|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Hezbollah & the ANC, an unfair comparison?
IN THE article in Socialism Today No.103, US-Israeli ‘new Middle East’ plan derailed, you compare Hezbollah with the African National Congress (ANC), the national liberation movement that fought against the white apartheid regime.
The ANC were recognised internationally to be the most incompetent and ineffective of all the liberation movements in Africa, whose only major achievements were to detonate bombs in shopping malls and restaurants where woman and children were killed and mutilated. It is shameful that you compare this doubtful effort to the heroic resistance of Hezbollah against the might of the Israeli army.
Secondly, you overestimate the impact that the ANC had on the situation in South Africa. Certainly the party caused some disruption but it was hardly likely to bring down the apartheid regime. It is a myth perpetuated by many left-wing organisations.
The capitalist system decided the fate of South Africa not the ANC, when Citibank withdrew all loans and the South African government had to reschedule all its loan repayments. In addition the US started building an air base in Botswana with the implied threat that it would be used to bomb the country if it did not comply with the US demands (a tactic to be used with great success from Yugoslavia to Lebanon and elsewhere). The worldwide fanfare surrounding Mandela’s release from prison was not organised by the ANC but the capitalist international news media. It was apparent that a deal had been struck as to what path the ANC would follow - capitalism pure and simple. The ANC, with its appalling pre- and post-apartheid record, is hardly the benchmark to compare with Hezbollah or for that matter any liberation organisation. I suppose that socialism needs heroes in its struggle against the capitalist system but please choose a role model with a little more integrity than the ANC.
You also write on page 19 that Israeli workers will be "forced to pay the costs of this conflict". I should point out that is highly unlikely as at the start of the conflict the USA provided the Israeli air force with $268 million worth of aviation fuel and in addition the US provides Israel annually with over two billion dollars worth of military aid. The Israeli workers will continue to support their capitalist and racist regime as long as they receive this sort of aid. The root of the problem lies with US foreign policy that props up the Israeli government’s oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine.
Kevin Simpson replies:
DERRICK’S CRITICISM of my article shows the importance of clarifying the central role of the working class drawing behind it other oppressed layers like the poor peasantry in fighting for national liberation. This applies not only to the Middle East but also Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Derrick’s argument is that the article unfavourably compared Hezbollah to the ANC in South Africa. In doing so Derrick clearly feels that it underestimates the role of Hezbollah and overestimated the role of the ANC in the struggle against apartheid.
Unfortunately, I think Derrick is incorrect on both counts. The article was absolutely clear on the huge significance of the outcome of the war in Lebanon when it stated: "The result of the war will also be recorded as a political victory for Hezbollah". The article was also very clear on our estimation of the dedication of Hezbollah fighters in resisting the might of the IDF when it commented, "Undoubtedly its fighters are well trained and extremely courageous".
But the article did conclude that unfortunately it would not be possible for Hezbollah to cut across the sectarian tensions that exist in Lebanon in the long term. It also put forward the idea that, given its present strategy and tactics, Hezbollah would not be able to inflict a lasting defeat on the Israeli military forces that would rule out for ever the possibility of future invasions of Lebanon. Of course, this is not to question the bravery of its members in standing up to the fourth-strongest army in the world. Neither does it rule out further episodic military defeats for the Israeli state.
The article argued that any attempt to ease sectarian divisions between sections of the Lebanese population, the majority of whom consist of the working class, would mean uniting in struggle around common issues. Above all, it would mean implementing policies which would allow the huge resources of Lebanese society to be used for the good of all its population, laying the basis for the ending of the social, economic, religious and national oppression of minorities on which sectarian division can breed. How will this be achieved? Through the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a socialist society under the democratic control of the working class. The article went on to explain that the leadership of Hezbollah, although it has organised protest movements against privatisation, does not have this approach. Given the growth in sectarian anti-Hezbollah propaganda from reactionary parties and organisations in Lebanon since the end of the war, the possibility of Hezbollah reverting to narrow Shia and Islamic sectarian policies is raised.
Derrick’s criticisms do not really address the question of how the Israeli capitalist state and its army will be defeated. In his letter Derrick says, "The Israeli workers will continue to support their capitalist and racist regime as long as they receive this sort of aid". While it may be difficult for those outside Israel to believe, especially given the Israeli state’s military hardware, Israeli Jewish workers support their regime because of the fears they have for their security, not because of the military and financial aid that the government receives from US imperialism. Their perception is that they are surrounded by hostile, undemocratic Arab dictatorships who want to destroy the country they regard as their home. Just as socialists realise that the Palestinians’ demand for self-determination and an independent state has to be fought for, it is also the case that an Israeli Jewish national consciousness exists and has to be taken account of in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism in the region.
Israeli capitalism survives because of the social support of its working class. Only by splitting away this support can the Israeli state and its army be defeated. The article attempted to explain that the only way this can be done is by answering the fears of the Israeli working class for their future as well as fighting for an independent Palestine, through the creation of a socialist confederation of Middle Eastern states.
Workers in Israel are finding out to their own cost that the Israeli ruling class has forgotten all about the ‘national unity’ of which it spoke during the war, now that the conflict is over. It was the Israeli Jewish working class who made sacrifices during the war and are being forced to do so after the war, as the most recent budget shows. The government intends to privatise what remains of the public sector and further cut welfare benefits. That is what the article meant about paying for the conflict. By exposing the hypocrisy of the Israeli ruling class, the huge anger that exists among Israeli workers can be mobilised in a struggle against capitalism. However, this will not be possible if our starting point is that Israeli Jewish workers are irredeemably racist or reactionary.
Unfortunately, I think Derrick also has a very one-sided view of the national liberation struggle in South Africa and the role played by its supporters and sympathisers amongst black workers and young people.
It is incorrect to paint the fall of apartheid as purely a manoeuvre by capitalism and imperialism. Derrick completely ignores the insurrectionary movements that shook South Africa’s apartheid regime to its core during the 1980s. He says nothing about organisations like the United Democratic Front, which saw itself carrying on traditions of the ANC inside the country. There is no mention of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) whose activists organised huge general strikes which were insurrectionary in character. And there is absolutely no comment anywhere in Derrick’s criticism on the role played by socialist ideas in these movements.
The reason why the apartheid ruling class moved to an accommodation with the ANC leadership is that they were aware that they faced a bloodbath if major concessions were not made. The collapse of the Soviet Union made them more confident that, with the alternative ‘communist’ (Stalinist) model absent from world politics, they could do business with the capitalist wing of the ANC. The negotiations between the De Klerk government and the ANC leadership were designed to come up with an agreement in which the black elite would be given a share in political and economic power while in return capitalist interests would be protected and working-class aspirations held back. CWI members in South Africa warned that this would be the case during the process of negotiations and afterwards.
However, this does not take anything away from the significance of the working-class movement against apartheid. The character of the ANC as a liberation movement cannot be judged purely on the basis of the anti-working class role being played by the ANC leaders since they came to power.