Over the past two months, millions have expressed outrage at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets all over the U.S. to denounce “Genocide Joe.” Horrified by the genocide, they desperately want the bombs to stop. But the protests have had no discernible impact, and the situation for the Palestinians has only gotten worse. The question is: why?
The pro-Palestine movement has been chained to the Democratic Party—the very party responsible for enabling the genocide. Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian-American in Congress and a DSA representative, has put herself at the forefront of the movement and directed its energy into a campaign to get Biden to broker a “cease-fire.” What differences existed in the DSA over the role of their Congressional representatives have been set aside to unite around Tlaib and this liberal movement. The rest of the left has either welcomed this liberal Democratic leadership or left it unopposed. As such, the strategy of the movement has remained one of impotent moral suasion directed at elected officials.
Many believe we just need to expose the depravity of the humanitarian crisis and build a massive movement that appeals to the better nature of Joe Biden and the “international community.” The liberals see Biden’s occasional criticisms of Netanyahu, and his saying that indiscriminate bombing could lose Israel support, as possible evidence that Biden is beginning to see the light. But his comments are just a cover for support to Israel’s war aims.
The U.S. imperialists back the Zionist state—and therefore the genocidal oppression of Palestinians—not out of mere moral failing. Israel is their outpost and key to maintaining their interests and domination in the region. It serves as a bulwark against surrounding hostile regimes and houses a major weapons depot, used recently to supply arms for their deadly adventure in Ukraine and now to murder Palestinians. Especially at a time when the imperialists feel their hegemonic grip on the globe slipping, they are not about to abandon this strategic foothold simply because public opinion is waning.
Due to the strategic interest the American ruling class has in maintaining the Zionist state, the capitalist Democratic Party will never be a vehicle for the liberation of Palestine, which requires the destruction of the Zionist state. Any movement based on political unity with even the most “left-wing” Democrats can only be an obstacle, not a step forward. One cannot wage the necessary working-class action against the imperialists to force their submission, while also seeking to influence and build unity with their defenders and representatives.
Representatives of capital might be compelled to say nice words about the need for peace, but they are opposed to the action necessary to bring it about. If there is to be any hope of advancing the struggle for Palestine, there must be a break with the Democratic Party and the losing strategy of pro-imperialist pacifism. Instead, the fake socialists and the “progressive” union bureaucrats paralyze the struggle by channeling it within the framework of Democratic Party politics.
The Impotence of Left
There is a glaring contradiction for DSA members who solidarize with Palestinians and want to stop the genocide, but are part of the very party enabling it. In recent years, various left and so-called “communist” opposition groupings within the DSA have raised and debated throwing out their Zionist and pro-imperialist electeds and breaking from the Democratic Party. But instead of tossing out the traitors and breaking with the Democrats, they now build unity with them in the name of a “cease-fire.”
The likes of Rashida Tlaib, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman were discredited in the eyes of many activists, having done nothing to stop police brutality or protect abortion. Each has voted for one imperialist measure after another, be it smashing the rail strike last year, pushing anti-China protectionism, approving NATO funding for Ukraine or even supporting military aid to Israel.
But the ranks of the DSA closed behind Tlaib when she was censured by the House as part of the witchhunt against anyone who dares say Palestine should be free “from the river to the sea,” no matter how tepid and pro-imperialist their politics might be. We oppose the government’s lying equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and this McCarthyite witchhunt regardless of whom it targets. But even when she runs afoul of the Zionists in her own party, Tlaib is providing the imperialists an invaluable service. Her outspoken criticism of Biden gives false hope that, despite the class nature and program of the Democratic Party, perhaps it could change course and be a force for the defense of Palestine. She keeps those outraged by the Democrats’ Palestine policy within the fold.
Tlaib’s and the other DSA electeds’ vocal support for Palestine serves the same purpose as their fork-tongued support to other movements—for black, women’s and gay/trans rights, etc. It goes just far enough to gain broad popularity but will never go beyond what is acceptable to the Democratic Party. And, just as qualitatively improving the lives of workers and the oppressed masses in the U.S. is impossible while respecting the limits of the capitalist parties, so too is advancing the cause of the Palestinian people. The “left” of the DSA might be angry that the electeds capitulate to the “establishment” Democrats, but the “left” then capitulates to the electeds to build their dead-end liberal movement.
