Socialist Fight Statement on anti-Semitism and the Jewish Question

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10/04/2016 by socialistfight

Bethlehem; December 2009.

The liberals like Bernie Sanders who oppose Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border are silent on the wall in Palestine.

Our defence against the charges of antisemitism and supporting terrorists against Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight is in three parts:

  1. We intend to quote liberally from Richard Hutton’s blog, Does the Labour Party have ‘a problem with anti-Semitism’? No; and the accusations raise more questions than answers. This defends those of us who are charged with this and identifies the source of these charges, The right wing Tory blogger Guido Fawkes, David Cameron and other Tory leaders, the Labour right in alliance with the Zionist Labour Friends of Israel and the capitalist mass media who seek to undermine, overthrow or at least tame and subvert the leftism of the new Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn to make it suitable for a second line of defence of British Imperialism if the Tories collapse in political confusion over the EU referendum. He says in his piece that: “It is easy enough to see why somebody would read Downing’s piece and conclude that it that is rooted in anti-Semitic hostility; but it seems to be more a badly written and ill-thought out treatise on the demerits of Western imperialism, written from a half-baked Marxist standpoint, than opprobrium aimed at people for being Jewish”. He conclude in his footnote: “As with Downing’s other pieces, these seem to be examples of half-baked Marxist approaches to complex world events, rather than anything more sinister. It doesn’t seem likely that Downing is anti-Semitic, so much as ingenuous in how this material comes across.” [1]
  2. The polemic by Dave Rich of The Zionist Community Security Trust (CST) [2] against Gerry Downing. [3] We describe this Zionist as an honest opponent who alleges we are antisemitic and should be expelled from the Palestine Solidarity Committee but this is from his clear standpoint that Marxism, beginning with Marx, is antisemitic. Here we seek to show that our “half-baked Marxist approaches to complex world events” is, in fact, the genuine Marxist doctrine of universal human liberation by relying on the works of Karl Marx, in particular his On the Jewish Question (1844) and Abram Leon’s The Jewish Question (1942). Leon was a Polish/Belgian Trotskyist Jew who perished in Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 26 for leading a miners’ strike against the Nazis in Belgium.
  3. A summary of the Socialist Fight position on Israel/Palestine; what our understanding of the Jewish Question means in practical terms for our politics.

Before we begin the examination let us deal with the term “the Jewish Question” here. Andrew Neil referred to this in the course of the Daily Politics show interview with Gerry Downing on 10 March and the use of the term has been widely cited as proof in itself of antisemitism. It is cited by Richard Hutton below. For instance we get the following in a tweet from Andrew Coates (@Pabloite): “Gerry Downing was also suspended after tweeting an article whose title referred to the ‘Jewish question’”. Well the philosopher Bruno Bauer wrote a book of that name in 1843, Marx replied with On the Jewish Question in the same year and Abram Leon wrote The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation in 1942, one year before he died in Auschwitz. Wikipedia informs us that the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), in 1895 and in it he says:

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level.” [4]

So all these were antisemites too, the Zionists would have us believe! The following tweets were posted on 2 April: David Osland (@David__Osland): “Gerry Downing has today been expelled from the Labour Representation Committee, on account of his antisemitism. Correct decision” and Andrew Coates (@Pabloite): “Gerry Downing was this afternoon expelled from the Labour Representation Committee, by unanimous decision, on grounds of his antisemitism”. David Osland whose twitter profile claims, apparently falsely, that he is a National Committee member of the LRC, was quite aware that this was an absolute lie when he tweeted it and Andrew Coates did not even bother to check the truth of it so anxious were they to blacken the name of Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight.

  1. Richard Hutton: Does the Labour Party have ‘a problem with anti-Semitism’? No; and the accusations raise more questions than answers

We will concentrate on how he deals the case of Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight. We apologise for the long quotes but they are necessary to understand the overall picture he paints. It is noteworthy that he is the only serious commentator to have subjected this witch hunt to a clear objective analysis. He is certainly not of the ‘far left’; none of these scribes have ventured into these minefield to give us these very necessary details to refute these witchhunt against individuals. Some have refused outright to make a united front with Socialist Fight when asked, others have been conspicuous by their silence. We are going through a period of shameful political cowardice on the far left. Hutton begins with the obvious question:

“Does the Labour Party have “a problem with anti-Semitism”? This accusation gained prominence in March 2016, when two Labour Party members, Vicki Kirby and Gerald Downing were removed from the organisation; generating several comment pieces in the national press. In addition to this, allegations had been made against Labour-affiliated students at Oxford University. The commentaries bemoaned the Labour party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism; and, in some cases, suggested that they have actually encouraged the prejudice.

So then, are these claims supported by evidence; and does the Labour party, or its leader, have a case to answer? No. In fact, what becomes clear when the various allegations are tested against the evidence is that they are not merely inaccurate, but in most cases false. This is cause for concern in its own right.

Firstly, let’s look at the allegations made against Vicki Kirby and Gerald Downing – the two people whose removal from the Labour party precipitated a deluge of commentaries.

…The tweets in question (Kirby’s ) were also compiled by the GuidoFawkes blog – there are six in total; dated between 2011-2014. Four of them are from August 2014. Kirby was suspended from the Labour party on 15th March 2016. So, both of her suspensions revolve around the same six tweets.

Moreover, the GuidoFawkes Blog had also broken the story about Gerry Downing [5]. It published a piece about him on the 8th of March 2016; decrying him as an apologist for Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States in September 2001. A day later it published a second piece on Downing, entitled ‘Gerry Downing “we must address the Jewish question”. So, those are the allegations of anti-Semitism made against Kirby and Downing; and it would be fair to say that the GuidoFawkes blog has played a key role in bringing these two stories to mainstream media attention.

