In his presentation and summary to the day-school of Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) last Saturday afternoon (30 May), broadly devoted to the negotiations between Iran and the United States and the continuing possibility of an attack on Iran by Israel and the United States, Moshe Machover, the would-be Marxist Israeli professor and supporter of the Communist Platform of Left Unity, was compelled to make significant concessions to the analysis of the Jewish Question put forward by Communist Explorations.
Machover was engaged in a polemic against those who ostensibly believe in the so-called “tail wagging the dog” thesis regarding the power and influence of Israel over United States policy in the Middle East. He criticised Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, authors of the famous book on the Israel Lobby, as well as the left-wing author James Petras, for their arguments for the idea that the level of Israeli influence on American foreign policy and its actions contradicted some way actual US interests in a bourgeois sense. It has long been the contention of some on the left like Machover, who wish to avoid a concrete debate on this question, that these contentions amount to some kind of bizarre ‘conspiracy theory’ and thereby transcend rationality, if they do not actually amount to ‘anti-semitism’.
In fact, as I subsequently pointed out, Mearsheimer and Walt are themselves conservative bourgeois ideologues, and their views, and their following, are themselves evidence that there is a wing of the US bourgeoisie that thinks that the particular relationship of the US with Israel is harmful to US bourgeois interests. I also pointed out that Obama, in some of his actions, points to the same conclusion, in defying Israel over Iran when in his ‘lame duck’ session – the second half of his second term when he can never face re-election and therefore can defy the pro-Israel bourgeois trend in a manner that is far from the norm in the USA. His behaviour when he was seeking election, in for instance supporting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, was very different.
But after Machover dealt with these authors in his speech, he was compelled to note that there was someone in the room who shared aspects of a similar theory –myself. Not only that, but he was compelled to acknowledge that I had put forward a materialist analysis to back up my position on the unusual role of Israel in US and other politics. Of course this was grudging – it was a ‘sort of’ materialist analysis, he said. He acknowledged that I was correct that there was substantial overrepresentation of Jews in the ruling class of the United States, relative to the social weight of Jews in the American population, and, thereby implicitly, that this was a subject whose significance had to be debated.
Concessions to Reality.
These are two crucial concessions by Machover to reality that are quite remarkable, given that he played a major role in seeking to proscribe the very same materialist analysis when it was first put forward by myself in the Summer-Autumn of 2014, during and shortly after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge massacre. My analysis was then put forward in the draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, which has since been published and gained some credibility as the only materialist analysis of its kind, which Machover has therefore been forced to acknowledge.
Since there is only one programmatic tradition, Marxism, that seeks to analyse social and political developments, and thereby reality, in a materialist framework, Machover was implicitly acknowledging that my analysis was solidly within the Marxist tradition. This is quite strange in the light of his conduct, and that of his political partners in the Communist Party of Great Britain/Weekly Worker, who are the initiators of HOPI, last year.
It should be recalled that Machover and Jack Conrad were the co-authors of a motion that sought to proscribe this analysis from being expressed within their ‘Communist Platform’ bloc as being supposedly ‘anti-semitic’, and in the process voted down a very elementary socialist principle. They voted against the statement that all peoples are to be regarded as equal, and that all forms of racism, defined as hatred of all individuals of a particular ethnic origin, are equally to be opposed.
The insistence on hatred of an entire ethnic group as a defining criterion of racism, and not criticism of a subset of such a group who engage in oppressive activities against other peoples, is crucial. The dominant discourse today amnesties bourgeois Jews in several imperialist countries from being held to account for behaviour that oppresses the Arab people of Palestine and in some ways wider than that. In voting against a democratic and egalitarian definition of racism, Machover, Conrad and their followers were voting, in contradiction to Marxism and democracy itself, for racist privileges of Jews over non-Jews, particularly Arabs.
