Khamsin: Journal of revolutionary socialists of the Middle-East

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.

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.

Khamsin #05: Oriental Jewry

Issue of Khamsin from 1978 primarily about the Oriental Jewry.

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.

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

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.

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.14The 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

  • 1. A. Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe: the Khazar Empire and its Heritage. Random House, 1976.
  • 2. Cf Abram Leon, The Jewish Question. a Marxist Interpretation, Path­finder,1970.
  • 3. Trotsky's father was one such farmer.
  • 4. Quoted in Alex Bein, History of Zionist Colonization, 4th ed, Massada, 1970 (Hebrew), p97.
  • 5. A. Bein, op cit, p98.
  • 6. ibid.
  • 7. A. Bein, op cit, p99.
  • 8. A. Bein, op cit, p98.
  • 9. A. Bein, op cit, p101.
  • 10. Ahad Ha'am, Collected Works, Jewish Publishing House, 1947 (Hebrew), p426, n.
  • 11. A. Bein, op cit, p101.
  • 12. Nadav Halevi and Ruth Klinov-Malul, The Economic Development of Israel, Bank of Israel\Praeger, 1968, p25.
  • 13. During 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.
  • 14. Even 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.
  • 15. See Hanegbi, Machover and Orr, 'The class nature of Israel', New Left Review, 65,1971, pp7-9.
  • 16. Cf §§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).
  • 17. Cf Halevi and Klinov-Malul, op cit, p30.
  • 18. Cf Hanegbi etc, op cit, and M. Sneh, The Israeli Economy, CC of the Israeli CP, 1960 (Hebrew).
  • 19. Quoted in Sneh, op cit, p11.
  • 20. Cf §8 below.
  • 21. Quoted in Mesilla, Histadrut Publishing House, 1924 (Hebrew), p43.
  • 22. Cf §§6-8 below.
  • 23. A. 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.
  • 24. This is confirmed by many witnesses. A detailed account was published in Ha'olam Hazeh, 20 April 1966 and 1 June 1966.
  • 25. Uri Harari, 'Our responsibility towards the Jews in the Arab countries', in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 9 February 1969.
  • 26. Cf N. Weinstock, Le Sionisme contre Israel, Paris, 1969, pp410-424.
  • 27. Resolution 194 (111) of the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1948. This was reiterated in numerous subsequent UN resolutions.
  • 28. A. Assaf, The Moshav Ovdim in Israel, Tel-Aviv, 1953 (Hebrew), p178.
  • 29. A 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.
  • 30. Bank 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.
  • 31. Ibid. 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.
  • 32. ibid.
  • 33. One ostensible exception, Gen David El'azar, was a European Sephardi (see § 1 above).
  • 34. A 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).
  • 35. The 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.)
  • 36. In 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.
  • 37. That is, relative to the low productivity of the economy. See Hanegbi, Machover and Orr, op cit.
  • 38. However, 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'.
  • 39. See, 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

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.

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.)

  • 1. See 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.
  • 2. Sa'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.
  • 4. See 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.
  • 5. From 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.

  • 6. Letter of 21 December 1910, sent to the Zionist Office in Cologne; in Jews in nineteenth century Egypt, op cit.
  • 7. The 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

'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.

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

  • 1. A nickname derived from the Yiddish 'Vus, Vus' meaning 'What, What'.
  • 2. A township near Tel Aviv.
  • 3. A euphemism for Arabs.
  • 4. That is, Moroccan pimps.
  • 5. About £8.00.
  • 6. A male Egyptian singer [of Syrian-Druz family].
  • 7. The 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.
  • 8. I 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'.

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.

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.

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.

  • 1. Cf 'The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie' in my book: The dictionary of the Communist Manifesto, (Arabic) Beirut, Kar Ibn-Khaldun, 1975.
  • 2. See 'The origin of the Arab bourgeoisie', ibid.
  • 3. ibid.
  • 4. ibid.
  • 5. In 1969 Al Ahram admitted that Egypt had lost a total of one million working days due to Ramadan that year.
  • 6. We shall deal with Arab unity in detail some other time.
  • 7. The 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.
  • 8. In 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).
  • 9. Under 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.
  • 10. The 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!
  • 11. All 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!
  • 12. In 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.

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

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.

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.

  • 1. In 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).
  • 2. On left zionism see ISRACA, 4 March 1971.
  • 3. See 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).
  • 4. Dunam equals 1/4 acre.
  • 5. On this technique in Mapai history, see Peter Y. Medding, Mapai in Israel, 1972.
  • 6. Similarly, 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.
  • 7. Mapai (Mifleget Poalei Eretz-Israel), founded in 1930, is the biggest of three parties which united in 1968 to form the Israeli Labour Party.
  • 8. eg, the Sapir fund – see S. Ehrlich in Ha'aretz, 15 September 1973 and D. Margalit in Ha'aretz, 13 May 1973,
  • 9. See 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.
  • 10. eg, 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.)
  • 11. See 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).
  • 12. See 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.
  • 13. S. Weiss, quoted in Ya'acobi and Gera, op cit, p13.
  • 14. See 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.
  • 15. P. Medding, op cit, p163.
  • 16. T. Gudzianski, 'The dangers of fascism in Israel', in Arakhim, March 1975 (Hebrew).
  • 17. Also 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.
  • 18. See E. Zohar, In the clutches Of the regime – Why no one has stood up, 1974 (Hebrew), p108.
  • 19. See Bank of Israel Research Department, Recent economic developments, No 19, 10 February 1975.
  • 20. Ha'aretz, 31 October 1975.
  • 21. Yedi'ot Aharonot, 9 October 1975.
  • 22. T. Kessler in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 31 October 1975.
  • 23. Ma'ariv, 2 November 1975.
  • 24. SeeE. Zohar, op cit, p147; and N. Tal in Ha'aretz, 17 October 1975.
  • 25. N. Tal, ibid.
  • 26. E. Zohar, op cit, p148.
  • 27. Quoted in The Jewish Chronicle, 2 November 1976.
  • 28. L. Guttman and S. Levy, The will to remain in the country, Institute for Applied Social Research, Jerusalem, April 1974.
  • 29. A. Tirosh in Ma'ariv, 7 January 1975.
  • 30. BBC 4, 15 January 1976.
  • 31. See Khamsin No 2, 1975 (French).
  • 32. See Ben-Aharon, Struggle for change, p82, Am Oved, 1972 (Hebrew).
  • 33. See A. Friedman, Structural changes in trade unions, 1972 (Hebrew).
  • 34. See Davar, 7 December 1975.
  • 35. See A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London 1971, p58 f, footnote; A. Gramsci, II Risorgimento, 1949.
  • 36. J. Hazan, quoted in Ha'aretz, 12 December 1975.
  • 37. These 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.
  • 38. Cf 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.
  • 39. Cf F. Claudin, The communist movement from Comintern to Comin­form, 1975; especially Chapter 4.
  • 40. L. Trotsky, op cit, p438.
  • 41. See 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.

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

  • 1. See point 5 of the Political Resolution adopted by GUPS-UK at its January 1977 Conference.
  • 2. See introduction to January 1977 Political Resolution of GUPS-UK.
  • 3. See 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.

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.

Khamsin-06.pdf5.95 MB


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.

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.

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

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

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

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?
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.

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)

  • 1. A 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)
  • 2. This refers only to Israel proper, in its pre-1967 borders. The Arabs of the territories occupied in 1967 are still under military rule. (Ed)
  • 3. Davar, 10 March 1972.
  • 4. The 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.

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

  • 1. A. Khalili, el-Tourath el-Falastini wa'l- Tabaqat (The Palestinian Tradition and Classes), Dar el-Kitab, Beirut.
  • 2. Germaine Tillon, Le harem et les cousins, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1966, p178.
  • 3. ibid, p29.
  • 4. Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, Cambridge University Press, 1969, p124.
  • 5. Salameh 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.
  • 6. C. 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.
  • 7. Fadela M'Rabet, La Femme Algérienne, suivi de Les Algériennes, Maspero, Paris, p108.
  • 8. ibid, p113.
  • 9. Ministry of Justice, initial draft of the family code, Algiers, p2. Not published officially.
  • 10. ibid, p52.

Zionism and its scarecrows - Moshé Machover and Mario Offenberg

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.

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.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. 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.

  • 1. Khamsin 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.
  • 2. First published in English in New Left Review 65, Jan-Feb 1971.
  • 3. Cf. 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.
  • 4. The 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.

  • 5. Speech 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.
  • 6. David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, Part 1, Tel-Aviv 1971, p245 (in Hebrew).
  • 7. Cf. e.g. in Kontres, organ of Ahduth Ha‘avoda, no 47, Tel-Aviv 1920 (in Hebrew).
  • 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.
  • 9. Aharon Cohen: Israel and the Arab World, Tel-Aviv 1964, p259 (in Hebrew).
  • 10. R. Meinerzhagen, Middle East Diary, London 1958, p49.
  • 11. The diaries of Theodore Herzl, Gollancz, London 1958 p6.
  • 12. Leo Pinsker, Auto-Emancipation, New York 1948, p33 and M. Hess, Rome and Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv 1935, pp25-6.
  • 13. Cf. Y. Elam in an article in ‘Ot’, organ of the Israeli Labour Party (Ma‘arakh) no 2, Tel-Aviv 1967 (in Hebrew).
  • 14. This 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).
  • 15. Cf. Die Nürnberger Gesetze, 5. Auflage, Berlin 1939, pp.13-4 (our italics).
  • 16. I. Deutscher, The Non-Jewish Jew, London 1969, p67.
  • 17. Y. Elam, Introduction to Zionist History, Tel-Aviv 1972, pl13 and p122 (in Hebrew).
  • 18. A. Tartakower, The Jewish Worker’s Way to Zionism: Zionism and Socialism, New York 1954, p63.
  • 19. Reprinted from the minutes of the meeting in Y. Elam, loc cit, p123.
  • 20. Y. 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.
  • 21. Herberg Lucht from Vienna in: Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin) of 1 January 1975; and others.
  • 22. Viktor Polski in: Dov Goldstein, Interview of the Week, in Ma’ariv of 27 December 1974.
  • 23. Cf. Le Monde, 20 December 1974 and Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), 21 December 1974.
  • 24. Cf A. Hoder, ‘Russian Jews, Black Jews and Non-Jewish Jews’, in Israca no 5, London 1973 pp16–25.
  • 25. In Ma‘ariv of 10 January 1973.
  • 26. Quoted 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.
  • 28. Quoted 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.
  • 29. In Davar, 5 February 1945, emphasis in the original.
  • 30. I. Deutscher, loc. cit., pp49–50.
  • 31. A. Moos, loc. cit.
  • 32. 31 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).
  • 33. A. Moos, loc. cit.
  • 34. Quoted from Y. Elam, loc.cit., pp73–74.
  • 35. Quoted from: The XII Zionist Congress in Karlsbad, 1–14 Sep­tember 1921, Berlin 1922, p70.
  • 36. L. Gaspar, Histoire de la Palestine, Paris 1970, p104 and pl19.
  • 37. See Sabri Jeries, The Arabs in Israel, Beirut 1969, pp55-90, where there is a fully verified description of this.
  • 38. Ben-Gurion, loc cit, p117.
  • 39. Cf the speech of Saskin, member of the subcommittee for colonisation in the Zionist Executive at the XII Zionist Congress, Minutes, loc cit, pl04.
  • 40. A. Bonne, Palestine, Country and Economy, Berlin 1935 p154–5.
  • 41. Y. Meiersohn, loc cit.
  • 42. Quoted from the statement of the Union Department of the PCP, October 1924; reprinted in: M. Offenberg, loc cit, p336–7.
  • 43. D. Ben-Gurion, loc cit, p299–300, p275 and p339.
  • 44. D. Ben-Gurion, We and Our Neighbours, Jaffa 1931, p8l–2 (in Hebrew).
  • 45. Y. Ben-Zvi in: Achduth No 16, Tel-Aviv 1912.
  • 46. T. Herzl, Diaries, Berlin 1922 (German).
  • 47. J. Weitz, Diaries, quoted by the author in Davar, 29 September 1967.
  • 48. A. Moos, loc cit.
  • 49. M. Hyamson, Palestine under the Mandate, London 1950, pp87–8.
  • 50. Cf 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.
  • 51. Cf A Survey of Palestine, published by the Palestine government vol I, p296 and Palestine Royal Commission Report 1937, pp239–40.
  • 52. General Moshe Dayan, in Ma‘ariv, Tel-Aviv 7 July 1968.

National formation in the Arab region: a critique of Samir Amin - Mohammad Ja'far

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.


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 no reason to believe that Egypt was in any way ex- cluded from the social convulsions, upheavals and intermingling of populations which has already been described - and for which there was actually precedents before the seventh century AD. Syria, for example, began to be arabised earlier, as the infiltration of Arab tribes from the peninsula started on a small scale in the century or two before Islam. Yemen was certainly the first surplus-producing agrarianate civilisation to be thoroughly and irreversibly arabised long before the unification of the Arab tribes and following the collapse of the famous dam of Ma'rib in the third century AD. The collapse of this dam, built in approximately 750 BC, is symbolically associated with the fall of the kingdom of Saba and the northward migration of its people and their assimilation into northern Arab/Bedouin society at its height.20

The second problem with Amin's formulations has been alluded to earlier; it is his failure to grasp the qualitative change - the revolution - brought about in the life of the region as a result of the Arab conquests. This leads to Amin pinning on Arabs and especially Egyptians 'eternal', unchanging and therefore mystified qualities. The Arab/Islamic conquests seem to be for Amin purely military and political achievements that allowed the Arabs to continue with the same mode of economic existence that they had before Islam. The defeat of classical Arab/Islamic civilisation is thus logically attributable to a series of external events, related to wars and trade fluctuations, which are not structurally derived from the dominant mode of production prevailing in that epoch. In fact, in reference to 'trading formations' we can hardly talk of a mode of production of use values and surplus. Social classes presumably would have to arise from their relation to each other in the sphere of cir- culation of a surplus produced elsewhere. The Arab 'merchant- warrior ruling class' would be exercising hegemony over classes they were not exploiting in the sense of robbing them of their surplus. The result, according to Amin, is that in the classical period of Islamic civilisation 'an Arab nation did indeed come into existence' as a consequence of 'ethnic homegeneity. . . reinforced by economic unity. . . under the leadership of the ruling class of merchants and the military castes'.21

Apart from its only partial contact with reality, Amin's whole approach unwittingly panders to the prevailing Arab nationalist prejudice that ascribes to the quality of 'being an Arab' an ahistorical content. It sets up a schema in which Arabs do not exploit each other, and in which Arab-Islamic civilisation is made 'not responsible' for its own decline. The one-sidedness of this method, relying as it does on only the commercial function of the Arab/Islamic world, is revealed as soon as the actual history of the region is examined.

The notion that ethnic homogeneity, reinforced by an economic unity that originates in long-distance trade between far-off surplus-producing and consuming formations, can provide, under the leadership of a merchant ruling class, a sufficiently advanced social fabric for Arab national formation is contrary to both reason and the most elementary facts of Arab history in the first centuries of Islam. From a logical point of view, there is nothing particularly unifying in mere entrepôt commerce. Merchants simply buy and sell the products of completely separated producers. From a more factual point of view, however, Amin is apparently ignorant of the fact that the very extensive growth of commercial capital took place within the confines of the Arab/Islamic Caliphate, and on the basis of internally produced commodities. In its classical epoch, the cities of the Islamic world were great producers of commodities and they specialised in marketing agricultural products that were extensively traded between regions of the Islamic empire. In fact the onset of Europe's 'dark ages', and the relapse into self-sufficient feudalism, cut off the Muslim world from the whole of the northern hemisphere. Maxime Rodinson in discussing this period notes that:

'It may be observed that despite all the uncertainty of our knowledge a level [of commerce] does seem to have been reached in the Muslim world which is not to be found either elsewhere at the same time, or earlier. The density of commercial relations within the Muslim world constituted a sort of world market. . . of unprecedented dimensions. The development of exchange had made possible regional specialisation in industry as well as in agriculture, bringing about relations of economic interdependence that sometimes extended over great distances. A world market of the same type was formed in the Roman empire, but the Muslim "common market" was very much bigger. . . Not only did the Muslim world know a capitalistic sector, but this sector was apparently the most extensive and highly developed in history before the establishment of the world market created by the western European bourgeoisie, and this did not outstrip it in im- portance until the sixteenth century.' 22

The extensive growth of petty commodity production based on artisans and craftsmen in the cities and agricultural specialisation during the first centuries of Islam is a subject worth dealing with at much greater length than is possible in a brief survey like this. It appears to us that, alongside food production, it represented the fundamental economic motor force of the Islamic world during its apogee.

For the present, however, we would note that the commercial in- tegration of the Arab/Islamic world did not lead to two developments which are confusingly lumped together by Amin:

(1) It did not result in the political ascendancy of a ruling class of merchants. This is what the noted Islamic historian, Goitein, has to say on the matter:

'This class [the merchants] developed slowly during the first 150 years of the Muslim era, emerged into the full light of history at the end of the second century, became socially "admitted" during the third, and asserted itself as a most powerful socio-economic factor during the fourth. However, it never became an organised body and, as a class, never obtained political power, although many of its members occupied positions as high and highest executives of the state. The turn from the tenth to the eleventh centuries (the Muslim fourth and fifth) which witnessed the apogee of the Near Eastern bourgeoisie, also marks the complete ascendancy of castes of slave soldiers, mostly of Turkish extraction, which dominated the history of that part of the world for the next 800 years.' 23

(2) It did not lead to national formation in either the Mashreq, the Maghreb or Egypt. This point we shall take up in our critique of Amin's whole methodological approach to the problem of nations and how they come into existence.

Nation formation and capitalism

In a number of his writings Samir Amin has forcefully posed the question: What is a nation? His answer is categorical: a nation is not necessarily a social derivative of the capitalist mode of production. It arises when any dominant social class (bourgeois, feudal, merchant. . .) ensures, through its control of the state apparatus, the economic unity of any ethnic group (cf the final paragraph of our introduction). When these conditions do not exist, the national phenomenon is 'reversible', as in the case of the' Arab nation' in the. first centuries of Islam. It is always dependent on how strongly political power is wielded by the ruling class. Thus the decline of the 'Arab nation' coincided with its political and economic fragmentation as the source ofthe external surplus dried up.

The first thing to be said is that this idea confuses a social category - national formation - with a political one the control of state power. Undoubtedly there is a very powerful relationship between the sociological processes behind the development of the various economically integrated classes whose totality comprise the nation or nationality in question, and the political struggles tending towards the establishment of a national state. A prerequisite for the maturation of the national process is the eventual establishment of a national state, the existence of which guarantees within its geographical boundaries the necessary conditions for the establishment of a truly national economy. But it is misleading and false to define something that can only be understood as a process - national formation - in terms of a specific political condition - control of state power. On the contrary, it is the nature of political power that has to be derived from the stage of social formation, and not the other way around.

The example of European national formation illustrates this point. Is it conceivable to argue that the Italian nation as such only came into being following the Garibaldian revolution of 1860? What about the centuries of social upheavals, class formation and political struggles which were the necessary social precursors for the success of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Italy? The breakup of the feudal order in Europe was a long drawn out affair, spreading over several centuries which were combined with the growth of the capitalist mode of production. In agriculture the peasants were forced off their lands. In England this took the form of the enclosure movement, which came in a number of long drawn out waves. The medieval corporations and guilds which protected the artisans and craftsmen of medieval cities were slowly dismantled, throwing their hitherto protected members onto the 'free' market in which all they had to sell was their labour power. The ability to do work was thus transformed into a com- modity, and a necessary condition for this was the separation of the producers (peasants and craftsmen) from their means of production. These social processes in the context of rising capitalism moulded and shaped over many centuries the human 'raw material' that was forming nations in Britain, France, Italy, Germany and other places.

There is also the problem of oppressed nationalities. How does Amin handle the fact that a Kurdish nationality exists, and has been fighting for independence from its Arab, Iranian and Turkish op- pressors for over half a century? There has never been a Kurdish state. Surely, this cannot be taken to deny the fact that a Kurdish nationality has been in the process of formation for the better part of the twentieth century. How do we explain from a materialist viewpoint the persistence of a Kurdish nationalist movement, if not by relating it to real social and economic transformations in the Kurdish regions?

One could also take the example of the ruling classes of fully developed and industrialised nations who lose political power through war, for example, as happened in Europe in the second world war. What would have been the status of the French nation under Nazi occupation in Amin's terms? All of these examples demonstrate that there is a fundamental distinction between the political and super-structural ramifications of national formation, and its objective socio-economic basis.

It should also be pointed out that there is rarely a direct relationship between the economically dominant class and its political representation. In fact quite frequently there are completely different groups of people involved. In its whole history, the bourgeoisie has never once ruled politically as the identifiable sum of all its members occupying positions in the state appparatus. For this there are professional politicians or military men, who may not even be capitalists themselves, and who thrash out, in parliament for example, the differences and conflicts between various fractions of the economically dominant class. The merchants in the first four centuries of Islam were not in political control of the Islamic Caliphate, although their economic function and social position in petty com- modity production was very important. In the case of all the more advanced social and economic formations the ruling class will generally tend to separate out the political function of exercising power from the economic function of extracting and distributing the surplus. This sets up a relative autonomy between the political sphere and the economic sphere which has very important implicatÌons for understanding the processes of revolution and change in social and economic formations.

This touches on what constitutes our most fundamental objection to Amin's thesis: namely his ahistorical conception of the nation. This, we shall argue in the remainder of this section, is linked to his ahistorical notion of a mode of production. It results in the pre- Islamic history of the Arabs being rendered indistinguishable from the upheavals introduced by Islam. Nations come and go at all stages of history without reference to the processes of their formation. Frozen, formalistic definitions are introduced for complex and changing categories (like mode of production, nation, social for- mation etc) on a flimsy factual basis and stemming from a fixation with a single slice out of the historical process. The element of per- manent historical transformation - as quantitative changes acquire a qualitative character - is absent. In short the whole approach utilises the language of marxism, while throwing away its method. It is to these aspects that we shall now direct our attention.

In many respects it was Marx's greatest achievement to have identified a progressive thread in the historical process. This progress occurs not only as the cumulative or chronological succession of events in technology, science, society or politics. Rather it affects the whole of society, and especially its innermost and 'hidden' structures - its modes of production, property forms, and social relations. For Marx each mode of production presupposed either one or more of its prede- cessors, but it did not (with the exception of capitalism) automatically negate them. Historical development, therefore, was expressed through the accumulation, coexistence and branching off of many different modes of production.24 The ancient mode, for example, presupposed both primitive communalism and the invention and diffusion of slavery from the ancient Near East. Feudalism, on the other hand, arose in Western Europe out of a particular kind of synthesis of both the Germanic mode of production - a variant of the primitive communal mode - and the mode of production prevailing in the Roman empire until the north European tribal incursions and the fall of Rome in the fifth century. In contrast, independently generated capitalism grew out of the uniquely feudal town-country conflict that developed in Europe. Following the establishment of a world capitalist system - imperialism - the generalisation of commodity production forced the capitalist mode onto the various social for- mations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It has become fashionable amongst some marxists to deny the implicit historical order and trajectory that is of necessity tied up with the concept of a mode of production. This is what Samir Amin has to say on the subject:

'The concept of a "mode of production" is an abstract one, implying no historical order of sequence with respect to the entire period of history of civilisations that stretches from the first differentiated formations right down to capitalism.' 25

The debate with Amin on national formation and its relation to capitalism requires a rejection of this ahistorical treatment of modes of production as so many 'models' of economic organisation. For it is only possible to understand national formation as the social counterpart of the capitalist mode of economic production by situating the latter historically, the very thing which Amin rejects.

Of course, it is also necessary to reject the notion of a unique unilinear sequence of modes of production, through which all societies must pass in the same order. Similar to the evolution of biological forms, different paths diverge from the same junction, branch off and sometimes converge again. But - just as in biological evolution - the various stages along each path, the sequence in which they occur, and the junctions at which different paths diverge or converge, are by no means arbitrary. Quite the reverse: they obey an inner logic of historical necessity. To deny a historical order among modes of production is just as erroneous as to deny order and direction in biological evolution.

'Human beings become individuals only through the process of history', Marx said in the Grundrisse. At the same time modes of production and property relations, while never existing in neat, packageable and universally applicable sequences, nevertheless represent moments in a historical process fundamentally shaped by the increasing control of human society over the 'objective conditions of its labour'. These are 'natural' conditions in human pre-history. With the advent of class society and private property, they become social conditions which, however, society itself is still not conscious of as such, and which appear ,'objectively' in the various forms that property relations assume. But these are always subject to revolutionary change. The development of the productive forces is forever bringing into conflict the increased and more efficient production of more wealth on the one hand, and the inherited class relations of the old mode of production, which become obstacles to the expansion of production, on the other. The revolutionary moment which now becomes objectively possible hinges on the subjective manner in which society as a whole (with each class viewing the matter from its particular vantage point) conceives of itself in relation to this conflict.

Under capitalism the transformation of labour power itself into a commodity which is bought and sold on the market, and the per- meation of exchange relations into all aspects of everyday life (food, lodging, clothes, necessities and leisure) has a twofold effect. The first is on the individuation of human beings. Not only their labour, but also the very core of their personality is transformed. The effects of the latter specifically can be seen in literature. A good example is the role of the 'hero' of the classic bourgeois novels of the nineteenth century, and the emphasis of writers like Dickens, Balzac, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy on the formation of the individualised human personality in the crucible of both great events and everyday life. This is in complete contrast with say the classic epics of ancient civilisations, viewing individuals as so many different cogs in a great pre-ordained panoramic scheme of events (the Iliad and Odyssey; the epic of Gilgamesh etc). Individuation is reflected also in legal institutions and the perfection of laws for the 'protection' of individual rights over property and in civil society. The character of this process has been most profoundly stated by Marx:

'Exchange itself is a chief means of this individuation. It makes the herd-like existence superfluous and dissolves it. Soon the matter has turned in such a way that as an individual he relates himself only to himself, while the means with which he posits himself as [an] individual have become the making of his generality and commonness.' 26

Another effect of capitalism on society is present in Marx's formulation. Parallel with individuation is the unprecedented level of socialisation of production. In no previous historical epoch have human beings become so utterly dependent on each other for their maintenance and the continual raising of their standard of life. Wage labour and the separation of the producers from their means of production transforms the value of every necessity and almost every product of human labour into a quantity determined by the functioning of the whole economic system. There is no precedent for this before capitalism.

These two social and ideological correlatives of capitalism are thoroughly irreversible. The triumph of socialism, from the vantage point adopted in this article, represents the arrival of the working class at a complete awareness of its own position in the historical process. Private ownership of the means of production, which is 'objectively' given by capitalism, has to be seen as a constraint, not only on production, but on the further cultural and individual formation of the working class. Individuation under capitalism is thus also expressed in the growing alienation and continuous psychological degradation of the producers. At the moment that this awareness is reached, the socialist revolution becomes a possibility, and its problems acquire a technical or military character, the final outcome of which can of course in no way be predetermined.

Socialisation of production and individuation of the human being are reflections of capitalism on society and consciousness. They are cornerstones of the national phenomenon, which make it possible to understand why national formation in the Arab region, for example, can only be a historically specific stage in the process of Arab social and ideological formation. The formation of nations presupposes that the disruption and tearing apart of the 'vegetative existence' of the production process through exchange has already commenced. This 'herd-like' existence, which arises from what Marx analyses in the Grundrisse as a 'self-sustaining unity' between the producer (peasant or artisan) and his/her means of production, is a central characteristic of all precapitalist modes of production and sharply differentiates them from capitalism. It is only after this rude awakening of the labouring population that the individuation of human beings through the permeation of their everyday life by exchange relations of production, will dissolve the 'herd-like' existence and confront them with the reality of their insertion in a truly individualised and ir- reversibly socialised national economic framework, defined ultimately by ownership or exclusion from ownership of the means of production.

We would further argue that national consciousness is, in its original sense, a more primitive form of class consciousness, that first arose historically in Western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, at a time when the bourgeoisie was still playing a progressive role. During this epoch of the growth of capitalism out of the petty commodity mode of production, the bourgeoisie was sociologically still quite close to the petty commodity producers in the post-medieval cities of the Renaissance. There was therefore a material basis for the ability of the bourgeoisie to speak in the name of all the labouring classes, against the parasitic feudal nobility. By the nineteenth century this was beginning to change, as was reflected in the European-wide revolutions of 1848 when, despite the bourgeois democratic content of these revolutions, the bourgeoisie sided with the most antiquated social layers in society and the state apparatus to crush the revolution primarily fuelled by the now thoroughly differentiated European working class. The clearly formulated conception of oneself as a member of, or associated with, the fate of the working class in counter-position to the bourgeoisie is therefore the later, historically more advanced, form of proletarian class consciousness.

It goes without saying that the development of petty commodity production, on no matter how extended a scale, did not accomplish such a historic transformation of consciousness in the classical centur- ies of Islam. In fact it could not do so - because the peasant and urban craft producers remained tied, either communally or in- dividually, to their means of production. Exchange was limited to the sphere of circulation and did not permeate the productive process it- self. Capital, in the sense of 'self expanding value', and not in the sense of usurer or money wealth, did not generalise itself (although interestingly enough there were isolated instances of wage labour). An economic unity based on the polarisation of classes from within the productive process - as distinct from commercial integration and partial regional specialisation - could not therefore develop.

Samir Amin, in his references to the development of an Arab nation in the first centuries of Islam, is in fact mixing up two very different things. He is confusing the formation of a pan-Arab merchant class (which most certainly took place, as the passage we have quoted from Goitein shows) with nation formation. The former emerged as an important distinguishing feature of the greater Community of Islam - the Islamic Umma - whereas the latter emerges in the nineteenth century, parallel with the growth of capitalist economic penetration and trade with the advanced capitalist countries. In the twentieth century, the consciousness of having a national, social and economic fate historically superseded the consciousness of relating to one's fellow human beìngs through their relation to god and Islam, in much the same manner as Islam had superseded the individual, particularist tribal consciousness based on kinship relations that had dominated pre-Islamic Arab society. The centrepiece of Amin's whole analytical muddle - that which allows him to release nation formation from its firmly anchored roots in capitalism - is in our opinion the non-marxist notion of an abstract ahistorical mode of production. For once a mode of production loses its place in an ordered historical trajectory (which nevertheless may be much more complex than either Marx or Engels had thought), then those moments, or stages in the 'process of human individuation through exchange' - as they are captured in the social evolution of tribal, religious, communal and national formation - are forever lost. The modern secular bourgeois citizen has been reduced to a pious Moslem, or worse, to a pharaoh's subject. Even socialism and revolutionary internationalism become utopian shibboleths, and not fundamentally counterposed alternatives to nationalism in the epoch of imperialism.

Concluding Notes27

1. National formation and nationalism are the social and ideological complements to the generalisation of the capitalist mode of production. They work through human 'raw material' inherited from previous historical epochs, whose own formation lies in the manner in which the social product was produced and consumed.

2. The new capitalist epoch, characterised by the new mode of production and consumption, is not only imposed from the out- side - as was the case in the Arab world - but at the same time must structurally grow out of the preceding epoch despite the stilted framework provided by the capitalist impetus.

3. This staging ground for capitalism - the preparatory epoch im- mediately preceding the introduction of capitalism - captures in itself to a certain degree, the whole of the previous history of development of a given region, because it is in itself the product of a formative process intimately associated with its own past and the epoch from which it was structurally derived.

In the Arab region the pre-history of national formation, especially the epoch of classical Islamic civilisation, is of special importance. This results from the manner in which the formation of the community of Islam, based on adherence to a religious idea, combined with arabisation, completely overhauled the pre-Islamic tribal structures of Arabia. With Islam the Arab region was definitively wrenched out of its past, and a new petty commodity mode of production flourished in the cities, as in no previous epoch in the history of the ancient world.

4. A rising new epoch - as the rise of capitalism in the Arab world - can also reappropriate its distant past in a new way. Thus, for example, the rise of capitalism in Western Europe, while growing out of the contradictions of the feudal mode of production, at the same time reappropriated during the Renaissance the heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. In a similar manner, we think it can be shown that Arab nationalism represents a form (albeit less dramatic) of reappropriation of a past associated with the arabisation and islamisation of the region in the classical epoch of Islam.

5. National formation in the Arab region is a highly uneven process that started in Egypt and on the Mediterranean coastline very early in the nineteenth century. It started under the Ottoman empire, and long before the political fragmentation of the Arab world by imperialism in the twentieth century.

6. The scale of the economic, social and cultural decline of the Arab region between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries puts into historical perspective the enormous transformations wrought on the region by the development of capitalism. For example, towards the end of the eighteenth century, the cu1t~ated area of the Fertile Crescent had shrunk to a fraction of what it was in the tenth century. The estimated population of the present territory of Iraq in 1867 was 1.28 million, whereas it has been suggested that between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries it supported a population of some 20 million!28 Greater Syria under the Romans is estimated by some orientalists to have had a population of ten million. By the end of the eighteenth century this had shrunk to two million. Egypt's population, estimated at eight million in Roman times, collapsed to four million by the fourteenth century, and to 2.5 million in the early nineteenth century.29

7. Capitalism revolutionised the social structure of the Arab region, but not its productive capacities. At first population levels remained either very low, or declined significantly, but temporarily, as in the case of the brutal French colonisation of Algeria in 1830. The impact of manufactured products from Europe on artisan employment also led to an absolute and relative decline of population in some Arab cities like Fez, Damascus, and Marrakesh. Later, however, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century, one of the most pronounced expressions of the development of capitalism became the reversal of the historic decline in population previously noted. Iraq's population today is just under ten times what it was in 1867. Egypt's 80 Nationalformation in the Arab region: a critique of Samir Amin population, which beg'an to increase much earlier in tbe nineteenth century, is 13-14 times what it was in 1800. In Syria and Iraq, a steady rate of increase really only began to take hold in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

8. In the nineteenth century other great social transformations were taking place alongside the increase in population:

(a) The settlement of what had once been very large and politically important nomadic populations, so that by the first world war the phenom6l10n' of the Bedouin way of life was for all practical purposes eliminated.30

(b) The breakup of traditional agrarian relations in the countryside and the emergence of private land ownership, including the formation of a very important class of large landowners, and landless peasants whose produce was now being exchanged on the world market.31

(c) Urbanisation-without-industrialisation, which began in the late nineteenth century, but accelerated tremendously in the twentieth.

(d) Finally, the incipient formation of modern social classes, in- cluding an urban proletariat, in infrastructure and services (ports, railways-etc).

9. It is very important to realise that it was out of these social upheavals that there began to emerge the basic human material which was to forge and shape national development and nationalist ideology in all its varieties. The nineteenth century can therefore be called the critical first century of national formation in the Arab region. The development of capitalism and its social ramifications were taking place under the common political, military, administrative and economic structures of the Ottoman empire, which had held sway for several hundred years over all the Arabic-speaking countries. They were terminated in 1830 in the Maghreb with the French invasion, and in 1882 in Egypt with the British occupation. Otherwise, direct Ot- toman control was maintained over the rest of the Mashreq until the first world war. The strength and vitality of pan-arabism, which was not only sustained in the twentieth century, but also flourished after the second world war with nasserism, should be viewed in relation to this more or less unfied transformation of the Arab region in the nineteenth century. Arab nationalism therefore has its beginnings in these social and economic convulsions which gripped the region until the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century.

