Forum for the Internationalist Communist Left
The world watches in horror as one of the most advanced armies on earth is destroying a mostly defenseless enclosed urban zone, like shooting fish in a barrel. No wonder there is widespread outrage and a worldwide demand to stop this madness. But rather than to stop the war, many leftists want to continue it, on the side of Hamas. And they want us to ignore the violence against innocents committed by their side because it was done for a good cause. Was it?
The apologists of Hamas claim that its army are indigenous freedom fighters rising up against a colonial power and that the history of colonial wars shows that these conflicts are inevitably brutal, with many innocent victims on both sides. It is up to the ‘freedom fighters” to decide how they wage their struggle, they claim, and those who support the liberation of “the Palestinian people” should not question their methods. Especially not if they are white and living in countries which had colonies themselves. Shame about the past or present behavior of “their” countries should silence any critical thought on the tactics and goals of the “anti-colonial” struggle. They are not well placed “to hand out moral lessons to the resistance.”
The apologists of the other side, the Zionists, use exactly the same argument. Shame about the past anti-Semitic persecution of Jews in Europe must silence any critique of the Zionist state. Because there was the Holocaust, because there was the Naqba: each side claims that the brutality inflicted on them justifies the brutality they use.
But it is not your skin color or country of birth which determines whether your point of view is right or wrong.
I remember a discussion I had back in 1976 with leftist friends who said we should not criticize Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge; because we were white Europeans we had no right to do so. According to them the Khmer Rouge were freedom fighters; denouncing them meant supporting US. imperialism. Today, of course, nobody seeks excuses for Pol Pot’s killing fields anymore. Yes but that was different, they might object, the Khmer Rouge mostly murdered its own people. Right. But so does Hamas.
As IP argued in Capitalism’s Death World, there is no denying that Hamas knew that its October 7 action would cause mass death and destruction in Gaza and that they chillingly decided that it was worth the price. Are we still human enough to be outraged about this sacrifice of many thousands of fellow human beings for Hamas’ lust for power?
What is Hamas fighting for?
Are “freedom fighters” like Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighting for liberation? Liberation of whom from what? Would the residents of Gaza and the West Bank be free if they lived in an Islamist Hamas state? What does that mean, “Palestine free”?
Goal and means are closely linked. Everything Hamas does – violently suppressing strikes, imprisoning and torturing opponents, killing civilians, taking children and the elderly hostage, etc. – shows what its goal is: to establish a strong state that ruthlessly tramples on the freedoms of its citizens. This past summer there were many social protests in Gaza. Demonstrations demanding water, electricity, better wages. Hamas suppressed those, but less violently than in previous years (especially in March 2019), as if they were afraid to throw oil on the fire. The spectacular Hamas outbreak of Oct. 7 followed that hot summer. A connection between the two events is not impossible. Hamas was seeking to restore its prestige, both in Gaza and the West Bank. That this action would have that consequence was a reasonable expectation. The powerlessness of the Palestinians, says the Palestine expert Emilio Minassian, « produces a logic of double resentment: desire for recognition on the one hand and for revenge on the other. ».
Hamas is no worse or more cruel than the Israeli state. They both act from a similar logic that leads to the blood shedding of the innocent. But as their means differ, so do their tactics and strategies. It is an asymmetrical conflict. Therefore, their brutality expresses itself in different ways. One chops off heads, the other lays bomb carpets. Both are terrorists because sowing terror is their main goal. Fear as a political weapon is becoming more and more the norm in our time.
Nowhere in the world is there a country that belongs to “the people.” Everywhere the land and everything on it belongs to the owners. There is not a single example of a national ‘liberation’ struggle that freed the bulk of the population from hunger and powerlessness. Every one of them has been a struggle between capitalist entities and the leftists always had a side to support.
The same leftist groups who now believe that opposing the collective punishment of Gaza implies supporting Hamas, believed that opposing the war in Vietnam implied supporting the North Vietnamese Stalinist state. Two million people died in that war. Vietnam “won”. Now it is a police state that has become a junior commercial and military partner of the country from which it “liberated” itself. Vietnamese now work in factories for the American market at wages lower than in China, with diapers on to cut toilet breaks. They now can drink coca-cola in Hanoi. Or pepsi, there’s freedom of choice.
We could go down the list of national “liberations” but that would lead us too far. Obviously, this does not mean that colonial regimes were better. That the bulk of the population in most countries that were freed from the colonial yoke live in great misery is not because of, but in spite of their national “liberation.” But it makes clear that national struggle is by definition a bourgeois struggle that does not lead to true liberation. On the contrary, especially in our time, it is an obstacle. That colonial regimes with their inherent racism were abolished is a good thing. But even of an undeniable advance such as the abolition of Apartheid in South Africa, we must see the limits. This is a country where the gap between rich and poor is among the largest in the world, where unemployment is higher than ever, where strikers are mowed down with machine guns, where undocumented workers are thrown in jail… the struggle for real freedom there has yet to begin.
