Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
Owen Jones’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian – ‘Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it‘ – acknowledges the fact that this foul poison exists not just on the traditional extreme right, but also within the pro-Palestine movement and sections of the left. To some of us, this is merely a statement of the obvious, and something that we have been banging on about for years. But the importance of Jones’s piece cannot be overestimated: much of the left (and that includes the Guardianista liberal-left) refuses to acknowledge that the problem even exists. It is to Owen Jones’s credit that he has broken this taboo.
Jones’s article has its shortcomings: he repeats, for instance, the old canard that “Some ardent supporters of the Israeli government oppose all critics of Israeli policy and accuse them of anti-Semitism (or, if those critics are Jewish, of being “self-hating Jews”)”: I, for one, have never heard such arguments being used by defenders of Israel, although the claim that they are is treated as an established fact by ‘anti-Zionists’.
And Jones does not deal with the crucial issue of ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ – a more widespread and pernicious problem on the left than crude, racist antisemitism. ‘Absolute anti-Zionism’ is opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state. From that all the overt anti-Semitism and covert softness on anti-Semitism to be found on the left and within the PSC and BDS movements, follows. It is the so-called ‘One-State solution’ and is the thinly disguised sub-text of slogans like “Palestine must be free – from the River to the Sea.” It is the policy of the SWP and much of the rest of the British kitsch-Trot left. Stalinists of the Morning Star variety in theory back the Two States position, but you’d be forgiven not realising this from what they say within the labour movement and write in the Morning Star. Until he very recently clarified his position, and came out clearly for two states, it seemed quite possible that Jeremy Corbyn was a one stater.
And on the subject of Corbyn, Jones’s piece is also weak: it’s simply not good enough to argue (as does Jones) that “He [ie Corbyn] could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years.” Whether Corbyn knew the politics of each and every one of the many anti-Semites he’s been filmed and photographed alongside, and in some cases is on record defending, is not the issue: the issue is that now that he does know who these people are, he should clearly denounce them and disown them by name – instead of blustering about how he deplores all forms of racism and is in favour of peace. And, surely, Corbyn knew exactly what the politics of Hezbollah and Hamas were when he welcomed them as “friends.” For the record, I make these comments as someone who has just voted for Corbyn.
For sure, Jones’s piece does not go far enough, or make its case as plainly as it should: but it’s an important breakthrough for the ‘anti-Zionist’ liberal-left, and all the more welcome because its published in the absolute anti-Zionists’ respectable, mainstream mouthpiece: the Guardian.
Above: Jones (left) with arch-critic Alan Johnson after the publication of Jones’s Guardian piece
I’ve always looked up to you, from the days when we were in Socialist Organiser – you the Marx-reading shop steward in a car plant and me the young student. In 2011 you described Jeremy Corbyn in these terms: “Corbyn is now beyond the pale and part of a de facto anti-democratic, pro-fascist and anti-semitic current that claims to be “left-wing” but is in fact, profoundly reactionary and anti-working class.” So why did you urge Unite (my trade union) to back Corbyn? Will you vote for him? Why? Is it democratic centralism? If so, fuck that Jim. Look back at what you wrote in 2011 and, as Dylan sang, ‘Don’t think twice, its alright.’
(NB Alan Johnson is not the MP of the same name! This Alan’s Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, expanding on many of the points he raises above, can be read here).
Thanks for your kind words and because I admire your intellect and evident principles I’ve given some thought to your comments (incidentally, although I was a motor industry shop steward when we first knew each other, before that I’d also been a student and I don’t think our ages are that different …).
Firstly, you are quite justified in drawing attention to what I’ve previously written about Corbyn’s attitude to a number of international issues (ie knee-jerk anti-Americanism) and – perhaps worse – his unsavoury “friends” and/or associates in the Palestine solidarity movement (anti-semites like Hamas and Hesbollah, the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah and the holocaust-denier Paul Eisen, for instance).
