25/03/2020 by socialistfight
“One lost sinner (me) who repents and returns to God (him)”
By Gerry Downing
The Lost Sinner and the Deity
Tony Greenstein is not satisfied with “one lost sinner (me) who repents and returns to God (him)” but seeks to rub my nose in the gutter and utterly humiliate me to finish Socialist Fight off politically. Well, we’re not going. Because he knows it’s not only or even mainly about my mistaken position on Zionism but his own position on socialism, revolution and imperialism that have come out on the Russian Revolution and Kautsky which are relevant to the split in CPGB/LPM. This is basically over communist methodology, as I have explained elsewhere. [i] Tony supported my expulsion from the Labour party on 15 March 2016, just requested politely that I be given the democratic right to defend myself and thought that I should then be expelled. Writing in WW on 17 March 2016 Jim Grant, on behalf of the CPGB, opposed my expulsion despite serious political disagreements:
“It is nevertheless not so much in spite of his worsening political errors as because of them that we oppose Gerry Downing’s expulsion from the Labour Party. Every wedge needs a thin end, and by remaining wedded to the moralistic anti-imperialism of his Trotskyist extraction, with the additional seasoning of Ian Donovan’s ‘theories’ about Jews, Gerry has made just such a thin end of himself. We do not get to pick and choose the terrain of every battle, however. Gerry’s expulsion is part of a wider project on the part of the Labour right and their cronies in the yellow press to delegitimise the left, not least by equating our opposition to Zionism and the ongoing Israeli colonial-settler project with anti-Semitism”. [ii]
In the same issue Paul Bloom wrote a letter:
The point of Cameron’s attack on Downing/Socialist Fight is to encourage a Labour Party witch-hunt against the revolutionary left. We can debate the correctness of Socialist Fight positions in the pages of the Weekly Worker, but, whatever our views, we should not support this witch-hunt. The LP right wing will jump on Cameron’s bandwagon, inflating the compliance unit’s ongoing witch-hunt and exclusion of socialists from the LP. We must defend the democracy of the labour movement and the right of groups and individuals to debate important questions. In particular we call on all socialists and communists to join the LP and fight for socialism. Stop the witch-hunt! [iii]
In the following issue I had a letter published:
“Comrades, Socialist Fight is grateful to Weekly Worker for its solidarity against the witch hunt against me and for publishing my full appeal against expulsion. [iv] And to Paul Bloom for correctly rallying against the witch hunt, whose target is the leftist surge that saw Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader. And to Jim Grant who rallies against the expulsion in a principled way but is opposed to “Gerry’s anti-imperialism” which is he thinks is, “needless to say, confused in the extreme”. He sets out his own views of anti-imperialism which are, like Tony Greenstein’s, not anti-imperialist at all but based on various moral and political judgements which totally ignores the anti-imperialism of the masses as if no serious Marxist should address themself to that.” [v]
It now turns out that Ian Donovan only agreed with my position on Zionism on the Andrew Neil Daily Politics of 16 March 2016, which I now see as mistaken, and agreed with the CPGB that my anti-imperialist position was wrong but never said so at the time. I had refused to condemn the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Centre and the US bombing of ISIS because US imperialism was responsible for millions of deaths in the Middle East and this was the chickens coming home to roost. US imperialism was bombing ISIS to further its own interests in the region, it was not bringing ‘peace, justice and democracy’ to oppressed humanity there, as claimed by sundry ‘civilisation mongerers’, as Frederick Engels dubbed those who supported of the British Empire’s Opium Wars on China.
By late 2017 and early 2018 nothing had changed apart from the internal politics of the CPGB and Tony Greenstein’s influence in it. Now the new organisation Labour Against the Witchhunt had formed an alliance with a former member of CPGB, Lee Rock and the recently deceased Keith Dunne and our democratic space had run out and we were witchhunted out of LAW. This, as Jim Grant and Paul Bloom had predicted in 2016, had the opposite effect to the declared one; it legitimised and encouraged further witchhunts by Labour itself against Tony Greenstein himself, against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and many others now.
