The day after the Momentum steering committee voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair, the Morning Star , a newspaper closely linked with the Communist Party of Britain, published an editorial condemning the decision as part of the Labour “witch-hunt” and accusing the steering committee of “political cowardice and confusion”. The editorial contained a number of factual inaccuracies (for instance, claiming that four of the seven votes to remove Walker were from the AWL – a claim now removed from the online version), but more seriously, seemed to deny the possibility of antisemitism existing on the left – a reality that an earlier, more thoughtful M Star editorial had recognised.
Yesterday’s M Star published a response from Momentum chair Jon Lansman, which can be read here. It also published a letter from a leading and long-standing Communist Party member, Mary Davis. As letters do not appear on the M Star‘s website, we publish it below:
I am writing to express my concern and dismay at both the tone and the content of the editorial in the paper (M Star October 5). On Sunday we will be marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. A rare victory made possible by the mobilisation of the East End Jewish community together with the inestimable role of the Communist Party.
In 1936 the party did not have a problem in understanding the nature of antisemitism and the need to fight against it. The Labour Party today is clearly making a similar effort. Hence it established the Chakrabati inquiry and seems determined to tackle the issue.
Given this background, I would have expected our paper with its full support for Jeremy Corbyn, to have welcomed Momentum’s decision to suspend its vice-chair, Jackie Walker. Instead it has taken precisely the opposite position.
It may be that Walker has not found an acceptable definition of anti-Semitism, but that should not, given our history, preclude us from having one and acting on it.
Walker had been suspended (although re-admitted) to the Labour Party for her comment that Jews were the “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.” Other of her comments on the Holocaust and the misuse of security at Jewish schools have been criticised by Momentum as being “ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive.”
The comments in the Star’s editorial writing off the Jewish Labour Movement (because they attacked Walker) as a zionist organisation would correctly incur criticism from Chackarbarti, who in her section on “zionism and zionists” makes the following observation: “Crucially, I have heard testimony [about] … the way in which the word ‘zionist’ has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for Jew.
“My advice to critics of the Israeli state and/or government is the use the term ‘zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.”
Manual Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA and a strong backer of Corbyn, called on Walker to resign from the Labour Party immediately. I concur with this view and counsel our paper to support the left Labour position on anti-semitism.
MARY DAVIS, London N4
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
Where are the demonstrations in western capitals to denounce the brutal onslaught on Aleppo? Around 300,000 people are exposed to carpet bombing, including bunker-busting and fragmentation ordnance. Is the weather so bad that no one wants to stand on a square, or in front of a Russian embassy? Or does no one care? Does no one think protesting would make a difference? (read the rest here)
Statement from Syria Solidarity UK:
Protect the Children of Aleppo: Stop the War in Syria
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
What will you do to stop the war in Syria?
READ: Left activists call on Jeremy Corbyn to speak out on Syria
Below: Syria activists leafleting outside today’s Stop The War conference in London.
Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:
Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)
On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.
Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.
After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).
I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.
Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us
For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:
“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.
“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.
“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.
“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.
“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.
“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”
Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.
To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.
Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.
Free speech on Israel?
To continue quoting from the article above:
“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.
“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.
“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.
“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”
The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.
Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.
Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.
At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.
This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)
There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.
I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.
I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!
I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.
|Picket by some idiots in support of Walker outside yesterday’s meeting
Yesterday’s meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee voted to remove Jackie Walker as Vice Chair, and issued the following statement:
Momentum’s Steering Committee has voted, seven to three, to remove Jackie Walker as its Vice Chair, a position it elected her to. She remains a member of Momentum and its Steering Committee.
Jackie’s actions at Labour Conference, in her subsequent Channel 4 interview, and by not understanding concern caused by her statements, have led the Steering Committee to view her behaviour as irresponsible and lose confidence in her as Vice Chair.
