Labour Monthly

The class character of the
Palestine Risisng II

BY J. B. (Jerusalem)

Source : Labour Monthly April, 1930, No.4.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

[The first portion of this article, which gives a comprehensive survey of the development of class forces in Palestine, appeared in the previous issue of the LABOUR MONTHLY, March, 1930.]

The more the veil which shrouded the events of the last week in August, 1929, and the following months is lifted, the clearer picture do we get both of the sponŽtaneity of this mass movement and of the unparalleled treachery of the leadership -- and this, in spite of the desperate efforts of the British-Zionist propaganda machine to obscure the real signifiŽcance of what happened, by means of all kinds of fairy tales about incitement of bandit gangs, the "hand of Moscow," artificial stirring up of the masses, &c. It is quite clear, for example, that it was the Mufti of Jerusalem, at present the recognised head of the feudal bourgeois bloc, decried by the stupid Zionists as the organiser and chief instigator of the rising, who pacified the excited fellahin masses when they were ready to attack the British and who held them in check until the British cruisers arid military reinforcements arrived from Malta.

With the arrival of the military it was comparatively easy to suppress the fellahin-Beduin section of the Arab rising. Now, however, disillusionment and excitement prevails to an enormous extent in the Arab villages and finds its outlet in partisan raids, agrarian disturbances and resistance to the authority of the Government. None of the fundamental grievances which made the peasants take up arms in August has been removed. The relentless exploitation and oppression continue, accentuated by an unprecedented legal terror, which has sentenced hundreds of fellahin to long years of imprisonment and dozens to death, and has levied heavy fines upon the hungry villages. Nor has the expropriation of the peasantry by the Zionist colonisation societies ceased; only the other day, in the neighbourhood of Wadi Hwaras, more than a hundred Arab families were forcibly evicted from a district of over 20,000 dunas (1 dunam = 919 sq. metres), acquired by the Jewish National Funds from an Arab landholder. For all these reasons, it is natural that the fellahin have not yet disarmed, and that they are only awaiting a favourable opporŽtunity to renew their struggle against Zionism and imperialism.

But the centre of gravity of the revolutionary movement has shifted recently to the towns. Once again the trading bourgeoisie are exerting themselves to make the mighty upheaval serve their own interests; they would persuade the masses that the Zionists can be driven out of the land by boycotting their goods, they organise boycott groups, they even point to the necessity of terrorist action, but always only against Jews or Zionists. But the masses understand that the chief enemy is imperialism. Under the pressure of the masses, big mass strikes are taking place in single towns and even general strikes throughout the whole country --the political mass strikes of October 16 and November 2 were particularly impressive -- and there have also been street demonstrations on the occasion of the visit of the Arabian ComŽmission of Inquiry and demonstrations against the Government. The labouring elements in the towns, the radical intelligentsia and the working class are coming more and more to the fore front; the agitation among the radical nationalist groups of Hamdi Husseini is growing stronger. When the Government attempted on November 21 to arrest some of the leaders of the movement, the whole town entered on a strike which lasted solidly for three days; the excitement led to an attack on the Government House which was driven off with the aid of British troops, and attempts were made to release the prisoners.

As always, the bourgeois leadership hastily ranged itself on the side of the Government when it found the Nationalist MoveŽment taking on an anti-imperialist form, but it was only with difficulty that it succeeded in breaking off the strike by holding out to the masses empty promises of an English "intervention." The radicalisation and growth of activity of the town masses appear so menacing to the bourgeois Nationalist organs that they are conducting an open and bitter campaign against "the red danger," and are urging calm and patience, at the same time making efforts to induce an increasing confidence in "British justice." The visits of British adventurers of the Gordon Canning type, and the speeches of various Conservative British lords and Members of Parliament, who have in view a great imperialist feudal bloc in all Arab countries, serve to strengthen these illusions.