They were voting to proscribe criticism and materialist analysis of an important layer of the ruling class, which is quite obviously an act of class betrayal for a communist. No wonder Machover is now beginning to row backwards from some of the nonsense he put his name to last year. However, he is still trying to cover himself with some counter-allegations of his own, to muddy the waters and confuse people.
Personalism or truth
I will deal with and expose some of Machover’s smokescreen allegations here. However, it is worth noting just how personal, feeble and inconsequential they are when compared with the historic import of the questions we are discussing. The key ones need to be answered, however, because fundamentally they are about allowing the socialist public to see clearly beyond personal matters to determine which political trend represents revolutionary truth.
His most important contention is that though my analysis is ‘sort of’ materialist, it is based on an ‘offensive stereotype’ of Jews. This is not a new allegation against those who put forward a materialist analysis of the Jewish question. Similar things have been said against both of my most important Marxist political mentors on this, Karl Marx and Abram Leon.
Marx’s pungent view of Judaism akin to ‘huckstering’, as worshipping money, and as a “general anti-social element ”, as expressed in On the Jewish Question is a case in point. Machover’s collaborator on this, Jack Conrad, despite some hypocritical disclaimers, considers this work to be anti-semitic in its use of language, making his own strange ‘excuses’ for Marx that he was merely using the prejudiced vocabulary of his time, in effect saying that Marx did not know any better. He said in his work Fantastic Reality:
“…Hal Draper convincingly shows that Marx was merely following the near universal practice of his day. One could make the same point about his male-dominated language, i.e. the word ‘man’ is used more or less unremittingly as synonymous with ‘humanity’. Ditto, ‘Jew’ is treated as synonymous with ‘usury’.” (p58)
This evades an issue of substance. In connecting (not equating) Jews with usury, Marx was expressing a conception Conrad is evidently very uncomfortable with; the idea that the existence of the Jews as a distinct group in social and economic history is or was connected with a particular economic role, which found its expression in its period of decline in ‘usury’.
As a concept, this is hardly the same as the equation of humankind in general with the male sex which was then prevalent. The latter usage has changed for the better as women have achieved social gains, but the historical fact that the Jews owe their survival from antiquity as a distinct human group to the particular socio-economic role they played in pre-capitalist societies, has not changed and will not change. It is simply factual.
Many classical Marxists considered there were profound insights expressed in the concepts Marx expressed through this ‘language’ in the ‘controversial’ second part of On the Jewish Question. Abram Leon in The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation praised “Karl Marx’s brilliant thought” in this essay. Issac Deutscher had a similar view:
“Marx … surmounted the problem which tormented Heine… in his youthful and famous Zur Judenfrage. This was his unreserved rejection of Jewry. Apologists of Jewish orthodoxy and Jewish nationalism have because of it violently attacked Marx as an ‘anti-Semite’. Yet I think Marx went to the very heart of the matter when he said that Jewry had survived ‘not in spite of history but in history and through history’, that it owed its survival to the distinctive role that Jews had played as agents of a money economy in environments which lived in a natural economy; that Judaism was essentially a theoretical epitome of market relationships and the faith of the merchant, and that Christian Europe, as it developed from feudalism to capitalism became Jewish in a sense.” (The Non-Jewish Jew, p32)
So Deutscher thought Marx’s ‘prejudiced’ association of Jews with capitalism, money, usury etc.“got to the very heart of the matter”. This shows something rather significant; vis that Deutscher, again very close to the classical Marxist tradition, saw Marx’s material about Jews in On the Jewish Question as not a matter of language, but of political substance.
Conrad’s reduction of it to merely a matter of archaic language, and his gentle disavowing of it on that basis, shows only his discomfort about the substance and his manoeuvring to hide that behind a quibble about language. Which is very much out of place for the leader of a group that often lampoons those on the left who try to modify oppressive aspects of reality by focussing on changing language. This is actually homologous to the objection Machover now raises against my materialist analysis of the Jewish question today, now that he has reluctantly conceded that it is a materialist analysis.
