Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx’

The Rights’ Conflation of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism and the Erasure of Left-Wing Jewish History

March 19, 2019

Just as the Jewish Chronicle may have itself been guilty of anti-Semitism by denying that one of the signatories to the letter of support for Corbyn and the Labour party sent to the Sunday Times, so other members of the right may also be aiding anti-Semitism by their repeated use of the conspiracy theory that the Jews are the real force behind capitalism.

Three days ago, on 16th March 2019, David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, an ardent campaigner himself against racism, anti-Semitism and thus Zionism, put up on his blog an article discussing this very point, which had been published that day in the Morning Star. He began by commenting on the statement by Blairite Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh to John Humphrys on Radio 4 that ‘anti-capitalist politics are at the root of anti-Semitism’. Rosenberg states that it’s an appalling slur against everyone fighting against the poverty and inequality of Tory Britain, but it also revealed that the Right, even those, who think they are pro-Jewish, still believe anti-Semitic stereotypes, as McDonagh obviously thinks that Jews are rich capitalists.

He goes on to discuss how this is at the heart of the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that sees the Jews as using their wealth to control the banks and governments. A theory that was pushed by Henry Ford, an Episcopalian Christian and founder of the car manufacturer that bears his name, in his paper the Dearborn Independent. Ford believed that the Jews caused World War I, and published the infamous Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And someone else who believed this poisonous nonsense, and was Ford’s biggest fan in Europe, was one A. Hitler.

Rosenberg goes on to discuss how there are Jews, who identify the Jewish community with capitalism, banking and property and so accuse the anti-capitalist left as anti-Semites. He then cites Richard Mather, who claimed in an article in the Jerusalem Post that ‘the Labour party’s call for the seizure of property’ was part of ‘anti-Semitic class warfare’, and pieces written by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, and one of his journos, Alex Brummer, who both claimed that Corbyn was an anti-Semitic threat to Jewish capitalists, with Pollard harking back to Corbyn’s attack on the bankers that caused the financial crash ten years ago. Rosenberg tweeted in response to this nonsense that of Pollard and Corbyn, one of them thought all bankers were Jews. And it wasn’t Corbyn.

Rosenberg goes on to say that

In my 61 years I’ve never met a Jewish banker. I’ve met unemployed Jews, Jewish decorators, post-office workers, van drivers, taxi drivers, shopworkers, social workers, secretaries, teachers, pharmacists, and several comedians.

He reinforces this point by describing how Arnold Brown, a Jewish comedian, who came from a poor background in Glasgow, tore up the floorboards at his home one day after the other schoolkids told him that all Jews were rich. He also makes the point that the racist Right use the stereotype of the rich Jewish capitalist to divert popular anger away from capitalism to particular Jewish figures, who are supposed to be responsible for its ills, such as Rothschild and Goldman Sachs to George Soros today, demonised by Trump and a slew of extreme right-wing regimes because he funds agencies for migrants and refugees and anti-government demonstrations.

But he also makes the point that this stereotype also erases the strong history of Jewish left-wing anti-capitalist activism, writing

When McDonagh, Mather and Pollard repeat stereotypes of Jews as capitalists, they not only feed these conspiracy theories, but also erase an outstanding tradition of Jewish anti-capitalism. People know the famous Jewish revolutionaries, like Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemberg, Emma Goldman, but it was in mass Jewish workers’ movements such as the Bund, and among the Jews so numerous in socialist and communist parties over the last 120 years, that anti-capitalism was ingrained. In 1902, a Russian Jewish bookbinder, Semyon Ansky, wrote a Yiddish song to honour the Bund’s struggles for social justice. The movement adopted it as its anthem. One powerful verse translates as:

“We swear to the heavens a bloody hatred against those who murder and rob the working class. The Tsar, the rulers, the capitalists – we swear that they will all be devastated and destroyed. An oath, an oath, of life and death.”

He goes on to say that he is going that day to march and speak with the Jewish Socialist Group on a national demonstration in London against racism and Fascism, including the anti-Semitism that is rising in central and eastern Europe and Trump’s America with the Pittsburgh shooting.  He concludes

At street level, far right organisations concentrate physical attacks more frequently on Muslims, Roma, migrants and refugees, but when they want to explain to their supporters who they believe holds power in the world they fall back on Jewish conspiracy theories as surely today as they did in the 1930s. The fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant propaganda are absolutely linked and we must combat them together.

See: https://rebellion602.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/the-anti-antisemitism-that-actually-promotes-jew-hating/

Absolutely. Rosenberg’s blog is particularly fascinating for the pieces he publishes about the Bund, the socialist party of the eastern European masses in the Russian Empire. It’s a history that I doubt many non-Jews know about, as the Yiddish-speaking communities the Bund represented were murdered by the Nazis. If people outside the Jewish community know about it at all, it’s probably because of the movement’s connection to the Russian Socialist movement. The Bund were, with the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, part of the Russian Social Democratic Party, the parent organisation of the Russian Communists. It was their withdrawal from the party conference in 1909, when Lenin demanded that there should be no separate organisation for Jewish socialists, that made the Bolsheviks the majority faction and gave them their name, from ‘Bolshe’, the Russian word for bigger.

But the articles by David Rosenberg and other left-wing Jewish bloggers and vloggers reveal a rich, lost history of Jewish anti-capitalist struggle. One of the remarkable consequences of the anti-Semitism smears is that this history is being rediscovered and brought to public attention as Jewish Marxists and socialists refute these smears. Jon Pullman’s film, The Witchhunt, attacking these smears and particularly the libelous hounding of Jackie Walker, includes a brief mention of the Bund, including black and white footage of their demonstrations and banners. If Channel 4 had kept to its original charter as an alternative BBC 2, the Bund and its legacy would be a very suitable subject for a documentary. It could also easily be screened on BBC 4. But I doubt that this will ever happen because the stereotype of the rich Jew is too important a weapon against the anti-capitalist left for it to be refuted by such a thing as actual history.

And if left-wing Jewish history, like that of the Bund, is being forgotten, some contemporary works on the Jewish community may inadvertently reinforce the stereotype of the rich Jew. Back in the 1990s an aunt gave me a book about the Jewish community in Britain, The Club. It was a mainstream book by a very respectable mainstream publisher, but from what I can remember about it, it was about the elite section of British Jewish society, the top 100. I think it was written from an entirely praiseworthy standpoint – to celebrate Jewish achievement, and to how how integrated and indeed integral Jews were to British society and culture. But books like it can give an unbalanced picture of Jewish society in Britain by concentrating on the immensely wealthy and successful, and ignoring the ordinary Jewish folk, who live, work and whose kids go to school and uni with the rest of us, and whose working people marched in solidarity with us.