At the same time negotiations are going on behind the scenes with the Government for a final compromise, which is intended to put a final stop to the mass movement which proves more and more awkward to handle. Several leading Arab notabilities are actually taking up the idea of officially recognising the Balfour Declaration, which up to now has been the chief rallying cry of Arabian Nationalism, if the British Government will grant them a Parliament in return. The revolutionary energy of the masses, which increases from month to month, is paralysed by all these cunning and treacherous manoeuvres of their leaders, and if anything could strengthen the influence of these leaders over the masses, help them to veil their treachery and support them in their religious-national feuds that something is the policy of Zionism and Zionist social reformism.

What were the class relations among the Jewish population? How did it happen that the Jewish population of Palestine refrains from taking part in the Arab masses' struggle for emanŽcipation and actually forms a barrier against which the Arab attack founders?

It is incorrect to assume that this objective role played by the Jewish population is based upon a really privileged position, upon economic or political privileges from which Arabs are excluded, or that the Jews (as a whole) exploit the Arab population. On the contrary, the great mass of the Jewish working population are as devoid of rights, as oppressed and exploited as the Arabs themselves. Political privileges are possessed only by the bourgeois Jewish class, concretely the Zionist Executive, whose only essential function, however, is to carry out the orders of British imperialism. The rights of Messrs. Weissmann, Sokolov, Colonel Kish and Co. to dine with British diplomats, the privileges accorded to Lord Melchett and other Jewish plutocrats to exploit the mineral wealth of the Dead Sea, are shared as little by the few thousand Jewish workers who have come to Palestine as by the mass of the Jewish petty-bourgeois workers, the agricultural labourers and the members of the agricultural co-operatives. It is an incontestable fact that the majority of Jewish workers in Palestine are poor, that they get starvation wages and that the smaller peasants often get scarcely enough to supply the barest necessities of life. It is also a fact that the Jewish bourgeoisie mercilessly exploit their Jewish working "brothers," and that the real wages of the Jewish worker, in comparison with his most elementary requirements, are incredibly low. Although for a time they were higher than the wages of the Arab worker, they have now, with the bankruptcy of Zionism and its transformation into an ordinary capitalist joint stock company, been levelled down and approximated to the wages of the Arab workers. The average daily wage of a Jewish worker in 1922-25 was 30 piastres (6 shillings); now the general daily wage is only 15 piastres (3 shillings), while hours of labour have everywhere increased from eight to nine or ten hours.

In so far as the real interests of the Jewish workers are concerned, they have as little reason for supporting Anglo-Zionist rule against the Arabs as the Arab fellahin and workers have to regard the Jewish workers as their enemy. As things are at present, the Jewish working population of Palestine do not form either an economically privileged group, like the white colonies in South Africa or the inhabitants of the Hankow Concession, or a politically privileged group; the Jewish workers are deprived of the franchise just as are the Arabs; they cannot criticise the Government, they do not possess any sort of political liberties, such as freedom to associate or demonstrate, &c.

The ruling Jewish class, ably served by the reformist and Poale Zion parties, has succeeded in carrying out an astute policy which has diverted the Jewish masses from their real interests and placed them at the service of imperialist designs. First of all a partition was erected between Jewish and Arab workers: the Jewish workers -- who for the most part became workers only in Palestine and are still deeply rooted in the petty-bourgeois nationalist atmosphere which surrounded them in Poland, Russia, Germany, Rumania, &c. -- were told that they were the pioneers (Hebrew: Halutz) of the entire Jewish nation, who had come to Palestine to establish a Jewish home and that to achieve this purpose they must deprive the Arab step by step of his land, his position and even his job. For years there has been intense subŽsidised propaganda in order to stimulate nationalism among Jewish workers. "Land for the colonisation of the landless people!" the propaganda machine bleats out insistently, pointing out to the worker that it does not matter if a few backward fellahin are driven from the land, because it had been bought for "good money" from the landowner; and since the generous Zionist bourgeoisie was good enough to give his poor brother a piece of land, let him now cultivate it in peace and the sweat of his brow. Then if the dispossessed Arab returns (as was the case in the August rising) to claim his land, it is easy to thrust a rifle into the hands of the "idealist," with which he can defend the "fruits of his hard toil" from the "savage robbers." "One hundred per cent. Jewish labour!" is another idealist slogan, which means that the Arab worker, who gets a few piastres a day by sweating for a Jewish capitalist, is to be driven from his job. "Buy Jewish goods!" a third, "Help to build up Jewish industry!" a fourth. And so the mass of the Jewish workers -- themselves without rights, ill-treated, exploited, just as much in need of a liberating revolution as the Arab masses -- become the instruments of the imperialists and Zionist money-bags; blinded, they take up their positions in the front trenches of imperialism when it is threatened by the attacks of the revolutionary Arab masses.

