Khamsin: Journal of revolutionary socialists of the Middle-East

Some of our collection of Khamsin journals
Some of our collection of Khamsin journals

Archive of revolutionary socialist journal, Khamsin, which was published from 1978 to 1987. While we might disagree with some of the positions taken, particularly those to do with national liberation, many articles contain interesting information about working class struggle, which we reproduce for reference.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

Khamsin was founded in 1975 in Paris, France, and jointly edited by Leila Kadi of Lebanon and the late Eli Lobel, a member of The Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen). The first four issues were published in French by Editions Fraçois Maspero (Paris). Four people joined the editorial board in 1978, namely Avishai Ehrlich, Moshé Machover, Mikhal Marouan and Khalil To’ama, and the next nine issues – starting with no. 5, were published in London, in English. The composition of the editorial board changed from time to time, but members of Matzpen were always actively involved. The last (14th) issue was published in London, 1989. The last two issues did not carry a serial number.



11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 6, 2013

Nice one! I added the "publications" tag


9 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Ed on September 28, 2014

All of these are now up! Only complete archive of this publication anywhere online!


9 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Mark. on September 28, 2014

Again, thanks for all this.

You might want to have a look at Israel Imperial News which was a kind of predecessor of Khamsin:


8 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by MeriamM on June 5, 2016

I've been trying to find some of these for quite some time. Thank you!

Khamsin #05: Oriental Jewry

Issue of Khamsin from 1978 primarily about the Oriental Jewry.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

What is Khamsin?

Khamsin is a journal by revolutionary socialists of the Middle East. It is also for them, and for socialists in other countries who are in­terested in that part of the world.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

Khamsin is a committed journal. It aims not merely to reflect and express, but to be part of the struggles for social and national liberation.

All these struggles:

  • That of the Arab popular masses against imperialism and zionism; That of the Palestinian people, the most direct victims of zionism, for human and national rights, for self-determination in their homeland;

  • That of the anti-zionist forces inside Israel;
  • That of the labouring classes in all the countries of the Middle East against 'their own' exploiters, and against oppressive class regimes throughout the region.

All these are inseparable aspects of one struggle, whose goals can be achieved only through the revolutionary overthrow of imperialist domination, the zionist power-structure and all the existing regimes in the region, and the establishment of a united socialist Arab world, within which the non-Arab nationalities will also enjoy, by right and in fact, full social equality, individual liberty and national freedom.

The members of the Khamsin editorial collective, from various countries of the region and belonging to different political tendencies, are united around this aim. However, Khamsin is not a party organ but a forum in which the aims themselves, as well as the strategy for achieving them, can be debated and discussed among the various shades of revolutionary left opinion.

Four issues of Khamsin have already been published in French by Editions Francois Maspero and have been well received. Encouraged by this, we have decided to go over to English, in order to make Khamsin accessible to a larger readership both in the Middle East and elsewhere. In the future, we hope to publish Khamsin in Arabic and Hebrew as well.

An anthology volume, with English translations of the most im­portant articles from the first four issues, is in preparation and will soon be published by Pluto Press [unfortunately, such an anthology was never published].

In general, part of each issue is devoted to a central theme; in this issue, it is Oriental Jewry and its relationship with zionism. In our next issue the central theme will be women in the Arab world.

Each issue also contains other features: occasional articles, dis­cussion forums, book reviews, comments on current events, docu­ments and readers' letters.

(Khamsin no. 5, 1978)


Zionism and its Oriental subjects: the Oriental Jews in Zionism's dialectical contradictions - Raphael Shapiro

A Moroccan Jewish school, 1950.
A Moroccan Jewish school, 1950.

Article looking at the position of 'Oriental Jews' (i.e. those from other countries in the Middle-East) within Israel and the zionist project historically.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

I shall try to describe, in three parts, several aspects of the relationship between zionism and the Oriental Jews. First, I shall discuss those ideological contradictions which have determined zionism's con­ception of its Oriental subjects. The second part will deal with the socio-economic realities of Israel: poverty; rural and urban slums; industrial proletarianisation; policies in housing, education and demographic planning; the character of discrimination in everyday life. Finally, I shall discuss some components of the ideological and political superstructure which developed among the Oriental Jews, as a result of their social reality and as a reaction to the zionist conception of them: a crisis of identity, the breakup of communities and of their traditional elites, self-repudiation, political attitudes, the development of some measure of class and group consciousness and, from that, limited revolt.

Zionism – an Ashkenazi movement
Zionism claims to speak in the name of all Jews, but in fact it is a movement which emerged in the Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) communities, and has never embraced any other part of world Jewry. Of course, some form of religious longing for 'Zion' as a symbol of messianic apocalypse and of religious pilgrimage has existed in most Jewish communities; but one should not be misled into identifying this spiritual symbolism with the Ashkenazi movement of political zionism.

European anti-semitism has tragically imposed on Europe's Jews successive changes in the bases of their existence, mainly by migration or, when possible, by assimilation. In addition to these two spon­taneous processes, modern anti-semitism has generated two organised Jewish reactions: on the one hand the Jewish Bund, a part of revolutionary social democracy, which struggled for the autonomy of East European Jews on the basis of their actual language and culture, in the framework of a future socialist Europe; and on the other hand the zionist movement, which crystallised under the influence of the general drive towards self-determination, headed by the national bourgeoisies of central and eastern Europe. Thus, zionists regarded their movement as the perfect embodiment of Jewish political self- determination.

The concept of self-determination applies to situations where a group struggles to achieve an independent political structure that may enable it to express freely its existing character. This is a purposely broad definition, which encompasses legitimate as well as dubious forms of national, linguistic, religious or racial separatism. However, zionism has no place even in this loose framework (although the Bund does). The zionist movement had set itself the aim not to express Jewish reality but totally and radically to reshape it.

This is the very opposite of self-determination: it is a form of transcendental self-definition. The elements of an authentic move­ment for self-determination are replaced in zionism by archaeological realities of the 'ancestors', as conveyed by religious texts. The zionists' fascination with archaeological excavations is well known. The Ashkenazi zionists have always had a profound disdain for their European origin. They scorn 'the diaspora mentality'. The vanguard of zionism, especially before the compromise urged by Berl Katsnelson in the 1930s, wished to transform the nature of the Jewish community down to the last detail: absolute atheism, Hebrew in place of Yiddish, manual labour instead of trade and the liberal professions.

As opposed to this self-repudiation, the realities of zionist self-­reconstruction were very much in the spirit of nineteenth century national movements in Central Europe and the Balkans, where rival historical claims to territory were vehemently exchanged between virtually any two neighbouring nationalities. However, while the silly 'historical' irredentist claims were an appendage to genuine demands for these national movements, the zionist 'historical' claim was the indispensable core of the whole zionist enterprise.

This basic contradiction then, between a claim of self-determination and an actual self-repudiation, was followed by a transcending ar­chaeological redefinition of self. This has cast its shadow over all aspects of zionist existence. Its first implication is this: if the basis of your self-determination is not your actual self but some ar­chaeological 'other self', then you also 'self-determine' all other people who happen to bear the same relation as you to that ar­chaeological entity, even though they may be totally alien to you.

Specifically, since the zionists took their assumed common descent to define themselves as a 'nation', it followed that all descendants of the same ancestors were to be included. To be sure, this did not mean that they rushed to invite representatives of the Oriental communities to take part in their frequent congresses – for the obvious reason that they had little in common with them. But the idea was there. And when the need arose, zionists did not even consider including Palestinians in their national enterprise, but rather chose to manipulate other Jewish communities, some of whom (such as Indian Jews from Cochin and Jews from the Moroccan Atlas mountains) were much more foreign to them than the Palestinians.

It should be understood that religion has played only an indirect role in defining the 'Jewish nation'. The religious definition of a Jew is in effect ethnic: a Jew is anyone – even if an atheist – born to a Jewish mother, or a person officially converted to Judaism. The number of conversions to Judaism throughout history is, supposedly, negligible, which is why religion has been used by atheist zionists as an excellent test of what really mattered: being a descendant of the an­cestors (There was furious zionist reaction to a recent book by Koestler1 which asserted that millions of European Jews are descendants of the massively converted Khazar population of medieval southern Russia).

To sum up, Israel is dominated by its Ashkenazi population primarily because the zionist state is a creation of the zionist movement, a purely Ashkenazi enterprise. By now this fact is realised by the great majority of Oriental Jews in Israel. In a recent interview with a foreign television reporter, an Oriental woman said in a very matter-of-fact tone: 'Of course they treat us as second-rate people; after all, it's their state.'

It should be noted that non-Ashkenazi Jews on the fringe of the Ashkenazi world, in Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, did take some part in the zionist movement. An example is David El'azar, chief of general staff during the 1973 war, who was a Sephardi from Serbia. His father, on the other hand, was not a zionist, and refused to leave Yugoslavia.

The fiction of Jewish unity
The Jewish state embodies the concept of 'Jewish national unity' which, though fictitious, is a necessary postulate of the zionist movement. Contrary to common belief, there are not just two Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. These large groups may be sub-divided, but more importantly, they are only two in a much longer list of communities. From a religious point of view, there are five main groups, corresponding to five variants of Jewish liturgy – German (Ashkenazi), Spanish (Sephardi), Italian ('Roman'), Iraqi (Bavli) and Yemenite. Of these, the first two had their own languages – Yiddish (a Middle Rhine German dialect) and Ladino (a mediaeval dialect of Castilian). In addition, there are communities that fall outside these five main groups. Among them are the large Moroccan community (who speak Arabic or Berber); the large Aramaic-speaking Kurdish community; the large Persian community (whose language is not modern Persian but a medieval Iranian dialect) and the Jews of Cochin in southern India.

The linguistic cohesion of a community is usually only one of several characteristics, developed under the impact of the surrounding culture, though not in unison with it: folk music, dances, plastic arts, tales, humour, dress, cooking, style of family life and so on.

In addition to these cultural differences, the physical ethnic dif­ferences between the various communities are also striking. All communities were affected by periods of intermarriage with the surrounding population. However, some communities are probably the direct result of organised conversion; on historical evidence, this is quite likely in the case of the Yemenites (a Jewish kingdom existed in Yemen in the fourth century), the Falashi Jews of Ethiopia (who seem to be converted Amhiras) and the Jews of Cochin. All these are ethnically indistinguishable from their unconverted compatriots.

The many differences between the various Jewish communities led to mutual discord, once they had settled in Israel, aggravated by a strong clannish spirit within each group. As they were subjected to some form of discrimination in each host country, Jews developed strong feelings of kinship with their own kind, and fear and suspicion of others. In many cases this kinship was highly structured and organised; in regions such as Iran and the remains of the Ottoman Empire, where a large number of nationalities coexisted under a despotic state, the structured community and sub-community (clan, hamoula) were a basic form of social organisation.

Roughly speaking, the greater the cultural and ethnic differences between two Jewish communities, the more noticeable was their mutual hostility in Israel. However, violent clashes occurred in the 1950s even between various Oriental communities, when these were placed close to each other. This was a great surprise to the Ashkenazim, who would lump all non-Ashkenazi Jews together under the label Sephardim (since the Sephardi community was the only non­Ashkenazi one known to them from Europe). Following several riots, the different communities were settled separately, in ethnically homogeneous geographical units (rural colonies or urban neigh­bourhoods). The frequently brandished slogans about 'the melting pot' and 'the merging of the nation' had become mere fiction.

Of course the greatest hostility existed between the Ashkenazim and the rest. The Ashkenazim were the ideologically – and eco­nomically – dominant half of the Jewish population, which manipulated the other half in a spirit of paternalism mixed with contempt. Being frequently called 'schwarze' (black) and 'frenk' (pejorative for Sephardi) by Ashkenazim, the Orientals retaliated by calling them 'vusvus' (from the Yiddish word 'vus', meaning 'what'). Violent outbreaks of hostility were usually confined to individual cases such as an assault on an Ashkenazi official in his office, or on an Ashkenazi foreman in the workshop, since the geographical separation between Ashkenazim and Orientals was usually sufficient to prevent riots. Nevertheless, the few exceptions are significant. For instance, the Moroccan Jews who were settled in the formerly Arab quarter of Wadi Salib in Haifa, rioted in 1959 in the Ashkenazi part of the city.

The 'Jewish state' of the 1950s was a state of distinct cultural and ethnic communities. Since then, the organised and coherent com­munities have disintegrated under the impact of new socio-economic realities, and the Jewish population has gradually moved towards a clearer dichotomy – Ashkenazi versus Oriental. But the earlier situation has helped to create an atmosphere of ethnic hostility and levels of segregation and discrimination which mark Israeli society up to the present time.

The basic class contradictions
The early zionists were really worried about only one con­tradiction – between the largely middle-class composition of the Jews and the need of zionism, like any national enterprise, to have a working class at its disposal.

For rather complex historical-economic reasons, Jews had been concentrated in non-productive occupations2 . True, late in the nineteenth century, a part of the Jewish population of East Europe, mainly in southern Russia and western Poland, underwent a profound process of proletarianisation, while another group settled down as farmers3 . However, this section was still comparatively small (especially in the zionist centres of eastern Poland, Lithuania, Galicia and Bessarabia) and gave its political support to the anti-zionist Bund movement.

A form of charity zionism (which preceded political zionism) did actually base itself on the middle class composition of the Jews. When, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the small and prosperous Jewish communities of western Europe began to worry about the stream of Jewish immigrants from the East, the French Baron Benjamin Edmond de Rothschild ('the charitable') initiated a project to divert this stream to Palestine. He tried to settle East European Jews on lands bought by him, where they were to become farmers employing native agricultural workers, somewhat like the French colons of Algeria. This project failed: ideologically, it had little national attraction, and in individual terms it seemed to an East European Jew much more sound, and more promising, to emigrate to the New World or western Europe than to the Ottoman Empire.

While praising the Rothschild project for pioneering the 'Jewish return to the land', the early zionist activists criticised its inadequacy as a national program. Their own response to the class contradiction mentioned above was in the way they rejected their identity as European Jews: they tried to transform themselves into manual workers, and, as a central element in their endeavour, completely to reverse and reshape the form of Jewish existence. The early ideologists of 'left zionism' defined as the main target the 'inversion of the Jewish social pyramid': Jews were 'abnormally' concentrated in the higher and non-productive strata of the social spectrum, and the task of zionism was to create a 'normal' population with a majority of manual workers.

Consequently, the young zionist immigrants organised themselves into work brigades which engaged in early collective colonisation (in eastern Galilee and the Judean plain) as well as in wage labour for Jewish farmers in the older settlements. It was indeed important not only to form new settlements, but also to integrate the existing Jewish colonies into the zionist project.

This movement was verbally dramatised to sky-high proportions. A kind of pseudo-marxism was combined with romantic Tolstoyan mysticism to create the 'Religion of Labour' of A. D. Gordon, which idealised manual labour, especially in agriculture, as a supreme purification of man. The young idealists, mostly of lower middle class origin, regarded themselves as martyrs of the new religion.

However, few of these early idealists could stand the hardships of toil and the inhospitable climate. Of the first wave of pioneers around the turn of the century (the second aliyah) about 90 per cent went back to Europe. Those working for Jewish employers could not compete economically with the Arab workers, who were used to the climate and to manual labour, and were being paid derisory wages. The zionist project seemed to be doomed.

At this point the Ashkenazi zionists discovered that they could manipulate other Jewish communities into becoming workers in the framework of the zionist enterprise. The Palestine Office of the zionist movement commissioned Dr J. Thon, one of its specialists, to prepare a report on ways of making Jewish labour more competitive with Arab labour. The report, submitted in October 1908, begins by stating that 'it is hardly in need of proof that the question of em­ploying Jewish instead of Arab agricultural workers is one of the most important problems of the colonisation of Palestine'.4 It goes on to suggest that 'the human labour force can and must come from two sources:

1. From the zionist youth in the diaspora, especially from Russia;

2. From among the indigent Oriental Jews, who are still on the same cultural level as the [Arab] fellahin'.5

The small Jewish communities – both Ashkenazi and Orien­tal – living in Palestine before the arrival of the zionist pioneers, were regarded by the pioneers as economically and culturally backward. They had to be 'made productive' in the service of zionism. However, while the Ashkenazi Jews living in Palestine were considered at best fit for urban crafts, 'the Oriental Jews, on the other hand, especially the Yemenites and Persians, have a role to play also in agriculture. Since they are frugal, these Jews can be compared to the Arabs, and from this point of view they can compete with them. True, their produc­tivity would not be greater than that of the Arabs'.6

A few thousand Yemeni Jews, motivated not by zionism but by 'religious-messianic longings', had arrived in Palestine in the 1880s. Here they found no market for their traditional crafts (especially as goldsmiths and silversmiths) and soon became pauperised. In the first decade of the century, there were some zionist-sponsored attempts to re-employ the Yemenites in their own traditional crafts and to teach them new ones, more useful from a zionist point of view. Thus some of them were given special instruction in stonemasonry, a trade that 'had hitherto been monopolised by Arabs'. From 1904 there were also some attempts to use them as seasonal agricultural labourers in the settlements of Judea.7

The 1908 Thon report proposed that the hitherto inadequate efforts at turning the Yemenites into agricultural labourers be intensified. 'Even now the Yemehites are employed in considerable numbers during the eight to ten weeks of the grape harvest in the colonies Rishon Le-Zion, Rehovot and Ghedera, and in general the farmers are pleased with their work. If we could cause Yemenite families to settle permanently in the colonies, we would achieve another thing: the [Yemenite] women and girls would work as domestics instead of the Arab [women and girls] who are now employed as servants by almost every family of colonists for high wages (20–25 [French] francs a month). So far, no serious attempt has been made to replace Arab workers by Yemenites. The principal difficulty is that the Yemenites in Jerusalem and Jaffa, while very poor, have dwellings of their own, whereas in the colonies they cannot stay permanently with their families because of lack of accommodation (during the grape harvest they sleep in the open).'8

While the Thon report urged that greater efforts be made to convert the Yemeni Jews who were already present in Palestine into regular (rather than seasonal) agricultural workers, the Palestine Office decided to take a more radical approach and import new immigrants from Yemen for that purpose. In December 1910, Shmuel Yavnieli (formerly Warszawski), member of the 'left' zionist party Hapo'el Hatza'ir, was sent to Yemen to crisscross the country and spread among its Jews the gospel of religious zionism, declaring that the days of the Messiah were at hand, and that wealth awaited all Jews in the land of their ancient ancestors. His success 'exceeded all expectations and requirements'. In 1912 alone several hundred Jewish families emigrated from Yemen to Palestine and were employed there in Jewish farms.9

However, this was not a genuine solution to the crisis in the colonising movement. After all, zionism had been created, not to establish Oriental Jews in Palestine, but to provide an answer to the problem of Jewish existence in eastern Europe. In an article published in the spring of 1912, Ahad Ha'am – always a shrewd observer and always sceptical of political zionism – makes the following report. 'Of late, Jews have been arriving in Palestine from Yemen, and have been settling in the colonies and working there as labourers. Talk in the zionist camp already has it that by them, by these Yemenites, will The Land be built. But this experiment too is not yet conclusive in any way. And many [Jews] in Palestine think that most of the Yemenites are physically not sufficiently strong for hard labour, whereas their cultural condition and their entire mentality are so different from ours, that the question automatically arises whether by their increase the quality of the whole Yishuv [ie settlers' community] may not change, and whether this change would be for the better...'.10

In fact, once the quota of hands immediately needed by Jewish farms had been filled, the Palestine Office decided to stem the influx; Yavnieli had been 'too successful'. Instructions were therefore despatched to Yemen that no more Jews should be sent to Palestine 'until further notice'11 - that is, presumably until Ashkenazi zionism would need more hands.

The prospects of zionism were brightened considerably by the British victory over the Ottomans in the Middle East, and by the Balfour declaration. The British organised Palestine as an administrative and military centre of their newly acquired Middle Eastern empire, thus allowing the growth of European-style towns. Jewish immigrants could find occupation in commerce, administration, transportation and services. By 1936, half of the Jewish labour force in Palestine (but only a quarter of the Arab labour force!) was engaged in these branches.12 During the period 1924–31 a large wave of middle-class and lower middle-class immigration (the fourth 'aliyah') arrived from Poland, caused by the growing plight of the Jews in Europe – but no doubt also attracted to Palestine by the prospect of commercial opportunities. Almost all new immigrants settled in the towns, mostly in Tel Aviv. The same pattern was repeated on a much larger scale by the immigration from Poland and Germany (the fifth 'aliyah') during the 1930s.13

The new prospects, coupled with the growing anti-semitic threat in Europe, made zionism more popular among Jews in Europe, and the volume of donations increased. This enabled the Jewish Agency (which was, in effect, the Palestine branch of the zionist movement) to buy large tracts of arable land from Arab landowners, mainly in the fertile valleys and coastal plain. The Palestinian tenants were evicted, often with the aid of British forces, thus freeing the land for Jewish colonisation. This was followed by scattered acquisition of lands all over the country. The vanguard of zionism realised that its very project depended on an actual occupation of lands by agricultural labour. Furthermore, it was important to spread the new settlements all over Palestine, so as to stake out a claim to the entire country. Being better prepared, organised and financially supported, and having more land per settler, the new colonisers succeeded where their predecessors of the second 'aliyah' had failed.

It should be realised that the ideology of manual labour had by now been severely modified, and become much more pragmatic. Labour ceased to be regarded as an ideal in itself, around which the 'reborn nation' would crystallise. It became an instrument in building up a political enterprise in the midst of a hostile indigenous population. But only certain kinds of labour were useful for this purpose – in agriculture and in the strategic nodes of the country's economy: the ports, the railways, the oil refineries.

Contrary to a widespread belief fostered by propaganda, only a small minority of the Jewish population in British-ruled Palestine was rural. In 1948, about 85 per cent lived in the three urban centres. Also, among the urban population only a small proportion was engaged in manual labour, mainly in small-scale manufacture, crafts and housing construction. However, the rural minority together with a tiny urban labour aristocracy, being the vanguard and the driving force of the zionist enterprise, constituted a highly respected social elite, to which practically all the leaders of the movement belonged.

The fundamental class contradiction remained totally unresolved. While most Jews in Palestine were still engaged – just as in Europe – in commerce, services and administration, a vanguard elite minority was proudly performing those kinds of manual labour which were necessary for the capture of strategic positions (The same minority would, in later years, also produce the military leadership of the state).

Of course, someone had to do the 'dirty jobs' and the more strenuous work in the Jewish towns. An answer to this problem was at hand: the agitation in Yemen was renewed, to provide the necessary labour force for the low-status jobs, such as seasonal agricultural work and personal services. The expression 'my Yemenite', used by Ashkenazi women, was synonymous to 'my housemaid'. To get Jews to perform strenuous stevedore jobs in the strategic port of Haifa, the zionist movement successfully recruited immigrants among the Sephardi Jews working in the Greek port of Salonika.

When the 1948 war broke out, zionist propaganda projected the image of a normal, self-sufficient nation, ready for independence. The reality was quite different. Only a small part of the food consumption was supplied by the Jewish agricultural settlements, since this occu­pied only a relatively small proportion of the arable land in the gener­ally arid country, and many of them had mostly strategic rather than agricultural value. There was only a very small industrial working class, since the industry was mostly rudimentary.14 The strategic infrastructure had been only partly damaged, but it served little purpose after the British had left. In short, this was an unproductive society, with a highly glorified appendage of a few dozen kibbutzim. The class contradiction in the newborn state of Israel was still to be solved.

True, in view of the huge financial support from the outside, un­precedented and unsurpassed in history, in terms of inflow of funds per capita,15 the economic problem did not seem urgent at first. Ben­Gurion, always a pragmatist, was worried by more immediate strategic needs. The Palestinian population, which was 'encouraged' to flee and was not allowed to return, had left behind vast agricultural lands scattered with hundreds of deserted villages and towns. The policy of fait accompli – of creating facts – required that these areas be populated by Jews, and a large number of occupants was needed. The army, too, required many new conscripts. This situation created for the first time a zionist need for a massive supply of manipulable Jewish immigrants and it resulted in the organisation of a large-scale immigration of Oriental communities to Israel in the period 1949–53.16

Being busy with grand national designs, Ben-Gurion despised 'economic trivialities' – an attitude that was shared by all zionist leaders of his generation.17 Nevertheless, the need to build up a more productive economy became pressing as time went on. And while the politically motivated pseudo-economy was supervised to a great extent by the large political bureaucracy, the development of a more genuinely productive system revealed the capitalist character of the whole zionist enterprise.18 In a Knesset speech on 25 November 1957, Finance Minister Levi Eshkol (later prime minister) gave the following definition of Israel's economic regime: 'What is our regime? It is a regime of clearing the ground and paving the way for private capital, if only it exists and wants to come here.'19 Zionism was bound to develop a capitalist system not only because of its middle-class origin, but mainly because it had to be vitally linked with western im­perialism.20

The slow development of a capitalist industry proper, started in 1958–59, finally created a need for a genuine industrial proletariat. Most of this class, especially its lower and middle layers, was recruited from the Oriental Jewish population.

Clearly, there is a fundamental difference between the bureaucratic and authoritarian deployment of Orientals for forced colonisation from 1949–55, and the proletarianisation of these communities since the late 1950s. The social mechanism regulating the latter process is that of a free labour market, in which social discrimination assumes a more mediated, impersonal and diffuse form. This difference may be roughly compared with the difference between the early coercion of blacks into slavery in the US South, and subsequent discrimination against them in the industrial centres of the North and Midwest.

The manipulation of Oriental population

All the factors mentioned above, as well as others, have combined to bring about the cold-blooded manipulation of the Oriental Jewish communities. Obvious though it is, zionists refuse to admit its
existence. From the start, Oriental Jews were a passive entity for zionism, there to be led to salvation by the Ashkenazi zionist movement. Culturally as well as ethnically they were quite distinct from the Ashkenazim.

This has led the zionist establishment to perceive them not as in­dividuals (as it did the Ashkenazi Jews) but as diffuse generic entities, treated en masse; and their communal social structures encouraged such an attitude. Also, the Orientals were supposed to be more in­clined to hard work and harsh living conditions, being more similar to the Palestinian workers, whose endurance the zionist pioneers could not equal. We have already quoted the zionist historian's dictum: 'Since they are frugal, these [Oriental] Jews can be compared to the Arabs: and from this point of view they can compete with them.' Observation of the Yemenites taught Joseph Shprintzack, one of the top zionist leaders, that 'the Yemenite is accustomed to hard work and has endurance... In the Yemenite families in the colonies everyone works: father, mother and older children.'21

Other factors of importance are the inherently segregationist character of the state of Israel, the state-worship encouraged by zionism, and the general zionist contempt for the Orient.22

The large-scale manipulation of the Oriental Jews has consisted of two stages: immigration and colonisation.

We have already mentioned the cynical messianic propaganda conducted in Yemen by atheist zionists. However, such methods could work well only when applied to socially archaic communities (Yemen, Bukhara, Soviet Uzbekistan, Kurdistan). A more widely applicable method of propaganda consisted in making the most fantastic material promises about the future awaiting the prospective im­migrants in Palestine, including assurances that many brilliant opportunities were in store for all artisans and craftsmen, who con­stituted the majority of the labour force in some communities. This method was widely used in North Africa, Turkey, Syria, Kurdistan and Persia.

However, these propaganda methods would only have had partial success but for the fact that the Oriental communities themselves were under crisis. Whatever wishful thinking is expressed by Palestinian spokesmen, Jews, along with other religious, ethnic and national minorities, were discriminated against in large parts of the Moslem world – though, to be sure, not in the same way and to the same extent as in Europe. The constant rise of Arab nationalism greatly intensified the discrimination against minorities in the Arab world. This was strongly felt, for example, by the Copts in Egypt and the Berbers in the Maghreb.

A severe blow to the welfare of Jews in the Moslem world in general, and in the Arab world in particular, was the zionist enterprise itself. As they developed an anti-imperialist consciousness, the nationalists in the Moslem countries were constantly being told of the organised settlement of European Jews in the very heart of the Arab world and around the second Holy Place of Islam, under the protection of an imperialist mandatory power. The recurrent violent clashes between the zionist movement and the Palestinians (1922, 1926, 1929, 1936–39, 1947–49) were perceived as massacres of Palestinians – and Palestinian victims were indeed far more than Jewish ones. Among the Moslems lived the co-religionists of those aggressors, people whom zionists claimed to be their fellow nationals. Jewish community leaders were repeatedly requested to clarify their stand on the issue of zionism and to voice opposition to it; but when they did this they were suspected of disingenuousness. The resulting discriminatory pressure was an important factor in increasing the receptiveness of Oriental communities to zionist calls for emigration (Thus Syria 1946, North Africa 1950–52, Egypt 1956, Algeria 1958).

Nevertheless, in some cases even this discriminatory pressure, though combined with zionist religious calls and material promises, was not enough to provoke a large exodus. This was mainly the case with the more educated and integrated communities, like those of Baghdad and the cities of Morocco. In these places Jews held higher socio-economic positions, while many of them participated in the local left-wing and nationalist movements. The case of the Baghdad community is especially noteworthy. Zionism had never succeeded in becoming a focus of attraction for the Jews of Iraq even after 1948. While a section of the Baghdad community consisted of wealthy merchants and bankers, a large part of the Jewish youth adhered to the communist party. Even many of the party's leaders were Jews. According to a zionist historiographer23 a zionist meeting organized in 1946 was attended by three dozen people, while the Jewish Com­munist Anti-Zionist Alliance was publishing a daily paper in Baghdad, printing 6,000 copies a day.

In these more difficult cases zionist agents went so far as to employ methods of provocation and terrorism. Knowing from their own experience that anti-semitism is the best fuel for emigration, they tried either to provoke it, or to stage acts of anti-semitic terrorism. For example, there is oral evidence that zionist agents sent from Israel distributed anti-semitic leaflets in Casablanca. More solid is the evidence that bomb explosions in Jewish coffee-houses, shops and synagogues in Baghdad were caused by zionist provocateurs led by Mourad Qazzaz, (alias Mordecai Ben-Porat, later a Member of the Knesset) and Yehudah Tagir, later an Israeli diplomat.24 It is probably to these and similar provocations that a zionist writer refers in the following somewhat enigmatic words: 'But does the State of Israel have duties towards the Jews who are able, but do not wish, to come here? Moreover, do we have the right to tell them: We know better than you what is best for you – and we shall therefore act to make you come here, and we shall perhaps even try to make your position more severe, so that you will have no choice but to immigrate to Israel? Note that this last question is not imaginary. We have confronted it in some very concrete situations and we may still have to confront it again.'25 The manipulation of Oriental populations

During the period 1949–55 the Jewish population of Israel increased by a whole million, from about 600,000 to about 1,600,000. Only about one half of the million new immigrants were homeless survivors of the Nazi holocaust, but even this half already constituted a huge immigrant intake in comparison with the size of the veteran population. Nevertheless, zionist policy increased the number to a full million with the Oriental immigration. This cannot possibly be ex­plained as a humanitarian rescue operation; it cannot be maintained in good faith that the Oriental Jews, organised into flocks of im­migrants, were facing imminent danger throughout the Moslem world. What remained of the Yemenite community, as well as the communities of Iran, Morocco and Cochin (to mention but a few) were in no such danger.

This haste in organising the Oriental immigration caused un­necessary hardship to both Oriental and Ashkenazi immigrants. It is worth adding a few words here about the reason for it.

The Israeli government had a very weak claim over those areas controlled by its army in 1949 which exceeded the territory allocated to the Jewish state in the 1947 UN partition plan – a plan that the zionist leadership had verbally accepted. The claim was weak both in practice and in international law.26 Ben-Gurion's policy, aimed at consolidating that claim, consisted of two mutually complementary elements: on the one hand, military stabilisation of the armistice lines into de facto international borders; on the other hand, massive colonisation of the territories inside these lines.

Here, 'military stabilisation of the lines' does not mean sealing them against intrusion of regular enemy units – the danger of such in­trusion did not exist in 1949–53, and the Israeli army could be greatly reduced by demobilisation during that period. The aim was rather to seal the lines against the Palestinian peasants massed in refugee camps just on the other side, who persisted in their attempts to cross over, to return to their homes, or at least to work their fields (usually at night) on the Israeli side. The job of preventing this could largely be per­formed by the existing structures of the Ashkenazi vanguard.

A chain of armed kibbutzim was established along the armistice lines, manned by the zionist-socialist youth movements, who, during the 1948 war, had provided the most devoted and socially coherent military units, the Palmach. During the immediate post-1948 period, the ideological pressure on the Ashkenazi youth in the cities was very strong. A youngster who did not join a pioneering youth movement and did not wish to settle in one of the frontier kibbutzim was made to feel a traitor to zionist ideals.

However, the massive occupation of the new territories was of even greater importance. The UN repeatedly required Israel to allow the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees, regardless of any final arrangements of peace and permanent borders.27 Of course, a massive repatriation of Palestinians was inconsistent with the existence of an exclusive Jewish state within the expanded borders. However, strange as it may sound now, the principle of an exclusive Jewish state had never been accepted by any part of the international community. Thus, according to the 1947 UN partition plan, the Jewish state (whose area was to be 14,000 km2 rather than the 20,000 km2 which Israel occupied by 1949) was to have 403,000 Palestinian Arabs living in it as equal citizens.

To offset this threat to their policy of fait accompli, the Israeli government needed to mass a large population in all areas previously inhabited by Palestinians. The numbers of people the Israeli authorities installed in these areas exceeded the needs of normal economic planning, and can only be explained by this political motive. As one of the organisers of this colonisation put it, 'we were spurred to occupy all abandoned Arab towns and villages. There were these houses, and someone had to fill them.'28

Conceivably, the filling could have been done with the large number of new Ashkenazi immigrants. But in practice this was not feasible: these immigrants were not easily manipulable, nor did the zionist establishment itself show any wish to manipulate them.29 Most of them had relatives, old acquaintances and friends, both among the veteran Israeli Ashkenazim and abroad. They were seen by the establishment as they saw themselves – as individuals. If they were forced to face harsh living conditions without a prospect of rapid improvement, they would re-emigrate to Western Europe, the US, Canada or Australia – as indeed hundreds of thousands of them have done in any case.

The only really manipulable element were the Oriental Jews, and their precipitate immigration was organised for this, and only for this reason. Total strangers in the country, unable to go back, waiting to be guided in their next steps into a destiny over which they had totally lost control, they were gathered in the sparsely populated strategic regions.

Behind the chain of kibbutzim strung along the armistice lines, as many as 214 rural settlements (moshavim) were set up between 1949 and 1955, with a total population of 70,000, of which (in 1960) 78 per cent were Oriental (The remaining 22 per cent of Ashkenazim were settled in very different conditions). The settlers were allocated small plots to farm – about one tenth of the arable area per capita that was allocated to the Ashkenazi settlers in the 1930s.

Yet even this population was not large enough to consolidate the claim of the Israeli government over all the territories under its military control. Therefore these territories were further filled out with about twenty towns, baptised 'development towns', set up in the most strategic regions, often immediately behind the chain of kibbutzim (Kiryat-Shmoneh, Beit-She'an, Ma'alot, Megido, Sderot, Beit-Shemesh, Kiryat-Gat are some of the latter type). Into these an even larger population, also predominantly Oriental, was herded. By 1961, the development towns had a total of 120,000 inhabitants, and two years later the figure had reached 170,000 – of which 71 per cent were Oriental.30 The motive for establishing these towns was purely political. Thus an official source states, 'The development towns were set up and populated within the framework of the policy of population dispersal; this policy was designed on the one hand to prevent over-concentration of the population in the coastal region, and on the other hand to populate desolate areas.'31 There was little economic planning, and the development towns were in fact economically unviable. For example, in 1963 the rate of unemployment in the development towns was 22 per cent (as compared to the national average of 4 per cent) and while their population was only 6 per cent of the country's total, they had as much as 32 per cent of Israel's unemployed.32

The forced colonisation through the Oriental Jews is a story of years of great suffering, humiliating discrimination and bleak frustration.

The Jewish state as a segregating entity
According to zionist doctrine, Israel is defined as 'the state of the Jewish people'. This definition is unique – a state which is not the state of its actual citizens but of a group (the Jewish people) of which its citizens are a minority, and to which only part of them (the Jewish citizens) belong. According to the famous Law of Return, any Jew has an automatic right to become an Israeli citizen upon entering the country. For that matter, even this condition may be waived, and on several occasions Israeli citizenship was actually offered to Soviet y Jews while still abroad. Zionist doctrine still demands that a genuine zionist must emigrate to Israel, but one can well imagine that, should the need arise, the Israeli government would grant Israeli citizenship wholesale to all Jews abroad who are willing to accept it. By this means, even if the Palestinian citizens of the state ever came to outnumber its Jewish inhabitants, zionism could still remain in power as representing the 'democratic majority' of all citizens.

The victims of this particular practice of the Israeli state are not only the Arab citizens, who are constitutionally of lower rank, but also the Oriental Jewish citizens. If Israel is the state of all Jews, then it must be an Ashkenazi state – since the overwhelming majority of world Jewry are Ashkenazim even though Oriental Jews are majority in Israel itself. Thus the impotence of Oriental Jews in Israel is not just a historical outcome of various socio-economic ideological factors, but an integral part of zionist legitimation.

This is not a quibble; the point has serious material and psychological implications. The ties with the zionist section of the Jewish diaspora is vital for the zionist enterprise, politically, economically and financially. The Israeli establishment makes every effort to charm European and American Jews, to mobilise them, to squeeze them, to organise them, to teach them, and to save them from the horrible fate of assimilation. Contradicting their previous repudiation of their identity and disdain for the diaspora mentality, the Israeli leaders are ready to support the most aggressive form of medieval clericalism, the Habbad Hasidic sect, and they even try to revive Yiddish language and culture – the very language and culture they themselves had once spurned. To take one somewhat grotesque example: in Jerusalem a couple of years ago, several hundred Zionist activists from the US gathered for a 'congress of Yiddish writers' – amoribund species. They were addressed by the president, the prime minister and the minister of education – a triple honour that congresses of Hebrew writers have not been treated to for many a year. The education syllabuses in Israel are changing in the same direction: at all levels, growing emphasis is put on Jewish Ashkenazi culture. Ashkenazi supremacy in Israel is reinforced by the Zionist state's need to present to the influential and wealthy Ashkenazi communities abroad an image with which they can easily identify. From this point of view, Oriental Jews are bound to be considered a minority in Israel; in fact they now slightly outnumber the Ashkenazim, but even if they should outnumber them two to one or ten to one, they will still be a 'minority group' as far as the zionist leadership is concerned.

The Oriental Jews are victimised not only by the reference to world Jewry as the defining constituency of the state, but also by the exclusion of the non-Jews. This exclusion establishes a constitutional segregation between distinct categories of citizens. But once exclusion is made, it establishes a norm which affects all aspects of the relations between the state and its citizens. A hierarchy of citizenz is established: the Arabs are categorised into sedentary Moslems, Christians, Bedouin, and Druse (in ascending order). For instance, a sedentary Moslem will under no circumstances be enlisted into the Israeli army, even if he wishes to be (there have been such cases); a Christian may be, if he volunteers; Bedouin of certain tribes and all Druse are conscripted (Druse conscientious objectors have been imprisoned). Continuing this hierarchy upwards, hardly any Jew has ever achieved in his military career one of the top four military ranks33 .

To take an example from another sphere: Ashkenazi Jews were settled in the 1960s in 'Arad, a promising new town with independent economic resources; but at about the same time Orientals were being settled in Migdal Ha'emek, a new town without an economic base. Non-Jews are not allowed to create any new village or town;34 however, when the Jewish town of Eilat recently needed hands for some rough service jobs, several dozen Druse were 'brought' there (this term was used by the Israeli press).

The way citizens are stratified into six categories (the four categories of Arabs already mentioned, plus Oriental Jews and Ashkenazim) is evident everywhere in Israel. Recently, one of the Druse notables earnestly begged the Israeli government to treat his community on a par with the Oriental Jews; not with 'the Jews', since these do not constitute a single category in the hierarchy; and not with the Ashkenazim, since that would be asking far too much.

Worship of the state35
Like many other nationalist movements, zionism has tended to develop a fetishist attitude to the state; the state is regarded as an entity for its own sake, whose subjects exist to serve it and contribute to its glory, not to be served by it. This ideology is expressed without reserve by a great number of Israelis. There are a number of factors, peculiar to zionism, which have particularly encouraged this worship of the state.

First, the organisation of the processes of immigration and colonisation gave rise to a huge bureaucracy, accustomed to manipulating large population groups. Secondly, the constant conflict with the Arab world has tremendously boosted the prestige and power of the military; a large and growing part of the social, bureaucratic and political elite is made up of retired generals. In addition, a kind of collective paranoia has developed among large sections of East European Jewry, as an understandable result of a long history of discrimination and pogroms, culminating in the horrors of Nazi extermination. The state crystallises their instincts of fear and defence, which have further developed as a result of the continual state of war. Early zionist leaders were also driven to a despotic view of the state by their experience in their countries of origin – Tsarist Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, fascist Poland, Romania and Hungary of the inter-war period.

In view of all this one may wonder why, after all, Israel has shown only partial symptoms of fascist tendencies. The main reason, I believe, has been the great weakness of any genuine ideological op­position to the ruling 'Labour Zionism'. A Jew coming to Palestine was, to the extent that he was politically conscious, a zionist almost by definition; and while the non-zionist opposition has always been marginal, the right-wing opposition has offered only a slightly dif­ferent (and less pragmatic) variant of the same ideology.36 The op­position between labour and capital has also been considerably blunted, since the massive financial support from outside has enabled the working class to receive relatively high material benefits.37

Another major obstacle to the development of an openly despotic state has been the zionist dependence on support from North America and Western Europe. A dictatorial state would dash any hope for a significant immigration from this zionist diaspora – or so it seemed.38

These moderating factors were, nevertheless, only partly effective, and in any case less relevant to the relation of the state to the Oriental communities, than to the formal state institutions and their relations to the Ashkenazim. Worship of the state was therefore one of the major ideological elements that have facilitated the rough manipu­lation of the Oriental Jews.

However, state fetishism affects the Oriental subject on a personal level as well. Whatever aid or service he receives is considered as charity, not a state obligation, and the zionist establishment is very proud of itself for it. Also, young Ashkenazim have been repeatedly encouraged and organised to do charity work among Orientals, as a substitute for the sorely needed improvement of the derisory public services and the deficient education system. In this and similar ways, charity and paternalism govern all aspects of the relations of the zionist establishment to the Oriental Jews.

The same attitude is also expressed in an inverted form in the Ashkenazi grudges against the Oriental Jews (as well as against Israel's Arab citizens and even the population of the occupied territories). Since public aid and services are felt to be dispensed as charity rather than obligation, any complaint of the receiver is regarded as ungrateful. There is absolutely no feeling of guilt in the zionist establishment for its cynical manipulation of the Orientals. On the contrary, it is very proud of having raised them slightly above the rest of the despised Orient. This outlook is conveyed in frequently used expressions such as: 'We are the ones who have built up the country, so that they may come and enjoy it', 'When have they ever had such a high standard of living before?', 'Who ever would have treated them so well?'.

After her single meeting with Israeli Black Panther activists, Prime Minister Golda Meir had only this to say: 'Once they were nice kids, and I hope that among them there are still some nice kids, but some of them, I'm afraid, will never be nice kids.'39 These words became, for a number of years, a symbol of Ashkenazi paternalism, which does not accept any Oriental grievance as legitimate.

Zionism versus the Orient
In his programmatic book The Jewish State (published in 1896) Theodor Herzl, the founder of political zionism, made the following promise: 'For Europe we shall serve there [in Palestine] as a bastion against Asia, and be the vanguard of civilisation against the bar­barians.' This idea, a leitmotif of zionism since its very beginning, was quite natural. Like any other colonising movement, zionism needed the backing and support of an imperialist power. However, whereas most colonial movements were generated in the first place by some specific imperial power as part of a particular colonial venture, and were therefore automatically supported by the sponsoring power, zionism was created by an independent dynamic and was therefore seeking the sponsorship and support of 'the West' as such – ie of imperialism in general. Consequently, zionism's antagonism towards the Orient was more part of its character, and hence more radical and complete, than one normally finds in colonial movements.

Of course, the link with imperialism could not remain abstract. It had to be cemented by specific alliances. Herzl started by seeking the patronage of the German Kaiser. Then, from 1915 to 1939, there was a long and fruitful alliance binding zionism with British imperialism. This partnership was broken by the British when they began to see it as more of a liability than an asset. This also turned out to be in the long term interest of zionism, which was then free to forge an alliance with American imperialism, the new master dominating the Middle East40 , and to obtain vital (albeit short-lived) support from the USSR (which, like the US, was seeking to accelerate the disintegration of Britain's Middle East empire).

The zionists' conflict with Britain also enabled them to appear as politically independent and indeed as 'anti-imperialist' during a crucial period of history. Thereafter – notwithstanding a flirtation with moribund French imperialism, culminating in the Suez affair of 1956 – zionism has remained attached to its American patron.

Zionist devotion to the West has not abated with time – quite the contrary: Israel has never ceased to proclaim that it is not only 'western' in character but is actually part of Europe. As a matter of fact, Israel does belong to the European sections of various in­ternational organisations, such as sports bodies and Unesco. Like all colonisers, zionists have developed deep contempt towards the 'natives'. A whole pattern of prejudice against the 'Arab mentality' has been created, sometimes by projection of anti-semitic themes: the Arabs are two-faced, cowardly, dirty, lazy, crafty, noisy, and so on. This racism has been extended to apply to the whole Arab world, and to the Orient in general.

In addition, a zealous cult of technology has emerged in zionism, fostered by the capitalist character of the state of Israel, fuelled by the worship of weaponry, and fanned by the abstract admiration for the West and its technological culture. The Orient is despised all the more for its inability to master western technology.

The contempt in which the Israeli Ashkenazi elite holds the Orient is reflected in a very conscious and explicit way in its attitude towards the Oriental Jews. From the very first contacts, Ashkenazi prejudice has despised them for being 'black', 'uncivilised' and, generally speaking, similar to the Arabs. According to a widely told story which is regarded as very witty, Bialik, the zionist national poet, used to explain that he disliked Arabs – because they were so like Oriental Jews.

This aspect of discrimination against the Orientals is evident especially at the level of the educated elite. Oriental Jews are not entrusted with positions of real power in civil or military bodies. The few high ranking non-Ashkenazi officials are either in powerless, ornamental, or representative positions, such as Chairman of the Knesset; or they are Sephardim, who are not really Orientals, in the most minor cabinet posts. The better educated an Oriental Jew is, the worse is the discrimination to which he is subjected.

This last assertion is based, among other sources, on the statistical data in the official report of the Horowitz committee, nominated in 1971 by Golda Meir in order to 'investigate' and confirm the official explanation for discrimination against Oriental Jews – their lower level of education. If this explanation were correct, then the gap between Ashkenazim and Orientals in Israel should gradually be narrowing. But in fact 25 years after the mass immigration, almost 100 years after the arrival of the first Yemeni Jews, and in spite of some efforts at integration by the zionist establishment, the social, economic and educational gap is as wide as ever, and remains a central internal contradiction of Israeli Jewish society.

Raphael Shapiro

  • 1A. Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe: the Khazar Empire and its Heritage. Random House, 1976.
  • 2Cf Abram Leon, The Jewish Question. a Marxist Interpretation, Path­finder,1970.
  • 3Trotsky's father was one such farmer.
  • 4Quoted in Alex Bein, History of Zionist Colonization, 4th ed, Massada, 1970 (Hebrew), p97.
  • 5A. Bein, op cit, p98.
  • 6ibid.
  • 7A. Bein, op cit, p99.
  • 8A. Bein, op cit, p98.
  • 9A. Bein, op cit, p101.
  • 10Ahad Ha'am, Collected Works, Jewish Publishing House, 1947 (Hebrew), p426, n.
  • 11A. Bein, op cit, p101.
  • 12Nadav Halevi and Ruth Klinov-Malul, The Economic Development of Israel, Bank of Israel\Praeger, 1968, p25.
  • 13During 1924-31, about 82,000 immigrants arrived in Palestine, and the Jewish population there roughly doubled, reaching 174,000. During the 1930s, about 217,000 immigrants arrived and the Jewish population reached 450,000. See N. Halevi and R. Klinov-Malul, op cit, ppI5-17.
  • 14Even in 1945, at the end of the war boom, when the Jewish economy was protected and enjoyed a large market (the British army), only 31.8 per cent of the Jewish labour force was employed in industry (mostly as individual ar­tisans or workers in small-scale manufacture). By 1947, the figure had declined to 26.5 per cent. See N. Halevi and R. Klinov-Malul, op cit, p25.
  • 15See Hanegbi, Machover and Orr, 'The class nature of Israel', New Left Review, 65,1971, pp7-9.
  • 16Cf §§4, 5 below. Until the end of 1951, the Jewish Agency paid the costs of all Jewish immigrants (including their fare to Israel as well as costs of improvised shelter, food and other vital needs during the first few months after arrival). From November 1951, financing of immigrants became more selective. In general, except in 'rescue' cases, the Agency would finance the immigration of a group of Jews only under the following conditions: 'Eighty per cent of immigrants must be between the ages of 15 and 35, or skilled workers, or owners of at least $10,000 worth of capital; unskilled workers are required to agree in writing to work at assigned jobs for two years after immigration.' (Jewish Agency Immigration Papers. No 20, quoted in Halevi and Klinov-Malul, op cit, p55).
  • 17Cf Halevi and Klinov-Malul, op cit, p30.
  • 18Cf Hanegbi etc, op cit, and M. Sneh, The Israeli Economy, CC of the Israeli CP, 1960 (Hebrew).
  • 19Quoted in Sneh, op cit, p11.
  • 20Cf §8 below.
  • 21Quoted in Mesilla, Histadrut Publishing House, 1924 (Hebrew), p43.
  • 22Cf §§6-8 below.
  • 23A. Ben-Ya'akov, History of the Jews in Iraq, Jerusalem, 1965 (Hebrew), p257. He also writes about zionist emissaries who were imprisoned, and were greatly astonished and embittered by the refusal of Jewish communist fellow ­prisoners to associate with them. Similar information is given by Grodzenski in an article 'Two cultures' in Davar, 4 June 1970.
  • 24This is confirmed by many witnesses. A detailed account was published in Ha'olam Hazeh, 20 April 1966 and 1 June 1966.
  • 25Uri Harari, 'Our responsibility towards the Jews in the Arab countries', in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 9 February 1969.
  • 26Cf N. Weinstock, Le Sionisme contre Israel, Paris, 1969, pp410-424.
  • 27Resolution 194 (111) of the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1948. This was reiterated in numerous subsequent UN resolutions.
  • 28A. Assaf, The Moshav Ovdim in Israel, Tel-Aviv, 1953 (Hebrew), p178.
  • 29A significant exception to this were the Jews from the rural parts of Romania, who were not zionists, did not speak Yiddish, and were treated almost on a par with Oriental Jews.
  • 30Bank of Israel Annual Report for 1963, Jerusalem, 1964 (Hebrew), p15. Strictly speaking, the figure of 71 per cent refers only to the immigrant population of these towns. A quarter of the inhabitants were in fact Israeli born – mostly young children of immigrants. Since the birth rate among Oriental Jews is far higher than among Ashkenazim, the proportion of Orientals among the total population must have been 75 per cent at the very least. The Ashkenazi 25 per cent were largely made up of officials and their families.
  • 31Ibid. The term 'desolate' here refers not only to areas that were actually depopulated through the expulsion of their Palestinian Arab inhabitants, but also to areas that still had a dense Arab population. Thus the Bank's statistics include the 'development town' of Upper Nazareth, set up next to the crowded Arab town of Nazareth as part of the project of 'Judaization' of Arab-populated Galilee.
  • 32ibid.
  • 33One ostensible exception, Gen David El'azar, was a European Sephardi (see § 1 above).
  • 34A bizarre episode occurred during the 1950s. Several groups of Arab youth were recruited by the 'left' zionist party Mapam, educated in kibbutzim and indoctrinated with the movement's 'pioneering values'. However, in 1958, when the young Arabs wanted to practice what had been preached to them and to found a new co-operative farm, they discovered that land was only allocated for Jewish settlement. See Y. Netzer and T. Raz, The Pioneering Youth Movement initiated by Mapam – a Topic in the History of Israel's Arabs, Shiloah Institute, Skirot series, Tel Aviv, May 1976 (Hebrew).
  • 35The subject of this section is dealt with in detail in Avishai Ehrlich's article 'Crise en Israel – Menace fasciste?' in Khamsin 3. An English trans­lation is included in the present issue (Editor's note.)
  • 36In recent years the situation has changed somewhat: the extent of Israel's eventual withdrawal from the occupied territories is a serious issue on which the zionist camp is indeed divided, though the present division to a great extent cuts across the old party lines. This seems to be the reason for the recent acceleration in the move towards a 'strong state'. It did not occur earlier precisely because of the ideological uniformity of the system.
  • 37That is, relative to the low productivity of the economy. See Hanegbi, Machover and Orr, op cit.
  • 38However, by now this hope has practically evaporated in any case. Also, the most militant zionists in the US are now themselves moving towards support of a 'strong state'.
  • 39See, for example, Yedi'ot Aharonot weekend supplement 28 May 1971.
  • 40'In those very years of struggle [with Britain] there occurred a process of a beginning of a new attachment: America-Zion instead of England-Zion – a process that relied on the fact of US penetration into the Middle East as a decisive world power.' (This is an assessment by the veteran Labour zionist political commentator Michael Assaf, in Davar, 2 May 1952).


