The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political program, Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine (1969), emphasized the indispensable role of political thought in the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Political thought was construed as a basic condition for the Palestinian Revolution’s success and included the practice of developing a clear perspective of reactionary forces and revolutionary forces. The PFLP posed Mao’s 1926 questions, “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?” and subsequently asserted “that political thinking behind any revolution commences by posing this question and replying to it.”
In this formulation, Zionism is not the only enemy of the Palestinian people and Palestinians have friends besides themselves. The PFLP insisted that “to confine the Palestinian revolution within the limits of the Palestinian people would mean failure, if we remember the nature of the enemy alliance that we are facing.” By rejecting the confinement of Palestine into a national box, and emphasizing the regional and world scales in determining Palestinians’ friends and enemies, the left developed an internationalist politics and forged alliances through a careful, scientific analysis of competing local, regional, and global forces.
At the same time, the internationalism of the PFLP was informed by their Marxist analysis of the Palestinian national question. Subject to Zionist colonization, backed by world imperialism led by the United States, the PFLP understood that their struggle necessitated a popular, national front that drew from various sectors of the Palestinian nation, with its base in the working and peasant classes.
This theoretical practice of the PFLP was based on their objective and materialist analysis of the political situation that confronted the Palestinian Revolution. They held the conviction that engaging in revolutionary struggle without political thought would lead revolutionary forces down a path of error and disorganization. The theory that emerged from the PFLP’s method served and guided a concrete political practice towards the horizon of national liberation and socialism. This Marxist analysis links revolutionary theory to revolutionary practice and remains one of the most sophisticated in the Palestinian national movement to date.
One would assume, then, that Palestine: A Socialist Introduction would adopt a similar political practice and methodology, or at the very least, pay careful attention to it. The book, co-edited by Sumaya Awad and Brian Bean, argues that “the only path toward liberation for Palestine” is an international socialist movement grounded in anti-imperialism and internationalism. The collection, comprising contributions from twelve authors, is organized into three sections that address the historical and contemporary dimensions of the Palestinian question. Part one grounds the reader in the history of the British and Zionist colonization of Palestine, explains the roots of US support for Zionism, and assesses the trajectory of the Palestinian national liberation movement. Part two argues that the Israeli working class is not an ally and discusses the so-called peace process as well as Palestinian liberation in the Arab Spring. Part three includes an interview with Omar Barghouti, a perspective of gender in the Palestinian struggle, and an historical and contemporary analysis of Black-Palestinian solidarity. The conclusion forwards Awad and Bean’s vision of Palestinian liberation while the afterward calls readers to action.
Awad and Bean situate Palestine’s publication in 2020 within a broader cultural and political climate in the United States which, they argue, has been defined by an increasing interest in socialism. Identifying shifting public opinion on Palestine alongside a post-2008 wave of “red flowering,” they write, “it is this connection between the cause of Palestine and the struggle for socialism that we deem necessary.” Shortly following Palestine’s publication, there has been a renewed interest to learn about Palestinian history and politics in the US. This summer, this interest was ignited by the uprisings across Palestine and the responsive mass mobilizations across the globe. It is in this context of the critical need for political education – in a country violently committed to Zionist myth-making – that we have seen the promotion of Palestine as a primer for socialists. As confrontations between Palestinians and the Zionist project intensified this May, Haymarket Books promoted Palestine as a free e-book so that their readers could “learn more about the history and politics of the struggle for justice in Palestine.” At the outset, this makes sense, as the aim and intention of Awad and Bean’s project is to firmly place the Palestinian cause in the struggle for socialism and to encourage socialists’ involvement in the movement for Palestine. Indeed, educating young socialists in the Global North about the political urgency of Palestinian liberation is an effort that we welcome and deem necessary, especially in the context of intenstifying Zionist and imperialist onslaught.
Regrettably, however, Awad and Bean do a serious political and intellectual disservice to their socialist readers: they undermine and dismiss the Palestinian Left tradition by evacuating it of its content and its history. This is due to Awad and Bean’s overarching theoretical, historical, and political framework. Their framing derives from ahistorical tropes about distinctive, experimental and diverse Marxist-Leninist political formations as “Stalinist,” “mechanistic” and “rigid,” and subsumes the Palestinian Left under these disingenuous, reductive categories. By adopting the framing of “Stalinism” as a “false” political tendency that places anticolonial liberation before socialism, Awad and Bean assume that they do not need to teach their socialist readers in the US about Palestinian Marxist thought or practice. This is both a lost opportunity and a great shame, since the Palestinian Left understands the struggle for socialism as part and parcel to the struggle against imperialism. Awad and Bean’s condemnation and self-imposed isolation from the revolutionary thought and practice of the Palestinian Left is not only a serious barrier to their readers’ political education, but to their own goal of providing a conceptual foundation for “shaping the future of the Palestine movement both in the US and on the ground in Palestine and the wider region.” How can one, situated in the US, shape the future of the Palestine movement without meaningfully engaging with existing traditions of Palestinian revolutionary theory and strategy? If the uprisings this summer opened a space for educating socialists about their responisbility and role in supporting Palestinian national liberation from the core of US imperial power, then it is vital to question Awad and Bean’s suppression of revolutionary thought from their readers’ education.
The historical and contemporary distancing from revolutionary practice and theory in Palestine has dangerous implications: it presents a political analysis which limits the possibility of a popular, anti-imperialist formation in the US. We find it necessary to address and critique Palestine’s ahistorical analysis of the Palestinian Left directly, not as a form of sectarianism – an accusation that is too often mobilized against critique – but as a political obligation that allows us to reconstitute the invaluable role of clear political thought in the struggle for Palestinian national liberation. The modes of analysis in Palestine reflect a larger issue that confronts the movement for Palestine in the US: the lack of a coherent theoretical framework to assist and guide political strategy. Today, the Palestinian Left tradition – which has maintained anti-imperialism, internationalism, and the national question at the heart of its politics – remains a vital source for socialist movements in the Global North to rigorously engage with in order to develop clear political thinking and to build political programs that confront Zionism and imperialism. We must ask: how can Palestine: A Socialist Introduction adopt a socialist orientation while simultaneously severing itself from existing traditions of socialist thought and practice in Palestine? How can Awad and Bean begin their book with a quote from a Palestinian communist, Ghassan Kanafani, while simultaneously denigrating the politics and strategies of his organization (PFLP)?
In the following review, we assess Palestine’s harsh treatment of the Palestinian Left by focusing in on Awad and Bean’s overarching political framework and Mostafa Omar’s chapter, “The National Liberation Struggle: A Socialist Analysis.” We do so by interrogating Awad and Bean’s internationalism as a heavily idealist conception which exists exclusively in the “ethereal realm of utopian lands.”1 Their internationalism is characterized by idealism due to the absence of a developed theory and understanding of imperialism whose presence would make clear the historical and contemporary form, substance, and stakes of Palestinian struggle. The overarching analysis of Palestine, shorn of a rigorous or materialist consideration of how anti-imperialism informs internationalist politics and strategy, allows Awad and Bean to confuse the friends and enemies of Palestinian liberation. This shaky theoretical and political framework paves the way for Palestine’s simultaneous ahistorical criticisms and revisionist histories of the Palestinian Left which we contest through a historical corrective, focusing on the regional and global scales that the Palestinian Left’s strategies cannot be abstracted from. Contesting the book’s argument that working class interests are “independent to the national project,” we adopt a Marxist analysis of the national question by situating and historicizing national liberation as one form of class struggle. Ultimately, we hope to release Palestinian leftist thought from the grasp of revisionist histories and reconstitute it as a source that illuminates both the historical trajectory of Palestinian national liberation struggle and our present moment.
