This document is to the best of our knowledge published here for the first time.
Lecture delivered at an International Seminar and Conference on the Balkans and the Middle East, held in Athens, Greece, 15-19 March 2001.
Transcribed by Daniel Rubinstein.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.
The Middle East is a geo-political unity, born of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the penetration of Western imperialism, which gives to the class struggle in the region certain specific characteristics. As all backward countries controlled by imperialism, the states of the region present a combined character: pre-capitalist relations of production coexist with the most advanced forms of capitalist production. Since the wholesale industrialization of the Middle East is prevented by the restrictions imposed by world market controlled by the monopolies, its main economic role continues to be that of an oil supplier for the developed capitalist countries.
As a result of the decline of the previous imperialist powers (France and Great Britain), especially after the Second World War, the United States has become the dominant imperialist country in the region. Though it is ready to practice direct military intervention in case of need, American imperialism operates mainly through the agency of local ruling classes – first and foremost, the local bourgeoisie. The development of capitalism in the Arab states led to the appearance of a capitalist class strongly linked with the feudal landowners and the foreign imperialists, and of a proletariat mainly recruited from the impoverished peasants and artisans. The economic and political dependence of the Arab bourgeoisie (including the Palestinian bourgeoisie) from imperialism and its fear of the workers and the masses means that, although it can find itself in a situation of conflict with the imperialist powers, it ultimately remains the main prop of imperialist exploitation in the region – the most extreme example being the role of the local bourgeoisie in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Arab Emirates. The working class, on the other hand, though numerically small, plays the main role in the class struggle both because of its specific economic weight and as the leader of the impoverished masses of the town and the countryside, many of whom were forced to flee to the cities and became urban unemployed because of the limits imposed by the world market on the industrialization of the semi-colonial states.
This relations of class forces means that the Arab bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution: the destruction of the political and social influence of imperialism, the abolitions of the feudal survivals in the countryside, industrialization, national unity and political democracy. After the First World War the imperialist powers divided the Middle East into a number of weak states and artificially fomented ethnic conflicts (Iraq with its Kurdish minority; Lebanon, where Moslems regions were annexed to a Maronite enclave; the Zionist state in Palestine; etc.) in order to facilitate the task of controlling the region. The Arab bourgeoisie has time and time again proved its inability to unify the region, as witnessed by the failed efforts of the Arab League, the Egyptian-Syrian unity, etc.
The Gulf War in 1991, and previously the war between Iraq and Iran, proved that the Arab countries are mainly aligned with the imperialism and that the union of the “Arab Nation” under the leadership of the local bourgeoisie is just a dream or a reactionary utopia presented to the masses in order to divert their attention from the class struggle. The task of unifying the region against the imperialism, like the rest of the democratic program, devolves on the proletariat, which is forced by the historical circumstances to stand at the front of the petty-bourgeois and declassed elements and combine democratic reforms with the socialist struggle against the local bourgeoisie and imperialism.
With the support of the imperialism, a strong Zionist settlement was created in Palestine at the expense of the local population. The British and later the Americans saw in this colonialist project the main basis of support of imperialism in the region. When the bourgeoisie in one of the Arab states, forced by the mass movement in the country and by its own subordinate position in the world market, goes against the policies of imperialism, Zionism exploits this fact in order to strengthen its position as the regional cop of the Western powers. The Arab bourgeoisie, on the other hand, uses the hostility of the local masses against Zionism to blackmail the oppressed classes with the call of “national unity” against the common enemy, and tries to hide the fact that Zionism is only one factor of the imperialist mechanism of control of the region – the other one being the local ruling classes themselves. But in spite of their conflicts, and of the preferential treatment given by imperialism to the Zionist bourgeoisie vis-à-vis the Arab bourgeoisie, both share a common interest: preventing the outbreak a social revolution in the Middle East, as witnessed by their collaboration in Jordan in 1970, in Lebanon in 1976, etc. Only an exceptional combination of circumstances could enable the squalid and reactionary Arab bourgeoisie to defeat Zionism by military means and unify the region on a capitalist basis against the wishes of imperialism.
The social insignificance of the Arab bourgeoisie, the strength of the working class as the leader of the pauperized masses, and the pressure of imperialism lead time and time again to the appearance of Bonapartist regimes in a whole series of Arab countries, such as Nasser in Egypt, the Baath regimes in Syria and Iraq, etc. Though the leaders of these movements come usually from petty-bourgeois military circles, the Bonapartist regimes remain bourgeois to the extent that they do not expropriate the capitalist class. On the one hand, they are sometimes forced to make concessions to the demands of the masses in order to obtain support in their conflicts with imperialism; on the other hand, they employ police and military dictatorship methods and eliminate all forms of independent organization of the working class. Upon closer examination, their reforms (such as the monopoly of foreign commerce, partial nationalization of enterprises, land reform, etc.) are but a very partial implementation of the certain aspects of the democratic program to foment the development of the local bourgeoisie at the expense of imperialism. None of these regimes, whose space of manoeuvre has reduced drastically since the fall of the Soviet Union, has been able to fulfil any of the bourgeois democratic tasks thoroughly. After many decades of Bonapartist regimes, the Arab states remain, without exception, economic and socially backward, politically undemocratic and dependent on foreign imperialism.
