LETTERS: Two states? & What next for the left in Hungary

Submitted by SJW on 1 May, 2018 - 9:22 Author: Andrew Northall, Martin Thomas and John Cunningham

For a single democratic Palestinian state

I would like to express some thoughts relating to the article ‘Gaza mobilising for an internationalist response’ by Martin Thomas and your editorial ‘For an independent Palestine alongside Israel’ (Solidarity 466)

I find it hard to see how the 1947 partition could ever have successfully established two separate states within such a relative small and narrow geographical area, both dependent on the same scarce natural resources, and each by definition with their own armed state machines inherently hostile to each other.

Even harder with all the history which has created and moulded the current State of Israel and its population into what it is today coexisting with a genuine Palestinian State.

Martin’s comment that “Israel could gazump Hamas politically by conceding a genuinely independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory alongside Israel” is rather fanciful. Why on earth would any Israeli government voluntarily allow the creation of a hostile, armed and aggrieved state on what it regards as its own territory, and so intimately alongside much of the official border of the Israeli state? They would see it as going to bed with a tiger and really hoping it did not ravage and eat them by breakfast.

Equally, I can’t ever see the Palestinian people ever agreeing to an incredibly shrunken and circumscribed state based on the West Bank and Gaza, or a “state” which would be little more than an autonomous region of a Greater Israel, allowed no independent armed forces to defend its sovereignty.

I would question your slogan of “two nations, two states.”

Surely, we (whoever we are) do not advocate every nation or nationality should or even must have its own state? As Marxists and also pragmatists, we should not be in favour of either breaking up individual states (we have seen the appalling anti human consequences of what happened in Iraq, Yugoslavia and also now Syria), or creating new ones for each nationality. How many states would this equate to for say the United Kingdom?

Your editorial refers to the establishment of two states but with “eventually with free movement and open borders...leading (ultimately) to closer federation (of the two states.” An implicit recognition that actually unity within a wider state is the more appropriate and realistic solution.

My own response to the fundamental issue of two nations (or peoples as I would prefer) in such a tightly restricted and contested part of that part of the world would be a state covering the whole of what is now historic Palestine (i.e. current State of Israel plus Occupied Territories) in which all existing peoples in that region would have complete and equal political, civil, social, cultural and religious rights guaranteed by that state and backed by its neighbours and the United Nations, especially the Security Council.

The special question of national rights raised by Martin and your editorial could be addressed through some form of joint and equal authority representing the Israeli/Hebrew/Jewish people and the Palestinian Arab people. Backed by the UNSC? That would ensure that any majority in a democratic government was not able to inappropriately act against or to promote the interests of any specific national group.

My own view is that the Law of Return i.e. the right of any Jew in the world to settle in Israel is ridiculous and should be ended. Any settlement would need to address the costs and consequences of all those displaced in the region as a result of decades of conflict. That, obviously, can’t mean people returning to their land and homes of 70 years ago, but it does mean providing concrete material conditions for them to live a safe, healthy and fulfilling life within the new state.

How to get from here to there? A two state solution is clearly out of the question now, if it ever was. One option is for the current State of Israel to be overthrown and replaced by a new Democratic Palestinian State. Current Israel is extremely military strong and nuclear armed. Overthrow and destruction will lead to the similar destruction of the Israeli/Hebrew people.

The current reality is a Greater State of Israel. What are the prospects of engaging with the majority Israeli working class, detaching them from the imperialist caste and class ruling them, and working with Palestinians and other Arab people to transform the current State into a genuinely democratic State for the region in which all peoples have guaranteed, individual, collective and national rights? As happened for example in South Africa?

We need to offer both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples something which is greater than what they either have now or aspire to, and which could guarantee and ensure the rights and equalities of them both as nations and peoples, and as workers and human beings.

Andrew Northall, Kettering

What next for the left in Hungary?

According to a 2004 academic study (www.jstor.org/stable/1601607) of “the Hungarian voter”, Hungary shows a strange “redefinition of the left-right spectrum”.

“Namely, party elites on the left [this refers to the Socialist Party, legatee of the old ruling party] are more in favour of classical neoliberal economic policies, such as rapid privatisation, foreign investment, and tuition fees, while the rightist elites are more disposed toward protectionist policies...”