To be sure, even this nationalist frame of mind, backed up by various peculiar ideas (such as that of Poale Zion, which looks forward to the liberating, revolutionary role of the Jewish worker in the East, once the Jewish state has been established at the point of British bayonets), began to weaken. In the last few years there have been increasing signs of international understanding between Jewish and Arab workers; the logic of class contradictions and the social struggle seemed (particularly in view of the financial collapse of Zionism and the inability of the Jewish bourgeoisie to maintain, as it were, a protected market for Jewish labour) to triumph over the black arts of nationalism and chauvinism, over all the tricks of cunning social reformist leaders.

Consequently, the Zionist bourgeoisie was anxious to prove to the Jewish worker that the concrete expression of the Arab struggle for freedom in Palestine must be pogroms; the Fascists deliberately played into the hands of the national bourgeois Arab leadership, so that a new Zionist-British alliance against the Arabs might be cemented with Jewish blood. This would also restore the "national united front" of Palestinian Jews, greatly weakened by growing class antagonisms.

This was successful in so far as the Jewish workers, faced by mass Arab revolt, remained passive spectators or took part in the fight against the Arabs. It is true that they are now beginning to understand that it was not a simple pogrom, such as they had been used to in Rumania or Tsarist Russia, but that the flood of mass Arab anger was stained with the blood of innocent Jews only because the reactionary feudal-bourgeois Arab class was at the head of the Arab masses, a class whose power had been increased by British-Zionist policy, because the Jewish workers themselves stood in the camp of their imperialist-Zionist masters and because, finally, the Palestinian working class as such did not take the initiative in the movement, putting forward the slogans which could deflect it into anti-imperialist channels and lead to victory.

Is the Palestinian proletariat capable of assuming the leaderŽship of the Arab revolution?

This is the vital question for further revolutionary development. If the leadership of the Arab masses remains in the hands of the Mufti and the leaders of the Arab National Reformist Congress, the Jewish capitalists will retain their influence over the Jewish workers, British imperialism will be able to play its game easily and revolutionary risings will be conducted as national-religious conflicts. It is a fact that the Palestinian proletariat is growing stronger every year. Besides the agricultural and seasonal workers, there are now urban wage workers, industrial workers; the development of works on concessions, the Haifa harbour works, to which several millions have been assigned, will increase the number of workers still more.

Even now it can be said that the question of the leadership, of the working class in the Palestine national revolution (as in other Arab countries) is not so much a question of quantity, i.e., of the number of workers, particularly in view of the profound revolutionary ferment among the Beduin and peasant masses, who form an inexhaustible reservoir of insurrectionary forces, as a question of quality, i.e., the degree of consciousness of the urban worker, the strength of his organisation, the correctness and clarity of his policy.

This confronts the vanguard of the proletarian class, the Communist Party of Palestine, with extremely grave and responŽsible tasks. The party must take the initiative in the fundamental change of class relations in Palestine, make its revolutionary significance clear to the workers, help to form proletarian mass. organisations; but the party must never for one moment forget that its revolutionary tasks can only be accomplished with the support of the peasant masses, only in alliance with them and at their head. There is no doubt that in the first stage of the struggle for the leadership of the rural revolutionary movement a number of radical, petty-bourgeois elements -- such as those represented by Hamdi Husseini's group -- who can never be considered Communists but who support the slogan of complete independence for the Arab countries, will march alongside the proletariat.

