The following article originally appeared in the French edition of Khamsin early in 1976. It describes the roots of the internal crisis which led, more than a year later, in May 1977, to the replacement of the Labour government by the Likud/Religious Party Coalition led by Menachem Begin. Although some of these developments were not anticipated in the article, most of its analysis has been validated by the turn of events. We thought it therefore useful to reprint it for the benefit of the English readers. We also asked the author to add a postscript which evaluates developments since the article was written.
In the last year or so speculation has been rife in Israel about the likelihood of an authoritarian regime being set up. Views have obviously differed considerably between those who would welcome such a change as a long-awaited and needed remedy for the ailments of the country and its weakling government, and those who speak with abhorrence about the growing fascist cancer and view it as more detrimental to Israel’s existence than dangers from without. Whatever the rumours – and there have been somewhat similar rumours in previous periods of Israel’s short history – this time they have their foundation in the situation in which Israel found herself in the wake of the 1973 war and the growing feeling of acute crisis. Many Israelis will admit that zionism is approaching its moment of truth and doubts are raised about its ability to ride this storm unscathed.
This article will attempt to analyse the crisis in relation to the specific characteristics of the zionist state of Israel. On the basis of this analysis some theories about the danger of fascism in Israel will be examined. These theories, launched earlier this year by the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah), called for a separation between the fight against zionism and the fight against fascism, and for a popular front of anti-zionists and ‘dovish’ zionists to defeat the danger of fascism in Israel. These theories will be shown to be wrongly founded and the strategies based upon them to be politically mistaken.
Israel is not a typical monopoly capitalist country
The specific character of zionism
Israel, despite its many western features, is not a typical monopoly capitalist country. Any attempt to draw such analogies is bound to lead to gross, indeed grotesque, mistakes. The zionist venture in Palestine is a colonising enterprise founded under certain special conditions:
Firstly, zionism was a political movement whose centre of gravity, political influence, money and manpower were outside the area of colonisation. It hoped and believed in its ability to shift its centre of gravity to Palestine within an historically short period. It also believed that in the process of that shift (called by the zionists ‘the ingathering of exiles’) it would grow in strength faster than its enemies and would thus be able to establish a new and stable status quo which would eventually be recognised as permanent.
The zionist venture was never self-financing or profitable, by normal capitalist criteria. The ability of the zionists in Palestine to draw on resources much larger than their colon economy is a special feature of Israel, and a result of a unique combination of conditions. An early political unification of Labour zionism in Palestine, and the nature of zionism which gave elite status to the ‘pioneers’ who settled, combined in the 1930s.
It was then that the zionist establishment in Palestine – primarily the zionist labour bureaucracy – achieved political dominance over the zionist movement. This hegemony was further strengthened as a result of the second world war. This achievement meant that, although it was a minority within zionism as a whole, the zionist establishment in Palestine was effectively in command of the resources of the zionist movement, and in control of monies which were directed through the zionist movement to Palestine. The redistribution of these resources, which were the main source of income within the colon economy, was always centralised and mediated through the political apparatus, which thus maintained control over the economy.
The founding of the state of Israel and the finding of new sources of unilateral transfer, such as the German reparations and US grants and loans, has not changed this basic mechanism of political control over the allocation of economic resources and the primacy of political considerations in their disposal.
Secondly, the zionist settlers found themselves from the beginning in a state of war, sometimes open, sometimes latent, with the indigenous population, and with growing Arab nationalism. This was not a condition foreseen by the founding fathers of zionism and was understood only much later by some of its leaders. The situation was different from that of other colonial ventures. The late advent of zionism as a colonial movement, and the relative development, economic and political, of Palestine, meant that opposition to zionism made itself felt from the first stages of colonisation, when the colons were numerically and politically very weak. The particular features of zionist society were thus shaped by this continuous conflict. Indeed they were created as a reaction to it.
Thirdly, the weakness of the zionists, in the conflict in which they found themselves, meant that they had to seek alliance with the imperialist super-powers: first with those who controlled Palestine, and later with those who saw in Arab nationalism as the zionists did, an antagonistic opponent of their interests in the area. The alliance which the zionists sought from the super-powers contained the following ingredients: The right to form their special exclusive zionist infrastructure; support and freedom to continue the process of ‘ingathering’, and protection and support against hostilities. At first this was done through the protection of the British mandate; but when Britain lost its ability to perform this function, zionism, strengthened in the meanwhile, was able to transfer its allegiance to other imperialist powers with remarkable skill.
The foundation of an Israeli state did not change the basic ingredients of support that Israel sought from its allies, though it changed their forms. In return, zionism served imperialism directly as an ally against Arab nationalism, and indirectly in helping it to maintain other indigenous regimes within the Arab world. The dependency on imperialism in a situation of continuous war and under rapidly changing conditions in a particularly volatile area is also a special feature of zionism which had an important bearing on its internal organisation.
The primacy of politics
These conditions, which in their intensity and combination are peculiar to zionism in Palestine, were most important in giving it its special character. The need to maintain hegemony in the zionist movement, the need to manoeuvre between the world powers and the reality of colonisation against strong political and military opposition, meant that political considerations came before economic ones. The political unity of zionism in Palestine, the source of its strength, also made the primacy of politics possible. Through its zionist hegemony Israel obtained huge and regular inflows of capital which have no parallel elsewhere in the world. Israel’s ability to claim that it represents the Jewish people, and thus receive reparations from West Germany on behalf of Jews victimised by nazism, was also due to its zionist hegemony. This continuous inflow of money enabled the state to build a war machine, accommodate and absorb Jewish immigrants and sustain a standard of living which bore no relation whatsoever to its internal economic capabilities.
Put differently, the Israeli state could set itself, and achieve political goals which were not limited by the constraints of the country’s economy. The ability and the success of Israel’s leadership was less economic than political. It lay in their skill to raise abroad the resources and support they needed for their ventures. In turn, the continued flow of money from abroad enabled them to maintain political unity and quiet at home, which was also essential for their ventures. It can therefore be concluded that in Israel, politics enjoyed relative autonomy from economics.
The unity of the political leadership
A second feature of Israel relates to the unity of political leadership. It was a common belief among the rank and file in labour zionism that there was an abyss between them and the Jabotinsky-Begin ‘rightwing’ Herut party. In fact, a whole political myth of ‘right zionism’ versus ‘left zionism’ rested upon this belief, which still has some mobilising powers, especially among the Mapam-Moked ‘dovish’ groups. 1
It would be a mistake to relate ‘left’ and ‘right’ in zionism to the European context, as they have an entirely different meaning. The only way to understand the meaning of left and right in zionism is within the historical development of the zionist movement in which they emerged. The Israeli Communist Party, by uncritically accepting zionist definitions of left and right, unwittingly helps to perpetuate false consciousness and does not take part in the struggle to demystify zionism.
The split between left and right in zionism emerged in relation to the method and strategy of the colonisation of Palestine. Both ‘left’ and ‘right’ advocated Jewish exclusivism. Both aspired to establish a Jewish state, nor did they disagree on the territorial borders of this state, nor on the need to displace the Palestinians. Both left and right stressed regimentation, discipline and a military style, both emphasised the need for sacrifice and heroism in the nationalistic sense. Both advocated that Jews leave the political struggles in their countries of origin and resolve their problems, not in a class struggle, but in a separatist Jewish nationalist solution. Democracy was not an absolute value in either camp and it was one of the leaders of ‘left’ zionism (Arlazorov) who first indicated publicly that the Jews might resort to military dictatorship to rule the Palestinians.
The ‘socialism’ of this ‘left’ was Jewish socialism. It was as vicious towards the communists (Jews and Arabs) in Palestine as the ‘right’ was. Mapam, which called itself marxist-leninist, the most leftist of the zionist left, advocated the suspension of class struggle for the period necessary to build zionism. It barred Arabs from membership in its kibbutzim, which were built on the ruins of Arab villages. It combined an autocratic stalinist internal style with vicious witch-hunting of communists and Trotskyists. 2 Although ‘left’ and ‘right’ borrowed from the jargon and symbols of European socialism and fascism, these were not the mainsprings of their dispute. The motive of fighting fascism – naturally a very strong emotional issue among the Jews in Palestine – was used by left zionism as an ideological weapon in its fight with the right-wing over problems of zionism (eg in the Arlazorov murder affair).
A common claim in this argument of right versus left in zionism cites the contacts which the Jabotinsky organisation had with extreme right-wing and fascist regimes in Europe in the 1930s. Proof is available now that other factions of zionism also had contacts with Mussolini and the nazis.3 The contact that the Israeli government had, and has, with extreme and right-wing leaders and regimes is a long and well known story. This type of argument is not serious and can impress only the ignorant and politically naive.
