By EDUARDO DE ALMEIDA NETO
The significance of the war in Palestine has updated strategic discussions for the Marxist left. One of the most important updates that is called for is an understanding of this whole convulsive process within the framework of the program theory of permanent revolution.
According to Lenin’s criteria for defining wars, the Palestinian resistance is waging a legitimate and progressive war of national liberation against the counterrevolutionary war of Israel, which seeks to impose an ethnic cleansing of a Nazi-fascist character. But the whole process is much more complex than the war.
The central slogan of this whole process — for a secular, democratic and non-racist Palestine — is itself a democratic slogan. But it cannot be achieved without destroying the state of Israel, which will require an uprising of the working masses in an objectively socialist revolutionary process, since it will naturally turn against the bourgeoisie and its organizations.
This is a democratic slogan that may or may not have a transitional character in this revolutionary process. Or the possibility of a real victory will be greatly reduced, given the weight of the counterrevolution.
The origins of the process
The creation of the state of Israel is a historical excrescence. It was created by a direct maneuver of imperialism in 1948, which, supported by the Zionist movement, sought to build a fortress armed to the teeth in the region with the largest oil reserves on the planet. This maneuver was explicitly supported (with arms) by the USSR under Stalin, in one of its greatest political crimes.
After the worldwide shock of the Nazi massacre of the Jews, the Zionist movement was the spearhead of an imperialist project. It was a project that could only be realized with an ethnic cleansing and a permanent war against the Palestinian people.
This war began with the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians in Israel’s first major attack against the Arab peoples, known as the Nakba (catastrophe), which allowed Israel to take control of 77% of Palestinian land. Today this is known as the “territory of 1948” or “Palestine of ’48.” Since the Palestinian people do not accept submission, the conflict has resumed periodically. Israel uses each conflict to expand its territory. After 1948, in the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel took the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and Golan Heights.
And now Israel is using this war in order to occupy part of the Gaza Strip or completely expel about two million Palestinian people from their land in this region into the Sinai desert, which would mark a further qualitative step in the Nakba.
This is not only a counterrevolutionary war supported by U.S. and European imperialism. It is an action of Nazi-fascist character, similar to what the Nazis did against the Jews in the past.
And since the Palestinian people do not surrender, we have a counterrevolutionary war of Israel against the Palestinian people that has been ongoing for 75 years. It has had moments of greater violence and intensity (as in 1948, in the Six-Day War in 1967, and now) and is now a progressive war of national liberation of the Palestinians against Israel.
The creation of Israel has unleashed one of the most severe national oppressions in world history. And undoubtedly it is the most globally supported national liberation war at this time.
A region torn by revolution and counterrevolution
Historically, the region known as MENA (Middle East and North Africa) has been highly polarized between revolution and counterrevolution in convulsive processes. There are strong objective and subjective reasons for this.
The first objective element is the enormous wealth generated by the largest oil reserves in the world, which are strategic for imperialism. In addition, it is a transit point between Europe and Asia, which is very important for world trade. These are the basic reasons for the creation of Israel as a stronghold of imperialism. This same wealth produces massive social polarization, with extremely rich bourgeoisies supported by dictatorships (in several countries with brutal monarchies) and a people in a state of increasing misery.
The second element is the very existence of the Israeli state. There is no doubt that it guarantees the military domination of imperialism and is the basis for a particularly racist and orientalist ideology (“democracy against the Muslim barbarians”). But because it was a brutal imposition on the Palestinians, it generated a dynamic of permanent political radicalization, conflicts, and wars.
Third, we have the same ongoing dynamic of the impoverishment of the masses worldwide due to the downward trend of the world economy since the global recession of 2007-2009, with successive neoliberal plans each more severe than the last that have exacerbated the issue.
Fourth, the region is almost entirely characterized by hated dictatorships that have existed for decades. Social polarization and national oppression are not taken into account within the framework of bourgeois democracies.
In Latin America, a series of democratic revolutions overthrew dictatorships in Argentina (1982), Brazil (1984), Uruguay (1985), and other countries, leading to the establishment of bourgeois democracies in most of the continent. This did not happen in the Middle East and North Africa. Not even the Arab Spring was able to put an end to these dictatorships.