10. From as early as the nineteenth century, capitalism was developing in a highly uneven fashion in the Arab region. There was therefore from the very beginning a tendency to national dif- ferentiation within the Arab world (ie a tendency to the formation of separate nations in Egypt, Syria, Iraq etc) which was combined with the tendency to Arab national formation. In the twentieth century, following the Sykes-Picot agreement and the establishment by imperialism of what were completely artificial political entities, the countervailing tendency to the formation of a single Arab nation was reinforced. The development of separate bourgeoisies and working classes, linked independently of each other to imperialism, was fostered. However, the artificiality of imperialism's economic and political creations remained very pronounced until at least the 1960s in most Arab countries. It can be concluded, therefore, that local nationalisms in the Arab countries (Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese etc) are rooted objectively in the unevenness of development of capitalism in the nineteenth century and more importantly in the twentieth century history of class formation in the politically fragmented and economically unintegrated modern economies of the Arab countries.

11. In the imperialist epoch, capitalism in the underdeveloped countries breaks up the old' social order and introduces a new one, without, however, revolutionising the forces ,of production. In the nin~teenth century, industrialisation in the Arab region was virtually limited to Egypt. The formation of pan-Arab bourgeoisies and working classes did not take place. However, national formation begins long before the actual physical formation of the two main classes of capitalism - the bourgeoisie and the proletariat - has been completed. It began in Europe several centuries before the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also began in the Arab world in the nineteenth century, whereas until today, the social structure of the Arab countries is characterised by a dependent bourgeoisie, a growing working class, and a large petty-bourgeois mass.

If it is correct to call the nineteenth century' the critical first century of national formation', then it is even more true to say that the twentieth century is the century of permanent revolution in the Arab region. The Arab ruling classes, which were composed of comprador bourgeoisies and big landowners up to the first half of the twentieth century, are today in the process of transforming themselves. The accumulation of vast financial reserves in the oil-producing countries is now creating a bourgeoisie of a cosmopolitan character whose arena for investment is the world capitalist market. At the same time, powerful local bourgeoisies have been or are being greatly strengthened by the experiences of state capitalism that countries like Egypt, Algeria and Iraq have been going through. One thing, however, remains as true for the new Arab bourgeoisies as it was for the old: their utter and increasing dependence on the world capitalist system and on the imperialist bourgeoisie in particular, and their inability to solve the democratic tasks facing Arab society - in- cluding, in particular, the problem of unification and struggle against zionism. From this point of view the significance of the change from Nasser to Sadat in Egypt becomes the extent to which it holds up a mirror into the future of all the nationalist regimes in the Middle East.

12. The pivot around which the national phenomenon is crystallised, reflecting not only the actual course of historical development but also how society itself conceives of this development, is the establishment of the nationalist movement. The weakness of the bourgeoisies of the colonial and semi-colonial countries meant that at their origin, most third-world nationalisms generally appeared to express nothing more than a reaction of the masses to imperialism and to their brutalisation by capitalism. Arab nationalism and the formation of pan-Arab organisations (Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-'Arab, and the Ba'ath) was based on such a mass reaction to the conscious policy of imperialism to fragment the Arab region. Similarly Palestinian nationalism, along with Arab nationalism, crystallised around the zionist colonisation process and the suffering it wreaked on the Arab population of Palestine and the surrounding region.

13. But with or without the physical economic presence of a bourgeoisie to actually lead them, all purely nationalist movements in the imperialist epoch are saddled with the limitations of their own viewpoint. It is in their very nature to appear to adopt the interests of all classes of the oppressed nation or nationality as a priority over the interests of all classes of other national formations. Given the weakness or absence of the bourgeoisie, this can impart great revolutionary impetus to the nationalist struggle. This has been the central feature of the post-World War II struggles in the Arab region, including the experience of the Palestinian resistance movement. Very soon, however, as the struggle for national demands itself necessitates a struggle against the local bourgeoisie or its petty-bourgeois ideologues, and the active assistance of other exploited classes outside the national entity in question, the inherent limits of a nationalist point of departure make themselves felt.

14. It is only the exploiting classes under capitalism that have a stake in presenting the interests of their own class as if they were those of the nation - the sum of all classes. It is only the exploited classes who have an interest in rejecting thi8 identification. Nationalism therefore, in the capitalist colonial and semi-colonial countries, as much as in the advanced countries, represents in its essence a bourgeois ideology. It is either the ideology of a bourgeoisie which is very powerful (as in the imperialist countries), or a bourgeoisie which is in process of formation (the various Arab bourgeoisies), or even a bourgeoisie which may not yet exist as such (a pan-Arab bourgeoisie), but which could in principle emerge if a pan-Arab nationalist movement were capable of uniting the Arab countries.

15. Proletarian internationalism is the highest expression of working- class consciousness. In a most fundamental sense it is counterposed to and transcends all forms of nationalism and particularism. In the Arab region the proletarian internationalist viewpoint is that which takes as its point of departure the fact of capitalist exploitation, imperialist fragmentation and zionist colonisation. If, as we have argued, there are two opposing tendencies in the process of national formation in the Arab region, then this does not obviate the need for marxists to choose between them. This choice is expressed in the struggle for the unification of the Arab countries, and in the combined interest that the Arab workers have in the overthrow of all their own ruling classes and the zionist state.

  • 1. Samir Amin, La Nation Arabe: Nationalisme et Luttes de Classes, Editions de Minuit, 1976. This book will soon be available in English from Zed Press. Another book in which Amin develops the same theme is Unequal Development, Monthly Review Press, 1976. The same ideas were also present in an article in Monthly Review, July/August 1970, called 'Nationalism and Class Struggles in the Arab W orid' by Ahmed Al Qodsy.
  • 2. S. Amin, La Nation Arabe p.14. The identical formulation can be found also in Unequal Development p38.
  • 3. S. Amin, Unequal Development, pp47-48.
  • 4. 'A series of major historical events marked the stages in this [Arab] national regression: the Crusades and the transfer of the centre of gravity of trade from the Arab cities to those of Italy; the fall of Baghdad under the blows of the Mongols in the 13th Century; then the Ottoman conquest in the 16th Century, with the transfer of trade from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic in the same period and correlatively, the direct contact established by Europe with Monsoon Asia and Black Africa, which deprived the Arabs of their role as middlemen.' S. Amin, Unequal Development p28. Exactly the same point is argued in his introduction to K. Vergoupoulos, Le Capitalisme Difformé, p8 and in La Nation Arabe p109.
  • 5. 'In becoming Arabised, however, the Egyptian people kept a very firm sense of their distinctiveness. They never called themselves" Arabs", a word that remained for them synonymous with "barbarians", but always "ßgyptians". And Egypt has retained its originality, not on the linguistic plane but on that of culture and values, which in Egypt are peasant values.' S. Amin, Unequal Development p46.
  • 6. ibid. p29.
  • 7. ibid. p28.
  • 8. ibid. pp27, 28.
  • 9. Encyclopedia of Islam, first ed. p439.
  • 10. Refer to our first quote from Amin.
  • 11. We refer the reader to the excellent essay on 'Pre-Islamic Arabia' by Irfan Shahid in the Cambridge History of Islam.
  • 12. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, The University of Chicago Press, 1974, vol. 1, p146.
  • 13. M. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Political Thought, Islamic Surveys vol. 6, Edinburgh University Press 1968, p11.
  • 14. 'Among the nomadic tribes of Arabia there was as great a degree of communal solidarity as anywhere else in the world. In Mecca before the preaching of Muhammed, commercial prosperity was breaking down the solidarity of tribe and clan. Islam may be said to have restored communal solidarity but to have attached it to the total community of Muslims rather than to any smaller unit. . . It is indeed the solidarity of the umma or community which is the chief contribution of the Islamic religion in the political sphere.' W. M. Watt, Islamic Political Thought p29.
  • 15. '. . . the ethnic content of the word" Arab" itself was also changing. The spread of Islam among the conquered peoples was accompanied by the spread of Arabic. This process was accelerated by the settlement of numbers of Arabians in the provinces, and from the 10th Century onwards by the arrival of a new ruling race, the Turks, in common subjection to whom the distinc- tion between the descendants of the Arab conquerors and the Arabised natives ceased to be significant. In almost all the provinces west of Persia the old native languages diçd out and Arabic became the chief spoken language.' Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History Hutchinson and Co 1970, pp14-15.
  • 16. Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations Lawrence & Wishart 1964, p88.
  • 17. We refer the reader to the essay by D. C. Dennett on 'Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam' in Islamic Taxation, Arno Press, 1973; and the first chapter of Ann Lambton's book Landlord and Peasant in Persia, Oxford University Press 1953.
  • 18. See Charles Issawi, The Economic History of the Middle East 1800-1914, Part I, 'Decline and Revival of the Middle Eastern Economy'.
  • 19. We refer the reader to the excellent books by Gordon Childe, in particular What Happened in History, Man Makes Himself and New Light on the Most Ancient Near East.
  • 20. A famous Pre-Islamic poet, al-A'sha from the Yamãma, is said to have sung:
    Let this warn whoever a warning will take:
    And Ma'rib withal, which the Dam fortified.
    Of Marble did Himyar construct it so high,
    The waters recoiled when to reach it they tried.
    It watered their acres and vineyards, and hour
    By hour, did a portion among them divide.
    So lived they in fortune and plenty until
    Therefrom turned away by a ravaging tide.
    Then wandered their princes and noblemen through
    Mirage-shrouded deserts that baffle the guide.

    R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, London 1941, p17.

  • 21. S. Amin, Unequal Development p28.
  • 22. Maxime Rodinson, Islam and Capitalism, Allen Lane 1974, p56.
  • 23. G. D. Goitein, 'The Rise of the Near Eastern Bourgeoisie in Early Islamic Times' Cahiers d'Histoire Mondiale, 3,1956-1957, pp583-604.
  • 24. 'In broad outline we can designate the Asiatic, the ancient, the feudal and' the modern bourgeois methods of production as so many epochs in the progress of the economic formation of society' [emphasis added] K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859.
  • 25. S. Amin, Unequal Development p13.
  • 26. K. Marx, Grundrisse Pelican edition 1975, p496.
  • 27. The purpose of these notes is to sum up the main arguments of this article and to put forward some hypotheses and possible lines of investigation for further research into the problem.
  • 28. M. S. Hasan, 'Growth and Structure of Iraqi Population 1867-1947', 85 Nationaljormation in the Arab region: a critique of Samir Amin Bulletin of Oxford University Institute of Statistics, XX, 1958; and J. I. Clarke and W. B. Fisher (editors) Population of the Middle East and North Africa, University of London Press 1972, p97.
  • 29. C. Issawi, op cit pp3-4.
  • 30. For Egypt see the excellent study by G. Baer, 'The Settlement of the Bedouins' in Studies in the social History of Modern Egypt, University of Chicago Press 1969.
  • 31. For references see G. Baer, Population and Society in the Arab East, F. A. Praeger 1966, chapter IV.

Ideology without revolution: Jewish women in Israel - Dina Hecht and Nira Yuval-Davis

In-depth article on the historic role of women in the zionist movement and the development of feminism in Israel.

Ideology without revolution: Jewish women in Israel - Dina Hecht and Nira Yuval-Davis


'In the State of Israel almost every woman is a working woman.

'You meet the working woman on your way to Israel – stewardesses aboard planes and on the ground (the supervisor in the airport's control tower is also likely to be a woman). Often a policewoman will be the one to stamp your passport, and a pert young woman will greet you at the reception desk of your hotel ...

'[Women] are the most dextrous in packing orange crates or strawberry baskets, and they are most expeditious in packaging colourful flowers... and they take part in growing them ...

'True, only one out of every three adult women works outside her own household and is designated statistically as "belongs to the work force", but those who stay at home work at their daily chores, taking care of their family and rearing their children ... none will deny that the work they do is vital and that they are contributing directly both to the welfare of their family and to the image of Israel's society.'2

A state that relies to the extent that Israel does on outside financial and human resources has to produce a comprehensive public relations policy which is conducted abroad even more vigorously than at home. The brazenness of this venture determines the constant high pitch at which zionist propaganda is maintained.

With the resurgence of Western feminism Israeli propaganda has found not only a new market abroad but also many enthusiastic mouthpieces to further laud the so-called advances and achievements of Israeli women. Indeed women play a considerable role in the export image of Israel: women conscripts, women in the kibbutz, a woman prime minister and 'dextrous orange-crate packers' – all have become successful propaganda currency, and the myth of the equal, liberated or emancipated Israeli woman, although weakening in Israel, is still potent abroad.

In an article 'Revolution Without Ideology: the changing place of women in American', C.N. Degler laments 'that in America the soil is thin and the climate uncongenial for the growth of any seedlings of ideology... and so long as [American working women] do not advance such an ideology, American society surely will not do so, though other societies, like Israel's and the Soviet Union's, which are more ideological than ours, obviously have.'3

That is as may be; but the myth of the supposed liberation and equality of Israeli women, while perhaps gratifying a deep-seated need for feminists in search of identity, cajoles most Israeli women into a state of spirited resignation – content with a public image that bears little or no resemblance to their actual situation.

The dextrous [female] orange-crate packer today is likely to earn 40 per cent less than her male counterpart, and that despite the equal pay law of 1964.

During the premiership of Mrs Meir, there were only nine women among the 120 members of the Knesset; at present there are eight. There is not a single woman city mayor, and in the civil service – the largest employer of the female labour force – 40 per cent of employees are women, but in the highest grade only 4 per cent are women.4

Some women are indeed conscripted into the army, but in recent years about half of those reaching conscription age have been exempted – a far higher proportion than in the case of men. Of those taken into the army, 60 per cent are employed in clerical occupations; only 30 per cent of army job classifications are open to women.

Chen, the Hebrew acronym for Women's Corps, means (as a word) "Charm". And indeed chen adds to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] the grace and charm which makes it also a medium for humanitarian and social activities.

'Today, of course, the goals of chen have changed and chen girls play purely non-combatant – though thoroughly essential – roles within the IDF framework.

'The raison d'etre for women's present-day service in the IDF is threefold:

'1. Indirect reinforcement of the IDF's combat forces, by fulfilling a variety of administrative, professional and service duties, thus releasing a larger number of male soldiers for fighting missions.

'2. Preparing women to defend themselves, their families and homes, due to the unique security circumstances of Israel.

3. Assisting in the IDF's educational and social enterprises... and participating in the national extra-military missions of the IDF as an absorbent of immigration, tutor and rehabilitator of socially disadvantaged youth, etc.'5

The verbiage of the official propaganda deserves to be quoted extensively, not only to contrast the myth which it propagates about women in Israel with their actual situation, but also to expose the underlying zionist ideology and overt political priorities.

The recent change of leadership implies no qualitative change in the zionist character of Israel. The new government's first year in office was marked by an intensification of the old policies of territorial expansion, perpetuating the traditional zionist conflict with the Arab world and the indigenous Palestinians. The added Lebensraum reinforces Israel's dependence on immigration of new settlers.

There has clearly been an increase in the degree of fanatic militancy with which the same zionist aims are pursued. But more important is the further crystallisation of the innate structural and ideological relationship between zionism and the Jewish religion. The role of religion in Israel is, on the one hand, to confirm and reinforce the hegemony of the zionist state over all the Jews in the world, and on the other to legitimise the zionist claim on 'the Land of Israel', that is, Palestine, as the homeland of the Jews and their exclusive estate. Un­der the patronage of the coalition of the Likud and the National Religious Party, the aims of zionism are given not merely a religious endorsement but also the fresh impetus of literal biblical justification.

It is only against this background that a coherent exposition and analysis of women's lot in Israel is possible.

Women's role in the early colonization period

The distinguishing features of Israel as a zionist state are reflected in the distinctive situation of Israeli women compared to that of women elsewhere in the capitalist world.

It is true that the issue of the role of women in the zionist enterprise was and still is a prominent one. The pressure to bolster the position of women started in the early years of this century with women settlers for whom 'the commandment of settling the land was sacred'.2 Throughout the history of the Jewish settlement in Palestine, the zionist movement has undertaken tasks for which it was under­manned; the 'conquest of labour' and the 'conquest of the land' (euphemisms in Hebrew for agricultural colonisation and the eviction and displacement of Arab peasants and workers in order to provide jobs for Jewish workers) required the active participation and backing of women. Indeed, these were the first 'lucky breaks' for those women settlers whose zionist ideology was tinged with feminist notions – ­some did MEN's jobs. The rest were duly despatched to the com­munal kitchen or laundry. However, both received their proper plaudits as each in turn fulfilled her designated role – to release more men for frontier duty.

The frontiers of Israel can hardly be described as fixed, either phys­ically or metaphorically. Within their ever-expanding domain, zionist objectives may vary and the words used to describe them may change, but the role of women remains the same – to man the rear.

From the beginning, in order to create a socio-economic base from which zionism could expand, a rapid increase of the Jewish population was required. The Jewish communities abroad furnished the enterprise with both economic and human resources, which in turn enabled zionism to expand territorially, absorb more immigrants and command further financial support. This process inevitably escalated the economic conflict with the indigenous population into a political-military one, which in turn has required further resources from abroad and has thus tied zionism irrevocably to the production and re­production potential of the Jewish world outside. The embryonic Jewish society in Palestine has suspended, so it appears, the tasks of generational reproduction and rearing, and relegated them to the Diaspora – the rear.

Palestine was the frontier outpost; this defined the demographic characteristics of the early waves of Jewish im­migration – 'aliyot – especially the second wave (1904-1914) and the third (1919-1923). Scarcity of women – not an unusual feature of a colonial process – was but one aspect of it. Most of the immigrants were young and single, or childless couples; the proportion of children under 14 was exceptionally low. In other words, there was a very low ratio of dependants to economically active adults. In effect the zionist settler population in Palestine was almost entirely a combatant labour force. These characteristics were even more accentuated in the kib­butzim and work brigades (plugot 'avodah) which were, so to speak, the spearhead of the zionist effort to establish exclusively Jewish agricultural structures. There, men outnumbered women by four or five to one.

Such disparities in the sex ratio might have created a favourable attitude towards women, maybe even a feminist bias. But in Palestine this was not the case. In her book 'Fifty years of the Working Women's Movement' Ada Maimon cites many instances of discrimination and ridicule of women, especially those for whom 'The New Socialism', 'Proletarisation', and 'Productive Jewish Labour' were values inextricably connected with equality between the sexes.

Sexist attitudes prevalent among the settlers in the collectives were reinforced by the zionist form of colonisation. Kibbutzim and other collectives, where the majority of members were men, refused persistently to accept more than a limited number of women – just enough to maintain the necessary services. Some collectives had women not as full members but only as hired help. The women in Degania – in the early years before this collective became a kib­butz – were not considered members with equal rights. They were not registered in the annual contract which the collective made with the Palestine Office of the zionist movement, as the male members were, and did not receive the monthly salary which the Office paid to the men both in Degania and in neighbouring Kineret. When the women demanded to be included in the contract the retort was that 'women work for the men, not for the Palestine Office of the zionist movement'.6

A brief 'History of the Working Women in Israel' published by the Women Workers' Council provides a partial picture and numerous rationalisations of the state of affairs.

'...These were women of strong character and marvellous emotional powers, and they knew how to translate faith and enthusiasm into deeds. This is the sole explanation of their ability to go out daily and do "a man's job" when they were really delicate damsels only recently separated from their parents' loving care and from their university desks. Their hope was that the formation of the pioneers into specific settlement units, in an independent but co-operative framework... would also solve the problems of the working woman... it soon became apparent that even in the new life context which she had helped form the woman was put into her traditional place. Most of the women worked in the kitchen, in the laundry and in the children's quarters.

'The situation of the women who arrived with the third wave of immigration (after the first world war) was much the same. These belonged to the "labour brigades" and the co-operative groups engaged in public works – road-building and construction. They fought for their right to break up gravel, to hew stones, to work on scaffolding and to take part in literally building the country. However, since there wasn't enough work to go round, it was first given to the males in the group.

'Many reasons for this were offered: these jobs were not for a woman; her productivity was doubtful, since soon she would give birth and would be out of the work circle; the woman's wage was lower than the man's, so that her contribution to the commune was smaller; and to begin with, why should she work on construction when she could earn money doing other, more feminine, things... Some of the agriculture groups decided to open laundries or restaurants in the cities, as a means of providing their women with employment; they would also serve the group members working in the cities. In other groups, the women went out to do paid housework, so as to be able to add their share to the common till.' (Our italics.)

The missing pieces in this picture puzzle are those depicting the indigenous population; unlike other immigrant-settler forms of colonisation, zionism sought not to exploit the local inhabitants but to displace them. Thus Jewish settlers found themselves in direct economic competition with the Arab labouring classes in the productive sector. In the mode of production that existed in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s, the Arab wage labourer was often a seasonal migrant or part-time worker, who earned wages only to supplement his family produce and who could rely in return on the supportive service and maintenance functions that the extended family provided.

Compared to these Arab workers, Jewish members of collectives, co-operatives, work brigades or kibbutzim were at a considerable disadvantage; not only were they novices who lacked any experience in manual labour, but in addition they had no comparable servicing and maintenance support, and were completely dependent on the higher ­cost market economy for consumption.

It is in this economic context that the collectivised forms of Jewish settlements evolved and that the division of labour within them, as well as the socialisation of domestic labour, can be explained. The status of individuals within the group was directly correlated with their earning ability; their earning ability was measured against the productivity of the Arab male wage labourer7. The arbiters were employers such as the mandatory authorities in public works and the Jewish farmers (early settler – land owners) in agricultural work who had little or no stake either in the successes of the zionist enterprise or in the achievement of the equality of women. The collective fear that 'women's work will cause a deficit', induced by the Palestine Office of the zionist movement which provided financial support, and shared by women members of the collectives, was reinforced by the plain fact that at the time women's wages in the labour market were lower than men's wages. In consequence, the sexual division of labour found its use in the economic battle against the local population. The combatant forces at the front were the all-male Jewish collectives, contending with the Arab wage labourers. The women formed auxiliary forces in the rear to match the challenge of the Arab ex­tended family.

Surrogate emancipation

The token few who crossed the sexual divide did so obsessed with the need to live down their femininity, or as Golda Meir put it, 'rights – they had in abundance; [they struggled] for equality in duties... road construction, hoeing in the fields, house building or guard duties... and not to be condemned to kitchen work... I for one continued to be more concerned with the quality of our food than with women's liberation'.8

In 1921, a year after the establishment of the Histadrut (zionist trade union federation), the first conference of working women resolved – not surprisingly – that:

'...the Women Workers' Council is mandatory in order to arouse the members to action, and to stimulate and move the various factors to find work for the working woman... We have come to the Land of Israel to work, to devote all our energy and dedication to labour, and this pioneering work is not to be measured by the worker's output; everything according to capability, and we are to have equal rights in life and at work...' (footnote 2 - our italics).

Equal rights in life and at work they have not achieved to this day, but the Women Workers' Council (Mo'etzet Hapo'alot) took the lead, with other women's organisations following suit, and became on the one hand a centre of surrogate emancipation and on the other, one of the principal agents of zionism in the development of an alternative to the real emancipation of Jewish women.

The scope, structure, activities and power of those women's organisations are outside the scope of this article. It will suffice to say that they offered a wide enough framework within zionism to a large number of suitably-disposed women to train, improve, help, advise, absorb, educate, propagandise and plan for other women thus not eliminating women from public life but rather confining them to what is broadly known as 'women's affairs'. In the early stages of zionism such activities meant channelling and controlling the growing number of disillusioned or unemployed women into so-called 'teaching farms' and other training courses and sharing the burden of qlita (absorption) of single female immigrants.9

Then as now, their ideological role was to reconcile the inherent conflict between zionism and the accomplishment of women's emancipation. By addressing themselves to the very reasons for women's discontent and glorifying their sacrifices as contributions to national unity and other zionist expediencies, these organisations and their women leaders have succeeded time and again in taming the militancy of their members. The same zionist expediences provided Israeli women and their organisations with new challenges which could be misconstrued as real feminist opportunities.

The challenge of military needs

If women were deprived of their 'rightful' share in the 'conquest of labour' and 'the conquest of the land', the escalation into war of the conflict with the Palestinian population and the neighbouring Arab countries appeared to spell a 'real chance' for aspiring feminist-zionist women – for once they were needed.

The early Jewish settler women – it was alleged – had to masquerade as Arab women, veil and all, whenever they walked in the streets, so great was their fear of the Arab population. Not until 1907 , when a defence organisation 'Bar Giora' was founded by Y. Ben Tzvi (later the second Israeli president), did Jewish women unveil and walk about 'with a whip or a stick in hand'. Regional 'defence' organs like 'Bar Giora' sprang up across the country as Arab opposition to zionism grew. These organs later fused into what was known as the 'Hagana' (= defence), the embryonic IDF. The skills of Jewish women in disguising themselves came in handy when the Hagana sent oriental Arabic-speaking Jewish women, dressed up in Arab garb, into Arab neighbourhoods to obtain information, while 'elegant ladies trans­ported arms in their cars'. Apart from such daring pursuits women were allotted essentially auxiliary tasks: quartermasters, nurses, drivers, signallers, messengers and guards.

By 1942, when the women in the Hagana numbered 10,000, the men 50,000, a special department for women was set up and a principle enacted that women should 'be part of the defence force, also in the [military] posts, so that a considerable number of men in defence duties could be released for field forces and Palmah' (Hebrew acronym for plugot mahatz = shock troops).10

Here too, as on the economic battleground, some women did cross the sexual divide, but this was the exception, not the rule. The ex­ception was blown up out of all proportion in a myth prevalent both inside Israel and outside. The rule, not the exception, was reinforced in 1943 when Jewish volunteers formed the' Jewish Brigade' in the British Army; Jewish women were urged to volunteer for the ATS. Four thousand did just that and slotted neatly into the British Army structure and its idea of a women's corps, in addition to which 'they excelled... especially in their concern for the Jewish soldier, cut off from his family... among strangers. They organised clubs for cultural activities and instilled the atmosphere of the land of Israel in the camps, they celebrated Jewish festivals, produced a Hebrew leaflet and made pleasant the life of the Jewish soldier.'11

During the early stages of colonisation, zionism almost failed in the efficient utilisation of Jewish women's enthusiasm and willingness to take part in the enterprise. The long period of enforced unem­ployment to which Jewish women had been subjected reached its peak, at the height of the economic crisis in 1940-41, with the Histadrut directive that no Jewish family should have more than one bread­winner (the head of the family). As the war progressed, this trend came to an end. 'Mo'etzet Hapo'alot' was beside itself to find women who would work in the labour camps set up to provide for the war effort. One thousand eight hundred worked in those camps; 'they worked for the war effort and infiltrated new occupations'.[see footnote 10 - libcom ed.]

At the end of the war, the participation of women intensified.

Jewish women were sent from Palestine to Europe as shlihot (emissaries). How many were sent is obscure but their tasks were clear; nurses, social workers, nannies, domestic science instructors and tea­chers were sent to refugee camps in Sweden and Italy and in the American, British and French zones in Germany. They 'opened Hebrew schools in the camps... organised public life... ad­ministered health education and youth training, and bore the responsibilty for running the camps,' but most importantly they were entrusted with carrying out tasks that required a real commitment to zionism: 'the selection of candidates for ha'apalah' (= upwards struggle, a Hebrew euphemism for illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine). They trained, equipped and transported those candidates to ports where others took over.[see footnote 10 - libcom ed.] The processing and absorption of displaced Jewish immigrants occupied women before and during the so-called 'war of independence'.

The British mandate's policy of restricting the admission of Jews into Palestine, in order to appease the growing opposition of the indigenous and neighbouring Arabs, triggered off in response bitter anti-British violence. Jewish immigration assumed, despite its illegality, the scale of a powerful national movement. The British intercepted thousands of displaced Jews en route to Palestine and sent them to camps in Cyprus where again the internal operation was organised by shlihot who, as in the European camps, prepared the immigrants for the tasks awaiting them in Palestine.[see footnote 10 - libcom ed.]

The dual role of women in Israel

After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jewish immigration was finally under zionist control, a control that asserted itself through one of the first laws to be enacted in Israel – the Law of Return. This law provided the legal basis for the demographic objectives of the zionist leadership; to achieve a high Jewish population growth in Israel through mass immigration of Jews, and so enable them to 'survive' in the heart of the Arab world whose population numbered well over 70 million, and to contain a 14 per cent Arab minority having a high rate of natural increase. Hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived between 1948 and 1951, during which time Israel's population more than doubled.

It was then that the principal duality of Israeli women's role was crystallised and found its expression. It mirrored the duality in the attitude of the zionist leadership towards demographic issues, epitomised in the official euphemistic terminology 'aliyah pnimit or 'aliyah hitzonit (internal or external ascent12) used in the ongoing debate on the respective roles of natural growth and immigration in securing zionist demographic aims.

The military service law, which was passed in 1949, exempted from conscription married women, pregnant women and mothers (as well as women who for conscientious or religious reasons did not wish to be conscripted), thus in effect categorising Israeli women into mothers who carry out their 'demographic duty to the nation' – 'aliyah ­pnimit – and surrogate mothers who carry out their duty to the nation by mothering Jewish immigration – 'aliyah hitzonit. In the self-image of the IDF as a 'melting pot', women soldiers are the stirring spoon. Men soldiers from 'backward countries' (Oriental Jews) receive a fairly comprehensive training programme in the army where they acquire a knowledge of Hebrew and basic education and skills. The trainers are almost exlusively women, while women who do not possess these skills, possibly arriving from similar 'backward countries' are not even recruited, for reasons of 'low quality'. Throughout the fifties, women soldiers often 'volunteered' to work in transit camps for immigrants, 'pitching tents, digging drainage ditches,... [providing] medical care, general instruction, [and] education of children – humane activities that carry a blessing for the State as a whole'.[see footnote 10 - libcom ed.] The accent on the absorption of immigrants shifted, as the waves of emigration ebbed; this did not change the essence of women's role in the army, but merely redirected it.

Surrogate motherhood is, of course, not confined to immigrants but is the underlying theme of a woman's life in the army irrespective of her occupation, be it regimental quartermaster or radar operator, and is a consequence of the manifest need for 'normalisation' that is evident in the wake of every war, the more so in Israel where war and the eventuality of war recur periodically.

Yet the army is no mere melting pot and its main function is still to further Israel's territorial expansion by military means. Women are not left out and as well as manning the traditional rear – clerical, administrative and light technical occupations – some are required to do even more.

In September 1977, '...on one historic evening... the Israeli navy commissioned nine girls as seawomen, the first in the navy, the first perhaps in any navy in the world... The original idea', said the (male) commander of the training base, 'was to train girls for these duties in order to release boys for sea duties, all this in the framework of the general utilisation of manpower...'. He went on: 'Dear (female) officers, the work is not behind you but in front of you... You are not designated for warfare duties, but the duty you will carry out from tomorrow was carried out until yesterday by a (male) commander'.13 Other women in yet another first course 'were qualified as tank drivers, gunners, and tank commanders'.14

This in no way implies that sexual divisions in the army have finally disappeared, but rather that the rearrangement of the map of Israel has taxed the already stretched manpower at the front to the extent that a reappraisal of what constitutes the rear is urgently required. Neither sea women nor women tank commanders will see combat. The female sailors will patrol the home shores, as no doubt they did during the recent invasion, while the navy was bombarding targets in Lebanon from the sea. Similarly, the female tank unit will be engaged only as instructors, 'thus releasing [male] soldiers for combat duties' (ibid).

In the same vein, but in other words, an interim report presented by the 'Committee for woman's status in Israel', headed by Knesset member Orah Namir states that 'conscription and regular [army] services do not exhaust the possible contribution of women, especially not in technological areas. Women are capable of carrying out more duties and thus alleviating the [current] manpower shortage'.

Internal and external growth – reproduction and immigration

That women both work and at the same time produce children is regarded as necessary to the continued survival of the Jewish state; and for those who might have lost sight of the future shortage of cannon fodder, the Koenig report is one reminder. This secret memorandum, 'Handling the Arabs of Israel', submitted to Prime Minister Rabin in 1976, was leaked in the newspaper 'Al-Hamishmar on 7 September 1976. Its author, Israel Koenig, Northern District Commissioner for the Ministry of the Interior, and as such in charge of Arab affairs in the Galilee, points out that 'the rate of natural growth of the Arab population is 5.9 per cent per annum, in comparison with 1.5 per cent for the Jewish population... On this basis, by 1978 the Arabs will constitute over 51 per cent of the population in the [nor­thern] district... Their growth in the Galilee is dangerous to our very control over the district...'. The report purports to evaluate, and suggests ways to counteract, the so-called threat implied in such a ratio. One telling proposal is that 'the government should find a way to neutralise the granting of allowances to Arab families with many children, which could be done either by linking it to economic status or by taking [the administration of] these allowances away from the national insurance and transferring them to the Jewish Agency... for Jews only'.

The double bind is that while in zionist theory the raison d'etre of the state of Israel is asserted to be the provision of a haven for all the Jews of the world, in zionist practice the raison d'etre of Jews is to maintain the state of Israel. In other words, the very existence of the zionist state supersedes the supposed values of its ideology, chiefly the well-being of Jews.

As early as 1943, at a Mapai (Labour) party conference on the 'labour force' Ben-Gurion expressed his concern that the Jewish population in Palestine was in a state of demographic and moral decline. He suggested that the majority of Jews in Palestine did not fulfil their reproductive commitments to the nation, that the average of 2.2 children per family was not enough, especially when there is no im­migration (there was very little immigration at the time) and if this went on, the Jewish community would extinguish itself.15, 16 In the school of 'Jewish demographic decay', Ben-Gurion was but one pupil. Attention to the question was called by Roberto Bachi, a professor of statistics, who, in a series of articles published between 1939 and 1944, pointed out the threatening implications of the difference between Arab and Jewish rates of natural increase, and called for for­mulation of a population policy to curb the fertility decline among Jews in Palestine that would be in keeping with the political objectives of the Jewish community. His was the 'liberal' suggestion that families should have, ideally, three, four or even more children and that financial inducements be offered in the form of family allowances and easy credit facilities for big families.17

The overtly reactionary voice in this school was that of the late Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University, who, in a number of articles published between 1942 and 1944, translated the mathematics of the indefinite continuation of differential demographic patterns between Jews and Arabs into Hebrew journalistic terrorism. That Jewish families should be urged to have children was not enough; definite policies to achieve this objective should be implemented. 'Total war' should be waged against gynaecologists who performed abortions. Abortion, according to Fraenkel, was not only immoral, a terrible crime tantamount to murder, but also a major reason for the low Jewish birth rate. To substantiate his assertion that controlling the number of abortions would effectively increase the dwindling birth rate he argued that 'Among the many means by which Hitler attempted in 1933 to in­crease the German birth rate the one effective measure was the war against abortions'. In this vein he proposed that persons involved in the illegal act of induced abortion be liable to heavy punitive measures.18

The same reasons underlying those discussions of the early 1940s underlie also the recent concern over population growth in Israel. After the establishment of the state, developments in population policy were shaped generally according to the relatively liberal view, but it was the nationalist-religious camp that kept the issues alive and brought pressure to bear at all levels, especially and most effectively in the administrative machine, where the religious parties had con­siderable power (as partners in most government coalitions). They fought systematically against the establishment of public family planning services, and campaigned against existing abortion regulations and against women's service in the armed forces.

A 'natality committee', headed by Bachi, was appointed on 1 April 1962 by the then Prime Minister Ben-Gurion. The committee was to undertake research and advise the government on matters concerning natality policies and consider means by which large families could be assisted. Of all the recommendations which the committee submitted in April 1966, only one was implemented – the establishment of the 'Demographic Centre' in 1968 to act as an administrative unit in the Prime Minister's Office. The aim of the centre is 'to act systematically in carrying out a natality policy intended to create a psychologically favourable climate, such that natality will be encouraged and stimulated, an increase in natality in Israel being crucial for the whole future of the Jewish people'.[see footnote 15 - libcom ed.]

According to Zina Harman, its first director, the centre is now undergoing 'a period of reappraisal and reorganisation of its aims'.19 This is hardly surprising; until now the activities of the centre have not gone beyond 'research, publicity and experimentation'. 'Research' means an enquiry into Israeli attitudes towards having a third and fourth child. 'Publicity' means promoting the image of large families through the media; and 'experimentation' is merely a small-scale programme whereby couples intending to have another child may, under certain conditions, apply for a low-interest loan for the purpose of acquiring a larger apartment.[see footnote 15 - libcom ed.]

