by Daniel Hugo
Originally published in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No. 8 (November 1982)
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon has resulted in a shattering military defeat for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Leaving 50,000 dead – mostly Lebanese civilians – and hundreds of thousands homeless, it has added a savage new twist to the spiral of crisis, repression and mass upheaval in the Middle East.
A direct result of the invasion has been the brutal murder of 2,000 men, women and children in the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut on 16-18 September. Nothing could have brought out more starkly the bitter divisions and sectarian hatred stoked up among the peoples of the region under the domination of capitalism and imperialism.
The Israeli government has admitted responsibility for sending the right-wing Christian (‘Phalangist’) butchers into the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila to ‘flush out’ any remaining PLO guerrillas. Under the eyes of the Israeli forces on the edges of the camps, the Phalangists set about slaughtering the helpless inhabitants.
After two days the orgy of killing reached a gruesome climax:
“Camp residents were gunned down wherever they were found. Men were chained together and dragged behind a jeep. Throats were slit, genitals and breasts sliced off. Doctors were killed in hospitals and patients in their beds.”
A journalist of the London Times, entering Chatila the next day, described the aftermath:
“Down every alley-way there were corpses—women, young men, babies and grandparents—lying together…where they had been knifed or machine-gunned to death (20 September).
As these revelations filtered through to the outside world, fury and revulsion spread among the masses of the Arab countries and working people throughout the world.
On the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan, spontaneous demonstrations by thousands of Palestinians broke out in many areas. In Israel itself, unprecedented anger erupted among the Jewish population, leading to violent protests against the right-wing government of Menachim Begin and culminating in a rally of 400,000 people—one in seven of the total population of Israel, Jews and Arabs combined.
Abroad, the US and other Western governments arming and propping up Israel were forced to express “shock” at these atrocities. A ‘peace-keeping’ force of US, French and Italian troops was sent to Beirut—in reality to back up the newly installed Phalangist regime of the Gemayels.
The Arab regimes have looked on passively, denouncing Israel from the sidelines. The Syrian forces in the east of Lebanon made no serious attempt to halt the Israeli invasion.
In Morocco, the Arab League (of Arab states) held a special meeting on 22 September—but could agree on no action except a protest by Arab ambassadors in Washington.
The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon now find themselves in an even more desperate position than before. Disarmed and helpless, they are at the mercy of their bloodthirsty enemies.
Terrible though the setbacks of the past months have been however, the national struggle of the Palestinian people will continue. Workers in South Africa and the world over will support their Palestinian brothers and sisters as they seek a way out of their impasse.
How can the problems of the Palestinians and all the oppressed people of the Middle East be resolved? This question can only be answered by carefully examining the developments which gave rise to the present situation.
Armed with a scientific understanding of events, the workers of the Middle East will be able to develop policies for achieving national and social liberation: and workers internationally, learning the lessons of the struggle, will be able to give them effective support.
During this century the Middle East has become increasingly vital to the imperialist powers on account of its strategic position but above all its enormous oil reserves.
Up to 1918 most of the area had formed part of the Turkish empire, which sided with Germany in the First World War and was defeated by British and Arab armies. In a secret agreement in 1916, the region was carved up between Britain, France and Tsarist Russia.
During the 1920s, British and French imperialism further split up the Middle East by handing over pieces of land to puppet rulers. In the French zone, Lebanon was set up as a separate state dominated by the Christian bourgeoisie on the basis of compromise with the leaders of the Druze and Moslem peasantry.
The British zone was split into three parts—Palestine, Jordan (originally called Transjordan) and Iraq (Mesopotamia)—with Arab princes tied to Britain being installed in Jordan and Iraq.
As in the rest of the colonial world mass poverty was perpetuated and worsened under imperialist domination.
In Palestine (the present-day Israel) as in other Arab countries, a small Jewish minority—about 11% of the population in 1920—lived side by side with the Arab majority. However, the class struggle internationally was to produce dire consequences for the territory.
In Europe—and Eastern Europe in particular, where the majority of the world’s Jewish population were living at the time—anti-Semitism had been cultivated by the ruling classes as a means of splitting the working masses and fighting against the social revolution. In reaction to this persecution the Zionist movement developed, led by the Jewish bourgeoisie, calling for an independent homeland for the Jews.
Palestine, where the Jews had lived in ancient times, was chosen as the site for this homeland. The Zionist leaders, with considerable finance available, systematically bought land there from Arab landowners for the purpose of creating Jewish settlements.
Initially, Zionism had no echo among Jewish workers even in Tsarist Russia. While hundreds of thousands fled to the USA, only a handful went to Palestine.
But in the 1920s British imperialism, practising its classical policies of divide-and-rule, began to encourage Jewish immigration. Increasingly, Palestinian peasants were squeezed from the land while the Jewish settlers, highly organised, began laying the foundations for the future Israeli state.
The Arab ruling class connived at this whole process, profiting from the cheap labour of the dispossessed peasants. At the same time, the creeping occupation or Palestine laid the basis for explosive national divisions between the Jewish and Arab masses.
Stubborn resistance against dispossession, building up among the Palestinian masses, led to violent upheavals in 1920 and 1929. With the general strike of 1936, the Palestinian working class paralysed the country and confronted the rulers of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan with the threat of spreading revolt.
Thus, as in other colonial countries, the working class emerged at an early stage as a force that could spearhead the struggle for national and social liberation.
But the Arab regimes, acting on British instructions, succeeded in pressurising the Palestinian leadership to call off the general strike.
Without a revolutionary leadership, the stage was set for middle-class nationalist leaders to derail the movement onto lines of class-collaboration.
The independence demanded by these leaders had nothing in common with the national and social aspirations of the masses. The Palestinian leaders looked for support to an unstable alliance of Arab kings and rulers paying lip service only to the struggle of the Palestinian people.
False perspectives lead to false policies. Diplomatic wheeling and dealing developed in place of a revolutionary campaign for support by the workers’ movement internationally: guerilla action involving an armed minority took the place of mass mobilisation.
It was the lack of a revolutionary leadership, more than any other factor, which paralysed the Palestinian workers and peasants and made possible the establishment of the Zionist state in their country.
The Jewish state
The main concern of the imperialist powers has always been to suppress the threat of revolution from the exploited Arab masses. While British and later US imperialism have maintained their alliances with reactionary Arab rulers, the cornerstone of their policy has been to build up the Jewish state as a bastion of capitalist power in the region.
The decisive impulse for the creation of Israel was given by the barbarous persecution of the Jews in Europe by the German Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. Six million Jews were massacred during this period and millions more fled for their lives.
In Palestine, Jewish immigration rose sharply in the 1930s. This was followed after the war by a flood of destitute Jewish refugees. By 1948 the Jewish population had risen to 600,000 out of a total of two million people.
