Centrist Evasions on the Jewish Question and Palestine
A shortened version of the letter below was published in the Weekly Worker of 22nd Jan. Given the evasive response of Peter Manson, and the furious but even more evasive (and apolitical) response from Tony Greenstein in this week’s paper, I reproduce the original here. As people will see, it was radically cut, despite being solicited in this form by the editor of the paper himself. Which is of course the editor’s prerogative, in a way. Though one slightly unsavoury aspect of the way the paper is put together is that material is sometimes trimmed in a way as to blunt or distort their political content, and a ‘reply’ is then put together that exploits the problems caused by the editing.
Be that as it may, a reply will be sent to Manson’s evasiveness on the main point: the contradiction between claiming to stand for the Palestinian ‘right of return’, and the demand for the ‘right of self-determination’ of Israeli Jews, i.e. their right to maintain a state created by the exclusion of the Palestinian majority from their own country. It is not possible for even the most evasive centrist confusionists to do both in the real world.
A Response to “Trotskyist” Left-Nationalists
Below is an edited version of a political response I posted on the Google/Usenet group alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, which appears to be heavily influenced by a current around Stephen Diamond (former member of the US Workers League from many years ago), VN Gelis (a long time Greek Trotskyist who, when I encountered him in the 1980s, was a supporter of the Archeo-Marxist Greek Workers Vanguard group), and their co-thinkers. This current combine a left-wing, anti-capitalist rhetoric with a virulent anti-immigrant nationalism that leads them to be politically soft on all kinds of deeply reactionary imperialist forces who are hostile to immigration.
I have no interest in a shouting match with them over this, as one could have a shouting match with all kinds of reactionary- and racist-minded people in numerous parts of the internet if one sought them out – it would be a waste of precious time, effort and energy. But I strongly suspect that these views are, at least in part, the result of a flawed understanding of Marxism and misunderstanding of current social and economic reality. Those kinds of things are worth debating. Such errors and misunderstandings give meaning to the commonplace that ‘the road to Hell is frequently paved with good intentions’. In that spirit, it may be fruitful to debate with this current, who though badly flawed in their nationalist responses, are at least in a flawed way, partially addressing real issues.
Weekly Worker Bottles Machover Debate
Below is my reply to two letters in last week’s Weekly Worker, from Moshe Machover and Stephen Diamond. Machover’s contribution was pathetic stonewalling, responding to points made by myself and also (being quoted by me) the noted Israeli historian and defender of Palestinian rights, Shlomo Sand, criticising exclusively Jewish ‘anti-Zionist’ groups for politically strengthening Zionism. Machover just engages in the most pathetic ‘liar’ baiting worthy of the most inept and crazed Trotskyoid sects. Diamond, on the other hand, praised my ‘courage’ in criticising many leftist Jews for transmitting Zionist memes into the workers movement, but also raised some political perspectives I fundamentally disagree with. I will not elaborate here, as the contents are self-explanatory, but what is notable is the inability of the Weekly Worker editor to say anything political to defend his organisation.
Not impressive. After I was driven to withdraw from the Communist Platform in September, the CPGB hopefully intoned that they would be seeking ‘new allies’ in Left Unity. The concrete manifestation of this seems to be their defence of Bianca Todd, who was forced to resign as LU’s principal spokeswoman after a scandal in which a ‘social enterprise’ of which she was a leading light had a judgement delivered against it at an industrial tribunal for failing to give its workers a contract, and failing to pay wages and sick pay, etc.
Conrad’s Cuts: The critique the Weekly Worker fears?
The following is the full text of my letter that was published in the Weekly Worker today, albeit cut rather dramatically.
As I have said before, the editors of any hard copy publication have complete discretion to cut items for space, as they have limits on what can fit on paper that do not affect websites such as this.
But I would venture that the particular cuts made here are very convenient politically, and spare the CPGB’s supporters from either refuting these criticisms, or allowing them to stand. For below are some points that go to the very heart of their project, as anyone who has ever paid close attention to their evolution will know. Their main claim to uniqueness on the left in Britain and internationally is the concept that the Marxist left has deformed itself by solidifying into sects where everyone is forced to defend a particular analysis and interpretation of Marxism, and where public disagreement with majority positions is banned. They claim to have re-discovered the best traditions of the Bolsheviks in seeking to build a Marxist organisation where competing would-be Marxist analyses can contend publicly for hegemony, and where minorities have the right to seek to become a majority. But in my case they simply betrayed all that.
The weakness of their position regarding my own case is such that, in their purge motion aiming to exclude me from the Communist Platform on 14 September, they tried to equate my views with those of Pierre Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin. They were speaking of the apparent anti-Jewish racism of these figures, and trying by means of a feeble amalgam to say that I shared their views. But their text contained no quotes from either of these ideologues of 19th century anarchism to compare my views, as expressed in my Theses on the Jewish question, with Proudhon or Bakunin’s views on the Jewish question or indeed any other question. For anyone remotely interested in honesty and truth in left-wing politics, this is a very strange omission indeed.
However, if they had so wanted to find quotes to compare my views with, there are plenty available that show considerable similarity. Unfortunately for them, however, the quotes are from Karl Marx, Abram Leon, and Issac Deutscher. But it is unlikely that these centrist charlatans would have included such condemnatory references to these classical Marxist figures, as to do so would expose the nakedly anti-Marxist and anti-Communist character of their decision to force a break in the bloc with me which they initiated in early 2014, in forming the Communist Platform of Left Unity.
Condemnation of such classical Marxist figures, along with me, would be appropriate for them, as the tradition they stand in has more in common with renegades from Marxism such as Karl Kautsky and Max Shachtman, and dubious semi-Marxist centrist theoreticians such as Hal Draper.
Its pretty pathetic when leaders of an organisation have to invent lies about someone’s politics in order to avoid confronting honestly their real views. It is even more pathetic when this is done by the leaders of a small organisation, with little organisational muscle and whose only political capital is a reputation for truthfulness. If it gains the opposite reputation, why should anyone serious or honest want to touch it with a ten-foot pole?
Anyway, its their political funeral. Here is maybe another nail in their political coffin.
Tony Greenstein persists in retailing the silly falsehood that I have characterised him as a ‘Zionist’ in recent discussions. He is right that what I have written is ‘quite explicit’. On 6 September I published in my most comprehensive criticism of his politics, the following statement:
“Among these are … Tony Greenstein. They are outright opponents of the Zionist project and subjectively seek its destruction by revolutionary means, involving the Arab working class. “ (https://commexplor.com/2014/09/06/the-centrist-politics-of-tony-greenstein/)
So there is no need to ‘withdraw’ a statement never made, but whose exact opposite was published!
This symbolises the irrationality, capriciousness and personalism of Greenstein’s conduct in this dispute, and the lack of principle of those in the CPGB who have backed him. Greenstein says my criticisms of his identity politics and communalism amount to an accusation of Zionism. But Zionism is not the only type of Jewish identity politics.
In the early 20th Century, there existed the Bund, which opposed Zionism and Jewish migration to the Middle East, instead focusing on the preservation of Jewish culture. It demanded recognition as the sole representative of Jewish workers within Russian and Polish Social Democracy.
Lenin fought hard against this left-wing communalism, considered it divisive, and in contradiction to the duty of a revolutionary party to draw all layers of the specially oppressed behind the proletariat. This in the Tsarist empire when Jews were certainly an oppressed population.
Today, when Jews are no longer oppressed, but have achieved considerable political clout for their mainstream kind of identity politics – Zionism – in Western imperialist countries, the likes of Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover promote, along with a sometimes very left-sounding anti-Zionism, their own alternative ‘left’ identity politics and communalism.
Thus the proliferation of self-described Jewish groups in the Palestine solidarity movement: Jews against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli goods, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, etc. This is in the context of a situation where many – including Greenstein (though to be fair: not Moshe Machover) make direct analogies with South African apartheid.
This brings us to the paradox of what would be involved if in the movement against apartheid there had appeared groups like ‘Whites against Apartheid’, ‘Whites for boycotting South African goods’, etc. Such groups, had they existed, would accept the racial segregation that was key to apartheid!
The same is true, mutatis mutandis, with ‘Jews against Zionism’ et al. Formal racial segregation is not the main feature of Zionism. Notions of ‘chosen-ness’ and alleged Jewish moral superiority are Zionism’s key ideological weapons.
No doubt at some level ‘left’ supporters of these groups think they are being clever and exploiting this notion of Jewish moral superiority against the Zionists. But this is self-defeating: conceding this strengthens the authority of this racist notion. This is a massive ideological concession to Zionism. The common thread between Zionism and some of its critics is what Israel Shahak called ‘Jewish ideology’.
This is the identity politics Greenstein is promoting, and why he supports communalist witch-hunts even against others of Jewish origin, who come, often from quite diverse standpoints, to oppose this ideology in principle, as well as Marxist critics like myself. This is centrist politics, revolutionary and anti-Zionist in words, capitulationist in deeds, and explains why Greenstein and others of his trend are touchy and cannot deal with criticism, especially from a Marxist standpoint.
It is also capitulation to this identity politics, despite the fine words in their frequent polemics against identity politics and intersectionality in Left Unity, that drives Jack Conrad and co to smear critics and betray the mission of the CPGB, effectively declaring the CPGB as a mono-ideological sect around this half-hearted and centrist ‘anti-Zionism’, while proscribing genuine Marxist anti-Zionism.
As Trotsky explained in his essay ‘Centrism and the Fourth International’ (1934), centrism is touchy and capricious, does not like to be called by its real name, and fears criticism. This sums up Tony Greenstein, as well as Jack Conrad and others.
Racism, Jews and Palestinians: Uncut letter from Weekly Worker:
The following letter, in a severely cut form, was published in the current issue of the Weekly Worker.
I am not necessarily complaining about it being cut, as hard-copy publications have limits on space that hardly exist in online publications. However, there are substantial arguments missing from the cut version that obviously have an impact on the debate, such that it is, that is supposed to be taking place on racism, Jews, and Palestinians.
I will say no more at this point, as the arguments speak for themselves.
Tony Greenstein is still peddling the racist pseudo-definition of ‘racism’ against Jews that is used by the bourgeois mainstream to suppress criticisms of Jewish behaviour which would be unquestionable if they were directed at any other people. He states that ‘anti-semitism’ always was concerned with the ‘social role’ of Jews, but fails to explain how criticism of the ‘social role’ of any section of society can in itself be racist. It cannot: except when combined with an ideology that racialises that role, so that the racist element supersedes social criticism. This happened in the late 19th Century when the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was coined by … biological racists as an obviously ‘racial’ term. This was then extended back in time by these racists. In fact, the entire concept of ‘race’ was absent from earlier conflicts.
Scottish separation panacea fails to materialise
The narrow defeat of the Scottish independence referendum was seen as a relief by the core of the British ruling class. But in a sense, it is a relief for partisans of the working class also. To the superficially minded, this may seem illogical or incongruous. How can what seems like a victory for the core of the ruling class not be a defeat for the working class? A pointer to this is contained in a salient point once made by the Russian Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky:
“In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat.” (Learn To Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists, May 1938)
The British ruling class, in its dotage in terms of capitalist de-development and decline, is no longer able to guarantee the coherence of its own national state in the face of centrifugal nationalist forces, including some within its own class, and faces a real possibility of state fragmentation. This might be true, but that does not make it a progressive development.
Jack Conrad’s Anti-Communist Witchhunt over Gaza
Some of the arguments used to justify the recent witchhunt in the Communist Platform of Left Unity by the Provisional Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain/Weekly Worker are a dead give-away about the anti-communist nature of the purge. They also show pathetic ignorance of the tradition of classical Marxism on the Jewish question. For instance, the assertion in the PCC’s anathema that “The claim that Jews do not constitute a nation within Israel but they form a ‘semi-national identity’ globally is false and it is indeed what Zionist ideology claims” can only be interpreted as a brazen attack on both Leon Trotsky, who was writing prior to the formation of the state of Israel, and also Isaac Deutscher, who wrote post-1947. Both of these classical Marxist figures, whose boots the leaders of the Weekly Worker trend are not fit to lick, went rather further than considering the Jews as a ‘semi-nation’. Both of them considered the Jews to be a fully-fledged nation.
Trotsky wrote in 1937:
“… the Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument of modern culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come. Now the nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea. But the facts of every passing day demonstrate that Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question…” (Interview with Jewish correspondents in Mexico, January 18 1937, in Leon Trotsky on the Jewish Question, Pathfinder 1970)
According to Jack Conrad/Moshe Machover ‘logic’, Trotsky must have either been a Zionist, an anti-Semite, or both.
Then there is Isaac Deutscher. He had a slightly different position, which appears to have been developed after the foundation of Israel. Writing sometime around 1966, he wrote:
“It is a tragic and macabre truth that the greatest ‘re-definer’ of the Jewish identity has been Hitler; and this is one of his minor posthumous triumphs. Auschwitz was the terrible cradle of the new Jewish consciousness and the new Jewish nation…. For those who have always stressed Jewishness and its continuity, it is strange and bitter to think that the extermination of six million Jews should have given such a new lease of life to Jewry. I would have preferred the six million men, women and children to survive and Jewry to perish. It was from the ashes of six million Jews that the phoenix of Jewry has risen. What a resurrection!” (Who is a Jew?, from The Non-Jewish Jew and other Essays, Oxford 1968, p50).
Deutscher not only considered Jews to be a nation, he credits the Jewish ‘national resurrection’ to Hitler! And to boot, he makes it quite clear that he would rather that Jewish identity cease to exist. Evidently he must be a vile anti-Semite, and were he to have had the misfortune to be in the CPGB, he would have been excommunicated by its junior-Matgamna understudies as an inveterate Jew-hater.
Centrism and fear over Gaza: “Communists” vote down equality of peoples
Reacting in fear of being falsely branded as ‘anti-semitic‘ by the political mainstream that stood aloof in August in silence while more than 2000 Arabs were butchered in four weeks of carnage by the so-called Israeli Defence Force, on September 14, one small fraction of the British far left showed its lack of revolutionary politics. The Communist Platform, a tiny grouping within ‘Left Unity’ run by the publishers of the Weekly Worker, the almost-as-tiny Communist Party of Great Britain, disgraced itself by voting, in fear of the wrath of the overwhelmingly Israel-loyal British ruling class and no doubt some of its small-scale lackeys on the left, against a key aspect of communist politics: equal opposition to all forms of racism.
This point may at first glance seem subtle or even arcane. but it is not at all. It is a crucial ideological means of manufacturing consent, to steal a phrase from Noam Chomsky, for Israel’s brutality in Western societies. This concept says that Jews are a special people, eternally the victims of racism even when their fellows in the Middle East are the ones doing the overwhelming amount of the killing, and that if anyone protests too loud about this or points the finger at Israel’s supporters in the West, they are guilty of ‘anti-semitism’ – an ultimate form of evil associated of course with Hitler. This facile smear against serious critics is a key method of social control in Western countries today.
Racist philo-semitism, not anti-Jewish racism, is dominant in the West today, and acts as massive social pressure on anyone who tries to meaningfully oppose Israeli crimes. It needs to be opposed, by decent and progressive-minded people, by a firm anti-racism. This should not need saying. But this needs to be a different kind of anti-racism, with the same basic message: the equality of all peoples, but a somewhat different emphasis than in the past. In fact today, this kind of anti-racism is the only genuine kind of anti-racism.