From New International, Vol.XVII No.4, July-August 1951, pp.222-231.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
(1) In the last five years, the related problems of Israel and the Near East, Zionism and the Jewish question in the world have been radically changed from their pre-war status by a series of political developments. While the new problems are rooted in the old, a thorough readaptation and restatement of the Marxist analysis of the questions involved is necessary, based upon an examination of these changes and of the present situation.
The new situation that has been created revolves around a development previously unanticipated by Marxists: the formation of the state of Israel, carved out within the borders of Palestine, as a Jewish state. Central to the re-examination of the changes thus wrought is the fact that this took place, and the new state is operating, in a world divided between two giant imperialist blocs engaged in a cold war which is leading to a new world conflict.
(2) At the same time the phenomena of degenerating capitalism accompanying the Second World War and its aftermath have vitally affected the character of the Jewish question in the world. The Second World War, widely looked upon among some sections of the Jewish people as a “war against anti – Semitism,” actually brought about a new worsening of the conditions of the Jews in the whole world. On the Axis side, there was the unprecedented physical. extermination of six million Jews – the Nazi “solution” of the Jewish problem in a barbarous manner scarcely known even in the older less “civilized” days.
A distinguishing feature of totalitarian capitalist forms of anti-Semitism is the total rejection of the Jews even as abject slaves. More and more the Jewish people of the world face, not the alternative of death or oppression as is usual for subject minorities, but rather: extermination or the fight for a socialist world. Degenerating capitalism has made a new evil out of even the ancient evil of anti-Semitism. In more and more parts of the world, the problem before the Jewish people has become simple survival, as, hand in hand with the totalitarian trends in the world today, the program of the extreme wings of anti-Semitic movements tends toward exterminationism.
(3) With the defeat of the Axis by the Allies, far from this leading to a better lot for the Jews of the world, post-war anti-Semitism has flowered also in the democratic capitalist countries and in the lands of the Russian Stalinist empire. The remnants of European Jewry found themselves in a worse plight than that of any other war-torn people in Europe. Deprived of their possessions, homeless, without means of livelihood, in many cases bereft of relatives, friends and families, herded into DP camps which are often little better than the concentration camps which they survived, most Jews of Europe have seen no future in their old homelands and have sought to emigrate into other lands to start life anew.
While it was the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions which first liberated the Jews of Western Europe from their ghetto existence, and it was the rise of the modern labor and socialist movement which fortified their rights, today with the growing inability of capitalism to maintain any kind of stable existence economically, the capitalist class finds all democratic forms and rights increasingly incompatible with their further rule. All the great conquests of the last 200 years fall victim one by one to the onslaught of capitalist totalitarianization. The struggle for the defense of the Jewish people, of their full equality in political, social and economic opportunity, and against all forms of anti-Semitism is, therefore, an integral part of the struggle in defense of democracy and civilization, a struggle which finds its only complete expression in the struggle for socialism. This struggle against anti-Semitism is likewise of the greatest importance for the American Marxist movement in educating the American working class to the political significance of anti-Semitism and its use by fascist and reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie as an anti-labor weapon.
(4) Nazi exterminationism and post-war anti-Semitism have led to a large-scale resurgence of nationalist sentiment among Jews all over the world. This growth in Jewish nationalism has in large part taken the form of a mass desire for a territory (Palestine in particular) where the Jewish population might be able to develop its own life under its own political institutions free from anti-Semitism. These aspirations are in themselves the legitimate democratic yearnings of a people long subjected to oppression and discrimination, yearnings which would be perfectly capable of satisfaction and achievement in a socialist world whether in Palestine or other areas. While this intensification of nationalism has inevitably also led in the post-war situation to the intensification and growth of the specific Zionist ideology, one of its strongest roots is simply the desire to escape from the hellish existence of the DPs in Europe and from the threat of worse developments.
