07/07/2018 by Ian
The following letter was submitted to the Weekly Worker in reply to editor Peter Manson’s long contribution in the WW letters page last week, part of an ongoing debate about racism, anti-racism and Zionism. It was not published. Obviously they have the right to decide what is published in their own publications, but others also have the right to criticise their editorial policy. Previously the CPGB have justified refusing to publish material responding to them by saying that they publish material that promotes their own political agenda.
Every political group has that right. But for Marxists, this is circumscribed by the need, in the words of Leon Trotsky, to “face reality squarely”. Meaning that Marxists have an overwhelming duty to address social and political reality in order to change it. We have the right to refuse to publish incoherent nonsense that adds nothing to the debate and just wastes ink; however if we refuse to publish criticism because it poses questions that we are unable to answer honestly in front of our supporters, that is political evasion and sectarianism, putting the interests of your own grouping before the interests of the movement as a whole. It is a violation of the whole purpose of Marxism.
Serious would-be Marxists and anti-racists will be able to judge which of these things the CPGB is doing.
Peter Manson shows that he has not fully broken with liberalism, and does not fully comprehend racism and the oppression that goes with it, in his response to me in last week’s paper. Uncomfortably aware that what he argues sits uneasily with his aspirations to Marxism, he wriggles evasively around the most difficult of our criticisms.
His overriding thrust is to excuse the racism and chauvinism of privileged groups within the working class and the middle-class sections who orbit around the labour movement, as well as the ruling class itself, and to denigrate those who consistently stand up for the victims of imperialism and racism. When you step back and view what Peter is arguing in perspective, it is that the ruling class is not racist, that supporters of immigration controls in the imperialist countries are not racist either, but that those on the left who challenge this most consistently are the real racists. That might sound harsh, but it is the real logic of his arguments.
Thus Peter says that our statement that the CPGB exhibits a ‘philo-semitic bias in favour of Jews” itself ‘smacks of anti-Semitism’. Peter has a real problem with the sentence he has torn a brief phrase out of here. It reads in full:
“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.”
He finds this so offensive that, although he published our letter pretty much in full the previous week, he somehow managed to amend the phrase ‘West Europeans’ to ‘east Europeans’ in the version published in the paper, which completely garbled the point being made. This strange error, which was not in the original, had the (intended?) effect of blunting our point about the CPGB’s bias in favour of privileged groups.
When challenged publicly about this, he apologised in an email for the misrendering of our views. But now he mangles them in a different way, obscuring our criticism that the CPGB excuses the racism of privileged groups and reserves the allegation of racism to those for those to their left, who go further in siding with the oppressed than the CPGB have the political courage to do.
Peter’s weird statement that it is ‘anti-Semitic’ to criticise the CPGB’s bias toward privileged white West Europeans and Jews is redolent of the neocon Blairite Denis MacShane who complained that criticisms of his hard-line support for Zionist crimes meant he was somehow a victim of anti-Semitism, even though MacShane is not Jewish. This is a classic Zionist theme; that it is anti-Semitic to criticise racist Jews and their supporters and to treat their racism as equivalent to white supremacism or Nazi anti-Semitism, and Peter has now elaborated his own version of that.
His evasiveness is shown graphically in his opening paragraph when he asserts, without a quotation, that I claimed that the recent Grassroots Black Left walkout from Labour against the Witchhunt was caused by the earlier purge of Socialist Fight from LAW. He must think the readers of WW are pretty dim to swallow this logic-chopping, as my point obviously was that both the purge of Socialist Fight and the subsequent GBL walkout had the same cause: the chauvinism of the CPGB’s central leadership, which is experienced by anyone who works with them. How clearly the GBL comrades understand this I have no idea, but they may have an inkling, despite being like most Corbyn supporters left-reformists, something that Peter incredibly implies is an insult.
As an example of chauvinism, we cite his excuses for Dave Vincent, trade unionist and advocate of draconian immigration controls, who asked: “do indigenous peoples have any rights over those coming into their country or must all be welcomed and accommodated, no matter what the resources available” (https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1159/letters/) Peter says this is not racism, but “national sectionalism”.
This is not a dispute between different groups of workers, i.e. sectionalism, but an assertion of the ‘right’ of one people to exert power over an ‘other’. There is no class politics in it; he sees himself as part of a classless unity of ‘indigenous people’ (a phrase which in the UK context is pregnant with racial innuendo) against other peoples. Whatever he says about ‘bread and butter issues’ and the allegedly inferior trade union consciousness of migrants is subordinate to this; he regards non-‘indigenous’ peoples as an enemy to be denied equal rights on grounds of being non-‘indigenous’. This has racialised overtones. If Peter says this is an example of ‘non-racist’ chauvinism, this is nonsense, there is no such thing.
This is the import of the phrase in an earlier CPGB article that I cited saying “we … unlike some, are not minded to … treat racism as the greatest crime one can ever commit”. Obviously holding a racist view is not literally equal to mass murder (Peter’s autobiographical anecdote about his father overcoming racism, while interesting and moving, is not remotely relevant here). This is about turning a blind eye to backwardness, like the obvious racial overtones of Dave Vincent, quoted above. In that regard, one wonders why the CPGB does not say the same thing about male chauvinism, anti-gay bigotry, or for that matter anti-Semitism (which like the AWL it gives a wider definition to than anti-Jewish racism)?
