The Anti-Semitism of English Socialism’s Formative Years
The period 1880 to 1914 is central to understanding how anti-semitism has permeated much of the socialist tradition. This was an epoch which witnessed:
(a) the consolidation of world imperialism.
(b) the formation of the first self-styled socialist organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation—the S.D.F.—and the Independent Labour Party—the I.L.P.
(c) the development of industrial trades unionism.
The impact of imperialism was to imbue the labour movement and the socialist organisation with national and chauvinistic ideas—ideas which persist today. Another phenomenon also occurred in these years—the mass immigration of Jews into England as they fled from the progroms of Russia and Eastern Europe.
The immigrants arrived into a country that was already deeply anti-semitic. Anti-semitism in England had existed well before imperialism or capitalism. It was pre-feudal and rooted in Christianity. The entire Jewish population had already been forcibly expelled by Edward 1st in 1290. Readmitted by Cromwell, they were ghettoised and portrayed through popular mythology as Shylocks and Fagins. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jews in the 1880’s were greeted by anti-semitism on arrival. A significant consequence of this was that the chauvinism of the socialist and labour movement became fuelled by a specific and virulent anti-semitism. Like all anti-semitism this was based, to a greater or lesser extent, on notions of the world Jewish conspiracy.
The most obvious example of this was the equation of Jews with capitalism—the classic socialism of fools. For instance, Today, the monthly magazine of Scientific Socialism, in its first issue of 1884 printed an article where it was taken for granted that “economically and socially Jews are our antagonists”. This equation was not simply of Jews with capitalism. It was an equation of Jews with imperialist domination—a domination that was conscious and conspiratorial. Justice, the paper of the S.D.F., claimed that:
“Jew moneylenders now control every Foreign Office in Europe” (5.4.1884)
“It seems to be an open secret that the government of France is too much in the grip of Jews to take active measures against them as a body” (25.6.1898).
This latter quote was taken from the time of the Dreyfus affair in France. Similarly, Robert Blatchford’s journal, The Clarion (around which the Clarion Clubs were organised), quoted with approval the claim that:
“Modern imperialism is really run by half a dozen financial houses, many of them Jewish, to whom politics is a counter in the game of buying and selling securities and the people are convenient pawns.” (24.2.1900)
It was frequently alleged that all imperialist wars were organised and manipulated by Jews, in the interest of Jewish finance. Sometimes it was suggested that this was channelled through just one family—the Rothschilds. Labour Leader, the paper of the I.L.P., stated that:
“Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games somewhere near the region of the disturbances” (19.12.1891).
In particular, the Boer War and the events leading up to it were frequently pictured as being in defence of Jewish financial interests in South Africa. H.M. Hyndman, the leader of the S.D.F., warned against the construction of an
“Anglo-Hebraic empire in Africa” (Justice, 25.4.1896).
Not only did Jews allegedly control the world through financial and military domination—but also, apparently, through control of the media. Justice spoke of supposed Jewish press power in England acting
“in accord with their fellow capitalist Jews all over the world” (5.7.1890).
Immigration Controls—The Acid Test
The Aliens Act of 1905 is almost entirely forgotten today by the Jewish community and by socialists. It was the natural corollary to the anti-Jewish ideology described above, namely the successful demand for immigration control on Jews. The Act was passed by a Tory government with the full support of its leadership and of the Tory Party. It was enforced by a Liberal government. However, in many ways it was the result of nearly twenty years of agitation by the English working class.
This agitation took two main forms. Firstly, there was the grassroots proto-fascist organisation in London’s East End—the British Brothers League. Between its inception in 1901 and its victory in 1905, the Brothers organised constant demonstrations and rallies through the East End against Jewish immigration. Secondly, there was the organised labour movement itself. From 1892, the T.U.C. was formally committed to a resolution excluding Jews. This was not a passive ‘paper’ position, indeed the issue of immigration control was included in a list of questions to be asked of all Parliamentary candidates, which was compiled by a special conference of the T. U. C. in 1895 (Manchester Evening News, 11.7.1895). Indeed, the T.U.C. sent a delegation to the Home Secretary demanding control (Times, 6.2.1896).