Take the Reform and Revolution caucus inside the DSA, which raises criticisms of the electeds. Now they say, “All of DSA is correctly united” in support of the electeds’ call for a cease-fire. At the same time, Reform and Revolution criticizes “relying on moral appeals to governmental leaders” and appealing to the imperialists of the “international community.” They further argue that “the most effective strategy for winning liberation will come from the building of a mass movement from below of the Palestinian people.” But they find themselves in a bit of a bind, since the only way to mobilize “from below” requires a break from and fight against the politics and politicians with which they currently find themselves “united.” While Reform and Revolution is critical of other left caucuses that refused to oppose Hamas’s criminal attacks on Israeli civilians, what unites them all is their unity with “progressive” Democrats.
The Red Labor caucus statement on Palestine sounds left, calling for the DSA to expel the “imperialist and Zionist electeds, such as Jamaal Bowman and other equivocal members of the ‘Squad,’ who are opposed to the Palestinian struggle for liberation, and thereby enemies of the international working class.” They declare, “We cannot be socialists and Zionists at the same time.” True, but you can’t be Democrats and socialists at the same time, either! Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are not Zionists but are representatives of the party committing genocide, and are enemies of the international working class and the Palestinian struggle. It’s obvious that the Zionists must be tossed out, but it’s urgently necessary to also toss out Tlaib and Omar, who are the direct link between the movement and the Democratic Party.
Association with the widely hated Democratic Party that backs Israel to the hilt is dragging the name of socialism in the mud. Every second spent inside the Democratic Party is a crime, because it undermines the socialist movement for being complicit in deepening the oppression of the Palestinians. Revolutionaries inside the DSA should, right now, (1) fight for a clean break from the Democratic Party of genocide and (2) put forward an anti-imperialist program for Palestinian liberation explicitly counterposed to liberal pacifism.
Pro-Capitalist Labor Leaders Are Obstacle to Palestine Struggle
A struggle must be waged that threatens to jeopardize the imperialists’ position so much that they might relent for fear of losing more than their significant interests in the region. The only force that has both the social power and objective interest to do this is the organized working class. Workers man the factories that build the weapons, the trucks and trains that transport them and the ports that ship them. They can stop the flow of arms with their hands, Biden be damned. A major strike against the war could cut off the flow of profits and bring the imperialists to their knees. The same American ruling class is responsible for the exploitation and misery here and in Palestine. Workers here have every interest in striking a blow against the shared imperialist class enemy at this crucial juncture. In fact, it is only by actively opposing the ruling class’s depredations abroad that they will ever be able to sufficiently weaken the enemy and advance their own cause.
Unions must act, not ask, to stop arms shipments to Israel. But the trade-union leaders refuse to do so. Why? Because the AFL-CIO is run by people who support imperialism. They have a long, sordid history of support to U.S. war operations internationally, from investing in Israeli bonds to supporting the NATO/Ukraine war against Russia. Recently, they have squashed every ostensibly pro-Palestine motion passed by their regional labor councils.
While it’s easy to criticize the egregiously pro-imperialist and Zionist leaders of the AFL-CIO, many look to the layer of militant-talking bureaucrats recently in the limelight, like UAW head Shawn Fain. However, the program of these union officials is no better. They will not lead working-class action in defense of Palestine. The “progressive” bureaucrats — many allied with the DSA— refuse to violate the bounds of capitalist acceptability and do their part to ensure there is no break with the imperialist butchers of the Democratic Party. No matter how militant, any pro-capitalist labor misleader who sees Biden as an ally or a “lesser evil” will always refuse to take the necessary action to land a serious blow against the politicians and the system they support.
