Class vs Identity Politics in Labour’s Zionist WitchhuntLeave a comment
19/04/2016 by socialistfight
Gerry Downing speaking at memorial meeting for Brian McNeil (Lynham) in January 2016
Tony Greenstein’s letter in the Weekly Worker (14 April) raises many issues. It is one of the most dishonest attempts at a polemic one is likely to find anywhere, cramming evasions, distortions and even plagiarism together in such a concentration that it will take an extended treatment to deal with them properly. It is entirely devoid of Marxist substance. However it clearly shows that for him, his own particular form of Jewish identity politics trump Marxism and working class politics no matter what fine words he utters about the latter at times.
He refuses to campaign against the expulsion of Gerry Downing from Labour and rationalises this as follows:
“it is crucial that the Zionists, as represented by the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (the overseas wing of the racist Israeli Labour Party), is not able to secure the expulsion of a Jewish anti-Zionist from the Labour Party. My expulsion will be a defeat for supporters of the Palestinians and anti-Zionists within the Labour Party. It will be a victory for the Zionist movement.”
“Gerry’s expulsion is barely mentioned by the Zionists, other than as ‘proof’ that the Labour Party has an anti-Semitism problem. Gerry’s antics have been of enormous help to the Zionist movement. Unsurprisingly I want to have nothing to do with his campaign against expulsion.”
apparently this is because Gerry is:
“advocating anti-Semitic or racist politics”
Thus he echoes the lies of every Zionist anti-Arab racist and ruling class smear merchant who is trying to purge the Labour Party of opponents of Zionist racism. Greenstein is actually scabbing here, despite his own victimisation, siding with Cameron and the Labour Zionists against a left-wing, working class tendency of trade unionists and socialist militants of several decades standing. Genuine socialists and anti-imperialists should still defend Greenstein against the witch-hunters, while demanding that he, and his CPGB mentors, abandon their treachery and campaign for Gerry Downing’s reinstatement in Labour as per the norms of labour movement democracy.
This behaviour clarifies a lot about Greenstein’s politics. He regards his Jewish political identity as more important than drawing the class line against the genuinely racist supporters of the bourgeois Israeli ‘Labour’ Party in the British Labour Party and its cohorts in the Labour Friends of Israel. One would think that the expulsion of a working class Irish anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist comrade such as Gerry Downing would also be regarded as a defeat for “supporters of the Palestinians and anti-Zionists within the Labour Party”.
But no, apparently, because Gerry is not ‘Jewish’. On the face of it, this would give the appearance of being a racist statement from comrade Greenstein, but that is not quite true. It would be sinking to his unscrupulous level to say that. Because by ‘Jewish’, as his attack on the Israeli-Jewish born musician Gilad Atzmon in same letter makes clear, he is not talking about ethnic origin per se. He is talking about a political Jewish identity, which he voluntarily puts forward. He would equally refuse to defend any Labour member of Jewish origin who sympathised with Socialist Fight’s politics. This is not racism; it is however a form of chauvinist bigotry against those who do not share his identity politics and quite despicable. It also reeks of paternalism towards Palestinian Arabs, who apparently need Jewish identitiarians to save them from the Zionists. Presumably he would have the same attitude to any Palestinian Labour supporters who dared to contradict him on this.
He has every right to put forward an ‘anti-Zionist’ Jewish political identity and though we in Socialist Fight do not share the political programme behind this view, are fully supportive of his democratic rights within and without the Labour Party. We defend Greenstein, despite his politics and his sectarian refusal to defend those who disagree with his politics against the class enemy. At the same time, we denounce his sectarianism, his putting the interests of his own identitarian trend ahead of workers democracy and class unity against bourgeois Zionism. He really needs to learn where the class line lies.
Sectarianism and anti-Marxism
Thankfully, not everyone on the left shares this sectarianism. The comrades of the Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group, for one, have more idea of class politics than Tony Greenstein and the CPGB who appear to be endorsing his stance. As do the comrades of Red Flag, who in their new issue clearly call for a campaign to reinstate all the expelled Labour members who have been thrown out in the current witchhunt.
Greenstein has admitted more than once in writing that the central allegation of Labour’s Zionists against ourselves, that of hatred of Jews, which is the meaning of the term ‘anti-Semitism’, is untrue. But he argues that our views are ‘politically’ anti-Semitic. In essence therefore, his position is the same as that of Dave Rich of the Zionist Community Security Trust, who argues that our views are in tune with those of Marx and Abram Leon, and that this Marxist tradition is itself anti-Semitic. The anti-communist nature of this nonsense is obvious to anyone with an acquaintance with the classical Marxist tradition, including the writings of Trotsky and Deutscher among others.