This was only the tip of the iceberg. W.H. Wilkins, a fanatical campaigner for control, in his book The Alien Invasion, published in 1892, named 43 labour organisations, not including the T.U.C., advocating restrictions on Jews. These ranged from the National Boiler Makers and Iron Ship Builders Society to the Miners Association of Durham to the Oldham Provincial Card and Blowing Room Operatives. It also included the Liverpool Trades’ Council. Many other trades’ councils were to come out in favour of control. These included London, where control was supported by the renowned rank and file dockers’ leaders Ben Tillett and Tom Mann (London Evening News, May 27th and June 19th 1891), Manchester (Trades Council Report, 1892) and Leeds (evidence of its secretary, to the 1903 Royal Commission on Alien Immigration). J.H. Wilson, who was an M.P. and also secretary of the Seamen’s’ Union, was actually one of the first to propose legislation in Parliament (Hansard, 11.2.1893).
The attitude of most of the emergent socialist organisations to all of this, varied from agreement to inconsistency. For instance, The Clarion came out eventually for total exclusion. In an article just after the Act became law, The Clarion stated that Jewish immigrants were:
“a poison injected into the national veins”, they were the “unsavoury children of the ghetto”, their numbers were “appalling” and their attitudes “unclean” (22.6.1906).
The S.D.F.’s position was, to put it mildly, fainthearted. Hyndman at a meeting called ostensibly to oppose controls, declared that he was against “free admittance of all aliens” and went on to attack Jews for living in ghettos and refusing to intermarry (Jewish Chronicle, 1.4.1904).
English and Jewish Opposition to Controls
Fortunately for the communist movement today, there is an alternative socialist tradition in relation to the Aliens Act from which we can learn. There were pockets of protest against the agitation for immigration control from within the emergent socialist movement and, to an even lesser extent, from within the labour movement as a whole. However, such protest was relatively small and could not swim against the tide. The most honourable example of this was the Socialist League, which split from the S.D.F. in 1885, and whose most well-remembered figure is William Morris. The League’s journal, Commonweal, showed a totally principled position in its opposition to anti-semitism and immigration control. In one article—sarcastically called “Blarsted Furriners”—the journal attacked the other Left groups for their chauvinism and anti-semitism, asking them:
“Are we then to allow the issues at stake in the struggle between the robbers and the robbed to be obscured by anti-foreigner agitation?” (28.4.1888).
The same article also then offered solidarity to the Aborigines, Maoris, American Indians and black people everywhere, against their exploitation by the colonising English. In another article, John Burns of the I.L.P. was criticised for claiming that “England was for the English” (23.8.1890). However, the League and its journal ceased to exist in the early 1890’s—unable and unwilling to compete with the increasing chauvinism of its rival organisation. Nonetheless, individuals and individual branches within the S.D.F. and I.L.P. occasionally kept the torch of protest alight. Again, individual trades unionists occasionally tried to speak out. Thus there was some opposition on the London Trades Council to Tillett and Mann—Mr. Taylor (a lithographic artist) spoke out against restriction and in favour of the “solidarity of the workers international brotherhood” (London Evening News 19.6.1891).
It must be said, that with the honourable and important exceptions of the Socialist League and odd individuals, the remaining opposition to immigration control by the English socialist and labour movement was not only spasmodic, but was despite itself, and was the result of pressure put on it by its Jewish members. This was certainly the case with the S.D.F.—where it was essentially only its London East End branch (that is, its Jewish branch) which organised activity against the Act. In May 1904, the East London S.D.F. convened a conference composed of “delegates from the Jewish trade unions and others” to plan some disruption of Parliament over the proposed Act (Jewish Chronicle 6.5.1904). After the Act became law the East London S.D.F. organised a meeting of protest in the Wonderland, Whitechapel Rd. The meeting was conducted in Yiddish and English (Jewish Chronicle, 19.9.1905). In fact the S.D.F. meeting, where Hyndman had turned up and spoken in favour of control, had been organised by its East London branch as a meeting against control. Likewise, the I.L.P. held protests—but again apparently only through the pressure of its Jewish members. Labour Leader reported a protest meeting in Tib Street in Manchester and advised those who wanted to follow up the protest to get in touch with the I.L.P. through J. Deschman, who was secretary of the Jewish Tailors Union in Manchester (3.6.1904).
The only organised trade union opposition which included British trade unionists, was when Jewish workers took the initiative. The major example of this was the meeting attended by over 3,000 people, organised in the East End by the Federated Jewish Tailors Union of London, where the speakers included W.P. Reeves of the Women’s Union League, Margaret Bondfield, secretary of the National Union of Shop Assistants and Frank Brien of the Dockers Union (Eastern Post, 20.9.1902). The way in which at least some English workers were forced into action against anti-semitism by the independent initiative of Jewish workers is obviously mirrored today, when women and black organisation have placed sexism and racism on the political agenda of the Left.
