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The New International, October 1939


The Spark

Rebuttal on the Palestine Question


Source: The New International, Vol.5 No.10, October 1939, pp.313-14.
Transcription: Daniel Gaido.
Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The recent Spark article on Palestine was written after the first article of Comrade Rock had appeared in print. Since then Comrade Rock has published two further articles, but naturally the Spark criticism could deal only with the first of his articles. Today, however, that criticism would have been much stronger, because in his subsequent articles all the contradictions of Comrade Rock’s argument stood out in stronger relief. To be frank, those contradictions appear to us to be those of a man torn between the theory of Revolutionary Marxism and the practice of narrow Nationalism, i.e., centrist contradictions.

“It is very hard to establish an international class policy for the Palestine proletariat”, complains Rock at the very outset of his article. How often have we and other Revolutionary Marxists heard the complaint: “Internationalism sounds so well, but it is not applicable to the peculiar conditions of our country. Internationalism elsewhere is all right, but not here.” From a man who accuses the “Spark” (which does not and never did complain of the difficulty of establishing an international policy for the South African proletariat) of expressing non-internationalist views, the dubious phrase is very strange indeed. But, as we are about to show, it is not at all accidental.

The first contradiction appears at once in the first chapter of the article, where he deals with the “definition of the essence of the Arabian National Movement” and the conclusions therefrom (L. Rock, Class Politics in Palestine, New International, June 1939). Comrade Rock has to admit that the Arab National movement in Palestine is, like its parallel in other colonial countries, an anti-imperialist movement. He has further to admit that the Revolutionary Marxists are in duty bound to support the national liberation movement with all their strength even if the bourgeoisie or the feudalists stand for the time being at its head. The Marxists will of course preserve their party independence and will always point to the proletarian road, etc. So far so good – in theory. But when Comrade Rock comes to practice, he not only does not support this admittedly anti-imperialist movement, but he turns his wrath upon the “Spark” for expressing its great satisfaction with the anti-imperialist struggle of the Arabs, and their united will to attain national liberation. We regret having to repeat here what we have already said in that article, but it is obviously necessary:

“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 manoeuvres 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 side-tracking 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 as the fight is progressive we have to support it, while at the same time warning the Arab workers of their treacherous bourgeoisie.” (The Spark, Zionism and the Arab Struggle, originally published in The Spark, the organ of the Workers Party of South Africa (Fourth International), November 1938. Reprinted in The New International, Vol.5, No.2, February 1939, pp.41-44).

Once we consider this struggle as progressive, we support it wholeheartedly and without a sour face. We wish to see this struggle against imperialism taking place in every colony all over the vast colonial world. Without these colonial revolts, these national liberation struggles for independence, the national wars in the colonies, it is simply impossible to visualize the World Revolution and its victory.

But not so for Comrade Rock. Having paid lip-service to Marxist theory, having even admitted in theory that we are in duty bound to support this movement, he forgets his part and shows his real face. He rebukes us for expressing satisfaction with an event, a colonial people’s struggle against the oppressors, which he considers a terrible calamity.

“What is so terrible in the situation in Palestine is that, on the one hand there is a strong national differentiation between Jews and Arabs, and on the other, the unity of the Arab camp is very firm.” (L. Rock, Class Politics in Palestine, New International, June 1939).

But this sentence reveals more than the contradiction of a centrist torn between theory and practice as referred to above. It reveals a Jewish Nationalist for whom the revolutionary aspects of the anti-imperialist struggle are completely overshadowed by the one single aspect of this struggle that affects the Jews. And even looking at this aspect of the events, it is impermissible for a Revolutionary Marxist (which is synonymous with Internationalism) to overlook the fact that the national unity in the Jewish camp is similarly very firm. It is surely not by accident that Comrade Rock failed even to mention, let alone condemn, this fact, when he speaks of what is so terrible in the Palestine situation. Yet it is precisely here that condemnation is required. For if the firm national unity in the Arab camp, instead of a class unity of all workers, is to be deplored by Revolutionaries, how much more must be condemned the firm national unity in the Jewish camp! Why then forget so conveniently the latter altogether?

Moreover, the national unity in the two camps does not stand in the same category. While the former is leading a struggle against Imperialism, for national independence, for democratization, for a Constituent Assembly, a struggle that is progressive, the latter is directed to the strengthening of British Imperialism, is directed against the independence and democratization of the country. The latter is openly reactionary, and stands in no comparison with the former, with the national unity of the oppressed. If, as the Jewish workers claim, they are more civilized – and undoubtedly they should know more of the class struggle than their Arab fellow-workers – then it is clearly their duty to show the Arab workers the way to class solidarity, by breaking away from their Zionist United Front. Yet they show not the least intention of breaking with their bourgeoisie and with Imperialism. And herein lies the tragedy for the Jewish population of Palestine. How then can Comrade Rock, if he is an internationalist, forget altogether those who are chiefly responsible for this tragedy?

Unfortunately Comrade Rock is not an internationalist, and nothing could illustrate it more clearly than this last article, where after much juggling with Marxist phraseology and centrist sophistry he comes out openly for the All-Zionist National slogan of unrestricted Jewish immigration! He is not in a position to refute a single one of our arguments against this immigration, which we maintain is not immigration but invasion under the protection of, and for the strengthening of Imperialism, with the avowed aim of trampling upon and destroying the rights of the native population of that country, with the aim of reducing the Arabs to a minority in a then Jewish State.