In 1947 the British authorities handed over the Palestinian question to the United Nations. The UN resolved on partition, dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors. The ‘solution’, in reality, set the seal on the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.
With partition, the simmering national conflict—at root a class conflict between expropriators and expropriated—erupted into war. Mass pressure forced the regimes in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to move against Israel.
But the Arab armies were crushingly defeated. The war of 1948-9 ended with big territorial gains for Israel, while the remnants of the Palestinian sector—the West Bank and the Gaza strip—were occupied by Jordan and Egypt.
Before 1948, 250,000 Palestinians had been pushed from their land by Jewish occupation. The war of partition was used by the Zionist leadership to expel a further 800,000 – the vast majority of the Arab population.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced into ‘temporary’ camps in the Arab countries, where the regimes have confined them ever since. Many found work in the Gulf states as the oil industry developed. A small bourgeois minority were able to go into comfortable ‘exile’ in the USA and Europe.
The ruthless dispersal of the Palestinian people has led to acute new contradictions inflaming the already crisis-ridden Middle East. Among the Arab masses, hatred of the Israeli regime and its imperialist backers was sharpened. This, above all, forced the decrepit Arab rulers into conflict with Israel.
Thus the struggle over Palestine took on the dimensions of a conflict between nations. War, once begun, develops a momentum of its own. Since 1948, full-scale wars have been fought in 1956, 1967 and 1973, apart from numerous border clashes.
Each new trial of strength has confirmed again Israel’s overwhelming military superiority. This superiority has stemmed not so much from technical factors as from the make-up of Israeli society compared with the Arab states.
From the beginning, the Israeli state was geared to sustain the maximum productive and military effort. A Zionist militia had been formed as early as 1920, together with an administrative network and a trade union apparatus, to consolidate the Jewish settlement of Palestine.
Today, every Israeli citizen is regarded as a soldier with eleven months annual leave.
Immigration from the West brought the most advanced skills and technical knowledge to Israel. Though economically bankrupt, the new state was kept afloat by massive doses of foreign aid (mainly from the US) totalling $31,500 million between 1948 and 1977. The dispossession of the peasantry gave scope for the development of advanced agriculture.
These factors enabled the Israeli economy to be developed far more quickly than the Arab states.
The essence of Israeli military power, however, has been the political force of Jewish nationalism tying the working people to the ruling class and the state.
The message of ‘national unity’ plus ‘military preparedness’ has been preached by the labour leaders as well as religious and capitalist leaders. For as long as an expanding economy made possible improvements in living standards, militant nationalism seemed the only way forward in the face of the bankrupt Arab regimes.
The result has been the most highly motivated conscript army in the world.
The Arab revolution
The Arab states, not enjoying the special conditions on which Israel’s growth and strength have been based, have remained sunk in the poverty and backwardness which capitalism has imposed on the colonial world in general. Even their oil wealth, during this period, was largely siphoned off by the Western oil companies. What remained has been hoarded or squandered by the sheiks and reactionary ruling classes.
Presiding over mass destitution and centuries-old repression, the Arab rulers have been much less successful than their Israeli counterparts at papering over divisions between the classes. In contrast to Israel, the Arab countries have constantly seethed with revolutionary tensions.
In Egypt the rotten monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by an officers’ coup which set out (in the words of its leader, Colonel Nasser) to “establish a clean, fair government which would work sincerely for the good of the people”. The utter bankruptcy of Egyptian capitalism, however, combined with the stranglehold of foreign imperialism, made it impossible to carry through the reforms so desperately needed by the masses.
Some land was divided among the peasantry; but Nasser’s regime had no programme for abolishing capitalism and landlordism. Thus it was trapped between the conflicting pressures of the capitalists, landowners, workers and peasants—none of which it was able to satisfy.
Its reaction, like every regime in crisis, was to concentrate power more and more into its own hands, in an attempt to impose stability on society from above. But the limitations of Nasser’s Bonapartist regime only gradually made themselves felt in the consciousness of the masses. For a period, Nasser’s message of social reform and Pan-Arab nationalism seemed to offer a new way forward to the downtrodden people of the Arab world.
Following the revolutionary tremors in Egypt, social unrest convulsed Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in turn. In Syria, these struggles resulted in the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Syria was in a state of intense instability. One pro-capitalist regime was toppled by another, only to be toppled in turn.
With every possible method of capitalist rule exhausted, the Ba’ath Socialist regime that took power in 1963 resorted to radical measures against the monopolies. The capitalists, landlords and merchants resisted. Following a further coup in 1966 by more left-wing junior officers, a full-scale revolutionary confrontation developed.
Faced with an imperialist-backed military counter-revolution, the regime appealed to the masses for support. In their hundreds of thousands, peasants and workers were armed. Capitalism and landlordism were crushed, with 85% of the land and 95% of industry being nationalised by the Ba’ath regime.
But power remained with the military leadership; the workers and peasants were disarmed again. The regime transformed the economic basis of the country into that of a workers’ state, resting on state ownership and central planning. But the regime itself was Bonapartist—in Marxist terms, “proletarian Bonapartist” as opposed to the “bourgeois Bonapartist” regimes in the capitalist states like Egypt—with a narrow, nationalist perspective, becoming increasingly privileged and remote from the people.
Freed from capitalist fetters, the Syrian economy could take some strides ahead. A third of the landless peasants were given land, and industry expanded. But within the confines of a backward country, under the rule of a military-bureaucratic elite, the development of society was inevitably limited and distorted.
Inequality, the oppression of national minorities and women, and all the other problems of poverty and dictatorship can only he eliminated in Syria through a further, political revolution.
Power must be conquered by the working people in the context of a revolution leading to the overthrow at capitalism in Israel, Turkey and internationally. This alone can create the conditions for workers’ democracy and harmonious social development in a backward country like Syria.
Compared with a capitalist country like Egypt, therefore, the immediate results of the Syrian revolution could not be measured in terms of spectacular economic advance. The fundamental difference is rather that in Syria, with capitalism and landlordism decisively defeated, the reforms could no longer be turned back without a full-scale counter-revolution.
In Egypt, on the other hand, Nasser moved to the brink of over-throwing capitalism—but then turned back. The power of the ruling class, based on private property, remained essentially intact. As would be seen in the 1970s, a shift in policy by the regime could restore them to their former position, while destroying the gains of the peasants and workers.
These examples show that the Arab states have remained shot through with national contradictions and bitter social conflict. The revolutionary pressure of the working people, lacking a socialist leadership, has failed to resolve the fundamental crisis in any of those countries.
