism...
The right of desperate Jews to find haven in Palestine or anywhere else is not their right to take country away from its inhabitants. Contrariwise, if Maksoud rightly insists that there is no “Jewish right to Palestine,” that does not mean he must oppose Jewish immigration.
We know well enough why the Arabs link the two questions. It is no mystery. It is because Zionism linked them. The Zionists looked on unrestricted immigration as the means of gaining a formal Jewish majority in the country and thus getting into position to take it away from the Arabs. The Arab opposition to immigration, and the Zionist calculations on immigration, were the two sides of the same coin. Both sides read: internecine war and hatred between the peoples – no exit. The internationalist socialist attitude on free immigration had to be linked to the revolutionary solution of a bi-national Palestine.
The Arab solution was much simpler: Let the Jews get out and stay out, and go inflict their plight on some other people,, who no doubt would feel the same way about it. The Zionist solution was also simple: Take their country away from the Arabs. The Zionist position was not, and never has been, founded on the specific post-war problem of uprooted Jewish masses. They merely demagogically utilized this appeal in order to further their own objective of taking Palestine away from its people. Thus, neither the Arab side nor from the side of the Zionist leaders of the Jews could a solution be found.
Partition was the UN's attempted compromise between conflicting aims which could lead only to bitter-end war. Sections of Palestine were already inhabited mainly by Jews. Let these Jews have their own territories under their own state, separate from Arab Palestine, and maybe there will be peace. The calculation was mistaken, and partition could not bring any real peace or any real solution. As already discussed, we were against partition as a “solution”. But being against partition still didn't answer a different question: did the Palestinian Jews have a right to self-determination in their territories? We believed that the Palestinian Jews did have a right to decide that they wanted partition, even though in our opinion this was a wrong and bad choice.
Self-Determination – for Whom?
Let us try to clear up the following questions about this “right to self-determination.”
1) Simple though it is, it is often important to drive home an easy distinction: there is a big difference between the RIGHT to self-determination and the wisdom of EXERCISING that right in a given case.
Sometimes people who have no difficult in agreeing with this in the abstract have great difficulty in grasping it in a specific case where they are vigorously against the exercise of the right. Take an American case in point: for a long time the Stalinist raised the demand in the US for “self-determination for the American Negroes” in a certain “black belt” which they drew in maps through the Southern states. The CP made clear that it advocated this breakaway from the union.
Our movement has always ridiculed this demand. Only a handful of Stalinist Negroes have ever been for it. It never struck any response among the Negro people. We could explain why. We opposed the idea. But that did not stop us from taking up a different question. We said clearly that if the Negro people ever came to favor this move, even against our advice to them, then we recognized their right to self-determination, even though we viewed it as a mistake.
(Is it theoretically possible that the American Negroes might come to such a pass? If the Negroes ever faced in the US the gas-chamber horrors and concentration camps which the Jews passed through in Europe, who can deny the possibility?)
But all we want to do at this point is to illustrate the idea of how we recognized the right to a self-determination against which we advised.
2) “Which Jews have this right? Is it every Jews?” asks Maksoud, and he writes that our resolution did not answer this. This is strange, since our resolution has a specific passage on this very question. Our resolution said that with regard to this problem of self-determination -
“ (a) the problem concerns not Jews or people of Jewish descent in the world as a whole, but specifically the Jewish community in given territorial areas of Palestine, and (b) whatever the scientific-theoretical verdict might be for the Jews as a whole, it is obvious that the Palestinian Jewish community has acted and is acting exactly as if it were a national people, and this is enough for the purpose of determining a political program.”
Isn't that perfectly clear? We (not the Zionists) are talking about a certain peculiar people in a certain territory, the Palestinian Jewish community.
(3) Maksoud asks further: Do the Jews constitute a “national self”? Are they a “national entity”? Also “what Jews belong to this national self”?
Now, we are more or less acquainted with many decades of socialist and non-socialist argumentation over the question “Are the Jews a nation (or a race, etc.)?” What our resolution limits itself to pointing out is that this time-honored conundrum does not have to be settled in order to grapple with the question we raised. For the question always referred to “the Jews” as a whole over the world. Maksoud still does so in his article. I am not at all sure what can be said about “the Jews” of the world collectively; I am not even sure that anything at all can be said that applies to this heterogeneous collectivity called “the Jews”. The Zionist line of talk along these lines, in my opinion, boils down to a mystical tribalism, and is of no theoretical value whatsoever. We were interested in the much more concrete question of the specific Jewish community situation on a certain territory in Palestine, and its right to self-determination not as “Jews in general but as a certain community in the land. This community, we pointed out, whatever its origins, had in fact developed to the point where it was demonstrably ACTING as a national people.
