Palestine: Beyond Third Worldism

Pothik Ghosh

New Delhi’s support for, and solidarity, with the Palestinian liberation struggle stands all but abandoned. That the Indian foreign policy has shifted decisively away from Palestine towards the Yankee-Zionist-led imperialist axis to become its integral part is no longer even a badly concealed mystery. It is an indisputably evident fact that the Indian state and polity, propped up by the neoliberal social consensus in the country, wears on its sleeve with shameless élan. One of the key erstwhile drivers of the pro-Palestine global liberal consensus, New Delhi now blames the erosion of that consensus on the emergence of Hamas as the principal political agency of the Palestinian resistance, and its ‘radical Islamist’ character. That, in its reckoning, is completely indefensible at a time when the ‘terroristic depredations’ of ‘pan-Islamism’ have sought to put the very existence of secular modernity in jeopardy all across the world. Clearly, this liberal position, permeated and informed as it is by the current international climate of anti-Islamist (even anti-Islamic) opinion, finds nothing wrong in projecting the Palestinian national liberation struggle as a local manifestation of the so-called internationalist project of Pan-Islamist conservatism.

That New Delhi today is no longer merely a junior client in this imperialist hegemony of globalised neoliberal capital, but is one of its principal proponents is borne out by, among other things, the fact that Israel today is by all accounts the largest exporter of defence hardware to India. Some even claim, not at all without basis or reason, that New Delhi and Tel Aviv are equal partners in intelligence sharing and cooperation at the level of military software and strategy. Much of this Israeli assistance with regard to both military hardware and software is used and deployed by the Indian state to not only maintain and reinforce its politico-economic hegemony as an imperialist power in its south Asian backyard, but to also perpetuate and deepen its brutal military occupations in Kashmir and India’s north-east, but especially in Kashmir.

Such assistance from, and cooperation with, Israel, among other key constituents of the global capitalist chain of imperialism, has added to the overall coercive might of the Indian state. It banks on this coercive might to prop up the crisis-ridden capitalist hegemony it represents and incarnates in its specificity. It is on account of this increase in its coercive might that the Indian state has been able to simultaneously intensify its oppression of religious and cultural minorities (mainly Muslims), socio-economically marginal groups such as the lower castes, indigenous tribes inhabiting the jungles and the hilly tracts in its central, eastern and northeastern parts, and the new utterly precarious and casualised proletariat and sub-proletariat in revolt in the industrialised belts in the northern, western and southern parts of the country. Such intensification of oppression is integral to the process of keeping the structure of neoliberal capital – which is the structure of capital as its own crisis – firmly embedded in the Indian socio-economic formation.

However, what is now unambiguously visible as the turn away of Indian foreign policy from the Palestinian cause towards building and deepening a cosy partnership and alliance between New Delhi and Tel Aviv had already been foretold as a direction during what was then considered to be the glory days of Third Worldist solidarity with Palestine, under the aegis of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which India was a key protagonist. Palestine, together with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, was the central concern for NAM as an alliance of decolonised nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But, as leftist historian Vijay Prashad tells us in his book, The Darker Nations: “By 1983 (the New Delhi NAM meet), it was de rigueur, almost depressingly predictable, to demand rights for the Palestinians and the South Africans. The genuflection toward the Palestinians and the South Africans came, however, without any word on the support given by the Atlantic powers (particularly the United States) for both the Likud regime in Israel and the Afrikaner apartheid state in South Africa.”

This was clearly on account of the internal contradictions that had developed, and were sharpening, within the NAM. Contradictions that were, to speak dialectically, both the cause and consequence of the shift in the balance of forces in the sphere of international relations that had been effected due to the consolidation of the counter-revolutionary turn in the then USSR, which had long ceased to be the ever-expanding boundary of revolutionary proletarian internationalism to become the leader of a power bloc that in the name of world revolution competed with the Atlantic powers for global politico-economic supremacy. In such circumstances, it mattered very little, especially from the standpoint of revolutionary anti-capitalism, which of the two power blocs would be triumphant. For, regardless of who won the battle of global politico-economic dominance and supremacy, the hegemony of capital as the structure and logic of competition was bound to be reinforced and strengthened. In fact, if the stake willy-nilly was the reinforcement of the hegemony or structure of capital at the global level, it was more than likely that the less powerful among the two would be vanquished. And that, as we now know, is precisely what happened.

For now, let us attempt to grasp the shift in Indian foreign policy – from solidarity for the cause of Palestinian national self-determination towards political, economic and military partnership with Israel – in terms of the objective contradictions within NAM, and their progressive sharpening. Considering this foreign policy shift is a manifestation of India becoming an integral part of the global hegemony of neoliberal capital, it would not be inaccurate to insist that the contradictions within the Third Worldist solidarity of NAM, and their progressive sharpening, is constitutive of the global ascendancy of neoliberal capitalism. We will, therefore, examine here what those contradictions were and how they panned out, thereby rendering the shift in Indian foreign policy from Palestine to Israel and its Zionist ideology inevitable. In the same movement, we will also try to comprehend the new paradigm of globalised anti-capitalist politics and anti-imperialist solidarity that those contradictions and their sharpening posited, and which continues to be posited by the resultant global hegemony of neoliberal capitalism. In the process, we will hopefully be able to discern how the inevitability of the shift in Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian national liberation movement has, not least, been on account of the failure of all of us on the Indian left, across the board, to grasp, leverage and actualise that new paradigm of internationalised resistance and transformative politics.

NAM, albeit Mao’s China did not finally become its part, was, in a sense, an embodiment of Mao’s idea of Third Worldism. This Maoist idea of the Third World was, to begin with, a class-based conception of dual power in the realm of international relations by way of “struggle in unity, unity in struggle” with the Second World of the USSR-led Warsaw Pact against the First World of the Atlantic powers. It, however, gradually degenerated into a more Fanonian formation of unity of struggles against the common enemy of First World imperialism. Such a model of unity of struggles against a common adversary suggested that imperialism was, in the main, domination of some nation-states by others and that it had nothing to do with the generalisation of the structure of capitalist social relations of competition and domination into a world-system.