The internal situation in Israel
There is a tendency towards Bonapartism in the world, which accompanies economic decline and the need to suppress mass movements, which is a dynamic that is also expressed in the region. The expansion of Bonapartist measures in bourgeois democracies (such as Macron’s imposition on parliament to impose the pension reform) and the transformation of bourgeois democratic regimes into Bonapartist ones (as in Turkey and Hungary) are not coincidental.
One of the demonstrations of this in the region, in addition to the permanence of dictatorships, is the evolution within the state of Israel itself. This state has never had a bourgeois democratic regime. It has always been an apartheid regime supported by the repression and oppression of the Palestinians, most of whom do not even have the right to vote.
For Israeli Jews, however, there has been a democracy similar to that of whites in the apartheid regime of South Africa. But in recent decades, Israeli governments have become increasingly right wing. Netanyahu’s government is an example of this, as it has outright fascist ministers in key areas, including Itamar Ben-Gvir in public security and Bezalel Smotrich in finance.
In addition, Netanyahu is betting on even harsher attacks against the Palestinians by encouraging the occupation of the West Bank by armed Jewish settlers.
Before the war, Netanyahu faced a major political crisis because he tried to push through a judicial reform that reduced the powers of the country’s Supreme Court in an unprecedented Bonapartist move. This caused a split in the Israeli establishment, and tens of thousands took to the streets against this government project. This intensified the delegitimization of Israel.
This helped to create the explosive conditions that explain the basis for Oct. 7. The Palestinian attack was a severe blow to the entire Israeli state and especially to Netanyahu, who claimed that his far-right government was necessary to ensure Israel’s security. The discrediting of the government has accelerated since then. It was forced to form a national unity government to provide an internal basis for the military attack on Gaza.
Israel’s delay of the ground invasion had to do not only with military preparedness, but also with the political crises unfolding within Israel, both in terms of strategy and concrete military measures. There is also a crisis that is taking place with respect to the families of the 240 hostages, who are demanding a response from the government.
Now Netanyahu is betting on genocide and military victory to guarantee his political future as well. Israel’s project is to take a new step in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and there are several possibilities. One of them is to expel the Palestinians of Gaza (two million people) to the Sinai desert. The other, more mediated, is to definitively occupy part of the Gaza Strip and leave another part to the Palestinians, albeit under an administration subordinate to Israel. The construction of this “post-war” plan is already under discussion and could involve the PNA (currently very weak), Arab countries (such as Egypt, Jordan, Arabia), and a UN military force. It has not excluded the possibility that such a plan could include the support of China and Russia.
The limits of revolutionary processes
There are several revolutionary processes in the region that have the following as their objective bases: the brutal exploitation of the workers, the hatred against the local dictatorships, and the existence and oppression of Israel. However, these processes are limited by the social fragility of the proletariat in the region and the practical non-existence of revolutionary leaderships.
Just to mention the most recent processes, we can cite the “Arab Spring,” a great uprising of the masses that shook the dictatorships of the region between 2010 and 2013. These revolutionary mobilizations overthrew governments that had been in place for decades in Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq, and others.
The other two major expressions were the Palestinian intifadas: the first (from 1987 to 1993) and the second (from 2000 to 2005). But these processes were defeated. The Arab Spring, after almost four years of heroic mass mobilizations, succeeded in overthrowing the governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, but failed to put an end to the dictatorships in these countries, with the exception of Tunisia (which is now in retreat).
The first intifada was channeled by the PLO into the Oslo Accords of 1993. Through these agreements, the main Palestinian leadership (Fatah) became the taskmaster of Israeli rule in the occupied territories through the Palestinian National Authority. The second intifada was also channeled into the Abbas-Sharon agreements, which allowed for elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006.
There are many inequalities between countries, but in general the proletariat in the region is socially fragile, with more historical weight only in Iran and Egypt. In Syria, before the revolution, there were 600,000 industrial workers in a population of 22 million. In Palestine, the proletariat is small and highly controlled, and most of the unions are run by Fatah.
It is no coincidence that the social subject of the revolutionary processes, both the Arab Spring and the Intifadas, was not the proletariat but the popular masses, and especially the impoverished youth.
