The Socialist Fight group has been targeted by the right wing and parts of the left for witch-hunting over our opposition to Zionism. And the CPGB has echoed the allegation of anti-Semitism against us, and even on some occasions implied that we have something in common with Nazism because of our forthright anti-Zionism and hostility to expressions of Jewish racism and chauvinism, which we see as just as dangerous as any other form of imperialist chauvinism. This reflects both the CPGB’s Stalinist background, and a degree of political capitulation to Zionism; both Stalinists and Zionists are well known for Nazi-baiting their leftwing critics.
What the CPGB really objects to is our pointing out the overlap of the Israeli ruling class with the ruling classes of the US, UK and other advanced countries. This is the result of a shared ethnic-nationalist project of a politically self-selected part of the disproportionately large section of these ruling classes that are of Jewish origin, with the ruling class of Israel. It is a material fact that the representation of Jewish bourgeois in the ruling classes of the advanced countries greatly exceeds the proportion of Jews in the population.
We consider this creates a unique relationship between Israel and the older imperialist powers, and gives Israel a political clout over specifics that individual imperialist powers generally do not possess in each other’s politics, even when they are allies. For example: in the decades of Irish republican struggles against British imperialism, a considerable section of US bourgeois opinion expressed vocal sympathy for the Irish against Britain. This did not harm the political careers of the Kennedys, or the likes of Tip O’Neill, one iota. Despite the origins of the US as a one-time British colony, there was no ethnocentric British lobby in US politics that could criminalise Irish republican sympathy in US bourgeois politics.
But the hugely powerful Zionist bourgeois lobby in US (and British) politics has a Jewish bourgeois political core with a common interest with the Israeli ruling class, through a common bourgeois citizenship embodied in Israel’s racist ‘law of return’. To seriously criticise Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians is to court almost certain ruin of a career in bourgeois politics, or even in academia.
The reason for this overrepresentation of Jews in the bourgeois classes of the imperialist countries is a tricky historical question, which Socialist Fight has addressed in Marxist historical materialist terms, most synthetically in our Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism, September 2014.
Much of our analysis is an extension of the approach of communists, including Karl Marx and Abram Leon, who followed a pattern that is also true today, that some of the most penetrating analysts of Jewish politics, and critics of its reactionary sides, have been of Jewish origin themselves. This is a historical statement, but it is essential that non-Jewish leftists should acquire the political cojones to get to grips with this difficult subject.
When Ian Donovan, speaking as a Socialist Fight supporter in discussion at Communist University in Norman Finkelstein’s session on the ‘future of Palestine’, made some of these points, he was loudly heckled by some CPGB supporters and friends, and ran out of speaking time because of this disruption. He was then denounced, as is usual, by among others the CPGB’s Jack Conrad, who, apart from calling our views reprehensible in a manner that he could not actually define, flatly denied that Jews are represented in the ruling class of the US and Britain in considerably greater numbers than in the general population.
But it is simply a fact. Forbes, which is a kind of American Who’s who of the bourgeoisie, notes that the representation of Jews among US billionaires is close to 50%, whereas the Jewish population of the US is only around 2%. These facts are not disputed by Jewish sources - indeed some boast about the influence and prestige they bring.
To mention these facts is apparently a political crime. But while Marxism bases its materialist analysis of the world on facts, the CPGB apparently subordinates its Marxism to liberal prejudices against highlighting the role of Jewish ethnic-nationalist interests in politics. The fact that some of these issues have been exploited by Nazis and other racists should not put them off-limits to Marxists, while the Palestinians, on the receiving end of the oppression resulting at least in part from these things, are shafted and cannot be properly defended - a betrayal of internationalism.
We have considerable differences with Norman Finkelstein, who has a Maoist political past and has long since renounced Marxism. He has regrettably also developed a ‘pragmatic’ two-statist position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. This relies on apparent contradictions between the words and the deeds of the ‘international community’ - ie, the imperialists - over the illegality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan. He seeks to exert pressure through a Gandhian strategy of civil disobedience and non-violent protesters “getting killed” by the Israelis, in order to mobilise world opinion - even though he admitted this may not even work. As he said, an occupation that is not temporary amounts to annexation. This certainly is the case with the large-scale settlement of the West Bank. Gaza is a different facet of the same strategy, in this case to make a territory uninhabitable for its people and refugees.