The ‘Marxism’ of Tony Greenstein and Heinrich Blücher
Tony Greenstein claims I am not a Marxist; “for the past five years SF had harboured within it a key individual – Ian Donovan himself – who is “in lockstep” with Gilad Atzmon, whom he describes as a “left Mussolini-Strasserite fascist” what kind of Trotskyist or Marxist organisation is it which harboured within it a neo-Nazi and one whom, until very recently, GD himself gave uncritical support to?”
Ian Donovan agrees with Tony Greenstein that Atzmon is not a fascist and that it is wrong to criticise Nietzsche, Heidegger or Arendt too severely. Yet he cannot make any comment on the split in the CPGB but there is no doubt to whom he is giving assistance. On November 5 2019 Tony Greenstein replied to my letters on Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger: [vi] [vii]
“When Gerry says, “That Zionist-Nazi relationship ideologically survived the war and the holocaust for Arendt and other Zionists”, this is spoken out of sheer ignorance. There is not a word of truth in it. Yes, indeed, there was a love affair between Heidegger and Arendt and it was resumed after the war. What are we to make of it? I suspect very little politically. I can only repeat that human personal relationships aren’t always logical extensions of our political beliefs. Sometimes opposites attract. Gerry is nothing if not a banal reductionist. Arendt also married Heinrich Blücher, a Marxist, yet she never claimed to be a Marxist.” [viii]
Tony just can’t figure what attracted the Jew Arendt to the Nazi Heidegger; the opposites attracted, ‘there’s nought as queer as folk’ will just have to do.
And what kind of a Marxist was Heinrich Blücher when he was married to Hannah Arendt while she was having a second affair with her Nazi lover after 1950? For the answer we are indebted to Louis Proyect, the ‘Unrepentant Marxist’ (with whom I have had many and deep differences on other issues over the years), who writes:
“Emblematic of that fact (that McCarthyism had ended by 1961) was the key role assigned to ex-OSS agent Heinrich Blücher [xii], whose mandatory Common Course lectures at Bard (college) were basically meant to indoctrinate students against Marxism … Blücher’s lectures were steeped very heavily in the existentialist tradition, the postmodernism of its day. Because the USA was a much more reactionary place in 1961, there was very little need for anti-Communist professors to even pay lip-service to Marx. Blücher basically regarded Marxism and fascism on the same level, as demented “essentialist” systems that would destroy individualism and freedom. The three key figures in this ideological offensive were Hannah Arendt, who was married to Blücher, Daniel Bell and Albert Camus.
“Their arguments were heavily influenced by Heidegger and his prime influence, Nietzsche. Heidegger had been Arendt’s guru and lover. Arendt, who repudiated his anti-Semitism while never really disavowing the Nietzschean roots of the philosophy that had made collaboration with Hitler possible, was the towering figure in early 1960s liberal anti-Communist consensus.
“In essence, 1950s existentialism and 1980s postmodernism can be explained as a rear guard action by Western intellectuals in imperialist nations to discredit the sole political force capable of eliminating the material basis for their privileges. As such, it is a reactionary ideology … Instead of “grand narratives” being the enemy, the 1950s thinkers railed against what they described as absolutist and essentialist tendencies in Western thought. Plato was identified as the father of this illegitimate child, but Hegel was really the arch-enemy. Hegel was blamed for Marx, who inspired Stalin to create a runaway, monstrous system. Nietzsche had his wrist slapped from time to time, but more often than not existentialist anti-Communists explained Nazism away as a mutant strain rather than the culmination of ideological currents in German society. Of course, neither Nazi Germany nor Stalin’s Russia could be blamed on 19th century existentialist thinkers or ideas of any sort, but on the contradictions of the capitalist system itself.” [xiii]
This in line with my own understanding shown in my debates with Tony Greenstein in the letter pages of the Weekly Worker. So, we have the answer to our question of what kind of a Marxist Blücher was. He was a Marxist like Tony Greenstein is, i.e. not a Marxist at all.