Anti-Imperialism and Internationalism
In their introduction, Awad and Bean adopt anti-imperialism as “the cornerstone that upholds the principle of internationalism.” There, they define imperialism as “the unrelenting process of competition and conflict between the world’s capitalist classes of different states, who are vying for domination and exploitation of the globe’s people, wealth and resources.” Awad and Bean go on to imply that imperialism is a trait of all states with a ruling class: “If you have a ruling class integrated into the world economy, then that ruling class must compete, and it is driven into the structure of imperialism.” Although they mention the dominant US position in this global matrix and the necessity of opposing US militarism, their anti-imperialism rests on a politics of “resisting oppression and exploitation by ruling classes worldwide.”
Clearly, the authors understand anti-imperialism and internationalism as inextricably wedded together. We agree with this formulation but understand their analysis of imperialism to obscure the relationship between anti-imperialism and internationalism. Their explanation of imperialism is insufficient insofar as it fails to understand how imperialism operates as a class system on the world scale and is made possible by the consolidation of political power through global state hegemons, such as Britain historically, or contemporarily, the United States. While we understand this perspective as important for developing anti-imperialist strategy in the movement for Palestine, our intention in this review is not to rehash debates about the nature of imperialism. The intervention we prioritize here is Palestine’s position in the international class system of imperialism. Understanding Palestine’s dominated position within the world system allows us to define strategy for resisting Zionist colonization and imperialism by centering the national question and taking seriously the historical forms of national liberation struggles that operated through this lens.
For Awad and Bean, the relation between anti-imperialism and internationalism “means gaining a deep-rooted understanding of the fact that our bonds with others are not based on borders or nationalities but on the shared interest of workers and oppressed peoples in resisting oppression and exploitation by ruling classes worldwide.” They continue, “after all, our governments have taught us that they care more about profit than they do people.”
First, this conception overlooks the national question and its contemporary, ongoing endurance in Palestine and anti-imperialist movements. By the national question we refer to “the set of political problems concerning oppressed nationalities within nations, colonialism, self-determination, and national liberation,” which Max Ajl points out has historically been “a way of understanding the political topography of imperialism.”2 To give a concrete example, PFLP cadre Leila Khaled emphasizes the issue which confronts the Palestinian struggle as not only the reclamation of land, but also, imperialism and Zionism on the regional and global level. Revolutionary nationalism becomes the atomic unit for a field of analysis and antagonism that operates worldwide. In her autobiography she argues that the link between Zionist and imperialist interests makes the Palestinian struggle against Israeli colonization essentially “a war against imperialism.”3 Although the national question has been “demobilised and sent into neoliberal ‘hibernation’” in the wake of the 1970s, we understand it as historically and contemporarily central to the Palestinian struggle.4 The crux of the Palestinian national question is the liberation of land from the colonial Zionist enterprise and the return of both resources and people, the majority of whom are landless and disinherited. Precisely because imperialism (in its British and American varients) is what has always made the Zionist project viable, anti-imperialism remains central to the Palestinian national question. Recentering the national question within the Palestinian struggle allows us to emphasize the necessity that Palestinians determine their future on their land, which means everything from the organization of their production processes to the organization of political structures and institutions.
As the Egyptian Marxist thinker Anouar Abdel-Malek argues, “socialist thought can only develop on the basis of a national position on the problem, and not from any a priori cosmopolitan vision under the mask of internationalism.”5 On a practical level this means that the nation is the crucible through which the besieged and dispossessed Palestinian refugee, prisoner, and worker, is able to build socialism.6 When Awad and Bean argue that “we cannot conceive of Palestine as a purely national question,” they overlook the ongoing importance of this anti-colonial Marxist analysis of the national question.
Second, by collapsing all governments as enemies of workers and oppressed people, Awad and Bean ignore the imperial theft of wealth by the core from the peripheries and the historical role of socialist states in restricting that flow, and even creating countervailing experiments in mass self-determination. They explicitly pose their definition of “socialism from below” against models like the USSR, which they describe as “Stalinist” projects that imposed “socialism from above.” Awad and Bean’s framework obscures the historical procession of capitalist accumulation through the formation of global hegemons like Holland, Britain, or the United States.7 Their analysis is a symptom and expression of what Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros identify as “a particular Marxism which has analytically obscured the centre-periphery structure of imperialism, politically submerged the national question under a formal ‘equality’ of nations and proletariats, [and] failed to recognise the validity of political questions that are specific to the periphery (especially the agrarian question).”8 Accordingly, we should be wary of positions expressed in Palestine which create a false equivalency between imperialist states and the states in which the balances of forces have shifted to the popular classes. Alternatively, we can understand the state as a terrain of struggle for the working class and popular movements to seize and make use of the powers it confers in order to reclaim sovereignty over land and resources.
