‘For a Socialist Policy on Palestine’ by Felix Morrow from American Socialist Monthly. Vol. 5 No. 7. October, 1936.
AFTER fifty years of intensive work and tremendous material support from world Jewry, the Zionists have been able to settle in Palestine only 2 1/2% of the world’s Jewish population. This meager result is scarcely commensurate with the truly gigantic efforts expended. What is even more decisive is that these 375,000 Jews live today in Palestine under the same horrors of capitalism as their brethren in the Diaspora. The economic crisis rages in Palestine as elsewhere; there is hunger and unemployment, exploitation and insecurity; and the Jew remains a stranger, hated by the Arabian majority, subject to an epidemic of killings for the third time since 1920, the “Jewish homeland” resembling an armed garrison in enemy territory; the Palestinian Jew is still in Galuth, protected patronizingly by British bayonets.
There is nothing surprising in this outcome of the Zionist dream. It was predicted by Jewish socialists, thirty years ago, when they warred against the diversion to Zionism of Jewish workers’ energies better devoted to the class struggle. What was “dogma” thirty years ago has been proven to the hilt now. The attempt to build a Jewish national state under capitalism has been demonstrated to be a reactionary Utopia.
Under what conditions could a Jewish national state be built under capitalism? It would require the following exceptionally favorable economic conditions: a large internal market to support its new industries and produce; rich natural resources to provide competitive power in the world market; or, as a substitute, the possession of such new and unique industries as no other country possesses; and, above all, a progressively expanding world market in which Palestine’s infant industries could successfully wedge their way in between the giant industries of the great imperialist powers.
Not one of these exceptionally favorable conditions are present. There is no large internal market; there are no new industries different from those of other countries; there are no rich natural resources in Palestine. Finally, and decisively, the characteristic feature of the present epoch is the ever narrowing of the world market, the ever more desperate struggle for world trade – a struggle in which infant Palestinian industry cannot seriously compete.
Thus, the most elementary Marxian economic analysis demonstrates that in this epoch of capitalist decline Palestine cannot expand her agriculture and industry. Her main export, citrus fruits, does not begin to keep her trade deficit from growing; for she must continue to import goods manufactured more cheaply than they can be made in Palestine, and her large imports of basic foodstuffs reveals that she cannot even raise her necessary food.
How desperate the economic situation is in Palestine is not revealed by the statisticians of the Zionist organizations. The average income of the workers in the cooperatives; the average wage of the worker in private farming and industry; the extent of unemployment – these are not discussed in the voluminous periodical and pamphlet literature. But enough is known to indicate that the mass of the workers are being driven down toward the Asiatic level of the Arab fellaheen – which is scarcely surprising to a Marxist who knows that wage levels tend to equalize under competition. The crisis is expressed in the ever more bitter competition for jobs between Arab and Jewish labor. Zionist labor literature abounds in references to the “Jewish farmers’ betrayal of Jewish labor”, i.e., hiring of Arab labor. The pressure of the Zionists on these growers “even to the extent that this struggle is successful, creates not a healthy Jewish peasant element, but at best, wage labor on a starvation scale,” admits a Poale Zion spokesman, Berl Locker. Arab and Jewish labor draw closer together, unfortunately, in their economic misery only.
The favorite argument of the Zionists, that Palestine would create a “normal” Jewish proletariat, rooted in agriculture and heavy industry, has proved a myth. The world market is sufficiently saturated with agriculture and heavy industry not to permit a new state to develop on their foundations. Only about 12% of the Jewish population are agricultural wage-earners (both owners and workers) and their dependents. The agricultural community grows progressively smaller in relation to the cities; the tendency is definitely one from country to city. This economic trend is reinforced by Jews fleeing from the farms to the cities for protection from the Arabs. Yet the Zionist pamphlets continue to feature, as if this were the prevailing mode of life, idyllic photographs of Jewish agriculturists. . . .
And of the 12% in farming, nearly half are in labor agriculture, so-called. With a total disregard for the elementary principles of Marxism, the Poale Zion propagandists call these miserable cooperatives and settlements “Socialist.” Socialism presupposes the use of socialist methods of production upon the basis of the advanced technology taken over from capitalism; it requires, in other words, the overthrow of capitalism. Only those who have never known that Marx fought Proudhon precisely on this question, could call socialist these producers’ cooperatives, technologically inferior to the capitalist farms and competing with them only at the expense of the living standards of the workers in the cooperatives. The whole case for these cooperatives is given away by the fact that the statistician for the Histadrut, in explaining why the cooperatives do not grow more quickly, had to mention “the inevitable magnetic attraction of higher city wages.” So much for the renaissance of Jewish farming.