The Cultural Zionism of Hannah Arendt and Ahad Ha’am
He goes on:
“Arendt was a cultural Zionist – part of an extreme minority trend exemplified by Ahad Ha’am and Judah Magnes. They supported a Jewish homeland, not a Jewish state, as did Einstein. The suggestion that Arendt “assisted in developing the modern ideology of Zionism” is so far from reality as to be barely worth commenting on. Arendt wrote: “The real goal of the Jews in Palestine is the building up of a Jewish homeland. This goal must never be sacrificed to the pseudo sovereignty of a Jewish state (The Jew as pariahp192).” [xiv]
What kind of a ‘cultural Zionist’ was Ahad Ha’am? His real name was Asher Ginzberg, Ahad Ha’am means ‘one of the people’. Arthur Hertzberg, writing in the New Your Times of March 31, 1991 tells us a little about him:
“Ahad Ha’am … was not remote, in an ivory tower, uninvolved in the real world. On the contrary, he knew the spiritual center that he affirmed would need political power and a productive economy. He said many times that the spiritual center would exist only when the Jews became a majority in Palestine. In fact, during the negotiations with the British from 1915 to 1917 to support Zionist aims, Ahad Ha’am advised Weizmann to fight for maximalist guarantees for the Jews. The formula he preferred for the Balfour Declaration was “Palestine as a Jewish national home,” and not the more ambiguous statement that was finally issued favoring “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” But he always contended that Zionist needs had to be realized while maintaining respect for the feelings and rights of the region’s Arabs. He kept insisting that power could be squandered unless a people understood and abided by their values. [xv]
In other words, he was a left Zionist defender of US imperialism like Arendt. And then comes his apologia for Heidegger and Arendt and the pathetic excuses for her life-long relationship with him:
“As I have already explained, clearly Heidegger was a thorough reactionary, though whether all of his philosophical insights should be thus condemned I will leave to others. Perhaps we should also condemn the art of Salvador Dali? And perhaps Orwell’s 1984, given his later adoption of anti-communism? Although Gerry will probably not understand it, his bastardisation of Marxism is fundamentally undialectical in not seeing the contradiction between the individual and what they produce.”
So, Tony does not understand whether Heidegger’s philosophy is good or bad, despite all my efforts to help him on this. He was not just “a thorough reactionary” but an outright Nazi, loud and proud; “To the man of this unheard of will, our Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, a three-fold Sieg-Heil!” he advised workers in a labour camp in 1933. Salvador Dali’s art is repugnant to all class conscious socialists; his enthusiastic support for the fascist Francisco Franco in Spain and Adolf Hitler in Germany makes it an instrument of human oppression and the impressionist school justly expelled him in 1934 because theirs was a revolutionary movement under Andre Breton. And whatever about Orwell’s good English democratic values in Homage to Catalonia his 1984 is a reactionary anti-Communist tract, on the school curriculum historically in the English-speaking world to indoctrinate young minds not primarily against the evils of Stalinism as they say but in reality against socialist revolution in general and the heritage of the Russian Revolution.
The Slave Owner’s Equality
Hannah Arendt was a strong defender of the American Constitution and the American Revolution led by George Washington et al. I commented:
“Let us recall that the so-called American Revolution was a slave-owner’s revolution. Even in terms of a bourgeois revolution, whose aim is to transfer power from a reactionary, outdated ruling class to a newer and more progressive form of oppression, it was only half a revolution. It had to be completed – in so far as the democratic tasks of any bourgeois revolution are ever completed (never!) – by Abraham Lincoln in the civil war of 1861-65.
“These were Lincoln’s principles that Arendt found so attractive: “If I could save the union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” And he presided over the greatest mass execution of native Americans in US history, on December 26 1862: 38 Santee Sioux Indians were hanged on the orders of Lincoln for believing the fine words of the revolution and attempting to drive out the white settlers from their lands.” [ix]
Tony Greenstein sprung to the defence of Arendt:
“Gerry’s second letter adds little to the first. Yes, Arendt supported Abraham Lincoln and the north against the south. So too did Karl Marx! Gerry’s treatment of the hanging of 38 Santa Sioux is utterly dishonest. He says that Lincoln “presided over the greatest mass execution in American history on December 26 1862”. The implication is clear. Lincoln was responsible for these deaths.
“In fact originally 303 Indians were sentenced to hang and Lincoln commuted 264 of the sentences. He came under massive pressure from the settlers to hang all of them. Governor Ramsey of Minnesota warned Lincoln that, unless all 303 were executed, “private revenge would on all this border take the place of official judgment on these Indians (The collected works of Abraham Lincoln p493).