Foregrounding the national question allows us to formulate an internationalism rooted in a strategy for overcoming imperialism and its destructive organization of the world. To be clear, this does not mean that all iterations of universalism are useless, but that any political program of global solidarity must face the contradictions between the global North and South which will not disappear by wishing them into nonexistence. The obfuscation of these contradictions is a serious barrier to forging internationalist politics and developing a revolutionary universalism that is capable of prioritizing the specificity of the Palestinian national question. What we mean here is that an internationalism of revolutionary capacity cannot abandon the Palestinian struggles’ specific history and contemporary dimensions. Walter Rodney formulated this relationship between the universal and the specific when he wrote: “International solidarity grows out of struggle in different localities. This is the truth so profoundly expressed by Che Guevara when he called for the creation of one, two, three – many Vietnams.”9 Unfortunately, Awad and Bean stray far away from the rich tradition of international solidarity expressed by Third World Marxists like Rodney. Awad and Bean argue that prioritizing anticolonial struggle is “mechanistic” and that socialists should instead base our political strategy on “the international rejection of capitalism.” But how do socialists engage in an international rejection of capitalism if not from specific locales, some of which, like Palestine, are defined by a class relation and mode of production which is fundamentally colonial in form? To establish the political capacity for international solidarity with Palestine from the Global North, socialists must develop and take seriously political thought which grasps the specificity of class formation and class struggle in a settler-colony.10
Awad and Bean’s theoretical and conceptual framework thus elides how anti-imperialism informs the shape of internationalist politics. Accordingly, they adopt a conception of the relationship between anti-imperialism and internationalism that is chaotic due to its looseness and anti-materialism. Their claim that “anti-imperialism is the cornerstone that upholds the principle of internationalism” unfortunately remains an idealist slogan insofar as it is distanced from concrete political thought and practice. The explicit formulation of internationalism as a principle, and not as a mode of politics, enables their villification of internationalism as it has taken shape through Palestinian history. Workers of the world (such as Iranians or Cubans starved by US sanctions) whom Awad and Bean purport as central to their socialist vision, are absent from their anti-imperialism. Of course, they are correct to assert that domestic struggles are linked to the struggles of workers globally. However, these “links” remain merely symbolic since they omit the international division of labor which is the material force that links the fates of workers in the North and South. From their perspective, then, workers of the world are not united through the force of capital as an uneven world system that transfers value from dominated to dominating nations, but through liberal cosmopolitan sentiments and feelings about “our bonds with others.” The book’s afterward, which calls readers to action, addresses how the Palestinian struggle brings to view “interconnected systems.” But an anti-imperialist, socialist movement cannot sustain itself by rehearsing the oft-repeated slogan that “our struggles are connected.” We must understand how and why this is the case. The tendency to remove slogans and political claims from materialist analysis is a reflection of both theoretical destitution and class position. The PFLP understood how vague sloganeering accompanied the Palestinian petit bourgeoisie’s interest to not adopt scientific socialist theory or commit to an organizational framework, but to instead “be bound by a general loose thought that does not go beyond general liberation slogans.”11
That anti-imperialism only functions as a slogan or a passion in Palestine, and not as a mode of analysis or politics, is symptomatic of a larger theoretical issue amongst the US left. Abdel-Malek identifies two ideological counter-offensives which are “aimed at blocking the progress of the fusion of thought and action, theory and practice, in our concrete world”: 1) “the negation of and/or offensive against the national position on the problematic of socialism” and 2) “the negation of the political position on socialist power.”12
Awad and Bean’s theoretical and conceptual limitations are all the more worrisome when we consider the author’s selective use of Palestinian leftist thought. They open with a quote from the PFLP militant and writer Ghassan Kanafani who in fact played a critical role in drafting the aforementioned Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine.13 The quote reads: “The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is, as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.” Peculiarly, the book does not mention Kanafani’s political and theoretical contributions to the development of the PFLP. Nor does it mention that the Zionist Mossad assassinated Kanafani in 1972 for his political work and growing influence on the Palestinian body politic. The omission of Zionism’s bloody history against the Palestinian Left appropriately accompanies the authors’ treatment of the Palestinian Left as either misguided, incorrect, manipulated, and subsequently anachronistic. With the political content carved out of his internationalism, Kanafani becomes an empty figure that Awad and Bean conveniently suffuse with a theoretically destitute and vague internationalism.
This perversion of Palestinian internationalism is most evident in Mostafa Omar’s chapter, “The National Liberation Struggle: A Socialist Analysis,” which equates the left’s historical “mistakes” with their strategic alliances. In the following sections we take up Omar’s criticisms of the Palestinian Left and its reading of the political dynamics within the regional and global landscape.
The Regional Scale of Palestinian National Liberation
Omar argues that in order to build a socialist alternative in the Arab world we “would have to learn from the mistakes of an older generation of radicals that looked to Stalinist Russia and certain ‘progressive’ Arab regimes, such as Syria and Iraq, as models for social change.” Among this older generation of radicals that he refers to is the PFLP. He writes: “Influenced by a combination of Maoist and Stalinist ideas, the PFLP declared itself to be a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ organization.” Omar goes on to ask why they were unable to build a revolutionary alternative to the moderate wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. His answer to this question neglects an analysis of imperialism by relegating itself to the PFLP’s internal and political strategies. Assuming that a different political strategy would have led to better results, he faults the PFLP for creating a “false distinction” between reactionary regimes and progressive nationalist ones and for their use of airline hijackings.
In attributing the PFLP’s “mistakes” to their “false distinction” between different kinds of states, Palestine neglects the PFLP’s theoretically advanced conception of anti-imperialist strategy and obscures its approach to the Arab dimension of Palestinian struggle. Omar writes:
While it rejected, correctly, the notion that some Arab regimes were socialist, the PFLP made a false distinction between reactionary regimes that accommodated to imperialism and progressive nationalist ones that were forced to fight against it. Thus, based on this distinction, the PFLP allied itself with a number of repressive Arab governments, such as the Ba‘athist regime in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. Ultimately, these alliances cost the PFLP its political independence and reduced it to a tool in the hands of some Arab rulers.
First, Omar’s claim that the PFLP made a false distinction between reactionary regimes and progressive nationalist ones ignores the reality of significant differences in the political and social character of these different states, including key differences in the class character of their governments and their internal socio-political order (e.g., monarchy with semi-feudal/tribal characters versus Arab nationalist states with a dominant public sector administered through a party), which indeed conditioned the difference in approach these respective states took towards US imperialism and the Soviet bloc.14 Second, Omar’s claim that political alliances forged between the PFLP and progressive nationalist regimes on the basis of this distinction cost the PFLP its independence simplifies the relationship the PFLP held over time and place between itself and these states. Indeed, at various junctures in its history, the PFLP clashed both politically and militarily with progressive nationalist states, including centrally on the question of the independence of Palestinian decision-making on the question of Palestine.15
Further, Palestine sets up a straw man on the PFLP’s position towards petit bourgeois states, which allows them to disingenuously delegitimize the PFLP’s regional alliances and the political thinking which informed their strategic determinations. As mentioned earlier, the PFLP’s alliances were based on a scientific analysis of social and political forces, informed by their calculation of friends and enemies. If we look directly to the PFLP’s position laid out in Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, they adopt a very clear, nuanced, and materialist analysis of petit-bourgeois states. They understood that revolutionary Palestinian and Arab forces must be in alliance and conflict with petit-bourgeois states: Alliance due to these states’ antagonism towards imperialism and Israel; Conflict due to these states’ class structure which shaped their adoption of traditional war strategies instead of guerilla warfare.16 In its reading of the regional forces, the PFLP understood petit-bourgeois nationalist states, like Egypt and Syria, as playing a role in undermining the imperial legacies in the region.17 The Syrian and Iraqi states provided the conditions for material support to sustain the operations of the Palestinian Revolution – including hosting faction offices, conferences, military training/bases. Both the PFLP and DFLP were critical of the conditions and alliances they operated within regionally and attributed them to class difference that represented the interests of petit-bourgeois regimes as opposed to the interests of the Palestinian working class and peasantry.
It’s critical to emphasize that the Arab dimension cannot be divorced from the Palestinian question. The PFLP’s calculation of Zionism as a regional threat informed the alliances they made in order to secure ideological and military support to advance armed struggle as a tactic for liberation.18 With a clear view of the political landscape the PFLP wagered that the tactic of armed struggle stood defiant of the US-Zionist alliance, confronted its imperialist interest in the region (including the threat of Arab reaction), and was the only way to defend the Palestinian homeland.
In formulating this liberation strategy, their reference points drew broadly from historical and contemporaneous national liberation and socialist struggles.19 However, they did not export other revolutionary experiences onto their own context since they upheld a revolutionary understanding of Marxism “as a working guide and not as a fixed, rigid, doctrine.” While there was “no revolutionary party without revolutionary theory” – since thought and action were fused together by an “organic and reactive link” – there was similarly no revolutionary struggle without its “main curriculum:” armed struggle. The latter was not confined to militant action but included Palestinian resistance at all levels, such as the comprehensive boycott of Zionist institutions. The strategy of armed struggle could not confine itself to Palestine; the PFLP understood the political urgency of a strategy that confronts enemy forces wherever they operate: “We are fighting against the enemy in every land where the feet of his soldiers’ march. This is our historical approach – where we are going until we reach the stage where we open a wider front against the enemy and turn our land into a burning hell for the invaders.”