Moreover, the Jewish proletariat supports the state of Israel and Zionism. In its origins, this proletariat was formed through the process of colonizing Palestine, with the arrival of millions of European Jews to occupy the land and expel the Palestinians.
Thus, in the words of Syrian activist and professor at the University of Lausanne, Joseph Daher: “This is the result not only of ideological devotion, but also of material interest in the state of Israel, which provides Israeli workers with houses stolen from Palestinians, as well as an inflated standard of living. The ruling class and the Israeli state thus integrate the Israeli working class as collaborators in a common project of settler colonialism.”
“Working-class institutions, such as their union, the Histadrut, played a central role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Zionist union leaders founded the Histadrut in 1920 as an exclusively Jewish union and used it to spearhead the expulsion of Palestinian workers.”
Subjectively, the problem is compounded by other factors. There are no revolutionary Marxist organizations in the region. The role of Stalinism, with the support of the USSR, in the birth of Israel and the subsequent capitulation of the Stalinist parties to bourgeois nationalism are important explanations for this.
The Arab bourgeois nationalism, which held weight in the past, has been in sharp decline since the 1970s and has advanced in agreements with imperialism. Nasserism developed into Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt. The Baath Party became Assad in Syria. This led to the crisis of the pro-imperialist dictatorships, which became the target of the anger of the masses of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and other countries.
The weight of the currents that present themselves as Islamic is part of this reality of the crisis of the revolutionary leadership. Different religious movements and parties have reached the governments of different countries through very different processes.
This is the case in Iran, where the Shiite ayatollahs took advantage of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and have since imposed a theocratic dictatorship in the country, which is increasingly coming into conflict with the struggle of the masses.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power through elections after the fall of Mubarak in 2012. With its neoliberal and repressive plans, it generated a new rebellion against the government, which was capitalized on with a military coup by General al-Sissi in 2013, who remains in power today.
In Turkey, Erdogan has carried out reactionary reform, moving the regime from bourgeois democracy to Bonapartism, always supported by the Islamic discourse.
The two main Palestinian leaderships today have very different orientations. The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, is in fact a product of the Oslo Accords, and the foreman of a sham state, which is completely subordinated to Israel and rejected by the Palestinian masses.
Hamas, the main Palestinian mass leadership today, is opposed to Israel and is at the center of this confrontation. Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006, the results of which were not accepted by Israel. It has governed the Gaza Strip until now and has militarily confronted the Israeli genocide. But the Hamas program, as we shall see, does not point in the direction of the revolutionary process either.
The crisis in the world order and its reflections in the region
The weight and responsibility of U.S. and European imperialism in supporting the Israeli genocide is a known fact. At this moment, this has decisive meaning for the Israeli offensive, which would not have the military and political conditions for it without imperialist support. The mainstream bourgeois media, echoing U.S. imperialism, speak of Israel’s “right of defense” with an increasingly questionable cynicism.
Before the war, a maneuver of U.S. imperialism was underway to bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel, which would further stabilize U.S. imperialist domination in the region.
However, it is necessary to clarify the role of the other imperialist bloc that also has weight in the region. The war in Ukraine has brought Russian imperialism into an important crisis. At the moment, it is U.S. and European imperialism that will have to bear the burden of its open counterrevolutionary role.
Russia and China represent special and unique historical processes. They were bureaucratized workers states led by Stalinist parties. They underwent capitalist restoration and developed, in different ways, into new imperialist countries. They are very different in their position in the world division of labor, but they are imperialist. China is the second economic power in the world and Russia is the second military power. Both China and Russia have imperialist economic and political interests in the Middle East and North Africa.
Before, when they were still workers states, these states had a fundamental weight in the mass movement through the Communist parties. Today, as imperialist countries, they still have weight, but less than before. The EIPCO (International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties), which gathers the majority of the world’s Communist parties (including the PCdoB, CP and PCRR of Brazil), counts on the presence of the Chinese CP and the CP of the Russian Federation (which support the Russian invasion of Ukraine).
