Israel's War of 1948 and the Degeneration of the Fourth International

By Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), May 2013,


Preface of the Editorial Board: The following document from comrade Yossi Schwartz is a major contribution in two respects. First it outlines the Marxist position on the colonial settler state Israel, its emergence and its reactionary war in 1948 – called by the Zionists in true Orwellian-speak “Independence War”. Additionally, the document is also important for understanding the history of the Fourth International’s position on Zionism and the national liberation struggle in Palestine. In particular comrade Schwartz demonstrates that the small Trotskyist forces in Palestine under the leadership of Tony Cliff (who later became the founder of the centrist International Socialists tendency respective the Socialist Workers Party in Britain) never understood the national question in Palestine and failed to take a revolutionary stand. It was one of the first expressions of the process of its centrist degeneration that the Fourth International failed to take a revolutionary defeatist position against Israel in its War in 1948 and a revolutionary defensist position for the Arab countries.

The author, Yossi Schwartz, is certainly one of the most suitable Marxists to deal with these subjects. He is an Israeli-Jewish Trotskyist and Anti-Zionist who has been politically active for several decades and has always sided with the Palestinian liberation struggle in words and deeds. He is a long-time leader of the International Socialist Leaguewhich recently joined the RCIT and became its section in Occupied Palestine/Israel.

Comrade Yossi Schwartz is currently working on the Marxist position on Israel’s numerous wars in its history. This document is the first in a planned series of articles on this subject. We hope that this document encourages a discussion amongst serious revolutionary forces both in Occupied Palestine/Israel as well as internationally.


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The war of 1948 between the Zionist armed forces against the Palestinians and the Arab states was a war not between an imperialist state (Israel was not yet an imperialist state) and colonies or semi-colonies. It was a war between Israel that was a semi-colony built by settlers colonialists on one side while the Palestinians who were an oppressed colonized people and the Arab states that were semi-colonies on the other side. For those who use formal logic it was not easy to choose a side. Today most people that support the Palestinians would agree that it was necessary to stand in the war with the Palestinians and the Arab states. However they will have some difficulties to explain why to side with the Arab states that were "ruled" by kings who clearly were serving the British and French imperialist masters.

The argument that many supporters of the Palestinians just cause advance that it was necessary to stand against Israel in the war because Israel was an oppressor settler colonialist society has a flow. When Britain fought against the 13 American colonies in the American war of independence (1775–1783), the progressive and revolutionary part of humanity were on the side of the American settler colonialists even when these colonialists oppressed the native Indians. It was necessary to defend the Indians against the white settlers and to defend the colonialist settlers against the British Empire because the British Empire was the worse enemy. No one can think that the British Empire fought on the side of the Indians. Those who refused to stand with the American colonialist against imperialism did not help the Indians but the “imperialists”.

The question whether to support or oppose Israel in 1948 relates of course to the question: Do Marxists support the right of self-determination for the Israelis?

Only the working class internationalist outlook that sees the unity of the world through the revolutionary perspective of the workers in the unequal but combined parts can offer the theoretical answer to the war of 1948.

The war of 1948 was situated in the epoch of decay of capitalism. Thus while the American war of independence was the first stage of the democratic revolution that would be completed with the victory of the North against the South in the Civil War of 1861-1865, Israel, even though it is an imperialist state, never went through nor can it go through a democratic revolution because of the nature of this period and the nature of Zionism. Israel cannot give the Palestinians equal rights because it would not be a state with Jewish majority of citizens any more. It would lose its legitimization for existence and it’s whole political and military state apparatus would be threatened. It would therefore mean a suicide of Israel which the beast is of course not willing to do. This is the reason why the demand of one democratic state from the river to the sea can not be achieved without a socialist revolution.


The Zionist’s Aim in the 1948 War


If Israel was a progressive society and if it was fighting a revolutionary anti-imperialist war in 1948 as the Stalinists claimed at the time, the outcome in the region would be the weakening of the imperialist control over the region. In the real world the opposite happened.

It is sufficient to read the articles, diaries, speeches of the leading Zionists including the left wing Zionists, to realize that the Zionists aim in the war of 1948 was to crash and force the Palestinian to flee their homeland. It also demonstrates that the Zionists were made in the same mold of the South African Afrikaners. This becomes evident from the leading Zionists own words. Let us quote first Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Zionists:

"Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.[1]

Later Jabotinsky proclaimed the “iron law of every colonizing movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf. Or else – or else, give up your colonization, for without an armed force which will render physically impossible any attempts to destroy or prevent this colonization, colonization is impossible, not "difficult", not "dangerous" but IMPOSSIBLE! ... Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot – or else I am through with playing at colonialization.[2]

Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department, said: “There are some who believe that the non-Jewish population, even in a high percentage, within our borders will be more effectively under our surveillance; and there are some who believe the contrary, i.e., that it is easier to carry out surveillance over the activities of a neighbor than over those of a tenant. [I] tend to support the latter view and have an additional argument (...) the need to sustain the character of the state which will henceforth be Jewish (...) with a non-Jewish minority limited to 15 percent. I had already reached this fundamental position as early as 1940 [and] it is entered in my diary." [3]

David Ben Gurion, future Prime Minister of Israel, already wrote in 1937 in a letter to his son about the Zionist plans for the expulsion of the Palestinian people: "We must expel Arabs and take their places." [4]

Other quotes from Ben Gurion underline the Zionist expansionist plans: "We should prepare to go over to the offensive. Our aim is to smash Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, and Syria. The weak point is Lebanon, for the Moslem regime is artificial and easy for us to undermine. We shall establish a Christian state there, and then we will smash the Arab Legion, eliminate Trans-Jordan; Syria will fall to us. We then bomb and move on and take Port Said, Alexandria and Sinai”. [5]

Yitzhak Rabin reported in his memoirs: "We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?' Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!'" [6]

Later Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin would express Zionist racism in its most brutal frankness in a speech to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament): “Our race is the Master Race. We are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from insects. In fact, compared to our race, other races are beasts and animals, cattle at best. Other races are considered as human excrement. Our destiny is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as our slaves." [7]

The small selection of quotes demonstrates unequivocally the reactionary nature of Zionism as it was planning the creation of the Israeli state and the war of expulsion necessary for it. As reactionary as Israel’s wars are, as progressive are the effects of its defeats. Today we can see this very clearly that the latest defeats of Israel in Lebanon when it had to escape in the middle of the night in 2000, in the second war of Lebanon when it was defeated by Hezbollah, in the war of the Palestinian Authority backed by Israel against Hamas in 2007 and in the last war against Hamas in 2012 were important factors in the break out of the Second Intifada in September 2000 as well as the Arab revolution since 2011. These defeats of Israel have convinced the Arab masses not only that Israel can be defeated but the Arab dictators as well. If Israel was a progressive society than its victory in 1967 would cause an Arab mass uprising. In the real world following the 1967 war the Arab masses felt humiliated and weak.


Revolutionary Wave after the Second World War


The war of 1948 took place a few years after the end of the Second World War. Towards the end and following the end of WWII, the imperialists ruling classes feared a new revolutionary wave like the one which spread across Europe and beyond, following World War I. It was a wave that opened the doors for the victory of Bolshevism. A leading conservative politician in Britain, Quintin Hogg, expressed the capitalist’s fear and their readiness to do everything possible in order to contain the working class revolution, in 1943 in the following words: "We must give them reforms or they will give us revolution. [8]

Indeed a working class revolutionary wave erupted in Europe and in the colonies and semi-colonies in Africa and Latin America at the end of WWII. The revolutionary Fourth International understood the contradictions and difficulties of the revolutionary struggle in Europe. Such wrote George Novack, one of the leading US-Trotskyists:

"The final stage of the war gave rise to a mighty offensive of the masses beginning in Italy and extending to all the occupied countries. The workers of Italy, France, Belgium, Greece, Holland acquired arms and created their own military formations; took possession in many places of the factories, means of transportation, etc.; established popular control over the distribution of food, the dispensing of justice, the administration of local affairs. These embryonic elements of dual power, if coordinated, developed and expanded, could have provided the basis for the complete overturn of capitalist rule and the institution of the sovereignty of the toiling masses in these countries.

Three main factors prevented the victorious consummation of the uprising of the workers. First, the full weight of the preponderant military forces of the Anglo-American invaders in counter-revolutionary alliance with the Kremlin was flung against the insurgent masses to arrest their struggles. The Big Three conspired to set up puppet regimes obedient to their will. Second, the Stalinist and Socialist parties which commanded the allegiance of the working masses worked hand in glove with the Allied powers to save capitalist rule by disarming the workers militarily and politically. Third, the Trotskyist groups and parties were too weak and immature to intervene as a decisive force and head off this disaster.

For these reasons the first wave of revolution fell short of its goal throughout Western Europe. The bloody crushing of the ELAS-EAM in Greece, combined with the cowardly capitulation of its Stalinist leadership before the British-backed capitalist monarchist counter-revolution, marked the close of this first period. Since then a marked recession in the revolutionary tide has set in. The repulse of the proletarian offensive has afforded the capitalist rulers a breathing spell and enabled them to regain a transitory and precarious equilibrium.