What transpires is that Israel cannot afford the investment in a 'demographic revival of the nation' which, according to calculations made for the natality committee, would cost about 12 per cent of the gross national product (1969 figures). What remains are the cheap solutions; to continue the orchestrated ideological onslaught on small families, to publicise the large ones, to hope for a renewed flow of immigration, and perhaps to declare 'total war' on abortions.[see footnote 15 - libcom ed.]

'Fetal wastage'

The relative 'ideological pluralism' that was tolerated in the first thirty years of the state brought about a situation where family planning services were absent in an otherwise extensive public health service, and expertly performed abortion could be obtained for a fee which was easily within the means of the well-to-do. Thus despite severe legal penalties, abortion became a common method of family plan­ning – more so after 1952, when the Attorney General recommended that a blind eye should be turned to abortions, and abortionists not prosecuted, provided that the abortion was expertly performed. This practice went on with only one exception.20 In 1963 the Attorney General's 'recommendations were cancelled as a result of their dubious legality but in practice the same principles apply'.21

In 1972, unofficial 'committees for pregnancy termination' were set up in some Qupat Holim hospitals. Their function was to consider cases where abortion was demanded by a patient. These committees and the criteria which they followed in deciding for or against abortion were not endorsed by law.[see footnote 21 - libcom ed.]

The voice of the zionist demographic warriors was only subdued, not silenced. Thus in 1974 Professor Y. Helbrecht of Hasharon Hospital wrote, expressing a 'professional' opinion, that 'the future of the State of Israel depends on the number of its Jewish inhabitants and on their quality... Immigration and natural growth are the basis of our existence in this country and should supplement one another... Even if we succeed to gather in the remnants of our diasporas, we shall remain few in number in the great sea of the neighbours surrounding us, and it is therefore imperative that we direct all our attention to the maximal reduction of what is called "fetal wastage"...'[see footnote 21 - libcom ed.]

This state of affairs, riddled with contradictions, continued until February 1977, when the Knesset passed the Abortion Law amend­ment that permits abortion on the following grounds:

'1. That continuation of pregnancy constitutes danger to the woman's life.

'2. That a danger exists that the continuation of the pregnancy will cause physical or mental damage.

'3. That a danger exists that the child will be a physical or mental cripple.

'4. That the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

'5. That the woman is under marriageable age or over 45.

'6. That severe damage might be caused to the woman or her children as a result of difficult social conditions of the women's environment, for example that a great number of children reside with her.'.[see footnote 21 - libcom ed.]

This amendment – a temporary victory for the pro-abortion lobby – was due to come into effect in February 1978, but four months after it was passed the right-wing Likud-NRP coalition came to power. One of the main points in the coalition pact was a pledge to repeal the amendment. At a press conference held in February 1978, it was announced that the coalition was preparing a counter-amendment which will only allow abortion on grounds permitted by Jewish religious law; social and economic grounds will not be taken into consideration.22 This might appear as merely another exaction of a price by a religious party for its participation in a coalition, again at the expense of women; but in fact it is a tightening up of zionist demographic policy.

Convergence of Zionism and religion

In Israel, the religious parties get only 12.5 per cent of the votes, and only 22 per cent of all Israelis regard themselves as religious.23 Moreover, it is often officially declared that 'Israel is a state of [temporal] law, not of religious law.' In fact, the body of laws in Israel is derived from as diverse and non-religious origins as British statute and common law and relics of Ottoman legislation; there is also a considerable volume of laws that have been passed since that state was established.

But these are not the only binding laws. 'Like the British regime that preceded it [the State of Israel] has maintained... the rule of the autonomy of religious communities in all [matters] concerning family law, and although laws passed by the Knesset have reduced the ap­plication of this rule it is still firm and established in matters of marriage and divorce.'24 'In these matters the biblical law applies to Jews and their own religious laws apply to Muslims and to Christians';[see footnote 24 - libcom ed.] and to this day, according to the law of Israel, everyone is born into some religious community and is subject in issues of personal status to the religious establishment of his or her community and to its traditional laws. On identity cards there is no mention of citizenship, only of religious-ethnic grouping.

In other words, 'The legislature conceded almost complete non­interference in the existing state of affairs... In these matters [marriage, divorce and most aspects of marital relations], not only is the rule which is applied not a law passed by the Knesset, but the civil courts have no jurisdiction... disputing parties have to address their pleas to the rabbinical courts.'[see footnote 24 - libcom ed.] One of the published 'basic principles' of the last (Rabin) government asserts that 'the Government will safeguard the status quo in the State as regards religious matters.'[see footnote 24 - libcom ed.]

The fact is that many aspects in the lives of all citizens are governed by religious dogma. The nationalist quest for identity coerces the non­religious population into submission and explains the recurring tactical coalitions between ruling parties and religious parties.

In 1970 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Law of Return which turned this collusion into a permanent covenant. The amend­ment concluded another chapter in the debate about 'Who is a Jew'. The answer was couched in terms of religious dogma: A Jew is either a person whose mother is Jewish, or a convert to Judaism. This had come about, despite the secular origin of the zionist movement, when it became clear that any attempt to define 'Jewishness' for all Jews, wherever they were, in different places and diverse cultures, without resorting to religion, or any attempt to found a secular state, would necessarily have caused a rift between the movement and a con­siderable number of Jewish communities, thus weakening zionism and reducing its appeal. For this reason, the new Jewish state had to define 'Who is a Jew' within religious constraints and guarantee Jewish religious culture, legislation and traditional values in all matters where these are not in direct conflict with zionist aims and especially where they reinforce them.

Conversely, the religious sector, and more specifically the NRP, see the state as an instrument best suited to impose the biblical law on the Jewish nation. Their intentions were clearly formulated by Chief Rabbi [Shlomo] Goren, who in the anthology 'Religion and the State' (NRP publication 1964) wrote:

'When it comes to determining the quality of life for the whole nation, we are bound by the Torah [= religious law] and the teaching of the prophets [to use] state compulsion... We are bound therefore by [religious] dogma and common sense to use the machinery of the state in order to maintain the laws and values of the Torah.'25

Women in Israel carry the brunt of the pact between religion and zionism. This may be inferred from the substantial body of law, mainly but not exclusively concerning family, marriage and divorce, which discriminates explicitly against them. According to Jewish religious law, women have an inferior status. Thus, for example, women are not even allowed as witnesses in rabbinical courts, which have jurisdiction on all matters of personal law.

Yet Israeli women are not merely pawns in a callous political game. Nor does Israel's order of priorities, in which women come far down, result from a paternalistic oversight or neglect. It is, on the contrary, a reflection of the convergence of religious and zionist aims.

The principle that 'a woman is her husband's property', coupled with the imperative to 'be fruitful and multiply', expresses the Jewish religious attitude towards women as instruments for ensuring generational reproduction of the husband individually and of the race collectively. That 'a woman is her husband's property' is stated in the binding law of the State of Israel.26 That, and the promise of the then Prime Minister, Y. Rabin, to the Minister of Religious Affairs, Y. Raphael, in July 1975, that 'the [proposed] basic law concerning women's rights shall never be allowed to pass'26 exemplify the two principal parameters determining the present mode of oppression of women.

The guiding Mishnaic principle of the law, which dates from the end of the second century, states that a woman becomes her husband's property in marriage – that is to say, in one of three ways: by a payment, by contract, or by coition. From then on she is forbidden to all except her husband and cannot sever the tie until he dies or divorces her. Although she may ask for it, she can only be the passive recipient of the divorce (the term in Hebrew is banishment). The principle that a woman is her husband's property does not extend only to the husband. If a man dies leaving his wife childless, she cannot remarry until her husband's brother has had an opportunity to claim her.

The consequences of this range from the tragic to the obscene.

Although in modern Israel it is seldom carried to its logical conclusion, in 1967 a case occurred in which both the brother and the widow were deaf mutes. The ancient ceremony called halitza, whereby the brother and the widow exchange prescribed phrases and a spit for a shoe, which releases the brother from the obligation, could not therefore be carried out, and the couple were required instead to perform yibum (= levirate marriage). However the brother was married already, so in order to avoid an intercourse that was mere fornication, the Rab­binical Court, armed with permission from both the Chief Rabbis as a protection against bigamy, sanctified a marriage for a night. A hotel room was hired by the court, intercourse took place in front of male witnesses, and divorce was given the following morning, leaving the woman free to marry whom she pleased.[see footnote 26 - libcom ed.]

The religious concern with the reproduction of the race will even allow polygamy in 'modern' Israel: if the marriage fails to produce children, if the wife is committed to an institution for the insane, or if she is declared 'rebellious', which means that she leaves her husband against his express wish.[see footnote 19 - libcom ed.] The same concern marks the persistent opposition of the religious sector, headed by the National Religious Party, to women's conscription into the army. As early as 1959 the NRP protested that conscription was a major reason for the decline of the Jewish birth rate.[see footnote 15 - libcom ed.] The protest paid off; one of the points in the coalition agreement between the ruling Likud and the NRP is the relaxation of the procedures according to which women are exempted from army service. The exemption of women on religious grounds is currently automatic.27

Preservation of ethnic purity is just as important to the religious sector as it is in keeping with zionist aims. In Israel a variety of marriages are prohibited. In the first place, marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew is not possible. (If a mixed marriage takes place abroad, it is not valid according to the binding religious law.) Within the Jewish community, there are various complicated prohibitions. The offspring of certain categories of prohibited unions are condemned to be labelled as bastards, down to the tenth generation. This label in turn carries with it its own marital restrictions. The penalty of bastardy is the one to which the majority of the conformist population is vulnerable.

A vast network of self-appointed informers ensures that the rabbinical authorities have up-to-date lists of culprits and potential culprits. These lists, known as 'the blacklists', are computerised and distributed by the Ministry for Religious Affairs. In 1975, through a press leak, the existence of 144 such lists became public knowledge. They include names of bastards, suspected bastards, divorcees and their lovers, suspect converts, and persons whose Jewishness is 'doubtful' – all are psulei-hitun (= unfit for marriage).[see footnote 19 - libcom ed.]

The instances in which the religious minority has succeeded in affecting the situation of women in Israel adversely are too many to enumerate; to the detriment of women and the alarm of secular zionists this influence is growing, especially since the inception of Gush Emunim, a vociferous nationalistic-religious movement whose supporters are to be found in most zionist parties. For such people Israel is none but the 'Greater Israel' promised by the Scripture. For them religion is an endorsement of racist and nationalist demagogy, and women are tools for the preservation of ethnic purity.

Against this background the non-religious majority tries in private life to regard the religious aspects of the law as an extension of the bureaucracy, everyone hoping that his or her own case is routine, not one of the horror-story exceptions. In recent years, immigration of Russian Jews of 'suspicious' marital circumstances and the increasing number of war widows have made the exceptions more and more common, and one can observe a growing discontent among the non­religious sections of the population, expressed by various movements and platforms which call for liberalisation of the law.

The Zionist feminists

Recent years have seen the budding of an Israeli feminist movement. Realising the gap between the myth of their supposed liberation and the reality of their imprisonment, Israeli feminists have set out to challenge the status quo.

Emigrées from English-speaking countries have provided the im­petus to the Israeli women's movement as well as the model on which it operates. The movement concentrates its activities in large cities, where consciousness-raising groups operate in Hebrew and in English – a telling fact about both the class nature and the national composition of these groups.

The 1973 war, too, provided Israeli feminism with a considerable boost, judging by repeated references to it as the occasion when Israeli women realised that they had been cheated, so to speak, of their fair share in the national burden. Shulamit Aloni, campaigner for human rights, champion of 'groups which are discriminated against', describes in her book 'Women as Humans' how 'the shock came after the Yom Kippur war; only then did it become apparent how far Israeli society had regressed in all that concerns the inclusion of women in responsible roles in the economy, in the community, in national security, and in the alleviation of the burden in a time of national emergency. The consequences of this shock continued to be felt well into the elections to the eighth Knesset in December 1973.'[see footnote 26 - libcom ed.]

This kind of feminist writing is essentially at odds not with the ethos of the regime but with the way it functions. It contends with the regime not over its policy of territorial expansion and military aggression, but over how best to carry out this policy with women's aid. This is not a new school but a variation of the old feminist-zionist theme: the desire to 'share the duties required by the zionist enterprise.

When [Haim] Barlev, Minister for Commerce and Industry, declared (19 November 1973) that 'more workers will be required in the economy; they will come from among the 'olim (= Jewish immigrants) and volunteers from abroad',28 he incurred the wrath of the feminist movement and of one Pnina Kreindle in particular. She responded in the feminist movement's organ Nilahem (Hebrew acronym for 'Women for a Renewed Soceity' which also means 'we shall fight'): 'Is this possible? How has the big work potential of women in Israel been forgotten?'[see footnote 28 - libcom ed.]

In Ms Kreindle's opinion the answer is illustrated by the news ('Yom-Yom', an economic magazine, 20 November 1973) that Cabinet Minister [Pinhas] Sapir established an emergency economic committee which is composed of 48 men 'and not a single woman!' 'It is clear, therefore, that with such "balanced" composition the existence of women could easily have been forgotten.'[see footnote 28 - libcom ed.]

Kreindle is no pessimist. True, she is furious that 'during the war and after it, "Africa" was a closed club for "men-only". Women were kept in "cotton wool" and their wings were clipped'. And she doubts 'whether an appropriate justification exists for the brushing ­aside of women in the army especially at a time of acute shortage of good manpower'.[see footnote 28 - libcom ed.] Yet she thinks that 'something does "move" in Israeli society' and cites the example of another feminist – Dr Dorit Padan-Eisenshtark (head of the Department of Behavioural Sciences in the Ben-Gurion University) who leads a team planning a 'women's reserve service'. 'The team is charged with inserting women into "masculine" professional domains, so that during emergencies the economy can [go on] functioning in a normal fashion'. She and other feminists congratulate the Ministry of Labour on its intention to further implement its policy of encouraging women's work by 'training 60,000 housewives... especially in technical jobs, so that in an emergency they can be integrated into the manpower structure, and re-activate the economy as a whole, not just the vital plants'.[see footnote 28 - libcom ed.]

This brand of feminism lends its unqualified support and gives its uncritical consent to a regime whose own policies induce an ac­cumulation of internal socio-economic and political strains, a regime which is in the process of losing control over the economy to an extent that could very well impede its future expansion and retard its war abilities. The sterner face that zionism has acquired as a result of the May 1977 elections may if nothing else help the women's movement to lose this particular contingent of feminists.

Others in the movement, most prominently Knesset members Shulamit Aloni and Marcia Freedman, set out to charge at the religious flank of zionism, proposing liberal laws and amendments that would make possible civil marriage, abortion and 'equal rights for women', the latter by a new basic law. This light brigade sets out to wrench from the legislature a host of reforms in women's status at work, welfare tax and other domains in which women come under the repressive thumb of the religous authorities.

Although they succeeded in inserting such women's issues as clauses in various party political programmes, they were defeated time and again in the Knesset and its committees, where strategically situated National Religious Party politicians blocked every proposal, while other politicians clamoured for 'national unity'.

National unity, in this context, is no mere empty phrase, but an expression of the need shared by both 'left' and 'right' wings of zionism for a cohesive ideological framework that will prop it up and provide it with the righteous posture necessary for accomplishment of its policies. The Jewish religion is such a framework; its imperatives and prohibitions – especially but not exclusively in matters concerning women – are in keeping with 'demographic-national needs'. To 'be fruitful and multiply' as well as the penalties (bastardy) designed to prevent 'racial impurity' are in harmony with the zionist exclusivist claim over Palestine.

Some feminists are misguided enough to think that a trade-off is possible – that zionism will exchange 'liberal' laws for women's political consent and for their active economic support, at the price of giving up the benefits which collusion with the religious sector provides. The mainstream of the movement and its front runners in particular have no qualms about the aims of zionism, only concern for the best ways of achieving those aims.

In the most thorough critique to date, Lesley Hazleton's Israeli Women – the Reality Behind the Myth, the author provides a com­prehensive exposition of just what the title promises, but stops short of carrying it to its logical anti-zionist conclusion. In the concluding chapter 'The political challenge', she plays her very own zionist card: she complains that Y. Yadin – Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the new Democratic Movement – is reluctant to come out against the 'superficial symbolism of Judaism' when he could in his capacity as archeologist and leader of the Masada dig... 'erect an alternative to religiousness in the form of a strong and concrete historical bond [that will link] the Jews to their political and cultural heritage in their own country'. In tune with the rest of the zionist doves she coos:

'Security is a central problem... it is involved with the existential security of the state in all its aspects: Security in its Jewishness, security in its existence and continued survival...'[see footnote 19 - libcom ed.]

On similar lines, Israeli feminist Joan Yaron, addressing the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Brussels in March 1976, enumerated a list of Jewish women's grievances, describing their inferior position in the economy and their subordinate social status. 'The question could be asked', she said, 'how is it that in a modern democratic state based on socialist [sic] principles, such anomalies could be possible?'29 In the rest of her testimony she proceeded to put the blame squarely on the religious law, but even her thorough ex­position of the malpractices which take place in Israel, with religious blessing, does not disguise the fact that Ms. Yaron, like the rest of the feminist movement, is in the end no threat to zionist Israel, and that she accepts the self-portrait of the state in the fashion of early 1976 – 'modern democratic and socialist'.

  • 1. The authors acknowledge fruitful discussions with A. Ehrlich and are grateful to him for allowing them to make use of material contained in an article by him which he intends to publish in a forthcoming issue of Khamsin.
  • 2. 'The Working Woman in Israel' in Features of Israel, Israel Information Centre nd.
  • 3. C. N. Degler, 'Revolution without Ideology' in Lifton R. J. (ed) The Woman in America, Beacon Press, Boston 1964.
  • 4. Committee for the Status of the Woman, Recommendations, Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, February 1978 (Hebrew).
  • 5. 'Chen' – The Woman's Corps, IDF spokesman, Israel Defence Forces, 30 May 1977. (Our emphasis.)
  • 6. A. Maimon, Fifty Years of the Working Woman's Movement, Ayanot Publication or Am Oved.
  • 7. This point is discussed from a different perspective in A. Ehrlich's article (see footnote 1).
  • 8. G. Meir, 'My Life', Ma'ariv Publication, 1975 (Hebrew).
  • 9. On these farms, unemployed women were engaged in growing vegetables. The produce was sold mainly to the British Army. On no account, even at the price of failure of the enterprise, was the produce sold to Arab town mer­chants ('Isha Va'em Beyisrael', Woman and mother in Israel, p353).
  • 10. See 'Isha Va'em Beyisrael', Woman and Mother in Israel, Masada Publication (Hebrew).
  • 11. ibid, from a report by Hana Levine, a Jewish woman officer.
  • 12. The Hebrew words hagirah (migration) and mehagrim (migrants) are used by zionists to describe all migratory movements of gentiles, as well as those of Jews who go from and to places other than Palestine. The Hebrew words 'ali yah and ha'apalah (ascent and upward struggle) are used to describe Jewish immigration to Palestine. Conversely, the Hebrew word yeridah, used by zionists to describe the emigration of Jews from Palestine, means descent.
  • 13. Yedi'ot Aharonot, 15 September 1977.
  • 14. Yedi'ot Aharonot, 18 May 1978.
  • 15. See D. Friedlander 'Israel' in B. Berelson (ed) Population Policy in Developed Countries, McGraw-Hill 1974.
  • 16. D. Ben Gurion, Three Issues, Hapo'el Hatza'ir, Vol 27. (Hebrew) quoted by Friedlander, ref 15.
  • 17. R. Bachi 'The Decline in Fertility: a national danger', Ha'aretz, 5 August 1940 (Hebrew) quoted by Friedlander ref 15.
  • 18. A. A. Fraenkel Fertility in the Jewish Community in Palestine, Aharonson Publication 1944 (Hebrew) quoted in Friedlander, ref 15.
  • 19. L. Hazleton Israeli Women, the Realtiy Behind the Myth, Idanim Publication 1978 (Hebrew).
  • 20. The exception was the indictment of two doctors in 1971. Their offence, however, was not having performed an abortion, but having made use of the facilities of Qupat Holim (Histadrut health service). The double standard came under fire. The establishment reacted in the only way it could by doing nothing. The case remained open for nine months. One of the accused died, and the case against the other was dropped.
  • 21. Report submitted to the Minister of Health by the Committee appointed to examine the restrictions applying to induce abortions, in Public Health Vol 17, No 4, November 1974. Published by the Ministry of Health, Jerusalem.
  • 22. Ha'aretz, 29 February 1978.
  • 23. Ministry of Religious Affairs Survey, published in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 8 July 1975.
  • 24. Israel Government Year Book 1976 (Hebrew).
  • 25. Rabbi Goren 'Religion and the State', National Religious Party Publication 1964 (Hebrew) quoted in S. Aloni Nashim Kivnei Adam (Women as Humans).
  • 26. S. Aloni Nashim Kivnei Adam (Women as Humans), Mabat Publication 1976 (Hebrew) pp9 and 47.
  • 27. Ha'aretz, 18 June 1978.
  • 28. P. Kreindle 'What Happened to Israeli Women in the War' in Nilahem – organ of the Feminist Movement in Israel, No 4, September 1974 (Hebrew).
  • 29. Reproduced in Toda'ah, organ of the Feminist Movement – Jeruslaem Branch, June 1976 (Hebrew).

Israel and the new order in the Middle East - Moshe Machover

Moshe Machover's article on Israel's role in the Middle-East, its uses for American political interests in the 1970s and the pressures this sometimes put on the American government itself.

Once upon a time - many wars and revolutions ago, when royal thrones were still standing in palaces on the banks of the Tigris and the Nile - the editor of Ha'aretz wrote an article1 in which he explained why imperialism supported Israel. An important motive for this support, he wrote'. . . is the fact that the West is not very happy about its relations with the other states in the Middle East. The feudal regimes in those states are forced to pay heed to nationalist movements (both secular and religious) - which in some cases have an unmistakable left-wing social tinge - to such a great extent that those states are no longer prepared to put their natural resources at the disposal of Britain and America, or to allow them to use their countries as military bases in case of war.

'The ruling circles in the countries of the Middle East do know that in the case of a social revolution or Soviet occupation they are certain to be physically liquidated, but the immediate fear of a political assassin's bullet for the time being outweighs the unreal fear of annexation to the communist world. All these states are. . . militarily weak; Israel proved its military strength in the War of Independence against the Arab states and because of this, a certain strengthening of Israel is, for the western powers, a convenient way of preserving a political balance of forces in the Middle East.

'According to this view, Israel has been assigned the role of a sort of watchdog. There is no fear that it will adopt an aggressive policy towards the Arab states if that is against the wish of America and Britain. But if the western powers ever prefer, for one reason or another, to shut their eyes, Israel can be relied upon to punish properly one or several of her neighbouring states whose lack of manners towards the West has exceeded the permitted limits.

A very shrewd and accurate assessment. And with certain obvious modifications - for example, Britain no longer counts as a big power in the Middle East, or anywhere else - it is still substantially correct. As a distinguished American political analyst pointed out not long ago: 'A strong and confident Israel is a vital factor in any programme to protect our own legitimate interests and those of Europe, Japan and many other countries in the independence and openness and stability of the region.'2 (Glossary: 'independence' = dependence on imperialism; 'openness' = openness to capitalist exploitation; 'stability' stability of oppressive regimes.) And the same point is put even more bluntly by the Zionist Organisation of America: 'Israel is the only democracy in the area. It is the only stable nation in the Middle East. It is also the only loyal and effective ally of the United States in the region. The United States has in Israel a strong base for overseeing and guarding American national interests in this vital area.'3

This role of Israel is indeed a fact of Middle-Eastern life - and yet it is a fact which nowadays needs to be spelt out (just as it needed to be in the early 1950s) because it is no longer quite as obvious and straightforward as it was in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. In the heyday of Nasserism and left-wing ba'athism, Israel was virtually the only important ally of western imperialism in the Arab East. (Saudi Arabia was then far less important in economic, political and military terms than it is today, and did not play an active part in the affairs of the region.) Faced with radical Arab regimes closely allied with the Soviet Union, Israel's expansionism could be given full sway. Rather than stand guard over the stability of the Arab East, the zionist state's task was to destabilise it. It did this by confronting not only the Arab popular masses but also the radical regimes.

Since the early 1970s things have changed. 'New ruling classes, new bourgeoisies, have crystallised the come to power in the Arab East. In Saudi Arabia this bourgeoisie has grown under the wings of the old tribal pre-capitalist ruling stratum. In the "progressive" Arab countries, which had undergone revolutions of the nasserist type, the new bourgeoisie has crystallised out of the military juntas, the bureaucratic strata, the remnants of the old exploiting classes, to which are added the new bourgeois who have been fostered by state aid.'4 The new ruling classes ousted the Soviet Union from most of its positions of influence in the region and forged a neo-colonial alliance with western - mainly American - capitalism.

The new role - continuity and change

Superficial observers leaped to the conclusion that since US imperialism has now found such important allies - the new ruling classes in the Arab countries - it would no longer require the expensive services of the zionist state. This error resulted from a failure to see that in the American scheme of things the Arab countries and Israel play not similar but complementary roles. The neo-colonial arrangement with the Arab bourgeoisies is not of the same kind as, and cannot replace, the special relationship of the US with Israel.

'Like all neo-colonialist bonds, [the alliance between US im- perialism and the Arab ruling classes] is essentially a partnership - in which the local ruling classes and foreign imperialism are respectively junior and senior partners - for the joint exploitation of the local working classes. And like all such alliances it is inherently problematic; it is in continual danger of being upset by two different forces. First, the local ruling class - the junior partner - may make a bid to increase its share of the cake. Second, the exploited masses may rise against both local and foreign masters.

'American- Israeli relations, on the other hand, are quite different. Far from these relations being based on economic exploitation, Israel is actually subsidised by the- US to the tune of about $3000m (ie about $1000 for each Israel-Jewish man, woman and child) per annum. In return, Israel is expected to serve as an armed guard, defending and protecting imperialist interests in the region. In contrast to the Arab ruling classes, the zionist establishment is therefore a really reliable and secure ally of the US. Thus the new links forged between the US and the Arab ruling classes are not going to replace the special relationship with Israel. On the contrary - because of the fragility of these nea-colonial links, the services of the trustworthy Israeli gendarme are if anything of greater value now for American capital than they have been so far.'5

There is therefore an unmistakable continuity in Israel's role as imperialist 'watchdog' in the Arab East, a continuity that spans the whole period from the early 1950s to the present. Naturally, the services that Israel renders are not free of charge; they have to be paid for in financial subsidies,6 military aid7 and political backing. American policy is firmly committed not only to securing the existence of the zionist state but also to furnishing it with the means for doing its job properly. These means are not only material ones, money and weapons. If the US were to break the spirit of Israel by compelling it to accept something that the vast majority of zionists regard as absolutely and categorically unacceptable, then it would transform Israel from a bully-boy into a sullen and docile dependent. American policy must therefore respect the most deep-seated and fundamental zionist tenets.

For example, while from a purely American point of view the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state - suitably shackled and emasculated - might not be such a bad idea as part of the pacification of the region, American policy must respect the absolutely fundamental zionist rejection of this idea.

'This opposition is not based on short-term military considerations but on long-term historical ones, which concern the very nature of the zionist claim over Palestine. This claim is absolutely exclusive - "A land without a people (Palestine!) to a people without a land (the Jews)" - and cannot be reconciled with the recognition of Palestinian Arab national rights over, or even in, the Holy Land. For unavoidable reasons of realpolitik, Israel may agree to concede sovereignty over part of Palestine to an external power, say Jordan. Such a concession, as far as zionism is concerned, is in any case purely pragmatic and temporary; and Israel always reserves the right to "liberate" such conceded territories as the need or possibility arises. But to allow the establishment within Palestine of a sovereign national entity of the indigenous people - that would undermine the whole self-justification and legitimation of the zionist enterprise.

A concession of this kind would be historically Ïrreversible. Moreover, though that state may initially be small and weak, there is no telling what changes might take place in the more distant future. The balance of forces, and the borders, between that state and Israel - like any other balance of forces, and any borders between states - would be subject to the vicissitudes of future history. After all, had Israel itself not started as a small state, and later expanded by sword and fire to dominate the whole of Cisjordanian Palestine, the Sinai peninsula and the Syrian Golan heights?'8

American policy must heed this very deep-seated zionist rejection of the idea of creating even a small Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. For this reason a sovereign Palestinian mini-state is not part of the American blueprint for a Middle East settlement - a fact that has by now become unmistakably clear.9

But in Israel's role in the American scheme of things, there is not only continuity; there must be change as well. As the ruling class in one Arab country after another moves into the American sphere of domination, there is a growing need for 'stability'. Whereas in the heyday of nasserism Israel could be allowed (and even encouraged) to confront and threaten toe Arab East as a whole, in a socially undifferentiated way, US interests now require that the zionist state should learn to collaborate peacefully with the Arab ruling classes, while continuing to bare its teeth to the Arab masses. It is this need to normalise relations between the Israeli state and the Arab regimes, to institutionalise the- former's role as guarantor and protector of the latter against their own working classes, that has motivated American imperialism in the quest for comprehensive Middle East settlement.

The path to such a settlement is anything but smooth. The main obstacle is the expansionist appetite of the zionist state - an appetite which is inherent in zionism, and which has been sharpened and become prodigiously voracious since 1967. As time has passed and as the cancerous growth of Israeli settlements has spread further into the newly occupied territories, most zionist leaders and their followers have become accustomed to regarding these territories (except perhaps parts of Sinai) as their own, not only by divine right but also by possession, which is nine points of the law. And yet, if there is to be a settlement, Israel must be made to hand back the bulk of these territories; hand them back to Egypt, to Jordan and - provided the Syrian regime behaves itself and toes the American line - to Syria. If the regimes of these countries were to sign away the occupied teritories in a humiliating peace settlement, that would jeopardise their own stability - and defeat the American purpose of the whole exercise.

The Sadat spectacle

The zionist state is not a mere instrument which American policy can simply switch on and off at will. Of course, the US has, in principle, a tremendous economic, military and political leverage on Israel. But in practice, American pressure on Israel is subject to very real constraints.

First, there is the formidable pro-Israeli lobby in the Congress and the mass media. This goes far beyond the so-called' Jewish vote' and in fact includes many politicians and 'opinion makers' who do not really depend on Jewish votes. Secondly, there is the weakness of the present American administration. It is not just that Carter has proved to be less forceful than had been widely believed, and has taken inordinately long to come to grips with the major issues of American policy; it is mainly that the White House as an institution has been weakened by Watergate and its aftermath. But beyond all this, there is an inherent constraint: American policy does not aim to crush Israel, humiliate it or cast it away. As already explained, a powerful and confident Israel is an essential linchpin in the new American hegemonic structure in the Middle East. Therefore Israel and the pro- Israel lobby must not be brutally browbeaten but rather coaxed, cajoled or at most, subjected to polite pressure.

While Carter and his advisers were wondering how on earth they were going to impose a comprehensive settlement without putting excessive pressure on Israel, the latter had a change of government; the extremists of the Ma'arakh were replaced by the fanatics of the Likud. This made Carter's task both harder and easier: harder in the short term, because Begin is not open to gentle persuasion; but easier in the long term, because Begin's very intransigence might be exploited to create fissures in the hitherto monolithic pro-Israel lobby.

Begin, who is no simpleton, of course realised all this. On his first visit to the US, in the early summer of 1977, he exuded charm - without actually giving anything away. The pro-Israeli lobby was duly won over, and solidly closed ranks behind him. In order to call Begin's bluff, something very spectacular was required.

Something very spectacular indeed soon took place. The world-wide TV-viewing public was treated to the most sensational performance in the annals of political show business, starring Sadat in the Israeli Knesset.

Let petty-bourgeois Arab nationalists fulminate and denounce Sadat's 'betrayal of the Arab cause'. By this they are only exposing their own illusion that there exists such a thing as a classless Arab national cause. Sadat did not 'betray' anything; he simply blew away the cobwebs of a musty petty-bourgeois nationalist myth, and acted brazenly in the best interest of the new class whose power he represents.

We, revolutionary socialists of the region, must sadly admit that Sadat has put us to shame. If he had the audacity to put his class interest first and befriend his potential class allies across the national borders - could we not be at least equally audacious in forging our own internationalist solidarity against these oppressors? If Sadat, to save his own skin and avert the danger of a socialist Arab revolution, made a dramatic appeal to the Israeli people - should we not be more forward in appealing to the Israeli masses for the revolution?

The invasion of Lebanon

It is difficult to say whether Sadat really hoped that the zionist leaders would continue to clasp his outstretched hand and agree to conclude a peace settlement that, while of course defrauding the Palestinian people of their national rights, would save the face of the Arab ruling classes. If he did, then events were soon to disabuse him.

Sadat's performance in the Knesset was directed not only at the Israeli stalls; he was most certainly playing to the American gallery. And there he was duly applauded. While the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations predictably ran aground on the rocks of zionist in- transigence, the pro-Israeli lobby in the US was beginning to show clear signs of strain, and the Carter administration felt able to be a little bolder with the Begin government.

Begin was scheduled to go to Washington on 12 March 1978; and as that date approached, there were unmistakable signs that his reception there would be less than cordial and that a confrontation between him and Carter was imminent. The Israeli government was desperately looking for a diversion. A pretext was handed to them just in time, in the form of the indiscriminate Palestinian bus raid of 11 March, which united the Israeli people behind the government and momentarily revived the waning support for Israel in world public opinion. Begin immediately postponed his US trip, and after a few days' delay, caused by the bad weather, the Israeli army invaded the south of Lebanon up to the Litani river.

The Palestinian bus raid was of course only a pretext. The raiders had come not from the south of Lebanon but almost certainly from a small port close to Beirut. What were the real motives for the invasion?

First, there was the need to create a diversion. Begin hoped that American attention would be diverted from the older zionist occupation and colonisation of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. This tactic had been used successfully by Israel several times in the past. Secondly, the Israeli leaders had long been waiting for a chance to exterminate the Palestinian guerrilla forces concentrated in southern Lebanon.

But beyond this, the zionist state has always coveted the waters of the Litani, as well as the lands south of that river, which are part of the biblical Promised Land, and are considered fair game for ex- pansion and colonisation. Thus, in a secret plan which Ben-Gurion proposed to the French just before the Suez war of 1956, he demanded that southern Lebanon (as well as the West Bank of Jordan) be annexed to Israel. Syria was to annex another part, and the remainder would be turned into a Maronite Christian state.10 The military strategy employed in the invasion also suggests that it was part of a long-term colonisation plan.

If the main aim had been to exterminate the Palestinian forces, then it would have made better sense to start by landing strong forces along the Litani, thus sealing off the guerrillas' escape route, and then to proceed and occupy the area between the river and the international border by a pincer movement. In the event, the Israeli army advanced slowly towards the river, leaving the escape routes open not only for the guerrillas, but also for the local peasant population. The peasants were encouraged to flee by being subjected to barabaric Vietnam-style bombing. A quarter of a million people fled, leaving the land vacant for colonisation.

However, the Israeli invasion failed to achieve any of its major aims. The Palestinians managed to' extricate and preserve most of their forces. It is true that the introduction of UN forces to police the area may severely restrict the guerrillas' freedom of movement and operations, but the presence of these UN forces will also partly inhibit Israeli military incursions. The international reaction to the invasion - especially after its scale and brutality were realised - was quick and angry. The pressure that forced Israel to withdraw was very great. Finally, the invasion failed to create a diversion. When Begin arrived in Washington, Carter refused to be distracted by the Lebanese events and insisted that they conduct their talks according to the previously arranged agenda. The atmosphere was icy.

