On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a Kremlin stooge, called on the Soviet leadership to send in troops.
On October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was this which sparked the armed resistance.
This response was published in November 1956 by the the British “orthodox” Trotskyists. The fact that in all likelihood it was written by the proven political gangster, thug and rapist Gerry Healy does not detract from its value, or from the essential truths it contains (in the face of persisting Stalinist lies about the uprising being “fascist”). The “orthodox” Trotskyist view of the world is reflected in the article’s repeated and excessive insistence upon denouncing “world imperialism and its agents” and warning against “capitalist elements” supposedly “in the ranks” of the Hungarian revolutionaries – indeed, even urging Hungarian Communist Party members (the majority of whom supported the revolution) to “stay in the Communist Party and fight it out.”
STALIN IS DEAD BUT STALINISM LIVES
That is the message spelt out in letters of blood by the Hungarian people.
The labour movement of the world is rightly shocked at the brutality and ruthlessness of the Soviet armed forces. But this fact must not permit us to be taken off guard for one moment by world imperialism and its agents. Stalinist rule has always been associated with persecution and murder, both inside and outside the Soviet Union. Eden and Eisenhower have never protested when revolutionary opponents of the regime have been smashed. They helped to whitewash and justify the Moscow trials through the book and film Mission to Moscow written by American ex-ambassador Joseph E. Davies. Both the British and American governments refused asylum to the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky when he was being hounded from one country to another by Stalin’s GPU.
If these gentlemen shed tears for Hungary today it is not for the workers and peasants who have borne the brunt of the fight against Stalinism but for their fascist and landlord friends.
What happened in Hungary, as we shall see, was a revolution for national independence and democratic rights. Connected with this was a series of demands passed by the trade unions.
1. Workers’ councils in every factory to establish workers’ management and radically transform the system of state central planning and directing.
2. Wages to be raised immediately by 10 to 15 per cent and a ceiling (about £106 a month) fixed for the highest salaries.
3. To abolish production norms except in factories where the workers or workers’ councils wish to keep them.
4. The 4 per cent bachelor and childless family tax to be abolished; the lowest retirement pensions to be increased; child allowances to be raised with special reference to the needs of large families.
5. Speed up house-building with the state, co-operatives and other organisations launching a powerful social movement to mass produce houses.
6. Negotiate with the governments of the Soviet Union and other countries in order to establish economic relations that will ensure mutual advantages by adhering to the principle of equality.
(Daily Worker, October 27).
The backbone of this movement was the demand for the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary.
The imperialists were against this type of revolution. On the same day, October 27, the New York Times -mouthpiece of American big business-declared: ‘The view prevailing among United States officials, it appeared, was that “evolution” towards freedom in Eastern Europe would be better for all concerned than “revolution”, though nobody was saying this publicly.’ The New York Times again returned to this theme the next day, October 28, when it declared that the problem of western imperialism is ‘how to encourage the nationalist and libertarian spirit in the satellites without flaming it into a large scale revolt.’ As if not to be outdone by the New York Times the London Daily Worker, echoing Moscow, declared on October 25: ‘Only false friends resort to the gun. . . .’ Five days previously (October 22), John Foster Dulles speaking in Washington defended the legality of the presence of Soviet troops in Poland under the Warsaw agreement.
‘From the standpoint of international law and violation of treaties,’ he said, ‘I do not think you can claim that it would be a violation of a treaty.’ Mr. Dulles was fully aware at the time he made that statement that a revolution was under way in Hungary and Hungary was also a party to the Warsaw agreement.
Hot on the heels of Mr. Dulles came R. Palme Dutt of the British Communist Party.
‘The Soviet armed forces,’ he wrote, ‘were legally in Hungary by agreement under the Warsaw Pact.’ (Daily Worker,’November 10.) In a cable from Washington by its correspondent Philip Deane, the London Observer, November 11, 1956, reports that: ‘High Administration sources say that the United States has tried to let the Russians know, without being provocative, that Berlin and Austria will be defended by American forces. Hungary, meanwhile, has been officially and finally abandoned to its fate.’ And Basil Davidson, one of the last journalists to leave Hungary, reports that of the American financed propaganda station Free Europe Radio one revolutionary said: ‘I wish I could shut its ugly mouth. It lied to us just as the Russians lied to us.’ Neither the Soviet bureaucrats nor the imperialists and their representatives Palme Dutt and Foster Dulles care two hoots about the working people of Hungary. They were both, for different reasons, opposed to the revolution, and in each case supported their own particular agents and not the movement of the Hungarian people as a whole.
HOW THE REVOLUTION BEGAN
On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a notorious Kremlin hack, promptly called for Soviet troops.
