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(en) Anarkismo.net, Lessons for the anarchist movement of the Israeli-Lebanese War by Wayne Price

Date Tue, 19 Sep 2006 10:16:23 +0300

Lessons of the Israeli-Lebanese War - The Anarchist Debate About National Liberation
The war between Israel and Hezballah is temporarily over. The left has
taken a range of positions on the Israeli-Lebanese war. Anarchists
have opposed the U.S.-Israeli aggression, pointing out the reactionary
nature of both sides in the war. However, many have tended to equate
the two sides, to treat them as equally bad, and to call for opposing the
war on both sides. While there is a good deal of confusion on this
issue among anarchists, it is my impression that most have failed to
support the oppressed against the oppressor in this war.
> The war between Israel (with full backing by the U.S.) and Hezballah
(and the rest of Lebanon) is over--temporarily. “Temporarily”
because no major issue has been settled, particularly Israel’s
colonialist role in the Middle East. Meanwhile the war between the
U.S. and Iraq has intensified, while the Iraqi sectarian civil war also
increases. The U.S.-Afghanistan war continues. And there is good
evidence that the Bush administration intends to attack Iran. Peace is
not at hand.

The Left, such as it is, has taken a range of positions on the
Israeli-Lebanese war, as part of its positions on the Middle Eastern
wars in general. First, the liberals have continued to support the U.S.
state as well as the Israeli state, but have wanted them to clean up
their acts, to show smarter and more sophisticated behaviors. For
years, the liberal wing of the U.S. antiwar movement has fought to
keep the issue of Israel vs. the Palestinians out of antiwar protests.
Now that they had to directly address U.S.-Israeli aggression, they
claimed that, while Israel had the “right” to “defend
itself,” it was being “excessive” and
“disproportionate.” Instead, these pro-Israeli doves advocated
a “cease-fire,” equating the two sides, the aggressor and the
victim. They should both stop fighting. Mostly liberals supported the
demand for Hezballah to disarm (but not a call for Israel to disarm!).
They cheer on the current (temporary) resolution of the war by which
various imperialist powers and other states intervene as sheriffs to
“keep the peace,” more or less.

Secondly, the radical Left mostly became a cheering squad for
Hezballah, as well as Hamas, as it had for the fundamentalist-led
resistance in Iraq. (No one is cheering on the Taliban in Afghanistan;
this would be too much even for most radical Leftists, I guess.) I am
speaking of the Workers World Party and its fronts and splits, as well
as the International Socialist Organization in the U.S. and its
co-thinkers, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain--among others.
They have focused on the undeniable evils of the Israeli attack and on
the popular support for Hezballah which has swept Lebanon and the
rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

This has a somewhat odd effect. During the U.S.-Vietnam war, it was
possible to portray the “Communist” side (Stalinist-totalitarian
nationalists) as “socialists.” But there is no way to put a
progressive spin on Hezballah and like-minded forces. They are for
theocratic dictatorships, with no rights for dissident religions, minority
nationalities, workers, or women. In the absence of an alternative,
they have become the leaders of movements for national defense
against foreign occupations. This can and should be said. But for
secular Leftists to uncritically hail them as though they were
proletarian socialists is bizarre. For anarchists, the point is not just that
we do not like such ideas, but that these programs will not liberate
Lebanon and other countries from imperialism. Only the anarchist
program can do that.

Thirdly, the anarchists have clearly opposed the U.S.-Israeli
aggression. They have pointed out the reactionary nature of both sides
in the war. However, many have tended to equate the two sides, to
treat them as equally bad, and to call for opposing the war on both
sides. While there is a good deal of confusion on this issue among
anarchists, it is my impression that most have failed to support the
oppressed against the oppressor in this war (and in the other Middle
Eastern wars).

Instead, I propose a different anarchist approach: Revolutionary
anarchists should, at the same time, (1) be in solidarity with the people
of the oppressed nation against the oppressor (in this case Lebanon
against the U.S.-Israel), while (2) politically opposing all
bourgeois-statist (nationalist, Islamist, etc.) programs and leaderships
(here Hezballah, other nationalists, etc.) in favor of revolutionary,
internationalist socialist-anarchism. By “solidarity” I mean
being “on the side of” the people of the oppressed nation,
supporting them against attacks from their oppressors. (Which does
not prevent us from sympathy for Israeli--and U.S.--soldiers, but this
is a sympathy due to their humanity and their working class
background, not a solidarity with their being soldiers.)