In Israel itself, even inside the army, the invasion gave rise not to a greater feeling of national unity, but to a very noticeable malaise. Some Israelis were appalled by the large number of civilian casualties and the enormous scale of devastation. Many more were simply disappointed by the failure of the invasion to achieve any far-reaching result.11

What next?

As signs of American pressure began to increase, internal dissent became more visible in the zionist camp, both inside Israel and in the pro-Israeli lobby. The Peace Now movement, which held a fairly impressive demonstration in Tel-Aviv, is certainly made up of very loyal (and very middle class) zionists, and only a small minority within it would accept Palestinian self-determination in any real sense. But it expresses a widespread feeling that Begin's fanaticism is leading Israel towards a dangerous confrontation with the US. This feeling was clearly articulated by none other than Yehoshafat Harkavi, a former Chief of Military Intelligence turned academic expert on Arab affairs.12 Harkavi started by pointing out that in any case Israel would not be able to rule indefinitely over a large Arab population; the West Bank mut revert to Arab rule. No half measures, like Begin's plan for 'self administration' would be able to prevent that in the long run. While Arab rule over the West Bank would certainly constitute a danger for Israel, he continued, this must be weighed against the greater danger that would arise in the absence of a settlement.

'If peace is not achieved, the conflict will not return to its previous level, but to a much graver situation. And in that case one has to realise that sooner or later a war will break, out. Even if we win it, we shall not be allowed to turn military achievements into long-lasting political gains. . . We shall need to restock our arsenal; but if the peace process were to collapse and the US were to blame that on us, it would not hurry to arm us as in the past, without an obligation on our part to accept the very same conditions that we now reject.

'I hope that I shall be proved wrong, but I believe that we shall have to evacuate the West Bank, either while our arsenals are full as they are today, or after a war and many casualties, when our arsenals are empty. Certainly, territory has a great military value. But arms are no less important militarily. The basic problem facing us is that our holding on to territory which the US is opposed to letting us rule, is inconsistent with obtaining arms.'

Harkavi is well aware of the fundamental American commitment to Israel: 'True, the US will not abandon us completely, and will continue to arm us in a conventional way. But our problem is that in order to confront the Arab states . . . we need the US to take exceptional measures to arm us, as it did after 1973, since modern warfare requires huge quantities of equipment and arms. For this we shall need the goodwill of the US, but by quarreling with it we are destroying that goodwill with our own hands.'

Of course Harkavi, like the vast majority of zionists, is totally opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The plan he recommends is quite different. 'Instead of adhering to the policy of remaining in the West Bank - which cannot last - it is better for us to think of how to minimise the damage of handing it over. The possibility is still open that the West Bank will become part of Jordan, whose power and stability are incomparably greater than those of all the Palestinian organisations, and whose effectiveness in suppressing the PLO it proved in 1970. This effectiveness is superior to all the Israeli efforts against the PLO. It should also be remembered that in 1970 Jordan acted alone, whereas now it can gain Arab support, for example from Egypt.'

This fissure inside Israel, clearly induced by signs of American pressure, itself encouraged a split in the pro-Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill. This, in turn, will enable the White House to apply still more pressure. In mid-May, Carter had his first important victory in the Washington tug-of-war. The significance of the package deal, whereby the sale of American war-planes to Israel was made conditional on sales of war-planes to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, was largely symbolic - but symbols are very important indeed. Moreover, the size of the majority in the Senate against the attempt to block the deal was very encouraging for Carter and his advisors.

American pressure on Israel will almost certainly intensify, but one should not rush into unwarranted predictions. As explained above, the constraints to which such pressure is subject are quite considerable, and it is therefore not clear how far that pressure will go, or how soon.

Even if great pressure is applied, its effects on Israel are difficult to predict. After a long period of remarkable stability, the Israeli party system has begun to undergo a series of upheavals.13 These are not over by any means, and new splits and realignments are likely to occur before an equilibrium is reached. The Begin government is already under considerable internal pressure: in addition to the small but significant middle-class opposition to his foreign policy, there is a deepening working-class resentment against the worsening economic situation (rapid inflation - 50 per cent in one year - and a sharp decline in real wages).

In these circumstances, intensive American pressure can perhaps lead to the isolation of Begin and his fanatical close supporters, and the formation of a new government based on a new alignment of forces, and more responsive to US needs.

On the other hand, as Harkavi points out, the acceptance of the policy proposed by him 'will involve a psychological upheaval in Israel, when it wakes up to see that its hopes of becoming a large country are frustrated. The bitter soul-searching - with which Israel will be afflicted when it sobers up and realises how, since 1967, it has flown from the ground of reality to illusions which it found pleasant to regard as a policy - may severely damage its self-image.'14

Precisely because of the present instability of Israel's political scene, there is a very real danger that in order to avert this painful 'psychological revolution' the more fanatic section of the Israeli leadership will try to reverse the whole situation in the Middle East, by embarking on a huge military adventure - compared to which the invasion of Lebanon will seem like child's play.

May, 1978.

  • 1. Hazonah mikrakey hayam ve'anahnu (The harlot from the cities of the seas and we) in Ha'aretz, 30 September 1951.
  • 2. Eugene V. Rostow, 'The American stake in Israel', in Commentary, April 1977.
  • 3. 'Playing Russian roulette in the Middle East', full-page advertisement by ZOA in the New York Times, 2 May 1978.
  • 4. Socialist Organisation in Israel, 'On the current situation in Israel and the Middle East', September 1977, in Matzpen 83, November 1977.
  • 5. Musa Hadida, 'The Middle East - what kind of settlement?' in Revolutionary Socialism (Big Flame journal) , July 1977.
  • 6. Israel's services to imperialism in fact constitute its most important 'export industry'. This is recognised by that cynical reactionary economist, Milton Friedman: 'American aid is provided in exchange for the foothold that Israel provides for the US in the Middle East. This aid must therefore be regarded as payment for the export of interests, which falls under the export of services.' (Quoted in Ha'aretz, overseas edition, 8 July 1977.)
  • 7. The extent of the military aid which Israel receives from the US is of course truly prodigious and absolutely unparalleled. For some interesting comments, see David Nes, 'America's very special relationship with Israel', in the earlier editions of The Times, 5 February 1971. (This article, written by a veteran American diplomat, mysteriously disappeared in later editions of the same day.)
  • 8. Musa Hadida, op cit.
  • 9. Failure to grasp this fact early enough greatly added to the confusion of the split in the Palestinian movement between 'acceptists' and 'rejectionists'. Both among those who were ready to capitulate to an imperialist-imposed diplomatic settlement and among those who were determined to oppose it, there were many who believed that such a settlement was likely to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Acceptance or rejection of the idea of such a state was therefore conflated with acceptance or rejection of a pax americana. The demand for the immediate creation of a sovereign Palestinian state was widely regarded - by many of those who raised it as well as by their opponents - not as a challenge to the proposed imperialist settlement, but rather as an application for membership in the diplomatic club. (In this regard, see my letter in Khamsin 2; also note correction to that letter in Khamsin 3.)
  • 10. M. Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion, a political biography, vol. 3, p1234. (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, 1977. Bar-Zohar's information is taken directly from Ben-Gurion's diaries.
  • 11. Yisra'el Har'el reports in Yedi'ot Aharonot (31 March 1978) on conversations he had with Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. 'They told me about young terrorists, some of them 13 or 14 years old, and even a young girl, found dead next to some Kalachnikov machine guns and hand grenades. These kids had not carried out any raids deep inside Israel. Those who had, managed to get away. Why was this not foreseen and prevented? The conversation turned to what they [the soldiers] felt when they discovered against whom they had been fighting and whom they had killed. And they said their feeling was lousy. Nevertheless, they hope that they have killed the vipers when these were still small and less harmful. But they cannot see much purpose in the whole war. The UN will replace them; the terrorists will infiltrate through the UN ranks or return openly as "inhabitants coming back to their villages", and the whole story will begin again.' This report is fairly typical of many that were published in the Israeli press at the time.
  • 12. Y. Harkavi, 'Policy in the place of illusions', in Ma'ariv, 31 March 1978.
  • 13. For an analysis of the background of this process, see A. Ehrlich, 'The crisis in Israel - danger of fascism?' in Khamsin 5.
  • 14. Y. Harkavi, op cit.

Reply to Ja'far - Salim Tamari

Salim Tamari responds to Mohammed Ja'far's article on the PLO and the Palestinian national liberation movement.

M. Ja'far's polemic (Discussion forum, Khamsin 5) against the main divergent tendencies within the PLO provides a sharp and illuminating exposition of the contradictions in the Palestine resistance, but his suggestions for the way out of the present crisis seem to me more incoherent than the positions he had set himself to demolish.

Essentially he levels two main criticisms at the present leadership of the movement: one, that despite appearances, the rejectionists share the same class politics (or rather 'abstention from class politics') as the mainstream PLO. This is demonstrated in their implicit programmatic acceptance of the project for a secular democratic state, while rejecting the methods (diplomacy, etc) for achieving it. Second, he criticises the rejectionists for elevating a method of struggle, armed combat, to the status of an end in itself (pl19).

While the PLO/Arafat line is seen as consistent with the creation of 'its own state as one more addition to the League of Arab states' (p121), the author criticises the rejectionists, correctly I believe, as lacking in political perspective. Their opposition to the creation of a 'ministate' is regarded as a post-1973 aberration rather than a central tenet of their position, as it is often presented. Ja'far regards the October 1973 war as providing the key moment in the present dilemma of the resistance: '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 par- ticular front less than the normal bourgeois armies whose reasons for existence was defence of the interests of their respective ruling classes.' (p117).

But what is the way out of the present impasses? Ja'far questions the idea of the PLO's legitimacy as the 'sole. . . representative of the Palestinian people' as leading to the paralysis of the 'organisational activity and independence of the revolutionary currents emerging at the base of the Palestinian organisations' (p122). He calls for a 'complete overhaul of all the traditional formulas and slogans (as) a prerequisite to the building of a genuinely new revolutionary organisation in the region.' This time however based on 'a new theoretical divide' - that of 'the reality of class politics in the region' (p123). But the writer does not seem to make up his mind whether the new organisation is to be Arab (ie inter-regional), or a new Palestinian 1organisation; and if the former, then what is the relationship between the Palestinians and the parent group. Moreover it strikes me as a call for the substitution of a 'bourgeois' programme (for a state) by a socialist slogan (for class politics). For just as the Palestinian state can be a fetish within the Palestinian movement, so can the call for class struggle by the left opposition.

Underlying Ja'far's criticism of the PLO is the notion, very deep- rooted within the Arab left - and in substantial sections of the in- ternational left - that the Palestinian resistance is the advance guard and detonator of the 'Arab Revolution' (ie the coming, or 'almost coming' socialist explosion in the Arab East). Ja'far does not actually hold this position, but his preoccupation with 'class politics' brings his issue into question; and it is on this central dilemma, which permeates his whole critique, that I hope you will allow me to make the following comments.

1) To act as a class force, as Ja'far demands (as opposed to a nationalist force) Palestinians living outside the occupied territories and Israel have two options: either to subordinate their struggle to the overall strategy of each particular revolutionary movement in each 'host' country where they have taken refuge, or to act as a surrogate proletariat (a vanguard) on behalf of the Arab left. It seems that Ja'far's disappointment with Palestinian failures (eg his critique of their policy of non-interference in Arab internal politics) in Lebanon and Jordan betrays a preference for this second conception. (In actual fact, however, while the PLO had a policy of non-interference, they followed a practice of intervention on the side of the left; but this is the pitfall of judging a movement by its pronouncements rather than its daily activity. Where the writer is correct, however, is in pointing to the persistent tendency of regionalism and sectariansim within the PLO as a whole). One consequence of this vanguardist conception of the PLO is to hold it responsible for the stagnation of the Arab left in general, and accountable for the failure of the left in each confront- ation with the Arab regimes that the Palestinians have encountered.

2) With such a monumental task facing the Palestinians, we are compelled to seek the social base which establishes the PLO as a viable political force. In all the Arab countries where Palestinians have resided (with the exception of the Gulf states) this social base is marginal - consisting of a refugee population - as Ja'far himself has noted (p119). How can a declassed community then struggle along class lines? Perhaps through intervention in the occupied territories, or 'amongst the very large Palestinian population living outside the camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait'? (p119). But it is not clear how the non-refugee population in those three last countries (a very large proportion of whom is made up of professionals, state bureaucrats and small businessmen) will act in a more progressive manner than the refugee population. If anything they have shown themselves to be either upholders of the status quo (in Jordan), pawns in confessional politics (Lebanon), or money-grabbing careerists (Kuwait).

3) Only in the occupied territories (and Israel) do Palestinians have a 'proper' (though dislocated) and differentiated class structure. But there all forms of class consciousness are being submerged by the realities of national oppression in the daily confrontation with the occupier. Economically, half the working class is integrated into the Israeli economy and finds itself in the dubious position of having to bite the hand that 'feeds' it by asking for separation. (Nevertheless it does bite, and it is separatist - all workers' unions in the West Bank and Gaza support the demand for a Palestinian state). Resistance in those territories is clearly being led, for those whose eyes can see, not by the working class, and least of all by the peasants, but by the urban petty bourgeoisie in all its varieties (shopkeepers, municipal councils, professionals, and of course students).

4) It seems, therefore, that the writer is ignoring an important 'ideological divide' by seeing only the bourgeois character of the proposed state (a possibilibility which hardly needs stressing). Namely he ignores that a Palestinian state will provide the necessary prerequisite for the transformation of an essentially national conflict, based on national oppression, into one in which the conditions for class emancipation (on both the Arab and Jewish side) can obtain for the first time. This requires, from our point of view, that Palestinians have the opportunity to live in a stable community, in which their national culture and physical security can be protected; ie in a state of their own.

It should be obvious that this project requires a prolonged and patient struggle against Israeli expansionism, and involves a careful strategy of unity and alliances with Arab progressive movements. But it also involves a reassessment of the 'vanguard role' allocated by the Arab left to the Palestinian revolution. Above all it requires a realistic perspective of what the Palestinians can do and of what they cannot do in the present balance of forces. It is totally unclear bow Ja'far can avoid confining himself to 'revolutionary' 'individuals and little grouplets' (pI22), while calling for the 'transcendence' of the PLO in the name of such an abstract socialist programme and class per- spective. This particular blind spot in his analysis tends to obscure an otherwise deep insight into the present dilemmas of the PLO.

Fate (assisted by zionism) has led the Palestinians to playa dynamic and occasionally revolutionary role in Arab politics. Now that the Jordanian civil war and the Lebanese civil war are part of history - whose lessons have not been completely assimilated - should we insist that they are reassigned to become the cannon fodder for the realisation of the dreams of failed Arab revolutionaries?

Salim Tamari - June 1978

NOTE: M. Ja'far will reply to this letter in our next issue. Other readers are invited to join the debate.

The Palestinian Arab National Movement (book review) - Musa Budeiri

Book review by Musa Budeiri on Yehoshua Poreth's The Palestinian Arab National Movement, from Riots to Rebellion.

The Palestinian Arab National Movement (book review) - Musa Budeiri

Y. Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement, from Riots to Rebellion, vol 2 (1929-1939), London, Frank Cass 1977.

The history of the Palestinian Arab national movement during the years of the British Mandate has not yet been written. What has appeared until now, both in Arabic and English, can be grouped together under three main headings: popular journalism, propaganda, apologetics. There are two reasons for this. The first and more im­portant is that the Palestine problem remains a political issue, exciting great passions and political disagreements; and the history of the Palestine national movement over the last sixty years remains a central theme in the political struggle of the Palestinian people to exercise their right of national self-determination and to establish their own national state. The second is the dispersal of source material and the absence, or reticence, of most of the Palestinian national leaders who played a prominent part during Mandatory times, and whose few contributions to the history of the period can only be classified as falling within the realm of apologia. Yehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has written what will undoubtedly become the standard reference work of the history of the Palestinian national movement, and deservedly so: this despite the fact that at times he seems unable to free himself from his political prejudices, and ab­dicates his professed role of detached historian to don the mantle of the partisan adversary.

The Three Stages of the Palestinian National Movement

Three broad and distinct stages can be perceived in the development of the national movement from 1917 to 1948. The first, starting with the beginning of the Mandate and stretching to 1935-6, was a period characterised by the attempts of the Arab national leadership to arrive at an accommodation with British imperialism. Prominent members of the national movement continued as office holders in the Man­datory administration, and the movement's main thrust was directed against what was perceived to be the main enemy and threat; the increasing influx of Jewish immigrants, and the zionist movement. (At no time was the national leadership able to distinguish between the Jewish inhabitants of the country and the zionist movement and its activities.) This is best exemplified by the massacres which ac­companied the uprising of 1929, when the main slogan of the Arab demonstrators was 'the Government is with us'. The Arab leadership was at pains to point out to the British imperialists that the Arab opposition was not directed against the Mandate as such, let alone the British presence in Palestine, but solely against the national home clause in the Mandate provisions, and the consequent threat posed by the expanding Jewish presence in the country. Gradually, there was a realisation that struggling against the Jews alone would not, and indeed had not, produce any positive results. This led to the second stage in the development of the national movement, when the British themselves became the main object of the national struggle.

Here it is important to note two points. Firstly, the national movement was not unified in its resolve to struggle against the British, and a sizeable faction, represented by the Nashashibis and their supporters, still favoured the old tactics of confining the struggle to the Jews and persisting in the attempts to come to an understanding with the British (the oft discussed Legislative Council was the Nashashibis' favourite hobby horse). Secondly, the national leaders who realised the imperative of taking up the struggle against the British saw this as a way to exercise pressure on the Mandatory authorities to retreat from their support of the national home policy, and this was not directed against British imperialism as such. Throughout the years of armed struggle, 1936-39, the Palestinian Arab leadership tried, through the small group of 'independent' Arab states, to exert pressure on Britain. Thus the British imperialist presence was never seen as the central target of the armed struggle. The main enemy remained the zionist movement and armed activity against British symbols of authority was merely a tactic to exert pressure.

The demonstrations of 1933, predominantly directed against the British, foreshadowed the advent of the armed struggle initiated by the band of Shaikh al Kassam, and the general strike of April 1936 and the armed rebellion which ensued. Although the rebellion was crushed by the military, it had a positive outcome in the shape of the 1939 White Paper. Yet this relatively positive result of the rebellion, and the Palestinians' success in bringing in the Arab states to put 'pressure' on Britain, was accompanied by the disintegration of the Palestine Arab leadership, the exhaustion of the national movement, and the replacement of Palestine's Arab inhabitants by the Arab states as the arbiters of the fate of the country. This last, as events were to show in 1948, proved to be a most unhappy change.

The third stage of the national movement, stretching from the end of the rebellion in 1939 to the partition of Palestine in 1948, was characterised by an internal vacuum as far as the leadership of the Arab national movement was concerned. The movement had been crushed, the Arab masses were exhausted, and the leaders had either been deported or fled into exile. The Mufti, aligning himself with the Nazis during the second world war, provided the British with a perfect excuse to maintain their ban on Arab political activity. When, after the end of the war, they allowed the reconstitution of some political activity, it was the Arab states which played the main role in establishing the new political leadership of the Palestinian national movement. It is important in this context to remember that the Arab League was the brainchild of British colonial political strategy, and that the most important Arab states who played a role in determining the future of Palestine (Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) enjoyed only the semblance of independence and were under the control of British imperialism.

When partition was decreed, the Arab inhabitants of Palestine played a secondary role in the conflict which ensued. The initiative had long been seized by the neighbouring Arab states; and these, while verbally opposing partition, actually consecrated it by sending their armies to annex those parts of the country which under the partition scheme had been allocated to the Arabs, and to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian Arab state. Until recently – and, some would argue quite credibly, even now – the initiative has remained in the hands of the Arab states; the Palestinians themselves have been able to play a role only in so far as they can exploit the differences and contradictions between the various Arab states.

Porath's History of the National Movement

The present work is a continuation of Porath's previous study which dealt with the national movement from 1917 to 1929. It continues the story up to the end of the 1939 rebellion. The author has amassed an enormous amount of information and pursues the development of events in great, perhaps excessive, detail. He provides a 'blow by blow' account of events which at times tends to obscure rather than elucidate the subject. The book also suffers from an excessive reliance on Jewish intelligence sources which, by the nature of the conflict in Palestine, cannot but be politically suspect.

Without minimising the wealth of information that the book provides, it nevertheless must be said that there is an absence of analysis; this is substituted for an implicit conspiracy theory which makes the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Husseini, the arch-villain of the piece. In addition, Porath chooses to see the Arab national movement in re­ligious terms, and hence to separate Palestinian Arab Christians and Palestinian Arab Druze from the mainstream of the national movement. The book is also occasionally marred by the author's attempts to don the mantle of a partisan adversary, by colourful anecdotes of 'Arab anti-semitism', 'the rape of Christian girls' and 'Arab cowardice'.

On the positive side, the book brings into focus the activity of Ragheb Nashashibi and his supporters, composed of large landowners and the heads of the various Arab municipalities. As Porath rightly explains, the latter's election was almost automatically ensured by the limitation of the franchise to the propertied classes. From the outset of the Mandate, Ragheb Nashashibi and his followers were opposed to the more radical elements within the national movement and ad­vocated the pursuit of a 'positive policy' exhibiting readiness to co­operate with the British imperialist authorities. In the 1920s they were in favour of a nominated legislative council, while in 1928 they dominated the proceedings of the Seventh Palestine National Congress – a congress which was described by one of the radical delegates from Gaza, Hamdi Husseini, as being 'made up of British police agents and land brokers'. Remaining faithful to their line, they came out in opposition to the anti-British demonstrations which broke out in 1933.

While in their public statements Ragheb Nashashibi and other members of the opposition paid lip service to nationalist aims, Porath documents their private conversations with various zionist leaders, where they showed themselves ready to come to an accommodation with the zionist movement. Among those leaders who maintained contact with zionist functionaries, Porath records the names of Ragheb and his nephew Fakhri Nashashibi, Hassan Sidki Dajani, Boulous Shihadeh, Shaikh Abdullah Qalqili, and Mughanam Elias Mughanam. Many of the opposition leaders solicited funds from the Jewish Agency, and a number of newspapers, among them Miraat al Shark, received some form of financial backing from zionist circles.

The opposition policy of attempting to thwart the progress of the national movement was a hallmark of their activity throughout the years of the Arab Revolt (1936-1939). Ragheb Nashashibi himself had resigned from the Higher Arab Committee in July 1937, though he had stopped attending its meetings some time before, a step which Porath explains as being taken at the prompting of Prince Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, with whom the opposition in Palestine enjoyed a close rapport.

Although initially the opposition party had felt impelled to support the strike, and one of its supporters, Fakhri Abdul Hadi, commanded an armed group in the Jenin region, it was opposed to the continu­ation of the armed struggle after the ending of the strike. Not satis­fied with verbal opposition, Porath records that Ragheb Nashashibi approached the Jewish Agency in December 1937 with demands for a financial subvention to establish an armed band to fight against the rebels. Although Porath does not tell us the outcome of this revealing episode, Fakhri Hashashibi organised the 'Peace Gangs', armed and financed by the British Army, which played an active role in fighting against the Arab guerrilla bands in the mountains. Two men who played a prominent role as leaders of this mercenary group were Fakhri Abdul Hadi (who returned to Palestine from his exile in Damascus after being pardoned by the British for his role in the first phase of the rebellion), and Farid Irshed; both were members of prominent landowning families in the Jenin area.

The other corollary of the Nashashibis' good relations with Prince Abdullah was the cordiality which existed between Abdullah and the Jewish Agency. Porath records that Abdullah had enjoyed friendly relations with the leaders of the Jewish Agency since the 1920s, and that from 1933 private consultations and regular meetings became a matter of course. In 1935 Abdullah offered to sell to the zionists lands in Ghour al Kabed on the East Bank of the Jordan. The British ob­jected to the sale and the scheme fell through. Nevertheless, in return for his consent to keep the Jewish Agency's option on the land open, Abdullah received a generous financial reward. His contact with the Jewish Agency continued during the years of the revolt. An incident which took place in the closing stages of the revolt highlights Ab­dullah's real attitude to what was going on in Palestine. Shaikh Yussuf Abu Durrah, a prominent military leader of the revolt, took refuge in Trans-Jordan after the defeat of the movement. He was arrested by Abdullah's forces during the middle of 1939 and was later extradited to the British authorities in Palestine, where he was tried and hanged. The French in Syria, on the other hand, when faced with a similar situation concerning Aref Abdul Razik, refused to extradite him and put him under house arrest in Palmyra. Porath correctly explains that it was in the immediate interest not only of Abdullah but also of the neighbouring Arab countries, where anti-British feeling had been aroused as a result of the struggle of the Palestine Arabs, to put an end to this struggle as soon as possible. It was with this in mind that the Arab states tried to exercise a moderating influence, often suc­cessfully, on the leadership of the Palestinian national movement, urging it not to burn its bridges with British imperialism and to trust in its good intentions.

The means employed by the British army to crush the Arab Revolt have become familiar methods of 'counter insurgency'; yet some of these were so harsh and barbaric that it is difficult to find parallels to them even now. The British authorities used the 'iron fist' policy immediately after the murder of Andrews (a government official in Galilee) in October 1937. They unleashed a wave of arrests and deportations, the local national committees were declared illegal, warrants were issued for the arrest of Higher Arab Committee members, the Mufti of Jerusalem was removed from his office as head of the Supreme Moslem Council and the entire leadership and active cadres of the national movement were put under arrest or forced to flee the country. All these steps, however, proved to be of no avail; by September 1938, Porath records, the rebels were in control of most of the mountainous part of Palestine, and civil administration and control of the country had for all practical purposes ceased to exist.

Eventually, the British army inflicted heavy military defeats on the rebels. To achieve this it waged an all-out war on the Palestinian countryside: collective punishments were imposed on villages; villages were bombed from the air; a hundred people were hanged between 1937 and 1939; in October 1938 the British Army entered the Old City of Jerusalem, using local Arabs as 'human shields'; special police stations were established in villages at the expense of the local inhabitants; and to safeguard trains from being blown up by rebels, relatives of known guerrilla commanders were often made to ride on the inspection trolley which preceded the engine. Unfortunately, Porath gives little detail on the activity of Wingate's Special Night Squads (where a number of future Israeli generals received their early training in 'counter terrorism'), nor does he examine the role played by the Nashashibis' 'Peace Gangs' in weakening the revolt.

When dealing with the land problem, Porath gives the curious impression that he does not agree with the results of his own findings. The only possible explanation is that they run counter to his political prejudices. Although he states that the British administration's figures of dispossessed peasants were rather conservative, and gives the lie to zionist claims that Jewish land purchases did not lead to the dispossession and eviction of large numbers of Arab peasants, at the same time he insists that only 'a few thousands were evicted'. He ex­plains land sales as the result of a desire by Arab landowners to get capital for irrigation and modernisation projects. The figures he produces show that of total land sales during 1936-39, 52.6 per cent were by non-Palestinian landowners, 24.6 per cent by Palestinian landowners, and only 9.4 per cent by peasant owners. He explains peasant land sales as being the outcome of indebtedness to urban landlords; the exorbitant rate of interest charged forced peasants to sell their lands to payoff their creditors. While ignoring the political aspect of land acquisition by the various zionist bodies, Porath nevertheless arrives at the conclusion that the economic results were harmful to the Arab economy and contributed to the creation of a stratum of landless peasants who were forced to drift into the towns and become casual labourers.

The movement of Al Kassam has been referred to by many writers; none however gives it the weight and importance which Porath assigns to it as part of the Palestinian national movement. Going beyond the death of Al Kassam, which is where most writers begin and end, he attempts to trace the role of the various members of Kassam's original band during the years of the revolt, and provides us with a breakdown of the social and geographical origin of both Kassamites and other leading military cadres of the rebellion. The lack of source material, the secrecy and the 'grass roots' nature of Kassam's organising efforts have led most writers to dismiss Kassam, or to hail him as a rather romantic figure who has become important only in historical retrospect, but who does not belong to the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement. Porath evidently does not share this belief. If anything, his account suffers from an over-emphasis on the role of Kassam's followers, and the extent of Kassam's own activity, which is not fully warranted by the sources at our disposal.

In an article written a few years ago, Porath said that with the exception of the National Liberation League (the organisation of the Arab communists in Palestine), there were no modern (on the western model) political parties in the Arab section of Palestine. Despite some mention of Arab political parties in this book, the discussion does not rise above the level of generalities, and the treatment of the subject is not comprehensive. Porath does not provide a social breakdown of party supporters, nor the extent of support the various parties en­joyed. The impression he gives of political parties during this period is that they were little more than collections of notables with no grass­roots organisation, and completely reliant on family and clan support. Indeed Porath implies this by emphasising the extent of traditional family rivalries and inter-factional struggle, but he does not attempt to give an explanation of this phenomenon nor to relate it to the course of political developments.

In his attempts to explain the radicalisation of the national movement in the 1930s Porath emphasises the role played by Istiklal party members. However, he ignores some pertinent facts: that the Istiklal movement was initially pro-Hashemite in origin, that its existence as an organised group was very short-lived indeed, that prominent Istiklal members drifted towards the Mufti's camp and some became functionaries of the Waqf administration. The emphasis on Istiklal radicals as the harbingers of radicalisation seems to be misplaced and unwarranted.

While attempting to show that the Mufti of Jerusalem was double faced and the leader of the radical faction within the national movement, Porath ignores his own findings yet again, and is forced to rely on such unreliable sources as Emil Ghouri. He fails however to show that the Mufti used the Supreme Moslem Council funds to further his own political aims, or more importantly, those of the national movement; and he fails to explain why, until 1936, the Mufti was opposed to any direct clash with British imperialism and persisted in his rejection of a policy of non-cooperation with the British, exemplified by his lack of support for the policy of resignation of Arab government officials.

While giving a comprehensive factual account of the progress of the national movement, Porath does not attempt to provide any analysis of the movement and its component parts, nor to account for the aims and possible reasons for the consequent failures of this movement. Basic to this is his failure to face up to the all-important question of whether one could speak of the existence of an organised Palestinian national movement (in the same sense as for example one could speak of the existence of a zionist movement). Despite the appearance of parties, organisations and conferences, the Palestinian national movement remained composed of a leadership without an organised following. It was a movement of traditional notables with feudal family support who were deeply divided among themselves, whose policies were governed by short-term self-interest, and who were incapable, as events were to prove, of facing up to the tasks of the national independence struggle.

Khamsin #07: Communist parties in the Middle East

Issue of Khamsin from around 1979 mostly about various communist parties in the Middle East.

Khamsin-07.pdf7.43 MB


The central theme of this issue of Khamsin is the communist parties in the Middle East. The history of revolutionary socialism is our area begins with the foundation of the communist parties. However, over the years these parties have degenerated. Subordinating themselves to soviet state interests in the area, the parties became subservient to various bourgeois nationalist regimes. Where, how and why did the communists go wrong? Those who aspire to rebuild the revolutionary socialist movement in our area cannot afford to ignore the lessons of communist history.

The foundation of the first communist party in Asia and the first socialist revolution in the Middle East occurred with the establishment of the soviet republic of Gilan in northern Iran in 1920. It lasted for sixteen months and was destroyed after the withdrawal of soviet support in the wake of an agreement between the USSR and the Persian government. The Gilani experience raises some very pertinent questions which have not lost their relevance today: the responsibility that can be expected from an already established revolutionary state for the struggle in other countries; the proper class alliances in the struggle for revolution in semi-colonial countries; the place of the agrarian question in the revolutionary programme; the transformation of a regional revolt into a nation-wide movement; the relation of the revolution to Islam and to the clergy. These questions are discussed in a review of recent literature and related to problems facing socialists in Iran today.

A critique of the historiography of the Lebanese communist party is the subject of another review article. It stresses the inter-country influence in the early period of Eastern-Arab communism - in particular the triangle Lebanon-Syria, Egypt and Palestine - and the role of non-Muslims and non-Arabs in the formative years of the party. The article defends the communists against unjustified accusations by Arab nationalists of national betrayal.

In the balance between national independence and social revolution communists actually underplayed their special task as social revolutionaries. The article concludes with a series of revolutionary criticisms of party line, its conduct and the detrimental effects on the party of its subordination to the Soviet Union.

All the major problems of the revolutionary movement in the Mashreq find their concentrated expression in the Palestine question. Internationalism versus nationalism; national liberation versus social transformation; a regional perspective versus a separate country approach; loyalty to soviet policy versus revolutionary socialism; the nature of zionism and its relation to imperialism. One article in this issue analyses the attitudes of the Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian communist parties to the Palestine problem and the evolution of these attitudes since 1967. Another article surveys recent research on the history of the Palestine CP.

The list of publications on the history of the communist movement in the Arab East is quite substantial but a good critical overall view which is not anti-socialist is still lacking. Much of the Arabic literature is tainted by a nationalist bias while communist writers tend to be uncritical. For the benefit of our readers, we have compiled an extensive, but in no way exhaustive, annotated bibliography of books in five languages.

The topic of the communist parties in the Middle East will be persued in future issues of Khamsin and we invite members of the communist parties as well as other revolutionary socialists to take part in the discussion. Khamsin is part of the effort to rekindle revolutionary socialism in the Mashreq. We continue in the footsteps of the early period of communism in the area. We share some basic beliefs, with the communists of that early period: that in the struggle for socialism the whole of the Arab East must be regarded as one unit: that the struggle against imperialism and its local agents, the struggle for national independence and the struggle of the exploited classes are inseparable and must be fought simultaneously, and not be divided into separate historical stages. Socialism is neither 'Arab' nor 'Islamic' and the struggle for socialism must unite Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs by respecting the individual and national rights of these minorities.

In addition to the central theme, this issue also includes two articles which deal with the reserve army o flab our in the Israeli economy. The first is an important statistical research which describes the development and the present characteristics of the Arab labour force in the Israeli economy. It emphasises the rapid growth of this labour force and its disproportional concentration in the productive sector. Mobility and lack of security expose the Arab Worker, more than his Jewish counterparts, to the fluctuations of the market. Their wages and conditions of work are also shown to be generally inferior. The second article deals with Jewish women. It demonstrates how the requirements of zionist colonisation affected the inequality of women. Women have been used as a strategic reserve force whenever the shortage of manpower threatened to hamper zionist goals. However, the shortfall in immigration to Israel creates insoluble contradictions between the role that women are expected to play in the labour force and their role as mothers.

Current developments in the nature of the Arab ruling classes and their integration in the capitalist world market affects the whole perspective for revolutionary chaÍ1ge in the area. The significance, magnitude and implications of these developments were explored in a discussion held in a Khamsin conference in London last year. We published in this issue the introductory lecture to that discussion. We also continue in this issue the discussion on the Palestinian resistance movement; we shall welcome further contributions by our readers.

The publication of this issue was delayed by the change of publisher an we wish to apologise to our readers. By way of compensation, this issue is somewhat larger than usual.

Eli Lobel

Khamsin is bereaved. Eli Lobel, editor and founder of our journal, has died tragically on Thursday, October 4th 1979.

The life-story of this outstanding revolutionary socialist and great internationalist is, in more than one way, the story -of a whole generation, the tragedies and noble struggles of a whole epoch.

Born in Berlin in 1926 to a family of Polish-Jewish refugees, Eli spent his early childhood in the Germany of the late Weimar Republic and the early years of Nazi power. Then the family was forced to flee back to Poland. But Poland too was unsafe; and in 1939,just in the nick of time, the family managed to leave for Palestine. There Eli soon joined the left-zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatza'ir, and in 1946 was one of the founders of kibbutz Nirim in the northern Negev.

A few years later, he went to Paris as a journalist for the daily paper 'AI Hamishmar, organ of MAPAM, the political party of Hashomer Hatza'ir. There, in Paris, he studied statistics and economics; one of his teachers was the socialist economist Charles Bettelheim. There too the seeds of his political radicalisation had germinated.