Class rule and class divisions have inevitably spilled over into the armed forces. Even in Syria, as in the capitalist states, the downtrodden workers and peasants in uniform have remained under the command of an officer elite drawn from the upper strata of society.
War against Israel, for the Arab soldiers, is not a struggle for survival. Hatred of the enemy in front is off-set by hostility towards the oppressor in the rear. Victory over Israel, without social revolution, promises no improvement of their conditions—indeed it would consolidate the power of their present rulers.
Poorly trained, badly led and politically unmotivated in comparison with the Israeli forces, the Arab soldiers could not fight with the elan of a revolutionary army of liberation. This has been the fundamental reason for their impotence in the face of the Israelis.
The expulsion of the Palestinians from their country was followed by reprisals against Jewish communities that had lived for centuries in the Arab states. Hundreds of thousands fled to Israel, filled with fear and hatred of Arab rule.
The Jewish population of Israel swelled to 1,300,000 between 1948 and 1951. Overnight, the former Palestinian majority had become an oppressed minority in Israel. Formally they were allowed democratic rights; in reality they were impotent and discriminated against.
The Palestinian nationalist leadership, however, remained wedded to the seemingly ‘practical’ policy of relying on the Arab regimes for support. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), formed in 1964 as an umbrella body of various political and military groups, was accepted by the Arab heads of state in 1974 as “sole legal representative of the Palestinian people”.
This “legal” status, while providing the PLO leadership with diplomatic credentials, at the same time shackled them to all the contradictions, bankruptcy and impotence of the most reactionary Arab rulers.
Caught in this impasse of leadership, the Palestinian struggle has been agonised and prolonged.
From the 1950s Palestinian militancy, denied the avenue of revolutionary mass struggle, has spilled over into sporadic guerilla attacks on Israeli settlements along the borders of Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. The Israeli regime, systematically developing its military machine, has hit back with increasing viciousness.
The Arab ‘front-line’ states, while compelled to give refuge to the Palestinians, could not afford protracted border wars against a vastly superior enemy. Unable to beat back Israel, they attempted to curb the Palestinian guerillas.
The greatest menace to the Arab rulers, however, was the possibility of a revolutionary alliance between the Palestinian refugees and the workers and peasants in the Arab countries. Highly politicised and with access to arms, the Palestinians faced much the same intolerable conditions as the masses in the Arab states themselves.
Nothing but the policy of the PLO leadership headed them off from taking their place immediately in the vanguard of the Arab revolution.
In Lebanon and Jordan, however, even these policies could not prevent revolutionary crises from throwing the armed Palestinians into conflict with the Arab regimes.
In Jordan, the reactionary Bonapartist regime of King Hussein was despised and isolated. The Palestinians, with close ties to the Arab population, actually formed a majority of the people in Jordan.
By 1969, a state of dual power had developed between the Palestinian forces and the forces of the King. Even the Jordanian army was divided between the regime and the pull of the mass movement.
Objectively, all the conditions existed for the overthrow of Hussein and the taking of power by the working people, which could have paved the way for revolution throughout the Middle East.
But the PLO leaders had no intention of following this road. In January 1970 Hussein attempted to clamp down on the guerillas. In the struggles that followed, the guerillas won control of half the capital, Amman—but Hussein was allowed to remain in control of the state.
By September Hussein, encouraged by the weakness of the PLO leadership, was ready for a showdown. Demonstrations and uprisings in most Jordanian towns showed the depth of revolutionary ferment. In the north, the Palestinians took over towns and territory; the town of Irbid was declared the “First Arab Soviet”.
Yet no programme was put forward by the PLO leadership, and no country-wide lead was given, to draw in the Jordanian soldiers and guide the working class towards the capture or power. On 17 September Hussein (with Israeli and US troops ready to support him) threw his elite Beduin troops against the guerillas. PLO leader Arafat signed a ceasefire agreement on 23 September—and publicly reconciled himself with Hussein.
But sporadic fighting continued until July 1971, when the Jordanian army could finally be sent in to crush Palestinian resistance. Over 10,000 were killed, including many refugees; thousands of guerillas were captured or fled to Lebanon—their last base for across-the-border raids on Israel.
The Jordanian regime, an Israeli officer summed up, had “killed more guerillas in one year than we did in ten.”
The dead end of terrorism
The PLO’s policy of guerilla attacks on Israel has proved equally futile and disastrous.
Militarily these raids were mere pinpricks; but they served the Israeli regime as a pretext for massive retaliation against Palestinians in exile, and for tightening the screws on those in Israel. Politically, guerilla struggle could neither mobilise nor show a way forward to the masses in the West Bank and Gaza, the refugees, or the Palestinian workers in the Arab states.
Nor could it lead to the political isolation and defeat of the Israeli regime. The PLO leadership failed to understand that the victories of guerilla armies in some third-world countries—notably in China and Cuba—had only been possible under radically different social conditions.
With capitalism very feeble, with power held by weak, unstable regimes of capitalists and landlords, and with imperialism on the defensive, peasant armies were able to defeat these regimes. Later, in Vietnam, even the support of big US forces could not save the Thieu regime.
The result in each case was the collapse of capitalism and landlordism and the transfer of power to the guerilla leadership. This gave rise to deformed workers’ states modelled on that in the Soviet Union, on which the guerilla leaders depended for support.
Fighting to overthrow a developed capitalist state, however, there was no prospect of victory for the PLO’s guerilla strategy. Substituting for the social struggle a series or armed clashes between Palestinian guerillas and the Israeli military, it ensured the polarisation of Israeli society along national lines—thus swinging the Jewish majority overwhelmingly behind the regime.
The only road out of this impasse lay in developing a programme, strategy and tactics that could link the Palestinian struggle to the one force capable of defeating the Israeli regime and carrying through the revolutionary transformation of the Middle East—the working class inside and outside Israel, mobilised and armed.
In the absence of a socialist leadership, however, the ideas and traditions of guerillaism tended to push Palestinian activists further down the same dead-end street. Driven to despair by the ineffectiveness of the leadership, some resorted to what they saw as ‘more revolutionary’ tactics—known, in the language of Marxism, as individual terrorism.
A series of aeroplane hijackings were launched by the ‘Marxist’ Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (one of the groups in the PLO) during the late 1960s. This provoked merciless Israeli retaliation, and sparked off a new spiral of terror.
A climax was reached with the massacre of civilians at Lod airport (near Tel Aviv) by pro-Palestinian Japanese terrorists in 1972, and the murder of Israeli athletes at the Olympic games by Palestinian terrorists during the same year. These were followed by savage Israeli raids into Syria arid Lebanon, sowing death and destruction among the refugees.
In these and later events, the impotence of the terrorist groups was exposed. Random and bloody attacks on civilians could never take the place of an armed, revolutionary mass movement. The PLO leadership has itself admitted that terrorism has been counter-productive.