The elementary democratic demand of free emigration and immigration, long part of every genuinely democratic program, must be most vigorously fought for in the specific case of the European Jews. All barriers to immigration to the countries of their choice must be broken down. For socialists in the US, the richest country in the world and the one capable of absorbing the largest population, this means the struggle against the exclusion of the Jews from this country. For this reason, independent socialists raised and continue to raise the slogan “Open the doors of the US!” This is also why, as long as Britain held the gate to Palestine, it was also the responsibility of the Marxists, particularly in Britain as well as in the US, to demand: “Open the doors of Palestine to Jewish refugees!”
(5) In Eastern Europe, behind the Iron Curtain, where the rumblings of a form of anti-Semitism are heard as never before under Stalinism, the growing Jewish nationalism (in this case even in its Zionist form) can play an especially progressive role. In the totalitarian prison of Stalinism, the progressive-nationalist kernel of Zionism (not to speak of non-Zionist Jewish nationalism) inescapably comes into irreconcilable opposition with the dictatorship and can help to mobilize a part of the population under the Stalinist heel against the Kremlin and its puppets.
Prior to World War II, Jews in Russia, although subject to forced assimilation, were on the whole accorded “prison-house equality” in this “prison-house of the peoples.” Popular anti-Semitism was suppressed; spreading of anti-Semitic propaganda was a criminal offense. Except for occasions when anti-Semitic prejudices could be used against political oppositionists, the ruling bureaucracy showed no anti-Semitic tendencies.
With the coming of World War II, and in line with the policy pursued by the Kremlin in its “patriotic war” of catering to Great-Russian chauvinist prejudices, the evidences of growing anti-Semitism began to multiply. Its practice has now permeated the ruling bureaucracy.
The anti-Semitic policy of the regime includes not only toleration of anti-Semitic propaganda and prejudices among the masses but tacit encouragement of them and catering to them. It includes growing exclusion of Jews from high government and bureaucratic positions and other honorary recognition, as in the cultural fields. The Kremlin’s drive against all Western influences is especially virulent against writers and artists of Jewish origin, who are denounced as “landless, rootless cosmopolitans, gypsies,” etc., reflecting the regime’s fears of ties between the Jews and the outside world and their greater resistance to Russian chauvinism. All of this has also been transferred to the Eastern European satellites of Moscow.
The implications of the charges of “cosmopolitanism” and so on are sufficiently unmistakable and cannot but arouse the fear that the Jews within the Stalinist empire, particularly within Russia, may in a third world war suffer the fate of the Volga Germans in World War II – genocide. The emergence of anti-Semitism in Stalinist totalitarianism is a development that is not at all improbable in terms of the dynamics of bureaucratic collectivism. The tendency of the bureaucracy to use the Jews as scapegoats, in the face of the masses’ hatred of the regime, has posed the question of the physical survival of Jews under Stalinist ‘despotism. The regime cynically exploits popular anti-Semitic prejudices for its own reactionary ends: (a) to smear political opposition; (b) to deflect part of the masses’ hatred from themselves on to an unpopular group.
In the Eastern European Stalinist states, the Jewish survivors who returned to build a new life in their decimated and depopulated towns met with new, fierce and aggravated hostility. Unable to rebuild their lives in their old homes, the Jewish masses seek a new haven away from the cemetery of their people. Emigration has become for them a crucial and immediately vital need. Stalinism moves to deny this right to emigration and to shut the door of its prison-house upon them.
The struggle for the right to emigration must now be joined to the fight for the right of free immigration to the US, Israel and all other countries. The socialist and trade union movements must enlist in the international fight for freedom of emigration from the Iron Curtain domain.
(6) It is, however, in its impact upon the situation in Israel that the fundamentally reactionary ideology of the Zionist form of this growing Jewish nationalism has had its most harmful effects. The Arab-Jewish war in Palestine which was touched off by partition must be considered not only as the immediate consequence of the UN act of partition, but as the culmination of the decades-long policy of Zionism and British imperialism in the Near East, together with the reactionary role of the Arab landlord ruling class.
