Ian Donovan’s Forum talk: “Zionism, the hegemonic racism of today”1
17/02/2016 by socialistfight
This is the presentation that was given by Ian Donovan to the Socialist Fight public forum on 14 February:
The purpose of this talk is to kick off a long delayed and avoided discussion on the left. I hope that everyone here has read my sizeable article: “Political Zionism: the Hegemonic Racism of the 21st Century”. I will be building on some of the material within this here, and trying to explain it a bit more, to bring out issues that are crucial for understanding politics today.
This has to be centred on two issues: the Palestine-Israel question and the wider Middle East, and racism, and in particularly anti-Muslim racism, as manifested at home. These are politically closely linked, as there is no way that Western support of Israel’s supposed ‘right’ to defend itself against the Palestinian people, whom it dispossessed and cleared out of their own homeland nearly 70 years ago, could be justified and excused politically if it were not for Zionism’s hegemonic role in Western racist politics today. If it were something peripheral, this would simply not be feasible.
This is central to British politics and Western politics more generally. Cameron just commissioned a new Holocaust memorial, to be erected in a piece of green space adjacent to parliament, to be in place by 2017. Yet it is interesting that, on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 Jan, Cameron made the following remarks in the House of Commons attacking Labour for Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot’s recent visit to the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais for refugees from conflicts in the Middle East:
“Look at their record over the last week. They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayer.”
Many on the liberal left and in Labour accused Cameron of ‘desecrating’ Holocaust Memorial Day with this bigoted statement, which not only dismisses desperate refugees as ‘migrants’ in an undifferentiated sense, but implies that that migrants generally are enemies of “the British people”.
They are wrong. There is a consistency between Cameron’s evoking of the Holocaust, and his committing the British state to erecting yet another monument to commemorate of that tragic and barbaric event, and his racist smear against refugees and their defenders.
The connection is the support of the British ruling class, and other imperialist ruling classes in places like the United States, Germany and France, for the highly specific form of Jewish racism that is most correctly called political Zionism. Cameron is not building a Holocaust memorial as part of any kind of universal message against racism, i.e. against ethnic and national-centred bigotry.
Rather he is doing it to further a different agenda altogether. The core message of Holocaust memorials today, when combined with support for Israel and bigotry against Muslims and others of similar background from the Middle East and Asia, is that Israel and Jews are part of ‘Western civilisation’ whereas Arabs, Muslims and suchlike are not, they are ’other’. For the Tories, and also for many in Labour’s pro-Zionist chauvinist right wing, to commemorate the Holocaust is patriotic, whereas to show solidarity with Syrian and North African refugees is ‘anti-British’.
Reversal of fortune
Yet it is not so long ago that anti-Semitism, and even sympathy for Nazism, were rife in ruling class circles. Indicative of that is the widely reported archive film of the Queen’s Nazi salute when 7 years old, in the presence of the Queen Mother and her father, King George VI. Her uncle was Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor- a cohort of Mosley and Hitler.
Everyone knows that prior to WWII a large section of the ruling class even in Britain was pro-fascist, and at least in partial sympathy for Hitler’s anti-Jewish hatred. Appeasement of Hitler was not just a pragmatic military policy, but based on the hope that Nazi Germany would expand to the East, and wipe out ‘Bolshevism’.
Today pro-Zionism has replaced anti-semitism as the racist ideology that is hegemonic among the imperialist ruling classes. This is a paradox of monumental proportions. In the early 20th century, Jews (including bourgeois Jews) were often feared as a force that was supposedly prepared to foment revolution against capitalism itself.
There has been a major, revolutionary change in the position of Jews in capitalist society. No other ethnic minority has achieved such a tremendous turnaround. They have gone from an often feared and hated group that significant sections of the imperialist bourgeoisie were prepared to see persecuted and oppressed in a manner that in some cases became genocidal, to a revered minority whose bourgeois layers have a great moral authority among the imperialist bourgeoisie, which regard it as a priceless asset and vanguard. So now, instead of scandals about the Royals’ support for Hitler, we get the Royals’ involvement in child abuse scandals with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Alan Dershowitz, arch-Zionists.
