18/04/2017 by Ian
Below we publish the almost apolitical response from Peter Manson, editor of the CPGB’s Weekly Worker to a Socialist Fight letter detailing the debate that took place at their recent public forum defending Ken Livingstone, followed by the letter itself. We invite thinking elements on the left to compare our account of the debate with the audio recording referred to in comrade Manson’s letter.
Weekly Worker reply
17 April 2017
I’m sorry, Ian, but we’re not going to publish this.
I find it quite incredible that two intelligent comrades like you and Gerry genuinely seem to believe that your line of argument is not anti-Semitic.
By the way, the voice files from Sunday van be accessed on the CPGB website:http://cpgb.org.uk/media/audio/
Socialist Fight letter
17 April 2017
It is unfortunate, but symptomatic that there was no report in last week’s Weekly Worker of the discussion that took place at the Communist Forum that the CPGB recently held to defend Ken Livingstone against the Blairite-Zionist witch-hunt in the Labour Party. The CPGB comrades, and their guest speaker and sympathiser Tony Greenstein are to be congratulated for standing up for Livingstone when many others on the Labour left, including Jeremy Corbyn himself, have run up the white flag of surrender. Our comrades stand shoulder to shoulder with them on this. But the discussion period dramatically exposed some key weaknesses in the comrades’ understanding.
It is notable that Tony Greenstein was correctly sharply critical of the soft left gadfly Owen Jones for his antics during the 2014 Israeli massacre of Gaza Palestinians known as ‘Protective Edge’, when he made condemnation of ‘anti-semitism’ in the protests against this crime his key point, when as Tony correctly noted, this was negligible at worst. This presaged his support for the purges of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and others today.
But Tony and the CPGB have a real problem with this point, as they do not have entirely clean hands here, as I pointed out in my intervention. During the same 2014 massacre I was driven out of the CPGB’s then ‘Communist Platform’ of Left Unity for remarks and theses that I wrote in the context of these events that gave a Marxist analysis of the power of Zionism in the advanced countries to suppress and witchhunt critics of Israeli crimes, a social power that is starkly visible in the witchhunt of the Labour left currently happening.
Israel has special privileges in the traditional advanced capitalist countries above and beyond those of other Western allies such as (for example) Saudi Arabia, in that there is a powerful section of the ruling class that characterises criticism of Israeli crimes as racist, and uses that lie as a means of destroying critics even within the framework of bourgeois politics.
There is a material basis for this, analysed in historical materialist terms in my September 2014 document ‘Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism’. Jewish ethnic nationalists are represented among the ranks of billionaire capitalists in the West far beyond the proportion of Jewish people in the general population of the advanced countries, so that among American billionaires, for instance, the representation of Jewish bourgeois approaches 50%, more than twenty times overrepresentation to the actual Jewish population of the US which is around 2%. Comparable overrepresentation can be demonstrated elsewhere, including in the UK. This gives Zionists social power to persecute even bourgeois critics of their nationalist project that other ethnic groups, without such a project and/or such social power, simply do not possess.
This analysis became an issue in the witchhunt in Labour when Gerry Downing was re-expelled from Labour just over a year ago. Though he was formally expelled for support for Socialist Fight, despite it not being a proscribed organisation, there was in fact a ferocious witchhunt against him for criticising bourgeois Zionists in the imperialist countries, who act across national borders as a quasi-nationalist trend in support of Israel, and for promoting SF’s analysis of the Jewish Question.
The CPGB struck an absurd and contradictory position of defending the idea that people with SF’s views on this should be purged from the left, but not apparently from the Labour Party on ‘democratic’ grounds. They imply that our views are in some way ‘objectively’ racist and anti-semitic, and yet in the face of the obvious militant anti-racism and anti-imperialism of SF, despite an occasional frisson of Stalinist/AWL-style Nazi-baiting, have recognised in print the obvious fact that our comrades have no hatred of Jews. This is an inherently contradictory posture that really means that they cannot refute our analyses in a rational manner.
So Jack Conrad at the same time defended our supporters’ right to be in the Labour Party, and at the same time noted that if he had the whip hand all who agree with our analysis would be purged from his version of the workers movement. He claimed that the CPGB had pointedly not demanded that our comrade be excluded from Left Unity. But as Gerry Downing pointed out, Conrad had been less than honest in his account of this; he did not mention that Left Unity carried out their own enquiry into his smears and rejected them as groundless. Likewise, despite the failure of Tony Greenstein to oppose the attempt by some Zionist-influenced leftists to purge Gerry Downing from the Labour Representation Committee, in fact that purge attempt had been defeated when the would-be purgers, and notably their QC, were forced to admit that they could not themselves define ‘anti-Semitism’.
Which gave rise to a particularly clarifying point in the discussion. In my contribution to the discussion, I defined anti-Semitism as “racialised hostility to people of Jewish ethnic origin”. Tony Greenstein rejected that definition and stated that in his view anti-Semitism was a kind of prejudice against ‘Jews as Jews’ (it appears that he means people who self-identify as Jews) and cannot and should not be equated with racialised hostility. This is clarifying, as this position gives credence to the Zionist concept that some Jews, those who reject their particular interpretation of ‘Jewishness’, can be classed as self-haters and anti-Semitic.
