Note: This post mostly deals with the arguments put forth by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In order to give the subject its due, scholarly work must be done on the historic debates within the broader Palestinian left.
Liberation struggles the world over are deeply indebted to the Palestinian Revolution—about this, there can be little doubt. At the historic height of this revolution—dated roughly between the years 1967 and 1974—Palestine and the Palestinians were either entirely unacknowledged in the Western mainstream, or aggressively vilified. Times have changed, and Palestine now receives some rhetorical nuance in corridors of power and their attached “watchdogs,” the aid agencies and the human rights monitors and so on. On this still relatively recent development, it is helpful to bear two things in mind. First, the entrance of Palestine into the neoliberal field of “concern” (if there is any defining ideological contrivance of the so-called “neoliberal” phase of capital, it is humanitarianism) is the result of struggle, long-plotted and patiently fought. Second, the propaganda around Palestine permeating the West in the 1960s and 70s was borderline totalizing. Few counter-narratives slipped through the cracks. There was blackout, and to raise questions was grounds for a blacklisting.
Of course, in that era Palestine was unique among Arab nations in its proximity to the US-led imperial menace. This was a defining era not only for the Palestinian Revolution, but also for the ascent of American imperialism in the Middle East. The United States government had ingratiated itself among Arab states. Through this process, its monopolies effectively gained control of the region’s oil resources, but besides the scattered military bases and corporate insignia, the American presence lurked in the shadows and its control was cemented indirectly through puppet regimes. In Palestine, the confrontation with imperialism was more direct, taking the form of classic settler-colonialism, replete with actual invaders and full-on ethnic cleansing. The Palestine Liberation Organization recognized clearly this state of affairs, with the organization’s founding charter naming two enemies: Zionism, with which Palestinians came in direct confrontation, and imperialism. Palestine was not alone, the charter affirmed; rather, Palestine was the vanguard of the Arab liberation movement against imperialism.
It made sense that Palestine occupied the position of vanguard, given that the Palestinian homeland had been left decimated by a settler-inflicted catastrophe in 1948. Whereas large portions of the Palestinian people had been forced into refugee camps, and white pseudo-utopias had been constructed on the ruins of Palestinian villages, the Arab states continued to host societies. Undoubtedly these societies were super-exploited by monopolies, but they nonetheless stood as societies—until recently. Over the past fifteen or so years, the traditional sanctions against the Arab republics gave way to all out war as nakbas befell Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, each of which joined Palestine in deliberately sowed destitution. In viewing the media spectacles surrounding these demolitions, one gets a sense of what must have been the climate when the Palestinian Revolution was on the rise and countless truths were inverted. For the external obliterations of Palestine, Iraq, Libya, and Syria alike, the slogans “freedom” and “dignity” were similarly raised in the American press. Nonetheless, throughout each trying era, from the Palestinian Revolution to our current moment, some voices of resistance to both Zionism and imperialism have remained steadfast.
Smearing the Palestinian Left
Among those voices of resilience is that of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which served as the vanguard for the Palestinian Revolution and forced, for a time, the Palestine Liberation Organization—of which it was the second largest member, behind only Yasser Arafat’s Fateh—to adopt a social program breaching the limits of bourgeois nationalism. From the ranks of the PFLP, some of the old voices of the vanguard remain, voices such as Leila Khaled, reduced far too often in activist circles to a T-shirt a la Che Guevara. Khaled, like the organization from which she hails, also happens to offer an ever-evolving analysis of the Middle East, Palestine, and the world in general. When in 2013 she came out in defense of Syrian sovereignty and the Syrian institutions tasked with defending that sovereignty—institutions such as the Syrian Army—she was roundly ignored in the West or aggressively demonized, even by some leftists. On the subject of Syria, Khaled reportedly denounced the Syrian opposition:
