CPGB and Racism: For the Record

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23/06/2018 by Ian

Below is the letter published in this week’s Weekly Worker,  which appears to have been printed pretty much in full. We are pleased by this as we consider that it contains a socialist case put consistently against racism that is pretty coherent and unanswerable.

To a real extent this letter, signed by myself, was a collective product, which is one good reason to publish it here. The other is for clarity, and to set the record straight. For though the letter as published is minimally edited, one typo was introduced by the editors that was not in the original. The phrase “West Europeans” in the original was replaced by the phrase “east Europeans” in paragraph 10. We have highlighted this difference as it could be politically significant.

In an age of witchhunts involving social media where the nuances of someone’s phrasing can be quoted against them, false renditions can be significant and it has to be said that there is a political difference between saying that white West Europeans are a privileged population and saying the same about white East Europeans.  We consider East European migrants: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians , Croats, Slovenes and people from the three former Baltic republics of the USSR, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to be victims of racism in Brexit Britain today, not a privileged population at all. And we thought it essential to clarify this.  Though it ought to be obvious from the overall thrust of the article that this was a typo, we should make it clear that this was not our typo, and the original text of the letter is as below.

Peter Manson is obviously upset about my last letter which nailed the reason why an important group of black activists bailed out of Labour Against the Witchhunt – a result of the CPGB’s misleadership. His ill-tempered and apolitical dismissal of supposedly ‘pathetic arguments’ and his statement that some ‘highly respected’ people voted for our exclusion from Labour Against the Witchhunt is extremely weak. He does not give any political reasons why these people should be ‘highly respected’ by Marxists. Some of those who voted for our exclusion for supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ support the Nazi-infested Maidan government in the Ukraine, and the imperialist-funded jihadist war against Assad in Syria, for instance. I don’t ‘respect’ such trends, they are pro-imperialist and reactionary.

Those who advocate separate Jews-only political groups to ‘fight’ Zionism, as Moshe Machover does, can be justly called semi-Bundist. Only semi-Bundist because they do not go all the way and advocate a Jews-only political party as the Bund built. Peter has obviously renounced basic Leninism with his feeble argument that to criticise the ideology behind this is to brand any Jewish person on the left as reactionary, and in implying that there is something racist about criticising it at all.

As someone who is intimately acquainted with white South African politics, I wonder why Peter did not advocate separate whites-only groups to ‘fight’ apartheid?  Answer – because the very idea accepts the basic concept of apartheid – racial segregation. The idea that special Jewish-only groups are necessary to ‘fight’ Zionism also accepts one of the basic concepts of Zionism; that Jews are morally superior to non-Jews who always need a Jewish voice to give them the seal of approval even when they are engaged in struggles against oppression when the oppressors they are fighting are Jewish. This is a form of racist paternalism, and the fact that it is widespread only indicates the depth of Zionist influence on the left.

Peter congratulates himself that at the time of the anti-communist purge that the CPGB initiated, the Labour Party black activists supported the purge. But they are left-reformists; he is supposed to be a Marxist. The depth of influence of Zionism on British social democracy is shown by the fact that the Labour Party actually passed a resolution at its 1941 conference, six years before the Naqba began, calling for the ‘transfer’ of Arabs from Palestine to make way for a Jewish state, in effect calling for the Naqba several years before the actual event.

This is the mainstream Labourite tradition regarding the Jewish question and Zionism, and it is deeply rooted in Labourism and British society in general. It would be surprising therefore if even black activists like Grassroots Black Left, from the mainstream Labour left tradition did not share the CPGB’s own capitulation to Zionism when the question was put. But the CPGB’s chauvinism and defence of the British ruling class against charges of racism still managed to alienate them given a bit of time.

Peter confirms my contention that the CPGB seeks to stop Marxist analysis of class differentiation of the Jewish people(s) when he says that it is permissible to talk about how many or few Jews (in classless terms) support Israel, but not to talk about how the unusual, top-heavy class structure of the same population gives their ruling class component the social weight to effectively promote hard-line pro-Israeli politics in the Western countries. This is an explicit rejection of and attempt to forbid Marxist analysis of the class composition of the Jews. The CPGB has many times used ‘class analysis’ as an excuse for failing to defend Muslim peoples in semi-colonial states against imperialism, or refusing to ally with Muslim immigrant groups against imperialism (over Iraq, for instance), but here class analysis is ruled out.  For Jews only. This is the triumph of chauvinism over Marxism in the CPGB’s ideology.

As the Weekly Worker once said “We in the CPGB, unlike some, are not minded to fling around accusations of racism – or treat racism as the greatest crime one can ever commit.”  (https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1105/elephant-in-the-room/)  The latter phrase is quite an amazing statement from supposed anti-racists and Marxists.