This is why the AWL’s Martin Thomas, for instance, is very clear in rejecting the equation of anti-Semitism with racism. It appears that Tony Greenstein has a similar conception, in that he equates anti-Semitism with rejection of, not Zionism, but the forms of Jewish identity that he embraces or identifies with at some level. Tony Greenstein evidently draws the line against anti-Semitism in a different place to Martin Thomas and the Zionists. But he does not draw the line where it should be drawn, at racist antagonism, not ideological rejection.
As I pointed out in my contribution, political Zionism is today the hegemonic form of racism; it is the only form of racism that has not been discredited as a result of Hitler and the Nazi Genocide, and therefore other forms of racism have to adapt to this and hide behind it. A concrete example of this being the self-characterisation of some of the white supremacist elements around Trump as ‘white Zionists’. The broadening of the definition of anti-Semitism beyond racism is part of the basis for the racist hegemony of political Zionism; such a broadening can only be an additional burden on Palestinian Arabs who are oppressed by political Zionism, and indeed on anyone who defends them. This broadening is flatly contrary to the interest of workers and the oppressed.
What is notable is that the CPGB comrades and Tony are rightly scathing about the criminalisation of Ken Livingstone for citing indisputable historical facts, in his case about the Haavara (transfer) agreement between the Nazis and Zionists in the 1930s. But as Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson clearly noted in the discussion, it is also a fact that that there is Jewish overrepresentation in the ruling class. He even made the important point that it is perfectly legitimate and not racist to dispute whether the Jewish representation is 50%, or a bit less, as this is on the terrain of facts. But he then contradicted himself by saying it was ‘anti-Semitic’ to thereby assume that these bourgeois would likely be Zionists, and thereby use the social power of their property to promote Zionism.
But this is weak, and contradicts Marxism. Tony Greenstein already noted that anti-Zionist Jews are a minority among Jews in the West. This is evidently true. Marxists cannot fail to note that political Zionism is a bourgeois ideology par excellence, and will inevitably be much more dominant among bourgeois Jews than among non-bourgeois Jews. So by ascribing to ‘anti-Semitism’ the notion that political Zionism will inevitably in this period be the dominant ideology among ruling class Jews in the imperialist countries, much more than in the Jewish population at large, Manson is poo-poohing some very elementary Marxist analyses and conclusions. He is in effect rejecting the division of the Jewish people along class lines.
Tony Greenstein showed a very partial and contradictory understanding of this point when he tried to refute our attempt to analyse the Jewish Question today, saying that the special economic role of the Jews as a mercantile/financial people-class under feudalism is no more. He is of course right that the people-class ceased to exist with the demise of feudalism. But this begs the question of what was the point of Abram Leon’s use of the concept to explain the fate of the Jews in the 20th Century? At the point Leon wrote, the people-class was no more. But at the same time, the legacy of the people-class in central and Eastern Europe had produced an impoverished, oppressed Jewish population that appeared to have been rejected by capitalism itself, and appeared doomed to extermination if capitalism was not overthrown. That was Leon’s understandable, but in hindsight one-sided, conclusion from his essentially correct analysis of the people-class.
From this vantage point we can see that this was not the only result of the legacy of the people class. It is also the case that the particular history of the people-class of merchants and usurers was eventually to be the starting point for the crystallisation of a Jewish-Zionist political caste within the imperialist bourgeoisie. This is not a class in the sense of having a distinct economic role, but it has over time acquired value as a resource of class-conscious ideologues for the bourgeoisie. Friedman, Kissinger and Keith Joseph have been as valuable as class conscious ideologues for the bourgeoisie in this period of reaction and neoliberalism as Marx, Trotsky and Luxemburg (and Abram Leon) once were for the revolutionary proletariat. What this paradox shows is that there are no inherently progressive or reactionary peoples. Not even the Jews.
Finally I would note that empirically, Tony Greenstein in his summary made our point for us, without intending to. He did a “what if” exercise. What if the overrepresentation of Jews in the Western imperialist bourgeoisie did not exist? Would imperialist policy toward Israel be different? Clearly not he said, at most there would not be the Western support for the settlements. But that is precisely how Western policy toward Israel differs from those of other repulsive allies! There is a serious move to criminalise criticism even of the settlements, a deadly threat to the fiction of the West’s supposedly preferred two-state solution.
Aside from the ahistorical assumption that Israel, in its present form at least, would even exist without the existence of an important Jewish component of the imperialist bourgeoisie in the West, the ‘little’ difference of the settlements is a exemplar of how Israel is different. For the settlements are an overt atrocity, sabotage of the West’s supposedly preferred policy, and still for even bourgeois politicians to be strongly critical of Israel over this endangers careers. Without the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste, there would be no ‘anti-Semitism’ smears against bourgeois critics of Israeli crimes, no hegemony for Zionist racism over other racisms, the far right would not be carrying Israeli flags, and Israel would have about as much ideological legitimacy in the West as Saudi Arabia.
So Tony Greenstein’s ‘What if’ exercise ends up effectively conceding the point it was meant to refute. Its unfortunate that this rather fruitful debate did not get reported in WW, but in the interest of solidarity against the witchhunt and theoretical and programmatic clarity, hopefully this letter will make up the shortfall.