When discussing Jewish people the Left has few remaining surprises. It is possible to guess the sorts of answers, often contradictory, that will be given to the critique of Left anti-semitism made in this pamphlet. One typical argument has already been seen—namely the absurd and insulting proposition that any discussion of anti-semitism is somehow an apologia for zionism. There are, though, other replies that the Left makes with monotonous regularity. These are:-
‘Jews Exaggerate Their Predicament’
Any attempt to uncover anti-semitism is branded as an “obsession” (Big Flame October 1982). This is part of the whole process of denying the significance of anti-semitism. Connected with this is the repeated accusation that Jews are arguing a ‘special case’. We have already seen how this operates, in the sense that Jews are accused of wanting special privileges with respect to preservation of cultural and organisational autonomy, and that it is also used against Jews in the sense that we are accused of considering ourselves the only victims in the world.
Such an attitude goes back at least to the early days of the Second International. For instance at the 1891 International Socialist Conference, the United States Jewish delegation, led by Abraham Cahan, wished the international labour movement to condemn anti-semitism—not an unreasonable request considering the pogroms taking place in Russia. Instead, the Congress adopted a resolution which opposed both anti-semitism and “philo-semitic agitation” (quoted in James Joll—The Second International). The phrase ‘philo-semitic agitation’ is highly significant and needs deciphering. At its best, it implies the identification of capitalism with a few Jewish capitalists—the essential socialism of fools. At its worst, it simply means ‘Jew-Iovers’—the essence of naked fascism. The 1891 conference must be unique in the history of international socialism, in that it is, presumably, the only instance in which friendliness towards any oppressed group was ever condemned by an international socialist body. The Times correctly opined that:
“The resolution in so far as it had any definite bearing on the Jewish question was deprived of any point it ever possessed” (20.8.1891).
Even Justice, the paper of the SDF, admitted that
“There appears to be a strong feeling against the Jews in the Congress” (22.8.1891).
However, in Justice’s own opportunistic, and anti-semitic, tradition it added …
“This is a pity. Even on the grounds of tactics … we need the poor Jews to beat the rich Jews”.
Again in the last two thirds of this century it has been a frequent tactic to point out that it was not only Jews who were killed by the Nazis—the implication being that Jews consider they are the only victims of fascism. For example at a conference, organised in 1936 by the Labour Party against fascism, Hugh Oalton stated that there had been
” … excessive emphasis upon the fate of Jews in Germany—let us not forget the vast mass of gentile trade unionists, socialists and pacifists who have been subjected to atrocity and murder … Many millions of the best and purest Aryans have suffered” (quoted by Gisela Lebzelter in Political Anti-Semitism in England).
Likewise Ed Rosen tells us that Gypsies also perished in the camps (Peace News, 21.3.80). Well, as Jews and as Socialists, we are well aware of the numbers and range of Nazi victims. All human life is of equal validity. However, it is also necessary to express the strongest possible disgust with those who deliberately invoke the sufferings of others in order to deny the extent of anti-semitism … including their own anti-semitism. It is a constant ploy of anti-semites first to victimise Jews and then to stigmatise Jews for ‘wailing’ and ‘playing the victim’. Members of the Foreign Office, in refusing to help Jews trapped in Europe during World War Two, came out with such remarks as:
“One notable tendency in Jewish reports on this problem is to exaggerate the numbers of deportations and deaths” (quoted in Britain and the Jews of Europe by Bernard Wasserstein).
So it is yet another double-bind for Jews: dare to cry out when you are being victimised and you will be accused of playing the victim, or else remain silent and be accused of being sheep led passively to slaughter.
‘There Are Jews on the Left’
Many of the individuals criticised here and many members of the organisations criticised here are … Jewish. So Big Flame attempts to answer criticisms of its anti-semitism by asserting that its editorial board “comprises both Jews and non-Jews” (December 1982). However, this is tokenistic and naive if it is meant to ‘prove’ that Big Flame is not capable of anti-semitism. Obviously Jews, like everyone else, can internalise their own oppression. This, at one extreme, is what constitutes unconscious anti-semitism. At the other extreme, it is what constitutes the near-conscious self-hatred of Marx. None of this is to blame individual Jews in Big Flame. None of us could possibly claim to have a monopoly of wisdom in such hard circumstances and there are many routes to liberation. However, it is necessary to emphasise the very real existence of anti-semitism so that all of us as Jews have, at some level of consciousness, accepted certain anti-semitic attitudes as ‘natural’ and based on ‘commonsense’.
‘Criticism of Left Anti-Semitism Plays Into the Hands of Anti-Communists’
It will be claimed that this book is in some way echoing the views of the Jewish establishment, which seeks to discredit communism by asserting that the ‘extreme Left’ is exactly the same as the ‘extreme Right’ as both are anti-semitic. However such a claim is evasive, in that it does absolutely nothing to explain the substance and persistence of the examples of Left anti-semitism that we have quoted. It simply refuses to look at them.
