T. Cliff

On the Irresponsible Handling
of the Palestine Question

(December 1946)

From Revolutionary Communist Party, Internal Bulletin, no date but early 1947.
Also published in Socialist Workers Party, Internal Bulletin, Vol. IX No. 1, January 1947, pp. 1–19.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We have received two numbers of the Internal Bulletin of the SWP (Oct. 1946, No. 11, Oct. 1946, No. 12) in which three items on the Jewish question and Palestine appear. As we are sure that acceptance by the SWP of the position expressed in all these items will do infinite harm to the cause of the Fourth International in all the Arab countries and may even bring about a cleavage between the colonial sections and the SWP, we find it necessary to criticise these items in the most severe. The three items repeat the same idea, but as the article A Revolutionary Programme for the Jews by Leo Lyons gives the most elaborate exposition of it, we shall concentrate our criticism on it. This article, bringing the superficial tourist approach to the Palestine question to its height, is no more than a mixture of ignorance as regards the situation in Palestine, an absolute lack of any understanding of the theory of the Permanent Revolution and the colonial question, and above all, an illustration of the proverb “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Its tendency is Zionist in all but words, and it is for this fact alone that it is important to analyse it.

The Trade Unions

In one small paragraph L.L. manages to make at least one mistake in every sentence. This is the paragraph:

“The development of the productive forces in Palestine by Jewish and Arab capitalists produced the phenomenon of Arab trade unions. Despite the smallness of the productive forces the concentration of the Palestinian proletariat made it necessary for the Arab unions to affiliate with the General Federation of Jewish Labour (Histradrut) in order to fight their class enemy, the bourgeoisie. These Arab unions have a membership of 2,000. Other Arab trade unions, hostile to the Histradrut, were organised by the government in order to split the labour movement nationally – they have a membership of 5,000. Despite this split, in 1943 eleven Arab strikes took place with 4,143 workers participating. Four additional strikes of 4,000 Jews and Arabs also took occurred. Special note should be taken of the one-day strike of 30,000 government employees, half-Jewish and half-Arab.” (p. 31, column 1)

In the first sentence the overwhelming weight of foreign capital is not mentioned at all. The fact that foreign capital owns over three-quarters of the total capital of industry and transport in Palestine appears to be unknown to L.L. as also the fact that the majority of the Arab proletariat is employed by the government and foreign capital, while no Arab workers are employed in Jewish industry.

The second sentence is even more monstrous than the first. No Arab unions become affiliated to the Histradrut “in order to fight their class enemy.” the Histradrut organised a special Arab organisation, which is mainly a weapon for Zionist propaganda abroad. The Histradrut is so far from having comradely relations with the members of this organisation that it does not allow the organisation to have one elected committee, all being appointed by the Histradrut. The leadership of the organisation is the Arab department of the Histradrut, in which there is no single Arab. The local branches are administered by Jewish secretaries appointed by the above-mentioned department. If in some cases, there does happen to be, besides the Jewish secretary, an Arab one too the latter’s authority is subordinated to the former’s. There are no democratically elected branch committees and conferences have never been convened. From the year of its inception, 1927, until today, an assembly of Arab delegates of this organisation has taken place only once, and its organisers gave it the fitting name “A day of study”, no decisions being taken, but only lectures being given.

L.L. does not know all this. He tries to describe the Arab organisation of the Histradrut as an independent trade union. He forgets to explain why at the beginning of the war, after twelve years of its existence, it claimed only 300 members. He does not explain, it seems he does not know, that the main prop of this organisation is the fact that the Histradrut has a contracting agency called Solel Boneh, which takes a big part in the building of camps, etc. Although it pays its Arab workers only a third or a quarter of what it pays the Jewish workers, the Histradrut’s Arab organisation still has some attraction, as it to a large extent controls the acceptance or dismissal of workers. It is because of this that during the war the number of Arab workers in the organisation rose to 2,000.

In Haifa, the only town with relatively big enterprises employing Arab workers and with a relatively developed working class, the Arab organisation of the Histradrut contains Arab workers only from small enterprises. It has no foothold in the railways, refineries, public Works department, etc.

Among the Arab employees and workers of the government and foreign enterprises, the Histradrut has no influence whatsoever. L.L. does not mention the influence of the “conquest of labour” policy of the Histradrut on the character of the “affiliated” organisation. He does not know that the branches of this organisation are not only very small and not rooted in the main centres of the economy, but also that they rest on very shaky foundations. For instance, the workers of the Nesher Cement Factory, who belonged to this organisation, in 1933 declared a strike. The Histradrut sent strike-breakers, finding in the strike an excellent opportunity for the Zionist “conquest of labour”. A similar occurrence took place in the railways, when Arab members of the organisation were dismissed. This entirely smashed its once fairly strong foothold in the railways. In the middle of 1944 the Acre branch of the organisation, one of the most successful in the eyes of the leadership, disappeared in the space of a few weeks: the reason was that some scores of Arab workers were dismissed and the Arab Department of the Histradrut let slip that the dismissals were for the purpose of creating places of work for new immigrants.

L.L. does not knew that the Histradrut leaders prevent all political discussion in this organisation by whatever means they can, not, fortunately, always succeeding. Thus, for instance, in the 1944 May day meeting of the Jaffa Branch, the Histradrut was attacked for its Zionist policy directed towards turning Palestine into a Jewish State, and a resolution to this effect was passed unanimously. The Histradrut promptly reacted by bringing four of the Arab militants to the government court on charge of disturbing a meeting. We of the Revolutionary Communist League of course supported these militants, against the Histradrut.

With the third sentence it is not necessary to deal, as the corrections of the second cover this also.

