L. Rock


Class Politics in Palestine

(June 1939)

Originally published in New International, June 1939.
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, Selected Writings Volume 1: International Struggle and the Marxist Tradition, Bookmarks, London 2001, pp.7-10.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

The political situation in Palestine is highly complicated. Many factors are jumbled together in a large chequered knot. Hence it is very hard to establish an internationalist class policy for the Palestine proletariat; hence also the great confusion in the circles of the revolutionary left with regard to the problems of this country. The fact that in Palestine itself there does not yet exist a large revolutionary force, which might illuminate the international labour movement in this darkness, has also contributed to an increase in the confusion.

The political problem of Palestine must be considered from two main points: first, a definition of the essence of the Arabian national movement, and, second, the role played by Jewish immigration and settlement. Only an exact Marxian analysis of these two questions can lead us on the correct revolutionary socialist road in the country.


The Zionists and the Arab movement

All wings of the Zionist movement hold firmly to the theory that no anti-imperialist liberation movement exists in Palestine and that the existing Arab movement is the product of the propaganda of the Arab feudalists, and the agents of German and Italian fascism. This is said not only by the fascist Zionists and the liberal bourgeoisie, but also by the reformists and even the members of the London Bureau – “Poale Zion and Marxist Circle” and the “Hashomer Hatzair”. As grounds for this view they use three arguments: (1) at the head of the Arabian movement stand feudalists for the most part, hence the movement is reactionary; (2) a movement that practises terrorism against the Jewish population, and is mainly against Jewish workers, is nothing but a pogrom movement; (3) a movement supported by Hitler and Mussolini is necessarily reactionary and fascistic. These arguments are wrong from the ground up and distort the reality, inasmuch as they are calculated to cover up more or less Zionist aspirations and an alliance with oppressive British imperialism.

Have not many national movements been led by feudalists (e.g. Abd-el Krim in Morocco, the Syrian and Egyptian national movements in their inception, etc.)? Were not national liberation movements at the beginning of their development, when they were under feudal leadership, often directed against members of other nationalities in their land (Ireland, formerly also India, the Boxer uprising in China, etc.)? And are not national liberation movements exploited largely by other imperialist forces which are hostile to the imperialism against which the movement is directed? There is no doubt that the Arab national movement in Palestine, like its parallels in other colonial countries, is historically essentially an anti-imperialist movement.

This premise is accepted not only by Marxists, but also by Stalinists. The latter, however, draw therefrom absolutely opportunistic conclusions. They attempt to maintain the unity of the national movement and so prevent a class differentiation. The lessons of the national liberation movements and especially the lessons of the Chinese Revolution clearly demonstrate the correctness of the view of Lenin and Trotsky, namely that the only path to national liberation lies through deepening the social conquests of the masses and extending the class struggle among the nationally-oppressed people.

This view obviously applies to Palestine too; and especially here for another reason: Palestine cannot emancipate itself from the imperialist yoke unless a unification of the Arab arid Jewish masses takes place, for the latter represent a third of the population, the Jewish workers are half of the Palestine working class, and Jewish economy is decisive in many branches of industry. The Jewish toiling masses will not, however, support the anti-imperialist movement if no class differentiation takes place in the Arabian national movement. What is so terrible in the situation in Palestine is that, on the one hand, there is a strong national differentiation between Jews and Arabs and, on the other, the national unity in the Arab camp is very firm.

There is, therefore, a grave error in the article reprinted in the New International (February 1939) from the Spark, in which the author speaks with great satisfaction and enthusiasm of the Arabian national unity which has been displayed in the last two and a half years.

The revolutionary Marxists are duty-bound to support the national liberation movement with all their strength even if the bourgeoisie or the feudalists stand for the time being at its head. At the same time, however, they must preserve their independence by showing the proletarian road to national emancipation, for only proletarian hegemony and class differentiation in the national movement can assure the complete and stable emancipation of the colonial people.

