Socialist Revolutionaries for Hamas?
6 December 2023
Expressions of joy in the face of mass casualty terrorist attacks are not common in Britain. And yet these very sentiments were expressed, here and abroad, in the hours, days and weeks since Hamas perpetrated their atrocities in Israel on 7 October. British groups, activists and demonstrators have voiced support – even happiness – over the Hamas attacks. This persisted despite the acts of indiscriminate murder of civilians of all ages, the taking of hostages and sexual crimes making the Hamas-led attacks more akin to a modern-day pogrom.
In the UK, many (perhaps most) activists have deployed tired, familiar euphemisms of supporting “the right to armed struggle” and “victory to resistance” by “whatever means they choose”. These are accompanied online by equally euphemistic hashtags such as #resistanceisduty or #glorytofreedomfighters.
Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), for example, wasted no time. Within hours of the attacks, the Trotskyist group’s Socialist Worker posted an article titled “Why Palestinians are right to resist Israel”. With much excitement, the article reported that, “Palestinian fighters launched resistance attacks”, had “won huge military gains” and “effectively controlled all illegal Israeli settlements at the Gaza border”. For the SWP, all Israeli communities west of the Jordan River are illegal settlements that, like Israel itself, must be dismantled to make way for a binational state.
The Socialist Worker article explicitly stated that, “Palestinian people have every right to respond in any way they choose to the violence that the Israeli state metes out to them every day”. Staying true to brand, the SWP also made sure to mention that “the revolt included a powerful strike by Palestinian workers”, as though a purported workers’ rebellion somehow mitigated the nature of the atrocities committed. (One can’t help but reminded of the peasant in Monty Python’s Holy Grail shouting, “Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again”.)
On 10 October, three days later after the attack, another Socialist Worker article was literally titled “Rejoice as Palestinian resistance humiliates racist Israel”. It tried to comfort readers with the notion that “no revenge will wipe out what was achieved” and that “Resistance can win”.
And on 21 November, the paper reiterated that “heroic Palestinian resistance” was a key component in fighting global imperialism, adding that, “Capitalism is a death machine, and our resistance to it is ever more urgent. The slaughter carried out by Israel in Gaza, and the support from the US and Britain, shows the true face of imperialism.”
Similarly, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the UK branch of the international Islamist group, also described the attacks as “a moment of unparalleled joy and celebration” that evoked “a wave of joy and elation among Muslims globally”. They too referred to the terrorist attackers as “a group of determined resistance fighters” and also as “the lonely mujahideen who resisted the occupiers”. All this, without explicitly praising Hamas or any of the other Palestinian terrorist factions that took part in the attacks.
But unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir and other groups in the UK, the SWP has not stopped at merely supporting “Palestinian resistance”. The Socialist Workers Party has, in fact, revealed itself to be one of the UK’s most open and flagrant supporters of Hamas. A week after the attacks, the Socialist Worker explicitly wrote about “our support for Hamas”, maintaining that, “the resistance by Palestinians against the racist Israeli terror state is wholly justified”. Shrugging off differences of opinion with Hamas over class or LGBT+ rights, the SWP also doubled down on its mantra that their support of Hamas is “unconditional but not uncritical”.
The key passages are important to quote at length:
“Our slogan is that our support is ‘unconditional but not uncritical’. Socialist revolutionaries do not agree with Hamas over class politics women’s and LGBT+ rights or many other questions.
But we don’t make our support for Hamas against Zionism and imperialism conditional on their adoption of a socialist position around these issues.
We are for the Palestinian resistance always and everywhere, even if it does not accept our views on other matters. Anything less is a collapse into pro-imperialism.
Today much of the left says it can’t support the resistance because Hamas is 'backward' or uses violence.”
Several branches of the SWP’s student wing, the Socialist Worker Student Societies (SWSS), posted infographics of this same Socialist Worker article on their Instagram accounts. This includes SWP Manchester/Manchester SWSS, Trinity SWSS, Oxford SWSS and Swansea SWSS.
A couple weeks later, the Socialist Worker expanded on these points by writing as follows:
"A defeat for Israel would be the best outcome, and it’s why we hope Hamas hurls back the offensive.
It would give confidence to others fighting back to overthrow their oppressors. It would guarantee the end of Netanyahu and his far right coalition.
We do not share Hamas’s politics. But its victory would be a further humiliation for Israel and the US and a massive blow against global imperialism".