In the past 30 to 40 years, Jewish bourgeois have provided many of the political vanguard figures of neo-liberalism, from Milton Friedman to Keith Joseph, and neo-conservative militarism, from Kissinger to Krauthammer, Wolfowitz, Perle, Libby, Kristol, Freith, etc. etc.
What is significant about these is not some kind of reductionist or essentialist explanation that puts their politics down to ‘racial’ characteristics, or anything like that. There are non-Jewish neocons, such as Fukuyama, Bolton or Gaffney. Just as there have been non-Jewish neo-liberal ideologues, such as Hayek. Rather it is the overrepresentation of Jews among these political trends, pro-Zionist imperialist militarists, or neo-liberal economic ideologues, which needs explanation in historical materialist terms.
This is linked with Marxist approaches to the national question, and in more general terms, the specific and historically concrete histories of peoples. This means that the class structures of each people have to be analysed and differentiated as part of developing a coherent understanding of the relations between peoples, which is not fundamentally about culture, but rather class relations.
Marxism and the Jewish Question
But unfortunately, Marxists have not seriously analysed the Jewish question concretely since WWII. And because Marxist analyses of the Jewish Question have not been developed, Zionism has not been property analysed and there is no tendency on the left that I know of, apart from our own, which recognises the specific weight of Zionism in Western societies and tries to advance a materialist explanation for this.
The republication of the Belgian-Jewish Trotskyist cadre Abram Leon’s 1942 work: The Jewish Question: a Marxist Interpretation in 1970 by Pathfinder Press should have been a seminal event in developing such an analysis. Leon’s work, through its understanding of the social role of Jews in pre-capitalist, West and East European feudal societies as a ‘people-class’, provides a conception that can be extended to analyse Zionism today. Unfortunately, no one to my knowledge on the Marxist left tried to take his analysis further.
Leon’s understanding was that under European feudalism, Jews constituted a both a people and a class, or a people-class, whose social role consisted of working with economic forms characterised by exchange value, in a society that was firmly rooted in forms of exploitation based on appropriation of use-values. Jews were initially a merchant and trading class, an extension of their role as a trading people in the more fluid political economy of antiquity.
This theory explained the specific evolution of Jewry as this role changed from being necessary to these societies, to being superfluous as capital itself began to undermine the foundations of feudal society itself. This was because the people-class we are talking about was not rooted in commodity production, as is capitalism in its developed form, but in the more limited sphere of exchange, which is an earlier, and rather different manifestation of commodities in a different society.
Jews were a ‘foreign’, religious-ethnic group when playing this role under European, ideologically generally Christian, feudalism. And when feudalism gave ground to non-foreign nascent capital, Jews became both economically redundant, and seen as insidious competitors by this ‘native’ capital. This was a recipe for persecution and Jews being driven into ghettos.
It was rebellion against this segregation, and also the rabbis that regarded it as a blessing, that laid the basis for the radicalisation of the Jews, their playing a vanguard role in democratic and later socialist and communist movements.
Class contradictions and anti-semitism
Even as they were both radicalised to the left and the subject of bourgeois hostility, which in the late 19th Century hardened into a racist demonology (known as anti-semitism), at the same time Jews had a very old culture nurtured in economic forms to do with commodity exchange, in conditions where a new mode of production based on generalised commodity exchange and production was coming into being. This is a pretty excruciating contradiction in class terms.
Leon never lived to see the foundation of the state of Israel. And he thus was never compelled to analyse the influence of Zionism within the bourgeoisies of the Western imperialist nations. He believed that faced with capitalism in its ‘death agony’, as was believed by the Trotskyist movement which he was an important European leader of at that point, Jews would continue to be rejected by capitalism and their only salvation would lie in a socialist revolution, with Jewish radicals playing the vanguard role that they had often played in the preceding century and more.
This was completely understandable from his standpoint under Nazi persecution; indeed he became one of the many tragic victims of that genocide, perishing in Auschwitz in 1943.