Russian imperialism has economic and political interests throughout the region, including with Israel. Before the current situation, Netanyahu visited Putin shortly after the meeting with Trump. China is the largest importer of oil from Iran and Saudi Arabia, and also does business with Israel. Before the war, China pushed for a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in contrast to the United States.
Both Russia and China are interested in stability in the region, not war, and neither wants the destruction of Israel. Now, with the war ongoing, China and Russia have distanced themselves from Israel in order to once again defend the failed strategy of the Oslo Accords: the “two states” solution. In this way, they are capitalizing on the attrition of U.S. imperialism in the region. And they offer to take part in a “peace plan for the region” after the war.
Russia is counting on the direct support of a bloc called the “axis of resistance” with Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah (in Lebanon), Islamic Jihad, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This bloc, despite threats and declarations against genocide, has not yet joined the fight against Israel (apparently with the exception of the Houthis), leaving Gaza alone against Israeli genocide. The entire global reformist left, which supports Hezbollah and Iran, should demand their entry into the war.
A growing political crisis
The war in Palestine has further polarized the crisis of the world order, with reflections in the economy, in the political instability of countries, and in the environment. In short, the possibilities of recovery of the world economy are limited and the inter-bourgeois conflicts in the countries are becoming more acute. On the other hand, the emphasis on the production of fossil fuels has resumed, which is aggravating the environmental crisis.
All this is compounded by important mobilizations in support of the Palestinians. Here what we have been saying takes on new weight: the Palestinian cause is the most important national liberation struggle in the world. It has been taken up by the immigrant masses and the youth of the imperialist countries. It is not a coincidence that there are gigantic mobilizations in England and the United States. The Arab and Muslim masses of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa have taken up the cause as their own. There are mass demonstrations in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and many countries of the region.
In addition, there are broad vanguard mobilizations with mass support in many countries of the world. There is beginning to be active solidarity actions between the workers and the Palestinian struggle. Three Belgian transport workers’ unions called on their members not to allow the shipment of weapons to Israel. In Oakland (USA), a vanguard action delayed the departure of a ship carrying arms to Israel.
This is not a one-way process. There is political polarization with the growing weight of the far-right. The imperialist governments have imposed Bonapartist measures against the mobilizations and organizations that support the Palestinians.
But there is a general political sense in the world political process. Despite all the support of the big bourgeois media, Zionism is losing the battle for the consciousness of world’s masses.
At the time of writing, Israel has invaded the Gaza Strip, surrounded Gaza City, and is preparing to occupy it. It will face the heroic resistance of the Palestinians, who will use guerrilla tactics, supported by their tunnels, as the Vietcong used the jungle against US soldiers.
While Israel is advancing in the ground battle in Gaza, it is regressing politically in the world. This explains recent polls showing 66% support for the cease-fire among Americans. American Jews opposed to the Israeli invasion occupied the U.S. Capitol and train stations in powerful demonstrations.
Mobilizations in Turkey have put pressure on Erdogan, who had to speak out against Israel and call for a demonstration himself to stop the process. In Latin America, Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, while Colombia and Chile recalled their ambassadors.
The development of the conflict in Gaza has tended to aggravate the political polarization that already exists in the world.
There is a new and explosive world situation that has just begun and that can take many directions. Faced with this reality, we would like to return to what we said at the beginning of this text. The only way to defeat Israel is to transform this war of national liberation into an international revolutionary process.
The process of permanent revolution
The reformist programs, in their various versions, have been tried and have failed in the region. The Oslo Accords, with the proposal of “two states,” ended up materializing with the Palestinian Authority controlling parts of the West Bank as Israel’s taskmaster. This “semi-state” has no armed forces and no economic or political autonomy. Its territory is being systematically cut back and reduced by heavily armed Jewish settlers who continue to occupy land and expel Palestinians.
There is no possibility for the two states to coexist because Israel is a state with Nazi-fascist characteristics and its goal is to expel the Palestinians at gunpoint. It would be like proposing “two states” in the 1940s, with one Nazi and the other unarmed Jewish.
The PLO’s original proposal for a “secular, free and non-racist Palestine” is the historic banner of the Palestinians. But the only way to make this proposal viable is to destroy the state of Israel and to return to the situation before its creation, when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together democratically in the same region.