Likewise, it may well be claimed that focusing on the anti-semitism of the Left only serves to draw attention away from the ‘real’ enemy—the fascist and Thatcherite Right. Again such a response is trivial, as it simply avoids acknowledging genuine ideological weaknesses on the Left. It is bizarre to expect that a socialist movement which so readily accepts anti-semitism could possible face up to the present offensive by the ‘new Right’, an offensive that will invoke anti-semitism more and more. Behind all this is an extremely dangerous assumption—namely that historical and contemporary truths should be suppressed in order to avoid further weakening the Left. Such an approach has its roots in the Stalinist tradition of fabrication. The anti-communism of the Jewish establishment and the dangers from the British Right are perfectly obvious. This is why it is necessary to struggle against reactionary ideas both inside and outside the Jewish community.
At the same time, are those of us who are socialists and conscious of our Jewish identity supposed to make concessions to anti-semitism on the Left? Are we supposed to be grateful that the Left has not got a conscious policy of genocide? Is it supposed to make us feel any better that its anti-semitism often operates on a crass, unaware level? If Left anti-semitism is not as ‘bad’ as Right anti-semitism … then what perverse criterion should we be using as Jews and as socialists to convince ourselves of this? Would anyone seriously expect women and black people to stop challenging the Left whenever it operates on sexist and/or racist assumptions?
Moreover, the difference between ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ is genuinely problematic. It certainly cannot be taken for granted—no more in relation to Jews than with respect to any other matter of social or political life. It would seem absurd to describe Stalinism as ‘Left-wing’ even though historically it arose within the Bolshevik party. Similarly it is quite absurd to regard the distinction between Left and Right as self-explanatory in a situation where, for example, the National Front can claim the anti-semitism of the early socialist tradition as its own, and where Socialist Worker can print an anti-semitic letter from a known fascist. To define ‘Left-wing’ in some amorphous way as being ‘the struggle against all oppression’ is circular and apologetic, given the reality of the anti-semitism of so much Left practice.
Analysis of the Left/Right problematic in relation to anti-semitism does reveal two important differences. Firstly, anti-semitism is intrinsic to Right-wing ideology along with all other forms of reactionary ideas. The ultimate in Right-wing ideology, Nazism, can probably be reduced to anti-semitism. This is, of course, why it is so ironic that the Jewish establishment is constantly moving towards the Right. On the other hand anti-semitism is certainly not intrinsic to the concept of socialism or communism. Otherwise socialists would never struggle against anti-semitism whereas they actually do … on occasion. Indeed it would be grotesque to suggest, as members of the Jewish Board of Deputies never tire of suggesting, that the entire practice of the Left, on whatever issue, can be seen as expressions of anti-semitism.
The second distinction between anti-semitism on the Right and that on the Left exists on the level of consciousness. Anti-semitism operates on a more or less conscious level on the Right. Historically, there have been periods when anti-semitism has operated on a fairly conscious level on the Left—for instance in England at the time of the Aliens Act and under Stalinism. However, it is doubtful whether the Left could ever produce anything as conscious and as explicit as The Protocols of Zion. This would mean having expressly to abandon the theory of class struggle. In fact today the Left, at least outside Stalinism, seems to be functioning not so much on the basis of consciousness nor even of false-consciousness … but of unconsciousness.
Formally, the Left has a commitment to struggling against anti-Jewishness. The W.R.P., for instance, constantly proclaims its opposition to anti-semitism. Thus in its editorial in Newsline referring to ‘The Money Programme’, it stated in bold type:
“The Tories know too that they have a powerful anti-semitic trump-card up their sleeve to replay once again as the most reactionary manifestation of racialism, which is anti-semitism” (9.4.83).
At least this acknowledges the existence and obscene nature of anti-semitism, even though it still perceives it as a political tool rather than having an existence in everyday life. There is no reason to believe that the W.R.P., as an organisation, is not sincere in what it sees as its commitment to fight anti-semitism, and there is no reason to believe that any individual in the W.R.P. is a conscious anti-semite. Unfortunately the anti-semitism of the W.R.P. takes place on an apparently unconscious level. If the W.R.P. took time to consider, it would, hopefully, see that an editorial which claims that a B.B.C. programme was “zionist sponsored” and then goes on to remark that the new chairperson of the B.B.C.is a director of the Jewish Chronicle can only lead to one conclusion in its readers’ minds, namely that the B.B.C. is itself zionist sponsored—i.e. controlled by zionists. Indeed in the absence of even a mention of the politics of the Jewish Chronicle (a journal whose politics no socialist would wish to defend but which, albeit occasionally, has printed articles critical of zionism), the obvious conclusion is that the B.B.C. is ‘Jew sponsored’. Any group which claims to be against anti-semitism should be ultra-vigilant in the imagery it evokes—particularly when it also introduces irrelevant information about the financial interests of individual zionists. Actually, this lack of awareness is both ironic and frightening. The assumption is supposed to be that it is the Left and not the Right which operates on the level of consciousness—at least a consciousness of what it is saying. In relation to anti-semitism it often appears the other way around. Moreover, though it would help marginally, it is ultimately inadequate to argue that all the Left should do is to exercise greater ‘editorial vigilance’. It first has to develop a consciousness of the anti-semitism against which it has to be vigilant—starting with its own. It is a tragedy that a movement based on the theory of consciousness has diverged so far from it in its own practice.
