Notes of the Month


Middle East

(October 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.63, Mid-October 1973.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The outcome of the Middle East war is still very much in the balance as we go to press. But there are some important points to be made as regards the attitude of revolutionary socialists.

The general impression created by the press and the media – when they are not pushing the ‘gallant little Israel’ line – is that the cause of the war lies in the irrational and insoluble national antagonisms between Jews and Arabs, and that all that can be done is for the great powers to try and arrange some compromise that safeguards both their borders.

Much of the left accepts variant on this view. It is found among those sections of the Labour left who are not violently pro-Zionist. Although the Communist Party supports the Arabs, it also speaks of the need for a settlement based upon Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries. And even individuals on the revolutionary left take a ‘plague on both your houses’ attitude.

Any such argument ignores the most fundamental features of the situation in the Middle East: its domination by Western imperialism and the fact that Israel, as a separate state, can only maintain itself by allying itself with imperialism.

The motives which initially persuaded Jews from Europe to colonise Israel are not what is important: some were reactionaries who turned to settlement in Palestine as a conscious alternative for the Jewish population to the class struggle in Europe; to others Israel seemed the only place to go after the Holocaust of Nazism. However, all found themselves in the same dilemma once they arrived in Palestine. Their settlements could only survive by forcing Arab peasants from the land, by building up an economy carefully segregated from the indigenous economy, and by arming themselves against the Arabs. From the beginning, the Jewish settlements had to look to outside support. And this outside support was always from the powers most involved in trying to suppress any moves for real independence by the Arabs. Even before the First World War, Marxists pointed out that

‘Zionism meets anti-Semitism half-way ... it is only under the tutelage and patronage of a non-Jewish state that a Jewish state is conceivable.’ (Karl Kautsky, Are the Jews a Race?, p.183)

In the 1890s, Herzl and the first Zionists attempted to do a deal with the Turkish rulers. In the early 1900s they tried to make agreements with the anti-semitic ministers of Czarist Russia; in 1917 they turned to the Tory imperialist Balfour; in the 1930s, when Britain directly or indirectly controlled Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, they helped the British army crush the Palestinian revolt. After the Second World War there was a slight shift away from alignment with Britain to alignment with the US, which was expanding its influence in the Middle East, and this led to clashes with the British authorities. But even then the aim was not to free Palestine from British rule, but as the Zionist Jon Kimche has put it, to ‘demonstrate to the British military authorities that without the goodwill of Palestinian Jewry, the British forces in Israel might be dangerously isolated (Both Sides of the Hill, p.53). In 1956, there was still alignment with British and French imperialism: why else attack Nasser’s Egypt jointly with them after the nationalisation of the Suez canal?

Today the alignment of Israel is with American imperialism. In recent years there has been a growing fear in US ruling circles that American industry might become dependent on middle east oil. There has even been talk of direct intervention to secure US oil supplies. Massive shipments of arms have gone to Israel and to Iran, with the intention of ensuring that two powerful armed forces oversee the interests of the oil companies in the area if it comes to the crunch.

It is not some mistake of Israel’s politicians that makes it enter into such alliances with imperialism. It is the very nature of the state itself, built as a settler enclave in opposition to the former population of Palestine, who now view the occupied lands from refugee camps mere 20 or 30 miles away. Such a state, whether with its ’48 boundaries, its 1967 boundaries or its present boundaries, can only exist by allying itself with those who want to dominate the areas. Those who talk about the right of the Jews to self determination or of a ‘return to the 1967 boundaries’ are talking of the continuation of a state in Palestine that excludes the former inhabitants of the area and aligns itself with imperialism to do so. The fight of the Arab armies against Israel is a fight against Western imperialism.

This does not mean that revolutionary socialists spread any illusions about the role of the Arab regimes. The leaders of Egypt and Syria do not want to smash imperialism. They merely wish to improve the terms under which they themselves operate within its orbit. The rulers of Jordan and Saudi Arabia want even less: their chief aim is to protect themselves against internal agitation and possible coups. But what we criticise about their role in the war is not that they are fighting America’s main ally in the Middle East. It is that their own interests as ruling classes separated from the mass of the population prevent them fighting imperialism consistently. They have made no real onslaught on Western oil interests. They have not involved the mass of the Palestinian guerrilla movement. And they aim not to end the settler state, but merely to reduce its size, leaving it in existence as a base for later US operations.

Some people say that because Russia is arming the Arab states, the war is an inter-imperialist war. But that is to confuse a fight against one imperialist power which another aids by providing arms (as the Germans tried to provide some arms to the Irish rising of 1916) with a war between imperialist powers, in which different local states are just pawns. The Egyptians and the Syrians are no one’s pawns at the present time: they did not even consult with the Russians before starting to fight. Socialists can support the fight against Israel without in any way accepting the view that the regime that dominates Eastern Europe and threatens war on China is non-imperialist.

There is only one way to real peace in the Middle East and that is through the destruction of the Zionist state with its preferential citizenship rights along racial lines, and its replacement by a Palestinian state, in which Jews and Arabs have equal rights. And the state of Israel is not going to be destroyed by the existing Arab regimes. Its final demise will only come as part of a socialist revolution throughout the Arab world.

Last updated on 18 November 2009