LRP/ISL on the Revolution in Palestine/Israel
Worshipers of the Accomplished Fact
August 26, 2009
The following remarks which were reconstructed from notes, were made from the floor of a League for the Revolutionary Party meeting on August 18, 2009 in New York titled “The Crisis of Zionism and the Prospects for Revolution in the Middle East” attended by over 40 people. The speaker for the meeting was Yossi Schwartz of the Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine) with whom the LRP at this time appears to have reached common political agreement. The remarks and commentary primarily deal with the two groups writing off the prospect of winning the majority of Israeli Jewish workers to a common struggle with the Palestinian masses against the Israeli Zionist state. We hope to post subsequent polemics that deal more broadly with other aspects of the LRP’s and it’s co-thinkers position on the issue of Zionism and the Palestinian struggle in the future.
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. 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. The LRP and ISL it seems implicitly recognize this on many levels, but, proceeding from their insistence on denying the Israeli workers those rights, are forced to draw completely defeatist conclusions.
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.
In terms of the LRP they write in their most recent statement [“After the Gaza Massacre: The Future of Palestine” July 2, 2009 http://www.lrp-cofi.org/statements/gaza090702.html ] that “most likely, unfortunately, a minority” of the Israeli Jewish workers can be won to the revolution since “many Israeli Jews would prefer to fight in defense of their temporary privileges” acknowledge that “Palestinians alone have not been and will not be able to defeat Israel” and conclude that “We cannot predict exactly what form revolutionary struggles in the Middle East will take.” On other occasions and contexts [perhaps previous to winning over Israeli co-thinkers whose existence they’d need to justify] the LRP has been less ambiguous stating that the Zionist state will be overthrown externally by a victorious regional socialist revolution/revolutions most likely led by the Egyptian working class.
While an indigenous socialist revolution made by Israeli and Palestinian workers would be preferable, it should be conceded that it is indeed a possibility that a socialist revolution that overthrows the Zionist state may in the end have to be imposed externally without the support of the majority of Jewish workers. That should not be opposed if in the end it comes to that.
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.
Despair over the revolutionary capacities of the working class in the more economically developed capitalist countries has been the political basis of not only the New Left, but also the Stalinists abandonment of world revolution in favor of building “socialism in one country” and all their ensuing betrayals. This has also been the implicit political basis of Pabloism, which at times also wrote off the working class in Third World countries in the process, based on similar notions. At times the rationale was made more explicit such as in a May-July 1962 Fourth International article by Michel Pablo which approvingly quotes Frantz Fanon that the Third World proletariat
““ … is among the most protected stratum of the colonial regime. The embryonic proletariat of the towns is relatively privileged. It represents that fraction of the colonized people, necessary and irreplaceable for the efficient working of the colonial apparatus – tramway conductors, taxi-drivers, miners. dockers, interpreters, hospital staffs, etc. These are the elements which constitute the most loyal stratum of the nationalist parties and who from the privileged place they occupy in the colonial system constitute the ‘bourgeois’ fraction of the colonized people”
““The analysis which Fanon makes of the role of the urban proletariat can appear exaggerated to a European Marxist; however with qualifications it ‘fits’ well enough those countries with a weak industrial development.”
Of course the LRP and ISL would argue that they oppose Stalinism, New Leftism and Pabloism. They would argue that they don’t write off the US working class or the working class of the advanced capitalist countries, and that their analysis is specific to the Israeli working class. But they also 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. In an article written in one of his many earlier political incarnations, Comrade Shwatrz correctly noted
“It is possible of course to blame the Jewish working class, to maintain that it was in the interests of the workers to serve Zionism. But we maintain that the Jewish working class, as with all other parts of the world working class, has but one interest: proletarian revolution.
“On the First Arab-Israel War”
Workers Vanguard #35 4, January 1974
Rather than reducing Jewish support to Zionism due to privilege (which of course is indeed one, but only one, of the factors), his article echoed Trotsky’s assertion in the Transitional Program that in the final analysis “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”
“The explanation for the Zionist control does not lie in the interests of the Jewish working class but in its organizational position-its lack of any weapons or independent struggles. And the responsibility for this situation rests with the Communist Party.