“A panel discussion named ‘What is happening in Syria’ was organized by the Turkish Socialist Anew Foundation – Sosyalist Yeniden Kuruluş (SYK) in Istanbul to discuss the events in Syria and one of the participants was Laila Khaled from Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine. Laila Khaled insisted on that the events in Syria cannot be named as ‘revolution’ but, with all their respect to the Syrian people legitimate demands, the armed groups are fighting for a different agenda. Khaled, said that the Syria was under a joint attack of Gulf monarchies and Turkey, and their real aim is in accordance with US regional policy for to secure Israel state. The icon of the liberation movement of the Palestine said that their stand is not for supporting Bashar Al Assad but peoples of Syria who have been supporting the Palestinian in their struggle against the Zionists. She also directly attacks the Turkish foreign policy in the region by saying ‘Those who are hosting the US bases cannot stand with the struggle of Palestinians.’ After her speech many questions were asked and one of them is about Yarmouk Refugee camp. She said FSA with Al Qaeda and gangs attacked the camp, loot the houses of Palestininans [sic] and the offices of the Palestinian political groups. ‘The raids were forcing them to retreat from the camp, and when we demanded Syrian government to stop the raids, they did. But we also called FSA to retreat from the camp but they break their promises. And killed Palestinians who want to return their home’. “
Likewise, the position of the PFLP as an organization towards events in Syria earned them denunciations. Social justice blogs labeled Khaled an “Assadist.” The same sentiment was uttered on left-wing back channels. Some Western leftists went as far as to condemn Arab socialism in whole, with the PFLP apparently serving as exemplar, as “Stalinist,” these brutish Arabs having apparently consecrated their revolutionary movements in original sin, with no “anti-authoritarian” socialist history to call their own, unlike those gracious Europeans whose lessons these simple colonized folks failed to internalize. One of the most egregious instances came in 2011 from one Corey Oakley:
“One of the places the ideology of Stalinism has had the most debilitating impact is the Arab world. The underlying reason for this is that while in the West there was a pre-Stalinist socialist tradition – remnants of which survived Stalinisation in either the Trotskyist, syndicalist or social democratic currents – this was almost non-existent in the Arab world. This meant that Arab socialism was, virtually from the outset, Stalinist. Because of this all the class-collaborationist politics, bureaucratic organisational practices and opportunism that characterised Stalinism in the West were magnified.”
There you have it: these Arabs are even worse than the Western Stalinists they thoughtlessly imitate! This entire approach reeks of the condescension James Connolly noted about British socialists who claimed to support the Irish republican cause, but held consternation at the “sweet innocence” of the movement’s naïve “mistakes” in regards to entities about which the imperial leftist requires swift and uncompromising condemnations. In that case, the imperial leftist litmus test was German imperialism. The British leftist, who concretely benefits from the oppression of the Irish people, conceives of his required form of opposition to Germany as a simple matter of principle and morality having nothing to do with his own relative position. Connolly replied scathingly: “Perhaps after he has been here as many years as he has been days he will begin to understand that the instinct of the slave to take sides with whoever is the enemy of his own particular slave-driver is a healthy instinct, and makes for freedom.” Connolly did not wish to argue that Germany was not an empire; but he refused to develop his political program at the command of his oppressor.
This mode of critique is hardly comradely, and rather carries the tone and mannerisms of a parent lecturing a child, all while reducing successes (if it is even magnanimous to recognize any) and failures to a matter of subjective political line, with little to no attention paid to the conditions in which the movement developed. It is actually quite fitting for the author to praise the “democratic socialism” of the West while assuming a morally superior posture, for our beloved “democratic socialism” tends to bomb their villages. If one has the privilege to avoid the hard choices made by those living under far more desperate circumstances—the privilege of the intellectual, let us say, for whom the world and its history appears to unfold below his or her feet—it is easy for one’s principles to appear superior.
Others chided the PFLP for supposed degeneration. The lack of genuine pollination between left-wing movements that gives rise to such an impression leads to an uncomfortable sense that many of those in the West who did raise Khaled’s visage over the years never intended to take her content seriously. The same could very well be uttered about the Palestinian Revolution as a whole, given the PFLP’s prominent placement within that tradition. The primary reason for such a suspicion is that, as any cursory glance of the PFLP’s past political output demonstrates, their current views of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East are not the product of drastic whims in subjective political line since their foundation in 1967. Rather, these revolutionaries’ guiding principles for theory and practice remain largely intact. What must have changed then are the objective political conditions of the region. The major difference in the Middle East since the era of the Palestinian Revolution is the comparative success of the US-Israeli-Saudi counterrevolution.
