Tony Greenstein and the Jewish Question


22/03/2016 by socialistfight

Tony Greenstein: Comrade Greenstein is a long time Jewish leftist and a fierce campaigner for Palestinian rights. Obviously he should be defended against this anti-democratic attack along with comrade Downing, Jill Mountford and the expelled AWL comrades, Nick Wrack, and all other victims of the witchhunt.

By Ian Donovan

As I was writing this article, it emerged that Tony Greenstein has been suspended (by letter) from the Labour Party as part of the same witch-hunting offensive that earlier led to the re-expulsion of Gerry Downing. The letter accuses Tony of making “comments” that are supposedly contrary to section 2.1.8 of Labour Party rules, a catch-all that covers “engaging in conduct which is grossly detrimental to the party” and supporting organisations the bureaucracy disapproves of.

It is not clear, but given the hysterical fake allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ that are currently being used to smear and witchhunt people in Labour, it is likely that this is what the innuendo in the letter concerns. It does serve as a lesson that if one false allegation of this type is allowed to stand, the racist liars who make them will go after more and more people. Comrade Greenstein is a long time Jewish leftist and a fierce campaigner for Palestinian rights. Obviously he should be defended against this anti-democratic attack along with comrade Downing, Jill Mountford and the expelled AWL comrades, Nick Wrack, and all other victims of the witchhunt.

The fight for clarity

However, as well as fighting against the witch-hunt, we also need to fight for political clarity on the left. In that vein I will deal with some of the flawed political responses made to the expulsion of comrade Downing, and the related political issues raised by the witchhunt, by comrade Greenstein and the CPGB, who he regularly writes guest articles for (though he is not a member of that organisation).

In their response to the expulsion of Gerry Downing, the CPGB evidenced a more left wing version of the kind of politics I criticised in my critique of the politics of the AWL. Hostility to some of the more elementary socialist and anti-imperialist positions upheld by Socialist Fight and a more left-wing version of the same calumnies about ‘anti-semitism’ we get from the AWL.  Tony Greenstein shares much of this.

After some real hesitation, Tony now at least recognises that it is necessary to defend comrade Downing from the Zionist witchhunters. He wrote recently on his blog that:

“There was another Labour expulsion this week, of Gerry Downing. The obvious point to make is that the expulsion is a disgrace. Downing was expelled by post, with no notice, not told what the charges were, not invited to present a defence and told he had no right of appeal against the decision. A Kafkaesque affair. [Guardian Zionist Hack Jonathan] Freedland omits to mention all of that.”

“I don’t personally agree with Downing on the position he takes but I have no doubt, having met Downing, that he is not personally anti-Semitic. The problem is he is politically confused, a confusion caused by the Zionist insistent that support for Israel is bound up with being Jewish.

Indeed just this week I penned an article for the Weekly Worker criticising Downing’s political position, Confusing the question – Zionism, Jewish identity and the ‘socialism of fools’ and blogged on him too Gerry Downing, Anti-Semitism and the Socialism of Fools – Confusing the Jewish Question and Zionism

“Downing is wrong to think that there is a ‘Jewish Question’ or that it has any bearing on the issue of Israel. His belief that there is a separate Jewish component of western ruling classes is absurd and can lead in an anti-Semitic direction, but who is it who raises the question of Jews every time Israel is mentioned but Jonathan Freedland’s good friends in the Zionist movement? Does not Israel call itself the Jewish state? Does Israel not appropriate historic Jewish religious symbols like the Star of David as its own nationalist emblems?” (

It may even be the case that it was these remarks that triggered off the suspension of Tony from Labour, or at least the extended polemic against the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland in which it appeared. Though more likely he was on the Labour Zionists’ target list in any case. But it is good that Greenstein has retracted charges made earlier that comrade Downing was ‘playing with anti-semitism’ and that Socialist Fight “abandoned Marxism and adopted anti-semitism” when it argued that Zionism’s:

“supporters are highly conscious ethnocentric activists with a material base in terms of capitalist property, within the ruling classes of several imperialist countries, as well as Israel. This caste has acquired major moral and political influence among much wider layers of the imperialist bourgeoisie. If this were not true, Zionists could not have the influence they do in the current situation.”

In no sense are these remarks an ‘abandonment’ of Marxism. They are on the contrary, an application of the Marxist method to the current situation, and a long overdue correction of the failure of Marxists to address the Jewish Question concretely, pretty much at all, since the Second World War. Greenstein wrote: that “Quite what the long gone Jewish question (which was as much a problem with anti-Semitism) has to do with the role of Zionism is somewhat of a mystery”, .and that Socialist Fight have a ‘barking’ attitude to the Jewish question for even thinking that it exists.

