Category Archives: Analysis

NDP slide to right sparks socialist opposition


MONTREAL—Despite the move to water down the reference to socialism in the Federal New Democratic Party Constitution, the word remains, as does the working-class nature of the party. Indeed, socialism is still both a very lively topic and an active movement within the NDP.

The party leadership certainly pushed hard to limit debate and to re-shape the party in its own image. But socialists had a higher profile at the NDP convention in Montreal, April 12-14, than in recent years.

To be sure, the convention was a kind of love-in for NDP chief and Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Tom Mulcair. The appetite for the perks of government office fueled a wave of opportunism and attracted an array of party boosters and young career-seekers.

It was the biggest-ever NDP federal convention. Over 2000 delegates registered. Typically, about 1200 were on the convention floor to vote on motions. Despite media hype about the inevitability of the NDP choosing to “moderate” its message, and the high cost of a delegate’s credential (up to $400), it was surprising to see the extent of the support for the radical left.

Twenty-eight per cent of the delegates present for the election of NDP Treasurer voted for Socialist Caucus candidate John Orrett. Sixteen per cent voted to retain the constitution preamble, with its call for social ownership of the economy, with its insistence that “production and distribution of goods and services be directed to meeting social and individual needs” and “not to the making of profit.”

The Socialist Caucus received massive mainstream media coverage for its initiatives and policies. SC spokespersons were frequently interviewed by CBC, Global, CTV, CPAC, Sun Media, Huffington PostLa PresseToronto StarNational PostGlobe and Mail, and others.

SC floor interventions, firstly to amend the convention agenda in favour of providing more time for policy debate, and later, to alter a resolution on ‘pipeline safety’ to include opposition to any new pipeline construction, failed to get much traction. But another SC referral motion produced a high point for the left.

Etobicoke Centre youth delegate and Youth for Socialist Action chairperson Tyler MacKinnon argued for a party campaign to abolish all post-secondary tuition fees. He called for solidarity with movements demanding an end to fees and a halt to the police repression they faced in the streets of Quebec in 2012. Tyler’s motion carried, but only after a delegate demanded a “standing count,” which showed over 60 per cent in favour. While the referred (amended) resolution did not come back to the floor for approval, the vote registered a stinging rebuke of the party establishment.

Delegates and observers showed a keen interest in socialist ideas. They snapped up over 1100 copies of the glossy, full-colour SC magazine Turn Left, and donated over $200 to support it. They spent another $200 on individual copies of Socialist Action newspaper, as well as associated radical buttons and booklets.

A bright orange banner proved to be a lightening rod for protest against the pro-capitalist party tops. The Socialist Caucus displayed a wide cloth antiwar slogan on the concourse Saturday morning, and again at lunchtime. It galvanized opposition to the appearance of invited guest speaker Jeremy Bird, National Field Director for the U.S. Democratic Party, who headed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.

The banner proclaimed, in English and French, “Stop Obama’s Drone Wars.” Scores of supporters, notably South Asian and visible minority delegates, defended it in the face of persistent efforts by officials to remove it. SC comrades and other delegates held their ground against threats of all kinds, including that security personnel and police would be asked to intervene. The three-hour standoff backfired on the party brass, who were seen as petty control freaks by the bemused national media.

It wasn’t the only example of undemocratic measures deployed by party controllers. They allowed no display booths on site, except for the social democratic Broadbent Institute, and a group of party authors promoting a book. Participants witnessed the stacking of the Persons With Disabilities Caucus, one of many equity-seeking group meetings, with non-disabled voters who arrived just moments prior to its election of reps to the federal party executive and council. Was this just to defeat an SC candidate?

A top party bureaucrat temporarily “lifted” this writer’s delegate credential for being one of dozens booing Jeremy Bird when the latter was introduced on stage. National Director Nathan Rotman reversed himself when MP Niki Ashton, who had addressed the SC forum on Friday evening, protested his punitive move, and after the mass media got hold of the issue. Rotman did not apologize for exceeding his authority, so more nonsense in this vein can be expected.

Most of the resolutions adopted at convention were strictly non-controversial. Indeed, many passed unanimously. These included: putting a halt to tax havens, promoting farm commodity supply management, reversing cuts to employment insurance, enshrining a pro-active pay equity regime in law, and providing more predictable funding for VIA Rail.

SC resolutions (on pipelines, corporate trade deals, Iran, Palestine, public ownership of banks and industry, Quebec self-determination, etc.), some submitted by multiple district associations, were ranked so low they would not be debated.  Even the issue re-prioritization panels on the Friday morning were stacked deep by pro-establishment delegates.

Tellingly, a resolution on the rights of sex workers, submitted by a Vancouver district body, made it to the floor, but was referred to federal council for more study by MP Libby Davies, ostensibly to avoid “a divisive debate,” a move that disgusted many progressive activists.

The Socialist Caucus held three public forums at the Convention Centre during meal breaks. The topics were “Quebec and the NDP, and Why Quebec Students are in the streets again,” “The Fight to keep Socialism in the NDP Constitution,” and “Canadian Military intervention in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—Where does the NDP stand?” The meetings attracted 30 to 70 delegates. Thirty-six people signed up to join the socialists at the convention. A similar number applied to join the leftist caucus via the internet.

With a general election expected in 2015, delegates gave Mulcair a 92 per cent approval vote. The 8 per cent who nonetheless voted for a leadership review can be considered the hardcore base of the SC, with support for the organized left reaching 20 to 30 per cent for certain initiatives and candidates. This is not inconsiderable, if projected across an NDP membership of 120,000 countrywide.

Overall, the NDP continues on its liberal policy course. Justin Trudeau, who was crowned Liberal Party Leader in Ottawa that same weekend, mocked the direction of the NDP towards his own Bay Street-backed party when he referred to it as a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

To be sure, the new pro-market preamble is a setback to labour and the left. But the NDP, which was never socialist, has not changed its stripes. It remains a labour-based reformist party to which millions of workers look—still the only game in town for independent working-class electoral/political action. And within that game, socialism is very much a player, looking for reinforcements from the social protest movements and from the leftist political sidelines.