The split between left and right developed in the 1930s, at the time of the upsurge of fascism. ‘Right’ zionism was mostly concerned with the distress of the lower middle class Jewish masses in central Europe under conditions of economic and political crisis. This led them to give utmost priority to rapid evacuation of large numbers of Jews to Palestine. The programme inevitably entailed a confrontation with Britain, which attempted to balance its support for zionism with its imperialist needs to placate growing Arab national feelings by restricting immigration. ‘Left’ zionism, on the other hand, gave top priority to its colonising project in Palestine, which could not survive and develop without the protection of the British mandate. The maintenance of a working relationship between zionism and Britain was seen as so vital that it had to be continued despite the restrictions imposed on Jewish immigration.
It was on this issue that the schism between left and right developed, and became more bitter as the position of the Jews under Nazism became desperate. Right zionism emerged as a significant movement under conditions adverse to the gradual development of zionism, at a time when it seemed that zionism could not mobilise the international support it needed. At this desperate conjuncture the right was willing to abandon the protective umbrella of imperialist support. It was willing to risk huge sacrifices in order to save the maximum number of Jews.
‘Left’ zionism’s philosophy evolved in an earlier period and it held that time was on the side of zionism. It believed in building a Jewish power base in Palestine, which would eventually become politically independent. This meant a long-term patient colonisation ‘dunam here and dunam there’.4 The ‘left’s’ philosophy was optimistic and gradualist. ‘Right’ zionism was pessimistic and catastrophic. It was a reaction to the gathering storm in Europe and a conviction that time was running out. The ‘right’ believed that a declaration – even unilateral – of a Jewish state, coupled with the growing Jewish distress in Europe, would set legions of Jews on the move to Palestine. Armed and trained, they would conquer Palestine in one brief ‘revolutionary’ act.
The difference between the philosophies of the ‘one glorious act’ and the ‘long hard slog’ had other ramifications. The right concerned itself almost solely with the questions of evacuation and military conquest. It believed that questions of colonisation of the land and the development of the Jewish society, its forms and institutions, should be dealt with through the future state and not through particularistic party bodies. The ‘left’ developed the theory of ‘halutsiut’ (‘pioneering’). With its emphasis on gradual colonisation, it saw in immigration only the first step in the individual’s commitment to zionism. Halutsiut emphasized voluntarism –the internalisation of the aims of zionism, settlement and building Jewish institutions in Palestine. Halutsiut was preached as a way of life, the self-realisation of zionism. It attacked individualism, the pursuit of self-gain and fulfilment and advocated collectivism, sacrifice and self-dedication to the collective national effort of constructing the zionist enterprise. This philosophy borrowed from the symbolism of Russian populism and socialism, which was culturally meaningful to the immigrants from east Europe, though it was implanted in a completely different context.
Although hostility existed between the rank and file of these two camps in zionism, it was much less important among the leaderships of these two parties. The few serious clashes which they had were more symbolic than real. The need to maintain unity in the face of volatile international conditions and a permanent war oriented the two parties towards a policy of peaceful co-existence instead of an open and cut-throat political competition. The pattern of this agreement is roughly of power sharing –first within the zionist movement then within the Histadrut, later in coalition government, and most recently in access to high positions within the army and the Ministry of Defence.5 The order of this process seems to reflect the order of convergence of the interests of the two parties, first outside Israel and later in internal politics.
The power sharing does not mean that the participants get equal shares and have no conflicts. Labour maintained its dominant hold in key positions of these centres of power. Unlike the more formal ties that exist between the component parties of the Labour Alliance and the parties of the governmental coalition, the ties between the leaders of Labour and Likud are informal. They express themselves in forms such as [prime minister] Rabin’s report to Begin upon his return from Kissinger before reporting to the Cabinet,6 or by the recent proliferation of advisers to the premier and to other ministers, through which the opposition participates in the decision-making process.
An economy of unilateral transfers
Another characteristic of Israel is the nature of the control of the economy. In Israel it is probably less true to say that the rich determine what the politics of the state will be, than that the state determines who will become rich. This is a consequence of the relative independence of the state from the economy. Profit seeking foreign investment has played a small role in the development of the Israeli economy. The three other main sources of capital formation have been:
- Capital brought in by immigrants (including German reparations).
- Self-accumulated capital.
- The unilateral transfers and loans received by Israel from Jewish supporters and from friendly governments.
Of these three, by far the most important and largest is the third; and the unilateral transfers are the bulk of this category.
The unilateral transfers are received through the Jewish Agency and the government, which then redistribute them in the economy. The decisions about distribution are of major internal economic importance: access to positions of redistribution is therefore one of the constant issues in Israeli politics. The allocation of access positions is the ultimate source of power in this type of unilateral receipts economy and has been firmly held by Mapai.7 (The sudden death of P. Sapir, ex-treasury minister, chairman of the Jewish Agency, in 1975, brought about the first serious challenge to Mapai’s control of such key positions in the Jewish Agency.) The decision not to block other parties from access to redistribution positions, but instead to use dominance to allocate access positions as a bargaining device, was one of the cleverest techniques devised by Mapai in the 1940s. It created the pattern through which Mapai co-opted other parties to cooperate with it and forged Israel’s ruling power bloc under its leadership.
Control of the redistribution of money is one form of political control over the economy. In addition, there is the control of the state and public owned sectors of the economy. These sectors are much larger in Israel than in any of the western capitalist countries: more than half of the country’s industry and most of its agriculture, almost all heavy industry, metal, petro-chemical, engineering and construction are in these sectors. They also have their own finance institutions; two of the three major banks, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim are Jewish Agency and Histadrut owned.
The public sector comprises the Jewish Agency and Histadrut owned companies. The ownership in both cases is a legal fictitious entity: the ‘Jewish people’ and the ‘Workers Society’ respectively. The embodiment of these legal entities are the representatives of the zionist political parties in the executive bodies of the Agency and the Histadrut. The Histadrut enterprises are not owned by their workers. Where ownership is fictitious, what matters is control. Control in the Agency and Histadrut corporations is determined by political appointments to managerial positions according to an agreed ratio between the parties. By distributing appointments to key economic positions according to political criteria and setting the ratio of allocation, the political establishment controls the state, Histadrut and Agency owned sectors. In all these cases ownership does not prove anything about the nature of production. Israel is a capitalist country. The non-private sector is geared to a market economy and the workers have no control over the process of production.
The private sector is less politically controlled than the state and public sectors. However, even here political intervention is by far greater than in most capitalist countries. The ability to establish a profitable private enterprise depends on the achievement of favourable conditions: loans, concessions, government contracts, exemption from taxes, cheap foreign currency, protection from imports, etc. All these have to be obtained from institutions where the key positions are held by political appointees. The result is a regime of favouritism. In return for rendering services to the state, the parties are able to extract funds8 and further appointments of their faithful to key jobs. Despite this system some private enterprises, especially in the diamond, food processing, textile industries, building contracting companies and international commerce, have achieved a degree of independence from state control. This is the economic base of the big bourgeois parties.
Autonomy of the parties
Another feature of the autonomy of politics in Israel is the independence of the parties from their members and the dependence of the members on the party. The independence of the parties is manifested in two ways: (a) The parties have created means of self-financing that are not based on the voluntary contributions of their supporters; (b) The party bureaucracy is self-appointed and members have very limited control over it.
This must be explained in some detail.
(a) The zionist parties are financed in the following ways:
- Through the Jewish Agency, which pays these parties annual sums proportional to their strength in the Zionist Congress of 1946.
- Through the Histadrut, first from collections which it conducts abroad; second from a political tax levied on all its members and from which parties draw according to fixed ratios decided at the time when the tax was introduced. This is not dues which supporters pay to their own party, but a tax that every member ‘contributes’ to all the parties.
- According to a law introduced in 1959, parties are also financed by the state. Although state financing of parties has been introduced in recent years in some other western capitalist countries, the law in Israel has no parallel elsewhere. The sum per voter in Israel is 14 times bigger than in Germany. The total sum received by parties from the state in Israel in the last four years is larger than the sum received by the Democrats and Republicans together in the US presidential elections. Decisions to increase these grants are not made after a public debate in parliament but in the parliamentary finance committee whose deliberations are not public and which recently decided to increase the sum by 44 per cent. Despite all these grants, the main parties in Israel are heavily in debt, due to their gigantic bureaucratic machines and election expenses. To resolve their financial crisis, they introduced last year a bill in parliament which would grant them special consolidation loans under exceptional terms. As the parties involved have a clear majority in parliament there is nothing but public outcry to stop them allocating to themselves as much as they want, providing all the major parties share in the booty.9
- Parties in Israel are also big property owners; they own real estate, construction companies, banks, commercial printing houses, advertising companies. They are also involved in business abroad. Party members in high public positions also make available to their parties funds of the institutions they control.10
- Members’ dues and donations are the smallest source of most zionist parties’ income although it is larger among the Independent Liberals and Liberals. The bourgeois zionist parties in Israel are financed in a more traditional western way than the labour .and religious parties.
(b) The party bureaucracy is a self-elected and self-perpetuating body which is almost independent of its members.