The fourth sentence, “Other Arab trade unions, hostile to the Histradrut, were organised by the government in order to split the labour movement nationally – why they have a membership of 5,000,” reaches the fortissimo of falsification. These words are the basest slander of the militant Arab workers. THE ARAB TRADE UNION FEDERATION was founded in 1925. Scores of members of this organisation have been cast into prison for struggling for the right of organisation. Despite the bureaucracy which grew within the organisation, it played a decisive role in all the railway strikes and most of the other important strikes in Palestine.

The other Arab trade union organisation is the FEDERATION OF ARAB TRADE UNIONS AND WORKERS’ SOCIETIES, founded in 1942 by a Stalinist group which split off from the Palestine CP. The two other organisations have about 10,000 members (double the number L.L. states), with a much wider support when it comes to class action.

There is another, loose, organisation, the Second Division Civil Servants’ Association, which contains both Jews and Arabs, the leadership being mainly Arab: this organisation is in very unfriendly relations with the Histradrut. In L.L.’s eyes, it is not the Histradrut which is to blame for the split in the Labour movement nationally, but the Arab unions. And this despite the fact that the picketing for a boycott of the workers of the Arab organisation is not the work of the latter, but the former. The record of the Arab organisations in this sphere, although not spotless, is infinitely superior to that of the Histradrut. It would take up too much space to quote all their numerous resolutions calling for unity and solidarity with Jewish workers, and their actions in this direction. It is not interesting to note that Palestine is the only country in the Arab East in which Jews are not together with Arabs in one union. It is criminal to say that these unions are bodies organised by the Government. This spits in the face of militant workers struggling for their rights under the most difficult conditions. No one would dare to call the CIO a company union, but the Zionist agents do dare to throw mud on the organs of struggle of the Arab workers. L.L. takes the Zionist propaganda at its face value.

The last sentence, “Special note should be taken of the one-day strike of 30,000 government employees, half-Jewish, half-Arab,” contains two mistakes. First of all the strike was not for one day, but for a fortnight. The 32,000 strikers were not half-Jewish, half-Arab, but there were about 26,000 Arabs and 6,000 Jews. It is worth noting that the leadership of the strike was in the main of Arab employees and workers, that the Histradrut did not have any important influence on the strike and that, while the workers of Haifa and Jaffa ports went on strike, the third port, that of all-Jewish Tel Aviv, continued to work throughout the period of the strike: the Histradrut was unwilling to jeopardise Zionist activity.

So much for L.L.’s facts about trade unions in Palestine.

The “Left” Zionist Parties

From an idealisation of the Histradrut, L.L. goes on to an idealisation of the “left-wing” Zionists. We write “left” in inverted commas. He instead writes:

“One-third of the Federation (Histradrut) (the Left Poale Zion, Kibutz Artzi, and the left wing of the Mapai) supports the slogan of a bi-national state, an Arab-Jewish Republic, as opposed to the chauvinistic slogan of a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’”.

This is a conglomeration of mistakes. The facts are: The “left” Poale Zion attacked the slogan of the bi-national state, putting forward instead that of a Jewish Socialist State. Today it is united with the former “left-wing” of Mapai to form the party “Ahdut HaAvoday-Poale Zion.” This party supports the slogan of 100 per cent Jewish labour and the Biltmore resolution calling for a Jewish Commonwealth. As regards the bi-nationalism of Hashomer Hatzair, it is an untruth to say that they stand for an Arab-Jewish Republic. Against the official Zionist programme they put forward these demands:

  1. To open the doors of Palestine for Jewish immigration.
  2. To establish in Palestine a political regime under international control which will give the Jewish Agency the right to carry out Jewish immigration according to the full economic absorptive capacity of the country.
  3. To grant the Jewish Agency the necessary authority for the development and building up of the country, including settlement of all government owned lands and uninhabited spaces, in the interests of the two sectors of the population, which will make dense Jewish colonisation possible, and the development of the Arab economy.
  4. To establish in Palestine after the war a regime based on the political equality of both peoples; which will enable Zionism to realise its aims undisturbed and will advance Palestine towards political independence in the frame of bi-nationalism. (Against the Stream, Collection of Articles and Speeches, Tel Aviv 1943, Hebrew).

All matters of immigration and settlement, according to Hashomer Hatzair, must be dealt with by the Jewish Agency, which will be concerned – as it has been concerned until today – with the “development of the Arab economy.”

Of course has Hashomer Hatzair is ready to co-operate with the Arabs on such a basis. They only forget one small question: will the Arab masses accept this as a basis for collaboration? Is not control over immigration and colonisation in such a country as Palestine control over the most important functions of the state? Does the programme of has Hashomer Hatzair differ from the Jewish State programme in other than a greater dose of hypocrisy?

But if any doubt remains as to the extreme Zionism of Hashomer Hatzair, its leaders dispel it when they explain the bi-national programme:

“we aspire to the concentration of the majority of Jews in Palestine and the neighbouring countries.”

“The problem we are all concerned with is what is the most purposeful way to cease being a minority in the country.”

“Ben-Gurion claims that Zionism is not conditioned by the agreement of the Arabs; our position has always been the same.”

“Without agreement with the Arabs, too, we will continue the Zionist undertaking.” (From the speeches of M.Yaari and Y. Chazan in the Inner Zionist Council, 15th October and 10th November, 1942).

What is the basis for agreement with the Arabs? Hashomer Hatzair gives a clear answer:

“A primary precondition for any negotiation will be a declaration and common agreement that negotiations will be a declaration and common agreement that negotiations will be carried on only on the basis of the Mandate, and the unshakable recognition of Jewish immigration into Palestine.” (On the Wall, 1.1.39)

Are not Hashomer Hatzair really enthusiastic about bi-nationalism and fraternity with the Arabs? After all, all they ask of them is consent to only two “small” points – imperialist domination and Zionism.