The antagonism of Jews and Arabs, which reached its highest point in armed conflict, was fed from both sides. It was fed on the criminal policy of Zionism toward the Arabs, a policy which was based on the aim of minority rule by the Jews in Palestine under the wing of British imperialism. On their side, the semi-feudal Arab rulers sought to utilize the legitimate national fears of the Arab masses against Zionism for their own reactionary purposes, to keep the Arab people separated from the Jewish masses and to maintain their own oppressive rule over their own people.
(7) The post-war influx of European Jews into Palestine greatly exacerbated Arab-Jewish relations in the country. The Zionist leaders looked upon this influx of refugees as a means of imposing all-Jewish rule upon the whole country. The Arab effendis demanded that the Jewish people, hounded in Europe, be deprived of the right to found a new life in the country of their choice. The Marxists, firmly opposed to both, advocated a policy which would bring together the Arab and Jewish peoples in a joint fight against British imperialism in the first place, and, necessarily bound up with this, against Jewish capital and Arab landlordism, for a Palestine freed from all foreign rule and governed by a democratic Constituent Assembly based upon equal and universal suffrage.
Such a fight was desired least of all by the Jewish and Arab upper classes. In the course of a joint struggle from below, cemented by common national-revolutionary aims and common social interests, Marxists aimed for a free and independent state of Palestine, based on the coexistence of two equal peoples, with national and cultural rights and autonomy safeguarded for both. This was the only progressive solution of the Palestine question. It looked not only to revolutionary struggles in Palestine but to the upsurge of anti-imperialist and revolutionary strivings in the whole Near East, on the road to a Near East Federation of socialist republics.
(8) Another consequence of the Second World War was the extreme weakening of British imperialism, and the emergence of the US and Russia as the two giants of world imperialism, neither of which was desirous of permitting Palestine to remain the unchallenged preserve of the London City. British imperialism was further weakened by the strivings of the Arab world for independence from its rule. Zionist eyes turned more and more toward Washington instead of London, in some of its sections toward Russia. Washington, keenly interested in the Near East and its oil, could look forward to ruling by the power of the dollar, once the British political fence was removed. Russia could look forward to an easier road to infiltration for the strengthening of its own sphere of influence.
Under these pressures and in this interplay of the imperialist rivalries, the UN decided on the partition of Palestine and the setting up of a truncated state for the Jews – to be sure, against the bitter opposition of the British under the leadership of the Laborite government, which acted in foreign policy as the loyal caretaker of British imperialism. The state of Israel was brought into existence, however, only through the fight of the Palestinian Jews themselves, against Arab armies supported by Britain and without the help of the UN.
(9) For the Marxists, the partition was and is no solution for either the basic problem of Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine or, still less, for the Jewish problem in the world. As against partition, we advocated a different course, one which did not depend on – and which could not redound to the advantage of – any of the imperialists: our program for a joint Arab-Jewish revolutionary struggle for national liberation and for a revolutionary government based on a democratic Constituent Assembly. Under the circumstances of the aftermath of the Second World War and given the absence of a revolutionary Marxist party in Palestine to guide and lead such a struggle, this socialist program could not take life as an alternative to the actual course of development.
The Zionist leadership (at first) and the Arab cabal also opposed partition, because they too had an alternative: the complete conquest of Palestine and the subordination of the other people, by force of arms if necessary – a reactionary chauvinistic alternative at the opposite pole from that of the Marxists. If the Zionist leaders finally accepted the partition willingly, it was because they reconciled themselves to it as a necessary installment toward their real end.
There was no such reason for the Marxist view of partition to come to an end with the UN decision. As compared with the program we advocated, partition represented a setback on the road to greater understanding and cooperation between the Jewish and Arab peoples: it did indeed lead to a bloody fratricidal war in which and after which national feelings were inflamed even more and state-boundary walls were set up between the two peoples.
