War and resistance—in Palestine and beyond

Issue: 183

Joseph Choonara

Our previous issue of International Socialism went to press carrying the banner headline, “Globalise the Intifada!”.1 By the time it returned from the printers, student encampments in solidarity with Gaza had sprung up in universities in the United States, a form of protest that would indeed, shortly after, go global.

The encampments are a key element within one of the greatest campaigns of international solidarity yet witnessed. It is necessary in these moments to pinch oneself and remember how unthinkable the current movement for Palestine would have been in previous periods. A growing awareness of the brutalising logic of imperialism and the sheer accumulation of atrocities committed by the Israeli state, along with decades of persistent campaigning work by Palestinians, socialists and pro-Palestinian activists, have transformed the situation.

Never before has Israel been so isolated on the world stage. Criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s assault on Gaza extends well beyond the movement on the streets and university campuses. In May, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—an organ of the United Nations that was already considering a case alleging that Israel is committing genocide—issued an order demanding that Israel halt its attack on the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Two days later, Israel, ignoring the ICJ order, attacked displaced refugees sheltering in a “safe zone” next to a UN centre in Tal al-Sultan. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) described it as an “intelligence-based, precise strike”.2 At least 45 Palestinians were killed and 249 injured by the blasts and the resulting fire in the Brix refugee camp. The attack was condemned by the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and by European Union officials. Even in Germany, where the government has hitherto staunchly supported Israel, vice chancellor Robert Habeck felt forced to criticise its “disproportionate approach in the Gaza Strip”.3

US president Joe Biden, along with British foreign secretary David Cameron, were also isolated in their backing for Israel’s genocidal offensive in Rafah. Biden claimed that the butchery and burning of unarmed refugees did not cross a “red line” for withholding shipments of US arms as he had earlier pledged to do if the IDF targeted “heavily populated” areas of Rafah.4 Increasingly, the US and Britain have found themselves out of step with the majority of states around the world. Ireland, Norway and Spain each announced plans to recognise Palestine as a state, joining the 143 UN member states that already do so, which includes most of those in Africa, Asia and South America.

Further pressure on Netanyahu came from the International Criminal Court (ICC), a separate body to the ICJ established by the 1998 Rome Treaty and recognised by 124 states. The ICC’s prosecutor has requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders, for war crimes.5 Although the US does not recognise the ICC, the hypocrisy of Biden in condemning the actions of the prosecutor as “outrageous”, while celebrating the earlier ICC warrant against Russia’s Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine, has been widely noted.6

These developments are, of course, no cause for any illusion in the capacity of an “international rules-based order” to address the wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians or others subject to colonial oppression.7 The tensions between the US and many EU states reflect different approaches to defending an imperialist order that they helped to create—with various European powers favouring a more collaborative and conciliatory approach while the US adopts an increasingly autocratic approach, which extends to its most important rival, China.8 They differ over how best to manage the international order, but not over the need to bolster and protect capitalist interests.

Nonetheless, the relative isolation of Israel and its closest allies on the diplomatic stage does reflect three important factors that, when taken together, point to a path towards Palestinian freedom. The first is the resilience of the Palestinians themselves; this is a history of resistance extending over a century, facing off against British colonialism, Zionist settlement, ethnic cleansing, occupation and repeated barbaric onslaughts.9 Second, there is the unprecedented wave of global solidarity noted above. Third, there is the evolution of Israel’s domestic politics, rooted in longer-term changes to its place within the imperialist system, eroding the Israeli state’s role as a key guarantor of Western interests in the region.10 It is this third factor, above all else, that has led even staunch allies of Israel such as Biden, along with senior officials in his administration, to ask whether Netanyahu is damaging the US’s—and also Israel’s—longer-term interests.11

This analysis will focus on these developments before considering how the wider political disorder is affecting politics closer to home—including here in Britain.

