One vision of Zionism: Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950
By Eric Lee
Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.
The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.
One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.
Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.
As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.
As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?
This article appears in the latest issue of Solidarity.
Awami Workers Party: ‘All progressive, secular and democratic forces must stand together, under the banner of radical peace, justice and equality’
Awami Workers Party
عوامی ورکرز پارٹی
AWP Press Statment on Another Attack by Far Right on Christians and Democracy in Pakisatn
Haryali ko aankhen tarsen bagiya lahoo luhan
Pyar ke geet sunaoon kis ko shehar hue weeran
Bagiya lahoo luhan
– Habib Jalib
In the past many years, the Awami Workers Party has mourned and condemned many attacks. Today, we sit heartbroken, condemning yet another.
Yesterday, more than 72 women, children and men were killed, and more than 200 injured, in a suicide bombing in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Bagh. In a city and a country where the rich can afford private security to protect their families – they do not have to leave the comfort of their guarded homes to have Sunday picnics – Gulshan-e-Bagh was a garden for the rest of us. It is a place for those of us who cannot afford the luxuries of private security, and a space where we could bring our working- and middle-class families – our children, our partners, our parents and our grandparents – to laugh and to love in the open. Last night, our daughters and sons died, and so many of our loved ones are marred for life. There are no words for the dark loss of those who no longer have a mother or a father, a sister or a brother, a daughter or a son. Our hearts bleed for the dead and the wounded. PMLN (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the governing party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) must realize the fact that this fire will also spread to PMLN’s Lahore!
The Awami Workers Party calls for the unity of all those who stand in shock and condemnation in the face of this attack. This unity is all the more important as more than 20,000 men, wedded to the politics of the Islamist far right, have descended upon the capital, with demands that threaten to change our lives and the lives of those we love forever. They want to impose shariah law; fully implement the blasphemy law; hang Asia Bibi and others committed for blasphemy; expunge Ahmadi Muslims and secular people from positions within the state; and much, much more.
We have stood by for decades as the state and military have fostered Islamist forces to serve their personal and political ends within the domestic and the foreign sphere. We have stood by as the state and the army have consistently blamed “foreign powers” – be it RAW (India’s Intelligence Agency), CIA or (the Israeli) MOSSAD – and turned the guns on our own people, putting the blame for problems they have created on the shoulders of the poor and the vulnerable – be they Pashtuns, Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi, Siraiki, or others. The state and the military will use this attack as an excuse to further feed the cycle of violence, by pretending they are separate from the Islamist forces that they born and bred over so many years. This will be a mistake. We cannot allow the military establishment, their subsidiary militants and the parties of the far right to define and drive the agenda concerning the safety of our loved ones, and of the masses at large. It is time to carve out a new narrative of radical peace and equality from the ruins of our violent past.
All the progressive, secular and democratic forces must stand together, under the banner of radical peace, justice and equality for all.
Awami Workers Party
(The AWP was formed in November 2012, as a merger of the Labour Party Pakistan, the Awami Party Pakistan and the Workers Party Pakistan. The party’s programme was designed to bring together the struggles of workers, peasants, students, women and ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan under the banner of democratic and socialist politics).
H/t: Jim Monaghan, commentining BTL at Tendance Coatesy
By Jason Schulman (first published at New Politics):
Some months ago I responded to a piece that appeared on the New Politics blog by my longtime fellow NP editorial board member and friend Barry Finger.1 In my own blog, I argued that Barry had a better, more sophisticated understanding of the peculiarities of the Democratic Party and the U.S. electoral system than do many on the radical left who refuse to support any Democratic candidate regardless of that candidate’s personal political platform. However, I also made clear that I believed that Barry still suffered from certain misunderstandings regarding just how different American political parties are from parties that exist anywhere else in the world, and this meant there were defects in his suggestions as to how left-wing socialists should relate to the Sanders campaign. Other defects still characterize the arguments of those who claim that to support Sanders, however critically, is to support a candidate of a party of capital. While invoking my debate with Barry, I’ll touch upon those other arguments and their problems and explain why I think that critical support for the Sanders campaign is a necessity if we’re to build a much larger socialist movement and how the campaign may lay the basis for an independent party of the left.
The Non-Party Party
The totality with which socialists have traditionally viewed the Democratic Party has been this. The agenda of the Democratic Party is determined by its corporate financiers. It is they who keep the party competitive, who write and prioritize legislation and it is they who provide lucrative post-electoral revolving door employment opportunities for faithful party standard bearers. The two parties provide a full spectrum career subculture, designed to incentivize, entice and indoctrinate candidates and office holders to ruling class perspectives. Its base, organized as voting blocks, has no membership privileges.
Indeed, the two parties are not private, voluntary organizations sustained by membership fees, but political utilities of the ruling class, which, like other public utilities, are internally regulated by the state and protected from outside competition by upstart third parties through a dense network of legal encumbrances to market entry. Because the Democratic Party is sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth, the voting blocks aligned to the Democrats cannot compete for influence on this terrain. Their power is limited primarily to the threat of abstention from electoral participation.2
Much of this is true. Regardless of their origins, today the Democratic Party and Republican Party are not real, “European-style” political parties. They ceased to be so over the course of the twentieth century. The political machines with their party bosses that used to control who could run for office on which party label—particularly in the Democratic Party—are overwhelmingly a thing of the past. In the words of former NP editorial board member Arthur Lipow,
Only in America is it true that direct membership participation in the parties does not exist except in the sense that individuals register their party preference with an official agency of the state or are habitual voters for one or another party. The parties themselves and the choice of candidates are strictly regulated by law in the states in which the individual parties exist. … As a party, control over its own candidates is virtually non-existent.3
That is to say, both the Republicans and Democrats (and any “third” parties on the ballot in any state) exist as state-run ballot lines, not private voluntary associations that can control their own memberships or who runs on their ballots.
