Israel’s War of 1948 and the Degeneration of the Fourth International

By Yossi Schwartz

Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT)

May 2013

Preface of the Editorial Board: The following document from comrade Yossi Schwartz is a major contribution in two respects. First it outlines the Marxist position on the colonial settler state Israel, its emergence and its reactionary war in 1948 – called by the Zionists in true Orwellian-speak “Independence War”. Additionally, the document is also important for understanding the history of the Fourth International’s position on Zionism and the national liberation struggle in Palestine. In particular comrade Schwartz demonstrates that the small Trotskyist forces in Palestine under the leadership of Tony Cliff (who later became the founder of the centrist International Socialists tendency respective the Socialist Workers Party in Britain) never understood the national question in Palestine and failed to take a revolutionary stand. It was one of the first expressions of the process of its centrist degeneration that the Fourth International failed to take a revolutionary defeatist position against Israel in its War in 1948 and a revolutionary defensist position for the Arab countries.

The author, Yossi Schwartz, is certainly one of the most suitable Marxists to deal with these subjects. He is an Israeli-Jewish Trotskyist and Anti-Zionist who has been politically active for several decades and has always sided with the Palestinian liberation struggle in words and deeds. He is a long-time leader of the Internationalist Socialist League which recently joined the RCIT and became its section in Occupied Palestine/Israel.

Comrade Yossi Schwartz is currently working on the Marxist position on Israel’s numerous wars in its history. This document is the first in a planned series of articles on this subject. We hope that this document encourages a discussion amongst serious revolutionary forces both in Occupied Palestine/Israel as well as internationally.

* * *

The war of 1948 between the Zionist armed forces against the Palestinians and the Arab states was a war not between an imperialist state (Israel was not yet an imperialist state) and colonies or semi-colonies. It was a war between Israel that was a semi-colony built by settlers colonialists on one side while the Palestinians who were an oppressed colonized people and the Arab states that were semi-colonies on the other side. For those who use formal logic it was not easy to choose a side. Today most people that support the Palestinians would agree that it was necessary to stand in the war with the Palestinians and the Arab states. However they will have some difficulties to explain why to side with the Arab states that were “ruled” by kings who clearly were serving the British and French imperialist masters.

The argument that many supporters of the Palestinians just cause advance that it was necessary to stand against Israel in the war because Israel was an oppressor settler colonialist society has a flow. When Britain fought against the 13 American colonies in the American war of independence (1775–1783), the progressive and revolutionary part of humanity were on the side of the American settler colonialists even when these colonialists oppressed the native Indians. It was necessary to defend the Indians against the white settlers and to defend the colonialist settlers against the British Empire because the British Empire was the worse enemy. No one can think that the British Empire fought on the side of the Indians. Those who refused to stand with the American colonialist against imperialism did not help the Indians but the “imperialists”.

The question whether to support or oppose Israel in 1948 relates of course to the question: Do Marxists support the right of self-determination for the Israelis?

Only the working class internationalist outlook that sees the unity of the world through the revolutionary perspective of the workers in the unequal but combined parts can offer the theoretical answer to the war of 1948.

The war of 1948 was situated in the epoch of decay of capitalism. Thus while the American war of independence was the first stage of the democratic revolution that would be completed with the victory of the North against the South in the Civil War of 1861-1865, Israel, even though it is an imperialist state, never went through nor can it go through a democratic revolution because of the nature of this period and the nature of Zionism. Israel cannot give the Palestinians equal rights because it would not be a state with Jewish majority of citizens any more. It would lose its legitimization for existence and it’s whole political and military state apparatus would be threatened. It would therefore mean a suicide of Israel which the beast is of course not willing to do. This is the reason why the demand of one democratic state from the river to the sea can not be achieved without a socialist revolution.

The Zionist’s Aim in the 1948 War

If Israel was a progressive society and if it was fighting a revolutionary anti-imperialist war in 1948 as the Stalinists claimed at the time, the outcome in the region would be the weakening of the imperialist control over the region. In the real world the opposite happened.

It is sufficient to read the articles, diaries, speeches of the leading Zionists including the left wing Zionists, to realize that the Zionists aim in the war of 1948 was to crash and force the Palestinian to flee their homeland. It also demonstrates that the Zionists were made in the same mold of the South African Afrikaners. This becomes evident from the leading Zionists own words. Let us quote first Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Zionists:

“Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.“ [1]

Later Jabotinsky proclaimed the “iron law of every colonizing movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf. Or else – or else, give up your colonization, for without an armed force which will render physically impossible any attempts to destroy or prevent this colonization, colonization is impossible, not “difficult”, not “dangerous” but IMPOSSIBLE! … Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot – or else I am through with playing at colonialization.” [2]

Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Colonization Department, said: “There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument (…) the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish (…) with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary.” [3]

David Ben Gurion, future Prime Minister of Israel, already wrote in 1937 in a letter to his son about the Zionist plans for the expulsion of the Palestinian people: “We must expel Arabs and take their places.” [4]

Other quotes from Ben Gurion underline the Zionist expansionist plans: “We should prepare to go over to the offensive. Our aim is to smash Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Syria. The weak point is Lebanon, for the Moslem regime is artificial and easy for us to undermine. We shall establish a Christian state there, and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate Trans-Jordan; Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai”. [5]

Yitzhak Rabin reported in his memoirs: “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out!'” [6]

Later Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin would express Zionist racism in its most brutal frankness in a speech to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament): “Our race is the Master Race. We are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from insects. In fact, compared to our race, other races are beasts and animals, cattle at best. Other races are considered as human excrement. Our destiny is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as our slaves.” [7]

The small selection of quotes demonstrates unequivocally the reactionary nature of Zionism as it was planning the creation of the Israeli state and the war of expulsion necessary for it. As reactionary as Israel’s wars are, as progressive are the effects of its defeats. Today we can see this very clearly that the latest defeats of Israel in Lebanon when it had to escape in the middle of the night in 2000, in the second war of Lebanon when it was defeated by Hezbollah, in the war of the Palestinian Authority backed by Israel against Hamas in 2007 and in the last war against Hamas in 2012 were important factors in the break out of the Second Intifada in September 2000 as well as the Arab revolution since 2011. These defeats of Israel have convinced the Arab masses not only that Israel can be defeated but the Arab dictators as well. If Israel was a progressive society than its victory in 1967 would cause an Arab mass uprising. In the real world following the 1967 war the Arab masses felt humiliated and weak.

Revolutionary Wave after the Second World War

The war of 1948 took place a few years after the end of the Second World War. Towards the end and following the end of WWII, the imperialists ruling classes feared a new revolutionary wave like the one which spread across Europe and beyond, following World War I. It was a wave that opened the doors for the victory of Bolshevism. A leading conservative politician in Britain, Quintin Hogg, expressed the capitalist’s fear and their readiness to do everything possible in order to contain the working class revolution, in 1943 in the following words: “We must give them reforms or they will give us revolution.” [8]

Indeed a working class revolutionary wave erupted in Europe and in the colonies and semi-colonies in Africa and Latin America at the end of WWII. The revolutionary Fourth International understood the contradictions and difficulties of the revolutionary struggle in Europe. Such wrote George Novack, one of the leading US-Trotskyists:

“The final stage of the war gave rise to a mighty offensive of the masses beginning in Italy and extending to all the occupied countries. The workers of Italy, France, Belgium, Greece, Holland acquired arms and created their own military formations; took possession in many places of the factories, means of transportation, etc.; established popular control over the distribution of food, the dispensing of justice, the administration of local affairs. These embryonic elements of dual power, if coordinated, developed and expanded, could have provided the basis for the complete overturn of capitalist rule and the institution of the sovereignty of the toiling masses in these countries.

Three main factors prevented the victorious consummation of the uprising of the workers. First, the full weight of the preponderant military forces of the Anglo-American invaders in counter-revolutionary alliance with the Kremlin was flung against the insurgent masses to arrest their struggles. The Big Three conspired to set up puppet regimes obedient to their will. Second, the Stalinist and Socialist parties which commanded the allegiance of the working masses worked hand in glove with the Allied powers to save capitalist rule by disarming the workers militarily and politically. Third, the Trotskyist groups and parties were too weak and immature to intervene as a decisive force and head off this disaster.

For these reasons the first wave of revolution fell short of its goal throughout Western Europe. The bloody crushing of the ELAS-EAM in Greece, combined with the cowardly capitulation of its Stalinist leadership before the British-backed capitalist monarchist counter-revolution, marked the close of this first period. Since then a marked recession in the revolutionary tide has set in. The repulse of the proletarian offensive has afforded the capitalist rulers a breathing spell and enabled them to regain a transitory and precarious equilibrium.

Aided by Anglo-American imperialism and the complicity of the Stalinist and Socialist misleaders, the Western European bourgeoisie are utilizing this pause to strengthen their shaken positions, to further undermine the power of the proletariat, and to prepare for the launching of their own counter-offensives. The capitalists, the church, the army are mobilizing their forces to fortify and reestablish their dictatorial rule. In Belgium they are plotting to bring back King Leopold. In France they support de Gaulle’s drive to legitimatize and buttress hisBonapartist aspirations. Under British tutelage in Italy and Greece the monarchists and other reactionaries are displaying growing impudence and activity.” [9]

The repression of the revolutionary uprisings in the colonies and the semi-colonies was very severe. In some cases the imperialists managed to defeat the working class revolutionary uprisings. In other countries like in China they were able with the help of the Nationalists and the Stalinists to prevent a working class revolution but could not totally defeat the revolution and this explains the victory of the Stalinist peasantry-based revolution in 1949. The victorious revolution in China led to the formation of the degenerated workers state. This means a state where it was necessary for the working class to overthrow by a political revolution the Stalinists in order to open the road to socialism. As this did not happen China today is a capitalist-imperialist state. [10]

The reactionary results of the war of 1948 in Palestine were part of the defeat of the revolutionary tide in the “Third World”. Any attempt to understand this war in isolation and outside the historical context is a blind alley.

Stalinism supported Israel’s reactionary War in 1948 

At the time of the 1948 war the Stalinists presented the Zionist war as an anti-imperialist war and thus the creation of Israel as a progressive event. In reality it was a victory for the imperialists and a counter revolutionary event.

Already in 1943 the Palestinian Communist Party (PKP) was moving toward integration within the organized Jewish Yishuv. While opposing partition and calling for an independent democratic state, it increasingly upheld a bi-national vision, based on “the principle of equal rights of Jews and Arabs for free national, economic and cultural development, without artificial interruptions and in mutual cooperation and brotherhood of nation.” [11] This motion toward political support for Zionism caused a split of the PKP and the left wing that consisted more of Palestinian patriots known as the National Liberation League emerged in opposition to the motion of the PKP.

Despite their differences, both factions agreed on one core principle of the bi-national approach: the need to treat members of both national groups equally, whether as citizens in a joint state or as members of national collectives enjoying the same rights within a federal state, or as groups entitled to the right of national self determination.

