What is anti-Semitism? Can Jewish people, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, be anti-Semitic?

By Ian Donovan

The article below was written for Socialist Fight and published on 21st September 2019. It was intended as part of a political-ideological offensive against the widespread capitulation to Zionist concepts on the left. Unfortunately it was somewhat overshadowed by the furore generated when part of our own organisation capitulated to Zionism and ultimately split from the LCFI because of this capitulation.

However the article is important and theoretically coherent, and the same political-ideological offensive is necessary today. This article was extensively praised by Jeff Blankfort, a left-wing US American anti-Zionist of Jewish origin, whose brief biography on Wikipedia states the following:

Jeffrey Blankfort is an American radio producer of Jewish origin who through a number of articles has made a name for himself through his harsh criticism of Israel and Zionism . He has been and is central in several organizations and campaigns for the Palestinians , and in 2002 he won a lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League after he was found guilty of spying against him and several other political activists.

In his texts, Blankfort makes himself a spokesman for a one-state solution where the whole of historic Palestine is made into a state with equal civil rights regardless of religion, culture and nationality. He has also made a name for himself by criticizing Noam Chomsky , who is considered by many to be a strong critic of Israel, for actually defending Israel’s right to exist as a racist state and for ignoring the power of the Israeli lobby in the United States.

https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Blankfort, (auto-translated from Norwegian)

Jeff Blankfort commented on the original publication of this article as follows:

A very eloquent and thoughtful commentary on a subject that refuses to go away. No, that would give the subject agency in itself when, in fact, it requires propagators who use it as a hammer to silence those of Israel’s critics who refuse to make the obligatory genuflection to the history of Jewish suffering which, we are told, exceeds the suffering of all other peoples, hence the need to separate it from the others, linguistically, and in political practice. Which your essay clearly exposes as fraudulent.

What that leads to, in a nutshell, is a Jewish sense of entitlement which pervades too great a percentage of Jewish political activity across the political spectrum that it cannot be ignored. That sense of entitlement is a product of traditional Jewish family life in which children are brought up to believe in Jewish superiority, that the goyim (a pejorative for non-Jews) can not be trusted and that antisemitism is a natural phenomenon that exists among them because of their jealousy of the Jewish genius.

In the UK, we see an ugly example of this in that, with a Jewish population of less than 290 thousand out of a population of 65 million, the Jewish political and religious establishment believes it has the right to determine who can or can not be the head of the Labour Party and the country’s prime minister.

Under the circumstances, it would be surprising if the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn did not lead to a rise of antisemitic sentiments among Corbyn supporters but even that would not be a problem for the Jewish establishment because it is the existence of antisemitism, real or imagined, that is the glue that hold the affiliated Jewish community together.

In that very thing, which Jewish leaders have acknowledged over the years, we see a difference between hostility to Jews and hostility to all other peoples. Who, after all, could imagine that leaders of the Black and Southeast Asian communities, would see any benefit in acts of racism against their respective communities?

https://socialistfight.com/2019/09/21/what-is-anti-semitism-can-jewish-people-whether-zionist-or-anti-zionist-be-anti-semitic/#comment-14099

I will leave readers to judge whether this praise is justified in the coherence of the political content of the article.


At the Communist University 2019 session in August about the witchhunt in the Labour Party, Tina Werkmann, a leading spokesperson for Labour Party Marxists, talked about how, when dealing with various pronouncements by Labour Party comrades who had been targeted by the apparatus, in a number of cases she had advised people that the things they had said were indeed anti-Semitic, for instance with remarks that had been made about the Rothschilds, and that they should confess, apologise, etc.

In response to this highly problematic admission, I pointedly asked her what definition of anti-Semitism she, and the CPGB are using. I asked if they are using the dictionary definition, for instance the definition adopted by LAZIR (Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism) which is from the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:

“hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group”[1]

or whether they are using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, with its long list of ‘examples’ that are designed to prevent criticism and discussion of Zionism. Or whether they are using something in between. I did not get a response from anyone in the CPGB,  but I did from Moshe Machover, who basically said that the dictionary definition was not enough, that Jewish people also had to contend with ‘conspiracy theories’ and those too had to be regarded as anti-Semitic. The CPGB comrades concurred with this and as I see this as confirming they are indeed using something in between the two as the basis for their definition.

When I was driven out of their Communist Platform bloc inside Left Unity in 2014, I made what is in fact the same point to them, even though the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism had not then seen the light of day (its precursor from the 2000s, the European Union Monitoring Centre ‘working definition’, was however around somewhere): I wrote then in a motion (which they voted down):

“Communists reject a separate category of ‘anti-Semitism’, distinct from and wider-cast than actual racism against other peoples. We consider this a racist concept, giving representatives of one people a weapon against criticisms whose legitimacy no one on the left would question if made against other peoples. It is an ideological weapon against the Palestinians, preventing understanding of, and struggle against, their situation.

“We equally oppose racism against Jews, Arabs, Blacks, Irish, and all peoples, as defined above. All racisms share this definition – hostility to all in the targeted group.”[2]

There are several interlocking questions that flow from this which have arisen out of the witch-hunts on the left that have happened, not just in the Labour Party since Corbyn won the leadership, but over a longer period, at least since the Iraq War and earlier. What has happened in the Labour Party is just a concentrated expression of these issues.

“Conspiracy Theories”

Moshe Machover

Moshe Machover’s answer on ‘conspiracy theories’ differentiates Jews from all other minorities who suffer from racism. And yet, as many have observed, Jews do not today suffer from discrimination in Western societies, from disproportionate unemployment and poverty; they do not suffer from police harassment; they do not suffer from disproportionately being put in prison; nor regularly suffer deaths in custody. They are in a much stronger position than those communities designated as immigrant-derived by all the Western states, or the descendants of slaves in the United States, or the oppressed original indigenous populations of the USA, Australia and other Western-derived states populated by the descendants of European settlers.

Jews are thus in a relatively privileged position over all genuinely oppressed groups in capitalist society, and today, unlike a century ago, do not suffer significant oppression in the Western countries. Given that, the insistence that Jews suffer from ‘conspiracy theories’ and therefore anti-racists have to be particularly careful when discussing questions relating to racism and Jews not to fall into these ‘conspiracy theories’ constitutes a double-whammy for those who suffer from real oppression today. When Jewish racists blatantly assert their privilege, and routinely assert that any even implicit criticism of such privilege amounts to a ‘conspiracy’ theory and ‘anti-Semitism’, this doubly cements that privilege and oppression. The Mark Wadsworth case in the Labour Party is an atrocious example of this.

 Despite their earlier history of persecution, Jews are not regarded as a threatening, subversive population by the ruling classes of the Western imperialist states. Indeed if you look at Jewish history, the period prior to the Nazi holocaust, the defeat of Hitler in WWII, the foundation of Israel shortly after the war and its consolidation in 1967, when Jews were oppressed and constituted a semi-pariah group in the West, one of the key mechanisms of that oppression was the propagation of theories that regarded all members of that particular group as subversive to Western Christian society.

Even wealthy Jews were regarded by Tsarist and Nazi anti-Semites as being in league with Jewish socialists and communists to undermine ‘Christian’ societies. This often took strange, contorted and convoluted theoretical forms, as anyone who has taken the trouble to read this literature can attest, but it was at bottom a class phenomenon. Objectively, the Jews occupied a contradictory class position in capitalist society in the epoch of progressive capitalism and also the earlier period of imperialist capitalism, up to approximately the mid-20th Century.

The Jews under European feudalism had been a privileged, trading-merchant middleman people-class of ‘foreign’ religion, as Abram Leon analysed at length in The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.[3] As capitalism began to grow within the womb of feudal society this feudal merchant class had been driven out of the mercantile sphere by an emerging home-grown/’indigenous’ capitalist merchant layer, driven  into ghettos and confined to money-related trading and lending. Much of the Jewish population had therefore become a kind of underclass, impoverished pariahs many of whom constituted an important intellectual layer, which became radicalised and inclined towards democracy and socialism. Remnants of this phenomenon also survive to this day, albeit in a rather debased form.

