I guess I should be flattered by the attention of Gerry Downing (Letters, October 3). He takes issue with my tribute to Hannah Arendt, whom he crudely criticises as a Zionist. Subtlety is not Gerry’s forte.
Gerry continues where he left off in his contribution to the debate between Moshé Machover and myself at Communist University. He finds that Hannah Arendt’s relationship with Martin Heidegger damns her for all eternity. The fact that many human beings live contradictory lives, where we make decisions in our personal lives that aren’t always logical, has escaped him. People often have relationships with other people for all the wrong reasons! His letter is an example of Philistinism.
Yes, Heidegger joined the Nazi Party on May 1 1933. Actually many thousands of Germans did in order to protect their personal status without themselves being Nazis. Ian Kershaw in Popular opinion and political dissent in the Third Reich: Bavaria 1933-1945 states that over 60% of members of the Nazi Party weren’t anti-Semitic. According to Peter Merckl, just 13% were “paranoid anti-Semites”.
Without claiming any expert knowledge of Heidegger, it is my opinion that he was more an old-style Prussian reactionary than a fully paid-up adherent to Nazi ideology. That is not to excuse him or his behaviour, but it is to note, for example, that as rector of Freiburg University he prevented the display of an anti-Semitic poster in the entrance to the university and he opposed the book burnings that took place in other German universities. Heidegger also, of course, resigned as rector after a year, although he maintained his membership of the Nazi party until 1945.
The question why Hannah Arendt, who was herself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and someone who barely escaped with her life, resumes her relationship with Heidegger and also provides him with political cover is not one I can answer. I suspect that the reason though is not the barren and arid polemic of Gerry Downing that “because she remained a Zionist” she “identified those racist, elitist elements in Heidegger’s philosophy that chimed with Zionism itself: the contempt for the Untermensch Jews in Germany in 1930 and Palestinians today”.
Gerry’s polemic is as simplistic as it is wrong. For a start, Hannah Arendt was one of those Untermensch. Anyone acquainted with Arendt’s writings, such as Rahel Varnhagen, the compiler of essays in The Jew as a Pariah and in particular ‘Zionism reconsidered’, or her debate with Gershom Scholem in response to his attack on her for writing Eichmann in Jerusalem, would not paint her as a Blut und Boden Zionist or racist. This is simply cheap rhetoric from Gerry.
In what was a classic putdown of the professor of Jewish mysticism, who had accused her of having no love of the ‘Jewish people’, Arendt retorted that this was true. She loved her friends and those close to her, not a whole people. Likewise she denied she was ‘proud’ of being Jewish. That is simply a fact that one is born with - again the classic retort to those who are ‘proud’ of being British. I can only assume that Gerry is unacquainted with Arendt’s writing.
As Gabriel Piterberg wrote in The returns of Zionism (one of the best books on Zionism in the past decade or more), “Arendt committed what is for Zionist scholars, from Scholem to Shapira, the cardinal sin: she had a universalist perspective.” For Gerry to paint her as some kind of primitive Zionist racist is juvenile debating tactics. Arendt was a universalist, not a particularist, and that was why she and Zionism grew apart. Even bourgeois philosophers, which she certainly was, have insight that Marxists can take heed of!
If Gerry knew anything about Zionism or its history, he would know that Hannah Arendt was vilified by the Zionist establishment for having written Eichmann in Jerusalem - the banality of evil. It is a book whose theme, that the most monstrous deeds are perpetrated by insignificant bureaucrats, who are part of a monstrous machine, resonates to this day.
Eichmann in Jerusalem was hated by the Zionists precisely because it raised the very issues that the Eichmann trial had been designed to avoid: viz, Zionist collaboration in the war, the role of Kasztner in particular and the failure of the Jewish leadership in Europe. I suggest that Gerry visits the debate between Arendt and Zionist historian Walter Laqueur.
