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. Continue reading
The following letter is in reply to a question about the nature of Israel from a comrade who is a serious Marxist.
Regarding your question about whether Israel is an imperialist country (or not), there is nothing synthetic available about this that I know of. But the logic is inescapable when you look at the alternative to Israel being an imperialist power.
I will deal with the theoretical aspect of this, and then bring together evidence to back it up, from a number of sources.
Shlomo Sand’s new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew (Verso, 2014), as he says, an extended essay (of just over 100 pages), is something that may come to be seen as very significant in years, maybe even decades to come. This Israeli writer and academic is someone of considerable courage who has braved death threats and opprobrium in Israel, not just for support for the rights of the Palestinian people, but also for his attempts to analyse the history and myths that provide the ideological, and insofar at those ideologies grip people and social classes, material basis for the oppression of the Palestinians.
Sands has written scholarly works that question in historical terms the idea that Jews were seen as in any sense a nation prior to an attempt to create a nation-like mythology for them during the mid-to-late 19th Century. His work The Invention of the Jewish People resurrected from obscurity several facts that are very inconvenient for Zionist ideologues – such as the fact that there was no exile of Jews from Palestine in late Roman times, andthat the so-called Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean, later spreading throughout Europe and the Middle East/North Africa and even wider, was the product of widespread proselytism and conversion, not exile.
He reiterated the long-known, but historically buried understanding that many, if not most, Jews of East and Central European heritage had their ultimate origin, not from the Levant, but rather from Khazaria, an early medieval kingdom and empire of Turkic origin in the far Eastern fringe of Europe, roughly coinciding with today’s Ukraine and Caucasus region, that was converted from above by its monarchy around the 8th Century. He therefore concluded, in a manner that is really very devastating to the entire Zionist project and the racist myths that justify it, that the Palestinians were much more certain to be descendants of the ancient population of Hebrews, whose state Israel claims to be the resurrection of, than the Jewish population whose armed settler movement created Israel. This resurrection of facts at least some of which were once acknowledged by many, including by many early Zionists, turns the entire rationale for Israel upside down.
He was also the author of a sequel, also highly regarded but perhaps less well-known, titled the Invention of the Land of Israel, as well as a number of shorter essays on similar topics.
The historic importance of his new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew, is that is a part of the crystallisation of a trend among radical intellectuals of Jewish and often Israeli origin that offers the potential to provide an opening whereby the Israel-Palestine conflict can be resolved in a democratic manner. This means as a matter of democratic principle that it has to be resolved through the restoration of the full rights of the Palestinians. Sand represents a part of this broad trend, with some differences, whose most prominent representative up to now has been the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, representing people of Jewish origin who have come to recognise that the secular Jewish identity, which was the basis of the Zionist movement that created Israel, and which is still the mainstay of Israel’s ruling class, is empty and self-contradictory, and insofar as it has a political manifestation, harmful.
At first sight, the title of Sand’s book seems impossible – no one can ‘stop being’ a person of Jewish origin, any more than someone can stop being black, European, Chinese, or of any other ethnic background. But for Sand, it is not his ethnic origin that he is renouncing, but something else. One weakness of his book is that it is not entirely clear what, if it is not an ethnic origin, Sand is renouncing and ceasing to be.
The following letter, in a severely cut form, was published in the current issue of the Weekly Worker.
I am not necessarily complaining about it being cut, as hard-copy publications have limits on space that hardly exist in online publications. However, there are substantial arguments missing from the cut version that obviously have an impact on the debate, such that it is, that is supposed to be taking place on racism, Jews, and Palestinians.
I will say no more at this point, as the arguments speak for themselves.
Tony Greenstein is still peddling the racist pseudo-definition of ‘racism’ against Jews that is used by the bourgeois mainstream to suppress criticisms of Jewish behaviour which would be unquestionable if they were directed at any other people. He states that ‘anti-semitism’ always was concerned with the ‘social role’ of Jews, but fails to explain how criticism of the ‘social role’ of any section of society can in itself be racist. It cannot: except when combined with an ideology that racialises that role, so that the racist element supersedes social criticism. This happened in the late 19th Century when the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined by … biological racists as an obviously ‘racial’ term. This was then extended back in time by these racists. In fact, the entire concept of ‘race’ was absent from earlier conflicts.
In this article I will first of all address the question of the early Comintern’s ‘Anti-Imperialist United Front’ (AIUF), its rights and wrongs, and its application by the Comintern both in its revolutionary period and later. Later I will also address related weaknesses and inconsistencies in the early Comintern’s approach to imperialism, how those weaknesses have impacted on the left since, and how they can be corrected in our practice today. This will actually be quite a wide-ranging critique of some weaknesses in orthodox ‘Leninist’ theory, and will not abstain from criticising (when necessary) even people with the highest authority in the early 20th Century Communist movement: Lenin and Trotsky. But this is done from the standpoint of acceptance of Lenin’s understanding of imperialism, and an attempt to deal with some important, but secondary, flaws in that understanding.
The AIUF was put forward in the Theses on the Eastern Question at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922. It was an attempt to extend the concept of the United Front developed by the Comintern for the workers movement of the advanced countries, to the very different circumstances of backward colonial and semi/ex-colonial countries. The concept of the United Front is pretty simple – though the devil is in the detail as we shall touch upon here. Communists are the part of the working class movement that represents its historic interests, both in immediate struggles and ultimately in those struggles that pose the need for the working class to take power. But in all countries where the working class is the decisive section of the population, the workers movement is dominated by pro-capitalist bureaucracies and misleaders, who act as a brake on the movement and systematically betray struggles that threaten the capitalist system.