A brutal but failing onslaught

For all the horrors inflicted on the population of Gaza, the IDF’s offensive has not succeeded in destroying Hamas. Palestinian fighters have re-emerged in northern and central areas of the Gaza Strip where they had supposedly been eradicated. On the occasion of the IDF’s second “capture” of al-Shifa hospital, back in March, one former Israeli intelligence officer commented:

The fact that Israel had to go back to this place is a reflection of the fact that we have no strategy… If you took control of this neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza City and destroyed all the Hamas infrastructure there, how come, [when] you leave those places, Hamas immediately gets into the vacuum? It means you didn’t create any new order.12

In mid-May, the IDF was involved in several days of fighting in the Jabalia refugee camp and in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City—both areas where Israel had claimed Hamas was defeated earlier in the campaign. As well as its military presence, Hamas has also sought to re-establish its police and welfare organisations in areas left by the IDF.13 Indeed, there is simply no other force capable of providing even the vestiges of a functioning administration in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’s military response to the invasion reflects how it has developed in the years since it took over the governance of Gaza. Hamas followed the lead of other forces, particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon, by developing the personnel and capacities to operate much more like a regular army. This includes supporting its tactics with weapons such as drones and “explosively formed penetrators”, projectiles designed to penetrate armour that can be fabricated within Gaza, as well as developing its extensive network of offensive and defensive tunnels.14 As the IDF overran northern and central areas of the Gaza Strip, Hamas adapted, combining elements of conventional military tactics with the guerrilla tactics long practiced by Palestinian militias. Its fighters retreated from areas where the IDF had concentrated its forces, only to filter back in as the Israelis withdrew. Despite this use of guerrilla methods, its operations remain far more sophisticated than simple hit-and-run raids. Instead, it has remained capable of sustained, coordinated attacks on Israeli forces. Through these efforts, Hamas has sought to draw the Israelis into a prolonged counter-insurgency, while also negotiating a ceasefire and seeking to increase political pressure internationally for the IDF to withdraw.

This makes sense from a Hamas perspective. As the history of occupations and invasions shows, it is almost impossible to quell popular resistance through a military assault alone. None of the four previous incursions into Gaza in the past 15 years eliminated Hamas or led to a permanent reduction in its capabilities.15 Although polling of opinion is hard during a war, available evidence suggests the support Hamas enjoyed in Gaza before the 7 October attacks is little changed. In the West Bank it has risen considerably.16

The conflict also represents a failure of Israel’s search for high-tech solutions to political and military problems. There are echoes here of the hubris of Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early years of this century.17 Rumsfeld believed that fast-moving, high-tech assaults, with huge firepower (“shock and awe”, as the campaign in Iraq was dubbed), could combine with rapid political shifts on the ground to bring about “regime change” without risking large numbers of US lives. In the case of Iraq, Rumsfeld envisaged a rapid democratic transition as support for Saddam Hussein’s regime melted away—beyond this, there was little planning for the aftermath. In the event, the US was drawn into prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the absence of a political solution, all it could do was further pulverise the population, driving more resistance. We should recall that an estimated 100,000 people were killed in the invasion and first year of occupation of Iraq.18

In the case of Gaza, as one retired IDF major-general put it, the Israeli forces suffered the “illusion that going first into Gaza City would break Hamas psychologically, by taking their symbols of government”, adding, “all the talk of dismantling their brigades and battalions is rubbish”.19 This approach to waging war is not just untenable as a means of destroying Hamas; it also leads to intense violence inflicted on areas with large numbers of civilians. According to a report in The Economist magazine: “An area on the population map constantly updated by the operations room is considered ‘green’ once less than 25 percent of the original population remains. Even then, officers monitoring this admit that ultimately their assessments are merely ‘recommendations’ to commanders in the field.” One officer told the magazine: “We never had an opportunity to call in such a range of airpower—anything from drones to F-35 fighters-jets.” Another added: “The standing orders don’t matter in the field… Just about any battalion commander can decide that whoever moves in his sector is a terrorist or that buildings should be destroyed because they could have been used by Hamas”.20

