Two Commentaries on the Middle East and the Jewish Question


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.


1. “Deniers”

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.

Ian Donovan
Communist Explorations


2. “Pro-Zionist”

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.

Ian Donovan
Communist Explorations


  1. Stephen Diamond

    denouncing the demand for Palestinian liberation “from the river to the sea”.

    What were their arguments?

    A question about your Palestine position:

    You advocate open borders. How is opening the borders of Israel to all comers compatible with creating a distinctly Palestinian state? [Not that Palestine would necessarily or even probably be attractive to many potential non-Palestinian migrants, but isn’t a Palestinian Palestine a question of principle?]


  2. Ian

    Their arguments speak for themselves:

    “3. However, the EC resolution’s call “for the end of the occupation of Palestine by Israel” is ambiguous. Is Palestine now limited to Gaza and the West Bank? Or is Palestine defined as the full pre-1948 British mandate territory? In the second sense, also expressed in the widely used slogan “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea”, the idea risks being a call to reverse the poles of oppression, creating a new oppressed group and/or up to 6 million refugees.” (

    The raise the spectre of ‘up to 6 million’ refugees as the reason why the millions of existing refugees cannot liberate the places they were driven from. It is clearly a Jewish chauvinist argument, as some (hypothetical) refugees are more important than actually existing ones.

    There is no principle that there has to be a ‘distinctly’ Palestinian state. The principle is the reversal of ethnic cleansing, and majority rule which flows from that, which in practice would mean a Palestinian state. But this is not a nationalist position, just a consistently democratic one, and actually applies to all peoples. There are immigrant workers, from a number of Asian and African countries in Israel; just as there are in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and lots of other Middle Eastern countries. They are the class comrades of Palestinian workers, and not in any sense an agency of oppression. A communist programme involves them fighting alongside Palestinian workers for working class power and a consistently democratic outcome to the conflict.


  3. Stephen Diamond

    Trotsky left open the possibility that a socialist Europe would include a Jewish state. As long as there were potentially legitimate Jewish aspirations for nationhood, these might presumably be satisfied: by allowing the Jewish population to secure in one region a Jewish majority.

    Why doesn’t the same reasoning apply to the Palestinians? If they have a right to nationhood, they have the right to actually create their own nation-state.

    Do you demand that Arab countries open their borders to all Palestinians?


  4. Ian

    But this assumes that opening borders would stop there being a Palestinian nation. No reason why that should be the result. It is similar to the right to divorce – granting the right does not mean making it compulsory. People do not generally choose to move in large numbers without very good reasons, usually war or economic disaster, or both. And the main movement that would result from opening the borders of Israel would be – Palestinians returning (and possibly some Jews leaving, because of their racism and dislike of equality for the Arabs). Should the other Arab states open their borders to Palestinians? Indeed. And vice-versa. Logically, they should be moving towards at least a federal union in any case: that would mean the overthrow of the ruling classes that have proved incapable of even leading a struggle for Arab national unification.

    Trotsky’s later material on the Jewish Question is fragmentary, and quite poor, compared to his other output. Hardly surprising, since he admitted this was not his question and he had not particularly studied it. He was a bit soft on Jewish separatism at the end of his life, possibly because he had not studied the question and was somewhat overwhelmed with the disaster that Nazism brought to Jews in Europe.


  5. Stephen Diamond

    Yes, like divorce—either party has the right. The Palestinians don’t have the right to divorce if they lack the right to control their borders. That they may never have occasion to use a right doesn’t permit depriving them of it.


  6. Ian

    There is not, and never has been, any danger to the Palestinian right to self-determination from ordinary migration. From organised Zionist settlement in the context of colonial occupation, certainly. That was not an example of freedom of migration. Many of the Jewish refugees the Zionists used as their battering-ram were refused refuge in Britain and the USA due to Zionist political pressure, precisely aimed at forcing them to go to Palestine.