‘Anti-Semitism Is A Series of “Mistakes”
Many people will wish to face up to the existence of Left anti-semitism. However, they will be confronted by an argument based on a crude empiricism, which claims that instances of Left anti-semitism, though undoubtedly reactionary, are simply ‘mistakes’ or are ‘merely’ manifestations of false consciousness. In this scenario, socialist practice has generally been exemplary towards Jews, and on the question of anti-semitism, and all that has to be done is to lop away the reactionary ideas that ‘occasionally’ still crop up. After all—it will be claimed—even socialists are not perfect. This last claim, which is undoubtedly correct, is really based on the assumption that what is required is simply more ‘vigilance’.
Now it is, fortunately, true that there does exist an alternative socialist tradition which has consciously refrained from anti-semitic positions or even opposed anti-semitism and which, in some instances, has even taken a positive attitude towards Jewish culture.
Engels in his famous Anti-Dühring attacked Dühring for, amongst other matters, his rabid Judeophobia—as witnessed by Dühring’s statement that “socialism is the only power which can oppose population conditions with a strong Jewish admixture”. Similarly Lenin, in spite of his reactionary advocacy of Jewish assimilation, took a totally principled position against pogroms of any sort. For instance, in a decree of July 1918 signed by Lenin it was stated that
“The Council of People’s Commissars instructs all Soviet Deputies to take uncompromising measures to tear the anti-semitic movement out by the roots. Pogromists and pogrom agitators are to be placed outside the law” (quoted by Hyman Lumer—Lenin on the Jewish Question).
Again the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S.A. campaigned in the late 1930s against the immigration quota imposed on Jewish refugees from Europe by the U.S. government (Socialist Appeal 29.10.38)—though the Fourth International, to which it was affiliated was in favour of total control of Jews going into Palestine. Trotsky himself seems to have developed an extremely enlightened attitude towards Jews—indeed an attitude which was extraordinary, when compared with that of other revolutionary Marxists. In an interview he gave in 1937 to a Jewish paper in Mexico, he effectively attacked crude assimilationism by stating that:
“The Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument adapted to modern culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come”.
In an article—Thermidor and Anti-Semitism—published in 1941, he acknowledged that a revolution does not immediately or inevitably dissolve anti-semitism and that it can even provoke it as:
“History has never yet seen an example where the reaction following the revolutionary upsurge was not accompanied by the most unbridled chauvinistic passions, anti-semitism amongst them”.
Interestingly, this led him, a confirmed anti-zionist, into envisaging the need for a Jewish state after a world revolution! (all quotations from Trotsky’s writings On The Jewish Question by Pathfinder Press).
There has also been in this country at least one socialist organisation which took a principled position on everything Jewish—from opposing anti-semitism to refusing to define Jews negatively and only in terms of anti-semitism. This was the Socialist League in the last century. The League, as has been mentioned, through its activities and through its journal Commonweal consistently opposed the agitation for Jewish immigration control. At the same time, it explicitly denounced all anti-semitic imagery of Jews, opposed chauvinistic notions that Jewish workers were in competition with British workers, and preached unity and internationalism. The League regularly publicised, and actively involved itself in, the emergent Jewish labour movement in London, Leeds and Manchester. The League had particularly good relations with the important Jewish anarchist movement in London’s East End—with whom Peter Kropotkin also identified and worked. On top of all this it is important to remember that countless socialists fought before and during the war, not simply against fascism but also with a consciousness of a struggle against anti-semitism.
All the above instances are worth recording. However, the following has to be said to put them into perspective:-
Struggling against anti-semitism is the bare minimum requirement for a correct socialist practice in relation to Jewish people—but this is just the negative side. What is also necessary is a recognition of the positive aspects of Jewish culture, tradition, history and aspirations.