Barry and others have some understanding of this. But where their analysis goes awry is the conclusion that if you are running on the Democratic Party ballot line, you yourself are necessarily being “sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth.” Were this true, it’s unlikely that Bernie Sanders—with his rather radical platform and his steadfast refusal to take any money from “the billionaire class” to fund his campaign—would be able to run for president in the Democratic presidential primary in the first place. Michael Hirsch, another NP editorial board member, was not wrong to write, “The Democratic Party is barely a party; it’s a series of shifting coalitions in 50 state organizations and some 3,000 U.S. counties. In many states, the center-right controls it. In city and county politics, real estate and banking interests dominate the local councils. But that doesn’t make it a corporate party.”4 Why not? Because its leaders at either the national or local level have no control over who runs on the Democratic Party ballot line. Each candidate runs on their own specific political platform (the official Democratic Party platform is an irrelevancy that no one reads). And party leaders find it all but impossible to ensure that all elected Democrats will vote in legislatures the way that they’re “supposed to.” Hence, different Democrats will vote in different ways—with no fear that they’ll be kicked out of the Democratic Party for disloyalty. There exists no legal basis by which they can be kicked out, unlike in parliamentary systems with real, private-association political parties. Dissidents can get kicked out of Democratic Party or Republican Party clubs, of course—but as those have no real power over what the elected officials do, they don’t really count.
Obviously, those Democrats who do rely on “outside capitalist wealth” have an advantage over those who do not—just as in our single-member-district, winner-take-all electoral system, those who run for office as Democrats or Republicans have an advantage over those who do not. (In nonpartisan races this advantage is greatly diminished; this helps to explain why an open socialist like Kshama Sawant, taking no corporate cash and winning support from local unions, was able to win a seat on the Seattle City Council.) And it is true, unfortunately, that at the national level even the most left-wing Democrats do take some corporate political action committee (PAC) money. For example, a cursory glance at opensecrets.org reveals that the top three contributors to Rep. Keith Ellison for 2013-2014 were TCF Financial, General Mills, and Masimo Corp.; for Rep. John Conyers, DISH Network, Avenue Ventures, and Sony; for Rep. Barbara Lee, a union, the IBEW, but also the San Francisco Regional Center and Gallo Winery.
Of course, proportionally Ellison, Conyers, Lee, and other progressive Democrats take more PAC cash from labor than from capital. But why do these elected officials accept corporate PAC money at all? It’s not because as Democrats they’re required to do so, but because of the horrendous U.S. campaign finance system. If one hopes to win a major House (let alone Senate) race against an opponent with much more money to spend, and who gets 95 percent of his or her funding from business PACs, then it’s almost inevitable (except in Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, it seems) that one will take some amount of corporate PAC money—albeit much less than the truly pro-business candidate. Further, the bulk of business PAC contributions will come from those who are ultimately unable to press the leftmost Democrats to vote the wrong way on important legislation. Money may buy access but not always influence in regards to votes. This is what explains why the leftmost Democrats are able to vote the right way most of the time. (On Israel/Palestine, matters are often different—but Sanders himself, as many of his leftist critics have noted, is also rather imperfect on this issue.) As long as the current rotten system of private financing continues—and as long as the labor movement remains a shadow of its former self—one will find few progressive politicians, at least at the national level, who take no money at all from corporate PACs. Will those campaign contributions that one needs to win be a heavy influence on one’s voting record? The evidence suggests that if one has a diversified contribution base and receives one-third or more of one’s money from labor and progressive ideological groups, then one will most likely be able to vote from the left without serious problems. (It’s worth noting that business PACs are incredibly dispersed, as no PAC can give more than $10,000 to any one candidate.)
Given these circumstances—parties that are not really parties and an oligarchical system of campaign financing—I do not consider supporting the leftmost Democrats to be a betrayal of class-struggle politics, or to be the equivalent of supporting (say) the Canadian Liberals. There are, of course, Democrats who obviously represent the ruling class, like Barack Obama and his dominant wing of the Democratic Party, and also there are Democrats who, however very imperfectly, represent the working class. I see nothing class-collaborationist in opposing the former and critically supporting the latter. Yes, ruling-class politicians usually win Democratic primaries simply because they raise more campaign funds, have name recognition, are incumbents, and so on—but not always. (Only the Democratic Party fundraising committees are pure shills for corporate America, and left-liberals and radicals running as Democrats aren’t required to take any money from those committees.) So when genuine left-liberals or radical leftists win office on the Democratic Party ballot line, as has happened and will continue to happen in various parts of the country, the Democratic Party is not simply a “political utility of the ruling class.” It would be if the neoliberal, bourgeois leadership of the Democratic Party could impose parliamentary discipline on all elected Democrats, but there really is very little that it can do beyond removing dissidents from congressional committees.
Does this mean that it’s likely that the Democratic Party will be taken over by progressives, that the “realignment” sought by the late Michael Harrington is near? No. But the primary reason for this, aside from the fact that it’s rather hard to democratically control a state-run ballot line, is the same reason why an independent labor party, which left-wing socialists have advocated for years, is not forthcoming any time soon. Organized labor is simply too weak and, due to the AFL-CIO’s lack of control over its affiliated unions’ political choices, too diffuse. I agree with most American socialists that a labor party based on the unions should have been formed at least by 1948, when 35 percent of the U.S. workforce was unionized and the United Auto Workers in particular was a real power in the country. But Walter Reuther didn’t do what we wanted him to do, and today we are unfortunately where we are. I was active in Labor Party Advocates and then the Labor Party in two states in the 1990s; I really wanted it to take off and become politically important. It didn’t. Nor is it likely that the Green Party, which has existed in one form or another since the 1980s, will ever displace the Democrats. As former Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic has said, “If you can’t even put out enough poll watchers to cover every precinct in an election campaign, and you can’t call on a substantial portion of the labor movement to come out and support your candidate, you’re not building anything, and there’ll be little that remains afterwards.”5 I’ve voted for Greens many times in my life but eventually one tires of voting for protest candidates.
Pushing Political Discourse to the Left
This brings us back, finally, to Bernie Sanders. Whatever the flaws in some of his political positions, his running as a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary has led millions of people, even in the corporate media, to talk about “democratic socialism” and “political revolution.” His interpretation of those terms may be far more moderate than that of NP writers, but he is pushing political discourse in the U.S. significantly to the left, and in a country where “socialist” has long been a swear word in mainstream politics, this is no small feat. His campaign is providing an opening for U.S. socialists that hasn’t existed in decades, and he’s made it clear that it won’t be possible to win the radical reforms that he (and we) want without an ongoing mass movement that will outlast his campaign. Yes, we must, as Barry says, “hold Sanders’ feet to the flames if he wavers or weakens his stance against the Party establishment.” But to do this effectively we have to actively support him, not abstain and only offer criticism, however constructive, from the outside. Both the “critical” and “support” in “critical support” are very important in this case. Support of Sanders is the only way to get the thousands of working-class people already involved in Sanders’ campaign—most of whom know nothing of Marxism or the organized socialist left—to take us seriously. Criticism of Sanders’ shortcomings will fall on deaf ears if we do not work with such people in an honest effort to get Sanders elected president.