While reducing the Palestinian workers to mere onlookers at the ‘armed struggle’, it has pushed Jewish workers more solidly than ever behind the regime. It is the terrorist atrocities of the early 1970s, and not the ‘fine print’ in the PLO constitution about a democratic state in Palestine, that has left a lasting impression in the minds of Jewish workers as to what the PLO leadership stand for.
This bitter climate prepared the way for the coming to power of the reactionary Begin government in 1977.
Crisis of leadership
The spiral of terror, once begun, can be cut across only by great events. Bombings and assassinations by Palestinians, met with Israeli counter-terror, have continued. Political or military setbacks for the Palestinian struggle have been followed by futile acts of ‘revenge’ – and even more savage Israeli reaction.
This reflects the crisis of Palestinian leadership. The bankrupt policies of the PLO have left a seething hotbed of anger and frustration in the refugee camps. In the absence of a clear revolutionary lead, linking the national liberation of the Palestinian people to the socialist transformation of the Middle East, a basis will remain for new waves of terrorism.
This danger is especially great in the present situation, following the humiliating defeat of the PLO in Lebanon.
What is the alternative to a dismal future of continued oppression,
slaughter and counter-slaughter? How can the Palestinian workers, and all the
working people of the Middle East – including the Israeli workers – achieve a
genuine solution to their problems?
Originally published in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No. 9 (February-April 1983)
What lies at the root of the conflict between Israel and the Arab states, which led to the war in Lebanon and the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut?
The first part of this article described the historical development of the crisis in the Middle East—how the region and its peoples were fragmented by imperialism, and how Jewish immigration into Palestine laid the basis for the emergence of Israel as the main bastion of imperialist power in the region after World War II.
The struggle of the Palestinian people expelled from Israel remains the central issue in the Middle East. Scattered throughout the Arab world, with hundreds of thousands still trapped in refugee camps, the Palestinian workers and peasants cannot solve their problems except through the revolutionary overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes as well as the Israeli regime.
But how can this be done? The policies of the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have proved completely bankrupt. They have relied on the support of the rotten Arab regimes in waging war against Israel.
But the backward Arab states, wracked by national and class oppression, have not been able to match the military power of the modern state of Israel, based on the cohesion of the Jewish population in the face of external attack.
Palestinian guerilla attacks have been mere pinpricks, enraging the Israelis and leading to savage reprisals. This in turn, has sparked off terrorist counter-attacks by embittered Palestinian youth.
The result has been a horrifying spiral of violence, which has swung the Jewish workers even more solidly behind the Israeli regime.
The second part of the article examines the way forward for the Palestinian workers and peasants, and the working people of the whole Middle East, on the basis of Marxist policies.
Against the purely military challenge of the Arab states, the PLO leadership and the terrorist groups alike, the Israeli regime has proved invincible. But, under the pressure of 35 years of continuous crisis, all the factors that led to Israel’s military preponderance have increasingly turned into factors of social instability.
The policies of massive immigrations so vital to the military effort, threw together in Israel a Jewish population deeply divided within itself, united only in war against the Arab regimes.
The ‘Western’ Jews (from the USA, Europe etc.) have formed the upper, most privileged layer. The ‘Eastern’ Jews who fled from the Arab states found themselves second-class citizens in Israel, serving as cheap labour next to the Arab ‘third-class’ citizens.
Because of their experience at the hands of the Arab regimes, the Eastern Jews have backed the right-wing Zionist parties. The more liberal parties, including the Labour Party which ruled Israel from 1948 to 1977, have found their support mainly among the Westernised middle class and the upper layers of workers.
The 1977 election victory of the right-wing Likud coalition, led by the former terrorist Begin, reflected this split.
Thirty years of Labour-led governments had failed utterly to solve any of the problems facing Israel. With policies only marginally different from those or other Zionist parties, Labour had led the country into a state of permanent war.
The economy, hit by world recession and strained by its military burden, had sunk into a mire. Total growth for 1976-77 was a mere 2.6%, while inflation had been more than 30% for five consecutive years.
These conditions weighed most heavily on the workers. The number of work-days lost in strikes nearly doubled from 1975 to 1976. In 1976, three-quarters of the strikes officially recorded were due to wage demands.
Tainted with corruption and offering no perspective of improvement, Labour massively lost votes to Likud.
The most potent factor in rallying support behind Begin, however, were the activities of the Palestinian terrorist groups. Begin, in the eyes of the Jewish voters, stood for a hardline policy and seemed more capable of commanding the armed fortress Israel had become.
But Begin’s policies for shoring up the capitalist economy, no less hard-line than his foreign policy, have weighed most heavily on precisely the poorer, ‘Eastern’ workers who have given him their vote. The result has been deepening class tensions and a climate of chronic industrial unrest.
These problems, however, have been overshadowed and compounded by the inability of the ruling class to solve the national question. Their policies of armed repression, far from crushing the Palestinian struggle, have in fact laid the basis for new and greater revolutionary upheavals in the future.
Through military victories the Israeli regime has made considerable territorial gains. The 1967 war, ending in the occupation of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, brought the whole of the former Palestine under Israeli control.
From the military point of view this expansion has been essential to the Israeli rulers. Their pre-1967 borders were difficult to secure. The West Bank, in particular, formed an Arab enclave thrust into the centre of Israel, placing Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem within range of Arab guns and rockets.
But having conquered the West Bank, the regime needed to hold it. The initial pretence that the occupation was only temporary has been dropped. Thousands of Jewish settlers are being moved onto the West Bank, forcing Arabs off the land. Begin has made it clear that his government will never allow the West Bank to be returned to Arab rule.
By driving the Arab forces off the Golan Heights and across the River Jordan, the work of the Israeli generals has been simplified. Socially, however, it has confronted the regime with new contradictions.
1,300,000 Palestinians inhabiting the West Bank and Gaza have been brought under Israel’s rule, greatly diluting the preponderance of the more than three million strong Jewish population on which the power of the ruling class depends. The people of the occupied territories have been denied democratic rights, first being placed under military rule and later under a no less repressive civilian administration.
These measures, far from breaking the spirit of the Arab population, could only harden their resentment. In effect, the regime has incorporated into Israel, for the first time since 1948, a basis for mass struggle against its rule.
On the West Bank and in Israel itself, the ‘Arab’ Communist Party, Rakah (a separate organisation from the ‘Jewish’ Communist Party’), became the focus of Arab opposition. Rakah mayors and town councils (subject to the arbitrary power of the Israeli administration) were elected in many West Bank towns. In Israel, Rakah’s share of the Arab vote rose from 11% in 1970 to 50% in 1977.
