Israel and the Arab world
It is Impossible to understand Hezbollah with out first going over what it sets itself against – The nature of the Israeli State and its relationship to the Arab world.
Israel was created by the growing Zionist movement – born in the anti-Jewish Pogrom’s in Russia and massively strengthened by the defeat of the left and the rise of Nazism in Germany. Zionism is and was a reaction to anti-Semitism which says that “Jew’s can’t rely on anyone but ourselves.” When arriving in Palestine Zionism continued to emphasise its separateness from the Palestinian majority systematically discriminating against Arab workers. Culminating in the 1948 nakbah and the creation of the Israeli state through a campaign of terror by the fascist Ur Gunn (an organisation later to become Sharon’s Likud Party) and the Zionist leadership, expelling 750’000 Palestinian’s in a policy of ethnic cleansing (1/2 the Palestinian population.) The War of 1967 was a second attempt to expel the remaining Palestinian population and occupy the last 20% of Palestine. 67 Also saw the rise of the PLO which although not strong enough to force Israel back made it next to impossible to eliminate or expel the remaining Palestinian population.
The central Question of Israeli society since has always been the danger of the Palestinian population and the need to maintain a “Jewish State.” Zionism being the framework the entire political framework still exists within. The question becomes how best to control/contain the Palestinian population in the reservations of the west bank and Gaza while rejecting the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. The differences between left and right over the issue only being over strategy and tactics.
History of Lebanese Resistance
The relationship of the creation of Israel to Lebanon starts early on with 10’000’s of Palestinians fleeing to Lebanon in the 1948 Nakbah. In fact one of the worst Israeli war crimes the Shabra - Shatila massacre , a massacre of up to 3’500 Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon itself has a history of French colonialism which shaped the nature of the resistance to Israel and the alliances Palestinians have made in Lebanon. French divide and rule left a significant minority, Lebanon’s Shia population, oppressed and without political representation. As a result by the 70’s Shias made up the majority of Lebanon’s Communist party and the various left nationalist groups which were the leadership of Lebanon’s rising workers movement. The connection between this force in Lebanon’s society and the Palestinian resistance launching attacks in northern occupied Palestine created a natural alliance.
Israel reprisals against Lebanon’s civilians, and the lack of action by the Lebanese state provoked a massive surge of support for the left resulting in a civil war which by 1975 that the left seemed set to win. The US unable to allow a left victory in the Lebanon encouraged Syria to invade defeating the left and isolating the Palestinians in the camps.
Eventually Israel unable to tolerate the remaining legacy of resistance in Lebanon stepped up its cross border attacks eventually invading in 1982 to remove any Organised Palestinian presence north of its border. 14’000 Lebanese and Palestinian’s died in the resulting conflict. Israel laid siege to Beirut before striking a deal with the PLO that in exchange for a PLO evacuation if the city Israel would not enter the Palestinian refugee camps. The IDF then gave the green light to it’s allies the Christian Phalangist militias to enter the camp massacring the 1000’s of those left behind – primarily women, children and the elderly.
Development of Hezbollah
With the defeat of the communist party and the Stalinist influenced groups a vacuum was left around the leadership of the resistance. The influence of state capitalist nationalism and Stalinism was generally on the decline and across the Arab world the influence of Islamic organisations was beginning to increase. Lebanon was no exception with both amal and Hezbollah competing for influence within the resistance movement.
Hezbollah was formed around a narrow Islamist platform inherited from the Iranian revolution of 1979 as a breakaway from Amal. Starting with a call for an Islamic state along the lines of Iran Hezbollah’s experience of fighting the Zionist occupation of 1982 started to transform the organisation. The reality of Lebanon’s diverse social and religious make up and taking on significant numbers of former CP members undermining Hezbollah’s tactic of appealing solely to South Lebanon’s Shia community. However the excluded Shia minority and the poverty stricken areas of south Beirut (known as the belt of misery) remains Hezbollah’s main power base and Hezbollah retains its support for an Iranian style society within the Shia community.