Writing in the Guardian on the 19th of March 2016, Jonathan Freedland referred to the cases of both Downing and Kirby; and contended that Jeremy Corbyn bore a particular responsibility for them. The article was entitled ‘Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem‘; and sub-titled ‘Under Jeremy Corbyn the party has attracted many activists with views hostile to Jews’. The only ‘activists’ cited are Kirby and Downing. Freedland refers to the aforementioned material – noting that Downing:

“said it was time to wrestle with the ‘Jewish Question’”; while Kirby “hailed Hitler as a ‘Zionist God’ and tweeted a line about Jews having ‘big noses’, complete with a ‘lol’”.

Freedland then expressly attributes responsibility for this to Jeremy Corbyn: “Thanks to Corbyn, the Labour party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews”.

The facts of the case disprove Freedland’s claim, however. Neither Downing nor Kirby were attracted to the party by Corbyn – both had joined Labour before Corbyn had been elected to the leadership. As was plain from her first suspension from the party, Kirby had been a member of Labour at least as far back as 2014; whereas Downing was suspended from the party for the first time in August 2015, as he noted in a comment posted on the New Internationalist website. He also stated on Facebook that he has been a member of Labour “for some 30 years, with a few breaks”. So, Freedland evidently doesn’t have a point with regard to Corbyn here.

However, he goes on to make a more general point about ‘the left’ and anti-Semitism which is significant – specifically that Jewish people have spent “years, lamenting that parts of the left were succumbing to views of Jews drenched in prejudice”; and that these warnings have been ignored in “the belief that what Jews are complaining about is not antisemitism at all, but criticism of Israel”. On the same tack, reacting to the news about Vicki Kirby, on the 15th March 2016 Owen Jones had published a piece on the Guardian’s website, called ‘Antisemitism is a poison – the left must take leadership against it’; which had said much the same thing:

“It is incumbent on the progressively minded to take antisemitism seriously. We wouldn’t belittle the seriousness of other forms of bigotry, or seek to deflect from it. It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination. Both these issues have to be completely disentangled: a discussion about serious antisemitism should not be a launchpad into a debate about Israel”.

So both authors suggest that ‘the left’ has a problem with distinguishing anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel – which to all intents and purposes centres on the policies of the country’s government. They also imply that there is a straightforward distinction to be drawn between these two things.

However, neither the case of Kirby nor Downing support this viewpoint. On the contrary, they serve to demonstrate how difficult it actually is to establish whether a sentiment is anti-Semitic, or is criticism of Israel’s government. The GuidoFawkes site provides a screenshot of Kirby’s comments on Twitter, which are at the centre of the allegations against her. As can be seen, the majority of these were references to Israel, rather than Jews:

If anything, the distinction between anti-Semitism and reproaches of Israel’s government is even less clear cut in the case of Downing. The references to Downing’s essay misquote its title; and none allude to its content properly. It was not called “we must address the Jewish question” as the GuidoFawkes blog claimed; nor did it suggest that “it was time to wrestle with the ‘Jewish Question’” as Freedland suggested. Instead it was entitled ‘Why Marxists must address the Jewish question concretely today’; published on 22nd August 2015. So what is the ‘Jewish question’ it proposes to address?

The machinations of Paul Staines, the rightwing Tory blogger Guido Fawkes, to blacken the name and misrepresent the politics of Socialist Fight is here exposed by Richard Hutton.

According to the GuidoFawkes blog “The piece speaks for itself”; and this is supposedly illustrated by the following quote:

“The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious… Since the dawning of the period of neo-liberal capitalism in the 1970s, elements of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, from Milton Friedman to Henry Kissinger to the pro-Israel ideologues of the War on Terror, have played a vanguard role for the capitalist offensive against the workers.”

The ellipses denotes the removal of six and a half paragraphs. The actual text in question discusses something quite different to what’s implied here by the Fawkes site:

“The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious. So is their role in British politics in general. In the last parliament, 80% of Tory MP’s supported the Conservative Friends of Israel. Leading figures in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of Israel, whose sponsor list is a roll-call of Blairite neocons and war makers. The Lib Dems were similarly affected. This gives immense power”.

So, this was evidently not a reference to Judaism, but to ‘Pro-Israel’ lobby groups. Downing’s article is by no means free from problematic qualities; but is it anti-Semitic? It’s more difficult to say than the commentaries discussing it suggest. In fact, despite its references to “Jewish militants” and “the Jewish bourgeois”, the piece itself is primarily about Israel. As it concludes: “The end of ethnocracy in Israel would spell the defeat of this extra resource of imperialism, which today’s Western ruling classes value highly indeed”. It is easy enough to see why somebody would read Downing’s piece and conclude that it is rooted in anti-Semitic hostility; but it seems to be more a badly written and ill-thought out treatise on the demerits of Western imperialism, written from a half-baked Marxist standpoint, than opprobrium aimed at people for being Jewish.

This is the point at issue, here: it isn’t entirely clear whether these two individuals are anti-Semitic; or whether their criticisms of Israel are poorly worded. It could be either which is true. Their views on Israel could be rooted in racism; but they could equally well not be. Either way, the facts of both cases fail to support the conclusion drawn by Freedland that Kirby and Downing’s membership of the Labour party has implications for its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Both of them joined the party before Corbyn was elected to lead it – both were removed while he leads the party.