A Radical Critique of Arab Conditions
It should go without saying that particular conditions require particular measures. The first issue with the refusal to engage the PFLP is a refusal to recognize the nature of those conditions. The second issue is historical amnesia. It helps then to recount the basic timeline of events between the years 1967 and 1974, and the attitude of the PFLP towards revolution and the wider Arab world.
In order to understand developments in the Middle East between 1967 and 1974, it is necessary to explore the PFLP’s initial program. To explore this program is to answer the question, Why should we care what the PFLP—a Palestinian organization—has to say about Syria? The answer is simple: the PFLP early on distinguished themselves among revolutionary Palestinian organizations, particularly from Fateh, by declaring the business of Arab governments and societies the business of their revolution. In so doing, they developed the original left-wing critique of the Arab bourgeois nationalism that would capture state power in the Arab republics—that is, in Libya, Iraq, and Syria:
“The Arab bourgeoisie has developed armies which are not prepared to sacrifice their own interests or to risk their privileges. Arab militarism has become an apparatus for oppressing revolutionary socialist movements within the Arab states, while at the same time it claims to be staunchly anti-imperialist. Under the guise of the national question, the bourgeoisie has used its armies to strengthen its bureaucratic power over the masses and to prevent the workers and peasants from acquiring political power. So far it has demanded the help of the workers and peasants without organising them or without developing a proletarian ideology. The national bourgeoisie usually comes to power through military coups and without any activity on the part of the masses, as soon as it has captured power it reinforces its bureaucratic position. Through widespread application of terror it is able to talk about revolution while at the same time it suppresses all the revolutionary movements and arrests everyone who tries to advocate revolutionary action. The Arab bourgeoisie has used the question of Palestine to divert the Arab masses from realising their own interests and their own domestic problems. The bourgeoisie always concentrated hopes on a victory outside the state’s boundaries, in Palestine, and in this way they were able to preserve their class interests and their bureaucratic positions.”
Again, the PFLP’s is a critique that has been scarcely improved since its first articulation, and so it should be humbling to any outside observers who figure they have all the answers about the political degeneration of Syria over the past twenty years. Much has been written in the Western press about the human rights violations carried out under Ba’athist states and their mukhabarat—there is that humanitarianism again—and staked any critique of Ba’athism on repression. What is missing, because we are dealing with the bourgeois press here, is the class content of the state that gives rise to particular forms of repression. It is rather banal to call a state authoritarian since every state must exercise authority or dissipate. What is interesting, what is important, is the class for which authority is exercised. In each case of Arab republicanism, military officers committed coup d’etats against hand-picked monarchs who slowed development on behalf of colonial masters. Make no mistake, these were radical republican coups, but in the original bourgeois, and not necessarily proletarian, sense. Thus, these leaders would deliver the goods and the rights of the bourgeois republican tradition, and they would deliver the horrors of the same tradition, which is to say the goods and the horrors of the nation-state itself.
This arrangement struck the nascent Palestinian revolutionary movement as an insufficient compromise. These states might be able to deliver to workers and women, but they could not exist under the command of workers and women. In order for such an arrangement, under the complete sway of the proletariat and the peasantry, to come into existence, there would have to be a qualitative break. In other words, the states built by bourgeois colonials would have to be smashed. Short of such a moment, there could be no engine through which workers could take power. The hardline nationalist military officers who took control of these states upon slaying servant-kings could make greater gestures towards anti-imperialism because they had to defy imperialism to exist in the first place. In establishing republics, they rightfully claimed the bourgeois rule that bourgeois rulers had heretofore denied them. But they could not commit unwaveringly to anti-imperialism because anti-imperialism is only truly in the class interests of the proletariat, the ultimate victims of capitalism. As a result of its vacillating nature, the Arab national bourgeois did, as many cynical imperialist commentators have pointed out, crush Arab revolutionaries, in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.