These “friends” (Corbyn’s own description of Hamas and Hesbollah representatives when he hosted them in Parliament in 2009) are significant, disturbing and a matter that should be (and has been) raised by myself and others within the Corbyn campaign – and we will continue to raise these issues in the event that Corbyn wins.
Are these concerns (as you and some other people I know and respect, have argued) sufficient to make support for Corbyn unacceptable or unprincipled? I’d argue not, and here’s why:
We live and ‘do’ politics within a British labour movement that has some pretty awful political traditions within it: craven reformism, nationalism, various forms of racism, sexism and general backwardness. I’ve been on the knocker, over the years, for some truly dreadful people who happened to wear a Labour rosette. The mainstream left of the Labour movement is – in its way- just as bad. Influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, it takes lousy positions on international affairs, often seems to operate on the bankrupt principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and has a long-standing tendency to allow its (correct) support for the Palestinian cause slide over into indifference to anti-Semitism. It also has a terrible habit (which I think at least partly explains Corbyn’s warm words to Hamas and Hesbollah) of being diplomatic towards people it regards as perhaps dodgy, but broadly “on the right side.”
Corbyn is part of that left – as was Tony Benn, who we all supported when he stood for the Deputy Leadership against Dennis Healey in 1981. Like Benn (and unlike shysters of the Livingstone/ Galloway variety) he seems to be a decent and principled human being, despite his political failings and downright naivety on a range of (mainly international) issues..
Yes, the British labour movement, including the “left”, has some rotten politics. But it’s our movement and in the assessment of Marxists and serious socialists, the only hope we have of building a decent, democratic society ruled by the working class. We work within that movement to transform it, so that society itself can be transformed. We are consistent democrats who relate to workers in struggle in their existing organisations – organisations that are infused with all sorts of Stalinist, bourgeois, reformist and other reactionary ideas.
The Corbyn campaign is dominated by the politics that dominates the mainstream left in Britain – a soft Stalinism and incoherent “anti imperialism” that also dominates the Morning Star, the Communist Party of Britain, the SWP and Stop The War (the misnamed outfit still, unfortunately, supported by our union, Unite). But the rank and file people (many of them young and new to the movement) who’ve been enthused by Corbyn’s campaign have been attracted by his anti-austerity stance, his opposition to the neoliberal consensus, and his inspiring if not always entirely coherent message that a better, fairer and more equal society is possible. We cannot stand aside from this movement by abstaining or backing the wretched Burnham or Cooper. Just as serious socialists have always argued for active, positive engagement with the actual, existing labour movement as a whole, so we must argue for engagement with that movement’s left – and for now, that means support for the Corbyn campaign. That’s also the best way of making our criticism of his international policies heard by the people who need to hear it – his ordinary supporters, the young and not-so-young people he’s enthused and inspired and who make up the bedrock of his support.
That’s why, Alan, despite the many harsh words I’ve spoken and written about Corbyn and the kind of politics he represents, I’m supporting him. And that, by the way, is my honestly-held personal opinion, and nothing to do with the AWL, for whom I do not speak on this matter. I don’t suppose we’re going to agree on this, but please feel free to come back at me with any further thoughts or comments.
With best wishes
Above “left” and right anti-EU campaigns: spot the difference
“Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.
“While western European countries have been experiencing a large influx of migrant labour, eastern European states are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of that classic imperialist outcome — underdevelopment.
“In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in a process known as “social dumping,” as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened” – Brian Denny (of various “left” anti-EU campaigns) in today’s Morning Star
“A large influx of migrant labour” … “social dumping” (a great euphemism, that) … “cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce…”: and the likes of Denny tell us their campaign is not xenophobic and little-Englandish
Denny’s thoroughly reactionary article is entitled “Get out of this quagmire”: the left needs to get out of Denny’s filthy borderline-racist quagmire – backed by the Morning Star and the Communist Party – once and for all.
