Anti-semitism, Israel/Palestine and the Left

There exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the motion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.” This is not from an editorial in Socialism Today or the Socialist but from the ‘cross-party’ Parliamentary committee – which includes Tories and Liberals as well as Labour MPs – which explored the charge of Labour anti-Semitism following the publication of the Chakrabarti report into the issue in 2016.

Yet it has been the Labour Party – because of the threat posed by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and programme to the possessing classes – which has been singled out and found guilty in the ‘court of public opinion’ of the charge of anti-Semitism. An incessant chorus involving the capitalist press, the Tories and their allies, together with the ‘back-stabbing’ tendency within the predominantly right-wing Parliamentary Labour Party, led an unrestrained no holds barred scurrilous campaign alleging widespread ‘anti-Semitism’ within Labour.

This has been followed by the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth on the flimsiest of grounds for allegedly accusing right-wing Labour MP Ruth Smeeth of colluding with the Daily Telegraph in its pernicious campaign alleging widespread anti-Semitism within the Labour Party! He has vehemently denied this but was nevertheless expelled under Neil Kinnock’s anti-left catch-all phrase of “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute”, which was used in the past against Militant and others on the left.

Marc Wadsworth has been attacked for the ‘crime’ of suggesting that right-wing Labour MPs seek to discredit Labour and Jeremy Corbyn as a nest of anti-Semites. And, unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn appears to have remained largely silent, after he and his advisers had allegedly promised to support Wadsworth, and oppose his expulsion. He has said nothing since. This is now likely to be followed by the expulsion of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and others on similar charges.

Moreover Ken Loach, the left filmmaker who has received widespread acclaim for his work in Britain and internationally and has participated on the leftand in the labour movement over decades, faced the withdrawal of an honorary degree for his work after the intervention of Belgian Prime Minister! This is because he has supported, like many others, the legitimate democratic rights of the oppressed Palestinians. He has therefore been tried and found guilty by implication, in his absence, on the same charge of ‘anti-Semitism’.

This is all part of a calculated attempt to conflate opposition to the Israeli state and the right-wing reactionary Netanyahu government with anti-Semitism. As part of this campaign now we see some right-wing Jewish leaders in Britain identifying the movement for boycott and disinvestment in Israel as an example of anti-Semitism.

The Socialist Party does not support a generalised boycott of Israeli goods for the reasons that we have gone into in previous issues of Socialism Today. But it is entirely legitimate to support the boycott of Israeli arms exports many of which have been used in repression against the Palestinian masses and others.

There is undoubtedly a deliberately created colossal confusion – massive dust blowing – by capitalism and its representatives within Labour, the Blairite right, on the whole issue of anti-Semitism both historically and today. This in turn is linked to the present character of the state of Israel and how the labour movement, particularly socialists and Marxists, approach the complex issues of the different national aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis.

At the same time, the repercussions of the war in Syria, in what is now a multifaceted series of conflicts and wars, has posed the possibility of a new general conflagration. This could involve Israel on one side – supported by the Trump regime in the US – and Iran backed up by Syria and the 100 million Shia bloc, with Russia and its armed might in the background, on the other. The arbitrary withdrawal of Trump from the deal with Iran over the production of nuclear weapons has already led to an Israeli missile attack. This could be a prelude to a new war between Israel and Iran.

There is a large element of the Balkans – both in the pre- and post-First World War situations – in the Middle East. Contending imperialist powers scramble for influence and possession of territory with the national rights trampled or used as small change, bargaining chips, to enhance the imperialist ambitions of the major players in the region.

The national question everywhere today is like Ariadne’s thread in ancient Greek mythology, complicated and difficult to grasp particularly to those who fail to adopt a rounded, skilful approach. This is something that most of the left have been found wanting on and which has contributed today to the capitalists and their hangers-on undermining them and the labour movement.

Only a consistent class, socialist and Marxist approach can allow the working class and its leadership to find a way out of this maze, particularly in the Middle East, where imperialism’s former domination has left a terrible legacy of multiple unresolved ‘national questions’. On top of this, new national questions have been created.

The left – with the exception of the Socialist Party – tends to emphasise one side of the question, the national rights of a group sometimes in direct opposition to the legitimate national rights of others.