Anyone who is in the slightest acquainted with Arendt’s writings would dispute Gerry’s caricature of her as a racist and chauvinist, still less “an ultra-reactionary”. When accused of coming from the German left by Scholem, she responded thus: “I am not one of the ‘intellectuals who comes from the German left’ ... It is a fact of which I am in no way particularly proud and which I am somewhat reluctant to emphasise - especially since the McCarthy era in this country.” That doesn’t sound like a Jewish reactionary to me.
Finally, I know nothing of Heidegger’s philosophy or indeed of philosophy in general! I adhere to Marx’s maxim that philosophers interpret the world, but the point is to change it. However, Heidegger is acknowledged by many people who are not ultra-reactionaries as having been brilliant in his field. I am in no position to judge one way or another, although I find it difficult to believe that there isn’t something rotten in a philosophy that allows its creator to join the Nazi Party and sing its praises.
However, it is an example of Stalinist crudity to say that in order to produce something of great value you have to be ideologically pure. The fact is that Bob Dylan, whose music I never tire of, is indeed reactionary politically. Likewise TS Elliot - a brilliant poet - was an anti-Semite. The example I gave of Salvador Dali - a fascist who barely escaped with his life at the hands of anti-fascists - producing great works of art and sculpture is also true.
This idea that there is a 1:1 correlation between ideology and the things that one produces is crude and mechanical, and is a rejection of the concept of alienation and distance. For example, the best Marxist analysis of Zionism is the book Zionism: The false Messiah by Nathan Weinstock of the Fourth International. Unfortunately Weinstock is now a Zionist! Does that negate his book? And Hannah Arendt, incidentally, is the classic non-Zionist!
One of the most effective ways of silencing people is to deprive them of the vocabulary they need to express their opinions. No-one knows this better than Leanne Wood, the notoriously illiberal former leader of Plaid Cymru. In a thoroughly sinister speech to the Welsh Assembly on October 2, Wood opened a new chapter in her war on free speech in Wales. Genuine socialists in Wales have been appalled by her apparent belief that only she and a self-selected coterie of pale-pink ‘radicals’ have the right to speak their minds.
The background to the speech was a richly entertaining spat between Wood and Royston Jones - the independent journalist, who writes an excellent blog about Welsh politics under the pseudonym, ‘Jac O’ the North’. Back in January, in a characteristic display of coarseness, Wood lost her temper with Jones and called him an “arsehole” on Twitter. Although it’s never acceptable for a politician in a free society to launch crude personal attacks on journalists, not many of us took this relatively footling matter very seriously. However, Wood’s display of online vulgarity contravened the assembly’s social-media guidelines and she refused to apologise. Her speech was a response to a motion of censure, which her colleagues in the assembly had brought against her.
How did Wood defend herself? Her first, tiresomely predictable, move was to accuse Jones of being a “misogynistic bully”. What this amounted to was a plea for positive discrimination in political debate. Wood’s position goes something like this: any man who vigorously criticises a female politician is by definition a woman-hater and a thug. In the name of feminist dogma, men are under an absolute obligation to hold their tongues, whenever a female politician opens her mouth. Woke fanaticism trumps democracy every time.
More sinister still was Wood’s astonishing attack on the vocabulary of contemporary political debate. In a toe-curling display of self-pity, Wood listed some of the terms which the Twitterati frequently deploy against her when commenting on her tweets: “Feminazi, socialist handmaids, woke, nicheist, virtue-signalling snowflakes”.
Read that list again. With the possible exception of “feminazi”, none of those terms would be thought objectionable by anyone other than a professional offence-taker. Most of them have appeared time and again in the mainstream media. Yet Wood’s astonishing claim is that they’re all “straight out of the far-right playbook”. Her intention here is clear. In seeking to associate some of the central terms of contemporary debate with fascism, Wood is trying to shame her critics into silence. Her aim is to make it literally impossible for views which contravene the woke consensus to be uttered. Wood’s view of the world was neatly anticipated by Syme in 1984: “The destruction of words is a beautiful thing.”
