Communism, fundamentalism and the question of Palestine / First published in FRFI 111 Feb/Mar 1993

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 First published in FRFI 111 February/March 1993

by Eddie Abrahams

As the 400 plus deportees freeze on the lebanese mountain sides, the united nations is again shamelessly exposing itself for what it is -- the public relations office for us imperialism. with un diplomatic blessing the us bombs iraq in the name of un resolutions and international democracy. israel meanwhile, a reliable ally ofthe us and un, neither faces nor expects any retaliation for its repeated defiance of numerous un resolutions including security council resolution 799 demanding a return of the deportees.

These illegal deportations -- among an arsenal of repressive measures Israel inherited from the British mandate including collective punishment, detention without trial, destruction of homes and orchards -- are more than just retribution for the death of Nissim Toledo. They are part of stepped-up repression against an Intifada resurgent since the November 1992 hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners. More particularly they were designed to disable Hamas which is emerging as a major force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

FUNDAMENTALISM -- REACTIONARY, PRO-CAPITALIST POPULISM

The rise of Hamas -- an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement -- has paralleled the wave of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping the Arab world. In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front commands massive support among the poor and is waging a terror campaign in its drive for power. Egypt's largest opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood. It has the support and the means to seriously destabilise Mubarak's pro-US government. The Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood extends its influence into every sector of the state, while fundamentalist forces gather influence in Tunisia, in Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere. In Palestine they claim to command anything between 25 per cent and 40 percent of popular support, reaching 60-70 per cent in certain areas of the Gaza Strip.

With the collapse of the USSR, the Great Powers are targeting Islamic fundamentalism as the 'evil enemy' undermining world order, the market economy and democracy. Such propaganda combined with fundamentalism's radical, anti-western and anti-Israeli rhetoric can generate illusions that it has progressive, democratic, anti-imperialist features. Hamas's record and role shows this is not the case. Islamic fundamentalism -- like its Christian and Jewish variants -- is an anti-democratic, reactionary and pro-capitalist political trend. It cannot represent the interests of the working class, the poor, the unemployed, the peasantry or the impoverished petit-bourgeoisie.

In the West petit-bourgeois and bourgeois anti-working class, chauvinist, xenophobic and sectarian movements assume the form of populist reactionary nationalism and racism. In Israel they have long assumed the form of Zionism. Islamic fundamentalism is the form they take in the Arab world. Today it represents the most dangerous obstacle to the development of a new movement capable of representing and enforcing the interests of the poor and exploited.

While each fundamentalist movement differs according to the character of the economy and class relations in each particular country, they by and large all share an essentially similar ideological and political standpoint. Committed to the defence of private property and capitalism, Islamic fundamentalism harbours a particular and savage hatred of communism and Marxism. It has acted as the ruling class's terror squad in the struggle against communism in the Middle East. Fundamentalism is characterised by an unremitting hostility to equality, democracy and rationalism. It opposes the right of the working class to organise independently of Islamic institutions. It is also uncompromisingly opposed to the emancipation of women from domestic slavery and is intent on driving them out of all spheres of public life.

Fundamentalism represents a ruling class alliance of less privileged sections of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie. It is the political movement of those sections of the ruling and privileged classes who were by-passed and marginalised during the period of post-colonial economic development. This stratum did not share fully in the post-colonial feast that the nationalist ruling class enjoyed as it squandered national wealth and degenerated into corruption and crime. Today, with an international economic crisis devastating the Third world and further discrediting the nationalist bourgeoisie, the fundamentalists see their opportunity to redress past grievances.

Despite fundamentalism's reactionary pro-capitalist character imperialism is determined to control its expansion and if possible defeat it. Today's fundamentalist forces, whilst prepared to co-exist with imperialism, are demanding a better deal for themselves. Imperialism will not readily countenance this. It prefers its traditional allies among the existing dominant sections of the ruling class whose demands are more 'moderate'. Furthermore, fundamentalist forces, resting upon mass support which is fired by hatred for imperialism, are inherently unstable and therefore ill-fitted to act as imperialist servants.

The distinctive and most dangerous feature of fundamentalism is this capacity to command support among the desperately poor and impoverished rural and urban population which sees no future for itself or its children. Experiencing the bitter results of opportunism among Arab communist parties, the poor and sections of the working class abandoned communism for fundamentalism. Most communist parties, essentially Menshevik organisations, were incapable of conducting an uncompromising class struggle against the rich and privileged ruling class. In the name of 'national unity' they all too often abandoned the needs of the poor and moderated the class struggle in favour of an alliance with a corrupt and pro-imperialist national bourgeoisie.

Without manipulating and exploiting popular discontent the fundamentalist leadership would not have the social power to mount a challenge to the long-established ruling class. Thus it promises to make the poor rich without, however, making the rich poor and without abolishing private property. On the basis of Islamic mores it promises to restore the social stability, cohesion and security which has been destroyed by capitalist development. The growth and evolution of Hamas reveals precisely the general conditions which have enabled fundamentalism to so displace communism and socialism as the ideology of the poor and exploited.


