Statement issued today (18/04/2017) by the Alliance for Workers Liberty:
Left-wing activists, and those who are not yet activists, should throw themselves into campaigning for a Labour victory in the 8 June General Election.
Workers’ Liberty members, including those expelled from Labour by the party bureaucracy, will be out campaigning. If you’d like to work with us on that, get in touch. Whether or not you’re a Labour Party member, you should get active campaigning; if you haven’t joined, now is the time to do it.
We understand that many of those enthused by Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaigns feel disappointed or frustrated by how things have gone. Moreover the circumstances of the election are daunting; and the possibility of Corbyn being replaced with a more right-wing leader if Labour loses is depressing.
Don’t get depressed – organise! Things are difficult, but we don’t know the outcome, either in terms of the election result or of how things will unfold in the Labour Party. Even if Labour does lose the election, the margin is no small matter. Even helping to prevent a huge Tory landslide is a goal worth fighting for.
We need to maximise campaigning. Campaigning should not be counterposed to democratic organising or political debate. With most local Labour Parties shutting down for the duration, Momentum groups should continue to meet – or start meeting again – and use the election to rally and organise people for campaigning, and to discuss Labour’s programme and our political demands.
Socialists should continue to make the case for radical anti-capitalist policies like expropriating the banks. Meanwhile the left should argue for Labour to emphasise the best, boldest, most radical of its existing policies and campaign for them vigorously.
Over the last 18 months Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the party itself have proposed left-wing policies such as rail renationalisation, free education, council house-building, a £10 an hour minimum wage, reversing NHS privatisation – but not campaigned for them in a sustained way. This is an opportunity to begin doing so. We should also argue for Labour to campaign for left-wing policies agreed by its conference but not yet taken up, like public provision of social care and restoring the right to strike in solidarity with other workers.
In an election pitched by the Tories as a referendum on Brexit, Labour needs a clear policy on that. We can’t help but notice that Jeremy Corbyn’s statement responding to Theresa May’s announcement did not mention the issue! There is a real danger that the Liberal Democrats will succeed in pitching themselves as the main opposition to the Tories, with Labour caught looking incoherent in the middle.
Even on the basis of its existing policy, Labour could argue for opposition to the Tories’ Brexit plans, for defence of free movement and migrants’ rights, for remaining in the single market. We should fight for this. Otherwise Labour will go into the election echoing, or scarcely contesting, the Tories’ main message.
Beyond individual policies, we need to fight for the idea that socialist – indeed all left-wing and democratic – politics is about politically convincing and persuading people, shifting the political consensus. During Corbyn’s first Labour leadership contest, we argued that:
“…a left-wing Labour Party could and would have to inform, shape, educate and re-educate ‘public opinion’. That is what a proper opposition party does. A serious political party is not, should not be, what the Blair-Thatcherite Labour Party now is – an election machine to install venal careerists in ministerial office… The ideas, norms, consequences and ideology of market capitalism have not been contested by the political labour movement. All that can now be changed…”
We think it is a mistake for Labour to vote in Parliament for an election now. No democratic principle obliges us to accept the Tories calling a snap election at a moment chosen to suit them – before things get sticky with Brexit – and when Labour still needs time to do the necessary job of re-educating a public trained for decades now in bleak, no-hope, no-options conservative thinking.
Seeking to educate and shift public opinion, rather than manoeuvring cleverly or not-so-cleverly, is what Corbyn has not done – not just because it is difficult, but for want of trying. A movement that fights hard to do that should remain our minimal goal. Organising and mobilising as hard as we can for a Labour victory on 8 June is the best starting point for that.
Greenstein: claims “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism
By Dale Street
Yesterday’s Guardian (13th April) published a statement from the so-called ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign. The text of the letter and the full list of signatories is at:
According to the letter:
“There is nothing whatsoever antisemitic about this [i.e. Livingstone’s statement that Hitler was supporting Zionism before he went mad]. Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University wrote in his book “Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany” (p. 79):
Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews’
Is telling the truth also antisemitic?”
But Nicosia’s book does not corroborate Livingstone’s claim that Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s (nor his other recent claims, such as that there was “real collaboration” between German Zionism and the Nazis “right up until the start of the Second World War”).
Nicosia writes that by the beginning of the twentieth century most German antisemites “had come to view Zionism as representative of much of what they considered the more dangerous and abhorrent characteristics of the Jews as a people.”
He further writes: “For most antisemites in Germany, including the Nazis prior to 1941, their willingness to use Zionism and the Zionist movement was never based on an acceptance of the Zionist view of itself, namely that it represented a force for the common good and for the renewal of the Jews as a people in the modern world.”
He is explicit that the purpose of his book is not to “equate Zionism with National Socialism, Zionists with Nazis, or to portray that relationship as a willing or collaborative one between moral and political equals.”
He dismisses as “ahistorical assertions” arguments which “simplistically dismiss Zionism as yet another example of racism, the substance of which has not been very different from German National Socialism.”
He rejects claims that “Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime in Germany in an effort to secure their own narrow self-interest at the expense of non-Zionist Jews before and during the Holocaust.”
The ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement quotes a single sentence from page 79 of Nicosia’s book. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the author of the statement has also read pages 1-78.
But all of the above quotes are taken from pages 1-78 of Nicosia’s book. The author of the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement has therefore ignored everything in Nicosia’s book which does not suit his own political standpoint and instead picks on a single sentence.
People who engage in selective quoting are not telling the truth. They are lying. In this case, they are lying for a political purpose.
The first signatory to the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement is Tony Greenstein, who is also probably the author of the statement itself.
Ever since the early 1980s – when he was a member of the ‘British Anti-Zionist Organisation’, which claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and encouraged antisemitism to benefit Israel – Greenstein has claimed that there was an “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism, and that Zionism was “a movement of collaboration” with Nazism.
Like Livingstone himself, Greenstein is a great admirer of the writings of Lenni Brenner, another charlatan who specialises in the art of selective quoting. According to Greenstein, Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators is “the most complete account, from an anti-Zionist perspective, of Zionist collusion with the Nazis.”
Greenstein has written a review of Nicosia’s book, tellingly entitled “Review – Francis Nicosia and Zionist Collaboration with Nazi Germany”. Greenstein’s review denounces the book:
“[The book is] an appalling apologia for the collaboration of the Zionist movement in Germany with the Nazi government. …
Nicosia is an author at war with his own evidence. He is determined to reach conclusions at variance with the evidence. …
His thesis that the Zionist movement had to do deals with the Nazis in order to rescue German Jews fails to explain the ideological symmetry between them. …
Nicosia’s problem is that he has little understanding of Zionism, past or present, still less how its racial theories translated into practice in Palestine. …”
So, on the one hand, says Greenstein, Nicosia has little or no understanding of Zionism. He is at war with his own evidence. And he fails to explain the “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism.
But now, in April of 2017, the same Tony Greenstein puts his name to a statement (which he probably wrote as well) which cites the same Francis Nicosia as a credible historian (“the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University”) and invokes the same book (albeit by way of total misrepresentation) in support of Livingstone’s statements.
The ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement argues that Livingstone is not under attack for having made antisemitic statements – Livingstone has merely been telling the truth.
The statement concludes with the unsubstantiated claim: “What the campaign against Livingstone is really about is his long-standing support for the Palestinians and his opposition to Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.”
It is therefore reasonable to assume that the statement’s signatories can distinguish between antisemitic statements and statements of legitimate criticism of Zionism and Israeli policies. (Leaving aside the fact that a number of the statement’s signatories do not just criticise Israeli policies but the very existence of Israel).
But signatories to the statement include Paisley Labour councillor Terry Kelly. Kelly is clearly incapable of making that distinction. He is the author of statements such as:
“Israel decided that the children and old and sick would continue to suffer and die, this is being done by the survivors of the Holocaust, it beggars belief that the Jewish people who suffered so much could treat innocent children this way but that’s what they are doing.”