The lack of a clear goal in the war has sharpened tensions within Israel itself. Although these are divisions within a population broadly committed to the project of settler-colonialism, apartheid and the exclusion of Palestinians, Netanyahu’s specific approach to Gaza has come under fire. By May, one poll of Israeli opinion showed, for the first time, that a narrow majority among the Jewish population believed that the return of hostages was a greater priority than the destruction of Hamas—while most also agreed that the government lacked clear objectives.21 These tensions have also found expression in Netanyahu’s cabinet; Benny Gantz, a minister within Netanyahu’s war cabinet, was threatening to resign in early June if his demand for a post-war plan for Gaza was not met. Meanwhile, far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich said they would quit the governing coalition if Israel reached a ceasefire deal involving the exchange of Palestinian prisoners.

As we went to press, Biden had intervened in this debate, pressing Netanyahu to reach just such a deal. Significantly, this followed discussion between US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Gantz.22 Even Biden now realises that, if Netanyahu continues to insist on “total victory” over Hamas, whatever that might mean, he risks a dynamic that could further draw in neighbouring states, adding to the conflict already taking place between the Houthis in Yemen and the US and Britain. The danger was brought home on 13 April when Iran (in coordination with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and the Houthis) launched a drone and missile attack on Israel, albeit one carefully calibrated to avoid a full-scale war.23

Alongside the Israeli, US, French and British jets scrambled to intercept the projectiles, there were also Jordanian aircraft. Jordan’s long-standing strategic partnership with Israel has been a focus for discontent and protest in the country, which is home to two million Palestinians. It is easy to see how anger against Israel could engender protest and class struggle that could destabilise Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan, that are broadly aligned with the US and its allies. Egypt, home to the largest and most powerful working class in the region, has not seen large-scale protests in 2024. However, as the interview in this issue of International Socialism suggests, there is intense anger that could fuse with the growing economic pressures on ordinary people in Egypt.

This journal has long argued that it is through class struggle from below that the imperialist order in the region can ultimately be shattered, breaking Israeli apartheid and allowing the Palestinians to realise their aspirations for freedom through the creation of a single, democratic state.24

The whiff of ‘68

Meanwhile, we are now seeing a wave of global student activism over Gaza unlike anything since the struggles over the Vietnam War and the black civil rights movement in 1968. Starting with an occupation at New York City’s Columbia University on 17 April, by time of writing, an (already out of date) Wikipedia page enumerated encampments, occupations, walkouts and sit-ins at almost 140 US campuses across 45 of 50 states; 20 encampments in Britain; and others in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. Student protests and other activities were also reported in Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Tunisia and Yemen.25

The US had already seen street protests and direct action over Gaza, although not on the scale of those in Britain, where it is likely that around three to four million people have been involved.26 In the US the issue of Palestine is also more sharply contested than here. Unlike in Britain, more US people are likely to sympathise with Israel than Palestine, although, significantly, this trend is reversed among young Americans (see table 1).27 This helps explain why the encampments, centred on spaces where pro-Palestinian sentiment is most concentrated, have been the most dynamic element in the solidarity movement in the US.

Table 1: Sympathies with Israel and Palestine in the current conflict, US and Britain (percentage).

Sympathies lie more with…

(12-13 Feb)

(13-25 Feb)

US, aged 18-29
(13-25 Feb)









Both equally




Sources: Pew Research (US data), YouGov (British data).

