Home > Dave's Favourites, General Politics > On Palestine, the SWP and a correct Marxism

On Palestine, the SWP and a correct Marxism

I always check out those blogs whose writers come over here for a chat. The Newer Labour blog was no exception. While reading down the different articles from the last few weeks and months, I came across one on Palestine. As one might expect, I did indeed groan – and was then aghast at someone left wing describing their opinions as Zionist.

I was less bothered by the blog attacking the positions of the Socialist Workers Party in respect to the Israel-Palestine problems. As I think is now beyond dispute, the SWP have shown how perfidious their politics can be through the morass into which the Respect Coalition has degenerated. Marching beside angry Muslims yelling, “From the river to the sea” is not my idea of a progressive movement, regardless of who the crowd votes for.

Palestine protest

Though I generally agreed with those sections which critiqued the SWP, I felt the need to address one or two bits, in order to distinguish nuances of Marxist theory which author had missed. The major part of the criticism revolved around the critical support which the SWP gave to those groups which fought Israel in the name of the oppressed Palestinians. Miller2.0 states:

Actually, such an argument is intellectually dishonest. Did Lenin talk about ‘supporting Martov until after the revolution was complete‘? Hell no.

Marxists of any sort of education would not support a Hamas type movement after it had defeated an ‘imperialist’ invader. But because of the occupation, Socialist Worker support Hamas getting their hands on the most guns and money in order to fight Israel. Fair point from their perspective, but it enrages me that they won’t take responsibility for supporting something which would inevitably get Hamas into power.

I dispute the validity of the analogy without disputing the overall point. Questions are complicated by the presence of unfulfilled national aspirations, and are simplified by the absence of such aspirations. For this reason the class struggle in, say, England, has always been simpler than that in Ireland. Between Martov and Lenin, despite the presence of minority nations in the Russian Empire, there was no national question.

Both were greater Russians, both were fighting for the overthrow of capitalism. Each simply had different views of the natural historical evolution necessary in order to achieve socialism. Each believed themselves to be firmly grounded in Marxist theory. I do not believe that to be the issue at stake with regard to the national questions in Palestine and Israel.

The issue at stake for the SWP is the Leninist ideas on national self-determination. Lenin wrote about how national self-determination is a powerful impulse. Lenin postulated that due to the tie between the nation-state and capitalism, a movement for national self-determination would throw up bourgeois leaders.

Socialism, as an internationalist ideology, would find itself in sympathy with the demands of workers for better wages, political democracy and other demands common to an oppressed people, whilst finding itself opposing and opposed by the leadership of the national movement.

That leadership would be interested in utilising the workers’ demands for the purposes of creating a nation-state in which the bourgeoisie could grow more fully than under the previous imperialist power. In Marxism, this impulse on the part of the bourgeoisie is sometimes called the law of uneven capitalist development.

For the SWP, I suspect, the issue is one of supporting the demands to national self-determination and insofar as that be the case supporting the bourgeois leaders critically. Where the project goes off the rails a little is in the opportunistic nature of the SWP.

As a result of immigration and the growth of a Muslim political movement in Britain, in which the SWP were involved, there would be pressure for the SWP to subsume their criticism of the bourgeois leaders of the ‘national movement’ in Palestine. Material and electoral gains have no doubt ensued for them.

Much of this discussion is based purely on the arguments of the SWP as presented by the Newer Labour blogger Miller2.0 and as such could be a straw man position. I do sincerely doubt whether or not even the SWP could be so callous as to support the channeling of weapons and funds to a group such as Hamas. Certainly other Marxist groups are unrestricted in their criticism of Hamas et al.

My own views are pretty expansively laid out in one of the first blogs on this site. I think that my ultimate response to the muse I have taken has to be this; one can deride political opportunism and yet not go so far as describing oneself as Zionist, whether Meretz-style Zionism or not. Regardless of what the dictionary says about Zionism, it was a movement which attained political maturity with Ben Gurion’s desire to subordinate civil society to the state, and which grew up in direct opposition to the socialist Judaism of the Bund.

  1. January 20, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Interesting comments. I still think that the core point exists over what kind of state marxists, or indeed either liberals or social-democrats, would like to see coming out of a national liberation struggle.

    “it was a movement which attained political maturity with Ben Gurion’s desire to subordinate civil society to the state, and which grew up in direct opposition to the socialist Judaism of the Bund.”

    Indeed, but Zionism having won its initial victories, what is the correct position from the point of view of the future, particularly as Israel is populated with new generations who wish to democratically determine the future direction of that state…

    Once again, in this area of the debate the future is given too small a priority in the face of the facts of the past.

  2. January 20, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I would disagree that I give too small a priority to the future as compared with the past. Inevitably one follows from the other. For example, without a world-shaking change, Labour is unlikely ever to become a revolutionary socialist party, even though that strand exists within it. That is as much about ingrained practice and prejudice as it is about the political conditions of the country.

    To answer your first through third paragraphs, I would agree that the core point stands. In fact I think I said that explicitly. I was not challenging that, merely the use of Marxist history and theory.

    You ask the question about how to orient oneself in view (and I read between the lines here) of the creation of the Jewish Israeli state. From the point of view of a Marxist, the future direction of that state must be the same as the future direction of all states if we’re ever to see a world of democracy, justice and equality.

    That is to say, the state must be conquered by the organised proletariat – without consideration to ethnic, religious or national divisions. Such a conquest if it does not transcend national lines is doomed to failure – and therein many Jews and Palestinians have found reason to have common cause.

    Our task should be to support those Jews and Palestinians. I would challenge the view that even such a group as Meretz or its predecessors and coalition partners fit the bill that I have just outlined.

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