As this issue of Catalyst goes to press, Israel has resumed its attack on the people of Gaza. In upcoming issues, we intend to offer an analysis and diagnosis of this latest stage in the decades-long ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. For now, a few things are already clear. Perhaps the most significant is that, despite President Joe Biden’s grotesquely fulsome support, despite European elites’ backing, and despite the predictable labeling of any criticism of Israel’s brutality as antisemitic, Israel is, in the eyes of the world, a pariah state. No doubt the general support for the Palestinian cause has always been deep in the Global South and among wide swaths of the Western public. But in this conflagration, the baseline sympathy has congealed into a wave of political mobilizations at a scale we have not seen since the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. What is truly remarkable is that the protests and marches for Palestine have extended beyond major metropolitan areas to smaller cities and suburbs across the United States, Europe, and the South.
The outpouring of support for Palestinians and the revulsion at the sheer scale of Israel’s destructive campaign have caught everyone by surprise — even those who have been active in the cause for decades. Now that it is out, there is simply no chance of putting this genie back in the bottle. There is every reason to believe that this might be a turning point in the struggle for Palestinian statehood, in that, as Noam Chomsky predicted in the summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the “era of impunity” might very well be at an end. While Israel is still too important to the United States for it to be abandoned, it seems very likely that it will no longer have the unquestioned backing and the blank check from the United States that has hitherto been the norm. How this unfolds, and what the outcome is for the Palestinians, will depend on a host of downstream political factors. Just what kind of opening is available is not yet clear. But the shift in the political landscape seems to be inescapable.
Of course, such near-term developments are cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been uprooted in a second Nakba, who are desperate for the bare necessities of life and once again have to rely on ramshackle convoys for their survival. The immediate goal must be to secure their essentials — food, shelter, medical treatment — to the best of our ability. But when the smoke clears, it will be the Left’s responsibility to press forward, building on the organizing efforts of the past weeks and creating the conditions for Palestinian autonomy. For projects like Catalyst, our contribution will be to analyze and propagandize to the best of our ability.
Part of this remit is to continue developing a materialist and class analysis of capitalism, particularly the place of empire within it. In this issue’s opening essay, René Rojas revisits a key episode in socialist politics, showing how it sheds light on the current conjuncture. September 2023 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Salvador Allende’s heroic and tragic ascent to power in Chile. Nobody doubts that Allende’s overthrow was in part engineered by the United States, with the recently expired Henry Kissinger playing a central role. But Rojas warns that this role has perhaps been exaggerated, leading to an unduly pessimistic view of the space Allende had for political maneuver. Rojas suggests that it might in fact have been possible for Allende’s administration to survive if it had been able to deepen its anchor among the Chilean popular classes — a lesson the current left forces in the country would do well to heed, since the Gabriel Boric administration rode to power on a similar groundswell of working-class mobilization.
The relationship between domestic class politics and empire is also central to Bashir Abu-Manneh’s essay, in which he engages Edward Said’s influential critique of British literature. Abu-Manneh takes up and rejects Said’s claim that prominent novelists like Jane Austen and George Eliot suppressed, and thereby excused, the role of empire in British culture. While acknowledging that empire was an important component of British political economy, Abu-Manneh argues that Said exaggerates its economic contribution and in turn fails to appreciate the place of domestic class relations, both in the economy and in his reading of Austen and others. This feeds into the conservative nationalism so common in today’s intellectual culture.
An early critic of such race-centered and cultural nationalism in the United States was W. E. B. Du Bois. In the spring 2023 issue of Catalyst, Jeff Goodwin reviewed a recent book by José Itzigsohn and Karida L. Brown, The Sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois: Racialized Modernity and the Global Color Line, which made the case that Du Bois presents an alternative to Marxist and socialist understandings of racial domination. In this issue, we publish a debate between Itzigsohn and Goodwin: the former responds to Goodwin’s analysis of Du Bois and of his book, and Goodwin provides a lively response to it in turn.
Finally, Amber A’Lee Frost examines Mary Harrington’s new book Feminism Against Progress. While Harrington’s profile is that of a conservative, Frost finds value in her critique of contemporary feminist politics, which Frost agrees has lost touch with the interests and experiences of working-class women. Yet even while Harrington accurately diagnoses the roots of this divergence, her ideological commitments prevent her from devising a workable politics around women’s interests.