L.L., it seems, does not know that there has been no case of picketing against Arab labour which was not supported by Hashomer Hatzair. He does not know the heroic record of Hashomer Hatzair and “left” Mapai in the eviction of Arab tenants from their land.

The “Benefits” the Zionists Bring to the Arab Masses

L.L. also takes at face value the benefit’s the Arab masses receive from Zionist immigration and colonisation. His main “proof” he arrives at by juggling with a few figures. He writes:

“Arab population near Jewish settlements has shown a marked increase compared to that in other sections of Palestine. In Jaffa, near the all-Jewish city of Tel-Aviv, the Arab population increased by 69% in the period from 1922 to 1935, and in Jerusalem, with a large Jewish community, the Arab population increased 41%. By contrast, in the Arab cities of Jenin and Nablus, the increase was only twelve and eight percent respectively. This tendency is shown even more clearly in the case of Arab villages near Jewish settlements:



Salama (near Tel-Aviv)


Zarnuqua (near Rishon-le-Zion)


Yibna (near Ness-Ziona)


Compared to this, the population in the non-Jewish districts of Tulkarem and Nablus increased only thirty-five and twenty-eight percent respectively.

He does not say that the three Arab villages chosen are in the region of orange groves while Tulkarem and Nablus are in much less fertile areas. He forgets to mention that generally the towns on the seashore – not only Haifa and Jaffa in Palestine, but also Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon – have increased their populations much more than the inland towns. The increase in the Arab population of Jerusalem is not to be explained by the influx of Jews, as no single Arab in the town is employed by Jews, but is to be explained by the important administrative position of Jerusalem as regards the whole country. L.L. forgets to mention those areas of Palestine in which the Arab population not only declined since the Zionist immigration, but even disappeared completely – scores of villages in the Valley of Jezreel (Marj ibn Amir) and the Valley of Hefer (Wadi Khawaret). L.L. writes that the Arab population of Palestine increased by 40 percent in 15 years, while that of Egypt increased from 1920 to 1932 by only 13 per cent, and that of Transjordan has remained practically stationary since the First World War. About Syria he finds it necessary to write that emigration has averaged 9,500 per year during the period from 1920 to 1930. Let us analyse these figures. The following table is taken from the Statistical Yearbook of the League of Nations, 1937:


Births per 1,000
(Average 1931–1935)

Deaths per 1,000
(Average 1931–1935)

Surplus of Births
over Deaths per 1,000

(Average 1931–1935)

Arabs of Palestine




(excluding Europeans, 1934)












As regards other countries of the Middle East there are no statistics of population. What do these figures show? They show that in the main the great increase in the population of Palestine over Egypt, Algeria or Cyprus is not the result of immigration, which is negligible, nor of a low death rate, but of a very high birth rate. If we compared the increase of population of Palestine is on no account a proof of well-being.

L.L., of course, does not analyse the figures he brings of the increase of population. For him every word of the Zionist propaganda machine is to be taken at face value. The fact that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were 100,000 people in Palestine (according to Dr. A. Ruppin, a Zionist research worker, in Syrien als Wirtschaftsgebiet, Berlin 1920) while in 1922 the number of Arabs in Palestine reached 663,000, i.e. an increase of more than 600 per cent, surely proves, according to L.L.’s way of argumentation, that the feudal regime and Turkish rule benefited the Arabs immensely. The same thing applies to other colonial countries. For instance the population of Egypt at the beginning of the nineteenth century was 2–2½ millions, while at its end it was 10 millions, i.e. an increase of 300–400 per cent, of Germany 130 per cent, and of England 266 per cent.

Let us see how Zionist colonisation influences the Arab masses.

It does so in three spheres: the buying of land, the buying of Arab agricultural products, and the employment of Arab labour.

From 1878 to 1936 123,185 hectares of and were acquired by Jews. Of all the land about which there are any details only 9.4 per cent were acquired from peasants. The only ones among the Arabs who profited from the buying of land were the big landowners, while at least 3,000–4,000 Arab tenants were evicted from their land. The Zionist leaders in the USA certainly did not tell you about this, or if they did, you were told that these tenants received compensation. What is the truth about this compensation? Dr. A. Granovsky of the Board of Directors of the Jewish national Fund announced that every expropriated tenant received an average of £39.9. Assuming this to be so, if the tenant owed, according to the Johnson-Crosbie Report, an average of £27, after the payment of the debt he was left with the grand sum of about £13. We know that even this is an exaggeration, that the evicted tenants leave with nothing at all in their pockets.

As regards the employment of Arab workers by Jews, the maximum number of Arab workers employed by the Jewish economy is 3,000–4,000. The Jewish capitalists who employ Arabs are almost only the orange grove owners, and this they do because their market is not in the Zionist economy in Palestine, but in England. The Jewish organisation of orange grove owners has therefore more than once broke Zionist discipline, even reaching the stage of demanding a restriction of Jewish immigration (in 1934).

So perhaps Zionist immigration influences the Arab masses not through the buying of land or labour power, but through the buying of products. According to L. Greenbrae (National Income and Outlay in Palestine, 1936, Jerusalem 1941, a Jewish Agency publication), the purchases made by Jews from Arabs amounted to only 10 per cent of the value of the purchases by Jews of overseas imports. And there is no question that the prevailing tendency of the closed Jewish economy in Palestine is to become more and more autarchical as regards the Arabs. Anybody who was in Palestine 30 years ago will remember that a much bigger part of Jewish purchases were made from Arabs at that time. The weakness of Jewish economy is the main reason for the fact that even today a small percentage of its purchases (3–4 per cent) must willy-nilly be made from Arabs, who constitute 70 per cent of the population of the country. Ben-Gurion was certainly right when he declared that the strengthening of Zionism would put an end to these purchases too. (These few remarks, incidentally, we hope dispel any false ideas which may have been derived from L.L.’s article, which speaks about “the economic interdependence of Arabs and Jews.” If L.L. troubled to learn about conditions in Palestine he would know that there is very little “economic interdependence of Arabs and Jews,” and that the tendency on the part of the Zionist economy is to become ever more autarchical.)

