Political efficacy and the “right to resist”

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Jacobin
 published an article today by Tariq Dana titled “The Palestinian Resistance and Its Enemies.” It presents a rather sympathetic portrait of the origins of the group Hamas amidst the failed Oslo Accords and pervasive violence of the Second Intifada, mentioning some of the criticisms made of the Islamist group along the way. Dana doesn’t so much argue that Hamas deserves the support of the Left as he does resistance more broadly deserves its support. He alleges that Israel’s overt rhetoric against Hamas covertly attempts to delegitimate resistance as such. As Dana pithily puts it:

[Israel’s] propaganda war against Hamas targets the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance itself.

Of course, this argument could be easily inverted by apologists for Israel’s assault on Gaza. Just as specific denunciation of resistance by Hamas supposedly undermines resistance in general, so support for resistance in general can by extension be considered specific support for resistance by Hamas. Needless to say, this is a bit shortsighted, and precludes a more nuanced or qualified approach to the matter.

My skepticism toward contemporary natlib (national liberation) politics notwithstanding, the focus of Dana’s article seems a little off to me. Its mistake is twofold:

  1. First, in terms of the ideological composition of the forces resisting Israeli aggression. The issue is not, or should not be, whether “the right to resist” — a Lockean concept — is legitimate. Rather, it’s a question of what the political content of such a resistance amounts to. No doubt many in Gaza will feel that such resistance is justified so long as Israel continues to push a stateless population into increasingly cramped and unlivable conditions. But this does nothing to change the fact that the ideology of Hamas is fundamentally incompatible with Marxist politics.
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  2. Second, in terms of the practical efficacy of certain tactics of resistance and “resistance” as such. What is the actual effect of firing rockets into Israel, in response to airstrikes in civilian zones? Or, taking into account some of Hamas’ past tactics, suicide bombings? Considered simply as attrition, i.e. an attempt to “bleed” the enemy dry or break its will, this does not seem an effective or advisable strategy. If the significance of such actions is merely the gesture of defiance, symbolic but ultimately futile, then I’m unsure what their political payoff might be.

Broadly speaking, there is a confusion between means and ends in leftist politics today.

TOPSHOTS-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT  MK2481

Here the goal should be an immediate halt to Israel’s military campaign and its broader interference in the economic and political life of the occupied territories, to be followed by land concessions and the normalization of relations between Palestine and Israel. Whether a one-state or two-state solution is tenable can only be determined on this more stable basis.

To summarize the main questions raised above: Should the Left lend “critical support” to Hamas, despite its avowedly right-wing (even explicitly antisemitic) politics? Moreover, is the line of “resistance” it’s been pursuing likely to achieve the desired political outcome?

In a future post, I intend to assess the viability of international solidarity movements such as Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions as well as occasional declarations by Trotskyist groups of “unconditional but critical support” for organizations such as Hamas or the Irish Republican Army.

26 thoughts on “Political efficacy and the “right to resist”

  1. Ross, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, & ‘resistance’ fighters have partaken in some form of adventurism, with varying effects. The ANC’s military wing, Spear Of the Nation blew up stuff. It was for those actions that led Mandela to prison for sedition. In the end, it was the BDS movement coupled with civil disobedience by South Africans that toppled apartheid. Not bullets & bombs.

    What Hamas does with its pitiful rockets, is counterproductive & defeatist. Its a sign of desperation. Their Jew Hatred is also a stumbling block for receiving support. The best for of resistance remains civil disobedience, in the face of a force that has the military wherewithal to either wipe you out or simply bomb you in to submission.

    A lasting peace is doable if the Palestinians can win not only the world over to its cause, but also a majority of Israelis. That will be the most difficult task for Palestinians, and Hamas’ actions make an already difficult road ahead look Sisyphean.

    As far as the BDS is concerned, sanctions will never happen globally without the agreement of the US. Boycotts & Divestiture is happening, but then again , AIPAC will denounce Americans supporting it and doing it, as being gravely mistaken or as antisemetic. Just a few thoughts. Hope I didn’t go too off topic.

