Reprint on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war

Fifty years after the Arab-Israeli war fought from 6 to 25 October 1973 – also known as the Yom Kippur war as it began with a surprise attack against Israel on the Jewish holy day – Socialism Today is reprinting an article first published in November 1973. Written by PETER TAAFFE for an internal bulletin of Militant, the predecessor of the Socialist Party, it takes up the arguments on the Israel-Palestine conflict of various groups on the left at that time.
Yom Kippur was an important moment in world perspectives, triggering an oil embargo against the Western powers and the subsequent recession ending the long economic boom that followed world war two, an unrepeatable ‘golden era’ for capitalism.
In the 1973 conflict Israel suffered its greatest number of casualties since the war that accompanied the formation of the state in 1948. That the October 7 attack this year saw its greatest losses since 1973 only emphases the significance of today’s events – and, with the slaughter in Gaza, confirms again that capitalism can provide no way out of the horrific cycle of endless bloodshed in the Middle East.
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Building a workers’ political voice: Lessons from the early Labour Party

CHRISTINE THOMAS outlines how, despite their entrenched conservatism and pro-capitalist outlook, the trade union leaders were pushed by events at the end of the 19th century into taking steps towards the building of an independent political voice for the working-class.

In 1899, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) approved a resolution on political representation moved by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS). This instructed the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee “to invite the co-operation of all co-operative, socialistic, trade union and other working-class organisations… in convening a special Congress of representatives… to devise ways and means for securing an increased number of Labour members in the next parliament”. The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) was established the following year, eventually leading to the formation of the Labour Party in 1906.

While recognising its political limitations, in particular a reformist leadership that had not ideologically broken from the capitalist Liberal Party, Vladimir Lenin nonetheless welcomed the creation of this “parliamentary representative of the trade unions”, “the first step on the part of the really proletarian organisations of England [sic] towards a class-conscious policy and towards a Socialist Labour Party” (International Socialist Bureau, 1908). When, in 1920, small groups of revolutionaries united to form a Communist Party (CP) in Britain, Lenin urged the infant party to affiliate to the much larger Labour Party, with its mass trade union base, on the condition that it could maintain its own independent political identity and activity, as Labour Party rules at that time allowed. Unfortunately, still conditioned by the sectarian history of some of its constituent groups, the CP worded its request for affiliation in such a way that the Labour Party leadership could reject it without provoking significant opposition from the rank and file who were striving for workers’ unity.

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Invaluable record of socialist struggle

A Revolutionary’s Memoir: From Socialist Fight to Militant and the Socialist Party

By Keith Dickinson

Published by Mentmore Press, 2023, £13.99

This book of Keith’s – his ‘memoirs’ – is the result not just of painstaking work in assembling the material, but of decades of dogged and patient dedication to the vital task of developing the forces of a revolutionary party in Liverpool, London and beyond.

He traces the origins of his militancy from his working-class origins in Merseyside in some quite fascinating detail, and the development of British Trotskyism, especially as he knew it in the second half of the last century.

Keith’s own experiences of important strikes – of apprentices, print workers and others – will act as an eye-opener for members of the newer generation. He gives detailed accounts of various meetings – Liverpool’s Labour Party and Trades Council, London’s Young Socialists or incongruous gatherings of British Trotskyists.

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Editorial: War on Gaza intensifies global turmoil

At the end of September Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, mused that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades”. Just a week later came the start of the fifth Israel-Gaza war, completely shattering that false perspective.

The October 7 deadly assault on Israel led by Gaza’s ruling party Hamas killed the highest number of Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust and a number of foreign migrant workers, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin. In response the Israeli government declared a State of War that unleashed massive terror and destruction on Gaza, quickly escalating the death toll of Palestinians to beyond that of Israelis.

Israel’s most right-wing coalition government ever, under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had been focusing on further steps towards annexation of the West Bank and had not prepared the Israeli military for the scale of the attack from Gaza. It had regarded the entrapment of over two million Palestinians behind the Gaza fence as a problem it could leave aside, and Gaza’s Hamas government as subdued and lacking in military capability.

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Is a Palestinian state possible?

In this article, written in September on the thirtieth anniversary of the first Oslo accord – and before the eruption of the recent war – JUDY BEISHON discusses what conditions would be necessary for achieving an independent Palestinian state.

The human geography of Israel-Palestine has been far from static. ‘Facts on the ground’ pushed ahead by successive Israeli governments have been changing the landscape of the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. Jewish settlements have been expanded in size and number, to now encompass around 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and 230,000 in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians meanwhile are more and more atomised into poverty-stricken enclaves, including the Gaza strip which remains largely blockaded by both Israel and Egypt. They suffer land expropriation, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and brutal repression. Since the year 2000, over 10,700 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, many of them during the four Israeli military onslaughts on Gaza since 2008.

