How Joseph Stalin Helped Create the State of Israel

Joseph Stalin committed numerous crimes against the international working class. But one of his greatest crimes was the support he gave to the foundation of the state of Israel. Trotskyists, in contrast, have always opposed Zionism.
  • Nathaniel Flakin | 
  • May 21, 2021
Pro Stalin demonstration of the Communist Party of Israel in Tel Aviv, 1948

In response to Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza, there have been massive demonstrations around the world and a general strike across Palestine. The solidarity movement includes socialists who see Joseph Stalin as a model. Modern Stalinists will likely see themselves as anti-imperialists and opponents of Zionism. They might quote a footnote in Stalin’s 1913 pamphlet on the national question, written under the influence of Nikolai Bukharin and V.I. Lenin, in which the future dictator describes Zionism as “a reactionary nationalist trend of the Jewish bourgeoisie, which had followers along the intellectuals and the more backward sections of the Jewish workers. The Zionists endeavoured to isolate the Jewish working-class masses from the general struggle of the proletariat.”

But how did the Soviet Union under Stalin react to the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948? And what effect did that have on the communist parties loyal to Moscow?

The Soviet Union gave diplomatic recognition to Israel on May 17, 1948, just three days after its declaration of independence. It was the first state in the world to do so — long before the United States.

In a recent article in Jewish Currents, Dorothy M. Zellner recounts in great detail what effect this had on the Stalinized Communist Party in the United States. The CPUSA and associated publications for Jewish people had always rejected Zionism and the idea of a Jewish state. When the Zionist “union” in Palestine, the Histadrut, tried to boycott Palestinian workers, the American communists referred to it — correctly — as a “Jim Crow” institution. The CPUSA, despite its Stalinist politics, had a proud tradition of struggle against racism — and it denounced the racism of the Zionist colonization project.  

In 1947, however, the Soviet Union surprised the world by announcing that it would support the UN plan for partitioning Palestine and creating a Jewish state.

Stalin’s shift to support for Zionism was vital — one could say that Israel might not exist in its current form had the Soviet Union not offered its backing. Historians suspect that Stalin hoped to weaken the position of British imperialism in the region — perhaps he saw the Jewish colonists as a kind of national liberation movement. But in reality, the prediction of all serious Marxists came true: the new Jewish state became a gendarme for imperialism.

Soviet support for Israel was not limited to diplomatic means, either. Via Czechoslovakia, the Soviet block sent arms to the Zionist militia Haganah, which used them to begin the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In other words, Stalin gave material support for the Nakba. The Soviet-aligned Communist Party, the MAKI, became an important conduit of support for establishing the Zionist state.

As a result of this criminal policy, the ideas of socialism and communism, which once had great appeal to the Arab masses, were discredited across the region. In the United States, the official communists were already used to accepting sudden zigzags in their political line. Within a few months, the CPUSA was offering unqualified support to the Zionists’ ethnic cleansing and spreading false reports about supposed Arab atrocities in order to justify it. 

Trotskyism

Genuine communists — those opposed to Stalinism — always rejected Zionism. While Stalin’s bureaucracy was busy making deals with imperialist powers — first with the Nazis, then with the “democratic” imperialists — it was the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky that fought for the political independence of the working class. This meant opposing any form of imperialism and colonialism, including Zionism.

Leon Trotsky said shortly before he was assassinated by a Stalinist agent: “The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people.” He added presciently: “The future development of military events may well transform Palestine into a bloody trap for several hundred thousand Jews. Never was it so clear as it is today that the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system.”

The former Zionist turned Trotskyist Abraham Leon wrote a monumental study on The Jewish Question, in which he similarly demonstrated that the oppression of the Jews could not be overcome by creating a new nation-state under the tutelage of imperialist powers. He presented a program for Jewish revolutionaries to fight as part of the international working class to topple capitalism.