In the late feudal period the Jews were thus an oppressed population who had been driven into that situation by the constraints imposed by rising capital on a declining feudal society, which reciprocally imposed constraints on the rising bourgeoisie. But the shattering of feudalism resulted in political emancipation of the Jews. Emerging from feudalism, they rapidly became represented among the emerging bourgeois class in greater numbers than among the population generally.  And Jewish intellectuals played an important and progressive role in the bourgeois revolutions themselves.

But at the same time the impoverishment and oppression of Jews in late feudal society mean that there was a large layer of poor Jewish petty-traders and artisans in industries associated with the former people-class.  This layer, and the intellectuals associated with it, played an important role in the working class movement as it began to emerge in the 19th century, and continued in the 20th. The number of Jewish socialists and communists was quite considerable and again out of the proportion to the size of the Jewish population itself.

A contradictory class position …

It was the contradictory class position of the Jews in the real world, and their involvement in revolutionary movements, both bourgeois and proletarian, that gave rise to the theory that Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists were part of a common conspiracy to overthrow ‘Christian civilisation’ and replace it with a new regime where Jews were the rulers.

This theory, that was codified in the Tsarist fiction The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,[4] and adopted by Hitler, was actually a counterrevolutionary demonology. It implicated all Jewish people; it therefore constituted a ‘warrant for genocide’ as those who believed and acted on it, particularly the Nazis, believed they were destroying a subversive threat to capitalism itself. It gained a real following among the bourgeoisie and a much larger layer of the petty-bourgeoisie that followed ‘their’ bourgeoisies politically, and saw a ‘Jewish-led’ working class movement as a potent revolutionary threat.

This is the racist conspiracy theory, which implicated all Jewish people, that was formulated by racist anti-Semites in the late 19th Century. Of course it incorporated earlier hostile views about Jews that were derived both from Christian religious hostility to the Jewish religion, and also the role of the Jews as a middleman and moneylending class under feudalism whose activities sometimes resulted in violent social conflicts with destitute peasant masses who were frequently ruinously indebted to them.

Obviously it was a distortion of social and political characteristics which were visible to all who observed Jewish communities. It was a malicious stereotype, a blood libel and a caricature, but in order for such a view to gain mass influence, it had to bear at least a passing resemblance to some real features of the Jews as a group. Otherwise it would not have ever gained a mass following.

… and its resolution

However, the material conditions that gave rise to it have now disappeared. This is for three reasons. One is that the Nazis basically exterminated several millions of Jews in Europe, including much of the communist-inclined Jewish artisan-proletariat and radical intelligentsia that was what generated support for this counterrevolutionary demonology among the bourgeoisie.

The second being the formation of the state of Israel: the strategy of Zionism always was that the advent of a Jewish state would allow the Jews to rise into the ranks of the oppressor peoples in the imperialist-dominated world. This depended on the existence of the sizeable layer of Jews within business in the advanced capitalist countries, who had been previously regarded with suspicion by part of the wider bourgeoisie. But after Israel was consolidated, this was no longer tenable and died out over time.

The third reason is that even for Jews who were not initially wealthy, upward mobility was much easier than for other groups simply because of the Jews’ historically generated culture as a former commodity trading class, who proved able particularly in the post-WWII period in the advanced countries to rise out of the proletariat. So there is very little left these days by way of a Jewish working class, except of course in Israel.

So Jews no longer occupy a contradictory class position in capitalist society and the objective, material base for the ideology of the Protocols has thus disappeared. Therefore this ideology has no real purchase today, insofar as it is ever encountered is a relic of the past, preserved in some places (such as Eastern Europe) only because for decades it had been driven underground and was able therefore to survive in the dark under Stalinism.

Even the far right in most places has abandoned it, and far from citing the Protocols of Zion (i.e. Zionism) as depicting their enemy, regard Zionism and Israel as the very model of a racist ethnic state to be aspired to. This is also true in Eastern Europe, where elements of this ideology do survive, but nevertheless those who accept it maintain close relations with Israel, as in Ukraine and Hungary.

The on-off dispute between Israel and Poland is not about Polish anti-Semitism per se. It is not a matter of historical dispute that the pre-war regime of the Colonels would have liked to expel its own Jewish population and might have done so had Hitler not evicted it from power in 1939. Rather it is about the Zionist “Holocaust Industry”’s sometime attempt to portray Poland as a co-perpetrator of the Nazi genocide.

In fact Poland, its indigenous anti-Semitism notwithstanding, was violently and forcibly occupied by Nazi Germany at the outset of the war, and over two million of its Slavic people, also considered untermenschen[5] according to Nazi racial theories, were murdered by the Nazis alongside a similar number of Polish Jews.

To summarise then, the ‘conspiracy theory’ of the Protocols projected that all Jews were a demonic and revolutionary force, aiming to overthrow existing society and dominate humanity. The material conditions which gave rise to this ideology have disappeared; the ideology has become marginal and utterly divorced from reality where it does exist. Even where it survives its proponents are in the habit of working with Zionist Israel and therefore Zionist Jews against contemporary targets of racism, such as people from Muslim countries.

This puts Machover’s remark about ‘conspiracy theories’ in its historical context. It is clear that the ‘conspiracy theory’ that he is referring to, that of the Protocols does fit the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism. It is a manifestation of “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” and projects that all Jewish-born people, of all classes, even those who have renounced being Jewish or converted to other religions, are an enemy, demonic population. For instance the Nazis also murdered numerous baptised ex-Jewish Christians and regarded them as Jews.

Furthermore, while the above is certainly a racist conspiracy theory, it is actually a melange of different elements, put together to produce a racist totality. Those elements taken individually are not racist in themselves, nor are they even ‘conspiracy theories’. This is a typical dishonest Zionist theme, often echoed unthinkingly by parts of the left as Machover’s remarks show.  There is nothing racist or conspiratorial, for instance, about criticism of the exploitative role of Jewish moneylenders in medieval or even more modern times towards the peasantry where such phenomena existed.

There is nothing racist about citing verifiable facts about Jewish representation in the ruling classes of the West providing a social base for Zionism. Nor is there anything racist about citing the role of the very influential Rothschild banking family in promoting Zionism. It is a fact and no accident that the Balfour Declaration[6] was addressed to a very prominent member of the Rothschild family in the UK.

Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, recipient of the Balfour Declaration

It does appear that there were divisions in that family about the usefulness of Zionism as a project for them, but exactly what role their enormous wealth played in the triumph of Zionism and creation of Israel is a completely legitimate topic of comment, research and debate, even if some of the things said may be mistaken. This is true just as much as, for example, the role of the Koch family business in the USA in the rise to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Nor is there even anything necessarily anti-Semitic about even right-wing criticisms of the historical role of Jews in the Communist movement, whether those criticisms are correct or not, and whether they come from Jewish or non-Jewish critics.  If they say or imply that such nefarious actions are an inherent quality of Jewish people of all classes irrespective of belief or ideology, as do the Protocols, then it is accurate to say such criticisms are anti-Semitic. Otherwise such criticisms may well be anti-communist, counterrevolutionary or simply misguided. It is well-known and hardly surprising that many right-wing Jews, particularly Zionists, are not too fond of Jewish communists and prone to the same demonology about them as about non-Jewish communists. However such demonology is not about Jews in general, and it is obvious why it could not be if you think about it.

Jews accused of ‘anti-Semitism’

This has considerable importance when we address the characteristic blood libel against the left today manifested in the witchhunt in the British Labour Party ultimately targeting Jeremy Corbyn. The culmination of this, in formal statute underlain by a kind of Zionist ‘theory’ about anti-Semitism, is the adoption by the Labour Party of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which attempts to criminalise anti-racist criticism of the Zionist project by defining as ‘anti-Semitic’ the view that creating the Israeli state on land taken from Palestinian Arabs is a ‘racist endeavour’.

This is obviously a racist Catch-22 that defines the Palestinian Arabs as an inferior population with no rights. The IHRA was formulated by Zionists who are unapologetic about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlers in Israel proper. Some of them make considerable play on their support for a two-state solution as camouflage for their racism and call for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. But the objective problem is that the actions of settlers in the West Bank and their racist terrorism against the Arab population are no different to the means by which Israel was created.

In adopting the IHRA definition, Labour have adopted a racist NEC-imposed policy that is completely at odds with the policy voted for by conference delegates in 2018 that condemned the Naqba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 which created the state of Israel.