On Wednesday, October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was these actions which sparked off the revolutionary armed resistance. During the next day, October 25, armed rebellion broke out. Workers on Csepel island in the Danube took up weapons against the security forces. Radio Budapest announced this as a rebellion of the working people: Absolutely no mention was made at that time that this was the work of armed gangs and the counter revolution. Read the rest of this entry »
As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:
Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.
It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.
During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”
He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.
Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”
It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.
John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.
CHRIS BIRCH London SW6
JD recommends some reading and resources:
1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.
- Hungary ’56 – Andy Anderson – Excellent pamphlet, published by Solidarity. An invaluable guide to the events of the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
- Hungary ’56: “the proletariat storming heaven” – Mouvement Communiste – Analysis of the Hungarian workers’ uprising, stressing the importance of the collective action taken by workers and critically examining the demands and programmes they put forward.
- Hungarian Tragedy – Peter Fryer An account of events in Hungary 1956 by Peter Fryer, then a columnist for the Daily Worker, the official paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
- The Hungarian revolution: 1956 – Anonymous account of the events of the near revolution of 1956, containing interesting information from interviews with participants.
- United Nations report on the Hungarian uprising 1956 – UN special committee report on the 1956 Hungarian uprising. Examines the revolutionary workers councils established by Hungarian workers, and analyses the dangers they posed to both the Soviet bureaucracy and capitalism.
- Hungary ’56 – Nick Heath – History of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, published as a special supplement of Anarchist Worker on the 20th anniversary in 1976.
- The Hungarian workers’ revolution – Syndicalist Workers’ Federation – Revised second edition of a pamphlet written by British syndicalists in 1957.
- Hungary 56 photo gallery – Photo gallery of the events in Hungary 1956
By Matt Cooper (this article also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
The 1950s saw a revival of interest in “folk” music in Britain and the USA. Folk revivalism in Europe has a long heritage going back to the early nineteenth century and was largely allied to nationalist movements.
European nationalists sought out, and often invented, national cultures on which to base their claims for statehood. This was not always an illiberal project — it was based on the idea that a common identity was the basis for national self-determination and that in turn was the basis for democracy.
Composers helped the search for common identities: thus Greig researched Norwegian hardanger fiddle music and orchestrated folk tales, Bartok adapted Hungarian folk dances into his work, and Glinka interpreted the balalaika music of the Russian peasantry.
In the 1930s this “nationalist” view of culture re-emerged in the state policy of the Soviet Union. It was a million miles way from the cultural policy of the Bolsheviks in the early years of the Russian Revolution.
The Bolsheviks were for free artistic expression, and if their policy had a tendency it was towards modernism, cosmopolitan internationalism and the avant garde.
Like all else democratic and progressive in the Russian Revolution, cultural experimentation was abandoned and subverted with the rise of Stalinism. In 1934 the USSR adopted an official cultural policy of socialist realism.
Socialist realism had two elements. The first, and the one that is unusually emphasised, was that the measure of good art is the degree to which its message was “progressive”. That was in practice synonomous with the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. As one supporter of the new orthodoxy put it in the 1930s, “A writer today who wishes to produce the best work that he is capable of producing, must first of all become a socialist in his practical life, must go over to the progressive side of the class conflict… unless he has in his everyday life taken the side of the workers, he cannot, no matter how talented he may be, write a good book, cannot tell the truth about reality”.
In Britain or the US Stalinists, and those who lived in their intellectual shadow, began to like any old crap so long as it toed the party line. In Soviet Russia and its satellites it was accepted that art and culture be put at the service of the “people” and “socialism”, or rather the state that claimed to embody these. In the USSR it was dangerous to think otherwise. Writers who refused to adapt to the new thinking were executed or died in labour camps.
There was a second element to socialist realism — an element of folk culture. One of architects of socialist realism, Andrey Zhdanov, stated, after the Second World war, that music should be, “realist and of truthful content, and closely and organically linked with the people and their folk-music and folk-song.”
The idea was that music should not only carry a socialist message but also be the “people’s” music, a national music, music that is not “owned” and only enjoyed by a cultural elite but of everyday life. In Russia this came to mean regimented state folk ensembles that make Riverdance look like an honest, restrained and tasteful expression of Irish culture.
Outside of Russia, coming as its did at the time of the Popular Front where the Communist parties sought to align themselves with the “progressive” section of their own ruling classes against fascism, this very quickly came to mean promoting a nationalist conception of folk music.
Of course the Communist’s approach could also attach itself to a living tradition. This was particularly true in the USA which had a strong and living tradition of workers’ song, both black and white. Woody Guthrie was someone in this tradition. He became intellectually close to the Communist Party while never joining. A writer and performer of real merit, his songs often transcended the kind of doggerel and simplistic propagandising that characterised what passed for “socialist” song-writing at the time.