Today, it is becoming increasingly common to recognize that Israel is a racist colonial project with many similarities to the Apartheid regime. It is interesting to note that the Trotskyists in South Africa understood long before the foundation of Israel that Zionist colonization would create a very similar system. In 1938, The Spark, a Trotskyist paper in South Africa, wrote:

The continuation of the old Zionist-imperialist course will drive deeper the wedge of hatred and chauvinism, will widen the gulf between Arab and Jew, and will foster perpetual strife and civil war, endangering the very existence of the Jewish community. And in saying this, it is not the Zionists we have in mind. We mean the great mass of the Jewish workers and small peasants. They can solve the Jewish problem of Palestine very easily. What is needed is solidarity and cooperation of Jewish and Arab workers and peasants, and a united struggle for an independent free Palestine of workers and peasants, liberated from the shackles of imperialism-capitalism.

When plans for partition and creation of an exclusively Jewish state became more concrete in 1947, the official communists and also the so-called “left” or “socialist” Zionists threw their weight behind this colonial endeavor. It was only the Trotskyist organization in Palestine, the Revolutionary Communist League, that came out clearly in opposition. Speaking to Jewish workers, they said that a Jewish state in Palestine would inevitably be a tool of imperialism. They called on Jewish workers to struggle against imperialism alongside their Arab class siblings across the region.

The Revolutionary Communist League contained numerous brave revolutionaries, such as Yigael Glückstein, who under the name Tony Cliff would go on to be a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, as well as Jakob Moneta and Rudolf Segall, who returned to their native Germany where they led the Trotskyist movement for decades. It also included Jakob Taut and Jabra Nicola, who remained in Palestine and were active in the New Left in Israel after 1968.

Below, we publish a statement by the Revolutionary Communist League, the Palestinian section of the Fourth International, from 1947. Thanks to the former Socialist Workers League of Palestine and to Einde O’Callaghan for translating and publishing the statement.

This history offers important lessons for today. The Stalinist policy of seeking alliances with “progressive” imperialist powers can only lead to defeats. To free Palestine, the working class needs to constitute itself as an independent political force fighting for socialist revolution.

Against Partition! (1947)

The members of the UN committee showed “understanding” and “did a wonderful job in a very short time”. With these words the Jewish Agency’s representative, Golda Meier, endorsed the partition proposal. Most of the Zionist parties agreed with them, with certain reservations regarding the “form” of the solution.

The American Foreign Secretary Marshall also shared this opinion. It is well known, however, that the fate of the persecuted peoples is not usually the main concern of the American Foreign Secretary. So his reaction might cause apprehension among those who believed in the good intentions of the UN committee.

What gives the UN proposal to the Jews? At first sight, everything: an immigration quota of 150,000 and more; political independence; about two thirds of Palestine; three big ports and almost all the coastline. That is more than what the optimists among the Jewish Agency members dared to ask for.

Are not this “understanding” and “friendliness” a bit suspicious? Why voted for this proposal the representatives of Canada, Holland and Sweden, who have close ties with the Anglo-Saxon powers? And why voted for it the representatives of Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay, whose policies are dictated from Washington? All the Zionist periodicals, as well as the semi-Zionist ones (the Communist Party of Palestine organs) refused to pose this question. And of course they did not answer it.

But that is precisely the determining question. More important than the contents of the proposal are the motives of those who submitted it. Let us make no mistake! Behind the – in Marshall’s words – “neutral” countries, stand the powers, which are most interested in this issue. The calculations that produced the partition proposal are precisely the same that brought about the partition of India.

What are these calculations? In our period, the period of social revolutions and revolts of the enslaved peoples, imperialism rules by means of two main methods: ruthless and brutal repression (as in Indonesia, Indochina and Greece), or by breaking the class war through national conflicts. The second way is cheaper and more secure, and enables imperialism to hide behind the curtains.

