Reproduced below are two letters from myself that were recently published in the Weekly Worker. These are published, in this particular case, without any intention of either praising or blaming the editors of that publication, but simply because there is material in those two letters that readers here might have missed. This material is worthwhile in addressing contentious questions relating to the Middle East and the Jewish Question, and making some observations about the progress of discussions on these questions.
The first item was published in the 5th March issue. It is worth noting, since the letter is a reply to a previous invective-filled letter from Tony Greenstein, that it is published alongside a further letter from the same author, mainly addressing in a moderately interesting and thoughtful manner some aspects of analysis concerning ISIS. However, at the conclusion of his letter, Greenstein makes the following remarks about previous exchanges between us:
“On another topic – the recent exchanges with Ian Donovan – I have informed the editor of the Weekly Worker that I have no intention of responding to any further letters which indulge in ad hominem attacks, as I don’t wish to feed what is clearly a personal obsession.”
Thus Greenstein throws in the towel regarding our recent exchanges in a particularly incongruous manner. Actually, in political exchanges in general, I tend to give credit where it is due and do not paint a uniformly negative picture of even the most bitter political opponents, provided they have at least a modicum of sincerity. Thus in the letter below, I wrote that Greenstein: “expresses, quite sincerely as far as I can see, support for Arab rights and opposition to Zionism”.
In one of the earliest critical articles on this site, I wrote the following about Tony Greenstein’s politics:
“Some individuals of Jewish origin (who fit the Israeli criteria) outside Israel who reject this [Israeli citizenship and their entitlement to citizenship under the law of return] and have no intention of ever exercising this right, or who renounce it, can be treated as in practice not part of this semi-nation. Then there are others who are further left, and may consider themselves Marxists and anti-Zionists. Among these are people like Moshe [Machover], and further left still, Tony Greenstein. They are outright opponents of the Zionist project and subjectively seek its destruction by revolutionary means, involving the Arab working class…”
“…Tony Greenstein is to the left of Moshe in that he rejects such a fictitious construction [the idea of a ‘Modern Hebrew’ Jewish nation local to the Levant], and simply calls for the dissolution of Israel into a single state based on equal rights for all irrespective of ethnicity or religion. This would produce an Arab majority state, but in which there is no reason why there should be an oppression of Jews. This is correct….”
Of course this recognition of Greenstein’s correct points are mixed with harsh political criticism when warranted, which I hardly need repeat here. But it does sit uneasily with the notion that he is the victim of an ad hominem obsessive campaign.
Since Greenstein has been one of the most prominent individuals in introducing some of the most oppressive tactics of Zionist-style witch-hunting based on phoney allegations of anti-Jewish racism into the ranks of the Palestine Solidarity Movement and the left, some may even consider the remarks reproduced above as too charitable to him. I disagree, as accurately capturing the contradictions that drive significant political figures is crucial to resolving those contradictions, either positively or negatively.
But Greenstein has been a significant political figure. For him to complain about an ad hominem campaign, when in fact he has been at times a miniature version of the Witchfinder General, and really has engaged in the most preposterously shrill, genuinely ad hominem witch-hunts, is chutzpah indeed. More to the point, is what it says about his political cowardice. For all his threats, his bullying demeanour and braggadocio, when he is faced with a political counter-offensive that he cannot convincingly refute, he runs up the white flag in the most pathetic manner. His complaints about political criticism being ad hominem are a confession of political bankruptcy, nothing less. As Trotsky once noted, centrists are touchy and capricious, and do not like to be called by their right names.
The second item is in the current (12 March) issue. It is basically a reply to a ridiculous piece of self-indulgent chest-beating by the founder-leader of the CPGB/Weekly Worker, Jack Conrad, putting together a ‘tactical’ line on the leadership elections in Left Unity. Conrad has managed to upset quite a few putative allies within Left Unity with empty sectarian posturing. Its current ‘tactics’ are marked by (among other things) a hypocritical attempt to distance himself from the overtly Zionist and pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers Liberty, which has something of the character of ‘protesting too much’, as the CPGB has, since it capitulated wholesale to a Zionist-induced panic over so-called anti-semitism (i,e. mainly Arab and Muslim rage) against Israel’s 2014 Protective Edge massacre, taken up the AWL’s method of raising false allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ against consistent opponents of Zionism. It has also clearly put itself on the right wing of Left Unity on a strategic international question, forward a resolution denouncing the demand for Palestinian liberation ‘from the River to the Sea’, which again echoes the politics of the AWL.
Conrad’s denunciation of his putative allies focussed in particular on a fairly rabid personal attack on John Pearson, a former member of the CPGB who was expelled after defying CPGB discipline more than a decade ago over a strong political disagreement concerning the formation of Respect and the death of the Socialist Alliance. He mistook Conrad’s semi-Zionist Galloway-phobia for a serious and principled left-wing position and drew preposterous but logical conclusions from it. The allegations Conrad raises against him concern matters since that I have no first-hand knowledge of. However, they seem both murky and tendentious. Even if they were 100% true and not distorted in any way, their political significance is problematic. Jack Conrad cannot be trusted to be truthful on such matters in any case: he is quite capable of standing up in front of a meeting and flagrantly lying about his own statements of only a short time earlier, about matters of real political substance. Such as the fact that on 14 September 2014 he stood up in front of a meeting of the Communist Platform and blatantly denied a damaging statement he had made at a meeting of the Communist Platform executive, when in the presence of Moshe Machover (among others) he had said that he had more in common with the politics of the Alliance for Workers Liberty than he did with mine.
