Confusing the question

Tony Greenstein dissects Zionism, Jewish identity and the ‘socialism of fools’

It was August Bebel, the leader of the German Social Democratic Party, who described anti-Semitism as the “socialism of fools”. Gerry Downing - the leader of a tiny Trotskyist group, Socialist Fight, one of the splinters resulting from the implosion of the Workers Revolutionary Party of Vanessa Redgrave fame - is nothing if not a fool. He is a complete muddlehead who hit the headlines last week when he was cited by David Cameron at prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons.

Socialist Fight is an organisation that is causing much amusement to the right. However, Downing’s defence, or “understanding”, of al Qa’eda’s 9/11 attacks and the actions of Islamic State are anything but amusing. His playing with anti-Semitism is also no joke and his actions have been used to discredit the wider left.

Downing, who has probably been somewhat taken aback at all the publicity his sect has garnered, has mounted his own defence against the attacks from the capitalist media, Guido Fawkes1, David Cameron et al. Downing is fond of quoting Baruch Spinoza, who said: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”

There is, of course, nothing at all wrong in understanding the actions of al Qa’eda or IS. The problem is that Downing’s understanding is both simplistic and wrong. His main point - which is that the horrific massacres and oppression in the Middle East and elsewhere are the result of imperialism’s intervention and presence - is correct. It is not controversial that the US war in Iraq killed approximately one million people. Nor is it a secret that US and British imperialism supports oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. Where he goes wrong is in seeing in either al Qa’eda or IS any form of anti-imperialist force.

As Hillary Clinton has freely admitted,2 al Qa’eda is a creation of the very US imperialism that Downing opposes. That in itself should give him pause for thought. The US deliberately created a fundamentalist Islamic military/political presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to counter Soviet influence and the liberal bourgeois regime of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan3 under Babrak Karmal, which had emerged in Afghanistan. The USSR stepped in to support this regime and the US and Britain did their best to put reactionary cut-throats in place, alongside their allies in the Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan and the Saudi regime.

The Taliban and al Qa’eda were the fruits of US imperialism and like Frankenstein’s monster they turned on their benefactor. But there was and is nothing anti-imperialist about them. Their politics represent the worst form of medieval savagery. Nor is there anything progressive about them - whether it is women’s education, Sharia law punishments, workers’ oppression, the destruction of cultural symbols such as the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan or the Greek-Roman architecture at Palmyra.

Like the Khmer Rouge these groups are neither fish nor fowl. They defy political description. ‘Fascist’ is an easy shorthand, but it is not really appropriate, because fascism is a product of a modern industrial society, where a movement based on a petty bourgeois rabble and lumpen elements are welded into a nationalist force capable of destroying working class and progressive forces.

The Taliban, al Qa’eda and IS are modern movements, using modern technology, which are certainly a reaction to imperialism - but a reaction of the most politically backward type. They are akin in some ways to the feudal socialism of anti-Semitic movements like the Christian Social Party of Adolf Stoecker.

IS, for example, is known to be controlled militarily by ex-Ba’athist officers who have adopted Islam as a convenient justification and legitimation for their barbarous rule. How any socialist can support or “understand” - not as a means of analysis, but as a form of apology - an organisation which enslaves young Yazidi women, whilst slaughtering all the men and older women, defies belief. A group which openly uses rape as a weapon of war. This genocidal group may indeed be a reaction to the US’s imperialist slaughter in Iraq; it may have come into conflict with the US and its sectarian Iraqi regime (although being supported by the Turkish regime); but what type of reaction is it? Do we support any opposition, however reactionary, to US capitalism? Would that include the KKK?

The actions of both IS and al Qa’eda have, if anything, been detrimental to liberation struggles in the Western Sahara, coming into conflict with Polisario rebels in Morocco and attempting to confessionalise its struggles. Likewise they have been a dire threat to the Tuareg people and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)4 in Mali. Indeed they have been responsible for poisoning the struggle of the Syrian people against Bashar al-Assad.

It is no accident that Israel is known to support al Qa’eda’s al-Nusra in Syria and it is widely suspected of supporting IS (it is known to be the largest purchaser of IS-produced oil). Opposing Zionism is not on the agenda of IS or al Qa’eda.