Imperialism has till now successfully employed divide et impera methods in this country, by using Zionist immigration as divisive factor. In this way, national tension was created, which, to a large extent, directed the anger caused by imperialism among the Arab masses in Palestine and the Middle East against the Jews. But lately this method ceased to produce the desired results. In spite of the national tension, a strong and combative Arab working class developed in the country. A new chapter in the history of Palestine opened when the Arab and Jewish workers cooperated in large-scale strikes, in order to force the imperialist exploiters to make concessions. And the failure of the latest attempt, to force the inhabitants of Palestine into a new whirlpool of mutual bloodshed by means of provocations, taught the imperialists a new lesson. Now they drew their conclusions: if you refuse to fight each other, we will put you in such an economic and political position that will force you to do so! That is the real content of the partition proposal.

Perhaps the partition proposal will materialize the Jewish people’s dream of political independence? The “independence” of the Jewish state will boil down to choosing, in a “free” and “independent” way, between two options: to starve or sell itself to imperialism. The foreign trade – both imports and exports – remains as before under control of imperialism. The key sectors of the economy – oil, electricity and minerals – remain in the hands of foreign monopolies. And the profits will continue to flow to the pockets of foreign capitalists.

A Jewish statelet in the heart of the Middle East can be an excellent instrument in the hands of the imperialist states. Isolated from the Arab masses, this state will be defenseless and completely at the mercy of the imperialists. And they will use it in order to fortify their positions, while at the same time lecturing the Arab states about the “Jewish danger” – i.e. the threat represented by the inevitable expansionist tendencies of the tiny Jewish state. And one day, when tension reaches its highest peak, the imperialist “friends” will leave the Jewish state to its fate.

The Arabs will also receive “political independence.” Partition will bring about the creation of a backward feudal Arab state, a sort of Trans-Jordan west of the Jordan River. In this way they hope to isolate and paralyze the Arab proletariat in the Haifa area, an important strategic center with oil refineries, as well as to divide and paralyze the class war of all the workers of Palestine.

What about the “salvation of the refugees from the concentration camps”? Imperialism created the problem of the refugees from the concentration camps when it closed the gates of all countries to them. The fate of refugees is its responsibility. Imperialism is not philanthropic. If it sends as a “gift” the refugees to Palestine, it will do it for one reason only: to use them for its own purposes.

The partition proposal, apparently so “favorable” to the Jews, contains several aspects that are highly desirable from the point of view of imperialism: 1) The concessions to Zionism will be used as a bait in order to get the approval of the Jewish majority; 2) It includes several provocations, such as the incorporation of Jaffa to the Jewish state and the denial of any port to the Arab state, which infuriate the Arabs; 3) These provocations enable Great Britain to appear as a “friend of the Arabs”, which will “struggle” for a second, more just partition. This in turn will help them swallow the bitter pill. In other words, we have here a pre-arranged division of labor.

To sum up: the proposal of the UN committee is a solution neither for the Jews nor for the Arabs; it is a solution pure and exclusively for the imperialist countries. The Zionist policy-makers avidly seized the bone imperialism threw to them. And the “left-wing” Zionist critics, in the name of removing the mask from the imperialists’ game, attack half-heartedly the partition proposal, and call for … a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine! A bi-national state according to the Shomer HaTsa’ir (Young Guard) proposal is just a fig-leaf for the right of the Jews to impose on the Arabs – without their consent and against their will – Jewish immigration and Zionist policies.

What about the Communist Party of Palestine? It apparently waits for the “just” UN solution. In any case it continues to sow illusions regarding the UN, and in that sense helps to hide and implement the imperialist programs.

Against all this, we say: Let us not fall into the trap! The solution of the Jewish problem, like the solution of the problems of the country, will not come “from above”, from the UN or any other imperialist institution. No “struggle”, “terror”, or moral “pressure” will make imperialism abandon its vital interests in the region (oil stock gave 60% dividends this year!). 

In order to solve the Jewish problem, in order to free ourselves from the burden of imperialism, there is only one way: the common class war with our Arab brothers; a war which is an inseparable link of the anti-imperialist war of the oppressed masses in all the Arab East and the entire world.

The force of imperialism lies in partition – our force in international class unity.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.

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