How to explain the current situation then, when far from Jews being pariahs and rejected by capitalism, Jews are revered by capital and a form of Jewish nationalism – Zionism, exercises enormous power in the imperialist world? Why are Jews so overrepresented among the most strident spokespeople for capitalist reaction – the neo-conservatives and neo-liberal ideologues?
Leon’s theory of the people-class does explain the current situation, albeit in a manner that he could not possibly have foreseen from his vantage point in history, facing extermination along with a large chunk of European Jewry.
For the past history of the Jews as a people-class dealing with exchange values – first as merchants and traders and later in the degraded form of this as usurers, means that as a people they have at their disposal cultural capital that gives them an advantage in a society that is based on the generalisation of commodity exchange and its extension to production – capitalism as a mode of production.
Hence quite early on, as well as being a vanguard layer in democratic and socialist movements that in their logic, came to point beyond capitalism, Jews at the same time due to this cause became over-represented among the bourgeoisie. Thus Jews came to occupy a contradictory class position in capitalist society, as a semi-pariah, but highly successful layer of the bourgeoisie, and a key part of the vanguard of the proletarian revolutionary forces.
That contradictory class position gave birth to a seemingly absurd, conjunctionally highly dangerous, but ultimately historically limited and untenable reactionary ideology, racial anti-semitism, which drew on earlier religious-sectarian animosities of Christians against Jews, but posited that Jews were by nature a demonic ‘race’, bent on world domination, and that capitalism and communism were but means to that end.
That ideology, of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and ultimately of Hitler and National Socialism, was the banner of the deepest reaction in the early 20th century. But it was generated by a highly distorted view of a material reality that actually existed – there was a distinctly Jewish strand of the bourgeoisie, with a kind of semi-national self-consciousness, in the imperialist countries. This subsequently found expression its own semi-national project: Zionism, embodied in the state of Israel.
Every ideology that plays a world-historical role, even of the deepest reaction, must of necessity be a distorted and mangled reflection of an actual material reality in some form. If it were not it would not be able to play such a role, as it would have no roots in reality at all, hence no purchase on that reality and would convince and lead nobody.
The attempt by anti-Semitic demagogues to deflect working class discontent against capital in general, against the Jewish layer of the bourgeoisie instead, was rightly attacked by the German Social Democratic leader August Bebel as the ‘socialism of fools’. But the correctness of that denunciation does not detract from the fact that the Jewish layer of the bourgeoisie was a developing, distinct layer or caste within the bourgeoisie: it was a false target for working class discontent, but not an imaginary formation.
In a sense, Nazism resolved the contradictory role of the Jews in capitalist society, in a counterrevolutionary manner. It exterminated the radicalised, working class communist trend physically, and where it did not do that, if destroyed it politically through demoralising the remainder and driving it towards Zionism.
A revolutionary shift
This actually destroyed the material basis for the warped ideology of the Protocols, and the toehold it had among the gentile bourgeoisie. It laid the basis for a revolutionary shift, or more accurately a counter-revolutionary shift, in the centre of gravity of the Jewish people, to the right. With the destruction and defeat of the real Jewish left (what is around today is a pale and chastened remnant), the Jewish body politic became monopolised by the Jewish bourgeois caste in the imperialist countries.
That developing caste had, since the dawning of the age of imperialism in the late 19th century, sought to advance its ‘national’ project, Zionism, mainly by seeking sponsors from parts of the non-Jewish imperialist bourgeoisie. After WWII, after the genocide, it succeeded in establishing its own state, which further helped consolidate the Jewish people on a nationalist, increasingly right-wing trajectory.
It also produced a major shift in the attitude of the non-Jewish bourgeoisie towards that caste. The defeat of the Jewish left meant the destruction of the toehold of anti-Semitic ideology in the consciousness of the non-Jewish bourgeoisie. Over time, it led to the dawning of a very different consciousness, of the Jewish bourgeois caste embodying a culture rooted in commodity economy older and with more experience than the mainstream of the gentile bourgeoisie.
