By Yorgos Mitralias
Of course, at the root of the creation and perpetuation of the Middle East tragedy lies the founding of the State of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state, and the violent uprooting of the Palestinians from their land. But with this in mind, the big question – still unanswered – was and remains: what are we doing and what must we do to stop this incessant, horrific and barbaric tug-of-war in the Middle East, the climax of which we are living through these days, fearing that perhaps the worst is yet to come?
We confess that the current extreme exacerbation of the Middle East tragedy prevents us from having any ready-made answers on what to do. But we do have some ideas about what not to do. And not, of course, in Israel or Palestine, where our words have no chance of reaching or influencing, but here, in our country and in our natural political space, the left. In this sense and from this angle, the first observation is that many things would have changed for the better if the categorical rejection of collective responsibility and guilt had not remained on paper as wishful thinking, but had been applied not only by the protagonists – direct and indirect – of the tragedy, but also by each and every one of us. And we’ll get right to the point.
It’s not just that, in the name of collective guilt, we perpetuate policies and crimes whose main victims are innocent civilians, even babies and children. It’s also, and perhaps above all, that these policies and crimes constantly turn to the advantage of… rival criminals, necessarily rallying public opinion behind them. And by rallying public opinion behind the leaders/criminals, they prevent “those from below” on both sides from coming together, an eventuality that these same leaders/criminals fear and dread more than anything else.
Lack of popularity of Netanyahu, Hamas and PLO
The current paroxysm of war and humanitarian crisis is an excellent example of this. The precise moment when hostilities began was marked by a free fall in the popularity of Hamas and the Netanyahu government. Indeed, while Israel had been shaken for months and more than ever in its history by continuous demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of citizens denouncing corruption and, above all, Netanyahu’s manifest intention to transform the country into something increasingly resembling a dictatorship, in Gaza, polls and testimonies from entirely reliable observers converged to predict that, in the event of elections, Hamas would collapse in favor of. … the PLO, which is virtually non-existent there, while on the contrary, in the occupied West Bank, the corrupt PLO that runs it would clearly lose to… Hamas!
In unleashing its attack on Israel and, above all, on Israeli civilians, Hamas did exactly what undemocratic leaders the world over do when threatened with the loss of their power: it tried to force the Palestinians of Gaza to rally behind it, convinced as it was that Netanyahu’s military response, which increasingly resembled a well-planned genocide, would leave them no room for maneuver to escape this blackmail. But at the same time, Hamas was also doing something else: it was getting Netanyahu and his – even more racist, extremist and warmongering – government partners out of the extremely difficult situation in which they found themselves, as anti-government demonstrations stopped immediately and the Israeli population was forced to rally – at least temporarily – behind Netanyahu and his government!
And that’s not all. In the Palestinian camp, which only a few weeks ago saw 130 prominent figures publicly denounce the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, for his anti-Semitic statements, not only was any attempt at rapprochement between the two sides halted, but the hatred provoked – predictably – by the massacre of the people of Gaza by the Israeli army was also fanned. And in the Israeli camp, the historic rapprochement that had been tentatively emerging on the horizon since the appearance of Palestinian flags in anti-government demonstrations no longer caused a sensation or provoked negative reactions faded in a matter of hours.
Collusion by Netanyahu?
Does this mean that the ongoing military conflict was “rigged” and that there was “collusion” between Hamas and Netanyahu? Far be it from us to adopt a conspiracy interpretation or a “police conception” of history, which merely muddies the waters and misleads public opinion, while leaving the real culprits free to pursue their criminal activities. This does not mean, however, that Hamas and the Israeli state do not make “gifts” to each other, always at the expense of their populations, since the existence of the former justifies and perpetuates that of the latter. For example, it’s a historical fact that for the past 20 years, Israel has used every means, including financial ones, to help Hamas establish its hegemony in Gaza, in order to weaken the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. And it’s also a historical fact that whenever an extremist Israeli government began to be challenged by its society, Hamas – but also the Iranian “protecting power” – rushed into action, creating faits accomplis and rekindling the (essentially religious) hatred between the two peoples. And all this with the “success” of their odious policies guaranteed in advance thanks to the application of the same tried-and-tested recipe: to put into practice the perverse “theory” of collective responsibility and guilt, since both sides kill indiscriminately, and as massively as their weapons allow, civilians of all ages, preferably young children and even babies (!), of all genders and ideological sensibilities, even those who fight for peace and solidarity with the “enemy”!
