Aufheben #10 (2002)

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Anti-capitalism as an ideology… and as a movement?

The Tutte Bianche in Genoa, July 2001
The Tutte Bianche in Genoa, July 2001

A critical analysis of the "anticapitalist movement" of the early 2000s by Aufheben.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005

The recent series of international Summit mobilizations have been referred to by some as a 'movement', and have often been treated by the state as a unitary entity. Yet the 'movement' has little existence outside the mobilizations, and is riven with internal contradictions. If anything, it is a political rather than a social movement; as such the question of its ideology needs to be addressed. We analyse the relation to the mobilizations of four ideological tendencies that have become salient from the UK perspective: the progressive liberals, the established left, anarchist/black bloc and Ya Basta! We suggest that for the supposed 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations to become a proletarian movement, connections need to be made with the struggles of the wider proletariat.

Preface: From anti-'globalization' to opposing the war

The events of 11/9/01 occurred as we were preparing this edition of Aufheben for printing. Naturally the development of a class opposition to the 'war' has become a major concern of those who do the magazine. With events changing from day to day, we have decided to limit our comments here to a few updates to the Israel/Palestine article and this preface to our article on the 'anti-capitalist movement'.

Before the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre, a great deal of attention had been focused on the mobilizations against 'globalization'. At the mobilization in Genoa, confrontations between demonstrators and police reached a new peak of ferocity. A lot of eyes turned toward the next big event - the Washington meetings of the World Bank and IMF - to see where it was all going. September the 11th changed everything. A 'war on terrorism' has been declared. What sort of war this will be remains to be seen. (Colin Powell's definition of its aims as a prolonged campaign against those who threaten, 'America, Americans, its allies and American interests throughout the world' actually sounds like a description of aims of standard US foreign policy.)

Reading Indymedia as we write, what actually seems to have happened in Washington appears to be a splitting along some of the lines of tension that we discuss in the article below. Even before the World Bank and IMF meetings were cancelled, the unions and NGOs withdrew support for a demonstration, the radical liberal fraction decided on a series of workshops on the war while only the (largely anarchist) 'anti-capitalist convergence' opted for turning the event into an actual demonstration against the war.

Capitalist civilization versus...

The reinforcement of an nationalist identity, especially in the States, has been a predictable feature of the preparation for war. However the world bourgeoisie has naturally been attempting to justify what it is doing in more noble terms. The Italian PM Berlusconi described the war as one between a superior western civilization which has generated "widespread prosperity" and "brought us democratic institutions, civil, religious and political rights of our citizens, openness to diversity and tolerance of everything." Other leaders, aware of its impact on Muslim allies, criticized the statement; but this and other comments on a 'strange unanimity' between the anti-'globalization' protesters and the terrorists expresses a dominant ideological tendency: the equation of capitalism with civilization. With 'the war on terrorism', capitalist society vindicates itself as civilization against a barbaric enemy.

Meaning for 'anti-capitalism'?

Like the wider class struggle, the opposition that has expressed itself at the anti-'globalization' mobilizations has to deal with the changed political climate. An immediate impact of terrorism is to reinforce identification with the state and the existing order. The 'war mentality' involves the strengthening of nationalist identity and the creation of racist divisions within the proletariat. Curtailment of 'civil liberties', such as that involved in the introduction of identity cards which might normally be resisted or refused, is legitimized by the 'terrorist threat'. Whatever the level of actual military action involved, the 'war on terrorism' seems to indicate a permanent shift to a more authoritarian use of state power on the home front (naturally only so as to defend democracy and freedom). In conjuction with these moves, there has also been a co-ordination of state economic measures to soften the impact of the world recession. The idea of 'globalization' as an anonymous 'economic' process in which financial and corporate power threaten democratic 'political' institutions is breaking down before the massive wielding of political-economic power by the hegemonic capitalist state, the USA.

The common theme of 'globalization' and the common practice of Summit mobilizations can no longer unify the way that they did. Those who have identified with these mobilizations need to think more about what capitalism really is. But if some anti-'globalization' misconceptions are left behind, the old dangers of anti-imperialist and anti-American ideology open up. Anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism are idiot forms of 'anti-capitalism' - that is, they are not anti-capitalist at all. Weak states or even non-state forces, like those organized by the multi-millionaire Bin Laden, may be anti-imperialist and anti-American but they are not against capitalism.

As we touch on below, the limitation of even the most radical tendencies in the mobilizations, those who aspire to be 'anti-capitalist', has been their separation from the wider social movement that could make such an aspiration a reality: that is, a class movement to abolish class society. The turn from 'globalization' to the war as focus of opposition will not immediatly overcome this. The separation between an 'anti-war movement' dominated by ideals of peace and justice and the class movements that really end wars (the strikes, mutinies and revolutions that ended WW1 and the insubordination, fraggings and breakdown of the American military machine that ended the Vietnam War), mirrors the gap between the anti-'globalization' mobilizations and a real anti-capitalist movement.

But this adventure launched by the bourgeoisie has dangers for them as well as us. In the first place, there is a danger for the American state of over-commitment and unrealistic expectations for a military machine which may be more effective as a threat than in practice. In the second place, there is a question over the extent to which people accept the propaganda in support of the war. The nature of the so-called 'war on terrorism' forces not only 'anti-capitalists' but also the population as a whole to think about politics and the world. The reality that the 'war on terrorism' is essentially an attack on the world working class threatens to emerge. Within and through the apparent coalition against terrorism the competition between the capitalist powers in the face of economic crisis is intensifying. While at first the war can distract the class from attacks on its living conditions - launched in an attempt to reassert conditions for capital accumulation - the basis for a radicalization within the class is possibly being prepared.

A new international movement emerges?

The recent mass actions in Genoa are the latest in a series of impressive mobilizations against 'globalization'.[1] The most radical elements involved, especially here in Britain, have adopted the definition 'anti-capitalism'. While the use of this term was at first somewhat refreshing, there is no real sign that most participants' perception of what being 'anti-capitalist' means is more radical or coherent than those - indeed the majority - who refer instead to the anti-'globalization' or anti-'corporate' movement.

All the major transnational economic and political institutions - the G8, World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union - have been targeted by mass protests[2] which have served to undermine their legitimacy. In defining an alternative agenda of anti-'globalization' or 'anti-capitalism', the mass mobilizations have put the institutions on the defensive. The very violence of some of the actions - as well as the violence of the state - has led the mainstream media to focus on what the 'anti-capitalists' have been saying and doing, rather than on the communiqués issued by the summits themselves, a source of considerable irritation for the politicians. There have also been a number of more concrete effects, including the physical prevention of WTO delegates from attending their conference in Seattle (they will now be holding their next meeting in remote Qatar) and the cutting short of the Prague conference of the IMF and World Bank. The World Bank meeting due to take place in Barcelona in 2001 was cancelled; the WTO and IMF have shortened their Washington meeting from two weeks to two days; Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime-minister, has moved a United Nations World Food Summit out of Rome; the next G8 meeting will be in a remote location in the Rockies; and there have even been concerns about whether a NATO defence ministers meeting, due to take place in, should go ahead. And all this apparently because of the protests.

The excitement of some in response to these developments is understandable, especially given the generally weakened level of the class struggle of the last 20 years or so. Although the usual activists and politicoes have been participating, the mobilizations and associated meetings have served to involve and politicize numbers of new people. Moreover, the continuity of these mobilizations - the fact that there have been mass mobilizations in different countries around apparently similar aims and issues - perhaps suggests that what is happening is the emergence of a new internationalism. Is the absence left by the collapse of Stalinism and the retreat of social democracy now being filled by a force which will perhaps find its expression in communism rather than in these historic dead-ends? The self-defined 'anti-capitalist' element that we have witnessed at least suggests this as a possibility.

Yet one of the features of both social democracy and Stalinism which allowed them to be an enduring form through which working class resistance was mobilized (and recuperated) was the way they attached themselves to everyday struggles over 'bread-and-butter' issues. The party and the trade union were organizational forms that didn't simply express themselves on the big occasion, but, through mediating the ongoing pumping-out of surplus-value from the workers, pervaded their mundane existence. Some of the anti-'globalization' commentators identify the lifeblood of the new 'movement' with the various mass movements in the southern hemisphere - most notably the Movimento Sem Terra (the grassroots land redistribution movement) in Brazil, the Zapatistas in Mexico and the Karnataka state farmers association (KRRS) in India. Others have claimed for the 'movement' various struggles around the world against such neo-liberal policies as cuts in social security, harsher labour laws and wage cuts. But while these accounts suggest that the Summit mobilizations are just the most high-profile expression of a worldwide day-to-day movement, in advanced capitalist countries it certainly appears that the 'movement' exists only in and around the mass mobilizations themselves.

Some would also argue that the street protests that characterize the 'movement' against 'globalization' are not on the class-terrain. Certainly, in the UK there have been only a few links with struggles around and against wage labour. Of course, the impulse of many taking part in the mobilizations springs from their everyday disgust at the dull compulsion of a world dominated by capital: a world of work, ecological destruction, poverty etc. But the 'movement' still does not exist as an everyday effort to resist the conditions of life determined by wage labour. In this sense, therefore, it is questionable whether what has been happening can properly be called a movement at all, and certainly not a movement of the class.

Contradictions in the 'movement'

A further reason for denying that what has been happening constitutes a single movement is the fact of multiple and contradictory agendas in and around the mobilizations. Indeed, it might be said that the Summit mobilizations are simply occasions for a number of very different movements and tendencies each to do their own thing.

As mentioned, while many of the militants involved who have long been against capital talk about 'anti-capitalism', for most the 'movement' is just against 'globalization'. The emphasis on 'globalization' versus 'capitalism' typically reflects profound differences of analysis, approach and, at bottom, class position. For example, on the European continent there are organizations like ATTAC[3] which see dialogue with the state as one of the aims of the 'movement'. But there are also a number of anarchist and similar tendencies involved in the mass mobilizations who reject this mainstream; on at least one occasion (notably in Barcelona) they even held a counter-counter-summit to the counter-summit of the 'official movement'!

Yet even among those involved who define what is happening - or what should happen - as 'anti-capitalist' there are acute differences. The lack of a serious attempt to analyse what capital is allows these differences to be glossed.

The state's selective dialogue with some of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) involved in and around the mobilizations appears as an attempt to capitalize on these kind of divisions. For example, Blair held face-to-face meetings with some of the 'drop the debt' campaigners. After Genoa, some of the NGOs reciprocated by coming off the fence to criticize the 'violence' of participants at the protests.

But, of course, the very reason that some of these NGOs - and the term covers a wide variety of organization - have been willing to get involved in such discussions is because they share the same vision of 'development' as the directors of the IMF, World Bank and so on, and differ only over the details. As GegenStandpunkt put it:

they reproach the IMF for having given too much and too little credit for the Third World, for having granted credit under too tough conditions, and for having promoted the wrong projects. They uncritically believe that credit, if only granted in the right amounts and invested in the right projects, could and actually would be a real means of subsistence for the poor of this world - and not what it really is, namely money-capital advanced in order to flow back even bigger to the lender. The right amount that would supposedly transform the curse of indebtedness into the blessing of anticipated growth is of course not calculated by them.[4]

Moreover, it is not simply that many NGOs are campaigning for a more decent capitalism; some of them are actively facilitating actually-existing capitalist relations. NGOs are often financed not only by the state but by the very transnational bodies some of them are protesting against. For example, NGOs are involved in 54% of World Bank projects, mostly in developing countries.[5] Since Seattle, some bourgeois commentators have noted an increased effort on the part of the World Bank to develop dialogue with, and to co-opt, NGOs, efforts which have served to mute NGO criticisms of the World Bank. Such commentators therefore recommend to the WTO the same strategy as a way of splitting the broad alliance that made Seattle possible.[6]

The state grasps the 'movement'

While some of us puzzle over whether or not it is properly a movement, its targets - the G8 politicians and national hosts of the various transnational bodies - have already decided. The generous use of tear-gas at the Seattle anti-WTO mobilization (November 1999) was said by some on the side of the state to be an over-reaction. But, at the Quebec mobilization against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (April 2001), still more gas was employed, as well as reinforced fences to prevent a repeat of the crowd's success at Seattle in disrupting the conference. The idea that these responses could be explained simply in terms of the particularly violent culture of North American cops was dispelled by the experience of the mobilizations against the World Bank and IMF in Prague in September 2000. The Czech state used all manner of forms of violence to those detained, including torture and severe beatings, in order to intimidate participants. Then, at the EU Summit in Gothenburg (June 2001), the Swedish police actually shot people in the crowd using live ammunition. The logic of this escalation was duly followed when the Italian police shot and killed at least one participant at the Genoa G8 summit just a few months later.

After Gothenburg, Blair and other leaders expressed their frustration by suggesting that the 'travelling circus' of protesters should not be allowed to cause such disruption. Hence not only has the state response become increasingly violent, there is also talk of introducing new legal means to prevent 'known troublemakers' travelling abroad, in the same way that legislation has been introduced and used recently to target supposed known football hooligans.[7] There has been increased co-operation and sharing of intelligence among police forces, and even talk among some heads of government of creating a Europe-wide riot police force.

Significantly, then, the state and the supranational organizations all perceive - and are acting upon - an apparent continuity in the mobilizations. In other words, the continuity - indeed the escalation - in the state response to the mobilizations shows that they are treating them as an entity: that is, as a movement which is in some sense a threat.

But how might the mobilizations pose a threat? Most obviously, although less interesting in itself, is the threat posed by the mobilizations to the ability of the world leaders and global economic bodies to hold their meetings how, when and where they choose. But, although there has been disruption, the bourgeoisie have mostly been able to carry on with their business: exclusion zones and mass deployments of police have ensured this. The more interesting threat is that posed by the mobilizations to the general climate of inevitability that Blair and the other Western leaders have sought to cultivate in recent years. The endless stream of 'reforms' which have served to whittle away many of the 'gains' achieved through the post-war social democratic compromise[8] have been premised upon the absence of an effective force of opposition. The visibility and ongoing existence of anti-'globalization' - even 'anti-capitalist' - mass mobilizations could serve as such a force of opposition. This in turn could operate to encourage a wider climate of resistance.[9] In such a climate, resistance in other areas begins to seem possible and may spread. A 'movement' criticized for its confused and often middle class composition and ideology could therefore prefigure and contribute to the development of a wave of struggles posing a genuine threat to capital's reproduction of itself.[10]

As well as treating the mobilizations as a single entity which exists over time - as a movement - the global organizations and their state hosts have often treated each crowd event as a single entity. While participants themselves comment upon the sometimes acute political differences within the physical crowd, the state appears less discriminating. Numerous are the stories of 'peaceful protesters' being attacked by police as if they were the ones causing 'violence'. The brutal police attack on the school accommodating people from Genoa Social Forum and Indymedia, and the subsequent torture of those arrested, has been the most high-profile example of this. However, the reasons behind this particular attack are unclear. The attack was said by some to be police revenge for the actions undertaken by the black bloc.[11] This seems pretty implausible. But the police did in effect treat the different elements at the protest as more or less interchangeable. As such, their action at least appears to be consistent with Berlusconi's statement that "there was no distinction between the two groups", and his claim of "connivance" between liberals and "violent" elements.[12] Attacking such a soft target - the police were aware that the overwhelming majority of people staying at the school were not black bloc - may have therefore been a way of sending a warning to the rest of the protest, from a police force which had been ordered to defend the Summit by any means necessary.

However, the police attack might have reflected more strategic considerations. The liberals might be seen (rightly) by the forces of the state as providing the infrastructure for these kinds of events: they call the demonstrations, organize and advertise them, and provide practical support such as accommodation. Certainly, judging by the selective nature of the searches carried out on particular groups of people entering Italy to take part in the event, the authorities judge some of the liberal organizing groups to be the leaders.[13] The intention behind the attack on the school building may therefore have been to intimidate the liberals from coming to future events, thus undermining the organization on which the less liberal elements rely.

However, in general, when attempting to analyse this kind of incident there is a danger of ascribing an overwhelming coherence and rationality to the actions of the state. We may well be underestimating not only the simple bluntness of repression as a tool, but also possible internal divisions: for example between senior police and those on the ground; between police and government; between elements within the government; and so on.[14] Neither can we simply presume an unproblematic chain of command from the G8 leaders to the Italian police, whose job on such a presumption becomes not only guaranteeing the safety of this Summit but also of future Summits taking place in other countries.

Yet, whatever the intentions and whatever level the decision was made to attack those staying in the school at Genoa, a possible effect is that at least some of those attacked - mostly liberals - will indeed feel that providing infrastructure for Summit protests makes them too vulnerable. The size and actions of future European Summit mobilizations may give some indication of whether or not people have been intimidated by the recent repression.

Some unintended consequences of state actions
Some of the state responses to the events have served to work to the advantage of (tendencies within) the movement. In particular, one unintended effect of the apparent lack of discrimination on the part of the authorities hosting the various Summits has been sometimes to create a greater unity in what have otherwise been extremely diverse and incoherent gatherings.

For example, the enormous mobilization in Seattle was dominated by a liberal-NVDA tendency which attempted actively to exclude more militant actions.[15] The misery of the attempt by this dominant tendency to define a critique of the WTO palatable to what they presumed to be the mainstream was perfectly illustrated by the idiots standing in front of Niketown and other shops trying to prevent black bloc people from smashing the windows.[16] But at Quebec the actions of the police led the non-violent sections of the crowd to see this same 'violent' black bloc as 'one of us'. The latter's retaliation against the police's use of tear gas against the crowd as a whole, their keeping the police at bay from the majority of the crowd and their attempt to breach the fence excluding the whole crowd from the conference served to create an enhanced sense of crowd unity and identity.[17] In this case, 'property damage' (in the form of the state's fences) and fighting the police was widely recognized as necessary. At Genoa, again, the non-violent element constituted the majority. But the police tactic of batoning all and sundry, intended to disperse the crowd, backfired when many more people got stuck in than had originally intended to fight - including some of the liberals and non-violent types.

The 'Summit-hopping' nature of many of the anti-'globalization' events has at times obscured the level of local participation. For example, Seattle, Quebec and Genoa were occasions for locals to act against the cops and property. Genoa, which has a long history of resistance to authority, witnessed various forms of active solidarity between locals those who came just for the protest. This was despite the damage to 'their' city that so upset the leftists. For example, local people on motorbikes sped up and down warning others about where the cops were; some took strangers into their houses to protect them from police baton charges; some threw water from their balconies at the cops and gave water to drink to the protesters; and when one street was destroyed, locals participated in the looting of shops.

Despite these kinds of examples, there has nevertheless often been a division between 'locals' and mobilization participants at a number of the Summit locations, illustrating the point, again, that the events typically express a separation between everyday antagonism and resistance as 'activism'. Perhaps the Prague mobilization exemplifies this separation most poignantly: among the Czechs, participation was limited to the small activist community.

Yet it is police action, again, that has sometimes contributed to the breaking down of this kind of separation. Mayday 2001 in London, which was promoted as an anti-capitalist event, was pre-hyped by the police to such a degree that otherwise 'non-political' working class youth saw it as an opportunity to have a go at property and the hated cops[18] - much more noticeably than at Mayday 2000. At Seattle, the extension of the police offensive beyond the designated protest area and into residential districts brought more residents out fighting the police alongside the protesters.

The role of the ideologues

The possible prospects of this would-be movement - its continuity, international character and, at least for some, avowedly 'anti-capitalist' agenda - has meant that a number of different groups and tendencies have attempted to assume some sort of hegemony. Such attempts have all involved, first, the claim that there is indeed a movement, and second, a particular definition of the identity of that movement which allows those offering this definition to position themselves centrally. This work of movement identity entrepreneurship is a work of ideology, in that it reflects a partial viewpoint connected to their practical experience and social perspective.

If the mobilizations are indeed to become a movement, self-criticism is an important part of that process of becoming. A critique of the ideologues is pressing for the practical reason that their positive definitions of the unity of the 'movement' contain an inevitable negative: the exclusion from their definitions of those they perceive as a threat to this definition. We now examine the approaches to the 'movement' of four tendencies involved in and around the mobilizations who have become salient from a UK perspective: the progressive liberals, anarchists/black bloc, traditional left (in this country the Trotskyists) and Ya Basta! In many cases, there is an attempt by such tendencies to marginalize certain 'others' - often more militant elements. This marginalization, moreover, isn't simply a matter of definitions but may involve concrete exclusion and defeat. For example, both the vagueness and the conflict involved in the mobilizations so far has enabled some otherwise 'non-political' elements to participate, as mentioned previously. Would this wider involvement be possible if the ideologues' definitions of the 'movement' were more fully realized?

We acknowledge that an examination of the ideologues' accounts can't in itself tell us much about the nature and dynamic of the 'movement' (such as it is); such an analysis also risks being limited to the level of ideas. However, we undertake this examination not only because it is necessary to develop some theoretical tools to fight the ideologues and defend the more promising tendencies that they might exclude (as well as to critique some tendencies they might include), but also because criticizing other accounts of the movement is a necessary step in developing our own understanding.[19]

The 'movement' according to the progressive liberals

For progressive liberals involved in and around the mobilizations, the problem is not capital as such, but what they see as the current ('neo-liberal'[20]) organization of capital, glossed by the term 'globalization'. The pre-eminent liberal-progressive interpreter of the movement so far is Naomi Klein, whose book, No Logo, is an international best-seller. The book is promoted as a part of the 'movement' yet which also speaks to - and is a part of - 'mainstream' society. Klein's apparent purchase on what is going on lies in the fact that so many people involved in and around the 'movement' events understand it as she does: in terms of multinational corporations (rather than capital). However, for Klein it is not even 'globalization' as such that is the problem, but a global system "gone awry".[21]

No Logo is a work of largely impressionistic journalism in which Klein identifies and analyses a global movement of opposition. Klein describes the different campaigns, struggles and tendencies which she sees as comprising this movement. These include 'culture jamming',[22] McLibel, Reclaim the Streets (RTS)[23] and student campaigns against 'sweated labour'. What makes these different campaigns and struggles part of a single movement according to Klein is the fact that they are 'anti-corporatist'. For Klein, what the movement is essentially mobilizing around is the threat posed by the power of multinational corporations to state accountability and hence citizenship.[24] Klein argues that the recognition of the global corporate brand logo is itself the basis of this supposed global movement; the global corporations thus create the possibility of global (rather than merely local or national) opposition. Moreover, since these global corporations no longer provide "their traditional role as direct, secure employers",[25] people no longer have a reason to be loyal to them and hence the global opposition becomes legitimized.

For Klein, the form that this 'anti-corporatist' resistance takes is primarily cultural. The 'movement' is essentially just that activity which attempts to 'communicate' (through propaganda etc.) with the forces of 'globalization'. This approach which privileges the 'message' over concrete activity is reflected in Klein's analysis of the political background of the movement. For example, Klein's account of RTS relies heavily on that of John Jordan, whose presentation of RTS as art-cum-politics (and himself as an 'official' spokesperson) have not been widely accepted within RTS itself.

Interlocutors with the state?

The threat posed by progressive-liberal ideologues like Klein lies in their legitimizing of the role of the democratic state through linking the 'movement' to mainstream politics and the state: 'we' (the super-exploited garment workers of Jakarta, 'anti-corporatist' activists, and middle class progressive liberals like Klein) 'demand' the full rights of citizenship which only a properly democratic state can bestow, in order to protect us from the excesses of the global corporations. If this is how 'we' are united, then this must mean the marginalizing of the most militant tendencies.[26]

The role of progressive liberal ideologues taking positions like that of Klein is recuperative in that they present themselves as the voice - the most articulate - of the 'movement', which they can then represent in dialogue with democratic institutions and those corporations that come to the negotiating table. While those tendencies that accept the leadership of liberal ideologues will moderate their actions in the light of any such 'negotiations', others will become a 'hard-line rump' against which further state repression gains greater legitimacy.