It’s fascinating and necessary that the history of Jewish socialism is being rediscovered, and that activists in the Bund’s tradition, like Rosenberg, continue to write, demonstrate and blog against racism and anti-Semitism as part of the real struggle by working people.

 

 

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Comedian Alexei Sayle on the Forces Ranged Against Jeremy Corbyn

March 3, 2019

This is another video from Labour Against the Witchhunt, the group formed to defend the victims of the mass smear campaign against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party. The video was posted on YouTube on 2nd June 2018, and as Sayle says that he is there to support Marc Wadworth, my guess is that it was recorded as part of the tour Marc Wadsworth did of various cities up and down the country exposing the injustice of his own smearing and expulsion from Labour. Ruth Smeeth accused him of anti-Semitism, because he embarrassed her passing information on to a Torygraph journalist at a press conference. As Wadworth is a veteran campaigner against racism and anti-Semitism, who got Stephen Lawrence’s parents to meet Nelson Mandela and worked with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the ’90s when the BNP were beating up Jews once again in the east end of London, the charge is risible and obnoxious. But this didn’t stop the press, media and Blairites baying it at every opportunity.

Some of us of a certain vintage remember Sayle as the bald, sweary bloke, who was one of the leaders of Alternative Comedy that came out of the Comedy Store in the 1980s, along with Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, French and Saunders, and Ben Elton. They were an iconoclastic attack on the old style of comedy – anarchic and ‘politically correct’. They firmly rejected the racism and sexism that was part of the ’70s comedy scene. Sayle appeared in the groundbreaking sitcom, The Young Ones, as the heroes’ landlord, and later had his own show on BBC 2. He also did a car advert in which he sang ‘Ello, John, got a new motor?’ until you were heartily sick of it, but the less said about that the better.

He starts by talking about the forces ranged against Corbyn – Capita, neo-liberalism, and fanatical supporters of the state of Israel, for whom it is a fight to the death, and will do anything, to stop the prospect of someone, who prioritises the plight of the Palestinians, of the oppressed than the oppressor, leading a western nation. He says they will lie, cheat and do anything to stop that, and one of the people, who has been sacrificed, who he wanted to speak up for, was Marc Wadsworth.

He then says that perhaps the audience knows the Labour party better than he does, perhaps there’s a plan there. But if it was him, he’d just tell the Board of Deputies to f**k themselves. ‘Not a sophisticated response, but I dunno’. He speculates whether there is a plan to appease them, and wonders if it will work. He then talks about how he was busy with work a couple of weeks previously. It was the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. (Sayle’s parents where Jewish Romanian Communists, who settled in Liverpool, and much of Sayle’s comedy is about Marxism and the Russian Revolution. He once did a radio series about a football team, which was fable about the Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik revolution). However, the previous October was the centenary of the Russian Revolution. He expected to be busy with work then, and told his agent to block out all of October. However, nothing happened. But he was able to get a gig speaking at the British Library. He goes on to explain that the history of the Soviet Union has a bit of a blemish when you’re talking about Marxism. Some people would disagree. His own mother would never admit there was anything wrong with the Soviet project. The most she would says was, Mistakes were made’. Or as she would say, ‘You can’t make an omelette without murdering 40 million people’.

He goes on to say that the spirit – the purity of spirit – of the Russian Revolution was crushed when the Kronstadt uprising was put down, the sailors, who were asking for a return to the basic principles of Bolshevism, of the Revolution. He goes on

‘It seems to me a tremendous danger that if you concede, if you start to mess with the basic principles of who you are, if you start to make concessions to people like Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting, and these people. And if you start to self-harm in the hope of future gain, you are fundamentally undermining what you are about.’

Wise words indeed, as we have seen this week when the party has decided to suspend Chris Williamson for daring to defend the smeared innocent against their accusers.

Watson Intriguing Again After Splitters’ Departure, Stoking Anti-Semitism Witch-Hunt

February 26, 2019

After the departure of the nine Labour splitters, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party, is up to his old tricks again trying to undermine Corbyn. Watson to my mind looks like the American comedian Greg Proops, but without any of Proops’ wit, personality or charisma. He’s a Blairite, who is now trying to use the splitters’ departure to try to get his old chums back onto the front bench, develop a separate back bench power base, and then purge Corbyn’s supporters on the pretext that they’re anti-Semites.

Watson was on the Andrew Marr show to peddle his malign views on Sunday. He claimed that he had received 50 complaints of anti-Semitic abuse from MPs, and that he had passed them on to Corbyn. Now today I read in the Metro that he was demanding to be allowed to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism as well as the party secretary, Jenny Formby, because Formby allegedly wasn’t dealing with them quickly enough.

Yesterdays I, for Monday, 25th February 2019, quoted Watson as saying

‘I think he [Corbyn] needs to take a personal lead on examining those cases and, if necessary, recommend to our [ruling body]NEC what has to be done.

‘The test for him as a leader is to eradicate anti-Semitism. It is not Labour party members, who will be the judge of that, it is the British Jewish community.’

He also demanded a reshuffle of the front bench to represent a greater range of views, saying

If there isn’t one, I think I’d need to give a platform for my colleagues who want their ideas to be listened to by the current Shadow Cabinet’.

The I’s report about his intention to set up a back-bench group of MPs, ‘Splintering: Deputy leader to set up backbench group’, runs as follows

A new grouping of Labour MPs who are disillusioned with the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn is being set up by his deputy Tom Watson.

Its launch, which is expected within a fortnight, is aimed at preventing the trickle of defections of MPs to The Independent Group from becoming a flood.

But the faction will also inevitably be seen as a rival power based to Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. I understands that organisers hope to attract more than 100 backbenchers into the group, which will appoint spokespeople and work on policy initiatives.

Meetings will be held within days to gauge the level of support for the group.

‘We need to assert ourselves more than we have done in the last two years,’ said one MP.

Mr Watson said he wanted to ‘give a platform’ to Labour MPs who felt excluded by the leadership.

‘My central point is that the social democratic voice has to be heard, because that is the only way you keep the Labour party unified and prohibit other colleagues from potentially leaving the PLP_ [Parliamentary Labour Party]. The situation is serious,’ he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Of course, Watson denies he is rebelling. The previous article in the I quoted him as saying that he was ‘standing up for pluralism in the party’.