Yes, formally this was the largest single execution, but in practice thousands of Indians were exterminated in the campaign to settle the west. We should remember that Britain, three years later, in the ‘Governor Eyre controversy’ in Jamaica, hanged over 1,000 of those who took part in the rebellion. Imperialism was and is a bloody affair. To paint Lincoln as one of its most bloody exponents is historically inaccurate. His decision to commute the sentences of 87% of those sentenced to hang was a recognition of what the Sioux had experienced. And to attribute this to Arendt is absurd.” [x]
Lincoln was a good guy really. He only hanged 38 Santee Sioux Indians when he could have hanged 303. What a hero! In 1939 Trotsky commented on this “the lesser evil” hypocritical moralism:
“The occupation of eastern Poland by the Red Army is to be sure a “lesser evil” in comparison with the occupation of the same territory by Nazi troops. But this lesser evil was obtained because Hitler was assured of achieving a greater evil. If somebody sets, or helps to set a house on fire and afterward saves five out of ten of the occupants of the house in order to convert them into his own semi-slaves, that is to be sure a lesser evil than to have burned the entire ten. But it is dubious that this firebug merits a medal for the rescue. If nevertheless a medal were given to him, he should be shot immediately after as in the case of the hero in one of Victor Hugo’s novels. [xi]
No capitulation to the Witchhunt!
So, no, I will not be accepting that the LAW was correct to expel Gerry Downing, Ian Donovan and Socialist Fight in January 2018 just as I will not accept the same leadership cabal were correct to expel Pete Gregson in May 2019. That this expulsion had dire consequences for the entire left as had the expulsion of Socialist Fight as is proved by Ken Loach’s attack on his as an antisemite, in reality on the basis of the totally unjust expulsion. See Open Letter to Ken Loach. [xvi]
Nor was the political direction of Ian Donovan clear to me, or to many others, though admittedly I did not examine the politics of Gilad Atzmon closely and had not then come across his defence of fascism and his forthright rejection of the Russian Revolution and embrace of the KKK and David Duke and all the other alt right reactionaries he favours. But neither was Ian Donovan defending them strongly as he does now, he wrote that Atzmon was ‘confused and wrong’ on many issues. Ian moved sharply to the right after the dispute with Gilad Atzmon and Devon Nola in September 2019 and again when he explicitly stated things on Zionism which he had previously hinted at and only obliquely and implicitly defended. [xvii] I have made a self-criticism on these matters, but this is not enough for Tony. Not just because of his position on the anti-Semitism of Ian Donovan but because his hostility to Socialist Fight is motivated by a far wider and deeper opposition to revolutionary socialism in general and the heritage of the Russian Revolution in lockstep with the CPGB/LPM.
[i] In Defence of Trotskyism No. 4, The Methodology of Communism, https://socialistfight.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/in-defence-of-trotskyism-no-4.pdf
[iv] Gerry Downing, Weekly Worker, Due process and justice, 17.03.2016, https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1098/due-process-and-justice/
[xi] Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, October 1939, Again and Once More Again, on the Nature of the USSR, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/idom/dm/04-again.htm
[xii] This claim is based on the fact that the journal Partisan Review evolved under the influence of Blücher and his wife Arendt in 1936-7 from being a CPUSA Stalinist journal to supporting US imperialism and was then secretly funded by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to do so. The OSS was the US wartime spy network which became the CIA post-war.
[xiii] Louis Proyect, May 23, 2007, Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Blücher, https://louisproyect.org/2007/05/23/heinrich-blucher-and-hannah-arendt/
[xiv] Op. cit. Tony Greenstein, Mere hyperbole,
[xv] Arthur Hertzberg, New Your Times, March 31, 1991, 100 Years Later, a Jewish Writer’s Time Has Come
[xvii] See Socialist Fight, Dov Winter, 7-3-20, IAN DONOVAN REPEATEDLY MOVES TO THE RIGHT, https://socialistfight.com/2020/03/07/ian-donovan-repeatedly-moves-to-the-right/