This work of exclusion is evident in the sharp distinctions Klein makes between 'protest' and 'riot'. On RTS: "the subtle theory of 'applying radical poetry to radical politics' is getting drowned out by the pounding beat and the mob mentality... Despite the organizers' best efforts, RTS was spiralling into soccer hooliganism".[27] Similar comments are made about the June 18th 'Carnival against Capital' (J18). Klein repeats the oft-heard liberal whine about 'the message being drowned out' in all the violence and damage. What they mean is their message (which respects property as part of democracy). In fact, as even some reformists often recognize, if there is one inevitable effect of rioting it is to get people talking about what the rioting is about: rioting defines agendas.[28]

If Klein engages with the most militant only at the level of their actions (and this only in order to marginalize them) it is because this is less threatening to her overall interpretation than to engage with them at the level of theory. The 'violent' elements she tries to dismiss typically define themselves not as 'anti-corporate' but as 'anti-capitalist', anarchist, or in many cases do not have a political identity at all, except perhaps anti-'system'.[29] To critically confront them would mean dealing with the problem not only of capital itself (not just 'global' capital 'gone awry') but also, crucially, of the state. What is most obviously missing from Klein's analysis of the problem of global corporations and the supposed movement against them is an adequate grasp of the relation between the state and the forces of 'globalization'. Ultimately, this would require a grasp of how the division between 'politics' and 'economics' is a mystified, if real, fragmented appearance of the capital relation. Simply put, it is the very democratic states to which Klein appeals which have participated in the creation of the structures of the global economy and hence the current relative autonomy of global finance capital. The politicians representing these democratic states have done this not because they are corrupt, undemocratic etc., but because they are dependent on and attempt to facilitate capital accumulation in each national territory. To restore greater power to the state and away from global finance capital, as the liberal-progressives wish, is to attempt to force the state to find some other way to guarantee the conditions for the optimum extraction of surplus-value. Free trade and protectionism have historically each been capital's solution to the problems of the other.

We have focused on Naomi Klein, but the other liberals take similar positions in relation to the state and the form of resistance. People like George Monbiot[30] (discredited years ago in the radical ecological movement), Walden Bello and Kevin Danaher[31] all call for smaller scale capitalism (smaller businesses that we can perhaps identify with more and be exploited by with less resistance?) and more tax (e.g. a Tobin tax on the movement of international finance capital). In calling for an 'acceptable' capitalism with the state as the interventionist organ of democratic control, not only do these liberals justify the alienation that is capital, they also grasp the state incorrectly as a neutral tool. Or, perhaps more accurately, they instinctively understand it well - as a structure necessary to guarantee the version of capitalism they support.

The relation of the anarchists and black bloc to the mobilizations

If the progressive liberals have been given quite considerable, favourable coverage, the bourgeois media has also strongly associated 'anarchism' with the mobilizations. Violence at the events, or the threat of it, generally gives a giant dose of publicity to the largely mythical anarchist ringleaders that are deemed to be responsible. The unwillingness of most anarchists to speak to the media only increases the interest (as a theory of recuperation would tell you). But whatever the spectacular dimension, it is true that anarchists of one sort or another, have had a significant role in the genesis and development of the mobilizations.

In Britain, anarchism has been a strong influence on the RTS and direct action scene out of which the street party at the 1998 Birmingham G8 and the 1999 J18 riot in London's financial district emerged. The older class struggle anarchist scene had at first largely been very suspicious of the RTS/direct action scene for its 'middle class/hippie/green' composition, but by J18 had swallowed their objections. Elements from this scene were largely instrumental in the 2000 and 2001 May Day events in London. J18 was then a direct inspiration for the mobilization for Seattle.[32] Though the organizers of Seattle were more liberal/leftist a 'soft' anarchism was present. To an extent its influence was strongest at the level of method and technique. For example the pivotal organizing group, the Direct Action Network (DAN), introduced what was seen as 'forms of anarchist decision making', and had many self-described anarchists in it. A participating group, the Ruckus Society, a mobile direct action training camp which emerged out of Earth First!, has a similar large anarchist involvement. Against this kind of involvement, more hardline ideological anarchists have criticized anarchists in DAN for being mere foot soldiers in a liberal and leftist campaign. One pamphlet[33] testifies that many anarchists were angry at the guidelines imposed by DAN banning violence against persons and property. Such tensions are an understandable expression of American anarchism's development within an individualist and unhistorical political culture. Whereas in the UK, tendencies within anarchism towards lifestylism have been tempered by the experience of the miners' strike, Wapping etc., US anarchism has no such recent history.

However, one section of anarchists found through their practice a way of making an impact on the protest at Seattle which has then become a continuous feature in subsequent mobilizations: the black bloc. It is anarchism's association with this form of militancy that has mainly defined its relation to the mobilizations against 'globalization'.

The riots which tore through Genoa this July engendered a backlash against the black bloc spearheaded by Italian leftist organizations. For its own ideological reasons, and using the death of Carlo Giuliani, the liberal-left parts of the 'movement' demonized the violent protesters at Genoa in a big propaganda offensive within Italy.[34] This uneasily paralleled the anger and frustration felt even by radical sections of the crowd, both inside and outside the black bloc, with its actions. Some of the arguments of the leftists and liberals (for example, the idea of police infiltration of the black bloc), have put those who previously embraced the tactic on to the defensive. It is necessary, then, to examine the way this tactic has developed.

The problem of the black bloc at these events is the contradiction between its existence as a tactic and as an ideological identity; and the way that the form of the anti-'globalization' 'movement' forces these two aspects to coincide. To counter the leftist propaganda, which portrays the black bloc as a homogenous group that can be easily identified and marginalized (young, male, anarchist, fanatical, nihilistic), others have emphasized its heterogeneity, fluidity and the fact that it is first and foremost 'a tactic'. As such, it is claimed, it has no ideological identity and changes for practical reasons as time and place dictate. However, although there is an element of truth in this (and although certain people within the black bloc see it or wish it this way), there is a definite tendency to conflate radicality with a 'hardcore' fetishism of violence. A defining if not exclusive feature of the black bloc that distinguishes it from simply street-fighting at demonstrations is the existence of a set group committed to a form of action, separate from the rest of the crowd. The black bloc seeks to identify itself as a group of black clad militants who work together, look out for each other, take on the cops and attack property, and as such sees itself as the radical, autonomous wing of the protest. In practice, the black bloc tendency does alter significantly according to local conditions, but doesn't escape the bounds of a militant role.

Seattle: anarchist ideology and the black bloc

A main origin of the black bloc tactic is the German autonomen movement of the '70s and '80s, known for its highly organized and widespread squatting scene. The autonomen were split between an anti-imperialist tendency identifying with the Red Army Faction; and a 'social revolutionary' tendency roughly inspired by Italian autonomia. The black bloc tactic was linked more with the anti-imperialist side, so can be connected to its vanguardism and lack of orientation to the (German) working class. There have been black bloc formations inspired by the German blocs in America over the years, but these never really made much impact, given the enormous restrictions on demonstrations in America, and the power of the police. However, in Seattle, the black bloc had visible success by attacking corporate property like Starbucks and Nike. In a communiqué some black bloc members printed to explain the tactic, they write of their sophisticated practice as a group who escaped serious injury by remaining constantly in motion and avoiding engagement with the police, but present their actions against property as symbolic - what matters is the 'shattering of assumptions', the 'number of broken spells'.[35] They also affirm that their actions accord with the wider anti-corporatism of the movement, whilst hinting that they are against all property relations. Given the limited aims of the protest, the pacifists they deride were probably more effective in closing the centre down. It's not enough to make a show of violence against the pacifists, hoping that it'll clear the bad smell of hippie idealism, like an 'exorcism'.[36] To oppose hardcore militancy for its own sake against NVDA (Non Violent Direct Action) betrays just as much ideological obfuscation.

The Seattle black bloc seemed very much defined by its isolation from the rest of the movement. They were few. They had to stick together against the incomprehension of the rest of the crowd, and even to defend themselves from the 'peace cops'. They had to defend their actions in the terms of the liberals. There the black bloc as tactic was inseparable from its exclusive identity. At the same time, the black bloc can point to the huge international impact of Seattle as due partly to their actions.

The Seattle black bloc was later branded as "a bunch of anarchists from Eugene who follow the primitivist John Zerzan".[37] This exaggerates the influence of primitivism on both the black bloc and US anarchism in general. However, the attraction of primitivism, with its anti-technology fetishism and lack of class analysis, is an expression of the broader lifestylist ghettoism of American anarchism. A limitation of the black bloc in America is the extent to which it is trapped in that culture. But of course, in the narrow confines of the anti-'globalization' 'movement', this sort of lifestylist vanguardism may seem like the radicalism as against the liberals. It would be involvement in a class movement that might lead the anarchists to question their separation.

The riots in Washington later that year, though they faced a much higher degree of police repression, marked an advance in that there was a level of collaboration between 'violent' and 'non-violent' protesters. The decision not to be antagonistic amounted to an effective co-ordination and collaboration of their different tactics, neither hindering the other. The ideological positions of both groups thus began to loosen into practical considerations.


While some British activists are enamoured by the black bloc and its tactics, and have hopped merrily along to many a summit to be part of it, the 'anti- capitalist' protests in Britain - J18, Mayday 2000 and 2001 - did not have black blocs. People may mask up and dress in black to avoid surveillance, but there is not the same segregation of the activist scene into liberals and militants. When fighting does occur those who take part are often not politicos at all. That such a situation could have developed is due to the weakness of an institutional left that could steward and self-police events. The 'each to their own' tolerance of the hippie crowd helps in its way. Nevertheless after the surprise of J18, the limited numbers of participants has allowed the police to swamp the subsequent events.

Prague and Quebec City

The black bloc tactic was used in Prague in September 2000, in a completely different way to Seattle. Aware of the different tendencies that would be present on the day, and the tensions that could arise between them, the organizing group, Inpeg,[38] decided on a separated but concerted effort to close down the conference. Three different routes would be used to approach the excluded zone, each one corresponding to a different political tendency. Everyone could stick to their chosen grouping - 'creatives' in the pink bloc,[39] Ya Basta! stunt-politicos in the yellow bloc, the black bloc as the blue bloc - and yet could help each other to divide police resources in a unified attack on the actual conference, (unlike Seattle or Genoa). Some black bloc people actually made it to the grounds of the conference centre with the pink-and-silver march, helped by the blue bloc's flat out assault of the police line on a different approach. The blue bloc did not budge the line too much, but injured a lot of cops. This was the black bloc's most focused action thus far, but some black bloc types wondered whether it was in a sense too much so - "doesn't targeting the conference centre suggest support for the reformist programme of the liberals?" - as if indirectly targeting the conferences by smashing the host city isn't part of the same thing.

Quebec in April 2001 saw the biggest amount of public support for a black bloc action, as mentioned earlier. It was there that the bloc as tactic, in pulling the widely unpopular fence down, really connected with the feeling of the march, and many in the city as a whole. This initiative of the black bloc proved a pivotal moment (bystanders joined in after the initial attack on the fence). The bloc as an organized, determined force was seen practically to have value even to Gandhian peaceniks, as one testimony on Indymedia demonstrates.[40] Elderly ladies in Quebec City were seen holding up placards saying 'God bless the kids in black!'

Genoa - the black bloc under attack

The June 2001 protests in Gothenburg against the EU summit erupted in widespread militant black bloc rioting and saw the first shooting of a demonstrator at these events. The main victim of the shooting, critically ill for some weeks, was Swedish and it seems that Sweden's anarchist scene contributed a lot of people to the bloc. At one point, the black bloc pushed the cops into retreat (TV images showed what almost looks like a rout), and Gothenburg saw some of the most intense fighting with the police. Unlike with Prague, the black bloc was unpopular with the peaceful types whose sunny party in the park was disrupted by police charging the rioters.

In Genoa the black bloc was split up and spread over a large area, and their dress became increasingly motley and light coloured according to Italian conditions - i.e. heat and little camera surveillance. Participants have argued over the composition of the militant blocs. Some say there were many locals getting involved and that Genoa proved to be the most socially connected of the summit protests. Others argue that although the population was friendly and helpful in general, most locals present at the riots were bemused onlookers who may have helped the black bloc on occasion, but generally saw the event as extraordinary spectacle, which in a way it is.

There were many black bloc people in Genoa from different countries, so there could be many loosely organized blocs, but again the problems of black bloc militancy re-appeared, which resulted in fighting between different militant groups on the Friday. A section of the black bloc at the joint COBAS[41] and black bloc action attacked the cops too early in the march. The cops came in and split the crowd. The COBAS were angry at the premature ejaculation of the black bloc. Later they fought with the black bloc to stop it following them to their base, effectively threatening to throw the bloc into the arms of the pursuing police. The black bloc insisted and was eventually allowed through. It does seem that a certain culture of European anarchism with its obsessive fetishism of street fighting is to be seen at work in these events. Others point out that most anarchists in the bloc were happy to think tactically with the COBAS and that the problems were due to the actions of a few 'stupid' people, and a basic lack of organization.

On Corso Torino (site of the huge march on Saturday, broadly of the institutional left), young anarcho-punks and others in the black bloc that tagged the march were largely content to destroy banks and petrol-stations, and, when this was done, attack insignificant targets like bus shelters and traffic signs. Some started a fire right next to the petrol station that was nestled at the bottom of a block of flats, others saw the stupidity of this, and put the fire out. The whole emphasis with some was to notch up amounts of targets trashed, as opposed to thinking of more concerted efforts against the cops, which others thought more appropriate. However, an effective barricade was built under a railway bridge and set alight, which delayed the police advance. Most of the time though, the police inched up gradually, attacking with tear gas, which repeatedly panicked the crowd into retreat. Eventually the crowd was chased out of Corso Torino with an armoured vehicle. The whole thing was rather ritualized and boring. At the same time, another section of the demonstration was trapped in front of the convergence centre by police action sparked by a black bloc attack. After a bit of fighting with the remaining black bloc types, the police advanced in a vicious attack consisting of vast quantities of tear gas and armoured car charges against the crowd, the effect of which was compounded by the actions of Rifondazione members linking arms to prevent people from escaping. It was a frightening rout and some people were surprised that no one died.

Many were angry and dismayed that no concerted response could be made to answer the death of Giuliani the day before. Without a strong, rooted movement, the rioters were impotent before the state's killing of one of their numbers - most people left Genoa that same evening.

It has to be said that nothing much else could be done. Most of the bloc was not equipped with good gas masks or weapons, and so to retreat and spread out from the police advance causing havoc as it went was its best option. In that sense, Genoa was also the black bloc's greatest success given the enormous amount of property damage done, (over 30 banks destroyed), and the wide spread of the riots over the city. If the authorities manage to defend the conference successfully, as in Genoa, the threat from the casseurs[42] still remains. The spread to other targets in itself can be seen as a positive move away from the movement's identification of capital with a few greedy individuals conspiring behind the fence. But again, it's a generalization severely limited by the form of the movement as it stands "you do useless symbolic street theatre outside the gates of the conference, we do lots and lots of, you know, 'concretely symbolic' smashing of many manifestations of capital" - i.e. praxis is conflated with shattering glass.

But we cannot simply attribute the shortcomings of the events in Genoa to the ideology of the militants. On the one hand, people come in from the outside to each event with their ideological baggage. On the other, it is the limitation of the movement that prevents the moment of truth in this militancy from realizing itself as part of a real movement against capital.

Encouragingly, in post Genoa discussions, we can see that many who identify with the black bloc have come to an understanding of its limitations after its success and failure at Genoa.[43]

To express its militancy and avoid a losing confrontation with the state the black bloc tends to become a sort of roving, footloose band of casseurs (and a large part of its success has been just that). In doing this, though, its actions become isolated from the immediate aims of the mobilization, whilst not connecting with a broader social movement which might make its militancy useful (or irrelevant!). As such its options are to explain militant action in a way that accords with the basic precepts of liberal-leftist anti-'globalization' ideology (lobbying with molotov cocktails), or to trumpet them as practical, autonomous actions against state and capital (a positive dis-alignment with the mainstream of the movement as far as it goes). However, while it helps the individual's sense of identity, this doesn't hold much water practically. In the long run, without a wider social movement to make it meaningful, such practice can only be mere 'symbolism', 'exorcism'.

A further complication in the dynamic of the anti-'globalization' mobilizations is that objectively it is the militancy of the casseurs that have created the real problem for the authorities. The capitalist institutions under attack can quite successfully barricade themselves in, but it is not acceptable to the state that the black bloc reduce the whole city to rubble outside, stealing the agenda in the media as well with its violence.

The 'movement' according to the traditional left[44]

One of the features of the scene out of which the 'anti-capitalist movement' germinated in Britain was the relative absence of the organized left - in particular, the absence of the largest Trotskyist sect in Britain, the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP). If Trotskyist groups can be situated on a spectrum of purism to opportunism, the SWP can clearly be located at the opportunist end. Any hint of a movement or campaign developing in response to a state attack, a rise in racism, a war or whatever, is met by an effort to set up or promote a front by the SWP. However, efforts to relate at a local level to anti-roads and similar campaigns fell flat, and their setting up of a front against the Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) in 1994 also met with little success.[45]

After the CJB, it seems that their high command judged this lumpen scene not to be particularly fertile for them and should be left alone. Perhaps the SWP also felt that there was now a danger that, far from gaining recruits they might actually lose some members to this scene's more enjoyable, less sacrificial, ideas about political activity. When the SWP did later try to connect with the anti-'globalization' activities, it was through a 'drop the debt' campaign, which attempted to appeal to the more liberal and church-linked groups in and around events such as the Birmingham G7 demo in 1998.

The SWP as the radical liberal alternative

However, sometime after J18, when a 'protest' physically attacked the world's third largest financial centre, and at which the SWP were almost completely absent, it appears a shift occurred. It was following the events at Seattle that Trotskyist groups started getting very excited about what they called the 'anti-capitalist movement'. For example, the SWP and Workers' Power (another, smaller, Trot sect) attended the Milan conference of People's Global Action (PGA - see Box) in April, but were denied speeaking rights through the intervention of RTS types who continue to be the basis of PGA in the UK.

The SWP have also been engaging with the leading progressive-liberal entrepreneurs, Monbiot, Susan George, Walden Bello and Naomi Klein. They debate on the same platform with them, invite them to speak at their annual 'Marxism' conference and they publish articles by these people in SWP journals. They have also launched a new front organization, 'Globalise Resistance', perhaps their major recuperative attempt since the CJB. As with any other SWP front, its figureheads number non-SWP people: there is Tony Benn[46] as usual, but also the green media celebrity Monbiot. Globalise Resistance bills itself as one of the major organizing groups of Mayday 2001.[47] (That is, they were the ones making the cops' job easier by encouraging people into the police cordon!)[48]

The SWP have complemented these debates and this organizational activity with considerable ideological work in (re-)writing the history of the 'anti-capitalist movement'. While giving a passing nod to J18 - for most of us the first of the 'anti-capitalist' mass mobilizations[49] - the SWP, like most of the Western left, date the beginning of the movement from the events at Seattle.[50] In a way, this is justified. Seattle targeted an international Summit, while J18 in London targeted City institutions rather than a particular Summit. Moreover, Seattle was not only extremely large (especially for the USA which has seen so little mass action in recent years) but also effective in its aims. But, against this, Seattle had other features which make it controversial as a 'start date' for the 'movement': in particular, as mentioned above, it was dominated by a progressive-liberal tendency, which eschewed violence and which attempted to marginalize the most radical and militant elements.

Debating with the progressive-liberals and neglecting certain features of the history of the 'movement' serves to position the SWP as the radical alternative. The SWP's intellectuals can acknowledge the strength of the critique of 'globalization' offered by Monbiot, George etc. but then go on to demonstrate that these liberals lack both a properly historical understanding of the logic of capitalism and the organizational form supposedly capable of ending the 'iniquities of capitalism'. This places them on the same side as these liberals and yet at the same time apparently more critical and practical.

Of course, people will and do find the liberal approach deeply inadequate; the SWP hope that people's search for a radical alternative within a context they can define will make the SWP attractive. In a context which includes other, more radical, alternatives, however, the SWP's position is jeopardized. While they have given a lot of space and attention to detail to the liberals, they are wilfully vague about and neglectful of the anarchists, black bloc, 'white overalls' and others. After Genoa, they couldn't report on events without confronting these tendencies; but they still managed to do so in a cursory and inadequate manner.[51]

It might be surprising that someone like Monbiot, who denounced RTS after Mayday 2000 for taking the 'wrong path', now links up with old-style Trots. But, in a way, it is not surprising at all. The SWP and Monbiot support each other through their shared activities, giving each other audiences and publicity. Moreover, both are sincere in their support for respectable non-violence. Finally, in fact their programmes are not so different from each other. Those observing the SWP in action today will be aware that they appear to have shifted to the right. Indeed, their practice in Globalise Resistance indicates that they are now trying to position themselves as respectable liberals. Starting perhaps with their 'drop the debt' campaign, there was an increased attempt to recruit those with liberal criticisms of capital.[52] This loosening of the party doctrine overlapped with the agenda of Monbiot and similar non-Marxist liberals. In both cases, there is, implicitly or otherwise, the demand that the state intervene more to limit international finance capital. In theory, as Leninists, the SWP would of course argue that the (bourgeois) state cannot simply be taken over but must be smashed to make way for a 'workers' state'. But, as opportunists, the SWP are virtually like their liberal partners, treating the state as a reformable, neutral organ rather than a historically necessary function of capital accumulation.

More boring 'politics'

On this question of the state, many have seen in the UK 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations and their precursors an alternative to the ballot box: thousands attempting to take some form of direct action because the institutions of democracy are understood as part of the problem. But for the SWP, the mobilizations are an opportunity for giving this alienated means a new-found importance and relevance. Thus they are promoting the Socialist Alliance as a means to achieve the supposed aims of the 'anti-capitalist movement', attempting to drag people back into the dead end of electoral politics.[53]

Another exciting feature of some of the 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations and their RTS precursors, at least in this country, has been the way they have on occasions linked up with workers in struggle. Examples include the 1997 RTS party-protest with sacked dockworkers in Trafalgar Square (the 'March for Social Justice'), the occupation of Merseyside docks, and the rail and office occupations in support of striking tube workers in 1996. In these examples, rather than the passive solidarity and tail-ending of union initiatives usually offered by those outside a group of workers on strike, there was an attempt to intervene through the methods of the direct action movement. In some cases, both workers and activists were inspired by what happened; they came to a different view of each other and of the possibilities of struggle linking 'bread-and-butter' issues (such as wages and conditions) with 'utopian' desires (revolution, ecological resistance).[54] As we suggested at the time, the very weakness of the labour movement - its inability to deliver in its own terms - was part of the reason why the support in the form of RTS occupations became so important to some workers' struggles[55]: as the effectiveness of the mediations of the labour movement has declined, so 'direct action' has become more necessary and relevant.

However, the SWP and other Trotskyists have found other reasons to be excited about the 'movement'. In particular, the convergence on and shut-down of the WTO conference in Seattle involved not just the environmentalist movement and the anti-debt and sweatshop campaigners but a substantial demonstration organized by the AFL-CIO, the US equivalent of the TUC. For the SWP, the 'anti-capitalist movement' is and must be grounded in various trade union struggles around the world. As such it is also a lifeline to the continued meaningfulness of the unions: for the Trots, links between the unions and others in the 'anti-capitalist' movement are essential. What the SWP do not fully acknowledge, however, is the resistance of workers to their unions even within the mobilizations. Thus, for example, although the trade unions organized a traditional march at Seattle, many of the workers on it rejected it and instead joined in the direct action of the more militant elements.[56]

Why are the unions and elections so important? Because the promise and ultimate disillusionment that trade union action and electoral ballots supposedly engender when people use these methods against capitalism is the principal means through which the working class is supposed to be enlightened as to the necessity of the Trotskyist version of revolution. The SWP criticize the liberals' demand for a Tobin tax as a demand which won't work within capitalism.[57] But their own strategy of making social democratic demands (e.g., the 'drop the debt' campaign, re-nationalizations and their other electoral platforms) is different in only one respect: the SWP claim (internally) that they don't believe that such demands are fully tenable within (currently existing) capitalism.