Such an approach meant that imperialism, which is actually the generalisation of capital as a logic of competitive social relations into a world system, came to be seen as being equal to only its historical moment of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Such hypostasis and reduction of imperialism to colonial and neo-colonial occupation and domination meant that one ignored or failed to see how capital as the logic of competitive social relations and uneven development was, in an objective sense, as much internal to and embedded in the newly decolonised nation-states of the Third World as it was embodied by the more powerful nation-states of the Second and First Worlds. As a result, what was almost entirely missed was the fact that the quest for national sovereignty of those newly decolonised nation-states of the Third World against the threat of neo-colonial domination posed by the First and/or the Second Worlds (in their mutual competition for global politico-economic supremacy) was as much underpinned by the capitalist structural logic of competitive social relations and uneven development as the mutual competition of the First and Second Worlds that yielded the politics of neo-colonial occupation and/or domination. Consequently, Third World unity, epitomised, for instance, by the NAM, became an embodiment of the principle of unity of all the oppressed for struggle against common oppressors.

What such unity of struggles against imperialist oppression tended to paper over was how that Third Worldist unity itself was the structuring of an internally segmented totality that ran through not only across its various constituent nation-states but within each of those nation-states as well. Hence, Third World as an anti-imperialist solidarity itself became – on account of imperialism being grasped by it merely as colonial and neo-colonial domination – an expanded reproduction of capital as the structural logic of uneven development.

We would do well to understand here how the anti-imperialism of the newly decolonised nations of the Third World, which articulated itself in terms of preservation and strengthening of economic sovereignty of those nation-states against the neo-colonial depredations of the First World Atlantic powers and the so-called social imperialism of the Second World, produced its own set of contradictions, ran into its limit and thereby undermined itself. If one were to encounter this paradigm of Third Worldist, anti-imperialist struggle and solidarity dialectically one would see how the failure of such politics – doubtless quite an effective and relevant form of anti-capitalism in its temporally determinate tactical specificity – to grasp its own limit eventually rendered it its very opposite. The NAM’s failure to wholeheartedly embrace Fidel Castro’s line of bolstering the solidaristic anti-imperialist politics of debt strike against the Atlantic powers at its 1983 New Delhi meet ensured that Castro’s Singaporean antagonist, Rajaratnam’s line of steering clear of both communism (read the USSR-led Second World) and capitalism (read the US-led Atlantic powers) would eventually seize the day.

But this eventual defeat of Castro’s line of globalised anti-capitalism as anti-imperialism by the Rajaratnam line of national sovereignty as an argument for capitalism was merely the effect of something deeper that had been happening in most of those decolonised Third World nation-states. National liberation is no more than an historically objective moment of anti-capitalist struggle tending towards internationalised proletarian revolution. The failure of such struggles to see their success as precisely the moment to move beyond themselves to refound their anti-capitalism in more evidently proletarian-internationalist terms transforms them into reproducers and perpetuators of precisely capital as the logic of competition and thus domination. That is exactly what happened with almost all the decolonised nations of the Third World. Their struggles against their respective First-World colonialist oppressors failed to transform those anti-colonial struggles as unity with the exploited and oppressed working masses of those colonising nations for newer levels of historically-specified struggles for the abolition of capital as the structural logic of competitive social relations in its various socio-historically concrete levels of expression. The consolidation of the counter-revolutionary turn in Soviet Union, which had set in due to the objective situation of retreat for the world revolution by the late 1920s itself, did not help matters.

This meant the consolidation of the leadership of those national-liberation struggles into a new ruling class that began intermediating between the leading powers of world capitalism and their own respective working populations. The result: a situation of unity in and for competition, the radical inverse of the Maoist revolutionary principle of “struggle in unity, unity in struggle” that had been the cornerstone of Third Worldism at its inception. This unity in and for competition meant that while national sovereignty was invoked by the ruling classes of the newly decolonised nation-states to compete against and bargain with the leading powers of the First and Second Worlds, they would come together in all sorts of permutations and combinations whenever this horizon of mutual competition was even potentially threatened with decimation by their respective working masses and oppressed peoples.

Nevertheless, a distinction must be made here. While the struggles against colonialism and/or neo-colonialism in countries such as Algeria, Vietnam, Cuba, Angola and so on preponderantly had a national-popular character, decolonisation in countries such as India, the so-called East Asian Tigers and some West Asian countries/Sheikhdoms had the character of passive revolutions that meant national independence was nothing more than transfer of power. The national-popular character of the anti-colonial struggles in question was on account of the leadership of those movements having arisen from the oppressed sections and working masses of those societies. This meant that even while those movements evidently failed, at a subjective level, to grasp themselves as a historically specific moment of globalised anti-capitalist struggle that tended towards proletarian internationalism, objectively they were more inclined to move in that direction as compared to countries such as India, Indonesia, Singapore and so on where the leadership of the anti-colonial movement was vested in a well-developed local bourgeoisie. That India’s Independence began, for instance, with its military occupation of Kashmir and its so-called north-eastern states serves to underscore the passive revolutionary character of its national independence. Also, the different trajectory of political-economic development that countries such as Cuba and Vietnam, on one hand, had initially taken with regard to that adopted by countries such as India and Singapore on the other, demonstrated this radical difference in the objective character of their anti-colonial movements.

However, the fact remains that eventually both sets of decolonised countries came to share, at an objective level, the same problem of their respective national liberation leaderships solidifying into ruling classes. The political-economic reasons that underpinned this phenomenon, which albeit proceeded at different rates in different countries depending on how passive revolutionary or national popular the character of their respective anti-colonial struggles had been, was what we have earlier indicated: the preservation and reinforcement of economic sovereignty of newly decolonised nation-states producing a situation that undermined precisely such sovereignty. Rajaratnam’s line at the 1983 NAM meet in New Delhi was nothing but a reflection of such a paradoxically changed situation. As Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations reveals, “The national interest invoked by Rajaratnam (against both the dominant power blocs) was actually the class interest of a section (of agrarian, industrial and financial bourgeoisie) created by import-substitution industrialization.”

