A popular front will not help

Submitted by Anon on 16 August, 2005 - 10:27

Colin Foster makes a futher reply.

David’s latest contribution and his original article read as if they are about two different countries.

In his first article, the Israeli working class was striding forward. A victory for Amir Peretz as leader of the Labour Party could open the way to socialist revolution. The question of Palestinian rights was not a big obstacle because the big majority of Israelis agreed on two states.

In David’s latest contribution, Israeli socialists are in a desperate plight. They have to “choose between” Ariel Sharon and “the fascistic settlers” who oppose even Sharon’s plan to evacuate Jewish settlers from Gaza. Only “insane sects” can think of “inventing” other possibilities. Sharon is “not the enemy”; we cannot stand against his “positive political move” (the Gaza withdrawal); it would not be “correct” for the Israeli Labour Party to withdraw from coalition with Sharon now.

About the only thing in common between the two different accounts of what’s happening in Israel is David’s conclusion: fulsome and uncritical support for Peretz.

As I wrote in my first response to David, I can certainly believe that Peretz would be preferable to Peres as leader of the Labour Party. Maybe his leadership campaign can help generate an activist, rank-and-file left wing in the Labour Party and the Histadrut: I don’t know, and David offers no facts on this.

What I also wrote in my first response was that historically the Israeli Labour Party was, for a long period, not even a “bourgeois workers’ party” in the sense of the old European labour and social-democratic parties. The Histadrut was not only a trade-union federation but also a major employer. The Israeli Labour Party was primarily the party of Israel’s ruling elite.

I conceded that this may have changed with the stripping-away of the Histadrut’s non-trade-union functions and the breaking of the close identification between Israeli Labour and the permanent state machine. But the Israeli Labour Party retains unusually close, organic ties with large sections of the Israeli upper class, and, as far as I know, it does not yet have much of a radical, activist, left wing. Such facts dictate a sober assessment of the results of a leftish leader being elected.

David poses the question of Labour breaking from coalition with Sharon as if it were a debate about the most opportune time to make that break. But that begs the question of why Labour went into coalition in the first place, and why there was little resistance.

If there is a sizeable working-class left wing in Israel, then a stance which combines working-class policies on social issues with a denunciation of Sharon and the operation by which he is combining semi-withdrawal from Gaza with reinforcement of the settlements and the checkpoints within the West Bank is not a matter of “inventing possibilities” but of having that working-class left wing assert itself clearly. (The Israeli army, let us remember, will still hold Gaza’s coastline and all its borders, including the border with Egypt, and may simply be less restrained in its incursions because it does not have to worry about the settlers. Sharon’s Gaza plan looks much more like a step towards a “bantustans” policy than towards “two states”).

If there is no such big working-class left wing yet, then all talk of revolutionary possibilities is far-fetched. All socialists can do is push forward some ideas which have not yet met their time. They should do so in a way that maximises their impact, but also without drowning their ideas in a futile quest to have their small forces be the saviours of the “lesser evil” in a political scene dominated by their enemies.

A “popular front” with Sharon, motivated by the supposed “fascist danger”, is counterproductive either way. If the ultra-right were to stage a coup to overthrow Israeli parliamentary democracy and civil liberties, then socialists would defend democratic rights even alongside Sharon. But even in that case, the socialists should not “support” Sharon any more than the Bolsheviks “supported” Kerensky during the Kornilov revolt in 1917.

And, while David’s earlier assertion that such a big majority in Israel supported “two states” that the Palestinian issue was no longer a key divide in politics seemed to me exaggerated, the polar-opposite idea that the ultra-right who oppose even semi-withdrawal from Gaza have enough weight to stage a successful coup d’état seems equally exaggerated in the opposite direction.

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