Zionism utilises the national and social oppression of the Jewish masses of the world to direct their embitteredness towards national unity, not towards international class struggle. Zionism creates reactionary illusions among the masses with regard to the road to the solution of its problems. Having grown stronger by the decline of the labour movement and the growth of chauvinistic tendencies, Zionism is also necessarily exclusivist and tries to repress the Arabian inhabitants of the country, to gain a Jewish majority, a Jewish state, under any conditions, and to boycott the Arab worker and Arab products. This basic tendency has become increasingly strong in recent years which were years of the alliance with British imperialism.



The Jewish population and Zionism

Yet from the negation of Zionism does not yet follow the negation of the right to existence and extension of the Jewish population in Palestine. This would only be justified if an objectively necessary identity existed between this population and Zionism, and if the Jewish population were necessarily an outpost of British imperialism and nothing more. Those who consider the Jewish population and Zionism to be identical are the Arabian feudalists, the Zionist Jewish leaders and the English imperialists. The Arabian feudalists need this conception in order to recruit the Arab masses to a chauvinistic anti-Jewish struggle, by saying, “Smash the Jews, for they are Zionist conquerors!”The Jewish leaders assert that this identity exists in order to anchor the Zionist ideology among the Jewish masses, by saying, “You are Jews, you must therefore necessarily be Zionists as well!” British imperialism employs these arguments, for they offer it a magnificent basis for national antagonisms. We wish therefore to examine whether the Jewish camp is really an integral part of the imperialist camp and whether anti-imperialist struggle also demands struggle against this population, or whether, on the contrary, we can and must win its majority, namely the toiling Jewish masses, for the anti-imperialist struggle.

The Stalinists in Palestine regard the Jewish population as an integral part of the imperialist camp and thus arrive at slogans like these: “Block Jewish immigration! Prohibit the sale of land to Jews! Expropriate the land of the Jews and arm the Arabs!” The CPP preens itself before the Arab population with anti-Jewish terrorist actions. These slogans of the Stalinists are based upon their view of the objectively pro-imperialist role of the Jewish population and Jewish immigrants. In order to motivate these views they often use the simple analogy between the position of the Jewish toilers and the position of the whites in South Africa. It is especially dangerous that such a perverted analogy should take root among the Marxists of South Africa. Unfortunately, there were various mistakes in the article from the Spark which are based upon this analogy. On the side of the reformist leaders of the Jewish labour movement in Palestine, too, the attempt has been made to compare the position of the Jews in the country with that of the whites in South Africa. This analogy was drawn in order to show that the Jewish worker must not unite with the Arab, as an argument against the international organisation of the workers in Palestine. The analogy was then of course seized upon by the CPP in order to show the “imperialistic character” of the Jews in Palestine. We wish to test this analogy in order to show clearly that the Jewish worker in Palestine is not an integral part of the imperialist camp and that his objective interests will lead him to unification with the Arab worker.

In the first place, it is to be noted that the Jewish workers make up more than half of the total working class, whereas in South Africa (according to the figures of 1922-25) the white workers were only one fifth of the working class. The white workers of South Africa are craftsmen for the most part, and the Negroes are employed only at hard labour. In Palestine there are workers of all categories both among the Jewish and the Arab working class. A large part of the white workers in South Africa are thrown some crumbs from the table of the English big bourgeoisie which exploits the Negro worker. The result is that the wage of the white worker is from five to six timesas large as the wage of the black worker. That is, the white workers in South Africa represent a thin aristocratic layer. In Palestine the Jewish workers are not a layer, but a class in which, although there are aristocratic layers, there are still more simple workers. The whites in South Africa have wide political rights (democratic legislation, advanced labour laws, etc.), whereas the Negroes are oppressed colonial slaves. In Palestine both the Jews and the Arabs are oppressed by a foreign power without having any democratic rights at all.