Clearly Zionism is Jewish

This is historical stupidity: there is still a political question of world historical importance involving Jews, their collective aspirations and minority dissentions, and their relations with populations of non-Jews. The way this is expressed has changed a lot, indeed in a revolutionary manner, since the end of the Second World War, but Tony cannot have failed to notice the world-historic nature of the Arab-Israel question. This actually does involve Jews, who play a rather unique role in this national conflict, rather different to the role that other peoples’ play in other national conflicts around the world.

Therefore it is absurd, a complete denial of reality, to say that the Jewish Question is ‘long gone’. Actually, it is the Jewish Question, or matters connected with it, that has driven most of Tony’s own political activity for the last few decades.  He has written enormous amounts about it from his own standpoint as a dissident, anti-Zionist Jew, and about the relations of Jews and Arabs in historic Palestine. The Israel question is the core of the Jewish question as it is expressed today: the only way you can deny this is to construct a theory that denies that Israel is Jewish, and that Zionism itself is in any way Jewish.

This is how the left has boxed itself into a corner and become a prisoner of the ruling class on the Middle East. So when some Tory Zionist like Andrew Neil professes to be scandalised when the idea is put forward, in print in SF and orally by Gerry Downing, that Jewish bourgeois in the United States have a material interest  in the fortunes of the state of Israel against its Arab oppressed majority, through a racist citizenship law that gives American  or British-born Jews citizenship rights in preference to native Palestine-born Arabs, the likes of the Weekly Worker’s Jim Grant, or even Tony Greenstein, by a socially conditioned knee-jerk reaction, equate that obviously Marxist, materialist concept with the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. They thus show their ideological overlap with Andrew Neil, and others like him.

This is where denying the Jewish character of the state of Israel, and the Zionist movement, leads. Self-evidently, the only way to deny this is to construct a theory that ascribes the origin of Zionism to some other people or power other that of a collective organisation of Jews for a quasi-nationalist political purpose.  The way the left has done this is through the theory of the colonial-settler state, which essentially says that the driving force of Zionism was not a movement of Jews aspiring to create a ‘national’ movement and thus a ‘national’ state in Palestine, but something created by Britain, or the United States. For this theory, Zionism was in no sense an independent force, but rather a mere tool of the main imperialist powers, first Britain, then the USA.

An independent force

But this is historically nonsense. Every student of the history of Zionism knows that while it sought sponsorship from whoever might be a possibility to create the Jewish State, as conceived by Theodore Herzl, it never subordinated itself to any of them. Zionists sought support from Tsarist Russia, from the German Kaiser, as well as from Britain and the United States. There were even Zionist politicians – Yitzhak Shamir for one – who sought contacts with Nazi Germany for the same purpose, a forlorn exploration. But they were prepared to try anything.

When in 1917 the British responded to the appeals of Zionists, most likely as part of a deal to help pressure the US into entering the First World War on Britain’s side, Britain via the Balfour Declaration and the mandate awarded as part of the Versailles treaty became their main sponsor for nearly 30 years.  But that does not mean that they were subservient or regarded themselves as British subjects or lackeys. The British wanted a “loyal little Jewish Ulster” in the Middle East in the words of Ronald Storrs, the military governor of the Palestine Mandate in the early 1920s. But the Zionists had never any intention of being a British client state in the manner of, say, “Ulster” or even dominions like Canada. They wanted a Jewish state, in which Jewish organisations, not the British Crown, would be sovereign.

The Israeli war of independence, which was both against Britain and against the Arabs, showed quite clearly that the Zionists were not subservient to Britain. One spurious argument that has been made in favour of the colonial-settler state theory regarding this is that the Israeli war against the British was in some way comparable to the Boer War. But this is an obvious mis-analogy – the Boers were Dutch colonists, .i.e. from another colonial power/mother country, who rebelled after they were conquered by the British.

Neither is the case of the American colonists’ rebellion in 1776 comparable – it was always clear that they regarded Britain as their ‘mother country’ even as they rebelled to create what was originally called ‘New England’. It was in its original conception, another Anglo-Saxon state. Whereas Israel’s founders were founding something Jewish, independent of Britain, that had no intention of being subordinate. The bombing of the British Military HQ at the King David Hotel is the symbol of this.