Only Cohn had the brass neck to smear Abram Leon
Which brings me back to Abram Leon. Having perished in Auschwitz, not many have the stomach to attack his conception as anti-semitic. But this has been attempted, by a pretty vile Zionist hack called Werner Cohn, whom Noam Chomsky once called a ‘pathological liar’ for his hasbara. As Cohn wrote:
“Leon was of course not the first to propose that the Jews should be exclusively defined by their putative economic role and, this role now being outdated, that they are bound to dissolve into the surrounding population.”
“Except for Marx himself, I have found no Marxist writer, before the late 1960s, to be as disparaging of the Jewish people as Leon.”
“Such impulses should have led the Trotskyists to take a more even-handed look at the Arab-Israel problem than they have in fact managed. They should also have been able to see through and dismiss the pathetic little anti-Semitic pamphlet by Abram Leon.”
Werner Cohn’s attack on Abram Leon is in effect for exactly the same elements of his analysis as Jack Conrad is desperately evading with his quibble’s about Marx’s language in On the Jewish Question. He is accusing Leon (and also Marx) – of putting forward an ‘offensive stereotype’ of Jews as usurers in The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (as well as Marx’s On the Jewish Question).
But in fact, Abram Leon put forward a theory, based on Marx’s insights (which Kautsky also made use of in his work Are the Jews a Race, albeit in a less coherent manner) that is the only one to explain the longevity of the Jews as a people, whereas other peoples from antiquity, including other trading peoples such as the Phoenicians, disappeared through assimilation into other peoples. They survived because of their distinctive economic role, a ‘foreign’ population defined by a ‘foreign’ religion and practising economic forms that were ‘foreign’ in specific pre-capitalist societies that were defined by use value, not exchange. This is not a ‘stereotype’, but a materialist analysis with considerable explanatory power. No Marxist, that I know of, has been able to refute it in materialist terms. Certainly neither Machover nor Conrad, who have both written major works on related topics, have even tried.
Updating Leon for the post-WWII reality
What Machover, and less coherently Conrad, object to in my analysis, is something very similar. My updating of Leon’s work concludes that the part of the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries that self-identifies as Jewish, and supports the Jewish state project as its ‘national’ project, constitutes a distinct caste within the bourgeoisie. This is a self-selected group that does not a-priori include every single bourgeois of Jewish origin, though it has considerable capacity to co-opt. It is evidently an expression of the failure of the remnants of the people-class that Leon analysed to simply disappear through assimilation, or to be exterminated after being rejected by capitalist society as Leon believed would happen (understandably, from his standpoint under Nazi persecution right to the end).
That they claim that this is an ‘offensive stereotype’ merely shows their ideological affinity with those who have thrown similar allegations against Marx and Leon. What they have to demonstrate is that my analysis is untrue. And in that, proscription and anathema have failed. Hence Machover’s refinements.
Smears and their demolition
The next point that needs refuting is as follows. In that meeting I managed to utterly demolish the absurd contention of Conrad that drawing attention to the significance of the overrepresentation of Jews today in the ruling classes of Western countries, means that I must therefore have the same view of the Bolsheviks, who also had quite a number of Jewish militants among their leading cadre and supporters.
This pathetic smear is completely at odds with Marxism, since there is a fundamental class difference between those who play a vanguard role for the proletariat (the progressive class) and the bourgeoisie (the reactionary class). Anyone who can confuse the two for one moment is no Marxist. When I forcefully pointed out the absurd, anti-Marxist nature of this, Conrad visibly flinched. Despite turning up the volume, he was unable to come up with a single argument in response.
In order to divert attention from this embarrassing howler from Jack Conrad, Machover put forward an equally idiotic contention. That the fact that I have sought to draw attention to positive and useful material in the work of Gilad Atzmon, means that I must therefore agree with Atzmon’s views on the role of Jews in the Russian left, the Bund, the Bolsheviks, etc.
This however is also an imbecilic point, as Lenin and the Bolsheviks themselves had a rather low opinion of the Bund’s Jewish communalist and divisive politics. Regarding the Bolsheviks themselves, my views have been very clearly expressed in the very same context. Recently, I published an introduction to a videoed speech by Atzmon, which contains much useful and profound material. My introduction criticised Atzmon’s views on Jews and the Bolsheviks at some length. Subsequently, below the line of this item, I exchanged views on this with a Muslim blogger, Rehmat. I confronted the myths he evidently believed about the role of the Jewish comrades in the Bolshevik Party with hard facts, and a detailed breakdown that refuted those same myths.
The fact that I expressed these disagreements in a fraternal and political manner led to my criticisms being published on Gilad Atzmon’s site, as well as a number of other sympathetic sites that to a greater extent follow his lead politically. The subtext of Machover’s invective here is that no-one on the left should be engaging politically with Atzmon and other so-called ‘anti-semites’ of Jewish origin.
This indicates that Machover is a prisoner of Jewish communalist politics, albeit at one remove from Zionism. He cannot bring himself to face that Israel’s crimes have given birth to a layer of Jewish radicals who are so revolted by them that they have become ashamed of their Jewish origin.
Machover regards this as sacrilege, and joins in the mainstream demonisation of these dissidents as self-hating racists and even proto-Nazis. That is a Jewish chauvinist position. Whereas my approach is a fraternal one, aimed at engaging with this layer, seeking to draw them into a struggle for a better left, aiming to help them overcome ideological confusion in a struggle against the Jewish chauvinism that is widespread on the left.
There’s dissembling …
When Machover admitted during his presentation that Jews were indeed substantially overrepresented in the ruling class of the USA (by a factor of 2, 3 or 4, he says – in fact that is a very conservative estimate!), I welcomed his remarks on this and pointed out that I had been denounced for saying that last summer. In his summary, he came opened up a whole diatribe against my supposed ‘factual inexactitudes, beginning thus:
“With your indulgence, I have to take some time to correct some factual inexactitudes levelled by Ian. I prefer not to use more inflammatory terms. It is a definite factual inexactitude to say that I ever denied that Jews were overrepresented in the American capitalist class. I never denied that. What I denied was the stereotypical conclusions that Ian wanted to draw. “ (direct transcript of Machover speech on 30 May).
However, Moshe Machover acted at that time not as an isolated individual, but part of a factional body determined to drive me out of the Communist Platform. That body then went into print to defend its conduct in the purge, and the political basis of the purge itself. In that regard, we have Peter Manson, with Machover’s support, writing about the very meeting where my views were proscribed:
“In my opinion, such ‘statistics’ say far more about the person quoting them than the people they claim to study. Even if we accept that those figures are accurate (a big ‘if’), then why would anyone consider them to be pertinent? The implication is that ruling class Jews are overwhelmingly driven by Zionism, whereas, of course, in reality there are many non-Zionists and even anti-Zionists among them.” (WW 18/9/2014)
Obvious this attempts to ridicule the view that these facts are factual (“a big if”) and says baldly that to even investigate or analyse whether or not they are true, is racist. Yet here we have Machover, a mere 9 months later, admitting that my contention, that Jews are substantially overrepresented in the ruling class of the USA, is true. Obviously for any honest person, Manson’s remarks indicate a complete denial of the right of aspiring Marxists to investigate and analyse the material facts on this.
But Machover has another way of trying to evade the consequences of saying this. While admitting that this Jewish overrepresentation, with regard to numbers in the population itself, is true, he argued that it is not unique. Apparently Indian Hindus, and Chinese, are also overrepresented within the ruling class of the USA.
What he says here is likely true, but irrelevant. I anticipated the essence of this point in the Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, when I wrote:
“There is no moral judgement contained within the observation that Jews are overrepresented in the bourgeoisie of the United States and other advanced countries. It is simply a material fact with certain implications for politics. If there were no quasi-nationalist consciousness, no sense of common purpose, it would have no significance whatsoever. What makes it significant is that they do have such a common purpose today, and also a common project, which is manifested in Israel and Zionism. This is significant to those on the receiving end of Israeli oppression, and their sympathisers.” (in thesis 6)
The point being that there that Jewish overrepresentation would be of no more significance than that of other groups if there were no Zionist project. Such Indian or Chinese bourgeois see themselves as hyphenated-Americans, or even if they do not, the states they may be loyal to are normal countries whose very foundation is not land stolen by force from another people (obviously, mutatis mutandis, the same considerations apply to other imperialist countries than the USA). So in making this point, Machover is again acting as an apologist for the concrete responsibility of this particular Jewish bourgeois caste for highly historically specific crimes against the Palestinians.
One further point Machover made in seeking to alibi this specific phenomenon is to ascribe the US’s extreme pro-Israel policy to what Dwight Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’. He alleged that this provided a much more solid basis for a materialist analysis of the US-Israel phenomenon than the theory about a Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste. However, I pointed out that in a way was a manifestation of Eisenhower’s own form of liberal populist politics. It could also be the basis for popular-frontist politics, and is hardly a real class analysis.
Machover also made much in this regard of the very close collaboration of the US and Israel in developing high-tech weaponry, including drones. This is very true. But it actually backs up my case somewhat. It is the interpenetration of the US and Israeli bourgeoisies which makes that possible politically.
..and inept dissembling
To conclude, Machover made a number of claims that I had made ‘misstatements of fact’ (i.e. lies, in plain English), about aspects of the dispute last year. He claims that he never said, for instance, that it is necessary to be ‘sensitive’ in criticising Jews too harshly in the light of the massacre of Palestinians that was then in full swing, because many Jews had lost their whole families in the Nazi Genocide (the same was happening to Arabs in Gaza at the time we were arguing!)
This exchange took place verbally in a meeting of the executive committee of the Communist Platform in late August 2014, which was not recorded. So no ‘smoking gun’ is available to disprove Machover’s contention here. Though I know very well what was said.
But over another assertion of falsehood Machover made in this meeting, proof, in the form of emails, is available and still exists. Machover made the following allegation in his summary:
“As for the claim that the notion of guilt vis-à-vis Jews is not something that is recognised by the left, again … this may apply to the AWL but as an accusation against the British left it is incorrect. In fact, at the time when Ian was still admittedly a philo-semite and he had the exact opposite stereotype about Jews that he has now, I was campaigning and tackling this issue and made some ground. When I first arrived in this country in 1968 it was generally the case that even the Marxist left had some feeling of, some kind of support and sympathy for Israel based to a large extent on feelings of guilt, understandable feelings of guilt towards Jews, and have been on record as pinpointing it and writing polemics against this false guilt in articles that, as I said, I wrote when Ian was still in his philo-semitic state or even before he actually became political.
“Another factual inexactitude which I think is related to something that was said before. Ian protested when there was a comparison and contrasting between the overrepresentation of Jews in the American capitalist class, among individual capitalists, and overrepresentation in the Bolshevik and Menshevik Parties. He said this was exactly the opposite. That is quite true yet he himself is spreading, in his website/blog, the factual inexactitude that I compared George Galloway with Powell. Well, it is exactly the opposite. I compared and contrasted, I said that whereas Powell was a populist of the right, George Galloway was a populist of the left. Which is correct. In other words, it was exactly the opposite.” (direct transcript of Machover’s remarks, 30 May)
The material in the first paragraph is truly very strange. It refers to an anecdote I raised during the purge about some discussions that took place in 1983, over 30 years ago, when I was a political novice, about how I first discovered the writings of Abram Leon. It amounts to denouncing me for not always being as highly politically conscious as the superior man, Moshe Machover, who just happens to be a quarter of a century older than myself. Apparently I had an upbringing and education, like most of the Marxist left in Britain, that was soft on Zionism, and had to break from that. Whereas Machover was always right. This is not a reasoned political position, but a very strange form of arrogance towards those who have the misfortune to be born decades later than the speaker. Presumably, Machover must have been a fully formed Marxist leader when he was still a babe in arms!
His points about a philo-semitic upbringing morphing into a mirror image is pseudo-political claptrap for which he presents no independent evidence. See the material above about Marx, Leon, and ‘stereotypes’. It is a pretentious non-sequitur of the Werner Cohn type, and circular in its logic (“it’s true because I say it’s true, you see”).
With regard to the latter paragraph, it is Machover who is provably misstating the facts here. Here are the relevant materials:
This is the original passage in his email of 8 August 2014, after George Galloway’s speech declaring Bradford an “Israel-free zone” in the context of the Gaza butchery:
“Yes, we need to defend him against Zionists and the right. But we must also criticize his self-serving demagoguery. And we must not identify closely with him. He is a dangerous populist who will compromise those on the left who are closely associated with him. He is the Enoch Powell of the left, without the veneer of high culture and with the embarrassing episode of Big Brother.”
To which I responded:
“I strongly disagree with this. He is no demagogue: this implies hostility to his base among Muslim immigrants and a belief that their concerns and anger, which he expresses (and hardly anyone else does!) do not matter. They do matter to me. Their rage about this is 100% justified and progressive.
He has nothing in common with Enoch Powell, a cynical racist and manipulator who allied with the British far right and wanted to deport the immigrant communities in the UK- something that in reality would have required Nazi-like methods.
GG is the polar opposite of Powell, undoubtedly the most pro-immigrant politician of any significance in Britain. I say ‘of any significance’, as I do not count the marginal far left.
This attack on him as being akin to Powell implies that there is something in common between his social base (Muslim immigrants) and Powell’s (native English, mainly lower middle-class and upper working class, racists – similar to the social base of the EDL).
There is no similarity at all between these layers. One consists of the likely victims of real racism and fascism. The other consists of the likely social base of a fascist movement.
I reject the idea that there is any similarity between these social layers, as implied by the use of the term ‘demagogue’ for GG, and the equation with Enoch Powell. I find it incredible that such an equation can be made.
If he were similar to Enoch Powell, ‘defending him’ against the right would be superfluous. Powell was the right, in fact the (semi) -respectable far right!!!” (9 August).
In a follow-up email the same day I then wrote:
“your characterisation of George Galloway as a ‘left wing Enoch Powell’ [is] incredible and worthy of the Alliance for Workers Liberty.
They also reflect a hostile attitude to his social base in my view. I have been defending GG against such reactionary criticisms since my previous membership of the CPGB – I have no regrets, and I am certainly not going to stop now.
I am proud of my political record as a former member of the Respect National Council from 2007-2009 and also London Election Agent for the Respect list in the 2008 Greater London Authority Elections – headed by George Galloway. My response to your suggestion that George Galloway is in some way comparable to Enoch Powell was actually very low key. I’m sure you get the point.
Indeed, your equation of Galloway with a figure who was basically an upper class version of Nick Griffin is of the same ilk. It is close to calling Galloway a ‘social-fascist’.”
It was only after this polemical pressure that Machover backed off very slightly from his equation of Galloway with Enoch Powell, and wrote the following (again 9 Aug).
“As for Galloway, of course he is not really like Enoch Powell, except in one main respect: populism. Powell was a populist of the right, Galloway of the left. But populism of both kinds is a dangerous bedfellow.”
The fact that Machover could stand up before a public meeting and accuse me of lying (or “factual inexactitude”) for saying that he had equated George Galloway with Enoch Powell, shows considerable ineptitude. The above quotes are verbatim and in strict sequence, I have the originals still and I would have no problem in them being verified by trustworthy third parties if it ever became necessary. They speak for themselves.