Anti-Marxist fulminations in ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’: A reply

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19/11/2017 by Ian

The following item was recently posted on a private Facebook group run by ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’. We reproduce it here for our readers’ education, both about current matters and some historical issues regarding the contemporary left, Zionism and anti-imperialism.

Reply to Tony Greenstein on ‘anti-Semitism’ and much else.

Tony Greenstein’s posting in response to the comradely discussion between Dolong B Blavats and myself, which others such as Fran Cotton have a participated in in an equally comradely manner, but which Lee Rock has chosen to target for a hoped-for witch-hunt against Socialist Fight, does not put us in a difficult position. We are used to this. It does however put Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) in a bind.

Let us be very clear. Our comrade Gerry Downing was one of the earliest victims of the current phase of the anti-left witchhunt in the Labour Party, being slandered as an ‘ISIS supporter’ by David Cameron in the Commons and then Nazi-baited for our views on the Jewish Question by Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines, and Phil Collins of the JLM along with Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics, while being re-expelled without right of appeal by Iain MacNicol in March 2016. It is very clear that our views on the Jewish Question come from orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism, from Karl Marx’s ‘On the Jewish Question’ and Abram Leon’s ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation’, both of which works have also been calumnied as ‘anti-Semitic’ by enemies of, and renegades from, Marxism.

Our views on these matters have been on record for years, and we are not going to change them now for the benefit of people like Lee Rock who seem inclined to cross class lines to Cameron’s and May’s camp in fear and deference to Zionism. Labour Party Marxists rightly laid out the class issues involved in this witchhunt when they called:

“for the immediate lifting of all of the suspensions and expulsions from Labour Party membership in any way connected to the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign and witch-hunt. That includes Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Gerry Downing and numerous other supporters of the Palestinian cause.”

This was in a motion put by comrade Stan Keable to the Ravenscourt Branch in Hammersmith CLP a year ago, which was ruled out of order by the Labour Party bureaucracy from above with the support of the leader’s office, i.e. apparently of Jeremy Corbyn.  It appears that Lee Rock shares the view of the Labour Party bureaucracy that this motion, which clearly took a class position in defence of all the victims of the Blairite/Zionist witchhunt including Gerry Downing, should be ruled out. This is a treacherous position.

Our views are and were well known to all the people involved in founding this campaign.  Nor is there anything new in anything that has been said in the recent discussion. We have been exonerated of the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear by both Left Unity and the Labour Representation Committee, which are far more authoritative bodies of the labour movement that the sounding off of individuals such as Lee Rock.

United Fronts and Class Principle

Any genuine united front campaign should be one of principle. Comrade Keable’s motion adhered to that. If LAW is to be effective and really draw in all the victims of the witchhunt in an effective manner, it must do the same. For instance, I hear that the Alliance for Workers Liberty are themselves trying to set up their own campaign which purports to campaign against the witchhunt. But when asked if they defend Moshe Machover, their line is ‘Oh no, we don’t defend him, he got what he deserved’, or words to that effect.  It appears that Lee Rock is saying the same about Gerry. This is the same kind of opportunism as the AWL, has a similar pedigree and similar politics and history, as I will demonstrate.

Our campaign, to be qualitatively superior to that backstabbing, must renounce such treachery and really defend all targets of the witchhunt.

Tony Greenstein really is trying to paint me, and implicitly Socialist Fight, as supporters of the politics of Gilad Atzmon. We are no more supporters of Gilad Atzmon’s politics than supporters of the politics of… Tony Greenstein. No doubt we will be criticised by some, including perhaps some of those around Gilad Atzmon, for being prepared to work with Tony Greenstein. We are prepared to work with all genuine supporters of the Palestinians and we reject any injunctions from self-appointed Zionist or Bundist policemen as to whom we are allowed to work with.

An earlier witchhunt

However, we do believe that Tony Greenstein’s campaign to scandalise the SWP in the late ‘noughties’ for engaging with, giving a platform to, and even putting on gigs for Gilad Atzmon at SWP fundraisers, was a reactionary campaign, contrary to working class democracy, and in reality constituted an anti-left witch-hunt which the SWP unfortunately capitulated to.

