Marxists stand in full solidarity with the Palestinian masses against the brutality of the Israeli ruling class. Ultimately, we understand that only a socialist revolution offers any hope for a meaningful solution to the problems in the Middle East. What therefore is our attitude towards the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) campaign, and what can we do internationally to show solidarity with the Palestinian masses?
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in the UK calls on people to pledge to “never knowingly buy Israeli goods until Israel complies with international law and recognises Palestinian rights”. By doing so, it is argued that this will exert “moral and economic pressure on Israel to comply with international legislation and principles of justice”.
Justice and morality
The logic is straightforward: if we change our shopping habits, “Israel” will be forced to come to its senses and adopt “principles of justice”. However, this does not address by what mechanism this is supposed to work; i.e. how, concretely, will a boycott bring about these aims?
Such a strategy, however, fails to acknowledge the class nature of Israeli society, and thereby does not get to the root of the problem. The actions of the Israeli state are not governed by morals, but by class interests. Zionism is used by both the Israeli and Arab ruling classes to cut across the class struggle. They seeking to divide the Jewish and Arab workers, using the conflict as a distraction from the pressing issues of poverty, poor housing, and unemployment. The world imperialist powers, meanwhile, support the Israeli state to further their own interests in the region.
The actions of the Israeli state, therefore, will not be changed by appeals to justice, nor by hopes for any "international pressure" from the imperialist governments across the world that currently support the Zionist state, but only by class struggle - in Israel, Palestine, and internationally. The revolutionary masses of the Middle East and worldwide are the most powerful force for change that exists within society, as demonstrated by the inspiring movements of the Arab Revolution.
Trotsky stated that:
“In a society based upon exploitation, the highest moral is that of the social revolution. All methods are good which raise the class consciousness of the workers, their trust in their own forces, their readiness for self-sacrifice in the struggle.” (The Transitional Programme, 1938).
Does a boycott of Israeli goods help to raise class consciousness, both at home, and in Israel and Palestine? Does it make clear the need for a socialist revolution, or does it sow illusions that a solution can be found under capitalism?
Those advocating a boycott tend to fall into two camps: either boycott all Israeli goods, for example by avoiding anything with an Israeli bar-code; or boycott just “bad” Israeli companies, usually those involved in the settlements or supporting the Israeli Defence Force (“IDF”).
The first of these gives the illusion that the problem is simply one of Israeli companies, saying nothing about the question and role of imperialism - that is, the role that the US and British capitalist states, for example, play in supporting the Zionist state. The latter, meanwhile, sows the illusion that there are “good” and “bad” companies under capitalism. In fact, if you scratch the surface, there are no companies that play any serious role in production which are not involved in the most brutal exploitation and criminal acts. Even if the boycott campaign successfully led to the bankruptcy of one of the targeted companies, the settlements and IDF would continue to be supported by the Israeli state, and world imperialist powers. New companies would simply re-emerge in their place.
The question lies therefore not one of the shopping choices of individual consumers, but in a class question of who controls the productive forces - the industry, wealth, and resources in society: the capitalists for their own profits; or the democratic control of the working class, with production organised on the basis of a rational plan to meet human needs? Unless the social basis for the Israeli state and imperialism are removed, the cause of the oppression will not be stopped.
The role of Zionism
Although we do not doubt the sincerity of those supporting the boycott in wanting to do something to help bring about change, we must honestly point out that this method is a dead-end. In fact, rather than support the struggle for socialism, it actually strengthens Zionism in Israel. In trying to maintain a social base, the ruling class in Israel attempt to create a siege mentality. The Jewish workers are told “the whole world is against us”, and that therefore only unity with the capitalists and their state will protect them. The blanket boycott of Israeli goods is seized upon to reinforce this idea.
Rather than push the Jewish workers and capitalists together, we should do everything possible to drive a wedge between them. Rather than urging their members to boycott Israeli goods, workers’ organisations worldwide should be aiming to forge links with both Jewish and Palestinian labour organisations; sending delegations, and campaigning for working class unity. The message should be clear – the common enemy is the capitalists, landlords, and bankers, who exploit both Arabs and Jews based on their class, not their ethnicity.
Instead of individuals boycotting all Israeli goods, a targeted trade union based boycott, where workers refused to load shipments of arms to the Israeli state, would be a more productive display of international solidarity. This would be an organised political action by the labour movement, rather than an appeal to bourgeois politicians and big business to limit the arms trade.
However, we should be clear: stopping exports of arms to Israel is not enough; the social basis for oppression and reaction would still exist. The struggle must therefore be firmly linked to that for socialism on a world scale.
For a Socialist Federation in the Middle East
Many are drawn to the BDS campaign out of an honest concern for the plight of the Palestinian masses. “We must do something now to end this horror!”: this is the sentiment that underlines why many take to actions such as individual boycott. To this the Marxists answer: yes, we must do something now - but that “something” must be to struggle against imperialism in our own countries, to fight for socialist policies at home, and to forge genuine links of solidarity with those workers and youth in Palestine, Israel, and across the world aiming to do the same.
The imperialist actions of the US or British governments, who support the Zionist regime, flow from the capitalist class interests they represent. Foreign policy is merely an extension of policy at home. A workers’ government in Britain and the US, however, with a genuine internationalist and socialist programme would mean an end to the meddling of imperialism in the Middle East and its support for the criminal actions of the Zionist state.
The most effective solidarity we can give to the Palestinians (and to the oppressed of all counties), therefore, is to struggle against our own imperialist ruling class at home in the fight for world socialism. A revolutionary movement in any of the advanced capitalist countries would reverberate across the entire world. We have already seen the powerful effect that the Arab Revolution had in toppling dictators throughout the region.
Only on the basis of the international socialist revolution, with production democratically planned on a cooperative basis, will the conflicts such as those in the Middle East finally be overcome. Only with a Socialist Federation in the Middle East, linked to a world socialist society, could sectarianism and nationalism be done away with and peace be achieved between the masses of all races, religions, and nationalities.