Britain’s attitude towards the Jews

To show more clearly that the Jewish population in Palestine is not given preference over the Arabian by the British government, we wish to present some outstanding facts. There are two large cities in which Jews are in the majority- Haifa and Jerusalem. In both of them, according to the ordinances and appointments of the government, the mayors are Arabs. Other democratic institutions there are none. (Even these institutions, the municipalities, are “democratic” only in quotation marks. In comparison with the other governmental institutions, however, they are the ideal of democracy.) In the field of municipalities, therefore, the Jews are not given preference. The Jews defray 63 percent of the government income, while expenditures are allotted to them as follows (1934-35): 14 percent to education; 34 percent to public works, etc. Labour legislation too gives no preference to the Jewish worker as against the Arab. The Jewish workers in Palestine, therefore, represent, by their objective interests, an integral part of the general working class and are not given preference by the British government.

On the other hand, that view would also be wrong which saw no chauvinistic-exclusivist, pro-imperialist tendencies at all in the Jewish population. It is a fact that it maintains a relatively closed economy against the Arab economy and raises slogans like “100 percent Jewish products”, etc.; and as a result of the influence of the Zionist leaders, most of the population demands a Jewish majority in Palestine and a Jewish state.

The Jewish population in Palestine therefore has objectively a dual character. Corresponding to its class differentiation, it contains on the one hand a Jewish working class and accelerates the rise of an Arab working class, that is, forces which are objectively anti-imperialist, and on the other hand, to the extent that it is permeated by Zionist exclusivist tendencies, that is, submitted to bourgeois influence, it strengthens the positions of imperialism and of reaction in the country. On. this premise the revolutionary socialist policy and its attitude towards Jewish immigration must be built up.

Since the World War, two hostile camps face each other in Palestine, an Arab and a Jewish. The former demands the stopping of Jewish immigration and identifies this demand with the struggle against Zionism. The latter demands the opening of the doors of the country to immigrants and sees therein the essence of Zionism.

Against both these camps there appeared directly after the World War a section of the Comintern which for a number of years adopted an independent internationalist position. The members of the Comintern in Palestine, up to the great turn in the colonial question at the time of the Chinese Revolution, while absolutely opposed to Zionism (against the national boycott, against slogans like the Jewish majority and the Jewish state, alliance with England, etc.), declared at the same time that the Jewish population is not to be identified with Zionism and hence demanded the maximum freedom of movement for Jewish immigration into Palestine. Not only this, but they demanded from the government also material aid for the establishment of the Jewish immigrants in the country. They declared plainly that the struggle of the Arab national movement against Zionism, the Jewish majority, does not require the demand of stopping Jewish immigration, and they justified the unconditional maintenance of the Arab majority. They declared that the struggle against Jewish immigration shifted the anti-imperialist struggle to anti-Jewish rails, and that this was profitable only to English imperialism. They declared plainly that any struggle against Jewish immigration would only strengthen Zionist chauvinism among the Jewish masses.

With the turn to the right in the colonial policy of the Comintern, however, which was also manifested in Palestine, the Communist Party of Palestine, submissive to Stalinism, began the struggle against Jewish immigration, asserting that it was an immigration of conquest, and that the struggle of the Arab national movement was a defensive struggle. But is the correct answer to Jewish aggressive chauvinism, Arabian defensive chauvinism? Unfortunately, there is a similar error in the article from the Spark: the struggle of the Arabs against Jewish immigration is a defensive struggle against the conquering Zionist movement, and therefore, even though we are, as socialists, generally in favour of free immigration, it is not necessary in Palestine. The “Hashomer Hatzair”, of the London Bureau, argues similarly: the struggle we are conducting against the political independence of Palestine is a defensive struggle against the aggressive Arab national movement and therefore, even though we are, as socialists, generally in favour of the independence of the colonies, it is not necessary in Palestine.

Without taking a clear internationalist position on the question of Jewish immigration, without a sharp struggle against any oppression of the Arab population by imperialism and Zionism, without a sharp struggle against attempts to suppress Jewish immigration, the establishment of a broad anti-imperialist front is impossible.