Opposing the attack on Socialism in the NDP

The floor debate on the amendment to the NDP Constitution was terminated on Sunday morning after only four speakers, two pro and two con. This farcical exercise meant that most of the arguments against the change were not heard, including the following one:

The amendment must be rejected for three reasons. It is undemocratic. It is unprincipled. And it obscures our roots.

Nearly two years ago, in Vancouver, where convention delegates spurned the attempt to remove socialism, party officials promised extensive consultation and debate. What happened? Nine days before convention this amendment was foisted upon us. Apparently, the consultations did not extend beyond the backrooms.

Principles belong in a constitution. But it’s hard to find any principles in this text. Oh, it says we are for “a society that shares its benefits more fairly”. It says we “believe in freedom and democracy”. Could it be any more vague? Is this the party of Tommy Douglas or Justin Trudeau?

The new text doesn’t talk about the real world. It doesn’t mention the widening gap between the super-rich and the 99%. It doesn’t relate to a world still reeling from economic depression, at risk of environmental disaster, and on the brink of nuclear war.

The amendment offers platitudes in place of solutions. It calls for “a rules based economy.” But what about the rule of big business? What about empowering the majority to run the economy so that production can be democratically planned to serve human need rather than private greed?

The closest this feeble statement comes to proposing a strategy is its promise “to address the limitations of the market.”

Well, sisters and brothers, I ask you this. When Barrick Gold poisons the lands of indigenous peoples in Canada or Peru, is that just a limitation of the market? When luxury condo towers crowd the waterfront while thousands are homeless, is that just a market glitch? When Big Pharma robs medicare, when RBC outsources work to depress wages, when the right to strike exists—except when workers try to use it, is that just a market error? When banksters and bosses stash their cash, and replace factories with casinos, is that just a flaw in an otherwise benevolent system? Or do all those things, in fact, reveal the very essence of capitalism?

One of the most popular NDP MPPs ever, Peter Kormos, never shied away from naming the enemy, and he never hesitated to call himself a socialist. The same was true for Dan and Alice Heap. Svend Robinson famously called capitalism a rabid dog that should be put down. Tommy Douglas said our goal is “public ownership and development of our basic resources in the interest of all.”

New Democrats want a constitution that has goals that inspire us to rise above ourselves. The motion before us is a sham. Let’s defeat it. Let’s keep the principle of social ownership at the heart of the NDP.

An attempt to amend the Convention Agenda in favour of more time for policy debate, not for a pro-war regime

 Guest speaker:

Sisters and brothers, from across this huge country we have come to set a course for the NDP, to discuss and adopt policies in the interests of working people, and to continue the struggle for social justice. Sadly, less than half of the plenary time of convention is devoted to policy debate by our grassroots delegates.

It would be a shame to squander precious convention time by hosting an election strategist for the American political party responsible for delivering trillions of dollars to Wall Street and the Pentagon, and filling America’s jails with Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.

Party officials made this mistake in Halifax in 2009, and they’ve done it again. It is an insult to the founders of the party, and to all of its activists, to import and feature an apologist for the pro-war, pro-corporate bailout Obama administration in Washington.

Saying Mit Romney was worse than Obama does not make Obama a friend of the working class or oppressed minorities. Obama’s “gift” to workers and the poor is austerity, and an “economic draft” that perpetuates U.S. military occupation and drone wars around the world. In 2000, the Pentagon had less than 50 drones. In 2010 that number was 7500—an increase of 15,000 per cent.

We don’t need Jeremy Bird, Obama’s National Field Director and re-election strategist, to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bi-partisan political system. If delegates want to hear Bird, they can tweet him.

The NDP and labour are not here to take instruction from the political hacks of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our dear American fellow workers. Follow the example of the NDP. Form an independent political party based on your unions. Break with the Democratic Party, the graveyard of every progressive social movement since the days of Lincoln.

Fight for a Workers’ Agenda. Join us in the effort to put an end to capitalist recession, to wars and environmental destruction. Together, let’s create a global cooperative commonwealth.

Photo: Members of the Socialist Caucus demonstrate at the NDP convention in Montreal.  By Julius Arscott / Socialist Action


Vote NO to OPS deal! Concessions Cripple Labour’s Struggle Against Capitalist Austerity

by Julius Arscott, former OPS Mobilizer (resigned), Region 5, currently Vice President of OPSEU Local 532

On January 9, 2013, after several months of negotiation, the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) reached tentative agreements for Central, Unified and the Corrections division with the Ontario Government. Negotiations began in October, and mobilization efforts were underway across the province.

From the start, OPSEU President Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas publicly offered concessions: a two year wage freeze in exchange for ‘freezing’ the other benefits and rights in the collective agreement. How could the President of our union make such an offer without obtaining membership approval first, and what kind of example is it when our leadership is willing to give up hard won benefits prior to bargaining? Also lacking was any attempt to work in a common front with the house of labour against Dalton McGuinty’s austerity agenda. Indeed, in true sectarian fashion, OPSEU organized a separate protest to occur at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention early in the morning, denying members from outside Toronto Region 5 the opportunity to participate in the Ontario Federation of Labour afternoon protest demonstration and rally (because they would need later bus transportation back to their regions across the province). The OFL rally was planned months in advance. It will speak for the majority of the labour movement.

OPSEU previously launched the ‘Invest in Ontario’, or anti-wage freeze campaign. OPSEU’s message was an adamant ‘NO’ to freezing wages. So what changed? Why would our leadership give up something as important as wage improvement when the cost of living continues to rise? The cost of gas, rent, groceries, and taxes goes up. Retirees have to work longer to save money. Youths leave school with massive debt. And don’t forget that the membership actually prioritized wages at demand setting.

