29 October 2020

The Arrow Points Left: Visions of Social Transformation
in the PFLP’s First Decade

gta Institute, ETH Zurich

In the 1980s West Bank and Gaza there rose multiple developmental initiatives undertaken by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), such as farmers and women’s cooperatives. These cooperatives point to a socioeconomically transformative agenda that the party practiced. Yet in the seminal book, Armed Struggle and the Search for State, Yezid Sayigh argues that factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), including the PFLP, lacked a socially transformative political program. Their nationalist emphasis and their reliance on regional support arguably led to rent-seeking neopatrimonial politics, even amongst leftist parties and their grassroots organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and despite the radical social and economic development rhetoric they employed.
This paper is propelled by Sayigh’s argument but takes a step back to examine in detail the visions, or rhetoric, of the PFLP for traces of socioeconomic transformation. It does this by studying the PFLP’s mouthpiece, Al-Hadaf magazine, between the second congress of the PFLP in 1969 and up to 1979, with a focus on the spatial components of such visions. In this paper I argue that while the PFLP projected little visions of social transformation in its official strategy, its mouthpiece Al-Hadaf presents such visions in two indirect forms: 1) models of building socialism taken from other revolutions, and 2) visions for national democratic revolutions in Arab countries.

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