In many ways, the emergence of the encampment movement follows the patterns set by earlier student protests.28 A radical minority of students at Columbia University erected tents on campus, seeking to create a space in which they could express their solidarity with Gaza. As during the student mobilisations in 1968, the movement evoked the contrast between the ideology surrounding higher education and today’s increasingly brutal reality. As Anahid Nersessian, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), put it:

One of the more potent images circulating from the encampments has been of a student holding a sign that reads “Columbia, why require me to read Professor Edward Said if you don’t want me to use it?” The protests have revealed that the American university, which operates more and more as a high-cost degree factory where humanities departments squirm on the chopping block, is still a place where people can learn what is true and act on their knowledge. You cannot, in other words, expect young people to memorise and regurgitate history, economics, political science, moral philosophy and so on for their exams while prohibiting them from taking their education on the road.29

As often happened in 1968, university authorities responded with violence and repression, with the president of Columbia authorising the entry of the New York Police Department onto campus to break up the camp and arrest students. Students returned and built a new encampment as the movement began to spread to other universities across the US. Negotiations with Columbia University authorities took place, breaking down on 29 April, when students participating in the movement were suspended. An occupation of Hamilton Hall, site of a famous occupation in 1968, came in response and was met with a new police raid and an attack on the camp. The result, rather than crushing the rebellion, was to draw more people into the struggle—and to further spread it to other campuses, including those far from the Ivy League of elite higher education institutions.30

The same cycle of radicalisation, repression and expansion of the movement occurred at Columbia in 1968, captured by a letter, written in the form of a diary, sent back to friends in England from the student activist Eleanor Raskin:

Tuesday, April 23: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), here a small and radical undergraduate group, called an outdoor demonstration to protest the arbitrary disciplining of six of its leaders…supposedly being punished for their participation in a demonstration [against the university’s affiliation with the Institute of Defense Analyses] with 200 other people! Hundreds came to the SDS demonstration, why is not clear—a sunny day, an obvious injustice done to SDS?… We…ended up with a sit-in of about 500 people in Hamilton Hall… When I came back the next morning… I found that the black students and Harlem “residents” of Hamilton had decided that they wanted to keep the building as long as possible, and all the whites, from SDS, and other groups, had left and captured the second floor office of the president of the university… About 200 blacks were in Hamilton, which flew the Viet Cong flag and a picture of Stokely [Carmichael, one of the leading figures in the Black Power movement]… A huge crowd of whites stood outside…to barricade from without the captured building…

Thursday, April 25—Monday, April 29: I arrived on campus to find that the white brothers…had taken another two buildings… The University was terrified, of course, and all classes were cancelled… 27,000 students go to Columbia. [By Sunday night,] about 600 of them sat in the main square of the campus, all night long with candles in support of the brothers in the liberated buildings… Hundreds of previously non-political kids wore green armbands, supporting amnesty for the brothers, and our other demands… The faculty was wearing white armbands and standing outside all the liberated buildings…to prevent violence… By Sunday, about 1,000 brothers were inside liberated buildings…

Tuesday, April 30, 3.00am: The police, 1,000-strong, mostly Tactical Police Force, a special riot squad, invade campus… We had all decided against the use of violence… We only resisted arrest by clinging to each other, or going limp to make the police carry us out… I saw my closest friend, a law student who had been sitting next to me, carried out—he went limp, and a cop blackjacked him in the back of his head. All I could see for a couple of minutes was his huge gaping wound and his face and chest covered with blood… All the Columbia students arrested (728) were let out without bail, and our trials begin in June. The whole university, even the hostile athletes and the reactionaries among the faculty, were shocked by the police brutality… We called a strike, which has been very successful in most parts of the university so far… We have always thought that the student body is apathetic, but they have been mobilised by this movement.31

Aside from the dated terminology around race and gender (“whites”, “blacks”, “brothers”), many students at Columbia, and elsewhere, in 2024 will have similar tales to tell.