In the 1977 elections, Rakah formed an electoral alliance with a section of the radical ‘Black Panther’ movement among the Eastern Jews, and increased its members in parliament from four to five. This reflected the potential for uniting the struggles of the Palestinian masses with that of the oppressed Jews.
The Rakah leadership, however, instead of putting forward a socialist programme for the transformation of Israel and the liberation of the occupied territories, have declared their support for the bankrupt nationalism of the PLO leadership.
While offering no perspective for the Arab masses, this policy could only alienate the vast majority of Jewish workers and deepen national divisions.
On the West Bank, militancy among the Arab population has erupted again and again into strikes, demonstrations and riots. Inevitably, however, Rakah’s failure to lead this movement and develop its enormous revolutionary potential has doomed it to setbacks and stagnation.
In one town after another, the Israeli authorities have deposed the elected municipal leadership and installed puppet ‘Village Leagues’ in their place. Village League leaders have had to be armed to protect them against the anger of ‘their’ people.
Despite the heroism and personal martyrdom of many local leaders, despite massive support among the working population, Rakah has stood by helplessly and allowed the Israeli regime to clamp down.
The policies of the PLO itself far from giving a lead or defending the mass struggles, have taken fresh layers of youth into the dead-end of exile guerilla camps.
Yet the possibility remains on the West Bank for new, mass-based struggles taking on a revolutionary momentum, throwing up new leadership and carrying across to the Arab workers in Israel and the Arab states. This perspective, a nightmare to the Israeli rulers, far overshadows any military threat to their power.
Increasingly, Israel’s military blows against the PLO in exile have been aimed not only at the PLO itself but also at the morale of the West Bank population.
This was clearly the case with the invasion of Lebanon last June. “From the outset of the fighting”, reported the London Times (5 August 1982), “Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defence Minister, has made no secret that the aims of the invasion extend not only to lsrael’s most northerly region but also to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
” ‘The bigger the blow and the more we damage the PLO infrastructure, the more the Arabs in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] will be ready to negotiate with us and establish coexistence’ Mr Sharon predicted…”
In the longer term, however, the shock created among the Palestinian masses by lsrael’s ruthless action will wear off. To the dispossessed workers and peasants there is no alternative but struggle; and each temporary setback will harden and educate them further.
While fanning the fires of national hatred, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon has at the same time sharpened the social contradictions in Israel itself.
At the beginning of the war there was overwhelming support in Israel for Begin’s stated aim of removing the PLO rockets and artillery from within range of the northern Israeli villages. Even when it became clear that Sharon intended to go all the way to Beirut to drive out the PLO forces altogether, there remained a groundswell of support.
But the destruction of Tyre and Sidon, and the ruthless bombing of Beirut, brought horrifying numbers of civilian casualties as well as a growing number of Israeli dead. Alarm and revulsion began to spread among the Israeli population, at first on the university campuses, later among sections of the working class.
Massive anti-war demonstrations took place. Even the Israeli military was affected, with reservists on active duty protesting against the war. Anti-war leaflets and newspapers circulated among the troops. The army’s best young commander resigned over his disagreement with the aims and conduct of the war.
An Israeli soldier describes the mood within the army: “You clean out one apartment block and before going on to the next one, while you are resting, an argument breaks out: yes PLO, no PLO; yes a just war, no a just war. During the actual fighting we were having these political discussions.”
Such opposition is unprecedented in Israel, especially in wartime. Then followed the Chatila and Sabra massacre, throwing the country into political turmoil never before experienced.
This was reflected, for instance, in the amazing vote of senior army officers overwhelmingly calling for Sharon’s resignation.
Even when the immediate tensions wear off, the war will have sown seeds for future struggles between the classes and layers of Israeli society.
What the Lebanese and Palestinians have paid in blood, the Israeli workers will have to pay in money, falling living standards and lengthened military service. The total financial cost of the war has been put at $1,600 million, or 5% of Israel’s Gross National Product. This is a crippling burden to an economy already in hopeless crisis, propped up by US aid.
Inflation is now running at a staggering 130%. Israel’s foreign debt totals $18,000 million, i.e. approaching that of Poland, but with a population and an economy only a fraction of the size. Interest and repayments came to $2,200 million in 1981—equivalent to total US aid.
To pay the war bill, the government is cutting $200 million from non-military spending. Value-added tax has been put up from 12% to 15% and there will be a compulsory ‘war loan’, equalling about 6% of take-home pay, deducted from workers’ wages.
But Israeli workers will not be prepared to make endless sacrifices. New struggles will blow up as the ruling class try to unload the burdens of the crisis onto their shoulders.
El Al strike
These tensions have been reflected in the struggles by workers of the national airline, El Al, towards the end of 1982 when, after a five-week strike, the government attempted to shut it down. In one incident, workers stormed the building where management was meeting and prevented them from taking the decision to close.
In another protest, workers closed down Lod airport, driving back the riot police and forcing the government to retreat—events remarkable even by the militant traditions of Israeli industrial struggles.
The airliner was later ‘saved’ when the trade union leadership agreed to wage cuts, job losses and loss of fringe benefits—a recipe for continuing bitterness and future struggles by the workers.
On a capitalist basis, being used to defend imperialist interests, Israeli workers have no better prospect before them than continuing wars and permanent armed siege. More and more among them will become receptive to socialist ideas, showing them a way to peace, security and democratic rights for the Palestinians as well as the Jews—if such an alternative were to be put.
But thus far the only programme advanced by any section or the Israeli labour leadership has been based on virulent nationalism while, on the other hand, Jewish workers have been confronted with the political dictatorship and economic backwardness represented by the Arab regimes and their clients in the PLO leadership.
It is the crisis of leadership among the Palestinian as well as the Israeli masses that has continued to trap the Israeli workers in the camp or the imperialist bourgeoisie. Only the ideas of Marxism can show them a way out.
A society ripe for revolution
In every Arab country conditions are ripening for revolution. Mass poverty, illiteracy, disease, starvation and homelessness, side by side with spectacular wealth in the hands of oil-rich rulers, sum up the hopeless incapacity of capitalism and landlordism to take the Arab countries forward.
Even in imperialism’s showcase, Israel, capitalism can provide no security for the relatively privileged Jewish workers, let alone the Arabs.
Because of the national, religious and communal divisions created in the Middle East by centuries of feudal and capitalist rule, the seething discontent among all sections of the masses will tend to find expression in struggles on national, religious or sectional lines. Every mass struggle, however, will reflect aspirations that cannot be realised on a capitalist basis, and will come into conflict with the capitalist order.
Nowhere is the revolutionary potential greater than among the Palestinian people, especially the Palestinian working class on the West Bank, in Israel and in the different Arab states.