Labour Friends Of Israel

Freedland is not alone in alleging that Jeremy Corbyn is implicated in anti-Semitism; nor is it a suggestion limited to media columnists. A number of the Labour party’s own MPs have written pieces – or made public statements – which contended that anti-Semitism has become a problem within the Labour party, specifically because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Do they have any more of a point than Freedland? No. In fact, this is where the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel’s government becomes deeply problematic.

Writing in the Telegraph, Tom Harris – a former Labour MP – suggested that ‘The Labour Party is increasingly anti-Semitic’. From the outset, however, Harris amalgamates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism; stating that: “The influx of anti-Israel far Left supporters has worsened the bias of the PLP against Jewish people”. The cases of Kirby and Downing are cited as the proof that this has been due to Corbyn’s leadership. Needless to say by now, this is untrue.

Moreover, throughout Harris’ piece, there is no reference to any form of sectarian hostility aimed at Jews; but, instead, repeated allusions to Israel. For instance:

“the recent growth in party membership as a root cause of Labour’s current anti-Semitism problem: hatred of Israel – real, blind, vicious, hatred – is felt most keenly and most loudly by those on the extreme Left, many of them Trotskyites who joined to shore up Mr Corbyn’s leadership and who see him as the world’s last best hope of overturning capitalism and, they hope, Israel while he’s at it”.

In fact, Harris goes on to make it plain that he sees criticism of Israel as intrinsically anti-Semitic: “anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, these people plead in their defence…Yet what is Zionism other than support for the creation and continued existence of the state of Israel?” Harris concludes because of this that “Labour must not, cannot tolerate such a view”; and that “Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews”.

Hutton then goes into great detail to prove beyond a doubt that the Labour Friends of Israel and their allies continually conflate attacks on the actions of the state of Israel and denying its right to exist with antisemitism against all Jews. And he names the names: Tom Harris, Michael Dugher MP and Rachel Reeves MP, Louise Ellman, all officers of the LFI. MP Wes Streeting’s long record of pro-Zionist activities, including saying that the West Bank was doing fine in one of its worst periods of oppression. Chris Bryant MP and Angela Smith are likewise exposed as Zionist apologists

But it is the hypocrisy of Tom Mann that really shows what lies behind the whole witch hunt:

The same trait has been apparent in Mann’s statements on anti-Semitism since at least 2006, when he published a letter in the Guardian proposing to “redraw the line between acceptable debate and veiled anti-semitism”; which focused on discourse surrounding Israel. Bemoaning “the incipient growth of anti-semitism on the left under the cloak of anti-Zionism”, Mann complained about critiques that do “not draw a line beyond which legitimate debate becomes illegitimate, and where hostile becomes offensive”. So, what constitutes this line? It’s not made clear – if anything, Mann keeps it opaque. For example, in the same letter, Mann cites ‘the AUT academic boycott’ as crossing the putative line. But what is this boycott, if not an objection to the discriminatory practices within Israeli universities; and therefore opposition to Israeli government policy?

Also during 2006, Mann had published a Parliamentary report into anti-Semitism; which again focused overwhelmingly on criticism of Israel’s government – and arguably serves as a precursor for the same problematic tendencies exhibited by his colleagues: decrying a refusal to distinguish between Jewish people, and Israel; but then advancing precisely this conflation himself. So, on the one hand, Mann bemoans the fact that “some of those who are hostile to Israel make no distinction between Israelis and Jews”; but on the other, exclaims:

“Israel is the world’s only Jewish State and Zionism its founding ideology…moreover, there is a strong attachment between the British Jewish community and Israel. Many British Jews have relatives in Israel and it forms one of the key themes of Jewish education and identity” (pp. 16-17)

So what does apply here? Either Jewish identity is intrinsically bound up with the state of Israel, or it isn’t.

All told, the more Mann and his peers opine on the subject, the less distinct the difference between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism appears; and if these commentators cannot draw a definitive divergence, then it’s unreasonable for them to fault others when they follow suit. This persistent confusion perhaps goes some way towards explaining why so many problems accrue when attempting to discern anti-Semitic sentiments from criticisms of Israel. This was evident in the comments made by Vicki Kirby and Gerry Downing at the heart of this, after all; most of which were devoted to criticisms of Israeli policy, while making references to people who are Jewish.

  1. Dave Rich of The Zionist Community Security Trust and our Marxist position

The polemic by Dave Rich of The Zionist Community Security Trust (CST) [6] against us [7] is actually more politically honest than many others. An honest assessment from outright political opponents, a Zionist source which seeks to put the Trotskyist political position in its historical and political context. A rare document, which does not attempt to brand Karl Marx or Abram Leon or Socialist Fight as Nazis. Although he does press the charge of antisemitism and the opening paragraphs calls for our expulsion from the PSC nonetheless it is gratifying to be honestly opposed from a theoretically engaged opponent. It is clear that he sees the whole history of Marxism from Marx himself in 1843 on the Jewish Question as antisemitic and we are just the latest example. He has this to say:

“One of the curiosities of the Labour Party under its current leadership is that pundits need to familiarise themselves with Marxist theory that many assumed had become obsolete a long time ago. In that spirit, this blog post will provide a (very) brief guide to what Trotskyists mean by the ‘Jewish Question’.

This isn’t the same as the Nazi’s Jewish Question which led to the Final Solution. Trotskyists do want Jews to disappear, but not via genocide. Instead, they have theorised Jews out of history, and get upset that Jews refuse to go along with this theory and perform their historical function by disappearing.