Two views on settlement

In the question of Jewish settlement, two main views are prevalent. One, that of the Zionist movement, demands complete free settlement and land purchase, without protecting the tenant from being dispossessed; the other, that of the feudal leadership of the Arab national movement) which hides under the cloak of “tenant protection”, demands the prohibition of land sale to Jews.

Before 1926-27, the Comintern in Palestine was for tenant protection and the recognition of his right to the land, but at the same time demanded that Jewish settlement on uncultivated land be made possible; it repeatedly declared that there are still large areas of land in the hands of the government and the Arabian effendis which are cultivable but uncultivated. This attitude was genuinely internationalist.

But since Stalinism has completely dominated the Comintern, its supporters in Palestine began the struggle against the right of Jewish settlement. Thus there is not today any internationalist force in Palestine: the Comintern people let themselves be taken in tow by the Arab feudal leaders, and the Socintern and London Bureau people make up an integral part of the Zionist movement. Unfortunately there are certain deviations and not internationalist views on this question in the article from the Spark.

If we are to set down our attitude towards Jewish immigration, we must keep the following two fundamental views in mind: (1) the Zionist movement sees in immigration the basis for paradise in the country; (2) the feudal leadership of the Arabian national movement sees in Jewish immigration the basis for hell in the country. Both views are false. Marxists cannot be for immigration or against it, just as they cannot be for or against immigration from country to city. Marxists must only record that in the capitalist order it is necessary to fight for free migration, without falling into illusions about the “liberating role” and the “creation of happiness” attributed to this migration, without adopting a chauvinistic attitude towards this migration (“Jewish majority”, “Jewish products”, “Jewish labour”, etc.). The same view must be adopted by the Marxists with respect to settlement.

It is correct that the Arab national movement must be supported in its struggle against imperialism. But this is not at all the same thing as saying that we must support the actions of the feudal leadership of this movement which are calculated to turn the movement from anti-imperialist to anti-Jewish paths. A little illustration will plainly show how the struggle against Jewish immigration distorts the anti-imperialist struggle: a short time ago rumours spread in Palestine that the government was on the verge of stopping Jewish immigration; whereupon the Arabs organised joyous demonstrations in which they cried: “Long live Chamberlain!” “Long live England!” “The government is with us!”

The reader may say, “Between the struggle for the right of existence and free immigration of the Jews, and the struggle for the independence of the country, there is an unbridgeable gulf, and we must therefore choose one of the two.” The complete victory of the movement for independence in Palestine is, however, impossible without the support of the Jewish toilers, who hold important positions in Palestine’s political and economic life. The liberation movement will not receive this support so long as the anti-Jewish terror exists and so long as the Arabian toiling masses will struggle against Jewish immigration. On the other hand, the existence of the Jewish population will not be assured, and there will be no immigration without terrible suffering for the Jewish masses, without the support of the Arabian toiling masses who are the majority of the country’s population; and the Arabian masses will not give this support so long as the Jewish masses are against the independence of the country and remain a tool in the hands of England for the suppression of the Arab masses. Only an internationalist labour movement can be the leading force in the consistent anti-imperialist struggle. So long as such a force does not yet play an important role in the country, the Jewish masses and the Arab national movement will remain in a difficult and distressed position.



A revolutionary socialist policy

The revolutionary socialist policy in Palestine must be built up on the following foundations:

  1. The Jewish question can only be solved by the socialist world revolution. Zionism is a factor that weakens the class struggle of the Jewish masses, and strengthens the reaction outside of Palestine as well as the reactionary forces in Palestine.
  2. Jewish immigration into Palestine, which is mainly an immigration of workers, strengthens, on the one side, the power and weight of the working class in the country, the power which, regarded historically, is the most extreme anti-imperialist factor and, cm the other hand, in so far as it is Zionist, it strengthens the exclusivist positions and the forces of imperialism in Palestine.
  3. The Arab national movement expresses, on the one hand, the aspirations of the Arab masses for national and social emancipation, but, on the other hand, in so far as it is under feudal and semi-bourgeois leadership, it strengthens the exclusivist tendencies in the country, thereby weakening and narrowing down the anti-imperialist range by leaving the Jewish population to the influence of imperialism and of Zionism.
  4. Internationalist socialism in Palestine is the only force that can lead the anti-imperialist struggle consistently to the very end, eliminate Jewish and Arabian antagonism, and link the national liberation movement of the Arabs with the struggle of the Jewish masses for the right to their existence in the country and their growth through immigration.

