International Trotskyist Opposition

8 March 2001



           1. Jewish immigration to Palestine in the last century was an operation of a colonial character. The constitution of Israel was the birth of a colonial state of a  settler type: based, that is, on the expulsion of the indigenous population to make room for the  colonists brought by massive immigration, rather than on its superexploitation by the colonial power and a narrow colonial  elite (a phenomenon analogous to that of the English colonies of North America, Ulster, the original Boer colonies of the South Africa, etc.). In no way, therefore, can the constitution of the state of Israel be seen as a legitimate expression of  self-determination of the Jewish people . It happened with the oppression of the Palestinian Arab people, dispossessed and driven from their land.

            This was in full accord with the dominant imperialist powers in the region, first British and then North American. From its debut Zionism was supported by imperialism. It was an essential instrument in the work of dividing the Arab people after the First World War and repressing their struggles for liberation from imperialist dominion. The brief period of conflict between Zionism and British imperialism (from 1939 to 1948, but particularly from 1943) doesn t contradict this. In fact, it was caused by the desire of British imperialism to distance itself some from Zionism to avoid a major crisis of its rule in the Middle East (particularly after the great Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936-39). Zionism immediately shifted its alliance, linking itself with the imperialism that emerged definitively dominant from the Second World War, that is, US imperialism (and also using the foolish counterrevolutionary policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy of the USSR). Therefore, Israel s role as a direct outpost of imperialism in the Middle East must not be considered a phenomenon of degeneration that broke with the original character of Zionism, but as a logical development of the Zionist enterprise as such.

            The tragedy of the monstrous genocide against the Jewish people by Nazism and its allies in the Second World War cannot be taken in some way to justify Zionism and the constitution of the state of Israel. Zionism was born well before the Holocaust, and the just struggle for the liberation of the Jewish people from the violence, massacres and oppression of which they were already victim before the triumph of fascism cannot justify violence, massacres and oppression against another people (in no way responsible for the oppression of the Jews) in conjunction with imperialist colonialism. The frontal struggle against the anti-Semitism expressed not only by forces openly of the right, but also by some sectors of the  left (for example, some Stalinist or so-called  autonomous tendencies), cannot be separated from the struggle against Zionism and its oppression of the Palestinian people, without becoming unilateral and, ultimately, hypocritical.


            2. The fight of the Arab people of Palestine against Israeli oppression and for the real right of national liberation and self-determination constitutes, therefore, a legitimate struggle which Marxists should support unconditionally. The Palestinian struggle should be framed in the more general struggle for the national liberation of the Arab people. This nation, united by language, traditions and culture, is artificially divided by the imperialist powers for their own interests of dominion. It is enough to look at the borders of the various Arab states. In most cases they are entirely artificial, consisting of straight lines drawn with a ruler on maps in Paris or London to determine the spheres of colonial rule of the great powers. This was particularly evident at the end of the First World War, when the clear desire for unity of the Arab people emerging from Turkish dominion was shamelessly betrayed by the victorious powers. The borders of Palestine are in reality largely artificial, having been determined only in 1921 (with the constitution by Great Britain of the Hashemite emirate of Transjordan, the current kingdom of Jordan). Nevertheless, the reality of the region and historical development were such that, in the course of decades, in the first half of the last century, a feeling of particular community was constituted among the Arabs of Palestine, also cemented by the struggle against Zionist oppression. Thus it is possible to speak of the Palestinian people, not distinct and counterposed to, but a component with specificities of, the Arab people in general. The struggle for the national rights and liberation of the Palestinian people is not counterposed to the national unity and liberation of the Arab people in general, which revolutionary Marxists must support.


            3. Revolutionary Marxists must struggle to develop the perspective of liberation of the Palestinian people and the Arab people in general on the basis of the strategy of the permanent revolution. As affirmed in the Theses on the Permanent Revolution elaborated by Trotsky in 1929:  With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semicolonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses... This in turn means that the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.

