Above “left” and right anti-EU campaigns: spot the difference
“Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.
“While western European countries have been experiencing a large influx of migrant labour, eastern European states are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of that classic imperialist outcome — underdevelopment.
“In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in a process known as “social dumping,” as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened” – Brian Denny (of various “left” anti-EU campaigns) in today’s Morning Star
“A large influx of migrant labour” … “social dumping” (a great euphemism, that) … “cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce…”: and the likes of Denny tell us their campaign is not xenophobic and little-Englandish
Denny’s thoroughly reactionary article is entitled “Get out of this quagmire”: the left needs to get out of Denny’s filthy borderline-racist quagmire – backed by the Morning Star and the Communist Party – once and for all.
The following report, by Sasha Ismail, also appears on the Workers Liberty website. We think it gives a good, if brief, overview of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Corbyn’s politics. It does not, however, deal with the issues on which most Shiraz contributors would have our sharpest difference with Corbyn: international affairs.
Above: overspill meeting at Ruskin House, Croydon
I was slightly late for the meeting Croydon Trades Council held for the Jeremy Corbyn campaign on 4 August (“privatised trains”, joked Corbyn, who was even later than me). By the time I got there, the hall at the back of Ruskin House was full, as was the garden next to it, with more people inside the main building – perhaps just short of five hundred in all.
There was, genuinely, a real mix of people there – young and old, black and white, men and women, established labour movement activists and people pulled into political life by the Corbyn campaign. The hall was full of local trade union banners.
Croydon Trades Council collected details, advertised upcoming events and had a good profile. GMB organiser Nadine Houghton gave a very good speech on its behalf about fighting the government’s Trade Union Bill and defending the right to strike. I guess most Corbyn meetings, except perhaps the central London ones, are organised by and will help boost similar local labour movement organisations or networks. That’s one of the most positive elements of the campaign.
It was very easy to sell literature and have conversations (though I noticed there weren’t many organised socialist groups there). Interestingly lots of the people I approached, at random, were pretty new to political activity.
So far, so good – excellent in fact. It was great, inspiring to be at such a big, lively meeting. What about the content? What did Corbyn say?
He said lots of good things – about housing, about wages, about benefits, about public ownership of the banks. He called for an end to austerity, an end to pandering to the Tories, a start to fighting the cuts and fighting for the rich to pay. Even for someone who wants something more radical, as I do, it was good hearing all this from a politician with a decent chance of leading the labour movement.
The best bit of the speech, in a way, was Corbyn’s call to replace technocratic Blairite dictat with democratic labour movement discussion. He argued for an end to “secluded policy forums in leafy hotels” and for a “grittier process of discussion and decision-making in community centres and union buildings across the country”. He said that the policies he’s advocating are “not finished” and that the campaign wants ideas and argument.
In that spirit: there were some things on which I thought he was a little woolly. On lots of issues he cited detailed proposals; but on immigration he limited himself to condemning Tory and Blairite “rhetoric” and arguing for a “humanitarian approach”. From the press and reports, I’d guess that is his general pitch. More specific policies – about detention and deportation, about access to services, about immigration controls more generally – are necessary.
The other thing to say is that while Corbyn’s speech had “socialist values”, to use his phrase, it was not particularly socialist. It didn’t make an explicit case for class politics, or do more than hint about the possibility of replacing capitalism with a new society. I asked a friend what she thought about that: at first she was surprised I didn’t think the speech was socialist, but when I explained she said “Well, it’s a step”.
And for sure it is. The Corbyn campaign has potential to break the blockade – not just of socialism, but of anything approaching a labour movement political voice – which Blairism has maintained for twenty years. The excellent meeting put on by Croydon Trades Councils shows that, as do similar meetings up and down the country.
If Corbyn wins, big possibilities will open up. To maximise the impact and opportunities, socialists need to argue within this movement for clearer, more consistent, more explicit socialist ideas.