- The national proportional election system in Israel presents the voter with a national list of party parliamentary candidates, nominated by the central organisation of the party. The nomination is usually made by an informal elected body which controls the party.11
- The party internal organisation: either the organisation postpones internal elections for years to avoid change in its leadership; or the elected bodies are not effectively in command of major decisions, which are made outside them; or a guaranteed place in the leading bodies of the party is given to its leadership ex-officio. This involves not a few people, but a considerable proportion of the parties’ central bodies – enough to ensure their continued control of the party.12
The result of this combination of election system and internal party organisation is a remarkably stable political regime. An Israeli political scientist commented: ‘A dramatic turn-about in the election results is impossible, short of an atmosphere of catastrophe – military, political or economic – and this has never yet happened in Israel.’13 This was said before the October 1973 war, but the elections immediately after that war showed that even that shock was not catastrophic enough. Although the hawkish Likud bloc gained 25.6 per cent, the swing did not prevent Labour from forming a coalition government under its leadership.
State-controlled trade unions
The control of the class struggle through state-dominated trade unions is yet another aspect in which the primacy of politics manifests itself in Israel and in which Israel differs from most bourgeois democratic western countries. The special nature of the Histadrut and the role that it played in the colonisation process in Palestine have been discussed elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this article.14The three most important features of the Histadrut as a trade union are:
- The Histadrut was the embryo of the zionist state and through its control of the Histadrut Mapai (now the Labour Party) came to control the state. Since the inception of Israel, and for almost a generation, control of these two institutions has been in the hands of the same party, which came to regard both as two arms of the same apparatus. The combined domination of state and Histadrut means that the Labour Party decides the economic policies of the country and also controls the institutional outlets of workers’ responses to these policies. The Histadrut is the main tool to make the workers acquiesce in government wage, price and tax policies. A foreign expert on Mapai correctly commented: ‘No Israeli government could succeed without steady co-operation from the Histadrut, whereas the latter’s steadfast and destructive opposition could without doubt prevent effective government.’15
- The Histadrut has virtual monopoly of the representation of workers in Israel, which was achieved when Herut (Gahal) joined the Histadrut in 1965, and its weak rival workers’ organisation was phased out. The monopoly was reinforced in the 1971 Labour Relations Law which confers on the Histadrut the status of the legal representative of the workers in Israel and outlaws strikes unauthorised by it. The effectiveness of the Histadrut stems also from the high proportion of the population which belongs to it – the highest in any capitalist country. But this does not indicate anything about the class consciousness of Israeli workers –they are compelled to join. Israel has no national health service and public medicine was left deliberately in the hands of the Histadrut. Workers who do not join risk not obtaining basic medical care for their families. Thus the large membership of the Histadrut is due to manipulation of state services in order to control the workers.
- Compared with trade unions in western capitalist countries, the Histadrut is much more centralised. Individual unions and local organisations have very little autonomy. The only direct personal elections take place at work-place level, the lowest hierarchical rung. Other elections are on a party, national-proportional basis, which gives party centres in the Histadrut full control over candidates and appointees to all positions, local and national. All Israeli parties, including the most extreme right-wing and religious, participate in these elections. Major decisions are made by the Labour government and Histadrut bosses in party meetings and are only brought for formal ratification to the executive committee. The majority of strikes in Israel are unauthorised by the Histadrut, which means that the Histadrut does not defend the strikers or mobilise solidarity for them. In most cases they cannot draw from the strike funds to which their Histadrut dues have contributed.
The Histadrut is thus not a western, reformist-type trade union but a state-controlled (‘state’ is used here in the wider sense of the zionist establishment) organisation which more closely resembles the bureaucratic authoritarian type. The existence of the Histadrut is a major obstacle to the development of the class struggle in Israel. It perpetuates ethnic divisons and chauvinism among workers. It sets back the development of political consciousness among workers; they recognise in the Histadrut the whole spectrum of political parties in the country. With few exceptions this leads to sporadic and isolated conflicts on specific issues which have been fairly easy to contain and control.
All these features of the zionist state clearly demonstrate that Israel is not a bourgeois democratic capitalist state, but is a different kind of society –more authoritarian and more bureaucratic. Most Israelis like to think of Israel as a ‘western democracy’ and this myth is encouraged by the zionist establishment. However, when this mistake is found in an important publication of the communist party which deals with the ‘dangers of fascism in Israel’ it is far more serious.16 The ICP17 is the biggest non-zionist political organisation in the country and such basic mistakes are bound to cloud its analysis and lead its politics astray. The source of the ICP mistake lies in its failure to analyse the particular nature of zionism. By the lack of its own analysis it helps to perpetuate pro-zionist myths. One example of this is the way in which Israel is regarded as a ‘western monopoly-capitalist country’. Another is the acceptance of Labour zionism’s classification of ‘left’ and ‘right’ zionist parties at face value.
The nature of the present crisis in Israel
Israel is in the throes of an acute crisis: economic, ideological, political and international. Although Israel is part and parcel of the capitalist world, and the world crisis is thus reflected in Israel too, it is reflected in a particular way which is mediated through the zionist state’s special structure and the special forms of its relationship with the capitalist west. It is important therefore to show how aspects of the crisis impinge on the structure of the zionist state, thus exacerbating its internal contradictions.
Contrary to widely held views, Israel is far from being an economic miracle. Its rate of economic growth, which was high in the first decade of its existence, slackened in the sixties to an average of 4.9 per cent a year –lower than that of Greece and Spain. It fell further in the early 1970s to about 3.5 per cent. Israel is also an inefficient economy in the utilisation of its production capacity; recent reports show that 40 per cent was idle during the 196Os. It is also a highly bureaucratised society with 34 per cent of its labour-power in services – one of the highest ratios in the world. Israel’s ability to pursue its three basic objectives – maintain a huge war machine, absorb Jewish immigration and sustain a western standard of living – is not a result of its own economic performance but an outcome of its ability to obtain unilateral transfers. Israel is unique in being a unilateral transfers economy. The volume of these transfers, the sources they come from and the conditions attached to their use are crucial factors for Israel’s economy.
Israel has always had a large balance of payments deficit. Since 1968 however the foreign debt has been growing at a higher rate than ever before, so much so that in 1974 the debt per capita was about seven times that of Britain:
The growth of Israel’s foreign debts (in million US$)
(Source: Israel Statistical Abstracts, 1975, p183)
There are two main reasons for this growing debt.
- The spiralling world inflation since 1968 raised the price of Israel’s imports at a higher rate than its unilateral receipts and its exports.
- 1968 marked an end of an epoch in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Since then, all-out wars and wars of attrition became bigger, more sophisticated and longer. The cost of maintaining an adequate war machine soared beyond the means of the traditional unilateral transfers. In its efforts to stick to its basic objectives, Israel resorted to more and more borrowing on the international finance market and from the USA.
While Israelis often complain about the heavy economic burden of the war, recent research shows that until 1970 the costs of wars were covered by transfers from abroad.18 It is only since then that the economic toll of the war has been felt and thus demands a choice between economic objectives, instead of the previous ability to pursue them simultaneously.
The rise of Israel’s military expenses (as % of GNP)
* provisional Budget
(Source: Emda, November 1975, p14)
In the wake of the 1973 war the government reflated the economy in order to return the economy, paralysed due to mobilisation, back to normal. These measures resulted in a galloping inflation of 56 per cent. The balance of payments deficit grew ominously and more than trebled from 1972 to 1974. Israel’s depleting reserves of foreign currency (only $881 million in November 1974) threatened a stoppage of imports of raw materials and thus mass unemployment.19 By that time Israel’s debts were so large that a huge sum had to be set aside annually for repayment and interest – Israel was heavily mortgaging its future. Further borrowing on the international market became more and more expensive and difficult, and was only granted under conditions adverse to Israel’s protectionist economic policy.
To check these developments, the Israeli government resorted to deflationary measures, devaluations, cutting of government expenditure by curtailing basic services and subsidies, wage freezes and new fiscal measures which included new forms of taxation. The result of this policy was a deep recession. The GNP fell by 6 per cent between June 1974 and June 1975,20 investment was negative and unemployment started to rise. However, mass unemployment among Jews was prevented at the expense of expanding the numbers of workers in services and continuous deficit-spending. The reasons against allowing mass unemployment were political and will be discussed later.
The growing inability of Israel to finance itself from traditional unilateral transfer sources brought about yet another development. Having no other choice, Israel requested in the wake of the 1973 war direct military and economic aid from the USA. The request was for $8 billion for four years. In 1974 Israel received $2.3 billion, which amounts to approximately $700 per capita, or 25 per cent of the Israeli government budget. This sum roughly covered Israel’s military expenses abroad. For the first time the US was asked to shoulder directly the financing of one of Israel’s objectives – the maintenance of its war machine.
Ironically, this need of Israel’s coincided with a major, if gradual shift in US policy in the Middle East. The US has attempted since 1972 to secure its interests in the area by defusing the remnants of Nasserism and populist radical Pan-Arabism. It is trying to forge direct links with individual regimes in the Arab countries. Although this does not inevitably make Israel superfluous in capitalism’s new schemes in the area, it certainly changes the degree of identity and overlapping of interests between Israel and the USA. (This was reflected in the low profile that Israel kept during Syria’s intervention in the Lebanon.)