After all, for Marxists, the reason there ever was a special ‘Jewish Question’ in the first place is because of the unusual class structure that was the material basis for the continuous existence of the Jewish people from antiquity as a distinct human group, where many other similar sized groups disappeared through merging with other peoples. Abram Leon formulated a materialist theory to explain this, that that the Jews post-antiquity became a ‘people-class’, that specialised in commodity trading, and later money-lending or usury in non-commodity based feudal societies.
For Zionist ideologues, the very mention of such things is ‘anti-semitic’, even if historically true. One Zionist hack, Werner Cohn, denounced Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation as a “pathetic little anti-Semitic pamphlet” (http://www.wernercohn.com/Trotsky.html#5) – because it analysed this unusual class structure and thereby echoed so-called ‘tropes’ of anti-semitism – ie. historical facts that were sometimes exploited as propaganda weapons by racists. Greenstein’s attack on my Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism is identical in content to Cohn’s attack on Abram Leon. But as someone who still pays lip-service to Marxism, Greenstein cannot expose his anti-communism by openly saying this. So he engages in elaborate sophistry about how I supposedly do not understand Abram Leon’s theory.
Greenstein quotes me as saying the following in my Theses “The strong influence wielded by the organised Jewish community in the USA in support of all Israeli policies must be taken into account in order to explain the Middle East policies of American administrations.” But this just shows his illiteracy or dishonesty, as anyone reading the Theses themselves can see that these words were not written by me, but by the late Israeli Civil Liberties advocate and Warsaw Ghetto Survivor Israel Shahak, a man Greenstein has in the past professed great respect and even reverence for. These remarks were cited as a piece of empirical evidence in support of my understanding of social reality, but were not part of that understanding. This is obviously an indication either that Greenstein has not read my Theses properly, or a deliberate misquotation and falsification. Which of these are true is hard to say. But this discredits Greenstein’s criticism either way.
Law of Return
Greenstein rejects the idea that the Law of Return, with its gifting of Israeli citizenship to those born Jewish anywhere in the world according to Israeli definitions, gives e.g. Jewish-American capitalists in that happy position a material interest in the Israeli state. But he never says why that well known aspect of the Marxist understanding of the state is inoperative – that the bourgeois state acts as the executive committee of the capitalist class of a given state. Obviously, since capitalist states compete with each other and even sometimes go to war, which state particular bourgeois are loyal to is of considerable importance in politics. Rupert Murdoch was acutely aware of that in seeking US citizenship to obtain access to the circles of the US ruling class. The fact that a significant layer of bourgeois have dual citizenship rights of Israel and the US, or Israel and the UK, or Israel and France, etc. produces an overlap in these ruling classes not on an incidental basis, but collectively, since Zionism is a political, collective view that binds these bourgeois together on the basis of a shared quasi-nationalist consciousness.
Greenstein does not bother to even attempt to refute this central pillar of my theory. The nearest he comes to this is when he says:
“The legal right to Israeli citizenship, which Donovan places such emphasis on, is racist to the core, but it doesn’t explain the support of Jews for Israel. It is a way of strengthening the Zionist state via Jewish immigration. It is not a material factor in the support of the Jewish bourgeoisie for Zionism.”
But this is mere assertion; he does not even attempt to show why such a citizenship right among bourgeois does not bring about such a material interest. As a tool to facilitate outright migration, it has not been particularly effective in the US. But as a means to act as a bridge and create an intra-bourgeois network with a material interest in Israel, it has proved much more so. Greenstein gives no factor that contra-indicates such a material interest, he simply denies it without explaining why not.
He even mocks the very concept that a layer with such a common interest could exist within the bourgeoisie with the most stupid quip:
“Donovan asserts that “Jews are not a nation, but they have a pan-national bourgeoisie”. A bourgeoisie without a nation – or a working class, for that matter. This isn’t Marxism; it is fantasy.”