(10) But if partition and the subsequent setting up and consolidation of the new state of Israel did not and could not solve the basic problem, or advance its solution, it did pose entirely new conditions under which that solution had to be sought. For the first time, for the Marxists, the question was posed in real, political – not abstract – terms: Do the Jews in Palestine have the right to self-determination?
Previously this question had been demagogically posed by the Zionists only as a misleading formulation of their actual program of minority rule over an Arab majority – therefore not as a question of democratic self-determination at all. It could be honestly posed in reality only on the basis of a partition, which, however, had been as vigorously opposed by most Zionist and semi-Zionist tendencies as by the Marxists, up to the UN decision.
Before the actual fact of partition the Marxists could counterpose to all other programs their own program for a democratic united Palestine as part of the perspective of socialist revolution in the Near East. The outbreak of war in Palestine particularly posed the question of the right of self-determination sharply before the Marxist movement.
(11) A clear distinction must be made between (a) the right of a people to self-determination, and (b) the correctness or advisability of exercising this right to the point of separation under given conditions. While the Marxist view was opposed to partition and the creation of a separate Jewish state as the solution for Palestine, it is yet the clear fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestine’s Jews desired it. The democratic right here involved – which involves also the democratic right to follow a mistaken policy – was attacked and contested, not by any force acting in the interest of a higher democracy or of socialism, but by the armies of a reactionary social class, the Arab effendis. The reactionary nature of this assault on the Jews’ act of self-determination is not eliminated by the fact that the Arab peoples themselves suffer from the exploitation of imperialism, especially in view of the fact that the assault took place with the urging and aid of British imperialism.
Also not involved is any scientific-theoretical question of “the nature of the Jewish people” – i. e., nation, race, etc.? – since (a) the problem concerns not Jews or people of Jewish descent in the world as a whole, but specifically the Jewish community in given territorial areas of Palestine, and (b) whatever the scientific-theoretical verdict might be for the Jews as a whole, it is obvious that the Palestinian Jewish community has acted and is acting exactly as if it were a national people, and this is enough for the purpose of determining a political program.
(12) The politics from which the war in Palestine flowed, therefore, was – on the side of the Jews – their exercise of their right to self-determination; and – on the side of the Arab states – their aim of depriving the Jews of this right by force of arms. The war itself was necessarily fought by the Jews independently of the UN and of any of the imperialists because of the policies of the latter. The Marxist position on this war was summed up as follows:
(13) This objective could be achieved only on the basis of a revolutionary program, not on the basis of Zionist nationalism. It meant the aim of constructing Israel not as an exclusively Jewish state (even one which treated an Arab minority tolerably) but as a “bi-national” state – a bi-national state in the specific sense of one which is planned as the home of two equal peoples, not of one master race tolerating an alien minority.
The victory in war of the splinter state of Israel ensured its national existence and independence for this period but did not solve its problems. Without at all derogating the fact of Israel’s independent status, it is still important to understand the following: Merely military victory – especially with the maintenance of a Zionist-nationalist and implicitly expansionist perspective, on the one hand, and on the other hand the demands in some Arab circles for a “second round” of fighting for the overthrow of Israeli independence – can only result in a permanent state of Near Eastern “cold war” between Jews and Arabs, chronic national tensions, border incidents, and permanent national hatred.
Under these conditions, for a splinter state whose economic life is intertwined with that of its Arab neighbors, its future can only be that of a state-wide ghetto in an Arab world. The leaders of Israel can make this future bearable only by dependence, and ever-increasing dependence, on one or the other of the predatory imperialisms, by becoming its outpost in its section of the world. Both Russia and the US bloc seek to dominate Israel in this way, but in today’s situation the strongest imperialist force operating to subjugate Israel and break it into this role is US imperialism, operating both through the general economic power of US wealth and specifically through control of the purse strings of Israel by Jewish capitalist elements in the US.