Student movements often bloom and develop with great rapidity. Yet, lacking the social weight to bring about a radical transformation of society, they also tend to be short lived and easily enter crises. Raskin herself offers an extreme example. In the summer of 1969, as the SDS went into crisis and began to fragment, she joined the Weathermen, a Maoist-influenced movement that promoted solidarity with the Black Power movement and struggles in the Global South. The group, later known as the Weather Underground, ended up launching an ill-advised guerrilla war on US soil. Its development was in many ways the logical consequence of the inability of the 1968 movement to connect with and involve the mass of US workers, which resulted in an impasse for the student radicals.32 Although it is unlikely that the course of events in 2024 will follow precisely that of 1968, it is easy to see similar pressures at work in the student struggle, with debates on how best to build on the successes of the encampment movement. In Britain in particular, the vitality of the broader street movements around Gaza in some ways offers student radicals the opportunity to connect to wider layers of activists beyond campus.33 Nonetheless, if the tempo of the Palestine movement declines, the new generation of student radicals will have to confront some of the same challenges as those of the late 1960s.

In this context, there are three important, interrelated contrasts between 1968 and today.34 First, in some instances, particularly in France in 1968, Italy in 1969 and Britain in 1970-74, the emerging radicalism was able to connect with explosive workers’ struggles.35 This reflected a relatively higher level of confidence among workers. Even though there was recently a significant uptick in strike activity in Britain, nothing comparable with those explosions has yet been witnessed in the advanced capitalist states of the Global North, and strike activity here has currently returned to levels close to where it was before the start of the 2022-23 wave of industrial action.36

One of the tasks for socialists is to engender workplace struggles over Palestine, using the political radicalisation to maintain and strengthen workers’ organisation and confidence, as well as cutting against the notion that the labour movement can only be built through “bread-and-butter” economic demands. Britain has seen a succession of workplace days of action over Gaza. The solidarity strikes by United Auto Workers local 4811, which represents higher education workers in California, are highly significant, along with the decision of its Region 9A to hold a rally in New York City in solidarity with the student encampments. However, the fusing together of the political radicalism over Gaza with the power of workers’ struggle remains quite far from the mind of many activists.

A second difference between 1968 and today is that capitalism is now far less stable. In 1968, the system was emerging from over two decades of sustained economic expansion. By contrast, today we are in an age of capitalist catastrophes: economic malaise and ecological disruption, accompanied by growing inter-imperialist disorder, not least in the Middle East, that feeds on and exacerbates these other dimensions of crisis.37 It is probably no surprise, then, that, though most people continue to take for granted the realities of capitalism on a day-to-day basis, this acceptance co-exists with overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards it. A recent survey of 34 countries found only six in which overall attitudes to capitalism were positive.38

A third difference is that it is not just the left seeking to respond to the developing crisis. Much of the running has been made by hard-right forces around the globe.39 Donald Trump has a credible chance of beating Biden in the US presidential election in November, reflecting the failure of the incumbent to offer anything likely to rouse enthusiasm among those originally who put him into the White House.

Elections to the European Parliament were set to take place shortly after International Socialism went to press, but far-right parties led the polls in Austria, France, Italy and the Netherlands. The foothold that these parties—respectively the Freedom Party of Austria, National Rally, Brothers of Italy and the Party of Freedom—have achieved does not mean an imminent threat of a fascist takeover. However, each is representative of a strand of fascist politics that looks to electoral methods and control over sections of the state to expand its base.40 Not only can these currents, if not successfully confronted, shift the whole spectrum of politics rightward, but, if the crisis were to sharply escalate, they could offer themselves to the ruling class as a force capable of breaking resistance to further attacks on workers’ standards of living.

Even where fascist forces have not made a breakthrough, within more mainstream parties there has been a hardening authoritarianism as political leaders seek to mobilise the state to bolster a system rocked by crises, suppress discontent from below and project power abroad. This typically goes hand in hand with the deployment of racist and other rightist ideologies in efforts to construct a base among increasingly disenfranchised and discontented populations.

Sunak rolls the dice

This brings us to the situation here in Britain. Although the outcome of the general election was unknown at the time of writing, it was likely that the wretched Tory-led administrations of the past 14 years would be swept away in early July, with Keir Starmer’s Labour Party some 20 percent ahead in polls by late May.

