IMHO Tail-ends Hamas, Abandons Marxist-Humanist Philosophy

 
by Seth Weiss
 

October 7 and the Abandonment of Marxist-Humanist Philosophy: A Reply to the International Marxist-Humanist Organization’s Statement on the Israel-Hamas War

 
The complete moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the “anti-imperialist left”[1] is revealed by its celebration of the October 7 massacre in Israel and embrace of Hamas as an anti-colonial force of resistance. At the same time, a great many on the left do understand that Hamas is a profoundly reactionary force, yet they steer clear of unequivocally condemning the October 7 attack, affirming the right of both Palestinians and Jews to national self-determination, and critiquing their campist counterparts.[2]

This dismal calculus may reflect an effort to foster unity on the left, but it also reflects crass opportunism. The recent statement, “The Middle East and the World After October 7, and Israel’s War on Palestine,” approved by the Steering Committee of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO), indicates that this grouping—abandoning fundamental philosophic commitments of Marxist-Humanism—is charting a similar course.[3]

Authored by Kevin Anderson, a veteran of the American left, IMHO’s statement is marked by the absence of a clear, unequivocal condemnation of Hamas’ merciless October 7 assault. The best Anderson can offer is that “[m]assacring and taking civilians as hostages” doesn’t offer “a positive, humanist vision” to inspire the masses. Anderson’s failure to unequivocally condemn the October 7 attack, the most significant pogrom since the Holocaust, is striking in its inhumanity. It also represents implicit support for Hamas, especially because Anderson is completely silent about those on the left who are actively cheerleading for Hamas. (Similarly, any failure to unequivocally condemn Israel’s war on Gaza, now assuming genocidal proportions, represents implicit support for Israel’s attack.)

 

Kevin Anderson (IMHO)

 
Marxist-Humanists have always opposed reactionary forces dressed up in “anti-imperialist” garb. Indeed, Marxist-Humanism has an extensive history of critiquing one-sided, reflexive “anti-imperialism” and those on the left who tail-end it. We consistently exposed the imperialist aims and actions of the USSR and China that masqueraded as “anti-imperialism.” We have also unequivocally opposed Serbian aggression against Bosnia and Kosova,[4] the Ba’athist regime and political Islamism in Iraq, Assad’s regime in Syria, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Why do Anderson and IMHO now jettison principle?

Anderson also uncritically quotes a Palestinian diplomat, interviewed in Le Monde, who maintains: “Yes, some actions committed in the course of military operations are war crimes. But public opinion needs to understand that we are also faced with a legitimate war against an occupying army.” From these remarks, Anderson draws a stunning conclusion: “Thus, if we can support Ukraine, we also should support Palestine.”

 

From the funeral of Avshalom Haran, 65, who died on the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7. Photo credit: Yahel Gazit.

 

Palestinians mourn near the bodies of Shamlah family killed in Israeli airstrikes, as a funeral held in Gaza City, Gaza on October 09, 2023. Photo and caption credit: Mustafa Hassona—AA.

 
There is a lot to unpack here. First, and this should go without saying, support for the freedom aspirations of both Palestinians and Ukrainians does not demand that the left sanction war crimes. And it should also go without saying that the Ukrainian resistance has not been involved in any crime against a civilian population even remotely comparable to Hamas’ October 7 attack; nor, in the main, is the Ukrainian resistance captive to any similarly reactionary, fundamentalist ideology. Moreover, while Hamas’ founding documents call for the destruction of the Jewish state, the Ukrainian resistance does not seek to wipe the Russian state off the map.

But most jarring in Anderson’s formulation here is his conflation of Hamas with the Palestinian people; he characterizes his support for Hamas as “support [for] Palestine.” A cardinal tenet of Marxist-Humanist thought is the imperative to distinguish between the rulers and the ruled. Raya Dunayevskaya formulated this as the presence of “two worlds” in every country—that of masses and that of their oppressors.[5] In a word, Hamas is not Palestine (no more than Netanyahu and right-wing Zionists are representative of all Israelis). Support for the freedom struggle of the Palestinian people, and opposition to  Israel’s horrific bombardment, forced population transfer, and killing of thousands upon thousands of civilians in Gaza, do not demand that the left lend support or cover—in any form—to Hamas and similar forces of reaction in the region. On the contrary, active opposition to Hamas must be a watchword for all who truly support freedom for the Palestinian people.

Anderson also maintains that “actually achieving national independence, let alone real liberation from colonialism or capitalism, requires a truly mass movement, rooted in the working people, not a secretive cadre of dedicated young men substituting themselves for those masses.” This formulation, which criticizes secretiveness and substitutionism, but nothing more, entirely misses the mark as a critique of Hamas. It suggests that Hamas is akin to a Guevarist-inspired guerrilla group in 1960s Latin America, or something of that kind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas was supported by Netanyahu and the Israeli right as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority. It rules over Gaza with an iron fist, ruthlessly suppressing opposition of any kind. Virulently anti-Semitic, patriarchal, and authoritarian, its high-ranking officials include billionaires who live abroad—like Ismail Haniyeh, the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, who resides in luxury in Qatar—while the civilian population of Gaza, nearly half of whom are children, is now subject to unimaginable horror. Anderson and IMHO, who have long voiced opposition to the murderous,  theocratic regime in Iran that props up Hamas, know all of this, of course.

 

Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas)

 
Also striking in Anderson and IMHO’s statement is the omission of any discussion of the right of both Jews and Palestinians to national self-determination. This is particularly troubling at a moment when a great many on the left find no contradiction in supporting Palestinian national self-determination without extending the same right to Jews. These leftists, positing the existence of an undifferentiated “Zionism” and championing the narrative of Israel as a “settler-colonial” state—the purported “context” for understanding the conflict, which curiously ignores the context of the Holocaust, the Farhud, the 1947 Aleppo Riots, etc. in the flight of Jews to Israel—have no qualms about chanting “From the River to Sea, Palestine Must be Free.”