It is impossible to say whether the folk revival in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain and the USA were directly caused by the ideas and the members of the Communist parties, but it is certain that they were heavily influenced by the Communist line.
In Britain one of the major protagonists for the folk revival was A L Lloyd, a card-carrying CPer, as were some performers such as Ewan McColl (although he left the CP in 1953, he continued to bear its politics). The CP ran a Workers’ Music Association and its record label, Topic, was the first British folk label.
In the USA the folk-song collector and folk-promoter Alan Lomax was a CP member, as were key performers such as Pete Seeger (like McColl, Seeger left the CP — in 1950 — but continued to hold its beliefs in music).
The folk-revival had programmed into it the idea that there was an authentic workers’ music that was superior both in its folk-style and its political content to the pop music of the day. This “authenticity” was something of a concoction. The folkies were, at heart, middle class urbanites. The folk revival in the USA happened in Greenwich Village and university campuses; in Britain it happened in rooms above pubs in middle class suburbs.
The invented nature of the tradition it claimed to stand in can be seen in its attitude to the blues Most of the important blues artists in the US in the 50s played in electric bands in the north, but this is not what the folk purists wanted. When John Lee Hooker played New York and when Big Bill Bronzy played in Britain, they had to go acoustic, and imitate a Southern country blues style for the white middle-classes. They were not “allowed” to present the revolution in popular music that they were really engaged in.
Folk music was also seen as politically of the left. Tribune had a folk music column until the mid-1960s.
The folk revival was not a bad thing. It engendered interest in music beyond the increasingly bland pop-mainstream, which after the rock and roll of the mid ’50s had fallen back into saccharine crooning. Much of what collectors like Lomax collected was interesting in its own right and suggested new musical directions. It was not merely bucolic reaction. Out of the folk-revival grew the 1950s British skiffle boom and out of that eventually came the British beat bands, including the Beatles.
But these developments were opposed by many folk purists. Folk became a straitjacket — performers were expected to work within the tradition. Even when they wrote there own music it was expected to be musically conventional (and above that meant acoustic) and “realist” in its lyrical approach.
By the early 1960s new folk writing consisted either of “protest songs” — topical songs that showed folk’s political engagement — or songs which simulated the form of the “folk canon”. The template for this was Woody Guthrie, who mixed political songs, traditional songs, and songs that sounded very much like traditional ones although he had written them. It is at this point in the story that Bob Dylan comes in.
In the early 1960s, when Dylan came on the folk scene in Greenwich Village, he consciously modelled himself on Woody Guthrie — sang his songs, mimicked his clothes and his political engagement. It soon became clear that Dylan had a greater and more mercurial talent than his idol. After a throwaway album of folk standards, Dylan’s real debut as a songwriter was The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Here Dylan went beyond the protest song.
Typically a protest song would retell a news story, sometimes with a bit of editorialising. Indeed Phil Ochs, a protest singing contemporary of Dylan’s, called his first album All the news that’s fit to sing. Sometimes there would be calls to action, such as Pete Seeger’s Which side or you on? But the songs on The Freewheelin’… and its follow up The times they are a-changing’ did not fit these templates. The questions raised were often rhetorical; they offered no answers. In many ways Dylan’s most famous protest song, Blowin’ in the wind was not a protest song at all. It mentions no specific injustice, and offers no answer; it was a demand to think. As Dylan commented at the time, “Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is, but oh, I don’t believe that.”
The complexity and texture of Dylan’s lyrics gained Dylan a huge following. (As opposed to his music, which was derivative; his guitar playing, which was mediocre; and his harmonica playing, some of which was diabolical.) Bizarrely Dylan’s non-specific “message” raised him in the eyes of many to the spokesperson, if not the leader, of a new movement. The designation clearly revolted him, and eventually angered him. In his next set of songs, the carefully titled Another side of Bob Dylan, he began to question the ideas of the left, the morality and motivation of himself and those around him. In My back pages he writes:
“Equality, I spoke their word
as if a wedding vow
but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”
As Dylan stated, “Me, I don’t want to write for people any more — you now, be a spokesman. From now on I want to write from inside of me… the bomb is getting boring because what is wrong goes much deeper than the bomb… I’m not part of no movement…” For those who expected folk to be about the repetition of received truths and comforting consensus, it was something of a shock, but it really was no preparation for what was to come.