Perhaps the benefit to the Arab masses from Zionist immigration and colonisation is made indirectly, through the income of the Government. But here too, Zionism brings with it more harm than good, as with the support of Zionism, imperialism could deny even those democratic rights which it is compelled to give to the masses in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. The fact that in Palestine there is not even a democratic advisory council, while in all those countries there are parliaments – even though of very restricted powers – is also due to Zionism, which for years has clamoured against it, knowing that the popular majority would put an end to Zionist expansionism. This allows the government with impunity to give £4,000,000 to the import monopoly, Steel bros., and about the same amount to the police, while Arab education and health do not receive even a fifth of the two sums together. Nor must it be forgotten that the Zionists strive to diminish even this small sum, putting forward the “progressive” principle that the expenditure budget be divided between the two communities according to the share of each in the revenue. If this were adopted, even if we assume that there were not such a bulky police budget, we do not understand how the increase in the income of the Government (according to the Zionists the result of Jewish immigration) could benefit the Arabs.

The Special Character of Zionist Immigration to Palestine

It is self-evident that the SWP should struggle for the right of asylum for refugees, for free immigration into the USA. But only the greatest superficiality can drive one to the conclusion that this slogan holds good at all times and under all conditions. In the independent capitalist countries the struggle for free immigration is part and parcel of the struggle for socialism. This is not always the case in the colonies. The Arabs of Tripoli and Cyrenaica resisted the immigration and colonisation of Italians despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who came to settle were poor peasants. In Kenya and Rhodesia there is a struggle against white immigration. A similar struggle took place in Manchuria against colonisation by Japanese peasants. And it is no accident that in the IFTU Conference held in 1945, the representatives of colonial trade unions – a Palestine Arab, the Indian Federation of labour, the All-Indian Trade Union Congress, South African, Nigerian and Gambian Negroes – all voted for the deletion from the report of the sentence supporting Jewish immigration and colonisation in Palestine. The Egyptian delegation which had no voting rights, put forward a very militant programme and incorporated in it the struggle against Zionist immigration. It is no accident that the Trotskyist groups in Palestine and Egypt wholeheartedly support the struggle against Zionist immigration and colonisation.

Everyone who knows the ABC of the Theory of the Permanent Revolution and the colonial question must understand that the main tasks of the anti-imperialist movement in the Arab East are:

  1. The overthrow of imperialist domination.
  2. The unity of the Arab countries split by feudalism and imperialism.
  3. The agrarian revolution.

The struggle for these aims goes beyond the boundaries of the capitalist regime. The criterion for our relation to Jewish immigration into Palestine must be: how does Jewish immigration influence the above tasks.

The majority of the Arab workers are employed, as we have said, by foreign capital and imperialism. They are brutally exploited by it and find themselves in direct, irreconcilable and open antagonism to it. And as this regime of super exploitation is based on the pauperisation of the peasantry, they are vitally interested in the abolition of feudalism and imperialism, which hamper the development of the forces of production. This interest becomes more direct and open owing to the urban proletariat’s origin being peasant. The Jewish workers at the same time are nearly all employed in the closed Zionist economy. They therefore do not come into direct conflict with foreign capital and imperialism. Being in a closed economy means also that by nationalistic means they protect themselves from the pressure of the pauperisation of the peasants in the feudal economy. So that we can say that the words of Trotsky as regards South Africa (that South Africa for the Negroes is a colony, for the whites a dominion) are in the main correct as regards the Arabs and Jews in Palestine also. The Jewish worker can on no account lead the struggle against foreign capital and imperialism, and against feudalism. The only thing he can do, if he renounces Zionism, is to follow the lead of the Arab proletariat, whose main centres are Cairo and Alexandria.

What is the relation of Zionism to the second task of the revolutionary movement in the Arab East – the unity of the Arab countries. It is self-evident that if the closed economy – which is the main characteristic of the Jewish economy in Palestine – isolates the Jews from the Arabs in Palestine, it certainly has no ties to unite it with the Arabs of other countries.

L.L. may say that he is against the closed economy and 100 per cent Jewish labour, but nevertheless is for free immigration and colonisation of Jews in Palestine. This argument is simply foolish. What interest will workers of a European standard of life find in a country dominated by imperialism and feudalism, where the standard of life is terribly low? If not for the closed character of the Jewish economy in Palestine, which absorbs practically every immigrant Jew, no Jew would today have come to Palestine any more than he goes to India or China. In these conditions, to be against the Zionist policy of 100 per cent Jewish labour means to be against Jewish immigration into Palestine. He who is for Jewish immigration into a Palestine under imperialist rule must, by the logic of the objective conditions, be also for the Zionist policy of a closed economy, enmity towards the Arabs, etc.

