What can end horror in Gaza?

Damage in Gaza strip. Photo:Naaman Omar apaimages/CC

Every day in Gaza a new unimaginable horror exceeds the horror of the day before. As winter begins, freezing is being added to bombing, hunger and disease as causes of Gazans’ deaths. At the time of writing, the official death toll has reached 18,000, but with hospitals unable to function and many buried under the rubble, the true figure is certainly higher.

And yet still the murderous onslaught continues, backed by the might of US imperialism. US President Joe Biden has repeatedly urged Israel to take precautions against killing Gazan civilians, but this is empty phrasemongering.

The Israeli military (IDF)’s ongoing onslaught on the south of Gaza, where most of the population fled following the destruction of the north, has not prevented the US vetoing – for the second time – a United Nations security council resolution calling for a ceasefire. Predictably, the Tories continued to back US imperialism and Israel, and abstained on the vote. Nor has it stopped Biden from bypassing the US Congress to send an extra 14,000 tank rounds to the IDF so it can continue to rain terror on Gaza.

Nothing could make it clearer that Biden, and behind him US imperialism, care nothing about the fate of the Palestinian masses, but only about the defence of US capitalism’s interests – its profits, power and prestige. Nonetheless, no doubt US and Western capitalism believe their interests would be best served by an end to the onslaught on Gaza before too long.

Fears of a regional war are growing, with the hugely disruptive political and economic consequences that would flow from that for capitalism globally. An escalation of the still relatively low-level conflict between the IDF and Hezbollah on the northern Israel-Lebanon border is possible. Israel’s national security advisor has declared that it “can no longer accept” Hezbollah on their northern border, in a clear threat to escalate.

A further increase in conflict in the Red Sea is also posed, as the Houthis in Yemen have declared that they intend to try and block all ships heading to the Israeli port of Eilat, not just Israeli ones, until humanitarian aid can enter Gaza.

There are also increasing skirmishes between US forces and mainly Iran-backed militias in Iraq. The Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported that “the heating up of these two arenas, Yemen and Iraq, could oblige the American administration to closely examine its strategic priorities and to dictate a timetable for the war in Gaza”.

Haaretz is assuming, correctly, that US imperialism has enormous power to “dictate a timetable for the war”. The US has always seen Israel as a bulwark of support for its interests in the Middle East. That doesn’t mean that Israeli governments always do the US’s bidding but, given its still considerable military and economic strength, the US can exert enormous pressure on the Israeli regime when it chooses to do so.

US imperialism is in decline, leading to an increasingly multipolar world, but it is nonetheless currently still the strongest pole. The US’s defence spending is still three times that of its nearest rival, China, and Israel remains heavily dependent on US military support and trade.

So why does the Biden regime continue to back the Israeli state’s onslaught against Gaza, despite the possible consequences? One reason is that there have not yet been qualitative steps towards a regional war, reflecting the approach of the Arab regimes. For the corrupt and dictatorial leaders of Arab countries, support for Palestinian rights is no more than empty words uttered to try and stave off the growing pressure from the working class and poor of their countries.

Anti-war movement

That pressure from the ‘potential superpower’, the working class and poor – from the anti-war movement – is ultimately the most important factor in the global equation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself pointed to the effect of the anti-war movement when he said: “There are huge demonstrations in Western capitals…we need to apply counter-pressure”. He is worried about the pressure the mass anti-war movement is exerting on Western governments.

How can we confirm Netanyahu’s fears? We have already seen large anti-war marches globally. The biggest in Western capitals so far have been in London, and the movement in Britain has claimed the scalp of ultra-right wing home secretary Suella Braverman, whose attempts to ban the demos ended in her sacking. This was a direct result of the power and popularity of the movement in support of the Palestinians. There have also been significant demonstrations across Europe and the US.

But of course the movement has not yet succeeded in stopping the slaughter. It needs to be strengthened, both now and for the future. Capitalism is a system in crisis, which increasingly results in war and conflict. This year’s ‘armed conflict survey’ records 183 wars worldwide, the highest number in three decades. Even in more – relatively – peaceful periods, capitalism has proved incapable of meeting the national aspirations of the Palestinians. The promise of a capitalist ‘two-state solution’ raised by the 1993 Oslo Accords proved, as we warned at the time, to be a cruel illusion.

It is obvious that achieving the immediate demand of the current anti-war movement for a ceasefire will not be the end of the matter. We will still need to learn the lessons of this time to be ready to build mass anti-war movements in support of the Palestinians and other oppressed peoples.

One weakness of the movement in Britain so far has been the relatively small role played by the organised workers’ movement. Opinion polls show that the population are horrified by the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. That undoubtedly includes most trade unionists. The trade unions in Britain have over six million members and enormous potential power, which they have begun to demonstrate – on a higher level than for three decades – over the last eighteen months. The working class, ultimately responsible for creating the capitalists’ profits and for keeping society running, is potentially the most powerful force in society. However, to realise that potential power it will need both organisation and, crucially, a conscious leadership armed with a socialist programme and a determination to fight for it. Such a programme includes an understanding of Starmer’s role as a prop for the capitalist system.

