Siding with Labour right
There is a rogue’s gallery of left sects, says Tony Greenstein, but the AWL must surely be the worst
Having spent much of my life on the far left, it is clear to me that our biggest immediate problem is not the capitalist class or agents of the state: it is the left itself. I refer in particular to the scattered debris of sects that see themselves as the embodiment of the future revolution.
Possibly the worst example was the Workers Revolutionary Party led by Gerry Healy, whose Labour Party acolytes included former Lambeth leader Ted Knight. It still manages to produce a daily newspaper - News Line - that no-one reads. For most of its existence it was led by Gerry Healy, whose serial rape of young female members was revealed 30 years ago. When he was eventually brought to book, Corin Redgrave defended him in the name of a higher morality. Citing his many “achievements”, Redgrave told fellow comrades that “If this is the work of a rapist, let’s recruit more rapists.”1
The WRP itself was funded by a variety of reactionary and corrupt Arab regimes, such as the Iraqi Ba’athists. Healey earned his money by, for example, spying on Iraqi communist exiles in London. No doubt his entrance ticket to these Arab potentates was provided by the film stars, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, who stood by him through thick and thin when the WRP expelled him.2
The Socialist Workers Party also came a cropper over the question of rape when a female member complained she had been raped by former national secretary, Martin Smith. Rather than suspending Smith and conducting a thorough and impartial investigation, or alternatively deciding it was a police matter, the disputes committee consisting of Smith’s mates decided that it was the woman who was at fault, questioning her about previous partners and her drinking habits. Interestingly the defence of the SWP’s behaviour by Alex Callinicos included accusing his opponents of “bourgeois morality” - which was also Corin Redgrave’s defence of Gerry Healy.3
As for the Revolutionary Communist Party, rape was not a feature of its lurch to the right. In many ways it was far worse. The RCP became genocide deniers or what Ed Vulliamy called “tinpot holocaust deniers”.4 Its magazine, Living Marxism, alleged in 1992 that a TV news report on the Serbian concentration camps of Trnopolje and Omarska in Bosnia was faked.
In ‘The picture that fooled the world’ LM alleged that the photograph of emaciated concentration camp inmate Fikret Alić was bogus and the barbed wire said to be surrounding the camp was actually surrounding the reporters. One libel action later and LM was out of business.5 The RCP, which had been steadily jettisoning socialist politics for a long time, disappeared and Spiked was reborn as an internet journal of the corporate, anti-environmental, racist right.
And, of course, the list of socialist renegades would not be complete without a mention of Socialist Action, whose John Ross masquerades these days as PR man for the Chinese regime in all its horrors.6
Pride of place
But pride of place is reserved for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The organisation’s claim to be on the left would be the subject of a trading standards investigation if it were trying to sell you anything other than its shop-worn paper.
This is an organisation which believes that socialism in Britain will be achieved by supporting imperialist policy abroad. When Tony Blair and George Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, the AWL distinguished itself by refusing to call for the withdrawal of western troops. The ostensible grounds were that they were protecting the incipient labour movement in Iraq!
But it is over Israel that the AWL has distinguished itself. It is an open supporter of the Israeli state - in the guise of supporting a two-state solution. It can claim to have virtually invented the concept of ‘left anti-Semitism’ as a means of undermining support for the Palestinians.
My attention was drawn to an article, ‘No way to fight the witchhunt’ in the current edition of Solidarity.7 It is an attack on Labour Against the Witchhunt. According to the AWL’s Dale Street, the main motion from the LAW steering committee for its February 2 conference “sums up the core elements of left anti-Semitism”.
What, you might ask, does Dale mean? Is someone arguing that Jews are racially inferior to non-Jews? Perhaps we are peddling the stereotype that Jews are mean, cosmopolitans who owe no loyalty to anyone or anything (apart from their purse). But, no, that is what Israel’s best friend, Viktor Orbán, implied when he made George Soros the demonic figure of hate in the Hungarian general election last year.8
Yet last July Orbán was guest of honour in Israel visiting his old friend Benjamin Netanyahu. I mention this because the Israeli state has embraced virtually every anti-Semitic regime in Europe - and not just Europe. Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is another friend of Israel, yet the AWL insists on seeing Israel as progressive in that it is a ‘Jewish state’, the ‘embodiment of world Jewry’.