Turner and Bacon
Another example used by the apologists for Hamas is the Turner rebellion. Nat Turner was a slave who led a bloody rebellion in Virginia in 1831. His goal was to kill as many whites as possible. Entire families were slaughtered. In their view, this massacre, like the Hamas massacre of October 7, was not the fault of those who committed it. It is, as Franz Fanon put it, “the violence of the colonizer that turns against the oppressor.”.
That reduces Turner and Hamas to creatures with no will of their own, no agency, just automatons that reflect the violence received like a wall reflects a tennis ball. As if they had no other choice. However, there are also examples of uprisings against oppression that did not become racial or ethnic wars. The first major rebellion in America was the Bacon Rebellion in 1676-1677. In it, poor whites and black slaves fought together against the colonial government in Virginia. They captured the then capital city of Jamestown. Only when an expeditionary army arrived from England could the rebellion be suppressed.
Black slaves and white proletarians had the same interests. Even leaving aside the moral aspect (and I certainly do not want to idealize the Bacon rebellion on that score), it should be clear that the slaves who fought with Bacon chose a much more efficient and intelligent method of struggle than those who followed Turner: an alliance based on social classes with common interests rather than on skin color or religion. The colonial powers understood this, too. The Bacon rebellion caused panic in their circles. The fear was great that white and black powerless people would fight together again. Soon after, the Virginia Slave Codes were introduced, an apartheid system that hardened the racial nature of slavery and strictly limited contact between white and black.
The inescapable reality is that the black slaves could not emancipate themselves without the help of white working class and that the black proletariat in the US. today desperately needs that supra-racial solidarity as well. The same is true for the Palestinians. They cannot liberate themselves without the support of the Israeli working class. And they cannot acquire it by, à la Turner, murdering as many Jews as possible. Just as those in power after the Bacon rebellion did everything in their power to drive white and black apart, those in power in Israel-Palestine, the Zionists and the Islamists, are doing their utmost to pit Jews and Arabs against each other. Anything to prevent Palestinian and Israeli proletarians from discovering that they have common interests.
Is this an anti-colonial war?
Israel, like the US, was created by settling mostly white Europeans on land from which most of the existing inhabitants were expelled. If you put maps from different years side by side, you can closely follow the growth of both countries and the shrinking of the territory of the “natives”. And this expulsion of natives continues. It accelerated on the West Bank under the latest hard-right Netanyahu government, and since the current war began it has been in overdrive, with the settlers as fanatical shock troops. As the US did with the Indians, the Zionist state wants to lock up Palestinians in reservations. However, Israel is not a colonial power extending its territory, it already controls the territory. What it does is managing its inhabitants, pushing them in different zones that will assure their division and thus the dominance of the state.
So while the tactics may be similar, this is not a colonial war. But as Minassian points out, there is also an ideological similarity to European colonialism:
« Israel has inherited the European logic, which consists of “animalizing” the workforce based on racial criteria, drawing a barrier between the civilized and the pre-civilized world. This paradigm is in full swing in Israel; people in Gaza are currently being slaughtered according to this logic: they are being buried under bombs with no other political purpose than to “appease” them, to remind them of the hierarchy that separates human groups in this part of the world. A dog bites, you shoot the pack. ».
He adds : « It is important to remember that the boundaries between civilized and animal are fluid. They were and are active within the Israeli-Jewish citizenship itself. Arab Jews (mizrahis) or Ethiopians (fallashas) were for a long time on the wrong side of the fence and were a kind of native auxiliary troops used to appease the other natives. ».
But colonial wars are between an indigenous population, led by cadres from the indigenous social upper class, and a foreign power that controls the state and reaps the bulk of the profits of the domestic economy. A struggle between two countries. That is not the case in Israel-Palestine, Minassian says, and in that sense, he says, the conflict is not colonial. It is, de facto, about one country, one economy, centered in Tel Aviv, of which the cities on the West Bank and Gaza are the impoverished marginalized suburbs. Gazans also use Israeli money, Israeli products, Israeli identity cards. Palestinian and Israeli proletarians are segments of the same whole. Many Palestinians from the west bank work, legally or illegally, in Israel and in the colonies. They often speak Hebrew. Minassian recounts:
« I listened for evenings to day laborers from one of the refugee camps [on the West Bank] who told me how the ethnicization of the labor force takes place on the construction sites of the Israeli capital: the construction promoters are Ashkenazi Jews, the Palestinian Israelis provide the recruitment of laborers from the occupied territories, the foremen are Sephardic Jews who also speak Arabic, etc. And then there are all the other imported proletarians: Thais, Chinese, Africans, who as undocumented immigrants are actually the worst off. None of these groups can mix with each other, each group has its own status and distinct place in the relations of production. ».