The Soviet Stalinists recognized the right of self determination for the Zionists for the first time in May 1947 in a speech delivered by the USSR’s ambassador at the United Nations, Andrei Gromyko:

“It is essential to bear in mind the indisputable fact that the population of Palestine consists of two peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. Both have historical roots in Palestine. Palestine has become the homeland of both these peoples, each of which plays an important part in the economy and the cultural life of the country. (…) Thus, the solution of the Palestine problem by the establishment of a single Arab-Jewish State with equal rights for the Jews and the Arabs may be considered as one of the possibilities and one of the more noteworthy methods for the solution of this complicated problem. Such a solution of the problem of Palestine’s future might be a sound foundation for the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine, in the interests of both these peoples and to the advantage of the entire Palestine population and of the peace and security of the Near East. (…) “If this plan proved impossible to implement, in view of the deterioration in the relations between the Jews and the Arabs–and it will be very important to know the special committee’s opinion on this question–then it would be necessary to consider the second plan which, like the first, has its supporters in Palestine, and which provides for the partition of Palestine into two independent autonomous States, one Jewish and one Arab.” [12]

It is interesting to read the account of the Stalinists support for the creation of Israel by Norman Berdichevsky, a fanatic supporter of Israel:

“The most famous and colorful personality of the Spanish Republic in exile, the Basque delegate to the Cortes (Spanish Parliament), Dolores Ibarruri, who had gone to the Soviet Union, issued a proclamation in 1948 saluting the new State of Israel and comparing the invading Arab armies to the Fascist uprising that had destroyed the Republic. Just a few months earlier, the hero of the American Left, the great Afro-American folk singer, Paul Robeson had sung in a gala concert in Moscow and electrified the crowd with his rendition of the Yiddish Partisan Fighters Song…

The leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), already in the summer of 1947, intended to purchase arms and sent Dr. Moshe Sneh (the Chief of the European Branch of the Jewish Agency, a leading member of the centrist General Zionist Party who later moved far leftward and became head of the Israeli Communist Party) to Prague in order to improve Jewish defenses. He was surprised by the sympathy towards Zionism and by the interest in arms export on the side of the Czech Government. Sneh met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis, who succeeded the non-Communist and definitely pro-Zionist Jan Masaryk. Sneh and Clementis discussed the possibility of Czech arms provisions for the Jewish state and the Czechs gave their approval,

In January, 1948 Jewish representatives were sent by Ben-Gurion to meet with General Ludvik Svoboda, the Minister of National Defense, and sign the first contract for Czech military aid. Four transport routes were used to Palestine all via Communist countries; a) the Northern route: via Poland and the Baltic Sea, b) the Southern route: via Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Adriatic Sea, c) via Hungary, Romania and the Black Sea, d) by air, via Yugoslavia to Palestine.

At first, a “Skymaster” plane chartered from the U.S. to help in ferrying weapons to Palestine from Europe was forced by the FBI to return to the USA. By the end of May the Israeli Army (IDF) had absorbed about 20,000 Czech rifles, 2,800 machine-guns and over 27 million rounds of ammunition. Two weeks later an additional 10,000 rifles, 1,800 machine-guns and 20 million rounds of ammunition arrived. One Czech-Israeli project that alarmed the Western intelligence was the, so called, Czech Brigade, a unit composed of Jewish veterans of “Free Czechoslovakia”, which fought with the British Army during WWII. The Brigade began training in August 1948 at four bases in Czechoslovakia.

Czech assistance to Israel’s military strength comprised a) small arms, b) 84 airplanes –– the outdated Czech built Avia S.199s, Spitfires and Messerschmidts that played a major role in the demoralization of enemy troops; c) military training and technical maintenance. On January 7, 1949, the Israeli air-force, consisting of several Spitfires and Czech built MesserschmidtBf-109 fighters (transferred secretly from Czech bases to Israel), shot down five British-piloted Spitfires flying for the Egyptian air-force over the Sinai desert causing a major diplomatic embarrassment for the British government.

Even with Czech weapons and Soviet aid, Israel would undoubtedly have been unable to halt the Arab invasion without a massive inflow of manpower. The United States, Canada and Europe provided no more than 3000 volunteers, many of them combat hardened veterans from both the European and Pacific theaters of war plus a few score idealistic youngsters from the Zionist movements with no combat experience or training.

But their numbers were a drop in the bucket compared to more than 200,000 Jewish immigrants from the Soviet dominated countries in Eastern Europe, notably, Poland, Bulgaria (almost 95% of the entire Jewish community) Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the former Baltic States and even the Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel arriving in time to reach the front lines or replenish the depleted ranks of civilian manpower. Without both the arms and manpower sent from the “Socialist Camp”, to aid the nascent Israeli state, it would have been crushed.

In 1947, when Stalin was convinced that the Zionists would evict the British from Palestine, the Party Line turned about face. Following Soviet recognition and aid to Israel in 1948-49, both the Daily Worker and the Yiddish language communist daily in the U.S. Freiheit (Freedom) outdid one another to explain the new party line in that….

‘Palestine had become an important settlement of 600,000 souls, having developed a common national economy, a growing national culture and the first elements of Palestinian Jewish statehood and self-government.’

A 1947 CP-USA resolution entitled ‘Work Among the Jewish Masses’ berated the Party’s previous stand and proclaimed that ‘Jewish Marxists have not always displayed a positive attitude to the rights and interests of the Jewish People, to the special needs and problems of our own American Jewish national group and to the interests and rights of the Jewish Community in Palestine’

The new reality that had been created in Palestine was a “Hebrew nation” that deserved the right to self-determination. Remarkably, the Soviet propaganda machine even praised the far Right underground groups of the Irgun and “Stern Gang” for their campaign of violence against the British authorities.” [13]

As a result the Soviet Union was the first country to legally recognize de jure, the Israeli state.

This Stalinist counter revolutionary policy of giving the Zionist political as well as military support determined the outcome of the war. It enabled Israel to expel most of the Palestinian people from their country while the Zionist robbed their properties. Stalinism – despite its “communist” rhetoric – proved to be a major counter-revolutionary force and an enemy of the international working class and the oppressed masses. It discredited communism for decades in the whole Middle East. It is in the same reactionary logic that most Stalinist forces today sided with the Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya in 2011 and still support the Assad regime in Syria which is waging a counter-revolutionary civil war against the rebellious popular masses. An authentic revolutionary working class party as part of the Fifth International will have to fight relentlessly against the Stalinist policy.

Shachtmanite Right-Wing Centrism supports Israel’s reactionary War in 1948

The political programs of some of the centrists who call themselves Trotskyites on the question of the socialist revolution in Palestine are rooted in the positions of the Fourth International (FI) and of the Shachtmanites split from the FI in that period. The FI was already making one centrist failure in 1941, conducted by the SWP during the Minneapolis trial in October 1941 when Cannon expressed concessions to Defensiveness and Social Patriotism. Although the Fourth International followed by and large a revolutionary course during the WWII, its degeneration developed later on to the extreme. This degeneration process towards centrism became strongly apparent – in addition to the shameful failure in the Israel-Palestine War in 1948 – in the “Open Letter” to Tito and the political support to Mao Zedong, while denouncing the Chinese Trotskyists in 1948. The position of others who call themselves Trotskyists is influenced by the Shachtmanites who stood to the right of the FI. [14]

The FI did not take a position on the war when it broke out. This by itself is a symptom of degeneration. It took months before the FI came up with a political position and it was wrong. Clearly as a fast degenerating organization, an organization transforming into a centrist organization, it was already unable to examine the war from the perspective of the revolutionary international working class. It defended the right of self-determination of the Israelis though it opposed the partition and it took the position of revolutionary defeatism both for Israel and the Arab states.

In the real world it is impossible to support the right of self-determination for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. One has to choose a side either for the settler colonialists or for the oppressed colonized Palestinians. To support the right of self-determination means to support the right to set up a state. A Zionist state even in parts of Palestine could be formed only by the stealing of Palestinians lands. Not only this but any Zionist state with a majority of Jews meant to expel most Palestinians from the Zionist territory. This was clear already in 1937 with the recommendation of Peel Commission calling for thepartition plan that at the same time called for the removal of a quarter of million Palestinians. Those who support today the existence of Israel oppose the full right of the return of the Palestinian refugees whom Israel expelled in 1947-48.

The Shachtmanites, who split from the FI in 1940, elaborated their position on the emerging Zionist state in their theoretical journal New International (which they appropriated after the split with the Fourth International in 1940). They supported the right of self-determination for Israel and opposed the Arab states in the war. The FI on the other hand opposed the partition and took the position of revolutionary defeat for the Zionists and the Arab states.

Let us examine more closely the positions of the FI, the Trotskyists in Palestine – the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL) – and of the Shachtmanites.

Hal Draper, a Shachtmanite, wrote in July 1948 in the New International, which by then was already a right wing centrist organ, that it would be better if the partition plan was rejected. However since it was not rejected, Draper continues, it is necessary to defend Israel’s right to exist as a reflection of the principle of the right of self-determination to all nations. In light of this right it is necessary to defend Israel against the reactionary Arab states that want to prevent the implementation of this right. This was – according to the Shachtmanites – also the Bolshevik policy in the case of Finland. Then he turned against the FI and writes:

“What, however, shall we say of self-styled socialists who do not make even this beginning? We are thinking of the Socialist Workers Party group (Cannonites), which finally had a few words to say about the Palestine situation in the May 31 issue of its Militant. They argue for supporting neither side. The result is pitiful and is worthwhile taking up only for the purposes of a Marxist lesson on how not to approach the question.

This lesson is simple enough: Marxists do not decide to support or oppose a war merely on the basis of whether they like or do not like the politics of the leaders of the state. Marxism has made this clear often enough: in supporting China’s war against Japan, the Spanish loyalist government’s war against Franco, the Negus’ war against Mussolini.

The question which we have asked, following Lenin’s method, was: What politics does this war flow from? War – so goes the platitude – is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. In the case of every concrete war, we try to analyze concretely the politics of which that war is the continuation. The Spanish loyalist government was an imperialist government; it exploited Morocco and oppressed the peasants (and shot them down when they revolted!). But when the Franco fascists sought to overthrow even this miserable government, we called for its defense – in our own way, by revolutionary means, and without giving the slightest political support to the bourgeois People’s Front leaders – because our analysis of the concreteness of events showed that the anti-Franco war did not flow from the loyalist government’s imperialist character but from the fascists’ attack upon its democratic base.

This was ABC once. But the Cannonites’ views seem to be founded solely upon an easy proof of the reactionary character of the Zionist leadership of the Jews: it “threatens to provoke new pogroms against the Jews and involve them in new calamities,” it “must inevitably become a tool of American imperialism,” it “solidifies the position of the reactionary Arab rulers and enables them to pervert the social struggle in their own countries into a communal struggle between the Arab and Jewish peoples.” All very true, and precisely the reason why defense of the Jews’ right to .self-determination cannot mean support to these Zionist leaders or their policies. It was just as true that Chiang Kai-shek’s war against Japan was used by him to try to gloss over and sidetrack the social struggle behind his own lines.

But don’t the Jewish people have “the right to self-determination and statehood as other peoples?” Their full answer:

Yes – but even if we abstract this question from its aforementioned social reality, the fact remains they cannot carve out a state at the expense of the national rights of the Arab peoples. This is not self-determination, but conquest of another people’s territory.

A dishonest reply. (1) It means that the Jews have a right to self-determination but no right to exercise it. This does not make sense. One may, as we said, advise against its exercise in favor of a different course; but it is pure fakery to grant the right and in the same breath denounce its exercise as “conquest of another people’s territory.” (2) If the Jews have the right to self-determination, what territory can they “self-determine themselves” in without infringing upon the national rights of the Arab people? Is there any? Obviously none, it appears from the argument. What then does the “Yes” mean?

The only honest answer would be to deny that the Jews have any right to self-determination in Palestine – and to explain why they thus differ from other peoples. The SWP cannot do the latter and so they wisely, if hypocritically, refrain from asserting the former.

If the setting up of the Jewish state was “conquest of another people’s territory” and an attack on the “national rights” of the Arab peoples, there can be only one conclusion: it is the Arab peoples, then, who have the right to defend themselves against this unprovoked aggression. How can this conclusion be avoided? Certainly not by arguing that the leaders of these (attacked) Arab peoples are no-goods! Yet this is exactly how our subjects evade the responsibility of coming out four-square for the Arab invasion:

They (the Arab rulers), are, by their anti-Jewish war, (what? isn’t it a war of defense against an unprovoked attempt at conquest? – H.D.) trying to divert the struggle against imperialism, and utilizing the aspirations of the Arab masses for national freedom, to smother the social opposition to their tyrannical rule.