If Leanne Wood were simply an isolated fanatic, her sordid display of anti-democratic rancour in the Welsh assembly wouldn’t be worth worrying about. But she’s not. She’s part of a much wider movement, whose aim is to undermine democracy by depriving the English language of its rich versatility. Another recent example is the pathetic claim by remainer MPs that Brexiteers habitually use “inflammatory” language. Leanne Wood is perfectly entitled to express her views, but those of us who object to her attempt to turn Wales into a totalitarian hellhole have a right to stand up to her.
If you have a few bob to spare, visit Royston Jones’s website and make a donation. It’s time for socialists who value free speech to unite against the woke bigots.
At the risk of chucking around even worse slabs of self-serving introspection and generalised wastefulness, let me say that I’m surprised that your correspondent, Andrew Northall, has got either the time on his hands or basic inclination to criticise the efforts of other comrades (Letters, October 3) - those making gallant attempts to break free from the cyclical narratives of the hard left.
Has your correspondent got nothing better to do? Has he not noticed the million and one other and far more significant things taking place just down the road, so to speak? Apart from that, does he really think people will be interested in his carefully honed but nonetheless rank apologia for Stalinism’s era within its equally aberrational/post-Bolshevism horror land?
Readily coming to mind amongst those million and one things ‘just down the road’ are refugees either drowning in the Mediterranean or struggling to survive in filthily inadequate camps - all having originated under imperialism’s barbaric activities of control, obedience and plunder. Also coming to mind are oligarchs - those global ultra-rich who piss all over any ideas of decency, purpose, graciousness and therein true value to be found in life.
Alternatively again, it could be pointed out to your correspondent how monetisation of our lives has grown to such unfeasible extents that online subliminal ‘influencers’ for commercial product and brand promotion can make bucketloads, whilst young families in the self-same ‘connected’ western world don’t even have a roof over their heads - not one that’s anywhere near affordable or to really call their own, at any rate. All of that thanks to the continuing fall-out and, indeed, the ongoing state-terrorist techniques of making the working class pay for the collapse of their quite simply gangster-like banking system, back in 2008.
Those are the types of matter and profound considerations that should be holding absolute and finite prominence for all communists, surely? That’s not even to mention how Banksy sells his ‘street’ artworks for a fortune in high-bourgeois galleries, but then ducks out of the target range by announcing how he’ll be buying a “refugee boat” to replace the one confiscated by Italian authorities; how corporate control via media and cultural manipulation of the narrative is running riot, to the extent it now all but rules the roost. Oh, that creation of a ‘false reality’ our various elites of capitalism both wish and require the masses to abide by!
All suchlike elements and segments play their part in the perpetuation of capitalism, albeit some more innocently or better-intentioned than others. Woe betide comrade Andrew Northall - the working class ain’t fucking stupid, so it has learned from history and now has templates for the future (but not as either him or his outmoded/entirely defunct sort would have them envisage). Any such comrades may like to consider reorganising both their ideas and their preoccupations. The world’s vital, stoical and proud - but also poor, oppressed and abused - would be highly appreciative.
One can only sympathise with the problems that John Smithee and his family have suffered (Letters, October 3): I do not myself have to carry that kind of load, though I hope that at least I have normal human empathy for others. The human instinct must be to search desperately for a solution to desperate problems.
However, those solutions are not going to arrive under capitalism. The ruling class rules, as it has for the last 10,000 years or so, through ideas (see Paul Demarty’s article, ‘Being ruder than Boris’, in the same issue) and through repression and concessions. Concessions are always as temporary as the ruling class can make them, as we can see with the imposition of austerity as another nail in the coffin of the post-war welfare state.