  2. In this case, it is clear who is the imperialist force and its magnitude. So, for me, it is far more important to oppose the empire, and disrupting it, is far more important than care about the political orientation, which doesn’t seem too ring wing. When I read their chart, anti semitism is a provocation for Israel calling itself a Jewish state in exclusion of the Palestinians. And I couldn’t care less for this. Marx, specially in Book III is full of this, and in my case I just rejoice them for this state, given that such a powerful state as Israel play the victim. while they have nuclear bombs more than enough to exterminate the whole people of its “enemies”

    Besides, unlike an 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda, which raised the unity of opinions to attack middle east, Hamas demoralize Israel and its master. Eventually, will win by not losing. I think they are evolving the strategy, first suicide bombs, then rockets (mostly useless), now underground tunnels. I just curious of why they do not sabotage industries and research facilities, to cause really economic harm.

    So, my support is unconditional, and I don’t pose criticism, since I think this is just a waste of time in this circumstance and divisional.

    • Oh, btw, they just say now they keep the anti semitic thing as an historical part, they are not engaged in this.

    • I disagree with Jim Brash’s argument that non-violent measures are the only ones worth pursuing. Force in history can be a real source of social and political change.

      However, I do not regard as immaterial the very explicit antisemitism of organizations like Hamas, just as the very explicit racism of settler fanatics and certain Israeli politicians cannot be ignored.

      • Ross, I’m for engaging an oppressor with force when it can be well executed. The Angolans, Vietcong, and The July 26th Movement, did it. Most situations are not like those. You need to have equal or superior will, and popular support of your populace to win a guerrilla war. Especially if your facing superior numbers and/or arms. Generally superior arms & weapons wins every time.
        The colonial rebels don’t win without the the French Navy. Israel doesn’t win the 6 Days War without US hardware. Which is why I think the current situation is unique. The Israelis have superior everything plus the equal will and the popular support of its citizenry in all this. So civil disobedience becomes the only option because its the option that will win over Israeli citizens as well. If my parents and grandparents generation of Blacks would’ve made violence its main road ending Jim & Jane Crow we would have American Gaza’s or we’ll all be dead. Probably the latter.

      • I can just see anti semitism nowadays as a cry of rich whites and their supporters, who happens to be jews, but who are in fact oppressors. It makes me puke just like the anti white thing that white power guys are usually paranoid about. I really despise this.

      • So anti-semitism is no longer a problem in the world? It would seem to be fairly pervasive in France and many other parts of Europe. Elsewhere also.

      • So, I won’t be picky over a non existent problem to support Hamas, I won’t feed the holocaust industry and israeli self victimization.

      • No, it is not a problem anywhere. If it were, Jews (the white ones) would not be the groups with the highest income anywhere. They’d be suffering in poverty like Gypsies (treated like shit in the France, as you refer), Black People or Native Americans.

      • Violence against Roma is also pervasive. Anti-Zionist demonstrations in France a week or so ago degenerated into an assault by protesters on a synagogue. The shooting at a Jewish center in the United States, though it only resulted in the death of non-Jews, clearly targeted Jews.

        Jews were among the wealthiest members of interwar European society, also, as shopkeepers, industrialists, and financiers. This didn’t prevent millions of them from being sent to the ovens.

      • Besides being the most wealth, Jews are the least rejected, or the more accepted, minority in Europe and USA, which didn’t happen between the interwar period. In fact, the zionist subgroup is so insanely powerful, that they can manage to get every single Senator of US and every biggest means of communications to unitarily support Israel.

        So, if you were talking about Arab Jews, Ethiopian Jews, of course, I’d pity them, just like I do with any other oppressed people. But, don’t count with me with the White ones. It is just like asking me to pity WASPs.

      • No, of course not. I can see that this is the result of Israel doings. I can see the groups in the links are the ones who suffer because of US and Israel supporting dictators.