Dylan’s first albums had been musically unexceptional, old folk and blues tunes recycled. But all along something else musically had been happening in the world. While the folkies were singing to themselves, while mainstream pop was sinking into a pit of pink glop, black urban America had created a new, dynamic, electric music. For a long time this had been designated a “race” music, and then Rhythm and Blues, and despite Rock and Roll (which was R&B played by white people) it had really passed the American mainstream by.
In Britain, to the disgust of the folk purists, some moved beyond acoustic blues and started to discover the electric R&B. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Beatles took black urban music back to the USA.
For Dylan these developments were a way to cut himself out of the cocoon of folk music. Dylan gathered a group of (white) electric blues musicians around him. In response to the heckler in the Albert Hall in 1966 demanding that he play folk music he responded that, “This is not British music, this is American music, now come on.” Popular music had at last very imperfectly come to terms with a changed world. While modernism had transformed the visual arts, jazz had been transformed by bebop and orchestral music was comfortable with dissonance, pop music was still swaddled in easy certainty and formal order. Folk music even more so. Dylan splashed out with shocking colour and let rip a splenetic howl.
Freed from the assumption that songs should be realist, topical and in service to a movement’s immediate political requirements, Dylan looked to the avant garde, the absurdist and the surreal to develop his lyrics. This kind of experimentaion underlay a trio of albums, Bringing it all back home, Blonde on blonde and Highway 61 revisited.
The story of the huge confrontation created between Dylan and his folk audience, a section of which booed him for these years, has been well told. But what it is difficult to understand is enormity of what Dylan had wrought. This was loud, raucous and challenging music. He played American music, the music brought to the UK by the Beatles and Stones, but played with more energy than either. And welded to this were rich and multilayered and at times downright oblique lyrics, that demanded to be listened to, demanded to be questioned. This was pop-music as art, serious, literate and modernist. It was a cultural watershed.
So when someone shouted “Judas” at Dylan when he was playing his electric set at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, there was a political background to it all. The “purist” heckler was demanding that music was not modern, was rooted in tradition, even if that tradition were invented. It was a demand that easy questions be given and that the audience could already mouth the answers. It was a demand not to be challenged, confronted and questioned.
As Irwin Sibler, a leading member of the left-folk establishment in the early sixties who denounced Dylan’s electric turn, and later recanted, put it: “Dylan is our poet — not our leader”. Of course in time he ceased to be that, but that is another story.
The day after the Momentum steering committee voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair, the Morning Star , a newspaper closely linked with the Communist Party of Britain, published an editorial condemning the decision as part of the Labour “witch-hunt” and accusing the steering committee of “political cowardice and confusion”. The editorial contained a number of factual inaccuracies (for instance, claiming that four of the seven votes to remove Walker were from the AWL – a claim now removed from the online version), but more seriously, seemed to deny the possibility of antisemitism existing on the left – a reality that an earlier, more thoughtful M Star editorial had recognised.
Yesterday’s M Star published a response from Momentum chair Jon Lansman, which can be read here. It also published a letter from a leading and long-standing Communist Party member, Mary Davis. As letters do not appear on the M Star‘s website, we publish it below:
I am writing to express my concern and dismay at both the tone and the content of the editorial in the paper (M Star October 5). On Sunday we will be marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. A rare victory made possible by the mobilisation of the East End Jewish community together with the inestimable role of the Communist Party.
In 1936 the party did not have a problem in understanding the nature of antisemitism and the need to fight against it. The Labour Party today is clearly making a similar effort. Hence it established the Chakrabati inquiry and seems determined to tackle the issue.
Given this background, I would have expected our paper with its full support for Jeremy Corbyn, to have welcomed Momentum’s decision to suspend its vice-chair, Jackie Walker. Instead it has taken precisely the opposite position.
It may be that Walker has not found an acceptable definition of anti-Semitism, but that should not, given our history, preclude us from having one and acting on it.
Walker had been suspended (although re-admitted) to the Labour Party for her comment that Jews were the “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.” Other of her comments on the Holocaust and the misuse of security at Jewish schools have been criticised by Momentum as being “ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive.”
The comments in the Star’s editorial writing off the Jewish Labour Movement (because they attacked Walker) as a zionist organisation would correctly incur criticism from Chackarbarti, who in her section on “zionism and zionists” makes the following observation: “Crucially, I have heard testimony [about] … the way in which the word ‘zionist’ has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for Jew.
“My advice to critics of the Israeli state and/or government is the use the term ‘zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.”
Manual Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA and a strong backer of Corbyn, called on Walker to resign from the Labour Party immediately. I concur with this view and counsel our paper to support the left Labour position on anti-semitism.
MARY DAVIS, London N4
From Dale Street:
Just a quick reminder about the quality of Scottish-nationalist politics and journalism.
