Historical background: In 1965, toward the elections to the sixth Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the editors and co-proprietors of the weekly Ha’olam Hazeh, Uri Avnery and Shalom Cohen, started a movement called Ha’olam Hazeh–New Force, which raised anti-establishment slogans, did not regard itself as Zionist, and called for recognition of the Palestinian people and integration of Israel in the Middle East. This attracted support among varied sections of the Israeli public, including some young Arabs. Matzpen did not join this movement as a group, but some of our militants joined it as individuals, worked energetically in the election campaign and thereby helped Avnery to get elected to the Knesset: the list got 14,124 votes, 1.2 percent of the total. The movement had virtually no formal structure or detailed program until December 1966. Then, more than a year after the election, it held what was in effect its formal founding conference, which was expected to adopt a draft program (“Principles”), proposed by Avnery and his confidants. Moshe Machover proposed seventeen amendments (“reservations”) to this draft, with two aims in mind. First, to make the program consistently non-Zionist, by eliminating the draft’s concessions to Zionist ideology. Second, to make it minimally acceptable to socialists, by eliminating statements and expressions on socio-economic matters that no socialist could support. He knew there was little chance of getting his amendments adopted. But he hoped they would serve to rally the minority of leftists in the movement. In the event, this is what happened. During the conference, the Matzpen members were expelled from the movement, not only because of the political differences but also because of Avnery’s authoritarianism: he regarded the movement virtually as his private property, and was not going to tolerate any challenge, let alone opposition to his absolute leadership. But on their way out, the Matzpen members were joined by a few new members.
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[The Hebrew original of this article was published in Matzpen 32, January 1967.]
It is common knowledge that parties and movements differ from one another in their political views and attitudes to political and economic problems. But we Marxists do not stop at this point: we expose the source of these differences of opinion. Scientific analysis shows that in general (and almost without exception) differences of political opinion are a result and reflection of class oppositions within society.
Each class (or social stratum) has its special interests, which decisively determine the views and demands of its political representatives. In many cases the connection between interest and corresponding view is simple and transparent. For example, a party of property owners would uphold the “sanctity of private property” and fight for the “freedom of private enterprise” — in other words, for creating conditions favorable to accumulation of private profits, to exploitation of workers by capitalists. A farmers’ party would extol the virtues of agriculture.
There are also subtler and less overt connections between the social background of a party and its views and ideological character. It is well known that a person’s living conditions and experiences largely determine his mental makeup, his psychology. This applies also on a social scale: the living conditions of a social stratum, following from its role and position in the economic processes, largely determine the political style and psychology of a party that gives voice to that social stratum.
And just as in the case of an individual, so also for an entire party: this connection between social background and mental makeup is neither simple nor automatic; it is not quite overt, and is certainly not clearly conscious. But it always exists, and it is important to uncover it.
Anyone familiar with Ha’olam Hazeh — the journal and the movement — would not have any difficulty in detecting their social background, the social origin from which they derive their mental makeup: it is the world of the lower middle class, particularly the stratum of clerks, owners of mini-capital, and to some extent members of the liberal professions. To this must be added an important qualification: in the present case we are not talking about the strata of the Jewish lower middle class as it exists in various countries abroad, parts of which have arrived in this country with the waves of immigration while retaining their previous class character. We are talking about strata that have come into being or have crystallized in this country, against the background of local reality. The readership of Ha’olam Hazeh and Avnery’s followers are a relatively young group, made up, generally speaking, of people who were born in this country or acquired their main education, professional qualification, and social status here (Of course, these are general statements, regarding the collective, average makeup of this group and do not apply to each and every individual in the movement and its leadership. In every political movement there are some individuals whose social background is atypical of the generality of its membership).
In almost all peoples, the lower strata of the middle class are especially and outstandingly inclined to nationalist views (and in general also to deference — even reverence — toward the army. The petite bourgeoisie is often the principal mainstay of militarism).
These phenomena have several causes, inherent in the position of these strata in economic and social reality. This is not the place to dwell on these causes in detail. We will mention only one explanation, derived from social psychology.