“What I would like to see (but won’t) is justice done by restoring pre-1948 Palestine, the return of all refugees and an end to the crime that is Israel. Jews along with anyone else who applies successfully to live there would be welcomed, as Palestinians.”
“Have you stopped to ask why [the Obama White House is silent]? It’s because the American Jewish Lobby is extremely powerful and it has its boot on Obama’s neck that is why America still bankrolls Israel despite its crimes against humanity.”
“There is a powerful Jewish lobby campaigning against the film [The King’s Speech] because of its historical inaccuracy about Hitler and the antisemitism which it studiously ignores.”
“[The American academic] Finkelstein was also fired from a university in that apparent home of democracy America following a vicious campaign by the all-powerful American Jewish Lobby.”
Kelly now has a piece on his blog entitled “Ken Livingstone is Innocent and So Was I”.
But in Terry Kelly’s political universe, accusing the Jewish people of collective guilt, advocating the elimination of Israel, and repeated references to ‘the American Jewish lobby’, ‘the powerful Jewish lobby’ and ‘the all-powerful American Jewish lobby’ are all examples of ‘innocence’.
In another sense, though, Kelly is correct: Livingstone is as innocent (or as guilty) as Kelly himself.
And the fact that the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign includes Kelly as a signatory to its statement is itself a measure of that campaign’s own competence and willingness (or incompetence and unwillingness) in matters of recognising and challenging antisemitism.
Above: Livingstone’s dishonesty and ignorance exposed
By Dale Street (this article also appears under a different title, in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)
Over the past twelve months Ken Livingstone has made a succession of jumbled and frequently contradictory claims about the relationship between Zionism and Nazi Germany. Even allowing for their incoherence, they add up to bad history and even worse politics.
It began in April of last year with his claim in a radio interview:
“When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Livingstone repeated the same argument in subsequent interviews:
“Hitler’s policy was to send all of Germany’s Jews to Israel and there were private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this.”
“His policy was to deport all Germany’s Jews to Israel. That’s not because he was a Zionist, it’s because he hated Jews. He then had a dialogue with the leaders of the Zionist movement, private, not him personally but his officials, privately discussing whether to not to proceed with that policy. In the end he didn’t – he chose to kill six million Jews.”
In support of his claims Livingstone cited a book by Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, published in 1983:
“The shocking thing about his book was that it revealed … that the Zionist leadership continued a dialogue privately with Hitler from 1933 until 1940/41. They were working quite closely. Lenni’s book shows a shared common belief between the Nazis and the Zionists in preserving their race from interracial marriage and things like that.”
In an interview with J-TV in May Livingstone claimed:
“In a speech he made on 6th or 7th July 1920 Hitler actually says: ‘The Jews should move to Palestine, that is where they can have their full civil rights.’ So he already had that [i.e. that policy] in mind, long before [his election in 1932].”
During the interview Livingstone cited as the sources for his claims: Lenni Brenner’s book, an article by the American academic and writer Norman Finkelstein, and an academic paper by the American historian Francis Nicosia.
The following month Livingstone gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Antisemitism. He said:
“When Hitler came to power, he negotiated a deal to move Germany’s Jews to Palestine. I have never criticised the Zionist movement for making that deal, because the only alternative at that time was the worldwide boycott of German goods by Jews all over the world.”
“As we saw with South Africa, that did not work then, and I don’t think it would have done. So they had to deal with whoever was in power, however repellent, however antisemitic, but it saved the lives of 66,000 Jews.”
At the same time, Livingstone continued to argue that Hitler supported Zionism:
“That is exactly the one I was referring to [the Transfer Agreement of 1933, which ‘regulated’ the conditions under which German Jews could migrate to Palestine]. That was Hitler’s support for Zionism.”
In his written submission to the Labour Party disciplinary hearing held in March of this year Livingstone wrote:
“The Transfer Agreement was a major political issue at the time as the Jewish movement to boycott German goods was a huge international campaign to turn public opinion against Nazi Germany.”
“I was just pointing out [in the interview of April 2016] that the Nazi policy in relation to the Transfer Agreement had the effect of supporting Zionism.”
“I did not make any equation of Hitler and Zionism. I neither criticised the Transfer Agreement or the section of Zionism that participated in the Agreement. … Any suggestion that my intention was to draw equivalence between Nazism and Zionism is entirely false.”
Although Finkelstein received a passing mention in Livingstone’s submission – in relation to a media post by Labour MP Naz Shah – neither Finkelstein nor Brenner were cited by Livingstone as his sources. The only sources cited were Nicosia and the Israeli historian Yf’aat Weiss.
But Livingstone’s attempt at what, in other circumstances, might be called a more ‘nuanced’ position was undermined by the claims he made as he arrived at the disciplinary hearing:
“Hitler didn’t just sign the [Transfer] Deal. The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who were going to go there [to Palestine] could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there.”
“When the Zionist movement asked, would the Nazi government stop a Jewish rabbi doing their sermons in Yiddish and make them do it in Hebrew, he agreed to that. He passed a law saying the Zionist flag and the swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany. An awful lot.”
“Of course, they started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army. So you had right up until the start of the Second World War real collaboration.”
In a radio interview conducted the day after the disciplinary panel delivered its verdict, Livingstone returned to the theme of Hitler’s supposed support for Zionism:
“There is a difference between saying Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s and saying Hitler was a Zionist. Hitler loathed and detested and feared Jews. He was never going to be a Zionist. But by doing that deal with the German Zionists he undermined the world-wide boycott of German goods that Jews around the world had been setting up.”
The least of Livingstone’s failings in these forays into the relationship between Zionism and Nazi Germany is their incoherence and inconsistency.
April 2016: “The Zionists and the Nazis” were able to “work quite closely” together because of their “shared common belief” in issues of racial preservation. March 2017: Livingstone had never equated Hitler and Zionism and it was false to suggest that he wanted to equate Nazism and Zionism
April to June 2016: Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s. March 2017: “Nazi policy had the effect of supporting Zionism”. April 2017: Hitler was not a Zionist himself but supported Zionism.
April 2016: Hitler had no direct contact with Zionist leaders, it was “not him personally, but his officials”. April 2017: Hitler himself personally “signed” the Transfer Agreement.
June 2016: Zionist leaders are to be praised for the Transfer Agreement: it saved 66,000 Jews from the Holocaust, and the Jewish boycott of German goods was doomed to failure. April 2017: It was “that deal with the German Zionists” which undermined the boycott.
June 2016: German Zionists “had to deal with whoever was in power, however repellent, however antisemitic”. March 2017: German Zionists were guilty of “real collaboration right up until the start of the Second World War”.
Why is there such a record of inconsistency and incoherence?
One reason is that despite his pretensions to be something of an authority on the relationship between Zionism and the Nazi government (or between Zionism and Hitler personally), Livingstone does not know what he is talking about.
Throughout the twelve-month-long controversy which he has generated, Livingstone has sought to ‘rely’ at various times on just four sources of historical writing. And those four sources consist of: one book, one article, and two academic papers.
Livingstone began by citing Lenni Brenner as a historical authority. But in the J-TV interview Livingstone’s interviewer effortlessly exposed Brenner as a charlatan guilty of selective quoting in an attempt to substantiate contrived political arguments.
By the time he appeared before the Home Affairs Committee the following month Livingstone had relegated Brenner to being “an old Trot who is not an academic” and therefore not worth quoting.
In the J-TV interview Livingstone cited an article by the American academic and writer Norman Finkelstein in his defence. But Finkelstein’s article merely repeated Livingstone’s claims without substantiating them, and curtly dismissed all allegations of antisemitism:
“Hitler wasn’t wholly hostile to the Zionist project at the outset. … Livingstone’s also accurate that a degree of ideological affinity existed between the Nazis and the Zionists. … It’s long time past that these antisemitism-mongers crawled back into their sewer.”