The bad faith of the Trotskyists is of course disgusting; one might wonder how they can respect themselves in setting out to encourage others to be 'disillusioned' - but of course the main people with illusions are the Trots themselves. However, this bad faith is a function not of a moral failing but a theoretical one. Leninism links a conception of capital as essentially the anarchy of the market (and thus a definition of socialism as state management of capital) with a conception of the working class subject as passive and capable of no more than a 'trade union consciousness' without the intervention of enlightened (party) types.[58] The drive for recruitment and building the party organization as something in practice distinct from a wider social movement, and their identification of their particular sect as 'The Party', reflects the view that the Leninist party form is the highest form of consciousness and hence the necessary catalyst for successful struggle. But it is struggle itself which dispels mystification - and the educators themselves must be educated. The fetishism of the party means that the party has its own dynamic - its own needs - and there's no reason to suppose that they correspond with those of the particular struggle or the proletariat in general. Indeed, given that the party endorses the myth of working class passivity, there is every reason to expect a lack of correspondence. Where correspondence does occur it is in spite of not because of the party.[59] This is why those in struggle are so often ahead of the party hacks, despite the latter's 'Marxist' education.

The moment of truth in the SWP's approach is their attempt to relate to working class struggles: that is, their attempt to grasp the recent mobilizations as an issue of class. This makes their analysis superior to that of the progressive liberals. The problem is, first, how the SWP identify the class with its representation (i.e. the labour movement), and, second, the way that they relate to such working class struggles: as hacks rather than as human beings. Given what many of us have experienced of this party 'hack-tivism' over the past 20 years, not just from the SWP but from the other Trots (most notoriously perhaps the example of Militant in the poll tax struggle), it is perhaps understandable that some feel threatened by the interest taken by the Trots in the 'movement' following Seattle. However, we would suggest that the threat of the SWP taking over through one of their fronts is perhaps more apparent than real.[60] The SWP have been in crisis for some time: the death of Tony Cliff, the re-organization of the branch structure and the problem of how to relate to the Socialist Alliance have each undermined the smooth functioning of the party machine.

Moreover, the very amorphousness and lack of structure of the 'anti-capitalist movement' in this country makes it difficult for the SWP to take over in the usual way. Further, the opening up of the party, and its reduced ability to close up again, offers the possibility of many of its members being less hack-like. Their decreased certainty in their specialist role may make them as individuals less of a block on the class struggle.

Perhaps the real threat, if any, of the SWP and their ilk is that, by successfully defining a terrain in which they represent 'radical politics', they actually put people off 'radical politics' in the broader sense. Of course, most people in the UK who have been to the 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations already know of the SWP and their manoeuvres, and are not likely to get involved with them. However, the mass presence of the SWP can still serve to put off those people who hoped that the 'movement' was an alternative to the same old boring 'politics'.[61]

Peoples' Global Action - a new International?

The international network Peoples' Global Action, PGA, was formed in February 1998 as a 'common communication and coordination tool for social movements'. PGA was born out of the Encuentros - the international gatherings 'against neo-liberalism and for humanity' instigated by the Zapatistas.

According to its convenors "PGA has been one of the principal instigators of the new global, radical, anti-capitalist movement which today is challenging the legitimacy of global governance institutions" through global days of action coinciding with summits of the international institutions.

PGA itself has not organized the big actions in London, Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Gothenburg, Genoa etc.; however, they have all been networked through PGA. (In fact, most of the above occasions were intended as 'Global Days of Action', with simultaneous protests all over the world. The first global day of action against free trade took place during the G8 summit in Birmingham and the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva, in May '98).

The 'hallmarks' of PGA are:

1. "A very clear rejection of the WTO and other trade liberalization agreements (like APEC, the EU, NAFTA, etc.) as active promoters of a socially and environmentally destructive globalization;
2. A very clear rejection of all forms and systems of domination and discrimination including, but not limited to, patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all human beings;
3. A confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and undemocratic organizations, in which transnational capital is the only real policy-maker;
4. A call to non-violent civil disobedience and the construction of local alternatives by local people, as answers to the actions of governments and corporations;
5. An organizational philosophy based on decentralization and autonomy."

While it was decided in the second international conference in Bangalore that the PGA was an "anti-capitalist network", this has not been explicitly translated into its hallmarks.

The convenors' statement for third international PGA conference resolves "to fight against oppression, domination and destruction, to unmask and abolish the institutions and companies that regulate the global capitalist regime, to build a broad unity based on the respect to difference and diversity, and to continue defining, practising and spreading local alternatives to take back control over our destiny. This hope, that lives in the irreverent determination of our bodies, minds and feelings, can and must realize our dreams of self-governance, freedom, justice, peace, equity, dignity and diversity". These bourgeois ideals are strikingly similar to those lyricized by Subcomandante Marcos. A critique of the PGA on the level of ideas is insufficient, but is the practice of the social movements (in the industrializing countries) and what some have labelled the 'new social movements' (in the industrialized countries) radically different?

The social basis of the PGA, roughly speaking, is two-fold and apparently contradictory: on the one hand large social movements from 'the South' such as the Brazilian landless movement Movimento Sem Terra or Indian peasant organization KRRS; on the other hand, from 'the North', an assortment of sympathizers of these movements, non-aligned leftists, anarchists, environmentalists etc. who admit with some embarrassment that, at PGA conferences, whereas participants from 'the South' feel they represent tens or hundreds of thousands, they themselves (from 'the North') are quite sure they can only speak for themselves, or at a push, their 'affinity group'. Perhaps the closest thing to a mass movement in the PGA network in 'the North' is the Italian pro-Zapatista network Ya Basta!; though another exception to this rule is the Canadian Union of Postal Workers who have been responsible for the international secretariat of PGA.

Within PGA there is an ideological convergence despite material differences. The peasant and indigenous organizations of the Southern Hemisphere are resisting proletarianization; these real struggles are expressed as a defence of and demand for land as a better form of life than scavenging survival amid the poverty of the shanty towns. This resistance to capitalist development is mirrored ideologically in 'the North' within PGA by liberal anarcho criticisms of "corporate capitalism" and a yearning for "small-scale, local alternatives", "sustainable development" etc. It is redundant to criticize the indigenous peoples and peasants of "the South" for not having a proletarian perspective; in any case their resistance to capitalist development might complement proletarian struggles elsewhere. An example of this could be the land occupations of semi-proletarianized Brazilians who refuse to be incorporated into the industrial reserve army. However, that which is a practical necessity for peasants in 'the South' in the face of capitalist development - the defence of small-scale production - is adopted as a virtue, as a panacea by many activists in the materially different context of 'the North' precisely because of a lack of, or rejection of, class analysis. This is particularly the case within the UK 'direct action scene', which, afflicted by a combination of proudhonism and third worldism, feels the need to pose "positive alternatives to capitalism", such as eco-villages, local exchange trading schemes and worker's co-ops.*

At its third international conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia in September 2001, PGA was due to discuss among other things a draft manifesto (available on the web at, which represents a theoretical development beyond the "hallmarks"; however, its critique of capitalism is partial, with the emphasis on multinational corporations and international institutions, trade liberalization and 'globalization'; not on the system of wage-labour itself.

The manifesto rejects free trade, but also the "right-wing alternative of stronger national capitalism, as well as the fascist alternative of an authoritarian state to take over central control from corporations". But what of the leftist or social democratic alternative of state-run capitalism? "Our struggles aim at taking back the means of production from the hands of both transnational and national capital, in order to create free, sustainable and community-controlled livelihoods, based on solidarity and people's needs and not on exploitation and greed." So not a centralized state-run capitalism, then. Is this 'small is beautiful' style self-management of wage-labour? Or communism? We find the answer later on in the draft: "Direct links between producers and consumers in both rural and urban areas, local currencies, interest-free credit schemes and similar instruments are the building blocks for the creation of local, sustainable, and self-reliant economies based on co-operation and solidarity rather than competition and profit."

Ambivalence towards the state is revealed earlier in the manifesto:

"Economic globalization has given birth to new forms of accumulation and power. The accumulation takes place on a global scale, at increasing speed, controlled by transnational corporations and investors. While capital has gone global, redistribution policies remain the responsibility of national governments, which are unable, and most of the times unwilling, to act against the interests of transnational capital."

The PGA web editors report that there are suggestions for amendments to the PGA manifesto, including "a more critical view of the state in the globalization process".

*Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French socialist often criticised by Marx, who established a People's Bank offering interest-free credit; the bank was soon forced into liquidation. In Marx's "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", he describes how in times of defeat the proletariat comes under the influence of "ever more equivocal figures" and "throws itself into doctrinaire experiments, exchange banks and workers' associations, hence into a movement in which it renounces the revolutionizing of the old world by means of the latter's own great, combined resources, and seeks, rather, to achieve its salvation behind society's back, in private fashion, within its limited conditions of existence, and hence necessarily suffers shipwreck."

The relation of Ya Basta! to the mobilizations

For some people in the UK, the approach of Ya Basta! - the white overalls tactic - has made them appear a refreshing new approach which is militantly 'anti-capitalist' yet which goes beyond both the lack of organization of the black bloc and the crude workerism of the Trots. An indication of the influence of Ya Basta! is the adoption of the white overalls tactic by other groups with semi-humorous names (e.g. Wombles in the UK and Wombats in Australia).[62] The political background of Ya Basta! (in the remnants of the autonomia movement) and their own inspiration (the Zapatistas) also appears to give them some credibility. The ability of Ya Basta! to achieve their aims - hi-jacking trains, running social centres, resisting the violence of the cops - adds further to their appeal: here, it would seem to many, is a tendency powerful enough to make 'anti-capitalist' desires a concrete reality.

Symbols for citizens

However, some have experienced the practice of Ya Basta! on demonstrations as hardly any less alienating than the old style Leninist parties whose 'outdated' approach they have supposedly transcended: they are essentially another hierarchical organization which, to achieve its aims, will effectively stifle other tendencies in the crowd.[63]

And what are those aims anyway? The reasons for dressing up in white padding and fronting a demo include that of supposedly exposing the brutality of the cops[64] and defining a new 'middle way' between violence and non-violence. In an Italian political climate in which violence is almost routine, Ya Basta! have to at least present themselves as confrontational to gain radical credibility.[65] Yet it is a symbolic form of confrontation; and indeed all their public statements stress the importance of 'symbols' and 'communication'. Ya Basta! hotly deny the accusations that their confrontations are pre-arranged with the cops, citing real injuries to their people (e.g. in Milan, January 2000) as evidence.[66] Yet after Genoa, the white overalls leader Luca Casarini, bleated that the police deceived the white overalls by disregarding mutually agreed guidelines![67] Ya Basta! sneer at the notion of the spectacle[68] because they do indeed think that the message counts for more than the practice that carries it. Their activity is oriented essentially towards 'civil society' via the mass media.

But who do they think is witnessing their actions through the media? Who are these poor souls who need Ya Basta!'s symbolic confrontations in order to grasp the nature of the cops? The rejection of a 'blue collar' identity on the part of Ya Basta! and the other white overalls is linked with a 'post-Fordist' despair that the working class itself can be the subject of history.[69] Hence, particularly in northern Italy, the audience to which Ya Basta! is attempting to appeal would appear to be the same middle class student constituency which defines the background of their leadership.

In the south of Italy where conditions are much harsher, more supporters of Ya Basta! are from working class backgrounds. But the involvement of more proletarian elements in Ya Basta! is part of the very recuperation we are describing. The focus on the media and aim of exposing the cops, which would seem superfluous to most working class people, derives from the leadership of the organization as a whole, which is middle class and university-educated.

If the emphasis on the image smacks of post-modernism, then it is consistent with Ya Basta!'s politics. They draw upon the Grundrisse, they say - but in the same way as the late Negri: both abandon the notion of the proletariat as the universal class capable of grasping and transcending capital as a totality. Hence they are certainly not 'communists'.[70] And not revolutionaries either: rather than abolishing the state and capital they are struggling - through such imaginary means as a 'general citizenship strike' - for the full realization of the bourgeois subject in the form of a citizens' income and other universal rights,[71] and with no sense that these are merely 'transitional demands'. The subject of this struggle is the 'multitude' - in particular, the 'invisibles', such as sans papiers, symbolized by the wearing of white overalls.

On the one hand Ya Basta! and the other white overalls take the post-autonomia/post-modernist line that difference and plurality - i.e. fragmentation - is the movement's strength, that all sorts of different tactics are necessary. They even refer to their support for and co-operation with the black bloc at Quebec and Gothenburg.[72] On the other hand, they have also attacked those whose tactics differ from their own. Some of them fought against black bloc types at Genoa, then blamed them for the police violence. Yet while Ya Basta! accuse the black bloc of being infiltrated by the cops, they themselves co-operate with the cops all the time. While a critique of the black bloc approach is necessary, Ya Basta!'s analysis of tactics here is as mistaken as it is disingenuous. The fact is that Ya Basta!'s 'symbolic' approach simply didn't work at Genoa because the cops decided to go in really hard: they were concerned that the crowds at Genoa did not disrupt the conference, as at previous gatherings. Where Ya Basta!'s methods did work it was in spite of the aims of the organizers: their shields, helmets, gas-masks and padding were used by participants not as mere defences but also as real weapons in response to the attacks of the cops.

Ya Basta! have been criticized by the SWP for being post-modern, for being elitist,[73] and for being ineffective.[74] Workers' Power criticize them for acting like cops.[75] Ya Basta! respond by accusing these leftists of being just old-style Leninists stuck in Marxist orthodoxy. All these criticisms are right. The surface differences between Ya Basta! and the Trots belie deeper similarities. Insofar as they are concerned that the struggle should be about such aims as fairer distribution (of alienated labour), rights of citizenship, democratic control of resources etc., then all operate within bourgeois thought. The Trots and the 'post-Leninists' of Ya Basta! are in this sense actually mirror images of each other.

Radicalism as reformism

Ya Basta! emerged from the social centres into which the autonomia movement retreated after the defeats of the late 1970s. In fact, one root of their propensity to negotiate with the cops may be the background of their leading cadre in a '80s Padova autonomia scene which had become so small that the remaining activists and the cops were virtually all on first name terms. Ya Basta!'s particular social and historical background has facilitated the take-up of particular features of autonomia as rationales for a recuperative reformism, a defeatism dressed as the new vision of 'social change'.[76] The most glaring examples of this are the institutional links which they trumpet as a sign of their success. The wider white overalls (Tute Bianche) movement in Italy, of which Ya Basta! are a part, has been flirting with the authorities since the early 1990s. Tute Bianche have strong financial links and arrangements with the authorities. These include their close relationship with and support from sections of the ex-Communist Party Rifondazione Comunista[77] and the state sponsorship of some of the social centres they are involved in. These formal links, as well as their dialogue with the authorities, their standing for local elections[78] and, worse still, their setting up of non-profit-making co-operatives (which have undermined the wages of other workers), the white overalls present as part of the construction of the 'civil society' capable of bringing about the reforms they desire.[79] What greater evidence can there be of the weakness of a movement?!

The threat of Ya Basta! is of recuperating the energy and activities of the more radical people in and around the anti-'globalization' mobilizations into a reformist project. With their manoeuvrings and opportunism, the white overalls may be regarded as just another dishonest racket by many in Italy. But in other countries they appear as the radical alternative that people have been seeking. Through their occupation of a 'symbolic location', a radical vision - embodied in licensed social centres - can apparently develop in partnership with the social relations of capital. Thus 'achievable' reform displaces total revolution as a movement aim.

At some of the 'anti-capitalist' events, the limits of Ya Basta!'s approach have been identified by some of Ya Basta!'s own number; and the leadership, with their post-modern leftist-reformist agenda, have not always been able to keep the rank and file in line. At Genoa, Ya Basta! tried again to enact an alternative to street-fighting with the cops. But on this occasion the notion of 'transcending violence and non-violence' appeared as what it is - empty rhetoric - and some 'white overalls' joined in thhe riot. From 'white overalls', with a history of eschewing missile-throwing, this was indeed 'doing what the other doesn't expect', though not in the way the Ya Basta! leadership would have liked.

From ideology to theory?

In the UK, where the recent mobilizations have often been interpreted more radically, as 'anti-capitalism' rather than anti-'globalization', there is a feeling among some that the high point of the 'movement' has already passed. The RTS street parties, which began in 1995, culminated in the exhilarating J18 'Carnival Against Capital'; but subsequent 'anti-capitalist' events - Euston N30 in 1999, Mayday 2000 and 2001 - have been smaller and less unambiguously successful. All these events differ from those at Seattle, Prague and Genoa, which continue to excite and interest people, in not being Summit-focused. Indeed, maybe the reason that the UK events have been increasingly less well-attended is the lack of a particular focus or target. The perception that the 'movement' is already declining reflects perhaps the same partial UK perspective that inevitably limits the analysis we have presented here.

Nevertheless, the Summit-centred mass mobilizations cannot in themselves constitute a movement, as impressive as they are. The attempt to link these mass mobilizations with particular expressions of resistance to economic rationalization we have seen in various countries - including strikes, land rights movements, student occupations - is clearly necessary. In this sense the ideologues are right. But to observe, correctly, that the various struggles are linked by a common relationship to global capital is not necessarily the same as observing if and how these various struggles are linking up in practice, as a collective subject.

The recognition that various activities and tendencies together comprise a movement is a necessary part of any movement's development. But to posit a unity which does not exist - to gloss over contradictions - cannot in itself serve to create a movement. Yet, for the ideologues, in order to achieve some form of hegemony it is necessary to claim that what has been happening is indeed a movement - and thus to freeze present limitations.

Thus the liberals, leftists and Ya Basta! have made strong claims that there is a single movement. Except perhaps for the black bloc, each of the tendencies we have discussed here have sought to define a particular movement subject which has come about in response to historically specific conditions. Defining those historically specific conditions has therefore been part of attempting to grasp the nature of the 'movement'. For the most part, their definitions of these conditions are ideological: 'globalization', 'neo-liberalism', the emergence of 'civil society' and the 'multitude' as the new subject. The black bloc, by contrast, defines itself simply through a tactic - street-fighting and damage to property - and thus would perhaps claim to be non-ideological. But, as we have seen, the tactic is itself ideological insofar as it is fetishized as a political identity. Each of the four tendencies we have looked at therefore has an ideological - distorted, one-sided - grasp of the supposed 'movement'. Each takes one aspect of the diverse struggles and practices - the (anti)brand, organized workers on strike, the invisible would-be citizen, smashing property and fighting the cops - as the secret of the whole.

But what is the whole - the essence - of the anti-'globalization' phenomenon?

One perspective would look just at the liberal middle class composition of the 'movement' leadership, its support from labour movement representatives, and their shared reformist programme. Based on this, one would be led to dismiss what has been happening as having little positive significance for the class struggle.

A different type of approach to this question would be to ignore the leadership and ideology entirely and focus just on the radical actions of many of the participants and the climate of resistance to the forces of the state they have engendered at the mobilizations. From this perspective, the anti-'globalization' phenomenon is indeed part of the class struggle.

We have argued previously that if there is to be an 'anti-capitalist movement' then it must constitute itself as the proletariat,[80] the determinate negation of capital. This would means not only breaking with the liberal-leftist hegemony, but also - and indeed crucially - connecting practically with other sections of the world proletariat.

In terms of breaking with the liberal-leftist hegemony, the emphasis on ideas and ideologues in the present article in part merely reflects the fact that the anti-'globalization' phenomenon exists day-to-day as a movement only in a political sense. As a cross-class and somewhat amorphous phenomenon, there is a struggle over ideology. Hence even if many of the participants' actions are contributions to the class struggle, the question of ideologies needs to be addressed.

In terms of connecting practically to the wider working class, of course the distinction should not be over-stated: many proletarian elements have been involved in the anti-'globalization' mobilizations. But they cannot connect to the wider working class abstractly - i.e., through the presence at the protests of the trade unions as working class representations. Such connections can only be made through struggle itself. The failure to do so up till now, and hence the limits of the mobilizations themselves, are in large part reflective of the low level of social struggles. This absence, in turn, is a product of the historical defeats in the class struggle that we have witnessed for the past 20 to 30 years. Hence the mobilizations against 'globalization' can become a social movement rather than merely a political phenomenon only to the extent that they become part of a more general resurgence of class struggle.

September 2001

[Aufheben 10]


[1] Our intention here is not to deal with theories of 'globalization' but rather with the contradictions of the mobilizations themselves. While this fashionable term is used by everyone as if they know what it means, if one turns to the academic and journalistic scribblings about it, then one finds no agreement on what exactly it is. The use of 'globalization' as if it is unproblematic and common sense is a sign of the grip of ideology on the mobilizations. The question of whether one should embrace or reject globalization, with its focus on capital as circulation and finance, precisely avoids the real question of how we transcend the capitalist mode of production.

[2] For some, particularly those involved in the UK events coming out of the anti-roads and direct action movement, the emphasis is on 'direct action' rather than the ritualistic banner-waving and speeches normally associated with 'protest'. However, while direct action in the past (e.g. as associated with such groups as the IWW) had the distinct meaning of direct appropriation or blockage of capitalist reproduction, the distinction between protest and direct action today is not always so clear-cut. Moreover, while squatting to prevent road-building, the taking of a street for our parties and the bricking (and bricking up) of City offices - actions associated with the recent (pre-)history of UK 'anti-capitalism' - might be argued to be direct action (in that in each case we take from capital without asking), much of the activity taking place at most of the anti-'globalization' Summit events has taken the form of ritualistic marches, banner-waving and demands.

[3] ATTAC, the Association for a Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Assistance to Citizens, is a French pressure group claiming a number of affiliated organizations and some 35,000 individual members. As the name suggests, it concentrates on lobbying the French government for a tax on the international movement of money (Tobin tax) - something which that government is now considering. ATTAC's leading figures include Susan George (already well-known for her books on the relation between 'First World' corporate wealth and 'Third World' poverty), Christophe Aguiton (leftist trade unionist formerly associated with the Euromarch network) and José Bové (McDonalds-trashing farmer), all of whom have been active in denouncing 'violent' participants at the mobilizations.

[4] 'Seattle, Melbourne, Prague: Global action against the phantom known as "Globalization"', GegenStandpunkt, 2001. This interesting critique is limited by treating the 'movement' as a unity in which the statements of the anti-'globalization' liberals stand for the whole.

[5] 'The Aid Game', The Guardian, 24th July 2001, p. 17.

[6] "Mr Wolfensohn [head of the World Bank] has built alliances with everyone, from religious groups to environmentalists. His efforts have diluted the strength of the 'mobilization networks' and increased the power of the technical NGOs [which specialize in providing information and analysis] (for it is mostly these that the Bank has co-opted). From environmental policy to debt relief, NGOs are at the centre of World Bank policy. Often they determine it... [The WTO does not] disburse money for projects, making it harder to co-opt NGOs. But it could still try to weaken the broad coalition that attacked it in Seattle by reaching out to the mainstream and technical NGOs." ('The Non Governmental Order', The Economist, 9th December 1999).

[7] In fact, the German government has actually used its own football hooligan laws to prevent protesters travelling across international borders.

[8] On the topic of the problematic 'gains' of the post-war social democratic compromise, see our articles: 'Social Democracy: No Future?', Aufheben 7 (Autumn 1998); 'Unemployed Recalcitrance and Welfare Restructuring in the UK Today' in Stop the Clock: Critiques of the New Social Workhouse (Aufheben, Summer 2000); 'Re-Imposition of Work in Britain and the "Social Europe"', Aufheben 8 (Autumn1999).

[9] This was our argument for the radical if not revolutionary potential of the anti-roads movement: "...the key to the political significance of the No M11 campaign lies less in the immediate aims of stopping this one road and in the immediate costs incurred to capital and the state (although these are great achievements and great encouragement to others), and more in our creation of a climate of autonomy, disobedience and resistance." See 'The Politics of Anti-Road Struggle and the Struggles of Anti-Road Politics: The Case of the No M11 Link Road Campaign', in DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain, ed. George McKay (Verso, 1998), p. 107.

[10] See our Editorial in Aufheben 9 (Autumn 2000).

[11] For example in The Guardian, 24th July 2001 and in YearZero 6.

[12] The Guardian, 23rd July 2001.

[13] For example, through their co-operation with the Greek cops, the Italian authorities knew which, among all the Greek coaches and other vehicles entering the country, contained the liberals who had been involved in some of the co-ordinating activities beforehand. They detained, searched and expelled this group while most of the street-fighting anarchists got through.