And yet why do these imperialist commentators appear to care about Palestinian revolutionaries more than the Palestinian revolutionaries themselves? After all, the PFLP opposes the machinations against the Syrian government. So too does the PFLP’s comrades in Hezbollah, in a much more direct way, and their protestors have been shot at in the past by Syrian government troops. It would appear then that neither of these organizations require lectures of the nature of the Syrian government, and should even understand it much better than any American. The question could apply even to the founder of the PFLP, George Habash. In 1967, the most radical Syrian government in history, under the leadership of the Marxist-influenced military officer Salah Jadid, arrested and jailed the young Habash. Far from being a grudge-feeder for Habash, this experience enlightened him, as in 1998 he relayed that this event, along with the Six-Day War of 1967, pushed him personally away from the narrow nationalism of the Arab National Movement (the organizational precursor to the PFLP) and towards socialism:
“…my real commitment to Marxism came after the 1967 war. My Marxism grew deeper during my imprisonment in Syria. I am indebted to my jailer, ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jundi, who kept me in solitary confinement for nine or ten months, thinking he would break me. I spent that entire period reading all the collected works of Marx and Engels, of Lenin, also of Ho Chi Minh and Mao. It was after that I wrote the declaration of the [Popular] Front’s second national convention.”
In undertaking the decision to incorporate socialism into its program for national liberation, the PFLP began—somewhat in parallel with the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) and other organizations—to break new social ground in Arab society. While maintaining that their “main field of struggle” was still Palestine, the PFLP sought to challenge the conservative notions of Fateh that this “main field” must constitute the only field of struggle. By 1969, the year the PFLP put down its platform, the organization had come to a conclusion that the phenomena of Zionism, imperialism, and “Arab reaction” were inextricably linked. The links were made explicit by a “chain of plots”; the PFLP called out the Jordanian monarchy specifically. To quote this platform once more:
“The struggle in east Jordan must take the correct path, that of class struggle. The Palestinian struggle must not be used as a means of propping up the Jordanian monarchy. Under the mask of national unity, and the main problem in Jordan is the creation of a Marxist-Leninist party with a clear action programme according to which it can organise the masses and enable them to carry out the national and class struggle. The harmony of the struggle in the two regions, must be realised through coordinating organs whose tasks will be to guarantee reserves inside Palestine and to mobilise the peasants and soldiers in the border-territories.”
By the next year, the Palestinian fadayeen, of which the PFLP constituted a crucial part, were undertaking in Jordan the decision to overthrow the monarchy. It is important to review the events that led up to such a point.
The (Counter)Revolutionary Past
For a period of time in the 1960s, the Arab governments were broadly aligned, at least superficially in favor of the Palestinian guerrilla movement. Although it could be said that funding from the Gulf monarchies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, had a “moderating” effect on the Fateh wing of the PLO, even these states and the Jordanian monarchy were lending the movement some form of support—the peak of Jordanian support came in 1968, during the Battle of Karameh, a touchstone moment in the development of Palestinian nationalism.
However, as noted by Fuad Jabber, this support “had not been unconditional,” as even the Arab republics of Syria and Iraq had to “weigh the effects of their policies and the fadayeen presence in their countries on the stability of their regimes.” Relations were even tougher with the governments in Lebanon and Jordan, for “although the resistance movement sought sanctuary and territorial control on the Jordanian East Bank—which it largely obtained during 1968-1969—its actual secure base had been in Syria, where its stronghold has taken a political rather than territorial form.” Furthermore, “the commando leadership knew from past experience that a powerful and independent fadayeen would not be tolerated in the long run by the Jordanian and Lebanese regimes for varied reasons.” In the Jordanian case, the monarchy expressed clear concern that fadayeen attacks on Israel would bring about Israeli reprisals on Jordanian territory that would in turn create domestic dissatisfaction.
The fadayeen understood that this worry presaged a possible Jordanian policy of liquidation and extermination against them. At the same time, they understood that Syria, whatever its objections to their movement, was grounded in the Arab nationalist underside to the colonial nation-state infrastructure in the Middle East and thus maintained an interest in attacking the monarchies. The approach of the fadayeen, and of figures like Habash, had to take this contradiction into account, for organizations such as the PFLP, who found themselves appropriating the Maoist notion of “People’s War,” were not in a position to take advantage of a neglected countryside within contiguous territory. Rather, the Palestinian proletariat and peasantry, the subjects of the revolution, found themselves launching war from within refugee camps, scattered across several hostile nation-states with borders between them.