The “left” is defined as left only by a more liberal and moderate attitude on church-and-state, civil liberties, and immigration.

This picture of a left which is, on some economic issues, more right-wing than the right, must be a big part of the reason why the strident and self-proclaimed right wing has dominated in Hungary since the 2010 election, held in the wake of a big slump in 2009 (7% decline in GDP), following the 2008 world crash.

John Cunningham’s recommendation of a united bloc of the sort-of-liberal parties against Fidesz is no answer to this (Solidarity 466).

It is like the 1930s “Popular Fronts”, except in those there were parties at least somewhat based on the working class and at least in principle, at least for the “next stage”, advocating socialistic policies, which chose “for now” to bury themselves in alliances with discredited bourgeois liberal parties.

In this case the “Popular Front” is to be made only by the anti-socialist liberal-ish parties. So the task of whatever small socialist groups exist in Hungary is to try to lobby the anti-socialist liberal-ish parties — not receptive to left influence, since on John’s own account they suffer from “utter political bankruptcy” — into sinking their differences?

And will the socialists then sink what differentiates them and join the “utter political bankruptcy” in the name of unity?
For socialists in Hungary to propose independent politics and independent organisation is surely not a quick fix. But then there is no quick fix. In the short term, as John says, “things can only get worse”.

Given the conditions in Hungary, socialists should surely seek to join with, say, the Socialist Party, or Greens, in demonstrations or such to defend civil liberties and migrant rights — but at the same time, I would argue, they should build an autonomous political force left-wing both on economic and on civil-rights issues.

Martin Thomas, North London

Reply

On the whole I take on board Martin Thomas’s criticism of the conclusion in my article “Caesar marches on in Hungary” (Solidarity No. 466). In fact, I wanted to avoid the idea of a united bloc of “sort of liberal-ish parties” by using the expression “left-oriented coalition”.

Clearly the situation in Hungary is extremely discouraging. I haven’t been back to Hungary for something like 5 years and it is difficult to write about this kind of political landscape when you no longer have your “ear to the ground” as it were.

Indeed it is indicative of the problems in Hungary that most of the people I once knew have left the country or retreated into a kind of “silence of the lambs” or internal exile.

One of the big questions is: where will the forces of an autonomous left-wing opposition come from? The Socialist Party, as I said in my article, is utterly bankrupt, mainly because of its appalling record when in office – a number of its most prominent members are out-and-out Thatcherites – and the stench of corruption which permeates the top and middle levels of the party; all of which has contributed enormously to the national drift to FIDESZ (who are, of course, just as corrupt!). There are some in the ranks of the Socialist Party who still believe in the basic ideas of socialism and it is quite possible they could be drawn into some kind of anti-FIDESZ united front but, as an organisation, the Socialist Party is part of the problem not the solution.

When I lived in Hungary (1991-2000) I occasionally met with a group called the Left Alternative and attended a few of their conferences (at one of these Ken Livingstone was a keynote speaker). They were mainly a discussion group which, I hasten to add, is not to be sniffed at – there was a lot to discuss and since 1989/90 the situation for the left has been monumentally difficult. I don’t know if they still exist but I mention them to demonstrate that the idea of centres of resistance, however small, is not an impossible dream even in the unfavourable conditions prevailing in Hungary.

If an anti-FIDESZ united front could be built by left-wing activists it would, I’m sure attract some Greens and possibly some of the better liberals from the “liberal-ish” parties. Nor should it be ignored that, at the level of fighting for civil-rights, some of these individuals have honourable records, going back to the 70s and 80s. I know little about the situation of the trade unions in Hungary today but I suspect it is not good. Even by the early nineties the trade unions had seriously fragmented.

Again I agree with Martin – “there is no quick fix”. The study that Martin cites is indeed very interesting. I think there are few places in Europe (Northern Ireland is one that springs to mind) where history weighs so heavily on the present as it does in Hungary.

I hope that the editors of Solidarity would consider a longer more in-depth article from me in which I would like to explore this history and why/how this “strange” situation has arisen and also try and say a bit more about “Christian nationalism” and “Orbanism” in Hungary.

John Cunningham, Lancashire

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