Marxist theory and settler colonialism: Amir Locker-Biletzki, ‘Class, Capital and Colonies in India and Palestine/Israel’, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 21, 2, 2019


Excerpt: In recent years the use of settler-colonialism as an analytical concept of scholarship critical of the history and social structure of Palestine/Israel has become prevalent. Mainly scholars such as Lorenzo Veracini and Patrick Wolfe have developed the study of settler-colonial societies (“Introducing” 1-12; Settler; “Settler” 313-33; Wolfe). Their scholarly debate describes colonial societies as ones where white settlers attempted to eliminate the natives (not in all cases by physical annihilation). In such places the settlers created a settler nation-state, animated by the practice of invasion and removal of the native. A more explicit rendering of Zionist colonial logic is to be found in the seminal work of Israeli critical sociologist Gershon Shafir, justly regarded as one of the founders of settler-colonial studies. His groundbreaking work Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict outlines a sophisticated theory that defines the link between Zionism and settler colonialism. Land, Labor portrays the rise of Zionist colonialism out of the needs of the Eastern European settlers of the Second Aliya (literally “Ascending”: the Zionist concept of Jewish emigration into Palestine) and their encounter with Palestine and its inhabitants (Shafir). The aim of this text in not to disprove the settler-colonial rendition of Zionism, but to show its intellectual “prehistory” in the words of Communist ideologues from the 1920s to the 1950s and the way Marxists in present-day Israel think about the colonial formation of the country.

One distinguishing characteristic of past and present settler-colonial theory is its distance from Marxist theoretical debate. In the case of Palestine/Israel, Marxist anti-Zionists were the first to describe the Zionist project as a colonial one. As will be detailed in the following pages, Israeli Marxists associated with the Communist Party (CP) theorized about Zionist colonialism. Working from within a Marxist tradition – which amalgamated Karl Marx’s writings about European expansion together with V.I. Lenin’s explanation of imperialism – they described the way capital accumulation and class formation drove the Zionist settler project. This article will trace a Marxist intellectual lineage that starts with Marx and Lenin, proceeding through such Indian colonial thinkers as M.N. Roy and R.P. Dutt, and ending with Israeli Marxists like Moshe Sneh, Eliyahu (Alyosha) Gozansky, Meir Vilner and Tamar Gozansky. For these Marxists, the colonial project was driven by two main motivations: class formation and capital accumulation.

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