The key Trotskyist text is The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, written by a wartime Jewish Trotskyist called Abram Leon. Leon wrote The Jewish Question while in hiding in Belgium during the Nazi occupation, before being caught and deported to Auschwitz where he was killed. The book built on Karl Marx’s original On The Jewish Question (written a century earlier) by coming up with the concept of the “people-class”: a distinct ethnic, religious or racial group, such as Jews, whose characteristics become effectively synonymous with their economic function in society. Using this theory, Leon explained that Jews survived in European history because they were traders and moneylenders and therefore had value in medieval society.

According to Leon’s theory, Jews should have disappeared under capitalism as they became a “declassed element” with no place in modern society. However, antisemitism had prevented them from fully assimilating. Zionism, Leon predicted, would fail because it was an attempt to “resolve the Jewish question independently of the world revolution.” Only socialism could provide a solution, by offering Jews “The end of Judaism” – something that Leon welcomed.

Leon’s book has proven enormously influential in Trotskyist thinking about Jews. Gerry Downing’s article on his Socialist Fight website titled “Why Marxists must address the Jewish question concretely today” draws extensively on Leon. Several other articles on the website do the same. The Socialist Workers Party pamphlet Israel: The Hijack State claims that “Leon’s book is today recognised as the authority on the Jewish question by both Jewish and non-Jewish opponents of Zionism” (emphasis in the original). Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People, said “I feel that Abram Leon is my family” – politically speaking.” [8]

But this is profoundly incorrect in its estimation of the Marxist position on the Jewish Question. It conflates ‘assimilation’ of Jews under capitalism with what might happen to Jews under socialism after the world revolution. This is not assimilation either although we must admit that Leon here and in other sections of his work conceded too much to the mechanical materialism of the Second International in identifying too closely, for instance, the material conditions of Jews and the political expressions of this, i.e. there is not enough of the dialectical understanding of the relative independence of the superstructure from the base in certain circumstances. So in his piece at the end of the book, The end of Judaism? assimilation is projected for the “Judaism as history has known it—the mercantile Judaism of the Diaspora, the people-class”. He thinks that, “everything will add up to estrange the Palestinian Jew from the Judaism of the Diaspora. And tomorrow, when national barriers and prejudices begin to disappear in Palestine, who can doubt that a fruitful reconciliation will take place between the Arab and the Jewish workers, the result of which will be their partial or total fusion?”

This view of national aspirations and solutions, that it was merely an obstacle to achieving socialist consciousness which would disappear as soon as the revolution triumphed, was a feature of the early Marx and a feature of the later Second International under August Babel and Karl Kautsky and even the early Bolsheviks to a certain degree only until it was so powerfully rejected by Lenin in his last struggle against Stalin in defence of the rights of self-determination of Georgia and Ukraine in 1923. However Marx changed his position on Ireland in 1867 in his well-known ‘Irish Turn’ and this signalled a changed attitude on the national question of oppressed peoples in general. It is well known that when the Russian Tsarist pogroms began in the last years of Marx’s life, from 1881 we did not hear the type of language used by him in the 1843 work, now it was clear that Jews in the Pale of Settlement had become socially differentiated and were very oppressed and Marx and Engels championed their cause. The position of Kautsky and the later Second International on the colonial question became increasingly worse with ever more open support for the ‘civilising effect’ of imperialist colonial conquest, mitigated of course with condemnation of the worst excesses. This eventually led to the collapse of the Second International on 4 August 1914 where no votes were recorded against the granting of war credits to the Kaiser to pursue WWI, and only Karl Liebknecht abstained and voted against in December of that year AND then went on to develop the current line on imperialist wars for all serious Marxists, “the main enemy is at home”.

But Lenin sharply differentiate between oppressed and oppressor nations and developed that into the understanding that the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, not even but especially within the USSR, was an integral part of the struggle for the world revolution. And that position is clear in Trotsky’s stance on the Jewish Question in 1937:

During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. Decaying capitalism has everywhere swung over to an exacerbated nationalism, one part of which is anti-semitism. The Jewish question has loomed largest in the most highly developed capitalist country of Europe, in Germany.

On the other hand the Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument adapted to modern-culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come. Now the nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea. But the facts of every passing day demonstrate to us that Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question. The conflict between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine acquires a more and more tragic and more and more menacing character. I do not at all believe that the Jewish question can be resolved within the framework of rotting capitalism and under the control of British imperialism.

And how, you ask me, can socialism solve this question? On this point I can but offer hypotheses. Once socialism has become master of our planet or at least of its most important sections, it will have unimaginable resources in all domains. Human history has witnessed the epoch of great migrations on the basis of barbarism. Socialism will open the possibility of great migrations on the basis of the most developed technique and culture. It goes without saying that what is here involved is not compulsory displacements, that is, the creation of new ghettos for certain nationalities, but displacements freely consented to, or rather demanded by certain nationalities or parts of nationalities. The dispersed Jews who would want to be reassembled in the same community will find a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun. The same possibility will be opened for the Arabs, as for all other scattered nations. National topography will become a part of the planned economy. This is the grand historical perspective that I envisage. To work for international socialism means also to work for the solution of the Jewish question.

…The Jewish question, I repeat, is indissolubly bound up with the complete emancipation of humanity. Everything else that is done in this domain can only be a palliative and often even a two-edged blade, as the example of Palestine shows. [9]

Noteworthy here is the assertion that the Jews do constitute a nation and that a homeland could and should be found for them under socialism. But that does not mean that Trotsky in 1937 or the Trotskyists after 1948 conceded anything to Zionism or the illegitimate state of Israel formed on the expulsion of another people, we do not claim that this is the Jewish nation nor do we cease calling for its overthrow and a for a Multi-ethnic Workers State of Palestine in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. History has cruelly frustrated Trotsky’s and Leon’s socialist aspiration almost entirely due, we would suggest, to the defeat of the World Revolution post WWII, to the victory of Zionism in the land of Palestine, assisted by Joe Stalin himself who was the first to recognise that state in 1948 and his Stalinist stooges in Czechoslovakia who actually armed the neo-fascist Zionist murder squads that slaughtered the whole population of the village of Deir Yassin, to give just one example, to expel 700,000 Palestinians to make space for the Jewish state. Stalin perpetrated a brutal and cynical betrayal of socialist principles and the whole Palestinian nation.