The pivotal moment in Hezbollah’s history was the Israel assassination of Hezbollah’s original leader Abbas Musawi in 1992 clearing the way for a new young leadership under Hassan Nasrallah to take control of the organisation. This new Leadership had been shaped directly by the Israeli occupation and re-orientated Hezbollah towards a broad non-sectarian appeal. This, coinciding roughly with the collapse of the USSR meant Hezbollah was now in a position to absorb the layers of the CP which had previously been at the fore of the resistance. The other significant part of Hezbollah’s appeal came from a rejection of corrupt Lebanese politics and the adoption of social programs from the old left parties. Hezbollah launching welfare programs, schools and hospitals consolidated its status as social movement with deep roots in the poor Shia areas.
Proving perhaps that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it the Isreali atrocity that finally established Hezbollah’s hegemony over the leadership of the resistance was an Israeli attack on Qana in 1996 which killed over 100 civilians. The wave of popular anger that followed allowing Hezbollah to capitalise on its position and swell its ranks. From this base Hezbollah was able to build a network of Guerillas capable of forcing Israel out of Lebanon in 2000.
Politics and Nature of Hezbollah Today
Robert Pape in the New York Times commented that the reason Israel can never wipe out Hezbollah is that it misunderstands the basic nature of the organisation. Claiming that it is neither principally a political party nor a Islamic militia but a broad movement of resistance. He describes it as a umbrella movement that “tactically coordinates the resistance operations of a variety of groups with a range of secular and religious aims.” Justifying this he quotes his study of 38 suicide attacks from Hezbollah in the 80’s. Of the 38 - 27 were leftists in or close to the CP / Arab Socialist Union, 3 were Christian and only 8 were Islamists. While not rejecting this we should be careful to judge the extent to which this characterisation is true and we should be wary of “lending resistance movements a communist colouration” as Lenin said.
What is fact though is that Hezbollah exists as a state within a state providing an extensive welfare system and running popular TV and radio stations as well as having a political wing 23 MP’s, Ministers in the Government and links to the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Hezbollah’s support is based on strong anti-imperialism, Nasrallah condemned 9/11 referring to a US based on two nations (one rich, one poor) and called Hugo Chavez “A Brother in Struggle.” But there are contradictions within Hezbollah’s politics based on Islamist ideas which in the highly pressurised world of Middle Eastern politics can lead to major compromises by the Hezbollah leadership. Its popularity was dented when it demonstrated in favour of a Syrian presence in Lebanon and its position in the government has left Hezbollah supporting neo-liberal economic attacks which hurt their supporters in the deprived areas of Lebanon. Popularity it has only regained by standing up to Israeli aggression.
Facing a defeat at the hands of a Hezbollah lead resistance the Israeli government has been forced gain through the UN what it couldn’t achieve though force. This humiliation of the IDF has sent ructions though Israeli society with Olmert getting attacked from the right and left and the IDF claiming it could have continued fighting if not for this “political” decision.
The UN resolution itself is heavily weighted towards Israel with the US finally giving the green light to text which might help Israel get what it couldn’t take militarily. It demands the “cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks”, but only an end to “offensive military operations” by Israel who have always claimed its assaults are “defensive.” It calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers whose capture formed the pretext for the invasion of Lebanon while Israel is only “encouraged” to reconsider the fate of the Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Such a ceasefire can never be the basis for a lasting peace in Lebanon as it leaves unchecked the Israeli expansionist project and its attitude to the human rights of Palestinians. Of more immediate significance it makes no call for Israeli to leave Lebanon immediately and Hezbollah have vowed to continue to defend south Lebanon from further attacks. Hezbollah claim victory and this is certainly echoed around the Arab world as they have survived the onslaught and made an ongoing Israeli occupation impossible. The overwhelming feeling across the worlds media is that this is a temporary peace with the US and Israel unable to let this humiliation remain and the resistance across the region strengthened.