Centuries of ethnic cleansing
But all this barbarity is not confined to the Middle East. Alas, it is tolerated and even encouraged by states and powers, large and small, which themselves have been systematically doing the same thing for at least the last two centuries! These last two centuries which have been indelibly marked by countless ethnic cleansings of innocent populations, by genocides that have claimed millions of victims, by the indiscriminate bombing of cities and the annihilation of entire populations with conventional and non-conventional (nuclear) weapons, by “punitive” policies that go so far as to deprive the inhabitants of “enemy” countries or even “enemy” regions of the same country of their means of survival (water, food, medicine, basic infrastructure, etc.). And all these patent crimes against humanity not only continue today, but are also committed with the approval not only of the rulers but, unfortunately, often with the consent of their populations. Ironically, then, the same great powers that systematically refused to intervene during the Second World War to stop the Holocaust of the Jewish nation by bombing the Nazi extermination camps, Auschwitz in particular, as they were repeatedly asked to do, are now blatantly refusing to stop the massacre of the Palestinian population of Gaza by the rabid racists of Netanyahu and his friends…
So it’s hardly surprising that the Right – and its capitalist system – hypocritically condemns collective responsibility and guilt in words, but systematically applies it in practice. Why is this so? Because it’s a matter of life and death for them to divide “those from below” in order to rule and monopolize power. It has always done so, even when rightly fighting fascism, reducing to rubble cities in Germany (Dresden, Hamburg, etc.) and Japan (Tokyo, Hiroshima, etc.), and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, not only to punish the enemy population, as it claimed, but above all for an ulterior motive: to prevent – as many of its historians admit today, after 80 years – popular uprisings in the defeated Axis countries, which could pose a threat to its power.
And the left? Why is it that, in many cases, a certain Left pretends not to see or, worse still, applauds the crimes committed in the name of collective guilt and responsibility, even throwing oil on the fire? The answer lies in the progressive loss of what, in its golden age, was its trademark: internationalism! This began with the First World War and has profoundly marked the subsequent course of its social-democratic component, which since then has always been in the front line to defend the interests of “its” country and its own so-called national bourgeoisie.
Stalinist betrayal of socialism
But the same was true of the other major component of the Left, the Communist component, which, it should be remembered, was created in irreconcilable opposition to the nationalist “betrayal” of social democracy, and with the aim of restoring content to the founding phrase of the socialist movement “workers of all countries, unite!” In its own case, the gradual abandonment of internationalism culminated in the Second World War, when the Soviet leadership, and Stalin in particular, after transforming the anti-fascist war into a “patriotic” one, ended up giving the soldiers of the Red Army carte blanche to “punish” German civilians on a massive scale, women in particular, in the name of the collective guilt of the German people as a whole. Emblematic of this nationalist barbarity was even the fact that they went so far as to criminalize what they called… “demonstration of pity to the enemy”, by sentencing Soviet soldiers who tried to prevent the murder of civilians or the rape of German women to prison terms of at least 10 years…
What followed was predictable. With internationalist workers’ solidarity now not only a distant memory, but also a… charge that would send you to the slammer or the Gulag, the Communist parties transformed themselves after the war into bastions of the defense of “national interests”, which are none other than the interests of each “national” bourgeoisie. And, alas, this tendency was subsequently reinforced and completed by their Eurocommunist evolution and disintegration, so that they no longer have any problem of conscience when they tolerate or even approve the hate campaigns of their country’s ruling class against the “secular enemies of the nation”; or the invocation of collective guilt in the name of which civilian populations are exterminated as soon as these abominations are imposed on them by their relations with reactionary and obscurantist allies.
The conclusion after two weeks of unprecedented hostilities and atrocities in the Middle East would be more than pessimistic if we didn’t see more and more people already rising up in Palestine, Israel and the Jewish diaspora who, while often mourning their loved ones, are taking the trouble to put themselves in the place of the “enemy”, to sympathize with them and proclaim that only the unity and solidarity of “those from below” can bring peace. With people like them, who are the finest flower of humanity, we can be optimistic. After all, as we wrote in our previous text, their “task looks and is indeed difficult. But it is the only realistic option”…
Oaklandsocialist comments: We thank Yorgos once again for his very timely analysis. We also note that this divide and conquer strategy, what has been called “tribalism”, has now gotten out of hand for the US capitalist class. Internationally, the foreign policy establishment clearly sees the disaster that Israel is cooking up if it invades Gaza. Not a disaster as far as the number of civilians, babies included, that Israeli troops will kill. Not a disaster as far as the future suffering of the Palestinians inside Gaza and out. No, it will be a disaster for the interests not only of Israeli capitalism but, more important from their point of view, for the interests of US capitalism. We pointed out the developing divisions within the Biden administration over this in this article.
But it’s also a domestic issue. US capitalism has always kept racism and division simmering on the back burner. Since their trusted lieutenants, the union leadership, has the U.S. working class pretty much under control, they have no need to fan those flames. Just the opposite. But nevertheless, the Republican Party has capitalized on exactly those flames of bigotry, QAnon conspiracy thinking, and mystical thinking. The result is the paralysis of the legislative branch of the government, and a possible near total paralysis once government spending authorization ends.
Finally, one point on the left: The confusions that Yorgos points to that are due to the role of Stalinism still continue within the left. We are referring to the tendency to see things along national or ethnic lines. That is the meaning of the support of a good deal of Britain’s left for Brexit, and for the focus on Scottish and Catalan independence. As for the former, the whole basis of Brexit was that the British working class has more in common with the British capitalists than it does with European workers. As for the independence movements: Of course, the people of Scotland and Catalonia have a right to separate if they wish. But let’s remember this: At the height of the movement in Spain – during the Spanish Civil War, the Catalonian workers led the way. Separation was not a thought in their minds. It was leading the Spanish working class in a fight against fascism.