The imperialist penetration in the Middle East created a number of burning national problems; prominent among them: the division of the Arab East, the national oppression of the Kurds, and the ethnic cleansing and the national oppression of the Palestinians.
Zionism is a colonialist movement which developed in Europe against the background of the growing anti-Semitism produced by the decay of capitalism in its imperialist stage – a tendency which reached its barbarous climax in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Zionism presented itself as the bourgeois solution to the Jewish problem: modern anti-Semitism, it argued, is not a product of capitalist decomposition but inherent in the “human nature” of the gentiles, and the solution to it is not therefore the abolition of capitalism through a socialist revolution but the removal of the Jews to Palestine with the help of the imperialist powers.
Zionism is not, and has never been, a national liberation movement. On the contrary, it regards the successful integration of the Jews in their countries of origin as the greatest danger to its existence, and has always operated as an ally of imperialism in the Middle East – first of the British, then of the Americans. In the hundred years that have passed since it began to operate in Palestine, Zionism has only succeeded in creating a new and monstrous national problem through the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The Zionist organizations have from the beginning systematically expropriated the Palestinians from their lands and excluded them from other places of works; then proceeded to expel more than 800,000 of them during the so-called “Independence War” of 1948 with the active support of Stalin, which sent them weapons through Czechoslovakia. Since then, the history of Israel has been a succession of wars and ethnic cleansings, and its racist and reactionary character is a constant source of new conflicts that endanger the existence of the Jewish population in the region. Though the Zionist bourgeoisie sometimes does come into conflict with the imperialist powers, Israel has always remained the best ally of imperialism in the region, which in fact uses it as a military basis from which to operate against the national liberation movements of the region.
The Palestinians suffer therefore from a special form of oppression: unlike the masses in the Arab states, their main oppressor is not the national but the Zionist bourgeoisie. Those sectors of the Palestinians population that remained under Arab regimes after 1948 were subjected to military rule and discrimination. Among the Arab regimes, the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan has been the main beneficiary of the racist policies of Zionism, as well as the perpetrator of one of the greatest massacres against the Palestinian refugees in September 1970. The democratic union of Palestine therefore requires the abolition, not only of Israel, but also of any form of Jordanian control over the Palestinian population.
The direct or indirect subsidies received from imperialism have created in Israel a large parasitic social stratum connected with the army and the state administration, which has a direct interest in the continuation of the present reactionary policies. But the Jewish workers (excepting perhaps their most privileged strata) have no real interest in the existence of the Israeli state. The main reason for their traditional support for Zionism has been their co-optation through the Histadrut (a fake trade union, originally for Jewish workers only, and big employer created by the Zionist movement), the ethnic divisions within the working class, and the lack of a political organization able to link their class demands with the democratic demands of the Palestinian masses.
But although the Israeli workers are still relatively privileged vis-à-vis the other strata of the working class in the Middle East, the Zionist state is increasingly incapable of offering decent living standards to the local workers. The so-called “globalization” has provoked a growing pauperization and unemployment among the Israeli workers, unprecedented since the creation of the Jewish state. This situation is worst among the Arab workers in Israel and especially in the territories: 60% of the population of the West Bank and Gaza is unemployed!
Imperialism implemented the Oslo agreements in order to liquidate the Palestinian Question by giving to the PLO leadership restricted powers over 20% of historic Palestine. In exchange for this the Palestinian security forces have the responsibility of keeping order in the territories and recognize Israel as the main power in the region. The “peace process” proved to be an operation to cut to pieces the West Bank and Gaza, establishing an Apartheid regime over a number of Bantustans controlled military and economically by the Zionist state with the agreement of Arafat and his regime. The present Intifada is the result of the rebellion of the masses against this process.
The PLO gave up the old slogan of a democratic and secular republic in the whole territory of Palestine and replaced it by the program of the Zionist leftist and Stalinism: “two countries for two peoples”. The latter not only denies the existence of a million Palestinians under the direct control of the Jewish state, but also represents a renunciation of the right of return of the 3.5 million Palestinians refugees. The opposition to Arafat must find a new revolutionary leadership able to take the Intifada into its own hands and direct it against the policy of the Likud-Labor government. But in order to succeed, this new leadership must put an end to the association of the Palestinian Authority with Israel and the CIA, and issue a revolutionary call to the masses of the Arab countries as well as to the Jewish masses for a common struggle.
There is no future in the establishment of a regime of Apartheid with Bantustans renamed as “cantons”. There is also no future in partition – the so-called “two-states solution” proposed by some sections of the Israeli Left – either in its “bourgeois democratic” form demanded by “non-Zionist” left or in the “socialist” version (“a socialist Israel alongside a socialist Palestine”) advanced by some groups related to the Trotskyism. The combination of the national and democratic struggle of the Palestinian masses with the struggle against exploitation of the Jewish and Arab workers can only be achieved through the convocation of a Constituent Assembly of all the residents and expelled people of the country, in order to establish a democratic, secular and socialist republic in the whole territory of historic Palestine. This really liberated territory, free from all forms of oppression and discrimination, can and should become the cornerstone of the liberation and re-organization of the whole region from the bottom up into a Federation of Socialist States of the Middle East.
Haifa and Jerusalem, March 3rd, 2001
Militants for the Fourth International
Last updated on 4.8.2001