The Palestinian question and the international workers’ movement
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Embroiled in a like struggle for the social control of their own proletariat and that of their adversary, the ultra-bourgeois regimes governing the Israeli state and the National Palestinian Authority seemed for some time to have buried the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beneath the rubble of continual backbiting and reciprocal provocation. The fact that the conflict is once again headline news proves for the umpteenth time that no solution will be found to the problems haunting the area – at least within the present framework -unless the plight of the Palestinian refugees and proletarians concentrated in that zone (a veritable sword of Damocles over the heads of the entire Middle Eastern bourgeoisie, both Arabic and Jewish) is dealt with less ambiguously and miserably than today.
It is obvious and apparent that Camp David I and the Oslo and Wye Plantation «agreements», Camp David II and the latest «verbal invitations» of Sharm el-Sheikh (a glaring admission of impotence concealed behind the vague verbal declarations of diplomats who are little more than putty in the hands of a self-interested American imperialism), have only proved temporary, stop-gap measures over the years.
The nail in the coffin for all residual national questions in Palestine – where, topping the historical development agenda, the Palestinian proletariat and multitudes would have fought alongside the national bourgeoisie for their own «homeland» – was most certainly the «Black September» in Amman (1970), even if this turning point had been on the cards for several years.
The Palestinian movement in Amman (in the sham nation of Jordan, an Anglo-Saxon imperialist invention inhabited for the most part by Palestinians who, in contrast to the wealthy State-governing minority community of Bedouins, all stand on the lowest rung of the social and material ladder) was led by weak and inconsequential, bourgeois and petit bourgeois nationalist fringe groups. But it possessed a solid mass base and an organisation which had become representative in the defensive material struggles against savage exploitation and acute poverty.
In this context, instead of directing the fight of the revolutionary masses against the regime of King Hussein, the PLO first sought an agreement with this regime and then, in accordance with conditions negotiated, withdrew from the city, thus facilitating the massacre of rebels which ensued.
«The Middle-East», we wrote in our Italian newspaper «Il Programma Comunista» (no. 17, 1970) at the time, «is literally imprisoned inside a strait jacket which has been tailor-made in the cynical, brutal and ferocious interests of imperialism, and its tragic destiny will forever consist of seeking to wriggle itself out of this vile garment. The area resembles less a mosaic of nations (which neither exist in ten minor formats nor in one major format) than of States fiercely bent on protecting their own mean interests: cut from exactly the same cloth, each state in turn is snipped away at by this or that great power in the struggle for access to oil wells or cotton fields; each rants and raves for independence, but this is denied by their own dependence on world markets or the supply of arms on the part of world powers; each is at once brimming with pride and yet humiliated by its pawn-like condition of servitude to whoever happens to be calling the shots at any given time; each is governed by a greedy, parasitic pseudo-bourgeoisie or by a feudal -nay, tribal – wrecking crew whose pockets are lined with ancient gold; all of them are in service to interests as big as the planet itself or to powers-that-be which are even more cynical than their selfsame governors; and not a single one of them proclaims a new mode of production, to say nothing of a new social order».
This is not the place to dwell on the process underlying the actual formation and constitution of the Middle Eastern States, an ultra-sensitive area linking three different continents. After the fall of the Ottoman empire, the area was sketched out anew at the end of the First World War by imperialist powers intent on the conquest and control of new markets and strategically important sources of raw materials. This process was aggravated still further following the conclusion of the Second World War and the birth of the state of Israel in 1948, albeit in the presence of national freedom movements which had begun to find their feet around this time. The creation of Israel marked the beginning of American control over the area. American imperialism had now replaced its much weakened British counterpart and, in the years to follow, Israel’s policy of progressive territorial expansion effectively sanctioned the increasingly widespread domination of the United States at the expense of rivals new and old: the latter could only blather on pathetically behind the fig leaf of worthless UN resolutions.
Pending a return to the subject at a later date, readers are invited to consider our Party's considerations on this matter in nos. 12 and 13/1965 of «Il Programma Comunista», entitled «La solita babele del Medio Oriente» («The same old Middle-Eastern Babel»). Even at that time – over and beyond the official declarations (whatever their source, high or low) of «mutual fraternity» and the plans for «pan-Arabism» – we stressed the chronic impotence and inconsistencies of the ex-colonial bourgeois classes.