The coincidence of reliance on the USA when the USA is less dependable (from Israel’s point of view) than ever before is a major cause for alarm in Israel, for this growing direct dependence may be used by the USA as a lever to pressure Israel to change her recalcitrant attitude towards withdrawal from occupied territories. The Ministry of Finance calculated that a reduction of $500 million in American aid to Israel could cause unemployment of about 14 per cent.21 At the present level of Israel’s foreign currency reserves, a postponement of US assistance for as much as five months could stop the imports of raw materials and paralyse Israel’s economy.22 A decision of the US towards the end of 1975 to convert 60 per cent of its assistance to Israel from grants to loans caused a wave of fury in Israel reflected in an editorial in Ma’ariv:
‘It is clear that this method of assistance [loans] amplifies tremendously Israel’s dependence on the American government. Within a very short period we may reach a situation where our physical existence will be entirely dependent on American mercy and we will lose any ability to refuse political dictates.’23
The international crisis
Israel’s dwindling international support and growing isolation are well known and do not require elaboration. What do perhaps need further clarification are the implications of this for Israel. The nature of zionism, which depends on the dynamism of Jewish immigration from abroad, its unilateral transfers economy and the continuous Israeli-Arab conflict, makes Israel more dependent on international support than most other countries.
In countries where there are substantial Jewish communities, zionism seeks the support (or at least the approval) of governments and public opinion in order to be able to work legally to mobilise the Jewish community. This means:
- The right to propagate zionist ideas and to found zionist organisations without their being seen as subversive foreign agencies and the ability to recruit and train immigrants from these countries.
- The right to raise funds for a foreign country (Israel) and transfer them out of the host country – which increases the foreign debt of the country involved.
- The ability to use its base in the Jewish community to further expand good-will and political support for its aims in the general population. Zionists call these privileges which they have in the western countries ‘democratic rights’, which makes them more defensible to the liberal conscience. This, however, need not be so and the zionists are no principled supporters of democracy. The simple fact is that in countries which object to zionism, zionist work has been far more difficult and less effective.
Another reason for the importance of good international standing for zionism is related to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Unlike most other conflicts between states, the crux of this conflict is the question of the legitimacy of the nature of the zionist state, and not only its borders. Legitimacy is as good as the universality of its recognition. This point was perfectly understood by zionism since the days of Balfour and the League of Nations. It has been the main aim of Israel’s foreign policy in its drive to establish international connections. The erosion of Israel’s international position since 1967 threatens in the last instance the recognition of its right to exist.
These two reasons have longer term repercussions on Israel’s future; but the increasing isolation also has more immediate affects. Israel’s growing conflict with international organisations also puts pressures on those countries which still support Israel. They are put in the dilemma of re-considering either their attitude towards these international organisations or their position towards Israel. As there is no likely substitute for the UN in maintaining some ‘international order’, Israel’s supporters will eventually have to decide between modifying their position on Israel or paying an increasing political and economic price for it. The erosion of support for Israel and its backers ties Israel’s hands in using its military capability. Israel’s isolation makes it more difficult for her to reap the benefits of a successful military operation. It also makes it more unlikely that Israel will get the ‘OK’ for military ventures from its super-power backers. Until now, approval by a super-power of her decision to go to war has been a sine qua non in Israel’s politics. A decision to go it alone is almost certain to cost Israel the guaranteed war supplies, the containment of the reaction of the Soviet bloc and the element of surprise. Israel’s isolation thus has the immediate implication of being a constraint on her freedom to act.
Emigration and immigration
Relatively little is known outside Israel about emigration. Yet this is one of the indicators of the crisis with which Israel is faced. The ignorance which existed about this problem for many years was part of a deliberate Israeli effort. In a country based on the legitimising belief in the ‘in-gathering of exiles’, and which prides itself on being a ‘melting pot’, information on emigration was regarded as bad publicity and defamation. Concealment was also part of the policy of containment. Emigrants were treated in Israel and by zionists abroad as deserters, and as a result they tended to feel shame and to hide the fact that they did not intend to return. This restricted their influence on other Israelis and on potential Jewish immigrants abroad. In Israel it was believed that ‘hushing up’ the problem would prevent it from spreading, Denial of the problem was also economical, for if there was no problem there was no need for expensive root treatment.
There are no accurate statistics on emigration because of difficulties of definition. Most recent estimates vary between 300,000 to 500,000 since Israel was founded.24 Calculated as a ratio of immigration, emigration was between 20 to 33 per cent, a vast number unparalleled by other immigration countries. Furthermore, and contrary to what is believed, most of the emigrants were not newcomers. Until 1962, 50 per cent were veterans of whom 31 per cent were Israeli-born; since then the numbers of Israeli-born have increased radically. An astonishing statistical piece of information was revealed recently in a research conducted on Israeli emigration to the USA, which showed that most of the 250,000 Israeli immigrants in the USA are between the ages of 25-40. This is a third of all Israelis in this age bracket.25 Estimates are that 75 per cent of those who leave Israel are of occidental-ashkenazi origin.26
As long as immigrants were flowing in, discussion of emigration was avoided, The slackening of immigration in the last few years and a parallel increase in emigration brought about a change of policy. Emigration is now debated as a serious haemorrhage. More research is now being done and incentives are offered to emigrants who wish to return. The official estimates of emigration in the last few years are as follows: 1972: 12,000; 1973: 15,000; 1974: 24,000; 1975: 19,000.27 In 1966, when there was an economic crisis, the number of emigrants exceeded that of immigrants. 1976 is compared by Israeli economists to 1966, so the emigration trend is bound to continue or to grow.
A thorough research into the problem of emigration was commissioned by the Ministry of Information, when emigration reached its peak in 1974.28 It showed that the younger interviewees had a stronger inclination to leave and that this inclination fell with age. Israeli-born want to leave more than immigrants, and non-religious more than religious. Of the sample, 19 per cent answered that they had little or no wish at all to stay in the country. The reasons given were, in order of importance: heavy taxation (31%), standard of living (28%), bureaucratisation of life (25%), political regime (22%), future of their children (21%), prospects of better jobs (20%), military service (19%), social inequality (18%), conditions of work (16%), physical security (16%).
This research is interesting as it corroborates impressionistic knowledge which had never been tested systematically. The continuous danger of war is less a direct cause than its effects on normal life. At the time of the research the attrition war with Syria was going on and the complaints about military service referred to the lengthy reserve duties and their influence on normal life. This shows that blitz wars which Israel favoured since 1956 were not only best for military efficacy but also most suited to the minimal disruption of economic and social life. The attrition war with Egypt in 1969-70, the longer 1973 war and the attrition war with Syria after the 1973 war indicate the potential strains of a different type of war on Israeli society.
This research also revealed the connection between standard of living and emigration. Israel’s failure to maintain a western standard of living immediately reduces its ability to attract immigration and prevent emigration. Zionist idealism is not sufficient to keep the Israelis in and to attract Jews to come. The failure of ideology is also indicated in the willingness of so many to openly admit their doubts and intentions not to remain in the country.
Accompanying the increase in emigration is the decrease in immigration. In the years 1971-73 Israel had an average influx of 37,000-40,000 immigrants a year; in 1974-75 immigration fell by 50 per cent. The largest immigration to Israel was from the USSR and the decrease in immigration from there was more than 60 per cent. Contrary to claims by the Israeli authorities, this is not only due to a Soviet clamp on emigration but to the world crisis and the decreasing attraction of Israel after the 1973 war. The dwindling desire of Russian Jews to emigrate to Israel can be seen from the growing percentage of emigrants from the USSR who upon arrival in the West refuse to go to Israel. While only 4 per cent opted for the West in 1973, this rose to 36 per cent at the end of 1974.29 Western sources also report that only about 10,000 Jews are waiting for emigration permits, not hundreds of thousands as claimed by zionist propaganda.30
Slackening immigration and growing emigration not only influence the growth of the Jewish population but they compound the ideological crisis. Zionists view Israel as a state with a mission – to propagandise among Jews, convert them to immigration and absorb them. To most ardent zionists the state is not a goal in itself, but a means in the ‘ingathering’ process, which is a higher and ultimate goal. A zionist state that does not absorb immigrants and whose citizens are leaving is in an acute crisis.
Furthermore, the self-proclaimed role of ‘saviour of suffering Jews’ gives Israel its moral status among the Jews. ‘It is not us that you help’, say the zionists, ‘but yourselves and other suffering Jews. We shed our blood for you, so the least you owe us is support and money.’ This is the usual argument on which the zionist leadership bases its claim to hegemony among Jews. An Israel that does not attract the ‘needy’, an Israel that demands money and support to carry out an endless war whose necessity is increasingly doubted, means the bankruptcy of zionism. It may still obtain Jewish aid, but the role is reversed: the Israelis are the ‘needy’. Israel thus becomes just another Jewish community in distress, which other Jewish communities try to help – as has happened so many times in Jewish history! The myth of the ultimate solution to which zionism is committed is exploded.