Aided by Anglo-American imperialism and the complicity of the Stalinist and Socialist misleaders, the Western European bourgeoisie are utilizing this pause to strengthen their shaken positions, to further undermine the power of the proletariat, and to prepare for the launching of their own counter-offensives. The capitalists, the church, the army are mobilizing their forces to fortify and reestablish their dictatorial rule. In Belgium they are plotting to bring back King Leopold. In France they support de Gaulle’s drive to legitimatize and buttress his Bonapartist aspirations. Under British tutelage in Italy and Greece the monarchists and other reactionaries are displaying growing impudence and activity." [9]

The repression of the revolutionary uprisings in the colonies and the semi-colonies was very severe. In some cases the imperialists managed to defeat the working class revolutionary uprisings. In other countries like in China they were able with the help of the Nationalists and the Stalinists to prevent a working class revolution but could not totally defeat the revolution and this explains the victory of the Stalinist peasantry-based revolution in 1949. The victorious revolution in China led to the formation of the degenerated workers state. This means a state where it was necessary for the working class to overthrow by a political revolution the Stalinists in order to open the road to socialism. As this did not happen China today is a capitalist-imperialist state. [10] 

The reactionary results of the war of 1948 in Palestine were part of the defeat of the revolutionary tide in the "Third World". Any attempt to understand this war in isolation and outside the historical context is a blind alley.


Stalinism supported Israel’s reactionary War in 1948


At the time of the 1948 war the Stalinists presented the Zionist war as an anti-imperialist war and thus the creation of Israel as a progressive event. In reality it was a victory for the imperialists and a counter revolutionary event.

Already in 1943 the Palestinian Communist Party (PKP) was moving toward integration within the organized Jewish Yishuv. While opposing partition and calling for an independent democratic state, it increasingly upheld a bi-national vision, based on “the principle of equal rights of Jews and Arabs for free national, economic and cultural development, without artificial interruptions and in mutual cooperation and brotherhood of nation.” [11] This motion toward political support for Zionism caused a split of the PKP and the left wing that consisted more of Palestinian patriots known as the National Liberation League emerged in opposition to the motion of the PKP.

Despite their differences, both factions agreed on one core principle of the bi-national approach: the need to treat members of both national groups equally, whether as citizens in a joint state or as members of national collectives enjoying the same rights within a federal state, or as groups entitled to the right of national self determination.

The Soviet Stalinists recognized the right of self determination for the Zionists for the first time in May 1947 in a speech delivered by the USSR’s ambassador at the United Nations, Andrei Gromyko:

It is essential to bear in mind the indisputable fact that the population of Palestine consists of two peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. Both have historical roots in Palestine. Palestine has become the homeland of both these peoples, each of which plays an important part in the economy and the cultural life of the country. (…) Thus, the solution of the Palestine problem by the establishment of a single Arab-Jewish State with equal rights for the Jews and the Arabs may be considered as one of the possibilities and one of the more noteworthy methods for the solution of this complicated problem. Such a solution of the problem of Palestine's future might be a sound foundation for the peaceful co-existence and co-operation of the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine, in the interests of both these peoples and to the advantage of the entire Palestine population and of the peace and security of the Near East. (…) “If this plan proved impossible to implement, in view of the deterioration in the relations between the Jews and the Arabs--and it will be very important to know the special committee's opinion on this question--then it would be necessary to consider the second plan which, like the first, has its supporters in Palestine, and which provides for the partition of Palestine into two independent autonomous States, one Jewish and one Arab.[12]

It is interesting to read the account of the Stalinists support for the creation of Israel by Norman Berdichevsky, a fanatic supporter of Israel:

The most famous and colorful personality of the Spanish Republic in exile, the Basque delegate to the Cortes (Spanish Parliament), Dolores Ibarruri, who had gone to the Soviet Union, issued a proclamation in 1948 saluting the new State of Israel and comparing the invading Arab armies to the Fascist uprising that had destroyed the Republic. Just a few months earlier, the hero of the American Left, the great Afro-American folk singer, Paul Robeson had sung in a gala concert in Moscow and electrified the crowd with his rendition of the Yiddish Partisan Fighters Song…

The leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), already in the summer of 1947, intended to purchase arms and sent Dr. Moshe Sneh (the Chief of the European Branch of the Jewish Agency, a leading member of the centrist General Zionist Party who later moved far leftward and became head of the Israeli Communist Party) to Prague in order to improve Jewish defenses. He was surprised by the sympathy towards Zionism and by the interest in arms export on the side of the Czech Government. Sneh met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis, who succeeded the non-Communist and definitely pro-Zionist Jan Masaryk. Sneh and Clementis discussed the possibility of Czech arms provisions for the Jewish state and the Czechs gave their approval,

In January, 1948 Jewish representatives were sent by Ben-Gurion to meet with General Ludvik Svoboda, the Minister of National Defense, and sign the first contract for Czech military aid. Four transport routes were used to Palestine all via Communist countries; a) the Northern route: via Poland and the Baltic Sea, b) the Southern route: via Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Adriatic Sea, c) via Hungary, Romania and the Black Sea, d) by air, via Yugoslavia to Palestine.

