Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said
by Edward W. Said
Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003, 225 pp. pb
Middle East Illusions
by Noam Chomsky
Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003, 299 pp. hb
Reviewed December 2007
This is a belated review of two books on the I$raeli-Palestinian conflict. Born in 1935, Edward Said, the Palestinian dispossessed from Jerusalem in 1948 died in 2003.(1) Since 1948, we can think of the global decolonizations that happened, the liberation of Vietnam, the end of apartheid, the collapse of Soviet social- imperialism--and still the Mideast did not untangle. Said died before there was even a peaceful resolution to the 1967 war between Arabs and I$raelis. So in a way, these two books are a sobering testament to the difficulties of the Mideast conflict.
In Middle East Illusions Chomsky referred to youthful hopes connected to working in a kibbutz (Chomsky, pp. 39-41) in I$rael before increasing disillusionment with I$rael. MIM found Middle East Illusions useful in locating Noam Chomsky politically, moreso than books that alleged to explain his anarchism.
Edward Said was a literary critic, outspoken on the Palestine question and under constant federal surveillance.(2) Although there is a famous photo of his throwing a rock during a Palestinian rebellion called "intifada," he actually opposed armed struggle for the Palestinian cause.
Said described a moralistic shut-out of I$rael by Arabs that he opposed. He felt that the boycott mentality cut off Palestinians from outside support.(Said, pp. 16-19)
Said's ideology was individualist (Said, p. 98) and pro-democracy. He described himself as someone who would never vote for PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) leader Yasser Arafat, but once elected in 1996, Said considered Arafat a legitimate elected leader. In some regards, Said was to Arafat's right, but Said regarded Arafat's participation in the peace process as a sell-out. Chomsky too said Arafat as being made into a "collaborator."
Both Said and Chomsky referred to the situation with Palestine as "colonial"; although, Chomsky sometimes veered into calling it "neo-colonial" as well. Said's interviewer David Barsamian claimed that the first mainstream press recognition of I$raeli colonialism came in 2000 in the British magazine the "Economist."(Said, p. 36)
Like Chomsky,(Chomsky, p. 26) Said was for a binational state, which means a secular Israel with both Jewish and Palestinian populations. Culture and Resistance is a South End Press title just as an earlier Chomsky work on the Mideast, The Fateful Triangle.
With the U.$. newspapers very shallow and the TV even worse, Western readers have to go to the bookstore, where they will have no choice but to pick up Chomsky and Said when it comes to the Mideast or miss out on what is really going on. This said, MIM nonetheless disagrees with the two authors, who we see as both rooted in an inaccurate political economic analysis.
The foundation of Chomsky's belief in a binational solution is the hope for finding a secular state with an agenda to satisfy common needs of Palestinians and Jews. In this sense, Chomsky's analysis always suffered from an inaccurate analysis of exploitation, since to this day he believes there is an I$raeli "working class," (Chomsky, p. 216) where we at MIM see only exploiters. This observation, again is not "academic" except to the exceptionally blighted.
With I$rael already bourgeoisified, the addition of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would be under capitalist domination, thus exacerbating the national tensions that already exist. We would be speaking of a class gap greater than exists between the French and Poles in the European Union. Alternatively, socialism would entail repression of the I$raelis, but it is impossible to see this occurring by a Palestinian population approximately equal in size to the I$raelis'. The resulting binational state would be too bourgeois for socialism.
Even a European social-democracy for I$rael led by pseudo-communist parties seems infeasible. If under Reagan "welfare queens" was the codeword attack on Blacks, we can only imagine what would happen in I$rael if suddenly I$raelis had to pay taxes for welfare systems for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, unless of course it was a second-class welfare system while I$raelis themselves enjoyed much better. An integrated social-democracy would have to be paid for by Amerikans on a long-term basis. Amerikans would do well for themselves to pay for a binational welfare state including Palestinians, but there would be I$raelis clamoring for other uses of money and feeling resentful. That is not to mention that I$raelis now feel secure behind their walls and gates. The dirty secret is that so-called democracy as it exists under capitalism can only handle a limited range of demands. South Africa is no exception where an overwhelming majority of exploited people nonetheless remains exploited, because we do not imagine I$rael giving in to such a solution.
Chomsky suffers from another illusion, one common among those opposing Stalin--Yugoslavian "market socialism" under Tito. The "local control" supported by many led to ethnic cleansing, but Chomsky got that wrong and actually saw Yugoslavia as a model for Palestinian and I$raeli relations. (Chomsky, p. 62) Unity of peoples comes from concrete economic unity, not easy-going Liberal papering over of differences. The state under Stalin was highly visible and with a possibility of uniting nationalities. The state under Tito had fewer such possibilities, because the workers did not know their commonalities in a concrete way. Only an accountable struggle has the possibility of uniting people.
We take some solace that Said said he could imagine a two-state interim solution.(Said, p. 63) Likewise, it seems to this reviewer that 60 years from now, I$rael if left to itself will turn secular. At that point it can contemplate a European Union style unity with Palestine, if the species survives imperialism that long. For now, the embitterment of 60 years of war and the economic gap preclude a sudden binational solution; although, we recognize that such a solution would be huge progress and there must in fact be many I$raelis tired of the conflicts surrounding "recognition of the Jewish character of Israel."
For the same reason that we object to constant harking back to William Foster and Big Bill Haywood as if Amerika had an industrial proletariat, we find it wrong to hark back to the kibbutz for a solution to I$rael's problems. The economic reality was never there and is even less there now. As Chomsky pointed out, from the beginning of I$rael's existence and before, the more bourgeois-minded I$raelis did not see a socialist-pacifist answer. Today to speak of Foster in Amerika or some socialist-pacifist answer carried out by I$raelis is just too fanciful to be worth discussing. The very discussion and continued harping on such historical imagery tends to confuse issues including the division between exploiter and exploited. The publication of Chomsky's "Nationalism and Conflict in Palestine" might have been acceptable in an economic situation similar to the 1930s, but today it simply dulls the class struggle.
Here in passing we see Chomsky make use of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (Chomsky, pp. 73, 76) to advocate pacifism by the Palestinians. Again, where there was a single working-class needing unity, such a strategy had potential. It amounted to saying Palestinian workers and peasants and I$raeli exploited people should not commit terrorism against each other and instead should focus on their common demand for a state satisfying "human needs" as socialists and social-democrats put it.
Rosa Luxemburg is doubly satisfying to Chomsky, because she came with libertarian and democratic pretensions against Marxism-Leninism. MIM has excoriated her as horribly off-base in her faith in the European working classes. Her Euro-centered view was even worse than Trotsky's, because Trotsky often felt a political need to fall behind Lenin. It's a pity that to this day the white so-called Left just cannot let her go to the dustbin of history--partly for gender tokenism reasons run amok. Chomsky quotes her as against all national liberation wars.
The odd thing about Chomsky is that even in the 1960s he perceived that there was little political hope for his line in the Mideast. Nonetheless, his published work of 1974 went so far as to oppose the PLO for saying that I$raelis had no possibility of change from within; (Chomsky, pp. 77, 80) even though, we see countless pessimistic observations from Chomsky and here we are in 2007 reading his book published in 1974, often with little changed. Chomsky himself pointed out that Amerikans did know from mainstream media that our Secretary of State Madelaine Albright thought the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it." (Chomsky, p. 201) It's not enough to shout "hypocrisy" as Chomsky does on the last page of his book. The very concept of hypocrisy is also conservative. We have to read Chomsky's many correct observations but string them together with a correct theory: there is no Amerikan proletariat to awaken from a political slumber.
In practice, Chomsky's internationalism has been much better than that of today's followers of Rosa Luxemburg. We would say it is time for Chomsky to abandon the strategy of unifying a non-existent cross- national "working class."
Whereas Mao simply sought to surround the cities from the countryside when he had difficulty with the cities and Mao also had separate tactics for being behind enemy lines in the cities, Chomsky did what most of the left-wing of parasitism did-- refuse to give up a dream no matter how much economic reality changed even during his lifetime. Chomsky said it himself in 1974 that Egyptians had one-tenth the per capita income of I$raelis and that that gap was scheduled to grow: he was right. (Chomsky, p. 88) In contrast, we at MIM say there is no shame in admitting to being behind enemy lines. Dishonor arises when we refer to the demands of the exploiters as those of the exploited, simply because we cannot imagine how to fight when we are among exploiters. That is letting the tail wag the dog, when for environmental consumption reasons alone, Amerikkkans and I$raelis have to be counted as world enemy. Chomsky should keep his internationalism and his acute sense of the lack of political possibilities for socialist binationalism and switch to the MIM line.
Both Chomsky and Said stick to a "false consciousness" line of Amerikkkans common among those who see a majority of Amerikkkans exploited by capitalists who bamboozle them. Said goes so far as to boil it down to three media owners. Said said that if the media would only interview him, Amerikkkans would turn around, because "when given a quarter of a chance, [they] will see the justice and the injustice of the situation."(Said, p. 60) On the same page, Said mentions the Gulf and anti-imperialism; yet Amerikan Jews were more likely to oppose the Gulf War than the rest of white Amerikans according to polls(3)--so much for his faith in Amerikkkans.
We agree with Said and Chomsky on Palestine only up to the point of colonialism. That a binational socialism is the answer is surely not remotely on the minds of Amerikkkans, no matter what USA Today and Fox News would feed them. At best, Amerikkkans will think more of the decolonization of the Third World or possibly giving the vote to Palestinians as in South Africa.
When we look at the Mideast, we see no short-term possibilities for an end to imperialism. At the moment, we can only ask for the most possible peace within capitalism. Then our movements should turn to those places where rapid gains can be made for socialism: I$rael is not one of them.
Chomsky ends with an essay on 9/11 and here we would comment just on Said's sensibility regarding 9/11. Said took the anti-terrorist stance as one would expect from a pacifist or near-pacifist with his underlying hopes for a binational state in the Palestinian mandate territory. Most of the world probably agreed with him when he said that he thought 9/11 would make Amerikans realize that "we are vulnerable and that we belong as a nation and a people to world history and world politics."(Said, p.168) He said Amerikans would go on to wonder about criticisms of Amerika from abroad. That is true of educated Amerikans. Yet the Amerikan response to being vulnerable is not going to be the same as the European or Third World sensibility. There has not been an ongoing sense of the cost of war, not just in military terms but in terms of how much of the society's surplus it is going to cost. As far as Amerikans can tell, there is no limit to military and security parasitism, no sense that it costs them anything. We are only now at the point where Bush's popularity goes down with every headline about appropriations for Afghanistan and Iraq. Such an effect is much more pronounced elsewhere in the world and with regard to much smaller sums and proportions of money.
2. Said, p. 191. http://www.counterpunch.org/pricesaid.html
3. 66% of Jews opposed the Iraq War in 2004 and they supported Kerry overwhelmingly.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39745-2004Sep21.html Whites were the only ethnic group to vote in a majority for Bush.