Support for the present Israeli state is justified by some, particularly on the right but also others on the left as well, because of the terrible crime of the slaughter of 6 million Jews perpetrated by the Nazis through the Holocaust.

Trotsky – who was with Karl Marx, historically and politically, one of the most famous of Jewish figures – originally opposed the idea of a homeland for the Jews seeing them, as did Lenin, as a specially oppressed layer, but not possessing in the pre-Second World War period the distinct attributes of a nation: clear territory, a common everyday language, etc. However, the terrible slaughter of the Jews during the Second World War generated a growing clamour amongst them for their own homeland.

Therefore, recognising the changed reality he and the Trotskyist movement as a whole changed their position. Trotsky, before his assassination in 1940, conceded the legitimacy of a homeland for the Jews, for instance perhaps in a part of undeveloped Latin America or in Africa, with the agreement of course of the peoples of the area. But not in Palestine because it was recognised by Marxists from the outset that a new majority Jewish state would only be achieved through colonisation, the effective forcing out of the native Palestinian population by a growing immigration of the Jewish population.

This would be a formula for continued strife in the region, which Trotsky predicted could turn into a “bloody trap” precisely for the Jews themselves. And a big element of Trotsky’s prediction was borne out from the beginning with seemingly endless conflict, and four wars up to now. Trotsky predicted that a Jewish state would be used by imperialism as a wedge against the growing Arab revolution. This is what transpired. Therefore the central task of the workers’ movement within the borders of Israel was to seek to forge an alternative, a class alliance of the Jewish – now Israeli – and Palestinian working masses, linked to the socialist revolution in the state with the possibility of perhaps autonomous rights for the Jews as part of a socialist confederation throughout the Middle East.

But the demands of the Palestinians began to change under the whip of the Israeli state. The systematic, ruthless and discriminatory policies, together with repression of Palestinians, the land grabs of Palestinian territory and the building of Israeli settlements on land legally belonging to the Palestinians led them to begin to abandon the idea of a one-state solution in favour of two states, one of them Palestinian.

We therefore recognised these legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people, while at the same time defending the right of the Israelis to their own state. Accordingly therefore we also advanced the idea of two states. So also did the bourgeois wing of the Palestinian movement. But their proposal for a bourgeois separate state with agreed borders, alongside an Israeli state was always a reactionary utopia, something which could never be realised by rotted capitalism and imperialism.

The Israeli bourgeois – with American imperialism in the background – would always fear that such a state, starved of resources, would inevitably become a launching pad for endless attacks on Israel.

However, a section of the Palestinian masses – a minority at this stage – now express a deep scepticism towards any two-state solution. This was reflected in one of the organisers of the recent demonstrations in the Palestinian areas commenting to a Financial Times reporter that he now believed in a shared struggle with Palestinians linking up with sections of the Israeli population to confront the existing Israeli regime. The task now, he argued, was similar to the overthrow of an Israeli version of South Africa’s ‘apartheid’ state.

However, the analogy with South Africa and Israel today does not hold. In 1990, Mandela and the ANC leadership were able to postpone the South African revolution to the future by collaborating with the remnants of the apartheid regime and holding out the prospect of ‘black empowerment’. Netanyahu and the present Israeli state are not prepared to embrace even the leadership of the bourgeois PLO to share power in a new state.

Therefore the only way to begin to address the national demands of both the Israeli and Palestinian masses is by advancing the idea of two socialist states – one Palestinian and the other Israeli. And the only viable way to realise this goal is on the basis of a mass movement – of both Israeli and Palestinians – to carry through the socialist transformation of Israel/Palestine linked to the idea of a socialist confederation throughout the Middle East.
Foreign policy is a continuation of home policy. However when it comes to foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular, the left internationally abandon this dictum, resorting to ‘solutions’ which do not go beyond the framework of capitalism. At least Unite General Secretary Lenny McCluskey, in a recent article in the New Statesman, sought to stress the key role of the working class in shaping events in Israel. We would say the same applies to the region as a whole. He wrote: “I have much admiration for those Jewish socialists inside Israel who fight against their government and for peace and justice.”

Lenny then went too far in his acceptance of the “1967 borders” – which were established after a bloody war in which Israel grabbed the ‘occupied territories’. However, all of these issues in a united workers’ movement would be up for discussion including the borders of whatever state forms eventually emerge.