Like Brenner before him, Finkelstein quickly disappeared from view as a historical authority.
In his submission to the Labour Party disciplinary hearing Livingstone cited Yf’aat Weiss’s The Transfer Agreement and the Boycott Movement: A Jewish Dilemma on the Eve of the Holocaust and Francis Nicosia’s Zionism in National Socialist Jewish Policy in Germany, 1933-39.
Unsurprisingly, neither of those academic papers corroborate Livingstone’s arguments about Hitler supporting Zionism.
The 1998 paper by Weiss does not even deal with relations between German Zionism and the Nazis. Apart from considering the tension between the Transfer Agreement and the campaign for a boycott of Nazi Germany, it focuses solely on conflicting views of the Transfer Agreement.
Such conflicts existed: within Zionist organisations; between Zionist and non-Zionist organisations; between German-Jewish organisations and Polish-Jewish organisations; between Jewish organisations in the Yishuv and Jewish diaspora organisations; and between Labour Zionists and Revisionist Zionists.
(The left-wing Labour Zionists opposed the boycott campaign and supported the Transfer Agreement. The right-wing Revisionists supported the boycott campaign and opposed the Transfer Agreement.)
Livingstone’s ‘reliance’ on a paper by Francis Nicosia, dating from 1978, is even more fantastic. Nicosia has continued writing for the past four decades, including two books given over entirely to relations between German Zionism and the Nazi regime.
In his second book (Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany – 2008) Nicosia argues the opposite of Livingstone’s version of history. In the introduction to his book he explains that its purpose is not:
“To equate Zionism with National Socialism, Zionists with Nazis, or to portray that relationship as a willing or collaborative one between moral and political equals. … To suppose that any Jewish organisation in Hitler’s Germany prior to the ‘final solution’ had the option of refusing to work on some level with the state is fantasy.”
As one review of the book puts it:
“In certain political and academic circles, there are those who would love to advance the claim, however unfounded, that there exists a remarkable similarity (if not outright equivalence) between Zionism and National Socialism, with all that such a claim implies.”
“Nicosia is aware of this pitfall and attempts throughout the book to neutralise the possibility that his research might be used for dubious political purposes. … Contacts between Zionist activists and senior Nazi officials were not, he insists, representative of any ideological or political common denominator.”
Livingstone appears to be incapable of grasping this point. But, to be fair to him, he has clearly never read the book anyway.
Livingstone’s ignorance of what he has been talking about also explains his gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations in attempting to provide specific examples of “real collaboration” between German Zionists and the Nazis.
According to Livingstone, for example, “the SS set up training camps” so that German Jews could be trained for life in Palestine.
Such training camps did exist. But they existed even before Hitler came to power. Most of the camps were set up and run by Zionist organisations in preparation for emigration to Palestine.
But as the Nazi persecution of Jews intensified, non-Zionist organisations also established training camps to help German Jews prepare for emigration, irrespective of destination. Zionist-run training camps also ceased to focus solely on preparing for emigration to Palestine.
The SS tolerated such camps. But they were also ambivalent towards them. They feared that the skills learnt by Jews in the camps would allow their ‘reinsertion’ into the German economy. And they feared that the result of “rural romances” would, to use the Nazis’ language, be “the defiling of German blood”.
Livingstone’s claim that “he (Hitler) passed a law saying the Zionist flag and the swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany, an awful lot,” was in fact a reference to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.
The purpose of those laws was to segregate Germans Jews from non-Jewish Germans. Hence, they banned Jews from displaying the Reich flag or Reich colours but allowed them to display “Jewish colours”. The laws made no mention of “the Zionist flag”, and no such flag was officially recognised in Nazi Germany.
As for Livingstone’s reference to “an awful lot” (presumably: an awful lot of Zionist flags), no Jew would have been foolish enough to fly “Jewish colours” in post-1935 Nazi Germany. Not even the headquarters of German Zionist organisations dared to display “Jewish colours”.
And a year later Jews were also banned from displaying their own “Jewish colours” on German national holidays.
Livingstone’s claim that “when the Zionist movement asked, would the Nazi government stop a Jewish rabbi doing their sermons in Yiddish and make them do it in Hebrew, he agreed to that” is either a complete fantasy or, more likely, a reference to something completely different.
In December 1936, without having been approached by “the Zionist movement”, the Gestapo banned the use of German in Chanukah sermons. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported:
“The Gestapo (state secret police) today (7th December) notified synagogues that sermons in connection with the Jewish festival of Chanukah, beginning December 9th, must not be in the German language, as had been the custom of Liberal synagogues.”
(Far worse than Livingstone’s inaccuracy is the assumption implicit in his claim: The Nazi regime was at the beck and call of Zionists and only too happy to respond to their whims.)
Just as Livingstone’s specific examples of supposed “real collaboration” between German Zionism and the Nazis are a mixture of invention and misrepresentation, so too is Livingstone’s overarching and repeated claim that Hitler supported Zionism (until he went mad).
In a speech of August 1920, entitled “Why We Are Antisemites”, only a month after he supposedly backed full civil rights for Jews in Palestine, Hitler ruled out any possibility of the Zionist movement achieving its goal of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Jews were “a people which does not want to work. … Such a people will never establish a state.” That was why “the whole Zionist state and its creation is nothing but a comedy.” A Zionist state would be “nothing other than the perfect university for their international crimes, and from where they would all be directed.”
Hitler returned to the same theme in “Mein Kampf”, published in 1925:
“While the Zionists try to make the rest of the world believe that the national consciousness of the Jew finds its satisfaction in the creation of a Palestinian state, the Jews again slyly dupe the dumb Goyim.”
“It doesn’t even enter their heads to build up a Jewish state in Palestine to live there. All they want is a central organisation for their international swindler, endowed with its own sovereign rights and removed from the intervention of other states: a haven for convicted scoundrels and a university for budding crooks.”
Alfred Rosenberg, the leading Nazi ‘theoretician’ of antisemitism, argued along the same lines. He regarded “all Jews as Zionists, and Zionists as the representative of all Jewry.” They were allies of British imperialism, prepared to stab Germany in the back. A Jewish state in Palestine would be “a Jewish Vatican”, but it could never be achieved:
“Zionism is the powerless effort of an incapable people to engage in productive activity. It is mostly a means for ambitious speculators to establish a new area for receiving usurious interest on a global scale.”
For Nicosia, whom Livingstone cites to corroborate his claims about Zionist-Nazi relations:
“The Nazis maintained a contempt for Zionism as for all things Jewish, as representative of what they considered to be some of the most dangerous and abhorrent characteristics of the Jews as a people.”
And according to Timothy Snyder, another historian of Nazi Germany:
“Hitler believed that Zionism was one of many deliberately deceptive labels that Jews placed upon what he believed to be their endless striving for global power and the extermination of the human species.”
Hitler and his regime never supported Zionism at any time. Hitler was never a supporter of Jewish emigration from Germany for the purpose of creating a Jewish state in Palestine.
What Hitler and his regime supported and sought to create was a Germany without Jews. The Transfer Agreement of 1933 flowed out of that antisemitic drive to rid Germany of Jews, not out of Hitler’s supposed personal support for Zionism.
The policy of making Germany ‘judenrein’ was defined in an internal Security Service memorandum written in May of 1934. The defined goal was “the total emigration of the Jews”. And that goal was to be achieved by:
Making it impossible for Jews to earn a living; ending violent street antisemitism (due to its adverse impact on foreign policy); intensifying the social isolation of Jews; exploiting friction between German Jewish organisations; refusal of official minority status for Jews; and full support for occupational retraining as the best way to facilitate emigration.
Such a policy was implemented with increasing ruthlessness. Even after the outbreak of war in 1939 the focus of Nazi Jewish policy initially continued to be emigration, irrespective of destination. As Nicosia writes:
“There was full agreement that while efforts would continue to be made to push Jews to overseas destinations, the ultimate destination of those who managed to leave German soil did not matter very much in the end.”
