Palestine: On the tactics of the Intifada

We are reproduced some correspondence we had with a group of revolutionary Palestinian youth in January of this year. We have decided to publish it now in view of the recent events, because it clearly explains our position on individual terrorism and the tactics of the Intifada. The events of the last few days merely serve to underline the counterproductive nature of individual terrorism, which have, as the letter of Fred Weston explains, always led the Palestinians to defeat.

We reproduce below our correspondence with a group of revolutionary Palestinian youth in January of this year. We have decided to publish it now in view of the recent events, because it clearly explains our position on individual terrorism and the tactics of the Intifada. The events of the last few days merely serve to underline the counterproductive nature of individual terrorism, which have, as the letter of Fred Weston explains, always led the Palestinians to defeat.

Message Received on January 4, 2001

Dear comrades,

In Defence of Marxism, and our comrades in all the world:

First of all, we would congratulate you in the new year, wishing you a good coming year full of hope and good things to our Marxism.

But we would inform you painfully, that all people and nations welcomed the new year with a smile and maybe a big celebration. in many spots of the world, especially PALESTINE, our people welcomed the new year with tears, stones (and more stones), with Israeli nazi army attacks. and we would explain something here:

Maybe it seems inhuman to the foreigns to imagine that Palestinians bomb a car in the middle of (NATANIA) city in Israel in the first hours of the New Year, and also killed an Israeli citizen ( to be clear he is a settler, and the son of Kakh - the Zionist movement's leader!!).

But on other hand everybody must remember that Israel has been doing this - and more - not in the first day of every year, but also in the first hour of every day - every hour for 52 years.


Secondly, we would send ( from your web) our respects from deep heart to our best international revolutionist comrades (TOWARDS A REVOLUTIONARY FUTURE) who bombed the EL-A'AL airline offices in Switzerland. we would say that every Palestinian here is proud of them!!

So as to Arafat's stupid (and really stupid) step, maybe you will be surprised when we say that we are pleased with it, because it's his last step to his political and popularity grave.

Lastly, we would inform you that our communication committee published a students' poll for the first time in the history of Palestinian education. We are proud of this move, and we'll translate it into English in order to send it to you.

KEEP IN TOUCH, THE COMING DAYS WILL BE TOUGH (but we are the toughest!)



Our Reply dated January 11, 2001

Dear Comrades,

Thank you for your latest e-mail, and please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We are following your struggle with the greatest interest and eagerly await all your messages. As you know we have actively supported the heroic Intifada of the Palestinian masses from the first day and will continue to do everything in our power to mobilise the public opinion of the world, and especially the international Labour Movement to support the just aspirations of the Palestinian people and expose the crimes of Israeli imperialism.

The brutality of the Israeli occupying forces and the savage repression of this powerful military machine against demonstrators armed with only sticks and stones has caused a general revulsion among the workers of the entire world. the sympathy and support of the working class is the principal ally of the Palestinian people in this unequal struggle. This fact must never be forgotten. It is a powerful weapon in your hands which you should on no account relinquish.

From this point of view, we say to you as true friends and comrades that we consider your latest letter to contain a serious error. We understand that you are fighting under the most terrible difficulties. The constant barbarism of the Israeli occupiers, the murder and maiming of Palestinian youths, cry out for vengeance. The provocations against you are multiplied a thousand-fold every day. But in any struggle it is necessary to avoid falling into the provocations of the enemy. And particularly where the enemy has a huge advantage, as is the case here, it is necessary to chose your tactics with great care.

A true friend is not someone who constantly praises you and tells you that you are right under all circumstances. That is a false friend. A true friend is someone who is not afraid to tell you that you are making a mistake in order to stop you from harming yourself. We firmly believe that if you accept the logic of the position expressed in this letter, you will do great and irreparable harm to the cause of the Palestinian people. With all our heart we urge you to think long and hard about what we say to you on this.

You write that the Palestinian people have met the new year with tears and stones. This we can understand. To the people who are fighting the most powerful military machine, especially the youths, armed only with sticks and stones, there must be a feeling of enormous frustration after so many months, and so many sacrifices. For the masses, there was no other road than this left. The people have shown that they are willing to die rather than live under the slavery of foreign occupation. But unfortunately heroism alone is not enough to succeed.