The two year wage freeze represents a loss of over 4% of wages when inflation is taken into consideration. While members will continue to progress up the wage grid, the 3% lower first new step in the grid will have a major impact on new hires. The deal also removes termination pay for new employees who are surplussed. This is a dangerous move towards inequality among our members in the OPS. The steps towards a two-tier wage structure is a betrayal of young members. It sows the seeds of a union divided. Who can our union count on to staff picket lines during future attacks on our rights? OPSEU seems on the way to joining the ranks of those major Canadian unions that surrendered serious concessions. Union leaders of auto workers, steel workers, postal workers, and Catholic teachers gave way. Then elementary and secondary public school teacher leaders caved to the OLRB ruling banning a one-day political strike, and now all teachers are resigned to living under the thumb of undemocratic Bill 115. Labour brass rhetoric aside, concessions bargaining is now the norm, not the exception, impacting most harmfully on youths, women and immigrant workers.

While there are some improvements to the OPS contract language concerning redeployment of surplussed members, the agreement is largely devoid of any significant gains. It is important that members with seniority have opportunities to be redeployed into new positions as many of these members have limited exposure to varied skills and knowledge, and have worked loyally in their position for years, focusing on a specific fields. Some members don’t have many options to train for a new career path. The loss of surplus factor 80 (age, plus years of experience) is the loss of an important retirement option for many facing layoff.

Today the labour leadership has virtually abandoned the fight against the capitalist austerity agenda. The labour-based New Democratic Party has likewise played a pathetic role, shying away from taking a strong stand for workers and against austerity. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has failed to defend workers publicly. She focuses her criticisms on the financial costs to be incurred by government in defending the legality of the actions of the big business parties against labour. Needed now, more than ever, is a working class fightback in the NDP, to push the party to the left to challenge austerity, and to embrace more democratic and socialist principles.

There are good examples of effective protests against austerity. The Occupy movement, under the slogan ‘We are the 99%’, showed for the first time in a generation that there is a class struggle, that working people did not create the economic crisis, and should not pay for it. The massive and persistent Quebec students’ strike in 2012 is another excellent example of a fightback against austerity. Striking Quebec students rallied public support for universal access to quality post-secondary education, and hastened the defeat of the governing Quebec Liberal party and the reversal of the tuition hike. This shows what is possible when there is progressive leadership.

OPSEU would be in a better position now to fight and win if it had launched a mobilization effort months before the beginning of bargaining, through bulletins, guest speakers at local events, and regional educational conferences on what capitalist austerity is, and how to fight it. The union should have focused on a clear message, such as ‘no concessions’, or ‘we didn’t create this crisis, and we won’t pay for it’. Members require the tools to fight back. That is what the union should have provided. Instead of holding a ratification vote on this concessionary agreement, OPSEU should have launched a strike vote prior to the Liberal Convention. Based on reports from mobilizers across the province, we know that we would likely have received a strike mandate. This would have had an impact by putting pressure on the Liberal party, which heads a minority government, suspended the Legislature, and is choosing a new leader. By accepting concessions, OPSEU signals to the ruling class that it will tolerate what the Liberals are doing – in effect making working people pay for the economic crisis we are enduring. Statements such as ‘the government would not budge’ are a very poor excuse to accept concessions. If the bosses don’t budge, why should we collapse?

Some argue that OPSEU got a better deal than AMAPCEO, which lost some benefits that OPSEU members never enjoyed. Our union should not look to AMAPCEO, which is a small, semi-managerial bargaining entity whose members lack experience in defending their collective agreement. OPSEU should have provided better leadership to its own members, and a better example to other unionized workers. How? By launching a real fight back against austerity. Typically, union bureaucrats lack confidence in the membership, which is why they did not want to chance a strike vote. The idea that labour will turn things around ‘when the economy recovers’, or that a struggle against management will occur without the union rank and file challenging and overcoming the union bureaucracy, are grand delusions. Class struggle opposition in each union is no abstract ideal; it is an urgent necessity to avoid an accelerating descent into labour hell.


Walmart Strike Spreads

After the success of the numerous strikes and job actions for American Walmart workers, the struggle to win respect for non-unionized workers is spreading across the continent. A week after the Black Friday walkout, hundreds of workers from fast food restaurants across New York City staged a cross-workplace strike for better wages.

While these strikes and job actions were years in the making for labour organizers, new workers’ associations are now being forged in Canada. The Canadian United For Respect campaign began in November.  It seeks to give Canadian employees of retail chains such as Sobeys, Price Choppers and IGA, a voice in their workplace.

These new workers’ associations represent a different direction for the labour movement. For the first time in nearly a century we see masses of non-unionized workers walking off the job and striking for better conditions. United Food and Commercial Workers, the force behind the original organizing drive realized that it had hit a brick wall. Faced with harsh anti-union tactics from Walmart and other employers, the union leadership decided that instead of giving up and accepting the anti-worker encroachment, they would apply some ‘outside of the box’ thinking.

This new way forward is based on learned tactics from the past. The precedent now being set opens the door to a wider variety of methods and, most importantly, for the participation of all workers, no matter how repressive their employers are towards organization.

What we are witnessing could be the start of a new chapter in labour history. Now that the established law and courts-based method of worker organization is no longer seen as the only way to win, there can be a return to the grassroots, militant spirit that gave birth to the workers’ movement.

Toronto area Anti-Drone tour

The Anti-Drone War tour came to Toronto November 29-30 to raise awareness about a state-sponsored crime against humanity – America’s use of unmanned bomber aircraft to conduct wars of intervention in Pakistan, Afganistan, the Middle East and Africa. Over a hundred people attended meetings that included a talk and photo slide show by veteran peace activist Joe Lombardo at Mississauga Central Library and at two downtown Toronto university campuses.

Joe is Co-Coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). During the Vietnam War, he was a staff person for the National Peace Action Coalition, one of the 2 major anti-war coalitions at the time. Joe, a retired public service worker, lives in Albany, New York, where he is a leader of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace.

He participated in the 31-member CodePink-initiated U.S. delegation to Pakistan in October to meet with anti-drone activists and relatives of the 760 civilians murdered by U.S. bombs. The delegates visited Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore, but were turned back by the Pakistan military as they approached Waziristan (the province bordering Afghanistan).

The American delegation was front-page news in Pakistan for the duration of its visit. Participants met with scores of victims of drone warfare, and spoke at several news conferences. They travelled the countryside in a kilometres-long caravan of vehicles, addressing impromptu rallies in town after town. The caravan was led by Imran Khan, prominent anti-drone politician and legendary cricket star.