The only way to win the confidence of both sides – Palestinians and Israelis – is to democratically discuss all their grievances, many of them arising from the murderous strife which has characterised the situation in the region for almost 70 years.

Firstly, it is necessary to recognise the legitimacy of the demand – Palestinian and Israeli – for their own states. The precise state forms will be decided in mutual discussions after capitalism has been overthrown in Israel and in all probability in the Arab world as a whole. It is impossible to say beforehand what the precise borders will be or whether they will even be necessary.

It is possible that a victorious socialist and revolutionary movement of Israelis and Palestinians could after victory lead them to agree to coexist in one state. They may decide they need separate states – the borders of which would be open to democratic discussion and debate and negotiation.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Russian Revolution was the realisation of the national demands of former oppressed minorities and nations under the whip of czarism. The obvious example is, of course, Finland, featured in Socialism Today recently, and which was granted complete independence by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Other parts of the czarist empire were able to realise their own state and government but then voluntarily agreed to come together in a confederation.

This bore out completely Lenin’s arguments against those who opposed the right of self-determination. His opponents, notably the great Rosa Luxemburg, argued that this would lead to the splitting up of a unified Russia, resulting in the scattering of the economic basis of a new state.
Lenin countered this, arguing that by granting the right of self-determination it was possible for the Russian workers to win the confidence of the workers and peasants that tsarism oppressed, and convince them of the need for a socialist and democratic federation. 

Moreover, while Lenin and the Bolsheviks accepted the need for the centralisation of the productive forces, through a federation this could only take place on the basis of agreement, a voluntary decision to pool the resources of the states for the common good.

This would have been impossible without a clear, sensitive policy on the national question, without which the Russian Revolution would never have been sustained, particularly in its first period of existence. Moreover, a successful struggle for socialism will not take place in the Middle East unless the workers’ movement, together with the small farmers, is able to convince through action the majority of the masses of the correctness of their programme and defend their legitimate national demands.

Lenin consistently argued that it would be necessary – particularly in the first stages of a democratic workers’ state – to give concessions not just to oppressed nationalities but even to small groups – in order to win their confidence and support for the revolution.

Unfortunately, because of unfavourable objective factors, this sensitive policy gave way to the hooligan bureaucratic centralisation under Stalinism which – in the main – trampled over legitimate national democratic rights and created new national questions on top of those that had been inherited from czarism.

The CWI’s position on the national question – particularly in Israel/Palestine – ironically has been vindicated in the region by the furore over anti-Semitism which allegedly is ‘running riot’ within the Labour Party!

It is noticeable that on this occasion it has not been possible for the hyenas of the bourgeois press – and their echoes on the right of the Labour Party – to include us, the Socialist Party, formerly Militant, in their recent anti-Semitic smears. They have not been able to find formulations, loose phrasing, in past articles either in Militant, the Socialist or Socialism Today which abandons the class criteria or where we have been seen to back bourgeois or petty-bourgeois sectarian leaders. On all occasions we fight for the independent programme and action of the working class, seeking in action to unite workers against the common foe of capitalism and imperialism.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case with many of the organisations of the left. Some of them wrongly supported the IRA in Ireland and in Britain, something which the Socialist Party has never done. 

On the contrary, while our comrades in Britain and Ireland have supported the aspirations and class interests of the nationalist/Catholic and the Protestant working class, we have consistently criticised the utopian and harmful terrorist campaign of the IRA, which was based on a minority of the population and was bound to reinforce existing divisions and sectarian strife.

This same approach has been applied to the struggles in Israel/Palestine, which brought us into collision with other left organisations such as the SWP in the Stop the War committee. They, along with George Galloway, gave uncritical support to Islamic organisations and groups, and rejected amendments moved by us which sought to emphasise the common class questions. This leaves these organisations wide open to attack because of their incorrect one-sided statements on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and also on other issues.

Moreover, the CWI is amongst the very few who have managed to construct a small but nevertheless vital organisation in Israel itself, which has attracted at different stages both Arab and Jewish workers and youth to its ranks. This is something that few other genuine Marxist/Trotskyist organisations have been capable of consistently doing. And this has only been made possible by a clear, class programme, strategy and tactics which our comrades have consistently put forward, sometimes in a highly polarised situation.