Above: former T&G leader Bevin and Prime Minister Atlee in the 1945 Labour government
By John Rowe
Introduction: In the wake of the General election disaster we need an honest and clear-sighted assessment of the left’s response to austerity. At present the loudest voices of the anti-austerity movement persist in agitating for the Labour left and the unions to abandon the Party for some, as yet ill-defined alternative – a New Party (NP). These notes are a contribution to this debate. In them I argue our starting point needs to be the organising a truly social democratic tendency within the Labour Party. In putting forward this case I start by looking at the arguments of the NP left.
The NP view of New Labour
The NP left is not a distinct grouping. Rather it is a loose tendency defined primarily by a negative; the call to break from Labour. Inside this tent we find two very different visions. Some understand the new party as the beginning of a mass revolutionary party, a view held by socialist groups within it. Others, mainly trade unionists, view it more as a refounding of Old Labour. Within each sub-set there are myriad different perspectives.
The premise on which NP advocates call for a break with Labour is common to all and founded on a seemingly powerful point: New Labour’s record and policies made possible, according to the NP advocates, by its ability to function largely independently of the unions. Such an analysis is not just factually wrong; it enables its proponents to reduce all the political problems confronting the working class to a simple matter of representation (i.e. the Labour Party), rather than this being just one element in the systemic crisis of labourism encompassing ideology, the unions, and the method by which ‘the movement’ has sought to advance working class interests. Nor are they willing to confront the root cause of this malaise which is located in the changing working class composition.
Rather than starting with New Labour’s record a more pertinent question is what forces enabled New Labour (NL) to dominate? To answer this we need to consider how the Labour Movement functioned and why it is unable to continue in the same way today. In fact any analysis of Labour’s record needs to start not with the Labour Party but with the unions
The decline of union power
Within a decade NL had replaced social democracy as the Party leadership, enabling it to evolve in two complementary ways: while its policies embraced neo-liberalism organisationally the Party machine came to dominate and determine internal Party life. At first sight one of the most astonishing successes of NL was the eclipse of social democracy, replacing its polices with pusillanimous pronouncements about mitigating the worst excesses of Neo-liberalism and trading in its traditions and ideology with a repackaged social liberalism. Read the rest of this entry »
H/t Ms Stroppy and Comrade Coatesy:
Which is which? Picture Getty Images/Metro
Alan Johnson MP has sent the following to London Labour Party members in support of Tessa’s (“she only needs a first name!”) bid to win the Party’s nomination for Mayoral candidate:
It starts with a look,
Then a double take,
Then a smile,
A moment to work up the confidence and then they come over.
Tessa cannot leave the house,
without meeting new people,
who want to say hello.
I have seen this a hundred times,
and believe me it’s not normal –
no other politician inspires such warmth.
Tessa is a star.
She is Labour’s Kylie – everyone,
and she only needs a first name.
She has a remarkable way,
that generates real affection.
But that’s not,
why I’m backing her to be Mayor.
I backed Tessa,
right from the start,
the right values to make London,
a fairer place to live.
Through Sure Start,
and the Olympics,
she has a record,
that is second,
to none, and I know she can beat the Tories.
And today, I’m more sure,
But it’s not just because the opinion polls show she’s the only candidate who can beat the Tories,
– though they do and by,
a country mile.
It’s because she has set out a genuinely compelling vision.
One London – where everyone can share in the city’s success.
My old comrade John Cunningham makes an important point (one that needs to be hammered home more often) in a letter published in today’s Guardian:
Above: Serge, anti-Stalinist Marxist
Jonathan Jones (Labour centrists like me aren’t cynics: we’re the left’s only true ethical wing, 8 August) regurgitates, yet again, the tired old myth that Marxism and Stalinism are somehow basically the same. That the one emerged from the other. This is nonsense (as nonsensical as the idea that there is such as creature as a “Corbynite”). The democratic left, the far left, the anti-Stalinist left (call it what you will) in the UK and elsewhere has a solid and honourable record of anti-Stalinism, actually much better and more consistent than either Labour centrists or the right (Labour or Tory). The left’s analysis and critique of Stalinism, through the writings of Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky, Victor Serge, the Critique group in Glasgow, the now defunct journal Labour Focus on Eastern Europe and numerous contributors to the New Left Review (to name just a few of the many voices involved) has been thorough, detailed, nuanced and totally damning.
