Leaflet from 2002, looking at the Palestinian and Afghan conflicts through the lens of the changing development of capitalism in those regions.
In a region marked by intermittent war, sporadic terrorism and permanent repression, one of the most significant features of the situation in Palestine and the surrounding territories has been the series of events that have resulted in the neutralising of the Palestinian proletariat. The major milestones in this process are as follows. The events of Black September when 30000 Palestinians were massacred by the Jordanian state in Amman in 1970. The combined assault of the Lebanese and Syrian Army against the worker refugees in the camps at Tel Al Zatar, Lebanon in 1976. The development of the “Intifada of the Stones” from a spontaneous uprising and general strike into a nationalist struggle (partly as a result of the expulsion of Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel). The further development of the Al Aqsa Intifada along the lines of militarism and Islamism. All this in tandem with the continuing oppression of the Israeli state. All the powers of the region, and further afield, from Zionism to Islamism from Arab nationalism to the Arab monarchies, have collaborated in attempting to smash of the Palestinian proletariat.
The development of capital in the region has resulted in the continuing expropriation of Palestinian peasants, but has not resulted in their subsequent integration into the economy. Quite the reverse in fact as Palestinian workers have been sacked and replaced by migrant workers, thus facing a twofold expulsion, first as Arabs from Palestine then as workers from capitalist production. The socially-politically motivated destruction of the Palestinian working class is thus an statement of the general development of the international economy – it is only within the movement of capital out of the Palestinian territory that the working class there can be comprehensively neutralised. Not only are they a political liability, but are also economically expendable.
The importation of (non-Jewish) migrant labour into Israel in the 1990s, to replace the rebellious Palestinian workers, provided a new layer to a society already heavily stratified at birth. Israel was the conscious creation of the Zionist minority of Germanic Jews originating in Eastern Europe. But from early on, the majority of the citizenship were Arab Jews from as far apart as Morocco and Yemen. Far from constituting an homogenous Jewish state, Israel has remained ethnically divided with the Europeans at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Arab Jews, followed by the Israeli Arabs, followed by the Palestinians commuting from the occupied territories. The new imperative for the import of cheap labour, and for the import of human material for Israeli citizenship added new complexities to this situation, as tenuously ‘Jewish’ Russian Orthodox Christians, black Ethiopian Jews, and Muslim Arab migrants all try to find their place in the rapidly metamorphosing situation. The migrant Arab workers find themselves pushed near to the bottom, just above the expelled Palestinians. This new significance for migrant labour, and the new twist to the stratification of white citizen, black citizen and non-citizen shows a similarity with the development of society, and of the labour market, in Europe.
Following the contraction of the Israeli economy in the last couple of years, we have seen a shift in policy. As of January 2002 no new workers were allowed entry and the authorities have set a target for 1000 expulsions of migrant workers per month. The Israeli state thus tries to limit the effects of economic crisis through a combined ethnic-social cleansing, with the aim of bolstering national and social unity.
The history of the smothering of the Palestinian proletariat in and around Palestine, is also the history of the development of the struggle against Israeli occupation from one in which an internationalist class perspective and class struggle was a prominent feature into one in which a (by definition bourgeois) nationalist perspective predominated, into one in which the characteristic perspective is moving towards militant Islamism.
This development has been nurtured by the rightwing militarist elements within Israeli society and state as seen in such events as gun-running to the Islamist groups, and the recent destruction of the Palestinian National Authority forces. The strategy of the Israeli state cannot be reduced to a single will or a single simple explanation. Economic, political and ideological factors all have their part to play. But important priorities are the defence of the territory, national unity within Israeli society, and support from western powers (especially the US).
A struggle in Palestine oriented on a class perspective could have the possibility of destroying national unity and instead uniting proletarians across borders. Such struggle poses a threat both to Israeli territorial integrity and to national unity.
In a very different way, the PLOs old stated aims of a secular democratic state in the whole of the territory of Palestine presented a serious risk to the ruling Israeli interests. The PLO adherence to such a vision undercut Israeli support in the West as Israel then is revealed for what it is, a despotic apartheid state, rather than the little displaced piece of European social democracy that it is often presented as. Israeli response was always to label the PLO as terrorist, basically claiming that PLO didn’t mean what they said. But such a strategy is somewhat weak, particularly in the case of rivalry between the US and the European powers. The promotion by the Israeli state of Hamas then makes perfect sense. What better enemy than a murderous anti-Semitic anti-Western movement like political Islam? The Islamists then play for the Israeli state the same role as Zionism and US Imperialism play for the Muslim states. Hence the Holy Alliance of Islamism and Zionism, each polarising its own society and that of its enemy resulting in a meta-nationalist conflict of Jewish/Christian/Western versus Islamic/Arab.