What is a fantasy is the idea that a bourgeois layer that has more than one state at its disposal has no workers to exploit. Rupert Murdoch is a dual citizen of the United States and Australia. Presumably Greenstein believes as a result of this no-one in either country works for him anymore. An imbecilic point that just underlines that he has cannot refute the basic idea that for the bourgeoisie, citizenship of a state gives them a material stake in that state, and that dual citizenship of more than one imperialist state on a greater than individual level produces an overlap between ruling classes.
And indeed, he cannot, without directly attacking the Marxist understanding of the state. This is no more a ‘conspiracy theory’ than the Marxist understanding of the state itself is a conspiracy theory. Those who make this accusation are anti-Marxists. And in the absence of a materialist alternative to my theory, Greenstein is behaving as an anti-Marxist here also.
Greenstein’s ‘alternative’ to my theory of overlapping ruling classes by citizenship and class interest is the following:
“The strongest supporters of Israel lie in the Christian Zionist and neo-conservative sections of the US bourgeoisie. There is a growing gulf opening up between American Jews and Zionism. To believe that the US ruling class would support Israel and shape its policies in the Middle East around the desires of the Jewish community, which as he says is numerically insignificant, can only lead in an anti-Semitic direction.”
The problem is that bourgeois Christian Zionists, by definition are not Jewish and therefore not entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Therefore their pro-Zionist interest is devoid of a material connection to the Israeli state. Occasional anomalies aside, this has to be the case. And material reality carries more weight than mere religious ideas. As for ‘neocons’; here Greenstein contradicts himself even more, since the overrepresentation of Jewish bourgeois politicians among the neocons is extremely well known. They are the ones with a tangible material interest in Israel; the non-Jewish neocons, as a general trend, are camp-followers of the Jewish-Zionist ones, as is true with the pro-Zionist bourgeoisie in general.
‘Hopeless idiots’ and fraudulent polemics
This has nothing to do with the ‘Jewish community’ per se, but rather the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie. Non-bourgeois Jews do not have much weight in the US – Jews are only 2%. The overrepresentation of Jewish bourgeois among the American bourgeoisie, and indeed the bourgeoisie in other places also, is a material fact. But Greenstein dismisses any mention of this as ‘anti-Semitic’ in exactly the same way that Cohn dismisses Abram Leon as ‘anti-Semitic’, and anti-communists in general have attacked Marx’s materialist analysis of Jewry in The Jewish Question as ‘anti-Semitic’. This is the purpose of his dishonest attempt to pass off the views of Israel Shahak, quoted earlier, as my own.
In this regard, Greenstein criticises Gerry Downing for supposedly not understanding that
“Leon makes it absolutely clear that the Jews’ ‘specific economic role ends precisely where modern capitalism begins’ … Leon goes on to say that in the capitalist epoch ‘the people class has become differentiated socially’”
There is no contradiction between this and my Theses. It is Greenstein who cannot discern what Leon meant by “the Jews specific economic role”. He is blustering. The answer is in the next phrase he quotes from Leon: the “people-class” which has become “differentiated socially”. My Theses expanded on this and are completely in tune with Leon:
“The redundancy of any class, including a people-class, results in its dissolution and its members’ absorption into other classes. This process began with the emancipation of the Jews after the bourgeois revolutions as laid out by Leon and referred to above. Members of the former people-class were absorbed into the bourgeoisie, the working class (particularly as an artisan-proletariat), and various layers of the urban petty-bourgeoisie. As a people with centuries of experience of trade in commodities – that is, in the operation of merchant’s capital – prior to the capitalist era proper, they had major cultural advantages for operation within the bourgeoisie. They had more accumulated ‘cultural capital’ in the spheres particularly of trade and finance than the mainstream ‘native’ bourgeoisies of the nations they were beginning to integrate into.” (https://commexplor.com/2014/09/06/draft-theses-on-the-jews-and-modern-imperialism/)
So Greenstein is engaged in a pseudo-polemic here, designed not to enlighten, but to obscure the issues in debate. As he is when he writes that:
“In short, the people-class ended with the end of feudalism. In eastern Europe, in his memorable phrase, ‘The Jewish masses find themselves wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer of rotting capitalism.’ It was this that led to the growth of anti-Semitism in Poland and eastern Europe, as the Jews came into economic competition with the middle classes, as represented by the Endeks.”
That likewise is there in my ‘junk’ Theses, and could almost have been copied from them:
“In mid-medieval times the Jews were seen as insidious competitors by a rising ‘native’ class of merchants, who proceeded to drive them out of the mercantile field and into the degraded field of usury. In the later 19th Century, Jewish capitalists were seen in a similar way by many ‘native’ capitalists in Europe, and though they were not driven out in the same way, this hostility became one of the source components of modern anti-semitism.”