Egyptian Jewry: why it declined - Ya'acoub Daoud Eskandarany

Bat Mitzvah in Alexandria, Egypt.
Bat Mitzvah in Alexandria, Egypt.

In order to illustrate the particular problematic of Middle Eastern Jewries, we shall try to give a short historical outline of the Jews who lived in Egypt for 2,000 years, held important positions in the civil service, were rarely exposed to racial persecution and spoke the language of the people. Their culture, customs and way of life were such that no problem of integration or participation in the revolutionary struggles of the Middle Eastern peoples ought to have arisen. Yet, in Egypt as elsewhere in the Mashreq, the Jewish population, with rare exceptions, has left the country. Why? We shall try to explain how this happened.

Submitted by libcom on July 26, 2005

The presence of the Jews in Egypt goes back further than that of any of the other communities of the diaspora except, perhaps, the Jews in Babylon. We find traces of Jewish presence in Egypt – a country of political asylum – in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles: Jeroboam went there to escape the fury of his father King Solomon; also refugees from Jerusalem abandoned Judea during the Babylonian invasion in order to join the Jewish colonies already in Upper and Lower Egypt.

There is still in existence a documentary record of this very early presence; the papyrus of Elephantine, which dates from the year 27 of the reign of Darius I (494 BC), and which mentions the existence of two Judean garrisons in Upper Egypt and of a temple dedicated by these colonies to Yeho (Yahve), built in Elephantine in 525 Be.

The history of the Jews in Egypt can be divided into four periods:

1. The pre-Hellenic period.

2. The Hellenic period, when Alexandria became the most important Jewish intellectual centre of the diaspora – and also the least Judean one.

3. The Arab period.

4. The period beginning in the nineteenth century with the reign of Mohammad Ali and ending in 1956 with the expulsion, or more or less spontaneous departure, of virtually the whole of Egyptian Jewry.

We shall discuss the last two periods, as they enable us to understand the situation of the Jews in the Arab countries. What are the main features? It is well known that until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Jews, far from concentrating in the urban centres only, were spread all over Egypt. From the oasis of Fayum to Damiette, the Jews were in almost all small towns and villages, where they were civil servants or agents of the state: tax collectors, treasurers, economic intermediaries, astronomers, agronomists and state physicians. They were also craftsmen, merchants, pedlars, and peasants. Lying as it does across the trade routes between North Africa and the road to India, between Europe and Asia, Egypt was visited by many travellers from Spain, France and the Balkans.1 In the disputes about ritual between Babylonians and the Judeans, the travellers sided with the academies of Palestine. It was in this capacity that the academies of Egypt attracted many scholars of the Talmud,2

At the same time, merchants and scholars went from Egypt to penetrate and conquer the unexplored markets of Yemen and Aden, and the warehouses of Asia Minor, where Jewish communities lived under the yoke of the Byzantine Empire in its final decline. In­tellectual and economic life flourished from the time of the Tulunids (middle of the tenth century) up to the Ottoman conquest of 1517. The tolerance of minorities was such that there survived in Cairo until the seventeenth century a strong Samaritan colony, and several hundred Karaite families lived there up to the twentieth century, among whom were the grammarians and Masoretes of the Ben-Asher dynasty.

Thus, the Jews felt on one hand the tolerance, and on the other, the 'ritual' humiliation which is the lot of the Peoples of the Book (Christians, Jews and Mazdeans) under Islam. However, the positions they occupied gave them a socially enviable status.

Being irreplaceable intermediaries and civil servants, they were also the first to feel the impact of urban uprisings which followed a vacuum in administration or a change of regime or dynasty. The Cairo community suffered periods of crisis, or temporary humiliations during its long history. There was the imposition of the yellow turban, the temporary closing of synagogues, and the ban on engaging in commerce. But these oppressive measures were abandoned as the regime strengthened and the economy was stabilised. The rural communities, on the other hand, enjoyed fifteen centuries without any harassment. Living in a country where no peasant revolts occurred, these communities, such as those of Ziftah, Mehallah, Damiette or Mit-Ghamr, were the backbone of Egyptian Jewry's resistance to all foreign influence on their cult, from Spanish Jews arriving there from the fourteenth century onwards. Thus, until 1950, there were Jewish peasants from the Wahba clan in the province of Gharbieh, in the villages of Kuesna, Sinbu and Khelwet el-Ghalban, and travellers like Saphir in the nineteenth century mention Jewish workers in the salt pans of Rashid and Damiette, and peasants in the province of Dakalieh.

It was with the beginning of the Ottoman Empire's decay and the economic deterioration of the Arab East – left out of the great in­ternational trade routes – and with the rise of a competing Armenian and Greek petty and middle bourgeoisie, and the emergence of Egyptian merchants, that the situation of the Jews – who drew their strength from the exclusivity of their position – began to deteriorate.

From the end of the seventeenth century, following the violent mystical and political movements created by Shabetai Zvi and Nathan of Ghaza, Egyptian Jewry entered an era of profound economic and intellectual decadence – this after having produced scholars and charismatic leaders like Isaac Luria (ARI) in the seventeenth century or H.I.D. Azulay (HIDA) at the end of the eighteenth century. Being reduced to the role of money changers and money lenders – of in­termediaries – the Jews survived with difficulty within the Jewish quarters (the Hara), where, with the approach of the night, they barricaded themselves in. Very religious and dogmatic, they were as ill-prepared as they could be for the events that would change the face of Egypt: the invasion of Napoleon, the opening up of Egypt to Europe, the Saint-Simonian intervention and the craving of the new state power elite for everything European.
Once at the centre of economic and social power, they now became dependent on the knowledge and power of others. They sought rabbis in Italy and the Balkans. They looked for elders in Europe, who would undertake to 'civilize' them, that is, to westernise Egyptian Jewry.

From now on, the Jewish community in Egypt was divided intellectually, physically and emotionally. One part clung to a struggle which quickly became a rearguard battle to maintain its Egyptian identity. The other part, succumbing to foreign influences, gradually identified itself with foreign powers and thus contributed to its own material and intellectual liquidation.

Here is a description of what was happening, in a letter written by a Jew from Cairo, dated 1897: 'I have the feeling that the Jews in Egypt will one day wake from a bad dream... Most of them (have become)... French subjects. Since 1796, the coming of Napoleon, France employs them in the same way as they are employed by Madragia, Poland, Moscovia – as conscious, willing or unwilling agents of its influence; of French influence. The Jesuits, though, are busy enough at it. The Jews unconsciously help the Jesuits. France is not satisfied with the subjects it has already; it is trying to acquire new ones every day...'3 Thus, within several decades, Egyptian Jewry – 'reinforced' by European and Balkan elements, turns to­wards Eurocentric fascination, and plays the same game as the state power itself, that is, collaboration with the western powers, and syste­matic spoliation of Egypt.

Let us take the extreme case of the community of Alexandria. Here two irreconcilable clans of notables came into being: on the one hand those gathered around the Baron de Menasce – an Austrian sub­ject – and on the other hand the last handful of the old Egyptian community. The Egyptian government, as arbitrator in the conflict, advocated reunification, and placed the community of Alexandria under the protection of the Austrian government, whereas the notables adopt a code of rules copied from that of the Consistoire de Paris, and written in Italian, a language that only an infinitesmal part of Alexandrian Jewry could understand. Most Jewish children in Alexandria went to the schools of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (of Paris). Even so, there were petitions demanding that European Jews be allowed to open their own schools, so that their children might go to institutions other than those used by the 'scum of Arabised Jews'.4

In Cairo the situation is similar, though the conflict is less pronounced; and the same also in Tantah, Mansurah or Port Said. Little by little the 20 per cent of Egyptian Jews who are of foreign origins5 impose their way of life on the autochtones, who, at first by the hundreds and later by the thousands, strive to acquire the com­fortable position of comprador bourgeoisie.

Within two or three generations, most Egyptian Jews were acculturated: they spoke French, Italian, Greek, Ladino and English; they left traditional Jewish studies (the Talmud and especially the Zohar) to the poorest among them, to the sub-proletariat, and became neo-urbanised and strangers in their own country and their own culture, alienated, torn between two cultures, and stateless.

Even though in Cairo and in the Nile delta, Arabic remained the language of the majority, and in Alexandria Arab studies became fashionable during the 184Os, the petty bourgeoisie imitated the elites they had chosen, or that were forced on them, and plunged with all their cultural heart and economic body into collaboration with the foreign powers.

'Enrichissez-vous. Copy Europe. Be ashamed of your Arabic language.' These became the slogans of the well-to-do, followed by the most disinherited – with disgust but nevertheless very quickly, under the pressure of economic and political realities.

Still, opposition to this Europeanisation appeared from the end of the nineteenth century. First, within the synagogues, or rather the meeting places of the locality, where rabbis and talmudists fought with vigour against any innovation from abroad. There were also some intellectuals who sided wholeheartedly with the Egyptian people and its struggle. Ya'acoub Sanu'a, known as Abu-Nadara, for in­stance, was a Jewish Egyptian nationalist who was exiled by the British and who carried on the anti-colonial struggle by his writings from Paris. Back in Egypt, he was the first to launch the slogan 'Egypt for the Egyptians! Egypt for all Egyptians!' during a large mass meeting in front of the pyramids. Later on, from the beginning of the 194Os, Jewish intellectuals were to join the ranks of the Egyptian Communist Party or of the MDLN (Mouvement Démocratique de Liberation National – Ha Dé To), whereas Karaite groups from the Jewish quarter of Cairo were to found their own communist group (Etoile Rouge). Zionism, as a matter of fact, was almost unheard of, if not despised. Here is what a member of the group 'Ahavat Zion' wrote bitterly from Cairo: 'The Jewish population of Cairo is divided into three distinct communities amounting to a total of 30,000 or 40,000 people; the majority is composed of Sephardim or Karaites who constitute a compact block who are living in our country for many years; and due to this ancient implantation in the midst of the Egyptian people they have a very limited notion of all the sufferings of the Jewish masses (in Europe) during recent times, and are also completely unaware of what zionism has created for the last ten years. To the extent that Egypt has done anything for zionism, this is the doing of the minority, the Ashkenazi Jews, who arrived in the country some 30 years before. The Ashkenazi community, incapable of assimilating itself to the native style, has formed its own group and all its endeavours to create a zionist way of life come to nothing mainly because of the Sephardic opposition to it. The head of the sephardic community, M. Cattaui, had reacted with irony to the idea of the creation of a Jewish state according to the principle that Dr Herzl himself explained to him.'6

During this period a newspaper called Mizraim written in Judeo Arabic,7 was published in Cairo, and another Jewish paper, written in standard Arabic, was published in Alexandria (1880). It was also during this period that there occurred accusations of ritual murder (Damanhur, Tantah, Alexandria, Port Said, Cairo), followed by lynching of Jews. In all of them, the accusers were Greek-Orthodox or Maltese. Eager as always to please the western world, leading Jewish citizens in most cases avoided the issue. In 1902 a Cairo Jew by the name of Kahana was accused of ritual murder. While the trial was on, the chief rabbi Ben-Simon found it convenient to visit Lebanon for a month, and the community could only find lawyers who abandoned the case. Finally, only a Karaite lawyer, a jurist and the 'decision maker' of his community, Murad Faraj, accepted the defence of Kahana.

It was also during this period that, exasperated with 'the degrading tyranny' of the leading citizens (letter of Somekh, dated 15 July 1908) Jews reacted violently against the Jewish pashas and beys (Cattaui, Mosseri) and launched a vigorous campaign of pamphlets written in Arabic in the Haret el-Yahud (a pamphlet called Tyqz al-Umma al­-Israyilia .

But these were mere rearguard struggles, as also were those waged in the 1950s by anti-zionist Jews gathered in the 'movement of Egyptians of Mosaic confession'. Egyptian Jewry more and more overtly took up the cause of the West. In one wave after another Egypt's Jews left, between 1947 and 1956, without hope of return to the country where they had been rooted for 25 centuries. Less than a third (the poorest, the most religious, the least westernised, the most disinherited) went to Israel. The rest were to disperse in Europe, North and South America or Australia.

What conclusions can one draw from this glance at history?

1. The Jews of Egypt, socially part of the state apparatus from the period of the Califate until the end of the reign of King Farouk, were essentially attached to a dynasty. Thus, they were to suffer during their long history in Egypt merely from court upheavals, from changes of regime or from invasions bringing about a redistribution of economic and political functions.

2. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, they were integrated within the rural population. This enabled them to keep their traditions and links with the population surrounding them. With the penetration of the West, dividing lines appear very quickly. A minority continued to keep the traditional way of life, but very soon it found itself either in the situation of a sub-urbanised sub-proletariat, or it joined the ranks of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, serving as a link between the big companies (producing sugar and cotton) and the countryside. Very quickly, within two generations, the leading citizens of the villages became the representatives of foreign companies, and they acquired the nationality of these companies. The system of capitulation – introduced in 1882 – moreover bestowed on them, as citizens of the foreign powers, exorbitant economic and legal privileges.

3. Rarely exposed to persecutions, the Jews of Egypt suffered from physical and economic brutalities with their elevation in the world of trade and finance. In direct competition with the other minorities, they became – after several centuries – victims of Christian anti­semitism, from the second half of the nineteenth century.

4. Whatever may have been their social impact and the extent of their intellectual influence for hundreds of years, the Jews lived the history of Egypt as a separate minority. Overtly used as scapegoats for centuries, their situation deteriorated with the decline of the monarchy. Branded as strangers and as loyal to the court and to zionism, they were objects of every kind of provocation, whether on behalf of the political police or of the ultra-reactionary fringe represented by the Muslim Brothers. Unhappily integrated within a revolutionary movement dominated by Stalinism, they drifted towards zionism – virtually against their will – a zionism of 'no option', a religious zionism, rather than a political zionism, to which they were total strangers,8 and which had never had many followers in Egypt except a few within the fringe of the Ashkenazim and Italian and Balkan Jews.

5. Thus, conscious and unconscious collaborators of western penetration, excluded from history, being 'objectively' in the position of exploiters (alienated) – they vanished from the Egyptian scene (together with the Greek, Italians, Maltese, Armenians and the old Copt and Muslim bourgeoisie) while a new bourgeois class took their place.

6. At the risk of moving towards political prescriptions, we venture to say that we are obliged to put forward once more the prospect of a revolutionary movement, and a struggle incorporating the whole spectrum of ethnic strata, and based on class divisions, as the only solution of the Jewish problem (and those of all other ethnic minorities) in the Middle East.

Ya'acoub Daoud Eskandarany

Full article in PDF format (24kb.)

  • 1See letter no 72 of the Gueniza, in Toledoth ha-Yehudim be-Mizraim ou­ve-Suria, by E. Strauss-Ashtor; written in Judeo-Arab, and mentioning the arrival in Alexandria of Jewish merchants from Marseille, the letter dates from 1229 or 1235.
  • 2Sa'adia Ibn-Youssef al-Fayumi, from Fayum, who became 'Exilarch' of Babylon in the ninth century; and David Ben-Daniel, 'Gaon' of the Jews from Egypt, Palestine and Syria in 1089 are two well-known names. and eventually became a religious authority in their own right.
  • 3 In 'Jews in nineteenth century Egypt', by Jacob Landau, NY University Press.
  • 4See Petition des juifs corfiotes, espagnols, russes, polonais et roumains d'Alexandrie addressee a I'AIU, of 3 July 1896 and the report of S. Benedict sent by the AIU to Alexandria in 1903.
  • 5From the Maghreb, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Italy; and Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe, according to Maurice Fargeon, Les Juifs en Egypte, Cairo, 1938.

    In 1946 there were 70,000 Jews, of whom 20 per cent were of foreign origin; possession of a foreign passport did not necessarily mean foreign origin. Thus, quite a number of Egyptians had the most diverse nationalities (French, Greek, Italian, British, Panamanian, Ecuadorian, etc), while many newly arrived people acquired Egyptian nationality. As a matter of fact, most Egyptian Jews were stateless, a result of their being on the waiting list (Egyptian nationality did not really exist before the 1920s). Apart from the 70,000 Jews there were 8,000-9,000 Karaites, completely identified with the Egyptians, but who shared the lot of the Jews and followed the same evolution (but with some 'delay'). Nowadays 450 Jews live in Egypt.

  • 6Letter of 21 December 1910, sent to the Zionist Office in Cologne; in Jews in nineteenth century Egypt, op cit.
  • 7The language of this paper was Judeo-Arabic and not Ladino as stated in the Encyclopedia Judaica. It should be noted that during the second quarter of the twentieth century many writings were published in Arabic, some on Jewish liturgy (Siddur Farhi, Siddur Ezra), as well as poetry (Murad Faraj), apologiae or polemical books (Faraj, Farhi, Mallul, Castro...), all on subjects of the 'Jewish heritage'.

    In order to complete the picture, one must mention that besides the French speaking (or, for some time, Italian) Jewish lycées, there were also those which prepared for the Arab baccalaureat. But these non-paying schools, subsidised by the community, carried over the ideology of the leading citizens, and: A) only children of craftsmen, the poor and the petty bourgeoisie were admitted; B) those lycéens mostly played the role of trend­setters for the following generation, towards French or English education.

  • 8 Various letters of Somekh, responsible for the education of the Jews, express the violence of anti-zionist sentiments of Egyptian Jews. He considers zionism a handicap of the Jews as Jews and Egyptians. Again and again he mentions in his letters the role of the Ashkenazim and Sephardim in the destructive work undertaken by 'confused warrior minds' against the project of emancipation within the country taking shape among a section of Egyptian Jews (of the urbanised middle class) at the beginning of the century.


Oriental Jews in Israel­; collective schizophrenia - A. Hoder

Jewish immigrants from Yemen, 1949.
Jewish immigrants from Yemen, 1949.

'Who are the Oriental Jews, how do they perceive themselves, the Ashkenazi Jews, the Arabs and the Palestinians?' There are no simple answers – I can only sketch some impressions.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

I was travelling the other day in a service taxi from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The passengers were all Jews. One of them, a talkative woman in her mid-fifties, and the driver, both Moroccans, were deep in conversation. The other passengers, five Ashkenazim and one Yemenite, spent the hour-long journey listening.

The Moroccan woman's torrent of conversation with the driver covered everything from rising prices to her family situation. We learnt in no time that her husband runs a coffee house in Musrara (a poor Jerusalem quarter), that she has ten children and a few things to say about Ashkenazi Jews, to whom she refers as Vusvus1 : 'They are not like us at all, not our kind'.

Driver: How do you mean?

Woman: Take those Vusvus women. There I was, visiting my daughter and her husband, see, and there is this Vusvus woman, half ­empty shopping bag, and she wants her husband to carry it! So I say to her, 'Madam, you are pestering your husband.' And my very own daughter turns on me: 'Mama, that is no way to behave, you em­barrass me', she says; and I have to listen to her because she lives among the Vusvus in Givataim.2

Driver: Good neighbourhood?

Woman: Excellent! You hardly see any blacks there; but she deserves it, my Rachel. I always used to say, 'You study good and catch a good husband'. And not only did she finish secondary school, she went to uni­versity for one year, and caught a big Vusvus, and not any old Vusvus: he is a pilot in the air force. She is the talk of Jerusalem, my Rachel is. At least my grandchildren will not have to grow up among blacks.

Drive: She sure was lucky; but then, that is women's luck. She won't have to carry shopping bags, not with a Vusvus husband.

The conversation is interrupted by the four o'clock radio news: 'Grenades exploded in Jaffa... the police are conducting searches among the minorities.'3

The taxi reaches the inevitable traffic jam near Beit Dagon. As we inch our way through, we observe the cars and buses which carry Arab labourers stopped at the road side, and rows of Arabs standing waiting for 'inspection'.

The inspection is accompanied by occasional slapping of faces, and much loud swearing. Some Arabs are singled out for 'further treat­ment' and herded into "detainees' buses". We, of course, do not undergo any such inspection (Arab-owned cars are marked differently from Jewish-owned cars).

The conversation in the car stops as we view this spectacle, but the Moroccan woman soon resumes it.

Woman: That's not enough. Burn some of them, it's the only way they'll learn.

Driver: That's right, the Vusvus don't know how to treat Arabs. We know.

Woman: My Vusvus pilot knows all right. He too says they should be burnt.

Driver: An exceptional Vusvus.

As we leave the scene behind, the conversation continues with a laboured description of the difficulties with the coffee house.

Woman: It wasn't bad before October seventy-three. But now!... I have to make a living out of our pimps.4 And I say to them, 'How can you? Don't you people have a god in your hearts? You supply murderers with our daughters.' Not Vusvus women, mind you; only our daughters are ready to fuck those murderers. Burn them all. And you know what they say? 'Mama, what do you want? You know as well as we do that we could not make a living if it were not for the Arabs in Jerusalem. Neither could you...' And I have to agree, the kids have to eat. But why do Vusvus women get away with it?

Driver: Vusvus women are independent – they do the same thing but they don't need our pimps...

The conversation moves to the inevitable rising prices. Where does it all go? They both agree: It goes to national security.

Driver: ...but we don't have it as good as we did in Morocco. There, you could make a living, live in peace. Here, they are all thieves and there's no peace.

Woman: The Vusvus are to blame; they don't have a clue, and the worst Vusvus of them all is that Kissinger – he does not know what Arabs are made of. Burn a few, then there will be peace. I still remember, that is how it used to be done in Morocco.

Somehow, as we approached Jerusalem the conversation switched from burning Arabs to Um Culthum, the famous Egyptian traditional singer.

Woman: A Vusvus fixed my TV aerial, the way only a Vusvus could: beautiful, you can get Cairo. Paid him 100 [Egyptian] pounds5 extra. Now I can hear Um Culthum and Farid el Atrash6 to soothe the soul.

At this juncture we arrive in Jerusalem and the passengers scatter.

I have listened in to many conversations like this one. They express the schizophrenic make-up of all those Jews in Israel who originate from Arab countries.

The contradictions kept coming up in references to Ashkenazi
Jews – the Vusvus: those supermen who know everything 'better than us', are 'good catches', but at the same time are not 'one of us' and 'don't understand anything' when it comes to dealing with Arabs.

As for the Arabs, the same contradictions are apparent. While the Arabs trigger only hatred and aggression, there is an enormous residue of nostalgia about the 'old country', and the TV aerials directed at Cairo.

It is important to stress that when missing the old country, whether it is Morocco, Iraq or anywhere else, these Jews are not thinking of those countries as they are now. They are remembering the semi-­feudal society they left 20 years before.

Among members of the Oriental communities, factual knowledge about the contemporary Arab world is limited, and is derived mostly from the secret service inspired Israeli press, which usually covers only the negative aspects of the Arab world and omits any mention of development and progress.

I recall how once I tried, after having come back from abroad, to tell some Iraqi Jewish friends of mine about the new medical centre in Baghdad, its size and splendour. They would not believe me. 'The Arabs are not up to it' (some added 'without us'), they 'assured' me, with examples from the days of Nuri Said, that it is all a propaganda red herring.

Terms like Oriental Jews, and Sephardi Jews, used to describe all the non-Ashkenazi Jews, are not only misleading but suggest a consciousness of communal unity which does not exist in fact. What does exist is a rigidly strict hierarchy of communities with the Ashkenazi Jews at the summit.7 The so-called gap between the Ashkenazim and the rest multiplies as you go down the list, and it is not just economic, but also political and cultural.

Sociological research conducted periodically among school-age children in Israel has shown that until about 1969 children generally preferred playmates from their own community. This pattern was repeated in each community, but in recent years the results have changed radically: from 80 to 95 per cent of children in all non­Ashkenazi communities prefer Ashkenazi children as playmates. The results are particularly unambiguous when they are required to choose from photographs of children of varying skin tones, or of 'European profIles' as opposed to 'Semitic profiles'.8 It is hardly surprising therefore that the term black has become common currency as an epithet in street brawls as well as in schools, and more so in schools that are predominantly non-Ashkenazi.

Ironically, the 'Nordic type' is regarded as the 'representative type' by the Israeli zionist propaganda machine, not just in the famous post-1967 war photographs (the story is well-known in Israel about how the 'blond parachutist standing at the Wailing Wall' was selected for 'export'), but in all the internal propaganda bombarding one from every billboard and all the media. The army is a principal peddler of the image of the fair Ashkenazi 'soldier against a tank', 'pilot against a plane' variety. Even group photographs are selected and grouped so that the blonds are in the foreground and even mere Slavic types are placed 'discreetly' in the background. All this while 72 per cent of army recruits are non-Ashkenazi. The image of the non-Ashkenazi Jew is prominent only in well-defined areas such as the 'comic Yemenite' tradition in literature and theatre.

A special role is played by the Sephardi community. It is important to understand the historical context; Sephardi Jews were originally those who came out of Spain in the fifteenth century and settled in Holland, England, a few places in Germany such as Hamburg, Italy and the Balkans. The 'real' Sephardi Jews are a very small community that until recent generations enjoyed economic prosperity far greater than that of the other communities. Its members kept their 'ethnic purity' with great zeal even with regard to other Jews. Some, notably the late Rabbi Toledano, chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, would add to their signatures an abbreviation meaning 'pure Spaniard' – that is to say that their families did not intermarry or assimilate with other Jews.

Whereas in Europe the Sephardi community was the only non­Ashkenazi one, in the Arab world it was just one of the several smaller communities (predominantly in urban centres). The crucial difference between the Sephardi community and the other Jewish communities in the Arab world showed itself in language. The Sephardim spoke Ladino, a fifteenth century Castilian dialect written in Hebrew letters, and wherever they were, kept a portion of imported culture, tradition and custom, though not to the same extent as the East European Jews. The other Jewish communities in Arab countries spoke Arabic in the local idiom, even among themselves.

Economically, until the twentieth century, the Sephardim were the richer class, while culturally they lived on credit from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when they had been the vanguard of Jewish culture. It is this community that is 'recognised' and 'accepted' in Israel, primarily because this acceptance does not imply recognition of the Arab language and culture. It is impossible in present day zionist Israel to 'recognise', say, an Iraqi community, even on a level of folklore. After all, the culture is Arabic, the songs are in Arabic, in a dialect not much different from that of the Palestinians. Instead, what is being promoted and revived is the 'Spanish Romansero' (Castilian ballads) that Sephardic women used to sing until as recently as the last generation.

And so the Sephardi has been made the archetype of all the non­Ashkenazi Jews. It is not surprising that the actor Yoram Gaon, a descendant of a notable ancient Jerusalem Sephardi family, was the only actor thought suitable to play the lead in the musical Kasablan about a Moroccan immigrant – the thought of a Moroccan acting the role of a Moroccan is inconceivable in zionist Israel.

A more pernicious role is played by the Sephardi Jews in intelligence and in policing the Arabs. The present 'adviser to the prime minister on Arab affairs', Shmuel Toledano, is a Sephardi Jew, and his official biography lists his qualifications: his first language was Ladino, his second Arabic. He studied in a Christian college in Nazareth among Christian Palestinians in the 1920s, as was the custom of Sephardi families of the period. In zionist Israel that kind of background and education is tailor-made for intelligence work. Indeed it is known that the intelligence high command have been complaining about the destructive effect state education has had on the younger generation of Sephardim, who now speak neither Ladino nor Arabic.

It is apparent that the Sephardi community with its special skills and privileges is required primarily to represent the non-Ashkenazim in a way that will continue to maintain the Ashkenazi hegemony. There is nothing special or surprising about it all. One could find analogies in other similar colonial situations, but the real question is: is there a way out? Can a movement of 'Oriental' Jews really challenge the Ashkenazi hegemony?

It is doubtful, for the following reasons: Firstly, non-Ashkenazi Jews are divided, even in their own consciousness, into separate, numerically insignificant factions, too small to challenge Ashkenazi supremacy. Secondly, the Ashkenazi community is solid and stable, it has a continuity of social customs that are maintained by each generation with little or no questioning. This kind of stability is absent in the Oriental communities, whose younger generations often despise what little they know of their original culture and traditions and regard with ill-concealed admiration the Ashkenazi customs. (I recall scenes from military funerals in the aftermath of the October 1973 war. Oriental funerals: noisy, emotional. Ashkenazi funerals: restrained and disciplined. Non-Ashkenazi youths would remark, 'look at ours, like animals; and them – human beings'.)

The Ashkenazi community not only holds, in effect, all the real power in the state of Israel, but in addition is backed by the myth it has created – the myth of strength and prestige (a myth hardly dented despite recent setbacks).

Israel, it is worth noting, is not a state with an army but an army with a state apparatus, and this army's hierarchy and structure is the expression of Ashkenazi hegemony: all the high-ranking officers are Ashkenazi. Select units – parachutists, submarine crews, pilots and so on are predominantly Ashkenazi, their officers almost exclusively so.

All this leads to only one conclusion: that the solution is to engage in a struggle not restricted to one community or another but directed at the roots of the problem, at the roots of the movement that gave rise to the Ashkenazi hegemony and created the problem of the Oriental communities; the solution is to combat zionism.

To understand the situation of the oppressed communities and the reasons that brought it about is to understand the essence of zionism and to realise the need to fight it.

A. Hoder

  • 1A nickname derived from the Yiddish 'Vus, Vus' meaning 'What, What'.
  • 2A township near Tel Aviv.
  • 3A euphemism for Arabs.
  • 4That is, Moroccan pimps.
  • 5About £8.00.
  • 6 A male Egyptian singer [of Syrian-Druz family].
  • 7The order of the other main communitis, from the bottom: Kurds, Tripolitanians, Persians, Yemenites, Moroccans (sub-divided into those who came from France and those who came from Morocco), Iraqis, Tunisians, Algerians and Sephardim.
  • 8I found out about this from personnel involved in the research. The results are supposed to be a closely guarded secret.


Book review: Ethnic relations in Israel - Nira Yuval-Davis

Book review by Nira Yuval-Davis of 'Ethnic relations in Israel'.

Submitted by Ed on January 10, 2013

Y. Peres, Ethnic Relations in Israel, Sifriat Po'alim, 1976 (Hebrew)

Within the limitations inherent in his ideological and theoretical approach, the author attempts to give a comprehensive picture of ethnic relations in Israel. By this he means mainly the positive and negative feelings that Ashkenazi and Oriental Jews in Israel have towards each other, as reflected by their mutual social distance. The Palestinian community in Israel is also included in this examination of attitudes, but is omitted from the chapter that considers inter­community social distance as it is expressed in the rate of mixed marriages. A reader looking for other aspects of ethnic relations, whether material (eg mixed economic ventures) or ideological (eg as expressed in school curricula) will search through this book in vain.

However, useful information about some of these aspects is supplied in the chapter, written jointly with S. Samoha, on ethnic gaps. What is described here is not the ethnic relations as such, but the growing differentiation in the relative power of Ashkenazi and Oriental Jews in the economic, educational and political spheres. Again, the Palestinian community is omitted from this analysis.

Altogether, the place which the Palestinians occupy in this book is very strange – typifying, it seems, some of the immanent confusion of liberal zionists about the place of Arabs in Israeli society. When the ethnic composition of Israel is described, the Palestinians are in­cluded – but as religious minorities rather than as a national group. In the analysis of ethnic identities and inter-community social distance they are perceived as a national minority. In the discussion of the growth of inter-community gaps, and especially when future prospects are considered, the Palestinians disappear from the scene altogether.

One chapter, written jointly with D. Bernstein, describes the rise of the Israeli Black Panthers; it contains some interesting details, but makes no systematic attempt to explain the emergence of this group against the background of the structure of Israeli society.

The same criticism applies to the book as a whole. It contains some relevant information about the Israelis' ethnic identities and attitudes, and describes in a somewhat isolated, random manner some of the factors that have affected the formation of these attitudes; but its basic weakness is that it does not put forward any theory which can systematically explain the historical formation of these attitudes and relate them to the fundamental social, economic and political facts of the zionist enterprise.

Nira Yuval-Davis


Oriental Jewry annotated bibliography

During the last decade a plethora of books devoted to the subject of Oriental Jewry has been published in Israel or by Israeli authors. The following list, compiled and annotated by Avishai Ehrlich, is only par­tial. Unless mentioned otherwise, the books in this list are in Hebrew.

Submitted by Ed on January 10, 2013

Abraham Ben-Ya'akov, Kitzur toldot yehudei bavel (Short history of the Jews of Babylon), R. Mass, Jerusalem, 1971.
A popular history, concentrating mainly on the lives of famous Jewish personalities. The author's view is that in general the situation of the Jews in Iraq was good and there was very little antisemitism. The main causes of hardship for the Jews were fanatic religious rulers (who made life difficult for all non-Muslims), court intrigues in which Jews were involved, and cases where Jews were squeezed for money.

Haim Y. Cohen, Hape'ilut hatzionit be'iraq (The Zionist activity in Iraq), Hasifria Hatzionit, Hebrew University and Institute for Contem­porary Judaism, 1969.
The best documented book in Hebrew on this subject. Covers mainly the period 1898-1942; written from a zionist viewpoint. Little mention of zionist underground in 1942-51. At the end of the book, a false comparison is made between the situations of the Jews in Central Europe and Iraq.

Yehuda Atlas, 'Ad 'amud hatliyah – 'Alilot hamahteret be'iraq (Up to the gallows, Story of the underground in Iraq), Ma'arakhot, 1969.
In a way, this book is complementary to H. Y. Cohen's. It too is official zionist history. It is a collection of stories told by activists of the 1942-51 underground; where there are conflicting accounts, there is an attempt to strike a balance between them. There are some illuminating bits of information on how the underground was set up, how it undermined the traditional leadership of the community and took its place, and about the conflict between zionists and com­munists. The stories show that the Iraqi authorities tolerated the underground. There is an account of the Jewish emigration from Iraq, and the competition between various zionist parties, each trying to preserve its domination over its flock.

Emil Murad, Mibavel bamahteret (Underground from Babylon), 'Am 'Oved, 1972.
An account of the zionist underground in Iraq and the emigration of its Jews to Israel, written by one of the activists.

Y. Gafni, Yahadut bavel umosdoteha (Babylonian Jewry and its institutions), Merkaz Shazar, Israeli Historical Society, 1975.
Covers ancient and medieval history of Jews in Iraq.

Yitzhaq Betzal'el, Levadam bemivtzar haqetz (Alone in the Castle of the End), Sifriat Ma'ariv, 1976.
Subtitled 'This is how the Jewry of Iraq disappeared'; a popular book written from a zionist-chauvinist viewpoint.

Shmuel Yavni'eli, Masa' leteiman (Journey to Yemen) 1911-12, Mapai Publishing House, 1952.
The first zionist emissary to Yemen tells the story of his mission.

Moshe Tzadoq, Yehudei teiman – toldoteihem ve'orhot hayehem (Yemen's Jews, their history and way of life), 'Am 'Oved, 1967.
Popular. Emphasis on connections maintained by Yemenite Jews throughout their history with other Jewish centres. An interesting chapter on the Jewish kingdom in pre- Islamic Yemen.

Yosef Tubi, Yehudei teiman bame'ah hatesha'-'esre (Yemen's Jews in the 19th Century), Afikim, 1976.

Zekharia Glusqa, Sefer lema'an yehudei teiman (A Book for the Sake of Yemen's Jews), published by the author, Jerusalem, 1974.
The author was chairman of the Association of Yemenite Immigrants in Israel. The book contains chapters on the various waves of Jewish immigration from Yemen, from the first 'aliyah up to the foundation of Israel. Includes documents from the archives of the association.

Nisim Binyamin Gamlieli, Teiman umahneh ge'ulah (Yemen and the Camp of Redemption), Published by the author, 1966.
History of Jews in Yemen, in Aden, on their way to Israel and in the immigrants' camps.

Bat Ye'or, Yehudei Mitzraim (The Jews of Egypt), Sifriat Ma'ariv and World Jewish Congress. 1974.
An example of selective zionist propagandist historiography. The main aim of the book is 'to show all the forms that hatred towards jews took in Egypt', from Hellenist times down to the present. An attempt to prove that antisemitism is a universal and eternal phenomenon. Written by an Egyptian Jew who now resides in France, the book appeared also in French. Reccommended by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture.

North Africa
H. Z. Hirschberg, A History of the Jews in North Africa, Brill, Leiden, 1974 (English).

Yosef George Harari, Toldot yehudei al-maghreb (History of Jews in the Maghreb), published by the author, Holon, 1974.
Popular account, stretching from 800 BC to 1963. The author is a supporter of General Dayan.

Israel Museum, Hayei hayehudim bemaroqo (Life of the Jews in Morocco), Israel Museum, 1973.
Popular book with emphasis on folklore and art.

Oriental Immigrants in Israel
Ovadia Shapira (ed), Moshavei 'olim beyisrael (Immigrant Moshavim [co-operative villages] in Israel), Colonisation Department of the Jewish Agency, Jerusalem, 1972.
A sociological account.

Be'ayot hasfardim beyisrael (Problems of the Sephardim in Israel), World Federation of Sephardi Communities, Israeli Directorate, 1976.
Pamphlet dealing with problems of poverty, housing and education.

Shlomo A. Deshen, Immigrant Voters in Israel, Manchester University Press, 1970 (English).
The author, professor of social anthropology in Tel Aviv University, describes an election campaign in a new immigrants' town, focusing mainly on themes of ethnicity and religion.

Moshe Shaqed and Shlomo A. Deshen, Dor hatmurah (The Generation of Transition), Yad Ben-Tzvi, 1977.
Subtitled 'Change and continuity in the world of North African Immigrants', this book was written by two social anthropologists of Tel Aviv University. It discusses the adapting of new immigrants to new conditions in the spheres of family, religion and community.

Haim Y. Cohen, Hayehudim be'artzot hamizrah hatikhon beyameinu (Jews in the Countries of the Middle East in our Times), Hebrew University and Hakibbutz Hame'uhad, 1972.


The development of class struggle in Egypt - Lafif Lakhdar

In-depth analysis of the development of capitalism and class struggle in Egypt, from the 1940s until the 1970s. Contains interesting information about mass wildcat strikes and the 1977 food riots as well as their relationship to national liberation movements in the region.

Submitted by Ed on January 15, 2013

The development of class struggle in Egypt*

Lafif Lakhdar

There are people who lose sight of two important points about Egypt, and so find it extremely difficult to grasp what has happened and what could happen in the country. These two points are: the failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, from the time of Mohammad Ali to Nasser, to overcome the crisis of primitive accumulation of capital; and the process of emancipation within the consciousness of the Egyptian proletariat from the ideology and dominance of this bourgeoisie. In this article we try to throw light on the history and potentialities of these two phenomena.

Downfall of the old bourgeoisie

From the very beginning, the Arab stalinist leaders have been linked with Russian diplomacy, thus breaking with every real involvement in social and political issues – which had become acute, especially in the aftermath of the second world war. Immediately after the Kremlin changed its policy on the Palestine question, this disconnection was crowned when they accepted the partition of Palestine, although these leaders had been fighting against it until the last minute, demagogically and nationalistically, thus concealing the nationalistic religious delirium of the bourgeois leaders. In this way the stalinists left the leadership of the mass movement to the national bourgeois leaders, – a movement whose base was mainly in the young, rising urban proletariat, the rural proletariat and the downtrodden peasants.

Al Wafd in Egypt, the Neo Destur in Tunisia, the People's Party and then the FLN in Algeria, Al Istiqlal Party in Morocco – all these parties had bourgeois leaderships and proletarian cum petty bourgeois bases. So the Arab urban and rural proletariat did not form a class for itself, an autonomous movement with its own aims and the means to fulfil them. It merely formed an army fighting for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, which then used it both to exert pressure on the colonial authorities and to bargain with, in order to gain access to the existing apparatus of the state. 'National independence' was achieved. But with the rigid international division of labour between the dominant industrial bourgeoisies and the backward, dependent bourgeoisies, this 'independence' was nothing but independence from the proletarian masses, who had achieved it at the cost of their own blood, and fundamental dependency on the western bourgeoisies.

Workers in the cities and in the country were hoping against hope that independence would mean the end of their exploitation. But – as irrefutable proof of their retarded class consciousness – they authorised 'their' bourgeois leadership to fulfil this aspiration. It was natural for this leadership not only not to realise the workers' desire, but even to betray such modest promises as the right to work, education and medical treatment. These were promises which it had made to the masses, 84 per cent of whom are illiterate, for whom meat is a luxury and staple food (bread and broad beans) usually inadequate. Since the times of the pharaohs they have suffered from endemic diseases. Half the Egyptian peasants suffer from bilharzia, and 100,000 of them die of it every year because they go barefoot and bathe in the canals.

The disappointment of the masses, and the fact that the bourgeoisie betrayed its promises, provided an opportunity for the proletariat to sever itself immediately from the bourgeoisie which had become a dominant class. But this did not happen, because the consciousness of the young, rising proletariat (which had not waged its struggle against the colonial bourgeoisie in its own interest) was still colonised by the nationalistic-religious ideology of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat had been persuaded that its worst, or rather its only enemy was the foreigner: imperialism or zionism. At home all were 'brothers in God and the Fatherland'.

Islam, that deep-rooted, popular alienation, which considers solidarity between believers a precondition for sincere belief, strengthened and supported this paralysing ideology.

In this context, Al Wafd, the dominant party in Egypt, was able to manipulate the feelings of the wronged masses, sending them from time to time into futile battles against British occupation, in order to distract their attention from their day-to-day problems of survival, and to continue to delude them with its pretended anti-colonialism.

The incapability of the ruling bourgeoisie to overcome the problem of primitive accumulation of capital forced the workers and unem­ployed, for whom the crisis had become unbearable after the second world war, to broach their own problems. But the intrinsic in­capability of the bourgeoisie prevented the solution of these problems. Thus the proletarian masses found themselves forced to strike and demonstrate, to ensure their physical survival. In fact, the socio­economic crisis in the period 1945–52 gnawed at the already tottering pillars of Egyptian society, threatening it with protracted civil war in the cities, and endemic uprisings in the rural areas like those that shook the European countryside during the great crisis of feudalism, until its final collapse in 1789.

As I have written previously: 'Despite the easy and huge profits made possible by World War II, when prices reached a record high in comparison with wages, the Egyptian bourgeoisie did not renew its
productive equipment, its methods of working and its administrative systems, in order not to reduce the rate of profit by investing in heavy or advanced industries. Because of that, the craft and manufactur­ing industries remained more predominant in number and production than the mechanised industries, which only accounted for 15 per cent of the national income, and could not employ more than 10 per cent of the labour force. As its main interest was making quick profits and not developing the productive forces, it invested the lion's share of its profits in agriculture and the building sector until 1952.'1

The defeat of the Arab bourgeoisie under the leadership of the Egyptian bourgeoisie in 1948 by zionism, which realised its project of a separate state, aggravated the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie and caused its last fig leaf to fall, exposing its nudity to the masses, and making its downfall imminent and inevitable.

Under the rule of the latifundia-owning and comprador bourgeoisie, with an industrial bourgeoisie that was weak and unable to gain power, the crisis spread daily. The more the crisis expanded, the less the ruling class was able to check the ever-growing conflict in the cities and in the country: the revolts of the wretched peasants and agricultural workers, the industrial workers' strikes in Shubra El Khaima, Kafr El Dawwar, Elmahalla Elkubra – and the demon­strations of the police themselves against the regime. In 1952 Cairo burned. But the opposing class forces were equally balanced, so that the continuation of the struggle could only have led to a long civil war which would have left all possibilities open.

Faced with that twofold inability: the inability of the bourgeoisie to keep social peace and the inability of the popular masses – in which the urban proletariat was a negligible minority – to bring down the regime immediately, the army, the only relatively coherent, armed and organised power, moved to depose the king from the throne, which in any case was only half-occupied. The emergence of Nasserist Bonapartism through the coup d'etat in 1952, was not essentially a historical transformation from a regressive social class to a progressive one. Rather it was a slight renovation of the same fatigued social class, by deposing its leadership, without any historical in­terruption.

The new bourgeoisie

When the Arab Mashreq (East), at Egypt's initiative and under its leadership, began in 1952 to drop the old bourgeoisie – the alliance of the absentee latifundia-owning and comprador bourgeoisie – in favour of the 'new' bureaucratic bourgeoisie, this did not mean the initiation of a new epoch, but rather dissatisfaction with the old social epoch. The region was entering – or more exactly re-entering through the back door – the age of non-industrial state capitalism that had characterised its history since Omar Ibn El Khattab (the second Caliph) took over in Iraq. There had been only one relatively short break: the appearance of European imperialism in the region, and the recognition of private ownership in the western sense.

Since the proletarian revolution of 1917 in Russia was put down, and the counter-revolution was established on its ruins in 1918, it became clear that state/boss capitalism is the last form of capitalism in crisis. This was when the Bolshevist authority returned tyrannical power to appointed directors in the factories, gave the bourgeois cadres back their privileges and paid the workers by piecework, which is the worst form of exploitation.

The bureaucratic parties, under the leadership of dynamic in­tellectuals, were the historical agent that established state capitalism in eastern Europe and in part of Asia by means of bureaucratic revolutions. There were many countries that missed the wave of liberal bourgeois revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth cen­turies, and the totalitarian bureaucratic revolution in the first half of the twentieth century. They did not have a militant bureaucratic party to organise the oppressed classes into an army which could change the catastrophic balance between the old, weak ruling bourgeoisie and these class forces in their own favour, as a nucleus and melting pot for a new class, that could catch up with the industrial bourgeoisie. In these countries, the military was the only social force able to intervene in order to decide the struggle in favour of the old bourgeoisie, after removing its leadership and 'fertilising' it with numerous military cadres, to run the nationalised economy, but monopolising for itself the political authority.

State capitalism in the 'socialist' countries may have achieved a horizontal, capitalist development for a certain historical period, but backward, military state capitalism merely signaled the death throes of a deteriorating mode of production, and was an obvious expression of the failure of the capitalist mode of development in both state and liberal capitalism. This is the sign that a historical epoch had come to an end, as one can see quite dearly by critically examining the Nasserist and analogous experiments in the Third World.

The 'new' Egyptian bourgeoisie began its senescence by virtue of, and during the second world war, which interrupted trade and commerce between Egypt and Britain. This meant that the needs of the British occupation army and the Egyptian consumers had to be met locally. This led to the initial appearance of the industrial bourgeoisie in Egypt, after a delay caused by the historical inclination of the Arab bourgeoisie to reinvest in agriculture and real estate, and by consular privileges.

The fact that the Egyptian bourgeoisie put in a late appearance, and the fact that it was senile made it aware of its own fragility. It tended to refrain from being adventurous – which the rising bourgeoisie usually is. And it made short-term investments, refusing to renew the fixed capital necessary to modernise industry and increase productivity. It was greedy for quick and easy profits, and it refused to save. Saving was one of the most important things that differentiated the rising European bourgeoisie from the declining nobility. These inherent flaws, along with world market conditions, made solving the accumulation crisis, that is, achieving development, merely wishful thinking.

The main criterion of successful industrial development is an economic growth rate which is clearly faster than population growth rate. The Egyptian bourgeoisie did not achieve this either before or after 1952. From 1913 to 1955 the rates of production were equivalent to the birth rate: 1.7 per cent per annum. From 1956 to 1965 – the period of short-lived economic boom, which was essentially due to the accumulation resulting from the confiscation of foreigners' property after the Suez war, the 1962 nationalisations, the as yet unmatured Russian loans and the militarisation of salaried work – the development rate was higher than the birth rate; at 4.6 per cent per annum. From 1965 to 1967 the rates of development decreased in comparison with the population: 1 per cent per annum. From 1967 till now, the Egyptian economy has not undergone any development but its problems have increased. The severe crisis began once again to wear down the proletarian masses and to weaken the body of a perennially sick economy. The reasons: local sources of capital accumulation were running dry, due to the inability of the Nasserite bureaucracy – just like its predecessors – to change the stagnant, traditional society; the high interest on foreign loans, especially the short-term ones; the high rate of emigration among skilled workers – 500,023 between 1956 and 1976 – and the astonishing increase in the costs of the swollen, unproductive and corrupt bureaucratic apparatus, in a nation in which the average real income per head is not more than $240 a year.

It is important to examine the underlying reasons for the failure of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie to find a way out of the accumulation crisis.

Crisis of agriculture

The modernisation of agriculture by means of rationalisation, in order to increase its productivity and to enlarge it in area, was one of the most important initial steps towards industrial development taken by the industrial bourgeoisie in the last century; especially towards growth in the iron and steel industry, fertilisers, building materials and agricultural machines, and towards the creation of a solvent internal market. However, the Nasserite bureaucracy neglected the rationalisation of agriculture, the initial step towards the creation of an active local market. The modernisation of agriculture is of vital importance in Egypt due to the catastrophic scarcity of arable land. In the last hundred years arable land increased by only 2,250,000 acres – 900,000 of this in the last 25 years. One can add a possible 500,000 acres that might be cultivated in the coming years. Therefore the arable land will amount to 8,500,000 acres. The population in­creased in the same period from five million to more than 39 million.