Import-substitution industrialisation, which was politically enabled by the states of the newly decolonised nations of the Third World, was meant to protect and reinforce the economic sovereignty of those nation-states against the threat of neo-colonial domination posed by the nations of the First and Second Worlds, especially the First. What this really meant was import-substitution industrialisation served to strengthen the ‘local’ bourgeoisie, which was already well-developed much before decolonisation, and that was now rearing to fully and openly come into its own as an integral segment of the capitalist world-system by entering the global arena of completely liberalised free-market competition against the so-called traditional players of world capitalism. They now found the protection they had till then enjoyed, and which had enabled them to accumulate capital, as fetters that prevented them from entering the global arena of capitalist competition. For, without the freedom to enter that arena they realised they would not be able to invest the capital they had accumulated – precisely because of the domestic protection that had now turned into fetters – for even more intensified accumulation.

As a result, sovereignty of Third World nations became the sovereignty of its ‘local’ bourgeoisie marshalling their respective national status to make an impressive entry on the stage of international social relations of competition. In such circumstances, Third-World solidarity entailed the formation of a new power bloc of the newly emerged, postcolonial bourgeoisie against the power blocs of the traditional bourgeoisie of the First and Second Worlds within the global arena of capitalist competition and bargaining. The dismantling of the domestic regimes of economic protection that this new bloc of postcolonial bourgeoisie demanded in order to be able to compete in a globalised free market with the traditional players of world capitalism included easy access to loans from international financial institutions, including the IMF and World Bank. The reforms that were required, amounted to easy access to such loans for this bloc of newly ascendant global bourgeoisie in return for anti-labour and anti-poor structural changes in the domestic economy that those international financial institutions demanded in order to ensure that their loans were protected through the bolstered capacity of their debtors for unbridled accumulation that such structural adjustment programs would facilitate. This clearly meant the death of economic sovereignty of Third World nations on account of conditions created precisely by the pursuit of such economic sovereignty.

In such self-contradictory circumstances, the national sovereignty the technocratic political executive of this postcolonial glocal bourgeoisie – irrespective of whichever political formation is in power – have touted and asserted is essentially the sovereignty of this class. National interest meant that the national was effectively a consensus to serve the interests of this class by way of enabling it to compete effectively and without any domestic or local hindrance in the global free market. In other words, patriotism is the consensus that enables this class at the level of their respective nation-states to organise production so as to be able to effectively compete at the global level, and thereby efficiently intensify accumulation. Given that such consensus now clearly amounts to the undermining of the traditional economic sovereignty enjoyed by the citizens of the Third World nation-states, nationalism and patriotism could only mean the defence and assertion of an abstract and idealised form of nationhood that was, therefore, bound to be thoroughly culturalist founded on such premises as nationalised and culturalised blood-and-soil type of fascistic ethnicity.

Such culturalised, mythicised and idealised conceptions of nationhood, nationalism and national sovereignty have meant uniting people on an abstract basis to serve the concrete material interests of their postcolonial glocal capital that in the national specification of its global operation symbolizes sovereignty. Such culturalised form of nationhood, and the attendant conception of cultural nationalism, has, not surprisingly, proved to be a double whammy for the oppressed and the exploited. On the one hand, it tends to be the mechanism for the enforcement of social corporatism that enables capital, either through sheer ideology or through ideologically legitimised coercion, to compel labour to collaborate with it to serve interests that seem ecumenical but are, in material terms, restrictively those of this postcolonial glocal capital. On the other, this has meant, tendentially speaking, an attempt to shatter the collectivity of the working class as a revolutionary force by serving to accentuate the identitarianised segmentations and divisions within it and, in the process, neutralise the challenge such revolutionary solidarity would have otherwise tended to pose to the intensified accumulation drive of global neoliberal capital embodied in that local moment by this postcolonial segment of global capital.

Clearly, the unwillingness and/or inability of national liberation struggles of the Third World to grasp themselves as determinate moments of proletarian internationalism has been both the cause and consequence of their quest for economic sovereignty collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions to intensify and expand the scope of capitalist accumulation and capitalist class power (the structural logic of competitive socialisation). Consequently, the politics of resistance unleashed by various oppressed religious, socio-cultural, socio-economic and nationality groups – for, instance Muslims, Dalits, indigenous tribes, various sections of the newly proletarianised precariat, Kashmiris, etc. – has been quite concerted. But unfortunately they have so far been in the idiom of sovereignty and thus competitive identity politics, and not in class terms that is their sedimental reality. Therefore, all these movements continue to be articulated by precisely that which they tend to fight against in its various local manifestations.

Meanwhile, the failure of the working-class left in India in all its multiple varieties and shades has been quite galling on that score. It has, notwithstanding some degrees of difference among its various tendencies, failed on the whole to enable those resistance movements from grasping the reality of revolutionary class politics sedimented in their respective specificities, and generalise that sedimental reality beyond their respective identitarian niches towards forging a larger revolutionary solidarity of unity in struggle and struggle in unity. Instead, the various tendencies of the Indian left seek, on one hand, to convince the movements of different oppressed groups to accept to fight their battles under the leadership of working class as a sociologically identified and closed group, as if class is an identity and not the principle that aligns the particular struggles of various oppressed groups into a movement to overcome, break with and destroy the hegemony of the identity principle that is the condition of possibility of oppression actualised in and by the different specificities of domination. In the process, the Indian Left tends to reinforce the structure and principle of identity that is the condition of possibility of oppression.

On the other hand, the so-called working-class left in India, irrespective of the differences in the respective programmatic positions of its various sects, posits more or less a common praxis of fighting the cultural nationalism and economic liberalisation of the right (the BJP and the Congress respectively) by seeking to revive the principle of economic sovereignty that informed and determined our Third Worldist conception of nationalism at the moment of India’s decolonisation. Little does it realise that it was precisely the success of such quest for economic sovereignty that led to its collapse, and the rise of both cultural nationalism and economic liberalisation. That the two are mutually constitutive is not something we on the left are able to clearly see because our paradigm still remains, not unlike the current movements of various oppressed groups, an identitarian one.

