International Labor and Working-Class History

Rethinking the Left in Victory and Defeat

Class, Nation, and Political Organization: The Anti-Zionist Left in Israel/Palestine

Ran Greensteina1

a1 University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg


The paper discusses historical lessons offered by the experience of two leftwing movements, the pre-1948 Palestinian Communist Party, and the post-1948 Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen). The focus of discussion is the relationship between class and nation as principles of organization.

The Palestinian Communist Party was shaped by forces that shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: British rule, Zionist ideology and settlement practices, and Arab nationalism. At intensified conflict periods it was torn apart by the pressures of competing nationalisms. By the end of the period, its factions agreed on one principle: the need to treat members of both national groups equally, whether as individuals or as groups entitled to self-determination. This position was rejected by both national movements as incompatible with their quest for control.

In the post-1948 period, Matzpen epitomized the radical critique of Zionism. It was the clearest voice speaking against the 1967 occupation and for restoration of Palestinian rights. However, it never moved beyond the political margins, and its organization failed to provide members with a sustainable mode of activism. It was replaced by a new mode, mobilizing people around specific issues instead of presenting an overall program.

The paper concludes with suggestions on how the Left may use these lessons to develop a strategy to focus on the quest for social justice and human rights.