«Thanks to the combined intervention of the two main victors to emerge from the carnage of the Second World War«, we wrote in the first of the two articles published in 1965, «the anti-colonial revolution in the Middle East, as indeed elsewhere, has proved far less revolutionary than might have been wished for, both for general historical reasons and with a view to the development of those countries involved. If the newly instated powers-that-be are not created in the wake of the surging movements of the exploited masses and are not upheld by the combined armed strength of the same, then an «out and out» bourgeois revolution in the era of imperialism is evenless likely than in the past. Feudal monarchies in many Middle Eastern countries have, therefore, enacted a relatively smooth transformation into bourgeois monarchies and continue to rule under a new guise. Yet even in those cases where a monarchy has been replaced by a republic, the process was less a result of mass political movements than limited military revolts.»
Hence there was no deep seated, radical bourgeois revolution in the Middle East and the
«ties with the worldwide centres of imperialism mean that the local bourgeoisie is practically powerless: its policy of ‹non-alignment› [the reference is to Nasser's pseudo-socialist policy, ed. note] is an implicit admission that it is at the mercy of an east-west divide and is compelled to swing from one side to the other».
During the crucial period from 1967 to 1970 all the skulking skeletons finally came out of the cupboard and, once again, a war was required to untie the remaining knots.
«What kind of independence and what kind of peace can be hoped for,»
we wrote at the time of the Six Day War in «Il Programma Comunista» no. 11/1967, emphasising that the interests and positions of the national and international imperialist powers were what was really at stake,
«in, countries whose pipelines pump life-giving oxygen into the arteries of global capitalist piracy? It pays the upholders of regimes in these countries – the newly established bourgeoisie, the nouveaux riches or the semi-feudal yeomanry – to pay lip service to whomsoever detains the keys to the coffers, stealing from neighbours (members of the same race perhaps) whatever their financiers and masters dangle in front of their insatiable, vulture-like eyes».
Bolstered by its full scale military and information apparatus, American diplomacy was extremely active during the post-war period, promoting enterprises aimed at consolidating still further the influence it had acquired in an area whose role in the dispute between imperialist powers was becoming increasingly important.
«The dollar gangsters,» we wrote in «Il Programma Comunista» no. 14/1958, «are primarily concerned with preventing the formation of the one great State which would meet with the aspirations of the pan-Arabic movement. They are bent on maintaining the military alliances which are the main obstacle to the unification of the Middle-Eastern populations. […] The Arab countries are currently in the same situation as Italy during the Risorgimento; a population united by an indivisible historical evolution, the same language, customs and traditions, has been split up into a dozen separate states. […] The demand for a united state (a cause to which Garibaldi, Kossuth and Bolivar had once nailed their colours), the suppression of political divisiveness and separatism, is not a communist or proletarian aim: it is national and democratic. It is wholly part of the national bourgeois democratic revolution. A fully aware proletariat is not interested in the formation of the national State in itself but in what the transition brings about in terms of social change. It is interested in the dialectical openings of the «powerful economic factors’ which Lenin saw as being hemmed in and immobilised by anachronistic political structures lingering on in semi-feudal and backward countries».
Only a coherent, armed revolutionary national movement could, then, break into tiny fragments the vase which was so carefully being pieced together during the game of agreements and inter-imperialistic frictions. And only this would have merited the support of the proletarian masses – not, certainly, with a view to sorting out the national question, but that of the historical development of the entire proletarian movement at international level. When military solutions are not forthcoming, diplomats are called to do their legal best at democratic summits: around the conference table, words are carefully weighed as delegates barter agreements with the most astute brigand of the moment. This is anathema to proletarian movements, and solutions obtained in this manner are inevitably of a reactionary nature.
In no. 16/1958 of «Il Programma Comunista», we wrote:
«As we fully expected, once the Middle Eastern problem became fodder for diplomatic negotiators, the only epilogue possible would be a cynical, laughable fraud. And a fraud especially for the young Arab States. Many of them – especially those who produced essential raw materials, like Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and so on – were concerned about losing purchasers and divided in their interests and historical traditions. They also feared losing control over the frenzied and untrustworthy masses in their midst. All of the States were ready to bow down before the first banker who was ‹charitably› disposed to providing life-giving oxygen in the form of ready cash. In their greed, the budding bourgeois Koran-worshipping classes put to one side their mannered ‹anti-colonialism› and bartered the withdrawal of ‹foreign soldiers› for the triumphant arrival of cash which was no less foreign in nature. And in so doing, the pretended harbingers of the revolutionary holy war appropriated the principles of ‹non-interference› and ‹mutual respect of national sovereignty and integrity› – to all effects a defence of the status quo, itself the expression and product of imperial domination and the overturning of the much mooted desire for a united Arab State stretching from Western Asia to North Africa».