[14] This acknowledgement of divisions within the state - of internal conflict within and between the political organs of capital - is based on our understanding of capital as a unity based on difference. We do not accept, and nor are we referring here, to the liberal argument in support of the liberal-democratic tendencies in the state and against fascist elements - as in the suggestion that the expunging of the right-wing in the police moves

[15] See We Are Winning! The Battle of Seattle - A Personal Account (Riot Tourists, 2000). There is a parallel with the dominant tendencies in the 1980s anti-nuclear movement; see Strange Victories by Midnight Notes (Elephant Editions, 1985).

[16] As we have witnessed, there is nothing more violent than the non-violent type resisting those who don't share their morality!

[17] See 'The Bonding Properties of Tear Gas' by Naomi Klein and 'A Turning Point for Activists' by Stuart Laidlaw.

[18] This was recognized in distorted form in 'Mayday! Mayday!', the NoLogo-influenced left-liberal documentary shown on Channel 4, which offered the following rhetorical question on one of the Mayday 2001 participants who didn't fit the purely humorous and harmless image of the event being projected by these journalists: "Would a true anti-capitalist turn up for Mayday in a Nike jacket?"

[19] See also our articles on the development and potential of the anti-roads and Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) movements: 'Auto-Struggles: The Developing War Against the Road Monster', Aufheben 3 (Summer 1994); 'Kill or Chill? Analysis of the Opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill', Aufheben 4 (Summer 1995); 'The Politics of Anti-road Struggle and the Struggles of Anti-road Politics: The Case of the No M11 Link Road Campaign', op. cit.

[20] "'Neo-liberal' ideology is an expression of the freedom of global finance capital. In response to the class struggles of the '60s and '70s and the difficulties in maintaining accumulation, states took actions (e.g., by abandoning Bretton Woods) which in effect created the conditions for the development of the relative autonomy of global finance capital. Through taking this more autonomous form, capital could outflank areas of working class strength. A situation was created in which governments of nation states could claim that they had no freedom of manoeuvre but rather had to compete in terms of labour flexibility, social costs etc. to maintain competitiveness and attract investment." See 'Unemployed Recalcitrance and Welfare Restructuring in the UK Today', op. cit., p. 15.

[21] No Logo, p. 441.

[22] This refers to what has also been called 'subvertising': the practice of reworking advertising billboards.

[23] As in the case of a number of other commentators, Klein's account of RTS is littered with errors.

[24] No Logo, p. xxi.

[25] No Logo, p. 441.

[26] But see Klein's interesting article on Quebec, 'The Bonding Properties of Tear Gas', op. cit.

[27] No Logo, p. 318.

[28] Perhaps at least until it becomes ritualized.

[29] The latter's spontaneous 'anti-capitalist' action is, for the middle class ideologues like Klein, no more than 'soccer hooliganism'

[30] This green journalist developed his career on the back of the direct action scene before partially disowning it when it ceased to accept his advice on non-violence and respect for property. The title of his book, The Captive State: The Corporate Take-Over of Britain, perhaps says it all about his nationalist, petty-bourgeois, statist politics.

[31] Walden Bello, director of the organization 'Focus on the Global South', is known for documenting the record of the IMF, World Bank and WTO in deepening poverty and inequality; he argues that they cannot be reformed and calls instead for 'deglobalization'. Kevin Danaher is editor and writer of a number of books on aspects of 'globalization' and the resistance to it in the USA.

[32] Even at the level of direct mimicking of the tone and language of the publicity material ('No issue is single!'). However, Seattle was much broader in its appeal.

[33] We Are Winning! The Battle of Seattle: A Personal Account, op. cit.

[34] The condemnation of the black bloc soon became muted however in the recognition that the behaviour of the police was the real issue.

[35] Seattle N30. Black Bloc Communiqué.

[36] Seattle N30. Black Bloc Communiqué.

[37] Post Seattle, Zerzan exploited the media's interest in him as the leading ideologue of primitivism.

[38] Inpeg primarily consisted of American activists and some Czech anarchists.

[39] On the day the RTS-'creative' types were unhappy with this column because of the assignment of Trots and other leftists to it so they formed a fourth pink-and-silver column of their own.

[40] Check for this and many other reports from Quebec City.

[41] Italian base unions. For an account of their origins see The COBAS by David Brown (Echanges et Mouvement, 1988). The section which had the joint demonstration with the black bloc, prepared as it was to confront the cops and to attack the excluded zone, was apparently the most militant tendency in the COBAS.

[42] The term casseur means literally wrecker, but is better translated as hooligan, and was adopted proudly by violent protesters subverting its pejorative use by the press during the movement of 1994 in France. Some French black bloc autonomists in this movement also use the term to describe their actions, with the same emphasis. See "Nous sommes tous des Casseurs" - Youth Revolt in France, March 1994

[43] See for the long discussion list on the main page devoted to the issue of the black bloc.

[44] We apologize to foreign readers for whom Trotskyists are not only boring but also insignificant relative to other leftist groups. But, from the British context with which we are familiar, the established left, apart from the Labour Party, is effectively the Trotskyists.

[45] The SWP were hampered by the fact that their opportunism has always been wedded to a crass workerism. Thus while the CJB was clearly aimed at marginal groups (travellers, hunt sabs, raves, anti-road protesters), the SWP, through their front, the 'Coalition Against the Criminal Justice Act', insisted unconvincingly that its real target was workers' picket lines.

[46] Benn is the former MP and figurehead of the Labour left.

[47] E.g. in the 'Directory of organizations' in Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement (Bookmarks, 2001). In fact the main organizing group was mostly anarchist.

[48] Credit where it's due, though: the SWP's papers came in very handy as kindling for the fires people lit to keep warm!

[49] Some would argue that the first 'anti-capitalist' mobilizations were neither Seattle nor J18 but the events in May 1998 against the WTO in Geneva and the G7 in Birmingham.

[50] E.g. Chris Harman, 'Anti-capitalism: Theory and Practice' in International Socialism, 88 (Autumn 2000), p. 4. Also the 'Chronology' in Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement (op. cit.) starts with Seattle.

[51] See the reports in Socialist Worker, No. 1759, (28th July 2001) and the anonymous critique 'The SWP, the Black Block [sic] and Italian Anarchism'.

[52] The SWP haven't yet dropped 'drop the debt', but have been using this liberal demand - e.g., on their Genoa placards and banners - as part of their attempt to link the liberal and 'anti-capitalist' tendencies.

[53] "[connecting the different elements of the 'anti-capitalist movement'] means providing credible and united socialist alternatives to neo-liberalism at the ballot box to prove that there are alternative conceptions of society on offer." Chris Nineham, 'An Idea whose Time has come' in International Socialism, 91 (Summer 2001), p. 30. There seems to be a tension among its members around what the Socialist Alliance should be; while some want it to be the new workers' party, others want it to remain a popular front (in fact it isn't that popular at all since there is hardly anyone else in it beyond the members of the various Leninist sects).

[54] An example of this comes in a quote from a Merseyside dockworker interviewed for Critique, 30-31, 1998:

You say unable to go back to the old compromise, but do we want to go back? I don't think I do! I don't particularly want a politics centred on "the right to work at all costs". I don't want to see my kids struggling for crap jobs. I think we're actually going through a revolutionary period, one where we should be saying "fuck you and your jobs and your slave labour". If wage labour's slave labour, then freedom from wage labour is total freedom... [H]ow many socialists within the political groups that have supported us have or would build a political strategy out of the refusal of wage work? I haven't come across any, but I know that's what Reclaim the Streets activists consistently argue and find that a breath of fresh air... Yer know, when we unite with people like Reclaim the Streets, we have to take on board what they are saying too, which is: "Get a life. Who wants to spend their days working on the production line like that famous poster of Charlie Chaplin depicting modern times?" I think this is a concept the labour movement has got to examine and take on board. (pp. 223-5).

[55] 'Social Democracy: No Future?', Aufheben 7 (Autumn 1998).

[56] There is a useful account of the involvement of workers in the Seattle events in 'Promises and Pitfalls of the "Battle of Seattle"' in Internationalist Perspective 37 (Autumn 2000): "American longshoremen [i.e., dockworkers] all along the West Coast shut down every port in solidarity with the protests on N30... several thousand union members in the union parade saw what was really going on and actively broke through the 'security' goon line to join up in active solidarity with the radicals." (p. 12).

[57] E.g. Chris Harman, 'Anti-Capitalism: Theory and Practice' in International Socialism, 88 (Autumn 2000), p. 40.

[58] See 'The Myth of Working Class Passivity' in Radical Chains, 2 (Winter 1990).

[59] One example - in this case of Militant, another Trotskyist sect, - is the 1990 poll tax riot. While the leadership condemned our side's violence and threatened to 'name names' to the cops, some of the rank and file - even some of the stewards - acted as proles rather than hacks by fighting the cops alongside everyone else.

[60] For one account of the threat of the SWP to the 'movement', see 'Vampire Alert! The Revolution will not be Bolshevised' in Do or Die! 9 (December 2000).

[61] An example of how the SWP can turn our actions into boring politics comes from the first post-Genoa picket of the Italian embassy in London (August 2001). Everyone else in the crowd was standing and moving freely in the area, but when the SWP (Globalise Resistance) arrived instead of joining the crowd they separated themselves from it by going straight behind the crowd barriers erected by the police!

[62] Wombles = 'White Overall Movement Building Libertarian Effective Struggles'; Wombats = 'White Overall Mobile Buffer Against Truncheon Strikes'.

[63] See 'Ya Basta(rds)!', a report from the Yellow Route at Prague, in Do or Die, 9 (December 2000).

[64] See 'Basta la Vista' by Arthur Neslen in Now magazine.

[65] Politically in Italy, Ya Basta!'s supposed 'middle way' means suspicion from both the right (for their association with autonomia, linked by the right with 'terrorism') and the left (for their institutional links - discussed below).

[66] For the accusations, see 'Unmask Simulations in White Overalls' (in the Italian anarchist publication Umanita Nova and also at For Ya Basta!'s response, see 'Who are the White Overalls? And Why are They Slandered by People who Call Themselves "Anarchists"?'

[67] 'In Genoa we expected that more or less the same thing as usual would happen. They deceived us. Try and remember the meetings of the Genoa Social Forum with Scajola and Ruggiero: none of the guidelines agreed upon were respected by them. The police forces used firearms, even though they had assured us that they would not be. The right to demonstrate which Ruggiero agreed was an inalienable right which was run over under the wheels of the armoured police cars.' ('No More White Overalls Anymore', Interview with Luca Casarini, in Il Manifesto).

[68] See 'Who are the White Overalls?', op. cit.

[69] 'We are not the traditional blue-overall working class, but a new post-fordist productive subject. We are the faceless or invisible of the society and the white overalls give us visibility in the spectacular mediatic space.' Finnish white overall introductory statement, PGA European meeting, Milan 2000.

[70] See 'Who are the White Overalls?', op. cit.

[71] See, for example, 'Basta la Vista' by Arthur Neslen, op. cit.

[72] 'Who are the White Overalls?', op. cit.

[73] Alex Callinicos, 'The Future', In Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement, op. cit., p. 396.

[74] Socialist Worker, No. 1759, (28th July 2001).

[75] [Anti]Capitalism: From Resistance to Revolution, p. 16.

[76] The point is well expressed by Neil Fernandez, drawing on arguments made by the group Insurrezione: Autonomia's "theoretical understanding of the fact that the working class necessarily holds power which is tendentially disruptive of the realisation of capitalist imperatives, so long as it remains untied to a full understanding of the means of integration, can quite feasibly allow a movement from the original 'workerism' (operaismo) of the 1960s towards a positive appraisal of various kinds of accommodation, or at least to an abdication from the need to criticise them wholesale. The idea of global communist revolution can then be shifted towards a concept of the 'permanent' contestational occupation of a militant or sub-cultural 'area of autonomy', corresponding in effect to a form of self-management."

Capitalism and Class Struggle in the USSR: A Marxist Theory (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), p. 41.

[77] Not only links with the Stalinists but also, to some extent, with that other great Italian institution, the Catholic Church: one of the leading white overalls is a priest!

[78] Ya Basta! deny the widely-stated claim that Luca Casarini (spokesperson for a number of social centres and figurehead for Tute Bianche) ran for parliament (as a Rifondazione candidate) in last year's national elections. Farina (from the Leoncavallo social centre), another leading member of Ya Basta!, ran as a local councillor. On this, Ya Basta! deny only that Farina was a Rifondazione candidate, stating instead that he and "many other comrades entered as independent candidates" ('Who are the White Overalls?', op. cit.).

[79] 'Who are the White Overalls?', op. cit.

[80] Editorial in Aufheben 8 (Autumn, 1999).



7 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Spikymike on February 24, 2017

it's a long time since I first read this article but it is perhaps relevant now in contributing to an explanation (if not a complete answer) of how and when the Leftist-lliberal-green politics of the earlier 'anti-globalisation' movement allowed for that 'movement' to be taken over by the politics of the nationalist right! Something I asked in some of the Trump/Brexit discussion threads on this site, (other differences with Aufheben on those threads aside).

Behind the 21st century intifada

Intifada: a Palestinian boy confronts an Israeli tank
Intifada: a Palestinian boy confronts an Israeli tank

Written in 2001, this article is an excellent history and analysis of the new Intifada of the time, covering the roots of the problems in Israel and Palestine and the class struggles of both Arabs and Jews in the region throughout the 20th century

Submitted by libcom on February 7, 2008


As we go to press, the USA is making a serious effort to salvage the Oslo 'peace process', as a central part of their strategy to mobilize and impose a unity on the world bourgeoisie behind 'the war on terrorism'. This follows a year in which it allowed Israel and the Palestinians to sink into a one-sided, depressing and bloody conflict. The perception of America's sponsorship of Israeli state terrorism against Palestinians is an important factor in the ambivalent or even supportive response by many in the Middle East and elsewhere to the terrorism directed at the heart of American military and financial power. This has thrown the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into sharp relief, making an analysis of the forces which drive the new Intifada more urgent than ever.

When the World Trade Centre and Pentagon were attacked, the so-called 'Al Aqsa Intifada' had been raging for about a year and appeared to have effectively sabotaged the attempt at bourgeois peace represented by the Oslo accords. This has come about at a massive cost to the Palestinian proletariat, which has suffered many more deaths and injuries than in the 1987-93 Intifada. In particular the large number of fatalities among the Palestinian population inside 'Israel proper' has brought the Intifada home in a way not seen before, with places like Jaffa and Nazareth erupting in general strikes and riots, and the main road through the northern Galilee strewn with burning tyres in the first days of the uprising. On the other side of the Green Line, the Israeli policy of assassination has steadily increased the death toll, with each day providing ever more desensitizing details of the horrors of nationalism and repression.

What has really distinguished the recent Intifada from the previous one however, is the existence of a Palestinian statelet, whose policing role and client status have been thrown into relief by the uprising. The Israeli state began reoccupying the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) controlled areas, apparently temporarily. Whatever the ultimate intentions of the Israeli state, these incursions served as a brutal reminder to the PNA that it is Israel's creation, and what they create they can also destroy.

The purpose of this article is not to predict future developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but to put the recent Intifada in historical context, and to understand it from the perspective of class struggle. The response of many to the Palestinian problem tends to take the form of an abstract call for solidarity between Arab and Jewish workers. At the same time, the Leninist left legitimizes the nationalist ideology that divides the working class, by affirming the 'right of national self determination' and offering 'critical support' for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).[1] At the time of writing, the Intifada shows little sign of superseding this nationalist ideology. The Arab and Jewish workers are 'uniting and fighting' - apparently with their bourgeoisies and against each other.

This article will outline some of the material reasons why concrete examples of Jewish-Arab proletarian solidarity are few and far between. Working class Jews have benefited materially from the occupation, and from the inferior labour market position of Palestinians, both in Israel and in the occupied territories. Since the mid 1970s this settlement (which we will call Labour Zionism) has been in retreat and, increasingly, Jewish workers have faced economic insecurity. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was necessary in order to accommodate the Jewish working class in Israel. The settlements in the occupied territories have played the role of social housing to compensate for the increasing economic insecurity of Jewish workers, and this has become an intractable problem facing the architects of bourgeois peace.

A typical leftist position is to call for a "democratic, socialist state in Palestine in which Arabs and Jews can live in peace".[2] This might appear relatively reformist to us, but a similar call for a "secular, democratic, bi-national state" is regarded as a wildly revolutionary demand in Israel - even by relatively radical activists. Since the start of the century the struggles of both groups of workers have more and more come to be refracted through the prism of nationalism. Nevertheless the dismal spectacle of proletarian killing proletarian is not predestined; nationalism in the Middle East emerged and is maintained in response to the militancy of the working class. For us, the ideology of nationalism, as it has manifested itself in the Middle East, can only be understood in relation to the emergence of the oil proletariat, and the US ascendancy in the region. For example, the forms taken by Palestinian nationalism - notably the PLO - were a practical response by the exiled Palestinian bourgeoisie to an openly rebellious Palestinian proletariat. The US-brokered 'peace process' developed in recognition of the PLO's recuperative role in the Intifada, while the collapse of Oslo, and the apparent dramatic resurgence of Islamist antagonism towards the USA, is linked to the PLO's failure to deliver even the basic demands of Palestinian nationalism.

Therefore, first, we need to understand something of the international context in the Middle East, in particular the hegemonic role of the USA in the region.

The American ascendancy

The 1914-18 World War first showed the military value of oil. In its aftermath, Germany's influence in the Middle East was drastically reduced, and it became apparent to all the major powers that the Ottoman Empire could no longer sustain itself (due in part to an Arab revolt which had been aided by the British in 1917). Britain and France agreed to divide the Middle East into spheres of influence, with Britain controlling Palestine. While this was ostensibly to prevent Russia entering the region, Britain also meant to keep French ambitions in Syria and Lebanon contained, guarantee access to the Suez Canal and the keep the flow of oil from Iraq unchallenged.

By 1947 the British position in Palestine was no longer tenable, given its decline as an imperial power. Exhausted by the Second World War, attacked by militant Jewish settlers and, more and more, undermined in the foreign policy by the United States, the UK staggered on until its engineered 'withdrawal' in 1948, when the Israeli state was created.

That year saw the expansion and consolidation of the Israeli state through war on its Arab neighbours, and the ascendancy of the US as the dominant foreign power in the region. The USA's strategic interests were threefold: to halt the spread of the USSR into the Mediterranean, to protect the now-identified oilfields of the Arabian peninsula, and lastly to stymie any continuation of British or French influence in the Middle East.

In the immediate post-war years, the US saw the old European powers as its main rivals in the Middle East, rather than the USSR. The 1953 CIA-backed Palavi coup in Iran - a response to Iran's nationalisation of British-owned oilfields - had the effect of transferring 40% of Britain's oil to the USA. The coup turned Iran into a US client state in the 'soft underbelly' of the USSR's southern border, a bastion of 'western culture' in the Middle East. Similarly, in the 1956 Suez crisis, the USA prevented Britain and France from reasserting their national interests in Egypt, leaving these old imperial powers to play second fiddle to America in the Middle East.

However, with Egypt brought into the Soviet orbit, following the Free Officers' coup in 1952, and the signing of an arms deal with Czechoslovakia in 1955, the US realized the Soviet Union was attempting to flex its muscles in the region. Containment of the USSR now became the official watchword of US foreign policy, which meant creating obstacles to Soviet influence in the Middle East. The underlying policy was protection at all costs of US economic interests.

America's economic interests in the Middle East

America's primary interest in the region is of course oil. As well as placing the USA at the top of the imperialist pecking order, the Second World War confirmed the Middle East's strategic centrality as a key source of oil. A 1945 State Department report called Saudi Arabia "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." Little has changed since, except that, as America underwent its dynamic Fordist expansion in the two decades after World War Two, the oil acquired even greater value.

As car production and the petrochemical industry replaced railway construction as a key locus of expansion, capital shifted from coal to oil, as the key raw material. Sources of oil, especially the Middle East with its vast reserves, became crucial. Its value thrown into relief by the energy crisis in the 1970s, the US has stopped at nothing to secure the region's oil before and above anybody else. A secondary, but not unimportant, source of profit for the US is realized through the flow of Arab petrodollars to North America in the form of military purchases, construction projects, bank deposits and other investments, a phenomena which dates from the early 1970s.

Pan-Arab nationalism and the oil producing proletariat

At first, the newborn state of Israel played little part in the USA's considerations. Indeed, during the Suez crisis, America had sided with Egypt against Israel's expansionism. It was not until the rise of a more assertive Arab nationalism in the 1950s that the US began to see the potential of a developed strategic partnership with 'the Zionist entity.'

The growth of oil production in the Middle East had led to a rapid modernization of previously traditional societies. A surrogate bourgeoisie emerged from the military and the bureaucracy, committed to national accumulation and oriented towards the USSR's model of capitalist development and opposed to 'imperialism'.

The most coherent form of anti-imperialism was 'Pan-Arab' nationalism. Pan-Arabism's origins lay in the Ottoman Empire, which had united Arabs under Turkish rule, but which collapsed in the aftermath of the First World War. The Middle East was then carved up by imperialist powers intent on the conquest and control of new markets and strategically important raw materials. However the new borders went against the grain of the 'common language, customs and traditions' maintained by the inhabitants of the former Ottoman Empire. In the Pan-Arabist ideology, a 'natural community', based on the idealization of pre-capitalist social relations, serves to neutralize class antagonisms. Though a modernist political movement, Pan-Arabism was able to use this imagined 'natural community' to further its modernising project, and to recuperate class struggle.

As a nationalist movement Pan-Arabism served to divide and to co-opt the region's working class, thus helping to promote capitalist development. Despite this, its orientation towards the USSR and its state capitalist tendencies threatened the particular interests of Western capital.[3] Although these interests were by no means one and the same for different Western capitals, in the long run Arab nationalism's state capitalist tendencies threatened to deny western capital unhindered access to the Middle Eastern oil fields.

But Arab nationalism, in the moments where it has coalesced into a combative Pan-Arabism has been beaten into the dust by Israel. And economically, the bourgeoisies of the various Arab states have, sooner or later, found it difficult to resist the huge economic support a realignment with America would mean.[4] The difficulty for the Arab bourgeoisie (and the PLO is no exception), overtly Pan-Arabist or not, if they wish to avoid domestic challenges has been how to credibly align itself with America while appearing to keep alive the dream of Arab independence and the destruction of Israel.

An expression of this tension was the OPEC oil price hike in 1973, which was seen as a response to the October War between Israel and the Arab states. However the demands of the oil-producing proletariat meant that in some countries, a disproportionate amount of the higher oil prices imposed by OPEC were being spent on working class needs, rather than on the high levels of technology needed for industrial development.[5]

America's strategic imperatives hardened around two perspectives: first, containing the perceived threat of the Soviet Union, and second, crushing or, where possible, co-opting the various expressions of Arab nationalism which swept the region.

In addition to its customary method of foreign intervention - support enthusiastically the most credible pro-western faction of the bourgeoisie, co-opt as much of any popular movement as it was possible to do, and have the unrepentant troublemakers eliminated - the US devised a sophisticated way of portraying the Middle East as a part of the world that was in permanent crisis and which, in any case, was impossible to understand. US policy then became one of 'crisis management' and 'bringing peace to the world's number one trouble spot.' Whatever the specific crisis, the oil and the petrodollars kept flowing from east to west, and the United States has not been compelled to strive for lasting bourgeois peace in the region.[6]

Palestinian Nationalism as the bastard offspring of Labour Zionism

Although, Israel is near the Middle Eastern oil fields, it has no oil fields of its own, which has added to its strategic vulnerability in relation to its neighbours. However, its image, as 'a bastion of Western culture in a sea of backwardness ruled by petty despots',[7] has been used by the USA to maintain control over the oil fields.

From the late 1950s onwards, dramatically rising amounts of financial and military aid made it plain that the US saw Israel as a strategic asset which counterbalanced, and indeed was capable of overwhelming the Soviet client states of Egypt and Syria. The wars of 1967 and 1973 demonstrated to the Arab world exactly how powerful Israel had become. It was now the region's superpower. The Israeli airforce, especially, could completely subjugate the eastern Mediterranean area.