Moreover, even when the Left has organised against anti-semitism, this has often been in spite of itself and because of the pressures put on it by its Jewish members. Examples of this have already been seen in relation to the Aliens Act. Perhaps the most vivid illustration of the pressure of Jewish socialists on their own organisations concerns the ‘battle of Cable Street’ in October 1936, when the Mosleyites were physically prevented from marching through London’s East End. The Communist Party has, in its own mythology, always taken credit for this as an almost single-handed operation. However, as Joe Jacobs, a Party activist at that time, shows in his autobiography, Out of the Ghetto, the Party at first argued against going to Cable Street. It was only pressure by its, mainly Jewish, Stepney Branch and by the militant Jewish People’s Council which forced the Party to mobilise against the fascists, thus compelling them to make a complete volte-face two days before the march.
Finally, the citing of relatively favourable attitudes on the Left towards Jews only touches on one particular issue. This is the relative weight of the anti-semitic tradition within the Left. It does not explain the existence of that tradition. Instead, it assumes that Left anti-semitism can be viewed in some vulgar pragmatic way as a series of ‘mistakes’. This is an expiricism which denies the persistence of anti-semitism on the Left and does nothing to explain its cause. It starts with the ‘imperfection’ of individual socialists who have been corrupted in some way by bourgeois ideology and ends up simply by calling for ‘greater vigilance’. In fact, it does nothing at all to resolve the essential question of methodology. The obsessive insistence on highlighting examples of good socialist practice in relation to Jews, is an attempt to avoid bringing out into the daylight the distinct pattern which lies behind Left anti-semitism—namely the theory of the world Jewish conspiracy.
Of course, in an important sense, it is true that the existence of this pattern, this methodology, represents the penetration of the working class movement and its socialist ideologues, not only by bourgeois but also by feudal and pre-feudal ideology. It is a question of false consciousness. However, it is simply insufficient to state this without defining precisely what ‘consciousness’ it is that is false. This consciousness is the theory of world Jewish domination.
Avoiding looking at how the conspiracy theory has entered the Left means either denying the existence of Left anti-semitism, or viewing it as a series of unrelated and unexplained examples. It is absurd to regard the illustrations presented in this pamphlet—for instance the notion peddled by the S.D.F. that ‘Jew moneylenders now control every foreign office in Europe’—as being simply ‘mistakes’ by ‘psychologically imperfect individuals’. Rather we are dealing here with the reactionary politics of mass psychology which does not just exist as an individual phenomenon. The Left also shares this mass psychology.
Inevitably this empirical approach to (mis)understanding Left anti-semitism is the exact mirror image of the empiricism with which bourgeois historians treat the whole of anti-semitism. According to much bourgeois historiography, anti-semitism is simply a string of ‘false accusations’—Jews ritually kill Christian children, Jews poison wells, Jews desecrate the host, Jews are usurers, etc. etc. Such an analysis again totally avoids the question of how such ‘false accusations’ arose in the first place and how they fit within the context of the conspiracy theory. It does not attempt to locate the underlying ideology which unites them and which gave rise to their existence. Like all empirical philosophy, it is concerned with appearance-the use of particular anti-semitic imagery-rather than with essence.
Moreover by seeing anti-semitism as nothing more than a series of ‘mistakes’ which need to be ‘corrected’ by rational argument, this empiricism also reveals a compartmentalised and over-rational approach to consciousness. It believes that anti-semitism can be overcome by pin-pointing certain ‘mistaken ideas’—e.g. Jews ritually kill Christian children—held by particular individuals and then by explaining the ‘truth’—e.g. Jews don’t ritually kill Christian children. Such transparent nonsense totally fails to understand the theory of a world conspiracy that underlies and sustains all anti-semitism, the history of this theory (which stretches back to the early days of the Christian church), and the mass psychology which gives it its political strength.
None of this can be overcome by a process of individual re-education, as it is not simply an individual problem. Nor can it be overcome by a rational presentation of facts—as the last thing anti-semitism is about is rationality. This emphasis on individualism and rationalism is the hallmark of liberalism. Unfortunately it has a dangerous pedigree as far as an attempt to resist anti-semitism is concerned. In the 1930s, the Jewish Board of Deputies argued against confrontation with the fascists, and instead employed researchers to investigate and publicise the ‘real’ contribution that Jewish people had made to humanity. Indeed this is still the position of the Deputies today. Moreover, in the 1930s it was also the official stance of the Labour Party to invoke an appeal to ‘facts’ to refute fascist assertions about Jews (see essay by Caroline Knowles in Racism edited by Robert Miles). This belief that a liberal rationalism can somehow defeat a negative irrationalism, somewhat in the manner of the collapse of the walls of Jericho, avoids facing up to the need for a political struggle against anti-semitism. Such a struggle will inevitably have to take place on the level of emotionality as well as intellectuality. It will have to defeat the mass psychology of fascism and anti-semitism.