The speaking engagements in the Toronto area were organized by Socialist Action-Canada. Endorsing groups included: Code Pink – Canada; the Executive of the Greater Toronto Area Council of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union;Toronto-Danforth NDP; Thornhill NDP; Canadian Arab Federation; IJV- Independent Jewish Voices; NION – Not in our name, Jewish voices opposing Zionism; Crescent International newsmagazine; Science for Peace; NDP Socialist Caucus; Youth for Socialist Action; Toronto Haiti Action Committee; TorontoForum on Cuba; the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network; TorontoAssociation for Peace and Solidarity; and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

Each meeting featured a lively question and discussion period. Early on, one person asked, “What is the Canadian connection to drone war crimes?” Organizers responded, “It is the NATO connection. As junior partner to US imperialism, Ottawa wages wars of intervention across the Arab Nation, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Canadian police occupy Haiti. Canadian Forces led the bombing of Libya. Ottawa supports the siege of Gaza, backs Israeli apartheid, and condones the use of drone bombers against Palestinians. Canada is the seventh biggest arms exporter in the world. And, according to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in July, the Harper government is committed to spend $1 billion on the purchase of unmanned aircraft able to carry precision-guided munitions. The Tories might even have called it part of their Economic Stimulus Programme, except that they retired that self-serving moniker a year ago. Whatever they call it, we call it wanton waste and horrific destruction of innocent lives. We join with our American comrades, sisters and brothers, to rid this world of the war-makers, their machines of death, and the capitalist system of plunder for profit.”

Another person asked, “How does the drone issue relate to the average person here?” SA-Canada members pointed out that workers continue to face the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. And while there is plenty of money for corporate bail-outs and for military spending, our rulers maintain there is no money for housing, transportation, education, health care, childcare – not even for enforcement of decent food inspection standards.

The truth is: people can’t eat bullets. The homeless can’t live in fighter jets and tanks. And military spending is not the key to peace and security. Social justice is the key.

Ottawa’s policy is not, and never was peacekeeping. It is about militarism for profit. It is about arms production and sales. At the United Nations in late November, Canada’s delegate was one of only 11 reps, out of 194 countries, to vote against observer state status for Palestine.

The Canadian state does not approach international relations with clean hands. Seventy per cent of the largest mining firms in the world are based in Canada. They cause untold harm to indigenous peoples. The mine owners want ‘security’ – to plunder and profit from the labour and natural resources of the less developed countries.

So, in this struggle against war and for social justice, which emanates not from a policy, but from the capitalist system, who is on our side?

The New Democratic Party is the only labour party in North America, based on the unions. But the policy of NDP leaders is pro-capitalist, pro-pipelines and pro-Zionist. This stance is in violent contradiction with the interests of the vast majority of NDP voters and members. The same contradiction is evident in our unions. Union leaders preach against social cuts, layoffs and inequality. At the same time they negotiate concessionary contracts that establish two-tier wages and benefits – economic provisions that discriminate against young workers and immigrants.

What are we, working people, to do?

Well, it makes no sense to abandon our organizations. We struggle to build them, and to make them work for the majority, for the working class and the poor. We fight to win support for a Workers’ Agenda in the unions, and for socialist policies in the NDP.

Socialist Action is a revolutionary workers’ organization with members across the country, from Montreal to Vancouver. We are active year-round. We publish a monthly newspaper, many booklets and other literature. We organize conferences, film festivals, concerts, student study groups and demonstrations.

With your participation we could do much more. We could turn the tide on capitalist austerity and war. We can build a socialist movement that will transform Canada and the world. If you agree with those goals, we invite you to join Socialist Action today.

Origins of Zionism, and Why Israel is a Major Obstacle to Social Justice

by Barry Weisleder

Why does the Left pick on Israel? Why do socialists target Israel for so much criticism given the abundance of reactionary and undemocratic regimes in the Middle East and around the world? Isn’t Israel a reliable barrier against fanaticism and terrorism? And what is so abhorrent about the relationship between the Zionist state and the United States of America, or between Israel and the Canadian state for that matter?

There is a battery of arguments in support of this line of questioning. Here are the main ones:

1. Israel was “a land without people for a people without land”.

The problem with this assertion is that it completely denies Palestinian identity, nationhood and any Palestinian historical claim to the land they did occupy for centuries.

2. “Israel is a democracy”, the only real democracy in the Middle East.

For Palestinians, Israel is about as ‘democratic’ as Apartheid South Africa was for non-whites. Less so, says Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And this is to say nothing of the weakness of civil rights and labour liberties for Israeli Jews in their ‘own’ state. Nor does it address the intimate connection between the repressive Arab regimes and the domination of the region by the U.S. and its imperialist allies.

3. “Security is the motor force of Israeli foreign policy.”

Setting aside the often-expanded borders of the state, Israel is the fourth largest military power in the world. It is a nuclear weapons possessing regime, facing a circle of weak, less developed, even crippled Arab countries whose armies and police are employed chiefly to repress their own insurgent masses.

4. “Zionism is the moral agency of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Europe.”

Ironically, the Zionist movement collaborated with anti-Semitic regimes, including the Nazis. Over the last sixty-five years it has turned Palestinians into the Jews of the Middle East.

Zionist Objectives

To understand the roots of the present conflict it is necessary to examine the origins of the Israeli state, and the ideological and political foundations of the movement that spawned it.

Unlike other colonialist movements, Zionism set out not only to colonize Palestine, but to expel and replace its indigenous population. From its inception in the late 19th century, through the first four decades of the 20th century, Zionism was a minority movement among Diaspora Jews. Socialism, including revolutionary Marxism, was the dominant political tendency among European Jewry.

(For the purpose of this talk, I am setting aside the Christian fundamentalist origins of Zionism some 300 years ago. To learn more about that, read “Canada and Israel, Building Apartheid” by Yves Engler.)

Zionism needed, and sought, imperial sponsors for the bloody enterprise of colonization, and dispersal of the Palestinians.