Atzmon manages to poke holes in key aspects of Zionist ideology, and expose some of the capitulations to Zionism and Jewish communalism of some of those on the left who claim to oppose Zionism. He is a savage critic, albeit from an idealist standpoint, of Jewish identity politics, which from our point of view, in this period, is the identity politics of an oppressor people, and thereby Atzmon’s critique, along with those of others such as Shlomo Sand, is essential for Marxists to engage with.

His sometimes-sceptical remarks about the Holocaust have an Israeli origin, and are a confused reaction to the abuse of the Holocaust to justify hideous Israeli crimes. This is also the reason that Holocaust denial is widespread in the Arab world; it is hardly a surprise that a small minority of Jews should show some similar influences.

Responsibility for this belongs to those who use the Holocaust to justify the Naqba, and with no-one else.  Miko Peled was referring to this well-known Arab and Israeli phenomenon in his remarks about how even the Holocaust was a legitimate topic to discuss at the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ fringe meeting at Labour conference. This did not imply agreement with those mistaken views; it is, however the only rational way to deal with this phenomenon, which has an Israeli, not Nazi, origin.

The real social forces that went after the SWP for its giving a hearing to this Israeli dissident thinker and artist were the likes of Harry’s Place, Oliver Kamm, Nick Cohen, and the Israel lobby generally. Tony Greenstein and his comrades do not have the social power to make such a relatively large organisation dance to their tune. They were the monkey; the Zionists were the organ-grinder.

The SWP has form for capitulating to witchhunts and toning down their politics; after a ferocious backlash over the Lewisham and Ladywood anti-fascist struggles in 1976-77 it turned to building the popular-front Anti-Nazi League as a ‘respectable’ face. In fact Greenstein and co targeted the SWP at one of their leftmost periods in their history, leading the millions strong mass movement against the war in Iraq, and also playing a leading role in Respect with George Galloway.

RESPECT and anti-imperialism

Far from being the kind of ‘popular front’ that Islamophobic leftists claimed it was, Respect resembled a kind of reprise, albeit limited by the very anti-imperialist but still left reformist politics of Galloway, of early Comintern initiatives such as the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East. This engagement of Atzmon was part of the same phenomenon as the SWP’s and Galloway’s engagement with the MAB etc. And the capitulation of the SWP over Atzmon was an important episode in the demise of this leftism, and was certainly not a good thing.

Respect openly supported Iraqi resistance to the imperialist invasion of Iraq.  Indeed, one of the key reasons for Galloway’s expulsion from Labour was his militant speeches calling for such resistance. It also passed a policy resolution at its 2005 conference calling for defence of Iran against imperialist attack. Which makes Respect, in that aspect of policy at least, superior to some of its supposed ‘left’ critics.

In that sense it is notable that Galloway, after some hesitation, defied Tony Greenstein’s anathema against constructive engagement with Atzmon and sympathetically interviewed him on his Sputnik Russia Today TV show in January 2015. This is consistent with Galloway’s often militant anti-imperialist positions over the Middle East, a courageous stance consistent with his defiant attack on the war criminals in the US Senate in May 2005. No doubt Greenstein would also be keen to brand Galloway as a ‘supporter’ of Gilad Atzmon. Or is it the other way around?

If Socialist Fight had possessed similar forces to the SWP and were in a similar position, we would not have renounced engagement with Atzmon. We would have counter-mobilised against the witchhhunt on the basis of militant anti-imperialism.

We have considerable differences with Galloway on other things, notably his ‘Lexit’ left-nationalism and bloc with Nigel Farage, which echoes Tony Benn’s 1970s bloc with Enoch Powell against the Common Market. Though we note that notwithstanding these differences, both he and Atzmon displayed important insights into working-class susceptibility to the Trump and Brexit phenomena, even if Galloway’s answers were wrong.

But on the issues of anti-imperialism and the Middle East, Galloway is still the most outspoken anti-imperialist left figure of MP stature. It is important that Labour against the Witchhunt, if it is to embrace all anti-imperialists and anti-Zionists against the witchhunt, take up George Galloway’s own oft-repeated demands for re-admission to Labour. Maybe we could even invite him to be our honorary president? That would be a strong political statement, counterposed to the grovelling evidenced by Lee Rock.