            Revolutionary Marxists must, therefore, reject any illusory conception of revolution by stages, and indicate to the masses the perspective of proletarian power and socialist revolution. They must build revolutionary Marxist parties based firstly on the working class, develop the political hegemony of the latter in the process of revolutionary struggle, and win the masses from the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. In vast sectors of the Arab masses a vague feeling has existed for many decades that links them in the struggle for national and social emancipation. These feelings have been exploited and then brutally betrayed by  left bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders (from Nasser to the Baath, from the Algerian FLN to Qaddafi). Even the development of Islamic fundamentalism, a variegated movement whose reactionary character must be denounced and fought without simulation, is linked to the failure of and disillusionment with the false national-bourgeois  Arab socialism .

            Unifying the struggle for democratic and national demands with the struggle for social demands, in opposition to all the current leaderships -- whether openly reactionary or  progressive -- Trotskyists must build their own parties, win the leadership of the proletariat and all the oppressed masses, and lead them to the socialist revolution.


            4. These are the theoretical positions supported in the 1930s and 1940s by the Fourth International and its Palestinian section. Not only against Zionism in general and against the Zionist left (the Labour Party and the Histradut trade union) supported by a majority of the Jewish colonists, but also against the Zionist far left (the Poale Zion left and the Hashomer Hatzair/Socialist League) linked with the so-called London Bureau (that is, the international coordinating structure of the  centrist forces in the 1930s) and supporting (at least until 1947) the project of a binational Palestine. In a polemic against the positions of the latter, during a meeting in 1939 (at the end of the great Arab revolt of 1936-39) of representatives of Arab and Jewish parties on the basis of a document by the London Bureau, the Palestinian Trotskyists affirmed their basic positions in a text published in the press of the Fourth International, declaring  their full solidarity with the Arab nationalist movement and their unconditional support for the immediate demands of the Arabs: a) cessation of Jewish emigration, b) prohibition of new land acquisitions by Jews, and c) an Arab national government.

            These positions were reaffirmed, in their essence, in 1947-48 at the time of the division of Palestine and the birth of Israel, adapted to a situation partially modified on the basis of the changed attitude of British imperialism, which, in a difficult situation in the Middle East, passed to mainly basing its action on the Arab feudal-bourgeois regimes, in first place the Hashemite monarchy. The evaluation of the International was that imperialism had, in effect, succeeded in diverting the struggle for the emancipation of the Arab people against imperialism, transforming the 1948-49 war into a war among agents of imperialism (agents of American imperialism in the rising state of Israel, and of British imperialism in the Arab countries) for the division among them of the territory of Palestine at the expense of the Palestinian Arab people.

            The November-December 1947 number of Quatrie Internationale, organ of the International Executive Committee, summarized the position of the International:  The position of the Fourth International on the Palestinian problem remains clear and sharp as in past. It will be in the vanguard of the struggle against partition, for a united, independent Palestine, in which the masses will with sovereignty determine their fate through the election of a constituent assembly. Against the effendis and the imperialist agents, against the maneuvers of the Egyptian and Syrian bourgeoisie, which is trying to divert the struggle for the emancipation of the masses into a struggle against the Jews. It will launch an appeal for the agrarian revolution and for the anticapitalist and anti-imperialist struggle, the essential engine of the Arab revolution. But it cannot conduct this struggle with any possibility of success without taking an unequivocal stand against the partition of the country and against the constitution of a Jewish State.

            In January 1948 the Palestinian Trotskyist group concluded its theses affirming:  We have to patiently explain to the most advanced layers of the Arab proletariat and the intellectuals that military actions of a racist character only deepen the gulf between Jews and Arabs and contribute in practice to the political division, that the fundamental factor and the principal cause of the partition is imperialism, that the current war doesn t do anything but strengthen imperialism, that thanks to the bourgeois and feudal leadership of the Arab countries -- agents of imperialism -- we have been beaten in a stage of the struggle against imperialism, and that we must prepare for victory in a later phase, that is, for the unification of Palestine and the Arab East in general -- creating the only force that can reach these goals: the unified revolutionary proletarian party of the Arab East.