European colonial powers, for their part, sought to exploit cheap labour and natural resources everywhere, including in the Middle East. Zionist leaders met with the rulers of Imperial Germany, Britain, France, Czarist Russia, and even the Ottoman Empire, offering to act as their agents in Palestine, and as a conduit of Jews out of eastern Europe and other countries whose regimes wanted rid of them.

Labour Zionists, the so-called socialist Zionists, played a particularly insidious role in this period. Aaron David Gordon, founder of Ha’Poel Ha Tzair (the Young Worker), and a supporter of Poale Zion (Workers of Zion), coined the slogan “conquest of labour” (kibbush avodah). This idea animated the campaign to displace Palestinian workers. It called upon Jewish capitalists, including the Rothschild plantation managers (who got land from absentee Turkish landlords, over the heads of the Palestinian people) “to hire Jews and only Jews”. The Zionist movement organized boycotts against non-compliant Jewish bosses.

In the early 1800s, Palestine was a thriving society. There were over a thousand Palestinian villages, known from afar for their crafts, textiles and diverse trade. Terraced hills and a widespread irrigation system reflected a developed agricultural base.

Palestinians welcomed Jewish immigrants – also the Armenians fleeing genocide in Turkey in 1915. Right wing Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, on the other hand, supported the Turkish regime and drew lessons from its conduct to apply against the Palestinians.

There was no organized Jew-hatred in Palestine in those years, in marked contrast to the situation in Russia, Poland, and other east European countries, whose anti-Jewish leaders were courted by the Zionists.

In 1896, Theodor Herzl, an Austrian writer and founder of Zionism, proposed to the Ottoman Empire that it grant Palestine directly to the Zionist movement. Herzl pledged to make the colony “an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism”.

In 1905, the 7th World Zionist Congress recognized the threat posed by emerging Palestinian nationalism, and offered to defend the Sultan’s rule against it. When Germany made an alliance with Turkey, the Zionists appealed to Germany for support. By 1914, the World Zionist Organization moved to enlist the British Empire, which aimed to break up the Ottoman Empire and seize control of the Middle East, including its invaluable fuel assets. Chaim Weizman said Jewish settlement would civilize Palestine and guard the Suez Canal for Britain.

In the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Britain proclaimed its support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

At the time, Zionist claims were utterly contradictory. On the one hand, Palestine was portrayed as a wasteland. On the other hand, Zionists argued that Palestinians should be prevented, by force, from cultivating the soil on which they had laboured for countless generations.

None of this mattered. Britain used Zionist colonization of Palestine as an instrument for political control of the region – for as long as it could.

Weizman’s ally, General Jan Smuts of South Africa, architect of Apartheid, pushed for the Balfour Declaration in the Empire War Cabinet. Herzl was a big admirer of Sir Cecil Rhodes, the arch British imperialist who carved up east Africa. South African capitalists established Africa-Israel Investments to buy land in Palestine. The company still exists; its assets are held by Israel’s Bank Leumi.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, was more explicit about the Zionist aim to expel and/or repress the Palestinians. He compared the latter to the Aztec and Sioux aboriginal peoples, noting that their resistence to colonization is inevitable, but futile in the face of superior technology. In his book, “The Iron Wall”, Jabotinsky espouses the doctrine of “pure blood”, which he says must guide the Jewish people. Even liberal pro-Zionist philosophers like Martin Buber testify that “our being is determined by blood”, a notion quite compatible with standard European racist doctrine of the day. Ideologically, Zionism is steeped in anti-scientific, racist assumptions.

By 1931, some 20,000 peasant families had been evicted by Zionist agents. The governing British Mandate awarded 90% of all state concessions in Palestine to Jewish capitalists. This included roads, Dead Sea minerals, electricity, ports and other public sector projects. By 1935, Zionists controlled 872 of 1212 industrial firms in Palestine.

Many Intifadas

This major loss of land, enterprises, and jobs, and increasing political repression, fueled a Palestinian uprising that lasted from 1936 through 1939. The British imposed martial law (the infamous British Emergency Regulations, which still constitute the basis of Israeli law). They made widespread arrests and attacks on Palestinians, including the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes. In the city of Jaffa alone, 6,000 people were left homeless as a result of this policy.

Britain also moved to create a Zionist quasi-police force, the infamous “Colony Police”, which grew to 14,000 by 1939.

The British authorities were sufficiently disturbed by the revolt of the Palestinians that they mandated a Royal Commission to study its causes. The Peel Report frankly attributed the uprising to the “…rise of Arab nationalism, increasing Jewish immigration and land purchases”.

While the masses protested and fought, religious leaders (including the Mufti) and feudal landowners and the newly emerging Palestinian bourgeoisie failed to support the revolt. Their hostility to the rebellion assisted the British and Zionist forces in eventually crushing it.

But this is nothing new, in a dual sense. The Palestinian struggle, in one form or another, has been almost continuous since 1918. It is marked by civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts, non-payment of taxes, and mass demonstrations. And like other national liberation struggles in the 20th century, the Palestinian struggle demonstrates that the national bourgeoisie has no independent or progressive role to play in the national emancipation drama; it is tied to world imperialism and/or to its reactionary, neo-colonial regimes locally.

Only the working class, with the support of the poor peasantry, is ready, willing and able to fight all the way for national freedom. Only through socialist revolution can this fight mobilize the majority of the masses and realize their aspirations. This, in essence, is the strategy of Permanent Revolution, formulated by Leon Trotsky in 1905. It is counter-posed to the false concept of the two stage revolution. The ‘stages’ idea involves reliance on the bourgeois nationalists, and in the Palestinian case it takes the form of the tragically mistaken two-state solution.

State Terrorism

The United Nations partitioned Palestine in 1947. Jews were 31% of the population. The western powers, with their temporary ally Joseph Stalin of the USSR, voted at the U.N. to give 54% of the fertile land of Palestine to the Zionists. But before the Israeli state was established, the Irgun and the Haganah (pre-state Zionist armed forces) seized three-quarters of the land and expelled almost all the inhabitants. Three hundred and eighty-five of four hundred and seventy-five Palestinian towns were razed to the ground. Before May 1947, 250,000 Arabs were expelled. By May 15, 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of their land!