    If it were not for the existence of the project of a Jewish state, to be created at the expense of the Arabs, there would have been no problem in Jewish refugees finding refuge in Palestine. Refugees and migrants (including so-called ‘economic migrants’, who are in fact refugees from economic deprivation and plunder) have the right to seek refuge wherever they can. And the working class has a material, class interest in defending those rights.

    The idea that there is a threat to self-determination from freedom of migration in general is a myth of the imperialist far right Those who rape, plunder and rob the world and then pretend to be the ‘victims’ when the real victims of such plunder wash up on the shores of the imperialist countries and seek a share of what has been stolen from them.

    If anyone has a material interest in the maximum freedom for migrants and refugees worldwide, it is the Palestinians, an enormous number of whom are actually stateless and could well remain so for decades more if things go badly (which is entirely possible). A free Palestine (which hopefully will not have the kind of pseudo-‘freedom’ that neo-liberal, post-apartheid South Africa achieved, with its massacres of mineworkers for instance, but overturn capital itself), would be a haven for refugees. Which is one concrete way of promoting the spread of revolution.

    One important positive feature of early Bolshevik Russia is that it was also a haven for refugees from capitalist oppression. That is something to be emulated.


  7. Stephen Diamond

    The distinction between immigration that’s free and immigration orchestrated by capitalists is dubious under imperialism. Consider the immigration to the U.S. from Mexico, where NAFTA was designed (in part) for the advantage of American agriculture. The Mexican migration, like all mass migration, is the outcome of deliberate capitalist intervention.

    I’m not saying that migration to the U.S. poses a threat to self-determination. But in a country the size of Palestine, it’s something else. The threat would not be eliminated by giving everyone in the world the same terms as the law of return provides for Jews.

    That the far right also sees a potential national issue in immigration doesn’t make the analysis shameful. In fact, 100% agreement with the liberal bourgeoisie on issues where it faces off against the class’s right wing bespeaks liberal adaptation. (For example the U.S. ISO’s support of gun control.)

    Open borderists betray the working class by siding with the bourgeoisie on the question of immigration control. Immigration controls are instituted as reforms to appease workers. (In this it has an entirely different history than does American racial apartheid.) Let me emphasize that I don’t think it is principled to advocate border control. Opposing the open-borders demand is not necessarily to support border controls. In fact, to do so is an impermissible pretense to administer the capitalist state! But by supporting the utopian demand of open borders, you lend support to the capitalists’ efforts to increase immigration levels. ( )

    The attitude of Marxists toward border controls should be the same as its general attitude toward the administration of capitalist law. We don’t raise the anarchist utopian demand of “abolish the cops.” Neither should we demand open borders or even no deportations.

    As to political refugees, there it’s a struggle, isn’t there, between left and right? Of course, communists should support political asylum for leftists who face prosecution. (Here, open borders comes into conflict with denying asylum to rightists.)


  8. Ian

    There is logical fallacy in the assertion that for Palestinians to oppose migration restrictions in principle, would involve giving ‘everyone in the world the same terms as the law of return provides for Jews’. Part of the ‘law of return’ is exclusiveness, to qualify for it you have to be Jewish (not Arab). If it were extended to Palestinians, that would be the end of Israel. If to everyone else, that would bury it ten times over, it would not resurrect exclusiveness. In practice, with free migration, the Palestinians excluded from their own country would largely return, giving a sizeable Arab majority which would exercise self-determination and would no more be threatened by migration than Egypt or Syria.

    I do not really care if the US ‘right of self-determination’ is allegedly vitiated by NAFTA. Large chunks of the US were originally seized from Mexico by force and fraud, and US corporations have massively profited from super-exploitation of Mexican workers in Mexico (and also further South). I oppose NAFTA, but because of its freedom of capital migration, not the labour migration that is involved. It unties the hands of capital, it only makes a pretence of untying the hands of labour, but without the capital mobility, instead with attacks on capital itself, the labour mobility would become a real gain. The same is true for the EU.

    Stephen asserts that

    “Open borderists betray the working class by siding with the bourgeoisie on the question of immigration control. Immigration controls are instituted as reforms to appease workers.”

