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The New International, October 1942


Karl Minter

Jewish Colonization In Palestine

A Discussion Article

From New International, Vol.VIII No.9, October 1942, pp.278-281.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following document by no means deals with working class policy in Palestine as such. Neither is it intended to describe the economic conditions and problems of its growth. The discussion is limited to those topics relating to institutions which are supported by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish labor movement in Palestine in its aspiration to create a Jewish or partly Jewish state. Expressing my fullest agreement with the aim of those striving for the creation of a Jewish homeland, it is nevertheless my contention that a long range perspective will prove the present policies in Palestine erroneous and only capable of giving the Jews an immediate advantage at the sacrifice of their class positions. But the sacrifice of class positions is never in the interest of any minority, for only the social revolution can in the last analysis provide favorable ground for the solution of the national question. In this sense, Zionism must be subordinated to socialism.

Those who search in this thesis for a confirmation or criticism of Zionism will be disappointed. Its sole purpose is to dispel any illusions that the pioneering role, whatever its virtues might otherwise be, has anything in common with internationalism. In my bid for brevity and condensation, I have given whatever background is needed sketchily, since factual material can easily be gathered from other publications.

I – National Land Policy in Palestine

1. At the close of the First World War, 140 Arab land owners owned one-seventh of the area of Palestine. Most agricultural enterprise was conducted under a semi-feudal latifundia system. The Arab peasant, the majority of the population, was directly exploited in this state of serfdom since an external capitalist market for goods thus produced had not as yet been created.

2. Jewish mass immigration into Palestine meant the immigration of capitalism as well. Jewish capital sought returns not only in the industrial enterprise of the cities, but also in land by more rational exploitation. The Arab land holder, through the price obtained in a sale of part of his land to Jews, invested sums on the capitalization of their remaining land. In the extension of the capitalist market into all spheres of Palestinian economy, many Arab fellahin (small peasants) were turned into wage laborers, in addition to the Jewish immigrants.

3. The purpose of Jewish National Funds [1] is to facilitate the settlement of incoming Jews. In undertaking investments felt to be too risky by private capital, Jewish National Funds economically fulfill a pioneering role for private capital to follow. They operate along strictly national lines. Through prevention of speculation, joint-purchase schemes, etc., they attempt to create the conditions most favorable for the acquisition and cultivation of land by Jews, regardless whether by national or private capital.

4. Still considerable sections of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Palestine oppose the national land policy. This, on the one hand, because national capital often proves inconvenient for private enterprise, on the other because Jewish National Fund land harbors and other national funds encourage “dangerous” experiments for it in so far as they demonstrate the superfluousness of the private capitalist. (Contrary to popular belief in radical circles, Jews, not Arabs, are faced by the danger of exclusion from industry.) Nonetheless national ownership of land, although desirable, in and of itself changes nothing fundamental in the economy as long as a capitalist market remains; all that is changed is the share of surplus value accruing to the landlord.

5. Jewish National Funds are progressive to the same degree to which a capitalist economy marks a gain over the outmoded feudal relations of production. They fulfill the objective need for a capitalist economy. As part of the capitalist system, as part of the status quo, as part of the general impotency of the bourgeoisie to carry out that program that marked it as progressive in its infancy, national funds can be no solution to colonization needs, to the agrarian problem, and to the evils caused by capitalism anywhere.

6. National funds, made to function as part of capitalism and in no way designated to oppose that system, therefore naturally lend uncompromising support to British and American “democratic” capitalism which is still in a position to tolerate its already circumscribed economic activities. This even more so since they aim to set up a JEWISH economy in opposition to an ARAB economy in Palestine and are still hopeful of help in this from the Allied powers.

7. Even from the viewpoint of colonization, national funds have always lagged behind needs. Rising land prices, British imposed restrictions, the fact that the Arab land owners will not voluntarily, as a class, allow themselves to be bought out of their privileges, and the elimination of large sections of world Jewry from the contributing lists, all go to prove that Palestine cannot be bought.

8. Rejecting the very idea of the possibility of the attainment of Zionism as long as the barrier of capitalism exists, we cannot possibly support an institution functioning to build capitalism while it in no way aids the development of the subjective factors of class struggle. We cannot risk the spreading of the reformist illusion that capitalism can build Palestine for the Jewish people.