Given the backward role of most of the English labour and socialist organisations, Jewish workers were compelled to take independent action against the agitation for immigrant control. An Alien Defence League was established by Jews to fight control and was based at 38 Brick Lane in London (Jewish Chronicle, 24.1.1902). Moreover, Jewish trade unionists took initiatives that were directed specifically against the anti-semitism of the English labour movement. In 1895, Jewish trade unionists in London circulated a leaflet called The Voice of the Alien which attacked the T.U.C.’s support for immigration control. This was written by Joseph Finn, a Jewish socialist from Leeds (see his letter to the Jewish Chronicle, 14.2.1902). Alongside this, Der Arbeiter Freund (The Worker’s Friend, a Yiddish anarcho-communist journal) consistently attacked the English labour movement for its chauvinism and anti-semitism. It correctly understood the alignment of forces when it attacked the T.U.C. and “its papa—the State” (17.4.1903 quoted in Immigrants and the Class Struggle by Joe Buckman).
It could be argued that this Jewish fight-back, within and against the English labour movement, did have some limited success, in that one or two trade unions did alter their position. Thus, by 1903, Manchester Trades Council had become simply indifferent to the question of control and had ceased to campaign for it (Manchester Evening News, 28.1.1903). A similar neutralisation occurred with respect to Leeds Trades Council. Again, in 1905, James Sexton, the President of the T.U.C. personally denounced control at the T.U.C. conference (1905 T.U.C. Annual Report).
In conclusion, there are two points which can be made. Firstly, it was all far too little and too late. Only one or two labour movement bodies actually stopped campaigning for control. The T.U.C. was not one of these. No organised union body ever campaigned against control. In any event, after 1901 the working class movement for control had taken to the streets with a vengeance, under the leadership of the British Brothers League. Secondly, insofar as one or two union organisations did ameliorate their position, it was more due to the (belated) recognition that the militancy and high degree of unionisation of Jewish workers were actually helping raise the living standards of English workers than the result of Jewish opposition to control. For instance, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett were prepared to speak at the inaugural meeting of the Federation of East London Labour Unions in 1889. G. Kelley, secretary of the Manchester Trades Council, explaining why the Council no longer supported control, emphasised the good example that the Jewish Tailors Union in Manchester had set for English workers (Manchester Evening News, 28.1.1903). In other words, even this small group of labour organisation did not renounce anti-semitism. Rather they concealed it behind a newly discovered economic identification with Jewish workers.
Rich Jew, Poor Jew—The Conspiracy Theory in Practice
Arguments often used in favour of control were that Jewish workers were taking away English people’s jobs, undercutting wages, weakening unionisation and taking away housing from the English. An obvious question that arises is the connection between an anti—semitic movement which was directed against working class Jews, and the anti-semitic notion of Jewish capitalist domination. Of course, there could be no rational connection, but given assumptions about the world Jewish conspiracy, then links could be made on the most irrational and transcendental of levels.
One way of dealing with this was to try and make some distinction between “rich Jews” and “poor Jews”. It is at this point some of the socialists’ apparent opposition to control becomes quite ambiguous, as opposition was also couched in anti-semitic imagery. For instance, in 1904 the I.L.P. actually issued a pamphlet against control—The Problem of Alien Immigration. On its first page it mounted an attack on:
“The rich Jew who has done his best to besmirch the fair name of England and to corrupt the sweetness of our national life and character”
and to compare this to the “poor Jew” who should be allowed in.
More frequently, the socialist groups tried to discover actual links between “rich Jews” and “poor Jews”, in order to attack the latter as being in some way a pawn of the former. For instance, Beatrice Potter, one of the founders of the Fabians, constantly argued in her investigation of East End life that the only aim of a Jewish worker was to become a capitalist. In one essay she wrote that:
“The love of profit distinct from other forms of money earning” is “the strongest impelling motive of the Jewish race” (Nineteenth Century, vol XXIV).
This is not so much a picture of the poor Jew as pawn, but rather of the poor Jew as embryonic capitalist, clone and biological imperialist. The Fabians, as an organisation, never opposed control—they merely abstained and let it happen. Moreover, Beatrice Potter deliberately lied about Jews in the East End by concealing all reference to the powerful Jewish labour movement developing there. Indeed, in the essay quoted above, she claims that Jews, as embryonic capitalists:
“Have neither the desire nor the capacity for labour combination”.