HAMAS DIVIDES AND WEAKENS THE INTIFADA

Hamas, the main fundamentalist force in Palestine, was formed in 1987 by the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood initially opposed the Intifada but was rapidly forced to change tack. Refusal to join an uprising of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people risked losing the fundamentalists all the popular support they had built through welfare, educational and religious work. But given the popular, revolutionary and anti-imperialist character of the movement, the Brotherhood decided to retain its distance and intervened one step removed by forming Hamas.

Hamas entered the political arena, but only to undermine the democratic and anti-imperialist struggle. The revolutionary wing of the Palestinian movement has always fought to destroy the racist and sectarian Zionist state and replace it with a democratic and secular Palestine. In such a state Arabs and Israelis, Muslims,Jews and Christians would have equal rights irrespective of race or religion. Hamas is opposed to this and aims to establish an Islamic state in which even many Palestinians who are Christians would be second class citizens.

Within the Intifada Hamas divided and weakened the popular movement. It not only opposed the PLO but refused to unite with it or collaborate with UNCU. It refused to participate in the popular committees which in the Intifada's early stages developed into the beginnings of organised popular power. Hostile to the independent organisation of the poor and working class it opposed the left-wing's call for a civil disobedience campaign to incapacitate the Zionist administration on the West Bank. In a direct challenge to the unity of the Palestinian resistance it organised strikes on days and times that the UNCU decreed as no-strike periods. Its anti-Christian sectarianism led to the founding of a Christian Resistance Movement (Hamam) in Ramallah.

Most significantly it violently opposed women's participation in the Intifada. Democratic Palestine comments:

'Hamas supporters launched a large-scale campaign against Palestinian women and their participation in the Intifada...This deprived the Intifada of about 50% of its activists.'

The PFLP's overall assessment of Hamas' role is sobering for those who mistake it for a genuine component of the Palestinian revolution:

'In the final analysis, Hamas has, whether consciously or not, contributed to the Israeli occupation's effort to undermine the Intifada. And here Palestinian leftists and other progressive nationalists are partially to blame, for they somehow closed their eyes to what was happening in the name of national unity, whereas they should have stood up to Hamas.'


HAMAS - AN ANTI-COMMUNIST TERROR SQUAD

The left's and progressive nationalists' toleration of Hamas was a terrible mistake. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas reserve their vilest venom for the left. A Hamas slogan makes the organisation's purpose clear: 'Communism is a cancer inside the nation's body and we will cut it out.' For such reasons these movements have for decades been nurtured and financed by the ruling class in its struggle against communism, Marxism and popular democracy in the Middle East. In Egypt and in Syria, the fundamentalists were used to oppose strong working class and communist organisations. In the Palestiman arena both Zionism and Arab reaction, while attacking the Palestinian and Arab left, financed and facilitated the growth of fundamentalism. Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, in their book 'Intifada -- Israel's Third Front', comment:

...the Civil Administration has contributed considerably to the development of the Muslim groups...Many Israeli staff officers believed that the rise of fundamentalism...could be exploited to weaken the power of the PLO...

'For the better part of a decade, the Israelis had allowed fundamentalist Muslims to move into positions of power in the religious establishment.'

Raim Baram, writing in Middle East International (8 January 1993), notes:

'The Israelis pumped millions of dollars into the Muslim coffers as part of their grand design to circumvent the PLO at any conceivable price.'

But the Muslim Brotherhood's major financier was the pro-US Saudi regime, notorious for its bankrolling of the fascist Mojahedin in Afghanistan, its support for the US war against Iraq and its support for counter-revolutionary forces in the Arab world. While it abstained from participation in the national struggle, with Saudi funding the Muslim Brotherhood built a vast network of support through Islamic endowments, welfare organisations, societies, universities and mosques it controlled.

With Saudi money and Zionist licence the Brotherhood launched a veritable civil war against the democratic and particularly Marxist and left-wing forces in Palestine. A few examples demonstrate this. In January 1980 they attacked and severely damaged the Palestinian Red Crescent offices in Gaza claiming it was dominated by communists. In 1982 they did so again, attacking twice. In 1981 Dr Mohammad Hassan Sawalhah was thrown out of a third floor window of Al Naja University because he was a left-winger. In 1983 fundamentalists launched attacks on leftists and nationalists in the Universities of Bir Zeit and Gaza. In 1984 they dispersed a demonstration in Al Bireh refugee camp claiming it was supported by the 'atheist left'. In the Gaza Strip PFLP and Palestine Communist Party members have been subjected to acid and razor attacks. Violence against PLO supporters continued and in June 1992 fundamentalists tried to drive PLO supporters off the streets in Gaza.