A revolutionary movement of the Palestinian workers, drawing behind them the Palestinian masses as a whole, would usher in a period of decisive struggle for the socialist transformation of the Middle East. The greatest obstacle to such a development has been the existing PLO leadership and their policy of collaboration with the Arab regimes.
The Arab ruling classes have never been remotely concerned about the interests of the Palestinian people, any more than they have been concerned about the interests of the workers and peasants in their own countries. During 1949 to 1967, when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza, the rulers of Jordan and Egypt cynically confined the Palestinian refugees to camps, maintaining them as open sores to divert the anger of the masses onto the external enemy, Israel.
By building up the Sadats, King Husseins etc. as the ‘friends’ of the Palestinian people, the PLO leaders have for years disarmed and disoriented the movement.
In Jordan, in ‘Black September’ 1970 (dealt with in Part I), the Palestinian masses paid in blood for the refusal of their leaders to wage the struggle on a class basis.
Again in Lebanon in 1975, a revolutionary crisis opened up, placing the tasks of overthrowing capitalism and landlordism on the immediate agenda. The simmering class tensions erupted into civil war between the militias of the predominantly Christian right and the predominantly Moslem left.
Radical Palestinian guerilla forces were drawn in on the side of the left. The PLO leadership, however, tried not to be involved.
Only in January 1976, when right-wing militias attacked the Palestinian refugee camps, were the PLO leaders forced into the struggle.
The right-wing offensive was beaten back. The Lebanese army fell apart. Outright victory over the forces of the ruling class was within reach of the Palestinians and the Lebanese left.
This prospect alarmed the Israeli regime and the capitalist class internationally; but Israeli or Western intervention at this stage would have inflamed the struggle even further. It was left to the Syrian regime to deal with the situation.
Nominally supporting the Palestinian cause, the Syrian ruling elite is in reality committed even more to maintaining the uneasy status quo in the region. The overthrow of capitalism in Lebanon would have opened a volcano on its very borders, involving certain conflict with Israel and heightening revolutionary tensions throughout the region.
For these reasons the Syrian regime was concerned no less than the capitalists to halt the developing revolution in Lebanon. In January 1976, with the connivance of the US and Israel, Syrian-controlled Palestinian forces were sent into Lebanon to prevent victory by the left.
The revolution now entered its decisive phase. So powerful was the attraction of the revolutionary movement that the Syrian-controlled Palestinian forces disintegrated and crossed en masse to their brothers and sisters.
The PLO leaders, commanding the bulk of the left forces, carried the main responsibility for achieving victory. No other option remained now except to mobilise and arm the Lebanese workers and peasants for the expropriation of the ruling class and the crushing of the right-wing militias—and, at the same lime, to launch an all-out campaign for the support of the working masses in Syria and throughout the Arab world.
Such a policy, however, was alien to the PLO leadership. Not only had they failed to involve themselves with the day-to-day struggles of the Lebanese population; their militias were isolated from the local workers and regarded virtually as an army of occupation.
Thus, when the Syrian army invaded four months later, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. By September it had broken Palestinian and left resistance, and reinstated the bourgeois regime in office. The Arab heads of state—the ‘allies’ of the PLO leadership—gave their blessing to the Syrian invasion, renaming the Syrian army in Lebanon the “Arab Deterrent Force”.
An opportunity for the revolutionary seizure of power, once lost, cannot easily be regained. The ruling class, permitted to recover control, will want to stamp out the remaining opposition. The workers and peasants, disoriented and shaken, will be faced with worsening odds as the forces of reaction gather momentum.
The manner and form of counter-revolution, like that of revolution, will depend on the nature and the leadership of the class forces opposed to each other. In Lebanon, the bourgeois regime remained suspended in mid-air. Syrian forces occupied half the country. Israel watched the southern border. The rest was split between thy Christian militias and the remaining pockets of Palestinian control, mainly in the cities.
The forces of counter-revolution were therefore divided and in a precarious position. This was compensated for, however, by the even greater weakness of the PLO leadership, which had learned nothing from past defeats.
In the absence of a serious struggle to regroup the movement and prepare a new mass offensive, it could only be a question of time, before the forces of reaction would be able to finish their work.
Israel invaded the south of Lebanon in 1978 to attack Palestinian positions, creating a ‘buffer zone’ under the control of a right-wing Lebanese private army. A UN ‘peace-keeping’ force was deployed along the southern border. In June 1982 this force looked on passively as Israeli tanks rolled by.
Under the guns of the Israelis, the counter-revolution in Lebanon was carried to a bloody climax with the expulsion of the last Palestinian forces from Beirut, the disarming of Moslem militias, and the naked terror in Sabra and Chatila,
As in Lebanon, so in the other countries of the region, revolution – the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism – or counter-revolution are the stark alternatives facing the workers and peasants in the struggles that lie ahead.
The PLO leadership turn right
Events in Egypt in 1977-79 spelled out even more clearly the bankruptcy of the PLO leadership’s policies. Egypt, the most powerful of the Arab states, had always formed the key in any military alliance against Israel. Now, as a result of internal class struggle, the power or the Egyptian regime to threaten Israel’s southern border collapsed.
Nasser had weakened Egyptian capitalism without breaking its parasitical grip on the country. The economy, while more industrialised than that of other Arab states, remained completely inadequate to meet the basic needs of the people. In the big cities millions of slum-dwellers lived in horrifying want and squalor.
In foreign policy, Nasser had balanced between the Stalinist powers and imperialism, leaning mainly on the Soviet Union for support. In the late 1960s, however, the regime swung increasingly towards the West.
Following Nasser’s death in 1970, Sadat swept aside the last of Nasser’s reforms. Egypt was thrown wide open to imperialist plunder, the power of the capitalists and landlords was restored, and political opposition crushed.
But this zig-zag exposed Egypt all the more to the ravages of capitalist world recession. Foreign debt, and a crippling deficit on the balance trade, mounted up. Foreign investment created new wealth for only a small elite, while the mass of the people sank deeper into nightmarish poverty.
The cost of permanent military preparedness against Israel had always been the biggest drain on the economy. But repeated military defeats had dealt shattering blows to the authority of the regime.
Following, the debacle of 1973, Sadat clearly calculated that the social consequences of renewed fighting would be too dangerous. Just as the regime had previously needed hostilities with Israel to divert the masses from internal struggle, it now needed peace with Israel for much the same reason.
In January 1977 mass discontent broke to the surface with the biggest anti-government strikes and riots since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952. The movement was sparked off by the removal of state subsidies on essential foods. Sadat quickly retreated. Even then it took days before the army was able to regain control.
At the same time the US, increasingly dependent on Arab oil, was concerned about the deepening revolutionary ferment in the region and anxious to prop up pro-capitalist Arab regimes. By signing a peace agreement with Begin, Sadat calculated that he could get increased American patronage and use this to squeeze concessions out of Israel.