Given that Moshe Machover is now complaining about the tone, if not the questionable truthfulness, of Jack Conrad’s attack on John Pearson, this can only be said to be ironic. Moshe did not have any problem with Jack Conrad telling blatant lies last September. Unfortunately, truth is a casualty of every witch-hunt, and witch-hunting has a demented logic of its own that can rebound in the most unpredictable of directions.
In his latest diatribe against those who refuse to join in his vendetta against Gilad Atzmon, Tony Greenstein baldly equates those of Jewish origin who express doubts about aspects of the Nazi genocide with neo-Nazis like the British National Party (Letters, February 26).
If Greenstein were consistent in this, he would also apply this logic to the Arab world. Revulsion against the justification of the oppression of Palestinians by reference to the genocide (an everyday retort to criticism in Israel since 1947) has led to a scepticism about the truth of the genocide among many Palestinians and other Arabs. This has been true for many decades. Prominent Arab leaders, past and present, secular and not, such as Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Assads, the leadership of Hamas, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, even the current president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmood Abbas, have all publicly either denied or expressed doubts about the historicity of the Nazi genocide. Not to mention prominent non-Arab Muslim figures like the Iranian leadership, particularly former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There is little doubt that the views of these leaders reflect widespread public opinion in that region.
The Zionists use the genocide as a propaganda ‘trump card’ against any and all criticism of their mass ethnic-cleansing and terrorisation of the Palestinians – an all-encompassing argument that says, ‘No matter what has been endured by the Arabs, what happened to us is far worse. And the fact that we Jews were victims of this much worse crime and did not have a country entitles us to the land we have taken. Our allies in the west, who either were responsible for, or did nothing to help us in, our worst sufferings, owe us, and must and will help us to maintain the country we have taken from the Arabs.’
The obvious response of those on the receiving end of barbarism and brutality justified by this argument is to deny its validity. And it is not an enormous step from denying its validity to questioning the truth of the historical event that is used to underpin it. This syllogism may horrify western liberals and leftists who have been brought up on a diet of guilt about what European anti-Semites did to Jews, and a fair amount of culturally conditioned contempt for Arabs and Muslims as being ‘uncivilised’, ‘savage’ and generally inferior. But in fact any people faced with ongoing atrocities justified by a similar propaganda narrative would be 100% certain to challenge such a narrative, and would also not care much if there was an element of irrelevant truth in it.
That is the real social and political context in which views such as those expressed by Atzmon were formed. In fact, compared to many, Atzmon’s remarks on the genocide may be considered quite mild. The peculiarity of Greenstein’s vendetta is that he does not extend this Nazi-baiting to the list of Arab and other Middle Eastern leaders listed above. But, if he did, he would sound just like a crazed hasbarist, pushing the theses that Arab and/or Muslim hostility to Israel is fundamentally the same as Nazi Jew-hatred.
Greenstein reserves his venom for those Jews, such as Atzmon, who have gone over to that essentially Arab standpoint on the genocide. Which really underlines the fact that Greenstein’s politics are communalist. He expresses, quite sincerely as far as I can see, support for Arab rights and opposition to Zionism. But he cannot abide ‘traitorous’ Jews who cross over outright to the Arab standpoint – as far as he is concerned the question of the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians and Israel’s reactionary role is something that has to be resolved by progressive Jews. Arabs are supposed to play only an auxiliary role. And woe betide anyone of Jewish origin who transgresses against this.
I reject this nonsense, whether it is applied to Arabs or people of Jewish origin with similar views. This does not flow from imperialist racism, as it did with neo-Nazi supporters of Hitler, but from a confused opposition to an imperialist propaganda narrative. To equate the two is a reactionary and pro-imperialist position, in its real logic. I am in favour, as a revolutionary socialist, of fraternal debate, as well as joint struggle, with those resisting Zionist imperialism who hold this view, as with those who hold any other mistaken anti-imperialist view.
It is absurd that Greenstein can in one phrase admit that he characterised someone who wanted to attend a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation clearly within the workers’ movement, as a ‘scab’ for intending to cross a ‘picket line’ he intended to erect against an SWP meeting that hosted Atzmon, and then in the next breath deny that this implied a threat of force or violence.
Greenstein, and everyone else on the left, knows full well that workers are fully entitled to enforce respect for genuine picket lines in an industrial dispute by physical force, if they must. Any socialists who did not defend the right of workers to do this would be a miserable, pacifist trend. Equating such a protest outside a left political meeting with an industrial picket carried an implied threat of physical force against the (SWP) organisers of the meeting. That is why Greenstein was compelled to apologise in short order after he uttered it.