Why, then, did Rishi Sunak not opt, as had been widely expected, for an election in November? The obvious explanation is that his administration has been overwhelmed by a succession of capitalist catastrophes, leading to bitter in-fighting within the party, and there was little prospect of things improving by autumn. The disastrous experiment that was Liz Truss’s brief tenure as prime minister wrecked the Conservative Party’s reputation for economic competence, and the party’s poll rating has never recovered. However, Trussonomics was precisely an attempt, if an utterly misconceived one, to address the malaise of British capitalism through an ultra-capitalist supply-side revolution.41 Truss quickly incurred the wrath of the financial markets, dooming her premiership, but the more conventional economics of Sunak and his chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, have not exactly brought about stellar growth. A key factor that spurred Sunak’s decision to go to the polls early was that the public finances were unlikely to allow further tax cuts, while any cuts to interest rates by the Bank of England were not expected to produce a significant “feel good factor”.

Meanwhile, Sunak’s flagship policy, deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, risked falling into disarray.42 This sharpened the already factional atmosphere generated by the succession of failed administrations—Theresa May, Boris Johnson, then Truss and Sunak, all in the space of five years.

Sinking into the mire, Sunak had little option but to lurch even further to the right. Just before the election was called, the tone was set by Michael Gove, one of a large number of Tory MPs who subsequently announced plans to step down. In a heavily trailed speech, Gove launched an extraordinary ideological attack on the Palestine movement and the left. He began with the usual dishonest claim that the encampment movement was antisemitic, particularly galling from a representative of a party that has welcomed to Downing Street those who really do perpetuate antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán and Trump. Then, along with scare-stories about Islamist radicals, and a namecheck for the Socialist Workers Party among other left-wing groups, he went on:

The radical left, the extreme left, rejects the idea that successful states…can have prospered because of free markets, enlightenment values, liberal parliamentarianism, property rights and capitalism… The hard left finds it impossible to acknowledge that higher material living standards—and indeed greater human flourishing—in some states rather than in others is better explained by reference to Adam Smith, John Locke, Edmund Burke and Karl Popper rather than Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon and Edward Said.43

Gove thus signalled a further escalation in the “culture wars”, dissected by Judy Cox in her article in this issue of the journal, showing how these wars are, in the final analysis, an element in the class war. This approach has emboldened forces even further to the right, with Nigel Farage announcing his candidature in Clacton, Essex, for his current party, Reform UK, on a hard racist platform. Meanwhile, in early June, fascist leader Tommy Robinson led around 5,000 supporters through the capital behind the slogan “This is London—not Londonistan”.44 Such developments show the importance of continuing efforts by the left to build anti-fascist and anti-racist organisation, a project that will necessarily retain its importance under a Labour government.

Meanwhile, the likely beneficiary of Sunak’s failure in electoral terms, Starmer, was doing all he could to dampen enthusiasm for his party—rolling back pledges over workers’ rights or to bolster the flagging welfare state. Rachel Reeves, Starmer’s proposed chancellor, promised “tough spending rules so we can grow our economy and keep taxes, inflation and mortgages as low as possible”.45

Economic stability was, accordingly, the first of six priorities listed by Starmer early in the campaign. Of the others, two played directly to a right-wing agenda: a new “Border Security Command” and a crackdown on “anti-social behaviour”. A promised cut to NHS waiting times by creating 40,000 more appointments each week stops well short of what is required; the NHS offers about 2,400,000 outpatients’ appointments a week, so this is an increase of less than 2 percent.46 It was to be paid for by a supposed clampdown on tax avoidance and other loopholes—a promise made by putative governments in a scrape for years, but one unlikely to transpire without diverting massive resources towards His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. A pledge to recruit 6,500 teachers was equally laughable, amounting to 1 percent of the 570,000 teachers currently employed, and a fraction of those leaving the profession each year.47 The final pledge, for a “Great British Energy” company, is a scheme worth £8 billion, which pales into insignificance in the face of the £54 billion of energy imports even in 2021, before the inflationary shock to energy prices.48

