RSS FeedRSS FeedYouTubeYouTubeTwitterTwitterFacebook GroupFacebook Group
You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Israel-Palestine and the “Left”

Israel-Palestine and the “Left”

Chris Cutrone

Platypus Review 163 | February 2024

Legalities. — What the Nazis did to the Jews was unspeakable: language has no word for it, since even mass murder would have sounded, in face of its planned, systematic totality, like something from the good old days of the serial killer. And yet a term needed to be found if the victims — in any case too many for their names to be recalled — were to be spared the curse of having no thoughts turned unto them. So in English the concept of genocide was coined. But by being codified, as set down in the International Declaration of Human Rights, the unspeakable was made, for the sake of protest, commensurable. By its elevation to a concept, its possibility is virtually recognized: an institution to be forbidden, rejected, discussed. One day negotiations may take place in the forum of the United Nations on whether some new atrocity comes under the heading of genocide, whether nations have a right to intervene that they do not want to exercise in any case, and whether in view of the unforeseen difficulty of applying it in practice the whole concept of genocide should be removed from the statutes. Soon afterwards there are inside-page headlines in journalese: East Turkestan genocide programme nears completion.

— Theodor W. Adorno, “Messages in a bottle,” orphaned from Minima Moralia (1944–47)

THIS BITTER APHORISM was written by Adorno, as part of his book Minima Moralia, at the end of World War II, and at the same time he and Frankfurt School Director Max Horkheimer were writing their Dialectic of Enlightenment by the poolside in Santa Monica, in which they (outrageously) wrote that perhaps the Hegelian Weltgeist — World-Spirit — of freedom dictated the destruction of small nations — in this case, that of the Jews — and that Marxists must accept and go along with this irresistible trend. For after all socialists were powerless to prevent it, but must still struggle to achieve socialism in its wake. “Never again!” after the Holocaust meant: always again. Makes you think.

There have been many instances in the meantime. For example, at around the same time as the Israeli War of Independence, there was the post-colonial Partition of India, which involved millions of victims in the creation of a Muslim state in Pakistan — repeated again when Bangladesh separated from the latter in the 1970s. And there is still Kashmir.

Is Alan Dershowitz to be proven right, that no one cares unless it is Jews who are doing it? (Or is it because they are “white”? But Jews are no more — or less — white than their fellow Semites, the Arabs, and anyway the majority of Israel’s Jewish population is Mizrahi and Sephardic not Ashkenazi.) Or are the Islamists right that it matters because it’s about al-Aqsa? Or are the millenarian Christians right about Armageddon and the beginning and end of the world? Or Hasidim who judge Zionism a blasphemy? Or is this the “Left’s” Rapture, in which God’s Elect ascend to Salvation and the rest are Left Behind? At least Hamas has “martyrdom” as consolation for the occupants of the former Roman province of Palestine.

The Death of Klinghoffer — “rearranging deck-chairs on the Titanic”

Lenin and Trotsky

Speaking of the United Nations, this later fulfillment of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations was embraced by Stalin, whereas the League was rejected by Lenin. This is a good way of illustrating the difference between Leninism and Stalinism: Stalinism is based on acceptance of the racist nationalist Wilson’s vision instead of world proletarian socialist revolution and global dictatorship of the proletariat pursued by original historical Marxism.

This was the basis of Adorno’s critique of “international law” under capitalism and its inherently ambiguous and hypocritical concepts such as “genocide.” The United Nations definition of “genocide” includes that of so-called “cultural genocide.” — What did Lenin say about that?

The Socialists of oppressed nations must, in their turn, unfailingly fight for the complete (including organisational) unity of the workers of the oppressed and oppressing nationalities. The idea of the juridical separation of one nation from another (so-called “cultural-national autonomy” advocated by Bauer and Renner) is reactionary.[1]

Later on, Trotsky wrote that proletarian socialists must “Learn to Think”:

Ultra-left scholastics think not in concrete terms but in empty abstractions. They have transformed the idea of defeatism into such a vacuum. They can see vividly neither the process of war nor the process of revolution. They seek a hermetically sealed formula which excludes fresh air. But a formula of this kind can offer no orientation for the proletarian vanguard.[2]

Trotsky goes on to point out that “revolutionary defeatism” can only be revolutionary if it leads to proletarian socialist revolution. And that is not the case today. Today it can only be defeatism in a non-revolutionary way, playing into capitalist politics not building a socialist movement. It is bourgeois defeatism. The bourgeoisie can benefit — indeed profit — from the defeat of their opponents. Not so the workers. At least not as proletarian socialists, who are not the beneficiaries of capitalist competition, of which war is just a usual event. Capitalists always make a killing off war — no matter who wins or loses, the capitalists as such always profit. Capital always finds an opportunity.