I wonder if they are so unfazed about male chauvinism, anti-gay bigotry or that against transsexuals? I doubt it. But it is clear that they are not too bothered about bigotry against non-whites and immigrants. Yet they have a totally different attitude to Jews – any criticism or analysis of the class structure and social power of Zionism in the advanced countries is treated as racism without any requirement to even show that the authors of that criticism hate Jews at all! In fact the CPGB have admitted in writing, several times, that our comrades do not hate Jews. Hatred of Jews is the very definition of anti-Semitism.  By saying this, the CPGB have admitted to libeling us, in plain English.

For the CPGB, people who hate immigrants, advocate discrimination and state repression against them, and knowingly engage in racial persecution of British citizens because of their origin in the Caribbean and South Asia, effectively depriving them of citizenship, are acquitted of racism. But those who put together a class analysis of the reasons for the political strength and social weight of organised Jewish anti-Arab racism in the advanced countries are deemed to be racist, even though they do not hate Jews and advocate no state repression of any kind against them. What we advocate is that the workers movement consciously take up the struggle to expose and oppose this form of organised racism and act as a tribune of the oppressed.

This is a sign of the CPGB’s own racist bias, which exists on various levels of consciousness, a philo-Semitic bias in favour of Jews and the dominant white West Europeans as privileged groups under imperialism, and against non-whites and other oppressed groups. Unlike the CPGB, we do regard racism as a serious matter and political struggle against it is one of the fundamental bases of our trend.

The idea that there can be national chauvinism and repression without racism is a complete non-sequitur. Dave Vincent wants to stop East European workers ‘taking British jobs’. How is that unrelated to material circulating calling for ‘No more Polish vermin’ that have become notorious in this period?  No doubt he would not be so crude.  But the sentiment is the same.

The implicit argument that East European workers are white and therefore cannot be the victims of racism does not wash.  By that logic there could never be any racism against the Irish, who are also white, when in fact that is a major feature of British racism.  Most of the Jewish victims of Adolf Hitler were also white. Any ideology that treats particular groups of human beings as less than fully human or undeserving of equal rights on grounds of nationality or ethnic origin is racism. After all, ‘race’ is not an objective property of any human being, but a social construction. Racism is a plague.

Likewise, Peter Manson’s argument that the current government is not racist and that this is proven by the appointment of Sajiv Javid as Home Secretary is an incredible apologia. Even under slavery and Jim Crow, a minority of privileged blacks acted as overseers on the plantations. The Nazis used Jewish ‘kapos’ in the concentration camps. The real question is what happens to the masses. And the mass of non-white and other immigrants continue to be second class citizens in so many ways; targets of police harassment, deaths in custody, disproportionately poor and jobless, etc.

Some groups with more of a petit-bourgeois element in their culture have done better but the bourgeoisie still regards them as ‘other’ and they still suffer from racism therefore. The Jewish experience shows that if the ruling class does decide to cease discrimination and oppression against a minority, it can do so. The fact that blacks, Muslims and others are in practice second-class citizens is because the ruling class wants it that way; it uses this to promote divisions within the working class to preserve the existing order.  In every case except for that of the Jews, the systematic oppression of minorities was and is linked to some kind of colonial and later semi-colonial question, which are fundamental to imperialist capitalism. This is why the masses of such origins will always be treated as inferior even if a tiny group of bourgeois can escape.  Bourgeois ‘anti-racism’ is a lie; for so-called Marxists to buy into this rubbish is a major political error and dereliction.


Peter’s explicit defence of the ruling class reactionary anti-racism theory of the CPGB is risible. So, should we say that when the 19th century Tories and Liberals passed laws against child labour this was “a reactionary ideology, aimed at denying the common class interests of the proletariat in the name of queen and country?” The anti-racism of the British ruling class is only for respectable outward show, as the Grenfell tower outrage and the Windrush scandal showed. Behind the scenes they are NOT anti-racist, they are still vile racists, though not as up-front with it as the Tommy Robinson supporters. And it was surely the “senior police officers” who would never advocate “discriminatory behaviour”, according to Peter, who told the police in Whitehall to treat the fascists with such kid gloves for violent behaviour against them on Saturday 9th that would have seen a leftist demonstration battered to a pulp and hit with tear gas and water cannon.

Progressive laws against child labour, against racism and against all capitalist barbarism are a result of the organisations of the working class fighting for these rights in the streets and work places, which is then reflected in legislation wrung out of a racist, exploitative capitalist system, as Marx noted in Capital Vol. 1. It is not a conspiracy against workers or part of a reactionary ideology, as the CPGB so ridiculously proposes. And is the reaction of the Tories to the Grenfell and Windrush scandals another example of ruling class reactionary anti-racism? Or fear of the consequences if they reacted otherwise?

Ian Donovan

Socialist Fight

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