Over the summer there was a debate over a post by the Bay Area communist group Advance the Struggle (AS) called “Power to the Jews and Therefore the Class.” The post celebrates the growth of Jewish resistance to the housing crisis in Israel and also includes videos on the occupation of Palestine. It is not clear from the post why this apparent contradiction between occupation and the crisis exists.
The post is largely engaged with by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) (a national non-orthodox Trotskyist formation) who counter with the impossibility of an Israeli-led resistance to the Israeli state. In essence, the ISO’s argument is that the Israeli working class is too historically tied to the Zionist state to be a force capable for its destruction and that militants should abstain from this struggle. It is a similar narrative as that of the revolutionary group Sojourner Truth Organization toward American white workers except the STO’s program was to orient to white workers to win them over toward the black struggle which was the subjectivity that could overthrow US capitalism.
There are genuine problems with the AS post and the following comments (presumably by AS members or supporters) which are largely contained in the lack of a historical perspective that prevents them from seeing the specificity of Zionism and the centrality of Palestine in its overthrow. Insofar as this historicity is concerned, I tend to agree with the ISO save for their “one state solution” prescription which I would counter with not a state but a “single democratic polity.” This is of secondary importance here.
The ISO’s argument is an important check on what appears to be a class reductionist “Palestinian, Israeli, Unite and Fight” by AS folk. However, AS, specifically 1hir’s comments, raise important counter critiques of the ISO’s dogmatism on the historical question. I think 1hir’s basic point is to welcome any sign of from-below opposition within the State of Israel and not outright dismiss it because it isn’t immediately anti-Zionist (though there are plenty of anti-chauvinist aspects). I find a lot of affinity with this critique.
Where should communists come down on this debate? I think we should use Marx’s historical materialist method to see the contradiction of the Zionist project in motion. While the US and Israel are distinct historical and material problems, I think we can find some common ground between them to help us think about how to attack those problems.
While I historically agree with the STO as the reason for the failure of interracial working class solidarity in the US–whites drew material advantages through their support for white supremacy, colonialism, and Jim Crow–looking at this dynamic in motion means to see that the categories of white supremacy and white privilege have changed as a result of the struggles of black workers and the needs of capital.
White supremacy in the US has principally changed though the capturing of a tendency of the Black Power movement toward the development of a multiracial “rainbow” bureaucratic elite who use their body politics and identity to deflect mass opposition and carry out the needs of white supremacy (this is a key difference I have with Bring The Ruckus who also agree with the historic STO argument). So while white supremacy is not a static category, the same goes for “white privilege” which historically rested on institutions that have largely been eroded, such as the unions and ethnic patronage systems.
This is due to their superfluity in the age of neoliberalism–they are no longer needed to divide and destroy the class struggle. That has been done. As a result, the ruling class got rid of those bureaucracies that were key in its breaking. So while statistics clearly show the differences among white and workers of color continue to exist, they don’t exist in the same framework and many white “middle class” workers are being pushed downward. Today’s white supremacy is more Kwame Kilpatrick than George Wallace.
This objective movement isn’t enough to challenge the white supremacy of white workers–look at Occupy. There’s still the “psychological wages” that Du Bois writes about in Black Reconstruction. For many white workers, their renewed activity within the Occupy movement is largely an attempt to restore the old white supremacy, the unions and the Irish, Italian, Polish, and Jewish political machines–except that they don’t see them as white supremacist. To be clear, I don’t think this is it the totality of Occupy but makes up some of the many contradictions of the movement. In my opinion, the intervention of communists on this question is absolutely critical.
I don’t know exactly what’s happening in Israel (and I’m assuming the general strike has not happened) but my sense is that Zionism can’t “deliver the goods” to Israeli workers permanently. It eventually must come into contradiction with the realities of crisis, of Palestinian opposition, and the limits of Israeli trade unionism and reformism. I’m not saying that Zionism will wither away on its own or anything short of its conscious destruction. What I am saying is that it will not simply stay the same until it is overthrown, just like white supremacy in the US has not remained the same.
So where does the conversation go from here? I think, like the ISO, we argue that without the intervention of Palestinians the fight will be contained within the Zionist project. That DOESN’T mean we shit on what I believe to be a valid opposition to the Zionist State that should be encouraged and cheered on–this is where I wholeheartedly agree with Advance the Struggle. A communist program toward the Israeli workers can’t simply be, “move out,” or worse nothing at all. That’s completely impractical and is not the ISO’s orientation toward American workers who are also the historic product of colonialism, though much older.
Rather, a real Marxist program toward Israelis should be to say they have more material interest in uniting with Palestinians to overthrow Zionism because the Israeli state clearly cannot guarantee their material well-being. Toward Palestinians it should be for a new intifada to occur simultaneously with the planned general strike in Israel and that they shouldn’t tone down their politics or struggle to appease Israeli workers. Of course, taking a note from Luxemburg’s “Mass Strike,” intifadas are not simply willed into reality by propaganda and programs but that’s not the point. The point is the content of the orientation while will inevitably take unpredictable and diverse forms. In other words, “MAKE THE GENERAL STRIKE IN ISRAEL AN INTIFADA!”
I’m still fleshing out the programmatic implications of this theory as well as the theory itself. Any thoughts from other folks would be appreciated.
Shout out to Advance the Struggle.
This was a video shared by 1hir from July 14 demonstrations in Israel.