In Defence of Hamas – Response/Counter-response

The Original Article by Pothik Ghosh

Is there really a Palestinian bourgeois class, which shares socio-political interests with its Israeli counterpart? For the very same reason that explains the absence of a working class movement in Palestine, there is no capitalist solidarity in that region as well. There have been working class leaders who have failed their class without being bourgeois themselves.

There is greater out-migration from Israel than there is immigration into the country. There is no material pressure to expand territory. After all, Israel did vacate Gaza. You are willing to compromise with Hamas’s Islamicism. Why can’t the Hamas accept Israel in the same spirit? – TK Arun

Dear TK,

I will attempt to address only the fundamental theoretical questions you have raised in your response to my piece on Palestine here. I’ll leave out some of the more empirical details that you have brought up.

To begin at the beginning, capitalist solidarity does not necessarily preclude struggle within capitalism among various sections of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the hegemonic social logic of capital, which would be constitutive of such solidarity, is of competitive socialisation. Capitalist solidarity is, therefore, not without stratification, and domination of one or more sections of the bourgeoisie by others. Capitalist solidarity can never, precisely because of this constitutive logic, be truly envisaged as absolutely horizontal. To that extent, there is no equality, even within the bourgeoisie, in capitalism. And to my mind solidarity among various sections of capitalists cannot, unlike socialist solidarity, be conceptualised (repeat conceptualised) as an absolute state. It exists, provisionally if you like, only in relation to their domination of the working class. I have, if you go back to my piece, said that the PLO-PA – and the Palestinian social groups embodied by them – also pose a Palestinian identity of struggle against Israel. But the decline in the radical tenor of resistance as posited through this ‘secular’ identity, seen in conjunction with its rejection by the Gazan underclass and the ascendancy of Hamas and its Islamism as the principal idiom of Palestinian resistance, indicates that there is a Palestinian bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie, even as it poses a struggle (competitive) against the Israeli state, and the Jewish bourgeoisie it embodies, for a better position within the larger regional capitalist hegemony, also seeks to protect and preserve its own interests against the assault of the Palestinian underclass. The PLO-PA’s collaboration, ever since Oslo, with the Israeli state to marginalise and even crush Hamas on one hand, and continuing to pose a Palestinian identity of struggle against Israel, on the other, is symptomatic of this strange capitalist paradox called competitive solidarity of the bourgeoisie. You will surely agree, and I have adduced examples to that effect in my article, that the Palestinian question posed by PLO-PA, post Oslo, is an apology of resistance in that it has been perfectly amenable to and even a participant in Israel’s insidious undermining of the Oslo Accords. Or, how else does one explain the failure of the Mahmoud Abbas-led group’s failure to forge a solid solidarity between West Bank and Gaza and conduct resistance against Israel with the same doggedness that Al Fatah, the Yasser Arafat-led main faction of the PLO, did in its heyday. That is something that Hamas has been doing. If anything, Abbas has used the PA security forces, and wonder of wonders Fatah fighters, to quell anti-Israeli dissent within Palestinian society not only in Gaza but also sometimes in West Bank.

If you argue that Hamas too is posing the question of self-determination in the idiom of competition I would certainly not disagree. Given that it’s not a self-conscious proletarian subjectivity, it sure is not self-reflexively aware that the question of political autonomy it’s raising cannot really be resolved unless it’s informed by a politics that shifts the horizon of socialisation from competition (capitalist) to non-alienated association and dialogue (trans- or counter-capitalist). Yet, at this moment this competitive posing of the ‘Islamised’ national Palestinian identity of Hamas – given that it is located in that section of Palestinian society (underclass) that is disenfranchised, dispossessed and dominated by a constellation of various institutionalized and alienated configurations of socio-political power formed by the PLO-PA and the Zionist state together as also separately – objectively poses the decimation of the competitive social logic of capitalism and its hegemony in the region. A hegemony that is, at this moment, precisely, the root cause of this dispossession and domination of a section of Palestinians. By the same token, the PLO-PA’s competitive ‘struggle’ against Israel, considering that it simultaneously seeks to collaborate with it, is an attempt to keep certain sections of Palestinian society at bay and, therefore, seeks to preserves and perpetuate the hegemony of capitalism and its competitive social logic and ideology.

I would, of course, join you in ruing the fact that working class forces have grasped this objective conjunctural situation neither in their theoretical analyses nor political practice. For, only that would break and displace the conjuncture towards a more ideologically proletarianised situation. And yet, that will not be any reason for me to simply reject a political subjectivity, which foregrounds this objective autonomy-association question sharply, merely because it’s not self-conscious of what its subjectivity actually amounts to in the objective realm. Of course, Hamas, or any such agency, will have to be critiqued for its deficit on those terms of self-consciousness. But that to my mind is not accomplished by painting it with the same moral-secular brush of Islamism that is used to taint forces like Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Coming back to a problem that has often cropped up in most of our discussions and debates, class for me is, in its essence, not a social identity or group. Though it can appear in that form sometimes. (Hegel’s “the essence must appear” or Marx’s “Class qua class”.) Class, for me, is a logic of relation. When competition happens, as is capitalism’s wont, in its moments of circulation (social) and distribution/regulation (political), we have to see in totality, by retroactive location in the moment of production (economic), what is the point from which absolute extraction of value occurs. The social group or identity that occupies that point at that moment is the form that the working class takes at that moment. In other words, politico-cultural identities have to be located within this matrix of social relations to figure out which class position they hold in themselves. And that would be irrespective of whether or not they display a subjective consciousness of their objective class location (or position) in positing their respective identities.