However, that does not exhaust the question. Several Jewish members of the Labour Party have been expelled for supposedly breaking rule 2.1.8: engaging in “conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the party” (the ‘disrepute clause’)[7]. These were for pronouncements that have been deemed to be anti-Semitic. But in classic weasel fashion, the Labour apparatus have not dared to formally expel them or indeed many people at all for actual anti-Semitism, fearing a legal challenge that could leave them defenceless.

If they did that, they would likely be required to prove in court that Jewish Labour Party members such as Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Cyril Chilson actually do fit the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism. So instead the ‘disrepute’ clause is used, which can mean anything to anyone. However it is generally understood, despite the weasel words, that these people were purged for ‘anti-Semitism’; that is what the Zionist racists put about in their smear campaigns and the Labour Party is complicit in this at the highest level.

Jackie Walker

Tony Greenstein was expelled for ‘abusive behaviour’ which was deemed anti-Semitic in this way.  Jackie Walker likewise, for questioning the definition of anti-Semitism used by the Jewish Labour Movement (i.e. the IHRA definition), and for questioning the Jewish exclusivity of Holocaust Memorial Day, why it does not commemorate the many millions of Africans who died under slavery and colonialism.  She was earlier suspended for talking in a private Facebook discussion about the role of some of her own Jewish ancestors in the slave trade in the Caribbean (she is of mixed Jewish/Afro-Caribbean heritage). The latter was deemed by Zionists as some kind of Jewish conspiracy theory akin to the Protocols of Zion.

Cyril Chilson, who was once an Israeli Peace Activist and is the son of survivors of the Nazi holocaust, was also expelled from Labour under the ‘disrepute’ clause, but again motivated with innuendos that he was in some way ‘anti-Semitic’. Here is his own commentary on the allegations against him:

“My accusers were very keen to recast comments I made on Israel’s success in recruiting certain leaders of western Jewish communities and turning them into zealous supporters who ostracise opposing Jewish voices, as ‘making mendacious allegations about Jews as a collective’ and ‘accusing Jews, supporters of Israel and critics of antisemitism as being more loyal to Israel than to the UK…’. And most ludicrous – accusing me of ‘denying Jewish people the language to describe their own oppression’.“[8]

Apart from the clear influence of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism involved here, there is a whiff of the allegation of ‘conspiracy theory’ as per the Protocols of Zion against comrade Chilson. He was also denounced by Zionists for engaging in fraternal discussion with the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, also of Israeli-Jewish origin, who defines himself as an ‘ex-Jew’ and a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’.

Cyril Chilson

“Self-hatred” and supposed Jewish anti-Semitism

Atzmon makes sometimes penetrating criticisms of the Jewish left and Jewish identity politics, but is also a source of considerable confusion; he ascribes an almost supernatural power to the secular Jewish identity as a dangerous force in the world, but at the same time advocates that Jewish people disturbed by this should renounce their Jewish identity lock, stock and barrel and assimilate wholesale into the nations in which they live, leaving no trace.  His critique of Zionism and Jewish identity politics is idealist, not materialist. But he has managed to upset both Zionist Jews and the anti-Zionist Jewish left who again, accuse him of conspiracy theory and anti-Semitism.

He is part of a phenomenon that is quite new in Jewish history and a result of the terrorism and barbarism of the Israeli state in which he grew up: Jews who as a result of what Israel is doing to Palestinian Arabs, which is a form of slow genocide, feel an acute sense of guilt about their Jewish origin, see Jews as simply an oppressor people, and have an emotional response against any and all manifestations of Jewish identity. In that sense because driven by guilt and emotion, he and his followers are sometimes difficult to debate with. But it is the duty of the left to engage with this strand of confused anti-racist thought politically, and not engage in chauvinistic anathemas.

The Atzmon case, however, set a contemporary precedent for accusing Jewish people of anti-Semitism. For the past 14 years or so, Atzmon has been hounded as an anti-Semite by Jewish leftists like Greenstein and others. Not only that but those who treated Atzmon in a political manner, engaging in debate with him without joining in the outcry, and who denounced the Jewish left’s campaign against the Socialist Workers Party in the period when it invited him to speak at its events and play for them, were themselves accused of condoning anti-Semitism and often subjected to violations of workers democracy, being expelled from left-wing forums, etc.

Greenstein and others on the left of Jewish origin who were accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ ought to have been able to ridicule the allegations against them. How absurd that the Labour Party was expelling left-wing Jews accusing them of hating Jews! How Orwellian! It ought to be perfectly obvious that racist Jewish right-wing people had gained positions of power in the Labour Party and were using that to expel left-wing, pro-Palestinian anti-racist Jews. Labour, and the Labour Zionists, would have been totally naked before such a counter-attack and it would have inevitably crumbled. But they cannot, because of the Atzmon case and the role of quite a few of these left-wing Jews in previously witchhunting Jewish people such as Atzmon for ‘anti-Semitism’.

Tony Greenstein (left) with Gilad Atzmon

It is theoretically possible for a Jewish person to be personally anti-Semitic of course, to believe that they have been born into an inherently inferior or demonic human group. It is also possible for someone who is born black, for instance, to believe similar things. The consequence of such beliefs, which tend to flow from an internalisation of oppression, is self-destructive behaviour. Such things as scrubbing skin trying to make it ‘clean’, or using skin lightening treatments which are a more sophisticated version of the same thing, are expressions of that, but it is harmful and self-destructive as does not really need to be explained. 

In the case of Jews, there is one figure in history who Gilad Atzmon himself says was a Jewish anti-Semite. Otto Weininger[9], a brilliant but seemingly disturbed Jewish young aspiring philosopher who wrote the work ‘Sex and Consciousness’ at the turn of the 20th Century. He committed suicide at the age of 23, which is a logical consequence of being both anti-Semitic and Jewish. But apart from that, the belief that it is possible to renounce Jewish identity completely and cease to be Jewish is not racist in any way.

Otto Weininger

A huge concession to Zionism

It is the opposite of the beliefs of anti-Semites, including the Nazis who sent numerous Christian converts from Judaism to the death camps.  It also is somewhat utopian for a different reason, as ‘race’ exists as a social, not an individual, category, and real anti-Semites such as the Nazis would not accept the protestations of someone who says they are “no longer a Jew”. Atzmon would have been rounded up by the Nazis along with all the other Jews had he been around at the time.

Obviously then those who accuse Atzmon of ‘anti-Semitism’ are not using the dictionary definition. Nor are they using the IHRA definition, which most of these people are campaigning against or actively hostile to. They are using something in between, though they do not define exactly what that ‘something’ is, except that alleged ‘conspiracy theories’ come into it somewhere, as I have addressed above. However by widening the definition beyond what is in the dictionary, what they are in effect doing is widening the definition beyond racism.  For the dictionary definition is a definition of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish racism.

This again gives comfort and political ground to the Zionists. In their joint editorial the at the peak of the Zionist hysteria over Corbyn in July 2018, the Jewish Chronicle ,Jewish News  and Jewish Telegraph accused Labour of making a:

“distinction between racial antisemitism targeting Jews (unacceptable) and political antisemitism targeting Israel (acceptable).”[10]

This was a lie, as Labour never said any such thing in its discussion on the IHRA. The concept comes from these Zionists themselves and reflects the fact that even they find it impossible to consistently maintain that what they call ‘political anti-Semitism’ (hostility to Israeli racism) is the same thing as racist hostility to Jewish people. Instead they engage in a rhetorical trick that says that these are distinct things but each is just as bad as the other.

Another example that illustrates this paradigm of ‘non-racist’ anti-Semitism and its Zionist ideological pedigree comes from the left-Zionist Alliance for Workers Liberty, with their concept of ‘racist’ and ‘non-racist’ anti-Semitism. This has been a long-time canard that they have thrown at the anti-Zionist left, for instance Sean Matgamna here:

“… left-wing anti-semites are not racist. But there was anti-semitism before there was 20th-century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still anti-semitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Hitler-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and perhaps especially of left-wing people.[11]

There was indeed religious and social hostility to Jews before racialised anti-Semitism was born in the late 19th century, which was then incorporated into that racist ideology. But Matgamna is not accusing leftists of medieval Christian bigotry or resurrecting the anti-Jewish rage of serfs such as that in the 17th Century Polish-ruled Ukraine; he is making an amalgam of leftist anti-Zionist thought with these things. This is just another variant of the Jewish Chronicle’s nonsensical statement that hostility to Israeli racism and ethnic cleansing amounts to ‘political anti-Semitism’. Again, the politics of the AWL shows the Zionist pedigree of this concept, that there can be an ‘anti-Semitism’ that neither expresses hostility to, nor practices nor advocates discrimination against Jewish people.