(14) In the longer run, the only alternative for Israel, as against a chronic nightmare existence and becoming a puppet of outside imperialism, is the perspective of the integration of Israel into an Independent Near Eastern Union of States, genuinely free from all imperialist subordination and control. As long as Jewish capital and Arab landlordism remain in control of these states this aim is not a practical possibility; the fight for its realization requires the building of a revolutionary socialist movement in Israel and of revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ movements in the Arab countries. In general, the development of this slogan would be along the same lines as that already proposed for an Independent Western Union in Europe.
(15) A special responsibility – not a one-sided one, but a special responsibility – in this regard devolves upon the working-class movement of Israel, precisely because of its more advanced character and ideology and the more advanced nature of the economy upon which it rests. Without in the least counterposing the tasks of Israeli socialists to those of socialists and consistent revolutionary nationalists in the Arab countries, or the importance of a revolutionary program on both sides of the national division, it is the particular duty of the Israeli socialist movement to develop a program making for an alliance between Israel’s working class and the Arab masses against their own exploiters and ruling classes. Such a program could take its start and indicate its direction with such demands as the following:
(16) While a progressive development for Israel cannot unfold fully for Israel unless it moves in the direction of Jewish-Arab unity within Israel and toward voluntary federation with the Arab world about it, the road to building a socialist movement which will fight in this direction does not depend only on a program revolving around this question. The development of Israel since its creation makes clear to all that within the Jewish population the class struggle of the proletariat versus the Israeli bourgeoisie is not exorcized by Zionism. On the contrary, this class struggle has been sharpened, especially under the conditions of the country’s continuing economic crisis, and tends to break out of the bounds of Zionist national unity.
In its truncated section of Palestine – poor in resources, moreover – Israel’s economic crisis is decisively, though not exclusively, linked with its international position in a cold-war-torn world, as a Jewish island in an Arab region and as a small country under the pressure of the imperialist blocs. Its economy is drained by its relatively enormous arms budget and by the disruption of the normal trade relations with the Arab areas around it. The socialist program on Jewish relations with this Arab world is therefore a requisite to a solution of the economic crisis also – that is, to the domestic program. In addition, a genuinely socialist domestic program would also include:
(17) The establishment of peace between Israel and the Arab countries is a vital necessity for the economic well-being and development of all the Middle Eastern countries. The road toward achieving such peace requires such an Israeli policy toward the Arab peoples as will create popular sentiment for peace among those peoples. This is a necessary first step toward any permanent solution.
More than in Western Europe, more than in the Far East, the healthy development of the Israeli economy and society requires integration into a supra-national unity, through voluntary federation between the two states artificially carved out of Palestine. Most immediately indicated is the aim of a voluntary federation of Israel and Arab Palestine, bringing together once more the parts of this divided country. This would be an important step on the road to an Independent Near East Union, as a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ movement develops in the Arab states under the thrones of the effendis. This is the path advocated by the Marxists toward the achievement of the great goal of a United Socialist States of the Near East, as part of a socialist world.
(18) The setting up of Israel has had a strong impact on Zionist ideology both in Israel and in the rest of the world. Within Israel, the growing weight of Israeli nationalism becomes intertwined with Zionist ideology, as a new independent force, and at the same time comes into conflict with the Zionist movement of the diaspora.
What remains of the specific Zionist ideology in the countries outside Palestine, now that a Jewish state actually exists in Israel, is more than ever utopian and reactionary. This is so, not because it is (in its own way) a manifestation of the legitimate democratic aspirations of Jewish masses for an independent territory in which they can carry on their own life free from anti-Semitism, but because of Zionism’s basic thesis that the establishment of a Jewish state is the solution to the Jewish problem in the world.
The problem of the Jewish population in the diaspora cannot be solved by any perspective of emigration to Israel, except for a small part; Israel cannot absorb them. In the Moslem countries outside of Palestine, the situation of the Jews has been considerably worsened. The Jewish problem remains in the world, sharpened by the war and by capitalist degeneration, and Zionism no longer can even pretend to be able to eliminate it along its chosen road. The overwhelming majority of the Jews dwell, and will continue to dwell, outside of Israel. The fight for the abolition of all injustices practised against the Jews, of all inequality in status and opportunity, of all anti-Semitic practices and prejudices, is more than ever bound up with the fight for socialism in all countries and on a world scale.