On this basis, following the Camp David agreement of 1978, the Sinai peninsula was returned to Egypt.
These developments further undermined the policies of the PLO leadership. The Israeli regime was now free to concentrate on the west and the north. The invasion of Lebanon, and the further consolidation of Israel’s overwhelming military supremacy, demonstrated the complete futility of relying on either guerilla struggle, or on the Arab regimes, to carry the Palestinian struggle to victory,
The Arab leaders clearly have no intention of risking another confrontation with Israel. Even the ‘revolutionary’ Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, during the height of the battle for Beirut, could suggest no better solution to the PLO leaders than committing suicide rather than surrendering to Israel.
The imperialist powers hope to exploit the present situation and impose a Middle East ‘solution’ in their own interests. Their intentions are, firstly, to restore the stability of the Lebanese regime and arrange the withdrawal of the Syrian and Israeli forces. More importantly, they propose to ‘settle’ the Palestinian struggle by designating the West Bank and Gaza as a ‘homeland’ for the Palestinian people.
As Reagan has made clear, however, there is no question of such a ‘homeland’ becoming independent. It would only get powers of local self-government – less independence than a Bantustan—and remain under military control of Israel in association with Jordan.
These bankrupt plans have little chance of getting off the ground. The situation in Lebanon will remain volatile and the regime there will remain unstable. The workers and peasants will recover from their wounds, while the ruling class will be incapable in a period of world recession of rebuilding the economy and establishing its authority over society.
Reagan’s proposals for a Palestinian ‘homeland’, which are completely unacceptable to the Palestinian people, have also been flatly rejected by Begin.
Under cover of the war in Lebanon, the Israeli authorities have embarked on their biggest land-grab yet on the West Bank, precisely to prevent its return to Arab hands. 40% of the area, including five Arab towns, has been earmarked for Jewish settlement, and 50% for agriculture (with strict controls on Arab building). Only 10% will remain for Arab towns and villages.
Between Reagan’s offer and Begin’s refusal there is no way forward for the Palestinian people. The PLO leaders, however, have learned nothing from these events. Out of the disasters produced by their policies of class compromise, they have embarked on a policy of—more class compromise.
Arafat’s negotiations with King Hussein of Jordan (the butcher of the ‘Black September’ days) over a ‘federation’ or a ‘confederation’ of a Palestinian West Bank with Jordan can offer no solution. Hussein’s only concern is to save his own skin a little bit longer from the ever-present threat of revolution.
“I have never seen King Hussein of Jordan so despairing”, commented the West German foreign minister during the fighting in Lebanon. An alliance with Arafat, Hussein hopes, will buy him credibility in the eyes of his people.
But Hussein’s and Arafat’s plans are only the counsel of despair, and can lead to nothing but a worse fiasco. Far from basing themselves on the struggle of the Palestinian masses, they are looking to US imperialism to squeeze concessions out of Israel.
Even if US pressure forced Israel to retreat, the only ‘Palestinian state’ that would be tolerated by imperialism, Israel and the Arab rulers would be a puppet state. The talks between Arafat and Hussein hold out the prospect of some Jordanian involvement in running such a puppet state—nothing more.
Yet on the basis of class compromise with the Arab rulers, a rotten deal of this nature is the most that the PLO leadership can hope to achieve at present.
No solution to the Palestinian struggle is possible for as long as capitalism and landlordism, embodied by Israeli militarism and the corrupt deadweight of the Arab regimes, dominate the region. The Arab rulers, the Israeli regime and imperialism alike are terrified of the impetus which a Palestinian victory would give to the struggles of the masses in all the Arab countries and in Israel.
An independent Palestinian state would he caught up in revolutionary turmoil from the start. On a capitalist basis it could not satisfy the demands of the working people, nor is there a Palestinian bourgeoisie capable of ruling it on any stable basis.
Such a state could only exist as a focal point of struggle against both Zionism and Arab reaction, carrying the movements of 1970 and 1975 to their logical conclusion. For these reasons the Arab regimes pay mainly lip service to the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
Tasks of the revolution in the Middle East
Israel is the main bastion of capitalist reaction in the Middle East, the ultimate defender of imperialist interests and the most powerful obstacle to the national and social liberation of the Palestinian people. The defeat of the Israeli regime is the key to the victory of the Palestinian struggle; which in turn is the most burning issue in the Middle East.
Yet how can the Israeli regime be defeated?
Military victory by the weak Arab states is ruled out.
To the Arab rulers, the present balance of forces is the cornerstone of their political survival. The threat of Israeli attack is the mains factor that can justify their own existence to the masses and postpone revolutionary struggles (while ‘peace initiatives’ can be unfolded when the people become weary of war).
More importantly, neither of the great super-powers would support any major escalation of military struggle in the region.
US imperialism will use all its resources to cling to its oil and strategic interests in the Middle East, and continue to back Israel. At the same time it will try to curb the worst excesses of Israel’s militarist regime, which threaten to store up incalculable explosions for the future. (In much the same way Western governments, frightened of the approaching revolution in South Africa, try to ‘moderate’ the policies of the apartheid regime.)
The Soviet bureaucracy, while not dependent on Middle East oil, need to maintain some check on the expansion of US power along their southern borders, and prevent any serious weakening of their international position. This is the basic reason for the limited support which Russia has given to the PLO and the Arab regimes.
At the same time, the Russian leadership have no interest in a struggle for Arab victory against all-out imperialist resistance. Like the Arab rulers, they fear any shift in the present situation of armed truce in the Middle East.
With the war in Lebanon, their lack of commitment to Palestinian victory was glaringly exposed. Even the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a pro-Soviet group in the PLO – declared in a public statement: “The Soviet Union cannot secure its solidarity with us and with the people of Lebanon by confining its support to political and diplomatic pressures.”
The defeat of the Israeli ruling class can only come about as a result of a class movement involving the Jewish majority of the Israeli working class. This fact is central to the struggle of the Palestinian workers and peasants. Only on the basis of a Marxist perspective and programme, however, is it possible to mobilise such a movement.
No fundamental shift in the social support for the ruling class by Israeli workers is possible, despite all the growing economic and political strains, as long as the Palestinian struggle is fought on a nationalist basis. Faced with the choice—as they see it—between the Zionist state and terrorist violence, the mass of Israeli workers will continue to support the capitalist class.
The policies of the PLO leadership, tying their struggle to the Arab regimes and confining it to nationalist perspectives, thus guarantee a bedrock of Jewish support for the Israeli ruling class, and render the Zionist state indestructible except at the cost of an unimaginable bloodbath.
