With the most recent round of aerial bombings and the ground invasion of Gaza by the Israeli military, a plethora of debate around the issue has erupted. In the face of a significant Palestinian death toll to the ongoing genocidal Zionist settler project, Palestinians continue to resist in every possible way and international community is again called upon to condemn Israel. Although I am saddened by the hundreds of Palestinians lives lost, I am also inspired by the sight of a large international chorus of voices taking to the streets and to social media to demonstrate their solidarity with the anti-colonial Palestinian fight for national liberation and self-determination.
One particular phenomenon within the online debates I witnessed during the past two weeks is the extreme frustration those of us in solidarity with Palestinian cause feel when arguing with the Zionists. In spite of an enormous wealth of data, reports, and historical facts that point to the reality that this is not a “conflict” between equal sides, but instead a fight between an oppressed group of indigenous people and a highly militarized Zionist settler state funded annually with $3 billion in U.S. foreign aid, the pro-Israeli crowd remains committed to ignoring these facts and clinging to their pro-settler ideology. You begin to almost wonder and ask how despite all the information about the huge Palestinian death toll and the clear role of Israeli military in committing this violence could someone still support the Israeli state? This phenomenon points to the reality that even with superior logic to support our cause, many of those committed to Zionist settler project will never waiver. A key underlying reason being that the political perspective and consciousness of Israeli settlers is the ideological consequence of living in and benefiting from a social system based on settler-colonial violence.
To explain this point, I want to point to one of my favorite quotes by sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox who in his 1948 work Race, Caste and Class wrote:
“We cannot defeat race prejudice by proving that it is wrong. The reason for this is that race prejudice is only a symptom of a materialistic social fact. If, for instance, we should discover by “scientific” method that Negroes and Chinese are “superior” to tall, long-skulled blonds […] our proof accomplishes nothing. The articulate white man’s ideas about his racial superiority are rooted deeply in the social system, and it can be corrected only by changing the system itself.”
For me, Cox’s point illuminates how although education, conscious-raising, political messaging, propaganda, etc are important for combating the ideological content and justifications of oppression and exploitation, an ideological struggle alone will not end oppression and exploitation. The ideologies that support racism (or Zionism or settler-colonialism) cannot be educated out of existence. As persistent as we can be and as hard as we work, we will never win over enough people who reside in oppressive classes by merely convincing them that oppression and exploitation is morally wrong. Reason being, as Cox points out, members of an oppressive class cling to ideologies that normalize oppression because those ideologies are rooted in social systems from which they directly receive material, social, and economic benefits. Oppressive ideologies are so inextricably and deeply rooted in unequal and exploitative social systems that undoing those social systems is requisite to undermining the power of these ideology. Most importantly, eliminating oppressive ideologies alone will not eliminate the unjust social relations they conceal and normalize.
What is also equally important to clarify is that as easy and comforting as it may be to dismiss our ideological adversaries as misguided, irrational, misinformed, and backwards, we should realize that these people are actually behaving rationally and logically in accordance with their class interests. In the essay “Racism and Culture”, Frantz Fanon writes that a “racist in a culture with racism is therefore normal. He has achieved a perfect harmony of economic relations and ideology” and goes on further to add that:
“[R]ace prejudice in fact obeys a flawless logic. A country that lives, draws its substance from the exploitation of other peoples, makes those peoples inferior. Race prejudice applied to those peoples is normal. Racism is therefore not a constant of the human spirit. It is, as we have seen, a disposition fitting into a well-defined system.”
What these quotes acknowledge is that racist ideologies and racist thinking are a direct product of racist social systems such as colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism. In deeply unequal societies — whether we acknowledge it or not — all of our politics is based on certain ideological assumptions. There is no objectivity or neutrality with regards to politics in class-divided societies because our social positions, as well as our conscious political alignment with different social classes, fundamentally impacts our political ideology and our political consciousness. Hence, people from the dominant classes within these social systems hold racist views not because they are merely tricked or indoctrinated by hegemony to adopt some backwards, false consciousness. Instead their racial prejudice and adoption of oppressive ideologies is specifically related to their social position and the material benefits accorded to them within a deeply racist class society. Moreover, because dominant social classes have the material power to control and shape all educational, cultural, civil, and political institutions they ensure that their ideology is hegemonic or as Marx famously noted “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”
To truly combat and undermine racism as a political ideology, therefore, involves dismantling of the social institutions and structures that both produce and maintain that ideology as well as constructs race as a powerful means of social stratification, domination, and exploitation. Consequently, this forces us to reckon with the uncomfortable reality that we should foremost be actively engaged in the very difficult (yet necessary) task of organizing and building revolutionary movements to dismantle and transform the material infrastructure that engender all forms of oppression and their concomitant oppressive ideologies. To return to my earlier example, Zionism as a racist settler-colonial ideology will only cease being a hegemonic social force in the oppression and exploitation of Palestinians when we have built and sustained a successful revolutionary internationalist movement committed to Palestinian self-determination and the dismantling of the Israeli settler-state.
To clarify my point, I am not saying we should stop educating people or raising awareness regarding different causes. All of us should take every opportunity to educate and inform people around us and in our communities about the urgent need for revolutionary social change. The powerful ideological apparatuses (mass media, public schools, think tanks, etc) controlled by the state and by wealthy propertied classes are committed to maintaining the status quo and we have a lot of work ahead to counter their misinformation. My point, nonetheless, is that there is a severe limit to the effectiveness of education and consciousness-raising when a concurrent large-scale organized political movement is absent or weak. We must never forget that an ideological struggle is only one component of the more important revolutionary political struggle to create a more just world free of all exploitative and oppressive political, economic, and social relations.