And Sanders would not be winning over millions of Americans if he had not decided to run for president as a Democrat. He would not have been able to introduce himself to millions who knew little or nothing of him via the Democratic presidential candidates’ debates. The mainstream media would have simply ignored him, and so would have virtually everyone else in the country, had he run as an independent or as a Green. As the late Julius Jacobson, founding co-editor of NP and a genuinely revolutionary democratic socialist, said of Jesse Jackson’s run for president as a Democrat in 1988, “To take advantage of the facilities offered by a Democratic Party primary involves no necessary compromise of socialist principles” provided that it is being used “as a vehicle for propagandizing a position with an eye on building a movement outside the Democratic Party.”6 Jackson failed to do this, but this describes precisely what Sanders is doing, which is commendable.
Furthermore, contrary to the “Bernie Sanders as sheepdog for Hillary Clinton” argument made by various far-leftists, at the moment there’s hardly anyone at all to “sheepdog,” not even a quasi-mass movement for a left-wing third party. If there was, my judgement of Sanders running in a Democratic primary would be quite different. I do acknowledge that Ted Kennedy in 1980, Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Dennis Kucinich in 2004, and John Edwards in 2008 all ended up endorsing the candidate of the ruling class in their respective Democratic presidential primaries once they lost. And they should not have done so. But it’s important to realize that they did not have to do so but chose to do so. Most have forgotten, but Jerry Brown did not endorse Bill Clinton in 1992. More recently, on the Republican side, look at Ron Paul. He very openly did not support John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012; he supported minor right-wing party presidential candidates. And yet he remained in office as a Republican. Look at the Seattle Democratic elected officials that have endorsed Kshama Sawant’s re-election campaign. Such a thing is simply not possible anywhere else in the world—try to imagine Canadian Liberals endorsing New Democratic Party candidates for office!—and it further proves that our “parties” are not real parties because they lack party discipline, and that applying class-struggle principles to U.S. electoral politics is a far messier business than it is anywhere else in the world.
Yes, Sanders has already said he would endorse Hillary Clinton if he loses to her in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But Sanders, as explained above, can’t be forced to do this. He’s made a choice. Contrary to what some socialists believe, there are no actually enforceable Democratic Party rules that prohibit him in advance from “harming the Democratic Party.” So, I think that socialists should pressure Sanders’ campaign to “pull a Ron Paul”; at the very least he should not encourage his voters to support Clinton if he loses the presidential primary. If he refuses this request we should openly criticize him for it. But again, the only way we can effectively apply such pressure is if we are active in his presidential campaign. Pressure from the outside simply won’t work. By all means, let’s relentlessly attack Clinton and other “billionaire class Democrats” who dominate the Democratic Party line. One can do this just as easily as a registered Democrat as a registered Green or independent. No one can silence you, just like Fannie Lou Hamer couldn’t be silenced as a civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activist of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which in 1968 did become the official Democratic Party of Mississippi, despite being betrayed by Lyndon Johnson and those who supported him in 1964.
Barry argues that
If the Sanders campaign is competently run, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment will be confronting an incipient rank-and-file mutiny demanding the complete overhaul and repudiation of what the party currently stands for. An increasingly politically conscious grassroots movement motivated by a militant and credible anti-austerity message heralds the development in the foreseeable future of a “split” situation in the Democratic Party when these demands are blocked, watered down, frustrated or compromised with, as they invariably must.
This split may very well happen. Sanders campaign activists are quite aware of the problem of Democratic Party Superdelegates. To quote a recent email I received from People for Bernie, the Superdelegate system is “one of many ways that the system is rigged to ensure corporate-friendly Democrats almost always get the presidential nomination. And it’s almost always longtime party insiders that cast votes as Superdelegates. In an ordinary election year, it’s one of many ways that they disenfranchise people like us.” This is why it’s important that Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison endorsed Sanders, and more pressure needs to be put on other Congressional Progressive Caucus Democrats to do the same. Selection of Superdelegates in fact depends on state Democratic Party rules, and state Democratic parties are not immune to popular mobilization.
But let’s assume the ruling-class Democratic Party Superdelegates turn out to be the sole barrier keeping Sanders from winning the Democratic presidential primary. Then it’s entirely possible that People for Bernie and the mass movement supporting Sanders will make up the base of an independent left-wing party, sooner rather than later. But again, we need to be in the Sanders campaign to help make this happen, and, as NP writer and lifetime class-warrior-unionist Steve Early has said, we need to get as many unions as possible to support Sanders and not Clinton (either in the primary or the general election).7 And we will need the leftmost elected Democrats—the ones who support social-democratic reform and primarily rely on union PAC money and the financial contributions of “ordinary” people—to “jump ship” to this new party, which requires critically supporting them as well. (I see this as no worse than voting for the social-democratic wing of a popular front, which revolutionaries certainly did in the past, and the Democratic Party today is more like a popular front unto itself than a genuine political party.)
Yes, this is a complicated process, and I wish Marxists could simply stand outside Democratic Party politics entirely and convince the toiling masses to “break with the elephant, break with the ass, build a party of the working class.” But decades of revolutionary socialists doing precisely this has been no more successful than the attempt in the 1970s by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, a predecessor of today’s Democratic Socialists of America, the only U.S. socialist group fully supporting the Sanders campaign, to realign the whole of the Democratic Party into a social-democratic party. The movement to elect Sanders represents the best opportunity to build a much larger socialist movement—and hopefully a split from the Democratic Party that results in an independent leftist party—that I’ve seen in my lifetime. To make that party a reality, ironically enough, means getting involved in a Democratic Party presidential campaign. Yes, most elected Democrats are ruling-class politicians; yes, the Democratic Party was once the party (a real party) of white supremacy in the United States; yes, it was the party of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan and of the Vietnam War. Therefore any involvement in Democratic Party primaries involves “dirty hands” to some extent. But, to paraphrase a French philosopher, “it is easy to have clean hands if you have no hands.” Better dirty hands than none at all.
