Critique of Andreas Malm. 3: Vicarious chauvinism

Submitted by martin on 29 June, 2021 - 4:26 Author: Paul Vernadsky

For debate and discussion on Malm, see here.

Andreas Malm has developed a deeply authoritarian climate politics, using Marxist phraseology to mask a thoroughgoing anti-democratic, anti-working class position. His zigzags from compulsory veganism to sabotage badly mislead the climate movement. But his most heinous error is the proposal to import the approach of Hamas-type Palestinian “resistance” into climate politics. To do so would strangle the climate movement in its infancy.

Malm rarely misses the opportunity to refer to “the Palestinian resistance” in his climate change writings. His latest book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2021) is no exception. It explicitly refers to Palestinian sabotage of pipelines as an historical precedent and cites Palestinian leaders as models for the climate movement to follow. The Palestinian people have suffered terrible oppression over many decades. The immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel remains the only consistently democratic solution to the national question in the region. However Malm plainly sees a particular kind of Palestinian “resistance” as the model for climate activists.

In a recent blog post on the Verso website, 'When Does the Fightback Begin?', Malm states that he spent “eight formative years immersed in the Palestinian cause, in the years leading up to the Second Intifada and then as an activist and organiser with the International Solidarity Movement” (ISM). He argues that “ISM can be reasonably compared with the contemporary climate movement in the global North, which tends to attract a similar demography: young people, often students, mostly on the left”.

Four years ago, Malm published an essay in Salvage magazine (issue 4, 1 May 2017) entitled: The Walls of the Tank: On Palestinian Resistance. The magazine describes itself as “a bi-annual journal of revolutionary arts and letters” and is edited by ex-British SWP supporters Richard Seymour and China Miéville.

Malm advertises this essay on his academic website at Lund University in Sweden. He frequently name-checks the article in his writings and interviews. Malm explicitly draws parallels between Hamas-type Palestinian resistance and the fight for climate justice. It is not an accidental essay, but ten thousand words of deliberate bile, including some of the worst tropes in modern political discourse.


In The Walls of the Tank, Malm persistently conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state. He makes no differentiation within the Jewish polity, for those for and against various governments, those with different visions for relations between Jewish and Arab peoples, or involved the peace movement. Malm’s text is soaked with vicarious chauvinism and replete with many of the tropes found in left anti-Semitism.

Malm makes numerous references to the Israeli state in the text. Its origins are presented purely as the concerted efforts of the British Empire to transplant Jewish colonies into Palestine. It is presented solely as an imperialist project, with no mention of antisemitism faced by Jewish people in Europe or the Middle East. Malm reduces the motivation to the means to secure fossil fuel supplies: “When the British Empire occupied Palestine and set about implementing its vision of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’, the state-of-the-art fossil fuel was no longer coal. It was oil.”

For Malm, Israel is an illegitimate state. He echoes the trope, “what’s founded on wrong is wrong”. He regards the war of 1948 solely as the Nakba (the disaster), purely as the dispossession of the Palestinians. The only context is British colonial rule and Jewish “cold steel” against the Palestinian Arabs. The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the actions of the Arab states are completely ignored.

Malm refers to Israel as “the Zionist entity” and the “Zionist enterprise”. Jewish people are represented solely as “settlers”, with a “settler mentality” and executors of the “Zionist settler-colonialist” project. He puts the entire blame for the conflict on “permanent Zionist aggression” and the “late-coming colonisers”.

Malm blithely articulates other "left" antisemitic tropes. He briefly alludes to “how the State of Israel has contributed to American dominance over the Middle East and untrammelled access to its oil”. Exactly how Israel provides such access to oil, which is almost entirely found in the Arab states across the region, long hostile to Israel’s very existence, is never explained.

Malm makes use of Palestinian fictional writing to make many of his points. He manages to put into the mouth of a Palestinian mother the expression, “cursing the Jews to hell”, in between minding her children and making dinner. Antisemitism doesn’t disappear when it is buried beneath descriptions of domestic drudgery.