Zionist concept permeates ‘anti-Zionist’ left

But this Zionist concept has seeped into the anti-Zionist left also. For instance in the various witchhunts initiated by the likes of the CPGB/Weekly Worker, and by Bundist-influenced Jewish leftists such as Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover, whose views resonate widely around the left, we hear the same refrain:

“Keeping things in perspective, a number of speakers for the SC motion emphasised that, although SF’s views irrevocably lead to the conclusion that Jews are ‘a problem’, SF leading lights Ian Donovan and Gerry Downing are not ‘personally anti-Semitic’. Pete Firmin, supporting the SC motion, nevertheless insisted that, while that was certainly the case for Gerry, ‘his politics are’ anti-Semitic.”[12]

Similar things were said not only about Socialist Fight, but also about Peter Gregson, the founder of Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism (LAZIR) on the basis of fabricated allegations of support for Nazi holocaust denial (but in reality because of their hostility to his LAZIR initiative, which advocates that the Labour  Party should throw out its Zionist racists on principle). Comrade Gregson is supposedly likewise not personally, but politically anti-Semitic.

This is actually the same as what both the mainstream Zionists and the AWL are saying, the distinction between racial  or racist, and allegedly non-racial anti-Semitism. By denying that someone is “personally” anti-Semitic, what they are saying is that while you are not individually a racist, by criticising something that must not be criticised, whether it be the Israel state itself, or its disproportionately numerous ethnic-nationalist base of support in the Western ruling classes, your politics are in some way ‘objectively’ anti-Semitic. It’s a Zionist-derived argument and indicative of a left that is politically soft on Zionism even when it claims to be opposing it.

And though they have not yet had the courage to put this in writing, this is what the CPGB, Greenstein et al, are also saying about Norman Finkelstein, that he uses anti-Semitic ‘tropes’ about ‘outsized Jewish power’, that his essay ‘Corbyn Mania’[13] amounts to a conspiracy theory, and that the facts he documented more comprehensively than we did when our position was formulated four years earlier, should not be mentioned.

Norman Finkelstein

The logical root of all these contradictions and irrationalities would seem to be an incorrect definition of anti-Semitism, of failing to define anti-Semitism rigidly as hostility to Jewish and discrimination per se against Jewish people, instead expanding that definition to criticism of aspects of Jewish politics and action that have nothing at all to with any communal or racial antagonism to Jews. But in fact what is behind that is a failure on the part of much of the Jewish left to break from a Jewish form of particularism and really embrace a consistently internationalist, Marxist programme and outlook, and the inclination of the non-Jewish left to defer to them, either through liberal guilt or lack of political courage. This is a product of centrist and left-reformist politics, and a capitulation to various forms of bourgeois social pressure, among which Zionist pressure today is a major component and which has a frighteningly anti-democratic manifestation at times.

Is Zionism anti-Semitic?

Sometimes we even get an absurd ‘leftist’ form of this deviation, where leftists attempt by ferocity of language to make up for, and hide (including from themselves) the theoretical and programmatic capitulation to Zionism that is part of their politics. An example of this is the insistence by Tony Greenstein that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism”.[14]

In justifying this he cites various statements from early Zionists that provide very unflattering images of diaspora Jewry, including remarks about money-fetishism and the like, and the allegedly parasitic nature of the diaspora Jewish lifestyle. He also is able to quote abuse against himself and others from Zionist thugs, including people who have made remarks to the effect that it’s a pity that Hitler did not get people like him. Obviously these are foul remarks and should be condemned.

But to extrapolate from that to say that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism” makes no sense at all if you consider that anti-Semitism is about advocating hostility and discrimination against Jewish people. For Zionists advocate the opposite; discrimination against non-Jews and a Jewish ethnocracy in Israel where non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs have no real rights. It is quite normal for nationalists to be harshly critical of what are perceived to be faults of their ‘own’ people, not for the purpose of promoting hostility or discrimination against them, but as part of an exhortation upon them to change and make themselves fit to be the founders of a new (or ‘reborn’) nation.

It may be true that there is a coincidence of interest between Zionism and anti-Semitism, as both would like Jews to leave the diaspora. But obviously their reasons for doing so are different in intention.

This is not confined to Zionism. Black nationalists, for instance the Garvey movement or the Black Muslims, are or were also sharply critical of those in their communities who they consider inimical to the future of the black “nation”, whether described as pan-African or Islamic in form. Some of these criticisms may even echo some of the derogatory things that racists say, as well as dovetailing with racists’ desire for black people to leave. But their purpose is completely different, it is to overcome what are seen as morbid symptoms of oppression, exploited by the racist enemy, and raise the people to the level aspired to by the nationalists.

This may well be reactionary; it cannot however be said to be motivated by hostility to and discrimination against the people concerned; in the case of Jews it is certainly not therefore motivated by anti-Semitism.

Not only that, but it is discernible that, unlike black nationalists whose aims were no higher than to secure greater equality and to mitigate their people’s oppression within the existing order, the early Zionists appear to have had an inkling that the unique history of the Jews gave them at least a chance of escaping their oppressed condition altogether and joining the world’s oppressor peoples – if they could secure a state. Zionism has proved a remarkably successful strategy in this regard so far.

Even the despicable abuse Tony and others have received from Zionists is not motivated by hatred of him for being Jewish. It is motivated by hatred of him for being an ‘Arab-lover’ and therefore a ‘race-traitor’ in their terms. This is true even if the Zionists make despicable remarks about how Hitler should have got him. The real motive is associative anti-Arab racism, not anti-Jewish racism.

So what is behind the nonsensical polemic that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism”? Programmatic and ideological incoherence, and an inability to completely break with elements of the Zionist world view despite the most intense, feverish hostility to Zionism’s crimes. This polemic accepts a key tenet of Zionism – that Jews are the ultimate and eternal victims and attempts to throw that back at the Zionists –“even you Zionists are among the Jews’ tormentors” it says. But this is incoherent, and doesn’t wash because everyone who knows anything knows that political Zionism is built on hostility and discrimination against Arabs, not Jews.

Like with the Zionists’ own wolf-crying activities, if anti-Semitism is not strictly defined and its definition is expanded, then the currency is devalued. If everything becomes designated as anti-Semitic, then reality is obscured and the effect is that nothing can ever be convincingly said to be anti-Semitic.

This article is an important clarification of some key issues regarding the Jewish Question and what is, and what is not, anti-Semitism. The ideological onslaught of Zionism and the witchhunt in Labour, as well as similar attacks on democratic rights and parts of the left and even left-liberals, not just here but in France, Germany and the United States, mean that clarity on these things is a sine qua non of a coherent political response, and this is essential not just for the Trotskyist movement, but for all leftist anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist forces.

 REFERENCES

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anti-Semitism

[2] https://commexplor.com/2014/09/16/centrism-and-fear-over-gaza-communists-vote-down-equality-of-peoples

[3] https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/leon/index.htm

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of_Zion

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untermensch

[6] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-balfour-declaration

[7] http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Rule-Book-2019.pdf

[8] https://tinyurl.com/y2fyj4yr

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Weininger

[10] https://tinyurl.com/yb4vkbdp

[11] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/what-left-anti-semitism

[12] https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1185/building-up-steam/

[13] http://normanfinkelstein.com/2018/08/25/finkelstein-on-corbyn-mania/

[14] See http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2018/07/labours-anti-semitism-code-of-conduct.html, toward the end where this idea appears and is argued for.

Facebook’s Zionist-Racist Cancel Culture In the Service of Child Murder

By Ian Donovan

So I’ve been suspended from using Mark Zuckerburg’s racist and anti-democratic Facebook platform yet again.

