Why Divestment Can’t End the Genocidal Slaughter in Gaza

The Palestine solidarity movement has shown tremendous élan and potential since October 7. Across the country, hundreds of thousands have protested against the barbaric assault on Gaza and demanded the American imperialists stop funding and arming the Israeli war machine. And yet, the Zionists continue their unrelenting campaign with an assault on the heavily populated city of Rafah in the cards.

In the absence of revolutionary leadership, liberal organizations are currently leading the protest movement in many cities. More accurately, the strategy and tactics pursued by these currents are playing a key role in holding the movement back. Many liberals—including some self-described “socialists”—have taken up the “divestment” tactic with renewed zeal. Their purported aim is to weaken the reactionary Zionist regime by pressuring big banks and corporations to withdraw their capital from Israel.

We can certainly sympathize with the healthy instinct to “do something” to undermine the Israeli state. However, while divestment may appear more “radical” than individual boycotts, it suffers from the same fatal flaw: it accepts the limits of capitalism as a given. Instead of confronting the power of world capitalism head-on by mobilizing the workers on a class basis, it stands in awe of the capitalists and their states and proposes using Band-Aids to fight cancer.

The divestment slogan centers the whole struggle around getting the exploiters to invest their money differently. The idea is to “pressure” the capitalists to use their obscene wealth in a more “ethical” manner. The workers are relegated to passive cheerleading for companies that “do right”—instead of harnessing the colossal power of the workers to actually do something serious to stop the massacre. The working class should have no illusions that the enemy class can do anything for us. We can rely only on our own strength and class-independent organization.

For argument’s sake, however, let’s suppose a company does divest from Israel. What does this mean? It means they sell their assets to … other capitalists. The moral responsibility may shift from one capitalist to another—but Israel’s murderous onslaught continues unabated. How does this help the cause of the Palestinians?

The Palestine solidarity movement has shown tremendous élan and potential since October 7. / Image: Revolutionary Communists of America

Many supporters of divestment attribute the fall of apartheid in South Africa to this tactic. In the 1980s and early 90s, capitalists around the world were worried by the threat of revolution in South Africa. They cut the flow of investments to South Africa to cut across this. But for the most part, they sold their holdings to white South African capitalists who continued exploiting and oppressing the majority Black working class. In reality, it was the revolutionary mass action of South African workers that overthrew the apartheid regime. We can thank the capitalists, who funded and supported this regime, for absolutely nothing.

Corporations invest in Israel to make profits. Nothing more, nothing less. They will not bend to moral appeals or even to millions of people demanding that they “do the right thing.” Liberals like to talk about “changing the narrative” and “building pressure” on these companies through moral appeals and denunciations. But capitalist profits won’t be swayed by a shift in public opinion alone.

The fact is that huge monopolies dominate the global economy. They wield tremendous economic weight and use it to their advantage. This makes any large-scale attempt at pressuring capitalists very difficult. If public opinion goes against them, they simply hire armies of PR experts to turn the tide back in their favor. We see this all the time with the
greenwashing engaged in by oil companies. Unless and until they are threatened with revolution, they will try to find ways to hang onto their investments in Israel. Any shifts they do make are merely window dressing, cynical ploys to make even more money through other avenues.

For example, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee lists Chevron as one of the targets of the divestment campaign. They write: “Chevron generates billions in revenues, strengthening Israel’s war chest and apartheid system.” This is certainly true. But does anyone seriously imagine that a pressure campaign can end US imperialism’s strategic interest in accessing the natural resources of the Middle East? This is akin to asking a cobra to stop being venomous.

As Lenin said of the pacifists who demanded that the imperialists “disarm” themselves during World War I: “It is bourgeois pacifism, which actually—in spite of the ‘good intentions’ of the sentimental Kautskyites—serves to distract the workers from the revolutionary struggle.” He rightly accused the “socialists” who took up liberal-pacifist slogans of “the most vulgar opportunism.”

The logic of the BDS National Committee’s premise is that there can be reconciliation between the oppressor and oppressed. As they write on their website:

For dialogue between those who are oppressed and those who belong to the oppressors’ camp to be ethical and constructive, it must be based on the recognition that all humans are entitled to equal human rights, irrespective of identity.

But how can there ever be “ethical and constructive” dialogue between the oppressor and oppressed? How can the monstrous butcher Netanyahu and the long-suffering Palestinian people engage in “ethical and constructive” dialogue? Whose interests does it serve if Zionism is ultimately left intact?

Fighting a class war requires a class-war strategy. / Image: Revolutionary Communists of America

The starting point for communists is that the interests of the imperialists and of the workers are irreconcilably opposed. The capitalists cannot be reasoned with. They are the class enemy. Fighting them requires us to recognize that we are in a class war—a war of the ruling class against the working class—and vice versa. American workers have no interest in supporting the disgusting slaughter in Gaza. The war profiteers and imperialists have every interest in it. What else is there to discuss?

Fighting a class war requires a class-war strategy. Workers are the vast majority and have the power to shut down the arms factories and to stop weapon shipments to Israel. This focuses the struggle on what workers can really do in solidarity with Palestinians, rather than vainly appealing to the capitalists. Recent examples of this type of action by Indian and South African dockworkers show the way forward.

Instead, the BDS National Committee suggests “meeting with your union’s investment committee to see if they are willing to implement a human rights investment screening policy.”

Which is the superior tactic? Fighting in the unions, arguing that they harness their power to strike a serious blow against the war machine, or “seeing if they are willing” to invest the members’ resources in a different capitalist enterprise (which profits off exploiting a different set of workers)?

Liberals and pacifists are horrified at the suffering of the people in Gaza, but moral indignation is not enough. Lenin stated it clearly, “Capitalist society is, and has always been, horror without end.” That’s why he devoted his life to building a revolutionary party to get rid of the endless horror.

The Revolutionary Communists of America have pledged ourselves to this same task—to resist and overthrow this putrid system by any means necessary. We are building the infrastructure necessary to launch mass campaigns to stop the capitalists in their tracks. When we have communist organizers in every arms factory in America, we will do our part to shut the war industry down. When we have militant revolutionaries organized in every major port city, we will do our part to stop the shipment of materiel to Israel and other reactionary regimes. And we won’t stop there. We will do our part in the world revolution and in ending the horror of capitalism once and for all by doing everything in our power to ensure the successful socialist revolution here at home!

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