I agree with Jim Grant that Ken Livingstone being in effect forced and hounded out of the Labour Party is a black day for that party (‘A black day for Labour’, May 24). I think, however, that Ken deciding to resign was the right decision and showed a particular form of courage and bravery. Sometimes knowing when to tactically retreat and to do so in a timely manner requires more bravery (and judgement) than fighting on to the bitter end.
It is clear that Mr Livingstone has been placed under immense and completely unacceptable strain and stress. I have no idea if he has become depressed, as Jim suggested he might, but a bullish and self-confident exterior is absolutely no indicator of whether someone is vulnerable to or suffering from clinical mental health issues.
The physical and verbal harassment of Mr Livingstone by the loud-mouth and frankly thuggish John Mann MP in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Zionism and Nazism’ comments was disgusting and offensive (Match 28 2016). Mr Livingstone looked visibly shaken, elderly, frail and vulnerable. The TV cameras ‘by chance’ happened to be in place to witness Mr Mann’s verbal and neophysical assault on Livingstone. We caught Mr Mann a couple of times looking directly and smirking into the cameras.
I agree with the Labour Against the Witchhunt letter in the same edition about Baroness Chakrabarti. She is meant to be the shadow attorney general, for goodness sake. Yet I too could not believe watching that Sunday politics interview the way she completely cast aside any concept of due process, objectivity, balance and judgment by ‘demanding’ Livingstone be expelled and even threatening to resign if not.
Chakrabarti has got to be one of the most shallow, weakest and inadequate of politicians. Whenever she appears on TV, she takes pious simpering with a shaky-breaky voice to the point of caricature and sometimes appears at the point of tears and a breakdown. The idea that lady could operate in government with any sort of robustness, independence or challenge (as the most senior law officer) is ridiculous. Why is she there?
However, Jim and other writers in the Weekly Worker systematically miss the point which got Livingstone into trouble. It was nothing to do with whether Zionists ever collaborated with the Nazi regime. It was Livingstone stating “Hitler was a Zionist” - not only failing to withdraw or genuinely apologise for that, but repeating and maintaining that accusation.
Before the actual establishment of the state of Israel, Zionism was simply the ideology which advocated a national homeland for Jewish people in Palestine. I would regard that aim as fundamentally reactionary and unacceptable, but to assert that Hitler and the Nazi regime was ‘in favour of a homeland for the Jewish people’ is utterly nonsensical both at the time of the 1930s, not to mention how things actually turned out in the 1940s.
Yes, it is true that some Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime to save their own skins. Yes, it is true that some Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime to ensure the escape of some Jewish people from Germany. Yes, it is true that these saved Jews were disproportionately petty bourgeois or bourgeois. Yes, it is true that some Zionists were more concerned to save Jews who would directly emigrate to Palestine. Yes, it is true some Zionists are politically highly reactionary and extremely rightwing.
If some Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime, then the Nazi regime by definition had some positive dealings with those Zionists. Clearly, they were hoping to try and alleviate and break the Jewish trade and business boycott of Nazi Germany. There was a tangential and rather minor coincidence of interests in the big scheme of things at a point in time.
It would, however, be a quantum leap of astronomic, illogical proportions to draw from the above that either Nazi Germany was Zionist or that Zionism is Nazism. Hitler and the Nazis hated and had total contempt for Jewish people. They implemented the most harsh discrimination, attacks, brutalisation and oppression of Jewish people in Germany and in the conquered lands. They regarded and treated them as Untermenschen - subhuman.
This hatred and contempt led to the so-called holocaust, in which people who were Jewish under Nazi Germany, alongside political and other ethnic categories, were murdered on an industrial scale, deliberately and as a consequence of callous disregard.
This did not happen because “Hitler went mad”, as the accompanying Livingstone comment put it, but as integral to the whole aims and objectives of the Nazi regime from the very outset, and as a consequence of starting to lose the war, finding a huge number of people in concentration camps and ghettos unable to be ‘evacuated to the east’, as was the original plan, and leading to mass, industrialised murder of prisoners and detainees.
We have to be extremely clear and careful about not confusing anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. I was at a union meeting and international event over the weekend - actually the main subjects were Cuba and Columbia. The post-meeting discussion inevitably went on to Palestine and went something like ‘Oh, our local MP is terrible. It is pointless writing to him - he is Jewish ...’ - with the clear implication that because he is Jewish he is a terrible individual, not only supporting the right of the state of Israel to exist, but its oppression of the Palestinians.
Now it is true the MP in question is a dreadful, appalling individual and probably has a terrible stance on Israel (I don’t actually know, but assume this is the case). But that is not because he is Jewish! He is appalling because he is an arrogant, contemptible, offensive, nasty piece of work, with reactionary politics and is a bootlicker of the worst order. If I was a Jewish person (I am not) at that meeting, I would have the right to have felt offended by that remark and discussion, and the fact no-one corrected the language; to be de facto associated with the dreadful events happening in Gaza and the West Bank, simply because of my ethnic grouping and/or my religion.