 


Tweet by Meyer Labin


 

What makes Anderson and IMHO’s silence on this issue so astonishing is that the right of nations to self-determination has been a key tenet of Marxist-Humanism from its inception, beginning with Dunayevskaya’s work in the Johnson-Forest Tendency on the right of national self-determination for Black Americans. It was also central to her analyses of the conflict in the Middle East.[6] Building upon Lenin’s work on the national question, Dunaveyskaya considered the right of every nation to self-determination to be fundamental and inviolable. It is not up to the left to determine whether a particular people constitute a nation; rather, it is a determination to be made by those people themselves.

In a cover letter to his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx stressed that there should be no bargaining over principles (even if the refusal to bargain jeopardizes the effort to unite two organizations).[7] And Dunayevskaya, developing the organizational conception that Marx articulated in his 1875 critique, posited philosophy as the very ground for organization: Marxist-Humanist philosophy offers a kind of rudder, absent which we are at risk of chasing after the latest fads and fashions or succumbing to opportunism and mindless organizational building. Anderson and IMHO are quite familiar with all of this. So, again, why are they abandoning principle?

Rather than courting the “anti-imperialist left,” genuine Marxist-Humanists strive to listen for the voices of new, liberatory forces coming from below. More than a decade ago now, youth in Gaza put out a statement with some simple but also profound words: “Fuck Hamas … Fuck Israel … Fuck USA!”[8] Will Marxist-Humanism meet this challenge to help work out a new, emancipatory path?

 
Notes

[1] See Yuval Idan, “To my Western leftist friends, from your leftist Israeli friend,” for an incisive critique of “the Left’s” response to October 7. Episode 106 of Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s Radio Free Humanity podcast features an interview with Idan.

[2] Campism posits a globe divided between two “camps” or “blocs”: one purportedly “imperialist” and the other purportedly “anti-imperialist.” This roughly translates into a pro-U.S. camp and an anti-U.S. one. In this nursery-tale conception of geopolitics, which abstracts from class struggle within individual states, the former “camp” generally represents all that is bad in the world and the latter all that is good.

[3] My discussion here of the import of Marxist-Humanist philosophy for making sense of the current conflict, and for guiding activity in response to it, draws heavily upon an unpublished report on the Israel-Hamas war, for Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s 2023 Annual Conference, written by Anne Jaclard and Andrew Kliman. I also draw upon the discussion of the Israel-Hamas war in Episode 102 of the Radio Free Humanity podcast. The usual caveat applies.

[4] See editorial, “Support the people’s war in Kosova,” on p. 9 of linked document.

[5] For more than a quarter of a century, Dunayevskaya wrote a regular column entitled “Two Worlds” in News & Letters, her organization’s newspaper.

[6] Radio Free Humanity Episode 35 offers an insightful discussion of the early development of Dunayevskaya’s conception of the right of national self-determination. See also Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s editorial, “Ukraine Fights for National Self-Determination Against Russian Imperialism,”for further treatment of Dunaveyskaya’s conception and its contemporary import.

[7] Marx opposed the Gotha Program, which unified the party of his followers with that of Ferdinand Lassalle’s into an unprecedently large formation, on the grounds that it represented a step backward in theoretical development; Marx described the Program as “a monstrous attack on the understanding that has spread among the mass of our party.”

[8]Gazan youth issue manifesto to vent their anger with all sides in the conflict,” The Guardian, January 1, 2011.

 

6 Comments

  1. Martyrmade podcast – google it. He’s on Twitter too. 6 part comprehensive podcast series on the history of Zionism. Seems like Kliman and MHI need to do some learning. Long time fan but on Palestine this organization is utterly bankrupt. I’m so disappointed. Please listen to this podcast and then interview him. If you care about so called plurality in thought and open debate.

  2. Why you are showing Kevin Anderson’s picture in your article? Is this some kind of FBI or Mosaad organization? Are you siding with Israel or Felestin? You explained Oct. 7th reactionary Hamas action very well but failed to understand the Palestinian suffering for decades. Where there is no Marxist MHI in Palestine, they have no choice but to grab any kind of group that support them.

    • The photo of Anderson is one that he himself made publicly available. He is pictured because he wrote the piece under discussion. That’s a common practice. It is not true that Gazans and other Palestinians “have no choice,” as Seth makes clear at the end of his article. Thank you for sharing your nutty conspiracy-theory insinuations against us.

  3. MHI presents several articles by Raya Dunayevskaya on Middle East issues:
    Archives of Marxist-Humanism – Marxist-Humanist Initiative (marxisthumanistinitiative.org)
    It would be beneficial to re-study these articles against the background of the current Gaza war. In https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/begins-genocidal-war-in-lebanon.pdf she writes:

    “Israel’s present blitzkrieg has a stark resemblance to
    nothing so much as Hitler’s “final solution” for the Jews.
    Begin should have learned from that Holocaust that you
    cannot destroy a whole people and their hunger for freedom.
    What Arafat could not achieve through ail these years, Begin
    has managed to do for him by giving Arafat an expanded
    acceptance by the majority of Palestinians and by making
    him a hero.”

    What are the criteria that Raya Dunayevskaya applies in her Middle-East articles when assessing Israel’s policies of her time? Are her criteria still valid? How does Netanyahu differ from Begin?

    • Michael, I’m not sure about the criteria (she didn’t say) or whether explicit criteria need to be applied here. It’s not a tough case. Personally, I think the current Israeli government’s action are even worse than those of Begin, so what she wrote is even more applicable to it.

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