How? By openly terrorist methods. Massacres were conducted….at Deir-Yasin, where future Prime Minister Menachem Begin was in charge of the assault…..then at Dueima…..then in the refugee camps in Gaza in the 1950s……then at Kibya in October 1953, where another future P.M., Ariel Sharon was the butcher in charge…..then at Kafr Qasim in October 1956…..

On the basis of terrorism and expulsion, an Apartheid state was consolidated. Its ‘principles’ included: only Jewish labour; no leasing of land to non-Jews; the imposition of religious laws governing marriage and other civil matters; and the “right of return” (aliya) for Jews only. This “right of return” gives a man born to a Jewish mother in Brooklyn, New York or in Toronto, a greater right to live and work in Israel than a person born in Palestine, the descendent of scores of generations who lived there before Israel or even before the first Zionist settlement existed.

Ninety-three per cent of the land in Israel is owned by the Jewish National Fund, which will not sell or lease land to an Arab. The Kibbutzim, reputed to be islands of socialist cooperation that made the desert bloom, are in fact among the most ethnically exclusive organizations in Israel. They are a bulwark of militarism, both in terms of policing the perimeter of the state, and acting as a recruitment base for the elite of the armed forces.

Collaboration with Fascism

Many Zionists would be shocked to learn how much Zionism and fascism have had in common. It’s not a matter of superficial similarities, like the fact that the Revisionist Zionist youth, Betar, wore black shirts, or brown shirts (Menachem Begin’s preference), and used the fascist salute. More fundamentally, what the fascists wanted was the Jews out of Europe — and so did the Zionists.

These organizations had more than just a mutual understanding; they had fraternal relations. The Zionist Federation of Germany sent a message of support to the Nazi Party in June 1933. The World Zionist Organization (WZO) defeated a resolution calling for action against Hitler in 1933; the vote was 240 to 43. The WZO’s Anglo-Palestine Bank broke an international boycott of the Nazi regime, facilitating the purchase of Nazi goods and their import into Palestine. Joseph Goebbels praised Zionism in a major report he issued in 1934. Adolph Eichmann was invited to Palestine as a guest of the Haganah.

The Zionist movement was willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for the colonization of Palestine. As late as 1943, while the Jews of Europe were being exterminated in their millions, Rabbi Stephen Wise, leader of the American Jewish Congress opposed any change in United States immigration laws to enable Jews to find refuge from Nazism.

Dr. Rudolph Kastner of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee in Budapest signed a secret pact with Adolph Eichmann to “settle the Jewish question” in Hungary. The pact consisted of sending 600 prominent Hungarian Jews to Palestine, in exchange for the Jewish Agency’s silence during the extermination of 800,000 Hungarian Jews.

On January 11, 1941 Yitzhak Shamir, who became Israeli Prime Minister in the 1980s, proposed a formal military pact between the Irgun and the Nazi Third Reich.

Zionism’s betrayal of the victims of the Holocaust was the culmination of its attempt to identify the interests of the Jews with those of the established order.

Today, the Zionists join their state to the enforcement arm of U.S. imperialism – from death squads in Africa and Latin America, to the covert operations of the CIA on all continents. Instead of seeking social change, and fighting the ruling classes which cultivate anti-semitism and the persecution of the Jews, the Zionists curried favour from them.

The great Marxist of Russian-Jewish origin, Leon Trotsky explained that the emancipation of the Jews is completely bound up with the fate of the world socialist revolution. Trotsky also warned that the Zionist state would be a death trap for the Jews. When the oil reserves of the Middle East are exhausted in twenty or thirty years, will Washington’s multi-billion dollar annual subsidy for Israel likewise dry up? What will be Israel’s relationship to the region and its neighbours then?

The legacy of Israel does not augur well for its future relations with the Arab people. The history of the Zionist state is one of successive waves of expansionism. Israel’s borders were extended by force in 1956, 1967 and 1974. This was followed by the invasion and occupation of Lebanon in 1982, during which the Israeli military under the command of Ariel Sharon supervised the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps by its Phalange client forces. Israel maintained control of southern Lebanon, a wide military buffer zone, up til May 2000 when years of guerrilla warfare forced it to exit, abandoning its right wing allies. It invaded again in the summer of 2006, the fifth Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Arab regimes have been complicit with the Zionist state in its persecution and dispossession of the Palestinians. The most egregious example of such complicity was the slaughter of the insurgent Jordanian working class, including Palestinian rebels, in 1970 by the armed forces of the Hashemite monarchy. A number of Jordanian cities and towns rose up against King Hussein. In Irbid was established the rule of workers’ councils. But they were all drowned in blood during what became known as Black September — while Israeli troops massed at the border, ready to complete the job.

The legacy of Zionism also includes its widespread and ongoing practice of repression: the prevalence of torture in Israeli prisons (sanctioned by its courts); the famous case of Mordechi Vanunu, former nuclear industry worker jailed for decades for exposing the fact that Israel possesses nuclear bombs; the fierce killings and reprisals during the first Intifada; the horrendous invasion of Gaza in December 2008 in which the IDF killed 1,400 Palestinians; and the daily brutality of military patrols, bulldozing of the homes of Palestinians (who cannot get building permits), the willful destruction of olive groves, the construction of the Wall…..and the shootings, maiming, strafing and bombing against Palestinian residential areas and civilians – including today’s bombing of Gaza.

Palestinian Israeli citizens face discrimination in education and jobs. There are whole sectors of the economy in which Arab labor is banned for “security” reasons. Poverty inside Israel for Arabs is 52 percent, while it is 16 percent for Jewish Israelis.

Oslo and El Fateh

The Oslo Accord and the emergence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not in any way constitute a break with Zionist policy, much less alter the character of the state, or its integral relationship with U.S. imperialism.

Oslo was part of a strategy of containment, and attempted co-optation of the Palestinian revolution. Mahmoud Abbas’ regime is a key part of that equation. It’s job is to police the Palestinians masses, in exchange for petty subsidies and privileges it passes on to its loyal operatives. The PA is completely powerless and subordinate to Israel and to U.S. imperialism. That is precisely why it must be so thoroughly corrupt, anti-democratic, and repressive.

