People gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, during the Egyptian revolution in 2011 to call for an end to sectarian divides and support for Palestine (Picture: Gigi Ibrahim/Flickr)

The ­brutality directed against Palestinians is symptomatic of a vicious system. Zionism and imperialism are bound to a system of competition, conquest and profit making.

Those who resist face ­terrifying enemies. Those who confront Israel, for example, must confront a state with all the latest technology of death and the support of the Western powers.  

But the struggle for ­freedom from Zionism and colonialism is one example of a wider problem. It is that we have to find a way to stop people who will stop at nothing.

Capitalist society, through environmental destruction, is taking the whole of humanity to the edge of a precipice. No amount of pleading will ­convince our rulers of the error of their ways.

Competition and national rivalries have spawned a world of wars, conflicts that today have recreated the possibility of fighting with nuclear weaponry. And simply winning a ­parliamentary election leaves the system untouched.

The power of the ruling class does not lie primarily in ­winning or losing elections. Their real control is rooted in their ownership and direction of the economic levers in society.

Whichever party people vote for, this structure is largely untouched. And so is the state structure of cops, generals, spies and surveillance. 

Winning democratic ­freedoms—the right to strike, to protest, to organise trade unions and campaign organisations, to vote and to speak out—is important. But it’s only a start.

The majority of society have to democratically seize control of the economic, political and social power and use it in their own interests.

Hal Draper, a Marxist who took part in the struggles of the 1960s in the United States, explained a central division on how this can be done.

“Throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism From Above and Socialism From Below,” he wrote.

The variants of socialism from above include relying on MPs in parliament, or a group of armed fighters, or ­persuading sections of the ruling class to see sense.

These can seem very ­different approaches. Keir Starmer is not the same as the leader of Palestine Islamic Jihad. But they do have a unifying feature. 

Draper argued they all ­distrusted or were hostile towards the working class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. 

In contrast the heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realised only through the self-emancipation of ­activated masses in motion”.

They have to be “reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”

The battle against Zionism is crucial. But winning requires using the methods of “from below” struggle.

And if those methods are used, involving the mass mobilisation of many millions of people, they can go beyond the defeat of this particularly toxic variant of imperialism and capitalism.  

They can link together ­freedom from national oppression with the struggle for wages and equality and against ­women’s and LGBT oppression.

This is what we mean by a revolution. It involves ordinary people taking part in their own emancipation and in doing so throwing off all the shackles that normally hold them down. Our enemies fear how a fight over one issue can grow into wider struggles.

Last week the Israeli ­military lashed out at climate activist Greta Thunberg, after she sent a message supporting Palestinians and endorsed a comment which said a “genocide” was being perpetrated in Gaza.

Thunberg said “the world needs to speak up and call for an immediate ceasefire, justice and freedom for Palestinians and all civilians affected”. 

In reaction, Arye Sharuz Shalicar, spokesperson for the Israeli army, said, “Whoever identifies with Greta in any way in the future, in my view, is a terror supporter.”

Our rulers’ fear is that all of us with a grudge against this society will overcome the divisions pushed form the top and direct our hatred at the real criminals—the rich and the politicians who support them. 

The unity that runs from the Israeli butchers to BP to Rishi Sunak has to be met by a ­revolutionary unity of workers and the poor across the globe.

For Karl Marx revolutions are “locomotives of history”. Today, in an era of system collapse, we might equally agree with the 1930s Marxist Walter Benjamin that revolutions are an attempt by the passengers on this train—namely, the human race—to pull the emergency brake.

Without a revolution, even great victories can be hurled back, and promises of freedom dashed. South African black people defeated apartheid after an epic struggle lasting some 45 years. 

They did so with immense sacrifice and courage. But because capitalism remained in the “new” South Africa, the horrors of racial oppression and dire poverty remained.  Is a revolution possible in the Middle East today?

The most powerful ­counter‑force to the ruling class is the organised working class. When workers withdraw their labour, they cut off the source of profit and challenge the power of the bosses.

The high points of the Sudanese revolution since 2019 have been when workers took action in alliance with the mass demonstrations and the ­grassroots organisations.

Even when workers are a minority in society, their ­powerful struggles can be a focus for all the poor and the oppressed.

This is a central lesson from the Russian revolution of 1917 when the workers’ struggles gave a lead to the peasants and the oppressed nationalities.

The Palestinian general strike of May 2021 showed a powerful unity of militant street movements and workers’ action. And it came a decade after the wave of revolt that from 2010 to 2012 led to mass strikes, ­protests and, eventually, ­revolution in the Middle East.

But those revolutions were defeated. Whether a revolution is ­successful depends on the levels of consciousness and organisation and the type of leadership within the workers’ movement.

Often the ­political forces that benefit from revolutionary explosions are those that at first wanted to contain them. 

In the case of Egypt in 2011 a great mass movement confronted the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for 30 years. 

The street protests and ­occupations of public squares combined with workers’ strikes. Yet while the economic and political demands fed into each other, neither really overcame the separation between them.

The Revolutionary Socialists (RS) party attempted to draw the different strands of ­revolution together. It called for a workers’ ­government after Mubarak was toppled and for a cleansing of all the old structures.

The RS stressed the need not to stop at political change but to go on to economic transformation. And it championed the freedom of women, religious minorities—and effective solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

The RS pushed for ­alternative forums of genuine democracy involving working class people to challenge the non-democracy of parliament. 

This was what “socialism from below” meant in the stormy moments of Egypt in 2011. But the RS was too small, just as Rosa Luxemburg’s Communist Party was too small in Germany as workers rose in revolution a the end of the First World War.

In both cases—Egypt and Germany—the revolutionary process became dominated by reformists who sought to weaken workers’ organisation and to consolidate capitalism and its state structures.

Without bigger ­numbers and a unified workers’ ­movement, alternative ideas couldn’t spread in the face of ­counter‑revolutionary forces.  

That’s why Socialist Worker doesn’t just agitate for ­revolution but also for a revolutionary party to unite, organise and direct the mass explosion of workers’ anger and power.

Everyone who struggles against low pay, racism, war, sexism and oppression must be brought together in a fight aimed at the system.

Channelling that ­collective anger to bring the system down means battling for victory in Palestine and against the system that caused and shapes Palestine’s oppression.

Karl Marx argued with the Communist League in 1850 that workers had to go through “ 15 or 20 or 50 years” of momentous struggle to change their conditions, “but also in order to change yourselves and render yourselves fit for political domination”.

We don’t pretend revolution is easy. 

But we have to fight urgently to build for one. And that means joining socialist revolutionary organisation now.

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