In increasingly dynamic fashion, the interests of the new national Middle Eastern bourgeois classes were thus engulfed by the economic and political interests of imperialist countries. The former were drawn into various spheres of influence and deployed all together in such a way as to defend the requirements of worldwide capitalism against the pressures exerted by the disinherited Arab – and especially Palestinian – masses.
In this context, the birth of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (with its own diplomatic and public organisation, as well as a military wing dealing with internal policing and, externally, with diplomatic questions and negotiations on the part of its leadership) comes across as the birth of an official business committee representing the interests and affairs of a Palestinian bourgeoisie whose needs and requirements, forever to remain of prime importance, took precedence over the spontaneous initiatives of the suffering masses living in the refugee camps and filthy hovels dotted throughout the area.
The PLO has always behaved as if it were the governing organisation of a national bourgeois class which, apart from anything else, was coward and inconsequential as a result of its relationships with the international powers responsible for its selfsame creation, and to whom it must have felt indebted. A glance at the period covering «the much haggled-over history» of the infamous UN resolution no. 242, 1967 (called «Land in exchange of peace», the resolution was supposed to sanction a return to the pre-June 1967 borders and would have seen Israel having to renounce its gains in territories – Jordan, the Gaza and Golan – which had been occupied after the war) until the setting up of the Palestinian National Authority (which, last year, would have unilaterally sanctioned the birth of the State of Palestine had it not been forced to run off with its tail between its legs after the major imperialist powers – including Russia – had denied so much «unilateral decision-making»!) reveals a straightforward rejection of the material needs of the Palestinian proletariat.
«The diplomatic solution,» we wrote in no. 2/1988 of our Italian journal, «would reductively lead to the creation of a mini-State located within the borders occupied by Israeli military forces: a non-vital entity condemned ad infinitum to an economic and political dependence on Israel and Jordan – a Middle Eastern Bantustan which only the unrivalled hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie could hope to pass off as a recognition of the ‹Palestinian right to self-determination› or something resembling a home; a shameful harlequinade destined to perpetuate the arguments of war afflicting the area, and not those of peace. Any party or organisation professing ‹solidarity› with the Palestinians cannot abide by such ‹solutions› (while all democratic parties have done so) without betraying the cause they claim to be fighting for. It is no coincidence that diplomatic bodies the world over, bearers of diverse and often antithetical plans, are manoeuvring towards a solution of this kind: all are anxious to prevent the Fertile Crescent from sooner or later becoming the stage for social as well as political explosions, and all wish to guarantee the allied or rival imperialist powers – responsible for allotting due spheres of influence – access to the much coveted gravy train which can be tapped into to satisfy economic, political and military appetites».
The events in Amman in 1970 had made visible a phenomenon whose genetic make up was already inscribed (that is, a confederation to all effects between the PLO and the Arab and Israeli bourgeoisies against proletarian masses in the area), and history would materially confirm the significance of this: indeed, on several different occasions the Palestinian proletariat was to pay dearly for answering a call to sacrifice which was never geared to its own ends.
In a revolt to defend general living standards, the Libyan and Palestinian proletariat put up a heroic resistance in Tall El Zaatar in 1976: Syrian and Phalangist troops, actively assisted by the Israeli navy (which controlled access to the sea) and the PLO army (which exercised its «right to non-interference» and thus refused to intervene: in reality, supine lip service was being paid to dictates requiring that «constructive» diplomatic relations prevailed and that everything in the neighbourhood garden remained hunky dory) ensured that the revolt ended in a bloodbath. Six years later the Sabra and Chatila camps massacre at the hands of the Israeli army marked the end of the siege on Beirut, after PLO troops had abandoned the terrain to the «international peacekeeping forces» of the UN. This was a further demonstration of the primary importance the Palestinian bourgeoisie – by now a placid commercial player in the lucrative markets of the Arab States in which it had fully integrated itself – attached to the social control of the proletariat. In line with this objective was the instrumental request for national independence, a much bartered request which was by now fully part of the faint-hearted, unilateral or multilateral diplomatic games being played. After the PLO officially repudiated violence as a means to achieving their objective, and after what amounted to an act of mutual recognition with Israel, the request for independence was reduced to a mere territorial sales purchase agreement whose final price necessarily covered the costs involved in controlling the increasingly disinherited proletarian Palestinian masses.