II – The Rentability of the Kibbutzim

9. The kibbutzim (collective settlements) are by no means a unique feature of Palestine; neither are they socialism. The risk of private investments, on the one hand, and the growth of cities on the background of an undeveloped agriculture, on the other, have forged the kibbutz as the instrument of capitalist development in agriculture. The abundance of steady labor (within the kibbutz), an economy of collectivized consumption and the absence of any large agricultural trusts have all combined to make them the most rentable of the various types of settlement. (For statistics on the yearly surpluses of kibbutzim see Weitzman, Rupin, etc.)

10. Yet the kibbutz is the creation of the Jewish working class. Unable to compete against cheaper Arab labor in the Jewish settlements, the first chalutzim banded together into a state of forced communism, since otherwise they would have perished. Soon these groups, with outside help, started their own enterprises on the same basis, the kibbutz now serving as a base (in the same way as the fella, working his paviel, wage-labor in the colonies merely serves as an additional source of income) from which to enter as wage labor in the colonies left to the Arabs meanwhile (see Point 23).

11. An integral part of present capitalist Palestine and not the prototype of the new society, the kibbutz movement nevertheless exerts a strong leftward influence over the whole yishuv. And this, because of the backwardness of the Palestinian labor movement. Instead of guiding the class struggle against the Palestinian and British bourgeoisie, they stand in the forefront as an instrument of national labor policy. One hundred per cent Jewish labor and a society on the eve of its transformation into socialism, do not go hand in hand. Further, with the growing industrialization of the country, the center of gravity will shift to the cities. As finance capital gains a stranglehold on agriculture, so the kibbutz declines in importance; as the relative number of workers engaged in agriculture decreases, so its weight in the ensuing revolutionary conflict is lightened. The development of a normal class struggle will, in addition to dispelling national illusions, permanently destroy the idea of “building socialism” in the same way as the utopian concepts of Owenism gave way to the more realistic program of Chartism.

12. In spite of the verbal insistence upon class struggle by a considerable section of the Palestinian kibbutz movement, they cannot transform the capitalist society into a socialist society. The industrial proletariat has failed in organizing collectives, victim to the greater strength of private capital in the city. It is in aiding the city workers in the political organization of the peasants and supplying the revolutionary city in time of crisis with necessary food that the importance of the kibbutz will probably enter, but in a subordinate role.

13. These collective settlements are, then, not the transition into socialism, but the product of every aspect of the backwardness of the country, mixed with an adulterated, imported western socialism. After the socialist revolution, though, the kibbutz might well become one of the cornerstones of the emerging socialist society. Otherwise through a continuous development of capitalism, as already in the city, kibbutziut will be crushed by the stronger capitalists, economically, and superceded by forms of more militant class warfare, politically. The kibbutz is therefore, more accurately to be labeled collectivist than socialist.

III – The Chalutz [3] Movement and Its Background

14. The dominant character of the Jewish youth movement anywhere is chalutziut. As the expression of Jewish youth from those social strata whose free social and economic development was stifled, it led youth to seek escape from a dismal future through lofty ideals, all of which were to be realized through Zionism in the creation of the social form of a kibbutz. The very essence of this movement is escape in preparation for its own ideal society. Hence little can be expected from this group in the way of socialist political action.

15. Ideologically kibbutziut is a revolt against abstractions, a revolt not against the capitalist character of the intellectual but against all form of intellectualism, a revolt not against private individualist capitalist forms of huckstering, capitalist forms of profit sharing, etc., but against all manifestations of individual life itself, and thus it is for collective consumption, collective artistic expression, etc. (all outmoded in our highly industrialized society). Therefore, while naturally, internal compromises had to be reached, externally, the chalutz movement is the object of the play of forces larger than itself. It is the living example of a philosophy that is to instigate action without a corresponding action that leads automatically to a realization of the above philosophical thought.

