End the occupation
For a democratic, secular, socialist Palestine


The Israeli invasion of the Palestinian West Bank, Israel's most savage assault since its invasion of Lebanon twenty years ago, has killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands. In 1999 the Clinton administration bombed Yugoslavia for a similar assault in response to guerilla attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). But this time the aggressor is a US client, so the Bush administration has just mildly complained.

The Likud-Labor coalition government of Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres is trying to end the intifada, the brave, desperate Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000 after Sharon's paramilitary visit to al-Haram ash-Sharif ("Temple Mount"). Sharon's provocation confirmed the Palestinians' sense that Israel was unilaterally imposing its apartheid "solution" and that no one -- not moderate Israelis, not the US, not Western Europe, not the Arab states, and not even the Palestinian Authority -- would aid them.

Palestinian youth have awed the world with their courage in fighting what is, in immediate operational terms, the fourth most powerful military in the world. Resisting the Israeli army as Warsaw Jews once resisted the German army, they held off tanks, artillery, helicopter gunships, rockets, and jets for a week and killed 23 Israeli soldiers in Jenin before they succumbed to Israel's overwhelming military force.

The anti-globalization movement in the US and around the world has taken up the Palestinian cause. We of the Trotskyist League support the demands of the intifada:

End all US aid and arms shipments to Israel!
End the occupation. Israeli military and settlers out of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon!
The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and an independent Palestinian state!
The right of Palestinian refugees and their families and descendents to return to their land!

Palestine can only be freed from below

The intifada is brave and necessary. The Palestinians, by resisting, keep alive the possibility of their liberation. But they cannot defeat Israel by themselves. Israel, with US backing, will continue to move settlers and troops into Palestinian areas until they've consolidated their economic and military control and isolated the Palestinians on South African apartheid-style Bantustans.

Israel's strategy is familiar. Like Israel, the US was born as a European settler colony. European settlers displaced the Native Americans, stole their land, and forced them onto reservations. Similarly, Israeli settlers displaced the Palestinians, stole their land, and forced them into refuge camps. The fact that many North American and Israeli settlers fled persecution -- and even the horror of the Holocaust -- doesn't cancel this reality.

Some on the Israeli right would like to expel all the Palestinians from what they regard as Greater Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza. But as latter-day settlers, the Israelis are not as free to commit genocide as the North American settlers were. Moreover, an apartheid system has the advantage of allowing the Israeli capitalists to continue exploiting Palestinian labor, while keeping the Palestinians dependent and tightly controlled.

If Palestine is to be freed from Zionist rule, it must be freed from below. No section of the Israeli ruling class supports the intifada's demands, modest as they are. The US and British ruling classes fully back Israel as a weapon to help them defend their oil and strategic interests. The other imperialists -- Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, etc. -- are less committed to Israel, but they're not about to buck the US. The governments of the Arab states denounce the Israeli aggression, but they've only made a show of fighting Israel in the past, and they're not about to fight now.

Three ways to win

There are three main ways the Palestinians could win, despite Israel's military superiority. First, a revolution in the Arab countries could sweep aside their comprador governments and bring to power workers' and peasants' governments. These could aid the Palestinians economically and militarily and use their oil to force the imperialists to back away from Israel. Facing a united Arab world, without imperialist backing, many of the most hardened racist Israeli settlers would leave, and the rest would be forced to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Over the past few weeks millions of Arabs have demonstrated for Palestine, reaffirming not only their solidarity with the Palestinians but also their Arab national identities. These militants are learning from their own observation and experience that their rulers have sold out the Palestinians and all Arabs. They're coming to the conclusion that their rulers must go.

Second, a workers' upsurge in the US and the other imperialist countries -- an uprising of the vast majority -- could sweep aside the capitalist and pro-capitalist parties and perhaps capitalist rule altogether. This could end imperialist aid and arms shipments to Israel and with them Zionist rule. It's difficult to imagine such an upsurge now, especially in the US. But as the US economy stumbles from crisis to crisis, as poverty and inequality mount, and as US imperialism blunders from war to war, such an upsurge becomes quite imaginable, even inevitable.

Finally, a revolution of Israeli and Arab workers, united in struggle, could sweep aside the Zionists and bring to power a workers' government that would offer a just peace. This seems unlikely now, since a large majority of Israelis, including workers, support the war, and very few Israelis, even among those who want peace, support the Palestinians' right of return. But thousands of Israelis have rallied against the war, and hundreds of reservists have refused to serve in the occupied territories. That's a start.

No one can tell which of these "visionary" scenarios, or which combination of them, will free Palestine. But the situation is so bad, despite the bravery of the intifada, that no lesser scenario seems realistic.>

For a democratic, secular, socialist Palestine
For a socialist federation of the Middle East and North Africa

It seems likely that if Palestine were freed from below -- by upsurges of workers in the Arab countries, the imperialist countries, and/or Israel/Palestine -- the revolution would not stop there. The workers, having swept aside their current governments, would not just defend the Palestinians, but would seize power themselves and begin building a socialist society, whose guiding principle would be meeting human needs in the fullest sense, not profit-making. Moreover, the revolution would spread from the place of the initial seizure of power to the whole region, in the case of an Arab or Israeli-Palestinian revolution, or the whole world, in the case of a US or European revolution.

The framework for a democratic, secular Palestine would be a socialist federation of the Middle East and North Africa. But the state structure of Palestine would depend on the course of the revolution, since that would heavily influence how the Palestinian people would decide to exercise their right of self-determination.

If Palestine were freed by an Arab socialist revolution, the Palestinians might decide to join an Arab socialist republic. A socialist federation of the Middle East and North Africa would still be needed, since the region includes Turks, Kurds, Iranians, and Berbers, as well as Arabs and Jews.

