Scumbags and reactionary bigots

What an outpouring of hypocritical humbug and cant we have witnessed in response to Ken Livingstone's "grossly insensitive" remarks made to Evening Standard hack Oliver Finegold on February 8. For those who have been living in a different planet and have not looked at the media for the last week or so, let us recall what occurred. After attending a party at City Hall to mark the 20th anniversary of Chris Smith's coming out as Britain's first openly gay MP, Livingstone was approached by Finegold, who started to question him about the evening on behalf of his newspaper - not best known for being a friend of either gays or 'Red Ken'. Livingstone suggested that the journalist's previous occupation was as a "German war criminal". When Finegold retorted that he was Jewish, London's mayor nevertheless compared him to "a concentration camp guard", since he was "just doing it [working for the Standard] because you're paid to". Livingstone rounded off a perfect evening by advising him to "work for a paper [he presumably meant newspaper chain] that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism". Now, anyone of a progressive disposition would surely sympathise with Livingstone's comments. The Evening Standard is part of Associated Newspapers, whose titles include the Daily Mail - which in the 1930s welcomed Hitler's rise to power and was an enthusiastic supporter of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Today both newspapers feed their readers a steady diet of reactionary bile and preach the gospel of social intolerance, even if these days it is dressed up in the language of bourgeois anti-racism. For instance, the Daily Mail combines campaigning to find the killers of Stephen Lawrence with endless hate-filled diatribes against asylum-seekers, travellers, etc. In recent years the Evening Standard, in particular, has filled its pages with sensationalist, 'reds under the bed' stories straight out of the anti-communist propaganda manual. Strikers and trade union militants have been denounced as the 'enemy within' and had their faces plastered all over the front page. More pertinently, on numerous occasions they have attempted to smear Livingstone personally. Charmingly, the Daily Mail once offered Livingstone's ex-wife £50,000 to provide an 'exclusive' and when he split up with his long-term girlfriend, her neighbours were plagued by Mail journalists hunting for potentially 'juicy', and scurrilous, material. Over the years, Livingstone's elderly mother has been harassed by Associated Newspapers employees looking for dirt. Frankly, the Evening Standard is fully deserving of Livingstone's contempt and anger. Whatever profound disagreements communists may have with Livingstone, we find it hard to disagree with his recent declaration on the issue: "The comments I made simply indicated the level of loathing and disgust for the racism they have perpetuated and the bigotry they have encouraged over 100 years." But Livingstone's critics were in a rush to be offended. They now want their pound of politically correct flesh - Tories included, of course, who sense an opportunity to undermine their political bête noire. There must be public contrition from the mayor. The Greater London Assembly unanimously passed a motion calling on Livingstone to apologise - which he still refuses to do. Tony Blair has asked him to change his mind and "move on". Meanwhile, Louise Ellman MP of the Labour Friends of Israel group has called for the GLA to reprimand the mayor. Lord Janner, a former Labour MP and ex-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, found Livingstone's remarks "totally disgraceful". As for Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, she thought it was "disgraceful to use a reference to the period of the holocaust as a way of abusing people today". Some survivors of the Nazi genocide have also handed in a petition asking for a "swift and unequivocal apology" from Livingstone. Not wanting to be outdone in the respectability stakes, the 'official communist' Morning Star also made an appeal to Livingstone's conscience. The editorial cleared him of anti-semitism, but went on: "However, the mayor must also know the pain that any Jew must experience in being compared to a German concentration camp guard. Mr Livingstone ought to divorce his anger over the Evening Standard's reactionary agenda from his awareness of having insulted a reporter unnecessarily. He should sincerely apologise to Mr Finegold for hurting his feelings, while reaffirming his contempt for the paper for which he works and continuing to defend the agenda of unity and mutual respect that his period in political office has exemplified" (February 15). Predictably, some take it upon themselves to speak for the whole Jewish 'community'. So deputy mayor Nicky Gavron told us that Livingstone's words to Finegold were offensive "both to the individual and to Jews in London", while Andrew Dismore MP, whose Hendon constituency in north London has a high proportion of Jewish voters, spelt it out even more clearly: "I think Ken should apologise and should apologise quickly, both to the reporter and to the entire Jewish community. While I have a lot of time for Ken on many issues, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the Jewish community." Gavron and Dismore would have us believe that all Jews are offended by Livingstone's remarks - whether they are Zionist or anti-Zionist, orthodox or liberal, secular or non-Jewish Jews, etc. In this