This was assisted by Stalin himself who was the first to recognise that state in 1948 and his Stalinist stooges in Czechoslovakia who actually armed the neo-fascist Zionist murder squads that slaughtered the whole population of the village of Deir Yassin, to give just one example, to expel 700,000 Palestinians to make space for the Jewish state. Stalin perpetrated a brutal and cynical betrayal of socialist principles and the whole Palestinian nation. And we recall that Stalin was in the forefront in the use of antisemitism against Trotsky and the Left Opposition, several of whose leaders were Jews, from the late 1920s. Antisemitism was very apparent during the blood purges of the mid to late 1930s, culminating in the Stalin Hitler pact where the Soviet NKVD and the Gestapo cooperated in exterminating Trotskyists and Jews in Poland from 1939-41. The brief assistance Stalin gave to Zionism to found the State of Israel in 1948 soon soured; the “Jewish Doctor’s plot” only failed to exterminate a whole section of professional Jews because Stalin died in time in 1953. Show trial of Jewish “rootless cosmopolitans” and “Zionist conspirators” had taken place by then in Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, and Bulgaria. The 1952 Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia is the most famous and outrageous.

 

Rudolf Slánsky show trial; Stalin used anti-semitism to crush the relatively independent and Czechoslovak Communist party which had a huge working class following

In fact what Dave Rich falsely attributes to Marxism/Trotskyism is the position of Stalinism and Bruno Bauer, against whom Marx’s 1843 polemic was written. Marx criticised Bauer thus:

“Bauer, therefore, demands, on the one hand, that the Jew should renounce Judaism, and that mankind in general should renounce religion, in order to achieve civic emancipation. On the other hand, he quite consistently regards the political abolition of religion as the abolition of religion as such. The state which presupposes religion is not yet a true, real state.” [10]

Marx’s wrote in defence of protecting the religion of the Jews and not demanding they assimilate as Bauer did. In fact his whole position on religion, written a few months later in 1843, elaborated in his A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right was not simply that it was the “opium of the people” but that it was a product of “this state and this society”. It was, “an inverted consciousness of the world” and “its universal basis of consolation and justification”. And so “religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” And logically following on from that, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Marx, Leon, the Jewish Question and the global class struggle

Marx and Abram Leon located the Jewish Question in the sphere of the global class struggle, not in the project to emancipate Jews, or any other oppressed minority, not in the confines of a single nation but in the entire interrelationship of forces that constitute the life and death struggle between the last two remaining great classes on the planet, the capitalist/imperialist class and the working class as it exists fundamentally and existentially; a global class. Leon takes up where Marx left off.

Marx wrote his On the Jewish Question in Reply to Bruno Bauer’s The Jewish Question. Marx and Engels and others were left Hegelians which ideology evolved to present day Marxism. Bauer has been accused of antisemitism with some cause (“Jewish citizens should not expect to be free in Germany as long as German citizens were themselves unfree”), but Marx’s reply also saw him accused of antisemitism, totally unjustly. Marx’s terminology is directed at Jewish mercantile traders and moneymen as they were emerging from feudal society:

“Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world – both the world of men and nature – of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.” [11]

That is what he is condemning not individual Jews or their religion. And that is how Abram Leon tackles the question to – the famous “people class” of his analysis looks to the material basis of the Jewish people as both oppressors and oppressed in feudal society. In fact Marx wrote the pamphlet in defence of Jews and their rights and in the course of the work he set out the whole basis of his critique of capitalism and its ideology, later elaborated in his major work Capital and elsewhere. We will run through the arguments he made in the work briefly to show their importance.

Bauer demands that Jews give up their religion to become truly emancipated. In what is the first and still the best critique of human emancipation Marx critiques the regime of rights elaborated in the American Constitution of 1787, the Rights of Man of 1789 and the two French Constitutions of 1791 and 1793. Pointing to the path to true human liberation for all he rejects these as rights for the isolated individual separated from his/her real conditions of life. As Marx puts it:

The perfected political state is, by its nature, the species-life of man as opposed to his material life. All the presuppositions of this egoistic life continue to exist in civil society outside the political sphere, as qualities of civil society. Where the political state has attained to its full development, man leads, not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life, a double existence—celestial and terrestrial. He lives in the political community, where he regards himself as a communal being, and in civil society where he acts simply as a private individual, treats other men as means, degrades himself to the role of a mere means, and becomes the plaything of alien powers. The political state, in relation to civil society, is just as spiritual as is heaven in relation to earth. It stands in the same opposition to civil society, and overcomes it in the same manner as religion overcomes the narrowness of the profane world; i.e. it has always to acknowledge it again, re-establish it, and allow itself to be dominated by it. Man, in his most intimate reality, in civil society, is a profane being. Here, where he appears both to himself and to others as a real individual he is an illusory phenomenon. In the state, on the contrary, where he is regarded as a species-being, man is the imaginary member of an imaginary sovereignty, divested of his real, individual life, and infused with an unreal universality. [12]

And then Marx goes on to assert: “The political emancipation of the Jew or the Christian—of the religious man in general—is the emancipation of the state from Judaism, Christianity, and religion in general” but this separation of religion and state does not abolish religion, but in fact presupposes it and maintains it as in the United States in 1843 when Marx wrote this and today with Donald Trump and the Republicans in general:

“There is not, in the United States, either a state religion or a religion declared to be that of a majority, or a predominance of one religion over another. The state remains aloof from all religions.” [de Beaumont] There are even some states in North America in which “the constitution does not impose any religious belief or practice as a condition of political rights.” And yet, “no one in the United States believes that a man without religion can be an honest man.” And North America is pre-eminently a country of religiosity, as Beaumont, Tocqueville and the Englishman, Hamilton, assure us in unison.” [13]

From here Marx and later Engels went on to work out a path for human liberation in the Communist Manifesto and their other major works. And so we come to the work The Jewish Question by Abram Leon. It is very important to record here that Abram Leon was not consigned to Auschwitz because he was a Jew but because he was a revolutionary socialist in the Marxist tradition, a Trotskyist who was leading a miners’ strike against the Nazis. He says at the beginning of his work:

In the sphere of Jewish history, as in the sphere of universal history, Karl Marx’s brilliant thought points the road to follow “We will not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but we will look for the secret of the religion in the real Jew.” Marx thus puts the Jewish question back on its feet. We must not start with religion in order to explain Jewish history; on the contrary; the preservation of the Jewish religion or nationality can be explained only by the “real Jew,” that is to say, by the Jew in his economic and social role. The preservation of the Jews contains nothing of the miraculous. “Judaism has survived not in spite of history, but by virtue of history.” [14]

Rich’s dismissal of Leon’s correct estimation of “the futility of resolve(ing) the Jewish question independently of the world revolution” takes no account of the living hell that is Israel/Palestine today. This is what Leon wrote:

“Eternal” Judaism, which, moreover, has never been anything but a myth, will disappear. It is puerile to pose assimilation and the “national solution” as opposites. Even in those countries where Jewish national communities will eventually be created, we will be witnessing either the creation of a new Jewish nationality; completely different from the old, or the formation of new nations. Moreover, even in the first case, unless the people already established in the country are driven out or the rigorous prescriptions of Ezra and Nehemiah are revived, this new nationality cannot fail to come under the influence of the long-time inhabitants of the country.

In the sphere of nationality, only socialism can bring the widest democracy. It must provide the Jews with the opportunity of living a national existence in every country they inhabit; it must also give them the opportunity of concentrating in one or more territories, naturally without injuring the interests of the native inhabitants. Only the widest proletarian democracy will make possible the resolution of the Jewish problem with a minimum of suffering.

Clearly, the tempo of the solution of the Jewish problem depends upon the general tempo of socialist construction. The opposition between assimilation and the national solution is an entirely relative one, the latter often being nothing but the prelude to the former. Historically, all existing nations are the products of various fusions of races and peoples. It is not excluded that new nations, fanned by the fusion or even the dispersion of nations now existing, will be created. However it may be, socialism must limit itself in this sphere to “letting nature take its course.” [15]

  1. Socialist Fight’s position on Israel/Palestine; the Jewish Question

Socialist Fight’s position on Israel/Palestine is contained on our statement Socialist Fight Statement on Occupied Palestine/Israel 1/8/2014. [16]

As revolutionary socialists we place the prime importance on the question of mobilising the working class internationally in defence of the oppressed Palestinians and against their oppressor, Zionist Israel. Therefore we place prime importance on the stance that the organised working class takes in this and so take the following stance:

“The Israeli Histadrut is not a legitimate trade union federation… The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) … is a genuine trade union federation. We campaign for the de-recognition of the Histadrut by national and international trade union federations. “The Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS) is the broadest and most representative body of the Palestinian trade union movement and includes the following organisations: General Union of Palestinian Workers, Federation of Independent Trade Unions (IFU), General Union of Palestinian Women…”

We also support the international Boycott and Disinvestment Campaign but go further and urge direct action by workers to isolate the Zionist state in line with the conference of all these trade unions was held on 30 April 2011 where it is reported they took this position:

“The Conference decisively condemned the Histadrut and called on international trade unions to sever all links with it due to its historic and current complicity in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights. The Histadrut has always played a key role in perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination… Calls on port workers around the world to boycott loading/offloading Israeli ships, similar to the heroic step taken by port workers around the world in suspending maritime trade with South Africa in protest against the apartheid regime. [17]

On Hamas we say: “Although Hamas is potentially no less reactionary and more so on social issues than the PA (Palestinian Authority) nevertheless it is fighting Israel now. It expresses the anger of the oppressed, in a very distorted way it is true, so it deserves unconditional but critical support against Israel right now.” On the governmental slogans we see that the only progressive outcome of the conflict in the region is: “Socialist Fight stands for a multi-ethnic workers’ state in Occupied Palestine/Israel and is totally opposed to a two state solution. We are for the destruction of the settler-colonial state of Israel and for a Multi-ethnic Workers’ State of Palestine in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East.”

Nevertheless we recognise that this is still very much a propaganda demand now so practical transitional demands for the current state of consciousness of those engaged in the struggle against Zionist oppression so the statement ends thus:

What slogans for the struggle?

Whilst we are for a multi-ethnic workers’ state we are sensitive to the role that democratic demands might play in the revolutionary struggle. Demands for a constituent assembly and the fight for secular democratic rights are very likely to play a prominent part in the revolution but we know that these must be subordinate to the goal of overthrowing capitalism in Israel/Palestine but also in the entire region of the Middle East. Therefore the governmental slogan and the demands that lead up to it are important. For a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly is the correct mobilising slogan to draw together all the elements and nationalities in the region to begin the battle for workers councils and a soviet government. We reject the ultra-leftist notion that a revolutionary programme cannot contain such democratic demands as part of its whole strategy. Such a position rejects the attempts by the revolutionary party to relate to the current state of the class consciousness of the working class and the fight to bring it into the struggle which alone opens it up to the revolutionary programme as a whole.