The responsibility for this situation rests with Arafat and the leaders of the so-called Palestine National Authority. Having failed to conduct a serious struggle against Israeli imperialism for decades, they accepted the abortion of the Oslo Peace Accord which was a betrayal of the national aspirations of the Palestinians. Now they are manoeuvring with US imperialism to stitch up a new agreement with Tel Aviv - which they may not even succeed in doing - making use of the Intifada as a mere bargaining counter. It is understandable that the Palestinian masses and particularly the youth indignantly reject such manoeuvres and demand an all-out fight against the oppressors.

If the PLO leadership were serious about the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, they would have taken steps to train and arm the masses for resistance. Instead of this, for the second time, they have allowed the masses to enter an unequal conflict in which sticks and stones are deployed against the most modern weapons of destruction. The result has been a terrible war of attrition in which the vast majority of the casualties have been ordinary Palestinians.

Although the people are prepared to carry on the fight, there are clearly limitations to how long such a situation can be continued. The question before the youth of Palestine now is: what is to be done? Upon the answer to this question the destiny of the Intifada depends.

In your letter you write: "Maybe it seems inhuman to foreigners to imagine that Palestinians bomb a car in the middle of Natania, a city in Israel in the first hours of the new year and also killed an Israeli citizen."

What seems inhuman to us is the continued occupation of Palestinian lands and the brutality of the Israeli forces directed not against individuals but a whole people. We do not adopt a moralistic position. The Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves against aggression and fight against foreign occupation with all the means at their disposal. The question here is not one of morality but only of WHICH METHODS OF STRUGGLE ARE EFFECTIVE AND WHICH ARE INEFFECTIVE AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. We consider the kind of methods described in your letter as ineffective and extremely counterproductive. We will explain why we think this.

Lenin's position

Like ourselves, you stand for Marxism. But then we must be consistent Marxists. Marxism is a revolutionary doctrine that bases itself on the class struggle and revolutionary internationalism. The method of individual terrorism is entirely contrary to the letter and spirit of Marxism which bases itself on the working class and the methods of mass struggle.

Marx and Lenin always fought against the idea of individual terrorism: that is to say, the idea that it was possible to overthrow the state by assassinating individuals. The state does not rest on individuals, but classes. If you assassinate one reactionary official, policeman or politician, he will merely be replaced by another, even more reactionary official, policeman or politician. Worse still, the state will make use of such incidents to step up its repression and unite the population against the revolutionaries.

As you may know, Russia before the Revolution had a long tradition of terrorism among the youth. There was a powerful organisation called the People's Will which for decades organised a campaign of bombings and assassinations. Finally they even succeeded in assassinating the Tsar. But what was the result? What did they gain from it? Nothing. The Tsar was replaced with another Tsar. The system continued exactly as before, except that the state became more powerful and more repressive. The People's Will was smashed by arrests and executions (including Lenin's own brother), and the situation was worse than before because many good young revolutionary fighters were lost.

What was the attitude of Lenin and the Russian Marxists towards the tactic of individual terrorism? They opposed it, denounced it and consistently fought against it. Why? Not because they considered it "inhuman". The Tsar and all the other criminals deserved to die for their crimes against the people. But that is not the point. When Lenin heard about his brother's execution, he said: "That is not the way." Marxists must base themselves on the masses, and specifically on the working class. Acts of individual terrorism are useless and worse than useless because they disorganise the ranks of the revolutionaries and ultimately strengthen the state. In other words, they have the opposite effect to that which was intended. Of course, the Russian terrorists were very sincere and heroic people. They were burning with indignation at the crimes of Tsarism, and wanted to take revenge on this monstrous regime, even at the cost of losing their own lives. Their intentions were good, but as we say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We must learn from history, because he who does not learn from history is always condemned to repeat it.

The Russian people finally succeeded in overthrowing Tsarism in October 1917 - many years after the failure of the People's Will. They did this not through acts of individual terrorism but by the revolutionary struggle of the masses under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party.