Of course, of course – but in a war of defense against conquest by “tools of American imperialism,” it would be the duty of socialists to fight the Arab rulers by demanding, not merely prosecution of the war, but consistent, uncompromising prosecution of the war … opposition to a rotten compromise with the Israelis, for example, opposition to any cessation of the conflict short of complete reconquest of the whole territory of Palestine, war to the bitter end … just as our Chinese comrades advocated, as against the compromising bourgeois leaders, in the war against Japan.

Our subjects shrink from this conclusion, for unaccountable reasons. This, however, is the only consistent alternative to our own consistent policy.” [15]

The question to ask people who argue along the line of Hal Draper is very simple: Where do you take the lofty absolute principle of defense of the right of self-determination to all nations from? Can you find it in Marx? Definitely not. Marx is on the record for opposing the demand for self-determination of the Slave owners in the South during the American civil war. In 1848 Marx and Engels refused to support the right of self-determination of the Southern Slaves because it would have served the interests of the Russian Tsar that with British imperialism were the pillars of reaction. Did you take it from Lenin? Definitely not. Lenin was for smashing the independence of Poland under the right wing nationalists who joined the imperialist attack on the Russian revolution in 1920. Marxists do not defend the right of self-determination of the imperialists that oppress nations but only of oppressed nations. [16]

Once we remove the nonsense about holy principles and look at every question from the perspective of what policy advances the interest of the international working class we must conclude that the right position in 1948 was for revolutionary defeat for Israel and for revolutionary defense of the Arab states.“Support them in the military confrontation without giving them any political support as we could not trust them to lead the struggle against the imperialists and against the Zionists!” Thiswould have been the correct slogan. Only the revolutionary working class can be trusted to carry out this task. This is also the position which both the ISL and the RCIT (respectively its predecessor organization) always took. [17]

Draper was right of course to argue that the only answer to his pro-Zionist position was a revolutionary position that denies the right of self-determination to the reactionary side and that the Cannonites were unable at that time to hold to revolutionary perspective and position.

The increasingly centrist Fourth International remains neutral in the 1948 War

Only more than a year later Munier (Gabriel Baer) of the RCL and the FI replied to Draper. He insisted and correctly so that it is an illusion to think (1) that imperialism was defeated by the creation of a new independent state in an anti-imperialist struggle; or (2) that the existence of this Jewish State has a progressive influence on the working-class and the labor movement in the Arab countries of the Middle East; and (3) that it is important to make clear to every socialist in the world that without the support of Anglo-American imperialism the State of Israel could not have been founded. He writes:

“Had not the US delegation to the UN influenced and bribed a certain number of delegations of small states, Haiti, Philippines and others; had not the US government allowed Israel, to be supplied with money and materials so it could pay in dollars for Czechoslovakian arms; had it not given the new state recognition within a few hours of its creation; had not the British army tolerated the opening of the road to Jerusalem by conquest and evacuation of the Arab villages along this road (on March 2, 1948, British troops joined the Hagana to break up an Arab block at Bab al Wad, then early in April it failed to intervene when military actions along the road began, then on April 6 the British brought some supply trains into the city, etc.); had the British army not come to the rescue of the Jewish settlements Dan and Kfar Szold in Upper Galilee on the 9th of January; and last but not least, had not the first truce which was imposed by the UN in June 1948 saved Jewish Jerusalem from starvation and military collapse – had not all this happened the State of Israel could not have come into being.” [18]

Yet, instead of pointing to the military role of Zionism that acts to terrorize the Arab masses to force them to submit to imperialism, he argues a strange and weak argument that reflects the pressure of Zionism on the RCL: Instead of seeing the hate of the Arab masses against the Zionist state as a form of anti-imperialist resistance, he saw it as misdirected chauvinism manipulated by the imperialists:

“The aim of Anglo-American imperialism was to create a force which would play the same role in the framework of the Middle East as a whole that Zionism had played for 30 years in Palestine. As a focus for chauvinist hate it would serve to divert the revolutionary struggles of the Middle Eastern Arab masses from anti-imperialist into racial or religious channels.”

He continues and he points out to the anti-imperialist mass pressure in the Arab states:

“But something went wrong with the plan in its initial stage in most of the Arab countries: demonstrations were directed mainly against foreign companies and establishments, including the Soviet Union because of its support of partition, and the Communist Party, whose offices in Damascus were wrecked.”

This pressure of the Arab masses was the reason the rulers of the Arab states went to war with Israel. Today this is even recognized by Zionist historians like Benny Morris:

“The massacre and the way it was trumpeted in the Arab media added to the pressure on the Arab states’ leaders to aid the embattled Palestinians and hardened their resolve to invade Palestine. The news had aroused great public indignation – which the leaders were unable to ignore.” [19]

To avoid this conclusion Munier argues:

“Only where they ruled directly did the British succeed at the time in turning these riots against the Jewish minority, e.g., in the British Crown-Colony of Aden anti-partition demonstrators killed 75 Jews and wounded many more.”

He goes on and claims that the Arab states were tools of imperialism against Israel:

“The fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine early in 1948 showed clearly that, on the Palestinian scale, the Jews were militarily stronger. The cause for Arab weakness was not only because of the feudal structure of Arab society in general, but also the reactionary Arab leadership which had deliberately prevented the growth of any mass movement similar to that of 1936-39 in fear of the working class which had emerged during World War II. The question was now: Will the Arab governments of the surrounding countries intervene?

On January 12, 1948, British diplomatic sources in London confirmed the report that Great Britain was supplying arms to Egypt, Iraq and Trans-Jordan according to “treaties,” but still the will and ability of these governments to invade Palestine remained doubtful. They needed new encouragement which came in the form of the American declaration at the UN in March 1948 renouncing partition and favoring trusteeship. This declaration, together with the conspicuous helplessness of the UN apparatus to implement its own decision, induced the governments of the Middle East to make a bid for the position of sole agent of Anglo-American imperialism in the Middle East to the exclusion of the Zionist leadership.”

Then to avoid the full implication of his narrative which leads to the defense of Israel against the Arabs he turns around and argues:

“But in the course of their invasion, after May 15, when the Trans-Jordan Arab Legion threatened to defeat Jewish Jerusalem and the Egyptian army reached the southern Jewish colonies on the gateway to Tel Aviv, the first truce was imposed giving the Jews a needed respite to organize their army, to import weapons and to supply Jerusalem. The aim of the truce was to create a balance of power, not to create the opportunity for a decisive military victory of the Jews over the Arab armies. British officers continued to serve with the Arab Legion, and Egypt and Syria continued to buy arms in several European Marshall Plan countries.

New truces were imposed as the need arose to maintain this balance of power.

The last one was imposed when Israeli forces moved into Egyptian territory and threatened the annihilation of the whole Egyptian force in Palestine, whose collapse would have had serious social repercussions in Egypt. In the meantime the creation of the Arab refugee problem, together with quarrels over boundaries, resulted in enough tension between Israel and the Arab countries for American diplomacy to undertake the “pacification” of the Middle East for the time being by the conclusion of a “permanent truce” in Rhodes.”

As a result of this wrong analysis, the RCL in Palestine had a wrong perspective and a program and as result the wrong strategy and tactics from its inception. If prior to WWII there were forces within the FI that opposed their pro Zionist line the FI was unable to do so in 1948.

The Birth of Palestinian Trotskyism

Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 had a cataclysmic effect on the workers’ movement, both in Germany itself and internationally. The Social Democrats’ failure to combat it seriously, combined with the Stalinists’ stubborn refusal to use united front tactics to defend against the fascist danger, resulted in a tremendous defeat. Following this defeat the Communist International (CI) under the Stalinist leadership shifted from bureaucratic ultra leftism to class collaboration – the popular fronts. In response to the CI’s failure to learn from the German catastrophe, Trotsky declared it in 1933 dead as a revolutionary organization, and argued for the building of a new, Fourth International.

For Jewish workers, the impact of the rise of Nazism to power on their physical well-being and their political consciousness was especially sharp. The defeat helped the Zionist nationalist propaganda that most politically conscious Jews had rejected: that anti-Semitism among non-Jews was inevitable and futile to confront. For a much smaller number, Trotsky’s prescient prediction of the catastrophe that would result if the Communists failed to correct their methods resulted in a greater interest in and sympathy for Trotskyism.

Both trends had an impact within Palestine. On the one hand, among far-left Zionists, whose sympathies for the Soviet Union had previously inclined them towards Stalinism, it became increasingly common to read Trotsky’s writings. Within parties such as the Left “Poale Tsiyon” (Workers of Zion), it was not unusual to find youth who proclaimed themselves Trotskyists one moment, and loyal, though questioning, Zionists the next. Yet, alongside this leftward polarization, Jewish immigration and Zionist settlement increased dramatically during the 1930s.

Of course, not all Jewish immigration to Palestine in this period was voluntary and Zionist in character. For all but the wealthiest and most famous refugees from Nazi terror, imperialist countries such as the U.S. and Britain offered only a closed door. For many desperate Jews, immigration to Palestine was an unfortunate necessity. From among these numbers, a small number of Trotskyist Jews from Germany settled in 1933. These exiles engaged in modest ventures, printing Trotsky’s writings in German and Yiddish, and making the first attempts to translate them into Hebrew.

Among the young left-Zionists who were won to Trotskyism, the most significant was Ygael Gluckstein. In English-language publications of the FI, he was known as “L. Rock,” and later in life he would be known as Tony Cliff, founder and leader of the British SWP. Cliff himself participated in the Chugim Marxistim(Marxist Circles), a youth organization led by ZeevAbramovitch and Yitzhak Yitzhaki, associated with the Poalei Tziyon Smol. His writing of that period reflects this fact. When the Communist Party took their ultra-left turn after 1929 while the RCL continued with their politics reflecting the Zionist pressure on the organization, their road to the Arab workers was blocked. The Communist Party politics of the Popular front, which led them to politically supporting the reactionary leadership of the revolutionary Palestinian mass uprising in 1936-39, was an open betrayal of the working class.

However, the RCL was incapable of challenging the PKP influence amongst the Arab workers because it did not possess a revolutionary understanding and program for Palestine. It was blinded by a superficial understanding of the “Jewish-Arab conflict” as a confrontation between two equally reactionary nationalist camps. They failed to see the colonial settler nature of Zionism, the subsequent real national oppression of the Arabs by the Zionists and hence the justified national liberation struggle of the Arab masses against the Zionists (which was betrayed by the Arab bourgeoisie and landlords).

This programmatic failure of the Trotskyists in Palestine – which reminds us of Lenin’s polemics against “imperialist economism” – became completely evident in an article by the RCL leader Tony Cliff in November 1938. In a chapter entitled “The Jewish-Arab conflict”, Cliff wrote:

“What are the causes of this conflict? Two answers are advanced in Palestine. The Zionist groups say that the conflict is simply the collision of feudalism and reaction with the progressive forces of capitalism. The Arab nationalists and their Stalinist supporters claim that the collision is between the Arab liberation movement and Zionism.

But the first explanation is wrong because the fact of the conflict between feudalism and capitalism does not explain the Arab national movement in Palestine. There are parallel manifestations of nationalism in the adjacent countries (Syria, Egypt). Moreover it does not explain how a clique of effendis succeeded in getting control over a militant national movement of hundreds of thousands. It is clear that the basis of the antagonism of the Arab masses to the Jewish population does not arise from the fact that the latter have brought in a higher standard of living and have created a modem labour movement. Their principal opposition arises from the fact that they see in the Jewish population the bearers of Zionism, that political system based upon national exclusivism, and hostility to the aspirations of the Arab masses to independence and democratisation of the political regime.

The second view, the claim of the Arab nationalists, is likewise erroneous. It does not take into consideration that there really is a conflict between feudalism and capitalist development, secondly, that inside the nationalist movement there is an Arab bourgeoisie which in competition with the closed Jewish economy develops exclusivist Arab tendencies, and thirdly, that the Jewish population is no integral part of the imperialist camp.