This is just lies and doubletalk. Watson and the 100 MPs he wants to recruit are obviously Blairites, indignant at being forced out of power. They’ve been intriguing against the Labour leader ever since he came to power. They’ve threatened to leave several times before, just as they’ve tried to oust him as leader. But Corbyn is genuinely popular with the Labour grassroots activists, and his policies are immensely popular with the public. Which puts Watson and his fellow plotters in an awkward position: no-one wants their shoddy, mouldy neoliberal economics any longer. People are sick and tired of Labour trying to copy to the Tories as Blair and his coterie did. And the Blairites themselves were a small minority within the party. They dominated it because they seized control of party bureaucracy, just as Stalin and his supporters were able to seize control of the Communist apparat in the former Soviet Union. These backbench MPs may claim to be defending a plurality of views, but they only views they’re interested in defending and promoting are their own. Not Corbyn’s, and not anyone else’s in the party.

As for claiming to be Social Democrats, this is a sick joke. The Social Democratic tendency in the Labour party was the creation of Anthony Crosland. Crosland didn’t want further nationalisation, because he felt it was unnecessary. Its benefits, he felt, could be obtained instead through progressive taxation, strong trade unions and social mobility. Well, thanks to Thatcherism, social mobility stopped under Blair. In fact, I think under the Tories it’s even been reversed, so that for the first time since the late 19th century Marx’s statement that the middle class are being forced down into the working class is true, at least as far as middle class poverty goes. Similarly, Blair, as a Thatcherite, hated the trade unions and passed legislation aimed at destroying their power. With their acquiescence, it should be said. As for progressive taxation, they’re against that as well. Aaron Bastani quoted an interview in last week’s New Scientist with Chris Leslie in his article on the corrupt, compromised policies of the Independent Group. Leslie had said that he was not in favour of a 50 per cent tax rate. This was the tax rate set by Gordon Brown. And I don’t doubt Leslie was alone. My guess is that a number of the Blairites, who still remain in the Labour party, have the same noxious views.

Watson and the other Blarites aren’t Social Democrats: they’re Red Tories, Thatcherites. Any other description of them is a lie.

As for the anti-Semitism allegations, my guess is that it’s just more smears of people supporting Corbyn and standing up for the Palestinians. And when Watson says that Labour will be judged by the Jewish community, he’s not talking about the Jewish community as a whole. He’s talking about the Tory, Zionist Jewish establishment. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is monstrously right-wing and which is an explicitly Zionist organisation. An organisation which is morally corrupt and deeply compromised. How else can you describe an organisation which issued nauseating, spurious justifications for the IDF shooting unarmed Gazans last year? Which excludes Orthodox and secular Jews? And which howled with rage when Corbyn spent a Pesach (Passover) seder with the socialists of Jewdas, and claimed this was an insult to the Jewish community?

And the same is to be said about the Chief Rabbinate. The former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, caused shock and outrage when he called Reform Jews ‘enemies of the faith’, like a medieval inquisitor about to launch an auto-da-fe against heretics and Jews. He also considered homosexuality to be a terrible sin and warned his congregation not to join a gay rights march, until he later changed his mind, that is. And he led a contingent of Jewish British thugs to Israel to join the March of the Flags. That’s the day when Israeli ultra-nationalists march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem vandalising their homes and businesses and threatening and intimidating them. I see no difference between it, and Tommy Robinson and his odious crew marching into British Muslim communities, or Mosley and the British Union of Fascists goose-stepping into the Jewish community in the East End in the 1930s. And when the Jewish community held their rallies last summer against Corbyn, organised by the Board and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, those attending including members and supporters of the Fascist organisations Kach, the Jewish Defence League, and the English Defence League Jewish Division.

Similarly, Watson’s declaration that he wants to assist in dealing with cases of anti-Semitism cases means that he’s unhappy with Formby’s handling of it for other reasons. He wants more Cobynites thrown out through the same spurious reasons that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism and that describing Israeli plotting to determine who should be in the cabinet as a ‘conspiracy’ is the same as reviving the smears on Jews as a whole of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Oh yes, and that showing a photoshopped image of a Jobcentre with the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ on it is another terrible anti-Semitic smear, rather than a justifiable description of the murderous policies of the DWP.

And his demand to decide these cases personally is the precise same tactic Stalin used when he gained power. Before Stalin became leader of the Soviet Communist party, the post of General Secretary was a relatively unimportant position. His comrades thought he was thick, and so gave him the job thinking that he would satisfied purging it of all the drunks and seducers. But as well as getting rid of them, he was also using it to purge his enemies’ supporters and fill it with his own. He’s supposed to have said of the power of elections, ‘It’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes’.

Watson is a typical Blairite. He follows Blair and the others as a destructive neoliberal, who wants absolute obedience to a highly centralised, dictatorial party elite. It is not Corbyn and his supporters who should be thrown out, but him and his.

Two Books By Tony Benn

January 4, 2019

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and their New Year is off to a good start. May the shadow of Theresa May and her wretched Brexit be very far from you!

Yesterday I got through the post two secondhand books I’d ordered from Amazon by that redoubtable warrior for socialism and working people, Tony Benn. These were Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979) and Fighting Back: Speaking Out For Socialism in the Eighties (London: Hutchinson 1988).

The two books differ slightly in that one is written from Benn’s perspective at the end of the ’70s, while the other was written nine years later at the end of the 1980s. In both Benn tackles the problems of the day, and lays out his radical, democratic socialist plans to revitalise the British economy and industry, strengthen and broaden democracy, and empower working people.

The blurb of Arguments for Socialism simply runs

Tony Benn, the most controversial figure in British politics, outlines a strong democratic-socialist approach to the most crucial issues in our political life over the next decade.

It has an introduction, and the following chapters, subdivided into smaller sections on particularly topics. These are

Section 1., ‘The Inheritance’, is composed of the following
The Inheritance of the Labour Movement
Christianity and Socialism
The Bridge between Christianity and Socialism
The Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition
Marxism and the Labour Party
Clause IV
The Labour Movement.

Section 2. ‘Issues of the 1970s’
Labour’s Industrial Programme
The Case for Change
Opening the Books
Planning Agreements and the NEB
Public Ownership
Industrial Democracy
The Upper Clyde Work-In
The Worker’s Co-ops
The Lessons of the Workers’ Co-ops
Democracy in the Public Sector

3. ‘Energy’
North Sea Oil
The Debate over Nuclear Energy
Windscale
The Fast Breeder
A Future for Coal
Alternative Sources of Energy
Conclusion

4 ‘The EEC’
Loss of Political Self-Determination
Loss of Control over the United Kingdom’s Industry and Trade
Unemployment and the EEC
After the Referendum

5. ‘Democracy’
Technology and Democracy
The Case for Open Government
How Secrecy Is Maintained at Present
Leaks and How They Occur
Conclusion

6. ‘Issues for the 1980s’
The Arguments
The Argument in Outline
The Present Crisis of Unemployment
Adam Smith and the Birth Capitalism
Lessons from the Pre-War Slump
Three Remedies on Offer
1. Monetarism
2. Corporatism
3. Democratic Socialism

7. ‘Jobs’
The Pension Funds
New Technology
Growth
The Trade Union Role in Planning
Workers’ Co-ops
A New Relationship between Labour and Capital

8. ‘The Common Market’
Three Criticisms of the EEC

9. Democracy
Open Government
The Unions
The Armed Forces
The Media
A New Role for Political Leaders.

Fighting Back’s blurb runs

With crisis after crisis rocking the country throughout the Eighties, the formation of new parties, divisions with in the old, mergers, reconciliations – British political life is at a watershed.

