Khamsin #05: Oriental Jewry

Issue of Khamsin from 1978 primarily about the Oriental Jewry.

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

What is Khamsin?

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

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

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

All these struggles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Khamsin no. 5, 1978)


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

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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The manipulation of Oriental population

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raphael Shapiro

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


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

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

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

Submitted by libcom on July 26, 2005

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

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

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

1. The pre-Hellenic period.

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

3. The Arab period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What conclusions can one draw from this glance at history?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ya'acoub Daoud Eskandarany

Full article in PDF format (24kb.)

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

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

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

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

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


Oriental Jews in Israel­; collective schizophrenia - A. Hoder

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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 5, 2013

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

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

Driver: How do you mean?

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

Driver: Good neighbourhood?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driver: An exceptional Vusvus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Hoder

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


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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nira Yuval-Davis


Oriental Jewry annotated bibliography

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

Submitted by Ed on January 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The development of class struggle in Egypt - Lafif Lakhdar

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

Submitted by Ed on January 15, 2013

The development of class struggle in Egypt*

Lafif Lakhdar

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

Downfall of the old bourgeoisie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new bourgeoisie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis of agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Failure of industry

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

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

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

A bloated, benighted bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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

In search of 'Lebensraum'

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

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

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

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

The open door policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aid, but no investments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital dictates its terms

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

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

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

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

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

Historical context of the crisis

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

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

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

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

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

The global contest

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment, inflation, starvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The events of 1971–72

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 'herd of sheep'?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The uprising of January 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anwar Bey, a kilo of meat costs three pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Against the Prime Minister:

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

Against the President of Parliament:

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

Against the economic open door policy (Infitah):

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

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

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

Workers, unemployed, students and youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of the bourgeoisie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the agenda: a socialist revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 1977

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

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



11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 15, 2013

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


11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on January 16, 2013

Also, moved to history section


10 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by vicent on September 29, 2013

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


10 years 7 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Ed on September 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 16, 2013

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

The crisis in Israel – danger of Fascism?

Avishai Ehrlich

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

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

Israel is not a typical monopoly capitalist country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nature of the present crisis in Israel

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

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

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

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

(Source: Israel Statistical Abstracts, 1975, p183)

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

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

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

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

1968 1972 1975 1976*
18.2 21 29.5 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payments to labour and capital as % of GNP

Labour Capital
1968 88.9 11.1
1973 74.2 25.8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dangers to democracy in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. That 'pure' finance capitalism exists nowhere;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript, September 1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although alarming, these changes are still far from fascism.

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

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


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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 16, 2013

The ideological divide in the Palestinian Resistance Movement

Mohammed Ja'far

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

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

The PLO majority line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rejectionist currents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critique of the rejectionist line

What are the limitations of this line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 1977

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


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

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

Submitted by Ed on January 17, 2013

On the Sadat spectacle

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

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

Our answer is No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus only!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this spirit we struggle:

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

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

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

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

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