To meet this challenge, Habash let go of any unnecessary animosity towards the Syrian government for its treatment against him (a sacrifice for the revolution, really) and made a calculation: within the “Arab world,” the republics posed a secondary rather than primary contradiction. His calculation was that if the Palestinian fadayeen established themselves in Jordan rather than Syria, they could count on support from the Syrian government to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy. Conversely, if the Palestinian fadayeen attempted to overthrow the Syrian government instead or simultaneously, as ultra-left moralism would have it, they would find themselves isolated and therefore suicidal. Habash’s calculation ultimately proved correct, as Syria turned out to be the only Arab government to lend support to the fadayeen when they actually did attempt to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy during the events of Black September in 1970. As the situation for the Arab left grew worse after the failure of Black September, Habash escalated this position. Although conditions had grown worse, Habash refused defeatism and felt compelled to make use of what the movement had left. In 1998, after he had taken up refuge in Damascus, he made the following remarks:
“In the final days of the Lebanese War, Abu ‘Ammar had come to see me at the PFLP office at the headquarters of al-Hadaf, our official organ. He asked to speak to me in private. He asked me: ‘What do you say to us leaving together?’ I asked: ‘Where to?’ He said ‘Tunis or Cyprus.’ I understood what he was thinking. I told him: ‘If you think the revolution is over, I don’t share your opinion. The revolution must go on, even under very difficult circumstances. We must stay, and safeguard national unity and our ties with the only power capable of supporting us now: Syria…”
In reading any possible contradiction with Syria to be secondary under these difficult circumstances, the PFLP was remaining true to its understanding of the primary contradiction with imperialism, a view to which they held consistently true down the years. Quite simply, any advancement of imperialism was an advancement against the Arab nation as a whole; and any advancement against the Arab nation as a whole was an advancement against the Palestinian nation in particular. The PFLP position on the American attacks on Iraq in 1991, forwarded by politburo member Jamil Majdalawi, serves as one example of this consistent anti-imperialism:
‘The Gulf War had two phases. The first phase was the arrival of the U.S. troops in the Gulf. During this very short phase, the PFLP was opposed to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. We felt that Arab unity should not be achieved through force that the Iraqi troops should withdraw from Kuwait. Then there should be an Arab solution to the problem. With this in mind, George Habash visited various Arab states and sought an Arab initiative to solve this crisis. Two principles were central to this initiative: The withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, and the right to self-determination for the Kuwaiti people. The second phase of the Gulf War was the advance of U.S. and other Western troops into the Gulf region. During this phase, the PFLP placed a priority on the struggle against the imperialist troops. We felt there could not be a solution which sought to strengthen the imperialist domination over the region.”
When pressed as to whether the PFLP “opportunistically” supported Iraq, as they are often accused of doing now in relation to Syria, Majdalawi offered more background information:
“The relationship between the PFLP and any Arab state is based on the idea that Palestinians and Arabs have common interests. During the Iran-Iraq War, the PFLP’s position was against Iraq. This led the Iraqi government to close all PFLP offices in the country and to expel PFLP members. From 1980 to 1989, there were no contacts at all between the PFLP and Iraq. The presence of the PFLP in Iraq was clandestine. In the 1990s, the PFLP did not receive any benefits from a relationship with Iraq. Iraq is in no position to support other forces. Rather Iraq itself needs support against the imperialist powers.”
Two things stand out about Majdalawi’s remarks here. First, that when he invokes “Iraq,” or when now PFLP statements invoke “Syria,” they are thinking about places, people, countries, and societies, not “regimes” and certainly not individuals. Second, it is clear that the threat of imperialist domination must always be guarded against vigilantly, and that one component of vigilantly guarding against further imperialist domination of the Middle East is not to use past transgressions of a given government as justification for in the present throwing it, and thus the people of the region, to the imperialist wolves.
The Temporary Victory of the Counterrevolution
It is impossible to understand the conditions that led to these decisions without understanding the consolidation of the US-Israeli-Saudi counterrevolution in 1970 and 1971. In hindsight, the decision of the fadayeen to attempt revolution in Jordan might appear brash and irresponsible, but it did not occur without provocation, namely the 1970 Rogers Plan forwarded by the United States. More specifically, the Rogers Plan was, to quote Jaber again, “a presentation by the United States of a new set of proposals for the peaceful solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in June 1970” that would conscript Jordan and, more troublingly, the Arab nationalist government in Egypt into normalizing both Israel and its chief backer, the United States, in the Middle East. In other words, with more incentive to appease the United States, the vacillating national bourgeois state in Egypt would wind up less likely to appease socialist popular sentiment in the region and, by extension, the Palestinian revolutionaries.