Having read reports of what Jackie Walker is alleged to have said, listened to the leaked video, and heard Jackie’s version of events, the Committee does not regard any of the comments she appears to have made, taken individually, to be antisemitic. However, the Committee does consider her remarks on Holocaust Memorial Day and on security of Jewish schools to be ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive. In such circumstances, the Committee feels that Jackie should have done more to explain herself to mitigate the upset caused and should have been careful about statements on this and related subjects, whatever her record as an anti-racist, which the Committee applauds.
Momentum is concerned that footage of a training session was leaked to the press. The leak is unacceptable and undermines much needed political education. Momentum also calls on Labour to apply the principles laid down in the Chakrabarti report in its investigation of Jackie. On the basis of the evidence the Committee has seen, Jackie should not be expelled from the Labour Party.
The Shiraz view is that this was the right decision, but the statement is an attempt to satisfy everyone, which will in fact satisfy no-one.
It fudges the crucial political issue (Walker’s now self-evident antisemitism) and, if taken literally, is illogical:
As in: “Her comments were offensive but not antisemitic”: but who specifically was offended by them, and why? And if the comments were not antisemitic, why would anyone be offended by them?
And if her comments were not “individually” antisemitic, does it mean that taken collectively, they might be antisemitic, but the Momentum Steering Committee doesn’t want to go there?
According to this statement, Walker’s only misdemeanours have been not to have apologised sufficiently, and not to have explained in more detail what she really meant. Our view is that the problem is just that: what she really meant.
Back in May, when Jackie Walker was suspended from the Labour party for alleged anti-semitic remarks, this blog called for her re-instatement, whilst making it clear that we had serious misgivings about the Facebook comments she’d made.
Like many others, we were prepared to give Ms Walker the benefit of the doubt at the time – especially as the right wing seemed to be using all sorts of pretexts for suspending leftists without due process.
But I have to say that the more I’ve seen and heard about Ms Walker since then, the more I’ve become convinced that she is, in fact, an anti-semite.
Her latest outburst at a training session on challenging anti-semitism, run by the Jewish Labour Movement, is the final straw. Not only was she offensive, but she demonstrated her extraordinary ignorance by criticising that Holocaust Memorial Day for (supposedly) excluding non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. She also claimed that there was no particular reason for Jewish schools to have security measures in place, and that she had never “heard a definition of anti-semitism that I can work with.”
All decent people must now surely agree with Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement) when he says:
“I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.
“To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour Party today.
“As vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.”
Walker’s initial reaction to her comments being publicised was to tweet:
Raises issues on the safety of JLM training for Labour
— Jackie Walker (@jjackiewalks) September 28, 2016
Since then, she has issued a mealy-mouthed, hypocritical non-apology beginning “If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I want to do.”
This won’t do. Walker’s increasingly obvious anti-semitism is intolerable. She should immediately resign as vice chair of Momentum, and if she fails to do so, must be removed (I understand that senior Momentum people now agree that she must go – though I fear a lot of Momentum members will see nothing wrong in what she’s said).
Coming just before Corbyn’s closing speech, in which he (for the first time as far as I’m aware) specified anti-semitism in particular (ie not just lumped in along with racism and Islamophobia, etc) as unacceptable within the Party, Walker’s words, attitude and dishonesty amount to an an embarrassment to Corbyn, Momentum and Labour as a whole. As well as further alienating the vast majority of Jewish people from the Party.
We share and endorse Coatesy’s view:
Immigration Controls: from pro-Brexit ‘left’ to Rachel Reeves’ Dire Warnings.
Nothing illustrates the often artificial divisions between Left and Right in the labour and socialist movement more clearly than the issues of immigration and migration.
On the one side are those like the authors of the recent Fabian publication arguing for a hard-line against immigration,
Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.
Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”
Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”
Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.
They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),
Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you understand, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.
The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.
Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)
In other words immigration controls- perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.
Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.
Rachel Reeves has since issued this warning (Independent).
Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.
Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.
The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.
She said: “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.
You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”
Ms Reeves, who left the Shadow Cabinet last year when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, rejected claims that she was “Red Ukip” for calling for an end to mass immigration.
She was one of several moderate Labour MPs who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU but said it should accept immigration controls now that the public had decided to leave.
One wing of the pro-Brexit and pro-immigration control ‘left’, cited above, is going to have a hard time explaining away their support for tougher immigration controls..
The ‘best friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn from the CPB and the SP, and others, who back these reactionary policies, will have to answer this.
Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour’s immigration divide
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.
‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’
The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.
Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’
Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.
And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.
With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.
This is a tough issue.
I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.
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John McTernan isn’t the only Labour person who gets published in the Telegraph:
By Sasha Ismail
Most Labour “moderates” must have expected a crushing Corbyn victory, but this result will surely have left many feeling bewildered. As a campaigner for Corbyn, let me explain what I think is happening and offer some advice.
To listen to some on Labour Right you’d think the party membership had lost their minds. This is ironic given the anti-Corbyn camp’s behaviour over the last year, and particularly the last three months. In any case, we’re far from mad; there is something deeper going on.
The movement which swept Corbyn to office, and has just crushed the attempt to remove him, is fundamentally a class movement. It reflects the deep frustration of various sections of Britain’s working population with the bland, technocratic political consensus which has served the interests of employers and the rich so well for thirty years, and spectacularly enriched them during the decade of “austerity”.
Yes, “Corbynism” is primarily based among big city-based and more formally educated workers (which is not necessarily the same as better-off workers – let alone the absurd idea that Corbyn’s support is a movement of the wealthy). But Labour MPs and the whole middle-to-upper-class social layer who make up the main cadres of the Labour Right cannot understand the anger and frustration which has given such drive to the new Labour Left because they have not suffered in the same way that even better-off workers have since the financial meltdown – from falling real wages, gutted public services, and a spiralling housing crisis.
And to those who didn’t share at all in the “boom years” before 2008 but at best trod water, suffering under New Labour’s regime of “flexible labour markets”, privatisation and burgeoning inequality, the Labour Right almost literally have nothing to say – except to pander to the attempts of nationalists to divide workers. Blairism wanted to exorcise the discourse of class from politics to better serve capitalism. But class reasserted itself with a vengeance, in various ways. In that sense, the Corbyn movement and the rise of Ukip have the same root. The latter represents a reactionary revolt against elite-consensus politics, the former the beginnings of a progressive one. There is a similar polarisation in many countries – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders being an obvious example – for similar reasons.
The Labour Right have numerous advantages, but so far they have failed to stifle the Corbyn movement precisely because it is a movement, whereas they are not. Their attacks on us remind Labour members and supporters precisely of what they hate about “New Labour”, reinforcing our determination and our numbers. That is why Momentum as a whole and its groups across the country have experienced such a remarkable surge of support and involvement since the coup. Owen Smith can talk Left, while Corbyn sounds all too moderate – but Smith “smells” like a man of the capitalist establishment, while Corbyn does not. Labour people are not stupid; we have a good sense of smell. And, at the end of the day, like it or not, antagonistic and clashing class interests do exist. As long as they do, labour movements will emerge and re-emerge, no matter how much they driven down (physically or ideologically).
Of course this won’t happen automatically. The Corbyn movement must conceive of itself as an attempt to revive the labour movement and make it a force in society once again. It needs to radically shake up the structures and culture of the Labour Party, rejecting the idea we can go back to the 2015-16 status quo – but conceive this not as an end in itself, but part of a drive to build a social movement which takes on the rich and helps workers and communities organise in their own interests.
Because make no mistake: even at a time of low strike figures and underlying low confidence among workers, there are plenty of struggles Labour can mobilise behind, help win, and help make the beginning of a wider movement. From newly unionised fast food workers and cleaners to growing housing struggles in working-class communities, from the Picturehouse cinema workers striking for the Living Wage to the junior doctors, the Labour Party needs to organise and act to justify its name. There is a new workers’ movement waiting to be born.