A prime example is the recent UAW strike, which coincided with the start of the war. We intervened in the strike and made the point that “the main thing that workers can do to fight for Palestinian liberation is to win this strike! A major blow against the capitalist rulers here will throw a wrench in the plans of the bosses and their government, who are destroying everything from Detroit to Ukraine to Gaza.” But the bombs started dropping, and Fain sent everyone back to work. While Gaza was burning and Biden was bear-hugging Netanyahu, POTUS posted a video on Twitter with Fain and Biden patting each other on the back for doing “a hell of a job.”
Shortly after, UAW official Brandon Mancilla—in solidarity with the DSA electeds on a hunger strike for a cease-fire—announced that the union was signing a liberal pacifist resolution that does nothing but build illusions that Biden and the Democrats can be a force for “peace.” The left lauds the pacifist popular front around the “cease-fire” demand because it looks like labor and activists are doing something. But this political bloc of socialists and working-class leaders with the liberal wing of the ruling class prevents any action against U.S. imperialism and Israel’s current onslaught.
The Centrist Vacillators
Socialist groups like Left Voice talk about the need for labor action against the war. Left Voice correctly states that “imperialism is incompatible with the interests of the working class,” but they praise the UAW’s signing of the pacifist pro-imperialist cease-fire resolution as a “progressive move” that “should inspire union activists.” The task of Marxists right now is to win the workers movement to the cause of Palestinian liberation and break it from all supporters of imperialism. Left Voice says that it is necessary to challenge the agents of capitalism in the labor movement. But you can’t expose the pro-Democratic Party labor misleaders who are an obstacle to any actual working-class defense of Palestine and build up their credentials, however critically, at the same time.
A fundamental clash with the interests of capital is required to defend Palestine, not to mention address the problems of poverty, black and women’s oppression, etc. But the current crop of union leaders, including the left-talking ones, has no such perspective. Left Voice knows Shawn Fain supports Biden. Their calls for workers action and to break with the Democrats are in contradiction with their promotion of the imperialists’ labor agents like Fain and the pacifist cease-fire movement. It is urgent to fight for communist leadership of the pro-Palestine movement. Since Left Voice doesn’t do this, they just leave it under liberal leadership.
For its part, the Socialist Revolution/IMT group, despite criticizing the pacifist “cease-fire” demand, also refuses to forthrightly oppose liberal leadership. In one of their articles, they even pose the question: “What should communists be communicating to the movement at this moment?” They make a number of true points about the nature of U.S. imperialism, the social power of the working class to stop arms shipments to Israel “if we organize and unite” and the need for a “mass communist party.” What they omit is the crucial task of revolutionaries right now: to break the pro-Palestine movement from any kind of alliance with the Democratic Party.
In another article, Socialist Revolution might declare, “We must be clear that the pro-Israel Democratic Party offers absolutely no way out of this disaster,” but only after giving “credit” to Tlaib for having “put forth a more respectable position throughout this affair.” It is one thing to denounce Biden or criticize AOC for her support to the Iron Dome, it is another to draw a hard line against the Democratic Party politicians who people actually have the most illusions in, like Tlaib. They claim to be for “strike action to shut down the war machine” but refuse to take on the union bureaucracy over the war—and thus are simply duping the working class. To build the “mass communist party” that they say we need or to carry out the anti-imperialist actions they advocate, one must expose the treachery of the existing liberal leadership.
For Class War to Stop the Massacre!
When we say that we are against an imperialist-brokered cease-fire, a common response that we get from leftists is: Does that mean you are for the continuation of the bombing? The answer is obviously no. The real question is how to stop the massacre. Support to the liberal cease-fire movement is not a step toward stopping the bombs, but an obstacle. The only way to stop the onslaught against the Palestinians right now is to wage class war from the U.S. to Israel and Palestine. This is integral to advancing the fight for Palestinian liberation.
It is desperately necessary for the pro-Palestinian movement to change course. Socialists must fight inside the workers movement, as well as inside the movement for Palestinian liberation, for a break with the Democratic Party of genocide. This is the precondition to building an anti-imperialist pole and a new union leadership that will take the struggle forward. If the intervention of socialists at this critical moment is not directed at making the trade-union and Palestinian movements revolutionary—at combating and replacing their pro-imperialist and liberal Democratic Party leaders with Marxists — then it is not socialist!