At this stage, there have only been small trade union contingents on the demonstrations. It was positive that when the 11 November demonstration was under threat of banning, the general secretaries of the RMT, FBU and NEU made public statements that they would march regardless. Nonetheless, there has not been a serious drive by the leaders of the trade unions to build and lead the anti-war movement. The trade union movement putting itself in the leadership of the struggle against the war, starting by seriously mobilising for the demonstrations, would considerably strengthen its power.

Industrial action

Another linked question is the issue of industrial action in opposition to the war. School and college students have begun to show the way with walkouts, and young Socialist Party members are working to build those further. Clearly, however, action by workers for companies that are selling goods which aid the Israeli war machine would have a greater impact. That is why we have been campaigning for the whole trade union movement to back to the hilt any group of workers who take such action.

There is a long and proud history of collective industrial action of this kind, from the London dockworkers who refused to load a ship with armaments that were to be used against the Russian revolution, to the Rolls Royce workers who declined to repair Chilean air force planes after the US-backed Pinochet coup, to the rail workers who blocked the transmission of munitions bound for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Workers for a Free Palestine

So far, what has taken place this time are blockades of arms factories from outside, initiated by a group called ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’. These blockades claim to have briefly stopped production and have understandably been greeted by enthusiasm by the anti-war movement, particularly those who are rightly looking to the trade unions to play a role. However, unfortunately it is not clear that these actions are a step in the direction of the kind of action that is needed.

The ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ website explains it is acting on the call of Palestinian trade unions for “trade unions in the relevant industries to refuse to build weapons bound for Israel”, yet they describe themselves as “health workers, teachers, hospitality workers, academics, artists and more”. They are not workers in the arms industry and, while they say that in one of their blockades “no workers could enter” the factory, they do not point to any dialogue with the workers inside, which should be the aim of any protest if it is to have a serious and worker-unifying effect.

What is needed, and is being called for by the Palestinian trade union appeal, is collective action by the workers directly involved – which could of course be supported by other workers from outside. That is why the Socialist Party has raised in Unite, the main union in the sector, the need for a national meeting of reps in this industry and other related sectors such as docks and logistics, to discuss what action is possible. Even such a meeting being called would put more pressure on the Tory government than the blockades from outside.

To achieve such action on a wider scale, both in this and future conflicts, will require an anti-war movement whose leadership has a starting point of international working-class solidarity, putting the blame for the conflict where it belongs, on the capitalist and imperialist elites worldwide, and not on any section of the working class of the US, Britain or, come to that, Israel. This is the instinctive approach of most participants in the pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the majority of whom are very clear that they do not support the right-wing Islamist leadership of Hamas and its brutal attacks on Israeli civilians.

The growing pressure for a ceasefire today is being exerted by the global anti-war movement, but also by part of the population in Israel, particularly to make more likely the freeing of the hostages still held in Gaza. Israeli society is deeply split, and Netanyahu’s ultra-right wing government is extremely unpopular. The Israeli working class is a potentially powerful force if it played a role independent of its ruling class.

A first step to doing so would be for it to have its own independent party. The same urgent need is present in almost every country, and is central to strengthening the anti-war movement. The Palestinian working class and poor need their own party. So do we here in Britain.

Working-class party

While both Sunak and Starmer back the war to the hilt, it could not be clearer that we need a mass political party that stands against it. However, such a party will not succeed if it is confined to one issue alone; rather, it needs a mass democratic workers’ party, with a clear programme in opposition to every aspect of both the Tories’ and Starmer’s pro-capitalist warmongering agenda. The Socialist Party is fighting for the first steps towards such a party to be taken in the forthcoming election – with a workers’ list of candidates.

Mass workers’ parties would be a huge step forward in every country, strengthening our ability to fight for working-class interests and pressurise the capitalist elites. However, the only road to a world without endless wars, where the national aspirations of the Palestinians and every oppressed people could be met, will be for the working class to not only have its own parties, but to arm them with programmes to take power. That would require taking the levers of power out of the hands of the capitalists, nationalising the major corporations and banks, and beginning to build a new democratic socialist world. If you agree join us.

The Socialist Party is fighting for:

  • End the siege – for the immediate permanent withdrawal of the Israeli military from the occupied territories
  • For a mass struggle of the Palestinians, under their own democratic control, to fight for liberation
  • For the building of independent workers’ parties in Palestine and Israel and links between them
  • For an independent, socialist Palestinian state, alongside a socialist Israel, with guaranteed rights for all minorities, as part of a the struggle for a socialist Middle East
  • No trust in the capitalist politicians, internationally or in Britain. Fight to build a workers’ party in Britain that fights for socialism and internationalism
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