Along with the working class, the lower middle strata are the first to be seriously hit by the various afflictions of the capitalist system. Every crisis or “recession” may impoverish and ruin large masses among these strata, which even in normal times have only modest means and lack a robust base. Economic insecurity leads to a tendency to identify with a large group, which gives the individual a sense of belonging and security, helping him to overcome the feeling of alienation caused by the anarchy of capitalist economic reality.
A wage worker spends at least eight hours a day, six days a week [A six-day workweek was the norm in Israel and many other countries at the time of writing], together with a more or less large group of members of his own class; he cooperates with them in the labor process, eats together with them, and struggles shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Thus for the worker there exists the possibility of developing a class consciousness, identification with the class collective to which he belongs.
Such a possibility does not really exist for the middle strata. Therefore their feeling of estrangement and insecurity finds an outlet in a more or less powerful nationalist sentiment.
In this country a new Israeli-Jewish nation is coming into existence and crystallizing. On one hand, this nation is part of the world Jewish ethnos; but on the other hand it constitutes a separate group of people living in a specific territory, leading a common economic life, speaking a separate language, and so on. Against this background, a clash is waged between religious and Zionist ideology on one side and the new Hebrew nationalism on the other. The former emphasize the affiliation of Israel’s Jews to world Jewry; whereas the latter, on the contrary, emphasizes the national specificity of the Hebrew nation, and its relative disconnection from Judaism and world Jewry.
What was said above about the class makeup of the Ha’olam Hazeh movement makes it clear why it is precisely this movement that is the main standard-bearer and mouthpiece of the new Hebrew nationalism. From this point of view it would be wrong to regard Ha’olam Hazeh as an ephemeral, accidental, and fleeting phenomenon. Its political achievements will largely depend on the quality of its leadership and on other somewhat accidental factors. But its very existence reflects — in the specific form appropriate to certain social strata — actual objective facts. Its nationalist ideology serves deep psycho-social needs of these strata.
Socialism versus Nationalism
Our socialist outlook is a fundamentally supranational one. Our political path corresponds to the historical interest of the working class, and our ideology aims to strengthen the workers’ class feeling as opposed to nationalism.
In this sense we oppose in principle any nationalism whatsoever — be it Arab, French, Russian, Chinese… or Hebrew. Yet we judge each national movement on its merits, according to the interest of socialism. We admit the possibility of aims common to us and a given national movement (in the short or medium term), and we are prepared to accept collaboration based on such common and agreed upon aims. For example, under conditions existing in colonies, there generally forms a partnership of struggle between nationalists, whose sole aim is national liberation, and socialists, for whom the anti-imperialist struggle aims at social liberation and is the opening move of a social revolution.
Under the conditions of this country, we consider Zionism to be the main obstacle to the integration of Israel in a socialist regional union. Securing the future of our people, as well as the general interest of socialism in the Middle East, demands a resolute struggle against Zionism. (This is not the place to go into the details of this issue; we have done so several times before, and shall return to it in the future.) Likewise, we are opposed to theocracy, all the more so because here religion is closely associated with Zionism.
So in this context there exists a possibility of partnership between socialists and Hebrew nationalists in the struggle against Zionism. This explains our past participation in the Ha’olam Hazeh movement. Yet the split that occurred in the Ha’olam Hazeh conference is not accidental: because we have never ceased — and shall never cease — to point out the negative aspects of Hebrew nationalism, namely:
First, Hebrew nationalism is able to struggle against Zionism, which, as mentioned above, is the main obstacle to the integration of Israel in the region. But Hebrew nationalism cannot serve as a positive platform on the basis of which such integration will be put into effect. The regional union will be a socialist one, and Israel will only be able to integrate in it on the basis of a socialist platform.
Second, Hebrew nationalism is indeed opposed to Zionism; but it is incapable of confronting Zionism thoroughly and repudiating it radically, root and branch. For the Hebrew nation has come into being as a result of the Zionist colonization of Palestine, and therefore the nationalist outlook, for which this nation is an absolute and supreme value, cannot radically repudiate Zionism, its progenitor. Hebrew nationalism can only claim that Zionism is outdated, no longer suited to present conditions, and Hebrew nationalism ought to be embraced in its place.