        My feelings for someone for me goes the inverse of one’s wealth and power. Such is true, that my wife was extremely poor and had even to resort to collect garbage in order to survive.

  3. The “right of resistance” is important in the comparative Palestinian context of what happened with the evolution of Fatah and the PLO in the 1990s and its corresponding exclusive commitment to “diplomatic” engagement with Israel (which eventually led to increased Fatah factionalization). More important than Hamas’ ideology, which is difficult to discern in the singular given its inconsistent evolution over time (and the motley voices that make it up), is its politics on the ground, which has likewise, and more dramatically, changed over time, such that descriptions of it as a terrorist group simpliciter or simply another jihadist or salafist organization are wildly off the mark. Moreover, Hamas spokespersons have taken the trouble for some time now to distinguish their “anti-Zionism” from anti-Semitism, making clear they do not want to be identified with the latter. Hamas’ political program for the 2006 PLC elections was not at all “religious,” let alone theocratic. Much more could be said (e.g., about its social welfare work in civil society), but I find many folks are simply ill-informed when it comes to a nuanced understanding of the history and politics of Hamas. This of course does not mean one cannot criticize their record on human rights, their authoritarian tendencies and practices, and so forth. But in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, Hamas has come to embody this struggle and exercise this right of resistance, however mistaken on occasion the means of that exercise.

    I have no wholesale prescriptions or recommendations for what positions “the Left” should adopt vis-a-vis Hamas. But I do think it /we should make every effort to be well-informed, hence toward that end I offer the following as helpful in analyzing the Islamic Resistance Movement:
    • Bröning, Michael. The Politics of Change in Palestine: State-Building and Nonviolent Resistance. London: Pluto Press, 2011. (contains an excellent chapter on Hamas)
    • Caridi, Paola. Hamas: From Resistance to Government. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.
    • Gunning, Jeroen. Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
    • Mishal, Shaul and Avraham Sela. The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
    • Roy, Sara. Hamas and Civil Society: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.
    • Tamimi, Azzam. Hamas: A History from Within. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press/Interlink, 2007.

    I look forward to your next post.

  4. Good post. It seems to me that there may be a link to the disappearance of ideology as a primary political term in the West. You know, some leftists in the media here even compared (jn a positive sense) the jihadists going to Syria with the members of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Revolting petit-bourgeois radical trash they are.

  5. I don’t find the “othering” of islamist movements from “imperialism” helpful – I think that reproduces some aspects of “leftist” thinking. IMHO far more fruitful is an understanding of these movements as internal to imperialism. This is certainly true of the way, for example, that the Israeli intelligence services supported Hamas in its early days as a counterweight to the PLO and the way the US and Pakistan intelligence services supported the Afghan mojaheddin. There also needs to be an historical understanding of the way these movements arose as a reaction to the secular nationalistic project in its Baathist and Nasserite guises in various Arab countries like Iraq, Syria and Egypt. After all, the most “stable” states in the Middle East are precisely the ones who are most conservative and have always been “islamist” to a greater or lesser degree – like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies. The role of the rentier state in the oil producing countries like Iraq and Libya as well as Iran, Nigeria and Sudan (with the implications thereof for the development of civil society) also needs to be considered. Ultimately we must return to the critique of political economy for coming to an understanding of the hegemonic social relations in this epoch and not limit our observations to the “ideological” realm of discourse.

    • The reason I would hesitate to say that Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States have been stable on account of their longstanding “Islamism” is that they are clearly U.S. client states. Much of their stability owes to the close trade relations cultivated on this basis.

      • That is a very good point. What I was trying to suggest is that perhaps “islamism” is not such a big obstacle to the cultivation of amicable client-sponsor relations if the social relations of rent extraction in the oil-producing periphery are otherwise congenial to the imperialist core. Other (non-oil producing) examples of ostensibly “Islamist” regimes enjoying cordial relations with the US would be Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan and more recently the AKP government in Turkey.