It is a Stalinist contrivance to justify their opportunism that somehow divisions in the ruling class benefit the working class, regardless of the actual state of the latter’s struggle and movement.

Demands

There is simply no proletarian socialist movement today. There is only petit bourgeois radicalism, more or less. This is what Lenin called “liberalism with bombs” and “reformism with guns” — at best. At worst, it is not even liberalism or reformism, but is just reactionary capitalist pseudo-politics. Actually, it is only ever more or less crime.

So let’s examine the current demands of the Palestinian solidarity movement in the U.S.: “Ceasefire now!” and “Defund Israel!”

The latter of course is a repetition of the Black Lives Matter demand, to “defund” the police. It is a variety of impossibilism and hence of BLM’s avowed nihilism. But not in the case of U.S. aid to Israel, military and otherwise, which could happen: Republican Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy as well as Right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson have called for sun-setting U.S. aid to Israel, to cut the strings in the relationship and make it more an alliance — marriage of convenience? — than a dependency.

What “Defund Israel!” also is connected to is BDS — what I like to call BDSM, namely, Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism — oh, excuse me! Boycott, Divest, Sanction. (The latter is really a matter of the former, but anyway:) The latter is an attempted repetition of the Anti-Apartheid Movement of South Africa in the 1970s–80s. The “Left” likes to think that it brought down Apartheid, but, no, that was the result of the end of the Cold War and the resolution of proxy conflicts between the U.S. and USSR. Israel-Palestine was supposed to be another, hence the Intifada and Oslo Accords peace process. It failed.

So this leaves history seemingly unfinished — no, not really. “Resistance” to “Apartheid” or “settler-colonialism” in Israel is not some unfinished business of the last century — although it might appear so.

What both “Ceasefire now!” and “Defund Israel!” have in common, whatever their merits and defects, is that they are demands on the capitalist state, and moreover on its political parties — specifically, demanding these things of one Party in particular, the Democrats.

But the Biden Administration has indeed called for a ceasefire: it wants different tactics and even strategy of Israel. Most importantly, it wants Israel to give “land for peace,” end the settlements in the West Bank, and, most pertinently, not to devastate Gaza or displace the Palestinians there. Or so at least they say.

Why not believe them?

Genocide

And this brings us back to the charge of “genocide.” There’s no mens rea, and hence no consciousness of guilt with which to convict the Israelis. “Slow-motion genocide” is no genocide at all — unless history itself is the story of endless “genocides.” The UN’s International Court of Justice will take many years to come to a decision about the current Israeli war against Hamas.

Why not call it “ethnic cleansing,” for example — a horrible enough crime? It is not at all clear even that this is the current Israeli intent in Gaza.

So what is going on here, between Israel and Palestine? Why was a two-state solution not achieved in the aftermath of the Cold War in the 1990s? It’s actually very simple:

The Palestinian “political leadership” has refused to officially accept the existence of Israel as a state.

After many wars, uprisings, terrorism, etc., the Palestinians lost and the Israelis won.

The stronger were victorious and the weaker were defeated. Case closed. History’s pronouncement is undeniable — and irreversible.

The Israelis expected a peace treaty of surrender by the Palestinians, which the Palestinians have refused. So Israel has continued its war against an enemy that has refused to surrender.

But the Palestinians have been defeated. This is not going to change. Ever.

Indeed, the recent Hamas attack was an act of desperation in a condition of defeat. This doesn’t justify or condone it — indeed it convicts it of futility and wanton, pointless destructiveness. Hamas has admitted as much, as they say they expected an Israeli overreaction and the destruction of Gaza and the Palestinians there, which they thought at best would create a wider regional war and at worst would make the Palestinian question impossible to ignore by the international community. Hamas spent everything it had in one final bid for political relevance. So it’s all in the end a public-relations stunt. How grotesque!

Is there any doubt that Israel would live at peace with the Palestinians if given the chance? But the “Left” don’t want peace here.

Should “Marxists” or “socialists” accept the verdict of war — accept the victory of one side over another? Not necessarily. But the point would not be to rearrange capitalist settlements — which are indeed merely deck-chairs on the Titanic — but to struggle to overcome them entirely in socialist revolution.