Since its founding, Israel, with mainly American help, has advanced at lightning speed. Thanks in no small part to the then massive use of Palestinian labor power, it became a strong economy, a highly developed country. But the strong growth stalled in the 1980s: stock market crash in 1983, inflation of 445 percent in 1984, record balance of payments deficit. This was followed by the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, which brought massive immigration, especially of Russian Jews. Those developments meant that Israeli industry needed much less Palestinian labor. Palestinian unemployment skyrocketed. Israel became a front runner in high-tech industry but, like no other country among the front runners, has a huge amount of “unusable” proletarians to its charge. In this sense, Minassian sees in the Israeli-Palestinian economy a metaphor for the global economy.
The Israeli state’s response to that situation was a policy of separation, of enclosing Palestinians in enclaves and handing over management of them to local subcontractors.
« This great enclosure, this operation of separation between useful and surplus proletarians on an ethno-religious basis, began at the same time as the peace process, which in reality was a process of externalization of the social control of the superfluous », Minassian says. So, in contrast to a colonial conflict:
« We find ourselves in a situation where it is less about the exploitation of an indigenous population than about the management of a surplus proletarian population, in proportions unique to the centers of capitalist accumulation. For every worker with a labor contract in Israel, there is another who is maintained in one of the large closed suburbs under Palestinian jurisdiction: the Gaza Strip and West Bank cities. Those are nearly five million proletarians parked a few kilometers from Tel Aviv, invisible, living off the sale of their labor power from day to day, guarded by soldiers so they don’t leave their cage. ».
Gaza, more so than the West Bank cities and refugee camps, is a garbage bin of the Israeli economy. Youth unemployment there exceeds 70 percent (before the current invasion). All those surplus workers survive in the marginal economy with financial help from various sources, Israel included. That money is distributed by the subcontractors, Hamas and the so-called Palestinian Authority, which also perform other state functions, primarily maintaining “order” but also raising taxes, forcing young men into their army, subduing other para-military bands etc. The subcontractors compete with each other, trying to regain their waning grip on the disillusioned Palestinian public. At the same time, they seek to strengthen their position against their client, the Israeli state. According to Minassian, therein we must look for the explanation of Hamas’ strategy. Hamas wants to make itself “incontournable”. This has nothing to do with liberation struggle.
Not a local conflict
But the internal dynamics in Israel-Palestine are only part of the story. It is also a geopolitical conflict between America and its challengers.
Israel’s creation was accompanied by a wave of decolonization, as American pressure ended most European colonial regimes after World War II. Both were the result of a global power shift from Europe to the US. A militarized white colony with a powerful, American-equipped army fitted perfectly in the US. geopolitical plans for the Middle East. And as the importance of oil resources grew, so did Israel’s importance to Washington. From the beginning, and still today, the geopolitical framework determines what happens in Israel-Palestine. In this sense, too, it is not a colonial war, but an inter-imperialist conflict. We wrote more on this in the previous article: Capitalism’s Death World. The US policy of forming a strong pro-American alliance around Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran has been an important factor. Iran is the patron of the military wing of Hamas (the “more moderate” political wing is funded by Qatar), just as the US is the patron of the IDF. Most of the money and weapons used in the war come from other countries. Only the casualties are local.
In that article, we pointed out the lack of perspective of the capitalist world order; the certainty that its crisis will deepen. The systemic crisis is destabilizing the world, is shaking existing equilibria. The rise of armament expenditures and of military conflicts is a global trend. Frozen fronts are melting, become active again: in Ukraine, in Africa, in Karabagh and now in Gaza. Not new conflicts but existing ones that suddenly flare high. It is to be expected that more powder kegs will explode in the coming years.
How to manage and control the unusable parts of the labor force becomes more and more a central problem in the capitalist world order. Israel may be a forerunner in that regard. What is happening now in Gaza, according to Minassian, « not war, but the control of the surplus proletariat with military means corresponding to total war, by a democratic, civilized state that is part of the central accumulation bloc ». The thousands of deaths in Gaza, he continued, « paint a terrifying picture of the future – of the coming crises of capitalism ».
Capitalism seems to have entered a new period in which war plays a growing role. A period in which we learn to admire soldiers and ‘freedom fighters’, applaud or turn a blind eye to mass murder, consider death and destruction for the fatherland normal, and take sides in conflicts in which ordinary people are always the losers.
Liberation will not come through war and terrorist attacks but through solidarity and consciousness of the common interests of the collective worker, regardless color or creed. When we reach those we will know what to do. Everything that hinders their growth stands in the way of true liberation. First and foremost, nationalism, separation of people on an ethno-religious or racial basis. So down with those Palestinian and Israeli flags, down with slogans like "Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea" : that is a war cry, not a call to stop the war. Stopping the war instead of fighting in it, that must be the first demand now. Cease-fire now! Release the hostages now! Unlock Gaza now! Stop the pogroms on the West Bank now! No to antisemitism, no to islamophobia! Enough pain, enough blood, build solidarity on an anti-nationalist basis!
Sanderr, 11/15/2023 Internationalist Perspective
This mural and the one on top are made by Banksy in Gaza