It is also impossible to be a consistent Zionist without being for a Jewish State. The logic of events themselves compelled the majority of Zionists to change their position as regards this problem. Not more than ten years ago, only a tiny minority in the Zionist camp (the Revisionists) wrote on its banner the demand for a Jewish State. At that time Ben-Gurion went as far as saying that he who supports the slogan of a Jewish State is a deceiver and villain. Today the demand for a Jewish State is the slogan of the great majority in the Zionist movement, the same Ben-Gurion being one of its most prominent antagonists. As we have already said, the programme of Hashomer Hatzair demands that the Jewish Agency be given such powers over the paramount questions of immigration and colonisation, that their differences with the majority Zionists prove to be purely verbal. This development, starting from bi-nationalism, which was the official programme of the World Zionist Organisation, and going over to the demand for a Jewish Commonwealth, or control of the Jewish Agency over immigration and colonisation, is not accidental. As we have said, large-scale immigration and colonisation to Palestine under the existing economic social and political order, could not be realised without closing the Jewish economy to the Arab people. The Jewish State can seal the economy much more hermetically by adopting passports to prevent the movement of Arab workers into the Jewish economy, by establishing protective tariffs to prevent the influx of Arab products, etc. The Jewish ruling class has nearly no economic, social and political contacts with the Arab ruling classes. Any state that exists in Palestine, therefore, which is not a workers’ state, must necessarily be either Jewish or Arab – in reality, either a Jewish puppet state of imperialism, or an Arab puppet state. A Jewish State in the whole of Palestine, or at least in part of it, is therefore necessarily the aim of Zionist expansion, while the bi-national state, unless visualised as a proletarian state, must necessarily be only a dream, an illusion, or downright treachery.

If, therefore, the situation is approached dialectically, one can never come to the conclusion of L.L. – for Jewish immigration to end colonisation in the British colony of Palestine, while against Zionist conquest of labour or the Zionist demand for a Jewish State.

What is the Character of the Kibbutzim?

In order to prove the progressive character of the Haganah, L.L. finds it necessary to emphasize that the kibbutz (Jewish Collective farms) are the backbone of this organisation. For one who looks at Palestine not from the standpoint of the national and social emancipation of the Arab masses of the east (40–50 millions in number) but from the standpoint of the member of the kibbutz, who is in a closed economy, the kibbutz is really a most progressive element. In the propaganda of the Zionists, the kibbutz appears to be really a communist cell in the backward east – a torch lighting up the darkness.

But this is only a myth. The first question to be asked about these kibbutzim is: who finances them? The answer – the Zionist funds whose main source of income are the rich Jewish capitalists of USA, England and South Africa. What interest have capitalists in building communism? The fact that the Zionists built these kibbutzim is a result of the necessity to establish Jewish agriculture on the basis of 100 per cent Jewish labour. The collective form assured this much better than individual colonisation could. Jewish agricultural workers would not enthusiastically have supported the struggle for the conquest of land and the eviction of other tenants from it. Nor would Jewish agricultural wage earners have taken an active part in organising the struggle against Arab agricultural products. Besides this, a closed Jewish economy must undertake agriculture, but privately owned agricultural units based on Jewish labour would not yield satisfactory profits – hence the intervention of the national funds, and the construction of “labour settlements” (mainly kibbutzim).

The standard of life of the members of the kibbutz is much higher not only than that of the Arab peasant masses, but even that of the Arab kulaks. While the fellah’s family of six people had an average income of £26 per annum, before the war, including what he consumed of his own products, his debt payments, etc. the family unit in a kibbutz, whose number does not reach four persons, in 1936 sent for food alone an average of £83.6, for increasing invested capital £37.5, and further sums for other items. From these figures it is clear not only that the standard of living of a member of a kibbutz is much higher than that of an Arab fellah, but that the difference is on the increase, for, as the figures show, the capital invested yearly on every family unit in the kibbutz is bigger than the whole income of the Arab peasant family, not to speak of the part he can invest.

While the Arab peasant continues to plough the land with a wooden plough which is more primitive than the ancient Hebrew plough of 2,000 years ago, the kibbutzim are equipped with the most modern agricultural machinery. The number of tractors in the kibbutzim is extremely high, the cultivated area per tractor being 110 hectares (in 1936) while in USA (in 1930 it was 145, in Germany (in 1933) it was 850, and in France (in 1930) it was 1,000.

Have the kibbutzim anything in common with the class struggle of the rural poor? Are they interested in the overthrow of feudalism? Not at all. The kibbutzim are not exploited by the feudal lords and have nothing to profit from their overthrow. on the contrary, the land on which they are built was bought from the big landowners, (statistics show that the Zionists hardly succeeded at all in buying land from the peasants, such purchases making up less than 10 per cent of total land purchases), and the existence of these landowners is a precondition for the expansion of the kibbutzim. They are interested in high prices for agricultural products, and so the more backward Arab economy is, the smaller is the competition of its surplus products on the Jewish markets. It is interesting to note that when in 1944 the government of Palestine put price controls on agricultural products, which wage workers, Jewish and Arab alike, criticized for not being sufficiently restrictive, the kibbutzim vehemently protested against the fact that the government put any controls at all. The only “benefit” the Arab fellahs derive from the kibbutzim is the sight of the well constructed concrete buildings, the trucks and tractors, modern chicken coops and cowshed, the luxurious kindergartens and children’s houses. Their children continue to play on the dung heap, and their cows, goats and chickens, continue to live with them in their windowless mud rooms.

The Influence of Zionism on the Arab National Movement

L.L. writes: “It is over-simplification to state that Jewish immigration is a force ‘oppressing the Arab movement for national liberation’.” This is a matter of fact, Zionism was the very factor that developed Arab nationalism in Palestine.

If there is any over-simplification, and therefore also distortion, it is in L.L.’s words. Imperialism is the power which gives an impulse to the national movement. Marx spoke most appropriately when he said that it was British penetration into India which, for the first time in history, built the basis for the unity of India. This it did by smashing the self-sufficient economy, by connecting all the fibres of the economy to the world market, by building railways, etc. At the same time imperialism did its best to preserve the outworn feudal property relations, in this way preventing the economic, cultural and political unity of India from being really complete. To say, therefore, that imperialism suppresses the national movement, does not mean to say that is itself did not provide the impetus for its creation.

It is unquestionable that the Arab national movement would have come to life in Palestine in the same way that it came to life in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, without Zionist expansion. Zionist expansion served not as the generator of the Arab national movement, but only as its distorter. Let us analyse this statement.