The centre left and right, by contrast, have had little to offer other than moral outrage, which they were all too ready to drop when circumstances suited them. The left in western Europe has nothing to apologise for in its attitude to Stalinism. As for “the chains of a brutal history”, the left was the first to expose the crimes of Stalin and has fought long and hard to destroy those chains. Stalinism is not a continuation of Marxism, on the contrary it is the absolute negation of it.
By Paul Canning (cross-posted with his blog)
Alexander Kolchenko is a left-wing social activist and antifascist who is being held in captivity by the Russian authorities. Along with renowned film director Oleg Sentsov, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and detained following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula,. He is held as a political hostage in Lefortovo jail in Moscow and has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community”.
A call to action has been organised by the French ‘Active Generation: The web activists network‘ and the International Solidarity Campaign For Alexander Kolchenko.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?
Alexander, who has undeniably proved his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, a radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events is blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda. In modern Russia any activist — left-wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent ‘Trotskyists’ under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch-hunt for communists.
Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses in its propaganda everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism, shamelessly steals “antifascist” rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a “fascist”, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them into the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula.
The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all discontent. Many people were obliged to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left-wing activists, students and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.
|Sentsov (left), Kolchenko (right)|
What threats does Alexander Kolchenko face?
A terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years threatens Alexander for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners (such as the more famous Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda (Nadia) Savchenko) are detained only in order to demoralize opposition by show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime: if we can shake the confidence of Putin in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free.
- There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov and others will be judged fairly by the law.
- Their arrest was unlawful.
- The charges against them are far-fetched.
- It’s not a mistake, the regime knows what it’s doing.
Your Honour, I have already stated that I do not consider this court to be legitimate. We are citizens of Ukraine who were arrested on the territory of our country, and we are being tried on fabricated charges. I don’t, however, feel any animosity to you and other parties to this trial.
A lot of lies have already been spoken here and I therefore feel it necessary to clarify certain things, but I do not plan to later take part in these proceedings.
I consider myself a Maidan activist, but that does not mean that I am a criminal. Maidan was the main deed that I have carried out in my life, but that does not mean that I’m a radical, burned ‘Berkut’ riot police or drank anybody’s blood. We drove out our criminal President. When your country occupied Crimea, I returned there and engaged in the same volunteer work as on Maidan. I spoke with hundreds of people. We considered what to do next but I never called on anybody to carry out actions that could have led to deaths. I did not create terrorist organizations, and I certainly had nothing to do with ‘Right Sector’.
Do they have support from NGOs?
Film director Sentsov has received support from the UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and widely within the film industry. Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in May dedicated its opening event to Sentsov.
The main prosecution witness, Gennady Afanasyev, has confirmed that his ‘confession’ had been extracted through torture. The sole other witness, Oleksy Chirniy, told the Ukrainian consul and his lawyer that his testimony was given under duress. Kolchenko and Sentsov also say they were tortured. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has suggested that Afanasyev’s retraction may mean that he is now in danger.
Kolchenko admits taking part in a failed firebombing of the office of the United Russia party. However, says Memorial, ‘terrorism charges are “incommensurate both with the damage caused, and with standards of Russian practice.”
We assume that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.
Russian has imposed Russian citizenship on the pair and they are being prevented from seeing the Ukrainian consul and from being defended by a Ukrainian lawyer.
How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?
We’re asking international left-wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, send donations for lawyers and food parcels, help his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with ‘leftist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy, better save it for those who have become its victims.
When to start?
You can start right now by helping us to spread this text, translating it into other languages and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
For case updates check the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group website.
This text has been adapted from The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.
Giles Fraser’s recent defence of radical Islam from what he sees as David Cameron’s assault on it – has grown to become the focus of the piece. What’s interesting about this article is that both on its surface, and on every level underlying the surface, it’s nonsense confected with absurdity: a liberal Christian minister writing in defence of the most totalitarian and oppressive interpretations of a faith he doesn’t belong to. Nowhere does Fraser indicate that he finds the views obnoxious, but nevertheless wishes, Voltaire-style, to advocate their right to be expressed. Quite the opposite: he seems enraptured by the audacity of asserting, frankly, medieval ideas as – at the very least – worthy of consideration, and caricaturing those who hold qualms about this type of approach as not just opponents of free speech but the modern-day equivalents of those who would shoot the Levellers. The interesting question then becomes: what explains this monumental myopia on the part of somebody who is clearly well-educated and whose heart, broadly speaking, appears to be in the right place?