way of course the Jewish 'community' - like the muslim 'community' - is turned into an undifferentiated, classless mass concerned only with 'identity politics'. More seriously, the Board of Deputies of British Jews has "formally" reported Livingstone to the local government watchdog, the Standards Board for England and Wales. The board will then decide whether to charge Livingstone with "gross insensitivity". If so, Livingstone could, in theory, be censured or suspended for a year - even banned from public office for up to five years if he is found to have brought the office of mayor into "disrepute". Communists would denounce any such measures as anti-democratic and effectively a form of censorship. We defend the right to freedom of speech, which means the right to 'insult' and 'offend' received opinion. Quite how comparing someone in a derogatory fashion to a Nazi concentration camp guard is meant to be an example of anti-semitism remains a mystery. Regrettably though, this seems to be the view of the gay rights campaign group, Outrage, which issued a press release condemning Livingstone for "stooping to anti-semitic abuse in the name of defending lesbians and gays "¦. His sensationalist rhetoric cheapens the experience of Jews, gays, the disabled, Roma, black people, communists and others who were persecuted by the Nazis. Ken should not seek to embroil lesbians and gay men in his dispute with the Evening Standard" (February 10). This is indeed "sensationalist rhetoric". Livingstone was baiting a journalist who works for "scumbags" who have been baiting him for years. One might even suggest that he had consumed more than a single glass of lemonade on the night. So let's get real. Blowing Livingstone's rather puerile exchange with Finegold out of all proportion is a form of witch-hunting which creates a barrier to normal human interaction and cuts off serious debate. Getting called a bad name is an everyday reality for most people. We either shrug it off, reply like for like "¦ or take it seriously by coming out with a full rejoinder. Anyone associated with the Weekly Worker and the CPGB must be used by now to a whole string of insults - 'islamophobes', 'pro-Zionist', 'Stalinist', Trotskyite', 'sectarian'. Ken Livingstone even called our entire organisation and our candidate in Brent East, Anne Mc Shane, "M15 agents" in the 1992 general election "¦ and that incident was broadcast on the TV news. We calmly and thoroughly replied by exposing Livingstone's habitual red-baiting and detailed his unsavoury links with Gerry Healy and the corrupt and despicable Workers Revolutionary Party. This horrible organisation did use language and formulations in its daily colour press which reeked of anti-semitism. Anti-Zionism was the codeword. Moreover the WRP regularly libelled opponents as MI5, CIA, KGB or Zionist agents "¦ but was meanwhile itself on the receiving end of generous handouts from reactionary states such a Libya, Iraq and Iran. So there is no love lost between communists and Livingstone. And if we judge him by his friends then he has a lot to answer for. But such a discussion cannot be advanced by a silly and over-hyped exchange outside City Hall, let alone by jumping on the Evening Standard anti-Livingstone bandwagon. Quite frankly, we would not ask Livingstone to apologise. On the contrary, Oliver Finegold should stop using his Jewishness to stave off criticism of his role as a Standard hack. This paper peddles lies, hate and the values of capitalism in a particularly damaging, disgusting and revolting way. The Evening Standard is the enemy of everything that is humane and progressive. Of course, as we know well, certain words are particularly loaded. They carry huge symbolic meaning or convey whole political programmes. In the 1930s to be called a 'Trotskyite' in the Soviet Union was virtually the equivalent of a sentence of death. Stalin presided over the state killing of literally millions of such victims. Ditto to be a called a 'communist' or a 'Jew' in Nazi Germany. Here is the rub. In polite society in contemporary Britain there is a desperate search for vicarious victimhood. Real oppression in the past or the present is expropriated and turned into a means of middle class self-defence and self-advancement. To claim the mantle of victimhood is to buy into a special status that puts you publicly beyond criticism, beyond reason - if it is officially sanctioned. What matters is not objective reality and the practical struggle to overcome real oppression in the here and now "¦ but ever so easily offended feelings. Hence the furore over Finegold's claimed hurt. Especially since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war the ruling class establishment in Britain and the USA have joined together with Zionist ideologues to take hold of the memory of the Nazi holocaust. Criticism of Israel is equated with the anti-semitism of the Nazi state. Other victims - communists, socialists, trade unionists, gays, Roma, etc - are erased from history. Capitalism as a system is exonerated. A climate of irrationality and morbid sensitivity is encouraged and made into the official ideology. Instead of rational debate and considered political action there is an attempt - largely successful - to normalise hysteria. The Daily Mail and the Evening Standard reflect perfectly that irrationalism and warped morality. As Livingstone said to Oliver Finegold on the night of February 8, they are "a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots". Eddie Ford