Greenstein is just toying with basic elements of Leon’s understanding and pretending that they are not to be found in my Theses. Hoping that no-one will actually read them. But anyone who takes Greenstein’s word for this deserves Lenin’s rebuke, that:
“It is necessary that every member of the party should study, with the greatest objectivity, first the substance of the differences of opinion, and then the development of the struggles within the party. Neither one nor the other can be done unless the documents of both sides are published. He who takes somebody’s word for it is a hopeless idiot, who can be dismissed with a wave of the hand”
Class nature of Zionism
Greenstein also mocks my theses for saying that “Zionism always was a quasi-national movement of the Jewish bourgeoisie” and elaborates:
“The Jewish bourgeoisie opposed, not supported, Zionism up until the Balfour declaration of 1917. Herzl wrote the anti-Semitic essay, ‘Mauschel’, because of the opposition of the Rothschilds and Hirschs. The English Jewish bourgeoisie only came over to Zionism reluctantly, primarily as a means of avoiding Jewish German refugees coming to Britain. People like Neville Laski of the Board of Deputies and the Conjoint Committee were originally vehemently anti-Zionist. It was only in 1934 that he attended a Zionist Congress for the first time.”
But he does not explain, in that case, what was the class nature of the Zionist movement. If it was not bourgeois in its programme or inspiration, what was it? Was it working class? Evidently not! Was it therefore a petit bourgeois movement? This is the most problematic question of all, since nationalist movements led by the petit bourgeoisie almost invariably comprise, in reality, movements of those seeking to become a new bourgeois ruling class. This was true even of the Jacobins, the classic bourgeois nationalist revolutionaries. Remember it was the big bourgeoisie that sent Robespierre and his comrades to the guillotine. In a more degraded manner it was true of the Zionist movement, as my Theses elaborate:
“In the early period of Zionism, obviously this quasi-national project appeared problematic and there was not unity among the Jewish bourgeoisie as to whether it was viable or not. But the project was bourgeois, and was extensively funded by part of the Jewish bourgeoisie abroad, particularly in the USA. The lack of unanimous Jewish bourgeois support for the Zionist project in the earlier period meant that it had to rely on support from various pseudo-left Zionist currents, those who manifested nationalist deviations from the revolutionary impulses that drove the genuine elements of the communist and socialist movement who happened to be of Jewish origin. Thus when Israel was founded, its original leaders were dominated by the fake-left nationalist trend. But despite that, the real nature of the Zionist project was thoroughly bourgeois and reactionary; that disjunction between consciousness and reality has long since been resolved through the decay of the fake-left Zionists and the dominance of the open right. The ‘left’ always served a cover for the right, but now they are a pathetic fig-leaf for it.”
This is a nuanced picture, not the kind of vulgar reductionist caricature Greenstein is seeking to portray. Anyone who doubts that there was significant American Jewish bourgeois support for Zionism prior to the Balfour declaration, could do worse than read Alison Weir’s meticulously researched and footnoted Against Our Better Judgement: the Hidden History of How the US Was Used to Create Israel. While Weir is a principled pro-Palestinian activist and writer, her work is directed at convincing mainstream Americans, including conservative ones, that the current US pro-Israel policy is against US interests.
But more to her point is her examination of the role of senior figures in the ruling class of Jewish origin, such as the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in procuring the Balfour Declaration. The fact that the US had a Jewish Supreme Court Justice in this period, when conventional wisdom would have it Jews were simply a put-upon and excluded minority, is remarkable. Plenty of abuse has been written against Alison Weir, by both Zionist and ‘left-wing’ witchhunters who even attacked the Stop the War Coalition for publishing some of her material, but no one has refuted her historical research, much of which comes from Jewish and Israeli sources. What is true is that the consolidation of the bulk of Jewish bourgeois support for Zionism took time. This is what my Theses say.