Respect was a product of the domination of the Labour Party at that point by neo-liberal reactionaries to an unprecedented degree. The purge of George Galloway from Labour was politically the same phenomenon, in different conditions, as today’s witchhunt. Fundamentally it was a witchhunt against anti-imperialists and anti-Zionists. Respect also no longer exists. Since Galloway’s expulsion was an atrocity, and he is not involved in any rival project to the Labour Party, his readmission to Labour is an obligatory demand of a principled left campaign.

Anti-Anti-Imperialism

The question of George Galloway is intertwined with that of Atzmon for another reason. One of the tendencies involved in founding LAW is Labour Party Marxists, which as everyone knows is influenced heavily by the politics of the CPGB/Weekly Worker. At the time of Galloway’s expulsion from Labour in 2003, and then particularly the smearing of him by the Daily Telegraph in April 2004, these comrades were less than forthright in his defence.

They ran a back-page article, titled ‘Trial by Telegraph’ (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/477/trial-by-telegraph/) on the latter occasion, written by Dave Osler, which opined that Galloway was probably guilty of being in the pay of Saddam Hussein as the Telegraph alleged, and that ‘the left should lead the condemnation’.  Galloway then successfully sued the Daily Telegraph for libel; and also won the subsequent appeal.

The CPGB’s Mike MacNair later admitted that they came close to crossing the class line by running that article on the back page without qualification, thus appearing as a de-facto editorial. I would go further.  I say they did cross the class line, albeit they then partially retreated from that without dealing with the underlying reason for the betrayal. It is also a matter of public record that I was the most prominent opponent of this treachery within the CPGB, and wrote a conterposed article that utterly contradicted its entire thrust (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/479/galloway-witch-hunt-and-stop-the-war/).

In fact the CPGB reluctantly distanced itself from Osler’s treachery – Osler, then and now, was an ally of the Zionist Allliance for Workers Liberty who just before that time the CPGB were at least considering fusing with. By 2004 that had fallen through, but there was enough political similarity between them that a number of their membership had AWL-like politics. Thus there was a lot of resistance to defending Galloway and even more to supporting Respect.

Weekly Worker carried lampooning, personalist denunciations of Galloway that contradicted our supposed support for Respect, and when I objected, some very heated disputes arose where on one notorious occasion one individual, who I will not name today as he is no longer active, demanded I apologise for some of these criticisms or he would resign from the organisation. I refused to do so and he duly resigned. I was then roundly denounced for refusing to apologise to the Islamophobe in question for this criticism. And I recall Lee Rock was one of my most vocal critics. So these differences are not new. I got fed up of this, left the CPGB and got fully involved in Respect in mid-2004 until 2010 when the project ceased to be viable as a party.

Fast forward to 2016 from 2004, and you find the same Dave Osler supporting a resolution to expel Gerry Downing from the Labour Representation Committee for alleged anti-Semitism. The same soft Zionism, the same treachery. Just before you find Tony Greenstein saying that he could not defend comrade Downing, that his views were indeed anti-Semitic. However, when pressed by other trade unionists and socialists such as myself and Keith Henderson to justify this and give Gerry Downing a proper hearing, it transpired that in expelling him the LRC had broken its own constitution, and was unable to define ‘anti-Semitism’ anyway.

So the case against Gerry Downing collapsed and he was exonerated, no thanks to Tony Greenstein. Now we have Lee Rock once again showing his semi-Zionism through advocacy of definitions of anti-Semitism that define it more broadly than racism, so that criticism of the demonstrable behaviour and ideology of some Jews is elided with racialised hatred of all Jews, when they are demonstrably completely different things.

Real Anti-Semitism is Racism

This is why precision on the definition of anti-Semitism is crucial. At the founding meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt, a definition was adopted that says anti-Semitism is ‘‘hostility towards Jews as Jews”, in tune with Brian Klug’s definition whose full wording says that anti-Semitism is “‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”.

To us, though this is an improvement on the flagrant attempt by Zionists to drag opposition to the existence of the Israeli state at the expense of Palestinians into the definition of anti-Semitism, it is still vague and open to several interpretations, and capable of being broadened beyond the definition of racism.

We attempted to amend this to say that anti-Semitism is “racist hostility to Jews as Jews” but this was rejected. It appears that this is no accident; somewhat like the Zionist definitions, Klug’s formulation can broaden the definition of anti-Semitism beyond racism and discrimination against Jewish people, to criticism of ideologies adhered to by the Jewish population. Either majorities or minorities of any population or class at a given time can hold reactionary or racist views, or be involved in oppression.  No such population can be protected from such criticism.