If Palestine were freed by a revolution in the imperialist countries, the Palestinians might decide to establish their own democratic, secular, socialist state, separate from Israel. This would require a partition much more favorable to the Palestinians than the 1947 UN partition, which gave them 45 percent of the land, or the 1948 ceasefire partition, which gave them only 22 percent.

Zionist Israel could not survive very long without imperialist backing and without its reason for existence: confrontation with the Palestinians. The Jewish workers would soon replace Israel with a democratic, secular, socialist, but ethnically predominantly Jewish state, also part of the socialist federation. The barriers between the two states -- and all the states in the federation -- would quickly begin breaking down.

Finally, if Palestine were freed by a revolution of the Arab and Israeli workers fighting together, the Palestinians might decide for a single state of Arabs and Jews in the whole of historical Palestine. Many Palestine solidarity activists, particularly in the imperialist countries, would prefer this solution. But the choice is not theirs. The oppressed Palestinian people have the right to their own self-determination.

The role of the anti-globalization movement

Most activists in the US and international movement against corporate globalization support the Palestinian struggle. This support shows one of the main political strengths of the movement: its ability to link issues and struggles. But Palestine also shows the movement's weaknesses, which undermine its ability to achieve any of its goals.

The movement in the US has only a tenuous link with the working class. Workers and youth were both present in the 1999 Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. The top union bureaucrats did all they could to keep the union contingents away from the youth demonstrations and to limit the "union issues" to jobs and wages, by which they mean mainly protectionism. But rank-and-file workers joined the youth demonstrations against sweatshops, against military intervention, for the environment, etc. -- on their own or with militant local leaders, particularly of the West Coast Longshore and Seattle Teamsters and Machinists unions.

A similar linking of workers and youth occurred on a much larger scale at the July 2001 demonstrations in Genoa, Italy, but never again in the US. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the top union bureaucrats pulled back from the anti-globalization movement to support the "war on terrorism". As a result, the February 2 demonstration in New York City against the World Economic Forum and the April 19-22 demonstrations in Washington, DC, were much smaller than they would have been, if the movement had remained united. On the other hand, a united movement could not have expressed strong solidarity with Palestine.

The anti-globalization movement in the US is relatively white, in stark contrast to the multiracial movements in Brazil and South Africa. The movement has established links with some African American and Latino struggles, particularly the Free Mumia campaign and the immigrant rights struggle. But to most African Americans and Latinos the anti-globalization movement seems more relevant to people of color abroad than at home.

The anti-globalization movement has repeatedly stumbled over whether to define itself as anti-neoliberal or anti-capitalist. Many activists define themselves as anti-capitalist, but the movement as a whole has never done so. The pullback of the union bureaucrats -- and also the leaders of the liberal human rights and environmental organizations -- after September 11 meant that the February 2 and April 20 demonstrations were more clearly anti-capitalist than previous demonstrations. "You are Enron, we are Argentina!" was a favorite slogan on February 2. As the larger organizations rejoin the movement, its political center of gravity will shift to the right.

The anti-globalization movement and the imperialist war

Most anti-globalization activists oppose the Afghan war, Plan Colombia, a new war on Iraq, and the "war on terrorism" in general. They are empirically anti-imperialist, even if they don't use the term. But this is not an agreed position of the movement as a whole. The leaders of the major unions and other organizations either support the "war on terrorism" or remain discretely silent. They remain tied to the Democratic Party, all but one of whose congressional representatives voted for the war. Al Gore has called for a new war against Iraq, and many Democratic Party leaders are criticizing Bush for not aiding Israel sufficiently.

The anti-globalization movement remains divided over the place of direct action. Most anti-global demonstrations in the US tacitly separate their activities into "green" (peaceful, legal protest), "yellow" (nonviolent civil disobedience), and "red" (confrontational tactics to try to shut down a meeting or target property symbolizing capitalism and militarism). All three tactics are far short of the militant, mass mobilizations, political strikes, and self-defense needed to achieve the movement's major goals.

The anti-globalization movement is very decentralized. On the one hand, this allows it to link organizations that otherwise would not work together. On the other hand, it prevents democratic decision-making. This is not too much of a problem, so long as it's only necessary to decide to come together at an agreed time and place. Although even that can be problematic, as the dance among the organizers of the April 20 marches showed. As the stakes become higher, the need for democratic decision-making will become more acute. We don't have the committees of action, workers' councils, and other organizational structures needed to challenge the system.

The anti-globalization movement has generally presented itself as "non-partisan" and "non-governmental". The union bureaucrats and the leaders of the liberal human rights and environmental organizations want the movement to maintain this stance, so that they can maintain their links with the parties and governments of the status quo and still participate in the movement, keeping it within the bounds of capitalist property and legality.

Many activists also want the anti-globalization movement to maintain its "non-partisan" and "non-governmental" stance, both to broaden it and because they distrust political parties and governments. Their attitude is understandable but ultimately self-defeating, since ultimately political parties participating in governments make the key decisions.

The anti-globalization movement is an important political development, because it links workers who are raising the level of class struggle with a new generation of youth active in a variety of struggles. The link helps the workers to move from business unionism to social unionism and then to fully class-conscious political activism. The link helps the youth to move from symbolic self-expression to effective mass action.

In the course of struggle, the movement must overcome the weaknesses described above. The role of revolutionary socialists is to fight alongside other activists and to indicate the direction the struggle must develop in order to win.

April 20, 2002

Trotskyist League, affiliated to the International Trotskyist Opposition
Address: Trotskyist League, PO Box 44317, Detroit 48244