Tony Benn, in speeches on picket lines, at Conferences at home and abroad, in broadcasts, in the House of Commons, has been a consistently radical campaigning voice: for equal rights, for democracy and for peace against the increasingly brutal politics of monetarism, militarism and self-interest.

Fighting Back brings together for the first time in one volume the best of Tony Benn’s speeches from 1980 to 1988. Few poeple will have heard more than brief snippets of proceedings in the House of Commons given by television, radio and the press, so the most important debates are included here – the Falklands War, Westland helicopters, Fortress Wapping, Zircon and Spycatcher – as well as some lesser known concerns, from the ordination of women, to the politics of singer Paul Robeson.

Throughout the difficult years in Opposition, Tony Benn has played a leading role in defending and regenerating the socialist tradition. But Fighting Back is more than simply a personal testament: it is also an exciting and accessible handbook to the turbulent Eighties, whatever one’s political convictions.

After the introduction, it has the following chapters and subsections:

1. The Stalemate in British Politics
-Fifty Years of Consensus Rule
-The Party and the Government
-From Defeat to Victory
-Parliamentary Democracy and the Labour Movement

2. Prophetic Voices
-Positive Dissent
-Thomas Paine
-Karl Marx
-Paul Robeson
-R.H. Tawney
In Defence of British Dissidents

3. Fighting Back
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (May 1982)
-The Falklands War (December 1982)
-The Miners’ Strike (June 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (September 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (February 1985)
-Gay Rights
-Fortress Wapping (May 1986)
-Fortress Wapping (January 1987)
-The Irish Struggle for Freedom
-After Eniskillen
-Privatisation of Gas
-Legal Reform

4. British Foreign and Defence Policy
-The Case for Non-Alignment
-Who is Our Enemy?
-A New Agenda for the International Labour and Socialist Movements
-Some Facts about Defence
-Towards a Permanent New Forum
-Paying for Apartheid

5. Work and Health in a Green and Pleasant Land
-The Unemployment Tragedy
-Trade Unionism in the Eighties
-Full Employment: the Priority
-The Common Ownership of Land
-The Case Against Nuclear Power
-Nuclear Accidents
-The Nuclear Lobby
-Evidence Against Sizewell B

6. The Arrogance of Power
-The Case of Sir Anthony Blunt
-The Belgrano-Ponting Debate
-Westland Helicopters
-Surcharge and Disqualification of Councillors
-The Ordination of Women
-The Zircon Affair
-Spycatcher
-Protection of Official Information

7. Disestablishing the Establishment
-Power, Parliament and the People
-The Civil Service
-The Crown, the Church and Democratic Politics
-A Moral Crisis
-The Disestablishment of the Church of England
-Television in a Democracy
-Televising the House

8. Light at the End of the Tunnel
-The Radical Tradition: Past, Present and Future
-Staying True to the Workers
-Aims and Objectives of the Labour Party.

The Books and their Times

Arguments for Socialism comes from a time when this country had nationalised industries, strong trade unions and an efficient and effective planning apparatus. It was also when unemployment and discontent were rising, and the country was facing the threat of Thatcher and her monetarist agenda. The speeches and articles in Fighting Back come from when Thatcher had seized power, was busy privatising everything not nailed down, smashing the unions and trying to silence any dissent. This included attempts to prosecute civil servant Clive Ponting for leaking documents showing that the Argentinian warship, the General Belgrano, was actually leaving the Falklands warzone when it was attacked and sunk. Thatcher also banned the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher over here, because of the embarrassing things it had to say about MI5. This turned into a massive farce as the book was widely published elsewhere, like New Zealand, meaning that foreign readers had a better understanding of the British secret state than we Brits did. It was such a ridiculous situation that Private Eye’s Willie Rushton sent it up in a book, Spythatcher.

Benn’s Beliefs on Socialism and Democracy

Benn was genuinely radical. He believed that British socialism was in danger not because it had been too radical, but because it had not been radical enough. He wished to extend nationalisation beyond the utilities that had been taken into public ownership by Attlee, and give working people a real voice in their management through the trade unions. He also fully supported the workers of three firms, who had taken over the running of their companies when management wanted to close them down, and run them as co-ops. On matters of the constitution, he wished to expand democracy by bringing in a Freedom of Information Act, strip the Crown of its remaining constitutional powers and have them invested in parliament instead, and disestablish the Church of England. He also wanted to strip the office of Prime Minister of its powers of patronage and give more to MPs. He was also firmly against the EEC and for CND. Socially, he was on the side of grassroots movements outside parliament, fully embraced gay rights and the ordination of women within the Anglican Church.

Not the Maniac He was Portrayed by the Press

He was and still is vilified for these radical views. The press, including Ian Hislop’s mighty organ, Private Eye, presented him as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, at best a mad visionary of hopelessly unrealistic ideals. At worst he was a Communist agent of Moscow ready to destroy this country’s ability to defend itself and hand it over to rule by the Soviets.

He was, it won’t surprise you to learn, anything like that.

He was very well respected by his constituents in my part of Bristol as a very good MP and brilliant orator, and was respected even by his opponents in the city. One of the leaders of Bristol’s chamber of commerce said that he was always rational and his opinions clearly thought out. I’m a monarchist and a member of the Anglican church, and so don’t share his views on the disestablishment of the Church of England. But his arguments there are interesting.

Disestablishment of the Anglican Church

Recent calls for disestablishment have come from atheists and secularists, and Benn does use the secularist argument that privileged position of various Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords is unfair to those of other faiths, Roman Catholics, Protestant Nonconformists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. But this argument actually comes at the end of the main body of his pieces. His main points are that the bishops shouldn’t be there, because they’re unelected, and that parliament and the prime minister, who may not be Anglicans or even Christians, have no business appointing the denomination’s clergy or deciding doctrine. It’s an argument primarily from within the Anglican church, not from someone outside, jealous of its position.