At first, a "Skymaster" plane chartered from the U.S. to help in ferrying weapons to Palestine from Europe was forced by the FBI to return to the USA. By the end of May the Israeli Army (IDF) had absorbed about 20,000 Czech rifles, 2,800 machine-guns and over 27 million rounds of ammunition. Two weeks later an additional 10,000 rifles, 1,800 machine-guns and 20 million rounds of ammunition arrived. One Czech-Israeli project that alarmed the Western intelligence was the, so called, Czech Brigade, a unit composed of Jewish veterans of "Free Czechoslovakia", which fought with the British Army during WWII. The Brigade began training in August 1948 at four bases in Czechoslovakia.

Czech assistance to Israel's military strength comprised a) small arms, b) 84 airplanes –– the outdated Czech built Avia S.199s, Spitfires and Messerschmidts that played a major role in the demoralization of enemy troops; c) military training and technical maintenance. On January 7, 1949, the Israeli air-force, consisting of several Spitfires and Czech built Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighters (transferred secretly from Czech bases to Israel), shot down five British-piloted Spitfires flying for the Egyptian air-force over the Sinai desert causing a major diplomatic embarrassment for the British government.

Even with Czech weapons and Soviet aid, Israel would undoubtedly have been unable to halt the Arab invasion without a massive inflow of manpower. The United States, Canada and Europe provided no more than 3000 volunteers, many of them combat hardened veterans from both the European and Pacific theaters of war plus a few score idealistic youngsters from the Zionist movements with no combat experience or training.

But their numbers were a drop in the bucket compared to more than 200,000 Jewish immigrants from the Soviet dominated countries in Eastern Europe, notably, Poland, Bulgaria (almost 95% of the entire Jewish community) Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the former Baltic States and even the Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel arriving in time to reach the front lines or replenish the depleted ranks of civilian manpower. Without both the arms and manpower sent from the "Socialist Camp", to aid the nascent Israeli state, it would have been crushed.

In 1947, when Stalin was convinced that the Zionists would evict the British from Palestine, the Party Line turned about face. Following Soviet recognition and aid to Israel in 1948-49, both the Daily Worker and the Yiddish language communist daily in the U.S. Freiheit (Freedom) outdid one another to explain the new party line in that....

‘Palestine had become an important settlement of 600,000 souls, having developed a common national economy, a growing national culture and the first elements of Palestinian Jewish statehood and self-government.’

A 1947 CP-USA resolution entitled ‘Work Among the Jewish Masses’ berated the Party's previous stand and proclaimed that ‘Jewish Marxists have not always displayed a positive attitude to the rights and interests of the Jewish People, to the special needs and problems of our own American Jewish national group and to the interests and rights of the Jewish Community in Palestine’

The new reality that had been created in Palestine was a "Hebrew nation" that deserved the right to self-determination. Remarkably, the Soviet propaganda machine even praised the far Right underground groups of the Irgun and "Stern Gang" for their campaign of violence against the British authorities.” [13]

As a result the Soviet Union was the first country to legally recognize de jure, the Israeli state.

This Stalinist counter revolutionary policy of giving the Zionist political as well as military support determined the outcome of the war. It enabled Israel to expel most of the Palestinian people from their country while the Zionist robbed their properties. Stalinism – despite its “communist” rhetoric – proved to be a major counter-revolutionary force and an enemy of the international working class and the oppressed masses. It discredited communism for decades in the whole Middle East. It is in the same reactionary logic that most Stalinist forces today sided with the Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya in 2011 and still support the Assad regime in Syria which is waging a counter-revolutionary civil war against the rebellious popular masses. An authentic revolutionary working class party as part of the Fifth International will have to fight relentlessly against the Stalinist policy.


Shachtmanite Right-Wing Centrism supports Israel’s reactionary War in 1948


The political programs of some of the centrists who call themselves Trotskyites on the question of the socialist revolution in Palestine are rooted in the positions of the Fourth International (FI) and of the Shachtmanites split from the FI in that period. The FI was already making one centrist failure in 1941, conducted by the SWP during the Minneapolis trial in October 1941 when Cannon expressed concessions to Defensiveness and Social Patriotism. Although the Fourth International followed by and large a revolutionary course during the WWII, its degeneration developed later on to the extreme. This degeneration process towards centrism became strongly apparent – in addition to the shameful failure in the Israel-Palestine War in 1948 – in the “Open Letter” to Tito and the political support to Mao Zedong, while denouncing the Chinese Trotskyists in 1948. The position of others who call themselves Trotskyists is influenced by the Shachtmanites who stood to the right of the FI. [14]

The FI did not take a position on the war when it broke out. This by itself is a symptom of degeneration. It took months before the FI came up with a political position and it was wrong. Clearly as a fast degenerating organization, an organization transforming into a centrist organization, it was already unable to examine the war from the perspective of the revolutionary international working class. It defended the right of self-determination of the Israelis though it opposed the partition and it took the position of revolutionary defeatism both for Israel and the Arab states.