The so-called working-class left in India, with very few and minor exceptions, still thinks of its politics of struggle in terms of achieving ‘true’ national independence as opposed to the ‘false’ one we currently suffer. Clearly, its politics continues to be inscribed within and articulated by a national-liberationist paradigm of sovereignty. As a result, its politics remains an eclectic combination of two different struggles: one against cultural nationalism and another against economic liberalisation. Vijay Prashad’s The Darker Nations is an apposite case in point. Even as it describes quite accurately the crisis of the Third Worldist project of nationalism based on economic sovereignty, it is unable to see what the facts it has at its disposal so clearly say. It fails to dialectically grasp the shift of India and other similar ex-colonial nation-states towards neoliberalism – the mutual constitutivity of economic liberalisation and cultural nationalism – in terms of the inner contradictions of their quest for economic sovereignty. For Prashad, but not just the tendency of the Indian left he represents, the subversion of economic sovereignty remains merely a matter of conspiracy subjectively willed by the ruling classes of these ex-colonies and not something structural that was produced because of the national-liberationist, third worldist project of economic sovereignty as anti-imperialism running into its limit. As a result, such intellectuals and militants – and there are legions of them on the Indian working-class left in all its variety – totally miss the fact that the Third Worldist nationalist economic sovereignty is now an anachronism.

What, therefore, continues to elude them is the fact that the success of the project of economic sovereignty, from the standpoint of revolutionary anti-capitalism, lay not simply in what it was able to deliver to the working masses, but precisely in the new class contradictions it generated. For, it is precisely by recognising those historically new contradictions, but more importantly the new paradigm of transformative politics that such contradictions posit, that revolutionary anti-capitalism can advance beyond its determinate moment of national liberation and not be hypostatised or conflated with it. This new paradigm of revolutionary anti-capitalism – which was posited by the contradictions generated by the success of economic sovereignty, and which continues to be posited even today by neoliberalism that has been generated as a new conjuncture of global capital in and through the collapse of that project of Third Worldist economic sovereignty – is more evidently proletarian internationalist that clearly envisages the simultaneity of struggle and unity as its modality.

Unfortunately, we on the Indian left, by and large, still refuse to recognise that, fixated as our practice is on an identitarian, if not a national-liberationist, paradigm. As a consequence, we have miserably failed to intervene productively in the struggles of various oppressed groups by not revealing the sedimental class reality of their respective politics of resistance to them so that they can on their own generalise that sedimental reality beyond the particularity of the identitarian niches their respective struggles are caught in. On the contrary, the uncritical and misplaced politico-ideological support we often seek to them has only served to reinforce the capitalist paradigm of competitive identity politics. This has ensured that those particular struggles do not realise the generic potential immanent precisely in the specific conditions of their respective struggles to shift that capitalist paradigm.

The strengthening of this paradigm of sovereignty (read competitive identity politics) – which such repeatedly misplaced and/or unsuccessful interventions on our part has yielded – has ensured the oppressed and the subordinated always remain at the receiving end. For, if the paradigm of the politics of resistance of the oppressed continues to be that of competitive identity politics then they as the disempowered group vis-à-vis the powerful group of oppressors will always be at a disadvantage. As a result, they have, not in spite but precisely because of the modality of their otherwise objectively legitimate struggles, continued to fail in advancing their movements. Worse, the failure of the politics of resistance of the oppressed to break out of the paradigm of sovereignty has further led to their internal segmentation and division and has thus further deepened the project of passive revolution.

It would be germane to examine the shift in Indian foreign policy with regard to the Palestinian movement for national self-determination in terms of the politics of Muslims as the most significant oppressed minority group – both in the Indian mainland and as the majority religious group that constitutes the oppressed nationality of Kashmir. The politics of Muslims in India suffers most intensely from the affliction that bedevils, as we have seen, the politics of resistance of the oppressed in this part of the world. This affliction, it must be reiterated yet again, is the failure of such politics to actualise the reality of revolutionary class politics sedimented in the specificity of its politics of resistance and in the process break with the paradigm of competitive identity politics within which it is currently inscribed.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that objectively the struggle of Kashmiris, and the Muslims of the Indian mainland, regardless of the many divergences in their specific conditions of oppression and resistance, is a class struggle insofar as identity is segmentation of the working class and thus constitutive of hierarchised distribution of social and political power. And precisely for that reason such struggles of the Muslims in India – particularly its more militant and extra-parliamentary forms, and despite the religious, petty-bourgeois character of its politico-ideological leadership – posits a serious challenge to the Indian moment of imperialism as the capitalist world-system of mutually competing capitals united only by the larger systemic logic of competition and its preservation. In such a scenario, Indian foreign policy tilting more and more towards the Yankee-Zionist politico-military configuration can be made sense of as a bulwark against the revolutionary working-class potential of various Muslim struggles being unleashed to form larger national- and international-level solidarity networks against global capital and its reign of exploitation realised in and as differential temporalities of oppression. And right now the Indian state-formation, as an integral part of imperialism as the globalised network of many different kinds and forms of capitals that is capitalism as world-system, seeks to keep the working-class potential posited by various struggles of the oppressed in check by quelling those struggles in the name of quelling ‘Islamic jehad’, ‘political Islam’ and so on.

It, therefore, gravitates, at the level of foreign policy, towards the Atlantic powers, and particularly towards Israel in the particular context of Asia and Muslim politics as politics of the oppressed, in order to align itself better with the global capitalist project of fighting ‘pan-Islamism’. This, needless to say, aids and bolsters Israel’s Zionist project of occupation of Palestine as a local West Asian moment constitutive of the globalised conjuncture of neoliberal imperialism.

Such a radically new conjunctural context imposes on ongoing national liberation struggles, particularly the ones in Palestine and Kashmir, a radically new task. Which is to come to terms with the fact that while the discursive appearance of their respective (colonial) occupations remain similar to what they were in the beginning, the difference between then and now is in terms of the structural-functionality of such occupations. Those occupations, when they were established as constitutive spatio-temporal units of the previous conjuncture, were mainly about politico-military domination to ensure the maintenance and reinforcement of politico-economic hegemony in South Asia and the Perso-Arabic world by India and Israel respectively as the vanguard of American imperialistic machinations in the region. Today, that hegemony-bolstering function of occupations has, on account of changes in the structure of global capital, got coupled with the management of cheap labour reserves in the occupied areas in order to maintain labour and wage arbitrage of domestic labour markets of the occupying powers.