There are millions of people in desperate circumstances in the UK, thanks to universal credit, the bedroom tax, NHS cuts and drug costs, massive debt, unemployment and precarious work. In the US it is even worse, with millions deprived of healthcare and millions suffering from opioid addiction. The plight of refugees, subsistence farmers and sweatshop workers all over the world is dire.
I’m not suggesting that John, especially as a reader of and regular letter-writer to the Weekly Worker, is not aware of all this, but I would assert that there are no answers beyond, for instance, the ‘What we fight for’ column in the paper. Capitalism is not going to provide jobs and it is not going to ameliorate the crisis situations of millions of families in the UK or the rest of the world. The current direction of travel is by unanimous decree to make things worse - under the leadership of the United States.
A transistor radio for a vasectomy didn’t do much for India in the 1970s and £500 in the UK now is less than two weeks’ pay on minimum wage and less than two weeks’ rent for millions of workers. A Conservative government is already working to cap child benefits with no interest in the misery that will cause.
For all the problems that big families might face, we can do nothing but harm by, in effect, marginalising them, because, among other things, where does it end? Refugees, immigrants, poor people in general. This is what governments do - if people weren’t so feckless they’d be all right.
We have to end capitalism and we have to end class society; there are no other remedies and we don’t have much time. There are grounds for hope, however, in the enormous courage of the people in Hong Kong, in France, in the USA - and indeed all over the world. People are dying, but their comrades keep on fighting. However, the overall weakness of the left is a constant worry.
Jack Conrad makes many useful insights and observations on the crisis faced by Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist movement ‘Establishment at an impasse’, October 3). But he ruins it with his central theory that “Communists reject referendums. These are a con - a means of fooling the people.”
The first statement is untrue or, worse, a lie: that is, an untruth repeated when it is known to be false. The second statement is true. But it doesn’t mean all people are fooled all of the time, unless you think the masses are biologically ignorant or stupid. Even then, a communist answer to ignorance is participation in struggle, not the principle of boycott.
I won’t repeat all the evidence on boycott except to remind readers that the Bolshevik programme advocated a referendum as a means of a (relatively) peaceful and democratic resolution to the national question. The right of nations to self-determination without the right for a nation to vote on separation is a ‘con’. To put it simply, the Bolsheviks preferred and advocated a referendum to having a civil war between nations.
Jack’s fundamental mistake is to raise one way of voting in liberal democracy as uniquely bad as “a means of fooling people”. This is the method of anarchism or ‘con-munism’. The list is massive: general elections (con), Labour Party (con), universal suffrage (con) are all means of “fooling the people” - and not forgetting my favourite: the ‘republi-con’.
Politics, in capitalist societies, in all its guises is designed as “a means of fooling people”. No communist should disagree with this. But anarchists believe that boycott is the answer, unless they change their minds. They would boycott the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion. They would change their minds if it seems a good idea or is not worth being condemned as a reactionary. As Groucho Marx said, “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them ... well, I have others”.
Now we turn to poor old Jeremy, who is doing better than most ignorant and stupid people imagine. He is in a hole. So he turns to Labour Party Marxists for advice. He believes they are a voice of the working class and not a con. He might ask, ‘What is the road to socialism?’ LPM might say, ‘I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.’ They might say. ‘Give up because con-munism is the only answer.’
Alternatively they might say ‘Let’s fight together to defeat Johnson with a working class strategy and tactics related to the actual balance of forces.’ Should Corbyn call for a referendum? (No) Should he demand a general election now (No) or sooner or later (No)? Should he try to remove the dangerous Johnson from office? (No) Should he call a vote of no confidence? (No) Should he become a caretaker PM? (No) Should he support another MP as caretaker PM? (No) Should he call for a government of national disunity? (No) Is there anything else that makes sense? (No)
Jack has blocked and barricaded up every escape route and not just the blind alleys. LPM seems no better. They have no answers and no way out of the cul de sac, having blocked off all the exits. Since it is easy to argue against every option, it is only fair to rise to the same challenge.
