It is fantastic news that at the Unite conference in Brighton delegates are debating a motion calling for the reinstatement of Marc Wadsworth to the Labour Party. After the required 49 delegates supported it, the standing orders committee accepted the motion onto the agenda. As I write, the vote has not yet taken place, but we very much presume delegates will overwhelmingly support the move to overturn his ridiculous and unjust expulsion from the party.
This follows on from the recent RMT conference and over 20 Constituency Labour Parties backing similar motions. Of course, all socialists should fight for Wadsworth to be let back into the party, as part of a campaign against all unjust expulsions and suspensions, such as pursued by Labour Against the Witchhunt.
While pressure from below is very important, we fear, however, that neither of these motions will make much of a difference. As long as Jeremy Corbyn and his allies at the top of the Labour Party continue in their doomed efforts to placate the right, they simply cannot afford to let Wadsworth back in. Thanks to a successful smear campaign in the media, much has been made of the fact that Ruth Smeeth - the MP that Marc publicly criticised - is Jewish (even though he didn’t know she was), and this has been neatly slotted into the campaign to equate any criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. So keen is Jeremy Corbyn to prove that he is no anti-Semite and no friend of anybody accused of anti-Semitism that he has failed to put an end to the continuing witch-hunt in the Labour Party. And by not standing up against the right for his own supporters, he has allowed this witch-hunt to fester, grow and take on ridiculous proportions.
Jared O’Mara MP might have just been reinstated to full membership after Tuesday’s meeting of the disciplinary panel of Labour’s national executive committee (now chaired by Jon Lansman ally Claudia Webbe). That is good news. Jared talked an awful lot of crap, 15 years ago. But people can and do change - clearly, that must be our basic understanding of the human psyche; otherwise we can give up on any socialist future. The panel was less understanding and forgiving about many of the other 70(!) cases it was dealing with at their meeting. As NEC member Darren Williams reports on Facebook, the meeting consists of “39 people rushing through a couple of paragraphs on each case” and “the majority of the NEC are still readier than I would like to refer some cases to the national constitutional committee for probable expulsion, rather than offer warnings and/or training instead”. There is no doubt in my mind that Jared’s case would have been sent to the NCC for expulsion if there had been even the slightest critical comment about Israel among his misogynist gibberish 15 years ago.
Of course, you can just imagine the media shitstorm that would hit Labour, should Marc Wadsworth be reinstated. Having gone this far and having even sacrificed Ken Livingstone, Corbyn cannot be seen to renege on his pledge to show “zero tolerance” when it comes to charges of anti-Semitism - no matter how ridiculous those charges are or how impossible and undesirable the implementation of this policy actually is. Such a rule belongs to a police state, not a democratic party with lots of different views. Clearly education, debate and discussion are the only effective way to tackle prejudice - not a policy of ‘one strike and you’re out’.
Letting Wadsworth back in would also potentially open the floodgates to all the other comrades who have been unjustly expelled or suspended without due process or natural justice. The case of Jackie Walker is still to be heard, for example, and could be influenced by any such ‘leniency’.
A Unite conference motion would, of course, send a strong political signal against the entire witch-hunt in the party. But then, last year, Unite delegates voted for mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates in the Labour Party - an eminently democratic demand that would do away with the highly undemocratic trigger ballot, which disproportionally favours the sitting MP. However, Jeremy Corbyn has made clear that he is not supporting such moves - again out of fear of upsetting the right (many of whom would not be reselected under any truly democratic system).
Of course, in the long struggle for human liberation, our movement sometimes has to make adjustments to our tactics. But if you start sacrificing the basic democratic principles of the workers’ movement your whole long-term strategy starts to change - and so do you too.
To make matters worse, Corbyn’s strategy of appeasement is based on a serious misconception: that at some stage the right will surely give up in their campaign against him and go along with the transformation of the Labour Party. They will not. In fact, should Corbyn really become prime minister, he will see a whole different level of shitstorm hitting him. He’d better start growing a political backbone soon.
I have tried to avoid commenting so far on Ian Donovan’s contributions, not least because I didn’t want to provoke yet further outpourings (Letters, June 21)! However, I imagine that nothing I do or say will reduce his output.
