From Zionism to Marxism

Posted: November 10, 2014 by Admin in At the coalface, Capitalist ideology, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, Israel, Middle East, Palestine

The article below was written in 1982 by Ygael Gluckstein, just after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and a number of massacres. Gluckstein grew up in Palestine, but later lived in Britain where he became best-known as the left-wing theorist and political leader Tony Cliff; the text is reprinted from issue # 1 of MidEast Solidarity, the Middle East bulletin of the revolution magazine group

indexby Tony Cliff

Looking back on my own experience in Palestine I can see how today’s horror grew from small beginnings. Zionism, Jewish separateness and the belief in a Jewish homeland, have developed into state violence.

My parents were pioneering Zionists, leaving Russia for Palestine in 1902 to join a total Zionist population of a few thousand. I grew up a Zionist, but Zionism did not have the ugly face we see today. However, there was always a fundamental crack between the Zionists and the Arabs.

Dispossessing the Arabs

Zionists took over Arab land, often evicting the occupiers. They systematically discriminated against the thousands of Arab unemployed. In our area, 80 percent of the population was Arab, but my school was exclusively Jewish.

My parents were extreme Zionists. My father told me, “The only way to look at an Arab is through the sight of a gun.”

The Zionists organised their own trade union, the Histadrut, which raised two political funds. One was called “The defence of Hebrew labour” and the other “The defence of Hebrew products”. These funds were used to organise pickets to prevent Arabs from working in Jewish enterprises and to stop Arab produce coming into Jewish markets.

In 1944 we lived near Tel Aviv market. One morning my wife saw a young man go around talking to all the women selling produce. Some he left alone, but others had paraffin poured on their vegetables and their eggs were smashed. My wife, who had just come from South Africa, couldn’t believe it. “What’s going on?” she asked. It was simple. The man checked if the produce was Hebrew or Arab, and destroyed Arab produce. Now, this behaviour was still on a small scale and some Zionists were still talking like left-wingers. But the central antagonism to the Arabs remained central.

No Arab ever entered the kibbutz movement, the so-called ‘socialist’ collective farms. The majority of Jewish-owned land belonged to the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution forbade Arab tenants. This meant in whole areas the original Arab populations were driven out. When I left Palestine kin 1946, Tel Aviv – a city of 300,000 – had no Arab residents left. Imagine arriving in Nottingham, a similar-sized town, and finding no English people.

The Zionists – a minority not trusting the Arab majority – always looked to the imperialist powers that controlled the country. This was low-key at first.

Zionism for hire

Zionist leaders repeatedly told German rulers it would be in their interests if Zionism flourished in Palestine. When Britain occupied the country in 1917, the Zionist leaders wrote to the Tory foreign minister, Balfour, explaining it was in Britain’s interests to have a strong Zionist presence in Palestine. And during World War 2, when it became clear the United States was the main imperialist power, especially in the Middle East, Zionist leaders switched their focus to Washington.

The Zionists, if not for sale, were always for hire. The logic of Zionism – separation from the Gentile population, whether in Russia, Poland or Palestine – led to this dependence on imperialism. Nazism and its rise were important. German big business didn’t support Hitler out of fear of Jews, but out of fear of the German working class. Both the Jews and the working class were Hitler’s victims.

But the Zionists implied that all Germans were the problem. And, when the German workers were defeated in 1933 without a struggle, Zionism was immensely strengthened. Once a movement has a certain momentum it can’t be defeated unless there is a new, alternative movement on a much bigger scale. The absence of such a radical alternative allowed Zionism to become increasingly powerful.


Back in Palestine, Zionist outrages against the Arabs were developing. The state of Israel, declared in 1948, was accomplished by a terror campaign which drove hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. The state was also born with the ‘limited’ massacre of 240 Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin.

Men, women and children were slaughtered, some thrown alive down the village well. It was a ;place I knew well, just a few miles from my home.

The Arabs are not the only ones to pay since then. Israel’s constant search for allies has made it increasingly a supplier of military equipment to the world’s most reactionary regimes.

Unsavoury friends

In 1966 Moshe Dayan, Israel’s defence minister at the time, spent two months in South Vietnam advising the American puppet government. Israel supplied arms to Chile, to Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, and to all the countries upon which US president Carter placed an arms embargo for human rights violations.

Israel’s security police advised the Shah of Iran, while its scientists developed nuclear weapons with the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Jews were horribly oppressed for centuries in Europe, but that did not guarantee that they became progressive or revolutionary. Indeed, oppression associated with lack of power leads to reaction. When the core of Zionism meant separation not only from other peoples but even from all progressive forces, the rest of the tale followed naturally.

Now Israel is collaborating with the fascist Phalangists in Lebanon. I’m not surprised. I recall the 1930s when the Irgun, led by Begin – now Israel’s prime minister – used the Hitler salute and wore the brown shirts.

In the 1930s, the Zionists in Israel discriminated against Arabs, but did not murder them. However, the monstrosities we have now become used to are the logic of Zionism. Indeed, I fear we’ll see worse in the future.

  1. Gary MacLennan says:

    This is a wonderful piece by Cliff. I have never been a big fan of his, especially his mode of party building. But here his humanity is on display at its very best. His is a true indignation at what is being done by the Zionists in the name of all Jews. He rejects totally that claim and lays bare the brutal truth of the Zionist enterprise. Far from displaying any “self-loathing” Cliff is here in touch with his better nature. It is chilling to read the last sentence and to realize just how prophetic it was.