“Now when London is threatened
With devastation from the air
I realise, horror atrophying me,
That I hardly care.
“The leprous swine in London town
And their Anglo-Scots accomplices
Are, as they have always been
Scotland’s only enemies.”
(On The Imminent Destruction Of London, June 1940)
Biteback Publishing, 2016, pp. 320.
By Dale Street (this review also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
Dave Rich’s The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism is not quite what its subtitle suggests it is. But that does not make the book, published a fortnight ago, any the less worth reading.
The focus of the book is not Corbyn. At its core is an attempt to provide an explanation of “how and why antisemitism appears on the left, and an appeal to the left to understand, identify and expel antisemitism from its politics.”
The antisemitism in question is not the ‘traditional’ racist version. It is an antisemitism which is rooted in “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel”, albeit one which frequently incorporates anti-semitic stereotypes and tropes. The paradoxical result is that its proponents “believe anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews, while not feeling any visceral hostility towards them and while thinking of themselves as anti-racists.”
The historical starting point of Rich’s explanation is the emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Left, argues Rich, turned away from traditional class politics and focused instead on identity politics and anti-colonial struggles in the Third World. In its most extreme form, this involved writing off the working class as the decisive agent of social change. Instead, “Third World struggles were the new focus of world revolution”, and armed conflict was the highest form of those struggles.
Especially in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, this way of looking at the world increasingly identified Israel as a bastion of imperialist oppression. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were allocated a place in the front ranks of the anti-imperialist forces. Two other factors reinforced this overly simplistic and ultimately anti-semitic conceptualisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Firstly, the Soviet Union relaunched a massive state-run “anti-Zionist” campaign based on thinly disguised — and sometimes not even that — antisemitism. Traditional anti-semitic themes — rich, powerful, cruel, manipulative Jews — were recast in the language of “anti-Zionism”. The Soviet campaign portrayed Israel itself as an outpost and bridgehead of US imperialism in the Middle East. It was ultra- aggressive, ultra-expansionist and committed to the military conquest of the surrounding Arab states.
Secondly, British Young Liberals, trying to replicate the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, recast Israel as an apartheid state in which the indigenous Arab population suffered the same levels of discrimination as Blacks in South Africa. Rich writes: “The Young Liberals established an enduring template for left-wing anti-Zionism in Britain. … It is common to blame Trotskyists and other Marxists for the spread of anti-Zionism on the left. In reality, this movement was kick-started by Young Liberals and Arab nationalist activists, funded by Arab governments.”
Peter Hain, a future Labour MP but then a leading figure in the Young Liberals, played a particularly prominent role in the creation of this “anti-Zionist” template: “The world cannot allow its shame over its historic persecution of Jews to rationalise the present persecution of the Palestinians. The case for the replacement of Israel by a democratic secular state of Palestine must be put uncompromisingly.”
“They (Israeli Jews) can recognise now that the tide of history is against their brand of greedy oppression, or they can dig in and invite a bloodbath. … [Israel keeps Palestinians] in far more oppressive conditions in fact than many black South Africans live.”
By the mid-1970s the main elements of what now — and long since — passes for “anti-Zionism” on sections of the British left were already in place. Zionism was not just another nationalism. It was a uniquely evil ideology, inherently racist, and necessarily genocidal. Israel was an “illegitimate” apartheid state, a colonial enterprise equated to the dispossession of the Palestinians, and incapable of reform.
Rich goes on to provide examples of how such themes were amplified and built upon in subsequent years. If Israel was, as claimed, an apartheid state, then it was a “legitimate” target for a comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. This has now “climaxed” in the decision of some British union to boycott the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union federation. If Zionism was, as claimed, a form of racism, then it was “legitimate” for Student Unions to refuse to fund Jewish Societies which failed to disavow Zionism.
The mid-1970s and the mid-1980s saw repeated attempts to ban Jewish societies on this basis. If Zionism was, as claimed, inherently genocidal, then it was “legitimate” to equate it with Nazism — an equation which became increasingly common in sections of the left press and on placards on pro-Palestine demonstrations. And if Israel and Zionism were guilty as claimed, then a common “anti-imperialism” made it “legitimate” to ally with forces hostile to the most basic values of the left. This found expression in the SWP-Muslim Association of Britain alliance in the Stop the War Coalition.
As the ultimate example of this “way of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” Rich quotes from a letter published by the Morning Star, written by a veteran reader and Communist Party member: “Israel, and all that Israel has done and is doing, is an affront to all those millions who fought and died fighting fascism before, during and after the war against fascism. … A few years ago [an Italian partisan who survived Dachau] committed suicide. He left a note saying that the good Jews were all killed in the concentration camps.”
