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The New International, August 1946


Leon Shields

For Self-Determination in Palestine

Against the Slogan of Majority Rule


From New International, Vol. XII No. 6, August 1946, pp. 180–181.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The editorial entitled A Socialist Program for the Jew which appeared in the Nov. 12, 1945, issue of Labor Action contained serious errors in judgment as to the solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict which socialists should advance in Palestine. The editorial asks: “How does the issue of Palestine arise in the first place as the solution to the Jewish problem?” The question arises not because Jews lived on the land 2,000 years ago, nor because of the Balfour Declaration, although these were undoubtedly important factors at one time. Rather it arises from the fact that during the course of this century the Jews have become one of the two distinct nationalities in the country and, as a consequence, Palestine is the only place in the world where there is internal pressure for the admission of the refugees. Also, Palestine is one of the few countries in the world which contains a sufficient concentration of Jewish people to prevent assimilation at such a rapid rate as to insure the complete extinction of the nationality.

The editorial lists the various imperial interests in Palestine and points out, correctly, that “Zionism also fosters an imperialist policy of its own which is aimed at depriving the Arabs of their rights.” But at this point the editorial parts company with the traditional Leninist conception of the national question.

The Question of a Program

The Jews “should approach the Arab masses on the basis of equality and as the outstanding fighters for democracy.” Correct! How is this to be accomplished? First of all, “by fighting for ... the establishment of a constituent assembly of the Jewish and Arab population based on universal suffrage and majority rule.” If the Jews should do this, “they would win the support of the Arab masses.” Right again! Only ... the Jewish masses cannot be won to a support of this slogan! For majority rule at the present time means Arab rule, and this slogan asks the Jews to approach the Arab masses not on a basis of equality, but on a basis of Arab domination of the country!

One of the first results of such domination, at the present time, would be the virtual stopping of all Jewish immigration into the country (the most crucial issue in dispute at the present time). But, the editorial protests, “It goes without saying that, as revolutionary socialists, we are against all bars, quotas and restrictions on immigration.” Without saying! But unfortunately, once Arab rule is established it will no longer matter very much what we do or do not say about Jewish immigration into the country. But the Jews could then win the Arab masses to a realization of the true meaning of revolutionary socialism? Of course. But this would take time.

“The underdeveloped and oppressed nations are not waiting, they are not ceasing to live, they are not disappearing, while the proletariat of the advanced countries is overthrowing the bourgeoisie and repelling its attempts at counter-revolution,” wrote Lenin. The slogan of majority rule for Palestine asks the Jews to be the outstanding fighters for a program which, if it were accomplished, would reduce them to the same status which they occupied in pre-Hitler Germany and Poland, and which would doom their fellow nationals in Europe to complete extinction while they waited for the revolution to mature. No wonder that no party has emerged in Palestine based upon the concept of majority rule!

The editorial attacks the slogan of a bi-national state as one “where two unequal populations rule jointly and postpones the demand for a genuinely democratic state to the time when the Jews are in the majority.” Some of our comrades, in their researches, have discovered that this was the content with which Meier Yaari, theoretician of the Hashomer Hatzair organization, filled this slogan, and have quite properly flayed him for it. However, what possible effect on the Jews can such an exposure have when these same comrades then pass over to the opposite extreme and demand Arab rule by virtue of the fact that they constitute the majority of the Palestine population? Between the two the Jewish left-wingers will choose Yaari, and so far have done so.

Actually, there is every reason to believe that the main reason why this slogan makes such a popular appeal to the left wing of the Jewish labor movement and probably even to a majority of the members of the HH organization is because there is implicit in it not Yaari’s interpretation of it, but rather the demand for the recognition of full national rights for both of the contending nationalities. If this were not so, then why should it be necessary for the Hashomer leaders, in order to gain left wing support for their program of a Jewish majority, to mask their real demands behind the ambiguous slogan of bi-nationalism? To denounce this slogan completely, and to call for Arab domination as the LA editorial does, is simply to play into Yaari’s hands, for it leaves the Hashomer members with no place else to go.

It may be objected to the above that all this has been said on the assumption that these slogans will be advanced under the present conditions, rather than in the course of a united struggle for socialism. Such an objection would be valid. However, what is under discussion is precisely the question of which slogans to raise in order to make possible such a united revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle. The slogan of majority rule which is advanced as the most important “democratic” demand would certainly gain the confidence of the Arabs, but must of necessity leave the Jewish masses cold.

The Crux of the Matter

The crux of the matter is the fact that where a clash of nationalists exists, it is impossible to resolve the conflict by calling for majority rule, for this would simply insure the domination of the more populous nationality. It is absurd to think, e.g., that at the time of the Irish rebellions it would have been possible to raise this slogan and have it accepted by the Irish, for this would only have been a guarantee of their perpetual enslavement by England.

In such a case, the primary democratic slogan must be concerned with the question of the recognition of the rights of each nationality, no matter what the always-disputed census may indicate concerning the population of the country. This means that each nationality must be recognized as having the right to determine its destiny for itself, whether it be separation from the rest of the country (such an action, if carried out voluntarily, could be termed self-determination, rather than British-dictated Partition), some form of autonomous cooperation, or simply majority rule.

A movement based upon this respect for the fundamental rights of each nationality could enlist the support of the Jewish workers, for they would then have no need to fear the consequences of an Arab majority, or vice-versa. They could then raise the slogans of “land to the peasants,” “independence from British imperialism,” etc., and expect to draw the Arab masses into a united anti-imperialist socialist struggle with them.

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