The Tory referendum has given the mantle of ‘democracy’ to the right. The democratic answer to these reactionary ‘democrats’, who are ‘fooling the people’, is to listen to the people. In 2016, the collective view of working people through their majorities was for England and Wales to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or customs union. This is what every democrat should demand. This deal or any other deal (including a no-deal ‘clean break’) must be put to the people in a ratification (yes/no) referendum.
This is simple, democratic and easy to understand. But it is impossible to fathom if your head is full of English (or Anglo-British) chauvinist and unionist crap, which, of course, swamps the Labour Party. Corbyn was moulded politically in the same swamp.
Yet the interesting point is that it is close to, but different from, the position he and the Labour Party have taken. Corbyn has ignored the voters on Northern Ireland and Scotland. He hasn’t fully embraced the single market, including EU free movement. Corbyn’s instinct is for the trade union idea of a ratification referendum, but, as Jack says, he “has been dragged into adopting a second referendum”. As Jack recognises, it is a big mistake to feed red meat to the reactionary ‘democrats’.
Of course, the main task is to defeat Tory Brexit, including the danger from no deal. Stopping Tory Brexit - whether defeating a Johnson deal or stopping no deal - is the key to a Labour government. He could be ousted by a temporary caretaker government to call a general election or defeated in an election he calls.
The caretaker option is extremely unlikely because the liberals and reactionaries fear Corbyn more than Brexit or Johnson. Of course, there can be no support for anybody other than Corbyn, while he is leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition. If by some miracle Johnson gets a deal, that must be put for ratification to the people, because parliament might agree, with a section of Labour MPs voting for it.
So far, because of his principled opposition to all referenda, Jack has failed to recognise the distinction between a ratification and a second or repeat referendum with a ‘remain’ option. However, he says, “While opinion polls show a clear majority wanting a ‘say’ on any final Brexit deal, the result of a second referendum is far from certain.”
This tells us everything that we need to know. The people want to ratify or reject any deal (having a ‘say’), but are divided over the wisdom of rerunning, with a ‘remain’ option reinforcing divisions in the working class.
Mike Macnair was, I think, insufficiently appreciative of the Supreme Court decision (‘Judges, politics and democracy’, September 26). The court can at any time be criticized as the ultimate protector of property rights, but that is hardly the principle at stake in Gina Miller’s case, which concerned Boris Johnson’s abuse of the royal prerogative.
Private property rights are deeply entrenched behind a phalanx of statutes and international instruments - not least the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. That fact need not prevent us from admiring the boldness with which the 11 justices slapped the government down, and the lucidity with which they spelled out the constitutional principle of the supremacy of parliament.
The usefulness as a precedent of the Miller judgment is rather undermined by Lady Hale’s statement from the chair at hand-down that the question under consideration is a “one-off”. Incidentally, her statement is a fine exposition of basic constitutional rules.
Johnson says he respects the court, but does not agree with the judgment - the first part of this statement is a lie from a man who has no respect for anything. But his disagreement with the judgment amounts to a rejection of the very basis of his appointment as prime minister. It is as clear an assertion of a penchant for authoritarian rule untrammelled by the law as any premier has made in the last couple of centuries.
The position of the queen is no less abject. True, she is supposed to act on ministers’ advice, but here her ministers do not have the support of the House of Commons. The trip to Balmoral by the three privy councillors led by Jacob Rees-Mogg was intended to be kept secret from the cabinet, as well as from our elected representatives in parliament. The application for a prerogative order was patently abusive, as the court unanimously found. How did it come about that the queen signed an order to silence parliament for more than a month in the middle of a political crisis?
At the least, the queen failed to spot a fraudulent application which rode roughshod over democratic rights. Less charitably we could conclude that she thought it was right to do so. So what is the purpose of our maintaining her and her burgeoning brood in luxury at public expense? What is the point of monarchy when the monarch is ready and willing to sweep away a parliament whenever it suits the Old Etonian gang?