Above: debate on antisemitism between Cathy Nugent of the AWL and Richard Angell of Progress
The following resolution was adopted at the recent conference of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:
Antisemitism exists on the left.
This is not merely a question of the bigotries, chauvinisms, and prejudices which exist in society generally expressing themselves within the left, but essentially as aberrations within an otherwise progressive worldview. Rather, a number of ideas, positions, and analyses which have an antisemitic logic have become incorporated over a number of years into the “common sense” which predominates in some sections of the far left.
Contemporary left antisemitism combines older tropes of Jewish power (the politics August Bebel denounced in the 1890s as “the socialism of fools”) with a Stalinist-inspired “anti-Zionism”.
Some traditional antisemitic tropes and themes have become incorporated into certain ways of viewing Zionism and Israel.
Anti-Zionism and hostility to Israeli policies are not necessarily antisemitic. But most contemporary antisemitism expresses itself in the form of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism, rather than as ‘traditional’ antisemitic racism.
Contemporary left antisemitism historically deracinates Zionism, blowing it out of all proportion. Zionism was a nationalist-separatist, and often romantic-utopian, movement that emerged in response to a real oppression and was given a mass character by the attempted genocide experienced by Europe’s Jews at the hands of the Nazis. It was always politically variegated. The revolutionary socialist tradition with which Workers’ Liberty identifies was always anti-Zionist, but it was an anti-Zionism conditioned, and in some ways tempered, by an understanding of the material roots of that nationalist impulse. It was an anti-Zionism which found it good to have Zionist units in the Red Army, a Histadrut presence at international communist congresses, and steps by the Bolshevik workers’ state to create an autonomous Jewish “homeland” within the territory of the USSR, and which saw the Zionists who then mostly described themselves as left-wing as indeed a mistaken tendency within the left, rather than as a phalanx of the imperialist enemy.
The Stalinist propaganda campaigns of the 1950s onwards, in which “Zionism” was interchangeable with “imperialism”, “racism”, and even “fascism”, cast long shadows in sections of the contemporary far left, including some groups which consider themselves anti-Stalinist.
Those shadows lead to Jews with an instinctive though maybe critical identification with Israel being demonised as “Zionists” (with the word having the same connotations as “racists” or “fascists”); to complaints of antisemitism (short of gross neo-Nazi-type acts) being automatically dismissed as contrived gambits to deflect criticism of Israel; and to Israel being seen as an illegitimate ultra-imperialist state, which must be wiped off the map and whose population, therefore, in the immediate term, it is right to boycott and despise.
[For more on the historical background and context, see: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/26603]
While recognising left antisemitism as a real political phenomenon, we also recognise that allegations of antisemitism may sometimes be exaggerated, instrumentalised, or even fabricated for factional ends. This is true of any allegation of any bigotry or prejudice. That does not mean that the bigotry or prejudice is not real, or that the default response to any such allegation should be to question the motives of the plaintiff.
Moreover, there may be a distinctly antisemitic component in play when allegations of antisemitic speech or conduct are challenged as having been raised in bad faith and for an ulterior political motive. This was particularly visible in the controversies triggered by Livingstone and Walker.
Did the right wing ‘weaponise’ antisemitism in the Livingstone and Walker controversies? In one sense, no (in that some of them had a long record of raising the issue of antisemitism). In one sense, yes (in that they had an open goal and would have been fools not to have taken the opportunity). But such considerations have nothing in common with the way in which supporters of Walker (and Livingstone) raised the allegation of ‘weaponisation’, i.e. as a means to delegitimise all criticism of Walker (and, in some cases, of Livingstone as well).
We are for allegations of antisemitism, as with allegations of sexism, racism, etc., being investigated thoroughly, in a way that is sympathetic to the plaintiff and which affords all parties due process.
Our response is based on political education, debate, and discussion. We cannot challenge a prevailing common sense, and replace it with a better one, by means of bans and expulsions. That discussion must be conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, where activists in the movement are able to speak freely on sensitive issues such as Israel/Palestine, and those raising concerns around antisemitism are not accused of being Zionist provocateurs.