Read the full piece here
And has the wretched Fraser even considered where the exciting “refusal to play by the rules” by people who “want to talk about God, sex and politics” can lead in, say, Bangladesh?
In recent years we have witnessed an alarming increase in anti-Jewish violence and abuse in Britain, and across Europe generally. The Community Security Trust (CST) reports a doubling of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK from 513 in 2013 to 1168 in 2014. This figure is the highest ever registered, surpassing the previous record of 931 incidents in 2009. Given the comparatively small size of the Jewish community in the UK (250,000-300,000 people) relative to the total population of the country (64 million), this surge over the past two years constitutes a significant escalation of racist abuse against Jews. About 50% of all religion-based hate crimes in England and Wales during 2014 were perpetrated against Jews, even though Jews make up only 0.4% of the British population.
The situation is worse in other parts of Europe, where deadly Islamist terror attacks on Jewish institutions have claimed victims over the past three years in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen. These attacks are directly fostered by relentless campaigns of group defamation that portray Jews in demonic terms. Islamist extremists promote violence against Jews as an integral part of their political programs. With increasing frequency and prominence we hear genocidal Nazi slogans chanted at demonstrations protesting Israeli military actions. In Hungary, Greece, France, and the Baltic countries, political parties of the far right promote fascist anti-Jewish views. Such parties have become electorally significant in their respective countries. These developments cannot be simply attributed to the aberrant conduct of a few extremists.
To be sure, we are not re-living the 1930s. Jews in Europe do not face systematic, government-sponsored exclusion and repression. They remain fully enfranchised citizens of the countries in which they are living. However, they are experiencing a wave of popular anti-Jewish bigotry throughout Europe that is unparalleled at any previous time in the post-War era. This bigotry has emerged from several distinct demographic and political sources. It is necessary to confront the facts with sobriety and honesty, avoiding both exaggeration and denial.
2. Anti-Semitism is Not Harmless
Someone unaware of the gravity of the situation might suggest that, while unfortunate and unacceptable, anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe is not a serious threat to Jews. Aside from seasonal outbursts, coinciding with flare-ups in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it does not significantly interfere with the lives of Jewish residents of European countries. Jews remain highly successful and well integrated into their host societies.
This attitude is profoundly complacent. Generations of children have been attending Jewish schools under armed guard, and Jews are required to enter Synagogues, as well as other communal institutions, under siege-like security arrangements. It is unconscionable that the members of any ethnic, cultural, or religious group are forced to contend with this type of threat to their collective and personal safety.
Over the long term, this state of affairs seriously distorts Jewish public life in Europe. With the sharp rise of violence, the cost of participation in Jewish institutions and of personal Jewish visibility is becoming prohibitive. Jews in Europe are now having to hide their identities, or else face a significant risk of violent hostility as the price of robust Jewish life in the public domain. Some are opting to leave Europe for more hospitable environments in Israel or North America.
That these wholly unpalatable choices are being inflicted on any ethnic or religious minority in a modern liberal democracy is something that should deeply embarrass the host population of that society. Racism, religious intolerance, and gender-based persecution of any kind are a lethal threat to liberal-democratic values. But in sharp contrast to laudable public concern over other forms of bigotry, we observe widespread insouciance and relative indifference toward anti-Semitism in Britain ─ and in Europe more generally ─ particularly among those who purport to be politically progressive. Hostility to Jews, while marked as unpleasant, is often regarded as the normal “business overhead” exacted for unequivocal Jewish identification. Why is this attitude of equanimity so widespread?