When this vote was lost, we abstained on the Klug definition; we did not vote against it as it is an improvement on the Zionist status quo, but still has room for the kind of broadening of the definition just described.

Tony Greenstein claims that ‘not all racisms are alike because they have different roots’  This is true, and anti-Semitism as a form of hostility to all Jews was bolstered by the irrational belief that Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists were secretly conspiring to ensure that Jews rule the world. That is the ideology of the Protocols of Zion and later variants.

It appropriated elements of ideology from earlier Christian religious persecution of Jews from antiquity onward, and various kinds of social hostility to the economic role of the Jews as a people-class of commodity traders in feudal times, but anti-Semitism as it emerged in the late 19th Century was a racist ideology that defined Jews as a ‘race’ and targeted Jewish people in general.

Race as a social category

In our view ‘race’ has no objective existence whatsoever; there are no biological races. But ‘race’ is a social category under capitalism that fulfills a crucial role for the system, and from which individuals cannot escape because it is a social, not an individual, category. This distinction is rather well elaborated in an article titled ‘Capitalism and Racism’ by the ex-Spartacist  International Bolshevik Tendency from 1993 (http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no12/no12capitalismandracism.html):

“The whole concept of “races” within the human species is not based on physical reality, but is rather a purely ideological construction. Over the past 50 years biologists have come to the conclusion that there is no scientific means of categorizing human beings by ‘race.’ What are taken as distinct “races” (European, African and Asian) are in reality arbitrary divisions of humanity on the basis of skin color and other secondary physical features.”

And yet:

“… biological refutation does not affect the social reality. As Richard Fraser, a veteran American Trotskyist, pointed out in ‘The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution,’ a document written in the 1950s and recently republished, race remains ‘a reality in spite of the fact that science reveals that it does not exist.’ Fraser wrote that: ‘The concept of race has now been overthrown in biological science. But race as the keystone of exploitation remains. Race is a social relation and has only a social reality.’”

It is clear from the following statement of Tony Greenstein that he does not really understand the distinction between race as a biological category (non-existent) and race as a social category (very real, unfortunately). He writes that:

“’ True you can’t change your skin colour but being Jewish is not something that is fixed UNLESS you believe that being Jewish is a racial characteristic.  I don’t though anti-Semites do!”

So for Tony, skin colour is a racial characteristic but being Jewish is not. Actually, I would content that, in biological terms, neither skin colour nor being born Jewish are ‘racial categories’, because race has no biological reality, but in terms of race as a social category, both skin colour and being born Jewish are ‘racial’ social categories

So this is the basis for my contention that no one can renounce their national-communal origin any more than they can renounce their skin colour. We are talking social categories here, not biology. But with his counterposition of skin colour to Jewishness, Tony is not sure whether ‘race’ is a matter of biology or what. He denies that Jews are a race, in biological terms. But for Marxists, this is a non-issue as there are no races in this sense anyway.

My statement that neither Atzmon nor any other Jewish person can be anti-Semitic is based on the fact that race is a social category, from which individuals cannot voluntaristically escape by an act of will, no matter how hard they try. It has nothing to do with biology.

Weaving the rope to hang yourself with

Tony is partly responsible politically, by his absurd campaign against Atzmon’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism’, for the political atmosphere when Jewish leftists like himself, Jackie Walker, Moshe Machover and others can be hounded out of labour movement organisations for anti-Semitism. The allegation that a Jewish person can be an anti-Jewish racist should be met by gales of raucous laughter and ridicule, akin to the response if say Bernie Grant had been expelled from Labour for racism against black people. Instead, surreally, it is something that has to be taken very seriously today.

This is partly Tony’s doing, because by finding ‘theoretical’ justifications from the ‘left’ for how Atzmon can be an anti-Jewish racist, he was weaving a rope that the Zionists would fashion into a noose to hang him and Moshe Machover, who also helped with the weaving. Thus he pathetically says…

“The problem is that whereas it is indeed absurd for me to have to prove I am not anti-Semitic, this is not because I am Jewish but because my support for the Palestinians and opposition to Zionism is not anti-Semitic.”