In the real world it is impossible to support the right of self-determination for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. One has to choose a side either for the settler colonialists or for the oppressed colonized Palestinians. To support the right of self-determination means to support the right to set up a state. A Zionist state even in parts of Palestine could be formed only by the stealing of Palestinians lands. Not only this but any Zionist state with a majority of Jews meant to expel most Palestinians from the Zionist territory. This was clear already in 1937 with the recommendation of Peel Commission calling for thepartition plan that at the same time called for the removal of a quarter of million Palestinians. Those who support today the existence of Israel oppose the full right of the return of the Palestinian refugees whom Israel expelled in 1947-48.

The Shachtmanites, who split from the FI in 1940, elaborated their position on the emerging Zionist state in their theoretical journal New International (which they appropriated after the split with the Fourth International in 1940). They supported the right of self-determination for Israel and opposed the Arab states in the war. The FI on the other hand opposed the partition and took the position of revolutionary defeat for the Zionists and the Arab states.

Let us examine more closely the positions of the FI, the Trotskyists in Palestine – the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL) – and of the Shachtmanites.

Hal Draper, a Shachtmanite, wrote in July 1948 in the New International, which by then was already a right wing centrist organ, that it would be better if the partition plan was rejected. However since it was not rejected, Draper continues, it is necessary to defend Israel’s right to exist as a reflection of the principle of the right of self-determination to all nations. In light of this right it is necessary to defend Israel against the reactionary Arab states that want to prevent the implementation of this right. This was – according to the Shachtmanites – also the Bolshevik policy in the case of Finland. Then he turned against the FI and writes:

"What, however, shall we say of self-styled socialists who do not make even this beginning? We are thinking of the Socialist Workers Party group (Cannonites), which finally had a few words to say about the Palestine situation in the May 31 issue of its Militant. They argue for supporting neither side. The result is pitiful and is worthwhile taking up only for the purposes of a Marxist lesson on how not to approach the question.

This lesson is simple enough: Marxists do not decide to support or oppose a war merely on the basis of whether they like or do not like the politics of the leaders of the state. Marxism has made this clear often enough: in supporting China’s war against Japan, the Spanish loyalist government’s war against Franco, the Negus’ war against Mussolini.

The question which we have asked, following Lenin’s method, was: What politics does this war flow from? War – so goes the platitude – is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. In the case of every concrete war, we try to analyze concretely the politics of which that war is the continuation. The Spanish loyalist government was an imperialist government; it exploited Morocco and oppressed the peasants (and shot them down when they revolted!). But when the Franco fascists sought to overthrow even this miserable government, we called for its defense – in our own way, by revolutionary means, and without giving the slightest political support to the bourgeois People’s Front leaders – because our analysis of the concreteness of events showed that the anti-Franco war did not flow from the loyalist government’s imperialist character but from the fascists’ attack upon its democratic base.

This was ABC once. But the Cannonites’ views seem to be founded solely upon an easy proof of the reactionary character of the Zionist leadership of the Jews: it “threatens to provoke new pogroms against the Jews and involve them in new calamities,” it “must inevitably become a tool of American imperialism,” it “solidifies the position of the reactionary Arab rulers and enables them to pervert the social struggle in their own countries into a communal struggle between the Arab and Jewish peoples.” All very true, and precisely the reason why defense of the Jews’ right to .self-determination cannot mean support to these Zionist leaders or their policies. It was just as true that Chiang Kai-shek’s war against Japan was used by him to try to gloss over and sidetrack the social struggle behind his own lines.

But don’t the Jewish people have “the right to self-determination and statehood as other peoples?” Their full answer:

Yes – but even if we abstract this question from its aforementioned social reality, the fact remains they cannot carve out a state at the expense of the national rights of the Arab peoples. This is not self-determination, but conquest of another people’s territory.

A dishonest reply. (1) It means that the Jews have a right to self-determination but no right to exercise it. This does not make sense. One may, as we said, advise against its exercise in favor of a different course; but it is pure fakery to grant the right and in the same breath denounce its exercise as “conquest of another people’s territory.” (2) If the Jews have the right to self-determination, what territory can they “self-determine themselves” in without infringing upon the national rights of the Arab people? Is there any? Obviously none, it appears from the argument. What then does the “Yes” mean?

The only honest answer would be to deny that the Jews have any right to self-determination in Palestine – and to explain why they thus differ from other peoples. The SWP cannot do the latter and so they wisely, if hypocritically, refrain from asserting the former.

