Middle East

New protest movement poses important questions

Introduction: A new movement is developing. This movement is different from previous ones like the protests against the US invasion of Iraq in that it takes place as youth are facing a dim economic future. How can this movement develop into something that will last beyond the current crisis? Just like when workers go on strike, there is an initial rush of anger and energy.

Those of us who have seen similar protest movements can’t help but remember the pitfalls of them-and that they have not united the working class and poor in a powerful movement that can challenge Capitalism itself.

There is also the political crisis of the Democrats and Republicans. Both of these add a tremendous air of uncertainty to everything. Here is Cheryl Zuur, a socialist and also a labor veteran, commenting on the protest against Israel that was held in San Francisco on Saturday, October 28, 2023:

Report on Oct. 28 protest in San Francisco By Cheryl Zuur
I was at the pro Palestine protest in San Francisco on Oct. 28. Not surprisingly it was a good turnout. Lots of militant chanting, and militant sounding speeches.

The only speaker to mention Ukraine, in passing, was a Yemeni activist, who talked about Biden’s hypocrisy, providing arms to Ukraine and Israel. 

There was no mention by any speaker of Russia, Syria, or Ukraine. Nor China, or the Uighurs. And people who looked at my sign, which said “Oppose all imperialists; United States, Israel, Russia. Defend Palestine, Defend Ukraine” Or who looked at my mask, which said “I stand with Ukraine” just seemed perplexed-or uncomfortable.

Mostly the people there were with Palestine, and Palestine only. Not one speaker talked about the need to talk about what kind of a country could replace Israel.  Only a chant about “we want all from 48”. No one even mentioned the word imperialism, or capitalism. Most of the short speeches were statements of solidarity, and opposition to genocide, understandable. 

Joe Biden: the face of the old and dying past

From this point forward Joe Biden will be rightfully known by the name he’s been given by this movement – “Genocide Joe” – and as an article in the New York Times pointed out, it may well cost him the election, in particular the state of Michigan, which is a swing state, and has a very large Arab American population. That is just one example. 

There is no turning back, and it’s hard to imagine that there will be forgiveness-or forgetting for what he has done. And the slaughter is just beginning. 

It is essential that this new movement start to learn the lessons of past ones, especially the failures of “single issue” campaigns.

This may sound pessimistic, but if this movement does not develop into something more than all the other movements have, we could find ourselves in a perfect storm at the end of 2024. 

A Trump presidency which will unleash a wave of repression against the left in this country, against the working class, against the “liberal media”, and against liberal politicians-which means anyone who didn’t support MAGA unflinchingly-and a movement completely unprepared for those attacks which will overwhelmingly be against people of color to start with. 

And it will be the end of aid to Ukraine and a new era of unfettered freedom for Putin, Modi and all the other allies of the neo-fascists around the world. 

Certainly there is no “alternative” under the Green Party, or Cornel West. There is a complete vacuum at this time. 

John Reimann adds:
It seems this protest movement is basically divided into two wings:

One wing, the more radical one, confines itself to chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” Its ultimate aim seems to be a single state with equal rights for all. Both the Palestinian youth and the “revolutionaries” tend to fall into this wing.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. She and several others are leading one wing of the protests. Maybe they’re leading from behind the scenes, but they are leading nevertheless.

The other wing focuses on the immediate aim of  “ceasefire now” and tends to support the “two state solution”. There seems to be quite a few of the politicized NGO’s in this wing, maybe most prominently Jewish Voices for Peace. Behind this wing, really in the shadows, lies the “progressive” Democratic representatives such as Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Summer Lee and others. A recent article in the NY Times detailed how some of these Democrats are now in line to face primary challenges from more mainstream and pro-Israel candidates. Right on time, an email from Rashida Tlaib for Congress was sent out calling for “ceasefire now” in Gaza, urging people to attend protests near them and, most important, joining a conference call on Sunday. And what was the subject matter of the conference call? Organizing electoral support for Tlaib, Bush, et al!

All protest movements must recede after a time. This was true for the most massive of recent years – the Arab Spring. It was true of other mass movements in the United States, such as the George Floyd protests, in which Wikipedia estimates up to 26 million participated. The question is what will be left as this tide recedes?

Single issue campaigns
Both wings of the movement have in common that they are single issue campaigns. It’s true that sometimes they might raise something like “money for schools, not for war”, but that’s just a cover. What’s necessary is to start with the question of how some sort of qualitative change in US politics can be developed. The more moderate wing, which is led by groups like Jewish Voices for Peace, doesn’t want such a discussion because their plan is to channel everything because they oppose any serious change. As the tide recedes – or even before it does – this wing intends to channel what is left into campaigning for “progressive” Democrats.

Unfortunately, the radical youth wing ignores such issues, starting with its accepting the single issue approach. Exhibit Number One in this approach is ignoring other imperialist invasions and occupations, the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine first and foremost. In fact, it may be positive that this is ignored because many – if not most – in this wing actually apologize for and therefore defend that invasion and occupation. While opposing US and Israeli imperialism, they defend Russian imperialism!

A more serious approach to politics, including world politics, is necessary if the movement hopes to build any real, organized base within the US working class. And without such a base, when this protest movement recedes little or nothing will be left. A more serious approach must include discussions on issues like:

  • What is Zionism and how and why did it develop?
  • What is the history of the Palestinian resistance to Zionism, including the history of both Hamas and the Palestine Authority?
  • What is the history of the Arab Spring and can a new similar movement, one that is more clearly class-based, arise? How is that related to the Palestinian struggle?
  • Can the entire crisis of the Palestinians be resolved on the basis of capitalism and if not how can a socialist movement develop?

There are also some questions regarding the development of the movement itself. These include:

  • What lessons can be learned from the protest movement of the past, ranging from the movement against the Vietnam War to the George Floyd protests?
  • What role does the U.S. labor movement play and why?

And last, and really fundamental:

  • What is the role of the Democratic Party and what are the alternatives to being sucked into them?

On this basis, the movement against Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza can start to develop a real working class base and can avoid the fate of so many similar movements of the past.


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