The notorious incident of the USS Liberty after the 6-day war had a similar significance regarding America. Not to mention a range of political actions all the way to Netanyahu’s attempt to screw up Obama’s Iran deal through storming into the US senate. These show that Israel is not only not subordinate to the USA: it tries very hard to make the USA subordinate to it. And because of the overlap between the Israeli and US ruling class, it has a lot of clout in doing things like this. This is a uniquely contradictory relationship.

Zionism and bourgeois prejudice

The idea that there is no Jewish question at all today is risible. It is a simple parroting of bourgeois prejudice. The idea that Zionism is not Jewish is as absurd as saying that British nationalism is not British, or French nationalism is not French, or any nationalism at all in the world is not related to the people in whose name it speaks. Zionist tradition, like all other forms of nationalism, was invented through the manipulation of myths and legends to create a narrative of a age-old tradition, but unlike other nationalisms, the territory it claimed as its own was already inhabited by another people and had been for nearly two millennia. So it was taken by force in a way that still lacks legitimacy.

Greenstein quotes a sentence from Abram Leon to try to say that there ceased to be a Jewish bourgeoisie in the 19th Century:

“What is certain is that a separate Jewish bourgeoisie, whose most famous representative was the Jewish financier and philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, disappeared in the 19th century. As Leon noted, “The economic process from which the modern nations issued laid the foundations for integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the bourgeois nation.” [ref The Jewish Question, a Marxist Interpretation, 1971 p116] (

You would think from that that Leon believed that this process was completed. But anyone who had read Leon’s work on the Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation would know that in fact Leon believed that the process of integration of the Jews, including the bourgeoisie where integration had not already led to outright assimilation, came to a halt with the coming of imperialism and capitalist decline.

Leon’s entire work is about the failure of integration, and the inability of capitalism to integrate the Jews into the system. Leon believed that decaying capitalism could not do this, and that only the socialist revolution could save the Jewish people en toto from destruction by the barbaric consequences of decaying capitalism.

 Zionism and integration

The irony is that today, the integration of Jews into the capitalist system is virtually complete. And the means by which that integration has been achieved is through Zionism. But the manner in which this has happened is through integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the system by means of its own separate and unique advanced capitalist, imperialist state, Israel. This certainly ‘integrates’ the Jewish bourgeoisie, and indeed the Jewish masses who follow bourgeois leadership both in Israel and the diaspora, into capitalism, but it does not mean that contradictions do not exist between those who support this particular project, with its own peculiarities, and those whose material interest is ‘purely’ in the imperialist United States, Britain, etc.

The British and German bourgeoisies were both thoroughly integrated into capitalism, their system. But they were not ‘integrated’ into each other. They fought two world wars. That is one possible relationship between imperialist bourgeoisies. Another possible relationship is when different national bourgeoisies exist within one state on a territorial basis, and at least an important part of the bourgeoisie of the smaller nation seeks to create a separate state. There are elements of that in the Scottish situation, in Spain with Catalonia, to name just a couple. They have the territorial base to do so.

The Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries is in another different position again. They may be integrated into capitalism, but the form in which they are so actually provides capital with an additional political asset that we wish to remove: their coherence as a body against the Palestinians also coheres them as a special body with a special utility to the ruling class, as the repository of an international vision that tends to escape the various ‘national’ imperialist bourgeoisies left to their own devices. The defeat of the Zionist project is therefore in the interest of the international proletariat, not purely from the standpoint of the Palestinians, but also from the point of dissolving the Jewish-Zionist caste into its gentile bourgeois environment and robbing the world bourgeoisie of this far-seeing, semi-internationalised asset.

Spread throughout a number of imperialist powers, particularly the USA but also with significant concentrations in the UK and France, and numerous less significant places, their overrepresentation in the ruling classes of these countries relative to the Jewish populations actually living there is a product of the unusual class structure of the Jews since antiquity. Jews underwent a process of survival precisely through a characteristic economic role that as Leon’s understanding elaborated, was why the Jews remained a distinct group whereas other peoples from the ancient world disappeared through assimilation into other populations.

Cultural advantages

It is this history and tradition that explains why Jews had the kind of cultural advantages that allowed them to become overrepresented in the bourgeoisie in the first place.  Much factual evidence on this overrepresentation can be gleaned from Jewish sources. The idea that it is ‘racist’ to investigate such facts in fact leaves the field open for reactionaries to monopolise them. Greenstein considers this to be ‘arguable’ (which it itself a step forward from the extreme hostility that this thesis provoked when it was first put forward two years ago). He asks:

“Did Jewish bankers have any more formidable advantages than those of Lombardy or Venice? Were the Jewish bourgeoisie any more advantaged than the merchants of the City of London or the French Huguenots? I doubt it.”