The rightwing anti-Semitism campaign is cleverer and more effective than we think. It is pounding away at a key weakness within the progressive left to adequately distinguish between Jewishness and Zionism.
We need to be far more rigorous and disciplined in separating anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism, from anti-Nazism. These are all separate categories.
68 and the left
I agree with much of what Mike Macnair has to say in his interesting analysis of May 68 and the orientation of the left (‘May 68 to colour revolutions’, May 31).
The launch of the Tet offensive was for us the single spark that lit a worldwide prairie fire (that doesn’t mean the embers and combustible materials had not been accumulating for some time before, of course ). Che called for “two, three, many Vietnams”. 1968 and Tet brought the woolly left down from a decade of pacifism and notions that the struggle against war was a struggle against violence per se. Vietnam rammed home the message that there was a difference between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor. As young revolutionary miners, we saw the world struggle across its diversities - different wings as detachments of the same struggle against the same oppressor we faced. We thought the Black Panther party was our party in the context of the black liberation struggle in the USA. Predominantly white, we understood the slogan for ‘black power’ to mean black working people’s power - we had no argument with that.
But I want to take issue with some of your conclusions about left groups. There certainly were Cuban-inspired ideas on the left - there was Third World First and the highly influential Tricontinental, and the Organisation for Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America: a non-sectarian perspective of uniting the tricontinental struggles, which brought together all the leftist guerrilla groups from different political traditions, all of whom were within Cuba’s sphere of influence and armed support.
But these did not stand in contradiction to the struggles of the world ‘traditional’ proletariat, especially in Europe and North America. The International Marxist Group was one of the best, least doctrinaire and sectarian of the groups. Their determination to support the armed struggle in Ireland, as the bombs started go off in Britain, marked them out. A number of their comrades died in that struggle - murdered by loyalist militaries and criminals (if you could tell the difference) - while others like ‘The Militant’ adopted a shameful, social-imperialist position and condemned ‘the gunmen’ on all sides.
The IMG, although largely middle class and student-composed, did orientate strongly to traditional working class struggles too. Their support for the miners in the 72 and 74 battles saw them en masse on our demonstrations. They were fundraising and organising mass meetings on campuses and linked the miners’ strike with the Irish struggle (‘Troops out of Ireland, miners out of jail’). They took half of the massive demonstration of students in Hyde Park (after a fierce fist fight between them and International Students) past the National Coal Board offices, where I spoke. They also stood on our picket lines.
The main reason I take issue with Mike is his description of the position of the Posadist United Secretariat of the Fourth International and the perspective they held. I had during this period taken a right swerve diversion from anarchism to Trotskyism and its Posadist variant. Indeed I was a member of the central committee of the Revolutionary Workers Party - not to be confused with the later Workers Revolutionary Party (splitters!).
The Posadists occupied a unique perspective (outside the Sam Marcy tendency, Workers World, and the Revolutionary Communist League, which had broken from them). They held that the global class war was manifested through the distorted, but genuine, life-and-death struggle between ‘the workers’ states’ (the Posadists rarely ever used the prefix ‘degenerated’ - in fact they believed there had been a partial regeneration, especially within the Red Army’s top echelons, who they claimed were secretly reading Trotsky, especially on military tactics). Uniquely the Posadists believed that nuclear war was inevitable - the ‘workers’ states’ would win it, the states on both sides would collapse, but humanity would triumph and reclaim the earth. More than that, at crucial points of conflict the Soviet Union should launch the pre-emptive nuclear strike against the USA. (This had been the position of the old united Fourth International for the period immediately following World War II, when the USA and Nato - Britain in particular - were preparing a pre-emptive strike against the USSR. But they quickly moved away from this and only the Posadists and some left Maoist groups believed this was a credible position.)
That said, they had some influence in the workers’ struggles across Europe and Latin America. In Britain they built workplace cells and united fronts with shop stewards and unofficial workers’ groups, establishing revolutionary papers like United Car Worker and our The Mineworker, as well as Car Workers’ Red Flag and Miners’ Red Flag. They worked too with some influence in the Labour Party Young Socialists, so their orientation was not essentially ‘third worldist’.
The politics of Posadism is somewhat of a specialist field of study and causes some amusement on the far left - some of it justified, some not. The Posadists bore an incredible resemblance to some of the religious cults in many ways. You can read our experiences of them in my The wheel’s still in spin (still available from me for £8 post paid).
The split in Labour Against the Witchhunt, losing the comrades from Grassroots Black Left, is not at all surprising and it is the fault of those who sought to, and did, sabotage LAW’s potential - which existed at its inception, but was destroyed on January 6 - to become a genuinely inclusive united front of the entire left in and around Labour to defend all leftwing victims of the witch-hunt. That is, all those targeted for their different strands of socialist and leftwing, thought irrespective of their distinctive views.
