No place for anti-Semitism
A Communist Platform member has been shown the door. Peter Manson reports
The September 14 meeting of Left Unity’s Communist Platform saw a parting of the ways with a member of its steering committee, Ian Donovan. This followed comrade Donovan’s espousal of views that can only be described as anti-Semitic: in his opinion, there is a Jewish “pan-national bourgeoisie”, which has constituted itself as ruling class “vanguard” in key imperialist countries, and it is this that accounts for US support for Israel. Donovan says he intends to write a book laying out this ‘theory’ in detail.
Once this line of thinking had been fully revealed to other members of the steering committee, they urged him to step down from the CP. When he refused, the September 14 members’ meeting was called, which had before it a motion from comrades Jack Conrad and Moshé Machover stating that anti-Semitism is “incompatible with membership of the Communist Platform” (see below).
In response, Donovan put in an ‘amendment’ - of the ‘replace all’ type: it would have transformed the motion into something completely antithetical to the original. He announced that if this amendment was heavily defeated he would leave the platform. Not unexpectedly, his amendment received only one vote and, true to his word, he left the meeting - and the CP.
Let me briefly summarise his argument by quoting from his Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism.1 According to him, “Of all the advanced capitalist/imperialist countries today, Israel is second only to the United States in the threat it poses to the future of humanity.” But the huge ruling class support Israel receives in the west has “a material basis”, over and above imperialism’s own interests. It is “explained by one salient fact: Jewish overrepresentation in the US and other ruling classes”. For example, in the US, “informed Jewish sources” claim that “between 40% and 48%” of billionaires are Jews.
In my opinion, such ‘statistics’ say far more about the person quoting them than the people they claim to study. Even if we accept that those figures are accurate (a big ‘if’), then why would anyone consider them to be pertinent? The implication is that ruling class Jews are overwhelmingly driven by Zionism, whereas, of course, in reality there are many non-Zionists and even anti-Zionists among them.
But what counts for Donovan is their common Jewishness. For him, “The Jews are not a nation, but they have a pan-national bourgeoisie …” In other words, they “constitute a semi-nation … under the hegemony of their own bourgeoisie”. This means that “There is a common ethnocentric project between the ruling class of Israel and the various hegemonic pro-Israel bourgeois Jewish organisations in a number of imperialist countries, centrally the United States.”
So this “semi-nation” has some kind of ethnic commonality - Jews in Britain are apparently ethnically, or at least ‘semi-nationally’, related to Romanian or Ethiopian Jews. And this commonality - at least within the ruling class - drives Jews (or at any rate the overwhelming majority of them, presumably) to enthusiastically embrace Zionism. In fact such Jews are so influential that this “bourgeois current … plays the role of a kind of ‘vanguard of the bourgeoisie’ … Hence the ‘traditional’ imperialist bourgeoisie … to a considerable degree defers and follows the leadership of the Jewish/Zionist bourgeoisie.”
Interestingly, Donovan notes that communist organisations, not least the Bolsheviks, have often featured a high proportion of Jews amongst their leaders, yet he draws no parallel anti-Semitic conclusions about the significance of this (the Nazis were more consistent in this regard, it has to be said).
His amendment went so far as to “reject a separate category of ‘anti-Semitism’, distinct from and wider-cast than actual racism against other peoples”. For Donovan, “The term ‘anti-Semitism’ is unscientific (Arabs are Semites too).” And now that term has been taken over by the class enemy: “It has … undergone ‘definition-creep’ by Zionists and their apologists. Its current meaning condemns prejudice against all Jews, but also meaningful criticism, discussion and analysis, even by other Jews, of oppressive Jewish behaviour against others.” No, Ian, such criticism is what some Zionists would like to dub anti-Semitic, but to claim that this new “definition” has been generally accepted is just plain nonsense.
Since we should “equally oppose racism against Jews, Arabs, blacks, Irish and all peoples,” continued the amendment, “The privileging [sic] of so-called anti-Semitism … is a violation of the principle of the equality of peoples and thereby a form of racism, and is also incompatible with communism.” So there you have it: to employ the term ‘anti-Semitism’ is to ‘privilege’ “racism against Jews” - you might just as well say that the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ does the same in relation to Muslims.
It is true, however, that, as his amendment stated, “criticism of the Jewish bourgeoisie for operating across national lines in oppressing Palestinians is equated with the Protocols of Zion”. That is because there is a genuine similarity in such “criticism” with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For both the Protocols and now Ian Donovan, it seems, everything can be blamed on the Jewish “vanguard of the bourgeoisie”, not on the system of capital itself.