CLASS CHARACTER AND SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC BASE OF FUNDAMENTALISM

How have such reactionary forces won the loyalty of large sections of the poor and oppressed -- not only in Palestine but in large parts of the Arab world? An answer is offered by 'Democratic Palestine'. The rise of fundamentalism is:

a reaction to the failure of the Arab regimes to achieve the goals and aspirations of the Arab peoples, most importantly national liberation and social progress...It is equally a reaction to the inability of the secular opposition...to constitute a real alternative in terms of achieving these goals.'

In the Arab world, as in other parts of the Third World, imperialist-dominated capitalist development has generated a terrible social polarisation. A tiny post-colonial ruling class, allied to imperialism and steeped in corruption and crime, lives a life of unbelievable luxury. In sharp contrast are the devastated lives and shattered hopes of the poor and exploited: the working class, the unemployed, under-employed, the city dwellers forced off the land and now living in hopeless urban squalor and a huge and impoverished petit-bourgeoisie. The central issue of the class struggle has revolved around the question of who was to organise the poor and impoverished. Would it be the ruling class in alliance with the fundamentalists or the powerful communist forces based within the small working classes?

For decades the Arab ruling class spared no violence to defeat communist and working class organisations whose membership was banned, imprisoned, executed and massacred. Parallel to repression, Gulf oil money funded the fundamentalists to organise among the poor and oppressed and undermine the appeal of socialism, democracy and secularism. In the absence of state welfare provision, fundamentalist organisations posed as alternative welfare providers. But at a price: provision of some cheap services in return for supporting fundamentalism, passivity in the class struggle and abandonment of communism. This assault, facilitated by the widespread opportunism within the communist parties, succeeded in severely weakening the left in the Arab world.

Within the Palestinian context Zionism and the Arab ruling class waged a similar struggle to debilitate the left and revolutionary nationalist currents. In September 1970, King Hussein's army suppressed a mass insurrection and drove the PLO out of Jordan. In 1976 Assad's Syrian regime used its army to save the Lebanese fascist falange from defeat at the hands of a joint democratic and leftist Lebanese/Palestinian alliance. The same forces were used to stifle a resurgent alliance in 1984. These repeated assaults severely weakened the position of the left and revolutionary nationalist forces.

As a result the dominant bourgeois faction of the PLO increasingly tied its fortunes to the Arab ruling class and abandoned the revolutionary struggle. In return it hoped that imperialism would reward it by pressurising Zionism into a compromise settlement. The dominant PLO leadership, representing a substantial Palestinian bourgeoisie -- both inside and outside Palestine -- underwent a process of degeneration, developing an anti-democratic, bureaucratic stratum. Its privileged existence decisively separated it off from lives and experience of the majority of the Palestinian poor and exploited. The current 'peace process', which, has produced nothing for the Palestinians, has accelerated popular disillusionment with the PLO. Such developments have provided fertile ground for the fundamentalists, enabling them to pose as defenders of the poor and oppressed. Their rhetoric of total opposition to Zionism and to any negotiations with the Israelis is winning them growing support from a population which has no faith in the bourgeois course of appeasing Zionism and imperialism chosen by the PLO leadership.

The collapse ofthe socialist bloc and the retreat ofthe anti-imperialist movement internationally has also enormously benefited the fundamentalists. The Palestinian people, abandoned first by the Arab bourgeoisie and imperialism, now find themselves internationally more isolated than ever from the world working class and peasantry. Their economic and material conditions continue to deteriorate as a result of the international recession, the consequences of the Gulf War and the crippling effect of Zionist colonisation. Such circumstances strengthen the appeal of Islamic populism, apparently more radical and promising than a Soviet socialist experiment that failed.

However, Hamas's vociferous denunciation ofthe PLO and its radical rhetoric are designed only to lull the people whilst it negotiates a better position for itself at the table of the privileged. Whilst its street slogans denounce 'autonomy', its respected leaders such as Dr Mahmoud al-Zahar state that 'The Islamic movement is ready to enter into negotiations concerning autonomy for the Palestinians'. While condemning the PLO, Hamas is demanding 45 per cent representation in its institutions as a condition for joining it. The recent crisis over the deportation of Hamas supporters has in fact driven the PLO leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership even closer.

The immediate future suggests no rapid defeat of fundamentalist forces by communist or progressive movements. But as the class struggle unfolds, life itself will prove that fundamentalism is incapable of resolving any of the problems facing the Palestinian and Arab people. The mass movement will then pass its own ruthless judgment and sentence upon a movement which has caused so much damage to the cause of national and social liberation. They will return more vigorously to defending and developing their own independent organisations. To do this they will turn to those forces within the Arab, Palestinian and international movement who are guided by science, by rationalism, by democracy - in other words by scientific socialism, by communism, by the heritage of Marxism and Leninism. The collapse of the socialist bloc may have been a body blow to such forces, but they exist and are continuing their struggle for socialism and progress.