Thus Hebrew nationalism gets into a contradiction: on the one hand it repudiates Zionism, and on the other it regards itself as Zionism’s legitimate heir.
This explains the Zionist (or quasi-Zionist) position of Avnery and his followers on the question of borders, the affinity between the State of Israel and world Jewry, and encouragement of Jewish immigration. (We shall not elaborate on this issue here, but merely mention it in passing.)
Third, like any nationalism, Hebrew nationalism contains within it a seed of a new national clash with the neighboring peoples. A nationalism that can dwell for long in tranquility alongside another nationalism exists only in fables, like the leopard that shall lie down with the kid.*
Toward an Israeli Poujadism?
Let us have a look at the views of Ha’olam Hazeh on matters of economy, society, and administration. The lower middle strata in capitalist society have a split psyche: on the one hand (as we mentioned above) they are severely afflicted by the scourges of capitalism’s anarchic economy; yet on the other hand they enjoy certain privileges and advantages within this social order, which follow from ownership of property (albeit petty property) and from a relatively respectable social status (this applies in particular to white-collar workers and members of the liberal professions). Consequently, these strata vacillate between progressive and conservative moods, between support for social reforms (sometimes quite radical ones) and fanatic defense of the existing order. On the one hand they can regard the working class as a fellow-sufferer and ally; yet on the other hand they are terrified of shocks in the existing social order and the property relations on which it is based. It is indeed the owners of petty property — whose hold on it is shaky and insecure — who are the most fanatic believers in the sanctity of private property; it is indeed they — who must toil hard to accumulate petty capital so as to enjoy its fruits, who wear themselves out in straining to climb the ladder of an anarchic society (that in general appears to them alien and hostile) — who are the most enthusiastic supporters of the “freedom of private enterprise.”
These dispositions found full expression in the conference of Ha’olam Hazeh. It is difficult to describe the vehemence with which the movement’s centrists and rightists — who now, following the split, constitute its decisive majority — attacked socialism.
This is not the place to set forth a detailed account of the differences between our socialist outlook and the petit-bourgeois economic views prevailing in the Ha’olam Hazeh movement. Let us just mention that among the principles approved in the conference there is an article (§77) that demands “reducing to the minimum the physical intervention” of the government in the economy; and another article (§80) calling for encouragement of private enterprise. The latter article also speaks of encouraging cooperative enterprise, but its title is “encouragement of private enterprise”.
This is no accident: it seems that cooperative property emerged unscathed by the fury of the rightists because they regard it as a kind of variant — a bastard form — of private property. Without any protest, the conference heard proposed amendments demanding that “the government will strive to minimize its ownership of economic enterprises” and that “the number of state enterprises will be reduced, and will be restricted mainly to services that cannot be operated by a person or a private firm”. Likewise it was proposed that “the rights of a person or firm to manage businesses or enterprises as they see fit, without restrictive interference of economic planning, will be guaranteed by the constitution”(!). That these proposed amendments were not approved is mainly due to the voting procedure employed in the conference, which made it extremely difficult to amend the text proposed by movement’s ruling bodies.
There are some further, albeit less essential, points that reveal the unmistakable class character of Ha’olam Hazeh. Let us have a brief look at some of these.
Being “above class”. We pointed out earlier that the lower middle strata lack a consciousness of belonging to a class. A view widespread among them is that all that “class” talk is nonsense or a fiendish invention concocted by subversives in order to divide the nation artificially. Also typical of these strata is a denial of the usual left/right classification of political outlooks and parties. Mr. Avnery understands quite well this psychology of his present and potential followers, and from the conference’s rostrum he very insistently rejected any attempt to attach a “class label” to himself and to his movement, or to label the latter as being on the right or left.
“War against corruption”. No decent person likes corruption or is happy to tolerate it. But making the fight against corruption and maladministration a central political slogan is one of the most typical symptoms of lower middle-class movements. This follows from the special social psychology of that class: by nature it is incapable of making an essential critique of the capitalist social order, and it therefore attributes its various afflictions to maladministration and corruption.