This change has been on account of the change in the modality of operation of nation-states as the basic units of international division of labour. The earlier conjuncture was characterised by the internationalisation of only the moment of circulation in the circuit of capital. This meant nation-states managed locally self-contained production and globalised circulation, consumption and exchange. The current conjuncture, on the other hand, is characterised by the internationalisation of the circuit of capital in its entirety. This means nation-states now manage the localised moments of a globally integrated value chain to maintain and reinforce labour and wage arbitrage in order to reinforce the value chain and keep it going.

In such a situation, it would not be misplaced or inaccurate to contend that the days of Third Worldist solidarity with the Palestinian cause, as far as an ex-colonial nation-state such as India is concerned, are well and truly over. The Palestinian resistance should have no illusions on that score. And the least that the left in India must do, if it has any desire to live up to its name, is to try its utmost to disabuse the Palestinian movement that any kind of concerted support is forthcoming from the Indian people as a nation united. For, the national consensus the Indian state seeks to reinforce, and which in turn informs its foreign policy establishment, is thoroughly neoliberal. That India, together with Israel, is firmly ensconced in globalised neoliberalism as one of its key proponents and purveyors is an unmistakable fact. Even more unmistakable is the changed national consensus that bolsters this global situation of the Indian nation-state and is, in turn, bolstered by it.

More pertinently, the left in India must work towards shattering precisely this national and nationalist consensus if it wants its solidarity with the Palestinian people to be effective. Unfortunately, its paradigmatic reliance on sovereignty continues to get in the way. It will have to abandon this paradigm. And it can make a beginning in that direction now, in the context of Palestine, by thinking of how it can constellate the movements of the exploited and dominated groups (in particular, national liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities such as the Kashmiris) on the Indian subcontinent and the Palestinian resistance in order to develop a new anti-capitalist internationalism for our times. Only such a manoeuvre would transform the internationalism of the Palestinian movement, which has become abstract due to the collapse of the Third Worldist project, into a new historically concrete reality, even as it sets free radical politics in this part of the world from the iron-cage of sovereignty and identity politics, enabling it to fully actualise its emancipatory potential.

American Jews for A Just Peace (AJJP) stands up for ‘Miral’

MIRAL, Writer: Rula Jebreal; Director: Julian Schnabel; Cast: Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto

We, at American Jews For A Just Peace,, stand in support of filmmaker Julian Schnabel and Harvey Weinstein in their efforts to distribute Miral, a new film based on the autobiographical novel by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal. Miral tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women, and in particular an orphaned Palestinian girl, as they navigate the personal and political landscapes of their times, starting with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, through the first nonviolent Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1987, to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Miral is not a documentary or a polemic; it is a window into the lives of Palestinians, whose voices have gone unheard in the United States for far too long.

We, at American Jews For Just Peace, stand in opposition to the efforts by the American Jewish Congress and the Israeli government’s efforts to block the film’s showing at the United Nations and other venues.

In Defence of Hamas – Response/Counter-response

The Original Article by Pothik Ghosh

Is there really a Palestinian bourgeois class, which shares socio-political interests with its Israeli counterpart? For the very same reason that explains the absence of a working class movement in Palestine, there is no capitalist solidarity in that region as well. There have been working class leaders who have failed their class without being bourgeois themselves.

There is greater out-migration from Israel than there is immigration into the country. There is no material pressure to expand territory. After all, Israel did vacate Gaza. You are willing to compromise with Hamas’s Islamicism. Why can’t the Hamas accept Israel in the same spirit? – TK Arun

Dear TK,

I will attempt to address only the fundamental theoretical questions you have raised in your response to my piece on Palestine here. I’ll leave out some of the more empirical details that you have brought up.

To begin at the beginning, capitalist solidarity does not necessarily preclude struggle within capitalism among various sections of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the hegemonic social logic of capital, which would be constitutive of such solidarity, is of competitive socialisation. Capitalist solidarity is, therefore, not without stratification, and domination of one or more sections of the bourgeoisie by others. Capitalist solidarity can never, precisely because of this constitutive logic, be truly envisaged as absolutely horizontal. To that extent, there is no equality, even within the bourgeoisie, in capitalism. And to my mind solidarity among various sections of capitalists cannot, unlike socialist solidarity, be conceptualised (repeat conceptualised) as an absolute state. It exists, provisionally if you like, only in relation to their domination of the working class. I have, if you go back to my piece, said that the PLO-PA – and the Palestinian social groups embodied by them – also pose a Palestinian identity of struggle against Israel. But the decline in the radical tenor of resistance as posited through this ‘secular’ identity, seen in conjunction with its rejection by the Gazan underclass and the ascendancy of Hamas and its Islamism as the principal idiom of Palestinian resistance, indicates that there is a Palestinian bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie, even as it poses a struggle (competitive) against the Israeli state, and the Jewish bourgeoisie it embodies, for a better position within the larger regional capitalist hegemony, also seeks to protect and preserve its own interests against the assault of the Palestinian underclass. The PLO-PA’s collaboration, ever since Oslo, with the Israeli state to marginalise and even crush Hamas on one hand, and continuing to pose a Palestinian identity of struggle against Israel, on the other, is symptomatic of this strange capitalist paradox called competitive solidarity of the bourgeoisie. You will surely agree, and I have adduced examples to that effect in my article, that the Palestinian question posed by PLO-PA, post Oslo, is an apology of resistance in that it has been perfectly amenable to and even a participant in Israel’s insidious undermining of the Oslo Accords. Or, how else does one explain the failure of the Mahmoud Abbas-led group’s failure to forge a solid solidarity between West Bank and Gaza and conduct resistance against Israel with the same doggedness that Al Fatah, the Yasser Arafat-led main faction of the PLO, did in its heyday. That is something that Hamas has been doing. If anything, Abbas has used the PA security forces, and wonder of wonders Fatah fighters, to quell anti-Israeli dissent within Palestinian society not only in Gaza but also sometimes in West Bank.