            And the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, meeting in April 1948, summarized the general position of our movement in these terms:  In the Arab states of the Middle and Near East and in North Africa the sections and groups of the Fourth International favor the unification of the Arab countries in federations of free Arab republics. These sections fight for the elimination of imperialism -- British and French -- against the imperialist intervention of the US, against the landowners complicit with the imperialists, against their tool, the Arab League, for the constituent assembly, and for the widest democracy.

             In what concerns particularly Palestine, the Fourth International rejects as utopian and reactionary the  Zionist solution to the Jewish question. It declares that the total repudiation of Zionism is the condition sine quo non for a fusion of the struggles of the Jewish workers with the emancipatory social and national struggles of the Arab workers. It declares that it is deeply reactionary to demand a Jewish emigration to Palestine, as it is reactionary to appeal for the immigration of oppressors to the colonial countries in general. It maintains that the matter of immigration and the relationships among Jews and Arabs cannot suitably be decided until after the expulsion of imperialism by a freely elected constituent assembly with full rights for Jews as a national minority.

            This affirmed the cornerstone of a revolutionary perspective as the struggle for Palestinian liberation in the more general framework of the liberation struggle against imperialism and its local agents. It pointed to the constituent assembly of Palestine as the instrument of the anti-imperialist unification of the masses and the concrete realization of the  Arab national government demanded in the 1939 resolution (as can be understood, considering that the Arab population constituted around 70 percent of the inhabitants of Palestine and that the texts speak of the rights of the Jewish population as a  national minority ). It proposed the rejection of Jewish immigration under any pretext (at the same time, the Trotskyists fought for the opening of the US borders, particularly to Jewish refugees) and of the constitution of the state of Israel.


            5. The fundamental and programmatic elements of the general positions expressed by the Trotskyist movement at the moment of the development and the birth of the Zionist state remain fully valid. It is necessary to reaffirm and develop them in light of the historical process of the last 50 years and the reality of the current situation.

            This implies that the positions of revolutionary Marxists on the Intifada and the Palestinian question in general are the following:

            a. Trotskyists express their full and unconditional support for the revolt of the Arab people of Palestine and are for its development  by any means necessary (with the exception of indiscriminate terrorism against the civilian population of Israel).

            b. The struggle for the self-determination and liberation of the Palestinian people from the oppression of Zionism and imperialism and for the constitution of an independent Arab state of Palestine (the central demand of the present revolt) is historically fully legitimate and progressive. In this framework Trotskyists support the full and total right of all the Palestinian refuges to return to historical Palestine (whether in the borders of pre-1967 Israel or in the occupied territories) from which they or their descendents were driven out by the Zionist offensive, and the recovery of their abandoned property (or financial compensation where that is impossible) and adequate economic support for the return at the expense of Zionism and imperialism.

            c. Trotskyists reject the perspective of the Oslo accords, the  Clinton Plan , or other analogous projects, that is, the creation of a kind of  Palestinian Bantustan formed on a small part of historical Palestine from territories substantially under Israeli military control, with its borders controlled by the Zionist armed forces in name of the  national security of Israel, without any economic viability, and subject to an unacceptable series of external, internal, military, and political restrictions. This would be a state only formally independent, an  Indian reservation of a low-paid workforce for Israeli capitalism.

            d. Trotskyists also reject the whole perspective of the construction of a Palestinian mini-state in just the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, which today is the goal of the Arafat leadership. The constitution of such a state on less than a quarter of the territory of historical Palestine would not represent the true realization of the desire for national liberation of the Palestinian Arab people. Particularly, it would make meaningless the perspective of the return of the refugees.

