War, Peace, and Bourgeois Morality

Bourgeois morality Palestine

To justify its genocidal bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli state, with the complicity of Western imperialists, tries to present itself as the guardian of superior moral values in the face of Palestinian “barbarism.” There could be no better example of the complete moral bankruptcy of the ruling class.

Following the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, the whole of bourgeois society and its representatives on TV sets and in parliaments cried out in outrage. The news was full of unverified reports of all kinds of horrors allegedly committed by Hamas—”40 beheaded babies,” and other atrocities finally proven never to have taken place. Immediately, politicians and public figures across the Western world rushed to denounce these imaginary crimes.

In chorus, the Israeli imperialists and their allies seized the opportunity to present themselves as paragons of morality in the face of amoral Palestinian terrorists. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote on X (Twitter): “In fighting Hamas, Israel is not only fighting for its own people. It is fighting for every country that stands against barbarism.” On Oct. 9, the heads of state of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States signed a joint declaration condemning “the terrorist actions of Hamas” that “have no justification, no legitimacy and must be universally condemned.”

On the strength of this moral endorsement, Israel carried out an indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip that has so far claimed more than 5,000 lives. An Israeli government official has promised to reduce Gaza to a “city of tents.” For the past two weeks, the Israeli army has been applying the “Dahiya doctrine,” according to which any neighborhood or village from which a missile is fired into Israel “is not a civilian village, but a military base,” to which “disproportionate force” must be applied, in the words of Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

To justify this slaughter of innocent civilians, including over 2,000 Palestinian children (including well over 40 babies), Israeli Minister Benny Gantz wrote on X: “Absolutely nothing can justify the slaughter of innocent civilians.” The moral double standard couldn’t be clearer.

Here we see how imperialists use moral indignation as an ideological weapon. It’s the same thing we see with Israel’s so-called “right to defend itself,” in the name of which the Western ruling classes justify their support for Israel’s genocidal war against the population of the Gaza Strip.

For the Israeli imperialists and their American, British, Canadian, and other allies, violence is always reprehensible, immoral, barbaric, savage, illegitimate, terroristic, and unjustified when it comes from the oppressed; and always just, legal, defensive, and civilizing when it is used to keep them in exploitation, humiliation, and oppression.

Fortunately, in the face of all these horrors and hypocrisy, the working class and youth are rising up all over the world. In major cities all over the world, tens, even hundreds of thousands of young people and workers have taken to the streets to denounce the ethnic cleansing under way in Gaza.

This gave some reformist politicians enough courage to break away from the chorus of calls for genocide and raise a timid voice in favor of “peace.” We’ve seen this with politicians like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., Ilhan Omar in the U.S.A., and the MNAs of Québec solidaire.

In Canada, 33 federal MPs, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to advocate a ceasefire. The letter states, in part: “Canada has long been a voice for peace. The longer this conflict goes on, the more innocent civilians will pay with their lives. We demand that Canada join the growing international call for an immediate ceasefire. Canada must act before more innocent children are killed.”

It may sound good, and like a step forward. But pacifists, with their empty calls for “peace” between peoples, are often not much better than bellicose imperialists.

For example, while the letter expresses the signatories’ dismay at the suffering of the Palestinians, many of them continue to support Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Israel therefore has the right to bomb Gaza, but not too much!

And the signatories haven’t forgotten to join the chorus of condemnation against Hamas. These pacifists thus create a false moral equivalence, equating the violence of the oppressors with that of the oppressed. This has the effect of masking the oppression of the Palestinians. The pacifist who demands a slave and a slavemaster who have come to blows to both drop their weapons is not advocating for peace, he is advocating for slavery. Pacifists are also accomplices of Israeli imperialism, just in a more subtle way.

Obviously, the bombing of Gaza must stop. But a ceasefire alone will not solve anything.

Palestinians fleeing Image Humberto Patrick Wikimedia Commons
The bombing of Gaza must stop, but a ceasefire alone will not solve anything. / Image: Humberto Patrick, Wikimedia Commons

The war did not start on Oct. 7. The Hamas attack is merely a part of a war that began over 75 years ago, when the Zionists set out to create Israel by stealing Palestinian land at gunpoint and with bombs, a process of systematic expropriation that continues to this day. This war is a product of the historical oppression of the Palestinians.

A ceasefire does not put an end to the oppression that has driven some Palestinians to take up arms. This attack expressed the fact that the Israeli state is systematically blocking any path towards ending the oppression of the Palestinians. No one can maintain an entire people in misery, oppression, exploitation, and systematic violence without expecting, at one moment or another, a backlash from the oppressed.

General condemnations of violence are therefore completely empty. Before October 7, 200 Palestinians had been killed this year alone by the Israeli state and armed Zionist settlers, with complete impunity. Returning to the pre-Oct. 7 “peaceful” status quo would mean returning to the conditions that created the violent explosion in the first place.

In fact, in our age of imperialism, peace is merely a pause between wars, to paraphrase Lenin. Peace is the expression of a temporary balance of power. As long as the Israeli imperialists maintain their state of domination over the Palestinian people, the Israeli state will concede peace only to its own advantage. Peace, then, can only conceal the oppression of the Palestinians.

This is exactly what we saw with the Oslo Accords, for example, in which the Palestine Liberation Organization accepted Israel’s oppressive system in exchange for its recognition by the oppressor, and its participation in that oppressive system with the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The betrayal of the Oslo “peace process” is precisely what gave impetus to the rise of Hamas.

Thus, the pacifist morality that rejects “violence” in general is a poor reflection of bourgeois morality. The bourgeoisie, through its control of the media, educational establishments, political and legal institutions, claims to hold general, timeless moral values. But these values are only applied in cases that are useful to them, whereas they never hold themselves to these values. As for pacifists, they take the bourgeoisie at its word when it speaks of morality, and thus serve to give it moral backing and lend credibility to its empty words.

As communists, we must unmask, denounce and point the finger at all the hypocrisy of bourgeois morality, which justifies the worst crimes of oppressors while rejecting violence when it comes from the oppressed. From slave revolts to the Russian Revolution, and from Black Lives Matter to Palestine, the story is always the same: the oppressed are denounced for fighting back against their oppressor.

As Trotsky says of the American Civil War:

History has different yardsticks for the cruelty of the Northerners and the cruelty of the Southerners in the Civil War. A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains—let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!

There’s no such thing as an abstract, timeless, ahistorical, and absolute morality. Capitalism was born dripping blood and dirt from every pore, and its entire history to this day is littered with the corpses of millions of oppressed and working people. The capitalist machine needs the life force of workers to keep it going, and grinds them by the millions to maintain its existence, while crushing entire peoples when necessary to guarantee the interests of bourgeois states.

There is no room for moralism or pacifism in this context. Communists unconditionally take the side of the oppressed and the workers in their struggle against oppression.

The way to ensure peace, in Palestine and around the world, is not with moral exhortations, but with a revolution that will bring an end to the system that relies on violence and oppression to survive—an end to capitalism.

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