Only in 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, was this replaced by a new policy: the Final Solution.
But there is arguably a second reason, apart from an ignorance of history, for the inconsistency and incoherence of Livingstone’s claims about the relation between German Zionism and Hitler. That second reason is where bad history gives way to even worse politics.
Over the past twelve months Livingstone appears to have been pulled in two politically conflicting directions at the same time.
As a disciple of Brenner – Livingstone wrote in his memoirs that his book “helped form my view of Zionism and its history” – he must have felt the urge to promote the ‘full-blooded’ version of the argument that Hitler supported Zionism.
The ‘full-blooded’ version involves allegations of Nazi-Zionist collaboration, Zionist collaboration in the Holocaust, Zionism as a form of racism and fascism, Zionist genocide of Palestinians, and Israel as a latter-day Nazi Germany.
Livingstone is no stranger to such arguments.
In the early 1980s Livingstone was one of the editors of Labour Herald, a front paper for the now defunct Workers Revolutionary Party which specialised in theories of international Zionist conspiracies.
Livingstone was an ‘honorary’ editor rather than a hands-on editor. But he saw nothing wrong in occupying the post even though the paper carried antisemitic cartoons equating Israel with Nazi Germany and positive reviews of books alleging Zionist-Nazi collaboration:
“Israel is a state built entirely on the blood of Europe’s Jews, whom the Zionists deserted in their hour of greatest need. These books will shock and horrify, for they expose the hypocrisy of Zionist leaders who used the sympathy for Jews stirred up after the Holocaust for their own devious ends.”
In the same period Livingstone was a supporter of the Labour Committee on Palestine (LCP) and also subsequently signed up as a sponsor of the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine (LMCP).
The platform of the LCP included “opposition to the Zionist state as racist, exclusivist, expansionist and a direct agency of imperialism” and “opposition to manifestations of Zionism in the Labour movement and the Labour Party in particular.”
The platform of the LMCP likewise included a commitment to “fight within the Labour Movement – and the Labour Party in particular – to eradicate Zionism.” Included in the LMCP’s “recommended reading” list was Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators.
Livingstone never abandoned such politics. This is evident from former Jewish Chronicle, editor Martin Bright’s description of a conversation he had with Livingstone in 2012:
“I was open-mouthed when he linked the Jewish Chronicle in a circuitous and incoherent argument to ‘CIA money’. Thinking back, I guess he meant that the paper’s commitment to Zionism made it, by its very nature, part of the propaganda arm of American imperialism.”
“He then launched into a discussion of Zionism itself. He mentioned Lenni Brenner, an obscure American Trotskyist I confessed I hadn’t read, and his work on the historical links between Zionism and Hitler. ‘What you have to realise is that there were close links between the founders of the state of Israel and the Third Reich,’ he said.”
Faced with allegations that there was an antisemitic component to his politics, such as when he denounced a Jewish journalist as a concentration camp guard, Livingstone coined a defence which became known as the Livingstone Formulation.
Allegations of antisemitism, according to Livingstone, were raised in bad faith in order to stifle criticism of Israel: “For too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government.”
That Formulation has been repeatedly employed by Livingstone over the past twelve months.
Naz Shah had been the victim of “a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as antisemitic.” Livingstone himself was under attack because “I support Palestinian human rights and strongly back our Leader Jeremy Corbyn.”
And in his submission to the Labour Party disciplinary hearing Livingstone wrote:
“There has been a significant vilification campaign against supporters of Palestinian rights within Labour. These attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour supporters of Palestinian rights are largely not about antisemitism. Their aim is to curtail the freedom to criticise the policies of Israel.”
Livingstone’s comments over the past twelve months about Hitler “supporting” Zionism and about “real collaboration” between Zionists and Nazis, coupled with invocations of the Livingstone Formulation, are the expression of a politics which Livingstone has adhered to and expressed for well over three decades.
But Livingstone was also subject to a countervailing pressure over those twelve months.
He is an experienced politician. He knew that his statements had become a focus of public attention. He must have known equally well that peddling the full Lenni Brenner version of Zionist-Nazi collaboration would be easily exposed and politically disastrous.
Livingstone must therefore have felt the need to ‘rein in’ the ‘full-blooded’ version of his politics and masquerade instead as an innocent seeker of historical truth – one, indeed, who had suddenly discovered a previously unexpressed admiration for Zionists in Nazi Germany.
Hence his very un-Livingstone-like comments before the Home Affairs Committee and at the Labour Party disciplinary hearing:
German Zionists were not to be criticised for their involvement in the Transfer Agreement. On the contrary, they had saved 66,000 Jewish lives. Zionism and Nazism were not equivalent political philosophies. And it would never cross Livingstone’s mind to suggest otherwise.
But Livingstone could not pull it off.
However much he might try to argue the equivalent of ‘some of my best friends are Zionists’, he could not help but repeatedly relapse into Brennerite allegations of Zionist-Nazi collaboration – even as he walked into a Labour Party disciplinary hearing.
His submission to that hearing made no mention of what he had actually said in April 2016: “Hitler was supporting Zionism”. It was replaced by the syntactically incoherent and scarcely less inaccurate formulation “Nazi policy in relation to the Transfer Agreement had the effect of supporting Zionism.”
This was a rewriting of history. But one that scarcely registers as such when compared with the much larger rewriting of history in which Livingstone has engaged for the past three and a half decades.
And to use Livingstone’s own expression against him: That rewriting of history has had the effect of supporting – and encouraging – antisemitism.
Above: the liar and Jew-baiter Livingstone crows over his victory – hopefully, it will be short-lived
By Sean Matgamna (in 2016, after Livingstone’s suspension)
On one level the sudden media outcry about Ken Livingstone’s anti-semitism is being used and fed by the Labour right, especially the stupid part of the right — and, of course, the Tories — to sabotage the Labour Party in the London mayoral and other local government elections and to discredit Jeremy Corbyn.
Livingstone has been what he is now for decades. He was the same Livingstone when the Blairite right took him back into the Labour Party, in 2004, after his 2000-4 term as London mayor. The bigger truth, however, is that, whatever their motives, those who cry out against Livingstone’s vicious nonsense about Hitler supporting Zionism and wanting to send Jews to Israel in 1932 (he said Israel, not Palestine) are right to do so. If the enemies of the Labour Party and of the left have found a soft target, it is a legitimate target. A big part of the pseudo-left believe or assert that “Zionists” (that is, for practical purposes, most Jews) are historically tainted by Nazism. That “the Zionists” “collaborated” with the Nazis in making the Holocaust and share responsibility for it; that “the Zionists” manipulated even the Nazis during World War 2 and especially share responsibility for the Nazi murder of one million Hungarian Jews in 1944-5. That in their “racism” — that is, in first their wanting a Jewish state and then in their Israeli nationalism — they run parallel to Nazism. That Israel, in that sense, is a continuation of Nazism.
This bizarre “story” originates in the Stalinist anti-semitic campaign against “Zionism” of the late 1940s and the first half of the 1950s. The fact that it is a tissue of contrived and vicious nonsense does not discredit it: one reason why it survives is that it is rarely expressed as a coherent story, as it is here. It is the thesis of the play ‘Perdition’, written by Jim Allen and produced by Ken Loach, and based on Lenni Brenner’s grossly biased and distorting book which Livingstone says he will submit to the Labour Party inquiry into his statements.
