So 2009 has begun with the ugly war machine of the Israeli state hammering away at the impoverished and downtrodden people of Gaza. It is now around a fortnight into this murderous assault, and nearly one thousand Palestinian people have been killed.
This outrage has sparked an unprecedented wave of protests around the world. Here in Britain, most cities, towns and even villages have seen demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians, often where there has been no such protest movement before. These protests range from vigils of dozens of predominantly white middle class residents in small provincial market towns, to massive mobilisations sweeping the former mill towns of Northern England, where working class Asian Muslims who have suffered generations of racism and poverty in the UK are now protesting in their thousands on the streets.
The condemnation Israel’s actions is coming from all sections of society – including significant numbers of voices from Britain’s Jewish population, many formerly staunch supporters of Israel – now criticising the assault on Gaza. All this has been brought together onto the streets of London by a series of mass marches of tens of thousands, often ending with sections of the crowds engaged in militant street battles with the police outside the Israeli embassy. All these factors, the scale of killing caused by Israel’s actions and the widespread public outcry against this, has began to shift what has been an almost unanimous pro-Israel consensus amongst Britain’s media and mainstream political circles.
What may all this mean for the wider project of rebuilding the left? Can these events generate new solidarities and new desires for equal and just social relations around the world? Or can they take us further away from socialism, and further into ethno-religious and nationalistic divisions?
2008 had ended with the welcome and exciting news of the massive strikes, protests and riots sweeping Greece. This phenomenon hinted at the possibility of the rebirth of independent working class politics, as people move to defend themselves against the effects of the growing capitalist depression.
This depression, and the mounting assault on the working class that accompanies it – including job losses, home repossessions and pay cuts, is going to reshape politics one way or another. Our main task has to be to develop a programme of working class self-defence against the capitalist depression, including occupations, strikes and demonstrations. Whilst the Labour Party has totally abandoned working class interests we may be able to build a new movements and consciousness of solidarity and equality.
But there are other forces moving to cash in on the crisis. The fascists of the BNP are preparing for their big opportunity of gaining a seat in this years European Parliamentary elections. The economic and financial crisis, if it is not met by multiracial united working class resistance, will lead to the demoralisation, division and despair that fascism and racism feast from.
Whilst as internationalists we must act in solidarity with the Palestinians, that is not all we must do. We cannot be content only to build the Gaza protests. Socialists and anticapitalists must shape the politics within these movements, explicitly building bridges between Muslims and Jews, atheists and belivers, white, Asian and black. This is potentially there in the solidarity on the streets over Gaza. Such solidarities must be nurtured, so they can spread into popular working class defence against capitalism. This means challenging every manifestation of anti-Semitism that the crisis can also generate, as well as the manifestations of Islamophobia.
It is obvious that the protests and the Gaza crisis will not automatically benefit socialism and internationalism. The BNP can benfit from the divisions caused, and paint a picture of left wingers and Muslims causing trouble on the streets over a ‘far away’ conflict. The growth of both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism can be the result of the Gaza crisis. However, on the positive side, the Gaza protests represtent the still growing popular conscioussness and awareness of the issues in the Middle East that has resulted from the rejection of the war in Iraq. This can also feed into a new internationalism, which can resist racism and help build working class unity in the face of the capitalist crisis.