But every real change in class relations is to a large extent dependent upon the proletariat as such taking an active part in the struggle. So far, the Communist Party has attained successes in two directions: firstly, it is the only party which in ideology, in programme, in tactics and in its composition is really an international workers' party; that is to say, it is the only party whose ranks overstep that fierce chauvinism continually fomented by the nationalists of both sides; and, secondly, it is the only party which has organised international Arab-Jewish workers' demonstrations of a political character (as on August 1, 1929).

The sharp turn to the left in the tactics of the Communist Party was carried out in response to the necessity for making full use of the ripening revolutionary situation. First of all the treachery of the Arab nationalist leadership was exposed and a strong campaign initiated against the feudal-bourgeois bloc and its plans of compromise; the economic interests of the working class, the necessity for broad trade union organisation of a revolutionary class character, both as a weapon of anti-imperialism and of the class struggle against the Palestinian bourgeoisie, were strongly emphasised, and this helped to promote the organisation of international trade unions on the basis of the identity of interests among Arab and Jewish workers; the slogan of agrarian revoluŽtion was spread among the peasants, who were urged to seize the land by force from the large landowners and the rich Jewish colonists; this was bound up, in a number of concrete instances, with the immediate needs of the peasantry, and it was made clear to them that they could defend their interests only in alliance with the working class. At the same time the Communist Party went beyond the abstract slogan of "complete independence" and began propaganda for a revolutionary workers' and peasants' government to be established after the Anglo-Zionist oppressors had been driven from the country.

This, in main outline, is the programme with which the Palestinian proletariat has to enter upon the struggle for the leadership of the proletarian movement; great attention is also being devoted to the necessity of an alliance with European workers, particularly the English; and with the workers of all Arab countries, of which Palestine is only a small part, artificially separated from the rest.

The few months which have passed since the August rising have shown how hard this struggle will be for the workers and the Communist Party. If the events demonstrated the revoluŽtionary power and the profound radicalisation of the masses, they also mobilised all reactionary forces. During that rising the forces of reaction led by the imperialist MacDonald Government, which was not satisfied with the military defeat of the rebels and the revenge and reprisals which followed, but immediately took steps to be ready to suppress any revolt led by the proletariat. Communists were cruelly persecuted and ill-treated and arbitrary mass arrests took place. An emergency law (openly called an anti-Communist law in the Palestinian Press) was passed, punishing anti-imperialist agitation with life-long imprisonment and membership of the Communist Party or other revolutionary organisation with several years' imprisonment. Lord Passfield, Labour Secretary of State for the Colonies, hastened to ratify this law, which makes those responsible for class war agitation liable to a sentence of three years. The police and spy services have been strengthened; this is the Labour Government's answer to the growing acuteness of the Palestinian situation.

The Zionists and the Arab National Reformists are equally afraid of the proletarian party and its possibilities. The latter -- who a few years ago loudly proclaimed their sympathies with Moscow and looked for help from that quarter -- are now seeking the assistance of the British authorities against the Communists. The Zionists and their social-fascist allies think no calumny too vile, no lie too stupid, to be used against the Communists.

For the Jewish and Arab bourgeoisie know just as well as British imperialism, which manoeuvres adroitly between and with them, that if the Jewish workers free themselves from Zionism, if the Arab fellahin break loose from their feudal-clerical chains, if the suppressed and betrayed masses unite in revolutionary action, then it is the end of the rule of that parasitic trinity of British imperialism, Zionists, and Arab large landowners in Palestine, a rule which is already stained so darkly with the blood of Jewish and Arab workers, which mercilessly exploits and enslaves the workers of Palestine.