The Prime Minister against the Church and Its Members

One example of how the Prime Minister abused their position to override or impose their views against the wishes of the Church itself was when Thatcher got stroppy with the-then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie. After the Falklands War, Runcie had preached a sermon saying that we should now meet the Argentinians in a spirit of reconciliation. This is what a Christian leader should say. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, and all that. We’ve heard it several times since by great leaders like Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But Thatcher didn’t like it because she wanted something a bit more triumphalist. This section is also interesting because it has an interesting snippet you and I south of the Border have never heard of, except if you’re a member of the Church of Scotland. That august body at its synod overwhelmingly voted in favour of nuclear disarmament. I hadn’t heard anything about that before, and I doubt many other people outside Scotland had. And it obviously wasn’t an accident. The Tory media really didn’t want anyone else in Britain to know about it, in case they thought it might be a good idea.

It wasn’t just the Church of Scotland that were against nuclear weapons. So was a leading Roman Catholic prelate, Monsigner Bruce Kent, now, I believe, no longer a member of the priesthood. One of my aunts was a very Roman Catholic lady, who was also a member of CND. She found herself on one march next to a group of Franciscan friars. So kudos and respect to all the churches for their Christian witness on this issue.

CND, the Unions and Media Bias

On the subject of CND, Benn talks about the blatant bias of the press. All kinds of people were members of the Campaign, but when it was covered on television, what you got were a few shots of clergy like Monsignor Kent, before the camera zoomed in on the banner of the Revolutionary Communist party. CND were part of Russkie commie subversion! Except as I remember, they weren’t. The Russians didn’t like them either after they criticised their maneoevres in eastern Europe.

Benn states that the media’s bias is peculiar – its somewhere to the right of the Guardian, but slightly to the left of Thatcher. This was the attitude of the establishment generally. And it was extremely biased against the trade unions. He cites the work of Glasgow Media Studies unit, who looked at the language they used to describe industrial disputes. The language used of the trade unions always presented them as the aggressor. They ‘demanded’ and ‘threatened’, while management ‘offered’ and ‘pleaded’. He then asked hsi readers to turn the rhetoric around, so that a union asking for a pay rise of 8 per cent when inflation in 10 per cent is ‘pleading’.

The Ordination of Women

His stance on the ordination of women is equally interesting. He was obviously for it, but his arguments as you might expect were very well informed. He pointed out that women had been campaigning to be ordained in the Church since the 1920s, and that other Christian denominations, like the Congregationalists, already had women ministers. As did other Anglican churches abroad, like the Episcopalians in America. It was blocked here by the Anglo-Catholics, who fear it would stop re-union with Rome. But even here, he noted, this may not be an obstacle, citing movements for the ordination of women within Catholicism. Again, it’s an argument from within the Church, or from someone genuinely sympathetic to it, than from an outsider frustrated with the Church’s stubborn refusal to abide by secular social values, although that is also in there.

Government Secrecy

And back on the subject of government secrecy, the Zircon Affair was when Thatcher banned the transmission of an edition of the documentary programme, Secret State. I’ve put up that documentary series a few years ago on this blog, because it showed the extent to which Thatcher and others had been using the Official Secrets Act to suppress information that was embarrassing or uncomfortable. Like the fact that in a nuclear war, this country would suffer massive casualties and the obliteration of its major population centres.

The book actually contains any number of interesting snippets that definitely weren’t reported, or else were only given very tiny coverage, in the mainstream press. Like details of various incidents at nuclear plants that could have led to serious accidents. He also talks about the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme. In this international project, we sent our nuclear material over to America, where, we were told, it would be used for peaceful purposes generating power in American reactors. Well, it was used in American reactors. They refined it into the plutonium, that was then put in American nuclear warheads and sent back over here to the US nuclear bases on British soil. He also pointed out that the agreements covering the use of Britain as a base by US forces in the event of a nuclear war also contravened our sovereignty.

Ted Heath and the EU

Loss of sovereignty was also a major part of his opposition to the EU. But he also makes the point that our entry into the Common Market was also undemocratic. Ted Heath simply decided the country was going in. Parliament was not consulted and did not vote on the issue. I do remember that there was a referendum afterwards, however.

Intelligence Agencies Smearing Labour MPs

The intelligence agencies are another threat to British democracy. He cites Peter Wright’s Spycatcher memoir on how MI5 was spreading rumours smearing the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as a KGB spy. This, like much of the rest of the material in the books, has not dated. The problem of the security services smearing left-wing politicians is still very much with us, as we’ve seen from the Integrity Initiative. They’ve smeared Jeremy Corbyn as a Russian spy.

Books Still Relevant in 21st Century

I’ve only really skimmed the books so far, just reading the odd chapter, but so much of it is directly relevant now. I think if he were alive today, Benn probably would have voted ‘Leave’, but his arrangements for leaving the EU would have been far more sensible and beneficial to this country’s ordinary folk than that of Tweezer and her band of profiteers. And he is absolutely right when he writes about expanding democracy in industry. He states that the workers’ co-ops on the Clydeside and elsewhere were attacked in the press, because suddenly the British capitalist establishment were terrified because it showed that there was a genuine alternative to capitalism, and that workers could run companies.

The individual sections in these books chapters are short, and the arguments clear. He also gives point by point party programmes on particular issues, such as making this country more democratic.

Benn Democrat, Not Authoritarian Communist

And it’s this concern for democracy that most definitely marks Benn out as being a democratic socialist, not a Trotskyite or Communist. Those parties and their various sects were run according to Lenin’s principle of ‘democratic centralism’. Put simply, this meant that the party would hold some kind of open debate on issues until a decision was made. After that, the issue was closed. Anybody still holding or promoting their own opinions faced official censure or expulsion. And the Communist parties of eastern Europe would have been as frightened of Benn’s championing of democracy as the British establishment.

Conclusion

As I said, I take issue with Benn on certain issues. But his reasoning is always clear and rational, his points well argued and based in fact. Furthermore, he is impressed with the British radical tradition and how much British socialism is squarely based within it. We lost one of our greatest parliamentarians with his death.

His ideas, however, are still very relevant, and have been vindicated with time. He was right about monetarism and corporatism, about unemployment, about the need for unions, about media bias. His support of women priests and gay rights were ahead of their time, and have now become almost a commonplace, accepted by all except a few die-hard reactionaries. And he’s right about nationalisation and worker empowerment.

These are books I intend to use for my blog and its attack on Tweezer and the Tories. And I won’t be short of useful material.