16. The “socialism” of this movement (and there are sectors which are definitely non-socialist because of the purely economic need for kibbutzim) lies in a process of self-realization” in which the individual realizes the “necessity of becoming a wage laborer” for himself, culminating in the transformation of “middle class Jews into workers in the only possible place, Palestine, the historic Jewish homeland.” With this goes the desire to “live socialistically,” i.e., sharing in one’s community on a collective basis. This cannot be socialism since it goes on as part of capitalism. Acceptance and rejection of a thing are both determined by the existence of the thing. The background or “thing,” capitalism, still determines the action. The group rejects outside capitalism, lives its own “socialism” within, and does not care to be disturbed by the “degenerate outside.”

17. But it is necessary to accept capitalism while it exists; this is certainly better than rejecting it consciously while unconsciously one is forced to accept it. Therefore, only conscious revolutionary action under capitalism will bring us nearer to socialism. We see the inevitable iron will of forces toward proletarianization; the subjective factor is class struggle, and thus objective conditions have to be exploited to further this class struggle.

18. The natural self-realization lies in the subjective need of class struggle which, because of its universality, becomes objective. A “Religion of Labor” (A.D. Gordon) is only for those whose life work in the form of wage labor is not a normal aspect. Otherwise it is nothing but the petty bourgeoisie counterpart of the bourgeois glorification of all labor, and thus fits beautifully into the capitalist upbuilding of Palestine. Such labor is needed.

IV – Jewish and Arab Labor

19. About 55 per cent of Palestinian Arabs are fellahin, while about 20 per cent are engaged in industry and transportation. The former include about 17 per cent who constitute an agricultural proletariat in a broader sense. The remaining layers consist of land owners, professionals and merchants. The city proletariat is in the most unskilled and lowly paid positions. Jewish immigration here has resulted in the doubling of the real wages of Arab workers and the provision of new fields of employment in the Jewish plantations and building industries primarily.

20. The Jewish working class, with few exceptions, strives toward a penetration of rural as well as urban economy. This policy is manifested in Kibbush Haavoda (conquest of labor: Arab industry by Jews) aimed at the progressive expulsion of Arabs from positions created by the influx of Jewish capital. Not only the Jewish working class believes that it can thus gain firm roots in the country. The Jewish bourgeoisie, sometimes at the sacrifice of profit, in the interest of a Jewish dominated Palestine, occasionally supports Conquest of Labor.

21. Jewish-Arab labor relations are further complicated by the existing wage differentials between the “European” Jew and the “Oriental” Arab, the seasonal character of Arab help in the pardessim (orange plantations), the high organization and class-consciousness of the Jewish proletariat, which stands in contradiction (not only to the development of the objective conditions of class struggle as shown above) to the low degree of Arab organization and class-consciousness and the firmness of national unity on both sides.

22. Somewhat favoring an early understanding are the absence of an aristocratic, purely Jewish labor crust, an already partially achieved Jewish penetration of many spheres of industry, the rise of Arab wages toward closer approximation to that of the Jews, and a resulting awakening of Arab class-consciousness with the development of the country.

23. The degree to which Jewish labor is successful in its competition against cheaper Arab labor depends in the last analysis on the general conditions of the labor market (secondary factors not being excluded). In time of economic crisis Jewish workers, who in the preceding era had flocked into the more highly paid construction and factory jobs in the city, are thrown back on agriculture as a sole means of support; the policy of Conquest of Labor is taken up with renewed vigor in order to vacate the Arabs from those positions left open to them previously. But Jews are only partially successful in “reconquering” those fields, and their wages are forced down to par or only little above that of the Arabs. Depression always has a leveling effect on wages, and the national aspirations and higher organization of the Jewish workers are effective solely within the law of wages.

24. Extensive expansion of capital has its limitations. At a stage the organic composition of capital is changed and with it the intensity of exploitation. This results in the formation of a relative surplus population which acts as a constant depressor of wages down to a minimum. This minimum is today set by the mass of unorganized Arabs. Through their pressure, Jews in the long run will be forced down to the Arab standards of living, or they will be faced with an eventual exclusion from industry except for a few privileged positions. Despite the procrastinating drive of Jewish national unity, rapid industrialization, the efforts of the histadrut, the kibbutz in economizing expenses, the somewhat greater wage equalization, etc., a general wage leveling cannot be prevented. This will either cause greater workers’ solidarity or separate the two nationalities into one which supplies the reservoir for the masses of toilers, and another which occupies the privileged positions.