This time for supposedly ‘bullying’ an Israeli Zionist extremist named Aron White, who comes from London and indeed studied here at the University of London, but then evidently made ‘aliyah’ to Israel in order to participate in the occupation of Palestinians in Jerusalem. He also studied at, and is now employed by, an establishment called Yeshivat NaKotel, an orthodox Jewish school in the Old City of Jerusalem, which was established after the conquest of East Jerusalem by Israel in 1967.

Similar institutions and movements are involved directly in the ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Palestinian inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrar, which was the immediate issue over which the 11-day Saif Al Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) war broke out. It has not been possible to establish a direct participation of this particular yeshiva in these events, but they are evidently part of a common milieu of racism and violent religious extremism with these particular criminals.

In any case, this Aron White made remarks in the face of clear evidence of the large scale, deliberate killing of Arab children by the Israeli Murder Forces, that blames the Palestinian people as represented by Hamas who THEY ELECTED AS LEADERS IN THE LAST FREE ELECTION ISRAEL PERMITTED, in 2006, for defending their people against genocidal terror and firing home-made rockets at the occupiers, land theives and terrorists and thereby supposedly ‘forcing’ these terrorists to murder their children.

New York Times front page photo-spread of child victims of 11-day Israeli bombardment of Gaza in May shows enormous disproportionality. 2 of these kids were Israeli, but the Palestinian rockets, fired in Gaza’s self-defence, that killed them have no proper guidance and the deaths were thus accidental. The Gazan kids were killed by hi-tech precision weaponry, Israeli’s killers and propagandists boast; their deaths were therefore premeditated murder,

This is a genocidal position based on the absurd excuse that Israel had concocted, of ‘roof knocking’  where they fire a rock to knock the roof of a civilian home to supposedly warn the inhabitants that their home is about to be flattened within a minute or two and to run for their lives.

This is itself clearly an act of terrorism and is guaranteed to cause panic, trauma, homelessness…. and death to the many who for any number of reasons are unable to escape. A monstrous act in itself.

Particularly as their victims are completely unarmed on an individual basis and collectively only have glorified firework rockets without guidance systems, which rather rarely hit anything and usually do minimal damage when they do.

In any case, White’s boast about ‘precision bombing’ proves more than he intends. Because if they are so ‘precise’ then the deaths they inflict are clearly intended to happen. The killings of these kids are clearly premeditated as the authors of these crimes know very well from repeated experience what happens when they fire their ‘precision’ weapons. They kill many kids. That is the desired effect.

In my honest opinion his excuses for the mass murder of children of the ‘enemy’ ethnic group makes him a genocidal killer by ideology and thereby my view that he would make a fine SS recruit is fair comment.

Its amazing that FB could consider that someone openly  supporting terrorist murder of civilians could be ‘bullied’.  The obvious political explanation for this is that FB itself considers such murders to be just fine. FB itself should therefore be targeted for punishment by anti-racists for this.

A Critical Vote for Howard Beckett!

Unite General Secretary Election

Re-arm the left and the Unions to take on this Criminal Government!

Howard Beckett

The upcoming election for General Secretary of Unite the Union, the biggest trade union in Britain, offers an opportunity for working class people to strike back against the political defeats of our class represented by the sabotage of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn by the Blairite and Zionist right wing. The candidacy of Howard Beckett, who has strongly criticised the Labour leadership of Keir Starmer with its witchhunts against the left, its antipathy to trade unionists and organised workers, and its re-Blairisation of the Labour Party under the guidance of Peter Mandelson, who also advises Boris Johnson, has been like a breath of fresh air after the previous capitulations of the Labour left.

Beckett has taken on the Labour right wing in a manner that no prominent figure in the Labour Party or labour movement did in the entire Corbyn era from 2015-2020, including of course Corbyn himself. He has taken on Labour’s Blairite/Zionist stooge leader head on and that is the centrepiece of his campaign. In some ways the things that he has said are exceptional for a candidate in an internal union election. On 14th June he Tweeted simply: “Starmer must go” following earlier Tweets where he said: “If Labour HQ continues down its path and no longer speaks for working people, it will not be getting Unite money if I am general secretary.” These are not exceptional; he has said many similar things over the past several weeks. But his onslaught against the treacherous Starmer leadership of Labour is escalating and is becoming utterly counterposed to the other two ostensibly ‘left-wing’ candidates, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham.

Beckett went into more depth in his forthright attack on Labour’s right-wing leadership in an interview on 8th May with Revolutionary Socialism in the 21 Century, where he elaborated:

“He’s not a success as a leader. What’s going on now is a dereliction of duty with his failure to offer a narrative on zero Covid, or a narrative on nationalisation when it’s most needed, or resistance to fire and rehire. If he continues on the course he’s on he’ll become irrelevant, and Labour is quickly becoming a party of the establishment.

“It is for the Labour Party to prove its relationship with unions, and if it doesn’t speak on a daily, weekly, monthly basis on behalf of working people then it will become irrelevant to working people. But if that does happen, the union movement will not be found wanting. If I am general secretary, the union movement will step into that vacuum and talk with and for our communities, educate our communities and talk about socialism.

“Unite has already reduced our affiliation and we’re on record as saying we will have to take great care that any further money is given to those who share our values. If they continue on this path there will be debates not just about regular funding and funding around elections but also about affiliation, and I will happily facilitate those debates. The only language the leadership understand at the moment is the language you would be giving to a bad employer.”

https://www.rs21.org.uk/2021/05/08/unite-elections-an-interview-with-howard-beckett/

However, he is not confining himself to politicking within the Labour Party milieu. He is, as least verbally, putting forward an agenda of class struggle which is somewhat unusual to hear from an aspiring leader of a trade union in this period, and appears to be pitching to lead a left-wing political movement, not just a campaign for a leading trade union position:

“Steve Turner is running on the idea of partnership with employers. I reject that. When you talk in that language it diminishes the fact that we are in a class struggle.”

“I am banging the drum for Unite to have its own TV channel, with regular interviews with high-profile politicians and activists, constant news and evaluation of industrial and political landscape. It could be used for advice, distilling information for our reps, and even cookery shows. If we start talking to wider society the next generation will see exactly what a union does, understand the importance of collectivism and want to be part of this.”

“If the laws are trying to restrict liberties then they should be defied. As soon as we start accepting them as valid then our liberties are lost, and it becomes only a matter of time before our entire movement is lost. Unite’s rule book has been changed to make a statement about Unite stepping outside of the law. It is becoming a reality for us now.”

“Strikes. Strikes! Targeted strike action. Simple as that. The idea that protecting the NHS is done by making speeches? Nonsense. People should be in Unite because they need to be in a union that will take the fight to the government. If we can’t make the argument for reversing privatisation now after Covid then frankly we all deserve what we get. If we can’t make an argument about care homes coming into public ownership under the NHS then we deserve what we get, and if we can’t defend the argument for a 15% pay rise then we deserve what we get. Here and now the reality for all of us there needs to be strategic, targeted industrial action.”

ibid

He is also a champion of Unite’s Community Section, which organises retired, unemployed and other unwaged working-class people both to fight for their own interests and as a wider support and auxiliary of the social and industrial power of the union.

One negative point about Beckett, where he displayed weakness, albeit in November 2020 before the Unite leadership issue became central, was when under pressure from the right and the Zionists, he pulled out of an event calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement because expelled Labour member and Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein was also a speaker. Greenstein is a hate figure of the Zionists and those who share platform with expelled anti-Zionists are immediately added to the list of targets. However, a few weeks later in December, at a NEC meeting discussing the Tory-stooge Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report smearing sections of the Labour left as anti-Semitic, he challenged aspects of the process, tweeting “My NEC report for Unite will record being denied access to submissions to the EHRC, denied a debate on suspensions; denied debate on the importance of protecting lawful speech.” (https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/unite-union-official-beckett-criticised-over-his-response-to-labour-antisemitism-meeting-1.509469). Beckett is a union official, not a Palestine solidarity activist, but his statements on the recent Zionist atrocities make clear that he is an outspoken opponent of these crimes which have had such a major impact on the labour movement in Britain these last few years.