A reinstatement of class politics means reviving trade unions. It also means talking about the idea of workers’ representation – not just how we select our candidates for Parliament, for instance, but who they are. Why should Labour candidates be mainly Spads, highly paid lawyers, heads of think tanks and NGOs? Why shouldn’t they be train drivers, teachers, cleaners, fast food workers, social workers, posties, care workers? Why shouldn’t they be people with a record of trade union and community struggles?
All this requires us to challenge some of the fuzzier populist ideas among Corbyn supporters. A lot of Corbyn-supporters’ organisational thinking inadvertently mirrors a Blairite, media- and internet-driven version of “democracy” (cleansed of its more unpleasant aspects). A new model Labour Party can and should be much more ambitious about its use of new media, but more “online consultation” and policies cooked up in the leader’s office are not what we need – a structured democracy based on an active membership is. Most urgently, we need to deal with the party bureaucracy. If we don’t it will continue to act as a permanently organised factional machine to undermine Corbyn and trample the membership. A “clean slate” won’t do.
A democratically organised party, freed from its bureaucratic tethers, inspiring and mobilising hundreds of thousands of members and linked to a revived trade union movement, could become powerful, reach out to wide layers of society and win millions over to its ideas. It could finally create a force capable of bridging the divisions of origin, ethnicity and religion which the Right in various forms has so capably entrenched over the last two decades – a force allowing the majority to act unitedly in their own interests.
Potentially, it could go further and restore to the political agenda the unsettled aspiration of the old Labour Left – the task of replacing this society of inequality and exploitation with a new one based on meaningful democracy, collective ownership and sustainable provision for human need.
I don’t think I’m naive. Posing the question of socialism is a long way off. It will be a hard struggle even to transform Labour, oust the Tories and change society’s direction. But we need to begin the work now, not go on as we did before.
Let me finish with an appeal to the Labour “moderate” rank and file. You should be angry at your leaders. You should be angry at self-styled Labour loyalists who have done their best to wreck our party; at self-styled social democrats who have strained every muscle to defend unrestrained neo-liberalism and the interests of the rich. There is a place for you in a transformed Labour Party and labour movement, but not for the professional wreckers. Help us call them to account.
Sacha Ismail is a campaigner in Momentum’s Lewisham branch
We publish, purely for the information of readers, Labour First’s response to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn:
Above: comrade Akehurst
Labour First is a network founded in 1988 as the party was going through a previous crisis of entryism by the Hard Left. It exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members and Labour voters are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised Hard Left, and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.
As such we take a long view and don’t get over-flustered by short-term setbacks. We take heart that over 193,000 votes were cast against Corbyn.
The result of the leadership election doesn’t change any of these fundamental truths:
- Labour will only be able to win in 2020 with a Leader who can connect with mainstream voters.
- Until then our job is to effectively expose and oppose the attacks of this Tory government on public services, social justice and working people’s living standards but also to fight to defend mainstream policies such as Trident renewal, to defend hard-working MPs and councillors from sectarian de-selection threats, to maximise the moderate voice in the party structures at all levels, and to seek to bring in rule changes that will bring stability back to the party.
- In the meantime we campaign wholeheartedly for Labour victories at every level including the 2 forthcoming parliamentary by-elections.
- If “functional unity” to take on the Tories can be achieved e.g. people serving in a Shadow Cabinet elected by the PLP, we welcome that.
- Jeremy should have done the honourable thing and resigned when he lost the Brexit referendum and lost the confidence of the PLP.
- His political views, lack of leadership qualities and the behaviour and ideology of his supporters mean he can never win over the British public or unite the party.