Socialism and Equality in the Programme of the International Workingmen’s Association

December 27, 2018

Last week I put up a piece arguing that one of the main differences between genuine socialism and Nazism and Fascism, which at times included socialist elements or affected socialistic postures, is that Socialism also demanded equality. Karl Kautsky in his writings stated that socialists supported the working class as the way to equality and the classless society. If this could be done better without socialism, then the latter would have to be discarded. Article 6 of the Preamble to the General Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association, agreed at the Geneva congress in 1866, explicitly included racial, national and religious equality. Bakunin gives the rules in the Preamble in his piece on ‘The Organisation of the International’ in Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans. (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), pp. 137-44. They were

1. The emancipation of Labour should be the work of the labourers themselves;
2. The efforts of the workers to emancipate themselves should lend themselves to the establishment not of new privileges but of equal rights and equal obligations for everyone, and to the abolition of all class domination;
3. The economic subjection of the worker to the monopolizers of primatery materials and of the instruments of labour is the origin of all forms of slavery: social poverty, mental degradation, and political submission.
4. For this reason, the economic emancipation of the working classes is the great goal to which every political movement should be subordinated as a simple means;
5. The emancipation of the workers is not a simply local or national problem; on the contrary, this problem is of interest to all civilized nations depending for its solution upon their theoretical and practical circumstances;
6. The Association and all its members recognize that Truth, Justice, and Morality must be the basis of their conduct toward all men, without regard to colour, creed or nationality;
7. Finally the Association considers itself obliged to demand human and civil rights not only for its members but also for whoever fulfills his obligations; “No obligations without rights, no rights without obligations”.

Pp. 142-3, my emphasis.

I realise that there are exception to this rule. The Fabians were fully behind British imperialism and the Boer War, and Marx and Engels had deeply unpleasant views about how certain nations – the Celts and the Slavs – were reactionary and due to disappear from history. And I think its probably fair to say that it has only been after the great social changes in the 1960s that feminism and anti-racism have been more than the concern of a few intellectuals both within the Labour movement in Britain and outside it.

But nevertheless, the I.W.M.A’s programme does show a commitment to social equality was present in the working class movement from very early on, a commitment that continues to inspire and motivate socialists and working people today striving for a better world. A world without Fascism, which will try to take on some of its aspects in order to suppress real socialism.

Lenin on Worker’s Industrial Management, Government and the Withering Away of the State

December 24, 2018

One of the central tenets of Marxism is that the period of socialism ushered in by the seizure of power by the workers will eventually lead to the withering away the state and begin the transition to the period of true Communism. This will be the ideal, final phase of society when the government of people will be replaced by the administration of things.

Lenin seems to have believed that the transition to this ideal society would begin after everything had been nationalized and placed in the hands of the workers. The workers would then be able to manage the economy and society through the way capitalism had simplified the management of industry so that it could be performed by the workers themselves. This is explained in a passage from his The State and Revolution, reproduced in Lane W. Lancaster, Masters of Political Thought, Vol. 3: Hegel to Dewey (London: George Harrap & Co. Ltd 1959), pp.193-4.

Accounting and control – these are the chief things necessary for the organizing and correct functioning of the first phase of Communist society. All citizens are here transformed into hired employees of the State, which is made up of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of one national state ‘syndicate’. All that is required is that they should work equally, should regularly doe their share of work, and should received equal pay. The accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost, till they have become the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording and issuing receipts, within the reach of anyone who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.

When the majority of the people begin everywhere to keep such accounts and maintain such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry, who still retain capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, national; and there will be no way of getting away from it, there will be ‘nowhere to go’.

The whole of society will have become one office and one factory, with equal and equal pay.

But this ‘factory’ discipline, which the proletariat will extend to the whole of society after the defeat of the capitalists and the overthrow of the exploiters, is by no means our ideal, or our final aim. It is but a foothold necessary for the radical cleansing of society of all the hideousness and foulness of capitalist exploitation, in order to advance further.

From the moment when all members of society, ore even the overwhelming majority, have learned how to govern the State themselves, have taken this business into their own hands, have established control over the insignificant minority of capitalists, over the gentry with capitalist leanings, and the workers thoroughly demoralized by capitalism-from this moment the need for any government begins to disappear. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it begins to be unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘State’ consisting of armed workers, which is no longer a State in the proper sense of the term, the more rapidly does every State begin to wither away.

for when all have learned to manage, and independently are actually managing by themselves social production, keeping accounts, controlling the idlers, the gentlefolk, the swindlers and similar ‘guardians of capitalist traditions’, then the escape from this national accounting and control will inevitable become so increasingly difficult, such a rare exception, and will probably be accompanied by such swift and severe punishment (for the armed workers are men of practical life, not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them), that very soon the necessity of observing the simple fundamental rules of every day social life in common will have become a habit.

The door will then be open for the transition from the first phase of Communist society to its highest phase, and along with it to the complete withering away of the state.

Lenin’s ideas here about industrial management and the withering away of the state are utopian, despite his denials elsewhere in his book. Lancaster in his comments on the passage points out that industrial management required to feed, clothe and house a society is far more complex than simply ‘watching, recording and issuing receipts’. Lenin in fact did try to put workers’ control into practice, with the result that industry and the economy almost collapsed completely. The capitalists and managers, who had been thrown out of the factories and industries in wheelbarrows by the workers, were invited back in afterwards, and restored to their former power. At the same, Alexandra Kollontai and the Left Communists, who wanted the workers to run the factories through trade unions, were gradually but ruthlessly suppressed as Lenin centralized political decision making.

Lancaster also points out that the administration of things nevertheless means government, and that it is very hard to convince a man, who has just been refused permission to open a new bus route or produce as many shoes as he can, that he is not being governed. Lancaster also argues that practice in both the democratic west and the USSR shows that a truly ‘stateless’ society impossible. He also states that the reduction of society to one enormous factory or office will repulse the normal mind, as it resembles a colony of insects, and that the similar routinization of the fundamental rules of normal social life into a habit destroys the autonomous individual and reduces them to a machine. He could also have mentioned, but doesn’t, the very sinister implications of ‘armed workers’ and the use of military force. The USSR was created by violent revolution, and maintained itself through force. Those attempting to set up their own businesses were arrested for ‘economic sabotage’ and sent to the gulags, where they were treated worse than ordinary criminals.

However, workers are capable of participating in government. One of the points Anthony Crossland made in one of his books was that the American unions had a large measure of industrial democracy, all though it was never called that. He was arguing against worker’s control, considering it unnecessary where there were strong unions, a progressive income tax and the possibility of social advancement. The unions have since been all but smashed and social mobility has vanished. And under Thatcherite tax reforms, income tax has become less progressive as the rich are given massive tax cuts, while the tax burden has been shifted on to working people. But the point remains: workers are capable of becoming managers. It was demonstrated by the anarcho-syndicalists in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. And Red Ken, when he was once asked by a journo why he supported worker’s management, said that it came from his experience as had of the GLC. Livingstone was now the head of a vast local government system, but there was nothing special about him. So, he believed, could ordinary people run a business. I think Leninspart was probably too modest, and he possessed managerial talents others don’t have, but the point’s a good one.