Jewish question

But it is not just the attitude of Socialist Fight and Gerry Downing to IS and al Qa’eda. It is also their barking attitude to what they term “the Jewish question”. In ‘Why Marxists must address the Jewish question concretely today’5 Socialist Fight cites the classic Marxist tract The Jewish question: a Marxist interpretation by Abram Leon, the leader of the Fourth International in Belgium, who died in Auschwitz. The article states:

The Jewish bourgeois were exceptionally well-suited for capitalist success, because the social role of Jews as commodity-traders, and later money-traders and lenders - a ‘people-class’ in the phrase of Abram Leon, the great Belgian-Jewish Marxist theorist of the Jewish question - in medieval Europe prior to the emergence of capitalism, gave them the cultural advantage of a much older tradition in commodity economy than the ‘native’ ruling classes.


Much of the above is arguable. Did Jewish bankers have any more formidable advantages than those of Lombardy or Venice? Were the Jewish bourgeoisie any more advantaged than the merchants of the City of London or the French Huguenots? I doubt it. What is certain is that a separate Jewish bourgeoisie, whose most famous representative was the Jewish financier and philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, disappeared in the 19th century. As Leon noted, “The economic process from which the modern nations issued laid the foundations for integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the bourgeois nation.6

The remark in the article that “Zionism is the cutting edge of bourgeois reaction today” is unexceptional. There is no doubt that Zionist organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or Christians United for Israel are the most hawkish groups in terms of foreign policy. In this they are allied with the neo-conservatives who dominated the Bush cabinet and who are fretting at Donald Trump gaining the Republican nomination.

Likewise the statement, that “The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious”,cannot be doubted. But this was a Zionist witch-hunt, not a Jewish one. The Daily Mail initiated it and MPs like John Mann perpetrated it. Mann is not Jewish, but he is a devoted Zionist.

Quite what the long gone Jewish question (which was as much a problem with anti-Semitism) has to do with the role of Zionism is somewhat of a mystery. The article points out that 80% of Tory MPs supported the Conservative Friends of Israel in the last parliament and that leading figures in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of Israel. All this is true, but most Tory MPs are not Jewish. Likewise most LFI sponsors. Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, was far less sympathetic to Zionism than Ed Balls, who is not.

But the article abandons Marxism and adopts anti-Semitism when it asserts that Zionism’s

supporters are highly conscious ethnocentric activists with a material base in terms of capitalist property, within the ruling classes of several imperialist countries, as well as Israel. This caste has acquired major moral and political influence among much wider layers of the imperialist bourgeoisie. If this were not true, Zionists could not have the influence they do in the current situation.


Zionism’s supporters include president François Hollande of France and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, who are waging war on France’s boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. They include David Cameron and Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee. The supporters of Zionism and the racist Israeli state include both Jewish and non-Jewish politicians and capitalists. They have nothing whatsoever to do with a transnational Jewish bourgeoisie. This allegation reeks of the Jewish conspiracy theory. There is absolutely no evidence that the non-Jewish bourgeoisie of Britain, the United States or France is at odds with the Jewish bourgeoisie. This is fantasy land stuff.

The problem is that the ruling elites in all the aforementioned countries support the Israeli state; they attack anti-Zionists and the supporters of the Palestinians as ‘anti-Semites’. That is why, in his interview on the BBC with Andrew Neil, Gerry Downing was, to put it mildly, left spluttering and inarticulate, since he knew deep down that what he was arguing made no sense from a Marxist or communist perspective.

That is the price of allowing Ian Donovan, who was excluded from the Communist Platform of Left Unity and is an open supporter of Israeli anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, into his organisation. There is no Marxist or materialist analysis which explains the support for Zionism amongst western bourgeois politicians and their acolytes in terms of an ethnic Jewish presence or lobby. This is indeed the socialism of fools and idiots.

It is ironic that in the United States, the unexpected victory of the only Jewish candidate, Bernie Sanders, in the Michigan primary, was partly due to the overwhelming support for Sanders in the city of Dearborn, where 40% of the inhabitants are Muslim and Arab Americans.7

That should give even Gerry Downing pause for thought!


1 . http://order-order.com/2016/03/09/gerry-downing-we-must-address-the-jewish-question.

2 . www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnLvzV9xAHA.

3 . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Democratic_Party_of_Afghanistan.

4 . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Movement_for_the_Liberation_of_Azawad.

5 . http://socialistfight.com/2015/08/22/why-marxists-must-address-the-jewish-question-concretely-today.

6 . A Leon The Jewish question: a Marxist interpretation London 1971, p116.

7 . www.azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/muslim-voters-support-bernie-sanders-in.html.