Smears and Witchhunting of Beckett

He has more recently himself had a taste of the cynicism of the fake ‘racism’ allegations of the right and the fake-left, when he was himself suspended from Labour for a tweet in solidarity with a large, militant crowd of anti-racists in Glasgow who physically prevented immigration officials from seizing two Indian Muslims who were under threat of deportation. Beckett, clearly enraged by the racism of the Home Office led by Priti Patel, the far-right Tory capo, Modi-supporting anti-Muslim fascistic Hindutva bigot and Israeli stooge, who clearly ordered the action, tweeted on 13 May: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism.”.

Labour doublethink says this tweet is racist

He quickly apologised and said his tweet was not meant to be taken literally. Various liberals who claim to be on the left, and the Labour leadership, howled with outrage at Beckett’s supposed ‘racism’ for forgetting that the Home Secretary who ordered a racist atrocity, one of many, is also not white. But this is drivel, as usual his accusers for the most part have no problems with deporting ethnic minority people, or even if they have in theory, would not dream of refusing to support Labour’s own racist and sociopathic levy of deporters seeking government office. Anyone with half-a-brain and an ounce of honesty can see that Beckett was expressing outrage at state racism, not supporting it. He really has nothing to apologise for, and his suspension is just another piece of scandalous Starmerite dishonesty.

Apparently as part of the bilious campaign against him the Starmerites are now moving toward his expulsion from the Labour Party, supposedly for ‘racism’ against Johnson’s deporter-in-chief. Which just underlines the nature of the Zionist-led Labour Party where people are expelled with smears of ‘racism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ for opposing the organised racist and Zionist trends that dominate Labour. Including several former Blairite Home Secretaries who could give Theresa May or Priti Patel a run for their money in the migrant-bashing stakes – Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson, all anti-migrant xenophobic lowlife in the same mould as Patel. Labour has never expelled such vile people, but they now propose to expel a leading union left-winger for supporting direct action against racist deportations. That is a sign of ‘racism’ in their racist fantasy world.

Another related hysterical attack on Beckett came from the Daily Mail (3rd June) quoting him as saying “The government has 143 military bases in 42 countries – money that could be spent on reinforcing flood defences, making sites available for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, support for youth within communities, support for women suffering from domestic and gender-based violence”. This is some very basic social reform, and a classic left-reformist scheme, but the anti-gypsy angle is clear in the headline “Howard Beckett calls for UK’s multi-billion defence budget to pay for gypsy and traveller sites”. This accompanies their horror-filled relating that Beckett has the support of Labour Black Socialists (precisely because of his outspokenness in defence of migrants and refugees), and the Blairite Kevan Jones complaining that “Thousands of Unite members play a vital role supporting our country’s defence. I think they will take a dim view of this suggestion by someone whose position is funded by their union subscriptions.”

All this has the effect of exposing more and more the mendacity, racist and chauvinist politics behind the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaigns and the like that simply lie about the left in the service of the foulest bigotry.

Unite Election: Political Struggle not Stitch-Ups

Since then, he has been the target of similar hysteria from the soft left. In the hustings/vote for the support of the political machine known as the United Left (UL) within Unite, which is dominated by trade unionist cadre of the Communist Party of Britain, Beckett only narrowly failed to get nominated as the UL candidate, by three votes.  However there seems to be evidence that dozens of paid-up UL supporters who wanted to vote for Beckett were not allowed to vote, due to ‘technical’ problems involving an email address/server, and the legitimacy of this vote is hotly disputed by not only Beckett, but many on the wider left. This brought the machinery of the CP/B into play to get numerous nominations from branches for Turner; by the time the deadline was up he had 525, with Graham beating Beckett by 349 to 328. The openly right-wing candidate, Gerard Coyne, came last with 196 candidates.

However, nominations through formal union bodies do not necessarily equate to votes in a union election, as these bodies tend to be dominated by the bureaucracy, activists, and those closest to the formal structures of the union. The strategy of Coyne will be to rely on the influence of the right-wing gutter press to appeal over the heads of the union structure to the atomised members. However, the strategy of Beckett also seems to be based on an attempt at an aggressive political appeal to class sentiment, also over the heads of the officialdom, based on a left-wing hostility to Starmer and his supporters, something that Turner and his CPB supporters are actively hostile to from a Labour-loyal perspective, and which Graham flinches from in the name of ‘non-political’ trade unionism.

Given the recent history of Unite, this is not a forlorn strategy. Beckett could succeed, and in the process push the politics of the union much further to the left. Capitulators to Blairism and softer elements on the left, personified by Owen Jones, contend that three putative left-wing candidates standing are likely to divide the ‘left’ vote and hand the union over to the right winger Coyne. But that is not necessarily true, looking at the history of recent General Secretary elections in Unite. Apart from the fact that given his conciliation of Starmer, Turner’s designation as a left candidate is something of an exaggeration. Much depends on the quality of the campaigns waged by the candidates.

In 2010, there were four candidates: Len McCluskey (ex-Militant left-wing bureaucrat and the current retiring GS), Jerry Hicks (widely renowned victimised rank-and-file militant from Bristol Rolls Royce), Gail Cartmail (soft left ‘socialist-feminist’ and current assistant GS of Unite) and Les Bayliss, a right-winger similar to Coyne today. Bayliss came third; this was a highly political contest between McCluskey with bureaucratic ‘left’ politics and the revolutionary-minded militant Hicks, who put up a hell of a fight. Both of the top two left candidates beat Bayliss. In a repeat election in 2013 where the only two candidates were Hicks, the polarisation was stronger, and a similar result obtained where McCluskey beat Hicks by 2 to 1. Hicks improved vote of 79,819 showed there was a substantial base for political militancy in Unite. Only in 2017 was the result close, where McCluskey, in what was widely seen as an unnecessary and cynical election aimed at prolonging his own term in office, only narrowly beat Coyne. Another rank-and-file trade union militant, Ian Allinson, who appeared much less well-known than Jerry Hicks, failed to make major inroads and only gained 13% of the vote.

But that election appears very different to this one. McCluskey by then was a busted flush, and barely clung on by his fingernails, and the election itself a demoralising exercise. This is shaping up to be a highly political election fight, a real battle for the ‘soul’ of Unite, the biggest union in Britain, by forces around Beckett who hope to drive a campaign to re-arm the kind of leftist sentiment that drove support for Corbyn, and to drive the labour movement itself back to the left. That is the danger that the right-wing see from Beckett’s campaign, and why there has been a hysterical response from Starmer’s supporters.

Beckett (right) confronts Siobhan McDonagh on BBC Newsnight

Such as Beckett being ‘reported’ to the police by Margaret Hodge for supposedly ‘secretly’ planning, during the period of Corbyn’s leadership, for the union to support the ousting of anti-Corbyn right-wing MPs. As Beckett pointed out sharply on BBC Newsnight (3rd June), there was nothing secret about this campaign, as he had made public speeches about it at the time. He also told Siobhan McDonagh – the idiot Blairite who had previously said that merely opposing capitalism was ‘anti-Semitic’ (presumably because for her capitalists and Jews are synonymous!) – that she was in the wrong party. He mocked the hypocrisy of the right wing denouncing those who attack Starmer’s leadership given the planned and organised sabotage of Labour election campaigns by them when Corbyn was leader. Beckett’s tough and uncompromising response in this Newsnight interview gave a big boost to his campaign and humiliated the right.

Bureaucratic splintering and militant trade unionism

As his detractors have been keen to point out, he is not a rank-and-file worker. He is of Irish Catholic working-class background, born in Belfast, and someone who went to university and became a solicitor. He worked for the Union for a long period and is undoubtedly simply by virtue of his occupation wealthier than many union members. There have been various ‘scandals’ alleged by the right wing against him, including that when he was appointed Head of Legal Services at Unite, his previous legal partnership was sold to another union-connected firm for over £2.6 million, which he gained a share of. It is also apparently true that he owns three properties, is a property millionaire, and there was a fine against his firm levied by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority several years ago in a dispute related to solicitors’ fees in a case about miners’ compensation. The latter case has been particularly made use of for a smear campaign against him by the right wing – he addressed the events in some depth in his interview with RS21:

“I never took a penny of compensation from injured miners. I was fined because a cashier had stolen money from a probate file which had the Girl Guides and Guide Dogs for the Blind as beneficiaries. This cashier was in her sixties, and I felt it was an aberration. I was worried that she would be sent to jail so instead of reporting it to the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) or to the police I gave her the opportunity of paying back the money in instalments, and the practice replaced the money. That was the reason for the fines. The media have tried to drag it into the miners because it suits them but I never took one penny of miner’s compensation, the practice never benefited from miners’ compensation and there was never one single complaint from a miner to that effect. I spoke at the Durham Miner’s Gala a couple of years ago and I think most people would understand that I wouldn’t have been invited to speak if there was any suggestion at all the practice had ever taken compensation off miners. You won’t find a single miner who raises these allegations, I can tell you that. It’s a lie, and if people want to verify that it’s a lie they can go on to the SRA website.”

RS21 op-cit

His background is hardly the stuff of trade union militancy at a rank-and-file level as in the heyday of union militancy that existing in Britain prior to the victories of Thatcher over the trade unions, most crucially in the miners’ strike of 1984-5. It is the stuff of a trade union movement that has been beaten and betrayed for decades. Betrayed particularly by the political class that has developed centrally in the political bureaucracy of the Labour Party, which has over several decades become something more than what it was at the time of the party’s emergence: an extension of the pro-capitalist bureaucracy of the trade unions. This bureaucratic layer in Britain historically had their own organic relationship to British industrial capital from the massive industrialisation that began in the late 18th Century, that continued at breakneck speed in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, that marked time in much of the 20th before undergoing major decline as a result of a conscious ruling class strategy of exporting jobs and deindustrialisation, aimed at crippling the labour movement, in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

However, this has itself led to new polarisations, part of which were responsible for the rise of Corbynism as a reaction to Blairism. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, a pioneer of dialectical logic, once remarked that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. This is a key insight, regarding the inevitability of continuous change and flux in all phenomena, which found its way into Hegel’s much more elaborated, but idealistic dialectic, which was inverted and given a consistently materialist foundation by Marx. In analysing the course of the class struggle such understanding is crucial.

 This finds concrete expression when you look at Blairism, and the changes in the right-wing of political labour bureaucracies, which have not occurred only in Britain, but Britain has become an archetype. The deindustrialisation of Britain, and the rise of financial capital which has replaced its former industrial power to a considerable degree as the index of Britain’s remaining power in the world as an imperialist nation, has modified the relationship between the labour bureaucracy and British capitalism and produced new polarisations.

As was noted in an article published just over a year ago:

“… there has been a further development of imperialist capital …. catalysed by the further decay of capitalism as classically expressed in Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The fall in the rate of profit meant that the classical unity of industrial and banking capital exploiting a large scale industrial proletariat in the advanced countries became less and less profitable, and so industrial capital increasingly sought to do away with the proletariat, or as much of it as possible, in the classical imperialist countries, and migrated to underdeveloped countries in search of cheap labour to manufacture goods, the bulk of which at least initially were still for realisation in the advanced countries, thus raising the rate of profit. At the same time, the further decline in profit rates gave rise to drives in the imperialist centres to privatise everything that moved. Everything from prisons to public housing, from air traffic control to schools to hospital cleaning to probation officers, everything that could possibly if privatised be squeezed to obtain a morsel of profit and hence raise the overall rate of profit, was so privatised.

“This also modified the phenomenon of finance capital as a fusion of banking and industrial capital. The migration of important sections of industrial capital from the main imperialist countries, even though the funding, as before, came from the imperialist banking arm, produced a geographical separation between industrial and banking capital even though they remained a unity under the system of finance capital. This produced an emanation of finance capital which some Marxists, entirely reasonably, call financial capital, to distinguish it from finance capital in its classical form. Its function is not the methodical exploitation of the proletariat to generate surplus value, but tricks and novel methods of seemingly extracting value from nothing, by such means as the creation of asset price inflation (closely linked to the concept of ‘fictitious capital’), ‘futures’, or other innovative ‘financial products’ which also have the effect of seemingly conjuring up new value from nothing. Such as credit-default-swaps, which played a major role in the late-2000s financial crisis. Of course, speculation is not new under imperialism, but there are also questions of degree.”

[…]

“In any case, this is what has undermined the Labour Party, and produced a new breed of ‘labour’ politician who is not a mere servant of finance capital in a political sense, like the old labour bureaucrats who fought for national welfare states and supported their ‘own’ imperialist countries’ struggles to maintain imperial influence, while trying to ‘humanise’ this imperialism. The old Labour bureaucracy was personified by Attlee, who while conceding independence to India (he really had no choice) nevertheless fought brutal colonial wars in Malaysia (including Singapore) and Indonesia, also helping the French back into Indo-China, and crushed the nascent Kenyan independence movement and workers movement.  This kind of social chauvinism linked ‘welfare’ to support for colonial oppression.

“But it is somewhat different to the ‘labourism’ of Blair and Peter Mandelson, with his infamous statement as to how Labour is ‘intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich’. The former was subordination to finance capital, the latter is subordination to financial capital. This is not, by the way, a moral difference. Both of these things are deeply reactionary and the social-imperialism of old-Labour was itself mortally antagonistic to socialism. It is however a sociological difference – the old social imperialist bureaucracy still had a material connection to organised labour, if only as a parasite upon it. Whereas New Labour has no such necessary connection at all.”

https://www.consistent-democrats.org/uncategorized/no-vote-to-zionist-new-labour/

But this can, indeed must, lead to heightened contradictions between the Labour Party and the labour movement which was its seedbed. Today a key part of what was once the Labour Party bureaucracy is not connected by a class collaborationist relationship with industrial capital, and thereby finance capital, interested in preserving class peace by managing large, often militant, organised workforces with a great deal of social rhetoric and some reforms.

The traditional well organised industrial workforces have been considerably weakened, and the workforce that unions represent is much more fragmented and multi-sectored. Unions themselves have been weakened, by the strategic defeats inflicted on them in battle decades ago, by the passage of anti-union laws that the bosses have made stick for decades, by the export of heavy industrial jobs and hence the loss of industrial muscle, and by the fragmentation mentioned. But that never meant that class anger had died down. Just that the bosses had found ways to frustrate it and stop it being expressed. Or so they thought…. 

The ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015 was a big shock to the ruling class. It became possible because under first Kinnock, and then with a vengeance under Blair and Brown, key parts of Labour’s traditional right-wing bureaucracy had become agents of financial capital instead of the older relationship described above.

The difference is crucial as these new leaders resembled the Tories they were supposed to be opposed to much more closely. They became privatisers; during the Blair-Brown period in office they introduced private sector neoliberal practice into public services with a fervour; they fomented a capitalist boom in tandem with other neoliberal forces abroad that ended in 2007 with a major financial crisis.

Corbynism in Relation to the Class Struggle

Corbyn rose to the Labour leadership paradoxically because under Blairism many of Labour’s most class-conscious followers had ceased to recognise it as Labour and ceased to vote for it. This loss of support so worried the Labour bureaucracy that they designed a novel scheme to try to entice support back: they allowed Labour supporters (not members) to vote for the leader for a nominal one-off sub payment of £3. In 2015 they lost the second General Election in a row, in large measure because of working class abstention. Even the soft-left Ed Miliband, who talked about a ‘crisis of working-class representation’ to get elected leader but did nothing to actually represent workers – could not entice support back that the Blairites had lost.

So, in the first leadership election under the new system, they also felt compelled to allow Corbyn on the ballot, for fear that the election for leader would appear fake if they did not. The rest is history. The presence of a genuine left social democrat on the ballot, with the newly opened-up election system, and a threatening, very right-wing purely Tory government under Cameron in the saddle, led to a massive influx of hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters, and an historic victory for Corbyn.

The right-wing counterattacks began at once, with the ‘Chicken Coup’ in 2016, the brazen sabotage of Labour’s highly successful election campaign in 2017, where Corbyn stripped Theresa May, the new Tory leader who had succeeded Cameron when he lost the Brexit referendum, of her majority, and then the developing ‘anti-Semitism’ Zionist propaganda lie and the cynical posturing of the right around supposedly being diehard opponents of Brexit, only to become rampant flag-shaggers and nationalists as soon as Corbyn had been forced out of the leadership. Everyone knows that the right-wing used every method they could think of to lose both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections and were utterly mortified when Corbyn came close to victory in 2017.

