Thursday, February 09, 2006
Initial impressions of the Palestinian Peoples Party and the Israeli Communist Youth.
The Palestinian Peoples Party and the Israeli Communist Party have origins dating back to 1919 in what was then called the Socialist Workers Party. The Party then changed its name to The Palestinian Communist Party in 1921. When Palestine was divided in 1948 what is now the PPP (there were more name changes in the interim) started to organise separately from the Israeli Communist Party, although as Siaf puts it they are "not sister parties, but twin parties." Both parties remained part of the Comentern (linked to the soviet union)
The Palestinian Communist Party controversialy accepted resolution 181 for the creation of two states Israel and Palestine back in 1947. They did so Noam argues because they felt that it was the best realistic option given that they wanted to get rid of British imperialism and because they didn't want to be occupied by any other middle eastern country.
Talking to Siaf he had a real sense of pride in his party saying that it was the only Palestinian party that was:
a) organised originally in Palestine as opposed to Jordan or Lebanon etc.
b) the only political party that was set up as a political party in Palestine rather then having its origins elsewhere (unlike say Hamas or Fateh) which started originally as armed organisations.
c) able to maintain international relations on a party to party level (as opposed to relating to governments.
This issue of international relations between parties was discussed further. The PPP seems to be relating to many of the healthy parties that the Democratic Socialist Perspective is relating to in Europe such as the PDS in Germany as well as New European Left Forum (NELF), but they also seemed to be relating to some weird sects such as the United States Communist party over the more healthy Trotskyist formations in the US. In Latin America Siaf said he was planning to go to Chile in 2002 to meet with the Communists there (until his trip was disrupted by the invasion of Iraq), but he seemed to think this was a bigger priority then relating to the real revolutionary processes that are happening in Cuba, Venezuela and now Bolivia.
Also now it seems like the PPP are relating to the Chinese Communist Party. I told Siaf that I thought that China had gone down the Capitalist road, he said diplomaticly that "they were just starting relations." In relating I also got the feeling that he didn't want to debate or enquire into my organisations even when I tried to steer the conversations in that direction. I also found it quite difficult to discuss the possibility of joint collaboration.
One positive thing I will say about their international solidarity is that they are very good when it comes to the issue of Iraq. I asked about the Iraqi resistance and whilst he had concerns about the Islamic nature of the resistance in Iraq like in Palestine but he came down totally on the side of supporting the Iraqi resistance against the occupation regardless of its religious character.
The other thing I'd say about the PPP is that they seem to have moved away from an ideological focus to a more non-government development focus. Up until 10 years ago the PPP produced a weekly newspaper and until only 3 years ago they produced a monthly magazine. The newspaper according to Siaf "used to reflect the mass movements."
Both were abandoned due to "a lack of funds" since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But I think the main issue is the PPP are choosing to spend their money on NGO's and development rather then ideologically trying to win leadership of the Palestinian people (leaving that window open to Islamic groups like Hamas). NGO's such as P.A.R.C (an agricultural NGO) and the Palestine Youth Union seem to be the parties main focus [later I had a meeting with an organiser for the youth union and I will post more thoughts shortly].
In terms of their international work Saif boasted a camp they ran in Jericho with people from Sweden and the focus he placed seemed to be more on volunteer work in the community then political education. Even in terms of ideology although the PPP consider themselves communist Siaf commented definitively that they don't follow the ideas from Marx and subsequent Marxist thinkers but "simply apply Marxist methodology, dialectical materialism."
After I left the PPP national office to go to Jerusalem I ended up facing some problems at the check point [see previous post], but I managed to meet up with Noam from the Israeli Communist Youth League (CYL). I went to their Jerusalem office, it was small about the size of resistance old gelling office. Despite Jerusalem and Tel Aviv being the major cities in Israel both of them have a very small number of comrades. The Jerusalem branch of the CYL was only re-established in the last 6-7 years and the Tel Aviv branch only in the last couple of years. Whilst 80% of the population in Israel is Jewish, the Israeli Communist Party (ICP) is 95% Arab. The main support base for the ICP coming from the Arab villages up north such as Nazareth where apparently the CYL has about 100-200 members and where they can mobilise thousands of people for May Day demonstrations.
According to Noam the ICP was majority Jewish until the mid 1960's when there was a split. This 1965 split According to Noam had many good points such as critiquing the lack of democracy in the Stalinist influenced ICP, however the split ended up supporting the 6 day war in 1967 which saw the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many of the people who had split off from the ICP who tried to rejoin were put off by the party in true Stalinist style forcing apologies from them as a condition of re-joining and many of them simply dropped out.
The CYL in Jerusalem seems to have a much bigger focus on political education then the PPP. They have weekly branch meetings, the one the following day was to feature an educational on Rosa Luxemburg. They had 5 comrades go to the World Federation of Democratic Youth conference in Venezuela and have organised forums with the Venezuelan ambassador. They produce a monthly magazine (see pictures below). The articles Noam pointed out to me (I don't understand Hebrew) included something on the privatisation of universities, an article on why students should support teachers out on strike and a materialist history of wichcraft. There was also an article defending Israel's who refused to serve in the military.
Interestingly the ICP and the CYL don't have a position on whether there members should refuse to serve in the Israeli army (other then to defend members who refuse to serve). This goes for both inside and outside the occupied territories. Whilst the Tel Aviv organiser of the CYL is also the organiser of a refusing group, Noam who is both an organiser and on the CYL's central committee refuses to serve in the occupied territories but was Commander in the recruitment division. He felt that given the majority of working class Israelis completed their military service that refusing to serve would only isolate him as a "leftwing ratbags."
Interestingly the two greatest challenges that seem to face the CYL and the ICP seem to be a lack of centralisation within the organisation and its relationship with Hadash a united front they are involved with. It was difficult for Noam to provide me with facts or figures on the current state of the organisations outside of Jerusalem. There is no National Office and the CYL doesn't even have an organisers list or a regular bulletin. National Conferences only happen every 4 years which is a very long time for a youth organisation.
initiatives come out of individual branches (such as the magazine which started in Jerusalem) but there is no co-ordination so while it appears that there is a focus on Marxist education in the Jerusalem branch I couldn't find out if the same was true for other branches or even find out what other branches main focuses were. For a communist organisation it seemed that the ICP was more an anarcho-syndicalist federation of branches in their operation then democratic centralist. I think they like the PPP are still recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union and what it means in terms of loosing paid organisers etc. Noam was leading the branch despite trying to balance 2 jobs and study.
The other problem is that most of the ICP's political profile seems to be overshadowed by Hadash the united front that the ICP uses in elections and other campaigns. Whilst the majority of Hadash's members are in the ICP the ICP seems to be hidden by Hadash a leftist coalition which has several Arab parties in it, further reinforcing the idea that they are primarily one of the Arab parties rather then a Communist party.
Noam and I discussed the possibility of links between our organisations such as them writing copy for Green Left Weekly and possibly me giving an educational as some point during my stay.
I hope to meet both Noam and Samir Saif again. Both of them have agreed to meet with me in the following week. Should anyone have anything they want me to ask either one of them e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org