3. Anti-Semitism as a “Progressive” Prejudice
One factor that contributes to the relative lack of concern over anti-Semitism is the perception of Jews as a highly successful and relatively privileged group. Therefore they are not in need of protection. Lurking behind this notion is the toxic myth of sinister Jewish power, which has been the traditional engine of anti-Semitism. When expressed through Nazi conspiracy theories, this idea is transparently racist. But when filtered through Middle Eastern politics it easily becomes a vehicle for socially acceptable prejudice.
Correlated with this duality in the notion of Jewish power is the distinction between “good” and “bad” forms of Jew-hatred. The anti-Jewish racism of white nativists on the far right remains heavily stigmatized in the progressive mainstream. This is classed as the only true anti-Semitism, but it is minimized as a marginal threat. The equally odious anti-Semitism of radical Islamists is frequently treated far more indulgently as an unfortunate excess in an intrinsically just resistance to western imperialism.
There is a long tradition of this forgiving view of anti-Semitism on the European left, when the prejudice is associated with oppressed people. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many leaders of both the revolutionary and the social democratic left construed the Jew-hatred of East European peasants and working class Central Europeans as a primitive form of emerging class consciousness. While rejecting anti-Semitism, they saw it as an epiphenomenon that was not, in itself, of serious concern. Jews such as those in the socialist Bund who insisted on the centrality of the fight against anti-Semitism were dismissed as particularists who distracted attention from the class struggle.
We see a resurgence of this approach in disconcertingly large swaths of the left. Crucial to this perverse view of anti-Jewish racism is the hoary though peculiar idea that certain groups of people are “objectively progressive”, while others are “objectively reactionary”, regardless of their views or their behaviour. According to this way of thinking, it is possible to embrace purveyors of religious bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia, like Hamas and Hezbollah, as agents of a just historical struggle, but to cast left-wing Israeli opponents of the settlements as irredeemable oppressors. Because of the perceived power and privilege of Jews, they are thought to be on the wrong side of the divide between the forces of liberation and those of reaction. Whereas Jew-hatred in the past was the “socialism of fools”, it has now become the anti-imperialism of idiots.
4. Israel and Anti-Semitism
When considering the relationship between attitudes towards Israel and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, it is important to distinguish clearly between criticism of the Israeli government and hatred of Israel as a country. As with any country, the policies and actions of the Israeli government are entirely legitimate objects of censure. In many cases, these actions are deserving of vigorous criticism. Such protest should not, in itself, be confused with hostility to Jews. Israel must be judged by the same standards of behaviour that are applied to all other countries.
Unfortunately, much comment on Israel has not been limited to criticism of this kind. Shrill campaigns of hatred that demonize Israel and its people are now common features of debate on the Middle East. Such campaigns go well beyond robust objections to the actions of the Israeli government and its army. They seek to delegitimise the country and to stigmatise anyone associated with it. It is little wonder that in this sort of environment anti-Israel protests often spill over into attacks on local Jewish communities.
We also see remarkable inconsistency in the way that human rights standards are applied to Israel’s conduct, as opposed to that of many other countries. This inconsistency is accompanied by a peculiar obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, while bloodier conflicts that have claimed far higher numbers of casualties and generated more horrific human rights abuses are largely ignored.
An example illustrates this problem succinctly. In the 2008-9 Gaza war, a total (civilians and combatants) of 1200-1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed resolutions sharply critical of Israel’s conduct of the war, and set up the Goldstone committee of enquiry, with a focus on alleged Israeli war crimes. During this same period the Sri Lankan army launched an intensive assault on the Tamil Tigers that ended their insurgency in the north of Sri Lanka. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, assembled a panel of experts that issued a report on this operation in 2011. It estimated the number of civilian casualties (largely Tamil) to be as high as 40,000, and it identified serious human rights violations on both sides. Having concluded that the Sri Lankan military killed by far the largest number of people through indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the panel called for a UN committee of enquiry into the assault. The Sri Lankan government rejected the panel’s report and published its own version of events that justified its actions. The UNHRC largely endorsed the Sri Lankan position and refused to adopt the panel’s recommendation for a UN sponsored enquiry into the military operation.
