Should the left back Macron to stop her?
The first round of the French presidential election, on 23 April, confirmed that “Trump effects” are spreading.
The 2008 economic crash and the economic depression since then have discredited mainstream neoliberal politics, and so far right-wing nationalist, “identity politics”, demagogues have seized most of the gains.
The revolutionary socialist candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, with 1.21% and 0.65%, did a bit better than in 2012, but still worse than in 2007 (4.08% and 1.33%).
Soft-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.43%. The great gainer, however, was the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, with 21.43%, up on 17.9% in 2012 and 10.44% for the FN candidate in 2007.
Le Pen won only 5% of the vote in Paris; 7% in Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux; 9% in Lyon; 13% in the whole Ile-de-France region including Paris; but 24% in Marseille, 25% in Nice, and more in small towns and villages.
Just ahead of Le Pen, and favoured to win the second-round run-off on 7 May, was Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the current government (led by the Socialist Party) who split off to form his own “centre” neo-liberal movement, with 23.86%.
The “mainstream” left, the Socialist Party, had its chance in 2012, when it won elections by a clear majority – with some leftish policies which it then trashed in favour of harsher neoliberalism.
The task now is to regroup the real left, and equip it to win a majority.
Not an easy task, but an urgent one. The lesson is that if the left dawdles and equivocates, in economic turmoil like today’s, then the right does not stand still.
The FN does not have the power to mobilise on the streets of a full-scale fascist movement. But Marine Le Pen herself is a fascist, surrounded by a cadre of fascists. France’s constitution gives the president great powers.
Even if Macron wins on 7 May, he promises worse than Hollande rather than better. Unless the left rebuilds as an independent force in time, the next presidential election will be even more scary.
French left takes stock
Groups on the French left have commented on the first-round presidential results, the second round coming on 7 May, and the parliamentary elections following on 11 and 18 June.
The Socialist Party and the Communist Party – and mainstream right candidate François Fillon – will vote on 7 May for Macron to stop Le Pen. Although his main base was the CP and other groups taking a similar attitude, Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he will consult his supporters about what to say about the second round.
Ensemble (left group, including some Trotskyists who split from the NPA in 2012, which supported Mélenchon)
Ensemble calls for mobilisation on the street on 1 May, and in voting against Le Pen on 7 May, to stop the far right gaining power.
At the same time, we will fight Emmanuel Macron’s project, Once Le Pen is eliminated, we must stop Macron constituting a majority in the National Assembly with the right wing of the Socialist Party and a section of the mainstream right around his ultra-neoliberal program, which will continue the policies of Hollande’s five years in worse form. Let’s pull together a left which stands up for itself.
NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party, a successor to the Trotskyist LCR, which stood Philippe Poutou in the first round)
On Sunday 7 May, many people will want to block the FN by voting for Macron. We understand the desire to push back the mortal danger for all social progress and rights, especially for immigrants and those of immigrant origin, which the coming to power of Marine Le Pen would represent. But we insist that it is the policies of cuts and repression, especially when carried through by the supposed left in government, which are the cause of the rise of the FN and its disgusting ideas. Macron is not a barrier against the FN, and to push back that danger durably, there is no other answer than going back on the streets, against the far right, but also against all those who, like Macron, have introduced or want to introduce anti-social measures.
Nathalie Arthaud, candidate in the first round of the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvrière
Politically-aware workers should reject voting for Marine Le Pen. But Macron, this former banker and minister, is just as much an enemy of the working class as Marine Le Pen…
As for me, I will cast a blank vote [on 7 May], giving my vote the meaning of a rejection of Marine Le Pen without endorsing Macron…
Some of my voters will cast a blank vote like me. Others will spoil their ballot papers. Yet others will abstain. Some, maybe, will choose to vote for Macron, believing, wrongly, that by doing that they oppose the rise of the FN.
The main thing is to be aware that, whatever the result of the vote, the exploited, the retired, and unemployed, will have an enemy in the presidential palace.