El Fateh, the conservative-nationalist party headed by Abbas, and previously led by Yassir Arafat, is increasingly isolated and disliked by poor and working class Palestinians. Even if Fateh could gain control of a part of Jerusalem, one of the Oslo stumbling blocks, and to which Ariel Sharon’s September 28, 2000 visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) issued a loud ‘never’, the Palestine Question would remain largely unresolved.

Islamic fundamentalist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah have gained popularity simply by filling a social and political vacuum created by Fateh’s capitulation to Washington and Tel Aviv, and fostered by the disappearance of left nationalist groups once subsidized by the former USSR, Syria and Iraq. In a desperate bid to avoid losing all youths to the Islamic organizations, Fateh leaders permitted, for a time, the mobilization of the Tanzim, young street fighters from Fateh ranks. The absence of a militant, class struggle, secular alternative in the occupied territories unfortunately reduces the political choices to these.

This brings us to the question: Why focus on Israel in a world rife with injustice?

How many of you watched the last televised debate between Barak Obama and Mit Romney? Can you guess how many times they mentioned Israel? More specifically, how many times did they each use the expression “America’s closest ally, Israel”?

Why didn’t the main contenders for the imperial presidency refer to the U.S.-backed ‘security state’ in Colombia in that way? Or Nigeria? Or Saudi Arabia? Why Israel?

It is because the Zionist state is a uniquely valuable tool of imperial rule in a volatile, resource-rich region. Israel is Wall Street’s most reliable tool because it was created, built-up, and maintained as a loyal fortress of the west in a sea of oppressed Arabs. Richard Nixon called it “America’s biggest air craft carrier in the Mediterranean.” Israel is not like its neighbours. It is a first world economy in a third world region. It is socially, culturally, economically and politically a rampart of Europe and North America in the Middle East. What are the facts to support this claim?

Since the 1970s, Israel has been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid. In 2007, the United States increased its military aid to Israel by over 25% to an average of $3 billion per year for the following ten year period. Israel was the largest annual recipient of American aid from 1976 to 2004 and is the largest cumulative recipient of aid since World War II. The United States ended economic aid to Israel due to Israel’s highly developed and growing economy. Israel is considered one of the most advanced countries in Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. In 2010, it joined the OECD. The country is ranked 3rd in the region on the World Bank‘s Ease of Doing Business Index as well as in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. It has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world (after the United States) and the largest number of NASDAQ -listed companies outside North America.

In 2010, Israel ranked 17th among of the world’s most economically developed nations, according to the International Institute of Management Development.

The Bank of Israel was ranked first among central banks for its efficient functioning, up from the 8th place in 2009. The Bank of Israel holds $78 billion of foreign-exchange reserves.

Despite limited natural resources, intensive development of the agricultural and industrial sectors over the past decades has made Israel largely self-sufficient in food production, apart from grains and beef. Other major imports to Israel, totaling $47.8 billion in 2006, include fossil fuels, raw materials, and military equipment. Leading exports include electronics, software, computerized systems, communications technology, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals , fruits, chemicals, military technology, and cut diamonds ; in 2006, Israeli exports reached $42.86 billion, and by 2010 they had reached $80.5 billion a year.

Israel is a leading country in the development of cutting-edge technologies in software, communications and the life sciences. It evokes comparisons with Silicon Valley. According to the OECD, Israel is also ranked 1st in the world in expenditure on Research and Development (R&D) as a percentage of GDP. Intel and Microsoft built their first overseas research and development centers in Israel, and other high-tech multi-national corporations, such asIBMCisco Systems, and Motorola, have opened facilities in the country. In July 2007, U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett‘sBerkshire Hathaway bought an Israeli company Iscar, its first non-U.S. acquisition, for $4 billion. Since the 1970s, Israel has received military aid from the United States, as well as economic assistance in the form of loan guarantees, which now account for roughly half of Israel’s external debt. Israel has one of the lowest external debts in the developed world, and is a net lender in terms of net external debt (the total value of assets vs. liabilities in debt instruments owed abroad), which as of 2011 stood at a surplus of US$58.7 billion.

In terms of gross domestic product, Israel’s GDP per capita of $31,000 is five times the rate for Egypt (which has a population of 84 million, compared to Israel’s 7.6 million). Look at a country with a population size closer to Israel’s, its neighbour Jordan, with 6.4 million people. Jordan has a GDP per capita one-sixth that of the Zionist state.

Back to military relationships: the United States maintains six war reserve stocks inside Israel, and maintains some $300 million in military equipment at these sites. The equipment is owned by the United States and is for use by American forces in the Middle East, but can also be transferred to Israeli use in a time of crisis. The United States also keeps fighter and bomber aircraft at these sites, and one of the bases is said to contain a 500-bed hospital for U.S. Marines and Special Forces.

The Dimona Radar Facility is an American radar facility in the Negev desert of Israel, located near Dimona. The facility has two 400-foot radar towers designed to track ballistic missiles through space and provide ground-based missiles with the targeting data needed to intercept them. It can detect missiles up to 1,500 miles away. The facility is owned and operated by the U.S. military, and provides only second-hand intelligence to Israel. The towers of the facility are the tallest radar towers in the world.

The main point here is not that Israel has a highly developed economy. Billions of dollars of investment, over the course of generations, can make any desert bloom. But why in Israel, which has almost no natural resources, did this happen? The answer is its strategic location and its total integration into the system of imperial rule. The Zionist state is the linch-pin of imperial rule in its region. Starve it of funds, shut it down, and the system of western domination is a big step closer to collapse.

That, in essence, is why the Left and progressive forces around the world put opposition to Zionism at the forefront. It is not due to an obsession with Israel per se. It is a legitimate preoccupation with imperialism. It is a recognition, not only that despite its ‘democratic’ pretensions Israel is an apartheid state, not only that it is a death-trap for the Jews there and a fomenter of Jew-hatred globally, but that Israel is a key prop for all the reactionary regimes in the Middle East. It fuels Islamic fundamentalists who argue that Jews are the problem, not the Arab and Muslim neo-colonial bourgeoisie and feudal remnants.