Politically inexperienced young people, justly indignant at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Gaza and moved to side with the Palestinians, are easily led into accepting some or all of these ideas. A petrol bomb, or Molotov cocktail, consists of soapy water and petrol in a bottle, and “works”, after the glass container is shattered, by way of the soapy water spreading the burning petrol. Righteous indignation at the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is the soapy water here, spreading a lethal anti-semitism disguised as “anti-Zionism” — what someone called “absolute anti-Zionism”. It has been spread on anti-war demonstrations, for example, by way of placards and chants equating Israeli prime ministers with Hitler, identifying Zionism and Nazism, coupling the Star of David and the swastika, and proclamations of the need to destroy (in real-world terms, conquer) Israel. Young people indignant at Israeli government policies and actions against the Palestinians are miseducated to believe that support for the Palestinians against Israel demands not an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel, but the destruction of Israel.
Least of all does this vicious claptrap help the Palestinians. Even leaving aside the question of the national rights of the Hebrew nation in Palestine, this attitude implies indefinite postponement of a settlement, until Israel can be conquered. It rules out emancipation for the Palestinians in any foreseeable future. Its devotees actively campaign against the only real solution: an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
They “use” the plight of the Palestinians to float Arab-chauvinist, Islamic-chauvinist, “anti-imperialist” hostility to Israel. They are functionally indifferent to the living Palestinian people. The terrible truth is that the pseudo-left, and most so the “revolutionary” pseudo-left”, is a cesspool of an “absolute anti-Zionism” which is anti-semitism because it condemns — as “Zionists”, as criminals, as racists — Jews who refuse to agree that Israel should be abolished.
In the not-so-distant past, student Jewish societies have been banned for refusing to support this. Livingstone’s comments were only a small and half-sanitised version of that politics, that attitude, and that mindset. It is a historical fact that some anti-semites — for instance, Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein — did say they found Zionism acceptable. It would if successful remove the Jews they hated to a distant land. For decades such facts as the talks between Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and the minister of the anti-semitic Tsarist government, von Plehve, or the “Transfer Agreement” made by the Jewish Agency in Palestine with Hitler’s government in August 1933, allowing Jews who fled Germany to Palestine to keep some of their property, were setpieces in Stalinist anti-Zionist agitation. But Livingstone wasn’t just referring to such things in the past and “construing” them. It is plain from the way he spoke that he was jeering, baiting, just as he did in 2005 when he called a Jewish journalist “like a concentration camp guard”.
“Hitler supported Zionism”. He wanted Jews to go “to Israel”. The Holocaust was not a logical development in war conditions of Nazi policies, but a matter of Hitler, previously a Zionist, “going mad and killing millions of Jews”. Slight pauses in his speech indicated that Livingstone was being careful with his words. He reaffirmed his statements in three separate interviews on 28 April, and has refused to retract them since. With Livingstone, the cesspool of pseudo-left “absolute anti-Zionism”, that is anti-semitism, overflowed into mainstream politics. It gave the right and the Tories an easy target and an opportunity to bring the scandal out into the open. It needs to be out in the open. It needs to be discussed. It needs to be purged politically — and the labour movement needs to purge itself of the unteachables like Livingstone.
The immediate suspension of Livingstone from the Labour Party and the setting-up of an investigation into his statements overlaps with the distinct and separate question of the rights of Labour Party members and the continuing waves of expulsions of leftists. “Progress” and other Labour right-wingers are campaigning to make expulsions even easier, and for anyone adjudged by a Labour Party official as guilty of “anti-semitism, racism, or Islamophobia” to be summarily banned from membership for life. Livingstone and his supporters try to present Livingstone’s suspension as one more unjustified reprisal against the left. They try to amalgamate the issues. Serious socialists should not let them do that.
Livingstone is not a typical victim of Labour’s expulsion-freaks. There is a mystery here. What does Livingstone think he is doing? He is a calculating man. He is a Livingstone-serving opportunist, not a principled politician who will stand by his version of the truth, irrespective of consequences. His saying what he said and refusing to retreat from it is uncharacteristic behaviour. He knows perfectly well that he is helping the Labour right and the Tories, sabotaging Labour’s election campaign. He wants to do that? Why?
The explanation may lie in Livingstone’s dual character. Inside this supremely self-centred, manipulative politician Dr Jekyll-Livingstone there is imprisoned a contrary, irrational, egotist, Mr Hyde-Livingstone, who sometimes takes over.
The Labour right offensive targets not only Livingstone but Corbyn. Prominent has been John Mann MP. Mann is something of a rent-a-gob, an MP in a symbiotic partnership with busy journalists who need an immediate response, a comment, a quote. That gives the MP a spurious prominence and the journalists usable copy. In his rent-a-gob role, when it became plain in the middle of the 2015 Labour leadership contest that Corbyn would win, Mann made the preposterous proposal that the election be called off, thus branding himself as not only a right-winger but also as a notable dimwit. But Mann has for long been an open opponent of “left-wing” anti-semitism. He is entitled to have a go at Livingstone, even though, characteristically, he did it with wild hyperbole. Whatever the motives of those attacking Livingstone, the issue of pseudo-left anti-semitism must be tackled on its merits.
For the serious left to ally with Livingstone, and to let opposition to the expulsions regime in the Labour Party prejudice us in favour of Livingstone, pushing aside the political question in this case, would be a suicidal mistake. “Left” anti-semitism is no small thing. The future of the labour movement depends on it being opposed, combated, and uprooted. The Labour leadership had a right to suspend Livingstone and open an investigation, and they were right to exercise it. The alternative would have been to show themselves numb, indifferent, or collusive to anti-semitism and the anti-semites. Livingstone will have the chance to argue at the investigation all his claims to have been unfairly or unjustly treated.
There is a plain danger that the politics of the issue will be buried in the churning mud of denunciations and counter-denunciations. Typical left “absolute anti-Zionists” are not racists. They most likely share all the horror of decent people at racism. Their mental furniture includes denunciations of Hitler’s and Stalin’s anti-semitism, loathing of the Tsarist Black Hundred anti-Jewish pogromists, and so on. The central problem with the “absolute anti-Zionists” is that they don’t see the connection between the anti-semitism and the racism they loathe, and their own politics now on Israel. They see themselves only as champions of the Palestinians oppressed by Israel, and their hostility to Israel only as a just and necessary part of that. Such people are typically not racists against Jews. The dividing line is not on racism, but in the politics of the Middle East. It is not between critics of Israel and its uncritical defenders, but on the political answers subscribed to. The dividing line is between those who want to change and reform Israel, and have an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel — and those who deny Israel’s right to exist at all, who see Israel as an illegitimate political formation, a mistake, a crime of history that must be undone by the elimination of the whole Israeli polity.
Everything anti-semitic specific to the left is rooted in that divide. It is impossible to draw a line saying which degrees and kinds of criticism of Israel are to be licensed. Who should decide what is untrue or true, too severe or merely just, preconceived or a legitimate response to reality? It is a hopeless task. Such a Labour Party regime could not but be arbitrary and capricious, and, in current conditions, driven by a hysteria invoked for the occasion by the Labour right.
On the one side there will be people inclined to see any serious criticism of Israel as anti-semitism; on the other, those inclined to see any defence or justification of Israel as “Zionist apologetics”. The political dividing line, both true to the reality and serviceable in practice, is between critics of Israeli policy and action who want to improve things, and those whose often just criticism carries the demand that Israel be destroyed, that the Hebrew nation be deprived of self-determination — who back armed action by such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and by Arab or Islamic states, to put Israel out of existence.
It is important in all this not to lose sight of the Palestinians held in the stifling grasp of Israeli occupation, outmatched militarily and more or less helpless in the face of Israeli military might. The Palestinian demand for their own independent state, alongside Israel, deserves the support of every socialist and honest democrat.
NB: an excellent, detailed critique of Livingstone’s supposedly ‘authoritative’ source, Lenni Brenner, here
Excellent analysis By Bob From Brockley, here
Coyne supporters ‘expose’ McCluskey’s ‘skeletons in the cupboard’
By Anne Field
Ballot papers for Unite the Union’s General Secretary and national Executive Council elections have now been sent out to the union’s 1.4 million members.