Hashomer Hatza'ir - like all left-wing zionists - was a living contradiction: it claimed to combine zionism with marxism. Throughout the history of that movement there were always individuals and small groups within it who took marxism more seriously than the left-zionist leaders had intended, and who resolved the contradiction by jettisoning zionism. Just as, in the years immediately after the Russian Revolution, it was dissidents from the older left-zionist Po'alei Zion who founded the Palestinian Communist Party and helped to spread marxism in the Arab East, so from the 1930s onwards the revolutionary marxist movement - in Europe and Latin America as well as in Palestine and later in Israel - was drawing to itself a continual if small stream of dissidents from Hashomer Hatza'ir. (One of the most notable figures among them was Abran Leon, author of the brilliant marxist analysis of the Jewish Question, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1944.)

Back in Israel, Eli joined the left opposition inside MAPAM. In 1953 the opposition was expelled from that party and formed itself into the Socialist Left Party which developed in an anti-zionist direction. Uke other adherents of this new party, Eli was expelled from his kibbutz, Nirim.

At the end of 1954 the Socialist Left Party joined the Israeli CP. Eli would most probably had done the same, but by that time he had left Israel again: at the invitation of Charles Bettelheim he joined a team of economists in India (including Bettelheim himself and Joan Robinson) who were working on that country's problems of under-development. From then on, Eli was passionately involved in the economic and social problems of the third world and eventually became an authority in his own right on the economics of colonialism and under-development.

Returning to Paris, he devoted much of his energy to work in support of the Algerian revolution of national liberation. As a result of this activity, it was necessary for him to leave France, and he joined a team of economic advisers in Mali, which, under Modibo Keita was then one of the more progressive states of black Africa. In Mali Eli fulfIlled tasks of great responsibility and represented that country at the World Bank.

During all this time he kept up his interest in Israeli politics and established contacts with the Socialist Organisation in Israel (Matzpen) which had been formed in 1962.

After a brief stay back in France, Eli left for Cuba as a member of a team of left-wing economic experts. Not long after his return from Cuba, the Paris events of May 1968 broke out. Eli was passionately involved in these events, which marked the happiest period of his life. At the same time, as a member of Matzpen, he developed an intensive activity in France (as well as in other countries) against zionism and in support of the rights of the Palestinian people. It is in large measure due to his internationalist activity as a speaker, journalist and writer that the revolutionary left in France and in many other countries has been able to understand the true nature of zionism and adopt a revolutionary socialist attitude towards the problems of the Middle East.

Eli was profoundly committed to the struggle against zionism. But he was not a simplistic anti-zionist: he did not reject zionism merely to exchange it for support for some other nationalism, no matter how 'progressive', but in order to transcend all nationalism in the struggle for a united socialist Middle East and a socialist world. In particular, while being wholly committed to supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people against social and national oppression and for emancipation and self-determination, he was highly critical of, and deeply grieved by, recent regressive developments within the Palestinian movement.

His great and fruitful political activity is widely known to the revolutionary left in many countries. But his personal friends and close comrades also knew his purity of heart, his noble simplicity. Socialism for him was not a mere abstraction or an alienated 'purely political' activity. It was a deeply felt moral commitment of a man who hated all privilege and oppression and identified with the deprived and oppressed.

With his death, the socialist movement in the Middle East and elsewhere has lost an outstanding torch-bearer, and we who knew him have lost a dear and beloved comrade. His memory will illuminate our struggle for the ideals in which he believed.

The early history of Lebanese Communism reconsidered - Alexander Flores

Article discussing the inter-country influence in the early period of the Eastern-Arab communist movement; particularly that of Lebanon-Syria, Egypt and Palestine as well as the role of non-Muslims and non-Arabs.

The early history of Lebanese Communism reconsidered - Alexander Flores

  • Yusuf Ibrahim Yazbek, Hikayat awwal nuwwar fi al-'alam fi lubnan (The Story of May Day in the World and in Lebanon), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974.
  • Muhammad Dakrub, Judhur al-sindiyana al-hamra.'; hikayat nushu' al-hizb al-shuyu'i al-lubnani 1924-1931 (The Roots of the Red Holm Oak; the Story of the Rise of the Lebanese Communist Party), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974.
  • Khalil al-Dibs (Introduction), Sawt al-sha'b aqwa: safahat min al-sihafa al-shuyu'iyya wa al- 'ummaliyya wa al-dimuqratiyya fi 50 'amam (The People's Voice is Stronger; Pages from the Communist, Workers' and Democratic Press in 50 Years), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974.
  • Dahir al-'Akkari (ed.), Al-sihafa al-thawriyya fi lubnan 1925-1975 (The Revolutionary Press in Lebanon 1925-1975), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1975.

In dealing with the problems facing any socialist endeavour in the Arab East, we have to study the history of the socialist movement in this part of the world, beginning with the emergence of a socialist trend within the modern 'Arab awakening'. Why did such a trend evolve at all? What were its origins and motive forces? How did it come into being? What were the reasons for the slow pace of its development and for the difficulties that it encountered?

Early beginnings

More than in other national liberation movements, in the national awakening movement of the Arab East there was - and to a certain extent there still is - a dissociation between two principal elements of national awareness and emancipation: the conservative element of defence against foreign aggression and domination, which is rooted in a domestic tradition; and an innovative element, which questions this very tradition and adopts foreign methods when this seems necessary for enhancing its own fighting capability.

In the Arab East the conservative-defensive element was largely confined to the Sunni Muslim majority of the population. It was based on a Muslim, rather than Arab, identity which before the first world war was accompanied by a degree of loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. This led to a rejection of virually all European values and achievements. The innovative trend, on the other hand, was carried largely by religious and ethnic minorities. These groups - Oriental Christians, Jews or various ethnic minorities under European 'protection', as well as expatriate Europeans such as the Italians and Greeks in Egypt - naturally had a closer affinity to Europe than their Muslim compatriots. This, as well as their social status as minorities which drove them to seek for ways to emancipation and secularisation, accounted for their readiness to accept European values. The striving for emancipation led some of these European-oriented intellectuals of the minorities to look for egalitarian or even socialist remedies for the evils of their own societies. Generally speaking they did not give much thought to the feasibility of transferring European models into a different social context. But the majority of the population shunned these ideas just because they were adopted by members of a despised minority linked with Europe, at the very moment when the European threat began to be felt throughout the Arab East. This applied also to the socialist endeavour of certain intellectuals. Before the first world war, all indigenous socialist thinkers in the Arab world were Christians. (In Palestine - even worse - socialism was represented by left-wing zionist settlers.) Socialism was therefore perceived by the majority as associated with the minorities and as part of the foreign threat.

In Lebanon too the early socialists were isolated; or rather they were not even living in the country. Given the meagre opportunities for political expression in Ottoman-ruled Syria, the pre-first world war Lebanese-Syrian socialists (Shibli Shumayyil, Farah Antun and Niqula Haddad) lived and worked in Egypt. Their teaching - for they did not engage in any socialist practice - was not purely socialist but a mixture of socialist ideas of a reformists character together with the great ideals of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, conceived in a romanticist manner. This brand of socialist ideology is perhaps most typically expressed in the writings of Frah Antun.

After the first world war, the still few and dispersed Lebanese socialists adhered to a similar romantic socialism mixed with liberalism. But if we consider the beginnings of the Lebanese communist party,1 we find that it was not, as in all other Arab countries, set up by minority groups but was nearly purely Arab (with the exception of the Armenian communist group Spartak, which merged with the CP only after the first of May 1925). The Lebanese Christians, a minority in the Ottoman Empire, had become a majority in the Greater Lebanon created by the French mandatory administration for this very purpose. So the pioneers of Lebanese communism brought with them the 'Christian' heritage of enlightenment and social rebellion, but could now work in a mainly Christian environment regardless of confessional strife. (By 'Christian' we do not of course mean anything to do with the religious essence of Christianity, but are merely referring to the situation described above.) The beginnings of the Lebanese CP were thus Arab.

The early history of the Lebanese CP remained until recently a rather inaccessible subject, since the sources were not readily available. Despite some of the original sources of that early period, as well as two semi-official books drawing heavily on documents and eye-witness accounts.

Yusuf Yazbek is one of the founders of the Lebanese CP. His book, Hikayat awwal nuwwar, contains a historical survey of May Day celebrations around the world and personal recollections of the founding of the Lebanese People's Party. It also has a useful documentary appendix. Since most of the contents of Yazbek's book concerning Lebanon is repeated by Dakrub, we shall not deal here specifically with the former.

M. Darkub's Roots of the Red Holm Oak does not pretend to be a scientific history of the rise of the Lebanese CP. It is rather a narrative aimed at readers unfamiliar with the history of the party and its origins. This explains its somewhat naive style; but this in fact is an advantage, insofar as the contents are less filtered than is usual in scientific history.

Darkub starts with the first public demonstration of the party, the celebration of May Day 1925 in the Crystal cinema in Beirut. Then, in a series of flashbacks, he tells the story of each of the speakers at that meeting, thus tracing the party's history up to that date. One of the speakers, Khairallah Khairallah, not belonging to the party, represented nevertheless one of the traditions on which it relied: The Lebanese liberal intellectuals inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution who developed a strong anti-Turkish nationalism (and some of whom were actually hanged by the Turks during the first world war) but who had also some illusions about the post-war French rule in Syria. Khairallah himself had taken part in the first celebration of May Day in Lebanon which took place in a half-clandestine way near Raoushe at Ras Beirut in 1907, and he had also taken part in the First Arab Congress 1913 in Paris where he used to live and work as a journalist. His participation in the 1925 meeting did in fact nothing more than remind the audience of this tradition.

Yusuf Ibrahim Yazbek, another speaker, while inspired by the same intellectual tradition, belonged to another generation and played a far more active role in the founding of the party. With Fu'ad Shimali, he must be considered one of its two founders. Born in 1901, he was impressed by the wartime misery and cruel Turkish tyranny in Syria, but was disappointed to see the Turkish rule merely replaced by a French one after the war. In this he - and some other radicals - differed from the pre-war liberals whose illusions of the French 'democratic mission' did not fade immediately after the war and in some cases did not fade at all. (This was another result of the creation of the Greater Lebanon: the loyalty of a considerable part of the Christian population to the French mandate out of fear of Muslim supremacy in a Greater Syrian or Arab framework.) The conspicuous misery of the population accounted for some of the more radical of the liberals turning in a socialist direction. Their ideas were at first less elaborated than those of the pre-war Arab socialists (Dakrub, p83f). Yet they resembled the latter in their romantic outlook. Yazbek was the leading voice expressing this tendency and slowly clarifying its socialist character and the need for action. This he did in a series of letters and articles which appeared during 1922-24 mainly in the Zahle newspaper Al-siha{i al-ta'ih (The Wandering Journalist). He signed his contributions as follows: The Weeping Ghost: from the Red Hut; in the City of the Rich; 8th October of the Sixth Year of the Third International. Although this date was not correct (he counted from 1917), it indicates Yazbek's bolshevik sympathies - in this period a mere confession of faith.

Role of Jewish communists from Palestine

Further crystallisation of bolshevik thought and an orientation towards organisational practice came in 1923 when Yazbek met Fu'ad Shimali and began to collaborate with him. Shimali was a Lebanese tobacco worker who had worked in Egypt and had gathered experience in the trade-union movement already developed there. Having become a communist and as such an 'undesirable', he was expelled from Egypt and deported to Beirut in August 1923, where he met Yazbek. In Bikfayya, a tobacco manufacturing centre, he began to organise the workers for trade-union activities. Some of them soon began to share his communist sympathies.

At first this small nucleus of communist sympathisers had no connection with the Communist International, despite their efforts. The connection was finally made via the Palestinian CP, which was then exclusively Jewish and had a rather close contact with Moscow. Joseph Berger, one of its leaders, charged with the task of observing the Arab countries and politics, noticed a socialist undertone in an article by Yazbek on Anatole France's death. He went to Beirut, met Yazbek and got in contact with Shimali and several communist workers from the Bikfayya region. In a meeting on 24 October 1924 at Hadeth near Beirut, these men decided to form a legal party, the Lebanese People's Party with some communists, among them Yazbek and Shimali, as its leading circle. Yazbek was elected its first president, soon to be replaced by Shimali. This date is now rightly considered the birthday of the Lebanese communist party.

It is highly symbolic that the three men who prepared this meeting represented three important components in the formation of the party: Yusuf Yazbek, the romantic Lebanese liberal with a radical socialist streak; Fu'ad Shimali, the worker who had gathered his trade-union experience in Egypt, by this time the only Middle Eastern country with a sizeable working class and Joseph Berger, the Palestinian Jewish communist of Polish origin who provided the relations with the Comintern.

It should be noted here that the origins of Palestinian communism were indeed very different from those of the Lebanese. We have seen that the early Lebanese communists - deeply influenced by the French Revolution - understood bolshevism as a more radical brand of the West European humanistic socialism of, say, Jaures. They had very little marxist culture, let alone knowledge of Lenin (as confessed by Yazbek, p68-70); the October Revolution meant to them a moral stimulus rather than a meaningful teaching. With the exception of Fu'ad Shimali, they had no experience in organising the working class. Yet they were Arabs in an Arab environment and their intellectual outlook had its genuine Labanese tradition.

The early Palestinian communists were all Jewish; they had been among those Russian and Polish Jewish socialists who came to Palestine under the impact of zionism. Only a small minority of those remained faithful to their socialist conviction, lost their zionist illusions when confronted with the Palestinian reality, and broke away from zionism. They formed the CPo Largely isolated from the zionist-dominated Jewish population, and mistrusted by the Arabs who continued to regard them as Jews who had come to deprive them of their homeland, the Palestinian communists had great difficulties in fulfilling their revolutionary projects. On the other hand, they had brought with them from the fertile revolutionary soil of Russia and Poland a rich experience of working-class politics. They were versed in marxism and had a knowledge of the principles of the Comintern unmatched by any other revolutionaries in the Middle East. Since Palestine offered much less fertile ground than the other countries of the region for the application of these talents, there was, as it were, a 'surplus revolutionary capability' ready to be deployed elsewhere. The Palestinian communists willingly helped in setting up and developing CPs in the neighbouring countries. They felt a regional responsibility for the communist movement, and out of this there developed the idea of establishing a communist federation of the whole Middle East. For a long time this policy had the approval of the Comintem. Whether this noble striving was linked, in the mind of some Palestinian leaders, to ambitions of domination, is a moot question. After the Comintern had rejected the Palestinians' claim to regional responsibility (about 1930), Arab communists often made such accusations, which in turn are also hinted at by Yazbek and Darkub, but without substantial evidence and without providing any insight into the situation of the PCP itself.

We have already mentioned that in most Arab countries, and especially in Palestine the origins of the CPs were not purely Arab but rooted in the minorities. This was through no personal error on the part of the leaders, but an inevitable consequence of the prevailing political and social conditions. To overcome the adverse effects of this fact, it is necessary at least to analyse thoroughly its historical causes. But such analysis is lacking in Dakrub's book. Yazbek goes even so far as to say that the Jewish leaders of the PCP 'slipped out of your hands like eels', but then abandons the reader with 'but this is another story' (P71). This is not to say that Yazbet is antisemitic, but that he seems to lack any understanding of the Palestinian communists' national problems.

The aid given by the Palestinians to the Lebanese CP in the early days was considerable: they delegated a leading member, Ya'aqov Tepper (Eliahu Teper) to its first central committee; they helped to support the Syrian revolt; and in 1929-30 another leading member, Nahum Leshchinski (Nadav) was placed at the disposal of the Lebanese-Syrian CP.

From the Third Period to the Popular Front After founding the party in October 1924, the leading Lebanese communists tried to recruit new members, mainly through Shimali's trade-union activities and by attracting liberal intellectual sympathisers. This process and the preparations for May Day 1925 are described in detail in the two books, especially by Dakrub. Only after May 1925 did the party reach a level of real organised activity. It gave support to a bloodily suppressed demonstration in July 1925 and to the Syrian revolt of 1925-27 . As a result, nearly all leading cadres were arrested and sentenced to prison, which meant a serious decline and even interruption of party work for two years. Activities were resumed only in 1928 and then in a very cautious and clandestine way. The party came again into the open with a widely distributed manifesto on July 1st, 1930. The following year brought a very serious attempt by the CP (which by now had assumed an all-Syrian dimension) to gain adherents by all means of activity. Again some leading cadres were arrested and jailed. Yet these measures did not have such a devastating effect as the first blow; the party was able from time to time to print legal and illegal newspapers (Saut al-'Ummal, Al-'Ummal, Al-Fajr al-Ahmar). But still more important was the elaboration of the first party programme (the records of the first party congress in December 1925 had been destroyed, see Dakrub, pp373-376). The new document was not officially called a programme but a programmatic document. It was issued precisely one year after the public manifesto, that is, in July 1931. This document is republished in the annex of Dakrub's book, together with a call for May Day 1925, a protest by the central committee of the 'Communist Party in Syria and Palestine' against repression by the French authorities (August 1926, taken from 'Inprecorr'), and the famous joint declaration of the Syrian and Palestinian CPs on the 'Tasks of the Communists in the Arab National Movement', also from 1931.

The programmatic document is a very ambitious and detailed taxt in the mood of the Comintern 'third period' , i.e. it stresses the role of the working class without taking into consideration its ability to fulfil this role, and it condemns the 'reformism' of the national bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the text gives a clear picture of the party's aims: in principle, overthrow of the capitalist system and building up a socialist one; but, as the first goal - liberation of Syria (including Lebanon) from the French yoke and a number of measures to improve the lot of the workers, peasants, women, youth etc. To fulfil this programme a workers' and peasants' government must be set up. The national question is seen on its different levels ending of the interconfessional and intercommunal strife in Syria, attaining Syrian independence, anti-imperialist solidarity of the oppressed peoples on an Arab and world-wide level. The national question is not artificially counterposed to social emancipation in a scheme putting the solution of the former as a pre-condition for the latter.

Today, the communists criticise this program for concentrating on the slogan of a workers' and peasants' government, which allegedly watered down the emphasis on the immediate demands - independence, Syrian unity, evacuation of foreign armies (Dakrub, p447 f).

In my opinion, the shortcoming of this programme is not an underestimation of the purely national issue or the criticism of the bourgeois nationalist leadership but the overestimation of the real weight of the working class and of its capacity to implement the role assigned to it. In a situation like the one we are dealing with, it is important not to restrict the fight to its national - as opposed to social - dimensions. This in any case can be done better by a bourgeois leadership, which by the way was not lacking in the Arab case. Rather, the fight for national liberation must be linked to a through social mobilisation. This link is certainly not excluded by the text in question but it was not conceived in a consistent manner and even less was it put into practice.2

Yet it is important to note that the communists - in that period - did not underestimate the fight for complete independence, out of regard to their French or Soviet brother-parties; nor did they sacrifice their eagerness to fight for social improvements and to stress their socialist goal on the altar of 'national unity'. This can clearly be seen from the heavily documented narrative by Dakrub and from the texts he cites in full. Moreover, he gives a striking picture of the intellectual background and the different fields of experience which contributed to the formation of the Lebanese CP. But however valuable the book may be from this point of view, it does not prevent the reader unfamiliar with the events - and it is precisely to this sort of reader that the book is addressed - from forming a somewhat erroneous view of the party's history. This history is treated as if it took a more or less straight path from modest beginnings to ever greater successes. In such a rendering, sharp turns in the political line of the party or critical points of its history are either omitted from the picture or glossed over. Thus an innocence is shown or pretended that is no longer credible after so many turns and setbacks. This way of thinking and writing is quite usual in communist parties, and Dakrub's book is one of the better examples of its products; but it is clearly not a case of 'marxism applied to itself. Analysis is lacking for the most part.

True, the book deals with a period that by its very character lends itself to such a treatment: as a founding period, it was full of great hopes for the future; the gap between the far-reaching aims and the difficult circumstances could only be bridged with a considerable dose of heroism; the radicalisation from above, with the 'third period', seemed to coincide with the party's own experience (namely the weak performance of the bourgeois-national leadership); the sacrifices of the 'popular front line' were still ahead. So the historical faithfulness of the book is not marred too seriously by it character. The following period, which begins with the turn of the communist movement from the hard line of the third period to the popular front policy, has been the subject of a much more lively controversy. The Syrian-Lebanese CP has had to face grave accusations by Arab nationalists because of its position in this period. It is accused of not having pursued the aim of Arab unity any longer (or not having professed its dogma any longer), of having sabotaged the fight for Syrian and Lebanese independence out of loyalty to the French popular front government, it is accused of silence over the French cession of the (formerly Syrian) district of Iskenderun to the Turks, and of alleged neglect of the Palestine question; in one word: it is accused of national treason. These accusations are put forward either from a purely nationalist point of view, as in Darwaza's book, or by leftist Arab nationalists like Naji 'Allush and llyas Murqus. Sometimes they are linked to a criticism concerning the insufficient emphasis given to socialist aims by the CP. These accusations are sometimes 'proven' by short quotations from original communist sources. And there is a great deal of material which can be cited to suggest a certain 'unreliability' of the communists regarding national questions. But the fact is that most of the critics render the quotations and relate the deeds of the communists in such an incomplete and disjointed manner that the uninformed reader must believe the underlying assumption that those attitudes are the result of sheer treason. Yet the attempt to explain this or that deed or attitude of a political group by 'treason' is usually made by those who are either unable or unwilling to give a more satisfactory explanation. In any case, we must first see to what extent the accusations are true, and get a correct picture of the party's policy at the time concerned, and we must then try to understand the background which led to this policy. By this method alone shall we be able to assess this policy in accordance with the historical reality.

Now, in addition to the two books we have mentioned already, the Lebanese CP has recently published two documentary volumes which offer us glimpses into the real attitude of the party at different periods from 1925 to 1946. One is a sample of reproductions of Lebanese communist or sympathising newspapers and jornals from 1925-1974 with a stress on the early period. It is called 'The People's Voice Is Stronger'. The other volume, edited by Dahir al-'Akkari,is a documentation of the contents of that press for the period 1925-46, arranged by themes. Some of the chapters of this latter volume are headed as if to reject the afore mentioned accusations: 'In the heart of the fight for independence and national sovereignty'; 'Saut al-sha 'b (the party organ) leads the fight for the evacuation (of the foreign armies)'; 'For an Arab unity on a democratic basis'; 'In defence of Arab Palestine against British imperialism and the zionist conspiracy'. Even if the items in these chapters have most probably been selected according to the national mood prevailing today, one can draw from them abundant evidence to the effect that the accusations of national treason are, at least in their crude form, false. Not only does this documentation correct the exaggerated picture given by the critics' short quotations, but it provides also the context and argumentation leading to this or that position of the party, at least as far as they are given in the original texts. Indeed, from 1934 the communists spoke less about Arab unity than before, but they did not drop the subject altogether. They did not oppose Syrian independence but advocated it vigorously, if in a form open to criticism. They did not acquiesce in the ceding of Iskenderun but protested sharply against it. They did not neglect the Palestine problem but until 1947 advocated a unitary democratic solution to it. The book edited by 'Akkari shows this in a very consistent way, as it shows how the communists treated many other questions, like the liberation of women, the defence of the USSR, the anti-fascist struggle, cultural questions, and so on.

National liberation and social emancipation

Yet if we have defended the Syrian-Lebanese CP against a purely nationalist, inexact or even totally false criticism, there is still a great deal in its politics that may rightly be criticised. Some of Murqus's criticism in the conclusion of his book History of the CPs in the Arab World, for instance, is fundamentally just, although he tries to support it - for the period concerned - by the distorted evidence we mentioned earlier. 3 He is right in reproaching the communists for the schematism of their political conceptions, for their disregard for the domestic realities, for their changing political lines without any substantial discussion, for their oscillation in the definition of the Arab nation, for their postponing of socialist aims, and so on. Yet these phenomena, taken in isolation, cannot explain the ups and downs of the Lebanese CP in a satisfactory way.

Therefore it may be useful to recall the evolution of the political line of this party from its inception up to the second world war, and look at the two main themes around which it centred, namely national liberation and the struggle for social progress and the final socialist goal. As we have seen, the party developed ideologically out of the radical wing of socialist-liberal circles which, by virtue of a humanistic universalist outlook, gave priority to social progress - perhaps influenced by the cruel sufferings of the people of Syria in the famine during the first world war. This, together with Shimali's purely proletarian experience in Egypt and ensuing practice in Lebanon, as well as the endeavour to work legally under the French mandate, account for the early communists' stress on the social issue and their relative neglect of the national one, as laid down e.g. in the Principles of the Lebanese People's Party, written in 1925 (text in Yazbek, pp103-l05, and in 'Akkari, p410). These principles are conceived more in a spirit of domocratic social reform than of revolution.

The Founders of the party knew of course that .even those moderate aims could not be attained under the mandate. Therefore they hinted at their enmity towards the French administration, at first very cautiously, then more forcefully (as shown by 'Akkari, p31ff). The banning of AI-Insaniyya, the first legal party organ, in June 1925, and the arrest of the communist leaders later in that same year showed that the French authorities would not tolerate even such cautious nationalist propaganda, especially when infused with socialist principles. So the communists saw themselves free to take a more radical stand on both social and national issues, which they did in the following years, in accordance with the radicalisation of the Comintern line. When they came again into the open after the imprisonment of their leaders and two years of voluntary clandestinity, they expressed a view of the two issues much more consistent than before. This view contained a more radical conception of the national and of the social issue (namely, agrarian revolution) and was aware of the necessity of linking the two issues without neglecting the realities of each country. We have already mentioned the texts expressing this view (the manifesto of 1 July 1930, the 1931 Syrian 'programme', the joint resolution of the Syrian and Palestinian parties). The error of this conception was an unrealistic, over -optimistic evaluation of the capacity of the workers and poor peasants to fulfù the tasks assigned to them by the communists. Those tasks were indeed given by the objective situation, and there was no other social' force capable of tackling them, but the programmes envisaged too short a time for this process. Nevertheless, this orientation might have contributed to a solid entrenchment of the CP had it been put into practice and corrected by experience for a sufficently long time; because the orientation was basically sound.

But there was no opportunity to do so, for this was also the period when the CP came under closer control of the Comintern. This control had already accounted for the application of the 'hard line', against domestic reluctance;4 and in the following, 'popular front' period was to have far graver consequences. The Comintern advised the CPS of the colonial countries to have a certain regard to the interests of their respective colonial powers whose governments were seen as possible allies against the fascist powers. At the same time they were given a free hand to set up alliances with other political forces in their own countries. So the Syrian-Lebanese communists advocated moderation in the fight for national liberation, especially after the popular front assumed power in France, and at the same time tried to be accepted as allies by the Syrian bourgeois nationalist leadership, the kutla wataniyya (national bloc), which they had so vigorously denounced a few years earlier for not pursuing the national emancipation struggle at all. On this issue they now took nearly the same stand as the kutla wataniyya, and in addition they put off their socialist aim, so that a de facto alliance became indeed possible. Under these circumstances, the communists played the role of a mediator between the French popular front government and the Syrian leadership. In this they were indeed helping to achieve independence (a process that was completed only in 1946 but in every stage of which the communists played a considerable role). The accusations of national treason are therefore unfounded. But they failed to assume in this process the specifically communist task that they themselves had envisaged a few years earlier: that of profoundly mobilising the masses, that of linking the anti-imperialist struggle with an agrarian revolution (as demanded by the 1931 joint declaration) or at least a social mobilisation guaranteeing the countinuation of the struggle. Their actual conduct allowed them to work publicly through their organ Saut al-sha'b and gave them a certain respectability. This respectability, among other things, accounted for their gaining a large audience during and immediately after the war. (The political. turn during the Hitler-Stalin pact went largely unnoticed because of the illegality and harsh repression under the drole de guerre and Vichy administrations. In June 1941, Syria was occupied by British and Free French forces who restored the legality of the CP). The unreliability of this audience appeared when the next grave blow came after the partition of Palestine: it crumbled away.

Through the documents reprinted in the two volumes, one can of course perceive the general orientation of that. period - expressed most outspokenly and officially in the National Charter of the party approved by the party congress of December 1943jJanuary 1944 (text in 'Akkari, p425). Quite naturally, although deplorably, the most compromising documents have not been chosen for re-publication.5

On the other hand, there is ample material concerning two other fields of communist literary activity: cultural work and the anti-fascist struggle. The former was done mainly through the journals Al-Duhur (1943), Al-Tali'a (1935-1939), and Al-Tarig (started 1941, still appearing). Non.{;ommunists (among them Amin al-Rihani and Michel 'Aflaq) contributed a great deal to these journals that were indeed conceived as a means to influencing broad circles of intellectuals. Their purpose was to revive the progressive heritage of Arab history and to spread knowledge of scientific socialism and 'other outstanding achievements of modern world culture'; that is, they tried to provide two necessary elements of a modern and progressive Arab culture. This was surely an important step in the attempt to overcome the deep alienation of modern Arab culture.

The other activity, anti-fascist propaganda, in spite of the questionable political conduct sometimes ensuing from it, was in itself a highly meritorious undertaking. Many Arab nationalists at the time had sympathies for the fascist powers out of enmity against France and Britain, and colonising powers in the Levant, and against the zionist project in Palestine, an enmity that often took an anti-semitic form. These people harboured illusions on an eventual German or Italian domination which they preferred to the actual French or British one. Under these conditions, the uncompromising anti-fascist stand of the communists6 was at first - until the allied powers gained the upper hand in the war - rather unpopular. So much the more praise to the communists for this attitude. However, it is doubtful whether anti-fascist considerations really necessitated such a great measure of restraint in the fight for independence. But this question must be discussed in the context of the general political outlook of the CP during this period.

A bad old tradition

There remains the question of the responsibility for the political conduct of the CP that led to its defeats and setbacks. We maintain that the main reasons lie in the traditional structure and functioning of the international communist movement:-

1 The political freedom or action of every single party was - and in many cases still is - considerably restricted by the existence of a leading centre entitled to give instructions to the parties.

2 The internal structure of the parties, their ideological obligation towards the centre, and the sincere emotional loyalty of all communists towards the USSR, the 'bulwark of world revolution', rendered difficult any resistance of a party against instructions from above.

3 The instructions from the centre were insufficiently, if at all, oriented towards the situation of the country in question, but were too often dicated by gobal conceptions formulated in a European context or, more precisely, according to what were considered the state interests of the USSR.

4 There was the custom of changing political lines - sometimes by 180 degrees - from one day to the next, without any broad discussion, without any explanation other than accusing a scapegoat of having committed an the mistakes of the previous period. A change of line which might have been fruitful for one part of the world, was applied indiscriminately on a global scale.

All this accounts partly for the lack of success of communist parties, especially in the colonial world. Only those parties that managed to gain de facto independence from the leading centre and its schemes and models succeeded in assuming a revolutionary role in their respective countries. We have outlined the grave consequences of these factors for the Syrian-Lebanese CP. They were perhaps the inevitable result of the then prevailing conditions of the communist movement. One cannot reduce all this, in the final analysis, to the responsibility of one person. Yet the lion's share of such personal responsibility as can really be found has justly been put on Stalin's shoulders. In a similar way, perhaps any communist leadership in Syria and Lebanon would have been forced to apply this policy. But the man who actually did it - and in a particularly machiavellistic way - was Khalid Bakdash, Syrian party leader from 1934 until now. Although one cannot hold him responsible for all that happened, he has become a symbol for the party traditions as a whole, and especially for the adverse conditions we have described. He was always 'Moscow's eye in the Arab world.7

In the Lebanese CP, there has been a discussion on these and other critical points of party history. As far as we know, this discussion has not ended yet. It has led to a critical (and for that matter self-critical) account of party history.8 Naturally, one cannot expect a very deep public discussion at a time when the party is heavily dependent on Soviet support, for the relations with the CPSU are closely connected with all the crucial issues. On the other hand, since the late fifties or early sixties, the Lebanese CP is independent of the Syrian, so that it can criticise Bakdash, at least implicitly.

This is not the case with the Syrian party, of which Bakdash is still leader. Here the discussion led to a serious clash in the leadership and after prolonged debates ended with the splitting up of the party.9

Central to these recent discussions are subjects subsequent to the period we have dealt with here. Nevertheless, this early period is still full of lessons for contemporary revolutionary socialists in the Arab East. Therefore we can only welcome the fact that the Lebanese CP has published some books which give much useful source material concerning its own early history. The questions we have raised here are by way of plea for further research and discussion on the history of Arab communism and its lessons for the present.

  • 1. The beginnings of the party discussed here were Lebanese, under the name 'Lebanese People's Party'. When, after a period of repressions, it re-emerged into the open, it assumed an all-Syrian dimension under the name 'Syrian CP'. From then on it called itself according to circumstances either Syrian or Lebanese CP. At its congress of winter 1943/44 it took the name 'CP of Syria and Lebanon', consisting of a Lebanese and a Syrian CP. After the second world war, when Syria and Lebanon became separate independent states, it was decided that the two regional branches of the CP should also separate and set themselves up as two parties. However, this decision remained on paper until the early 1960s.
  • 2. The joint declaration of the Palestinian and Syrian CPs mentioned above does indeed lay great stress on the need for this link. This declaration is rightly regarded by Dakrub (p449) as completing the Syrian programmatic document. Below we shall try to explain why this conception was not put into practice.
  • 3. llyas Murqus, Tarikh al-ahzab al-shuyu'iyya {i al-watan al-'arabi, Dar al-Tali'a, Beirut 1964, pp141-175. This does not mean that we agree with all his views. For a rejection of these see Maxime Robinson, Marxisme et monde musulman, Seuil, Paris, 1972, pp412-425
  • 4. See Jacques Couland, Le mouvement syndical au Liban, Editions Socia1es, Paris 1970, p149f. This line seems to have been enforced by Nahum Leshchinski whom we mentioned earlier. See Couland, ibid.
  • 5. Some of these documents can be found in Murqus, op cit, pp19S-229; and in Ahmad Fayez Fawwaz' contribution to the extraordinary conference of the Syrian CP held in late 1971 to discuss the differences in the party, in Quadaya al-al-khilaf fi al-hizb al-shuyu'i al-suri (Questions of the difference in the Syrian CP), Dar Ibn Khaldun, Beirut 1972, pp374404.
  • 6. In principle of course this anti-fascist stand was suspended during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, but as explained above this interruption had no great consequences in the Syrian context.
  • 7. See Robinson, op cit.
  • 8. See 'Report of the CC before the second congress of the Lebanese CP, July 1968, in Nidal al-hizb al-shuyu'i al-lubnani min khilali watha'aqihi (The struggle of the Lebanese CP, through its documents), Part I, Lebanese CP Publications, Beirut, pp105-234. This report covers the period from 1944 (when the first congress was held!) to 1968.
  • 9. For all this see the book on the differences in the Syrian CP cited in note 5, and the article on the Arab CPs' position on the Palestine problem in the present issue of Khamsin.

The Arab CPs and the Palestine Problem - Alexander Flores

Detailed text analysing the positions and activity of various Arab Communist Parties in relation to the partition of Palestine, focusing on the effect which subservience to the official line from the Soviet Union had on their efforts.

The Arab CPs and the Palestine Problem - Alexander Flores

Like many CPs in the third world, the Arab CPs have been unable to win wide influence and truly strike root among the broad popular masses. Yet there are quite a number of conditions favourable to their political success: they are the oldest, most continuous and best organised parties in the Middle East; they have close relations with the Soviet Union, whose prestige - at times quite considerable - they can therefore exploit; and they have at their disposal a theoretical system which, even in its exrtemely schematised stalinist form, is superior to the other ideologies current in the Middle East in matters of social analysis. Their evident failure has both objective and subjective causes: on the one hand, certain un favourable political and social conditions (a social structure which is rather unpropitious for the formation of an autonomous proletarian movement, an aristocratic and bourgeois elite which has occupied and managed tq maintain the leading position in the national struggle, the Middle East's proximity to Europe and its importance for the imperialist powers. . .) and, on the other hand, these parties' own political mistakes. The latter can mostly be traced back to two inter-related factors.