If you argue that Hamas too is posing the question of self-determination in the idiom of competition I would certainly not disagree. Given that it’s not a self-conscious proletarian subjectivity, it sure is not self-reflexively aware that the question of political autonomy it’s raising cannot really be resolved unless it’s informed by a politics that shifts the horizon of socialisation from competition (capitalist) to non-alienated association and dialogue (trans- or counter-capitalist). Yet, at this moment this competitive posing of the ‘Islamised’ national Palestinian identity of Hamas – given that it is located in that section of Palestinian society (underclass) that is disenfranchised, dispossessed and dominated by a constellation of various institutionalized and alienated configurations of socio-political power formed by the PLO-PA and the Zionist state together as also separately – objectively poses the decimation of the competitive social logic of capitalism and its hegemony in the region. A hegemony that is, at this moment, precisely, the root cause of this dispossession and domination of a section of Palestinians. By the same token, the PLO-PA’s competitive ‘struggle’ against Israel, considering that it simultaneously seeks to collaborate with it, is an attempt to keep certain sections of Palestinian society at bay and, therefore, seeks to preserves and perpetuate the hegemony of capitalism and its competitive social logic and ideology.

I would, of course, join you in ruing the fact that working class forces have grasped this objective conjunctural situation neither in their theoretical analyses nor political practice. For, only that would break and displace the conjuncture towards a more ideologically proletarianised situation. And yet, that will not be any reason for me to simply reject a political subjectivity, which foregrounds this objective autonomy-association question sharply, merely because it’s not self-conscious of what its subjectivity actually amounts to in the objective realm. Of course, Hamas, or any such agency, will have to be critiqued for its deficit on those terms of self-consciousness. But that to my mind is not accomplished by painting it with the same moral-secular brush of Islamism that is used to taint forces like Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Coming back to a problem that has often cropped up in most of our discussions and debates, class for me is, in its essence, not a social identity or group. Though it can appear in that form sometimes. (Hegel’s “the essence must appear” or Marx’s “Class qua class”.) Class, for me, is a logic of relation. When competition happens, as is capitalism’s wont, in its moments of circulation (social) and distribution/regulation (political), we have to see in totality, by retroactive location in the moment of production (economic), what is the point from which absolute extraction of value occurs. The social group or identity that occupies that point at that moment is the form that the working class takes at that moment. In other words, politico-cultural identities have to be located within this matrix of social relations to figure out which class position they hold in themselves. And that would be irrespective of whether or not they display a subjective consciousness of their objective class location (or position) in positing their respective identities.

Your analysis seems to be informed by an economistic view of Marxism and class politics, which conflates the working class with workers and the bourgeoisie with a specific section among them: the industrial capitalists. But in my analysis West Asia, particularly Israel-Palestine, does not need to have heavy-duty industrialisation and thus industrial capitalists and industrial workers, for us to find either the working class or the bourgeoisie in that region. Capital, if I may repeat myself, is a certain configuration of social power.

Therefore, your assertion that there is no working class movement in the region is right. But not for the reasons you seem to imply. This absence is because, as I state above, the left forces in the region, which had some significant presence there once, have not been able to grasp, either in theory or in political practice, the conjuncture of Hamas’s emergence and critically engage with that conjuncture and thereby the Palestinian movement that has engendered a force like Hamas. If that sounds a tad voluntaristic and utopian, let me complete the dialectic, which will dissolve this subjective voluntarism into its objectivity, by saying the same thing from a different angle: only if Hamas succeeds in enabling a truly nationally (repeat nationally) self-determined Palestinian state would the Palestinian society have taken yet another step towards founding such a working class movement. The institutionalisation of Hamas, which the founding of such a nation-state would entail, would lead to the emergence of a new elite and bureaucracy from the currently struggling sections of Palestinian society, its concomitant alienation from the masses and the complete instrumentalisation of its Islamism, something that is at times visible now as fascism at the Palestinian community level.

All that would further deepen the objective conditions for the emergence of a significant working class politics in Palestine. Of course, subjective intervention to seize this objective moment would still be required. And we, who do politics in the shadow of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the elimination of the Tudeh Party by Khomeini’s band of Islamists, know all too well the heavy price to be paid for not seizing the objective moment through subjective ideological intervention. After all, only that can rupture the conjuncture. Similarly in Palestine. Hamas’s success and institutionalisation, going by the current configuration of political forces, could well lead to the emergence of more radical outfits such as the Islamic Jihad as the principal agency of Palestinian resistance. But Hamas’s marginalisation through military force, precisely what Israel has been trying to accomplish, would surely compel large sections of the beleaguered Palestinian underclass to vest their despair in the pernicious chimera of a hope that the pan-Islamism of Al Qaeda offers. Such perils in political struggles cannot, clearly, be pre-empted. They have to be faced even at the risk of making grave mistakes. For, if people eschew struggles for fear of the perils such struggles are likely to produce there would be no hope of them emancipating themselves. We would do well to recall Mao, who in his peculiarly Chinese Jacobin style used to say, “A revolution is not a dinner party.”

By the way, an aside: revolutionary forces in Palestine might be down but they are not out. Fighters of George Habbash’s Popular Front have reportedly been fighting the Israeli incursion shoulder to shoulder with the guerrillas of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The opportunity for a socialist revolutionary subjective intervention has not exactly been lost in Palestine.

Pothik Ghosh

In Defence of Hamas

Pothik Ghosh

A spectre is haunting Palestine, it is the spectre of Al Qaeda. How else can we explain the near complete abandonment of the Palestinian cause by the international liberal community for which Palestine and its struggle for national self-determination were, till the other day, a never-ending love affair? The erstwhile drivers of the pro-Palestine global liberal consensus blame – allusively if not explicitly – its erosion on the emergence of the radical Islamist Hamas as the principal political agency of their resistance. That, in their reckoning, is completely indefensible at a time when the terroristic depredations of Al Qaeda’s pan-Islamism have sought to put the very existence of secular modernity in jeopardy all across the world. Clearly, this liberal perception, permeated as it is by the current international climate of anti-Islamist (even anti-Islamic) opinion, finds nothing wrong in projecting Hamas as a local manifestation of Al Qaeda’s reign of internationalist terror and obscurantism.