Israel also had a second use for US policymakers. Stung by its Vietnam experience, and often prevented from intervening in the political hotspots of the world as it would like by domestic opinion or concerns over its international standing, the US frequently used Israel, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s as a conduit through which it could supply, or could entice Israel to supply, money and arms to various counterinsurgency movements. The ruling classes of Zaire, South Africa, Angola, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Indonesia were some of those who benefited from timely Israeli aid in their attempts to remain safe from challenge.

While the US bourgeoisie has tended to be pro-Zionist, Israel has 'never been enough' to guarantee the security of their interests. They have had to engage directly with the Arab states, and this has sometimes proved to be a high risk strategy, which has not always gone the United States' way. While the Gulf states and Turkey have been consistently unquestioning about their role as clients, Arab nationalism, 'socialism', and Islamism have each caused various Arab nations to take an intransigent position in their relations with the US. Egypt under Nasser, Syria under Hafez al-Asad, and Iran under the mullahs are some of the examples.

Currently two areas are still giving US policymakers sleepless nights. The first is the rise of Islamism, which was initially promoted by the USA as a counterweight to the USSR, but has become almost impossible - or at least very difficult - for the US and its client states to recuperate. From Syria to Jordan to Egypt, the jails of the Middle East are stuffed with radical, anti-American Islamists.

The second problem is the recurring question of the Palestinians. Israel's creation of a large Palestinian diaspora throughout the Middle Eastern oil-producing proletariat led sections of the Arab bourgeoisie to take a radical anti-US stance. As the 'guard-dog' of US imperialism, Israel provided the external threat, which unified the emergent Arab bourgeoisies and mobilized Arab workers. Whenever the Arab bourgeoisie has faced the threat of proletarian antagonism, it has been able to deflect the anger of the proletariat against 'the real enemy', Israel. After 1967, the PLO became the main political expression of Pan-Arabism.

In the face of Pan-Arab hostility, the Israeli bourgeoisie has sought military alliances with non-Arab Islamic countries. However, Israel's association with Iran was cut short by the overthrow of the Palavi dynasty in 1979. The new Shi'ite regime was, if anything, more vehemently anti-western than the Arab nationalists.[8] More recently Israel has found in Turkey a new non-Arab ally in the region.

So the form of Pan-Arab nationalism, which was the ideological basis for Palestinian nationalism, has been bound up with and maintained by Zionism.[9] Like its nemesis, Zionism was also a nationalist political movement based on the idealized 'natural community', in this case of Jews.[10] It is impossible to understand the present uprising, and the nationalist ideology which pervades it, without understanding the nationalism it sought to has oppose: Zionism. Until relatively recently its dominant form could be called Labour Zionism, to which we now turn.

A tale of two national liberation movements:
Labour Zionism and the Palestinian National Movement

Labour Zionism and the militancy of the European Jewish working class

Labour Zionism has traditionally been based around various big institutional structures, mainly the Histadrut and the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The Histadrut is a state run 'trade union', which has always also been a major employer. Even before the creation of Israel it was an embryonic department of labour that also fulfilled the functions of a trade union for some sectors of Jewish workers. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) was established in 1903 as a fund for collecting donations from Zionists. Its main function has been as the national land administrating body. It bought large amounts of land in the name of 'all Jews' and controlled much of the land gained in the '48 land grab. JNF land could only be let to Jews and worked on by Jews and became state owned in '48. Eighty per cent of Israelis live on land that was initially JNF owned, much of which is still controlled by the JNF.

The early Zionists were a bourgeois pressure group, who spent their time lobbying various European leaders (including Mussolini). Unlike most European Jews, these Zionists identified themselves as anti communists. They saw their allies in 'honest anti semites' who would give them land to rid themselves of the Jewish 'revolutionary menace'. They also courted western European Jewish capitalists who wanted to avoid the continued immigration of militant Eastern European Jews into their countries (which they saw as compromising assimilation and encouraging anti semitism) and colonial states who could give or sell them land (which didn't necessarily have to be Palestine at this point). However, Zionism always needed to be a mass movement and the early Zionists were happy to be flexible with their political allegiances to facilitate this.

In its early days, Zionism was irrelevant to most working class European Jews, whose allegiance tended to be to the revolutionary workers' movement sweeping the continent.[11] As well as the militant Jewish proletariat many middle class Eastern European Jews found that, when faced with right wing anti-semitism, the only place for them was the left.

In order to appeal to this constituency, Zionists groups were forced to emphasize their more 'socialist' aspects.[12] These aspects converged with the desire, expressed in Zionism, to return to the pre-capitalist communal ties, which formed the very basis of 'Jewish identity'. The more 'social democratic' elements of Zionist thought became prominent and prevailed as the dominant form of Zionism, and this is what allowed Zionist groups to gain a foothold in the Jewish workers' movement.

Advent of Labour Zionism in Palestine

The early Jewish settlements were more or less commercial ventures, which tended to end up employing Arab workers (often newly proletarianized due to Zionist land purchases).[13] New Jewish immigrants looking for work sometimes even found themselves looking for casual work on the same basis as the Arabs.[14]

The institutions of Labour Zionism began to become ascendant in the Palestinian Jewish community around the 1920's. There had been an ongoing struggle since around 1905 when, after the failure of the 1905 revolution, many leftist Russian Jews turned to Zionism. The second wave of Zionist immigration consisted mainly of young, educated, middle class, leftist Jews who wanted to return to the land and work as pioneers. They became disillusioned with Zionist colonization, which they saw as too capitalist to live up to their hopes. In opposition to the Jewish capitalists, who were happy to employ Arab labour power in so far as it was cheaper, they introduced the idea that Jewish land and business should be worked exclusively by Jewish labour. If a part of modern anti-semitism is a pseudo-anti-capitalism, in which the Jew is equated with the abstract side of the commodity form - abstract labour not concrete labour, 'rootless and cosmopolitan' finance and circulation, rather than grounded, nationally based production[15] - at one level Zionism, with emphasis on productive labour and going back to the land, is a response. It was thought that, in an exclusively Jewish state, Jews would not be concentrated in certain trades and professions, but play a full part in the capitalist division of labour. Hence their slogans were: 'the conquest of land' and 'the conquest of labour'.

This led to a conflict between the older settlers and the new immigrants.[16] Jewish bosses who carried on employing Arab labour were picketed by the Zionist trade unions.[17] The conflict was muted by the Zionist organisation, which used the large part of its funds to subsidize Jewish wages so that employers could use Jews as cheaply as Arabs. However there were still strikes. In response to this, the right wing opposition organised scab labour into a 'national trade union' with the help of Polish petit bourgeois immigrants, rich farmers and factory owners. They also carried out attacks on working class organisations.[18] However, the left wing 'conquest of labour' Zionists got a big boost from the Palestinian general strikes of 1936, when Jewish workers scabbed on striking Palestinians.

By the 1920s the Histadrut organised more than three quarters of Jewish workers and was the main employer after the British government. It also ran the labour exchanges, and was very closely linked to the sales and production co-operatives. With all this structure the Histadrut was a vital basis of the Zionist organisations 'quasi government' which organised education, immigration, economic and cultural affairs. So, even before 1948, the Zionist state was becoming rooted in corporatist social democratic forms.[19]

Zionist ethnic stratification

After the massive land grab in 1948, the perennial problem of a Jewish labour shortage emerged for the first time. European bourgeois Jews presented Zionism to their funders and supporters as the solution to the militancy of Jewish workers. However, most Jews, it turned out, didn't want to go to Israel, and were more tempted by America or Western Europe. European Jews were put off by the tiny state's territorial disadvantage in relation to its hostile Arab neighbours, which in turn fed the imperative to expand: unlike Egypt to the West and Syria to the North East, Israel could not afford to lose a single acre of land. The consequent militarization of Israeli society was a further disincentive to potential immigrants.

This problem was partially solved by the immigration of Middle Eastern and North African Jews. However, many oriental Jews had no desire to move to Israel, and were even opposed to Zionism, because it made their situation more precarious, especially in Arab countries. Much of the Arab bourgeoisie was attempting to promote pan Arabism as an opposition to Zionism, although the oriental Jews were not subjected to anything like systematic genocide on the level of the holocaust, there were pogroms in some Middle Eastern countries. The establishment of Israel, the 1948 war and the subsequent increase in Arab nationalism further destabilized the position of the oriental Jews, and many of them emigrated to Israel.[20]

The oriental Jews were often proletarianized in the process of their dislocation. Those who had professional qualifications found that these were not recognized in Israel and assets were often taken on arrival. In stark contrast, the occidental Jews received preferential treatment in housing and employment, and some were able to use individual war reparations from Germany as money capital. Frequently oriental Jews were also placed in the transit camps and development towns which were closest to the borders, and which were overcrowded as well as dangerous. In the case of the mainly North African Jews dumped in border towns like Musrara, the state turned a blind eye when they squatted in the houses of Arabs displaced by the expropriatory war of 1948. So in practice the oriental Jews ended up guarding the borders against the Arabs. So the application of labour Zionism in Israel was based on ethnic stratification of the working class, not just between Jews and Arabs, but also between occidental and oriental Jews. It was the labour of the oriental Jews, as well as the few Palestinians who remained, that became the driving force to 'make the desert bloom' into a modern capitalist state.

However Israel has never had a 'normal' capitalist economy, due to the disproportionate role played by overseas financial support. From the 1950s, about a billion marks was contributed annually by West Germany as collective reparations for the Nazi holocaust. More significant has been the contribution from the USA. 'In 1983, Israel with only 3 million inhabitants received 20% of all-American aid. In other words, each Israeli family received the equivalent of 2,400 dollars from the US government. However as the most developed capitalist state in the region, the Israeli bourgeoisie had accumulated its own potential gravediggers, in the form of a combative working class.

Jewish working class resistance and the imperative to expand

Unlike many other countries in the Middle East, Israel has always had a relatively large working class concentrated in a small area. Ethnic stratification has safeguarded against the emergence of a homogenous proletariat confronting Israeli capital. However, in spite of this, the Israeli working class showed itself to be combative. The major feature of class struggle in this period was oriental Jews contesting their subordinate position in Israeli society. Throughout the 1950s there were riots in the overwhelmingly oriental transit camps about 'bread and work', which frequently turned against the police. In 1959 the 'Wadi Salib Riots' started in a slum of Haifa and immediately spread to other places with a large Moroccan Jewish population.

As in Western European states, class conflicts in Israel were mediated through social democratic institutions. However many of the militant oriental Jews saw the Histadrut and the Labour Party as the enemy, and so these institutions were often under attack. On one occasion, in 1953 the Histadrut office in Haifa was subject to an arson attack by oriental Jewish demonstrators, who saw its naked corporatism as one of the embodiments of their subordination to the occidental Jews.

In the early 1960s, the Israeli economy was in a slump, partly due to the drying up of the German war reparations, which had provided Israeli capital with its initial kick-start. Many of the immigrants, who had moved to Israel expecting a better life, now faced growing unemployment. Jewish workers continued to make life difficult for the Israeli bourgeoisie, with 277 strikes in 1966 alone.[21] With the burning of the red flag (which symbolized the hegemony of the Labour Party) becoming a routine feature at dockers' demonstrations, it was clear that the social democratic forms of Labour Zionism were failing to recuperate the struggles of Jewish workers.

The post-1967 boom

After the 1967 war the Israeli State not only still found itself surrounded by hostile Arab states, but also ruling over the Palestinian population of the occupied territories. A third of the population ruled by Israeli State was now Palestinian. In the face of these internal and external threats the continued survival of the Zionist State demanded unity of all Israeli Jews - both occidental and oriental. But to unite all Jews behind the Israeli State required that the previously excluded oriental Jews were integrated within an extended labour Zionist settlement. Conveniently, the very same circumstances that demanded the expansion of the labour Zionist settlement also provided the conditions necessary to carry out such a major social restructuring.

Firstly, the 1967 war had forced the USA to commit itself to Israel as a counterweight to the growing pan-Arab nationalism that was aligning itself to the USSR. Secondly, the occupation of the West Bank provided Israel with a large pool of highly exploitable Palestinian labour-power. It was this cheap Palestinian labour-power, combined with growing infusion of US aid that provided the vital preconditions for the rapid expansion of the Israeli economy over the next ten years.

After 1967 the Israeli state was able to follow a policy of military Keynesianism that was to see military expenditure rise to 30% of GDP by the 1970s. Rising levels of public expenditure financed by a growing Government budget deficits fuelled the economic boom. In doing so the government was able to create a plentiful supply of job opportunities not only directly through the expansion of public sector employment, but also indirectly as the private sector expanded to meet the growing demands of the army. The growing demands of the Israeli military for high tech weaponry provided reliable profits for the five major conglomerates that had dominated Israel's economy since the 1950s, and which were dominated by the occidental Jewish bourgeoisie. However, the Israeli military also demanded the construction of military bases, barracks and installations that provided business opportunities for an emerging oriental Jewish petty-bourgeoisie that could make large profits by employing cheap Palestinian labour-power.

In addition to meeting the needs of the domestic market, armaments became Israel's most important export. With much of the public sector now turned over to military accumulation, only those eligible for military service could work in these industries. Even Israeli Arab 'citizens' were excluded from this dubious privilege, let alone the Palestinians in the territories, and so the 'strategic' (better paid) industries were by definition available only to Jews (often oriental).

While the militarization of the economy helped to integrate the oriental Jews, it reinforced the subordination of non-Jewish workers. In practice Israel now had a two-tier labour market: Jewish and Palestinian. It is notable that Israel's occupation of these territories had stopped short of outright de jure annexation. This would have implied granting the same limited citizenship rights to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as had been granted to the Palestinians who had managed to stay within the 1948 borders until 1966. The occupation allowed Israeli capital, particularly in agriculture and construction, to pump surplus labour from Palestinian workers without compromising the Jewishness of the state. The Palestinians were not integrated into Israeli society: they worked in Israel by day, then were supposed to return to their dormitories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by night. While the cheap labour power of the Palestinians fuelled a construction boom on both sides of the Green Line, the Israeli economy was further boosted by the territories' subordination as a captive market for Israeli consumer commodities.

Furthermore, through the control of government contracts, and through the imperatives of national security, as well as military and construction development, the Israeli State was able to pursue a policy of rapid industrialisation and import substitution. Sheltered from foreign competition by high import tariffs and generous export subsidies, investment was channelled into the development of modern manufacturing industry. This allowed Israel to replace imports of foreign manufactures by domestically produced manufactures - a policy that was to establish Israel as a relatively advanced industrialized economy by the late 1970s.

The policies of military Keynesianism and rapid industrialisation led to a huge balance of payments deficit as the demand of both the consumers and industry ran ahead of supply. The balance of payments deficit was to rise to a 15% of GDP. This deficit could only be financed with the help of the generous stream of American aid.

So the rapid economic expansion and development of Israel in the ten years after the Six Days War provided the material conditions necessary for the expansion of the labour Zionist settlement. Whereas in 1966 unemployment in Israel had stood at 11%, the economy could now be run at more or less full employment. The Zionist state could now offer a job and rising living standards in a modern westernized economy for all Jews who chose to live there.

Settlements and the Labour Zionist settlement

Ever since the end of the Six Days War the policy of establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories has been an important part of the expansion of the Labour Zionist settlement to include the previously excluded oriental Jews. Of course, the immediate aim of establishing settlements was to consolidate Israel's control over the occupied territories. However, the settlement policy also offered the poor sections of the Jewish working class housing and job opportunities that allowed them to escape their subordinate position in Israel itself. This was especially important in the 1970s, when the lack of decent accommodation was leading to some homeless oriental Jews to squatting empty buildings in rich occidental Jewish suburbs.

The settlements offered an alternative to this antagonistic direct appropriation, by directing the antagonism elsewhere. They placed the Jewish working class in the front line - in a direct and antagonistic relation to the potentially insurrectional Palestinian proletariat. As such it bound them to the Zionist State, which protected their newly gained privileges against the claims of the Palestinians. By 1971, there were already 52 settlements.

The Israeli Black Panthers

However, not everyone was integrated into the Labour Zionist settlement, and class struggles continued. Many young oriental Jews were excluded from the 'benefits' of the occupation, because they had criminal records and so were unable to get the good jobs and housing, which were supposed to be the birthright if Jews in Israel. The post-1967 boom led to gentrification in what had been border towns like Musrara, which squeezed out the poor North African Jews. This was the basis of a new movement, the Israeli Black Panthers.

Their social base was arguably more marginal than the movements of the 1960s. However, their 1971 demonstration against police repression attracted tens of thousands of people, and led to 171 arrests and 35 people hospitalized during clashes with the police. They also flirted with left wing anti-Zionists, and some even considered conducting talks with the PLO. Some leaflets were written by members or sympathizers of Matzpen (small but well known anti-Zionist group) and there were alliances at some points. Comments by Black Panthers show a class position beginning to emerge: 'they need us whenever they have a war', 'I don't want to think what will happen when there will be peace', 'If the Arabs had any sense they'd leave the Jews alone to finish with each other'.

However their critique of Israeli society was undermined by elements who sought accommodation within Labour Zionism, and therefore argued against making links with the anti Zionist left or, worse still, with those social pariahs, the Palestinians. Various prominent members of the Black Panthers were given better housing and jobs and left the group, which became increasingly preoccupied with internal splits.

However, oriental Jewish dissatisfaction with the Labour Zionist establishment remained strong, and co-opting Jewish radicals like the leading figures of the Black Panthers were part of a climate where Jewish workers in general expected a better standard of living than their parents. The need to guarantee full employment for all Jews strengthened the negotiating position of Jewish workers in wage bargaining, which was leading to problems of inflation for the Israeli economy.

These problems were not unique to Israel - Western Europe and America also faced a proletariat, which, rather than being content with the 'gains' of the post-war settlement, were using it to impose more restrictions on capital accumulation. In Israel, these problems were compounded by the restrictions of intensive accumulation and by the imperatives of security.

Given this entrenchment of the Jewish working class, the policy of intensive economic expansion based on import substitution had begun to reach the limits of the narrow confines of the Israeli economy, by the late 1970s. Economic growth of more than 10% a year achieved in the early 1970s subsided to a modest a modest 3%. This slow down was to prompt an inflationary crisis that was to see prices rise by 100,000% in just seven years. This crisis could only be resolved by seriously undermining the labour Zionist settlement, with its relatively generous social wage.

The inflationary crisis of 1978-1985

Full employment in an economy dominated by a few large conglomerates, sheltered from foreign competition by high tariff barriers, is a classical recipe for inflation. The indexation of 85% of wage contracts to price inflation, along with other welfare payments and other forms of income, meant that any rises in prices were soon translated into rising wages, which in turn led to rising prices, as higher wage costs were passed on to the consumer. As a result the Israeli economy was highly prone to a vicious wage-price spiral.

Military Keynesianism had led to an inflation rate of between 30%-40% through most of the 1970s. However, by maintaining the fixed exchange rate of the Israeli pound with the US dollar (despite the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system in 1973), the Israeli government was able to hold inflation in check. Rising domestic prices were offset by the fact that at a fixed exchange rate imports remained cheaper than they would have been, which served to hold down the price index on which wage rises were based. Of course, rising domestic prices under a fixed exchange rate regime made Israeli industry uncompetitive, but this could be offset by raising tariffs, increasing export subsidies and by the occasional controlled devaluation of the Israeli pound.

However, the slow down of the economy combined with the changing political situation in the Middle East brought about a decisive shift in economic policy that was to unleash an economic crisis in the 1980s. This shift in policy was brought about through the election of the Likud Government in 1978, which brought to an end thirty years of Labour Party rule. The realignment of the Right, together with splits in the Labour Party, enabled Likud to benefit electorally from the continuing disenchantment of oriental Jews with Labour. However, Likud's deflationary policies could only be implemented by confronting the Jewish working class, whose entrenchment had contributed to the inflationary crisis and the decline in profits for sections of the Israeli bourgeoisie. Likud also faced a rearguard action against some of its policies, from the 'Labour Establishment' of the Occidental bourgeoisie, as the Histadrut endeavoured to keep the lid on the struggles of the Israeli working class, such as the road-menders' violent pickets.

Arab states, expansion and the USA

Israel's decisive victory in the 1973 war had finally shattered the unity of the Arab states. Israel's position in the Middle East was now secured from the external threat of a hostile Arab alliance. However, the subsequent realignment of Egypt with the USA cast some doubt on the long-term commitment of the USA to financing Israel. If Arab states aligned with the USA, why should the USA continue to pump billions of dollars into Israel?
Furthermore, with Egypt neutralized in the south the way was open for Israeli expansion in the North and East. The annexation of the occupied territories of the West Bank and the economic subordination of Jordan and Lebanon offered a way out of the increasing restrictions of intensive accumulation.

But these policies ran against the interests of the USA. While the USA wanted Israel as its imperialist guard dog in the Middle East, it did not want this guard dog destabilising the region and upsetting America's oil rich allies - such as Saudi Arabia. Likud's policy of creating a greater Israel therefore required a loosening of the golden chains of US aid.

The flight of capital from the western economies in the late 1970s, and the consequent growth of global finance capital, created the prospect of reducing Israel's reliance on US aid. By following a policy of economic liberalization and deregulation it was hoped that Israel could tap into the flows of international capital and thereby reduce its dependence on the USA. This policy of liberalisation advocated by the Likud Party also accorded with many amongst the Israeli bourgeoisie who, facing declining profits, wanted greater freedoms to find profitable areas of investment.

As a consequence, within weeks of coming to office, Milton Friedman - one of the pioneers of what has now become known as 'neo-liberalism' - was summoned to advise on a programme of liberalisation. As a result of Friedman's advice the new Israeli government cut import tariffs and export subsidies, relaxed controls on the transfer of currency in and out of the country, and abandoned the fixed exchange rate of the Israeli pound with the US dollar.

Within weeks of its link with the US dollar being severed the Israeli pound had lost 1/3 of its value. The price of imported goods rocketed raising the price index. Within a few months the indexation of wages had led to the inflation rate rising to over 100%. Following this acceleration in inflation the Israeli pound was replaced by the Shekel as Israel's currency, at a rate of ten pounds to the Shekel.

However, the liberalisation policy combined with the sharp cut in real wages, caused by wage indexation lagging behind the acceleration in price inflation, boosted profits and led to a renewed spurt of growth.[22] As a result, 1981 saw the Israeli economy regain the growth rates of the early 1970s. Indeed at the time, with the world crisis still not over, it was argued that Israel's high inflation rates did not matter. With the external value of the shekel measured in dollars falling at the same rate as inflation was eroding its internal value, it was argued that in dollar terms inflation was more or less zero. Indeed, a zero rate of inflation rate in dollar terms, compared with the much higher inflation rates in the USA and elsewhere, implied a growing international competitiveness of Israeli industry.

Such optimism did not last long. As economic growth began to falter and the public deficit began to grow as a result of invasion of Lebanon, fears grew that the high inflation rates could easily tip over in to an uncontrollable hyperinflation. As a consequence, the Begin government introduced a new set of economic policies aimed at gradually reducing the rate of inflation. Cuts in public spending were combined with a policy of limiting the decline in the exchange rate of the Shekel to the US dollar to 5% a month. Meanwhile attempts were made to limit indexation of incomes.

The policy of limiting the decline of the Shekel had the immediate bonus for the government's popularity by cheapening the imports of consumer goods. But at the same time it also made Israeli exports uncompetitive. Increasingly unable to compete Israeli firms began to go bankrupt and unemployment began to rise. At the same time attempts to hold wages down led to growing industrial unrest.

Following Begin's resignation in the Autumn of 1983, fears that the government would be unable to prevent a sharp fall in the value of the shekel led to a run on the banks as savers sought to change their shekels into dollars. The Government was forced to nationalize the leading banks and allow the shekel to fall against the dollar. In order to reassure the financial markets the Israeli government was obliged to announce major cuts in public spending and tight monetary policies.

