The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Histadrut's job-trust chauvinism & the struggle for a communist party in Palestine

Reading notes on

Chapter 10. The Working-Class Movement in Palestine from 1918 to 1939

….Throughout this period, the Communists were the only party to organise Jews and Arabs, side by side in an internationalist spirit. Incidentally, the Palestinian Communists played a role well beyond their numbers and the borders of their country. They contributed not a little to the emergence of a Communist movement in the neighbouring Arab countries, and quite a few Palestinian Communists achieved high rank within the Comintern.

….After the disastrous tactics of the Third Period, the Party adopted a position of blind support for the most extreme wing of the Arab national movement. In general, the PCP tailed behind the Istiqlal, which was held to represent the most advanced tendency in the Arab movement, and it refused to recognise the “feudal” character of that party s leadership. This opportunism was to cost it dear. During the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the Communists launched the watchword “Join the Arab liberation movement”. At that point the Party had a thousand members. But the PCP gave unqualified support to the Mufti and the reactionary leadership of the Arab nationalist movement, even calling on the Yishuv to participate in anti-Jewish terrorism. Now the policy of terror directed against the Jewish community was obviously a deviation which had nothing to do with consistent struggle against imperialism and Zionism. The Arab organ of the Party published the Mufti’s racist manifestos without comment. The PCP itself staged attacks on the Histadruth headquarters in Haifa as well as in Tel-Aviv! Thus a circular addressed by the Central Committee to all Party branches in July 1936 stated, “The bomb attack on the workers’ hostel in Haifa was carried out by members of the PCP on the orders of the Central Committee of the Party.” [53]

Naturally this led to mass resignations of Jewish Communists. In 1937, the policy of unconditional support for the Mufti resulted in the Party’s virtual disintegration. Just as after the 1929 riots, entire branches, including the Tel-Aviv branch, rebelled against the line of the Central Committee and were expelled for insubordination. The tailist attitude of the PCP towards Arab reaction was so marked that its Arab cadres abandoned the Party for the Istiqlal….

….the anti-Jewish deformation of the Arab national liberation struggle reinforced the collaboration of the Jewish workers with the colonial rulers.

….although the sacrifices and the socialist convictions of its militants are not open to doubt, the kibbutz movement has never, for all that, represented a threat of any sort to the Zionist bourgeoisie; quite the contrary….

….we have seen that the Jewish working-class movement was led to substitute itself for a Jewish bourgeoisie which was almost non-existent as a class in Palestine in the Twenties in order to lay the foundations of Zionist capitalism through the economic organisations of the Histadruth.

….Although the party participated in the Histadruth, it fought this trade union’s collaboration with the bourgeois Zionists as well as its policy towards the Arab workers. As a result, Left Poale-Zion was not particularly popular and the Zionist bureaucrats made every effort to deny entry certificates for Palestine to its militants.

….In a statement issued on this question on July 25th, 1922, the Executive Committee of the Communist International denounced the diversionary role played by Zionism in relation to the class struggle, adding: “A condition of admission to the Communist International is the abandonment of the nationalist opportunist Palestine programme and the dissolution of the world federation and the entry of the Jewish proletarian communist elements into the national sections, the communist parties; [further, that] the CI was prepared to make great concessions in the sphere of propaganda and organisation in order to facilitate, the development of the backward section of the Jewish proletariat towards communism.”

….the Labour wing of the Zionist movement engaged in permanent “sacred unity” with the bourgeoisie. None of the socialist Zionist parties questioned the colonial status of the country – since the realisation of Zionism required the continuation of the Mandate. None of them proposed to wage a struggle for power in the immediate future. All of them united with the ruling class….

….Excluded from the Jewish organisations, the Arab workers inevitably fell back under the hegemony of the fanatical effendis. Only the organisation of the Arab workers against the super-exploitation to which they were subject would have made it possible to eliminate low-wage competition for good. The few mixed trade unions created during the Twenties, in the civil service, the public services, and the towns, remained totally marginal, though it should be mentioned that the joiners’ union and railway workers’ union – both internationalist in spirit – helped to sow the seeds for a common anti-Zionist proletarian struggle of Jewish and Arab workers….

….Not one Zionist party – not even the most extreme “left” of Hashomer-Hatzair, now Mapam – opposed the boycott of Arab workers and peasants. In not one case did they fight the picket organisers, who were preventing Arab workers from going to work in Jewish plants, building sites or orchards.

….Histadruth grew quickly, and its membership leapt up from 15,275 in 1926 to 25,378 in 1930 and 85,818 in 1936. [9] It extended its activities to all areas of the economy and became the backbone of the Zionist enterprise.

….Histadruth proposed not only to defend the interests of the Jewish workers, but above all to carry through Zionist colonisation. It was therefore essentially a nationalist, settlers’ trade-union, a conscious instrument….

….comparison that one might be tempted to draw between Zionism and classical colonialism is mistaken. Owing to the original course taken by the Zionist enterprise after the second wave of immigration, Zionist settlement tended to replace the Arab population with Jewish labour. Consequently, Zionism involved the formation of a Jewish working class but excluded, by its nature, the exploitation of the Arab proletariat. Jewish immigration fitted into the colonial context as an element of the process of dispossession of the indigenous population which took place under the complacent eye of the British authorities. However, this spoliation was not accompanied by a social stratification comparable to that which occurred in settlers’ colonies such as Algeria or South Africa, where the economy of the colonial sector rested entirely on the exploitation of the natives. Far from constituting a class of foreign oppressors, the Palestinian Jews gradually became transformed into a new Hebrew nation, structured in accordance with the classical capitalist schema: a ruling bourgeoisie and an oppressed proletariat. Of the 212,000 Jewish workers in Palestine in 1943, 28.8 per cent worked in industry and handicrafts. The wage earners of the Arab industrial sector numbered 21,000 at that time.

….The colonial Administration acceded to Zionist demands for two different wage scales. The Arab workers and, it appears, some of the Jews of Oriental origin, who were generally unorganised, were not able to get an equivalent wage to that of the Jewish workers of European origin, organised into the powerful Histadruth.

….Subject to the competition of “cheaper” indigenous labour, the Jewish workers were brought to struggle against the employment of Arabs in “ Jewish” branches of industry and, in the end, to superimpose a closed-circuit Jewish economy onto the Arab economy, thereby eliminating competition.


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