If the ability to make managerial and governmental decisions were broadened, so that they included employees and members of the public, this would empower both groups. It would make the domination of the rich 1% more difficult, and lead to a more equal, less class-ridden society. A truly classless, stateless society is probably impossible, as the example of the USSR shows. But introducing a measure of workers’ control is surely worthwhile in order to make things just that bit better.

Of course, to do so properly might mean giving working people management training. Well, Thatcher tried to turn British schoolchildren into a new generation of capitalists by making business studies part of the curriculum. She stressed competition and private enterprise. But it would turn her ideas on its head if such education instead turned workers not into aspiring businesspeople, but gave them the ability to manage industry as well as the elite above them.

That really would be capitalist contradiction Marx would have enjoyed.

Hitler on the Labour Party Wrecking British Economy

December 21, 2018

Hitler was very definitely not a socialist, although he did advocate kind of nationalization for joint-stock companies and the power industries. However, the Nazis favoured big business and private industry. They despised traditional organized labour, smashing the unions and sending their members to concentration camps. Hitler himself was firmly against profit-sharing and worker’s control. Under Nazism, industry was rigidly hierarchal and governed by the Fuhrerprinzip, the ‘Leader Principle’. The company director or factory owner was the leader, and the workers were his retinue, whose duty was to obey. He had nothing but contempt for the genuine socialist parties, which he reviled as Marxist and believed were part of a mythical international Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany and the Aryan race. And his table talk also revealed his absolute contempt for the British Labour party and especially one of its leading figures at the time, Stafford Cripps. He conceded that Cripps was a statesman who was ‘not negligible’, but said

To establish himself against the Conservatives, it would take a Cromwell at the head of the Labour party, for the Conservatives will not yield without a fight. Now, although Cripps (who has Stalin’s confidence) has succeeded in sowing Socialist ideas in England, I don’t think he carries enough guns for this role. From our point of view, a Red (and therefore fallen) England would be much less favourable than an England of Conservatives. In fact a Socialist Engalnd, and therefore an England tainted with Sovietism, would be a permanent danger in the European space, for she would founder in such poverty that the territory of the British Isles would prove too small for thirty million inhabitants to be able to keep alive there. I hope, therefore, that Cripps will be sunk by the fiasco of his mission to India-the most difficult mission with which an Englishman can now be charged. If he isn’t, it would become more and more difficult to avoid civil war on British soil. But the mobilization of the masses, on which the Labour party’s propaganda is working, and which would be the result of the execution of the trade unions’ new programme, should be regarded as a very serious threat. (Hitler’s Table Talk, (Oxford: OUP)pp. 369).

Hitler then goes on to rant about how he far prefers Churchill, sneers at Cripps as ‘a drawing-room Bolshevik … a man without roots, a demogogue and a liar’ and declared that ‘With his hypocritical social programmes, he’d be sure to dig a pit between the mother-country and the Dominions, especially the Catholic Canadians, Australia and South Africa’. (p.369).

This is very much the view of many Tories. Thatcher despised Socialism because it was a relation of Communism, and for many Tories Socialism and Communism are identical. Hence the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, who represent a return to proper socialism in the Labour party, as Communists, Trotskyites and Stalinists by the media and Blairite right. And like the Tories he believed that the Labour party and its programmes create mass poverty, with a particular contempt for its concern for popular welfare. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, stated that similar views to those of the Nazis can be found in American businessmen. They’re also shared by British big business and the Conservatives. The right-wing press continually declares that the Labour party’s programme will wreck the country economically, and despises welfare spending. Thatcher wanted to destroy the welfare state altogether. She wasn’t able to, but the Tories and the Blairites in Labour are still pursuing her goal, justifying it with false claims that those on welfare support are scroungers and malingerers.

Karl Kautsky, the Austrian Marxist intellectual stated that at the heart of socialism was a concern for equality. The working class was championed as the best way of creating a classless, more equal society. If this could be achieved best without socialism, then the latter would have to be abandoned. Since then there have been programmes to create more equality for certain groups that have crossed the boundaries of political ideology. These are anti-racism, feminism and gay rights, although these are most strongly supported by the Left. Marx in the Communist Manifesto also makes a point of distinguishing Communism from other ideologies that may have some similarity, such as the pre-Columbian Amerindian states of South America. Marx also stated that at the heart of Communism was a concern for the working class.

Hitler was bitterly anti-egalitarian, especially in the anti-feminism and genocidal racism. He stated that the included ‘socialist’ in the Nazi party’s name and made red one of the colours in the Nazi flag in order to take members from the real socialist parties. While his ideas on the nationalization of the power industry and joint-stock companies sound socialist, he was fiercely on the side of the capitalists. And his views on the destructiveness of socialism and contempt for welfare programmes are those of the Conservatives.

Private Eye Criticizes Israel, But Continues Smearing Labour as Anti-Semitic

November 28, 2018

Here’s another example of Fleet Street’s double standards over Israel and the Labour party. In last fortnight’s Private Eye for 16th to 29th November 2018, there was an article in the ‘Street of Shame’ column attacking Israel and its attempts to censor criticism. But the magazine continues to spread the smear that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are anti-Semites, as shown very clearly in a review of Jonathan Coe’s Middle England.

The article, ‘Value Judgment’, was about the Israelis’ refusal to let British journalist Sarah Helm, the author of an article on suicide amongst young people in Gaza, enter the country. It ran

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt announced this month that media freedom is at the heart of his new “values-based” foreign policy. “Democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of expression mean nothing unless independent journalists are able to hold the powerful to account,” he declared, “however inconvenient this might be for those who find themselves on the receiving end.”

Hunt’s promise is being put to the test at once by the Israeli government’s refusal to give veteran British correspondent Sarah Helm a press pass to enter Gaza.

In the 1990s Helm covered the first Gulf War and the Oslo accords as diplomatic editor of the Independent, and later served as its Jerusalem correspondent. She has reported on the Middle East regularly ever since. But her latest application produced this reply from Ron Paz of Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO): “It has not been proven to the satisfaction of the GPO that your primary occupation is News Media. Therefore the GPO is unable to issue a GPO card for you.”

Shome mishtake, shurely? In the past four years Helm had applied seven times to enter Gaza through the Erez checkpoint, and had never been turned down before. She reported on these visits for the Observer, Sunday Times, Guardian and Indy as well as Newsweek, New York Review of Books and New Statesman – all of which look remarkably like “News Media” to anyone except Mr Paz.