While with the first contact of imperialism and a colony is natural for the feudal class to lead the resistance to imperialist penetration – even though this class is internally disorganised, and ready to compromise with its foe – the continuation of imperialist rule and the changes in the economy, make the feudalists the best allies of imperialism, and it is the industrial bourgeoisie which then appears as the leader of the national movement. The increasing numbers of proletarians, super exploited in the enterprises both of foreign and of local capital, are extremely antagonistic to imperialism, and with the deepening of the struggle for national and social liberation, naturally become leaders of the millions of peasants, the leaders of the anti-imperialist struggle. All these processes in Palestine were greatly distorted by Zionism.

In all the colonies the struggle between the local bourgeoisie and imperialism is a struggle over the division of the surplus value, expressing itself in a struggle over the local markets, and over the ownership of the key positions of the economy. In Palestine the secondary positions of the economy, such as light industry, are not in the hands of Arab capital, as in Egypt, Syria or Iraq, but in the main in the hands of Jewish capital. The junior partners of imperialist capital are not Arab, but in the main Jewish, capitalists. We may assume without fear of error, that three-quarters of the capital invested in industry and transport, belongs to imperialism, about a fifth to Jewish capitalists, and only two to three per cent to Arab capitalists. These conditions blunt the contradictions existing between the Arab bourgeoisie and imperialism, and intensifies those existing between the Arab bourgeoisie and the Jewish bourgeoisie. And as it is the feudalists in all colonies who are the most extreme communal leaders, Zionism serves not as a factor which deepens the cleavage between the bourgeoisie and the feudalists, but on the contrary, closes the cracks. We know that the colonial bourgeoisie is not consistently anti-feudal, but in Palestine it is even much les so than in other colonies. After L.L’s ode to the progressive role of Jewish immigration and colonisation in Palestine, perhaps he can answer these questions: Why, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon, does a clerical leader not stand at the head of the movement, while in Palestine the Mufti of Jerusalem is the most prominent leader? Why, in Egypt, for instance, is it the Wafd party, representing the middle bourgeoisie, which is the biggest party, while in Palestine all the nuclei of bourgeois parties (the main example, the Nashashibis) instead of building up an organisation, become more and more subordinated and merged with the Mufti’s party?

The role of Zionism, as a distorting factor, as a brake on the Arab national movement, is most clearly shown in its influence on the development of the Arab working class towards becoming the leader of the national and social liberation struggle. The congruence of class and national antagonisms in, for example, imperialist owned enterprises, brings class consciousness very clearly to the fore. On the other hand, national competition between workers blunts class consciousness. If not, therefore, for Jewish immigration and colonisation, if not for the always threatening conquest of labour, the class consciousness of the Arab masses would have been much clearer than it is today.

Zionism serves as a factor diverting the development of the Arab national movement in another way too. Imperialism does its best to widen the un-evenness in the development of the different Arab countries, to connect these countries economically not with one another, but with the “mother” country. In this way it is assisted by the hundred years old inheritance of feudal rule. Zionism appears as an added factor separating the line of development of Palestine from that of the other Arab countries. By threatening to break this link from the chain of the Arab countries it serves imperialism and its feudal agents in the Arab east in two ways: firstly, it diverts the responsibility for splitting the Arab east into different states from the main sponsor of the splitting – imperialism – on to Zionism; secondly, it helps to galvanise the Arab League, as association of the Arab countries which has nothing to do with the real economic, cultural and political unity, the only point of agreement among the members being anti-Zionism. This “unity” can, with the help of imperialist and Zionist provocation, stir up anti-Jewish pogroms.

Our Position towards the “Jewish Resistance movement”

L.L. writes:

“The Jewish Resistance Movement represents a progressive force against British imperialism. As such it merits support.”

L.L. derives the progressive character of the resistance movement not from an analysis of the place of the Zionist “resistance” movement in the agrarian, anti-feudal revolution or in the class struggle of the workers exploited by foreign capital and imperialism, nor from the relation between this movement and the struggle against the boundaries between the Arab countries which are a result of feudalism and imperialism and are strengthened by Zionism. All these problems are not even posed by L.L. Has L.L. ever heard of the theory of Permanent Revolution?

Instead, according to the best tradition of petty bourgeois idealism, he bases his entire “analysis” on pure sentimentalism, on impressionism.

For a Marxist the programme of any political movement is derived from its social character. For L.L. the tasks of the Haganah are to be derived not from its social characteristics, but from his abstract definition of what is a progressive movement. L.L. therefore comes to the most ridiculous conclusions when he puts before the Jewish “Resistance” movement the two slogans of Free Immigration and the Convocation of a Constituent Assembly. About the latter he writes:

“Every slogan that can bring about Arab-Jewish collaboration must be seized hold of.

“Foremost of these is the slogan for the immediate (and the emphasis is important) convocation of a representative Constituent Assembly.”

For 29 years a struggle has taken place in Palestine over this issue between Arab national movement on the one hand, and imperialism and Zionism on the other. While the Jewish “resistance” movement is opposed to this slogan as long as the Jews are a minority in the country, and demand Jewish immigration, the Arab masses oppose Jewish immigration and demand the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. There is consistency as well in the position of the Arab national movement as in the position of the Jewish “resistance” movement. It is clear that a Constituent Assembly would have meant the stopping of Jewish immigration into Palestine, as the Arab masses unanimously oppose this and the Zionist colonisation of the country. It is no accident that in the whole Zionist camp, in the whole “resistance” movement there is not a single leader or rank and filer who does not violently oppose any plan of substituting the imperialist government by a democratically elected government, or even a any proposal for democratic legislative bodies. To unite the Jewish “resistance” movement with the Arab masses struggling for social and national liberation is no more possible than to unite the anti-British Dr. Malan with the struggling Negro workers and peasants in South Africa. The Jewish “resistance” movement is an anti-democratic movement, as it is against the interests of the majority of the people not only in Palestine, but in the whole Arab East, as it is a movement directed towards strengthening the closed economy of the minority and preserving its privileges, the abolition of which would put a stop to its very source of life – the desire for immigration and colonisation.