In the Labour Party, we argue for the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.
Some of the recommendations contained in the Chakrabati Report are vague, and the political rationale which underpins them is not always clear. A lot of the recommendations focus heavily on procedural matters. It would be surprising if the Report did not suffer from such limitations.
But the Report does begin to raise the political issues which we want to see discussed and provides a certain official ‘stamp of approval’ to opening up such discussions. In both the Labour Party and trade unions (especially Unite and the UCU, even though the latter is not an LP affiliate) we should therefore encourage the use of the Report as a starting point for promoting discussion about antisemitism and arguing for a new political common sense about antisemitism based on the following ideas:
A historical understanding of the roots of nationalist ideas within Jewish communities, and the impact of the history of the 20th century in shaping Jewish people’s consciousness.
Zionism should neither be placed beyond criticism nor demonised.
As we challenge the confusion on the left and in the broader labour movement about Zionism and Israel, and the antisemitic content of some critiques of Zionism and Israel, we will advance our own politics on the Israel/Palestine conflict, i.e.
Solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation; a two-state settlement in Israel/ Palestine; workers’ unity across the borders; solidarity not boycotts.
Amendment not voted on (i.e. it goes forward for further discussion)
Contemporary left anti-Semitism involves a process of signification that defines the Other somatically – i.e. it marks out a group of people in relation to Israeli Jewishness and/or Zionist Jewishness – and assigns this categorised group of bodies with negative characteristics and as giving rise to negative consequences. This Jewish Other is conflated with a particular and singular understanding of Israel and Zionism and a notion therein that the Jewish collective has uniquely world domineering and despotic power. Unlike traditional and historical anti-Semitism, contemporary left anti-Semitism considers it possible and necessary for individual Jews to break away from the negative characteristics and consequences of Israeli Jews and Zionist Jews by denouncing any affiliation to them and to Israel and Zionism.
With racism in general, both real and imagined physical and/or cultural characteristics have historically been, and continue to be, signified as an innate mark of nature and ‘race’. Similar to all other manifestations of racism, with contemporary left anti-Semitism it is not difference per se that matters but the identification of this difference as significant. In this sense, whether consciously or not, those engaged in contemporary left anti-Semitic discourse and practices are engaged in racist discourse and practices. The demand (often in disguise) that the Israeli Jewish nation-state must be undone because it is uniquely despotic (comparable only to fascist Germany and/or apartheid South Africa) – a judgement and a demand not made of any other nation-state – is racist. It is racist because real and imagined cultural characteristics have been and are signified as an innate mark of the nature of Israel and Zionism (and of the cultural ‘race’ of Jews associated with Israel and Zionism), which are deemed especially deplorable and negative in characteristics and consequences.
Much academic theorising about ‘race’, racism and capitalism since the 1960s in Britain and North America sources racism solely to colonialism, rather than also recognising racism’s co-constructed relationship with the rise of nationalism and the nation-state, and some of its pre-capitalist origins. The consequences of this colonial model of racism are: one, limited to no recognition of racism beyond what “white people” have done and do to “black people”; two, intellectually crediting the controversial notion that Zionism is an instance of racism (as “bad, white and rich Jews” oppress “good, poor and brown Arabs and Muslims”); and three, downplaying anti-Semitism.
And add at end:
The two states settlement on pre-1967 borders is the only consistently democratic and realistic resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The overwhelming majority of both the activist and academic Left have adopted various forms of one state / one shared space solutions on the basis that the ultimate question is one of Palestinian redress and justice and/or “facts on the ground” have made a meaningful two states settlement impossible. For many in this majority camp, their politics is well-meaning and borne from despair. We need to patiently and sharply reason and debate against the varied proposals for one state / one shared space – exposing and condemning the implicit logic to undo the Israeli Jewish nation-state – while nuancing our argument as not altogether diametrically opposed: since we are for two states so that one day we might see one shared cooperative space between Jewish and Arab workers democratically emerge.