Your analysis seems to be informed by an economistic view of Marxism and class politics, which conflates the working class with workers and the bourgeoisie with a specific section among them: the industrial capitalists. But in my analysis West Asia, particularly Israel-Palestine, does not need to have heavy-duty industrialisation and thus industrial capitalists and industrial workers, for us to find either the working class or the bourgeoisie in that region. Capital, if I may repeat myself, is a certain configuration of social power.

Therefore, your assertion that there is no working class movement in the region is right. But not for the reasons you seem to imply. This absence is because, as I state above, the left forces in the region, which had some significant presence there once, have not been able to grasp, either in theory or in political practice, the conjuncture of Hamas’s emergence and critically engage with that conjuncture and thereby the Palestinian movement that has engendered a force like Hamas. If that sounds a tad voluntaristic and utopian, let me complete the dialectic, which will dissolve this subjective voluntarism into its objectivity, by saying the same thing from a different angle: only if Hamas succeeds in enabling a truly nationally (repeat nationally) self-determined Palestinian state would the Palestinian society have taken yet another step towards founding such a working class movement. The institutionalisation of Hamas, which the founding of such a nation-state would entail, would lead to the emergence of a new elite and bureaucracy from the currently struggling sections of Palestinian society, its concomitant alienation from the masses and the complete instrumentalisation of its Islamism, something that is at times visible now as fascism at the Palestinian community level.

All that would further deepen the objective conditions for the emergence of a significant working class politics in Palestine. Of course, subjective intervention to seize this objective moment would still be required. And we, who do politics in the shadow of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the elimination of the Tudeh Party by Khomeini’s band of Islamists, know all too well the heavy price to be paid for not seizing the objective moment through subjective ideological intervention. After all, only that can rupture the conjuncture. Similarly in Palestine. Hamas’s success and institutionalisation, going by the current configuration of political forces, could well lead to the emergence of more radical outfits such as the Islamic Jihad as the principal agency of Palestinian resistance. But Hamas’s marginalisation through military force, precisely what Israel has been trying to accomplish, would surely compel large sections of the beleaguered Palestinian underclass to vest their despair in the pernicious chimera of a hope that the pan-Islamism of Al Qaeda offers. Such perils in political struggles cannot, clearly, be pre-empted. They have to be faced even at the risk of making grave mistakes. For, if people eschew struggles for fear of the perils such struggles are likely to produce there would be no hope of them emancipating themselves. We would do well to recall Mao, who in his peculiarly Chinese Jacobin style used to say, “A revolution is not a dinner party.”

By the way, an aside: revolutionary forces in Palestine might be down but they are not out. Fighters of George Habbash’s Popular Front have reportedly been fighting the Israeli incursion shoulder to shoulder with the guerrillas of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The opportunity for a socialist revolutionary subjective intervention has not exactly been lost in Palestine.

Pothik Ghosh

Comments

  1. Can one dismiss issues of national oppression using oversimplified arguments of class and class struggle? Marxist Leninists have during the last century supported many a cause that was not leftist or involved the working class; and with good reason.
    The question of Jewish emigration exceeding immigration is of secondary importance when Arab land continues to be occupied and Arab territory continues to be fragmented so that the prospects for the Palestinian nation as a meaningful political and economic entity continues to be undermined. The Arabs of Palestine and Israel need to resist and they have no choice in the matter.
    Hamas like the Hezbollah to the north is evolving through a political process. It is an uncompromising fighting force as far as the Gazans are concerned and endorsed by an ever increasing number of those in the West Bank.
    Hamas uses terror tactics, but that has to be seen in context, especially that of Zionist terrorism. Who denied Hamas its rightful place as the government of the Palestinian Authority?
    Should not the US, Israel, PLO and their collaborators be not be held collectively responsible for the tragedy that followed?
    Hamas can be weaned out of tits religious ‘fundamentalism’, unlike ones like the Al-Qaeda without a popular base. Impotrantly, it has overcome the Sunni-Shia divide. But outside the Muslim world many do not appreciate the significance of this.
    The struggle in Palestine is still one of national liberation against a foreign aggressor backed not merely by imperialism but also reactionary Arab rulers.
    The PLO has compromised with imperialism and that is what led to the rise of Hamas. The PLO destroyed not merely its credibility but also that of ‘secularism’ among Palestinian Muslims.
    There are class forces within Palestine and there is class betrayal as well. But the left will only isolate itself if it does not recognise the main issue at stake. Criticising certain aspects of Hamas policy is one thing, but to put it on par with the Zionists is dangerous. Some in the Palestinian left need to learn about broad united fronts. The left can play a valuable role in the formation of one and in reconciling the genuinely anti-Zionist forces to unite as one strong force against the aggressor as they did in the early years of the PLO. It is through being constructive in its approach to the struggle against oppression that the left can develop into a strong force.
    The defeat of imperialism and Zionism is a precondition for any progress of the socialist cause in the Arab world.

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