LAW’s crime is that it is
not focused on the many hundreds of socialists expelled from the Labour Party, without notification of charges, hearing or appeal, since 2015, on grounds of association (however loose) with leftwing groups, such as Workers’ Liberty, Socialist Appeal or Left Unity. Its prime concern is with Labour Party members charged with anti-Semitism.
What the AWL really means is it would rather LAW ignores disciplinary action where the allegations involve accusations of anti-Semitism. The fact that many of these allegations are not true does not concern the AWL. LAW’s honorary president, Moshé Machover, was first charged with anti-Semitism - for an article published first in the Weekly Worker and then in Labour Party Marxists, whose title was, ironically, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’. But he was expelled from Labour (and then quickly reinstated, following a campaign of protests) because of his alleged support for the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Our proposed constitution, under ‘Aims’, states:
The first part of rule 2.1.4.B (‘Exclusions’) should be abolished: it bars from Labour Party membership anybody who “joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party” and has exclusively been used against leftwingers.
We have fought against all exclusions resulting from the current right-led witch-hunt directed against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters - whether they are on the grounds of support for another political organisation, anti-Semitism or indeed any other political grounds, such as transphobia. Our proposed constitution is quite clear: “All those summarily expelled or suspended without due process should be immediately reinstated.”
The main motion to our conference is entitled ‘The slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn’.Dale Street takes exception to an analysis which says that Corbyn has been attacked because he is seen as a threat to “the strategic alliance with the US” because of his “critical attitude towards Israel”. Is the AWL seriously denying that Israel, which receives over $4 billion in aid each year from the USA, the largest of any country, is not in alliance with the USA? Why then would the USA give such large amounts of aid to Israel?
Equally objectionable to the AWL is our statement that the Israeli state and the Zionist lobby is conducting a “war of attrition” against Corbyn. Apparently all these headlines in the Zionist press saying that Corbyn is an “existentialist threat” to the Jewish community are just friendly banter.9 The Al Jazeera programme, ‘The lobby’, showing Israeli agent Shai Masot at work helping fan the flames of false ‘anti-Semitism’, is presumably another example of “‘left’ anti-Semitism”.10
Naturally our description of Corbyn’s “policy of appeasement”, which has “culminated in the Labour Party’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism”, is itself anti-Semitic, as is the suggestion that this has “massively expanded” the scope for “false allegations of anti-Semitism”.
Of course, the AWL sees nothing wrong with a definition which conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. Most people in the Labour Party (and outside) have no problem distinguishing between criticism of Israel or Zionism and hostility to Jews as Jews. The AWL, however, has swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the Zionist fable that to oppose Zionism is to be anti-Semitic.
Our suggestion that the anti-Semitism witch-hunt is fabricated and that the Jewish Labour Movement, the British wing of the racist Israeli Labor Party, is orchestrating the attacks on Corbyn via its MP patrons, such as Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger and Ian Austin, is seen as yet more evidence of “left anti-Semitism”.
Cast your minds back to the summer of 2016. At that time Owen Smith challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party and in the course of the campaign made the allegation that the AWL was itself anti-Semitic. As a result of this AWL members Pete Radcliffe and Daniel Randall were expelled by Iain McNicol.
Around this time I happened to do a debate with Daniel Randall on the subject, ‘Is there such a thing as “left anti-Semitism”?’I could not therefore help but put it to Daniel that he and Pete had been bitten by the very dog that had attacked so many of us. There was a rich irony in the AWL being attacked by Labour’s right as ‘anti-Semites’. Of course, he failed to see the irony, but it should be crystal-clear that for the right any socialist can be accused of the catch-all charge of ‘anti-Semitism’. Daniel was therefore forced to concede the truth of what I was saying:
I do want to say from the outset that it is undeniably the case that the issue of anti-Semitism has been instrumentalised and manipulated by some on the Labour right and their supporters in the press in order to undermine Corbyn and the left. As Tony mentioned, last week Owen Smith accused us of anti-Semitism on national television, so it is very clear that there is a certain process going on there, a certain instrumentalisation and manipulation of an issue for cynical factional ends. It has to be understood and opposed on its own terms.11
But, returning to Dale’s article, he said of the LAW motion: “All the main themes of left anti-Semitism are there.” And what are these themes?