Both the 2008-9 and the 2014 Gaza wars were the subjects of non-stop headline news coverage and angry criticism of Israel. They generated massive European street protests, with spin-off attacks on Jewish communities. The Sri Lankan military operation against the Tamil insurgency was received in Europe with little media attention and general public indifference. This contrast in European responses to Israeli actions on one hand and to those of other countries on the other is pervasive in media coverage and public discourse on international issues.
When the application of double standards to Israeli conduct is pointed out, one is frequently accused of trying to change the topic in order to shield Israel from criticism. The problem here, however, is not that Israel is being criticized. Many of the objections to Israel’s actions are well motivated and should be pressed. But we do need to understand why similar objections are not pursued against other agents who commit more serious misdeeds. We also need to ask why Israel’s behaviour produces a level of indignation and vitriol not directed at countries responsible for graver crimes. If only one violator is regularly singled out for censure while others are ignored, then we are not dealing with fair criticism. The protest is being used to express hatred
The history of Israel’s creation is complex and controversial. It is possible for reasonable people to hold substantially divergent views on this history. However, it is important to recall that Israel has its legal basis in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution 181 (II), which called for the partition of western Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. This resolution codified the principle of two states for two peoples, and this remains the widely accepted basis for a just and viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anyone seeking a solution that overturns this principle would either condemn the Palestinians to perpetual occupation and dispossession, or deny the Israelis the right to self-determination. Suppressing or eliminating one side of the conflict at the expense of the other is neither a morally legitimate nor a realistic option.
Yet we see calls for Israel’s destruction seeping into mainstream political discourse and protest, particularly on university campuses. It is a central component of Islamist politics. The purveyors of this idea are, at best, blithely indifferent to the fact that they are promoting an objective whose realization would entail either the expulsion or the mass murder of millions of Israeli Jews. Others who are more honest openly celebrate the prospect of such events. This is not a campaign for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which accommodates the basic needs and aspirations of both nations. It is instead a program that aims for the annihilation of a people.
Proponents of the view that Israel “has no right to exist” describe it as a colonial settler state. Missing from this account is the fact that the vast majority of Israelis are the children or the grandchildren of refugees of violent persecution who came to the country out of necessity. Moreover, the majority of Israel’s Jewish residents are not European, but are originally from Arab and Muslim countries whence they were driven out. Whatever one may think of the way in which Israel was established, its Jewish population did not come for purposes of economic gain in the service of a colonial mother country. Interestingly, genuine colonial settler states which emerged through systematic ethnic cleansing and dispossession of their native populations (often conducted right up to recent times), such as Australia and New Zealand, and virtually every state in North and South America, remain entirely immune from challenges to their legitimacy.
It has been suggested that much of the anti-Semitism that we are witnessing is a backlash against Israel. On this view Jews are advised to disassociate themselves from Israel and take a strong collective stand against its actions. We find this suggestion both sinister and amusing. Anti-Semitism has been a powerful element of European and Middle Eastern history for the past two millennia. Anti-Jewish racists managed to promote their bigotry with considerable success long before Israel existed. Israel was brought into being as a response to the horrors that this bigotry has inflicted.
Jews have no obligation to adopt any particular view on Israel’s policies or actions. Like all people, they hold a wide range of opinions on the Middle East, as they do on other political issues. The idea that they have a responsibility to criticize outspokenly (or to defend) Israeli policies is as offensive as the proposal that other ethnic minorities are required to take some specified position on the governments of countries to which they have historical and cultural ties. It would be absurd to expect people of Greek, Iranian, Russian, Pakistani, or Saudi Arabian background to prove their credentials as progressives ─ or as legitimate members of society ─ by declaring their opposition to aspects of these countries’ conduct that others find objectionable.
Most Jews in the diaspora have relatives in Israel. The majority of them have a sense of historical and cultural connection with the country, and this connection is integral to mainstream Jewish life. It is not political in nature, and it does not entail support for Israel’s policies, but it does carry with it a strong commitment to Israel’s survival. Any demand that Jews sever their ties with Israel in order to avoid hostility, and to preserve continued acceptance in their host countries, would deny to Jews rights and freedoms that are entirely uncontroversial for other cultural and religious minorities. But we regularly see non-partisan Jewish student associations like Hillel harassed and excluded from campus life, and Jews seeking to buy Kosher Israeli products subjected to intimidation. These assaults go beyond political protest and enter the realm of racist persecution. Progressive opinion remains largely untroubled by these events, and, in some cases, actively supportive of the agents of harassment.