        The secular Baathist/Nasserite regimes in Libya and Iraq (as well as the “islamist” regime in Iran), on the other hand, were/are more militant in the pursuit of nationalistic objectives in the sharing of oil revenues with the oil companies. Even the secular Bhutto in Pakistan, prior to the seizure of power in a (probably US-supported) coup by Zia ul Haq in 1976, was considered a dangerous troublemaker by the US. So I am not sure that a binary opposition between “islamism” and “imperialism” makes much sense – indeed my point was that such an opposition is also the assumption made (or unexamined) by some leftist “anti-imperialist” analyses.

        Of course it is also true that there are different versions of “islamism” and I am not sure that they should all be lumped together. The recent rise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq seems to have even alarmed Al-Qaeeda. From a historical point of view, one of the things I find interesting about ISIL is how they are refusing to recognise the boundaries of different nation-states like Iraq and Syria which were drawn up by the imperialist protectorates in the aftermath of World War I. Perhaps this is only an extension of the long-held millenarian belief among certain Sunni muslims for a return to the “caliphate” but perhaps it is also an Islamist-inflected expression of the Baathist/Nasserite ideals of pan-Arab unity.

        I do think, however, that a historical analysis based upon the critique of political economy is a pre-requisite for deciding upon the important questions you have asked us to consider. We need to establish the social dynamics of a region disfigured by its position as a supplier of oil to the world economy, the historical legacy of Ottoman and Western rule, the context of global imperialism, the political economy of rentier states and the evolution of the world economy in a direction which made the existence of nationalistic, secular ideologies like Baathism and Nasserism untenable.

      • That is a very good point. What I was trying to suggest is that perhaps “islamism” is not such a big obstacle to the cultivation of amicable client-sponsor relations if the social relations of rent extraction in the oil-producing periphery are otherwise congenial to the imperialist core. Other (non-oil producing) examples of ostensibly “Islamist” regimes enjoying cordial relations with the US would be Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan and more recently the AKP government in Turkey.

        The secular Baathist/Nasserite regimes in Libya and Iraq (as well as the “islamist” regime in Iran), on the other hand, were/are more militant in the pursuit of nationalistic objectives in the sharing of oil revenues with the oil companies. Even the secular Bhutto in Pakistan, prior to the seizure of power in a (probably US-supported) coup by Zia ul Haq in 1976, was considered a dangerous troublemaker by the US. So I am not sure that a binary opposition between “islamism” and “imperialism” makes much sense – indeed my point was that such an opposition is also the assumption made (or unexamined) by some leftist “anti-imperialist” analyses.

        Of course it is also true that there are different versions of “islamism” on offer and I am not sure that they should all be lumped together. The recent rise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq seems to have even alarmed Al-Qaeeda. From a historical point of view, one of the things I find interesting about ISIL is how they are refusing to recognise the boundaries of different nation-states like Iraq and Syria which were drawn up by the imperialist protectorates in the aftermath of World War I. Perhaps this is only an extension of the long-held millenarian belief among certain Sunni muslims for a return to the “caliphate” but perhaps it is also an Islamist-inflected expression of the Baathist/Nasserite ideals of pan-Arab unity.

        I do think, however, that a historical analysis based upon the critique of political economy is a pre-requisite for deciding upon the important questions you have asked us to consider. We need to establish the social dynamics of a region disfigured by its position as a supplier of oil to the world economy, the historical legacy of Ottoman and Western rule, the context of global imperialism, the political economy of rentier states and the evolution of the world economy in a direction which made the existence of nationalistic, secular ideologies like Baathism and Nasserism untenable.

  6. What I find interesting is a point you mentioned about the left okaying Hamas some leftists with their “anticolonialism” seem to think anticolonialism in spite of itself is laudable, regardless of other political factors.

    Not to mention their justification of killing Civilians who are colonialists which goes back to Fanon anticolonialist theories, but it’s not degenerated so their anticolonialism can also be unLeftist.

