Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The New International, February 1939


The Spark

Zionism and the Arab Struggle


From The New International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1939, pp.41-44.
Originally published in The Spark, the organ of the Workers Party of South Africa (Fourth International), November 1938.
Transcribed by the Socialist Workers League of Palestine.
Copied with thanks from REDS – Die Roten.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

For over two and a half years there has been war in Palestine, a war waged by an imperialist oppressor against a colonial people. All the devastating measures employed by British imperialism, the aerial bombardments, the razing of villages to the ground, the imposition of fines, the taking of hostages, the enactment of martial law, the establishment of concentration camps, along with the old-time methods of bribery, intrigue, corruption, all these failed to break the determined will of a united people to attain national liberation. After two and a half years of this oppression imperialism finds the Arab people more united and more determined in the fight than ever before. And all the indications go to show that this time British imperialism will have to give in to the Arab demands, will have to agree to a compromise. It should be kept in mind that the demands of the Arab bourgeoisie were very modest. They did not even ask for complete national and political independence. All they asked was: (a) that immigration should be stopped; (b) that further sale of Arab land should be prohibited; and (c) that there should be established a national government responsible to a representative Legislative Assembly.

And yet for more than two and a half years British imperialism waged war against the whole people, refusing to extend to them the principle of self-determination. This is the very principle which Britain the other day so joyfully proclaimed for Czechoslovakia (imperialism has different standards for “colonial” countries) and, what is more, so readily promised to the Arabs in 1915. Two years ago British imperialism tried to frustrate the national aspirations of the Arabs by the partition scheme of the Peel Commission – a most ingenious and deceitful scheme. But it did not succeed, and now another Commission has come to the conclusion that the acceptance of partition by British imperialism and the Zionist leaders is not enough, that the scheme will not work because of its indignant rejection and condemnation by the whole Arab population. In spite of the fact that British imperialism would greatly like to have in Palestine a strong outpost in the form of a Jewish State and has done everything possible to facilitate it during the twenty years of the “Mandate,” nevertheless the present war and the determination of the Arabs to fight it to a finish, the support the Arab cause is receiving from all the Near least, the unwillingness of British imperialism to antagonize these Arabian countries in view of the present precarious world situation, all these considerations have forced British imperialism to drop the old partition plan and through the recommendations of a new Commission (the Woodhead Commission) to arrange a compromise.

From the short summary of the Woodhead Commission Report and from the vague declaration of the new British policy in Palestine and the press comments thereon, it seems that this compromise will not give the Arabs national and political independence, but will retain for British imperialism the military, political and economic grip on the country. It will, however, meet the Arab demands concerning immigration and land. It seems that Britain has definitely had to give up the cherished idea of a Jewish National Home as her safest outpost. The Mandate will be “modified” and the Balfour Declaration will receive a “new Interpretation.”

This incidentally puts an end to the Zionist dream of a Jewish State in Palestine. Zionism stands or falls by these two conditions: (a) unrestricted Jewish immigration leading to an eventual Jewish majority, and (b) unrestricted Jewish land buying. No duping of the Jewish petty bourgeois masses all over the world, no collection of tribute from them and maintenance of a huge world-wide parasitic bureaucracy would be possible if these two conditions disappeared. And those who have put their faith in the imperialist “solution” of the Jewish question would be bitterly disillusioned to see this part of the Versailles system disappear together with the rest. That the reformists, who have always supported the colonial policy of imperialism and who have now become the most ardent champions of the Versailles Treaty, should use all the arguments of the Zionists against the Arabs, need not surprise us. That Sir Stafford Cripps should employ the imperialistic pleas of the Jewish fascist Jabotinsky is not at all astonishing. But it is very regrettable that some confusion has also crept into the ranks of Marxists. From their casual remarks and even from their articles in the revolutionary press it is evident that the authors have been swept off their feet by the widespread anti-Semitic wave and have fallen victims to nationalism. A clear, unambiguous stand in support of the colonial people in their struggle against imperialism is the first duty of revolutionary socialism. We must not be parties to imperialist machinations, to Versailles, to mandates. We must strongly demarcate ourselves from the Stalinists, who have betrayed the colonial people for the sake of People’s Fronts, for the sake of placating imperialism in France and Britain. Let them, if they will, throw spanners into the wheels of the Arab revolt and advocate moderation and a compromise that would leave British imperialism and Zionism masters of Palestine.