- Eventually as in the 1980s we will prevail because our views are nearer to those of ordinary working people. There has to be a progressive alternative to this Conservative hegemony and that can only be a moderate Labour Party.
Secretary, Labour First
Biteback Publishing, 2016, pp. 320.
By Dale Street (this review also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
Dave Rich’s The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism is not quite what its subtitle suggests it is. But that does not make the book, published a fortnight ago, any the less worth reading.
The focus of the book is not Corbyn. At its core is an attempt to provide an explanation of “how and why antisemitism appears on the left, and an appeal to the left to understand, identify and expel antisemitism from its politics.”
The antisemitism in question is not the ‘traditional’ racist version. It is an antisemitism which is rooted in “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel”, albeit one which frequently incorporates anti-semitic stereotypes and tropes. The paradoxical result is that its proponents “believe anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews, while not feeling any visceral hostility towards them and while thinking of themselves as anti-racists.”
The historical starting point of Rich’s explanation is the emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Left, argues Rich, turned away from traditional class politics and focused instead on identity politics and anti-colonial struggles in the Third World. In its most extreme form, this involved writing off the working class as the decisive agent of social change. Instead, “Third World struggles were the new focus of world revolution”, and armed conflict was the highest form of those struggles.
Especially in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, this way of looking at the world increasingly identified Israel as a bastion of imperialist oppression. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were allocated a place in the front ranks of the anti-imperialist forces. Two other factors reinforced this overly simplistic and ultimately anti-semitic conceptualisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Firstly, the Soviet Union relaunched a massive state-run “anti-Zionist” campaign based on thinly disguised — and sometimes not even that — antisemitism. Traditional anti-semitic themes — rich, powerful, cruel, manipulative Jews — were recast in the language of “anti-Zionism”. The Soviet campaign portrayed Israel itself as an outpost and bridgehead of US imperialism in the Middle East. It was ultra- aggressive, ultra-expansionist and committed to the military conquest of the surrounding Arab states.
Secondly, British Young Liberals, trying to replicate the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, recast Israel as an apartheid state in which the indigenous Arab population suffered the same levels of discrimination as Blacks in South Africa. Rich writes: “The Young Liberals established an enduring template for left-wing anti-Zionism in Britain. … It is common to blame Trotskyists and other Marxists for the spread of anti-Zionism on the left. In reality, this movement was kick-started by Young Liberals and Arab nationalist activists, funded by Arab governments.”
Peter Hain, a future Labour MP but then a leading figure in the Young Liberals, played a particularly prominent role in the creation of this “anti-Zionist” template: “The world cannot allow its shame over its historic persecution of Jews to rationalise the present persecution of the Palestinians. The case for the replacement of Israel by a democratic secular state of Palestine must be put uncompromisingly.”
“They (Israeli Jews) can recognise now that the tide of history is against their brand of greedy oppression, or they can dig in and invite a bloodbath. … [Israel keeps Palestinians] in far more oppressive conditions in fact than many black South Africans live.”
By the mid-1970s the main elements of what now — and long since — passes for “anti-Zionism” on sections of the British left were already in place. Zionism was not just another nationalism. It was a uniquely evil ideology, inherently racist, and necessarily genocidal. Israel was an “illegitimate” apartheid state, a colonial enterprise equated to the dispossession of the Palestinians, and incapable of reform.
Rich goes on to provide examples of how such themes were amplified and built upon in subsequent years. If Israel was, as claimed, an apartheid state, then it was a “legitimate” target for a comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. This has now “climaxed” in the decision of some British union to boycott the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union federation. If Zionism was, as claimed, a form of racism, then it was “legitimate” for Student Unions to refuse to fund Jewish Societies which failed to disavow Zionism.