Greenstein’s arguments against my Theses are not rooted in social reality. He does not really care about reality very much, any more than Cohn did. For Cohn, Leon’s theory of the ‘people-class’ was based on an ‘offensive stereotype’ of Jews as usurers, even though this was in a key period their main economic role. The unusual class structure of the Jews had to be faced by those who analysed reality irrespective of such uncomfortable facts. Like Cohn, like Greenstein. He does not deny that Jews are overrepresented quite considerably among the bourgeoisie, but says that to draw the conclusion that this gives Zionists disproportionate power in Western societies is ‘anti-Semitic’. He indulges in all kinds of transparent subterfuges to deny this, but cannot do so logically. So he thunders more and more, shooting the messenger bringing bad news, and screaming about ‘anti-Semitism’. But in lucid moments, he has admitted that there is no hatred of Jews on our part. And since there is no hatred, anti-Semitism being defined as ‘Jew-hatred’, out of his own mouth he has said there is no anti-Semitism.
Colonial settler state
Then there is his argument in defence of the New Left dogma that Israel is a ‘colonial settler’ state. This is fundamentally a creation of semi-liberal leftists who shied away from the evident fact that Jews, the victims of genocide in Europe, have been responsible for crimes in the Middle East that belong in a similar category to the Nazi genocide and slavery. Rather than face up to that, the left sought to place all the real blame on British and/or American imperialism. These powers are enormously complicit in Israel’s crimes, but that does not absolve the Zionist movement of being an independent historical actor and the prime mover in the specific crimes of Israel against the Palestinians and other Arabs. Greenstein is a firm partisan of this notion of Jewish collective innocence of Israel’s crimes instead of identifying Zionism, a particular Jewish international ideological trend, as the guilty perpetrators. Of course no more than all Germans were guilty of the holocaust are all Jews responsible for the crimes of Zionism. This implies that Israel is really some kind of semi-colonial lackey carrying out British and American instructions, at least indirectly.
Thus he writes:
“Britain once acted as the surrogate mother, while US imperialism does so today. All settler-colonial states – Israel is no exception – rebelled against their sponsors: South Africa in the Boer War, the Australians and Canadians with their determination to secure dominion status and, of course, the United States itself with the War of Independence.”
This argument from Greenstein it itself a concession to us, dressed up as insight. A surrogate mother, of course, is in instrumental terms essentially a womb used for someone else’s benefit. For whose benefit Greenstein does not make clear. But it is clear, for instance, that the most extreme example Greenstein cites, the Boers, were colonists from a rival colonial power whom the British later conquered and had to be forced to become British subjects via war. The United States, conversely, was founded by people who rebelled against British colonial rule, with the objective of creating a better, rival ‘England’ on the other side of the Atlantic. That is why Americans still refer to Britain as the ‘mother country’ to this day. As for Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc, their membership of the British Commonwealth speaks volumes as to who they regard as the ‘mother country’.
Israel is nothing like any of these, in ideological and political terms. It claims to be the state of world Jewry. It has no loyalty to any mother country except for that. And undoubtedly the overwhelming majority of Jews currently see it as ‘their’ state. That is what the Israelis themselves say, that is what their supporters abroad say. It is only the guilty philo-Semites on the left who insist on contradicting them, telling Netanyahu for instance, even as he tries to suborn the US Congress against the President, that he is really just a lackey of America. This is so out-of-touch with reality as to be comical.
Greenstein contradicts himself so often, he evidently does not know whether he is coming or going. He certainly has no idea how to begin to win this argument in Marxist terms. But he has a comfort-blanket. That is his vendetta against Gilad Atzmon. His citation of a tweet by Gilad Atzmon is cited as part of a feeble amalgam to provide cover for Greenstein to row backwards from his very damaging admission that none of the ‘anti-Semitic’ opponents he demonises actually hate Jews. I’m not going to waste time on that here, having addressed it fully in another article, Identity, Racism and Confusion.
Except to note that a careful examination of the context and facts reveal that what Atzmon was expressing detestation of here was Jewish chauvinism ‘the Jew in me, the Jew in you’, ie. the kind of politics that led Greenstein to imply that Gerry Downing’s expulsion from Labour was not an attack on opposition to Zionism because Gerry is not Jewish. No racist anti-Semite could believe for one moment that it is possible for someone born Jewish to cease being a Jew. The Nazis demanded proof of non-Jewish ancestry going back to 1750, ie. about 180 years before their regime. That is what real anti-Semitism involves. Greenstein’s crying wolf over this is no more seemly than that of the Zionists.
This is a debate about material interests, ideology, and the interplay between them in an historical materialist sense. It is Jewish chauvinists like Greenstein, and the Zionist opponents he has a strange love-hate relationship with, that seek to make it something about ‘race’.