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Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Artist: Unattributed
Dimensions: 20” x 28”
Publisher: October Graphics
Source: Library of Congress/Prints and Photographs Division/Yanker Collection
Circa 1965

This poster was published by the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), which collapsed over internal divisions in the late 1960’s and re-emerged as two separate groups — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

This graphic is a classic Marxist-Leninist training aid for teaching basic revolutionary principles. It interprets the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with straightforward graphics and a precise political vocabulary. The caption — “Solidarity with the people of the Middle East in their struggle against imperialism, feudalism, Zionism and Arab reaction” — ensconces the Palestinian struggle within the larger pan-Arab struggle as well as the international socialist movement.


Four forms of oppression: “imperialism,” “feudalism,” “Zionism,” and “Arab reaction”, threaten the central symbols of popular struggle—the hammer, sickle, red star and rifle—as equally powerful bolts of lightning.

Two forms of oppression, imperialism and Zionism, are external in origin. Fighting them requires that Palestinians unite to fend them off. The other two forms, feudalism and Arab reaction, are internal, the products of local histories.

Such overt and transparent self-criticism is rare in almost any organization. However, this poster reflects the belief of many Arab Marxists that the major problems facing their societies are long-standing and reversible only by popular resistance and mobilization.

According to this poster, all Arab societies struggle against the same oppressive forces. Palestine is not singled out for special treatment, and Zionism is portrayed as a negative force on all Arab societies.

With its sharp secular lines, references to vast historical forces and its rational depiction of the forces opposed to the forging of a new Palestinian society, this poster contrasts sharply with those from political factions that emerged only recently, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Its scientific appeal to reason could not be more different from their inflamed appeal to emotion.

In the Palestinian poster oeuvre, Zionism is never confused with Judaism and this poster is no exception. Zionism is seen here as one of the four major counter-revolutionary forces. It is not depicted with a Star of David. This is very deliberate and was done to avoid suggesting support for a religious interpretation of the conflict, even though the popular fronts were well aware of the role religion and religious persecution played as motivators for Jewish colonization in Palestine.

As for feudalism and Arab reaction, these are core sources of political friction within and between the countries of the Middle East, but ones that long failed to be of much concern within the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. The U.S. has never had much interest in promoting democracy in the Middle East where the main order of business was, and is, stability as a pre-condition for access to oil and commercial markets for its industrial goods.

Feudalism in this context refers to the ancient powerlessness of the Arab working classes, both industrial and agricultural. Changing that dynamic by changing the attitudes of the working class about itself and its ruling elites has been a major element of the socialist-oriented Palestinian and pan-Arab fronts.

Arab reaction is defined here as the almost universally counter-revolutionary regimes supported by the U.S. and Israel including, for example, Egypt under Sadat, most Arab monarchies and even Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Arab reaction is seen by the popular fronts to be one of the main barriers to all forms of revolutionary change, from freedom of travel to universal suffrage.

The dynamic between the governed and those who govern in the Arab world has received a great deal of new attention in the U.S. in the wake of the 2003 Gulf War, as it attempts to legitimate the process of “regime change” and backs into “nation-building” in post-war Iraq. The 2003 Gulf War was problematic for many Arab regimes because, among other reasons, they did not want to be part of a process that had as its primary aim the violent removal of an Arab head of state.

The world holds it breath while waiting to learn whether or not the U.S. government has any more success in changing the status quo in any of the Arab nations than the revolutionary forces within those countries has had after almost fifty years of effort.

It is interesting to note that more and more U.S. politicians, academics, journalists, pundits, and others who influence policy are calling for the U.S. to address exactly the issues depicted in this Palestinian poster, which was printed almost forty years ago.

The U.S. government seems to have learned, finally, that feudalism and Arab reaction are real, systemic problems and the Bush administration is desperately promoting its new “forward strategy” for democratization as the antidote. It has also learned that in the Middle East even the appearance of imperialism is, at best, incendiary. In response to this freshly acquired insight the U.S. has decided to remove all its military bases from Saudi Arabia. The only one of the four threats outlined long ago in this dated Palestinian poster that the U.S. has failed to face up to is Zionism. One can only wonder how many more years of chaos and strife will have to pass before an American administration comes to power with the courage to see Zionism for the destabilizing force that it is, both at home and abroad.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) What role, if any, does Marxism-Leninism play in contemporary Palestinian liberation politics?

2) Since the end of WWII, what democracy-building endeavors has the U.S. undertaken in North Africa and the Middle East?

3) Why has the U.S. government historically avoided supporting low and medium-level cultural and educational exchanges with student organizations, artist’s associations, and other grassroots efforts in Arab countries, while doing so in African, South American, and Asian countries?

4) How has formal support for the state of Israel complicated the efforts of the U.S. to promote democracy, free markets, elections, and a free press in the Arab world?




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