As Rich points out, such “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” bring those sections of the left which espouse them into conflict with most Jews in Britain (and the world): “Israel’s existence is an important part of what it means to be Jewish today. The idea that Israel shouldn’t exist or that Zionism was a racist, colonial endeavour rather than a legitimate expression of Jewish nationhood, cuts to the heart of British Jews’ sense of identity of who they are.”
Rich concludes: “There has been a breakdown in trust and understanding between British Jews, the Labour Party, and the broader left. There are parts of the left where most Jews feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. … It’s not too late to bring this relationship back to health.”
Despite the book’s subtitle, Corbyn himself appears only spasmodically in the book. Rich rightly criticises Corbyn for various statements on Israel which he has made over the years and for his patronage of campaigns which have served as incubators for left antisemitism. Corbyn’s inability to understand left antisemitism is also highlighted by Rich. Corbyn seems to hold the view that left antisemitism is an oxymoron – only the far right can be anti-semitic – and that accusations of antisemitism are raised in bad faith to undermine criticism of Israel.
More open to challenge is Rich’s description of Corbyn as being “ambiguous” on Israel’s right to exist. It is certainly true that the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine which Corbyn supported in the early 1980s was rabidly hostile to Israel’s existence. (The campaign was set up by Tony Greenstein.) But Corbyn’s overall record has been one of backing a “two states solution”.
But Rich is not overly concerned with Corbyn’s own views on Israel and antisemitism. For Rich, Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader “symbolises” — and Rich uses the word on more than one occasion — something more profound. Corbyn’s “political home” was the New Left which spawned left antisemitism. His election as party leader means that “what was once on the fringes of the left” is now centre-stage. Corbyn’s election was “the ultimate New Left triumph rather than a return to Old Labour.”
This is true in the sense that some people around Corbyn, including ones in senior positions, espouse the left antisemitism which began to emerge in the years of the New Left and then spread like a cancer in subsequent years. But it is also very wrong, in the sense that the primary factor which galvanised support for Corbyn’s leadership bid was the fact that he was seen as, and presented himself as, the pre-Blairite Old-Labour anti-austerity leadership contender.
In an isolated moment of clutching at straws to back up an argument, Rich even cites preposterous claims by arch-Stalinist Andrew Murray and his fellow traveller Lindsey German that the Stop the War Coalition — now little more than a rump and a website — was the decisive factor in Corbyn’s
Such secondary criticisms apart, Rich’s book is a valuable summary of the historical development of left antisemitism in Britain: not just a timely reminder of older arguments but also a source of new insights into its emergence. And no-one should be put off reading Rich’s book by the fulsome praise which Nick Cohen has heaped upon it, albeit at the expense of ignoring and misrepresenting what Rich has actually written: “How a party that was once proud of its anti-fascist traditions became the natural home for creeps, cranks and conspiracists is the subject of Dave Rich’s authoritative history of left antisemitism. … Representatives of the darkest left factions control Labour and much of the trade union movement, and dominate the intelligentsia.”
Cohen once wrote a serious critique of sections of the far left at a certain stage of their degeneration. But now he just bumbles along as a political court jester and professional Mr. Angry. Rich, by contrast, is trying to open up a political argument.
Compare and contrast:
1/ Morning Star editorial Feb 26 2016:
The EU has done nothing to strengthen Britain’s social or equality legislation. Holiday pay, equal pay legislation, advancement of anti-racist and gay rights were all fought for and won by workers in struggle. To claim otherwise is a mendacious insult to the history of our movement and class.
2/ Morning Star front page Aug 30 2016:
YOUR RIGHTS IN MAY’S HANDS
Unions challenge May to live up to post-Brexit pledges
by Conrad Landin
THERESA MAY risks a “betrayal of British workers” if she does not save employment rights when Britain leaves the EU, unions warned last night.
New research by the House of Commons library shows that rights to annual leave, protection against unfair dismissal and equal rights for agency workers could fall away on a technicality if the government does not intervene.
The European Communities Act 1972, which will need to be repealed prior to Brexit, allows Brussels employment law to take primacy over Westminster Acts and become British law.
Regulations protecting young people and ensuring paid time off for health and safety reps could also fall by the wayside.
Ms May promised to put the Tories “completely, absolutely, unequivocally at the service of working people” when she was announced as the leader last month.
But her parliamentary record includes staunch support for anti-union laws and leading the opposition to the Equality Act in the Commons.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The Prime Minister came to office talking a good game about standing up for working people. She now has to walk the walk — and the first part of that should be guaranteeing that every single right for workers delivered by the European Union will stay in place.