Just rationalising agriculture would have been enough to increase the productivity of the land and to reduce the deadly physical strain on the three million agricultural wage-earners or self-employed workers, to diminish working hours and therefore to absorb the starving unemployed millions in the rural areas. But the credit that the bureaucracy allocated in 12 years (1955–67) to modernising the agricultural sector was less than a quarter of the amount allocated to industry. In fact the first serious step towards solving the crisis of the Egyptian countryside would have required, among other things, doubling the agricultural credits at the very least.

However, 'the free officers were aware from the beginning that their task was to solve the crisis of the old bourgeoisie and not the crisis of Egyptian society, and that their function was not to modernise Egyptian society, but to try to renew the outward appearance of the ruling class, by realising agrarian reforms from above in a desperate attempt to stimulate the stagnant local market for the industrial stratum of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, and to enlarge this stratum by changing a part of the latifundia-owning bourgeoisie (through compensation) into value-producing urban bourgeoisie. They were not concerned with solving the problems of the fellahin but with easing the latent civil war. Thus, they did not deal with the real crisis in the countryside, which could not have been solved without the initiative of the agricultural workers themselves, and without making a concentrated effort to transform the confiscated big farms into modern-equipped co-operatives, administrated by elected soviets, which could be voted out at any time.'2

Instead of this elementary project, the Nasserite bureaucracy in­troduced an agrarian reform which was in fact agrarian destruction. But they did not put this reform into the hands of the agrarian workers and poor peasants. They assigned the task to corrupt officials from the absentee latifundia-owning bourgeoisie, which has a blind hatred of the peasantry. Nasserite bureaucracy divided the large irrigated farms into small, primitively farmed fragments, thus in­flicting a heavy blow on land productivity. Furthermore, it kept up the Moslem inheritance law which in turn helped to atomise the cultivated land. This did not help to mechanise agriculture or to alternate the crops. Even the ruling bureaucracy did not expect that. Agriculture cannot be rationalised without the establishment of industries to modernise it: industries to produce, or at least to assemble tractors, to produce fertilisers, insecticides etc. However, the first concern of the military bureaucracy was to establish military factories.

'Nothing encourages the peasant to produce: neither the heavy taxes nor the bribes he has to pay to representatives of the state and the Socialist Union Party in order to get the least important document or paper, nor the price policy which is a robbery of the surplus labour of millions of peasants. This has been the invariable policy of the Egyptian bureaucracy for ages: just as the Mamluk sultans used to buy the products of the free peasants for a song, and speculate with them on the local market, or with Venetian merchants, and then sell the peasants the imported goods at set prices; just as the state of Mohammad Ali used to fix the prices of cotton and cereals arbitrarily and monopolise their purchase in order to sell them on the world market at more than twice the cost price, so too the bureaucracy of Nasser – the historical sequel of a decrepit bureaucratic class – fed on the countryside, paralysing its development. The bureaucracy bought a kantar of cotton from the peasant for 18 pounds, and sold it raw on the world market for 33.4 pounds; it bought an ardeb of broad beans for 8.7 pounds, and sold it on the world market for 51.3 pounds. This means a forced commission of 42.6 pounds (statistics of the Central Bank of Egypt).'3

The failure of the agrarian reform to improve the financial situation, the educational standard of the agrarian proletariat and the poor peasants made the rural areas into a reservoir of unemployed people: 25 per cent of their work force. Instead of becoming a market, enlivening Egyptian industry, the rural areas became a burden on the crisis-ridden Egyptian economy. Of course this crisis differs qualitatively from the crisis of a developed economy. It is a crisis of under-production and the inability to accumulate capital. The Egyptian economy has not yet – and probably never will – reach the stage of a crisis of over-production and over-accumulation of capital.

The decline of agriculture caused a breach in peasant/land relations and a massive exodus to the towns, especially in Cairo, where class privileges are concentrated: half of the universities, 60 per cent of the doctors etc. Thus, the population of Cairo increased to nine million (about 19 per cent of the whole population) with a further one million people passing through Cairo every day. The population density, especially in the slums, reaches 150,000 people per square kilometer, and in its densely crowded streets, 317,000 cars, lorries, buses and horse-drawn carriages are on the move every day. Of the 800 industrial enterprises in Egypt, 260 are in Cairo. Most of the rest are scattered throughout other towns.

The bureaucratic bourgeoisie could not mobilise this enormous army of sub-proletariat from the countryside, to fight the proletarian revolts, as the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century had done in France and Italy. As the revolt of 18–19 January 1977 showed, the sub-proletariat was the ally of the revolutionary proletariat, which made the most radical demands of all the oppressed groups in Egyptian society.

Failure of industry

In a society like that of Egypt, industrialisation could not gain a strong foothold without modernising agriculture to widen and diversify the needs of the home market. This, in turn, could meet the needs of a series of basic industries, such as fertilizers, iron and steel, textiles, and shoes. These are the initial industries of a bourgeoisie that is aiming to enter the industrial age, because they can solve the unemployment problem to a certain extent, as they can absorb large numbers of workers and do not demand high technical qualifications. However, the Nasserite bureaucracy, like any oriental, non-industrial bureaucracy, was more attached to the oriental principle of authority than to the western principle of profitability.4 It did not lay down the aims of its industrial plan according to the priority of real economic needs – not to mention production for the real needs of the toiling masses – such as realising accumulation, cutting imports to reduce dependency on the world market, and rationalising administration relative to productivity. It laid down its plan according to the needs of a consumer bourgeoisie craving luxury consumer goods: stressing the service sector at the expense of production, attaching importance to the production of consumer durables such as cars, refrigerators and television sets, instead of producing means of production and the necessities of life.

One could talk endlessly about the corruption within the economic administration: retired servicemen and those of doubtful loyalty were sent to manage the factories, while unemployed graduates were sent arbitrarily to factories and institutions, to form within them an oc­topus-like bureaucracy, whose only function was to organise the process of exploitation. The economic administration with its proverbial corruption helped to retard the productivity of industry in the state sector by selling spare parts and raw materials to the private sector on the black market. This led to a fall in industrial productivity and a rise in costs.

Under such circumstances there was no positive interaction between the Nasserite development of industry and agriculture. Indus­trialisation did not help to modernise agriculture but was rather one of the factors that held it back, for more than 25 per cent of Egyptian cotton sales were allocated to settle the industrial and military debts with the Eastern bloc alone.

A bloated, benighted bureaucracy

A series of internal factors foiled the Nasserite attempt to solve the crisis of primitive capital accumulation, the most important of which was the bloated bureaucracy that shamelessly consumes the largest part of social production. According to the most reliable estimates, the state bureaucracy absorbs more than 60 per cent of the budget. This is an incredible sum. If it had been invested in production to meet the needs of the people, it would have been enough to solve the problem of malnutrition. However, there is no way of doing this except by dissolving the state bureaucracy in favour of a self-run communal organisation on a large scale. Otherwise, the state bureaucrat and the bourgeois of the private sector will continue to imitate – or even surpass – a wasteful western consumption while the people are heading towards a general famine in a state of blatant inequality: in the USA, 20 per cent of the population consume 32 per cent of all consumer goods; in Egypt, 2.3 per cent of the population consume 25 per cent of all consumer goods, 7.7 per cent consume 19 per cent, and 90 per cent consume the remaining 56 per cent of goods. The maintenance of the army, 30 per cent of the national income, presents a serious obstacle to ensuring 'food for every mouth' as the good, but very anachronic playwright, Tawfiq EI Hakim, put it, setting himself up as a simple-minded economist.

The sums that were squandered on war between 1967 and 1973 amounted to many billions of US dollars. As was proved by the wars of June 1967 and October 1973, the army was incapable of defending the country against zionist occupation. In the hands of the ruling class, the army became a force for suppressing the revolts of the proletariat at home and for intervening outside Egypt, to defend the Arab regimes, as was the case in Sudan in 1971, or might be the case in the future in Saudi Arabia or in one of the oil emirates. Furthermore, it became a centre for American intelligence, which is on the lookout for another Nasser to replace the present gang when it has served its purpose, in the hope that such a leader might be more able to prevent the rising proletariat from gaining a foothold.

The only indispensable army for Egypt is its workers, liberated from any sort of class domination, and armed in order to confront the aggression of the world counter-revolution that will threaten their new way of life.

As it did not sever itself from its shady past, the Arab bureaucratic bourgeoisie remained orthodox to the core. In none of its stages of quantitative development did it show either the daring of the rising western bourgeoisie in opposing religion and tradition, or the courage of the Bolshevist bureaucracy in settling accounts with the pre­capitalist past. This explains its total inability – in the second half of this century – to meet the real requirements of capitalist development, so dear to it.

This development requires among other things the radical destruction of the way in which Arab-Islamic society is organised – a way which is unadaptable and hostile to any sort of development; the laws of the Koran that, 14 centuries later, still paralyse half the Arab nation – the women, who have been condemned by the laws to stay at home and wear a veil; the oriental religious rituals that Christianity rid itself of in the third century, when it became Europeanised and rationalised, five prayers along with five religious ablutions a day, polygamy, the fast of Ramadan,5 the wasteful destruction of cattle during the feast of Al Adha and the pilgrimage to Mecca: these barbaric rituals are still eating away not only the physical and psychological health but also the incomes of the people, as they sink deeper and deeper into abject poverty.

In search of 'Lebensraum'

In the situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, it would be difficult to surmount completely the crisis of the primitive accumulation of capital, even if it overcame the previous obstacles, without having recourse to looting external sources for value. However, outside the Arab world's markets, this was impossible for a bourgeoisie that appeared after the spheres of influence on the world market had already been divided. That is why the Egyptian bourgeoisie, that had geological and geographical disadvantages – shortage of arable land, oil and minerals – was always looking for Lebensraum outside the borders of Egypt. This had been its constant aim from the time of Mohammad Ali's armed invasion of the Sudan at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He invaded in search of slaves for unpaid labour in his agricultural and industrial projects and his wars abroad for illicit value and in search of gold, an important resource for the European bourgeoisie during the phases of its primitive accumulation of capital. It has continued to be the aim of the bourgeoisie down to the unification of Egypt and Syria in 1958 by Nasser, who hoped to unify the Arab East and its oil emirates. With the early secession of the Sudan from Nasser's Egypt, the latter lost its only agricultural Lebensraum beyond its borders.

Egyptian-Syrian unity, especially if it had extended to Iraq, could have provided Egypt with a relatively wide and solvent market, and oil. However, the separation of Syria in 1961 doomed to failure the last attempt of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to overcome its severe crisis.

The Egyptian bourgeoisie's attempt to unite the provincial Arab markets into one national market could have started the process of capital accumulation at the level of the Arab world. Its failure forced it to withdraw in despair to its own extremely limited market.

This failure was not only due to the struggle of world capitalism (western and Russian capitalism) against Arab unity, but also to the nature of the provincial markets of the other Arab bourgeoisies. These markets did not supplement the Egyptian market but were an ex­tension of the world market. The few perishable consumer articles produced by the provincial bourgeoisies to meet the needs of the limited regional consumption were identical, not complementary. That compelled each Arab bourgeoisie to levy heavy customs duties in order to fortify its own market against the other markets, especially the Egyptian. As long as the economies of the Arab bourgeoisies do not complement one another, every attempt to establish even merely a common Arab market will be impossible. The best confirmation of this is the competition, or rather the animosity between the two Baathist bourgeoisies – the Syrian and the Iraqi – despite their geographical proximity and ideological similarity.

The open door policy

Under these circumstances, voluntary Arab unity was impossible. As to unifying the markets of the Arab world by employing Bismarck's methods – imposing economic complementarity on all Arab markets, opening the provincial borders by force to Egyptian products or at least limiting provincial sovereignties – world capitalism (western and Russian) – which was hostile to any attempt to be relatively in­dependent of it – did not tolerate that.

The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to modernise its market, the secession of the Sudan and then of Syria, the failure of the 1962 Egyptian military intervention in Yemen – the gate to Saudi oil – and finally its humiliating defeat in 1967, all these things made the Egyptian state bourgeoisie give up all hope of overcoming its historical crisis by opening the Arab markets to its industrial and agricultural exports so as to finance development projects with the returns.6 In an uncertain attempt to avoid collapse, the Egyptian bourgeoisie had to choose the lesser of two evils: first, the un­conditional integration with the Russian market, under worse con­ditions than those laid down for Cuba and the East European bureaucracies, in order to have access to its technology, experts and usurious loans. There were hindrances at home: deep religious alienation and the historical stagnation of the non-industrial Arab bureaucracy; and abroad: the domination of Russia over Egypt logically means having access to the Arab world and its oil. That meant a violation of the 'peaceful' co-existence treaty and of the division of labour on the world market, which would not have been tolerated by western imperialism. These hindrances reduced the chances of reaching this solution. The second option was to throw the doors of the Egyptian market unconditionally open to the multi­national companies and oil capitalism – which the Egyptian bourgeoisie called the open door policy. This is what needs to be examined in order to see its possibilities and effects on the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie.

In October 1973, the only hard currency there was in the Egyptian treasury amounted to £30,000. In Sadat's words, the Egyptian economy was 'one degree below zero' and in his opinion that was one of the most important reasons for waging the stage-managed October war. Taking advantage of this war, the oil bourgeoisie greatly in­creased the price of oil. Thus within a short time it agglomerated enormous capital which it could not invest locally.

The 'nomadic' oil capital began to wander back and forth between the American banks and their branches in Europe, subject to inflation and the official devaluation of currencies – whims of the monetary crisis. Attempts to avoid this by buying gold and real estate did not succeed because the American bourgeoisie can change its prices as it pleases, and real estate is not the ideal field of investment for capital trying to become industrial capital as quickly as possible – having been until then rentier capital deposited in the banks.

Thus, investing in international industry meant Lebensraum for the oil capital: the American and French petrochemical industries (especially for Saudi capital), Mercedes and the Rumanian petro­chemical industries (Kuwaiti capital), Fiat (Libyan capital) and so on. It is the beginning of a process of thorough integration of the oil capital with international monetary capital, within the framework of multi-national companies.

This integration does not leave the oil bourgeoisie a margin to become really independent of world capital, whose support is vital for its very existence. The other Lebensraum – and perhaps the most important from the point of view of profitability for the oil capital – remains the Arab world, especially Egypt, where manpower is dirt cheap (the average wages are $18 a month), where there are skilled workers, a relatively wide market and a strategic trade position between Asia, Europe and Africa. Investing in the Arab world, strictly speaking in Egypt – of course, in co-ordination with the multi­national companies and the World Bank, which is one of the in­struments used by the American bourgeoisie to dominate the world – will give the oil bourgeoisies, especially the Saudi bourgeoisie, the chance to have an enormous influence on the domestic and foreign policies of the non-oil Arab bourgeoisies. This influence could amount to tutelage.

Aid, but no investments

The oil bourgeoisie, which is characterised by being tribally separatist, is still hesitating about making long-term or large-scale investments in Egypt. This hesitation is explained by ever present fears: the fear that through large-scale investment in Egypt it might enable the Egyptian bourgeoisie – which from the very beginning wanted to annex the countries of the Mashreq, including the underpopulated oil emi­rates – to stand on its own feet, and under propitious international conditions, after achieving peace with the Israeli bourgeoisie, to send its troops once again to the oil wells.

The more immediate fear, however, is that by helping Egypt to become an economic power in the region it might create a bourgeoisie able to compete with it on the neighbouring markets in the event of a probable exchange crisis, which is one of the symptoms of an international crisis. This is due to the fact that the oil bourgeoisie, with its great capital, is in a mad hurry to modernise its traditional semi­nomadic societies, spending fantastic sums – to a considerable extent in vain. The five-year plan in Saudi Arabia, for example, envisages spending more than $40 billion to construct 900 new factories – in addition to the existing 620 factories – to build 18,000 km of modern roads, and to establish whole industrial cities such as Jubaiel and Yanbu' on the Gulf. The final terrifying fear is the escalation of class struggle in Egypt, which is incompatible with what capital desires – stability and social peace. On the other hand if Egypt is abandoned, the oil bourgeoisie is also afraid of an outbreak of dangerous social strife and of its aftermath. Tawfiq EI-Hakim, writing in the semi-official Al Ahram, warned that 'the gold springs might become springs of flames'. A Shakespearean tragedy.

Until now the oil and world bourgeoisie have tried to solve this difficult equation by giving Egypt aid of a political rather than economic nature, condemning the Egyptian bourgeoisie to being a satellite of Saudi Arabia within the Arab world, and internationally a US satellite, especially with regard to strategy for solving the Israeli­-Arab conflict, and for drawing a new socio-economic map of the Arab world and the Middle East.

The oil and world bourgeoisies are aiming, at least at this stage, to help the Egyptian bourgeoisie to ease its problems – especially to pay back the $1 billion in short-term loans plus the high interest, which is 18 per cent on average, to finance the import of wheat and raw material for factories – but not to solve its crisis. (Sadat imagines that this can be achieved by getting $12 billion a year and by achieving a development rate of not less than 10 per cent a year.) The reason: to prevent Egypt regaining the leadership of the Arab world from the Saudi bourgeoisie, whose only claim on it is through oil and its historical friendship with the American bourgeoisie.

The aid given by world and oil capital since the proletarian uprising on 18 and 19 January 1977 reflects its strategy in relation to the Egyptian bourgeoisie. The Gulf Organization for Development (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) gave Egypt all the capital – $2 billion – immediately, instead of paying it over five years at an interest rate of 4 per cent with a moratory agreement of five years. This debt has to be paid back to the organisation's fund, not to the creditors, to be reinvested in Egypt for a period of 25 years. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait decided to postpone withdrawing their $2 billion deposits in Egypt for another year, with the option of renewal. World capital (western and Iranian bourgeoisies) gave Egypt nearly $2.5 billion. Thus the amount that the Egyptian bourgeoisie has received in 1977 is $5 billion. This is in order to meet its immediate needs, including the settlement of its short-term debts for 1977, which amount to $5 billion. The aid given to Egypt is less than half of what it needs and much less than it was promised by King Feisal after the 1973 war.

Sadat, who has every reason to sing tearfully: I am rich, but my wealth is all promises, 'accuses Saudi Arabia, in private, of being miserly' (Al Hawadith 15 May 1977). The oil bourgeoisie replies through its mouthpieces that the volume of credits it granted to the Egyptian bourgeoisie has reached a stage where caution is an absolute necessity. It justifies this caution by saying that Sadat's Egypt is like a bottomless pitcher, due to the corruption and inefficiency of its bureaucracy (Al-Rai Al 'Aam of Kuwait). The 'miserliness' of oil capital is not really miserliness in the moral sense which Sadat meant, but rather political calculations in line with the plans of the multi­national companies: wishing to invest in Egypt but refraining from doing so, owing to contradictory factors which could only be eliminated after achieving 'peace' with the Israeli bourgeoisie – the key to the open-door policy – and after emerging from the current world crisis.

Capital dictates its terms

The open door policy means safety and security for capital, which presupposes, among other things, ruling out war with the state of Israel and unilateral nationalisation, and requires the drawing up of an Egyptian economic plan in line with the strategy of the oil capital and the multi-national companies.

'Peace' with the Israeli bourgeoisie has not yet been realised, but it is the most important pre-condition for achieving the rest. This ex­plains the fact that limited investments have been made in Egypt's tourist sector only: hotel companies, insurance, banks and the sub­contracting industries. There is no need to go into detail about local capital. Not only is there very little of it, but it cannot be invested except in the non-productive sectors which offer quick profits: tourism, building, services and commerce, and especially the trade in luxury commodities and commissions. Thus, in less than three years, 50 export-import companies have been established, 22 of which are under the management of former ministers. Between 1974 and 1976, agents made a profit of more than two billion Egyptian pounds. The commission on one transaction alone was three million pounds.

In the absence of a reconciliation between the Arab and Israeli bourgeoisies, the open door policy has failed until now to bring in capital for investment in industry aimed at flooding the neighbouring markets with low cost goods, but it has opened the door to the import of manufactured commodities.

Biding their time until an Arab-Israeli reconciliation, both oil capital, through the Gulf Organization for Development, and world capital, through the World Bank, demand from Egypt a series of steps, a number of which seem to be unrealisable within the foreseeable future: they demand the rationalisation of an octopoid, and extremely conformist bureaucracy, in which sometimes four civil servants do the very same job with almost zero productivity; they demand the modernisation of the obsolete methods of administration that leave no room for initiative. These steps seem to be necessary to pave the way for the penetration of capital into all aspects of social life. However, these demands are difficult to meet because this bureaucracy is stagnant and entrenched. For generations it has been a formidable obstacle to the release of productive forces. The Egyptian leadership, which has the same class origin as its bureaucracy, does not have a magic wand it can wave, to change its bureaucracy into a modern state bureaucracy overnight. This is what capital is deman­ding from a state which is in a period of senility. Oil and world capital insists on a number of immediate steps, such as the export of profits, devaluation of the Egyptian pound, removal of customs barriers, reducing or even abolishing taxes, eliminating import restrictions, putting an end to administrative red tape, and raising the standard of services. This insistence is like a single man demanding that a widow become a virgin as a precondition to marrying her.

Realising the other preconditions is not difficult from a practical point of view: re-introducing the arbitrary dismissal of wage earners, which was abolished by law in 1962; canceling the commitment to employ all graduates; abolishing the subsidies paid by the state ($1.3 billion) to keep down the prices of some essential goods such as bread, sugar, tea, textiles and fertilizers. But this could endanger the Egyptian bourgeoisie, as demonstrated by the revolt of 18 and 19 January 1977. The Egyptian bourgeois press is still a long way from being able to mislead the workers by praising the wisdom of the 'communist', Fidel Castro, in restricting the workers' food con­sumption! The workers of Egypt, in their struggle for survival and total liberation from wage labour, like all workers of the world, do not recognise the authority of anyone, whether 'red' or white.

Historical context of the crisis

To understand the inefficiency of the circumstantial and conditional aid given or promised by the oil and world bourgeoisies to bridle the growing class struggle in Egypt, we have to examine in its historical context the crisis of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, of which the economic crisis is only one aspect. It is a bourgeoisie that is unable to remain in power without the financial support – and probably the military support in future – of world capital. In the underdeveloped part of the capitalist world, the situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie is a glaring expression of the accelerated decay of the present world capitalist system.

The industrial bourgeoisie may have been able, without any decisive proletarian intervention, for an entire historical period, to transform its deadlocked crisis into a painful period of adaptation, thanks to the destruction of war and the penetration of capital into all aspects of society, especially in the rural areas after the crisis of 1929. But the under-developed bourgeoisie could find no way out, despite all its attempts at adaptation. Today, it is falling apart as a result of the crisis of capitalism in the East and the West. In this sense, the current crisis is the final one, which leaves proletarian humanity only one alternative: revolution or war.

The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to find a way out of the crisis of the primitive accumulation of capital is not, as its leaders claim today, due to unfavourable circumstances, such as the enor­mous cost of four wars with Israel. They forget that the existence of Israel enabled them to manipulate and mislead the proletariat for a long time. This failure can be imputed to the special historical situation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie within the context of the general history of world bourgeoisie. The history of modern Egypt, beginning with Napoleon's campaign in 1797, which made Egypt a province of the First Republic for three years, cannot be viewed in isolation from the penetration of the European bourgeoisie into Egypt, and then into the Arab world. This penetration was in the form of the import of manufactured commodities.

From the middle of the nineteenth century, money capital began to invade the region, accompanied or followed by military invasion. The aim of this penetration was to unify the world market and to force the old Arab bourgeoisie to become part of the European bourgeoisie, as an unautonomous agricultural bourgeoisie and as an industrial bourgeoisie, dependent on the slightest fluctuation of this world market. Thus a certain role was assigned to them: to produce cheap raw materials (cotton) by means of the cheap, super-exploited and permanently suppressed labour force. In addition to that, the bourgeoisie was forced to maintain an open door policy towards European goods and capitals.

The Egyptian bourgeoisie made four hopeless attempts to stand on its own two feet as a relatively autonomous capitalist force, in order to overcome its crisis. The first attempt was carried out by Mohammad Ali, who was the first in the Arab East to attempt an indus­trial bureaucratic revolution. But in 1840 he was forced by the Western bourgeoisie, in the holy name of free trade, to close down his factories, to stop monopolising trade, to disband his army, to forget all about his dreams of industry and of establishing an empire, and finally to open the Egyptian market to European goods. The second attempt was made by Orabi. But the British fleet foiled the attempt, and buried it under the destroyed defenses of Alexandria on 12 July 1882. The third attempt was led by the Wafd Party in 1919. However, the absentee latifundia-owning bourgeoisie was incapable of leading a revolution to victory. Nasser made the last attempt from 1952, but it ended in total failure, from which the Egyptian bourgeoisie is still suffering today. After the failure of militarised semi-industrial state capitalism,7 the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in a last uncertain attempt to avoid collapse, had to become a mere sub-contractor of industrial capitalism, which is itself in crisis.

The global contest

It is impossible, in fact, to grasp the dimensions and more especially, the horizons of the Egyptian bourgeoisie's crisis, except by viewing it within the context of the world-wide crisis.

The world-wide crisis can be attributed to the real fall in the average rate of profit, due to the intensification of technological competition, which forces the big companies, trying to open up new channels for trade, to invest considerable amounts of capital in improving their technology at a faster rate than the development of the mode of consumption. Thereby they get into debt in order to buy new productive machinery as quickly as possible. This is one of the most important causes of the nightmares of galloping inflation and unemployment, which, according to all prognoses, will become chronic. Thus, the inefficiency of the technical renovation which requires radical re-structuring, the growth of the non-productive sector – particularly advertising, the refusal of the proletariat to accept the deterioration of its material circumstances and the decrease of productivity of the proletariat, caused by an increase in ab­senteeism – the expression of the proletariat's rejection of the slavery of wage labour.

All these things contribute to the exchange crisis: saturation of the industrial markets and the inability of the agricultural markets to consume on a large scale. The logical way out of the exchange crisis is to abolish exchange by concentrating the productive activity on producing use-values only, instead of exchange-values. Producing use-values only is inseparable from the ability of each person to produce his daily life by and for himself. However, it goes without saying that the economists suggest other possible ways of surmounting the crisis, whose common denominator is the absolute necessity to globalise totalitarian state capitalism.

In Egypt the very same state capitalism is declaring itself bankrupt today: in fact, the Egyptian working people are suffering from the misfortunes of two crises at once: the local crisis of the low level of accumulation and the world-wide crisis of the surplus of ac­cumulation. This is because the world market situation has been globalised. Thus, whenever the developed part of the world market begins to sneeze, the underdeveloped part gets pneumonia.

The crisis has had a disquieting effect on developed capitalism, but a catastrophic effect on underdeveloped capitalism. Inflation, that growth which ravages the body of world economy in the West and the East, reached a record high in Italy, at 26 per cent a year. In Egypt however, where the average income of the majority of toilers is a record low, the inflation rate is 51 per cent a year. Part of this in­flation is 'imported' from the industrial bourgeoisie – from whom the underdeveloped bourgeoisies import everything, from needles to aeroplanes. Another part is due to the arbitrary increase in prices by the local bourgeoisie of imported and exported goods. The rest can be attributed to the oil prices, which have quadrupled since the war of 1973. Devaluing the Egyptian pound, as required by the International Monetary Fund and oil capitalism, will increase the rate of inflation, which is now eating away 60 to 65 per cent of salaries. The devaluation of the Egyptian pound will not encourage exports, as the case may be in those countries that produce their means of production themselves, but will lead to abject poverty for the proletarian masses and more social polarisation.

Unemployment, inflation, starvation

The proletarian masses in Egypt are not only the victims of inflation but also of unemployment. From the very beginning, the Egyptian bourgeoisie has been incapable of finding work for the unemployed, and this situation has gone from bad to worse. The statistics of 1969 indicate that in the towns 9 per cent of those fit to work, and in the country 25 per cent, are unemployed. It is estimated that this rate has doubled, especially in Cairo, which now has an enormous demographic concentration and has a great number of starving and unemployed people. The failure of the Egyptian bourgeoisie to give work to the unemployed and to make use of the material and human resources of the country forced it to have recourse to usurious credits from Russia and the West, in order to finance its economic projects, its bureaucracy and army. Today it is deeply in debt.

In 1976 the rulers of Egypt said that their debts abroad amounted to $7 billion. At the beginning of 1977 they increased to $10 billion. Recently the Minister of Finance and Economy (Alqaisouni) declared that Egypt's foreign debts totalled $13 billion, $4 billion of which were military debts to Russia.8

He seems to be behaving like a criminal trying to trick his judges into believing that he has finally decided to confess. It seems that the debts abroad amount to $18 billion. But the total debts are ­according to the former finance minister, Ahmad Abu Ismail – $32 billion. Egypt pays $4 million weekly in interest on the short-term loans (the rates of interest: 16 per cent, 19 per cent and 20 per cent) which is a heavy burden on a collapsing economy. The total debts abroad consume 35 per cent of the annual exports. In 1976 the deficit in the balance of payments amounted to $3,250 million, in a country where annual GNP is only $11 billion. Food imports alone – including 3.3 million tons of American wheat – amounted to $1,150 million. For a long time, Egypt has been doubly dependent: on international capital, and on foreign aid that represents more than 13 per cent of the accumulation of national capital.

Waiting for the 'release' of reconciliation with the Israeli bourgeoisie, and for oil and world capitalism to lay down their final policy regarding investment in Egypt, and waiting for the year 1980, when 'the Egyptian economy will escape from its bottleneck' as Sadat put it, 'and the age of prosperity and Egyptian oil will begin', the Egyptian bourgeoisie intensifies, day by day, its exploitation of the proletariat. It extends working hours from 8 to 10 hours a day. It increases indirect taxes – one of the means by which the state steals a part of the wages, which in 1976 amounted to 700 million pounds. And finally it increases prices and forbids strikes. With strikes a crime punishable by life imprisonment, the extraction of the absolute surplus-value is the direct aim of the despotic exploitation policy of the Egyptian bourgeoisie.

Prices have increased drastically: during the first 11 months of 1974, the prices of local foodstuffs increased at a rate of 24 per cent. In 1976, the increase was 41 per cent. The annual report of the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce admitted that the prices of some fruits and vegetables had increased by 300 per cent. The price of bread, which is 77 per cent of the daily food consumption of the proletariat, increased by 50 per cent; sugar by 25 per cent, tea and rice by 35 per cent, meat by 60 per cent, cigarettes by 80 per cent (nearly all the workers smoke), and gas by 40 per cent. Generally, prices have increased by 120 per cent since 1973.

The rule is: from the workers' pockets to the merchants' safes. The profits of the merchants, especially from selling imported goods, reached a record high: the rate of profit from selling beans and electrical appliances reached 100 per cent, from tinned foodstuffs, 105 per cent and from clothes 120 per cent.

Price inflation is not the only plague. One can add to it at least two others: the astonishing rise in house-rent, and bribery. It is impossible to get any sort of service from the state apparatus without paying baksheesh, which increases in proportion to the importance of the service required.

One can describe the condition of the proletariat in today's Egypt in one word: starvation. This condition is not new, as the Stalinist and Nasserist manipulators claim. What is new is that the proletariat is aware of it and rejects it. The majority of the workers in the private sector9 worked under Nasser's rule, and are still working, under the conditions of almost corvée labour. The average wages of the workers in this sector varied in 1967, for example, between l.3 and 3.6 Egyptian pounds a month (one Egyptian pound = $2 approximately). Children – so-called apprentices – who are employed especially in the leather, shoe and textile industries get as a 'wage' two bowls of broad beans daily, just as in the Middle Ages. That is why in the same year this sector was able to achieve a high profit margin: 10.5 per cent in the furniture industry, 20.6 per cent in the foodstuffs sector and 24.4 per cent in the textile and leather branches. The average wage of the 'privileged' workers of the public sector varied, in the same period, between a minimum of nine pounds and a maximum of 25 pounds a month.

Because of the increasing gravity of unemployment and inflation, along with the frantic rise in prices today, the situation of the workers in both private and public sectors has deteriorated. The proletarian masses are unable to buy vegetables and meat more than twice a month. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie provocatively flaunts its wealth and its life of luxury: in the first eleven months of 1976, it imported durable consumer goods (refrigerators, television sets etc) to the value of 69 million pounds, private cars to the value of 32 million pounds, mineral water and liquor to the value of 7 million pounds, while 'Egyptians have to drink polluted water because there is no hard currency to buy purification materials' (Al Hawadith 4 May 1977).

Owing to its tragic state, its misery and its daily struggles, the proletariat has begun to realise more and more the necessity of organising a counter-attack on a broad social level, which is the only suitable way of waging a revolutionary class struggle to end the slavery of wage-labour and to construct a classless society.

The events of 1971–72

In 1966, the period of conjunctural progress was over. And in 1967, military defeat deepened the economic crisis and gave it a political dimension. The conjunction of the open political crisis with the chronic economic one exposed not only the unlimited national and social 'achievements' of Nasserite Egypt, but also its myths. The antagonism towards Arab reaction was refuted by Nasser himself, when he reconciled himself with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, during the Khartoum Conference in August 1967. 'Anti-Imperialism' was ended when Nasser asked President Nixon, in his pathetic call, to impose a peaceful settlement upon the Arab-Israeli struggle. And the 'profundity of socialist construction' was terminated by the en­couragement of the private sector, which multiplied the value of its exports fourfold between 1966 and 1969.

Nasser died in September 1970, and the Palestinian Resistance, the last radical Arab nationalist movement which captured the attention of the downtrodden Arab masses, shaken strongly by the 1967 defeat, was itself defeated. On 13 May 1971 a political crisis erupted in the leadership, between the two factions struggling for power. The one pro-Soviet, under the leadership of Ali Sabri, and the other pro-­American, with Sadat at its head.

The problem was how to solve the political and economic crisis. Was it by depending upon the Soviets and the public sector, or was it by leaving it to the US and the encouragement of the private sector, and following an open-door policy towards oil and international capital?

The pro-American and pro-private sector faction won. The ratio­nalisation of the public sector, by liberating the economy from the obstacles of omnipresent state capitalism, was started.

In fact, Sadat's liberal policy was an invitation to the local and international bourgeoisie to help him, after the state bourgeoisie failed to find a way out of its economic crisis, and also in view of the fact that dependence on Soviet military and political aid foiled any attempt to come to an agreement with Israel.

All these events, from June 1967 to May 1971, formed the begin­ning of the end of the national illusions that had for a long time colonised the consciousness of the Arab proletariat, and encouraged the process of emancipating proletarian awareness, while starting simultaneously the organisation of its counter-offensive.

On 21 August 1971, 10,000 workers at the Hilwan Steel Factory organised a wildcat strike that soon turned into an occupation of the whole factory. The strikers arrested their managers, the delegates of the Ministry of Industry, the representatives of the governing party, as well as the secretary general of the trade unions, who was sent by Sadat personally to persuade the workers to end their strike. The workers' answer at the time of the latter's arrest was: you are not our delegate to the state, but the delegate of the state here. The workers had one condition for ending their strike: to satisfy their demands, which aimed at stopping the deterioration of their material conditions. They threatened to extinguish the tall furnaces if the police tried to occupy the steel factory by force.

At the same time, 200,000 workers from other factories in Hilwan started a strike of solidarity. They even threatened to occupy their factories if the state rejected the demands of their comrades of the steel mill. After 32 hours the state gave in and accepted the demands. A few weeks later it launched a campaign of repression against the more militant workers. Sadat mentioned this strike in one of his speeches, where he accused the workers of 'playing the game of the enemy who occupies our land'.

The strike and the occupation of the steel factory was the crowning point of an intense current of class struggle, breaking the chains of twenty years of Bonapartist dictatorship that imposed on the proletariat a 'sacred national unity' by means of brutal oppression, physical and ideological.

Ever since this event, Sadat and his mass media have waged a war against the renaissance of class struggle, after a long period of hibernation; they used anachronistic slogans such as 'return to village values', 'respect for the family', and 'national solidarity against foreign occupation'. Not only that, but the mass media launched a vast campaign to praise the 'spirit of sacrifice', of 'asceticism', and to propagate the virtues of contentment; in fact, going back to the sanctity of deprivation imposed by Islam upon the poor and the weak. Also, a widespread campaign was organised against 'class resentment, which is destructive instead of being constructive'.

This campaign was of no benefit to the Egyptian bourgeoisie, frightened by the intensification of class struggle. The 'regrettable' events continued; that is the daily confrontation with the police, on both individual and group levels. The workers continued the struggle inside the factories against the arbitrary acts of their superiors, the fall of wages as working hours increased. They demanded the election of delegate committees which could be recalled at any moment. The workers used various means, ranging from boycotting union elections to taking hostages. In October 1972, workers on strike at Alexandria airport seized as hostage the Minister of Transport – who had come to persuade them to end the strike – until all their demands were met.

'O, Hero of the Crossing, where is our breakfast?'

The Egyptian and Arab bourgeoisies in general recognised the profundity and danger of this growing proletarian movement. This is the reason why the Saudi bourgeoisie, traditional enemy of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, moved quickly to co-ordinate with the latter, in order to stage a grotesque war with the aim of arriving at a settlement with Israel, while at the same time kindling national mystification among the workers, thus bringing them back to a stage which historically they had already passed. That is how the October war took place. The Egyptian and Arab bourgeoisies danced to the tune of 'Victory achieved for the first time in 500 years'. All the Arab writers, whether nationalists, Stalinists or Trotskyists, were beating the drum for the official party of the 'Glorious October War'. But their drums were pierced. The total crisis was a daily reminder for the proletariat of the need to get rid of the national illusions, and to be totally im­mersed in the social struggle.

Within a few months – a relatively short time – the power of delusive and fallacious words fell against the harsh conditions of the proletariat. When the Minister of Military Production tried in 1974 to play the same tune about the 6 October victory, the striking workers of Military Factory 36 replied: 'No 6, No 7, we want an increase, the minimum wage should be 20'. For the workers, the national war they had heavily paid for with their blood and money, was looking more and more like an act of madness. The social war appeared to be their only weapon to save their living conditions and their lives from the savagery of capital.

Until then the workers had waged the struggle by means of petitions, boycott of the elections to the administration council, boycott of trade union elections, strikes and sit-ins; that is, they had tried all the means of sectorial struggle. They had to pass onto full struggle: leaving the factories for the streets and turning the wildcat strikes into full occupations of factories and cities.

On 1 January 1975, the Hilwan workers occupied their factories. Their general assemblies (which had become the only place for discussing and taking revolutionary decisions, replacing the unions and parties) met and elected their representatives to co-ordinate the occupation of Cairo factories and streets. Spontaneously, the proletarianised unemployed workers and students joined the struggle, for they too were resentful and had radical aspirations.

The demonstrators turned the buses upside down; destroyed and sacked the big stores, including a Soviet record shop. They also destroyed company offices and burned the building of the Socialist Union – the official Egyptian party.

The demonstrators had economic demands: against any increase in indirect taxes, against the differences in salaries between workers and managers, against dismissal without notice, against price increases and wage cuts. They shouted: 'Anwar Bey, one pair of shoes for 6' ­[Egyptian pounds]; and 'where is our breakfast, O "Hero of the Crossing"?' They raised political banners such as 'Free press and a better life'. They demanded the dismissal of Hedjazi (the prime minister) because of his anti-worker economic policy. And he was in fact pushed into resigning.

For the first time, the workers had reformist political demands in addition to their economic ones. For the resignation of a prime minister, or another high official, is an easy matter in a system which is under severe pressure, and looking for a scapegoat to justify its anti-­worker policy.

The process of social dynamics of a class which has started, for the first time in its history, to struggle for itself, will definitely make it understand that its sole revolutionary demand is not the resignation of the prime minister, but the abolition of the bourgeois class as a whole, and the abolition of all forms of exploitation.

On 1 January 1975, the central police forces (formed by Nasser in 1968 to suppress the workers' struggles) surrounded Shabra al­Khaima to prevent textile workers from joining the Hilwan workers' demonstration in Cairo. But in March of the same year, 27,000 textile workers went on strike and held sit-ins in the factories of Shabra al­Khaima. They even elected their representative councils and arrested the managers and threw out all the organisers of the exploitation process inside the factories.

The army broke in with tanks and planes. Fifty were killed and 200 injured, all of them workers. Neither the intensive ideological op­pression widely practised by the mass media, which accused the workers of 'national treason' and published headlines such as 'Dayan and Rabin are glad to witness the destruction of Cairo', nor the bloody physical oppression succeeded in preventing the proletariat from fighting the attempt to make it foot the bill of the crisis, and seeking its own revolutionary way out.

A 'herd of sheep'?

Thus the struggle of the workers against their employers continued. In April 1975, the sugar factory workers of Naja Hamadi went on strike, because of the cancellation of their rest hour, which, according to the manager, affected the rate of production and caused losses to the factory. The workers replied that if there was a deficit, then the causes were the thefts by the director and his partners, and not the hour of rest. In December 1975, the naval arsenal workers of Port Said went on strike against the cut in their real wages. In April 1976, the workers of the United Arab Textile Company started a strike, with a sit-in, for the same reason.

On 29 June 1976, the Nasr Automobile Factory workers went on strike. The administration refused to pay them their agreed share of the profits, and the chairman of the board of directors shouted in front of the workers' representatives: 'They are a herd of sheep; the workers shall return to the factory as soon as they hear the whistle ending the rest period.' When the workers heard this, they turned their strike into a sit-in and, confronting the chairman, the board of directors and the minister of industry, asserted: 'Profits are 100 per cent, and they go to the thieves.' The workers' general assembly drafted new demands: no bonuses for directors, payment for the weekly day off, re-evaluation of compensation linked to the type of work, as well as re-evaluation of compensation for dangerous work, payment of a meal, increased social security benefits and transport allowances, and a campaign against the corruption of the ad­ministration. The police intervened and asked the workers to form a committee to meet the prime minister, with assurances of safe conduct for the delegation. The workers formed this committee, but all its members were arrested inside the prime minister's office. As usual. The sit-in continued, but the police penetrated the plant disguised as workers and arrested dozens of them. Finally, one demand, the payment of profit bonuses, was satisfied.

In a society where crisis has become a daily phenomenon, any incident, or demand, or struggle fought out in a factory or on the street, turns very quickly into a fierce confrontation with the state institutions. We might give as an example what happened on 5 September 1976, when the 240,000 inhabitants of the popular quarter of Darb al-Ahmar heard of the murder of Hussein Mohamed Hussein, after he had been tortured by the police. They gathered spon­taneously, attacked and burnt the police station, and prevented the fire brigade from fighting the flames. The news spread quickly and demonstrations took place everywhere: in Bab el-Halk, in Midan al­Atbah and Fouad Street. Their class slogans were: 'Sadat, collect your dogs, where is freedom?', 'Freedom, Freedom, where are you?', 'Ministers live in palaces, the poor live in graves', 'We are not frightened, and shall continue to support the right to strike!', 'Our autonomous organisations are against the exploiters'.

Another example: in October 1976, on the day following Sadat's 'victory' in the presidential elections – he stood unopposed, and there were only 500 votes against him – the official party organised a celebration of the historic event. The workers of the Public Trans­portation Company celebrated the event in their own way. Through their 'wildcat delegates' they put forward the following demands to the administration:

1. Dissolution of the trade union.
2. Limitation of working day to seven hours.
3. Bonus payments to compensate for the cost of living, which had increased by 40 per cent.
4. Payment for vacations (56 days annually).
5. Payment for the ten days of the Al Fitr holiday.
6. Security for bus drivers and collectors from acts of aggression by passengers.
7. Payment of traffic violation fines.
8. Improvement of medical and health services.

The administration refused these demands, and the workers went on strike the following day. All the efforts of the administration and the police to break it, by accepting some demands and by threatening, failed. The central police forces attacked the workers, using in­ternationally prohibited nerve gas bombs. The workers counter­attacked with water hoses.

In the Amira quarter, the inhabitants joined the garage workers and fought the police, using stones. The result: 200 workers injured, some of them seriously. But the workers did not end their strike until their demands were accepted. The first demand, in spite of the solidarity shown by some of the unions, was the dissolution of the trade union. It expressed the workers' awareness of the role of the trade union as a principal oppressor hindering the development and generalisation of the social struggle among all the sectors of the economy, and its overflowing from factories to the street, from one city to every city, and from one district to another.

Each strike in the series of strikes that followed was a sort of up­rising, and a kind of preliminary exercise for the series of confron­tations to come, which actually started on 18 and 19 January 1977.

The uprising of January 1977

On Monday, 17 January, the government cancelled the subsidies for essential foodstuffs, resulting in a substantial increase of prices. This government decision gave the signal for an uprising.

On Tuesday the 18th, 'the workers started their movement from the Hilwan factories area, where the workers of the Artificial Silk Company and Factory 45 refused to work and went on a demon­stration. Police forces were awaiting them, and the bystanders threw stones …' (Al Ahram, 19 January 1977).

As soon as the news reached Cairo, the masses started flowing towards Maidan al-Tahrir, shouting: 'With our blood, with our souls, we shall bring down the prices.' The demonstration moved towards parliament, shouted against it and urged parliament, including the President of the Republic, to resign. They even quoted a previous speech of Sadat in which he mentioned that the dictatorship of the proletariat is coming soon.

On the same day the students of Cairo and 'Ain Shams universities went out in a demonstration, joined later by secondary school students. On that day the police forces succeeded generally in being effective. But on the 19th, the day that entered into the annals of the Egyptian bourgeoisie as Black Wednesday, the demonstrations started at 8:30 in the morning at the Hilwan underground station in Maidan Louk and Maidan al-Atbah.

At noon, Cairo turned into a battlefield. The masses used stones and bricks from all over the place, and the proletariat penetrated into state institutions, sacking and burning in ministries, administrative buildings and the parliament. The masses attacked the different police stations simultaneously, in order to prevent one station from rescuing the other. They also set fire to the general secretariat of the ruling party, and destroyed railway trains and buses, popularly known as 'sardine cans'. They looted commercial centres and smashed the decorated windows of shops, whose owners hid any contents they managed to save in order to sell them later on the black market. Nightclubs, which represented western luxury life to people who were on the edge of starvation, were equally submitted to looting. 'The Egyptian or Gulf state bourgeois spends in a single night at one of those clubs as much as the ordinary Egyptian earns in four months' (Rose al-Yusuf). The 'Night Casino' had made 15,000 dollars on the eve of its burning. The workers who sacked these places were drinking whiskey for the first time in their lives. Al Ahram published a picture of a poor woman with a crate of whiskey on her head, looking very happy.

The uprising occurred in Cairo and in the eight other cities. From Alexandria to Aswan, people looted shops and took commodities they were accustomed to see the bourgeoisie use every day. They set fire to big hotels, like Shepeards and the Sheraton, they burnt the big private cars which often hit them while being driven at a crazy speed, noisy and polluting. They even set fire to the publishing houses which produce the filthy newspapers that propagate all kinds of lies against them. They were against commercial art as well, burning the car of the singer Fuad al-Mohanders, and gave this comedian a beating as a reward for his nightly jokes on TV, where he tried to divert their attention from their daily misery.

It was only natural that Sadat could not understand the reason why these workers display so much class resentment against institutions and material goods. Thus he asked: does the destruction of com­mercial centres and shops in these communist riots solve the food and price problem? Does the destruction of public transport facilities solve the transport crisis? Will freedom take over if they burn the newspaper buildings? Quotation from the speech of Sadat: 'If a deputy had come to parliament, they would have hit him and set fire to his car... as they had done to all cars that showed up in the streets the other day. This is not a national uprising, it's a communist one, it's an uprising of thieves.' He does not know that looting is a spontaneous way of taking away private property, which the proletariat uses as a reaction to the violence inherent in capitalist production. Thousands of workers are injured and killed each year at work, others lose their lives in a civil and social battle. Class relations throw thousands of workers a year into prison, while commodity relations break up real relations between human beings into relations between things. In poor housing, people are buried daily, and the nation is divided into two parts, a minority that lives in luxury and a majority that languishes in misery, unbearable misery. Finally, there is the exploitation of man by man. Is not this an order of violence against workers? What is so strange about workers destroying whatever keeps them in chains and whatever ruins their lives? Their violence was but practical criticism of a bestial society. It is a com­munal manifestation of regained human solidarity which cannot, under the present class society, affirm itself unless practised by the proletariat against the domination of production over producers, and against those who dominate or organise the domination. As the masses were more violent in their latest uprising, so were their banners and songs:

Anwar Bey, a kilo of meat costs three pounds

Anwar Bey, son of a bitch, our daily life is shit

Anwar Bey, we despise you, because you stuck us every day into a deeper crisis

The increase of prices is 100 percent, but our wages are frozen

Anwar, you dress fashionably, while we live ten in a room

Anwar, you have got your winter palace, while we live in humiliation

Anwar, you get 1,000 pounds, we only ten

Anwar, the whole people stands for the workers against injustice and exploitation

Sadat, we don't want you any longer, Resign, Resign!

Against the Prime Minister:

Mamdouh Salem, son of a bitch, you brought misery to our lives.

Against the President of Parliament:

Who is Syad Marai? He is the fellah's enemy.

Against the economic open door policy (Infitah):

Under the slogan of the Infitah, they've robbed the worker and the fellah!

The same was heard and repeated in Cairo, Hilwan, Alexandria, at the Naval Arsenal, in the School of Engineering of Alexandria, on the Maidan and all over.

This time, unlike the events of 1975, the workers raised no nationalist slogans, only class slogans of varying degrees of radicalism. The name of Nasser was raised by some (not all) of the students.

Workers, unemployed, students and youth

Historically, in every proletarian uprising all the downtrodden social strata surface to express their demands; but the decisive force is the one that gives the uprising its name. On the 18/19 January, the decisive force was the industrial proletariat; but it was not – and in a society like Egypt it could not be – alone. Its allies on those days were the down-and-out proletarianised urban masses.

According to some deputies and to Al-Ahram, four million people came out to the streets on the 18/19 – workers, unemployed, proletarian and educated youth. The industrial workers numbered one million, and formed the spearhead of the uprising. The unemployed proletarian masses represent a large and subversive force in Egypt, and they had already proved in the uprisings of 1975 and in the Darb al-Ahmar uprising of 1976 that they are an organic ally of the in­dustrial proletariat.

After the World Bank demanded the repeal of the law providing guaranteed employment to all graduates, the 200,000 university students as well as the million or so high-school students realised that they are going to be forced into unemployment. Each year, 40,000 of them enter the labour market, and their material condition (even after they graduate and obtain employment) is close to misery. They begin with a weekly salary of $15 and in some cases as little as $10. And when a graduate reaches his sixties his weekly salary would not be more than $76. But the rent for an unfurnished flat is about $50 a month, and an initial lump sum of $5,000 to $12,000 must be paid as key money. On top of this, the cost of furnishing a flat is around $2,000. This is why the majority of married graduates have to live separate from their wives, meeting them one or two nights a week. Some graduates have to do manual jobs, below their level of qualification, and some take on extra work after office hours, such as driving a taxi for up to ten hours a day. These are the luckier ones. As for the others, they have nothing but bribes to supplement their in­come, or else they must remain at their rock bottom standard of living.