That has, in the context of the current Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, meant responses ranging from a spirited advocacy of “Israel’s right to defend itself” (the US and the UK governments) and equal condemnation of violence on both sides (various European regimes) to ineffective ritualistic criticism of the Israeli invasion by such die-hard allies of the Palestinian struggle as New Delhi, which has of late found a rather amenable seller of defence hardware in Tel Aviv. And if there can be an abomination greater than the relentlessly brutal assault being unleashed by the Israeli ground, air and naval forces on Gaza Strip, it is constituted by such absurdly heartless, even cynical, reactions. They indicate a wholly unwarranted ideological victory for the Zionist project of occupation and territorial annexation. That the core ideology of Hamas, elected to head the government of Gaza by its inhabitants three years ago, is Islamist has made it easier for the Israeli propaganda machine to render its vile acts of occupation – such as the 30-month-long blockade of Gaza – internationally legitimate. It has helped Tel Aviv suggest to its old and new allies, if such suggestion were necessary, that Hamas’s Islamist anti-Israeli position is merely a variant of the virus of pan-Islamist violence that is periodically purveyed by Al Qaeda within their geo-political boundaries.

The ideological victory of the Zionist enterprise has, however, more to do with the current global conjuncture than the effectiveness of the Israeli propaganda machine. The eagerness of most ‘democratic’ nation-states and sizeable sections of their liberal societies to read in the ascendancy of an Islamist Hamas the degeneration of the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination stems from this conjuncture, which is characterised by a complete instrumentalisation and institutionalisation of the ideas of liberal-democracy and secularism into an anti-democratic centre of capitalist class power and social domination. What is forgotten, as a consequence, is the true historical origin of the ideology of secularism in the various popular democratic struggles in the western world against institutionalised religion.

It is this subjugation, or shall we say blinding, of secular reason by power that has compelled the liberals of the world to not only equate Hamas’s Islamist ideology with that of Al Qaeda’s but has also led them to believe that the decision of the majority of Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, to jettison the secular-nationalist Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for Hamas is a case of wilful fundamentalist aberration. Had the rational capacities of the liberals not been so contaminated by status quoist considerations of power and social privilege, they would have realised that no people – certainly not those who are waging a war of resistance like the Palestinians – choose their political agency, and the ideological idiom and identity that come with it, at their own pleasure and free will. The failure of the global liberal community to ask, let alone figure out, why the Palestinians chose to dump their traditional secular leadership of the PLO, particularly its Al Fatah faction, for an Islamist Hamas has clearly been due to their ideological inability, if not reluctance, to see the political in terms of the social and vice-versa. In other words, the question of political autonomy, which is what all identitarian struggles for self-determination essentially are, poses the question of cooperative and dialogic social association either directly or implicitly.

What is, however, even more unfortunate is the failure of the global Left forces, in all their national varieties, to insist that their persistent backing for a national self-determination movement like Palestine is precisely because it has served to continuously foreground the aforementioned impulse of social transformation. Instead, their pretext for supporting the Palestinian struggle merely because it is a struggle for national self-determination has, ironically enough, put them on the same page as the liberals who now find Palestine a troubling and embarrassing issue. Such support has, precisely because it has reified the idea of political autonomy and national self-determination, been rendered ineffective. Worse, it has put paid to all hope of engaging the liberal community on its ideologically blinkered, if not politically motivated, perception of Hamas’s Islamist politics.

Autonomy, after all, is nothing but a means of seeking true representation of the self by struggling against its false representation by a regime of class domination, which is the logical consequence of a capitalist social order based on the ethic of competition, alienation and difference. Clearly then, autonomy cannot be won unless the order of competitive socialisation is transformed into one of cooperative social association.

In that context, the subjectivities of various movements of political (national, sub-national, caste, race, gender, religious) autonomy, insofar as they pose the question of autonomy and real representation of the concerned socio-political identities without dialectically unfolding the social transformative aspect immanent in them, continue to be articulated by the bourgeois logic of competitive socialisation. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that political autonomy and self-determination are, as far as such subjectivities are concerned, mostly articulated in terms of sovereignty – a bourgeois notion of competitive socio-politics which philosopher Georges Bataille explained as the complete invasion of the other by the self. Yet, it would be difficult to deny that such subjectivities at their moment of resistance – against their experience of social domination and false representation – unconsciously posit the objective struggle for decimation of the bourgeois order of competitive socialisation, and its transformation into a domain of free association.

The reason why the PLO’s leadership no longer finds too many takers among Palestinians, especially the preponderantly poor population of Gaza, is not only because it has ceased to posit such free associative and dialogic mode of socialisation but also because it has been actively blocking and undermining it. To see the rise of Hamas as an outcome of the corruption and venality of the PLO – manifest most acutely in the latter’s post-Oslo Palestinian Authority (PA) – is to merely put the problem in a moral frame. In real political terms, this venality of the PLO is no more than a manifestation of the emergence of a privileged class within the larger Palestinian society. Members of traditional propertied classes among Palestinians together with the new intellectual-political elite, chiefly of PLO and Al Fatah vintage, comprise this new class. This social phenomenon has, at the political level, found expression in the institutionalisation of the PLO and its version of the Palestinian movement. It is no coincidence that West Bank, which is home to Palestinians who have much better access to socio-economic entitlements such as education, employment, health, and various civic amenities both in quantitative and qualitative terms, is the base of PLO, PA and their secular Palestinian identity. On the other hand, Gaza, inhabited principally by pauperised and proletarianised Palestinians, has come to be the centre of Hamas’s politics of uncompromising anti-Israeli resistance.