In our eyes it is no accident that strikes in foreign enterprises which have the greatest weight in the national liberatory movements in the colonies, do not play any role whatsoever in the Jewish “resistance” movement in Palestine. It also follows from the character of the movement that the petty bourgeois, chauvinistic elements, the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern gang, are getting the upper hand in it.

I permit myself some repetition of what I wrote in a former article:

“if the Zionists are not anti-imperialist (and of course to be against the Arab people and imperialism at one and the same time is impossible), then why all these terrible terrorist acts? The answer is simple. The Zionists have come into a blind alley. The victory of the proletariat of the West and the masses of the East will put an end to Zionist dreams. The continuation of the existing social regime makes every little people into a puppet in the hands of the big imperialist powers. This is especially true as regards the Jews of Palestine whose relations with their neighbours are very strained.

“If imperialism continues to rule over the world, then whatever the Jews do they are doomed. If the world revolutionary wave rises to the heights, then all the weak peoples, including world Jewry, will be saved. But the Jews of Palestine in their special position can be saved only if they cease to be buffers between the national and social liberation struggle of the Arab masses. The Jewish capitalists of Palestine as a class are doomed whatever happens. They are therefore incapable of anything except a blind military adventurism based on belief in miracles or at best a struggle to hold out a little longer.

“The best prospect the Zionists can hope for is that Britain will give them a Jewish State, even though a pocket state in a small part of tiny Palestine. They think that the partition plan for Palestine can suit the interests of British imperialism under certain circumstances. Such a plan will ensure the existence of two irredentist movements, a sharp Zionist struggle for every place of work and foot of ground in the Jewish State, and economic weakness of the mutilated Arab State. These are the pros of the plan from the standpoint of imperialism.

“The Zionists base their calculations on this factor and on one other. It is true that the position of Zionism in the struggle between the different imperialist Powers is not predetermined. Ben-Gurion and Weizmann can be American agents with the same enthusiasm as they have been British agents for nearly thirty years. The recent Zionist terror was intended to threaten Britain with the possibility of a Zionist switchover to America, and at the same time to make it easier for the British politicians, if they so desire, to permit the construction of a Jewish State in spite of Arab opposition. (They would be able to say to the Arabs that there was a material and moral necessity to give in somewhat to the Zionists.)

“Even if this ‘solution’ is arrived at – which is far from being certain – it will be only a temporary, short-lived postponement of Zionism’s burial. The Jews of Palestine and the Arabs will only be involved by this plan in terrible sacrifices, clashes and bloodshed. The only real solution for the Jewish workers of Palestine is to bridge the gulf between themselves and the tens of millions of eastern peoples by renouncing Zionist dreams of domination.”

(I continue, using the present in place of the past tense)

“the ... terrorist acts ... in reality do not harm imperialism but instead serve it very well. They intend to ‘compel’ the British government to open the gates of Palestine to Zionist immigration and colonisation despite the opposition of the Arab inhabitants of the country and those of neighbouring countries (the former having discovered the true face of Zionism from first hand, and the latter learning from them). It therefore only adds fuel to the fire of the Arab-Jewish hatred. The bombardment of the railways on the eve of November 2 (1945, for instance) was an excellent weapon in the hands of British agents for the organisation of pogroms in Cairo, Alexandria and Tripoli.”

Why the Displaced Jews Want to go to Palestine

After the terrible sufferings which they underwent through the long years of Nazi rule, the Jews in the Displaced Persons Camps need an asylum where their wounds can be healed and where they can begin life anew. Their sufferings did not end with the fall of the Nazi regime, and even if many of them could have found some possibility of living in Europe today, the fear of the future is not so easily to be wiped out. Owing to the lack of a revolutionary leadership the class struggle in Europe has not yet assumed revolutionary proportions; and under the conditions of hunger in Europe, the petty trading activities in the main of the remaining Jews who lack any economic positions whatsoever, necessarily give rise to new sprouts of anti-Semitism. These sprouts are directly or indirectly fed in those parts of Europe occupied by Stalin’s stooges; by the regime of looting, the hunger connected with it, the consequent black market, and the chauvinistic propaganda put out by the Stalinist parties. Although open fascist movements do not dare to rear their heads, anti-semitic propaganda has by no means died away. Under such conditions the desire of the Jews in the Displaced Persons camps to leave Europe is entirely understandable, and it is the duty of the world proletariat to help to ease the lot of these victims of capitalist barbarism.

Can Palestine help in the solution of this problem?

For many years the Zionists have consistently posed the question to the Jewish masses in the world as though it is an alternative between death and immigration to Palestine. British and American imperialism have therefore got away with impunity with their quota policies, being left free to prepare any deal they like against the Jews of Europe, or tomorrow against those of Palestine.

The Jews in the DP Camps have behind them the terrible massacres in Europe, and around them suffering and abounding anti-Semitism. The Zionists tell them that all the gates of the world are closed to them, the only one which can be opened that of Palestine, as the Jews there are a third of the population, and very strong. They do not tell them that Palestine is only a province of the big Arab countries, that there is a movement growing in strength for the unity of those countries, that Jewish existence in Palestine is endangered by the imperialist policy of diverting the Arab national movement against the Jews, that if the gates were opened to any degree, it would not be as a result of the pressure of the Jewish force (which is incomparably smaller than the force of the Arab masses resisting this immigration), but of the interests of imperialism in sharpening the conflicts between Arabs and Jews. The Jews in the DP Camps are not told by the Zionists that it is incomparably easier to open the gates of the USA to Jewish refugees than to open the gates of Palestine. They are not told that the struggle for their immigration into Palestine cannot afford them a peaceful home, but on the contrary even endangers the existence of those Jews who are in Palestine.

