Meltzer: Inevitable War in the Middle East

Freedom, 16th November 1968

The demands of modern war require that the individual not only commit himself on one side or the other, but insist on the general perfection of his side. The argument that runs ‘if you were a Vietnamese, you would have to choose to be involved’ applies equally in Israel and also in the neighbouring Arab States. It is the more likely to appeal to people with revolutionary social consciousness. The Jewish bourgeoisie could fit in as a trading community in the Levant, to the complete satisfaction of the Arabs generally; no Zionist would object to the oil Sheikhs, desert kings and Arab military leaders, provided they afforded no threat to the growth of the Jewish State. Since however Israel have evolved into a nation with a working class as well as a trading bourgeoisie; and since the Arab leaders have to reckon with a vast mass of pushed-under workers and peasants who have no chance of life at all but revolution at home or war abroad (and in the case of some, war on their own territory), there is no alternative to war in some degree or another. Ultimately – such is power politics – such a war could involve the world.

International considerations may limit the Middle East war or cause it to observe an uneasy armistice from time to time while both sides watch for the inevitable incident which can say that the other side is ‘aggressing’ – as if anyone really cares which side ‘starts it’ – so that hostilities may commence; in fact, all realists know that hostilities will commence the moment it is in the military interest of either the Jewish State or the Arab States. To judge from the standpoint of the schoolyard argument (‘he hit me first’) may suit innumerable paid and unpaid propagandists for either side, but it is only in default of an alternative case. No plea that ‘the other side started it’ is needed in order to oppose tyranny. But all who espouse from a partisan point of view either pan-Arabism or Zionism must feel uneasy at the company tthey keep.

The followers of ‘Communism’ (Moscow. Peking, Havana or Mexico-Mausoleum brands) are almost all committed to the notion of a current Arab revolution, unless they happen to be in an Egyptian desert prison (and including many of the latter, too). Nasser’s officer clique, the oil-rich Sheikhs, the Nazi advisers in Cairo, the ‘Socialist’ officers of Baghdad and the wily entrepreneurs of Beirut who even manage to stay neutral in their own war, are all ‘objectively’ part of the socialist revolution because they are deemed to be anti-imperialist.

Unfortunately, the Israeli Socialists who have picked at the same texts, use the same anti-imperialist arguments and the same quotations from oil statistics, to prove that theirs is an anti-imperialist struggle too; it is unfortunate from this point of view that power politics aligns them now with the French Right Wing, now with the Americans (on whom domestic political pressures can also be applied). Advanced cooperation on the industrial and consumer level, with liberal injections of private enterprise from capitalists and bankers elsewhere, have produced a mixed economy in Israel that is perhaps a foretaste of the ‘alternative to 1984’ – the liberal-socialist-capitalist solution of involvement and integration within the present economic framework. Martin Buber held, of course, that the alternative to ‘Moscow’ (and to 1984) was ‘Jerusalem’. This mixed economy of liberal capitalism is indeed the antithesis to feudal communism on the Egyptian plan (public works plus hereditary class control).

But the difference in economies has nothing to do with the clash which was inherent from the very beginning. One can blame ‘the Jews’ by saying that obviously from the start it was clear that the only way what was then Palestine could become a Jewish State would be by genocide (in those days the Zionists argued they did not want a Jewish State but merely a National Home). On the other hand, the majority of Jews did not go to Palestine voluntarily. They went as a direct result of European anti-semitism and because genocide in Russia and Germany made no other place possible. The world was prepared to accept small numbers of Jews, particularly as traders; nowhere in the world was prepared to accept millions of ‘pauper’ (in other words potential working class) Jews, least of all those countries which claimed to have attained socialism and solved the unemployment problem which was claimed to be the barrier.

It is for this reason that the recurrence of hostilities are inevitable, because it is the Jewish working class which has the stake in Israel, while the capitalist can (and frequently does) go anywhere in the world he chooses. And conversely the displaced Palestinian Arabs in particular, but also anyone in the neighbouring Arab countries with nothing to lose, has everything to gain from war, which – so long as it is successful – will be popular.

Has the revolutionary, therefore, nothing whatever to say in the matter? He has certainly no method of influencing the situation, because no single group emerged in any of the Arab countries without being instantly suppressed, nor in Israel at all, that was prepared even to consider the possibility of revolutionary internationalism. So far as the anarchist movement is concerned, to the best of my knowledge the Husseini brothers were the only propagandists to be directly influenced by anarchism. Within a few weeks of forming a labour movement amongst Egyptian and Sudanese workers and open to Jews, they were murdered (one by the police in open fire; one by nationalists). In Israel, despite occasional allegations that an anarchist movement is about to be created, there has certainly been no vestiges of one. (I cannot regard seriously the not unknown reformist-anarchist who retires to Israel to write an occasional broadsheet in Yiddish on the wonders of Judaism from Moses to Ben-Gurion.)

The most, therefore, that the revolutionary can ever do in the matter is to look somewhat pityingly on the people around him who, on some issues, appear to be moving in his direction, and then, at the sound of battle in Sinai, either rush to Marks & Spencer’s London office to volunteer for Israel; or mutter about the sinister influences at work on the London editors publishing news of Arab defeats.

A revolutionary movement within either Israel or the Arab countries can only come from the bottom upwards; and ultimately it will. It will not do so while the working class have, or feel they have, the major interest in warfare that perpetuates the nation State. One cannot in revolutionary terms think of ‘Jews’ and ‘Arabs’; it is only by the abandonment of nationalism and the State that we can end both exploitation and war. It is equally true, of course, that there is no solution, in those terms, tto the problems of ‘whites’ and ‘coloureds’; or ‘Northern’ or ‘Southern’ Irishmen. Such ‘solutions’ only solve the problems of the present exploitative society. Solutions in terms of a free society mean scrapping such abstracts as nationalism – that is why these solutions have to be revolutionary.

A. MELTZER

The State is Your Enemy: Selections from the Anarchist Journal Freedom 1965-1988
, London 1991.

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