It does NOT mean slogans such as “Victory to Hezballah!” or
“We are all Hezballah!”, slogans which imply political
agreement with Hezballah. Recently a group of Gay anarchists in New
York City called off a demonstration at the Iranian embassy against
the persecution of Iranian Gays. They did not want to play into the
hands of U.S. government preparations for war against Iran. I would
have preferred that they demonstrated, with signs saying, “U.S.
State, Hands Off Iran! Iranian State, Hands Off Gays!”
Class and Non-Class Oppressions

This issue is an aspect of a broader question: the relationship between
class issues and specific nonclass issues when seeking liberation. The
problem of oppression may be divided between class exploitation and
other, nonclass, forms of oppression. Class exploitation refers to the
way the capitalists pump surplus value out of the workers (and also to
the exploitation of peasants by landlords and capitalists). Nonclass
oppressions include the oppression of women (gender), of People of
Color (race), of Gays and Lesbians (homophobia), of minority
religions, of youth, etc., as well as national oppression. Working class
oppression is specific to capitalism and its resolution requires socialist
revolution. The other oppressions (even that of the peasants--who are
still a large proportion of humanity) are often remnants from
pre-capitalism. They are forms of oppression which capitalism, in its
revolutionary youth, “promised” to abolish. This was the
bourgeois-democratic program as raised in the great capitalist
revolutions of England, the U.S., France, and Latin America.

Of course, the capitalists never lived up to their democratic program.
They have rather integrated specific oppressions into their system as
bulwarks of capitalist exploitation. Some of these oppressions may
have been started by early capitalism or by pre-capitalist class
exploitation (that is, by economic forces)--but they have taken on lives
of their own and exist on their own inertia. All forms of oppression,
including class, are intertwined, lean on each other, and prop up each

Historically, the class struggle tendency within anarchism
(anarchist-syndicalism and most anarchist-communism) has focused
on the workers’ class struggle against the capitalists. They have
often treated nonclass oppressions as unimportant, as illusions created
by the capitalists to trick the workers, to split and weaken the working
class. Once this is pointed out to the workers, supposedly, they would
see through this trick and unite against the bosses. This simplistic
view is also raised in a crude version of Marxism.

In the radicalization of the 60s and 70s, there were upheavals by
African-Americans, women, Gays and Lesbians, and other oppressed
people, including worldwide struggles by oppressed nations against
imperialism. In our current period of radicalization, the vital
importance of the working class has been recognized by many
radicals. Only the workers, as workers, could stop all society in its
tracks and start it up on a new, nonexploitative, basis. The working
class overlaps with and includes all other oppressed groupings:
women, most People of Color, and so on. To the extent that it is true
that the working class is conservative, or at least nonrevolutionary,
this is the same as saying that most of the population is
nonrevolutionary. There is no other, nonclass, majority capable of
overthrowing capitalism.

However, the true lessons of the sixties remain. It is impossible to
ignore the importance of the special, nonclass, oppressions. For
example, racism was created by early capitalism as a justification for
African enslavement (that is, of exploitation of a form of labor). And it
continues to have class advantages for the capitalists. But it has also
taken on a life of its own. Racism is real. The prejudices, and even
hatred, which many white workers hold for People of Color does not
depend on rational causes and will not immediately vanish with good
arguments about the value of class unity. We cannot call on
African-Americans to stop fighting for their specific democratic rights
until the white population gives up its racism.

An understanding of the reality of special oppressions does not deny
the valid insights of historical materialism. It does not deny the
importance of class analysis. To repeat, many oppressions were
created by current or past material (class) factors. All of them interact
with capitalism (that is, the capital-labor relationship). All are affected
by capitalism, as they affect it in turn (dialectically, shall we say). For
example, the oppression of women predates capitalism, and may even
predate class society of any type (we really do not know). But it has
been greatly modified by capitalism to fit the bourgeois family and the
capitalist economy.
National Oppression and Liberation

Most anarchists today (with certain sectarian exceptions) accept the
reality and importance of specific, nonclass, oppressions. Mostly
anarchists are committed to the struggle for specific democratic rights
by women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Gays and
Lesbians, prisoners, and other oppressed groups.

But strangely enough, many anarchists who champion nonclass
liberation struggles often refuse to support national liberation (here
meaning the same as national self-determination: the right of a people
to determine its own fate). National liberation is also not a direct class
struggle, even though its connections to capitalism are pretty clear.
That is, the big capitalists of the industrialized nations seek to expand
their wealth by dominating the weaker, “underdeveloped,”
nations. The international capitalists seek to super-exploit the workers
of these nations (workers who accept lower wages), to sell goods to
their states and populations, and to loot their natural resources--oil
being the most important resource but not the only one. This is
imperialism. Since the imperialist states no longer directly
“own” colonies, this is its neocolonialist phase. The oppressed
people of these nations are mostly workers, peasants, and small
shopkeepers. But they also include “middle class” and upper
class layers. These either aspire to be the local agents of imperialism
or to replace the imperialists as the new rulers (or both).

