“MAKE THE GENERAL STRIKE IN ISRAEL AN INTIFADA!”


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.

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6 Comments

  1. Congratulations on “Make the General Strike in Israel an Intifada!” You steered a course between the blindness of AS and the sterility of ISO. I have not read the AS article; its title, “Power to the Jews and Therefore to the Class,” was enough to turn me off. While the article may have been better than its title indicates, imagine someone writing White Power and calling it Marxism. On the other hand, the ISO view (as described by you) leads nowhere: Of course “Jewish” workers in Israel (like white workers in the U.S. and South Africa and Protestant workers in northern Ireland) are corrupted by race privileges. That is a problem to be addressed through political action, not a reason to avoid engaging with them.

    You attribute to STO the view that white workers drew material advantages from white supremacy. That formulation must be handled with care: Yes, the advantages of white supremacy were material, not merely psychological: whites stood at the front of the jobs line and the back of the layoff line, etc. But white workers were still exploited, still subject to the misery of capital, even if cushioned from its worst effects. I prefer the way you put it further down: “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.” That is true, and it was true even in the days before neoliberalism eroded the material basis of race privilege. Those privileges were always relative, not absolute, and operated in hard times as well as periods of prosperity. Although the new situation opens up new opportunities for working-class unity, some white workers seek to restore the white race to its previous position, or worse. They are like amputees, scratching at the place where the leg used to be—you make this point about tendencies within the Occupy Movement—and capital may still seek to placate them by conceding to their wishes, at least in part. Here is a note I posted last August to Mondoweiss (a site dealing with the Middle East I look in on from time to time) in response to a report on the tent protests in Israel: “Of course these protests are to be welcomed, but U.S. history offers lots of examples of protests and even powerful movements among less well-off members of the favored race that left the system largely intact, with them still under the heel of the ruling class, because at the crucial moment they chose whiteness over freedom.” As you put it, Make the General Strike in Israel an Intifada!

  2. Hey Noel,

    Good to see you on here and engaging with the posts. I do think AS made a blunder here but that’s okay. They have the tools and method to recover as they are a very dynamic group of folks and I can say I share a great deal of affinity with them.

    I’m largely in a position to offer this perspective due to Unity and Struggle’s long history (not necessarily mine) of Middle East solidarity, anti-war, and Israeli divestment work which required a lot of study and reflection of these questions through the experience of organizing. You could say the same for the ISO except that their centrist orientation has rendered their theoretical and political perspective as mostly lip service. That’s why I say AS has the method to overcome the content of the July post because the have rejected centrism in theory and in practice and have been a genuine class struggle pole in the Bay Area revolutionary Left. They also see race as a central category in capitalist accumulation and have negated the Trotskyist schema that includes “race oppression” as a throw away point in a communist program. This post could also be a debate within AS but there’s no identifiable author of any of their writings so I can’t say either way.

    I also emphatically agree with you about the need to qualify the “material advantages” whites drew from white supremacy. Because it was a secondary reference I didn’t elaborate it but probably should have anyway. On a separate but related point, I’ve been wanting to ask you and other ex-STOers how you feel about how your work has been absorbed in academia. It basically stripped it of its dialectical and historical content and turned it into the formula “whites gain from white supremacy, thank you and goodnight” rather than express it as a tension between labor power as a commodity (which necessarily means workers competing with one another in its sale) versus labor as freely associated productive activity. This is probably all the more reason why I should have clarified it considering the dominance of “privilege politics” amongst the centrist Left.

    With regard to Occupy I do think there are small tendencies of class struggle oriented white and poc militants that are pushing the boundaries of conversations and struggle around gender, race, and sexuality. They have pushed for not just resolutions in the GAs around these questions but have worked really hard at trying to connect with ongoing day-to-day organizing in poc schools, communities, and workplaces versus more of the symbolic “Occupy the Hood” schemes which from my limited understanding have been more about replicating the problems of Occupy (its symbolism and disconnect from concrete organizing) but without the white folks. This needs to generalize and I’m hopeful that with a turn toward anti-eviction home occupations can create an opening for this. I think it can be a boost for the solidarity network form of organizing that has been a historically appropriate form of struggle for this period. Bring The Ruckus put up a piece a couple months ago regarding Occupy and how to concretely connect race and class that I thought was super useful for this purpose (isolating the “race divides the movement” and the “crisis affects us all” rhetoric).

    Glad you liked the slogan. A general strike may be off the table for now in Israel but should that change there needs to be ways to link it to anti-Zionist politics.

    TZ

  3. Yo, I never knew you responded to this! Can I get an email over here??

    I appreciate the engagement, although I’m not sure if you all read the article, or just (like Noel actually cops to above, heh) stopped at the (controversy! bad idea!) title.

    Here’s what I would call the “thesis” of the piece:

    “In our critique of Israel, we forget that nations are composed of antagonistic classes, and that the dialectic of class struggle in Israel-Palestine is not exclusively an anti-colonial one. The duty of a conscious Israeli to the world proletarian struggle for liberation does not lie in a self-sacrificing or suicidal “traitor-ism” wherein good Jews give themselves over to the Palestinian cause as a servant to it.”