These are the foundations on which the programme of the Bolshevik-Leninist movement in Palestine must be built. Here is not the place to occupy ourselves with the details of this programme and we wish, therefore, only to indicate the essential main paragraphs:

For what must revolutionary socialists fight in Palestine?

The maximum programme of the revolutionary socialists is the proletarian dictatorship, as transitional stage to socialism. To attain this maximum programme, the revolutionary socialists fight for the following minimum demands:

As the immediate political task: abolition of the rule of imperialistic, absolutist bureaucracy and the establishment in its place of a republic on the basis of a democratic constitution, which is guaranteed by the following points:

  1. The concentration of the ruling power of the state in the hands of a legislative assembly composed of representatives of the people.
  2. General, secret, direct, and equal proportional elections for the legislative assembly and for all l&al governmental institutions.
  3. Inviolability of the person and domicile of citizens.
  4. Unrestricted freedom of conscience, of speech, of press, of assembly; right to strike and organisation.
  5. Separation of religious institutions from the state and the schools.
  6. General compulsory education, support of poor schools by the state.

In order to attain complete equality of rights of the toilers of both peoples and to abolish all national exclusiveness, regardless of what side it may come from:

  1. Establishment of a joint organisation of the workers and struggle against the “conquest of labour”.
  2. Struggle against all boycotts of one people against the products of another people and the acceptance of members into all existing co-operatives without distinction of nationality.
  3. Distribution of the governmental and municipal budget in accordance with the needs of the masses, without regard to nationality.
  4. Struggle against the national terror and against Zionism, against all exclusivist tendencies and aspirations for creating national majorities or for suppressing national minorities.
  5. In case of settlement, participation of the peasant already occupying the land in the action of the colonisation, ie to grant him the same facilities that are used by the settlers.
  6. Complete equality of rights for both peoples to increase by means of immigration. Right of immigration for the Jews from Europe and other continents as well as for Arabs from surrounding countries.

In order to democratise the Palestinian state economy:

  1. Direct taxes instead of indirect. Progressive income tax.
  2. Salary reductions for the high officials.
  3. Reduction of the budget for the army, police and prisons.
  4. Fundamental increase of the budget for education, health and agriculture.
  5. Distribution of the budget according to the needs of the masses with-· out regard for nationality.

In order to abolish feudalism, the following demands:

  1. Transfer of the lands of the big landowners, the government and the religious institutions to those who till them without regard for religion or nationality.
  2. General annulment of the debts of the fellaheen and the distribution of cheap credit to the fellaheen.

To protect the working class and to strengthen its struggle and its liberating power:

  1. Eight-hour working day and six-hour working day for youth.
  2. One rest-day in the week.
  3. Prohibition of night work, except for branches in which it is technically necessary.
  4. Prohibition of child labour.
  5. Prohibition of the labour of women in such work as is injurious to them.
  6. Minimum wage for all branches of industry.
  7. Social insurance.
  8. Old-age pensions for workers.
  9. Government inspection, with participation of representatives of the workers, to control the carrying out of labour laws.

To attain the immediate political and economic aims, the revolutionary socialist movement must support all oppositional movements directed against the existing social and political order in Palestine, while always retaining its own independence.

The completely consistent and lasting realisation even of this minimum programme is possible only through the overthrow of imperialism, and the establishment of the rule of workers’ and peasants’ councils.


Last updated on 11.6.2002