1. Jason Schulman, “The Sanders Campaign and the Democratic ‘Party,’” New Politics blog, May 27, 2015.
2. Barry Finger, “Further Reflections on the Sanders Campaign,” New Politics blog, May 26, 2015.
3. Arthur Lipow, Political Parties & Democracy: Explorations in History and Theory (London: Pluto Press, 1996), 20-21.
4. Michael Hirsch, “Socialists, Democrats, and Political Action: It’s the Movements That Matter,” New Politics (Vol. XI, No. 2, Summer 2007), 119.
5. Mark Dudzic and Derek Seidman, “Whatever Happened to the Labor Party?” Jacobin blog, October 11, 2015.
6. Julius Jacobson, “The Duality of the Jackson Campaign,” New Politics (Vol. II, no. 2, Summer 1988), 5-6.
7. Steve Early, “Labor for Bernie,” Jacobin blog, May 26, 2015.
By Albert Einstein
Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.
Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist.
The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstances that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilised period of human history has—as it well known— been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples estab]ished themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks.
The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behaviour.
But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialisf society of the future.
Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and —if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.
For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organisation of society.
Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organisation would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”
I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?
It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.
Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behaylour.
The abstract concept “society” means to the individual being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society— in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labour and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society”.
It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human beings which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organisations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life-through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.
Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behaviour of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.
If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labour and a highly-centralised productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time — which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.
I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this period of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labour – not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realise that the means of production – that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods – may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.
For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does- not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labour power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essentiai point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labour contract is “free”, what the worker receives is determined not by the value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labour power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labour encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterised by two main principles: first, mean of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labour contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved forrn of the “free labour contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.
Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital which leads to a huge waste of labour, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of the bureaucracy be assured?
Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public servlce.
(First published as “Why I Am A Socialist” in Monthly Review, New York, 1949)
By Ed Whitby, North East and Cumbria delegate (personal capacity)
On Saturday 6 February, a Momentum National Committee met for the first time in London. Just the fact of Momentum holding its first democratic national representative meeting was a success. The procedure could certainly have been improved – there was not enough time for local groups to prepare properly for the regional meetings, indeed some regions didn’t meet at all, and for both the regional meetings and the NC, many documents were either not presented until the day or circulated at very short notice. Nevertheless in many groups and regions it appears there was a lively process of electing delegates and discussing issues, a process which has helped to draw Momentum together.
In general delegates to the meeting pushed things in the direction of greater democracy and a more radical political line. I will summarise here but also publish some of policy passed, remitted, etc, soon.
A summary of what was decided by the NC
– The basic statement of aims was amended to refer more to socialism and the working class. It is still, in my view, far from adequate, but it was agreed as an interim statement to be reviewed by the Steering Committee for redrafting in consultation with NC members and local groups.
– Momentum is oriented towards organising within Labour, as well as broader campaigning.
– Momentum will become a membership organisation. It will encourage its members to join Labour, but anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join, be a representative, officer, etc.
– Momentum will work with others on the left, who are free to distribute their literature at Momentum public meetings, etc.
– In addition to local groups and regions, there will also be the possibility of specific Momentum campaigning organisations: the document specifically mentioned Momentum NHS.
– We agreed to set up an interim Student and Youth Committee made up of student and youth members of the National Committee and nominations of student and young members from regions and a formal more detailed proposal on this work was referred to the Steering Committee.
– It was reported that some regions were already organising policy conferences, but the proposal for holding regional and national policy conferences was remitted to the Steering Committee for further discussion
– A summary of votes of North East and Cumbria proposals are listed at the end of this report.
National Committee and Steering Committee
The NC meeting was attended by 53 delegates (26 from the regional meetings, 8 equalities reps, 11 from various Labour left groups and 8 from trade unions – Unite, TSSA, CWU, Bakers, ASLEF and FBU). About eight delegates were also members of left organisations not formally represented, including two from my organisation Workers’ Liberty. Copies of Solidarity, Socialist Appeal and Labour Briefing were sold at the meeting: a welcome exchange of left-wing ideas. There were people active in a number of unions not formally represented, eg NUT and PCS, and in campaigning organisations including the People’s Assembly and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
The NC will meet at least quarterly. It also elected a Steering Committee to meet more regularly and guide the organisation. The eight representatives from England elected to this committee are (designations indicate who they represented at the NC meeting – they were all elected to the SC as individuals): Jill Mountford (London), Michael Chessum (London), Marsha Jane Thompson (Eastern), Jon Lansman (Left Futures), Sam Wheeler (North west), Jackie Walker (LRC), Christine Shawcroft (Labour Briefing Coop) and Cecile Wright (Black and Minority Ethnic).
They will be joined by four trade union representatives, one rep from Scotland and one from Wales.
The membership debate
This was a big debate at the NC. First we agreed to have paid membership; those who don’t join will remain supporters.
There were proposals about who could become a member and who could become a supporter, and what rights these two categories will have.
The lack of time and clarity in advance caused real problems here, in part because the wording of the options was not very clear, but I think the NC did a reasonable job of untangling things.
The three options were:
a. Only Labour Party members can join or even take part in organising / planning meetings as supporters; though local groups can continue to organise joint meetings with other organisations which can be open to non-Labour members.
b. Membership open only to Labour members, but people can be supporters and participate in local groups, voting only on local issues not connected to Labour – as long as they do not support parties against Labour. Only members can stand for office.
c. Membership and supporter status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour. All members can take part in all decisions, stand for all positions, etc.
The first position received two votes, the second 18 votes and the third 27. I think that was the right decision. People should join the Labour Party, and it is right that Momentum will strongly encourage this; but there are still many people coming to the organisation who for whatever reason haven’t joined yet. We need to encourage and persuade them, not throw up an unnecessary barrier (insisting Momentum members and supporters must not oppose Labour is enough). And we have avoided creating anything like a two-class system of membership.
It also positive that the NC voted, by an overwhelming margin, to allow other organisations to distribute their literature at public meetings and so on. It is right that those who support other parties against Labour cannot join; but that is no reason to create a culture which discourages debate and free exchange of ideas.
There was discussion, and some criticism, about how equality reps (and also the student/youth reps) had been selected. Although there was not a vote on this, there seemed to be general agreement that there should be broad, democratic equalities/liberation networks established who should allow open nominations and to elect delegates to future National Committees as happened with regions.
Michael Chessum proposed a document to create a democratic Momentum Youth and Students organisation. There was wide support for this but it was referred back to the Steering Committee. It was agreed that the youth and student reps on the NC will form a provisional Youth and Student Committee, which the SC will work and consult closely with.