These new policies were met with resolute opposition from both the Histadrut and leading capitalists within the 'Labour Establishment'. The Histadrut called a series of strikes that paralysed the country. Unable to hold wages down, the twist to the wage-price spiral caused by the sharp fall in the shekel led to an acceleration in the inflation of prices. On the eve of the election in July 1983 the rate of inflation was approaching 400%. With wages rises lagging behind prices rises, this acceleration in inflation had brought about a 30% cut in real wages.

Both Labour and Likud lost support at the election and were obliged to join together to form a government of 'national unity', with Peres, the Labour leader, as Prime Minister. Using his influence with the Labour establishment Peres proposed a programme of emergency measures. A 10%s levy was imposed on wages, indexation was to be suspended and a three-month wage-price freeze was to be imposed. This was to be backed up by an unprecedented programme of cuts to the budget deficit aimed at halving the budget deficit from 20% of GDP. By the time this programme was introduced in the autumn of 1983, after lengthy negotiations over the summer, the inflation rate had reached 1000%.

Peres' programme proved to be a partial success. In the face of strong opposition of the Histadrut, the Likud government had backed off tampering with the indexation of wages and other incomes. However, interfering with wage indexation seemed more legitimate in the eyes of the 'Labour Establishment', when proposed by a leading Labour figurehead. By May 1985 the rate of inflation had been brought back to 400% while, despite increasing opposition, the budget deficit had been cut to 15% of GDP. Peres now announced another round of measures. A further three month wage and price freeze was to be accompanied by another round of public spending cuts designed yet again to halve the government's budget deficit. At the same time the Shekel was devalued by 19% and then a fixed exchange rate was to be maintained with the US Dollar.

However, while it might have been possible to get the 'Labour Establishment' behind these austerity measures, the antagonism of Jewish workers to another round of belt-tightening threatened to break out of the constraints of Histadrut recuperation. In the face of mounting wildcat strikes, the Histadrut called a general strike that forced the government to allow a limited wage 'catch up' before the wage-price freeze, but this did little to mitigate the 20% cut in real wages and the sharp rise in unemployment that had resulted from Peres' first round of austerity measures.
The draconian policies of the Likud-Labour government eventually saved Israel from hyperinflation. By 1986 the inflation rate had fallen to a respectable 20%. However, in resolving the inflationary crisis Peres had seriously undermined the Labour Zionist settlement. While real wages slowly began to recover after 1986, unemployment had soared to levels that had not been seen since the slump of the early 1960s and remained high throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Continued austerity measures through the 1980s saw further cuts in the welfare budget and the erosion of social guarantees. These were imposed on the Jewish working class, with the help of the Histadrut.
Politicians from both main parties now began to embrace 'neo-liberal' policies, although actual progress towards deregulation and the privatization of national industries was slow at first, due in part to the resistance of the Histadrut, which owned many of the main state conglomerates. However, unemployment, casualization, and flexible working practices were to become a reality for increasing sections of the Israeli working class.

With the dismantling of the more social aspects of Labour Zionism following the inflationary crisis of early 1980s, the policy of establishing settlements in the occupied territories has become an increasingly important element in binding the Jewish working class to the Zionist state. Indeed, as Likud has recognized, the settlers have provided popular support for the long term strategy of establishing a greater Israel which sections of the Israeli bourgeoisie see as the means of breaking out of the chronic stagnation of the Israeli economy since the late 1970s. To a certain extent the settlements have shifted the political burden of the occupation away from the government, particularly if it is Labour. Israel's reluctance to make concessions to the Palestinians could be blamed on the intransigence and 'extremism' of the settlers, who were compelled to identify with the imperatives of security far more than the most 'hawkish' government.

On the other hand, the acceleration of settlement building represents a minor compromise with the sections of the Israeli bourgeoisie, who advocated de jure annexation of the occupied territories. Because the crisis could only be resolved by dismantling the social wage aspects of the Labour Zionist settlement, the settlements became both a form of social compensation for poor Jews, and a form of de facto annexation, to realize the dream of a greater Israel by other means. However, Israel is still not free of its dependence on US aid, and so must curb its expansionist excesses.

Settlements and contradictions

The opposition to settlement building by many of the Israeli middle classes who supported Peace Now compounded the problems of the Israeli bourgeoisie.[23] The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank has had a vital role in the class compromise in Israel since 1967. Through the subordination of Palestinian workers, combined with the benefits of US aid, working class Jews were able to command higher wages than their Palestinian neighbours, and to avoid the most menial jobs. Because of the occupation of the land, working class Jews, who could not afford to live in urban areas, were able to get subsidized housing (built by cheap Palestinian labour). So working class Jews were dumped in what was in effect a security buffer zone in the occupied territories.

These measures were vital in reducing Jewish proletarian militancy, but they led directly to resistance by the liberal middle classes and, more significantly, by the Palestinians. The ongoing problem for the Israeli bourgeoisie was how to maintain their compromise with the Jewish working class without provoking the Palestinians too far. With the dense Palestinian population crammed into an ever more cramped space by the encroachment of settlements on which many of them were compelled to work, the early 1970s had seen rebellions in the refugee camps of Gaza, which had been crushed (literally) by Sharon's tanks. Since then, Gaza had been relatively quiet. But for how long? The Israeli bourgeoisie was able to grant concessions to Jewish workers, but it only had recourse to repression as a means of pacifying the Palestinians. Any concessions to the Palestinians were likely to undermine the Labour Zionist settlement.

In 1985 the occupied territories bore the brunt of the crisis. Rescuing Israeli capital involved reinforcing the subordination of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, by denying permits 'for expanding agriculture or industry that may compete with the state of Israel'.[24] With increasing unemployment in the territories, Palestinian workers were further compelled to find work inside the Green Line or in the construction of Jewish settlements, which were expanding to compensate Jewish workers for the lack of affordable housing in the urban areas of 'Israel proper'. While the settlement construction provided Palestinian workers with revenue, it was also a source of resentment, and the resistance this provoked provided the rationale for intensified repression by the military government.

1985's 'Iron Fist', to contain resistance in the Occupied Territories, went hand in hand with austerity measures, to contain the crisis at home. The 'Iron Fist' intensified repressive measures, such as 'administrative detentions' of Palestinian militants and collective punishments of the population as a whole. This provides the background to the 1987-93 Intifada. Before we move on to this, we need to look at the class composition of the Palestinians ...

The making of the Palestinian working class

A land without a people?

The myth of Zionist pioneers landing up in unpopulated desert and transforming it into lush vineyards conceals a more commonplace transformation - of Palestinians from peasants into proletarians:

The 'paradise' in the Negev desert, the flourishing cultivation of citrus fruits and avocados on the coastal plain as well as the industrial boom (even on the scale of a very small country) presuppose the complete despoliation of the Palestinian peasants.[25]

This process was already underway when the first Jewish colonists arrived, and is still not complete. Capitalist development penetrated the Middle East for the first time in the years following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Ottoman Empire which dominated the region had already been in decline for a century, though it would last a century more, and the readjustment of the balance of power following France and Napoleon's defeat, formalized in the years after the Congress of Vienna, opened the way for a new exploitation of the region, just as the Industrial Revolution was gaining momentum in Britain.

Britain and Austria, though rivals in other areas, agreed upon the need to prop up the Ottoman Empire as a barrier to Russian expansionism into the east of Europe. Later Germany became the Ottoman Empire's main backer. In this period, parts of the Middle East found themselves invaded by the new capitalist mode of production. The indigenous textile industry of the area, particularly in Egypt was destroyed by cheap English textiles in the 1830s, and by the 1860s British manufacturers had begun to grow cotton along the Nile. In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened, its purpose to facilitate British and French trade. In line with this modernization, the origins of primitive accumulation in Palestine can be dated back to the Ottoman Empire's 1858 law on landed property, replacing collective ownership with individual land ownership. Village tribal chiefs were transformed into a class of landlords, who sold their titles to Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Iranian merchants. The pattern throughout the whole period was very much one of uneven development, with a foreign bourgeoisie taking the initiative and the indigenous bourgeoisie, such as it was, remaining weak and politically ineffective. At the same time, vast areas of the Middle East where there was no perceived economic benefit were left alone, and there the traditions of subsistence farming and nomadism continued.

Under the British Mandate, many absentee landlords were bought out by the Jewish Colonisation Association, leading to the eviction of Palestinian sharecroppers and farmers. Given that the "dispossessed fellah had to become an agricultural labourer on his own land", a decisive transformation of the relations of production had begun to take place, leading to the first signs of a Palestinian proletariat.[26]

This process took place in the teeth of violent opposition by Palestinians. The watershed in the succession of revolts was the 1936-9 uprising. Its importance lay in the fact that "the motive force of this uprising was no longer the peasantry or the bourgeoisie, but for the first time an agricultural proletariat deprived of means of labour and subsistence, along with an embryo of a working class concentrated essentially in the ports and in the oil refinery at Haifa."[27] It involved attacks on Palestinian landowners as well as the English and Zionist colonists, and forced Britain to limit Jewish migration to Palestine for some years. Although it was the British army who did the shooting, with a little help from the Haganah, the left-wing Zionist militia, the local tribal chiefs also played a key role in breaking the rebellion.

The 'nakba' (catastrophe) of 1948 - the creation of Israel - can be seen as the legacy of this defeat. Although the 1936-39 uprising showed that a proletariat was beginning to emerge in Palestine, the Palestinian population in Israel was still largely peasant at that time. The new state used the legal apparatus of the British mandate to continue the dispossession of the Palestinians. Under this law, peasants who fled only a few hundred metres to escape a massacre were considered 'absentees' and had their land confiscated. However the few who managed to remain inside the 1948 borders were compensated with citizenship rights for their forcible separation from the means of production.

The proletarianization of the Palestinian peasantry was extended in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. This fresh wave of primitive accumulation not only took the form of land grabbing. It also involved Israeli capital asserting control of the West Bank's water supply, by digging deeper wells than those of the Palestinians. As a result, the Palestinian refugee population outside Israeli jurisdiction was severed from its ties to the land, while only a minority of those inside Israeli jurisdiction still possessed land. In both areas, the Palestinian population has largely become proletarianized.

The suppression of the local Palestinian bourgeoisie

While the expropriation of the Palestinian peasantry brought about the formation of a proletariat, the emergence of an indigenous industrial bourgeoisie was suppressed. Where one existed, it was hopelessly weak and unable to compete with Israeli capital, despite the fact that "The wages paid by the Arab bosses are even more miserable than those paid by their Zionist masters". Palestinians from the territories occupied the lowest position in the Israeli labour market, lower down than even Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In the aftermath of the 1967 war, Palestinians who worked in Israel were considered collaborators by Palestinian nationalists.[28] However Israel's laws forbade Palestinian businesses which might compete with Israeli ones, so it was eventually recognized by even the most hardened nationalists that working in Israel was the only source of revenue for many Palestinians.

The Palestinian bourgeoisie decomposed into three fractions.[29] Some of the richer refugees formed a mercantile and financial bourgeoisie in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries. The local bourgeoisie, such as it was, consisted of small entrepreneurs, craft workshop owners and farmers. The suppression of productive capital by Israel made it impossible for the local bourgeoisie to develop the productive forces. Those who tried formed a miserable petit bourgeoisie, sharing many of the same day-to-day privations and humiliations as their proletarian neighbours in the occupied territories, although not the basic one: separation from the means of production.[30] Others have become a 'lumpen-bourgeoisie', who became rich from the PLO pumping half a billion dollars of aid money into the territories between 1977 and 1985. Their money was spent exclusively on their own individual consumption, and they have therefore attracted the resentment of the Palestinian proletariat and petit bourgeoisie.

It was the displaced bourgeoisie in the diaspora, which formed the class basis for the PLO and the Palestinian 'state in exile'.

'The sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people'

Even as Pan-Arabism lay defeated in the aftermath of the 1967 war, the seeds of its renewal (in admittedly a less virulent strain) germinated in the new coherence and organisation of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO specifically. This situation, and the first Intifada (1987 - 1993) have kept alive the flames of anti-Americanism in the middle East and challenged the legitimacy of the pro-western bourgeoisie's across the region. However, the actions of the PLO, representing the exiled Palestinian bourgeoisie, were unsurprisingly often at odds with the needs of the proletarians whose struggles were shaking the oil-producing countries.

The PLO vs. the self-activity of the proletariat

Sixty per cent of the Palestinian population ended up in refugee camps outside Israel and the occupied territories. The process that had transformed most of them into proletarians also dispersed them throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria. Those who migrated to wealthy Gulf States like Kuwait were able to command high wages, even relative to those of Israeli Jewish workers. Most were less fortunate, and became a catalyst for class conflicts throughout the region.

It was the Arab leaders (together with the mercantile and financial Palestinian bourgeoisie) who helped to set up the PLO in 1964, as a means of controlling this diaspora. Due to their failure to prevent the nakba of 1948 and their impotence in the face of Israeli military might in 1967, the Arab bourgeoisie faced revolts in their own countries.


In Jordan, the Palestinian refugees were now armed due to the war, and outnumbered the sparse Jordanian population. Although the PLO was seen to constitute, a state within a state, the Palestinian refugee population was ungovernable even by them. In the late '60s and early '70s the refugee camps were armed and autonomous from the PLO, and they didn't allow the police in. In addition to this the PLO was using Jordan as a base for attacks on Israel and so the Jordanian state was exposed to reprisals from Israel.

The Palestinian proletariat's struggles in Jordan were extinguished by the 'Black September' massacre of 30,000 Palestinians by the Jordanian army in Amman, 1970. This was facilitated by the PLO's agreement with the Hashemite regime: in accordance with the conditions negotiated with the Jordanian state, the PLO withdrew from Amman, thus allowing the massacre of the proletarians who remained in the city.


Many of those who survived fled to Lebanon and the Arab bourgeoisie was now faced with a combative proletariat concentrated in over-crowded refugee camps. 14,000 ended up in Tel-Al-Zatar in the Lebanon by 1972, an industrial area containing 29% of Lebanese industry. In 1969 the refugees and other proletarians seized weapons, occupied the factories and tried to transform Tel-Al-Zatar into 'a no-go zone safe from the Lebanese army and the state'.[31] As the Lebanese state, such as it was, tried throughout the 1970s to break the power of the working class, the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese proletarians participated in kalashnikov battles with the Lebanese police.

The presence of arms allowed for strikes which brought about the destruction of Lebanese industrial life.[32]

There was also a limited workers' council movement. Given the weakness and division of the Lebanese bourgeoisie, a major strike of workers in the fishing industry culminated in a drawn-out civil war, which became the battleground for the competing strategic ambitions of the USA and the USSR, via their respective intermediaries, Israel and Syria.
Flushed out of Jordan, the PLO were now seeking to create another 'state within a state' in the Lebanon. However, they had little interest in the autonomous struggles of the Palestinian refugees to emancipate themselves from the hell of their proletarian existence. Instead, they wanted to keep in with the Lebanese and Syrian bourgeoisie. The general instability and weakness of the Lebanese state meant that the strength of the proletariat had to be crushed by Syrian and Phalangist troops, with the help of the Israeli navy.[33] Still hanging on to desperate illusions in nationalism, the Palestinians called on the PLO for help.

Unsurprisingly, the PLO had no interest in helping this struggle, deeming it a diversion from 'fighting the real enemy, Israel'.

When the strugglers asked for military aid for the struggle in Tel-Al-Zatar the leadership of Fatah answered - "Al Naba'a and Salaf and Harash are not similar to Aga, Haifa, and Jerusalem which are occupied."[34]

In exercising its 'right to non-interference', the PLO helped to ensure that the revolt was crushed and the 'no-go zone' turned into a graveyard for proletarians. Despite their role in the counter-insurgency at Tel-Al-Zatar, the last thing Israel wanted was a stronger Lebanese state. On the contrary, both Israel and Syria sought to encourage the 'balkanisation' of the country so as to better their strategic position. The fragmentation of the Lebanese bourgeoisie into warring factions provided the pretext for the intervention of these neighbouring powers in the civil war. In Israel's case, there was an added motive for engagement in Lebanon: the presence of the PLO.

The PLO's pursuit of a 'state within a state' could not co-exist with Israel's imperatives in Lebanon. The mass presence of Palestinians got in the way of their strategic interests, and Israel's wish to drive out the PLO, led to the 1982 invasion of Beirut. The basis of the PLO's nationalist appeal had been their willingness to engage in armed struggle against the Israeli state. However their expulsion from both Jordan and Lebanon showed their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. Their humiliating evacuation from Beirut confirmed that they had failed to deliver on their strategy of armed struggle. A similar pattern to Jordan then ensued, with the expulsion of the PLO clearing the way for Phalangist massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, with the help of the Israeli army.

The Israeli invasion of Beirut was also humiliating for the 'anti-imperialist camp'. With Egypt now in the US orbit, Syria was the main pro-USSR power in the region. However, not only was the PLO brought to heel by the Israeli invasion, but the Syrian army was forced to withdraw.

It was increasingly clear with every confrontation that the Palestinians could expect little help from the Arab states. The 1967 and 1973 wars had effectively undermined Pan Arabism, and confirmed Israel as a military superpower in the region. The Arab states had little political will to attack Israel. Despite its rapprochement with Israel, Egypt was made more welcome than the PLO at the 1987 Amman summit, indicating the increasing orientation of the Arab states towards the USA. Arafat was snubbed by King Hussein, and it was clear that the Iran-Iraq war was more of a priority for the delegates than the Palestinians. This confirmed the widespread perception among residents of the occupied territories that no one but themselves could overcome Israeli domination.

The Intifada (1987-93)

The initiative for the Intifada came from the inhabitants of the Jabalya refugee camp, in Gaza, not the PLO, who were based in Tunisia and were completely caught by surprise. It was a spontaneous mass reaction by the Jabalya residents, to the killing of Palestinian workers by an Israeli vehicle, which quickly spread to the West Bank and the rest of the Gaza Strip.

In the long term, the Intifada helped to bring about the diplomatic rehabilitation of the PLO.[35] After all, the PLO might prove to be a lesser evil than the self-activity of the proletariat. However, the strength of the PLO's negotiating hand depended on its ability, as the 'sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people', to control its constituency, something which could never be taken for granted, especially now that its strategy of armed struggle had proved fruitless. This made it difficult for them to recuperate an uprising initiated by proletarians, who had little interest in nationalism, and who hated the Palestinian 'lumpen-bourgeoisie' almost as much as the Israeli state.

A 'national liberation' struggle?

The 1992 bulletin Worldwide Intifada #1 attempts to counter the conventional leftist perspective on the Intifada, by emphasising the contradictions between different classes of Palestinians.[36] While the perspective of Worldwide Intifada #1 is obviously superior to support for 'national liberation', their argument has certain weaknesses. Although Worldwide Intifada #1 correctly identifies nationalism as containing the 'seeds of defeat' for the 1987 Intifada, they discuss nationalism in the abstract, as if it is some kind of psychological trick played on the Palestinian working class by the Palestinian bourgeoisie.[37] True, nationalism is an ideology. However this ideology is more than a mere deception: it has power because it has a material basis in everyday life.

However it is clear that many elements of this Intifada went way beyond nationalism. While many commentators take it for granted that, right from the start, the Intifada was a campaign to set up a Palestinian state, the early days of the uprising suggest otherwise. When the IDF interrogated the first hundred rioters they arrested, they found that these proletarians were "unable to repeat the most common slogans used in the PLO's routine propaganda, and even the central concept of the Palestinian struggle - the right to self determination - was completely alien to them".[38] What a scandal!

The Intifada as class struggle, and class struggles within the Intifada

The subordination of the Palestinian bourgeoisie took the form of the suppression of Palestinian capital accumulation by the Israeli state, so that the Palestinian bourgeoisie were unable to develop the productive forces adequately. Although some Palestinians were employed in Palestinian workshops, farms and small factories, these were confined to sectors that did not compete with Israeli capital. Therefore an excessive portion of the Palestinian bourgeoisie's money was spent as revenue on personal consumption, rather than as money capital on productive consumption. The fact of mass unemployment and poverty for proletarians, existing alongside the conspicuous wealth of the 'lumpen-bourgeoisie', sharpened class antagonisms, which came to the fore in the first days of the 1987 uprising.

The first few days of the uprising in Gaza saw thousands of proletarians looting the crops of neighbouring landlords. Many landlords were forced to publish drastic rent reductions. Rich locals appealed to the IDF to protect their property. The battle cry of the rioters was, "first the army, then Rimal!"[39] Rimal was a rich Palestinian suburb of Gaza City. When the Israeli authorities issued new identity cards, in order to clamp down on the uprising, this was the area they chose as a soft touch to pilot the scheme. Fortunately for the PLO, it was sufficiently unified to gain a toehold in the uprising, via the emergence of the United National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU). This was based in the Territories and so had more credibility as a means of recuperating local militants, than the Tunisian based 'five star PLO'. Therefore it was best placed to try to turn the uprising from an attack on all forms of bourgeois authority, into a concerted 'national' effort to set up a Palestinian state in embryo. However, given the intransigence of the Israeli state, this presupposed making the territories ungovernable, a situation that could easily get out of hand.

A month after the first day of the uprising, the UNLU issued its first communiqué, addressing first "the brave Palestinian working class", then the "brave, militant shopkeepers", and hailing the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".[40] A year later, the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie were all lumped together as the "heroic masses of our people", but throughout the communiqués, the PLO remain the "sole legitimate representative".[41]

Despite the supposed cross-class unity promoted by the UNLU, the petit bourgeoisie often had to be intimidated into closing their shops on strike days. Sometimes, a child standing outside a shop holding a lit match could be enough to remind them that their shops could be targeted for reprisals. There was also pressure from the militant proletarians in the front-line, who argued, "we are prepared to give up our lives for the struggle, is it too much to ask you to give up some of your profits?"[42] However, it would be a mistake to assume that the petit bourgeoisie were simply dragged kicking and screaming into the Intifada, although there was an element of this. Shop and workshop owners had their property confiscated for refusing to pay taxes to the military government, and shopkeepers in Beit Sahour launched a three month 'commercial strike' in protest at these measures. In order to develop as a proper bourgeoisie, they needed their own state, with a decent amount of land. In practice, instead of assisting their development into a fully-fledged bourgeoisie, the property confiscations for tax refusal accelerated their proletarianization. 'Commercial strikes' often had the effect of simply driving Palestinian merchants to bankruptcy.

Although to a certain extent, all classes could play their part in the disruption of the Israeli economy, by denying the military government its tax revenue or by boycotting its commodities, the most visible disruption of the Israeli economy came from the working class. In the wildcat general strike of December 1987, 120,000 workers failed to turn up to their jobs in Israel. This coincided with the citrus harvest, for which Palestinians constitute one third of the workforce. This cost the Israeli agricultural marketing board $500,000 in the first two months of the uprising, due to lost orders for the British market. Many Palestinians also worked as day labourers in another key sector, the construction industry on both sides of the green line. They were capable of achieving what both the PLO and the peace movement could only dream of: bringing settlement construction to a grinding halt.

The 'rebellion of stones'

There is a story of an argument during the Intifada. When someone tried to assert their authority by claiming to be one of the leaders of the Intifada, a 14-year old held up a stone and said 'this is the leader of the Intifada'. So much for the UNLU! So called 'leaders' got attacked by Palestinians at demonstrations where they became too moderate.[43] The PNA's current attempts to militarize the present Intifada have been a tactic to try to avoid this 'anarchy' occurring again.

The widespread use of stones as a weapon against the Israeli military amounted to recognition of the failure of the Arab states to overcome Israel by conventional warfare, let alone by the PLO's 'armed struggle'. 'Unarmed' civil disorder necessarily discarded 'the warfare logic of the state'[44] (although it should also be seen as a response to a situation of desperation, where death as a 'martyr' could seem preferable to the living hell of their current situation). To some extent, the stone-throwing outflanked the armed might of the Israeli state. In order to maintain the funding and support of the US, Israel had to keep up appearances as an embattled democracy besieged by barbarian hordes, and killing too many unarmed civilians could damage this, at a time when Egypt's pro-US position was threatening to undermine Israel's role as a strategic asset.

This is not to say they refrained altogether: by mid-June 1988, 300 Palestinians had already been killed by the IDF. However the personal dilemmas of the experience of confronting unarmed civilians with lethal force added to the pressures on the morale of Israeli soldiers. They were supposed to be part of this mighty army, which had defeated Egypt and Syria, and here they were being ordered to fire live ammunition at kids armed with stones! This contributed to a revival in the 'conscientious objection' movement.[45]

The stones were also a great leveller, as they are a weapon everyone has access to. The Palestinian proletariat were quite literally taking the struggle into their own hands, after years of unsuccessfully appealing to the Arab bourgeoisie. At the forefront of the struggle was a new generation of young proletarians, who had grown up under occupation. However, as it developed from a spontaneous proletarian uprising into a national movement under the auspices of the UNLU, the Intifada came to express an uneasy alliance between the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie.

The response of the Israeli bourgeoisie

In the 1970s/1980s, the Israeli government was adamant that it would have nothing to do with the PLO. This political consensus included the 'left' of Peace Now. However, the blatantly puppet 'village leagues' represented a total failure to set up an alternative Palestinian leadership that they could do business with.

The Intifada pushed Peace Now in a more radical direction, because smaller peace groups were already making links with the Palestinians, which generally took the form of 'humanitarian' support. The peace camp's long-term strategy required a 'partner for peace', and the failure of the 'village leagues' made the PLO the only show in town.

Furthermore, the Israeli bourgeoisie was running out of options, due to the unfeasibility of the idea toyed with since the mid 1980s of transferring Palestinians en masse to Jordan. Jordan already had its own Palestinian problem, and by the late 1980s the last thing King Hussein wanted was more of them to deal with. Palestinian bureaucrats in the occupied territories, whether appointed by Jordan or Israel, had been forced to resign, or face revolutionary justice. If this was an example of how much the Jordanian regime was preferred to Israel by his future subjects, King Hussein was only too happy to ditch his claim to the West Bank.

In spite of these factors the Likud wing of the unity government was intransigent, but the USA was under increasing international pressure to end its diplomatic boycott of the PLO. While Likud's instincts tended towards outright repression, there was a limit to what could be achieved by brute force and terror, given the growing pressure from the USA and the Israeli conscripts' lack of stomach for an orgy of killing. Besides, it had been the 'Iron Fist' which had helped to create the conditions for the revolt in the first place.

When the USA agreed to recognize the PLO if there was a de-escalation of the conflict, which entailed the PLO recognizing Israel, Israeli PM Shamir was forced into granting concessions. His offer of 'free and democratic elections' for Palestinian delegates who would 'negotiate an interim period of self governing administration' was also made conditional on the de-escalation of unrest.

Although the PLO had formally recognized Israel's 'right to exist' as early as December 1988, the process of Israel recognizing the PLO was far from complete. The process of getting PLO and Israel to the table became a stalemate, never getting beyond talks about talks, and the Israeli tactic of political stalling (while steadily murdering Palestinians) seemed to be paying off. The Israeli economy, cushioned by US aid, could absorb the initial shock of the economic disruption; but the longer it went on, the more the Intifada was exhausting itself. As time went on what little Palestinian economy existed was being destroyed. Meanwhile Israeli capital could cast about for alternative sources of cheap labour power, to outflank the Palestinians and squeeze them out of the Israeli labour market.

The Islamists

There also began to be a bitter turf war over who was to become the top guard dog on the Palestinian streets. The nationalist gangs were already in rehearsal for their future role as guardians of bourgeois law and order and private property relations. With the uprising exhausting itself, the proletariat in the occupied territories was being decimated by faction fighting and 'collaborator killings', with more Palestinians being killed by other Palestinians than by Israeli forces in Spring 1990. Many of these 'collaborators' were looters or class struggle militants.

Others involved were part of fairly new groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In its attempt to create an authentically Palestinian counterweight to the PLO, Israel had encouraged the growth of the Muslim brotherhood in the early 1980s. After the Brotherhood had proved its anti-working class credentials by burning down a library for being a 'hotbed of communism', Israel started supplying them with arms.[46] Because they believed Israeli domination could only be overcome once the Palestinians were all true-believing Muslims, it seemed that their growth might dampen resistance to the occupation. However, the Intifada saw the politicisation of the Islamists, as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In their attempts make an impact and challenge the PLO, the Islamists organized strike days contrary to the UNLU calendar. These "strikes against the peace process" confirmed them to be "an authentic, indigenous and mass opposition" to the PLO.[47]

However, although Hamas wished to undermine the PLO, they didn't want to replace them. Their more-militant-than-thou competition with Fatah (the military wing of the PLO) was rather aimed at guaranteeing themselves a role in the character of the future Palestinian state. Not only did they reject the 'peace process' and its accommodation with Israel, they also rejected the very idea of a secular bourgeois state. Despite its 'rejectionist' stance, Hamas ultimately sought accommodation with the PLO, because it wanted to influence the form of the Palestinian state.

The initial stages of the Intifada had included an element of revolt against the institution of the patriarchal family. Palestinian women had refused social invisibility, and had confronted the military. In Ramallah, a group of girls stoned their parents, when they tried to stop them from rioting! For Hamas, a Palestinian state by definition had to be a Muslim state, implying the imposition of Sharia law to restore the very forms of 'low intensity social control' which the Intifada had called into question.

The Gulf War

The 'peace process' was further dragged out by the Gulf crisis, which called Arafat's divided loyalties into question. While much of the Arab bourgeoisie sided with the USA, Arafat could not afford to do this because of Iraq's pro-Palestinian stance and mass Palestinian support for its confrontation with the USA. The Gulf War finally undermined illusions in a 'progressive nationalism', backed by the now-defunct USSR. At the same time, the Scud attacks on Israel bolstered its public image in the west as a bastion of democracy in the midst of aggressive 'rogue states'.

Despite the new global reality following the collapse of the USSR, Israel has continued to remain a vital strategic asset for US capital. Those few Arab states which had oriented themselves towards Moscow meanwhile had to begin the tentative realignment towards the west for a new sponsor. Almost immediately the recalcitrant Arab bourgeoisies were presented with an opportunity to demonstrate their grasp of the 'New World Order' by siding with the coalition against Iraq. Almost all the significant Arab capitals took this step. More and more the Gulf War appears as a case of America, cut suddenly loose from the constraints of the Cold War, simply demonstrating in the most brutal and arbitrary terms how complete was its domination of the oilfields of the Middle East. And the moment the 'rogue client state' was truly threatened by a Kurdish uprising in the north and a Shi'ite rebellion in the south, the US let it off the hook, preferring an Arab regime it could demonize and punish periodically to the possibility of having itself to crush a social revolution which would have risked the further intensification of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

The Gulf War was part of a general recomposition of the region's working class. The mass expulsion of Palestinian workers in Kuwait contributed to the general impoverishment of the Palestinian proletariat, some of whom had enjoyed living standards even exceeding those of their Jewish neighbours from the wages being sent by relatives in Kuwait.

The blanket curfew imposed by Israel during the war increased economic hardship in the territories. It gave Israeli bosses the chance to sack many Palestinian workers on the basis that they had obeyed the curfew, or that they hadn't obeyed the curfew, or they should obey the curfew in the future. This in turn sharpened class antagonisms in the territories, leading to theft and general lawlessness. During the curfew, shops that were seen as overcharging were attacked and forced to lower their prices.

The road to Oslo

With the US in a position of unrivalled hegemony over the Middle East in the aftermath of the Gulf War, and the threat of Islamist militancy largely contained for the time being by the indigenous bourgeoisies, notably in Egypt and Syria, the only problem which remained for the US was that of the Palestinians. Popular support for the first Intifada was undoubtedly a threat to US interests, and the Oslo 'peace process', on a rhetorical level, was nothing less than an end to the years of conflict and the crisis management that successive US administrations had been compelled to undertake.

Given that America's Arab allies had passed the crucial loyalty test of the Gulf War, the 'New World Order' opened the possibility of Israel's redundancy as the USA's main strategic asset in the region, when much of the Arab bourgeoisie was acquiescent, and Israel's failure to resolve the Palestinian problem was threatening this much-trumpeted new era of bourgeois peace.

For the Israeli state, making concessions to the Palestinians meant the possibility of having to confront their own working class. However, with the Israeli economy still reeling from the crisis and the Intifada, they still needed US aid, which could be used to pressure the Israeli state into a settlement with the Palestinians.

By 1989, the US had become increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in resolving the Intifada. Israel was supposed to be one of its regional policemen. Instead, it had a domestic uprising on its hands, which was threatening to destabilize the region, because of the Palestinian diaspora. Shamir was in no position to resolve the situation - especially now that the unity government had collapsed and he was under pressure from right-wing coalition partners.

With the election of a Labour government committed to accelerating the 'peace process', Hamas wanted to consolidate their base as the main 'rejectionist' alternative to the PLO. The killing of six Israeli soldiers in December 1992 by Hamas guerrillas was proof that Israel's cultivation of political Islam as a counterweight to the PLO had paid off, though not in the way that they had hoped. If the rise of Hamas had lethal side effects, it also provided a pretext for the IDF to go in hard in Spring 1993. Gaza bore the brunt of this, because of its perceived role as 'base for Hamas'.

As part of this general wave of repression, Israel also imposed 'indefinite' closure on the territories, using the pretext of 'anti-terrorism'. This meant that 189,000 Palestinians were unable to get to work in Israel. The policy of closure has been used on and off throughout the 1990s, as 'collective punishment' for suicide bombings and other attacks. After the closure of the Occupied Territories in March 1993, which created labour shortages in construction and agriculture, the government gave the green light to the employment of guest workers.

The Intifada thus forced the Israeli bourgeoisie to end the Palestinians' exclusive monopoly of the bottom end of the labour market, and find a less volatile source of cheap labour power. Given their entrenched position, it would be problematic to force Jewish workers into this role. At the beginning of the Intifada, construction sites in Jerusalem had unsuccessfully tried to recruit Jewish labour for the double the normal Palestinian wage. Obviously Jewish workers tend to be more loyal to the state, and would tend to identify with its security imperatives. However, pushing them to the bottom end of the labour market would involve a renegotiation of the post-1967 class compromise, and there was a shortage of Jewish labour as it was. In the 1980s, more Jews were leaving Israel than were coming in.

The collapse of the USSR seemed to provide the solution, in the form of a new wave of potential immigrants. This was not without its problems, because the new immigrants had wanted to go to America and to make up for being stuck in Israel demanded their share of the Zionist cake. The bottom end of the labour market was a far cry from the professional careers many of them had previously occupied in the USSR.

Furthermore, Israel needed US aid to absorb the new immigrants, and because of the frustration of the US bourgeoisie over Israel's stalling over settlements, Bush Snr had threatened to refuse loans in 1991, and made it clear that Israel could not absorb the new immigrants without some substantial progress on resolving the Intifada.
The Russian immigrants have become a bone of contention in Israeli society, because of the widespread perception that they have been accommodated at other Jewish workers' expense. The need to accommodate the influx of Russian immigrants is linked to rent increases in 'desirable areas' - pushing out poorer Jews and increasing the demand for settlement expansion. This resentment, combined with a generalized anxiety about the erosion of the exclusively Jewish character of the state, has fuelled rumours about the lack of authenticity of the new immigrants' 'Jewish identity'.

These anxieties have been further fuelled by the increasingly widespread use of non-Jewish guest workers from Eastern Europe and the Pacific. Mainly from Romania and the Philippines, although some of them are from Jordan and Egypt, the guest workers are generally employed through agencies like Manpower. They endure very bad working conditions, very poor housing, and there are frequent cases of physical assault by employers.[48] Workers' passports are kept by the agency as a matter of course and so they are tied to their job if they want to stay in the country. Many employers withhold pay, and have their staff deported if they try to demand their wages. Recently workers have been made to pay agencies a deposit that they only get back if they complete their contract. With these conditions it's not surprising that many migrant workers decide they'd rather work illegally.[49] Most male migrant workers work in construction and agriculture, but particularly construction. The construction industry is constantly wanting to employ more migrant workers and the government is always putting limits on the number of visas they'll issue, creating a market for the illegal workers. Migrant workers work for less than Palestinians in Israel and from the territories, and in one case this has led to a pogrom in a Palestinian town in the Galilee against Jordanian and Egyptian squatter workers.

Massive Palestinian unemployment, a leadership challenge from Hamas and Arafat's isolation over his support for Iraq in the Gulf War all contributed to the weakening of the PLO's negotiating position. While the rise of Hamas represented the more rejectionist politics of the local petit bourgeoisie, the mercantile and financial capitalists of the diaspora were more willing to accept the impoverished Palestinian statelet on offer. After all, they did not need land in order to realize their profits, and unlike the local petit bourgeoisie, were not confronted by the daily realities of Israeli rule. On the other hand, the relative security of their position might be put at risk of they stuck their necks out too much against the 'New World Order'.

The Oslo 'peace process' (1993-2000)

Known early on as the Gaza Jericho accords, the Oslo accords were a rehash of deals that the PLO had been rejecting for years. The PLO were offered Gaza and Jericho to administer, as a first step. Even though more land was grudgingly given, Israel still controls the borders, foreign policy, etc. However, the deal was so humiliating for the PLO that even Israel was concerned that they'd stuck the boot in too much.

In Cairo, Israel's environment minister warned that a 'defeated' PLO was no more in Israel's interests than a victorious one. 'When you twist Arafat's arm in the name of security, you have to be careful not to break it. With a broken arm, Arafat won't be able to maintain control in Gaza and Jericho.'[50]

The agreement has often been compared to the system of 'bantustans' which existed in South Africa. The continuation of the settlements and the construction of settler-only roads have reinforced this similarity.

Most Palestinian nationalist groups opposed the Oslo Accords from the outset but decided to stick to their role of 'loyal opposition'. Hamas has continued its attacks on Israelis but not on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). At the beginning of PNA rule Hamas said "We welcome the Palestinian Security forces as brothers", and pledged "the cutting back of separately called strike days to lighten the economic burden of our people". Leninist groups, mainly the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and the PFLP (People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine) have less support than Hamas and appear to be ineffectual, they oppose Oslo but didn't advocate active struggle against the PNA or even against Israel, at least until the commencement of the Intifada.

The policing role of the PLO

In spite of the role of the 'loyal opposition', the resistance in the West Bank and Gaza didn't just fade away when the PNA came into force. Arafat's arrival in Gaza on July 1st 1994 was not the triumphant hero's welcome he had hoped for, and the PNA ran about desperately trying to whip up mass popular excitement about his return from exile.
The proletarians of Gaza were more interested in the prices of basic commodities. The price of vegetables were pushed up 250%, by the relatively free export conditions given to the Palestinian agricultural produce in the Israeli market under the 1994 Paris Protocol. Israel helped to wind up the situation by immediately putting a closure on the Gaza Strip and killing Palestinians in the resulting riots.[51] Hamas killed Israelis in retaliation and the new PNA denounced attacks on Israel and pledged to co-operate with Israel against any future attacks. This led almost immediately to big rallies protesting against the PNA's stance.

For Israel, Palestinian autonomy in the most populated areas meant shifting the political burden of public order onto the shoulders of a Palestinian bourgeoisie, unfettered by the checks and balances of Israel's Western European-style democratic forms. The PNA spend the majority of their budget on security (most of the money earmarked for economic change has been 'lost' by the infamously corrupt PNA), with one policeman for every thirty Palestinians.[52] They have brought back the death penalty, which has been used to stage public executions of 'collaborators' during the new Intifada, and imprisoned countless people without trial - generally their political opponents.

Despite all this repression within the PNA areas there have been protests and general strikes against the PNA treatment of Hamas militants. In the refugee camps in Gaza, which Arafat has always been notoriously reluctant to visit, there were gun battles between PNA security and camp residents several times during the summer of 2000; with opponents being arrested and held without trial. 200 teachers ditched their union for being too close to the PNA, set up an independent union and closed the schools and began a long running strike.[53] Many of them have been imprisoned. Also recently, 20 academics and professionals living in the PNA areas published and distributed a manifesto criticising the PNA.

The peace process and Israeli capital restructuring

For the section of the Israeli bourgeoisie, who sought accommodation with the Palestinians, Oslo represented a third way, between the intensive accumulation of the 1970s, and the expansionist dreams of a greater Israel. If not by conquest, then by greater integration into the economy of the region, would Israeli capital seek out new areas of investment. Import controls were to be abandoned, to increase competition, and the big state- owned conglomerates were to be privatized, with an expansion of the role of private sub-contractors and employment agencies. For the Israeli state, this meant disciplining the Israeli working class, at the same time as shifting the political burden for social control of the Palestinian working class onto the shoulders of the new Palestinian statelet.

However the panacea of Oslo faced opposition from proletarians, both Israeli and Palestinian. In 1996, three years after Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had shaken hands on the White House lawn, the Likud government's attempts to introduce privatisation led to a wave of industrial unrest, while the construction of a tunnel in Jerusalem sparked riots, which caused the highest number of Palestinian fatalities in twenty years of occupation. Nevertheless, these struggles had no connection, and the attempts at economic rationalization represented by Oslo continued largely unhindered.

The Palestinian working class

Oslo has bought the Israeli bourgeoisie time to replace the cheap but disruptive Palestinians with cheaper and less volatile labour. Thousands of Palestinians were sacked during the Gulf War. This was possible because they could be replaced by guest workers, as discussed above. The use of migrant labour has allowed Israel to put a far more effective blockade on the territories than they ever could in the last Intifada. The blockades, which were imposed when the PNA came to power, made it difficult or impossible for Palestinians to get to work in Israel. This helped to create the conditions for massive unemployment in Gaza, with workers having to get through the blockade somehow to assemble at road junction 'slave markets' in Jaffa, instead of employers going to pick workers up from the 'slave markets' in the territories.[54] However, as Peres put it in November 1994, three months after riots at the Erez checkpoint, "if Palestinians can no longer work in Israel, we must create the conditions that will bring the jobs to the workers."[55]

This is being done in two main ways. Some Palestinians work in the new industrial parks, more of which are planned for just inside the Jordanian and Lebanese borders.[56] Many other Palestinians work for Palestinian sub-contractors. The sub-contractors import Israeli raw materials and pay very low wages. The resulting commodities are retailed by Israeli companies, enabling the Israeli bosses to increase their profits because of the Palestinian wage levels. This new co-operation between the Israeli and Arab bourgeoisies has not only worsened the labour conditions for the Palestinian proletariat, it has also has extended the proletarianization of the Palestinian petit bourgeoisie. For example Israeli and Palestinian Investors are currently setting up a large industrial park to produce dairy products just on the PNA side of the border, with Tnuva, one of the largest Israeli food companies. This will undermine and probably bankrupt most of the Palestinian milk farmers who currently employ 13% of the Palestinian workers in the territories.

The Palestinian bourgeoisie have accepted their subordination to Israeli capital, firstly because it profited them, and secondly because a complete disengagement from the Israeli economy might expose them to the competition from neighbouring capitals with access to cheaper labour power. This would involve further confrontation with the working class. However, the Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisie (as well as the Jordanian) all share a common interest in preserving the territories vast pool of cheap labour, to attract Israeli, Palestinian and international investment.

Jewish working class

Although Palestinians are being progressively squeezed out of the Israeli labour market, the guest workers are not the ideal solution. Ideally, Israeli capital needs to impose worse conditions on the Jewish working class. However, when Likud tried to introduce more privatization in 1996, there was an upsurge in Jewish working class unrest.
Oslo represents a further attempt to continue splitting the Israeli economy into high wage jobs and casual badly paid jobs, and to renegotiate the post 1967 class compromise. Oslo's attempt to 'normalize' trade relations with the Arab world can only mean that the working class in Israel will be exposed to the competition of the lower paid workers in neighbouring states. This is very profitable as their wages are even lower than those of the Israeli Palestinians. The peace deal with Jordan included arrangements providing for the free movement of capital so Israeli businesses immediately moved to Jordan to use the cheaper labour force. This increased unemployment of working class Jews in areas like Dimona, and female Arab textile workers in the north, leading to an unemployment rate of 8% and rising.

As well as leading to lay-offs in the private sector, the Oslo settlement involves increasing the economic insecurity for public sector workers. Loads of public sector Jewish workers are now on temporary contracts, especially women, young people and new immigrants, and there is also the use of subcontracting in the public sector so the working conditions are worse. Jews on the dole are now being forced to take any job, an experience familiar to us. The Histadrut is covering less workers all the time, naming itself the 'new Histadrut' and carrying out surveys on why people don't trust it. Recently there was a big strike by an independent railway union demanding that the Histadrut recognize it. There has also been an attempt to set up a union for temporary workers.[57]

In an attempt to keep the Jewish working class quiet, these measures have been accompanied by an increase in the pace of settlement building in the occupied territories.

Although each new agreement brokered by America includes an Israeli promise to stop building settlements, the Israeli bourgeoisie has no choice but to ignore these promises in order to accommodate the needs of Jewish workers. Currently Israel has been trying to avoid this problem by 'judaizing' Arab areas within the green line, a policy which led directly to Israeli Arab involvement in this Intifada.

The twenty-first century Intifada

Known as the Al Aqsa Intifada because of its connection to Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Asqa mosque in September 2000, it was, at least at first, like the 1987 Intifada, spontaneous, "driven more by the enormous frustration of the Palestinians than by any strategic decision by the Palestinian leadership".[58] The spark for the explosion of proletarian anger was the killing of seven Palestinians by Israeli by 'riot control' police at the Al Asqa mosque the day after Sharon's visit - and the much publicized killing of a 12-year old at Gaza's Netzarim junction. As discussed above there have been almost continuous struggles in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. However, as the most sustained revolt since the last Intifada, this has earned the monika of 'Intifada'.

As already discussed, this struggle follows a period of conflict between the Palestinian proletariat and bourgeoisie. There were clashes between demonstrators and Palestinian police in Ramallah in September 2000, the month before the beginning of the Intifada. It is then timely for the Palestinian bourgeoisie to have mass proletarian anger turned away from them and towards 'the real enemy', as they would put it. Furthermore, in the recent uprising, Hamas have helped to restore the PLO-PNA's legitimacy with its constituency, by joining the NIF, the new umbrella body of all the nationalist bodies to control the uprising. The Fatah-based Palestinian police also help ensure that the uprising follows 'the war logic of the state', by militarising the struggle.

Nevertheless, like the previous Intifada, the fresh uprising is not entirely chained by the logic of nationalism, or support for the Arab bourgeoisies. There have been mass protests throughout the Arab world, and not just among the Palestinian diaspora. In Jordan, there were clashes with the Jordanian army by 25,000 Palestinians, leading to a ban on anti-Israeli demos in Jordan, and Egypt has seen the largest and fiercest student protests since the 1970s.

Israeli Arabs[59]

Furthermore there has been a blurring of the green line with the greater involvement of the Israeli Arabs being a distinctive element of this Intifada. Israeli Arabs were involved in the 1987 Intifada, but they played mainly a supporting role to the Palestinians in the territories. Despite their supposed 'democratic' privileges, they have never been fully integrated into the Israeli state. This was emphasized in 1976, when several Israeli Palestinian farmers were shot dead while protesting against land confiscation. This massacre came to be commemorated in annual general strikes on this day, 'Land Day'. On Land Day in 1989, young Israeli Palestinians blocked roads, threw petrol bombs at police cars and cut water pipes to Jewish settlements. Because of such incidents during the 1987 Intifada, elements in the Israeli bourgeoisie began to see them as a Fifth Column within the Green Line, and to demand that compulsory military service be extended to them, so as to guarantee their loyalty to the state. In the 1987 Intifada, Israeli Palestinians only faced plastic bullets. This time the stakes have been upped for them because of the killing of 12 Israeli Arabs by the security forces in the first few days of the Intifada.

In fact one of the main build ups to this Intifada has been the struggle of Israeli Arabs being evicted as a result of the government's policy of 'judaizing' the Galilee.[60] Almost every week over summer 2000 there was at least one house demolition in the villages in the Galilee and whole villages were coming out in support, bringing them into more or less constant conflict with the police. This policy of 'judaizing' the Galilee has included the harassment of Israeli Arabs who are on the dole. In Nazareth the office was moved further away, people's paperwork was constantly lost or manipulated - in one case a whole village was cut off for refusing work that they hadn't been offered! This has led to big demos and fighting with cops. In one case, a crowd of Nazarene women smashed their way into a benefit office.