In reaction to foreign oppression, the people of these nations develop a
desire for national freedom. First they want their “own” state,
and then other measures of independence from the imperialists, such
as not being invaded, as well as not being economically dominated. In
the absence of an alternative they turn to nationalism. Nationalism is
not just a love of one’s country and a desire for its freedom. As a
developed program, it means the unity of all sectors of a country, the
rich and poor, capitalists and workers, landlords and peasants,
patriarchal men and women, the dominant nation and minorities, all
“united” against other nations, including THEIR workers,
peasants, women, and national/racial minorities. The aim is an
independent national state, with its own army, secret police, flag, and
postage stamps, and its own national rulers. Meanwhile the capitalists
of the imperialist countries encourage nationalism (or patriotism)
among their workers, to maintain their rule and use the workers as
soldiers against the oppressed nations.

As a program in oppressed nations, nationalism may win some
benefits for the people, and even more benefits for its aspiring new
rulers. But it cannot free any nation from the world market or the
power politics of great states. It cannot achieve real independence. As
can be seen from the fate of China and Vietnam, as well as India and
the African states, nationalism has resulted in new oppressions. Franz
Fanon wrote penetratingly about this. The worst example of the way
the nationalism of an oppressed people has resulted in new
oppression, is Zionist Israel. Only an international revolution by the
working class and all the oppressed can free the oppressed nations. (I
am asserting this here, not arguing for it.)

But nationalism is not the same as national liberation. Similarly,
bourgeois varieties of feminism are not the same as women’s
liberation. Black liberation is not the same as liberal integrationism or
Farakhan’s nationalism. It is possible to be for national liberation
without being for the program of nationalism. An example of a
national liberation struggle being waged with a non-nationalist
program was that of Nestor Makhno’s anarchist-led effort in the
Ukraine from 1917 to 1921. This was fueled by the Ukrainians’
hatred of foreign occupation by German-Austrian imperialism,
Russian Bolshevism, and Polish aggression. Makhno’s anarchist
biographer calls it “a savage war of national liberation.”
(Skirda, 2004, p. 44). But Makhno never ceased to raise class issues
(domination by the capitalists and landlords) and to advocate
socialist-anarchist internationalism.

The Makhnovist movement declared (in October 1919), “Each
national group has a natural and indisputible entitlement to...maintain
and develop its national culture in every sphere. It is clear that
this...has nothing to do with narrow nationalism of the
‘separtist’ variety....We proclaim the right of the Ukrainian
people (and every other nation) to self-determination, not in the
narrow nationalist sense of a Petliura, but in the sense of the
toilers’ right to self-determiantion.” (in Skirda, 2004, pp.
Arguments Against National Liberation

Most anarchist arguments against supporting national liberation are
based in anarchism’s well-founded opposition to nationalism.
Anarchists do not believe that founding new states will free oppressed
people. Class struggle anarchists emphasize the centrality of the class
struggle, and also point out the other (nonclass) conflicts within each
nation. Anarchists oppose the politics and organization of
bourgeois-statist erstwhile rulers, whether they call themselves
Ayatollahs or socialists or Little Brothers of the Poor. All this is
absolutely correct.

But it does not mean that anarchists must oppose national liberation
or be neutral when an imperialist or colonialist state attacks an
oppressed (“Third World”) nation. Anarchists must be on the
side of the oppressed. Once again: there is no contradiction between
solidarity with the oppressed people under attack and being in political
opposition to the misleaders of that people. Similarly, we can support a
workers’ strike and stand in solidarity with the workers and their
union, while being the bitterest foes of the union bureaucracy. If
anarchists can do this, then they can do the same with national wars
by oppressed nations.

Some anarchists have made the argument that they should not support
oppressed nations because...there are no such thing as nations.
Nations do not exist! As if France and Argentina are not real. It is true
that nations are social constructions--that is, they are created by
people as opposed to being biological categories. It is true that the
boundaries of nations are often unclear: is Quebec a nation? If so, then
is Canada a nation? Is India a nation or a conglomeration of many
nations? These points are valid but apply also to other categories.
Classes are social constructions. The boundaries between classes are
unclear. Are the unemployed part of the working class or are they
“lumpen proletarians”? Is the “middle class” a class?
The same is true of other categories. Even gender, biologically based
as it is, is socially constructed in how society interprets that biological
given. This does not mean that class or gender is an illusion any more
than nations are illusions.