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 »
John McTernan isn’t the only Labour person who gets published in the Telegraph:
By Sasha Ismail
Most Labour “moderates” must have expected a crushing Corbyn victory, but this result will surely have left many feeling bewildered. As a campaigner for Corbyn, let me explain what I think is happening and offer some advice.
To listen to some on Labour Right you’d think the party membership had lost their minds. This is ironic given the anti-Corbyn camp’s behaviour over the last year, and particularly the last three months. In any case, we’re far from mad; there is something deeper going on.
The movement which swept Corbyn to office, and has just crushed the attempt to remove him, is fundamentally a class movement. It reflects the deep frustration of various sections of Britain’s working population with the bland, technocratic political consensus which has served the interests of employers and the rich so well for thirty years, and spectacularly enriched them during the decade of “austerity”.
Yes, “Corbynism” is primarily based among big city-based and more formally educated workers (which is not necessarily the same as better-off workers – let alone the absurd idea that Corbyn’s support is a movement of the wealthy). But Labour MPs and the whole middle-to-upper-class social layer who make up the main cadres of the Labour Right cannot understand the anger and frustration which has given such drive to the new Labour Left because they have not suffered in the same way that even better-off workers have since the financial meltdown – from falling real wages, gutted public services, and a spiralling housing crisis.
And to those who didn’t share at all in the “boom years” before 2008 but at best trod water, suffering under New Labour’s regime of “flexible labour markets”, privatisation and burgeoning inequality, the Labour Right almost literally have nothing to say – except to pander to the attempts of nationalists to divide workers. Blairism wanted to exorcise the discourse of class from politics to better serve capitalism. But class reasserted itself with a vengeance, in various ways. In that sense, the Corbyn movement and the rise of Ukip have the same root. The latter represents a reactionary revolt against elite-consensus politics, the former the beginnings of a progressive one. There is a similar polarisation in many countries – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders being an obvious example – for similar reasons.
The Labour Right have numerous advantages, but so far they have failed to stifle the Corbyn movement precisely because it is a movement, whereas they are not. Their attacks on us remind Labour members and supporters precisely of what they hate about “New Labour”, reinforcing our determination and our numbers. That is why Momentum as a whole and its groups across the country have experienced such a remarkable surge of support and involvement since the coup. Owen Smith can talk Left, while Corbyn sounds all too moderate – but Smith “smells” like a man of the capitalist establishment, while Corbyn does not. Labour people are not stupid; we have a good sense of smell. And, at the end of the day, like it or not, antagonistic and clashing class interests do exist. As long as they do, labour movements will emerge and re-emerge, no matter how much they driven down (physically or ideologically).
Of course this won’t happen automatically. The Corbyn movement must conceive of itself as an attempt to revive the labour movement and make it a force in society once again. It needs to radically shake up the structures and culture of the Labour Party, rejecting the idea we can go back to the 2015-16 status quo – but conceive this not as an end in itself, but part of a drive to build a social movement which takes on the rich and helps workers and communities organise in their own interests.
Because make no mistake: even at a time of low strike figures and underlying low confidence among workers, there are plenty of struggles Labour can mobilise behind, help win, and help make the beginning of a wider movement. From newly unionised fast food workers and cleaners to growing housing struggles in working-class communities, from the Picturehouse cinema workers striking for the Living Wage to the junior doctors, the Labour Party needs to organise and act to justify its name. There is a new workers’ movement waiting to be born.
A reinstatement of class politics means reviving trade unions. It also means talking about the idea of workers’ representation – not just how we select our candidates for Parliament, for instance, but who they are. Why should Labour candidates be mainly Spads, highly paid lawyers, heads of think tanks and NGOs? Why shouldn’t they be train drivers, teachers, cleaners, fast food workers, social workers, posties, care workers? Why shouldn’t they be people with a record of trade union and community struggles?
All this requires us to challenge some of the fuzzier populist ideas among Corbyn supporters. A lot of Corbyn-supporters’ organisational thinking inadvertently mirrors a Blairite, media- and internet-driven version of “democracy” (cleansed of its more unpleasant aspects). A new model Labour Party can and should be much more ambitious about its use of new media, but more “online consultation” and policies cooked up in the leader’s office are not what we need – a structured democracy based on an active membership is. Most urgently, we need to deal with the party bureaucracy. If we don’t it will continue to act as a permanently organised factional machine to undermine Corbyn and trample the membership. A “clean slate” won’t do.
