This piece, excerpted from “How Marxists and Reformists addressed the Jewish Question and Zionism”, examines how the Trotskyist analysis of the situation in Palestine has evolved since the days of the Nakba. In doing so, he makes a case for supporting the historical demand for a singular, secular and democratic state in Palestine to secure Palestinian liberation.
Trotskyism maintained its defense of the revolutionary position in Palestine
by José Wielmowicki (2018), translated to English by Carlos Sapir (2021)
As an international organization that traces it lineage to the Trotskyist Fourth International, we are the standard bearers of a proud legacy: the Fourth International was effectively the only left anti-Zionist organization during the era of the Nakba, and was firmly opposed to the partition of Palestine in 1948.
Down with the partition of Palestine! For a united, independent, Arab Palestine, with full minority rights for the Jewish population! Down with imperialist intervention in Palestine! Out with foreign troops, UN “mediators” and “observers”! For the right of the Arab masses to decide their own fate! For the election of a Constituent Assembly with universal suffrage and private ballots! For the agrarian revolution!
The Trotskyist position was consistent with the position of the Third International, and accurately predicted what would come to pass following the consolidation of the State of Israel.
Our tendency, since the LTF (Leninist-Trotskyist Fraction) within the Unified Secretariat–together with the SWP in the United States–from 1969-1976, through to the Bolshevik Tendency (BT) and Bolshevik Fraction (FB), through to the foundation of the IWL-FI in 1982, is the thread of continuity between the positions of the revolutionaries of the Third International and the present day.
Already in 1973, shortly after the Yom Kippur War, our tendency took clear positions in an edition of Revista de América dedicated to the topic of “Israel, a History of Colonization”.
The newspaper Avanzada Socialista, published by the Socialist Workers’ Party of Argentina, printed an article in 1973 that synthesized the position of Revista de América and amended one specific element of its critique: previously, while the Fourth International opposed partition, it stood by its defense of the right to self-determination for all peoples in Palestine. The 1973 article clarified an important aspect, that it is necessary to differentiate between the nationalism of the oppressors (Zionism) from the nationalism of the oppressed (Palestinian) as the Zionist project depended on the oppression of the Palestinians. Following this reasoning, Jews in Palestine do not have the right to establish an independent state separate from the Palestinians.
“Self-Determination is a Right of the Oppressed, Not of the Oppressors”
In Avanzada Socialista No. 79 (10/10/1973) we said regarding the conflict in the Middle East that “we call on Jewish comrades to not fall for the racist, reactionary demagoguery of the State of Israel and imperialism, and to instead support the just war of the Arabs against one of the most reactionary states that history has known: Israel.
“To our Arab comrades, we invite you to support Jewish workers in the fight against the bosses and imperialism. To support their right to self-determination and to have their own state in the context of a Socialist Federation of Middle Eastern States.” This position is more or less what we supported in La Verdad during the Six Days War of 1967. Our party’s leadership has discussed and revised this position with respect to the rights of Jews to have their own state in Palestine. We understand that the most correct position is to create across the whole of the territory, which is today occupied by the Zionist state, a unitary, secular, non-racist State of Palestine, with broad democratic rights and liberties for all of its inhabitants.
A secular state means a state that is not based on any “official religion”, whether Islamic or Christian…At the same time, it would guarantee each of its inhabitants the total freedom of practice of the religion of their choice or the right to not practice religion if they prefer.
This secular Palestinian state would supersede the privileges, discriminations, and racial persecution that exist today in the Zionist state, and would guarantee all of its citizens, whether Arab, Jewish, or Druze, equal democratic rights: freedom to speak and publish literature in their native language, non-discrimination in both public and private employment, equal pay, equal rights to vote and be elected to both government and union positions, etc.
Some readers may raise the following objection: “We agree that we need to get rid of Dayan, Golda Meir, and Cía. But why do we raise the demand for a unitary Palestinian state? Of course, this would guarantee self-determination to the Arabs, who would be able to form a majority in this Palestinian state. But wouldn’t this infringe on the Jews’ right to self-determination, identifying this demand together with Dayan and his clique?” Our response is very simple: revolutionary Marxists defend the right for self-determination for the oppressed, not for the oppressors.