Gangster rap

How to do so? Well, for one thing, we can aspire to not miseducate Palestinian, Arab or Muslim-Americans or any others in the U.S. and beyond: Rashida Tlaib is a travesty and tragedy of today’s pseudo-“Leftism,” specifically in its spurious “Palestinian solidarity.” Progress means: Congress now has its very own Palestinian mascot. But no less tragic is the rest of the Squad of Democrat “socialists” in the U.S. Congress. — So is Bernie Sanders. Their miseducation and now willing complicity in the crimes of capitalist politics runs deeply historically. It has unfolded over many generations. It should not continue. The dead-end closing in Gaza bears a lesson.

Hamas is a capitalist group. What does this mean? It accepts capitalism and is not in any way a challenge to it. It is a particularly Right-wing form of capitalism. It is a criminal gang. They are indeed terrorists. Terrorism is by its very nature capitalist and not socialist politics. Capitalist crime. — Crime is capitalist, not socialist. It is the capitalism of the weak, not socialism. And the weak shall not inherit the Earth. They never have. They have perished irremediably — dust.

Hamas are the Kapos in the concentration camp, recruited from ordinary criminals to rule over the rest, and hoping to slip away and survive through the mayhem. They were literally chosen by Israel to rule the Gaza Strip. The game of “military transactions” (Hegel) played between Israel and Hamas, no matter how violent and gruesome, is merely negotiating the terms of capitalism, through extremely sensationalist marketing propaganda — in images as well as deeds. And the bargaining-chips that are played consist of ordinary people’s lives — as victims and not agents, objects and not subjects of bloody capitalist politics. As the workers always are.

Historically, Marxists always rejected terrorism as a tactic and as a strategy. Why? Because it did not advance the working class’s own necessary self-organization and action to achieve socialism, and indeed set it back, working against it, including but not only by provoking state repression. And what Marxism meant by the “terrorism” that they opposed was not at all what Hamas committed on October 7, which was targeted mass murder of civilians, but rather military actions against the capitalist state and its repressive apparatus — “legitimate” warfare. By contrast, Hamas has aimed and aims to divide the civilian population along religious or ethnic lines. This means dividing the working class. They wagered — and lost — the lives of Palestinians in ways capitalist politicians always do. Hamas’s leadership are literally billionaires whose individual personal wealth rivals that of Donald Trump. But what have they built? Their wealth is skimmed off the misery of others — as with all gangsters. They will retire comfortably, while their fighters are slaughtered. Hamas is a criminal enterprise, both literally and figuratively — at least from a Marxist perspective.

Today’s “Left” are a parody side-show of capitalist gangsterism, cheerleading the slaughter. They are the psychotics viewing events from the windows of the insane-asylum, expressing and enacting what British Leftist psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell called the “normative psychosis of the capitalist social-political world”[3] — no less and perhaps a great deal more so than what the Symbionese Liberation Army’s audiotaped communiqués called the “fascist insects” in what the “Left” has called the “Zionist entity.” Or are we to be agents rather of Aeon Flux’s Monica contra Bregna? But Trevor Goodchild always wins, however resurrecting Aeon in the next episode after death each time. Can we wake from this nightmare film-loop of history? We’ve seen this movie already — billed as the Next Big Thing and quickly forgotten in the clickbait revenue stream of the latest Breaking News in capitalist exploitation. Gaza will be rebuilt by the workers of the world, Palestinian and otherwise.

Lenin again

This brings us back to Lenin’s rejection of “national” capitalist states and of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations after World War I. — By contrast with Stalin’s acceptance and even embrace of the United Nations after WWII, which was the institutionalization of the victorious Allies for managing world politics set up by the U.S.: the terms of the USSR et al.’s participation in global capitalist politics. The world political order is the capitalist system of nation-states preferred by the U.S.

Lenin called the League of Nations set up by Woodrow Wilson after WWI a “den of thieves and their victims;” how much more so is the UN today: the complaint-office of the U.S.-led global order.

Unlike spurious fake “Marxists’” attempts to treat nations — let alone capitalist nation-states — as coherent fundamental units of political economy, Marx and subsequent Marxists recognized that political economy and its social relations — society — are not national but international and indeed global and cosmopolitan in nature and character. Nationalism — the reification of “national” identities — has always been and will always be retrograde. Even Hamas are not nationalists.