Only a Marxist programme, linking the national struggle of the Palestinian people to the socialist transformation of the whole Middle East, could show a way out of this vicious circle.
Calling for the overthrow of the regimes of the capitalists and landlords, and for the establishment of democratic workers’ rule in every country of the region, a determined campaign for Marxist policies would open up entirely new perspectives to Israeli as well as Arab workers.
Under workers’ rule, all the problems created by capitalism and landlordism could begin to be eliminated. Poverty could be alleviated, and privilege abolished, by placing production on a planned basis under the control of the working people.
Land could be given to the peasantry. Together with the working class internationally, the struggle could be waged to break the grip of imperialism over the region.
This is the only basis on which the long and bitter struggles for self-determination by the oppressed nations of the Middle East can be resolved, and the interests of Arab and Israeli workers reconciled with each other.
In 1948, Marxists opposed the creation of a separate Israeli state because it was clear from the outset that this artificial state would be a source of conflict and division among workers. But does that mean that Marxists should now stand for the destruction of the state of Israel?
The majority of Israeli Jews today were either born in Israel or in Palestine before 1948; and under no circumstances can socialists be in favour of their ‘repatriation’ i.e. expulsion. Unlike the position in 1948, the more than three million Israelis now represent a sizeable and distinct nation in the Middle East.
Subject to certain conditions—e.g. guarantees of the rights of minorities and of returning Palestinians—the need for an Israeli state to exist within agreed borders must be accepted today. Indeed, that is virtually the position of the PLO now.
But restoring the rights of the Palestinian Arabs expelled in 1948, and those dispossessed on the West Bank since 1967, unavoidably raises the question of the socialist transformation of society. Capitalism cannot provide homes, jobs and secure living standards even for the Jewish population of Israel, let alone the Arab masses.
While the Israeli working class will play a decisive role in the unfolding revolution in the Middle East, the Palestinian workers, scattered across the region, are in a key position to spearhead the struggle and link together the workers and peasants in the different countries.
Organised as a class, the Palestinian workers can join forces with their brothers and sisters in the countries where they live and work, and explain to every section of the oppressed Arab masses the future that could be theirs under workers’ rule. With correct demands and tactics, a Marxist leadership of the Palestinian workers could stand at the head of a vast revolutionary movement spanning the whole Middle East.
The Arab rulers would fight desperately to crush the danger from below. The struggle against these regimes would be no less vital than the struggle to defeat Zionism. But with clear socialist policies, the workers and peasants would be in an immeasurably stronger position than in 1970 or 1975.
Offering land and freedom to the peasant soldiers, they would win the bulk of the Arab armies to the side of the revolution. The flimsy ties of tradition and fear, which are all that hold the Arab states together, would disintegrate under the first stirrings of mass revolution—as has already been foreshadowed in Lebanon and Jordon.
Under these conditions the Israeli regime would be paralysed. With the spectre of Arab reaction removed, it would be possible to win over Israeli workers, even in a revolutionary war against the Israeli capitalist state. The Israeli rulers would be left isolated and unable to resist the social revolution.
Revolutionary states of the working people would come under furious attack from imperialism as well as the Stalinist regimes, which would correctly see the rise of workers’ revolution as a deadly threat to their privileged existence. But with a bold internationalist policy, appealing to workers across national frontiers and organising common struggles, the fires lit in the Middle East could spread around the world.
Capitalism and landlordism would be destroyed throughout the region, and threatened in growing parts of Asia, Africa and Europe as workers are impelled into action by the impact of the Middle Eastern revolution. The bureaucratic regime in Syria would collapse and be replaced by democratic workers’ rule.
On the basis of workers’ democracy, the national divisions fragmenting the region could begin to be resolved. The Palestinians and other oppressed peoples—such as the Kurds—could exercise their full democratic rights as nations either in common states or, where the majority desire it, in states of their own.
The working class has no vested interest that would be threatened by the self-determination of nations. Revolutionary workers’ governments, with a common interest in peace and economic development, would be able to accommodate the demands of national minorities and agree to territorial divisions where necessary, in order to lay a foundation for economic and political cooperation.
Marxists would explain the need for the closest possible integration in developing the resources of the region on a planned basis, and argue for a socialist federation as a means of linking independent workers’ states together. This could pave the way to unity of all the peoples in the future.
Scattering seeds of revolution
In the aftermath of the Lebanon war, there is the danger of a renewed swing to terrorist violence among embittered sections of Palestinian youth. In January, for instance grenades were thrown into a bus in Tel Aviv, injuring eleven people. 86 Arabs were arrested in retaliation.
Also the PLO leadership, in an effort to repair their prestige, have uttered hollow threats of renewed guerilla war against Israel.
At the same time, however, with the horror and futility of the Lebanon war still fresh in their minds, many Palestinian and Israeli workers could be won to Marxist policies showing an alternative to the vicious cycle of suffering and bloodshed.
The sorry conduct of the Arab rulers has severely undermined the PLO leadership’s traditional position. Among the PLO fighters evacuated from Beirut there was no mood for continuing to put their faith in these regimes.
“Save your tears”, said one fighter to a group of women weeping to see them go. “Save your tears for the Arab leaders.”
Another said: “We are going to push Israel aside for five years, and clean up the Arab world. All our rulers are traitors.”
Even the Syrian regime was viewed with deep mistrust. “We might get a heroes’ welcome in Damascus although I doubt it”, commented a Palestinian journalist. “But then we shall be marched off to barracks as good as prison.”
Arafat’s renewed wheeling and dealing with King Hussein has therefore aroused deep anger among Palestinian activists. His second-in-command was even compelled to flee from Syria and seek political asylum in the reactionary kingdom of Jordan!
Crown Prince Hassam of Jordan (Hussein’s brother) put the fears of all the Arab rulers into words: “If the present PLO leadership are eliminated they will be succeeded by others, perhaps more extreme, more radical, more desperate, simply because the need will still be there.”
More and more Palestinian activists will be determined to change the PLO’s policies of class compromise, to remove the leaders committed to these policies, and put forward new leaders who are willing and able to lead the national struggle to its revolutionary conclusions.
Dispersing the PLO fighters across the Arab world—the only option available to imperialism, Israel and the Arab states—will at the same time have far-reaching consequences. It will scatter the seeds of revolution throughout the Middle East. Betrayed by the leaders and repressed by their ‘hosts’, PLO activists will seek ways of linking their struggle to that of the workers and peasants locally.
In Israel itself, class struggles will deepen. Armed with a clear Marxist perspective, working-class activists in Israel as well as the Arab countries can lay the basis for a revolutionary leadership that can mobilise the masses of the region, eliminate national oppression, capitalism and landlordism, and usher in a new period of peace and social progress under working-class rule.