First, the tradition of the communist movement since the 1930s, characterised ideologically by a gross schematic mutilation and deformation of marxism, and, on the organisationallevel, by an equally schematised and deformed conception of the leninist model of the party. The party's policy was no longer based on a precise prior analysis of the situation of the country in question, but on the 'application' to that situation of certain universally valid 'principles'; and these principles prevailed even when they were incompatible with the actual situation. In the matter of organisation, or so-called democratic centralism, the centre was given preponderance (information and directives flowed 'downwards') - which facilitated the application of the said principles. With such a method, the elaboration of a policy taking due consideration of the realities of the country concerned - a pre-condition for striking real roots among the popular masses - became virtually impossible.

The second factor is the direct linkage of the policy of the CPs to that of the Soviet CP, and hence to that of the Soviet Union as a state, at least in strategic matters, but most frequently even in the fine details of tactics. During the existence of the Comintern, this linkage was institutionally secured by the prerogative of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI) to hand down instructions to each member party. Later on, other mechanisms (similarity of views, loyal sentiments of solidarity with the Soviet Union, material dependence etc) were no less effective in producing similar results. Concord and solidarity with the Soviet Union do not necessarily bring discredit on a party, particularly in view of the popularity which the Soviet Union enjoyed at times - due to the direct effects of the October revolution, to its general anti-colonialist attitude and later on, to its pro-Arab position on the Middle East confliçt. But the blind tailing behind the CPSU impaired still further the CPs' concentration on the reality of their own countries, and had catastrophic consequences whenever the Soviet state took a step against the national interests of the peoples concerned. In the Middle East, the most notable step of this kind was the USSR's support of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine, and its diplomatic and military aid (in the form of arms supplied through Czechoslovakia) to Israel in the 1948 war. The more or less hesitant acquiescence of the Arab CPs in this Soviet policy cost them the sympathy ofthe Arab peoples.1

The Arab defeat in the war of June 1967 and its aftermath have entailed a certain change in the attitude of the Arab CPs. In the present article we would like to document this process, which in turn reflects the change of direction of the Arab liberation movement as a whole. In doing so, we shall confme ourselves mainly to the CPs of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, which are particularly affected by the problem, due to the fact that their respective countries are adjacent to Israel and have many Palestinian refugees within their borders. We have few documents on the attitude of the Iraqi CP which, moreover, is smitten by splits. The Egyptian CP, whose history is equally rich in splits, dissolved itself in 1964. It is true that inside the party there had been strong opposition to this decision, and some small communist groups survived very deep underground; but there was no longer a united party until July 1975, when these groups reconstituted themselves as an Egyptian CP.2 At the time of writing, we have not yet got any documents on the attitude of the new party to the Palestinian question.

The question of the partition of Palestine

During the lifetime of the Comintern, the position of the CPSU - and accordingly of all the Arab CPs - was strictly anti-zionist. There was a clear conception of the class nature of zionism and of its necessary link with imperialist interests in the region, and for this reason everything was done to defeat the zionist project. Towards this end, the leadership of the Palestinian CP supported the Arab national movement during the revolt of 1936-39, and even went a bit far in accepting the reactionary leadership of that movement. This support for national aspirations helped to root the parties among the Arab masses. During the latter years of the second world War, their membership increased remarkably. The Soviet position on the partition resolution therefore came as a surprise, since it was directly contrary to the previous policy. Whatever the true motives3 [libcom note: this footnote and the following one seem to be missing from the original, and as such were put in where they seemed to fit best.] for the Soviet turn-about - and a certain amount of opportunism undoubtedly played a part in this, as the USSR wished to avoid a total confrontation with the US as well as to weaken British influence in the Middle East - the Soviet Union itself only gave the following two reasons: its support for the principle of the right to self-determination, irrespective of circumstances, and the suffering of the Jews under fascist terror during the war, for which they ought to be compensated. 4

In any case, the new situation meant a serious reverse for the Arab CPs. They felt obliged to toe the Soviet line - not so much because of some 'Diktat' from Moscow, but by virtue of the weight of communist tradition, which did not allow deviations from the Soviet line. However, they produced a different argument to justify the new line, because the argument used by the Soviet Union itself was totally unacceptable in the Arab environment. Until 1947 they had demanded a democratic state for Arabs and Jews in Palestine, a demand directed against the zionest project of a 'Jewish national home'. Now, in adopting the new Soviet position, they pointed at the balance of forces in the region, which in their view made it impossible to decisively eliminate the imperialist and zionist presence. In these circumstances, one had to accept the partition of Palestine, and build an independent and democratic state in the Arab part. This would be the most one could expect to achieve, and at the same time it would provide a favourable starting point for a future struggle for the creation of a federal socialist state in Palestine. Therefore they condemned the Arab intervention of May, 1948, as an act of the Arab regimes dependent on British imperialism, designed to bring the Arab part of Palestine under the domination of Trans-Jordan and Egypt, and hence under that of Britain.5 This part of the argument is certainly valid, but the strategic evaluation of the situation was false; it regarded British influence in the Middle East as the main enemy, and called for the struggle against it, whereas the danger of zionism and the growing influence of the US were underestimated. Moreover, it saw only the reactionary aspect of Arab nationalism and of its demands, but not the progressive and revolutionising germs in that movement, which were to unfold in the following years (overthrow of the reactionary regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq).

In accepting partition, the Arab CPs thus put forward a different shade of justification than the Soviet union; but it can nevertheless be assumed that their respect for the Soviet Union played the most crucial part. Because of this attitude they were strongly attacked, and it was easier for the various regimes to repress them. It would however be wrong to regard this attitude of the parties as the sole, or even principal, cause for their failure. It was rather the totality of the parties' policy, in all its various aspects, which, in the given objective conditions, led to that result. In this the Palestinian question played an important part, but only as one among other issues, such as the 1958 union between Egypt and Syria.

From about 1952, the attitude of the USSR changed in favour of the Arabs, notably after the 1955 Czech arms deal. This enabled the Arab CPs to denounce Israel more and more vehemently for its pro-imperialist position. But even in this they were subject to a double constraint: they had to take into consideration the policy of the Soviet Union as well as that of the regimes in their own respective countries. For the USSR's pro-Arab turn assumed the form of a slant towards the Arab states and their regimes. In case of conflict between these and the CPs in question, the USSR hardly ever came out in the latter's favour, let alone exercise pressure on their behalf. Thus the parties felt obliged to pay exaggerated deference to the policy of these regimes, in order not disown the Societ Union. Here too the constraint was not necessarily conscious, but could equally assert itself through habit of political thought. This led the parties to inflate in their propaganda the significance of every progressive step, no matter how slight, of an Arab regime; they were driven to a rearguard policy, which culminated in the self-dissolution of the Egyptian CP in 1964.

The limit which Soviet policy imposed on the Arab CPs even after 1955 was the recognition of Israel as a state: 'From the 1948 war until the aggression of 1967, the Arab CPs adhered to the slogan "implementation of the UN resolutions". The 1967 aggression, however, brought about an abrupt change in the positons of these parties, which now differed sharply with one another.'6

The Arab defeat in the June 1967 war and its reprecussions

In accordance with its pre-1967 line, the USSR strongly condemned the Israeli aggression of June 1967, broke off its diplomatic relations with Israel and pledged its support for the Arab countries concerned, but confined its demands to the restoration of the status quo ante by the implementation of the UN resolutions, and thus did not call in question the State of Israel as such. Not that the Soviet Union was unaware of the zionist nature of Israel; it was indeed perfectly aware of this, and had repeatedly condemned it. What it failed to recognise - or perhaps did recognise, but failed to draw conclusions from - was the very dynamics of zionist ideology which, in association with Israel's inevitable alignment with imperialist interests, must result in an aggressive and expansionist policy so long as Israel is dominated by zionism.

In the short term, the Soviet Union advocated the implementation of resolution 242 of the UN Security Council (under the slogan 'liquidation of the consequences of the aggression') as a first step towards a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict. like some Arab communists, the Soviet Union believed that the class struggle inside Israel itself would enentually lead to the de-zionisation of Israeli society, if only the Arabs refrain from overt attacks against that state. At first the USSR severly disapproved of the Palestinian resistance, which it labelled 'adventurist'. For its part, the Palestinian resistance criticised the Soviet position for ignoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people; to demand moderation from the Arab masses most grievously hit by expulsion and aggression was asking too much. One cannot but agree with this criticism, even though it is true that the Palestinians themselves have not so far developed a strategy that would connect their own objectives of liberation with Israeli reality as such.

Since 1970, there has been a rapprochement between the USSR and the Palestinian resistance movement, and the two sides have toned down their mutual criticism. Nevertheless, the difference of views still persists, at least officially, though unofficially the leadership of the PLO seems ready to recogniseIsrael de facto. As far as the Soviet position is concerned, one explanation (among others) lies in the very fact that in 1947 the Soviet Union declared itself in favour of partition, and does not wish to repudiate that attitude completely.

It goes without saying that the Soviet attitude has played a considerable role in determining the position taken by the Arab CPS. The CPSU may no longer be the 'directing centre' of world communism, but it would still like to be that movement's tutor, and it does in fact play that role for the weaker parties, among which are also the Arab CPs. We shall see an example of this later on.

Immediately after the 1967 war, all Arab CPs except two7 took a position similar to that of the USSR. They spoke about 'liquidating the consequences of the aggression', and in this context approved of Resolution 242 of the UN Security Council. But the defeat in that war triggered off a number of mental processes in Arab society: the aggressive and dangerous nature of Israel came to be seen more clearly and was put in the foreground of the analysis, the weakness of the Arab regimes in facing the aggression was recognised, and there got off the ground a new Palestinian resistance movement which adopted the guerrilla form of organisation and the theory of protracted people's war. All this had its own effect upon the CPS and forced them to react to this development. In so doing, they adopted contradictory positions. Some held on firmly to the old line, either by virtue of their unconditional loyalty to the USSR or because they were incapable of drawing a lesson from the changed situation; others took pains to try and achieve a deeper understanding of the state of affairs and changed their attitude to the problem, whose national dimensions were recognised at long last. The principle issues in that controversy were:-

1) The former attitude to the partition of Palestine - was it wrong or not?

2) Resolution 242 and the 'liquidation of the consequences of the aggression' - is this a strategic goal of the entire present stage, or a demand raised for tactical reasons?

3) Should one, going beyond this demand, already envisage as an objective the liquidation of the zionist State of Israel?

4) The attitude, in principle as well as in practice, towards the Palestinian resistance.

The Jordanian CP

The 'tendency for rigidity' is most clearly expressed in an article written by Fahmi Salfiti, then secretary of the CC of the Jordanian CP, for the journal Problems of Peace and Socialism published in Prague.8 In this article he adheres unbendingly to the formula of the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression. His lack of understanding of the Palestinian national problem is seen from the fact that he regards the (occupied) West Bank simply as belonging to Jordan, rather than as a part of Palestine annexed by Jordan in 1950. Thus he remains faithful to the idea which is cleary incompatible with an autonomous Palestinian identity. Salfiti nowhere mentions the Palestinians as such, but refers to them as 'Jordanians' or simply as 'Arabs'. Thus he writes: 'More than 400,000 Jordanian inhabitants found themselves compelled to leave the West Bank of Jordan'. 9

The following quotation shows how Salfiti schematically separates the national and social aspects of the liberation struggle, and to what extent the then leadership of the party was committed to the idea of a peaceful solution:

'Without directing its main attention to the current problems of economic and social development, the programme confirms and verifies the need for forming a government of national unity, where the participation of representatives of the big bourgeoisie and the land-owners will not be excluded, provided they turn against the occupation. It calles for a peaceful settlement and condemns the adventurist tendencies which have appeared after the defeat'.10

The article moreover grossly over-estimates the capability of the Arab regimes to fight against the aggression. This applies even to the Jordanian regime, and in 1968 of all times! 'The existence of such a contradiction (between imperialism, zionism and the reactionary elements on the one hand and the broad strata hit by the aggression on the other - AF) creates great possibilities for influencing the ruling circles of Jordan, and even the king himself; it accelerates their turning away from imperialism'.11

Consequently Salfiti reaches a stern verdict on the Palestinian resistance movement. He points out that its founders originate politically from the Muslim Brotherhood and that the reactionary regimes give them money, and he also asserts that conditions in the Arab countries are not ripe for guerrilla war. He then goes on to say:

'The majority of the members of this sort of organisation are not Jordanians. Since their kernel consists of Arabs from Palestine, these organisations have limited practical possibilities and their goals are unrealisable'.12 (In an Arabic version of the same article - we do not know whether this was in fact the original text - the last sentence reads as follows: 'These circumstances narrow their scope and cause them to choose goals which are in fact unrealisable'.13

Thus the fact that an organisation is made up for the most þart of Palestinians apparently makes a discussion of the content of its politics quite unnecessary! By the way, Salfiti himself is of Palestinian origin, as his name indicates. He concludes: 'The activity of these organisations should in most cases be evaluated as negative. True, to some extmt they cause damage to the enemy and get some publicity for themselves, but the price for this is paid in many sacrifices, in the expulsion of the Arab population from territories whose soil is most fertile.'14

In the whole article one would search in vain for a single allusion to the character of the State of Israel, the exact nature of its ties with imperialism or the reasons for its aggressiveness; missing too is any idea on the long-term perspectives of the struggle.

Unfortunately, this article had a vast circulation and was regarded as the last word of the Arab communists on the Palestinian problem. Nevertheless, it met with lively cpposition not only in fraternal Arab parties but especially inside the Jordanian CP itself. Thus Karim Muruwwa, a leader of the Lebanese CP, replied in the following way to a question concerning the article quoted above:

'As far as the Jordanian CP is concerned, I tell you that what was published in its name in an international journal (Problems of Peace and Socialism) does not convey the point of view of the Jordanian CP. An official delegate of that party has come to Lebanon, to the Lebanese CP, in order
to say this and also to say that there is sincere collaboration between the Jordanian CP in the occupied territories and the fedayin organisations. He said; "The Jordanian CP has gained credit for many actions. I would not speak of this unless I were compelled to, because that would be to boast and brag in front of a fraternal people and a fraternal party." 15

The opposition to Salfiti's views inside the Jordanian party was in fact so great that the CC, which was not wholely on his side, published a contrary statement (March 1969). In this document it expressly affirms the right of the Palestinian people to struggle by every means against Israeli oppression and to continue the struggle after the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression:

'The liquidation of Israeli occupation will open the way for the continuation of the struggle for a just solution of the Palestinian problem in accordance with the interests of the Palestinian Arab people and the Arab liberation movement.' 16

In the June 1969 International Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties, held in Moscow, the Jordanian delegate Fu'ad Nassar said: 'The struggle of the Palestinian Arab people is legitimate and sacred, because its aim is the expulsion of the conquerors and occupiers, the regaining of the territories usurped by. Israel since 1948 contrary to United Nations resolutions, the return of those who were expelled, and the implementation of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination on the territory of its homeland. The Jordanian CP, together with the Jordanian people, with other progressive peoples and all Arab peoples, will continue the struggle against the Israeli aggression. It supports the struggle of the Palestinian Arab people and its legitimate resistance against the occupiers and for the restoration of unsurped rights.' 17

The debate inside the Jordanian CP went on, and towards the end of 1969 led to the election of a new CC. Salfiti, who was unable to have his own way, left the party at the beginning of 1971 together with a small group of supporters.18

In November 1969, the party's paper in the occupied territories, Al-Watan, wrote: 'For our people, there is no other way to the liberation of its country and the defence of its existence but the intensification of the resistance and the use of higher forms of struggle.'19 This indicated that the party not only approved of armed struggle in principle - as even Salfiti had done - but was preparing to practise it.

In March 1970, the Jordanian CP announced the creation of a commando organisation for the liberation of Palestine, called Ansar ( = , partisans' or 'adherents'), in which the Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi CPS also soon took part. The importance of this lies not so much in the combat power of the new organisation, which remained small and was at first disowned by most other resistance groups, but more in the new attitude of the CPs towards the Palestinian resistance: no longer merely verbal approval, but actual participation in the armed struggle. Nevertheless, the Ansar forces, as well as the CPs themselves, still adhered to certain points which were rejected by the Palestinians in general: acceJ'tance of Resolution 242, stress on the need for all forms of struggle, etc.20 This naturally entailed a certain degree of incoherence in the party's new position: on the one hand, it moved closer to the resistance, but on the other hand it kept on to positions rejected by the latter. The Ansar forces were well aware of this and made an effort deliberately to omit all mention of the controversial points such as Resolution 242. The other resistance groups were slow to welcome the new organisation, and its representative was only co-opted onto the National Council in his personal capacity and against the opposition of some Fatah leaders. In 1972, the Ansar forces were dissolved by the CPS - presumably in order to further the unity of the resistance and with a view to influencing the movement as a whole, if need be by individual affùiation to the various organisations.21

In accordance with the Jordanian CP's newly adopted view that the Palestinian people has a national identity of its own and that the status of the West Bank as part of Jordan can only be provisional, the communists of the occupied territories separated themselves organisationally from the party and formed themselves into the Palestinian Communist Organisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which however retained a close collaboration with the parent party.

Despite the party's political rapprochment with the Palestinian resistance, there remained some sharp differences: the party continued to stress its advocacy of the implementation of Resolution 242 as an important tactical step (though no longer as a strategic goal). It admits that the Palestinians reject the resolution because it does not take their national rights into consideration, but it believes that a point-blank rejection gives rise to a needless split among the progressive Arab forces. The party does not explicitly challenge the existence of the State of Israel, although it is difficult to see how the right of the refugees to return and to self-determination in their country can be implemented in that state as it is. This shows an inconsistency which is perhaps dictated by deference to the Israeli CP, but undoubtedly above all to the USSR.

Finally, a particularly ihorny issue is the question of the 1947-8 partition of Palestine. The party certainly condemns the actual outcome of the 1948 partition, but not the 1947 UN resolution:

'Because of its subjugation to colonialist and reactionary domination, Jordan was used as a base for the conspiracy against the Palestinian people and its cause, willch culminated in the imperialist-zionist plot of 1948 against Palestine. This plot prevented the implementation of the UN resolution of 29 November 1947 and led to the Palestinian Arab people being deprived of its right to self-dertermination. This, in turn, resulted in the carving up of that people's state and in the expulsion of the people itself, part of the territory of its state falling under Israeli occupation and another part being annexed by Jordan.'22

While this account correctly renders the factual development, it skirts round an evaluation of the partition resolution and of the communist stand towards it, thus avoiding discussion of a crucial point that has caused grave tension between communists and Arab nationalists.

On the other hand, in talking with party members, one can hear an entirely explicit and quite frank criticism of the 1947 positions, but this does not easily find its way into official documents, where due respect must be paid to various 'diplomatic' consideration. However, in tills connection it is singificant that the party has re-published pre-1947 documents of 'Us bat al-taharrur al-watani ( = National Liberation League) which are being circulated and arouse lively discussions among the membership. The NLL was, in 1943..48, the organisation of Arab communists in Palestine, which was strongly opposed to partition; until the early 1970s its documents had been taboo in the Jordanian CP.23

The Lebanese CP

Immediately after the defeat of June 1967, the Lebanese CP took a position similar to that the USSR. In an article published in 15 October 1967 in its weekly AI-Akhbar, it speaks above all about liquidating the consequences of the aggression and stresses the importance of the UN resolutions in tills respect. But the argumentation and language are quite different from those used by Salfiti, to take an extreme example. Thus the article begins with a call for a solution of the Palestinian problem 'in accordance with the interest of the Palestinian people and its incontestable rigllt to its soil and homeland.'24 There follows a general discussion of the nature of the State of Israel and its importance for imperialism, which is completely absent from Salfiti's article though it is essential for a proper discussion of the problem. The Al-Akhbar article, then shows that even at that early stage, immediately after the war, some tillnking was done on the nature of the aggression, ie on the inherent logic of zionism and Israel's organic ties to the interests of imperialism in the region, which had led inexorably to the aggression. Consequently, the demand raised is not merely for the restoration of the status quo, but for a solution in the interest of the Palestinian people. On the other hand, the article makes no mention of the Palestinian resistance in the proper sense, as at that stage it had not yet acquired its reputation.

The discussion inside the Lebanese CP led eventually to a critical revision of the party's entire policy since its first congress (December 1943 - January 1944). At its second congress, held in July 1968, the CC report contained a detailed summary of the party's policy in the intervening twenty-five years and a criticism of certain 'deviations'. On the national problem, the report says:

'In point of fact, the party took a narrow view of the Palestinian cause and the colonial-zionist conspiracy against it. It did not grasp that in the first phase Palestine itself was the target in the plans of colonialism and zionism, and that the motivation for achieving this target in the first place was to make the Palestine issue a -point of departure for damming up and suppressing the Arab national liberation movement, which had grown vigorou1i.y after the second world war and was beginning to endanger the positions of colonialst domination in a region whose soil contains more than half of the world's known oil reserves, a region which constitutes a strategically important position as a junction connecting the colonialist West with South-East Asia and the Far East, and which borders on the south of the Soviet Union. That is to say, the party was incapable of evaluating properly the real political and national dimensions, which in the long run were to result in the success of the conspiracy against Palestine - the erection of an artificial structure on its soil.

The dogmatic view of the national problems
'It must frankly be admitted that this came about because for a long time we had under-estimated and neglected and national problems and failed to understand them in an objective way and to see their revolutionary character. This was due to our having viewed the national problems wrongly - that is, from the outside - and taking them to be only the concern of the bourgeoisie, as if the workers, and the peasants and the popular masses have no national sentiments and are untouched by national questions.' [There follows a short explanation of the difference between European and Arab nationalism which the party had not seen earlier, hence its disregard for national problems, and the report goes on to say:] 'If we were confronted with a fundamental problem of a national nature, such as the Palestinian problem, it assumed in our eyes the form of Nuri Sa'id, of King 'Adballah, of Faruq and the other puppets; and we did not see the deep popular current which was powerfully propelled by national motive forces and which would eventually lead to the explusion of the puppets or to their removal in one way or another. On the other hand, we must not pass in silence over certain chauvinistic trends that predominated the thoughts and concepts of several nationalist organisations, and anti-communist tendencies they displayed, whi:h helped to reinforce our emotional positions on the national question.'25

But despite the criticism ofits own attitude to the partition of Palestine, the Lebanese CP still defends the USSR's position on that issue: 'The fundamental position of the Soviet Union on this question aimed at the independence of Palestine in the framework of a unitary state. But the interwoven aspects of the problem, the aggravation of the situation and the continual conspiracy of the colonialists threatened to frustrate completely the realisation of this aim. These circumstances made it necessary to take in practice a position which would foil the conspiracy of the colonialists and guarantee peace and quiet in the region, while at the same time stressing the need to work toward a unified state.'26 On the other hand, the Lebanese communists were not entitled to take such a 'practical' position; being directly involved, and not subject to the exigencies of world-wide political responsibility, they ought to have stuck to their principled opposition to the partition of Palestine.

One can see the difficulties involved in the need to defend Soviet policy on all important points. Still, let us note that the Lebanese CP did clearly dissociate itself from its old dogmatic position, and the explanation it offered in doing so was essentially correct.

The programme adopted by that same congress expresses the party's current views on the Palestinian problem. Its treatment of this subject begins with a historical outline of zionism and its fight against the Arab national movement, in order to elucidate the political content of zionism. The programme rejects the 1947 partition resolution, but here too an attempt is made to justify the Soviet position. It reaches the conclusion that Israel is, externally, the truncheon and gendarme of imperialism in the region for suppressing the Arab liberation movement and an instument of neo-colonialist penetration into Africa and Asia; and that, internally, Israel is a capitalist and clericalist state based on the oppression of workers and racist discrimination o( Arabs and Oriental Jews. As for the party's views on the way to a solution of the Palestinian problem, they are contained in the following quotation:

'The just and realistic way, which opens up a real possibility for solving the Palestinian problem, passes through strengthening the progressive Arab regimes, which will be the main force in solving the problem, and through undermining those Arab countries which are still dominated by feudalism and reaction, because they are allies of colonialism and zionism and an obstacle in the road to the solution of each and every problem in the sense of liberation, progress and Arab unity. .

'The present resistance movement, part of which is the armed resistance of the Palestinian people in Israel and in the occupied territories, is the revolutionary movement of a people robbed of its land and all its rights. All patriotic and progressive forces, including the communists, participate in this struggle; it receives the backing and support of all the forces of progress around the world and of their vanguard, the socialist countries and the world communist movement.

'The complete solution of the Palestinian problem must be based on principled positions and must begin with the recognition of the inalienable right of the Palestinian Arabs to their soil and their homeland, hence the recognition of their right to return to that homeland and their right to self-determination there. One cannot justify anything founded upon violence and robbery; and the presence today of Jews in Palestine cannot prejudice the historical and natural right of the Palestinian Arabs to their country.'27

This passage shows that in the confrontation with Israel the Lebanese communists attach principal importance to the 'progressive' Arab regimes, at least during the present phase. In this they follow the tradition of Arab communists. However, the far-reaching recognition of Palestinian rights is not grounded on that tradition; and it is moreover incompatible with the guarantees which the Soviet Union is prepared to give to the Israeli state.

The third congress of the party made no essential changes in this position; but it made more explicit reference to the Palestinian resistance, which in the mean time had won greater popularity. The 'national movement of the Palestinian Arab people' is regarded as part of the liberation movement on both Arab and world scale. The party therefore 'has been working for the support of the resistance by all political, moral, material and human means, including participation in armed actions. Together with other progressive forces, it has concentrated its struggle on the defence of the resistance against the conspiracy and the attempts at liquidation to which it has been exposed.'28 The reference to participation in the armed struggle is an allusion to the Ansar forces mentioned above in connection with the Jordanian CP.

The Lebanese party has not however abandoned its criticism of the Palestinian resistance movement and the concepts relating to it:

'The party has vigorously opposed the false opportunistic conceptions of the right and "left" of this movement which amount to separating between it and the Arab liberation movement, either by viewing it in isolation from the basic anti-imperialist and progressive content which the Arab national movement possesses at its present stage, or by trying to burden it with more than it can carry and by arbitrarily making it out to be the vanguard of, and sometimes even a substitute for, the entire national liberation movement, rather than regarding it as part of the latter. . . . From this principled and firm point of view, the party has looked at the mistakes of the resistance and expressed its opinion frankly and clearly; whether it was a matter of structural defects resulting from the bascially petty-bourgeois class structure of the movement, from the anti-communism which was widespread in some of its groups and among many of its leading elements, and from the fact that it succumbed to the material enticements of Arab reaction and has relied on it; or whether it was a matter of mistakes resulting from a series of wrong strategic and tactical practices. However, the party has' always stressed that these shortcomings and mistakes should not conceal the progressive and anti-imperialist content embodied in the resistance movement.

Similarly, the party has always noted the difficult and complicated conditions which confront the struggle of the Palestinian people and the resistance groups, and which are the objective cause of many mistakes in the practice of the resistance, just as it has courageously stressed the responsibility of the communists, who did not assume a more active role in this movement right from the beginning, for had they done so they might perhaps have strengthened it and reduced its mistakes and weaknesses.29

The Lebanese CP's criticism of the Palestinian resistance relates to the fact that the latter does not have a clear view of its own social character and of its relationship with the Arab liberation movement in general, and is therefore incapable of elaborating a programme which would, first, indicate the goals of the present stage (stating their social character) and, second, duduce from a realistic analysis the correct relationships of the resistance to political forces in the Arab and international arenas.

This criticism is expounded systematically in an essay by Karim Muruwwa in the special issue of Dirasat 'Arabiyya from which we have already quoted above.30 He criticises the view of the Fatah theoreticians, according to which the Palestinian refugees constitute a class apart, and their exile situation justifies deferring the social issues in the liberation struggle till after the return to Palestine.31 Muruwwa insists on the fact that the Palestinian people is for the most part integrated into the relations of production - deformed though they may be - of the host Arab countries, where the petty-bourgeoisie preponderates but where there are also elements of all other, mutually opposed classes. The resistance movement is influenced by all class forces interested in national liberation, albeit conceived by some of them merely as restoration of the old class soclety. Hence - according to Muruwwa - the vague and hazy character of the ideology of the resistance, which obstinately clings to nationalist dogmas and makes them the sole touchstone of correct political position, thereby making it easier for very dubious elements to attach themselves to the movement.

Muruwwa calls for clear strategy and tactics, which above all would take more consciously into consideration the social nature of the struggle and would put the relationship of the resistance to the Arab peoples and regimes on a more realistic basis. Here too he gives much credit to the 'progressive' regimes; but taken as a whole his criticism poses correctly the problem of the weaknesses of the Palestinian resistance.

Since then the position of the CP has not changed in any essential way. But it is important to state that on this basis there developed a practical collaboration between the Palestinian resistance and the Lebanese CP. Both sides opened their press organs to each other; and in particular Muruwwa often writes in Filastin al-Thawra and Shu 'un Filastiniyya, respectively the central organ and theoretical journal of the PLO. His essay discussed above originated as a lecture delivered in the cadre school of the PFLP. The Lebanese CP belongs to the Arab Front for Participation in the Palestinian Revolution which in the general Arab arena is mostly a forum for declamation, but which has played in Lebanon an important role in defending the resistance and enhancing its political influence. This process has only rarely been properly recognised, because the Palestinians for their part have been rather reserved in the matter of practical solidarity with the Lebanese left.32

As we have seen, the support of the Lebanese CP for the resistance was combined with criticism. While certain points of this criticism were unacceptable to the resistance, it was nevertheless an important factor in the process of theoretical clarification. At present this clarification process is to some extent put in abeyance because of the Lebanese events. The need for it, however, is underlined by the course of these very events.

Naturally, the CP has particularly close relations with the left-wing guerrilla organisations. Thus at first only the PFLP and the DFLP came forward in favour of recognising the Ansar forces as part of the PLO. But later on the other organisations also developed good relations with them, in parallel with the improvement of relations between the PLO and the Soviet Union.

The Syrian CP

The tendency of changing the traditional attitude, which we have traced in the other parties, operated also in the Syrian CP - but in different circumstances and with different results. Khalid Bakdash, secretary general of the party and a great authority among all CPs in the Arab East, remained attached to the traditional position. His partisanship of the USSR is so unconditional, that he does not allow himself the slightest deviation from its conceptions.

The third congress of the Syrian CP, held in June 1969, resolved that a draft programme be drawn up; and such a document was indeed approved by the CC in 1970 and circulated inside the party for discussion. This draft was inspired by the Lebanese CP's programme mentioned above, but went even further in its attacks against Israel and its support of the resistance:

'The essence of the Palestinian problem lies in the following:

'1 The Palestinian Arab people has the right to liberate its homeland, usurped by colonialism and zionism, to return to it, to exercise self-determination in its territory and to set up its own state in the form it wishes.

'2 The enemy of the Palestinian Arab people in this struggle is the same one that has deprived it of this right, namely imperialism and zionism.

'3 The struggle of the Palestinian Arab people is a just liberation struggle and forms an inseparable part of the Arab national liberation movement and therefore of the world revolutionary movement.

'4 In order to enable the Palestinian Arab people to achieve its goal regarding the liberation of its homeland, zionism and its aggressive and and expansionist institutions must be liquidated.

'5 The Palestinian Arab people has the right to employ various forms of struggle, including armed struggle, for achieving its goals. The Arab nation is duty bound to work for the creation of all conditions facilitating the achievement of the just goals of that people.

'6 The realisation of the national rights of the Palestinian Arab people does not contradict but is consistent with the interest of the Jewish masses to live together with it in a just and democratic peace, free from colonialism and zionism, and to decide their own future as they please.'33

On the party's attitude to the actions of the guerriallas, the document says: 'The Arab masses in general, and in particular their progressive forces, are called upon not only to intensify their material and moral support of the resistance movement, but also to step up their practical participation in this great patriotic and national activity, because the Israeli occupation of Arab territories affects the interests of all the Arab peoples.'34 It also states explicitly that the guerrilla struggle should not come to an end with the liberation of the territories occupied in 1967.35

All this would later be said by the Jordanian and Lebanese communists as well, but as communist party programmes go it is very explicit, and it shows how strong the pressure must have been at the party's roots, given that the secretary general, Bakdash, had a quite different view. During the general discussion of the draft programme, he therefore came out against the passages in question. His position was in minority in the politbureau, but he controlled the party's apparatus.

By the beginning of 1971 the party had virtually split, and it was no longer possible to patch it up by internal discussion. Having the apparatus at his disposal, Bakdash managed to win over to his side a substantial part of the membership, which the opposing faction was unable to neutralise (as the analogous tendencies in the Jordanian and Lebanese parties had been neutralised), particularly as in this case the Secretary General had the ideological and material support of the CPSU.

In May 1971, a joint delegation of both factions left for Moscow in order to discuss with Soviet leaders and officials how the conflict might be resolved. In the course of these talks, members of the Soviet team made strong objections to the statements on the Palestinian question in the draft programme. In their view the programme should have confined itself to demanding the liquidation of the consequences of the 1967 aggression, and the right of the Palestinians to return to their country and exercise self-determination there. It should not have specified what must be done with the State of Israel in order to achieve these aims, but should have left this to a future collaboration with Israeli democrats. Anything said in the programme beyond these demands would not be a class position and would be inconsistent with proletarian internationalism - assertions upon which the Soviet experts did not further elaborate.

It is not possible to enumerate here all the points of the criticism, which in any case consisted of disjointed remarks on various formulations and was not meant for publication.36 It reveals very clearly the pretension of the Soviet communists to direct the whole of the world communist movement, as well as their sensitivity to the slightest or most implicit criticism.

As a result of these talks, the Syrian communists promised to re-unite. For this purpose they called a conference, which met in November 1971 and in the course of which Bakdash, claiming that strategic differences with the USSR are inadmissible for communists, demanded an unconditional acceptance of the Soviet position:

'They [Bankdash's opponents - A.F.] set themselves another objective, which they call a strategic objective - the elimination of Israel as a state, under the slogan either of the "liberation of Palestine" or the liberation of "their usurped homeland", or under the slogan of the "liquidation of zionist institutions" or something of the kind.

'Such talk is not only at variance with the decisions of the seventh congress of the Communist International, which called for an identity of objectives; it is also at variance with proletarian internationalism; it is at variance with the class attitude and consequently with the interests of the Arab people and our interests as a party.

'Such talk, the employment of such extremist, unrealistic and non-class slogans, whatever is intended by them, can only serve the aims of colonialist zionist propaganda.

'If you will permit me, I want to say in a completely brotherly way that all talk to the effect that we are friends of the USSR, but that we differ from it as regards the strategic objective, is not communist talk.'37

This conference too failed to lead to any reconciliation of the two positions. Since then the situation has solidified, so that to all intents and purposes there are two Syrian CPs, of roughly equal political weight,38 differing sharply with one another on various issues, among which the Palestinian question is the most important. Officially, for the purpose of representation outside, they do not appear as separated, but in current usage they are distinguished from each other by the designations 'Syrian CP - Bakdash group' and 'Syrian CP - Riad al-Turk group' (the names of their respective leaders). Nevertheless, Bakdash has to some extent kept the privileged position of mediator between the CPSU and the CPs of the Mashriq, so that he still has close relations with the parties that on the political level are much closer to his opponents.

Conclusions and prospects

Let us sum up. The Arab CPs dealt with here have sharply changed their attitude toward the Palestinian problem after the 1967 defeat. Immediately after the war they retained their traditional conception of the problem, did not truly grasp the deep connection between imperialism and zionism in the expansionist and aggressive policy of Israel, confined themselves to the demand for the liquidation of the consequences of the aggression and left the rest to the class struggle inside Israel or to future stages of the confrontation. They also retained their wrong and rather unpopular old evaluation of the 1947 partition resolution, which had provided justification and legitimation for the creation of the zionist state. But even as these positions were being articulated, they met with a growing opposition which eventually overcame them.