Last month Hunt said he was “very concerned” by the Hong Kong authorities’ rejection of a visa for Victor Mallet, Asia editor of the Financial Times. “in the absence of an explanation from the authorities,” he said, “we can only conclude that this move is politically motivated.” The same applies to the banning of Helm, since the official reason is so patently absurd. Was it something she wrote? Such as, perhaps, a harrowing 5,500-word long read for the Guardian in May this year on the rising number of suicides inside Gaza, particularly among the young and bright?

Helm has hired the Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard to challenge the ban. Following Hunt’s announcement that he is now a global champion of press freedom, the Eye asked the Foreign Office if he would be taking up Helm’s case with the Israelis. At the time of going to press there was no answer. (p. 8).

All good stuff, showing the Israeli state’s determination to silence foreign reporting of its gross maltreatment of the Palestinians, and the double-standards over this by Jeremy Hunt at the Foreign Office. And the paper has many times in the past satirized the Israelis over this. But like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, they too have joined the rest of the press in attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party as anti-Semites, simply because Corbyn does stick up for the Palestinians.

The Eye’s ‘Literary Review’ in that same issue carried a very critical review of Jonathan Coe’s Middle England, ‘Remoans of the Day’. The novel, one gathers, is a fictional description of the state of modern Britain in the run-up to Brexit. The Eye’s anonymous reviewer attacked it for its pro-Remain bias, in which all the Leave characters are described as racists and no discussion is made of those who voted Leave on the issue of sovereignty, rather than immigration. It also criticizes the book for its sympathetic portrayal of a female supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, despite her anti-Semitism. The review states

Coe’s sole attempt at balance appears to be a portrait of Doug’s daughter, a vindictive Corbynista. His heart isn’t in it. Coe explains away her “knee-jerk antisemitism: as the product of “passionate support for the Palestinian cause” rather than, say, two millennia of racial prejudice. He forgives her and reflects that the young were right to be angry “at the world his generation had bequeathed”. Nowhere, of course, does Coe explain away knee-jerk Islamophobia among Leave voters as the result of “passionate opposition” to the oppression of women or righteous anger at being bequeathed a world where Islamists murder schoolgirls at Arianna Grande concerts. (p. 34).

But as the Eye should know, Corbyn never has been an anti-Semite, and nor are his supporters. Corbyn has always stood up for people of all races and religions against persecution, as Mike has shown on his blog, where he listed the number of times Corbyn supported Jews against what he perceived as prejudice and intolerance. And Corbyn’s supporters not only include decent, anti-racist non-Jews, but also entirely self-respecting Jews, who are far from being ‘self-hating’, as they are smeared by the Israel lobby. But the Eye’s determined to maintain the lie that they are.

Coe also seems to believe this lie, despite his apparent sympathies with the character. Which suggests that Coe, despite his liberalism, appears to have swallowed all this bilge about anti-Semitism absolutely uncritically. Unless he, and his agent and editor were also afraid of the Israel lobby and what might happen to his literary career and their book sales if he really told it as it is and also got accused of anti-Semitism.

And it’s more than possible that the Eye is also afraid to debunk the anti-Semitism smears, because they fear being smeared as anti-Semites in turn. The Eye has frequently been hit with libel suits, the most notorious being Cap’n Bob Maxwell’s attempts to shut them down in the 1980s. All of the pieces in the Eye are anonymous, and while the magazine has attacked Israel and the British secret state in the past, there appears to be lines that the magazine definitely isn’t prepared to cross. Perhaps there also afraid that if they reveal that, er, Corbyn and his supporters ain’t anti-Semites, a similar smear against them will close the magazine down. Quite apart from the issue of the magazine’s own political bias. Even before the anti-Semitism smears erupted, the Eye was attacking Corbyn for being ‘far left’, especially in its ‘Focus on Fact’ cartoon.

It also casts doubt on the political convictions of the Eye’s deputy editor, Francis Wheen. Wheen, like Hislop, is another public schoolboy, but appears to be firmly left. He’s written biographies of both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as publishing a collection of the Eye’s literary reviews in the 1990s as Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion. But his magazine’s determination to smear Corbyn and prevent a future Labour government on the basis of accusations of political extremism and anti-Semitism suggests that his heart is very much with the Neoliberal Thatcherite wing of the so-called ‘Moderates’.

Drama This Afternoon on Radio 4 Updating Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’

May 5, 2018

This afternoon, Saturday, 5th May 2018, Radio 4 are broadcasting at 2.30 pm updated drama version of Marx’s Das Kapital, set around mobile phones. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Drama: Das Kapital

marking the recent 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, a dramatization and updating by Sarah Woods, of his signature work, imagining what the political theorist would make of our 21st-century global economy. David Threlfall stars in this story of the ultimate commodity: the smartphone. (p. 119).

Jane Anderson also writes a paragraph about it on the opposite page. She says

Although Karl Marx’s Das Kapital remains one of the most influential books in the modern world it is hardly a light read-few can honestly claim to have devoured it cover to cover. Not very likely source material for a drama. Which is why Sarah Woods must be congratulated not only for updating it for the 21st century but also for creating a harrowing analysis of how our obsession with what Marx calls “commodities” has left our moral and humane purses pretty empty. The focus is on smartphones: at least half of the world’s adult population own one, but dow we know anything about the people who make their components? I was weeping by the end and tempted to stamp upon my Samsung. Whatever one’s personal politics, this is real, thought provoking and ultimately heart-breaking.

Short Book on William Morris

March 3, 2018

One of the programmes on the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British Socialism Present by Anne McElvoy was, naturally, on William Morris, the great British artist, writer – he translated a number of Icelandic sagas, and is regarded as one of the founder of modern genre Fantasy – and social activist and revolutionary Socialist, William Morris.

If you don’t have the time or patience for a full scale biography of Morris, but want to know a bit more about him, I can recommend Peter Stansky’s William Morris (Oxford: OUP 1983). It was published as part of OUP’s ‘Past Masters’ series of short biographies of the great figures of the past, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Darwin, and so on. It’s only 96 pages, including index. The chapters are as follows:

1. Youth
2. Oxford
3. Red House and the Firm
4. Poetry and Early Politics
5 The 1880s
6 Last Years

There’s also a section for further reading. The blurb for it on the back cover runs

William Morris was one of the great figures of the Victorian age; an artist and craftsman and a successful writer of romances. He was also an ardent socialist and leader of the labour movement. His concern for the place of art in society, and his analysis of that society’s discontent, place Morris as a thinker in the company of Marx and Ruskin. Peter Stansky presents, in the context of his age, and in all his engaging multiplicity, the life and personality of a man whom a contemporary perceptively described as ‘The Earthly Paradox’.