However, this is a very difficult war because of the military disparity between the sides. Israel is the fourth largest military power in the world. And it has the direct support of U.S. imperialism as well as the European imperialisms. If we think only from the military point of view, defeat is almost certain, as it has been the case so far.
However, history teaches us that it is possible to defeat even the hegemonic imperialist power when mass mobilization and armed struggle are combined. In the Haitian Revolution, the insurgent slaves defeated Spanish imperialism and inflicted one of the first military defeats on French imperialism under Napoleon Bonaparte. In the Russian Revolution, the newly formed Red Army defeated the counterrevolutionary military invasion of 16 imperialist countries.
To take a more recent example, the United States was defeated in Vietnam in 1975. This was a product of the heroic resistance of the Viet Cong combined with mobilizations around the world and in the U.S. in particular.
More precisely, the Palestinian war of national liberation must be understood as part of the process of permanent revolution. In Trotsky’s words in the Transitional Program:
“This is what determines the policy of the proletariat of the backward countries: it is obliged to link the struggle for the most elementary tasks of national independence and bourgeois democracy with the socialist struggle against world imperialism.”
“The democratic demands, the transitional demands, and the tasks of the socialist revolution are not separated in different historical epochs, but arise directly from one another.”
It is possible to defeat Israel, but this will require, in addition to maintaining and deepening the military resistance in Gaza, something similar to the combination of a new Palestinian intifada, the resumption of the Arab Spring in the countries of the region, and mass mobilizations in all the countries of the world, especially in the imperialist countries.
A new intifada will provoke massive clashes in the West Bank and the 1948 territories, taking the focus away from Gaza alone.
A new Arab Spring will force the Arab governments in the region, both those that directly support Israel and those that wash their hands of the “Axis of Resistance,” to actively support the Palestinian struggle.
Mobilizations in the imperialist countries can play the essential role, as did the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, which split the American bourgeoisie and contributed greatly to the victory of the Vietnamese struggle. But to achieve this, it will be necessary to overcome the bourgeois directions of this process.
This understanding of the strategy of permanent revolution includes four essential elements.
The first is the necessary unity of action with all those who oppose the Israeli genocide and support the Palestinian struggle. This includes Hamas and all sectors involved in this struggle.
The second is the understanding of this democratic struggle as part of a revolutionary socialist process, which necessarily leads to a confrontation with the Arab bourgeoisies, which led all previous processes to defeat and could repeat it at this moment. These leaderships are not willing to mobilize and arm the workers and youth of the region because they fear that this will turn against them.
The third is that the project of permanent revolution is necessarily international, one of the fundamental necessities of this process. This struggle cannot be won only in the Palestinian territory, but must be combined with a revolutionary struggle in the Arab and imperialist countries.
Fourthly, it is necessary to build a new leadership for this whole process. We advocate the broadest unity of action with Hamas, the most respected Palestinian leadership at this time. But Hamas’ strategy includes its alliances with the regional bourgeoisies of the governments that oppose the extension of the revolution, such as the “Axis of Resistance,” and not the independent mobilization of the masses, including against the governments of Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
One of the most important headquarters of Hamas is in Turkey, where they operate under the protection of Erdogan. Hamas supported the Turkish invasion in Afrin in Syria, which led to the expulsion of 200,000 Kurds.
Hamas’ strategy remains that of a theocratic state, with its oppressive weight against women and LGBTQ people, and its divisive religious stance. It is a different program from ours, which advocates a “secular, democratic and non-racist” Palestine.
Finally, Hamas does not have a revolutionary socialist program, but one of bourgeois development. This reproduces the dynamics of these types of movements, which, when they reach governments, lead to the development of a new bourgeoisie, as has already happened in Iran, Egypt, Syria, etc. Nor does it lead to a break with imperialism. It is not possible to escape from U.S. imperialism and support Russian imperialism.
None of this prevents us from fighting together with Hamas and the Palestinian masses against the state of Israel and the imperialisms. But we maintain the Leninist tradition of striking together but marching separately, not only from Hamas but from all Stalinist, reformist, and bourgeois currents that support these currents in the world, maintaining our political independence and our socialist and revolutionary program.