Potter combined very well the prejudices of the attack on rich Jews and on poor Jews.
Ben Tillett had another angle. He argued that it was ultimately the British government which was a pawn in the hands of Jewish capitalists and was therefore reluctant to enact controls. He asserted:
“Our leading statesmen do not care to offend the great banking houses or money kings”
and went on to say:
“For heaven’s sake, give us back our own countrymen and take from us your motley multitude” (London Evening News, 19.6.1891).
So it seems, Tillett perceived Jewish financiers—“money kings”—as somehow engineering and manipulating the immigration of the Jewish masses—“your motley multitude”. Tillett was quite willing to speak on the same platform as the most infamous Jew baiters, none of whom cared whether Jews were rich or poor. He spoke on the same platform as Arnold White at a meeting of an early control organisation—The Association for Preventing the Immigration of Destitute Aliens (London Evening News and Post, 25.7.1891). At this meeting he was supported by J.H. Wilson of the Sailor’s Union, J. Tanter of the Progressive Union of Cabinetmakers, J. Cross of the St. Helens Colliery Enginemen’s Society and “many other delegates from trade unions in London and the country”. In 1900, at the T.U.C. Conference, a new dimension was introduced when John Ward, leader of the Navvies’ Union argued that:
“Practically £100,000 of the taxpayer’s money has been spent in trying to secure the gold fields of South Africa for cosmopolitan Jews, most of whom had no patriotism and no country” (T.U.C. Annual Report, 1900).
In other words, all Jews, rich or poor, were cosmopolitan with gold on their mind-particularly South African gold.
It is relevant to note another way the conspiracy theory operated. Whilst “socialists” were attacking Jews as either imperialist financiers or lumpen scabs, the bourgeoisie were attacking them as militant trade unionists and anarchists. The London Evening News proclaimed that:
“The advance of socialistic and anarchical opinion in London is commensurate with the increased volume of foreign immigration” (21.5.1891).
Given the conspiracy theory, the bourgeoisie had no need even for themselves to be consistent about this. So S.H. Jeyes, another ardent restrictionist, argued in his essay Foreign Pauper Immigration In A. White (Ed.) The Destitute Alien of Great Britain that Jews deliberately did not organise in unions, in order to suppress the general level of wages, and so incite the English to revolution. As he put it:
“To strengthen the spirit of discontent and disorder on which the agitators live and batten and which in time would pollute England with the visionary violence of continental socialism”.
Finally, in this context of the conspiracy theory in action, it is worth noting that the British Brothers League attracted members who regarded themselves as socialists. At least one member of the Independent Labour Party left that organisation to join the Brothers (The Eastern Post 19.10.1901). Someone signing themselves “Mile End Socialist” wrote to the Jewish Chronicle (21.11.1902) stating that:
“Jew versus Gentile” will be my battle cry at every election as long as life is spared … the Jew has made himself obnoxious through the incarnate instinct of his race to every nation where he has now emigrated. This is an historical fact and beyond controversy”.
Anti-Alienism or Anti-Semitism?
Bourgeois historians—and these are the only historians who have hitherto examined this subject—have argued that the struggle for the Aliens Act was based on xenophobia against all foreigners rather than on anti-semitism. Colin Holmes in his book Anti-Semitism in British Society argues that:
“It is more important to categorise the 1905 Act as anti-alien rather than anti-semitic”
“The legislation was aimed at aliens rather than specifically at Jews as Jews”.
According to this viewpoint, it was just bad luck and coincidence that Jews were restricted—it could have been any foreigner. Now this attempt to deny the specificity of immigration controls is extremely reactionary. Exactly the same argument is used in relation to the current Immigration Act—where attempts are constantly being made to deny its specific anti-black racism by the assertion that it keeps out all foreigners. As socialists we should oppose all immigration controls. This is precisely because any immigration control is inevitably based on national chauvinism—namely the belief that foreigners are in some way inferior to the English. It is crucial to appreciate the political dimension of controls, that they are never brought in against the whole world, in the abstract, but are always brought in against a specific non-English victim group, through the use of specific imageries.