In the long run, this is the only way to be prepared to answer the attacks of the bourgeois and the Labour right. It will still not stop them from distorting the ideas of the Socialist Party and the basic ideas of the labour movement for that matter. But we will be better prepared to counter the lies and distortions of the capitalists and their press, and completely refute the arguments of the right within the Labour Party. 

The current campaign around ‘anti-Semitism’ is all so reminiscent of the witchhunt in the 1980s with the expulsion of the leaders of Militant – now the Socialist Party – as well as many class fighters such as the Liverpool councillors and many others. And we must never forget this was all orchestrated in the first instance by the Tories with Margaret Thatcher boasting that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair, the conversion of Labour at its base from a workers’ party into another capitalist party.

Moreover, some on the left chose to ignore the threat to themselves in the attack first levelled against Militant. They came for us in the morning but, as we warned, they would come for others on the left later.

In the case of Ken Livingstone, it was much later. Without a full explanation of his comments on the connection between Hitler and Zionism, they were likely to be torn out of context by the bourgeois and the Labour right. Livingstone opened himself to attack because he does not have an analysis – or has not explained – how the bourgeois internationally, and not just the German capitalists, backed Hitler. Winston Churchill hailed and supported fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler. We have fully analysed this in previous issues in Socialism Today.

More serious for the labour movement was Livingstone’s decision in 1985 to break the common front established by 22 left councils, including Liverpool and Lambeth, pledged to uphold implacable opposition to the cuts which Thatcher was intending to carry through.

We and others subjected Livingstone to severe criticism which followed the retreat of the Greater London council and then other councils such as Sheffield under Blunkett with the subsequent savaging of jobs and services in local government.

We criticised Ken Livingstone but there were no demands by us for his expulsion. Positive criticism yes but not expulsions. The same applies to the case of Jackie Walker whose issues should be answered with argument – if the right have any – and not with exclusions.

We maintain this principled political position despite the spiteful ‘criticisms’ of Ken Livingstone in 2016 when he sought to mollify the Labour right by criticising the Socialist Party to the BBC as a “bizarre little sect”. [See the Socialist and Socialism Today]

We are not opposed to expulsions from Labour or other workers organisations when it has been conclusively proved that the accused have stabbed workers in the back, resorted to undemocratic means to hold onto office, stolen union funds, etc. 

Bob Crow, the revered late RMT leader, called Livingstone a “scab” for urging RMT members to break a strike. It would have been entirely appropriate to expel Livingstone or anybody else for such a shameful action as siding with the bosses. The Blairites who exercised almost complete control of the Labour Party fully supported this and other anti-working class, anti-labour movement measures of Livingstone because he agreed with them on programmatic issues such as privatisation, the acceptance of ‘free market’ capitalism, and all that flowed from this in terms of cuts and attacks on working-class living standards. Even then, we and Bob Crow preferred to answer him politically within the labour movement

Now, every concession to the right by Corbyn and his team – the attempt to still incorporate two parties in one – only emboldens the right and the capitalists to go further in their attacks on Corbyn, his policies and the danger they perceive from him to their vital interests.

The same kinds of threats against a Corbyn government are being prepared by the current campaign of the right, including the completely synthetic campaign against the left’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism’. This campaign must be defeated.

We also reject the attempt of the capitalists and their agents in the right of the PLP to use this campaign against alleged antisemitism to intervene in the internal affairs of the labour movement by having ‘outside oversight’ on these kinds of issues.

From the very inception of the Labour Party the capitalist state sought to control the finances and organisational forms of the labour movement for their own ends. They have continued to do this with the attacks on the collection of union dues (check off), facility time, etc. The position of the labour movement should be crystal clear: no state interference in the unions or the Labour Party.

If a disciplinary body is required for Labour it should – as with the Socialist Party – be made up of rank-and-file workers trusted by the membership and subject to decisions by the party conference. When we establish a democratic, socialist workers’ state, we would still propose that the trade unions both support the state but also remain separate as the defence for the working class against any bureaucratic tendencies of their own state!

Workers in this country should support all the oppressed in the Middle East, struggling to assert their legitimate national and social demands. Only in this way could we really prepare for a socialist and democratic federation in the region.

Here in Britain, there should also be an urgent counter-movement by the left – involving opening up Labour’s ranks – including the affiliation of the Socialist Party to Labour so that the full power of the working class can be mobilised to prepare the ground in Britain for socialist change.

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May 2018