Besides this, quite a few lies have been spread by the Zionists about the extraordinary economic position of the Jews in Palestine. It is indeed true that the Jewish workers are much better off than the mass of Arabs, but if we compare their standard of life with that of the American or British workers, it is very low. This fact, together with the feeling of uncertainty in Palestine, drive many thousands of Jews in Palestine to seek ways and means of emigrating from the country. No Zionist paper will tell you, for instance, that when UNRRA asked for fourteen textile experts to go to Europe, about three thousand applied; or that hundreds of Czech and Austrian Jews have already returned to their countries of origin. If one went to the Labour exchange, one would hear a veritable torrent of anti-Zionist declarations from the mouths of the unemployed. The facts about the slums of Tel Aviv (Shchhunat Hatikvah, Shchunat Shapira, Florentine Quarter, Shchunat Maccabi, etc.) which contain at least fifty thousand of Tel Aviv’s 250,000 Jew, or those about the even worse slums of Jerusalem, are kept discreetly out of Zionist propaganda pamphlets or speeches.

The Jews in the DP Camps are desperate, and they seek consolation even in illusions. Those who know Jewish history will know that it is not the first time that suffering Jews look for salvation in a Messianic movement (note, for example, Shabtai Zvi). When a Jew came and pretended to be a representative of the Lost Tribes, was it not logical that the pogrom ridden Jews accepted him as the God-given Messiah? The Zionist leaders today find the Jews in a much more terrible situation, so that the ground is even more ready to be sown with illusions even than formerly.

A progressive movement, a real liberatory movement, is not afraid to tell the truth. But Zionism is nourished on lies. During the time of the decline of world capitalism, the petty bourgeoisie, which suffers from the pressure of the trusts, the banks, etc. revolts against capitalism. If, in this revolt, it is not led by the only power which can expropriate the big capitalists, the proletariat, it tries as an independent power to do so (as was the case in Germany), in reality, however, only serving the big capitalists against the workers an against itself.

It looks to the past to find its programme, and in place of the trusts and the banks, it hopes to put small private enterprise. but the wheels of history cannot be turned back, and this is only a dream. The big enterprises that came into existence do not cease to exist. The only problem is, in whose hands will they be: in those of the proletariat for the benefit of the whole people, or in those of the big capitalists, against the interests of the toilers (petty bourgeoisie included)? The Jewish petty bourgeoisie, cast out of the economy during the decline of capitalism, and massacred, also looks for its ideal in the past. If world capitalism has no place for the Jews in the capitalist countries, the Jewish petty bourgeoisie says: “Let us find our place outside this system, in the Jewish State that once existed.’ it cannot directly follow in the path of the anti-capitalist petty bourgeoisie which, dreaming of smashing the trusts and the banks, helped Hitler to power. Instead, it intends running away from them, making itself immune from the pressure of world capitalism by building the Jewish closed economy. This plan is not more realistic, however than the dreams of the German petty bourgeoisie. Nor is it less reactionary.

As regards the Jewish workers in USA and England, insofar as they support Zionism, they do so not because they themselves intend emigrating to Palestine, just as no Jewish worker from Poland or other East European country emigrated to Palestine before the war. They feel that their fate is bound up with the fate of the country in which they live, and they are absolutely right, being part and parcel of the working class of those countries. The fact that the Jewish workers in the USA and England have recently turned to some extent towards Zionism is the result of their will to help the Jewish refugees of Europe and their feeling that the gates of their own countries are closed. The Trotskyists must not give way to the reactionary illusions that it is possible to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish refugees more easily than those of England and the USA. As we have already shown, the opening of the gates of Palestine can be the result only of reactionary pressure by British imperialism against the wish of the millions of Arabs; and this can serve only to endanger the position of Jews all over the Middle East.

The Jewish Workers of Palestine need the Help of the International Proletariat

The words of Trotsky, that “The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people,” become more and more closer to many of the Jewish workers in Palestine. The feeling will grow from day to day that the Jews in Palestine are not an independent factor but a buffer between the Arab masses and imperialism, and that they are impotent in the face of these world powers. Till now these feelings did not bring forward any considerable organised anti-Zionist movement, for which there are two reasons. First of all, the Jewish masses in Palestine do not yet see in the Arab proletariat a strong ally, which will protect them from all the intrigues and provocations of imperialism, feudalism and Zionism, as till now the Arab working class of the whole east has not come to maturity.

Secondly, the international working class has not yet appeared as a power struggling for the right of asylum in their countries. These two reasons, together with the fact that big sections of the working class in the USA and England, while not ready to struggle for the opening of the gates of their countries, are ready to demand the opening of the gates of Palestine, despite the opposition of the Arab labour movement, all strengthen Zionist illusions. Many Jewish workers in Palestine are driven to the idea that the AF of L and CIO are much more important allies for the Jewish workers of Palestine than the Arab trade unions of Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. By their support of Jewish immigration top Palestine the CIO and AF of L, while not helping one Jew to come to Palestine (because of the objective conditions) do help to maintain the Zionist illusions among the Jewish workers in Palestine, and help objectively to widen the abyss between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, which more and more endangers the positions of the Jews in the whole of the Middle East.

The American and English working class must not support the Zionist drive for a Jewish State (or what, under existing conditions means the same thing, a drive for Jewish immigration and colonisation) which, while befitting imperialism, opposes the most elementary interests equally of the Arab masses as of the Jewish. Instead they must support the struggle of the millions of Arab toilers for the independence of the Arab countries, for the lodging of the fate of the country in the hands of its inhabitants, and for liberation from the yoke of imperialism, feudalism and capitalism.

December 1946

Last updated on 22 August 2015