In this resolution, the US Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) lays out a strategic perspective for Palestinian liberation, and polemicizes against arguments advocating for the recognition of an Israeli nation alongside a Palestinian one. While circumstances have changed since this piece was written in 1971, and while the SWP largely abandoned this position as it deteriorated in the 90s and onward, we believe that its overall analysis here is still sound and relevant in the 21st century.
“Resolution on Israel and the Arab Revolution”
by the leadership of the Socialist Workers’ Party (US)
This resolution aims to outline only the basic general points of political principle involved in a Marxist approach to the Mideast crisis. It would be wrong to attempt to draw a blueprint for the exact juridical and governmental forms of a democratic Palestine or a united socialist Middle East. We cannot predict the length, severity, or the vicissitudes of the revolutionary struggles in the Middle East or provide a recipe for the tactics that will be employed. All of this depends upon many factors, including the development of the revolutionary struggle in the imperialist countries and the workers states, the pace of development of Leninist parties in the Middle East, and the extent to which the Israeli Jewish masses can be won away from adherence to the Israeli state to active support of the Palestinian and general Arab liberation movements.
Our program for the Palestinian revolution and the Arab revolution as a whole includes support of full civil, cultural, and religious rights for all nationalities in the Mideast, including the Israeli Jews. But, while we support the right of the Israeli Jews to pursue their national culture within the framework of a democratic Palestine, we are opposed to the Israeli state.
Two of the key arguments used by Zionists in defending the Israeli state are: (1) The Jewish people, an oppressed nationality throughout the world, have a right to self-determination. The existence of the Israeli state is the realization of that right Because of the historical oppression of the Jewish people, the right to maintain the Israeli state supersedes the national rights of the Palestinian Arabs; (2) However one may disagree with the present policies of the Israeli state or the manner of its creation, the Israeli state must be defended against the Arab peoples, because a victory for the Arab revolution and the destruction of the Israeli state would result in genocide, mass expulsion, or the oppression of the Jews presently living in Israel.
Both of these arguments are false to the core.
The situation of the Israeli Jews is essentially different from that of Jews in other parts of the world. The struggle against anti-Semitism and the oppression of Jews in other countries is a progressive struggle directed against their oppressors. In some circumstances the demand for self-determination for oppressed Jews, directed against the oppressor nation, could become appropriate. Thus the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky recognized the right of the Jews in Russia to set up a state on their own territory, if they wished. However, the oppression of Jews in other countries does not justify the creation and maintenance of the existing Israeli state at the expense of the Palestinians, who were not and are not responsible for the oppression of the Jews. There, the situation is the reverse. The Israeli Jews form an oppressor nationality of a settler-colonial character vis-a-vis the Arab peoples. The Israeli state is the means by which this oppression is maintained.
From the point of view of the Leninist concept of the right of nations to self-determination, the key fact is whether the given nationality is an oppressed nationality or an oppressor nationality. Revolutionists call for the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities, those that are being denied their democratic rights through national oppression. This demand means that the oppressed nationalities have the right to decide to form a separate state, or to exist in a unitary or federated state alongside a former oppressor nationality, or to adopt some other form of self-determination, as the oppressed nationality so chooses. The oppressor nationality has no right to decide this question. The purpose of fighting for the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities is to guarantee them whatever state forms they believe are necessary to end their oppression. In the epoch of imperialism, the national liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities tend to merge with the world socialist revolution against imperialism through the process of permanent revolution.
This revolutionary dynamic is entirely missing from the concept that the Israeli Jews—an oppressor nationality vis-a-vis the Arab peoples—have a right to a separate state. Proletarian internationalism includes the recognition that the struggles of the oppressed nationality and the toiling masses in the oppressor nationality have the same enemy. But it does not at all endorse the concept that oppressed nationalities must support the right of self-determination of the oppressor nationality.
The burden for forging a fighting internationalist alliance rests on the proletarian movement of the oppressor nationality or country. It must prove in deeds that it is opposed to its own bourgeoisie on this question by fighting side by side with the oppressed nationalities and supporting their right to self-determination. There is no equation between the demand for self-determination for the Vietnamese, which is directed against imperialism and its lackeys in Saigon, or for the Palestinians, which is directed against their imperialist and Israeli oppressors, and the demand to support the Israeli state. The latter is directed on behalf of the imperialists against the Arabs, primarily the Palestinians. In the current situation, this demand mobilizes the Israeli Jews against the Arabs, who are oppressed by Israel.
The second argument of the Zionists is equally false. It is not justifiable to assume that a likely development of the Arab revolution will be the future oppression of the Israeli Jews. There is no reason to believe that the Arab liberation movement—contrary to the dynamic of such struggles everywhere else, contrary to the basic principles being put forward by its most advanced components (the Palestinian liberation fighters)—will institute a system of national oppression against the Israeli Jews. To consider that the Arab revolution will necessarily -threaten the national oppression of the Israeli Jews is an unfounded fear of the revolution itself, a fear which is incited for counterrevolutionary reasons by the imperialists and Zionists.
Of course, the possibility of future oppression of the Israeli Jews cannot be theoretically excluded. A bureaucratic deformation or degeneration of the state power issuing after a successful revolution in Palestine could conceivably result in systematic oppression of the Jews. Under such circumstances, the demand for their right to self-determination could become appropriate. But this unlikely future possibility does not justify the existing oppression of the Arab peoples through the maintenance of the Israeli state.