    Immigration controls appease one set of workers by attacking other workers. A ‘reform’ that in reality creates and enhances divisions between workers is not a reform. The National Health Service in the UK – free public health care – is a reform. We demand it be extended elsewhere, and right now should be available to all workers who come to the UK. But if immigration controls were really a reform, then logically one should also demand that they should be extended elsewhere. Which would simply mean that the principle of dividing workers by nationality would be extended. It is good that Stephen refrains from actually demanding immigration controls, but if they really were a gain or a reform, what would be wrong with that?

    His unease reflects that they are not really a gain, but a political trap for the working class, a honeypot with social-imperialist implications. Ultimately, the idea of defending the gains of part of the working class against other workers, leads to the killing fields of the Somme (to give the classic example). Migration controls are a form of protectionism, very similar to import controls, they destroy the unity of the working class. They also imply class-collaboration, uniting with one’s ‘own’ national ruling class against outsiders of all classes. Which is not true of a policy of opposing migration controls, while part of the ruling class will flirt with ideas about open borders, they still cannot break with the nation-state, which is the basis of capitalism itself as it has concretely evolved.

    It is no accident that it is those who oppose the principle of free health care, such as the Tories and UKIP in the UK, are the chief advocates of restricting the access of migrant workers to the NHS here. This should be a clue that real gains, such as the NHS, cannot be defended by alliances with the ‘patriotic’ right, as VN Gelis laughably calls it, and to which Stephen rightly objects.

    Regarding ‘abolish the cops’, we should advocate the creation of working class armed formations that would necessarily conflict with the cops and hopefully abolish them. In the absence of that, we might even sporadically approve of some actions of the cops, e.g. catching a serial killer, traffic regulation, etc. But that does not imply support for the cops as an overall institution, just a recognition that some of the things they do are social functions that we also have to do.

    But restricting the freedom of workers to move from country to country is not a necessary social function, and there is no reason to advocate it. Even regarding right-wing ‘refugees’, it is a fact that no matter what the migration rules are, such people will always find refuge in bourgeois states, but never where the working class is in power, for reasons of class-based fear. So yes, agreeing with the liberals on all issues is indeed a sign of adaptation to liberalism, but there are other forms of adaptation that are to be opposed just as much.

    I don’t think my views on the Jewish question are shared by many liberals, or the liberal left in general.


  9. Stephen Diamond

    Immigration controls do not satisfy domestic workers by “attacking” foreign workers! Restriction of the labor supply increases workers welfare primarily at the expense of the capitalists, not foreign workers. When immigration controls were instituted in the U.S. in the early 20s, along with the progressive income tax and about to equal degree it sharply decreased the level of income inequality. This was primarily at the expense of the capitalists. It was a response to social tensions, to the October revolution, and massive labor unrest. This evidence as to the nature of the immigration conflict that was absent when the Second International formulated its famous position.

    What’s unclear to me is whether you mean by “attacking foreign workers” that domestic workers benefit primarily at their expense or whether you think any restriction on where someone can work is an “attack.” If the former, you’ve made an understandable error in light of capitalist propaganda for “immigration reform.” If the latter, I think you must have some kind of idealist theory of rights.

    The reason immigration controls are unsupportable despite being reforms is that their implementation is completely dependent on the state apparatus, for which the working class or a communist party would be taking responsibility if it advocated such controls. You apparently don’t think there’s such a concept as an unsupportable reform. This question was the topic of a 1938 Trotsky polemic, “Learn to think,” where Trotsky discussed various measures that the working class should not oppose, although in many cases these welcome acts would not be supportable. They are not supportable because any demand that gives the bourgeoisie broad discretion is subject to abuse. This makes the demand unsupportable even if a favorable outcome is more likely. It’s a question of class independence.

    Let me give you an example that illustrates the point, although I don’t know whether you’ll accept the conclusion that makes the analogy. The left generally has failed to apply Trotsky’s point. In the early U.S. civil rights movement, the U.S. Socialist Workers Party demanded and supported the use federal troops to enforce school integration in the American south. The Fraserites, and retrospectively the Robertsonites, argued that the demand should be withdrawal of the troops, which would be used to suppress blacks. According to the Fraserites, that was their purpose. As I analyze it, the military action was reformist in nature. Demanding withdrawal was mistaken. But demanding federal intervention, an expression of faith in the capitalist state or bad faith with the masses, was probably the more significant betrayal. The first was the result of over-optimism about the state of the struggle; the second a desertion of principle: an attempt to administer the capitalist state by turning it to proletarian advantage. But when such advantages are present, its mistaken, a potential betrayal, to oppose them.

    Open borders won’t be instituted under capitalism. They once prevailed under capitalism, but modern transportation makes border control part of the maintenance of a capitalist nation state. They fill a social function as essential–and as ultimately inessential–as cops. Cops are necessitated for the protection of property in class society; border controls for the protection of boundaries by the nation state, also part of capitalism. Border controls will never be eliminated under capitalism. Nor will their complete elimination even figure in the immediate program of workers’ governments. (Planned economies can’t immediately let everyone work wherever the want.)

    Returning to Palestine–The problem of Jewish domination won’t be resolved by opening the borders to all. Jews will retain a special interest in the region, and have greater means to migrate than Palestinians would.

    Why in the world would a Palestinian state choose to admit more European Jews?


  10. Ian

    Stephen is wrong about the USA in the 1920s. The immigration restrictions introduced then were aimed at keeping out communist-influenced foreign workers primarily. Also, tax-cuts, not progressive taxation, were the hallmark of the 1920s, the last progressive measures as I understand it were passed in 1913, at the end of the ‘progressive’ era. The 1920s were the era of prohibition, the growth of the Ku Klux Klan into a mass movement, and a series of desperate defensive workers struggles in a deeply reactionary period that did not end until the labour radicalisation in the Great Depression.

    Yes, a restriction where workers can work is an attack. It is often said that there is only one thing worse than being exploited under capitalism, and that is not being exploited, i.e excluded from the workforce. Legal controls on where particular groups of workers are allowed to work on national lines are no different in principle from similar exclusions against, say, blacks, women, or whatever. This also bolsters chauvinism, and it is no accident that in that regard Stephen seems to misjudge the political nature of the 1920s.

    The debate about ‘federal troops’ is not analogous to this. Such things as civil rights and equality were certainly a gain to be defended. The debate was not about that, but about whether the putative use of troops would actually be effective in defending such gains, or whether they would in fact undermine the struggle and would in reality be used to suppress the movement to defend and extent such gains.

    But migration controls are not a gain, unlike civil rights for blacks in Mississippi.

    Surely the fact that open borders once existed under capitalism, but have become more and more widespread as capitalism ages and becomes more widespread, are an indication that migration controls, far from representing a gain, are a reactionary product of that decay. It may be that workers’ governments may not be able to immediately eliminate all border controls (because of the need to protect against counterrevolution, not foreign workers), but the wider the revolution spreads, the more rapidly they will be junked and wither away. But opposing such controls under capitalism is about defending the rights of all workers, not of one section against another.

    Why would a open borders policy by Palestinians who have won the right to return encourage more European Jews to settle in Palestine, and hence it is implied, give an impetus to repeat the Zionist project? The whole thrust of the Zionist project was and is to dispose of the Arab population. If they returned, I would expect, irrespective of the position of the Palestinians on open borders, to see racist Jews going in the opposite direction as they quite likeliy not want to share the land with Arabs. Something rather like ‘white flight’ from South Africa. I don’t think that argument holds water.


  11. Stephen Diamond

    the last progressive measures as I understand it were passed in 1913, at the end of the ‘progressive’ era

    As you understand it? The question doesn’t require deep research. The income tax throughout the early 20s for the top bracket was 67% for the top bracket. (In 1913 it was 7%.)

    Your moralism is determining your perception of reality.


  12. Ian

    Well, my understanding is that a federal income tax was first instituted in 1913.

    Furthermore, if you click on this link, and scroll down to the graph titled ‘Tax Rate over time”, it shows precipitous falls in top rates on regular income and even more on capital gains, which only rise again in the 1930s. Furthermore, on Wikipedia, there is the following passage:

    “The federal income tax enacted in 1913 included corporate and individual income taxes. It defined income using language from prior laws, incorporated in the Sixteenth Amendment, as “all income from whatever source derived.” The tax allowed deductions for business expenses, but few non-business deductions. In 1918 the income tax law was expanded to include a foreign tax credit and more comprehensive definitions of income and deduction items. Various aspects of the present system of definitions were expanded through 1926, when U.S. law was organized as the United States Code. Income, estate, gift, and excise tax provisions, plus provisions relating to tax returns and enforcement, were codified as Title 26, also known as the Internal Revenue Code. This was reorganized and somewhat expanded in 1954, and remains in the same general form.

    Federal taxes were expanded greatly during World War I. In 1921, wealthy industrialist and then Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon engineered a series of significant income tax cuts under three presidents. Mellon argued that tax cuts would spur growth.[106] The last such cut in 1928 was followed by the Great Depression in 1929. Taxes were raised again in the latter part of the Depression, and during World War II. Income tax rates were reduced significantly during the Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan Presidencies. Significant tax cuts for corporations and upper income individuals were enacted during the second Bush Presidency.” (

    The remarks about the 1920s seem to bear out the graph, which is from a completely different source. So unless these sources are wrong, I don’t think my perception of reality is being distorted by moralising, or anything else. These seem to be the facts.


  13. Stephen Diamond

    Look at the graph in your first link titled “Top/Bottom Regular Income Tax rate.” When income taxes were instituted in 1913, the rate was 7%. It was increased dramatically in 1918 and further in 1919. In 1921 it was 73%. That’s a damn big difference from 7%. It’s a high rate by contemporary standards. It demolishes your moralistic view of the period.

    The ruling class wasn’t going to endure these rates for long, Mellon instigated their reduction over a period of years, but but in 1924 it was still 46%. Only in 1925 did it decline to 25%, still more than three times as high as the 1913 rate you’re fixated on.

    I find it amazing that you overlook this clear data and report on tangential statistics.

    The point of all this, if any readers have lost the thread, is that the immigration control of this period was a response to the same class pressures that caused the ruling class to accept a rise in income tax rates over the meager 1913 level.


  14. Ian

    The 1913 level may have been meagre, but it was the first lasting federal income tax in US history, and took a constitutional amendment. So it was not as trivial as Stephen implies.

    There is a rather obvious reason for a steep rise in taxation in the late 19-teens and thereabouts – the expenses of the World War, which the USA entered late, had to be paid nevertheless. Immigration control certainly was a response to ‘class pressures’ – fear of the US working class being polluted by Communism, and the desire to keep those sympathetic to revolution in Europe out of the US. But even in terms of chronology, the migration laws were passed in the 1920s, when tax rates were falling, not rising, so Stephen’s theory on this does not match up. Migration laws are in any case not a concession to the working class, a social reform to buy it off, but an act of repression against those that the ruling class feared would bring greater militancy to the working class and broaden its outlook politically. They are opposites.


  15. Stephen Diamond

    Tax rates went up during the war itself, but that didn’t result in a more progressive rate of taxation. Consider the (historically) unprogressive taxation in the U.S., when the government needed to pay its huge Iraq war debt. Progressive taxation isn’t introduced to pay war costs! It is a reform. If the ruling class were interested mainly in paying war costs, it would not have curtailed immigration; the cheap labor would have assisted that project.

    What you’re pointedly ignoring in considering the period in question is the role of October. That was the ultimate reason that income taxes were raised to extremely high levels in 1919. The class tensions, stirred by the first workers state, required the making of concessions to avert revolution! (Not a communist revolution without a mass party, but a dire threat–and one they weren’t so sure wouldn’t be communist.) The U.S. Army was shooting down striking miners in Colorado in 1919. Politics in America cannot be insulated from October. How could you possibly imagine that American politics in the aftermath of the October revolution could not be highly contradictory? But you see it as reactionary through and through.

    To cool class tensions, the first move was severely progressive taxation, whose effect is immediate, as this was a real crisis. But the ruling class would prefer concessions in the form of immigration control than progressive taxation. (Progressive taxation is more of an attack on the legitimacy of its wealth and on the status of the wealthy.) Progressive taxation was not eliminated but was blunted, and partly replaced by immigration control, as the way of ameliorating social tensions by reducing income inequality. But as academician Peter Turchin documents, economic inequality continued to be held down, finally as much by immigration control as progressive taxation. [Notice, again, that the Iraq war budget is not being paid down in America today by progressive taxation but by grinding the working class.]

    You repeat that immigration control is an attack rather than a reform. If it was responsive to class pressure and caused greater equality, it is prima facie a reform. That it was an attack is something that you must prove rather than assume a priori. It is the crux of the immigration matter. 1921 to 1924 proved the reformist character of immigration control.

    You don’t look into these objections very deeply, and I think the reason is moral. We might as well confront our moral difference. When I see some British SWP college youth (in a picture) holding up a sign “Asylum seekers welcome” I’m disgusted; here you have a (probably) middle class kid proving his moral superiority at the expense of migration rates used to browbeat the working class. The odor isn’t improved by the observation that this middle-class kid probably benefits economically from migration. It’s the worst-paid workers most harmed.

    So, I too have a “moral” reaction. But the moral reaction is based on an analysis. That analysis is that immigration controls are instigated in imperialist countries to the extent that the capitalists feel compelled to temporarily reduce inequality. Support of immigration controls has reactionary implications that preclude supporting them in imperialist countries. But directly encouraging the weakening of immigration control when the imperialist bourgeoisie is howling for the same is worse. It is spitting at the working class in favor of asylum for individuals. Open borderists practice Christian charity, not class warfare.


  16. Ian

    It may be true that politics in American cannot be isolated from October. But the response of the European bourgeoisies to October, once the immediate revolutionary wave was over, was not welfare state reformism, and all that jazz. That was true after WWII, but not really after WWI. It was reaction – fascism in Italy and Hungary, major offensives against the working class in Britain, culminating in the General Strike. The austerity/cuts regime in the UK at least is often trumpeted as the most severe since the early 1920s. In the US also, there was a major offensive against labor in the 1920s. Migration controls went hand in hand with tax-cuts as part of the same thing.

    How can the 1920s be seen as an era of social reform in the US? The major bourgeois figures were ‘small state’ Republicans whose politics were similar to those of Reagan and Thatcher – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. They brought about a quite substantial boom, based on stamping on trade unions and allowing unrestrained capital to let rip, culminating in the Wall Street crash. Hardly surprising that they attacked immigrants – just as Thatcher and Reagan did later.

    Interesting that Stephen now says that progressive taxation was replaced by migration controls as a social reform. Whereas earlier he wrote that ” …immigration controls were instituted in the U.S. in the early 20s, along with the progressive income tax and about to equal degree it sharply decreased the level of income inequality”. These two arguments contradict each other.

    There is a simpler explanation for the coincidence in time of tax cuts and immigration controls than the tortured idea of the latter ‘replacing’ the former as a social reform. This is that both were attacks on the working class. In particular, the immigration controls were aimed at keeping out workers from places where the working class was more advanced politically, and thus preventing the US working class from being ‘polluted’ by communism.

    Social reform did happen for a whole period after WWII. The reason for this is that the pre-war reactionary offensives had failed and that failure threatened the bourgeoisie with overthrow if they did not make concessions, in a situation where the remedies they had tried previously (i.e. fascism) had become so hated that even a hint of their making a comeback threatened to ignite the working class. In the post war period in the UK when the greatest concessions were made, the advent of free public health care was carried out by significant migration of overseas workers to staff the new NHS hospitals etc. So actually, most workers in Britain at least have benefited from migration, and the consciousness of this is a key part of the class consciousness of the British working class.

    So it is not true that an SWP member proclaiming ‘asylum seekers welcome here’ is reflecting some anti-working class programme. He is reflecting here some of the most advanced elements of working class conciousness in Britain. Which is not to say that migrants cannot be used to undercut other workers in some conditions. Those conditions usually go hand in hands with repression against trade unions aimed at preventing them from organising migrants along with the rest of the working class. This is rampant in Britain, along with anti-migrant chauvinism.

    But again, migration controls assist this process, not retard it, by creating a pariah layer in the working class with no rights that can be used in this way. The way to fight undercutting is to fight against all immigration restrictions, and for full trade union rights for all workers, migrant and non-migrant, which not only undermines divisions in the working class in individual countries, but also provides a channel through which working class militancy can spread across national borders.

    These are not ‘moral’ arguments, but class ones.


  17. Stephen Diamond

    There’s no contradiction between the two descriptions–the second is more fine-grained than the first. What Ian ignores is that even when taxes on the rich were decreased, they remained much higher than prior to that era.

    What Ian steadfastly avoids dealing with is the decrease in inequality equality occasioned by both the tax increases on the rich (relative to what went before 1919) AND immigration control.

    If, as Ian supposes, immigration control was instituted mainly to exclude reds, then why is it that economic inequality decreased greatly during this period, continuing to decrease after 1924, when immigration was further squelched and tax rates had declined from their 1919 peak? It seems the reds contributed little to the actual class struggle. [Not to blame them: you couldn’t build the class struggle in the U.S. based on people who didn’t even speak English; the point being that the main effect on the class struggle was the economic effect of a decrease industrial reserve army, not the services of us reds.]

    What do you call an era where the reactionaries, still in power, realize that to retain their power they must grant economic concessions (in the way least politically damaging to them)? This can happen only in an era of capitalist expansion and vitality, as was the 20s in the U.S. It obviously can’t be called “progressive,” but it nevertheless had a strong reformist component. Perhaps Ian thinks reforms will be introduced only through Social Democrats (or at least liberals). If so, the 20s prove him wrong in yet another way (if Bismarck didn’t before.)

    Allow me to reply to something in a previous comment. Ian questioned my analogy between my advocacy of abstention on immigration control and my advocacy of abstention on the use of troops to integrate southern education. Ian complained the two issues aren’t analogous, which they aren’t; I intended only to rebut Ian’s claim that its incoherent to call something reformist and not demand it.

    But I owe a better analogy. (Again, I don’t know if Ian will agree on the issue analogized to.) I would have abstained (refused to oppose without supporting) the U.S. mission to supply relief to Haiti after the earthquake. (That is to say, the Sparts were right the first time; as on immigration (1974), they caved to radical pressure.) I see the relief mission as reformist in the same sense as immigration control. Communists can never take responsibility for a military flotilla entering another country. But communists shouldn’t call for the elimination of the main source of aid, when the mission wasn’t to intervene in domestic conflicts and was in responsive to humanitarian pressures (what would it look like if the U.S. failed to assist a black country on its doorstep).

    It is true that immigration control enables super-exploitation by creating a pariah caste. The ruling class takes what advantages it can of a bad situation, but it is incontestable that the fundamental interest of the bourgeoisie is to increase the size of the industrial reserve army. [It’s not, like the rightists say, jobs for our compatriots, not for foreigners. The issue isn’t a trade of jobs but a massive increase in the number of unemployed or lumpenized workers in locations where they most damage the class struggle.] The working class wants to restrict the industrial reserve army, but can’t do so by immigration restrictions without compromising itself.

    I turn to the 20s in America because the statistical evidence, compiled by Peter Turchin for another purpose, is so clear. But it seems to me the effects of mass immigration today are actually rather clear.


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