There is another dimension to this ideological crisis – a personal disillusionment. The realisation of their dependence on the ‘diaspora’ rather than the diaspora’s on them raises a thousand doubts among Israelis– especially the young, the educated, the mobile. The Israeli too is asked to sacrifice personally for the zionist mission of ‘ingathering’ – long years of service in the army, the discomforts of a society at war, his standard of living, his personal aspirations and even his life. In return he felt a ‘hero’ leading a ‘meaningful life’. These feelings depended on the coming of immigrants and the hushing up of emigration. Every young Israeli now has friends who emigrated and live abroad. The dwindling immigration raises the spectre of longer periods in the army; the ‘duties’ of others who do not come or have left that fall on him. Is he a hero, or a fool? he wonders.
The class struggle
Israel’s inability to pursue its three basic aims is also reflected in labour relations. The growing share of its GNP that now has to go towards financing its war machine, the uncertainty of the continuation and level of American support and the repercussions of the world economic crisis compel Israel to reduce severely its standard of living. Under these conditions the struggle over the distribution of the cuts between labour and capital is intensified.
1968-73 were ‘fat years’ for Israeli capitalists, despite the high rate of inflation. With the help of the government and Histadrut the ratio between the share of capital and the share of labour in the GNP increased almost 150 per cent.
Payments to labour and capital as % of GNP
(Source: I. Kaisar, Ma’ariv, October 1975)
Official statistics show that while the average increase of real wages was until 1973 only 2% per annum, productivity of labour increased 6% annually. Since 1973 real wages have been falling: 3.5% in 1973, almost 4% in 1974. Government support of capitalists can be seen by the fact that although the share of profits in the GNP grew, the share of profits in income tax payments fell from 18.8% in 1971 to 13% in 1974. The toll of financing Israel’s growing deficit thus fell more and more on its workers. Government policies since 1974, tax reforms and new taxes, abolition of subsidies on basic foods, and cuts in government welfare and education services have further hit wage earners and particularly the lowest paid. The Histadrut adds to this policy by restraining wage demands and by accepting, and forcing upon the workers, an indexation policy which did not even attempt to compensate for the soaring inflation.
Under these conditions there has been a steep increase in the number of industrial conflicts. In 1975 the number of strikes increased threefold over 1974. The number of workers involved in strikes increased about eightfold. Most of the disputes occurred in the public sector. The majority of strikes were in industry and transport. Of these 60 per cent were not authorised by the Histadrut and were thus ‘wild-cat’ strikes. Some strikes escalated into heavy confrontations with the police and the border-guard militia.31
The Histadrut’s absolute failure to back the workers is now clear to the workers themselves. It is even more transparent since 1974 when the previous General Secretary of the Histadrut, Ben-Aharon, who made militant verbal pronouncements, was seen as a danger and was replaced by the Labour Party with a more docile and obedient general secretary. The fact that the Histadrut has long ceased to represent the rank and file of Jewish workers is reflected in the composition of its congresses. A survey among delegates to the Histadrut 11th congress in 1969 revealed that only 5% came from workshops and factories, another 5% from kibbutzim and moshavim and 90% were full-time functionaries of the various parties.32
The alienation of the Histadrut from its members is reflected among workers’ leaders who openly attack the Histadrut. In November 1975, this disillusionment brought together strike leaders, workers, committees and some union leaders who decided to form action committees to co-ordinate industrial action and promote solidarity among workers in the face of the hostile mass media. Among the founders of the action committees were leaders of the dockers and other port workers, seamen and airport workers, workers from leading factories in the electro-mechanical industries and the union of bank clerks. The action committees denounced the Histadrut as ‘worse than the Mafia’ and called its indexation and wage agreements a ‘charade’. They also called for the foundation of another trade union federation.
These developments recall many of the action committees which sprang into being in 1962 and culminated in major mass strikes of hundreds of thousands of workers. They are a clear sign that the Histadrut is losing its authority. In several cases when public opinion was whipped up by the mass media which used the argument that the strikers support the PLO, they were not deterred and mockingly called themselves ‘the PLO’. Some of the action committee members made political speeches criticising belligerent government policies and their refusal to recognise the Palestinian people. Although these isolated events must not be exaggerated, they do indicate that the use of chauvinistic propaganda to divert the class struggle is less effective and more transparent than in the past.
The Histadrut is also aware of the danger of its growing conflict with the rank and file of the workers and has spent much on research into this question.33 At present the Histadrut is considering the abolition of the right of workers’ committees in factories to declare strikes and the transfer of this right to higher Histadrut institutions.34 If this constitutional change is implemented, the rank and file would lose all remnants of the freedom to act and defend themselves in the class struggle. This measure must be seen against the background of disapproval by the Histadrut of most strikes in Israel today. The Histadrut is also deliberating stopping payments of strike funds to unauthorised strikers and the state is considering an introduction of new and more restrictive legislation on strikes and labour disputes.
Another strategy adopted in an attempt to head off the resentment of workers is more sophisticated. As mentioned before, only 5 per cent of representatives in Histadrut congresses and central bodies are representatives of workers’ committees, and the rest are party bureaucrats and functionaries. This is to be changed and the ratio of representatives from workers’ committees is to be increased in the future to 35-40 per cent. Though this measure masquerades as democratisation, it is in fact another blow to the autonomy of the workers’ committees. Hitherto elections to workers’ committees were direct and personal. Now parties will intervene more in elections on the shop floor and the elected will no longer be chosen according to their dedication to their fellow workers but to the parties which back and promote them. .
Another indicator of the economic crisis is the growing unemployment. The number of workers seeking employment through the labour exchanges rose 19 per cent towards the end of 1975. Worst hit is the construction sector which suffers from the slackening of immigration and a halt in investment. In this sector many of the workers are Palestinians from the occupied territories. Israeli papers reported that thousands are now seeking alternative employment in the Arab countries. Official forecasts predicted 20,000 unemployed in construction by the end of 1976 (a third of the labour force employed in this sector). Other government forecasts spoke of 60,000 to 100,000 unemployed by the end of 1976 (5-8 per cent of the labour force). As most manual workers are either Arabs or Oriental Jews, the bulk of the unemployed will come from these strata. This poses potential political dangers, as it will tend to further radicalise Oriental Jews and increase what the zionists consider irredentist national feelings among Arabs. A swell in unemployment is also traditionally correlated in Israel with an increase in emigration and a reduction in immigration.
The political crisis
The political crisis in Israel manifests itself as a crisis of hegemony. The ruling power bloc is paralysed between opposing factions inside it and is unable to reach decisions on major policy issues. Instead of giving leadership it merely reacts to events forced upon it by external and internal pressures. This lack of programme is fast eroding the credibility and authority of the government.
The governmental crisis is also replicated inside the Labour Alliance, the ruling party. The leading organs of the party are not capable of forming an agreed policy. The party cannot resolve constitutional issues which will result in an election of an authoritative leading body. It is in an acute financial crisis. To understand how this situation came about it is necessary to explain the process of ideological transformation which labour zionism has gradually undergone.
Transformism was the term coined by Antonio Gramsci to denote the process of convergence of the historic left and right in Italy from the 1880s until the rise of fascism.35 We shall use the term transformism to denote the process whereby historic ‘left’ and ‘right’ zionist parties have been converging in terms of their programmes. Theories and concepts which were historically associated distinctly with the left or the right lose this distinctiveness and are adopted by parties, or fractions within parties, which were historically opposed to them.
There are several manifestations of this change: individuals, political and intellectual figures, who rose within labour zionism, join parties of the right or become active in political movements with right-wing ideas. Entire groups which previously belonged to Labour, split to form right-wing factions or to join the right bloc. More typical perhaps of Israel, due to the Labour Party’s long hold on government, has been that factions inside Labour, despite having changed their ideology, remain organisationally in the Labour bloc, and fight within it for the implementation of rightist ideas. The result of this last development is that the ruling Labour bloc has disintegrated internally into personal cliques and factions and has become ideologically indistinct. The united organisational framework becomes a mere mechanism for allocation of power positions in the state to personal cliques which use these positions as feudal estates with little coordination. The crisis of hegemony is thus transformed into a general crisis of the state.
The conquest of new territories in 1967, and the difficulties that Israel faces in trying to annex them, triggered off a fundamental debate among zionists. The question was whether zionism had reached its territorial limits; whether Israel should aim for the whole of Palestine as a Jewish state, or accept being a Jewish state in part of Palestine. To make the whole of Palestine into a Jewish state, Israel would have to annex the occupied territories politically and officially; to make these territories Jewish, it must displace their inhabitants and replace them with Jewish settlers. This is how the questions of annexation and colonisation have surfaced.