This social predicament is what drove them into the arena of struggle. Of course, in isolation from the proletariat, their struggle must remain confined within the horizon of capitalism, with demands such as the right to work and a rise in salary. The only way for them to break out of this is to flow into the same current with the struggle of the proletariat – for the abolition of wage labour.

About one third of the insurgents were youths, 10 to 16 years old. Their participation was marked by severe violence, which caused the bourgeoisie considerable anxiety. This is why Al-Ahram called upon the sociologists to explain 'the disquieting phenomenon of children being involved in subversive activity'. Jamal Abu al-Ghara'im, Director of the Health Service, expressed the view that 'the en­thusiasm which some children show towards subversive ac­tivities... has a social and economic background, though this does not excuse their elders who spoil them with all this talk about social, economic and psychological problems. This encourages in these children a feeling of hostility towards public property and generally towards responsible people.' (Al-Ahram, 24 January 1977). Clearly, the 'elders' referred to are proletarians.

It is only natural that the sociologists pass in silence over the desires of the downtrodden and over the accumulation of daily violence to which proletarian youths are subjected – those proletarian youths who on 18/19 January took to the streets, to express in word and in deed their raging desire to be the grave-diggers of the old world.

Fear of the bourgeoisie

The radicalism of the uprising and its self-organisation10 scared the bourgeoisie. 'What happened on the 18/19 threatens the national unity. Many citizens were extremely frightened.' (Sadat). The uprising has left not only the Egyptian but also the Arab bourgeoisie in a state of dizziness, from which it has still not emerged.

Out of fear of escalation, the regime capitulated, for the first time in its history. Three hours after the uprising, the price rises were can­celled and the Minister of the Interior was dismissed. There is some evidence that the police were close to defeat. In several neighbourhoods the masses were in total control. 'On Al-Harem Street, not a single policeman was to be seen during the riots,' complains one night-club owner (Rose a-Yusuf). And in some localities the insurgents took over police arsenals. Sadat himself indirectly admitted to the defeat of his police force: 'In the defence of state institutions,' he said, 'the armed forces did their duty. This doesn't mean that the police force did not do its duty... not at all... it shouldered a great load, without comparison to any other force... The instigators [of the uprising] wanted to exhaust the police to the point at which the country would have been defenceless, so that they might leap into power. The men of the police force sacrificed themselves.'

In fact, in the afternoon of the 19th, the regime was reduced to dragging religion on to the battle field. The shaikh of the theological university of Al-Azhar declared that the insurgents were God's enemies. And the army was put back on to its main job – defending the regime against the internal enemy.11 At 16:00 hours the troops came out: units of commandos and military police. A curfew was announced; any gathering would be shot at on sight, without warning. But one million insurgents stayed out fighting the regime's troops until a late hour. The casualties, according to an official statement, were 79 dead and 566 wounded.

This time, the whole of Egypt's urban proletariat joined in fierce and relatively organised activity. The movement was not only more extended geographically, but also essentially on a higher level of revolutionary preparation, consciousness and organisation than in previous uprisings. The proletarian masses will realise its weaknesses: failure to take the initiative to occupy the radio and TV stations in order to coordinate the uprising, lack of agitation among the soldiers to join in and lack of calls for international proletarian support, failure to concentrate the attack on arsenals and, finally, the absence of a clear communist perspective, which meant that the activity was still only negative.

The bourgeoisie is facing an exacerbation of the crisis and an up­surge of the social struggle, and it does not have the benefit of those safety valves which are available to the western bourgeoisie – the unions and the 'labour left'. Egypt's only official union works openly as the state's police inside the factory, and is therefore incapable of fooling the workers. And, yes, they do realise that the official party of the left is part of the regime. This is why, when they burnt down the branches of the ruling party, they also threw in some Left Party branches into the bargain. The bourgeoisie confronts the future without any safeguards.12

Even the 'government of national unity', including the right and left oppositions, which Sadat considered immediately after the uprising, would not be able to solve the insoluble crisis. Because the bourgeoisie as a whole is no longer capable of offering real reforms. The arsenal of its concessions is all spent, and it has nothing left with which to face the proletariat's response to the crisis, but an arsenal of repression.

After the failure of a 'government of national unity', the bourgeoisie may once more resort to a military coup in order to block the road for the revolutionary option. Even the waging of another theatrical war with the Israeli bourgeoisie will not deceive anybody this time; because this sort of confidence trick which is used in the thick of the class struggle has lost its efficacy in Egypt. For the Egyptian proletariat no longer has any national tasks; its only mission now is social.

On the agenda: a socialist revolution

True, the struggle of the working class has so far remained more or less inside the terrain of capitalism; a struggle for the improvement of the conditions of exploitation. However, the inability of the bourgeoisie to grant this, coupled with the proletariat's own dynamic, is sure to impel the latter towards its own terrain: the elimination of exploitation and of the instruments which safeguard it. This dynamic is what the clandestine opposition groups try to dampen; because, as a result of their statist aspirations, which are divorced from the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat, they are incapable of transcending the limits of inquisitorial state capitalism of the Russian or Chinese variety, and of perceiving the new content of the in­ternational proletarian movement.

The slogans which these groups belch out all revolve around the 'national democratic revolution'. These slogans used to have a certain sense in the rising phase of capitalism, in the nineteenth century, when the proletariat was in fact unable to affirm itself except on the terrain of wage labour, and the bourgeoisie was still to some extent engaged in struggle against the remnants of feudalism and attacking absolute ground rent. But today – in the very depth of the permanent (not cyclic!) crisis of world capitalism, when the proletariat can solve the crisis only by dissolving itself as proletariat and dissolving class society as a whole – these slogans are not merely more backward than the slogans of the old workers' movement, but are openly reactionary.

Just as the goals of these groups, which they would like to impose on the proletarian movement, are reactionary, so also the means which they advocate for the realisation of these goals are no less reactionary. For they, as heirs of the most decadent bolshevik traditions, demand from the proletarians to rally around 'the minimal national and social programme', and in particular to be organised in 'independent' unions which would be all the better able to do the job of overseers for capital, as unions do in the West, and in a legal 'communist' party which would be more adept than the present ruling party and the parties of the official right and left opposition at containing the proletariat, just like the 'communist' party of Syria or Iraq. They would like the proletariat to tame its savage movement, so it could be used in an attempt to set up a more modern capitalist formation.

The fact that Egypt's proletariat has so far passively resisted the creation of a 'workers' party that would organise it as a class for capital – which is the principle of the trade-unionist and bolshevist mode of organisation – is not only an indication of the wildcat form of direct democracy of its previous strikes and uprisings; it also in­dicates that the proletariat is beginning to become conscious of the possibility of self-organisation as a class for itself. In its conference on 2–3 November 1975, the council of delegates of coke manufacture workers stressed 'the right of workers to form their councils, and the right of every section to recall its delegate when he no longer expresses their viewpoint'. This clear rejection of long-term or permanent delegation of power to the general council of the factory's workers heralds a lucid conception among proletarians of the right sort of workers' organisation. Thus, at the lower level of class struggle one would have autonomous workers' groupings which assume the task of disseminating among the workers factual information about their international struggle and of spreading revolutionary theory in general, and in particular those elements of theory which are not immediately grasped by the average worker's consciousness, weighed down as it is with the prevailing ideology, such as criticism of religion, family, patriotism and similar widespread illusions.

These workers' groupings are revolutionary to the extent that they lay emphasis on the need to dissolve themselves, as soon as the class struggle explodes into a civil war, in the self-organisation of the proletariat as a whole: in the delegate councils of factory, workplace and neighbourhood – a single and unshared power, elected and revokable at any moment. In this way, all decisions concerning the issues of the ongoing struggle would be taken by the class as a whole rather than by one section of it, or from the outside.

The organisations of the clandestine left, when they go on talking in their inane literature of the need for a 'broad anti-imperialist front' for achieving the 'betrayed national tasks', are trying to take the real movement of the proletariat back to a phase which it has superseded since the 1975 uprising, if not earlier.

In the conditions of real control by international capital, movements of national liberation have become incapable of really achieving any national task. The fate of the Palestinian resistance and the results of the Lebanese war are significant in this respect. The liberation of the Arab world from all aspects of imperialist control can only be achieved by a socialist revolution which will overthrow all aspects of the domination of national and international capital; nowadays the two are one and the same. As for the prattle about a 'patriotic', 'democratic' or 'ambivalent' revolution, here there and everywhere – this is nothing but bureaucratic mystification of proletarian consciousness, which obscures from it the present central task: the establishment of a new society, in which production is not for profit but for the satisfaction of real collective needs and free individual desires; a society which caters for the deep desire of each individual to be the real maker of his or her own daily life and history.

June 1977

* This article has been translated from the Arabic manuscript. The author was unable to check the accuracy of the translation which is therefore published on the sole responsibility of the editors.

  • 1Cf 'The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie' in my book: The dictionary of the Communist Manifesto, (Arabic) Beirut, Kar Ibn-Khaldun, 1975.
  • 2See 'The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie', ibid.
  • 3ibid.
  • 4ibid.
  • 5In 1969 Al Ahram admitted that Egypt had lost a total of one million working days due to Ramadan that year.
  • 6We shall deal with Arab unity in detail some other time.
  • 7The army is the historical agent of these attempts, because class crystallisation in Egypt is weak. In Europe, on the other hand, nations and modern classes were created as a result of the break-up of estates, especially the third estate. However, where these estates had not existed, there was no difference between the concept of nation and the concept of community (in the religious sense). Both are 'ummah' in Arabic, and therefore the classes were intermingled, which paralysed them historically.
  • 8In 1976 Sadat admitted that he did not know the size of the foreign debts, as he had misunderstood his prime minister (Hijazi). When Hijazi had been referring to pounds sterling all along, Sadat had understood that the amount was in $US. This is not the only thing he does not know. He is even ignorant of the history of his own class. In June 1977, while he was giving the workers a history lesson, he said that Nubar had formed the 'save what you can' government in 1919, whereas in fact Nubar had died in 1899, and had formed his government in 1879 when the Khedive Ismail declared Egypt's bankruptcy. History repeats itself. Even Yousuf El Siba'i, the chairman of the Organisation of Afro-Asian Writers, and the chief editor of Al Ahram, published the speech without correcting it. The Egyptian people were right when they said: 'Knowledge is light and ignorance is Anwar' (light = nur in Arabic. Anwar = comparative form of 'nur' in Arabic).
  • 9Under Nasser, 23.6 per cent of the food production, 13.4 per cent of the chemical industry, 24 per cent of the mechanical industry and 86 per cent of the wood and furniture industry were in the private sector.
  • 10The regime accused four communist parties and the Russian embassy of having organised the uprising. These four groups are small and exist in the universities only. These groups, who were accused of organising the uprising and leading the sabotage, have in fact concurred that the 'weak point' of the uprising was its spontaneity. They have pleaded innocence of the sabotage and some of them even consider it to have been police provocation!
  • 11All Arab armies are by now specialised in repressing the proletariat. In Algeria, the army stamps out strikes and butchers the workers. In May 1977 Boumedienne brought out his troops to break the strike of the capital's dockers. Result: four killed, more than twenty wounded!
  • 12In search of reassuring myths, the insecure bourgeoisie has taken to imbecilities and superstitions. For weeks there was a long discussion in Cairo's biggest daily paper on 'the curative virtue of flies', which is mentioned in the Prophet's oral tradition (Hadith). Apparently, 'it has been scientifically proved that they carry antibodies against many diseases, from dysentery... down to opthalmia and TB.' The minister for religious affairs is among the supporters of this view. The Cairo correspondent of Al-Hawadith wrote on 11 April 1977: 'There is a new phenomenon in Cairo... fear of the unknown has penetrated some bourgeois circles; in many instances it touches the rich, especially the new rich.... A large number of Egyptians arrange their lives according to astrology and horoscopes.' He goes on to mention businessmen who avoid making deals on certain days because the 'genius astrologer', Mr Shamsi, has told them those days are unpropitious. And there are some doctors who, upon the advice of the astrologers, do not go out to see patients on certain days.



11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 15, 2013

This looks really interesting, look forward to reading it. One sub editing note though, it's better to use header tags ([ h2] etc) instead of making titles bold as it means it can be better for reading on other devices and also does better in search engine rankings.


11 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 16, 2013

Also, moved to history section


10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by vicent on September 29, 2013

this is a great read and very relevant, however are there any sources? and is there any evidence the Yom Kippur war was staged? it seems very far fetched


10 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Ed on September 29, 2013

I don't think it's saying that the October war was 'staged' but rather that there were reasons behind it happening which weren't what was being claimed at the time (like the oil industry being able to ratchet up prices to boost the economy).. I don't know too much about that war and he only makes a passing reference to it being a "stage-managed" war so it's not clear what he means exactly or how accurate it is but that's what it seems like to me..

The crisis in Israel: danger of fascism? - Avishai Ehrlich

Menachem Begin, Israeli PM 1977-1983.
Menachem Begin, Israeli PM 1977-1983.

Article describing the roots of the internal crisis in Israel which led, more than a year later, in May 1977, to the replacement of the Labour government by the right-wing Likud/Religious Party Coalition led by Menachem Begin. Also contains interesting information about the Israeli Communist Party and labour Zionism.

Submitted by Ed on January 16, 2013

The following article originally appeared in the French edition of Khamsin early in 1976. It describes the roots of the internal crisis which led, more than a year later, in May 1977, to the replacement of the Labour government by the Likud/Religious Party Coalition led by Menachem Begin. Although some of these developments were not anticipated in the article, most of its analysis has been validated by the turn of events. We thought it therefore useful to reprint it for the benefit of the English readers. We also asked the author to add a postscript which evaluates developments since the article was written.

The crisis in Israel – danger of Fascism?

Avishai Ehrlich

In the last year or so speculation has been rife in Israel about the likelihood of an authoritarian regime being set up. Views have ob­viously differed considerably between those who would welcome such a change as a long-awaited and needed remedy for the ailments of the country and its weakling government, and those who speak with abhorrence about the growing fascist cancer and view it as more detrimental to Israel's existence than dangers from without. Whatever the rumours – and there have been somewhat similar rumours in previous periods of Israel's short history – this time they have their foundation in the situation in which Israel found herself in the wake of the 1973 war and the growing feeling of acute crisis. Many Israelis will admit that zionism is approaching its moment of truth and doubts are raised about its ability to ride this storm unscathed.

This article will attempt to analyse the crisis in relation to the specific characteristics of the zionist state of Israel. On the basis of this analysis some theories about the danger of fascism in Israel will be examined. These theories, launched earlier this year by the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah), called for a separation between the fight against zionism and the fight against fascism, and for a popular front of anti-zionists and 'dovish' zionists to defeat the danger of fascism in Israel. These theories will be shown to be wrongly founded and the strategies based upon them to be politically mistaken.

Israel is not a typical monopoly capitalist country

The specific character of zionism
Israel, despite its many western features, is not a typical monopoly capitalist country. Any attempt to draw such analogies is bound to lead to gross, indeed grotesque, mistakes. The zionist venture in Palestine is a colonising enterprise founded under certain special conditions:

Firstly, zionism was a political movement whose centre of gravity, political influence, money and manpower were outside the area of colonisation. It hoped and believed in its ability to shift its centre of gravity to Palestine within an historically short period. It also believed that in the process of that shift (called by the zionists 'the ingathering of exiles') it would grow in strength faster than its enemies and would thus be able to establish a new and stable status quo which would eventually be recognised as permanent.

The zionist venture was never self-financing or profitable, by normal capitalist criteria. The ability of the zionists in Palestine to draw on resources much larger than their colon economy is a special feature of Israel, and a result of a unique combination of conditions. An early political unification of Labour zionism in Palestine, and the nature of zionism which gave elite status to the 'pioneers' who settled, combined in the 1930s.

It was then that the zionist establishment in Palestine – primarily the zionist labour bureaucracy – achieved political dominance over the zionist movement. This hegemony was further strengthened as a result of the second world war. This achievement meant that, although it was a minority within zionism as a whole, the zionist establishment in Palestine was effectively in command of the resources of the zionist movement, and in control of monies which were directed through the zionist movement to Palestine. The redistribution of these resources, which were the main source of in­come within the colon economy, was always centralised and mediated through the political apparatus, which thus maintained control over the economy.

The founding of the state of Israel and the finding of new sources of unilateral transfer, such as the German reparations and US grants and loans, has not changed this basic mechanism of political control over the allocation of economic resources and the primacy of political considerations in their disposal.
Secondly, the zionist settlers found themselves from the beginning in a state of war, sometimes open, sometimes latent, with the in­digenous population, and with growing Arab nationalism. This was not a condition foreseen by the founding fathers of zionism and was understood only much later by some of its leaders. The situation was different from that of other colonial ventures. The late advent of zionism as a colonial movement, and the relative development, economic and political, of Palestine, meant that opposition to zionism made itself felt from the first stages of colonisation, when the colons were numerically and politically very weak. The particular features of zionist society were thus shaped by this continuous conflict. Indeed they were created as a reaction to it.

Thirdly, the weakness of the zionists, in the conflict in which they found themselves, meant that they had to seek alliance with the im­perialist super-powers: first with those who controlled Palestine, and later with those who saw in Arab nationalism as the zionists did, an antagonistic opponent of their interests in the area. The alliance which the zionists sought from the super-powers contained the following ingredients: The right to form their special exclusive zionist in­frastructure; support and freedom to continue the process of 'ingathering', and protection and support against hostilities. At first this was done through the protection of the British mandate; but when Britain lost its ability to perform this function, zionism, strengthened in the meanwhile, was able to transfer its allegiance to other im­perialist powers with remarkable skill.

The foundation of an Israeli state did not change the basic ingredients of support that Israel sought from its allies, though it changed their forms. In return, zionism served imperialism directly as an ally against Arab nationalism, and indirectly in helping it to maintain other indigenous regimes within the Arab world. The dependency on imperialism in a situation of continuous war and under rapidly changing conditions in a particularly volatile area is also a special feature of zionism which had an important bearing on its internal organisation.

The primacy of politics
These conditions, which in their intensity and combination are peculiar to zionism in Palestine, were most important in giving it its special character. The need to maintain hegemony in the zionist movement, the need to manoeuvre between the world powers and the reality of colonisation against strong political and military opposition, meant that political considerations came before economic ones. The political unity of zionism in Palestine, the source of its strength, also made the primacy of politics possible. Through its zionist hegemony Israel obtained huge and regular inflows of capital which have no parallel elsewhere in the world. Israel's ability to claim that it represents the Jewish people, and thus receive reparations from West Germany on behalf of Jews victimised by nazism, was also due to its zionist hegemony. This continuous inflow of money enabled the state to build a war machine, accommodate and absorb Jewish immigrants and sustain a standard of living which bore no relation whatsoever to its internal economic capabilities.

Put differently, the Israeli state could set itself, and achieve political goals which were not limited by the constraints of the country's economy. The ability and the success of Israel's leadership was less economic than political. It lay in their skill to raise abroad the resources and support they needed for their ventures. In turn, the continued flow of money from abroad enabled them to maintain political unity and quiet at home, which was also essential for their ventures. It can therefore be concluded that in Israel, politics enjoyed relative autonomy from economics.

The unity of the political leadership
A second feature of Israel relates to the unity of political leadership. It was a common belief among the rank and file in labour zionism that there was an abyss between them and the Jabotinsky-Begin 'right­wing' Herut party. In fact, a whole political myth of 'right zionism' versus 'left zionism' rested upon this belief, which still has some mobilising powers, especially among the Mapam-Moked 'dovish' groups.1

It would be a mistake to relate 'left' and 'right' in zionism to the European context, as they have an entirely different meaning. The only way to understand the meaning of left and right in zionism is within the historical development of the zionist movement in which they emerged. The Israeli Communist Party, by uncritically accepting zionist definitions of left and right, unwittingly helps to perpetuate false consciousness and does not take part in the struggle to demystify zionism.

The split between left and right in zionism emerged in relation to the method and strategy of the colonisation of Palestine. Both 'left' and 'right' advocated Jewish exclusivism. Both aspired to establish a Jewish state, nor did they disagree on the territorial borders of this state, nor on the need to displace the Palestinians. Both left and right stressed regimentation, discipline and a military style, both em­phasised the need for sacrifice and heroism in the nationalistic sense. Both advocated that Jews leave the political struggles in their coun­tries of origin and resolve their problems, not in a class struggle, but in a separatist Jewish nationalist solution. Democracy was not an ab­solute value in either camp and it was one of the leaders of 'left' zionism (Arlazorov) who first indicated publicly that the Jews might resort to military dictatorship to rule the Palestinians.

The 'socialism' of this 'left' was Jewish socialism. It was as vicious towards the communists (Jews and Arabs) in Palestine as the 'right' was. Mapam, which called itself marxist-leninist, the most leftist of the zionist left, advocated the suspension of class struggle for the period necessary to build zionism. It barred Arabs from membership in its kibbutzim, which were built on the ruins of Arab villages. It combined an autocratic stalinist internal style with vicious witch-hunting of communists and trotskyists.2 Although 'left' and 'right' borrowed from the jargon and symbols of European socialism and fascism, these were not the mainsprings of their dispute. The motive of fighting fascism – naturally a very strong emotional issue among the Jews in Palestine – was used by left zionism as an ideological weapon in its fight with the right-wing over problems of zionism (eg in the Arlazorov murder affair).

A common claim in this argument of right versus left in zionism cites the contacts which the Jabotinsky organisation had with extreme right-wing and fascist regimes in Europe in the 1930s. Proof is available now that other factions of zionism also had contacts with Mussolini and the nazis.3 The contact that the Israeli government had, and has, with extreme and right-wing leaders and regimes is a long and well known story. This type of argument is not serious and can impress only the ignorant and politically naive.

The split between left and right developed in the 1930s, at the time of the upsurge of fascism. 'Right' zionism was mostly concerned with the distress of the lower middle class Jewish masses in central Europe under conditions of economic and political crisis. This led them to give utmost priority to rapid evacuation of large numbers of Jews to Palestine. The programme inevitably entailed a confrontation with Britain, which attempted to balance its support for zionism with its imperialist needs to placate growing Arab national feelings by restricting immigration. 'Left' zionism, on the other hand, gave top priority to its colonising project in Palestine, which could not survive and develop without the protection of the British mandate. The maintenance of a working relationship between zionism and Britain was seen as so vital that it had to be continued despite the restrictions imposed on Jewish immigration.

It was on this issue that the schism between left and right developed, and became more bitter as the position of the Jews under Nazism became desperate. Right zionism emerged as a significant movement under conditions adverse to the gradual development of zionism, at a time when it seemed that zionism could not mobilise the international support it needed. At this desperate conjuncture the right was willing to abandon the protective umbrella of imperialist support. It was willing to risk huge sacrifices in order to save the maximum number of Jews.

'Left' zionism's philosophy evolved in an earlier period and it held that time was on the side of zionism. It believed in building a Jewish power base in Palestine, which would eventually become politically independent. This meant a long-term patient colonisation 'dunam here and dunam there'.4 The 'left's' philosophy was optimistic and gradualist. 'Right' zionism was pessimistic and catastrophic. It was a reaction to the gathering storm in Europe and a conviction that time was running out. The 'right' believed that a declaration – even unilateral – of a Jewish state, coupled with the growing Jewish distress in Europe, would set legions of Jews on the move to Palestine. Armed and trained, they would conquer Palestine in one brief 'revolutionary' act.

The difference between the philosophies of the 'one glorious act' and the 'long hard slog' had other ramifications. The right concerned itself almost solely with the questions of evacuation and military conquest. It believed that questions of colonisation of the land and the development of the Jewish society, its forms and institutions, should be dealt with through the future state and not through particularistic party bodies. The 'left' developed the theory of 'halutsiut' ('pioneering'). With its emphasis on gradual colonisation, it saw in immigration only the first step in the individual's commitment to zionism. Halutsiut emphasized voluntarism – the internalisation of the aims of zionism, settlement and building Jewish institutions in Palestine. Halutsiut was preached as a way of life, the self-realisation of zionism. It attacked individualism, the pursuit of self-gain and fulfilment and advocated collectivism, sacrifice and self-dedication to the collective national effort of constructing the zionist enterprise. This philosophy borrowed from the symbolism of Russian populism and socialism, which was culturally meaningful to the immigrants from east Europe, though it was implanted in a completely different context.

Although hostility existed between the rank and file of these two camps in zionism, it was much less important among the leaderships of these two parties. The few serious clashes which they had were more symbolic than real. The need to maintain unity in the face of volatile international conditions and a permanent war oriented the two parties towards a policy of peaceful co-existence instead of an open and cut-throat political competition. The pattern of this agreement is roughly of power sharing – first within the zionist movement then within the Histadrut, later in coalition government, and most recently in access to high positions within the army and the Ministry of Defence.5 The order of this process seems to reflect the order of convergence of the interests of the two parties, first outside Israel and later in internal politics.

The power sharing does not mean that the participants get equal shares and have no conflicts. Labour maintained its dominant hold in key positions of these centres of power. Unlike the more formal ties that exist between the component parties of the Labour Alliance and the parties of the governmental coalition, the ties between the leaders of Labour and Likud are informal. They express themselves in forms such as [prime minister] Rabin's report to Begin upon his return from Kissinger before reporting to the Cabinet,6 or by the recent proliferation of advisers to the premier and to other ministers, through which the opposition participates in the decision-making process.

An economy of unilateral transfers
Another characteristic of Israel is the nature of the control of the economy. In Israel it is probably less true to say that the rich deter­mine what the politics of the state will be, than that the state deter­mines who will become rich. This is a consequence of the relative independence of the state from the economy. Profit seeking foreign investment has played a small role in the development of the Israeli economy. The three other main sources of capital formation have been:

1. Capital brought in by immigrants (including German reparations).
2. Self-accumulated capital.
3. The unilateral transfers and loans received by Israel from Jewish supporters and from friendly governments.

Of these three, by far the most important and largest is the third; and the unilateral transfers are the bulk of this category.

The unilateral transfers are received through the Jewish Agency and the government, which then redistribute them in the economy. The decisions about distribution are of major internal economic im­portance: access to positions of redistribution is therefore one of the constant issues in Israeli politics. The allocation of access positions is the ultimate source of power in this type of unilateral receipts economy and has been firmly held by Mapai.7 (The sudden death of [ex-treasury minister, chairman of the Jewish Agency] P. Sapir in 1975 brought about the first serious challenge to Mapai's control of such key positions in the Jewish Agency.) The decision not to block other parties from access to redistribution positions, but instead to use dominance to allocate access positions as a bargaining device, was one of the cleverest techniques devised by Mapai in the 1940s. It created the pattern through which Mapai co-opted other parties to cooperate with it and forged Israel's ruling power bloc under its leadership.

Control of the redistribution of money is one form of political control over the economy. In addition, there is the control of the state and public owned sectors of the economy. These sectors are much larger in Israel than in any of the western capitalist countries: more than half of the country's industry and most of its agriculture, almost all heavy industry, metal, petro-chemical, engineering and construction are in these sectors. They also have their own finance institutions; two of the three major banks, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim are Jewish Agency and Histadrut owned.

The public sector comprises the Jewish Agency and Histadrut owned companies. The ownership in both cases is a legal fictitious entity: the 'Jewish people' and the 'Workers Society' respectively. The embodiment of these legal entities are the representatives of the zionist political parties in the executive bodies of the Agency and the Histadrut. The Histadrut enterprises are not owned by their workers. Where ownership is fictitious, what matters is control. Control in the Agency and Histadrut corporations is determined by political ap­pointments to managerial positions according to an agreed ratio between the parties. By distributing appointments to key economic positions according to political criteria and setting the ratio of allocation, the political establishment controls the state, Histadrut and Agency owned sectors.

In all these cases ownership does not prove anything about the nature of production. Israel is a capitalist country. The non-private sector is geared to a market economy and the workers have no control over the process of production.

The private sector is less politically controlled than the state and public sectors. However, even here political intervention is by far greater than in most capitalist countries. The ability to establish a profitable private enterprise depends on the achievement of favourable conditions: loans, concessions, government contracts, exemption from taxes, cheap foreign currency, protection from imports, etc. All these have to be obtained from institutions where the key positions are held by political appointees. The result is a regime of favouritism. In return for rendering services to the state, the parties are able to extract funds8 and further appointments of their faithful to key jobs. Despite this system some private enterprises, especially in the diamond, food processing, textile industries, building contracting companies and international commerce, have achieved a degree of independence from state control. This is the economic base of the big bourgeois parties.

Autonomy of the parties
Another feature of the autonomy of politics in Israel is the in­dependence of the parties from their members and the dependence of the members on the party. The independence of the parties is manifested in two ways: A. The parties have created means of self-financing that are not based on the voluntary contributions of their supporters; B. The party bureaucracy is self-appointed and members have very limited control over it.

This must be explained in some detail.
A. The zionist parties are financed in the following ways:
1. Through the Jewish Agency, which pays these parties annual sums proportional to their strength in the Zionist Congress of 1946.

2. Through the Histadrut, first from collections which it conducts abroad; second from a political tax levied on all its members and from which parties draw according to fixed ratios decided at the time when the tax was introduced. This is not dues which supporters pay to their own party, but a tax that every member 'contributes' to all the parties.

3. According to a law introduced in 1959, parties are also financed by the state. Although state financing of parties has been introduced in recent years in some other western capitalist countries, the law in Israel has no parallel elsewhere. The sum per voter in Israel is 14 times bigger than in Germany. The total sum received by parties from the state in Israel in the last four years is larger than the sum received by the Democrats and Republicans together in the US presidential elections. Decisions to increase these grants are not made after a public debate in parliament but in the parliamentary finance com­mittee whose deliberations are not public and which recently decided to increase the sum by 44 per cent. Despite all these grants, the main parties in Israel are heavily in debt, due to their gigantic bureaucratic machines and election expenses. To resolve their financial crisis, they introduced last year a bill in parliament which would grant them special consolidation loans under exceptional terms. As the parties involved have a clear majority in parliament there is nothing but public outcry to stop them allocating to themselves as much as they want, providing all the major parties share in the booty.9

4. Parties in Israel are also big property owners; they own real estate, construction companies, banks, commercial printing houses, ad­vertising companies. They are also involved in business abroad. Party members in high public positions also make available to their parties funds of the institutions they control.10

5. Members' dues and donations are the smallest source of most zionist parties' income although it is larger among the Independent Liberals and Liberals. The bourgeois zionist parties in Israel are financed in a more traditional western way than the labour .and religious parties.

B. The party bureaucracy is a self-elected and self-perpetuating body which is almost independent of its members.
1. The national proportional election system in Israel presents the voter with a national list of party parliamentary candidates, nominated by the central organisation of the party. The nomination is usually made by an informal elected body which controls the party.11

2. The party internal organisation: either the organisation postpones internal elections for years to avoid change in its leadership; or the elected bodies are not effectively in command of major decisions, which are made outside them; or a guaranteed place in the leading bodies of the party is given to its leadership ex-officio. This involves not a few people, but a considerable proportion of the parties' central bodies – enough to ensure their continued control of the party.12

The result of this combination of election system and internal party organisation is a remarkably stable political regime. An Israeli political scientist commented: 'A dramatic turn-about in the election results is impossible, short of an atmosphere of catas­trophe – military, political or economic – and this has never yet hap­pened in Israel.'13 This was said before the October 1973 war, but the elections immediately after that war showed that even that shock was not catastrophic enough. Although the hawkish Likud bloc gained 25.6 per cent, the swing did not prevent Labour from forming a coalition government under its leadership.

State-controlled trade unions
The control of the class struggle through state-dominated trade unions is yet another aspect in which the primacy of politics manifests itself in Israel and in which Israel differs from most bourgeois democratic western countries. The special nature of the Histadrut and the role that it played in the colonisation process in Palestine have been discussed elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this article.14 The three most important features of the Histadrut as a trade union are:

1. The Histadrut was the embryo of the zionist state and through its control of the Histadrut Mapai (now the Labour Party) came to control the state. Since the inception of Israel, and for almost a generation, control of these two institutions has been in the hands of the same party, which came to regard both as two arms of the same apparatus. The combined domination of state and Histadrut means that the Labour Party decides the economic policies of the country and also controls the institutional outlets of workers' responses to these policies. The Histadrut is the main tool to make the workers acquiesce in government wage, price and tax policies. A foreign expert on Mapai correctly commented: 'No Israeli government could succeed without steady co-operation from the Histadrut, whereas the latter's steadfast and destructive opposition could without doubt prevent effective government.'15

2. The Histadrut has virtual monopoly of the representation of workers in Israel, which was achieved when Herut (Gahal) joined the Histadrut in 1965, and its weak rival workers' organisation was phased out. The monopoly was reinforced in the 1971 Labour Relations Law which confers on the Histadrut the status of the legal representative of the workers in Israel and outlaws strikes unauthorised by it. The effectiveness of the Histadrut stems also from the high proportion of the population which belongs to it – the highest in any capitalist country. But this does not indicate anything about the class consciousness of Israeli workers – they are compelled to join. Israel has no national health service and public medicine was left deliberately in the hands of the Histadrut. Workers who do not join risk not obtaining basic medical care for their families. Thus the large membership of the Histadrut is due to manipulation of state services in order to control the workers.

3. Compared with trade unions in western capitalist countries, the Histadrut is much more centralised. Individual unions and local organisations have very little autonomy. The only direct personal elections take place at work-place level, the lowest hierarchical rung. Other elections are on a party, national-proportional basis, which gives party centres in the Histadrut full control over candidates and appointees to all positions, local and national. All Israeli parties, including the most extreme right-wing and religious, participate in these elections. Major decisions are made by the Labour government and Histadrut bosses in party meetings and are only brought for formal ratification to the executive committee. The majority of strikes in Israel are unauthorised by the Histadrut, which means that the Histadrut does not defend the strikers or mobilise solidarity for them. In most cases they cannot draw from the strike funds to which their Histadrut dues have contributed.

The Histadrut is thus not a western, reformist-type trade union but a state-controlled ('state' is used here in the wider sense of the zionist establishment) organisation which more closely resembles the bureaucratic authoritarian type. The existence of the Histadrut is a major obstacle to the development of the class struggle in Israel. It perpetuates ethnic divisons and chauvinism among workers. It sets back the development of political consciousness among workers; they recognise in the Histadrut the whole spectrum of political parties in the country. With few exceptions this leads to sporadic and isolated conflicts on specific issues which have been fairly easy to contain and control.

All these features of the zionist state clearly demonstrate that Israel is not a bourgeois democratic capitalist state, but is a different kind of society – more authoritarian and more bureaucratic. Most Israelis like to think of Israel as a 'western democracy' and this myth is encouraged by the zionist establishment. However, when this mistake is found in an important publication of the communist party which deals with the 'dangers of fascism in Israel' it is far more serious.16 The ICP17 is the biggest non-zionist political organisation in the country and such basic mistakes are bound to cloud its analysis and lead its politics astray. The source of the ICP mistake lies in its failure to analyse the par­ticular nature of zionism. By the lack of its own analysis it helps to perpetuate pro-zionist myths. One example of this is the way in which Israel is regarded as a 'western monopoly-capitalist country'. Another is the acceptance of Labour zionism's classification of 'left' and 'right' zionist parties at face value.

The nature of the present crisis in Israel

Israel is in the throes of an acute crisis: economic, ideological, political and international. Although Israel is part and parcel of the capitalist world, and the world crisis is thus reflected in Israel too, it is reflected in a particular way which is mediated through the zionist state's special structure and the special forms of its relationship with the capitalist west. It is important therefore to show how aspects of the crisis impinge on the structure of the zionist state, thus exacer­bating its internal contradictions.

Contrary to widely held views, Israel is far from being an economic miracle. Its rate of economic growth, which was high in the first decade of its existence, slackened in the sixties to an average of 4.9 per cent a year – lower than that of Greece and Spain. It fell further in the early 1970s to about 3.5 per cent. Israel is also an inefficient economy in the utilisation of its production capacity; recent reports show that 40 per cent was idle during the 196Os. It is also a highly bureaucratised society with 34 per cent of its labour-power in ser­vices – one of the highest ratios in the world. Israel's ability to pursue its three basic objectives – maintain a huge war machine, absorb Jewish immigration and sustain a western standard of living – is not a result of its own economic performance but an outcome of its ability to obtain unilateral transfers. Israel is unique in being a unilateral transfers economy. The volume of these transfers, the sources they come from and the conditions attached to their use are crucial factors for Israel's economy.
Israel has always had a large balance of payments deficit. Since 1968 however the foreign debt has been growing at a higher rate than ever before, so much so that in 1974 the debt per capita was about seven times that of Britain:

The growth of Israel's foreign debts (in million US$)

1967 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974
2,157 3,352 4,289 5,375 6,715 7,905

(Source: Israel Statistical Abstracts, 1975, p183)

There are two main reasons for this growing debt.
1. The spiralling world inflation since 1968 raised the price of Israel's imports at a higher rate than its unilateral receipts and its exports.

2. 1968 marked an end of an epoch in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Since then, all-out wars and wars of attrition became bigger, more sophisticated and longer. The cost of maintaining an adequate war machine soared beyond the means of the traditional unilateral transfers. In its efforts to stick to its basic objectives, Israel resorted to more and more borrowing on the international finance market and from the USA.

While Israelis often complain about the heavy economic burden of the war, recent research shows that until 1970 the costs of wars were covered by transfers from abroad.18 It is only since then that the economic toll of the war has been felt and thus demands a choice between economic objectives, instead of the previous ability to pursue them simultaneously.

The rise of Israel's military expenses (as % of GNP)

1968 1972 1975 1976*
18.2 21 29.5 35

(Source: Emda, November 1975, p14)
* provisional Budget

In the wake of the 1973 war the government reflated the economy in order to return the economy, paralysed due to mobilisation, back to normal. These measures resulted in a galloping inflation of 56 per cent. The balance of payments deficit grew ominously and more than trebled from 1972 to 1974. Israel's depleting reserves of foreign currency (only $881 million in November 1974) threatened a stoppage of imports of raw materials and thus mass unemployment.19 By that time Israel's debts were so large that a huge sum had to be set aside annually for repayment and interest – Israel was heavily mortgaging its future. Further borrowing on the international market became more and more expensive and difficult, and was only granted under conditions adverse to Israel's protectionist economic policy.

To check these developments, the Israeli government resorted to deflationary measures, devaluations, cutting of government ex­penditure by curtailing basic services and subsidies, wage freezes and new fiscal measures which included new forms of taxation. The result of this policy was a deep recession. The GNP fell by 6 per cent bet­ween June 1974 and June 1975, 20 investment was negative and unemployment started to rise. However, mass unemployment among Jews was prevented at the expense of expanding the numbers of workers in services and continuous deficit-spending. The reasons against allowing mass unemployment were political and will be discussed later.

The growing inability of Israel to finance itself from traditional unilateral transfer sources brought about yet another development. Having no other choice, Israel requested in the wake of the 1973 war direct military and economic aid from the USA. The request was for $8 billion for four years. In 1974 Israel received $2.3 billion, which amounts to approximately $700 per capita, or 25 per cent of the Israeli government budget. This sum roughly covered Israel's military ex­penses abroad. For the first time the US was asked to shoulder directly the financing of one of Israel's objectives – the maintenance of its war machine.

Ironically, this need of Israel's coincided with a major, if gradual shift in US policy in the Middle East. The US has attempted since 1972 to secure its interests in the area by defusing the remnants of Nasserism and populist radical Pan-Arabism. It is trying to forge direct links with individual regimes in the Arab countries. Although this does not inevitably make Israel superfluous in capitalism's new schemes in the area, it certainly changes the degree of identity and overlapping of interests between Israel and the USA. (This was reflected in the low profile that Israel kept during Syria's intervention in the Lebanon.)

The coincidence of reliance on the USA when the USA is less dependable (from Israel's point of view) than ever before is a major cause for alarm in Israel, for this growing direct dependence may be used by the USA as a lever to pressure Israel to change her recalcitrant attitude towards withdrawal from occupied territories. The Ministry of Finance calculated that a reduction of $500 million in American aid to Israel could cause unemployment of about 14 per cent.21 At the present level of Israel's foreign currency reserves, a postponement of US assistance for as much as five months could stop the imports of raw materials and paralyse Israel's economy.22 A decision of the US towards the end of 1975 to convert 60 per cent of its assistance to Israel from grants to loans caused a wave of fury in Israel reflected in an editorial in Ma'ariv:

'It is clear that this method of assistance [loans] amplifies tremendously Israel's dependence on the American government. Within a very short period we may reach a situation where our physical existence will be entirely dependent on American mercy and we will lose any ability to refuse political dictates.'23

The international crisis
Israel's dwindling international support and growing isolation are well known and do not require elaboration. What do perhaps need further clarification are the implications of this for Israel. The nature of zionism, which depends on the dynamism of Jewish immigration from abroad, its unilateral transfers economy and the continuous Israeli-Arab conflict, makes Israel more dependent on international support than most other countries.

In countries where there are substantial Jewish communities, zionism seeks the support (or at least the approval) of governments and public opinion in order to be able to work legally to mobilise the Jewish community. This means:

1. The right to propagate zionist ideas and to found zionist organisations without their being seen as subversive foreign agencies and the ability to recruit and train immigrants from these countries.

2. The right to raise funds for a foreign country (Israel) and transfer them out of the host country – which increases the foreign debt of the country involved.

3. The ability to use its base in the Jewish community to further ex­pand good-will and political support for its aims in the general population. Zionists call these privileges which they have in the western countries 'democratic rights', which makes them more defensible to the liberal conscience. This, however, need not be so and the zionists are no principled supporters of democracy. The simple fact is that in countries which object to zionism, zionist work has been far more difficult and less effective.

Another reason for the importance of good international standing for zionism is related to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Unlike most other conflicts between states, the crux of this conflict is the question of the legitimacy of the nature of the zionist state, and not only its borders. Legitimacy is as good as the universality of its recognition. This point was perfectly understood by zionism since the days of Balfour and the League of Nations. It has been the main aim of Israel's foreign policy in its drive to establish international connections. The erosion of Israel's international position since 1967 threatens in the last instance the recognition of its right to exist.

These two reasons have longer term repercussions on Israel's future; but the increasing isolation also has more immediate affects. Israel's growing conflict with international organisations also puts pressures on those countries which still support Israel. They are put in the dilemma of re-considering either their attitude towards these international organisations or their position towards Israel. As there is no likely substitute for the UN in maintaining some 'international order', Israel's supporters will eventually have to decide between modifying their position on Israel or paying an increasing political and economic price for it. The erosion of support for Israel and its backers ties Israel's hands in using its military capability. Israel's isolation makes it more difficult for her to reap the benefits of a successful military operation. It also makes it more unlikely that Israel will get the 'OK' for military ventures from its super-power backers. Until now, approval by a super-power of her decision to go to war has been a sine qua non in Israel's politics. A decision to go it alone is almost certain to cost Israel the guaranteed war supplies, the containment of the reaction of the Soviet bloc and the element of surprise. Israel's isolation thus has the immediate implication of being a constraint on her freedom to act.

Emigration and immigration
Relatively little is known outside Israel about emigration. Yet this is one of the indicators of the crisis with which Israel is faced. The ignorance which existed about this problem for many years was part of a deliberate Israeli effort. In a country based on the legitimising belief in the 'in-gathering of exiles', and which prides itself on being a 'melting pot', information on emigration was regarded as bad publicity and defamation. Concealment was also part of the policy of containment. Emigrants were treated in Israel and by zionists abroad as deserters, and as a result they tended to feel shame and to hide the fact that they did not intend to return. This restricted their influence on other Israelis and on potential Jewish immigrants abroad. In Israel it was believed that 'hushing up' the problem would prevent it from spreading, Denial of the problem was also economical, for if there was no problem there was no need for expensive root treatment.

There are no accurate statistics on emigration because of difficulties of definition. Most recent estimates vary between 300,000 to 500,000 since Israel was founded.24 Calculated as a ratio of immigration, emigration was between 20 to 33 per cent, a vast number unparalleled by other immigration countries. Furthermore, and contrary to what is believed, most of the emigrants were not newcomers. Until 1962, 50 per cent were veterans of whom 31 per cent were Israeli-born; since then the numbers of Israeli-born have increased radically. An astonishing statistical piece of information was revealed recently in a research conducted on Israeli emigration to the USA, which showed that most of the 250,000 Israeli immigrants in the USA are between the ages of 25-40. This is a third of all Israelis in this age bracket.25 Estimates are that 75 per cent of those who leave Israel are of oc­cidental-ashkenazi origin.26

As long as immigrants were flowing in, discussion of emigration was avoided, The slackening of immigration in the last few years and a parallel increase in emigration brought about a change of policy. Emigration is now debated as a serious haemorrhage. More research is now being done and incentives are offered to emigrants who wish to return. The official estimates of emigration in the last few years are as follows: 1972: 12,000; 1973: 15,000; 1974: 24,000; 1975: 19,000.27 In 1966, when there was an economic crisis, the number of emigrants exceeded that of immigrants. 1976 is compared by Israeli economists to 1966, so the emigration trend is bound to continue or to grow.

A thorough research into the problem of emigration was com­missioned by the Ministry of Information, when emigration reached its peak in 1974.28 It showed that the younger interviewees had a stronger inclination to leave and that this inclination fell with age. Israeli-born want to leave more than immigrants, and non-religious more than religious. Of the sample, 19 per cent answered that they had little or no wish at all to stay in the country. The reasons given were, in order of importance: heavy taxation (31%), standard of living (28%), bureaucratisation of life (25%), political regime (22%), future of their children (21%), prospects of better jobs (20%), military service (19%), social inequality (18%), conditions of work (16%), physical security (16%).

This research is interesting as it corroborates impressionistic knowledge which had never been tested systematically. The con­tinuous danger of war is less a direct cause than its effects on normal life. At the time of the research the attrition war with Syria was going on and the complaints about military service referred to the lengthy reserve duties and their influence on normal life. This shows that blitz wars which Israel favoured since 1956 were not only best for military efficacy but also most suited to the minimal disruption of economic and social life. The attrition war with Egypt in 1969-70, the longer 1973 war and the attrition war with Syria after the 1973 war indicate the potential strains of a different type of war on Israeli society.

This research also revealed the connection between standard of living and emigration. Israel's failure to maintain a western standard of living immediately reduces its ability to attract immigration and prevent emigration. Zionist idealism is not sufficient to keep the Israelis in and to attract Jews to come. The failure of ideology is also indicated in the willingness of so many to openly admit their doubts and intentions not to remain in the country.

Accompanying the increase in emigration is the decrease in im­migration. In the years 1971-73 Israel had an average influx of 37,000-40,000 immigrants a year; in 1974-75 immigration fell by 50 per cent. The largest immigration to Israel was from the USSR and the decrease in immigration from there was more than 60 per cent. Contrary to claims by the Israeli authorities, this is not only due to a Soviet clamp on emigration but to the world crisis and the decreasing attraction of Israel after the 1973 war. The dwindling desire of Russian Jews to emigrate to Israel can be seen from the growing percentage of emigrants from the USSR who upon arrival in the West refuse to go to Israel. While only 4 per cent opted for the West in 1973, this rose to 36 per cent at the end of 1974.29 Western sources also report that only about 10,000 Jews are waiting for emigration permits, not hundreds of thousands as claimed by zionist propaganda.30

Slackening immigration and growing emigration not only influence the growth of the Jewish population but they compound the ideological crisis. Zionists view Israel as a state with a mission – to propagandise among Jews, convert them to immigration and absorb them. To most ardent zionists the state is not a goal in itself, but a means in the 'ingathering' process, which is a higher and ultimate goal. A zionist state that does not absorb immigrants and whose citizens are leaving is in an acute crisis.

Furthermore, the self-proclaimed role of 'saviour of suffering Jews' gives Israel its moral status among the Jews. 'It is not us that you help', say the zionists, 'but yourselves and other suffering Jews. We shed our blood for you, so the least you owe us is support and money.' This is the usual argument on which the zionist leadership bases its claim to hegemony among Jews. An Israel that does not attract the 'needy', an Israel that demands money and support to carry out an endless war whose necessity is increasingly doubted, means the bankruptcy of zionism. It may still obtain Jewish aid, but the role is reversed: the Israelis are the 'needy'. Israel thus becomes just another Jewish community in distress, which other Jewish communities try to help – as has happened so many times in Jewish history! The myth of the ultimate solution to which zionism is committed is exploded.

There is another dimension to this ideological crisis – a personal disillusionment. The realisation of their dependence on the 'diaspora' rather than the diaspora's on them raises a thousand doubts among Israelis – especially the young, the educated, the mobile. The Israeli too is asked to sacrifice personally for the zionist mission of 'ingathering' – long years of service in the army, the discomforts of a society at war, his standard of living, his personal aspirations and even his life. In return he felt a 'hero' leading a 'meaningful life'. These feelings depended on the coming of immigrants and the hushing up of emigration. Every young Israeli now has friends who emigrated and live abroad. The dwindling immigration raises the spectre of longer periods in the army; the 'duties' of others who do not come or have left that fall on him. Is he a hero, or a fool? he wonders.

The class struggle
Israel's inability to pursue its three basic aims is also reflected in labour relations. The growing share of its GNP that now has to go towards financing its war machine, the uncertainty of the con­tinuation and level of American support and the repercussions of the world economic crisis compel Israel to reduce severely its standard of living. Under these conditions the struggle over the distribution of the cuts between labour and capital is intensified.

1968-73 were 'fat years' for Israeli capitalists, despite the high rate of inflation. With the help of the government and Histadrut the ratio between the share of capital and the share of labour in the GNP in­creased almost 150 per cent.

Payments to labour and capital as % of GNP

Labour Capital
1968 88.9 11.1
1973 74.2 25.8

(Source: I. Kaisar, Ma'ariv, October 1975)

Official statistics show that while the average increase of real wages was until 1973 only 2% per annum, productivity of labour increased 6% annually. Since 1973 real wages have been falling: 3.5% in 1973, almost 4% in 1974. Government support of capitalists can be seen by the fact that although the share of profits in the GNP grew, the share of profits in income tax payments fell from 18.8% in 1971 to 13% in 1974. The toll of financing Israel's growing deficit thus fell more and more on its workers. Government policies since 1974, tax reforms and new taxes, abolition of subsidies on basic foods, and cuts in govern­ment welfare and education services have further hit wage earners and particularly the lowest paid. The Histadrut adds to this policy by restraining wage demands and by accepting, and forcing upon the workers, an indexation policy which did not even attempt to com­pensate for the soaring inflation.