In contrast to this speculative future danger, there are real problems which will definitely have to be surmounted after the victory of the Arab revolution. Even under the most favorable conditions hi which the socialist revolution in the Middle East can take place, many vestiges of national oppression suffered by the Arab peoples will still remain for a time. The revolutionary policy is to give preferential treatment to the formerly oppressed nationalities as the only means by which they can overcome all the economic, social, and cultural deprivations that they have suffered at the hands of Israel and the imperialist countries.
Within the revolutionary movement there have been some different but nevertheless mistaken positions regarding the right of the Israeli Jews to self-determination. Some of the spokespeople for the Israeli Socialist Organization have raised these arguments in the most clearly developed form. We differentiate their motivations and positions from those of the Zionists. They are courageous Israeli revolutionaries who oppose Zionism and call for the integration of the Israeli Jews in a socialist federation of the Mideast
Their reasoning goes along the following line:
The Israeli Jews form a new Hebrew nationality separate and distinct from the Jewish people in other parts of the world. After a victorious socialist revolution, this minority nationality within the Mideast should have the right to self-determination. In such a revolutionary context, self-determination for the Hebrew nationality would not result in a Zionist-type settler state opposed to the Arab revolution. Although this demand is not meant to be applied now, and is not designed to imply support to the maintenance of the Zionist state, it should be raised now as part of a revolutionary program for the Mideast in order to facilitate the process of winning the Hebrew masses away from Zionism.
This argument is wrong.
The question of whether or not the Israeli Jews form a separate nationality from Jewish people in other parts of the world is subject to theoretical investigation. But that issue is not relevant to the matter under discussion. It does not follow that because an Israeli Jewish nationality exists, either as a separate entity or as part of world Jewry, we must automatically support its right to a separate state in the Mideast. Nor does the right of self-determination flow from the fact that a given nationality may be numerically a minority nationality. Each case must be examined separately within the totality of the given conditions, the key fact being whether a given nationality is an oppressor nationality or an oppressed nationality.
To Leninists, the right of self-determination is not an abstract moral right belonging to all nationalities at all times and under all circumstances. It is a political demand for oppressed nationalities that is raised for the following purposes: (a) by guaranteeing them whatever state forms they feel are necessary to end their national oppression, it mobilizes the presently oppressed nationalities in struggle against their oppressors; (b) it mobilizes the working class of the oppressor nations to struggle against its own ruling class on this question; (c) in this way it lays the basis for forging a genuine internationalist alliance between the national liberation struggle of oppressed nationalities and the class struggle of the working masses in the oppressor countries.
These are the main reasons why the self-determination struggles of oppressed nationalities lead in the direction of a socialist revolution, which will eventually lead to the abolition of the nation-state. These three factors are all missing from the demand for self-determination for oppressor nations.
Even if the demand for self-determination for the present oppressor nationality—the Israeli Jews—is to be implemented only after a socialist revolution, the raising of it at the present point can only be interpreted as directed against the presently oppressed nationality—the Arab peoples. As such, there is no revolutionary thrust to this demand.
Since the Leninist demand for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination is designed to guarantee them the state forms they feel are necessary to end their oppression, the implication of the argument for future Hebrew self-determination is that this demand is necessary to guarantee that the Israeli Jews will not face national oppression after the victory of the Arab revolution. As was said before, this danger is not at all real and pressing. Leninists raise demands that speak to the actual situation, which is the exact opposite: the Israeli Jews are the oppressor nationality vis-a-vis the Arabs. To raise such a demand now as a safeguard against a possible future danger is unfounded, obscures the present reality, and diverts from the struggle going on right now for the rights of the oppressed Palestinians and other Arabs against the imperialist and Israeli oppressors.
On the tactical level it is also wrong to raise the demand for the right of self-determination of the Israeli Jews, even if the right were not to be applied now, but only within the context of a successful revolution in the Mideast. Among the Israeli Jews, such a demand would reinforce the racist fears, fears fostered by the imperialists and Zionists that the Israeli Jewish masses do have something to fear from the victorious Arab revolution. It is unlikely that Israeli Jews will be convinced to support the Palestinian struggle to destroy the state of Israel on the ground that the Palestinians and other Arab peoples promise them the right to set up another state in the future to protect themselves from oppression by these same Arabs. Such a demand would be easily twisted by the Zionists to their own advantage. The Zionists would argue that the Israeli Jews have a state and self-determination today, and that the duty of those who believe in this right for the Israeli Jews is to fight now to preserve Israel, even though they may disagree with many aspects of the Zionist state.
Moreover, such a demand would certainly be understood by the Arab masses as a disguised form of Zionism. To advance such a slogan in the present circumstances would call into question the genuineness of our support to the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.
Instead of raising slogans which reinforce the racist fears that Zionism and imperialism foster among the Israeli Jews, it is the duty of revolutionists to show the Israeli Jews how Zionism is wholly and completely against their interests, how it has led them into the trap of opposing the Arab liberation struggle and of aligning themselves with imperialism, the worst enemy of the Jewish people everywhere. We explain to the Israeli Jews, as we have in the past, that their future lies only in aligning themselves with the Palestinian and general Arab liberation movements, wholeheartedly and without any reservation whatever. It will be to the extent that they do this that they can escape from the trap that Zionism and imperialism have set for them in the Mideast.
A related slogan that has been raised by spokesmen of the Israeli Socialist Organization is for the de-Zionization of Israel. This slogan is wrong if it is counterposed to the demand of the Palestinian liberation movement for a democratic Palestine, because in that case it can be interpreted to mean support for the maintenance of Israel. Revolutionists support all struggles within Israel against every Zionist discriminatory law and practice, but since the national oppression of the Palestinians cannot be ended within the framework of the maintenance of the Israeli state, these struggles must be linked with the goal of replacing Israel with a democratic Palestine.
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