The mid-1970s and the mid-1980s saw repeated attempts to ban Jewish societies on this basis. If Zionism was, as claimed, inherently genocidal, then it was “legitimate” to equate it with Nazism — an equation which became increasingly common in sections of the left press and on placards on pro-Palestine demonstrations. And if Israel and Zionism were guilty as claimed, then a common “anti-imperialism” made it “legitimate” to ally with forces hostile to the most basic values of the left. This found expression in the SWP-Muslim Association of Britain alliance in the Stop the War Coalition.
As the ultimate example of this “way of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” Rich quotes from a letter published by the Morning Star, written by a veteran reader and Communist Party member: “Israel, and all that Israel has done and is doing, is an affront to all those millions who fought and died fighting fascism before, during and after the war against fascism. … A few years ago [an Italian partisan who survived Dachau] committed suicide. He left a note saying that the good Jews were all killed in the concentration camps.”
As Rich points out, such “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” bring those sections of the left which espouse them into conflict with most Jews in Britain (and the world): “Israel’s existence is an important part of what it means to be Jewish today. The idea that Israel shouldn’t exist or that Zionism was a racist, colonial endeavour rather than a legitimate expression of Jewish nationhood, cuts to the heart of British Jews’ sense of identity of who they are.”
Rich concludes: “There has been a breakdown in trust and understanding between British Jews, the Labour Party, and the broader left. There are parts of the left where most Jews feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. … It’s not too late to bring this relationship back to health.”
Despite the book’s subtitle, Corbyn himself appears only spasmodically in the book. Rich rightly criticises Corbyn for various statements on Israel which he has made over the years and for his patronage of campaigns which have served as incubators for left antisemitism. Corbyn’s inability to understand left antisemitism is also highlighted by Rich. Corbyn seems to hold the view that left antisemitism is an oxymoron – only the far right can be anti-semitic – and that accusations of antisemitism are raised in bad faith to undermine criticism of Israel.
More open to challenge is Rich’s description of Corbyn as being “ambiguous” on Israel’s right to exist. It is certainly true that the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine which Corbyn supported in the early 1980s was rabidly hostile to Israel’s existence. (The campaign was set up by Tony Greenstein.) But Corbyn’s overall record has been one of backing a “two states solution”.
But Rich is not overly concerned with Corbyn’s own views on Israel and antisemitism. For Rich, Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader “symbolises” — and Rich uses the word on more than one occasion — something more profound. Corbyn’s “political home” was the New Left which spawned left antisemitism. His election as party leader means that “what was once on the fringes of the left” is now centre-stage. Corbyn’s election was “the ultimate New Left triumph rather than a return to Old Labour.”
This is true in the sense that some people around Corbyn, including ones in senior positions, espouse the left antisemitism which began to emerge in the years of the New Left and then spread like a cancer in subsequent years. But it is also very wrong, in the sense that the primary factor which galvanised support for Corbyn’s leadership bid was the fact that he was seen as, and presented himself as, the pre-Blairite Old-Labour anti-austerity leadership contender.
In an isolated moment of clutching at straws to back up an argument, Rich even cites preposterous claims by arch-Stalinist Andrew Murray and his fellow traveller Lindsey German that the Stop the War Coalition — now little more than a rump and a website — was the decisive factor in Corbyn’s
Such secondary criticisms apart, Rich’s book is a valuable summary of the historical development of left antisemitism in Britain: not just a timely reminder of older arguments but also a source of new insights into its emergence. And no-one should be put off reading Rich’s book by the fulsome praise which Nick Cohen has heaped upon it, albeit at the expense of ignoring and misrepresenting what Rich has actually written: “How a party that was once proud of its anti-fascist traditions became the natural home for creeps, cranks and conspiracists is the subject of Dave Rich’s authoritative history of left antisemitism. … Representatives of the darkest left factions control Labour and much of the trade union movement, and dominate the intelligentsia.”
Cohen once wrote a serious critique of sections of the far left at a certain stage of their degeneration. But now he just bumbles along as a political court jester and professional Mr. Angry. Rich, by contrast, is trying to open up a political argument.
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