(19) In these countries Jewish nationalism, even in its Zionist form (like Negro nationalism to a certain extent), springs from some progressive roots – in particular, recognition of the trend of capitalism toward anti-Semitism and a desire to ensure a free life for the Jewish people. It is reactionary in its consequences inasmuch as it leads to the characteristic Zionist ideology: their view of the diaspora merely as a reservoir of manpower and material aid for a future expansion of Israel as a dominantly Jewish state, both at the expense of the surrounding Arab countries and toward the eventual liquidation of all Jewish communities outside Palestine; the consequent belief that the perspective for every Jew should be to go to Palestine, as a matter of tribal solidarity and “blood”; the view that any participation by a Jew in the class struggle in the countries of the diaspora is either in contradiction with his Jewishness, or, at best, an incidental activity permissible (or even desirable) as long as he is still outside Palestine and as long as it does not conflict with his main responsibility.
(20) In opposition to this, the Marxists propose to the Jewish people in their countries that their main responsibility is to fight at home not only against anti-Semitism in all its forms but, in order to carry out this very fight effectively, for socialism and a workers’ government – which at one and the same time is the only guarantee not only for a free life for the Jewish people but also for the healthy development of Israel and Jewish-Arab relations in the Near East. Insofar as Jewish nationalism does contain or spring from progressive aspirations which we share, we seek to point out to nationalist-minded Jews that their prime duty is to join with the labor and socialist movements of their own countries in the struggle for a workers’ world.
This means rejection of the organization of Jews as such, on the basis of principled separatism, either politically or economically (i. e., specifically Jewish unions, Jewish political parties whether Zionist or not, etc.); it means common organization with all other workers, within which common organization, special programs, propaganda and institutions need to be devoted to the special Jewish problem. We make clear that this does not bear on the right and/or the need of Jews to carry on specifically Jewish cultural activities and organizations, or to organize specific Jewish defense organizations while seeking the support and participation of the labor movement and all other opponents of anti-Semitism.
(21) Outside of the above, which is the primary political proposal of the Marxists to the Jewish people regarding their relations with the labor movement in the countries outside Israel, the Marxists do not – and do not need to – take a fixed position on the theoretical and speculative aspects of the problem of “assimilation.” Under capitalism, total assimilation is an unreal perspective – except, possibly, in its very worst form, i.e., forced constraint. Under socialism the Jewish people themselves will be free to choose their own road – whether toward assimilation, or toward some form of cultural autonomy, or even toward some form of territorial political autonomy within the framework of free socialist federation, or any combination of these. This will be decided in practice by the Jewish people themselves, under the new conditions and opportunities provided by socialist democracy, and not imposed in advance either by a revolutionary party, a workers’ state, or even by any existing movement of the Jewish people themselves
Here too the Zionist movement shows its chauvinist ideology in arbitrarily seeking to restrict or interdict or wipe out Yiddish culture (language, literature, schools, etc.) both in Israel and in other countries.
On the political field, however, the Marxist movement vigorously advocates the “assimilation” of the Jewish people in all countries into the labor and socialist movement of that country, for a common fight against capitalism.
(22) In the United States particularly, the pressure of conditions under which the Jews live is far from resembling that of the Jewish DPs in Europe. In the United States, therefore, we approach socialist Zionists, especially left-wing socialist Zionists, in the first place on the basis of a common fight for the many objectives we jointly hold in social and political action here and now, seek to develop common political action for the labor and socialist fight here and now, and seek to convince them, in the course of such common struggle, of the Marxist view on the relation between the Jewish struggle and the struggle against capitalism at home.
Last updated on 8.8.2007