Tony ought to be aware that the bulk of the original bankers of Lombardy were Jewish, from about the 8th century onwards, and were later ousted from that trade by the Knights Templar at the time of the first crusade in the 10th century. The Lombards who came to England from among that grouping were also brought in to replace Jews whom the English Kings, particularly Edward I had driven out in the 13th Century.

Even in those days, the older tradition in finance and the like was Jewish; the Lombards derived much of their inheritance from Jews even as they pushed them aside. Leon wrote about the rise of ‘native’ nascent bourgeois layers resulting in the persecution and pushing aside of older groups of Jewish traders and these would seem to be prime examples.  Jewish overrepresentation in these fields still reasserted itself over time. This is a historical fact, how else to explain it?

The legacy of Italian Banking can be found in the coffee houses of London’s Lombard street, named after the Italian region of Lombardy. These stimulating outlets became social hubs to a community of Bankers and Literary critics. The Coffee houses were nicknamed the ‘Penny Universities’ thanks to the education you could pick up for the price of a black coffee. Barclays was founded on this very street.

No ‘racial’ determinism

Greenstein shows his lack of real understanding of the positions of Socialist Fight, which he is arguing against, when he writes the following:

“The article points out that 80% of Tory MPs supported the Conservative Friends of Israel in the last parliament and that leading figures in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of Israel. All this is true, but most Tory MPs are not Jewish. Likewise most LFI sponsors. Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, was far less sympathetic to Zionism than Ed Balls, who is not.”


“Zionism’s supporters include President François Hollande of France and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, who are waging war on France’s boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. They include David Cameron and Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee. The supporters of Zionism and the racist Israeli state include both Jewish and non-Jewish politicians and capitalists. They have nothing whatsoever to do with a transnational Jewish bourgeoisie.”

As I pointed in a response to Stephen Diamond on the Socialist Fight comments section:

“But the thing is that my theory does not necessarily require the people directly involved in this to be Jewish. It is not a racialised theory in terms of its actors: it is rather a theory that also deals with the moral authority of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie among the wider bourgeoisie. The likes of Hollande and Vallis do not act as direct ethnocentric agents, though their actions in practice serve the ethocentric project of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie. They act from conviction as labour lieutenants of capital, conviction that the interests of capital are best served by defending the ethnocentric interests of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie. This is because, as I said previously, that section of the bourgeoisie are seen by the bourgeoisie in a broader sense as a key asset of the system itself.”

It is obvious that Tony has not yet absorbed the full meaning of the argument around this in my “Draft Thesis on the Jews and Modern Imperialism”, about the moral authority of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie and how in fact, Zionism as a form of racism hegemonic in capitalist society has replaced older racist ideologies such as white supremacism, and ironically anti-semitism, as the dominant or hegemonic racist ideology of the bourgeoisie. He, and others like Jim Grant, who really does not have Tony’s commitment to the Palestinian cause or understanding of the issues surrounding it, need to ponder this more before jumping to facile conclusions and echoing the prejudices of bourgeois commentators about how it is anti-semitic to even try to analyse the Jewish question. It is ridiculous to describe this as a conspiracy theory; it is actually an example of the dynamics of class consciousness among the bourgeoisie, a class that actually does have a political class consciousness.

Racism and sophistry

It is good that Tony has begun to give ground on the mindless allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ that he and his CPGB comrades have thrown at Socialist Fight, and me personally. A few days ago, when we were debating the witchhunt against Gerry Downing, Tony sent the following tweet to me:


I of course welcome the statement that I do not ‘hate Jews’. For most people, the allegation of anti-semitism’ basically means ‘hatred of Jews’. So in the meaning of the ordinary English language, the repudiation of the allegation of ‘hating Jews’ means the repudiation of the allegation of anti-semitism, both about myself and about the Israeli Jazz Musician and political thinker Gilad Atzmon.

Atzmon is not a Marxist; he is someone I have a lot of political differences with, but at the same time I have a lot of respect for as someone who poses unorthodox angles on important political questions associated with the Jewish question and the Middle East. But in his WW article, Greenstein stated that I am an “open supporter” of Gilad Atzmon. This is evidently untrue as I have publicly disagreed with him on quite a few things. What I am, however, is someone who defends the democratic right of Gilad Atzmon, who I consider to be an insightful thinker with some important left wing elements in his thought, to debate freely with the left.