But does an occupied nation not have the right to fight against its oppressors by every means? Certainly. But if a nation wants to free itself from foreign occupation, it also has a duty to find the best and most effective methods and reject methods that harm the struggle. Of course, we understand that under terrible provocation, an oppressed people driven beyond its endurance will sometimes resort to desperate measures. To condemn such actions as "inhuman" would be mere hypocrisy. Nevertheless, as Marxists, we have a duty to explain to the masses which methods help the movement and which are harmful to it.

Marx on terrorism

The national oppression of Ireland by British imperialism was just as savage as the barbarous oppression of the Palestinians by Israel, or even more so. While naturally sympathising with the oppressed Irish people, Marx always subjected the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders to an implacable criticism. They particularly stressed the damaging nature of the tactic of individual terrorism. The most radical wing of the Irish national liberation movement was the Fenians. Marx and Engels gave them critical support against British imperialism, but at the same time severely criticised the adventurist tactics of the Fenians, their terrorist tendencies, their national narrowness and their refusal to accept the need to link up with the English workers' movement. Despite the fact that the Fenians were the most advanced wing of the Irish revolutionary democratic movement, and even showed socialist inclinations, Marx and Engels did not have any illusions in them.

When, on December 13, 1867, a group of Fenians set off an explosion in London's Clerkenwell Prison in an unsuccessful attempt to free their imprisoned comrades. The explosion destroyed several neighbouring houses and wounded 120 people. Predictably, the incident unleashed a wave of anti-Irish feeling in the population. The following day Marx wrote indignantly to Engels:

"The last exploit of the Fenians in Clerkenwell was a very stupid thing. The London masses, who have shown great sympathy for Ireland, will be made wild by it and driven into the arms of the government party. One cannot expect the London proletariat to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of the Fenian emissaries. There is always a kind of fatality about such a secret, melodramatic sort of conspiracy."

A few days later, on December 19, Engels replied as follows: "The stupid affair in Clerkenwell was obviously the work of a few specialised fanatics; it is the misfortune of all conspiracies that they lead to such stupidities, because 'after all, something must happen, after all something must be done'. In particular, there has been a lot of bluster in America about this blowing up and arson business, and then a few asses come and instigate such nonsense. Moreover, these cannibals are generally the greatest cowards, like this Allen, who seems to have already turned Queen's evidence, and then the idea of liberating Ireland by setting a London tailor's shop on fire!"

You can see from these lines what Marx and Engels thought about the terrorist tactics of the Fenians who were the best and most courageous representatives of the Irish national liberation movement. The British imperialists behaved with the utmost brutality against the people of Ireland for centuries. This was also a case of a powerful imperialist state with a mighty army oppressing a small and defenceless people. Then, too, some people said: "something must happen," and "something must be done." And what that meant was the setting off of bombs in Britain. This was a most serious error which played into the hands of British imperialism. And in the same way that the British government rubbed its hands with glee every time the Irish killed people in London, so Barak and Sharon are secretly delighted every time Israelis are killed by bombs in Tel Aviv. Such actions do not weaken Israeli imperialism. They do not weaken its resolve to fight. They do not persuade the Israeli people to support the Intifada. On the contrary. They play into the hands of the most reactionary circles in Israel and encourage the idea that it is good to crush the Palestinians. That is why Marx and Engels always decisively rejected such tactics.

The only way forward

It is also necessary to consider the history of the Palestinian struggle over the last 30 years. The tactic of bombings and assassinations is not new. It was a constant feature of the situation in the Middle East for years. The petty bourgeois nationalist leaders of the PLO held out the idea that they could obtain self-determination by means of a so-called armed struggle against Israel. In practice this boiled down to simple acts of individual terrorism, bombings, kidnappings, hijacking aircrafts, etc. These actions did not weaken Israel in the slightest degree. On the contrary. To the degree that they persuaded ordinary Israelis that the intention was to "drive the Jews into the sea", they pushed the population into the arms of reaction. Far from weakening the Israeli state, they strengthened it.