If the setting up of the Jewish state was “conquest of another people’s territory” and an attack on the “national rights” of the Arab peoples, there can be only one conclusion: it is the Arab peoples, then, who have the right to defend themselves against this unprovoked aggression. How can this conclusion be avoided? Certainly not by arguing that the leaders of these (attacked) Arab peoples are no-goods! Yet this is exactly how our subjects evade the responsibility of coming out four-square for the Arab invasion:

They (the Arab rulers), are, by their anti-Jewish war, (what? isn’t it a war of defense against an unprovoked attempt at conquest? – H.D.) trying to divert the struggle against imperialism, and utilizing the aspirations of the Arab masses for national freedom, to smother the social opposition to their tyrannical rule.

Of course, of course – but in a war of defense against conquest by “tools of American imperialism,” it would be the duty of socialists to fight the Arab rulers by demanding, not merely prosecution of the war, but consistent, uncompromising prosecution of the war ... opposition to a rotten compromise with the Israelis, for example, opposition to any cessation of the conflict short of complete reconquest of the whole territory of Palestine, war to the bitter end ... just as our Chinese comrades advocated, as against the compromising bourgeois leaders, in the war against Japan.

Our subjects shrink from this conclusion, for unaccountable reasons. This, however, is the only consistent alternative to our own consistent policy.[15]

The question to ask people who argue along the line of Hal Draper is very simple: Where do you take the lofty absolute principle of defense of the right of self-determination to all nations from? Can you find it in Marx? Definitely not. Marx is on the record for opposing the demand for self-determination of the Slave owners in the South during the American civil war. In 1848 Marx and Engels refused to support the right of self-determination of the Southern Slaves because it would have served the interests of the Russian Tsar that with British imperialism were the pillars of reaction. Did you take it from Lenin? Definitely not. Lenin was for smashing the independence of Poland under the right wing nationalists who joined the imperialist attack on the Russian revolution in 1920. Marxists do not defend the right of self-determination of the imperialists that oppress nations but only of oppressed nations. [16]

Once we remove the nonsense about holy principles and look at every question from the perspective of what policy advances the interest of the international working class we must conclude that the right position in 1948 was for revolutionary defeat for Israel and for revolutionary defense of the Arab states. “Support them in the military confrontation without giving them any political support as we could not trust them to lead the struggle against the imperialists and against the Zionists!” Thiswould have been the correct slogan. Only the revolutionary working class can be trusted to carry out this task. This is also the position which both the ISL and the RCIT (respectively its predecessor organization) always took. [17]

Draper was right of course to argue that the only answer to his pro-Zionist position was a revolutionary position that denies the right of self-determination to the reactionary side and that the Cannonites were unable at that time to hold to revolutionary perspective and position.


The increasingly centrist Fourth International remains neutral in the 1948 War


Only more than a year later Munier (Gabriel Baer) of the RCL and the FI replied to Draper. He insisted and correctly so that it is an illusion to think (1) that imperialism was defeated by the creation of a new independent state in an anti-imperialist struggle; or (2) that the existence of this Jewish State has a progressive influence on the working-class and the labor movement in the Arab countries of the Middle East; and (3) that it is important to make clear to every socialist in the world that without the support of Anglo-American imperialism the State of Israel could not have been founded. He writes:

“Had not the US delegation to the UN influenced and bribed a certain number of delegations of small states, Haiti, Philippines and others; had not the US government allowed Israel, to be supplied with money and materials so it could pay in dollars for Czechoslovakian arms; had it not given the new state recognition within a few hours of its creation; had not the British army tolerated the opening of the road to Jerusalem by conquest and evacuation of the Arab villages along this road (on March 2, 1948, British troops joined the Hagana to break up an Arab block at Bab al Wad, then early in April it failed to intervene when military actions along the road began, then on April 6 the British brought some supply trains into the city, etc.); had the British army not come to the rescue of the Jewish settlements Dan and Kfar Szold in Upper Galilee on the 9th of January; and last but not least, had not the first truce which was imposed by the UN in June 1948 saved Jewish Jerusalem from starvation and military collapse – had not all this happened the State of Israel could not have come into being." [18]

Yet, instead of pointing to the military role of Zionism that acts to terrorize the Arab masses to force them to submit to imperialism, he argues a strange and weak argument that reflects the pressure of Zionism on the RCL: Instead of seeing the hate of the Arab masses against the Zionist state as a form of anti-imperialist resistance, he saw it as misdirected chauvinism manipulated by the imperialists:

"The aim of Anglo-American imperialism was to create a force which would play the same role in the framework of the Middle East as a whole that Zionism had played for 30 years in Palestine. As a focus for chauvinist hate it would serve to divert the revolutionary struggles of the Middle Eastern Arab masses from anti-imperialist into racial or religious channels.”

He continues and he points out to the anti-imperialist mass pressure in the Arab states:

"But something went wrong with the plan in its initial stage in most of the Arab countries: demonstrations were directed mainly against foreign companies and establishments, including the Soviet Union because of its support of partition, and the Communist Party, whose offices in Damascus were wrecked."