A democratically organised party, freed from its bureaucratic tethers, inspiring and mobilising hundreds of thousands of members and linked to a revived trade union movement, could become powerful, reach out to wide layers of society and win millions over to its ideas. It could finally create a force capable of bridging the divisions of origin, ethnicity and religion which the Right in various forms has so capably entrenched over the last two decades – a force allowing the majority to act unitedly in their own interests.
Potentially, it could go further and restore to the political agenda the unsettled aspiration of the old Labour Left – the task of replacing this society of inequality and exploitation with a new one based on meaningful democracy, collective ownership and sustainable provision for human need.
I don’t think I’m naive. Posing the question of socialism is a long way off. It will be a hard struggle even to transform Labour, oust the Tories and change society’s direction. But we need to begin the work now, not go on as we did before.
Let me finish with an appeal to the Labour “moderate” rank and file. You should be angry at your leaders. You should be angry at self-styled Labour loyalists who have done their best to wreck our party; at self-styled social democrats who have strained every muscle to defend unrestrained neo-liberalism and the interests of the rich. There is a place for you in a transformed Labour Party and labour movement, but not for the professional wreckers. Help us call them to account.
Sacha Ismail is a campaigner in Momentum’s Lewisham branch
One of the speakers secretly filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches (for the programme that went out on Monday 19 September), responds:
Comrade Coatesy comments, here
Owen Smith’s comments about anti-semitism and the AWL are at about 48.00
Hapless challenger for Labour leadership, Owen Smith, in the course of the BBC Question Time debate last week, mentioned the Alliance for Workers Liberty in the context of “anti-semitic attitudes” within the Labour Party. Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the AWL will know that it is the one group on the left with a consistent record of opposing all forms of anti-semitism, including “left” anti-semitism and “absolute” anti-Zionism.
In the course of a longer article posted at Tendence Coatesy, Andrew Coates commented:
A few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time:
Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,
“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.
“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”
“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”
The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),
On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.
This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.
Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.
You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!
Below: comment from Jewish Voice spokesperson on LBC:
There are journalists and commentators whose views I don’t agree with (and in some cases, hate), who are nonetheless interesting, intelligent and worth reading. John Harris of the Guardian is not one of them.
I first came across Mr Harris in 2001 or early 2002, when he first started writing for The Guardian. He was, then (like many other Guardian coumnists), an uncritical supporter of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), and keen to defend it against any suggestion that it was led, or politically dominated by the SWP.
This was shortly after the STWC’s first conference in October 2001, when the SWP and its allies like George Galloway and Andrew Murray had ensured the defeat of calls to reject ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ as well as US imperialism. The slogan “No to fundamentalism” indicated that opposition to war did not mean support for the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban reactionaries: but the SWP, Murray, Galloway & co were determined not to alienate Islamists and cared nothing for the anti-fundamentalist views of Iranian and Afghani socialists in Britain, or the only Iraqi socialist organisation (the WCPI) active in Britain, all of whom were horrified by STWC’s alliance with Islamists.
In fact the leading members of the STWC were, and remain, soft on political Islam. This is clear from a footnote in Andrew Murray’s history of the STWC which says: “Political Islam… has expressed, in however warped a fashion, some of the anti-imperialist demands which were once the preserve of Communist and nationalist movements of the region.”
Harris wrote a column in the Guardian at the time defending STWC and denying that the SWP, etc, ran the campaign. I sent a comment to CiF calling Harris a “useful idiot” which apparently upset him at the time. Unfortunately, Harris’s 2001 (or 2002 ?) column does not seem to be available anywhere on the web, but this 2008 article gives a taste: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/feb/15/iraq
Since then, I haven’t spent much time reading the banal outpourings of this rather stupid ex-New Musical Express journalist, but I have noted that he claims to have been in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1980’s, before being driven “to despair” by the Militant Tendency and subsequently leaving the Labour Party for fifteen years.