The defeat of the Palestinian proletariat has thus proceeded on three axes. Firstly, the physical destruction of its most advanced elements, in their tens of thousands, secondly the social liquidation of the proletariat as wage labour within the zone of former Palestine, and thirdly, through the hegemony of first nationalist and them Islamist ideology. This is the current situation but does not rule out a revival. The most immediate hope is in the Palestinian diaspora; including a highly international working class spread throughtout the middle east and beyond. Within the Palestine region itself, there is also the possibility that the excluded proletarians will be reintegrated into wage-labour, which holds the possibility of a re-development of movement on a proletarian basis, as workers rediscover their power and their interests and re-centre the social movement around themselves.
The burying of both the class struggle within Palestinian society and that within Israeli society by widely differing nationalisms, means that the perspective of ‘No War But the Class War’, of independent class action to undermine the conflict, seems to have little relevance in the present situation. For the time being, the only war that appears possible is national war.
Nonetheless, the absence of a proletariat acting in its own interest does not mean that nothing positive can happen. The refusal of a small but significant minority of Israeli soldiers and reservists to participate in the recent occupation is an important fracture in Israeli national unity. It is obvious in this context that the suicide bombings, which can only shore up Israeli national unity, and dampen international opposition to Israeli aggression, are as counter-revolutionary as much as they are anti-human. Another development has been the intervention of international observers, from many western countries, and also from many political perspectives, who put themselves between the Israeli army and its target, a personal act of human solidarity.
The recent economic and political development in the Palestinian territories has important similarities with those in Afghanistan, and the development of political Islam in both territories is the statement of this and not the cause. The slow-down in global capital accumulation and its accelerated concentration in the old capitalist heartlands means the evacuation of productive capital from these troublesome frontiers. In a world where productive and profitable investments are harder to come by, there are less chancy places to build new multi-billion dollar microchip factories, and furthermore the destruction of the productive capital that already exists there can in some cases be normal market competition carried out by other means.
The continuing development of the productivity of labour means that the most productive, profitable capitals are the largest and most modern – and most expensive. Capitalist economy, whether local, national, regional or global, is characterised by cycles of expansion and contraction, boom and bust, short in the case of one sector, long in the case of a cycle of accumulation at a global level. In the period of downturn we are in at the moment, despite a continuation of capital accumulation, the economy sheds unneeded capacity and expels unneeded workers. So in the last few years we have seen California’s Silicon Valley go from supposed new economic miracle to scene of shambolic crashes. Alongside this we have seen the dramatic cut in capacity of car manufacturing and mass redundancies in the airline industry.
With the most modern industry of US and Europe feeling the pinch, the economies of places like Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories haven’t a hope in hell of attracting the kind investment needed to build a modern economy on. In this situation, political Islam with its emphasis on trade and rent rather than production is a ‘realistic’ alternative. Realistic in the sense that political Islam represents the realisation that these societies cannot economically challenge the dominance of the global capitalist powers. If in the time of Mohamed, commercial capital represented the heights of the economy and dominated production In the modern world it is production that dominates commerce. Political Islam thus represents the lack of any perspective for either development within capitalist global society, or for any liberation from it.
If in the Middle East of the 1950s, socialism could stand either for working class liberation, or more often its opposite, national development through a state-lead economy, both tendencies were tied to the reality of an expansion of capital. In the modern era, the retreat of both the working class and of plans for nationalist capitalist development are expressions of the contraction of capital. Islamism fills the vaccum, but only by default, because any positive development is blocked.
Just as the US and Europe are at the heart of the world’s problems (because they at the heart of capital accumulation) so are they also an important site of any potential solution.
Terrorist attacks like that on the Twin Towers can disrupt the economy to some extent (not much actually) but the point is a transformation that goes beyond the present society. Struggle against capital and its state seems more overt in the poorer countries, and armed insurgencies are commonplace. But if a struggle that transforms global society is in all likelihood going to start in the underdeveloped countries (or already has started) it can only succeed after finally echoing and washing over the most developed countries.
There is no point denying that the last decades have seen a relative defeat of the proletariat in Europe and the US. Mass redundancies and closures of whole branches of industry together with an ideological assault on all forms of collectivism have been the order of the day. If in the last few years there has been a slight revival in workers struggle, together with a simultaneous development of radical socio-political movements, these can both be seen as an statement of a recomposition of the proletariat in response to capitalist restructuring. But this recomposition is weak and full of contradictions. The present situation does not hold out much hope of a solution to the Palestinian situation either from within the region, or from oustide it, and neither a solution within capitalist society, nor one beyond it. The human responses of Israelis refusing to fight, of international solidarity delegations, of antiwar demonstrations, of migrant support, do point beyond this world subordinated to capital. It will take a reconstitution of the proletariat, as a class in struggle becoming conscious of itself, to push society irretrievably towards a social humanity in which all states and all nations are fading memories.
Taken from the No War But The Class War website.