What follows therefore is that the collision in the Arab-Jewish conflict is between two national exclusivist movements (between Zionism and the feudal, semi-bourgeois Arab leadership on the one hand, and on the other the struggle of the Arab masses against Zionism). The consistent struggle for the easing up of this conflict is therefore only possible on the basis of the struggle against Zionism, against Arab national exclusivism and anti-Jewish actions, against imperialism, for the democratisation of the country and its political independence.” [20]

So we see the RCL leader adhering to an idealist, not dialectical-materialist method, which equates both Zionist and Arab nationalism or “national exclusivism” without understanding the difference between an oppressed nation and a colonial settler oppressor nation. Consequently, Cliff could not see the important difference between the nationalism of an oppressed nation and the nationalism of a colonial settler oppressor nation.

However, as Lenin explained at the Second Congress of the Communist International, recognition of this difference – which is so essential in the imperialist epoch – is a precondition to understand and act as a Marxist:

„First, what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, weemphasise this distinction.“ [21]

As a result of its failure, the RCL saw in the Arab Uprising 1936-39 mainly a pogrom against the Jews and remained on the sidelines of history. It failed to assimilate the revolutionary position of the Fourth International which supported the Arab Uprising in 1936-39:

“The struggle against war and its social source, capitalism, presupposes direct, active, unequivocal support to the oppressed colonial peoples in their struggles and wars against imperialism. A “neutral” position is tantamount to support of imperialism. Yet, among the announced adherents of the London Bureau congress are found ILPers who advocate leaving the courageous Ethiopian warriors against marauding Italian fascism in the lurch on the grounds of “neutrality,” and “Left” Poale Zionists who are even at this moment leaning upon British imperialism in its savage campaign against the legitimate, even if confused, struggle of the Arab peasantry.” [22]

But when the Fourth International degenerated after the Second World War as a revolutionary Marxist International, this meant the political end of the RCL. Had the Fourth International not degenerated, it would have been possible that the RCL or some of it would be saved for the working class revolution. However this was not the case. In 1948 the FI, among other political mistakes, refused to give military support to the Arab armies in the war of 1948. In 1952 the FI finally crossed the Rubicon when the Bolivian section supported the Popular front almost without any opposition.

There is no doubt that Cliff and his comrades tried to break away from Zionism, but they could not make the break. Facing repression by the British military government, social ostracism and physical attack by Zionists, and understandable mistrust by Arab workers, the small and entirely Jewish initial core of Palestinian Trotskyists grew modestly over the years and gradually gained a hearing among Arab workers and intellectuals. They left behind documents that reflect the efforts of a young and inexperienced Marxist organization to come to grips with a difficult, almost unprecedented, political situation. Yet some of their mistakes would later be picked up and magnified by renegades from and pretenders to Trotskyism. This makes the criticism all the more necessary.

Tony Cliff’s Autobiography

On the question of Palestine and Israel and especially the war in 1948 one can see very clearly the contradiction between a revolutionary program and a centrist program. So let us a take a look at the Autobiography of Tony Cliff, the leader and founder of the Internationalist Socialist Tendency (today best known by its strongest group – the Socialist Workers Party in Britain).

According to his autobiography, Tony Cliff was born in Palestine in 1917 to a capitalist right-wing Zionist family well connected to the Zionist leadership.

“My father was a big contractor who built sections of the Hedjaz Railway. His building partner was Chaim Weitzman, the first president of Israel. Friends of my family were among the leading Zionists. Moshe Sharet (later foreign minister), a frequent visitor at our home, was a kind of political teacher to me. When I stayed with my uncle Kalvarisky in Rehavia, David BenGurion would sometimes come to ask him for something, or to Paula (his wife) to ask for a folding bed. Dr Hillel Yoffe (a leading Zionist) was another uncle of mine. My family was implanted at the core of the Zionist community. This probably made it more difficult for me to break from Zionism.” [23]

He himself admitted that it took him years to break away from Zionism.

“It took me a few years to make the transition from being an orthodox Zionist to being a semi-Zionist with a pro-Palestinian position, and then to making a complete break with Zionism.”

This transition from a semi-Zionist with sympathy for the Palestinians to an anti Zionist albeit Arab nationalist, did not happen in Palestine but only after he left Palestine in 1946. The main reasons for that are the general circumstances – the Apartheid system was already strongly developed in that time so that Israeli Jews and Palestinians were strictly separated at the workplaces and their living areas. So to get rid of any Zionist influence it would have been necessary for Cliff and the Trotskyists in Palestine to build close links in their political work with the Palestinian masses. They would have had to take up the program of permanent revolution which includes the national liberation of the Palestinians, the struggle against Zionist colonialism and for socialist revolution. They would also have to break with their ghettoisation in the Jewish-Zionist milieu and to build roots amongst the Palestinian people. This includes learning about the Palestinian’s culture and to coalesce to a certain degree with them. This means also to dedicate their life to the liberation struggle of the Palestinians masses. And in the end it would have meant to build up a joint revolutionary organization of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. All of these steps are very hard to take, especially if someone comes from a wealthy Zionist family like Cliff – mainly because they go hand in hand with a complete break with the family and the Israeli society itself. Only a revolutionary communist with a proletarian, Bolshevik conviction can fulfill all of these tasks.

The articles Tony Cliff wrote while in Palestine reflected his inability to make a definite break with Zionism. According to his autobiography he became a socialist because of the discrimination against the Arabs:

“The specific spur that pushed me to become a socialist was the wretched conditions of Arab kids that I witnessed. While I was always shod, I saw Arab kids running barefoot all the time. Another issue was that there were no Arab kids in my class at school. It seemed unnatural to me that it should be like that. After all, my own kids, born and educated in England, never came home to tell us there were no English kids in the school (though I would not have been surprised if they said there were no Dutch, Danish or French kids). After all, we live in England. At the age of 13 or 14 I wrote a school essay, as all the kids were asked to do, but the subject of my essay was: ‘It is so sad there are no Arab kids in the school’. The teacher’s comment was short and clear: she wrote, ‘Communist’”

The story is very similar to the manner many intellectuals in Russia started to become revolutionaries. Alexandra Kollontai, for example, wrote in her autobiography about the children she saw in factories as one important trigger to join the revolutionary movement although she was coming from a wealthy family background. (See e.g. Alexandra Kollontai: The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman, as well as another autobiography of her: Ich habe viele Leben gelebt… Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen. Dietz, Berlin, 1981, pp. 90-97.) To learn about the living circumstances of the workers and oppressed and to draw the correct conclusions from it – i.e. breaking with his or her class background and joining the camp of the working class liberation struggle – is one of the biggest challenges for everyone not coming from a working class or oppressed layer background, who wants to become a communist.

Cliff wrote as well:

“The exclusion of Arabs was not confined to education. They were also excluded from Jewish-owned houses. This segregation meant that throughout the 29 years I lived in Palestine I never lived in a house with Arabs. As a matter of fact the first time I lived with a Palestinian Arab in the same house was in 1947 when I stayed in a small boarding house in Dublin”.

He was greatly influenced by his uncle Chaim Margalit-Kalvarisky. He wrote about this with great sympathy:

“There was another factor which focused my attention on the issue of the exclusion of Arab kids from the school. There was one small school in the country where Arab and Jewish kids were together. This school came into being and was financed by an uncle of mine, Chaim Margalit-Kalvarisky. He was very well off, being head of Rothschild’s organisation in Palestine. He also founded a minuscule group of liberal Jews and Arabs called Brit Shalom (Peace League). This uncle was the butt of my father’s and mother’s derision as they thought he was mad. He was so single minded that he hardly talked about anything else except peace with the Arabs. When he met Chanie for the first time he did not ask her about anything but barged straight into the subject of peace with the Arabs. Chanie (Tony cliff’s wife) thought there was a great similarity between him and me – both a bit deranged. She said to me, ‘There must be a blood relationship explaining it.’ I told her Kalvarisky was not related by blood but through marriage: he married my father’s sister. His actions probably concentrated my attention on the issue of the exclusion of Arabs from my school even more. I identified myself with the underdogs “

Anyone who knows the history of Chaim Margalit-Kalvarisky (1868-1948) must be aware of the fact that this uncle was a known agronomist whose job included purchasing land for the Jewish Colonization Association: He believed that it was possible for the Palestinians to accept the colonization of Palestine without a struggle by patronizing them. He had come to Palestine in 1895, aiding the agricultural settlement of Lord Rothschild. He was one of the first Zionists to establish close links with some Arabs. He founded Brit Shalom in 1925, and Kedma Mizraha in 1936, and he was President of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation since 1939.

Writing to the Executive on 5 March 1939, Chaim Margalit-Kalvarisky suggested an increase of the Jewish population to 50% within ten years, after which independence would be given to Palestine. As soon as an Arab Federation would be formed, Palestine would join it as an autonomous part. [24]

An autobiography of someone who calls himself a Trotskyist should be able to make criticism on such figures like Chaim Margalit-Kalvarisky clear beside personal feelings he maybe had because of family ties. The war against the Palestinians was and is fought not only openly with guns but also with hypocritical “peaceful” solutions like the strategy of Margalit-Kalvarisky which is nothing else than a strategy of displacement of the Palestinians.

In his autobiography Cliff was aware of the fact that the Zionist project was very similar to the white colonization of South Africa. He wrote:

“The Zionists who emigrated to Palestine at the end of the 19th century wanted its whole population to be Jewish. In South Africa, by contrast, the whites were the capitalists and their hangers-on while the blacks were the workers. In Palestine, with the very low standard of living of the Arabs compared to Europeans, and with widespread open and hidden unemployment, the means of excluding the Arabs was by closing the Jewish labor market to them. There were a number of methods used to achieve this.”

In addition, according to his autobiography, he was aware of the fact that the British and the Zionists were deeply racist toward the native Arabs.

“While Zionism dug a wide and deep trench to separate Jews from Arabs, imperialism colluded. When the British administration in Palestine did employ both Arabs and Jews to do the same jobs, they paid the Arab workers about a third of what they paid Jewish workers. The policy of ‘divide and rule’ dominated everything, even prison.”

Cliff testified that the Jewish workers in Palestine had a material interest in supporting the colonization of Palestine. He himself wrote:

“The working class of Palestine was deeply divided between Arabs and Jews. Arabs and Jews used different languages – only a tiny minority of Jewish workers understood Arabic, and an even smaller minority of Arabs understood Hebrew. In a few workplaces there were both Jews and Arabs. Thus of the 5,000 or so railway workers in the early 1940s some four fifths were Arabs and a fifth Jews. The oil refinery in Acre employed both Arabs and Jews, again the majority Arabs. The lowest echelon of the civil service also employed workers from the two communities. But these were exceptions. Some nine tenths of all workers were in segregated workplaces.”

One should expect from Cliff that he knows how important it is to fight inside the Israeli-Jewish working class to break with Zionism and to fuse with the Palestinian resistance. There is no other chance to liberate the whole working class in Israel than the road to break with the bonds of Zionism and the Israeli state itself.

He even wrote:

“The Zionist socialists were trapped ideologically. They believed that the future belonged to socialism, that in the kibbutz we could see the embryo of a future socialist society (rather than a collective unit of colonists). But in the meantime Arab resistance to Zionist colonization had to be overcome so they collaborated with Zionist moneybags and rich institutions as well as the British army and police. The Zionist socialists held the Communist Manifesto in one hand and a colonizer’s gun in the other.”

So every real communist would say: Give both – Manifestos and guns to the Palestinians! Demand from the so-called socialists who understand themselves as Zionists to break with Zionism in favor of being real socialists!

Cliff knew that the Zionists relied on the bayonets of British imperialism as he wrote:

“Knowing that they would face resistance from the Palestinians the Zionists were always clear that they needed the help of the imperialist power that had the major influence in Palestine at the time.”