First, our statement that Zionism is a form of racism, which leads him to state: “so the very existence of Israel, above and beyond any particular policy, is ‘racist’”. An ethno-nationalist state which calls itself “Jewish”, which declares that it is the state of only part of its population, is indeed inherently racist. Just as a white ethno-nationalist state in South Africa or a Protestant supremacist statelet in Northern Ireland was racist.
Does this mean we deny the right of Israeli Jews to live in Israel? No, of course not. What we do deny is the right of a racist state to exist, whether it is South Africa, Israel or Nazi Germany.
Dale objects in particular to our description of “Palestinian Arabs who are born outside the territory now Israel” as natives, “whereas Jews born there are ‘settler-colonialists’”. But this is a political description of the function of Israeli Jews, many of whom to this very day see themselves as a privileged community. It is Israeli Jews who are dispossessing and removing Palestinian Arabs from their lands. Settler colonialism is an ongoing process and Israeli Jews are without doubt a settler population politically.
Dale concludes by saying that “No viable campaign against the expulsion of socialists from the Labour Party can be built by tying it to these conspiracy theories”. Which is somewhat rich, coming from the AWL. It was the AWL’s Jill Mountford and sympathiser Michael Chessum who voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair of Momentum at the instigation of Jon Lansman, following false charges of anti-Semitism made against her. Of course, Lansman almost immediately turned round and attacked the AWL.
To describe the expulsion from Labour of myself as part of the false anti-Semitism campaign is also apparently anti-Semitic. That perhaps is why the AWL and Progress have conducted almost a love-in on the question of ‘anti-Semitism’. The AWL’s own ‘Stop the Purge’ campaign seems to have disappeared and the reason is that you cannot support, as the AWL has done, the expulsion of Ken Livingstone for daring to mention Zionist-Nazi collaboration (a fact), you cannot support or justify the expulsion of other ‘left anti-Semites’ and then complain about your own comrades’ expulsions. You have to be consistent, but unfortunately the AWL’s consistency lies in its support for the ‘right’ of the world’s only apartheid entity, Israel, to discriminate against its Palestinian citizens in the name of a ‘Jewish’ state.
Israel is not racist because of particular policies, but because racism is in the DNA of the Israeli state. To take but one example, 93% of Israel is state land or belongs to the Jewish National Fund. It is off limits to Israeli Arabs. Over the summer there were demonstrations by Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula because an Israeli Arab had managed to buy a house in a hitherto all-Jewish city. Is this simply a racist policy of Netanyahu? The situation of hundreds of Jewish-only communities has been a feature of Israel since 1948. The 1950 Law of Return, which allowed any Jew to emigrate to Israel, whilst denying the right of return of Palestinian refugees, cemented Israel’s racist and colonial nature.
In what other country would you get such a situation, where the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, issues an edict that Jews must not rent property to Arabs? Eliyahu is a paid state official, yet the state is silent and when he is criticised dozens of Israeli rabbis back him up and issue similar rulings.12 Yet the AWL denies that this - not to mention dozens more examples of the most vicious and murderous racism - suggests anything is amiss. When an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, murdered in cold blood a Palestinian lying on the ground, he received a nine-month prison sentence.13 Contrast this to the case of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who was given eight months for slapping an Israeli soldier.14
The politics of the AWL are not new. They are reminiscent of the tradition laid down by Henry Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation15: militancy at home and support for ‘the empire’ overseas l
Slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn
This is the motion submitted by the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt, to be introduced by Asa Winstanley and Moshé Machover at the February 2 LAW conference in London
1 Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader on September 12 2015 was a body blow to the right wing. It opened up the possibility of thoroughgoing democratisation and transformation of the Labour Party into a genuine party of the working class that would commit itself to fighting for global socialism.
2. Corbyn’s longstanding record of backing strikes, opposing austerity and anti-war campaigning makes him totally unacceptable to Britain’s establishment. Above all, Corbyn is considered a threat to the strategic alliance with the United States, symbolised by his critical attitude towards Israel and his solidarity with the Palestinians.
3. The US has a particular interest in controlling the Middle East because of its oil and geopolitical position. That means shoring up the thoroughly corrupt Saudi Arabian regime and the barely disguised military dictatorship in Egypt. However, the most reliable strategic asset the US possesses in the Middle East is Israel. Israel’s ongoing settler-colonialism is inevitably opposed and bitterly resented by the Palestinian natives and the wider Arab nation. Consequently, the most important political question is security. The majority of the Israeli-Jewish population enthusiastically supports the country’s alliance with the US.