Israel’s inability to annex the occupied territories was due to several reasons, most important of which was pressure from the US, its main backer. The US objection to annexation later developed into pressure on Israel to return the territories as part of an American grand plan of action in the Middle East. Territories occupied by Israel are used by the US as cards for bargaining with the Arab regimes. In Israel this creates an atmosphere of alarm and crisis; it renews the historic debate between left and right: Can zionism achieve its aims under the auspices of its imperialist ally? Or, on the contrary, can zionism survive, let alone achieve its aims, without or against its imperialist ally? The answers given to these questions do not correspond to the historic division between left and right.
In the face of the government’s inability to annex and colonise most of the occupied territories, the question of voluntarism has resurfaced. The left, with its ideology of Halutsiut, had not accepted the legality of the British government’s restrictions on Jewish colonisation, and educated its youth on the supremacy of zionist principles even when they clashed with the law. The ‘new right’, which has reproached the Israeli government for its indecision and procrastination on matters of colonisation, upholds the ‘left’s’ own historic slogans and principles and forms settlements in defiance of the government. The settlers dare a Jewish government to evict them by force. This was something that even the British authorities flinched from doing. Thus a Jewish government was faced with the accusation of having given up political claims on those territories.
It is within this context that the ideological bankruptcy of the ruling power bloc must be seen. The leader of Mapam reproached members of his party who referred to the Sebastia settlers as ‘fascists’. He compared these settlers to the pioneers of his own generation who, he said, had been moved by the same spirit.36 The left in the Labour Party denounces unauthorised settlements in the West Bank, and claims that the Judaisation of the Galilee is of higher priority. The fact is that traditional left zionism has no alternative ideology to pose against the settlers’ arguments. Being a strongly ideological movement, zionism has always regarded the state as a mere tool for higher aims. The right-wing settlers now put their own principles above the reasons of the state.
Another indication of ideological transformism is the sort of legitimating beliefs used by the new right to justify their activities. The socialist jargon which was characteristic of the Halutsiut of the 1930s and 1940s has disappeared and given place to a mixture of justifications – the security of the state and a religious messianic zeal. This mixture corresponds to two basic components of the ideology which is now dominant in Israel. ‘Security’ is part of the statist cult; and politico-religious messianism is a radical offshoot of the so-called ‘Jewish consciousness’ which the state inculcates in the Israeli-born as a way of reinforcing their identification with the ‘ingathering’ process of Jewish immigration.
This new guise of zionism is significant: it shows that while zionist ideology can make use of elements from other world views, these elements are not essential to it. The same aims can be justified and argued for under the guise of different ideologies. It also shows that the debates of the 1930s between ‘left’ and ‘right’, which took the form of struggle between ‘socialists’ and ‘fascists’, must not be accepted at face value but should be studied in the proper context of zionism.
The significance of the new right – the Greater Israel Movement and Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) – is not in their numerical strength but in the fact that they reflect the crisis of the Israeli political system. These two movements are a new phenomenon in Israel’s political life. They are not parties but campaigns, whose membership includes people officially belonging to many different parties, left, religious and right. Within these movements, people who were historically on the extreme right wing of zionism work hand in hand with some of the founders of left zionism. Former members of the Irgun and the Stern Group are now together with former members of the Haganah and Palmach who had fought them in the 194Os.
The new movements work both inside the existing party structure and outside it. In this respect they are probably transitional forms of new political constellations. Inside the traditional parties, members of the new movements operate as pressure groups, supported by other members of the same party who for various reasons do not officially join the new movements. Through the traditional parties members of the new right also hold positions of power in the state apparatus, which they use to gain information, authority and resources to further their aims. The fact that the parties do not try to force these people out but, on the contrary, attempt to placate and co-opt them, makes these parties ideal incubators for the movements. This situation is a reflection of the present state of the traditional parties.
The appearance of new movements on the political scene is not confined to the right; splintering has also occurred on the left fringe of left zionism, albeit on a smaller scale. This is a reaction to the ideological transformism of labour zionism and the alienation of voters from the bureaucratic apparatuses. The trend was intensified during the authority crisis following the 1973 war.37 Most of the zionist ‘new left’ groups aspired to replace the Labour Party. All of them failed to achieve theoretical articulation, and before long degenerated into marginal personal cliques of Byzantine intrigues. Only a trickle from this trend reached the anti-zionist left.
Gush Emunim appeared together with a plethora of abortive protest movements in the wake of the 1973 war. Many of its members are young religious Israelis. In aims they are close to the Greater Israel Movement (GIM), but are more inclined to direct action and can thus act as the operational arm, or commando unit, of the GIM. The GIM is more active in mass propaganda and agitation campaigns. The success of the new right is not due to its own numerical strength; its membership is the tip of an iceberg submerged in the parties, the government, the army and the mass media which lend it support.
The dangers to democracy in Israel
Some left zionists have recently been talking about the danger of fascism in Israel, and the Israeli Communist Party has joined them in sounding the alarm. Although we agree that Israeli bourgeois democracy is in great danger, we think it wrong to seek the danger in fascism.
It is generally agreed among marxists that fascism appears and belongs in the epoch of monopoly capitalism. However, most marxists are careful to distinguish various state forms of monopoly capitalism – some bourgeois democratic, others authoritarian. Under conditions of acute crisis, democracy may be replaced by exceptional state forms of an authoritarian nature. Not all authoritarian states are fascist. Marxist theoreticians have distinguished other forms, eg Bonapartism, Caesarism, military dictatorship etc.38 Each form of authoritarian state corresponds to a specific kind of crisis and requires a specific analysis and a specific strategy.
The Comintern under Stalin failed to understand the nature of fascism, with well-known tragic results. The failure to analyse was followed by disastrous tactics – first in attacks, sometimes together with the Nazis, on the Social Democrats (the ‘social fascism’ of the ‘third period’) and then a complete volte face in a liquidationist nonsocialist direction (the ‘popular front’ of the ‘fourth period’).39
These mistakes were a result of the economistic nature of the Comintern analysis of fascism. They were also a result of using abstract formulas derived on the basis of partial historical analysis and their dogmatic general application to historically specific and different situations.
‘The stalinists adopted the idea that in the contemporary period finance capital cannot accommodate itself to parliamentary democracy and is obliged to resort to fascism. From this idea, absolutely correct within certain limits, they draw in a purely deductive, formally logical manner the same conclusions for all the countries and for all stages of development… In doing this they forget:
- That in the past, too, capitalism never accommodated itself to ‘pure’ democracy, now supplementing it with a regime of open repression, now substituting one for it;
- That ‘pure’ finance capitalism exists nowhere;
- That even while occupying a dominant position finance capital does not act within a void…
- That, finally, between parliamentary democracy and the fascist regime a series of transitional forms, one after the other, inevitably interposes itself, now ‘peaceably’ now by civil war. And each one of these transitional forms, if we want to go forward and not be flung to the rear, demands a correct theoretical appraisal and a corresponding policy of the proletariat.’40
The Israeli Communist Party’s analysis of the dangers of fascism in Israel41 exactly merits the above criticism. Fascism is simply seen as ‘the terroristic rule of the finance bourgeoisie’; Israel is transformed by a stroke of the pen into a normal monopoly capitalist country; left and right wings of zionism are seen as the social democracy and fascism of Europe, and their zionism recedes to a secondary place; religious messianism, extreme right and fascism are all run together; ‘fascism’, ‘coup’, ‘military dictatorship’ are used interchangeably.
Instead of taking up each point in the ICP analysis, we have counterposed the alternative analysis briefly outlined in the previous sections. In Italy, Germany and Spain fascism emerged under conditions of an acute class struggle where the revolutionary forces were large and organised. Fascism grew as a reaction of the right to a feared socialist revolution. It came to power after the rise of the revolutionary forces had been halted and its first action was to complete this defeat by crushing the political organisations of the working class. No one in his right mind who is vaguely familiar with the situation can claim that such conditions, or even remotely similar conditions, presently exist in Israel.
The scarecrow of fascism was adopted by the ICP for other reasons. The ICP has been growing in the Arab sector in Israel, no doubt due to the present Soviet line towards the PLO and its support of the demand for a Palestinian state. In the Jewish sector, however, it made no gains. Some left and new left zionist circles ignorantly or deliberately use the term ‘fascism’ in their struggle against the zionist new right. It is in order to court these circles and appeal to them that the ICP has launched its ‘dangers of fascism’ campaign. This campaign is unlikely to bring many new adherents to the ICP line. Left zionists are also the most ardent supporters of Kissinger and his plans and try their best to avoid being labelled as pro-Soviet. It is for these opportunistic reasons that the ICP published this false analysis. Fortunately or unfortunately, it will be read and discussed mainly by its own members who will thus be further confused about the nature of zionism and their attitude towards left and right wings of zionism.
The nature of Israel’s military, economic and political dependence on the US is such that the way in which the Israeli crisis develops will depend in the last instance on the development of contradictions between US and Israel. These contradictions are the outcome of the present US line in the Middle East and thus depend on the continuation and intensification of this line. Israel has no alternative ally willing and able to replace the US. The whole history of zionism makes it highly improbable that any foreseeable Israeli government will break away from the imperialist alliance and try to resolve the conflict through direct negotiations and integration in the Arab East.