Progressives accused of promoting or condoning anti-Semitic positions often insist that they harbour no animosity towards Jews. However, the problem under discussion here does not turn on individual attitudes that are transparent to introspection. Rather, it is a matter of accepting positions that connect to a long tradition of bigotry against Jews. By analogy, a person who defends the exhibition of the Confederate flag on public buildings in the United States may well be free of ill will toward black people. Nonetheless, that person is championing a prominent symbol of slavery and racist persecution. Similarly, someone who tolerates campaigns that inflict double standards and denigration on Jewish people might not consciously dislike Jews. However, regardless of his or her intentions, that person is helping to sustain patterns of abuse that are rooted in centuries of Jew-hatred. Our concern here is with the objective significance of an individual’s actions, rather than his or her personal feelings.
5. Quiet Diplomacy is Not Enough
The leadership of the Jewish community in Britain, like that of many other Jewish communities in Europe, has tended to deal with anti-Semitism by seeking the assistance of government authorities through quiet diplomacy. They avoid high-profile public discussions of the problem for fear of intensifying it. While the concerns that shape such a strategy are understandable, the time for evading a determined public exposure of anti-Semitism is long past. Discreet appeals to government agencies will remain a necessity. To rely primarily on them is to remain stuck in earlier historical periods in Europe, when the Jews depended on royal protection to ward off attacks incited by Church and guild.
Combating anti-Semitism needs to be understood as an integral part of the general struggle against racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. It is not a sectarian cause, but an issue of universal concern. While the targets of prejudice are its most immediate victims, racism stains the fabric of the social order and threatens its liberal-democratic character. Jews, like other minorities, are here not by sufferance but by right.
The statutes against discrimination offer sufficient legal guarantees of equality. The problem that we are dealing with now is the rise of anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviour as an increasingly accepted part of public discourse. It is scandalous that so many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives acquiesce so easily in what is becoming a torrent of bigoted sentiment. It is commonplace among such people to dismiss any attempt to point out this problem as an act of bad faith designed to deflect criticism of Israel. In fact, it is no more than an insistence on an honest recognition of the facts.
We ask all people committed to liberal-democratic values to acknowledge the re-emergence of anti-Semitism as a serious problem in Europe, and to take an uncompromising stand against this form of social pollution. We call on you to recognize that the fight against anti-Semitism is not a specifically Jewish issue. Resistance to racism and bigotry of any kind is a universal liberal-democratic imperative.
The leading American Trotskyist, James P Cannon spoke at a memorial meeting in New York for Leon Trotsky on 22 August 1945. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just taken place (August 6 and 9), and Cannon used the occasion to express his outrage at the atrocity:
What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvellous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.
Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as reporters explain, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.
In the [New York] Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the centre of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see”. Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. The report says: “One of these pictures revealed a tragic scene 10 miles away from the centre of the atomic air attack”, where farm houses were either crushed down or the roofs torn asunder.
The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.”
In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.
This is how American imperialism is bringing civilisation to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbour a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name.
One preacher quoted in the press, reminding himself of something he had once read in the Bible about the meek and gentle Jesus, said it would be useless to send missionaries to the Far East anymore. That raises a very interesting question which I am sure they will discuss among themselves. One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time-quite by accident of course-pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds.
“What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” There is a subject for debate, a debate on a macabre theme. But in any case, you can be sure that where American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.
What a harvest of death capitalism has brought to the world! If the skulls of all of the victims could be brought together and piled into one pyramid, what a high mountain that would make. What a monument to the achievements of capitalism that would be, and how fitting a symbol of what capitalist imperialism really is. I believe it would lack only one thing to make it perfect. That would be a big electric sign on the pyramid of skulls, proclaiming the ironical promise of the Four Freedoms. The dead at least are free from want and free from fear…
Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilisation with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: the alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.
We believe that the people of the world will waken to this frightful alternative and act in time to save themselves…
The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.