weapon forged in lies
Derek James calls upon the left to show courage and refute every false accusation with the truth
The news that a man has appeared in court, accused of “racially or religiously aggravated wounding or grievous bodily harm”, following unprovoked attacks on three Jewish people in the Stamford Hill area of north London, has once more triggered discussion about the nature and extent of anti-Semitism in Britain.
Whilst the case has not yet been heard and the exact circumstances of the alleged attacks have not been fully established, film footage appears to show that the victims were chosen because they were dressed as orthodox Jews. Without prejudging the case, these incidents would seem to be a clear example of anti-Semitism. No, this is not the anti-Semitism of the 1930s. Nor is it the anti-Semitism of medieval Europe or the anti-Semitism of the late Roman empire. But it is anti-Semitism: “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”: that is, hostility to Jews as Jews.1
It is important in this case, as in any of the other instances in which an anti-Semitic attack occurs, for the left to openly acknowledge the existence of anti-Jewish prejudice and to completely condemn it when it does occur. For example, when former Labour MP Luciana Berger was threatened by anti-Semites, the left in her Constituency Labour Party (CLP) stood in solidarity with her, even though the CLP was opposed to her pro-capitalist and anti-Corbyn politics.2 Labour Against the Witchunt too has taken a principled position. When supporters of the Socialist Fight group peddled the idea that US foreign policy was run by Israel due to the “disproportionate” number of Jewish billionaires in America they were expelled. Rightly, LAW wanted no association with the ‘socialism of fools’. Just because Zionist groups such as the Community Security Trust inflate, concoct, misreport incidents of anti-Semitism, that does not mean we should argue that anti-Semitism does not exist in contemporary Britain. Palpably, it does.
Thus, whilst correctly identifying the politically motivated exaggeration of the nature and extent of anti-Semitism, some comrades enter into a sterile game of competitive oppression, in which racism directed towards black people or Muslims is contrasted unfavourably with the rather different contemporary experience of the Jewish population.3 Such denialism is ultimately rooted in the ‘beggar my neighbour’ politics of identity: it is not only politically wrong on all counts, but is also totally counterproductive, as it only gives further ammunition to the witch-hunters in the Labour bureaucracy and the media. It also adds further grist to the mill of those who provide the ‘intellectual’ cover for the big lie identifying the left with anti-Semitism, such as the ex-leftist turned conservative commentator, Brendan O’Neill, or the social-imperialists of the misnamed Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.4
The real problem with this form of denialism is that it completely misunderstands the nature of the current purge, and why anti-Semitism has been weaponised by the Labour right and the capitalist class. The central dynamic that explains the witch-hunt is the contradictory character of the Labour Party as a bourgeois workers’ party: that is, a party which has a pro-capitalist leadership completely integrated into the state and a membership and supporters rooted in the organised working class. Consequently, the party has always been a site of struggle, in which there is an inevitable dynamic towards witch-hunts and bans and proscriptions. Acting as the Labour lieutenants of capital and a safe alternative government, Labour leaders must set the boundaries of acceptable and legitimate politics and deem that even quite moderate left-reformist challenges to the capitalist status quo are ‘extremist’ and so beyond the pale.
Given his career at the highest levels of the legal system, and his proven loyalty to the state and its legal apparat, it cannot be questioned that Starmer has all the necessary qualifications to perform this traditional function of the Labour Party leadership to perfection.
Starmer, like other Labour leaders before him, propagates loyalty to the constitution, and its imperialist foreign policy, amongst the working class, a fundamental pillar of which is commitment to the US and Atlanticism. Given the pivotal role of Israel for US strategy in the Middle East, this requires British support for Israel, both as an essential element in the UK’s strategic subordination to US imperialism and as a marker of its fealty to Washington. This conjunction of vital foreign policy interests and political symbolism means that commitment to Israel has inevitably taken on a growing significance in British politics, especially when Jeremy Corbyn was identified with support for Palestinian rights and had a record of opposition to imperialist interventions, nuclear weapons and the Nato alliance.