            e. The perspective of the liberation of the Palestinian people and the constitution of their independent state implies the destruction of the Zionist state of Israel, an artificial creation which by its nature oppresses the Palestinian Arab people and is an imperialist bridgehead in the whole region of the Middle East and beyond. This destruction doesn t mean denying the democratic rights of the Jewish people who live in Palestine. Their presence is by now historically consolidated and must be recognized and respected. Nevertheless, the national rights of the Jewish people in Palestine must be subordinated to the priority rights of the oppressed Arab Palestinian people to self-determination and the constitution of their independent state.

            f. The struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian people cannot be won in isolation. It has to find the support and backing of the Arab masses. The revolutionary mobilization of the Arab people must be based on the perspective not only of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also of the anti-imperialist liberation of the Arab nation.

            g. But a perspective such as the full and final liberation of the Palestinian people makes no sense in the framework of capitalism. The only realistic solution is that delineated by the permanent revolution. The destruction of the Zionist state, like the unification of the Arab nation, is in fact inconceivable without a socialist revolution. The perspective can only be that of a socialist Palestine within the Arab nation unified on a socialist basis.

            h. This revolutionary process, in turn, can and must involve the whole of the Middle East and the North Africa, bringing into being a political and economic entity strong enough to confront the imperialist reaction. The perspective must, therefore, be a Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa that unifies on a voluntary basis the various peoples of this region, including those today oppressed by Arab regimes, such as the Berbers and the Kurds.

            To realize this program it is necessary to build a new leadership of the mass movement. A leadership that fights for the overthrow not only of the Israeli regime, but also of the bourgeois, feudal-bourgeois, clerical-bourgeois, and petty-bourgeois regimes of the Arab countries and of the other states of the region. These are direct agents of imperialist rule or only demagogically and accidentally  anti-imperialist , reactionaries and oppressors of the masses, guarantors of the exploitation of the proletariat and the semiproletariat of their own countries.

            For this it is necessary to build revolutionary Marxist parties, united in a refounded Fourth International, parties which are built firstly in the proletariat of each country, which fight for working-class hegemony in the mass anti-imperialist movement, contrasting themselves with all the current leaderships,  reactionary (such as the Islamic fundamentalists) or bourgeois or petty-bourgeois  progressive (such as the Arafat leadership), and which, dialectically unifying national and democratic demands with social demands, lead the revolution to victory and transcendence, without loss of continuity, into socialist revolution ( The dictatorship of the proletariat which has risen to power as the leader of the democratic revolution is inevitably and, very quickly confronted with tasks, the fulfillment of which is bound up with deep inroads into the rights of bourgeois property. The democratic revolution grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution. Trotsky, Theses on the Permanent Revolution).


            6. A complex aspect of the problem of the national-liberation struggle of the Palestinian people concerns the concrete modality of the realization of national self-determination and the construction of the independent Palestinian state, particularly given the presence of the Jewish population in the territory of historical Palestine. The position of the Fourth International in the 1940s, in continuity with that of the 1930s, rightly centered the solution of this matter on the demand for a Constituent Assembly of Palestine. The national composition of the population of Palestine at the time (around 70 percent Arab, 30 percent Jewish) made this demand logical as the expression of the self-determination of the Arab people of Palestine (not by chance, as seen in the texts of the period, which speak of the rights of the Jewish people as a  national minority ).

            The situation has been profoundly modified by the subsequent historical development, with the consolidation of Israel as an oppressor of the Palestinian people and the attending demographic changes (today in the territory of historical Palestine there are around 5 million Jews and 4 million Arabs, including the refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza; another 3 million Palestinian refugees live elsewhere in the Middle East, but it is unlikely that all will want to return to their families land of origin).