Arguments pour la lutte sociale (a revolutionary socialist newsletter with whose editors we have friendly links)
Neither Le Pen nor Macron: this orientation [on the second round] does not play into the hands of Le Pen as both the partisans of “national unity” and comrades who see an immediate fascist danger are going to say, sincerely or not, because the orientation has immediate points of concretisation.
First, independent social struggle. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators should intervene on 1 May with the slogan of abrogation of the El Khomri law and all their other current demands…
And, in the same process, let us start the political struggle for unitary and democratic candidatures [of the labour movement] in the legislative elections…
Two views on the second round1: Martin Thomas
Marine Le Pen’s Front National does not have the mobilising power to install a fascist regime if she wins the presidency on 7 May.
But Le Pen’s politics, and the FN top cadre around her, are fascist. The presidency will give them huge power to impose discrimination, heavy police powers, union-bashing policies, and re-raised frontiers between nations which will ricochet across Europe.
The mainstream neoliberals pave the way for Le Pen. The whole of the French left will mobilise on the streets on 1 May, and, one way or another, will seek to secure left-wing representation in the new National Assembly elected on 11-18 June to limit whichever president wins on 7 May.
On 7 May itself, in my view, workers can best serve the continuing struggle by using the only option available on the ballot paper to block Le Pen: vote Macron.
Macron is bad, and the neoliberal policies of a Macron presidency not curbed by strong left-wing remobilisation will bring an even greater fascist danger in a few years’ time. Le Pen is worse, and Le Pen as president on 8 May is worse than a danger of Le Pen as president in some years’ time.
It is a principle for us in elections to seek the maximum independent working-class intervention.
On 7 May we cannot stand or support candidates of the labour movement. Sometimes we shrug because the differences between bourgeois candidates are small and speculative. Sometimes we say that the “lesser-evil” bourgeois candidate is bound to win anyway, and in any case we are strong enough to make blank votes a real gesture of working-class independence.
The outcome is not certain. The revolutionary left is not strong enough to raise blank votes visibly above the random level. It would be nihilistic disregard for bourgeois democracy and bourgeois cosmopolitanism to deny the big difference between Macron’s routine neoliberalism and Le Pen’s fascistic chauvinism.
There is no Marxist principle against voting for a lesser-evil bourgeois candidate when it is impossible to have a labour-movement candidate. When the German Social Democracy was a Marxist party, before World War One, it routinely advised a vote for liberals against loyalists of Germany’s bureaucratic monarchy in run-offs when the socialists themselves had been eliminated. Left-wingers like Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring did not dissent.
We tell workers: Le Pen is worse than Macron. And do we then say: you must not vote Macron, however much you indict him and organise against him? Once you vote, you will forget your indictments?
Those workers could reply to us: if you are so unconfident of your own political firmness that you dare not make an unusual step for fear of falling over, so be it. But do not attribute your own weakness to us, or make us pay the price of a Le Pen presidency for that weakness of yours.
2: Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson
A vote for Macron is not just, or even mostly, a vote for more open borders, a defence of Muslims and immigrants, and an expression of opposition towards protectionism and racism.
Macron is a former banker who wants to cut corporation tax to 25%, wants more flexible labour laws in the mold of the El Khomri Law, allowing companies to negotiate individual agreements with staff. His program is to reduce public spending by €60bn, cut 120,000 public sector jobs, and introduce greater “flexibility” in retirement age and the working week.
It is a continuation of the “liberalization” demanded by the French ruling-class which Francois Hollande’s Parti Socialiste was unable to deliver. Hence, the flocking of Hollande-Valls wing of the PS behind Macron, together with centrist François Bayrou and sections of the French centre-right.
Macron’s candidacy is a united front of the French establishment. Its neoliberal “reform” program will hit workers. A “critical” vote for this neoliberal programme will be indistinguishable from those who genuinely endorse Macron’s policy; both will be taken as legitimation for further attacks on our class, and will serve to undermine the credibility of the revolutionary left as it rallies a fightback.
A vote for Macron could drive workers further in to the arms of the “anti-establishment” Front Nationale, who will continue to prey on the fears and insecurities of those suffering under capitalism.