It also, with its broader international outlook, not bound to the traditional nation-state, helps the bourgeoisie generally to see beyond its older, traditionally territorially based chauvinism vis-à-vis each other. Thus as a vanguard layer of the bourgeoisie, its advantages for that class are similar, though in a degraded way, to the attributes that made the Jewish left a key part of the proletarian vanguard in the earlier period.
The latter embodied genuine internationalism; the former is a pale imitation, since the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie has its own idiosyncratic form of particularism. The non-Jewish imperialist bourgeoisie today considers the Jewish-Zionist caste to be a priceless resource of the capitalist system, a key asset for the bourgeois class itself. That change of consciousness is a material factor in itself, and accounts for the phenomenon of Zionist power in Western societies, which some incautious, usually Jewish, critics call ‘Jewish power’. It is in fact the ideological authority and therefore power of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois vanguard caste that they are reflecting in thought.
Contradictions of imperialism over Zionist power
Hence we see this phenomenon of the Holocaust being used as an ideology to justify racism and repression, particularly against Arabs and Muslims, in the here and now. We see the use of pseudo anti-racist liberal hypocrisy to justify Western support for ethnic cleansing and predatory wars in the Arab/Muslim world.
We see the authority of the Jewish Zionist bourgeoisie when the West has waged wars in the Middle East that have benefitted Israel by reducing its local Arab opponent states to chaos and impotence – and have not coincidentally reduced wider imperialist policy to incoherence and chaos into the bargain. We see the chaos created in the Middle East by Zionism, and the blowback from that, being used to justify the importation of Israeli-specific types of anti-Muslim bigotry and repression into Western societies.
On the other hand, we see dissent from some sections of Western imperialism against the contradictions and irrationalities this brings to imperialist policies. The likes of Mearsheimer and Walt, for instance, complain that the moral and political hold that Zionists have had over Western policy is irrational from the point of view of US interests, European interests and indeed the interests of Israel conceived as a nation state (however Israel is not a nation state).
The conflict between Obama and Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal can be conceived in the same way – with the lame duck president who can never face re-election having a degree of latitude to defy the Zionists. Whether his successor, even if it be Clinton or Sanders, will continue this is highly doubtful.
Anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, anti-racism and working class politics
We see liberal and leftist causes like women’s rights and gay rights being used to justify the most barbaric racism and militarism, being bolstered again by liberal rhetoric appropriated by the bourgeoisie in a caricatured form from the revolutionary past of the Jewish left, in its most progressive manifestations. Progressive in form, this modified racism is utterly reactionary in content, as reactionary in fact, as the old anti-Semitism was. In fact, it has replaced it as the hegemonic racist ideology of the imperialist bourgeoisie today.
So what conclusions do we draw from this about the importance of the Jewish Question, and Zionism, today? It is centrally this: the Palestinian struggle is of world historic import for the working class of the entire world. For without the Zionist project, the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, which is a key component of the vanguard of world capital, would have no unifying ethos to hold it together. This may be a vanguard, class conscious formation, but it is fragile. Without the Zionist project as a unifying focus, it would over time dissolve through assimilation into the various imperialist bourgeoisies.
Israel is an ethnocracy, founded on the dispossession and exile of the Palestinians and an artificial Jewish majority in an Arab country, maintained only by terror and ethnic cleaning. This is an outrage against even formal democracy. Yet the dominant ideology of the West insists on portraying this grotesque anti-democratic polity as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. This inversion of reality is dictated by bourgeois class interest. The cohesion of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie as a vanguard asset of capital is a crucial class interest of capital itself.
Conversely, both in the interest of the worldwide struggle against racism, as well as in the broader class interest of the working class internationally, it is vital that Israel be subordinated to real democracy through the realisation of the Palestinian right to return, and a single democratic polity based on one-person one vote.
The world working class has a vital strategic class interest in making this happen. It will deprive the world bourgeoisie of a key part of its vanguard, and at the same time strike a major blow against that aspect of imperialist oppression that has been the most pernicious in spreading racism and bigotry throughout the world. This is because, unlike the ‘classic’ racism of apartheid and Jim Crow, this particular hegemonic racism has been semi-hidden and not fully recognised. It is all the more important, in the interest of world revolution, that it be unmasked therefore.
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