So far as we are concerned, we have made quite clear our position in regard to the struggle in Palestine. (See The Spark, Nos.16, 33, 41). Nothing will blind us or distract us from the fundamental issue, namely, the progressive revolutionary struggle of a colonial people against imperialism. We had and we have no illusions concerning this struggle, whatever the outcome of the present political maneuvers in Palestine may be. Whether British imperialism will succeed by its new move for a round-table conference in breaking the Arab united front (as it succeeded before by a similar move in India) and by corruption succeed in sidetracking the national movement, or whether the present struggle will go on, we are under no illusions, we have no doubt that, so long as the national movement is led and dominated by the Arab national bourgeoisie and clergy, the struggle for liberation cannot be crowned with success. It will terminate in a foul compromise between the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. Time and again this has been proved by history. But, so long us the fight is progressive, we have to support it, while at the same time warning the Arab workers of their treacherous bourgeoisie.

The struggle of two years has not been in vain. It has weakened British imperialism; it has weakened the imperialist grip upon Palestine. It has also shown to the Orient and to the colonial people that British imperialism is not so all-powerful as they thought. The fact that after twenty years of rule in Palestine British imperialism has to re-conquer the country is of great importance. This vulnerability and weakness must give tremendous encouragement to all the colonial people. Of special importance is this lesson of Palestine to the national liberation movement in India, showing that the way is not in Gandhism and passive resistance, but in active revolutionary mass struggle. This lesson will not be in vain.

It was the precarious position of the Jewish masses, the petty bourgeois, the handicraftsmen, the declassed elements, in Eastern Europe during the second half of last century that drove the Jewish intelligentsia to all kinds of Utopias and fantastic schemes. Except for the small section that turned to socialism and Marxism, the favourite dream of the majority was territorialism. Later this found expression in the colonial schemes of Baron Hirsch and of Baron Rothschild, in the Angola and Uganda projects. Zionism eventually amalgamated all the various territorialist tendencies in one political movement.

It was by no means a coincidence that the Zionist movement should appear on the scene at the time when Africa, Polynesia and the Near East were being carved up among the Great Powers and the world was divided into spheres of influence among the great monopoly trusts. Zionism was a direct product of imperialism and logically became a play ball in the hands of imperialism. The end of the World War, the redistribution of the colonial world at Versailles gave the opportunity for Zionism to step in and demand its promised share. British imperialism, which had made the promise for financial and military service rendered during the war, would not hesitate a moment to forget this promise, as it forgot so many others, if the fulfilment did not suit her own interests and schemes. British imperialism realized the great strategic value of Palestine for the Empire, beside its economic value for trade and investments. It came in most conveniently for Britain to acquire a strong outpost in the Near East in the form of the Jewish National Home. Such a community or State would always serve as a policeman for British interests, simply because, surrounded by a hostile Arab world, it would always have to look to Britain for protection. British imperialism took up the Zionist cause and Zionism became a servant of British imperialism.

To blame British imperialism now for the present state of affairs in Palestine (as comrade Rock has done in a recent article in The New International), to accuse the British of sinister machinations and of the international sowing of hostility between Arab and Jew, is both futile and incorrect. Firstly, because one does not blame the shark for having the characteristics of a shark. To expect British imperialism to act as a peacemaker, bringing the two peoples together and laying the foundation of cooperation and peace and mutual respect for each other’s rights, is more than simple foolishness. It is a complete misunderstanding of imperialism, as well as of the Zionist aim – a Jewish State in Palestine. And, secondly, it is incorrect. For British imperialism did everything it could to bring about a Jewish State. The fact that, in spite of Arab opposition, protest, revolts, Britain fostered and encouraged Jewish immigration, the fact that there are already today 400,000 Jews in Palestine, goes to prove that Britain was just as interested in a Jewish State as Zionism was, even if Britain’s interest was for the furtherance of her own ends.