Needless to say, the biggest source of rage towards Starmer was his attitude over Palestine. His comments from autumn 2023, when he suggested Israel had the right to withhold power and water from the population of Gaza, are likely to haunt him for some time to come. There was also rage when, early in the campaign, it appeared that Stamer would try to block Diane Abbott, Britain’s first female black MP, from standing as a Labour candidate. So powerful was the backlash that Starmer eventually had to retreat, although other left-leaning candidates, such as the economist Faiza Shaheen, did find their path blocked, in Shaheen’s case resigning from the party in protest.

Given the nature of Starmer’s campaign, it was reassuring that there were left alternatives on offer at the election. Most prominent was former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who would eventually declare his candidature as an independent in his seat of Islington North. However, his reluctance so far to build a national alternative to Labour, and the fact that he left it so late to announce that he would stand, meant that much of the early running was instead made by George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain. By combining opposition to the war on Gaza with conservative stances on issues such as immigration and LGBT+ rights, Galloway fails to offer a politics that can take the left forward, as Charlie Kimber argues in a comprehensive analysis elsewhere in this issue. Nonetheless, there were, alongside Corbyn, a handful of credible, pro-Gaza independents, with genuinely left-wing political positions, who were deserving of support from socialists.

For the revolutionary left, these electoral challenges were not an end in themselves; our politics does not live or die by success at the ballot box. Rather, they offered an opportunity to popularise a wider politics, connecting the election campaign to struggles in support of Gaza and against the racist right. This is a politics that will be necessary to confront any Starmer-led government. The Labour leader shows that what Tariq Ali has dubbed the “extreme centre” can be very extreme indeed. As Ali has recently asked, “Can anything be more extreme than genocide?49 Starmer’s brand of cruel but oddly limp extreme-centre politics will be tested harshly in the continuing sequence of capitalist catastrophes. As the Parisian radicals of 1968 put it, “La lutte continue!”—the struggle continues!

Joseph Choonara is the editor of International Socialism. He is the author of A Reader’s Guide to Marx’s Capital (Bookmarks, 2017) and Unravelling Capitalism: A Guide to Marxist Political Economy (2nd edition: Bookmarks, 2017).


1 Thanks to Anne Alexander, Charlie Kimber, Camilla Royle, Sascha Radl and Sheila McGregor for comments on an earlier draft.

3 Ahmatović, 2024.

4 Kanno-Youngs, 2024.

5 The Guardian has published a chilling report claiming that former Mossad head Yossi Cohen issued threats against the previous ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who began investigating Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 2021. Bensouda said to ICC officials that Cohen told her, “You should help us and let us take care of you! You don’t want to be getting into things that could compromise your security or that of your family.”—see Davis, 2024.

6 Tisdall, 2024.

7 Duncan Blackie offered a still-relevant criticism of the idea that the UN can offer a systematic alternative to imperialism—see Blackie, 1994.

8 The emphasis on China is shared by both Biden and his main presidential rival, Donald Trump. Biden has recently imposed new tariffs on Chinese electrical vehicles, semiconductors and various green technologies, while a former Trump official was arguing that the US should withdraw from Europe and the Middle East and instead “prepare for the possibility of a war with China”—Colby, 2024.

9 For a brief overview of the history of Palestinian resistance, see Choonara, 2024.

10 Alexander, 2024a; Ferguson, 2024.

11 Evans, 2024.

12 Zilber, 2024.

13 Pinfold, 2024.

14 Seibt, 2023.

15 Sudkamp, 2024.

16 Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, 2024. Support for Hamas in the West Bank rose from 12 percent in September 2023 to 35 percent in March 2024. In Gaza it fell slightly from 38 percent to 34 percent. In both cases its support exceeded that for Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and third parties. Some 71 percent of Palestinians also felt Hamas was right to attack Israel on 7 October, virtually unchanged from polls at the end of 2023.

