A Reply to Trachtenberg’s Remarks at the LRP/ISL Forum (September 2009)

by Boris W. Hammerschlag

[Trachtenberg’s Remarks] [Download]

Firstly, allow me to thank you, comrade Trachtenberg, for attending our forum and taking the time and effort to draft your critique of our position on Palestine. During my visit to the US, I had the pleasure of enjoying your company and our discussions. My impression of you, during the short time we had the opportunity to spend together, was of a rather honest, yet very much mislead, subjective revolutionary. This honesty has, in turn, earned you my time and effort in drafting an equally blatant yet honest reply.

1. Worshipers of the Accomplished Fact Indeed

It strikes me as quite odd that an article titled “Worshipers of the Accomplished Fact” should start with the following words:

Revolutionaries defend the Palestinians and of course opposed the founding of the state of Israel, but six decades later one has to be blind not to recognize that an indigenous Israeli Jewish nation [who at this stage can no longer reasonably be classified simply as colonial settlers] has come into existence and whose workers we must win the allegiance of for the Palestinians to be able to wage any successful struggle to overthrow the Zionist state.

You seem to tumble and fall into the very same pit you have dug for us, already in your first paragraph. Stating that six decades after the fact, the crime of the establishment of a settler-colonialist and later on imperialist state, those who continue the legacy of colonialism, racism and oppression should be considered en-masse as equals in the revolutionary struggle to abolish those very same things, is nothing short of a devout worship of accomplished facts. Wouldn’t you agree, comrade?

You then continue this line of argumentation by stating that: “This can only be done by appealing to Jewish workers to transcend their national consciousness in favor of their common class interests with Palestinian workers, not by denying them their national rights.” What is completely ignored by your argument is the fact that the message of the LRP and ISL to the Jewish workers is very similar to the way you describe it. The difference, however, is that one of those class interests the Palestinian workers have, which you choose to ignore throughout your article, is the right to get back the land stolen from them by means of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Zionist movement, which included the Zionist workers.

Ask yourself, comrade, can you ask the Jewish workers in Palestine to transcend their “national consciousness“, yet promise not to deny them their “national rights“? Shouldn’t these be “transcended” as well?! How would you explain to the Palestinian workers that their national rights of territorial unity are to be denied in favor of their expropriators? You accuse us of writing off the role of the Jewish proletariat in Palestine, yet you might find yourself being accused of de-facto writing off the role of the Palestinian one. I should believe that none of us is interested in neither of both accusations.

What the LRP and ISL offer to the Jewish workers in exchange for transcending their racist and colonialist consciousness, is the right to live in peace and free of discrimination in a workers’ state in which the majority of the population will be Arab-Palestinian refugees returning to their stolen land. This offer does not mean the denying of cultural or religious freedom, but the denying of the right to oppress, exploit and expropriate. Should this offer win over to the revolution the majority of the Jewish working class in Palestine, nothing could make us more happy. Yet we recognize, through our experience and knowledge of history, that the chances of that being the case are rather slim. Once again I stress, nothing would make us more happy then this prediction being proven as wrong. Unfortunate as it may be, at this point we believe that only a minority of the Jewish working class would transcend their colonialist consciousness and join the workers of the region in their struggle for socialism.

Should one sunny day, Bill Gates, somehow bump his head against a blunt object and decide to join the socialist revolution, he would have to give away all of his privileges, including his land to be distributed among the masses. Some would probably say: “Hey, this guy has so much power, why don’t we buy him off to the revolution by letting him keep his mansion?!” I am sure you would not like to be one of those, yet this is exactly what you are suggesting. The Jewish workers live on stolen land, their factories built on top of demolished villages, the water they drink is taken away from Palestinian mouths, their military bases built on top of Palestinian graveyards. What of all these privileges would you allow them to keep as part of their “national rights”?

2. Revolutionary consciousness

In your article you compare our alleged writing off of the Jewish proletariat in Palestine to the New Left’s writing off of the American proletariat during the 60s:

In the 1960’s, under circumstances where the white US working class appeared to be permanently conservatized, and when much of the time a majority of it seemed to oppose the civil rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements, the New Left wrote it [and most of the working class in the economically developed countries as a whole] off as permanently bought off. They called on a minority to “abandon their white skin privilege” and projected the allegiance of the majority to reaction. And today things seem similarly bleak no doubt with regards to the Israeli working class to the LRP and ISL. The New Leftists at the time therefore abandoned any perspective of an indigenous socialist revolution and took up the utopian Maoist view that US imperialism would be overthrown externally by Third World struggles.

