Hal Draper: How to Defend Israel – a Program for Israeli Socialists (1948)

Cross-posted on Greens Engage:

Hal Draper and his political party, the Workers’ Party, rejected the idea of partition and believed the ultimate decision to set up a new nation state of Israel in 1948 was a regrettable one. But, recognising that most socialists had not pursued an argument against nationalism in general and should not do so with Jews in 1948, and cognisant of the nature of the enemies of Israel at that time, he authored How To Defend Israel: a Political Program for Israeli Socialists.

This was a time, note, when religion was eclipsed as an influence in Middle East conflicts by a raft of other warring ideologies, and so does not receive the emphasis he would probably give it if he were writing today. The idea of Britain being part of the Big Three is also quaint. And the notion of ‘imperialism’ is, as ever, left unpacked (in my previous post Moishe Postone examines how anti-capitalism became internationalised as anti-imperialism). It was also a time when Palestinians who had suddenly found themselves as Israel’s Arab citizens were living under military rule; since that time a great deal of progress has been made (notwithstanding the present Israeli government – as Mohammad Darawshe remarks “There have been worse”). However, Hal Draper’s thinking about Israel is worth revisiting because of his distinction between elites (which he terms ‘Zionist leadership’ and ‘Arab lords’ or ‘effendis’) and the interests of two peoples, and his acknowledgement of their right to self determination.

“… socialist thinking on this subject must start by understanding the distinction between (a) the Jews’ right to self-determination, and (b) the correctness or advisability of exercising this right to the point of separation under given conditions. We need only refer to the fact that, before and after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks’ program called for defense of Finland’s right to self-determination: before the revolution, Marxists in Finland advocated separation; after the revolution, the Communists in Finland advocated unity with Russia; but both before and after, there was no question in their minds but that the Finns had the right to separate if they so willed. Never under Lenin did the Soviets attempt to deprive them of that right by force of arms.

But in the present case we do not even have the complication of a workers’ state being involved. Far from it! The attack upon the Jews’ right to self-determination comes from a deeply reactionary social class – the Arab lords – whose reactionary aims in this case are not alleviated by the fact that they themselves suffer from the exploitation of British imperialism (at the same time that they cling to that imperialism in order to defend their privileges against their own people).

In this conflict, as socialists – that is, as the only thoroughgoing and consistent democrats, we not only support the Palestine Jews’ right to self-determination but draw the necessary conclusions from that position: for full recognition of the Jewish state by our own government; for lifting the embargo on arms to Israel; for defense of the Jewish state against the Arab invasion in the present circumstances.

But for us this is not the end of the question but only the beginning.

The question which we have asked, following Lenin’s method, was: What politics does this war flow from? War – so goes the platitude – is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. In the case of every concrete war, we try to analyze concretely the politics of which that war is the continuation. The Spanish loyalist government was an imperialist government; it exploited Morocco and oppressed the peasants (and shot them down when they revolted!). But when the Franco fascists sought to overthrow even this miserable government, we called for its defense – in our own way, by revolutionary means, and without giving the slightest political support to the bourgeois People’s Front leaders – because our analysis of the concreteness of events showed that the anti-Franco war did not flow from the loyalist government’s imperialist character but from the fascists’ attack upon its democratic base.

This was ABC once.”

Read on.

(I also got a lot out of Hal Draper’s his ABC of National Liberation Movements. I have yet to read his much-cited Two Souls of Socialism. See also Sean Matgamna, whose organisation Workers’ Liberty frequently draws on Draper’s thinking, and who cautions “Draper, I think, did contribute more than a little to the Zionophobe conquest of so much of the left”.)

Via Contested Terrain.

6 Responses to “Hal Draper: How to Defend Israel – a Program for Israeli Socialists (1948)”

  1. zkharya Says:

    Thanks for this. Hal Draper is often adduced as an authoritative advocate for Karl Marx’s non-antisemitism.

  2. zkharya Says:

    He critiques the position of the SWP in 1948. Here is a interesting quotation he cites and analyses:

    “But don’t the Jewish people have “the right to self determination and statehood as other peoples?” Their (the SWP’s) full answer:

    ‘Yes – but even if we abstract this question from its aforementioned social reality, the fact remains they cannot carve out a state at the expense of the national rights of the Arab peoples. This is not self-determination, but conquest of another people’s territory.’

    A dishonest reply. (1) It means that the Jews have a right to self-determination but no right to exercise it. This does not make sense. One may, as we said, advise against its exercise in favor of a different course; but it is pure fakery to grant the right and in the same breath denounce its exercise as “conquest of another people’s territory.” (2) If the Jews have the right to self-determination, what territory can they “self-determine themselves” in without infringing upon the national rights of the Arab people? Is there any? Obviously none, it appears from the argument. What then does the “Yes” mean?

    The only honest answer would be to deny that the Jews have any right to self-determination in Palestine – and to explain why they thus differ from other peoples. The SWP cannot do the latter and so they wisely, if hypocritically, refrain from asserting the former.”

  3. Marxist theory « Poumista Says:

    […] (and linked to here) has prompted a very thoughtful, intelligent response by Mira Vogel, posted at Engage and Greens Engage, two excellent British left-wing anti-racist […]

  4. PerplexedBelgian Says:

    Interesting train of thought. One could argue that a people always excercises its right to self determination at the expense of the rest of mankind, the available “territory” not being infinite.

  5. Ben Cohen Says:

    In this context, the term “Cannonites” has a seriously biblical ring to it…

  6. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Interesting Hal Draper wrote in favour of the right of self-determination of 600.000 Jews living in Erez Israel.
    Now about six million Jews live there and many people of the left do deny this same right to selfdetermination.


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