This pressure of the Arab masses was the reason the rulers of the Arab states went to war with Israel. Today this is even recognized by Zionist historians like Benny Morris:

The massacre and the way it was trumpeted in the Arab media added to the pressure on the Arab states’ leaders to aid the embattled Palestinians and hardened their resolve to invade Palestine. The news had aroused great public indignation – which the leaders were unable to ignore.[19]

To avoid this conclusion Munier argues:

"Only where they ruled directly did the British succeed at the time in turning these riots against the Jewish minority, e.g., in the British Crown-Colony of Aden anti-partition demonstrators killed 75 Jews and wounded many more."

He goes on and claims that the Arab states were tools of imperialism against Israel:

“The fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine early in 1948 showed clearly that, on the Palestinian scale, the Jews were militarily stronger. The cause for Arab weakness was not only because of the feudal structure of Arab society in general, but also the reactionary Arab leadership which had deliberately prevented the growth of any mass movement similar to that of 1936-39 in fear of the working class which had emerged during World War II. The question was now: Will the Arab governments of the surrounding countries intervene?

On January 12, 1948, British diplomatic sources in London confirmed the report that Great Britain was supplying arms to Egypt, Iraq and Trans-Jordan according to “treaties,” but still the will and ability of these governments to invade Palestine remained doubtful. They needed new encouragement which came in the form of the American declaration at the UN in March 1948 renouncing partition and favoring trusteeship. This declaration, together with the conspicuous helplessness of the UN apparatus to implement its own decision, induced the governments of the Middle East to make a bid for the position of sole agent of Anglo-American imperialism in the Middle East to the exclusion of the Zionist leadership.”

Then to avoid the full implication of his narrative which leads to the defense of Israel against the Arabs he turns around and argues:

“But in the course of their invasion, after May 15, when the Trans-Jordan Arab Legion threatened to defeat Jewish Jerusalem and the Egyptian army reached the southern Jewish colonies on the gateway to Tel Aviv, the first truce was imposed giving the Jews a needed respite to organize their army, to import weapons and to supply Jerusalem. The aim of the truce was to create a balance of power, not to create the opportunity for a decisive military victory of the Jews over the Arab armies. British officers continued to serve with the Arab Legion, and Egypt and Syria continued to buy arms in several European Marshall Plan countries.

New truces were imposed as the need arose to maintain this balance of power.

The last one was imposed when Israeli forces moved into Egyptian territory and threatened the annihilation of the whole Egyptian force in Palestine, whose collapse would have had serious social repercussions in Egypt. In the meantime the creation of the Arab refugee problem, together with quarrels over boundaries, resulted in enough tension between Israel and the Arab countries for American diplomacy to undertake the “pacification” of the Middle East for the time being by the conclusion of a “permanent truce” in Rhodes.”

As a result of this wrong analysis, the RCL in Palestine had a wrong perspective and a program and as result the wrong strategy and tactics from its inception. If prior to WWII there were forces within the FI that opposed their pro Zionist line the FI was unable to do so in 1948.


The Birth of Palestinian Trotskyism


Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 had a cataclysmic effect on the workers’ movement, both in Germany itself and internationally. The Social Democrats’ failure to combat it seriously, combined with the Stalinists’ stubborn refusal to use united front tactics to defend against the fascist danger, resulted in a tremendous defeat. Following this defeat the Communist International (CI) under the Stalinist leadership shifted from bureaucratic ultra leftism to class collaboration – the popular fronts. In response to the CI’s failure to learn from the German catastrophe, Trotsky declared it in 1933 dead as a revolutionary organization, and argued for the building of a new, Fourth International.

For Jewish workers, the impact of the rise of Nazism to power on their physical well-being and their political consciousness was especially sharp. The defeat helped the Zionist nationalist propaganda that most politically conscious Jews had rejected: that anti-Semitism among non-Jews was inevitable and futile to confront. For a much smaller number, Trotsky’s prescient prediction of the catastrophe that would result if the Communists failed to correct their methods resulted in a greater interest in and sympathy for Trotskyism.

Both trends had an impact within Palestine. On the one hand, among far-left Zionists, whose sympathies for the Soviet Union had previously inclined them towards Stalinism, it became increasingly common to read Trotsky’s writings. Within parties such as the Left “Poale Tsiyon” (Workers of Zion), it was not unusual to find youth who proclaimed themselves Trotskyists one moment, and loyal, though questioning, Zionists the next. Yet, alongside this leftward polarization, Jewish immigration and Zionist settlement increased dramatically during the 1930s.