Based on all this information one would expect Cliff, as a socialists who believed himself to be a Trotskyist, to side with the Arab workers and peasants against imperialism and the Zionists colonialists. Yet his policies in Palestine were different. He drew a parallel between the colonial settlers backed by British imperialism and the Arab resistance to imperialism and Zionism. Cliff was, during the period of his political activity in Palestine, never able and willing to break consistently with the Zionist influence. It is one of the most important proofs of the lack of consequent revolutionary method and therefore a breeding ground for a centrist degeneration.

Even in his autobiography written years after he left Palestine he blamed the Arab workers. How ridiculous to blame the oppressed masses to be guilty of not influencing the Israeli workers to the positive! If this is the Marxist way than Marx himself and everybody standing in his tradition are not Marxist. No real communist would blame working class women not to be militant enough and therefore not helping enough to open the eyes of working class men for women’s oppression! No real communist would blame the working class youth, would blame the working class immigrants guilty for not making clear to their oppressors to stop their oppression in the ranks of the labor movement! It is the chauvinist elements, the non-proletarian influences which are to blame and not the oppressed themselves! It is a shame that one has to explain this to a leading figure of a movement which sees itself as a legitimate follower of Leon Trotsky! Tony Cliff was far away from understanding the role of Communists in their approach towards oppressed masses by blaming the Arab workers.

On this he wrote in his autobiography:

“I have already referred to Zionism trapping the Jewish workers of Palestine. A strong and dynamic Arab working class in Palestine could have got rid of the cul-de-sac in which Zionism trapped the Jewish working class. Alas, it was the same Zionist expansion (threatening the Arabs with what was later called ‘ethnic cleansing’) that prevented Arab workers from separating themselves from the most reactionary Arab leaders.

The Zionist colonization frightened the mass of Arabs. It put their opposition to Zionism at the top of their agenda, making them ready to unite with the feudal landlords and religious parties who preached accommodation with imperialism while aiming to stop Zionist expansion. Naturally the Arab masses had only a pale picture of the impact of the future of this expansion. The ethnic cleansing of the Arabs following the founding of the state of Israel was still to come. (…)

The mass of the Palestinian proletariat felt entrapped into facing the strong expansion of Zionist settlement aided and abetted by British imperialism. They were therefore prey to the influence of feudal reaction.

Heading this reactionary trend was the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Emin el-Husseini, the top cleric among the Muslims, and head of a rich land-owning family. He was appointed to his position with the consent of the British authorities. In 1936-39 there was an uprising of the Arabs against the expansion of Jewish settlements. It was brutally repressed by the British army and Zionist volunteers. At the time of these riots A Liwa, the paper of Haj Emin el-Husseini, wrote in a leading article, ‘It is the Jewish influence which has infiltrated into the very heart of British politics in Palestine, that does harm to the authorities and prevents them from doing the duty that human feeling puts upon them.

Proclamation No.3 of the leadership of the Arab revolt, made on 4 September 1936, says, ‘It is regrettable that Britain suffers this number of casualties in a holy part of the Arab countries, their allies of yesterday and today, in order to serve Zionism and erect a national home for it in Arab Palestine. They were not fighting British interests, as the Arabs do not fight Britain, and do not wish to damage her interests, but fight against the Jewish settlement and Zionist policy alone. If not for these two, the Arabs would live in friendship and peace with the English.’”

The bureaucratic leaders of the labor movement in Israel are to blame for the developments! It was and is the task of the Israeli working class to organize itself against the Apartheid state Israel in order to educate all workers in the meaning of real international solidarity. It means that for the Israeli workers the slogan “The main enemy is at home!” stood and stands on the top of their agenda in order to fight Zionism. It means that it is the main task of all communists in Israel and of course the Arab world to build a multinational revolutionary party which has on its banner: Down with the Apartheid state Israel! For a Workers and Peasants Republic from the River to the Sea! For a free, red Palestine! Without such a party, without the struggle for a revolutionary orientation of the workers movement, forces like the reactionary Nationalists and Islamists will appear as the only possibility to fight back the Israeli aggressors! Lots of people are to blame for the defeat of the Palestinian resistance but really not the Arab workers! Tony Cliff prefers this very easy way of blaming the oppressed for accepting reactionary leaders in their resistance because of the lack of alternatives.

And so he continued:

“On 13 December 1931 Al-Jami’a Al-Arabiya, the paper of the Muslim Council of the Husseinis, printed a section of the notorious forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion which ‘proved’ the connections of the Jews with Communism. Similar documents were printed frequently by the same paper and the Arab press in Palestine generally. (…)

For the Arab feudal lords and bourgeoisie Zionism was the sole source of discord with imperialism. The Arab leaders unceasingly strove to prove that they could be allies of imperialism which could therefore safely dispense with Zionism as a pillar in the East. Constantly they repeated the refrain: the British policy of support for Zionism is due to the influence of the Jews but is against the interests of the empire.

The impasse facing Arab workers and Jewish workers could have been broken only by a strong and dynamic Arab working class movement. Alas, the Palestinian working class was far too small and weak to deliver this.”

This proves of course that the reactionary Arab elites betrayed the struggle of the Arab workers and peasants in the 1936-39 uprising. However, history is not only the actions of kings and reactionary religious leaders. The political problem in 1936-39 in Palestine was that the Palestinian Communist Party, acting on its popular front policy, subordinated the Arab workers and peasants to the reactionary leadership. The group Cliff was leading, the RCL, instead of struggling together with the Arab masses for national liberation and a socialist revolution (while exposing the reactionary role of the Arab elite), saw the uprising as a pogrom against the Jews. This is in the end a Zionist explanation for a Palestinian mass uprising which was thoroughly justified.

In his autobiography Cliff discussed how hard it was to build a Trotskyist party in Palestine: a small group of 30, most of them Jews, struggling against isolation and persecution.

“The fact that we were getting nowhere was becoming more and more frustrating. Formally we said the right things: Arab workers should fight Zionism and imperialism and break with the reactionary Arab leadership; Jewish workers should join the Arab masses in the struggle. We repeated the word ‘should’ again and again. One expression of this was a series of three articles I wrote for the American Trotskyist monthly New International: British Policy in Palestine (October 1938), The Jewish-Arab Conflict (November 1938), and Class Politics in Palestine (June 1939). I used the pseudonym L. Rock.”

The Palestinian Revolt in 1929

These articles did not call on the Jewish workers to join the Arab workers in the struggle against British imperialism and Zionist colonialism, as Cliff claimed in his autobiography. In these articles he blamed the British for inciting national hatred between the two peoples in Palestine, while characterizing the Arab masses’ uprising against the British and the Zionists as a pogrom against the Jews.

On the British Policy in Palestine Cliff wrote:

“British policy in this country is based on a system of divide and rule, the system of inciting national hatreds between the two peoples in the country in order to assure itself the position of arbitrator. The facts which indicate the extent to which the British provoke national antagonisms are too numerous to recite here. We must content ourselves with a few typical instances. From the beginning of British rule in Palestine to the present there have been four bloody attacks on the Jews – 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936-38. (…)

In 1928 the government began to proclaim the provocative decrees concerning the juridical status of the Wailing Wall (sacred to orthodox Jews) thereby opening the door to the chauvinistic religious propaganda of a gang of effendis and leading to the pogroms of 1929 under the slogan of “Defend the Holy Places.” Simultaneously the government by this means strengthened the influence of the religious chauvinist element among the Jews (at that time there arose the “Commissions for the Defense of the Wailing Wall”).” [25]

This account was very different from reality. It was fed by the Zionist press and political pressures. The Western Wall is a holy place for the Moslems and the Orthodox Jews. In September 1928, Zionist Jews decided to change the status quo and for their Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall, they placed chairs and erected (screens) between the men and women present. The Muslims saw it, and rightly so, as a provocation and a move by the Zionists to control the Wall and turn it into a synagogue. The Mufti of Jerusalem turned to the British and demanded that the government keep its obligation, according to Balfour’s declaration, to protect the religious rights of the Moslems. The Zionists indeed violated the status quo that had existed during the Ottoman rule that forbade Jews from making any construction in the Western Wall area. The Commissioner demanded the removal of the screen and the chairs. When the Zionists refused, police officers were sent in, and a scuffle took place between the Zionist and the police.

Haj Amin al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem who was elected to this position by the First High Commissioner, and the Zionist Herbert Samuel believed, and for good reason, that the Zionist Jews were planning to take over the Western wall as a step towards taking over al Aqsa Mosque. On 15 August 1929, during the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av, several hundred members of the right-wing Revisionist Joseph Klausner ‘s movement and of the Betar youth organization, modeled after Mussolini Blackshirts, assembled at the Wall shouting “the Wall is ours.” They raised the Zionist flag and sang Hatikvah, the Zionist anthem. The British authorities had been informed by the Mufti of the march in advance and provided a heavy police escort in an attempt to prevent any incidents. Rumours spread that the youths had attacked local residents. On Friday, August 16, a demonstration organized by militant Muslims ignored the Mufti attempts to pacify the Muslims, marched to the Wall and beat Jewish worshippers and returned to attack the next day. The next day a young Jew named Abraham Mizrachikicked his ball into an Arab peasant woman’s home and without permission entered the garden to get the ball. He was stabbed by an Arab man, and died the evening of the following day. His funeral was turned into a political demonstration demanding the Western wall, and was suppressed by the police.

On August 20, Hagana organized 600 armed Jews. The next day thousands of Arab villagers armed with sticks and knives streamed into Jerusalem from the surrounding countryside to pray on the many. Harry Luke, the local Commissioner, telephoned the Mufti to come and calm a mob that had gathered under his window. The Mufti attempt to pacify the crowd failed. Inflamed by rumors that two Arabs had been killed by Jews, Arabs started an attack on Jews in Jerusalem’s Old City. The violence quickly spread to other parts of Palestine. British authorities had fewer than 100 soldiers, six armored cars, and five or six aircraft in the country. The British police had 1,500 men, the majority of whom were Arabs. Militant Muslims killed unarmed Non-Zionist Jews in Hebron and Safed while many other Jews were saved by their Muslim neighbors. In the clashes 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed.

Shaw Commission

A commission of inquiry headed by Sir Walter Shaw published its findings on these events in 1930. The British politically supported the Zionist goal of establishing a Zionist state in Palestine but they had to calm the Arab masses and the report reflected these two aims.

It stated: “The outbreak in Jerusalem on the 23rd of August was from the beginning an attack by Arabs on Jews for which no excuse in the form of earlier murders by Jews has been established.

The outbreak was not premeditated. A general massacre of the Jewish community at Hebron was narrowly averted. In a few instances, Jews attacked Arabs and destroyed Arab property. These attacks, though inexcusable, were in most cases in retaliation for wrongs already committed by Arabs in the neighborhoods in which the Jewish attacks occurred.

In his activities (connected to the dispute over the Holy Places) the Mufti was influenced by the twofold desire to confront the Jews and to mobilize Moslem opinion on the issue of the Wailing Wall. He had no intention of utilizing this religious campaign as the means of inciting to disorder.

In the matter of innovations of practice (at the Wailing Wall) little blame can be attached to the Mufti in which some Jewish religious authorities also would not have to share. …no connection has been established between the Mufti and the work of those who either are known or are thought to have engaged in agitation or incitement. … After the disturbances had broken out the Mufti co-operated with the Government in their efforts both to restore peace and to prevent the extension of disorder.

The fundamental cause … is the Arab feeling of animosity and hostility towards the Jews consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future. … The feeling as it exists today is based on the twofold fear of the Arabs that by Jewish immigration and land purchases they may be deprived of their livelihood and in time pass under the political domination of the Jews.