A question of Marxist method is in order here. One can dispute everlastingly whether a certain people constitute a “nation”. One can usefully go over various criteria for nationhood, among the varying criteria that have been weighed by Marxists among others. Such theoretical discussion can be very good. But for Marxists above all others, the test of theory comes in life. If “theory” has told us that X is not a nation, but if this people acts historically and collectively in every way that a national people acts, then something is wrong with the theory, or else some important change has taken place which theory has not yet caught up with.
In the case of the Jews, I believe it was especially the latter that was true. On the [one] hand, a certain Jewish community (however transplanted) had in fact taken root in Palestine and developed a national physiognomy, one which was even different from that of the immigrant Jews. And on the other hand, tens and tens of thousands of European Jews were forcibly turned mentally into the channel of Jewish-national feeling by the simple fact that they were uprooted from every other national soil. Hitler had his victory. Jewish-national feeling swarmed into the vacuum created in the minds of concentration camps full of Jews. Hitlerism created Jewish nationalism in a way that Zionism by itself could never do.
Invaders and Refugees
In any case, all that our resolution points out (and it limits itself wisely) is that we as Marxists do not impose our schema about “who constitutes a nation” upon facts. It is sheer doctrinairism to counterpose some theory about nationhood against the fact that the Palestinian Jewish community has acted exactly as if it were a national people.
This is not to derogate theory. I could discuss with Maksoud the theoretical criteria for Israeli nationhood. But I should like to point out that the development of Israeli nationalism (today an indisputable fact, reactionary as it often tends to be) is an historical event which a Marxist has reason to keep in mind in renovating his theory.
(4) Lastly, granted that this specific Jewish community in Palestine may be regarded like other ethnic communities situated in given territories and given the same rights, isn't their case different after all because of the way they got there? That is, since this Palestinian community was established and nourished by Zionism muscling in on Arab territory, aren't they still mere interlopers and invaders?
This is on pretty thin ice, when you start applying it to a whole people, settled in a land, and not merely a military garrison. What might we find out if we dug into the mode of arrival of various minority peoples in many countries?
The whites in South Africa, for example, are invaders and interlopers (in origin); but this undoubted fact hardly points to a solution of the racial problem there. We would not be in favor of throwing the racist whites back into the sea. We are in favour of ending the dictatorship of the white minority over the black and colored majority, and building a thoroughly democratic state where both races could live in harmony. (In South Africa too this objective can be won only through a revolutionary solution.) But it put up against it, we would have to recognize the right of the minority whites to “self-determination” in a sadly partitioned South Africa.
In Palestine the invasion and affront is more recent. The wound is rawer. That is true. It is also one reason for the hellishly difficult dilemma of the region. But we can see no other socialist stand possible.
In summary for this section: this right to self-determination was a right (the exercise of which we disagreed with) of a Palestinian community territorially established and acting as a nation. Israel has as much “right” to existence as Pakistan. The problem that we see is not whether Israel has a “right” to exist, but how all of the people of the region can live together.
Toward Socialist Federation
Israel may have a “right” to exist, but its existence will be a hell for the Jews and a thorn in the flesh of the Arabs as long as it insists on being a Jewish ghetto in an Arab world.
Before Israel can find a modus vivendi with its neighbors, it must overcome its Zionist illusions and policies. The Jewish people of Israel must come to the realization that the country must be built as a bi-national state, with cultural autonomy and full equal and political and social rights for both peoples. Zionist expansionism must be repudiated. Its anti-Arab measures must be reversed.
All of this requires an internal revolutionary rejection of Zionism's specific politics, whether it consciously takes the form of a repudiation of Zionism or (perhaps more likely) takes the form of a gradual abandonment of all of Zionism's conclusions.
A movement towards this objective, we believe, can be built in Israel, even if only small elements of it are present now. But what will never be built in Israel is any movement or even grouplet which will advocate giving up the country's independence. The “emasculation” of Israel's independence and sovereignty can be accomplished only by war, and then only perpetuated by armed force and terror.
A bi-national Israel is only a first step. We look to a larger aim: an independent federation of the Near East states which constitute an economic and geographical entity. We cannot venture to say whether such a federation can or will include all the Arab states, in line with the aims of Arab nationalism. We are very interested in what our Arab comrades write about this question. But we see the final solution to the Palestine question in federation.
