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The Fight for a Free Palestine Requires Class Independence

More letters to capitalist politicians or more threats that we won’t vote for Biden in 2024 will not stop the genocide. To Free Palestine and ourselves, we need to build broad movements in our workplaces and on the streets. 

Mike Pappas

December 29, 2023
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As the world continues to watch the horror of Israel’s bombing campaign, over 21,000 Palestinians have been murdered. Now, attacks on the South of Gaza have started as the Zionist state — which previously told Gazans to move south to avoid attacks on Hamas in the north — is calling for Palestinians to evacuate parts of the region, dropping leaflets calling Khan Younis a “dangerous combat zone.” It’s clear that Israel’s campaign was never about targeting Hamas, or retrieving hostages, but part of the state’s ongoing process of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against the Palestinian people. Ironically, many who were recently released said they were more terrified of being killed by the Israeli state itself and, more recently, the IDF even killed three Israeli hostages pleading for help.

If it were up to the Israeli state, its killing spree would continue for months. Recently, the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, told U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that he plans for the campaign to “last more than several months.” 

But the working class and oppressed masses around the world want this genocide to end. Millions of people have been mobilizing globally to stand against Israel’s genocide and joined mass protests in solidarity with Palestine. We need to build these efforts internationally while growing a movement for a free Palestine from the river to the sea where Arabs, Christians, and Jews can live together.

As the bombing campaign has continued, our worker organizations are now starting to take up the call of Palestinian workers who released a statement toward the beginning of the campaign asking for solidarity. The workers helped lay the roadmap by making a direct appeal to the international labor movement to take direct action to “prevent the arming of the Israeli state and the companies involved in the infrastructure of the blockade.”

Following this call, Italian workers have refused to load arms shipments to Israel. Protestors in Oakland, California, blocked a ship carrying weapons to the Zionist state. Healthcare Workers for Palestine have organized multiple actions around the country in solidarity with Palestine. In London, healthcare workers, striking doctors, and supporters shut down the London headquarters tech giant and surveillance firm, Palantir, in response to a call for support from healthcare workers in Palestine. 

More recently, labor unions have started to show some signs of shifting. For example, UAW members not only organized to call for a ceasefire, but to investigate “the history of Israel and Palestine, our union’s economic ties to the conflict, and explore how we can have a just transition for U.S. workers from war to peace.” In New York, the PSC-CUNY union, which represents more than 30,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York, has joined dozens of other major unions to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

We need to see more actions like these in our unions. They stand in stark contrast to the union bureaucracy inside the AFL-CIO, for example, which recently squashed a resolution calling for a ceasefire and an end of U.S. aid to Israel that was passed by the AFL-CIO affiliate Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council representing workers in Washington state.

These efforts serve as examples of the working class mobilizing in places where they are most powerful. And these efforts stand in contrast to what bourgeois leaderships and capitalist ideology typically says we should do: appeal to them as they are supposed to “represent us.”

No Faith in Imperialist Institutions

Capitalist politicians comically claim they represent the public — even after carefully curated elections that largely exclude working-class or revolutionary candidates. Under this system, groups that advocate “lesser-evilism,” such as NGOs and other reformists, then argue that we can push these politicians to make progressive decisions to benefit the masses. Many have been conditioned to believe that the way to make change in our society is by appealing to such leaderships — write letters, call their offices, maybe even show up and speak with our office staff about your concerns.

In this model of change, our movements aim to “push leaders” into making decisions that are best for the public. But in reality, politicians in these capitalist, imperialist political parties do little to fundamentally change anything. In fact, they funnel energy back into ruling class institutions that will never serve the working class or oppressed. Meanwhile, this directs energy away from efforts that could actually destabilize or confront such systems.

The reality is that more letters to capitalist politicians or more threats that we won’t vote for Biden in 2024 will not stop the genocide. These politicians show us, time and time again, that they do not serve the interests of the oppressed or working class. The House of Representatives, for example, just passed a resolution which equates anti-zionism with antisemitism. If that wasn’t bad enough, a new bill has been introduced to “investigate antisemitism” (which now would be anti-zionism according to the House), including subpoena power barring an individual’s ability to plead to the fifth amendment. Many correctly are comparing these measures to the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1930s. As Olivia Wood noted for Left Voice, “this new bill sets the stage for new legislation targeting pro-Palestine activists by defining any opposition to the state of Israel as antisemitism.”