“Anything less would be a betrayal of British workers, especially given the promises that were made on employment rights by members of the Vote Leave campaign. Every worker and trade unionist in Britain urgently needs clarity on this vital issue.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna (pictured left with Ms May), who commissioned the Commons library research, has written to Ms May calling for the government to enact primary legislation guaranteeing the affected workplace rights.
He is also calling for an audit of decisions made by the Court of Justice of the European Union, followed by a government commitment to maintaining the additional rights that have been derived from legal judgements.
Mr Umunna told Ms May: “You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ But you must now begin to set out what this means.
“You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your Cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Britain voted decisively to leave the EU and this government will deliver the people’s verdict. In every step we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to have strong protections for workers’ rights.”
Her ‘Brexit’ material is not yet available on Youtube – so her ‘Ant’ material will have to do for now
I’ve long been a fan of Bridget Christie, and her words (quoted in the Guardian) about her current show in Edinburgh merely confirmed me in my admiration:
“I totally reject this notion, which is coming from a lot of people on the left, that we mustn’t criticise leave voters,” said Christie. “Everybody has to admit that there were a lot of people who voted leave for not noble and legitimate reasons. Just look at the 500% increase in race hate crimes after Brexit.”
She continued: “And people saying that the middle classes and the educated elite are demonising the working classes as racists. Well, I’m working class and I don’t accept that at all. Racists are being demonised; it doesn’t matter what their socio-economic background is. We have to talk about it – in the media and in comedy.”
I put it a bit more tactfully in a (so far unpublished) letter to the Morning Star:
A number of articles and letters in the Morning Star over the past few weeks have objected to anyone mentioning the plain fact that the Brexit vote has been followed by a “spike” in racist incidents.
The pro-Brexit left seems to object to having the consequences of their irresponsible foolishness pointed out to them: this denial reached its apogee with the editorial of August 1st, which stated “”Singling out anti-EU and labour movement campaigns for blame is even more reprehensible”: I can assure you, comrades, that those of us who warned about the consequences of your reactionary stance will continue remind you of your shameful role in encouraging racism and backwardness for the foreseeable future.
Workers who voted “Leave” must be approached with sensitivity: the “left” who pandered to backwardness and reaction must never be allowed to forget what they did. As for the fantasy that a “left exit” is on the cards: get real and face reality, comrades!
That was written before this steaming pile of reactionary/idealist shite appeared … at first it made me very angry, but I guess I’d be better advised to follow Ms Christie’s lead, and just take the piss out of these stupid arseholes.
Above: the reality of Brexit … and ‘Lexit’
The following letter appears in today’s (July 20) edition of the Morning Star. We republish it here because (a) letters do not appear on the MS website; (b) it’s from an active and well-respected Unite member, and (c) it states some simple truths very bluntly. I might also add that as the MS is under the political direction of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), and campaigned for a supposedly “left” exit vote in the referendum, it is to the paper’s credit that they’ve published such a stinging rebuke:
Brexit vote has encouraged racists
AS A delegate to Unite’s policy conference in Brighton, I was disappointed to find in the Communist Party’s conference bulletin no mention of the spike in racist attacks on migrant workers.
Many trade unionists actively campaigned against leaving the European Union because we knew the racists and right would use the referendum to whip up hostility to migrant workers. Exit from the EU has shifted politics to the right, not the left.
In my local shop a Romanian worker who has been in the country for many years is fearful for her children walking home from school and now sleeps with a bucket of water in her hall in case there is an arson attack in the night.
Many of the rights and protections gained by European trade unions through campaigning in the EU will be lost as directives relating to the workplace fall away.
This right wing government will move increasingly to a low-wage, low-corporation tax economy.
It is disappointing that the CPB is adopting a Little Englander approach and turning away from European solidarity. I struggled at times during the referendum campaign to separate the political positions of the CPB and Ukip
Chair, Lewisham Town Hall Branch LE/1183
Jim Denham writes:
A born-again Christian semi-Stalinist folk musician may seen a strange friend for Shiraz Socialist and for me in particular. Karl Dallas and I never met in person, but had a number of exchanges by email and via below-the-line comments here at Shiraz. We had some especially sharp disagreements over the saxophonist Gild Atzmon, who Karl continued to defend -and, indeed, to promote in both senses of the word – long after it should have been obvious to him that Atzmon was a vicious antisemite and dangerous reactionary. Mind you, Karl was far from being alone on the left in his softness on Atzmon, and at least (unlike, say the SWP) seems to have been motivated by naivety rather than cynicism and sectarianism.