In our opinion the immediate causes of the outbreak were:

The long series of incidents connected with the Wailing Wall… These must be regarded as a whole, but the incident among them which in our view contributed most to the outbreak was the Jewish demonstration at the Wailing Wall on the 15th of August, 1929. Next in importance we put the activities of the Society for the Protection of the Moslem Holy Places and, in a lesser degree, of the Pro-Wailing Wall Committee.” [26]

In his article Cliff wrote:

“Jewish immigration represents a basic factor in the process of accelerating capitalist development. The growth of a Jewish and Arab working class which, considered historically, represent a serious anti-imperialist force is bound up with Jewish immigration into the country” [27]

And in addition he wrote:

“(It) is evident that the British know full well how to exploit the elementary needs of the Jewish worker, namely immigration and colonization, neither of which contradicts the real necessities of the Arab masses, in order to raise a barrier of hate between the producers of both peoples and to assure itself of the dependence of the Jewish population”

Furthermore Tony Cliff shows in the same article political sympathy to some Palestinians who were pro Zionist element and he writes in the same article:

“The government has systematically prevented all attempts at effecting a reconciliation of the two peoples. An Arab party was organized in Haifa, which raised the slogan of “Peace between the Jews and Arabs” (it was a bourgeois liberal party) and counted among its members even the Arab mayor of the city. The British government together with the feudal Arab leadership and the Zionist organization were responsible for the defeat of this party in subsequent elections, arid brought such pressure to bear on its members that it was dissolved”.

In fact, the Mayor of Haifa, Hasan Shukri, was a Zionist collaborator. In his article Cliff walked in his uncle Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky’s shoes. We can learn who was Hasan Shukri, from The Canadian Jewish News that carried this information:

“It goes without saying that Palestinian Arabs were opposed to Zionism. But from the moment they mounted a concerted campaign to fight it, the Palestinians split into two warring camps, much to the benefit of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. The mainstream camp, led by Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, could not reconcile itself to the Zionist project, whose ultimate goal was Jewish statehood. The accommodationist camp, which was identified with his bitter rival, the Nashashibi family, was pragmatic and open to coexistence with the Zionists, believing that they were simply too strong to be defeated. (…)

The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government on Nov. 2, 1917, galvanized the Palestinians, prompting them to form nationalist organizations, mount anti-Zionist demonstrations and carry out attacks against Jews. In response, Zionist leaders – spearheaded by Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky, a land purchaser for the Jewish Colonization Association, and Col. Frederick Kisch, a retired British intelligence officer and head of the Zionist executive’s political department – devised a counter-strategy. Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization, was also involved in this campaign. (…)

The Palestinians who chose co-operation were driven by various motives. Some assumed that the Zionist movement was an arm of the British Mandate and, therefore, should be cultivated. Still other Palestinians, particularly land dealers and job seekers, were animated by personal gain. Palestinians who considered themselves nationalists but who were opposed to the Husseini leadership were also targeted by Zionist strategists. Palestinians who had Jewish friends and who were repelled by the violence of Palestinians also tended tofavour co-operation.

With this in mind, Kalvarisky established the Muslim National Associations, a loose network of Palestinian political parties. But the concept did not work, and after more than a decade, he abandoned the idea altogether. (…)

Zionists tried to shape Arab public opinion by subsidizing Palestinian newspapers in Jaffa and Jerusalem and by recruiting writers who would sing the praises of Arab-Jewish co-operation and brotherhood. But as Cohen suggests, this strategy was only partially successful. (…)

On another front, the Zionist movement tried to recruit Palestinian public figures and informers. The first Palestinian Arab accused of collaboration, a village elder from the Mt. Hebron area, was murdered in 1929. The mayor of Haifa, Hasan Shukri, a symbol of coexistence, survived an attempt on his life”. [28]

The Arab Uprising in 1936-39

As we already saw above, the Fourth International took a revolutionary position on the Arab Uprising in 1936-39 and condemned the “Left” Poale Zionists who are even at this moment leaning upon British imperialism in its savage campaign against the legitimate, even if confused, struggle of the Arab peasantry.” As we saw already too, this differentiated the Fourth International from Cliff, who saw in the 1936-39 revolt a pogrom against the Jews.

Compared with Cliff, the Palestinian revolutionary left-wing nationalist Ghassan Kanafani – a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was assassinated by theMossad – provided a much better understanding of the uprising in his pamphlet “The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine”:

“Between 1936 and 1939, the Palestinian revolutionary movement suffered a severe setback at the hands of three separate enemies that were to constitute together the principal threat to the nationalist movement in Palestine in all subsequent stages of its struggle: the local reactionary leadership; the regimes in the Arab states surrounding Palestine; and the imperialist-Zionist enemy.

The intensity of the Palestinian nationalist experience, which emerged since 1918, and was accompanied in one way or another with armed struggle, could not reflect itself on the upper structure of the Palestinian national movement which remained virtually under the control of semi-feudal and semi-religious leadership. This was due primarily to two related factors:

1. The existence and effectiveness of the Zionist movement, which gave the national challenge relative predominance over the social contradictions. The impact of this challenge was being systematically felt by the masses of Palestinian Arabs, who were the primary victims of the Zionist invasion supported by British imperialism.

2. The existence of a significant conflict of interests between the local feudal-religious leadership and British imperialism: It was consistently in the interest of the ruling class to promote and support a certain degree of revolutionary struggle, instead of being more or less completely allied with the imperialist power as would otherwise be the case. The British imperialists had found in the Zionists “a more suitable ally. (…)

The change from a semi-feudal society to a capitalist society was accompanied by an increased concentration of economic power in the hands of the Zionist machine and consequently, within the Jewish society in Palestine. It is significant that Palestinian Arab advocates of conciliation, who became outspoken during the thirties, were not landlords or rich peasants, but rather elements of the urban upper bourgeoisie whose interests gradually coincided with the expanding interests of the Jewish bourgeoisie. The latter, by controlling the process of industrialization, was creating its own agents.

In the meantime, the Arab countries surrounding Palestine were playing two conflicting roles. On the one hand, the Pan-Arab mass movement was serving as a catalyst for the revolutionary spirit of the Palestinian masses, since a dialectical relation between the Palestinian and overall Arab struggles existed, on the other hand, the established regimes in these Arab countries were doing everything in their power to help curb and undermine the Palestinian mass movement. The sharpening conflict in Palestine threatened to contribute to the development of the struggle in these countries in the direction of greater violence, creating a revolutionary potential that their respective ruling classes could not afford to overlook.

The Arab ruling classes were forced to support British imperialism against their counterpart in Palestine, which was in effect leading the Palestinian nationalist movement.

Meanwhile, the Zionist-Imperialist alliance continued to grow; the period between 1936 and 1939 witnessed not only the crystallization of the militaristic and aggressive character of the colonial society that Zionism had firmly implanted in Palestine but also the relative containment and defeat of the Palestinian working class; this was subsequently to have a radical effect on the course of the struggle. During that period, Zionism, in collaboration with the mandatory power, successfully undermined the development of a progressive Jewish labor movement and of Jewish-Arab Proletarian brotherhood. The Palestine Communist Party was effectively isolated among both Arab and Jewish workers, and the reactionary Histadrut completely dominated the Jewish labour movement. The influence of Arab progressive forces within Arab labour federations in Haifa and Jaffa diminished, leaving the ground open for their control by reactionary leaderships that monopolized political action.

The issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine was not merely a moral or national issue; it had direct implication on the economic status of the Arab people of Palestine, affecting primarily the small and middle-income farmers, workers and certain sectors of the petty and middle bourgeoisies. The national and religious character of Jewish immigration further aggravated the economic repercussions.

Between 1933 and 1935, 150,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine, bringing the country’s Jewish population to 443,000 – or 29.6% of the total – from 1926 to 1932 the average number of immigrants per year was 7,201. It rose to 42,985 between 1933 and 1936, as direct result of Nazi persecution in Germany. In 1932, 9,000 German Jews entered Palestine, 30,000 in 1933, 40,000 in 1934 and 61,000 in 1935,(2) nearly three quarters of the new immigrants settling in cities. If Nazism was responsible for terrorizing the Jews and forcing them out of Germany; it was “democratic” capitalism, in collaboration with the Zionist movement, that was responsible for directing comparatively large numbers of Jewish migrants to Palestine, as illustrated by the following: of 2,562,000 Jews that fled Nazi persecution, the U.S.A. accepted only 170,000 (6.6%), Britain 50,000 (1.9%), while Palestine received 8.5% and 1,930,000 (75.2%) found refuge in the U.S.S.R. The severe economic impact of the immigration into Palestine can be realized when it is considered that a comparatively large percentage of Jewish settlers were basically capitalists: In 1933, 3,250 of the latter (11%) were considered as capitalists, in 1934, 5,124 or 12%, and in 1935, 6,309 or 10%.

According to official statistics, of the Jewish immigrants who entered Palestine between 1932 and 1936, 1,370 (with 17,119 dependents) possessed PL 1,000 or more: and 130,000 were officially registered as seeking employment, or dependents of previous immigrants. In other words, the immigration was not only designed to ensure a concentration of European Jewish capital in Palestine, that was to dominate the process of industrialization, but also to provide this effort with a Jewish proletariat: The policy that raised the slogan of “Jewish labor only” was to have grave consequences, as it led to the rapid emergence of fascist patterns in the society of Jewish settlers.

Another result was the development of a competitive struggle between the Palestinian Arab and Jewish proletariats and between Palestinian Arab peasants, farmers and agricultural laborers and their Jewish counterparts. This conflict also extended to higher classes, in as much as the Palestinian Arab small landowners and urban middle bourgeoisie realized that their interests were being threatened by growing Jewish capital.

In 1935, for example, Jews controlled 872 of a total of 1,212 industrial firms in Palestine, employing 13,678 workers, while the rest were Palestinian Arab-controlled and employed about 4,000 workers: Jewish investment totaled PL 4,391,000 compared to PL 704,000 Palestinian Arab industrial investment; Jewish production reached PL 6,000,000 compared to PL 1,545,000 by Palestinian Arab firms: In addition, Jewish capital controlled 90% of the concessions granted by the British Mandate, which accounted for a total investment of PL 5,789,000 and provided labor for 2,619 workers.

An official census in 1937 indicated that an average Jewish worker received 145% more in wages than his Palestinian Arab counterpart: (As high as 433% more in textile factories employing Jewish and Arab women, and 233% in tobacco factories. “By July 1937, the real wages of the average Palestinian Arab worker decreased 10% while those of a Jewish worker rose 10%.”

The situation resulted in an almost total collapse of the Arab economy in Palestine, primarily affecting Palestinian Arab workers. In his report to the Peel Royal Commission, George Mansour, the Secretary of the Federation of Palestinian Arab Workers in Jaffa, indicated that 98% of Palestinian Arab workers had a “well below average” standard of living. Based on a census covering 1,000 workers in Jaffa in 1936, the Federation had found that the income of 57% of Arab workers was less than PL 2.750 (the average minimum income required to support a family being PL 11); 12% less than PL 4.250, 12% less than PL 6, 4% less than PL 10, 1.5% less than PL 12 and 0.5% less than PL 15.9

When the Mandatory Government refused to allow nearly 1,000 unemployed Jaffa workers to hold a demonstration on June 6, 1935, the Federation of Workers issued a statement warning the Government that unless their problems were solved, “the government would soon have to give the workers either bread or bullets.” With the conditions of workers continuing to deteriorate, an uprising seemed imminent

George Mansour (who had been previously a Communist Party member) came out with striking illustrations in his report to the Peel Commission: by the end of 1935, 2,270 men and women workers were unemployed in the city of Jaffa alone, with a population of 71,000. Mansour pointed out five reasons for the high unemployment rate, four of which were directly connected with Jewish immigration: 1) the settling of new immigrants; 2) urban migration 3) dismissal of Arab workers from their jobs; 4) the deteriorating economic situation; 5) the discriminatory policy of the Mandatory Government in favor of Jewish workers.