Meanwhile the U.S. continues to show how important Israel is to its imperialist project. Just a few days ago, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution simply calling for a ceasefire, and the country has continued to delay subsequent votes in the UN. The UN Security Council only just passed the resolution urging “scaled up aid to Gaza,” not even calling for a ceasefire in order to avoid a U.S. veto. 

Genocide Joe Biden continues to live up to his name as the State Department recently bypassed Congress in order to approve Israel’s order to tank ammunition. The Biden administration continues to work tirelessly to fulfill what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel needs most from the U.S.: munitions. 

But is it any surprise the U.S. and its top political leaders continue to support Israel even as they commit a genocide? It wasn’t long ago that President Biden himself once said, “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interest in the region.” An imperial power like the U.S. needs a satellite state in the region to control resources there. This context makes efforts to “push” Biden or other capitalist politicians all that more nonsensical. In fact, despite these attempts to influence elected officials for over 80 days, the violence has continued. 

The Working Class Holds the Power

Ultimately, we cant “push” or reform systems built to uphold imperialism and genocide, or “push” capitalist parties and leaderships who operate to uphold the system themselves. The dynamics of capitalism mean that these efforts funnel the dynamism of the working class back into the system itself. Instead, a movement of the working class and oppressed, mobilized where they are strategically most powerful under capitalism — in our workplaces and on the streets — could threaten interests of capital enough that the genocide would have to stop. At the same time, such a movement could move beyond just a ceasefire and toward fighting for a world where the Palestinian people have full liberation from the apartheid regime they have been living under for over 75 years.

This means we must weaponize our positions as workers inside of the capitalist system that needs to exploit our labor. We should ask ourselves: how can healthcare workers use their positions not to influence capitalist politicians, but organize with other workers across work sectors? How can unionized workers fight within their working class organizations? 

As Rose Lemlich recently noted in Left Voice: “All workers should organize in their workplaces to disrupt any connections to the U.S. or Israeli war machines, or disrupt business as usual for the U.S. ruling class, in solidarity with Palestine. Nothing moves without workers.”

In genocidal campaigns like we see today, we must build broad, fighting, movements for the working class. We cannot count on capitalist politicians or ruling class structures to fight — we have to count on each other and fight to organize within and across labor sectors.

An example of this solidarity can be seen in a recent pledge written by the group CUNY4Palestine. The pledge, signed by dozens of pro-Palestinian organizations works to unite pro-Palestinian groups. The authors state, “We know that the power of the working class and oppressed people of the world relies on our strength as a collective. Together, we are far stronger than our oppressors,” and pledge to “unite to fight against the repression under the principle that if you touch one of us, we all rise up.” Part of the goal is to launch a network of students, faculty, and staff fighting repression on their college campuses. These efforts are examples of how our organizing can contribute to the dynamism and militarism of the working class itself, building broad structures to fight back against backlash for standing in solidarity with Palestine.

Tristan Taylor and Brian Silverstein recently highlight the need for a connection between the workers and oppressed and how these efforts can serve to build structures that can serve as an alternative for capitalism, 

For revolutionary unity against capitalism to occur between the workers and the oppressed — a unity that is necessary in order to overthrow capitalism — the workers must become a political and ideological hegemonic force, providing a political alternative to capitalism that the oppressed can be won to, participate in, and shape. Doing this not only requires challenging capitalist institutions like the Democratic and Republican Parties, but the agents of capitalism in the labor movement and the social movements, such as the bureaucratic leaderships of the unions, NGOs, and mainstream social justice organizations like the Women’s March or the NAACP (which are, in fact, NGOs with a grassroots history).

This requires confronting not just capitalist politicians, but bureaucracies in both social movements and the labor movement that continue to betray the working class and oppressed.

Ultimately we must use these efforts as part of a building a movement against genocide and imperialism. These efforts should not just be during Israel’s current bombing campaign, but can be used in future campaigns. To use an analogy, in On Strikes, Lenin wrote, 

Strikes, therefore, teach the workers to unite; they show them that they can struggle against the capitalists only when they are united; strikes teach the workers to think of the struggle of the whole working class against the whole class of factory owners and against the arbitrary, police government. This is the reason that socialists call strikes “a school of war,” a school in which the workers learn to make war on their enemies for the liberation of the whole people, of all who labour, from the yoke of government officials and from the yoke of capital.

Organizing amongst the working class collectively, using our own methods, can also be schools of war for future struggles that arise. The goal is that these efforts can be part of building a movement against the capitalist system that continues to create crises and death around us all.

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Mike Pappas

Mike is an activist and medical doctor working in New York City.

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