Of course the transformation of the land in accordance with this historical approach has its resonances with other national liberation struggles that have transformed the land itself into an unbearable space for imperialist invaders. But there is something distinct to this approach that cannot be reduced to the PFLP’s Marxist-Leninist orientation. Given the dispersion of Palestinians in refugee camps across the Arab World, the Palestinian Left’s theory of alliances was one answer to the question of how to liberate the land amidst collective estrangement and exile from it.20 We must, then, understand the PFLP’s regional alliances within this historically specific characteristic of the Palestinian national question. Omar’s criticism of the PFLP’s alliances as a “mistake” works to obscure how Palestinian liberation is contingent on resistance to Zionism on the regional and global level: it may not be won within occupied Palestine alone.
Omar cites the PFLP’s hijackings as one reason for its inability to offer an alternative to Fateh and claims that the hijackings isolated the PFLP from the Arab masses. He writes:
The PFLP’s chief tactical contribution to the growing Palestinian movement in 1968-72 was its use of airline hijackings to publicize the Palestinian cause. As a result, it substituted the actions of its small, committed membership for the mass struggle of the Arab workers and peasants it aimed to relate to. As the Palestinians faced one of the world’s chief military powers, it became apparent that guerilla tactics alone could not win. And although millions of people across the Arab world supported the Palestinians’ armed struggle, the nature of that struggle prevented them from taking part. Also, more critically, it isolated the PFLP from the mass struggles that took place against the Arab regimes and US imperialism in the late 1960s and early 1970s – especially the workers’ and students’ movement in Egypt (1968-72).
This line of argumentation is not new. In a 1972 interview Kanafani responds to and contests contemporaneous criticisms of the PFLP’s hijackings which mirror the ahistorical criticisms Omar puts forward against the Palestinian Left in the above passage. The interviewer, presumably Fred Halliday, reminded Kanafani of a criticism launched by those outside the resistance movement which said, similar to Omar, that the hijackings were “a substitute for organizing the masses.” Kanafani challenged this criticism and clarified: “I have always said that we don’t hijack planes because we love Boeing 707s. We do it for specific reasons, at a specific time and against a specific enemy.”21
Nowhere does Omar mention that the tactical use of hijackings was a response to the US attempt to destroy and liquidate the Palestinian Revolution by way of the US-designed Rogers Plan. The latter was proposed by Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, in 1969 and was “centered on UN 242’s land-for-peace scheme.”22 In 1970 it was revealed to the PLO that both Nasser and the Jordanian government had accepted this backdoor plan. Correctly, the PLO understood this scheme as strengthening Israel-- since it legitimated Zionist theft of land – while undermining both Arab unity and Palestinian resistance forces.23 In other words, the Rogers Plan was an attempt to destroy the legitimacy of the Palestinian Revolution and replace it with a US “peace plan” that was, as it is today, based on the outright denial of revolutionary forces to determine the future of Palestine and the Arab world. PFLP’s George Habash said that the US wanted to administer this plan “because it knows very well that the resistance movement will make the whole of this part of the world – not only Jordan or Lebanon, but the whole Arab world – a second Vietnam.”24
With this context, the PFLP’s airline hijackings in the early 1970s were a strategy against this regional and global threat to the Palestinian Revolution and a mechanism for restoring the morale of the Palestinian people. Basing his defense of the PFLP’s strategy in a materialist analysis of the historical conjuncture, Kanafani argued:
The Rogers plan presupposed the liquidation of our movement, and this was now approaching in an atmosphere of Palestinian submissiveness. Therefore, something had to be done; first of all, to tell the world that we were not going to be put on the shelf for the second time, and secondly to tell the world that the days when the US and reactionary Arabs could dictate to our people were over. Moreover there was the question of the morale, the fighting ability, of our own people. We could not let things remain like that when a massacre was on the way, even if we had sat down quietly on the steps of His Majesty’s palace, and kissed his hand.
Following Kanafani’s lead, anti-imperialism is not a slogan or ideal that can be jettisoned from assessments of historical liberation movements. Rather than assess the Left’s strategies as false or bad, as Omar does, a rigorous anti-imperialist analysis must ask why the left took up the strategies that they did in their specific historical moment. Omar’s criticism that the PFLP’s tactics led them away from “the mass struggle of the Arab workers and peasants” grossly obscures how the US attempt to destroy revolutionary forces was a threat to all Arab workers and peasants. It also, however, obscures the fact that as a popular, guerilla organization, the lifeblood of the PFLP was its social base. It is historically inaccurate and disingenuous for Omar to suggest that the hijackings, a specific tactic in a specific conjuncture, supplanted organizing.25 In other words, the hijackings were a strategy to confront imperialism and not a replacement for mass-based organizing. Similar to Kanafani, Leila Khaled emphasizes the political stakes of the PFLP’s strategies and upends the aforementioned critique, launched in particular by people disengaged from struggle. Khaled writes: “We act heroically in a cowardly world to prove that the enemy is not invincible. We act ‘violently’ in order to blow the wax out of the ears of the deaf Western liberals and to remove the straws that block their vision. We act as revolutionaries to inspire the masses and to trigger off the revolutionary upheaval in an era of counter-revolution.”26
The Global Scale of Palestinian National Liberation
While Omar faults the PFLP for its regional alliances and strategies, his obfuscation of global forces is just as essential to the book’s degradation of the Palestinian Left. Omar’s critique of the PFLP, which relegates itself to internal strategy, has its precedent set in Awad and Bean’s introduction, where, as mentioned earlier, they oppose “socialism from above” with “socialism from below.” Presumably benign at first read, Awad and Bean’s framework proves itself to be an opportunist binary that the book adopts to delegitimize not only the PFLP, but other Marxist-Leninist and socialist traditions. For example, Omar’s risible claim that “Cuban workers and peasants did not take part in making the revolution” reduces the Cuban people to passive witnesses of revolution. Omar connects the political orientation of the PFLP to the Cuban Revolution by arguing that the PFLP’s “vision of Marxist-Leninsm was expressed in the Cuban Revolution, where a small group of guerillas defeated a US-backed dictator and, a few years later, declared a socialist society.” This allows him to assume both the Palestinian Left and the Cuban Revolution as instances of “socialism from above” and undermine their popular constitution.
The term “Stalinism” guides the book’s overarching framework and is defined by Awad and Bean in the introduction as “a political tendency based on the false notion that socialism can be established in a single country rather than through the international rejection of capitalism.” They argue that this tendency is riddled with “stagism” which has squandered Arab socialist and communist parties’ “attempts to build a socialist alternative.” In broadly construing Stalinism as everything “false,” “rigid,” and “mechanistic,” and in equating it with any strategy they don’t agree with, the stage is set for the proceeding ahistorical criticisms of the strategies taken and alliances forged by the Palestinian national liberation movement.