Smash of the settler-colonial state of Israel!

For a revolutionary Constituent Assembly!

For Workers Councils united across religious and ethnic divides!

For a Multi-ethnic Workers State of Palestine in a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!

For Workers Sanctions against Israel!

Sever all links between the Histadrut and all international trade union organisations!

Defends Hamas against the Zionist state!

For the military victory of the anti-imperialist guerrilla organizations Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria!

Since then we have added one important element to our understanding; which is about the international dimension of Zionism. We note the evident power of Zionism in Western societies and its capacity to enlist the support of powerful ruling class and establishment politicians, from leaders of the Conservatives such as Cameron, to powerful elements of the right-wing of Labour including notably the Labour Friends of Israel and the so-called Jewish Labour Movement, a movement of supporters within Labour of the Israeli Labour Party. We note that both of the latter two organisations defend the state of Israel, and openly defend the dispossession of the Palestinian people in the Naqba. Some in these groups are overtly warlike and support repression of the Palestinians down the line; others claim to be for a two-state solution.

The Israeli Labour Party is not and never was, unlike the Labour Party in Britain, a party independently created by the struggle of the working class for its own politics. It is a reactionary bourgeois party with ‘left’ phraseology. It is the party that carried out the Naqba in 1947-9. When it was in power in the 1950s it initiated the attack on Egypt along with the British Tories and French imperialism for nationalising the Suez Canal, an attack that UK Labour even under right-wing leadership correctly opposed. It also was responsible for the conquest of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 war. It instigated the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and when Palestinians rose up in the first intifada in 1987, as part of the government at that time the then Israeli Defence minister Yitzhak Rabin called for state forces to ‘break the bones’ of children taking part in the intifada. As Prime Minister, later assassinated by an ultra-rightist for even daring to talk to Palestinian representatives, Labour’s Rabin oversaw the supposed implementation of the Oslo accords which were supposed to lead to a two-state solution. But during Olso, the rate of settlement of the territories occupied in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza, did not decline to nothing as you might expect were there any intention of a settlement, but massively increased. The Oslo accords were a fraud designed to disarm the Palestinians so that settlements could continue without resistance.

This is the organisation that claims to be waging a campaign against ‘anti-semitism’ in Labour. It is our contention that the “Jewish Labour movement” and its handmaiden the ‘Labour Friends of Israel’ are in fact racist, communalist organisations that exist to incite racial hatred against Arabs within Labour and to build support for murdering and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians. Far from proscribing anti-racist, socialist organisations such as Socialist Fight, Labour should be proscribing these racist currents, which are a fifth column within Labour for Israel and Israel-supporting currents, and to put it bluntly a bunch of far-right murdering racists.

The ‘Friends of Israel’ groupings work closely with each other. This was shown in the witchhunt against comrade Downing, when David Cameron (Conservative Friends of Israel) and his shady friend Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) exhibited such synergy with our own ‘Friends of Israel’ (see the Hutton investigation quoted above) in demanding comrade Downing’s expulsion. These organisations in Britain are smaller versions of AIPAC in the United States, whose power is feared by politicians of all parties. As shown by the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended its recent convention, and engaged in a kind of Dutch Auction as to who could express the most extreme pro-Israel policies, including things like recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and tearing up Obama’s deal with Iran with a view to military attack.

The 6.6 million Palestinians, refugees and their descendants driven out in successive waves by murderous ethnic cleansing beginning in 1948 have no right of return, of course.

We believe that these very powerful organisations in the Western countries exist specifically to promote Zionist ethnocentric politics.  That is, they are racist anti-Arab trends in Western politics, and represent a powerful trend within the ruling class itself. Their material basis is the overrepresentation of Jews, far beyond their numbers in the population as a whole, among the super-rich, which is a material fact that is frequently boasted about in any number of Jewish publications, as well as some no doubt anti-semitic ones. Be that as it may, these tend to corroborate each other.

If you combine this with the effect of the racist Israeli Law of Return, which denies Israeli citizenship to many Arabs who were born there, while giving the right to Israeli citizenship to anyone born to a Jewish mother anywhere in the world, who may never have even set foot in Israel, the obvious basis exists to create a powerful wing of the ruling class in the West with a material stake in Israel. Israel is a capitalist state, and like all capitalist states, as Marx stated, it acts as the collective organisation of the capitalists of its own country. The Law of Return, however, gives a stake in the state itself to capitalist citizens who reside abroad, and also have citizenship of important imperialist countries such as the US, Britain and others. They have a similar stake in those bourgeois states also. This creates an unusual phenomenon of ‘overlapping’ ruling classes which in our view explains rather a lot in terms of the specifics of today’s politics. It is also demonstrable that ruling class figures of Jewish origin are massively overrepresented among neo-conservative militarists and neo-liberal ideologues, and that this political trend has acquired great moral authority among the non-Jewish ruling classes of the Western countries. This powerful trend has many non-Jewish ruling class supporters, but in its core it is Jewish ethnocentric politics – that is, pro-Israel, anti-Arab racism, that drives it.