A particular sort of Palestinian “resistance”

In his Salvage essay, Malm gave explicit, uncritical support for the leaders of Hamas and its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas’ full name in Arabic is Harakat al-Muqawame al-Islameyyeh (Islamic Resistance Movement). Malm puts heavy emphasis on the idea of “resistance” in the essay, stating cryptically that muqawame “is a source of inspiration for combating other types of catastrophes only because it is actively chosen”. The allusion is to the “choice” of Hamas as the leadership of the Palestinian people.

Praise for Hamas is weaved into the text. Malm quotes the expression, “To keep the embers of the conflict burning” as “the words of Hamas”. Malm states: “Others than Arabs should feel respect for a figure like Mohammed Deif” [who is] “the commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades…” What exactly should be respected is never spelt out – but Malm is not one for condemning armed resistance.

Malm also cautions anyone who feels unease at the Islamism of Hamas and other groups. He advised critics to ponder, “among other things, their – particularly Hamas’s – extraordinary efficiency in stamping out every attempt by Daesh to rear its head in Gaza”. So it seems okay with Malm for Hamas to deny Israel’s right to exist, fire rockets at Israeli civilians and repress the Palestinian population under its rule, because it’s the bulwark against an even worse Islamist terror organisation.

Although Malm is soft on Hamas, he is positively effusive about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He laments the lack of a history of the Palestinian Left, “or even a monograph on the PFLP.” The title of Malm’s essay is derived from PFLP leader Ghassan Kanafani’s work Men in the Sun/. Kanafani is described as “the legendary writer and PFLP spokesperson”. In 1972, he was assassinated by Mossad as a response to the Lod airport terrorist attack, in which 26 people were killed and 80 others injured.

Malm states that in August 2015, there were reports that Hamas leaders were prepared for a "long-term truce" with Israel. Malm lauds the PFLP press release, in which Rabah Muhanna, a member of its politburo, warned against laying down arms:

“He spoke of the need to draw lessons from the 20 years of bitter experience of Oslo and its disastrous results, from which our people have reaped no benefits despite wide support for Oslo at the beginning. ‘The Front will always “bang on the walls of the tank”’, said Muhanna, alluding to a passage in Palestinian writer and PFLP leader Ghassan Kanafani’s work Men in the Sun. ‘We will stand against any agreement that does not benefit our people, the cause and the liberation of Palestine, and our weapons are always pointed at the Zionist enemy’, said Muhanna.”

Malm underlined his intransigent position on the question of peace, referring to an interview published in Journal of Palestine Studies, with Ramadan Shallah, leader of Islamic Jihad. They are described as “the second most important armed force of the resistance”, who follow “the same strategic doctrine: the purpose is to maintain ‘the military pressure on Israel’ until ‘new parameters’ emerge. No one knows how long that will take”.

Malm text is soaked with support for “the armed struggle”. He talks about “picking up the hand grenade”. He makes no distinction between violence against property and attacks on Israeli civilians, and no distinction between Palestinian self-defence against the IDF and the active choice of targeting Israeli citizens. All is dissolved into support for these particular organisations and their methods of “resistance”.

Climate parallels

Malm explicitly draws on his analysis of Palestinian politics to inform his advice to the climate movement. He states that “The relation between Palestine and climate change, however, is more than one of allegory or analogy. Fossil fuels have been integral to the catastrophe from the very start.” The parallels form the basis of his conclusion:

“The Palestinian national movement demands the right of return, as enshrined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194. The climate movement has called for 350 ppm as the target CO2 concentration… Palestinians living in their own country, much like prior to 1948; the CO2 concentration back below the levels of the late 1980s… From the river to the sea: CO2 emissions must first be eradicated and then turned negative.”

Malm therefore equates the particular programme to destroy Israel with the universal goals of the international climate movement. This is clear from his demands for the “right of return”, the re-establishment of the pre-1948 borders and the goal of Palestine “from the river to the sea”. This phrase has a particular meaning: Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. It was once associated with the PLO demand for a single democratic secular state. It is on demonstrations and in meetings. It has hardened into the demand for the destruction of Israel, akin to sweeping the Jewish state (and Jewish people) into the sea.

This is the politics Malm believes should inform the strategy and tactics of the climate movement. His specific analysis of climate change is flawed on its own terms. But his wider politics are utterly reactionary. Anyone who champions Malm in the climate movement cannot ignore this appalling political baggage.

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