4. The war of attrition against Corbyn as Labour leader - carried out by an alliance of the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the party bureaucracy, the Israeli state, the pro-Israel lobby and the mainstream media - began even before he was elected. Corbyn was portrayed as a terrorist sympathiser, a security risk and an all-round danger to society.
5. Thousands of socialists and leftwingers were investigated, suspended and expelled under former general secretary Iain McNicol. The charges levelled against these comrades were often trivial. Many were found guilty of supporting unaffiliated political groups. There was much talk of dangerous ‘reds under the beds’.
6. However, the most potent weapon in the hands of Corbyn’s enemies proved to be false accusations of anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism was equated with anti-Semitism. This approach worked not least because Corbyn and his allies allowed it to. Rather than standing up to the right and exposing the baselessness of allegations that the Labour Party is riddled with anti-Semitism, Corbyn chose to appease the Labour right and the Zionist lobby.
7. The investigation run by Shami Chakrabarti was supposed to put an end to the allegations, but it was only a new stage. Every time Corbyn and his allies conceded a demand, every time they took a step back, the right wing and Zionist lobby were further emboldened. This culminated in the NEC’s adoption of the much-criticised International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and all 11 of its illustrations (including the one which labels as anti-Semitic the description of Israel as a “racist endeavour”). But the IHRA definition conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
8. This policy of appeasement has proven disastrous not just for Corbyn, but for many hundreds accused of being anti-Semites. The vast majority are no such thing. Social media accounts have been trawled, comments taken out of context and the forwarding of posts taken as evidence of agreement. As a result, reputations have been ruined, good leftwingers have been blocked from standing for positions and, just as importantly, the party as a whole has been brought into disrepute.
9. Labour Against the Witchhunt has two main roles. Firstly, we are a campaigning organisation that fights to radically transform the disciplinary procedures in the Labour Party. We defend all those unjustly suspended, expelled or put under investigation. We welcome the ending of automatic and instant suspensions and expulsions by the new general secretary Jennie Formby - one of our founding demands. Nonetheless, the NEC’s adoption of the IHRA definition has massively expanded the grounds being used for false allegations of anti-Semitism.
10. We call on the NEC to implement the proposals coming from Shami Chakrabarti’s report in regards to natural justice and due process. In particular, we call for the abolition of appendix 6 of the party’s rulebook, which is the LP’s disciplinary code. We demand its replacement by a code that guarantees the rights of the accused and ensures that the whole disciplinary process is seen to be fair and above board. That anyone accused has the right to legal representation, especially if the Labour Party itself is represented legally. And that the LP should be paying for such representation if someone cannot afford to pay.
11. We will continue to campaign for the abolition of the first part of rule 2.1.4.B, which bars from Labour membership anybody who “joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party” and has exclusively been used against leftwingers.
12. We will continue to organise lobbies of Labour NEC meetings, organise our own events and meetings and - after a successful intervention at Labour Party conference 2018 - will plan for another intervention at the 2019 Labour conference.
13. Second, and equally important, is the need to lay bare the role of the Labour right, the Israeli state and Zionist organisations in fabricating the anti-Semitism ‘crisis’ in the Labour Party.
14. The best way of combating backward attitudes and political views - which undoubtedly exist in the Labour Party - is through political education, discussion and joint participation in campaigning. However, giving those with the most backward attitudes and political views prime responsibility for political education is a travesty. We therefore treat with contempt and reject the so-called ‘training sessions’ organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, an openly Zionist organisation. We do not accept that an organisation which supports a racist project of colonisation is capable of providing anti-racist education.
15. Unity between the socialist left and the pro-capitalism right is illusory. The left must win the battle for freedom of speech and democracy - in the Labour Party, trade unions and society at large. Political ideas, including different attitudes towards Israel, must be debated freely, not silenced, not hedged with all manner of bureaucratic ifs and buts. We shall fight to end the current culture of fear and self-censorship.
2. For a background to the split, see https://edoc.site/bob-pitt-the-rise-and-fall-of-gerry-healy-pdf-free.html; and www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/healy/bio-bibl_healy.pdf.
3. An interesting description of what went wrong in the SWP is at http://marksteelinfo.com/2013/03/oh-good-lord-what-has-the-swp-gone-and-done-now.
6. ‘No secrets to China’s success’ The Guardian August 18 2009.