Comrade Rock cannot refute these arguments. He even admits them himself. He admits that the Jewish population maintains a closed economy against the Arab economy, “100 per cent Jewish products, 100 per cent Jewish labour.” He admits that most of the Jewish population demands a Jewish majority in Palestine, a Jewish State. In his second article on Palestine (New International, Nov. 1938, p.337) he even half-heartedly admits that the Jewish immigration in Palestine stands in no comparison with the Jewish immigration in America. He says:

“The Jews in America are a part of the general economic system, and entertain no chauvinistic aspirations such as the boycott of foreign goods and labour or the establishment of a National State. The Jewish population in Palestine does strive to become a majority and determined its political road in accordance with this perspective, building up a relatively closed national economy and boycotting Arab labour and goods. Influenced by Imperialism and Zionism this population is against every attempt to obtain nm the democratization and independence of the country.” (L. Rock, The Jewish-Arab Conflict, New International, November 1938. Our emphasis).

But, having admitted all this, he is now trying to reconcile it with the nationalistic slogan for free immigration, which he later smuggles in as a part of his proposed minimum program of Revolutionary Socialists. To achieve this, he employs a very convenient word, viz., “objectively”:

“The Jewish population in Palestine therefore has objectively a dual character. Corresponding to its class differentiation, it contains on the one hand a Jewish working class and accelerates the rise of an Arab working class, i.e., forces which are objectively anti-imperialist; and on the other hand, to the extent that it is permeated by Zionist exclusivist tendencies, i.e., submitted to bourgeois influence, it strengthens the position of imperialism and of reaction in the country. On this premise the revolutionary socialist policy and its attitude towards Jewish immigration must be built up.” (L. Rock, Class Politics in Palestine, New International, June 1939).

And then follows another transformation. The first dubious part, which is analogous to Otto Bauer’s “objective progressiveness of Fascism”, is then conveniently transformed into the corner-stone of the “correct policy for a Marxist party”, while the second part is also conveniently shelved and forgotten. Then, to remove any embarrassment which his contradictions may cause to his readers, he brings in an additional piece of sophistry; namely, “The complete victory of the movement for independence in Palestine is, however, impossible without the support of the Jewish toilers, who hold important positions in Palestine’s political and economic life.”

That should dispose of all arguments, thinks Comrade Rock. But in his naïve sophistication he simply ignores the hard facts: (i) That the Arabs alone are conducting the struggle for independence in Palestine and have already achieved some success in this struggle without the support of the Jewish toilers and even against the combined strength of the latter attached to Imperialism. (ii) That the Jewish toilers up till now show no inclination to join the struggle for independence of the country, show no inclination to break away from Imperialism-Zionism, show no inclination to drop the demand open or hidden for a majority. (iii) That no rapprochement on class lines is possible between Arab workers and Jewish workers, so long as the latter persist in their aspirations to a majority, persist in their Zionist ideology of a Jewish State.

But Comrade Rock does not want to face these facts and draw the correct conclusions from them. Instead of this, he announces with the assured air of a card-player who holds the trump card, that without the support of the Jewish toilers the final victory is impossible. And because he thinks that this support will not be forthcoming “so long as the Arabian toiling masses will struggle against Jewish immigration”, he advises – not that the Jewish toilers should give up their Zionist ideal of a Jewish State, but that the Arab toilers should give in to the Zionist demand for free immigration. Like all Zionists of the “Left”, he grants to the Arab the “equal” right also to immigrate from the surrounding countries. The sugar-coating of the pill is really too thin to deserve consideration.

What amazes us is not so much the display of naïveté on the part of Comrade Rock. We could leave it to him to work out the ultimate results of his (?) plan. (a) Free Jewish immigration will lead to a Jewish majority, and (b) to the strengthening of Zionism and its hold over the Jewish toilers, and (c) to a Jewish State which must always look to British Imperialism for protection from a hostile Arab world. Thus his advice to the Arabs implies that in order to get support from the Jewish toilers, in their struggle against Imperialism they should give up this struggle against Imperialism! But what does amaze us is that he should put this Zionist demand into his proposed program of the Bolshevik-Leninist movement in Palestine! Can he think for a moment that the Fourth International would take responsibility for such a pro-Imperialist and pro-Zionist proposal? We on our part have no doubt of the answer which such a program would receive from every section of the Fourth International, if indeed the Palestine section should share the views of Comrade Rock.

In conclusion: Comrade Rock is trying to discredit the views of the Spark on the ground that the Stalinists in Palestine use the same kind of argument and arrive at the same conclusions, and also that the reactionary Jewish Labour group, Hashomer Hatzair, argues similarly – but from the opposite point of view. This, we must admit, does not disturb us. So long as our views are correct and further the aim of the Revolution, we are not perturbed, when the Stalinists, Anarchists, Lovestoneites, or Socialists adopt them. That the Hashomer Hatzair should be diametrically opposed to our views is only natural.


May 8, 1939

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