Paul Foot

T. Cliff and Zionism

(January 1988)

From Socialist Worker, January 1988.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Words as Weapons: Selected Writings 1980–1990 (London: Verso, 1990), pp. 159–161.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Pondering the critical comments of the representatives of American Jewry on the Christmas upheavals in Gaza and on the West Bank, I go to Central Books to buy myself a Christmas present.

I know there is one there for me because Dave, who runs the shop and is a crafty fellow, has informed me that for £10 I can get a copy of Red Russia. This is a marvellous pamphlet by John Reed, published in this country in 1919.

Dave has something else up his sleeve, however, which brings me back to Gaza. This is another pamphlet, completed on 12 November 1945, called Middle East at the Cross Roads. It was written in Jerusalem by someone called T. Cliff.

I rush through the pamphlet and find one or two clues in it which help a lot in understanding the Christmas crisis in the occupied territories. For instance:

Zionism occupies a special place in imperialist fortifications. It plays a double role, firstly, directly as an important pillar of imperialism, giving it active support and opposing the liberatory struggle of the Arab nation, and second as a passive servant behind which imperialism can hide and towards which it can direct the ire of the Arab masses.

The same point is made in a rather different way a couple of pages later, under the heading: Can Zionism be Anti-Imperialist?

Zionism and imperialism have both common and antagonistic interests. Zionism wants to build a strong Jewish capitalist state. Imperialism is indeed interested in the existence of a capitalist Jewish society enveloped by the hatred of colonial masses, but not that Zionism should become too strong a factor. As far as this is concerned, it is ready to prove its fairness to the Arabs.

This ‘double role’ and these ‘common and antagonistic interests’ are likely to lie fallow for many years of unchallenged exploitation, but when the volcano erupts, the contradiction is stretched to breaking point.

On the one hand the instinct of the American State Department and its business backers is to support the brutality of the Israeli army; on the other they know they must somehow keep up the fiction of their ‘fairness to the Arabs’ to maintain their robbers’ conspiracy with the reactionary regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The dilemma solves itself for the moment in the cautious criticism by American Jewish organizations and in the US abstention in the United Nations Security Council.

Such matters are seized on by all those people who call themselves socialists and supporters of Labour, but who line up with the Israeli state. They point to the criticisms of the American Jews, and to the UN abstention as examples of the ‘moderate approach’ to Zionism. ‘How much better’, they exclaim, ‘is this kind of fraternal criticism to the nasty hostility to Zionism which so often spills over into anti-semitism!’

Of all the many prevarications of what is known as the ‘soft left’ I find this line on Zionism the most distasteful. Otherwise humane and intelligent socialists seem able to discuss these matters without even for a moment considering the unimaginable horrors inflicted on the Palestinian people by Zionist aggression and imperialism.

This is an old and quite appalling story of lands seized, a people expelled, starved, brutalized and robbed of their own country by naked military force. Whatever the double role which Zionism performs for imperialism, the fact is that Zionism from first to last has never wavered in its support for imperialism and capitalism in the Middle East.

If it once unleashed terrorist forces against the British mandate, it did so solely to embarrass British imperialism in the eyes of American imperialism and to shift its allegiance from one to the other.

The explanation of the ‘softness’ stems from the feeling that the Jews are a persecuted race, and suffered horribly at the hands of Hitler. Yet how on earth can one set of concentration camps justify another? Concentration camps are precisely what are being built in Gaza and the West Bank this very moment.

The pamphlet puts it well:

It is a tragedy that the sons of the very people which has been persecuted and massacred in such a bestial fashion ... should itself be driven into a chauvinistic militaristic fervour and become the blind tool of imperialism in subjugating the Arab masses.

That sounds pretty good today. To write it in 1945 took the most extraordinary courage and clarity of Marxist thought. Who was this chap T. Cliff anyway?

Last updated on 2 September 2014