The North East and Cumbria region proposed national and local policy making conferences made up of delegates from local groups. This was remitted to the SC.
The meeting voted by a clear margin not to organise in Northern Ireland. I think this was wrong. The document said that this was in line with, and for the same reasons as, the Labour Party not doing so. But that is factually wrong: the Labour Party does organise in Northern Ireland, it just doesn’t stand candidates. Moreover, the document didn’t spell out what the Labour Party’s reasons are: I would say that they are generally conservative reasons about not upsetting the “normal” operation of sectarian politics. It was argued that people in a British orgnisation shouldn’t decide or comment on Northern Ireland: surely it dictates to tell them they can’t organise a Momentum group even if they want? Anyway, this is something that comrades in NI can best take up.
Momentum Scotland submitted a report on their work. The Scottish comrades amended one document to point out that the Scottish Assembly elections, and not just the 2020 general election, are also important. Momentum NHS also submitted a report, and its activists spoke about groups mobilising for the junior doctors’ picket lines on 10 February.
We accepted a finance report, setting out some outline funding plans and proposals for employing full-time staff (eight posts to be advertised).
Very positively, Matt Wrack from the FBU moved proposals for unions to be able to affiliate to Momentum, including non-Labour affiliated unions if they sign up to Momentum aims.
I proposed an amendment saying that the requirement to agree with Momentum aims and formally affiliate should also apply to Labour left organisations that take a formal role in Momentum. This was agreed.
The documents passed set out a wide range of campaigning objectives, along lines that will be familiar to Momentum supporters. I will post the relevant material soon.
In the discussion on the 16 April People’s Assembly march, which Momentum is building for, Rida Vaquas from Red Labour argued that Momentum should seek to improve and make more radical the draft demands on a number of issues: build council housing; repeal all anti-union laws, legalise solidarity; demand free education and living grants for all students. The original demands were too conservative, in some cases less radical than official Labour policy (eg it just said “Scrap the Trade Union Bill”, when last year’s Labour Party conference voted to legalise solidarity strikes). This was agreed.
There was some discussion on the Centre Left Grass Roots Alliance slate for the NEC, and some criticisms were raised. Althought it was agreed to support it. There was also discussion on Trident and criticism of Corbyn’s suggestion of building just the submarines proposal. Comrades from Socialist Appeal made good contributions on scrapping Trident but defending the jobs and incomes of workers through conversion.
For all the problems, I think the National Committee was positive. There was lively discussion and the NC certainly did not act as rubber stamp; on a number of points the documents were amended and the proposed position changed. Moreover a wide variety of people from different sides of various debates were elected to the Steering Committee.
We need to ensure that the Steering Committee meets regular and functions well, establishing real democratic control over Momentum’s operations and working closely with local groups.
Most importantly, Momentum needs
1. To get out on the streets campaigning on big issues in the class struggle, the NHS being one of the most obvious, supporting workers’, anti-austerity, anti-racist and other struggles, and pushing for the Labour Party to do the same.
2. To develop a clear program of demands and initiatives to shake up and transform the Labour Party, involve more people, change and activate policy and crucially democratise the party.
I think we are in a stronger position to do that after Saturday.
Please feel free to get in touch, tell me what you think, or ask questions: email@example.com
Specific proposals from the North East and Cumbria regional meeting – how the NC voted.
1) Change ‘Make Labour a more democratic party’ to ‘Support democracy within the Labour Party”- final wording: “Transform LP into a more open, member-led party with socialist policies and the collective will to implement them in government.
2) Change ‘…with the policies’ to ‘…with the socialist policies’ – see above
3) The National Committee, along with the Regional networks, have responsibility for ensuring that Momentum groups cover every locality and that all supporters/members are connected within groups and regions. – agreed and incorporated
4) The National Committee should be tasked with engaging with special interest groups, such as Momentum NHS. – agreed
5) The National Committee should meet in different regions (not always London) – agreed
6) The National Committee should organise an annual policy making conference with delegates from local groups – deferred to steering committee
7) The regions should be the largest represented group on the National Committee to ensure that there is a strong sense of democracy and representation. – almost (53 delegates (26 regional, 8 Equality, 11 labour left groups, 8 trade unions)
8) Strong desire for Trade Unionists to be involved in Momentum. However, Trade Unions having ‘block votes’ was strongly rejected by the group. National unions and regions can affiliate and can get 2 delegates to regional network meetings (i.e. the same as local groups with same rules)
9) Strong desire for regions and local groups to be able to access data in a controlled way. – agreed
10) Regions should organise policy making conferences – remitted as a policy, but regions can do this (East Midlands has one in March) it is just not a requirement for regions to do this
11) Membership and attendance at meetings: Remove the second paragraph:
Organising or planning meetings should be open to members of Momentum (Labour Party members, affiliate members, or individuals who are not members of other political parties who support the aims and values of the Labour Party*).
“Momentum groups may choose to organise campaigning activities or public events, which may be open to individuals who adhere to the ‘code of ethics.’ However, as Momentum is a Labour-oriented organisation, individuals are not permitted to promote any other political party (this includes distributing literature for or by another political party).”. We agreed to remove this and agreed that members of momentum can be labour party, members, affiliates or supporters as long as they do not support other parties to labour.
By Eric Lee
Sixty years ago, the Socialist Party ran its last presidential campaign in the United States.
In its heyday, the party could capture upwards of a million votes, achieving this result in 1912, 1920 and again in 1932. The best result was the first one, when Eugene V. Debs led the party to six percent of the national vote. But less than a quarter century after Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes at the height of the Great Depression, the total number of votes the Socialist could muster nationwide was a mere 2,044. Its final Presidential candidate, the successor to the legendary Debs and Thomas, was the little-known Darlington Hoopes.
By then, even the last stalwarts in the party accepted that it was no longer feasible to wage presidential campaigns. Within a year of the Socialists reaching their electoral nadir, the party was strengthened by the decision of Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League to join their ranks. The Shachtmanites rejected the traditional independent electoral strategy and called instead for the Socialists to join the ranks of the Democrats.
It took Shachtman and his comrades a decade to achieve their goal under the charismatic leadership of Michael Harrington. While the Socialists were grappling with issues of electoral strategy, a young man joined their youth organisation in Chicago, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL).