    You wrote this about Hitchens who was responding to this tendency and was pushed ou from left how it degenerated into third worldist stubborn nonsense.

    I spoke to a Jewish communist who argues the Israeli CP is bad and Palestinian Hamas is good because they’re justifying oppressed againist oppressors. This is rehashed nationalist deviationism.

    Love your blog Ross. You’ve taught me and this is a great resource. But remove that dirty stuff.

  7. Anticolonialism which targets masses civilians like PLO kidnapping, massacres of French Pied Noirs by Algerians, Terrorism againist boer farmers, and which attacks members of the colonised country who are moderates etc is something the left justifies for 50 years. (Were not discussing this now.)
    These groups were economically leftist and secular and socialist, but a new development has occured where leftists not only justify terrorism by anticolonialist actors… But support groups like Hamas instead of Fatah even if Fatah is more leftist in many ways!

    • One might offer conditional support to both Hamas and Fatah, but Fatah’s “Leftist” pedigree is on rather unstable ground and there are any number of issues, distinct of course from those of Hamas but no less troubling from a (generously defined) Leftist vantage point. I’ll rely largely on a discussion by Michael Bröning because it is fairly concise and uncommonly incisive. Upon returning in 1994 to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) from exile in Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Tunis, a “cadre of Fatah leaders who had only sporadically been present on the ground during the previous decades” confronted a “Young Guard” of activists from the OPT who had fought Israeli troops in the streets of Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Gaza. There was an immediate clash of “political cultures” and forms of “political legitimacy,” as the latter group understandably refused absolute deference to former, while the exiled Fatah veterans failed to appreciate the political experiences and insights of the latter “mid-level” cadres, leading to debilitating leadership struggles.

      This internal strife was “aggravated,” in Bröning’s words, “by a notable ideological vagueness that has functioned to safeguard political unity at the expense of clarity. The absence of programmatic precision beyond the ultimate singular goal of liberation has been a characteristic of Fatah for decades.” This description gains salience in contrast to “more ideologically refined left-wing parties such as the Popular Front or the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP and DFLP respectively).” While professing an official allegiance to socialism, there’s little theoretical or practical evidence of a “genuine ideological commitment” on this score. Bröning suggests this avowed political affiliation was simply a tactical political convenience that provided a port of entry into (solidaristic) international politics that would have otherwise proven elusive if not impossible. In fact, Bröning more than plausibly avers that “Fatah seems to have opted for socialism by default.” In particular, “Fatah has avoided programmatic specificity to secure its broad political appeal and has continually opted for ideological equivocation based on vague admiration for Third World resistance movement, ranging from Vietnam to Algeria.”

      In contrast to a somewhat spontaneous and often nonviolent politics on the ground in the OPT as incarnate in the first Intifada, Fatah’s objectives and methods of engagement were framed in the singular terms of “armed resistance and revolutionary liberation,” a rhetoric forged in the emulative crucible of anti-colonial revolutionary praxis. Decades of guerilla and terror tactics brought much domestic and international attention to Fatah and its legitimate objectives, but strategic victories were few if not merely symbolic. Conducting such an armed struggle from afar only exacerbated the difficulties inherent its constricted repertoire of tactics and strategies (the limitations of same are discussed in a recent article by Raja Shehadeh in the London Review of Books). This “constricted repertoire” became awkwardly conspicuous with the first Intifida, which had nothing to do with Fatah, and caught it by complete surprise, steeling its resolve to take control of the Palestinian struggle, including any and all politics on the ground in the OPT. Again, Bröning’s keen analysis gets right to the point:

      “…contrary to Fatah operations, the Intifada produced tangible results—albeit limited in scope when measure against aspirations. Faced with broad public opposition form Palestinians, general strikes, daily demonstrations and, last but not least, reluctantly increasing U.S. pressure, the Intifada demonstrated to the Israeli public that the occupation came at a heavy price. Occupying Palestinian towns and villages suddenly proved disastrous not only in terms of Israeli casualties but also for Israel’s standing in the West. For many observers, the Intifada resistance ultimately transformed the image of a besieged Jewish state into the ‘ugly face of Israeli occupation.’”

