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Talking to “socialists” about Palestine

Max Ajl

Jewbonics, February 24, 2011

I just went to a meeting of the Cornell University Trotskyites, supporters of the 4th International, to see if they would be interested in working with my campus group, United for Peace and Justice in Palestine.* They annoyed me so thoroughly that as catharsis I will treat my readership to to a recounting of what happened: a really exquisitely stupid example of a principled sectarian commitment to impotence. Trot #1, attired in a blazer, was giving a power-point slide-show discussing the "Revolution" in Egypt and the relative income inequalities in America, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere. Delivered with aplomb and total lack of self-consciousness that he had no idea what he was talking about, the general gist was that America is ripe for revolution. We just need to subscribe the requisite number of Trotsky-marinated militants up for their student group and BOOM. Tahrir in Ithaca. Not so fast. I tried to explain to Trot #1 that static structures cannot explain change. Since revolutions are change, the only way to make the revolution is to go and make it. That said, I suggested we act, we move, because although structure – economic, political, social, cultural – can perhaps at some abstract level "explain" revolution, we really don’t know how that works. There’s no way of knowing when a society is ready for revolution. It’s a black hole of analysis, so we just have to keep organizing and trying things and hope that something catches, because there's no other option. We know that it takes a spark to set off conflagration. But we don’t know which one.

Trot #1 was also mindbogglingly dumb and boring -- even if there was CIA penetration of the Iranian Green Movement, because the CIA tries to penetrate all movements, that doesn't mean the Green Movement was a CIA front. And I was busy, so I interrupted him and asked what local struggles they were involved with: like the struggle against hydro-fracking, workers’ rights in Ithaca and at Cornell, the Latin American Solidarity Committee here in Cornell, and so on. I also asked what events they put on and how they intended to propagate their program and especially if they would work with us, meaning come to our events, we’d come to their events, we’d feel stronger and thus be stronger, and so on. Consternation ensued. This was not the type of question they had been prepared to address. We have a program, we take programmatic issues very seriously, said Trot #2, their mentor. We have a weekly meeting. Trot #1 added that they don’t support Republicans or Democrats or any sort of nationalist-oriented party. Some of us doing Palestine solidarity work, he added suspiciously, might support the PA, squinting at me like I'd been hanging out with Fayyad. I looked at him blankly and explained that I’d spent the better part of the last 14 months in Egypt and Palestine and that no, we were all socialists and anarchists, and hated the PA, and that most of us had little faith in any of the Palestinian political parties, although I added that I was not Palestinian, which seemed to confuse them further. There are very serious issues to assess before we can decide if we can work together, he added. Trot #2 explained that they didn’t get involved in "insular" struggles, confusing me further, since I had come to their event for the purpose of braiding struggles, and in any event all struggles stem from insular grievances, although often enough they are manifestations of more global processes. I did not explain this to them, because they seemed very far gone off the deep end of sectarian lunacy. Lesson learned.

Levity aside, this type of "organizing" or "principles," if they can even be called that, is worse than impotent. The assumption that petty bourgeois radicals in Ithaca, New York should be lecturing Palestinians living in camps in Rafah and Khan Younis on their failure to build an internationalist working-class political party as a member of the 4th International, and that their failure to do so means their national liberation struggle is unworthy of support, is not just ugly but also pathetic. It also makes leftist -- whether socialist or anarchist -- organizing and analysis in support of the Palestinian struggle extremely difficult. There is a difference between analyzing the Israel-Palestine struggle in terms of nationalism and assessing the Israel-America relationship in terms of nationalism, national interests, and the lobby as a "foreign body" corrupting American politics’ natural tendency towards the Edenic. The latter interpretation, increasingly common, is meaningless because the interpenetration of the Israeli and American economies is so thorough that it’s increasingly difficult to speak of the "Israeli" economy at all. These days, capital knows few flags. Overcoming these deeply rooted analytical categories is hard enough. With "friends" like those "leftists" with brains so rigidly set in their principles that a slight perturbance nearly shatters them –Trot #1 was furious that I was asking these simple questions about mutual support – we barely need enemies.

:: Article nr. 75328 sent on 25-feb-2011 15:00 ECT


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