The tactics of the PLO leaders led the Palestinians to one defeat after another. First, they were crushed by King Hussein of Jordan in 1970, although they could easily have taken power in that country. Subsequently they repeated the same story in the Lebanon, and helped to provoke a bloody civil war and Israeli and Syrian intervention into the bargain. And while they continued to meddle with the disastrous tactics of individual terrorism, they had no strategy for an uprising of the masses on the West Bank itself. When the Intifada finally broke out, Arafat and the PLO leadership played no real role in it. The Palestinian youth had to face the might of the Israeli military machine, unarmed except for sticks and stones. Despite this, the mass movement on the West Bank did more for the Palestinian cause in a few months than Arafat and co. had achieved in thirty years.

The "concessions" offered by Tel Aviv were not at all the result of the actions of the PLO exiles. They were to a great extent the result of the Intifada, which shook Israeli society and attracted the sympathetic attention of the whole world. Having failed for decades to advance the Palestine cause one step, the PLO leaders were greedy to enjoy the "fruits of office" which had been conquered by the people. What they accepted amounted to a betrayal of the national struggle of the Palestinians. The so-called Peace Deal in the Middle East is dead. None of the fundamental problems have been solved. As we said at the time, the deal signed by Arafat with the Israelis was a trap for the Palestinian people. This was not self-determination but only a miserable caricature and a fraud. A year ago, we predicted that this would lead to a new Intifada. We wrote:

"Most seriously, the growing discontent of the masses on the West Bank and in Gaza threatens to provoke a new Intifada. This is implicit in the situation. A new Intifada would contain a clear revolutionary potential, on one condition: that it possesses a firm revolutionary leadership that stands for an internationalist solution. On the basis of nationalism, no solution is possible."

While fighting against the Israeli occupiers, a Marxist leadership would explain that the common enemy of both Arab and Israeli working people are the Israeli bankers and capitalists. It would make clear that the Palestinian revolutionary movement is not directed against ordinary Israeli citizens. It would systematically seek points of support in Israeli society: among the students and progressive youth, in the factories and army barracks. To this end, it is necessary to avoid futile attacks on civilian targets in Israel which would only serve to isolate and weaken those elements in Israeli society who are against the oppression of the Palestinians and wish for peace, while driving the majority behind the most reactionary and chauvinistic section of the Israeli ruling class.

In your last letter, you say that the attitude of Israelis towards Arabs was worsening. Naturally the Tel Aviv regime is trying to whip up the worst kind of chauvinism and war hysteria among the population. Such hysteria is common in every war, especially at the beginning. It was present in the USA in the early stages of the Vietnam war. At that time it seemed impossible that the mood of the American public could ever change. But it did change. In the end, the Vietnam war was lost, not in Vietnam, but in the USA, when the majority turned against the war. Such a change will occur in Israel at a certain stage. Not immediately, of course. But what would be disastrous would be a series of bombings inside Israel that permitted the Israeli regime to say to the people: "You see, the Arabs want to kill us all."

This would have the most negative consequences for the Palestinians, beginning with those inside Israel. Already the Israeli authorities are replacing them with cheap labour from the Philippines and other countries. It is even possible they could be expelled en masse. On the other hand, that minority of Israelis who want to defend the Palestinians would be even further isolated and silenced. In what way would this assist the struggle of the Palestinian people? In the long run, no victory is possible unless we find the means to break the support of the Israeli population for the reactionary policies of Israeli imperialism.

The situation is indeed very difficult. We understand that. But precisely for that reason, we must think with our heads, not allow ourselves to be provoked into suicidal actions by despair. In one of your earlier letters you explained that the Intifada is not directed against ordinary Israelis. That idea must be made to penetrate the consciousness of the Israeli masses. Every step in that direction must be encouraged and supported. Everything that goes against it must be firmly rejected. No quick and easy solution is possible. Those who promise such things are deceiving themselves and the people.

Cynics will say that this is not "practical". But have we not seen enough of the kind of "practical" solutions which have been tried and have failed many times over the past thirty years - and not just in the Middle East? Everywhere, without exception, these "practical" policies - which boil down to the futile tactic of individual terrorism - have brought nothing but disasters. The plain fact is that the only way out for the Palestinians is on the basis of a revolutionary, internationalist class policy. Any other solution spells new disasters. The only really practical programme is the programme of socialist revolution throughout the Middle East.

With revolutionary greetings,

Fred Weston