David Merhav replies to Colin Foster in Solidarity 3/76, (“Social Revolution?”). There Colin argued that David was wrong to see a victory for Amir Peretz in a leadership contest for the Israeli Labor Party as a big breakthrough for socialism. David’s original article “Socialist hope for Israel” appeared in Solidarity 3/75.
Comrade Colin Foster uses a terminology and information that seem to be taken from some bizarre analyses of the situation in Israel, in particular, and across the world, in general. Colin’s evaluation of the Israeli Labour Party and the unions stem from misleading or wrong information given to him, certainly based on the bourgeois press. I also think that his general terminology cannot be explained through Marxist methodology but rather through revision of Marxism into a strange mixture of post-Marxist or neo-Marxist ideas, whose connection to Marx’s analyses is merely an accidental one.
The Israeli labour movement was founded during the first decade of the 20th century by Israeli socialists who admired the October Revolution in Russia and by those who adhered to the synthesis of Zionism and socialism formed by Jewish Marxist theoreticians like Ber Borochov.
The Histadrut was established in 1920 in order to organise the Jewish workers in Palestine and to provide a political basis for a national Jewish movement that aimed at establishing a Jewish state, or a state for the Jews. It was built as a wing of the Zionist movement. Only a decade after the foundation of the state of Israel were Arabs allowed to become members in the Histadrut.
Most of the newly born Israeli market was nationalised and owned by the state and by the Histadrut. The Labor Party was the major political party in the state as well as in the Histadrut. Thus, the Histadrut found itself in a very peculiar situation, since it was not only a representative of workers — but also their employer. The big strike of seamen and sailors, which erupted in 1951, was launched for this reason. For decades, the Histadrut could not function as true trade union: it was linked to the state and even after the defeat of Labor in 1977, the Histadrut continued to cooperate with the state.
The only group that fought for separation of the unions from the state was the Marxist, anti-Stalinist, Matzpen tendency. They left (or were expelled from) the Communist Party of Israel in 1962, and the question “What Is the Histadrut?” stood at the core of their disagreements with the CPI, along other questions. Nevertheless, neither the Histadrut nor the Labor Party was a “bourgeois workers’ organization”. They were degenerated, bureaucratised or deformed organisations because of the very unique process that shaped their character.
In 1994, Haim Ramon MP, then an active MP of the Labor Party, formed (together with Amir Peretz MP, today the Histadrut chairperson) a party that ran for the leadership of the Histadrut. It won the elections and Labor suffered a hard defeat. Ramon strove to separate the unions from the state through a process of privatization of the Histadrut’s assets, and by legislation of the Law for National Health Insurance – a law that separated the Histadrut from the National Health Service.
Ramon left the Histadrut for a political career. Peretz remained to lead the Histadrut and recover it as a true union of workers, though he lacked any unionist agenda. He was fascinated by Ramon’s dreams, but after Labor’s defeat in 1996, and a second defeat in 2001 (after it won the elections of May 1999), he was pushed by many Labor members, as well as socialist academics, to adopt militant social-democratic policies.
The main force that pushed Peretz toward socialism was the Communist Party and its political front, Hadash; Meretz, the new party which was formed in 1992 as a result of a fusion between MAPAM and the small liberal party Ratz (the Movement for Civil Rights and Peace), favoured social-liberalism and considered Tony Blair’s New Labor as a source for regeneration of Israel’s economy which suffered a tremendous decay after the Likud’s victory in 1996.
The economic crises suffered by Israel during the last five years obligated many people in Israel to side with Binyamin Netanyahu’s neo-liberal and ultra-capitalist policies, or to choose the socialist alternative. Many decided to adopt democratic socialism as the true alternative to Netanyahu’s austerity policies. Peretz, under pressure from below, sought to advance a socialist agenda in order to place alternative. He found out the real power of the unions and rejoined the Labor. The fusion between Peretz’s party and the Labor party resulted in a vicious attempt to undermine Peretz through fabricated charges of corruption by his enemies.
Foster is wrong as he does not understand, possibly for lack of information, what happens in the Labor Party. The voices against its participation in Ariel Sharon’s capitalist coalition were and are strengthened; Peretz’s camp leads the drive toward an independent Labor Party, a courageous opposition against Sharon.
The question is when and how should the Labor leave Sharon’s coalition. Is it correct to do so only a month before Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza strip and the evacuation of the settlements?
The question of Sharon’s policies is irrelevant; he is not the enemy. It is true that Sharon and Bush wish to establish a Palestinian state, divided into bantustans, without any true independence for the Palestinians. This is an issue which should be discussed and certainly bring socialists and peace-seekers liberals to oppose Sharon’s politics. Nevertheless, we should choose between two different possibilities: Sharon or the fascistic settlers.
These are the current possibilities, and politics is not about inventing possibilities. For the insane sects, it is. It is no problem to play in the political playground of the internet or journals published by marginal “revolutionary” groups. It is a very hard and painful to play in the arena of the class struggle. For me, as socialist, it is the only arena to play and fight in. If Foster wants to be assured that there are guarantees, I can promise him that there are none.
Israeli socialists are not in a position to stand against any positive political move of Sharon just because his entire politics is rotten. The same goes in regard to Peretz: whoever reads his interviews can easily understand that we speak of a sincere socialist, whose politics is very different from Peres’ politics (see the interview with Peretz by Eric Lee on the Labor Start website). The big capitalists understand the potential of Peretz to change the face of Israel, and there is a sizeable amount of businessmen who joined him. In the other hand, many socialists, trade unionists, academics, “ordinary” workers, pensioners and Labor members joined him in order to push him to the left.
For socialists, political isolation is not an option. Whoever sees history merely as events and not as a process, may carry forward a politics of sad despair and bitter isolation. This was not – and is not – the politics advanced by committed socialists, neither in Israel and nor in other countries.
David Merhav is undergraduate student in the Philosophy Department, University of Haifa, Israel. He is a member of Yesod (the Social Democratic Israel, www.yesod.net) tendency in the Israel’s Labor party. He is also a member of the GW Leibniz Association Israel and the Israeli Association of Aesthetics.