His name was Bernie Sanders.
Like many other YPSLs (pronounced “Yipsels”), the young Brooklyner was active in the peace movement through the Student Peace Union and the civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality. Before joining the YPSL, Sanders was introduced to politics by his older brother, Larry, who would take him to political meetings. Larry was active in the Young Democrats. It was in the YPSL that Bernie would learn about democratic socialism.
Half a century later, he continues to define himself as a democratic socialist. He advocates a program of reform that most socialists would be very comfortable with, including breaking up the big banks, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and creating employment, health care as a right for all citizens, free tuition at all public universities, campaign finance reform, strengthening union rights, and much more.
His campaign for the presidency launched earlier this year has galvanized the American political system and given new hope for a rebirth of a democratic socialist movement in the country.
What has changed that allows a democratic socialist to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, to become a serious contender for the presidency sixty years after the unfortunate Darlington Hoopes won only 2,044 votes? And what are his chances to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency in November?
I think that three things have happened to allow a professed socialist to run a credible campaign for the presidency in 2016.
First of all, the economic crisis that hit America (and the world) from 2008, triggered – as it did in many countries – a rise in critical thinking about capitalism. We have seen big gains for parties and leaders once considered “far left” in several European countries, and while this cannot express itself in America in the creation of a new mass party of the left like Syriza, it can and does express itself in social movements like Occupy, in the trade unions and in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But an economic crisis alone cannot create the basis for the rise of a socialist left in a country like America. There have been a number of economic crises, with periods of mass unemployment, in the years since 1932, but none of these resulted in the rise of an overtly socialist candidate or movement.
The second factor that allows for the rise of Sanders is the passage of time since the end of the Cold War. One cannot overstate the importance of Stalinism in undermining and weakening the American left over many decades. Whether it was McCarthy-era red-baiting and persecution (which affected everyone on the left, not just the Stalinists) or the idiotic, counter-productive tactics of the Stalinists themselves, it was nearly impossible to say the word “socialism” aloud in America so long as the Soviet Union existed.
But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a generation of Americans has grown up with no personal memory of that period, people for whom the word “socialist” is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There are people voting for Bernie Sanders today who were born in 1998, nearly a decade after the Wall came down. All voters under the age of 40 came of age politically only after Communism’s historic defeat.
None of this applies to Sanders, of course. The 74-year-old is a veteran of the YPSL from a time when socialists really were on the margins of American life, and when “socialism” really was a dirty word. But his supporters largely come from an entirely different generation, who’ve grown up in a different world.
The third thing that has happened is that Bernie Sanders, who his entire political life has been an independent, an opponent of the two-party system, has chosen to run as a Democrat. Some people on the small organised left in America would have preferred it otherwise. They would have liked to support a campaign like Ralph Nader’s, free of the taint of what Socialists use to call the “sewer” of the Democratic Party.
Nader himself followed in the tradition of a large number of well-intentioned but long-forgotten attempts to forge left-wing third parties in America. These included the peace campaigner Dr Benjamin Spock (People’s Party) who received fewer than 80,000 votes, or ecologist Barry Commoner (Citizen’s Party) who received 234,000 votes. Sanders was personally sympathetic to Nader, Spock and Commoner, campaigning for the latter two. But he learned an important lesson: to win a Presidential election in America, you need to run as a Democrat.
The extraordinary success of his campaign so far – regardless of what happens next – shows that he was right. His campaign is a vindication of everything Max Shachtman, Michael Harrington and their comrades fought for on the American left from the mid-1950s until now.
But does Sanders really have a chance?
I write these words two weeks before the Iowa caucus vote on February 1, the first electoral test of the Sanders candidacy. At the moment, all the polls show Iowa to be a tie between Sanders and Clinton. In the following vote, on February 9 in New Hampshire, polls show Sanders winning. If America wakes up on February 10 to learn that Bernie Sanders has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, it will represent a political earthquake.
Sixty years after the disappearance of the Socialists from the main stage of American politics, they have made a triumphant return. A former YPSL member from Chicago, still talking about the same democratic socialism he learned in the party of Debs and Thomas, may be on his way to becoming the forty-fifth president of the United States.
2015 marked an important milestone in the history of physics: just over one hundred years ago, in November 1915, Albert Einstein wrote down the famous field equations of General Relativity. General Relativity is the theory that explains all gravitational phenomena we know (falling apples, orbiting planets, escaping galaxies…) and it survived one century of continuous tests of its validity. After 100 years it should be considered by now a classic textbook theory, but General Relativity remains young in spirit: its central idea, the fact that space and time are dynamical and influenced by the presence of matter, is still mind-boggling and difficult to accept as a well-tested fact of life.
Less well known, these days, is the fact that Einstein was a man of strongly-held political and philosophical views. What follows is an article by Carl Darton, first published in the US ‘Shachtmanite’ publication Labor Action in 1950:
Albert Einstein as Scientist and Socialist
If your school-age son is somewhat better than clever in any field of science, you may have heard the expression: “He’s an Einstein.” It is indeed unprecedented that the name of a scientist working in highly specialized mathematical physics has become a by-word in the homes of his adopted land. This unique status of Albtrt Einstein rests not only on his scientific pre-eminence but also upon his keen interest in social and political affairs.
Dr. Einstein’s great scientific works—the Special Theory of Relativity (1906), The General Theory of Relativity (1915-20), and the extension of the General Theory to cover electromagnetic phenomena (1950)—can be understood only with the aid of tensor calculus. Obviously, only those versed in higher mathematics con begin to understand the technical phases of Einstein’s theories. But there are different levels of understanding in science and it is perfectly possible to choose a level of relativity theory which can be understood even by those with no special mathematical training. Einstein himself has done an excellent job of “popularizing” in his Relativity, The Special and General Theory. Also recommended is Leopold lnfeld’s Albert Einstein, His Work and Influence on our World (Charles Scribner, N Y, 1950).
On Capitalism and Jewish Nationalism Einstein has become almost as noted a philosopher as a scientist. His views appear to spring from these fundamental beliefs:
(1) “I believe . . . in . . . God who reveals himself in the harmony of all being, not in a God who concerns himself wim the fate and actions of men.”
(2) There is a spontaneous activity of the mind, altogether apart from experience, which can make contributions of the utmost value to natural philosophy.