 … thus digging himself deeper into the mire. Because he has conceded the principle that ‘anti-Semitism’ should not be synonymous with racism, and that Jews should not be treated as an example of the social category of ‘race’ in a racist world, therefore he has only the barrier between one subjectivist definition of non-racialised ‘anti-Semitism’ and another to protect him. A flimsy shield indeed.

Indeed, Greenstein appears to agree with Atzmon that is possible for a Jewish person to cease to be Jewish by an act of will. But in fact, if Atzmon and Greenstein found themselves stranded in a ghetto in Nazi Germany, both would have had an equal chance of being murdered by real anti-Jewish racists. Protestation that Atzmon was no longer a Jew would be as utterly fruitless, as the Nazis defined a non-Jew as someone who could prove they had no Jewish ancestry going back to 1750.

Except Atzmon does not actually believe that, in talking about ceasing to be a Jew, he is talking about race. Rather, he believes it can be done by renouncing ‘Jewish ideology’ and Jewish identity politics. The concept of Jewish ideology is not Atzmon’s but comes from Israel Shahak, the late Israeli civil rights advocate and Warsaw Ghetto survivor, who elaborated the concept in his book ‘Jewish History, Jewish Religion: the Weight of Three Thousand Years’ (Pluto Press 1993).

Thus when Atzmon says “I do believe that all states, ideologies and politics must be subject to criticism, but I have never criticised Jews (or anyone else for that matter) as people, as a race or a biological entity” he is being truthful. For Atzmon, ‘Jewishness” is an ideological, not a racial concept, and renouncing it is a conscious act of renouncing an ideology he was in his view indoctrinated and brainwashed to believe in from birth. That is the meaning of the tweet, directed against some Zionist troll, that Greenstein thinks so damning:

“I am not a Jew anymore. I despise the Jew in me. I absolutely detest the Jew in you.”

This is not “racial anti-semitism” at all. Tony is confused about what ‘race’ is. No racial anti-Semite could ever write “I am not a Jew anymore”.  The very idea is an oxymoron. For Atzmon, ‘Jewishness’ is an ideology, to be rooted out of oneself roughly the way idealistic Maoists tried to do with ‘capitalist ideology’.

Atzmon is not the only prominent Jewish person to have publicly ‘resigned’ from being a Jew. Shlomo Sand has done the same thing, writing a small book on the theme “How I stopped being a Jew” in 2014. His thesis is that, while it is possible for outsiders to convert to Judaism as a religion, the secular Jewish identity is particularly oppressive and exclusive because it is not possible to join it except being born into it. I reviewed his book at (https://commexplor.com/2014/11/09/shlomo-sand-crystallisation-of-hope/), if anyone wishes to know and read more about it. Will Self, the well -known writer and TV satirist, did the same much earlier, in the 1990s.

Atzmon is not that different from these, except that he is much angrier, because he served in the IDF and witnessed Arabs being tortured and abused in conditions he considered unfit even for dogs, till he concluded “I was a ‘Nazi’; they (the Arabs) were the ‘Jews’”.  His emotional response to this was to renounce all aspects of Jewish identity, and to leave Israel, never to return until it is once again Palestine, as he explains in the documentary film Gilad and all that Jazz, (https://youtu.be/Qz6oKHPvjCw)  available on YouTube.

To conclude, on the question of the ‘Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste’, I challenged Lee Rock or anyone else to show that there is any substantially false information in the material Socialist Fight have published on this social formation. I repeat this challenge here. Facts are facts, and there are no ‘anti-Semitic facts’. That certain facts are deemed beyond investigation for Marxists, and that to mention them is akin to heresy, shows that the spirit of those who persecuted Galileo for reporting inconvenient facts is as alive among some of those trying to fight the witchhunt as it is among the witchhunters themselves. This is a sign that there is soft Zionism in Labour Against the Witchhunt, and a symptom of Zionist ideological hegemony even over its critics. Real opposition depends on breaking that ideological hegemony, not accepting it.

One thought on “Anti-Marxist fulminations in ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’: A reply

  1. […] first subscribers, simply for defending our own views in a comprehensive article (now published at https://socialistfight.com/2017/11/19/anti-marxist-fulminations-in-labour-against-the-witchhunt-a-re…), we submitted the following motion for the next LAW […]

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