            The political answers given to the problem, particularly by the forces that identify with Trotskyism, are multiple and contradictory. One extreme is expressed by the Committee for a Workers International (CWI, in the past also known as  Militant from the name of the newspaper of its principal organization, that of Britain) and of its section in Israel, which speak of the perspective of a  socialist Palestine alongside a  socialist Israel . This position constitutes a  socialist version of the perspective of a mini-state, expresses concretely an adaptation to the Zionist state, and therefore should be rejected.

            At the opposite extreme is the position of the current of  Morenoist origin. In its declaration of 13 October 2000 the International Workers League (LIT) put forward a strong criticism to the Arafat leadership, denouncing its abandonment of the Palestinian National Charter (of 1964, modified in 1968-69). The text affirms:  This Charter correctly started from the position of no recognition of state of Israel and approved the defense of a secular, democratic and non-racist Palestine, a Palestine where Arabs and Jews would live together, with the destruction of state of Israel, and the expulsion of Zionists. Jews who wanted to live there, for religious reasons, could peacefully remain in this secular Palestinian state.

            Clearly, the Jews who would want to stay in Palestine exclusively for  religious reasons are only a small minority of the Jewish population. In fact, in apparent continuity with previous positions, the LIT seems to propose the expulsion of the majority of the Jewish people from Palestine. This is (with some ambiguities and with different positions from the various PLO organizations) the historical position of the Palestinian National Charter, which in particular considers  Palestinian only Jews who  had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion (and presumably their descendants, since this beginning was at the time of the 1917 Balfour Declaration). But this doesn t automatically make it a correct position.

            Naturally, we don t confuse this hypothesis with a perspective of massacre, and we know that there have been examples in which a colonial population has been expelled without this having involved an historical tragedy (for example, the  pieds noirs in Algeria after 1962). We can also suppose that this can be linked with the perspective of opening the US borders to those expelled. A part of the Jewish population, particularly the recent immigrants from Russia, would probably be ready to voluntarily emigrate, if given the conditions to do so.

            With all this in mind, revolutionary Marxists should strongly reject such positions. They express, for the Trotskyists who adopt them, an uncritical adaptation to the (past) positions of petty-bourgeois nationalism. They also make obviously impossible any hypothesis of the involvement of a part of the Jewish proletariat and youth in a perspective of anticapitalist and anti-imperialist struggle, which is a necessity for the perspective of socialist revolution. The constitution of a Jewish presence in Palestine is an historical fact, which it is not the task of the revolutionary Marxists or the Palestinian Arab people to reverse (different, naturally, is the case of specifically reactionary sectors, open racists and fascists who obviously should be expelled not only from the West Bank and Gaza but also from Palestine as such).

            Positions favoring the expulsion of the majority of the Jewish population from Palestine break entirely with the traditional positions of Trotskyism described above, which, while condemning Zionism, opposing the birth of Israel, and favoring the blocking of Jewish immigration to Palestine, recognized that the Jewish immigrant population already there (Zionist or not) had the right to stay  with full rights as a national minority . If this were valid (and it was) more than fifty years ago, it makes absolutely no sense to modify the position today, when a large part of the Jewish population of Israel has firmer roots in Palestinian territory.

            Some other formations that identify with Trotskyism (the  Spartacists and the  League for a Revolutionary Communist International , known also as  Workers Power from the name of its British section) demand as a solution a  binational workers state . This repeats the proposal, indicated above, of the Zionist far left before the birth of Israel and, in fact, despite the  revolutionary rhetoric, constitutes an adaptation to Zionism. It is frontally opposes the slogans and goals of the Palestinian revolt, which demands, legitimately, the birth of an independent Palestinian state, not a  binational solution, even a  workers or  socialist one.

            The position of the comrades of the group  Militants for the Fourth International , which works in Israel and supports the  Movement for the Refoundation of the Fourth International , in which our tendency participates, has a certain analogy with the position just indicated. Without well clarifying the class character of the new state, they appeal for a  constituent assembly of Palestine in terms (logically, seeing the historical development of the situation) that appear to be a  binational solution, therefore, with the negatives indicated.