Now, it’s a matter of record and straight fact, that those of us around in the 1970s and ’80s, can vouch for, that the Militant Tendency were a bunch of thugs, bullies, homophobes and sexists. But they’ve been out of the Labour Party since 1991 when they abandoned entryism and decided to establish themselves as a separate party. Ted Grant, the group’s founder and leading theoretician, was expelled, and his breakaway minority, now known as Socialist Appeal, continued in the Labour Party. The majority changed its name to Militant Labour, and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party. Their leader, Peter Taafe, is now making ridiculous noises to the bourgeois media, suggesting that his group now expects to be readmitted to Labour – having spent more than twenty years denouncing the Party as irreformable and the past eleven months trying to stop his members leaving to join Labour.
The idea that the hundreds of thousands of new (and, in some cases, re-joining) members of the Labour Party who’ve signed up since Corbyn’s victory last year, are doing so under the influence of the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), or any other ‘Trotskyist’ organisation, is a preposterous conspiracy theory put about by Tom Watson in a desperate attempt to undermine Corbyn and boost the hapless nonentity Owen Smith. But the wretched Harris asks Guardian readers to believe this nonsense in a truly ridiculous article entitled If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead. This idiot’s ignorance and stupidity knows no bounds: and while there’s no requirement upon Guardian columnists to have any knowledge of (let alone sympathy with) Trotskyism, someone writing about it might be expected to have at least an elementary grasp: Harris clearly hasn’t.
To give one simple example, Harris describes Trotskyist transitional demands thus:
The practice of Trotskyist politics has long been built around the idea of the “transitional demand”, a rather cynical manoeuvre whereby you encourage people to agitate for this or that – a hugely increased minimum wage, perhaps, or the end of all immigration controls – knowing full well it is unattainable within the current order of things, but that when the impossibility becomes apparent, the workers will belatedly wake up. In other words, the herd gets whipped up into a frenzy about something you know it won’t get, while you smugly sit things out, hoping that if everything aligns correctly, another crack will appear in the great bourgeois edifice.
The reality (as explained by the AWL) is this:
These are not catchpenny demands designed to capture or mirror back an existing “mood”. In some cases, such as open borders, they are ideas that are positively marginal and currently rejected by most working-class people. Others, such as the demand for a democratic federal republic (rather than secession for Scotland and Wales), or opposition to withdrawal from the EU, are marginal even on the far-left.
But we cannot hope to popularise them or make them less marginal except by raising them consistently, within the context of a programme which starts from the logic of our current struggles. The boldness required is the difference between attempting to create a political “space”, through the hard work of agitation and education in our workplaces and communities, and cynical attempts to manoeuvre into some existing space where people are already imagined to be by mirroring back to them slightly more radical versions of the ideas we presume them to already hold.
These wouldn’t be demands that we’d orient towards the state, necessarily, as if we expect a Tory government to implement them. They are demands that make up part of our own political narrative, our own plan for remaking society, just as the Tory policies of cuts and privatisation make up theirs.
Capital make concessions to labour either when we are strong enough to simply overwhelm it and impose ourselves, or when it is too scared of the consequences of not making concessions. For either condition, a conscious programme – a working-class socialist alternative to austerity – is necessary.
Floppy-haired ex-pop music journalist Harris is, indeed, an idiot (whether “useful” or not): first on behalf of Galloway and the SWP; now on behalf of Tom Watson and Labour witch-hunters.
Moishe Postone, a Marxist writer based at the University of Chicago and author of Time, Labour, and Social Domination, and Critique du fétiche-capital: Le capitalisme, l’antisémitisme et la gauche, was in London in May, and spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity about anti-semitism on the left and reactionary anti-capitalism.
I don’t feel as if I know the ins and outs of the situation in the Labour Party, so part of what I say may not be completely accurate. First of all, there is an extremely unfortunate polarisation with regard to the relationship of anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. It is a polarisation which makes political discourse very difficult. On the one hand, you have the Israeli Right, as, let’s say, exemplified by Netanyahu, who treat any criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. As far as I’m concerned, this is completely illegitimate.