And it risks sowing illusions in the neoliberal center and its capacity to rescue us from a resurgent populist right. Lots of people who will vote Macron, people the revolutionary left needs to reach, will vote Macron not on the basis that he is a crook, but with enthusiasm and illusions.
It is only the labour movement which can combine a defence of the gains of the neoliberal period – cultural cosmopolitanism, freer movement, economic integration – with a fight against the poverty, alienation and social distress it inevitably creates.
As against Le Pen, Macron is a “lesser evil” but it is incumbent on Marxists to resolutely assert working-class independence and hostility to both. Even on the points on which we agree with Macron, our “Yes” is not his “Yes”. We say “Yes” to open borders, anti-racism and greater European integration but a resounding “No” to the capitalist nature of his programme, and even his capacity to defend those points on which we overlap.
Further discussion: Discussion document 1 (Martin Thomas)
Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the ‘common sense’ that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that ‘common sense’. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a ‘common sense’ which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
See also: Comrade Coatsey
Jon Lansman and Tony Benn in 1981
I’m glad to read your statement to the Guardian that you’re “not walking away from Momentum”. I hope it will help quiet the split talk from some high-profile people around Momentum – Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Laura Murray – since the 3 December national committee meeting.
I hope, even, that it means it may be possible to talk quietly, without media-provided megaphones and howling about sabotage, to discuss what adjustments or compromises can best keep Momentum on the road.
We are for unity. If we find ourselves on the losing side in some future votes about Momentum structure or policy, as we’ve found ourselves on losing sides in the past, we won’t split. We’ll only take up the democratic rights that every minority should have, to try to convince the majority.
As you know, I’ve sought you out for off-the-record conversations about Momentum, to find common ground and to clarify and explore ways of dealing with differences, since before Momentum was launched. I’m glad you agreed to those conversations, and disappointed that more recently you haven’t responded to requests for further talk.
This has to be an open letter; but it is also a letter, an attempt to restart dialogue.
You and I were effectively co-organisers of the Labour Party Democracy Task Force in 2010-11, when Ed Miliband made a promise (effectively, in the end, annulled) of an open review of Labour Party structures. We were also effectively co-organisers of the campaign against the Collins Report in 2013-14.
Further back, we worked together in the Rank and File Mobilising Committee for Labour Democracy in 1980. I was only a backroom activist, while you were the secretary of the committee, but the organiser of the committee, your partner in the day-to-day running of that campaign, was my Workers’ Liberty comrade John Bloxam.
Thus you know from long experience that Owen Jones’s, or Laura Murray’s, squalling about us as “saboteurs” and “sectarians” is nonsense.
We have never agreed on grand political philosophies. I am, or try to be, a Trotskyist, a revolutionary Marxist. As you said in an interview with me in 2014, you are “not from [our] political tradition”; if I understand right, you are a reform-socialist, a “Dererite” in the sense of the gradualist strategy advocated by Vladimir Derer (founder of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), but, unlike Derer, not a Marxist. Read the rest of this entry »
This statement also appears in the present issued of Solidarity:
After the Momentum national committee on Saturday 3 December voted that Momentum should have a decision-making delegate conference — the big controversial decision! — figures on the fringes of Momentum, and some within it, have launched a social-media and mass-media outcry against Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity.
This outcry should be resisted with an insistence on unity, a focus on positive campaigning, and a refusal to let the mass media or the Labour machine’s notorious Compliance Unit split us.
Although we were only a small part of the 3 December meeting, the whole majority is being denounced as manipulated, controlled, or even bullied by the few Workers’ Liberty people there, and the decision to have a democratic conference as a “Trotskyist takeover”.
Some people are signalling that they want to split Momentum on this issue. Our reply is clear: the majority is much broader than us. It is not controlled by us.
We, and as far as we know all the majority, are totally for unity and against a split. Momentum should unite to fight the Tories and the Labour right wing.
We are not even “hard-liners” on the organisational issues. We, and the majority, do want democracy in Momentum: we believe democracy is necessary for stable unity. But we always have been, and are, open to dialogue and compromise about modalities, details, forms.