But for all of that, Karl remained courteous and friendly. I never doubted his fundamental decency, his often personally courageous commitment to what he understood to be socialism and the self-evident sincerity he demonstarted in every aspect of his life. He was living proof of something I’ve long believed: that it’s possible (on the broad left, at least) to have sharp political differences with people, yet still like and respect them. Our shared love of music certainly helped maintain friendly terms. Karl was a frequent contributor to the Morning Star (and its forunner, the Daily Worker), and it only seems right and proper to reproduce that paper’s tribute to him (NB: we’ve only republished the main obituary; it’s worth following the link for several other appreciations):
KARL FREDERICK DALLAS, who died on June 21 at the age of 85, will go down in history as the father of British folk-rock journalism.
But for those who worked with him at the Morning Star or assisted him organising gigs to raise awareness and funds for numerous movements and for those who stood next to him as human shields in Iraq, joined his hunger strikes or even watched him don donkey ears to keep our community swimming baths open, he’ll be remembered for his solidarity wherever human injustices and inequalities prevailed. He was one with us, the people.
Dallas was brought up in a socialist family and was named after Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From the age of seven, he was a peace activist. It was then that he accompanied his mother, a single parent, on a demonstration against Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
From an early age he set his heart on a career as a poet and lyricist. He understood the value of the arts, specifically the protest song, as a cultural unifier.
Describing his most political songs as “love songs with a universal message,” Dallas summed this up in an encouraging declaration of hope: “People survive despite everything.”
Via a stint as a publicist for Billy Smart’s Circus, he came to journalism and his work was informed by his own considerable skill as a musician. Dallas had a knack of scouting out the best talent around.
At first using the name Fred Dallas, it would be the mid-’60s before he became widely know as Karl Dallas, having established himself as the most influential music journalist in Britain.
He was a contributor to Melody Maker from the 1950s to the 1970s and continued his political interests by writing for the Daily Worker — later the Morning Star — and self-published the magazines Folk News, Acoustic Music and Jazz Music News among others.
Dallas was a popular figure, gaining interviews from even the most elusive of all artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Davey Graham and he was known to gain access to Pink Floyd when no other journalist could.
Throughout his career, he kept his professional integrity by writing what he thought was important and never allowed friendship to influence what he would write.
At some point, he came to the conclusion that “music was a murderous business,” having seen too many creative sensibilities destroyed by a capitalist industry and those controlling it.
Dallas was a rock and folk survivor. A recovering alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since the early 1980s, he never forgot October 9 1979, the day he had his last drink. It was this personal struggle with his own demons that, perhaps, made Dallas so akin to those whom he affectionately called “the walking wounded” who “soldiered on.” Having considering himself an atheist with an inclination towards paganism, Dallas converted to Christianity in 1983.
He retired from full-time journalism in 1999. Even so, he continued to work ceaselessly, celebrating the multicultural richness and diversity of Bradford where he made his home — he had left London and moved there with his wife in 1989.
Speaking out against the EDL, he assembled crowds in peaceful, multifaith opposition to racism and fascism. Having had his songs recorded by the likes of Ewan MacColl and The Spinners, Dallas ran songwriting workshops and he was a regular at Bradford’s Topic venue, where his composition Hamba Khalie, Sala Khalie, with its lyrics: “Go well, stay well, safe journey home” became the folk club’s signature finale.
He wrote plays, novels and poetry like there was no tomorrow, along with online music reviews and he remained a loyal contributor to the Morning Star. His work for Bradford Radio included weekly debates, a jazz show and film reviews and he was at times a quirky broadcaster. His marathon eight-hour Midsummer Night’s Radio Madness Show — at Midnight is remembered with particular fondness.
He was a regular guest at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and set up his tent there for the last time in 2013, meeting briefly with old friends and enthusing over the raw energy of the Yorkshire band The Dunwells. The most poignant moment of that weekend for me had to be sitting next to him when Fairport sang Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He had seen so many bright lights cut down in their prime but it was the loss of Sandy Denny that seemed to haunt him most.
Back in 1981, on the occasion of Dallas’s 50th birthday, folk-rock musician Roy Harper predicted: “Karl Dallas will outlive us all.” With a massive backlog of writing, published and unpublished, he leaves enough of a mark to ensure his voice will live on.
He lives on also in the most vulnerable and would-be silenced of society to whom he gave his support, at times risking his own safety and even his life. A man of words, a maker of songs and verse and a teller of tales, he embraced new technologies and was an eager advocate of the selfie-broadcast.
Shortly before his death Dallas announced on Facebook: “I’m living one day at a time and planning a fun-filled funeral. Try and be there.”
A lifelong activist and comrade, he will be sorely missed. But it is a small comfort to know he remained with us for the summer solstice, when the tilt of the earth was most inclined towards the sun.
Our kind thoughts and condolences are with his wife Gloria, his children Molly and Steven and their families.