    I think this is a necessary critique of the liberal/hard left normal discourse around Palestinian liberation……which is basically a moral posture, not a strategy. I have had 3 long conversations with long-time Palestine solidarity activists in the last 6 months who had no strategy they thought could work for Palestinian liberation. Note: no strategy THEY thought could work. If we’re revolutionaries that want to win, we have to go way beyond denouncing oppression to thinking through the way more difficult problems of fighting and winning against it. To me it’s important to recognize the utter lack of strategy that the pro-Palestine left in the US has. The left in the occupied territories is another case entirely, and one that I’m only one step removed from being totally ignorant about. Any links to strategic documents from groups inside would be much appreciated.

    In the video linked in the comments on the original post includes an interesting vignette:

    In the middle of an anti-austerity march similar to the Spanish ones for instance, two orthodox men hold up signs saying “the answer is in Judea and Samaria” which are settlements. A bunch of white Israelis circle around them to boo them. These people are playing an important leadership role within an overall class-based Israeli movement, agitating against an (admittedly lame in this case) right-wing attempt to connect economic problems to a need for more settler expansion, an old cooptation trick that usually works well.

    As of this year, 37% of Israelis support division along 1967 borders with promised negotiation over the right of return, the last proposal in negotiations that won a majority of support among Palestinians. A lot of interesting polls here:

    http://www.pcpsr.org/survey/polls/2012/p43ejoint.html

    While obviously not a majority, this is a major section of the Israeli population that supports the main short-term demand that most of the Palestinian population backs. In combination with movement against the Israeli ruling class on a class basis, and the Palestinian and other Arab apartheid working class in Israel, millions of Israeli citizens could reasonably respond to an attempt to build links in the movement against settlements, against the occupation, against apartheid inside Israel and against capitalist oppression of the settler Israeli working class. As far as I know, this large possible allied population inside Israel is by far the best bet the besieged Palestinians have against the overwhelming military force of one of the most powerful states in the world. What would it take to make these links? Would love to talk about this more, and read strategic writings that others’ have found helpful.

  4. Not being a historian of Palestinian struggle and Israeli apartheid I’ll be limited in my attempt to more comprehensively link my theoretical prognosis to actual developments inside Palestine.

    I’m not immediately prepared to say that the 37% of Israelis who support the ’67 borders isn’t a valid indication of the cracks in Israeli civilization (if we could call it that) and that there exists some potential however latent to tie-in independent Palestinian striving with an Israeli push-back against its ruling class. But if we’re going to discuss strategy we have to be able to acknowledge that whether or not the majority of Palestinians support that arrangement (which I must admit I’m skeptical of), the attainment of that demand only reproduces on new terms (and terms that aren’t automatically beneficial to Palestinians) Zionism. It is an acquiescence to the legitimacy of Zionism and in reality is not much different than the situation in Palestine now where a Bantustan government exists to validate Israel and check independent Palestinian struggle. One might could argue that there would be an improvement in the living standards of Palestinians through such a strategy but with Iran looming in the distance and the autocratic 2006 invasion of Lebanon, how we are able to deduce that a two-state solution (which seems to be implicitly argued for here) is a viable strategy?

    In addition to the role that the comprador and opportunist Palestinian Authority has played in the Palestinian struggle, a look at the establishment of the Irish Free State and of the bantustans in South Africa are a confirmation that the demand for compromise is a zero-sum game.

    The two-state solution is cynicism, a bowing before the omnipotence of Israeli apartheid. The only solution, and there might be different ways of achieving this (in some instances national liberation in Algeria and South Africa have juxtaposed), is the violent and absolute destruction of the State of Israel. Nothing short of that promises an inch of progress of the Palestinian people or the Middle Eastern working classes.

    And unless that dynamic is directly introduced and confronted in the movement of Israeli workers, their struggle will again be reabsorbed into compromise, tying the struggle of Israelis to an enshrining of the State of Israel. Again, we can debate how best to strategically do that, but if that doesn’t inform the theory and general strategy, what else is there?

    Perhaps all this assumes that we agree that Israel shouldn’t exist. Maybe I should have asked that from the beginning. Does Israel have the right to exist?

  5. Yo,

    I want to communicate that I think ya’ll are not grasping the position of the ISO. Maybe you get it and just don’t agree, but I want to make sure.

    Attempt at a brief schematic summary of the position:

    Some strata of the Israeli working class, such as the Mizrahim, may participate in a genuine liberation movement, but not the class as a whole, and they will not provide sufficient leverage to function as strategic axis of Palestinian Liberation.

    We argue that the organic allies of the Palestinian people, and the only social force capable of ending Zionist Apartheid, are the regional Arab working classes living outside the Zionist state in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and especially Egypt.

    And we do have a strategy for the US Left, the campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions of Apartheid Israel. In fact, we published a book about it.

    Respectfully,
    Alex Schmaus

    http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/boycott-divestment-sanctions

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