Israel: As class struggle intensifies divisions open up in ruling class party

Divisions have clearly emerged between different wings of the Israeli ruling class. These are reflected within the Likud, the main party of the Israeli bourgeoisie. These divisions are important signals of something that is stirring deeper within Israeli society. The ruling class is divided because it can see two dangers on the horizon, the class struggle in Israel and intensified opposition from the Palestinian community.

On September 26 and 27, 2005, the Likud Central Committee, the leading body of the main bourgeois party in Israel met to decide whether or not to call early elections. The main protagonists in this meeting were Ariel Sharon, the current Prime Minister of Israel, and Benyamin Netanyahu, the Minister of Finance.

At the end of the day Sharon won the vote. The vote was in fact seen by many as a kind of referendum on Sharon’s leadership of the party and also on his decision to pull out of Gaza. However, although Sharon survived the challenge from Netanyahu he did so only by a margin of less than 4 percent. Thus the Likud is in actual fact split right down the middle.

Netanyahu was trying to take advantage of the emergence of a hard-line opposition to Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza. Previously Netanyahu, had in fact stepped down in protest against Sharon's plan to pull out. He has been whipping up the most reactionary elements within Israeli society and within the Likud itself.

Sharon had indicated clearly that if he had lost the vote he would most likely have left the party, and would form his own coalition and then would call early elections. This now is no longer an immediate prospect and Sharon will stay for at least another year, as the next general election is not due until November 2006.

The paradox of the situation is that in all this Sharon has managed to emerge, at least in the media, as the “moderate”, Netanyahu being seen as the worst of the two by many people in Israel. Within the Likud many party members see him as having betrayed their ideals by making too many concessions to the Palestinians, while outside the party in Israeli society as a whole he remains quite popular. According to opinion polls at least, his popularity rating stands at 60 to 65 percent.

This shows that most Israelis actually approved of the withdrawal! Of course we must not confuse Sharon with the Israeli people as a whole. Sharon remains the same man as ever. He merely thinks this is the best way of defending the interests of the Israeli ruling class. But as usual the ruling class is not one homogeneous block. Some think that withdrawal from Gaza is an invitation for more aggression on the part of the Palestinian resistance fighters. This wing is represented by Netanyahu, a man who is preparing to make a comeback. Let us not forget what he did to the Israeli workers in the past. While expressing a hard line towards the Palestinians he expressed a similar ruthlessness towards the Israeli workers in attacking many of their hard fought for rights, such as decent pensions and so on.

The gathering of the Likud Central Committee, although won by Sharon, also revealed some of the most monstrous and reactionary tendencies. It was quite a spectacle, considering the degeneration of the Israeli bourgeois and especially its right wing. The most monstrous anti-worker and anti-Arab views were aired both during the meeting and in the Israeli press, and no Zionist politician with any criticisms of these extreme chauvinists could be found anywhere.

There is a petit-bourgeois tendency to demonise all Israelis as "one reactionary bloc", not distinguishing between the reactionary political leaders at the top, and the ordinary working people at the bottom. In fact many working class people were utterly disgusted by what they heard reported from this meeting. And they had every reason to be so.

A brief sketch of the historical background to this latest development may come in useful for our readers. Within the Zionist movement there have always been more or less three large political tendencies, all of which were and are of course merely parts of the same racist-colonialist movement. The differences between them would be of a tactical nature. This is still true today as we have seen in the Sharon-Netanyahu conflict.

There was the left, represented mainly by Mapai (Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel), the Centre and the right wing, represented by the Cherut (Liberty) movement. Today’s Likud came into existence in 1973 through a fusion of some of the Centre and most of the ex-fascist right of Zionism.

In the context of the degeneration of the capitalist system on an international scale, and with it its inevitable political, moral, and cultural degeneration, the Zionist bourgeois could not avoid the same process. So even the Israeli ruling class today is not the same as it was yesterday. In the past, despite being total reactionaries and in most cases even utter fascists, many right-wing Zionist politicians were intelligent and talented individuals.

For example, Jabotinsky ‑ the grand old “Duke” of the Zionist right in the words of Abba Achimeir, another Zionist fascist of the past ‑ was an intelligent man, a skilled orator, an interesting writer, and he also translated many important literary works into Hebrew. There was Begin, the first right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, who was also a good writer and a charismatic leader. And these are just some examples. These men were also deeply ideological; they had roots in a historical movement, albeit a very reactionary one.

The Likud has always been based on a disgusting, extremely reactionary agenda, but in the past it had at least a semblance of cultured leadership. Now even that has gone! This has its international parallels. It is a bit like comparing the Roosevelts and the Kennedys to the Reagans and to the present half-wit that occupies the presidency of the United States, George W Bush.

Having said this, the fundamental nature of Zionism has of course never really changed. It is in the last analysis an imperialist movement, and an integral part of international imperialist reaction. Zionism began in the saloons of the European Jewish bourgeois and is still led today by men of European descent. It has been from its clumsy beginnings, and is today in its present grotesque state, an imperialist ploy.

The Jewish bourgeois at the time of the great bourgeois revolutions was a very progressive force. At the end of the 18th century, at the time of the bourgeois assault on feudalism, the Jewish bourgeois and the Jews in general stood at the forefront of the movements for social change. The Jews believed that with the downfall of the system that had murdered and oppressed them for so long, they would finally be emancipated. Little did they know ‑ or anyone else for that matter ‑ that the bourgeois revolution would eventually give rise to yet another oppressive class society, where not only would the Jews continue to be oppressed, but the Jewish bourgeois would be no less reactionary than the rest of their class.