Of the 32% of the population supported by industry, over half are employed in the building or building material trades. In other words, they depend on a never-ending supply of outside capital brought in by middle-class immigrants. Another 23% live on commerce and transport – about three-fourths of this percentage are engaged in middlemen occupations. Another 11% are in the liberal professions, while a full 22% live on outside support and non-productive incomes. Look at these figures, and see how “normal” is the Jewish life of Palestine.
If world capitalism makes impossible the building of a Jewish economy in Palestine, Britain makes this doubly impossible. The skeleton in the closet of Zionism is the fact that Palestine is a British colony; Zionists don’t like to talk realistically about this decisive fact. The Zionist policy, however, is to sell themselves to Britain for the best price available – concessions, loans, etc. The “Labor” Zionists are no better: “Who does not cooperate with the mandate government is a traitor to the cause of building the land and nation,” said Ben-Gurion, head of the Histadrut (Jewish Federation of Unions). But can the Zionists outbid for England’s favor the ruling elements of the twenty-odd millions of Arabs in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine?
Palestine is absolutely basic to the British empire. The gateway to all her African colonies and to India is the Suez Canal; and Palestine guards the canal. The pipe-lines of the rich oil fields of Iraq also pass through Palestine. English hegemony in the Near East requires collaboration with the Arab landowners, merchants and priests. Of course, England plays a skillful game of using Zionists and Arabs against each other and thus – as in her incitation of the Moslem-Hindu struggles in India – divides and rules. But the Arab millions are basically more important to England than are the Zionists, and she will certainly not aid the Zionists to build to the point of dominating Palestinian economy. England’s “arbitrary” measures against Jewish immigration, manipulation of tariffs against Jewish products, arrests of Jewish picketers of Arab labor, etc., are a reflection of England’s basic policy.
Furthermore, imperialist England will brook no building in Palestine of industries in competition with those of Britain. For military purposes she has encouraged the electrification and potash industries, but that is all. Why should England do for Palestine what she has rigidly discouraged in other colonies – development of competitive native industries?
From every point of view, therefore, it is clear that Palestinian economy cannot grow under capitalism.
To recognize this truth, is to recognize the bankruptcy of Zionism, including “Socialist-Zionism.” The lip service paid to Socialism by the “Socialist-Zionist” (Poale Zionists) has been a fraud; everywhere they collaborate with the Jewish capitalists, and take no real part in the class struggle; their energies have gone to Zionist work. The best of them must recognize now that their best means of serving the national freedom of the Jewish masses is by turning their energies to the class struggle in whatever land they inhabit.
Within Palestine, too, a decisive reorientation of the Jewish proletariat is required. Led by the “Mapai” (united party of Poale Zion and Zeire Zion), the Jewish workers have been pursuing the false policy of seeking to build a Jewish homeland under capitalism. For the sake of that illusion, they have drifted farther and farther apart from their natural allies, the Arab peasants and workers. In permanent unity within the Jewish Agency, these so-called Socialist-Zionist leaders have carried on the grossest class – collaboration with the Jewish bourgeoisie; have fawned upon British imperialism; have raised chauvinist slogans of Jewish work for Jews only and buy Jewish-made goods only; have cut wages to meet Arab competition instead of uniting with Arabs in single trade unions; have picketed places where Jews dared to employ Arab labor. They have made infinitely easier the task of the Arab ruling classes, who have turned the Arab worker’s discontent with his lot into the channel of anti-Jewish riots. What is needed, if the Jewish masses are to take a real step toward a free Palestine, if the Jewish masses, indeed, are not to be massacred by a widespread Arab attack, is an end to collaboration with British imperialism and the Jewish bourgeoisie, and a turn to unity with the Arab masses.