Israel must maintain the formal facade of a democracy. This is because permanent war characterises its existence, and the nature of its relations with Jews and zionists outside Israel. Under conditions of open dictatorship, immigration could well come to a halt and most Jewish support could cease. Israel’s citizen army is based on a high level of consensus and identification between government and citizens. Any openly dictatorial regime faced with a war will run the risk of defeat due to demoralisation, desertion and civil disobedience. An open dictatorship will face a large wave of emigration which.will cripple the economy, the army, and deplete its educated skilled personnel. Already isolated, Israel will be almost an outcast in the world community.
These two factors – the US alliance and the need to maintain a facade of democracy – are the limiting constraints within which the Israeli crisis will resolve itself. Any policies adopted by a zionist government will have to acquire the consent of the US. This does not preclude the possibility of a change in US policy in the Middle East brought about by a political confrontation with Israel or a post facto change brought about by a swift and successful Israeli military campaign. An Israeli attempt to force a change in the US policy, however, is extremely risky and will itself be preceded by major changes in the Israeli political system.
A facade of democracy does not preclude major changes in an authoritarian direction. These changes and their enforcement, however, have to be achieved in a way which will not cause great disunity. Paradoxically, those on the zionist right who are willing to risk a confrontation with the US and chance a war can less afford disunity than those who try to avoid a crisis with the US and another war. It is not very likely that a war in itself will again be a unifying factor. It is also less likely that a disunited zionist camp, in Israel and outside, can bring about a change in US policy in the Middle East, without which Israel will not be able to reap the benefits of another military campaign.
The growing influence of the new right leads some left and new left zionist circles to catastrophic theories. Their craving for peace and their belief that the right is assuredly dragging Israel into isolation from the US and into another useless war leads them to thoughts about the necessity of confrontation with this right. The inability of the government to enforce its decisions on the unauthorised settlers led to ideas of matching the forces of the right with the forces of the left. It is from within these circles that the talk of fascism, and the need to stop it, emanate.
These theories of the fringe left are erroneous and naive. The zionist parties share a basic consensus about aims. They also share the state and the zionist apparatus. An open conflict between them at a time of external isolation and in the face of a likely war would be suicidal. In an open struggle among zionists there will be no victors and vanquished – all are bound to lose. To think otherwise in Israel today is to ignore the real danger to democracy which lies in the opposite direction – in a new unity of the zionist forces in the face of a crisis with the US.
It is within a unified government, which will have the consent of most of the zionist political organisations, that further restrictions on democracy may be imposed. They will be made in the name of ’emergency’ and the need for total mobilisation and unity. The restrictions will most probably be in the following areas: an extensive use of the mandatory emergency regulations; legislation against strikes; further restrictions, harrassment and even outlawing of the anti-zionist forces; growing censorship of the mass media; mass campaigns against dissenters; a further reduction in the importance of parliament; and legislation which will not allow representation to small parties.
Three versions of unity governments have been either hinted at or discussed publicly.
- A National Coalition Government. This solution is based on the existing political party structure and is thus favoured by the bureaucracies of the parties involved. Such a government already existed once in Israel (in 1967) and included Labour, the Likud bloc and the religious parties as its main components. The national unity government was disbanded when the Likud left it after the cabinet had agreed in principle, under US pressure, to relinquish some territories. The formation of such a government may cause splitting on the further right and left of its three main components who may object to this compromise centrist solution. The stability of such a government when faced with major decisions is also doubtful due to the fractionalisation in the parties. However this solution may be adopted because it entails the least havoc in the present political system. It may be a transitional solution which does not exclude the other two.
- The Sharon Plan. Named after its originator General Ariel Sharon, the plan calls for the formation of a small crisis cabinet whose members are national figures, not necessarily party leaders. The cabinet would seek a vote of confidence from the existing parties. Heavily weighted by the military, this would be clearly a war cabinet. It would have the confidence of the army but also mass appeal, due to the grouping in it of the ‘national heroes’. Though this government may have the democratic facade of a vote of confidence in parliament, it would not be accountable to and controlled by the parties. It is true that parties have little control on ministers today, but Sharon’s plan would take this process much further. Moreover, the parties will hardly be in a position to vote down this form of government. In such a case the cabinet could appeal directly to the voters. In elections like these the parties would completely disintegrate.
- A new political structure. This is a modification of the previous plan. In the face of the inability of the Labour Party to resolve its paralysis and the weakness of the government, elections would be called where new constellations may appear. Several national personalities have raised this suggestion and it is possible that governmental teams of ‘national heroes’, presently of different parties, would present themselves for election. Sharon’s plan could also take this form either initially or after the two previous alternatives fail. This plan would also appeal to the army and would utilise the dissatisfaction with the government and the parties. It would call for strong leadership and authority and gain votes on the basis of talent, novelty, youth and courage. This Bonapartist form of government, based on direct vote not mediated through organised parties, is clearly anti-democratic, but would maintain the facade of elections or even the formal appearance of parties.
The continuation and intensification of American pressure is the major cause of the present political crisis in Israel. No personnel changes, or even a new government can resolve this crisis. The time may soon be approaching when zionists will have to choose between some of their basic aims and a confrontation with their imperialist supplier of butter and guns.
The struggle for democracy is bound to intensify. The socialist anti-zionists will as usual be in the forefront of this struggle. They will continue to fight against the emergency laws, and against the confiscation of Arab land for Jewish colonisation. They will struggle against any restriction of the rights of workers and against the harrassment and discrimination of those who oppose the government’s zionist policies. This, however, will not be achieved by clouding our analysis and trailing behind in the transformation process. We shall work with democratic forces even if they are zionist. But we shall not bend our clarity to their confusion as the ICP is opportunistically doing.
Postscript, September 1977
The coming to power of the Likud/Religious Party Coalition does not change the basic premises of the article written in early 1976. However, in some respects it has created a new situation which must therefore be considered afresh.
- The primacy of politics: As long as the inflow of money from unilateral sources continues and as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict continues, politics will remain primary.
- The unity of leadership: Begin has up till now been very careful not to overstep the borders of the previous Labour Party ‘consensus’. Early fears that a Likud government would quickly introduce radical structural changes can be seen to be unfounded. The Labour Party has had no difficulty in supporting the new government line in foreign affairs. The government is pursuing many of the economic measures previously outlined by Labour. In fact there does not seem to be any real opposition to Begin’s government within the zionist camp (with the exception of the fringe party Sheli-Moked).
- The political aspects of a unilateral transfer economy: The change of government has been followed by changes in personnel in the government, in the public sector and the Jewish Agency. The formula of power-sharing via access to positions of distribution of money has thus been maintained. The difference is merely that it is now the Likud/Religious Parties who take the dominant position.
Dimensions of the Crisis
- Economic: The last two years saw practically no growth in Israeli GNP. The worst-hit sector was construction (18 per cent) while industry and agriculture improved slightly. Private consumption per capita declined both in 1975 and 1976 while inflation which was 56 per cent in 1974, is still about 40 per cent in 1977. The foreign debt of Israel continues to grow and reached $9,300 million at the end of 1976. Israel’s dependence on the US is no less than before.
- International: Israel’s isolation has increased and its insistence on ‘no negotiation with the PLO’ and no withdrawal from the West Bank is not accepted by many of its western allies. This isolation pushes Israel to increase its economic and military links with other ‘outcast’ countries such as South Africa, Chile, Taiwan and South Korea.
- Immigration – emigration: Most of the trends indicated in the article continued. In the last year, however, there has been a significant increase of immigration of Jews from South Africa and Rhodesia.
- Class struggle: Shortly before the elections in May, there was an important dock strike. The Labour government was determined to break the strike by introducing the army into the ports. However this was foiled by the international solidarity of dockers in Britain and elsewhere, who declared that they would black any items loaded by the army. In another strike (of air controllers in the airports) the army was used. The Labour government put forward a plan for legislation which would make arbitration compulsory in labour relations – a project which the Begin government has promised to pursue. The Labour-controlled Histadrut has agreed to a wages freeze and a ‘social contract’ policy under the Begin government!
- The political crisis: The most significant change in Israel in the last year has been of course the defeat of the Labour party and the formation of the ‘Right-wing’ Likud-Religious Party government. The main argument of the article, ie the convergence of the ‘right’ and ‘left’ in zionism and the acute crisis of the Labour party, has now become clear to all. The process of ‘transformation’ continued and intensified in 1976-77. It reached a peak early in 1977 in the formation of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) headed by Yadin. This new party was directly responsible for Labour’s defeat in the elections. It drew its voters mainly from sections of the population which had traditionally voted for Labour or its Liberal coalition allies. Sociologically, the DMC voters came from sections of the bureaucracy, professionals and middle class strata who were historically part of Labour zionism but had become disenchanted with it.