Not all forms of anti-Zionism are anti-Semitic. There are too many people on the left, and I think it’s increasing, who argue that no form of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic: that anti-Zionism is anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism is something else. In the world of the metropolitan left, it is really quite remarkable that the left has almost nothing to say about Syria, had nothing to say about Saddam, has nothing to say about the fact that we are witnessing a complete crisis of the Arabic-speaking world. That crisis cannot simply be blamed on imperialism. There needs to be at least an attempt at serious analysis of why every single post-colonial Arab country is characterised by the secret police, and a secret police that would do the Stasi proud. Some of them were trained by the Stasi and the KGB, in fact.
The left seems to be unable to say anything about these issues. In a sense, and this is extremely hypothetical on my part, I think the more helpless the left feels conceptually on dealing with the world, the more it zeroes in on Israel-Palestine, because that seems to be clear: the last anti-colonial struggle.
There are some leftists who will not be happy for me to say this, but retrospectively one could say that the rise of the New Left globally implied a tacit recognition that the proletariat was not the revolutionary subject. I think that there was a move away from working-class politics. The new leftists had not only separated themselves from Communist Parties and social-democratic parties; even though they sympathised with the plight of workers, I think they were tacitly casting about for a new revolutionary subject. The colonised peoples fighting for freedom became the new revolutionary subject. I think that along with that there was a curious fusion, in part because of Vietnam, of the anti-colonial struggle and anti-Americanism.
One of the differences between the massive demonstrations against the American war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, is that for many — not all, but many — of those who fought against the Americans, in the 1960s, there was the idea of supporting a progressive revolution. The Americans, as the world’s imperial, but also conservative force, were hindering a positive historical development. So the demonstrations weren’t only against the Americans. They were also for the Vietnamese revolution — however one retrospectively evaluates that thinking as justified or not, and whether or not one thinks there should have been further criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party. None of that existed in the massive demonstrations against the American invasion in Iraq. There were very few people who could on any level have regarded the Ba’ath regime under Saddam Hussein as representing anything progressive, and nobody talked that way. Anti-Americanism became coded as progressive. In a funny way, it is a remnant of the Cold War, spread among people who were actually not Cold Warriors.
Israel has become fused with America in the minds of many of these anti-imperialist leftists. An enormous amount of power is attributed to Israel which it actually doesn’t have. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are colleagues of mine at the University of Chicago, claim that the American invasion of Iraq was against American interests, but pushed by the Israelis. Of course, they never state what Israeli interests were. Really, as both those writers had connections to Washington, their book was a brief that the State Department should listen to them more than to the neo-cons that they did listen to. Israel is, in a sense, the manipulator, and Washington is sometimes just a stupid dolt which is manipulated by these incredibly clever Jews. And at that point the picture of Zionism is anti-semitic. Zionism There were leftwing critiques of Zionism from the very beginning, frequently by communist Jews. Zionism was criticised by the communists as a form of bourgeois nationalism.
That’s something completely different from the criticisms today. Trotsky, early in his life — I think he changed his views later on — referred to the Bundists as “sea-sick Zionists”. That critique had nothing to do with Palestine or the Palestinian people. It simply has to do with nationalism. The change may have happened in the 1930s, but one marker of it was the trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952, where the Stalinists tried the entire Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party. It was 14 people. Eleven were Jewish. These were old Communists. Many had fought in Spain. They were accused of being Zionists. If you read what “Zionists” meant, it was exactly what the fascists called “Jews” — a shadowy conspiracy, inimical to the health of the Volk, and working to undermine the government which was for the people. The Stalinists couldn’t use the word “Jewish” — this was only seven years after the war — so they used the word “Zionist”. That was one of the origins of a deeply anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism. It exploded after 1967. The USSR was furious that Israel had defeated its two major client states, and it began to suport the Palestinian movement. The anti-Semitic cartoons and statements coming out of the Soviet Union were pretty appalling. That’s where you got the idea that Zionism is Nazism — generated by the Soviet Union. And unfortunately, that Arab nationalists picked up on it is not surprising.