Although the vultures of international diplomacy recognized the self-styled Palestinian Autonomy – with its leopard-like presence in a territory including the Gaza Strip and parts of Jordan, surrounded by army-protected Israeli settlements –, little was done to halt the spiralling process of blood and misery among the poverty-stricken Palestinian masses. And this process continues to this very day as the recent events which took place after Sharon’s provocative and Israeli-orchestrated visit to the Mosque area last September demonstrated.
Another recent episode serves to confirm the fact that the PLO is fundamental for the bourgeoisie of the Middle East and the whole world, and that mutilated Palestinian plebeians are regarded as nothing more than cannon fodder by their leaders: on occasion of the furious military reprisals of the Israeli army following the lynching of two Israeli reserves captured by the Palestinians, the headquarters of the UN and the «enemy» Arafat were warned off three hours before the Israeli military command attacked, thus enabling them to seek safety and continue to play their part in the deceitful comedy while the civilian population was being fiercely bombarded.
The current framework of economic and social relationships and the simultaneous desire to maintain the status quo means that any solution to the Palestinian question is necessarily illusory and artificial. The facts have taken upon themselves to pass sentence on this matter, and suitable pretexts have been found ready at hand (for example, the dispute over the status of east Jerusalem, a city whose importance is less a question of religion than of a pivotal guiding role for communications and traffic – both for the Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisie).
Israel will never be able to voluntarily renounce its occupation of territories it believes are «useful» in terms of vital resources – first and foremost among these, water – and military control. Consequently, it will never abandon its policy of segregation and discrimination of those Arabs living within its borders because this form of subjugation is functional to Israeli capital’s hankering after surplus value. For its own part, the PLO cannot wholly renounce riding the tiger of a newly created artificial State because the economic crisis continues to exert increasingly intense pressure on the Palestinian masses and the commerce and profits of the petit bourgeoisie and the middle classes.
For the other Arab countries – and especially Jordan – the primary objective is to circumscribe the vigorous uprisings and rebellions of the poverty stricken masses in their midst: turbulence should, if possible, be limited to areas outside their own borders, and the energies of the masses should be channelled into religious or national causes. It was precisely the fear that contamination among the starving and exploited proletarian masses might lead to one or two crowns being toppled that determined the outcome of the Cairo summit last October (after the verbal «ceasefire» of Sharm el-Sheikh had immediately been given the lie by the slaughtering of young Arabs used as cannon fodder).
The summit invited the «U. N. to intervene to protect the Palestinians» and asked for «an, international tribune to investigate into criminal acts carried out by Israel». In substance, this was nothing more than a plea for help by the Middle Eastern bourgeoisie to the worldwide bourgeoisie to defend the status quo and, therefore, their own regimes.
Without further ado – time and space are of the essence – attention must also be drawn to America’s need to strengthen its control over the Middle East in the wake of worldwide imperialist interests in the area and the collapse of Soviet imperialism. The Gulf War had allowed the USA to reinforce its own military presence in the area in order to defend the financial and petroleum interests of American capitalism. After the war, the USA became the torch bearer of a strategic alliance between Israel and Turkey, and in so doing strengthened their own military and diplomatic potential by coupling (the new ace card of Yankee strategy) military power with monopolistic control over water supplies to the whole Middle East.
This modus operandi led to mounting instability among those countries in the area which came under the «sphere of American national security» (Syria and Iran were already casting longing glances in the direction of European – and particularly German – capitalism), and the American administration – having also noted the failure of the preceding policy of «dual containment» in Iraq and Iran – was forced to compensate for this with some kind of stabilising activity. Hence its efforts to speed up the peacemaking process between Israelis and Palestinians: in establishing peace between the two, the Arab bourgeois class would have felt more psychologically indebted to pro-American policymakers, and rival imperialist powers would have been kept at bay.