The ‘transformation process’ did not end with the arrival in power of the Begin government. On the contrary, it has intensified and is being actively encouraged by Begin. Dayan’s switch to the Begin government and his subsequent move to develop a factional organisation of his supporters in the Labour party, in the DMC and in La’am (previously a party split off from Labour and now a component of the Likud bloc) point towards further splitting in the Labour Party. The DMC itself is divided on the question of alliance with the new government. Many of its prominent members who were in high executive positions in the previous establishment cannot conceive of themselves out of power. Furthermore, the defeat in the elections exacerbated the leadership crisis within Labour, which is now paralysed, unable and unwilling to formulate an alternative line to that of the Begin government. The historical hegemony of Labour zionism which has led the zionist movement in Palestine for almost 50 years, has come to an end.
The Begin coalition, although narrowly based, is not challenged at present, by any serious opposition.
The new regime
Although the new government is pursuing a policy of unity and consensus, it is insistently displacing public opinion in an ever more nationalistic and religious direction. This is being done by tighter control of the mass media and its more blatant use for brainwashing purposes. The Ministry of Education and Culture, headed by Hammer, NRP member and supporter of Gush Emunim, has given very clear indications of its plan to replace ideological pluralism by what is called ‘a unified value system’ based on a religious Jewish consciousness. There is a phoney atmosphere of ‘return to God’ in the country, which is causing alarm among many secular zionists. The new government is slowly but systematically building its own new establishment. Several new ministers are known industrialists and millionaires. Many Irgun and Stern-group members, who were ostracised and excluded from power by the previous regime are now assuming important positions in the state apparatus. The new regime has incorporated part of the previous civil service elite but is carefully placing new people, its own people, in all the thousand or so key positions.
As the Labour Party maintained a small majority in the Histadrut elections held shortly after the parliamentary elections, there is now a situation, for the first time in Israel, where the Histadrut is not under the same leadership as the state. This could potentially have led to a situation of dual power, had the Labour Party been a socialist party. In fact, Labour played up socialist symbols in the Histadrut elections and evoked an image of the Likud dismantling and nationalising the Histadrut sector. This was made more plausible by the Likud’s invitation to Professor M. Friedman to advise Israel on economic measures. Most of his suggestions, however, encountered strong opposition not only from the Histadrut but from the National Association of Industrialists. The Minister of Finance, Ehrlich (member of the Liberal component of Likud, and himself an industrialist), is however known to be a monetarist.
Although the government has avoided direct confrontation with the Histadrut, the preferential treatment of the Histadrut sector, in terms of government purchases (extremely important in Israel), funnelling of development funds and easy terms and subsidies, is being stopped. This does not seem however to have yet had an effect on the Histadrut sector. More serious are the government’s plans to introduce a state pension law and nationalise the Histadrut pensions funds. These funds have historically been used by the Histadrut as a source of financing its economic sector. The Pensions Law proposed was launched under the previous government. Another plan which was first brought up by the Labour government, but if implemented by the Likud government will also weaken the Histadrut, is the creation of a National Health Service. The government is also planning other measures to encourage private money markets. Stock exchange activities are being boosted by the new government and a law which will ‘launder’ capital on which income tax had not been paid (‘black money’) is now being introduced. (Tax evasion in Israel in 1975 has been estimated to be $2,000 million.) This, it is hoped, will inject a huge sum into the money markets and thereby encourage economic activity.
Further retrogressive measures already introduced are cuts in government services and in food subsidies and other social security benefits. These are corning together with price increases of almost 30 per cent and plans to create so-called ‘controlled’ unemployment. Most hit by these changes will be precisely sections of the population which sought a panacea in voting for Likud.
Further indications of the new regime are the increased use of threats and repression against dissenters. Members of anti-zionist groups are being detained by the police for interrogation and warned to stop ‘anti-state’ activities. (These included members of Matzpen, Trotskyists and Communists). In August ten Arab members of the Communist party were arrested and brought to court on the charge of ‘inciting to rebellion’. This is how Begin’s state now chooses to interpret chanting anti-Israeli songs in a wedding in Majd al-Kurum in the Galilee.
Although alarming, these changes are still far from fascism.
How the new regime develops will crucially depend on US policy in the area.
- In recent years certain zionist historians, some even of the zionist left, have begun to demolish this myth. See, eg, Yigal Elam, An Introduction to Zionist History (Hebrew); Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion, A Political Biography, 1975 (Hebrew). ↩
- On left zionism see ISRACA, 4 March 1971. ↩
- See Ben Hecht, Perfidy, 1972 and D. Israeli, The German Reich and Eretz Israel, 1974 (Hebrew). Also see interview with Dr Y. Minervi on Mussolini and Zionism in Du Shvu’on, the Hebrew university of Jerusalem, 7 February 1973 (Hebrew). ↩
- Dunam equals 1/4 acre. ↩
- On this technique in Mapai history, see Peter Y. Medding, Mapai in Israel, 1972. ↩
- Similarly, Ben-Gurion told Begin a fortnight in advance about the decision to start the Suez war of 1956; Mapam, which was part of the coalition cabinet, was kept in the dark until the eve of the attack. ↩
- Mapai (Mifleget Poalei Eretz-Israel), founded in 1930, is the biggest of three parties which united in 1968 to form the Israeli Labour Party. ↩
- eg, the Sapir fund – see S. Ehrlich in Ha’aretz, 15 September 1973 and D. Margalit in Ha’aretz, 13 May 1973. ↩
- See U. Benziman in Ha’aretz, 28 February 1975; Z. Yefet in Ha’olam Hazeh, 26 February 1975; A. Rubinstein in Ha’aretz, 31 October 1975; Y. Gilbo’a in Ma’ariv, 31 October 1975. ↩
- eg, the Rechter affair – see Yedi’ot Aharonot, 30 January 1975 and Ha’olam Hazeh Nos 1974, 1975, 1996. (Added in translation: It is also rumoured that Abraham Ofer, the Housing Minister who committed suicide in January 1977, was involved in such ‘fund raising’ for Mapai – see Ha’olam Hazeh No 2053, 5 January 1977.) ↩
- See G. Ya’acobi and E. Gera, The right to choose, 1975 (Hebrew); Hakibbutz Ha’artzi Symposium on the preferred election system in Israel, 1974 (Hebrew). ↩
- See D. Bach in Davar, 1 March 1974; R. Bashan in Ma’ariv, 27 June 1975; also Ma’ariv, 30 October 1975; Ma’ariv, 31 October 1975. ↩
- S. Weiss, quoted in Ya’acobi and Gera, op cit, p13. ↩
- See H. Hanegbi, ‘The Histadrut, union and boss‘ in A. Bober (ed), The Other Israel, Doubleday 1972; H. Hanegbi, M. Machover and A. Orr, ‘The class nature of Israeli society‘ in New Left Review 65, January-February 1971. ↩
- P. Medding, op cit, p163. ↩
- T. Gudzianski, ‘The dangers of fascism in Israel’, in Arakhim, March 1975 (Hebrew). ↩
- Also known as Rakah. Another party, Maki, which also claimed to be ‘the Israeli CP’, now no longer exists, having been absorbed into the zionist party Moked. ↩
- See E. Zohar, In the clutches Of the regime – Why no one has stood up, 1974 (Hebrew), p108. ↩
- See Bank of Israel Research Department, Recent economic developments, No 19, 10 February 1975. ↩
- Ha’aretz, 31 October 1975. ↩
- Yedi’ot Aharonot, 9 October 1975. ↩
- T. Kessler in Yedi’ot Aharonot, 31 October 1975. ↩
- Ma’ariv, 2 November 1975. ↩
- See E. Zohar, op cit, p147; and N. Tal in Ha’aretz, 17 October 1975. ↩
- N. Tal, ibid. ↩
- E. Zohar, op cit, p148. ↩
- Quoted in The Jewish Chronicle, 2 November 1976. ↩
- L. Guttman and S. Levy, The will to remain in the country, Institute for Applied Social Research, Jerusalem, April 1974. ↩
- A. Tirosh in Ma’ariv, 7 January 1975. ↩
- BBC 4, 15 January 1976. ↩
- See Khamsin No 2, 1975 (French). ↩
- See Ben-Aharon, Struggle for change, p82, Am Oved, 1972 (Hebrew). ↩
- See A. Friedman, Structural changes in trade unions, 1972 (Hebrew). ↩
- See Davar, 7 December 1975. ↩
- See A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London 1971, p58 f, footnote; A. Gramsci, II Risorgimento, 1949. ↩
- J. Hazan, quoted in Ha’aretz, 12 December 1975. ↩
- These developments were also observed by some Israeli political scientists; see eg S. Weiss, With a discerning eye, 1975 (Hebrew) pp23-26, 67-71, 161-165 ,223-226. ↩
- Cf N. Poulantzas, Fascism and dictatorship, 1974, p58. Also A. Gramsci, ‘State and civil society’ (in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, op cit) and L. Trotsky, ‘Bonapartism and fascism’ in The struggle against fascism in Germany, 1975. ↩
- Cf F. Claudin, The communist movement from Comintern to Cominform, 1975; especially Chapter 4. ↩
- L. Trotsky, op cit, p438. ↩
- See n 16. ↩