A rejection, of course from a somewhat very different pov and in different degrees, of Lenin and Trotsky’s stress on the centrality of revolutionary leadership, the “party question”, is indeed one of the elements the LRP and ISL share with the Pabloites. The LRP and ISL both reject explicitely Lenin’s argument in What Is To Be Done that revolutionary/Marxist consciousness must struggled for within the working class against against the multitiude of existing false/bourgeois consciousness through the medium of a vanguard party. The contemporary neo-economists/ workerists prefer to sugarcoat reality in favor of an admittedly more consoling image of a spontaneously revolutionary working class chomping at the bit. Sugarcoating the tragic reality of the Israeli Jewish workers present backwards consciousness is of course significantly harder to accomplish (not to mention getting in the way of opportunistically adapting to what is currently a certainly more receptive but still nationalist and non-Marxist Arab consciousness). But one of the factors behind the necessity of a revolutionary party arises precisely from the fact that the struggles of various strata of the oppressed masses tend to be sectional (whether going on strike against your particular employer, organizing against racist police brutality in your community, in general engaging in struggles against your own immediate groups oppression etc.) and it’s political consciousness and understanding therefore tends to be sectional, reflecting their most immediate, as opposed to historic, internationalist, political-class interests.
Uniting the struggles of the varied sections of the working class (nationally and internationally) and oppressed is the job of a revolutionary party, instilling the understanding of their common interests in striking at the capitalist root of all their oppression. This necessary theoretical understanding of the workings of capitalist society and the necessary means of overthowing it (the central theme of What Is To Be Done is that there can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary (that is Marxist), theory) does not indeed arise spontaneously.
But if the working class cannot engage in a successful struggle for power spontaneously, it can provided a revolutionary leadership exists. Rejection of this understanding can only lead to objectivist fatalism, usually pessimistic, though sometimes of the tailist “optimistic” variety. Both attitudes preclude the possibility of a successful working class struggle for power.
In the Revolution Betrayed Trotsky described those with such fatalist attitudes as “worshipers of the accomplished fact” noting that “Whoever worships the accomplished fact is incapable of preparing the future.” Despairing at the present backwards consciousness of the Israeli Jewish workers, the LRP and ISL forget Marx’s motto that “the point is to change it”.
Effectively writing off the possibility of leading Palestinian and Jewish workers in a struggle for state power poses deep contradictions for the ISL in relation to it’s ostensible purpose for existence. James P. Cannon described the ISL’s dillema well in The First Ten Years of American Communism.
“The Stalinization of the Party was rather the end result of a process of degeneration which began during the long boom of the Twenties. The protracted prosperity of that period, which came to be taken for permanence by the great mass of American people of all classes, did not fail to affect the Communist Party itself. It softened up the leading cadres of that party, and undermined their original confidence in the perspectives of a revolution in this country. This prepared them, eventually, for an easy acceptance of the Stalinist theory of ‘socialism in one country.’
“For those who accepted this theory, Russia, as the ‘one country’ of the victorious revolution, became a substitute for the American Revolution.”
“What happened to the Communist Party would happen without fail to any other party, including our own, if it should abandon its struggle for a social revolution in this country, as the realistic perspective of our epoch, and degrade itself to the role of sympathizer of revolutions in other countries.”
The logic of such a perpective can lead the ISL down the road to becoming an Israeli version of the recently defunct and unlamented Maoist Internationalist Movement (though no doubt significantly more intelligent and less psychotic), if not the more garden variety reformist solidarity activist or trade union economist likethe CPs. At the forum LRP and ISL supporters responded that they were not advocates of building “socialism in one country”. Indeed, one can not build socialism in one country whether that be Israel or anywhere else, the victory of revolutionary struggles worldwide is a prerequisite for that. But that is confusing the question of building “socialism in one country” with the necessity of leading the working class in a struggle to take state power, in the context of a struggle for world revolution.
Trotsky summed up the ISL dillemma well in his summing up the perspective of the “worshipers of the accomplished fact” in the Revolution Betrayed.
“In reality, our dispute with the Webbs is not as to the necessity of building factories in the Soviet Union and employing mineral fertilizers on the collective farms, but as to whether it is necessary to prepare a revolution in Great Britain and how it shall be done. Upon that question the learned sociologues answer: ‘We do not know.’”