In fact, Omar treats the PFLP’s alliance with the Soviet Union as one of its “political weaknesses” and brazenly suggests that they were “regularly manipulated by the Soviet Union.” He writes that “the PFLP, similar to the rest of the Stalinist left in the Arab world, allied itself with what it considered to be ‘real’ socialist societies, the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.” Relying on the tired trope of “Stalinism” as a means to delegitimize the Palestinian Left, Omar argues that building socialism “will require the rediscovery of the real Marxist tradition, which has always looked to struggles of the working class – and not to Stalinist Russia or some authoritarian Arab regime that calls itself ‘socialist’ or ‘progressive’ – as the way to change society.” To Omar, the Palestinian Left is not a part of this “real Marxist tradition.” Shamelessly, then, he completely dismisses the relevance of the Palestinian Left’s political and theoretical contributions and ends the chapter by telling his readers, “it will be critical for us to learn from the mistakes of the old Stalinist organizations and connect these lessons to the struggles of today.”
The McCarthyist invocation of the Stalinist boogeyman – as an effort to define Marxism in a narrow, sectarian cast – ultimately renders Arab socialism as incapable of applying Marxism to its own conditions. In their conclusion Awad and Bean, instead, posit Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution as an alternative strategy that accounts for the supposed shortcomings of “Stalinized communist parties” to advance working class interests. They situate the political position of Jabra Nicola – one of the only Palestinian Trotskyists that Palestine has produced – against an entire body of organizational and political thought and strategy, writing that Nicola drew from
Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which articulated the need for national liberation struggles to challenge the role of local capitalist classes as well. This is in contrast to the strategy adopted by the Stalinized communist parties as well as some of the Arab nationalist organizations of the region, who argued for an anti-imperialist front that subordinated the working class’s independent interests to the national project.
Aside from absolving the Trotskyist and social democratic currents from its historical and current relationship to imperialism, there are various issues at hand.
Firstly, the book’s critique of the PFLP’s orientation to the Soviet Union, and its alliance, obscures the fact that the PFLP (including the other Palestinian political factions) had deep objections to Arab communist parties for their political adherence to the Soviet line on Palestine. Further, in addressing the friends of the Palestinian cause, the PFLP articulated the limitations of the USSR’s position on Zionism in its adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 242, while still emphasizing the necessity of their alliance.27 Despite these reservations, the PFLP understood that maintaining its strategic alliance with the USSR would strengthen its ability to withstand the growing onslaught of imperialism and regional reaction. This was seen with the anti-colonial and socialist revolutions in Angola, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Yemen – their organizations withstood the violent offensives of imperialism and mobilized the popular classes, while they developed an alliance with the Soviet Union. Likewise, the PFLP maintained this critical internationalist alliance with the ultimate goal of advancing a national democratic revolution that provides both a material and technical base and paves the way for a socialist revolution. By subsuming the PFLP and other communist-oriented groups under the category of “the Stalinist left,” Omar construes Palestinians as puppets of supposed bureaucratic, despotic ventriloquists rather than revolutionary actors forging their own politics with the force of US-led reaction against them. Even more so, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the PFLP (or more broadly with the PLO) cannot be understood as unilateral or static. These dynamics shifted throughout the course of the revolution, and in the broader timeline of the Cold War.28
Secondly, Palestine’s anti-Soviet position obfuscates the historical effort of US imperialism to weaken the socialist bloc, as well as its growing influence over sections of the PLO. The PFLP understood that their alliance with the Soviet Union was situated in a global imperialist playing field wherein the US “established a series of pacts and defense treaties to face the socialist camp and to encircle it and limit its expansion, and also to neutralize national liberation movements.”29 As committed internationalists the Palestinian Left understood the positive effect of Soviet power for revolutionary forces in the Arab world. The editors’ refusal to address this global terrain allows for an analysis in which friends of Palestine are treated as enemies, and subsequently, the internationalist strategy of the Palestinian Revolution is reduced to categories like “false” and “incorrect.” The dichotomy of correct versus incorrect strategy is born not of a conjunctural or historical analysis of the arrangement of forces in the struggle against Zionism and imperialism, but time-honored shibboleths on the correct conduct of struggle. As a historical judgment, it overlooks how the PFLP’s positions were informed by their materialist analysis of the forces of imperialism and their understanding of the trajectory of the liberation project. The introduction of the DFLP’s “Policy of Phases” program and the PLO’s exile post-1982 from Beirut invited increased lines of communication with US administrations. Post-1982 Beirut materialized this reality when back-door channels were established with Arafat and the Reagan administration to move towards a “peace plan.”30 At this specific moment, the PFLP did not join in the policy of conciliation with the DFLP and Fateh; it maintained its analysis of the Palestinian struggle as linked to the struggle against imperialism. Ultimately, it prioritized an anti-imperialist front to secure the interest of the Palestinian movement more broadly, which includes defending the dignity of the Palestinian masses. If the ability to dynamically recalibrate one’s alliances in accordance to a changing political scene is not an example of the oft-cherished “proletarian independence,” then what is?
National Liberation as Class Struggle
Palestine views the prioritization of anticolonial liberation as a “Stalinist” and “mechanistic model” which “relegates the project of fighting for socialism to something that will take place at a future – often undefined – point in time.” This separation between anticolonial liberation and class struggle emanates from two fundamental misunderstandings. First, Awad and Bean misunderstand the class composition of anticolonial struggle in Palestine. And second, they misunderstand class formation. Their introductory warning against “Stalinism” thus poses a confusing and unexplanatory binary between anticolonial struggle and class struggle. Drawing from Frantz Fanon, however, we know that we cannot segregate class struggle from anticolonial struggle in situations of colonialism since “the economic substructure is also a superstructure.”31
The authors’ misunderstanding of class struggle and class formation is most evident in Awad and Bean’s advocacy for a crude theory of class which believes that the working class has “independent interests to the national project.” It is difficult to imagine what Awad and Bean mean here. If the national project, which guarantees the liberation and return of millions of dispossessed Palestinian refugees, is not where working class Palestinian interests fundamentally rest, then where else can we excavate this working class interest they speak of?
In order to conceive of this working class interest, we must attend to the national question. However, Awad and Bean’s dismissal of the latter in Palestine, in part, rests on their aforementioned use of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci himself charged Trotsky’s theory, which sidestepped the national question, as “nothing but a generic forecast presented as a dogma, and which demolishes itself by not in fact coming true.”32 Trotsky’s obstinacy is a reflection of the fact that his theory is not based in a materialist analysis of competing social forces on the national and world scales. Gramsci writes, “One cannot choose the form of war one wants, unless from the start one has a crushing superiority over the enemy.”33
It is worth emphasizing that Gramsci’s political strategy was constituted in a Southern context of unequal development. The national was, as is the case in the Palestinian context, the scale from which to launch a national-popular alliance. Gramsci’s theorization of the latter was not one of mere preference but one that responded to the constitution of Italian society in the interwar period. Conversely, Awad and Bean undermine a Marxist analysis of the national question by assuming that “internal conflicts between classes and seeing struggle from below” is “the answer.” By posing this “answer” against national unity, they fail to recognize how political answers are not eternal or transhistorical; Rather, political answers transform alongside shifting forms of class struggles.