By this you suggest that the reason we say what we say is on the grounds of consciousness, i.e. the Jewish workers and the American workers both suffer from false and backward level of racist consciousness and that’s why we’ve given up on them in a defeatist manner. However, you fail to present any proof to that and thus your argument appears to be one of the straw-man kind. To our opinion, which could be deduced quite easily from the countless writings of both aforementioned groups, our prediction that a mere minority (perhaps a very much significant one, as in the case of the Bolshevik revolution) of the Jewish workers in Palestine will turn to the side of the socialist future revolution in the region, as well as the poor state of its revolutionary consciousness, are caused by nothing other than class interests resulting from the dual role of the Jewish proletariat in Palestine of exploited and (direct) oppressors. It would be much wiser to compare them to the S. African white proletariat, rather than the American one during the 60s.

However, one important difference between the oppressed in S. Africa, is that the black working class, unlike the Palestinian one, was strong enough to defeat the white minority rule by means of socialist revolution (it has failed to do so due to the betrayal of its opportunist leadership). Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the Palestinians, even under a revolutionary leadership, would be able to defeat Israeli imperialism by themselves and without any help from the proletariat of the region (the currently most advanced being the Egyptian working class). Detaching our realistic analysis from its context you put forth allegations at us for advocating passivism:

But conceding that as a possibility, at the same time it does not tell Palestinian and Israeli revolutionaries what they should do in the meanwhile except perhaps passively wait for Arab workers in other countries (and the LRP/ISL call for “Arab Workers Revolution” leaves out not only Israeli Jews but also Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Armenians and many other non-Arab groups in the region) to come to their rescue. Any active revolutionary strategy is missing from such a schema.

It is amazing to see how you have managed to turn our internationalism and rejection of ‘socialism in one country’ against us. However, you present me an excellent opportunity to explain our position and practice in our region. As a rule, revolutionaries do not ask any group of workers to sit still and wait for any other group to take action before they do. Lenin did well when he refused to wait for the German and French revolutions on account of Russia’s weakness and backwardness, and despite the fact that the success of the Russian revolution depended heavily on the success of revolutions in more advanced countries. He correctly anticipated, as do we in the case of Palestine, that the Bolshevik revolution was imminent at the time, unlike the German or the French, and that the Russian revolution should light the spark and inspire revolutions in stronger countries, which could ensure the survival of the Russian workers’ state.

In our region we have often seen that Palestinian uprisings inspire mass uprisings in neighboring Arab countries, and while the Palestinians being robbed of their land and kept as prisoners in refugee camps, are unable to develop a strong enough proletariat to overthrow the Zionist state, their struggle which we participate in, is an inspiration to all the oppressed masses of the region. The more successful it becomes, the more defeats Israel suffers, the more inspired will the workers of the middle east be, to take on their own oppressors and exploiters and unite to vanquish capitalist imperialism in the region.

Our call for an “Arab revolution” is relevant to the region of Occupied Palestine, were there are hardly any “Kurd, Persian, Berber, Armenian” workers. We do mention all of the aforementioned ethnic groups in the context of the middle east as a whole. You should log on to the ISL website were I’m sure you’ll find evidence for that. You should also search within yourself for whether you yourself might not suggest in passing that the Palestinians should wait for the Jewish workers for a socialist revolution to be successful in Palestine.

3. Accusations of Economic Reductionism

Next comes along an accusation of economic reductionism regarding the support the Zionist movement receives from the world Jewry and the privileged status of the Jewish working class in Israel:

“[…] they […] tend to reduce what is, ultimately, a self-destructive Jewish support to Zionism to questions of economic privilege (in the process being somewhat blind to other involved factors such as historical traumatization due to past oppression and the horrors of the holocaust, fears of Arab national retribution, despair over internationalist solidarity arising out of the history of Stalinist betrayals etc.). But while it is true that the Israeli working class is significantly privileged relative to the Palestinians, the US working class in turn is significantly privileged relative to the Israeli working class and most of the rest of the world for that matter.