In the first days of the uprising, whole villages in the Galilee were on strike and the main road through that area was strewn with burning tyres. Israeli Arabs have also shown themselves to be increasingly disillusioned with the electoral process. Ninety per cent of Israeli Arabs voted for Barak at the previous general election, which is generally thought to be why he won. At the 2001 election there was a concerted campaign by Arab 'community leaders' to persuade Israeli Arabs to vote for Barak - anything to avoid Sharon - the response was an almost total election boycott. Indeed some Israeli Palestinian workers' response to 'their' Arab MKs (Members of the Knesset - the Israeli parliament) was to chase them out of villages when they came to canvass.[61]

Further discrediting of the PA and militarization of the struggle

The PNA's role in the present struggle must be seen as an attempt by the PNA to control and profit from the mass resistance. There is still a strong mass element to this Intifada and the PNA is trying to use it to consolidate - or gain - their control over the 'Palestinian 'street'. The PNA also need to make sure that they retain the loyalty of their own police force. Many of the Palestinian police are Fatah militants. While they do not have any compunction about attacking demos against the PA, they can be reluctant to fire when Palestinians attack the Israeli state. Besides, they would rather the anger of the Palestinian proletariat was turned against the Israeli cops and soldiers than against them. As discussed above the summer of 2000 was characterized by violent battles between PNA police and the 'street', after the lack of progress in the Camp David agreements between Arafat and Barak. The struggles took off when the state armed police force took the side of demonstrations and fired on the IDF. This, in turn provided a pretext for the IDF to shoot to kill and for the full weight of Israeli military power, including helicopter gunships, to be brought down on the heads of the Palestinian population.

Due to the role of the PNA, this Intifada, especially when compared to 1987s 'rebellion of stones' is a highly militarized affair. While the stone throwers of 1987 might have discarded 'the warfare logic of the state', the same cannot be said of the paramilitary Palestinian police force. One consequence of this is the involvement of a far narrower cross section of the Palestinian population - with the protagonists being mainly male and between 17 and 25 years old. Another is a far higher level of Palestinian fatalities than in the last Intifada, allowing the PLO to scrape back some credibility and to get rid of some unruly poor people into the bargain. To a limited extent, the transformation of a spontaneous popular uprising into a quasi-military conflict bolsters the PNA's 'state in embryo'. After all, a state presupposes the ability to defend your borders. On the other hand, Israel's crushing military superiority has led elements within the PLO to attempt to try to de-escalate the conflict. These elements have sought to reassert the mass civilian character of the uprising.

The impact of the new Intifada

Despite the Israeli state's attempts at the substitution of guest workers for Palestinians, one of the main effects of the new Intifada has again been a slump in the construction industry, due to the cutting-off of cheap Palestinian labour power. Israel's economic growth was expected to drop to 2% in 2001, from 6% in 2000. House prices in Jerusalem have already fallen 20%, since last year. While many of these figures have been put down to the world pressures of economic slowdown, it is clear that the Intifada is aggravating global pressures, when you consider the halving of Israel's $2 billion-per-year trade with the territories. Although world market conditions are given as the official reason for this year's 50% decline in foreign investment, the Intifada is hardly going to attract foreign investment to Israel. On the other hand, the Tel Aviv start-up industry is still booming, indicating the relative strength of capital accumulation in Israel, cushioned from many of capital's normal economic imperatives by US aid of over $4 billion per year. However, this aid is a double-edged sword, because its dependence on US goodwill thus limits the freedom of action Israel has in its efforts to crush the revolt.

Even before their crushing election defeat, the Intifada had thrown the Labour Party into crisis, partly because of the intractable problems with settlements discussed above. Despite Sharon's role in fuelling it, the bourgeoisie politically rehabilitated him. While his reputation as a 'hard man' made him the natural choice for the right, more liberal voters were not put off by his bogeyman status in the prevailing climate of national emergency.
The new uprising has also led to major shifts in foreign policy among the Arab states. Gone is the conciliatory tone towards Israel; more importantly, gone too is the consensus over Iraq that America and Britain had kept in place since 1991. As one of the few perceived leaders of pan-Arabism and an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinians, Saddam Hussein has been undergoing rehabilitation in the Middle East, and the sanctions regime is near to collapse. At least until recently, Bush's partial disengagement from the peace process - in reality, unequivocal support for Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - meant that it was hard to see how the current Intifada could be ended quickly. Popular Arab opinion was hardening against the United States.

With the Intifada, increasing unrest within the Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan, the Arab bourgeoisie were forced to convene the first Arab summit for four years, and to allow Iraq to the table. Egypt recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv for the first time in 18 years, and four Arab states terminated diplomatic relations. However, it is important not to overemphasize this shift - Lebanon and Jordan are still keen to build the jointly funded industrial parks to get the most out of the peace dividend - if it comes. Jordan and Egypt have also banned anti-Israeli demonstrations.

As for the Western bourgeoisie, it is divided over its relationship to the Middle East generally. This was demonstrated by the isolation of the USA and Britain when they resumed bombing Iraq shortly after George W. Bush became president. Palestinian diplomats are looking for European allies - most likely France.

For the time being, the Israeli bourgeoisie has had to subordinate its long-term ambition to 'normalize' its trade relations with the rest of the Middle East. With the election of Sharon, this has been struck of the agenda. However, now that the Israeli bourgeoisie has abandoned the 'peace process',[62] it is more dependent than ever on the goodwill of the West, in particular the financial support of the USA, which has to balance its support for Israel, with consideration of its other interests in the region. This makes Israeli policy very confusing: sending the tanks into Gaza one minute, withdrawing them the next after a ticking off by the USA. A main tactic of the Israeli state has been the assassination of Palestinian, often Hamas, leaders. The mass public anger among Palestinians whenever this occurs only shows the extent of the popular appeal of Hamas. However it is easier for the Israeli bourgeoisie to present this kind of state violence as legitimate than the indiscriminate killing of children (although they seem to be unable to 'take out the terrorists' without killing other people in the process).

Despite the limitations imposed on its actions by the USA, the Israeli state has been able to get away with a great deal of slaughter, thanks to the lack of any real working class response. While the Intifada has triggered rebellions by Arabs, both inside the Green Line and in other parts of the Middle East, Jewish workers appear to be identifying with the imperatives of security, although there is also evidence of disaffected conscripts smuggling weapons 'to the other side' - which has been blamed on drug abuse in the army. Obviously, suicide bombings of buses, discos, shops and other busy areas reinforce divisions between Jewish and Palestinian workers. Other Jewish workers are residents of the settlements, which have come to be regarded as legitimate targets for Palestinian guerrilla attacks. In addition to the unleashing of all of the Israeli military's firepower against the proletarians of the occupied territories, the arming of the settlers has further set proletarian against proletarian.

Conclusion: from rebellion to war?

The 'peace process' signalled the Israeli bourgeoisie's acknowledgement that they needed the PLO to police the Palestinian proletariat. The PLO were then caught between the rewards for doing the dirty work, and the need not to lose their ideological capacity to recuperate proletarian struggles. The outbreak of the new Intifada indicated their failure on both counts.

In Israel manifestations of working class resistance to economic rationalization in the 1990s were more muted than in other places, such as Egypt and Tunisia. However compensating Jewish workers for their increased insecurity required the acceleration of settlement construction, and therefore an intransigent negotiating stance for the Israeli state in relation to the Palestinians. The settlement construction on the West Bank was paralleled by the 'judaization' of the Galilee in Israel proper. This meant intensification of dole harassment and house demolitions against the Israeli Palestinians in the period leading up the fresh outbreak of the Intifada in 2000.

The signs of an escalation of the Intifada into a full-scale military conflict have not led to the total suppression of the civilian uprising. Certain sections of the Palestinian bourgeoisie have wanted to reassert the mass civilian forms of struggle to attempt to de-escalate the Intifada. However, so far they have not been capable of de-escalating it. The Intifada led to the abandonment of the 'peace process' by the Israeli bourgeoisie; but their dependence on the USA, which has other considerations in the Middle East, limited the pace at which they can they could intensify the repression of the uprising.

So how much is the Intifada a mediated expression of class war, and how much a national liberation struggle? And if the workers have no country, why do workers continue to support nationalism? It is only part of the answer to point to the recent attack by Palestinians on established forms of political representation, because this has often been expressed in terms of the representatives not being nationalist enough. In this scenario, the PLO's crisis of legitimacy does not imply the rejection of all forms of representation, but rather leads to mass support for a more militant nationalist form of representation, e.g. Hamas.

Given the subordination of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, many Palestinians were compelled to work for Israeli capital, whether inside the Green Line, or in settlement construction. For them, the Israeli military government is the face of the boss. It would therefore be possible for them to identify as Palestinians rather than as proletarians, with petit bourgeois shop keepers, who experienced many similar day to day humiliations and privations of Israeli rule. In the absence of revolution, their everyday lives as workers might improve if there was a properly functioning Palestinian bourgeoisie, which could invest in industries to employ them, thus providing revenue for both classes.

In conclusion, the ritual calls for abstract solidarity between Jewish and Palestinian workers ignore the very real divisions both experience in their day to day life. The 'peace process' looked set to partially erode these divisions, by integrating the Israeli state into the rest of the Middle East. Implicit in this process was an attack on the entrenchment of Jewish workers, which would compel them to join the rest of the region's working class, albeit in a relatively privileged position. This has encountered working class resistance, such as a strike at Tempo Beers by Israeli Jews and Arabs, which has been hailed by the Israeli Left as a rare example of Jewish and Palestinian class solidarity.

As we pointed out in Aufheben 2, mass support for nationalism expresses a 'superficial identity' of contradictory class interests.[63] In the case of Jewish workers in Israel, the privileged position they occupy in relation to Palestinians has come about because of the combativity of these workers. The accommodation of Jewish workers requires the supremacy of Israeli capital in relation to the occupied territories. The subordination of the Palestinian bourgeoisie sharpened class antagonisms in the territories, which require that the bourgeoisie turns proletarian anger exclusively against Israel. Given cross-class experiences shared by Palestinians of repression by the Israeli authorities, it seems that the nationalist alliance between proletarians and the petit bourgeoisie is stronger than bonds of class solidarity between Palestinian and Jewish workers. Palestinian nationalist attacks increasingly target all manifestations of Israeli domination, notably the settlers themselves, and even civilians in Israel. The physical danger this creates for Jewish workers pushes them to support the Israeli state's security imperatives.

There have been tendencies among both Palestinians and Israelis to resist their incorporation in the opposing state machines and their war logic. But ultimately the development of such tendencies into a social movement that is capable of breaking out of the deadlock of mutually reinforcing nationalisms cannot be found within the bounds of this conflict in isolation. Rather, such a development is bound up with the generalization of proletarian struggles in the Middle East, and crucially, in the West. Depending on the extent of the class resistance it generates, particularly at a time of world recession, 'the war on terrorism' opens up at least the possibility of such a generalization.

Aufheben 10


[1] It tends also to deny Zionism the status of a 'proper' nationalism, focusing on its exclusionary racism. While this is true of Zionism, it forgets that nationalism is always based on exclusion, and so has nothing to do with communism.

[2] The New Intifada: Israel, Imperialism and Palestinian Resistance (Socialist Worker pamphlet, January 2001).

[3] 'Somalia and the "Islamic Threat" to Global Capital', Aufheben 2 (Summer 1993).

[4] By contrast the USSR in this period had very little to offer potential clients. The immense financial incentives of the Americans were impossible to deliver, and in place of the thousand-and-one ways in which capital could help an Arab state, the Soviet union could offer only military and limited technical aid. By contrast with the US, Russian policy in the Middle East was crude - capable of providing only the most limited of protection even to its closest ally, Syria.

[5] See 'Somalia and the "Islamic Threat" to Global Capital', Aufheben 2 (Summer 1993). See also Midnight Notes, 'When Crusaders and Assassins Unite, Let the People Beware' (Midnight Notes, 1990).

[6] The 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty only showed just how completely Egypt had fallen into the American orbit since the death of Nasser.

[7] See 'Capitalist Carnage in the Middle East', Wildcat, 6, 1983.

[8] So much so that the Pan-Arabist, but anti-Shiite Ba'athist regime in Iraq, had to be used as a counterweight to Iran in the 1980s.

[9] Of course, this is a reciprocal arrangement: Israeli nationalism is reinforced by the perception that 'the Arabs want to throw us into the sea'.

[10] "Zionism's fundamental contradiction was trying to save the Jew as Jew, namely the communal links which long predate modern capitalism, by integrating him into the most modern world of capital." 'The Future of a Rebellion', Le Brise-Glace (The Ice-Breaker, 1988), translated in Fifth Estate, Winter 1988/9. As we shall see, the contradictory logic of this ideology in practice takes the form of tendencies which undermine this very identity - that is, if Israel becomes more integrated with the Middle East.

[11] One of the biggest and best-known Jewish organisations was the BUND (general union of Jewish workers of Lithuania, Poland and Russia) which was set up in 1898 to connect various groups of Jewish workers in the Tsarist empire. It was briefly part of the SDLP, the Russian social democratic party, which later split into the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. In 1903 the BUND's membership was 40,000 and it had a "pioneering role in the Russian workers' movement" and more "genuine working class support" than any other workers' group in Eastern Europe. See Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah (Paris, 1969). Although it was fiercely opposed to organized Zionism, there was always an argument within the BUND about to what extent it should support or promote Jewish nationalism. Debates centred around whether demands for a Jewish state would break up working class solidarity and divert attention away from the class struggle, and whether Jewish workers should organize separately from other workers. As well as traditional workers' struggles, the BUND managed to organize self defence against pogroms in co-operation with non Jewish socialists. But after the membership of the BUND plummeted from 40,000 to 500, it became increasingly nationalist.

[12] There is even a story that David Ben Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel) kept a bust of Lenin on his desk, pointing to the influence of Bolshevism on the European Jewish working class.

[13] Baron Rothschild, who felt that Jewish settlement was a good way to serve French interests, sponsored the first Zionist immigration to Palestine at the end of 19th century. He had his own administration which could "subdue insubordination by force", all settlers had to sign a contract promising not to "belong to any organisation which is not authorized" and recognize that they were only 'day labourers' on the Baron's lands - mainly producing wine. It was a very expensive project, costing several thousand pounds to install each settler family. Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah (Paris, 1969).

[14] "Hundreds of Arabs are gathering in the market square, near the workers hostel, they have been waiting here since dawn. They are the seasonal workers...there are about 1500 of them altogether every day, and we, a few dozen Jewish workers, often remain jobless. We too come to the market to look out for the offer of a days work." Op. cit., p. 68.

[15] See Moshe Postone, Anti-Semitism and National Socialism.

[16] "This issue was the main conflict within the settlers' community during the first three decades of the century." Op. cit., p. 71.

[17] This type of picketing was common amongst leftist Zionists, e.g. those working at the British-owned railway companies in mandatory Palestine (one of the largest industries in Palestine at the time). There was some talk among these Jewish leftists of working class solidarity and trying to set up joint Jewish and Arab trade unions. However at the same time they were taking part in pickets and lobbying British employers to use exclusively Jewish labour.

[18] The Irgun Zvai Leumi was created in 1931 to be the militia of the right as the left increasingly controlled the Haganah (the main militia).

[19] Our use of the word 'corporatist' here is not the sense in which it used by the anti-'globalization' of 'corporate rule', etc. (see '"Anti-capitalism" as Ideology… and as Movement?' in this issue) We refer to such social democratic practices as tripartite agreements between the state, unions and employers. Of course, with Labour Zionism, the Histadrut fulfilled many of the functions of all three.

[20] Where this didn't happen the Israeli state helped in various ways, including arranging for a synagogue to be bombed in Iraq, and paying the Iraqi government for each Jew who went to Israel.

[21] See 'Two Local Wars', Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981).

[22] Most wages were up rated every six months. An increase in the rate of inflation meant a loss in real wages until wages were uprated to account for higher. This lag in the uprating of wages therefore tended to transfer income from wages into profits.

[23] In 1978 settlement building became a focus for opposition by the labour Zionist middle classes against Likud. The 'officers' letter' opposed this expansion on the grounds that they threatened the 'Jewish democratic character of the state'. This 'growing gap between western democratic practices and Israeli ones' was the ideological basis of the Peace Movement. They conveniently forgot that the settlements had been initiated when Labour was in power. The disparity, which had been easy for them to ignore prior to 1967, had become increasingly visible with the occupation. The more radical elements in the Peace Movement contemplated something that was almost unthinkable in Israeli society: the open refusal of military service. Because of the centrality of compulsory military service to the reproduction of Israeli society, this created major divisions in the movement. Its mainstream body Peace Now denounced a letter from reserve soldiers to the Minister of Defence, in which they threatened to refuse to defend the settlements. 'Conscientious objection' gained more legitimacy in 1982, because the invasion of Lebanon threatened what many Labour Zionists saw as the exclusively defensive role of the IDF. 160 soldiers were tried and sentenced for refusing to take part in the invasion. However smoking pot in the army and the economic crisis represented a greater threat to the Israeli war effort in Lebanon, than 'conscientious objection'. The latter could be accommodated to a certain extent, by allowing the relatively small number of refuseniks to plead insanity and transferring them away from the frontline. The 400,000 strong demonstration against the massacres at Sabra and Shatila in 1982 has widely been seen as the high watermark of the Israeli anti-war movement. The war in Lebanon had not been the quick victory that had been expected, and many parents faced the prospect of their children returning home in body bags.

[24] Israeli defence minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1985.

[25] 'The Agonising Transformation of the Palestinian Peasants into Proletarians', p.1 (International Library of the Communist Left)

[26] Op. cit., p.3. 'fellah' means peasant.

[27] Op. cit., p.3.

[28] In 1973, 52% worked in construction and 19% in agriculture, the lowest paid sectors.

[29] See 'The Palestine Proletariat is Spilling its Blood for a Bourgeois State', Revolutionary Perspectives, 20, Winter 2001 (magazine of the Communist Workers' Organization).

[30] Op. cit.

[31] 'In Memory of the Proletarian Uprising in Tel-Al-Zatar', Worldwide Intifada #1, Summer 1992.

[32] Op. cit.

[33] Phalangists were Christian militias, backed by Israel.

[34] 'In Memory of the Proletarian Uprising in Tel-Al-Zatar', op. cit.

[35] Around this time the different nationalist factions had become unified, with the help of USSR mediators, and the PCP (Palestinian Communist Party) given full membership of the PLO. It should be noted at this point that this reconciliation came about under pressure from the Palestinians in the territories, who were increasingly under siege from the new settlements.

[36] See 'Palestinian Autonomy? Or the Autonomy of our Class Struggle?', Worldwide Intifada #1, Summer 1992.

[37] See 'Intifada: Uprising for Nation or Class?', op. cit.

[38] IDF report quoted in op. cit.

[39] Op. cit.

[40] From 'Call no.2 - The United National Leadership for Escalating the Uprising in the Occupied Territories, January 10, 1988' (No Voice is Louder than the Voice of the Uprising, Ibal Publishing Ltd., 1989).

[41] From 'Call No.32 - the Call of Revolution and Continuation, January 8, 1989', op. cit.

[42] Quoted in Andrew Rigby, Living the Intifada (1991, Zed Books).

[43] For instance, sharing a platform with Meretz (a centre left Israeli Party).

[44] See 'Future of a Rebellion' (Le Brise-Glace, 1988).

[45] The importance or size of this movement can be, and often is, over rated. It has always been fairly small.

[46] See Andrew Rigby, op. cit. Islamism is a modernist political movement, which however harks back to pre-capitalist forms. Thus, like fascism, it is able to position itself against both communism and capitalism (its political opposition to capitalism is in reality a moral opposition to 'usury' - interest). Like forms of anti-semitism and anti-Americanism, it is a pseudo anti-capitalism.

[47] From Graham Usher, Palestine in Crisis: the Struggle for Peace and Political Independence after Oslo (Pluto Press, 1995).

[48] Documented by Kav la Oved (Workers' Hotline).

[49] There are roughly 100,000 foreign workers in Israel. More than 66,000 work in construction (out of a total construction workforce of 160,000). In construction, about 51,000 of the foreign workers are registered and another 15,000 illegal.

[50] Graham Usher, op. cit.

[51] There have been many riots, particularly at the Erez crossing, by the thousands of Palestinians unable to get to their jobs in the Erez Industrial Park on the other side of the crossing. In one of these riots, a petrol station was set on fire, buses on a parking lot were torched, 65 Palestinian labourers were injured and two were killed. The new Palestinian police exchanged fire with the Israeli army and 25 of them were injured. The same month, Gazan workers clashed with the IDF in bread riots.

[52] One of the reasons for the emphasis on security has been to accommodate Fatah's cadre, by giving them a job to do.

[53] Teachers in the PNA areas are more proletarianized than in most of the West, since their teacher's wage is not sufficient to sustain their existence, and they have to work as agricultural labourers, etc. when schools are on holiday.

[54] In the first few days of PNA rule, unemployment rate in Gaza had reached 60 per cent and only 21,000 of the 60,000 Palestinians working in Israel were allowed to enter Israel. After riots Israel closed the Gaza Strip indefinitely. The unemployment rates have been aggravated by Quadaffi expelling all Palestinians from Libya as a gesture of solidarity with the PLO!

[55] Quoted in Graham Usher, op. cit. These measures are particularly useful as they allow Israeli businesses to sell products through Arab sub-contractors to the Arab states who don't want to admit to trading with Israel.

[56] Even since the start of this Intifada the Jordanian Government has unofficially requested that the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry establish two more industrial zones in Jordan.

[57] This is to do with Kav La Oved (Workers' Hotline), one of the many groups to come out of the splintering of Matzpen, they support vulnerable workers in court, they basically do politico industrial tribunals. They also publicize things like deportations of migrant workers and illegal sacking of Palestinian workers in the press.

[58] Graham Usher, 'Palestine: The Intifada this Time', Race & Class, Vol. 42, No. 4.

[59] The involvement of Arabs within Israel has not been limited to Palestinian Israeli Arabs There have also been mass resignations of Druze (Arabic sect, who are supposed to serve in the Israeli army) soldiers from the IDF. The village of one Druze soldier refused to bury him when he was killed in confrontations with Palestinians.

[60] These are the areas where the new Ethiopian Jewish immigrants generally get dumped.

[61] And in the summer of 2000, an Arab MK was greeted with a hail of stones when he came to speak at the Al Baqaa Refugee Camp (Jordan).

[62] And the majority of the peace movement have given up the ghost, because they are "without a partner for peace".

[63] 'Yugoslavia Unravelled: Class Decomposition in the "New World Order"', Aufheben 2 (Summer 1993):

Nationalism reflects the superficial identity of interests that exists between a particular national bourgeoisie and the proletariat of that country for so long as capitalist social relations persist. An identity of interests because the valorization and realization of capital provides both capitalists and workers with a source of revenue with which, as independent subjects in the market legally separated from means, commodities can be purchased to satisfy needs (albeit in an alienated form). Superficial because, whilst it does not immediately present itself as such, this process is one of class exploitation and hence antagonism. To the extent that the bourgeoisie organizes itself on a national level, and it remains meaningful to talk of national economies, the proletariat finds itself a universal class divided upon national lines. For so long as we remain defeated, i.e., so long as the value form exists, then nationalism may feed upon this division. Capital may be a unity, but it is a differentiated one whose unity is constituted through competition on an international level. With competition on the world market based on cheapening commodities, acceptance of a 'national interest' and making sacrifices to the national bourgeoisie may mean increased exploitation for the working class, resignation to a living death or a real one as cannon fodder, but it also increases the competitiveness of the national capital on the world market, making its realisation more possible, and thus helps to secure future revenue for both classes.



11 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Reddebrek on February 21, 2013

A good objective look at a leftist sacred cow. PDF version here if you want it.


8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by whirlwind on March 10, 2016

This is the link ( to the pamphlet Aufheben refer to (Worldwide Intifada #1) in the notes (nos. 31, 32, 34, 36, 37, 38 and 39). I will argue, if necessary, that the Aufheben article is a revision and corruption of the original pamphlet.