In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels emphasize the national scale of class struggles: “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.”34 This distinction between form and substance allows us to make sense of the PFLP’s analysis that the national form of Palestinian struggle is, in substance, an international struggle against world imperialism. Marx and Engels’ analysis of national struggle informed the Communist position and strategy they laid out, to “everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.” If one adopts the logic of this position on national struggle and understands that Palestinian liberation is based on, and contingent upon, the movement of the popular classes, it becomes perfectly clear why supporting every revolutionary movement against Zionist colonization – the process which has dispossessed and proletarianized the majority of Palestinian society – is a position that uplifts Palestinian working class interests.
An alternative to Awad and Bean’s analysis of class would entail seriously grappling with national liberation and the concrete role of working and peasant classes therein. The late Marxist-Leninist philosopher Domenico Losurdo qualifies the frontist strategy taken in national liberation struggles, writing, “while the proletariat is the agency of the emancipatory process that breaks the chains of capitalist rule, the alliance required to break the shackles of national oppression is broader.”35 This is not to suggest that class oppression is distinct from national oppression. Rather, national oppression is one form of class oppression. Importantly, Losurdo points our attention to Marx and Engels’ pluralization of class struggle as taking multiple forms. The PFLP developed a related analysis that emphasized these various iterations of class struggle. They illustrated how in the Palestinian context of underdevelopment, the form of class struggle differs from the form of class struggle in an industrial society. This did not lead the PFLP to neglect the class question in Palestine, or to paper over the constitutive differences between classes, but to formulate a strategy by evaluating each class – the feudal, bourgeois, workers, peasants – in their respective relation to the Palestinian Revolution.
In committing themeslves to class analysis, the PFLP identified the position “that Israel represents a specific type of colonialism threatening the existence of all classes of the Palestinian people” as rightist thinking that obscured the class composition of revolutionary forces.36 Developing an analysis of each classes’ orientation to the Palestinian Revolution allowed them to determine “the real revolutionary class forces that constitute the pivot of the revolution.” In other words, the PFLP identified the forces behind national struggle as the popular (i.e., landless and pauperized) classes. From this perspective, national liberation is one form of class struggle. As the PFLP clarified:
National liberation battles are also class battles. They are battles between colonialism and the feudal and capitalist class whose interests are linked with those of the colonialist on the one hand, and the other classes of the people representing the greater part of the nation on the other. If the saying that national liberation battles are national battles is intended to mean that they are battles waged by the overwhelming majority of the nation’s masses, then this saying is true, but if it is intended to mean that these battles are different from the class struggle between the exploiters and the exploited, then the saying is untrue.37
When Awad and Bean suggest that working class interests are distinct from the national project they not only elide how national liberation battles are class battles, but they abandon the liberatory potential of popular resistance that takes the nation as its scale for forging revolutionary politics and building a socialist future. Ironically, Awad and Bean impose the very stagism they purport to oppose by segregating class struggle from national struggle. Losurdo writes: “Class struggle is the genus which, in determinate circumstances, takes the specific form of ‘national struggle’.”38 It is possible to come to terms with this formulation of national struggle as species and class struggle as genus only when we include the colonial theft of resources and land in our analysis of class formation and class interests. The abstraction of one form of class struggle and the universalization of it as the singular and only form is the symptom of a chauvinistic class position, both advertently and inadvertently adopted by those in the imperial core, which fails, and ultimately refuses, to take the national struggles of colonized peoples seriously. Today, it is either crude theories of class interests or liberal humanitarianism that bury from public view an otherwise obvious reality: that the Palestinian national liberation struggle is one of the most important class struggles of our history and our present.
The words of Ghassan Kanafani commence Awad and Bean’s book, but they forcefully degrade his life by rendering the politics and commitments he was martyred for as Stalinist and mechanistic. The confused analysis in Palestine is a reflection of its severing and isolation from historical and contemporary revolutionary theory that people like Kanafani actively developed and put into practice. Though the book importantly offers some tools and information for comprehending the Palestinian question, its lack of generosity towards the Left and its distancing from internationalist politics means that it fails to provide an analysis which clearly assesses the political stakes of Palestinian liberation for socialists in the US. If Awad and Bean believe that the Palestinian Left had it all wrong, what political formation do they consider to have it all right?
On the terrain of contemporary organizing in North America, they largely neglect uplifting grassroots organizations.39 In their conclusion, Awad and Bean mention NGOs like Adalah Justice Project and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights whose recent work, they argue, “reflects the growth of a resurgent American left that puts resistance to the US war machine at the center of a larger project of social justice.”
It is worth pointing out that NGOs play a specific and limited role in the solidarity movement for Palestine, employing strategies which are often confined to advocacy. When assessing the impact of NGOs, we must be clear about their class composition and orientation as NGOs, not movements, a clarification which Awad and Bean’s conclusion obscures. There are significant differences between grassroots organizations and NGOs, three of the foremost being funding, internal political mechanisms, and social base.
First, NGOs’ politics and strategies cannot be understood in isolation from their funding sources.40 Private donors which NGOs appeal to sustain their work and pay their salaries, no doubt come to shape their work, political vision, and class composition. Second, as opposed to NGOs, grassroots organizations have internal political mechanisms which hold them accountable to popular movements. These political mechanisms allow organizers to respond to resistance in Palestine. This summer, it was grassroots organizations who proved themselves capable of both responding to on-the-ground calls in Palestine and mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people across US, Canadian, and European cities. Lastly, the class composition and audience of the named NGOs is primarily middle class Americans. Of course, grassroots organizations are heterogeneous in their class composition and comprise these classes too. But the internal political mechanisms of grassroots organizations, and the fact that they are not constrained by the dictates of liberal and Zionist funders, means that they are able to cultivate a politics and strategy that aligns with and uplifts the vision of the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Structurally, NGOs are more committed to satisfying the needs of their private donors than they are of uplifting the demands of resistance forces in Palestine and the region.
Awad and Bean’s inclusion of NGOs within the left, paired with their failure to highlight grassroots organizations in the US, obscures the debilitating effects of NGOization. In the wake of Oslo, NGOization has been part of a larger process of liquidating the Palestinian Left.41 In fact, the US has financed the aid economy in Palestine and directly undermined popular resistance through the destruction of Palestinian institutions. The prevailing confusion in which NGOs are mistaken for popular or community organizations is a function of NGOization as it undermines existing popular movements or acts as part of a broader social, economic, and political terrain that prevents their emergence.
Given Awad and Bean’s commitment to “socialism from below” it remains unclear as to why their conclusion gives uncritical spotlight, not only to NGOs, but to members of Congress. We are not arguing that the authors should exclude the electoral sphere from their analysis, as it constitutes one terrain of struggle and a specific node in the movement for Palestine in the United States. But their positive rendering of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for “[challenging] the status quo on Palestine” stands in confusing contrast to the book’s sectarian critiques of the Palestinian Left. We must ask why American politicians receive positive evaluation from Awad and Bean while their book offers a platform for the dismissal and belittlement of the historical contributions of Palestinian mass organizations? Critical questions remain: what is “socialism from below” to Awad and Bean? Is there any room for the Palestinian Left in their imagined political formation?
