Thursday, 31 July 2014

Israel's war in Gaza

I am being interviewed about the socialist perspective on Israel's war in Gaza on Radio New Zealand National next Monday (August 4) at 8.45pm.
Eric Ruder makes the important point that: "Those who stand for democracy and against colonialism must reject the 'blame Hamas' rhetoric and put the blame where it belongs--on the colonial settler state of Israel and its loyal supporter, the U.S."
Socialists advocate a one state solution, which is the view that Israel is a profoundly racist state that has been developed through the violent dispossession of the original inhabitants of Palestine, and that what is required in future is the creation of a democratic and secular Palestinian state with equal citizenship rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Once it's done I will post a link to the interview here. 

A listener suggested that I should have been critical of Hamas. I replied as follows: 

Fact: the Israelis have killed over 1900 Palestinians, while Hamas has killed 67 Israelis, only three of whom at last count were civilians. Any sane person who takes the time to look at the history and recent facts pertaining to the Zionist colonisation of Palestine, will readily acknowledge that Israel started this war. So if you care about what is happening in Gaza, it is vitally important to reject the 'blame Hamas' propaganda of Israel and its American backers. It is a question of intellectual and political priorities.

There were all sorts of other things that I didn't have time to say in that 15 minute interview. What I did say was that socialists, meaning the socialists who clearly and consistently side with the people of Gaza against the Israeli slaughter of innocent people, adopt a position of "unconditional but critical support"- meaning that we have no right to impose conditions on our support of the Palestinian people, including expecting a certain degree of conformity with our political outlook, but that we reserve the right to be critical of political Islam.

In this respect, it is important to note that from 1947 to the 1970s the bulk of the Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation was secular. The rise of Hamas is largely due to the failures of the secular left to provide effective leadership in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. As Mostafa Omar observes:

"The failure of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] and its left wing over the past 30 years to provide a clear, effective leadership in the national struggle or to win any of the rights that Palestinians desperately await has hurt the credibility of secular organizations. Moreover, the anti-democratic and corrupt practices of the Palestinian Authority [which runs pockets of territory in the West Bank not occupied by Israeli settlers and armed forces] have turned many ... Palestinians against it. These conditions explain why, in recent years, a large section of Palestinian society has looked to the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and, to a lesser degree, the Islamic Jihad, to resist Israel. 

Hamas's formal opposition to the Olso accords [that sought to establish a two state solution on the basis of the PLO’s recognition and acceptance of the legitimacy of the state of Israel] and Palestinian negotiator's endless concessions resonate with people who recognize the futility of negotiations. Its insistence on the liberation of the whole of Palestine connects with the aspirations of Palestinian refugees to return to their own country." In Lance Selfa (ed), The Struggle For Palestine, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2002, p.195.

Although the growing popularity and influence of Hamas may be understandable, this does not, however, mean that it should be interpreted as a positive development for the Palestinian resistance. Indeed, as Omar also observes, "for the Palestinian movement, which has been historically secular and left oriented, increased support for Islamist politics marks a big step backward." (2002, p.197). It marks a step backwards for at least seven reasons.

Firstly, Hamas is committed to the creation of an Islamic state in Palestine. This is a one state perspective that will never bring peace to the Palestinian people, fails to acknowledge the important role that Palestinian Christians have played in the resistance movement, and leaves no place for those Jews (albeit a small minority of the Israeli population) who oppose Zionism and the state that it has created on Palestinian soil.

Secondly, related to this, Hamas is not an anti-capitalist organisation and also promotes reactionary and sexist ideas with respect to the position that women should occupy in Palestinian society. It considers the creation of an Islamic capitalist society governed by an Islamic state to be the solution to the major problems faced by the Palestinian people. Socialists fundamentally reject this.

Thirdly, "due to its conservative ideology, Hamas is unable to challenge the different Arab regimes that ally themselves with the U.S., especially the right-wing Islamic monarchies in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia" (2002, p. 197).

Fourth, "Hamas's own characterisation of the struggle against Israel as a continuation of an age-old struggle between Muslims and Jews mirrors Israel's own propaganda. … Hamas's anti-Jewish propaganda, while a reaction to Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, diverts attention from Israel’s real role as a watchdog for U.S. imperialism in the area (2002: 198).