West Midlands Unite full-timer Gerard Coyne is the right-wing challenger to Len McCluskey, the incumbent General Secretary seeking re-election for a third time. Ian Allinson is also standing as the candidate of rank-and-file democracy.
The basis of Coyne’s campaign is to make right-wing appeals to disengaged members of Unite. Apart from a promise to freeze union dues for two years, Coyne is standing for election on a largely policies-free platform. The vacuum is filled by mud-slinging.
Coyne has homed in on Unite putting over £400,000 into a share equity deal which enabled McCluskey to buy a £700,000 London flat. Coyne’s conclusion: “The man who talks about greedy bosses is a greedy boss himself.”
Another of Coyne’s targets is the £75,000 which Unite lent to Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 Labour Party leadership campaign, and subsequently wrote off as a donation. Coyne’s response: “I’ll focus on saving the jobs of our members, not the job of the leader of the Labour Party.”
More recently, Coyne teamed up with Tom Watson to portray McCluskey as being in cahoots with Momentum in a plot to take over the Labour Party. Coyne’s criticism: “Unite members’ money should not be used to prop up the ultra-left. This is not what trade unions are for.”
Coyne’s strategy is to portray McCluskey as being engrossed in Labour Party politics and out of touch with ordinary Unite members: “Luxury flat loans and propping up the hard left: McCluskey is losing touch with Unite members.”
According to Coyne, “Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn are yesterday’s men.” A victory for Coyne would be a chance for Unite members to “take back control” of their union.
Coyne’s campaigning methods have corresponded to the substance, or lack of substance, of his campaign. He is not interested in arguing with McCluskey and winning over his supporters. His target is the most passive and inactive layers of Unite’s membership.
In early March Coyne’s supporters staged a publicity stunt by lobbying a meeting of Unite’s Executive Council at the union’s head office, wearing skeleton masks and carrying model skeletons. (Theme: McCluskey’s skeletons in the cupboard.)
In mid-March his campaign mailed copies of a freebie broadsheet entitled Unite Herald to all Unite branches. The broadsheet covered the usual ground and appealed to members to “give McCluskey the two-fingered salute” by voting for Coyne.
In late March Coyne was given space in the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Express to attack McCluskey and promote his own campaign:
“McCluskey is obsessed with Westminster power games rather than looking after the real needs of Unite’s members. A low turnout (in the election) would suit Len and his supporters. But if the majority of Unite members vote, his time at the top is over. Unite is not the private property of Len McCluskey and friends.”
The response of McCluskey’s campaign to Coyne’s attacks underlines its limitations: McCluskey is relying first and foremost on the Unite apparatus and the United Left election machine, rather than on political argument and membership engagement, to turn out the vote for him.
Coyne’s alliance with the right wing of the Labour Party has not been used by McCluskey as an opportunity to open up a political debate among the Unite membership about implementation of the union’s own political strategy.
Instead, McCluskey’s response has been to argue that a political strategy plays no role in his campaign and that his only concern is members’ bread-and-butter issues. His supporters boast that just 3% of his tweets have mentioned politics.
When Coyne’s Unite Herald was sent to branches, Unite Acting General Secretary Gail Cartmail wrote to branch secretaries warning them that they could be “exposed to legal proceedings for defamation” and also disciplined under the union’s Rulebook if they distributed the broadsheet to their members.
Coyne was (rightly) denounced for having written for the Sun – above all in a widely circulated article published in the Morning Star: “Collaborating with Murdoch is a taint that never fades”.
So, writing for the Sun is an irremovable stain. But writing for a paper which acts as an apologist for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, left anti-semitism, Brexit, attacks on freedom of movement of labour, and anti-Trotskyist witch-hunts in the Labour Party is an honour and a privilege.
(Coyne doesn’t care about the opprobrium heaped on him for having written for the Sun. Metaphorially and literally, it is the readership of the Sun which is his target audience.)
In many ways such examples sum up McCluskey’s campaign: based on a bureaucratic machine, averse to a real debate among the membership, and ‘left wing’ only insofar as the politics of the Morning Star can be deemed to represent what counts as ‘left politics’.
Despite lacking the vast resources which Coyne and McCluskey have at their disposal, Ian Allinson secured enough nominations to be included on the ballot papers which have just been sent out. This is no small achievement in itself.
But while his campaign has challenged McCluskey from the left and raised basic ideas about what a lay-member-led union – in which full-timers are properly accountable to the membership – would look like, his campaign has not really ‘taken off’.
It also suffers from three basic problems:
He has not suceeded in defeating the argument that his campaign will achieve no more than taking votes way from McCluskey, thereby increasing Coyne’s chances of winning. But Allinson himslef accepts that a victory for Coyne would be a disaster.
Nor has he suceeded in defeating the argument that his boast of being more pro-Corbyn than McCluskey himself is incoherent – given that he is not a Labour Party member himself and refuses to even attempt to join the Labour Party.
In fact, Allinson’s support for Corbyn amounts to a particularly crude version of Corbyn-cultism. It is not part of any strategy for transforming the Labour Party. And it defines what the Labour Party is in terms of who its leader is at any particular moment in time.
Allinson also makes support for freedom of movement a major feature of his election campaign. But he is also reported to have tweeted in January: “I wasn’t in Lexit campaign. Did vote out. Most arguments on both sides rotten. Key issues now workers rights & movement.”
Allinson’s current position therefore amounts to defending migrant rights which are under attack as a result of the course of action which he supported last June.
(The tweet is no longer visible in his account. If reports of the tweet are inaccurate, Allinson can correct them and clarify the position which he took in last June’s referendum.)
Unite members should vote for McCluskey. But that is no more than the first stage of the campaign needed to transform Unite into an organisation capable of promoting its members interests both industrially and politically.
Sarah AB (at Harry’s Place) reports:
You are receiving this email as a member of Unite the Union.
It invited me to unsuscribe from future emails from Gerard Coyne. Looking back, I now see that I received an earlier email from the Coyne campaign on 20 March. It begins:
Your union should focus on the day job – protecting you at work and fighting for better pay and conditions for our members.
But Len McCluskey has been obsessed with playing Westminster politics. That’s why he gave £225,000 of your money to Jeremy Corbyn to get him elected as Labour leader.
Now this weekend we have learned of plans to link your union Unite with far-left political faction Momentum if Len McCluskey is re-elected.
If you support me for General Secretary, I won’t let Unite become a political football. I won’t spend your money on political games.
I have been a member of AUT, NATFHE and UCU – but never Unite. It has been reported that many Labour members are receiving these emails, and that this could represent a breach of data protection legislation. I would welcome more information on this issue.
“The final decision rests there. However, Unite has been provided with overwhelming evidence that Mr Simon’s campaign and Mr Coyne’s campaign have entered into some form of a mutual support arrangement, which has included the shared use of Labour party membership data.
“The Labour party has acknowledged that this has happened, that it was unauthorised and that it should be halted.
Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures
By Johnny Lewis
The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.
I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).
Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.
While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?
Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.
Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.
On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.
While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:
While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:
‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.
The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?
Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.
While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.
The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.
Serious leftists should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which voting begins on 27 March, because it’s a first-past-the-post poll, and without left-wing votes going to McCluskey there is a real risk Gerard Coyne will win.
Coyne is heavily backed by the Labour right wing around Tom Watson and Progress. If he wins, he will swing Unite decisively to the anti-Corbyn camp. That could close down all the openings for Labour revival opened by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victories.
Vote Coyne to help Watson and Progress get rid of Corbyn: that’s the deal.
In the 2013 general secretary election there was no right-wing candidate. In the 2010 poll the right-wing vote was split between two right-wing candidates. Their combined vote was only 16,000 less than the vote for McCluskey.