While I am quite sure that I could not possibly inform you of anything you don’t already know about dialectical materialist philosophy and its take on the relationship between consciousness (including clinical psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, paranoia and manic depression, you respectively diagnose the world Jewry with) and reality, it does surprise me that you would think of us as economic reductionists, blind to the action of human consciousness upon reality. However, this is completely beside the point here, since support for Zionism is not at all a solely Jewish phenomenon. For 2000 years Jews have been persecuted, yet Zionism only surfaced in a certain era and under certain material conditions. In fact, the originators of the Zionist idea were not Jews but European Christian fundamentalists and anti-Semite chauvinists who, to this day, continue to constitute the central pillar to the pro-Zionist movement (especially in the US). They obviously suffer from very different “psychiatric ailments,” yet they present the same symptom.

It is true that most of the world’s problems have more than one contributing factor. Yet a Marxist would not place all of the factors on the same level, as some of which will be placed in front of others in the chain of causality. In order to eradicate a problem, one must strike at its roots.

You are correct when you say that both Jewish workers in Palestine and American workers are relatively privileged, but there is a fundamental difference between them which you ignore. There is privilege which results from having a higher level of social production, which allows the bourgeoisie to let the workers keep more of the produced value then the bourgeois class in poorer countries. This type of privilege is characteristic to both workers in the US and Jewish workers in Palestine. However, the privileges the Jewish workers in Palestine have are derived directly from the expropriation of the Palestinians from their lands, factories and jobs. You may wish to belittle this difference, but you cannot ignore the fact that it causes different patterns of consciousness and behavior. For example, when the US got defeated in Iraq, the workers moved to the left, however, when Israel got defeated in Lebanon and then Gaza, the Jewish workers moved to the right. Consciously and subconsciously, most of the Jewish workers in Palestine know that the state protects their privileges by directly oppressing and expropriating the native masses. Those who cannot do it properly will be replaced by those who can.

Some demagogues, liars and worshipers of accomplished facts (especially those who are privileged by them and have an interest in keeping them unchanged) on the left, criticize our slogan ‘All of Israel is “Occupied Territory”‘ as Utopian. They equate it to saying that all of the US is occupied territory as well, after all, it also has been ethnically cleansed from its original inhabitants. Thus, the democratic demand of the Palestinians to their right of return to their stolen lands is as Utopian as a demand to allow the native Americans return to the lands from which they were ethnically cleansed.

To them we answer that while there is no active struggle by native Americans to return to their historic stolen lands and restore their old way of life, a demand of this sort by progressive leftists would indeed be Utopian. However, the Palestinian struggle is not only active and alive, it is sending shocks all over the world uniting millions of workers in solidarity. Moreover, the Zionist project of  land theft and ethnic cleansing is by no means over and is carried through on a daily basis as we speak. To this struggle, and all of its democratic demands, we must give all of our support. It is evident that should this struggle fail, the Palestinians will meet the same fate as the native Americans. Those who refuse to support the right of return, are contributing to that scenario.

In conclusion, the Jewish workers in Palestine are not the same as any other working class in the world. They could maybe be likened to the South African white workers, and yet they are still not entirely similar. Those who choose not to apply Trotsky’s call for a black South African workers’ republic to the case of Palestine, fail to explain themselves in materialistic terms and instead turn to psychiatric prognoses of the world Jewry. We will struggle within any working class for a revolutionary leadership, be it Jewish, Arab or other, but the revolutionary movement in Palestine will not give the Jewish residents of Palestine any separatist rights of self determination on the expense of the Palestinians. Those who claim that this could be done without infringing onto Palestinian national rights fail to explain how this could be done without neither land theft nor apartheid conditions.

And thus, who are the worshipers of the accomplished fact? Those who advocate the right to self determination of an imperialist colonialist state on the expense of the expropriated Arab masses, or those who reject it? Those who portray a caricature of Marxism by reducing any conflict to “class vs. class”, or those who offer a way forward in a world in which imperialism creates not only oppressor and oppressed classes but also oppressor and oppressed nations? Those who worship those with power, or those who call the masses to believe in their own power to make radical significant social change?


Boris W. Hammerschlag

Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine)



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