It was exactly this discovery about Egypt, signs of which had appeared in advance of 1970, that pushed anti-colonial Arab movements towards a “qualitative break” and towards Marxism-Leninism, as chronicled by Abdel Razzaq Takriti in Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965-1976:
“…it had become increasingly clear that the movement was being treated by Egypt as a tool of its intelligence apparatus as opposed to an arm of coordinated political action…
“The failure of the ‘merger with Nasserism’ policy encourages the transformation of the [Arab National Movement]. Marxism-Leninism in all its non-Soviet varieties became increasingly popular within the movement. Vietnam, Cuba and China were all sources of inspiration, torch-bearing tricontinental nations that seemed to be charting an independent revolutionary path towards social and national liberation…
“In July 1967, George Habash convened a meeting of MAN’s national executive committee that resulted in a report entitled ‘The Arab Revolution in the face of the Battle of Destiny’. It was argued that June’s main stoppage lay in the termination of the war with the military defeat, and the failure to transform it from a conventional conflict into a total war of popular national liberation against all colonialist forces in the Arab world. The Vietnamese experience was cited: what was lacking on the Arab level was a long-term mobilization that could lead to the creation of ‘many Vietnams’ (the phrase was probably borrowed from Che Guevara, who had coined it in February 1967). This was effectively a call for people’s war, something that was defined by General Giap in the following terms: ‘to educate, mobilise, organise and arm the whole people in order that they might take part in the resistance’.”
In this moment, the limits of bourgeois nationalism to the communist cause became apparent; the revolutionaries had do something, and so they struck at the heart of Arab reaction with insufficient forces and weaponry. They struck, and they were crushed.
Black September, the long-belated confrontation between Arab reaction and the Palestinian Revolution in the streets of Amman, made violently apparent the links the PFLP had analytically drawn between reaction and imperialism. King Hussein in Jordan recognized fearfully the threat of the revolution and ran to Israel and the United States for protection. The contemporary regional role of the United States in the Middle East, as we know it, had been consolidated, along with one more major development, this one concerning Saudi Arabia.
It is well-known that the United States had been eyeing Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves since at least 1945, when a leaked State Department document declared these resources “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” By 1971, the over-leveraged British Empire was no longer the chief imperial power in the region, allowing the United States to assume this very position through the so-called “Nixon Doctrine.” Among the key components of the doctrine were the abandonment of the Breton-Woods system and gold as reserve currency as well as the simultaneous embrace of the fiat system and the US dollar. The United States had evolved from the industrial stage of capital-development it had reached through the American Civil War into an era of acutely advanced finance capital, and it would have been unable to do so without Saudi Arabia. US oil monopolies—Exxon, Texaco, Socal, and Mobile—took control of Aramco and Saudi oilfields. US banks—Citibank and Chase Manhattan, for example—established “off-shore banking units” in the Saudi satellite island Bahrain, where they took advantage of numerous shadow laws to receive enormous tax breaks, especially when dollars began to flow from sky-high oil prices in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 October War.
Of course, each of these developments carried grave implications for the Palestinian Revolution. When Henry Kissinger approached the Saudi royal family with the petrodollar arrangement that made the US financial empire possible—the marking of oil prices in dollars allowing the US cheaper oil importation than the rest of the world and endless cash supplies in the form of global reserve currency—he appealed to Saudi fears of revolutionary sentiments propagated by the likes of the PFLP and the PFLO. (This is a good opportunity to point out the both Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qadhafi had replaced the dollar as the reserve currency before they were taken out.) It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the consolidation of US imperialism in the Middle East and the suppression of the Arab left happened as component aspects of a single whole; historically, the success of the former came out the defeat of the latter. Consequently, all of those who would blame the Arab left for recent events in the Middle East—those sitting critics who would and do reserve special heaps of scorn for the old guard revolutionaries still fighting for an embattled dream—are victim-blaming in the most unforgivable fashion.
Long Live the Palestinian Revolution!
