Nassar Ibrahim – Class-based resistance must provide ideological grounds to the Palestinian struggle *
In this issue of Palestine Update we reproduce an article “Does the left remember the class struggle?” Nasar Ibrahim raises a crucial question – one which liberation struggles often delete from their focus of their end goals. Nasar underlines why national liberation struggle and social equity must be consciously pursued as concurrent themes of action. Sloganeering and dogma serve the purpose of rallying masses of people around the core question of justice. But by themselves, they can be lost in the echoes of the emptiness of other parallel political process that promote the notion that freedom is a space where economics is the first step towards liberation. Nasar asks what happened to notions that develop from ‘political economy’. He inquires as to where analysis of socio-economic structures has gone.
This is not the crisis in Palestine alone. Liberation struggles the world over have ignored class boundaries and placed them in an artificial political compartment that must be left to deal with at the time when the revolution is done and the people are free. South Africa best illustrates the failure to incorporate social analysis and integrate class questions into the struggle for freedom from apartheid. Post-apartheid South Africa is riddled with class differentiates. A new ruling class has taken control over the levers of the power in the country that has rendered the struggle against white supremacy practically redundant. Class delineation is as evil and repugnant as ethnic, religious, and caste or religious discrimination. India remains a classic example of how a mass-based independence struggle has left dalits, backward castes, tribals and adivasis as dispossessed and continually pushed further in to the margins.
Nasar argues in his paper that the Palestinian Left must shun “emotional demagoguery” and forcibly transform the status quo”. Left forces are probably best described as located in the political margins, unable to mobilize the oppressed masses simply because they are insufficiently aligned to those who would be willing partakers in a political struggle for true social transformation. Nasar rightly argues for “desired alliances on the regional, Arab and international levels.” He says: “What generally distinguishes the Left is its social vision, derived ideally from a deep awareness of reality and not simply a mimicking of slogans or prayers.” Even while the struggle for an end to the occupation is in process, the political class in Palestine pursues neo-liberal policies under the diktat of the World Bank. The instructions are willingly complied with by a ruling class which is keener to acquire power through economic control. Becoming rich is coincidental to gaining power for the affluence is the logical outflow of power.
Nasar concludes with a challenging thought: “Palestinian Left will unite efforts to revive itself, based on political, social, economic and cultural efforts to analyze social phenomena and reality on all levels, and to urgently provide a deep political, social and economic reading about changes in Palestinian society and, based on this reading, to rebuild the political and social role of the Left.” This is not a mere utopia. The Left can because it must!
Does the left remember the class struggle?
By Nassar Ibrahim, AIC & OPGAI
During a recent political seminar, a leader of the Palestinian Left, whom I respect, spoke about the political, social and economic challenges facing the Palestinian people. In concluding his presentation, he stressed the need to protect the Palestinian national rights, strengthen popular resistance, address poverty and unemployment, support marginalized groups and promote economic and social development – including, of course, freedom of women and support for the private sector.
All this is well and good, but after some thought the following question was raised: Aren’t these exactly the same phrases and concepts that plague the plans and reports of the World Bank and United Nations Human Development reports? If so, where is the Left? I mean here to ask where and how the Left is differentiated from the World Bank and United Nations programmes. Where is the Left and its unique programmes concerning these issues? Where is the class dimension in the vision, policies and practices of the Palestinian Left? This question is crucial because we don’t want the Palestinian Left to appear as pale echoes of the World Bank and United Nations approaches.
What distinguishes the programme, approach, analysis or practices of the Left in Palestine is its ability and depth to link the functions of the national liberation struggle with social demands. Specifically, this involves identifying appropriate options and programmes, as well as political and social attitudes. This, however, flags up the fundamental cause of the crisis of the Palestinian Left: The Left is not supposed to be a collection of slogans or dogmas, but a dynamic and vital force for promoting deep social and class transformations within the community.
Here I emphatically don’t mean a description of fact, as there exist thousands of reports and economic and social statistics that provide a reasonable picture of the Palestinian reality. What I mean is the Left is supposed to analyses the economic and social indicators which bring us back to the origins of political economy (yes, political economy – do you remember?), moving us away from emotional demagoguery and attempts to forcibly transform the status quo.
The Left is meant to identify structures, social transformations and the movement of class interests of various social groups in the context of time and specific social realities, thus determining the foundations for repositioning these groups and their political positions. This should be conducted in the context of identifying the foundations and interests aligned with the dis-empowered poorer and middle classes, as well as their role in the production process. The Left should provide scientific analysis concerning the role of the Palestinian private sector whilst highlighting its internal distinctions in order to determine gaps amongst the various private sector groups. The Left must also point out the national economic processes and groups which are objectively linked to the economy of the occupation, as well as the role of international companies. Here we must move away from abstract ethical and political descriptions; the goal is not to provide “certification” for any one, but to identify the class powers that can be objectively adopted to carry out the necessary national liberation and social construction programmes. These are not merely emotion-ladened words and slogans, but a reflection and translation of the economic and social interests that are necessarily reflected in our national choices.
It is nice to look to the impressive history of the Palestinian Left, although without initiative and work this will not help anyone. What we need is a reading of the social reality of classes as in the end, the choice of any Palestinian political organization reflects the interests of a class.
It is moreover required to see the reality and role of the Palestinian Authority, with its internal changes and intricacies on the domestic, regional and global levels, as well as the interventions and influences of the Israel economy. The Palestinian private sector and its relationship and impacts on the role and programmes of the PA must also be analyzed, in addition to the effects of the concentration of political, financial and media power, all of which inevitably lead to specific political choices.
The options and choices of the Palestinian political forces, from the extreme left to the extreme right and everything in between, are thus not a voluntary and spontaneous matter, but a complex of socioeconomic and cultural choices which lead to political choices. An in-depth and sustained reading and analysis of social mobility, class and social groups is required, so that options and programmes of the Left can be responsive and not removed from our changing reality. This is the challenge facing the Palestinian Left, both nationally and socially, and includes the question of desired alliances on the regional, Arab and international levels.
What generally distinguishes the Left is its social vision, derived ideally from a deep awareness of reality and not simply a mimicking of slogans or prayers. It is not sufficient to claim to be on the Left simply by saying so; describing social class is not simply a technical translation of reality, but is related to the reality of income, production processes, the share in the national GDP and the distribution of wealth to meet the needs of the people, as well as the extent and quality of popular participation in the decision making processes.
All of these facts determine the political and economic choices that meet the needs and roles of each class and each social category based on its size and role. Imbalances in this process are the catalyst of change, so if the Palestinian Left does not see this reality it will be unable to play its role regardless of how it presents itself as a representative of workers, peasants and women’s emancipation. If these groups do not feel they have a clear interest in change, they will not lift a finger to support slogans lacking practical implications.
What I hope and wish for is that the Palestinian Left will unite efforts to revive itself, based on political, social, economic and cultural efforts to analyze social phenomena and reality on all levels, and to urgently provide a deep political, social and economic reading about changes in Palestinian society and, based on this reading, to rebuild the political and social role of the Left. Is this possible? Of course!
* Nassar Ibrahim is Policy Director of the Alternative Information centre and general Coordinator of OPGAI