There is still an evasion in this tweet from Tony, an attempt to elide around the question of racism in the allegations of anti-semitism involved here.  The device that does this is a spurious comparison with Enoch Powell. Most black and Asian people who lived through the period when Powell was a force in British politics will find the assertion that Powell was ‘not personally racist’ incredible. If he was not racist, what was he doing making speeches that included reading aloud the following letter, prefixed by the remark that “I am going to allow [the author of the letter] to speak for me”?:

“Eight years ago in a respectable street in Wolverhampton a house was sold to a Negro. Now only one white (a woman old-age pensioner) lives there. This is her story. She lost her husband and both her sons in the war. So she turned her seven-roomed house, her only asset, into a boarding house. She worked hard and did well, paid off her mortgage and began to put something by for her old age. Then the immigrants moved in. With growing fear, she saw one house after another taken over. The quiet street became a place of noise and confusion. Regretfully, her white tenants moved out.

“The day after the last one left, she was awakened at 7am by two Negroes who wanted to use her ‘phone to contact their employer. When she refused, as she would have refused any stranger at such an hour, she was abused and feared she would have been attacked but for the chain on her door. Immigrant families have tried to rent rooms in her house, but she always refused. Her little store of money went, and after paying rates, she has less than £2 per week. “She went to apply for a rate reduction and was seen by a young girl, who on hearing she had a seven-roomed house, suggested she should let part of it. When she said the only people she could get were Negroes, the girl said, “Racial prejudice won’t get you anywhere in this country.” So she went home.

“The telephone is her lifeline. Her family pay the bill, and help her out as best they can. Immigrants have offered to buy her house – at a price which the prospective landlord would be able to recover from his tenants in weeks, or at most a few months. She is becoming afraid to go out. Windows are broken. She finds excreta pushed through her letter box. When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies. They cannot speak English, but one word they know. “Racialist,” they chant. When the new Race Relations Bill is passed, this woman is convinced she will go to prison. And is she so wrong? I begin to wonder.”

Reproducing this baleful tract is necessary here to uncover the logical incoherence of Tony Greenstein’s claim that Powell was “not personally racist”. If stating that the tract above “speaks for me” when it openly regrets that in future racial discrimination will be illegal, condones refusing to let rooms to black families, and even refers to black children as ‘picanninies’, does not brand the speaker as racist, then what does? This was a demagogic speech targeting oppressed minorities, whose author certainly knew it would encourage violent racists; the idea that it could have been delivered by someone who is “not personally racist” beggars belief.

So here we have the same kind of sophistry, in a slightly different form, which we get from the AWL. Allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ that at first sight seem to be allegations of racism, but on examination are formulated to give that impression without saying that the target is actually racist.

This is done to put Tony Greenstein’s polemics against Socialist Fight, and indeed against Gilad Atzmon, into some kind of overall context. He may think that the ideas he is arguing against are confused, wrong or even damaging. That is legitimate: we are keen to debate and we may have things to learn from Tony Greenstein. There is much to learn and study on the Jewish Question; the conscious aim of doing so has been basically evaded on the Marxist left since the murder of Abram Leon. Echoing the lies of Zionists, that anyone who tries to address the source of their power over the Palestinians is a racist, does not help Marxist analysis or the Palestinians. It just restricts the freedom of debate and working class democracy that is necessary for the Marxist movement to really live up to its objective of acting as the tribune of the oppressed.


One thought on “Tony Greenstein and the Jewish Question

  1. John Humphreys says:

    I have questions about British Politics, I do not know one Jewish person but I have noticed the large number of Jewish Politicians particularly in Liverpool the home of the notorious Liverpool Care Pathway and it was 2 Jews under the protection of Louise Ellman (Beatrice Franekel and Rick Holden of Merseycare NHS) who sent Police to my home to threaten me into not investigating the truth around the Murder of Helen Sheila Cowley, she was deliberately poisoned, Sedated, tortured then beaten to cover up her botched termination using the Liverpool Care Pathway, you may say a blessing? but she was looking after herself in her own home untill she asked the NHS for help when she contracted a urinary infection, they decided to kill her 3 weeks later secretly and without mercy screaming in pain to her death because they knew we never knew about the pathway so they never blassed her with pain relief.
    Call Greenstein what you will but I call him HONEST a rare trait today and that means there are 2 of us.


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