Obviously, one aspect of the movement for the Aliens Act was a generalised chauvinism against all foreigners. England is the imperialist country par excellence and therefore popular ideology is inevitably chauvinistic. Many examples of this can be found within the early socialist movements. Bruce Glasier of the I.L.P. argued in Labour Leader that:
“Neither the principle of the brotherhood of man nor the principle of social equality implies that brother nations or brother men may crowd upon us in such numbers as to abuse our hospitality, overturn our institutions or violate our customs” (3.4.1904).
Such phrases as “our institutions” clearly substitute a chauvinistic analysis for a class one.
However, it is inadequate to regard the Aliens Act as being simply based on such general chauvinism against all-comers. This underestimates the strength of anti-semitism and misunderstands the history of immigration control—and thus fails to understand the real relationship between the two. The Aliens Act was aimed specifically at Jews by invoking specifically anti-semitic imagery. In essence, running right through the movement for control, were variants of the theory of the world Jewish conspiracy. Moreover, much of the actual imagery used by ‘socialists’ was of the basest anti-semitic kind—harking back to medieval Christianity and looking forward to Nazism. The frequent reference in The Clarion to Jews as “The Nose” (1.9.1892) is not a trivial example. Again, much of the language used to describe alleged Jewish capitalist domination was itself of a classic anti-semitic mould. A.J. Hobson’s writings are typical. Hobson was a well-known radical journalist of the day, who later became prominent in the Labour Party and made his name covering the Boer War as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian. It was his opinion that the Transvaal was controlled by “Jew power” and
“those who came early made most and then left leaving their economic fangs in the carcase of their pray” (Contemporary Review vol LXXVII).
The image of the Jew as parasite and bloodsucker is an historical constant within anti-semitism.
The history of immigration control, itself, illustrates the nonsense of regarding the 1905 legislation as being simply the product of an anti-alienism, to which anti-semitism was peripheral. The significant point is that prior to 1905 England had never had serious immigration control (at least since the expulsion of the Jews by Edward 1st). Today, it is difficult to appreciate that a century ago immigration control was a novel concept, and it needed the struggle against the Jews to legitimise it. Even this required a prolonged struggle which lasted nearly two decades—1885 to 1905. A comparison between the response to Jews and to other immigrants is illuminating. Irish immigration into England throughout the 19th century was greeted with almost total hostility. Anti-Irish chauvinism was as enormous as it is today. In one way, the Irish were even more vulnerable than the Jews—their own country had been devastated and colonised by the English. But whatever else it did, the agitation against the Irish did not lead to immigration control.
Similarly, at the same time as agitating against Jews, some parts of the labour movement were agitating for controls against non-Jewish workers. For instance, Keir Hardie, a founder member of the I.L.P., gave evidence at the 1889 House of Commons Select Committee on Immigration. He spoke on behalf of the Ayrshire Miners Union and the Scottish Labour Party. As well as opposing Jewish immigration save for those fleeing persecution—these organisations were opposed to Polish Christians being allowed to come and work in the mines, in iron and steel mills and on British ships. The essential objection to this was the importation of scab labour to work these industries in times of industrial unrest. However, no legislation was ever introduced against immigrant strike-breakers. This was in spite of the fact that Hardie, who incidentally himself voted against the Act, introduced an amendment to the Aliens Bill calling for the exclusion of immigrant strike-breakers. In the end the only controls enacted were those which were aimed at Jews.
Of course, particular reasons can be advanced as to why the bourgeoisie did not exclude other groups. They had no material interest in excluding scab labour and they did have a material interest in the use of manual Irish labour. Moreover, if one were to look at the matter purely from the point of view of imperialist material self-interest, then the bourgeoisie should not have included the Jews—as Jews organised whole sections of the garment and footwear industries. However, such an economically deterministic approach to history simply ignores the role of ideology as a factor in politics.
Thus it was anti-semitism which was the ingredient necessary to popularise the ideology of immigration control, so that such control became politically viable. This is no coincidence and relates in part to the nature of anti-semitism. All movements for control against any foreigner invoke the image of the alien horde taking over Britain. What distinguished anti-Jewish agitation was the conspiracy theory. This asserted that the Jew had a conscious plan to take over, not simply Britain, but the entire world. This was an extremely comprehensive and therefore powerful justification for control. In the end it was irresistible. In other words anti-semitism, far from being simply an example of, or peripheral to, anti-alienism, was the force which ensured anti-alienism would be given statutory authority for the first time.