Under these conditions there has been a steep increase in the number of industrial conflicts. In 1975 the number of strikes increased threefold over 1974. The number of workers involved in strikes in­creased about eightfold. Most of the disputes occurred in the public sector. The majority of strikes were in industry and transport. Of these 60 per cent were not authorised by the Histadrut and were thus 'wildcat' strikes. Some strikes escalated into heavy confrontations with the police and the border-guard militia.31

The Histadrut's absolute failure to back the workers is now clear to the workers themselves. It is even more transparent since 1974 when the previous General Secretary of the Histadrut, Ben-Aharon, who made militant verbal pronouncements, was seen as a danger and was replaced by the Labour Party with a more docile and obedient general secretary. The fact that the Histadrut has long ceased to represent the rank and file of Jewish workers is reflected in the composition of its congresses. A survey among delegates to the Histadrut 11th congress in 1969 revealed that only 5% came from workshops and factories, another 5% from kibbutzim and moshavim and 90% were full-time functionaries of the various parties.32

The alienation of the Histadrut from its members is reflected among workers' leaders who openly attack the Histadrut. In November 1975, this disillusionment brought together strike leaders, workers, com­mittees and some union leaders who decided to form action com­mittees to co-ordinate industrial action and promote solidarity among workers in the face of the hostile mass media. Among the founders of the action committees were leaders of the dockers and other port workers, seamen and airport workers, workers from leading fac­tories in the electro-mechanical industries and the union of bank clerks. The action committees denounced the Histadrut as 'worse than the Mafia' and called its indexation and wage agreements a 'charade'. They also called for the foundation of another trade union federation.

These developments recall many of the action committees which sprang into being in 1962 and culminated in major mass strikes of hundreds of thousands of workers. They are a clear sign that the Histadrut is losing its authority. In several cases when public opinion was whipped up by the mass media which used the argument that the strikers support the PLO, they were not deterred and mockingly called themselves 'the PLO'. Some of the action committee members made political speeches criticising belligerent government policies and their refusal to recognise the Palestinian people. Although these isolated events must not be exaggerated, they do indicate that the use of chauvinistic propaganda to divert the class struggle is less effective and more transparent than in the past.

The Histadrut is also aware of the danger of its growing conflict with the rank and file of the workers and has spent much on research into this question.33 At present the Histadrut is considering the abolition of the right of workers' committees in factories to declare strikes and the transfer of this right to higher Histadrut institutions.34 If this con­stitutional change is implemented, the rank and file would lose all remnants of the freedom to act and defend themselves in the class struggle. This measure must be seen against the background of disapproval by the Histadrut of most strikes in Israel today. The Histadrut is also deliberating stopping payments of strike funds to unauthorised strikers and the state is considering an introduction of new and more restrictive legislation on strikes and labour disputes.

Another strategy adopted in an attempt to head off the resentment of workers is more sophisticated. As mentioned before, only 5 per cent of representatives in Histadrut congresses and central bodies are representatives of workers' committees, and the rest are party bureaucrats and functionaries. This is to be changed and the ratio of representatives from workers' committees is to be increased in the future to 35-40 per cent. Though this measure masquerades as democratisation, it is in fact another blow to the autonomy of the workers' committees. Hitherto elections to workers' committees were direct and personal. Now parties will intervene more in elections on the shop floor and the elected will no longer be chosen according to their dedication to their fellow workers but to the parties which back and promote them.

Another indicator of the economic crisis is the growing unem­ployment. The number of workers seeking employment through the labour exchanges rose 19 per cent towards the end of 1975. Worst hit is the construction sector which suffers from the slackening of im­migration and a halt in investment. In this sector many of the workers are Palestinians from the occupied territories. Israeli papers reported that thousands are now seeking alternative employment in the Arab countries. Official forecasts predicted 20,000 unemployed in con­struction by the end of 1976 (a third of the labour force employed in this sector). Other government forecasts spoke of 60,000 to 100,000 unemployed by the end of 1976 (5-8 per cent of the labour force). As most manual workers are either Arabs or Oriental Jews, the bulk of the unemployed will come from these strata. This poses potential political dangers, as it will tend to further radicalise Oriental Jews and increase what the zionists consider irredentist national feelings among Arabs. A swell in unemployment is also traditionally correlated in Israel with an increase in emigration and a reduction in immigration.

The political crisis
The political crisis in Israel manifests itself as a crisis of hegemony. The ruling power bloc is paralysed between opposing factions inside it and is unable to reach decisions on major policy issues. Instead of giving leadership it merely reacts to events forced upon it by external and internal pressures. This lack of programme is fast eroding the credibility and authority of the government.

The governmental crisis is also replicated inside the Labour Alliance, the ruling party. The leading organs of the party are not capable of forming an agreed policy. The party cannot resolve con­stitutional issues which will result in an election of an authoritative leading body. It is in an acute financial crisis. To understand how this situation came about it is necessary to explain the process of ideological transformation which labour zionism has gradually undergone.

Transformism was the term coined by Antonio Gramsci to denote the process of convergence of the historic left and right in Italy from the 1880s until the rise of fascism.35 We shall use the term transformism to denote the process whereby historic 'left' and 'right' zionist parties have been converging in terms of their programmes. Theories and concepts which were historically associated distinctly with the left or the right lose this distinctiveness and are adopted by parties, or fractions within parties, which were historically opposed to them.

There are several manifestations of this change: individuals, political and intellectual figures, who rose within labour zionism, join parties of the right or become active in political movements with right-wing ideas. Entire groups which previously belonged to Labour, split to form right-wing factions or to join the right bloc. More typical perhaps of Israel, due to the Labour Party's long hold on government, has been that factions inside Labour, despite having changed their ideology, remain organisationally in the Labour bloc, and fight within it for the implementation of rightist ideas. The result of this last development is that the ruling Labour bloc has disintegrated internally into personal cliques and factions and has become ideologically indistinct. The united organisational framework becomes a mere mechanism for allocation of power positions in the state to personal cliques which use these positions as feudal estates with little co­ordination. The crisis of hegemony is thus transformed into a general crisis of the state.

The conquest of new territories in 1967, and the difficulties that Israel faces in trying to annex them, triggered off a fundamental debate among zionists. The question was whether zionism had reached its territorial limits; whether Israel should aim for the whole of Palestine as a Jewish state, or accept being a Jewish state in part of Palestine. To make the whole of Palestine into a Jewish state, Israel would have to annex the occupied territories politically and officially; to make these territories Jewish, it must displace their inhabitants and replace them with Jewish settlers. This is how the questions of an­nexation and colonisation have surfaced.

Israel's inability to annex the occupied territories was due to several reasons, most important of which was pressure from the US, its main backer. The US objection to annexation later developed into pressure on Israel to return the territories as part of an American grand plan of action in the Middle East. Territories occupied by Israel are used by the US as cards for bargaining with the Arab regimes. In Israel this creates an atmosphere of alarm and crisis; it renews the historic debate between left and right: Can zionism achieve its aims under the auspices of its imperialist ally? Or, on the contrary, can zionism survive, let alone achieve its aims, without or against its imperialist ally? The answers given to these questions do not correspond to the historic division between left and right.

In the face of the government's inability to annex and colonise most of the occupied territories, the question of voluntarism has resur­faced. The left, with its ideology of Halutsiut, had not accepted the legality of the British government's restrictions on Jewish colonisation, and educated its youth on the supremacy of zionist principles even when they clashed with the law. The 'new right', which has reproached the Israeli government for its indecision and procrastination on matters of colonisation, upholds the 'left's' own historic slogans and principles and forms settlements in defiance of the government. The settlers dare a Jewish government to evict them by force. This was something that even the British authorities flinched from doing. Thus a Jewish government was faced with the accusation of having given up political claims on those territories.

It is within this context that the ideological bankruptcy of the ruling power bloc must be seen. The leader of Mapam reproached members of his party who referred to the Sebastia settlers as 'fascists'. He compared these settlers to the pioneers of his own generation who, he said, had been moved by the same spirit.36 The left in the Labour Party denounces unauthorised settlements in the West Bank, and claims that the Judaisation of the Galilee is of higher priority. The fact is that traditional left zionism has no alternative ideology to pose against the settlers' arguments. Being a strongly ideological movement, zionism has always regarded the state as a mere tool for higher aims. The right-wing settlers now put their own principles above the reasons of the state.

Another indication of ideological transformism is the sort of legitimating beliefs used by the new right to justify their activities. The socialist jargon which was characteristic of the Halutsiut of the 1930s and 1940s has disappeared and given place to a mixture of justifications – the security of the state and a religious messianic zeal. This mixture corresponds to two basic components of the ideology which is now dominant in Israel. 'Security' is part of the statist cult; and politico-religious messianism is a radical offshoot of the so-called 'Jewish consciousness' which the state inculcates in the Israeli-born as a way of reinforcing their identification with the 'ingathering' process of Jewish immigration.

This new guise of zionism is significant: it shows that while zionist ideology can make use of elements from other world views, these elements are not essential to it. The same aims can be justified and argued for under the guise of different ideologies. It also shows that the debates of the 1930s between 'left' and 'right', which took the form of struggle between 'socialists' and 'fascists', must not be ac­cepted at face value but should be studied in the proper context of zionism.

The significance of the new right – the Greater Israel Movement and Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) – is not in their numerical strength but in the fact that they reflect the crisis of the Israeli political system. These two movements are a new phenomenon in Israel's political life. They are not parties but campaigns, whose membership includes people officially belonging to many different parties, left, religious and right. Within these movements, people who were historically on the extreme right wing of zionism work hand in hand with some of the founders of left zionism. Former members of the Irgun and the Stern Group are now together with former members of the Haganah and Palmach who had fought them in the 1940s.

The new movements work both inside the existing party structure and outside it. In this respect they are probably transitional forms of new political constellations. Inside the traditional parties, members of the new movements operate as pressure groups, supported by other members of the same party who for various reasons do not officially join the new movements. Through the traditional parties members of the new right also hold positions of power in the state apparatus, which they use to gain information, authority and resources to further their aims. The fact that the parties do not try to force these people out but, on the contrary, attempt to placate and co-opt them, makes these parties ideal incubators for the movements. This situation is a reflection of the present state of the traditional parties.

The appearance of new movements on the political scene is not confined to the right; splintering has also occurred on the left fringe of left zionism, albeit on a smaller scale. This is a reaction to the ideological transformism of labour zionism and the alienation of voters from the bureaucratic apparatuses. The trend was intensified during the authority crisis following the 1973 war.37 Most of the zionist 'new left' groups aspired to replace the Labour Party. All of them failed to achieve theoretical articulation, and before long degenerated into marginal personal cliques of Byzantine intrigues. Only a trickle from this trend reached the anti-zionist left.

Gush Emunim appeared together with a plethora of abortive protest movements in the wake of the 1973 war. Many of its members are young religious Israelis. In aims they are close to the Greater Israel Movement (GIM), but are more inclined to direct action and can thus act as the operational arm, or commando unit, of the GIM. The GIM is more active in mass propaganda and agitation campaigns. The success of the new right is not due to its own numerical strength; its mem­bership is the tip of an iceberg submerged in the parties, the govern­ment, the army and the mass media which lend it support.

The dangers to democracy in Israel

Some left zionists have recently been talking about the danger of fascism in Israel, and the Israeli Communist Party has joined them in sounding the alarm. Although we agree that Israeli bourgeois democracy is in great danger, we think it wrong to seek the danger in fascism.

It is generally agreed among marxists that fascism appears and belongs in the epoch of monopoly capitalism. However, most marxists are careful to distinguish various state forms of monopoly capitalism – some bourgeois democratic, others authoritarian. Under conditions of acute crisis, democracy may be replaced by exceptional state forms of an authoritarian nature. Not all authoritarian states are fascist. Marxist theoreticians have distinguished other forms, eg Bonapartism, Caesarism, military dictatorship etc.38 Each form of authoritarian state corresponds to a specific kind of crisis and requires a specific analysis and a specific strategy.

The Comintern under Stalin failed to understand the nature of fascism, with well-known tragic results. The failure to analyse was followed by disastrous tactics – first in attacks, sometimes together with the Nazis, on the Social Democrats (the 'social fascism' of the 'third period') and then a complete volte face in a liquidationist non­socialist direction (the 'popular front' of the 'fourth period').39

These mistakes were a result of the economistic nature of the Comintern analysis of fascism. They were also a result of using ab­stract formulas derived on the basis of partial historical analysis and their dogmatic general application to historically specific and different situations.

'The stalinists adopted the idea that in the contemporary period finance capital cannot accommodate itself to parliamentary democracy and is obliged to resort to fascism. From this idea, ab­solutely correct within certain limits, they draw in a purely deductive, formally logical manner the same conclusions for all the countries and for all stages of development... In doing this they forget:

1. That in the past, too, capitalism never accommodated itself to 'pure' democracy, now supplementing it with a regime of open repression, now substituting one for it;

2. That 'pure' finance capitalism exists nowhere;

3. That even while occupying a dominant position finance capital does not act within a void...

4. That, finally, between parliamentary democracy and the fascist regime a series of transitional forms, one after the other, inevitably interposes itself, now 'peaceably' now by civil war. And each one of these transitional forms, if we want to go forward and not be flung to the rear, demands a correct theoretical appraisal and a corresponding policy of the proletariat.'40

The Israeli Communist Party's analysis of the dangers of fascism in Israel41 exactly merits the above criticism. Fascism is simply seen as 'the terroristic rule of the finance bourgeoisie'; Israel is transformed by a stroke of the pen into a normal monopoly capitalist country; left and right wings of zionism are seen as the social democracy and fascism of Europe, and their zionism recedes to a secondary place; religious messianism, extreme right and fascism are all run together; 'fascism', 'coup', 'military dictatorship' are used interchangeably.

Instead of taking up each point in the ICP analysis, we have counterposed the alternative analysis briefly outlined in the previous sections. In Italy, Germany and Spain fascism emerged under con­ditions of an acute class struggle where the revolutionary forces were large and organised. Fascism grew as a reaction of the right to a feared socialist revolution. It came to power after the rise of the revolutionary forces had been halted and its first action was to complete this defeat by crushing the political organisations of the working class. No one in his right mind who is vaguely familiar with the situation can claim that such conditions, or even remotely similar conditions, presently exist in Israel.

The scarecrow of fascism was adopted by the ICP for other reasons. The ICP has been growing in the Arab sector in Israel, no doubt due to the present Soviet line towards the PLO and its support of the demand for a Palestinian state. In the Jewish sector, however, it made no gains. Some left and new left zionist circles ignorantly or deliberately use the term 'fascism' in their struggle against the zionist new right. It is in order to court these circles and appeal to them that the ICP has launched its 'dangers of fascism' campaign. This cam­paign is unlikely to bring many new adherents to the ICP line. Left zionists are also the most ardent supporters of Kissinger and his plans and try their best to avoid being labelled as pro-Soviet. It is for these opportunistic reasons that the ICP published this false analysis. Fortunately or unfortunately, it will be read and discussed mainly by its own members who will thus be further confused about the nature of zionism and their attitude towards left and right wings of zionism.

The nature of Israel's military, economic and political dependence on the US is such that the way in which the Israeli crisis develops will depend in the last instance on the development of contradictions between US and Israel. These contradictions are the outcome of the present US line in the Middle East and thus depend on the con­tinuation and intensification of this line. Israel has no alternative ally willing and able to replace the US. The whole history of zionism makes it highly improbable that any foreseeable Israeli government will break away from the imperialist alliance and try to resolve the conflict through direct negotiations and integration in the Arab East.

Israel must maintain the formal facade of a democracy. This is because permanent war characterises its existence, and the nature of its relations with Jews and zionists outside Israel. Under conditions of open dictatorship, immigration could well come to a halt and most Jewish support could cease. Israel's citizen army is based on a high level of consensus and identification between government and citizens. Any openly dictatorial regime faced with a war will run the risk of defeat due to demoralisation, desertion and civil disobedience. An open dictatorship will face a large wave of emigration which.will cripple the economy, the army, and deplete its educated skilled personnel. Already isolated, Israel will be almost an outcast in the world community.

These two factors – the US alliance and the need to maintain a facade of democracy – are the limiting constraints within which the Israeli crisis will resolve itself. Any policies adopted by a zionist government will have to acquire the consent of the US. This does not preclude the possibility of a change in US policy in the Middle East brought about by a political confrontation with Israel or a post facto change brought about by a swift and successful Israeli military campaign. An Israeli attempt to force a change in the US policy, however, is extremely risky and will itself be preceded by major changes in the Israeli political system.

A facade of democracy does not preclude major changes in an authoritarian direction. These changes and their enforcement, however, have to be achieved in a way which will not cause great disunity. Paradoxically, those on the zionist right who are willing to risk a confrontation with the US and chance a war can less afford disunity than those who try to avoid a crisis with the US and another war. It is not very likely that a war in itself will again be a unifying factor. It is also less likely that a disunited zionist camp, in Israel and outside, can bring about a change in US policy in the Middle East, without which Israel will not be able to reap the benefits of another military campaign.

The growing influence of the new right leads some left and new left zionist circles to catastrophic theories. Their craving for peace and their belief that the right is assuredly dragging Israel into isolation from the US and into another useless war leads them to thoughts about the necessity of confrontation with this right. The inability of the government to enforce its decisions on the unauthorised settlers led to ideas of matching the forces of the right with the forces of the left. It is from within these circles that the talk of fascism, and the need to stop it, emanate.

These theories of the fringe left are erroneous and naive. The zionist parties share a basic consensus about aims. They also share the state and the zionist apparatus. An open conflict between them at a time of external isolation and in the face of a likely war would be suicidal. In an open struggle among zionists there will be no victors and vanquished – all are bound to lose. To think otherwise in Israel today is to ignore the real danger to democracy which lies in the opposite direction – in a new unity of the zionist forces in the face of a crisis with the US.

It is within a unified government, which will have the consent of most of the zionist political organisations, that further restrictions on democracy may be imposed. They will be made in the name of 'emergency' and the need for total mobilisation and unity. The restrictions will most probably be in the following areas: an extensive use of the mandatory emergency regulations; legislation against strikes; further restrictions, harrassment and even outlawing of the anti-zionist forces; growing censorship of the mass media; mass campaigns against dissenters; a further reduction in the importance of parliament; and legislation which will not allow representation to small parties.

Three versions of unity governments have been either hinted at or discussed publicly.
1. A National Coalition Government. This solution is based on the existing political party structure and is thus favoured by the bureaucracies of the parties involved. Such a government already existed once in Israel (in 1967) and included Labour, the Likud bloc and the religious parties as its main components. The national unity government was disbanded when the Likud left it after the cabinet had agreed in principle, under US pressure, to relinquish some territories. The formation of such a government may cause splitting on the further right and left of its three main components who may object to this compromise centrist solution. The stability of such a government when faced with major decisions is also doubtful due to the frac­tionalisation in the parties. However this solution may be adopted because it entails the least havoc in the present political system. It may be a transitional solution which does not exclude the other two.

2. The Sharon Plan. Named after its originator General Ariel Sharon, the plan calls for the formation of a small crisis cabinet whose members are national figures, not necessarily party leaders. The cabinet would seek a vote of confidence from the existing parties. Heavily weighted by the military, this would be clearly a war cabinet. It would have the confidence of the army but also mass appeal, due to the grouping in it of the 'national heroes'. Though this government may have the democratic facade of a vote of confidence in parliament, it would not be accountable to and controlled by the parties. It is true that parties have little control on ministers today, but Sharon's plan would take this process much further. Moreover, the parties will hardly be in a position to vote down this form of government. In such a case the cabinet could appeal directly to the voters. In elections like these the parties would completely disintegrate.

3. A new political structure. This is a modification of the previous plan. In the face of the inability of the Labour Party to resolve its paralysis and the weakness of the government, elections would be called where new constellations may appear. Several national per­sonalities have raised this suggestion and it is possible that govern­mental teams of 'national heroes', presently of different parties, would present themselves for election. Sharon's plan could also take this form either initially or after the two previous alternatives fail. This plan would also appeal to the army and would utilise the dissatisfaction with the government and the parties. It would call for strong leadership and authority and gain votes on the basis of talent, novelty, youth and courage. This Bonapartist form of government, based on direct vote not mediated through organised parties, is clearly anti-democratic, but would maintain the facade of elections or even the formal appearance of parties.

The continuation and intensification of American pressure is the major cause of the present political crisis in Israel. No personnel changes, or even a new government can resolve this crisis. The time may soon be approaching when zionists will have to choose between some of their basic aims and a confrontation with their imperialist supplier of butter and guns.

The struggle for democracy is bound to intensify. The socialist anti-­zionists will as usual be in the forefront of this struggle. They will continue to fight against the emergency laws, and against the con­fiscation of Arab land for Jewish colonisation. They will struggle against any restriction of the rights of workers and against the harrassment and discrimination of those who oppose the govern­ment's zionist policies. This, however, will not be achieved by clouding our analysis and trailing behind in the transformation process. We shall work with democratic forces even if they are zionist. But we shall not bend our clarity to their confusion as the ICP is opportunistically doing.

Postscript, September 1977

The coming to power of the Likud/Religious Party Coalition does not change the basic premises of the article written in early 1976. However, in some respects it has created a new situation which must therefore be considered afresh.

Unchanged features
1. The primacy of politics: As long as the inflow of money from unilateral sources continues and as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict continues, politics will remain primary.

2. The unity of leadership: Begin has up till now been very careful not to overstep the borders of the previous Labour Party 'consensus'. Early fears that a Likud government would quickly introduce radical structural changes can be seen to be unfounded. The Labour Party has had no difficulty in supporting the new government line in foreign affairs. The government is pursuing many of the economic measures previously outlined by Labour. In fact there does not seem to be any real opposition to Begin's government within the zionist camp (with the exception of the fringe party Sheli-Moked).

3. The political aspects of a unilateral transfer economy: The change of government has been followed by changes in personnel in the government, in the public sector and the Jewish Agency. The formula of power-sharing via access to positions of distribution of money has thus been maintained. The difference is merely that it is now the Likud/Religious Parties who take the dominant position.

Dimensions of the Crisis
1. Economic: The last two years saw practically no growth in Israeli GNP. The worst-hit sector was construction (18 per cent) while industry and agriculture improved slightly. Private consumption per capita declined both in 1975 and 1976 while inflation which was 56 per cent in 1974, is still about 40 per cent in 1977. The foreign debt of Israel continues to grow and reached $9,300 million at the end of 1976. Israel's dependence on the US is no less than before.

2. International: Israel's isolation has increased and its insistence on 'no negotiation with the PLO' and no withdrawal from the West Bank is not accepted by many of its western allies. This isolation pushes Israel to increase its economic and military links with other 'outcast' countries such as South Africa, Chile, Taiwan and South Korea.

3. Immigration – emigration: Most of the trends indicated in the article continued. In the last year, however, there has been a significant increase of immigration of Jews from South Africa and Rhodesia.

4. Class struggle: Shortly before the elections in May, there was an important dock strike. The Labour government was determined to break the strike by introducing the army into the ports. However this was foiled by the international solidarity of dockers in Britain and elsewhere, who declared that they would black any items loaded by the army. In another strike (of air controllers in the airports) the army was used. The Labour government put forward a plan for legislation which would make arbitration compulsory in labour relations – a project which the Begin government has promised to pursue. The Labour-controlled Histadrut has agreed to a wages freeze and a 'social contract' policy under the Begin government!

5. The political crisis: The most significant change in Israel in the last year has been of course the defeat of the Labour party and the for­mation of the 'Right-wing' Likud-Religious Party government. The main argument of the article, ie the convergence of the 'right' and 'left' in zionism and the acute crisis of the Labour party, has now become clear to all. The process of 'transformation' continued and intensified in 1976-77. It reached a peak early in 1977 in the formation of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) headed by Yadin. This new party was directly responsible for Labour's defeat in the elections. It drew its voters mainly from sections of the population which had traditionally voted for Labour or its Liberal coalition allies. Sociologically, the DMC voters came from sections of the bureaucracy, professionals and middle class strata who were historically part of Labour zionism but had become disenchanted with it.

The 'transformation process' did not end with the arrival in power of the Begin government. On the contrary, it has intensified and is being actively encouraged by Begin. Dayan's switch to the Begin government and his subsequent move to develop a factional organisation of his supporters in the Labour party, in the DMC and in La'am (previously a party split off from Labour and now a com­ponent of the Likud bloc) point towards further splitting in the Labour Party. The DMC itself is divided on the question of alliance with the new government. Many of its prominent members who were in high executive positions in the previous establishment cannot conceive of themselves out of power. Furthermore, the defeat in the elections exacerbated the leadership crisis within Labour, which is now paralysed, unable and unwilling to formulate an alternative line to that of the Begin government. The historical hegemony of Labour zionism which has led the zionist movement in Palestine for almost 50 years, has come to an end.

The Begin coalition, although narrowly based, is not challenged at present, by any serious opposition.

The new regime
Although the new government is pursuing a policy of unity and consensus, it is insistently displacing public opinion in an ever more nationalistic and religious direction. This is being done by tighter con­trol of the mass media and its more blatant use for brainwashing pur­poses. The Ministry of Education and Culture, headed by Hammer, NRP member and supporter of Gush Emunim, has given very clear indications of its plan to replace ideological pluralism by what is called 'a unified value system' based on a religious Jewish consciousness. There is a phoney atmosphere of 'return to God' in the country, which is causing alarm among many secular zionists. The new government is slowly but systematically building its own new establishment. Several new ministers are known industrialists and millionaires. Many Irgun and Stern-group members, who were ostracised and excluded from power by the previous regime are now assuming important positions in the state apparatus. The new regime has incorporated part of the previous civil service elite but is carefully placing new people, its own people, in all the thousand or so key positions.

As the Labour Party maintained a small majority in the Histadrut elections held shortly after the parliamentary elections, there is now a situation, for the first time in Israel, where the Histadrut is not under the same leadership as the state. This could potentially have led to a situation of dual power, had the Labour Party been a socialist party. In fact, Labour played up socialist symbols in the Histadrut elections and evoked an image of the Likud dismantling and nationalising the Histadrut sector. This was made more plausible by the Likud's in­vitation to Professor M. Friedman to advise Israel on economic measures. Most of his suggestions, however, encountered strong opposition not only from the Histadrut but from the National Association of Industrialists. The Minister of Finance, Ehrlich (member of the Liberal component of Likud, and himself an in­dustrialist), is however known to be a monetarist.

Although the government has avoided direct confrontation with the Histadrut, the preferential treatment of the Histadrut sector, in terms of government purchases (extremely important in Israel), funnelling of development funds and easy terms and subsidies, is being stopped. This does not seem however to have yet had an effect on the Histadrut sector. More serious are the government's plans to introduce a state pension law and nationalise the Histadrut pensions funds. These funds have historically been used by the Histadrut as a source of financing its economic sector. The Pensions Law proposed was launched under the previous government. Another plan which was first brought up by the Labour government, but if implemented by the Likud government will also weaken the Histadrut, is the creation of a National Health Service. The government is also planning other measures to encourage private money markets. Stock exchange ac­tivities are being boosted by the new government and a law which will 'launder' capital on which income tax had not been paid ('black money') is now being introduced. (Tax evasion in Israel in 1975 has been estimated to be $2,000 million.) This, it is hoped, will inject a huge sum into the money markets and thereby encourage economic activity.

Further retrogressive measures already introduced are cuts in government services and in food subsidies and other social security benefits. These are corning together with price increases of almost 30 per cent and plans to create so-called 'controlled' unemployment. Most hit by these changes will be precisely sections of the population which sought a panacea in voting for Likud.

Further indications of the new regime are the increased use of threats and repression against dissenters. Members of anti-zionist groups are being detained by the police for interrogation and warned to stop 'anti-state' activities. (These included members of Matzpen, Trotskyists and Communists.) In August ten Arab members of the Communist party were arrested and brought to court on the charge of 'inciting to rebellion'. This is how Begin's state now chooses to in­terpret chanting anti-Israeli songs in a wedding in Majd al-Kurum in the Galilee.

Although alarming, these changes are still far from fascism.

How the new regime develops will crucially depend on US policy in the area.

  • 1In recent years certain zionist historians, some even of the zionist left, have begun to demolish this myth. See, eg, Yigal Elam, An Introduction to Zionist History (Hebrew); Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion, A Political Biography, 1975 (Hebrew).
  • 2On left zionism see ISRACA, 4 March 1971.
  • 3See Ben Hecht, Perfidy, 1972 and D. Israeli, The German Reich and Eretz­Israel, 1974 (Hebrew). Also see interview with Dr Y. Minervi on Mussolini and Zionism in Du Shvu'on, the Hebrew university of Jerusalem, 7 February 1973 (Hebrew).
  • 4Dunam equals 1/4 acre.
  • 5On this technique in Mapai history, see Peter Y. Medding, Mapai in Israel, 1972.
  • 6Similarly, Ben-Gurion told Begin a fortnight in advance about the decision to start the Suez war of 1956; Mapam, which was part of the coalition cabinet, was kept in the dark until the eve of the attack.
  • 7Mapai (Mifleget Poalei Eretz-Israel), founded in 1930, is the biggest of three parties which united in 1968 to form the Israeli Labour Party.
  • 8eg, the Sapir fund – see S. Ehrlich in Ha'aretz, 15 September 1973 and D. Margalit in Ha'aretz, 13 May 1973,
  • 9See U. Benziman in Ha'aretz, 28 February 1975; Z. Yefet in Ha'olam Hazeh, 26 February 1975; A. Rubinstein in Ha'aretz, 31 October 1975; Y. Gilbo'a in Ma'ariv, 31 October 1975.
  • 10eg, the Rechter affair – see Yedi'ot Aharonot, 30 January 1975 and Ha'olam Hazeh Nos 1974, 1975, 1996. (Added in translation: It is also rumoured that Abraham Ofer, the Housing Minister who committed suicide in January 1977, was involved in such 'fund raising' for Mapai – see Ha'olam Hazeh No 2053, 5 January 1977.)
  • 11See G. Ya'acobi and E. Gera, The right to choose, 1975 (Hebrew); Hakibbutz Ha'artzi Symposium on the preferred election system in Israel, 1974 (Hebrew).
  • 12See D. Bach in Davar, 1 March 1974; R. Bashan in Ma'ariv, 27 June 1975; also Ma'ariv, 30 October 1975; Ma'ariv, 31 October 1975.
  • 13S. Weiss, quoted in Ya'acobi and Gera, op cit, p13.
  • 14See H. Hanegbi, 'The Histadrut, union and boss' in A. Bober (ed), The Other Israel, Doubleday 1972; H. Hanegbi, M. Machover and A. Orr, 'The class nature of Israeli society' in New Left Review 65, January-February 1971.
  • 15P. Medding, op cit, p163.
  • 16T. Gudzianski, 'The dangers of fascism in Israel', in Arakhim, March 1975 (Hebrew).
  • 17Also known as Rakah. Another party, Maki, which also claimed to be 'the Israeli CP', now no longer exists, having been absorbed into the zionist party Moked.
  • 18See E. Zohar, In the clutches Of the regime – Why no one has stood up, 1974 (Hebrew), p108.
  • 19See Bank of Israel Research Department, Recent economic developments, No 19, 10 February 1975.
  • 20Ha'aretz, 31 October 1975.
  • 21Yedi'ot Aharonot, 9 October 1975.
  • 22T. Kessler in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 31 October 1975.
  • 23Ma'ariv, 2 November 1975.
  • 24SeeE. Zohar, op cit, p147; and N. Tal in Ha'aretz, 17 October 1975.
  • 25N. Tal, ibid.
  • 26E. Zohar, op cit, p148.
  • 27Quoted in The Jewish Chronicle, 2 November 1976.
  • 28L. Guttman and S. Levy, The will to remain in the country, Institute for Applied Social Research, Jerusalem, April 1974.
  • 29A. Tirosh in Ma'ariv, 7 January 1975.
  • 30BBC 4, 15 January 1976.
  • 31See Khamsin No 2, 1975 (French).
  • 32See Ben-Aharon, Struggle for change, p82, Am Oved, 1972 (Hebrew).
  • 33See A. Friedman, Structural changes in trade unions, 1972 (Hebrew).
  • 34See Davar, 7 December 1975.
  • 35See A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London 1971, p58 f, footnote; A. Gramsci, II Risorgimento, 1949.
  • 36J. Hazan, quoted in Ha'aretz, 12 December 1975.
  • 37These developments were also observed by some Israeli political scientists; see eg S. Weiss, With a discerning eye, 1975 (Hebrew) pp23-26, 67-71, 161-165 ,223-226.
  • 38Cf N. Poulantzas, Fascism and dictatorship, 1974, p58. Also A. Gramsci, 'State and civil society' (in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, op cit) and L. Trotsky, 'Bonapartism and fascism' in The struggle against fascism in Germany, 1975.
  • 39Cf F. Claudin, The communist movement from Comintern to Comin­form, 1975; especially Chapter 4.
  • 40L. Trotsky, op cit, p438.
  • 41See n 16.


The ideological divide in the Palestinian Resistance Movement - Mohammed Ja'far

A critical assessment of the two mainstream currents inside the Palestinian Resistance Movement.

Submitted by Ed on January 16, 2013

The ideological divide in the Palestinian Resistance Movement

Mohammed Ja'far

Following the October war and the Lebanese civil war, the Arab region has entered a new phase in its post-world war history. Economically the Arab oil-producing countries are undergoing un­precedented capitalist boom conditions reflected in a massive growth of imports from the West, a significant increase in the size of the Arab middle classes, and consequently a relative strengthening of the social base of the Arab bourgeoisies. Politically the organisations of the Palestinian Resistance Movement, which played a vanguard role in Arab politics over the last decade, have suffered a series of defeats beginning with the September 1970 massacre in Jordan and culminating in the Lebanese civil war.

This article takes as its point of departure the profound crisis of political perspectives in the Palestinian arena among the left as a reflection of the changed objective situation in comparison in par­ticular with the 1967-70 period. We will concentrate on a critical assessment of the two mainstream currents inside the Palestinian Resistance Movement.

The PLO majority line

The first current represents the line of the majority leadership of the PLO and the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian National Council (PNC – Palestinian parliament in exile) as affirmed in its June 1974 Congress and more recently in March 1977. What are the basic elements of this line?

1. That the political and military relationship of forces between the Arab regimes and the zionist state have significantly changed since the October war and the Arab oil embargo in favour of the Arab regimes. This change, according to the PLO, leaves open the possibility of a withdrawal of Israel from territories it has been occupying since 1967. The question of 'Who is to rule' over these territories, in particular the West Bank, is therefore posed.

2. That the PLO should place itself in a position to take advantage of the new situation created by the Arab regimes. This necessitates its integration into mainstream bourgeois Arab diplomacy in the hope of wringing further concessions from Israel. Thus the Rabat October 1974 Arab Summit Conference recognised the PLO as 'the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people', only four months after the PNC affirmed the PLO's adjusted analysis of the post-­October 1973 political situation. The bourgeois Arab regimes had bestowed upon the PLO a new legitimacy by opting for it over Hussein in this crucial summit conference.

3. That the strategic implication of the new situation entails a shift from direct confrontation with the zionist state – armed struggle – to a policy of assurances and diplomatic manoeuvering with those Arab regimes capable of applying pressure for an Israeli withdrawal. Thus began Arafat's world tours, culminating in his dramatic appearance at the UN with an offer to pick up the olive branch of peace and put down his gun.

The central problem with this line is its analysis of the changed objective situation. The October war did not primarily signal a shift in the military and political relationship of forces with zionism. The Arab armies were definitely defeated on the battlefield even though this time it took much longer than six days. The discernible relative improvement in their fighting ability in 1973, as compared to 1967, was to be significant in the medium term in relation to the class struggle inside the Arab countries and not in relation to Israel. The Arab ruling classes came out of the October war more stable than when they had gone into it, even though today in purely military terms the zionist ruling class is stronger and better equipped than ever before.

But if there has not been over the last four years a very significant shift to the advantage of the Arab regimes from the point of view of their relations with Israel, there has, on the other hand, been a decisive shift in their relations with the Palestinian Resistance Movement.

Between the 1970 civil war in Jordan and the Lebanese civil war, the Palestinian Resistance has been squeezed out of Jordan into Syria and Lebanon; out of Syria into Lebanon; and finally out of the whole of Lebanon into a miserable enclave in the south. The bulk of the guerrilla forces are caught in a sandwich today, with the Syrian army at their rear and the Phalangist militia and Israeli army at their front.

Indirectly, of course, the new line of the PLO in the aftermath of the October war is itself a confirmation of the modified relationship of forces inside the Arab countries. Following the devastating destruction of the bourgeois Arab armies in 1967, the social base of the present leadership of the PLO was established amidst the political vacuum created by the war. The organisations of the Palestinian Resistance became movements of refugees for the liberation of their homeland in the face of the proven bankruptcy of the Arab regimes on the battlefield with zionism. The civil war in Jordan in 1970, but far more importantly the October 1973 war, changed the political context dramatically. The Arab regimes had regained the initiative and had succeeded in fact in inflicting more damage in military terms on the zionist entity in one month than the guerrilla forces had in six years.

The role of the Palestinian organisations during October 1973 was completely marginal. A confusing situation was created, in which organisations whose sole and only reason for existence was the liberation of Palestine had achieved on this particular front less than normal bourgeois armies whose reason for existence was defence of the interests of their respective ruling classes. The crisis of political perspectives inside the Palestinian Resistance deepened as these facts gradually sunk in.

The political response of the PLO leadership to the new situation was in no way a departure from their original starting point – the liberation of Palestine. This 'goal' of the PLO was simply made more concrete in the light of altered circumstances. It was first of all broken up into stages, beginning with the establishment of a 'national authority' on the West Bank, which would later extend to the whole of Palestine. Secondly, it was made more 'realistic' by gradually in­serting it into the machinery of bourgeois Arab diplomacy on the basis of the analysis previously sketched out.

In the course of this evolution of the PLO, its class character as an organisation began very clearly to emerge from the shadows. No longer was the PLO special because of what distinguished it from the Arab regimes as in the 1967-70 period, when the PLO fought an armed struggle against zionism in face of the proven bankruptcy of the Arab armies. Rather, the post-October 1973 period was charac­terised by the PLO's movement towards making its notion of what the 'liberation of Palestine' meant more in line with what the Arab regimes themselves had in mind. The question, from the point of view of the Arab regimes, was whether or not their interests were best served by the addition of a junior partner to the League of Arab States in the form of a bourgeois state on the West Bank, ruled by some sort of coalition between the PLO bureaucracy and the West Bank Palestinian bourgeoisie. The bourgeois programmatic content of the formula 'secular democratic Palestine' and the bourgeois character of the PLO as an umbrella Palestinian organisation became inescapably clear.

The rejectionist currents

The second ideological current in the Palestinian Resistance has emerged as a partial, purely negative, reaction to this evolution of the PLO. After October 1973, it came to be known as the 'Rejectionists', even though in the course of the Lebanese civil war any organisational rubric which may have embraced the rejectionist organisations completely fell apart. Today, organisations like Habash's Popular Front and Ahmad Jebril's Popular Front – General Command, which used to constitute the hard core of the rejectionists, are moving closer to the realism of the PLO majority leadership. On the other hand, new currents – bypassing the traditional Palestinian leaders, whose social base was established in the 1967-70 period – have begun to emerge from the base of some Palestinian organisations like Fatah and the Popular Front – General Command. Such currents have developed spontaneously and more or less independently of each other.

If one abstracts from the motivations of the numerous opportunists and stooges of viciously anti-communist regimes like Iraq and Libya amongst the rejectionists, then it is possible to define a set of ideas which characterise some of the basic positions of genuine Palestinian Rejectionists, who are trying to search for answers to the obvious impasse of the Arab/Palestinian left. These are:

1. The emphasis on the so-called 'betrayal of the PLO leadership' in its adoption of the strategy of diplomacy and abandonment of armed struggle. The imperialist peaceful road, or the revolutionary armed road – this is how the great political divide is posed inside the Palestinian Resistance.

2. Support for the ultimate programmatic aims of the PLO as expressed in the Palestinian National Charter, and the call for the establishment through armed struggle of a democratic state in Palestine. Most rejectionists still do not differentiate themselves from the PLO on the basis of its class character, or on the basis of the type of society and future state it wants to establish in Palestine. Rather, they draw the line on the question of how more or less the same democratic state, whether in the whole or part of Palestine, is to come into being.

A democratic intermediate stage of the revolution to liberate Palestine is usually introduced in this context as a theoretical justification for abstention from class politics. The example of the Vietnamese revolution is also sometimes presented as a democratic revolution led by a 'front' (the NLF), in which the revolutionary party (the Vietnamese Communist Party – the VCP), developed a hegemonic position in the course of the revolution. In this version of the history of the Vietnamese Revolution we can see how the ex­perience of the Palestinian Resistance has been extrapolated to explain the victory of the VCP. The notion that the VCP emerged out of front-type organisations, which in turn were leading a purely democratic revolution, is of course contrary to historical fact and simply reflects the absence of a revolutionary party in the Palestinian arena, despite the plethora of front organisations of all types (the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, the Arab Liberation Front, and the PLO itself which is a front of all organisations). The VCP was the only mass party in Vietnam, long before it set up its 'front' for purely ideological reasons which had more to do with the VCP's conceptions of the character of the revolution it was leading than it had with its actual character.

It is a mistake to distinguish Palestinian rejectionists from the PLO leadership on the question of whether one is for the liberation of all or part of Palestine. This issue first appeared immediately after the October war. But following the civil war in Lebanon, the main dividing line is clearly how one achieves what are on the surface at least the same programmatic aims. In this sense almost all Palestinian rejectionists do not draw a class line between themselves and the PLO leadership.

3. As a consequence of the above, rejectionists tend to be either un­clear or at worst support the idea that 'the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians wherever they are, as long as it continues armed struggle which is the only way to liberate all of Palestine as is represented in the Palestinian National Charter'.1

Critique of the rejectionist line

What are the limitations of this line?

1. While correctly counterposing the revolutionary strategy of armed struggle to the rightist strategy of peaceful diplomatic manoeuvering with the Arab ruling classes, it incorrectly elevates a means towards an end – armed struggle – into an end in itself.

This is how, for example, the same GUPS-UK political resolution which has been quoted before expresses itself:

'It is true that now we [ie the Palestinian Movement] are in a weaker position than in any previous period. The Syrian army has entered our fortresses, and the retreats are weakening us and tearing apart our ranks. However, as we sprung forth in 1965 in a much worse situation and insisted on struggle, so now we shall insist on continuing our armed people's struggle. As long as our arms are between our hands we shall not drop them. We shall direct them at the breasts of our enemies, and if the cities have been occupied we shall transform every inch into a living hell and every neighbourhood and every refugee camp into a fortress of perseverance.'2

The ability to wage armed struggle is of course an important test that every revolutionary organisation will have to pass on the Palestinian arena at one stage or another. However, it is no panacea for the whole range of political and strategic questions that are posed in this complex part of the Arab world. Should Palestinian\Arab revo­lutionaries be intervening in the Occupied Territories, for example, in the same way as in the refugee camps, or amongst the very large Palestinian population living outside the camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait?

The principal weakness of the Palestinian Resistance Movement is that since 1967 it has to a large extent consciously restricted itself both programmatically and organisationally to only one numerically small and economically marginal layer of the Arab population – the Palestinian refugees especially inside the camps. It is true that this layer of the Arab masses are the most directly and brutally oppressed victims of zionist colonisation. For this reason they have nothing to lose by joining Palestinian organisations immediately as full time guerrilla fighters dedicated to an armed struggle against zionism. In so doing, they have since 1967 enormously stimulated the political awakening of the rest of the Arab masses. Hundreds of thousands of young Arabs were radicalised by the rise of the Resistance Movement in the 1967-70 period. But the leadership of that movement of armed refugees chose 'not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Arab regimes'. It chose only to recruit professional guerrilla fighters and wage exclusively an armed struggle against zionism from outside the borders of the zionist state. Even the traditional left wing of the Resistance – the PFLP and the DPFLP – despite a lot of verbal demagogy, fell in line with the mainstream Palestinian leadership and its tendency to 'Palestinianise' all questions facing the Arab masses in the countries around Israel. The character of the revolutionary struggle against zionism was theorised to be 'Palestinian', in contrast to Arab – the dominant conception in the 1948-67 period. In all of these developments the Palestinian leadership was consciously choosing to restrict its field of action to what is socially an in­significant – although politically very advanced – layer of the Arab masses. This is reflected not only in the policy of 'non-interference' but also in the demand that every Arab worker and peasant in order to struggle against zionism must immediately abandon his work, family, and social milieu, to pick up the gun.

2. The second problem with this line is that it does not break with the programmatic basis of the Resistance Movement as this is expressed in the call for an independent democratic Palestinian state whether in the whole or part of Palestine.

It is only natural that if one restricts one's activities to the refugee Arab population, then programmatically this entails confining oneself to a return of these refugees to the lands they have been expelled from – ie a return to a democratic Palestine. In so doing the Palestinian Movement is becoming a victim to the very idea it is fighting against when it rejects the UN Resolution 242 for example. It is indirectly confirming the view so dearly held by the zionists: that the whole problem is one of displaced refugees, and not one embracing all the exploited classes of the Arab region.

But the problem is much deeper than this. A 'secular democratic Palestine' is not an empty vessel that can be filled with just about anything. It is a very specific project: to create a bourgeois state in a not very clearly defined corner of the Arab world. In the post-October 1973 situation, the PLO\Arafat leadership has quite correctly drawn the conclusion that this project, no matter how difficult to realise, is only possible by entering the Arab bourgeoisie's negotiating machinery. Between 1967 and 1970, in the wake of the devastating destruction of the Arab armies, the Palestinian organisations distinguished themselves from the Arab ruling classes by launching a genuinely independent armed struggle against zionism. It is on the basis of this struggle that they won the allegiance of the Palestinian refugees in the camps, and acted objectively as a vanguard for the revolutionary process in the whole Arab world. Today, the same project of yesterday – the realisation of a democratic state in Palestine – is only possible by adaptation to the new situation which we have previously defined as a shift in the relationship of forces in the Arab region to the advantage of the Arab regimes. The PLO\ Arafat line is therefore consistent with its point of depar­ture – its intention to liberate Palestine or a part of it, and set up its own state as one more addition to the League of Arab States.

The rejectionist Palestinians, on the other hand, appear to be counterposing a different strategy – armed struggle – to arrive at the same end: an independent Palestinian state, but in the context of changed political circumstances. That is why they appear to be out of tune with reality, utopian, and are continually and effectively criticised by the PLO for being inconsistent and adventurous.

In fact of course, in immediate practical political terms, there is a world of difference between those who orient themselves in what they say and do to the PLO\Arafat project with all that it entails, and those whose every instinct 'rejects' such a project. This difference is of the utmost importance in relation to the concrete problems of the class struggle, and more particularly in understanding the political character of the currents forming today at the base of the Resistance Movement. But at the same time the nature of what is being rejected must be clearly articulated. If it is only the particular strategy of the PLO, then Palestinian revolutionaries must address themselves to the objective fact that in the current situation such a strategy – or some variation on it – is the only possible way that a Palestinian ministate will come into being.

Within the framework of the same strategic project of the PLO, it is only natural that a number of seemingly conflicting tactical manoeuveres can ensue. For example: following Carter's famous statement about the need for a Palestinian 'homeland' of some un­defined character, the PLO leadership threw all its remaining eggs into the imperialist basket, going so far as to hint in the summer of 1977 at reconsidering its position on UN Resolution 242. However, coinciding with Secretary of State Vance's tour in the Middle East, the American position began to harden in the direction of the joint administration of the West Bank by Jordan and Israel. The Arab regimes, especially Egypt and possibly Syria, showed themselves amenable to the new idea. The PLO's alarm at being left out sent Arafat scuttling off to Moscow and the word was put out that the PLO would opt for a 'get tough' line with the US as was shown in August in the much publicised central committee rejection of Resolution 242 in very sharp terms.

Did the PLO's basic intentions and programmatic 'goal' change in any way as a result of these developments? We do not think so. The PLO simply became aware that the road to a Palestinian ministate was more tortuous than even it had realised, and consequently some tactical modifications were necessary including a 'sharp' rejection of Resolution 242, despite previous hints that the PLO was reconsidering its longstanding rejection of this resolution.

The example above shows that although the entry of the PLO into the negotiating machinery of the Arab regimes, zionism and im­perialism is the only possible way a bourgeois ministate will come into being on the West Bank, nevertheless by no means is this a likely development, given the current relationship of forces.3 Our main point is that in the current situation, to counterpose armed struggle alone, to peaceful diplomacy, as a means of achieving an independent Palestinian state is inevitably going to lead to the complete marginalisation and destruction of the left wing of the Resistance Movement.

3. This brings us to the third and most acute political obstacle to the emergence of a revolutionary organisation amongst the scattered Palestinian left. The idea that 'the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people', whether it continues armed struggle or not, paralyses the organisational activity and independence of the revolutionary currents emerging at the base of the Palestinian organisations. It renders them unable to give organisational ex­pression to their opposition and will inevitably transform them, despite themselves, into a left pressure group on the bourgeois leadership of the PLO. The process of assimilation of the lessons of the experience of the last ten years, will remain confined to individuals and little grouplets. In this sense a tradition of left-wing Palestinian nationalism going back to the days of the PFLP and the DPFLP in the 1967-70 period, will be continued. But what makes it even worse this time is that support of the PLO's 'legitimacy' to lead the 'Palestinian' revolution is taking place in the context of a politically complete degeneration of the PLO into a pressure group for a Palestinian state, and the inescapable conclusion today that from the point of view of programme, strategy and concrete tactics, the PLO expresses the future hopes and aspirations of a Palestinian bourgeoisie whether already existing (in the West Bank) or yet to be created (out of the bureaucratic apparatus of the PLO). It is impossible to separate out the notion of the 'legitimacy' of the PLO and hence its 'right' to speak in the name of all classes of Palestinian Arabs, from the bourgeois character of this organisation. It is true that in the eyes of the Arab masses the PLO acquired its legitimacy from its presence in the forefront of the battle against zionism in the 1967-1970 period. In and of itself this tells us nothing about its class character. However, the acknowledgement by the Arab ruling classes in the Rabat summit conference of 1974 that the PLO is the 'sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians' is different. Here the act of making a partial concession to the PLO leadership, at the expense of King Hussein of Jordan, constitutes on the one hand a recognition of the PLO's real mass base amongst the Palestinians. But on the other hand, the Arab regimes, only one year removed from their 'victory' over zionism, were affirming that at least in principle (ie at the programmatic level) the PLO as an organisation did not come into conflict with the class basis of these regimes' own 'legitimacy' in the region. This judgement by the Arab regimes on the suitability of the PLO as a temporary junior partner in the diplomatic machinations going on in the region indisputably confirms the bourgeois character of the organisation of the PLO.

The inability of large numbers of genuine Palestinian rejectionists to break organisationally with the PLO and what it actually stands for is nothing else than the organisational expression of political positions that have not yet matured beyond left Palestinian nationalism. Programmatically, there has not yet occurred a differentiation amongst significant currents of Palestinian rejectionists on the question of the nature of the state and society to which the revolution is dedicated. Palestino-centrism is reflected in the almost obsessive concern with armed struggle and the innovation of a purely Palestinian revolution structured primarily around the liberation of Palestine from the outside. The day to day concerns of the masses of Arab and even Palestinian workers and peasants in the various Arab countries are still not the concern of any sizeable current in the Palestinian vanguard. From a certain point of view it can be concluded that Palestinian rejectionists only come into conflict with the PLO on the very partial question of whether or not armed struggle against zionism is on the order of the day. At the same time they appear to accept more or less the PLO's analysis of the existing situation and even the final goal to which the PLO is still dedicated. It is in this sense therefore that they consider the PLO is a 'legitimate representative' of the Palestinian people.