But the fact that he still defends and justifies this usage even today shows that his real position is to no-platform Atzmon and to encourage strong-arm methods against anyone who opposes his anathema. Since that now includes George Galloway, one hopes he might realise how irrational and untenable his campaign has become.
Jack Conrad justifies his engineering my departure from the CPGB’s Communist Platform last year because of my “retrogressive” attitude to Jews. But he produces no evidence of antipathy towards Jews. Most of my political mentors are of Jewish origin. I circulated a reading list on the Jewish question shortly before Conrad’s purge, citing five authors – Marxist and non-Marxist – of material relevant to formulating a Marxist analysis of the Jewish question today.
These authors were: Karl Marx, Abram Leon, Israel Shahak, Shlomo Sand and Gilad Atzmon. All of Jewish origin. It does appear that, from his own semi-Zionist perspective, Conrad considers that all these writers are racist against their own ethno-religious group. Certainly all of them have been accused of anti-Semitism at various times, mainly by people who can easily be shown to be pathological liars. The principle of Occam’s Razor suggests, to anyone with any knowledge of Jewish history, that Jack Conrad has capitulated to the reactionary social pressure of today, where all three major political parties are dominated by ‘Friends of Israel’ factions who aim to suppress criticism of Israel’s crimes, and has joined the witch-hunters.
The analysis I developed on the Jewish question, derived from study of the sources above and others, together with independent analysis of my own, is that the ‘people-class’ that constituted the Jewish people in medieval times, analysed by Abram Leon, dissolved with the advent of capitalism. But it also left behind a survival product that has now acquired considerable social/political power: a Jewish-Zionist caste within the bourgeoisie of several advanced capitalist countries, centrally the United States, whose ruling classes therefore overlap with that of Israel. This consolidated itself in tandem with the Israeli state as an imperialist power in the Middle East, and is now a very powerful force in western politics.
Conrad implies that this materialist analysis is in some way racialised. But the idea is absurd. It does not apply to all Jews, but only to the Jewish-Zionist sections of the bourgeoisie. It does not even extend to all bourgeois who are of Jewish origin, of which there are considerable number to whom this matters little, but only to a self-selected group that are politically Zionist, and consider themselves representatives of a Jewish nation. I argue that this ‘nation’ does not objectively exist, but this consciousness is itself a material force, and gives this organised bourgeois current a coherence that I call semi-national (for want of a better term).
These kinds of propositions on the national question would be completely innocuous among Marxists were they to be applied to any other people. The fact that such is forbidden in the CPGB is not due to there being anything reactionary about this being analysed by Marxists, but because of the CPGB’s own capitulation to Jewish anti-Arab chauvinism, which is longstanding.
The ‘canary in the coal mine’ indicating this capitulation to Jewish chauvinism is the figure of George Galloway, who is unusual on the old Labour left because – unlike the previous generation, such as Benn and Heffer – he had never been pro-Zionist, but rather a forthright supporter of the Palestinians since before he was an MP. His championing of Arab causes has made him the subject of hatred from Jewish and Israeli chauvinists. This includes Jewish chauvinists on the left.
The CPGB has had a hostility to Galloway, unlike any other on the left, for a very long time. Mike Macnair himself admitted in 2004 that the Weekly Worker “came close to joining in” the witch-hunt against George Galloway over The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Saddam’s gold’ smear, which cost the Tory paper £150,000 in damages. That is, they “came close” to crossing the class line. The anti-Arab chauvinism in the organisation and demonisation of those sympathetic to Galloway’s forthright anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism led to my leaving the CPGB in this period.
History repeated itself when, after a wobble to the left in late 2013 when they dared bloc with me to concretely oppose the Zionists of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty within Left Unity, the CPGB reverted to type as AWL-lite. In the context of fear-mongering about ‘anti-Semitism’ being generated by Israel’s massacre of Gaza Palestinians in Protective Edge, they decided my militant defence of the Palestinians against Israel and its bourgeois supporters in the UK and US, and formulation of this in Marxist terms, was to be proscribed. But Conrad has never managed to explain how my analysis is in any way racialised. It is a cowardly lie, manufactured to appease ‘left’ Jewish chauvinist sentiment.
Yet again, the litmus is George Galloway. Conrad makes an issue of an alleged incident where John Pearson threatened to “lamp” someone in a political context years earlier. If he did this, and failed to repudiate it, that is stupid and discredits him. But, given that Conrad demands that candidates for the Left Unity leadership condemn such violence, why did the CPGB refuse to condemn the racist/politically-motivated, violent attack on George Galloway, by a Jewish-Zionist thug, on August 29, because of his views on Gaza?
I repeatedly urged the CPGB to condemn this attack at the time, when I was being witch-hunted by Conrad. It is a matter of record that they have never printed one word about it. Whatever John Pearson may have done is hardly significant compared to this attack on Galloway accompanied by ‘Arab-lover’ type insinuations, which mark this as a racist attack.
That they have never condemned this, despite being challenged to do so within their own periphery, fits well their rightwing, pro-Zionist motion at the last LU conference denouncing the demand for Palestinian liberation “from the river to the sea”. On this they are opposing the leadership of LU from the right. Thus the Communist Platform does not deserve leftwing votes.