From the day of the Zionist rejoicing over San Remo, the day of proclamation of a Jewish National Home, revolutionary socialists all over the world have declared open hostility towards this scheme as an imperialist venture. We have warned the Jewish workers against the great Zionist bluff of the solution of the Jewish problem, against their unity with capitalism and imperialism, and have warned them of the bitter disillusionment that is in store for them. From the beginning it was clear to us that Zionism meant not a National Home in Palestine, not a place of refuge, not an outlet for emigration on a small scale, not the building up of some agricultural communes, but that it meant a Jewish capitalist State as a part of British imperialism. It was clear to us that any such scheme must be at the expense of the native Arab population. For there are no empty spaces in the world today, and any colonial development under imperialism means the enslavement, oppression and exploitation of the native population. No camouflage, no ingenious device on the part of the Jewish bourgeoisie and their chauvinistic petty bourgeois supporters can suppress this basic fact. The imperialist invaders everywhere find hundreds of good excuses for plunder and robbery and then cover up this with the most “noble” ideals and motives imaginable. The Jewish bourgeoisie moreover was not slow to find such ideals and motives.

We need not waste time and space in refuting the commonplace argument of the historic “right” of the Jews to Palestine by reference to the similar “historic” right of the Roman Empire to the British Isles. We turn rather to the “moral” right of the suffering Jews to a State. This has been one of the main planks of Zionist propaganda all along, but since Hitler has let loose his bestial, sadistic persecution of the Jews in Germany and Mussolini has followed suit, this argument has taken the dominant place. Zionism is trying to cash in on the sufferings of the persecuted Jews in Europe. Zionism is endeavouring to exploit the natural and world-wide sympathy of every decent man for the oppressed German and Italian Jews, in order to further its own predatory aims in Palestine. But these two things have no connection whatsoever. Sympathy for an oppressed minority has nothing to do with the cravings of a bourgeoisie for a State wherein they themselves shall be able to exploit their own workers and still more the Arabs, the cheap native labour and the land. The sufferings of oppressed and exploited Jewish minorities stand in no connection with the Jewish bourgeoisie, with Zionism in Palestine, with the oppressors, exploiters, and plunderers.

Zionist writers and journalists, apologists for imperialism, have been telling the world for the last twenty-five years that a Jewish State will be something different, that it will be a model to the world. No classes, all for the welfare of the community, for the “Jewish” ideal of righteousness and justice. What Jewish petty-bourgeois heart did not throb before this picture of “hope and beauty?” Now for eighteen years these fools have had the chance of seeing this hope and beauty at work. Indeed, the paws and claws of the Jewish bourgeoisie were not in any way inferior to the same weapons wielded by any greedy bourgeoisie. There was the fame policy of grabbing, of squeezing out the native population from the land, and so the production of a landless peasantry as a reservoir of cheap labor. The same speculation in land, the same over-capitalization, polarization of wealth and poverty, pauperisation. The same greed for more territory – Transjordania. The same chauvinism in language and persecution of the language of the bulk of the Jewish workers – Yiddish. And the same arguments: The Arabs are inherently lazy; the Arabs can go somewhere else; the Arabs are on a lower level of civilization. The same arrogance on the part of the invaders: We have brought you culture, social services; we, of a higher civilization, have made the waste land fertile; we must have a higher standard of living. And even the same white, civilized labour policy as in South Africa! Oh, no! The Jewish bourgeoisie has not produced anything different from what any other bourgeoisie produces. Even in producing a Jewish fascism in Palestine they were not original; they were only imitating the bourgeoisie in other parts of the world.

Yet this is quite natural and logical. But the whole hideousness and real harm of Zionism is revealed when we hear the arguments, claims and apologies of the Socialist-Zionists in and out of Palestine. The Poalei-Zion (at one time the main Zionist-Socialist party) were going to build socialism in Palestine, “in spite of British imperialism and Jewish capitalism”. “We,” they said, “are going to build a socialist core in this capitalist shell. The main thing is the Kvutzah, the agricultural communes, the kolhozes. This is the real thing.” With this idea of building communism in Palestine they seduced and misled thousands upon thousands of boys and girls. This was the mainspring of the Halutzim movement, the pioneers for Palestine. With the sweat and bones of these young idealists the agricultural colonization has been accomplished – for capitalism, to be sure, not for communism. The cemeteries of Palestine are filled with these Halutzim, these pioneers. But where are the communist colonies, the socialist core of Palestine? They have shared the fact of all the other schemes for building socialism on islands or on chosen spots in South America – all the utopian schemes of the last hundred years, beginning with Robert Owen. But even if some Kvutzot had been nurtured and preserved like a plant in a conservatory, how could this be today a factor in the life of Palestine? So much for the empty talk of the Poalei-Zion outside Palestine.