In summary: the depth of the crisis of the Palestinian Resistance is such that nothing short of a complete overhaul of all traditional formulas and slogans is necessary as a first step towards achieving that understanding of the objective situation which is a prerequisite to the building of genuinely new revolutionary organisations in the region. Partial criticism of the PLO leadership for its supposed 'betrayals' only lends credence to the PLO as an organisation and to its project for the creation of a bourgeois Palestinian state. The 'right' of the PLO to speak in the name of all classes of Palestinians is therefore strengthened. It is long past the time when revolutionaries, through their activity, need to create the basis of a new theoretical divide, based on the reality of class politics in the region.

September 1977

  • 1See point 5 of the Political Resolution adopted by GUPS-UK at its January 1977 Conference.
  • 2See introduction to January 1977 Political Resolution of GUPS-UK.
  • 3See on this matter the excellent article by Jon Rothschild 'Peace Is Not At Hand' in Imprecor, 12 May 1977 issue.


On the Sadat spectacle and Thus only!: two documents from Matzpen

Two documents from Matzpen, the first explicitly anti-zionist socialist group in Israel, written in 1977. The first on Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel, the second a declaration of Matzpen's anti-zionist position, which was published in Ha'aretz newspaper.

Submitted by Ed on January 17, 2013

On the Sadat spectacle

Public statement on Sadat's visit
The following statement was published on 19 November 1977 by the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen), jointly with Harakat Abna' al-Balad (Sons of the Village Movement), The Revolutionary Communist League, and the editorial board of Key. Issued in Umm al-Fahm, Israel.

Public attention in this country and throughout the world is at present directed at [The Egyptian president, Anwar] Sadat's visit in Israel, and rightly so. Many people genuinely hope that this visit will open an avenue to the peace which is being discussed by everybody. Can the visit realise these hopes?

Our answer is No.

For the root of the conflict in the Middle East is not the conflict between Israel and Egypt, but rather the dispossession of the Palestinian Arab people from its homeland, its exile and the denial of its natural right to exist as a people, as well as the denial of its national and human rights.

Sadat's visit is designed to overcome 'procedural problems', by bypassing the recognised representative of the Palestinian Arab people – the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Even if Sadat manages to get [Israeli prime minister, Menahem] Begin's consent to the return of Sinai to Egypt, or if Begin manages to wrest out of Sadat portions of Sinai, the Palestinian problem will still be unsolved, and so peace will not be achieved.

The road to peace must go through the recognition and im­plementation of the right of the Palestinian Arab people to self ­determination and to return to its homeland. Any settlement reached behind the back of the Palestinian Arab people or at its expense, and without the participation of its recognised representative, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), will not bring peace to the peoples of the region; rather, it will be a prelude to a new war.

So long as in reality the Palestinian Arab people under Israeli rule is subjected to confiscation of lands, demolition of homes, colonisation, Judaisation of the Galilee, suppression of basic human rights, and murder of citizens, like the seven Victims of the Land killed on the Day of the Land [March 30, 1976] and [the man killed by the police] in Majd al­Kurum – all talk about peace in Jerusalem, Cairo, Geneva or anywhere else is an illusion and an exercise in deceiving the people who are longing for peace.

The road to peace goes through Palestine, and is not that of Sadat.

Thus only!

Declaration of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen), Published as an advertisement in Ha'aretz, 27 December 1977

The peace-carnival, conducted by the Israeli Prime Minister, helped by troops of henchmen from the right and the 'left', is aimed at confusing the masses.

The aim of Begin's plan is to prove to the whole world that the Israeli government, under the leadership of Begin, did everything in order to achieve peace, and now the Arabs have to act. They have to choose: either to accept the plan and thereby help Begin and Co. perpetuate the oppression of the Palestinian-Arab people and con­solidate the occupation of Arab lands; or reject the plan and thereby be responsible, according to Begin, for sabotaging the peace and for further bloodshed of Jews and Arabs in the next war. A real catch – made in Israel.

But the truth is: Israel is the one that must make the choice – war or peace.

He who wants peace should struggle for the recognition and respect of the national and human rights of the Palestinian-Arab people; he who avoids this struggle accepts de-facto the continuation of the oppression and occupation and paves the way for the next war, which will be bloodier than the previous ones.

Begin's plan is based on the false assumption that one can break the stick and keep it whole at the same time: perpetuate the oppression of the Palestinians and consolidate the occupation of their lands, but also achieve peace and the recognition of Israel by the Arabs.

Anyone who follows such a false assumption is bound to be disappointed. And there is no need to look too far back in history to find out that wherever there is oppression there is revolt, wherever there is discrimination, there is bound to be resistance.

We have seen such things, here in this country, 30 years ago: two leaders – one Israeli and one Arab – signed a peace agreement based on the deprivation of the rights of the Palestinians and on their op­pression, each in his own state. They were Ben Gurion and Abdulla. And the facts are well known: many have been killed since then in order to keep the status quo; and the Palestinian masses, who seemed to have been wiped off the map of history, were back on the scene.

Therefore, even if Begin finds an Arab leader to sign his plan for 'autonomy', this will not bring real peace between the Jewish-Israelis and the Arab-Palestinians. Because the meaning of this 'autonomy' is the creation of a Bantustan for the Palestinians who live here, and leaving the rest of the Palestinians in the status of refugees. Just like South Africa's Bantustan, so will Palestinustan be a prison under the auspices of Israel. But while black Bantustan is a prison closed to the whites, Palestinustan will be open to Israeli settlers.

The sincere desire for peace, shared by the Arab and Jewish masses, is used by the Israeli Prime Minister in order to camouflage the continuing occupation as 'autonomy'. In doing so he is helped by the 'Left-Zionists' from Mapam and Sheli, who have suddenly forgotten all their talk of the rights of the Palestinians. But it is clear what such an 'autonomy' means: A Palestinian army – no! A Palestinian government – definitely not! As Begin himself said – it is not even 'self-rule', but only 'self-administration'.

The basic right of self-determination is denied to the Palestinians who will live in the framework of this 'autonomy'; but each one of them will enjoy the doubtful right to choose their nationality: to become subjects of the Hashemite king or of the zionist state. All this under the watchful eye of the Israeli army and continuing pressure of Israeli settlers.

In spite of our small numbers, we repeat our support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for its liberation – including the struggle for a complete and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 occupations, and the establishment of an independent political entity there.

In this spirit we struggle:

For an immediate, complete and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories!

Against any Israeli attempt to dictate to the Palestinian masses who will represent them!

Against any Israeli attempt to dictate the future of the territories after a withdrawal!

Thus only can peace and equality between the two peoples of this land – the Arab-Palestinians and the Jewish-Israelis – be achieved.

We are convinced that even if Begin's government will be forced to make concessions to Sadat, and adopt his plan, this will not solve the problem of the Palestinians. Since the problem of the Palestinians can be fully solved only in the framework of the victory of the revolutionary struggle in the whole region for socialism; a struggle which will defeat imperialism; defeat its agents' rule in Israel and the Arab states; abolish the existing borders; unify the Arab nations; secure the rights of the non-Arab nations living in the Arab East, including the Jewish-Israeli nation.



Khamsin #06: Women in the Arab world

Issue 6 of revolutionary socialist journal Khamsin primarily about women in the Middle East.

Submitted by Ed on January 17, 2013


Critical marxist evaluation of women's situation in the Middle East is almost non-existent. Women have been relegated, much as they are everywhere else, to an oblivion somewhere between the private realm of the home and the bottom end of the labour market, while in a growing profusion of material which purports to subject the region to political, historical, economic and social scrutiny, the question of women has been all but ignored by bourgeois and revolutionary writers alike.

Submitted by Ed on August 30, 2013

In attempting to reflect, express and participate in the struggles for national and social liberation, revolutionary socialists often forget that the struggles of the Palestinian people, of the anti-zionist forces inside Israel, and of the labouring classes in all the countries of the Middle East are not merely the struggles of men who happen to have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters in tow.

In this issue of Khamsin we make an attempt to remedy these deficiencies. The rudimentary character of our attempt implies not a belated afterthought but rather the opening of a discussion of the position of half the popular masses in the region. On the other hand, we do not wish to write a token feminist history of women in the Middle East. Articles about Israeli women or about Palestinian women in Israel or Arab countries tell as much about the nature of zionism and of Arab reaction as they do about women themselves.

In addition to the material on women in the Middle East, we have included in this issue three articles dealing with topics which are also of central importance to revolutionary socialist thinking on the Middle East.

Zionist propaganda has erected a number of scarecrows to deter attack by the left. One of the most effective of these is the bogus identification of anti-zionism with anti-semitism. The article on Zionism and its scarecrows will, we hope, arm the left in the struggle against zionist ideology and propaganda. This article was originally published in German in Probleme des Klassenkampfs (West Berlin, October 1975). The need for an English translation became especially evident recently during the debates on zionism in the British students' movement. In the present translation we have omitted a passage dealing with the current zionist propaganda concerning Soviet Jews, since this topic is covered in greater detail in an article by one of the two authors in Critique 9.

The article on National formation in the Arab region is intended as a contribution to the task of laying down the historical and theoretical foundations upon which a marxist evaluation of Árab nationalism should be based. The first step must be a demystified account of the historical origin of the Arab national formation. This article launches the discussion, which will be resumed in one of our forthcoming issues whose central theme will be nationalism in the Middle East.

Events in the Middle East move so fast that by the time the present issue of Khamsin is published, much in the article on Israel and the new order in the Middle East will have almost certainly been over- taken by fresh developments. However, we decided to include this article in the belief that if the analysis contained in it is correct, it may help to throw some light not only on previous events, but also on new developments which will have taken place between the time of writing (May 1978) and the time of publication.


Nigel Disney

The members of the Khamsin collective announce with deeply-felt grief the sudden death of Nigel Disney, a dedicated member of our collective. Nigel, born in Nottingham, died at the age of 26 on the 24 June 1978 in a London hospital.

Submitted by Ed on August 31, 2013

Nigel became involved in third world struggles during his studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He was a member of several groups concerned with Asian politics, Indo-China, Korea and Hong Kong. During 'his stay in the United States, he became involved in Middle Eastern issues and the Palestinian struggle. Between 1975 and 1977 he was a staff writer and editor at the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington DC. Upon his return to Britain last year, he worked for Events, an English-language Middle Eastern magazine, and devoted most of his spare time to the preparation of the publication of Khamsin in English. Nigel's capacity for work was far greater than his frail physical appearance revealed.

His death leaves us all bereaved. We have lost a dear comrade and a tireless and resolute worker for our cause. His memory is with us.


Women and politics in Lebanon - Yolla Polity Sharara

Lebanese Christian women training during the civil war, 1976.
Lebanese Christian women training during the civil war, 1976.

Article by a Lebanese woman describing the position of women in both Muslim and Christian communities as the country slid into civil war.

Submitted by Ed on January 17, 2013

Mothers build homes and sons build countries

The mother who rocks her newborn son with her right hand does not shake the world with her left hand - Arab sayings

I think I experienced my relationship with politics as the transgression of a taboo. Of course, in the 1960s we were no longer living in the era of the veil. Lebanese society, despite its reputation for Westernisation and modernism, was nonetheless still carefully partitioned: boys' schools and girls' schools, girls' games and boys' games, motherhood and homemaking for women, professional work for men... This division of roles and behaviour, seldom transgressed in practice, was instilled very early on within the family. Boys were openly preferred to girls, and girls were intensively prepared for their role as wives and mothers. Housekeeping skills and docility were the qualities most appreciated in a young girl ready for marriage. Women and politics were two opposite poles, or two spheres which never intersected. Politics was 'public', 'outside activity', 'history'. A woman was everything that was most private, most eternal and 'ahistoric'; the 'within', the 'at-home' that everyone, boy or girl, found in the home, the mother.

Politics was the preserve of men. We had obtained equal civic and political rights in 1953, we could vote and we could be elected. But it was good form not to make too much use of these rights. We would go and vote with our fathers or husbands, and we would vote the same way they did. Was it worth stirring up trouble in the family to vote for or against people we did not know from Adam or Eve, men foreign to our family? Was it worth the ridicule to stand as a candidate, as two women had done just after we had obtained the right to vote? Political questions were settled for us at the level of what is 'done' and what is 'not done', of what was or was not suitable for a woman. Although legally citizens, we continued to be ruled by our families and we had few, if any official relations with the state.

To engage in politics, or to 'enter politics' as we put it, was not the done thing for young women. We entered despite the opposition of our frightened parents. We joined as though we were joining a religion, eager to learn, to catch up on secular backwardness, serious and hardworking, obeying all the bizarre rules which governed meetings and demonstrations. The world of politics had the taste of forbidden fruit. We were proud to have been admitted, proud to meet celebrated leaders in the corridors, and especially proud finally to be taken seriously. Men, our comrades, listened carefully and with respect, and we were at ease discussing economic, historic or in­ternational problems with them. We were flying high, far from the kitchens of our mothers, and far from the embroidery work destined for our trousseaus.

It is necessary to have lived in these closed societies, where roles are rigidly defined from infancy, to understand our euphoria and also our blindness. We thought we had escaped the usual fate of women. We had slipped through a breach into the world of men. We tried to acclimatise ourselves to that world, always thinking our setbacks were due to our own ignorance. We were not yet ready to bring men and their values into question, and still less to question 'politics'.

Our elders who, like us, could not bear their situation, did not have the same opportunities as we did. In their time, political parties did not admit women, and no woman dared to meet men publicly who were not known to her family. So they founded women's charitable and social associations. For a long time they denied that they were involved in politics. When they took a position on a political or national problem, they took great care to show why, as mothers, they could not accept this and why, as wives, they demanded that. They led a campaign for political rights, and from 1953, they tried vainly to bring women into political life.

These women's organisations saw the problem as being solely at the level of national power. Politics was the world of deputies and ministers. Women were excluded, and that was unfair. Several un­successful attempts to get themselves elected to the legislature were occasions for diatribes by these organisations against backward voters, and against women who did not understand their own in­terests, were traitors to their own sex and lacked confidence in the ability of women to represent them. There were diatribes also, and especially, against the power of money, electoral fraud and the manoeuvres of politicians whose victims were women candidates. Pure and innocent women mounting an assault on a corrupt electoral system were defeated by the forces of Evil (Men) and corruption. [There is an untranslatable pun in the last sentence – Mal – evil, Male – Men]. All of which said to the most indulgent 'they can't make the grade' and to others 'It's a good thing; they shouldn't mix in matters which don't concern them.'

Although disgusted by these defeats, the women did not give up their project. During a meeting before the last legislative elections one woman speaker made an apologia for the Syrian and Egyptian regimes, which had allowed women into the body of deputies. Conceding that these women had not been elected but designated on the lists of single parties or simply nominated by the executive, this speaker, warmly applauded by the audience, demanded that in Lebanon as well, a certain number of seats be reserved ex officio for women nominated by the Conseil General des Femmes and the president of the republic. This support for a system of nomination was astonishing on the part of women who otherwise swore by democracy in Lebanon, and criticised the absence of freedoms in neighbouring Arab countries. But the advantages they saw in this system led them to gloss over everything which accompanied it.

Thus, they said 'the woman would remain dignified, would not be obliged to have her photo on the walls of the town, nor be confronted with the base material considerations of an election campaign. She would not lose her femininity, nor run the risk of a humiliating defeat and would gain power.' Alas, all this required an amendment of the constitution and the electoral law, a difficult process in Lebanon.

Perhaps the dream of gaining power could be achieved more easily and more quickly at the level of ministerial posts? Every time there was a change of cabinet (which was frequent during these troubled years) we saw these same women's organisations rushing to the newly­-nominated head of the government during his consultations: 'women are underrepresented, you must give us a portfolio...' The same thing happened every time: the prime minister received them cour­teously while they were served titbits to eat and the press, in ironic mood, noted the visit; meanwhile everyone waited for the women to finish their activities so that serious matters could be dealt with.

In fact it was pathetic. These women took their sex literally as the reason for their exclusion from power, and presented themselves as women, without any consideration of political tendencies, religions, parties, programmes, international or Arab affiliations – the essence of the political game. It was also pathetic because it took the authorities, who presented themselves as democratic, at their word: representative of all citizens, without distinction of sex, class or religion, a just and egalitarian power. It was as though the right to something was sufficient to obtain it; as though the exclusion of women resulted from an oversight, which would be rectified on the spot once it was realised.

The women who joined political parties were less naive. They regarded politics as something requiring time and work. They had transferred their ambitions for power to the party. The majority thought that the conditions of women would change if they joined political parties. They expected that political and social trans­formations would make reforms possible. According to which party they belonged to, they struggled for Arab unity, the Lebanese nation, or socialism, but very little for the cause of women. It was very im­portant for them to be recognised as full members of the party. They disliked being assigned to the women's section and wanted to prove that they were as capable as men at dealing with any problem. Thus they avoided talking about women, a minor subject, in order not to be put down. Within the many parties which, while admitting women, kept them in separate groups, the women met among themselves, waited for instructions from a party leader and were mobilised par­ticularly when the party had to show its strength in demonstrations and especially in electoral campaigns. In these situations, women were all of a sudden necessary and even indispensable.

In 1975, as part of the activities of International Women's Year, the Democratic Party invited representatives of Lebanese political parties to a meeting to draw up a balance sheet of the participation of women in political parties and to consider the possibility of agreeing on a platform of demands and common action. Women from the Phalangist Party, the National Bloc, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Ba'ath Party, the Communist Party, as well as other women belonging to small groups, all met together; distrustful, rivals, con­vinced in advance that no agreement was possible.

However, agreement was possible. It was sufficient to point to the one or more paragraphs in each party's programme devoted to women, to realise that all the parties – at least in principle – were for equality between men and women, for optional civil marriage, for the ap­plication of the law on equal pay, for the generalisation of education for girls, for better professional training for girls, for an extension of creches etc... That this preparatory meeting was not followed by others, was officially because of the war: the leftist parties ordered a boycott of the Phalangist Party, so women from the left-wing parties could not sit down at the same table with Phalangists. In fact, it was because of the anguish provoked by the agenda.

The first question was strictly political: 'What is the position of your party on women's questions?' Everybody, both on the left and on the right, was doubtful whether they would agree. How would a communist look if she had nothing either to criticise in, or to add to, what was proposed by a Phalangist? How was it possible to end up with only differences of detail in demands over women, starting from so many different and antagonistic ideologies representing the whole organised Lebanese political spectrum? Was it sufficient to attribute the agreement to the demagogy of the right, which in its programmes made promises to women which it had no intention of keeping? This was not a serious approach, and one felt that it revealed a grave problem, that of an inadequate analysis of the exploitation and op­pression experienced by women in Lebanese society.

The second question, although also political, was of a more existential nature: 'In your party, what is the number of women members, and the number of women who are in leading positions? What problems do they have because they are women?' Of all those present, only the Democratic Party could point to women in its politburo. No women representative would agree to give figures or even a rough estimate of the proportion of women members in relation to the total membership of the party. There was great reticence in admitting there were problems at all. Thus, if there were few women in the party, this was because women lacked con­sciousness; if they did not hold responsible positions, this was because they were not sufficiently competent – the party itself did not discrim­inate. Women found themselves using standard male modes of thought in regard to other women: they talked like men. The same mechanism which makes women loathe to complain of their lot in front of women they do not know, especially if they are rivals, was at work there. These women militants, when they were conscious of the discrimination which they and their comrades were victim of, when they were not themselves token women in the party, preferred to wash their dirty linen at home. They refused to question publicly the men from their own party, to recognise that their party, their men, were not the most advanced, the most egalitarian, or the most revolutionary. Alienated, and preferring their hard-won identity as members of the party to the less prestigious identity of committed women, they left without having really met, without having talked, or listened.

The possibility of politicising the women's question, ie applying the same criteria applied to any other question, analysing it in terms of relations of power, of positions through which one group of people (in this case men) control another group (women), seems to be a long way off for at least the majority of Lebanese women. But some women began to do this. They had been militants for several years in the left parties. They had lived with and undergone subtle or brutal discrimination from society, from militants of other parties – but especially from their own comrades. They had been confronted with the disastrous consequences of the etiquette of principal and secondary contradictions, the contradiction between the sexes being, of course, always secondary. They had realised the futility of any revolution which kept intact the basic unity of exploitation and op­pression, that of one sex over the other, of masculine over feminine. They had also lived through the laceration of the war, in which, although perhaps in different forms according to the side, the male order had been the sole victor.

It is this reflection, still embryonic, which I want to account for. To try to see in the present political situation in Lebanon an antagonism of class and of religious communities, but also an antagonism between the sexes, to try to see the war through, and starting from, the feminine universe (cf Mao and also M.-A. Macciocchi 'les Femmes et la traversee du fascisme' in Elements pour une analyse du fascisme, Paris, 1976, p128).

It is hardly astonishing that in Lebanon more than in other places women experience politics as something foreign in their daily lives, since their lives are ruled by community laws and not national ones. The principal moments of their lives are punctuated by the in­tervention of men from their communities and religious authorities, rarely from the state. It is essential to understand that in Lebanon all matters relating to personal status depend on confessional laws and tribunals. There is no civil marriage. There are as many different laws for women as there are religions. Marriage, divorce or separation, relationships, guardianship of minors, inheritance, all these problems have different solutions according to whether one is a Maronite Christian, a Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, or a Sunnite or Shia' Muslim. Of course the state also intervenes: education policy, em­ployment policy, wages, prices... But these problems are secondary, or rather experienced as secondary by most women, with the exception of politicised women who are interested in them.

In 1975 the women's organisations held a congress to discuss the laws relating to personal status, and demanded optional and non­compulsory civil marriage. A law forbidding discrimination against women in the family was presented by women from the Democratic Party and adopted by the congress. All the parties which declare themselves opposed to confessionalism talk about the necessity of having unified and secular laws in all spheres of life, especially that of personal status. The left parties add that this reform is all the more necessary because the present laws are disadvantageous to women, but their declarations remain at the level of principles, and everyone carefully avoids entering into details.

However, at the moment of civil war, the question of women became the central point of negotiations between the right and the left, and it is not irrelevant that it also became the point of rupture.

The 'Committee for National Dialogue', laboriously created during one of the many cease-fires that marked the war, attempted to list points of disagreement and bring together different points of view. It broke down over the question of secularisation. The left demanded total secularisation, as did the Christian right. The Muslims wanted political and administrative secularisation, but refused secularisation of personal status, considering it a matter of private and non-political problems. Since the beginning of the war the left had been a prisoner of its Muslim allies. Its leader, Kamal Jumblatt, known for his misogyny and political opportunism, declared that since the 'Muslim and national side' was not ready for such a reform, they could put the question of civil marriage to one side. One could not open a breach in alliance over such secondary problems! The important thing was to remain united in the face of the enemy and to deal with 'political' and military problems. It should be noted that this abandonment by the left of the women's cause went almost totally unnoticed.

The Christian right affirmed that for its part it wanted civil marriage. Assured of a Muslim rejection, it could allow itself all sorts of proposals to give itself a modern and Western image. In a recent interview with Le Monde, Beshir Gemayel stated: 'Alone, we achieved secularisation a long time ago.' Describing the federal structure he supported, he said: 'Each community should rule itself according to its own laws, and no one should impose their views on others.' But isn't this precisely what happened before the war? As for secularisation, that is a trap-word for women. For the Napoleonic code was a secular code, as was the Rocco Code, drawn up by Mussolini in fascist Italy. What sort of code then, are the Phalangists and the Guardians of the Cedar, allied to the Lebanese monks, preparing for us?

Here we touch on a very important aspect of intercommunal relations. We are dealing with two communities struggling for power, for leadership. Within each community, masculine domination over women takes place under different conditions and according to different laws, but it is nonetheless implacable. It is a matter of keeping the women for the men of the community. However, Muslim men have legal access to Christian women; the reverse is not true. A Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim without at least con­verting and in that case losing her inheritance. Marriages are very common between Lebanese Christians and foreign Christians. Mixed marriages are very rare between Christian men and Muslim women, and often in these cases the man converts to Islam.

When civil marriage is discussed, traditional Muslim men immediately imagine a cohort of young women, their daughters and sisters, rushing into the arms of Christian men the minute the law is passed. This threat is absolutely untenable. One exasperated Muslim said to me: 'When we discuss secularisation with Christians they ask me: will you give us your daughter in marriage? Would that they would leave our women alone!'

For centuries, these communities have lived side by side with myths concerning the women of the other community. In the Muslims, the Christians see the East with all its seduction, its sensuality, and its docility, in short – the harem. The Muslims imagine Christian women as being more advanced, more educated, and more modern than their women. To join them is a promotion. But as intercommunal relations remained relatively rare, because of the fear of reprisals from jealous fathers and brothers (sometimes leading to crimes, qualified as 'crimes of honour') negative myths grew up, helping to make frustration tolerable: 'Bunch of whores' said Muslims of Christians who rejected them; 'stupid and ignorant women' said the Christians of Muslim women they lusted after, but who were inaccessible.

A kind of rule operated in peace time, an implicit understanding between the males of the two communities, recognising the mutual right of each over the women of their respective communities. This entente, based mainly on fear of reprisals, protected women of the two camps in the first stages of the war. Few women were kidnapped, and if they were arrested they were quickly released. They could move around more easily than men; militiamen on barricades did not ask them for identity papers. One got the impression that if one side broke this agreement and started to seize women, it would be terrible. If the walls, which held back repressed and aggressive desires, suddenly broke, the consequences would be uncontrollable.

These walls were effectively broken at times, when the war reached extremes of violence: Quarantina, Damour, Clemenceau, Tel El Za'atar. These were points of no return, where through the association of sexuality with power, by the rape of women and young girls, the aggressors signified their absolute (but momentary) domination over the other camp. In all the random shelling, houses in flames, banks looted, hotels destroyed, factories sacked, some elements of the patriarchal order – religious, political and military leaders and women's property – were spared. This 'gentlemen's agreement', based on a cult of authority and hierarchy, and on an extraordinary respect for force and violence, as much in their own camp as within the enemy camp, led to some aberrations: Hawi, military leader of the Phalangist militias, was captured by the Palestinian resistance and released several hours later. When people wanted to hit Chamoun, they executed his nephew; and as a reprisal, it was Jumblatt's sister that was assassinated.

If certain of the leaderships were hit during this war, those who survived emerged even more ingrained with authoritarianism and violence. Both sides attributed their previous 'defeats' to the softness of their leaders; they wanted the strongest leaders, the best armed militias, the most organised – that is the most easily con­trollable – population. Any questioning of authority had to be fought, any criticism or reservations were put down to laxity; politics was no longer a citizen's right, only guns talked. These were phallic values par excellence.

The people had to be mobilised to accept the infernal life that gripped the combat areas, Beirut in particular: scarcity and sometimes total lack of water, electricity, bread, vegetables and meat, children without schools, workers without jobs, stealing and looting, destruction and death. Those responsible for the war were aware that it was the women who bore most of the burden of everyday life. They attempted to gain their support. Radio programmes were specifically directed at women from both sides. Despite references to the 'Cedar of Lebanon' – or the Arab destiny of the same Lebanon, these programmes were very similar. They talked about 'the necessary contribution of women to the national cause', and of 'the price to be paid'. They exalted the spirit of sacrifice of the mothers who had borne the heroes. Heroes, yes, but how to acknowledge their deaths, and the death of so many victims of random shelling and the bullets of snipers? 'Ommash-shahid', the mother of the martyr, became the object of endless glorification. The violence of the apparatus and ritual of funerals was useful as a means of making death unreal, and silencing the women's grievances: the profusion of guns, shots in the air, the bodies removed to the wailing of the women, and the men accompanying the hero-martyr to his final resting place.

Pathetic as always, women from the women's organisations, corroded like everybody by the confessional evil, completely bypassed by events and not knowing what to do, took up a position against the war. One day they tried to remove the barricades of the militias and this led to kidnappings. Going from east Beirut to west Beirut, from Phalangist barricade to progressive barricade, they spoke in the name of wives, mothers and sisters. They wanted an end to the killing. They had built homes and now, contrary to the saying, the sons were destroying the country. Of course, their campaign had no success, although it reflected the feelings of many people.

Women belonging to parties, and many others who joined in during the war, organised assistance and food for both camps. Not having been able to leave the area controlled by the progressive forces and the Palestinian resistance during the whole of the war, I don't know in detail what happened in the Christian camp. However, everything leads me to believe that women from both sides ran into the same problems.

On the progressive side the disorganisation would have reached unmanageable proportions without the participation of the women. They formed aid teams, provided help for the injured, welcomed refugee families, gave food for the fighters, sewed sheets and linen for the hospitals. An incredible amount of energy was and continues to be expended. Very few men militants took part in this work unless they were overseeing it. This was considered to be women's work, and regarded with contempt; men who participated in it felt themselves diminished, and were mocked by their comrades. Everything was just the same as in the family. For women, the servile jobs, for men, the noble jobs; in war the noble jobs were carrying arms and fighting.

Women did take part in the fighting – and their presence was considered to be neither natural nor obvious. On the surface, men were proud to have women fighting in their ranks. This conformed to the scheme of 'people's war'. In actual fact, the presence of women was felt to be an intolerable blow to their virility. They defended themselves by attacking: sexual and verbal aggression or attempts to put the women down. The attitude of military instructors was full of condescension, as though they were saying: 'I'm too important to waste my time with women.' The military commanders were no better. Women fighters were always given the least prestigious arms on the excuse they had not had enough training, and the worst places on the pretext of 'protecting' them. To be treated as equals, the women had to be more courageous and more competent than the men, and at that point they became the token women, heroines. Each party and each militia had a few of them.

In addition, the women fighters had to defend themselves against the ever-present accusation of being whores. 'In the trenches, it's an orgy', was a fantasy often expressed by men fighters talking about the enemy camp or rival militias. Women had no right to be there, they were a nuisance. Every pretext was good.

And why were we there?

Why, even by taking up arms, did we fill precisely that role given to us for all (patriarchal) eternity: that of the beautiful woman fighter, or the avenging mother defending her little ones? Why were we involved in a struggle from which we would gain nothing?

Why did we let ourselves into this sinister adventure?

Yolla Polity Sharara


Changes in Palestinian society - Ehud Ein Gil and Aryeh Finkelstein

A look at the changes in Palestinian society since the beginning of zionist expansion in the region and its affect on the position of women.

Submitted by Ed on January 22, 2013

The zionist settler society has been built upon the ruins of Palestinian society, destroyed by zionist colonisation. That part of the Palestinian people which after 1948 remained inside the state of Israel, under direct zionist rule, has in the course of time undergone deep social changes. For example, the confiscation of their lands forced the Palestinian peasants out of agriculture and into wage labour. In this article we consider the significance of these changes and their effects on the structure of Palestinian village society inside Israel, and in particular on the position of women.

The Hamoula

The institutions of Palestinian village society drew their strength from specific economic conditions. The growth of the main village in­stitution – the hamoulah1 – was based on land ownership, an agrarian economy and a relative weakness of contacts with urban centres; and it was reinforced by Arab culture, tradition and religion. Even in the nineteenth century, with the intrusion of the imperialist powers into the region, contacts with Western civilisation and its values were mainly confined to the small urban population of Palestine; the village remained largely isolated from European influence until zionist colonising activity became intensive.

After the defeat of the Arab states in the 1948-49 war, the zionist movement subjected the Palestinians who remained inside Israel to its policy. But zionist policy towards Israel's Palestinian subjects has been a combination of two mutually contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, it has aimed to preserve the traditional hamoulah structure of village society, in order to make it easier to keep the Palestinians under control. But on the other hand, by expropriating the Palestinians' lands, it has destroyed the economic basis of that very same traditional structure which zionism wants to preserve. Without its lands the hamoulah has lost its economic foundations: its members are dispersed as wage labourers in the Israeli economy, and the ties which had bound them together are severed. But despite all this, the hamoulah has not collapsed.

In countries like England, which had undergone an industrial revolution, the expropriation of the peasants' lands destroyed the old rural society; the peasants migrated to the towns in search of new sources of livelihood, were transformed into an industrial proletariat and created new social frameworks appropriate to their new class. But in England both dispossessors and dispossessed were English. It was a process rooted in the intrinsic economic development of England.

In Palestine, on the contrary, the process through which the peas­ants were dispossessed of the lands was caused by a clash between a colonising movement of immigrants and the indigenous population; it was not a process resulting from the intrinsic economic development of the country. Although in this country, just as in England, the dispossessed peasants were proletarianised, the traditional framework of the Palestinian village society was not broken. For the new Palestinian proletarians did not migrate into the towns: they were prevented from moving into the Jewish city near their place of work by legal restrictions (military rule, to which Arabs inside Israel were subjected and which operated a pass system, was lifted only about ten years ago2 ) and by racist discrimination, on the part of the authorities as well as the 'man in the street'. The villages became working-class dormitories. But the old hamoulah structure of these villages was preserved.


The 1948 defeat left the Palestinian population inside Israel beaten and broken. Most of the urban population, as well as the inhabit­ants of over 350 villages, had been driven out of the zionist state. The only remaining social institution was the hamoulah, which now became a kind of kernel, around which Palestinian identity inside Israel would be recreated and preserved. The zionist attempt to obliterate and deny the existence of Palestinian national identity brought about a response characteristic of oppressed minorities – the strengthening of traditional structures.

But the traditional social structures could not serve as a framework for resistance and struggle against oppression, and were therefore turned into instruments of the authorities. In order to dominate and control the great majority of the members of a hamoulah, it was enough for the authorities to harness the headman to their wagon. A party which could bribe the headman would get most of the votes of his hamoulah. In this way the hamoulah structure was turned from a stronghold of resistance to zionist policy into the institutional framework through which zionist domination over Palestinian society is mediated. Even in those cases where the headman did not sell out to the authorities, the hamoulah could not serve as a basis for broad struggle; for the ties of solidarity which it fosters are exclusive to its own members, and do not bind together the broad mass of the people.

The hamoulah preserved its prestige and influence, and with it were preserved values and conventions which had characterised traditional Arab society. More than anyone else, it is the Palestinian women who have got the worst of this state of affairs: they not only belong to an oppressed people suffering from discrimination, but also have an inferior and underprivileged status within that people.

Women in Palestinian society

'The family honour' is the concept in whose name most of the restrictions upon the Palestinian woman's freedom of movement are imposed. In particular, women's individual liberty continues to be violated by the segregation of unmarried people of opposite sexes, a segregation based upon religious and traditional values as well as social conventions. Thus the unmarried woman is prevented from participating in socio-cultural activities in which men take part; this includes not only going to the cinema or to the coffee house, but sometimes even sitting together with guests in her own house. The married woman's freedom of movement is also restricted: she too is not allowed to participate in socio-cultural activities in which men are present, unless she is accompanied by her husband.

Betrothal and marriage arrangements in Palestinian society make it difficult for a woman (and indeed also for a man) to marry a person of her (or his) own choice. At the same time, these arrangements are an important means of preserving social differentiation. In general, marriage is an economic transaction; a rich family will make sure that its sons and daughters marry brides and bridegrooms belonging to rich families. This is ensured by the bride price: a man who cannot afford the high bride price demanded by a rich family, cannot marry a daughter of that family.

Incidentally, a similar phenomenon also exists among Israeli Jews. Israeli-Jewish society is more 'open', and in it marriage is theoretically a matter of free choice for both partners. But before the wedding there is usually a meeting of the families of both 'parties', in which they finalise the commercial transaction – how much money is to be paid to the young couple by each side in order to ensure its economic status. Not infrequently, weddings are called off before that stage is reached; the parents' opposition overcomes love and 'free choice'.

But in Palestinian society the situation is, if anything, worse. A father's prestige and authority over his family are much greater, and only very few young people would dare to defy the 'family' and marry a person of their own choice. The imposed segregation between un­married men and women makes it difficult for love relationships to develop, and enhances the power of the head of the family: in the absence of love ties, the resistance of his sons and daughters is weaker than it might have been, and it is that much easier for him to impose upon them his own will in the matter of marriage.

But in this, as in other social matters, the situation is gradually improving. For the time being change is rather slow, but it is gathering momentum. Of course, it all depends on the young people themselves, both men and women. Both share an interest in liberating themselves from the authority of the hamoulah tradition, in order to facilitate a freer contact between the sexes, before and after marriage, and to win the right to choose their own spouses. A struggle to abolish the in­stitution of bride price will be an important first step along this road.

Historically, the concept of the 'family honour' was used to dictate a restriction of women's participation in the social process of production. But the zionist expropriation of lands has worsened the situation of Palestinian women in Israel. In the past, women used to take part in the family's production process, in agriculture. But when there was no longer any land, the men went out to work in the city, while social conventions tethered the women to their village home.

However, the harsh economic realities of the last few years – rapid price inflation accompanied by a meagre rise in nominal wages – has forced the Palestinians to allow women to go out to work as wage labourers in order to supplement the family income. The Israeli economy, particularly the food and textile industries, was crying out for cheap manpower – or womanpower: Palestinian women fulfilled the demand of the labour market. Between 1967 and 1972, about 7,000 Palestinian women entered work in industry3 . Thousands of women are employed in agriculture on Jewish farms. Thus the 'sanctity' of the concept of 'family honour' was exposed; its role was clearly seen – to preserve relations of authority based on a socio­economic situation belonging to the past. When economic and social conditions had changed, family honour was no longer capable of keeping the woman at home.

Under capitalism, women workers generally constitute a reserve army of cheap labour, deployed according to the needs of the economy. A working woman is not considered to be the family's main breadwinner, and this is used by employers as a justification for not paying her the same wage as a man doing the same job. But in Israel, in addition to this discrimination in wages between men and women, there is also a national discrimination in wages between Jews and Arabs. Thus Palestinian women constitute the most exploited section of the labour force in the Israeli economy.

The inferior status of women in the patriarchal family is a circumstance shared by all Palestinian women workers and sets them apart from the other part of their class, the Palestinian men workers. Although they are super-exploited at work, Palestinian women workers find it very difficult to fight against their exploitation. If the very fact of their going out to work is regarded by traditional village society as something unusual and undesirable, how much greater will be the social resistance to any attempt by women to organise and struggle independently! 'Family honour' prevents women from organising politically, and even stands in the way of their participation in political activity alongside men. And if this applies to their par­ticipation in organising for struggle against national oppression, which afflicts both men and women, it applies all the more to women's organising for struggle for their own rights.

The hamoulah, as guardian of family honour, is therefore the main source of weakness of the Palestinian woman, and especially the Palestinian woman worker, in Israel.

Changing reality versus stubborn conservatism

Economic reality imposes changes even upon conservative village society. Palestinian society in Israel still disapproves of women working in industry together with men. In fact, most Palestinian women workers still work in segregation. But women's work is gradually becoming more accepted, and at the same time the family's power over the woman's earnings is growing weaker. More and more women, especially unmarried women, keep some of their wages and do not hand them all to the head of the family. Their participation in the process of production and their growing, if relative, economic independence constitute preconditions for the success of the women's struggle against the bonds of hamoulah conservatism.

Other factors, too, contribute to the weakening of the hamoulah's conservative grip. One of these is the influence of Western social values.

Palestinian society tended to regard the Western bourgeois values imported into this country by the zionist colonisers as corrupt. In fact these bourgeois values represented a historically progressive stage of development compared to the old religious-feudal values; but many Palestinians tended to identify these values with zionist oppression. Moreover, this was used by Palestinian reaction in order to persuade the masses that democracy and socialism also are 'zionist values' which have to be opposed. As a result, adherence to the traditional social values hindered the development of Palestinian society and handicapped it in the struggle against zionism.

The view of woman as an inferior being, unfit to participate in social and political struggle, who must be tethered to the home, im­paired the resistance of Palestinian society against zionist oppression, because half of the population was thereby prevented from con­tributing its effort and energy to the struggle.

(There was a similar phenomenon in other Arab countries. But wherever the struggle for national and social liberation struck at the forces of reaction and conservatism, women took an active part in the struggle. This was the case during a certain phase in Algeria as well as in South Yemen. Also, in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip women play an important and useful part in the struggle against occupation.)

Now, in the course of time it is becoming clear that more and more Palestinians no longer identify democratic and socialist values with zionism (this refers both to political principles and to socio-cultural values). And accordingly the resistance to the adoption of these values is declining.

For example, among the laws imposed by British rule in Palestine, and later by the zionist power, there was a law prohibiting polygamy, whereas Islam permits it. But today, the ban on polygamy is no longer regarded as a zionist value which must be opposed. (We do not claim that this law has solved the problems of the institution of marriage; there is certainly much that should be changed in the arrangements and content of this institution. But the abolition of polygamy cons­titutes an advance in the status of women.) Accordingly, we do not know of any Palestinian who would seriously advocate the inclusion of the legalisation of polygamy in the programme of Palestinian national liberation.

Attitudes to the high birth rate are likewise changing. The high birth rate has been used – sometimes consciously and sometimes un­consciously – as a weapon against zionism. If the zionists wanted less Arab children to be born – then having more children became a 'national task'. The relative rise in living standards, which normally has a downward effect on the birth rate, has not had this effect among the Palestinians in Israel. Their birth rate, 4.6 per cent per annum, is still among the world's highest. Although this seems to be a policy of struggle, a reaction against zionist oppression, it tends to maintain the oppression of women. Their burden is particularly heavy in villages without electricity, child care and health services.

A family with many children finds it more difficult to provide for them materially and spiritually. This has an adverse effect not only on the women, who are tethered to their homes, but also on the children. However, the use of contraceptives is gradually spreading, and a growing number of women are becoming aware of their right to control their own bodies. Here, too, the hamoulah, religion and tradition pose themselves against change. Village conservatism regards any attempt at change as a zionist-inspired plot.

From all this it can be seen how difficult it is going to be for Palestinian women in Israel to struggle for their own liberation. It seems as though everything and everyone have joined forces to prevent their liberation and to make it harder for them to organise for struggle.

The obstacles in the road of Palestinian women's liberation are formidable indeed. In addition to those we have already referred to – religion, tradition, the hamoulah – one of the greatest obstacles is subjective: the immense difficulty in becoming fully conscious of their state of oppression, isolation and lack of organisation. In the present situation, any 'rebellious' woman, who refuses to surrender to the bondage of convention, remains isolated and ostracized. Her first aim is therefore to seek an alliance with other women in her struggle.

The experience of the women's liberation movement in Israel has shown it to be characterised by a particular feature, which is not shared by similar movements in other capitalist countries. For, in the zionist state of Israel an Israeli-Jewish woman cannot support free abortion on demand without falling foul of the zionist attitude to the 'demographic question'; she cannot repudiate the Rabbinate's authority in matters of marriage and divorce4 without taking a stand on their authority to determine 'who is a Jew' (and therefore entitled to a privileged status in Israel) and who is not; she cannot demand equality for women without confronting the counter-argument that 'the duties of men and women are also unequal, because the men have to shoulder a heavier military burden'; she cannot demand equality between men and women without also demanding equality between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab women. In short, one cannot consistently demand equal rights for women without questioning the most fundamental zionist principles.

This is a possible meeting point for Jewish and Arab women, for a joint struggle for women's liberation. The development of a Palestinian women's liberation force can intensify the contradictions within the women's liberation movement in Israel and lead to the creation of an internationalist and anti-zionist women's liberation movement.


Like every colonial power, zionism divides in order to rule. On the national level, it divides all Jews from all Arabs; on the confessional level, it divides Muslim, Druse, Christian and Jew from each other; it divides men from women; and among the Palestinians it divides one hamoulah from another.

The masses of this country – Arabs and Jews, men and women – can only liberate themselves from the national oppression and racist discrimination of zionism through an implacable struggle which will expose the lie upon which these divisions are based and will prove the community of interests of all the exploited, members of both peoples, of both sexes, of all religions and all hamoulahs – against their oppressors and exploiters: zionism and Arab reaction, both of which serve imperialism.

A struggle against the oppressive straitjacket of the traditional institutions of Palestinian society is necessary not only for the liberation of Palestinian women, but also of Palestinian men. Although men are, relatively speaking, socially privileged, the restrictions and prohibitions imposed upon the liberty of women are also restrictions and prohibitions upon the liberty of men.

The hamoulah, religion, tradition and the conservative customs are enemies of the Palestinian masses struggling for liberation. They are instruments for the oppression of women, but they also serve the oppression of the Palestinian people as a whole. Therefore it is the duty of all Palestinians, both men and women, to struggle against them.

The liberation of women cannot come about without the liberation of society as a whole; and society as a whole cannot be liberated without the liberation of women. The struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation, for national and social liberation, is the struggle of all. Women must take part in this struggle. If they take a stand equally with men, in the broader front, it will help their own struggle for social equality.

Ehud Ein Gil and Aryeh Finkelstein

Translated from Matzpen, May 1977 ((עברית (عربي)

  • 1A hamoulah (pl hama'l) is a unit of social organisation, smaller than a clan and consisting of several extended families which have (or consider themselves to have) a common ancestor in the male line. (Ed)
  • 2This refers only to Israel proper, in its pre-1967 borders. The Arabs of the territories occupied in 1967 are still under military rule. (Ed)
  • 3Davar, 10 March 1972.
  • 4The fact that the ecclesiastical authorities in Israel have such wide powers (including monopoly of jurisdiction in matters of marriage and divorce) is not only injurious to non-religious Jews who are put, against their will, at the mercy of the clerics. Arabs of the Catholic faith, for example, cannot be divorced in this country, whereas in Rome under the very nose of the Pope, they can get a civil divorce.


Arab women - Magida Salman

Is it a lapse into impressionism to 'lend great importance to the weight of Islam' in considering the roots of the oppression of Arab women? Despite all the social transformations that have occurred in the Arab world since the era of the caliphs, secularisation has yet to take hold in nearly all the Arab countries. Legislation dealing with marriage, divorce, and the status of women (inferior in all cases) is still based on, or directly inspired by, Koranic law in all the Arab-Islamic states. What role is played by Islam, what is its influence, and how is it used? This article will deal with some of these questions.

Submitted by Ed on January 22, 2013

Islam, a state religion

The administration of society under Islam is regulated by the sacred texts as elaborated in the Koran. The moral system preached by the prophet Mohammed is itself law. The Muslim religion has found expression in a code of practical laws to be observed not only with respect to Allah but also with respect to the Muslim state. Indeed, the Koran, the shari'a, and the hadith, subjects of polemics among legislators even today, were themselves shaped by the experience of the prophet as the ruler of a state.

Koranic law explicitly stipulates the superiority of men over women. To begin with, the Koran itself is addressed exclusively to men, and not to women: 'Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other... As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them' (The Koran, translated by N. J. Dawood, Penguin Classics, sura 4, 'women', pp 360-61). Countless other quotations of the same character could be adduced. Some defenders of the Islamic position on women have made the claim that Islam represents an advance over other monotheistic religions in that it introduces sexual equality, by expunging from sexual pleasure any notion of sin or guilt. This lack of guilt, however, is not synonymous with freedom, for it profits only men and in fact consecrates women's role as sexual ob­ject. For example: 'Women are your fields; go then into your fields as you please' (The Koran, ibid, sura 2, 'the cow', p 347).

As has been pointed out: 'Thus, "love" exists not as a human relation but as a sexual relation, as servitude. In reality, there are no women, only females. For the Arab man, women exist in various personifications: virgin girl, wife, mother. There is no room for the woman friend or lover... The woman in the Koran is not a lover but a wife. There is no love, only sexuality... Marriage is a sexual pleasure on the one hand and a means of procreation on the other; the image of the wife is thus identified with that of the mother.'1

It is not our purpose here, however, to enter into a long discussion of the sacred texts. The important thing is that since Islam is a state religion nearly everywhere in the Arab world, the Koran and the shari'a form the foundation of judicial law, or even inspire it directly. Nonetheless, in many areas attachment to the teachings of the prophet has given way to adaptation to the conditions of the modern world. Usury, for example, is a great sin in Islam. But even the 'most Muslim' ruling classes do not foreswear the interest generated by their bank accounts. Profits, you see, can no longer be regulated by the norms that prevailed during the seventh century. No, it is only when it comes to all the norms regulating the lives of women – marriage, divorce, polygamy, the care of children, the imposition of male guardians for women – that adherence to the teachings of the prophet is complete. In other words, although Islam, like all other ideologies, has made adjustments to the social changes imposed by history, it has displayed a remarkable rigidity on all subjects involving the role of women in society.

Indeed, so strong has this conservatism been that it has incorporated many laws and traditions that were generally assumed to be Islamic and were thus preserved over the centuries, even though they were actually products of reactions to Islam and its effect on pre-­Islamic society; or of purely conjunctural necessities which arose at certain points in the evolution of this or that society. One striking example may illustrate the point: the wearing of the veil.

This practice seems to have developed as a reaction to the Koranic reform that guaranteed women the right to inherit property; it became general as the nomadic tribes settled during the early years of the expansion of Islam. 'In making inheritance for women compulsory, the sacred book... dealt a terrible blow to the tribe, one which the tribal societies worked hard to evade even while converting to Islam more or less gracefully. Today we may note that the generalisation of the veil and the cloistering of women closely correspond to Koranic observance in the matter of female inheritance.'2

'There seems to be a particular chain of events, one which I myself have witnessed:

1. Religious fervour imposes female inheritance rights;

2. Female inheritance rights destroy the tribe;

3. The demolished tribe accepts the presence of outsiders;

4. Fathers begin veiling their daughters so as to preserve them for the boys of the family despite everything.'3

In The Social Structure of Islam Reuben Levy presents details concerning the appearance of the veil among Muslim women: 'Closely bound up with the subject of marriage in Islam is that of the veiling and seclusion of women. In ancient Arabia, custom appears to have varied; the women of the desert-dwellers going unveiled and associating freely with men, while women in the cities were veiled.'4 Levy points out that women were not required to wear veils during the reign of the caliph Omar (634-644).

The exact date of the generalisation of the veil and the definitive reasons for it remain to be determined in many cases. What is certain, however, is that the custom pre-dates Islam to some extent and was not specifically stipulated by the prophet Mohammed. Nonetheless once it became identified as 'Islamic', it was raised to the level of custom, and often even law.

The confounding of religious structures and state structures of law and sacred texts, is a general characteristic of the societies in which Islam emerged and triumphed. This characteristic has prevailed, with differences in form, from the epoch of the Muslim conquests and the first caliphs through the Ottoman empire and even into the epoch of capitalism.

Nevertheless, this phenomenon has been most striking in all that relates to the position of women in society. The impact of Islam on this question may be grasped more clearly by taking a look at the argument of the great reformers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the era of the Nahda Arabia or Arab renaissance). Most of these reformers had attended French univer­sities and, upon returning to their countries, issued appeals for the modernisation of the state (men such as Salameh Musa and Qassim Amin5 ). Amin, one of the greatest of the reformers is considered a pioneer in the domain of the emancipation of women. Of Turkish origin, he studied law at the University of Montpellier in France and later served as a legislator in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth cen­tury. He was the author of several works on the status of women. In his book The Liberation of Woman Amin called for equality for women in the realm of social life and insisted on the need for the education of women. At the same time, he strove ceaselessly to fuel his argument with quotations from the Koran. For him, correspondence with the Koran was the very proof that he was on the right path, that he stood within the legitimacy of 'our society'. This led him into long religious digressions, which are interlaced in bizarre fashion through his otherwise rational thought. For instance, after citing the passage in the Koran instructing believers to 'enjoin believing women... to cover their adornments (except such as are normally displayed); to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their finery except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons,' etc. (The Koran, op cit, sura 24, 'light', p 212), Amin writes pages attempting to demonstrate that 'adornments' (in other words 'private parts') do not include the face or the hands.