25. Is the Jewish working class sincere in its desire to participate in the productive process as a healthy working class? Then it cannot circumvent the problem of organizing Arab labor. It is only by raising the Arab wage minimums that Jewish wages can be maintained. Despite wage discrepancies and other political difficulties, this organization must proceed with a view toward joint unionism, unless unions are to become another tool with which national rivalry can be conducted more effectively around the present privileged position of the Jewish working class.

26. One Jewish-Arab union exists in the field of transportation (government-controlled transportation). Both Jewish and Arab wages are on par here, and all efforts to raise them effectively were blocked by the Palestine administration. Yet this union is an historic example of things to come. [4] In agriculture also a fertile field for joint organization exists. Instead, the histadrut concentrated on improving the conditions of only Jewish workers by establishing free dwellings for them and encouraging and otherwise aiding early settlement for more effective competition.

V – Class Versus National Interests

27. The support of the above mentioned institutions, Jewish National Fund, Foundation Fund, Kibbutziut, Chalutziut, Conquest of Labor, separate unions for Jews and Arabs (we have mentioned only those generally incorporated into the program of the Jewish labor movement) are supported “in the interest of immediate colonization beneficial to all classes alike at the present stage of development in Palestine.” In the interest of immediate immigration, the mandate was supported. To absorb incoming refugees, Jewish national funds are supported, the Conquest of Labor and the Kibbutz raised to an ideal. For fear of Arab domination, even labor Zionists reject a constituent assembly based on popular suffrage in Palestine.

This is the ugly face of politics “in the interests of all classes.” It helps the bourgeoisie, certainly; for practical bourgeois politics such a program is necessary. Also we recognize the fait accompli; we recognize the limited achievements. Ours is a revolutionary socialist criticism of these limitations. Capitalism, in line with its uneven development, cannot build Palestine, much less help the working class.

29. The colonization policy is basically on the wrong track because its point of departure is the identity of interests between bourgeoisie and proletariat, however limited this may be to the upbuilding period. It is therefore necessary to formulate clearly why the interest of capital and labor are never identical [5], regardless of the truism that:

... capital presupposes wage-labor and wage-labor presupposes capital; one is a necessary condition for the existence of the other; they mutually call each other into existence ...

Capital can only increase when it is exchanged for labor-power, when it calls wage-labor into existence. Wage-labor can only be exchanged for capital by augmenting capital and strengthening the power whose slave it is. An increase of capital is therefore an increase of the proletariat, that is, of the laboring class....

So long as the wage-laborer remains a wage-laborer, his lot in life is dependent upon capital. That is the exact meaning of the famous community of interests between capital and labor ...

30. Since the growth of capital is of aid to the working class only in as far as it provides the objective conditions for its emancipation, an internationalist program must make for speediest Jewish-Arab working class unity. National funds as instruments of national policy stand in the way. Our program must provide for the solution of the whole agrarian problem and, therefore, call for a division of land to those who till it, regardless or whether Jew or Arab. We stand for the socialization of all industry through the seizure of political power by the working class, and not alone for the abolition of private ownership of land and communist forms of living within our collective as called for by the statutes of the kvutzat. It is necessary to guard ourselves against all such (and other) Utopian and pseudo-socialist ideological contortions. Our main task is to stand on the forefront of the class struggle and our fund raising, agricultural, educational and labor policy must be directed toward those ends. Yet all the existing institutions could have great values were their content to change. In a socialist society, doubtless, these institutions, result of the just and sincere aspiration of the Jewish people, could reach full blossom.

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1. The most important are the Jewish National Fund, exclusively devoted to land purchase, and the Foundation Fund, to directly aid settlement.

2. It has been stated by Granovsky, the land expert of JNF, that some of its money has actually been turned over to private institutions. Further, they cannot solve the problem of agricultural credit.

3. Pioneer. Those going to Palestine to take part in the colonization task.

4. According to some sources whose accuracy I have been unable to check, this union has been rendered completely ineffective by the combined efforts of reactionary Jews, Arabs, the administration and the Stalinists.

5. Wage Labor and Capital, by Karl Marx.

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