Zionism, in its very essence, is a bourgeois reaction against ethnic oppression. The white settlers in South Africa were similar in their ideological outlook, but most of them were in essence the ruling class ruling over a different people. In Israel the Jews are spread across all classes, there is a Jewish ruling class, but it is ruling mainly over a Jewish working class. This is what makes a “national” identity possible, and with it the aspiration to Israelis for self-determination, although of course we understand that this is not possible on a Zionist basis.

This is because Zionism, whether left, right, or centre, is and has always been an imperialist movement. The left wing was divided into a reformist part in the form of Mapai and a semi-Stalinist part in Poale Zion (Workers of Zion), later to become Mapam (United Workers' Party). The right wing was always either fascist or semi-fascist.

It was the Zionist centre that always had its peculiar nature. Despite the highly bourgeois nature of Zionism, there was never, until recent years, a genuine political representation of the bourgeois class. Even nowadays this is very weak, itself a symptom of the weakness of this new bourgeoisie and its utter dependence on the middle classes to stabilise its rule.

This we can see also within the Likud. Sharon and Netanyahu are actually new types within the Likud. They are bourgeois opportunists with no ideology apart from that of keeping capitalism alive. They only have immediate monetary concerns. Zionism was never like this. As we have already stated above, the Zionist right was always very ideological. It disguised its raw class interests behind ideological rhetoric, “ideals” of some kind. Not these men. They feel no need for that any longer. They are utter lackeys of the US and they represent the immediate and narrow economic interests of their class. With this goes a blurring of their differences. In fact they have only small tactical differences that divide them.

As an Israeli writer has already pointed out, "Everybody knows that Bibi [Netanyahu] who plays the role of right-wing oppositionist to Sharon because of the disengagement, as Prime Minister, if unfortunately he gets elected, would do exactly what America tells him to do, like he did when he was Prime Minister, and then it was Sharon who played the oppositionist." The mere fact that the left supports this war criminal Sharon shows that the Zionist left and right are not antagonist groupings but two parts of the same reactionary colonialist movement.

Should we really be surprised at what happened during the Likud Central Committee meeting? Of course not! A party of bourgeois racists is a party of bourgeois racists, and one should not be too surprised that the carnivores do not suddenly become vegetarians all of a sudden. When the Likud Central Committee meets, which is composed of both the Israeli economic elite and the fascist sewer-dwellers, it is always a disgrace. It represents the true scum and filth at the top of Israeli society, which is prepared to use any means necessary to attack both the workers of Israel and the Palestinians.

At this meeting of the Likud Central Committee, Sharon saved himself at the last moment by promising Palestinian blood to his allies. But even if he had been cast out of the Likud leadership and he had created a new party of his own, we should have no illusions in any of them. No genuine progressive person could support either Sharon or Netanyahu.

We completely reject any support for the Israeli bourgeois in any shape or form. The divisions within the Israeli ruling class, partly reflected in the divisions within the Likud, do not represent in any way the emergence of some “progressive wing of the bourgeoisie” as some would have put it in the past. It is more like the division between two mafia gangs over how to divide up the territory they control. They are divided over how to exploit the Israeli workers and how to deal with Palestinians. But on the continued oppression of the Palestinians and the continued exploitation of the Israeli workers, they are not divided.

However, this division at the top must be carefully studied by all workers and genuine socialists. Very often in history an eruption of the class struggle is anticipated at the top by a division within the ruling class. They are perfectly aware of what they are going to do to the working masses. They also understand how the workers will react once they become conscious of what is going on. And parallel to this they know full well that the withdrawal from Gaza does not mean they are going to grant the Palestinians genuine self-rule. Therefore the Palestinian question will continue to fester.

In this process, the ruling class of Israel will use all means necessary to dupe the masses. They will try and create illusions in this or that plan, this or that “new” political formation or leader. But the programme remains the same, cuts in social spending, greater sacrifices for the workers, continued oppression of the Palestinian people, and so on.

We reject all the bourgeois politicians. What the workers of Israel need is their own government. That is why in the conditions of Israel today we call for a government of the left parties (Labour, Yahad, and the Communist Party) on a socialist programme. This would include the nationalisation of the major companies, banks and large landed estates under workers’ control and management, the strengthening of the Histadrut (the Israeli trade union federation) through a process of democratisation of all its structures, and a general improvement of the living standards of the workers and the poor. That, we believe, is the first step in the war of the workers against the bourgeoisie.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the Israeli labour movement today are, of course, middle class people, who have as much to do with socialism as Blair does. That is why the Israeli workers must fight to change their leaders. Of course they cannot limit themselves to economic demands, but this would be a first step. However, this step cannot be taken without the active participation of the Palestinian masses in the struggle against the capitalist class. That is why any movement for genuine change in Israel must include in its demands the immediate pulling out of all Israeli soldiers and settlers from Palestinian territories ‑ by force if necessary. Without the unity of the Jewish and Palestinian workers, the struggle cannot be successful. Not even partial gains can be made.

Anyone who thinks that Sharon or Netanyahu, or even their left-wing versions such as Labour chairman Shimon Peres or the left-wingers of Yahad such as Yossi Sarid, can be trusted to carry out this programme, does not understand at all that they all represent different sections of the same colonialist movement. And anyone who believes that Mahmoud Abbas can be trusted does not understand that he is merely an Israeli agent inside the Palestinian movement. Someone once said that the emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves, and this emancipation begins with the emancipation from the illusions in the Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisie.

October 16, 2005

Join us

If you want more information about joining the RCI, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.