Since November 2021, Hamas in its entirety has been a proscribed terrorist organisation under UK law. Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, was banned over 22 years ago, in March 2001. UK terrorism legislation makes it a criminal offence to engage in various activities in support of any proscribed group, regardless of ideology. This includes, among other offences, the following:
- inviting support of a proscribed organisation
- expressing an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed group
- wearing clothing or displaying articles in public suggesting support of such a group.
On these grounds, UK police have to date charged numerous individuals with offences allegedly showing their support for Hamas, including three women who displayed images of a paraglider, seemingly in support of Hamas, during a London demonstration on 14 October. (None of these charges are in any way connected to the SWP or Hizb ut-Tahrir.)
To be clear, the SWP’s support for Hamas predates the current conflict. Earlier this year, the Socialist Worker published a revised edition of its 2014 pamphlet, “Palestine - Resistance, revolution and the struggle for freedom". This text is replete with justifications for Hamas’ “courageous armed resistance”, as well as the “right to resist” by Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions.
But the pamphlet also includes an article, also originally penned in 2014, by a representative of the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt titled “Towards a revolutionary perspective on Hamas”. Crucially, this featured piece minces no words:
“We consider Hamas to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism. From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel”.
The piece also distinguishes between groups such as Islamic State (which is considered “reactionary”) with Hamas and Hizbollah that “came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism”.
The fact that the revised edition of this pamphlet still contains such deliberate support for the military and political objectives of Hamas is a cause for serious concern. And these concerns are amplified when considering that SWP stalls have openly displayed this pamphlet during recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London; that SWP’s student wing at the University of Bristol, Bristol SWSS (Socialist Worker Student Societies), reportedly sold copies of the pamphlet to students during a walkout and protest on 18 October; that a student reported receiving a copy of the pamphlet in a public space on the grounds of City University campus; and that recent issues of the Socialist Worker newspaper continue to promote their pamphlet after The Sun newspaper publicised its contents.
While the SWP’s fervour for armed resistance and Hamas has not shifted, the Socialist Worker has joined others in denying or minimising the extent of Hamas’ atrocities despite documented evidence. “Israel makes up lies too, that Palestinians rape people and kill babies”, claimed one piece. Another article, titled “Don’t believe official version of 7 Oct events”, even advised readers that, “NOBODY can believe a word that comes from official Israeli sources. There are growing doubts about what exactly happened on 7 October”. Any Israeli news, then, is treated as a lie.
The SWP has decades of form agitating against Zionism and issues relating to the Middle East. Shockingly, almost exactly 17 years ago, the Socialist Worker even published a cartoon invoking the antisemitic trope blaming Israel (read: the Jews) for killing Jesus Christ. The cartoon remains on the website as of this writing.
In the late 1970s, the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party were the primary activists trying to ban Zionism on British university campuses. In 1977, an activist from the SWP’s York University student wing was quoted in the Socialist Worker saying that, “It is because we oppose all racism that we oppose an openly Zionist and racist Jewish society”.
In the late 1980s, the SWP published one of its ‘classic’ pamphlets, “Israel: The Hijack State-America’s Watchdog in the Middle East”, conveying the traditional Trotskyist position that Israel is the Middle East garrison of imperialist America. In these and other publications, the group revised the history of Israel’s establishment, minimized historical Jewish links to the land of Israel, glorified “Palestinian resistance” and branded Israel a “terrorist state.”
In the early and mid-2000s, George Galloway and his supporters, along with elements from the SWP and the Muslim Association of Britain, combined to form a loose coalition comprising the (since defunct) Respect political party. Respect was only one of the manifestations of the left-Islamist alliance in the UK. More broadly, this pragmatic alliance has seen British far-left activists cooperating with British Islamist groups that have had links to the Muslim Brotherhood and sympathies with, or support for, Hamas and Hizbollah.
Notwithstanding some ideological disagreements, the basis of the left-Islamist shared vision generally rested on a mutual antipathy of the imperialist United States, the dream of Israel’s destruction (i.e., the “Zionist project”) and a craving for the collapse of global market capitalism. In great part, today’s displays of this left-Islamist tradition are maintained by some of the groups that organised the large national demonstrations over the last two months, where Socialist Worker placards are ubiquitous.
Over the last 20 years, this combination of jihadist fervour and far-left support for the violence of Third World liberation movements has fostered left-wing sympathy and support for Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians. For activists immersed in this worldview, supporters of Hamas are seen as more “progressive” than even partial supporters of Israel. This outlook was expressed most vividly in the Socialist Worker Party’s International Socialism journal 15 years ago:
“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically)”.
These words, in essence, tells us the whole story. But for how much longer can the Socialist Workers Party continue to express “our support for Hamas” with impunity?