I wonder what some of its very good, capable and assertive women comrades would say if they adopted this view of male chauvinism, for instance? I suspect there would be an explosion – and rightly so. Whereas when anti-Semitism can be demagogically alleged against people to its left, not only does the CPGB not play it down, but it flagrantly extrapolates from the Zionist methodology of ‘tropes’ to invent non-existent racism replete with even graphics evoking the Nazi holocaust, only to then lamely admit that our comrades do not hate Jews at all! This is not only libel; it is flagrantly incoherent, self-contradictory libel, which would be laughed out of court if it ever came to that.
Likewise his incredibly rose-tinted view of the Commonwealth as supposedly a symbol of post-imperial British ‘anti-racism’ where “we were all equal – British, Nigerians, Indians etc.” He does not seem to be aware of such things as the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts of 1962 and 1968, and the Immigration Act of 1971, which cumulatively and deliberately put an end to the unusual situation when citizens of the “New Commonwealth”: brown South Asians, black Africans and African-Caribbeans – had the rights of British Citizenship, while still making migration from white-dominated Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada relatively easy through racist criteria about ‘descent’. These laws were and are racist in intent, and everyone knows it.
Those rights remained for New Commonwealth immigrants who arrived before 1971, but this Tory government deliberately took them away through the Immigration Act of 2014 by insisting on non-existent documents that were never previously necessary to prove your rights. The Windrush scandal was no accident; it was a deliberate racist act; to pretend otherwise is simply an apologia no matter how many Sajiv Javids get promoted to the cabinet or how much fatuous PR and spin is aired in the media about how ‘anti-racist’ the British state has become. So what if Javid were to become Prime Minister? Obama’s Presidency did not stem the epidemic of police murders of black people in the USA; in fact it took a new movement, Black Lives Matter, independent of Obama’s administration to even begin to challenge this. And this is just the tip of a huge iceberg of discrimination and abuse that Obama was powerless to change.
Peter claims that I ‘admitted’ that support for Israel ‘is in the interests of imperialism’, and thus gives away that he understands neither imperialism nor our position on Israel. ‘Imperialism’ is not some monolith, it is the politics of the imperialist bourgeoisie and full of contradictions, factions and antagonistic trends. It is the highest stage of capitalism, dominated by finance capital. Twice in the last century imperialism has gone to war with itself and torn the world apart.
Our position is that Israel is an imperialist power in its own right, and much stronger than would appear at first glance from its size and population. If it existed purely as a state on its own, speaking ahistorically for a moment to demonstrate this point, it would be on the level of Holland and Belgium, both now minor imperialist powers. Israel is not so minor, however, because there are powerful Zionist factions within the imperialist bourgeoisies of several other imperialist powers, not just the United States but also the UK and other West European states, and the core of these imperialist factions is based on the mainstream ethnic politics of the section of the imperialist bourgeoisie that is of Jewish origin, political Zionism, which regard Israel as their imperialist state, either co-equally with their state of residence, or primarily.
Israel is far too weak to become a global imperialist hegemon, but its aim is to become the dominant regional imperialism within the Middle East, with American and other support, not as a puppet or ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’, but rather as a powerful force in its own right by virtue of its ‘foreign legion’ within the Western imperialist bourgeoisies, particularly that of the US.
There is a Marxist historical materialist tradition, that of Marx, Abram Leon and ourselves, which explains why Jewish strength within the imperialist bourgeoisie is much greater than the proportion of the population that is Jewish, but for the CPGB it is ‘anti-Semitic’ for Marxists to even cite these facts, which are well documented even in the Jewish press, let alone analyse them. Thus liberal guilt trumps historical materialism. Contrary to Peter’s claim at the end of his letter than he is attacking our ‘backwardness’, in fact he is acting as a liberal, placing limits on which facts Marxists are allowed to consider in formulating analyses of the real world.
Finally, it is worthwhile and clarifying that Moshe Machover, in his own response, makes clear his own retrospective support for the Jewish Bund against Lenin. But then asserts that this ‘historical’ difference is of no import today. His rationale is that by setting up specifically Jewish groups in the Labour Party, Jews are simply saying ‘not in our name’ to Israeli claims to speak for all Jews.
If this were all there were to it, it would be just as easy, and more politically effective, for genuinely anti-racist Jewish people, along with non-Jews, to say ‘not in our name’ in non-exclusive, mixed socialist groups, and denounce the idea that Jews, as a people, have some special authority to decide what is or is not ‘anti-Semitic’. After all, Jews are not oppressed today; and in the absence of such oppression, there is nothing for them to exercise such supposed ‘authority’ about. Anti-“Anti-Semitism” has become the fake anti-racism of the hypocritical racist bourgeoisie to justify Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, and for Communists and the working class, it should be the Palestinian masses, not Jewish groups, which exercise such ‘authority’.
But this is not all there is to it, otherwise Moshe would not be saying that such obvious points are ‘reactionary’, and nor would Peter be implying that it is anti-Semitic to criticise these Jews-only groups as wrong in principle. There is a social-imperialist element in this assertion; it is linked to the points I made earlier about the real role of Israel as an imperialist force in the Middle East. Centrism fears above all a sharp break with imperialism, and taking on the Jewish-Zionist imperialist-bourgeois caste requires the sharpest conceivable break with Israeli imperialism for centrists of Israeli origin like Moshe. As well as Shachtmanoid centrists like the CPGB and Peter, who have drunk deeply of the ‘left’ pro-imperialist chauvinism of ideologues like Hal Draper, who supported the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.