George Galloway MP interviews Gilad Atzmon
This is a significant political event, that will no doubt lead to further demonisation of George Galloway by the ruling class, the Zionists, and the various capitulators to Zionism, philo-semites and Islamophobes on the left. It is a fascinating interview, between two important and prominent left-wing but non-Marxist figures, notably Britain’s most radical left-reformist MP and the famous artist/musician whose insights into the Jewish/Israeli question need to be critically but positively engaged with as part of developing a Marxist programme that takes account of the concretes of world politics today.
George Galloway and Gayatri Pertiwi interview ex-Israeli political writer/thinker and jazz musician, Gilad Atzmon, Sputnik (Russia Today) #59, Jan 3 2015. Followed by Miss H, soul singer and DJ.
Atzmon’s central thesis is not anti-semitic. It’s that secular Jewish identity is the cause of the problems in Palestine and that Zionism itself is not a colonial movement. It’s definitely posed as an alternative to Marxist understandings of that conflict so I don’t see how you plan to incorporate it. The thesis is light weight to be honest and he relies heavily on sweeping generalisations and characterisations which he tries to bolster with philosophical obscurantism. A lot of the time he reminds me of new atheist critics of Islam. True Jews supposedly think such and such just as true Muslims supposedly think such and such and this is dressed as ideological criticism.
There are plenty of problems with Atzmon himself not least his promotion of neo-Nazis.
I’m glad Eric makes the point about Atzmon’s central thesis being not ‘anti-semitic’. That is progress, albeit quite slow given the mountains of opprobrium poured on him by many on the left about this.
However, when Eric makes his point about Atzmon’s thesis being posed as an alternative to ‘Marxist understandings of that [Israel-Palestine] conflict’, he displays the same knee-jerk dogma as those who accuse Atzmon of ‘anti-semitism’. The core point is … what ‘Marxist understandings’ are we talking about? As I see it, none of the attempts to analyse the nature of Israel post-WWII come from the stable of classical Marxism, or are politically robust as with the best of that tradition.
The theory of the colonial-settler state was a post-war innovation, courtesy of aspiring Marxists such as Maxime Rodinson and Nathan Weinstock, and even in empirical terms, Atzmon’s central thesis is closer to reality than theirs. Israel is certainly a settler state, but not a colonial-settler state, as it has no mother country. In a discussion on this within the Communist Platform, a body I was involved in last year, one of their cadre tried to answer this point by claiming that by virtue of some superficial legal continuities, Britain was Israel’s ‘mother country’. But Atzmon pointed out the absurdity of this, noting that Britain did not even make any effort to send British Jews to take part in the Zionist settlement. As he pointed out, at best Britain played the role of a ‘surrogate mother’. On this level alone, Atzmon’s view is closer to material reality than the objectivist and capitulatory theory of the colonial-settler state. Which is why I incorporated this view into my own Draft Thesis on the Jews and Modern Imperialism.
I say capitulatory. The question then arises, what were they capitulating to in formulating this theory? Aspects of Zionism, of course. More specifically the popularity of the view that the Jews, because of their persecution and murder under the Nazis, were and are an oppressed, essentially progressive people. The theory of the colonial-settler state implicitly assigns responsibility for the creation of Israel not to the Zionist movement and the wealthy Jewish interests that provided the real impetus for its founding, but to the more traditional imperialists whom the Zionists’ strategy was to use for their own purposes. It is a matter of historical record that the Zionist movement tried to make use of anyone and everyone conceivable to bring about their state, including the Kaiser, the Turkish Sultan, the Tsar, and there is even evidence that approaches were made to the Nazis for assistance by some Zionist elements. The obvious conclusion that has to be drawn from this bevy of would-be sponsors that if Israel had a ‘mother country’ it was the Zionist movement, that is, part of the Jewish bourgeoisie itself with a base of wider Jewish petty-bourgeois and some working class support, that played this role, not any of the colonial powers.
Secular Jewishness is indeed the ideological basis for this. It certainly was not driven by religion – many of the pseudo-left founders of Israel were atheists, though they did use the Bible as the basis of their claim to the land. This particular form of nationalism is the point of intersection with much of the Western left. The Jewish origin of many on the left in earlier periods helped to push the left forward immensely, but it contained a latent weakness once a secular Jewish imperialist state was brought into existence. Of course, the classical Marxists, the likes of Marx himself, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Radek, were genuine universalists, but many of their later counterparts were much weaker. Now this weakness is not so latent, as the Middle East has become so central to world politics and the power of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie has grown enormously.
Even in Trotsky’s day, he expressed some misgivings about the influence of petty-bourgeois Jewish leftists on the US Trotskyist movement in New York for instance – the social basis of the Shachtmanite movement. Trotsky did not live to see Israel’s foundation, but I venture to put forward the following theses (1) that obviously, the softness on Zionism of important sections of the Trotskyist movement in particular (though not exclusively them) has similar or identical roots, and (2) this is a problem that is much wider than just the New York branch of the Trotskyist movement in the 30s and 40s. It is a problem in the left in the advanced capitalist world. (3), the existence of Israel, and its consequent gravitational power, makes it many times worse, and (4) the resulting Jewish communalism, fellow feeling and soft-peddling of the real responsibility for Israeli crimes, is not even recognised as a problem by much of the left, and is in fact the object of deference.
It seems to me that part of Atzmon’s progressive role is in bringing the deleterious role of secular Jewish ideology on the left to public attention. Part of the problem is that he, and virtually all of the most outspoken Israeli-rooted critics of Zionism and Jewish ideology have not been won to Marxism, which they ought to have been if history had worked in straight lines (which it doesn’t). But the reasons for that are partly dealt with in my previous paragraph.
The comparison with ‘New atheist’ critics of Islam – the likes of Dawkins and worse – is completely wide of the mark. Atzmon is a critic of secular Jewishness, not the Jewish religion. He is part of a trend of the most principled critics of Zionist chauvinism seeing through the fact that, certainly as presently constituted, secular Jewishness consists of chauvinism and little else of real substance. I do not think it is the job of the left to find a way to promote some alternative form of secular jewishness to replace the currently dominant version. In fact in my experience, those who do this share elements of the chauvinism of the dominant variety.
As to ‘neo-Nazis’ I see no evidence of his promoting any such thing. I do see evidence of idelogical disorientation manifested in him and others of similar ilk, based on the abuse of the Nazi genocide by the Zionists and the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois movement outside Israel., to justify oppression today. The result of this is that many of the most principled critics of ZIonism suffer from a degree of disorientation about just what is true and false about WWII. Atzmon is part of this, as are others who he engages with at various levels. I do not share these views, as you will see from reading my review of Shlomo Sand’s renunciation of Jewish identity, but nor do I regard those who do as in any way comparable to Nazis, neo or otherwise. Marxism has suffered blows to its authority, not just from the collapse of Stalinism, but also for many for the failure of most would-be Marxists to properly deal with the Israel-Palestine question. In those circumstances, such confusions and problems are natural,and it is just part of a bubble mentality that leads many on the left to endorse these anathemas as a knee-jerk response.
In this sense, as so often in the past, George Galloway, as a maverick politician of social democratic heritage, in engaging with Atzmon positively, shows himself superior politically to many on the so-called far left. That is despite his many other political weaknesses.