The relative decline of the Palestinian left, after the high period of raw repression, occurred in stages and layers. Some of the decline came as part of the decline of the Palestinian national movement as a whole, from betrayals the PFLP had predicted long ago. The upper stratum of Fateh leadership sought to safeguard their financial holdings in diaspora investments; Seif Dana invokes the particularly revealing case of the Contracting and Trading Industry (CAT). Their politics followed their money, and their capitulation reached an apotheosis in the Oslo agreements, through which Israel outsourced its security work. Some of the decline came out of the alternative program offered by the so-called “Islamists” (a dubious but popular term) such as Hamas, which might have been seen as a welcome change of pace at a time when the national movement appeared to have surrendered. Israel even lent tacit support to progenitors of Hamas, predicting correctly that it would target the Palestinian left before it would target Israel. George Habash took the change in stride, reportedly saying in his years of Damascene twilight that his movement had given liberation a try, and now it had become time to let the religious groups see what they can do.
The PFLP has been self-critical, for instance saying that they had not been enough willing to define socialism for themselves rather than trying loyally to replicate the Soviet model. Another self-criticism is that they did not assign armed struggle a proper role as a supplement to popular struggle. To be certain, criticism is best left to the participants themselves. What is concerning is that a Western left that thinks it is above or beyond solidarity with the PFLP. Perhaps the leap is made from the idea that the organization is not what it once was, to the idea that it ceases to exist. What should be apparent is that it is astonishing to see this organization standing, after facing COINTELPRO-like machinations. And we must remember that the internal questions of Palestinian society and liberation remain to be worked out.
Not even Hamas, ostensibly a “religious” organization, has been able to purge from its program national commitments. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, that irksome puzzle of neocolonial control, responsible for the collaborations that led to the arrest of Comrade Ahmed Saadat and the assassination of Comrade Omar Nayef Zayad, shows signs of internal cleavage. Only recently a Palestinian Authority staff sergeant “was shot dead when he allegedly opened fire on and wounded three Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint,” a moment Ha’aretz called “the nightmare scenario that has worried Israel for months.” It would be naïve to write the ground troops of the PA off as a potential revolutionary force at a future time. To be sure, the problem they pose for Palestinians is that Israel and America have given them all the weapons. At the same time, the threat they pose for Israel is precisely that they have been given all the weapons. If a dialectic emerges, and the PA’s unsustainable economic model does not deliver to its base enough comfort to overcome the psychological torment of the occupation, there exists in the PFLP a still-standing revolutionary program ready to be consulted anew, with its many political prisoners, including its leader Saadat, serving as models.
Even more recently, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership ordered the freezing of PFLP funds–a provocative gesture undoubtedly taken at the behest of Israel, which fears the PFLP for the strength of its analysis and the scope of its ties, extending through Syria and to Iran. PFLP supporters responded in Gaza by torching images of Abbas. These are messages not-so-subtly exchanged between compradors and revolutionaries, both sides understanding their class loyalties full well.
Victims of Propaganda
The great Marxist historian Gerald Horne does something unusual before beginning his lectures. He literally drops to his knees and begins apologizing. He apologizes to Black people, indigenous people, Mexican people—all of those peoples who are “victims of propaganda” as “progressive” and “radical” scholars fail to do their jobs and decline to produce true counter-histories. The PFLP, and Palestinian revolutionaries in general (and Hezbollah for that matter), are such victims, or at the very least such targets. The historiography of the Palestinian left has been written in the West by the open servants of the so-called “security state”; the bourgeois press goes so far as to label the PFLP the precursors in their activities to the nihilistic violence of al Qaeda. We have not seen in English anything close to the history the Palestinian Revolution deserves. Until that history arrives, raising these comrades’ arguments will provide one with few plaudits and not a few accusations of moral barbarism. These Palestinian Marxist-Leninists are those radicals who refused imperialism’s platforms, who did not beg Barack Obama for military favors in front of the White House so that The Washington Post and the think-tank orbit could turn them cuddly. The enemy has, in the words of Mao, painted them as “utterly black and without a single virtue.” To defend their honor is exactly the kind of job a radical must embrace.
Read in full the PFLP’s 1969 document, “Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine,” still the best analysis offered on the relationship between Zionism and imperialism, and Palestinian liberation: http://pflp.ps/english/2012/12/13/strategy-for-the-liberation-of-palestine-february-1969-historical-document-now-available-electronically/