But the hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters who voted for Corbyn in 2017 have not gone away, nor the millions of additional Labour voters who voted for Labour in 2017 when Labour’s share of the national vote rose from 30.4%, just over 9 and a quarter million votes in 2015, to 40.0%, over 12 and three-quarter million votes in 2017. In 2019 Labour lost only around half a million of those increased votes, but a surge of UKIP voters to the Tories put the Tories in pole position and Labour, weakened by witchhunts and right-wing sabotage, was unable to counter that.

But that still leaves several hundreds of thousands of left-wing activists pulled towards Labour in the Corbyn period, and over three million voters who would not vote for Blairites, or even soft lefts like Ed Miliband who never fully renounced Blairism, who were radicalised and mobilised by the Corbynite surge. Those people have not gone away. And a considerable number of them are in Unite.

The Beckett campaign seems to have inspired something of a reprise of the enthusiasm among left-wing Labour supporters, viscerally hostile to Blairism, that was originally given to Corbyn. Beckett was closely associated with Corbyn right through his leadership, though in the background. He led the legal team that successfully defended Jeremy Corbyn’s right to be on the ballot in 2016, during the ‘chicken coup’ leadership contest that was forced on the party by a PLP vote of no-confidence, where the plan was to exclude Corbyn from the ballot by a legal/constitutional manoeuvre, carried out by the Blairite/Zionist Lord Foster. However, since Corbyn allowed his leadership to be sabotaged and ousted, Beckett has gone well beyond that.

As well as the possibility of rank-and-file militants becoming prominent in class struggle responses, there can also be splits and fragmentation of the bureaucracy, itself resulting from rank-and-file pressure. So, while Beckett may not conform to the ideal of a left-wing trade union campaign, demanding that the officialdom be paid no more than the workforce they represent, his campaign still reflects a class struggle impulse from below. Beckett thus should be put to the test of office.

Unlike Corbyn, who has temporised and thrown his own supporters under the bus when he came under attack from the right, Beckett has, particularly as the right-wing have counterattacked, fought back tooth and nail. In this he stands head and shoulders above Turner and Graham. Steve Turner has the backing of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB)-dominated ‘United Left’ block in Unite, where Beckett claims his attempt at their endorsement was squeezed out by bureaucratic tricks and key supporters being excluded from the vote. Turner is openly supportive of soft-left Labour politicians such as Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham against left-wing criticism, and the support from the machinery of the Morning Star shows continuity with the CPB’s hostility to challenging Labour in elections during the whole Blair/Brown era.

Steve Turner, Howard Beckett and Sharon Graham

Beckett, Graham and Turner

Turner’s collaboration with Starmer is pretty clear from an interview with the Huffington Post (27 April) that set the tone for his campaign:

“I’ve always felt we could get a solution to this [Corbyn getting the whip back]. But the longer it goes on, the more entrenched it becomes on both sides. It’s like a war of attrition going on, and it’s going on in public. That’s not helpful to the party, it’s not helpful to Keir, it’s not helpful to Jeremy and it’s not helpful to me as a trade union leader or our members.

“People don’t vote for a divided party. Or a party that’s contemplating his own navel. Sometimes it’s right to shout. But on some occasions diplomacy is best done privately. Look, Keir wasn’t my preferred candidate …. But I’m a socialist, I’m a democrat, and the reality of it is he was elected by the vast majority of our members that voted.

“We didn’t even convince our own members to come on a journey with us, in terms of the political program that was being laid out by Jeremy, Becky and that entire team. We didn’t win the argument inside our own union. We won it amongst the politicos and that group that loves to talk to themselves.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/unite-steve-turner-len-mccluskey-interview_uk_6088331fe4b0b9042d8ae549

And he goes further:

“Trying to get this purist Left, I find incredibly dangerous. We’re fighting the rise of the far right and that narrative of hate and division in society more generally. We are trying to pull the Left together to create a vision of a better Britain and we’ve got this purist debate that’s taken place, pitting good Left comrades against good Left comrades, because they don’t sign up to a particular way of thinking on a particular issue.

“That purist argument, you’re a class traitor if you don’t sign up to something is just beyond belief, that’s not my Left. I’m an inclusive, tolerant, Left.”

ibid

But what is bizarre about this plea for ‘tolerance’ is that it is done in defence of ‘tolerance’ of the Labour leadership of Keir Starmer, which has engaged in the one of the biggest purges of the Labour Party membership, targeting leftist supporters and former supporters of Corbyn, anyone who opposes the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, and has created a situation where anyone in the party who speaks out in defence of those purged risks being purged themselves. For Turner to speak out against the ‘purist’ and supposedly intolerant left in this context is simply grotesque. It marks him out as an apologist for Starmer’s witchhunt and as someone who could potentially be a threat to the left within UNITE if elected, alongside the openly pro-Starmer, right-wing candidate Gerard Coyne. Such positions and attitudes have their own logic.

Then there is Sharon Graham, who is standing on a very leftist programme of rebuilding the strength of the union, rebuilding industrial militancy, and fighting for workers gains in this way. This positive element of her campaign is spelled out:

“We must rebuild our industrial base and bring workers from outside our traditional industries into our union. We can’t afford years of drift facing a Tory government and sustained only by short-term tactical manoeuvres. We can’t fiddle while Rome burns. We have to start doing it ourselves: this is not ‘workerism’ – this is the reality of our moment.

“We need an industrial programme that moves decisively beyond the empty rhetoric of ‘partnership’ and which is also supported by our industrial activists; the vast majority of whom agree on the need for power in the workplace and strong organisation, with the ability to take strike action if and when required.

[…]

“Of course, we still need to seek influence in parliament – laws matter. They can dictate our lives. But we must now reform the way we influence legislation. If anything, I will push hard for policy, but I will base this on a workers’ manifesto that is decided by our reps and activists.

“I will pursue its priorities by actively campaigning, as well taking our priorities into the structures of Labour. I will also refuse to support future candidates for parliament that have not represented working people. We need more working-class voices in Westminster and I will turn this soundbite into reality.”

https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/32606/02-06-2021/unite-general-secretary-campaign-statement-from-sharon-graham

That is positive, the trade unions should not be giving any support to election candidates who support or refuse to oppose attacks on working class people, who refuse to oppose austerity, or who refuse to oppose the government. However, there is also this:

“Already, only a small minority of members are engaged in this debate. Make no mistake, we are moving in ever decreasing circles and we need fundamental change.

“For many years, conversations within the left have often been reduced to considering the merits – or otherwise – of the existing leadership of the Labour Party. But decades on from Thatcher, this discussion is increasingly detached from the concerns of working people. Instead of putting forward concrete plans to build working-class power, general secretary elections are being fought as proxy wars, far removed from workers.”

ibid

This is not so good. Because the supposed ‘small minority’ of members who are ‘engaged’ in the debate about the merits of the existing leadership of the Labour Party … are the highly political layer who provided the mass base for Corbynism, and their right-wing opponents of course, who are as noted earlier, engaged in the most massive purge in the history of the Labour Party and the labour movement in Britain, precisely in order to try to render impossible any future challenge to neo-liberal domination of the political wing of the labour movement. To dismiss this whole conflict as ‘ever decreasing circles’ and ‘detached from the concerns of working people’ is a false, narrowly trade unionist view that abstains from the struggles that are most crucial for the interests of working people, and actually a retreat from the best aspects of the Corbyn movement.

Right-wing candidate Gerard Coyne

From Beckett’s own statements, and from the statements of the other contenders standing against him, a critical vote for Beckett is the only principled position that a revolutionary socialist grouping can take on this election. The questions that are posed are crucial, both for the Unite union itself, and for the wider interests of the labour movement in Britain, which needs its class political expression to be able to advance its own class interests against neo-liberal capitalism in this particular phase. That political expression desperately needs a revolutionary programme, but Beckett’s own opposition to ‘partnership’ with employers and his apparent determination to take on the direct spokespersons for neoliberal financial capital in the Labour Party in a highly political campaign, means that his victory would be a significant step in that direction.