Within Palestine all the Jewish labour and trade union organizations accepted the political programme of Zionism, that is, Palestine as the Jewish National Home and eventually a Jewish State relying on British imperialism with its bayonets and power, uncompromising hostility to the national aspiration of the Arabs and their struggle for national independence. Also in the economic sphere an out-and-out imperialist and chauvinistic policy. Laws providing for the eviction of Arab tenants from their landholdings, and then the barring of these landless peasants from the labour-market in the towns in accordance with the policy of “100% Jewish labour in Jewish enterprises” – The speeches of these labour and trade union leaders of the Histadrut, of the Hashomer Hatzair, etc., the speeches of Ben-Gurion and Burgin, make the most shameless reading even in the annals of chauvinistic labour parties. Their actions correspond with their speeches. During the present ruthless war waged by British imperialism during two and a half years, in the course of which innocent people are bombed, villages are razed to the ground, families are left destitute and homeless, not a word of protest has been forthcoming from these labour and “socialist” organizations. Just the opposite: Support and spurring on of the imperialist oppressors by word and action. Open scabbing and strike-breaking in every political strike declared by the Arabs in protest against British brutality, martial law, cruel humiliations. This is the record of the Jewish labour and trade unions, the Histadrut, who barred Arabs from membership.

And then the apologetic critics of Zionism from the “left,” so-called socialists and communists, who are fond of talking about Marx and dialectics, but whose socialism goes no deeper than their skin, are shocked that the wrath of the Arabs is directed not only against British imperialism, but also against the Jews in Palestine. These liberals are unable to understand why, on meeting with a united Zionist front of bourgeoisie and labour, a hostile united front, siding with their enemy, British imperialism, and supporting it, the Arabs should come to the conclusion that all Jews in Palestine are Zionists and therefore their enemies. This conclusion is, to be sure, a wrong one, but where are the signs that would make this clear to the Arabs?

The other argument employed by these apologetic critics of Zionism is that the Arabs make use of weapons supplied by fascist countries. The “moral feelings” of socialists like Sir Stafford Cripps are shocked by the Arab disregard for their democratic sensibilities, and therefore they cannot support the Arab cause. These philistines would like to prescribe special laws and special weapons by means of which the slaves might break their chains! Trotsky has answered these philistines in his article, Learn to Think (New International, July 1938).

But their main and most dangerous argument is that the Jewish immigration into Palestine is in the interests of the Arabs and therefore should be supported. Such a Marxist writes: “If many Jews have benefited from Zionism, a large number of Arabs have benefited equally and at no expense to themselves. Such momentum as the Jewish revival of Palestine has given renaissance of its Arab population must inevitably continue to re-vitalize and repopulate this section of the community.” (The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Jew-Baiting, p.103), and further: “Palestine has served to absorb refugees from countries unable to absorb them. It will continue to do so, and in this it has justified itself.” (Ibid., p. 115.) Here the usual argument of imperialism concerning its beneficent work, an argument used by imperialism in China, India, South Africa and any colonial or semi-colonial country, is cleverly connected with the immigration question. Unfortunately the same sort of argument is used by comrade Rock in his article in The New International (October 1938), where he says: “From all this it is evident that the British know full well how to exploit the elementary needs of the Jewish workers, namely, immigration and colonization, neither of which contradicts the real necessities of the Arab masses.” Indeed! Mr. Weitzman could not say better. It is the immigration question which is the main cause of the Arab struggle. This point requires careful examination.

International socialists, beginning with Marx and Engels, were always for free, unrestricted immigration and for complete freedom of movement as a part of our democratic rights. It was the reformist labour leaders and the trade union bureaucrats who opposed the rights of free immigration for the sake of their narrow craft interests and to the detriment of the interests of the working class as a whole. Now it is capitalism in decay that is doing away with all the democratic rights that it formerly proclaimed and fought for. In the post-war period all countries, one after another, leave closed their doors to immigration. The working class in retreat after the defeats was not in a position to resist this abolition of its democratic rights. And it is precisely for this reason that the fight for democratic rights, as the urgent task of today, stands in the forefront of the program of international revolutionary socialism (Fourth International). It would therefore be ridiculous to assert that we are against free immigration.