The exponents of this other position have examined more precisely the character of the Israeli state, and have concluded that the Arab liberation movement ought to direct its struggle against the very existence of that state machine, in a prolonged confrontation, in which the implementation of the UN resolutions would only be the first phase. Consequently, the CPs have gone beyond merely ideological support for the Palestinian resistance and have taken some active part in the armed struggle. This change of position, which also takes the national interest into consideration, was certainly brought about by the 1967 aggression itself, which made the character of Israel stand out more clearly, as well as by its reprecussions on the Palestinian and Arab levels and above all by the rise of the armed resistance movement, which won a great deal of popularity in all the Arab countries after the battle of Karameh (21 March 1968).

This new attitude has enabled the CPS to collaborate with the resistance and to exercise idological and political influence over it. Thus it has created for the CPS the preconditions for coming out of their isolation, which had resulted (among other causes) from their negative attitude toward certain national questions. The possibility therefore exists for a closer relation between the national and social factors in the ongoing Arab liberation struggle.

But the process described here has been a contradictory one, inasmuch as it has changed in a positive sense certain subjective factors of political success, but has by no means eliminated all the errors and weaknesses of the parties in question. There still remain the close ties with the Soviet Union and its policies, which can be harmful in certain respects. There remains also the traditional party schematism, which restricts their freedom of political action and their ability to react; they still grossly overestimate the so-ealled progressive regimes, etc. To this one should also add the insufficiently clear and partly false definition of the class nature of the national liberation movement. We cannot elaborate here on this subject, but merely mention for example the theory of the non-eapitalist road of developemnt, the democratic-national state, etc.39 Moreover, the Arab CPs have neither large numbers of members nor great influence on the masses. In a word: they can in no way claim to be revolutionary vanguard organisations. They have taken a step in a direction which may after all enable them to become effective political factors. Will the CPs manage to transform their new chances into political success, and if so what might be the nature of this success? At the present moment one cannot clearly predict this.


This article was written in autumn 1976. Unfortunately, I have too little recent first-hand knowledge and documents to deal appropriately with the intervening period. My evaluation of certain views and actions of the CPs Was influenced by the conceptual framework of Palestinian nationalism to an extent I find exaggerated today. This is above all the case with the communists' stand towards the partition issue which certainly would have merited a more thorough analysis. Nevertheless I preferred to leave the article in its original form since after all its stress lies on more recent developments and I still believe that in this respect it is of a certain documentary value. - A.F.

  • 1. On the theoretical and organisational deformations of the communist movement see Fernando Claudin, The Communist Movement; From Comintern to Cominform, Penguin, 1975.
  • 2. On this new CP see Al-Safir, Beirut 4 August 1975 (in Arabic).
  • 3. Cf Arnold Krammer, 'Soviet motives in the partition of Palestine', Journal of Palestine Studies 6 (II,2), p102-199.
  • 4. See the speeches of the Soviet representatives at the UN, reproduced (in French) in Partisans no 52, March-April 1970, p64-73.
  • 5. See 'Abdelqader Yasin, 'The Arab CPs and the Palestinian problem' (in Arabic), in The Palestinian Resistance; Realities and Prospects, special publication of the journal Dirasat 'Arabiyya, Dar al-Tali'a, Beirut 1971,p49-65.
  • 6. ibid, p62.
  • 7. These exceptions which we do not discuss here - they have no direct repercussion on the ground - are the Sudanese and Moroccan parties. They have explicitly demanded the liquidation of the State of Israel. On this see documents in Naji 'Allush (ed), Discussions on the Palestinian Revolution (in Arabic), Dar al Tali'a, Beirut 1970, p330-6; and A1i Yata (secretary general of the Moroccan CP), 'Liberation nationale et revolution social. L'exemple de la Palestine', in Anouar Abde1-Malek (ed), La pensee politique arabe contemporaine, Seuil, Paris 1970,p321-30.
  • 8. Fahmi Salfiti, 'Das Wichtigste in der Taktik der jordanischem Kommunisten', in Probleme des Friedens und des Sozialismus, no 10/11 (October/November 1968), p1359-1367.
  • 9. ibid, p1359.
  • 10. ibid, p1360.
  • 11. ibid, p1361.
  • 12. ibid, p1366.
  • 13. The Arabic text is in the volume edited by N. 'Allush mentioned in note 7, p3 54-68. The sentence in question is on p366.
  • 14. F. Safiti, loc cit p1367.
  • 15. Karim Muruwwa, 'The CP', in Arab Cultural Club (ed), The Political Forces in Lebanon (in Arabic), Dar al-Tali'a, Beirut 1970, p218.
  • 16. Statement of the CC of the Jordanian CP, quoted in 'Abdelqader Yasin, loc cit, p64.
  • 17. Internationale Beratung der kommunistischem und Arbeiterparteien, Moskau 1969. Dokumente. Peace and Socialism Publ. Prag 1969, p103f.
  • 18. Cf Naji 'Allush, 'The Arab CPs and the Palestinian problem after the 1967 aggression' (in Arabic), in Shu'un Filastiniyya no 4 (September 1971),p163.
  • 19. Quoted in 'Abdelqader Yasin, loc cit, p64.
  • 20. See interview with a representative of the Ansar forces in N. 'Allush (ed), Discussions, loc cit, p386-9; also Riad N. e1-Rayyes and Dunia Nahas (eds), Guerrillas for Palestine. A study of the Palestinian Commando Organizations, An-Nahar Press Services, Beirut n.d. p59-61.
  • 21. On all this see Guerrillas for Palestine (mentioned in the preceding note) p60.
  • 22. The tasks facing the Jordanian CP at the present stage (in Arabic). Resolution of the CC of the Jordanian CP, end of May 1974, p13.
  • 23. For example, National Liberation League in Palestine, The Palestinian problem and the way to its solution (in Arabic), published by the Jordanian CP, n.p., August 1973. On the 'Usba see Yehoshua Porath, 'Usbat al-Taharrur al-Watani (The National Liberation League) 1943-1948', in Asian and Aftican Studies 4, Jerusalem 1968, pl-21; and Mohammed Hafiz Ya'qub, 'From the illstory of the revolutionary movement in Palestine: The National Liberation League and the mid-1940s' (in Arabic), in Dirasat 'Arabiyya no 1 (November 1972), p39-65.
  • 24. In N. 'Allush(ed),Discussions, loc cit, p337.
  • 25. The Struggle of the Lebanese CP through its Documents, part 1 (in Arabic), n.p. (Beirut?), January 1971, p153f.
  • 26. ibid, p154f.
  • 27. ibid, p43f.
  • 28. The Lebanese Comm'unists and the Tasks of the Comming Stage. Third Congress of the Lebanese CP (in Arabic), n.p. n.d. (Beirut 1972?), p149.
  • 29. ibid, p149.
  • 30. Karim Muruwwa, 'On strategy and tactics in the resistance movement' (in Arabic), in The Palestinian Resistance etc. (cited in note 5), p223-40.
  • 31. Here is an example of tills Fatah argumentation: '.. . [T)he new class of refugees, willch has not been taken into consideration by many tillnkers, is the class on willch the Palestinian revolution depends. . . . [A1-Fatah) is the only revolutionary movement willch has transcended the Arab movements, Arab parties and the Palestinian regional movements, and it has done tills because it has depended on the class.' 'Abu Lutf answers questions', in Leila S. Kadi (ed), Basic Political Documents of the AImed Palestinian Resistance Movement, PLO Research Center, Beirut 1969, P 102.
  • 32. In this respect see Samir Franjieh, 'How revolutionary is the resistance?', in Journal of Palestine Studies, I, no 2 (Winter 1972), p52-60; and Sadik Al-Azm. 'The Palestinian resistance movement reconsidered', in Edward Said and Fuad Suleiman (eds), The Arabs Today. Alternatives for Tomorrow, Columbus, Ohio 1973, p121-135.
  • 33. Draft programme of the Syrian CP, in Questions of the Difference inside the Syrian CP (in Arabic), Dar Ibn Khaldun, Beirut 1972, p82f.
  • 34. ibid, p85.
  • 35. ibid, p84.
  • 36. See notes of this discussion taken by one of the Syrian participants, 'The Soviet attitude to the Palestinian Problem. From the records of the Syrian CP, 1971-72', in Journal of Palestine Studies 5 (II,l), p187-212.
  • 37. Excerpts from Bakdash's speech to the conference, reporduced ibid, p203.
  • 38. This refers to the situation before the Syrian intervention in Lebanon, which the Bakdash group supported.
  • 39. There are signs that the Arab communists are realising the inadequacy of these conceptions, which are widely accepted in the world communist movement. See for example the books of Karim Muruwwa, the work of the Lebanese communist theoretician Mahdi Amil, and the communist-inspired periodical Kitabat Misriyya (= Egyptian Writings) appearing in Beirut.

Recent studies on the history of the Palestine Communist Party - Alexander Flores

Article looking at research on Palestine Communist Party, looking at, amongst other things, its formation largely by European Jews in the early 1920s and its gradual 'Arabisation'.

Recent studies on the history of the Palestine Communist Party - Alexander Flores

For any study of the relationship between nationalsim and socialism in the Middle East, the rise and fate of the Palestine Communist Party (PCP) is a focus of interest. If we consider the general and regional levels, there are several reasons for such an interest. Between the two world wars, the PCP was the most important CP in the Middle East. Its endeavour can be understood as an encounter of modern socialism in its leninist form, coming from Europe, with the realities of the Orient. In the. Palestinian case, these two sides were personified in the Jewish militants of the party who had come from Eastern Europe - originally for zionist motives - and in the masses of Arab peasants living in the country. This accounts for the PCP being a case in point not only for the Middle East - where a predominant role of minorities in the communist movement is a common feature - but also for the problem of how socialists tackle national issues in general.

Furthermore, and more specifically, PCP history is of utmost importance for any study, of the Palestine problem and its historical roots. For a long time during the mandate, the PCP was the only force in Palestine that did not only fight zionism but also saw clearly the latter's symbiosis with imperialism and accordingly tried to combine anti-zionist struggle with a consistent fight against British imperialism and its accomplices among the Arab leadership. Furthermore, it was the only party that had Jews and Arabs as members with equal rights and proposed an internationalist solution to the Palestine problem. Yet the PCP could not, for all its great efforts, preserve its internationalist outlook and organisational unity up to the end of the mandate. In view of its sometimes heroical efforts to avoid this retreat from internationalsim, this failure shows the force of national dynamics in Palestine as well as an inherent weakness of the communists' own attitude towards national problems.

An account of the PCP's search for an internationalist solution of the Palestine problem and of the failure of this search may afford a deep insight into the history of this issue and especially into its social aspects. Yet, in spite of its importance, the history of the PCP has not untill recently aroused any marked interest. This may be due, among other factors, to the inaccessibility of the sources and to the insufficiency of the older works dealing with the subject.

In the West, the works of W. Laqueur were almost the only ones containing information on the PCP. Laqueur relies on a relatively good knowledge of the original sources, but what he makes of them is seriously influenced by his zionist and anti-communist outlook and his consequent desire to slander and ridicule the PCP. Despite this fact, Laqueur's works are still widely used by all writers on the subject, sometimes with a critical remark but seldom in the necessary critical spirit.

The Arab public had until recently to rely on works by I. Murqus, H. Darwaza and A. Yasin. Their factual information is not better than that of Laqueur (from whom they derive much material, by the way); and they inevitably point to the fact that most of the Palestinian communists were Jews and that for this reason they were - in their opinion - unable to serve the interests of the Arab population. By accepting this Arab nationalist point of view, the authors in question subscribe at the same time to a fundamental zionist principle, namely, that zionism and Jewry, in the last resort, are but one.

In Israel, publications on the PCP were limited to some anticommunist works in the spirit of Laqueur and to some reproductions of original documents. The Israeli CP, successor of the PCP, did very little to make known its own early history.

Only the very last few years have brought a change in the interest in PCP history. Without analysing the reasons for this change, which must be sought in the increased interest in the Palestine problem as a whole, we can only welcome it. In this review we shall outline the character, the scope, and the sources of the major studies on the subject that have appeared so far.

Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palaestina. Nation und Kalasse in der antikolonialen Revolution, Meisenheim am Glan 1975 (Ph. D. thesis, West Berlin, 1975).

This work deals with the social and political conditions of the communist enterprise in Palestine, with the pre-history of the party, ie, its roots in the Eastern European Jewish workers' movement, and with its early history up to about 1925. For the first time, we now possess a reliable account of the background and the early history of the party, for this early period was particularly little known. Yet it is very important because at that time the PCP (formed as MPS in 1919) underwent the critical development from left-wing zionism to anti-zionist internationalism.

Offenberg starts with a chapter on Palestinian social structure emphasising its difference from the Eurpoean model. This chapter, going far back into history, is perhaps insufficently linked to the general subject of the study. The second chapter deals with the interests of British imperialism in Palestine and its ensuing policy, the third treats the unsuccessful attempts to bring about a working alliance between the left-zionist Poalei Zion World Union and the Comintern. The World Union rejected the demand of the Comintern to free itself definitely from zionism, so the merger did not take place (1922). The remaining chapters deal with the roots, emergence, and early history of the party in Palestine. It developed out of the Palestinian Poalei Zion party. The latter split in March 1919, and its left wing founded MPS in October of that same year. This party then became MPSI, JCPPZ, split up into PCP and CPP in September 1922, and re-united as PCP in July 1923, when it became an openly communist party with a clear anit-zionist program. This party performed its mass activities mainly through the 'workers' fraction', its trade union organisation which was expelled from the Histadruth in April 1924.

In his account of party history, Offenberg draws heavily on a wide sample of original party material and on interviews with numerous old party members. The use he makes of his sources is, however, not uncritical: For all important issues, party statements are confronted with contemporary realities. The study treats a variety of issues related to PCP history, but (quite naturally in the case of this party, and especially for its early period) it centres on the CP's stand towards zionism. The treatment of the party's history as a whole ends with the Afuleh events (November 1924) and their aftermath, but for its relationship with the Arab national and workers' movements the account is continued till 1929.

Upholding a clear distinction between developments on the Palestinian and on the international level, Offenberg concentrates on the former, unlike other works that confound both or see the PCP only in terms of global COllÙntern policies. In another sense, too, he sees the party's history from 'within'; starting from a socialist, internationalist point of view, he tries to uncover the tradition of this attitude in Palestine. Therefore he stresses the early period during which the party gradually gained its internationalist stand. He shows how this development proved the incompatibility of zionism and socialism. Unlike the authors we have mentioned, he strongly argues that zionism and Jewry are noLthe same and that the PCP was right in distinguishing between them. From this angle, he criticises the Arab leadership in Palestine that took the opposite view, and shows how this and other reactionary characteristics of the Arab national movement precluded a durable co-operation between it and the PCP.

Offenberg's study points to the lessons to be drawn from early PCP history for the search for a just solution to the Palestine conflict still enduring today: There were very early proposals to solve the problem on an internationalist basis; the attempts to follow these lines met with great difficulties; but there is no other way to reach a durable solution to the conflict.

Beside this view and the materialist method, the book is unique in its exhastive use of original sources. Therefore, one would hope to see it continued beyond 1925.

Jacob Hen-Tov. 'Communism and Zionism in Palestine. The Comintern and the Political Unrest in the 1920s, Cambridge, Mass, 1974.

Hen-Tov's book, while dealing partly with the same period as Offenberg's, starts from a completely different point of view. The author, a pro-zionist expert on Soviet studies, wants to explore a 'hitherto relatively unknown chapter in the history of the struggle of Communism against Zionism' (pVII), namely, the PCP's struggle in the 1920s. As one would expect from a sovietologist setting himself this purpose, the struggle in Palestine is not presented in its own right, but as an extension of the world-wide struggle of the Comintern against world capitalism and zionism. Consequently, the study lays great stress on the various organisational ties of the PCP and its mass organisations with the leading centre in Moscow and gives interesting information on this subject (chapters IV and V). On the other hand, there is little about conditions in Palestine, at least insofar as the background of the PCP is concerned. No wonder, then, that the story of its emergence is completely lacking. To the uninformed reader, it must seem as the work of Jewish communist emissaries from the Soviet Union - a totally erroneous view. Offenberg has shown that the emergence of the party and its move to a consistent anti-zionist stand was primarily influenced by conditions in Palestine itself. In describing these conditions, Hen-Tov deals mostly with political developments, somewhat naively accepting at face value all common zionist statements, myths, and evaluations (so, for instance, the land purchased near Afuleh was 'an uninhabited area of swampland', p9l; the Passfield White Paper is characterised as 'clearly an anti-zionist document', p22; and so on). Thus, the Arab grievances are mainly reduced to

'the growing imbalance between the dynamic social and economic development of the Yishuv . . . on the one hand, and the inherited backwardness of the Arab community, on the other' (p12)

without inquiring into the real nature of this imbalance and its material effects on the Arabs. Hen-Tov's outlook resembles that of Laqueur, but there is an important difference: As a sophisticated zionist, Laqueur quite skilfully uses true and half-true statements to distort the truth, renders his sources inaccurately, and tries to present his own opinion as gospel truth. Hen-Tov, as a somewhat naive zionist, often uses zionist sources quite uncritically, but they are easily discernible as such. As a scrupulous researcher, he renders his quotations exactly and always specifies his sources. Therefore, his chapters VI, VII, and VIII, describing the ideological struggle of communism against zionism, the PCP reaction to the August 1929 events, and the subsequent reassessment of party policy, do not intentionally distort communist argumentation. Where an analysis would have been necessary to grasp the meaning of a certain view or theory, Hen-Tov's assessments sometimes remain superficial. Such is the case with the Yishuvism doctrine, where he overrates the implicit zionism of the doctrine, thus accepting Lists's opinion too uncritically.

One further consequence of Hen-Tov's outlook is his overstimation of the ties between Soviet and Palestinian Jewry and the influence they exerted on Soviet policy towards zionism and Palestine:

'The struggle against Ziònism . . . was to become a security matter of a very high priority.' (p68, see also p84).

While this argument may have played a role in Soviet politics, it did not influence the Palestinian communists in their enmity towards zionism to any noticeable extent. When, in their crusade against the danger of war, the communists charged the zionists with emoling themselves in the coming attack on the SU, this was meant for the Middle East and had nothing to do with Soviet Jewry. For Hen-Tov, however, it hardly matters whether an action or a view was taken by the Soviet government, by the Comintern, or by a single CP: They are all seen as integral parts of one homogeneous movement. This over-simplistic view precludes an adequate understanding of the actual relationship between these different bodies. Indeed there was a considerable dependence of CPS on the Comintern and, for that matter, on Soviet foreign policy. But this did not mean that they were completely independent of domestic realities. Disregarding the latter leads to an incomplete and in some regards false picture of the party concerned.

Yet in spite of its idealistic, Soviet-centred approach and its pro-zionist outlook, Hen-Tov's book is a useful and reliable source of factual information if one takes into consideration its character.

Suliman Bashear, The Arab East in Communist Theory and Political Practice, 1918-1929. Unpublished PH D. thesis, Birkbeck College, University of London. May 1976. An Arabic version was published in Jursualem in 1977.

This work deals not only with PCP history but with the emergence of the com11i.unist movement in the whole Eastern Arab region. In part I of his study, Bashear describes the general setting: the situation of the Arab East after the first world war and the Comintern's attitude towards colonial problems. Part II is an account of communist practice in the Arab East during the period concerned; ie, mainly the emergence and early history of the Egyptian and Palestinian CPs, with a chapter on the latter's participation in the creation of the Lebanese-Syrian CP. For each of the first two parties, there are three further sections: historical background and foundation, activity, and repression. As for the PCP, Bashear emphasises its origins in left-wing zionism and points out the grave problems resulting from this fact for its work among Arabs even after the party's 'march off zionism'. Its activity during 1920's was in three main fields: work against zionism among the Jews, striking roots in the Arab population, and regional responsibility for other Eastern Arab communists. Repression was a constant feature of party life from 1921 on.

Bashear's sources are mainly the Comintern periodicals and reports mentioned above and numerous reports and files in British government archives, of which he makes extensive use. Thus he is able to provide a good account of the actual communist practice on the spot. The original PCP material he uses is relatively scanty. On the other hand he cities quite a number of books on the social background of CP activity: the different Arab countries after the war and their respective national movements. So he can confront communist projects and statements contained in the Comintern press with the social reality to which they were supposed to correspond, as well as with the practical outcome of their efforts as judged by police reports. This facilitates a critical Use of the communist sources and a critical assessment of the communist endeavour as a whole.

Part III of the thesis, communist political theory, deals with the communists' comments on and explanation of some important questions concerning national liberation in the Arab East: the relationship between national and social features of the anti-imperialist struggle (the example of Egypt), zionism and imperialism (Palestine), the armed uprising in Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula, and Arab unity.

Part IV continues the account of the Comintern's attitude towards the Arab East, begun in part one, from 1921 to 1928. In reality it amounts to a study of the Comintern's colonial policy in this period.

In his conclusion Bashear draws a picture of the role of the Arab East in the Comintern's colonial policy, which was rather limited; of the weight the communists actually had in the Arab East - quite minimal; and of the consequences they drew from their situation, in line with the general policy of the Comintern: setting up a united front with the national bourgeoisie against imperialism. They failed to reach their purpose, most spectacularly so in Egypt. In 1928, with the hardline policy of the Comintern's 'third period', there began a new phase for Eastern Arab communism, too.

Maher Al-Charif, L'Internationale Communiste et la Palestine 1919/1939. These de doctorat de 3eme cycle. University of Paris I (Sorbonne),1977.

This study has for its subject the relationship between the Communist International and Palestine from 1919 to 1939, ie, from the founding of MPS to the outbreak of the second world war. Its purpose is to examine whether and how the Comintern acquired a correct view on the Palestinian problem, and whether the instructions ensuing from this view were right. In the first part of his thesis, Charif discusses the general line of Comintern policy for the colonial world and its stand towards Arab countries, and draws a picture of conditions in Palestine after the first world war. The second part tells the story of the roots of Palestinian communism in the Jewish workers' movement in Eastern Europe and its development up to the admission of the PCP to the Comintern. The third part treats the attempts of the PCP to meet the demands of the CotTIintern concerning Arabisation and regional responsibility. The fourth part deals with the sixth Comintern congress, the August 1929 events, and the subsequent changes of party policy. The fifth part deals with the seventh CI congress and the PCP's involvement in the Arab rebellion in Palestine from 1936 to 1939.

Charifs sources are, for the early period, mainly Offenberg's book which he cites very extensively; for the later period his interviews with Mahmud al-Atrash, a former leading Arab member of PCP; and for the whole period Comintern material, especially Inprecorr, The Communist International, and the RILU journal.

As its title announces, Charifs study focuses on the Comintern's attitude and relationship to Palestine as reflected in congress discussions, in resolutions, and above all in articles on Palestine for the central press of the Comintern. The interviews with Atrash - who was a member of the ECCI from 1935 to 1943 - complete the picture. The wide use of Offenberg's study, however, renders it rather unbalanced, because it allows Charif to go far more into detail and to concentrate more on the Palestinian level than is possible for him regarding the remaining period.

The first question Charif wants to examine in his study - whether the Comintern developed a correct stand on the Palestine problem - he answers in the affirmative, and convincingly so. As for the second question - whether the Comintern gave the right instructions to the PCP - he also affirms this; he even says that the Comintern's stand was more valid than that developed by the Palestinian communists themselves. His argument on this point, however, is not convincing. A satisfactory answer to this question would require an analysis not only of the Comintern attitude and its instructions - as provided by Charif - but also of social and political conditions in Palestine in relation to the party's efforts. This latter analysis is lacking. Only by virtue of such an analysis, however, would we be able to distinguish the objective reasons for the PCP's failure from the subjective ones, and then judge the validity of its programmes and instructions. The instructions and demands of a distant centre often tend to look more correct than the results of party work that faces difficult circumstances; but this does not say anything on the validity of the stands taken. On the contrary, a certain scepticism of the people on the spot, who know the difficulties, may be more justified than an obligatory revolutionary optimism.

Another feature of Charifs study is its sometimes uncritical use of communist sources (as admitted by himself, see p15 of the thesis). In our opinion, this stems also from the relative neglect of the social conditions in Palestine, which is justifiable for a study that deals with Comintern politics only but which does not allow a critical assessment of PCP activities.

Charifs thesis gives an account of the relationship between the Comintern and Palestine. It fails, however, to investigate the social background of PCP activity which would have been necessary to answer his second question. In our opinion, a satisfactory and well-founded answer on this question will only be possible after considerable further research.

Musa Budeiri, The Palestine Communist Party, its Arabisation and the Arab Jewish Conflict in Palestine, 1929-1948. Ph. D. thesis, London School of Economics, 1977.

The main interest of Budeiri's thesis is the attitude of the Palestinian communists towards the Arab population and their activity in this direction. After an introductory chapter on the rise of the PCP and its development up to 1929 (when the necessity of Arabisation came to be particularly felt), Budeiri traces the activity of the party from then on, with special emphasis on Arabisation and work among Arabs (after 1943, there are of course several organisations to be dealt with). He marshals a wide range of source material (party documents, journals, memoirs, intelligence reports etc) in addition to his interviews with numerous old party members or fellow travellers, mostly Arabs. Starting from this material, he presents a very instructive account of the party's history for a period that has not hitherto been seriously studied.

The few authors dealing with the subject have for the most part tended to present the activity of the PCP in the light of their own nationalist convictions. Such is the case with laqueur on the zionist side, but also with Some Arab writers. The main point of the latter is that the PCP's endeavour at a united Arab-Jewish party and at common prospects for Arabs and Jews was doomed to failure, since under the conditions of Palestine there was no community of interest possible between the two groups.1 A. Farhan, in an article full of errors, with the characteristic title The PCP was the victim of the twin nationalist extremisms, tries to argue that the PCP was always torn between a true 'communist' attitude and that of those Jewish leaders who were influenced by zionist ideas. According to him, the PCP was never able to leave the historical impasse of the zionist left because of its mostly Jewish membership. In a reply on this article, E. Habibi, a leader of the Israeli CP, tries to refute Farhan's arguments quite fundamentally, without discussing the crucial points of the party history itself, but he makes two valid and important points:

'We (the Palestinian and Israeli communists, A. F.) are victims only to such an extent as our Palestinian Arab people itself and the Israeli Jewish masses are victims.' And: 'The study of a political party is not possible without considering the political circumstances in which this party is working.'2

Both points are disregarded by most Arab authors writing on PCP history: they do not perceive the close connexion between the failure of the PCP and the failure of the Arab national movement to prevent the creation of a zionist state in Palestine, nor do they see the party and its fate in the context of the political and social conditions of the country.

In relation to those writings, Budeiri's thesis is an exception. True, it does not carry the analysis of social realities in Palestine to a point where a comprehensive critical assessment of PCP policy would be possible. On the other hand it discusses quite extensively the influence of the Arab-zionist conflict on the party's fate.

Buderiri distinguishes three periods in the history of Palestinian communism during the mandate:

1 from 1919 to 1929, when the party was founded by labour zionists and concentrated its activity on the Jewish population;

2 the period from 1930 to 1942, when it assumed more and more an Arab national orientation; and

3 the period from 1943 to 1947, when there existed separate communist organisations in the Jewish and Arab sectors, which worked freely amongst the respective populations (p303f of the thesis).

In the first period, Budeiri states that the communists laid the emphasis of their activity on the social struggle and neglected the national one. In the second phase, starting with the August 1929 disturbances and the prescriptions of the Comintern, the communists tried to step up the Arabisation of the party and gradually gave their policy a clear Arab national orientation. Therefore they had to abandon their previous internationalist stand. This is assessed by Budeiri as positive or inevitable (p66f). Yet he criticises the party for the remains of socialism and internationalism in its ideology that led it to take a hostile attitude towards the Arab national leadership and thus 'did slow down the process of Arabisation and the desired penetration of the Arab population' (pl03). As he maintains that the communists' 'call for joint activity in pursuit of supposed common interests' was meaningless (p66), 'Budeiri cannot but welcome the eventual ethnic split in 1943, which gave the Jewish and Arab communists the opportunity to work in their respective sectors unhampered by internationalist considerations. In doing this, the communists gave way to 'two opposing tendencies: support for the aims of the Arab national independence movement, and the crystalisation of the belief that the Jewish community in Palestine was undergoing a process of transformation into a national entity' (p305).

Budeiri makes it quite clear that he sees the split as a result of the development of the Palestinian reality, the building up of a Jewish community dominated by zionism, the widening gap between the two communities, and the ensuing pressure on the communists to withdraw from an internationalist venture. He apparently approves of this development: it was the logical outcome of the changing realities and of the choice of the Palestinian communists (made at the beginning of their 'second period', about 1930) to put national considerations above social ones and to take the path of Arab nationalism. Once separated from the Jewish communists, the Arab communists could take this direction much more easily and with a certain measure of success. Here Budeiri, in our opinion, overrates the positive consequences of the split on the work among Arabs, the success of which had also other reasons. Since the 'nationalist' turn of the previously internationalist PCP allowed successful communist work among Arabs, Budeiri seems to be prepared to make allowances for the 'parallel' move of the Jewish communists closer to zionism (they wholeheartedly welcomed and supported the creation of the State of Israel). Support for partition was, in this situation, not a sudden change of position but the logical outcome of a previous choice. It did not 'imply a change in the international communist movement's longterm strategy of supporting the Arab national independence movement' (p306). For Budeiri, the successes of this strategy would have been impossible without the Arab nationalist direction taken by the PCP since 1929. On the other hand, he justifies the internationalist line of certain periods of the PCP, since without this rigid internationalism and insistence on the social revolution the Jewish communists would not have been able to recruit Arab members and thus to create the germ of an Arab communist movement (p38f, 305).

The general tendency of the thesis is an acceptance and justification of the national course taken by the Palestinian communists, Arabs and Jews alike. This is a stand more sincere than that of the Israeli CP, which in most cases simply denies any deviation from internationalism in the history of Palestinian communism. On the other hand, this treatment can be understood as an implicit justification of the Israeli CP's actual policy that aims at a conciliation or coexistence of conflicting nationalisms more than at a solution based on a fundamental internationalism.

The development traced by Budeiri may indeed have been inevitable under the given circumstances. It is probably also true that by retaining an internationalist and socialist outlook for a certain time and to a certain degree, the PCP slowed down its change into a radical Arab party. Yet from the point of view of social progress and a real solution of the Palestine problem it might have been more important to cling to an internationalist outlook - even without immediate practical results - than to create one more radical Arab party. One may also ask whether support for Arab national aspirations really made it necessary to subscribe entirely to Arab nationalism and to consider the whole Jewish community as a lost cause.

Budeiri's undertaking to discuss his subject from the aspect of the rise of an Arab national communist movement - which he does on an imcomparably higher level than, eg, 'Allush and Farhan - is perfectly legitimate, but we don't deem it sufficient. From our point of view, influenced by the wish to seek an internationalist solution to the problems of today, we would like to investigate more deeply the fate of the internationalist and revolutionary socialist stand taken by the PCP not only from the aspect of the national struggle in Palestine but also by taking into consideration the social realities of this country. In my own (German) Ph. D. thesis, Nationalism and socialism in the Arab East; The relationship between the communist party and the Arab national movement in Palestine, 1919-1948, I made an attempt in this direction.

For a more thorough discussion of all crucial issues of the PCP's undertaking during the mandate, and in spite of the very useful factual information contained in the works we have spoken of, considerable further research is needed. An important step would be the assembling and editing of the mostly Hebrew and Yiddish original party document, so as to facilitate their use by those researchers who do not read these languages or have no access to the Israeli archives. In any case, work on PCP history should go on - preferably in a more cooprative way - for this would greatly enrich the ongoing debate on the character and prospects of the movement for the complete liberation of the Arab East, including its national minorities.

List of writings mentioned in this article

  • Walter Z. Laqueur, Communism and Nationalism in the middle East, 50 Recent studies on the PCP London, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1956.
  • Elias Murqus, History of the Communist Parties in the Arab World (in Arabic), Beirut, Dar al-Tali'a 1964.
  • Al-Hakam Darwaza, Regional Communism and the Arbas' National Struggle (in Arabic), Beirut, Dar al-Munaymina 1963.
  • 'Abdelqader Yasin, 'The PCP and the National Question' (article series, in Arabic). In: Al-Katib (Cairo) no 120 (March 1971), p88-100; no 121 (April 1971),p100-177;no 123 (June 1971),p143-l55.
  • Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palaestina. Nation und Klasse in der antikolonialen Revolution, Mesisenheim am Glan 1975.
  • Jacob Hen-Tov, Communism and Zionism in Palestine. The Comintern and the Political Unrest in the 1920's, Cambridge, Mass. Schenkman 1974.
  • Suliman Bashear, The Arab East in Communist Theory and Political Practice, 1918-1928, Birkbeck College, University of London, May 1976 (forthcoming from Ithaca Press).
  • Maher al-Charif, L'Internationale Communiste et la Palestine 1919/1939, University of Paris I (Sorbonne) , 1977.
  • Musa K. Budeiri, The Palestine Communist Party, Its Arabisation and the Arab Jewish Conflict in Palestine, 1929-1948, London School of Economics, 1977 (forthcoming from Ithaca Press).
  • Naji 'Allush The Palestinian National Movement Versus Jews and Zionism 1882-1948 (in Arabic), Beirut. PLO Research Center 1974.
  • Ahmed Farhan, 'The PCP was the Victim of the Twin Nationalist Extremisms' (in Arabic). In: Al-Katib al-Filastini (Beirut), no. 6 (Dec. 1978), p12-40.
  • Emil Habibi, 'Was the PCP the Victim of the Twin Nationalist Extremism?' (in Arabic). In: Al-Jadid (Haifa), no. 3 (March 1979), p5f,4649.
  • Alexander Flores, Nationalismus und Sozialismus im arabischen Osten; Das Verhaeltnis der kommunistischen Partei zur arabischen Nationalbewegung in Palaestina, 1919-1948, University of Muenster, 1979.

A work not reviewed in the article but also quite informative for the manatory period is:

  • Alain Greilsammer, Les communistes israeliens, Paris, Foundation nationale des sciences politiques 1978.
  • 1. So for instance N. 'AIlush (see list below), p270
  • 2. E. Habibi (see list below), both quotations on p48.

Revolution in Iran: was it possible in 1921? - Fred Halliday

Article discussing the little-known 1920-21 uprising in the Gilan province of northern Iran, and its importance for the workers' movement in both Iran itself and the wider middle-east.

Revolution in Iran: was it possible in 1921? - Fred Halliday

Schapour Ravasani, Sowjetrepublik Gilan: Die Sozialistische Bewegung im Iran seit Ende des 19 Jh. bis 1922, Basis-Verlag, Berlin (Postfach 645, 1 Berlin 15), 1973; 638 pp., DM19 .80.

My "Persian tale'? There were a few hundred of us ragged Russians down there. One day we had a telegram from the Central Committee: Cut your losses, revolution in Iran now off. But for that we would have got to Tehran.' (Yakov Blumkin, Comintern envoy, quoted in Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, London, 1963, p256.)

Gilan - more than a symbol

The period immediately following the Russian revolution occupies a special, still emotive, place in the European workers' movement. In the confused conditions following the collapse of the Central Powers, and under the inspiration of events in Petrograd and Moscow, several attempts were made to extend the frontiers of workers' power - in Berlin, Munich and Budapest in 1919, and in the Turin soviets of 1919-20. All were in the end defeated by the resurgent forces of counter-revolution; and the cost of these defeats was, as we now know, so enormous - not only for the individual movements themselves, but also for the evolution of the post-revolutionary regime in Russia.