Of course, not all Jewish immigration to Palestine in this period was voluntary and Zionist in character. For all but the wealthiest and most famous refugees from Nazi terror, imperialist countries such as the U.S. and Britain offered only a closed door. For many desperate Jews, immigration to Palestine was an unfortunate necessity. From among these numbers, a small number of Trotskyist Jews from Germany settled in 1933. These exiles engaged in modest ventures, printing Trotsky’s writings in German and Yiddish, and making the first attempts to translate them into Hebrew.

Among the young left-Zionists who were won to Trotskyism, the most significant was Ygael Gluckstein. In English-language publications of the FI, he was known as “L. Rock,” and later in life he would be known as Tony Cliff, founder and leader of the British SWP. Cliff himself participated in the Chugim Marxistim (Marxist Circles), a youth organization led by Zeev Abramovitch and Yitzhak Yitzhaki, associated with the Poalei Tziyon Smol. His writing of that period reflects this fact. When the Communist Party took their ultra-left turn after 1929 while the RCL continued with their politics reflecting the Zionist pressure on the organization, their road to the Arab workers was blocked. The Communist Party politics of the Popular front, which led them to politically supporting the reactionary leadership of the revolutionary Palestinian mass uprising in 1936-39, was an open betrayal of the working class.

However, the RCL was incapable of challenging the PKP influence amongst the Arab workers because it did not possess a revolutionary understanding and program for Palestine. It was blinded by a superficial understanding of the “Jewish-Arab conflict” as a confrontation between two equally reactionary nationalist camps. They failed to see the colonial settler nature of Zionism, the subsequent real national oppression of the Arabs by the Zionists and hence the justified national liberation struggle of the Arab masses against the Zionists (which was betrayed by the Arab bourgeoisie and landlords).

This programmatic failure of the Trotskyists in Palestine – which reminds us of Lenin’s polemics against “imperialist economism” – became completely evident in an article by the RCL leader Tony Cliff in November 1938. In a chapter entitled “The Jewish-Arab conflict”, Cliff wrote:

What are the causes of this conflict? Two answers are advanced in Palestine. The Zionist groups say that the conflict is simply the collision of feudalism and reaction with the progressive forces of capitalism. The Arab nationalists and their Stalinist supporters claim that the collision is between the Arab liberation movement and Zionism.

But the first explanation is wrong because the fact of the conflict between feudalism and capitalism does not explain the Arab national movement in Palestine. There are parallel manifestations of nationalism in the adjacent countries (Syria, Egypt). Moreover it does not explain how a clique of effendis succeeded in getting control over a militant national movement of hundreds of thousands. It is clear that the basis of the antagonism of the Arab masses to the Jewish population does not arise from the fact that the latter have brought in a higher standard of living and have created a modem labour movement. Their principal opposition arises from the fact that they see in the Jewish population the bearers of Zionism, that political system based upon national exclusivism, and hostility to the aspirations of the Arab masses to independence and democratisation of the political regime.

The second view, the claim of the Arab nationalists, is likewise erroneous. It does not take into consideration that there really is a conflict between feudalism and capitalist development, secondly, that inside the nationalist movement there is an Arab bourgeoisie which in competition with the closed Jewish economy develops exclusivist Arab tendencies, and thirdly, that the Jewish population is no integral part of the imperialist camp.

What follows therefore is that the collision in the Arab-Jewish conflict is between two national exclusivist movements (between Zionism and the feudal, semi-bourgeois Arab leadership on the one hand, and on the other the struggle of the Arab masses against Zionism). The consistent struggle for the easing up of this conflict is therefore only possible on the basis of the struggle against Zionism, against Arab national exclusivism and anti-Jewish actions, against imperialism, for the democratisation of the country and its political independence.[20]

So we see the RCL leader adhering to an idealist, not dialectical-materialist method, which equates both Zionist and Arab nationalism or “national exclusivism” without understanding the difference between an oppressed nation and a colonial settler oppressor nation. Consequently, Cliff could not see the important difference between the nationalism of an oppressed nation and the nationalism of a colonial settler oppressor nation.

However, as Lenin explained at the Second Congress of the Communist International, recognition of this difference – which is so essential in the imperialist epoch – is a precondition to understand and act as a Marxist:

First, what is the cardinal idea underlying our theses? It is the distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. Unlike the Second International and bourgeois democracy, we emphasise this distinction.[21]

As a result of its failure, the RCL saw in the Arab Uprising 1936-39 mainly a pogrom against the Jews and remained on the sidelines of history. It failed to assimilate the revolutionary position of the Fourth International which supported the Arab Uprising in 1936-39:

The struggle against war and its social source, capitalism, presupposes direct, active, unequivocal support to the oppressed colonial peoples in their struggles and wars against imperialism. A "neutral" position is tantamount to support of imperialism. Yet, among the announced adherents of the London Bureau congress are found ILPers who advocate leaving the courageous Ethiopian warriors against marauding Italian fascism in the lurch on the grounds of "neutrality,