What Ian demonstrates, with his and Socialist Fight’s suggestion that there is anything politically interesting or remarkable about Jewish “overrepresentation” in the US ruling class is that he doesn’t understand Zionism, either politically or historically. He is beguiled by Zionism’s Jewishness - much like his mentor, Gilad Atzmon. What is most remarkable about the period that we are living in is that there is a slow divorce taking place between the Jewish diaspora, Zionism and the Israeli state.
Objectively the interests of Jews outside Israel are not served by the Israeli state, which is a source of anti-Semitism. This is because Israel claims that it represents all Jews when it perpetrates its war crimes. It is becoming clear to ever larger sections of American Jewry that Israel’s tie-up with Donald Trump is inimical to their interests. Donald Trump was propelled to power by riding the tiger of white supremacy and it is universally acknowledged that the Trump presidential campaign was the most anti-Semitic there has been.
White supremacy is not in the interests of American Jews, who are among the most liberal section of the white population. When the neo-Nazis of Charlottesville marched, with the blessing of Trump and his alt-right, and chanted “The Jews will not replace us”, a tremor went down the spine of American Jewry. Yet Netanyahu felt unable to reprimand Trump for his comments that there were “fine people” amongst the marchers.
The reasons that US imperialism supports Israel have absolutely nothing to do with Jewish numerical representation in the US government. It is blindingly obvious that it is the most hawkish and rightwing sections of the US political establishment, regardless of religion, that are also the most vociferous supporters of the Israeli state: people like ex-Trump advisors Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon - people who combine anti-Semitism and ardent Zionism. The founder of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, who also believes Jews are “overrepresented” in the US government, describes himself as a white Zionist. Jewish people serve as a cover, a camouflage, for support for Israel and Zionism. They are not its motivators. If any community bears this responsibility, it is the Christian evangelicals.
Moshé Machover has dealt well with the nonsense about Jewish-only groups being evidence of ‘semi-Bundism’ (Letters, June 28). I suggest that this is an inheritance from the ideological nonsense of Atzmon. For Atzmon, Jews and Zionists were one and the same. Jews who were political, even as anti-Zionists, were in fact Zionists: hence his term, ‘anti-Zionist Zionist’. Atzmon was therefore firmly opposed to all-Jewish groups, because to him they were simply Zionist fronts. Thus ludicrously Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods was a Zionist front, even though Atzmon himself was anti-BDS!
The question is entirely tactical. Ian Donovan refers to whether white anti-apartheid groups would have been acceptable. Yes, if they had grown up in South Africa - my understanding is that there was an all-white anti-conscription group in South Africa. In this country no-one pretended that the apartheid regime represented all whites, so the question never arose. Israel does claim it represents all Jews and that is why Palestinians above all welcome Jewish groups opposed to Zionism. It has, of course, nothing to do with the Bundist claim that they represented all Jews in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
In his crude polemics about Jewish numbers - as if ethnicities determine politics - and what he has termed the ‘Jewish question’, Ian Donovan has missed the real Jewish question. There is no doubt that in this country the interests of British Jews and Zionism have been conflated. It is claimed that most British Jews support Zionism and the Israeli state. In fact surveys have shown that British Jews are much more liberal than the Zionist Board of Deputies that claims to represent them.
However, just suppose that it were true that most Jews supported Israel’s actions and that they voted accordingly - what then? This is the blackmail that people like Jonathan Freedland have indulged in. Their argument is that most Jews support Israel and therefore it is anti-Semitic to be anti-Zionist. We should not be afraid of confronting this argument. Even were it true that most Jews identified with Israel, it would not be anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism and Israel. Opposing an identity can never be racist, just as criticising a religion, as opposed to its adherents, is also not racist.
For example, just suppose a majority of Africans supported female genital mutilation. Would it be racist to oppose FGM? Or just suppose the majority of Afghanis support women wearing the burqa. Would it be racist to oppose the wearing of the burqa?
Finally on the question of racism. Yes, racism is more than hate or hostility. For example, it encompasses the idea that Jews are powerful or are part of an international conspiracy. Philosemitism is also anti-Semitic. When Owen Smith was asked in a debate what he most admired about Jews, he said their entrepreneurial and business talents! That too is anti-Semitic.