We have written time and time again that the genuine socialists in Israel – and we do not mean the hard-bitten Zionist chauvinists, some of whom call themselves socialists, who are betraying socialist principles – can make their great contribution to this end by fighting with such a program for an understanding with the Arab people and for Arab rights, in the first place for the rights of the Arabs in Israel itself. The relative monolith of Israeli Zionist chauvinism hardens Arab chauvinism.
A Plea to Arab Socialists
But now we are addressing ourselves to Arab socialists. We tell them the same thing: Only insofar as you show fight against the reactionary and chauvinist aims of the Arab governments can you expect to awake and enflame courage and heart among Jewish socialists who want to break out of the Zionist trap! The responsibility is yours too. It belongs to the genuine socialists on both sides of the line.
You say that the destruction of Israel is necessary to bring peace. Can you really believe that? Do you believe that even if the Israeli armies are crushed in a war by the Arab power, the Jewish population will settle down as Arab citizens? No, as always, the worst will be brought out on both sides, in a permanent state of revolt and war and terrorism. What exactly will be solved, since you insist so strongly on having a “solution” and not only a “settlement”?
Comrade Maksoud wrote on June 7: “The presence of Israel as a state constitutes such a threat to the Arabs that all their attention is diverted away from foreign policy. The true interest of the Arabs in international affairs lies in pursuing a vigorous and positive neutralism, but the local area tensions prevent the effective expression of this interest and block the materialization of a unified Third Force movement in Asia. This movement is the only possible path toward peace. By obstructing it, Israel acts as an agent of war and imperialism.”
We beg to submit that this is not socialist thinking, though we can readily believe that it has its appeal to the people. Does it mean, for example, that the existence of Israel leads the Arab regimes to truckle to the West in the hope of winning support against Israel? That this keeps the Arabs from joining some “Third Force movement”? That if Israel were only removed, the Arabs would become Third-Force and peace on earth would be attained?
That is self-delusion at best. In every other country, people have their own reasons for choosing between the war camps and lining up, hoping to gain some advantage, some “lesser evil”, some profit. If Israel were to disappear, the Arab rulers would be no more for a real Third Camp than they are now. They would still have much to hope to gain from one side or the other; and in any case, the alternative is not some kind of illusory “neutrality” (even a la Nehru), but a positive dedication to international socialism. A strong Arab socialist movement can do this. But Comrade Maksoud continually keeps identifying the policy of the Arab socialists with that of the Arab regimes as a whole.
A Bi-National Program
We would like to ask Comrade Maksoud and his colleagues: granted that other Arabs, who are not socialists, are seduced by imperialism because of their hatred of Israel. But you socialists, you vanguard, is it possible for you to fight for a line which is against every outside imperialism and at the same time extend the hand of friendship to anti-Zionist Israelis on a common program (not war)?
Why do YOU not swim against the stream and propose an anti-imperialist program for the Arab people, which will stimulate tendencies away from Zionist expansionism within Israel, which will promote revolutionization within Israel – and which will not tell the Israelis that their country has to be crushed in war?
Comrade Maksoud mentions that in the war against Israel it was the reactionary, anti-democratic, sometimes antisemitic, non-progressive elements who became vocal, while the “rational democratic forces … were maneuvered … to abstention.” We did not quite grasp the explanation he gave for this. But it is a development that has been seen before. It often means that the socialists found themselves, in practise, travelling in the train of reaction, because of their lack of an independent revolutionary policy.
Comrade Maksoud's argument seems to say that the existence of Israel is counter-revolutionary in and of itself because the Arabs' hatred of it diverts them from settling with their own rulers, diverts their revolutionary energies. But this is exactly the kind of situation in which socialists must act like a vanguard, not as echoes of mass prejudices and fears. Here in the US hatred and fears of Russia overlay and stifle class-consciousness and socialist aspirations. If the threat of Stalinism could be removed, an enormous weight would be lifted that now weighs down on the socialist movement. In this situation, there are not a few renegades who have concluded that it is wise for socialists to support the drive to World War III in order to settle with Russia...
Arab war against Israel would no more solve the Palestine problem that World War III can solve the world crisis. It is the special task of the socialist vanguard not to go along with majority fears and prejudices but to boldly propose their revolutionary solutions and fight for them in the field. A movement which is seduced by imperialism because of Israel will be seduced in some other way if Israel is removed, for it has lost its socialist moorings.
We propose that the Arab socialists consider the program of a bi-national Palestine in a Near East federation, as the revolutionary alternative to endless war, and to this end organize genuine socialist forces on both sides of the Israeli-Arab border.