The Labour left needs to start giving as good at it gets from its enemies or it will lose, argues Lindsey German
It beggars belief that in the week where Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt vie to promise more defence spending, tax cuts for the rich and continued underfunding of all our public services, Labour is yet again mired in a row about racism. The latest allegations of antisemitism, we should be clear, are not new. Instead, they are now much more focussed not on individual cases, which Labour’s leadership has consistently shown are relatively few, but on what is described as the culture of the party.
The argument now goes that Jeremy Corbyn’s winning of the leadership in 2015 opened the gates of the party to a layer of leftists whose world view is antisemitic. We are told that there is a common left view which ascribes the ills of capitalism to control of the system by Jews and that this leads to current Labour party antisemitism.
Having been a member of the organised left for close to 50 years, I find this picture unrecognisable. I’m not saying that particular cases do not exist, but no one that I have worked with in any capacity, that I have come across in the many campaigns I have fought, that I have met in trade union meetings, has articulated anything like this. If they had done, those socialists in the room would have called them out for racist stereotyping.
Indeed the view held by the far left in general is that the capitalist system is not a conspiracy but an organised means of exploitation of, to coin a phrase, the many by the few. Capitalists come from all races and religions, and some, although relatively few of them, are Jews. The vast majority of Jews, however, suffer exploitation as well as their oppression as Jews.
The Marxist left in particular has an analysis which puts the system, not individuals, at the heart of this process. Karl Marx (himself a Jew) even talks about the alienation which affects individual capitalists as a result of this process. Many of the greatest proponents of these ideas, including Luxemburg and Trotsky, were also Jews.
So this is a caricature and a calumny. We should also be clear what is behind it: this is a political attack, and has to be dealt with as such. Antisemitism is being weaponised by Labour’s right, by the Tories and the media, in order to land blows on their political opponents, and that is a shameful use of the threat of a very serious form of racism.
Antisemitism exists in the Labour Party and needs to be dealt with (ironically much of the slowness in all this predated the tenure of Jennie Formby). But it needs to be put in perspective and not to be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn who has a lifelong record of anti-racism, including opposing racism against Jews. However, since in particular the attack by Margaret Hodge on Corbyn last year, any such perspective has been abandoned.
The Panorama programme was a case in point. This was a programme put together by enemies of Corbyn and the left and featured their testimony very heavily. The anonymous Jewish witnesses it turns out were not random but were drawn largely from present or former executive members of the Jewish Labour movement, something which the programme failed to acknowledge. They included Stephane Savary (JLM joint National Vice-Chair), Joe Goldberg (JLM joint National Vice-Chair), Izzy Lenga (JLM International Officer), Alex Richardson (JLM Membership Officer), Ella Rose (JLM Equalities Officer, former National Director), Rebecca Filer (JLM Political Education Officer), Joshua Garfield (JLM Local Government Officer) and Adam Langleben (ex JLM Campaigns Officer).
It is quite astonishing that this group of highly motivated people should be allowed anonymity in this way, creating a quite different impression than if they had been identified. Given the JLM’s record in working very closely with the Israeli embassy and its hostility to Corbyn, this was surely a failure to report accurately. So too was the doctoring of emails to make them appear to say the opposite of what they actually did, as in the case of one by Seumas Milne.
The crew of Labour right wingers who endorsed every last minute of the programme on Twitter speaks volumes. Their leader in all this is Tom Watson who never seems to be out of Broadcasting House and who uses every appearance to attack Corbyn. Watson represents little outside the PLP and would almost certainly lose an election if he put his money where his mouth is and stood again for deputy. It is way past time for a challenge to this arrogant backstabber.
I have always been hesitant about the tactic of reselection of MPs, because it has often backfired in the past. But really I see no alternative to the members challenging MPs who constantly attack the leadership and refuse to listen or make any compromise.
Accommodating these people hasn’t worked, so it’s time to replace them with people who respect the leadership and the membership.
Referendum won’t get easier the second time around
All the talk is of an election in the autumn. It’s very likely and won’t be easy for Labour, but nonetheless, we have to prepare to fight for a Labour government. The antisemitism accusations in my opinion do not always play well outside Westminster – lots of people can see they are politically motivated, so I don’t think they will materially affect the outcome. What may do is the mistaken decision of Labour to back a second referendum, which has caused a lot of anger even among those who voted Remain because they either think it does not respect the referendum vote or that it will lead to vote losses in many areas, plus very few gains from other parties.
The danger here is that Labour voters abstain or vote Brexit, which many of them did in the Euros. There’s an awful and patronising form of triangulation which assumes Labour voters in the north or south Wales will carry on voting for the party as long as it makes promises on austerity. This grossly underestimates the sense of anger and betrayals felt over the decision.
It is near impossible, it seems to me, to make clear predictions about a general election result, given the turmoil of British politics at the moment. But the people most cheered by Labour’s decision on Tuesday were Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Which can never be a good outcome.
Part of Labour preparing for a general election means fighting much more upfront to get its ideas into the mainstream, where they tend to be very popular. That in turn requires going on the offensive by the leadership, getting out into the communities as Jeremy Corbyn did in Durham on Saturday. It also requires taking a much tougher line with those supposedly on Labour’s side who do nothing but attack the leadership in regular tours of the television studios. We have seen the failure of Change UK or whatever its latest incarnation is. If these right-wing MPs don’t want to end up in the same place, they need to get behind the current leadership or at the very least treat us to a period of welcome silence about their views.
Pirates of the Mediterranean
So the latest leaks of departed ambassador Kim Darroch’s cables about Donald Trump argue that he scrapped the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) to spite his predecessor, Barack Obama. How much this is true – and it obviously is to some extent – and how much it is part of his aim of weakening Iran as a power in the Middle East, it is hard to tell. Since then a combination of ever-increasing sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil industry and a series of incidents around the Strait of Hormuz, which borders Iran and through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes, have increased tensions.
Two weeks ago this situation was escalated by the US and UK, when an Iranian oil tanker was seized in Gibraltar by Royal Marines, in an act of piracy quite breathtaking in its audacity. This has led to further conflict in the Gulf itself, where British oil tankers now need military escorts through the Strait.
Now Iran has announced that it is resuming nuclear activities that it agreed to suspend under the JCPOA. It is no longer capping uranium enrichment levels to 3.67%, and will enrich it to 4.5%. Iran also promises further reduction of its commitments in the next two months. This of course puts in in breach of the agreement, while the US continues to flout it with impunity.
The two candidates for Tory leadership predictably have used their election platforms to call for more warships and more military spending. With Trump in the White House and a subservient Johnson in Downing Street, we should be opposed to any of these incidents being used to further escalate the tensions. This is how wars start.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military
- The left’s Trump card – weekly briefing