The PFLP, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an ostensibly “Marxist” socialist or communist force in Palestine, treats what they call the “national liberation struggle” over and prior to the struggle for socialism. As such, they support Hamas as the supposed “vanguard” of the national struggle of the Palestinians. The PFLP see themselves as the “Left” of the “national” or “democratic” struggle and movement — and Hamas as the Right wing. What does this mean? It means that, after the purported successful “national liberation struggle,” then the political differences between Hamas and themselves will become manifest. But before that, the PFLP says that they don’t want “ideological” differences to stand in the way of “political unity” with Hamas. They want a “cross-class popular alliance,” very explicitly. It is vintage 1930s Stalinist Popular Frontism. It failed to stop “fascism and war” ever since then, and continues to do so now.

As counter-intuitive as it might sound, this is very much like how the supposed “Palestinian solidarity” movement in the U.S. conceives of itself: in “political unity” with “progressive liberal d/Democratic capitalist” politicians despite any and all “ideological differences.”

But are these merely “ideological” differences? From a socialist let alone Marxist perspective, they must rather be recognized as political differences: socialists have an entirely different aim and goal from Hamas, in any number of respects.

But this is where the present “Left” is fundamentally confused and mistaken: socialism is not a matter of “progressive” capitalism or “progressive” reforms of capitalism. Nor is it about separate “stages” of struggle, which since the 1930s has never gotten beyond, nor ever even fulfilled this first “popular democratic national” stage. It has been a dead-end — always.

What is required in Palestine or Israel is the working-class political unity of Jewish and Arab and Muslim and Christian and other (for instance, “foreign/guest”) workers in the struggle for socialism. This is entirely contrary to either Arab nationalism — such as that of the PFLP — or Islamism — as with Hamas. It is also contrary to Zionism. It is against the nation-state — the nationalist basis for politics.

Aftermath

In the Middle East specifically we see the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire over a hundred years ago, after WWI, and the failure to create out of this any viable national states. There are rather many different ethnic and religious and linguistic and other cultural groups in the region — as indeed there are in every part of the world. There has been the necessary and not accidental oppression of minorities throughout the world in the attempt to enforce nationalist politics. “Decolonization” has necessarily and not accidentally meant this for the last century: forced population transfers, genocides, and continued oppression and exploitation. Socialists should not accept this let alone apologize for it — and certainly not regard it as somehow “progress.” Which side should socialists have taken in the Biafra War? With Boko Haram today? The civil wars in Congo have not been merely about exotic metals.

But pluralistic liberal democracy has also failed in capitalism in places like the U.S. — not as spectacularly as in the Middle East and elsewhere, but still a failure. Division of the working class according to various sectarian and communitarian lines has prevailed. Where does this division originate? In capitalism itself, which both brings people together through trade and commerce and cooperation in labor, locally and globally, and divides them in competition in a situation of industrial production in which there are periodic crises of economic value of social activity and unemployment, commonly seen as due to technological innovation and necessity. There will be no possible restoration of petit-bourgeois democratic localism, “national” or otherwise.

So long as capitalism persists and is not overcome in socialism, globally, there will be social and geographical divisions that invite political divisions to which the working class and other people will become inevitably subject. There will be war, inter-national state and/or civil, “legitimate” or otherwise. Always capitalist war.

But original historical Marxism said, “No war but class war!” — refusing the terms of capitalist warfare. — I know that this is regarded as “ultra-Leftism” and “Marxist purism” and “dogmatism,” but still. I prefer to maintain my self-respect as a dogmatic Marxist than pose in the mirror as a wannabe gangsta, mouthing the words to someone else’s rap. “Intifada until victory!” will be a very long time. Forever. Never.

But we can still refuse to endorse and support the capitalist politics that actively seeks to exploit and enforce such divisions and warfare: Hamas and other dominant Palestinian political forces as well as Zionism are clear examples of such destructive politics, whose devastating and anti-social results we are seeing now as well as for the past century.

Do you get it yet, children? | P


[1] V. I. Lenin, Socialism and War (1915), available online at <https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/s-w/>.

[2] Leon Trotsky, “Learn to Think,” The New International IV, no. 7 (July 1938): 206–07, available online at <https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/05/think.htm>.

[3] E. Efe Çakmak and Bülent Somay, “There is never a psychopathology without the social context: An interview with Juliet Mitchell,” Eurozine (April 12, 2006), available online at <https://www.eurozine.com/there-is-never-a-psychopathology-without-the-social-context/>.