      Fatah cadres eventually assumed control of the uprising, exploiting its political capital and canalizing its momentum in the international arena (from the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 through the Oslo Process and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority). On the domestic front, Fatah brought a real and symbolic end to the Intifada when it took over the PNA and “transformed itself into the de facto state party of the Palestinian Territory,” one consequence of which was its (fatal, at least for some) “comprehensive security cooperation with Israel.” In the OPT nothing much changed for the better, including the pace of Israeli settlement activity. And once more, clashes with Israelis came to a flash point in the Al Aqsa Intifada, albeit more literally this time ‘round. The PNA could not take responsibility for the latest uprising, nor could it “effectively rein in disillusioned Fatah militias and other factions.” The violence of the Al Aqsa Intifada became the locus of increased tensions not only between Fatah and Israel but between individuals and factions within Fatah itself, indeed, “the movement degenerated into a conglomeration of armed groups,” an internal crisis that motivated Mahmoud Abbas (as Prime Minister under Arafat) to take a “confrontational line” against the militias. Abbas also began a series of public proclamations against military and terrorist operations, replacing them not with this or that form of nonviolent social and political struggle against Israel but “an exclusively diplomatic engagement,” in effect, turning the liberation movement into a desiccated species of high politics. Not surprisingly, this “boosted Fatah’s standing in the West,” but alienated it from the activists and masses of the OPT. Diplomatic engagement was paired with “state-building” of a sort, although the latter endeavor was decisively undermined by the Israelis on the one hand, and chronic nepotism and institutionalized corruption on the other (the main source of which was the Fatah leaders who returned from exile). Fatah’s close affiliation with the PLO and PNA did not endear it those they sought to liberate.

      The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in 1996 made transparent the authoritarian proclivities of Arafat and his minions as he “overruled the democratic decisions of Fatah’s grassroots districts concerning the selection of PLC candidates,” while the PFLP, the DFLP, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad refused to participate in the elections. In short, “the first democratic elections in Palestine were…effectively a one-party event.” The PLC could not control the PNA but at least it “did not develop into a single bloc to supporting every move of the PNA government.” Fatah’s participation in the PNA and the collapse of its party institutions assured its lack of public support (bearing in mind such causal variables as the contradictions, to put it feebly, of the Oslo Process, as well as the uncompromising stances and nefarious shenanigans Israeli government). And thus in 2006 the fate of Fatah was sealed first, in the PLC elections lost to the Hamas-affiliated Reform and Change List and then, in the takeover of Gaza Strip by Hamas.

      Fatah began to “reinvent itself” in 2009, eventually transforming itself into a movement “deeply rooted in the Palestinian territories.” While internal debate and democratization are welcome and important, they’ve taken place alongside Fatah’s ongoing de-radicalization, at least in some senses of that term. Fatah has become significantly more ideologically self-aware, some evidence for which is found in its detailed preconditions for future diplomatic engagement with Israel. And it has been adamant about its fundamental right of legitimate resistance “as guaranteed by international law.” Moreover, “the new Fatah programme explicitly takes note of non-violent resistance and thus demonstrates a fundamental shift away from decades of armed struggle” of one kind or another. This newfound emphasis on nonviolent strategies and techniques does not, however, decisively eliminate other—especially violent—forms of resistance insofar as they are retained as a “legitimate right of occupied peoples.”

      • I strongly hate the terrorism agajnist Israeli civilians by Fatah and Hamas. Noam Chomsky is an example of a leading Leftist intellectual who sided with Hamas instead of Fatah during their conflict. I disagree with Anticolonialism and it’s violence agajnist Yahudis throughout the country which was motivated by a sort of secular, leftist, feminist, revolutionary Fatah.

        But anticolonialism without these secular leftist traits is anticolonialiam in spite of itself, (and anticonialism having its problems in my mind.)

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