From Zionism to Marxism

When very young, and due to reasons that are still not altogether clear (good looking girls put aside), I was a Zionist. I thought I was a Left-wing Zionist (as compared with my father, a Right-wing Argentine Socialist).

All things considered, the only thing I had clear was that I wanted to make a socialist revolution. I also thought the socialist revolution that I, a Jewish boy, had to do, was the Israeli socialist revolution. In my infatuation, I never thought over the obvious fact that Socialist Zionists were in power in Israel, and that they did not seem very prone to socialist revolutions. That, in fact, the movement I entered was funded and fostered by the State of Israel, a state in the hands of the Socialists, and it had nothing of revolutionary in it.

At the same time, the Jewish boy was exposed to the thrilling hothouse climate of a country that was traversing the final months of a period of (Toynbee, very aptly) "exasperate introspection", and eventually exploded in the wave of popular upheavals that brought to an end the 1966 military government. The first Zionist seminar I attended was held in Rio Ceballos, a small touristic town on the slopes of the Cordoba hills, 10 km to the Northwest of Cordoba city. It took place during the winter vacations, that is (Southern hemisphere) on July. 45 days before, the students and workers of Cordoba had risen in what was to be known as the Cordobazo. The bus that took us to Rio Ceballos traversed the city of Cordoba, and I stuck my face to the windows not to lose a single detail of that heroic town. Everything was full of meaning.

Broken traffic lights, stained walls, political graffitti, remaining holes in cobblestone streets, and -oh, glory- the bus driver decided to cross the Río Primero by the bridge on Santa Fe street that the press releases had immortalized (there is a wonderful photograph of demonstrators throwing stones at the policemen on that bridge. I still remember it: the journalist had knelt down for a second between the lines, and could take the demonstrators as from the policemen's side, a front row of forward running young people (detached from the second and farther ranks on the second plane), stones high overhead in their hands full of motion, resolution and boldness in the dimly visible faces, tear gas grenades bursting a few meters ahead of them, the smoke of burning tyres spiraling up to the sky in a congested horizon). I kept saying to myself "This can not be happening, I cannot be crossing this bridge now!".

One of the themes we learnt of during that seminar was "The Latin American Revolution". It was delivered by one of the most beloved leaders in the movement, who we knew as El Gordo Jamilis (Alberto Jamilis his full name), who was by then a student in La Plata University, Anthropology if I am not wrong. Full of the elan and spirit of the University left, the Gordo (he was truly fat, very fat) opened up to me the immediate background of what we had seen in Cordoba, the history of the revolutionary movements of Latin America. I do not know where he is now (sometimes I fear he has disappeared during the late Seventies or early Eighties). But I suppose he quit the Zionist movement shortly after. Let this be a mention to someone who had the deepest impact in my life, and now I do not even know if he is alive. The road that took me to socialism and revolution started with the Cordobazo, and the Gordo was one of the main stopovers along it.

The fact is that the first mention of a revolution in Latin America I got (Cuba included) was through the Zionist Socialists. But I got something more, a couple of years later.

The local emissary of the movement thought it would be a good idea to send me to Israel and spend a year there, on a youth leader's formation program, so when I came back to Argentina I would stay for some years doing Zionist work with young people, and eventually migrate to Israel.

As it finally turned out, the idea was very good for me, not at all good for the Zionist movement. For my sojourn in Israel was far from convincing. In fact, I felt more interested in the Palestinians than in the Israelis.

And, if I am not wrong, this was a feeling most of the Argentines in the group would share. The Gordo had left a strong imprint (of course, Argentine politics in 1969-70 had helped him a lot). But he was not the only one to put myself in a questioning mood. More important were two lessons I had while staying in Israel (and for these I will be thankful forever):

One of them, which I commented on some old posting, was given by a group of female Moroccan Jewish farmworkers (they explained me that they would vote Begin -the Netanyahu of those years- because he would tear the Arabs into pieces... speak of "white trash"!). The second one was delivered during a very dense speech on geopolitics of the Middle East, by a chap of name Yaacov Margalit, a brain of the Labor Party.

Margalit was no fool, not at all. He swiftly grasped the revolutionary climate that perspirated the Argentines, or at least the most interesting Argentines (me, modestly, included) in the group.

He realized we had the wish and desire for a socialist revolution. But also that, just in the same manner that the English peasants of the Middle Ages connected the moon with tides (a wonderful example, BTW!), we Argentine Left Zionists connected Peron (the Argentine national bourgeois leader that was in exile and whose return was the immediate immanent aspiration of the Cordobazo and other popular upheavals) with Nasser.

This had to be answered turning it counterfactual, somehow.

I, for one, could not avoid some (then unexplained) admiration for Nasser. I translated it, during one of the classes of Yaacov Margalit as "why does not Israel, a progressive country with strong socialist institutions, give up this nonsense war with progressive or popular Arab governments, and ranges with them against the Saudi feudals, for example?". This was the "King is naked" question. It was so naive in its attempt to reconcile my revolutionary feelings and my Zionist militancy that a blunt answer to it would have sent me immediately to the anti-Zionist camp.

Margalit did not give a blunt answer. What did he do, instead? In a very theatrical manner, he turned to a wall map of the Middle East that was hanging behind him.

Keeping a smart eye on all of us Argie lefties, he challenged with the warm, slightly dejected, sarcasm of a grandfather at a drunken grandchild: "Nasser, progressive?". He stepped forward to the map and suddenly pointed at a spot near Hadramawt. "You want progressives, why not revolutionaries? See here, in Dhofar? There are some jungles there, Monsoon jungles. Here you have the revolutionaries you are looking for! There are people who are now fighting the Saudi feudals, arms in hand, hear me, arms in the hand", he then halted so the coin would get into the slot: just like your Che, you see?, "and they define Nasser as a reactionary Arab bourgeois (just as we do, he would have added but it was not necessary, we all knew that Nasser was a bourgeois already), and they have not declared themselves the enemies of Israel!". Many years later, I learnt the terrible fate of this isolated Dhofar guerrilla, exterminated in their lonely lack of support from any section of the Arab world, but I was already not a Zionist when I had these tragic news.

Must tell you, Margalit made me waver. Luckily enough, I did not fully believe him. There was something vicious in that argument, there was some lack of masses, some absurd immolation without politics on the side of the -I suppose- heroic Dhofar fighters. Still, you had the mass support to Nasser that only being blind you could deny. Still, there was the mass support to Peron, another military bonapartist bourgeois. Had he been succesful, though I would have left Zionism anyway I would have been driven away from the struggle for socialism and entered the ranks of the Montoneros, the local equivalent (with still more tragic social and personal consequences) of the Dhofar guerrillamen who accused Nasser of being reactionary while substituting the gun for mass action. And, probably, I would have disappeared as so many others, or worse yet, I would have corrupted and I would have abandoned the struggle for revolution and socialism, and -who knows- I would now be a Menem official, a course far too many followed in Argentina.

Imperialism does work wisely. One of the things I admire in Uri Avnery is his clear minded rejection of the imperialist tenets, particularly of those that refer to the Arab peoples. I do not see it very clearly why I got to Margalit after reading Avneri's note, but I thought you would like to share this with me.

Regards to all,

Nestor Gorojovsky