            A position from the  Lambertist tradition, taken up again on some recent occasions, seeks to resolve the matter of a vital general orientation with the slogan of a  constituent assembly , referring not only to Palestine but also to Jordan. If this territorial framework had political plausibility, we might find ourselves confronting an orientation analogous to that of the Fourth International in the 1940s. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As we indicated in point 2, history has created a specifically Palestinian people, inserted generally in the Arab people. But today a united and distinct Palestine-Jordan entity doesn t exist. Palestine and Jordan were united, under British dominion, only from 1918 to 1921. It is not by chance that the historical positions and slogans of the Fourth International always referred only to the 1921-47 British mandate Palestine and denounced the secret accord between the Jordanian monarchy and Zionism for the division of Palestine. What really happened after the war of 1948-49, when Jordan annexed the West Bank, was the creation of a new, though different, oppression of the Palestinians and their national and democratic rights, an oppression not forgotten today. Therefore, this last perspective is also contrary to the demands and feelings of the Intifada, which aims at, let us repeat, the realization of the right of self-determination and the creation of a real state of the Palestinian Arab people and not of others.

            In reality, as the ITO, we maintain that it would be wrong today, facing the complexity of the situation, to indicate a precise solution. We maintain that, in terms of slogans and perspectives, it would be to depart from the principles we have indicated in point 5 and from the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, with the sole limit of respecting the right of the Jewish people of Palestine to stay, with full rights democrats. We cannot know today the precise course and timing of the realization of an independent, socialist Palestine, and therefore the exact conditions that will determine the modality of the realization of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The oppressed population will have the right to decide the precise relationship to maintain with the Jewish population (after all, the position of the Fourth International in 1948 indicated that the specific form of the relationships among Arabs and Jews had to be decided by a constituent assembly, after the driving out of imperialism).

            It is possible that the development of the socialist revolution, the expulsion of the openly reactionary and racist sectors of the Jewish population, and demographic changes will create conditions in which the Palestinian people consider the framework of a unitary state the realization of their aspiration for an independent Arab Palestine and in this framework grant democrat rights as a national minority to the Jewish population.

            It is also possible that the framework of the Arab revolution creates conditions in which the various specificities of the Arab nation are presented in different forms and on different territorial bases than today, permitting the realization of a broader territorial framework (Jordanian-Palestinian or other) than we first hypothesized.

            It is possible, on the contrary, that the Palestinian people will decide that the constitution an independent state implies a state distinct from the Jewish population and that, therefore, Palestine is divided into two entities: one, in the larger part of the territory, predominantly Arab, the other, in a smaller part, predominantly Jewish. This (taking up the original experience of the USSR) in the form of an autonomous region or republic within a unified Arab socialist republic, or as a federated state in the more general framework of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa.

            Finally, it is possible, even if unlikely, that the struggle for socialist revolution creates feelings of such unity between the Palestinian proletariat and masses and the Jewish proletariat that the Palestinian people choose the solution of a binational unitary state (also here with various possible links with a united Arab socialist republic and a Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa).

            History will loosen this central knot. Trotskyists struggle to lead the masses toward the socialist revolution. On this ground they indicate the necessary strategy and tactics. But they don t pretend to impose their specific solutions to all problems. In Palestine, at the moment of revolutionary victory, the Palestinian people -- with their free self-determination and respect for the rights of the Jewish people -- will decide.


For the defeat of Zionism and imperialism


No rotten compromises. Revolution until victory


For the mobilization of the Arab masses against Israel and imperialism


No confidence in the bankrupt bourgeois, feudal-bourgeois, or petty-bourgeois regimes of the Arab countries. For their revolutionary overthrow


For the demolition of the Zionist state of Israel. For the full democratic rights of the Jewish people in Palestine as a national minority, in the framework of the unity of the Middle East


For a free, secular, socialist Palestine in the framework of Arab socialist unity


For a Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa