26/10/2015 by socialistfight
by Ian Donovan
Socialists (and anti-racists more generally) have to confront the role of political Zionists as the chief promoters of open racism today. This means open racism, not racism in general. There are many other types of racists active in the advanced capitalist countries, but with the exception of the political Zionists they largely operate in an obscured, cryptic manner in terms of political discourse.
We have to do this because we do not reduce all questions involving oppression in a vulgar manner to economic relations alone. Working class politics is more complex than that, and class and social antagonisms are refracted through, and often obstructed by, a substantial overlay of questions resulting from other complex types of oppression that cannot be simply reduced to ‘class’. As Lenin put it over a century ago, when dealing with often very different concrete questions, but of the same type:
“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iii.htm)
The concretes may have changed, but the basic principle is the same. Socialists are consistent democrats, and need to be able to address questions involving such forms of oppression concretely, completely, and in an up-to-date manner in order to help resolve them and bring the explicit class aspects that underlie them to the fore. In today’s circumstances, with a new Intifada seemingly breaking out in Palestine, and with politics in the imperialist countries, including British politics substantially influenced by Zionism, and with injunctions from leading people influenced by it in all the major parties as to what views are, and are not, considered legitimate in the body politic, getting this right is a matter of the highest importance. Later I will deal with some concrete manifestations of this regarding the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party, but first of all it needs a proper elaboration and concrete theorisation.
It is necessary to define exactly what we mean by political Zionism. This is a movement whose objective is the maintenance by any and all available means of a Jewish ethnic state in the territory now known as Israel, which was taken by force from its indigenous Arab inhabitants over 70 years ago, and is still maintaining that state by the most monstrous force against the indigenous people of Palestine. Though in its core it is Jewish, Zionism is not just confined to Jews. If it were simply a narrowly Jewish movement it would not be so dangerous and hegemonic. Rather, it has a great moral authority among the ruling classes of the advanced capitalist countries, in a manner analogous to the way that white supremacism, anti-communism, homophobia and even ironically anti-semitism once had a similar authority.
There is a common thread to all these bigoted ideologies, which have taken root as ideological watchwords of the bourgeoisie in discrete historical periods. They are/were all seen by the bourgeoisie as means of ideological terror against the opponents of the capitalist system, and thus as means to preserve a capitalist social system that does not have much appeal to its victims among the working class and exploited people generally. If the political representatives of capitalism proclaimed openly that the system was dedicated to the enrichment of a tiny minority of the population, it would not last very long. Its strength is in its ability to create ideologies that hide that reality, that instead provide reasons for sections of the subject population to hate other sections to the benefit of capitalism.
Imperialism and ‘racial’ supremacy
Capitalism lives by scapegoating; this technique is the basis of convincing part of the working class and middle class population that they have a common interest, not with each other against capital, but with capital against some population oppressed by it. This has always been the purpose of racism in all its varied forms. It was obviously the purpose of white supremacism, which existed since the dawn of capitalism; to create an ideology whereby instead of opposing slavery and colonial oppression, part of the working class particularly of the oppressor nations considered that they benefitted in social terms from the enslavement of the (usually) non-white working class in the colonial countries.
There was, and still is (in a modified form) a material basis for this in that the enormous profits gained initially from the hybrid capitalist form of chattel slavery were used to fund the industrialisation of the first advanced capitalist countries, notably Britain, France, Holland and later the United States. This laid the basis for these states to wage extensive wars of conquest around the globe, and thus for the later exploitation of colonies and semi-colonies under modern monopoly capitalist imperialism.
As the gap between the emerging advanced capitalist nations, and the countries and peoples their ruling classes plundered and enslaved, grew progressively greater in material terms, some of the wealth thus gained was, and still is, used to buy off a layer of the working class in advanced countries, with social gains that, it was clear, depended on the fortunes of ‘their’ imperialist country in the world order. This was justified by the pernicious idea of racial superiority and inferiority; this was actually always the basis of imperialist ideology in the working class.
The doctrine of white ’racial’ superiority was dominant within imperialist ideology throughout the colonial period, but suffered a seemingly huge, discrediting blow with the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII. Hitler’s regime was the concentrated expression of this doctrine; although by virtue of its defeat in the 1914-18 war Germany’s colonies in Africa had been taken away. Instead of a colonial empire based on plunder in what is now known as the Global South, Nazi Germany concentrated its main efforts to the East. Its version of ‘racial superiority’ treated Slavs, and in a more concentrated form Jews and Roma as untermenschen (subhumans) who were to be exploited as slaves and ultimately exterminated for the supposed benefit of the Aryan übermenschen.
Contradictions and Paradoxes
The blow to notions of racial superiority that resulted from Hitler’s defeat was not without its contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguities, however. One being that though the ideological roots of National Socialism were firmly rooted in white supremacism, many if not most of its victims in the genocidal terror that was concentrated in Europe, were actually white (though considered not to be ‘Aryan’ according to the Nazi racial ideology).
The claim that the slaughter of Jews was simply unique, made today mainly by Jewish chauvinists or those who follow elements of their ideology, is false. The Nazi genocide of between 5 and 6 million East European Jews, today called the Holocaust or Shoah, took place alongside a similar number of non-Jews murdered, including at least four million Slavs of various nationalities, half a million Gypsies, tens of thousands of homosexuals and numerous identified Communists.
It was not even the first such mass killing of millions under modern imperialism. A comparable slaughter took place, of approximately 10 million Congolese Black Africans, at the hands of the Belgian State, which instituted personal rule of the Congo by its king, Leopold II, just prior to the beginning of the 20th Century. This incredible act of mass killing is infinitely less well-known than the slaughter of Jews in WWII (see the 1998 work King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild for a comprehensive account).
The reasons for this lack of knowledge are several fold; one is that a great deal of effort was expended by the Belgian ruling class to cover it up. They had plenty of help from more powerful imperialist allies; Belgium was the casus belli for Britain’s involvement in WWI. The violation of the ‘neutrality’ of ‘poor little Belgium’ by Germany as a military manoeuvre against its opponent France was the excuse for Britain’s (already planned) declaration of war in 1914. The portrayal of Belgium as a victim would not be quite so convincing if it were widely known that Belgian imperialism was guilty of an act of slaughter that massively exceeded any then known, and that even Hitler probably did not exceed.
The genocidal slaughter of black Africans in the Belgian Congo is also indicative of something else that is grossly hypocritical about the claim of Western imperialism to have overcome racism. This is only the worst of many atrocities committed against non-white peoples by colonial and imperialist powers. Yet it was the not the slaughter of dark-skinned Africans that supposedly discredited the cause of racial supremacy – on the contrary the Belgian crime and many others in Africa and Asia have been marginalised in public consciousness and are under-recognised to this day. Rather, it was the mass killing of European Jews that is supposedly the seminal event that discredited the notion of racial supremacy.
Yet despite the supposed rejection of racial supremacy that the Jewish Shoah brought about, imperialism still slaughters people in the Global South who challenge imperialist domination, and such slaughters proceed unabated, albeit these days often under the banner of ‘humanitarian’ intervention instead of racial supremacy. Except that where Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs is concerned, even this fig leaf is missing as the ‘Jewish state’ is overtly supremacist and has openly racist laws.
Cultification of the Shoah
The way this is rationalised in the West is through the cultification of the Jewish Shoah. So while such events as King Leopold’s Congo murder of millions are not given anything like the historical prominence they deserve, in effect covered up by omission, the Shoah of Jews (though of not Hitler’s other victims) is sacralised as the ultimate crime in human history. Jews are portrayed as the ultimate victims, their suffering the Shoah is implicitly deemed to put them in a different, saintly category to the rest of humanity. For those who subscribe to this hypocritical ideology, which is itself genocidal in its logic, past Jewish suffering means that Jews are completely entitled to establish a Jewish ethnic state in the Middle East by expelling the majority of the indigenous people of Palestine. Furthermore, according to practitioners of this ideology, which include almost all North American and West European bourgeois politicians, as well as political servants of the bourgeoisie on the so-called left, Israel “has the right to defend itself” from the people it dispossessed by force, and whom it drove out of their own country.
This purely racist concept manifests itself whenever Israel decides to “mow the lawn” as it calls its periodic genocidal massacres of the indigenous people whose land it took by force, and continues to take more and more of. Whenever this happens, in response to completely justified rage and hatred from normal, decent working class people against the beasts who carry out these ‘mowings’, you hear a caterwaul about so called ‘anti-semitism’ which is purely racist in content. After all, it’s only Arabs who are the victims, and they don’t really matter at all, what really matters is the dominance over them of Israeli Jews, who are part and parcel of ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’, and so valuable to the capitalist system itself that normal considerations of human decency go right out of the window. This is the mainstream racist ideology in the West today, shot through with a hypocritical, gangrenous pseudo-anti-racism.
One important consequence of such events as Leopold’s Congolese carnage remaining little-known is that it helps to propagate the myth that the barbarism of Nazi Germany was some kind of aberration, something extraneous, not rooted in the capitalist mode of production itself. Nazi Germany is deemed alien to the humane and tolerant ethos of profit-making that is supposedly characteristic of capital. Nazism is bracketed instead with ‘communism’. The atrocities of Stalin, Mao etc, along with Hitler, are depicted as supposedly in a completely different, ‘totalitarian’ category to ‘normal’ capitalist society.
Class struggle and ‘totalitarianism’
But these distinctions are phoney. In fact both Nazism and Stalinism are products of the class struggle that is organic to capitalism, from which it can never escape whatever stratagems its ruling class may resort to. Both, in rather different ways, were movements directed against the working class. Nazism was a mass movement of the despairing petty-trading middle class and powerless, chronically unemployed who were used by German capitalists as a battering ram to smash the strongest labour movement in Europe when German capital faced the deepest, most crippling crisis in its history during the depression of the 1930s.
It was only able to do this because the German labour movement was politically dominated by the Social Democratic labour bureaucracy, which had proven its loyalty to capitalism in 1914-1918 by its support to the imperialist war effort. This same loyalty and servility to capital meant they refused to fight Hitler’s fascist terror movement with the methods of civil war; under their misleadership the German workers were crushed without resistance.
The German Communist Party (KPD) was supposed to be the revolutionary opposition to this. It had been founded by principled fighters for the working class who had been the most determined opponents of the imperialist world war. Key founders of the party were murdered in 1919 by the ultra-right acting in an uneasy alliance with the pro-war right-wing social democrats in the context of an incipient, spontaneous working class revolution. The infant Communist Party, knowing it was too small and inexperienced to lead the revolutionary upsurge to victory, attempted to give what leadership it could while minimising the danger of a crushing defeat for the working class. However this cost them the death of some of their best leaders: Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Jogiches and others.
The KPD never recovered from the loss of its revolutionary founders, and it became a casualty of the degeneration of the Russian revolution. A series of lesser leaderships were imposed on it by the degenerating regime in Russia, which was becoming increasingly hostile to the possibility of working class revolution anywhere else. But it had acquired the means to control large Communist Parties in some parts of the world, and to impose on them policies that served the interests, not of the working class in their own countries, but of the clique around Stalin in the USSR. For its own factional-prestige reasons, the Stalin regime at that point saw social democracy as its main enemy, so it directed its tame leadership of the German CP to pursue a bizarre policy of denouncing the German social democrats as ‘social fascists’ and even at times allying with the Nazis against them. The actually had the effect of making a united fight against fascism of the German workers impossible – it also played a crucial role, alongside the servility of the social democrats themselves, in allowing Hitler to win without any serious resistance.
These events took place in a much wider context: the defeat of the post-World War I revolutionary wave in the advanced Western countries, most crucially Germany, meant that the only place where a victorious revolution had taken place was backward Russia. The confinement of the working class to an isolated, but massive, backward country where the urban workers were massively outnumbered by peasants based on backward rural economy, meant that socialism, always conceived of as an international endeavour involving at minimum several of the most advanced countries acting together, was in the given situation impossible.
The Soviet state did not thereby cease to exist; rather a new conservative layer arose within the Communist Party itself, which by degrees manoeuvred the genuine internationalist communist elements out of power, and then repressed them savagely in a counterrevolutionary bloodletting at the end of the 1930s that rivalled the repression instituted by fascism in the capitalist countries. This amounted to the working class being pushed out of power and replaced by an anomalous form of class rule based on a state bureaucracy, which mimicked the exploitative role of capital while taking half a century to openly break with the formal ideology of the revolution and the state owned economy that was created by it.
For all that this regime continued to call itself ‘communist’, continued for decades to rule a state-owned economy, and even managed to attract imitator ‘communist’ movements in a number of backward countries, such as China, Vietnam, even Cuba. These were not working class movements seeking international socialism on the basis of working class democracy and the most advanced productive forces.
Rather they were middle class/peasant nationalist movements, looking for an alternative way for backward countries to industrialise using a centralised state as a weapon as with the Russian example, in countries where capitalism itself appeared at that time to have led these countries into a morass of foreign domination, enslavement and paralysis. These regimes in effect saved capitalism from itself, through attaining independence, unification, and the conditions for the emergence of viable national capitalist markets in countries that had earlier been plundered and ruined by imperialist predation to the point that the traditional forms of capitalist rule had become temporarily unviable.
These Stalinist regimes were not an alternative to capital in historic terms, but acted as something akin to a plaster cast for the capitalist system, a rigid framework beneath which the broken bones of local capitalism could repair themselves. Contrary to the demonology and myth-making of outright apologists for capitalism and imperialism, these regimes were not the creation of fanatics and extremists; the very fact that masses of the people sought an alternative to capital in the first place was because imperialist capital had driven these societies to the point of social collapse. Their rejection of supposed ‘ultra-leftism’ and ‘Trotskyism’ was not some obscure point of doctrine, but rejection of the working class itself, in pursuit of a programme that gave these hybrid bureaucratic regimes of statified capital a regent-like character, that was ultimately pro-capitalist in a profound sense, paving the way for the rebirth of capitalism proper. Thus the politics of Yeltsin were not a divergence from the politics of Stalin; the politics of Deng Xiaoping were not a divergence from that of Mao Zedong; they were rather the logical descendants of the earlier phase.
Shifts in the imperialist ‘racial’ hierarchy
This may appear as a digression from the subject matter of this article, but it is not. Zionism is not a parochial movement confined to the Middle East, but rather something that plays an important role in several imperialist countries, notably the United States, but also in Western Europe. In discussing the rise of such a movement to prominence, and the world role that it actually plays in the present phase of the epoch of capitalist-imperialist decline, the wider world context in which such developments took place also needs to be understood. The role of would-be communist movements internationally, especially given the power that those movements wielded through the period we are discussing, is a part of this international context, which cannot be analysed in Marxist terms without touching on this question, at least in its most important features.
These events are important for understanding how Zionism gained the hegemonic position in bourgeois politics that it has today. It is bound up with a major change in the position of Jews in the pecking order of peoples that is inevitable in a world divided not just into classes, but also into a system of nation-states in which a number of wealthy imperialist countries systematically extract tribute from less wealthy nations and the corresponding peoples that underlie them. Thus overlaying the class divisions between the working class and the bourgeoisie are massively unequal relationships between peoples. The ruling classes of some nations actually play a role in suppressing the economic and political development of other peoples, though plunder, and both direct and indirect exploitation. Thus we get the phenomenon of oppressor and oppressed peoples, in all its variation, which contaminates the ‘pure’ class struggle with complex national questions.
Also overlaying this is the oppression of important ethnic minorities in the imperialist countries. For instance, there is the oppression of the black population of the United States, which was derived from slavery in the early capitalist period, and (Barack Obama notwithstanding) is still a long way from real equality. There is the oppression of aboriginal peoples in a number of former colonial-settler states, in Australia and New Zealand where this is still a major social question; or for that matter in the United States and Canada where the remnants of the Native American population have been driven to the margins and treated as pariahs. In the past there were colonial-derived settler states where formal racial discrimination was state policy, such as apartheid South Africa and ‘Rhodesia’. Something similar in some ways is being attempted in Occupied Palestine though there are some important differences.
There is also the situation of numerous immigrants from ex-colonies in the imperialist countries, such as Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians, and latterly Africans in the UK, Maghrebin Arabs and others in France, as well as Black Africans and those from French Carribbean dependencies, Turkish ‘guest workers’ in Germany, to the oppressed Roma population in much of Eastern Europe, Caucasians and those from former Soviet Central Asia in Russia, or even the Korean migrant population in Japan. More recently migrations of East Europeans in the EU free movement context, have complicated, but not fundamentally changed, these issues.
All of these questions involve the creation of ethnic (or ‘racial’) hierarchies through historical processes, both within and without the imperialist countries. All of them are in some way abound up with the enforcement of some kind of servitude or second class status on entire peoples, to the extent that it is true that the majority of humanity is not just subject to exploitation in the sense of a worker under capitalism, but is also to some additional form of national or racial oppression on top of that. Something that in practice deprives them even of equal status with ordinary working class people of the imperialist countries, who themselves constitute an exploited and often semi-suppressed class. These kinds of relations between peoples, once consolidated under capitalism, have tended to become intractable, an inherent part of the system, to the point that it is obvious to anyone who seriously studies such things in their historical sweep that the real emancipation of these peoples from such systematic oppression can only fully take place when capitalism is abolished.
The exception to the rule
There is one glaring exception to this: one formerly oppressed population that under capitalism has escaped from oppression and degradation, and even a serious attempt at genocide in the middle of the 20th Century, to ascend the de-facto hierarchy of peoples that capitalism has created right to the top. Jews have, uniquely under capitalism, escaped from being a semi-pariah population in the early 20th century to being joint top dogs of the imperialist world in the early 21st Century. Symbolic of this is the term ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’ that is habitually used by ideologues of Western imperialism to denote the supposedly innate superiority of the West to its perceived ‘others’. By degrees, this has become the dominant narrative; since the 1967 war at least it was the default view, marginalising the anti-Jewish themes of the previous manifestations of imperialist reaction. In the 2000s, with the eruption of imperialism’s ‘war on terror’: ideological cover for an attempted partial recolonization of part of the Middle East by imperialist states, it has become a feverish, militaristic barely-disguised racist narrative in its own right.
The reversal of the position of the Jews in imperialism’s pecking order of peoples has a materialist explanation. Unlike virtually every other victimised population that has been subjected to racial oppression under capitalism, Jews were never, except in the circumstances of the actual attempt at genocide, an enslaved population of colonial-type subjects. Rather, the Jewish population was a different type of pariah population with a complex origin bound up with their economic role in pre-capitalist European society. They were a commodity-trading and later money-trading people-class, in societies where commodity exchange, let alone commodity production (which was virtually unknown), was an activity at the margins of the economic system, which was based on natural, agricultural economy and a form of exploitation based on the appropriation of material goods (i.e. use values in Marxist terms), not exchange values.
This is a complex subject, which has been treated in full elsewhere. It was touched on by Karl Marx in his celebrated early essay On the Jewish Question. The understanding of the Jews as a people-class of traders in pre-capitalist society was elaborated at length in Abram Leon’s notable work The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, and some extensions of this analysis were much more recently put forward by myself in a series of articles on the website Communist Explorations, most synthetically in the Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism.
The core of this understanding is that the pariah role of the Jews was a transitory phenomenon that was not organic to capitalism, but rather was a hangover from the late feudal period, when their pre-capitalist role as a ‘foreign’ commodity-trading class was rendered superfluous by the emergence of the bourgeoisies as competitors. They were pushed to the margins and became a pariah layer associated above all with usury, forced into ghettos by feudalism which increasingly used them as a scapegoat for mass discontent with a disintegrating economic system, while at the same time being regarded as insidious competitors by the emerging native bourgeoisies.
This pariah status and oppression, as well as the wide-ranging international trading connections of the Jews derived from their status as a religious minority in many countries, led to their being radicalised both as an intellectual layer and an artisan proletariat, and in those roles playing an important role both in the bourgeois revolutions, where the demand for Jewish emancipation from the ghetto was an important democratic issue, and in the early working class, socialist and communist movement. At the same time, the centuries-long experience of Jewish traders, merchant and usurers in the world of commodities gave them a cultural advantage in the new capitalist societies that were based on generalised commodity production and exchange. Part of the Jewish population was therefore absorbed into the bourgeoisies of the new capitalist countries in Europe and then North America, and became often extremely successful, in a proportion far beyond the proportion of Jews in the general population.
This combination, of successful Jewish capital, and Jewish participation in the working class movement, was the material base that gave birth to a peculiar, racist and deeply reactionary ideology, classical anti-semitism, when capitalism ceased to be an expanding, progressive system in the late 19th century. This ideology was based on a counter-revolutionary racist demonology; it saw Jewish bourgeois as the financiers of a Jewish-led subversive movement against ‘Christian’ civilisation. This was initially the ideology of late-feudal reaction in 19th Century Tsarist Russia, where the large Jewish population was subjected to vicious attacks and pogroms. But as many Jewish refugees fled Russia to the West, the ideology of ‘anti-semitism’ and the Tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion became a major force in European politics first in France with the Dreyfus case, then in Germany in the early-to-mid 20th Century, culminating in the rise of the genocidal anti-Jewish National Socialists under Hitler’s leadership.
Some say that the defeat of Nazi Germany and the exposure of its mass slaughter of the Jews, along with other less well-regarded minorities such as Roma and homosexuals, a considerable number of Slavs, as well as many communist and socialists, were decisive in discrediting racism. It is ironic then that today, the one state in the Western ‘family’ of nations based on the ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition that openly propagates ethnic criteria for whom it regards as a real citizen of the state, and which openly engages in violent, oppressive treatment and even mass expulsions of (non-Jewish) people indigenous to its supposed national territory on ethnic grounds, is Israel: the Jewish state. It is also notable that this savage ethnocratic oppression takes place with the fulsome approval of its Western allies in Europe and America, with only the occasional half-hearted slap on the wrist when Israel ‘goes too far’ in some incredible atrocity against its indigenous Palestinian Arab population.
This suggests that the outcome of World War II was not the straightforwardly devastating defeat for racism that Western imperialist liberal apologists would like to pretend it was. Rather, it suggests that imperialist racism underwent a quasi-revolutionary transformation of its form, into something more sophisticated, more synthetic, and in many ways more pernicious and hypocritical. However, it was still racism in real practice: an ideology that, whatever its finer points, justified the systematic oppression and repression of the mass of the people of entire ethnic groups, based on a rationale that considered those groups as in some way collectively inferior and expendable for the supposedly greater good of the dominant peoples. Jews had now joined the dominant peoples, as indicated by the increasingly prevalent trope about ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’.
Transformation into the opposite
The reason for this is not obvious, but can be explained by historical materialist analysis. One of the very factors that had created the conditions where ‘anti-semitic’ racism, and indeed the Nazi genocide, could take place, had been transformed into a novel way into its opposite. Prior to the genocide, as mentioned earlier, the combination of the disproportionate success of Jewish bourgeois in capitalist business with the radical role of Jews in the workers movement had produced anti-semitism as a racist, counterrevolutionary paranoia among the non-Jewish imperialist bourgeoisie.
The Nazi genocide dealt a savage blow to Jewish radicalism, by physically exterminating an enormous number of communist and socialist Jews. But it also dealt an even more devastating blow, as the sheer barbarism involved and the lack of effective solidarity that such Jews received from the (previously crushed) non-Jewish proletariat in Germany and its expanded Reich laid the basis for the political displacement of Jewish socialism by Zionism, as a nationalist movement that, even though it initially took left-sounding forms, had a deeply divisive and anti-communist logic. And thirdly, though the Jewish bourgeoisie suffered grievous losses in the Third Reich, the overrepresentation of Jews among the bourgeoisie that had in part prompted the rise of anti-semitic agitation (the “socialism of fools”, as Bebel called it), remained completely intact in the United States, not to mention the UK and other European imperialist countries, even if some did have to take refuge elsewhere for the duration of the conflict with Hitler.
In other words, what WWII and the genocide brought about was an ideological revolution, a major qualitative and regressive leap in the consciousness of the Jewish people. The pro-working class, radical part of the Jewish people was physically wiped out, and where it was not, was ideologically wiped out. This regressive change is irreversible in terms of the specific peculiarity of the Jewish people as a partial vanguard of socialism prior to the genocide: these specific elements of Jewish consciousness and the vanguard role they once played are gone, and can never be re-created.
A crucial indication of this is also represented by a major change in the relationship between Jews and the Communist movement, both the genuine internationalist (‘Trotskyist’) minority, and more significantly in terms of brute social power at least, the degenerated ‘Communist’ movements led by Stalin and his successors, both within and without the USSR. The previous radicalisation of the Jews as a result of their anomalous position in early capitalism led to Jewish intellectuals and workers playing a disproportionate, and thoroughly progressive, vanguard role in the early socialist and communist movement. However, the decline of genuine internationalist communism with the degeneration of the Stalin-led communist movement from internationalism to ‘socialism in one country’, and then the rise of third-world surrogate-nationalist movements in ‘Communist’ garb led by the likes of Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro and Guevara, produced a fairly generalised rift of Jews with the communist movement.
Both the internationalism of the bulk of the early communist movement, and the internationalism of the radical Jews who supported it, were extinguished and were replaced by symmetrical forms of reactionary nationalism. Where communist Jews were not exterminated by the fascists, many lost the real internationalist element within their tradition and became Zionists, seeking the re-creation of a 2000-year-old semi-mythical Levantine Jewish state in the conditions of modern capitalism: a totally reactionary goal. Some hid the reactionary implications of this, even from themselves, by projecting a ‘socialist’ Israel – the USSR even armed the infant Israeli state, before being quickly rebuffed. Over time the rift between Zionised Jews and the Stalinist regimes became a massive one; the participation of many Western Jews with Israeli government supporters in campaigns to ‘Free Soviet Jewry’ (they hoped to settle these in Israel) was also a crucial factor in turn in bringing about an equally drastic change in the view of the non-Jewish imperialist bourgeoisie towards Jews.
Whereas previously they had often looked at the Jewish bourgeoisie with suspicion, as a potential danger to them, now with the defeat of the Jewish left, they began to develop the opposite conception, which is the case today. As part of the outcome of these events, the non-Jewish bourgeoisie has come to regard its Jewish compatriots as a priceless resource of the capitalist system itself, a kind of vanguard, class conscious layer, the bearer of a culture whose connection with commodity exchange is older than capitalism itself, as a system based on the generalisation of commodity production and exchange. This became clear in the post WWII period, particularly after the rise of Israel and the 1967 war. It was manifested in the rise of neo-liberalism, with ideologues like Milton Friedman, and then neo-conservatism in Cold War II and later the neo-colonial wars against the Muslim world, with the very prominent role of Zionist ideologues, often Jewish, in these bourgeois political movements and trends which have become pretty well hegemonic in bourgeois politics.
Vanguard of imperialist racism
And that is the take-off point for the situation we have today. Zionism has become the vanguard of racism in the main, traditional imperialist countries. Zionists are the vanguard of anti-Muslim agitation, they have been the core of the neo-conservative movement that has been, and still is, the vanguard of imperialist militarism in the Middle East. To a real extent, they are seen as a vanguard by the imperialist ruling classes in the most advanced countries. This has a material basis; for the historical reasons mentioned earlier, Jews have always been over-represented in the bourgeoisie of the advanced Western capitalist countries. In the earlier period of Jewish involvement in genuine revolutionary anti-capitalism, this was seen as threatening by many non-Jewish bourgeois in the imperialist countries.
But with the revolutionary change of consciousness referred to earlier among both Jews and the non-Jewish bourgeoisie, this has been transformed into its opposite. Jews are now seen as almost the Holy of Holies by the Western imperialist bourgeoisie. This process was inseparable from the rise of the state of Israel with its peculiar citizenship law, the Law of Return, which gives everyone regarded as Jewish in the conventional sense the right to Israeli citizenship. Thus the overrepresentation of Jews in the ruling classes of the imperialist countries added an additional element; that overrepresented layer acquired a material stake in another state, one they had already been considerably involved in funding and bringing into existence in the earlier period on the basis of a Zionist-nationalist vision. What in effect happened is that part of the ruling classes of the Western countries came to overlap with the ruling class of Israel, the most recently and artificially created of the advanced-capitalist, imperialist states. That is the material basis of Zionist power in the advanced capitalist countries; the ‘moral’ authority of Zionism and Israel has had its own autonomous elements, but materially it is based on that.
Corbyn, Labour and Zionism
This has particular relevance for what has recently happened in the British Labour Party, when a working class revolt from below has expressed itself in a rejection of neo-liberalism and the imperialist militarism of the neo-conservatives, as most classically expressed by the foul legacy of Tony Blair. This has been done, not surprisingly, against the bitter opposition, resistance and hatred of Zionists, with the Jewish Chronicle playing a particularly prominent role.
Zionists played an enormously prominent role in attacking the Corbyn campaign, and it has to be said that the British working class movement is not yet armed politically to deal with this. At this point in time the working class movement is unable to give a complete political answer to Zionism’s witch-hunting methods and strategies, because it lacks a coherent and consistent Marxist understanding of the Jewish Question and its implications. But the analysis laid out above does answer the basic points that need to be addressed in combating this, now dominant, form of racism in the imperialist countries.
Contrary to the disingenuous rantings and sophistry that has been oozing through the bourgeois press, and finding ready support in a number of ‘pro-war-left’ or left-neocon blogs, the reason that Corbyn has been targeted is precisely because he is an anti-racist and because, despite his left social democratic political limitations, this anti-racism has led him to solidarise with the victims and opponents, some of whom are flawed, others of which are politically confused, of this historically specific type of racism and virulent reactionary nationalism that is hegmonic in Western societies today.
Distinction between oppressor and oppressed
The attacks on Corbyn for fraternising with Hamas and Hezbollah, for instance, during his victorious election campaign, were trumpeted far and wide by the bourgeois media and echoed by Blairite shill’s and even some left Zionists in and around the Labour Party, such as the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who are in the embarrassing position of attacking Corbyn from the right and trying to curry favour with all kind of foul pro-imperialist war and anti-Arab ‘left’ bigots, while at the same time needing for reasons of historical attachment to keep one foot in the camp of the far left. Therefore they were compelled to support Corbyn’s election campaign, even though in their own terms they continually had to hold their noses because of the frequent intrusion of genuinely left-wing, anti-Zionist sentiments into it. This is their acute contradiction, and given their long political association with all kinds of reactionary pro-imperialist reactionaries and bigots, not one that we should have any confidence will be resolved positively from the point of view of the left.
Corbyn has been forced somewhat on the defensive when accused of sharing platforms with Hamas and Hezbollah militants at events opposing Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanese, and has rationalised his addressing their representatives as ‘friends’ as simply a diplomatic form of address to people he nevertheless strongly disagrees with and seeks to persuade of the benefits of ‘peace’. This is actually an unnecessary concession to bourgeois ‘public opinion’, and is reflective of a contradiction and weakness in Corbyn’s own ideology. ‘Peace’ is all very well, but as we are sure he would agree when pressed, peace is only possible when legitimate grievances are fully addressed and when oppression comes to an end.
In which case, Corbyn has nothing to apologise for about engaging in joint protest activity and campaigning against Zionist and imperialist oppression with representatives of the Palestinians and Lebanese Shia Muslims who have systematically (in the case of the Palestinians) and periodically (in the case of the Lebanese Shia) been murdered and oppressed by racist Zionist Israel, with Western support, for decades. Those who scream about the supposed ‘anti-semitism’ of Hamas and Hezbollah, and thereby imply that Israeli-Jewish armed settlers (which is what, in reality all adult Israelis amount to in current political conditions) are in some sense the actual or potential victims of their ‘racism’, are themselves peddling an anti-Arab, racist narrative.
Anti-racism cannot ever be an injunction on the oppressed to love their oppressors and not to hold views of them that are tinged with hatred, even if expressed in religious and/or racialized terms. Racism is not about the oppressed holding such views about their oppressors. Racism is rather an expression in ideological terms of a power relation that an oppressor people maintain in oppressing an oppressed people. It systematically regards the oppressed people as in some sense of a lower order, as deserving of the oppression visited upon them.
This understanding is the basis of the elementary distinction that Marxists have always made between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism of the oppressed, or between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. As Trotsky said of this issue in Their Morals and Ours:
“A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains – let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/morals/morals.htm)
In this sense, the record is quite clear. Palestinians have been driven out of their own homeland for the past 70 years, and those in the additional parts of Palestine Israel conquered in 1967 have been under Israeli racist-terrorist rule for 50 years. The Lebanese Shia, the main Lebanese population that has been periodically targeted for massacre by Israel since Begin’s day, are likewise in a power relation with Israel that is crystal clear. What is true of violence and nationalism is also true today of religious fundamentalism or even so-called ‘racism’ (or ‘anti-semitism’) by supporters of these movements – we distinguish between the ideologies and actions of the oppressor, and the oppressed.
So actually, ‘concern’ about ‘anti-semitism’ by supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas in the context of Israeli ethnic-cleansing and mass terrorism is akin to ‘concern’ about ‘anti-white racism’ among blacks in the context of apartheid South Africa, or white ‘Rhodesia’, or Jim Crow in America, and all manner of other racist crimes. It is racist demonology.
While Marxists do not subscribe to the programmes of these movements or the ideologies that underpin them, neither do we consider them in any way comparable to the racism of Israel and its supporters and apologists in the West. They actually arose, to a considerable extent, because of the successful actions of Zionism in destroying and humiliating earlier, secular movements against Zionist oppression. Which make these Zionist attacks on the ‘reactionary’ politics of their supporters doubly hypocritical. There should be no concession to the calumnies about the ‘anti-semitism’ of the Arab victims of Zionism, but rather those who raise these ‘concerns’ should receive a robust response.
It is these critics who are the racists, who are inverting the relation between the oppressor and the oppressed in the Middle East in a truly Orwellian manner. They are in reality devotees of the dominant racist narrative of the bourgeoisie of the ‘Judeo-Christian’ imperialist countries, using this anti-Arab, anti-Muslim narrative to justify massacres, ethnic cleansing and the threat of nuclear war in their neo-colonial offensive that has reduced much of the Middle East to chaos and bloodshed.
Paul Eisen and the Holocaust
Then there is the other question Corbyn was castigated about (by the Daily Mail and the Jewish Chronicle, among others) during his campaign for the leadership – his supporting events by so-called ‘anti-semites’ and Holocaust Deniers. Most importantly, Corbyn was denounced for having attended events organised by Deir Yassin Remembered, an organisation that was founded mainly by Jews and Israeli expats to commemorate the Zionist massacre of over 100 Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin, on the edge of West Jerusalem, in April 1948. The Director of Deir Yassin Remembered is Paul Eisen, a British Jew who lives in North London.
Any examination of Eisen’s material would reveal that he is deeply sensitive to the crimes that have been committed in the name of the Jewish people (and thereby himself), and has an emotional response to this that may be eminently comprehensible, but is hardly the best way to achieve political clarity. He embodies a deep sense of guilt for crimes committed by his own people, as he sees it. This is not an unfamiliar phenomenon to those active on the left. One sometimes comes upon those who have a similar response to their British, German or American heritage, and are consumed with guilt about the crimes of imperialism. This is not usually a working class response; however neither is it anything to fear, it can be the beginning of wisdom if those usually quite middle-class radicalised types break with their guilt reaction and seek to analyse imperialism politically, using Marxist methods of analysis.
What is relatively new is coming across Jewish people who have a similar guilt complex about their own Jewish origin. This is evidently the case with Eisen, who has reacted to the cultification of the Shoah and its use to justify crimes against the Palestinians today, by publicly expressing strong doubts about the truth of key aspects of the Shoah, particularly the existence of gas chambers and whether there was ever a Nazi plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews in 1941-5. He considers that Jews were subjected to arbitrary imprisonment, starvation and slave-labour which caused many deaths, but was aimed at ethnic cleansing and expulsion, not mass extermination, and that the number of Jewish victims was therefore inflated, partly by inaccurate estimates of the Jewish pre-war population.
This is a fair summary of Eisen’s views and motivations, some of which are still available on the web. His personal website was made private when his views and activities became a political issue during Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign. Corbyn himself had attended some events of Deir Yassin Remembered, most recently in 2013, when he was pictured at a public event along with Gerald Kaufman, the ‘father of the House [of Commons]’ (longest serving MP) who in his younger days had been a fervent and idealistic Zionist; in later life he became one of the most outspoken Jewish critics of Israeli crimes and himself has been frequently denounced as a ‘self-hating Jew’. It appears that Corbyn sometimes gave donations to this grouping for its work in commemorating a hideous, too-little-known massacre and bringing it to public attention.
Eisen’s views are misguided and historically wrong. Apart from the dubious factual basis of the material he directly cites, mainly gleaned from dubious sources on the old-style far right concerned to minimize Hitler’s crimes (which Eisen accepts without any real examination of motives, a product of his guilt about current crimes), his analysis accepts one key aspect of Zionist ideology that neither he nor most of his detractors even notice – the view that the Nazi Genocide was really only about the Jews.
But it was not: half a million Roma gypsies were also wiped out by the Nazis. Also several million Slavs, gays and communists. Jehovah’s Witnesses even. Jews had the highest death toll because they were the target group with the highest population, but it was not all about the Jews. But while Eisen has become fixated with debunking the essentially true but misused facts about the actual slaughter of Jews, many of his most vehement critics share this focus on the Jewish ownership of the Shoah. But unlike Eisen, most of these do this same thing from a straightforwardly Jewish chauvinist standpoint.
Jewish racism against … Jews?
After all, racism is above all a reflection of real relations of oppression. Judge in that regard, the allegations of ‘racism’ that have been flung at Eisen, and were also flung at Corbyn by association. How on earth is Eisen a racist in propagating his (incorrect) views on the Shoah? Is he, as a Jew, engaged in some form of oppression of other Jews by means of his opinions? Not at all, the idea is absurd, since (a) Jews are not an oppressed minority, but a rather well-off and in many ways privileged minority in British society today, and (b) if they were in some ways oppressed, they would then have a lot more to worry about than the views of a mistaken Jewish individual like Eisen. The hounding of Eisen by the media to get at Corbyn was an act of chauvinistic bullying by the most powerful gang of organised racists in Western societies today. It is the kind of thing the workers movement needs to oppose. But to oppose things like this, it is necessary to understand the complexities of the question and why this is necessary.
This is a problem also with some who aspire to be anti-Zionists and supporters of the Palestinians. For instance, when the ‘scandal’ of Corbyn’s sometime association with Deir Yassin Remembered was in full swing, and Corbyn had issued the necessary statements pointing out that he had no sympathy for Eisen’s views (obviously true), then a letter was put together by a bunch of Jewish leftists ‘defending’ Corbyn against the attacks of the Jewish Chronicle:
“You report Paul Eisen as saying that Jeremy Corbyn donated to Deir Yassin Remembered. So did many people before discovering the existence of antisemites and Holocaust-deniers in the organisation. Many people attended the occasional fundraising concert that DYR organised, without either knowing of or sympathising with Mr Eisen’s views.” (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142553/anti-israel-activists-attack-jc-challenging-jeremy-corbyn)
What is notable about this letter is two-fold. One is that while it is obviously correct for Corbyn to dissociate himself from Eisen’s views, which no-one has ever seriously suggested he had anything in common with anyway, this letter attacks Paul Eisen as an ‘anti-semite’, i.e. as a racist. This goes further than simply dissociating the authors (and Corbyn) from Eisen’s views. The other point is that this letter does not mention that Eisen is actually Jewish himself. This is not accidental. For if it had mentioned this, it would have somewhat undercut elements of ideology that these leftists share with the Jewish Chronicle and the main bevy of Jewish chauvinists attacking Corbyn.
Attacking a Jewish person as ‘anti-semitic’ is very odd. In situations where real oppression is taking place, in Nazi Germany, for instance, or in Israel/Palestine today, it is perfectly possible for some member of the oppressed population to betray their own people. There are examples, both current and historical. Many Palestinians consider, with good reason, the sinister former PLO official Mohammad Dahlan, to be an Israeli agent. There were good grounds, in times past, to consider the Stern Gang (Lehi) terrorist and later Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to be a Nazi collaborator. Similar things occur in every struggle against oppression, in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle the Zulu chief Buthelezi was a blatant collaborator and traitor. During the Jim Crow period in the US, the phenomenon of the ‘Uncle Tom’ was also well known – Booker T Washington was perhaps the best known example.
Such people betray their own people in a struggle against oppression. It would not be accurate to actually call them racists against their own people, but their betrayals were certainly products of their own weakness, cowardice and corruption in the face of the oppressor. They are, and were, rightly reviled.