More disturbingly, the book’s vilification of revolutionary strategy severs itself from on the ground resistance in Palestine. This is not to say that they altogether neglect such forces.42 However, resistance to Zionism and imperialism in Palestine is not uplifted in a comprehensive or explicit way. This is harmful when considered alongside Awad and Bean’s dismissal of organized resistance forces who are resisting Zionism today, as “Stalinist,” “stagist,” and “mechanistic.” It should be seen as nothing less than shameful that the book treats the Palestinian Left with more criticism than they treat advocacy NGOs whose very legitimacy derives from the historical liquidation of the Palestinian Left as carried out by the US–Zionist alliance.
In this sense, the book’s misrepresentation of Palestinian history is not innocent. Its version of history complements its contemporary watering-down of the national question and the international dimensions of Palestinian struggle. Despite this, Palestinian history remains a crucial site of engagement for anyone concerned with an anti-imperialist and internationalist politics that is formulated and built from the historical and contemporary ground we exist on and not within “all these castles in the air.”43 History is a wellspring of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle. This has always been the case for the Palestinian national liberation movement which continues to draw inspiration from its forebearers, and which creatively produces and maintains its national symbols and traditions amidst the 100-plus-year-long refusal of Palestinian self-determination by colonial occupiers.
Despite the crucial role of history in the Palestinian project for liberation, often those who draw inspiration from historical revolutionary moments are charged with idealism or romanticism. We recognize this attitude in Palestine’s treatment of the Palestinian Left as stodgy and outdated, and in the assumption that its politics and strategy can be written off as false or misguided. This attitude is nothing but debilitating to the movement for Palestine in North America: it squanders the ability of socialists to build a genuine anti-imperialist movement against US and Zionist aggression. It was this iteration of bourgeois moralism that Kanafani identified as one of the causes of the Palestinian tragedy. It is then critical that we partake in acts of remembrance of those who came before us and were convinced of the enduring necessity and possibility of liberating Palestine. This is not an exercise in nostalgia or a romanticized vision of militancy. Nor is it a suggestion that the conditions of the Palestinian Revolution can be mapped onto our present. To remember, uplift, and learn from the political theory and strategy of the Palestinian Left is to struggle against Zionism’s ongoing, century-long counterinsurgency against Palestinian resistance.
During the Palestinian Revolution, the Zionist entity assassinated leaders of the Palestinian Left throughout Palestine, the Arab world, and Europe. This history reaches even further back to the era of British–Zionist collaboration (1917–1948), which saw the mass, brutal suppression of those who rejected the colonial hijacking of Palestine. There has never been closure to this repression. Our historical moment is constituted by an ideological struggle in which Zionism attempts to suppress and eradicate the memory of Palestinian and Arab revolutionaries it has transformed into martyrs. We identify this phenomenon all around us, from the contemporary desecration of Izz al Din al Qassam’s grave north of Haifa to the Israeli state’s attacks on Ghassan Kanafani’s memorial in Akka. We identify it, too, in the historical erasure of revolutionaries confined in prisons. One exemplar case is Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a Lebanese communist and leader in the PFLP who has been imprisoned by the French state since 1984 with the support of the US and Israel.44 He remains the longest detained political prisoner in Europe.
The ongoing liquidation of the memory of the Palestinian Left is not exclusively a Zionist endeavor that takes place in Palestine. This revisionist operation proceeds right here in the US. On one level, the liquidation of revolutionary Palestinian memory and thought can be contested by recounting history through a materialist method. And on a more urgent level, we should ask what insights the Palestinian Left tradition can offer in strategizing for the liberation of Palestine and developing a robust internationalist, anti-imperialist movement in the present moment.
In 2021, the Palestinian people remain just as besieged, disinherited, proletarianized, and landless as they were in 1969, the year that the Palestinian Left theorized the forces constituting their enemies and friends – those who supported or opposed the miserable reality imposed by Zionist colonialism and world imperialism. Today, there are real, concrete enemies invested in the continuation of the indefensible reality of Palestinian dispossession. And there are real, concrete friends committed to its undoing. This undoing is a difficult feat that remains just as necessary, urgent, and possible. Yet any socialist movement in the Global North that is interested in aiding this possibility cannot avoid adopting a political theory and strategy that assesses and confronts the role of US–Zionist led imperialism in plundering the dispossessed of the world.
If anything, Awad and Bean are correct that socialists in North America must struggle for Palestinian liberation. But how can socialists in the US do this? It is clear that vague sloganeering and loose theoretical frameworks do not articulate a clear political vision and strategy that is centered on weakening the institutions of US imperialism and Zionism globally. As articulated by the Palestinian Left, a politics of internationalism and anti-imperialism must derive from clear political thinking that assesses both revolutionary and reactionary forces on the national, regional, and global scales. Accordingly, any strategy for mobilization must be based in a materialist analysis that places US-led imperialism and Zionism at the forefront and doesn’t shy away from supporting resistance on the ground in Palestine today. This analysis determines which struggles socialist movements in the Global North are obliged to support and allows them to challenge the prevailing political confusion and theoretical chaos in which all states are strategically undifferentiated, and a priori our primary enemies and antagonists – a confusion and chaos which has proved to be advantageous to US aims throughout the world. If vague sloganeering and idealist internationalism will not uplift the national liberation struggle of Palestinians being carpet-bombed, choked, and humiliated by the US-backed Zionist enterprise, what will?
Perhaps the most practical starting point is committing to the task that has been taken up by Palestinian revolutionaries and their friends for over 100 years: the unfailing readiness to identify, confront, and defeat enemy forces.
|Anouar Abdel-Malek, Nation and Revolution: Volume 2 of Social Dialectics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), 166.
|Max Ajl, A People’s Green New Deal (London: Pluto Books, 2021), 146.
|Her position is worth quoting at length: “The link between the interests of imperialism and the continued existence of Israel will make our war against the latter basically a war against imperialism.” Leila Khaled, My People Shall Live (1971), 51.
|Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros, “Intervention: The Zimbabwe Question and the Two Lefts,” Historical Materialism 15 (2007): 171-204.
|Abdel-Malek, Nation and Revolution, 166.
|Abdel-Malek, Nation and Revolution, Part I.
|Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (New York: Verso, 2010).
|Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros, “Intervention: The Zimbabwe Question and the Two Lefts,” 173.
|Walter Rodney, “George Jackson: Black Revolutionary,” November 1971.
|See our section below: National Liberation as Class Struggle.
|Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP (Utrecht: Foreign Language Press, 2017), 63.
|To Anouar Abdel-Malek, “the combined effect of [these] two tendencies … leads to a global disqualification of socialism, with some minor and temporary exceptions. The USSR is condemned as bureaucratic and conservative; China as chauvinist, with racialist undertones; the European socialist states as bureaucratic satellites; Yugoslavia and Romania as right, or left, opportunists; Korea as dogmatic; Cambodia as erratic; Vietnam, after its victory, as conservative; Cuba as a bureaucratic satellite in its declining romantic phase. What remains, we may ask, of socialism? If every single country is subject to the same treatment, only one haven is left: the self-styled ‘new’ left, the defenders, apologists, and epigones of neo-Marxist epistemology, socialist reductionism, a dogmatic, supposedly ethical purity.” Abdel-Malek, Nation and Revolution, 165.
|“PFLP: Introduction to this Edition” in Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP , 11.
|These differences in approach are in reference to the US imperialist interventions that we have witnessed over decades, such as with the multiple invasions of Iraq and the wars waged on Syria and Libya through proxies.