17 For a comparison with the War on Terror, see Sudkamp, 2024. For a rather breathless description of IDF military capability prior to 7 October, see Ortal, 2022. Enormous faith was also placed in the advanced surveillance and monitoring that was supposed to prevent attacks such as that on the 7 October 2023.

18 Choonara, 2005.

19 Economist, 2024.

20 Economist, 2024.

22 United States Department of State, 2024.

23 See Assaf, 2024; Alexander, 2024a.

24 On this strategy see Alexander, 2024b. On debates, both historic and current, within the Palestinian left, see the piece by Ramsis Kilani in this issue.

26 A US database of pro-Palestinian mobilisations since 7 October suggests a total of a little under 1.5 million participants across the country, even though the its population is five times that of Britain. The database is available online at https://nonviolentactionlab.shinyapps.io/palestine-protest-dashboard

27 There are other differences between the student movements on either side of the Atlantic, alongside similarities. For an interesting discussion, albeit one written quite early on in the process, see Shehadi, 2024.

28 For a classic discussion of the dynamics of student revolt, centred on the late 1960s, see Harman, 1988, pp38-54.

29 Nersessian, 2024.

30 Burgis, 2024. As a gauge for the level of repression, The Appeal, a non-profit organisation in the US monitoring the criminalisation of protest, is currently tracking around 3,000 arrests. See Weill-Greenberg, Corey and others, 2024.

31 Raskin, 1985.

32 See Harman, 1988, pp180-181.

33 In a similar spirit, Ben Burgis argues in favour of students connecting to wider forces outside of the campuses, proposing, for instance, that they target the Democratic National Convention, set for Chicago in August, which would be another echo of 1968, when a police riot outside the convention in Chicago furnished the US movement with some of its most memorable scenes. See Burgis, 2024.

34 On these points, see also Callinicos, 2024.

35 See Harman, 1988, pp360-362.

36 Choonara, 2023a, 2023b.

37 See Callinicos, 2023; Choonara, 2020.

38 Zitelmann, 2023. Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece were among the countries dubbed “anti-capitalist” in outlook. The US was second only to Poland in countries evincing pro-capitalist sentiment. However—again, significantly in understanding the dynamic of the student movement—those under the age of 30 in the US were likely to have neutral or negative attitudes towards capitalism.

39 This includes Zionist thugs who have attacked the encampment movement, especially in the US. At UCLA their attack included shooting fireworks into the encampment, injuring several students, while the police stood by. According to Nersessian the mob at UCLA included “self-professed former IDF soldiers but also several white nationalists, including members of the far-right Proud Boys”— Nersessian, 2024. Some of those attacked were Jewish students participating in the encampment.

40 Thomas, 2019, 2023. Another component of the European far-right, the Alternative for Germany party, found itself in hot water when one of its leaders, Maximilian Krah, gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he defended the Nazi SS, saying they were not criminals—Chazan and Abboud, 2024. That Marine Le Pen’s National Rally said they would sever ties with Krah’s party shows the extent to which the French organisation has sought to detoxify its image. This in turn creates sharp tensions both within her party and between far-right groups in France, with Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, leading an alternative far-right challenge in alliance with Éric Zemmour, who has a string of convictions for hate speech.

41 Choonara, 2022.

42 Not only did the British Supreme Court deem the Rwanda plan unlawful and the Labour Party pledge to scrap it, but when in April the government announced plans to detain those attending immigration centres, anti-racists leapt into action, gathering outside the centres to prevent deportations—see https://standuptoracism.org.uk/tue-30-april-stoprwanda-national-day-of-action-protests-across-britain

44 Socialist Worker, 2024.

45 Whannel and Fenwick, 2024.


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