People believe they are in nations and act on that belief. An institution
is nothing else than a pattern of mass behavior. Michael Bakunin
wrote, “Nationality, like individuality, is a natural fact. It denotes
the inalienable right of individuals, groups, associations, and regions
to their own way of life. And this way of life is the product of a long
historical development [a confluence of human beings with a common
history, language, and a common cultural background]. And this is
why I will always champion the cause of oppressed nationalities
struggling to liberate themselves from the domination of the
state.” (Dolgoff, 1980, p. 401) By “nationality...is a natural
fact,” he means, not that nationality is a biological fact, but that it
is created mostly by unplanned, unpurposive, social history.

Another argument is that national self-determination (liberation) is a
democratic right, and anarchists should not be for democratic rights or
for democracy. Democracy and its rights were, after all, raised by the
capitalist class as a weapon against the feudal lords. It has served, and
continues to serve, as a cover for capitalist rule. It has also been raised
by Leninists (Trotskyists and Stalinists alike) as a cover for their
state-capitalist rule. Again, these points are true.

It would be disasterous for anarchists to position themselves as
antidemocratic. Anarchism should be presented as the most radical,
thorough-going, and consistent form of democracy. Democracy did
not begin with capitalism. The very term comes from classical Greece.
It goes back to tribal councils of early humanity. It includes the
struggles for freedom of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions,
including the later struggles of the abolitionists. It includes the hope of
workers’ democracy.

The problem with capitalism (and Leninism) is not democracy but a
lack of democracy and of democratic rights. Capitalism has betrayed
its own democratic promises. Anarchists will make good those
promises: free speech and association; no racial, national, or gender
discrimination; land to the peasants; popular control of all institutions;
and self-determination for all nations--among others.
Internationalism is Our Goal

Internationalists say “Workers have no country!” and
“Workers of the world, unite!” But international working class
unity is not yet a reality. It is a potentiality, something which can
happen. And it is a goal, something we wish to happen. How shall we
get there? Do we ask the oppressed to downplay their interests for the
sake of a false unity? Do we ask People of Color or women or
oppressed nationalities really to subordinate themselves to the
better-off layers of the working class (the “labor aristocracy”)
of the imperialist countries? Or do we seek to build working class
unity by the better-off expressing solidarity with the most-oppressed?
It is not the Lebanese Shiites who should give up their fight but the
Israeli oppressors to whom we place the demand to give up their
national privileges. Let the workers of Israel give up their support for
national superiority and a “Jewish state”--then the workers
and peasants of southern Lebanon can justly give up their need to
defend themselves from the Zionist aggressors.

The differences between the world-spanning power of U.S.
imperialism and its junior partners and the weak, poorer, oppressed
nations of the Middle East and elsewhere has been made clear for all
the world to see. It can be seen in the smashed cities and villages of
Lebanon, as in the war-torn streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
It is absurd to treat a war between the U.S.-Israel and Arab peoples as
the same as a war between France and Germany, two imperialisms. In
the last case, workers should oppose both sides equally. Many
anarchists misuse the slogan, “No war but class war!” This
applies to wars among imperialist states (as in World Wars I and II)
but not to wars between an imperialist state and an oppressed people. I
would say, “No war but the just wars of the workers and

As Peter Kropotkin wrote, “True internationalism will never be
obtained except by the independence of each nationality, little or large,
compact or disunited--just as [the essence of] anarchy is in the
independence of each individual. If we say, no government of man
over man [Note], how can [we] permit the government of conquered
nationalities by the conquering nationalities?” (quoted in Miller,
1976, p. 231)

As we are in solidarity with a strike while opposing the union
bureaucracy, so we should be in solidarity with the people of
oppressed nations while opposing their nationalist leaders. The world
is a complex place, with much interconnection and overlapping of
systems of oppression. We need concrete analyses of each situation
(for example, the situation in Quebec is quite different from that of
Iraq). Slogans are not enought. We need a sophisticated effort to
express our politics.

Dolgoff, Sam (ed. and trans.) (1980). Bakunin on Anarchism.
Montreal: Black Rose Books.
Miller, Martin (1976). Kropotkin. Chicago and London: University of
Chicago Press.
Skirda, Alexandre (2004). Nestor Makhno, Anarchy’s Cossack;
The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine 1917--1921. Oakland,
CA: AK Press.

For further on this topic, see my “The U.S. Deserves to Lose in
Iraq but Should We ‘Support the Iraqi Resistance’? at
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