This was at the beginning of the twentieth century. And today? Not more than three years ago an 'emancipated and enlightened' sheikh came to a round table discussion organised by feminists at Dar el-­Fann in Beirut to convince the audience that Islam has liberated women and that the Koran must be followed to the letter in all matters of personal status. He simply repeated the official positions on which the 'partisans of equality of the Muslim woman' have been harping for decades. And of course, he defended the legitimacy of the theocratic state.

Bourgeois ideology in the Arab world: an Arab-Islamic ideology?

'Our bourgeoisies seem to find the drafting of a secular personal code more dangerous than nationalisations.'

In some non-Arab Muslim countries secularisation was achieved by a bourgeoisie struggling to modernise and strengthen indigenous capitalism. This demonstrates that the explanation for the humiliating position of Arab women (and the sources of the unhealthy obsession with virility among Arab men) are not to be sought merely in the content of the Koran. They lie, rather, in the necessity felt by the ruling classes – and the local bourgeoisies now in power – to 'respect' Islamic tradition and to administer Islamic states (except in the special case of Lebanon, where secularisation does not exist in any event, and Tunisia, which must be examined separately).

After the revolution led by Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, the state was secularised and many changes were introduced in the status of women, especially in the towns. Why weren't Nasser's attempts to establish an independent and modern Egypt strengthened by the proclamation of a secular state? Why didn't the Algerian National Liberation Front resort to this weapon against the reactionaries and against the demagogy of 'forward-looking' imperialists, even at the peak of the anti-imperialist struggle? Why has the Ba'ath Party felt compelled to identify the struggle for Arab unity with Islamic identity and, once in power, why has it hurried to declare Islam the state religion, in both Iraq and Syria? (The intellectual founder of the Ba'ath, Michel Aflaq, who is of Christian background, converted to Islam about a year ago, claiming that Arabism and Islam could not be separated.) And one could add the caricatures of such phenomena: Qadaffi's 'Jamahiria' or Saudi Arabia, where the ridiculous in no way alleviates the atrocious oppression that denies women any choices whatever, even women of the ruling classes.

One of the reasons for this apparent anomaly is that the reaction to colonial and imperialist oppression in the Arab world took the form of attachment to local traditions and beliefs as a response to the cultural pressure of the settlers. 'When the French landed in Algeria in 1830, the society they attacked was, regardless of their own prejudices and ignorance, part of an old civilisation which had long competed with their own, Arab-Islamic civilisation... The Koranic pro­hibition of Muslim women marrying non-Muslims... protected Muslim women from delivering their bodies to the oppressor... But this refusal, on the other hand, placed the women of North Africa even further under the grip of the men of their own society, for the women, along with everything connected to private life, became a symbol for the men, a concrete refuge from the colonial indignity to which they were subjected. That is why the women were forced to live in narrow confines, jealously overprotected, their lack of public appearance and their very intangibility serving now as the ultimate guarantee of masculine dignity, now as an excuse for those who were compromised by collaboration with the occupier.'6

The authors of the article from which this quotation is taken explain the varying influence of colonialism on the status of women in North Africa and in Mexico on the basis of this differing pre-colonial reality. (Spanish colonialism in Mexico during the sixteenth century con­fronted a tribal society; this led to cultural and 'racial' blending, which was not the case in North Africa.)

This sort of reaction was to assume a broader, although more contradictory, dimension during the epoch of imperialism. The division of the Arab world by the European imperialist powers led to the development of nationalist consciousness, an important element of which was the desire to reassert the Arab unity that had been destroyed by the 'westerners'. This consciousness found expression in an attachment to the unifying elements that had preceded the division: language, customs, and religion experienced as a cultural tradition. Islam thus became a component of bourgeois nationalist con­sciousness. The Arab woman has suffered from this reaction, which has acted to circumscribe the upheavals in her status that could have been introduced both by contact with European society and by the mass struggles for liberation from the domination of European im­perialism.

The reaction to imperialism, however, was contradictory, precisely because of the influence of imperialism on the pre-capitalist socio­economic structures of the Arab world. The needs of imperialism and of the new, imposed mode of production required that young girls be sent to school (especially in the cities) and that a layer of women employees in the tertiary sector be developed. In some cases there was also a need for cheap female labour power to exploit. Indeed, the changes wrought by the entry of capitalism and by the imbalances through which it developed gave rise to the first struggles of Arab women.

The ensuing contradiction may be summarised in this way: On the one hand, the oppression and social changes imposed by imperialism created the objective basis both for the development of women's struggles and for the integration of women into the more general national liberation struggle against colonialism; on the other hand, the form in which bourgeois nationalist consciousness took root among the masses entailed a strengthening of Islam and even a tendency towards the assimilation of Islam into that consciousness itself. This latter factor militated against the rise of women's struggles and even against the active participation of women in the national liberation struggle. Later, bourgeois nationalist consciousness in the Arab world, fully identified with Islamic ideology, was to become a weapon in the hands of the indigenous ruling classes which assumed state power in place of the European colonialists. In other words, the Islamic position on women, along with the Islamic position on other social questions, became an instrument for the perpetuation of the general domination of the Arab ruling classes.

'Arab socialism': an 'Islamic' socialism

'We favour neither communism nor capitalism, but an Arab social­ism, an Islamic socialism.'

For reasons we will not go into here, the national liberation struggle in the Arab countries, which reached its peak during the 1950s, was led by nationalist movements. These movements came to power either through coups organised by young army officers or through the ac­tion of political parties whose base was essentially petty bourgeois. The bourgeois regimes established by the anti-imperialist struggles and movements in the Arab world were often impelled to take radical measures against imperialist intransigence. They were thus compelled to rely not only on the urban petty bourgeoisie but also on the peasantry and the working class, and even to mobilise the workers and peasants to some extent. But it was also necessary to ensure that radicalisation and popular mobilisation would not sharpen the class struggle, that the upsurge of mass action could be contained within limits compatible with the perpetuation of the capitalist mode of production. The formula by which this delicate equilibrium was assured was well chosen: Islamic socialism. Or to put it another way: socialism for popular consumption, Islam for the survival of capitalism.

All that women gained from this was a number of political rights (such as the right to vote) and the right to work whenever the new, independent state was short of labour power. The religious authorities were always on hand to declare either that Islam permitted women to participate in social activities or that Islam required the seclusion of women, depending on the needs of the moment. (The latter sort of declaration, of course, was of special value during periods of social unrest, sharpened class struggle, or rising unemployment). The pronouncements of the sheikhs of Al-Azhar mosque in Egypt, guardians of the Koran and the shari'a, are striking in their con­tradictions.

In the countryside, the only perceptible change in the status of women was the intensification of poverty, especially since the various agrarian reforms all ended in failure.

In all these independent states, secularisation was regarded as an excessively disruptive element in an already precarious stability. In all these states, personal status is based on Koranic law and the lives of women are regulated by 'the traditions of our Muslim culture'.

Let us take one example. What has 'Islamic socialism' meant for women in independent Algeria, a country whose liberation movement, the National Liberation Front, has been held up as having radically transformed the conditions of women?

Since 1967 the official government newspaper, el-Moujahid, has ceaselessly issued advice for the right-thinking, such as: 'Our socialism rests on the pillars of Islam and not on the emancipation of women with their make-up, hairdressers and cosmetics, from which arise unchained passions harmful to humanity.'

In the chapter entitled 'Hypocrisy' in her book Les Algeriennes ('Algerian Women'), F. M'Rabet quotes from an article published in the magazine el-Jaish in 1965: 'What would become of Algerian virility and glory, of the Arab-Islamic national character of our vigorous youth, into what state would our young men fall, if they saw their sisters in the arms of foreigners, who are their enemies and the enemies of the whole Arab nation?'7

In the countries in which Islam is the state religion there is generally only one political party, the ruling party, and the organisations of the various sectors of the masses are tightly controlled by this party. Thus, the National Union of Algerian Women declared during its first congress, in 1966: 'The congress must... entirely devote itself to the protection of the family unit... through the establishment of structures that conform to the Algerian personality and to Arab­-Islamic culture.'8

In 1972 the initial draft of the family code made this stipulation in regard to marriage: 'Error in person or violence entails the annulment of the marriage.'9 Yes, the veil plays tricks. The prospective husband (who has paid a price for his chosen bride) can be deceived and find himself married to someone else, for the 'error in person' can be ­discovered only after the marriage, when the veil falls.

Although the proposed family code rested on Islamic law, it had, of course, to be adapted to some modern necessities and thus divested of a few excessively embarrassing rules. The 'sacred texts' were con­sequently juggled about. Article 49 of the draft stipulated:

'The requirement of monogamy has its foundation in the Koran and the shari'a... Averroës taught that monogamy was obligatory... This was also the view of the caliph Omar Ibn Abi el-Khattab, Omer Abdel Aziz, the Mu'awiya. In addition, this custom has long been common in our country. A fetwa (religious ruling) rendered by Abu Zakariya el-Moghali in the ninth century illustrates this clearly and precisely. The commission has thus considered it its duty to consecrate this custom in the present article.'10

Was it really necessary to seek justification from all these celebrated Muslim personalities simply to propose the establishment of monogamy, especially since, pace the legislators concerned, monogamy in no way 'has its foundation' in the Koran?

The Muslim Brotherhood: an Arab version of fascism

Since the Arab bourgeoisie is an Arab-Islamic bourgeoisie, it is only logical that local fascism has taken the form of an exaggerated version of this religious identity. Created in 1919, the Muslim Brotherhood was to remain numerically modest until the late 1940s, a period of great social and popular agitation in the Middle East. The principles of the movement then became increasingly popular, primarily among the petty bourgeoisie (especially in Egypt and Syria). Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood waged a campaign against 'big capital', for the defence of private property, against the 'Occident' and its imported values (although they refused to use the word imperialist), against the communists (the main enemy), and above all against any reform of religion and against secularisation. The Muslim Brotherhood has waged a constant and determined struggle against the liberation of women. They mobilised according to the watch-word 'communism = atheism = liberation of women'. The recent reappearance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is a result not merely of de ­Nasserisation (the organisation had suffered great repression during the Nasser period) but also of the exacerbation of the social crisis in the country and of their desire to counter an unorganised but quite militant workers' movement.

While fascism in Europe strove to confine women to children, church, and the kitchen, the Muslim Brotherhood demands the reveiling of women, the rejection of any reform of the family code, the stoning to death of adulterous women, etc. The Brotherhood's activity in Cairo after the workers' rebellion of January 1977 testifies to this.

In Lebanon in 1970, during a period of rising class struggle, the Hizb el-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), an instrument of the Muslim Brotherhood, distributed a long leaflet in the Sunnite Muslim petty-­bourgeois neighbourhoods of Beirut, explaining that Islam prohibits the mixing of men and women in public places, that schools are public places, and that girls should therefore be withdrawn from coeducational schools. But the danger is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not content with merely handing out leaflets; it uses violence, sometimes with the implicit agreement of official authorities and with generous material aid from the Saudi Arabian and Libyan regimes. In Algeria for the past two years, Muslim Brothers, sometimes aided by the police, have been attacking women who walk alone at night, repressing them physically.

Given this overall situation, it is difficult not to stress the weight of Islam when considering the struggle for the liberation of Arab women. It is difficult not to take account of the direct physical oppression Arab women suffer because of attachment to Arab-Islamic traditions. It is no accident that the demands of the Union of Egyptian women, founded in 1923 in the wake of the revolution of 1919, concerning the reform of the personal status code are still on the agenda even today. The especially intense oppression suffered by Arab women and the direct guardianship of the males of the family, whose honour and virility are determined according to the behaviour of their wives, do not result in a higher level of consciousness among Arab women; just the opposite. This persistent weight is always present, ready to be used to serve stagnation and counter-revolution. Although its elimination can be the result only of a social revolution that eradicates all forms of exploitation and enables women to put an end to the humiliation they have suffered for centuries, the present and future influence of this oppression must on no account be minimised.

Magida Salman

  • 1A. Khalili, el-Tourath el-Falastini wa'l- Tabaqat (The Palestinian Tradition and Classes), Dar el-Kitab, Beirut.
  • 2Germaine Tillon, Le harem et les cousins, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1966, p178.
  • 3ibid, p29.
  • 4Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p124.
  • 5Salameh Musa, el-Mar'a laysat li'bat el-rajul (Woman Is Not the Plaything of Man), Cairo; Qassim Amin, Tahrir el-Mar'a (The Liberation of Woman) and el-Mar'a el-Jadida (The New Woman), Cairo.
  • 6C. Souriau, resumé of the article of C. Souriau and R. Thierleci on 'Tradition, Modernism, and Revolution: A Comparative Study of Mexico and the Maghreb', University of Aix-en-Provence, p8.
  • 7Fadela M'Rabet, La Femme Algérienne, suivi de Les Algériennes, Maspero, Paris, p108.
  • 8ibid, p113.
  • 9Ministry of Justice, initial draft of the family code, Algiers, p2. Not published officially.
  • 10ibid, p52.


Zionism and its scarecrows - Moshé Machover and Mario Offenberg

Theodor Herzl.
Theodor Herzl.

Article looking at how supporters of Zionism, in their attempt to fluster their critics, present ‘left-wing’ arguments in support of the Israeli state, while also attacking the anti­-Zionist socialist movement inside Israel. Also contains excellent information on anti-semitism within Zionism.

Submitted by Ed on January 26, 2013

Zionism and its scarecrows1 By Moshé Machover and Mario Offenberg

More than ten years have passed since the beginning of the occupation of the areas conquered by Israel in the June War of 1967. The Palestinian liberation movement has become a factor that can no longer be disregarded in any discussion on the perspectives of the Palestinian question and the Middle East conflict. The relative vic­tories of the Arab armies over Israel in the October War of 1973, the economic and ideological fragility of the Israeli state and finally the new attitude of the US and the West European states towards the Arab states – along with the resulting inevitable readjustment of the nuances regarding the question of Israel-Arab confrontation – these things reveal all too clearly the political weakening of Israel’s position both at home and abroad. Viewed internationally, the isolation of Israel occurred not only in the countries of the Third World and Eastern Europe but to a certain extent also in the West.

While the bourgeois mass media in the West express ‘solidarity’ and ‘anxiety’ for ‘threatened’ Israel but also for the first time report – cautiously and distortedly – on the Palestinians’ struggle for national self-determination, the Western left assesses the Middle East conflict in terms of its anti-imperialist policy. The left attributes the causes of the Middle East conflict to the fact that Zionism – a reactionary, colonizing movement associated with imperial­ism – realized its intention of creating the Zionist state of Israel at the expense of another people. After its establishment, Israel assumed the role of ‘watch-dog’ for imperialist interests in the Arab East.

However, it is clear that Zionism and its propagandists abroad, using both ‘historically based’ accounts and appeals to the emotions, do their utmost to prevent and reverse the discrediting of Zionist policy and positions. These propagandists no longer project the traditional image of the ‘brave little pioneer who is 150 per cent right’, nor do they come out openly with crude, arrogant nationalism in support of Greater Israel and the expulsion of the Arabs. It’s all handled more subtly and modestly today – and for a good reason: whenever the Zionist nature of the Israeli state is seriously challenged – whether by actual political and military developments, or by ideas calling for a multinational Palestine or a supra-national socialist union of the whole region, the pro-Zionist side tries to present the Palestine conflict in terms of a ‘tragic confrontation between two equally justified national aspirations’ which can be settled on the basis of freezing the Zionist acquisitions of 1949 (with ‘corrections’).

This article aims to show how the objective and subjective hench­men of Zionism in the West, in their attempt to fluster the critics of Zionism, present ‘leftist’-tinged arguments in support of the Israeli state, but especially directed against its Jewish opponents of the anti­-Zionist socialist movement inside Israel.

Some time ago the West German magazine links published in serialized form the paper The Class Nature of Israeli Society, which was written in 1970 by Haim Hanegbi, Moshé Machover and Akiva Orr, members of the Israeli Socialist Organization Matzpen.2 A reader of links, Alfred Moos, in a critique, objected both to the Matzpen article and the anti-Zionist position in general.3

We consider Alfred Moos’s article typical of the arguments of the so-called ‘left-wing’ Zionists. Therefore, besides dealing with the central points of the argument in his article, we also want to try to use this example to explain the position of ‘left-wing’ Zionists generally, to criticize it and to show how this position is very similar to that of the official Zionist propaganda, despite all the nuances.

Firstly, however, a preliminary remark: The attack on the Matzpen article takes advantage of the fact that it does not contain a historical analysis of Zionism: neither as to the relation of Zionism to the Jewish question in Europe, nor as to the relation of the Zionist enterprise to the majority of the indigenous population of Palestine (the Palestinian Arab people) and to the various imperialist powers which have dominated the region since the beginning of the Zionist colonization to this day.

The reason why there is no such historical analysis in that article is simple: the article did not intend to present a comprehensive historical reckoning with Zionism but more particularly to point out the basic structure of Israeli class society today.4

Zionism and Anti-Semitism

It is indicative that ‘left-wing Zionists’ always start their attacks on Israeli anti-Zionists with the remark that the Jewish immigrants to Palestine – who provided the human raw material for the Zionist enterprise – ‘fled all too frequently from physical extermination and from anti-Semitic humiliation and the loss of their means of livelihood at the very least’. The threat the propagandists of Zionism like so much to use is concealed behind this introduction: whoever denounces Zionism, whoever rejects the Israeli state, whoever puts up a fight against the Zionist nature of Israel and Zionist policy – is an ally of anti-Semitism.

The threat is expressed even more bluntly: for example, that the present struggle against Zionism ‘is decorated with crumbs from the national-socialist kitchen.’ Still more: ‘Sometimes one almost has the impression that Zionists are the newly costumed “Elders of Zion” for many leftists.’ Words of warning and threats are also aimed directly at anti-Zionist Israelis: ‘Young Israelis, who are calling upon people to participate in the struggle against Zionism, shouldn’t forget that their parents or grandparents in most cases were persecuted people for whom Palestine/Israel was the only refuge and that they would hardly have the right today to close Israel’s borders if sometime in the future Jews should be forced to flee to Israel in the face of anti-Semitic persecution. The old Jewish self-hatred sometimes gives rise to queer practices.’

Such libellous statements are nothing new. They were already dir­ected against the Jewish communists in Russia who denounced Zionism at the second World Congress of the Communist International:

‘We are concerned with the Zionists in Palestine, who, under the pretext of founding an independent Jewish state, oppress the working population and force the Arabs living in Palestine under the yoke of the English, whereas the Jews are only a minority there. This match­less lie must be stamped out and indeed most vigorously, as the Zionists are working in every country, approaching all the backward Jewish working masses and trying to create groups of workers with Zionist tendencies (Poalei Zion), who have recently been endeavour­ing to adopt a communist phraseology. [...] The Communist In­ternational must oppose this movement most vehemently’.5

One of the most well-known representatives of Zionism made no secret of his opinion of the anti-Zionist communists: ‘These psychopaths and sadists, full of hatred for everything Jewish, shall rot in their own depravity and hideousness and suffocate in their own filth.’6 The way the Zionists treat their (Jewish) critics, who oppose them on the basis of the principles of internationalism, has not changed. The co-founder of the pre-communist group in Palestine was labelled a ‘traitor’ and ‘enemy of the Jewish people’ in 1920,7 because he dared to say abroad that the expulsion of the Arab fellahin by the Zionist movement was a challenge for the entire Arab world to make a stand against the Jews of Palestine.8 Yaakow Meiersohn, Nach der 5. Poalei-Zion-Konferenz – Brief an die Genossen der Sozialistischen Arbeiterpartei in Palästina (in Yiddish), Vienna 1920; reprinted in Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palästina – Nation und Klasse in der antikolonialen Revolution, Meisenheim/Glan (BRD) 1975. Even the ‘doves’ of Zionism show no mercy; for them, the anti-Zionists from the ‘Holy Land’ are suffering from a ‘pathological feeling of enmity towards the Jewish national creation’, as they are propagating the ‘belief in inciting a war of genocide against the Jewish community of the country’.9

Israeli revolutionary socialists have been accustomed to the reproach of ‘self-hatred’ all along and have been well armed against it. However, from their own experience they know that the defamatory scarecrow of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism still succeeds in intimidating a considerable part of the left (not to mention the democratic non-leftists) outside Israel. It is therefore essential that the left in Western Europe also learn to see through this false and defamatory equation and to recognise it as a propagandist scarecrow on the part of Zionist policy.

There is no doubt that the modern Zionist movement arose as a reaction to anti-Semitism and the plight of the Jews in Eastern and Central Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of this century. But it is not enough merely to point out that Zionism constitutes a reaction to anti-Semitism; we must determine what kind of reaction it is. In principle there can be two opposing attitudes towards anti-Semitism as towards other similar phenomena of discrimination and oppression for racial, ethnic, religious and similar reasons.

The first attitude is common not only to socialists but also to all those who have a progressive outlook (radical liberals, radical democrats etc). The way they see things, discrimination and op­pression of minorities do not originate in human nature but are rather the result of certain conditions – namely, social, economic and political conditions, which are historical and consequently changeable.

According to this view, only the struggle to change the prevailing social, economic and political conditions is the politically correct reaction to anti-Semitism and other similar phenomena, this change being an organic component part of the general struggle for ‘a better world’. Of course the various progressive tendencies (revolutionary socialists, social reformists, radicals) considerably differ from one another both in their conceptions of the new world they are striving for and also in the means necessary to wage the struggle. All, however, share one common assumption: the struggle against the roots of anti-Semitism and similar phenomena is not futile and (as a part of the general struggle for a better society) is the only correct political answer.

On the other hand, in the case of those who hold reactionary and racist views, we generally find an opposing attitude: the antagonism and conflict between the majority of a population and racial, ethnic and religious minorities are rooted in ‘human nature’ itself; a struggle against anti-Semitism (or against similar phenomena) is pointless because anti-Semitism is a necessary, normal, indeed even healthy phenomenon. The only way to solve the problem once and for all is to destroy its alleged roots: it is imperative to change the situation where Jews live as a minority among non-Jews. It will not be difficult for the reader to see that this second attitude is the one characteristic of anti-Semites. However, the truth is that this attitude constitutes the fun­damental premise and the point of departure for both anti-Semitism and Zionism. The only difference is that Zionism appeals to the Jews to leave the ‘non-Jewish’ peoples of their own free will, whereas anti-Semitism simply demands that they be thrown out.

One can show that many anti-Semites are aware of the elements that anti-Semitism and Zionism have in common. For example, the British colonel, R. Meinertzhagen (who was political officer on the staff of the conqueror of Palestine in the first world war, General Allenby) confides to us: ‘My inclination towards Jews in general is governed by an anti-Semitic instinct which is invariably modified by personal contact. My views on Zionism are those of an ardent Zionist’.10 To the anti-Semite’s friendly wave the Zionist responds with an elegant bow. In his diary, the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, tells how he was influenced by the Dreyfuss trial, on which he, Herzl, reported for an anti-Semitic Vienna newspaper:

‘In Paris [...] I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognised the emptiness and futility of trying to “combat” anti-Semitism.’11

The ideology of Zionism, as conceived by its founder, Theodor Herzl, is based on earlier studies done by other ‘race theoreticians’. For one of them, anti-Semitism is subject to a biological law:

‘Jewbaiting is a kind of demonopathy with a difference: it is not a quality of a particular race but common to all mankind ... Like a psychic affliction, it is hereditary, and as a disease has been incurable for two thousand years.’

Another ‘theoretician in things Jewish’ says:

‘Jewish noses can’t be re-shaped and black, curly Jewish hair can’t be changed into blond hair or combed straight by christening. The Jewish race is a basic one and reproduces itself in its integrity despite climatic influences. The Jewish type has itself always remained the same throughout the course of the centuries. [...] It’s no use Jews and Jewesses denying their origin by being christened and disappearing into the great sea of Indo-Germanic and Mongol tribes. The Jewish type cannot be ex­terminated.’

Although these statements could well have come from the Alfred Rosenberg Nazi school, we must name the actual authors: the first is the Zionist thinker Leo Pinsker, the second is Moses Hess.12

It is not difficult to cite many further quotations from Zionist sources, from the beginnings of Zionism to the present day, which show the common theoretical point of departure of Zionism and anti-Semitism. We shall spare the reader these quotes and make do with the analysis of a young contemporary Israeli historian, Yigal Elam:

‘Zionism assumed anti-Semitism to be a natural state of affairs as far as the attitude of the world towards the Jews was concerned. [...] Zionism did not consider anti-Semitism an abnormal, absurd, perverse or marginal phenomenon. Zionism considered anti-Semitism a fact of nature, a standard constant, the norm in the relationship of the non-Jews to the presence of Jews in their midst [...], Zionism considered anti-Semitism a normal, almost rational reaction of the gentiles to the abnormal, absurd and perverse situation of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.’13

Revealing and illuminating is the almost apologetic understanding a prominent Zionist leader shows for Nazism in 1934:

‘(The Jews) have been drawn out of the last secret recesses of christening and mixed marriages. We are not unhappy about it. In their being forced to declare themselves, to show real determined courage, to stand by their community, we see at the same time the fulfilment of our desires. [...] The theory of assimilation has collapsed. We are no longer hidden in secret recesses. We want to replace assimilation by something new: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and the Jewish race. A state, built according to the principle of purity of the nation and race [ie the Third Reich – editor’s note], can only be honoured and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind.’14

The far-reaching harmony between Zionism and anti-Semitism, caused by the common ideological point of departure, goes even further than could be assumed.

The introduction to the infamous racist Nuremberg Laws of 15 September 1935 says among other things:

‘If the Jews had a state of their own in which the bulk of their people were at home, the Jewish question could already be considered solved today, even for the Jews themselves. The ardent Zionists of all people have objected least of all to the basic ideas of the Nuremberg Laws, because they know that these laws are the only correct solution for the Jewish people too […].’15

Such implicit harmony between Zionism and anti-Semitism must have been a dreadful blow for those Jews and non-Jews who saw the solution of the issue in waging a political struggle to ‘democratise’ their societies. Isaac Deutscher reports that in Eastern Europe, and especially in Poland, the Yiddish-speaking workers who considered themselves Jews without reservation were the most resolute enemies of Zionism. They were determined opponents of emigration to Palestine. These anti-Zionists thought the idea of an evacuation, an exodus from the countries they called home, where their ancestors had lived for centuries, amounted to abdicating their rights, yielding to hostile pressure, betraying their struggle and surrendering to anti-Semitism. For them, Zionism seemed to be the triumph of anti-Semitism, legitimising and validating the old cry ‘Jews out’. The Zionists ac­cepted it, they wanted ‘out’.16

Zionism was indeed a reaction to anti-Semitism; the basic assum­ption, however, on which Zionist ideology is based agrees with that of anti-Semitism.

Zionism and the rights of the Jews

From what has been explained above, it becomes clear why Zionism was so often indifferent to the struggle against anti-Semitism and for equality for the Jews; as it disputes from the very outset the possibility and usefulness of a struggle against anti-Semitism. The situation of Jews living outside Palestine interest Zionism only in so far as they are moved by their situation to emigrate to Palestine or at least to support Zionism. This is expressed by the Israeli historian Y. Elam, whom we have already quoted above, as follows: ‘From the very first moment it (Zionism) gave up all considerations connected with the situation of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, except in so far as they contributed to the Zionist enterprise.’ And so it came about that in the years after the Nazi takeover in Germany, ‘when the demonstrations and protest actions against the Nazi regime of terror reached their climax, the voice of Zionism was not to be heard.’17

The Zionists in their entirety rejected the continued existence of the ‘Diaspora’. According to this view, the life of Jews outside Palestine/Israel is reprehensible, whereas only emigration to Palestine, the active participation in the Zionist enterprise, is considered desirable. Regarding the attitude of Zionists towards the Jews living in the Diaspora, the Israeli professor of history and Zionist functionary of many years standing, Arieh Tartakower, says: ‘They (the majority within Zionism) considered every attempt to protect Jewish rights in the Diaspora to be a complete waste of energy.’18 Even if Zionism’s contempt for the Diaspora was an apparent contradiction – for selfish reasons Zionism could not be indifferent to what became of the reservoir of immigrants – it seems that the Zionists (like Herzl originally) considered anti-Semitic intrigues, which might drive the Jews to Palestine, to be more important, up to a certain point, than the struggle against anti-Semitism. Without doubt, this way of reasoning implies to a degree an element of discipline, but also self-justification and most certainly a deep contempt for humanity, and infinite hypocrisy.

Before and during the Second World War, individual Zionists like Nahum Goldmann and Yitzhak Grienbaum, demanded participation in the struggle for the rights of the Jews. However, all trends and all important leaders of Zionism refused this demand. In 1935 the board of the Jewish Agency, the institution which ran Zionist activities in Palestine, appointed a special commission to look into the problems of the Jews in Germany. So it came about that during the board meeting of the Jewish Agency on 31 December 1935, David Ben-Gurion, in answer to the demand of Y. Grienbaum that the Zionist movement should take part in the struggle for the rights of the Jews in Germany, stated that ‘Even according to Grienbaum, the job of the commission appointed by the board was not to deal with the rights of the Jews in Germany. This commission’s job was to discuss the question of the Jews in Germany only from the aspect of their immigration to Palestine, and its report is not at all inconsistent with any measures which might be taken in support of the rights of the Jews in Germany. The commission’s job was to discuss the Zionist aspect of the question and not to deliberate on measures to be taken in support of the rights of the Jews in the Diaspora.’19

Even if we accept the idea that the report of this commission was ‘not inconsistent’ with the struggle for the rights of the German Jews (and this is by no means sure!), the fact still remains that the com­mission was by no means willing to pay any attention to this struggle. Indeed, it was the main job of this commission to organise the famous ‘transfer’ deal, the trade contract between the Zionist movement and the Hitler government, according to which the money and property of German Jews were transferred to Palestine in the form of German goods, thus breaking an anti-Nazi economic boycott organised by anti-fascist forces. Here too (as Y. Elam rightly points out) it was ‘not the attempt to save Jewish property in the Diaspora which was behind the deal, but the attempt to increase the economic strength of the Jewish “Yishuv” in Palestine.’20

This indifference on the part of Zionism towards the struggle for the rights of the Jews has existed all along. It continues even today, for example, in the case of the Soviet Jews. It must be pointed out that the vociferous campaign of the Zionist movement in this matter does not aim to help the Jews in the Soviet Union as such but is only directed at securing one single privilege – namely, the right to emigrate to Israel. The struggle for the rights of the Jews which, like any other struggle to secure equal rights for a national or ethnic minority, deserves the support of every progressive person, is hardly of interest to Zionism. Moreover, as we shall see later, it is certain that if, for whatever reason, there is a decline in the propensity of Soviet Jews to emigrate, this will cause many Zionist leaders disappointment and regret. This has become especially evident since 1967.

Every attempt to present the ‘Jewish problem’ in the Soviet Union in an ahistorical ‘eternal dimension’ – which is typical of idealism generally and Zionism in particular – is from the outset manipulatory and misleading, and mainly based on exploiting the emotions and the ignorance of the observer. The ‘Jewish problem’ in the Soviet Union is one of the national problems there – not the only one, not even the most important one; it does not exist ‘autonomously’ (according to the false slogan: ‘even socialism can’t solve the problem of the Jews....’), separately or independently of the other inner social processes of the Soviet Union.

It would definitely be very presumptuous to attribute the Soviet Jews’ willingness to emigrate only to their desire to gratify Jewish religious and cultural needs to a greater extent than is possible in the Soviet Union, or to their wish to strengthen Zionism politically, economically and militarily in Israel. For some of them that may be true. For many, however, the simple wish to live outside the Soviet Union is the main drive. Over half of the Jews allowed out of the Soviet Union, ostensibly as going to Israel, never arrive there. They ‘drop out’ during the stopover in Vienna or Rome and that’s the end of their ‘journey to Jerusalem’.21 The Russian Zionist activist, Dr Viktor Polski, who left Moscow in 1974 and emigrated to Israel, laments: ‘Should exit conditions be relaxed and fewer refusals be issued by the Soviet government, I have no doubt that the emigration flow will increase considerably. However, I greatly fear that the flow of those arriving in Israel will not increase proportionately. If the Soviet Jews’ image of Israel and the actual conditions behind it don’t change, the proportion of those who drop out in transit will be greater than those arriving in Israel.’22

Many of the Soviet Jewish emigrants have fallen victim to Israeli propaganda, which by radio and much more subtle and seemingly ‘unofficial’ means, penetrates into the interior of the Soviet Union. Recently the situation has begun to change: relations and friends already emigrated report in detail on the rude awakening they have undergone in the Zionist state. Instead of a completely harmonious, affluent society without any friction, they found a class society in which they are exposed to the same exploitation, unemployment, inflation, bureaucracy, alienation which make up the day-to-day life of the rest of the working population of Israel – in spite of the great financial benefits they enjoy as privileged immigrants. In addition, there is the constant deadly peril of confrontation with the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states. In 1974 half as many Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel as in the previous years 1973 and 1972 respectively.23

With the worsening of the economic crisis in Israel and increasing inflation and unemployment rates, the resentment of the Israeli population at the Soviet Jews, with their special prerogatives as regards housing and jobs and their special tax reductions, is becoming more marked. Any member of the working population can easily realise that the national income cake, in any case inadequate, and the capital collected abroad by the Zionist organisation are being distributed most unfairly.

In the past grievances were voiced quietly and confidentially about the preferential treatment of the immigrants; but they were ‘needed’. Today, however, many in Israel express their annoyance openly. The Jews and more specifically the Jewish underprivileged social strata, like the Orientals, sections of the youth and the working class, are venting their protests more blatantly and explicitly against im­migration at their own expense. For the most part they are reacting quite spontaneously, generally without realising that thereby they are already assailing one of the basic principles of Zionism. ‘Ingathering’ of the Jews in Palestine/Israel, demographically outnumbering the Arabs, feeding the insatiable – and in the long run, inadequate – Israeli military machine with human raw material for its fight to the bitter end: this is Zionism, among other things. All immigration to Israel is – today as in the past – motivated, controlled and run by Zionism. The objective contradiction between Zionist immigration and the interests of the working population of Israel cannot be solved. It is an additional source of internal Israeli class conflicts.24

But what becomes of the Soviet Jewish ‘drop-outs’? The Israeli journalist, Abraham Tirosh, reports on Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union, who either arrived in Israel and then left the country, or who managed to ‘beat it’ in Vienna, in transit from Moscow to Tel­ Aviv, despite constant Israeli surveillance.25 These Jews, who are in a terrible predicament and urgently need help, are as a rule turned away by the Zionist ‘Jewish Agency’ which has offices in all important cities in Western Europe. The European office of the only allegedly in­dependent Jewish refugee organisation, the HIAS, is in Rome. Tirosh continues: Penniless and disoriented, these Jewish refugees trudge to Vienna and Rome. ‘The HIAS organisation refuses to take care of the Soviet emigrants who arrive at their offices in Vienna, Rome or in Israel, unless they have received the confirmation and permission of the Jewish Agency, which looks into each case thoroughly. The acting director of the immigration department of the Jewish Agency, Yehuda Dominitz, and leading circles of the HIAS have strongly denied recent news, according to which, contravening the agreement, HIAS has begun to handle Soviet emigrants from Israel to Europe and the USA.’

The issue of the Soviet Jews can be summed up as follows: The Zionist movement is not struggling for the recognition of the right of every person to be able to emigrate from one country to another – in itself a progressive demand which every socialist should support – but it demands this right as a special privilege only for Jews, and then only on condition that they immigrate to Israel and to no other country.

The basis of the Zionist campaign on Soviet Jews is not the general idea of universal human rights but the Zionist thesis according to which every Jew everywhere in the world has a special right to Palestine. And in the same breath, Zionism denies the political and national rights of the Arabs of Palestine to their homeland.

Indeed, this same Zionist government and this same Zionist view demand the automatic right of a Jew born in Moscow to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel and automatically grant him Israeli citizenship. At the same time, the same view and the same government deny the right of an Arab born in Haifa, who today for example is living in the Gaza Strip or in a camp on the outskirts of Beirut, to return to his home town and to receive his civil rights there. Human rights in general and even the rights of the Jews as a whole interest Zionism only in as far as they help to promote Jewish immigration to Israel.

‘Cruel Zionism’

We have already mentioned the transfer, that morally dubious business deal between the Zionist movement and the Hitler govern­ment. When this deal was criticised – at the time progressive forces were calling for an economic boycott of the Third Reich – Moshe Shertok (later known as M. Sharett, a well-known Zionist leader and Israel’s first foreign minister) answered as follows: ‘Here there is a conflict between the Diaspora and Eretz-Israel [i.e. the Zionist en­terprise in Palestine – editor’s note] ... It is Zionism’s lot to have to be cruel to the Diaspora at times, when the development of the country demands it.'26

This cruelty of Zionism towards the Jews of the world is sometimes especially cynical. It often happens that people who belong to an oppressed group, but who nevertheless do not want to or cannot participate in the struggle against the cause of their oppression, prefer an individual solution – emigration to another country. Socialists do not propose to rob them of this possibility; on the contrary, they insist on the right of every individual to emigrate freely. They object most strongly however to emigration being presented as a collective political solution, as a substitute for the struggle against oppression. It must be mentioned at this point that in the 1920s, 1930s and also later, many of the East European Jews did in fact choose this individual solution of emigration. Many millions emigrated from countries where they had suffered great hardship to the US and other countries, and thus found a satisfactory solution to their problem themselves. Zionist emigration to Palestine was negligible in com­parison with the flow of Jewish non-Zionist emigration to other countries. The difference however lay in the fact that Zionist propaganda was directed at the more active and also more conscious elements, who were looking for a political and not simply an in­dividual solution; and it offered them the wrong political solution. Moreover, it tried stubbornly to prevent these Jews from joining in the revolutionary struggle in their own countries – this was to a certain extent both the requirement and aim of the Zionist campaign.

There are also exceptional situations in which there is no possibility of a struggle on the part of the oppressed minority at all, and this minority is particularly exposed to great danger. In such cases the only humane solution is the prompt organisation of emigration for those in immediate danger to any countries ready to grant them asylum. (A fairly recent example is that of people of Indian origin in Uganda in 1972.) Such was the situation of the Jews in Germany and other European countries at the end of the 1930s. It was clear that to save the Jews from the danger of extermination, it was necessary to enable them to emigrate to any safe place.

At this historical moment truly cruel Zionism (without inverted commas) showed its absolutely cynical attitude towards the problem of saving the Jews. The leaders of Zionism reacted with indifference and even hostility towards the emigration of Jews from the en­dangered countries to places other than Palestine. Zionism clearly showed that in principle it is not interested in saving the Jews them­selves, but only in saving them by emigration to Palestine. The leader of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizman, said: ‘Zionism is eternal life and, compared with that, saving thousands of Jews is merely extending their lives on borrowed time.’27

David Ben-Gurion’s letter of 17 December 1938 to his colleagues of the Zionist Executives is particularly shocking. In reaction to attempts, by the Western powers – under pressure of public opinion – to find various expedients for the problem of the Jews in Germany, Ben-Gurion writes:

‘The Jewish problem now is not what it used to be. What is now happening to the Jews in Germany is not the end but the beginning. Other anti-Semitic states will learn from Hitler’s deed. ... Millions of Jews are now faced with physical extermination. The refugee problem has now become an urgent worldwide issue and England, assisted by anti-Zionist Jews, is trying to separate the refugee problem from the Palestine problem. The frightful extent of the refugee problem requires a speedy territorial solution and if Palestine won’t absorb any Jews, one would have to look for another territory. Zionism is endangered. All other territorial experiments, which are doomed to failure, will require huge amounts of capital, and if the Jews are faced with a choice between the refugee problem and rescuing Jews from concentration camps on the one hand, and aid for the national museum in Palestine on the other, the Jewish sense of pity will prevail and our people’s entire strength will be directed at aid for the refugees in the various countries. Zionism will vanish from the agenda and indeed not only from world public opinion in England and America but also from Jewish public opinion. We are risking Zionism’s very existence if we allow the refugee problem to be separated from the Palestine problem.’28

It is not just that Zionism and saving Jews in danger of ex­termination are not one and the same thing; at a critical historical moment, Zionism took a stand against saving the Jews. Here we must add something: it is true that those Jews who before the second world war had participated in the Zionist emigration from Central and Eastern Europe thereby escaped annihilation by fascism. The attempt, however, to use this as a ‘socialist’ justification of Zionism is nothing but demagogy and moral blackmail.

Firstly, many more Jews managed to save themselves without Zionism, indeed contrary to Zionism, either by emigrating to America or by fleeing to the interior of the Soviet Union. Secondly, the deliverance of the Jews in Palestine was due to the fact that the German army in Africa under Rommel only got as far as El-Alamein, and did not conquer Palestine. Palestine was also on the planned route of the fascist conquerors. If Rommel’s army had conquered Palestine and had got as far as Syria, the fate of the Jews in Palestine would undoubtedly have been the same as their brothers’ in Poland. No ‘magical mystical’ power of Zionism’s would have protected the Jews of the Zionist community from the Nazis then.

Only few Zionists were ready to recognise the untenability of the Zionist axiom, according to which Jews could ‘get out of’ world history through Zionism so that they would then be outside the fascism-anti-fascism process. This is what the Zionist leader Yaakov Zrubavel said in January 1945 in the Congress of the ‘World Organisation of Poalei Zion’ and thereby gave rise to violent disagreement: ‘Is it admissible to build everything on this catastrophe? [the annihilation of the European Jews – editor’s note] And isn’t it pure chance that we have survived in Palestine? Wasn’t Hitler at the gates of the country? What would have been our situation and fate here then? Large sections of the population here and certainly those present here could have defended themselves, just as the Jews in Warsaw defended themselves. Hitler didn’t only plan to annihilate the Diaspora but Jewry, all Jews everywhere. We have saved ourselves by pure chance.’29

Those who consider the extermination of the Jews by German fascism to be a ‘refutation’ of the Marxist view of the Jewish problem and its solution by social struggle and social change, and who invoke this as proof of the ‘necessity’ of Zionism, should be answered in the words of Isaac Deutscher:

‘To my mind the tragic events of the Nazi era neither invalidate the classical Marxist analysis of the Jewish question nor call for its revision. ... Classical Marxism reckoned with a healthier and more normal development of our civilisation in general, with a timely transformation of the capitalist into a socialist society. It did not reckon with the persistent survival of capitalism and its degenerative effects on our civilisation at large. Nevertheless Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky repeatedly said that mankind was confronted with the alternative of either international socialism or bar­barism – tertium non datur. ... European Jewry has paid the price for the survival of capitalism, for the success of capitalism in defending itself against a socialist revolution. This fact surely does not call for a revision of the classical Marxist analysis – it rather confirms it.’30

Indeed there was no essential connection between the deliverance of the Jews in the Second World War and Zionism. What brought about the deliverance of the Jews in Palestine was the fact that Hitler’s war machine had been brought to a halt. The Jews were saved wherever Nazism could not reach. The historical conclusion to be drawn from this is that only the worldwide struggle against fascism and reaction is an effective answer to anti-Semitism. This conclusion is exactly op­posed to the one drawn by the so-called ‘left-wing’ Zionists.

Zionist propagandists often point out that the emigrants to Palestine/Israel from Eastern and Western Europe’ and recently from the Arab countries’ came because of anti-Semitism and lack of a means of livelihood:

‘Zionist ideology played in most cases no role at all or at the most a secondary one. ... These people did not need any pressure or Zionist propaganda to decide to emigrate to Palestine.’31

The answer to that is: first, no one is trying to deny that Zionism used countless thousands of people as human raw material for its own enterprise, people looking for an escape from destitution and op­pression – many of them were not particularly enthusiastic Zionists to begin with. On the other hand, however, the assertion that Zionism did not have to exert any particular pressure on these people to get them to emigrate to Palestine/Israel is very far from the truth. Let us recall as an example the emigration of the Jews from Iraq at the beginning of the 1950s. A brief outline of the affair: in 1950 the Zionist movement concluded a secret deal with the reactionary government of Iraq, according to which the emigration of the Jews of that country to Israel was to be encouraged. The Iraqi government concluded this deal among other things because it had a financial interest in it: the property of emigrant Jews was to be confiscated and handed over to the government. Both the Zionists and the Iraqi government were completely satisfied with this arrangement. The only problem was that the Iraqi Jews themselves did not want to play along. The way they saw things, they had absolutely no reason to emigrate from Iraq to Israel. Their relations with the Islamic and Christian sections of the Iraqi population were in general quite good.

Then something strange happened: bombs exploded in various Jewish establishments and meeting places. Some Jews were killed by the bombs. As a result, the Iraqi Jews panicked and within a short time most of them applied to emigrate to Israel. Some time later it turned out that those who had planted the bombs were without any doubt agents of the Zionist movement who were following their movement’s instructions. So the leaders of cruel Zionism had decided that wherever there is not enough anti-Semitism, it must be intentionally created or simulated in order to frighten the Jews and motivate them to implement the Zionist solution. All the details of this affair, based on the statements of Iraqi Jews and some of the’ heroes’, the names of the bomb-planters, were published only fifteen years later in Israel. Many Jews from Iraq living in Israel today, when asked who planted the bombs admit in private conversations: ‘Hatnu‘ah’ – ’the Movement’, which in Hebrew usage means the Zionist movement. This is not the only affair of this kind. In this case however many of the details became known.32

The Problem of Land and Expulsion

We have seen that Zionism is not quite the same as the deliverance of Jews from danger and anti-Semitism. Moreover, the important thing about Zionism is not that it wants to solve the problem of the Jews by emigration generally. The important thing is Zionism’s insistence that Jewish emigration be directed exclusively at a systematic colonisation of Palestine with the aim of establishing an exclusivist Jewish nation-state. The character traits of the ‘Zionist enterprise’ in Palestine are the inevitable result of this aim. ‘Left-wing’ Zionists often explain that ‘the land they immigrated into was already populated by Arabs – that is the tragedy of the Jewish immigration to Palestine, which doubt­lessly is frequently unrecognised or suppressed; but then, who can expect an ethnic group – whatever it is and whenever it was – to be prepared to commit collective suicide, when there is the possibility of migrating, even if the country in question is already populated by other people.’33

There was nothing tragic about the fact that the US was already populated, for those Jews who chose to escape danger and persecution my migrating privately to the US – and there were many, many more of them than those who chose the Zionist solution. It did not even enter their minds that in order to escape ‘collective suicide’ they should expel the non-Jews from the US. The ‘tragedy’ only began when the Zionist settlers aimed not only to settle in Palestine but to change it from an Arab country into an exclusivist Jewish nation state. We put the word tragedy in inverted commas because the ‘left­wing’ apologists of Zionism use it to give the impression that it was a matter of some cruel play of blind fate, not the result of intentional and planned actions on the part of the leaders of the Zionist colonisers. Chaim Weizman, the president of the Zionist Organisation, ex­plained the Zionists’ aim before the Paris Peace Congress in March 1919 as follows:

‘With the establishment of a Jewish national home we intend to create such conditions in Palestine as make it possible for us to transport 50,000 to 60,000 Jews yearly, to develop our language, establish our schools, universities and other national institutions and to continue to work in this direction until Palestine is finally just as Jewish as America is American and England is English.’34

And what was to become of the existing population of Palestine, which was predominantly Arab? Some prominent Zionists are much more honest here than many of their apologists; Menachem Ussischkin, member of the Zionist Executive, reports on the Zionist solution planned for what was called in the Zionist vernacular, the’ Arab question’:

‘We are condemned to remain a small island in the Arabian ocean forever; but that does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be humiliated or subjugated. We have to keep silent and go to Palestine. Hard times are ahead. But if we go to Palestine ten by ten, hundred by hundred, thousand by thousand, hundreds of thousands, the Arab question is solved.’35

The ‘Arab question’ was ‘solved’ satisfactorily for Zionism: the Arab people of Palestine were made foreigners in their own country. ‘Tragedy’?

The territorial expansion of Zionism which can be traced exactly from the already famous maps of Israel (1947, 1949, 1967, 1973) is no coincidence, no historical mishap. It arose from the global matter-of­-factness of the Zionist movement which on the one hand lays exclusive Zionist claim to the whole of Palestine – naturally, only for Jews – while on the other hand it believes it can counter the objective incompatibility of the Zionist entity with its Arab environment by means of the military, strategic and demographic advantages gained by expanding its borders. The annexation of Arab territories under Zionist rule has both history and method. In 1918 the population of Palestine was made up of 599,000 Arabs and 67,000 Jews, who owned two million hectares and 65,000 hectares of land respectively. In 1970 only 86,000 hectares of Israeli land (ie approximately 4 per cent) were still in Arab hands.36 Until 1948 Zionism had to take over and colonise land ‘step by step’; but after achieving state sovereignty, it was able to take over both the lands and the villages of the Palestinian refugees (in Israeli legal terminology ‘abandoned property’) as well as substantial parts of the lands of those Arabs who stayed in Israel, by their administrative transformation into ‘closed military areas’ and their consequent confiscation. For example, this was how the ‘Judaisation’ of the Galilee was engineered and imposed from the fifties.37

The Zionist policy on land left nothing to chance. The fact that it was connected with iniquities, expulsions and great suffering for the Arabs of Palestine was not a ‘mistake’ but the logical consequence of the policy which Zionism consciously and systematically pursued. Before the terms ‘colonisation’ and ‘colonialism’ generally came to be regarded throughout the world as dirty words, the Zionist movement used them to describe its own pursuits in Palestine. It spoke of ‘Kolonizatzia’. The nasty aftertaste of the word later led them to use the Hebrew circumlocution for the same concept. At its foundation congress in Petah-Tikva in 1919, Ben-Gurion’s party Ahdut Ha‘avoda (which was to be the leading ‘left-wing’ party in the Zionist movement ever since) proclaimed the aim of the ‘Zionist Workers’ Movement in Palestine’ (sic): ‘The transfer of the land of Palestine, its rivers and its natural resources to the possession of the entire Jewish people.’38 A definite aim without doubt, but the Zionists knew very well that ‘our country (is) not only small but for the most part in the possession of others.’39

A complicated and fateful enterprise in the opinion of both its supporters and opponents who knew one thing very well: Palestine was already populated, its transformation into a ‘Jewish’ country would have to be at the expense of the indigenous population! The Zionist economist Alfred Bonne, says:

‘The problem of land is one of the questions which has become particularly acute and politically significant with the expansion of Jewish colonisation in recent years. If Palestine had been an unpopulated country or if conditions there had been the same as in the colonial territories of Australia, Africa or South America which are hardly populated, the significance of the question would not have gone beyond the bounds of pure economics. But Palestine was a populated country when the Jewish colonisation movement began and it was even more densely populated on average than the neighbouring countries.’40

Ya‘akov Meiersohn who has already been quoted says in 1920: ‘In Palestine there is no unsettled land at all; the land of Palestine is settled, but not intensively cultivated. I am stating quite frankly and clearly that up till now not one piece of land has been bought in Palestine which had not been cultivated before by Arabs.’41

The Communist Party of Palestine says in this regard:

‘The Zionist movement does not like to buy lands which have to be drained before construction can begin. It prefers land which has been worked for years by the fellahin. [...] First, it is more economical and in the public good to build kibbutzim on land that has already been cultivated than on uncultivated land; and secondly by doing this one fulfils a (Zionist) duty: the Arabs, the “goyim”, are expelled from the “Holy” Land, now “redeemed” by the hands of Jewish workers.’42

Today no one can deny that the Zionist Movement of Palestine, which was under the leadership of Ben-Gurion from 1920 until the mid 1960s, intended anything but to have a Jewish majority as great as possible in a territory as big as possible – and for the most part ‘free of Arabs’... Ben-Gurion writes: ‘First and foremost I am a Zionist and strive for the concentration of the Jewish people in its own country. Only after that do I see the Arab question arising.’ And further: ‘If the Zionist idea has any true content, it is the content of the state. Zionism is the desire for a state of the Jews, the yearning for the country of Palestine and for the establishment of a government.’ Four years later, in 1928 he wrote: ‘Palestine for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Arab people is not one and the same thing. [...] We would be deceiving ourselves if we said that it were one and the same. [...] Palestine is destined for the Jewish people and the Arabs who live there.’43 It must be noted here that Ben-Gurion means all the Jews in the world and refers to them as a people, whereas in Palestine there was not even an Arab people, just ‘the Arabs who live there’. In 1931 he says: ‘I have always only viewed the Arab problem from the Zionist point of view, ie I wanted to solve the problem of the Jewish people in Palestine, concentrate on them in this country in order to make them a free people living in their own country. There isn’t an Arab problem in Palestine, only a Jewish one – like everywhere else, by the way.’44

The fact that the very vociferous Zionist ‘workers’ movement’ practises colonialism under the cloak of socialism may be confusing, but the facts speak for themselves. For those who could not un­derstand how socialism could be consistent with colonialism, in­ternationalism with nationalism, workers’ solidarity with ex­propriation and repression, the ‘left-wing’ Zionists enacted their verdict in 1921: ‘Whenever we come across a contradiction between national and socialist principles, the contradiction should be resolved by relinquishing the socialist principle in favour of the national ac­tivity. We shall not accept the contrary attempt to solve the con­tradiction by dispensing with the national interests in favour of the socialist idea.’45 If one sees through the ‘socialist’ claims of Zionism, its contradictory nature and untenability, the Zionist movement loses one of its most important propagandistic hobby-horses which has helped it to rope in and take unfair advantage of socialists, who are subjectively all too sincere but nevertheless confused, in support of an objectively abominable colonial and repressive enterprise.