(3) The simplest equations are most likely to be true, and “The aim of science is … a comprehension as complete as possible . . . and on the other hand the accomplishment of this aim by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations.”
Just as Einstein’s belief in “harmony of all being” leads him away from simple experience, deduction, and abstraction in scientific endeavor, so it also leads him toward a cooperative society, However, there is no General Theory dealing with social relations. In Why Socialism? (a chapter in his Out of My Later Years) Dr. Einstein investigates the difficulty of making general formulations of social phenomena.
He does indicate the “essence of the crisis of our time”: “The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset . . . but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even his economic existence. . . . Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.” Further in this essay, written in 1949, Einstein assails capitalist production “for profit, not for use,” unemployment, inadequate wages, and the worship of acquisitive success.
Dr. Einstein has been active in recent years in two political movements; Zionist and One World. Although he grew up in a non-observant Jewish home and early rejected the concept of a personal God, he has accepted and retained the ethical teachings of Judaism. He supported the opening of Palestine to the dispersed Jews of Europe. On the issue of partition he stated: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than in the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power … I am afraid . . . of . . . the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.”
The threat of another war concerns Albert Einstein constantly. His road to peace lies in “One World”—a supra-national government having the sole function of military security. National troops are to be replaced by international police and offensive weapons are to be outlawed. Einstein now advocates that the Western powers take the lead in the formation of this world government, leaving the door open at all times for Russia to join.
Is He Breaking with Russian Illusion?
These proposals for One World exposed Einstein to attack by four famous Russian scientists in November 1947. These Stalinist spokesmen rationalized their nationalist ambitions and denounced Einstein as a “virtual supporter of the schemes and ambitions of the bitterest foes of peace and international cooperation.” This attack brought to an end a period during which Dr. Einstein was noticeably non-critical of Stalinism and was used by their front movements.
Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the essentially Utopian nature of Einstein’s socialism than does this experience with Stalinism. The utopianism is rooted in the belief that planning is equivalent to socialism and not in the failure to recognize fhe economic factors undermining capitalist society. There are evidences, however, that this weakness is being corrected, since in the conclusion of Why Socialism? we read: “Nevertheless … it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires some extremely difficult socio-political problems.” Einstein has no answer for the further question: “How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”
Edmund Whittaker, a reviewer of the book Albert Enslein, Philosopher-Scientist, writes: “Some of the observational confirmations [to the General Theory of Relativity] do not appear to he so secure as they were thought to be a few years ago.” It is possible that Einstein may share the fate of other scientists of our era and outlive his most famous works. Already it has been questioned as to whether Einstein is one of the three men who understand Einstein best.
Nevertheless, it may well be his greatest contribution that he has foreshadowed the ideal citizen of the socialist tomorrow—a specialist in his vocational sphere, where there is no room for amateurs; and a serious participant in political life, where there should be no professionals in the sense that special interests and privileges are accrued.
Labor Action New York
July 10 1950
Members of a left group admitting they got things seriously wrong and the organisation needs to fundamentally change: how often has this happened before?
The impossible has happened – so we need to change direction
Tom Walker, Salman Shaheen and Pete Green write on the future of Left Unity.
When something happens that you believed was impossible, there are two ways you can respond. The first is to stick to your guns, keep doing what you were doing before, and say it will all blow over soon. The second is to admit – annoying as it is – that you were wrong.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is such an event. We, like so many others, believed until a few short months ago that the probability of the left winning the Labour leadership was so low that it could essentially be discounted. Any strategy based on remaining inside Labour was a non-starter, and had been for decades. The left outside Labour considered this so self-evident as to be barely worth discussing. We expected Ed Miliband’s successor to nail the coffin shut. Along with just about everyone else on the left, we got it wrong.
Now, in the face of a historic, game-changing victory, we are concerned that Left Unity looks set to double down on a wrong strategy. The party built its foundations on a political perspective that has suddenly had the rug pulled from under it, as indicated by the recent fall in its membership from just under 2,000 to closer to 1,500 and the likely further erosion to come. Hundreds of resignation letters overwhelmingly tell the same story: the politics of Left Unity are my politics, but now I believe the best shot at making a difference is through the Labour Party.
The case for a network
That is why we submitted our motion (motion 3) calling for Left Unity to stop standing in elections, and in doing so cease being a ‘party’, instead transforming into something more akin to a network. Here is the text:
“Conference recognises that the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election has transformed the political landscape and is now attracting thousands of new members into the Labour Party including many who have been active inside Left Unity. The struggle inside the Labour Party itself over its direction and policies is now critical for the future of the left and the interests of the vast majority of people in Britain.
It follows that Left Unity now needs to devote the opening session of its forthcoming conference to an extended debate about its relationship to the Labour Party and Left Unity’s lack of viability as an electoral alternative.
We propose that:
a) Left Unity dissolve itself as a political party which contests elections at any level.
b) Those present reconstitute ourselves as a Left Unity Network of activists and supporters who are committed to the principles and policies contained in our founding documents and to support for the various campaigns and struggles which correspond to those principles. This network would be open to both members of the Labour Party and those who choose to remain outside it.
c) Conference empowers the current National Council to sustain the existing structures of membership and communications whilst formulating proposals for a new simplified constitution and internal elections appropriate for a network which can be voted on by the membership as a whole.”
The intent is that we would continue as an organisation – constituted along the lines of any single-issue campaign or political association – in a form that allows for membership of the Labour Party. To be clear, no one would be asked to join Labour, and we certainly wouldn’t be ‘entryists’ inside Labour. Giving up elections, however, would mean that it would be legitimate for us to be a political organisation that included some people who were in Labour and some who weren’t (it would also, incidentally, open up Left Unity membership to Greens and others).
This motion has been met with some trepidation. The suggestion that our position is an existential threat to Left Unity has produced an unfortunate ‘defend the party’ response. Yet we believe our path is in practice the only one that offers some chance at preservation – even growth. Far from being an attempt to ‘end’ Left Unity, it is trying to find a way to preserve the good work Left Unity has done in a situation where an electoral challenge to the left of Labour has gone from difficult-but-necessary to being simply unviable.
We believe the answer is to give up the party form but continue as an organisation on the basis of our shared politics. And it is not simply a defensive move: while it would allow some who have resigned from Left Unity to re-join, it would also allow people in Labour who have never been in Left Unity before to sign up. We do not want to be prescriptive about what such a network would do. But there’s no reason why we cannot continue to issue broadsheets, leaflets and other material nationally and locally, hold our own meetings and engage in joint activities with others on the left. This is not a liquidationist proposal as some have interpreted it.