It is in this context that Hamas’s refusal to expressly eschew its stated position of not recognizing Israel’s right to exist must be examined. The Oslo Accords between Tel Aviv and Yasser Arafat’s PLO in 1993 led to the Palestinians, under PLO’s leadership, recognising Israel’s right to exist as an independent nation in exchange for Tel Aviv’s acceptance of Palestinian national self-determination through interim self-government arrangements within the pre-1967 boundaries. The acceptance of those boundaries meant, in practical terms, accepting only the two territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip as Palestinian. It is these accords that culminated in the setting up of the PA. But in real terms, Oslo has meant Palestinian self-determination only on paper as Israel has been engaged in gerrymandering “facts on the ground” by constantly pushing more and more Jewish settlers way beyond the real pre-1967 borders and deep into the Palestinian territories as recognised by the Oslo Accords. That Israel would need to continuously violate the spirit of Oslo in this fashion is fairly clear. Its Zionist raison d’etre of Eretz Yisrael, the “land of Israel” for all Jews of the world, will keep inducing it to acquire more and more land for building new settlements for Jews, who continue to pour in from every corner of the world to seek the fulfilment of this founding promise of Israel.

The PA, especially under Arafat’s successors Ahmed Querie and Mahmoud Abbas, not only acquiesced in this brazen molestation of Oslo by Israel but even facilitated the violation by using both its security forces and armed Al Fatah fighters to keep Palestinian protesters, obviously more in Gaza than West Bank, at bay. That Abbas and his PLO crowd have watched, more or less silently, even as Tel Aviv has mounted its atrocities in Gaza ever since a Hamas government pushed PA out of there, is entirely of a piece with the PLO’s post-Oslo stance.

The PLO’s collaboration in this Israeli project of subverting the spirit of Oslo is both a cause and consequence of preserving the social interests of the privileged Palestinian classes in West Bank. The compliant collaboration of the PA with Israel has not only meant that the much better access of its privileged Palestinians to socio-economic entitlements and concomitant socio-political power, vis-à-vis the Palestinian poor of Gaza, is ensured. It has also helped this elite to fend off the political challenge of the toiling classes, rallied behind Hamas, through the instruments of Israeli occupation. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the Israeli endeavour to change “facts on the ground” have been directed more at Gaza than West Bank.

That, however, does not mean that the PLO and the PA have stopped posing their versions of a self-determined Palestinian identity with regard to Israeli occupation. But their recent ‘struggle’, which has inevitably turned out to be an apology of the concerted resistance movements it had earlier conducted, poses the identity of the privileged Palestinian class in a spirit of competition with regard to the privileged sections among the Jews, whose interests are embodied in the ideological-political project called Israel. As a result, the PLO-PA ‘struggle’ against Israel is merely geared towards enhancing the social position of the Palestinian elite within the stratified global political-economic order as it obtains to in the region. Clearly, the existential impulse of the Palestinian identity currently posed by the PLO-PA is that of reinforcing the capitalist logic of competitive socialisation. That collaboration with Israel takes precedence, for the PLO-PA, over its assertion of Palestinian autonomy indicates the quest of the privileged Palestinian classes for self-determination is essentially a bourgeois competitive enterprise to further their social domination. That, needless to say, has only reinforced the hegemony of global capitalism, and its Yankee-Zionist moment in the region.

Hamas’s refusal to abandon its stated position questioning Israel’s right to exist is, in that context, a repudiation of Oslo, which in reality paved the way for collaboration between Tel Aviv and the PLO-PA. That conferred a fig leaf of legitimacy on continued Israeli occupation, directed at denying the Palestinian underclass its real autonomy, but also enabled the social domination of the underprivileged Palestinians by their own social elite under the PLO-PA’s wing. To that extent, the Hamas-led resistance in Gaza for Palestinian national self-determination has, at this juncture, been both a struggle against socio-political domination and the bourgeois logic of competitive socialization that has engendered it.

All that does not, however, still explain why an agency of the Palestinian underclass, which is ranged against the collaborationist apparatus of Israeli occupiers and a Palestinian elite, would need to abandon its original secular-nationalist ideological idiom for a more puritan variety of Islam. And this question cannot be answered unless the secular-nationalism of the PLO, which was rejected after it became the ideology of a political institution of a privileged Palestinian elite, is located within the ideological-social space of Islam in the West Asian, especially the Palestinian, region. Islam has been the dominant indigenous cultural form in that region and all stirrings of enlightenment among its predominantly Arab peoples have been in its language. Arab-Christians have adopted the modern nationalist discourse, which has been articulated in this specific form of Islamic language, as much as the Arab-Muslims. The secular-nationalist ideology of the Palestinian national struggle under the PLO can be traced to the late 19th century Nahada (Arab Renaissance), when Islam was read against its traditional grain to articulate an absolutely modern idea of Arab nationalism against the Turkish Ottomans, whose imperial caliphate had then embodied the traditional idea of institutionalised pan-Islamism. It should, therefore, be clear that the secular nationalism of the Palestinian resistance under the PLO was not secular in the conventionally understood western sense of the term. It was imbued by Islam, albeit a liberal and inclusive variety of it. The ideological shift of the poor Palestinians – who now constitute the vanguard of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination – towards a relatively more traditionalist and pietistic conception of the religion must, therefore, be seen as a movement within the Islamic ideological space, away from its more liberal end, precisely because this liberalism has lost its earlier inclusiveness. To claim this was the only alternative the proletarianised Palestinians of Gaza had, considering that an effective working class force was absent in Palestine would be like stating the obvious.

And yet, it would be grossly inaccurate to equate the Hamas-led Palestinian struggle with Al Qaeda’s international jehad merely because both articulate their politics in the idiom of religious Islam. Hamas’s so-called radical Islam is, clearly, an organic language of protest, resistance and autonomy against socio-political domination by a foreign state and an institutionalised, secular local elite. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, posits its Islam as an anti-dialogic institution that needs to be imposed on the entire world in the form of an international caliphate. In fact, Al Qaeda’s institutionalised religion is no different from the institutionalised anti-democratic secularisms of modern capitalist powers it seeks to displace. Clearly, Al Qaeda’s struggle against capitalist liberal modernity is a competitive struggle of a section of disgruntled Gulf Arab elite funded by petro-dollars against other sections of that same elite and their socio-political allies within the stratified hegemony of global capitalism. Al Qaeda is a force of fascist reaction, Hamas the harbinger of dogged resistance and hope.