Indeed, that is what happens, whether it is a ‘bourgeois’ or ‘left­wing’ Zionism. As far as the practical implementation of the Zionist project in Palestine is concerned, the consequences for the Arabs of Palestine, the objective consequence of the Zionist enterprise for the country in general are the same, no matter how one subjectively would like ‘one’s own’ Zionist activity to be understood – as opposed to that of ‘the others’.

This is quite clearly a matter of planned politics. Even the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, writes in his diary on 12 June 1895:

‘By buying land we are immediately giving material advantages to the country which takes us in. By and by, we have to get the private land in the areas given to us out of the hands of its owners. We want to get the poor inhabitants across the borders without making a stir, by giving them work in the transit countries. But in our country we won’t give them any work at all. ... It’s good for the landowners to believe they are exploiting us and getting excessive prices for their land. But no land will be sold back to them.’46

This was and still is even today Zionism’s conscious and planned policy: the ‘poor population’ ie the majority of the Arabs in the Promised Land should be excluded from the country by all ways and means. In 1940 Joseph Weitz, head of the Colonisation Department of the Jewish National Fund in Palestine at the time, and therefore responsible for the practical implementation of Zionist colonisation, wrote in his diary:

‘Among ourselves it should be clear that in this country there isn’t room for both peoples together. With the Arabs we won’t achieve our aim of being an independent nation in this small country. The only solution is Palestine, at least a West Palestine [i.e. the entire area west of the Jordan, as distinct from “East Palestine”, which refers to Transjordan – editor’s note] without Arabs [...] and there’s no other way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries; to transfer all of them. Not a single village, not one tribe should be left behind. [...] For this purpose money, plenty of money will be found. Only after this transfer will this country be able to absorb millions of our brethren.’47

In his article in the daily newspaper Davar (officially the organ of the Histadrut but actually the mouthpiece of the Mapai/‘Avodah party) of 29 September 1967, Joseph Weitz himself tells us that this excellent plan, which he had entered into his diary 27 years previously, was not just his own idea. The most important Zionist leaders in Palestine gave this plan their support and they started to put out feelers to see how this could be realised in practice. Indeed, a large part of the programme was realised eight years later in 1947 when ‘the UN passed a resolution to partition the country into two states and to our great good fortune [our italics – editor’s note] the war of liberation broke out which brought with it a two-fold miracle: a territorial victory and the flight of the Arabs.’

There can be no doubt that the expulsion of the Palestinians from their country was not a ‘tragic blow’ of blind fate but the result of consciously planned Zionist policy. Under these circumstances the question posed naively by ‘left-wing’ Zionists sounds really amazing: ‘In the “years of the Mandate 1920–1947/48, before the Arabs offered violent resistance to the UN resolution to partition the country, how many Arab peasants actually lost their land, despite the legislation of the Mandate protecting the Arab peasants, and could no longer work in agriculture, and how many Arabs immigrated in this period from the neighbouring countries to Palestine?’48

Some indicative characteristics of this argument can be deduced from these questions. First, it follows that the expulsion of the Arab fellahin was warranted after the Arabs had ‘offered violent resistance to the UN partition resolution’. Such views should be met with silent scorn. We should remember that in all the hypocritical apologies of colonialism throughout the world it is usual to call mass expulsions of the colonial peoples a just punishment for the fact that these wicked natives dare to offer violent resistance to their mass expulsion. Secondly, it appears that the known intentions of Zionism, as ex­pressed in the above quotations and in many other documents and the known historical facts, are supposed to be consciously ignored. In­stead one should tell the story that Zionism did not expel the Arab fellahin on a large scale until 1948. The truth, however, is quite dif­ferent.

Examples of mass expulsions of Arab fellahin as a result of Zionist colonisation can be cited very easily. Many expulsions took place before the establishment of the Zionist state and continued during the entire period of the British Mandate, ie till 1948.

Such questions from ‘left-wing’ Zionists are also intended to lead one to believe that British imperialism – with the Mandatory government – offered some effective protection against expulsion. This is not true either. In this context let us refer to the memoirs of a Jewish English Zionist, M. Hyamson, who in the first half of the Mandate period was a high government official in Palestine. M. Hyamson reports on the first attempt, which was made at the beginning of the 1920s, to protect Arab tenants from expulsion:

‘The need [for these regulations] became urgent, because Jewish agencies bought relatively large amounts of land from [Arab] landowners who lived in Paris, Beirut or Cairo, whereby the moral – if not the le­gal – rights of the tenants, who had been resident on that land all along, were ignored. According to the new legislation the transfer of lands was forbidden if the tenant’s interests were not ensured by leaving him enough land to guarantee his own and his family’s livelihood. This, however, was contrary to the interests of both sellers and buyers. The buyers were willing to pay prices higher than usual but demanded that the land be available for settlement. The sellers, who had no local interests at all, were of course keen to sell at as high a price as possible. They very quickly found a way to dodge the law by means of a small payment. They found allies in the moneylenders to whom most of the tenants were deeply in debt. In order to get the tenants to abandon the land before it was transferred, they paid them small sums of money with which they could settle some of their debts to the moneylenders. Then, when the transfer came, there were no more tenants there to take care of. So everyone was completely satisfied: the sellers, the buyers and understandably the moneylenders, but of course the tenants only for a limited time.’

The tenants were only satisfied for a short time because the ‘damages’ they received from the landowner amounted to very little. It was hardly enough to repay their debts to the moneylenders. Moreover, Hyamson says the fellahin and tenants who were forced to leave their lands ‘could not obtain employment in most of the newly developed manufacturing plants in the country’. These manufacturing plants were Zionist, and Zionism refused in principle to employ Arab workers. Hyamson continues that ‘in 1929 a new regulation was passed which gave the tenants still less protection [...]; it virtually legalised the established practice’.

Two years later the purchase of land began once more on a large scale and the expected problem of the Arabs without land was again at the top of the agenda. This problem caused unrest and forced the Mandatory government to enact new regulations. However the new regulations of 1931 did not offer the tenants any effective protection either, for ‘those landowners who wanted to sell their land at “ac­ceptable” prices could still dodge the objectives of the law.’ This state of affairs continued until the end of the Mandate.49

We have summarised only a small part of Hyamson’s interesting chapter on this topic. It clearly follows from the extracts above and from the entire chapter that the problem of those tenants who lost the basis of their livelihood (ie the land which they and their forefathers had cultivated for generations) because of Zionist colonisation, was an extremely serious one and involved a great number of people. Similarly it is clear that the decrees of the Mandatory government could not protect the tenants effectively from the conspiracy between the Zionist institutions, landowners and moneylenders, serving their common interests. One example only:

The 8,000 fellahin from 22 villages who had lost their land at the beginning of the 1920s when the great landowner family Sursuk sold land to the Zionists, received exactly ten shillings per capita from the Zionist Organisation.50

To make Zionist colonisation seem harmless, Zionists often point out that at that time ‘a total of only 664 claims for damages’ were placed by Arab peasants. Here, besides the fact that the possibility of so-called (and relatively low) damages was publicised as little as possible, nothing is said about the number of dispossessed peasants who from the outset were excluded from the possibility of claiming ‘damages’:

  • Peasants who were expelled after their land was sold to non-Jews. (There were many sales to Arab agents and profiteers who then sold the land to the Acquisition of Land Department of the Zionist Organisation).
  • Peasants who were not classified as tenants; agricultural workers and peasants who only sold part of their land.
  • Peasants who had no documentary proof of their tenancy rights (very many!)
  • Peasants who after sale were allocated other land, even if it could not be cultivated.
  • Peasants who had found other employment after being expelled.

That is how, in the interests of Zionism, they managed to limit the classification ‘landless Arab’ to a small group.51

In the period 1920­–36, the time when the foundations of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine were being laid both in the towns and in the country areas, there was an increased ‘exodus’ of peasants from the country areas – an exodus which must be understood correctly: not ‘out of’ the country but a migration as a result of the peasants’ losing their land. The Arab urban population of Palestine increased from 194,000 in 1922 to 298,000 in 1936.

The landless Arabs met with increasing unemployment in the Zionist-dominated urban economy, caused by the Zionist insistence on ‘Hebrew labour’ and boycott of Arab labour. But let us get back to the fact that the fellahin were mostly expelled by the sellers before the sale (in deliberate agreement with the buyers). This fact enabled Zionism, like Pontius Pilate, to protest its innocence and to maintain it was not responsible for the expulsion of the fellahin. However, there are also enough examples of cases in which the Zionist colonisers, in collaboration with the British police, actively participated in the expulsion of the indigenous fellahin as in Al Fuk (today Afula) at the end of 1924, or Wadi al-Hawarith (today Emek Hefer) in 1933.

Still today the propagandists of Zionism spread the claim that the Zionist institutions (at least until 1948) in most cases received ‘deserted lands’ so that Zionism is not responsible for the expulsion of the masses of fellahin. From a technical point of view and applied to the appropriate cases that is not a lie but actually a half-truth – which is worse than a lie. For the Zionist propagandists conceal the fact that, to dodge the laws enacted to protect the fellahin, the Zionist institutions demanded that the sellers expel their tenants themselves, before going through with the sale.

By the way, we can see here how far from the truth is yet another claim of the ‘left-wing’ Zionists: the claim that ‘it was not the poor fellahin but the great landowners who, for reasons of class con­sciousness, rejected Jewish immigration and they consequently feared “infection” of their fellahin with social ideas imported from Europe’. In the first place, the ‘social ideas’ Zionism brought from Europe were intended for exclusively Jewish use. All the institutions of organised work and community life were in no way intended for Arabs. Zionism never propagated any progressive social ideas among the fellahin. On the contrary: Zionism was, as we saw above, the objective ally of the great landowners. This was the only social class in Arab society which received any advantages through Zionist colonisation – they received for their lands prices which were higher than before colonisation. The fellahin were in fact the victims of an alliance between Zionism, the great landowners and the moneylenders. It is true that to veil their real interests and intentions, the great landowners sometimes launched vigorous verbal campaigns against Zionism. But it was all talk.

Here we must mention that the method of expulsion (which was usually concealed to evade the law) and the lack of any reliable registration of proprietary and usufructuary rights are the reasons why it is still impossible today to supply exact details as to the extent of the expulsions. There is no doubt that there must have been many thousands. The exact figure, however, would have to be determined through painstaking detailed research. The question how many fellahin lost their land because of Zionist colonisation can at present only be answered generally.

In this context, here is an extract from a speech of Moshe Dayan before the students of the Haifa Technical University (‘Technion’) as quoted by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz of 4 April 1968:

‘We came to this country, already inhabited by Arabs, and established here a Hebrew, ie a Jewish state. In large areas we bought lands from the Arabs. Jewish villages arose in place of Arab villages. You don’t even known the names of these villages and I’m not reproaching you for that, as those geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books no longer exist but the villages don’t exist any more either. Nahalal arose in place of Mahlul, Gevat in place of Jibta, Sarid in place of Haneifs and Kefar Yehoshu’a in place of Tel-Shaman. Not one place in this country was built where there hadn’t formerly been an Arab population.’

Indeed the professional generals of Zionism often speak more clearly and more frankly than many of their ‘left-wing’ apologists. The colonisation of a country and the resulting expulsion and op­pression of its indigenous inhabitants, and all of this with the propagandistic aim of a so-called ‘progressive’ society in Palestine, as the Zionists, disguised as socialists, saw it, is not only pure hypocrisy but also the theoretic and practical prostitution of revolutionary theory – a theory advocated only verbally.

The first systematic research into the extent of the destruction which Zionism and Zionist colonisation caused to the original Palestinian society, compiled by the Palestinian historian ‘Aref al-‘Aref and presented on 15 February 1973 by the chairman of the Israeli League for Human Rights, Professor Israel Shahak, contains a complete list of those Arab villages in Palestine which existed until 1948 and which today would be sought in vain. They no longer exist. In figures: 385 – in words: three hundred and eight-five.

It follows from some of the quotations above that it was part of the Zionist expulsion policy to exert pressure continually on the Arabs by not employing them. ‘Left-wing’ Zionists feel slightly uncomfortable about this point ... but only for a moment. They concede that the displacement of Arab workers from their jobs is one of those things which ‘have a repulsive effect on us Europeans’. However in the same breath they call on their readers to free themselves from such merciful, weak, apparently specifically European ‘prejudices’. You must un­derstand, the Arab workers had to go, ‘to protect these (Jewish) workers from starvation, as it was just impossible for Jewish workers to live on the same wages as Arab workers’. So, one has to excuse them: the Jewish workers had a European stomach which was bigger than that of the Arab members of the same class.

After such brilliant argument, however, they apparently get an uneasy feeling once more and admit that perhaps ‘some kind of solution more favourable to the Arabs could have been found. For example, one need only have somehow institutionalised the actual circumstances – the Arab peasants sold their products unhindered at lower prices even in Jewish towns – and a lot of dirty linen would have been avoided.’

This attempt to excuse, however, is a twofold failure: an untruth and an absurdity at one and the same time. It is untrue that the Zionist institutions did not systematically interfere with and hinder the sale of products by the Arab fellahin: this was done not only with propaganda but also with the aid of more effective means of ‘per­suasion’. (The Zionist leader David Hakohen reports for example in the supplement of the newspaper Ha’aretz of 15 November 1968 how he and his colleagues poured petroleum over tomatoes being sold by Arabs and broke their eggs.) The attempt at an excuse is fun­damentally absurd because the only way of solving the problem which would have avoided ‘a lot of dirty linen’ would have been for Zionism to abandon its main aim.

From the standpoint of the Zionist aim – the transformation of Palestine, which was an Arab country, into a ‘Jewish’ nation state – the presence of the Arabs was an obstacle which had to be removed. The way to achieve this goal was to refuse the Arabs work, as all Zionists since Herzl have realised.

The policy of ‘Zionising’ and at the same time ‘de-Arabising’ Palestine has not changed fundamentally. On the contrary: the Arab areas conquered in the 1967 June War gave Israel the opportunity to erect more than 80 additional civilian and military settlements there and to expel many thousands of Arabs, some for the second time in twenty years. The guiding words of Moshe Dayan say it quite clearly:

‘In the course of the last hundred years, our people have been un­dergoing a process of building up the country and the nation of ex­pansion, by increasing the number of Jews and settlements and of colonisation in order to expand the borders. Let there be no Jew who says that this is the end of the process. Let there be no Jew who says that we are near the end of the road.’52

Israel is as a state a huge fait accompli. However, it is not likely that Israel, even within the borders of 4 June 1967 ‘plus corrections’, can look forward to peaceful and harmonious coexistence with its Arab neighbours in the long term. The Middle East conflict is not simply a ‘border conflict’. The cause of the historical conflict between the state of Israel in its present Zionist form on the one hand and the Arabs on the other is the existence and the effects of Zionism. Whoever is sincerely interested in the future of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East should seriously reflect on this.

  • 1Khamsin 6, 1978, pp33–59. This is a translation of an article entitled ‘Der Zionismus und sein Popanz: Eine Antwort an die „linken” Zionisten’, published in the German journal Probleme des Klassenkampfs, vol. 19/20/21, 1975, pp299–327. A Khamsin editiorial note says: ‘In the present translation we have omitted a passage dealing with the current Zionist propaganda concerning Soviet Jews, since this topic is covered in greater detail in an article by one of the two authors in Critique 9.’ This refers to Moshé Machover’s article ‘Zionism or human rights’, Critique 9, 1978, pp, 121–5.
  • 2First published in English in New Left Review 65, Jan-Feb 1971.
  • 3Cf. Alfred Moos, in: links no 33, 1972. A Hebrew translation of Moos’s article was immediately published in Israel by the Zionist group which had split from the CP of Israel in 1965, Maki (today: Moked) in its organ ‘Kol Ha‘am’ no 32 (1972) under the title ‘Zionism, the Scarecrow’. This group had taken it upon itself to back the Israeli state by accusing ‘from a com­munist point of view’ all opponents of the Zionist policy of anti-Socialism and by seizing most gratefully on any political or apologetic contribution from abroad. These people revised socialist positions not only by putting forward the classical Zionist arguments, but by such historicist constructions which use the actual events and negative trends in the international communist movement and in the Soviet Union, to come to the conclusion they desire, ie that socialist opposition to Zionism is only one more negative trend, which, like the Stalinisation of the Soviet Union and the Comintern, is to be con­demned and repudiated. When in the following the position of ‘left-wing’ Zionists is quoted, we are referring to this article by A. Moos.
  • 4The original Hebrew text of the Matzpen article mentioned appeared originally in the Tel-Aviv organ ‘Matzpen’ and the editors presumed that the reader is familiar with the organisation’s analysis of the history and nature of Zionism, as put forward in many articles since 1962. It is obvious that these analyses cannot be repeated in detail here. They partly appear in: Arie Bober (ed), The Other Israel: The Radical Case against Zionism, New York 1972; Cf. also Nathan Weinstock, Zionism: False Messiah, Inklinks, London 1978.

    We shall only go into historical questions here as far as it is necessary to disprove the argument of the so-called ‘left-wing’ Zionist criticism of anti­-Zionism.

  • 5Speech by Esther Maria Frumkina in: Der 2. Kongreß der Kom­munistischen Internationale. Prot. der Verhandlungen vom 19.7. in Petrograd und vom 23.7. bis 7.8.1920 in Moskau, published by Verlag der KI, Hamburg 1921 p198.
  • 6David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, Part 1, Tel-Aviv 1971, p245 (in Hebrew).
  • 7Cf. e.g. in Kontres, organ of Ahduth Ha‘avoda, no 47, Tel-Aviv 1920 (in Hebrew).
  • 8Yaakow Meiersohn, Nach der 5. Poalei-Zion-Konferenz – Brief an die Genossen der Sozialistischen Arbeiterpartei in Palästina (in Yiddish), Vienna 1920; reprinted in Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palästina – Nation und Klasse in der antikolonialen Revolution, Meisenheim/Glan (BRD) 1975.
  • 9Aharon Cohen: Israel and the Arab World, Tel-Aviv 1964, p259 (in Hebrew).
  • 10R. Meinerzhagen, Middle East Diary, London 1958, p49.
  • 11The diaries of Theodore Herzl, Gollancz, London 1958 p6.
  • 12Leo Pinsker, Auto-Emancipation, New York 1948, p33 and M. Hess, Rome and Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv 1935, pp25-6.
  • 13Cf. Y. Elam in an article in ‘Ot’, organ of the Israeli Labour Party (Ma‘arakh) no 2, Tel-Aviv 1967 (in Hebrew).
  • 14This quotation comes from a book which appeared in Berlin in 1934. The author was at that time one of the leading Zionists in Germany and became a leading Zionist in the USA and chairman of the international leadership of the – Zionist controlled – World Jewish Congress. Cf. J. Prinz, Wir Juden, Berlin 1934 p154 (emphasis in original).
  • 15Cf. Die Nürnberger Gesetze, 5. Auflage, Berlin 1939, pp.13-4 (our italics).
  • 16I. Deutscher, The Non-Jewish Jew, London 1969, p67.
  • 17Y. Elam, Introduction to Zionist History, Tel-Aviv 1972, pl13 and p122 (in Hebrew).
  • 18A. Tartakower, The Jewish Worker’s Way to Zionism: Zionism and Socialism, New York 1954, p63.
  • 19Reprinted from the minutes of the meeting in Y. Elam, loc cit, p123.
  • 20Y. Elam, loc cit, p122. ‘Yishuv’ was the term for the Jewish community in Palestine, dominated by the Zionist movement, before 1948. On the ‘transfer’ deal see Shaul Esh, ‘Iunim beheqer ha-sho’ah ve-yahadut zmanenu, In­stitute of Contemporary Judaism, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1973 p108ff.
  • 21Herberg Lucht from Vienna in: Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin) of 1 January 1975; and others.
  • 22Viktor Polski in: Dov Goldstein, Interview of the Week, in Ma’ariv of 27 December 1974.
  • 23Cf. Le Monde, 20 December 1974 and Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), 21 December 1974.
  • 24Cf A. Hoder, ‘Russian Jews, Black Jews and Non-Jewish Jews’, in Israca no 5, London 1973 pp16–25.
  • 25In Ma‘ariv of 10 January 1973.
  • 26Quoted from Y. Elam, loc. cit., p122.
  • 27[xxvi] Quoted from Y. Elam, loc. cit., p, 111.
    The Israeli historian S. B. Beit-Zvi shows in his recently published monograph – Post-Ugandan Zionism in the Crucible of the Holocaust, Tel-Aviv, 1977 (in Hebrew) – how ‘As a result of narrow-mindedness and fear of the danger of territorialism [i.e., the “danger” that the Jewish problem might be solved by migration to some territory other than Palestine – editor’s note] the Zionist movement in a number of cases acted against attempts of Jews and non-Jews to save the lives [of Europe’s Jews]. As time went on this intervention [against salvation of Jews] grew in scope and energy. ... In fact, the intervention against attempts to save Jews, to the extent that they were not connected with immigration to Palestine, continued up to the end of the [second world] war.’ (ibid., p458) Even Y. Grienbaum, who in 1935 had demanded that the Zionist movement participate in the struggle for the rights of Europe’s Jews, opposed in 1942 demands that Zionist funds (devoted to the colonisation of Palestine) be used to finance projects for saving the lives of Jews. Beit-Zvi quotes Grienbaum as saying ‘When I was asked whether the money of the Zionist Construction Fund may not be used for saving Jews, I said “No”, and I now repeat, “No”. I know that people wonder why I found it necessary to say this. Friends tell me that even if what I say is right, there are things which must not be revealed in a moment of sorrow and anxiety such as this. I cannot agree with this. In my view, the wave which relegates Zionist activities to second place must be resisted.’ (ibid, p110).
    On the same subject see also Ben Hecht, Perfidy, New York 1961.
  • 28Quoted from Y. Elam, loc. cit., pp125–26. The historical background was the revolt of the Arabs of Palestine against British rule, which Great Britain had a hard time putting down. The British government did not want to an­tagonise the indigenous Arab population too much at that time by allowing a large wave of Zionist colonisation and were supported in this by anti-Zionist Jews.
  • 29In Davar, 5 February 1945, emphasis in the original.
  • 30I. Deutscher, loc. cit., pp49–50.
  • 31A. Moos, loc. cit.
  • 3231 Cf. the reports in the weekly Ha‘olam Hazeh 20 April 1966 and 1 June 1966. This operation is of course denied by Zionists. Cf. Y. Me’ir, Children of the Desert, Underground Organisations in Iraq 1941–1951, Tel Aviv 1973, p204f. (in Hebrew).
  • 33A. Moos, loc. cit.
  • 34Quoted from Y. Elam, loc.cit., pp73–74.
  • 35Quoted from: The XII Zionist Congress in Karlsbad, 1–14 Sep­tember 1921, Berlin 1922, p70.
  • 36L. Gaspar, Histoire de la Palestine, Paris 1970, p104 and pl19.
  • 37See Sabri Jeries, The Arabs in Israel, Beirut 1969, pp55-90, where there is a fully verified description of this.
  • 38Ben-Gurion, loc cit, p117.
  • 39Cf the speech of Saskin, member of the subcommittee for colonisation in the Zionist Executive at the XII Zionist Congress, Minutes, loc cit, pl04.
  • 40A. Bonne, Palestine, Country and Economy, Berlin 1935 p154–5.
  • 41Y. Meiersohn, loc cit.
  • 42Quoted from the statement of the Union Department of the PCP, October 1924; reprinted in: M. Offenberg, loc cit, p336–7.
  • 43D. Ben-Gurion, loc cit, p299–300, p275 and p339.
  • 44D. Ben-Gurion, We and Our Neighbours, Jaffa 1931, p8l–2 (in Hebrew).
  • 45Y. Ben-Zvi in: Achduth No 16, Tel-Aviv 1912.
  • 46 T. Herzl, Diaries, Berlin 1922 (German).
  • 47J. Weitz, Diaries, quoted by the author in Davar, 29 September 1967.
  • 48A. Moos, loc cit.
  • 49M. Hyamson, Palestine under the Mandate, London 1950, pp87–8.
  • 50Cf C. Sykes, Crossroads to Israel, London 1965, p119. Details of the complicated dodges used by the Zionists to evade government regulations enacted to protect tenants are given by J. Weitz in the preface to his Diaries, Israel 1965 (in Hebrew), vol 1, ppxxii–xxviii. Many illustrations can be found throughout these Diaries.
  • 51Cf A Survey of Palestine, published by the Palestine government vol I, p296 and Palestine Royal Commission Report 1937, pp239–40.
  • 52General Moshe Dayan, in Ma‘ariv, Tel-Aviv 7 July 1968.


National formation in the Arab region: a critique of Samir Amin - Mohammad Ja'far

Samir Amin.
Samir Amin.

Text criticising Samir Amin's view on the formation of Arab nations, analysing from a Marxist perspective the construction of Arab nationalism, Islam and the need for working class internationalism in the Middle-East.

Submitted by Ed on October 27, 2013


Nationalist ideology of one form or another has been the central expression of Arab politics in the twentieth century. In its Nasserite, Ba'athist, Palestinian, Lebanese, Algerian, and pan-Arab varieties, it has moulded and shaped the consciousness of generation after generation of Arabs.

Working class political traditions - as opposed to economic trade unionism - have on the whole been of a stalinist variety. Historically such traditions have developed on a mass scale in only a few Arab countries, where mass communist parties managed to occupy the local political scene for short periods (Sudan or Iraq between 1958 and 1959). However even in the case of the Arab CPs, the influence of stalinism and the 'socialism in one country' thesis has meant that the CPs have either counterposed themselves to Arab nationalism because of their subservience to Moscow rather than out of a more profound understanding of the national question (as happened on the question of recognition of Israel in 1948); or else they simply adapted to local nationalist pressure (example: the Egyptian CP dissolving into Nasser's Arab Socialist Union, or the Iraqi CP supporting Qassem in Iraq). Such trajectories invariably ended in the same result: the Arab CPs were outflanked by nationalist formations and became marginalised. This has created a situation in which the process of radicalisation in the Arab countries, especially after 1948 has generally bypassed the traditional CPs and been channelled through fundamentally nationalist organizations like the Arab Nationalist Movement, the FLN in Algeria, the Ba'ath, and more recently the organizations of the Palestinian resistance. This is quite different from the situation in Southeast Asia, for example, where mass CPs in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were at the forefront of both the victories and defeats of the post-World War II struggles in that part of the world.

Perhaps not surprisingly, an important victim of this hegemony of nationalism on the political and cultural formation of the Arab left is objectivity in understanding the phenomenon itself. The study of nationalism in the Arab world is immediately confronted with: (a) its deeprooted and almost 'instinctive' insertion into everyday life; and (b) the absence of marxist/internationalist analytical traditions of any substance. Certainly many books and countless articles have been 'written on the subject by Arab left-wing intellectuals of all varieties. In recent years, coinciding with the rise and decline of the Palestinian resistance movement, the subject of Palestinian nationalism has come to the forefront in journals like Shu'un Filistiniya, Dirasat 'Arabiya and Palestine Studies. Unfortunately, this literature, while dealing with the history, origins and evolution of nationalist movements or political formations, is inadequate at a most fundamental level: it generally evades and mystifies the marxist distinction between nationalism (understood as an ideological and political phenomenon) on the one hand, and national formation (in the sense of the development of the objective socio-economic foundations for the nationalist phenomenon) on the other.

If we look at pan-Arabism, for example, a number of important questions are immediately posed. How is it that the Arab world is distinguished from regions like Southeast Asia or Latin America by the fact that pan-Arab nationalism played such a prominent role in more than one Arab country, in the form of Nasserism or, to a lesser extent, Ba'athism? Nowhere in Latin America, Southeast Asia, or even Africa, have regional or supra-country nationalisms played as far-reaching a role as in the Arab world. Peronism, unlike Nasserism, was above all else an Argentinian phenomenon. Its repercussions on Chile or Brazil were of a wholly different order of magnitude than, for example, Nasserism's impact on other Arab countries. What, then, is the basis in the actual history of the modern formation of social classes in the Arab region that explains this phenomenon? Or, to put the question more bluntly, is there a single Arab nation, or are there a multitude of different nations in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon. . . etc.?

A similar problem is posed in the case of a much more recent development: Palestinian nationalism. What are its roots in the social reality of the Arab region? How is it that this nationalism is strongest outside Palestine, where a Palestinian class structure and in particular bourgeoisie does not exist? Certainly there are Lebanese, Kuwaiti, and Egyptian bourgeois of Palestinian origin. But in no sense are they economically constituted as Palestinians. To what extent, therefore, is Palestinian nationalism something more basic, fundamental and lasting than simply the wishes and aspirations of intellectuals and about one and a half million refugees scattered in several Arab countries?

The scientific study of nationalism in the Arab world requires, as a methodological point of departure, research into the actual history of social formations. We must, in contrast with the nationalist stand- point, turn the problem right side up. It then becomes one of tracing and following through the mediations from the objective structures of Arabic-speaking countries to their reflections at the superstructural or ideological and political levels. It is only in this way that some of the great problems facing Arab revolutionaries on both a theoretical and practical organisational plane can even begin to be resolved.

It is to the credit of Samir Amin that he has at least tried to tackle the problem of national formation in the Arab region from a marxist viewpoint. His book La Nation Arabe: Nationalisme et Luttes de Classes poses a number of stimulating and provocative problems and hypotheses.1 It is in this sense an important first contribution to the debate on nationalism that sooner or later will have to take place amongst Arab revolutionaries.

However, we shall argue that Amin's central thesis regarding the historical foundations of national formation in the Arab region are in our opinion misleading because: (a) they rely on a partial and one-sided factual basis on matters to do with the pre-capitalist history of the Arab world; and (b) they separate national formation from its real roots in the development of capitalism.

We shall summarise Samir Amin's main ideas in the order in which they will be taken up in the following two sections:

(a) Amin argues that the social formations of the Arab world have been, with the exception of Egypt, 'trading formations', for more or less the entire stretch of its history.

'In order to understand the Arab world, it is necessary to see it in its context, as a great zone of passage, a sort of turntable between the major areas of civilisation in the Old World. This semi-arid zone separates the three zones of agrarian civilisation: Europe, Black Africa, Monsoon Asia. It has therefore always fulfilled a commercial function, bringing into contact, through its role as the only middleman, agricultural communities that had no direct awareness of each other. The social formations on the basis of which the Arab world's civilisations were erected were always commercial in character. This means that the surplus on which the cities lived was drawn in the main not from exploitation of the area's own rural inhabitants but from the profits of the long-distance trading activity that its monopoly role as intermediary ensured to it - that is, an in- come derived in the last analysis from the surpluses extracted from their peasantries by the ruling classes of the other civilisations.' 2

The Arab region was unified according to this viewpoint by a class of merchant warriors in the first two centuries of Islam. The Islamic con- quests allowed the Arabs to recapture long-distance trade routes which had shifted away from the Arabian peninsula, enabling them to revive once again a civilisation based on the profits of long-distance trade. The region was 'profoundly unified' by this merchant ruling class. Unlike feudal Europe, in which the ruling classes tended to diversify because of their dependence on a variety of local peasant populations, in the Arab world unity was preserved 'because the peasants did not play this role'.3 Naturally, the vicissitudes of this externally generated surplus 'proved to be those also of Arab civilisation'. The decline of the Islamic Caliphate is thus attributed to a series of external catastrophes like the Crusades, the fall of Bagh- dad, and the shifting of trade routes.4 Egypt was always the 'great peasant exception' whose Arabisation remained superficial.5 The disappearance of the 'Arab nation' in the classical age of Islam 'gave back life to the nation that was able to live exclusively by the internal generation of a substantial surplus, namely, the eternal Egyptian nation'.6

(b) It can be seen from the previous quote that Amin postulates the existence of an 'eternal' Egyptian nation, and an Arab nation which he believes came into existence under the tutelage of a ruling class of merchant warriors in the first centuries of Islam.

'Nations founded in this way upon the merchant classes are un- stable. . . This is why it can be said that if the nation is a social phenomenon that can appear at any stage in history and is not necessarily associated with the capitalist mode of production, the national phenomenon is reversible; it can flourish or it can disappear, depending on whether the unifying class strengthens its power or loses it. 7

A nation is understood by Samir Amin to appear when, over and above a shared geography and community of language and culture, 'a social class, controlling the central state machinery, ensures economic unity of the community's life - that is, when the organisation by this dominant class of the generation, the circulation, and distribution of the surplus, welds together into one the fates of the various provinces.' The classical marxist formulation that national formation begins with the very earliest stages of capitalism is 'unacceptable', 'for it is clear that imperial China or ancient Egypt were not mere conglomerations of peoples . . .' 8

The pre-history of national formation

There is little doubt among historians of the Arab region that the original impetus behind the growth and development of many im- portant pre-Islamic cities, in the Arabian peninsula (Mecca and Medina) and on the fringes of the Arabian desert and the Fertile Crescent (Petra and Palmyra), was the intermediary role played by central and northern Bedouin Arab tribes in long-distance commerce. The rise of Mecca epitomised this process. This is how Henri Lammens has described this city of merchants, brokers, and middlemen on the eve of Islam:

'It would be difficult to imagine a society in which capital enjoyed a more active circulation. The tajir, business man, was not engaged in 63 Nationalformation in the Arab region: a critique of Samir Amin hoarding, in gathering wealth into his strong boxes. He had a blind faith in the unlimited productivity of capital, in the virtue of credit. Brokers and agents, the bulk of the population lived on credit. . .' 9

For pre-Islamic Arabia, then, Amin's thesis accurately sums up an important aspect of Arab society. However, the surplus-producing civilisations whose existence nurtured early Bedouin society were neither Europe, Black Africa, or Monsoon Asia. 10 They were in fact primarily the agrarianate, most ancient civilisations of Southwestern Arabia (Yemen), Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean coastal regions of Syria.11 The historical sequence seems to have gone something like this. Some time before the second millenium BC, semitic peoples, who might have been traders from the Eastern Mediterranean, filtered down the Red Sea coastline to settle in southwestern Arabia. They eventually established hydraulic agrarianate city-states, based on the ingenious qanat system of water collection and distribution. The most prominent of these was the kingdom of Saba. The establishment of these civilisations in the Yemen is thought to have preceded by several centuries the domestication of the camel and its use in long-distance commerce. Camel pastoralism - i.e. tribes living off the meat, milk and hides of their herds of camels - seems to have arisen at first on the fringes of these agrarianate civilisations and only after camels had been used in long-distance commerce. This was undoubtedly the great invention that made possible the colonisation of the desert interior and the formation of a highly specialised mode of life based on communities of camel users and breeders in the Arabian peninsula. It is quite firmly established today that pre-Islamic cities like Petra, Hira and Mecca were first established by sedentarised Bedouin nomads or people who had been arabised by them.

It appears to be the case that the rise of a flouishing and quite unique form of Bedouin society was closely associated with what can best be described as a commercial revolution in the Near East. Control of commerce going through the peninsula was at first in the hands of the ancient Yemenites, whose agrarianate civilisation gradually began to adapt itself to this long-distance trade. The agricultural produce and natural flora of the Yemen was anyway quite suitable for commerce, in particular the luxury spices, aromatics and perfumes, of which frankincense and myrrh are probably the most famous.

The introduction of the riding horse into the Arabian peninsula some time between 500 and 400 BC, seems to have stimulated the first truly independent evolution of northern and central Arabian nomadism. The horse-camel combination meant that the Bedouin Arab had to be reckoned with as an extremely efficient fighter who could cross long distances by camel and launch swift attacks on horseback. The hegemonic position of the ancient Yemenites over the peninsula began to weaken as their military superiority was increasingly challenged. Control of the trade routes gradually slipped into the hands of their northern neighbours. This seems to have been how cities like Hira and later on Mecca established themselves.

The significance of the historic north-south divide between the Arabs of the Hijaz, Najd and Yamama on the one hand, and the ancient agrarianate Yemenites on the other, should not be un- derestimated. It persisted in Arab mythology and even Muslim genealogical systems, according to which the Arabs constitute a single race whose metnbers descend from one of two founding an- cestors - Kahtan (who fathered the southern agrarian branch) and Adnan (who fathered the northern nomadic/urban branch). This duality in legends and mythology reflects, we would argue, a real duality inscribed in the original formation of the Arabs. The first Arabs were not some pre-historic community of primitive nomads or peasants, who somehow developed a remarkably expressive and flexible language and a unifying ideology that allowed them ,to conquer within a century all major centres of civilisation south and east of the Mediterranean. On the contrary, the original Arabs were products of the entire previous history of the semitic peoples, and their most ancient surplus-producing agricultural civilisations: In particular we would argue that the formation of northern Arab Bedouin society was the expression of the emergence of a geographical division of labour between agriculture and commerce within the environmental conditions of the Arabian peninsula. This division of labour, in the context of the entire Near East, is of the same historic significance as, say, the town-country division of classical agrarian regions. From this point of view, therefore, the formation of northern Arab society only became possible because of an upsurge in the social productivity of labour, through agricultural specialisation, in the Yemen for example, and important new 'technological' breakthroughs like the domestication of that remarkable 'ship of the desert', the camel. These developments both stimulated commerce and were stimulated by it, thereby allowing a completely new mode of life to branch off from hydraulic agriculture into the desert surroundings.

Very soon, however, this particular stage in the history of Arab social formation reached its limits. On the eve of Islam, Arab society was politically fragmented and riddled with conflict. It had come to maturity in a social vacuum - in the vast leftover desert spaces between the surplus-producing civilisations. Its coming into existence had been shaped by this 'world' context. At the end of the sixth century, or the beginning of the seventh, internal gradual development based purely on long-distance commerce was reaching a climax. No further expansion could reasonably be expected. It is not improbable in fact that a noticeable decline in the volume of commercial activity was just beginning to set in, either as a consequence of shifts in trade routes, as Amin argues, or more probably as a result of saturation and cutback of demand in the surrounding empires. The last exhausting war between Byzantium and the Sassanisans in the first quarter of the seventh century must have made the situation very bad.

At the same time, the accumulation of financial reserves in the shape of money capital in the cities of the desert hinterland, at first an end in itself, had now reached a point that called for new outlets. These could not exist in the peninsula where agriculture, the main source of actual surplus product, was barely adequate to feed the growing population. The peninsula was certainly over-populated and pressures for large-scale population movements outside its boundaries were building up, only to be periodically released in little trickles to Syria and Iraq.

Of all the cities of the peninsula, Mecca was by far the most im- portant. It had succeeded in developing an economic role for itself that held most of the fragmented pieces of the peninsula together in a finely tuned system of military, commercial, and diplomatic alliances. But the system was under attack. Its very success in the poverty-ridden conditions of the then Arab world, hinted at much greater things.

The ruling class of big businessmen, merchants, bankers, usurers, landowners (in Ta'if), brokers and agents of all sorts, who ruled through the mala' (assembly of urban notables), had no vision. They were by their very nature conciliators and appeasers, concerned with the purely administrative, moneymaking side of affairs. Their ideological formation was primitive, not to be compared with the merchant classes of Egypt, Iraq, or Persia. Their gods were spirits Ginn) that populated the peninsula and were either invisible or dwelt in oddly shaped stones or trees. The statesmen amongst the ruling classes were renowned for their skills as arbitrators of disputes and negotiators of alliances. They worked within the framework of kinship relations and tribal rivalries and conflicts. The vast sums which had been amassed through trade in a few generations were creating a monopoly of big business in the hands of only a few of the Qurayshite clans, like the Umayyads and Makhzümis.

The influential Hãshimïs, (Mohammed's tribe), although highly respected for their role in the establishment of Mecca, had lost the upper hand in the control of the city's commercial affairs to the Umayyads in particular. They numbered amongst their tribesmen many disgruntled and poor members. The lot of small brokers, retailers, small traders, craftsmen, artisans, and what few peasants there were, had never been very good. But it was threatening to get worse. These were former Bedouin with deep ties to the values of the desert. Consequently, their own conception of themselves bore little relation to the objective conditions-of their poverty. Although the gap widened between the citizenry of Mecca, the mode of government remained the same. There was ample opportunity to vent grievances, much room for discontent to snowball, and yet not much of a chance that it would amount to anything.

Finally, there were the super-exploited, declassed social layers of the city - the lumpen elements including the slaves, both freed and un-freed, the so-called sa' ãlïk (the scroungers, thieves and members of certain ostracised tribes), and former tribesmen who had been disowned by their tribe and no longer enjoyed its protection. They formed a mass of seething and unorganised discontent. In short, all the conditions were ripe in the city of Mecca, on the eve of Islam, for a social revolution.

The significance of the rise of Islam lies in the revolutionary transformations it wrought on the social and economic structures of the region. It is with Islam that the social content of the word' Arab' first underwent its most concentrated and accelerated change. The meaning of the word' Arab' has been revolutionised from one epoch to the next. It neither has, or ever will have, a constant social content which in some mysterious fashion stands above the historical process. It is only in the heads of nationalists and misguided theoreticians that such static shemas can survive. In a certain very important sense the changing meaning of the word 'Arab' - its etymology - captures all the essential landmarks in the history of the Arabs. The first such landmark coincided with the original formation of the Arab tribes in the Arabian peninsual which has been discussed above. The second coincided with the formation of the 'Islamic Umma' - the community of Muslims - in the first few centuries of Islam.

Marshall Hodgson has touched on this essence of the revolution introduced by Islam when he posed the hypothetical possibility that either the Roman or the Sassanian empires in, say, the fifth or sixth centuries AD, might have succeeded in capturing Syria and Egypt, thereby growing at the expense of its adversary.12 In such an eventuality, the whole of Bedouin Arabia could have been bypassed historically and a not unlikely variant would have been the assimilation of the Arabs into the culture of the victorious and already established civilisation. The very special features of Islam, and the reason why the emergence of the community of Muslims marks a watershed in the history of the Arabs in particular, springs from the fact that this did not happen.

The formation of the Islamic Umma has its roots in its founder's move from Mecca to Medina - the Hegira. It was in Medina that Mohammed was. given the first practical opportunity to structure social life in a new fashion. Medina was economically split between the Jewish Arab tribes who had developed it, and the more recently settled pagan Bedouin tribes (the Aws and the Khazraj). Mohammed was welcomed by the pagan tribes prolmbly because they saw in his teachings an alternative form of monotheism capable of holding its own against Judaism, the adoption of which would strengthen them against their Judaised Arab competitors. The Muhãjirun were the other component of the first Muslim community. They were all those Meccan tribesmen who were recruited to Islam and who by leaving Mecca had irrevocably broken their ties and social obligations to their own clans. The combination of these two groupings represented in essence the initial formation of a new 'tribe', which now had to forge an economic livelihood for itself. Almost immediately, Mohammed organised raids from Medina on Meccan caravans. These played a very important role in deepening the breach between the community of Muslims and the Meccan system as a whole.

The earliest document of Islam, which for lack of a better name has been called 'the constitution of Medina', defines all believers in Islam and their dependents, regardless of their tribal affiliations, to be members of a single community (umma). According to this document these members are to show complete solidarity against non-believers both in peace and war. It is interesting to note that according to Watt, in pre-Islamic Arabia there was 'little difference between the two words "qawm" and "umma". Both represented a natural group or community.'13 It is with Islam that the word 'umma' is first revolutionised giving it the meaning of that greater tribe based not on tribal loyalties and blood relations, but on the acceptance of an idea - the prophecy of Mohammed and the existence of a single god - which was soon to be developed into a whole world view. The new shaikh of the umma, Mohammed, no longer ruled by conditional tribal consensus, but by an absolute religious prerogative.14 A new system had been born which representated a historically more ad- vanced and 'higher' stage of social organisation and consciousness.

The Arab/Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries essentially represented the mass migration of Islamicised Arab tribes, driven by the pressure of over-population in the peninsula, into the Fertile Crescent and North Africa - ie into the very same surplus- producing civilisations they had previously only traded with. These migrants formed - in the first period of Islam, when it was still an Arab religion and the Caliphate an Arab kingdom - the ethnically differentiated rulers of the mass of Syrians, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Persians and other surplus-producing peoples. The whole economic basis behind the original constitution of the northern and central Arabian tribes was now being radically altered. Instead of an existence and mode of life as intermediaries straddling the vast unproductive deserts between other civilisations, the Arabs were now reaching out for those very same surplus-producing regions they had previously only traded with. It is this aspect of the history of the Arabs that Amin ignores.

With the Arab conquests, the social content of the word 'Arab' - that which defined the quality of being an Arab - began to change. The mass of Arab rulers originating from the Arabian peninsula began to assìmilate with the indigenous conquered populations.15 The new cities founded by the conquering Arab ar- mies - the Amsãr - had started originally as garrison towns on the edge of the desert and cultivated areas. They became important stepping stones in the process of arabisation.

The Amsar originated in the nomadic Bedouin tradition of found- ing cities along flourishing trade routes. However, their presence in the Fertile Crescent and North Africa made it possible for a minority of conquerors to maintain a certain independence from the peoples they were subjugating, who enjoyed a more advanced indigenous civilisation. It was through the Amsar, in which the Arabs at first formed a majority, that the Arabic language spread out to the countryside. Markets for agricultural produce and crafts quickly developed around the original garrison. Artisans, shopkeepers, clerks and peasants were attracted from nearby cities or the countryside. The concentration of booty in the Amsar attracted the indigenous population to the Muslim cities and thus made possible a combined process of assimilation. The Arabs were assimilated to the peoples they had conquered and gradually adopted many of their customs and ways. But at the same time the indigenous population were learning Arabic and becoming Muslim.

The generalisation of the Arabic language and Islamic ideology were very important factors in arabisation in the sense in which we are trying to define it. Of course the physical intermingling of different peoples, in the shape of population movements and intermarriage, was a necessary condition for arabisation. But the Arabs were too small a minority for this to have been the decisive factor. It was the establishment of a common cultural and ideological medium that broke down most of the barriers. Marx has put the matter most profoundly:

'Language itself is just as much the product of a community, as in another respect it is the existence of the community: it is, as it were, the communal being speaking for itself.'16

The Mawali were the non-Arab converts to Islam. Their problems are very revealing of the nature of the arabisation process and the sorts of tensions it generated. In the first century of Islam, the Mawãli had to be attached to a tribe of Arab origin. Under the Umayyad Caliphate their numbers grew tremendously. Soon they even began to out- number the Arabs in the Amsãr. Theoretically the Mawãli were the equals of the Arabs. In practice they were discriminated against both socially and in taxation. During the governorship of Hajjãj in Iraq, for example, it was decreed that conversion to Islam would no longer release the indigenous population from paying the higher rate of tax on land known as Kharãj. The problem Hajjãj was addressing himself to was the decline in state revenue caused by mass conversions to Islam. It was fundamentally the problem of an economy transforming itself from one based on a minority of privileged Arab rulers, into that of an arabised majority of Muslims. This important and very revealing change is also shown by the fact that Hajjãj even took measures against Arabs by decreeing that henceforth when an Arab bought Kharãj land, he would have to continue paying this higher tax and could no longer reduce the tax obligation to the much sought-after tithe called 'ushr.17 Eventually the Mawãli became the social base of the opposition to the Umayyad Caliphate which culminated in the Abbasid revolution.

This period of Islamic history, following through to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, therefore witnessed mass migrations of populations accompanied by arabisation and islamisation within the confines of the region currently occupied by the different Arabic- speaking countries. These population movements took many diverse forms. They included: the settlement of nomads in cities or rural areas (especially in the early stages); the accelerated growth of new cities and a general increase in the level of urbanisation of the region; the conquest by town dwellers of far-off agricultural civilisations, starting from their conquered cities and working through to their rural and nomadic hinterlands; and the thrust of entire conquering populations into new regions and their assimilation amongs those they conquered.

With this background in mind, let us take a closer look at Samir Amin's conception of the Arab region under Islam as basically a 'trading formation' in which Egypt constitutes the 'sole peasant exception'. There are two problems with this idea. The first is that it is questionable on a purely factual basis. In the tenth century the cultivated area of the Mashreq was immensely more extensive than it is today.18 Apart from the Mesopotamian river valleys, the whole of the northern Syrian steppe curving round to the Mediterranean coastline, the fertile plains of Hama, Horns, the Bekaa, and Palestine - all this was fertile agricultural land. These are the regions, according to archaeologists, in which agriculture itself was invented, inaugurating the first food-producing epoch in human pre-history.19 To consider that 'these rural areas were too poor - despite the epithet "fertile" - to supply the surplus needed to sypport a brilliant civilisation' , as Amin does in Unequal Development (p. 39) may be the result of an anachronistic reading back into history of a much later period of decline.

There is also n