Indeed, American imperialist ambitions required the division of Middle-Eastern countries, and the financial, political and military support of the Israeli-Turkish alliance was a continuation of this. However, in order that this policy of division might pay off, it had once again to be set off against some form of «moderating» intervention (also because the stability of the axis and its distant «away match» potential over the entire «Eurasia» region had to be reinforced). This intervention would be directed towards involving the majority of Arab countries in US policy (most were more or less forced to divert the pressure of their respective proletariats through the rhetoric of solidarity with their Palestinian brothers) and persuading them to be more accommodating. The failure of this initiative demonstrates that when a worldwide economic crisis aggravates inter-imperialistic tensions on a global scale, the dynamics imparted by the material forces of the economic underworld of bourgeois society are increasingly loathe to remain within the ambit of ordinary «international relations.»
During the imperialistic phase of capital, the bourgeoisie needs to wage increasingly destructive wars against what are, essentially, the proletarian masses, firstly in the coloured continents, and then in their own imperialist metropolises. This irreversible process can only be interrupted by a class war which the international proletariat, guided by its Party, will have to declare against a permanently antagonistic worldwide bourgeoisie whose first line of defence is political and economic domination.
Now that the cycle of purely national struggles and fights for Palestine and the whole Middle East has revealed itself definitively bereft of historical prospects, the Palestinian proletarian masses are faced with one solution, and it is a solution which may also lead to the end of oppression and national discrimination: the struggle for international proletarian revolution, beginning with the overthrowing of all States in the region – from Israel to the various republics and Arab emirates – and the expulsion of the imperialist brigands behind the political and economic exploitation of the Middle-Eastern masses. In such struggle, under the material force of things the proletariat of other imperialist countries will necessarily be involved and in such struggle the Middle Eastern proletariat will have to unite itself if the revolution is to triumph on a worldwide scale.
Our present address to the Palestinian proletariat can be no different to that which our Party recommended thirty years ago in the wake of the Amman massacre, and it is with those selfsame words of yesteryear – albeit tinged with even greater hatred (if possible) of today's putrid society – that we use today those very same words:
«The fedayeen express the fully justifiable wrath of a plebeian class which has been mutilated by the road roller of bourgeois ‹peace›. But what they can expect from the heroism born of their own desperation? They themselves are the product of a vile game which has been conducted behind the backs of peoples (and at their own expense) who have been conquered or lost at the gaming tables of capitalism during the feverish race to rule the world: would ‹Palestine for the Palestinians› prove more liberating than Jordan. They are martyrs of the collective drama, and its plot cannot be untangled – this is not their fault -as it currently stands by means of a society which deemed it thus and continues to do so. They have neither ‹brothers› nor ‹cousins› in States – nearby or far away – they had naively decided they could count upon: not in Cairo, not in Damascus, not in Moscow and not in Peking. They will have brothers the day on which the European and American metropolitan-based proletarians of a thieving world put an end to their cringing, shameful servitude to false priests proclaiming the myth of ‹peace›, ‹dialogue› and a ‹solidarity› made up of misbegotten hymns and mawkish petitions. They will have brothers when these selfsame proletarians (they who have inherited the few lasting conquests of a finally defunct bourgeois society and not its wealth of ignominies) finally free themselves from the dual yoke of capital and its treacherous lackeys, and joyfully accept the fraternal task of giving to those who have never received. They will have them when the Middle East ceases to make distinctions between Jordanians and Lebanese, Syrians and Iraqis, Egyptians and Saudis and recognises them instead as proletarians who know nothing of frontiers and reject the deceitful concepts of ‹race› and ‹nation›; when the enemy is identified in term of class and not ‹race› or ‹nation›; and when they unite as a single ‹people›- a single ‹unprejudiced› army – to sweep away those cops and robbers, both foreign and local, who continue to feed off their misfortunes! Sadly, as things stand, a scenario of this kind is a distant prospect, and it does not depend on us. But it must be planned for, and if it is not, then the massacres will continue, the wound will fester and the truce will remain what it has been for the last fifty years: an undying agony. It is high time that this was understood, proletarians, if their cannons aren’t to call the shots yet another time! More than ever before, you have nothing to lose and a whole world to gain». [«Non c’e via di salvezza, nel quadro dell’ordine esistente, per le vittime del cannibalismo imperialistico» in «Il Programma Comunista» no. 17/1970].