The legitimisation of immigration control has had enormous repercussions in the 20th century, not least because it kept out tens of thousands of Jews from England in the 1930’s—thus resulting in their deaths. It also meant that the equally racist agitation for controls against black people was successful, in a relatively rapid period. It took just four years after the race attacks in 1958 in Notting Hill and Nottingham, before control was legislated. The labour movement did not campaign either for or against it: controls were accepted as “natural” and being based on “common sense”. It was the active, if forgotten, struggle for controls by the labour movement over 60 years earlier, which had legitimised them.
Imperialism and History
Socialists, Marx in particular, correctly emphasise the need for a consciousness of history, so that we may learn from it. However, socialist historians have simply ignored the Aliens Act which has led to a serious gap in the understanding, not just of anti-semitism, but of imperialism. It is obviously not possible to appreciate the history of immigration controls without understanding the Aliens Act, nor is it possible to understand how false ideology penetrated both the trade union movement and large sections of the early socialist movement. Indeed the struggle for immigration controls against Jews is a classic example of how imperialism, particularly English imperialism, works in practice. It is a crystal clear instance of how the English ruling class repeatedly attacks immigrant masses, whether they be Jewish, Irish or black—through an alliance not only with the English masses but through attempted alliances with the leaders of the immigrant community. Hence there were three major social forces which were attacking the Jews.
The first such force was the English bourgeoisie who won English workers away from their class interests by the false consciousness of ‘national interests’. The Prime Minister of the Tory government which passed the Aliens Act was Arthur Balfour. Balfour is regarded by zionists as a major friend of the Jewish people as it was his Declaration in 1917 that promised a Jewish ‘national home’ in Palestine. To regard Balfour as a friend of the Jewish people reveals much about zionist philosophy. Balfour was an anti-semite who wanted to exclude Jews from England on the grounds that, as he stated in the 1905 debate on the Aliens Act, Jews were not
“to the advantage of the civilisation of this country”
“they are a people apart and not only hold a religion differing from the vast majority of their fellow countrymen but only intermarry amongst themselves”.
Again, Joseph Chamberlain M.P. is well known in history books for his ‘social imperialism’. This was his attempt to win British workers over to imperialism by offering social reforms. He is famous for his unsuccessful campaign for protectionism and import controls against ‘foreign’ goods but there seems to be little knowledge that he combined this with propaganda for ‘Jew controls’. Moreover, the Liberal government of 1906, combining as it did massive social reforms with the enforcement of immigration controls against Jewish people, is a variant of social imperialism.
Exactly the same can be said about the post-1945 welfare state and about the ideology of ‘welfarism’ itself: it combined social reforms with increasing immigration controls against black people. The battle for these politics had been won decades earlier over the struggle for the Aliens Act. The welfare state has now taken this one stage further against black people through the implementation of internal controls by the Home Office or by the ‘caring’ agencies of the state who assess entitlement to welfare benefits through the criteria of nationality and residence.
The second element in the attack on the Jewish masses was the Jewish establishment, who were won over by the British ruling class. The Jewish communal leadership in this country did not immigrate here as an already formed block, but was created through its treacherous alliance with the British bourgeoisie. Class interest was stronger than any ‘communal’ interest. The Jewish establishment policed the Jewish masses on behalf of the British ruling class, by pressurising them into assimilation and anglicisation. Moreover, major sections of the Jewish leadership actually advocated immigration control.
Benjamin Cohen was an M.P. and President of the Jewish Board of Guardians. In 1894 he told the annual general meeting of the Board that:
“Jews should make it clear not to endeavour to oppose any action which the responsible advisors to the Crown may deem necessary for the national interests which we are as desirous to protect as our fellow citizens” (quoted by Gartner in The Jewish Immigrant in Britain).
Cohen was created a Baronet in the Resignation Honours of 1905, immediately after voting for the Aliens Act. Harry Samuels, another Jewish M.P., spoke on the same platform as the British Brothers League, at a rally organised by them in the East End which attracted an audience of 4,000 (East London Observer, 18.1.1902). Samuels declared his “intention to discharge his duties as an English citizen”. Also speaking at this meeting was Arnold White—who manifestly regarded Jewish Tory M.P.’s like Samuels, and British trade union militants, such as Tillett, as equal allies in his restrictionist crusade.