Despite making some of these criticisms in his curtailed contribution at CU, Ian was gratified that Finkelstein, whilst not endorsing our analysis, came to our defence against the CPGB’s calumnies. To paraphrase, even views considered somewhat malevolent should be listened to, as they may contain an element of truth. On some key specifics, he argued, we were at least partly right and should not be heresy-hunted and heckled down.
“Of course” the activities of the Zionist lobby, of Jewish bourgeois, like for instance Sheldon Adelson, were examples of ethnic influence in US bourgeois politics. Of course “Jewish lobbies” (the term he used) had influence in US politics, and, on matters not fundamental to US imperialist interests, could force adoption of policies that are irrational from the point of view of the interests of US imperialism. Of course there was no US interest in associating themselves with the most egregious atrocities of the Israeli right, but they frequently do.
Finkelstein noted that on some seemingly fundamental issues for US imperialism, the Zionist lobby had lost - for instance over Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. We are not so sure. The Republicans, even prior to Trump’s ascendency, were united against it. Hillary Clinton was notoriously slow to endorse it, and has rhetorically made stringent ‘demands’ of Iran and may sabotage the deal if she succeeds Obama. It may prove that Obama’s defiance of Netanyahu was a transitory product of the US electoral cycle - a president in the second half of his second term can never face re-election, and thus enjoys exceptional latitude with regard to lobbies.
Finkelstein also compared the Jewish/Israeli lobby with the Cuban Gusano lobby, which saddled the US with an irrational policy towards Cuba for decades, until very recently. There are both similarities and differences here. There cannot be an overlap between the Gusano elements in the US ruling class and Cuba itself - there are counterrevolutionary exiles hostile to the Cuban state at the centre of their project. But the overseas Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie has deep roots in the imperialist bourgeois Israeli state, and common citizenship by birth.
Notwithstanding these caveats, Finkelstein’s defence of our right to dissent and be heard, and even more his statements that, on key aspects, what we say is right against the CPGB, are devastating to these people. He was their honoured guest as an undoubtedly courageous Jewish dissident and fine writer, despite his flaws.
The denunciation of Socialist Fight as an example of ‘left wing anti-Semitism’ is now a point of honour and goes to the very root of the integrity of the CPGB leadership of Jack Conrad, which both hounded out Ian Donovan from its sponsored platform in Left Unity for his views, and then took an absurd, contradictory position on the Zionist/rightwing attack on Gerry Downing in the Labour Party, professing to defend us on democratic grounds while agreeing with the right wing that our views are anti-Semitic. In fact, the case against Gerry Downing made by the Labour Representation Committee collapsed because Gordon Nardell QC, for the LRC’s complaints sub-committee, could not give a legal definition of anti-Semitism, and would not say what the original complaint was against him or who had placed it. (See https://socialistfight.com/2016/06/16/lrc-drops-charges-against-gerry-downing).
After the meeting, there were red faces from CPGB cadre. At lunch, their comrade Tina Becker expressed shock that Norman Finkelstein had defended us and even agreed with us on some things. Jack Conrad even seemed to evidence good humour in responding to an ‘egg on your face’ gesture from comrade Downing. But humour aside, there are serious issues for Marxists and the left in general at stake here. It is telling that a respected Jewish dissident figure such as Norman Finkelstein has the courage to recognise and openly criticise Jewish ethnic politics in play in ruling class politics in the USA and Britain, whereas would-be Marxists cringe in fear and echo the right wing when these issues are raised.
Tony Greenstein was amongst the first on the left to join the right wing witchhunt against Gerry Downing, giving the lead to the LRC right wing and others (‘Confusing the question’, Weekly Worker March 17). He himself was then suspended from the Labour Party for … anti-Semitism! He wrote: “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.” But it was he who looked foolish as he spluttered his outrage at Norman Finkelstein’s defence of the very principles that he had condemned as anti-Semitic in Gerry Downing and Socialist Fight. We will not be holding our breath for the apology.
Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan
Perhaps I’m missing something in Paul Demarty’s article (‘Voting for the right lizard’, August 4), but it seems that there is a lot about how Hillary Clinton is not really a lesser evil - which is an inadequate response.
While not denying that there are different ways to critique the arguments for voting Hillary in this specific case, including pointing out her essentially reactionary track record and current policies, surely it is more important to tackle the whole ‘lesser evil tactic’ itself, and the political strategy behind it.
This has been discussed to some extent in Weekly Worker articles on the Bernie Sanders movement, but I would argue that Demarty should have decisively reminded readers of the principled reasons why socialists advocate not voting for the Democratic Party.
Paul Demarty’s conclusion that the election of Trump would benefit the working class (presumably because he would be so bad that he would usher in a working class revolution?) is a pipedream. You cannot be serious! If you are, then try reading Gramsci.
The motives of the Orlando shooter were established by witness reports and details from friends and acquaintances, including the shooter’s lover. This, not the initial media reaction, is the most reliable information. Think of the Madeleine McCann case and all the blind alleys the media took us down in order to sell the story. The truth is one thing; the media narrative is something else.
When a shooting occurs the media like to sniff out an Islamic motive so they can peddle the terrorist-at-large narrative. Ted Hankin (Letters, August 4) is the embodiment of the media. We saw with the recent knife attack in London how the media desperately wanted to link a clear case of mental illness to terrorism. No one with dark skin can have mental health issues any more - they are simply to be described as terrorists. Every act of violence carried out against a European nation is presented as the work of Islamist radicals. Once terrorism is discounted, the media loses interest.
Mental health is a clear factor that leads to acts of terror. The media are not interested in the wider and more important social issues, the backgrounds of the assailants or the social environment they live in, only the Islamic dimension. ‘Mental health’ does not look as good as ‘terror attack’ on those scrolling breaking news items.
To simply say, as Ted Hankin does, let us abstract from everything and just lay the blame at the feet of Islam and terror networks, is crudeness taken to absurdity. His view amounts to this: disregard the truth, forego serious analysis and simply act as propagandists against Islam. I would urge everyone to reject this crude approach.
The CPGB’s coverage of the United States is severely weakened by your inability to understand the central role race has played in class formation in the United States and Canada. America was founded as a settler colonialist project - by Europeans brutally taking land from natives to carve out a new country. This project, in which all classes participated, created a unified white American nation (or something - nation is the best word I can think of). The promise of this nation was that the profits gained from slave labour and land stealing could be distributed to all members of the nation. The promise was that any white person could rise from his lowly origins by standing on a mountain of black and native corpses.
In the white American labour movement, many unions created a colour line, refusing blacks membership. The idea was that if blacks were super exploited, white workers could get a decent deal. In many places, when it was felt that blacks were driving down wages, white workers would engage in race riots, driving out lower cost black labour.
This is not to deny that cross-racial class politics emerged - they did. The Industrial Workers of the World were admirable in this regard. However, when these movements were broken up, a pattern emerged. The black membership would see worsening conditions and even more repression, while the white membership would see slightly improved conditions, in exchange for ignoring the worsening of conditions for black workers. The only exceptions were those who could not or would not abandon their black comrades. Those who refused to accept the deal would be treated as black and executed. Most workers, no doubt looking to their starving families, accepted the deal.
For a revolutionary communist left to emerge in this country, the white working class must be convinced to betray their race in mass numbers. Not impossible, but difficult. They must declare war on America as a concept. We should find ways to so thoroughly burn the bridges with America that no worker will have the option to backslide.
The CPGB’s failure to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement is born out of this blind spot.
On a related note, I would like to bring to your attention to the upcoming prisoners’ strike. On September 9, prisoners across the United States will go on strike against what can only be described as prison slavery. See www.rawstory.com/2016/08/why-were-about-the-see-the-largest-prison-strike-in-history.