The right to self-determination is a concrete problem, it is not an arithmetic matter of majorities and minorities. We defend the right for the self-determination of the nationalist, “catholic” minority in Ulster against the “protestant” English majority, because the former is oppressed by the latter. For the same reason, we support the Black majority in Rhodesia, in South Africa, and in the Portuguese colonies, against the white minority that enslaves them in the most brutal manner. What would we say, for instance, in South Africa? “Rights for Black people…and also for the whites who deny them even the most basic of human rights”?
The situation in Israel is similar to that of Rhodesia, South Africa, or Algeria before the revolution. Much like in those cases, imperialism imported a colonizing minority, which displaced millions of Palestinians from their lands and from their national and human rights. Just like in South Africa, where Black people are locked up on “indigenous reserves”, millions of Palestinians live in destitutions in “refugee camps” in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They are victims of massacres perpetrated by both the Zionists and their Arab accomplices, the reactionary governments of Lebanon and Jordan. The Palestinians who remain in Israeli territory are subject to a regime of terror. …
Who, then, are the oppressors, and who are the oppressed? Who has the right to self-determination? This is the simple and concrete question. The first and most important task is to return to the oppressed their land and their national and democratic rights. At the same time, to guarantee all Jews who wish to live in peace and brotherhood with the Arabs, without exploiting them, to all Jews opposed to becoming cannon fodder for Dayan and Yankee imperialism, full democratic rights as citizens of a secular, non-racist Palestine.”
The IWL upheld this program from 1973 and reaffirmed it in the 2000s, in an edition of Marxismo Vivo (No. 3) in 2001, and in a series of articles published in Correo Internacional addressing the incessant aggressions committed by Israel and the resistance to these acts of aggression, such as the resistance in Lebanon, the heroic Palestinian resistance in the Intifadas, and the new revolutionary process which began in 2011 across the entirety of the region.
Nevertheless, the same cannot be said of many of the other political currents that call themselves Trotskyist. There has been a retreat from the positions of the Third and Fourth Internationals in the face of pressure from the adaptation of the left to Zionist positions.
During the 90s, the Unified Secretariat began to accept the imposition of the “two state” solution, and called for a solution that would appeal to UN intervention (the same UN that backed the partition and allowed for the Nakba to occur). Their section in Palestine, as demonstrated by the articles written by Michel Warshawski, proceeded to defend the two-state solution, negotiated “not under the premises of a US-Israeli diktat,” but under the auspices of the UN, arguing that this was the only way to end war and the massacre of Palestinians.
As the peace plans are merely a tool for imperialist domination, and the UN is yet another tool in the same mold, albeit one that endeavors to present itself as a neutral arbiter, and noting the complicity of the Palestinian Authority’s leadership, if the Palestinian people followed the Unified Secretariat’s line, they would be abandoning their resistance and betting their future on an interminable series of negotiations that would result in a so-called peace.
Meanwhile, the Trotskyist currents derived from Ted Grant (IMT and CWI) treat both the Jews and the Palestinians as oppressed peoples. With a position similar to the one that they apply to Ireland, where they differentiated between English “protestant” workers and Irish “catholic” workers, they proceeded to defend the establishment of a socialist Israel beside a socialist Palestine, accepting the 1947 UN partition and abandoning the struggle for the right of return of Palestinians expelled in 1948 and their descendants. Israel’s actions day after day demonstrate that capitulation to a two state solution means nothing more than to accept incessant, permanent land theft and racism.
Even today, as left activists and human rights defenders have flocked to support a single state solution with equal rights for all, the Grantists continue to defend their “call for the establishment of two socialist states with full rights for the minorities that live in them”.
Today, 70 years after the establishment of Israel, the revolutionary program continues to support the analyses of the Third and Fourth Internationals. And today, this can be summarized in the slogan: “For the abolition of the racist State of Israel”, “For a new Intifada that centers on the working class and fights for a unitary, secular, democratic, non-racist state in the entire territory of Palestine”.
This is not an easy task, but it is a task that we can accomplish by means of the workers’ struggle. The road to revolution runs through Palestine and the international struggle, in which it is critical that the rest of the Arab working class participate, so that the struggle for Palestinian liberation can rely on the solidarity of the workers and peoples of the whole world, particularly in the imperialist countries.
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