Executed by firing squad 100 years ago today. It seems that his last words were not “Don’t mourn, organize”, but “Fire!” – which makes all the more of a hero.
From the CIO/AFL website:
Joe Hill (1879-1915)
A songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer, Joe Hill became famous around the world after a Utah court convicted him of murder. Even before the international campaign to have his conviction reversed, however, Joe Hill was well known in hobo jungles, on picket lines and at workers’ rallies as the author of popular labor songs and as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) agitator. Thanks in large part to his songs and to his stirring, well-publicized call to his fellow workers on the eve of his execution—”Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”—Hill became, and he has remained, the best-known IWW martyr and labor folk hero.
Born Joel Hägglund on Oct. 7, 1879, the future “troubadour of discontent” grew up the fourth of six surviving children in a devoutly religious Lutheran family in Gävle, Sweden, where his father, Olaf, worked as a railroad conductor. Both his parents enjoyed music and often led the family in song. As a young man, Hill composed songs about members of his family, attended concerts at the workers’ association hall in Gävle and played piano in a local café.
In 1887, Hill’s father died from an occupational injury and the children were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill worked in a rope factory and later as a fireman on a steam-powered crane. Stricken with skin and joint tuberculosis in 1900, Hill moved to Stockholm in search of a cure and worked odd jobs while receiving radiation treatment and enduring a series of disfiguring operations on his face and neck. Two years later, Hill’s mother, Margareta Katarina Hägglund, died after also undergoing a series of operations to cure a persistent back ailment. With her death, the six surviving Hägglund children sold the family home and ventured out on their own. Four of them settled elsewhere in Sweden, but the future Joe Hill and his younger brother, Paul, booked passage to the United States in 1902.
Little is known of Hill’s doings or whereabouts for the next 12 years. He reportedly worked at various odd jobs in New York before striking out for Chicago, where he worked in a machine shop, got fired and was blacklisted for trying to organize a union. The record finds him in Cleveland in 1905, in San Francisco during the April 1906 Great Earthquake and in San Pedro, Calif., in 1910. There he joined the IWW, served for several years as the secretary for the San Pedro local and wrote many of his most famous songs, including “The Preacher and the Slave” and “Casey Jones—A Union Scab.” His songs, appearing in the IWW’s “Little Red Song Book,” addressed the experience of vitually every major IWW group, from immigrant factory workers to homeless migratory workers to railway shopcraft workers.
In 1911, he was in Tijuana, Mexico, part of an army of several hundred wandering hoboes and radicals who sought to overthrow the Mexican dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, seize Baja California, emancipate the working class and declare industrial freedom. (The invasion lasted six months before internal dissension and a large detachment of better-trained Mexican troops drove the last 100 rebels back across the border.) In 1912, Hill apparently was active in a “Free Speech” coalition of Wobblies, socialists, single taxers, suffragists and AFL members in San Diego that protested a police decision to close the downtown area to street meetings. He also put in an appearance at a railroad construction crew strike in British Columbia, writing several songs before returning to San Pedro, where he lent musical support to a strike of Italian dockworkers.
The San Pedro dockworkers’ strike led to Hill’s first recorded encounter with the police, who arrested him in June 1913 and held him for 30 days on a charge of vagrancy because, he said later, he was “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg” during the strike. On Jan. 10, 1914, Hill knocked on the door of a Salt Lake City doctor at 11:30 p.m. asking to be treated for a gunshot wound he said was inflicted by an angry husband who had accused Hill of insulting his wife. Earlier that evening, in another part of town, a grocer and his son had been killed. One of the assailants was wounded in the chest by the younger victim before he died. Hill’s injury therefore tied him to the incident. The uncertain testimony of two eyewitnesses and the lack of any corroboration of Hill’s alibi convinced a local jury of Hill’s guilt, even though neither witness was able to identify Hill conclusively and the gun used in the murders was never recovered.
The campaign to exonerate Hill began two months before the trial and continued up to and even beyond his execution by firing squad on Nov. 19, 1915. His supporters included the socially prominent daughter of a former Mormon church president, labor radicals, activists and sympathizers including AFL President Samuel Gompers, the Swedish minister to the United States and even President Woodrow Wilson. The Utah Supreme Court, however, refused to overturn the verdict and the Utah Board of Pardons refused to commute Hill’s sentence. The board declared its willingness to hear testimony from the woman’s husband in a closed session, but Hill refused to identify his alleged assailant, insisting that to do so would harm the reputation of the lady.
Hill became more famous in death than he had been in life. To Bill Haywood, the former president of the Western Federation of Miners and the best-known leader of the IWW, Hill wrote: “Goodbye Bill: I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” Apparently he did die like a rebel. A member of the firing squad at his execution claimed that the command to “Fire!” had come from Hill himself.
After a brief service in Salt Lake City, Hill’s body was sent to Chicago, where thousands of mourners heard Hill’s “Rebel Girl” sung for the first time, listened to hours of speeches and then walked behind his casket to Graceland Cemetery, where the body was cremated and the ashes mailed to IWW locals in every state but Utah as well as to supporters in every inhabited continent on the globe. According to one of Hill’s Wobbly-songwriter colleagues, Ralph Chaplin (who wrote the words to “Solidarity Forever,” among other songs), all the envelopes were opened on May 1, 1916, and their contents scattered to the winds, in accordance with Hill’s last wishes, expressed in a poem written on the eve of his death:
My Will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan.
“Moss does not cling to rolling stone.”
My body?—Oh!—If I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and Final Will—
Good Luck to All of you,
By Andrew Coates (at Tendance Coatesy)
Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.
Thanks Jim D.
Bell begins his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,
The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.
We halt there.
To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.
Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right, for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.
That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”. Political, not ethnic.
Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).
Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, Pour La Veille Maison).
This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.
You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.
To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,
Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.
Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.
The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International, was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist, inspiration.
Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38) a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests, to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj – in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.
The review in the LRB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:
Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.
But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument.
Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,
As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.
This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.
Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”
Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.
Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.
There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.
But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on Laïcité
The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial) themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.
It is the major threat to French republicanism.
There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at the “philosémitisme d’Etat” in France.
It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.
In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,
Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.
Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.
But did he become a man of the ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?
For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.
And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AK party, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.
The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.
That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.