This provides the material basis for very powerful pressure groups within the ruling class to adopt policies that directly victimise the Palestinians and for the Western powers to carry into action policies that really benefit the far right in Israeli politics, which have become more and more dominant over time. It should be noted that the rise of this phenomenon, which has happened concurrently with the rise of Israel to world prominence in the post war era, has effected a major change in politics in Western countries including on the far right. So much so that the traditional anti-Jewish racist element on the far right has become an endangered species. It is no accident that some of the most notorious far right movements today, very much unlike half-a-century ago, are pro-Israel. The English Defence League and PEGIDA carry Israeli flags; the Norwegian fascist mass murderer Anders Behring Brevik flaunted his pro-Israel sympathies at his trial.

This is also very evident in the Tory Party in the UK, whose right-wing in the pre-war period was anti-semitic and pro-Hitler. The leader of the section of the right of the Tory party who was most consistently anti-Hitler, Winston Churchill, was a notorious anti-semite. Their exact equivalents today are philo-semitic, pro-Israel and anti-Arab. And with the phenomena of Blairism, where considerable elements of the Labour right are politically very similar to Tories, the consequences for Labour are also not hard to deduce. We believe that this is one important reason why the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has been targeted for smears, disinformation and destabilisation by right-wingers within Labour who are in many cases ‘Friends of Israel’ and work with the Tories and their media (which also happen, not coincidentally, to be pro-Zionist), again as demonstrated in the Hutton document quoted above. And the witchhunt against Socialist Fight and Gerry Downing is a key part of that.

 Notes

[1] Richard Hutton Does the Labour Party have ‘a problem with anti-Semitism’? No; and the accusations raise more questions than answers, https://richardhutton.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/does-the-labour-party-have-a-problem-with-anti-semitism-no-and-the-accusations-raise-more-questions-than-answers/

[2] From About CTS from the Blog: CST is Community Security Trust, a charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism and related threats. CST received charitable status in 1994 and is recognised by the Police and Government as a unique model of best practice. CST has over 60 full and part-time staff based in offices in London, Manchester and Leeds. CST provides security advice and training for Jewish communal organisations, schools and synagogues. CST secures over 600 Jewish communal buildings and approximately 1,000 communal events every year. https://cst.org.uk/about-cst

[3] Dave Rich, Gerry Downing’s ‘Jewish Question’, 10 Mar 2016, https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2016/03/10/gerry-downings-jewish-question#.VuPBxdfFGRQ.wordpress

[4] This is the Wiki footnote, we will take the chance that it is correct: Herzl, Der Judenstaat, cited by C.D. Smith, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 2001, 4th ed., p. 53

[5] Richard Hutton’s Footnote [1] According to Downing he was a “member for some 30 years, with a few breaks, was expelled on 11 August” of 2015. Downing posted this via Facebook on 16th December 2015. The Facebook post appears to have been deleted; but was accessed via a cached document on 31st March 2016. Its original URL was:

https://www.facebook.com/events/131040630594841/permalink/147628388936065/

As it happens, allegations of anti-Semitism levelled at Downing are ultimately irrelevant; as he was not removed from the party on the grounds of being anti-Semitic. In the first instance, of August 2014, he was suspended because of his Marxism. Downing cites the letter of confirmation he received:

“I understand that the reason for the NEC’s decision to auto-exclude you from membership, was the support you have shown through social media, for the organisation Socialist Fight. Your Twitter account also states “I am a Trotskyist retired bus driver with ambitions to end capitalism on the planet by socialist revolution”, which against the aims and values of the Labour Party”.

In March 2015, he was removed from the party for his comments regarding 9/11 and his expression of support for arming Isis. See ‘We must give tactical military assistance to Isis’ says Trotskyist who was readmitted to the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’ by Matt Dathan; Daily Mail (10th March 2016): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3485784/We-tactical-military-assistance-Isis-says-Trotskyist-readmitted-Labour-party-Jeremy-Corbyn.html

Downing’s own piece was entitled ‘The social and political meaning of 9/11 conspiracy theory’ (24th January 2016): https://socialistfight.com/2016/01/24/the-social-and-political-meaning-of-911-conspiracy-theory/

The reference to Isis appears as ”We defend the ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq against the bombing of US imperialism but do not ally with them against the Kurdish defenders of Kobane and Rojava (Western Kurdistan)”; as outlined on his website Socialist Fight’s page ‘Where we stand’: https://socialistfight.com/contact-us/platform

As with Downing’s other pieces, these seem to be examples of half-baked Marxist approaches to complex world events, rather than anything more sinister. It doesn’t seem likely that Downing is anti-Semitic, so much as ingenuous in how this material comes across.

[6] From About CTS from the Blog: CST is Community Security Trust, a charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism and related threats. CST received charitable status in 1994 and is recognised by the Police and Government as a unique model of best practice. CST has over 60 full and part-time staff based in offices in London, Manchester and Leeds. CST provides security advice and training for Jewish communal organisations, schools and synagogues. CST secures over 600 Jewish communal buildings and approximately 1,000 communal events every year. https://cst.org.uk/about-cst

[7] Dave Rich, Gerry Downing’s ‘Jewish Question’, 10 Mar 2016, https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2016/03/10/gerry-downings-jewish-question#.VuPBxdfFGRQ.wordpress

[8] Dave Rich, Gerry Downing’s ‘Jewish Question’.

[9] Leon Trotsky: On the Jewish Problem (1937-40), January 18, 1937 https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/jewish.htm

[10] Works of Karl Marx 1844, On The Jewish Question, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Abram Leon: The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation, https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/leon/

[15] Ibid.

[16] Socialist Fight Statement on Occupied Palestine/Israel 1/8/2014, https://socialistfight.com/2014/08/01/socialist-fight-statement-on-occupied-palestineisrael-2814/

[17] Statement of Principles and Call for International Trade Union Support for BDS by the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/ptuc050511p.html

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