Giles Fraser’s recent defence of radical Islam from what he sees as David Cameron’s assault on it – has grown to become the focus of the piece. What’s interesting about this article is that both on its surface, and on every level underlying the surface, it’s nonsense confected with absurdity: a liberal Christian minister writing in defence of the most totalitarian and oppressive interpretations of a faith he doesn’t belong to. Nowhere does Fraser indicate that he finds the views obnoxious, but nevertheless wishes, Voltaire-style, to advocate their right to be expressed. Quite the opposite: he seems enraptured by the audacity of asserting, frankly, medieval ideas as – at the very least – worthy of consideration, and caricaturing those who hold qualms about this type of approach as not just opponents of free speech but the modern-day equivalents of those who would shoot the Levellers. The interesting question then becomes: what explains this monumental myopia on the part of somebody who is clearly well-educated and whose heart, broadly speaking, appears to be in the right place?
Read the full piece here
And has the wretched Fraser even considered where the exciting “refusal to play by the rules” by people who “want to talk about God, sex and politics” can lead in, say, Bangladesh?
I’ve just heard the news of the death of Robert Conquest, historian, entertaining right-winger, debunker of liberal pro-Stalinist mythology, and master limerikician. I shall write more, in due course, about Conquest’s politics and his role as a historian. But, for now, let’s just enjoy his limericks …
… all of which brings me on to the true limerick – lewd, obscene and offensive – and the widely-acknowledged master of the genre, Robert Conquest. To the best of my knowledge, Conquest’s limericks have never been published in a proper collected edition, though several have appeared in his friend Kingsley Amis’s Memoirs and Collected Letters.
Here are some of the best:
A usage that’s seldom got right
Is when to say shit and when shite,
And many a chap
Will fall back on crap,
Which is vulgar, evasive, and trite.
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
There was a young fellow called Shit,
A name he disliked quite a bit,
So he changed it to Shite,
A step in the right
Direction, one has to admit.
That snobbish surrealist, Garsall,
Once did himself up in a parcel;
He addressed it ‘Lord Garsall,
The Keep, Garsall Castle’
And mailed it first-class up his arsehole.
There was old Scot named McTavish
Who went for an anthropoid ravish
But the object of rape was the wrong sex of ape
So the anthropoid ravished McTavish
Possibly my favourite, entitled AT THE ZOO:
There was plenty of good-natured chaff
When I popped in to fuck the giraffe,
And the PRZS
Could hardly suppress
A dry professorial laugh.
Kingsley Amis wrote a follow-up:
When I came back to roger the gnu
I was scarcely delayed coming through,
and the staff – most polite –
cried, “please stay overnight”,
it’s a priviledge granted to few.
While the UK gutter press sinks to new lows of vicious nationalism and racism (giving us a taste of what to expect in the EU referendum) …
…serious and decent people like the author of Obsolete (a blog that I’d wrongly assumed was EU -sceptic) recognise that the only hope of a fair, rational and reasonably humane response has to be Europe-wide – in other words depends upon the EU operating as a trans-national, federal body:
“The only way to deal with the numbers coming fairly is to distribute them evenly between EU member states on the basis of a country’s wealth, size and number of those already settled of the same heritage, to identify just three possible factors to be taken into consideration. This approach would have some major problems: the resettling would have to be done almost immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or person isn’t then wrenched away from somewhere they’ve come to call home a second time. It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers. It would also mean countries that have previously experienced mainly emigration rather than immigration needing to accept some newcomers. As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the abortive attempt to do something similar to this earlier in the year, such solidarity is already in extremely short supply.
“None of these problems ought to be insurmountable. It’s no more fair for Italy and Greece to be the front line in both rescuing and providing for migrants in the immediate aftermath of their reaching Europe than it is for Sweden and Germany to bear by far the most asylum applications (if not in Germany’s case by head of population). The main reason Britain would oppose any such change to the regulations is that despite the Calais situation, we would almost certainly end up taking in more asylum seekers than we do now. For all the wailing, Cobra meetings, cost to the economy of Operation Stack and the closure of the tunnel, it’s seen as preferable to any further increase in the immigration figures … “
We’re not big fans of Prezza here at Shiraz, but he talked a whole lot of horse-sense when interviewed by John Humphries on the Today programme this morning. As always, he got some of his words a bit muddled, but he made himself crystal clear, especially on the subject of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair Esq:
This has been causing some excitement in liberal-left circles, as it apparently means would-be lefties can just wait for “post-capitalism” to happen, while working in retail management or small business:
The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.
Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.
If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.
As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.
Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.
Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.
Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.
Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.
…read the whole article here
A comrade comments:
“It’s complete nonsense; not only utopian in the worst sense of the word but also depressingly gradualist and reformist (its central claim is that ‘post-capitalism’ will just sort of emerge as the result of a proliferation of… well, I don’t know what exactly: file sharing?).
“The ‘would-be lefties’ drawing the conclusion that they can ‘wait for post-capitalism to happen’ – i.e., without having to think, or organise, or act, or struggle in any meaningful way at all – seems to me an entirely faithful reading of the article.
“It’s like the worst bits of Owen and Proudhon repackaged for the digital age and dressed up as some amazingly innovative, novel theory. But at least those people (even Proudhon, who was basically a reactionary) had a bit of fighting spirit about them, wanted to build a movement (of sorts), and wanted people to fight the system (in however distorted or misguided a way). What does Mason want us to do? Surf the web?
“It’s actually quite sad from a guy who probably ought to know better, and who only a few years ago was writing books about how the key aspect of contemporary capitalism was the globalisation of the working class. He seems now to have decided that this isn’t really that important after all.”
I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. I campaigned for him within Unite before the Unite leadership decided to back him.
As such, I think its important for all of us who support Corbyn to put 15 minutes aside to watch this 13 July Channel 4 News interview by Krishnan Guru-Murphy.
On domestic policy, Corbyn is excellent, clearly rejecting Harman’s position on welfare cuts, advocating higher taxation of the super-rich, and speaking up in defence of immigrants. That’s why I and others like me support him.
But on foreign affairs he is – and let’s be frank – shite. Corbyn dodges the questions dishonestly although quite effectively
Yes, Guru-Murthy was probably determined to discredit Corbyn but why can’t he (Corbyn) say on national television what he has already said to countless left-wing audiences: that Hamas and Hezbollah are good, progressive people?
Corbyn doesn’t have the guts to come out and say that openly on TV because he knows that, outside the Stalinoid ‘common sense’ of the pseudo-‘left’, most people (rightly) think supporting these fascistic anti-Semites is outrageous. So he obfuscates and pretends what he said was just about supporting multilateral peace talks, etc (the bit where he says “I’ve also engaged with people on the right of Israeli politics on this issue” – which is simply untrue). Instead of answering the question, he becomes angry and self-righteous. His response to a reasonable line of questioning is, frankly, a dishonest disgrace.
Corbyn does not raise his policy on Israel/Palestine much in his campaign – probably because he realizes how unpopular it is.
Corbyn has been comparatively open that he does not see himself as Labour leader at the next election. I am told that he has said that there should be another leadership election before 2020. This is what I would want in the event that he wins: in which case some of his more idiotic positions on foreign policy may not matter so much.
A bigger problem with Corbyn (and where he may not be in a minority on the Labour left) is the issue of Syria.
Kurdish representatives of the pro-Rojavan PYD went to see him last week. As I understand it they were hoping to get him to moderate his total opposition to Western airstrikes as well as call for arms for the secular Kurdish militias. This would mean Corbyn moving away from his position of simply endorsing the positions put out by the Stop The War Coalition. It would be an ideal way for him to demonstrate that he is not ‘soft on militant Islamism’, but it would involve breaking with the Stalinist/soft-left consensus on Syria/Iraq: something that Corbyn’s politics and established alliances will not allow him to do. It is something that should be raised by Labour leftists alongside Kurdish organizations.
The serious left must support Corbyn, but not hesitate in exposing and denouncing his truly wretched positions on foreign affairs.
Nicola Sturgeon and other female politicians have objected to the cover of the present issue of the New Statesman:
17-23rd July Issue