Actually, the Jewish establishment did not need the Aliens Act—it was quite prepared to use its own initiative and send Jews back to Russia and to further pogroms. Lionel Alexander, Secretary to the Board of Guardians, told the House of Commons Select Committee on Immigration in 1888 that:
“My Board does not favour unwarranted immigration but ·do their utmost to check it by warnings rather than prohibitions … it is one of our largest operations sending people back who, having wandered here, prove useless”.
In other words, a section of the Jewish leadership was prepared to do the dirty work for the British ruling class and to police the Jewish community as an alternative to legislative control.
Of course some elements of the Jewish bourgeoisie did take a principled opposition to the demand for control and the anti-semitism that stimulated it. However, this was tiny. There were few communal organisations that came out in opposition, and those which did were reluctant and only acted under pressure of the Jewish masses. It took the Jewish Chronicle until a few weeks before the Act became law to recognise the strength of grassroots Jewish opposition and to suggest that it might be amended through a ‘write-in’ campaign to Members of Parliament (Jewish Chronicle, 9.6.1905). Propelled by the activities of Jewish workers, this obviously fell well short of what was required.
The third element in this story is the role of the English working class. This is the concern of the present book. It is undeniable that the working class played an important role in the agitation for controls; it is arguable that without their intervention controls would not have been introduced. Certainly, the campaigning of the organised labour movement and the British Brothers League was far in excess of the demagogy of the bourgeois politicians and their press. It was as though the working class agitation assumed a relative autonomy of its own. Behind this, ‘socialist’ groups such as the S.D.F. and the I.L.P. provided false rationalisations. All this is important today—not least because the present Labour Party was constituted precisely on trade union affiliation and was supported by organisations such as the I.L.P. and the Fabians.
Fascists Reclaim History
At its best, the Left ignores the history of anti-semitism and therefore of imperialism within the labour movement. At its worst, it is even prepared to rewrite history. An example of this is the quaintly titled pamphlet “Zionism … anti-semitism’s twin in Jewish Garb“. by Tony Greenstein and produced by Brighton Labour Briefing (a grouping within Brighton Labour Party). In its opening paragraph it makes the incredible assertion that zionism exploited “the natural hatred of the labour movement for anti-semitism”. It is as though the political agitation by the trade union movement, which was anti-semitic to the core and supported by many socialists, to keep Jews out just did not happen. The labour movement is now claimed to be ‘naturally’ (whatever that means) opposed to anti-semitism.
This ignorance and dishonesty does itself have political consequences. Groupings within the fascist movement today have an acute awareness of the history of early socialism—and embrace this history as their own! For instance there was an article in the National Front magazine, Spearhead, in March 1980 called ‘Nationalism and the Old British Socialists’. This was produced at a time when a faction of the N.F., led by Martin Webster, was arguing that the organisation had to have a working class base with the politics of ‘national socialism’. With justification, this article could claim that such a tradition already existed. Spearhead began by stating:
“Modern socialists who support the so-called ‘Anti Nazi League’ and other anti-racialist organisations would be highly embarrassed to learn of the nationalist and racialist attitudes displayed by many early British socialists”.
The article then praised particular groups and individuals—Robert Blatchford’s Clarion Clubs, the Fabians, the S.D.F., the LL.P. and various trade unionists. Blatchford’s book Merrie England, which combined the demand for import controls with virulent anti-semitism, was said to be
“echoed by the Nationalist Movement which blossomed all over Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s”.
The Fabians, Beatrice Potter and Sydney Webb, were praised for describing Jews in the book Industrial Democracy as a “constant influence for degradation” and George Bernard Shaw for characterising the Jews as
“the real enemy, the invader from the East, the Druze, the ruffian, the oriental parasite” (Morning Post, 13.12.25).
Pete Curran, a leading member of the Gasworkers’ Union and the I.L.P. was approved for advocating controls against Jews. Hyndman of the S.D.F. was claimed as the first National Socialist. The article ends by stating:
“The obvious patriotism and candid racialism of these early socialists is in marked contrast to the attitudes and views held by socialists today. The triumph of internationalism and the changes from an open-minded and well-meaning approach to a mindless religious fanaticism is a reflection of the changing genetic complexion of Socialism’s own advocates”.
Presumably the ‘changing genetic complexion’ means that Jews are now supposedly controlling the Left, as well as everything else. The reality is that anti-semitism still exists today on the Left. One aspect is the refusal even to acknowledge the anti-semitism of much of our own tradition. Unless, as socialists, we undertake this re-evaluation, then we are ideologically powerless to prevent fascists embracing the anti-semitism of our history.