This year, Palestinians in the West Bank have so far suffered the highest death toll – the most there since the UN began recording it in 2005. Not only have they suffered regular raids and killings by the Israeli military – including a bloody assault on Jenin in July – but also increasingly ferocious, communal violence from right-wing ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers.

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Update: Why the step back on trans rights views?

This year’s annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey found that “attitudes towards people who are transgender have become markedly less liberal over the past three years”. The BSA found that “64% describe themselves as not prejudiced at all against people who are transgender, a decline of 18 percentage points since 2019 (82%)”. And that “just 30% think someone should be able to have the sex on their birth certificate altered if they want, down from 53% in 2019”.

Overall, the BSA findings do not represent a right-ward shift in the views of British society. On the contrary, looking back over survey responses of the last 40 years the report found a significant transformation of social attitudes in relation to sexual relationships and gender roles: “67% think a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex is never wrong, compared with 17% in 1983”, for example. While “support for an abortion being allowed in circumstances when the woman decides on her own that she does not want to have a child has risen from 37% in 1983 to 76% now”.

The apparently anomalous findings on trans rights are a product of specific processes over the last few years. The survey states that their direction and timing “have been largely triggered by the intense political debate and media discussion”.

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Behind China’s belt and road diplomacy

September 2023 marked a decade since Chinese Communist Party (CCP) president Xi Jinping unveiled plans for what became China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This, along with other ‘soft power’ initiatives, has been a key feature of the growing geo-political rivalry between China and the US, writes PHILIP STOTT.

Few understood the significance of the announcement in 2013 in a speech by Xi in Kazakhstan in which he declared the ‘Silk Road economic belt’ would be the ‘project of the century’. As the Economist magazine commented in its feature to mark the tenth anniversary: “No one predicted that the project would become a defining feature of his foreign policy and dramatic symbol of China’s rise as a global power”. They went on: “The West was in for a shock”.

Fast forward ten years and the BRI has had a major international impact in vast parts of the world. Up to June 2023, “China had signed more than 200 belt and road cooperation agreements with 152 nations and 32 international institutions across five continents”, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s major economic planning agency.

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Re-imagining work and the family

CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a fascinating book which traces the evolution of domestic labour in class society and offers a glimpse of what socialism could mean.

After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time

By Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek

Published by Verso, 2023, £16-99

Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek want a world in which we all work less and have more free time. Not many working people would take issue with that. After Work, however, is concerned not with paid work – the ‘exchange’ of a workers’ labour power for wages – but unwaged ‘social reproductive’ work: housework, childcare, household management etc, work in the family that is still predominantly performed by women, even in the more advanced capitalist countries in the ‘west’ – which this book concentrates on. Could society be organised differently in order to reduce this work as much as possible? Could the remaining work be redistributed more equitably? These are questions posed in the introduction to this interesting and thought-provoking book.

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Nationalisms and the war in Ukraine

As the stalemate in Ukraine grinds on, DAVE REID reviews a book that shines a spotlight on the origins of Putin’s attack and the significance of the national question, historically and today.

The Russo-Ukrainian War

By Serhii Plokhy

Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £25

The modern crisis of global capitalism is nowhere starker than the human catastrophe in the Ukraine, where the bloody war with Russia has, by some estimates, claimed 300,000 casualties on both sides, 15,000 of them civilians. According to Serhii Plokhy’s book, The Russo-Ukrainian War, by March 2022, eight million Ukrainians were displaced, seven million had migrated.

This book intends to offer a historical background and description of the outbreak of the Ukraine war, and provides a comprehensive but brief account of modern Ukrainian history that a reader new to the politics of the country before the war would find useful. But like all histories it depends very much on the outlook of the historian. The reader is alerted to the outlook of Plokhy on the front cover of the book, where the Financial Times describes him as “the foremost historian of the Ukraine”.

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Class, identity, and the struggle against racism

Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics

By Kenan Malik

Published by C Hurst & Co, 2023, £20

Reviewed by Deji Olayinka

Kenan Malik’s book, Not So Black and White, discusses the ideas and battles in the history of race and racism since the 1600s. While the common sense view is that it is difference that leads to racial inequality, he makes clear that “race didn’t give birth to racism. Racism gave birth to race”.

Modern white-supremacist racism developed as a consequence of the transatlantic slave trade; it was not the other way round. In the initial decades, American plantations were mainly worked by European indentured servants. 

To begin with the plantation owners preferred indentured servants over chattel slaves because renting a person was cheaper than buying one, and because if they failed to work well or ran away a court could extend their servitude term, whereas slaves couldn’t be threatened that way. There were also European slaves from the Balkans, and Circassian slaves, but their supply was being reduced by the Ottoman Empire. This, alongside other mostly business reasons, meant that African slaves were used more frequently. 

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