A good chunk of the 53,000 votes won in that ballot by supposed “left-winger” Jerry Hicks will have been by no means tightly anchored to the left. Many members who voted Hicks because they saw him as closer to the old AEU strand in Unite, or because they backed his promise to boost the role of retired members, or because they liked his complaint about “the relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests” (Hicks’s words), may be seduced by a well-crafted Coyne campaign.
Coyne probably has a better “machine” behind him than Bayliss or Cartmail did in 2010. The media has already been much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has handed to them on a plate).
If there were no difference between McCluskey and Coyne, then we could dismiss the “splitting the left vote” argument. But there is a real difference.
There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of McCluskey, and many on the left in Unite felt it was a great pity that he felt it necessary to stand again, for a third term. But McCluskey is right about one thing: Unite’s backing for Corbyn “in 2015… was a decision of our elected lay Executive Council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong Policy Conference, by a vast majority… Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests. It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party… in their political project to bring back Blairism”.
During his time in office McCluskey can rightly claim credit for the re-organisation of the union’s branch structures (replacing amorphous and often moribund geographical branches by workplace-based ones) and building the union’s Organising and Leverage Department.
He has presided over the development of Unite community branches, targeted at bringing community activists, the unemployed, and students into the trade union movement, and bringing trade union resources to bear in support of their campaigning.
McCluskey backed Corbyn in the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest, and did so again in 2016.
Leftwinger Ian Allinson is standing as “an experienced workplace activist”, “the grassroots socialist candidate”, and “the only candidate who knows first-hand the experiences and frustrations of our members”. By contrast, writes Allinson, Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne have both been “been paid officials of Unite for many years.” McCluskey stands for “more of the same” and Coyne stands for “turning the clock back”.
Allinson criticises the current Unite leadership for its failure to build a serious campaign against the Tories’ latest anti-union laws, its (alleged) shortcomings in a succession of industrial disputes, and its concessions to the ideology of “partnership” with employers. Allinson also unreservedly defends freedom of movement of labour, cites “increasing the participation and power of workers” as his “number one priority”, and has promised to remain on his current wage (i.e. not take the General Secretary salary of £130,000 a year).
Having Allinson in the race will be a good thing. It will mean that his arguments about Unite’s shortcomings under McCluskey and his alternative ideas about rank-and-file control will reach a much wider audience than just the branches which have nominated him.
That could help open up the debate about what a lay-member-led union would really look like and how it would function in practice — something which does not figure in either McCluskey’s or Coyne’s election material. So far, so good. But there are problems with Allinson’s election platform and campaign.
Allinson claims to be a better supporter of Corbyn than McCluskey. But Allinson is not even a Labour Party member and has made clear that he has no intention of joining. He advocates “extending Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn”, including “through Unite’s role in the Labour Party”. What that means is not spelt out. At a minimum, it must include encouraging more Unite members to join the party, which Allinson himself refuses to join.
Given Allinson’s defence of freedom of movement of labour, he ought to be critical of Corbyn (from the left): Corbyn has retreated from demanding access to the Single Market (and the freedom of movement which goes with it) and has backed the Tories’ Brexit Bill. But Allinson is silent about this. In fact, he does not seems to have ever spelt out own position on Brexit. (The group of which Allinson is a member, RS 21, took no position on the EU referendum — it was too divided internally to have done so.)
Allinson campaigns for a million “green jobs” to help protect the environment, as opposed to “costly and destructive vanity projects”. But he includes in those “vanity projects” Hinkley Point (although even George Monbiot sees a role for nuclear power) and HS2 (which could be developed into a much more environmentally friendly project). Allinson’s proposals for greater lay-member-control in Unite certainly provide a basis for discussion. But they lack a focus.
Alongside some specific demands, such as the ill thought-out ritual call for election of officers, there are vague proposals such as “fortnightly e-mail bulletins [from whom, about what?] to all activists, not filtered through officers and committees” and “involving members, officers and staff in a major review of Unite’s structures”. So officers should be by-passed when a fortnightly e-mail is sent out, but participate in a major review of Unite structures? Allinson “opposes the exclusion of Community and retired members from participation in Unite structures”. This smacks far more of Jerry-Hicks-style electioneering than a thought-through analysis of the role of Community and retired members’ branches. (In the 2010 and 2013 General Secretary elections Hicks ran shamelessly opportunist campaigns, to pick up both right and left votes. The most damning statement in Allinson’s election material is surely: “In previous Unite elections, Jerry Hicks, standing on a similar basis to me ….”)
In order to justify his own candidacy, Allinson refers to previous Unite General Secretary elections “when left challengers beat the right.” But 2013 was a straight clash between McCluskey and Hicks (i.e. no right-wing candidate, although Hicks certainly picked up votes from the ex-Amicus right). In 2010 Hicks came second to McCluskey — but only because two right-wing candidates split the right vote. And when Mark Serwotka beat Hugh Lanning to become PCS General Secretary in 2000, which Allinson also cites, it was a straight left-right clash.
Allinson is not always consistent in his critique of McCluskey and Coyne. McCluskey’s defeat and Coyne’s victory would be “a disaster for Unite,” writes Allinson. But he also argues that there is no real difference between them: “Far from my candidacy splitting the left vote, McCluskey and Coyne are splitting the establishment vote.” At the same time, Allinson declares that if he was not standing himself, he would vote for McCluskey: “There will be some members who will support me who would support McCluskey if there were no better option. I would be one of those members myself.”
In fact, the real problem confronting Allinson is a different one. Because there is a worse option (Coyne), members who would otherwise support Allinson, or at least be sympathetic to his ideas, are more likely to vote for McCluskey in a first-past-the-post poll. The shortcomings of Allinson’s campaign, especially in the context of the threat posed by Coyne, outweigh the case for voting for him. Even so, the argument at the core of Allinson’s campaign is the right one: for a member-led union in place of a bureaucracy-led union which pretends to be a member-led one. And that is a message which needs to be pursued beyond the current election campaign.
By Dale Street (also published at the Workers Liberty website)
Only a fortnight ago Kezia Dugdale summed up Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence:
“[At this weekend’s Scottish Labour annual conference] I set out Scottish Labour’s opposition to another independence referendum. Scotland is divided enough already, without yet another attempt to separate our country from the rest of the UK.
The people of Scotland do not want another independence referendum. It’s time for the Nationalists to listen to the voices of ordinary working people. [Given the levels of poverty in Scotland], it would be shameful to spend the next few years talking about independence.”
Although it counted for little more than gesture politics, Scottish Labour underlined its opposition to a second referendum by launching an online petition:
“Sign the pledge against a second independence referendum and join the fight for a stronger Scotland inside a reformed UK, with jobs and opportunities for all.”
But last weekend Jeremy Corbyn visited Glasgow and told the media: “If a referendum is held, then it is absolutely fine, it should be held. I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.”
“A spokesman for Corbyn” and “a source close to Corbyn” tried to minimise the damage.
According to the spokesman: “Jeremy reaffirmed our position today that if the Scottish Parliament votes for a referendum, it would be wrong for Westminster to block it. Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament”.
But Labour has not taken a position that Westminster should agree to a referendum if Holyrood votes for it. And Corbyn’s argument that the Labour Party should not “prevent people from holding referenda” does not fit in with Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum.
According to the “close source”: “Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want – more grievance. Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out.”
But the SNP has an infinite supply of “more grievance” anyway. Their entire political life consists of conjuring up “more grievance”. And if Dugdale is right to “keep the pressure” on Sturgeon to rule one out, a second referendum could only be the result of a defeat for Scottish Labour – not something to be described as “absolutely fine”.
Corbyn, his spokesman and the close source all reaffirmed opposition to independence in the event of a second referendum.
But this faded into the background, overshadowed by (not entirely accurate) headlines along the lines of Corbyn: Second independence referendum should be held and Corbyn absolutely fine with a second Scottish referendum.