But the Jewish immigration into Palestine is something entirely different. It is an immigration with the avowed aim of trampling upon and destroying the rights of the native population in that country. It is an invasion under the protection of imperialism and for the strengthening of imperialism. Zionism – and by this we mean all the Zionist parties, from the Revisionists to the so-called socialists – has openly proclaimed that the aim of this immigration is to attain a majority in Palestine and reduce the Arabs to a minority in a then Jewish State. Against this aim to defeat them politically and economically the Arab people, the natives in Palestine, have waged this war for two and a half years. The immigration question was and still is the pivotal point in their struggle. Not to support the Arabs in this just, defensive demand means to side with British imperialism and its tool, Zionism, against a native oppressed people.

Palestine as a solution of the Jewish question was never even a Utopia. It was a big Zionist bluff. Palestine, as a Jewish capitalist State and outpost of British imperialism, was a product of Versailles, and it failed together with the rest of Versailles. In so far as Zionism, against the express wish of the native population, fostered this imperialist venture, relying on the force of British bayonets, Zionists took the risk and must blame themselves for the failure. The sooner the Jewish people in Palestine realize this, the better. For the continuation of the old Zionist-imperialist course will drive deeper the wedge of hatred and chauvinism, will widen the gulf between Arab and Jew, and will foster perpetual strife and civil war, endangering the very existence of the Jewish community. And in saying this, it is not the Zionists we have in mind. We mean the great mass of the Jewish workers and small peasants. They can solve the Jewish problem of Palestine very easily. What is needed is solidarity and cooperation of Jewish and Arab workers and peasants, and a united struggle for an independent free Palestine of workers and peasants, liberated from the shackles of imperialism-capitalism. But for this they must first break with their chauvinistic leaders, who have chained them to the chariot of Zionism-imperialism. It will then be easier for the Arab workers to free themselves from the influence and leadership of the equally chauvinistic effendis and mullahs. Once class unity is achieved, the solution of both the Jewish and the Arab question is assured.

The same confusion that exists regarding the Jewish problem in Palestine is also evident in connection with the general Jewish question. The anti-Semitic wave and bestial persecution, which is today stronger and more universal than at any other time in modern history, makes the problem more acute and urgent. But its solution cannot be found in any panacea. The solution of the Jewish problem lies in socialism. Lenin saw this thirty-five years ago, and history since then has proved it conclusively. The national problem in Russia found its solution through the October Revolution of 1917. If the Thermidorian period has brought retrogression in this sphere, as in any other, such retrogression does not in the least invalidate the fundamental proof of Leninism tested in practical life during the years 1917-1924. At the same time the various solutions offered by the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, including that of Austro-Marxism and that of the Jewish Bund, proved their bankruptcy under test. Since Versailles, Wilson’s self-determination, the minority status of the League of Nations, etc., etc., the position of the national minorities has become intolerable and is going from bad to worse.

Scattered throughout the world there are from sixteen to eighteen million Jews. Everywhere they are a national minority. Everywhere, except for the three million in the Soviet Union, the bulk of them are suffering from oppression and persecution. As a result of the universal cancer of anti-Semitism, fostered by the ruling classes, their suffering is greater than that of any other national minority. Since Hitler’s coming to power and the growth of fascism in every country, their sufferings and anxieties have enormously increased. For fascism, crushing the working class wherever it advances, destroying the workers’ organizations, crushes the Jews at the same time. This proves again Lenin’s truism that the fate of the Jews in every country is intrinsically bound up with the fate of the working class. Even in the Soviet Union their fate is bound up with the victory or defeat of socialism. Restoration of private ownership of the means of production as a result of external defeat in war, which would mean of course a fascist regime, would bring in its wake massacres of Jews by the “White” bandits.

As has been proved by the latest events in Germany and Italy, capitalism in decay has become cannibalistic. In any case, there is no longer any place for liberalism and bourgeois democracy, to which the Jewish petty bourgeoisie along with reformism might look for salvation. The sole form of rule for decaying capitalism is fascism. Just as there is no special remedy to bring about the deliverance of the working class from under the iron heel of fascism, except the road of revolution, so for the Jews there is no special remedy except the advance in union with the working class along the revolutionary road. Only the emancipation of the working class from the yoke of capital, only socialism can bring emancipation to the Jews.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 28.12.2005