|For example, the PFLP repeatedly maintained the position that Palestinian decision-making should remain independent of Arab states, including ally states such as Libya, Iraq, and Syria. Indeed, the PFLP contradicted the Syrian states’ desires to overthrow Yasser Arafat as leader of the PLO, despite its own opposition to his leadership. Additionally, the PFLP often positioned itself in contradiction to Syria’s interest in Lebanon, including through its involvement with the Lebanese National Movement. There are various other moments where the PFLP diverged from its state allies despite its alignment on broader strategic considerations.
|In the aftermath of the 1967 Naksa, the PFLP’s critique of the regional forces’ role was centered on the class composition of the political leadership of petit bourgeois states citing Egypt as an example. By reason of their class structure, these states were not, and could not be, the leading force of Palestinian liberation. Despite remaining antagonistic towards Western imperialism and Zionism, the PFLP understood that petit bourgeois states have the capacity of adopting “compromising non-radical programs in the face of the enemy.” Thus, the PFLP understood both the constraints of petit bourgeois states and the necessity of allying with them to struggle against imperialism, Zionism, and reactionary regimes. It is worth quoting them at length: “These regimes struck at the interests of feudalism and capitalism and their exploitation of the masses, but they preserved the petit bourgeoisie and its interests in the industrial, agricultural and commercial sectors, at the same time producing a new class of military men, politicians and administrative personnel whose interests became interlocked with those of the petit bourgeoisie, thus forming with it, the upper class in these communities. The interests of this upper class required the maintenance of the experiment within limits that do not conflict with its interests or with its thinking and view of the battle. This class is antagonistic to colonialism and reaction but at the same time wants to keep the privileges that it enjoys. It is this state of affairs that has defined the nature of the political, economic, military and ideological programs of these regimes.” For more on the PFLP’s approach to this question, see pages 81-84 of Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine.
|For the PFLP’s deputy head of political relations’ understanding of the question of Syria in the Palestinian struggle, see Taysir Qubba, “Palestinians in Damascus,” Middle East Research and Information Project 134 (1985).
|The PFLP’s 1969 booklet “The Military Strategy of the PFLP” explains that their military thought “proceeds directly from the ideological, class and organizational undertaking which forms the foundation of the commitment of the Popular Front as expressed in [A Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine (1969)].”
|The PFLP wrote: “It is not a mere coincidence that the October Revolution and the revolutions in China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and the socialist countries of Europe have succeeded and stood firm in the face of imperialism and in overcoming or beginning to overcome their state of underdevelopment, against the quasi-paralysis or infirmity characterizing the countries of the Third World which are not committed scientifically to scientific socialist theory as their guideline for planning all their policies and defining their programs.” Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine , 112.
|Revolutionary Palestinian strategy has creatively responded to the predicament of exile. As Nasser Abourahme explains, the Palestinian anticolonial experience was revolutionary precisely due to its “capacity to make territory.” Other Arab revolutionaries struggling against Zionist colonization and imperialism have had to adopt strategies for confronting, undermining, and transforming colonial space. The Lebanese communist and revolutionary freedom fighter, Souha Bechara, discusses how resistance to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon continued through its capacity to “abolish distance.” The problem of liberating something that one is physically severed from (i.e.: recovering one’s land from the refugee camp of exile, or fighting for one’s homeland from the prison of torture), continues to confront Palestinians. Nasser Abourahme, “Revolution after Revolution: The Commune as Line of Flight in Palestinian Anticolonialism,” Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory, May 2021.
|Ghassan Kannafani, “On the PFLP and the September Crisis,” New Left Review I/67 (May/June 1971), 50-57.
|Paul Thomas Chamberlain, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 85.
|Chamberlain, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order.
|Chamberlain, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order.
|In their document “Hands off the Militia!” the PFLP describes organizing their social base in preparation against reactionary repression: “Thus PFLP and other progressive groups strengthened their ties with the people, widened their militia bases, and intensified training and arming of the militia so that they would be prepared to carry their responsibilities of facing the enemy.”
|Khaled, My People Shall Live, 58.
|For more details on the USSR’s adoption of UNSCR 242 see, chapter 4 of Leila Khaled, My People Shall Live, titled “The Road to Haifa.”
|In its 4th Congress, the PFLP speaks to Lenin’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” exercised by the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. The USSR’s practice of Lenin’s thesis meant securing the conditions necessary for the growth of socialist construction. The PFLP admits to not advocating for the USSR to undertake direct military confrontation against imperialist forces, or to export revolution. The PFLP’s anxiety was centered around the socialist bloc reducing support to national liberation movements. This speaks directly to the USSR’s push for political settlement based on UNSCR 242 which heightened the PFLP’s apprehension. The PFLP, in this report, state that they later reevaluated their position and understood the policy of peaceful coexistence to be essential for the “growth of the socialist economy, and the deepening of capitalism’s crisis, and intensifying contradictions among the imperial power.” Despite this policy, various other nations won their battle for national liberation with the support of the socialist bloc.
|Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, 88.
|Despite voting on the 10-point program at the 1988 PNC meeting in Algiers, the PFLP maintained its position against normalization with the Zionist entity through the formation of the Rejection Front in 1974, and later, with the formation of the Palestinian National Salvation Front in response to the Amman Accord. See Anders Strindberg, “The Future of the Palestinian National Movement and The Damascus-Based Alliance of Palestinian Forces: A Primer,” Journal of Palestine Studies 29, no. 3 (Spring 2000): 60-76.
|Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 5.
|Antonio Gramsci, “Internationalism and National Policy,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans.. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 241.
|Antonio Gramsci, “Political Struggle and Military War,” Selections from the Prison Notebooks,” 234.
|Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848), in Marx/Engels Collected Works, vol. 6 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976), 495.
|Domenico Losurdo, Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 9.
|Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, 42.
|Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine, 44.
|Losurdo, Class Struggle, 14.
|There are exceptions: the book briefly mentions Students for Justice in Palestine and the Red Nation. Also, they importantly argue for the need to expand anti-Zionism within the US labor movement, mentioning historical movements such as Block the Boat. However, nowhere do Awad and Bean make their readers aware of critical organizations and networks that are mobilizing for Palestinian liberation in the US and/or articulating sharp anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist politics. Some of the organizations that are excluded from their assessment of the terrain of organizing in the US are the following: The Palestinian Youth Movement, Within Our Lifetime, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Existence is Resistance, Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, U.S. Palestinian Community Network.
|On May 25 2021, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund awarded the Tides Center a $150,000 grant for Adalah Justice Project. In 2018, they were awarded $160,000 and in 2020, they were awarded 100,000. This information is publicly available on the Grants Search section of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund website.
|Adel Samara, “The NGOization of the Palestinian Left” in Imprisoned Ideas: A Discussion of Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, and International Issues (Ramallah: al-Mashriq/al-A’amil for Cultural and Development Studies, 1988).
|Daphna Thier’s chapter briefly suggests the necessity of developing “real connections to the Palestinian national liberation struggle wherever it arises” and Toufic Haddad recognizes that the Palestinian movement is not defeated. The book refers, at various moments, to Gaza’s heroic Great March of Return.
|Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, 516.
|In 2013, Hillary Clinton blocked his release. See Fedayin.