It is something of a tragedy that this split has happened in the context of the outrageous expulsion of Marc Wadsworth, and the disgusting victimisation of Stan Keable both from the Labour Party and his employment - betrayed both by the left bureaucracy in the Labour Party and the bureaucracy of Unison, which is now also threatening Tony Greenstein with disciplinary action for his sterling defence of Stan Keable. Jackie Walker is next in the firing line, and Ken Livingstone capitulated for Corbyn’s illusory benefit. What is needed here above all is a genuine, non-sectarian united front of the whole left, which Grassroots Black Left, to their credit, appear to be also calling for. In this context it is necessary to speak plainly about what was done wrong previously and who by, in political terms.
In January, instead of building a collaborative, non-sectarian united front defence of the left, the CPGB and others voted to impose ideological proscriptions on LAW against ourselves and against supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Ourselves for our supposed ‘leftwing anti-Semitism’ - a piece of capitulatory, anti-Marxist nonsense that boils down to the view that Marxists are not allowed to analyse the Jewish question or use the tools of Marxist class analysis to deal with the concrete material roots and practice that stand behind the persecution and dispossession of the Arabs and the very strong influence of political Zionism in the world today (including the Labour Party).
This was fundamentally an act of Zionist-influenced social chauvinism by the CPGB, or, if you like, a vicarious piece of solidarity with Jewish chauvinism - something which has plagued the left particularly during this period. Notably when people around the CPGB complain about the refusal of some supposed leftwing people to defend Ken Livingstone, for example. While having no truck with actual anti-Jewish racism - if you can find any (occasionally the odd Nazi raises his head and daubs a swastika somewhere) - there should be no conciliation of any form of Jewish chauvinism or claim to special Jewish authority over supposed anti-Semitism, particularly in this period when false anti-Semitism smears and the abusive exploitation of the Nazi holocaust are among the chief political and ideological weapons of supporters of the Jewish state in justifying their incremental genocide against the Palestinians. The proscription of the AWL’s views was actually superfluous and absurd, as the AWL were not there in any case due to their refusal, like the CPGB, to defend those they consider to be ‘leftwing anti-Semites’. But there can be no such thing, since real, racist anti-Semitism, like any other form of racism, insofar as it occurs in the workers’ movement, is a rightist capitulation to some kind of bourgeois chauvinism.
The AWL’s position of refusing to defend anti-Zionists to their left, like that of the CPGB with regard to ourselves, involved the crossing of the class line - it was scabbing. But if the AWL had been able to transcend this practical and unpopular scab conclusion of their ideology and, however reluctantly, join a principled bloc defending the entire left, including militant anti-Zionists, then that would be their contradiction. It would be an act of sectarianism to exclude them in that situation. The only stipulation should be that they defend the whole left. But in fact the CPGB’s exclusion of a largely phantom AWL presence was just a cynical ‘balancing’ excuse for their reactionary exclusion of ourselves, which was an act of Jewish chauvinism - vicarious from the CPGB’s non-Jewish leadership; not so from some of the semi-Bundist types they were allied with.
Any kind of Jewish chauvinism in this period goes hand in hand with elements of white chauvinism, since Jews in the imperialist countries, as Jackie Walker seems to be beginning to address, have climbed the racial hierarchy and occupy joint top spot with white nativists, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Jewish chauvinism therefore has a mutual affinity with white chauvinism, and more bluntly white racism. The CPGB’s softness on white racism is expressed in its nonsensical position that the ruling class, and the British and US imperialist states, are not racist, but ‘official anti-racist’, and that the main problem today is not state racism, but bourgeois anti-racist national chauvinism.
This is nonsense. Jews have escaped from oppression today. You do not find Jews being beaten or killed in police custody, suffering grossly disproportionate poverty, joblessness, rates of imprisonment, discrimination in employment, being targeted by racist gangs, or anything like that. When anti-Semitism - real anti-Semitism - was a real force, as before World War II, these things did happen, but not any more. Jews are a privileged minority today, not an oppressed minority. Simply for stating this obvious truth, which is behind much of the witch-hunt in the Labour Party, we were purged by chauvinists on January 6.
This mutual affinity with white chauvinism obviously played an ‘elephant in the room’ role in splitting LAW. If I were in Deborah Hobson’s shoes, or even more those of Marc Wadsworth (as one of the key figures in the Stephen Lawrence campaign going back decades), I would no doubt be very discomforted at people who in the past said that the Lawrence affair was an expression not of institutional state racism, but ‘institutional anti-racism’. What nonsense! This stuff recently resurfaced in the CPGB’s press over the Powell BBC ‘tribute’ and then even more the Windrush scandal.
Given the requirement to work with the CPGB and their allies over a period of several months, where the CPGB have already demonstrated their willingness to impose their own chauvinist agenda on LAW, I am not surprised that the black activists involved ended up feeling very uncomfortable and splitting away. This could have been avoided if LAW had been run on a genuinely non-exclusionist, collaborative basis, but the CPGB’s sectarian chauvinism and cynical political cowardice sabotaged that. Thus all your opportunist and sectarian political derelictions catch up with you in the end.
The question to be discussed now is: what can be done to remedy this and where do the left go from here? We will work with anyone who is interested in seriously addressing that, irrespective of past differences and battles.