Marxist Position on Resistance
But for us our support for Hezbollah is not based on its political ideology, whether it is predominately nationalist or Islamist is of only secondary significance. The question is where Hezbollah fits into the totality of imperialism and resistance in the Middle East. Lukac argued that in the modern world we need to judge movements for national liberation not on their surface politics but on “their historical significance” or “on what concrete part they play in the concrete whole.” Meaning we have to assess each anti-imperialist struggle from the standpoint of the whole contemporary alignment of forces in the imperialist system. To judge whether each particular struggle weakens the hold of the world capitalism and provides a chance to generalise the struggle for a fight against inequality and oppression.
We have to be clear that whatever groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are doing today the only consistent enemies of imperialism are the working class and poor of the region which are constantly under attack by the poverty and insecurity imperialism brings. The Middle East like the rest of the world is divided not just by imperialism and the clash between states but also by class. Groupings like Hezbollah can be the force that resists attacks on a country like Lebanon but can also join state governments make compromises sanctioning neo-liberal policies against their populations at home. Saying this means recognising that the weight of US imperialism is a force that weighs down on people of the entire region. Therefore a defeat for it weakens imperialism internationally and strengthens the resistance to it and the fight for a better world.
It is because of this understanding we raise the slogan of unconditional but critical support. Because unlike the mass of workers and the oppressed in Lebanon who are the consistent enemies of imperialism Hezbollah contains contradictions which can lead it to make peace with the capitalist system and take a role in running its own part of it. Evidence of groups which have done this are strewn across the Middle East and Africa running regional capitalisms. Lukac again put it like this,
“Forces that work towards revolution today may well operate in the reverse direction tomorrow. And it is vital to note these changes… are determined decisively by the constantly changing relations of the totality of the historical situation and the social forces at work.”
So for example the Islamist grouping of Hamas can be working on the side of the oppressed against capital and imperialism while Lula’s PT in Brazil notionally a workers Party can be working for imperialism against the interests of its ownworking class and oppressed.
Lebanon’s Left Today
What is needed in Lebanon as in so much of the world is a left capable of consistently leading the working class against imperialism and in a struggle for a better world. In Lebanon there is still a significant left both in the form of the old communist party and within the new movements rising against imperialism in the Middle East. The relief efforts pulled together significant sections of Lebanese society across sectarian divides and the communist party is still a significant force which fought alongside Hezbollah in the resistance. These new forces coming out of the grass roots could form the basis of a new political leadership if more of the left could grasp the scale of the defeat for imperialism across the region and the need to form a clear political leadership to exploit weakness of the existing Arab client states.
Resistance across the Arab World
The reaction to the invasion across the Middle East is a demonstration of Lukacs analysis of imperialism and national liberation. Protests in support of Hezbollah and the resistance have occurred everywhere. 5’000 marched in Cairo (the political centre of the Middle East) and 3’000 in Alexandria while the Egyptian government condemned Hezbollah’s “adventures” alongside the Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia has incidentally been awarded 6 billion in arms by the US for its loyalty. Protests also took place in Kuwait, 10’000 Shia and Sunni marched in Bahrain and 1000’s more demonstrated across the Middle East.
After the ceasefire reports have come in from across the region of people celebrating Israel’s defeat and looking to Hezbollah and Nasrallah as an example of a force capable of defeating the US and its regional allies.
Solution to Palestine – The Political Leadership Needed.
While Hezbollah’s conception of a struggle between oppressed and oppressor and its recognition of the reactionary nature of the Israeli state resonates in the Middle East it can never successfully liberate Palestine. What Hezbollah lacks is the ability to reach out to the strongest force in the Middle East – The Arab working class. The rise of Kifaya (“enough”) in Egypt, its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and independent calls on Egyptian oil workers to stop supplying Israel with energy for its attack on Lebanon point the way forwards. Here is a organisation which is both part of the movement and capable of giving an independent argument about the way forwards.
Across the Middle East movements are growing in resistance to the new imperialism which are radicalising millions and providing a powerful new audience for the left. In Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq the left needs to be a part of these movements, supporting the struggle for national liberation, while building organisations that can unite the struggles and draw in the force that can liberate Palestine and the Middle East– A united Arab working class using its control over the regions resources to shake of the US multinationals and end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.