We have kept our tone comradely. We have repeatedly sought off-the-record discussions with those who led the minority on 3 December to explore adjustments, common ground, maximisation of consensus.
The ones who are reluctant to compromise, and who run their debates in tones of violent denunciation of those disagree with them, are elements in the minority, and, even more, their media outriders, who are not even active in Momentum.
The writer Paul Mason told the BBC Daily Politics on 8 December that, although he had “never been to a Momentum meeting”, he demanded a purge. “If Jill Mountford [a National Committee member of Momentum]… remains basically an expelled member of the Party and remains in Momentum, I will not remain in Momentum”.
Labour “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest this summer, and 1038 members are still suspended, according to figures at the last Labour NEC. Thousands more leftwingers (no-one knows exactly how many) were expelled or suspended during the 2015 leadership contest. Many of those expelled are long-standing Labour Party members, whom no-one talked of expelling during the Blair, Brown, or Miliband years.
Until now the left has agreed that we do not trust the Compliance Unit’s decisions on who should or shouldn’t be allowed in the Labour Party. Momentum has voted to oppose the purge. Other left groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy have a long-standing policy of including unjustly expelled left-wingers.
The Compliance Unit wants to split the left. We should not allow them to do that.
Remember: the Compliance Unit could well expel Paul Mason — he is an ex-member of a Trotskyist group, and surely has said unkind things about Labour right-wingers on social media.
Owen Jones, another figure on the fringe of Momentum, another one who could well be expelled by the Compliance Unit if they choose, has used the Guardian to claim that the issue in Momentum is “a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians”.
Mason, Jones, and others should put aside their megaphones. They should come and discuss the best way to build unity and effective campaigning for Momentum.
Voting was quite closely divided on 3 December, but delegates agreed on a decision-making national conference, to be on 18 February, 25 February, or 4 March. Both local groups and individuals (via the online platform MxV) will be able to submit motions to the conference. The existing Steering Committee will remain in place until after the conference. The 3 December meeting elected a conference arrangements committee.
We were not in the majority on everything, but we are confident that the 3 December decisions will command a broad consensus in most of Momentum’s local groups.
As Michael Chessum, a Momentum Steering Committee member (and not one of us), has said: “[if the meeting was polarised] The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility … By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and
the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate-based conference.”
More calm, more space for discussion and appreciation of the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups, fewer meeting-cancellations, fewer attempts to pre-empt decisions, would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December. Whether it would have stopped the recent Trotskyist-baiting, we don’t know.
In the media storm, our ideas on imperialism, on Israel-Palestine, on Europe have been misrepresented, and the great warehouse of Stalinist slurs against Trotskyists has been called into use.
Yes, we are Trotskyists. We say what we think, and we organise openly for our ideas. We believe Momentum is a tremendous opportunity for the left. We have played a constructive role in it since it started, in local groups, nationally, and in initiatives like Momentum NHS.
20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched. There are 150 local groups.
Those groups must be allowed the means to develop a democracy — a continuously thinking, adjust, rethinking process of debate and decision-making which evolves a collective majority opinion — and that needs a conference, not just decision-making via online plebiscites run by the Momentum full-time staff.
At the 3 December meeting we supported a successful motion from Momentum Youth and Students for a campaign to make Labour stand firm on freedom of movement and to fight against the Tories’ post-Brexit plans. Momentum should be uniting to put such policies into action, not using the mass media to stir a storm against
the 3 December majority.
Some in the 3 December minority oppose a decision-making conference because they think Momentum should not have policy beyond being generically left-wing and pro-Corbyn. There is a case, and we accept it, for moving quite slowly and gently on many policy issues in a new movement like Momentum. But without policies — on issues like freedom of movement, for example — Momentum cannot campaign coherently in local Labour Parties or on the streets (or, as we found this September, at the Labour Party conference).
Otherwise Momentum can only be a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, a database or phone bank for exercises like the leadership elections.
Let’s go forward to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, resist the Compliance Unit’s purges, fight the Tories, and argue for socialist policies.
Those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee should discuss within Momentum: on our side, they will find no closed doors, and a strong will for unity.
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: