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.”
The following exchange illustrates the pointless and self-defeating effect of political dishonesty in communist politics. In bourgeois, i.e. capitalist politics, the point of political activity is to bolster and defend the position of a small, exploiting minority, the owners of capitalist property, against the great mass of the population who have no such wealth. It is obvious that this kind of politics would necessarily be replete with corruption and mendacity, since the maintenance of injustice and social and economic inequality requires fooling the mass of the population to acquiesce in their own victimisation and exploitation. The only way to do this is by systematic lying, in order to create and promote myths, and also to create and maintain divisions among the working-class majority.
Communist politics, on the other hand, has truth as its only weapon. In order to understand the real situation, the mass of the population need to have a accurate picture of political, social and economic relations, which can only be developed over a long period by a political leadership that uses truth as its main weapon. Such a politics is fundamentally different from bourgeois politics. Whereas bourgeois politics promotes mystification and lies in the interest of a minority, communist politics must ruthlessly tear away mystification and expose all social lies. If a would-be communist organisation begins to engage in lying itself, it digs its own political grave, since the only basis on which it can garner and keep support on a healthy basis is through this process of exposing difficult truths.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.