In a period of nine months, the number of Histadrut workers increased by 41,000. According to an Article published in the issue No. 3460 of the newspaper Davar, Histadrut workers numbered 115,000 at the end of July 1936; the official 1936 government report (p. 117) had showed their number at the end of 1935 to be 74,000.

The policy of dismissal of Palestinian Arab workers from firms and projects controlled by Jewish capital initiated violent clashes. In the four Jewish settlements of Malbis, Dairan, WadiHunain and Khadira, there were 6,214 Palestinian Arab workers in February 1935. After six months, this figure went down to 2,276, and in a year’s time, went down to 617 Palestinian Arab workers only. Attacks against Palestinian Arab workers also took place. On one occasion, for instance, the Jewish community forced a Palestinian Arab contractor and his workers to leave their work in the Brodski building in Haifa. Among those who were systematically losing their jobs were workers in orchards, cigarette factories, mason’s yards, construction, etc.

Between 1930 and 1935, Palestinian Arab pearl industry exports fell from PL 11,532 to PL 3,777 a year. The number of Palestinian Arab soap factories in Haifa alone fell from 12 in 1929 to 4 in 1935. Their export value fell from PL 206,659 in 1930 to PL 79,311 in 1935.

It was clear that the Arab proletariat had fallen ‘victim to British colonialism and Jewish capital, the former bearing the primary responsibility.’” [29]

To conclude, the positions expressed in Cliff’s article are pro Zionist positions. Revolutionaries at that time called to open the gates of the West for the Jews, but not to support Jewish settlers’ colonization.

In the year 2000, the SWP admitted that in their journal:

“In the year of the 1936 events, when the Arab uprising took place, corpses of victims were lying in the streets, and difficult questions were burning. Gluckstein wrote an article in theChugim paper Eamifneh (At the Turning Point) in which he argued that Zionism from a class standpoint brought blessings to the country and the Arab fellah. This article was brought to England 30 years later by Professor Yehoshua Porat, who used it in sharp debate with Tony Cliff, who by then would not have dreamt of saying such a thing. In 1936 he was still torn between Zionism and socialism, and looked to Marx for the answers to the shocking phenomenon of a people returning to its country because of real and difficult suffering, who in their turn imposed suffering on other people: ‘I was then for the Arab right of self-determination and also for the right of the Jewish refugees to come to Palestine.” [30]

Cliff began his article Class Politics in Palestine (June 1939) by referring to the revolutionary Marxist positions on the national question He wrote:

“All wings of the Zionist movement hold firmly to the theory that no anti-imperialist liberation movement exists in Palestine and that the existing Arab movement is the product of the propaganda of the Arab feudalists, and the agents of German and Italian fascism. This is said not only by the fascist Zionists and the liberal bourgeoisie, but also by the reformists and even the members of the London Bureau – “Poale Zion and Marxist Circle” and the “Hashomer Hatzair”. As grounds for this view they use three arguments: (a) at the head of the Arabian movement stand feudalists for the most part, hence the movement is reactionary; (b) a movement that practices terrorism against the Jewish population, and is mainly against Jewish workers, is nothing but a pogrom movement; (c) a movement supported by Hitler and Mussolini is necessarily reactionary and fascistic. These arguments are wrong from the ground up and distort the reality, inasmuch as they are calculated to cover up more or less Zionist aspirations and an alliance with oppressive British imperialism.

Have not many national movements been led by feudalists (e.g. Abd-el Krim in Morocco, the Syrian and Egyptian national movements in their inception, etc.)? Were not national liberation movements at the beginning of their development, when they were under feudal leadership, often directed against members of other nationalities in their land (Ireland, formerly also India, the Boxer uprising in China, etc.)? And are not national liberation movements exploited largely by other imperialist forces that are hostile to the imperialism against which the movement is directed? There is no doubt that the Arab national movement in Palestine, like its parallels in other colonial countries, is historically essentially an anti-imperialist movement” [31]

The Debate with the South African Workers Party (WPSA)

But then Cliff continued in this article not by supporting the Palestinian anti-imperialist movement, not even by calling at least for a section of the Jewish workers in Palestine to join the Arab anti-imperialist struggle. Instead he referred to the racist settlers workers as the revolutionary subjective of history, and he called for an imaginary unity between the Arab and the Jewish settlers. He rejected the position of the Trotskyists in South Africa and wrote:

“Palestine cannot emancipate itself from the imperialist yoke unless a unification of the Arab and Jewish masses takes place, for the latter represent a third of the population, the Jewish workers are half of the Palestine working class, and Jewish economy is decisive in many branches of industry. The Jewish toiling masses will not, however, support the anti-imperialist movement if no class differentiation takes place in the Arabian national movement. What is so terrible in the situation in Palestine is that, on the one hand, there is a strong national differentiation between Jews and Arabs and, on the other, the national unity in the Arab camp is very firm. (…)

(An) attempt has been made to compare the position of the Jews in the country with that of the whites in South Africa. This analogy was drawn in order to show that the Jewish worker must not unite with the Arab, as an argument against the international organization of the workers in Palestine. The analogy was then of course seized upon by the CPP in order to show the “imperialistic character” of the Jews in Palestine. We wish to test this analogy in order to show clearly that the Jewish worker in Palestine is not an integral part of the imperialist camp and that his objective interests will lead him to unification with the Arab worker.”

As a result Cliff fully supports Jewish-Zionist settlement in Palestine as a supposedly “anti-imperialist” demand:

“Since the World War, two hostile camps face each other in Palestine, an Arab and a Jewish. The former demands the stopping of Jewish immigration and identifies this demand with the struggle against Zionism. The latter demands the opening of the doors of the country to immigrants and sees therein the essence of Zionism.

Against both these camps there appeared directly after the World War a section of the Comintern which for a number of years adopted an independent internationalist position. The members of the Comintern in Palestine, up to the great turn in the colonial question at the time of the Chinese Revolution, while absolutely opposed to Zionism (against the national boycott, against slogans like the Jewish majority and the Jewish state, alliance with England, etc.), declared at the same time that the Jewish population is not to be identified with Zionism and hence demanded the maximum freedom of movement for Jewish immigration into Palestine. Not only this, but they demanded from the government also material aid for the establishment of the Jewish immigrants in the country. They declared plainly that the struggle of the Arab national movement against Zionism, the Jewish majority, does not require the demand of stopping Jewish immigration, and they justified the unconditional maintenance of the Arab majority. They declared that the struggle against Jewish immigration shifted the anti-imperialist struggle to anti-Jewish rails, and that this was profitable only to English imperialism. They declared plainly that any struggle against Jewish immigration would only strengthen Zionist chauvinism among the Jewish masses.

With the turn to the right in the colonial policy of the Comintern, however, which was also manifested in Palestine, the Communist Party of Palestine, submissive to Stalinism, began the struggle against Jewish immigration, asserting that it was an immigration of conquest, and that the struggle of the Arab national movement was a defensive struggle. But is the correct answer to Jewish aggressive chauvinism, Arabian defensive chauvinism? Unfortunately, there is a similar error in the article from the Spark: the struggle of the Arabs against Jewish immigration is a defensive struggle against the conquering Zionist movement, and therefore, even though we are, as socialists, generally in favour of free immigration, it is not necessary in Palestine. The “Hashomer Hatzair”, of the London Bureau, argues similarly: the struggle we are conducting against the political independence of Palestine is a defensive struggle against the aggressive Arab national movement and therefore, even though we are, as socialists, generally in favour of the independence of the colonies, it is not necessary in Palestine.

Without taking a clear internationalist position on the question of Jewish immigration, without a sharp struggle against any oppression of the Arab population by imperialism and Zionism, without a sharp struggle against attempts to suppress Jewish immigration, the establishment of a broad anti-imperialist front is impossible.”

A very different position from what he claimed he held in Palestine in his autobiography!

The Trotskyists in South Africa in the WPSA criticized him in their magazine The Spark for very good reason. They compared the position of the Jewish settlers in Palestine at that time with the position of white workers in South Africa. They drew the correct conclusions from their analyses – they opposed Zionism, Jewish immigration to Palestine and supported the native Arabs liberation struggle:

“But the Jewish immigration into Palestine is something entirely different. It is an immigration with the avowed aim of trampling upon and destroying the rights of the native population in that country. It is an invasion under the protection of imperialism and for the strengthening of imperialism. Zionism – and by this we mean all the Zionist parties, from the Revisionists to the so-called socialists – has openly proclaimed that the aim of this immigration is to attain a majority in Palestine and reduce the Arabs to a minority in a then Jewish State. Against this aim to defeat them politically and economically the Arab people, the natives in Palestine, have waged this war for two and a half years. The immigration question was and still is the pivotal point in their struggle. Not to support the Arabs in this just, defensive demand means to side with British imperialism and its tool, Zionism, against a native oppressed people.” [32]

In reply to another semi-Zionist article of Tony Cliff the WPSA leaders correctly wrote:

“Comrade Rock has to admit that the Arab National movement in Palestine is, like its parallel in other colonial countries, an anti-imperialist movement. He has further to admit that the Revolutionary Marxists are in duty bound to support the national liberation movement with all their strength even if the bourgeoisie or the feudalists stand for the time being at its head. The Marxists will of course preserve their party independence and will always point to the proletarian road, etc. So far so good – in theory. But when Comrade Rock comes to practice, he not only does not support this admittedly anti-imperialist movement, but he turns his wrath upon the “Spark” for expressing its great satisfaction with the anti-imperialist struggle of the Arabs, and their united will to attain national liberation.

We regret having to repeat here what we have already said in that article, but it is obviously necessary: ‘Nothing will blind us or distract us from the fundamental issue, namely, the Progressive revolutionary struggle of a colonial people against imperialism. We had and we have no illusions concerning this struggle, whatever the outcome of the present political maneuvers in Palestine may be. Whether British imperialism will succeed by its new move for a round-table conference in breaking the Arab united front (as it succeeded before by a similar move in India), and by corruption succeed in side-tracking the national movement, or whether the present struggle will go on, we are under no illusions. We have no doubt that, so long as the national movement is led and dominated by the Arab national bourgeoisie and clergy, the struggle for liberation cannot be crowned with success. It will terminate in a foul compromise between the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. Time and again this has been proved by history. But, so long as the fight is progressive we have to support it, while at the same time warning the Arab workers of their treacherous bourgeoisie.’ (…)

Unfortunately Comrade Rock is not an internationalist, and nothing could illustrate it more clearly than this last article, where after much juggling with Marxist phraseology and centrist sophistry he comes out openly for the All-Zionist National slogan of unrestricted Jewish immigration! He is not in a position to refute a single one of our arguments against this immigration, which we maintain is not immigration but invasion under the protection of, and for the strengthening of Imperialism, with the avowed aim of trampling upon and destroying the rights of the native population of that country, with the aim of reducing the Arabs to a minority in a then Jewish State.” [33]

The Workers Party in South Africa took Trotsky’s position on South Africa where he called for a Black workers state. [34] The WPSA in South Africa understood that the Zionists are theAfrikaaners in Palestine, while Cliff denied it.

In summary we can say that the WPSA held a basically revolutionary and internationalist position in this conflict, while Tony Cliff and the RCL rather gave in to the Zionist pressure, took a reactionary position (on Jewish colonial migration) and failed to take the side of the Palestinian resistance.

Trotsky’s struggle against Cliff and the RCL on the question of revolutionary defeatism before WWII

This tendency of the Tony Cliff/RCL towards centrism became also transparent in their position towards the approaching imperialist war. While in his autobiography Cliff improved upon his actual positions he held in Palestine, in the Tony Cliff archive we can not find the exchange of letters the RCL had with the Russian Left Opposition and with Trotsky that proves that the RCL took a reformist position on the coming second imperialist world war.

Just before the war the RCL in Palestine wrote to Trotsky to express concern over the traditional Bolshevist strategy of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ according to which the main enemy of the proletariat is always at home and revolutionary activity is to be carried on in wartime even though that may cause the defeat of one’s own country.