The Western left started to pick up on that too. I think that was deeply unfortunate. I think anti-semitism is almost a litmus test for whether a movement is progressive or not. There are a lot of anti-capitalist movements that are not progressive. And I think that anti-Semitism is a marker. I think there is a great deal to criticise in Israeli policies, the Israeli occupation, certainly the present Israeli government. But political discussion cannot take place if the choice is between Netanyahu on the one hand, and a certain kind of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism on the other. Anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is a world view. It is not prejudice against individual Jews. It can go with being perfectly civil, although I’ve been reading about the way some Jewish students are pilloried in terms of “you look Zionist”. Who could “look Zionist”? It means, “you look Jewish”.
I was struck by the UN Arab Human Development report of 2002, which was written by Arab scholars. It talked about the misère of the Arab-speaking world and its massive decline since the late 1970s. The decline was nearly as precipitous as that of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time other areas of what used to be called “the Third World”, have risen. It seems to me that it is not only the decline of the Arab-speaking world, but the rise of other parts, which makes an anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism more plausible. The power of the Jews! It is the Jews who are pulling everything down. This is only a little variant on the idea that the problem is all imperialism. Well, imperialism is very important, was important, was distorting. But after all the British were in India much longer than anyone was in Syria. Or in Iraq. But I know more serious analyses of India from the left than I do of the Ba’ath. I find that politically unfortunate, and when it becomes anti-Semitic, I find it a marker of a move towards a reactionary populism. Campuses On many campuses, the hostility has spread to all Jews. It has made many young Jews very confused and they identify more with Israel than they did.
It is creating a reaction. Many of them are naïve politically, and because Israel’s very existence is being called into question, they also frequently are uncritical in terms of what is going on in Israel-Palestine. When Israel under comes such attack – because it doesn’t feel like a political attack but an existential attack – there is very little discussion. There are campaigns such as BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel], which is basically dishonest. [Norman] Finkelstein picked up on this quite a while ago. Some people are confused, and BDS tries to promote the confusion. People think it is against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza period, but it is not. Because if it were, then it would not be a boycott of all Israeli academics, most of whom are very opposed to the settlements and Netanyahu. It is significant I think, that at the height of the Vietnam War, or the Iraq invasion, or other American adventures, there never was a call for a boycott of all American academics, ever.
The West takes the model of South Africa; many Palestinian militants think the model is Algeria; and there is no analogy. I don’t mean a moral analogy, I the mean analogy falls down because of demographic and political facts. There was in South Africa, only a small minority of white South Africans. There are as many Israeli Jews as there are Palestinians. So the Algerian or South African tactics are not going to work. But you have an extremely unfortunate marriage, as it were, between the Israeli right, which is becoming further and further right, and what I regard as the Palestinian right.
For me, the signal event was when [Israeli prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated [in 1995, by an Israeli right-winger]. The right-wing campaign against Rabin was appalling and vicious, and Netanyahu was at the head of that. After Rabin was assassinated, it was assumed that Labour would be swept into power on a sympathy vote. Instead a Palestinian group began a campaign of suicide bombs. That elected the first Netanyahu government [in 1996]. The two work hand in glove. Each side thinks that ultimately, in the long run, it is going to prevail. But in the meantime, politically, they are united. It is a united rightwing front.
Shiraz (like most of the left) has been remiss in failing to mark the recent passing of the outstanding socialist graphic artist and archivist David King. Here’s an excellent interview published at Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey blog; the Graun obituary is here.
He identified as a Marxist and a Trotskyist and his images will be immediately recognisable to any leftwing activist who’s read books or attended demos over the past forty years.
His style is a mix of forceful sans serif typography, solid planes of vivid colour and emphatic borders; a modern reworking of the graphic language of 1920s Russian Constructivism and the collage of John Heartfield.
Below are some of the outstanding, and instantly recognisable, book covers and posters he produced over the years; but we should start with what is probably his most ubiquitous creation:
King’s 1977 poster for a march against the Official Secrets Act