Arab-Jewish struggle against British imperialism is a slogan which will be fought not only by the Zionists but equally by the Arabian landowners and bourgeoisie. One would have to search far before one could find a more venal colonial ruling class and one less capable of taking part in freeing the Arabian people from the yoke of Britain. The British-appointed Arab High Council and the Moslem Supreme Council (the latter disposing of the considerable income of the religious foundations to which Arabs everywhere contribute), the Effendis who live in cosmopolitan luxury on the backs of the incredibly exploited peasant sharecroppers, and the shopkeepers and intelligentsia who serve the upper classes and the government – these gentry cannot possibly wage a real struggle against British imperialism. They have so far prevented the nationalist movement from raising any anti-British slogans; they have channelized it in anti-Jewish struggles. True, they use the masses as a form of pressure on England to make concessions to the Arabian upper classes. But their ties are infinitely closer with the imperialists than with the Arabian masses on whose backs they live. The leader of the Arab militants, Jamal el Husseini, typifies the present Arab leadership. A member of the powerful Husseini family, related not only to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem but also to King Ghazi of Iraq and Emir Abdulla of Trans-Jordan, he recently declared: “The Arabians would probably with equanimity submit to the British rule in Palestine which, we readily admit, has been of great benefit to the country. But, on the other hand, we will not silently stand by while the Jews slowly but surely cut us out, protected by British bayonets.” There, in a few words, is the reactionary program of the present Arab leadership.
Even should this leadership be displaced by “left” elements from the intelligentsia and the petty bourgeoisie, this process would undoubtedly merely follow the course recently taken in Egypt and Syria. There the aristocratic leadership was finally displaced by petty-bourgeois oppositionists. But the Egyptian Wafdists, having come to power, have extracted some concessions and taken over the emoluments of office, sent the masses back to their shops and hovels and made their peace with the English overlords. The identical development is now being completed in Syria, with the insurgent bourgeois leadership coming to terms with French imperialism. Thus, it has become abundantly clear in Syria and Egypt, as in 1927 when the Kuomintang in China overthrew the old warlords only to take their place at the round table with the imperialists, that colonial nationalist movements in our epoch cannot lead to freedom so long as they are led by the bourgeoisie.
The failure to correctly estimate the present leadership of the Arabian nationalist movement is at the root of the reactionary line of the Communist parties. They hail the pogroms against the Jews as a “revolutionary upsurge” and see in every Arab politician a “serious fighter against British imperialism.” This reactionary line of the communist parties with the present Peoples Front policy, goes further back. It is identical with the policy pursued in China, 1925-1927, of support of Chiang-Kai-Shek and Wang Ching Wei. In Palestine itself, where every Jewish worker sees for himself what game the Arab leaders are playing, the Communist Party line has driven many back into the arms of the Zionists. In America and elsewhere, the communist identification of pogroms with revolution has contributed not a little to refusal of Jewish workers to take the revolutionary road. The official communist line is one of seeking a coalition with the Arabian leadership, to use for pressure purposes in dickering with British imperialism. We, who are interested in freedom of the Arab people from British domination, have nothing in common with the Stalinist diplomatic game.
What organizational forms the unity of the Arab and Jewish masses will take cannot be predicted in advance. The need for a single trade union movement is a burning one; and if the Histadrut, which in many respects is not a trade union organization, proves too inflexible, a new labor union may have to be built. Such questions are, however, for the future to decide.
But what is absolutely indispensable and must immediately be built is a revolutionary Socialist Party of the Arab and Jewish vanguard. The so-called Socialist-Zionist party, the Poale Zion Zeire Zion, by its whole past has demonstrated that it has nothing in common with Marxism and it cannot be transformed for it is rooted in Zionism. Any militant elements in it will be ready to leave it, if only a real socialist banner is raised. The Left Poale Zion, a small group, has developed to the point where according to its concepts it logically has no excuse for calling itself Zionist or maintaining a separate Jewish organization. Its forces belong in the socialist party that must be built; they need only to break with the organizational forms of their past. Furthermore, the mass of the Jewish workers in Palestine includes many class-conscious workers, raised in the traditions of the revolutionary movement of Europe and a generation of youth. Thus Palestine already has the necessary elements for leading a colonial revolution. They will see glorious perspectives open before them. Given a correct course, the little country of Palestine could lead the Arabian masses and the Near East in a world-shaking revolt against imperialism.
Socialist Review began as American Socialist Quarterly in 1934. The name changed to Socialist Review in September 1937. The journal reflected Norman Thomas’ supporters “Militant” tendency of the ‘center’ leadership. Beginning in 1936, there were also Fourth Internationalists lead by James P. Cannon as well as the right-wing tendency around the New Leader magazine also contributing. The articles reflect these ideological divisions, and for a time, the journal hosted important debates. The magazine continued as the SP official organ through the 1940s.
For a PDF of the full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/socialist-review/v05-n07-oct-1936-soc-rev.pdf