On foreign policy grounds alone Corbyn could not be regarded as reliable or loyal by the state. As a result we saw a sustained campaign against him by the capitalist media, the Labour right and one presumes elements of the deep state. Through the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ formula his ‘questionable’ position on Israel was placed centre-stage. The possibility that Corbyn might win an election gave even more urgency to attempts to undermine and discredit him, and the movement he represented.
The full history of the attempts to destabilise his leadership and reclaim control of Labour for the ruling class has yet to be written, but the main elements of the story are clear enough. The traitorous role of the Labour right, both amongst MPs and in the party bureaucracy, the activities of pro-Zionist groups and agents of the Israeli state, and the poisonous media campaign that invented and drove the narrative of ‘Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis’ have been covered in this paper and elsewhere. Likewise, the pathetic equivocations and outright complicity of many of the official Labour left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the Momentum leadership throughout the smear campaign should not be forgotten. Most importantly, neither should the willingness of Corbyn himself to make concessions and sacrifice left activists to appease the Labour right. However, the greatest betrayal was the utter failure of the Corbyn leadership to take the fight to the enemy, both within and without the party, and stand fully behind the left activists smeared with false charges of anti-Semitism.
The continuing retreat of the official left has only emboldened Starmer and the Labour right. The reintroduction of bans and proscriptions by the national executive committee in July and the intensification of the purge against the left that will surely follow the September 25-29 party conference shows that the campaign begun under the Corbyn leadership is not going to end any time soon.
The big lie of the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign directed against the left is too good a weapon for the Labour right and the capitalist class in general to abandon, even though the left is now in complete disarray and in headlong retreat. Because it functions on a number of different political, ideological and psychological levels that serve both the general interests of the ruling class and the specific projects of their political representatives, the issue of anti-Semitism is now firmly embedded as a permanent feature in British society and politics. Consequently, Starmer will continue to use the accusation that the left is anti-Semitic as part of his strategy to reassure the ruling class that Labour is once again a suitable party for government. Similarly, his attacks on unacceptable extremism and his remodelling of Labour as a sensible centrist party also utilise the accumulated slanders of the right’s anti-Semitism to draw a boundary between what is acceptable and what is clearly beyond the bounds of civilised society.
This gives the ‘struggle against anti-Semitism’ an explicitly moral character that draws on a variety of powerful political and cultural resources, such as official multiculturalism and anti-racism, the official national mythology of ‘democratic Britain’s fight against fascism and Nazism’, as well as the intersectional identity politics of many on the contemporary left. It is also in tune with significant international currents that seek to delegitimate any opposition to capitalism or imperialism as extremist, and quite deliberately link the left with anti-Semitism.5
So it looks like the left will continue to face these lies for the foreseeable future. We know the responses that have not worked over the last six years or so: the official left’s ‘reasonable’ concessions and the absurd acceptance that there is a widespread anti-Semitism problem on the left have not placated the Labour right or stilled the media campaign against us. The failure of left MPs to lead any sort of fight on this issue, along with the spinelessness of the current Momentum leadership, has just opened us up to yet more targeting, which will surely intensify after Starmer’s set-piece attacks at the Brighton conference later this month.
This means that revealing the real nature of the Labour right’s slanders on ‘anti-Semitism’ and calling out the compromises and complicity of the official left will have to continue as a central part of our fight to defend the left. Pulling our punches on anti-Semitism in any way - either to exaggerate or to minimise it - is not an option: we have to tell the truth if we are going to succeed in countering the vicious lies spread about us by Labour bureaucrats, fake leftists, media hacks and Tory ministers.
See ‘Open second front now’ Weekly Worker February 14 2019: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1238/open-second-front-now.↩︎
See www.spiked-online.com/2021/05/16/the-lefts-shameful-silence-on-anti-semitism; www.workersliberty.org/thats-funny-you-dont-look-antisemitic.↩︎
See ‘“Anti-Semitism” and culture wars’ Weekly Worker June 3: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1350/anti-semitism-and-culture-wars.↩︎