Following the assault on Israelis by the Palestinian resistance, there are those who say a violent fightback is never justified. Isabel Ringrose explains that the oppressed have a right to take up arms against their colonisers
Uprisings against colonial rule are violent because violence is an inherent part of imperialism and colonialism.
That’s why the resistance by Palestinians against the racist Israeli terror state is wholly justified. All the deaths, horrors and destruction—all of them—are rooted in violent Israeli occupation and dispossession. And this is the case not just in Palestine. Wherever imperialism has gone, violence has followed.
Colonialism means states viciously enforcing their rule, snatching resources for themselves and subjecting citizens to dire inequality and reigns of terror.
That violence took its form in the way 48 million died in major famines between 1770 and 1943 in India caused by British colonial rule. It manifested in over a million dying in famines manufactured by the British in Ireland.
Violent colonisation led to the genocide of Indigenous populations by the Spanish and British and to European nations carving up and ransacking Africa.
Such violence led to violence in return from those in revolt. But their violence was on a massively smaller scale compared to the slaughter by the imperialists.
The anti-imperialist violence was a fight to liberate society from a system of torture and murder. The violence of the oppressed is therefore utterly different to the violence of the oppressor.
The slave who murders the slave master, who torches the master’s house and perhaps kills the “civilian” slavers’ family and servants is wholly justified in their act.
Indigenous resistance to the colonisation of Australia led to some gruesome killings of settlers and their families. One attack on a Queensland homestead in 1857 saw the Iman people kill 11 settlers, including Martha Fraser and seven of her children.
The Iman had been driven off their lands, facing starvation, and the Fraser family were likely responsible for shooting 12 of them for spearing cattle as well as poisoning others with strychnine a few months previously.
We do not condemn the Indigenous resistance against the violence of colonisation.
Palestinians in Gaza breaking from their open-air prison for the first time were taking part in an act of liberation against Zionism and the imperialism that defends it.
Yet every time the oppressed have confronted the violence of the system and retaliated, they have been met with criticism and moral condemnation.
Resistance should stay peaceful, liberals say, and not have a bloody side. Or else, they warn, it is comparable to the violence of the oppressor.
But why should the oppressed sit back and take whatever violence their oppressors deem necessary? Should the Algerian people have remained peaceful when the French invaded in 1830, stamping their authority on the country through violent massacres and rapes?
France killed up to three million Algerians in 30 years. Up to 1951 the French lost just 3336 soldiers. After an anti-colonialist demonstration in 1945, with the movement growing after the Second World War, French authorities killed some 40,000 in Setif.
The horror led to an armed fight and sparked the war for independence nine years later. The independence group the National Liberation Front (FLN) attacked military and civilian targets of the French state and the French settler middle class, the Pied Noirs.
Anyone associated with France was a target. More Algerians fell behind the pro-independence fighters as France ramped up its violence with torture, bombardment and napalm.
The FLN and its supporters advocated violent revolution. Independence fighter Frantz Fanon described colonial society as one entirely shaped by violence.
He wrote, “Colonialism is not a thinking machine. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” We disagree that only “greater violence” can win.
We stress the crucial role of organised workers, strikes and workers’ militias in an insurrection. But Fanon was right about the core of colonialism.
Random raids, shootings and bombings by the FLN led to the French declaring a state of emergency. The massacre of Pied-Noirs European settlers in 1955 in Philippeville was the first major FLN attack on non-military and government targets. Some 123 people were killed, with the French then killing 1273 Algerians.
By 1956 there were 500,000 French troops in Algeria. The FLN had 20,000 with fewer weapons. The French guillotined two FLN fighters in Algiers in June 1956 so in retaliation, the FLN shot 49 Europeans in the streets over four days.
All of this was part of the justified struggle by the Algerians. And today the vast majority of people across the world would recognise that it was a legitimate struggle.
The Palestinians deserve the same respect. There are many other important examples.
The African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa began organising bombings of supermarkets in the aftermath of the apartheid regime’s brutal Sharpeville massacre, when police shot dead 69 protesters.
Nelson Mandela explained that, “It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”
Revolutionaries should always support the resistance of the oppressed against their oppressors. The brave resistance to the violence of colonial and imperialist rule shows that their victims still have agency and can fight for themselves.
Our slogan is that our support is “unconditional but not uncritical”. Socialist revolutionaries do not agree with Hamas over class politics, women’s and LGBTIQ+ rights and 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. The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin faced the same argument in 1916 when the Irish Republicans rose against British rule. They used armed struggle, and many of those involved were heavily influenced by religion and cross-class nationalism.
But Lenin pointed out, “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, is to repudiate social revolution.
“So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution!
“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”
We are in unconditional support of anti-imperialist revolt even when it’s tough to do so.
Our criticism is not that of detached observers. We want to see real victories over imperialism and the capitalist system that produces it. Overcoming the imperial might of states like Israel or the United States won’t happen just through military resistance or guerrilla tactics.
There has to be a wider strategy in place to tear up the systems that are rooted in violence. Crucial to that strategy is class struggle. Turning resistance into a socialist revolution that can topple a system that creates unimaginable levels of brutality and violence is the only way to win complete change.
Adapted from Socialist Worker UK