Corbyn’s opponents within the Labour Party were quick to exploit his statement: “Often asked why I resigned from Shadow Cabinet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jeremy Corbyn. He’s destroying the party that so many need”, tweeted Scotland’s only Labour MP.
For the viscerally anti-Corbyn MSP Jackie Baillie it was too good an opportunity to miss: “This is a misguided and irresponsible comment from Jeremy Corbyn that is an insult to the dedicated work of Scottish Labour MSPs, councillors and thousands of activists who have campaigned against a divisive second referendum”.
Of course, Corbyn’s factional opponents within the Labour Party will attempt to exploit the issue.
And it would be legitimate to argue that Corbyn’s core argument is correct, i.e. Scotland’s right to self-determination means not just the right to independence but also the right to hold a referendum without having to seek Westminster approval.
Even so, Corbyn’s statement was wrong on any number of levels.
Despite the attempted spin of the unnamed spokesman and close source, Corbyn’s layback attitude to the prospect of a possible second independence referendum cannot be reconciled with Scottish Labour policy.
Corbyn’s statement clearly came out of the blue and without advance warning: Corbyn had not described a second referendum as “absolutely fine” when he had spoken at the Scottish Labour conference just a fortnight ago.
Although Corbyn was referring to what position Labour in Westminster might or should adopt towards the demand for a second referendum, his statement read – even without the additional spin by the media – as an endorsement in principle of a second referendum.
The statement confused “people holding referenda” with the SNP’s campaign for a second referendum.
Opinion polls suggest there is no popular support for a second referendum (at least in the short term). The SNP demand for another referendum is the product of its own one-trick-pony nationalist politics, not a reflection of public opinion. The SNP wants to hold a referendum, not “people”.
By appearing to legitimise their demand for a second referendum, the statement played into the hands of the SNP. Sturgeon’s mocking response to Corbyn’s statement was to tweet: “Always a pleasure to have @jeremycorbyn campaigning in Scotland.”
The statement also played into the hands of the Tories, who have already overtaken Labour as the official opposition at Holyrood. It allowed them to present themselves as the only genuine opposition to Scottish independence (which, in turn, is a further gift to the SNP).
Corbyn’s statement was also an extension of what is wrong with his approach to Brexit.
For Corbyn, it seems that once a referendum appears on the political agenda, the specific interests of the labour movement no longer count for anything. Instead, the labour movement should either submit to the result and vote with the Tories (Brexit) or submit to the demand for one and vote with the SNP (Scotland).
Above all, it is not “absolutely fine” if a second referendum were to be held. Irrespective of the result, it would divide Scottish society and weaken the labour movement – in both cases, probably for more than a generation – to an even great degree than the 2014 referendum.
The 2014 referendum was a profoundly divisive event. Previously coexisting national identities were pitted again each other. By elbowing aside class-based politics and voting patterns in favour of national-identity politics, it also resulted in a collapse of electoral support for Labour.
A second referendum would take that process a stage further. In fact, the impact would be far worse than in 2014.
In 2014 the SNP did at least attempt to run a campaign which was based to some degree on economic arguments (however spurious those arguments may have been). But identity politics will be at the core of a second referendum: bad English/British (racist and pro-Brexit) and proud Scot (pro-EU and inclusive).
What was fundamentally wrong with Corbyn’s statement was not so much his off-the-cuff speculation about what position Labour in Westminster might take about a second referendum. It was his failure to understand the poisonous political impact of a second referendum, whatever its result.
Corbyn was wrong. And no-one on the left should feel obliged to defend the indefensible.
The following open letter was drawn up by Labour right-winger Chucka Umunna, and many (but not all) of the signatories are from the right of the party. It criticises the leadership for failing to fight to stay in the EU single market.
On that point, if nothing else, Umanna and the signatories are correct. Corbyn’s (and Keir Starmer’s) capitulation to May’s hard-Brexit approach has been craven and has led to serious demoralisation amongst Corbyn’s supporters in and around Momentum, especially younger party members unencumbered by the Bennite/Stalinist anti-EU baggage that seems to be the default position of Corbyn, encouraged by his Stalinist advisers.
Open Letter to the Labour Leadership
In his budget statement on Wednesday, the chancellor mentioned Britain’s exit from the European Union – the biggest issue in the government’s in-box – just once. But in reality the budget – with its tax hikes, broken promises and increasing public debt – was dominated by the impact of the government’s decision to withdraw Britain from the European Union.
The government has announced its intention to pull Britain out of the single market, discarding our membership of the largest and most sophisticated trading zone in the world before negotiations have begun. Other nations are not in the EU yet opted to be part of the single market because of the huge benefits it brings. So instead of starting the negotiation by aiming for the best deal we can possibly get by staying in the single market, Theresa May has waved the white flag and thrown in the towel.
Having taken account of the Tory government’s negotiating position on Brexit, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) this week spelt out the consequences. While ministers pretend we will get a trade deal that delivers “the exact same benefits” as we have now, the OBR predicts that after Brexit our “trading regime will be less open than before”. While ministers say we will enjoy a resurgence of trade with the rest of the world, the OBR forecasts “a lower trade intensity of UK economic activity” even if new deals are negotiated. This is the reality.
Membership of the single market is the best possible economic option for our country and would allow us to leave the EU without wrecking people’s jobs and livelihoods. It would give us totally free trade with the biggest market on the planet, with neither tariff barriers to trade in goods nor regulatory barriers to trade in services between the UK and the EU – all whilst not being a member of the EU. Any trading arrangement which does not deliver such a level of market access will reduce the flow of trade between Britain and our biggest partner. This will mean higher costs for businesses, fewer jobs, and higher prices in the shops.
Confronted with this threat, the British people – leave voters and remain voters alike – are looking to the Labour party to provide leadership and direction as we go forward. It is crucial that we reject the argument that Brexit must mean a trading arrangement that makes the British people poorer. Instead, Labour must stand unambiguously for a deal that protects peoples’ jobs and livelihoods and enhances their life chances; not a hard Brexit that could take our economy off a cliff whilst making working people worse off. This requires our party to be full-throated in its defence of Britain’s membership of the single market.
The arguments against single market membership illustrate a level of defeatism and a lack of ambition, not worthy of a great country like ours.
Leaving the EU while remaining in the single market respects the will of people. The UK would regain control over agriculture and fisheries policy, justice and home affairs measures, defence and foreign policy.
Yes, there is a desire to reform the way our immigration system works but we do not need to sacrifice our prosperity to achieve greater immigration control. Britain is Europe’s second largest economy, its most significant military power, and one of its two permanent members of the UN security council. It should not be beyond us to conclude a deal that retains our single market membership while reforming the immigration system. Free movement has been shown to be reformable in the past, and so it can be in the future.
It should also not be beyond the ability of a government, with the right negotiation strategy, to secure an agreement that allows us continued influence over European regulations that will continue to affect our country if we stay in the single market. No government should willingly give up the best economic option for our country at this stage without even trying to retain it – but that is the course on which the government has now embarked.
It is the basic responsibility of the Labour party to mount the strongest possible opposition to Theresa May’s government and fight for a Brexit deal that respects the will of the British people but ensures that they will not be made substantially worse off. As the party that has always stood up for working people, we must fight tooth and nail for a future that does not destroy their jobs and livelihoods. Single market membership outside the EU is the way to achieve this and is what Labour should be arguing for.
Chuka Umunna, Alison McGovern, Heidi Alexander, Chris Leslie, Kate Green, Ian Murray, Chris Bryant, Tulip Saddiq, Mike Gapes, Stella Creasy, Wes Streeting, Graham Allen, Liz Kendall, Anne Coffey, Mary Creagh, Angela Smith, Rushanara Ali, Ben Bradshaw, Karen Buck, Peter Kyle, Julie Elliot, Luciana Berger, Madeleine Moon, Gareth Thomas, Daniel Zeichner, Thangam Debbonaire, Owen Smith, Margaret Hodge, Seema Malhotra