I am taking the liberty of republishing this, not because I agree with everything in it, but because it contains a great deal of profound material that Marxist critics of Zionism and its supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the advanced capitalist world, ought to find invaluable.
This is despite Atzmon’s jaundiced view of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and his erroneous belief that it had something in common with the crimes of Israel and Zionism today. This is a serious flaw in his often very sharp and perceptive understanding of the crippling of Palestinian solidarity by Jewish chauvinism and capitulation to Zionism. In my view Atzmon’s prejudice against Bolshevism is most likely derived from a narrow reading of a very disgraceful history in which pseudo-radical left-Zionist currents, many of which indeed had their origins in currents derived tangentially from the Russian Revolution, played a barbaric role in the Naqba while continuing to preach about working class unity and speak a debased form of pseudo-internationalist language.
But in order to do this, these left-chauvinist currents had to break decisively with the basic Marxist concepts of internationalism. A few exceptional individuals broke from these positions in the opposite direction, from this debased ‘far-left’ Zionism to genuine Communism; the most obvious being Abram Leon, author of the seminal Marxist analysis of Jewish history, his work The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation that builds on Marx’s own often maligned insights into Jewish history and which actually explains how Jews managed to preserve themselves as a kind of ‘people’ whose basis of existence was not common language or territory, but a common social function connected to money economy in pre-capitalist societies.
Leon never lived to see Israel’s foundation: he in fact died in Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis. But his insight pointed the way to understanding how the Jewish part of the bourgeoisie in capitalist society acquired a disproportionate social weight. In the earlier part of the imperialist epoch when nationalism and national conflict drove European imperialist expansion, this phenomenon contributed to creating the conditions for terrible and bloody victimisation of Jews of all classes. Now, in a different situation, it has led to Jews attaining a highly privileged position in advanced capitalist-imperialist countries who are waging wars of conquest and domination against large sections of the Arab/Muslim world. See the draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, on this site, for more elaboration.
The kind of ideological disorientation expressed by Gilad Atzmon is hardly unique, even if it comes from a novel angle. It was once observed of the struggle of the Trotskyist movement that their whole mission was to rescue the authentic traditions of the Russian Revolution from being buried under “a mountain of dead dogs”.
This is an ongoing battle. It has not been successful for now, and indeed in a sense can never be completely successful. For it is not simply lectures about history that will solve the problems of future revolutionary conjunctures in world politics, but concrete breakthroughs in the collective understanding of the masses about their own struggles and the way to victory. In that regard, Atzmon’s own insights about the role of exclusivist and disguised chauvinist Jewish ‘left’ currents in the Palestinian solidarity movement, in diluting its message and steering it into ‘safe’ territory is valuable, and well worth examining and considering, even if Marxists cannot share all his concepts.
It is a fact that the most perceptive analysts of matters concerning the Jewish Question have often been of Jewish origin themselves. From Karl Marx to Abram Leon, this has taken on a fully conscious, working class and revolutionary communist manifestation. In the contemporary situation of ideological confusion with the betrayal and decline of the moral and political influence of Marxism, this has taken confused forms, with over the Israeli Question, for instance, some of the most courageous Jewish opponents of Jewish racism being non-Marxists whose criticisms were often too cutting for those who claimed to be Marxists, but had made their peace with Zionism and Jewish exclusivism. In that sense, Atzmon, the late Israel Shahak, and others of the same ilk stand closer to the real spirit of Bolshevism, as the ‘Tribune of the Oppressed”, than their formal ideas would lead one to otherwise believe.