Yet, if the Spartakists and the Budapest militia retain a special place in the memory of the European movement, the same cannot be said of an important and in some ways comparable episode in the history of Middle Eastern communism, namely the insurgent republic that was established in the Gilan province of northern Iran in June 1920 and lasted for sixteen months until its destruction by the central government in October of the following year. The history of Middle Eastern communism is too often seen as having begun as an atomised, underground process, far removed from the mainstreams of revolutionary politics in Europe or East Asia. This is in part accurate, and for much of the region the main channel of influence was initially the immigration to Palestine of Jewish militants formed in eastern Europe. But this isolation of the Middle Eastern communist movement was a later development, a product of the earlier defeat of movements that arose in the aftermath of the first world war very much as did those in Europe - amidst the collapse of the old empires and in close connection with the Russian revolution. These movements, in Turkey and Iran, were to some extent comparable in the conditions of their formation to the militant vanguards of communism in Europe; and the Iranian movement in particular mobilised a substantial force of Iranian proletarians in these years.

The Gilan Republic initiated a revolutionary movement in Iran; it saw the establishment of the first communist party in Asia and for the first time planted the red flag in the soil of the Middle East as part of an organised bid for state power. It was its defeat, like that of the insurrections in central Europe, which ushered in a period of defensive clandestinity. It thereby dispersed the potential which had earlier been revealed, contributed to the encirclement of Russia and made the Iranian CP so absolutely dependent on the CPSU. 1

Short-lived and regional as it was, the Gilan Republic is therefore of more than symbolic or antiquarian interest; like its European counterparts it presaged many political questions that were important for the whole later history of the communist movement in the colonial world. Among the questions posed in the Gilan experience were: the place of the agrarian question in the revolutionary struggle, the forms of class alliance appropriate in colonial and semi-colonial countries, the links between anti-imperialist and socially revolutionary struggles, the problem of converting a regional revolt into a nation-wide movement, the relationship to the Islamic religion and to the Muslim clergy. The Gilan experience also raises in a very direct way a problem that goes far beyond the colonial world, namely the relationship between the revolutionary struggle in one country and the policies of an already established revolutionary state. For there is no doubt that the movement in Gilan relied heavily on Russian support, yet that after some time this support was withdrawn and that the Russians reached an accommodation with the central government. This policy shift occurred not in the era of Stalinist degeneration nor in that of Mao's Three Worlds Theory, but at a time when Lenin and Trotsky were at the heights of their influence in the Russian party. Whilst this does not necessarily mean that the Russian policy was justified, it raises a very interesting example of the links between revolutionary movements and states and is a test case against which to judge any general conception of what an internationalist foreign policy might be.

Despite its brevity, the Gilan Republic is also important for the history of the revolutionary movement in Iran itself. Whilst it provided the context for the establishment of the Communist Party of Persia in June 1920, it was also the first and so far only time in which Middle Eastern communists were active in a radical rural guerrilla movement of a kind more commonly associated with Latin America or the Far East. Both the communists and their radical nationalist allies were products of the left wing of the constitutional movement that arose after 1906. In this sense the Gilan Republic represented the final, socially revolutionary, potential of that upheaval, and its defeat in late 1921 not only marked the end of the movement's course, but, as in the analogous cases in Europe, it ushered in a new counter-revolutionary regime. For 1921 marked the advent to power of Reze Khan, the military dictator who was encouraged by the British to seize power precisely in order to crush the revolutionary movement in north Iran. Fifty-eight years later, as we live through the aftermath of the Pahlavi dynasty's overthrow, it is important to remember the proletarian and revolutionary traditions of the Iranian people which the Pahlavi dynasty was created to suppress. Through the suppression of these earlier movements, the Pahlavis not only established their own position but also created a political vacuum in which other, far less progressive opposition currents have been able to grow. Indeed it is an especially important corrective to remember the Gilan Republic at a time when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his associates would have us believe that they represent the sole tradition of valid political opposition in Iran.

Rise and fall of the Gilan Republic

The Gilan Republic represented the combination of two different radical trends in Iranian politics.

The first were the revolutionary socialists who had originally been formed amongst the many thousands of Iranian migrant workers in the Russian Caucasus and who, together with Georgians and local Azerbaijanis, founded the Hemmat (Determination) Party in 1904. During the constitutional revolution itself, social-democratic groupings also sprung up in a number of northern Iranian towns, and the one in Tabriz corresponded with Kautsky and Plekhanov as well as maintaining active organisational contacts with the Hemmat and other parts of the revolutionary underground in Russia.2 In 1916 a newall-embracing party, the Adalat (Justice) Party, was established amongst the workers in Russia but with underground organisation in parts of Iran itself, and by 1917 it had an estimated 6,000 members in all.

Inside Iran there was a second quite separate current, a radical fraction of the constitutional revolutionary movement, led by Kuchik Khan, the son of a clerical official employed by a land-owning family in Gilan. His Ittihad-i Islam group, also known as Jangal, set up around 1911, was nationalist in orientation, calling for an end to British and Tsarist Russian influence in Iran, and for the overthrow of the autocratic rule of the Shah. While demanding reforms to benefit 'the poor', it was none too specific as to what these reforms involved.3

During the first world war, Kuchik Khan and his followers, numbering around 5,000 men, were able to establish themselves in the wooded, mountainous terrain of Gilan; and when, after 1917, British interventionist and White Russian forces were using northern Persia as a base for attacking the Bolsheviks, the campaign of Kuchik Khan became interwoven with the civil war in Russia, just as the Polish struggle after 1918 was linked to events across the Russian frontier.

The fusion of the two trends came in May 1920, when Bolshevik naval forces operating in the Caspian captured the Gilani port of Enzeli and - after linking up with Kuchik Khan's forces and bringing in about 2,000 Adalat party members - declared the establishment of a republic in Gilan on June 5. Thus, although the Bolsheviks stated that they would not play an active role in Persia, they were prepared to support the revolutionary movement there, in view of the shared aim of ousting the British from the country.

In June 1920 the Adalat party held its congress in Enzeli and changed its name to the Persian Communist Party. Forty-eight delegates represented around 2,000 members, and after considerable dispute a basic programme was announced: land reform, anti-imperialism and support for the Bolshevik revolution. This was seen as a prelude to the 'sovietisation of Iran'. Although the new PCP and Kuchik Khan formed a coalition government, there was no real agreement; problems soon arose, and Kuchik Khan decamped to the mountains in protest at what he considered to be a too radical land reform programme.

The PCP also tried to break out of their Gilani base and to extend the revolutionary movement to the rest of the country, but when they tried to march on Tehran in August 1920 their forces were defeated.

As a result of these setbacks, the Russian party brought pressure to bear on the PCP and the Central committee, headed by Sultan Zade, was replaced by a new central committee in October 1920. This change was executed by one section of the Russian party, under the direction of Stalin who had responsibility for Caucasian affairs, and was neither formally overseen by the rest of the leadership in Moscow nor officially accepted by the Comintern. The new leadership, headed by Haidar Khan Amugli, suspended the radical land reform programme and made overtures to Kuchik Khan, but the latter was only reintegrated into the Gilani government in May 1921 and by this time the revolutionaries were faced by a much more capable central army headed by Reza Khan in Tehran. This new military regime fought off a second Gilani attempt to march upon Tehran in August 1921 and tried to divide the Gilani forces by making separate overtures in Kuchik Khan. But although these attempts to negotiate with Kuchik seem to have failed, he did break again with the PCP and in September he killed the Party leader Haidar Khan. In October, admist these divisions in the revolutionary camp, Reza Khan's forces reoccupied Gilan and the PCP leadership fled to Russia. Kuehik Khan, unable in the end to reach any accommodation with the central government, remained a fugitive in the mountains where he froze to death that winter.

A central element in the changing fortunes of the Gilan Republic was the shifting focus of Russian policy, both in regard to relations with Britain and in regard to relations with the Tehran government. In 1919 and early 1920 the Russians had adopted a militantly hostile attitude towards the Persian government, which they saw as being an instrument of British imperialism. They evidently hoped that it would be overthrown and replaced by one more sympathetic to them - either nationalist anti-imperialist, or socially revolutionary under the leadership of the PCP. However the main aim was always to remove the British influence from Iran and when this became more possible through negotiation with London and Tehran than through a military offensive they concentrated their efforts on this. By the spring of 1921 they had negotiated agreements with both countries, guaranteeing non-interference in Russia's affairs in return for, among other things, their respecting the neutrality of Persia. The treaty with Britain, which concentrated on trade, included a clause in which the Bolsheviks undertook not to engage in anti-British propaganda in Asia; and under the agreement with Reza Khan's government the Russian troops began to withdraw from Gilan. In so doing, the Russians removed an important support of the Gilan Republic. Whilst they tried to produce some reconciliation of the Gilani movement and the central government, this was a failure; and amid protests from the Baku section of their own party the Russians then accepted the destruction of the revolutionary enclave as a necessary part of their wider campaign to neutralise their southern neighbour.

Weaknesses of Ravasani's analysis

Evaluation of this episode is extremely controversial - as between Iranian nationalists and communists, within the Iranian left, and within Soviet historiography - and the first major study of the Gilan Republic to appear in a western language has a definite emplacement within these controversies. Much of Schapour Ravasani's book is taken up with the history and economic conditions prior to the Gilan period itself, but in the sections on Gilan he lays the blame for the defeat of this movement on two main factors. The first was the policy pursued by the PCP in the July-October 1920 period: this he sees as having been ultra-left and as having involved the mechanical application of Russian political schemas to the very different conditions of Iran. The result was a failure to work with the 'national-revolutionary' current represented by Kuchik Khan (pp267-272). The second reason Ravasani advances for the defeat is that the Russians subordinated their role in Gilan to their overall policy dictates; whilst at first they encouraged the Gilani movement, they later sacrificed it in favour of better relations with Britain (pp354-5).

Ravasani's work is a massive compilation on the situation in Persia during this period and contains nearly 300 pages of documents on the contemporary revolutionary movement. Its arguments are, moreover, phrased in Marxist terms, and he frequently berates the PCP leader Sultan Zade for ignoring Lenin's advice about co-operation with 'national-revolutionary' leaders. Yet despite the weight of narrative argument and documentation there are several aspects of his critique which render it unconvincing, and behind the formally materialist and revolutionary framework of the analysis one can detect significant elements that are rather idealist and, in a negative sense, nationalist.

The first problem with Ravasani's analysis is one shared by most of the other literature on the subject, namely that it treats of the Gilan movement in uniquely political and international terms, and does not provide any analysis of the specific socio-economic conditions prevailing in Gilan itself. This is an essential prerequisite both for understanding the nature of Kuchik Khan's movement and for judging how far the favourable revolutionary conditions in Gilan were common to the rest of the country. Ravasani tells us (p285) that both Kuchik Khan and the PCP believed that 'the objective conditions for a revolution in Persia were present but this cannot be asserted as a mere voluntaristic statement. And the information available from some contemporary sources indicates that, in fact, Gilan was a rather special and anomalous province of the country.

Gilan, at that time with a population of about 350,000, has certain general features distinguishing it from the rest of Persia: it is a thickly wooded area - the word 'jungle' derives from the Persian Jangal used for the Gilan undergrowth - and many of its inhabitants speak a distinct dialect of Persian, Gilaki. But more importantly, its economy had been transformed from the l870s onwards by contact with Russia - by the export of cash crops, especially rice, and by the growing import of tea and other commodities. A dissolution of pre-capitalist rural relations was occurring, the number of landless labourers was growing, and the merchants of the towns had gained a considerable hold on the rural economy. Social differentiation along capitalist lines had therefore gone much further than in the rest of the country. Conversely, because of its close links with Russia, Gilan was by 1920 all the more negatively affected by the rupture of economic links consequent upon the Russian revolution.4

One of the major problems of rural movements is that they tend to be localised - not just in consciousness, but in the condition that generate them; and the problem of generalising such struggles into becoming national movements is a difficult one. We have recently seen a striking case of this in Oman where the revolutionary movement, strongly based in the southern Dhofar province, was unable to break through into the more strategically vital northern part of that country. The Huk guerrillas in the Philippines after 1945 faced a similar, and ultimately fatal, restriction, and there have been many other cases in Africa and Latin America. From what we know, the conditions in Gilan exemplify some of the classic conditions for peasant-based guerrilla war. They explain the genesis of Kuchik's movement, but by the same token such conditions were localised. This aspect of the Gilan movement is not dealt with in Ravasani's study; and whilst it would be unfounded to assert that this movement could not have broken out of its regional context, it is idealist, an abstract assertion, to assume that it could have done so. To prove the assumption made by Kuchik and the PCP would involve some general picture of the socio-political forces at play in Iran at that time, whereas what they, and Ravasani, have provided remains rather schematic.

A second major difficulty with Ravasani's account is his description of the divisions within the PCP and his critique of the 'ultra-left' line. This critique also has a strong nationalistic undertone, since he holds that the Sultan lade group made an erroneous analysis as a result of the influence - intellectual and organisational - of the Bolsheviks.

For Ravasani the PCP was 'an alien body in Iranian society' (p267). It certainly seems to be the case that the PCP did make mistaken and schematic analyses of Persian society at that time, and there can be no reason to suppose that all its programme and actions were justified. But his critique goes much further than this and is, on closer examination, rather questionable. Although Ravasani claims that Sultan Zade was a tool of the Russians, he shows in his own account that Sultan Zade was quite prepared to contradict Lenin at the second congress of the Comintern, and was removed under pressure from the Russian Party to make way for the Haidar Khan leadership in October 1920. If this relationship is not so clear in organisational terms as Ravasani claims, it is also not so evident in policy terms. We know from his own account (pp262ff.) that the PCP did not think that the hour of the social revolution had come in Iran and that they were quite conscious of the need to ally with the national bourgeoisie against British imperialism. 5

Ravasani endorses the policies of Haidar Khan; yet, as he has shown, Haidar was as much the organisational product of Russian influence in the party, and it is not so clear that Haidar's overall evaluation was more cautious than Sultan lade's. At the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in September 1920, Haidar Khan called on the Bolsheviks to arm the Persians against the imperialists, and declared: 'The Soviet regime of northern Iran is planning for a march on Tehran'.6 And there is one striking point (p326) where Ravasani endorses Haidar Khan's emphasis on creating a 'unitary republic' - in contrast to what he sees as the Russian-influenced call for a republic recognising the existence of different national groups. If ever there was an instance where the supposedly misleading Russian influence was in fact right, and the instinctive Persian nationalist position wrong, this was it; for the failure of the Iranian left to confront the depth of the nationalities issue has plagued it ever since. The explosion of the nationalities time-bomb in the wake of the Shah's departure is an eloquent testimony of the real similarities that link Iran to Russia in this respect.

Ravasani's account of the conflict between the PCP and Kuchik Khan remains rather imprecise. We know the different sides accused each other of, and we know how susequent Soviet historiography has erected a case against Sultan lade. But we do not have a detailed account of what did actually occur - for example, of what was the land redistribution policy, how much land was actually distributed, what were the supposedly 'anti-religious' policies of the PCP, etc.7 Similarly, despite his defence of Kuchik Khan, the latter remains a rather shadowy figure in Ravasani's account. He is obviously a sympathetic character, and the PCP may well have unnecessarily provoked him. But we do know that the main reason for his alliance with the Bolsheviks was his hostility to the British and it is not clear if he had any elaborated analysis that could have been counterposed to that of the PCP.

Ravasani's account of the overall outcome of the Bolshevik influence on Iran is, at best, one-sided for it ignores certain positive results of this relationship. First of all, there would probably have been no PCP at all but for the previous three decades of migration of Persian workers to Russia and their involvement there in the communist underground. Nor would the Gilan Republic even have been established but for the fortuitous extension of the Russian civil war into northern Iran as a result of the British counter-attacks against the Bolsheviks at that time. Thirdly, by his own account and accepting for the moment his contraposition of the Sultan Zade and Haidar Khan leaderships, it was the Russians who were able to introduce a more cautious note into the PCP's policies. Beyond this considerations, however, there remains the fact that in Ravasani's account the placing of blame upon the Russians is not merely exaggerated but serves as an analytical substitute for the primary question, namely the strength of the revolutionary movement in Iran itself. It is here that the absence of any specific analysis of the conditions in Gilan and the extent to which the were typical becomes such a major vitiating factor. The influence of faulty Comintern ideas and the absence of Russian troops did not prevent the Chinese party from recovering from the debacle of 1927 and from building base areas in this period. If the PCP could not do this then the reason must be found in the internal conditions of Iran as well as in external failure on the part of the Russians.


Consideration of the Russian role involves another general question, namely whether the Russians 'betrayed' the PCP by withdrawing their troops and signing the February 1921 agreement with the Tehran government. For the assumption underlying Ravasani's critique is that it was incumbent on the Russians to support the Gilani movement unconditionally. If this is so, then the decision to withdraw from Gilan in 1921 is on a par with many of the later 'betrayals' by Russia and China of revolutionary movements – from Stalin's role in Spain, Greece and Poland, to China's role in Sudan, Chile and Iran itself. It raises in an acute form - and, as noted above, in the period prior to any possible 'degenerations' - the question of the relationship between revolutionary states and revolutionary movements.

There are undoubtedly many cases in which revolutionary states have reneged on their responsibilities vis-a-vis revolutionary movements, by failing to provide the internationalist political and material assistance which they should and could have given. Arguments about the need to give priority to the survival of the revolutionary state have been frequently used and misused. But precisely because there has been so much cynical and treacherous behaviour in this regard, an apparently principled idealism is counterposed to such behaviour; it is often forgotten that internationalist assistance can only be given under certain conditions and that it is not possible for revolutionary states to do everything and on all occasions to assist revolutionary movements. Such assistance depends on what can, in the most general way, be called 'the international balance of class forces': the situation in which the state finds itself and the strength of the local movement in question. Whilst being extremely conscious of the ways in which such arguments can be misused, one can still see that there are objective limits to what revolutionary states can do.8

To take an extreme example: it would have been possible in September 1973 for Cuba to have airlifted paratroops to Chile to help sustain the Popular Unity government in the face of the fascist coup. Or to take another example: it would have been possible for the Soviet, or Chinese, navies and airforces to have intervened directly in the Vietnam war. Neither of these things happened, and no-one can soberly claim that they should have happened because, and this is the point, of the balance of international forces at that time, the consequences for Cuba, Russia and China if they had done this, and the balance of forces inside the country concerned.

If we now turn to the Russian decision to withdraw troops from Gilan and to sign a treaty with the Reza Khan government, then there are strong reasons to argue that here too the international balance of forces made it impossible to sustain the Bolsheviks' military role in northern Iran, that it is a false, idealist, form of internationalism to accuse the Russians of 'betrayal' for withdrawing their forces when they did. Russia had gone through seven years of war and civil war, it desperately needed a way out of the economic blockade that Britain and the other countries had imposed on it. At the same time, after two years of counter-revolutionary armed intervention by over a dozen countries, the Bolsheviks were concerned to remove British imperialist interests from the countries bordering them - from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan. These were not simply selfish, nationalist, aims but were ones that involved the very survival of the Russian revolution; and the failure to withdraw forces from Iran would have prejudiced this aim. The Russian state was simply not strong enough, internally or internationally, to provide the level of assistance to the PCP that it had, momentarily, been able to profer in 1920.9

This brings us back to the Gilani movement itself; for, had that movement been stronger, then it would have been able to take advantage of the impetus given in May 1920 to spread through Iran. And if a genuinely revolutionary situation had existed in Iran, with a realistic possibility of a PCP-led movement coming to power, then the calculations of the Russians could have been rather different. Had they in that situation abandoned the movement they would have borne a much heavier responsibility.

The accusation of a Russian 'betrayal' over Gilan appears to be a principled, internationalist, one; yet on closer examination it conceals a nationalist presumption, namely that the fault for the failure of the Gilani experiment lies with external, in this case Russian, influence. In so doing it omits to make an evaluation of the necessarily primary, internal, basis for assuming that a revolution was possible, and it omits to make a proper internationalist evaluation of the situation which would have taken not just the interests of the Persian movement but of the whole international communist movement into account.

Iran - past and future

The defeat of the Gilan Republic forms part of the overall defeat in that period of the revolutionary initiatives outside Russia - in Germany Hungary, Italy, in Turkey and Iran. It cannot simply be blamed on some Bolshevik 'betrayal'. It reflected the almost overwhelming disequilibrium it the international balance of class forces at that time, as well as the limitations of the movement in Gilan itself, which was both regionally) confined and internally divided. The British were able to promote the coup in February 1921, out of which grew a force capable of overwhelming the Gilanis militarily; and when this new government indicated that it would end British military influence in the country, the Bolsheviks signed a non-interference treaty with it.

The counter-revolutionary regime established at that time lasted until 1979; and whilst Iran today is a very different country in socio-economic terms from what it was in 1921, many of the political issues raised in Gilan are re-emerging. The relations between socialist and nationalist forces, between secular and religious oppositions, between regional and national forces, and, not least, between Iran and its northern neighbour - all these issues will be posed acutely once again in the months and years ahead. The defeat of the PCP in 1921, and the subsequent destruction of the much larger Tudeh Party in 1953, have left the field open to the religious opposition, which now occupies a more important place in Iranian politics than at any time since the 1890s. But the paralysis, confusions and the anti-democratic nature of the Islamic movement demonstrate as eloquently as could be that only a socialist programme can solve the enormous problems that Iran now faces.

After so many years of suppression, and despite its many divisions, the Middle East's oldest socialist movement finds itself once again at a point where it may be able to win over the mass of the Iranian workers and peasants; and, with a revolutionary situation on the borders of the Soviet Union for the first time in three decades, the consequences for it too may be considerable.


In August 1979, after completing the above review, I was able to visit Iran and to make a brief trip to Gilan. Various small indications showed that the history of the Gilan period is still an actual one for Iranians and that the disputes of that time are, in different ways, appropriated for today's use. In Tehran the former Stalin Street, leading up to the Russian War Memorial, has been renamed Mirza Kuchik Khan Street, and in the main square of the Gilani administrative capital Lahijan, the plinth formerly celebrating the tenets of the Shah's 'white revolution' was adorned with portraits of Kuchik Khan. The port of Enzeli, known for the past fifty years as Banar (= Port) Pahlavi, has now regained its old name. In the streets of Rasht vendors were selling copies of a radical left paper called Jangal, in memory of the earlier movement. Yet it is not just the left which remembers this period. One of the basic tenets of the Muslim radicals is the Islam and communism are mutually inimical: they point to a host of instances where they say 'communists' have persecuted Muslims - Soviet Central Asia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and, of course, Palestine. . . . Iranian history too is seen through this optic and Kuchik Khan is presented as a heroic Islamic radical who was betrayed by the Russian-controlled communists.

  • 1. Further background material on the Gilan period can be found in the first chapter of: Sepehr Zabih, The Communist Movement in Iran, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1966. This is the standard work on the subject. On the contemporary movement in Turkey see George Harris, The Origins of Communism in Turkey, Stanford, 1967. The Gilan episode is also discussed in the major works on Soviet foreign policy in this period, including: E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, vol. 3, London 1953; Louis Fischer, The Soviets in World Affairs, London 1930; X. Eudin and R. North, Soviet Russia and the East: 1920-1927, Stanford, 1957. Many of the theoretical issues raised by the Gilan experience and the place of the Asian revolution in Soviet strategy at that time are discussed in H. Carrere d'Encausse and Stuart Schram, Marxism and Asia, London, 1969.
  • 2. Cosroe Chaqueri, La Social-Democratie en Iran, Editions Mazdak (Casella Postale 517, 50100 Florence, Italy) ,1979 , gives extensive documentation of this early movement, including the letters from the Tabriz revolutionaries to Kautsky and Plekhanov, and the programmatic documents of the Hemmat party.
  • 3. An early version of the Jangali Programme is given by M. Marthcenko, 'Kutchuk-Khan' Revue du Monde Musulman, vol. 4041, September-December 1920. Ravasani pp585-7 gives a later, 1920 version in English.
  • 4. Background information on the economic and social conditions in Gilan is given by H. Rabino in Revue du Monde Musulman, vo1. 32, 1916-17.
  • 5. Editions Mazdak have recently reissued a selection of Sultan Zade's writings, Politische Schriften, Florence, 1975, with an introduction and biographical note by Cosroe Chaqueri. Mter retreating to Russia in 1921, Sultan Zade spent several years in obscurity as an official in the state banking system, but re-emerged in 1928 at the sixth congress of the Comintern when, drawing upon his experience in this field of employment, he challanged the official theses on the dominance of finance capital in the capitalist world as presented to the congress by Bukharin. He was at the same time challenging the Soviet characterisation of Reza Khan as a progressive force. In the early 1930s he disappeared from political life, to be killed in the purges in 1938. Whatever else, this record of independence does not confirm the picture of Sultan Zade as the pliant tool of the Russian party.
  • 6. Quoted in N. Fatemi, A Diplomatic History of Persia, New York, 1952,ch. 12.
  • 7. The standard left position at this time was to distinguish between a minority fraction of the mollahs who were regarded as reactionary and linked to the land-owners, and a majority who were close to the poorer classes; see Ravasani, pp74-76.
  • 8. In such contexts it is important to distinguish between withdrawal or withholding of support by a revolutionary state on the one hand, and an active support given to reaction in material or political terms which endorses repression against a communist movement on the other. The latter, of which there have been many cases in recent decades (the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Chinese endorsement of counter-revolutionary acts in the third world) can never be justified; but the Russian policy vis-a-vis Gilan was not guilty of it.
  • 9. The most detailed study of the background to the Soviet-British rivalry in Iran is given in the three-volume work by Richard Ullman, Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917-1921. Vol 3, The Anglo-Soviet Accord, London 1972, p317-394, discusses British perceptions of the Soviet role in Iran and the Russian policy of attempting to neutralise the Tehran government. For a general survey of changing official Soviet accounts of the Gilan period see Central Asian Review, vol. 4, 1956. A vivid example of the censored Russian presentation of this period and of its consequences is found in the recently published volume of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Lenin and National Liberation in the East, Progress Publishers; Moscow, 1978, ch 10: 'Leninist Foreign Policy and the Peoples of Iran in their Fight for Independence and Social Progress'. This omits any mention of the divisions within the Gilan movement or of the fate of the Gilanis after the Soviet-Persian accord, and pretends (p316) that all Soviet forces were immediately withdrawn after the May 1920 landing. It also goes out of its way to commend Lenin's policy of disciplining those in the Baku section of the Russian party who opposed the withdrawal from Gilan and who tried to continue an active solidarity with the Gilanis (p321). Fittingly enough, the article ends with a complacent account of the state of relations between the Shah and the Soviet government, one that, among other distortions, omits any mention of the military supplies which Russia sold to the Iranian government in 1967 and 1975.

Selected bibliography on the history of the CPs in the Arab East

Selected bibliography put together by the Khamsin collective on the history of the Communist Parties of the Middle East, with books in five different languages.

Selected bibliography on the history of the CPs in the Arab East

Central communist journals

Articles on and by the Arab communist parties can be found in the central press of the world communist movement, in numbers varying from period to period. The main journals are:

  • The Communist International, Leningrad/London.
  • For a Lasting Peace, for a People's Democracy, Bucharest.
  • International Press Correspondence (from 1938, World News and Views), London/Vienna.
  • Labour Monthly, London.
  • New Times, Moscow.
  • Die Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale, Moscow/Berlin.
  • World Marxist Review, Prague.

For the years up to 1935, the following bibliography is very helpful for locating the articles:

  • Enrica Colloti Pischel and Chiara Robertazzi, L'internationionale Communiste et Ie problemes coloniaux, Mouton, Paris and The Hague, 1968.

    Books on CPs of the Arab East in general

    • M.S. Agwani, Communism in the Arab East, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1969. Deals mainly with the period after the second world war.
    • Suliman Bashear, The Arab East in Communist Theory and Political Practice, 1918-1928, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished), London, May 1976. Forthcomming from Ithaca Press. A detailed account of the Comintern's views on the Arab revolution and of the early history of the communist movement, mainly in Egypt, Palestine and Syria-Lebanon. An Arbaic version published by Manshurat al-Qaramita, Jerusalem, 1977. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • Michael Contino and Shimon Shamir (eds), The USSR and the Middle East, Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem 1973. Al-Hakam Darwaza, Regional Communism and the Arabs' National Struggle (in Arabic), Maktabat Munaymina, Beirut 1963. The author, who was a member or sympathiser of the Movement of Arab Nationalists, writes from an Arab nationalist point of view.

    Walter Z. Laquer

    • Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1956. Despite its numerous shortcomings, this remains the only comprehensive study of the communist movement in the area. Contains valuable information which must however be used with the utmost caution.
    • The Soviet Union and the Middle East, Praeger, New York 1959. Elias Murqus, History of the Communist Parties in the Arab World (in Arabic), Dar al-Tarli'a, Beirut 1964. A Syrian ex-communist writing from a nationalist point of view. Useful inasmuch as it points out some weaknesses in the policy of the CPs.
    • (ed), The Comintern and the Arab Revolution. The Anti-imperialist Struggle, Unity, Palestine. The Documents of 1931 (in Arabic), Dar al-Haqiqa, Beirut 1970. An Arabic translation of the documents published by Spector (q.v.).
    • Maxime Rodinson, Marxisme et monde musulman, Seuil, Paris 1972. A collection of essays. Of particular importance are 'Le marxisme et Ie nationalisme arabe' (pp453-526) and 'Les problemes des partis communistes en Syrie et en Egypte' (pp4l2449). The former is especially useful in tracing the development of the world communist movement's attitude towards the anti-colonial revolution in the Arab world.
    • Ivar Spector, The Sopiet Union and the Muslim World 1917-1958, University of Washington Press, Seattle 1959. The value of this book is in its translation of a series of documents of Middle-Eastern CPs from the early 1930s.
    • Bassam Tibi (ed), Die arabische Linke, Europaeische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfort 1969. Contains a German translation of the concluding chapter of Murqus' History.
    • Nathan Weinstock, Le mouvement revolutionnaire arabe, Maspero, Paris 1970. Gives useful background for an understanding of communist and other revolutionary movements in the Arab East.

    A guide to the literature on communism in the 1950s, in most cases inspired by cold-war ideologies, in the Arab world as well as in the West, is provided by the following article:

    • Jean-Paul Charnay, 'Le Marxisme et L'islam. Essai de bibliographie', in Archives de sociologie des religions no 10, July-December 1960, pp133-l46.

    Books on the Syrian-Lebanese CP

    • Dahir al-'Akkari (ed), The Revolutionary Press in Lebanon 1925-1975, vol 1 (in Arabic), Dar al-Farabi, Beriut 1975. A selection of texts, arranged in thematic order. This first volume covers the period up to 1946. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • S. Ayyub, The CP in Syria and Lebanon (in Arabic), Dar al-Hurriya, Beirut n.d. (1959?).
    • Jacque Couland, Le mouvement syndical au Liban 1919. Son evolution pendant Ie mandat francais de l'occupation a l'evacuation et au Code du travail, Edition Sociales, Paris 1970. Includes also important information on the development of the communist movement, especially in its connexion with the Comintern and the Profintern (International Red Trade Unions).
    • Muhammad Dakrub, The Roote of the Red Holm Oak. The Story of the Rise of the Lebanese CP 1924-1931 (in Arabic). Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974. Narrative of the party's early history, giving important background information and quoting many documents, but without much historical analysis or political discussion of problems. Appendix contains a long programmatic document of the Syrian CP, 1931, and the famous 1931 joint declaration of the Syrian and Palestinian C;Ps. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • Khalil al-Dibs (introd.), The People's Voice is Stronger. Pages from the Communist, Workers' and Democratic Press in 50 years (in Arabic), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974. Selection of facsimile reproductions from communist and front press; covers mainly early history of party. Includes e.g. all five published issues of Yazbek's AI-Insaniyya of 1925. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • 'Abdallah Hanna, The Workers' Movement in Syria and Lebanon 1900-1945 (in Arabic), Dar Dimashq, Damascus 1973. Contrary to its title, this book does not concentrate on the workers' movement but rather gives a sometimes ideological, sometimes political and economic background for understanding its history. This may be useful, but there is little information of the workers' movement itself.
    • Qadri Qal'aji, The experience of an Arab in the Communist Party (in Arabic), Dar al Katib al-'Arabi, Beirut n.d. Memoirs of a former leading communist who became a nationalist at the end of the 1940s.
    • Nicola Shawi, Writings and Studies (in Arabic), Dar alifarabi, Beirut n.d. Writings of Helu's successor, 1938-1972.
    • Yusuf Ibrahim Yazbek, The Story of May Day in the World and in Lebabon (in Arabic), Dar al-Farabi, Beirut 1974. Short outline of the history of May Day in the international workers' movement, and memoirs of a founding father of the Lebanese CP on the formation of the party, concentrating on the first May Day celebrations in Lebanon, 1925. With historical photographs, documents and facsimiles. Review in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • The Lebanese Communist and the Tasks of the Coming Stage. Third Congress of the Lebanese CP'(in Arabic), n.p., n.d. (Beirut 1972?). All documents and speeches of the congress.
    • Questions of the Differance inside the Syrian CP (in Arabic), Dar Ibn Khaldun, Beirut 1972. Contains, among other texts, a draft programme of the Syrian CP written after its 1969 third congress which led to deep differences inside the party, and some speeches made in the 1971 national congress of the party which tried (in vain) to bridge the differences. These led eventually to a split in the party. The Struggle of the Lebanese CP through its Documents, Part 1 (in Arabic), Publications of the Lebanese CP, n.p., n.d. (Beirut 1971 ?). Documents of the second congress of the party, July 1968 (the first congress was held in winter 1943/44!). Contains political report of the CC with a critical account of the party's history between the two congresses.

    Books on the Palestinian-Israeli CP

    • Musa K. Budeiri, The Palestine CP, its Arabisation and the Arab-Jewish Conflict in Palestine, 1929-1948, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished), London School of Economics, London 1977. Forthcoming from Ithaca Press. Well documented study, with emphasis on the Arab side of party activity and the formation of an Arab national communist movement. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • Maher al-Charif, L'Internationale Communiste et la Palestine, 1919-1939, Ph.D. thesis (unpublished), University of Paris I (Sorboone) 1977. Concentrates on the policy of the Comintern centre on the Palestine issue. Stress is laid on explanation of documents, often without confronting them with Palestinian realities. Reviewed in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • Alexander Flores, Nationalismus und Sozialismus im Arabischen Osten. Das Verhaeltnis der kommunistischen Partei zur arabischen Nazionalbewegung in Palaestina, 1919-1948. Ph.D. thesis (unpublished), University of Muenster 1979. An attempt to understand the fate of the PCP under the mandate by taking into consideration the social, political and intellectual situation then prevailing in Palestine; with a study of the conditions of penetration of modern socialist thought in the Arab world.
    • Yehuda Frankel (ed), The Communist Movement and the Yishuv in Eretz Israel 1920-1948. A Collection in Documents and Sources (in Hebrew), University of Jerusalem 1968.
    • Alain Greilsammer, Les communistes israeliens, Fondation national des sciences politiques, Paris 1978. Covers the same ground as Nahas (q.v) but more throughly and with better documentation.
    • Yehiel Halpern, Israel and Communism (in Hebrew), Mapai Publishing House, Tel-Aviv 1951. See C.z. Israeli, below.
    • Jacob Hen-Tov, Communism and Zionism in Palestine. The Comintern and the Political Unrest in the 1920s, Schenkman, Cambridge, Mass. 1974. Written from an anti-communist point of view but thoroughly researched and documented, with emphasis on the dependence of local communists on the USSR. Reviewed. in the present issue of Khamsin.
    • G.Z. Israeli (= W.Z. Laquer), MSP-PCP-MAKI. The History of the CP in Israel (in Hebre