But Jews are not the victims of oppression today. They are the perpetrators of oppression in the Middle East. And many, if not most, diaspora Jews support that. Jews are subject to no oppression in the advanced capitalist countries. So where do allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ against Jewish figures like Paul Eisen come from? How is it possible to be racist against yourself, or even in some way a traitor to your own people in a situation where your own people are not oppressed, but many of them are either participants, or complicit, in oppression themselves?
These are not idle questions. Paul Eisen is the tip of an iceberg. There is quite a long, and growing list of people of Jewish origin who have been accused, including by Jewish activists on the far left, of being anti-semites, i.e. anti-Jewish racists. If you sat down and wrote out a list, you could come up with dozens of prominent people – a look at the board of directors of Deir Yassin Remembered yields quite a few to start with. And if those are the prominent ones, it is doubtless true that there are many more non-prominent ones who agree with them. So a whole layer apparently exists of ‘anti-semites’ of Jewish origin who it is supposed to be permissible for the left to join with Zionists in denouncing and ostracising.
Some of the most sophisticated of these ‘left’ Jewish chauvinists, uneasy about the logic involved in this, concede that these Jewish non-conformists are not dangerous in the least to Jewish people. But they say, the Palestine solidarity movement must be ‘protected’ from their influence to avoid it being ‘discredited’ as ‘anti-semitic’ by the Zionists. This argument is steeped in paternalism, apparently non-Jews in general (and Arabs in particular) are too stupid to be able to handle this complex problem through democratic engagement and debate. It has to be solved by surgical means by Jewish political vigilantes.
The real explanation for this is that many of those on the left who aspire to be anti-Zionists nevertheless share the dominant prejudice today that for all the crimes of Israel and its supporters internationally (particularly the bourgeois ones who significantly materially and politically support it), there is something inherently progressive and ennobling about being Jewish, something that puts Jews on a higher moral level to the rest of humanity.
Collective guilt vs collective innocence: a false dichotomy
We as Marxists reject the notion of collective guilt of entire peoples. Many good liberal middle class Germans, often quite leftist in their aspirations, are consumed with guilt about Germany’s past, and even today mobilise politically on the basis of such guilt. Such is the basis for the middle-class left anti-Deutsch movement in Germany, whose guilt about the Shoah leads them, logically enough, to turn a blind eye to the crimes of Zionist Jews today because Jews were once victimised appallingly by German imperialism. Their slogan, we should note is “Never Again Germany”.
Paul Eisen and his ilk are the Jewish equivalent of the anti-Deutsch. This is not racism at all, in other words, but a confused anti-racist impulse. This is shown, incidentally, by Netanyahu’s recent pronouncement that Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews, but merely to expel them from the Reich. According to Netanyahu, Hilter was then persuaded to ‘burn’ the Jews by the Palestinian potentate Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. There is a degree of formal similarity between what Netanyahu says about Hitler, and what Eisen says. But the intention is the opposite. By denying Hitler’s guilt, Eisen is trying to undercut the Israeli rationale for the oppression of the Palestinians. But when Netanyahu denies Hitler’s guilt, it is in order to transfer it to the Palestinians through the person of the Mufti : Netanyahu is seeking to create the political conditions for a genocide of the Palestinians.
So here you see similar elements of false analysis, but used for opposite purposes. But absurdly, one of the responses of the Jewish-centred left has been to accuse Netanyahu of ‘holocaust denial’. Thus massively missing the point, and showing that even now, they consider Jews to be much more important than Arabs. Netanyahu is not interested in history, except as a means to incite the massacre of Arabs in the here and now. Whereas Eisen is wrongly using history to defend the Palestinians, in the way he sees it. These are opposite phenomena.
Anyone in Germany who denounced the anti-Deutsch as anti-German ‘racists’ would be engaged in the same kind of fundamental error that those on the British left who denounce Eisen and co. as ‘anti-semitic’ are engaged in. Implictly, such accusers of the anti-Deutsch could be said to share some of the conceptions characteristic of Nazi apologists. And those who make analogous allegations against Eisen, in exactly the same manner, are echoing what are in fact Zionist tropes about the sacral nature of the Jewish people, and their moral superiority over others. This is also the unconscious or semi-conscious driving force of the various Jews-only groupings that are regularly formed in and around the Palestine solidarity movement.
Socialists reject the notion of collective guilt of peoples. But we also reject the notion of collective innocence, which in fact just displaces the notion of collective guilt onto other people(s). The theory of Israel as a colonial-settler state, as opposed to a state of Jewish settlers politically identical in substance to the current settler ‘pioneers’ who are slicing up the West Bank, assigns the primary role in driving Israeli colonisation to the United States and the former colonial powers. It essentially says that no matter what crimes Jewish political or military forces may commit against Arabs, Jews collectively are innocent of these actions. It is the Americans and British who are really to blame.
And of course, they share much of the blame, from the Balfour Declaration to Suez, to the massive US support for Israel in recent decades, the US, UK and other imperialist bear massive culpability. But Jews as a semi-national grouping, with a ruling class that spans some national borders and has its own independent interests, are not collectively innocent either. They bear as much of the responsibility as their allies. There is no collective guilt of Americans, British, French or Germans, or Jews, for any of these things. The blame fundamentally lies with the various ruling classes, in their different forms and permutations. But collective innocence of any and all of them is a capitulation to some form of reactionary nationalism, and exonerates these ruling classes. In the case of Jews it is evidence of some level of shared conceptions with Zionism – a product of social pressure, since as is the main theme of this article, a modified form of racism , incorporating Zionist conceptions and influence, is the hegemonic form of racism today.
To conclude, Karl Marx stated that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”. This rightly emphasises the role of practical activity in order to affect material reality. However, a corollary of this is that in order to begin to change the world, you have to understand it, at least at some basic level. And through either lack of real analysis, or social pressure, or more likely a combination of the two, understanding of the real role of Zionism in Western societies, and the material roots of this, has been lacking among Marxists. This article is part of an attempt to rectify that, to arm the left and labour movement with a coherent understanding of this very sophisticated, and also very coherent, form of bourgeois class-enemy politics.