In speaking to his amendment, Donovan alleged that, if it was lost, the meeting would be voting down “the equality of peoples”. Replying to this, Paul Demarty said that, while it was true that if we rejected the amendment we would be deleting the phrase, “the principle of the equality of peoples”, it was ridiculous to suggest we would somehow be voting against anti-racism. The amendment was incompatible with and antithetical to the motion, so it was a case of one or the other.
Despite the absurdity of that claim, I note that Donovan is not just maintaining it, but actually highlighting it even after several days of reflection. His own report of the meeting is headlined: “‘Communists’ vote down equality of peoples”!2
That report also highlights another absurdity that featured in his speech: the allegation that the Conrad/Machover motion was motivated by “fear of left Zionists”, and the fear of “being accused of anti-Semitism”. According to Donovan, the motion also “introduces the concept of thought-crime” and is “effectively a witch-hunt”. If it is passed, he said, it will be “a vote against the right to think critically”, a vote “against democracy”.
Clearly the meeting was very one-sided, with everyone else in the room keen to show their repulsion of the underlying anti-Semitism that seems to have gripped Ian Donovan. But despite his complaint about a “febrile” atmosphere, in fact all opposing speakers remained calm and, in view of that one-sidedness, kept their comments brief.
Jack Conrad compared our desire to remove comrade Donovan from both the steering committee and the CP itself to our (failed) attempt late last year to exclude the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty from the now defunct Socialist Platform. Just as “social-imperialism is illegitimate on such a platform”, so too is anti-Semitism, he said. The idea that we were accusing Donovan of “thought-crime” was therefore plain silly.
Mike Macnair put it another way: we favour not only “freedom of association”, but “freedom of disassociation” too. Donovan was putting forward a political position that was against our principles; it was taking him “out of class politics”. Comrade Macnair compared the proposal to exclude him from the CP with the decision of the Weekly Worker editors not to feature articles on any subject from a comrade who is outspoken in his support for immigration controls. Ah, replied Donovan, but his case was different: “I have a Marxist analysis.” Hmm. Obviously claims of a “witch-hunt” and “thought-crime” can only be made when it is the views of Ian Donovan, or “people who may agree with me”, that are considered beyond the pale. As Yassamine Mather put it, those views were “a gift to the Zionists” and therefore “against the interests of the Palestinians”.
In his own speech, comrade Machover focused largely on Donovan’s support for Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, who has expressed a number of very suspect views, verging on holocaust denial, and like Donovan has conflated Jewishness with Zionism. However, it was probably comrade Conrad who best encapsulated the mood of the meeting when he appealed to comrade Donovan: “Wake up and see where you’re going” - a sentiment that everybody else in the room apart from Ian himself surely shared.
But it was to no avail. When his amendment received only his own vote, he politely announced his resignation and left the room. The original motion was then passed unanimously.
Afterwards the Communist Platform began a discussion, introduced by comrade Mather, on a policy on Israel/Palestine, with a view to proposing it for adoption by Left Unity. While LU’s executive has demanded “an immediate end” to Israel’s assault on and siege of Gaza, it has so far limited its overall political stance to a call for “the end of the occupation of Palestine by Israel”, which comrade Mather described as “totally ambiguous”.
This and other policy proposals will be debated at future CP meetings.
Motion on anti-Semitism
1. Advocacy of anti-Semitic ideas is not the exclusive preserve of the far right. As can be seen with the writings of Proudhon and Bakunin, there is a left anti-Semitism too. Sadly that is still the case.
2. There are those who, for example, explain US backing for Israel on the basis of discovering a so-called “pan-imperialist Zionist bloc”. The “traditional” imperialist bourgeoisie nowadays supposedly “defers and follows” the “leadership of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie.”
All variants of this conspiracy theory - anti-Semitic or otherwise - are reactionary because they implicitly exculpate US imperialism.
The claim that Jews do not constitute a nation within Israel but they form a “semi-national identity” globally is false and it is indeed what Zionist ideology claims.
3. Such regressive politics do nothing to defend besieged Palestinians. Anti-Semitism, especially its leftwing version, plays directly into the hands of the Israeli government, its Zionist supporters and social-imperialist apologists. The claim that Israel represents “the Jews” worldwide and acts on their behalf is common to Zionist ideology and to anti-Semitism.
Zionist ideology draws the conclusion that opposition to Israel (except perhaps that of the mildest form) is anti-Semitic.
The anti-Semitic anti-Zionism of fools draws the conclusion that the Jews worldwide share culpability for Israel’s crimes.
4. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with membership of the Communist Platform.