Israel is the first line of military defense of imperialism in the Mid-East. It is a big nuclear weapons power. The Israeli and US rulers constitute the gravest threat to humanity’s future. Severing the umbilical cord that joins them, and dismantling the Zionist state, are absolutely critical to human survival, let alone the fight for social justice.

Reactionaries argue that human nature is the main obstacle to equality and social justice. Scientific socialists, materialists, and humanists argue that capitalism/imperialism is the overall obstacle to social progress, and because Israel is a bulwark of imperial rule, the Zionist state constitutes a major block in the path of social justice.

A Democratic and Socialist Perspective

Clearly, Palestinian resistence will continue. The Arab Spring, which toppled reactionary regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, continues too, with freedom for Palestine high on its banners. This poses questions of programme and a number of solidarity tasks for workers and socialists worldwide. So, what is to be done?

1. Educate and mobilize public opinion to oppose Israel’s military aggression against the Palestinians. Confront and expose the myths about Zionism. Do not submit to intimidation by pro-Zionist organizations and media. Conduct seminars and teach-ins, and seek opportunities to speak to labour, NDP and community organizations.

2. Challenge the partnership of the Canadian government and big business with the Israeli state and economy. Ottawa’s policy is now the most blatantly pro-Zionist in the world. Challenge Canada’s complicity with United States’ domination of the Middle East. Demand implementation of an immediate international embargo on investment, trade and arms shipments to Israel – to be lifted only when the Zionist state ends its occupation of the Palestinian territories, dismantles the Apartheid wall and the Zionist settlements, halts its military aggression, recognizes the right of return of all Palestinian refugees, pays reparations to refugees and victims of Israeli state violence, ends discrimination against non-Jews inside Israel, and recognizes the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and an independent state.

United Nations’ resolutions which condemn Israeli aggression and declare Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem to be illegal, but which impose no sanctions on the aggressor, are clearly inadequate. But simply to vote against the resolutions, as the Harper Conservative government did, is worse than inadequate: it shows imperialist contempt for the oppressed. It is on a par with the supreme hypocrisy and posturing perpetrated by the preceding Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal regimes.

We could debate which is worse: is it the subsequent back-tracking by Chretien, his obsequious apologies to the rabidly Zionist Canadian Jewish Congress (now called the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)? Or is it the criminal silence of the labour-based New Democratic Party on the second Intifada, on the Israeli occupation, or on repeated efforts to break the siege of Gaza. Don’t forget NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s criticism of MP Libby Davies for telling the truth: that the dispossession of Palestinians began in 1947, not 1967. Either way, there’s much work to be done. Grassroots educational work and political protest actions can further shift the relationship of forces on this issue, and raise the political price to be paid for silence and complicity with oppression.

3. Organize a broadly based, mass action-oriented, democratic alliance of all groups and individuals willing to fight for peace with social justice in Palestine. The purpose must include solidarity with the mass protest movement of the victims of Zionist aggression. It is wrong to subordinate the freedom struggle of the Palestinians to the so-called ‘unity’ of the chauvinist Israeli working class, which holds general strikes against social cutbacks and the lack of housing, but which includes right wing settler groups and refuses to discuss the plight of Palestinians. It is wrong to oppose the global BDS campaign on the claim that it is ‘divisive’, as do leftist groups like Fightback. Unity in action for social justice should be based on a concrete programme of democratic demands, including the ones stated above. On this basis, a broad movement for justice and solidarity can be built, reaching out beyond the Canadian Arab and Jewish communities, and mobilizing allies in the unions and the organizations of feminists, seniors, environmentalists, students, immigrants, civil libertarians, visible minorities and international solidarity activists.

For a broad action-oriented movement to be effective it must focus on the mobilization of working people and our allies, and not rely on government or the business elite. Needed is a movement which is pluralistic, internally democratic and open.

For a Democratic, Secular Palestine

Socialists have a further responsibility to present a cogent and coherent analysis of the current situation in its global context, and to advance a programme in the strategic interests of all working people.

In this sense, the starting point for a programme for peace with social justice in the Middle East is the end of the apartheid Zionist state, and the revolutionary transformation of all the Arab regimes.

For the Palestinians, the proposed “two state solution” is nothing more than a call for an old-style South Africa Bantustan arrangement – for large, impoverished, concentration camps of Palestinians surrounded by Zionist armed forces. And as the Palestine Authority already sadly demonstrates, the weaker a Bantustan is in relation to its master state, the more internally repressive, anti-democratic and corrupt it is bound to be.

On principle, socialists uphold the right of oppressed nations to obtain any degree of autonomy or sovereignty possible, as part of the ongoing struggle for self-determination. We support the right of Palestinians to establish a state on any part of their territory, whatever its limitations, and to continue the fight for full national emancipation. This is a basic, democratic stance, without which social progress is impossible.

But to transcend imperialist domination and its partner apartheid regime in the region, to overcome those forces which fundamentally block emancipation across the entire Arab East, a more radical programme is needed – one which seeks to unite the working classes of Israel and Palestine in a common struggle to end oppression and exploitation.

Such a programme must focus on the need to break the masses on both sides from allegiance to their capitalists, to free them from political subordination to religious authorities and discriminatory institutions, and to project a new democratic state which excludes none of the peoples who call Palestine home.

This idea is best expressed by the slogan For a Democratic and Secular Palestine. Unlike the proposed prison-like, two state solution, or a bi-national state (which defies definition), a Democratic and Secular Palestine embraces the hope (and necessity) that Jews and Arabs can live together in equality and peace. It opens the road to genuine majority rule, irrespective of religion or culture — it opens the road to workers’ power and socialism.

Unity in action of Palestinian and Israeli workers – against national oppression – is a prerequisite to a Democratic, Secular Palestine, which is likewise a precondition to ending the bloodshed, repression and injustice that torment the peoples of the region. Unity in solidarity action with the Palestinian people, across the Canadian state and around the world, is a critical step towards that goal.

Unlike the reactionary utopia of Zionism, it is a perspective worth fighting for.