Trotsky replied to the RCI in a document, dated November, 1938, and which is signed by “Group of Palestinian Bolshevik-Leninists”. The RCL’s letter appeared in the Editorial Board Bulletin of the Russian Opposition:

“The members of the RCL stated: The general schema is defeatism in all imperialist countries … Defeatism, according to Lenin’s definition, and as it has been generally understood, signifies a desire for defeat and giving aid to the latter. Is that slogan applicable to any imperialist country in any war?

In the opinion of the authors, it is no longer applicable.

Two hypothetical warring camps are envisaged: on the one side – Germany, Italy and Japan, and on the other – Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Spain, China, France, England and the United States.

True, such a combination is least likely, but it is not excluded, and therefore the working class must be prepared for it. What are the differences between the last world war and the one we presuppose?

(a) The last war was wholly imperialist … The specific weight of the Serbian question was far too insignificant … The war we presuppose is not imperialist on all sides. The difference between Serbia and the Soviet Union is far too obvious. (b) Even if we were to assume that the international reactionary significance of the then monarchy and of modern fascism are equivalent for the world proletariat, with the composition of the warring camps during the last war, there were no particular reasons, for example, among the French workers, for striving precisely for the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy … (c) However, there is an enormous difference between the historical role of the monarchy in the epoch of ascendant capitalism and the role of fascism … (d) In the period of the first world war there existed in ail countries a revolutionary movement and the objective possibility of conducting a defeatist policy. Fascism has introduced a radical change. It so strangles the working class as hardly to make it possible to comply with Lenin’s third condition for defeatist policy, and it is not excluded that the question of revolutionary intervention may arise.

We thus see that the establishment of the bare fact that a given country is imperialist is not sufficient for conducting the necessary revolutionary policy in any war precisely by the methods and slogans of defeatism.” [35]

The Left Opposition in Russia replied to them extremely harsh and unequivocally:

“Our Palestinian Friends have made an obvious and extremely dangerous concession to the social-patriots. (…)

The main tendency of the authors of this document is apparently the following: to hold that “defeatism” is obligatory for the leading fascist countries (Germany, Italy), whereas it is necessary to renounce defeatism in countries even of doubtful democratic virtue, but which are at war with the leading fascist countries. That is approximately how the main idea of the document may be worded. In this form, too, it remains false, and an obvious lapse into social-patriotism. (… )

We consider as erroneous to the core the idea of the document that of the three conditions for “defeatist” policy enumerated by Lenin, the third is presumably lacking nowadays, namely, “the possibility of giving mutual support to revolutionary movements in all warring countries”. Here the authors are obviously hypnotized by the reported omnipotence of the totalitarian regime. As a matter of fact, the immobility of the German and Italian workers is determined not at all by the omnipotence of the fascist police but by the absence of a program, the loss of faith in old programs and old slogans, and by the prostitution of the Second and Third Internationals. Only in this political atmosphere of disillusionment and decline can the police apparatus work those “miracles” which, sad to say, have produced an excessive impression also on the minds of some of our comrades.” [36]

In the Manifesto against the imperialist Second World War Trotsky wrote:

“’But isn’t the working class obliged in the present conditions to aid the democracies in their struggle against German fascism?’ That is how the question is put by broad petty-bourgeois circles (…). We reject this policy with indignation. Naturally there exists a difference between the political regimes in bourgeois society just as there is a difference in comfort between various cars in a railway train. But when the whole train is plunging into an abyss, the distinction between decaying democracy and murderous fascism disappears in the face of the collapse of the entire capitalist system.” [37]

The RCL and the 1948 War

In the article “Against the Stream“ (1948) the Revolutionary Communist League of Palestine took the following position:

“Each side is “anti-imperialist” to the bone, busy detecting the reactionary – in the opposite camp. And imperialism is always seen – helping the other side. But this kind of exposure is oil on the imperialist fire. For the inveigling policy of imperialism is based upon agents and agencies within both camps. Therefore, we say to the Palestinian people, in reply to the patriotic warmongers: Make this war between Jews and Arabs, which serves the end of imperialism, the common war of both nations against imperialism!

This is the only solution guaranteeing a real peace. This must be our goal which must be achieved without concessions to the chauvinist mood prevailing at present among the masses. How can that be done? The main enemy is in our own country!” – this was what Karl Liebknecht had to say to the workers when imperialists and social democrats were inciting them to the slaughter of their fellow workers in other countries. In this spirit we say to the Jewish and Arab workers: the enemy is in your own camp! Jewish workers! Get rid of the Zionist provocateurs who tell you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the state! Arab worker and fellah! Get rid of the chauvinist provocateurs who are getting you into a mess of blood for their own sake and pocket. Workers of the two peoples, unite in a common front against imperialism and its agents! (…) The only way to peace between the two peoples of this country is turning the guns against the instigators of murder in both camps”. [38]

This was not a revolutionary position but, like the RCL’s earlier positions, a semi-Zionist position. The Zionists were fighting to cleanse the country from the Palestinians. Revolutionaries should have called for military support for the Arab armies that went to war against the Zionists under the pressure of the Arab masses. At the same time revolutionaries should have refused any political support for the Arab rulers, demanded them to arm the masses, while at the same time organizing workers militias and doing revolutionary work in the Arab armies. This combined with raising transitional demands and the full Marxist program could have led to a workers revolution that would change the history of the Middle East and beyond.

Today left wing organizations repeat the same kind of mistakes the RCL did in Palestine. It is not because they try to imitate the RCL but rather because the leaderships of these organizations see the world from the same perspective the RSL saw it in Palestine; trying to sit in the space between two chairs: The super-exploited Arab workers and the settler labor aristocracy on the other. Revolutionary Marxists act in this world very differently because they see the world through the eye glasses of the revolutionary international working class, the lower and middle layers of the class not the labor aristocracy and from the eyes of the most oppressed not the colonial settlers oppressors.

Israel will continue to fight imperialist wars which it cannot win until one day it will suffer a major defeat. For this reason we say that Israel is not only the oppressor of the Palestinians but also a death trap for the Jewish masses. The only way the Jewish working class or at least part of it can be free is by joining the revolutionary struggle of the Arab Workers and Fallahins. The RCIT and its section in Israel/Occupied Palestine, the ISL, are fighting for such a perspective and for the building of revolutionary party in these countries as well as internationally.

[1] Vladimir Jabotinsky: The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs), 1923; reprinted in Lenni Brenner: The Iron Wall. Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir, London 1984, p. 148.

[2] Vladimir Jabotinsky: The Iron Law, Selected Writings (South Africa); quoted in Lenni Brenner: The Iron Wall. Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir, London 1984, p. 56.

[3] Quoted in Uri Davis: From Israel: an Apartheid State, p.5.

[4] Letter from David Ben-Gurion to his son Amos, written on 5 October 1937, Obtained from the Ben-Gurion Archives in Hebrew, and translated into English by the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut.

[5] David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben- Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978.

[6] Yitzhak Rabin, leaked censored version of Rabin memoirs, published in the New York Times, 23 October 1979; quoted in Steven A. Glazer: The Palestinian Exodus in 1948, in: Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS), Volume 9, Issue 4, 1980, p. 103.

[7] Quoted by Amnon Kapeliouk, “Begin and the Beasts,” New Statesman, June 25, 1982.

[8] Quoted in Sabby Sagall: Democracy: Their System, Our Fight; in Socialist Review, January 2005.

[9] George Novack (under the pseudonym William F. Warde): Revolutionary Policy in Western Europe: An Answer to Comrade Morrow, in: Fourth International, New York, January 1946, Volume VII, No. 1.

[10] On China’s transformation into an emerging imperialist power see chapter 10 in our recently published book Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism. (for details see

[11] Quoted in Ran Greenstein: Class, Nation and Political Organization: The Anti-Zionist Left in Israel/Palestine, in: International Labor and Working-Class History No. 75, Spring 2009, p. 93.

[12] UN Debate Regarding the Special Committee on Palestine: Gromyko Statement at UN 1947, May 14, 1947, MidEast Web Historical Documents.

[13] Norman Berdichevsky: Who did what for Israel in 1948? America did nothing.

[14] On the degeneration process of the Fourth International see Workers Power (Britain): The Death Agony of the Fourth International, London 1983, Chapter „The epigones destroy Trotsky’s International, 1940-1953”.

[15] Hal Draper: How to Defend Israel. A Political Program for Israeli Socialists; in: New International, Vol.14 No.5, July 1948.

[16] See on this Michael Pröbsting: On some Questions of the Zionist Oppression and the Permanent Revolution in Palestine. Thoughts on some exceptionalities of the Israeli state, the national oppression of the Palestinian people and its consequences for the program of the Bolshevik-Communists in Palestine, May 2013. In this document we analyze a number of theoretical questions concerning the perspective of Permanent Revolution in Palestine including the attitude of Marxism towards the right of national self-determination.

[17] See on this various articles from the ISL. For example The ISL Position on Wars, August 2009. ISL: The Zionist State Tries to Break Gaza Again – and Fails Again. RCIT respective its predecessor organization (MRCI/LRCI/LFI) expressed the same position e.g. in MRCI: Theses on Zionism, Israel, Palestine and Arab nationalism (1989), in: Trotskyist International No. 2; RCIT: New Wave of Israeli Terror against Gaza: Support the Palestinian Resistance! Defeat the Zionist killing machine! Statement from 15.11.2012.

[18] This and the following quotes from Gabriel Baer (under the pseudonym S. Munier): Zionism and the Middle East. The Aftermath of the Jewish-Arab War; in: Fourth International, Vol.10 No.9, October 1949.

[19] Benny Morris: The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, New York 2004, p. 239.

[20] Tony Cliff (under the pseudonym L. Rock): The Jewish-Arab Conflict, in: New International, November 1938.

[21] V. I. Lenin: Report of the Commission on the National and the Colonial Questions (at the Second Congress of the Communist International 1920); in: LCW 31, p. 240.

[22] Fourth International: Resolution on the Antiwar Congress of the London Bureau (1936), in: Documents of the Fourth International, New York 1973, p. 99.

[23] All quotes from Tony Cliff: A World to Win. Life of a Revolutionary (2000).

[24] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1173-4; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 227


[25] Tony Cliff (under the pseudonym L. Rock): British Policy in Palestine, in: New International, October 1938.

[26] See

[27] Tony Cliff (under the pseudonym L. Rock): British Policy in Palestine, in: New International, October 1938.

[28] Hasan Shukri: Zionist movement was aided by Palestinians, The Canadian Jewish News, 22 May 2008.

[29] Ghassan Kanafani: The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine, published in English by Committee for a Democratic Palestine, New York, 1972 and by Tricontinental Society, London, 1980.

[30] Ygal Sarneh: A revolutionary life; in: International Socialism Journal, Issue 87, Summer 2000, p. 143.

[31] Tony Cliff (under the pseudonym L. Rock): Class Politics in Palestine, in: New International, June 1939.

[32] The Spark, Zionism and the Arab Struggle, originally published in The Spark, the organ of the Workers Party of South Africa (Fourth International), November 1938. Reprinted in The New International, Vol.5, No.2, February 1939.

[33] The Spark: Rebuttal on the Palestine Question; in: The New International, Vol.5 No.10, October 1939.

[34] See Leon Trotsky: On the South African Theses (1935); in: Trotsky Writings 1934-35.

[35] Preface of the Editors to Editorial Board of the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition: A Step towards Social-Patriotism. On the Position of the Fourth International toward the Struggle against War and Fascism; in: New International, vol. VI, no. 7 (July 1939), pp. 207-210.

[36] Leon Trotsky: A Step towards Social-Patriotism; in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, pp. 207-212.

[37] Leon Trotsky: Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution; in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-1940, p. 221.

[38] RCL: Against the Stream, Fourth International, May 1948.


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