Every reader of the weekly Ha’olam Hazeh knows what a central role this topic plays in that journal. During the Ha’olam Hazeh movement conference, no less than nine special articles dealing with corruption were approved, constituting a separate chapter in the movement’s principles. (Article 50, the last in that chapter, is notable and typical: “The state will compensate citizens for damages due to hooliganism and for any other damage due to the authorities’ neglect”. This demand is particularly fitting for the stratum of small-car owners [In the 1960s only rich Israelis could afford a large car, and most workers could not afford even a small one], just as the demonstrations Mr. Avnery organizes — protest convoys of cars — are made to measure for that stratum).
To prevent misunderstanding, let us repeat that the demands raised by Ha’olam Hazeh against corruption are, generally speaking, justified and correct, and we have nothing against them. We are only pointing out the social roots of the great importance that Mr. Avnery and his followers attribute to this issue.
Complaints against taxes. Again, there is hardly anyone who does not grumble against high taxes. But this issue is very central precisely for parties of the lower middle class. The reason for this is simple: the small proprietor is in constant danger of economic ruin by bankruptcy. Whereas for the hired employee taxes appear as abstract numbers on a paystub, and never take a concrete form of notes and coins, for the small self-employed person tax is a physical payment made to the state treasury; and this sum is a substantial part of his expenses.
Ha’olam Hazeh’s conference was presented by the movement’s ruling bodies with three proposed articles dealing with taxation. (In the conference itself, two further amendments were proposed, supported mainly by the left wing.) Of these three articles, one (§85) demands progressive taxation. This demand is common to both workers and the self-employed. Another article (§87) demands the “abolition of methods of taxation that increase the cost of production and impair national Saving”. This demand has no direct relevance to workers, and is typical of all strata of the middle class. The third article (§86) demands that “all systems of taxation, at all levels of public administration, should be unified as far as possible”. This demand is specifically typical of a petty property owner, who drowns in a sea of tax-demand forms arriving on papers of various colors, sent to him by various authorities, and who is nearly driven mad by the exertion of dealing with them and filling out all the many forms. A worker is not greatly concerned by the number of rubrics appearing on his paystub; what matters is only the sum appearing at the bottom line.
Yearning for a “strong authority”. Of all tendencies characterizing the lower strata of the middle class, this is perhaps the most dangerous. It derives from the same psychosocial source as nationalism and the over concern, not to say obsession, with corruption and maladministration.
Against this background we can make sense of Mr. Avnery’s proposed demand that Israel should adopt a presidential form of government, and his articles in his weekly journal in which he heaps praise on de Gaulle. Although this proposal was rejected by the conference (largely due to the vigorous opposition of the left), he repeated the demand for “strong authority” in an article published under this title in the December 28, 1966, issue of his weekly. (In the middle of the article there is a picture of President Lincoln, and next to the article’s heading — a picture of Mr. Avnery himself; the similarity between the two visages is so noticeable that the choice of the American president can hardly be random). This political tendency goes together with the special organizational structure of the Ha’olam Hazeh movement — a structure on which Mr. Avnery himself strongly insisted. At his insistence, the movement has no right to interfere with the contents of his appearances in the Knesset and of his articles in the Ha’olam Hazeh weekly. The movement’s executive body (the “Management”) is appointed by Mr. Avnery. Although the movement’s Center, a large body without any executive authority, is —theoretically — entitled to pass a resolution of no-confidence in the Management, such a resolution is in practice almost impossible, because it constitutes a vote of no-confidence in the leader himself. And even if such a resolution is passed, the leader is entitled to manage the movement by means of appointees for a further period of six months.
These elements — hatred of socialism; a pretension of being “above class”; along with the ingredients of emphasizing the fight against corruption (which is turned into a central slogan); excessive grumbling against the taxation system; and last but not least the demand for “strong authority” — these are precisely the hallmarks of a majority of the most reactionary demagogic movements of the lower middle class.
The most well-known movement of this kind in recent times was that of Poujade in the Fourth French Republic — hence the name by which these movements are known nowadays: Poujadism.
Following the exit of the left, Mr. Avnery’s movement is almost certain to turn toward the right. In this case there is a danger (not certain, but nevertheless possible) that the movement will gradually take on a pronounced Poujadist character.