Where I have my doubts is concerning Peter Manson’s thesis that the state is ideologically anti-racist (Letters, June 28). I think it is quite clear that, although there is a superficial anti-racism, the operations and practices of the state itself are deeply racist, as Grenfell, Windrush and the behaviour of the police demonstrate. The anti-racism of the state is skin-deep. In many ways its ideology runs counter to its practices.
Readers of the Weekly Worker might be interested in what is going on in South Africa when it comes to race, racism and equality.
Ever since Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane made his perfectly logical comment about the continued existence of white privilege in South Africa the media has been responding with a stream of self-denying nonsense. Most comments come from within the smug ‘We and our families never voted for the National Party’ ranks of the ‘traditional DA’ supporters, but also from the more extreme ethnic nationalists clinging to the coat-tails of white liberals.
To deny that those individuals and families classified as ‘white’ under apartheid were privileged is so obviously ridiculous that it should require no response. Merely look to the plethora of discriminatory apartheid laws, let alone a history over more than 300 years.
And to imagine that centuries of discrimination against ‘natives’ in favour of ‘Europeans’ - which morphed, in its final phase, into the rigid social engineering of apartheid - has left no legacy is severely delusional. The decades of apartheid set out deliberately to cripple - academically, intellectually and financially - the bulk of the ‘non-white’ population.
The privileged position of those classified ‘white’ - especially following the dominance of Afrikaner nationalism in 1948 - gave every single individual, so classified, a massive advantage over their fellow citizens in the various ‘non-white’ categories. This applied as much to those called Afrikaners as to the so-called ‘English’.
I was born into this system, the son of a railway worker, an English speaker in an almost exclusively Afrikaans neighbourhood. But, while the legacy of the Anglo-Boer war continued to be fought out among ourselves as children, we shared common privileges: subsidised, three-bedroom housing, a ‘free pass’ on the rail network for annual holidays and schools that were generally well equipped and staffed.
We paid almost no school fees and, at primary level - apparently just in case our parents were remiss - were given free milk in the mornings to ensure healthy growth. Books and writing materials were also free and, for the few families who, despite all the advantages, still had difficulty coping, there were safety nets in school and church groups to supply any shortfalls.
At the same time every house, however humble, had its maid (usually a woman who lived in the ‘khaya’ - a room in the backyard without water and often without electricity, who cooked, cleaned and cared for the employing family). Her own family, even if she had young children, were ‘looked after elsewhere’. Among those ‘looked after’ children would almost certainly have been the parents of the children who finally rose up in 1976. They argued that their parents had for too long acquiesced in their subjugation.
What it boiled down to was that, from birth to death, the child classified ‘white’ would be privileged, granted extraordinary advantages to progress, academically, intellectually and financially. Many did. Most enjoyed a lifestyle they and their families would never have achieved in a generally non-racial society.
What these ‘white’ families accumulated was physical, academic and intellectual wealth. It was then, with obvious exceptions, passed down through the generations. And there always existed, certainly under apartheid, a ‘bottom level’, beyond which no white family could fall. So to claim now that ‘My son/daughter was born after 1994 and was therefore not privileged’ is clearly nonsense. White privilege is a reality that continues as a legacy of apartheid and the discriminatory centuries that preceded it.
That I chose, at the age of 18, not to take full advantage of such privilege and to challenge the system instead, does not make my background any less privileged. The lifestyle I led - even the police and prison cells that I briefly inhabited at different times - reflected that privilege: two felt mats on the floor for whites; a single coir mat for ‘others’.
My background - not so much the schooling I received - also prepared me for a career that I could pursue even in exile. As in all such cases, it is the advantages of the parents that accrue to the children, and to the children of those children. Nothing much changes unless there is a major restructuring and reorganisation of society.
This never happened in South Africa: the ‘rainbow transition’ merely perpetuated the residential and economic realities of the past. The geography - the spatial reality - of apartheid persists as the most glaring physical example. Just because some, perhaps naive or even hypocritical, politicians and commentators declared that post-1994 meant that an ‘even playing field’ had been created didn’t make it so. Far from it. But this myth suited the privileged - as, for example, they moved their children to ever more expensive private schools and perhaps plotted packing for Perth.
Better perhaps that they should deal with reality, and use the advantages they have both had and inherited, to join others in an attempt to construct a genuinely democratic and anti-racist society.