Fifth the leadership of Hamas is largely drawn from the middle class and it advocates a class alliance of all Palestinians in the struggle against Israel. In practice, this means that the interests of workers must be subordinated to those of Palestinian capitalists.

Sixth, “Hamas’s backward social positions, especially regarding women, Jews and Christians, constantly undermines the struggle against Israel” (2002: 198).

Finally, Hamas subscribes to an elitist conception of the struggle for the national liberation of the Palestinian people. Rather than focusing on mass action from below being the key to defeating Israel, instead “it substitutes the actions of a tiny minority of militants for the struggle of the majority. Its reliance on individual military attacks against Israel, although popular, fails to involve the majority of ordinary Palestinians in the struggle against Israel” (2002, p.199).

For a more current critical assessment of Hamas from a socialist perspective see:

Despite these obvious limitations, there is, however, plenty of evidence that Hamas, for all of its faults, is leading the struggle of the Palestinian people in Gaza to defend themselves against Israeli aggression, and that it is widely supported by them for doing so. For more detail see this article:

This is not, however, to suggest that socialists adopt an uncritical position or turn a blind eye to the failings of Hamas, which are undoubtedly real. As socialists we are critical of political Islam as a strategy for progressive change, and where an Islamic organisation clearly is thoroughly reactionary and using terrorist tactics, as is the case with ISIS, we don't support it in anyway. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Future Socialist Society (Brian S. Roper’s next book).

As indicated in my profile, my research is organised within two programmes. The first focuses on the past, present and future of democracy. The second focuses on the political history, historical sociology and political economy of New Zealand since 1935 (although my research in this programme occasionally goes back much earlier to Maori society prior to white settler colonisation). My planned NZ focused research will be described in a separate entry.

Within the democracy research programme, my most important publication is my recent book: The History of Democracy ISBN 978-0-7453-3189-8, published by Pluto Press (London) in 2013. Translated editions are forthcoming in China, Germany and Turkey.
Links to reviews of this book can be found on this blog at:

The next book within this programme, which I am currently working on, is entitled: The Future Socialist Society. The title is inspired by, and borrowed with permission from, an outstanding pamphlet by John Molyneux (available among other places in Arguments for Revolutionary Socialism, Second Edition, Bookmarks, London, 1991, pp. 82-109).

This book addresses four key questions: What makes socialism necessary? What makes socialism possible? What are likely to be the central features of socialism beyond capitalism? What makes socialism desirable?

In response to these questions, it argues that the scale of exploitation and inequality, recurring and increasingly global economic crises, inter-state geopolitical rivalry and military conflict, global warming, and the absence of substantive democracy within liberal democracies, underlines the necessity of socialism.

The capitalist development of the productive forces, historical progressiveness of liberal representative democracy, despite its obvious limitations, and increasing size of the working class on a global scale, makes socialism possible.

In order to identify what socialism beyond capitalism might be like the book then turns to a consideration of the historical antecedents of socialist participatory democracy, focusing on the aspects of democracy in a future socialist society that will to varying degrees draw upon some of the positive features of Athenian democracy, liberal representative democracy, and historical attempts to create socialism such as the Paris Commune and Russian Revolution.

Building upon the experience of previous attempts to create participatory forms of democracy, including some of those that have taken place more recently, the book describes the social, economic and political arrangements that will be necessary if a socialist society is to be qualitatively more egalitarian, libertarian, peaceful, democratic and environmentally sustainable than advanced capitalist civilisation.

One of the most common objections to socialism is the argument that all conceivable attempts to create socialism by revolutionary means will inevitably degenerate into some kind of authoritarianism, especially if the revolutionary government is forced to defend itself by military means. This leads Bobbio, Held, and others to argue that socialism can only be created within the institutional framework of representative democracy.

Against this view, I argue that there are likely to be a series of constitutional protections and institutional mechanisms at the core of a radically democratic workers’ state that will prevent the revolution from degenerating into authoritarianism. Ultimately the real threat of authoritarianism arises from the defenders of capitalism who support violent counter-revolution. The best way to defend and foster liberty is to focus, in theory and in practice, on the collective creation of a socialist society and democratic system of government that transcends both capitalism and liberal representative democracy.

Above all else, what makes socialism desirable is the creative imagining, and actual possibility of collectively building, a world that is more egalitarian, libertarian, democratic, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable.